Saturday, September 29, 2012

Who Owns The Term Mormon?

          Polygamy is a touchy subject for many Mormons. Mention the word polygamy to a faithful Mormon and you will observe an almost universal knee-jerk reaction – an explanation that Mormons do not practice polygamy and that polygamist groups covered in mainstream media are not Mormon. To counter the image of polygamy, Mormon authorities made an unsuccessful attempt to trademark the term “Mormon”, as an attempt to prevent fundamentalist Mormon groups from using the term. Members are also instructed to refer to themselves as members of the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints, LDS for short, as a way of combating the stigma of polygamy associated with the term Mormon, although in an ironic twist, the latest attempt to improve the image of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been an expensive ad campaign titled “I’m A Mormon”.
          What I find interesting about this reaction is the fact that polygamy was an integral part of early Mormonism. Joseph Smith – the founder of the Mormon Church and considered to be a modern-day Prophet, Seer, and Revelator – married an estimated 33 women. His successor, Brigham Young, had an estimated 55 wives. The third leader of the Mormon Church, John Taylor, had seven wives. In 1882, when the U.S. government began cracking down on polygamy in Utah, there was a lot of confusion within the church. John Taylor – leader of the church at the time - wrote a document in 1886 that fundamentalists argue affirms the permanency of plural marriage. In 1890 the Mormon president Wilford Woodruff issued a Manifesto disavowing the practice of polygamy. Polygamy was still practiced in secret, with some Mormons choosing to move to either Canada or Mexico to continue the practice of plural marriage. Eventually, after much controversy, the President Joseph Fielding Smith issued the Second Manifesto in 1904, which once again disavowed the practice.
          Fundamentalist Mormons still believe in and practice polygamy. The difference between fundamentalist Mormons and mainstream Mormons is that fundamentalists do not believe the 1890 Manifesto was a divine revelation. Instead, they point to the 1886 revelation by John Taylor that re-iterates the permanence of God’s commandments, one of which they argue is the practice of polygamy. In a nutshell, the only difference between mainstream Mormon and fundamentalist Mormons is the fact that fundamentalist Mormons believe in a literal interpretation of the past Mormon leaders, rather than following the leaders that came after John Taylor. When Martin Luther split off from the Roman Catholic Church, he did not lose the right to call himself a follower of the Bible and Jesus Christ; neither should fundamentalist Mormons lose the right to call themselves followers of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
          Furthermore, LDS members do believe polygamy exists in Heaven – they just don’t believe in practicing polygamy on Earth, where the laws of the land prohibit the practice. Growing up, I was taught that if a man was widowed, he could be sealed in an eternal marriage to another wife. When he went to Heaven, he would be reunited with all of his wives. Mormons believe that only married people can gain access to the highest level of Heaven. We were assured that if we didn’t receive the opportunity to be married in this life, then we would have the opportunity to get married in the next life. There was, however, no assurance that the celestial marriage would be monogamous.
          This begs the question – what defines the term Mormon? Are the members of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints the only people who can lay claim to the term Mormon? Or does this term extend to all the sects that follow the teachings of the early leaders and the Book of Mormon?
          Even those who still practice polygamy?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Follow The Prophet

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints – more commonly referred to as Mormon - believe that their leader is a modern-day Prophet, imbued with the power of revelation from God.  With this teaching of modern-day revelation is the burden to always follow the teachings of the authorities, as their dictates come from the Almighty God himself. 
I was raised in a family with a literal interpretation of Mormonism.  My father was convinced that one day the U.S. government would fail and that Americans would turn to the Mormon leaders for guidance; that one day the entire world would know of and gravitate towards the Mormon faith; that modern-day revelation was real and that visions were a fact of life.  Above all, the President of the Mormon Church is venerated as the mouthpiece of God, qualified to receive revelations for the entire church. 
The lessons on un-wavering obedience to Mormon authorities start at an early age.  In the official lesson manual of the Mormon Church is a lesson titled “Follow The Prophet”, aimed towards the youth of the Church.  One of the quotes drawn from this lesson is by Marion G. Romney, talking about the past President and Prophet Heber J Grant:

