The 8 things I’d like to ask

I know…I have resigned my membership. So why do I care about the new Mormon church policy update that impacts LGBT Mormons? Why bother stressing about it if I don’t even belong or believe?

Because this was my faith community for 46 years. Because it was how I was raised. Because I have active believing children (and now grandchildren), parents, a sister, extended family and friends that do continue to believe and participate. Because the Mormon church continues to impact those relationships. I have a gay brother whose married to a wonderful man and they’ve been together for a lot of years. During my faith transition, I reached out and made many friends online and became aware of their struggles and pain. I’m a Mama Dragon, even if I don’t have any gay children myself, because LGBT issues have impacted my life. I’ve received private messages over the past couple of years about what it means to be gay in the Mormon church. I have listened to stories of unimaginable pain and anguish. And the most basic reason is because I’m human and I care about people.

So I’ve examined this policy, as currently written (with no clarification issued yet), and engaged in a lot of discussions. While doing this, I’ve compiled a list of questions – questions that the video the church released with Elder Christofferson left unanswered. Here they are:

#1 – Since the primary reason for the policy given by Elder Christofferson was to protect the children from mixed messages, how does this policy accomplish that when it only bans them from saving ordinances while allowing/encouraging them to attend church? If this is the primary concern, why not ban them from attending our church services all-together until they’re 18? How does the church reconcile the mixed messaging happening for children in other families that are living in situations where parents are living in ways that don’t align with church doctrines/policies? Like non-members, those engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage, those with addiction issues, those living with partners but unmarried, those that have left the church, apostates, etc. If the church is trying to prevent mixed messaging or family conflict, why aren’t these same rules applicable for all children under age 18? Are they still working on policy updates for those children/families as well? Because there are many children currently participating in the church the hear messages that conflict with what they hear and see at home.

# 2 – Does the church anticipate that the children of gay parents will still attend church with these new rules? Do they hope that grandparents, family members and friends will continue to bring these children to primary, church and youth activities? Will the church be encouraging that? If so, how does the church envision this experience working for both those children and the adults teaching primary/YM/YW? Because the messaging will be the same. And they won’t be able to fully participate in some things (baptism, blessing/passing the sacrament, temple trips, ordinations). Does the church plan on altering the manuals to help teachers and leaders prepare for these situations and how to make the children feel truly involved/included?

# 3 - Since baby blessings are not a saving ordinance, and viewed as a celebration of a child’s birth, and are done for children whose parents are inactive/non-members, why is this different for children with gay parents? The reason given, during the video, was it creates a membership record and starts ward responsibilities for that child. But that happens with other children, as well, whose parents may not even be attending or believe (and living in situations where mixed messaging will happen). Is the church concerned about having the gay couples names on the certificate of blessing? Or in the church system listed as a family unit?  If so, why? Wouldn’t the church want primary/ward leaders and members to reach out to these children, just like they do for inactive families?

# 4 - Why is the church just now enacting these changes when same-sex marriage has been legal in roughly 20 other countries for anywhere between 1 year and more than 10 years? The total church membership in those countries is about 2.5 million. The church has said this is to protect children and families. Was the church concerned about the children and families in these other countries as well? And, if so, why did they wait until marriage laws changed in the U.S. when this is a global church?

# 5 –  How does the church view support of same-sex marriage for members now? In this interview with Elder Christofferson in March 2015, he stated:

“Our approach in all of this, as (Mormon founder) Joseph Smith said, is persuasion. You can’t use the priesthood and the authority of the church to dictate. You can’t compel, you can’t coerce. It has to be persuasion, gentleness and love unfeigned, as the words in the scripture.”
There hasn’t been any litmus test or standard imposed that you couldn’t support that if you want to support it, if that’s your belief and you think it’s right,” Christofferson said after a Jan. 27 news conference.

We have individual members in the church with a variety of different opinions, beliefs and positions on these issues and other issues,” Christofferson said. ” … In our view, it doesn’t really become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders — if that’s a deliberate and persistent effort and trying to get others to follow them, trying to draw others away, trying to pull people, if you will, out of the church or away from its teachings and doctrines.

The current policy update states that children with gay parents, in a same-sex marriage, will need to disavow this practice in order to be baptized or serve a mission. Does that mean regular members can support it, but children with gay parents can’t? What about after they are baptized and 18 years old? Or after they return home from their mission? At that point are they allowed to support it like the rest of the members?

# 6 – Now that the church has included same-sex married couples in the definition of apostasy/apostates, are the temple recommend questions going to be altered to reflect this? Especially the question that asks:

“Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” 

Does this mean belonging to a group like Mama Dragons is a violation of this? Since they support their children and others that live with their partners or get married? What about parents who support their gay children that are doing this? What about being a member of a LGBT support group that supports these as valid options like Affirmation?

# 7 – We’ve heard rumblings that there will be some clarification or additional training coming forth to help expand on this written policy. If this is the case, and the church was planning on doing this from the start, why didn’t Elder Christofferson mention this during the video? The video was released late the following evening and the media and online discussions had been happening for 24 hours. Many people were upset, confused, surprised and honestly shocked at this update and wording. The church would have been well aware of this by the time they began filming the video. Wouldn’t it have been good timing for the church to reassure the members that further clarifications would be forthcoming? And that the church recognized there were a myriad of individual circumstances that would need to be taken into account? That the church was aware of the pain and anguish this policy was resulting in, and that they would work hard to expand on the language to help local leadership understand how to implement this? The policy change became public on November 5, the video was released on Nov 6, and it is now November 12. There has been no clarification. If the church had these exceptions/clarifications prepared, why is it taking so long to release them? Or is this delay due to not anticipating the need for these?

# 8 – If the church provides additional clarification, and allows exceptions for children who have divorced parents (mixed-orientation marriage), how will these exceptions work? Will it be based on specific percentage requirements for the amount of time they can live in the home of the parent that is cohabiting or in a same-sex marriage? After they turn 18, does this requirement end (say, for instance, a student at BYU that lives with a gay parent during a term break)?

OK so perhaps it was more like 8 groups of questions I’d like to ask!

More than feeding roots

I feel like it’s important to share my experience and thoughts regarding a recent talk Elder Ballard gave in the Marriott Center to the Utah South Area. Why do I even care when I no longer believe or attend church? I have close family members that do believe and accept what LDS Church Leaders say as inspired, accurate and true. When he says things about people that no longer believe he is talking about me and others I care about. When he relays the experience of those that have left the church, and why/how that happens, he is talking about me and others I care about. When he implies knowledge about why I and others have left, and states these after reminding folks that he is a special witness, he is implying his perspectives/conclusions are accurate. That impacts people I care about and are close to. The only way to add to this, since I can’t have my experiences printed in the Ensign, is to engage in my own personal circle of influence. I want those that know me, interact with me and matter to me to understand my choices and life because I am one of those people he’s discussing.

Elder Ballard relates a story about a grove of sequoia trees on BYU campus and how one that use to be tall and strong died because its feeding roots were affected. He says:

What happens when stalwart church members, the very elect for all appearances that seem to stand tall and erect in faith, die spiritually? Like the dead sequoia those church members once received their spiritual nourishment from the well of living water offered by Jesus Christ. But having been disconnected, for one reason or another from that source, their spirit was dulled and they eventually died spiritually. How can we ensure that our spiritual feeding roots are always connected to the well of living water? The Lord outlines simple personal habits that keep us rooted, grounded and connected to him.

He goes on to say those habits are: daily prayer, fasting, regular study of scriptures and words of living prophets, Sabbath day, partaking of the Sacrament, attending the temple and reaching out to others. He says:

When someone stops doing these simple but essential things they cut themselves from the well of living water and allow Satan to muddle their thinking. Sin and guilt cloud their mind.

