A Truth Universally Acknowledged: Two LDS Romance Reviews

A DATE WITH DANGER
By Kari Iroz
256 pp. Covenant Communications, Inc. $15.99

PRIDE AND POLITICS
By Britanny Larsen
272 pp. Covenant Communication, Inc. $16.99

As I was adding finishing touches to my upcoming LDS romance novel, I picked up a couple of Deseret Book titles, curious to see if the stock Mormon rom-com formula had changed. You know the story:

Good Mormon boy (or girl) falls for a non/inactive member because she’s so refreshingly different. Then, after a series of mishaps, misunderstandings, and one chaste kiss, the girl converts/reactivates, the boy pops the question, and they live happily ever after, even though she’s now become the sort of girl that bored the boy in the first place.

Think Shirley Sealy’s Beyond This Moment or Jack Weyland’s Charly or Kurt Hale’s film, The Singles Ward.

I’m happy to report that, based on my two chosen titles, the LDS formula may be on its way out, replaced by the more enduring influence of Regency England.

In A Date With Danger, a Utah Valley college coed, Jacklyn (Jack) Wyatt, teams up with FBI Special Agent Damon Wade to catch a stalker on “Eter-knitty Online Dating,” an LDS forum Jack recently joined. Since it’s unclear which of her contacts might be the culprit, she is ordered to date each of the suspects, while Damon monitors her encounters via hidden microphone.

—Yes, I know. But this is romantic comedy not true crime, and it’s hardly the silliest example of the genre. Think Pretty Woman.

Moreover, with her numerous references to Mr. Darcy, the author is really channeling Jane Austen. Predictable, yes, but Iroz’s writing is solid. Her heroine, Jack, has a strong, witty voice, adorably ditzy in the manner of a good Mormon girl who is more intelligent than she lets on.

Jack’s love interest, the FBI agent, is also a well-drawn character. He’s a lapsed Mormon who makes it clear from the start he’s not coming back to church. Not because he no longer believes. (This is Deseret Book, after all.) But also not because of a petty complaint or a desire to sin. The actual reason is a serious one neither Jack nor the reader can fault.

The two fall in love and then have a falling out over the Church (of course). Then, at the urging of her believing Mormon father, Jack goes back to him even though he’s inactive because—now get this—she loves him! (Cough.) Yes, I just said that. And at the end of the book he’s still inactive and they’re still together! (More coughing.) Has Deseret Book gone astray?

Maybe. Maybe not. They still haven’t lost that chaste kiss requirement. The “lovers” in A Date with Danger have two kissing scenes, one at the end, and another that Jack describes as neither “demanding or even passionate.” Sigh. If it were my book the ex-Mormon would be a much better kisser. Still, I can’t help but admire the real life conclusion.

“It’s not that I’d lost faith in my religion. More that I’d lost faith in the people who practiced it. Or claimed to,” says Summer Knight, author Brittany Larsen’s Elizabeth Bennet clone in Pride and Politics.

Feisty and intelligent, Summer naturally catches the eye of snooty Ivy League Mormon, Benson Hardy. But he isn’t tempted, telling his friend Chase, “First of all, I think you’ve got dibs on the best-looking girl here. Second, she doesn’t go to church. Third, mind your own business.”

Why mind his own business? Because Summer is something far worse than inactive. She’s a Democrat. And not just any Democrat. She’s the daughter of the Democratic senator from Arizona, the arch rival of Benson’s uncle who is soon to become the Republican Party’s nominee for president.

Not long after this initial encounter, Summer obediently returns to church. But that’s not to say the novel follows the old formula. Unlike a more conventional LDS plot that exists within a sheltered Mormon cocoon, Pride and Politics is set in the real world with people who are comfortable in it. We’re definitely not in Happy Valley anymore.

Larsen sticks closely to the story, featuring all of Austen’s beloved characters in interesting—and not necessarily wholesome—manifestations. My favorite is the Lydia Bennet character, Lindsay, who enters the plot when she loses her ecclesiastical endorsement for BYU-Idaho after a public episode of under-aged drinking. There are all the same scenes, only through an LDS lens in Southern California and Washington D.C., with a mock British accent thrown in here, riding breeches and scones thrown in there.

