Sunday in Outer Blogness: Intolerance edition!

You may have noticed that there have been some racial tensions in the United States lately. Also the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has traditionally had some problems with racism (see this helpful infographic). And, yes, there’s racism in the Book of Mormon:

This scripture is important because it racializes skin color. That is, it was because of the dark skin, that we know the Lamanites were bad hombres. This as opposed to the idea that the Lamanites were sinful and thus they were cursed with a dark skin. Also note that the dark skin was a mark of marriage prohibition. This is racism 101. Let me provide an example to help better understand what I mean

“How do we know Blacks (insert negative stereotype) act that way?”

“Because their skin is black and black people always act that way.”

There is no way 2 Nephi 5:21-24 can be read metaphorically.

It turns out there’s a Mormon Mommy Blogger who is one of the leaders of the Alt-Right! To the church’s credit, President Newsroom explicitly called out white nationalists when the Nazi mommy interpreted their more ambiguous statement as being favorable to the alt-right. Next step maybe actually excommunicate her?

The Mormon Church has been making empty statements about racists not being proper Mormons since well before the Alt-Right groups became a thing. Individuals, like Ayla, have risen in popularity while the great authority of the Mormon Church has excommunicated people like Kate Kelly for suggesting that some women could be given the same magical “blessings” reserved for eight year old boys. This leads the outsider to think that, to the Mormon Church, respectfully discussing aspects of magical wacky-woo is much more egregious than openly espousing neo-fascist ideology.

For the average Mormon, some tips on standing against white supremacy from BCC and the Young Mormon Feminists. Dooce recently resigned from the CoJCoL-dS over the racism:

When I found out that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was going to sing at the inauguration of a self-professed sexual predator and unadulterated bigot, I submitted my name for removal. Here’s the PDF I have hanging over the laundry basket where I throw my dirty panties.

Trump’s flailing incompetence is fanning some very dangerous flames of hatred. In my analysis on my personal blog, though, I’ve found a possible ray of hope:

The critical point is that the Republicans in Congress are finally starting to turn on him. Trump doesn’t seem to understand that those Republicans in the House and Senate are currently the only people standing between him and jail. And he is just too. damn. stupid. to do a bare minimum of maintenance on those alliances that are so critical to his survival. Instead he has repeatedly demonstrated that teaming up with him is the fast track to finding yourself under a bus.

The CoJCoL-dS also has some problems with homosexuality, but some gay Mormons are making it work — sometimes in unusual ways. Specifically, this lesbian couple earned praise for getting divorced in order to be members in good standing!

In happier gay Mormon tales, Dad’s Primal Scream came up with a positive way to keep himself from being erased from his son’s life:

My e-mails have usually been full of the latest details about our family, me and his sisters. I always tried to include a healthy amount of humor. I’d send jokes or the latest memes because I know how somber and dreadfully serious everything can be on a mission.

But now that he’s coming back I’ve been dreading the same sort of snubbing at homecoming events that I experienced when he left.

So, I’ve decided that instead of feeling sorry for myself I am going to take my power back. I’ll be hosting my own welcome back party for him. I’m be inviting my gay and ex-Mormon friends and he can invited whomever he wants. The focus will be on our joy to have him back. That’s it. I’ve run it by him and he has agreed!! I’m very excited.

On to other LDS-interest news and discussion topics!

And Alexis posted a fascinating Mormon doctrinal riddle — comment on her blog if you know the answer!

What is the protocol concerning informing new spouses about old secret names? And what about if two husbands know a woman’s secret name? What if the original husband says he has moved on, but he really hasn’t, in an emotional sense, and he still knows his ex-wife’s secret name? What if he manages to get himself posited into the right place to bring his ex through the veil? The wife is unsuspecting and thinks it’s the right person bringing her through the veil, or whatever, and then VOILA! She gets through or across and sees that she has been facilitated into eternity by someone she wasn’t at all expecting to see there. What does she do then?

Or does she get a new secret name so that the old husband, in case he’s not on the up and up, doesn’t know her more current secret name?

