Mormon Erotica, Mormon Romance

Mormon Erotica, the new novel from Donna Banta, is a joyous page-turner that, despite the title, is far more concerned with love and romance than sex. While the book contains plenty of reflection on Mormon attitudes toward sex and marriage, the action depicted is strictly PG. As with so many romance novels, the suspense lies not in whether it will end with its hero and heroine poised to live happily ever after, but what sorts of personal discoveries and growth will make them worthy of that reward. I was always curious about and frequently surprised by the routes the characters forged to true love.

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If you don’t like romance novels, there’s a chance you won’t like Mormon Erotica. To me, this post-Mormon twist on the romance novel is a breath of fresh air, but then, I have a fondness for romance novels, having read dozens if not hundreds of them, from cheap formulaic paperbacks I checked out from the public library when I was in junior high to great classics of English literature like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. For that matter, as a teen I even read a few Mormon romance novels, such as those by Jack Weyland. I think Mormon courtship and marriage make great material for narrative, and I’m glad writers are tackling it in fiction for an audience beyond active Latter-day Saints. It’s especially nice to read a novel that takes you on a good-natured romp through the subject.

One of the best elements of Mormon Erotica is the main character, Jim, who is devout but not fanatical. Jim’s first marriage was disastrous and brief—but his ex-wife still plans to be married to him for time and all eternity, since they didn’t get a temple divorce to go with the civil one. Jim is comfortable in his role as a single dad too lazy and jaded to attempt another marriage—until he sees an old college girlfriend, Sadie Gordon, at a wedding reception. She’s hot, charming, and completely inactive, and she’s written a novel full of Mormons having sex. The title of Banta’s book refers to the way Sadie’s novel is characterized.

Less compelling are a couple of the supporting characters. Jim and Sadie each have a relative who seems like a caricature of the most awful Mormon you can imagine: small-minded, judgmental, and completely unable to understand boundaries. I’m certain there are Mormons like that, but they were so consistent and predictable that I was aghast at their actions without being surprised, a fact made all the more obvious given that Jim and Sadie did surprise me in interesting ways.

Occasional chapters are from the perspective of Jim’s teenage daughter, Julia. I don’t spend enough time around teenagers these days to know if Banta got twenty-first-century teen lingo and social interactions exactly right, but I thought she did a great job making the basic psychology of adolescence interesting for an audience of adults. Julia was so compelling that I’m now interested in reading The Girls from Fourth Ward, Banta’s murder mystery about four girls who hope to go to BYU.

The book is published under the imprint of the Mormon Alumni Association, and the cover art (which, you discover about halfway through the novel, makes particularly good sense) is by Chanson.

Check out “Upper Room Cartoon”

There’s a new Mormon-themed Youtube channel, and it looks very promsing: The Upper Room Cartoon.

Two cartoons have been posted so far. They look exactly the same: five white guys who are leaders of the church (have to admit that I don’t pay enough attention to who the leaders are, so I can only recognize Monson and Uchtdorf for sure) discuss some topic relevant to a problem in the church for under four minutes.

The first is about the horrible new policy punishing the children of gay people. Notable lines:

“But we believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”

“Yeah, but Adam wasn’t gay.”

and

“Utah leads the nation in gay suicide rates. You think that has anything to do with us?”

“Nope.”

The second is about women, or the “Sisters in Zion.” Notable line:

“Ordain” this, “ordain” that. We just say it didn’t mean “ordain,” and then it doesn’t mean “ordain.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


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

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

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

[4] Jacob 2:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13] Brian Hales website: http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/faq/fanny-alger-2/ – he cites the source as Document #10, Andrew Jenson Papers, Box 49, fd. 16.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deciphering Ballard

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

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

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

Point 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is followed by this.

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

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

Point 3

Remember though after this crushing last part….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point 4

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

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

Point 5

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Response edition

The big news this week is that Kate Kelly has appealed her excommunication.

In her appeal, Kate wrote:

I am, and have always been, a faithful Mormon. My only “sin” elucidated by you has been speaking my mind and pushing for gender equality in the Church. Far from being wrong, I believe I am following the pattern of revelation taught by Christ in the scriptures: ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.

