Apr 29, 2008

Why Polygamy Makes Me Feel Like Nancy Kerrigan

Sometimes I get the urge to belt out "WHY?!" in Nancy Kerrigan fashion when I think about my reasons for staying active in the Church. Spiritually speaking, it often feels like I keep on getting whacked in the knees with a metal bar.

I could sit here and write until my fingers fall off about all the conflicts and inconsistencies that would make it seemingly justifiable for me to go inactive -- and any one of them would probably seem sensible to 99% of those polled.

The issue that has probably been on most of our minds lately is, of course, polygamy. Specifically, the FLDS fiasco going on the U.S. right now. I've read different postings from different people, LDS and non-LDS, and I can sympathize with most of them. Here are a few of my personal thoughts on the issue.

I got up this morning and one of the first things I read in the news is that of 53 girls aged 14-17 on the FLDS ranch, 31 of them have children or are pregnant. I know that there are many factors that can be argued to make this understandable, perhaps even justifiable because of their unique faith and culture, but to be perfectly honest, I'm just not ready to accept that it's right -- in any context. I wonder if any man could relate because I honestly think you have to be female in order to truly fathom (and even then, you'd probably still come up short unless you've experienced it first-hand) what it's like to be 14-15 years old, have some guy in his 50's take you away from your family and into his bedroom, undress you, impregnate you, and then to have to go through the physical and emotional trials of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. Whether these men are perverts or not is actually not even an issue. Girls at this age should not be having sex or babies, whether it's FLDS girls, the 8 year-old in Yemen who was recently granted a divorce after being forced to have sex with her husband, or 12 and 13 year-olds in Ethiopia having their bodies literally ripped apart from childbirth and having to live with the shame of a fistula, dripping feces and urine, for the rest of their lives. Yes, I know that 12 and 13 year-olds are willingly having sex every day but darn it, how does that make it right?

I've read plenty of arguments for leaving these people alone, that the government shouldn't be meddling, that separating the children from their mothers and putting them in foster care is cruel and traumatic for them, etc, etc. I can sympathize with these arguments, particularly the last one. And yet I have to ask what choice the government has? Even if the government is violating civil rights left and right, which maybe they are, is it not worth it in order to save even just one 14 year-old from being impregnated? Some say no, I grudgingly say yes. And perhaps the only "good" reason I can give for saying yes is that I remember what I was like at 14 or 17 and can only imagine what it would have been like for me to be "Sarah" or any one of those girls. (If you're having trouble relating, read the book by Khaled Hosseini that I mentioned in my previous posting.) In my opinion, the government is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't. I'm sure there's a good chance it may all blow up in the government's face, perhaps they won't have a case, and later on there will be a review of everything that was done wrong. On the other hand, what are the chances that years down the road people won't look back and say that the government of the United States failed countless children who were victimized in the name of religion?

So what does this have to do with me and my going or not going to church? Well, actually it has EVERYTHING to do with it.

I have trouble being one of those Mormons that believes that the LDS Church has a monopoly on the right to practice polygamy. It baffles me that many members can look at the FLDS' practice of polygamy with the same disgust that I do, if not even more, and yet have no trouble justifying it in LDS history. I think that we would like to believe it was like "Big Love" or that it was a safe haven for all the poor young widows and spinsters. If it were really like that, then really, what's not to embrace? (It might not have been for me, but maybe under the right circumstances it would have. Who knows?) The part that I will forever struggle with is why the Lord would ever want a mature man to marry a young girl, as Joseph Smith did. I'm trying to understand why it could ever be right, under any circumstances. I'd like to believe Joseph was a gentleman and I know it was a different time and I know that the laws were probably different concerning minors, but is that all it takes to make something acceptable or not acceptable? I welcome any theories or observations you may have to share.

I have asked myself repeatedly how I can continue to call myself a follower of a religion that has a lot more in common with the FLDS than any of us want to admit. The only answer I can come up with is, like I said in my blog introduction, there's more to Mormonism than meets the eye.

