Dec 30, 2009

Hope: A Powerful Motivator

Recently I discovered the blog "Evolution of a Lesbian: An Intellectual Approach," by EvolvingLesbian (EL). There are a lot of gay Mormon men in the Bloggernacle, but few Mormon lesbians that I am aware of, and so I thought that her seemingly rare perspective is an interesting one.

EL did a post entitled "Hope," which I think is incredibly relevant not only to gay Mormons, but any of those who find themselves unable to conform and the struggle that often follows. If you fit the Mormon mold and, even if you don't necessarily attain them, you at least desire the "correct" things (i.e. getting married to someone of the opposite sex in the temple, having children, being sealed for eternity, becoming like God and having spirit children), then it's easy to hope and to look forward to what makes you happy. And if it is your ideal, then I think it's hard to understand why it's not for someone else, whether it be someone who is gay, someone who has no desire to have children, or perhaps someone who comes from a dysfunctional family that they can't stand the thought of being sealed to for eternity.

EL writes:

"I've been thinking about what leads a person to leave the Church. The
glib, Sunday School answer is always "Satan's influence." Or, if you want to
emphasize personal responsibility, then you refine it to "sin." Another popular
choice, especially among those who venerate the prophet Ezra Taft Benson, is
"pride." But what is it, really? Of course, the answers are as varied as the
people themselves.

Let us refine our question, then. What leads a faithful gay (as in
homosexual, including lesbians) Mormon to leave the Church? Is it lack of sexual
self-control? Is it fundamental doctrinal disagreement? Is it peer pressure
(from both sides)? All true in some cases, yes. But I think for many of us it is
a question of hope, both the presence of it and the lack of it.

Hope is a powerful motivator. It is hope for a better world that gives
us faith in Christ's atonement. Hope in man's innate goodness keeps us trusting
one another in the face of betrayal and disappointment. Hope in an eternal
reward gives us the courage to die. Hope for a better job and therefore easier
life motivates us to finish high school, college, and so on. The lack of hope
brings despair, depression, darkness, and death.

In Mormondom, hope plays a pervasive role in both spirituality and in
cultural performance. Our pioneer heritage is related in terms of enduring
physical hardship because the Saints hoped for a better world, either in heaven
or in Zion. Small acts of daily obedience are predicated on the hope that they
will garner blessings, either on earth or in the eternities. Grand acts of
submission to God's will are demonstrations of hope that He will make life
better in the long run (long is understood to include eternity).

All Mormons are taught that the ultimate goal in life (both on earth
and afterwards) is to become a god. Exaltation is the be-all and end-all of
eternal existence. This, then, is the ultimate hope. To get there, every Mormon
must tread the same strait and narrow path: baptism, confirmation, (Melchizedek
priesthood if male), endowment, eternal marriage. If you can't accomplish these
things on earth, then you get another chance in the afterlife, but the gates
must be passed through or you cannot reach your destination.

The problem is, if you are a gay Mormon, it seems like you can't pass
through that final gate without burying or denying part of yourself. After all,
the eternal marriage part of the Plan of Salvation isn't merely an ordinance.
It's a living, breathing way of life that requires every iota of your spiritual
and physical being to do right. This is both the beauty of making it a
requirement for exaltation, since no institution causes or requires so much
growth as this partnership, and the hope-destroying nature of it. Because, as
defined by doctrine and church, eternal marriage can only exist between a man
and a woman. Because, as defined by common sense and by individual desire, being
gay means you don't want to and probably can't forge that soul-nurturing
partnership with the opposite sex.

Faced with those definitions, the gay Mormon is confronted with a
curtailment of hope. By accepting his or her own soul-deep desire to partner
with someone of the same sex, the gay Mormon sees that that ultimate goal of
exaltation may not be attainable, after all. (Just to be clear, the faithful
Mormons we speak of are good at denying surface desires, so those are not the
problem.)

At the same time, in identifying who they want to be with, gay Mormons
can suddenly rekindle a hope they had thought lost - that of finding that life
partner most of us still want. I think the vast majority of gay Mormons still
want that eternal partnership; they just can't imagine it with somebody of the
opposite sex. Therein lies the frustration for gay Mormons. We want the same
thing as all other Mormons; just in a slightly different package.

What is it - supposedly - about the man-woman pairing that makes it
inherently more exalting than a man-man or woman-woman pairing? Is it simply the
ability to procreate? Is that all that sets gods apart - the fact that they have
children? That seems to be the Mormon definition of godhood, if you think about
it. Gods have children and take joy in them. We really don't have any other
definition. Well, then, are gods truly superior to their non-procreating
brothers and sisters?

This brings us back to goals. We are taught that exaltation is the
topmost tier of the celestial kingdom, yet all "levels" of the celestial kingdom
are grand and glorious beyond comprehension. Why, then, can't we as a Church
conceive of a celestial kingdom where gay partners achieve the second highest
tier? Wait, why not throw out these respecter-of-men gradations altogether and
realize that by the time we enter any kingdom, we are beyond comparatives and
are simply learning how to be the best "us" we possibly can? That some people
will be gods, while others will be ministering angels, and still others will do
other things perfectly suited to who they are. Are we simply buying into a
one-size-fits-all definition of glory?

All right, putting away truly radical reimaginings of heaven and
returning to our topic of hope...This cultural and doctrinal emphasis on
exaltation as the only goal worthy of effort, and the rule that says it is only
attainable through man-woman marriage, sets the gay Mormon up for a failure of
hope. Even those who choose to remain chaste rather than either lawfully marry a
member of the opposite sex or unlawfully (according to religious law) partner
with a member of the same sex, even those people cannot help but feel their hope
frustrated. Where is their promise that all their longings will be fulfilled?
For the straight person, the lack of earthly partner is promised to be remedied
in heaven, as long as he or she remains faithful on earth. For the gay person,
no such hope is held out. (Unless the "gay" part is seen as an earthly trial to
be overcome by the resurrection.)

Those gay Mormons who choose to pursue a same-sex partnership on earth,
thereby engaging in the individual growth that marriage is intended to promote,
still faces the loss of hope in exaltation. First, because their actions are
deemed outside the law, which disqualifies them. Second, because although they
have entered into the kind of relationship that would seemingly propel them to
godhood, the law again says that it's not quite right and they have no hope of
success.

I think, then, that when a gay Mormon decides to leave the Church
(either through deliberate withdrawal or unwillingly as a result of other
decisions), he or she is reacting to and acting upon hope. With the acceptance
of homosexuality, the ultimate hope of exaltation no longer exists. Yet, that
same acceptance often gives new birth to the hope of finding a partner with whom
he or she can fulfill her potential, which must be the ultimate definition of
godhood."

Thanks, EL, for an excellent post.

So how do we offer hope to members such as EL? What incentive can we offer them for staying in the LDS Church, as opposed to joining another church or leaving religion altogether?

And what is your hope for this life on earth and, assuming there is one, the life that comes hereafter?

Dec 21, 2009

Orthoprax Mormonism

I just wanted to share something that a friend of mine, named Joel, shared with me and some friends. I've just made some minor edits in order to fit it into this blog post, but the thoughts are his:
"Pictured is one of my favorite paintings. It's "The Doubting of Thomas" by Caravaggio. I have used this painting one time when I was asked to teach priesthood. I explained to the other members that I am not Peter, with the always undying faith, but rather I am Thomas. Unless I see with my eyes and feel with my hands, I won't believe. In Caravaggio's painting, not only is Thomas feeling the wound in the side but Christ has grabbed Thomas' hand and thrust it into the wound.

Like many, my testimony is hard to define. I can't just believe. I find it hard to understand many of my family and friends that say they have never doubted and get up in church and say "I know." I went from being a true believer to an athiest to agnostic. I stopped going to church but there was a void. I tried to fill the void with humanitarian and social justice work but that didn't work. My adviser in my post graduate studies (Anthropology) is a Jewish Cantor. He explained two things to me that became important concepts to me in coming back to church. The first was that people who are religious from childhood into adulthood have a hard time leaving religion behind. There are spaces inside the person that can only be filled by religion and not being religious leaves a void. The second thing he explained was the difference between orthopraxy and orthodoxy. Orthodoxy literally means "right thinking." Orthopraxy means "right doing." He said one Jew will never ask another Jew what he believes. It's irrelevant. What matters is what you do. Judaism is not based on what you believe but on what you do. So I became an orthopraxic Mormon.