Elder Ballard you are making the assumption that all who stop believing weren’t doing these simple things. You imply that members who stop believing (those very elect) were perhaps not strongly rooted. You imply that sin and guilt are factors. These are enormous generalizations and you are stating them as if they apply to everyone. I continued to read, pray, fast, go to the temple, serve in my callings (which required lots of studying/preparation). In fact those increased for me during the years I continued to attend and participate. I read every night. I prayed every night. I read and studied for months about the church more intently than I had during my entire life. I had no guilt about sin weighing me down and clouding/dulling my mind as I continued to live my life as I had done as an active, believing, temple worthy member. My experience is shared by many who were solid, active, serving members. Members who weren’t slackers in these simple things. Your entire focus is on what the member who stopped believing did/didn’t do and is based on all kinds of assumptions/generalizations. In this church relationship there are two parties – the member and the church. Your discussion completely focuses on the member. Why? Do you feel the church bears no responsibility in the decision a member makes to leave or stop believing? What about the member like me who spends enormous effort, energy and time studying and comes across all kinds of problematic issues within the church? What about the member like me who for 45 years learned church history from the church only to discover this history was often incomplete and at times inaccurate? What about the member who finds very real problems in the theology, doctrine, truth claims and historical narrative they were taught which have significant impact on church authority/restoration claims? What role does the church play in all of this for the member that is in fact making the decision to leave based on very real legitimate concerns? When you portray members who leave like your story in the sequoa tree you are attempting to devalue and delegitimize many like me and our experience and decision. Not only that you avoid recognizing and discussing the church’s part in this entire thing.

He also says:

One thing that is constantly on my mind is knowing that individuals that don’t stay focused on the simple doctrines of the gospel will eventually listen to false teachers, self-proclaimed prophets and adopt worldly philosophies. These alternative voices include viewing podcasts and internet sites that raise questions and doubts without being intellectually honest and that do not adequately and honestly present the Lord’s perspective.

Elder Ballard many members, myself included, were studying the gospel, church history and doctrines when we began learning things we weren’t familiar with. It’s not that we weren’t focused on the simple doctrines enough. Are you suggesting we shouldn’t have studied so much? Is the restoration narrative a simple doctrine? Is early church history a simple part of the gospel or something we should avoid studying? What constitutes alternative voices:, FairMormon, Maxwell Institute, old church historical documents and books written by apostles/prophets/respected leaders? Which podcasts: FairMormon, A Thoughtful Faith, Mormon Stories, Mormon Matters? Which websites? The reality is once you become aware of the uncorrelated material you have to go outside of the easily accessible Sunday church material in order to study and learn more. Do you feel the correlated church material is intellectually honest? The reality is it’s often incomplete and sometimes contradicts the historical record. When studying historical information what does it mean to “adequately and honestly represent the Lord’s perspective”? Does this mean if you are researching something that doesn’t match what you learned at church, or are hearing over the pulpit, you should discount it or view it as inaccurate or dishonest? The reason someone might feel muddled is often not due to a lack of solidly placed feeding roots, but rather because what we learn at church, from official correlated church material, so often doesn’t match what we find in deeper study.

It sure would be helpful for mixed faith families, and those of us trying hard to maintain positive interaction with our active LDS family/friends, if these talks weren’t filled with generalizations and assumptions. If they weren’t all focused on painting the member as someone weak, not rooted and negligent/lacking in the simple necessary things. It sure would be nice if they also recognized folks like me that tried for years to make it work, studied and made great effort in their decision. It sure would be nice if recognition was made that there are in fact some of us that have navigated this in a very thorough, conscientious way utilizing the methods we were taught our whole life to use when studying the gospel. It would be nice if the church’s roles and responsibilites in this process were discussed as well. If the church recognized and openly discussed how the correlated material we’ve used for years is lacking in some instances in accuracy and detail. It would be wonderful if the church recognized this may be a very conscientious decision someone makes after study instead of portraying people like me like your sequoa tree story because honestly it’s a helluva lot more complicated than feeding roots.

Why Mormon Spectrum?

When my husband went through a faith transition, in the Mormon church we were each raised in, we lost friends and a sense of community. Many of the people we had developed close relationships with pulled back from us. Some of our family members struggled to navigate this unexpected change in his perspectives and beliefs. Our church experience altered as now I had a husband that was no longer believing. We were now a mixed faith marriage instead of the traditional Mormon family. It wasn’t that people were mean to us or purposely hurt us, but they began to stop inviting us to things. They were uncomfortable around us when we ran into each other. Our opinions, views, experiences and lives were viewed differently. They tried, rather awkwardly, to avoid discussing anything of real depth and meaning. It was excruciating. When I transitioned out of the faith, several years after my husband, this continued. We even uprooted ourselves from the area we had lived in for fifteen years and moved to another part of the country to have a fresh start with the hopes that we could find community and friends again.

Our story is not unique. Within Mormonism there seems to be a real risk of this since community is such a big part of the Mormon experience. If someone finds themselves outside of the traditional orthodox beliefs, family situation or perspectives they often feel isolated, estranged from loved ones and alone. This also happens when a Mormon comes across information that contradicts the official church narrative they have grown up hearing. They may not be sure where to turn to find resources and information, let alone a community of like minded people, to help them navigate what they are experiencing. They can try searching online and hope to discover what’s out there, but they are left with what their google search results show them. Often their questions, concerns and needs can’t be discussed with those closest to them due to the risk of negative consequences on relationships. For those that end up leaving the Mormon faith they risk the loss of not only their faith, but their social interactions and friends as well. All of these situations may result in very real pain, isolation and emotional distress.

Seeing and experiencing this myself has touched me deeply and motivated me to help others. I wondered if there was something I could do to help ease these situations; help people find access to the available resources and locate each other. After connecting with some incredibly talented, empathetic, intelligent and capable people, that’s exactly what we did. The Mormon Spectrum website is designed so that you can access what you need, whether you are in or out of the Mormon church. We want to provide the best content available in the hopes that you will be able to explore, discover and choose what works for you. We hope to provide a safe and empowering space for everyone who is navigating this spectrum of Mormonism or trying to understand loved ones who are.

Our Objectives and Goals:

  • To supplement the religious experience and community for believing Latter-day Saints, while also providing resources, support, and community for people experiencing a faith transition and/or those that have left the LDS faith.
  • To help exploring, unorthodox and post/ex Mormons find all the amazing, innovative, incredible stuff that’s been created by others online.
  • To enable Mormons to learn about other parts of the spectrum.
  • To help foster better understanding between loved ones and friends who are on different parts of the spectrum with the hope that their relationships can span their differences and remain intact.
  • To provide a worldwide map of in-person communities where like-minded people can get together and as their authentic selves see and sustain others who live nearby—in real life—and develop a loving sense of community and support.

Knowing Emma and Joseph’s History: A Response to the Speculative Essay on Early Polygamy– Alison Udall

It was really enjoyable to work my way through this. This is the first response I’ve done with these new church essays since I had read enough to be able to notice things that I recognized were missing, or implications that were being made that felt incomplete or inaccurate. As a result of this knowledge, I was surprised at how carefully this was written and what they choose to include and not. It bothered me more than I thought it would….as it was a recent example of what I feel is an attempt to portray transparency and accurate historical information….when in fact it’s missing a lot. This essay was written for a purpose, and I understand that, It was just discouraging to see how the historical narrative was massaged to fill that purpose.

After receiving a revelation commanding him to practice plural marriage, Joseph Smith married multiple wives and introduced the practice to close associates.

This gives the impression that the revelation on polygamy happened all at once….”a” revelation. No mention of the 1835 edition of the D&C Section 101 which stated “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.” This was later removed and replaced, under the direction of Brigham Young, in 1876 with D&C Section 132.

In biblical times, the Lord commanded some of His people to practice plural marriage—the marriage of one man and more than one woman.

The revelation, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132, states that Joseph prayed to know why God justified Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon in having many wives. The Lord responded that He had commanded them to enter into the practice.

The footnotes used here are interesting references, since there is no indication in the bible that Abraham or others were commanded to practice plural marriage or take additional wives. The Genesis 16 reference is about Abram’s wife Sarai, who is unable to conceive. Sarai asks Hagar, her handmaid, to act as surrogate. God did not command Abram to take Hagar as a plural wife. Sarai asked him to sleep with her so she could bear a child.

Although the Lord commanded the adoption—and later the cessation—of plural marriage in the latter days, He did not give exact instructions on how to obey the commandment.

