Sunday in Outer Blogness: Inoculation edition!!

Well, they’ve finally done it! The CoJCoL-dS has decided to have a General Authority stand up in a public meeting and tell people to read the infamous essays!! (Are they getting desperate?)

(If you’re not familiar with the essays, please see this earlier roundup with discussion of how the CoJCoL-dS publicly posted a series of essays to address some of the most problematic issues of the church — but they never mentioned them over the pulpit, and then moved them around the website a bit, making it look like they want something to point to if accused of secrecy, but don’t actually want faithful members to find them unless they’re really looking for them. Possibly because some of these issues can’t be spun in a way that fails to make the church look bad.)

The wild thing is that Elder Ballard actually used the term “inoculation” this time!! It’s not that it’s useful/interesting/edifying to have more info/clarification about doctrinal and historical points you may have been worried about. It’s that some of these “Anti-Mormon lies” can be deadly to your faith (when you find out that they’re not actually lies). So the hope is that if these upsetting tidbits of information are presented to you in a weakened form, then maybe your faith will develop an immunity to them — especially when presented as an alternative to googling.

(Related podcasts include Feminist Mormon Housewives’ awesome new series on race and Mormon history, plus, in his pre-excommunication interview with Mormon Matters, Jeremy Runnels talked a bit about how yesterday’s “Anti-Mormon lies” are todays essays on the church website.)

I’m pretty surprised that Elder Ballard presents the strategy this way — it’s not like it makes the church look good. (Of course, I suppose anything that that takes on those evil “Anti-Mormons” and their nefarious plots is, by definition, good…). But the other thing that jumped out at me is that Ballard explained this strategy as “inoculation” without giving the slightest hint that this is something that has been debated on the Bloggernacle and all over the Internet for years (see here, here, here). But, by accidentally not having time to give any credit/attribution for this idea, the non-Internet-savvy believers can believe that the General Authorities got this inspired idea themselves — on the hotline straight from God!

Continuing current issues for the CoJCoL-dS include medical marijuana, suicides (especially involving the LGBTQ), going out of their way to find gay couples to excommunicate (among other weird family/privacy invastions), women and the priesthood (etc.), well-meant (or not) bad advice, and evidence for the Book of Mormon (not to mention plausibility).

Of course the world has not-Mormon-related problems that may be even worse

In life journeys, Katie L shared a lovely exit story.

In the horn-tooting category (or viola-playing), I posted some more of my comic book and another of my puppet shows from my college days. And Knotty recounted the fun of meeting fellow expats!

Happy reading!

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!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Losing control of the story edition!

If you’re a faithful Mormon, there are a lot of possible ways to rationalize the various sticky issues of the CoJCoL-dS. Take the problem of Joseph Smith “marrying” a bunch of teenagers and married women, and lying to his wife and everyone else about it — it can be explained away with any of the following excuses:

  1. Joseph Smith would never do any such thing — it must be just anti-Mormon lies.
  2. Sleeping with dozens of women is awesome — it’s part of what makes the Celestial Kingdom such a great reward! — and Joseph led the way.
  3. Joseph Smith didn’t want to do it, but he was obedient when God commanded it.
  4. Joseph Smith was wrong to to it (but he and/or the CoJCoL-dS had/has/have sufficient other redeeming qualities that this point isn’t a deal-breaker).
  5. There’s some sort of reasonable explanation for it that we just don’t know yet.
  6. (other?)

These can’t all simultaneously be right, but different choices are satisfying to different believers. As long as the CoCJoL-dS doesn’t officially commit to any one of them, each believer can believe that his/her preferred explanation is the real explanation — and that all faithful LDS believers are on the same page. The CoJCoL-dS can even help out behind the scenes by paying apologists to come up with even more possible explanations! As long as the apologists are careful to add the disclaimer that their explanations are not official, the people who like them can believe that they’re right, and those that don’t can be comforted in the knowledge that the unsatisfactory explanation just some random guy’s opinion.

