Showing posts with label Mormon Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mormon Church. Show all posts

Monday, June 23, 2014

Exhaustion and the Kate Kelly Excommunication

              Kate Kelly, leader of the “Ordain Women” group, was officially excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church. Kate Kelly is the leader of the Ordain Women group, which advocated for giving women the priesthood, which in the Mormon Church is a necessary prerequisite for any positions of authority. 
              To give you a little perspective on the issue, boys are given the Aaronic priesthood at the age of twelve. At sixteen, boys are granted the Melchezidek priesthood. Ultimately, holding the priesthood is a necessary prerequisite for any position of authority within the Mormon Church. There are a few women who hold offices – but even these leadership positions can be over-ridden at any point by the male authorities.
              When I was a young adolescent, I went to girls’ camp every summer. The camp was directed by women who had volunteered their time to organize and direct the camp. At the time, I never questioned the fact that there was always a male member of the priesthood present at camp. Sometimes the bishop, sometimes one of the counselors, there was always at least one male priesthood holder in residence. I didn’t realize that there was a policy that all-female must be chaperoned by a male priesthood holder. Church authorities – by definition male, by virtue of the priesthood exclusion on females – are allowed to sit in on any female meeting. The authorities are also allowed to over-ride any decision made by the few female leaders within the Mormon Church.
Kate Kelly, with her Ordain Women movement, was seeking to make Mormonism a friendlier, more egalitarian religion. But, as they have shown, the Mormon authorities are not ready for change. Once again, the Mormon Church is heading backwards.
Over the past week, as I have been watching as the Kate Kelly sage unfold, my predominant emotion has been exhaustion. I’m tired. I’m tired of my Mormon legacy, of having to deal with the inherent sexism that I grew up with, the inflexibility and obfuscation of Mormon leaders. The Mormon authorities don’t release their financial reports, aren’t honest about the unsavory aspects of their history, and continue to oppose any broadening of social rights. My Mormon past is an uncomfortable burden to bear. I wish that Kate Kelly had been granted the opportunity to make Mormonism a friendlier religion. But she wasn't and I'm no longer Mormon. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Woman Who Wore Pants To Church

          This Sunday, December 16th, a group of Mormon women are planning a peaceful demonstration called “Wear Pants To Church Sunday”. This demonstration is only significant within the context of Mormon culture, which has very strong expectations for women to wear skirts to church. Pants aren’t forbidden; if a woman chooses to wear pants to Sunday service, no formal disciplinary action will be taken. From the outside, there seems to be no issue surrounding women wearing pants to church.
          As the organizers of the “Wear Pants To Church Sunday” event are discovering, there is a deep antagonism within Mormonism against the idea of women wearing pants to church. Some of the comments from the event’s Facebook page include:

“I cannot support an event that seeks to question divinely inspired doctrine about the roles of men and women. We are not meant to be the same. I can't believe how many women are listening to the Worldly view and Instead of celebrating their divine attributes and differences they want to change who God created them to be so they can be like their male counterparts.”

“ In 1993 president packer said one of the greatest threats to the church is feminism within the church itself, looks like that revelation is starting to come to pass right before our eyes, way to bring more negative attention to the church ladies”

“While you're at it why not shave your head, have your breasts removed and get your tubes tied? that'll show em”

          One of the women in my childhood congregation wore pantsuits to church every Sunday. She was the only woman brave enough to wear pants; members dismissed her actions by saying – “Oh, that’s just Carla*, she does whatever she wants.” Carla’s husband had served as bishop and came from a respectable Mormon family; no one dared to suggest that her pantsuits were a sign of apostasy.

