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.”

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.

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

Sunday in Outer Blogness: A little bit of equality edition!

This week’s news in Mormon land was this odd talk by Ballard:

Here is a very good illustrated version of it. In essence, it’s important to have women’s input in council meetings — but not too much! Which naturally leads to the question how much is too much? And why are women consigned to an “auxiliary”? Why the second-class role instead of equality?

Meanwhile, the atheist movement has its own problems with institutionalized sexism — which I personally posted a righteous rant about. Will our movement succeed in plucking the beam out of its own eye? Time will tell!! (Then we can all go back to star gazing and other fun stuff atheists like to do.)

The other fun bit of news was that the talks in General Conference may be given in languages other than English to get some international flavor. (As Holly noted, they have to do something to make them seem new — see this week’s Old Testament lesson for some good discussion of the useful information provided by these “prophets”.) The best part will be Packer’s talk! 😀

The Tapir Times discussed how we know things, and Seth Payne analysed apologetics. Colby Townsend posted an interesting analysis of the authorship of Isaiah, and intriguingly concludes that it’s not a problem believers of the text of the Book of Mormon that Nephi was quoting texts that hadn’t been written yet. Related: What were the golden plates for again? Danny Saunders discussed coercion and other moral issues with polygamy.

In church watch, there were some objections to the Ezra Taft Benson lesson manual. The CoJCoL-dS fits some better than others. And why church and work don’t mix. (Also guns and schools.)

And folks, here is the best concise chunk of advice for couples who are newly leaving the CoJCoL-dS — go have a look! Meanwhile, I’ll be at the local Denkfest. Happy reading!!

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!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Reflection Edition

Chanson asked me to fill in for SiOB this week – I think it’s been a quiet week. (Sort of like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon – it’s always a quiet week).

But this week is quiet for many reasons – perhaps we’re all still reacting (or not reacting) to the news of Kate Kelly’s excommunication – and the other active members who have been penalized or silenced. Still others are realizing that they can no longer stay in a church that would treat its members this way, and are leaving.

The silence from the church office building is resounding. Many of us here at MSP are quite familiar with the silence.

Then, there have been further tragedies – a bloggernacle member was killed in a tragic accident. And a family was murdered outside the Houston suburbs.

Some may simply be enjoying the World Cup, or the beautiful July weather. Whatever the case may be – have a wonderful, peaceful week.

No Longer Afraid of the F Word

Last year my 20 year old son recommended I read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I don’t think I had ever read an explicitly feminist text before that and it was an eye opener. I was surprised by how much the experiences of the women she wrote about resonated with me. Married at age 19, I didn’t complete my college education since my hubby was in school. I was a stay at home full-time mom with four children that had experienced “the problem that has no name.” Learning about some of the early feminists in history that had impacted things that I took for granted was eye opening. I was amazed at their courage and tenacity and the sometimes terrible sacrifices they made. It was also enlightening to learn about the women in early church history and what they were able to do. Some of the well known women’s names were the early church feminist pioneers as they worked to empower women in the church and provide opportunities for them.

During this same period of time I became familiar with the Ordain Women movement and began interacting with some of the participants and supporters online. It took me a while to understand who they were, what they were trying to do, why they felt this was appropriate and their reasons for stretching cultural church boundaries in their methods. I read what they wrote, asked questions, listened and became supportive from a comfortable distance. My family was already trying to navigate a mixed-faith situation after my husband’s and my faith transition; I wasn’t sure I wanted to add anything more to this challenge. I posted, commented, liked and showed support online, but that was as far as I got and I didn’t typically put anything on my personal FB wall.

Their October event came and went and I watched from the sidelines. It was frustrating to see the way they were portrayed and the things being said and written about them. Much of this disturbing stuff came from members! I found myself becoming more and more of an ally as I realized the challenge they were facing and how hard they were working to try express why/what they were doing. In February I finally decided to submit my profile and officially endorse what they were doing and made the plunge into public support. I knew they were planning on asking for tickets in April and really wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend.