It’s difficult to imagine God requiring this and leaving it vague, without exact instructions. This is the God that requires specific wording for blessing the sacrament, baptism, and other ordinances. This is a god who revealed what part of a cow to burn, and how to sprinkle blood in the Old Testament. D&C 132 is quite specific and has a lot of detail in it. It specifically says in D&C 132: 8 “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.”

There are certainly lots of very specific instructions given in D&C 132. There are also parts that are ignored? Verses 61-63 say: “And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.”

We know that some of the women Joseph marries are not virgins and some were married to other men.

Many details about the early practice of plural marriage are unknown. Plural marriage was introduced among the early Saints incrementally, and participants were asked to keep their actions confidential. They did not discuss their experiences publicly or in writing until after the Latter-day Saints had moved to Utah and Church leaders had publicly acknowledged the practice.

While there are many details that remain unknown about early plural marriage, there is a wealth of credible, scholarly work that supports a more complete and complex story than the essay implies[1]. The essay suggests that we can only speculate, yet it repeatedly dismisses or ignores well-documented details while cherry-picking ones that support protecting Joseph Smith’s reputation. It casts doubt on how much we can know and understand about what happened, and yet heavily engages in selective speculation that downplays or discounts the experiences of those most negatively impacted by early polygamy, including Joseph’s only legal wife, Emma Hale Smith.

The historical record of early plural marriage is therefore thin: few records of the time provide details, and later reminiscences are not always reliable.

The implication being, once again, that we just don’t have enough information to understand. This time with a warning that later reminiscences may be unreliable. This is interesting since throughout the essay later reminiscences are included, but only when they suit the intended purpose. Interestingly, the church didn’t hesitate to use later reminiscences legally in court cases in 1870.

The revelation on plural marriage was not written down until 1843, but its early verses suggest that part of it emerged from Joseph Smith’s study of the Old Testament in 1831. People who knew Joseph well later stated he received the revelation about that time.

The essay suggests Joseph received the revelation in 1831 but it was not written down until 1843. It references neglects to mention one of the reasons why people later stated he received it about that time. In 1861, W.W. Phelps wrote Brigham Young about a revelation received on July 17, 1831 west of Independence for Elders who were about to commence a mission to Native Americans West of Missouri.

“For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.” 

In 1834, Phelps asked Joseph Smith “how ‘we,’ that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives from the “natives”—as we were all married men? He replied instantly ‘In th[e] same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Katurah [Keturah]; and Jacob took Rachel Bilhah and Zilpah: by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation.'”

Why wasn’t this included this in the essay or the footnotes? Perhaps it’s because it’s completely racist and uncomfortable[2].

Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.

The essay suggests God sent an angel to force Joseph to do something he didn’t want to do. Do we have other indications where this type of situation occurred in the scriptures? What about Joseph’s free agency? According to Todd Compton by April of 1842 Joseph had married 10 women. Two of those were single, 7 were married and one was widowed. Between June – August of 1842 he married 6 additional women. Two of those were married, two were widowed and two were single[3]. Why was the angel threatening him in 1842? Was he just not marrying women fast enough? What did the angel mean when he told Joseph he needed to obey the commandment fully? Later in the essay, it implies one possible explanation for polyandry. Joseph “may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships.” This seems to imply that normal marriage relationships meant that they would have included sexual relations. Then it goes on to say “this could explain why, according to Lorenzo Snow, the angel reprimanded Joseph for having “demurred” on plural marriage even after he had entered into the practice. After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women.” Is it implying the angel was threatening Joseph on that third visit because he was not having “normal marriage relationships (sex)? Perhaps the angel reminded him of the purpose for polygamy….raise up seed unto God”[4]. Interestingly, during 1843 he married 17 additional women. Fourteen of those were single, one was widowed and two were married[5].

Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents. Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger.

There is no mention that Fanny was 17 years old. There is real disagreement about whether a marriage occurred between Joseph and Fanny. “The fullest description of the Joseph Smith-Fanny Alger marriage is in the Mosiah Hancock autobiography. Mosiah, born on April 9, 1834, did not have first-hand knowledge of the marriage. But while writing his autobiography, apparently in 1896, he reported the story as told to him by his father, Levi Hancock.[6] One scholar notes “However, his narrative is not without its problems. Mosiah was born in 1834 and consequently could not have been an eye witness or participant. Furthermore, he recounted the story decades later in 1896[7]. So this is one of those later reminiscences that’s included. What’s left out is that Oliver Cowdery described it as a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair”[8]. “The sources written before 1839 indicate that most Church leaders knew nothing of a possible marriage. What they did know is suggested by the minutes of Oliver Cowdery’s excommunication trial before the Far West High Council in April 1838….whee he was charged with “seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith jr by falsely insinuating that he was guilty of adultery & c.” Fanny Alger’s name was never mentioned, but doubtless she was the woman in question.[9]”

Brian Hales notes that “both Emma and Fanny were traumatized and Oliver Cowdery alienated.” “In addition, rumors of “adultery” quietly spread among the Saints. While they were never loud enough to reach the local media, they required specific damage control efforts by the Prophet. Chauncy Webb suggested that Emma learned about Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger when the girl became pregnant. According to Wilhelm Wyl, who interviewed “Mr. W.”: “In Kirtland, [Joseph] was sealed there secretly to Fanny Alger. Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of her house[10].”

Todd Compton writes that Fanny married Culver (the man she married after Joseph) in 1836[11], as recorded by the clerk for Justice Levi Eastridge. He says this marriage to Joseph happened in 1833, which is interesting since they just said the angel’s first visit occurred sometime in 1834. It’s also important to note that the sealing power was not given to Joseph until April 3, 1836[12]. Under what authority was this marriage performed?

Eliza Snow said she “was well acquainted with her [Fanny Alger] as she [Eliza] lived with the Prophet at the time” that “Emma made such a fuss about” her.”[13] “Thus, it appears Eliza was an eye witness to the “fuss” associated with the discovery of the relationship[14].” The essay also fails to mention Levi Hancock was “rewarded” by Joseph for setting this up this marriage with a marriage to Clarissa Reed. One scholar has noted that “Nauvoo plural marriages would show a similar pattern of “rewards” for those who helped solemnize Smith’s marriages”[15].

The rumors prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated “celestial” plural marriage. The statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of God’s living prophet, might do so.

What about this quote from Joseph “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.[16]”

The essay actually tries to justify the bizarre way that Joseph, and other leaders, stretched and changed definitions for words. They practiced no marital law other than monogamy? Here is what footnote 22 says: “In the denials, “polygamy” was understood to mean the marriage of one man to more than one woman but without Church sanction.” So we have this made up definition for the word polygamy. The argument that they were being completely forthright, because they were using their own specially made up phrase “celestial” plural marriage, is troublesome. It justifies dishonest, illegal behavior under the prophet’s direction and yet nowhere in this essay do they say anything about this being unacceptable or dishonest.

The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary.

There is a fascinating omission here about the number of wives in the body of the essay. It gives exact numbers for other people, but not for Joseph. They do note the range in footnote 24: “Careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40.” The essay doesn’t mention these women by name. It doesn’t mention that he married a mother and daughter[17]. It doesn’t mention that he married two sets of sisters[18].

The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday.

Why does the essay describe Helen’s age this way rather than saying she was 14 years old? It doesn’t mention that he was 38 and leaves out the surrounding details. Joseph told Heber he needed to surrender his wife, Vilate, to him in marriage. After 3 days of agonizing over this, Heber leads his wife to Joseph only then to be told it was some sort of Abrahamic test. Then he tells Heber to marry a certain woman and to keep this marriage a secret from his wife Vilate. Heber pleads with Joseph to reconsider and finally relents and marries her. After which he becomes depressed, unable to tell his first wife why. Meanwhile, Vilate prays to understand what’s happening and receives a vision about plural marriage and she accepts it[19].