I guess what I am saying is the Thomases of the world have to work things out differently from the Peters and in Mormon culture, especially Utah Mormon culture where we are expected to be Peters. On other sites I have found, you have to be anti or pro and they leave no room for those of us who have to feel the prints in the hands and the wound in the side."

Some Christians like to attack Mormons for their emphasis on works instead of grace. One could argue that within Christianity, Mormons are a very orthopraxic people (emphasizing working out our own salvation). But within Mormonism itself, I've found that we're not very accepting of those who are orthopraxic rather than orthodox. Not "knowing" is considered a weakness and expressing doubt about the Church, the prophet, the doctrines, teachings, or anything -- even if you are doing everything "right" (i.e. going to church, keeping the Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, paying tithing, service, etc.) -- is not likely to be well-received or understood.

It's been said that faith without works is dead. What about works without faith?

Thanks, Joel, for sharing this with me. To you, and to all my readers, best wishes for a peaceful Christmas and Year 2010.

FD

Dec 7, 2009

The Faithful Dissident Meets Mormongandhi

Recently I discovered that, lo and behold, I was not the lone member of the Bloggernacle in Norway. Through my activities on The LDS Left, I discovered an interesting blog, Latter Day Satyagraha, by one called "mormongandhi" -- a Norwegian who is "an advocate for nonviolence in the Restoration movement." The small letter cases are intentional, as mormongandhi feels that "it is important to provide other ‘mormongandhis’ in the LDS church, and also more generally within the LDS movement, a place of refuge, a haven of peace, where we can express our nonviolent faith."

When I decided to take a break from this blog (see my last post), I had hoped to continue to at least feature different blogs and articles from around the Bloggernacle that I felt everyone should see. Unfortunately, I haven't been doing that the past couple of months and so, after spending a couple of days with mormongandhi and hearing his views, I've been reminded of my original intention. I learned a lot this past weekend after meeting mormongandhi and I feel that it is worthy of being shared with others.

In addition to his blog, mormongandhi has started the Peaceable Followers Forum, a "discussion forum for peaceable followers of Christ to discuss and comment on the nonviolent study chapters of the book of mormon posted on the main “latter day satyagraha” site."

In his own words, mormongandhi states:

"I am not a trained theologian (at all), but on the other hand I did finish institute and seminary, I served a mission and I certainly came to love the scriptures. I have a bachelors degree in peace and development studies and a master’s in peace operations (including a couple of years in the military).

The source of my nonviolence comes from believing the words of Jesus in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. You have to use those books together, like they say, and not just read them. There is a reason why the Sermon on the Mount is such a central text in both books. Mormons should therefore be twice as committed as anyone else to those same teachings.

I appreciate the warnings of the prophets – mostly referred to as presidents of the church – and the advice we receive from apostles too. For this reason, I quote widely from their talks and conference addresses. I see no contradiction in that. I love the Temple and its rituals, and am not therefore a stranger to what is taught there. I miss it. I do. I am saddened however that too many members fail to see the rituals and the teachings we receive there as an elongated Sermon on the Mount."

He also expresses his intention with his blog:

"My intention with (my) blog is to love my opponents in the faith – those who still practice the saying: an eye for an eye. I want to do good to those who have difficulty showing love, to bless those who speak evil of others whom they do not know, and my prayer is that latter day saints would see us, the mormongandhis, the jesus radicals, the anti-nephi-lehies, the pacifists, the nonviolent practitioners, the LDS anarchists, as co-partakers of the fruit and that through our words and our actions they too might be converted – not the other way around.

Someone once said: ‘it is better to be alone than in bad company. It is even better to be in good company than to be alone’. Being a minority within a minority has never been easy for anyone (a nonviolent practitioner in a violent faith in a predominantly secularized society), and these are difficult questions to grapple with – emotive questions. I share the little I have come to know in the spirit of humility, motivated by brotherly love. I hope that one day, we will all come to see him – the other (black, muslim, female, gay person with disability and internally displaced with nowhere to go, victim of war and/or prisoner of conscience) - as he is, and see that he is a man like ourselves (D&C 130:1)."

The topic of peace seems to be especially relevant at the present time, with wars raging in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the "Holy" Land. But "peace," as I learned from mormongandhi, is about much more than simply the absence of war. With Christmas just around the corner, people are often talking about "peace." "Peace on earth, peace be with you, the Prince of Peace," etc. What does that all really mean and do we give it enough thought? Probably not.

We always hear that the Book of Mormon was meant for our day and that it's just as relevant today as it ever was. So perhaps it's time to study the Book of Mormon through a new lens and to see it for what it really is: not a record of war, but one of peace.

Latter Day Satyagraha: http://mormongandhi.com/

Peaceable Followers Forum: http://peaceablefollowers.wordpress.com/

Oct 16, 2009

The Faithful Dissident Says Good-Bye... Sort Of

When I first started this blog, it took me a while before I wanted to reveal anything about myself. I think it took me a few posts to clarify that I was female. I figured that someone would eventually pick up the extra "U's," an "eh," or some other subtle difference in my spelling, so I figured I may as well say that I was Canadian. And then when I discovered all the ridiculous horror stories about "socialism," I decided to divulge the fact that I live in Norway, in order to get my two cents in some of the discussions. Eventually you got to see my eye, then half of my face. Now that I feel like I'm reaching a turning point with this blog, I'll leave you with my profile. :)

Why I'm Taking A Break:

There are times that I think I would have been better off had I not read Rough Stone Rolling or started studying Mormon history in-depth a couple of years ago. But the truth is that I was already unknowingly in spiritual decline for much of my life, even though I thought I was rock firm in my faith. Something didn't feel right. I didn't fit in. Certain elements within Mormonism nagged at me for years and they remained unresolved until they festered and erupted onto the surface almost four years ago.

The pain and frustration I've experienced by being propelled into Stage 4 (see the sidebar for more information about Fowler's Stages of Faith or my earlier post on the subject) has been difficult to contain. I seem to waver between keeping it bottled up inside so that I don't "infect" others with my doubts, and desiring to force everyone in Stage 3 into Stage 4 so that they can feel my pain and admit that you can't just "forget" or "get over" it. Perhaps the most difficult part about Stage 4 is that you yearn for acknowledgment: from the Church, from your family, and from your fellow members, that yes, you have good reason to feel the way you do and you're not just "weak" or "bad" or being fooled by the adversary. It's hurtful and annoying when other Mormons dismiss your issues, while they themselves feel no need to pick up a history book or read anything other than official publications. Unfortunately, though, you know that you wouldn't have believed it yourself if you hadn't experienced it first-hand. This is something you have to experience in order to truly understand -- although John Dehlin's telecast "Why People Leave The LDS Church" does an excellent job of trying to educate others about what it's like.

So, religiously speaking, I've had a tornado rip through my backyard. I've lost my home and it's time to build a new one. It may resemble that old home to a degree and I may end up very happy in it, but it will never be that old home again. Instead of just fixing up the remains of the old one, I'm starting from scratch to build a new home for myself. I can lament over the loss of the old home I grew up in, or I can focus on building a better, sturdier one. But, by blogging about all the things I've been lamenting over (and there are many), I'm distracting myself from building.

In all honesty, I have no regrets about my intense participation in the Bloggernacle. I've learned so much and it has all had an impact on me that I think was necessary for growth. I wish, in fact, that more Mormons would get involved in online discussions because I think it's a great way to develop compassion, respect, and an appreciation for differing perspectives. You also learn so much about yourself and the people around you. The downside of the Bloggernacle is that it can be a vent fest. Venting is necessary, I think, but it can't be a permanent stage without being detrimental to the mind, soul, and therefore even the body.