Also don’t miss this new blog with travel tips from one exmo friend to another!

Wow, there was really a lot of fantastic discussion in blogspace this past fortnight! I hope you get a chance to check out some of these links despite my getting this out so late. Happy reading!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: More race edition!!

The discussion of the pool party incident wasn’t even done when another racism horror story arrived on the scene. The recent tragedy in Charleston isn’t about Mormonism, but… Mormonism has such a strong historical connection with American racism that naturally we’ve been talking about it this past week.

In other racial news there was the bizarre tale of Rachel Dolezal. As messed-up as her actions were, I argued that we should not use this as motivation for the idea that people need to identify as their “true race” — because that is not only problematic (historically and otherwise), but doesn’t even really make sense. My own cousin wrote a piece for the New York Times with a related point, and she was also quoted in the Seattle Times:

When Amanda Erekson was in her early 20s, a friend introduced her to a Japanese-American woman at a party. “Amanda is Japanese-American, too!” her friend enthused.

“The person was shocked,” Erekson recalls. “I know white people who look more Japanese than you,” the woman said.

The comment stung. Erekson, who is multiracial, identifies strongly with her Japanese-American heritage, although her appearance leads most people to assume she is simply white.

This kind of skeptical reaction is one reason the 33-year-old New Yorker, president of MAVIN, an organization devoted to the multiracial experience, bemoans the international media sensation that is Rachel Dolezal. Because of the former Spokane NAACP president, who resigned from her post Monday after her parents said she had been posing as black, Erekson says “it will be that much harder” for people like her.

Erekson, who considers Dolezal’s conduct “unethical and inappropriate,” can find little positive about the whole affair. But if there is something, she says it is this: “It makes people more comfortable talking about race.”

Then there was the big LDS news of the past week: the Boise Rescue!! Yes, it would appear that even in the heart of the Morridor, there’s a bit of a problem of whole stakes catching the apostasy bug, so they sent in some G.A.s to address the problem! Someone recorded and transcribed it, which means that all of the juicy bits have been thoroughly ripped apart for your enjoyment. Here’s a recurring theme:

by their definitions of apostasy and authority, Alma the Younger, Abinidi, Samuel the Lamanite, Paul & Jesus Christ would have been apostates rather than prophets. They basically claim that those who are in authority are at any given time are right. Except that’s not how Christian or even Mormon history has actually played out. Sometimes those in authority were wrong and it took a renegade to point it out.

And another interesting point:

I find it interesting that the efforts of the church do not seem to be to reclaim those they consider apostate, but rather only seem intent on preventing others from leaving. If the effort was to reclaim those they’ve lost they would do so with patience and persuasion without calling them preposterous and apostate and other names while not addressing their sincere concerns.

Oh, and it’s Father’s Day! Sorry, dads, that your day doesn’t have the same level of angst-ridden hand-wringy fun that a Mormon Mother’s Day offers, but please enjoy this happy story.

Aside from the headlines, there were tons of other interesting stories and discussions of Mormonism this past week! Consider the disturbing ambiguity of a pedophile who’s actually a really good teacher, Polygamy as doctrine and practice, the pressure to marry, interesting evidence of nepotism, a new song parody and hymn, and exercises on confirmation bias.

In LDS life issues, we have some typical, yet poignant exit stories and a letter from a Mormon grandma.

There were also some new points in the debate over Book of Mormon historicity! Specifically, more DNA! It always gets interesting when the people using BoM historicity as an example of how pseudoscience is employed to bolster faith meet up with the folks who insist that the Book of Mormon is historical. Also, when the Mormon Expositor meets up with a guy who did a hilarious podcast about it. From the Bible, here’s a point that bears highlighting:

There’s a function to these ‘love’ verses. I liken it to poison. If you want to poison an animal, you can’t just throw it the poison and hope it eats it. You have to hide the poison in some kind of food the animal will like. In the same way, these ‘love’ scriptures provide cover for the nastier bits — of which there are plenty — so that people will gulp them down while they’re gulping down the good bits.