Shortly after this Helen was given to Joseph as a plural wife. Helen records “My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter: how cruel this seamed to the mother whose heartstrings were already stretched untill they were ready to snap asunder, for he had taken Sarah Noon to wife & she thought she had made sufficient sacrafise, but the Lord required more. I will pass over the temptations which I had during the twenty four hours after my father introduced to me this principle & asked me if I would be sealed to Joseph, who came next morning & with my parents I heard him teach & explain the principle of [p. 1] Celestial marrage-after which he said to me, “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation & that of your father’s household & all of your kindred.

This promise was so great that I will-ingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. None but God & his angels could see my mother’s bleeding heart—when Joseph asked her if she was willing, she replied “If Helen is willing I have nothing more to say.” She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older & who better understood the step they were taking, & to see her child, who had scarcely seen her fifteenth summer, following in the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was all hidden from me.[20]”

Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations.

I’m assuming the essay brings this up because the thought of a 38 year old man having sex with a 14 year old girl is uncomfortable. There is real disagreement about whether this marriage included sexual relations. If that is true and Joseph felt she was too young to sleep with, why alter her life so drastically by committing her to a polygamous marriage?

Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone. Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.

Again the implication is that we have no records even though there are several. One heartbreaking example is the story of Zina Huntingon. When Joseph first asked her she refused, as she was courting Henry and loved him. Joseph “Smith was always persistent in his marriage proposals, and rejections usually moved him to further effort, so he continued to press his suit with Zina at the same time that she was courting Henry. And Smith usually expressed his polygamous proposals in terms of prophetic commandments[21]? Zina makes the decision to marry Henry and probably felt this would solve the situation with Joseph. “However, Zina learned soon afterwards, undoubtedly to her complete astonishment, that Smith had not given up” and “remained conflicted until a day in October, apparently, when Joseph sent Dimick to her with a message: an angel with a drawn sword had stood over Smith and told him that if he did not establish polygamy, he would lose ‘his position and his life.” Zina, faced with the responsibility for his position as prophet, and even perhaps his life, finally acquiesced[22].  She was seven months pregnant when she married him. Henry “was a faithful church member in good standing, an active seventy, the veteran of numerous missions[23].

How was this supposed to work in the next life for these husbands and wives who were already married? Were they basically being set up to lose their wife to Joseph after death? How could that not affect their current marriages and their feelings toward each other?

These sealings may also be explained by Joseph’s reluctance to enter plural marriage because of the sorrow it would bring to his wife Emma. He may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships. This could explain why, according to Lorenzo Snow, the angel reprimanded Joseph for having “demurred” on plural marriage even after he had entered into the practice. After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women.”

The essay implies that Joseph did this to somehow protect Emma since they may not have included “normal marriage relationships”. I’m guessing this is a roundabout way of saying marriages that included sex. Why would the angel rebuke him for these marriages? Why return primarily to marrying single women? The implication is that the angel wanted Joseph to have marriages that involved sex. If Joseph was following the purpose for plural marriage this would have been part of the relationships.

Another possibility is that, in an era when life spans were shorter than they are today, faithful women felt an urgency to be sealed by priesthood authority. Several of these women were married either to non-Mormons or former Mormons, and more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriages.

The essay implies that at least some of the 11 polyandrous marriages were for eternity only (the next life)? Why would married women need to be married to Joseph when they already had husbands? What does this have to do with short life spans for married women? The implication here is that if a woman was married to an apostate/inactive man it was OK for her to marry Joseph or if they were unhappy in their marriages. How many of these husbands were asked or did they not deserve to be involved in the decision? What about the active worthy husbands like Orson Pratt, whose wife Sarah, Joseph had tried to marry while he was out on a mission? He became so distraught he left a suicide note for his wife[24]? Or Orson Hyde, whose wife Nancy, Joseph did marry after Joseph sent him on a mission[25]?

Emma approved, at least for a time, of four of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages in Nauvoo, and she accepted all four of those wives into her household. She may have approved of other marriages as well. But Emma likely did not know about all of Joseph’s sealings. She vacillated in her view of plural marriage, at some points supporting it and at other times denouncing it.

This paragraph alone is astonishing. Emma approved of four of the 30-40 marriages. What about the rest of them? The essay fails to include the history leading up to Emma approving two of these marriages. “Emma had heard Joseph and Heber C. Kimball address the Relief Society and allude to a time when women would participate in the endowment” “Joseph taught that a man must obey God to be worthy of the endowment and that a wife must obey a righteous husband to merit the same reward. Until Emma could be obedient to Joseph and give him plural wives, she could not participate in the endowment ceremonies, yet he taught her that the endowment was essential for exaltation –as opposed to salvation, which Joseph taught was available to all through the atonement of Christ. Joseph wanted Emma to serve as the example, the Elect Lady, the “disseminator of the endowment blessing,” to other women. Thus her rejection of plural marriage would have blocked her admittance into the Endowment Council, because she had not obeyed her husband, and therefore prevented other women from entering as well.

“Simultaneously with the endowment and plural marriage, Joseph formalized a third concept. He explained to Emma that husbands and wives could be married, “sealed,” forever by proper priesthood authority. Couples who had been married in traditional ceremonies were considered to be married for “time,” or until death separated them, but unions made in the new Mormon ceremonies were to last beyond the grave.” “Within the same few weeks, in the spring of 1842, both Hyrum Smith and Emma would accept plural marriage[26].”

The essay fails to include the fact that two of these women, Eliza and Emily Patridge, were young sisters, living/working in their house. “The sisters were an awkward selection because Joseph had already married them two months earlier in March without Emma’s knowledge[27].”  When Emma finally approved, he didn’t want her to know he had already married them, so he remarried them on May 23, 1843, in a pretend ceremony[28]. “Emily said that “to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed….[Emma] had her feelings, and so we thought there was no use in saying anything about it so long as she had chosen us herself[29]”

“Emma had made the sacrifice; and within five days she had her reward. On a cold rainy day, May 28, 1843, Emma was sealed to Joseph for “time and all eternity” On this same day she was the first woman admitted to the Prayer Circle. Joseph would initiate her into the endowment sometime before the early autumn of that year[30]. Shortly thereafter she changed her mind about Eliza and Emily, and tried to monitor their whereabouts in the house when Joseph was home. “Emma was not successful in keeping Joseph from meeting with his wives. Emily Patridge would one day testify under oath that she “roomed” with Joseph on the night of their second marriage to him while Emma, she believed, was in the house at the time. She also testified that she had “slept with him” between her first marriage and the second ceremony[31].

It wasn’t “likely” that Emma didn’t know of the remaining marriages ….we know she didn’t know. There are numerous examples of this. One of those involved her best friend, Eliza Snow, who married Joseph on June 29, 1842 for time and eternity. Unaware of this marriage, Emma invited Eliza to live with them and she taught the Smith Family School. Records indicate that in February of 1843, Emma was stunned to discover this relationship, and a possible physical altercation took place. There are repeated incidents where Joseph hid what he was doing and Emma was suspicious and upset. It leaves out the details about how these hidden marriages were performed, the circumstances surrounding Joseph’s proposals and the experiences of these girls/women. The essay doesn’t include all of wives names[32] or mention them in the footnotes. The focus is on Joseph. The essay shares quotes from three of them.

The revelation on marriage required that a wife give her consent before her husband could enter into plural marriage. Nevertheless, toward the end of the revelation, the Lord said that if the first wife “receive not this law”—the command to practice plural marriage—the husband would be “exempt from the law of Sarah,” presumably the requirement that the husband gain the consent of the first wife before marrying additional women. After Emma opposed plural marriage, Joseph was placed in an agonizing dilemma, forced to choose between the will of God and the will of his beloved Emma. He may have thought Emma’s rejection of plural marriage exempted him from the law of Sarah. Her decision to “receive not this law” permitted him to marry additional wives without her consent. Because of Joseph’s early death and Emma’s decision to remain in Nauvoo and not discuss plural marriage after the Church moved west, many aspects of their story remain known only to the two of them.