My family members have been pretty good about my Stage 4 experience, but at times I've feared creating a chasm between some of them and myself, which I don't want to do. This prompted me to make the change that I now feel is necessary, by taking a break from this blog. Whether it becomes a vacation, sabbatical, or retirement remains to be seen. I will perhaps continue to post relevant thoughts or developments from time to time, as I know that I love discussing things too much to walk away from it completely. And I'm sure that you will continue to see me commenting around the Bloggernacle as I continue to follow my favourite blogs. I'm just going to try to have a more casual relationship to it all. I hope to use this blog to feature inspirational and thought-provoking posts from around the Bloggernacle that have caught my eye. So stay tuned for those.

The past couple of years have been a very intense personal study of all things Mormon and how I really feel about it.

What I've Learned:


The Church is nowhere near perfect, but...

In my opinion, the Church has problems with:
  • Owning up not just to the good, but also the bad and ugly of its past (i.e. not just polygamy, but polyandry and post-Manifesto polygamous marriages, declining to ever issue an official apology for anti-black teachings, inflammatory rhetoric by Church officials that played a key role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, electroshock therapy on homosexuals at BYU, etc.). Moving forward is important and I think we're doing that. But acknowledgment of past mistakes is a key element to ensuring that the damage from such mistakes is not perpetuated. A willingness to openly discuss these issues, which is often lacking, is also a huge factor. It is what it is. So let's just quit trying to avoid that.
  • Recognizing that some people do not, cannot -- and probably even should not -- fit the "Mormon mold," toning down hurtful rhetoric, inflexible gender roles, and exclusive teachings.
  • Dismissing people with legitimate concerns, questions, disagreements, and theories (i.e. feminists, intellectuals, historians, gay activists, unorthodox members), sometimes going as far as to label them as "anti-Mormon" or "apostate."
  • Building up the office of prophet -- at least culturally -- into an infallible post, although our history is rampant with examples of why it's not.
  • Declining to make public the records that show how and where Church funds are being used, thereby closing the door to debate on the Church's involvement in certain ethically questionable and/or hypocritical activities (i.e. funding Evergreen International, making huge profits off the killing of animals in hunting preserves). Shutting the doors on constructive criticism or debate stunts growth and compromises integrity.
  • Getting politically involved in things such as the ERA and Prop 8 because they're "moral issues," but remaining decidedly neutral on other moral issues such as the Iraq War and capital punishment.
  • Making sure that members of the Church (particularly in America) are keeping politics out of church and ensuring that members are able to separate the pure Gospel of Christ from the personal political opinions of Church leaders and members. I'm pretty sure that Deseret Books would want to steer clear of any politically-charged literature about feminism or gay rights, so I'm not sure why Glenn Beck's "Arguing With Idiots" makes the bookshelf of a Church bookstore. The fact that so many Mormons are still under the impression that "good" Mormons have to be politically conservative and that the faith of liberal Mormons is often called into question for their political leanings is, in my opinion, a problem that needs to be dealt with before we lose more members over political disagreements.
That being said, there are loads of things that the Church deserves praise for, such as:
  • Giving people -- particularly the youth -- a sense of direction in their lives.
  • Putting the value on motherhood and traditional values that they deserve (unfortunately, though, sometimes at the cost of cultivating diversity or understanding for individual circumstances).
  • Building a strong sense of personal honesty and integrity.
  • Stressing the worth of each individual as a literal child of God, cultivating self-esteem, and encouraging us to always aim higher and reach our full potential.
  • Opportunities for development and sharing of our talents and skills via callings, activities and the different auxiliaries. There are also many opportunities for compassionate service that are hard to get outside of a tight-knit church community.
  • Putting love, charity, and compassion at forefront of our religion. I think we're pretty good at talking the talk and even walking the walk, but we can do much better.
  • I know the Church does a good deal of humanitarian and charitable work around the world. This is definitely something that should be commended, but taking into account the fact that the Church is worth billions of dollars and it does not make financial records public, it's hard to say whether or not we're doing a lot or way too little in terms of humanitarian aid. I fear that our image has become one of a Mormon business that runs churches on the side.
  • "Clean living" is, in my opinion, something that sets us apart in a good way. In a world full of broken homes, infidelity, promiscuity, substance abuse, dysfunction, hate, and disregard for human life, setting a high standard for ourselves is important. I LOVE the Mormon way of life. I think that it is and should be a source of pride for us as a people. Sadly, though, we often let this pride translate into a haughty sense of superiority as we look at those who aren't sharing our lifestyle, either because of their own poor choices or the circumstances that they were born into. This, I believe, is to our detriment as a people and it is where we should be more Christlike.
  • At the end of the day, despite our many shortcomings, Mormons are a pretty good bunch of people and are probably, on average, more compassionate and honest than most people in the world today. I think this is true about Mormons, from the most conservative and orthodox, to the most liberal and radical.
  • It says something of the Mormon lifestyle when, despite all the disappointment and disillusionment that stem from the Church, I don't feel the need or desire to make any significant changes in my lifestyle. Regardless of where I end up religiously, I feel that this truly is a good lifestyle.
What I've Resolved:

Religiously speaking, I haven't resolved much. In fact, I've probably gained ten problems for every one that I've solved. But on a personal level, I've been able to resolve some conflicts and develop an appreciation and understanding for those whom I've treated unfairly, such as my sister-in-law, my grandmother, and my own brother. Generally speaking, I think I've also gotten a much better understanding of my fellow countrymen (Norwegians), which took me a while to warm up to. As well, I've gotten a more realistic view of those whom Mormons often feel most threatened by: homosexuals, feminists, non-believers, "apostates," and ex-Mormons. And if I were to pick a personal "favourite" out of that bunch, I would say that I've been most touched and inspired by the many gay Mormon "faithful dissidents" who find themselves in between a rock and a very hard place. For those of you who are reading this, know that I value your perspective tremendously and that I've been blown away by the special spiritual gifts and intuition that you possess. My hope is that in time, the Church as a whole will take notice of those special gifts and take advantage of their potential to bring about positive change within the organization and in the world.

I was chatting to a good friend recently and she said that for her, the Church, religion, and faith are separate things. So how do I feel about each?

The Church:

To use a marriage analogy, my relationship to the Church is very strained. I feel like I've been deceived in some ways and my trust has been broken in others. This relationship has been further strained by those who tell me to just "get over" or ignore the historical issues -- or worse yet, those who have denied them -- and those within the Church who desire to protect its image at all cost. As I said in our discussion about the hunting preserves, I honestly believe that there will always be someone there to defend it and rationalize its actions, no matter what.

So my feelings towards the Church as an institution can perhaps be compared to a wife whose husband has broken her trust, but does not desire to sever ties because of family implications and the fact that she really still loves and admires him in many ways. Although it's understandable that a breach of trust can justify walking away from a relationship or a church, in some cases forgiveness and reconciliation can make it worth not cutting off all ties. Although I have a sincere understanding and respect for those who leave the Church over issues of trust, I'm not ready to walk and feel that I need to give it another shot. I may be able to retain my relationship to the Church for the rest of my life and it may even become a happier one over time. But the 100% trust is gone forever. And realistically speaking, it's probably the way it should be.

Religion:


I'm fascinated by religion and I hope that I always will be. But I have mixed feelings about religion. More so now than in the past, I feel disdain for religion because of the religious dogmas that harm individuals, both within and without Mormonism. When my relationship to the Church was good, I either didn't notice or I downplayed the harmful effects of certain dogmas. Now it's like I have an ultrasensitive sixth sense for it. So I think I've gotten a pretty good idea now of why so many today (particularly here in Europe) avoid religion like the plague or pursue a personalized spiritualism rather than an organized religion. Religions and churches like to blame the people for their wickedness, but for the most part, I think that religions and churches have to share the blame for their mistreatment of certain people and hypocrisies that have led to a decline in participation by the public because of resentment and mistrust.

Faith:

While my views on the Church and religion are somewhat cynical these days, I have higher hopes regarding faith.

Do I believe that the Church is everything it claims to be? No. Do I believe that the LDS Church is the only path to God? No. Do I have major problems with Mormonism? Yes. But I also feel that there is something very compelling about the Mormon faith. It's my religious home and I am Mormon on my own terms. In the end, aren't we all?