That has been the church’s strategy for many years, and I have to admit that it was a really clever tactic! So why did they do a 180 and start posting official positions on various issues? Maybe it wasn’t working…

One problem with the strategy is that by conveniently never mentioning some uncomfortable issues, the Internet hands the entire discourse on these issues to the critics who are interested in talking about them. And when believers realize that the critics are, in fact, giving more accurate information than the CoJCoL-dS gives, it’s the catalyst that starts people on the path of investigating how trustworthy and good the CoJCoL-dS really is. The church and remaining faithful members can lecture the leavers all day long about how they shouldn’t feel deceived/betrayed by their discoveries, but you can’t but the toothpaste back in the tube, so to speak. Once you get the idea to look at the church from another perspective, you can’t unsee it.

So, the CoJCoL-dS has decided to try out the strategy of “inoculation” (for English-speakers) that the Bloggernacle has been recommending for years. (Not that the church gave credit for the idea or anything — it’s just a coincidence that God revealed this idea to His prophets after they’d read about it on other people’s websites.) But by picking one explanation as the official one, they’ve lost their earlier advantage — the folks that liked the other explanations better won’t be happy.

That’s what happened with the polygamy essays. The CoCJoL-dS officially chose explanation #3 — which (like the others) has a lot of problems. And Joseph Smith’s teen brides are controversial enough that I suspect the church bureaucrats are now wishing they could silently delete those latest essays, considering what they set themselves up for.

With that intro, let’s see what people are saying about Joseph Smith and polygamy! Last week‘s reasonable, faithful editorial continues to cause ripples:

Kristy’s article is a very well written and educated response from a believer’s perspective. While I take the logical non-believing view that Joseph Smith was simply a man who started a religion, got high on his power/authority and started acting like so many other men in his shoes by taking on additional wives, many of them teenagers, I can appreciate Kristy’s integrity. She’s standing up for what’s right and moral by asking the Mormon church to be clear that Joseph Smith was absolutely wrong in taking on teenage brides. As a psychologist with a PH. D from BYU, she clearly states the issues surrounding the Mormon church not acknowledging this heinous act, as it relates to victims of sexual abuse and the potential of this essay enabling future sexual predators within the Mormon religion to excuse their deviant actions by claiming “God told me to do it, same as Joseph,” much like the abductor of Elizabeth Smart. In fact, the Elizabeth Smart case is a perfect example of why the Mormon Church’s essay was so wrong from the perspective of the sexual predator and the victim.

And, on the other side of the coin, presenting Joseph Smith as a “reluctant polygamist” is also kind of an insult:

First, the essay on polygamy during Joseph Smith’s lifetime reflects an emerging apologetic argument that seeks to portray Smith as a reluctant polygamist who had to be coerced by an angel into engaging in sexual relations with his plural wives. Such a position misrepresents Smith’s zest for life and self-perception as Heaven’s lawgiver, while imposing on him a particular brand of morality that was foreign to him. “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another,” he taught (History of the church, 5:134).

Plus, hard to justify:

The problem is that he said the angel continued to threaten him even after he had entered into the practice, suggesting that God wasn’t so much interested in restoring “the principle” of plural marriage as He was in ensuring that Joseph Smith married specific women.

Not to mention some other glaring problems with Smith’s system:

So he also married already married women. Where is that ok? Even if you want to buy the excuse that the “Eternity-only” marriages had no sex. What does that mean for the next life? That the other husband is screwed? He only gets his wife, who he married first, for this life? They don’t even comment on that idea. They just worry about trying to put out fire of “Oh, they probably didn’t even have sex.” Which they have no sources saying that was the case. Again, you aren’t suppose to really think about this. Just trust in them, the church is true. Let’s continue on to the Celestial Kingdom together! (By the way is your wife taken? Oh she is, darn.)

(That last quote is by a blogger who is new to Outer Blogness, so please stop by his blog and say hello!)

It makes you wonder how they can invoke a love of traditional marriage when it comes to criticizing gay marriage.