“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home. … When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray"

Marion G Romney, in Conference Report, October 1960, pg 78                                                                                                                                                                        

Or as I sang as a little girl in Primary – “Follow the Prophet, follow the Prophet. Follow the Prophet, he knows the way.”  When my Primary teachers talked of the apostles and the prophet, I imagined the bearded sandal-clad, linen-clothed men of the New Testament.  I was shocked when I realized the apostles and prophet of whom my teachers spoke of were in fact the old white guys that showed up on the screen twice a year during the world-wide televised General Conferences.  Then I grew up and I began to crush under the burden of trying to follow the leaders’ will, as their teachings on the role of womanhood and striving for perfection stuffed  me into a tiny little box that just didn’t fit.  Like Cinderella’s ugly step-sisters, to fit into the narrow box of Mormon womanhood I needed to chop off pieces of me that just couldn’t fit inside that box. 
          The Mormon Church’s approach to dealing with the messy history of the prophets’ teachings is to deny the fact or to claim that the teachings of current prophets outweigh the teachings of old prophets.  The Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) made the following statement when addressing the messy and very uncomfortable topic of the teachings about race within Mormonism

          Past church leaders should be viewed as products of their times, no more racist than most of their American and Christian peers (and often surprisingly enlightened, given the surrounding culture). A proper understanding of the process of revelation creates a more realistic expectations of the Latter-day Saint prophet, instead of assumptions of infallibility foisted on the Saints by their critics.
          Previous statements and scriptural interpretations that are no longer in harmony with current revelation should be discarded. We learn "line upon line, precept upon precept," and when modern revelation has shed new light, old assumptions made in the dark can be done away with.”

To combat the openness of the Internet era, where the messy history of the Mormon Church is easily accessible and a source of chagrin to many faithful Mormons, members are now justifying that these leaders were “speaking as a man” or that certain beliefs are “folk doctrine”.  There is no way to draw a distinction between a leader “speaking as a man” or “speaking for God” – these distinctions all depend on the convictions of the individual interpreting the quotes, as well as the potential embarrassment factor of the quote.  And once again, I would like reiterate the lesson that the Prophet is considered the mouthpiece qualified to receive revelation from God for the entire church and that as members we were taught that the Prophet will never lead us astray. 
Perhaps Heber J Grant was “speaking as a man” when he had that conversation with Marion G Romney.  Or perhaps Marion G Romney was “speaking as a man” when he gave that speech.  Or perhaps all of the talks by the authorities that I attended as a youth will one day be dismissed as been “spoken as a man, rather than from God”.  But how can members distinguish between the two?  How do members balance the past teachings of the Prophets with the idea that the Prophet will never lead his people astray?  Were the Prophets leading the people astray with their teachings on race?  Was the Prophet leading the people astray with Proposition 8?  And if members don't agree with the teachings of the Prophet, what about the consequences of challenging authority?  But to admit that the Prophets can lead the people astray is to strike at the very root of Mormonism itself – question the legitimacy of the Prophets’ teachings and you question the very foundation of Mormonism. 
Some members are able to shrug off the confusions of doctrine, focusing instead on the good points – the plan of Salvation, the idea of eternal families, the idea of Christian love.  But I was not one of those members; I was a member that took the teachings literally.  My literal interpretation of the leaders – enforced by the attitudes of members around me – turned me into a person at war between my conscience and the teachings of my leaders. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mormon Editor - And Romney Critic - Faces Excommunication

          David Twede - managing editor of the website MormonThink and a Mormon in good standing - is now facing an excommunication hearing on September 30th as a result of a series of articles he wrote discussing Mitt Romney’s faith, along with the intersection of Mormonism and politics. MormonThink is a website written by active members of the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints – commonly referred to as Mormons -who are seeking to create an open dialogue about Mormon history. Their mission statement is:

[To promote] Education and openness of our religion's unique history and heritage. If people want to learn about the true historical issues of the church, that they won't hear about in Sunday School, they can learn about them here. We aren't afraid to discuss the tough issues. We hope to make the church we grew up in a better place by making it more honest.