          Carla was an outspoken matriarch, a woman that many people feared, myself included. My first memory of Carla was as a five-year old girl returning to the chapel from the bathroom. I walked into the chapel and sat down next to my mother. Or at least, I sat next to the woman that looked like my mother from the back. I slipped into the church-pew and snuggled up to the woman I thought was my mother, only to look up at the face of Carla. I started crying – loud,anxious tears that scandalized my mother. Seeing my confusion, Carla put her arms around me and told me that I was welcome to sit next to her. I shook my head and ran back to my mother, who was sitting a couple pews behind. 
          Most of the people in our ward feared Carla. She was the organist and in charge of all of the musical activities. She possessed an efficiency and take-charge attitude that, as a child, I feared, and as an adult, I envy. Carla was the real deal, a woman who raised eight children on a professor’s salary, ran the church music service, and still had the guts to speak her mind. Over the years, Carla, with her usual blunt manner, has asked me if I was anorexic (all ballet dancers are anorexic!), why I dyed my hair red (people spend lots of money to get the blonde hair you already have!),and trotted me around her daughter’s bridal shower with the triumphant news that I had finished my first year of college with straight-A’s. Straight-A’s! she said. That’s something to be proud of! I had been doubting my achievements; Carla's praise made me proud again. 
          Carla was outspoken, which made many of the members uncomfortable, as there is an unwritten rule against dissent. Carla was also honest. She served as the Relief Society president when I was in high school; those were the years that my mother enjoyed Relief Society. After church, my mother recounted tales of Carla presiding over lessons – listing virtues, preaching values – only for Carla to end the lesson by saying – “Well, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t actually met anyone that can fulfill these criteria.” Carla was a rare flash of honesty in the sea of the Prozac-fueled “happy, happy, happy” denial that is Mormon culture. My mother was too quiet to wear pantsuits or to speak her dissenting opinions; Carla was the woman that gave voice to my mother’s unease. 
          My father didn’t like Carla much; he complained that she was too bossy, too opinionated, too controlling. Carla was in charge of directing the music and my father was a musician; the two of them had many battles concerning the musical numbers. Carla was the rare woman with the courage to contradict my father. 
          Carla also wore pantsuits every Sunday, an act of independence that no one dared to speak about. I am not sure why she chose to wear pantsuits; I don’t think she wore them to make a statement or to create controversy. I never questioned Carla’s pantsuits; I also never questioned the fact that no other women wore pants. I too dismissed Carla’s pantsuits as just an eccentricity. 
          I never really understood Carla. As a Mormon, I thought she was too outspoken. As an ex-Mormon,I didn’t understand why she stayed within Mormonism. Now that I have a deeper understanding of the courage required to defy Mormon conventions, I realize that I dismissed her too easily. There isn’t a lot of room within Mormon culture for women like Carla; there are strong expectations for women to be soft-spoken and submissive. Carla was none of these; the fact that she was able to be herself in a culture that was stacked against her is a testament to her strength of will. Carla was a path-breaker, the type of woman that walked to the beat of her own drum. 
          Carla was the woman that wore pants to church. 

*Name has been changed

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. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Feminist Mormons

          These past few years, I have been noticing an unusual phenomenon - the presence of liberal feminist Mormon women.  Between Feminist Mormon Housewives, The Exponent, and Joanna Brooks, there is a faction of women within the church that are laying claim to their right to be liberal and Mormon.  And I am very grateful for the work of these courageous women, as they are fighting to create a place for my mother and sister, who are liberal Democrat Mormon women with careers.  
          When I was a Mormon, I knew many fantastic women, my mother being one of them.  But most of them were very quiet about their convictions.  My mother is a Democrat, one who has hinted at pro-gay marriage and pro-choice convictions.  She is my mother and I love her with a fierce conviction.  Touch a hair on my mother’s head and I will eviscerate you.  I am grateful to the courageous women that are working within the Church to make life better for my mother.  
          This rise of feminist women within the Church is forcing me to re-evaluate my precise reasons for leaving the Mormon Church.  It is true that I felt like I was being forced into a box that did not fit - marriage, children, homemaking.  The thought of my future as a Mormon woman filled me up with terror.  What if I had stayed and become part of the feminist Mormon movement?  Would that have been an acceptable compromise between my personal convictions and the rigid intolerant faith I was raised in?  What if I had stayed and fought the good fight?
          The more I examine my convictions, the more I realize that the narrow mold of life as a Mormon woman was not my only reason for leaving.  The core reason for my departure from the Mormon Church is simple.  I do not believe the Mormon Church is true.  I do not believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.  I do not believe the Book of Mormon is true.  I cannot support the current authorities in good faith.  
         Post-Mormonism, as I have examined my convictions, I have arrived at the conclusion that I am an agnostic atheist with humanist tendencies.  I don’t know if there is a god or not; I suspect there isn’t.  In the meantime, I take comfort in the basic goodness of humanity - people are capable of amazing things.  And for me, this is enough.  I will live the best life I know how and find joy in the tiny beautiful things.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Excess In Moderation

