Sustaining

Culture Mormon Doctrine

In Profxm’s recent post about inactivity rates among single women of the LDS church, some comments referred to the experience of being a single Mormon woman and why it is painful. I too was a longtime single Mormon woman and found it intensely painful, far too often. When I would talk about my experience, I would find some people who were very sympathetic and having similar experiences, though it was often hard to get people to talk openly about it. I had a very good friend who would often cry quietly throughout church every week, so painful was it for her. I didn’t show it as much or as often, but I found that especially General Conferences were almost literally excruciating. Perhaps it’s the kind of pain, for the kind of reasons, that you can only understand if you’ve been there?

But actually, no – I don’t agree with that. I think it is our responsibility as ethical and moral human beings to try to understand and hear other people’s experience, and to, as far as possible, validate people’s humanity and acknowledge their stories as meaningful expressions of who they are and where they’ve come from. But what is it about people’s personal stories that makes sometimes makes us defensive? A classic (and often humourous at this point) example of this is a typical ‘nacle thread discussing something vaguely liberal or non-orthodox in view, particularly in a case where the mainstream perspective is very painful for someone, and there will inevitably be at least one comment along the lines of “Wow, what church do YOU attend? I’ve never seen anything like this in the [insert number of wards, states, countries] I’ve been in!” Meaning, essentially, “YOU are the outlier and this is clearly YOUR problem.”

I get that – one thing that is certainly true is that everyone’s experience is their own and we can’t expect people to agree with everything we say. And if they disagree with what we say, we are not necessarily invalidated every time. Yet I do see a pattern (that’s my experience so you better not invalidate it 😉 ) of defensiveness about things not within the mainstream of Mormon culture and/or doctrine. So here’s my question: Why can’t the church be true for people and at the same time still allow for others to have bad experiences that are actually caused/exacerbated/ yea, even fostered by, the culture or doctrines of the church? Can an active, believing Mormon sustain their leadership while still allowing for them to be “wrong”? Is it really possible to believe the LDS church is capital-T True and still believe other people’s painful experiences with it –- and allow that some of that experience is even a natural outcome of some core doctrines and things taught by the leadership clearly and regularly?

I want to think that the smart, cool Mormons I know are not secretly thinking I am just a lame old garden-variety sinner. I do want some of them to know my story and have an at least basic understanding of my experience and where I ended up vis-à-vis the church. I know their feelings about Mormonism, I understand their stories of faith, I can see why they are where they are. Can they do the same for me and still sustain their leaders, still be faithful Mormons? Can they believe that my conscience and experience led me in a different, yet not “wrong,” direction? As ‘Inactive Mormon Woman’ commented in the previous thread, “what does sustain mean”? How much can you disagree with the doctrines of the LDS church and the teachings of its leaders and still be considered faithful? How much can you hold individuals and all their unique experiences to that line? And when they waver from that line, how far can they go off the expected course before they are questioned on what they are doing wrong so as not to have the Mormon experience of truth? Can we really account for people’s different stories and experiences as being the product of pride, sin, rationalization, justification?

At what point does someone’s story become invalid in the face of doctrine that is contrary to their experience?

30 thoughts on “Sustaining

  1. You throw out a lot of questions. I believe that yes one can gain understanding of another’s situations w/o actually living them but maybe it is somewhat of an acquired taste for some. I am not sure?

    “So here’s my question: Why can’t the church be true for people and at the same time still allow for others to have bad experiences that are actually caused/exacerbated/ yea, even fostered by, the culture or doctrines of the church?”

    My most recent blog post addresses the idea of taking the “middle-way” as actually being the/a “right” way rather than the/a “wrong” one (just click above to check it)and how our traditions and rituals actually keep us away from many of the “good” things.

    “Can an active, believing Mormon sustain their leadership while still allowing for them to be “wrong”?”

    Yes they should be able to and already do…however, this is really interesting to me. Because when a leader makes an obviously incorrect statement about men going to the moon, or men living on the moon then yes they can let it go. Then w/ subjects such as birth control, even tho the church’s official stance today is that it is between husband, wife, and Lord that is still not what is being taught…example, during Women’s conference a year or two ago (I wasn’t there but my mom was) BKP engrained on the women the need to have children and how the birth rates all over the world are declining. Then I go to a marriage prep class at the institute and get the teacher’s “Birth Control=Damnation” speech. Somehow, many teachers and leaders can’t understand the concept of birth control=ok.

    Typically I see apologists and members explaining away statements made by non-living GA’s all the time but a modern living one, usually not.

    For me personally the question has evolved into, Can I who knows, and at othertimes believes, the leadership to be “wrong” still be an active and believing Mormon?