Imagine the ball at Netherfield transported to the Newport Beach LDS Stake Center. Mr. Collins, who needs to marry before he can begin his job as an LDS seminary teacher, foppishly begs Elizabeth Bennet for her hand. She manages to escape, only to be confronted by Darcy who woos her with awkward conversation and caffeine-free Coke. Until they are interrupted by a scantily clad Lydia who jiggles her bodacious cleavage under Darcy’s disapproving gaze. —Now that’s a scene worthy of Amy Heckerling.

Speaking of Lydia’s cleavage, there’s a healthy dose of sexual tension in this book. Enough to shock/titillate a number of Mormon sisters, confound some of the Brethren, and make a 19th century literary realist roll her eyes.

Describing their first kiss, Summer says, “The heat of his (Benson’s) lips made me forget about the cold … my only thought was, More, please.” And then later, when they were dancing, “the synapses in my body were tingling from his touch”

Of course it all ends with a delicious snogging scene for Benson and Summer. The Mormon Republican is elected president. (I’m guessing that was a concession to Deseret Book.) And Lindsay is home from her slutty affair in Mexico, repentant and reformed for life. (Nah—she’s barely warming up.)

Perhaps Deseret Book will favor us with more worldly Mormon romances? I hope so.

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?

Trump and the Rise of the Uninformed Expert

I got some hate mail last Thursday.

It was a voicemail, actually, from an old friend. He said he’s cutting his ties to us because of my husband Mark’s recent suggestion that Syrian refugees be admitted into our country.

Boasting an extensive knowledge of Islam (he owns a Quran), this “friend” scolded Mark—over my voicemail—for inviting an influx of crazies who only want to “put black sacks over women” and “distort their genitals.”

Then on a conciliatory note, he gave Mark a pass because he is a victim of “Mormon Whiplash,” a label this man (who has never been LDS but owns a Book of Mormon) invented for the blanket of former Mormons who (in his mind) always do the exact opposite of what the Mormons do.

Gosh, I loathe black and white thinking. But it seems to be all we get these days. Thanks to the rise of Trump and the alt-right, people like our friend now feel free to express the hatred they’d kept hidden for so long, and in a recorded message, no less. What used to be a dog whistle is now a bullhorn.

Does our former friend read the news? Okay, so maybe he thinks it’s all fake. He still goes to the grocery store though, right? Does he really believe that the friendly kid in produce wearing the “Muhammad” nametag dreams of mutilating women? How does one reduce a worldwide population of 1.8 billion into such a narrowly drawn, repugnant, and false stereotype—one that is so easily disproven?

Likewise the less ambitious “Mormon Whiplash” analogy. I’m actually quite familiar with this stale theory, having heard it time and again from the black and white thinkers at church—“People who reject the gospel ricochet into washed-up losers who booze it up in front of the porn channel.” Or maybe even vote Democratic.

Again, the false stereotype that is easily disproven—starting with Mark who, upon leaving the LDS Church over two decades ago, “whiplashed” out of the Republican Party just last year when it nominated Donald J. Trump for president. But he still hasn’t started boozing it up or looking at porn—so there!

Besides, how is kindness to refugees an example of so-called “Mormon Whiplash?”

I’ve written extensively about the Mormons, on this blog and elsewhere. Much of my writing has been humor aimed at the culture and much of it criticism leveled at the church’s exclusionary policies and practices. I believe all religions deserve scrutiny, especially those that claim exclusive access to God and salvation.

But after years of being told I was “offended and wanted to sin,” I’ve steered clear of drawing the same sort of uninformed conclusions about practicing Mormons. After all these years, the false stereotypes still get under my skin. For example: “all Mormons practice polygamy” or “Mormons perform kinky, satanic rituals in their temples.” The ever popular “Mormons aren’t Christians” or, hat tip to our former friend, “all Mormons are bigots”—a good thing, according to him.

Our nation’s newly embraced bigotry exploded in violence in Charlottesville over the weekend, the ultimate example of black and white thinking. An event egged on by, I believe, an increasing lack of civility in our public and private discourse, a tone set by our commander-in-chief. Even now, President Trump refuses to blame the white supremacists for this terrible incident, his true colors showing in his boorish tantrum before the press yesterday.

Mormonism is neither as large nor as steeped in history as an ancient faith like Islam. However, we still defy stereotypes, especially when our spectrum is broadened to include the fundamentalists on the right and the post-Mormons on the left. Hopefully, we can reject the national trend and keep our discourse civil. Latter-day Saints like to say they’re “not of the world.” This would be an excellent time to live that example.

