Sunday in Outer Blogness: Savannah’s edition!

I imagine that by now you’ve all seen this viral video:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t have to continue to double down on its homophobia. Or its racist policies. Just look what the Southern Baptists did about their past racism:

WHEREAS, the roots of White Supremacy within a “Christian context” is based on the so-called “curse of Ham” theory once prominently taught by the SBC in the early years—echoing the belief that God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos—which provided the theological justification for slavery and segregation. The SBC officially renounces the “curse of Ham” theory in this Resolution; now be it therefore

RESOLVED, that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, AZ, June 13-14, 2017, denounces every form of “nationalism” that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we reject the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called “Alt-Right” that seek to subvert our government, destabilize society, and infect our political system; and be finally

At least the CoJCoL-dS seems to like non-conformity under certain circumstances

Other personal stories of the week include a first trip to the temple, a magical road trip, daily life in an interfaith marriage, and other interfaith connection with family.

In church news, the European outposts are contracting. In discussion topics, Lynette covered the value of life, Andrew S wrote about invisible gods. See also beauty tips, and can the wording of the sacrament prayer change?

Wheat and Tares posted some intriguing articles including a temple mystery and an account of the days of Mark Hofmann.

In Book of Mormon study, we’re up to another part where Joseph Smith throws in a convenient prophecy. Plus what’s up with the iron rod? Alex also made the best of a bad review.

And the latest Trump drama is teaching lessons about sexual coercion.

After all of that, let’s cleanse the palate with a bit of Frog Eye Salad! See you next week!

(Somewhat) New Ex-Mormon Books!

Hey everyone! I love writing book reviews, but I have been so busy with my comic book and my new job that I have really not had time to do it. So I’d like to at least gather up here a list of Mormon-related books that I’ve learned of lately:

Polygamys-Shadow-cover-201x300In Polygamy’s Shadow, by Maggie Rayner
Set in the 1950s and 60s on the West Coast of British Columbia, In Polygamy’s Shadow: From a Mormon Childhood to a Life of Choice chronicles Maggie’s personal struggle to keep herself from being devoured by the Mormon church and her parents’ unrelenting loyalty to it. She questions why her family eats food from a garbage dump while her father rises in the church hierarchy and her parents pay tithing on every dollar that comes into the household. She fears for her future when polygamists from Bountiful visit her congregation on the hunt for young brides.

rehabReligious Rehab: A memoir, by Todd Maxwell Preston
Finally, late one afternoon, I found myself down to my last dollar-fifty. That fact brought reality starkly into focus. Life needed to stop for me. I walked clumsily towards the bridge, crying, laughing, trying to hide my avalanche of pain. The sun beat on my back. I could feel perspiration trickling down my spine. The blasting of horns and the noisy traffic stopped. Everything slowed, like a giant hand had reached down and hit a switch, and my life unraveled across an imaginary screen. The giant steel beams blocked my vision – I looked down at the Hudson and could not make out a single ripple. But all I had to do was fall; I didn’t even need to jump. I just had to fall and falling was something I was good at. I closed my burning eyes and visualized my plunge and poetically felt justice in ending my life. It felt magical and ethereal, as though it was my destiny.

notaloneYou’re Not Alone: Exit Journeys of Former Mormons, by Jessica Bradshaw
It can be terrifying to acknowledge your doubts, let alone to confront the aftermath of discovering your religion was not what it claimed. Knowing that, the author reached out to a few other former Mormons and asked them to share their journeys in a “chicken-soup-for-the-ex-Mormon-soul”-style compilation. This collection of 23 exit stories represents those willing and eager to remind other brave, honest souls confronting their cognitive dissonance, fears, and doubts that they’re NOT alone, that others have been there, and we all think about, cope, and struggle with it in different ways.

weepingWeeping, Wailing, and Gnashing of Teeth, by Johnny Townsend
On Judgment Day, several Mormon apostates face being thrust into Outer Darkness for their sins. With all of humanity watching, they are forced to confess their stories of rejecting the witness of the Holy Ghost. As they tell the world what led them to abandon the Church, there is much “weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth,” as foretold by the prophets of old. But their punishment is so shocking that even the Devil himself is left speechless at the verdict.

