Jun 12, 2008

Is This Mission Impossible?

A few days ago my husband and I were enjoying a nice walk and talking about different things, including politics and religion. I must have been in a really good mood because I finally told him about my blog. (I had kept it a complete secret for the first few months.) I thought he might have overheard the fact that I had a blog when I told some of my close family members about it, but I don't think he had. So I told him about it and I was glad I did because I had sort of felt the past few months that I needed to get it off my chest. I figured that that day was as good a time as any.

So why didn't I tell him about it right away? As regular readers would already know, I'm married to a non-member. He's always respected my beliefs and way of life, some people even refer to him as a "Dry Mormon," but he hasn't thus far felt the desire to get baptized and commit to the Gospel himself. I would be lying if I said it hasn't been hard sometimes, but I understand and respect his feelings.

In my blog, I vent and/or discuss some pretty heavy subjects. One of the main reasons for keeping my blog a secret from family and friends, besides the fact that I like my anonymity, is that I've been afraid to drag people down with me. I'm afraid that it's more than most people can handle and I have no solutions to offer.

My husband used to go to church with me all the time and he is very familiar with the Church, our beliefs, way of life, and unique culture. He never promised me that he would get baptized, I never asked him to, and this arrangement has worked very well for us. He accepts and loves me for who I am and I do likewise. Religion-wise, he probably felt that he knew exactly what he was getting himself into when he married me. He knew a bit about polygamy and that wasn't enough to make him run away screaming, but I was always afraid about telling him about the Priesthood Ban. I'm not usually a procrastinator, but I admit I was in no hurry to tell him about it. I knew that he would eventually find out somehow, but I remember crossing my fingers that no one at church would bring it up in conversation or during a lesson. I was always afraid that he would flip out or think I was nuts for believing in Mormonism, that he would lose all respect for me and every other Mormon out there for being part of a racist religion. I used to research the topic, in preparation for that day when he would ask about it, so that I would be able to explain it. But I never found an explanation that I thought he would be satisfied with, because it never satisfied me either. It seemed like any attempt to explain it just led to more troubling and confusing theories, so I decided to leave it alone and just hope for the best. Eventually he did find out about the Priesthood Ban and to my relief, he didn't flip out or criticize my faith. I told him of the possible reasons for it and touched on some of the racist myths presented in the past. Still, he is
troubled by it as we all should be.

I'd like to think that God gave us all common sense for a reason and sometimes it seems that we have to brush conscience and common sense aside in order to have faith. In this day and age, our conscience and common sense (depending on how and where we're raised) tell us that it's bad to be racist, it's bad to have more than one wife (particularly if they're underage), etc. We could take all the troubling aspects of Mormonism and when we try to justify it by applying common sense, we usually come up empty-handed. In fact, in order to believe in and accept some of the most difficult doctrines, you have to be willing to not let common sense prevail. If you try, you can drive yourself mad and easily leave, feeling disillusioned and misled. While I don't think I've ever been really angry at God, I sometimes think, "C'mon God. This is what you give us, so what do You expect?"

The Church is growing rapidly in many places in the world, so obviously not everyone is struggling with the same issues that I am. Critics would argue that the Church is preying on the poor and uneducated, who don't know any better when they think that they have found "The Truth." But I believe that even the poor and uneducated have been given a conscience and common sense like the rest of us (though small details may vary according to circumstances), so that they, too, have to sometimes make intellectual sacrifices in order to accept the Gospel. Still, I feel torn because I feel that some of the finest, most Christlike people will never be able to accept the Gospel because they feel that the true Gospel of Christ would never require anyone to break moral laws (i.e. polygamy) or discriminate on the basis of race (i.e. Priesthood Ban), just to name a couple of examples. So why would they want to accept or spread the word about such a religion?

I'm not sure why God made some doctrines, new and old, so difficult. I'm not even sure that it's really all from God. And I'm not sure where to even point the finger of blame: God? General Authorities? Individual prophets? Ourselves? However, I know that my faith has made me a better person and that's why I stay in the Church. It saddens me to see some very good and moral people unable to accept The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because certain aspects of it go against basic truths of decency that they uphold in their lives. But I understand it because I know how hard it is to see beyond things that have happened in our past as a Church. I don't like hearing excuses, so I guess I feel ashamed to offer them. It can make being a missionary very, very difficult.

Sometimes it feels like Mission Impossible.


Anonymous said...