In books, there’s a call for poems about Heavenly Mother, and Brett Cottrell officially launched his book!

In other random fun, Holly had some adventures with mansplainers, Novus Homo discussed being gay, Kiley is moving to Phoenix, and Knotty tried pot for the first time!!

Lots of food for thought this week — I hope you can find some insight even if there’s not much comfort…

Obligatory Violence and the Book of Mormon

Like so many people, I have spent the past two days convulsed with grief and horror at the events in Charleston. Also shame: America’s latest accused mass murderer claimed he had to kill black people because they “rape our women,” and it’s as repugnant to me that anyone would murder a human being in defense of mythic white female purity as it was that another angry young man murdered people in Isla Vista 13 months ago because women wouldn’t put out for him.

Just in case anyone of that persuasion is reading this, here’s a message: No. Women, white or otherwise, are not your possessions and you don’t have the right to kill in their name.

I’ve also been really bothered by all the comments I’ve seen about the guy’s mental state. It’s bullshit, part of an overall racist attitude that says that when black people do something “criminal,” well, it’s just part of their nature. No need to dig much deeper.

But when a white guy kills a bunch of people, well, it’s a symptom that something was amiss that made him act contrary to his nature.

Essentially–and it is a matter of essentialism–it comes down to the fact that white America always know that the person in the black hat (skin) is the villain who deserves our fear and scorn, while the person in the white hat (skin) is the hero who deserves our sympathy, understanding and concern–no matter what the actions of each, or who kills whom.

Likewise, I’ve been bugged when people have called him a monster. It reminds me of an assessment I read of World War I:

War is waged by men; not by beasts, or by gods. It is a particularly human activity. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss at least half its significance; it is also the punishment of a crime. –Frederic Manning, 1929.

I think the same applies to mass murder. It is committed “by men, not by beasts, or by gods” (unless you really believe that stuff about Noah and the flood).

To call Lanza or Roof or Rodger “monsters” or even “mentally ill” is to miss the extent to which we make killing those we hate part of our story about ourselves as human beings.

All of these were things I said in conversations on Facebook today. And then so many things fell into focus and clarity, via this amazing article by Tage Rai arguing that people are violent because their moral codes demand it:

Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations…. Individuals and cultures certainly vary in the ways they do this and the contexts in which they think violence is an acceptable means of making things right, but the goal is the same. The purpose of violence is to sustain a moral order.

After all, isn’t that the first lesson of the Book of Mormon, that “it is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief”?

Rai’s thesis seems inescapable and obvious to me now that I’ve encountered it. If the mechanism didn’t work, we couldn’t persuade our nice young men and women to travel to other lands to kill other nice young men and women.

But it sure makes the Book of Mormon more repulsive and inadequate as a moral compass. I really, really want no part of it.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Racial anniversary edition!

This past week, I kept seeing links to this article: On 37th anniversary of priesthood ban’s end, black Mormons say race issues still need attention. And I kept thinking, well duh — is there anyone who thinks otherwise? Obviously just sweeping it under the rug doesn’t suffice. (Note: Jane Manning James’s story got some attention at the annual Mormon History Association conference.)

Yep, racism’s alive and well, and if you want some evidence, just have a look at the Texas pool party incident that swept the Internet recently.

It was also a big week for scripture study! Steve Wells argued that the Bible encourages people to have sex with animals. Also capitalism. The Book of Mormon, OTOH, can offer you some interesting military strategy. If you find those tales a bit hard to swallow, remember one of the reasons historicity matters:

It definitely matters to me if the Book of Mormon is historical or not. If it’s not, there go the truth claims of the LDS church, along with its priesthood authority, the necessity for temples, tithing, and everything else the LDS church uniquely teaches or claims. If the Book of Mormon isn’t historical, to me it’s Christian fan fiction. It may teach of Christ, but it doesn’t mean Jesus himself authorized it, or that he approves of it.