Recently I re-read George Orwell's novel 1984 and got thinking about the concept of Newspeak. The ultimate goal of Newspeak was to limit language such that it would eradicate the ability of the citizens of Oceania to conceive or process any thought that would threaten the image and power of Ingsoc. As human beings, I think that we are are confined to a Newspeak sort of existence on this earth. Although I believe that we can make personal connections and receive inspiration from God, I think that our perspectives, thought processes, and understanding are limited because our mortal state prevents us from having an "expanded, perfected vocabulary," spiritually speaking. Although we may be evolving (as opposed to regressing, which was the case of Orwell's utopian society), I fear that we do ourselves and our fellow human beings a disservice by assuming that we know with certainty the essence of God, what he want us all to do and how to be -- at least on any more than a very personal level -- because of our limited, fallen, "Newspeak" spiritual vocabulary.

I still believe firmly in God and my concept of him and the afterlife are still very Mormon. I continue to attend sacrament regularly and my lifestyle is pretty much the same as it's always been. But instead of being of the mindset that I know that's how things really are, I simply exercise the faith that, at least at this stage of my life, it's where God thinks I'm best suited to be -- much like Mother Teresa's place was within Catholicism, and Gandhi changed the world through his Hindu traditions. Who could argue that these individuals would have been better people anywhere else? It's not that I feel that I'm anywhere near the same league of people of such stature, but perhaps my personal potential, whatever it entails, is from within a Mormon frame. I guess only time will tell.

Over the past couple of years, I feel like I've gotten to know some of the "apostates," "dissidents," "liberals," "homosexuals," and even a few atheists and ex-Mormons. I feel privileged to have gotten a glimpse into their world through communicating with them and trying to view things from their different perspectives. Some of these individuals are the finest of people I have met and I am happy to be able to call some of them my friends. Although I may not always agree with everything, I admire the courage and integrity it takes for some Mormons to speak up and voice their disagreements or objections when they are outnumbered -- often at the risk of being ostracized in their wards, having their families broken up, or even losing their jobs if they are employed by the Church.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Whenever I find myself thinking about "the good old days" in my life as a secure TBM, I can't help thinking about the following passage of scripture:
"And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.

And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient."

(Moses 5: 10-11)
Like Adam and Eve, I've fallen. Some would say that I've fallen big time. It's been a tough road and I've lost the security of "Eden" when I was secure in the Church. But even if I could go back to that state, I don't want to. I really am thankful for what I've learned and how it's forced me to look at the world without those rose-coloured glasses that were impairing my view of other people.

I don't really think anymore that the whole point of this Mormon experience is to follow all the rules so perfectly that we lose ourselves in the process. All of us who have tried to fit ourselves into that little box that just doesn't have room for us know that it's painful -- as painful as if that box was physically real and our bodies were being literally crushed inside. Even though I have no idea what it's like to be gay, I see so many parallels in my life with the lives of gay Mormons. And that is why I sympathize with them so much. It's not a political thing. It's an emotional thing. I get the pain, even though it's in a slightly different way.

One thing that kind of irks me sometimes is the insinuation that those of us who have taken an unorthodox path either don't care or don't think about the eternal consequences. But, personally speaking, this couldn't be further from the truth.

I don't really think that I'm a morbid person, but I think a lot about death. I probably think about it even more now than I used to. Certainly my spiritual musings have caused me to ponder it more, but I'm also surrounded by things that make it a constant theme in my life. For starters, I work in a nursing home and someone is always at death's door. As well, I've been thinking a lot about my grandfather and my husband's family members, most of which are older and in poor health. Of late, I've also had a couple of co-workers who have been on my mind. The first one is a young man, barely 20 years old, who has very aggressive brain cancer that has metastasized and whose last hope is alternative treatment in Germany. The other is a woman who just lost her husband to cancer, only 42 years old. As I was talking to her a few days ago, she talked about her husband's belief in "the circle of life" and took comfort in that concept. A few years ago, I would have probably felt sorry for her in the sense that she didn't "know" what I "knew" and there was no need for uncertainty in terms of death and the afterlife. Now that that certainty has been replaced by ambiguity, I find myself in much the same boat as her as I think about the mysteries of God. It's humbling and it's difficult, but it's also made me look at this life in a new way. And while I don't think that it's reason enough to simply "eat drink and be merry," it does give new meaning to "men are that they may have joy."

I still think about life in terms of an eternal progression. But instead of it being a "one-size-fits-all" path, I think that we find ourselves in different stages and circumstances for a reason. Whether he has had an active, intentional hand in our lives or whether his approach is more Deist by nature, I think that if God wanted us to be all the same, he would have made us that way. Otherwise, it would seem that many of us are at a severe disadvantage in the journey to exaltation. In my opinion, there has to be more to it than that. The enormity of this world, its people, their individual lives and tremendously varied experiences, indicate to me that while Mormons may have much goodness and a portion of the Truth, we make up such a tiny, tiny fraction of the souls in the history of this universe. Surely all the others have had a deeper purpose than to simply get a body.

If I had one wish for Mormons and non-Mormons, believers and non-believers alike, it would be that people would really take time to really try to see things from a different perspective. Personal contact and communication is what breaks barriers of fear and mistrust (or builds them, depending on how we act). When I think about how I used to fear apostates, feminists, or gay activists, I now feel pretty silly about it. We only fear what we don't know, but now that I feel like I have a better grasp on what makes those people tick, most of it doesn't feel so threatening anymore. They're not bad people. And I only wish that those who feel threatened by Mormons would take the time to look below the surface and see that we're not all a bunch of bigots or fanatics. I wish that we could all see each other for what we truly are before we let judgment fall.

To the TBM's who will say that I have let pride get to me and that I've "apostasized," I say that my pride has been shattered as I lost the one constant, firm foundation that was always perfect in my mind. In its place has come compassion, understanding and love for those on a much higher level than I experienced before I found myself in the depths of Stage 4. Was it a fair trade-off? I don't know, but I will make the most out of it. Never say that it can't happen to you.
"And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."

(1 Corinthians 13:2)
I think we all underestimate that verse. I don't pretend to have the gift of prophecy, understand all mysteries, all knowledge, or even have the strongest of faith. But I sincerely hope that I have a bit of charity and so I try to make that verse my personal Gospel.

I think I'll wrap up this post for now and I wish you all well in your individual spiritual and life journeys. I've had the pleasure of getting to know some of you personally on Facebook. If you're interested in connecting with me there, you can send an e-mail to the address in my profile. Please tell me who you are and I will send you the link to my profile. And please keep in mind that I do not publicize this blog or its name in any way on Facebook. For personal reasons, I intend on keeping it that way and I ask you to respect that.

For those of you who are interested in politics, I recently embarked on a new project called "The LDS Left," which is a quarterly PDF publication and this corresponding blog for Mormons from varying degrees of the left side of the political spectrum, as well as those with a heterodox/unorthodox faith. Perhaps a little more subdued than what you're used to from me, it's a compilation of leftist and unorthodox writings from a faithful Mormon perspective. We've released two issues so far and welcome your submissions. You can find information about requesting back issues or submitting articles on the blog.

I look forward to continued interaction with many of you around the Bloggernacle.

Best wishes,
FD

Oct 2, 2009

Is "Lamanite" A Mormon Term?

My husband and I have been watching an American miniseries from 1978 on DVD called Centennial, starring Richard Chamberlain, Robert Conrad, and Richard Crenna, among others. It's really great and gives the viewer an idea of what life was like in 18th Century America for whites, Indians, and so-called "half-breeds." I highly recommend it.

Richard Crenna plays the role of ruthless Frank Skimmerhorn, which I found out is a character loosely based on a real U.S. Army officer named John Chivington. To make a long story short, Skimmerhorn comes to Colorado in the mid-1860's and orders the brutal slaughter of innocent Indians, from the oldest to the very youngest.

When Skimmerhorn first comes to town, he meets some resistance from other white members of the U.S. Army who are on good terms with the Indians and hesistant to disturb the fragile peace. Interestingly, Skimmerhorn defends the extermination of the Indians by asking his men whether they've ever heard of "Lamanites," and talks about them "being cursed with a dark skin," etc. He then admonishes them to read their Bibles.