mormonbitchMormon Bitch: Illusions of Hope: Book One, by Mollie Hope Stewart
Ordinary believers that trusted the Mormon Church until its lack of intellectual and spiritual freedom overwhelmed them. This first-hand fictional account deriving from twenty years of journals tells of the subtle brainwashing beginning in Mollie’s happy-go-lucky childhood; then of her learning to question superstition and dogma, and of her learning to trust science, evidence, and reason. And, as she describes it, of her eventually learning to think for herself, rather than always waiting to be told what to do.

wellfedThe All Important, Well-Fed, Giant White Man: A memoir. by Dan Pearce
Brought to you by the author of the widely-acclaimed Single Dad Laughing blog, The All-Important, Well-Fed, Giant White Man will make you laugh as often as it makes you squirm (in all the right ways) as Dan shares his sidesplitting life stories, moments of incredible stupidity, colossal mistakes, and the awesome (albeit sometimes strange) lessons learned through it all.

***

If anyone would like to write a review of any of these books for Main Street Plaza, that would be great! Also, if you’ve read any of these books, feel free to give your impressions in comments and/or add your own book suggestions!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Forget Mormonism edition!

Hey folks — I have at least one more article left in my series on what the CoJCoL-dS offers, but I’d like to save it for next week and just do a regular SiOB today. This is mostly because I finally got around to writing a post on my personal blog yesterday (nothing Mormonism-related, just international politics), and I can only compose so much new content in one weekend.

And I’m not the only one who was inspired to write about climate politics — check this out:

The problem with the “God will take care of it” sentiment is that it is the equivalent of never changing your child’s diaper because you know that God is even more capable of changing that diaper than you are—if it really becomes a problem, God will take care of it.

Actually, lots of Mormon-connection friends have also written about other random subjects, including more politics, historical research, third-culture kids, Memorial Day heroes, Memorial Day shaming, and motherhood.

Now let’s dig into the past week’s Mormon news! Like this Mormon mommy alt-right leader — and Mormonism’s continuing race problem. And don’t forget the homophobia problem:

I suspect that a measurable amount of the “at capacity” space will be occupied by the the new “hugging booths” that Mormons Building Bridges have introduced. MBB is an apologist organization that seeks to normalize the homophobia that is a structural component of LDS cultural theology. They insist on calling anything LGBQ (note the lack of a “T” here) by the acronym “SSA”, which stands for “Same Sex Attraction”. If allowed they can describe individuals who “suffer” from SSA who have married members of the opposite sex, raised families in the LDS church, and been monogamously in love with only their opposite-sex spouse.

John Dehlin is still facing questions about his organization’s finances:

But John and the Board have a long way to go to “come clean” about OSF finances. What he and they have not done is to answer specific questions about how John has potentially used his institutional power and position to influence not only how much he is compensated, but how others throughout the organization are compensated in comparison — including potential conflicts of interest with his wife and the compensation of people like Kristy Money…which is where this all started.

Fortunately the Book of Mormon is still full of delights:

Moroni has created the absolute worst abridgment in the history of abridgments. If he’s taking the salient points of doctrine from these records and carving them onto his own plates, why not keep it simple:

And it came to pass that the brother of Jared went forth unto a mount and did molten out of the rock sixteen small stones; and he did carry them to the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord, saying:

Look at that, I’ve cut the word count by roughly forty-five percent without breaking a sweat. I suppose, realistically, that the word counts might not be the same in Reformed Egyptian, but still, it sure seems like this prophet was making a lot more work for himself than necessary and laying down some truly awful prose in the process.

Also, this new Mormon stories collection looks interesting.

Happy reading!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: New exits edition!

A cool new blog appeared this past week, starting with a (perhaps familiar) story:

In many ways, nothing about me has changed and yet everything has. The thing is, I’ve really only changed in the same way every other person reading this changes—subtly and over time. None of us are the same people we were a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago; remaining unchanged in one way or another is impossible. We meet new people, we have new experiences, something sparks and suddenly—BAM! Lightning bolt; we’re forever changed. We go through these infinite, tiny changes during the course of our lives that are too subtle to be defined, and yet they define who we are in every way.

Moving away from the church the last few years has been freeing in ways that are difficult to convey to anyone who hasn’t been through a paradigm shift of this kind.

Welcome Rebekah — sounds like your journey is going well! Then I encountered another recent tale about understanding exmos (not quite sure whether it’s an exit or not):

Over the next couple of months I looked into what I had always believed were anti-Mormon lies. As it turns out, they weren’t lies. Almost none of the things I thought were lies were actually lies. Seriously, almost none. It was crazy. My natural response was to read the scriptures more, pray harder, fast, all that good stuff. The problem? Moroni’s promise didn’t work anymore.