And as long as I’m on a tear over the ignorant hate mail, I’ll conclude with a lesson that was impressed upon me as a child. One that I, in turn, impressed upon my own children: You don’t display your expertise by boasting your thin resume.

Imagine Dr. Kissinger prefacing his remarks with, “I have an extensive knowledge of the Middle East. I own a Quran.”

But then, since our national tone is set by a guy who insists he’s really smart because he went to Wharton Business School and had a hit reality show, I see more ignorant hate mail and hollow boasts in our future, leaving the critical thinker to go on calling out the hatred while stubbornly sticking to the facts.

The Mormon Way to Get Rich

Thanks to some of my believing Mormon friends, the blog post, “Will Your Child be Rich or Poor? 15 Poverty Habits Parents Teach their Children,” has been hovering on my radar, popping up repeatedly in my Facebook feed and even landing in my inbox via mass email. When I finally broke down and read the thing I immediately understood the appeal. The author, Thomas C. Corley, doesn’t specify any church affiliation. Nevertheless, he is clearly a shoe-in for speaker on the LDS potluck circuit.

Distressed that parents, teachers, and other confused bleeding hearts are teaching today’s children that the wealthy “have too much wealth” and the underprivileged are “victims” of poverty, Corley began a five-year “Rich Habits Study” conducted through his “Rich Habits Institute.” Confessing that he is not a scientist, economist, or other so-called “study expert,” he instead applied his “unique CPA skills” to determine why some people are rich and some are poor. His results?

Surprise!!! Rich people have good habits and poor people have bad habits.

The wealthy, according to Corley, are paragons of morality, intellect, and physical fitness. They listen to audio books, they do aerobics, they attend Back-to-School Night, their kids are on the honor roll, they’re thrifty and driven to succeed. They own all of Thomas C. Corley’s books. Bottom line: they’re rich because they really want to be rich.

The poor, on the other hand, are a seedy, slothful bunch. They eat junk food and gamble, they’re at least 30 pounds overweight, they laze around watching reality TV, and spend all their money. They blow off Back-to-School Night. Bottom line: they don’t really want to be rich.

It’s hard to overemphasize how well this philosophy plays in the LDS community, especially among the die-hards and higher-ups. Given the hierarchy’s principal message is “if you’re offended it’s your fault,” it’s easy to jump to “if you’re poor it’s your fault.” In fact, some extremists in the faith would argue that even the circumstances of birth are not by chance, but determined by the individual’s valiance in the pre-mortal “War in Heaven.” Imagine that logic coupled with Corley’s findings:

“I hear some bleeding hearts are taking a collection to help that newborn discovered inside a dumpster over in South Central. What a waste. Face it, the kid had it coming. He didn’t fight hard enough for Jesus. Anyway, all is not lost. He just needs to save his allowance, listen to some audiobooks, and lay off the junk food so he won’t get fat. He can still succeed. If he wants to.”

Bottom line: the Brethren really don’t want to know about your problems.

Given that a sizable chunk of our populace believes our previous president was born in Kenya, I should point out that Corley’s article isn’t entirely fake news. While hardly a guarantee for financial freedom, his suggestions for at least personal improvement are essentially sound, encouraging his readers toward healthy living, attentive parenting, frugality, etc. In fact, his formula makes infinitely more sense than the LDS model of serve a mission, have a bunch of kids, devote your spare time to church callings, pay your tithing, etc.

But it’s the claim that the rich are morally superior that is so damaging, not to mention perversely inaccurate.

Take, for example, our current commander-in-chief who has risen to success by way of gambling casinos, reality TV, defaulted loans, lawsuits, salacious headlines, and, of course, lies. On top of that, he is hardly a model of physical fitness.

If the “haves” can make a successful case that status is achieved solely through hard work and moral superiority, they can demand goodness knows what from the “have-nots.” But then, I suppose that’s what the Brethren and guys like Corley are going for.

Also, while I’ve no “unique CPA skills,” I can claim over a half century of life experience. And throughout that experience, I have never known anybody who didn’t want to be rich. With one notable exception.**

Of course, I am one of those bleeding hearts and certainly not one of the “haves.” Which really blows because I listen to audio books, exercise regularly, and am less than 30 pounds overweight. I attended Back-to School Nights and my kids were on the honor roll. Also I know how to save a buck. Must have been my Conscientious Objector status during the War in Heaven. Or maybe I just need to read Thomas C. Corley’s books?