And just for the record, I am still going faithfully to church every Sunday, even though I'm often visited by Tonya Harding while I'm there. I don't want to have to drop the first half of my name. :)

Apr 16, 2008

Flunking Feminist

I'm a "bad" feminist.

Honestly, I'm grateful for just about everything in my life and I can honestly say that I take very little for granted. I'm extremely grateful for good health of body and mind, freedom, peace, and an abundance of good food, clean water. I often feel guilty that most of the world is lacking the basics, while everything has more or less been served to me on a silver platter. I think about this frequently and try to make up for it by doing what I can to make a positive impact in this world.

There is, perhaps, one thing that I do take for granted. All my life, I've basically assumed that I could do pretty much whatever I wanted. I am the oldest of 5 children and the only girl. My parents provided us all with anything a kid could realistically ever require and they never said I couldn't do something just because I was a girl, whether it was becoming a paleontoligist or a hockey player. It never really occurred to me that I couldn't do any of these things just because of my sex. And, had I decided to pursue any of these careers, I probably would have had few, if any, obstacles due to being female.

As a girl and young woman, I gave little thought to feminism. Perhaps I shunned it because I was such a tomboy growing up. I felt ashamed of acting (and for a while, even looking) feminine, but luckily that was just a phase. If you had asked me what I thought about for example women's suffrage, I would have told you I thought it was important, but I probably couldn't (and still don't) fully appreciate the struggle of women that have gone before me. Things like the bra-burning era were before my time and I must admit that I've given little thought to the feminist movement in general. In fact, if you had asked me what I thought about feminism, it would have mostly been negative. I looked at feminists, for the most part, as haughty and career-obsessed women who were out to put down women like my mother, who doesn't have a college degree (yet is still one of the smartest and wisest people I know) and has been a stay-at-home mom since I was born. I felt like these women would look down upon me if I wanted to get married and raise a family. At the same time, I knew from a young age that I was never going to be Molly Mormon. Now, as an adult, I live in a part of the world where gender equality is as good as it gets and I get angry when I see that "traditional" women are mocked and looked down upon; not by men, but by fellow women.

Last night I read an interesting excerpt from a speech given by Claudia L. Bushman entitled Should Mormon Women Speak Out? There was one paragraph in particular that reminded me of when I was in YW. She says:

"Many of us have visited the Nauvoo statuary garden where there are sculptures of women at various stages of their lives: Little girls, students, brides, mothers. I thought that this was all very nice until I came to the end of the line. The last statue shows an elderly woman, frail, alone. She sits in a rocking chair sewing on a quilt. The title of this sculpture, which haunts me, is Fulfillment. I like to rock. I like to quilt, and it is true that the quilt pattern she is stitching is called "Eternal Marriage," but she is still quiet and alone. That sculpture is not my idea of fulfillment. Surely there is something more for the wise, experienced, creative women of the Church to do than sit, rock, and stitch. My conclusion from this little exercise is that, in general, women of the Church live much more passive, isolated, and silent lives than men."

Fulfillment is an interesting topic because I've come to learn that, just like one man's trash is another's treasure, one man's (or woman's) fulfillment is another's nightmare. In YW, we would always get the usual lessons about chastity, temple marriage and motherhood, along with appropriate activities. I used to get angry when I saw the YW playing floor hockey or basketball while we were sewing or baking cookies. I remember being a Mia Maid and having our leader telling us how when we married our future husbands, we would love them so much that our biggest desire would be to bear their children. I remember thinking to myself that I would never love anyone THAT much. Now I'm married and I was right.

I often feel caught in the middle because I resent both sides. I resent being made to feel like a "tool" to be used at my husband's will to beget his children and yet, at the same time, I resent those who say that it's wrong or weak-minded of me to do so if I choose. And it's being able to choose that is most important to me. I came to appreciate that precious gift of choice even more after reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini last year. So many girls and women in this world are the victims of circumstance and the class that they are born into will often determine virtually every aspect of their lives. I think every woman needs to read that book because it will humble you to the point of outrage and open your eyes to the injustices in this world. You think you know, but I can say that unless you've read this book, you haven't even begun to know. Who knows, it might even turn you into a feminist!