Fast forward to Saturday. There I was walking through the rain and hail in a line of supporters headed toward Temple Square. I stood for two hours waiting my turn to speak with Kim Farah, the woman who stood in front of the Tabernacle, whose job it was to tell us that we could not have tickets. As I moved forward I was surprised at the support that people displayed. Several men moved along the line letting us know how much they appreciated what we were doing. One man purchased a bag of new towels and gave them to women who looked cold and wet. Another man stopped to genuinely ask about what we were doing and why. He listened and asked questions and didn’t judge or condemn. Nobody on temple square asked me to leave, gave me instructions of any kind or made it clear in anyway that they wanted me to get out of line. The statement released later in this Deseret News article came as a complete surprise and is disingenuous at best.

When I got closer I wondered what and how I would express myself and why I had driven from Montana to do this. It wasn’t hard to find the words once it was my turn and I shared why this was important to me as a woman, my sadness that leaders were unwilling to actually listen and speak to us like she was doing and my hope that things could change. She asked me questions, told me she cared – that was why she was there – and hugged me. I was surprisingly emotional afterward as I stepped away and found two young women watching the entire scene. They were not members and asked me what we were doing and I explained it to them between wiping my eyes. I described the heartache and difficulty and why so many of these women were trying hard to help change the church that they loved into something healthier.

On my drive home by myself mulling things over for those hours I realized the impact that book my son had recommended had on me. I had just experienced my first true public display at supporting something feminist. It had forced me to step outside my comfort zone and opened me up to criticism and scrutiny. People were now judging my character, motivations and I was being called divisive. Being surrounded by this group of intelligent, articulate, hardworking and savvy women was motivating. Watching them reach out to each other and extend support, empathy, sacrifice and friendship, as they worked to empower and encourage women, was what I felt the vision of Relief Society was about.

I’m no longer afraid of the “F” word…..I’m inspired by it.

What doesn’t kill you makes you… what?

All this talk of Ordain Women has brought an interesting memory bubbling to the surface:

It was the last summer my family went to Camp Many Point — probably 1989, the summer before I set off for BYU. I loved going to that camp. It was a beautiful tract of pristine forest surrounding a clear lake with hiking, sailing, swimming, fishing, a climbing tower — you name it! And I had the opportunity to go there every summer as a teen (to the “family camp”, for families of scout leaders) because my father was the Scout Master while my brothers were in Boy Scouts.

I especially liked sitting out on a sandy point (one of the many points of Many Point Lake), staring at the rippling water and thinking.

That summer, I had just met a boy I was hoping to have a summer romance with before setting off for BYU. I even wrote a song for him (though I’d only spoken to him a couple of times). I think his name was Peter. (That was the name of the song: “I Think his Name Was Peter.”)

So there I reclined, in this gorgeous setting, fantasizing about all of the clever things I would say to Peter as soon as I got back to town. My train of thought traveled to all sorts of random musings about life; politics, philosophy, etc., — stuff that had nothing to do with this random guy I was hoping to attract — but it continued in the form of an imaginary dialog with him.

Then I caught myself.

Why?

I noticed that I always wanted to focus on this or that boy; on when I would see him again and what I would say to him. The old philosophical question about a tree falling in the woods came to mind. If a girl has an idea, and never tells it to a male who can appreciate it, does it even exist? It was a question I shouldn’t have had to ask myself.

Of course I liked talking with women and girls. But at church — which was a big part of my world — everyone and everything would point to the boys and say, “See our wonderful, bright future!” And we’d look up to the men on the stands and see the respected leaders that the male youth around us would someday become. I didn’t have to be told to fill my journals with tales of the boys I liked — they were all that I wanted to write about. They were exciting! I had internalized the message that the most interesting thing about me was the boy who might be interested in me.

