Sunday in Outer Blogness: Duggars edition!

The Josh Duggar incest/molestation scandal has been the big topic of discussion and analysis this past week. These guys aren’t Mormons, but the story has strong resonance for us because of their tradition’s familiar attitudes about sexuality, gender roles, and family:

In the LDS church, there was a massive focus in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s on having large numbers of children. Many people were given these manipulative sorts of promises when they were married, or chastised by their bishops for putting off having children. Did anyone, ever, teach my parents to be prudent before having another child. Were they taught to consider whether they had adequate resources to provide clothing food, shelter, and beds for their children? Did anyone teach them how much time children require? No. My mother was afraid to die, so they just kept having babies, even if they couldn’t even give us a decent home with running water and electricity, or adequate supervision and love.

Duggar’s Christian defenders are basically digging him deeper. For example Ray Comfort claimed that Duggar committed the acts during his “before Christ” days — even though Josh Duggar accepted Christ when he was 7. Worse, they’re highlighting one of the big problems with believing that any-and-all sex-outside-of-marriage is one of the most heinous sins one can commit — it makes it very hard to tell the difference between consensual acts and abuse:

Crowder’s article doesn’t draw a distinction between non-consensual contact and pre-marital sex, though, because presumably both of those are “wrong” and “sins” so it doesn’t matter what the context was, right? (Oh and nice dig on young women who choose to have abortions too.) Can you guys believe that young women who aren’t married are having more than one child?? That is totally the same thing as Josh Duggar molesting a 4-year-old! Teenagers having pre-marital sex (because if they’re married teenagers then it’s OK, presumably) is logically equivalent to “teenagers molesting little girls,” which is exactly what the above paragraph implies.

Here’s another:

If this boy had been experimenting with girls in a non-Christian family, then he would have been encouraged. I know a family that were proudly showing photos of the their teenage son on a trip to Disneyland unchaperoned with his girlfriend. It’s “normal.”

Plus further analysis from the same source:

There are all sorts of problems with putting any sexual contact outside of marriage in the same category. For one thing, victims of sexual assault, including children, may end of feeling that they are in some way guilty of what happened—after all, sexual contact outside of marriage is considered sin. For another thing, a teenager sexually molesting children may be treated as a similar offense to a teenager having consensual sex with his girlfriend.

And, as great as forgiveness can be, the victims should be treated as important as well, instead of getting blamed.

The biggest item of LDS-interest news (aside from a shooting at an LDS Stake Center, the lady who ran over her husband for voting for Obama, and the lady who tried to jump off the COB) was that L. Tom Perry died. (Ziff has continued to provide actuarial analysis of the top leaders of the CoJCoL-dS.) A particularly sad side note for this man’s legacy is that the last memorable thing he did before his death was call LGBT families “counterfeit”.

Then, of course, we have more excommunications! It’s getting to the point where they’re not so much a news item as a regular feature — which inspires memes like Stay in the boat… until it’s your turn to get kicked out. This time it looks like Alan Rock Waterman is finally in the hotseat (this coming wednesday), possibly for this post that threatens the church’s revenue stream.

In church watch, Nearing Kolob reported on some interesting stuff the missionaries are learning, Thinker of Thoughts wrote some analysis of racism in the Book of Mormon. And Mormon Hurt noticed something interesting bout the task of keeping your garments white:

They were never white to begin with. The blinding purity was a mirage, a deception. With each wash, they revealed more of their true nature. I had fallen victim to their illusion.

In history, there’s more on Joseph Smith’s polygamy. In scripture study, we have avoiding hypocrisy.

In philosophy, Profet analyzed the human tendency to count the hits and ignore the misses. And Stephen Carter explained a popular modern strategy for dealing with the Book of Mormon’s lack of historical basis:

So, if you’re wondering about the truth of a particular scripture story: whether or not it happened is irrelevant. You only need to ask, “When I experiment upon this word, does it make me grow? Does it reveal a larger universe? Does it taste good?”

See here for some similar discussion.