Does it bother you or your husband that the Word of Wisdom given as a health code for the weakest of weak is now a reason for an otherwise moral person being denied membership in the True Church.. A cup of coffee stands firmly in the way, yet I can eat all of the meat I want even though the same document tells us that we should eat meat sparingly, and only in the winter and time of famine... So many common sense rules have now evolved? into revelations. At least God came out and TOLD Joseph to practice poligomy.. My thoughts... Xloaner

Kelli W. said...

But we don't practice polygamy. And we don't promote racism. You write as though these are problems for members of the church today but that isn't the case. Far from it. Thank goodness we have modern revelation to guide us through even our day...not just the past. We may never know WHY some of the early members practiced polygamy, or WHY the blacks couldn't hold the priesthood for a time, but the fact is that we don't now and the priesthood is available to ALL men. It doesn't need to be a source of embarrassment for you. Look at the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ and let that be your guide and source of strength. Sometimes focusing on the past can be destructive because you can't get the answers you want...but I do know the Lord wants us to trust Him. I figure He knows what he's doing so I won't worry about it. The Gospel offers so much more to focus on than a controversial past.
I hope you don't take this as trivializing your concerns, I'm just offering another thought.
Best wishes to you!

The Faithful Dissident said...

Xloaner, I sympathize with you on the meat thing. I'm a vegetarian myself (except for a bit of fish), mostly for ethical reasons, but I think that meat consumption, particularly the HUGE meat consumption of places like the US, Canada and western Europe, is going against the Word of Wisdom. I know that many people would like to argue that, and as you point out the Church won't kick you out for eating a porterhouse steak for breakfast lunch and dinner, but a cup of coffee is a problem. Members have come to disregard past statements from earlier leaders who encouraged a vegetarian lifestyle and condemned meat consumption except for in cases of famine. But we all want to disregard teachings that we have a hard time living, or accepting, don't we? I know I do.

As far as the cup of coffee is concerned, I'm not sure of your situation. If you're an investigator wanting to get baptized, then it probably does pose a problem. I can only guess that the Bishop would not want you to get baptized until you can live the Word of Wisdom as we're instructed to, but you'd have to ask him since I'm not familiar enough with Church policy in that case. If you're already a member and are drinking coffee, it's enough to be denied a temple recommend and perhaps things such as blessing the sacrament, but probably not much else. (I'm not sure, does anyone else out there know?) But I've known members who struggle even with smoking and/or drinking and still come out regularly to church. It shouldn't stop them from that and they won't have their membership revoked for that.

The Word of Wisdom as we know it today came about gradually, from what I have read in the history books. The Saints took along coffee and alcohol as provisions for crossing the plains, and even Joseph Smith was known for drinking wine at weddings and celebrations. Don't quote me on this, but I think that the Word of Wisdom as we know it officially came into "enforcement" in the early 1900's.

So Xloaner, if you're thinking of getting baptized, that cup of coffee might be a big sacrifice, but it's one that only you can decide is worth making. If you're already a member, work at it but don't let it stop you from going to church. In the mean time, I would be thrilled if President Monson said something more about meat consumption, particularly since we now know how it contributes to global warming, let alone the health and ethical dilemmas due to the slaughter and consumption of animals in a non-emergency situation.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Kelli, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You can be assured that I don't think you're just trying to trivialize my concerns. In fact, I believe that your attitude and approach is probably the only way that we can be happy in the present Gospel, despite whatever has happened in the past. I will perhaps someday be where you are now. Part of me is resisting, I have to admit. This is why:

You're right that we don't practice polygamy today (except maybe in an eternal sense when it comes to temple sealings) and that there is no more discrimination in regards to race and the priesthood. Both of these things are very positive change that I'm thankful for. My struggle is knowing how to reconcile our past with our present and future. Is history irrelevant and should we just forget it? Should we embrace it and honour it?

This might sound kind of strange, but the only way I can explain it is to compare it to Germany. I've spent some time in Germany, I speak German and am fairly familiar with its history and culture. I remember a German friend, a member of the Church, telling me how hard it is for Germans to be proud of their country because of their Nazi history. This woman was probably in her late-20's at the time and I think that all the post-war generations struggle with the same shame. I Germany, you don't see the flag flying as much as you do in the US. They're more subdued about it. Why? Because they know that getting too patriotic will result in them being accused of forgetting their history and becoming nationalists.