This comes from D&C 132, which was added in 1876, years after Joseph engaged in polygamy. Footnote 43 says: see also Genesis 16: 1-3 which doesn’t seem to match at all. Emma was able to conceive and bear children. So were many of these other first wives. Why is this story being used to come up with a law that tells men they can take additional wives even if they don’t approve? It has a backdoor written right into the law so why even ask? Are we really supposed to accept this law comes from a God who loves his daughters? How are we supposed to feel that it’s still included in our scriptures? What precedent and message does this send to the women in the church?

There may be many aspects, of Joseph and Emma’s story, that remain known only to them. However, there are also numerous examples of how Emma felt about polygamy.

Difficult as it was, the introduction of plural marriage in Nauvoo did indeed “raise up seed” unto God. A substantial number of today’s members descend through faithful Latter-day Saints who practiced plural marriage.

In Jacob 2:30 it says “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” The essay points out that a substantial number of today’s members have descended through polygamy. How exactly does this fit with the earlier attempts at clarifying when Joseph had sex and with what wives? Was Joseph following the purpose as God revealed it? If not, why the marriages? Why the secrecy, the denials and the pain for Emma and other wives? Why the endless ongoing discussions about whether Joseph had sexual relations with his wives?

Church members no longer practice plural marriage. Consistent with Joseph Smith’s teachings, the Church permits a man whose wife has died to be sealed to another woman when he remarries. Moreover, members are permitted to perform ordinances on behalf of deceased men and women who married more than once on earth, sealing them to all of the spouses to whom they were legally married. The precise nature of these relationships in the next life is not known, and many family relationships will be sorted out in the life to come. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to trust in our wise Heavenly Father, who loves His children and does all things for their growth and salvation

The essay clearly doesn’t back away from the doctrine of polygamy. In fact, it reiterates that in the temple plural sealings have been and continue to happen. The current sealing policy is that men and women can be sealed to all spouses to whom they were legally married in life, after all parties are dead. The conclusion is that the church continues to practice both polygamy and polyandry for the next life. The essay tries to soften that by saying the precise nature of these relationships is not known and remind members to trust in Heavenly Father to sort it all out.



[1] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, Brian Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy History, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, FairMormon, George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, The Joseph Smith Papers, Orson F. Whitney, William Clayton’s Journal, The Life of Heber C. Kimball, BYU Studies, Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling

[2] Phelps to Brigham Young, LDS archives, 12 Aug. 1861

[3] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 4-6

[4] Jacob 2:30

[5] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 6

[6] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 29

[8] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 28, see also Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 323

[9] Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 324

[11] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 25

[12] D&C Section 110: 13-16

[13] Brian Hales website: – he cites the source as Document #10, Andrew Jenson Papers, Box 49, fd. 16.

[15] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 25

[16] Willard Richards, Joseph Smith Diary, May 26, 1844

[17] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 171

[18] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 288-305, 473-485

[19] Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 333-339

[20] Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 481–487

[21] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 79-80

[22] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 80-81

[23] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 84

[24] Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 466-67

[25] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 228-253

[26] Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 140

[27] Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 494, see also Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 143-144

[28] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 313-314, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma p. 132-134

[29] Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 143

[30] Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 143

[31] Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 144

[32] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, Mormon Enigma

Deciphering Ballard

M. Russell Ballard begins a talk (given at BYU August 20, 2013) reprinted in the September 2014 Ensign and titled ‘Men and Women in Priesthood Power” with this

In what I say, please keep in mind and think straight about the basic doctrines of Christ…. Let me suggest five key points to ponder and think straight about this important topic.

The phrase “think straight” and the way he’s using it implies that if you don’t view things the same way then you are incorrect/mistaken/bent.  So let’s consider his “key points” one at a time.

Point 1

Our Heavenly Father created both women and men, who are His spirit daughters and sons.

Fascinating that he phrases it this way in his very first point after writing,

Many have asked questions implying that women are second-class citizens in the Church. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Why isn’t Heavenly Mother mentioned in this? Was she not involved at all? What about the whole eternal mothering thing and the amazing contribution women make to “creating” and “nurturing” children? What about God’s co-partner who is equal? Where exactly is the role model for women in the church to follow when it comes to being a woman? Women are told they will be equal in partnership with their husbands–and then they are given examples like this? Is this what eternal and celestial equality looks like: the woman is not mentioned/prayed to/referred to/written about or more than just hinted/alluded to in discussions regarding theology/doctrine? What role exactly do women play in the next life according to LDS theology?

This means gender is eternal. His plan is designed to help all who choose to follow Him and His Son, Jesus Christ, to achieve their destiny as heirs of eternal life.

Notice it’s HIS plan and the implication is that since he created both men/women (gender) and, contrary to all evidence we have in the matter, they have the same potential (heirs of eternal life if not eternal power and glory)….of course this means they are equal. Were Heavenly Mother and their daughters not involved in designing/implementing the plan?

Heavenly Father and His Son are perfect. They are omniscient and understand all things.

Again where is Heavenly Mother or their daughters (sisters of the Son)? Do they not understand all things too? Are they not omniscient? Why are they completely left out of the picture?

Surely we must agree that our Heavenly Father and His Son know which opportunities the sons and daughters of God need to best prepare the human family for eternal life.

Love the start of this sentence with “surely” as if to imply there is obviously no other perspective than the one he is suggesting. Then again he’s just stated that Heavenly Father and his Son know best what the sons and daughters need. Perhaps Heavenly Mother’s views/perspectives/input on what her son/daughters need is not that relevant or needed? Are their daughter’s experiences/input not needed/wanted either when determining opportunities for men/women?

Each of us has the privilege of choosing whether we will believe that God is our Father, that Jesus is the Christ, and that They have a plan designed to help us return home to Them. This, of course, requires faith.

The implication being here if you don’t view Ballard’s definition of the plan….you aren’t choosing correctly (or exercising faith). Is this really a choice?

Point 2

In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman. … In the eternal perspective, both the procreative power and the priesthood power are shared by husband and wife.

So men are telling us that only men can hold priesthood keys (yes it’s the confusing concept of keys). They know this because it’s always been men that have held the priesthood keys and descriptions in the scriptures (which are written by men, in ancient patriarchal societies) only mention men holding priesthood keys. That makes perfect sense….but don’t you worry, women, because you have a different but equally valued role – You can conceive children! And don’t forget men can’t establish a family (um…you mean they can’t bear children) without a woman? Don’t you get it…. procreative power and priesthood are shared by both!

Question for you, Elder Ballard: How does birthing babies equate to “have[ing] the right to preside over and direct the Church within a jurisdiction”?   And when did the concept of equating men with the priesthood change?. I grew up hearing things like “The priesthood will be in charge of setting up the gym for the ward party, and the Relief Society will provide the food.” Now they’re trying to take that back.

Why is it that whenever roles are discussed women’s are ALWAYS tied to birthing/mothering/nurturing? Does Ballard believe this is the only true purpose for a woman? This is her gift and responsibility from God? What does that mean for all the women who don’t experience this (either by choice or circumstance)? Is men’s gift from God the priesthood (and therefore the right to govern and preside over the church)? Is their gift to inseminate (become a father) just a side thing, but not their main gift (unlike women)? The church has been unable to answer these questions when posed by feminists.

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) explained that “it was the Lord,” not man, “who designated that men in His Church should hold the priesthood” and who endowed women with “capabilities to round out this great and marvelous organization, which is the Church and kingdom of God.” The Lord has not revealed why He has organized His Church as He has.

Where exactly did the Lord stipulate that only men would do this? Where does it say that the Lord wouldn’t EVER change this as society and women’s rights/roles/freedoms expanded? So the Lord has not revealed why he’s organized the church this way. Ballard (and brethren) just know it’s organized this way and won’t change.

This matter, like many others, comes down to our faith. Do we believe that this is the Lord’s Church? Do we believe that He has organized it according to His purposes and wisdom? Do we believe that His wisdom far exceeds ours? Do we believe that He has organized His Church in a manner that would be the greatest possible blessing to all of His children, both His sons and His daughters?

Here is the pressure again to align yourself with his (and the current church’s) perspective. Don’t you have enough faith? Don’t you believe God knows what he’s doing? The implication being if you are truly a woman of faith, and love God, you will accept this as the way he wants things done.