There is no mention of the word "Mormon" or "Book of Mormon." Just the Bible. Skimmerhorn is mentioned to be from Minnesota and he acts like a very pious, religious man who "talks to God," while at the same time he murders "Lamanites" left and right. He's the type of guy that makes your skin crawl and Crenna plays him well.

So does anyone know whether the term "Lamanite" is purely Mormon?

Sep 23, 2009

Why I'm Not Bothered By The Bruce C. Hafen Talk

The Bloggernacle is abuzz this week about a controversial speech that Bruce C. Hafen recently gave at the Evergreen International annual conference about same sex attraction.

There have been different reactions to the talk, such as here and here.

Certain statements from the speech, such as the following, could certainly be upsetting:
"Having same-gender attraction is NOT in your DNA"

"If you are faithful, on resurrection morning—and maybe even before then—you will rise with normal attractions for the opposite sex. Some of you may wonder if that doctrine is too good to be true."

"Find a therapist who can help you identify the unmet emotional needs that you are tempted to satisfy in false sexual ways."

"In 1973, in response to increasing disruptions and protests by gay activists, the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations removed homosexuality from their official lists of disorders."

"Evidence that people have indeed changed threatens the political agenda of the activists, because actual change disproves their claim that homosexuality is a fixed condition that deserves the same legal protections as those fixed conditions like race and gender."

“The false belief of inborn homosexual orientation denies to repentant souls the opportunity to change and will ultimately lead to discouragement, disappointment, and despair.”
I should be upset, but strangely enough, I'm not. Maybe I'm just a little too optimistic, but I'm just waiting to someday hear something like the following, perhaps even by Bruce C. Hafen himself:

"There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren that we have interpreted to mean that homosexuality was a psychological disorder that could be cured by therapy. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, "You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?" All I can say is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Thomas S. Monson or Boyd K. Packer or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about same sex attraction before now. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them."

Sound familiar?

So, I look forward to the day when that statement is released from some high-ranking Church official, coming like a bolt of lightning to those who couldn't see it coming before. In the mean time, I'll just shake my head and let it go.

Either that's another glimpse into Stage 5, or apathy has set in.

Sep 20, 2009

Adolf Hitler, Graf von Stauffenberg, And God

Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg.

The remarkable name was perhaps a sign of the remarkable life to come for one of the most fascinating figures from World War II. Graf von Stauffenberg headed probably the most famous, yet ill-fated, plot to kill Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. I watched his story told in the miniseries War And Remembrance (the sequel to The Winds Of War, which I saw just a few months ago), and I was reminded by it again after watching the film Valkyrie last night.

A brief summary of Graf von Stauffenberg's life from Wikipedia:
"Although Stauffenberg agreed with some of the Nazi Party's nationalistic aspects, he found many aspects of its ideology repugnant and never became a member of the party. Moreover, Stauffenberg remained a practicing Catholic. The Catholic Church had signed the Reichskonkordat in 1933, the year Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power. Stauffenberg vacillated between a strong personal dislike of Hitler's policies and a respect for what he perceived to be Hitler's military acumen. On top of this, the growing systematic ill-treatment of Jews and suppression of religion had offended Stauffenberg's strong personal sense of religious morality and justice.

From the beginning of September 1943 until 20 July, 1944, von Stauffenberg was the driving force behind the plot to assassinate Hitler and take control of Germany. His resolve, organizational abilities, and radical approach put an end to inactivity caused by doubts and long discussions on whether military virtues had been made obsolete by Hitler's behavior. With the help of his friend Henning von Tresckow, he united the conspirators and drove them into action.

Stauffenberg was aware that, under German law, he was committing high treason. He openly told young conspirator Axel von dem Bussche in late 1943, "ich betreibe mit allen mir zur Verfügung stehenden Mitteln den Hochverrat..." ("I am committing high treason with all my might and means...."). He justified himself to Bussche by referring to the right under natural law ("Naturrecht") to defend millions of people's lives from the criminal aggressions of Hitler ("Nothilfe").

Stauffenberg decided, only after the conspirator General Helmuth Stieff on 7 July, 1944 had declared himself unable to assassinate Hitler on a uniforms display at Klessheim castle near Salzburg, to personally kill Hitler and to run the plot in Berlin. By then, Stauffenberg had great doubts about the possibility of success. Tresckow convinced him to go on with it even if it had no chance of success at all, "The assassination must be attempted. Even if it fails, we must take action in Berlin", as this would be the only way to prove to the world that the Hitler regime and Germany were not one and the same and that not all Germans supported the regime.

Stauffenberg's part in the original plan required him to stay at the Bendlerstrasse offices in Berlin, so he could phone regular army units all over Europe in an attempt to convince them to arrest leaders of Nazi political organizations such as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and the Gestapo. Unfortunately, when General Helmuth Stieff, Chief of Operation at Army High Command, who had regular access to Hitler, backtracked from his earlier commitment to assassinate Hitler, Stauffenberg was forced to take on two critical roles: kill Hitler far from Berlin and trigger the military machine in Berlin during office hours of the very same day. Beside Stieff, he was the only conspirator who had regular access to Hitler (during his briefings) by mid-1944, as well as being the only officer among the conspirators thought to have the resolve and persuasiveness to convince German military leaders to throw in with the coup once Hitler was dead. This requirement greatly reduced the chance of a successful coup.

After several unsuccessful tries by Stauffenberg to meet Hitler, Göring and Himmler when they were together, he went ahead with the attempt at Wolfsschanze on 20 July, 1944. Stauffenberg entered the briefing room carrying a briefcase containing two small bombs. The location had unexpectedly been changed from the subterranean Führerbunker to Speer's wooden barrack/hut. He left the room to arm the first bomb with specially-adapted pliers, a task made difficult because he had lost his right hand and had only three fingers on his left. A guard knocked and opened the door, urging him to hurry as the meeting was about to begin. As a result, Stauffenberg was able to arm only one of the bombs. He left the second bomb with his aide-de-camp, Werner von Haeften, and returned to the briefing room, where he placed the briefcase under the conference table, as close as he could to Hitler. Some minutes later, he excused himself and left the room. After his exit, the briefcase was moved by Colonel Heinz Brandt.

When the explosion tore through the hut, Stauffenberg was convinced that no one in the room could have survived. Although four people were killed and almost all survivors were injured, Hitler himself was shielded from the blast by the heavy, solid-oak conference table and was only slightly wounded.

Stauffenberg and Haeften quickly left and drove to the nearby airfield. After his return to Berlin, Stauffenberg immediately began to motivate his friends to initiate the second phase: the military coup against the Nazi leaders. When Joseph Goebbels announced by radio that Hitler had survived and later, after Hitler himself personally spoke on the state radio, the conspirators realized that the coup had failed. They were tracked to their Bendlerstrasse offices and overpowered after a brief shoot-out, during which Stauffenberg was wounded in the shoulder."

Von Stauffenberg was executed by a firing squad on July 21, 1944, leaving behind a wife and five children (the youngest unborn). The courtyard where he and others were shot is now a memorial site in Berlin.

Something that I didn't realize until last night was that von Stauffenberg's plot to kill Hitler was just one of many in a long line of failed attempts to rid the world of him. Apparently there were somewhere around 15 known plots to assassinate him. (Some sources say 17, one I read put the number as high as 40.)

In the film Valkyrie, there is a scene where von Stauffenberg is sitting in what looks to be a Catholic church, presumably looking for spiritual guidance. Of course, whether or not there's any truth to that scene, we can only speculate on. But, being the devout Catholic that he apparently was, one would expect that he sought out God for help with this enormously dangerous mission. I was thinking of when Nephi was commanded to slay Laban in the Book of Mormon. Laban's life was not worth the cost to his people if he had been allowed to live, which is why Nephi is given the green light to behead him. It makes me think of the millions and millions of people that perished because of Hitler's regime. Von Stauffenberg's attempt came late in the war (1944). People were trying to liquidate him already as early as 1939. Imagine if the first ones had succeeded. Imagine if only von Stauffenberg -- as late as it was -- had succeeded. Think of all the additional destruction and lives that were lost in the final months of the war. Did God care about the innocent citizens of the world during those terrible years in the same way that he cared about Laban's people? I sometimes wonder.