In church discussion, Alex found the perfect visual metaphor for Mormonism. Hawkgrrl discussed some questionable values promoted by the CoJCoL-dS but rejected by everyone’s favorite Mormon columnist. The lds.net blog explained the ordinance of dedicating one’s home. How did Utah become a bizarre, blissful epicenter for get-rich-quick schemes? Analyzing the differences between John Dehlin and Alan Rock Waterman led Corbin Volluz to some ideas on what will get people excommunicated. Personally, I think it’s doing anything that helps believers notice how devoid of insight the correlated CoJCoL-dS is — like, say, holding a rogue “foyer Sunday School”. (Of course, there are worse things than being boring…)

Runtu highlighted a tale of an Evangelical missionary in the heart of the Morridor. Too bad for him that the CoJCoL-dS prepares its members for atheism:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints incessantly teaches its members that the prayer experience is the only way to “know” and thus implicitly teaches that all other evidence or rational means of seeking Truth is insufficient. By focusing on and relying fideistically on the prayer, the LDS Church makes its members into believers who are only a few spiritual impressions and a prayer from being agnostics.

In interfaith interactions, an encounter with a believer helped Emma appreciate why she left, and TommyMonsoon acted on some great advice on what to do when you get invited to (stand outside) a temple wedding.

In life stuff, David Twede is still mired in a custody battle involving his LDS-interest blogging. And we have new exit story from the atheist Mormon housewife:

My thirst for truth was unquenchable. I scoured the internet for any information on Mormon history I could find until 2 or 3 in the morning, night after night. Reading new things I never knew about the church before was exciting and exhilarating. Church history had always been boring to me in the past and I realized that is because I was never taught the real history. I found the real history fascinating. Which also made me feel guilty because the real history is not faith promoting. When I finally pulled myself from the computer and collapsed into bed, I’d cry and cry. I’d let out all the ugly emotions that were pent up inside me while I laid there in my bed alone.

In books, Knotty has reviewed some LDS-interest true crime.

Now it’s time for some fun images! Just check out these stock photos from LDS.org! Plus an interview with satirical artist Matt Page. (Is the plug-going-in-the-electric-socket really the best image for teaching about the male power of the Mormon priesthood?) Then take a look at these lovely images from Utah Pride! Then enjoy a musical interlude.

Even the not-Mormon-related discussion this week included beautiful imagery! Here‘s a haiku and some gorgeous family travels!

I’ve had a nice relaxing weekend enjoying all the fun stuff on the Internet (not to mention my other hobbies). Happy Sunday to you as well!

Sunday in Outer Blogness:

It’s been a slow week in Mormon news. The biggest item seems to be that you can now pay your tithing online (though you still can’t keep the amount confidential from your local leaders). Remember, tithing is basically the most important thing to do. Oh, and don’t criticize the leaders, especially not with funny memes.

Still no moral guidance from the prophet on complicated issues like race riots, but — to be fair — everyone knows the public would rather hear about lighter issues. OTOH, apparently the president of UVU has lent his name to a questionable amicus brief in the gay marriage case before the Supreme Court.

There’s a painting of Jane Manning in the new Payson Temple — which, presumably, is to highlight the CoJCoL-dS’s racial inclusiveness — but you’d think that if they had any sense, they’d realize that this is the last story they want to draw attention to:

So Jane was denied the same blessings given those of a paler complexion. However after these many requests she was eventually allowed to be sealed to Joseph as a servant in the next life. Think about that and look at how Joe viewed servants in the biblical sense in his own letter. Servants to these men were equivalent to slaves to their masters.

In a related case of please just stop embarrassing yourselves, BYU is publicizing a study showing that you can identify Mormons by their skin quality.

No news from FreeBYU, but enjoy this cartoon.

In this week’s gospel doctrine lesson we learn that Jesus’ own answer for why bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them is even worse than the usual apologetic excuses:

The disciples think that this misfortune is God’s retribution for sin. Well, thank goodness Jesus is going to put that notion out of their heads, right?

9:3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

WHAT

Think about that. For his entire life, this man has lived without sight, and for what? So he can sit there when Jesus comes along, get healed, and show everyone how great God is.