Ballard tries to make women feel better by saying, essentially, Hey, there are a lot of you teaching and serving in the church.

The participation of women in ward and stake councils and in general councils at Church headquarters provides needed insight, wisdom, and balance.

Is Ballard saying since women are able to “participate” in some councils and provide some input (even though they don’t get to make final decisions about that input) they should feel equal? Since they are able to also teach, give talks and serve in some callings this means they are fully equal? Is he completely ignoring the MANY areas in which women are not allowed to serve? Has he noticed the gender of the people being shown in the church structural chart inserted in the General Conference Ensign each year?

Which is followed by this.

Now, sisters, while your input is significant and welcome in effective councils, you need to be careful not to assume a role that is not yours. The most successful ward and stake councils are those in which priesthood leaders trust their sister leaders and encourage them to contribute to the discussions and in which sister leaders fully respect and sustain the decisions of the council made under the direction of priesthood leaders who hold keys.

What?? He just finished saying we value you in these councils (your insight/wisdom/balance) BUT be sure to remember your place. Is this how the church defines an equal relationship? Does the ideal equal church structure consist of women giving input and then carefully avoiding stepping on men’s toes by never assuming a role that’s not “theirs”? Where they recognize they can participate in the discussion, but the decisions making power is left to priesthood leaders (men) who hold keys? It sure sounds like Ballard is describing that type of scenario and encouraging it! I wonder if his views extend to marriage? Are women encouraged to contribute (share their input), but then supposed to sustain the decision of their husbands (the priesthood holder)? Does this appropriate role extend to other relationships with men?

Point 3

Remember though after this crushing last part….

Men and women are equal in God’s eyes and in the eyes of the Church, but equal does not mean the same.

Equal – Same. Why does this repeatedly come up? Who is trying to say that women should be the SAME as men? Who is saying that equality means sameness (in all aspects) for men/women?

The responsibilities and divine gifts of men and women differ in their nature but not in their importance or influence.

What exactly does this mean when it comes to equality? I believe he’s trying to say we do different things (women give birth, rear children, serve/teach – men fertilize eggs, work, hold keys which allow them to preside/make decisions and run/operate the church at the highest levels). This means we aren’t the same. Yep. I agree that all of those things are important and some of them are different. What does that have to do with equality and opportunity for women? Is Ballard suggesting that since men can’t give birth they need a divine gift that makes them feel important and have influence (and that is why they get priesthood keys)?

Women come to earth with unique spiritual gifts and propensities. This is particularly true when it comes to children and families and the well-being and nurturing of others. Men and women have different gifts, different strengths, and different points of view and inclinations. That is one of the fundamental reasons we need each other. It takes a man and a woman to create a family, and it takes men and women to carry out the work of the Lord. A husband and wife righteously working together complete each other. Let us be careful that we do not attempt to tamper with our Heavenly Father’s plan and purposes in our lives.

Ballard again suggests that child birthing/rearing/nurturing are women’s unique spiritual gifts/propensities (the implication being that men aren’t as gifted in nurturing/rearing children) and this is what makes women special (and why we don’t have priesthood keys). Ballard then warns us not to tamper with Heavenly Father’s plan. Interesting, since over time LOTS of things have changed regarding his plan and how it’s defined/implemented/understood. Things like marriage, women’s rights (in voting/work-place/society), priesthood given to all worthy black men, ages in missionary service, temple ceremonies/wording, etc. Ballard would like us to believe things will not change in this area though. That somehow this particular area is off-limits for future revelation/change.

Point 4

When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power. While the authority of the priesthood is directed through priesthood keys, and priesthood keys are held only by worthy men, access to the power and blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God’s children.

Ballard misrepresents temple theology. You know where men/women are endowed with priesthood, but women don’t have the keys so they can’t actually use the priesthood directly. They need to ask a worthy man for that, but of course once he opens the drapes they all get to see the sunlight.

Point 5

We need more of the distinctive, influential voices and faith of women. We need them to learn the doctrine and to understand what we believe so that they can bear their testimonies about the truth of all things—whether those testimonies be given around a campfire at a Young Women camp, in a testimony meeting, in a blog, or on Facebook. Only faithful Latter-day Saint women can show the world what women of God who have made covenants look like and believe. None of us can afford to stand by and watch the purposes of God be diminished and pushed aside. We must all defend our Father in Heaven and His plan. We must all defend our Savior and testify that He is the Christ, that His Church has been restored to the earth, and that there is such a thing as right and wrong.

Ballard and the church he represents call for more women who will accept this view regarding the roles of men/women. Women who will not question it. Women who will understand that this is just the way it is (and what God wants) and will not be embarrassed to say they are OK with this structure. The call has been issued for women to post/blog/comment, to testify and let the world know what obedient, covenant keeping, women look/act and believe. The call for women to tell other people why they are mistaken (if they disagree). Do we seriously wonder why so many women are writing/expressing such negative things toward their fellow feminist members?  Why so many women in the church say they don’t want/need/understand why women are asking for the priesthood? Why they feel perfectly equal and don’t understand (or agree) with the issues being raised? They have just been told how to act, what to say and how to feel by a spokesperson for God if they want to be counted as faithful women in the church.

Do not spend time trying to overhaul or adjust God’s plan. We do not have time for that. It is a pointless exercise to try to determine how to organize the Lord’s Church differently. The Lord is at the head of this Church, and we all follow His direction.

What about women’s input/influence/perspectives that Ballard said were so valued? What about all the efforts the church spends on surveys getting members reactions? What about the discussions that we’ve been told are happening with women regarding needed changes/improvements (that the church is anxiously engaged in)? What’s the point….there is no time…..why are all these people trying to change the organization?

 My concluding thoughts: The thought that this message was given at BYU (to college age men/women) and then reprinted in the Ensign (for the entire church) makes me frustrated. It’s 2014 and this is the message being sent to women/girls/men/boys. This will be read/accepted/believed/taught/discussed/quoted from and viewed with an air of respect as inspiration. It may used to rationalize/justify/defend the ongoing inequality that pervades the church structure. It may result in shame/guilt/depression/anxiety for many women/girls. It may result in relationship difficulties as members attempt to conform and feel comfortable with this theology/perspective. It will certainly impact my active believing children and their spouses as they accept/adhere to these views as coming from God. It will impact my relationship with them. The messages of retrenchment coming from SLC boggle my mind, hurt my heart and distress my spirit.

New Church Survey

Mormon Open Letter has added a survey to their site in a new tab. The purpose of this survey is to gather information about any church action or threatened church action (such as excommunication) that Mormon church members have experienced due to their outspokenness or questions in regards to doubts, church history, women’s rights, LGBT rights, etc. Please complete the survey if this applies to you.

Survey responses will be used in aggregate to inform analytics surrounding the current purge that is happening within the Mormon church. Unless optional contact information is provided on the last page of the form, or identifiable data is entered by you in the text fields, your answers to the survey will remain anonymous. They are not collecting any information about you, your Google account, or your computer / ISP data other than what is asked about in the survey.

Any publication of information from this survey will be done in the aggregate across all the responses (e.g. 100 people have reported having disciplinary threats made as a result of their involvement in the Ordain Women activities).

**In this survey, “church” refers to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Why You Should Read and Sign The Mormon Open Letter

On February 7, 2014, we wrote the Mormon Open Letter addressed to Thomas S. Monson. The church had already started publishing essays in the Gospel Topics section of These essays introduced and attempted to explain some of the troubling historical events and doctrinal issues (e.g. translation of the Book of Mormon, Blacks and the Priesthood, multiple versions of the First Vision, etc) that have troubled so many of us.

We wanted to create a forum where both former and active Latter-day Saints could ask the church for still more transparency. In our letter, we applauded church leaders for the publication of the essays and asked the church to become even more candid and forthcoming in several key areas. We expressed our concern over the impact of the church’s negative rhetoric when discussing those who have questions about doctrine and history. We were also disturbed by the harm the church’s profound lack of transparency and openness inflicted on individuals, families, and relationships.

Our concerns have only increased since then!