**In 1988 I had a memorable encounter with some Carthusian monks in the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuese, near Grenoble, France. They had taken a vow of poverty. But were surprisingly svelte and never watched reality TV.

Powerful Voices: “Baring Witness: 36 Mormon Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage,” edited by Holly Welker

baring_witnessEver wonder how those beaming brides posing outside the LDS temple really feel? Are they happy? Are they nervous? Are they resigned? All or none of the above? “Baring Witness: 36 Mormon Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage” provides some answers to those questions. Elegantly written and meticulously edited, Holly Welker’s new anthology gives voice to a diverse group of LDS women, all of whom felt compelled to fulfill the faith’s unyielding expectation that they become wives and mothers.

In choosing contributors who are straight, gay, single, married, divorced, ethnically dissimilar, and in various stages of belief, Welker avoids the trap of promoting an agenda, and instead presents a fascinating and objective view of Mormon marriage and culture, one that both reflects and resonates with the larger LDS community.

Finding herself single and in her 30’s, Naomi Watkins realizes she has no contingency plan. Only Plan A: “meet a returned missionary, date, fall in love, get married, have a basketball team of babies, and live happily ever after.” Still devout to the faith, she continues to pursue that plan, and hopes for the best, in spite of past disappointments.

Marie Brian exposes the Mormon practice of “creative dating,” describing carriage rides in her pajamas, messy spaghetti dinners (no forks allowed), even a pretend date with a dressed-up dummy she’d attached with a balloon head. “At the time, I didn’t think there was anything risqué about dating something you inflated with your own breath,” she recalls.

Brian’s gem of a story hit me close to home. As a student at BYU, I took part in a number of these elaborate stunts, once dressing up as “James, your chauffeur” for a formal gala at McDonald’s. Evidently, no wholesome Mormon courtship is complete without a cross-dressing activity, a public parade in one’s nightclothes, or the unwitting participation in some sexually themed role-play.

Another standout is Bernadette Echols’ concise and eloquent piece on Mormon divorce. “Our strained and stoic goodbye hung awkwardly in the air by the back door before joining the billowing clouds of dust he churned up as he went rumbling, storming, careening down the dirt driveway,” she begins.

Suddenly abandoned, Echols turns to her ward for sympathy where she finds none. “Were they too ashamed of what had happened to me to speak of it, or did they imagine I was?” she asks. Meanwhile, her cousin, a newly widowed LDS woman, is embraced and comforted by her ward family. Rejected by her own, Echols seeks support from a divorce recovery program at a Methodist Church. It is there that she learns that “one is a whole number.”

The stories continue, different Mormon women with different Mormon marriages: same-sex, mixed-race, inter-faith, and plural. Some succeed in their relationships. Some fail and try again. And some go on to “Plan B,” content with the knowledge that “one is a whole number.”

Filled with humor, pathos, and honesty, “Baring Witness” presents a powerful contribution to the body of Mormon prose, as well as a keen insight into the minds and hearts of those beaming brides posing outside the LDS temple.

Baring Witness

36 Mormon Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage

Edited by Holly Welker

275 pgs. University of Illinois Press $19.95

“Selling the City of Enoch” by Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend has done it again. He’s delivered more deliciously subversive Mormon fiction in his delightful new collection, Selling the City of Enoch.

As in his previous works, Townsend’s well-drawn characters are too complex to fit into the Mormon cookie-cutter mold. For example, the overly curious Sister Covino who can’t look the other way when her mission president’s wife appears to have been murdered. Or Lucy, a recent convert who, lacking the human connections she’d hoped to form in her new ward, resorts to renting a family for the Christmas holiday. Similarly disenfranchised, an ambitious Wiccan politician lamely aspires to be the mayor of Salt Lake City—that is, until he has an alien encounter while hiking Bryce Canyon. And then there is the charming Mrs. Mariposa, the title character of my favorite story in the collection, who marries the love of her life in the Mormon temple and then surprises him with the news that she isn’t technically a woman.

Selling the City of Enoch exists at that awkward intersection where the LDS ideal meets the real world, and Townsend navigates his terrain with humor, insight and pathos.