I don't mean to compare the Church to Nazism, that's not what I'm getting at here. What I mean is that there are things in our religious history that we would like to forget. Polygamy is perhaps one, but I think that racism is perhaps an even bigger one (at least for me). Whatever the reasons behind it, whether it was because the blacks weren't ready, the Church wasn't ready, the GA's weren't ready, or whether it was all just a big mistake, it's not something that we're proud of, right?

So we're left to either:
A) Forget history and focus only on the future
B) Acknowledge past mistakes, apologize for them and move forward

The problem is that neither in itself is a solution. Just as a nation should never forget history, lest past mistakes be perpetuated, so I think it is with the Church. It was what it was. On the other hand, acknowledging/apologizing (which some GA's have actually done on an individual basis, just not the Church on a whole), leaves members with the inevitable dilemma of wondering if they were wrong about that, then what are they wrong about now? The concept of revelation, therefore, doesn't provide us with the same comfort and surety.

You say that this shouldn't be a source of embarrassment for me. You may be right about that, in fact that was exactly my thought to those young Germans who felt ashamed for their country's past. Just as they had nothing to do with the Nazi regime, I've had nothing to do with racist teachings from Church leaders. And in the end, the only direction we can go is forward. We can't change the past, only learn from it.

Anonymous said...

Wow I have never blogged before and do find the comments interesting but some create more apprehension than I originally had about coffee and tea and cola drinks... I am confused if it is the HOT that is bad as the scripture says or the caffein or neither... Mabey it just a test to see if faithful Latter Day Saints will follow the Lords word....Another thing.... I heard a female member of the church say that her 12 year old son is in charge of the family when her husband is away on a trip... is that true? if so how could it possible be? Are Mormon women second class citizens just like the blacks used to be? More confused than ever... Xloaner

The Faithful Dissident said...

Xloaner, you ask whether it's the "hot" or the "caffeine" that is the problem. Actually it's neither. "Hot drinks" was interpreted by the prophets to mean tea and coffee, those were the only specifics given as far as I know. Mormons still drink other hot drinks. I love hot chocolate, for example. As far as the caffeine, if it was the reason behind it, then cola drinks would be outlawed. They're not. You can drink all the coke you want and still go to the temple. A lot of Mormons won't drink it (I don't just because I figure my body doesn't need the caffeine and I've never cared for soda in the first place), it's their own choice and if they think they're scoring extra points with the Lord for doing so, I don't know. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. The point is that if they try to say that you have to give up caffeine 100% to be a Mormon in good-standing, then they're wrong. If that were the case, I would have been in trouble years ago because of my love for chocolate. Mormons drink herbal tea, because it's not like traditional black teas. (I remember being in Germany and seeing the discussion manuals there and in German it was translated to "black tea.") I've heard conflicting things about green tea. I think that most would drink the decaffeinated version, but I'm not sure whether regular green tea would be forbidden and if it is, why? If anyone out there knows, feel free to share.

As far as a 12 year-old being in charge of the family, that's just ridiculous. I think what she was trying to say perhaps was that when the husband is gone, the 12 year-old son may be the only priesthood holder in the home, which I guess can make the boy feel kind of special. He could assist in a priesthood blessing, for example. But to let a 12 year-old run the household and make all the rules is just nonsense. It would even be nonsense for the husband to do all that by himself! I'd like to tell all the sisters I know that the husband or son is "in charge." They would probably laugh. A lot of sisters I know wear the pants in the family, believe me. :)

The Faithful Dissident said...

Another thing, I think maybe the reason why Mormons are so wary when it comes to caffeine is because it is a stimulant, a drug. We are told to stay away from drugs, except in medical situations where they are benefitial. We all know some coffee addicts, I know I do, and it amazes me how they can drink it on the hottest of hot days. I always try to imagine drinking hot chocolate in such weather and it makes me sick just thinking about it. But if you're addicted to that caffeine jolt, then it doesn't matter what the weather is like.

Caffeine in itself is not "evil," just like other drugs, when used properly, aren't always harmful. I took some PMS pills once and felt weird. When I looked at the ingredients, I found that they were loaded with caffeine, so I quit taking them. But PMS pills are not outlawed in the Word of Wisdom. If you compare the caffeine content of coffee/tea to chocolate, it's a huge difference (I'm sure some cola drinks are up there, but for some reason they're not included in the Word of Wisdom). Caffeine makes the heart work harder. Even the trace amounts in chocolate have a negative effect on some people. Perhaps that's why the Lord told us to stay away from coffee and tea. It's just a guess.

People can obsess and get fanatic about all this stuff. The bottom line is that there are very few things that are for sure a no-no:

Coffee (I've heard of some members drinking decaf, but I don't know.)