We are currently seeing numerous people called in and threatened with discipline ranging from being released from callings, having their temple recommends taken away, or even excommunication. Some of these stories have become very public. Many remain private, as the culture surrounding this situation is often laden with guilt and shame. The message is being sent that if you publicly discuss, blog, or write about your doubts and concerns, you are contradicting and disobeying church leaders and doctrine.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bequeaths to us a legacy of thoughtful engagement with the world. It is precisely because they recognize and value that legacy that so many Latter-day Saints, active or otherwise, now insist on participating in difficult but necessary conversations about problems in the church.

People of great integrity and honesty are being told to shut their mouths, to acquiesce, to accept the status quo—not merely as the way things are, but as the way God wants them. They are being told that it’s not acceptable to discuss aspects of the church that cause pain, harm, and confusion. It’s not acceptable to ask for more transparency and historically accurate information. It’s not acceptable to question current religious policies even when accurate historical information demonstrates the legitimacy of the questions and concerns.

The world is watching. How the church deals with this crisis will greatly affect future conversations in and about the church. Greater repression and intolerance will harm, not help, missionary efforts and the ability of Latter-day Saints to work with others outside the church.

We, the authors of the Mormon Open Letter, reach out again to ask people to read what we’ve written. To consider whether this is something they can support. To consider whether it’s not only right but crucial to publicly ask the church for actions that we feel will make the church, individuals and families healthier. Our hope is the church will take proactive steps demonstrating openness and compassion, in order to mend the rift that is widening.

We also ask for the support of those (many of whom are in the news for being brought into church councils) who have engaged for years in these difficult but necessary conversations not merely about the church’s past, but about its future. We request that as members discuss the current climate in the church, they also discuss this letter. Please share it with the media. In forums where these topics come up, please link to the MormonOpenLetter. There is power in numbers and in raising our voices together. Please join us in our respectful request that the church help both members and non-members understand the church, its history, its mission, and its course for the future.

Please sign. Please join us, along with more than 3,400 other people—including hundreds of bishops, stake presidents, Elders quorum presidents, Relief Society presidents, Young Women’s and Young Men’s presidents Primary presidents, teachers from every auxiliary in the church, and thousands of returned missionaries—who have already signed, with love and hope for all that we might move toward greater shared understanding and compassion.

Melanie Hall, Nathan Hesson, Melisa Hesson, Matthew Hildebrand, Steve Holbrook, D. William Johnson, Alison Udall and Holly Welker

Disjointed conversations

My parents are wonderful and very conservative, orthodox members of the church. They feel a need to bear their testimonies to me and let me know they believe. I understand totally that this comes from what they hear at church. They feel responsible for and so sad about my change in belief. It’s hard: they will send me little emails about stuff, but if I reply back and express things I never get a response.

I get that. They probably don’t know what to say but it means the exchanges are never really a discussion. They express stuff to me and then if I try to engage…silence. It’s odd. I wish we could actually TALK. I wish we could actually share what we are thinking, listen, ask questions and then express love and respect for each other’s choices. I wish this didn’t have to be the big huge fat elephant in the room that we dance around but can’t actually look at and talk about.

This was the email I received yesterday which included the link to the church video Because of Him

Dear Alison!

I realize that at this point in your life you have many doubts, but I just hope you will watch this very brief video on your computer and consider it as my Easter greeting just for you. And please know that your old dad still believes it with all his heart and one day in the not-too-distant future will find out if it is in fact true.

Love you! Dad & Mom

I didn’t want to remain silent. They want to express themselves; I’d like to do the same. If they bring it up and share something I feel like that opens the door. I don’t want to pretend. I want to be me and authentic. I want to engage and not have this weird superficial relationship where all we talk about is the weather, gardening and what’s happening with the kids.  So I sent this in response:

Dad & Mom,

I love you back. Thanks for sending me a little love note today on Easter. I watched the video and it was beautifully done and I can see how it would touch you. The message of believing that there is something after death is comforting and gives people hope that there is something after this life. I can totally appreciate that.

The messages about the atonement and repentance can also be comforting for people who believe they need to repent from sin. That’s an interesting concept to me now. The idea that God would have his son suffer and die so that everybody else could be forgiven for their sins is not so comforting to me anymore. It makes me sad to think he would set things up this way and would require that. It’s not a beautiful story to me. It seems cruel and is hard for me to understand as a parent. It’s also confusing that because his son died this would impact everybody else’s choices/sins and allow them to repent. To believe that without his suffering/dying our Heavenly parents wouldn’t forgive the rest of their children for mistakes just doesn’t fit with anything my experience has taught me about loving parents. You guys have always loved me no matter what and I do the same for my children. To set up a system where there are such strict rules and specific things you have to do in order to be together again just doesn’t make sense to me. Especially when some of those rules are unhealthy and detrimental to some people. When people are just trying to do their best and when his instructions/information is so confusing that you have people all over the place trying to figure it out…coming up with different answers and interpretations. Not only that but the information he’s given is filled with mistakes, contradictory stuff and misinformation. To set up a plan like this, and then have punishments for not figuring it out correctly, just makes no sense to me.

I believe if there is a God he will be more loving and more like the type of parent I am trying to be. Someone who understands and wants me to succeed. Someone who knows my heart and that I’m trying to figure it out. Someone that will embrace me and empathize with me when I have hard times. Someone who lets me learn and grow but doesn’t tell me exactly what that has to look like and exactly what I have to do in order to be “rewarded”. Because we are all different and have different needs and experiences. I believe he knows the person I am and the effort I’ve put into trying to understand it all. If I die and find there is something more after this life I hope and believe he will take all of that into consideration. I don’t want to believe in the God of the scriptures (especially not the Old Testament), the God of the rules and strict black/white definitions of what your life has to look like and what’s OK to do and not OK. I don’t want to believe in a God that would set up a plan like I was taught in the church.

I’m choosing to live my life without being driven by guilt/shame/fear about what if. I’m choosing to love, accept, support myself and let go of the worry/fear/guilt about rules/mistakes/perfection. I’m choosing to not live with the fear of what if I’m wrong? I’m going to go forward and try my best to be a good person, live life honestly, treat people with respect/acceptance/love, support others in their choices and attempts to live their life and I choose to believe that’s good enough. I choose to believe if God exists he will know and understand that. Whatever happens after I die is what happens and I’m OK with that. There’s really no way to know and like you said one day we will find out. I know you have lived your life doing all of these things too – trying to figure it out and live with what you’ve felt is true. I respect that and I love you tons.
I think you are pretty wonderful.


I’m not going to hold my breath for a response but it sure would be wonderful. I know I’m probably expecting too much, but hey, I like holding onto hope.(It’s one of the things I retain from Mormonism.) A girl’s gotta dream, right? After all, it could happen. I was open and honest with them. That’s all I can do right now.

Letting go

A very significant relationship in my life has recently come to a close. This relationship has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It impacted every aspect of my upbringing and guided me in all the major decisions of my life up to this point. It was a relationship that has been both loving and hurtful at times. At times it made me feel special and valued, and it motivated me to try and improve myself.

As a child this relationship encompassed everything I knew. I was taught it would be critical to my happiness and that without it I would feel lost and alone. That it provided purpose and meaning for my existence and that I should stay close to it. My parents and extended family fully embraced this relationship and encouraged it. They were so happy that I valued it and wanted it. When I expressed how much I loved having this relationship I received lots of positive feedback, encouragement and support.

As I got a little bit older I found at times it became more difficult to maintain this relationship as it often asked for more than I felt I could give. Sometimes it seemed it would never be satisfied with my efforts. It could be quite demanding, and let me know that to feel its love I had to abide by strict rules or it would withdraw. I had been told my whole life that without this relationship I could not be truly happy so I felt guilty when I ignored or turned away from it. When I made choices that I knew it felt were wrong I felt shame. All of my decisions had been mapped out by this relationship and I hadn’t learned how to navigate some life choices without it. When I made mistakes and was unhappy I was told this was because I had pulled back. I felt confused, unprepared and alone without it since it was all I had ever known.  When I was 18 I made the decision to come back to it and commit myself to developing the relationship fully. With it I had a very structured road-map on how to make significant choices and what my life should look like. It felt easier and I received lots of positive feedback from family and community for this decision. I felt loved and accepted.