          My up-bringing taught me to fear the outside world.  Coffee, tea, alcohol, sleeveless shirts, premarital sex - all were considered to be very serious offenses against God.  When I left Mormonism, I had little to rely on as a guide to right or wrong.  I associated fear and shame with actions that mainstream culture accepted.  And so I found myself navigating a strange road as I examined my own internal values.  
          I have never been a wild personality; I am not one for partying or crazy stunts.  Even as a freshman in college, out of my parents’ home for the first time in my life, I was still tame by the standards of my peers.  There were some drunken escapades that we laughed about afterwards but overall, I was a student who spent most of her time in the library studying.  My evolution was slow and a practice in studied moderation; I didn’t want to be defined by what I did and did not do.  As a Mormon, I had been defined by what was considered sin.  As a post-Mormon, I did not want to be defined by what I no longer considered to be sin.  
          So my experimentation was gradual.  I started with cursing, to vocalize my emotional turmoil.  I was eighteen when I wore my first tank top; the feeling of a breeze on my shoulders was both foreign and liberating.  My first beer was Keystone Light, at a frat party my first week of college.  I hated the watery horse-piss taste of Keystone but later discovered I loved hefty beers such as Guinness and Young’s.  Coffee was a delightful surprise, as I discovered the joys of well-brewed coffee (the discovery of which coincided with the joys of romance).  Intimacy was harder, as I was very shy and had never been taught proper boundaries.  But contrary to all of the dire threats I grew up with, I learned to navigate my sexuality in a safe and respectful manner.  And when I did meet my husband, our pasts were simply something that added depth to our character.  My mother was quite distraught when we moved in together but living together before marriage was important to my own personal values.  I view marriage - and family - as commitments that should not be entered without careful reflection and research.  
          Bit by bit, I sampled the different options available to me.  Over the years, I have evolved into a beer-drinking, coffee-sipping woman who believes in taking responsibility for your actions.  As long as no one gets hurt, the choices of an individual should be respected and allowed.   
          I enjoy excess - in moderation. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Every Member A Missionary

          The one inviolable tenet of Mormonism is the idea that the Mormon Church is the "one and only true Church" on Earth.  This fact is the driving force behind the aggressive proseletyzing efforts; Mormons believe that the Mormon Church is the only avenue to Heaven.  To bolster conversion rates, every young man is expected to serve a two-year proseletyzing mission.  The pressure to serve a mission is very intense; the young women of the church are instructed not to date men that haven't served missions.  

          In addition to full-time missions, members are expected to use their relationships with non-members in order to boost conversion.  The idea is that "every member is a missionary" and should be on the look-out to promote the Church.   To this effect, my peers and I availed ourselves of every possible opportunity to invite friends to youth activities.  Most of the time, our friends would come to the activities but say no to conversion.  A few of them were baptized; some remained in the church, others became inactive after a few months. My father was also very vigilant about trying to convert people; sooner or later he would try to give every non-member friend a Book of Mormon.  Most of the time, he ended up alienating potential friends with his excessive zeal.

          This attitude of members that every person needs to be Mormon is part kindness, part arrogance.  Kindness because members want non-members to be happy and think that they need Mormonism to attain happiness.  Arrogance because members believe that their way of life is superior to others.  At church, I felt uncomfortable by the attitude that non-members were lost and confused.  Our entire culture was built around the idea that we were the only people with the truth and that we needed to spread the truth to world at large.  

          By promoting this idea of "every member a missionary", relationships between members and non-members are fraught with the tension of potential conversion.  Some members are able to maintain respectful interfaith relationships.  Others aren't.  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Learning Not Very Useful Truths

“There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not.  Some things that are true are not very useful.”1  

Boyd K Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

          As a faithful Mormon girl, I was warned to never read literature concerning the Mormon church that had not been approved by the Church.  The leaders taught us that Satan was looking to lead faithful Mormons astray.  To maintain the faith, I needed to stay in the warm, cozy confines of Church-sanctioned truth.  And I believed the warnings.  Straying outside the confines of Church literature never even occurred to me.  I didn’t leave the Church because I read “anti”-Mormon literature.  I left because the attitudes within the Church didn’t feel right and I had a hunch that there was a wider world waiting for me outside the confines of a rigid belief system.  
          I only learned about the dirty secrets of Mormon history after leaving.  I was in my mid-twenties when I learned about Joseph Smith’s 33 wives, a truth that directly contradicted the myth of Joseph and Emma’s love story.2  I am still learning about the many permutations of the First Vision, which is a “not-very-useful truth” that casts an unforgiving light on the true origins of Mormonism.3  As a person who was trained in genetics, I am painfully aware of the fact that there is no proof that the civilizations described in the Book of Mormon ever existed.4  The list of “not-very-useful truths” about the Mormon Church is a mile long.  And the majority of these facts are unbeknownst to my family.  To mention these truths to my family would expose me to anger and the accusation of being “anti”-Mormon.  True or not, even the slightest hint of criticism would be an affront to my family and their religion.  
          When I learned these truths, I felt betrayed by the church I had grown up in.  Learning the truth strengthened my conviction that I had made the right choice in leaving.  But I learned these truths only after leaving; why then should these issues matter so much to me?  
          The reason I care so much about the “not-very-useful” truths is because the actions of Mormon authorities --- to bury the past in secrecy --- infantilizes members.  I was raised to place blind faith in authorities; now I know these authorities to be dishonest.  The tendency to place blind trust in authorities is a trait that has lingered even past my break with the Church.  As people, we deserve the right to question the actions of authorities.  We deserve the right to question if authorities are acting in our best interest.  However, the Mormon church forbids dissension of any sort; criticism of church authorities is a very serious matter and can lead to excommunication.