And then there was a tale from a guy who is a faithful believer who can’t seem to squeeze any life out of the current meetings:

This ward (and I think the whole stake) has adopted a standard of always assigning Sacrament speakers to talk about a General Conference talk. The opening line of almost every talk (after the apology and joke section) is “The talk I’ve been assigned to talk on is …” To put it politely, this doesn’t make for the most engaging worship service.

I guess the biggest recent Mormon-land scandal was some questions arising about the finances of John Dehlin and the Mormon Stories Foundation. It looks like some people are not happy that a (perhaps surprisingly?) high proportion of the tax-deductible donations go to paying Dehlin and not to paying female content providers. It’s not totally clear to me what’s up, and the most baffling bit of all was Zelph’s satire about Dehlin eating a pet lizard…

In other mystery/humor, apparently a statue went missing,

Oh, and the Prophet is no longer well enough to attend church. If only there were a way for him to step down. (Weirdly reminds me of something I was saying just last week.)

In church culture, there was some discussion of the superficial bits: identifying the “temple-worthy” just by looking at them and excluding the tattooed from serving LDS missions. Plus more discussion of the problem with “porn addiction” and other sex hangups.

Gina Colvin wrote an interesting allegory of the CoJCoL-dS as McDonald’s, which is kind of apt except that, really, your family doesn’t care if you don’t like McDonald’s.

The official CoJCoL-dS magazines got some critiques this past fortnight! The New Era article on threats to religious freedom had some significant problems, and the Ensign apparently ran a piece that was a little mainsplainy:

Having a husband lecture his wife on being Christlike when he is sitting enjoying breakfast and she is cleaning up “messes she didn’t make” feels manipulative and self serving. Perhaps the actual situation wasn’t that way, but it’s not an unreasonable reading.

In non-Mormon-land other theocrats have their problems.

And let’s wrap up with some announcements: the feminist Mormon housewives are offering a single mom scholarship, there will be a Mormon Humanities Conference in May, and Mormon Arts Sunday will be June 11th.

Happy reading and have a great fortnight!

Leadership monopoly, leadership vacuum

One of the biggest selling points of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is its claim that it has “the keys” — the only source of authority on Earth today to speak for God and act for God. Basically the 15 guys at the top (especially the President of the church) have the hotline to God, and nobody else has a direct connection. If you believe them on this, it’s a pretty big selling point. In practice, however, this claim carries some pretty big drawbacks.

For example, it makes it really inconvenient to ever be wrong. There’s no mechanism for correction — admitting an error cracks the entire foundation. It’s not like Science, where you expect corrections based on more/better evidence and improved theoretical models. If Prophet A say “X is true” and Prophet B says, “X is false” — and they were both ordained President of the CoCJoL-dS (hence presumably got their info on X from the God-hotline), then there’s clearly something wrong with the God-hotline.

Consequently the CoCJoL-dS can’t admit to errors, hence can’t address and correct problems. They’re stuck doing a dance of obfuscation, largely through “de-emphasizing” problematic past statements. They just print a new set of correlated manuals every few years, and declare the current Conference issue of the Ensign to be scripture — and with every new print round, filter out all the bits that are to be forgotten. But the old, de-emphasized teachings are still there, under the surface, living kind of a festering half-life in which the members who remember them as doctrine are left wondering whether they’re still doctrine or not.

In a typical Protestant Christian denomination, new ideas can sweep away the old as new leaders rise up through the ranks. If some influential pastor or theologian of your denomination preached that dark skin is “the Curse of Cain”, for example, it’s easy to say “that guy was simply wrong” — without it shaking your faith in your denomination. It’s a little different when the guy you disagree with was “The Prophet” — whose prophetic mantle is the same one that gives your current Prophet his authority.

So the CoJCoL-dS has a strong motivation to say as little of substance as possible. When you don’t say anything, then you don’t say anything wrong.

You may have heard the expression that pinning down Mormons on doctrine is like nailing jello to a wall. The leadership of the CoJCoL-dS won’t give clear, straight-forward explanations of Mormon doctrine and theology on most subjects. Bruce R. McKonkie’s attempt to clarify LDS beliefs in his book “Mormon Doctrine” caused a political battle within the top-tier church leadership for decades, and has since slipped into the land of the “de-emphasized.”