Plus there’s another copious batch of commandments. And Andrew Hackman learned some interesting things from a documentary about hell.

Thinker of Thoughts has been analyzing the accusations that the Mormon Expositor contained lies, Mormonism 101 posted some analysis of one of the first vision accounts, and Meg Stout is continuing her popular “My Joseph” speculative fiction series.

In life journeys, Mary Ellen Robertson is leaving Sunstone after many years of fantastic service — good luck on all your future endeavors. So Says Me faced the death of a loved one, and Kelsey S. also shared some thoughts about dealing with the death of a loved one when you don’t believe in an afterlife:

I can’t stand that they get to be so naive to think that after a person has died and been embalmed or cremated that the spirit that used to be their grandmother or their dog is up in the clouds waiting to see them again. That their soul and spirit lives on until you can go meet them in heaven and see their cool mansion and unlimited happiness. I think they believe in things that are unrealistic and childish. It’s like the thought of death has made them want to go back to when they were innocent children and run to daddy and ask why everything can’t be perfect and why they can’t be shielded like when they were young. I hate that I have to cry myself to sleep 60% of the time because I know that I will never see that person again, ever. All I have left is material possessions, memories, and pictures.

Holly (Domestic Dork) is dealing with more fallout from the life-advice she got as a young person in the CoJCoL-dS:

I do want to say that I don’t blame Adam personally for how things ended. His contributions to the breakdown of our relationship can be placed squarely on the church’s shoulders, as can mine. And let’s face it, two young adults, little more than kids, getting married within four months of meeting without any opportunity to explore intimate compatibility because they’ve been brainwashed to believe anything more than basic kissing is sinful, second only to murder, is a recipe for disaster.

In other church-related discussion, Diane Tingen has a new Hymn parody and the Exponent has been doing a series on Heavenly Mother’s Day.

In random stuff, Froggey posted some beautiful photos of doors. Adult Onset Atheist has been doing a a series of reviews of the Hugo Awards situation — very entertaining, making me feel tempted to get a membership so I could vote, but I don’t have time to read all the nominations myself.

For myself, I’ve had a rather eventful week, but nothing I can really report to the Internets. At least there’s always the fun and relaxing task of reading the news from Mormon-land online! Enjoy! 😀

** Edit: a must-read that was just mailed to me: Sean and Taylor respond to being called to a disciplinary council hearing over their marriage.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Who’s driving this train? edition!

True to his name, Profet anticipated this weeks hot topic in his piece highlighted last week!!

In a nutshell: The CoJCoL-dS posted an article about race on its official website, and everybody is super-happy to learn that racist doctrines (like curses or restrictions based on skin color) aren’t LDS doctrines (anymore). And people are impressed that the CoJCoL-dS came clean and admitted to having had racist doctrines, and apologized (J/K not really). But there’s a glaring problem with the announcement:

They claim to be led by god, but there’s an ugly history of racism in the church. So either they reaffirm that god is always in charge, even during those times, and it makes god look like a racist jerk, or they acknowledge that god had nothing to do with those doctrines and practices, in which case it becomes clear that god is not directing the church.

It not only contradicts the teachings of a string of past LDS prophets, but it contradicts the canonized scriptures pretty extensively. So, are they going to produce an edited edition of the scriptures, so the faithful will know which parts are still in force? And how does this affect the claim that the prophet will never lead the church astray?

When I was a Mormon, I learned that the scriptures are the highest authority, and that the prophets only teach things that are in harmony with the scriptures. So, is this website now the highest authority, empowered to override the prophets and scriptures on doctrinal matters…? It would be great to get a clear statement on this from Tomas Monson, in which he passes the mantle of prophetic authority to the magical, anonymous oracle that is the LDS.org website. (Maybe after correcting the scriptures, they can update the Hymn Book: “Follow the Prophet” => “Follow the Website”.) Or, for all we know, maybe the website was hacked.