Order this great read here.

Dragons of the Book of Mormon by Johnny Townsend

In his new collection of short stories, Dragons of the Book of Mormon, Johnny Townsend introduces compelling, sympathetic, and at times, hilarious characters struggling to live simultaneously within the rigid structure of Mormonism, the real world, and, in some cases, the magical world inspired by Mormon doctrine.

In “Going Home,” 56-year-old Jared, whose daily highlight is adding Splenda to his Frosted Mini-Wheats, longs for an end to his life on this earth and the beginning of his promised celestial glory. In the title story, “Dragons of the Book of Mormon,” a curious young LDS woman mounts an impossible quest to gain access to a General Authority.

Henry, from the gem, “Bumper Sticker Theology,” is a homophobe forced to attend his boss’s gay wedding. Determined to make his opinion known, he explains:

“You had to be firm with gays. They thought they deserved the world. You had to teach them their place. Otherwise, it was like letting Lance Armstrong get away with doping.”

In “Half Marathon Man,” the uber-believing Sandor entertains erotic fantasies at the dentist’s office, where the sexy, non-Mormon hygienist knows just how to work on his mouth. “Getting Zeppoli from Derek,” perhaps my favorite in the collection, is about a single woman who comes to realize that the priesthood isn’t necessarily inspired on her behalf.

And then there are the delightful flights of Mormon-themed fantasy that Townsend excels at creating. “Temple Man,” about a superhero who runs around saving the day in his temple clothes; “How We Won Back Salt Lake,” about the devout LDS family who survives the zombie apocalypse on their food storage; and “Looking for Nephi,” that places the Three Nephites in Pasadena—a scenario so amusing it will prompt this reader to have her eye out for the beloved trio the next time she cruises down Colorado Boulevard.

Dragons of the Book of Mormon is yet another excellent offering from the prolific and talented writer, Johnny Townsend.

Purchase it here!

Exit Strategy by Micah McAllister

Since I began writing about my former life within Mormonism, countless true believers have asked me:

“So Donna, if the LDS Church is ‘false,’ why are there so many websites, blogs, bulletin boards, and groups out there to help people who leave the Church? After all, Satan doesn’t need those tools for people who quit other (presumably untrue) religions.”

Now, thanks to Micah McAllister, the true believers may cite yet another implement in Satan’s toolbox: a guidebook to leaving the LDS Church.

Exit Strategy: A Guide to Leaving Mormonism with your Dignity and Integrity Intact, is a handy and efficient volume that addresses all of the questions surrounding the experience, including the one posed above.

Perhaps the most compelling thing about this concise and highly readable work is that McAllister, who is the founder of Life After Mormonism, does not devote any time to disputing the claims of Joseph Smith, niggling over problems with the LDS Church’s official version of its history, or otherwise proving that the church is “false.” In fact, he doesn’t even describe his own exit process, other than to say that he grew up in a large, believing Mormon family and then left the faith at the age of 29.

Instead, he begins with the premise that his reader has already made the decision to leave, and he respects the reasons behind that decision, whatever they may be. Once established, that spirit of mutual respect between McAllister and his reader expands to include respect for the believer as well. Because, after all, that’s the point. Everybody has a right to his or her own beliefs.

From there, McAllister goes on to cover every aspect of the unique ordeal of escaping both Mormonism and its mindset. He discusses practical how-to’s like composing a resignation letter, requesting “no contact” from the bishop, buying new underwear, brewing coffee, and ordering that first cocktail. He offers helpful advice on navigating the inevitably dicey social situations; such as, breaking the news to family, establishing boundaries, and finding a new community. Perhaps most importantly, he deals with the emotional challenges a new ex-Mormon may face. For example, losing the left-over guilt, learning to communicate assertively, and above all, learning to love one’s self.

All of his points are conveyed in lucid writing that is consistently friendly and, at times, humorous, making Exit Strategies an enjoyable read for a single sitting, and the antithesis to a session of General Conference. I would recommend it to anyone who has left Mormonism, has family or friends who have left Mormonism, or is merely curious about the experience.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Holiday Pantsuit Edition!