Our goal would be that no knowledgeable member should have to be afraid to speak the truth in church to avoid offending a naive member with the truth about polygamy, the BOM translation process, Masonry, or any other historical aspect of the Church. We want the Church leaders to be 100% open and honest with the members so we can be 100% open and honest with our children, families, friends, investigators and fellow members.

          By necessity, the MormonThink authors have to remain anonymous. In 1992, the Mormon Church excommunicated or dis-fellowshipped six prominent intellectuals, known as the September Six, for publishing scholarly works that were not aligned with the Mormon Church’s official teachings. This was a prominent example, however, over the years there have been other examples of sanctions taken against member. Grant Palmer, who spent 34 years working as an educator for the Church Education System, was dis-fellowshipped for publishing the book “An Insider’s View Of Mormon Origins” and later forced to resign under threat of excommunication. Although the accuracy of these scholarly works have not been questioned the issue is the fact that these books paint the early history of Mormonism in a manner that is not faith-promoting. Boyd K. Packer, who is the acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, has stated "Some things that are true are not very useful." In this spirit, the Mormon Church seeks to preserve the faith of their members at the cost of historical accuracy. Members are instructed to only read history that has been sanctioned by the Church; all other sources are thought to be Satan’s way of leading the faithful astray.
          There are two articles that lead to David Twede being threatened with excommunication. One article is titled “The History Of LDS Politics”, which delves into the relationship the Mormon Church has had with politics, Prop 8 being only a small blip on a long history of political interference. The second article that is sparking controversy is titled “Mitt Romney’s Faith”, which discusses his beliefs as a Mormon.
          David Twede has made the following statement on his blog concerning the matter:

“Open and honest dialogue will allow members to choose, according to their agency, whether these facts are too troubling or in the end, humanizing. What do I mean? If we learn that the prophets are just as human, just as weak as we are, perhaps we will not feel anxious about our imperfections. Perhaps we will be more at ease in the church and more tolerant. Yes, I believe an honest view of Joseph Smith's weaknesses and by opening the facts it will bring love and tolerance to the wider membership of the church because they will lose their need to feel inadequate about imperfections in themselves and others. The Mormon Church needs to jettison Perfection Syndrome.

That is Christianity at its best, I think.”

          MormonThink is a valuable resource; the website is run by active Mormons and gives members the opportunity to learn about the full history of their faith in an honest and balanced manner. The editors strive to approach the issues from all possible angles, allowing both sides of the story to be heard.


MormonThink: an excellent resource on the history of the Mormon Church

David Twede's blog, where he discusses his pending excommunication hearing and the events leading up to matter

The History Of LDS Politics: A full accounting of the intersection of the Mormon Church and political matters