Kate’s husband also wrote a letter, questioning why he was not excommunicated when Kate was. My emphasis in bold below:

As a Melchizedek priesthood holder your failure to discipline me regarding my actions with Ordain Women demonstrates the inherent sexism in the disciplinary process taken against my wife. Neither you nor Bishop H* have contacted me or spoken to me about my involvement in Ordain Women. Therefore, I formally request you overturn Bishop H*’s excommunication decision regarding Kate and I request you reinstate her to full fellowship in the Church.

He has a point. Others have pointed out that the process seems flawed – Kate is publicly excommunicated but John Dehlin is not. At least, John hasn’t been excommunicated yet.

The feminists at fmh are wondering about a lost and tired generation. Truthfully, I left around the same time as the 1993 excommunications, but for different reasons. Yet I understand the frustration of wanting to remain in the community, and knowing that change was not going to come (if ever). It’s been a difficult few months for many believing mormons, particularly feminist mormons.

Rock has advice for those who may soon be ex’d – he will be at Sunstone next weekend – and he has a new book out What to Expect When You’re Excommunicated. His brief synopsis is:

designed this book partly with your mother-in-law in mind. If you have friends and loved ones who don’t ‘get’ you, who are convinced that you can’t be a faithful member of this church without displaying the requisite deference to modern Church leaders, this book may help those close to you come to understand that Jesus Christ does not require anything like that from members of His church.

I wish I could attend Sunstone this year, my cousin John Hamer is presenting on a panel titled “A Diversity of Faith: A panel on Heaven and Hell”, one titled “Project Zion: Pulling forward key threads of the restoration for a post-modern world”, and “Mormonism and the problem of heterodoxy”. I will be missing out! Hope everyone has a great time and can fill those of us in who were not able to attend the symposium this year.

In other news this week, Runtu was wondering if missionaries are leaving. Froggie had photos published.

It was pie and beer day – although dooce points out that you can’t buy beer in Utah on Pioneer day. Donna attended a pioneer exmo gathering. Knotty is moving. And I agree with Alexis that nothing is ever routine, ever.

And speaking of pioneers, if you haven’t listened to any of the year of polygamy podcasts – I highly recommend them. I particularly liked the recent one about Heber C. Kimball and his wives (and children), as well as the one about polygamy in public and private. It leads me to wonder more about how polygamy worked among my own ancestors in early Utah.

I’m sure I missed lots of what’s been going on – I hope everyone is well and enjoying their last few days in July!

Toxic Perfectionism

Evidently some mormon women suffer from toxic perfectionism. So on top of being the angel in the home, they are trying to be too perfect; keep a spotless home, cook a scrumptious, frugal, healthy meal, raise perfectly coiffed children.

It’s not only mormon women who suffer from unrealistic expectations (of course) – Jerry Hall quipped:

My mother said it was simple to keep a man, you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom. I said I’d hire the other two and take care of the bedroom bit”

Perfectionism is something I’m familiar with. Honestly, when I remember what being a mormon teen was like, I remember feeling like I couldn’t measure up – no matter what I did. Near the end I became discouraged, if I couldn’t measure up – why bother? I wasn’t reading the scriptures enough, I didn’t have perfect early-morning seminary attendance – I fought with my parents and siblings. I was also guilty of sins of omission (does anyone outside mormonism know what those are?) – I wasn’t charitable, I wasn’t kind, I didn’t go out of my way to help poor destitute widows, etc.

So forgive me for being skeptical of this anti-perfectionist movement. Is being a perfectionist an issue for many LDS? Yes. Should that responsibility be fully placed at the individual members’ door? Is it their fault for taking what they hear each Sunday literally?

Heavenly Father is judgmental. This is a major criticism of mormonism from mainstream Christianity. No longer is grace important. Each of us needs to follow certain steps to get to Heaven. You have to physically be baptized, with a prayer said precisely, by a man of a certain age who meets certain worthiness requirements. And that’s just baptism. Everything has to be said just so (I remember the sacrament prayer being repeated four or five times by a stumbling teenager – had to be perfect).

I think of my grandfather who refused to miss church – despite being released from the hospital a few days before. He also fainted doing temple work. I can’t explain why he felt like he had to be at church no matter what. Why he had to serve at the temple despite having health problems – I can’t say. That’s certainly not a message heard from the pulpit. But many quotes can be interpreted that way.

