New Projects for Main Street Plaza and Mormon Alumni Association Books!

I have some exciting news for the readers of Main Street Plaza, Outer Blogness, and Mormon Alumni Association Books: We’re planning to become a publisher!! Our awesome first book should be appearing… at some date to be announced, hopefully not to far in the future.

In anticipation of this new project, I’m going to make a bit of a change in format here at Main Street Plaza: I will be posting my usual “Sunday in Outer Blogness” column only every other week, and the alternating weeks will feature new posts on Mormon-related topics. This is mostly because the discussion in blogspace has died down enough over the past few years that I’d be doing more of a service by starting new discussions than by rounding up the existing discussions. And now that I’ve gone such a long time without doing any serious blogging, I have a backlog of ideas to write about again!! So I will be presenting the following series:

What Makes the CoJCoL-dS Tick? Observations and Insights of a Longtime Insider/Outsider!

If you are interested in being a part of Mormon Alumni Association Books — or of contributing articles to Main Street Plaza, please email me: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com.

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.

The Final post from my notes: Spaulding Rigdon Timeline and details

6 years in the making, and crosslinking to almost every other timeline I’ve made, this post comprises everything I have found that ties together Smith, Rigdon and Spaulding.  It includes quotes by Oliver Cowdery’s partner claiming he confessed to the Spaulding-Rigdon theory, as well as preachers saying that they saw Rigdon do it, back before anyone published the theory (Quoted by their daughters after the fact).

I include a list of eye witnesses and how non-connected they are compared to the 11 witnesses of the Book of Mormon.  Also in the timeline are the gaps in Rigdon’s history along with the key events of the Book of Mormon translation, that lines up to show that Rigdon had means, motive and opportunity.  This post is the summary but has a link to the timeline.


Risky Rescue

I don’t read The Ensign, but I do read Zelophehad’s Daughters.  It was “To the Rescue,” an entry on ZD from last week, that clued me in to an essay by Thomas Monson from the October Ensign called “Our Responsibility to Rescue.” You can pretty much figure out the whole essay from the first paragraph:

For Latter-day Saints, the need to rescue our brothers and sisters who have, for one reason or another, strayed from the path of Church activity is of eternal significance. Do we know of such people who once embraced the gospel? If so, what is our responsibility to rescue them?

About the same time I read that, a good chunk of my Facebook friends posted links to this piece from Robert Kirby about his wife’s decision to leave the LDS church and join another and what that meant for their marriage:

I make it sound easy. It wasn’t. When a shared faith is one of the original pillars of a relationship, it doesn’t get removed without consequences. There were a lot of those, not the least among them was which of us was going to hell now?…

What’s your religion worth to you? Is it something you’d die for? Lots of people say they would lay down their lives for their faith. Would you kill for it? How about your marriage? Would you divorce your spouse over your faith?…

Keep in mind that if you stay, you can’t just agree to disagree about religion. At some point you’ll have to disagree AND shut up about it. No wound — whether emotional or physical — ever heals if you keep picking at it….

In the end it came down to this for me: I believe the most important thing for which I’ll be judged is how I treat my wife rather than my church.

When I saw an interesting conversation developing after a friend linked to Kirby’s piece, I couldn’t help asking what he thought of Monson’s, given that they are in such sharp contrast.  My friend said that he thought that they weren’t as contradictory as I might think, since Monson’s article is about a particular type of person: someone who still believes in the church and misses its influence in their life, not about people who have truly stopped believing and are happier outside the church than in it.

The problem, of course, which we went on to discuss, is that no one and nothing official in the church ever acknowledges that anyone can be happy–much less happier–outside the church than it.  The rhetoric in Monson’s talk might not be quite as condemning, but its basic attitude is not really different from this discussion of apostasy and its effects on marriage from Spencer Kimball:

To be really happy in marriage, one must have a continued faithful observance of the commandments of the Lord. No one, single or married, was ever sublimely happy unless he was righteous. There are temporary satisfactions and camouflaged situations for the moment, but permanent, total happiness can come only through cleanliness and worthiness. One who has a pattern of religious life with deep religious convictions can never be happy in an inactive life.  The conscience will continue to afflict, unless it has been seared, in which case the marriage is already in jeopardy. A stinging conscience can make life most unbearable. Inactivity is destructive to marriage, especially where the parties are inactive in varying degrees.

Religious differences are the most trying and among the most unsolvable of all differences.

The harshness of Kimball’s stance–that if a spouse leaves the church, s/he has basically destroyed the marriage–is one reason that “When He Stopped Believing,” an article by Name Withheld from the July 2012 Ensign about a woman who decided to stay with and love her apostate husband, was such a big deal.