  2. Can I who knows, and at othertimes believes, the leadership to be “wrong” still be an active and believing Mormon?

    Good question. Related to that: How can we protect our children from these negative and irrational concepts that might damage their identity and self-confidence?

  3. Sorry if this bores you….
    When my DW divorced me & got our house & most of the community property….She put on ‘the big show’ at church, telling everyone how painful it was to be alone, etc etc. Told how she regretted being a single mom (more tears)…
    All for show; there was no adultery, no abuse in our family. I was a stay at home & sober dad while she made lotsa bucks as an RN… put was that justification for Greed, Hatred, & Deceit?
    according to LDS, Inc, IT WAS!

  4. I know what Armand Mauss’s response to this question would be: Absolutely! I think his argument is that not believing your leaders speak the will of god all the time (that they are infallible) is the only healthy way to be religious. This is also similar to the intrinsic/extrinsic/quest distinction of religious types (a distinction I personally find artifical). I do, however, agree with Mauss at some level – if you “must” be religious, the only way to be “religious” is to have the religion work for you and not work for the religion.

    What do I mean by this? An example that just came up may help illustrate this point. My in-laws really want to come visit my wife an I in Florida. They have ever since we moved here (almost a year ago), but something keeps holding them back and we haven’t been able to figure it out. What the hold up is finally came out in a phone conversation last night: They volunteer at the temple near where they live in Salt Lake Valley. In order to “get time off” they have to find replacements for themselves. Otherwise, the only time they get off is when the temple is closed for maintenance (about 6 weeks out of the year). When I heard this I nearly crapped myself: They are, as I said to my wife, f*&king volunteers (I apologize for the language, but that was a direct quote). They are “working for” the religion; the religion isn’t “working” for them.

    My point here is that religion can, possibly, be healthy if you use it to your advantage – you have good friends there, you follow the reasonable recommendations (smoking and drinking excessively are stupid), and engage in service and charity. You can do all of those things without religion, but religion is a convenient place to get those things.

    Religion, however, can also be unhealthy. If you’re gay, Mormonism is a hostile place. If you’re an unmarried, single woman past the age of 21, Mormonism is a hostile place (or a single male past 30 for that matter). If the religion is all-encompassing (e.g., The Peoples’ Temple), it can kill you. If it takes up too much of your time, that’s not good. If it is racist in doctrine (but maybe not in practice), that isn’t good. Etc. There are a lot of ways that religion can be unhealthy.

    Is it possible to find religions that are “only” healthy? I’d say some liberal Christian religions come close, as do some Unitarian congregations. But the problem with religion, and this is an issue that is currently being debated by sociologists, is that, in order to get many of the “healthy” aspects (e.g., close community, friends, restrictions on behavior, service, charity), you often have to take all the crappy stuff too. The religions that seem to attract the most devoted followers are the ones that preach some of the most damaging stuff (e.g., anti-gays and anti-atheists, etc.).

    I, personally, weighed these two aspects and decided that the “costs” of religion outweighed the “benefits.” I can see how others would invert that decision. For instance, I find it hard to see how the benefits of Mormonism could ever outweight the costs of being gay in Mormonism, likewise with being a single young woman. But I could see how the benefits of being a successful, middle-class, professional heterosexual couple with kids could outweigh the costs. And it is even easier if you are aware enough to simply dismiss the crap that comes with your affiliation.

    So, after all that, I’d say: Yeah, it’s possible to believe the leadership is wrong but stay and even believe in some of the good aspects. I couldn’t do it, but I can understand why someone would.

    (P.S. Don’t tell anyone I’m advocating rational choice theory here – I generally am opposed to it as a sociologist.)

  5. Call the temple president, profxm, and your in-laws will be on the plane next week. That stuff is just something that somebody without authority has made up.

  6. Hellmut: regardless of who made it up,
    ‘they’ (many, many LDS) Believe It!

    (gasp) This is an example how powerful ‘the unwritten order of things’ is, also the complete refusal of LDS, Inc. to separate-delineate culture from ‘doctrine’.

    Indeed, Mormonism ‘forces’ adherents to swallow a Lot of Crap to get the good….

  7. Wow, great questions. Funny, when you talk about Armand, him and I had a great talk when it came to me trying to decide if I would stay or go from Mormonism. He was definitely in support of me staying, but not to follow blindly. In fact, he offered some suggestion on how to handle things with my local leaders that were very practical.

    In my experience, people tend to blow things off they don’t understand or haven’t experienced. They think they have to have gone through something for it to be real. In my experience mormon men don’t understand feminism unless their wife is one. Then, they have to learn.