So there’s a measurement stick, and you’re always found wanting (h/t runtu). Even if you follow all the rules; have you been doing your genealogy? journaling? Your home/visiting teaching? Family scripture study? In some other faiths, the idea is that only Christ was perfect. The rest of us have to do the best we can – which includes making mistakes. The journey is what matters, what is in one’s “heart” is what matters; not how accurate certain prayers are said. Not if we had the occasional latte or played with face cards.

I think it’s good that perfectionism and scrupulosity are being acknowledged in mormon culture. But the cultural/doctrinal part of the equation (at least for LDS) cannot be ignored. The need for perfectionism doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

Mormon Trolls, Gorgons and Orcs, and Being Tired of Good People

Currently the most posted story in my Facebook feed is this excellent NY Times op-ed from Ta-Nehisi Coates, entitled “The Good, Racist People.”  Coates uses the recent frisking of Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker as an opportunity to analyze the racism of “good” people:

In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.”

The same principle applies to homophobia.  There are “good” people who argue that their homophobia isn’t really bigotry because they’re not actually afraid of gay people, plus their reasons for wanting to prevent gay people from marrying aren’t anything objectionable–they’re deeply held religious beliefs!  Besides, these good people know and are polite to gay people when forced to interact with them.  They manage to have entire conversations where they never once tell a gay person that they think she’s both symptom and cause of our society’s moral decay and destined for hell.  These people are too good to deserve a label reserved for bad people–you know, bigots.  Plus, they’re right.  God told them they’re right.  That means they’re automatically not bigots, because what they’re expressing is not a human prejudice–it’s god’s will!

The same principle applies to sexism and misogyny.  There are “good” people who argue that their misogyny isn’t really bigotry because they don’t actually hate women–they are a woman, or they married one, or they’re related to a bunch!  They just have deeply held religious beliefs that tell them that women are, by divine decree, ordained to hold a somehow subordinate-but-equal status to men in every human social group from the nuclear family to the local church congregation to God’s supposedly world-wide organization for caring for his children’s needs on earth.  They just have deeply held religious beliefs that entitle them to tell women what they are allowed to do with their bodies and how they must dress, what types of goals they are allowed to have.  These people are too good to deserve a label reserved for bad people–you know, bigots.  Plus, they’re right.  God told them they’re right.  That means they’re automatically not bigots, because what they’re expressing is not a human prejudice–it’s god’s will!

Here’s the thing: If you try to deny another group of people rights you claim for yourself–the right to buy a sandwich without getting frisked, the right to marry another consenting adult, the right to preside–then you’re a bigot, and you deserve to be called one.  You  might have a great sense of humor and many people, me included, might have laughed at your jokes.  You might be admired for the generosity you show your family and respected for your intelligence, by all sorts of people, including me.  But just as you deserve to be recognized for the way you have chosen to develop the traits of humor, generosity and intelligence, you deserve to be recognized for the way you have chosen to the develop the trait of bigotry.

Obviously, I’m discussing current defenses of Mormon homophobia and misogyny.  Obviously, not all Mormons are bigots.  Obviously, some Mormons are.  For some Mormons, it is their faith–their belief in the universal availability of God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice–that makes them oppose bigotry in all its forms, even and especially within the church.  For some Mormons, it is their faith–their belief in racist doctrines from the church’s past, their trust in homophobic beliefs and political agendas of current leaders, their reliance on well-entrenched but still unjustified gender assumptions–that makes them bigots who defend the church’s continued bigotry.

South Pacific, the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, had an agenda.  In particular, it tackled racism.  There’s a song called “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” that goes

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Bigoted Mormon adults pass their bigotry on their children, very, very early.  Consider this guest post at the Cultural Hall from Marie Brian, the amazing Cotton Floozy:

My daughter is nine years old. ‘Why haven’t you been baptized?’ the kids asked her. ‘Don’t you know that you will go to hell unless you get baptized?’

And so now my daughter goes to church with her grandparents. She is doing better now that she fits in — now that they won’t tease her for being different.

Sister Floozy concludes with some pretty sound advice:

I didn’t stop going to church because of the whole murky history thing. I stopped going because I felt that the church stopped teaching the Doctrine of Love…

As long as we teach that feminism, gayness, and intellectualism is a sin, I cannot be a part of such an institution. As long as we condone exclusivity over inclusivity, I cannot raise my hand in sustaining. As long as we teach our children that being gay is bad and only church-approved socially-constructed ideas of a perfect family are good, I cannot send my daughter to church without stressing the eff out….