Another problem: it’s hard to convince people to stick to lds.org when there’s so much more interesting stuff in church history that they still won’t touch! (This week’s Old Testament lesson explores the origins of the Mormon love of object lessons!)

So, how about that election? Yeah, I don’t want to talk about it either. How about some humor instead…?

There were some personal essays about choosing to be gay and taking Moroni’s challenge seriously. More discussion of pastoral apologetics here. (Another problem with “pastoral apologetics: Ex-Mormons are awesome!)

I can’t wait to see what the Mormons will come up with next week! Until then, happy reading!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Polygamapalooza Edition!

Wow!! The anonymous-yet-official mysterious oracle of the CoJC0L-dS has just officially admitted that Joseph Smith married multiple women, including teenagers and other men’s wives! And other interesting stuff about Mormon polygamy! This is big news because bringing up any of these fact (true and well-established as they are) has traditionally been enough to get you branded “anti-Mormon”! So it looks like lds.org (the official website of the CoJCoL-dS) is now an anti-Mormon website. And, while it’s a step forward, the essays contain some pretty questionable rationalizations:

Let’s start off with this gem:

In Joseph Smith’s time, monogamy was the only legal form of marriage in the United States. Joseph knew the practice of plural marriage would stir up public ire.

Despite the fact that polygamy was illegal, Joseph went ahead and did it. That might be permissible on its face (God’s commandments trump everything else, right?), except that, possibly to try and soothe the “public ire,” Joseph wrote in the twelfth article of faith that church members believed in “obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.” The Articles of Faith were penned in 1842. By the church’s own admission in this essay, Joseph took his first plural wife in the “mid-1830s.” Joseph Smith lied. Publicly. And his lie is now canonized in Mormon scripture.

It’s bad enough to defy satire, almost. Especially considering that on other parts of the lds.org website, they explain how young and innocent a fourteen-year-old is (when talking about Joseph Smith himself) — which naturally invites comparison with the two fourteen-year-old girls he married when he was 37.

Members of the church who discover this are now going through the stages of grief.

Personally, I think they timed this new revelation to draw attention away from that video they released about Mormon underwear (which, being funnier, had more potential for jokes to go viral without some distraction to make it yesterday’s news). OTOH, it’s hard to imagine the CoJCoL-dS would be so Internet savvy, considering they just made this newbie blunder of drawing attention to what they don’t want you talking about by deleting some items after posting an article. Of course, the church-owned universities are embracing the latest technology to enforce the dress code. 😉

These new essays aren’t the only news from headquarters: There’s also a rumor that the CoJCoL-dS will begin allowing civil-marriage-plus-temple-sealing in the US (as they do in other countries! In other church news, that whole giving-mishies-iPads thing is having the expected effect, despite impressive indoctrination. Oh, and “Trunk-or-Treat” has morphed into a horrible monstrosity. Oh, and maybe Moroni was an intergalactic troll!

In scripture study, God wants you to acknowledge how wrong you are with respect to Him. In Alma, we learn to follow God’s commandments even when they’re impossibly vague and contradictory — it’s impressive how people can place so much emphasis on one possible interpretation of an isolated passage.

In faith journeys, Runtu is reflecting upon death without fear. In Seattle, Mormon leaders invited gay members back to the enjoy the blessings of the second-class status the church offers them. Similarly, there was an interesting tale from one of Mormonism’s heretics who, well, read for yourself:

He asked me, sincerely, what it would take to “get me back” in the Church.

I told him, flatly, “I’m never coming back. What would I ‘come back’ to?”

In books, Steve Evans reviewed The Lost Book of Mormon — looks interesting!

I was worried I wouldn’t have time to write SiOB this weekend — my parents are visiting, and I figured maybe it would be impolite to slip away for a few hours to read all these fascinating pieces on Mormon polygamy etc., and compile the links for you! But they decided to spend enough time visiting their respective churches that I had no problem finding time for my own church-related fun! Happy reading!