My biggest problem with the “BoM as inspired fiction” theory isn’t the obvious one (namely that it means the Joseph Smith was intentionally, explicitly, and frequently lying to people). It’s that — sure, the BoM doesn’t need to be non-fiction to be considered inspired or worthwhile — but it has to have something to recommend it. If it’s really “another witness of Christ”, then that’s something. If you take that away (by admitting that all of the witnesses in it are, in fact, fictional characters), then what are you left with? If your intention is to find a great work of fiction that edifies ant enlightens you — that teaches you profound truths — then the Book of Mormon isn’t even going to make the top 10, nowhere near it.

In fun, we have the proper Christian-Mormon response to a Mormon woman showing her shoulders in public, the Angry Jesus meme, Adult Onset Atheist’s decisions on how to vote in the Hugos, and — finally — we learn what the GA’s did in the “War in Heaven” to land their sweet gig!!

Happy reading!!

LDS Doubt in the NY Times

Well, this should be interesting.  The NY TImes has a story published on the web yesterday discussing the ongoing brouhaha in Sweden involving members who have had a crisis of faith. There is a bullet-pointed list of major concerns:

■ Why does the church always portray Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon from golden plates, when witnesses described him looking down into a hat at a “peep stone,” a rock that he believed helped him find buried treasure?

â–  Why were black men excluded from the priesthood from the mid-1800s until 1978?

â–  Why did Smith claim that the Book of Abraham, a core scripture, was a translation of ancient writings from the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, when Egyptologists now identify the papyrus that Smith used in the translation as a common funerary scroll that has nothing to do with Abraham?

â–  Is it true that Smith took dozens of wives, some as young as 14 and some already wed to other Mormon leaders, to the great pain of his first wife, Emma?

There’s also a video interview with former Swedish area authority Hans Mattsson in which he says, “What I felt kind of sad about, and I felt II didn’t really like, was that they said that  you’re not supposed to talk to your wife, your children; you don’t talk about these issues in church.”

The story isn’t exactly news for anyone here, but it is news that the matter is getting such high-profile attention.




My Utah Show and Tell

Every writer must remind herself to show not tell. Dont waste 500 words telling your reader that your character is a nincompoop. Instead show it. Have him mistake the London Underground for a political movement, or fill an entire evening with praises to his patroness, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, or sketch his favorite animal, the liger. And so on.

In a Mormon context that might mean that instead of standing in testimony meeting and telling the ward about your Christian tolerance for your friends and relations who left the LDS Church, you instead show your tolerance by actually mixing with the above friends and relations. I had the opportunity to mix with many such believing Mormons at the recent Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City. The Mormons at Sunstone didnt need to boast that they tolerated their ex-Mormon friends; by including us they showed it.

Then theres my former BYU roommate and best friend of over 30 years. She is an active, believing Mormon who knows that Ive left the church and am sometimes critical of it. Nevertheless, Ive been invited to every graduation, missionary farewell and wedding reception. (No actual weddings, of course. But I cant fault her there. Its not her call.) Last week she and her husband loaned us their condo in the church owned high-rise next to City Creek Center.

Her actions show her tolerance. But they also show something about the strength and confidence of her faith.

When we were in Salt Lake City we also visited Marks family. As usual, my mother-in-law arranged a family dinner on Sunday. Everyone was there except Marks one believing sister, her husband, and their youngest child. This was no surprise. For some years now my sister-in-law and her husband have gone out of their way to shield their daughter from evil influences. Among these evil influences are her Uncle Mark and I, some of her cousins, and one of her siblings.

Then on Monday our daughter and her boyfriend, who live in Berlin, flew into Salt Lake for a couple of days. We spent our time visiting almost all of the family. Marks believing sister, brother-in-law and niece were again indisposed. Since our daughter moved to Europe in 2007, she has visited Salt Lake 3 times. On none of those occasions was she permitted to see her cousin.