If the church would make its buildings reverberate with tolerance, acceptance, and love, they wouldn’t have to worry about the members who are leaving the church in droves. They would keep the members, because people would instinctively love to attend, to bask in the warmth of a Jesus-like atmosphere, to share the pews with anyone and everyone — those pants-wearing ladies, the gay couples, and the transsexual children of God. That is the kind of church I want. Maybe, this is wishful thinking. I hope not.

If the church would make its buildings reverberate with tolerance, “good” Mormons wouldn’t have to defend themselves against the charge that they are bigots, because they very likely wouldn’t be bigots.

And before anyone gets all “Yeah, well, you’re being bigoted against bigots!” on this post, let me use Coates’ example to point out that there’s a big difference between saying, “You treated my friend like a criminal when he tried to patronize your business, so I’m not going to patronize it anymore” and saying, “Hey, you’re trying to shop while black!  I don’t trust you!”  Let me use Marie’s example to point out that there’s a big difference between saying, “You’re pretty much a mean jerk who says awful things about people I love when we hang out, so I don’t want to hang out with you anymore” and saying, “I don’t approve of how you spend your Sundays, so I’m going to be mean to you during the week.”

Removing yourself from someone’s company and explaining why you don’t want to keep that company is not the same thing as treating someone badly when you are forced to interact.  Allowing people to do their own thing and doing your own thing away from them is not the same thing as trying to deny someone the right to do their own thing because you don’t think they deserve a right you claim so readily.

And those two essays explain, in case you wondered, why so many people conclude that they are “tired of good people, that [they’ve] had all the good people [they] could take.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Inconvenient Truths about Mormon Lactivism

Recently there has been much talk surrounding a YW leader who is unfortunately threatened of having her temple recommend withdrawn if she does not leave the room or cover herself while breastfeeding at church meetings. (Call to Action – Lactivism)

There are many things wrong with this scenario.  The LDS church is all about the Family, and one would think they would consider the most beneficial options surrounding parenting in their policies and practices to reinforce the “family” way.  We are certainly too uptight about breastfeeding in general in our western society, much less a Mormon one.  The church really doesn’t like being forced, however.  It is a patriarchal authoritarian one and if they feel they are being coerced,  will pull that authoritarian trigger to assert power where they might not normally.  Apparently mitigating factors were omitted from the original petition that would help us determine whether or not this is just a rogue ecclesiastical authority, or if something degraded in the communication between this gal and her ecclesiastical leader that he felt compelled to pull the authoritarian trigger.

Before I explore the nuts and bolts of the topic which has spread like spilt milk across the Mormon social media channels,  I will disclose I rarely breastfed my children in church and when I did, I did it in the nursing room.  I didn’t feel inconvenienced in doing so, in fact I often fled to the nursing room as the perfect excuse to get out of a predicted mundane, repetitive lesson or talk.  I have since left the church for reasons more ancillary to the mundane brain dead aspect and nothing related to feeding my children in a nursing room.  As someone who does not feel the church is ultimately a healthy or authentic belief system, I would be the first to encourage any woman to take her nursing baby and permanently exit the church if she feels strongly enough about the matter.

That said, I have had frustrations trying to engage in a reasonable dialogue about openly breastfeeding in church.  I am a mother of four.  I gave birth to my children naturally and am generally a proponent of all things nature-based.   There are a few main arguments being made in this discussion, however, that must be considered and addressed if the overall point is to be taken seriously.  It is clear there is a bias from lactivists for ignoring certain inconvenient truths about both the biology of the breast and breastfeeding, as well as dismissing clear cultural ramifications along the way.  Ignoring is counterproductive and easily allows anyone with basic knowledge of anatomy to dismiss the argument in its entirety.

Lactivist Assertion One:  Breasts are designed solely to feed the young and any man who looks upon an exposed breast as anything but a pure maternal act is either a pervert or culturally misguided.

Fact one:  Humans are part of the hominid family.  We are the only hominid where the breasts remain swollen at all times.  All other hominids have flat chests, except when lactating.  Furthermore, human hominids walk upright at all times.  As a result of us always being upright and frequently front facing (as opposed to other hominids), humans evolved the permanently swollen breasts as an alternate sexual attractor.  All other hominids use the buttocks as their sexual attractor.  In Desmond Morris’ “The Naked Ape”, he points out the evolutionary design switch of the general shape of the human breasts mirroring the buttocks; rounded with cleavage between them.  The larger the breast, the more closely they resemble the shape of buttocks.  From an evolutionary standpoint, this is the reason why larger breasts tend to be more attractive.  The breasts tend to swell when a woman is ovulating, suggesting fertility.  Additionally, the subconscious part of the male heterosexual mind messages that the larger the breast, the more milk it can produce, thus increasing the survival chance of offspring.