At BYU, I didn’t fit in (to put it mildly) and couldn’t help but start learning to chart my own path. Then when I went to grad school in New Jersey, something kind of magical happened. here’s how I described it in the fictionalization:

It looks so small from a distance. When you’re immersed in it — living in Utah or in an LDS household — Mormonism is like a cage with one small clouded lens to look out through that distorts your every view of the world.

Then one day you step out. You leave home, or you leave the Mormon corridor of Arizona, Utah, and Idaho, and suddenly it’s as if it’s hardly even there. It’s this tiny, unimportant thing that you can forget about for days, weeks, months, even years at a time. You can take it out of your pocket and show people if you like, as an amusing conversation piece at parties. Or you can just not even bother with it at all.

Over time I grew to realize that I have a voice and that people are interested in what I have to say. I’m even interested in what I have to say.

My narrative with respect to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is essentially one of “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The role the church played was that of the obstacle that was just challenging enough for me to learn my own strength by surmounting it. (That’s essentially the theme throughout my novel ExMormon.)

However, I’m well aware that the old adage doesn’t always work. Sometimes stuff that doesn’t kill you actually hurts you a lot more than it ever helps you. Personally, I really don’t feel angry towards the church — from my perspective here in Europe, it looks like such an insignificant (even fragile) thing that I mostly just feel curious about what it will do next, and I feel a warm connection with the handful of people in this world who have shared the peculiar experience of Mormonism with me. But lots of people have very legitimate reasons not to see the CoJCoL-dS that way. If the church plays a different role in your narrative than it does in mine, that doesn’t mean that my life story is right and yours is wrong (or vice-versa).

This really hit home to me as I was listening to my brother describe his childhood in a podcast. As he described the joy of being the golden child who impressed the whole ward — to the point where the leaders would take him along to speak in conferences in other wards to show how clever he was — I couldn’t help but be struck by how different his Mormon experience was from mine (especially considering that we grew up in the same family, less than two years apart in age). His narrative about the CoJCoL-dS was a tale of this awesome thing he had, and when he started to recognize the problems with the CoJCoL-dS as a young adult, the awesome thing was broken. Then joining the Community of Christ was his solution that fixed the broken parts.

As I said in the baby and the bathwater, differing narratives can lead to misunderstandings. Listening to his joyful tales of finding the solution that fixes the problems, my first reaction was kind of a bewildered, “What? Fixed what? Why??” But that’s OK. His journey is his and my journey is mine — they don’t need to be the same.

Reading Petra’s Every Bloggernacle Argument About Feminism, As Told in GIFs, I laughed out loud when she got to this part:

The angry ex-Mormon and the angry TBM each independently insist that the author of the OP should just leave the Church

I laughed because it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that that’s the solution that would make your life a whole lot simpler and less frustrating if you’re a Mormon feminist. I read all the exmo blogs, and she’s right that this is a question that is sincerely bewildering for typical ex-Mormons: If the CoJCoL-dS (members as well as leaders) keep heaping abuse on you, why do you keep coming back for more?

But I think it’s not that simple. Humans are complicated. Mormonism is complicated. People’s relationships with the church, with their families, with their own childhood experiences — they’re complicated.

Personally, when I read some of the stuff that comes out of the COB and General Conference, I’m pretty damn happy that I don’t have to take it seriously or feel conflicted by a belief that those guys are speaking from a position of some sort of special, supernatural insight. (Perhaps many of you reading this feel the same way.) But I don’t speak for those who care about being a part of the CoJCoL-dS and want to try to fix it. I don’t want to simplistically dismiss their position and tell them that all they need to do is dump their own narratives and adopt mine instead. Their journeys are their own. And I have to admit that I am itching with curiosity to see what the folks of Ordain Women will do next!!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: What women want edition!

You may have heard that the New York Times published an article on female Mormon missionaries and how cool they are! Mormon women like it for its tone and accuracy:

The tone was perfect—respectful without lapsing into the reverence or romanticizing a church publication so often displays for missionary work; curious and interested in what’s unusual and unexpected about missionary life without treating the missionaries themselves as oddities.