I’ve heard liberal Mormons praise the lack of clarity because it allows members the freedom to believe as they see fit on various doctrinal issues. Except that it doesn’t really allow that freedom. The message from the top leadership of the CoJCoL-dS is that there are right answers to doctrinal questions and the prophets know those answers. (They’re just not going to tell you what the answers are for any theological issue outside the list of Correlated topics.)

This strategy can lead to frustrating misunderstandings, for example the Randy Bott affair: Some professional journalists naturally assumed that a professsor hired by the CoJCoL-dS to teach the LDS religion at the CoJCoL-dS’s main university would be qualified to answer questions on LDS doctrine. Nope. The anonymous voices from within the official newsroom indignantly stated: “BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church. It is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said.” So, in a nutshell, any human you can speak to directly (including pressing for follow-up questions) has no business making statements about what the CoJCoL-dS’s doctrines are. This creates a poisoned atmosphere where simply wanting to have a straight answer on a Mormon doctrinal question is perceived by many faithful members as an attack.

But that’s not even the worst consequence of the CoJCoL-dS clinging to its monopoly on authority. The worst consequence is that it causes the CoJCoL-dS to see its most dynamic young leaders as a threat rather than an asset.

In an ordinary organization, a bold leader with new ideas who gathers a following can energize people, attract new members, modernize practices, and generally revitalize the organization. The problem is that the CoJCoL-dS claims to be the only true hierarchy. The Prophet (with input from God) chooses his underlings, who choose their underlings in the same way, and so forth down the line — down to the leadership of individual classes. And you sure as hell don’t climb that ladder by making waves.

If Kate Kelly built a vibrant and popular organization within the church that pressured the leadership to allow women to hold positions of authority within the CoJCoL-dS, that’s a threat. Because if God wanted women to be allowed into the leadership hierarchy, why wouldn’t he just get on the hotline to the Prophet? Why would he work outside His Chosen Hierarchy and work through Kate Kelly? If the best inspiration isn’t coming down from the top, then why is the leadership hierarchy even there? The leadership can’t abide these questions, so she got the axe.

Lots of members would like the leaders to state clearly that they talk directly to Jesus, but the leaders won’t do it. They may be OK with passively allowing members to believe they are meeting with Jesus in the Holy-of-Holies in the temple, but they won’t state it directly. Unfortunately for the leaders, Denver Snuffer was willing to publish books about his personal meetings with Jesus. But wait–! Why is Jesus coming down to have conversations with Denver Snuffer and not with the Prophet?! So Denver Snuffer got the axe.

Even John Dehlin — whose real crime was simply to develop a huge personal following within the CoJCoL-dS — was a threat the the church’s leadership monopoly, so he got the axe.

The CoJCoL-dS can’t benefit from the vitality of organically-arising popular leaders because there’s no mechanism for including them. And the by-laws of the organization make it difficult for the Prophet to even begin to compete for a following — due to the unfortunate way the Prophet is chosen: he’s the oldest* one in the quorum who’s not (quite) dead yet.

Obviously it’s possible for people of advanced age to be dynamic leaders. But putting people in leadership until the day they die means having leaders who are not merely old, but who are specifically near death. In our wonderful modern era of medicine, people often enjoy ten years or more of life after they’ve passed the point of dramatically reduced faculties. During my lifetime, the CoJCoL-dS has repeatedly faced the challenge of putting on a show of how the beloved Prophet is still on the hotline with God — and running the church — and not, in fact, a vegetable.

So, ironically, the CoJCoL-dS’s insistence that is holds the monopoly on divine leadership has led to a crippling leadership vacuum.

—–

* technically, the one with the most seniority.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Done with scouts edition!

This past week the CoJCoL-dS has started decoupling its young men’s program from the Boy Scouts of America (and Canada)! They’re keeping the Cub Scouts and the beginning part of the Boy Scouting program (for now…), but for older teen boys (14+ in the US and Canada) the Boy Scouts will no longer be the official youth program. (Too bad — boys will no longer be earning these awesome merit badges!)

There’s been some speculation that it might be related to the BSA becoming more friendly to gay people. The official statement from President Newsroom is that it’s about the program not meeting the needs of the older boys. That may well be true, but I think it’s also likely that some bean-counter in the Church Office Building decided that they could save money by giving the boys a cheapo program like the one they offer the girls.