With regards to larger breasts, evolutionary psychology has recently contended men prefer women with larger breasts as it makes it easier for him to judge a woman’s age (and her reproductive value) according to the level of gravitational sag that comes with age (Marlowe,  1998)

INCONVENIENT TRUTH:  Males are designed by nature to find breasts attractive.  To insist they don’t is akin to asking a homosexual to not be attracted to his own gender.  Lactivists may not like this answer, but it is a fact.

 

Lactivist Assertion Two:  The breast is not a sex organ. There is nothing sexual about a mother feeding her baby!(see prolactin’s maternal-inducing traits)

Fact One: Or is it?  They are well connected. If not blatantly sexual,  breasts most assuredly should be viewed as an erogenous zone.   After birth, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease while prolactin and oxytocin levels increase.  Prolactin, which is secreted by the anterior pituitary, stimulates the breasts to produce milk. The prolactin level is very high in the early postpartum period in order to stimulate initial milk production.  Prolactin induces maternal behavior: a lactating mother experiences a form of psychological tension, which can best be described as a feeling or need of always wanting to see and hold her baby (Brewster, 1979).

Oxytocin is the primary connector between the breast and sexual response.  It is secreted by the posterior pituitary, has two major functions in relation to breastfeeding: a) a new mother feels her uterus contract during breastfeeding, and b) it is responsible for the milk ejection reflex during breastfeeding and orgasm. Oxytocin has the opposite psychological impact as prolactin does: It calms the physiological tension induced by prolactin. Consequently, while breastfeeding, the mother will experience a sense of well-being and contentment. The consequences of these hormones are that each time a woman breastfeeds, she derives great pleasure from the experience and contact with her baby. As a result, all or a very great part of her needs for affection are met through breastfeeding even if she is only partially breastfeeding.  This is obviously healthy and normal. However, one result is that the breastfeeding woman will likely have a decreased need to seek out her partner for pleasure and affection (Also referred to as affection anesthesia).

Oxytocin produces striking parallel effects between breastfeeding and coital orgasm:

  • Both stimulate uterine contractions
  • Both cause nipple erection
  • Breast stroking and nipple stimulation occur during both breastfeeding and sexual foreplay
  • Hormonal emotions are aroused by both types of contact in the form of skin changes
  • Milk let-down or milk ejection reflex can be triggered during both

 

According to some researchers, anywhere of 24% – 29% of women can experience orgasm solely as a result from oxytocin released during nipple stimulation. The percentage may increase if the woman has her legs crossed, as the uterine contractions released by the oxytocin can trigger a physiological sexual response.  This is otherwise known as a breast orgasm. Nipple stimulation activates the same region of the brain as clitoral, vaginal and cervical stimulation. (Journal of Sexual Medicine, Volume 8, 2011)

Another clear biological lactation/genital connection is the lack of vaginal lubrication when the breastfeeding mother becomes sexually excited.

INCONVENIENT TRUTH:  The breast is connected to sexuality.  It is simply unreasonable to expect all of humanity to treat it otherwise.

 

Lactivist Assertion Three:  Our culture is uptight and just needs to get over it.  Especially Mormon Culture.

Fact One:  There are three uphill challenges in overcoming breast issues in the church.

1.  Modesty in dress, particularly for females is pervasive in Mormon culture.  A quick search for modesty related information on LDS.org yields 451 results.  This should be a self explanatory challenge for those who are LDS.  Modesty is tied to cleanliness, chastity and purity.  For a cultural environment who emphasizes coverage of shoulders and knees, as well as garments, it should not be surprising they would be less relaxed about having exposed breasts at church.  Regardless of the wholesome reason that may be behind it, exposing a breast for ANY reason is going to fall outside of normal range and the tribe will react as such.