–I should mention that while we were staying at her condo, my best friends son was staying at our place in San Francisco, a household complete with a coffee pot, well stocked wine refrigerator, and a library of non-church-approved books. (Including my own.) If this bothered my girlfriend, she didnt show it.

Thursday morning our daughter and boyfriend flew to Minnesota to attend a wedding. Once again, she missed seeing her cousin. That afternoon Marks uncle and aunt drove into town from their home near Denver. We were anxious to see them, as our last meeting was in December 2001. Marks uncle is a retired physicist who quit the LDS Church in his 20s while attending graduate school. His wife has never been Mormon.

We arrived at Marks folks home at 6PM, greeted his uncle and aunt, and sat around the family room making small talk. Then the most amazing thing happened. My believing sister-in-law and beautiful niece walked in the front door. Ive no idea what inspired this appearance. The cynical voice in my head told me that my mother-in-law had guilted her into coming. There I went again, relying on telling not showing. What showed was that they were there.

Unfortunately, any change of heart my sister-in-law may have had was quickly reversed. Almost immediately after the blessing on the food, Marks uncle asked me what I was doing with my time.

Ive written a book, I replied. Also I volunteer at a garden.

He nodded his head vigorously. Really? Tell me about that.

The garden?

NO! Your book!

Um, well, its just a little book. . .

Mark, my biggest fan, reached for the copy of The Girls From Fourth Ward he had given his mother and handed it to his uncle.

Mormon girls committing murder to get into BYU? Thats marvelous! Uncle boomed.

From there things quickly unwound. But not in the bombastically loud and hilarious way they did in the Archie Bunker household. It was more in the manner of a painfully awkward scene in a Zoe Heller novel, or an exchange in the drawing room at Rosings Park.

My sister-in-law weighed in on my accomplishment by noting the brevity of my author bio, reminding me that I wasnt exactly Stephen King, sarcastically speculating on the millions in royalties I would earn, and gently conveying how sad she was that I didnt have more of a life.

And so the evening went on, shifting from pleasantries to meanness then back to pleasantries.

As believing Mormons I am sure that Marks sister and brother-in-law tell people that they know the LDS Church is true. But thats just telling. When they shun and belittle family in order to keep their daughter active in the faith, they show a far less confident attitude toward their church and its claims.

At Sunstone believers and non-believers eagerly browsed the Mormon Alumni Association book table. Nobody seemed threatened, and there were no snide remarks. Likewise, when I told my best friend that Id finally published my book, she hugged and congratulated me. I dont know if shell read it or not. But if she does, I doubt it will shatter her faith. If she doesnt, it wont be for fear that it might.

As for our niece, she showed no signs of damage from her exposure to us. She spoke proudly about her recent internship at The New Era, and well she should. Her original poem is to be published in an upcoming edition of that magazine.

Will my husbands sister and brother-in-law see this and loosen their grip on her? Hard to say. Cognitive dissonance can be a mighty thick blindfold. Or as Groucho Marx put it, Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?

“That’s so Mormon”…? Dan, no!

Recently, a reader wrote to Dan Savage with the following suggestion:

I’ve decided to start saying “that’s Mormon” instead of “that’s gay” and encouraging my friends to do the same. It’s more accurate and plus it gives shit to a group of people who have extremely backward views about homosexuality.

Dan replies:

  • A Mormon kid in high school would wind up hearing “That’s Mormon” ten thousand times a day if your proposal caught on, LDS, while a Mormon adult would rarely if ever hear the expression.
  • Mormon kids, of course, have the family support so many gay kids lack and they’re not committing suicide at greater rates.
  • And you know how Christians get off on feeling persecuted.
  • teachers and school administrators wouldn’t hesitate to confront kids who used the expression. The exact same school officials who turn a blind eye to casual-but-harmful expressions of anti-gay bigotry
  • So I will allow it.

How is this idea wrong? Let me count the ways:

#1. Are you against bullying? or are you simply against people you can relate to being bullied?

As I discussed in Is anti-bullying education possible?, it appears that a lot of bullying is a cultural phenomenon — and kids can learn not to do it. (Even if up until quite recently childhood bullying has been seen as inevitable in our culture.)