Dumping some scouting programs would be a good idea if they were replacing them with something interesting and exciting (and inclusive!), but it looks like the replacement will be more reading out of correlated manuals and bearing your testimony:

Instead, Young Men activities will focus on spiritual, social, physical and intellectual goals outlined by the Church.

It’s so funny — I was talking about just this sort of thing last week: the CoJCoL-dS scrapping anything and everything that provides a bit of variety and substance and replacing it with more correlated pablum. I know a lot of guys hated being required to participate in scouts, but there are probably plenty of other kids whose favorite memories of growing up Mormon were built through the scouting program. But, hey, why invest resources in things that will build good memories for young Mormons that will help them want to stay in Mormonism as adults — when instead you can save a few bucks…? It’s not like the CoJCoL-dS has a huge attrition problem or something….

At least LDS teens still get the privilege of having closed-door interviews in which they’re grilled about their masturbation habits (among other problematic messages about sexuality). Plus you can still build happy memories by making a game of strategies to survive the crushing boredom of LDS meetings!

In related news, it was Mother’s Day! With all the angst it brings. Including that charming LDS custom of telling all women that they’re mothers, whether they’re literally mothers or not:

What I do have complicated feelings about is people telling me that I am a mother. First of all, the insistence that, above all, I’m a mother, or even a potential mother, dismisses my actual life, skills, and service.

My kids didn’t get me anything, but, OTOH, I didn’t call my mom either, so I guess it all comes out even. Heavenly Mother got the usual shout-out. And Hawkgrrrl wrote some cheerful commentary on our current situation:

Given the timing of the new series and the AHCA, it’s an interesting time to be a woman. And by interesting, I mean welcome to dystopia.

Health care (or the gutting of what’s left of it in the US) has been a big topic of discussion — especially the disconnect between Trumpcare and the teachings of that Jesus guy the Republicans give so much lip service to. Meg Stout wrote some interesting commentary about the fact that US women are significantly more likely to die in childbirth than women in other developed nations. Interesting because she basically blamed the whole thing on abortion, and even if she had provided some evidence to back that up, that claim doesn’t even begin to address the question at hand about why the whole thing is more than twice as deadly in the US than it is elsewhere. Personally, I think it’s just that the US no longer really qualifies as a “developed country”…

In LDS church and culture, a BYU study found that belief in porn addiction (not the porn use itself) causes relationship problems, Lynette wrote a piece on how women are not encouraged to express desire (she does like some things about Mormonism though), Alex discussed the parallels between racism and sexism, and there was a charming personal story about mishies in the New York Times.

In fun, Adult Onset Atheist is cycling in the trail of the Mormon pioneers and Knotty posted some awesome Mormon films from the 80’s!

Happy reading!

What the CoJCoL-dS offers: Testimonies!

There are loads of possible reasons for wanting to join / stay in / participate in Mormonism, but the main official reason is that you know it’s true; you have a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, and that the current President of the Church is God’s sole mouthpiece on the Earth. Certainly if you believe that God exists and wants you to practice Mormonism, that is a pretty strong motivation to do it.

But — as even the most faithful believers will tell you — a testimony requires effort. You have to want to get one. And that’s where a lot of the other trappings of Mormonism (like community and culture) play a role.

I read with interest this post by an LDS author listing some of the changes in the CoJCoL-dS during her lifetime (which is about the same as my lifetime since I was born the following year). I can relate to most of them, but the ones that really jumped out were numbers 14 & 15 — road shows and church farms. Neither of these are directly related to “the gospel,” but they’re both projects that build a sense of community.

Road shows and other amateur theater productions were one of my favorite parts of practicing Mormonism. I also liked the unique/esoteric doctrines of Mormonism — it was fun to participate in the theological discussions that (as I discussed in my previous installment) are being suppressed (“de-emphasized”) these days. Eliminating these varied peripheral components of Mormonism narrows the range of people who will find Mormon practice enriching and rewarding.

Replacing cultural, service, and educational* activities with testimony-building activities is (IMHO) counterproductive. Even if your goal is to build people’s testimonies. Think about it.

Imagine you’ve gotten to know a group of people through shared work on service projects and theatrical productions and through exchanging new insights and information through debates, discussions, and lectures. Then imagine that these same people — many of whom have earned your respect and esteem — occasionally stand up and give a heartfelt talk about how much the gospel means to them. That will be pretty convincing, particularly to young people.