No doubt some of the plots on Hitler's life were better planned than others. But surviving at least fifteen of them -- only to eventually end his life on his own terms -- was almost unbelievable. It almost seems like he had protection from a higher power. While it's hard to believe that God intended for Hitler to do what he did, I do have to wonder why God apparently did not see fit to intervene -- or even help those who were noble enough to risk (or lose) their own lives in order to rid Germany and the world of perhaps the worst dictator humankind has ever seen.

I know I probably have a bad habit of asking impossible questions. I guess I was just wondering whether anyone else has had similar thoughts.

Sep 15, 2009

Sacrificing Principle for Profit: Church Wildlife Enterprises and Hunting Preserves

"To what degree should the principle of 'respect for life" be extended to bird and animal creations? What do the scriptures, Joseph Smith, and other early Church leaders teach about the grand design and purposes of God's non-human creations? Does having "dominion" over the kingdom of creatures mean we are their predators and exploiters or does it suggest a "stewardship" relationship in which we become their caretakers in order to help them "fulfill the full measure of their creation?" If the scriptures teach, "woe be unto man that sheddeth blood or wasteth flesh and have no need," and "the blood of every beast will I require at your hands," what rationale could be used to explain Church-owned, revenue-generating enterprises such as Deseret Land and Livestock and the Westlake Hunting Preserve? Do these operations constitute sacrificing principle for profit?"
-Sacrificing Principle for Profit: Church Wildlife Enterprises and Hunting Preserves, Sunstone Magazine

Yesterday I did a post about tithing and we had a discussion about where it goes and what it's used for. I was appalled to learn about a Church-owned/run/sanctioned hunting preserve where missionaries are called to tend to flocks of birds and other animals so that they can multiply and be hunted down for large profit. You can read about it on Deseret News here.

I found out that the Church owns two hunting preserves: Deseret Land and Livestock, and Westlake Hunting Preserve in Utah County.

Here are just a few of the facts that caught my attention:
  • Making it a "missionary calling" for couples to tend to the preseves so that wildlife numbers are increased, thereby increasing the number of animals killed for profit
  • Archery hunting of animals such as elk, which I regard as being especially cruel
  • Over $11,000 for a weekend getaway to bag a trophy elk
  • 6 year waiting list (at least as of 2000) to hunt
  • Charging thousands of dollars for hunting permits to kill trophy game
  • The response the first brother who spoke in the podcast got to his letter by the presiding bishopric, inquiring of how this operation could be justified
  • The refusal of the Church to publish any financial records of where all these huge profits are going
Please, please, please, I implore you all to listen to the podcast that you can download for free here. There is so much that is worth being made aware of and discussing. I wish I had a transcript of the two talks on it, but I don't. So please listen to it and come back to discuss it. The first few seconds have very bad sound quality, but please be patient and listen to it in its entirety.

I'll be honest. I'm a little more hardcore about this stuff than most of you probably are. Some of you may read this and think to yourself, "Girl, take a pill." I'm a vegetarian, I'm anti-gun, I'm anti-hunting (unless it's needed to save human life), and I'm especially against bow-hunting. Along with humanitarian causes, I donate to animal causes and I've petitioned many times against canned hunting, which I would say this Church enterprise fits the definition of. So, I've donated to causes that fight against what the Church is doing (Hmm... isn't that a temple recommend interview question?). It's one thing to expect this from members of the general public who, as much as I oppose it, have a legal right to hunt. It's another to see it justified, owned, and supported by the LDS Church, whose leaders (at least at one time) had the guts to speak out against the needless slaying of animals for recreation. And on top of that, I'm supposed to continue to give 10% of my income, trusting that it's not going to be used for anything ungodly.

I'm appalled. I'm saddened that, as the second brother in the podcast said, we have to so greatly reduce our expectations about the Church. I think the message that he wanted us to get was that we almost have to expect the Church to engage in such disappointing behaviour because it's a human organization. If we expect the Church to act ethically and to respect all of God's creatures, then we expect too much. If we expect our tithing money to go where we think it goes, we expect too much.

Makes me wonder why I expect anything at all anymore.

All I can say is that I will not give another penny to an organization which knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately supports canned trophy hunting for profit. And I will not give another penny of my money to an organization which is so secretive in its administration of the massive funds it takes in and possesses, that I can't even see where it's supposedly "helping" people.

So, I could wonder whether God would rather that I financially support canned hunting and real estate in Florida, or medications and microloans to the third world, but I think I already know the answer.

If there's something I've learned the past couple of days, it's this: the Church truly is only what you make out of it. It's an incredibly human and fallible organization that we put on way too high a pedestal and it's inevitable that the good faith of members who donate large sums of money, believing it's all going to the poor, is going to be violated. And it saddens me that the organization that I always looked up to -- to have the best expectations of -- cannot live up to those expectations and may even violate them in horribly unethical and hypocritical ways, such as with these hunting preserves.

I should have known.

I apologize if I seem angry, but I am. Of all the huge Church-related disappoinments and disillusionments I've had over the past few years, this probably tops them all because of what it means to me personally. It tops all the uncertainty and conflicting information about Prop 8 and how much money the Church did or did not donate to that cause. It tops all the business about malls and squares in Salt Lake City.

It's a monster pill for me to swallow.

Sep 14, 2009

10%: Does It Matter Where It Goes?

Something has been on my mind for a long time, but I've never been able to come to any decision about it and the end of the year is quickly approaching.

Let me just start off by saying that even though I can be very frugal, I've always paid a full tithe and have never done so begrudgingly. I'm incredibly fortunate and I have no qualms about giving 10% of my income to helping others in need. So I'm not really questioning whether I should or shouldn't give 10% of my income to others at the end of this year, as I always have. Where I remain undecided, however, is where my 10% should go.

I think that many of us assume that our tithing goes to help the needy. But, if I understand it correctly, it doesn't. That's what fast offerings are for, which most of us probably comes secondary to tithing.

We don't have tithing slips (as pictured) in Europe, which makes it much more efficient. There are no cheques, no way to donate cash, and so there is nothing to count after church. I simply transfer my tithing at the end of each year directly into a Church bank account and then I get a statement that I use when I file my income tax in the spring. The drawback of this system, however, is that because no one ever sees a tithing slip, I don't think that members think very much about the other categories. I was a bit disheartened (and concerned) when in the past couple years after I specified in the transfer a certain amount going to the Humanitarian Fund, the clerk would approach me at church, confused about what I meant. This has happened twice. It seemed rather sad to me that I was apparently the other only donating to the Humanitarian Fund. I assume the money got to where it was intended, but I'm not sure it did. Perhaps it just got lumped in with my tithing.

There seems to be a lot of confusion over what tithing money goes towards. Many accused the Church of using some tithing funds to fund Prop 8 on some technicality. There are similar accusations regarding the Church's involvement with Evergreen International. And then of course the Church is a big business in Utah, which most of us international members are pretty clueless about (you Utahns will have to educate me about this). I still have no idea how many of the accusations are true, partially-true, or completely false. I guess it depends on who you want to believe. There are always technicalities, just like in politics. It would be nice to have a Truth-o-Metre for this kind of stuff.

So, since I have some concerns about where my tithing it going to and what it's being used for, I've felt strongly about just giving my entire 10% lump sum directly to the cause that has always been closest to my heart: humanitarian aid. I came close to doing this last year, but chickened out at the prospect of not being able to call myself a "full tithe payer." I'm also perhaps a bit superstitious in fearing that to lose that title may result in my life spiraling out of control and God throwing financial hardships at us when we've worked hard and really penny-pinched in order to stay out of debt and save up a good downpayment when we bought our house. I realize that if I give my entire 10% to the Humanitarian Fund or as a Fast Offering, I'm not technically going to be able to call myself a "full tithe payer." But does it matter? Does the Lord care more about the 10% than what category it goes into? Or should all these things be secondary to tithing and building up the Church as an organization around the world? Some say that it's important to give without having any expectations or demands about how the money is used. But I feel torn about that.