But things like this article from Monson make it difficult if not impossible for Name Withheld to truly accept and love her husband for who he is. Instead she is encouraged to try to change him–told him that it’s her religious duty, in fact, to change him, to rescue him, and that if she doesn’t try valiantly to do so, she’s failing him, herself, her church and her god.

This is why I never believe any official statement from the church about how it respects people of other faiths.  It doesn’t.  It sees them as people who not only need rescuing, but are often too fallen and blind and deluded to realize just how badly in need of rescue they are.

You know what’s really corrosive to a relationship?  A palpable sense that the other person is somehow broken and has to be fixed–and that you and your church are the ones who can do the fixing.



(It also bugged me that Monson’s article refers to artist JMW Turner as Joseph Mallord William Turner. Yeah, that’s his full name, but it’s not his professional name.  One more way the church can’t let people determine who they are or how they express themselves in the world.)






The Baby and the Bathwater

When I first left the church (about 20 years ago), I kind of assumed that the experiences of people who left the church were pretty much like mine. Or, more precisely, I didn’t really have any idea of how other people’s experiences might differ, and — before discovering the online exmo community (about 10 years ago) — I didn’t have any way to connect with other exmos and find out what their experiences were like.

Discovering the incredible range and diversity of mo/exmo experiences has been a joy — a never-ending fountain for my curiosity about the human condition — that holds my interest lo these decades after I should have long ago started “leaving the church alone” (according to the conventional wisdom).

Even before rediscovering my online fellows, I had grasped that religion is tied to a number of different (otherwise unrelated) aspects of life:

  • Traditions
  • Rituals
  • A long-term communiy network
  • An opportunity for leadership
  • An opportunity for service (that others will appreciate)
  • A sense of purpose (+ a set of rules to follow)
  • An identity
  • Answers to the “big questions”
  • A source of comfort in the face of the unknown
  • A framework for understanding altered states of consciousness and for interpreting one’s natural sense of awe and wonder at the beauty of nature
  • probably a bunch of other stuff I haven’t thought of. 😀

Personally, when I was an active participant in the CoJCoL-dS, I loved the theatrical productions! I loved the road shows, and playing “Emily” in a Stake production of “Saturday’s Warrior” in 1979 when I was 7 years old was probably the high point of my entire Mormon experience. I loved the fact that it was possible to organize these sorts of amateur productions and expect to generate an audience simply because, hey, we’re a community and we do stuff together.

I also loved being part of this “peculiar” out-of-the-mainstream current in American History.

On the other hand, I hated the petty, arbitrary rules, divorced from their real-world consequences, I hated the “lessons” where there was hardly even a pretense of actual information transfer, and I hated, hated, hated the emphasis on conformity and the way the conventional “worldly” popularity ladder was doubly (perhaps quadruply) re-enforced by Mormon culture. Coming from something of an Asperger family, I think my Mormon experience was best portrayed by Rudolph and Hermy in that one Christmas special:

Hermy: Just fixing these dolls’ teeth…
Hermy’s boss: What? Listen, we have dolls that talk, walk, blink, and run a temperature — we don’t need any chewing dolls!
Hermy: I just thought I’d found a way to… to fit in.
Hermy’s boss: You’ll never fit in!! * slam! *

But, upon reflection, it is obvious that the whole thing would look very different for those for whom “fitting in” was never a challenge. Such folks would logically have an entirely different set of reasons for leaving, and, no doubt, an entirely different set of fond memories that make them sad to leave. The combinations of which parts of Mormonism one might love (and respectively hate) are almost endless.

If you go to any randomly-chosen congregation of the CoJCoL-dS, there’s probably someone sitting in one of those pews thinking: “Heavenly Father wants me to be here at church and I am demonstrating my faithfulness to Him by sitting through this and making my best effort to pay attention and try to convince myself that I am learning something new (or, failing that, at least trying to not fall asleep),” — as I was thinking every Sunday, back when I was a true-believing Mormon teen. Someone else in that same congregation is probably sincerely thinking “I fell such joy and peace here, surrounded by the saints, singing with them, sharing their spirit. This is the high point of my week.” Both of these reactions are normal and common (as are many others).

But what happens when those two people have a “faith crisis” (as it is called), that is: a change of belief. What happens when they get the picture that the CoJCoL-dS isn’t what they thought it was?

Most likely they will react very differently because they value different parts of the Mormon experience. And very often they will begin to judge each other — wrongly, unfairly — because they don’t understand each other’s perspective.

Person A will likely be saying: “Woo-hoo!! I am so. outta. here!!!”