Of course, there are certain advantages to putting the website pixies in charge of theology:

Here’s a quick rundown of how things evolved in the less than a two-year time period shown above:

“It is not know precisely why, how or when…” to

“Church records offer no clear insights into the origins…” to

“In 1852 Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black…”

The February and March statements were labeled by many as good steps forward. When I was critical about the change in the scriptures back in March I got pushback from many who said that it was a positive step and I should just ignore what was missing. But I couldn’t let it go because I knew that the Church knew!! And so now we have this new Gospel Topics page, just nine months later, leaving the scripture update looking pitiful, lacking, and empty. Which raises the question: did the Church really not know in February of 2012 why the ban happened? How about in March of 2013? Did they all of sudden discover all of the things revealed in the new web page over the last nine months? It is simply not possible. The next question is whether or not the Church will stop the printing of the new scriptures to reinsert a new introduction to the Official Declaration 2? Stop the presses!!

But perhaps it’s unfair to expect the website people (?) to know where the priesthood ban “policy” came from — it’s not clear they even know who is writing their own articles. But seriously, this inability of the church leaders to openly take responsibility for their positions on past and current doctrines undermines the church’s credibility.

in related commentary, some reminisced about racism or read about it, and some noticed the convenient timing of the statement:

Others spelled out the clear corollaries that the new church leaders (the website pixies) somehow failed to notice.

Speaking of patriarchy, today was the second annual event in which the Mormon women empower themselves a bit by wearing pants to church. (Or not.) Last year’s event was difficult for some — let’s see how this one will go!

And that’s not the only hot news story this past week! The courts struck down a Utah law prohibiting (polygamy-like) cohabitation. The decision referenced gay marriage, prompting I-told-you-so’s from the slippery-slope crowd.

But, enough issues — now the holiday season is in full swing! Some are celebrating by visiting different services, by trying out other traditions, or by enjoying secular traditions. One of my favorite holiday traditions is kicking back with some popcorn, watching the highlights of Fox New’s hilarious “War on Christmas” feature!! This last episode was probably the funniest ever, with a Fox News commentator seriously telling us that we all need to face facts and accept the reality that Santa Claus is white, and so was Jesus:

But I also love traditions like decorating the house and watching Christmas specials (I posted pictures here). The bedtime story I’m currently reading my kids is Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” — and maybe I should also read them the classic No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus:

Adults know that there is no Santa Claus. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying to you. That’s okay: some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real as a sort of game, and there’s no evidence that this does any real harm. But if anyone keeps lying to you — about Santa Claus, or anything else — when you ask them a direct question and explicitly ask them to tell you the truth? That’s a problem. And if anyone tries to make you feel ashamed, or inferior, or like your life will be dreary and intolerable, simply because you don’t believe in this lie they’re telling you… you should be extremely suspicious. They are trying to manipulate you. It is not okay.

Now I’m off to bake some Christmas cookies!! Happy Holidays!

LDS.org posts Historical Context for Ban on Black Ordination

It’s been brought to my attention that, last Friday, LDS.org posted a page on their “Gospel Topics” section called “Race and the Priesthood.” I’m not sure what was there prior to this article, but it seems that some of the more contentious church issues are slowly receiving revamped attention. For example, practically-an-essay has been posted on “Are Mormons Christian?

I hope they revamp the one on “Women in the Church” whose very first sentence strikes me as rather sexist:

Women are a necessary part of the plan of happiness, and that plan cannot operate without them.

It’s as if the sentence were written by a man addressing another man — “Hey, man, don’t be tempted to think that all the power you have in the Church means you don’t need women…remember, babies come from them, and besides, thinking that way would be pretty gay…”

Anyway, the “Race and Priesthood” article is notable, as it’s the first place I’ve seen the Church try to officially explain in detail how the ban on black [male] ordination was racist. But there’s still a huge failure of the Church in recognizing the overarching racism of the Church’s story.

For example, take this section:

In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.

Basically, the point in telling the story this way is to try to “save” Young’s revelatory powers: “Okay, you’re banned now, but this is a divine storyline still playing out, so don’t worry!!!”

And then story ends in the 1970s when the ban is lifted through revelation, and everyone rejoices at “integration.”