What do you think?

Sep 8, 2009

How Much Do You Value Your Church Membership?

You fellow Mormon bloggers out there have probably had to ask yourselves a certain question:

What if you were "outed" and summoned to a Bishop's court for blogging?

I've asked myself this many times. I'm not naive. I know that I could easily be "outed" and -- depending on how high a tolerance my local leaders have for such -- be subject to discipline for openly discussing my unorthodox and/or heretical opinions on here.

So what would I do if that happened? What would be my options?

Option 1: I would delete my blog and renounce whatever I've said on here that could make me subject to discipline (I'm not saying that I have said anything that would make me subject to discipline, I'm simply saying that I don't know. I think the verdict would vary from place to place and among different local leaders.)

Option 2: I would stand by all that I've written and refuse to delete my blog on the grounds that I need an outlet in order to discuss things that my leaders do not wish or cannot discuss with me. I would not renounce the personal beliefs I currently have, although I would try to be as respectful as possible of our different points of view. I would accept whatever judgment came my way, which would leave me with two post options:
  • Remain a (somewhat) believing and (somewhat) active Mormon by attending Church and keeping these things pretty much to myself outside of the online community. In other words, I would be doing basically what I'm doing now, but would either be disfellowshipped or excommunicated.
  • Stop attending Church and completely withdraw from my local Mormon community. This, however, would probably not eliminate my internal Mormon identity.
Option 3: Willingly resign my Church membership before judgment falls.

I've tried to imagine any one of these scenarios. Option 1, I think, would be very difficult for me. It would eat away at me to put on an act, and yet I've become quite good at keeping these things to myself, though it's not easy to do and it unlikely to be sustainable over a lifetime. My hope is to find a constructive and respectful way to interact with like-minded Mormons without getting myself kicked out.

Option 2 would be heart-wrenching and difficult, for myself and probably for my family as well. So Option 2 is what I fear the most, but it's also the one that seems most realistic if I were to find myself in a disciplinary situation. And to be honest, I'm not sure that I would have the guts to follow through with Option 2 because of what it would do to my family. I know they would continue to love me and never disown me (I'm very fortunate that way), but it was a big enough deal to them when one of my brothers started drinking. I'm not sure how they would handle having a child/sibling being excommunicated. The difficulty of the situation would perhaps make me consider (and perhaps even follow through) with Option 1, but I know I'd probably be equally unhappy with either Option 1 or 2.

Option 3 is understandable. Being subject to a bishop's court must be mentally and emotionally exhausting. I like my Church leaders, but it would be intimidating to plead my case when they can't really understand it and because I'm not the most eloquent speaker, particularly when it's not in my mother tongue. Neither would I have anyone who could witness or vouch for me.

So I guess what it boils down to is how much we all value our Church membership. My impression is that most Mormons view it in a very literal sense. "What is bound on earth is bound in heaven." In other words, what we do here has eternal consequences and losing one's membership in the Kingdom of God here on earth is a HUGE deal -- particularly in terms of what it means for family relationships.

There's no question that I value my membership in the Church. But I'm not sure that I value it in the same literal sense. All these stories of people (gays, feminists, intellectuals, scholars, etc.) getting excommunicated has made me fear it less in the literal sense. There's no question in my mind that many of these were/are people of immense faith, integrity, and being true to their inner light and convictions (even if they may be wrong and even if they deliberately did things that they knew were grounds for excommunication) -- qualities that are highly esteemed in Mormonism -- and so how can I believe that God will literally shut them out in the next phase of life?

So, if I were to lose my membership one day, would I be sad? Yes. Would I dread the unavoidable pain it would cause to my family? Yes. But would I see it as the end? No.

If you found yourself in the hypothetical situation that I outlined above (for some of you, it may not just be hypothetical), what do you think you would do? What would be the consequences?

How much do you value your Church membership? Do you ever fear being disciplined? Why or why not?

Aug 30, 2009

Renaissance

For all you Mormon Stories fans out there, the "second generation" of Mormon podcasts has begun now at Mormon Expression, so make sure to check out this new site when you get a chance (You can also see a link on my blog roll). A commenter on my previous thread, Sunflowercalm, tipped me off about a new podcast by the guys at Mormon Expression, interviewing John Dehlin about where he is now and how and why he is now in a much better place spiritually speaking. I think they asked him most of the questions that I would have wanted to ask him myself and I really enjoyed the insight that he was able to give from the experience of his journey. So download it and listen to it. You'll be glad you did.

More directly related to this post, however, is another series of the Mormon Stories podcasts that I hadn't listened to yet: "Fowler's Stages of Faith," podcasts #'s 15, 16, 17. I wish I had listened to this series first and I highly recommend listening to it before embarking on the rest of the podcasts. Seriously, if you listen to nothing else, LISTEN TO THIS SERIES. You won't regret it, I promise.

You can read a bit about Fowler's Stages of Faith Development here, but I highly recommend listening to at least the first podcast (#16) in order to get a better grasp on what it actually means. It will also help you better understand what I'm trying to get at in this post.

I first came across the "dark night of the soul" theory when I read Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light by Brian Kolodiejchuk (which I highly recommend, by the way). Mother Teresa herself experienced intense spiritual darkness and doubt that lasted for most of her life until just before her death. But back then I don't think that it registered in my mind that this phenomenon of a "purgation of the soul that brings purity and union with God," could perhaps apply to regular people and not just extraordinary and holy individuals such as Mother Teresa. It's not something that I've ever really heard in Mormon circles before and I think that this is probably because it is assumed that when we doubt and lack faith, the problem originates in us. God NEVER abandons us or closes the channels of communication, right? Wrong.

But there is a purpose.

Last time I was home visiting my family, I remember having a discussion during FHE about faith. Dad asked us all whether any of us had ever doubted that God existed. To my astonishment, I was the only one in my family who said they had. I was then suddenly aware of the chasm that existed between me and even my own family members, who are by no means ultraorthodox, conservative Mormons. Even they had never doubted. I know that my family would never mean to make me feel weak or "less" in any way. But I did.

I think that those of us who struggle in the Church are usually looked looked at with either misunderstanding (i.e. "They're just not committed to living the Gospel.") or pity (i.e. "It's too bad that they're just not strong enough.") But more than we actually hear it from people, we tend to feed ourselves these negative thoughts all the time. And sometimes we start to believe it. We feel sorry for ourselves. We start to think that perhaps we are weak because we doubt and everyone else knows that we doubt. Then the resentment of those who are spiritually-fulfilled sets in and we start to look at believers in the same condescending manner that we were probably looked at. As we become more "enlightened," we see how "deluded" they are.

After listening to these podcasts, I have begun to look at doubt in a different light. Although I had concluded that having doubts and issues weren't really a sign of weakness, I hadn't really thought about them as being constructive or a necessary part of progression. At least not in the way that they were presented in these podcasts. These stages of faith (or unfaith) are necessary, they can't be rushed, they can be lengthy, (even "brutal," as Tom says in the podcast) and they can't be skipped over.

For those of you who had lived a pretty orthodox, faithful life before entering a crisis of faith, you know the flood of emotions that comes with such a crisis: anger, disillusionment, apathy, and, my personal favourite -- cynicism. It's terrifying and perhaps even a little exhilarating at the same time as you are forced to cast aside all your old dogmas, beliefs and ideas, starting with a blank slate and realizing that you need to make the most out of this life since it may really be all there is. Priorities change. The way you view others changes (as Tom said in the last podcast, he was literally a homophobe and a racist when he was at Stage 3). When he got to Stage 4, it was hell. But now that he's gradually leaving 4, he is grateful for having been forced out of Stage 3. It's about going to a higher level -- and I don't mean that in condescending way. It's about having a deeper and more mature faith.

I'm in Stage 4, I don't know how long I'm going to be in it and I know there's no guarantee that I will ever leave it. I know that many people "check out" once they get to this stage. Some are in the purgatory of Stage 4 literally for years, perhaps even decades.