Now instead imagine that you know a group of people, and every time you see them, you take turns reading out of a repetitive manual. And practically your only non-scripted interaction with them comes during the frequent testimony time, in which they give weepy, emotional testimonies. That might be convincing for some people, but I think that for others it’s very off-putting. I imagine a lot of kids react by finding it uncomfortable (even a bit creepy) — not a great way to increase their motivation to be a part of this community.

So, while scrapping varied activities in favor of (super-cheap) testimony activities may look like a good idea to the bean-counters in the Church Office Building, I don’t think it demonstrates wise or long-term thinking. Whipping out testimonies at every drop of a hat can’t help but cheapen them.

——

* non-gospel-related and/or non-correlated

Earlier installments in this series:

Sunday in Outer Blogness: May Day edition!

Yay, Baring Witness got an honorable mention in the Association for Mormon Letters Awards! Rachel Whipple wrote about her anxieties as a contributor to the collection. As a contributor myself, I’m pretty happy about the award.

In Mormon news, Utah liquor laws have added a new twist, and Mormon History scholars filed a brief against Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

The Salt Lake Tribune just won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on how BYU’s Honor Code contributes to the problem of sexual assault. Hal Boyd wrote an opinion in the Deseret News claiming that the Honor Code may help prevent sexual assault, and Adam Lee offered a counterpoint.

In Mormon discussion, John C discussed why it’s easy for men not to see the worst of the church’s sexism, and Sam Brunson analysed how Trump’s proposed tax reforms will likely affect Mormons. (I think it seems rather optimistic of him to assume that Trump will still be president and we’ll all still be alive when tax time rolls around again…), and MyrtleJoy discussed the role of emotions in decision-making:

Feelings matter. I pay attention to my feelings, and I examine them closely for nuggets of truth. I trust my feelings, because they have often led me to good things. Like my beloved spouse, and my delightful child.

But, they do not verify truth.

In scripture study, Alex is up to the Tower of Babel part. In meta-scripture study, Mary Ann hasn’t given up on Book of Mormon archaeology, and Alan Rock Waterman has a clever new excuse for why the Bible quotes in the Book of Mormon come straight from the King James Bible.

I hope you’re enjoying my new series (analysing the CoCJoL-dS) as much as I am! Mette Ivie Harrison wrote a post on ways the CoJCoL-dS has changed within Gen-X’s lifetime, and I will definitely be discussing some of these points! Lynette also posted some doctrines that are getting de-emphasized.

In life journeys, Joseph Broom said goodbye to a friend, Steph’s marriage ended, Sam Young wrote some mishie erotica, Jen opened up about anxiety attacks, and Lynette expressed some frustration with members of the CoJCoL-dS:

Defenders Of The Faith: I beg of you, please stop saying “but men and women are different,” or “God is in charge of the church and doing things his way,” or “you just have to realize that the temple is all symbolic” in a tone that suggests you think these radical ideas have not occurred even once to the person raising the feminist critique. Because, surprise! I’ve actually heard assertions like these before. I’ve heard them a whole lot, in fact. I’ve heard them over the pulpit as well as in informal conversations for almost my whole life. Believe it or not, I’ve actually already read most of the talks that get quoted at me that are supposed to solve everything. Sometimes I feel that I’m being talked to as if I’d just come across an anti-Mormon pamphlet claiming that Mormon women are oppressed and had naively swallowed it whole, and I just need an enlightened Latter-day Saint who truly understands the gospel to clear up my misconceptions. But the reality is that I didn’t need to read even a single anti-Mormon pamphlet to notice the glaring reality that women don’t have equal opportunities in the church; I was actually asking questions about the disparity long before I knew what an anti-Mormon pamphlet even was (or, to challenge another assumption I sometimes encounter, before I went to college and was exposed to evil liberal professors who tried to brainwash me into becoming a feminist).

And let’s close with a poem/prayer by J.A. Carter-Winward.

Maybe one of these days I’ll succeed in getting back to posting on Sundays! Yesterday I actually spent most of the day wrestling some unruly, proprietarily-formatted data into a relational database (with a little time off to catch Pokémons). Thanks for your patience!

The CoJCoL-dS: A little bit of nothing for everyone!