Ridiculous. I would perhaps pat the Church on the back if it said, “Oh, and by the way, the fact that the Quorum of Twelve who presently leads this Church and heretofore has always been white is related to the same systemic racism that lead Young to forbid black ordination.” But no, the Church wants the story to have ended in the 1970s, in the same way that Republicans recently credited Rosa Parks for “ending racism.”

Finally, I like the bit at the end:

The Church acknowledges the contribution of historians and scholars to the historical context set forth in this article, whose contribution is used with their permission.

Yes, these historians and scholars are “acknowledged” — but that doesn’t mean they will be named — because naming them would detract from the revelatory demeanor of the article whose intention is to officially shore up racism in the Church.

Mormons aren’t racists, huh?

It turns out that when you actually quantify racism, Mormons are tied at #4 (with North Dakota) behind only Alabama (#1), Mississippi (#2), and Georgia (#3). Some researchers geo-located and tallied racist tweets in light of the election and Mormon-dense Utah didn’t fare so well. You can see the map here.

Granted, this is a specific situation – a white, Mormon candidate for president was clobbered by a mixed race though African American identifying candidate. Mormon hopes were dashed, and the latent racism came out in buckets. Time to rethink the idea that Mormons aren’t particularly racist.

SUNSTONE’S Motherhood Issue

This entry is cross-posted at Self-Portrait As.

I recently edited issue 166 of SUNSTONE magazine, aka “the motherhood issue.” I am proud and happy to announce that it is SUNSTONE’s most popular and best-selling issue. It has far outstripped all other issues in terms of people ordering individual copies, while other people (including my own father) who let their subscription lapse have renewed and asked that their resubscription start with issue 166.

I worked very hard on this project and am very proud of the contents, which include personal essays on topics like miscarriage and post-partum depression as well as scholarly articles on Mormon midrash and Mother in Heaven. A somewhat curmudgeonly SUNSTONE constituent commented to the office staff that “the essays in it were truly inspiring, instead of just whining as sometimes is the case at the symposia.” And someone sent in an anonymous note on three-by-five cards saying, “Artist Galen [Dara], the cover front & back of the March 2012 edition (#166) of SUNSTONE is worth the price of a three-year subscription CONGRATULATIONS!”

I admit I am in love with the art, which I think is not just beautiful but important. Shortly after editor Stephen Carter asked me to do the issue, I started thinking about the cover. I could not execute it myself, but I knew what I wanted, and I knew who I wanted to do it. I have been a fan of Galen Dara‘s work since long before I learned that her mom was my mom’s visiting teacher or that our grandparents were good friends in Tucson back in the day.

Anyway, I knew that I wanted a gender-bending version of Michelangelo’s fresco on the Sistine Chapel depicting the creation of Adam. As I wrote in my introduction to the issue,

Michelangelo’s depiction of God animating Adam with a single touch of his divine finger is one of the most famous images in all of art. In the 500 years since the fresco was completed, it has been reproduced, reinterpreted, and even satirized. But as far as I am aware, it has never before been re-imagined as a way to depict the power of the Goddess. I’ve been told of a belief in Gnostic circles that the Goddess is the figure under God’s left arm–but that figure is still off to the side, still secondary. Our depiction here puts the divine feminine and the human feminine–as well as the relationship between them–front and center. The image was created as a celebration of the unique, nourishing, and powerful doctrine of Heavenly Mother. Mormonism is one of the only places in Christianity where such an image could find resonance.

I want to make a couple of things clear: one, I didn’t go rogue on this; I got permission to have a depiction of a pretty robust Heavenly Mother animating a naked and bosomy Eve before Galen and I got started. Two, even still, I had to fight for it–and I did fight for it. Michelangelo’s original image is very horizontal, and SUNSTONE needed a vertical image. There was a point where we were playing with a close-up image of Heavenly Mother lifting up the chin of a forlorn Eve holding an apple, and I put my foot down. Many email discussions ensued with different people, and some different versions. In one, God the Mother and Eve occupied the same position as in Michelangelo’s painting, but Mother God was handing Eve an apple. I wrote,

I still don’t like it, and here’s why: having God the Mother give Eve the apple puts both of them in the position of following patriarchy’s script. It turns Heavenly Mother into the serpent. And maybe she is…. But before we change the story that way, and explore what it means for a feminine deity to be the source of human wisdom (in defiance of her husband’s commands), we need to first establish and legitimate both these female characters as powerful, in their own right, through their own beings and essences.