It supported and encouraged my decision to get married at age 19 and drop out of school so my husband could complete his education. It remained a significant part of my life as I struggled to understand my role as a woman. I turned to it to try and understand my role as a wife. It provided a community filled with people similar to me and a blueprint for how to raise my four children. I worked very hard to maintain this relationship and keep it healthy. I tried to listen to it when I felt overwhelmed, discouraged and struggled to find fulfillment as a full-time stay at home mom. I spent a significant amount of time involving it in my day-to-day life as well as encouraging and teaching my children how important it was for them to grow and maintain this relationship for themselves. As they got older and struggled to make their own decisions I tried to love and encourage them to stay close to it. Many of the things we did as a family involved this relationship and it impacted all aspects of our life. I taught my children all the things that I had been taught about how this relationship worked. I taught them why this relationship was important and special. I expressed my belief that this relationship would help them be happy. I taught them they could always trust it.

Years went by and periodically I would find aspects of the relationship that were puzzling to me or made me uncomfortable but I tried to focus on the positive things. I reasoned with myself that every relationship has positives and negatives and sometimes you had to just not worry too much about the areas that don’t feel good. Overall it continued to be a positive thing in my life but periodically the very black/white demands it made on me were hard. I tried not to question the explanations it gave me even though at times they didn’t make sense or feel right. I tried to let the hurtful things go because I remembered how wonderful it felt when we were close. Sometimes I noticed this relationship put a lot of pressure on my children and expected a lot from them. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable when I noticed they suffered from this relationship. I tried to trust and believe this was the most important relationship we would have and the way that we would all truly find happiness.

Years continued to pass and our relationship became more and more strained. I found it was not quite as loving and supportive as I thought when changes happened in my life that were different from the typical pattern it had said my life should take. I noticed how strongly it influenced people in their relationship, and when those relationships weren’t within the rules (it said they had to follow), it viewed them negatively. It even tried to influence laws to legislate some of its rules so that everyone would have to follow them. I watched people get hurt by this relationship. I continued each week to try and spend time on it hoping that I could find the love, acceptance, direction and support I had felt earlier in my life. At times I would feel the love and acceptance and it was wonderful but those times grew further and further apart. I found I spent a lot of time crying over this relationship and trying to figure out how I could still enjoy it.

I had spent years on this. There had to be a way to hold onto it despite my new perspectives. I lost the sense of community that it gave me and I became more and more isolated. When I tried to talk to others about the difficulty I was having in the relationship, I was told I had to just accept its definitions, rules and claims as truth. I had to accept that any loved ones who no longer wanted this relationship were wrong; they had been deceived and would not ultimately be happy. I tried to explain that if I took this view (that I was right and they were wrong) it would make it very difficult to have a healthy relationship with my loved ones; I was told that if I loved the relationship enough I would choose it over everything else. They said this relationship was the way to ultimate truth and had all the answers. I was told the reason I was struggling was that I was fighting against that truth and if I would just accepted and follow it I would be happy again.

Time continued to pass and the hurt increased. I struggled each week to try and manage the relationship and find fulfillment in it. I felt guilty as I realized pulling back was actually a relief. I gave myself permission to go back to the beginning and see if I still believed it had the truth. I wanted and needed to know if the relationship was worth it. Was it the only way to happiness as I had been taught? Would my decision to pull away from this relationship really impact my eternal existence? Would I be lost without it? I spent months studying it. It was a roller coaster of emotions. I discovered there were aspects about this relationship I had been completely unaware of. It was a lot more complicated than I had realized. There had been falsehoods and things hidden from me. Understanding and learning this new information allowed me to admit that I no longer believed the relationship was what it claimed to be. All of the unanswered questions and concerns that I had been trying to ignore could be looked at, analyzed and I could choose for myself. The reality was this relationship had become unhealthy and damaging for me. I knew pulling back would result in pain for some of my loved ones and would impact our interactions and yet I was ready to live authentically. There were too many aspects of it that just didn’t work for me anymore. I felt an enormous range of emotions recognizing and accepting this.

Fall 2013 : I open my mailbox and there is the envelope. I’m surprised at the multitude of emotions that sweep over me as I read the letter: sadness, disappointment, hurt, nostalgia, pain, relief and acceptance. Even though I knew the letter was coming because I had requested it I didn’t anticipate this reaction, but then again this has been a 46 year relationship, and one of the most significant in my life. I’m going to give myself time to feel the emotions and move through them. I’m stepping into the next part of my life and it’s OK. I’m ready to let go.

No Longer Afraid of the F Word

Last year my 20 year old son recommended I read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I don’t think I had ever read an explicitly feminist text before that and it was an eye opener. I was surprised by how much the experiences of the women she wrote about resonated with me. Married at age 19, I didn’t complete my college education since my hubby was in school. I was a stay at home full-time mom with four children that had experienced “the problem that has no name.” Learning about some of the early feminists in history that had impacted things that I took for granted was eye opening. I was amazed at their courage and tenacity and the sometimes terrible sacrifices they made. It was also enlightening to learn about the women in early church history and what they were able to do. Some of the well known women’s names were the early church feminist pioneers as they worked to empower women in the church and provide opportunities for them.

During this same period of time I became familiar with the Ordain Women movement and began interacting with some of the participants and supporters online. It took me a while to understand who they were, what they were trying to do, why they felt this was appropriate and their reasons for stretching cultural church boundaries in their methods. I read what they wrote, asked questions, listened and became supportive from a comfortable distance. My family was already trying to navigate a mixed-faith situation after my husband’s and my faith transition; I wasn’t sure I wanted to add anything more to this challenge. I posted, commented, liked and showed support online, but that was as far as I got and I didn’t typically put anything on my personal FB wall.

Their October event came and went and I watched from the sidelines. It was frustrating to see the way they were portrayed and the things being said and written about them. Much of this disturbing stuff came from members! I found myself becoming more and more of an ally as I realized the challenge they were facing and how hard they were working to try express why/what they were doing. In February I finally decided to submit my profile and officially endorse what they were doing and made the plunge into public support. I knew they were planning on asking for tickets in April and really wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend.

Fast forward to Saturday. There I was walking through the rain and hail in a line of supporters headed toward Temple Square. I stood for two hours waiting my turn to speak with Kim Farah, the woman who stood in front of the Tabernacle, whose job it was to tell us that we could not have tickets. As I moved forward I was surprised at the support that people displayed. Several men moved along the line letting us know how much they appreciated what we were doing. One man purchased a bag of new towels and gave them to women who looked cold and wet. Another man stopped to genuinely ask about what we were doing and why. He listened and asked questions and didn’t judge or condemn. Nobody on temple square asked me to leave, gave me instructions of any kind or made it clear in anyway that they wanted me to get out of line. The statement released later in this Deseret News article came as a complete surprise and is disingenuous at best.

When I got closer I wondered what and how I would express myself and why I had driven from Montana to do this. It wasn’t hard to find the words once it was my turn and I shared why this was important to me as a woman, my sadness that leaders were unwilling to actually listen and speak to us like she was doing and my hope that things could change. She asked me questions, told me she cared – that was why she was there – and hugged me. I was surprisingly emotional afterward as I stepped away and found two young women watching the entire scene. They were not members and asked me what we were doing and I explained it to them between wiping my eyes. I described the heartache and difficulty and why so many of these women were trying hard to help change the church that they loved into something healthier.

On my drive home by myself mulling things over for those hours I realized the impact that book my son had recommended had on me. I had just experienced my first true public display at supporting something feminist. It had forced me to step outside my comfort zone and opened me up to criticism and scrutiny. People were now judging my character, motivations and I was being called divisive. Being surrounded by this group of intelligent, articulate, hardworking and savvy women was motivating. Watching them reach out to each other and extend support, empathy, sacrifice and friendship, as they worked to empower and encourage women, was what I felt the vision of Relief Society was about.

I’m no longer afraid of the “F” word…..I’m inspired by it.