Apr 9, 2008

"To enter or not to enter... that is the question!"

To all those other wishy-washy Mormons out there like me, who:

A) Attend church regularly...
B) Believe in God, Jesus, The Holy Ghost, and the Gospel in general...
C) Pay tithing, keep the Law Of Chastity, Word of Wisdom, and can basically pass a temple recommend interview with flying colours, but perhaps feel a little shaky on certain things...
D) Are honest and would consider themselves an all-round "good" person...

What are your personal criteria for whether or not you are worthy to go to the temple? How do know that your faith is not sufficient in order to enter the temple without bringing condemnation upon yourself?

Apr 7, 2008

When Knowledge Becomes A Burden

Sometimes I really do think that ignorance is bliss. When it comes to the Church, maybe the old saying "what you don't know can't hurt you" really is true. To some of us, it seems that the more knowledge we acquire about the history or doctrines of the Church, the heavier a burden it becomes.

I've had the opportunity to attend church in several different countries and languages. In some countries, members have the bare minimum of Church materials in their native language. They may only have selections of the Book of Mormon and a few official lesson manuals. When it comes to supplementary reading, it can be pretty scarce. I mean how many Mormon-related books in a language besides English can you think of? I remember thinking to myself after reading Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman that anyone who can't read English would be missing out on a fantastic book. And that goes for all the other books out there that we enjoy and take for granted as English-speakers. A lot of people are missing out on some valuable insight simply because these resources are not available to them. Talk about an advantage for us!

But sometimes I think that it's a disadvantage. I know that sounds strange, because knowledge is the only thing we can take with us from this life and the more we gain, the better, right? So how could knowledge ever be a bad thing??? I feel very conflicted within myself because of my insatiable desire to find out as much as I can, combined with a longing to go back to that childlike innocence I had years ago when everything in the Church made perfect sense to me. I know the Lord says that His "yoke is easy," but sometimes I feel a lot like the donkey in the picture.

Could it be that there's a good reason for the apparent lack of addressing controversial issues within the Church? We often hear of "precept upon precept." Maybe most of us really can't handle the truth if it were given to us now? (That's actually a pretty scary thought because it makes me think that the Lord is just holding back on something that would make me go off the deep-end if I knew the whole story.) And in the end, how does it affect the validity of the Gospel?

Apr 5, 2008

Moral Dilemmas: Sorting Out Who Stays And Who Goes

When it comes to abortion, I hate the fact that babies, whether still in the womb or not, are literally tossed as garbage on the streets. I hate the fact that some women view abortion as a method of birth control. I hate the fact that many choose to terminate a pregnancy because the fetus tests positive for Down's Syndrome. I hate the fact that when the consequences of being promiscuous or having an affair are too much to deal with, abortion can be your "get out of jail card." And yet, despite all this, I'm glad that the option is available to women and children -- because yes, some of them are still children -- who are raped or whose lives are at stake.

Of course, as members of the Church, we are instructed that abortion is not sinful in the case of victims of incest, rape, or where the mother's life is in jeopardy. Still, have you ever thought about how a law prohibiting abortion, except in those cases mentioned, would be enforced? How many women would falsely cry rape in order to get an abortion? And demanding "proof" would open a collossal can of worms. The bottom line is that society is paying a human price for the protection of the rights of those who are victimized. It's a huge price to pay because although I don't have any statistics, I would bet that the number of elective abortions (meaning those who had no morally valid reason for terminating the pregnancy) performed in the US greatly outnumber those performed on victims of rape or illness. Some would say it's too high of a price to pay.