It’s Donna again, giving Chanson another well-deserved break from her weekly column. As always, I’m humbled but also very excited to be here, as I just learned that one of our own, the amazing writer, Johnny Townsend, has earned some high praise from Kirkus Book Reviews. His collection of short stories, Marginal Mormons, was just named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2012 and was chosen as one of their Top 25 Indie Books of 2012. — Just in time for a last minute holiday gift! (Hint-hint.) Read this interesting interview about Johnny’s book as well.

Speaking of holiday gifts, Bishop Flat Lander suggested two excellent scholarly texts on Mormonism, as well as an entertaining novel. (If I do say so myself.) Other ideas included a twist on the Secret Santa tradition and maybe an upcoming new hymnal. Books and music aside, the must-have gift for this year’s holiday is pants.

Even though a week has passed, the controversy over women in pants continued to dominate Outer Blogness. One blogger hoped the church would change, another was more concerned with what’s on top, a sister explained why she is a Mormon and a feminist, a poster on exmormon reddit wrote about why Mormon feminism is dangerous, while a brother argued that the church is a dress!

Of course the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary inspired much discussion as well. Most of it thoughtful, some not so thoughtful, and all of it steeped in sadness.

Also there was the usual hodgepodge of topics, including LSD, mental gymnastics, the choices the church gives gays and lesbians, a new poll, a proclamation to the Brethren and the Mission President’s Handbook. A convert spoke about being repressed and an abuse survivor shared her story. The 200th post went up on Polygamy Chic and the 600th post went up on Hackman’s Musings. There were the expected eye-rolls when the world didn’t end on 12/21/12except for one poor soul who may wish it had. And an article in the Deseret News linking porn use to support of same-sex marriage drew this ingenious response.

Finally there were the many thoughts on Christmas, the traditions, the doctrine and complex feelings surrounding it, the good works and not so good works the season inspires. Also musings on Jesus, Joseph Smith, and of course, Santa.

Happy Holiday blogging to all!

Sunday in Outerblogness — Dark and Stormy Night Edition!

The intersection of Halloween, Hurricane Sandy and the upcoming Election Day made for one scary week in Outerblogness.

There were plenty of Halloween costumes, some cute and some sexy ones, and some that were just plain over the top!Add to that, there wereterrifying before and after hair-do’s and Halloween potlucks. Do you like scary music? Check out this version of the Primary Songbook. Even more alarming, do you really know who you’re sexting?

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy led some to reflect on condolence and others to reflect on preparedness. Some posted updates, others posted ideas forrelief, and there were opposingviews on themoralityof price gouging in the aftermath.

As for U.S. politics, it’s scary how polarized we’ve become. Also LDS conservatives may be frightened to learn that there arequitea few Mormons and Ex-Mormons who do not plan to vote for Romney. (Yikes!)

Then there’s that really scary subject, Mormon Culture. Folks are still blogging about the change in the missionary age requirement, and Runtu warned the sister missionaries to never “slap or poke an elder.” Steve is still waiting on a response, Mormon Coffee is still answering Mormons’ questions, Seth shared his thoughts on obedience, Invictus Pilgrim wrote about victimization, Foxy is thinking of reinventing herself, there was an identity crisis on Feminine Mormon Housewives, a scary chorister screw-up over on Mormon Mentality, some reflections on shunning and on Heavenly Father’s Plan on Ex-Mormon Mavens, an (always scary) talk assignment on Mormon Expressions, J. Seth wrote about an important UT fundraiser, and Flat Lander spent a frustrating evening trying to convince a terrified friend that the LDS Church isn’t going to kill him. (Double yikes!)

But it wasn’t all spookiness. Chanson reviewed Johnny Townsend’s new short story collection. Andrew S. reviewed Terryl Givens’Letter to a Doubter, Motley Vision reviewed Book of Mormon comicsand the works of Nephi Anderson, and Mormon Expositor reviewed an episode of The District.FAIR has put out a Book of Mormon verse by verse commentary and Kent Larsen is still working on his Mormon dictionary. Also, for those who are tired of the presidential election, here’s another place to cast your vote.

There were some joyfulcouples who celebrated theiranniversaries, thoughts on semantics, shout outs for NaBloPoMo, thoughts on Thanksgiving, and even a Christmas gift idea for the Mormon who has everything!

Also Chanson went to Paris this weekend and will hopefully write about it upon her return.

Happy blogging!