2.  Recent research from University of Westminster, Archives of Sexual Behavior just last month revealed interesting information about the type of man who favors larger breasts.  Researcher’s found that the largest percentage of participants (32.7 percent) rated medium-sized breasts as “most attractive,” followed by large (24.4 percent), very large (19.1 percent), small (15.5 percent) and very small (8.3 percent). However, a preference for large and very large breasts was significantly correlated with overt sexism, benevolent sexism, female objectification and hostile attitudes toward women. This connection was strongest when it came to benevolent sexism [emphasis by Froggie]. In other words, men who tend to idealize “traditional” femininity and perceive women as meek and weak, are also the most likely to prefer big breasts. “It is arguable that benevolently sexist men perceived larger female breasts as attractive because larger breast size on a woman is associated with perceived femininity.”

3. Western culture has made progress regarding breastfeeding.  It does, however, have secondary side effects of pornography, even maternal breast-targeted pornography such as pregnancy or nursing fetishes, that provide a less conducive climate to just simply “understanding and getting over it.”

INCONVENIENT TRUTH:  When you add the aspect of “benevolent sexism” along with the already existing Mormon-centric  puritanical, patriarchal, rigid gender role defined environment, layered with a coating of broader Western culture, this is no small uphill battle.  To quote Sun Tzu, “Know your enemy.”  Trying to leverage the breast as a tool when the tool itself has an enormous amount of already existing stigma may not be the best strategy.  It isn’t a situation that one just wakes up and “gets over.”

Conclusion:  If productive dialogue is to occur with the church on the matter of transitioning the cultural climate to allow for ease of breastfeeding at church,  one must acknowledge the above-listed inconvenient truths and be prepared to include them as part of the discussion.  Not ignore them or be blissifully ignorant of their impact.   A special nod of acknowledgement must be given to the current cultural norms within Mormonism  as well if one wants to effect change on this front.

References:

Komisaruk, Barry R., and Beverly Whipple. “Functional MRI of the brain during orgasm in women.” Annual Review of Sex Research 16 (2005): 62.

Levin, R. J. (2006). The breast/nipple/areola complex and human sexuality. Sexual & Relationship Therapy, 21, 237-249.

Marlowe, Frank. “The Nubility Hypothesis.” Human Nature 9.3 (1998): 263-271.

Sex and Breastfeeding:  An Educational Perspective. J Perinat Educ. 1999 Winter; 8(1): 30–40.doi:  10.1624/105812499X86962

Sholty, M. J., Ephross, P. H., Plaut, S. M., Fischman, S. H., Charnas, J. F., & Cody, C. A. (1984). Female orgasmic experience: A subjective study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 13, 155-164.

The Journal of Sexual  Medicine. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02388.x. Surprise finding in response to nipple stimulation Lay summary – CBSnews.com (5 August 2011).

http://LDS.org

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/01/sexist-men-big-boobs-breast-size-study_n_2792287.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jill-di-donato/breast-orgasm_b_1871581.html

 

(edited to fix list marker)

Mormon Moment Series on poetrysansonions.blogspot.com

Ahhhhh! The smell of fresh, juicy, slightly wrong Mormon blog posts. It must be Sunday!

I have been doing a series of posts related to Mormon and Post-Mormon issues that seem to be *hot* this year. With more and more people interested in Mormons, and now the change in rules for when male and female missionaries are allowed to serve, the Bloggernacle keep heating up! So, if you missed the first posts in the series (because I was a slacker and wasn’t cross posting) here is your chance to catch up. If you have been catching them on my blog, you will notice they are a little different. Thanks to Kevin who suggested that I should include the topic of the post in the title, and not jsut which post number it is. Ahhhhh, aren’t friends great for helping you see your blind spots? I am glad I have so many friends looking out for me.

I am using the same introduction for each post, both because I think that it helps keep them uniform, but also so I don’t have to try to come up with 20 ways to say the same thing!

What this series is about:

If you are Mormon, you are probably sick of hearing about the Mormon Moment. There are so many people who are suddenly interested in Mormon culture, and there are lots of Mormon bloggers that are cashing in and sharing their stories. Some of the stories end up being kind of silly, but if you are simply trying to get people to read about what is important to you, the Mormon Moment is one way to draw people in.

I do not want people to think that I don’t respect the bloggers whose posts I am sharing. All of them are good bloggers, and most of them write about Mormon topics all of the time. I have no doubt that they would have shared these thoughts and stories at some point, but as one friend told me the other day, “in the race to the election, bloggers are pushing hard to attract new readers before the Mormon Moment is gone.” So, to help you, I sifted through hundreds of posts to share the ones that I still remember. (This group of posts are nowhere near a complete view of Mormon bloggers. All of the bloggers are either Mormons, post-Mormons, or write about Mormon issues, even when it isn’t election time.)