Sure, it’s easy to say to kids “Don’t bully this kid — that other kid is even more of a loser, bully him!” It’s hard to persuade kids just to leave less popular kids alone. But this is not a situation for doing what’s easy, it’s a situation for doing what’s right.

#2. “Mormon kids, of course, have the family support so many gay kids lack and they’re not committing suicide at greater rates.”

As I said in the comments of my bullying education post, I think that having supportive parents makes a huge difference. However, it doesn’t turn bullying into a minor or trivial problem for the kid that gets bullied. I don’t think suicide rates should be the only measure of the harm of bullying, but, for example, some recent gay teen suicides I’ve read about were kids who actually had supportive parents, but killed themselves anyway.

#3. “it gives shit to a group of people who have extremely backward views about homosexuality.”

I’m sure that the blame for anti-gay bullying can be be placed squarely on the leaders of various churches, including on the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS. But, as noted above, those perpetrators aren’t the ones who will suffer if kids are bullied for Mormonism. And even if the Mormon kids themselves were entirely to blame, does that call for “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”? Is that the kind of ethics we want to teach our kids?

#4. “And you know how Christians get off on feeling persecuted.”

Yep. And what do you think you get when you fight hate with more hate?

If there’s hostility between Mormons and gay people, we have nothing to gain by throwing fuel on that fire. And I can hardly think of anything more counter-productive than creating real evidence to back up the (usually ludicrus) claim that the Mormons are the victims in this struggle.

#5. “teachers and school administrators wouldn’t hesitate to confront kids who used the expression. The exact same school officials who turn a blind eye to casual-but-harmful expressions of anti-gay bigotry”

This one is the closest one to being half-reasonable. But teachers have enough to deal with. And for the past century or two in the US, various authority figures have had a less-than-stellar record of keeping kids from bullying each other for all manner of things that kids should never be bullied for.

Personally, I recall being bullied for being nerdy and unpopular and for having various social problems, but not specifically for being Mormon. But others report having been bullied for being Mormon. That shouldn’t happen.

Young people across the board — including in the most socially conservative denominations — are dramatically more likely (than previous generations) to be accepting of their LGBTQ peers. This trend didn’t come about by gay kids picking fights with kids from religious families. It came from positive visibility. If the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS are teaching hateful messages, let’s reject the hate, and encourage kids to respond with reason and friendship and understanding instead.

Marvin Perkins: We are one.

Marvin Perkins

Marvin Perkins is described by Mormon blog Times & Seasons as “a Latter-day Saint music producer who is currently the Public Affairs Co-chair for the Genesis Group and who has worked to nurture understanding between African-Americans and Latter-day Saints and attack misconceptions.” Here’s Marvin at T&S:

Even couched in kind tones, today we find many in the church who utilize labels of separation like your people, our people etc. We are one.

And here’s Marvin attacking misconceptions as a Yes on 8 campaigner:

“… They can’t reproduce, so they got to recruit. And they’re trying to recruit our kids. They’re trying to promote that lifestyle to our kids and I say NO. And then they bring it under a civil rights issue. It’s not a civil rights issue, it’s a moral issue.”

How does Marvin know they are out to recruit his kids?

Because his gay friends told him so:

This tension was especially pronounced when less-polished speakers — like, say, Marvin Perkins, a forty-ish African American introduced as a “community leader” — took the microphone at the rally. “They’re trying to compare this to the black struggle for civil rights and to interracial marriage,” Perkins told the crowd. “And it’s like, there were no civil unions for black and white couples, so, you know, you don’t have a leg to stand on.” If such reasoning caused some puzzlement — was he saying that civil unions would be sufficient for mixed-race couples? — Perkins had another argument for the crowd to consider. “I was talking to a gay friend of mine, and I said, ‘What’s the story? Come on. You have civil unions. Why are you pushing this?’ And they said, ‘Marvin, it’s simply recruiting. We love to recruit.'” It struck me as a testament to Marvin’s magnetism that he was able to elicit such candor from his close gay friends about the recruiting conspiracy.