It seems the NYT was on a roll — they followed that one up with a piece quoting Mormon women about the changes they’d like to see in the CoJCoL-dS. If only the ladies could get this kind of respect at church, likely many of the problems would be resolved.

As it is… Well, watch the two videos here. If you’re female in the CoJCoL-dS, you are what you wear (and even outside the church you can’t just forget about it). And in response to the Brodie-award winning 19-part-and-counting series demonstrating how equality is not a feeling, Nate Oman explained to the ladies that equality is, in fact, a feeling. Raising girls into their subordinate role is a serious issue — really not a place for adding insult to injury. If you’d like to add your perspective, take this survey.

Interestingly, it turns out that the LDS priesthood is two totally different things depending on the gender of the person who wants to exercise it.

The “do we get planets or what?!” discussion continued from last week. Basically, Mormons are not about to give up their planets no matter what the quorum of the anonymous website authors says, and anyway, the article didn’t precisely contradict the “get to be God of your own planet” doctrine. Holly explained the crux of the problem:

In an interview with ABC, Terryl Givens, professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond, said, “Many of these things can be unsettling to members who have grown up with a typically manicured narrative, but it’s a necessary part of the maturation for the church membership.”

But the pushback on obfuscating revisions of core doctrines isn’t from people used to “a typically manicured narrative,” but from those of us who grew up or otherwise came to terms with large, flowery, somewhat messy doctrines and are now shocked to see them trimmed and pruned and trained into tidy, less challenging shapes without any acknowledgment from the church that that’s what’s being done.

Let’s compare to the scriptures. If anything, the tales of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob deserve an embarrassed whitewashing more than the Mormon planet thing does. Yes, you can do serious literary analysis of the scriptures, but with such a sacred cow, sometimes interesting insights are best illustrated through humor.

On the bright side, the CoJCoL-dS responded graciously to being required to comply with British law. But there are some serious problems with the church’s prophetic claims (maybe clarified in this new volume). Also, Jen’s experience illustrated a problem with Mormon culture, namely that certain random personality traits are simply more righteous:

In fact, for years I pretended that I was a super outgoing, bubbly type of person. I wasn’t just pretending for other people’s benefits. I was fooling myself as well. Because somewhere along the way I got it into my head that part of being “perfect” involved being a “people person.”

You may have heard that the American Atheists will be holding their national convention in Salt Lake City this April — maybe you’ve seen the billboards pointing out that not all Utahns are Mormons. Well, it turns out that Joanne Hanks — author of the polygamy classic “It’s Not About The Sex” My Asswill be speaking! I wish I could attend, but I have only so much vacation, and I can’t be flying in from Switzerland all the time. (Maybe I should at least try to place an ad for Mormon Alumni Association Books) in their program…

In life journeys, Mormon X is taking the plunge, and Monica finally popped in a cute way). Jaded dealt with the consequences of leaving a mission early, and sicheart left because of the hypocrasy. Plus, there was a bit of a theme on how we non-believers need to leave the church alone. The thing is that it’s not a reasonable expectation for people who invested their lives in Mormonism and were shaped by it.

Uomo Nuovo has been posting up a storm, including revisiting topics from his earlier blog (like his thoughts on mixed-orientation marriage) as well as new topics like freedom of religion — it’s definitely worth a visit!

In other random stuff, Kiley hates the idea of being “Christ-like” or “sweet, and Knotty hates mild expletives (my kids’ new thing is to say a loud, high-pitched “beep” to replace naughty words). Those of us on the far side of the planet have some fun holidays coming up! (And click here for a very unusual discussion of Scottish independence.) Heather has a recipe for mouth-on-fire “Buffalo Falafel”.

It has been a fun batch of discussions! I hope you enjoy reading them — see you next week! 😀