In Michelangelo’s painting, God and Adam offer nothing but power. They don’t need props, because their power is self-evident, thorough, and innate. They express their power and identity merely by showing up.

If God the Mother and Eve have to express their power and identity through the possession and use of props, they are secondary and subordinate to male gods and human beings.

It might not be as fun as changing a lot of elements, but the most subversive and provocative thing we can do is to show God the Mother as the equal, in every way, of God the Father (except maybe fierceness–he does look pretty mean). She has just as much power to animate human beings with a mere touch of her finger as her male counterpart does. She has just as much interest in human life. She recognizes human women as an expression of her divinity and power, and she doesn’t need to give them anything but life to make them extremely powerful and wonderful.

The final product, because it had to be something the postal service would deliver and that SUNSTONE could stand by, involved getting permission and agreement from several people. But permission and agreement were obtained on some pretty terrific points. You’ll notice, for instance, that Eve’s breasts are bare, because we agreed to expose them instead of covering them with her hair (though we agreed that she couldn’t be very nipple-y). You’ll notice that there’s a black Angela Moroni in the upper-left corner. You’ll notice that there are two lady angels initiating a fairly intense embrace in the upper-right. you’ll see that there is an inter-racial same-sex angel couple holding hands at the right edge of the image just below Heavenly Mother.

We also had A LOT of fun coming up with illustrations for essays by noted feminist scholars Janice Allred and Margaret Toscano. I’m pretty sure it was originally Galen’s idea to depict Heavenly Mother in four different manifestations, and she wanted some sort of way of unifying them. My suggestion: “one thing that struck me was the similarity of the four images you propose with the queens in the tarot deck.” Galen didn’t limit herself to a strict adherence to what the suits represent or how they’re expressed, but that was useful. We played with different ways to Mormonize the images–one easy thing was to add a beehive to each. But the most fun was to make the Goddess of Cups, the “Mother Nurturer,” a hot blonde pioneer woman in a prairie dress offering you a long cool drink of water while a wagon train passes in the distance behind her.

My favorite of those images is the Goddess of Swords, or, as she’s called on the banner beneath her portrait, “Mother Protector.” She’s sort of a cross between Galadriel and Maxine Hong Kingston’s “Woman Warrior.” My second favorite is the Goddess of Coins, or our “Mother Teacher,” a four-armed black goddess reading the gold plates. She has a traditional goddess symbol, the triple moon, above her head, and is in a building that we imagined as a Mormon meeting house, though the details that would have demonstrated that were too fussy and disappeared.

This is what I was working on when the whole Randy Bott thing erupted. One of my friends wrote to ask me why I hadn’t weighed in on it. I said I was too busy, but that what I was busy with would provide some commentary on it all. I think that depicting a Mormon goddess of wisdom as a black woman reading and teaching from gold plates is a pretty good response to all that nonsense.

If you haven’t seen the issue, I hope you will check it out. And if you like the art, you can purchase it on everything from a maternity t-shirt to a shower curtain to a plain old poster at Sunstone’s cafe press page for this collection.

And if you’re coming to the Sunstone symposium this year, there are two sessions about Heavenly Mother I’m organizing. Session 131, Thursday 26 July, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., “Images of the Feminine Divine,” is inspired in part by the art in this issue, though it will encompass other topics. The other, Session 171, Thursday, 26 July, 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m., “Heavenly Mother and the Letter of the Law,” is a session in which people will read letters to Heavenly Mother since we can’t have a prayer or testimony meeting devoted to her. You can find abstracts for the sessions in the Sunstone preliminary program online.