Memo #1 to Marvin: Your gay friends hate you.

Watch the whole thing, but catch Marvin in action starting around the 3:15 mark:
Memo #2 to Marvin: Your biracial friends probably hate you, too.

Why is marriage equality not a civil rights issue?

Because separate but equal wasn’t available for interracial couples back in the day.

CNN’s Stan Wilson: Wasnt there a time when interracial marriage was illegal? How do you respond to that?

Marvin Perkins: There was. Interracial couples were told they could not marry or have any of the rights of marriage. Same sex couples in CA have the same rights with domestic partnerships. There were no domestic partnerships for interracial couples.


The OP at that Times & Seasons link goes on to describe Marvin as “… one of the foremost scholars in the Church on the topic of race and the scriptures and has done a tremendous amount to help put an end to doctrinal folklore.”

Memo #3 to Marvin: This is me LMAO at your “scholarship” and your ridiculously homophobic self. We are one, Marvin, but what are you? Looks to me like you’re one big liar, just another Paul H. Dunn, telling whoppers for the Lord.

Inciting Violence – Glenn Beck and Fox News’s specialty

When I was in graduate school (2001-2007), my department regularly held symposia. Most of the symposia were members of our department or faculty at our university presenting their research. But occasionally we would bring in outside scholars to talk about their research. One of those scholars was Frances Fox Piven, Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She came and gave an hour-long presentation about how to help the poor and address issues of inequality, which is her area of expertise. Piven was born in 1932, making her 78 (or 79) years old. When she visited my university around 2005, she would have been in her early seventies. She’s a relatively small, thin, but spunky woman with a clear vision and determination. I didn’t have much of a chance to speak with her at length, but from the little interaction I had with her, I was impressed by her commitment to social justice and helping the poor.

Now imagine my surprise as I was reading through my news headlines this morning when I found this one from the NYTimes: Frances Fox Piven, Glenn Beck Target, Has Been Threatened. Yep, that’s right. Despite the recent shooting of a Congressional Representative and others in Tucson, AZ, right-wing conservatives continue to attack individuals, leading to physical threats against them (Piven has received multiple physical threats). And, according to the NYTimes article, when pressed about this, Fox News shrugged it off, dismissed it, and claimed that Beck isn’t going to change tactics. He will continue to attack Piven.

Here’s the part that gets me… Remember what Piven is advocating: helping the poor. Yep, just like the guy who said this:Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3). And these people:

  • Poverty is the worst form of violence. – Ghandi
  • It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish. – Mother Teresa
  • It is a tragic mix-up when the United States spends $500,000 for every enemy soldier killed, and only $53 annually on the victims of poverty. – Martin Luther King Jr.
  • The mother of revolution and crime is poverty. – Aristotle

Why isn’t Glenn Beck attacking Ghandi, Mother Teresa, MLK, Aristotle, and Jesus for their advocacy for the poor?

And, let’s be honest for a second, isn’t the dismissal of the actual threats to people by Fox News an admission of inciting violence? In our previous discussion of the Arizona shooting, the question of whether Fox News should be regulated came up. Of course they are free to say what they want, but freedom of speech does have its limits. If that speech is being used to foment violence or advocate harm, it’s generally recognized that the speech has crossed a line (per here). Frankly, I think Piven should sue Glenn Beck and Fox News and then use the proceeds of the lawsuits to set up a center at CUNY to advocate for the poor. I can’t think of a better use of Rupert Murdoch and Glenn Beck’s millions.

Oh, and one last thought: If Beck has an issue with Piven’s ideas, why not attack the ideas and leave her out of it? Attacking ideas doesn’t lead to death threats; attacking people does.

Q: How to get single Mormons to attend LDS Institute classes?

A: Guilt and sex.

Tonight? Oh, behave. Rrrrr.

h/t: r/exmormon and t.t.a.n.s.