How Far We’ve Come — The ExMormon Foundation Conference 2012

I first attended the ExMormon Conference in 2001. Back then it was held in Las Vegas. The event included two powerful open mic sessions, a couple of afternoon presentations that I admit I’ve forgotten, and a fantastic talk by Richard Packham. After Richard’s remarks came an insanely irreverent “talent” show that featured a belly dancer, an actor who gave a convincing performance of Brigham Young and various skits of dubious quality. (I landed the minor role of a drunken Primary chorister.) Oh yes, that reminds me. There was drinking — plenty of drinking, thanks to an overflowing cash bar staffed by a tireless bartender. After the show, Brigham and the belly dancer left to party together in the casino, while the rest of us retired upstairs to the Hospitality Room for … you guessed it … more drinking.

When I think of the 2001 ExMormon Conference in Las Vegas, two things stand out in my memory. First, the embarrassing spectacle of middle-aged people getting drunk for the first time in their lives; and second, the painful and emotional confessionals that dominated the two open mic sessions. People who had recently left the LDS Church came to the podium with stories of rejection, severe depression, suicide attempts, extreme ecclesiastical abuse, and most of all,fear. While there were a few who claimed to have moved beyond, the vast majority of those who “testified” before the convention were still very much victims. They feared discipline from church authorities and shunning from their family and friends, so much so, that many refused to be filmed or to use their real names. It may have been the ExMormon Conference, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still seemed to quietly preside. But then, every movement has its early days. I suppose these were ours.

So how did 2001 measure up with 2012?Well, for starters the conference had been moved to Salt Lake City, just minutes away from Temple Square. Also the mood was decidedly different.

Half an hour into the Friday night’s opening program, David Twede of Mormon Thinkstrolled up to the podium of the open mic session and announced that he was resigning from the LDS Church. He then read his highly amusing exit letter that offered no apologies or explanations. — Only a request for the latest “temple hottie,” Eve’s, phone number and the hope that the Brethren will discipline the next Mormon Think editor so that the website’s popularity might be propelled “into orbit around Kolob.” Then he held his laptop up for the audience to see and pressed “send.”

On Saturday there were some presentations I will never forget.

Tom Donofrio delved into the origins of the language in the Book of Mormon, citing sources ranging from Solomon Spaulding to Shakespeare to Jonathan Swift. (Guess what Gulliver’s first name was. – snort –Lemuel.)

Sue Emmett spoke about the encroaching influence of religious extremism on our government, a topic she’s been researching since the author and investigative reporter, Jeff Sharlet, spoke at the conference a couple of years ago. (See, we’re branching out beyond Mormonism now.)

Grant Palmer’s fantastic talk, “My Ah-ha Moments While Researching Mormon History,” drew heavily on his excellent book, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins.However he also spoke about the lack of vitality in today’s LDS Church and its borderline desperate attempts to regain ground by changing its approach to history and scripture (as shown by the firing of Daniel C. Peterson); also its efforts to reinvigorate the flagging missionary program (as shown by the Brethren’s recent change in the minimum age requirement for full time missionaries.) In what was perhaps the most powerful analogy of this year’s conference, Palmer compared today’s LDS Church to “a helium balloon that’s been hanging in the corner of the room for the past three days.”

I unfortunately had to miss Lori Fazzino’s presentation. (That’s the trouble with having family in Utah.) She spoke about “Becoming Unsaved: The Road to Deconversion and Beyond.” I heard it was fantastic.

Finally “Wade Wilson” – otherwise known as Raptor Jesus – gave a hilarious and poignant account of his mission experience and the post-traumatic stress disorder that followed. Unlike 2001, “Wade” was the only person that I met at this year’s conference who used an alias. It wasn’t because he was afraid of being shunned by his family, however. He just didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

People who were there at the beginning of San Francisco’s Gay Rights Movement say the population of the city’s famous Castro district began as a party heavy crowd of closeted gay revelers who clung to their anonymity for fear of being shunned by their loved ones. Today the Castro is a family friendly community of openly gay and lesbian citizens and activists.

Perhaps that’s the direction the ExMormon Movement will take. At any rate, at the ExMormon Foundation Conference 2012 the LDS Church hung in the corner of the room like a three day old helium balloon. Meanwhile, the ExMormons stepped forward to preside with confidence, good humor and much hope for the future. But there were no skits or belly dancers. And, Bo, who tended Friday and Saturday night’s cash bar, found himself with long stretches of time on his hands.