Person B will perhaps say: “I will re-interpret my faith and find a more nuanced set of beliefs so that I can continue to stay LDS and continue to feel the joy that I feel here.”

Then person A may ask person B: “Why are you living a lie?” Especially if person B is in a marginalized group (woman, gay, intellectual, poor). “Why are you torturing yourself here when you could be free?!”

Person B judges back: “Your thinking is too limited and black-and-white. You were unable to trade in your literal belief for a nuanced belief like mine, and that’s why you threw out the baby with the bathwater.”

I contend that neither person’s choice is necessarily wrong, but that both judgments are wrong.

People who leave the CoJCoL-dS (and or God-belief) aren’t throwing out the baby with the bathwater. They simply have a legitimate difference of opinion about which part was the baby and which part was the bathwater.

I’ve already said most or all of this before, but I wanted to explain my point of view in one simple article to have something to point to when I see these “Grayer Than Thou” essays, like the recent interview with my brother. I agree with John that modern ideas about the discipline of History have colored people’s expectations about how literally true the Bible should be. But, ultimately, that isn’t the reason I rejected it, and I doubt it’s the reason for most atheists. Even if the Bible were literally accurate as a secular history, that wouldn’t justify treating it as Holy writ or as wise stories (literal, symbolic, or otherwise). I’ll respect it as wise if it’s wise. I’ll treat it as good advice if it’s good advice. OTOH, given that it’s an ancient work that isn’t even as wise as some much earlier ancient works, I’m not going to revere it and treat it as though it were somehow magically relevant to my life. Period.

I get that the whole “It was never meant to be taken literally!” argument is very comforting to people who cherish the Bible. But, please don’t turn that around and use it as a barb to poke at those who don’t see the Bible’s relevance as justified, as though we are somehow limited and unable to imagine that the Bible could be “symbolic” instead of “literal.” We don’t all have to have the same faith journey! Our differences are beautiful! 😀

Where Does the Exmormon Community Go From Here?

I wanted to announce how happy I am to see the growth of the DAMU (Disaffected Mormon Underground) over the last 6 years I have been part of the discussion–starting out as a scared lurker hiding from his wife in a dark room with a laptop as if a discussion forum were some kind of porn, and moving on to become the perfected man whose countenance shines before you today:)

There is something for every doubter and dissident:

I posted an interview recently with Mithryn, the moderator of the Exmormon sub-reddit, about reaching the milestone of 8,000 members, up from 2,000 just a year or two ago:

VERY exciting to see this growth, and according to John Dehlin’s presentation somewhere sometime he projected that active Mormon membership can only decrease over time, which means MORE exmormons to join the discussion and MORE awesome comments and material to help you find support and move on to a more authentic life.

What else would you like to see happen within our community?

What needs are still not being met?

What did you wish were available when you left the church that is not here currently, or could be done better?

I’m interested in getting your thoughts, as there is much more work to be done. Let’s brainstorm some ideas in the comments below.

NoCoolNameTom’s 25 new scripture mastery verses

For the first three months of this year, NoCoolNameTom has been translating scriptures into Greek, and giving context around the 25 scripture mastery verses.  Beyond just being awesome to actually see the options for translation, and getting a good feel for which ones are twisted out of context, and which are fairly accurate, he has explored the ideas of “Why this verse” compared to others.

This week, he posted his own suggested list of 25 New Testament scripture mastery scriptures for teenagers struggling to go through Junior High/High school without specific Mormon rhetoric.  I think this list touches the TBM, the NOM, the agnostic and the atheist in illustrating what teenagers need to hear as well as illustrating how much damage the current seminary program does to teenagers already struggling.

Regardless it is thought provoking and worth reading.

Full list here:


I Robin Lee Johnson and my boyfriend George Allen Circle have made a decision. We will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the Mormon Church or any Christian church with anyone. We will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. We will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell us how homosexuality is “an abomination to God,” about how homosexuality is a “chosen lifestyle,” or about how through prayer and “spiritual counseling” homosexual persons can be “cured.” Those arguments are no longer worthy of our time or energy. We will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate “reparative therapy,” as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. We will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. We will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders such as Boyd K. Packer who call homosexuality “deviant.” We will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that these same and certain other Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that “we love the sinner but hate the sin.” That statement is, we have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement. We will no longer temper our understanding of truth in order to pretend that we have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is “high-sounding, pious rhetoric.” The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for us. We will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves. We will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn’t. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone. An old civil rights song proclaimed that the only choice awaiting those who cannot adjust to a new understanding was to “Roll on over or we’ll roll on over you!” Time waits for no one.  That includes the Mormon Church and Bishop Robert W.
We will particularly ignore those members of the Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a “new church,” claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings, who are so deeply locked into a world that no longer exists, to form a community in which they can continue to hate gay people, distort gay people with their hopeless rhetoric and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.  We certainly have had enough of tyranny of all kinds due to the fact that we have not been challenging injustice and oppression in the past.