See also Mormon Ad FAIL:

I know I shouldn’t be shocked and outraged that this comes from a church whose finest entertainment moment was the depiction of Johnny Lingo bartering for an 8-Cow Wife. And I know I’ve heard more returned missionaries than I can count who’ve been promised “a hot wife” in exchange for their faithfulness. But it is different when the video comes straight from the Church’s official website.

Mormon Times says religion can be bad, but not theirs

I couldn’t help but stop by for this headline, “Elizabeth Smart case shows best and worst of religion’s influence“. I thought since Brian David Mitchell is a splinter from Mormonism the writers at MormonTimes might suggest something really “out there,” like, maybe, Mormonism can, in fact, be bad for humanity if certain ideas and practices are emphasized rather than others. Okay, the odds of that happening are virtually zero. But the headline grabbed my attention. Instead, what we get is efforts to distance Mitchell from Mormonism and even from religion, like the following:

In fact, when Mitchell used his quasi-religious beliefs to justify victimizing Elizabeth Smart, religion itself came under fire.


In the local press, some commentators compared Mitchell to Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asserting that Smith also used claims of religious authority to victimize others. If some people have trouble distinguishing the likes of Mitchell from Smith, Smart does not. In her testimony she denounced Mitchell as an evil hypocrite.

The article fails to admit that this assertion – that Mitchell and Smith both did use their religious authority to victimize others – is true, and even in the same way: they claimed divine retribution against girls if they didn’t stick their penis in their vagina. I don’t mean to suggest that Smith and Mitchell are the same; as far as I know Smith never actually abducted any women and raped them over a lengthy period of time. He was a much smoother operator and apparently liked variety over domination. But the method employed wasn’t that different.

The article then turns its focus to how Mormonism has helped Elizabeth Smart cope with her trauma:

Faith in God helped Smart cope with violence, even violence hypocritically perpetrated in God’s name. When asked by KSL-TV why she chose to serve a Mormon mission, Elizabeth said she wanted others to know what she knows: “Whatever could happen to me, whatever happens to me, I will always be with my family,” she said. “I know that there is a God and he loves us, and that no matter what people can take from you or do to you or harm you, they can’t take that away from you.”

I don’t want to dismiss the fact that it does seem to have helped Elizabeth. I’m glad Elizabeth is doing well and I do hope she continues to do well in light of the trauma she suffered.

I just think the phrasing of the article, using qualifiers every time it talks about Mitchell’s religion (“hypocritical”, “quasi-religious,” “quirky”), is interesting. It isn’t uncommon for people to insist that those like them who behave in deplorable ways are, in fact, not like them. My favorite example of this was what a student in one of my classes said when I noted that there are Christian terrorists. The student said, “I’m a Christian. I would never do that. So, they can’t be Christians.” This perfectly illustrates my point: Mormons are, well, Mormons. And since they value their religion and think of it as a good thing, they have a hard time believing that their religion could motivate people to do abhorrent things.

News Flash for the MormonTimes: Religion isn’t necessarily good or bad; it can be used in good ways and bad ways. Religion doesn’t make people good. And quasi-religion doesn’t make them bad. What do you say you add a little nuance to your articles that better reflects reality?

A Tale of Two Cities (DC and SLC): Marion Barry, H. David Burton and Harry Jackson

And three giants: Bishop H. David Burton, Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who recently co-signed a letter with Bishop Harry Jackson, Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church, expressing their shared commitment to protect marriage; Mayor Barry blesses their union with a memorable chant.

A hypocritical example destroys credibility. — H. David Burton

The letter.

Bishop Burton’s recent accolades: Salt Lake Chamber names LDS Churchs Burton Giant in Our City (Salt Lake Tribune) … Bishop H. David Burton to be honored as ‘Giant In Our City’ (Deseret News) … Bishop Burton to be honored as ‘Giant In Our City’ (KSL) … Bishop H. David Burton to be honored as ‘A Giant In Our City’ (ABC4)

Giants? Gah. Watch the full ten minutes.