Abortion opponents are often against embryonic stem cell research because of the destruction of human embryos. When it comes to stem cell research, whether it's morally right or wrong is not my call because I'm not the Moral Authority. But I've given a lot of thought to this issue and in my view, it requires the same sort of sacrifice that abortion rights do. Just as in the case of a mother's life being in peril, stem cell research requires the sacrifice of one life in order to save another. The difference is, of course, that we still know little about the potential of stem cells. We could be destroying human embryos for nothing, or we could be missing out on cures for a host of illnesses and disorders because research is not being carried out. Let's assume that the human embryo holds the cure to MS, Parkinson's or paralysis, just to name a few. Is it wrong that changing, or perhaps even saving, a human being take precedence over a human cell? Are we sacrificing the lives of people among us in order to preserve a life in its very first stage? And if so, is it worth it?

I guess the point I've been trying to make is think before you hop on any bandwagon. I mean REALLY think about what you are fighting for and want to see happen. You might just find yourself reconsidering once you find that things aren't so black and white.

Apr 2, 2008

Fact Or Fiction: Distinguishing Doctrine From Speculation

I was reading "What Is Official Doctrine" by Stephen E. Robertson and just had a few thoughts that I wanted to post and get feedback on. Robertson's words are in italics.

"The Church has confined the sources of doctrine by which it is willing to be bound before the world to the things that God has revealed, and which the Church has officially accepted, and those alone. These would include the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price; these have been repeatedly accepted and endorsed by the Church in general conference assembled, and are the only sources of absolute appeal for our doctrine."

(When I hear the term “Mormon Doctrine,” Bruce R. McConkie’s book Mormon Doctrine comes to mind. I used to read it as a child and although some things seemed really strange to me, in my juvenile ignorance I just assumed it was indeed Mormon doctrine. Now I wonder how he was even allowed to publish a book with that title without any consequences, that I know of, imposed by The First Presidency. I think that the title was actually quite misleading. “Mormon Theory” or “Mormon Speculation” would have perhaps been more appropriate.)

Usually the critics insist that the Latter-day Saints must defend as doctrine everything that Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or any other General Authority ever said. (See "Are Brigham Young's Sermons Scripture") But the LDS concept of doctrine simply cannot be stretched this far. The Latter-day Saints allow that sometimes the living prophet speaks in his role as prophet and sometimes he simply states his own opinions. This distinction is no different than that made in some other Christian denominations. For example, even though Roman Catholics believe in "papal infallibility," they insist that the pope is infallible only in certain clearly defined circumstances --when he speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals. Cannot the Latter-day Saints be allowed a similar distinction? The LDS view was expressed succinctly by Joseph Smith himself: "I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such."

Finally, from an LDS point of view some things may be correct without being official Church doctrine. For example, it is probably true that the sum of the squares of the sides of a right triangle is equal to the square of its hypotenuse, but the Pythagorean theorem has never been sustained in a general conference of the Church. Similarly the doctrinal opinions of individual Latter-day Saints could very well turn out to be correct--and some such opinions are believed by many of the Saints --but that does not make them the official doctrine of the Church. This category of things that may be true and that are believed by some in the Church is confusing to members and nonmembers alike. Hence the Brethren have insisted again and again that the members avoid such speculative matters and teach only from the standard works, for only they contain the official doctrines of the Church.

(Why then do we not just teach from the Standard Works, but also from manuals containing teachings from various prophets? Some of the anecdotes and statements written in these manuals may have been recorded when a prophet was merely stating his opinion and not necessarily prophetically. So how do we know? Also, regarding church manuals, I was surprised and disappointed to discover that in the Joseph Smith manual that we're studying this year, the subject of polygamy is nowhere to be found. Not even mentioned! I've often thought that investigators who read only church materials can be led to believe that Emma was Joseph's one and only wife. I wonder why this doctrine, as troubling as it can be to us today, is white-washed or at times completely ignored by current Church publications. Yes, it was controversial. But it was fact and it was very important to Church history. Trying to erase the past is, in my opinion, not a solution. What do you think?)