Mitt Romney's Faith: The specifics of Romney's beliefs as a Mormon

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blessings & Tithing

                As far back as I can remember, the leaders have promised that if a person has the faith to pay tithing, then “the Lord will open the windows of Heaven and pour out his richest blessings”.  Leaders repeat this promise over and over, in different permutations of the original revelation on tithing made by the leader Lorenzo Snow, who promised that if members had the faith to pay tithing, then rain would come to rescue the crops from drought.  Leaders talk about how you can’t afford not to pay tithing.  They give examples of people who paid tithing and were miraculously able to make ends meet.  They promise - over and over - that having the faith to pay your tithing will result in blessings.
                And since Mormons tend to be literal when interpreting the promises of their leaders, this creates an odd dynamic.  As we repeated, over and over, “The Church is perfect.  People aren’t.”  Since the Church is perfect - and the imperfection of people provide such an easy scapegoat - a lack of material blessings is assumed to be correlated with a lack of faith. 
                My parents were poor for many years.  For them, paying tithing was an extreme act of faith, as often the money that was paid to the Mormon Church was needed to feed the family.  And yet paying tithing didn’t result in more material wealth.  My parents struggled along, trying to make the pennies match up, while performing the requirements of Mormonism with diligence.  The faith of my parents - to pay tithing even when tithing was a struggle - is an awe-inspiring testament to their commitment. 
                If you look at the members that rank higher in hierarchy - bishopric, stake presidency, General Authorities, Presidency - you will notice that these leaders are notable more for their professional and financial success.  Thomas S. Monson, the current President, was an advertising executive and eventual general manager for Deseret News Press.  His first counselor, Henry B.Eyring, is a graduate of Harvard Business School and was a professor at Stanford, as well as the president of Ricks College.  His second counselor, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, was a German aviator and airline executive.  These men were part of the middle to upper class, with significant professional achievements, when they were recruited for leadership.  I have no doubt that there are many good and faithful men from modest backgrounds; however, these men do not seem to be reflected in the makeup of the authorities that are responsible for guiding the Mormon Church. 
                Within my own ward, the leaders who were never from the “ragged” families - the families that worked blue-collar jobs while following the command to have lots of children, even if you couldn’t afford them.  Most of the leaders selected were either college professors or white-collar professionals.  I didn’t notice much of a difference between the leaders and the poorer families in terms of their character or faith.  But I did notice a difference in which families were called to leadership positions. 
                For what it was worth, I don’t think the stigma was applied to me, even though I was from a poor family.  I was a bright student and enthusiastic about my studies.  There were a number of wonderful women that stepped in to support and guide me.  But with the oft-repeated promises of receiving blessings if you are faithful enough, there is the mindset that a lack of blessings correlates with a lack of faith.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Separation of Church And State

          I am an agnostic.  My family is Mormon.  My husband is a Hindu who came to the U.S. for grad school.  Within this spectrum of religious and cultural identities is the beauty and promise of the American dream; we are a nation of diversity and opportunity.  We are a pluralistic society, one in which every individual’s religious and cultural identity should be respected.  The strength of the United States is in the promise of tolerance for the entire spectrum of humanity. 
          Every-time I hear the intersection of politics and religion – the insertion of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the constant refrain of “God Bless America” by politicians on both sides of the aisle, the words of “In God We Trust” printed on our national currency – I find myself wondering where the American ideal went astray.  Our nation was founded on the idea of a separation between church and state.  The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”   
          Separation of church and state is not meant to tear down the institution of religion; rather separation of church and state is meant to foster an environment in which individuals feel comfortable worshipping according to the dictates of their own conscience.  The refrain of “under God” or “God bless America” assumes many things, the least of which is a belief in a singular God.  This may feel like a small matter – the removal of a few words that may or may not offend most people.  But if these words are to be repeated in a public environment, with the attendant pressure to follow along, then we need to respect the idea that religion is a deeply personal and private matter.  Religion does not belong in either the government or government-funded institutions. 
          John F. Kennedy, in his 1960 address on religion, stated,

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him."

          With this election cycle heating up, the controversy surrounding candidates and their religion is only getting worse.  God – and prayer – has been mentioned by both Democrats and Republicans alike.  I don’t feel comfortable with the intersection of religion and politics; this is not the country we were meant to be.  We are a far cry from the ideals upon which our nation was founded.  If we are to truly become a nation where all people may worship according to the dictates of their own conscience, then we need to remove religious ideologies from the confines of government.   
          In the words of John F Kennedy: “Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Commentary: "Women, Do Your Wifely Duty To Prevent Your Husband From Sin

          Last week, there was a guest post on the site Feminist Mormon Housewives that has left me speechless.  I wasn’t planning on writing a commentary – there are so many angles to discuss and so many uncomfortable points to the post – but I feel that I must, if for no other reason than that this issue needs to be addressed. 
          The post is called Women’s Conference (Or Do Your Wifely Duty To Prevent Your Husband From Sin)  This post details a talk that a Mormon bishop gave on two separate occasions to the women of his congregation.  The author sat through the first one in shock; the second time, a full year after the first talk, she came armed with a notepad to record the bishop’s PowerPoint presentation and accompanying lecture.  Both of the lessons had the implied message “Good Mormon women have regular sex with their husbands in order to keep their marriages “happy” and keep their husbands from sin.”  The first time the bishop gave the lesson, the title was “The Key To A Happy Marriage”, the second time the lesson was simply referred to as the “Sex Talk”.
          A couple of nuggets from this bishop's lesson include