So, what have you missed?

Mormon Moment Series – Part One – Mormon Mind Control?

Mormon Moment Series – Part Two – Ayn Rand and Quirks in Mormon Culture

Mormon Moment Series – Part Three – Modesty, Perfection and Secrets

Mormon Moment Series – Part Four –Why can’t we seem to say what we mean?

Mormon Moment Series – Part Five –Fasting For Followers!

Mormon Moment Series – Part Six – Who is a Mormon?

While it is not officially part ofmy Mormon Moment Series, please take a minutes and check out this post about Mormons, Masterbation, and the story of a teenager driven to attempt suicide, because of his wet dreams.

But for the Grace of God….

This post is about a teen suicide attempt and some of the actions that led to it. The language is not vulgar, but it is specific. Please read only if, it is emotionally safe for you. A few days ago, I sent an email out to several family members and friends about a post on the Mormon Therapistblog. It deals with a sensitive subject, so please understand that this particular linked post is not g-rated, although it will not include any explicit language either. If you are uncomfortable with discussions about sexuality, masturbation, how to teach adults and children healthy sexual attitudes, or the negative impacts of shame, I suggest you skip this post, and not click onto the linked article.”
You can go here to read the entire post, including the responses from TBMs who are supportive of Mormon Therapist’s view, who also explain how the email about this young man touched their lives, and the lives of their children. This is a bold stand from all sides, as Mormon Therapist boldly proclaims, “Masturbation is not sinful behavior in of itself nor is it a transgression.”
We live in a time of great turmoil, and out youth especially need to love and support to deal with a variety of challenges. From masturbation to Coke, homosexuality to the age of sister missionaries, the church is changing or softening on a number of important issues. I believe that we need to support those who are members of the church, who continually ask questions and look for answers. I also believe that current and former members need to find common ground, in as many areas as they can, and work together on those shared goals. Almost every post-Mormon still has family or friends who are members of the church. Almost every member of the church knows someone who has left, been kicked out, or is inactive. While there are very real hurts on all sides, I believe that coming together and being the chance we want to see in our own lives, the lives of our family members, and in the lives of all of the children we love, can make that change a reality.
Whether you are celebrating General Conference today, or are in mourning because of it, there are always ways to find a little common ground, a little place of friendship, a little piece of shared light. We do not have to change our minds about our belief or lack thereof. What we can do is put the first brick into creating a bridge, that will help span the gap between us, and the children and youth who need to know that it gets better, no matter what your sexual orientation or habits!

One last link. If you have a talent to share, leave a comment, and you could be the lucky winner of a pair of pearl stud earrings!

Additions to the Post-Mo Lexicon

A couple of conversations I’ve been in lately have yielded terms I think people on this blog will find useful.

the first was coined a month or so ago by Chino Blanco and defined by me:

Joe-ha-dist n. An excessively ardent and bellicose defender of Joseph Smith: Joehadists rarely have much sympathy for Emma.

I coined this one today:

priest-splain v. to mansplain, as when a man presumes to educate a woman on a topic she already understands, with the additional characteristic of being done by male clergy or priesthood holders on topics related to religion and gender; not merely condescending and sexist, but holier-than-thou and morally judgmental.

I like this term because it applies to a variety of religions, as in

A problem in the LDS church is that in any conversation about gender, the male leaders tend to priestsplain to the sisters, or The Vatican sent some dudes to priestsplain to those uppity US nuns that they’d been thinking far too much about poor people and not enough about stuff like abortion.

I posted this on facebook, and a friend offered this synonym: “clergysplain. Related terminology: Pastorswifesplain. See also: Bettysplain.”

In a related conversation on a friend’s fb page, someone who agreed to be identified as “Katie Sweet Spirit” coined “preachsplain,” my favorite of the terms and the one I think will be most useful here:

preach-splain v. To sanctimoniously lecture someone on a religious topic they understand every bit as well as you, but disagree with you about the meaning of, because you are a devout believer and they, in your mind at least, are not: Yeah, I know the basic doctrine. You don’t need to preachsplain it to me.

I look forward to using these terms here.