    My personal opinion is that people fear looking at the inconsistencies because then they would have to accept that it isn’t perfect. They might have to consider it not being True with a capital T. That scares people more than anything. I know, because it did me. When I went to my bishop with concerns about women it was downright ugly, with him telling me God and the Savior were men, and that there were things men could do that women couldn’t, etc. (sexist ass!). Instead of trying to understand and be compassionate to my immense pain he wanted to prove I was wrong. He then stopped talking to me altogether. I deseperately needed a support system where people could understand me. Those were the people who left the church. There was no one I could talk to at church and I felt no one understood.

    The last 10 years of my life were a living hell with everything that could go wrong, going wrong with very little support from anyone. It is hard for people to even grasp the details. I had fought so hard to hang on to my religion but realized that I couldn’t anymore. I was sustaining it despite my issues with so many things but it wasn’t sustaining me.. I finally accepted that I couldn’t keep fighting everything-health, finances, job, family situation, etc. and religion. That was simply too much to fight. I wonder, if I had more support would I have left? Probably not. I would have found some good and ways to attend anyway, but the damage was so harsh that I simply couldn’t do it and hold onto sanity.

    I think most people think of sustain as obey, etc. I think in their minds they cannot admit that their leaders can and will be wrong, stand up to things when they need to, and still sustain them.

    I think that people in the church will never see my experience and story as valid. In my experience the people that I finally tell the whole story to are compassionate for a time…and then want to prove to me that women are revered, etc. They want me to be wrong or this to be my fault as opposed to just knowing our experiences are different. For example, I won’t use the same name here as on the blogernacle. Why? Because people will automatically write off my experience as me being an apostate instead of seing I might have valid concerns.

  8. This doesn’t answer any of the questions, but I’ve had a pretty interesting experience with my Mormon friendships. I’m super lucky (or, if I’m going to be conceited, I’m just smart about picking my friends) in that almost all of my friends have been supportive of my deconversion, to the point where a few of them even think it’s as valid a way to live as being Mormon. My close friends have no problem believing Mormonism is Truth (with a capital T that rhymes with P, that stands for Pool!), yet also believing that not everything is perfect or correct, and also seeing that it is not something that’s good for me. I, on the other hand, because of my experience, sometimes have trouble believing that they can get more good than bad out of it. I find myself having to try pretty hard sometimes to not get defensive and preachy about how it’s wrong and bad and their experiences don’t count.

    So it goes both ways.

  9. IMW: I’m with you on that…
    Anything even potentially questionable/harmful regarding LDS practice or administration…Not To Mention ‘doctrine’… is Very Quickly dis-respected, discounted if not Outright IGNORED.

    ‘You will know the truth’…CHOKE!

  10. GNP-Especially things that are harmful. Everything is excused as “inspired”. For example, ask someone why women hearkens to her husband in the temple instead of God and they will calmly explain to you that Eve ate the fruit. Point out that articles of faith state man is punished for his own sin, and ask why that doesn’t apply here and they get downright pissed! Ask who a single woman hearkens to and they will tell you God works out in the end (the only way I could tolerate that one was because I was single so I didn’t have to heaken to anyone). Ask why women used to hearken to obey and they will tell you (if they know about it) that is it because some men are abusive, then ask them why God inspired them to put it there in the first place.

    Ask why SWK said masturbation causes homosexuality, but now the GA’s will not say that and sweep it under the rug and they say you are just reading anti stuff.

    There is room for contradictory stuff like that, but people don’t want to wrestle with it. How can JS be a prophet if he was sleeping with 14 year old girls? can he be inspired and an ass? Not in Mormon culture. Can Brigham Young have done good things and still prey on women and be racist? Sure, but we cannot talk about it.

  11. unfortunately, LDS have been (sorry) Brainwashed into ‘seeing’ LDS things with such a jaundiced view….
    Tell ANYTHING about ‘anti-Mos’, and it gets INSTANT cred…(Whistle a Happy Tune)

  12. GNPE-That is very, very true. I think that mormons are used to defending so much that they stopped listening. I had so many friends that were certain the Mountain Meadows Massacre was anti stuff made up by PBS. It didn’t occur to them it could be true. Then, they decided BY had nothing to do with it despite it being led by his oldest son. They want to defend instead of listen.

    Now, quite honestly, I think for some of them it is because it means so much to them that they cannot see it. For example, as a child your parent can do no wrong. Same concept.

  13. OK, we’re on a roll here.
    Next: Being Mo (as many think) gives an ‘inside track’ to avoiding many of life’s problems, because the most often solution for probs is ‘Live the Gospel’ ‘pay your tithing’ ‘follow the prophet’…. in some cases, non-answers , non-replies to what might be simple or easy challenges with another perspective….
    -just my .02, of course!