Next he puts up this big picture of a line of german shepherds at a police academy. In front of this line of dogs walks this little cat and it is obvious that all the dogs want to do is pounce on the poor thing. Everyone giggles at what this picture is suggesting and he continues on with his message. “This is a stupid cat. Luckily these dogs are so well trained that they can fight against even their deepest genetic desires and stay in line.” “But,” he said, “Just because they are keeping formation doesn’t me they don’t REALLY want that cat. Trained dogs STILL look at cats.”

 “He then reminds us that, “…there are women who WILL take your husband’s…” and Solomon says, “…be ravished with your wife…” he goes on to add that if you won’t be ravished with him, a stranger will.”

He tells the women that all through young men’s lives there is a drumbeat going on in their heads that says: “When I get married I can have sex…when I get married I can have sex…when I get married I can have sex…” “I just need to hold on until a beautiful wife lets me.”
He tells us how often times the deprived spouse is loathing the thought of eternity with his wife. The deprived spouse takes the sexual rejection as a personal rejection and becomes resentful. And the deprived spouse is more tempted when he is deprived.
          I don’t know what disturbs me most about this series of talks.  I am disturbed by the fact that an entire year went by between the bishop’s two talks with identical themes, with no apparent backlash.  I am also disturbed by the fact that this bishop wasn’t fired or chastised and that there wasn’t more of a backlash.  Most of all, I am deeply unsettled by the message that this particular authority figure gave to a group of Mormon women.   
          There are two main points related to Mormon practices that I would like to address, as I feel they are directly related to this incident. 

(1)    The majority of local authority positions within the Mormon Church are filled by volunteers.  Bishops and stake presidents, in addition to their day-job, also spend an additional 20+ hours tending to the needs of their congregation.  These positions are considered to be divinely inspired; when a new bishop or stake president is selected, the General Authorities will come and interview possible candidates.  The General Authorities claim to have divine revelation when it comes to selecting the right candidate.  These bishops and stake presidents receive very little training to perform their duties; instead, they are told that the Holy Ghost will be their guide.  Members look to their local leaders for guidance on everything from marital issues to crises of faith, yet these leaders are ill-equipped to carry out the roles they are assigned.  This leads to a wide variation of leadership between wards.  
(2)    Mormons have very strict laws on chastity.  Pre-marital sex – and any forms of sensual foreplay – is strictly forbidden within Mormonism.  So is masturbation and porn.  Part of Mormonism involves going through a temple recommend interview, starting at age 12 with youth temple trips.  During this interview, a local authority will ask the interviewee about obeying the law of chastity, including issues with masturbation and porn.  As a woman, I was taught to safeguard my virtue, as it was seen as a gift for my future husband.  The lessons on chastity start at a young age and only continue to intensify.  As a result of this repression, sex becomes a very twisted and uncomfortable topic to address and is often associated with a sense of shame. 

          In addition to these Mormon-specific points, there are also the aspects that apply to a more general audience.  There is the very disturbing analogy of the German shepherds, trained not to attack the tasty cat in spite of their instincts.  There is also the idea that a woman bears responsibility for her husband’s infidelities. 
          I simply do not know how to react.  I don’t know where to start, what to address.  All I know is that reading this post made me upset in a way that I have not been in a very long time.  I wish I could write satire about this bishop’s attitude like Donna Banta.  I wish that I could write a sharp, incisive commentary that distills this issue into a single point.  Instead, all I have to offer are a jumble of opinions and a need to talk about this issue.  Sex is not shameful.  Women should not be blamed for the infidelities of their husband; neither should they feel compelled to fake desire at risk of losing their marriage.   