Tea (At least the black or English kind.)

Alcohol (Ever notice that there's alcohol in some cough syrups and antihistamines? Still, we're not told to not take those.)

Drugs (i.e. illegal narcotics like heroin and cocaine.)

All the specifics are left to your own best judgment and common sense.

Christi said...

I have just a minute to comment on your blog. I think it is great and the topic of LDS history has bothered me a bit as well. But what we must remember is that we believe in a 14 year old boy seeing Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Also that he translated golden plates. So if we can bear testimony about these events. Then we shouldn't worry so much about our history. It makes perfect sense in the skiem of things involving pre-existence, 7 days the earth was made, eternal marriage, etc.

At the time of Priesthood being back on the earth again, even church members were having problems being worthy of the Priesthood. Blacks were having difficulties just living in a world where many white folks didn't believe they should be free. The Blacks were slaves and didn't really study even Jesus Christ. They came from tribes in Africa. The Civil War came about after the church was existing for 30 years or so.

Then after their freedom, they still weren't accepted as equal to whites because of the segregation going on in the south.

Even Las Vegas wasn't kind to Sammy Davis, Jr. And Vegas is pretty liberal in the 50's and
Then there were the riots, hangings, torture happening, so even as a church, the people weren't ready and education was needed as well.

Even the prophets have said that they are not always receiving revelation, and they didn't suspect the person scamming the church for money, by writing fake letters that looked like they were written during Joseph Smith's time.

So until a car was bombed in SLC, did the church leaders know of this con man. Anyway, I must post this now. I have some questions on your Mission Impossible blog as well. Bye.

love jesus said...

I just came aware of your blog As a life time Mormon I find It uncomfortable that the Church uses the name of Jesus Christ In the name of the Church but seldom are talks In Church about the earthly ministry of Jesus

Grandma Labrum said...

In your comments to Xloaner about the 12 year old being the priesthood leader in the house I think you need to clarify one thing. Because he is the "oldest" priesthood holder when Dad is not a home, he Could enjoy the honorary title of "Priesthood Holder" but he cannot participate in priesthood blessings. Only Melchizedek priesthood holders can participate in blessings. A priest can baptise but not give blessings. A 12 year old deacon does not have the authority.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Grandma, you're right about a 12 year-old not having the authority to assist in blessings, that detail slipped my mind. Thanks for the clarification.

Tim said...

When we lived in a small town in Florida the Bishop's wife made it point to visit all the women in the Ward. She claimed she was the Mother of the Ward and if the Bishop couldn't solve the problem she might be able to. Anyway--she came to our house to visit my Mother.
My Mother was a very faithful LDS woman that loved hot chocolate. The Bishop's wife told Mom that drinking hot chocolate was against the Word of Wisdom and that my Mother had better start living the WoW.
My Mother was in tears. My Dad reminded Mom about what the scriptures say and that the Bishop's wife had no authority. Many complained. The Bishop had to constantly apologize for his wife--they eventually got divorced and she had a "vision" of who he was supposed to marry next. (Twilight Zone music here).
I'm living in Saudi Arabia right now and the Saudi men I come in contact with drink tea and coffee. Everytime we meet they offer me tea and coffee. I polietly refuse and they offer me water. But I haven't been able to satisfy their wanting to know why I don't drink tea or coffee. Even when I mention it's a religious thing--they want to know is it because it's hot or because it has caffinee. I tell them it's a health code that I'm supposed to follow and that I'm Mormon.
I've never questioned the "code." And I'm not questioning it now (though I do like the coffee carmel flavored shakes at Chik-Fil-A--that I can't get here)--but I find it interesting that my Saudi friends do queston the reason.
I found a website or article about blacks in the early Church--about a year ago. It was interesting. I know it mentioned that Joseph Smith HAD given the priesthood to a black man. However Brigham Young refused to let the man in the Temple--even though the black man had the right priesthood to enter the Temple. There was no reason given to the man--just that Brigham said "No" and he was the Prophet.
I also heard rumors from those in the "know"--I always find these people interesting--that blacks would have been given the priesthood earlier if one of their "leaders" hadn't pushed the Church relentlessly to give them the priesthood right then--sometime in the early 70's (I heard the rumor years later after I was an adult).
It is a question that should be talked about and "dealt" with. It is something that we shouldn't be afraid to discuss.
I once heard someone say that openess gives you great freedom. There are times when it seems our questions are met with silence.