In our personal life, we will not listen to televised debates conducted by “fair-minded” channels that seek to give “both sides” of this issue “equal time.” We are aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.

We will never act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude. We will not be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world’s population. We see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do we believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. We will dismiss as unworthy of any of our attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson (of the 700 Club), James Dobson (of “Focus On The Family”), Jerry Falwell (of Liberty University {Southern Baptist}), Jimmy Swaggart (Evangelist of The Family Worship Center) – who I quote here as saying: “If I meet a homosexual, I’ll just kill him and tell God he died.”, Albert Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), and Robert Duncan. Our country and our churches have all already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.  My boyfriend and I will certainly not tolerate these ignorant views any longer.

We make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal soon, recognized by every state and pronounced holy by the church. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces (thank you President Barac Obama). We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum (the submission of a proposed public measure or actual statute to a popular majority vote) on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a “mobocracy,” which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite (a vote of an entire country for or against a proposal).

We will also no longer act as if we need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote or more especially the will of a few or even one man (i.e. my Bishop Robert “Bobby” W. excommunicated me from the Church with two counselors, almost single handedly because they are hateful, prejudiced and homophobic).   I have never had any prejudice against anyone except for “common sense prejudice,” for example, not letting a 3 year old kid drive my car for obvious reasons that anyone can understand.

The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, my fiancé and I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. We do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, we will no longer tolerate our culture’s various forms of homophobia. We do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon or even by using scripture.  It is time to stop “beating a dead horse” and move on.

We have seen this debate for years, but things do get settled and this issue is now settled for us. We do not debate any longer with members of the “Flat Earth Society” either. We do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; we do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. We do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres or that the terrorists hit the United Sates on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union (protects civil rights of individuals). We are tired of being embarrassed by so much of our church’s participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ we serve or the God whose mystery and wonder we appreciate more each day. Indeed we feel the Christian Church should not only apologize, but do public penance for the way we have treated people of color, women, adherents of other religions and those we designated heretics, as well as gay and lesbian people.
Life moves on. As the poet James Russell Lowell once put it more than a century ago: “New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth” (strange, obsolete). We are ready now to claim the victory. We will from now on assume it and live into it. We are unwilling to argue about it or to discuss it as if there are two equally valid, competing positions any longer. The day for that mentality has simply gone forever.

This is our manifesto and our creed. We proclaim it today. We invite others to join us in this public declaration. We believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both church and state. It will signal that a new day has dawned and we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it.

By: Robin Lee Johnson adapted from the work of John Shelby Spong for Robin and George “Cody” Allen Circle.  Thank you John for your inspiring words and allowing me to adapt and personalize this Manifesto to myself and my husband to be; I consider you John, my friend.

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

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

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

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

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

On Saturday there were some presentations I will never forget.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mormon Intra-faith Dialogue Under Controlled Circumstances

Picket Fence

A week ago, a number of bloggers from across the Mormon belief map joined together answer the following question- do good online fences make good LDS neighbors? My co-panelistchanson has posted some remarks here, andRachel Whipple has posted her remarks at Times and Seasons, andyou can also readHolly’s post herefor thoughts from a non-panelist.

I have written frequently on the topic, but I wanted to address things again here. For our panel, we had wanted to have members of the orthodox, believing Mormon blog aggregator Nothing Wavering. However, both Bruce Nielson and J. Max Wilson declined our invitation, but they did provide reasons for why they declined our invitations to Sunstone (Bruce’s reasons for declining Sunstone detail this idea that the different blogs are “safe zones” for different communities, whereas J. Max Wilson’s reasons for declining talk about the need not to give Sunstone or the Bloggernacle any legitimacy.)

With J. Max’s and Bruce’s posts publicly available on their blogs, I thought that I could present their pointson their behalf — kinda like a devil’s advocate (can you taste the irony?) I don’t know how J. Max feels about this, but Bruce, at the very least, had said explicitly in his comments:

…if you wanted to express my views of boundary maintenance at Sunstone on my behalf just for kicks and giggles and then let your panel shoot it down, I really wouldnt mind. (Not being present, I can hardly be socially rejected now can I?) I might even take this email and post it on M* one of these days and see if it generates any discussion while Im in my safe zone so to speak. But this is up to you.

So I guess his post was fair game. But there was a funny thing that happened after I presented both of their positions.

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