Book Review: Nonbeliever Nation - The Rise of Secular Americans

                In his book Nonbeliever Nation, the author David Niose defines secular Americans as “individuals that choose to live without religion, or at the very least, without theistic religion.”  Although the number of self-identified agnostics and atheists in the U.S. is listed as 1.6% of the population, the author points to the results of the American Religious Identification Survey, which showed that 18.4% of the responders did not affirmatively claim belief in a higher power.  The author argues this result is an indication that there are more secular Americans than we realize. 
                This book was both a history lesson as well as a reminder that secular Americans need to be more open about their identity.  The author covers the early days of the United States, discussing and refuting the widespread claim that the Founding Fathers meant for the United States to be a Christian nation.  A large part of this book was also devoted to the recent rise of the Religious Right in politics; the author points to the election of Reagan as a watershed moment for the Religious Right.  Reagan’s election was aided by the formation of the organization Moral Majority by the evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell; since then the dominance of religion in politics has steadily increased to a point where omitting the mention of God results in a huge backlash for a politician. 
                The dominant theme for this book is the argument that secular Americans need to assert their identity.  A 2006 University of Minnesota study found atheists to be the most feared minority in America, ranking behind Muslims, gays, and recent immigrants.  With these attitudes is the attendant fear of associating with such a misunderstood identity.  However, the author argues that by remaining quiet about our secularity, we have allowed the national conversation to be dominated by a minority that actively spreads misinformation about the dangers of non-believers.
                This is not a book that will de-convert anyone of their religious beliefs. Nor is this a book that seeks to take away the right of any individual to worship according to the dictates of their conscience.  However, this is a book that call for the separation of church and state, as well as a reiteration of the need for secular Americans to affirm their identity as people that live their lives without religion.  

Nonbeliever Nation - The Rise of Secular Americans can be found in both e-book and hardcover at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell's.  The author is currently doing a book tour.   

Friday, September 7, 2012

My Writing Companion

Meet Toby, my writing companion.  He likes to sit by me when I work; most of the time he is jealous of the machine that demands so much of my attention. 

If you would like to read more about how I got Toby, I did a guest post on the blog "Poetry Sans Onions" titled "Everyone Deserves A Second Chance", where I wrote about adopting Toby as a senior cat from the SPCA.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mormon Urban Legends - A Correction

            A recent post of mine detailed my experience with a Mormon urban legend – the following statement that I first heard at a youth camp:

"You were in the War in Heaven and one day when you are in the spirit world you will be enthralled with those who you are associated with. You will ask someone in which time period he lived in and you might hear, "I was with Moses when he parted the Red Sea," or "I helped build the pyramids," or "I fought with Captain Moroni." And as you are standing there in amazement, someone will turn to you and ask, "Which prophet time did you live in?" And when you say "Gordon B. Hinckley," a hush will fall over every hall, every corridor in heaven and all in attendance will bow at your presence. You were held back six thousand years because you were the most talented, most obedient, most courageous, and most righteous. Are you still? Remember who you are!"

This was a persistent quote; I heard it multiple times during the course of my teenage years.  Later I found out Mormon authorities had gone so far as to debunk the quote – in 2008, they issued the following disclaimer:

“A statement has been circulated that asserts in part that the youth of the Church today “were generals in the war in heaven . . . and [someone will] ask you, ‘Which of the prophet’s time did you live in?’ and when you say ‘Gordon B. Hinckley’ a hush will fall, . . . and all in attendance will bow at your presence.”
This is a false statement. It is not Church doctrine. At various times, this statement has been attributed erroneously to President Thomas S. Monson, President Henry B. Eyring, President Boyd K. Packer, and others. None of these Brethren made this statement.”