When you picture the Mormon mishies pitching the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to a random Never-Mo, it’s hard to imagine who would find the pitch appealing. Yet it had to have been appealing at some point in the past. In the 19th century, whole congregations were converting. Wagon-trains full of converts were crossing the plains to Utah — often having made a trip across the ocean as well. So what gives?

I think a big part of it was that the United States at the time offered very real economic advantages to poor white people from Europe — even those arriving with nothing (or close to it) — so there was some psychological appeal to joining a group that offered a framework for being a part of that adventure.

But I think an even bigger part of the appeal was that Mormonism was a hip, cutting-edge movement that validated a whole lot of popular beliefs at the time. In other words, there were a lot of popular ideas floating around at the time (as there always is…), and it was appealing to hear someone say “God told me X is true!” when X was something the listener already believed. The prophet Joseph Smith provided new scriptural canonization for a bunch of stuff that (to 19th century eyes) was missing from the ancient books (which, unsurprisingly, dealt more with the pressing issues of their own days).

Here are some of the popular ideas that Mormonism validated (and that are now frozen in the amber of Mormon doctrine):

Temperance and Cold Water: If it weren’t for the Mormon “Word of Wisdom” would anyone remember that part of the Temperance movement included a belief in abstaining from hot drinks?

Dispensationalism: There was a popular Christian idea that all of history (as recorded in the Bible…) can be divided into thousand-year “dispensations” (culminating with “The Millennium”). In the Book of Abraham Joseph Smith came up with an awesome riff on this idea by claiming that these Biblical dispensations correspond to Kolob-days — which also had the advantage of explaining the problem of “days” in the creation. I mean, duh, obviously God didn’t create all this stuff in six ordinary days — it was six Kolob-days a.k.a. six thousand years! I love this charming belief because it fits so logically (except for the fact that changing the creation from six days to six thousand years doesn’t really make the Biblical creation story fit the evidence any better, but he tried).

Conservation of Mass-Energy: This was a cool new scientific discovery that led Joseph Smith to explain that God didn’t create spirits ex nihilo (that would be impossible!) but instead “organized” pre-existing spirit matter.

The Native Americans should fit somewhere in the Biblical worldview — like, maybe, as Lost Tribes of Israel!

The “Curse of Cain”: The corresponding Gospel Topics essay helpfully explains that it certainly wasn’t the Mormons who invented the “Curse of Cain” doctrine (that black people are black because that was the “mark” God put on Cain, and that the curse survived Noah’s flood because Ham’s wife was black) — it “had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s.” But for other random Christians, they can easily dismiss it as a dumb idea that some racist Christians came up with a few hundred years ago (and has since fallen out of favor). Sadly for Mormons, the whole story got canonized in the Pearl of Great Price — hence can’t be so easily dismissed if the scriptures are God’s word and all. This little hiccup isn’t mentioned in the essay, so I assume CoJCoL-dS is going with the strategy of “Let’s just pretend it isn’t there, and maybe no one will notice.”

And probably many others…

Unfortunately, aside from conservation of mass-energy, these ideas have mostly fallen out of favor. Some of them are downright embarrassingly offensive. So the thing that was once Mormonism’s big selling point is now a huge liability.

It’s sad because it really was a cool, central part of early Mormonism — the idea that people aren’t limited to the old texts and can study and learn and develop new doctrines. Joseph Smith was very big on the idea that people should be constantly learning and discussing doctrine. But as popular ideas fall out of favor or become discredited, it becomes a problem that God confirmed and canonized them at one point. It’s difficult to say “Oh, God didn’t really mean it about that one,” without calling this whole prophetic-revelation thing into question.

The solution that the CoJCoL-dS has hit upon is “correlation“. In essence, the top brass came up with a short list of simple gospel topics for all official teaching materials. So the distinctive 19th-century ideas are still in there somewhere, but members are encouraged to ignore/forget them by filling their church time with repeating the same simple fluff over and over (the “milk” of the Gospel, as it were) — and so avoiding all “meaty” discussions.

This strategy, unfortunately, raised a new problem. Joseph Smith had followed the Protestant tradition of rejecting Catholic pomp, with its vacuous “vain repetitions.” Joseph Smith was all about the “meat” of the Gospel. He felt that his church should be having interesting, engaging doctrinal discussions and debates instead of empty show.

So if you deliberately cut out the showy/symbolic rituals in order to replace them with meaty gospel discussions, and then later the meaty discussions are off limits — what are you then left with…?

Nothing.

And that is Mormonism’s biggest problem.