  14. Um yea, I have an illness there is no treatment or cure for. Yep, you guessed it. Just have more faith!!! If I have more faith it will be managable enough for me to go to church-not quality of life, but go to church. I need to show faith by going to church even if it means I miss a day of work from it….

  15. ‘hate’ to speak evil of the dead, but:

    I don’t think history is going to be very kind to Gordon… He oversaw a further drift Away from mainstream Christianity than anyone else, the simplification of Temple endowment notwithstanding…
    “I don’t know that we teach that”… (and the half-excuse, half-explanation tendered at the next GC)….kinda hard to shake those, IMHO.

  16. I don’t know, I kind of liked “I don’t know that we teach that”. It was kind of a slap in the face for TBM’s. He first tells them we don’t drink soda with cafeine (first time I heard that) and then that we don’t believe we can be like God-which is something they teach in the temple. Kind of a mind game for TBM’s.

  17. exactly.
    I couldn’t think up such mind-bending, keep them close to the teat material alone, That’s for sure. Everything is aimed at preserving the leaders of the tribe in Close Control of information & as many individual decisions as possible.

  18. Ask why SWK said masturbation causes homosexuality, but now the GA’s will not say that and sweep it under the rug and they say you are just reading anti stuff.

    Really> The Miracle of Forgiveness is now “anti stuff?”

    Can Brigham Young have done good things and still prey on women and be racist? Sure, but we cannot talk about it.

    And man oh man, was he racist. I’m working on a paper on Mormonism and race this semester. Most of it winds up being more complex than you might assume, but Brigham Young is not comples vis a vis race: he was a racist asshole, plain and simple.

  19. Really? The Miracle of Forgiveness is now “anti stuff?”

    Weird but true. It’s common for bishops to recommend this book as part of the repentance process for sex-related sins, but talking about what’s actually in the book is “anti”…

  20. Now that’s some cognitive dissonance for you, “Read this book, it will make you feel really guilty for having committed sexual sins but also help you overcome your sexual depravity. Oh, and don’t tell anyone what you read, it’s immoral.” My… mind… just… melting… KERSPLAT!!!!

  21. LOL-they will not tell you not to read it, but they will won’t support what it says. It is like Mormon Docterine-everyone supported it, but instead of saying it is wrong, we just pretend it isn’t out there….

  22. It is hard for me to speak objectively about MofF; when I first read this book i thought I liked it; I attempted to apply it to my life and drove me mad.

  23. when I confessed a sexual sin to my bishop, he gave me this book to read, I promptly dumped it in the garbage, cause i had had a little experience with it in the past and don’t think it does anything but help people wallow in guilt.

  24. LOL-they will not tell you not to read it, but they will won’t support what it says. It is like Mormon Docterine-everyone supported it, but instead of saying it is wrong, we just pretend it isn’t out there….

    Hypocrisy renders extreme ideologies functional. Problems arise when people do not master that game and continue to apply the word of the prophet literally.

    Obviously, converts will be over-represented among the later. But one can never know who will be affected. Kip Eliason committed suicide over masturbation, for example. He was an honor role student and a letter man but unfortunately his physician was also his priesthood leader.

  25. Hellmut-My friend’s OB/GYN was a bishop in her stake. She was single and went in to go on the pill because she was sexually active (smart thing to do if you have one partner and don’t want a child). He lectured her on pre-marital sex. What the? If she hadn’t been a member of her stake would he have done that? Not likely.

    Virtually every other doctor I know would love that a patient thought about their health and desires and was responsible. Not him. He felt it his job to lecture her. Of course he has now been “promoted” to stake president.

  26. Does the term ‘AssHat’ come to mind?
    that’s what being in authority gives LDS (especailly leaders) LICENSE for; IF there was or could be some kind of checks/balances in the system, there might could be some balance or reform to keep people ‘between the goal posts’.
    Not the case as of now, however….

  27. Definitely! It is what happens because leaders know they do not have to be accountable to anyone, and especially not a single woman. Who is she going to complain to that will listen? No husband to go to bat, etc.

  28. Mormon Zero — I saw your post on Mormon sexuality — lots of interesting ideas. I was thinking of commenting, but when you cover a lot of different points like that, it takes longer to compose a reasonable comment. 😉

  29. Chanson – Yeah…The topic was being addressed a number of times in the bloggernacle recently and I was getting agitated so I started writing a comment to another post and it turned into this lengthy essay, which is now a blog post.

    Thanks for reading and feel free to comment anytime.

  30. I might hazard a guess that tscc’s obsessive focus on compliance-conformance is ‘finally’ coming to bite them in the ass. It’s about time.

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