            I made the error of assuming this disclaimer meant the entire statement was false.  But as some friendly ex-Mormons were kind enough to point out, the truth is a little more complicated than I realized. 
            On March 4, 1979, Ezra Taft Benson, who at the time was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve and who became the President of the Mormon Church in 1985, gave a fireside talk to students at Brigham Young University:

“For nearly six thousand years, God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the Second Coming of the Lord. Every previous gospel dispensation has drifted into apostasy, but ours will not. True, there will be some individuals who will fall away; but the kingdom of God will remain intact to welcome the return of its head—even Jesus Christ. While our generation will be comparable in wickedness to the days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood, there is a major difference this time. It is that God has saved for the final inning some of his strongest children, who will help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly. And that is where you come in, for you are the generation that must be prepared to meet your God."
All through the ages the prophets have looked down through the corridors of time to our day. Billions of the deceased and those yet to be born have their eyes on us. Make no mistake about it—you are a marked generation. There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time as there is of us. Never before on the face of this earth have the forces of evil and the forces of good been as well organized. Now is the great day of the devil's power, with the greatest mass murderers of all time living among us. But now is also the great day of the Lord's power, with the greatest number ever of priesthood holders on the earth. And the showdown is fast approaching.”

So now I feel foolish.  I had assumed the retraction was for the entire statement – instead, the retraction was simply for the idea that people will bow down to you, as well as the fact that no Mormon leader had made that specific statement.  But the idea of God holding my generation back – of one generation being better than another – is an idea that was perpetuated by no less than Ezra Taft Benson, whom as a child I considered to be a living Prophet, a person that I thought communed with God.  
I guess this particular urban legend serves as a reminder of the difficulties in establishing Mormon doctrine versus myth.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Even Colbert Is Getting Cranky

Stephen Colbert - infamous for his ability to make Americans laugh about the sometimes heart-breaking absurdities of politics - is getting cranky.  Some of the quotes from his coverage of the Republican National Convention include:

 "Ryan stretching the truth to make his speech more effective is just another form of doping.  In that, if you believe him, you are a dope."

"That's a great new slogan.  Fox News: Shut Up And Watch."

"'Our dining room table was a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen' -- Ann Romney

Can you imagine?  It must have been so awkward when the maid interrupted their dinner to iron."

"The lame-stream nit-pick patrol are now saying there were other times when Ryan misrepresented the facts in his speech.  Here's when they say he was lying - riiiiight there when he starts moving his lips!"

Election cycles are grueling.  In 2004, I was agitated between the rock and a harder place of Kerry and Bush.  I wasn't enthusiastic about John Kerry but I also didn't like the jingoist war-mongering of Bush's presidency.  In 2008, I was considerably perturbed to see McCain - a maverick whose views I didn't agree with but whose integrity I had always respected - devolve into a politician pandering to the lowest common denominator.  This election, I have been transfixed by the candidacy of Mitt Romney: his endless flip-flopping, handy ease with facts, and irritation towards dissent remind me of Mormon authorities in a way that invokes unpleasant memories of my past.  Then Romney picked Paul Ryan as a running mate and the situation has been devolving ever since.  Last week's Republican convention made me long for the old 'Etch-A-Sketch' days, when people assumed Romney would once again shift to a centrist position after securing his party's nomination.    

I thought elections couldn't get any worse than the last one.  But in the past four years, I have watched our legislators squabble like children, forgetting the people whom they have sworn to uphold and serve.  Working together to solve the problems of our nation seems to be a dim memory.  

I don't know what the outcome of this election will be.  When a comedian whose job is to make people laugh at the absurd runs out of jokes, I find myself afraid for the future of my country.  What is in store for us as a nation?  Will we allow our politicians to continue distorting facts and blocking necessary legislation on partisan grounds?  Or will we dig deep as a nation and demand a higher standard of the people we have elected to serve us?  

Jon Huntsman Jr, former Governor of Utah and Ambassador to China, came onto the Colbert Report last week.  When Stephen Colbert asked him about the future of the Republican party, his response was:  

"It's got to be more.  It's got to have a heart and soul.  It's got to have solutions for this country.  When was the last time we sat down as a people and talked about solutions?"