Part of graduating from Stage 4 and moving onto 5 or even 6 is not harbouring anger and resentment towards those who remain at Stage 3 -- and certainly avoiding any sense of superiority for doing so. For those of you who are or have been in Stage 4, you know how hard it is. And there's no magic pill to make you let go of the anger, doubt, resentment and sense of superiority. Even now that I'm able to put things into perspective and see a possible light at the end of the tunnel, I was reminded today as I sat in church and listened to people that I still have a very very long way to go.

Few will get past Stage 3 and probably fewer are able to leave Stage 4 once they enter it. I know that going back to Stage 3 is not an option. And I don't feel peace at 4. So the only way from here is up.

It's not about "getting my faith back." My old orthodox faith is gone and it's never coming back.

But a renaissance is possible. And who knows what it will look like then.

Maybe that's my glimpse into Stage 5. But it's just a glimpse.

Aug 26, 2009

Some Thoughts From Mormon Stories

I've had a couple of quiet days at home to take time to listen to some of the Mormon Stories podcasts that I hadn't yet had a chance to listen to. It's been challenging, uncomfortable, enlightening, and riveting -- all at the same time. As I finished listening to one of the podcasts this afternoon, I found myself lamenting over the fact that John Dehlin and some of those he interviewed on Mormon Stories have been dismissed as "Anti-Mormon" by some. A while back when I recommended a certain podcast to a church leader that I thought he would find helpful and insightful, he dismissed Dehlin as an employer of anti-Mormon tactics and had only negative things to say about him, even though I'm quite sure he was completely unfamiliar with him. So, as much as I still respect and admire this leader, I couldn't help but think how missing this unbelievably unique and insightful opportunity to learn more about Mormonism and Mormons from all across the spectrum was a huge loss on his part.

I've had a lot to process and digest over the past few days, but I'll try to summarize just some of my thoughts based on the various podcasts that I listened to. I can't recommend them enough to those of you who are struggling with the same issues that I am, or who are simply searching for an increase in understanding.

The first ones I listened to were a series with Paul Toscano (#'s 077-083), one of the September Six who were excommunicated in September of 1993. Toscano is very bold in his personal beliefs and observations. Although he can come across as arrogant, I think that "in-your-face," as he himself put it, is more accurate. He has some very interesting views about the Godhead, Christ, where the Church has gone wrong, where it has gone right, and what he'd like to see change. Although some of his opinions would sound heretical to most Mormons, I came away from the podcast with a deep appreciation for his view on Jesus Christ. Even though I may not share his view completely on exactly who or how Christ is, I found what he said about him downright inspiring and motivational. Yes, I'll say it again. I found an excommunicated "apostate" to be inspiring and motivational. I haven't yet listened to the series featuring his wife, Margaret Toscano, who was also excommunicated later on, but I'm looking forward to it.

The next series I listened to was with Grant Palmer, (#'s 030-033), author of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, and disfellowshipped in 2004 for publishing the book. I found this series to be the most riveting, probably because of Palmer's personality and background story. I could relate to him on many personal levels and my impression was one of a broken man who had to suffer the consequences of finding himself unable to reconcile the evidences he uncovered with the story that he had been led to believe for most of his life. Although he reached some pretty dismal personal conclusions as to the truth of many of Mormonism's claims, ranging from Book of Mormon literal historicity to the multiple accounts of the First Vision, I found his perspective to nevertheless be inspiring in its own way. And even though I'm not sure that I share his opinions and views in all these areas, in a way I could say that I felt relieved by his approach. Here is someone who has lost much of his faith, who does not believe the Church to be literally true on all the levels that it claims, and yet continues to love and see value in the Church -- enough so that he values his membership and still attends sacrament meeting as a disfellowshipped member. I was inspired by the story of his church court hearing and the aftermath -- namely the deeply personal and overwhelming sense of divine peace and comfort he felt the night after an exhausting and traumatic day. I came away feeling comforted by the notion that God continues to reach out to and comfort those who are cut off by the Church organization. Although I haven't read Palmer's book, I think that Bushman's neutralized style is my preference, but I was thoroughly impressed by Palmer's integrity and sincerity. Even if he's totally wrong in his assessments, it takes guts to be honest with oneself and others about one's beliefs -- however unpopular they are -- and especially when the consequences can be monumental. Not only did it affect his church life, but it affected his family life. And I respect that. I couldn't be more disappointed by apologetics and those in the Church who have resorted to ad-hominem attacks on him. I thought that his views on what the Church needs to do to retain credibility, integrity, and prevent an exodus of those who are troubled by what they read in today's world of easily-accessed information were spot-on. And, as was the case after listening to Paul Toscano, I felt a renewed desire to focus solely on Christ -- even though I'm still not quite sure how I'm to do that.

As a contrast, I then listened to the series with FAIR apologetic John Lynch (#'s 007-009). I admit that I was a bit skeptical, as I haven't always been impressed by their (or FARMS') attempts to defend things that are, in my mind, undefendable. But overall, I felt that Lynch was fairly sympathetic to those of us who find it difficult to reconcile faith with history -- even though I don't think that many apologetics really "get" the need of some people for neutral objectivity as opposed to defending everything on the premise that it's true no matter what. But that being said, I think that there is a legitimate place and need for apologetics in the minefield of information about Mormonism that's available online today.

Next, I listened to a two-part interview (#'s 002-003) with Gregory Prince, author of David O. McKay And The Rise Of Modern Mormonism. The second part of this interview, which covered the priesthood ban, was particularly fascinating. David O. McKay was very progressive in many ways -- especially in his desire to see the priesthood ban lifted and the personal efforts he made to have it lifted in his time. However, this progressivism did not extend to his personal views on race and civil rights. His views about blacks was typical for the time and place in which he lived, and he neglected to rise above this mindset when he occasionally had the oppotunity to do so. Sad, but certainly not shocking. Nevertheless, McKay was a friend of scholarship, intellectualism, unorthodox views, and even intervened when certain people were threatened with excommunication for these unorthodox views that he didn't necessarily agree with. He was a champion of free agency -- in thought included.

Lastly, I listened to a Seattle recording (#066) of a speech given by a woman about the history of the involvement of the LDS Church in the ERA movement. I really knew very little about this part of our history, but I was struck by the parallels between it and our involvement in Prop 8, most notably the proportion of Mormons who decided to follow blindly the Church's appell to vote it down, as well as the reasons given for doing so. For instance, some argued that passing the ERA would allow homosexuals to marry, or that stay-at-home mothers would be forced out of the home. The words "scare tactics" came to mind, as was often the case when I read the arguments by some Church members during the Prop 8 campaign. (One noteworthy piece of information was the disappointing fact that George Romney -- a man who is often praised for his progressive stance in the Black Civil Rights movement despite being pressured by certain Church leaders to change that stance -- was quoted as dismissing the ERA as an attempt by "moral perverts" to destroy the family.)

I have many of the podcasts to listen to yet. Just thought I'd share my latest impressions and I look forward to hearing yours.

Aug 15, 2009

How Important Is Image?

I was just on my way to bed, but just as I was about to shut down my computer, I see this headline on my Yahoo homepage. So I guess I won't be going to bed just yet.

Let's not turn this into a Yes vs. No debate on Prop 8. We've all been there, done that. What I am interested in discussing, however, is how important our image is as Mormons and as a church.

Ironically, today I was able to catch up on Skype with my best friend since kindergarten, who came out as a lesbian a few years ago. We chatted a bit about some things we were mulling about in our lives, among them spirituality and our love of writing. I told her about my blog and even directed her to an essay I wrote regarding Prop 8 in another forum. To be honest, it felt good. I've thought about our friendship a lot throughout the whole gay marriage ruckus and often felt like I should address this delicate issue somehow. I don't want to be a part of this "image" that I fear we have become as Mormons -- thanks to the media, warped accounts, selective information, and unfair criticisms from those who dislike the Church and its policies, but, saddest of all, the fact that there is truth behind a lot of it.

Most interesting in the article linked above was this particular paragraph:

"What I hear from my community and from straight progressive individuals is that they now see the church as a force for evil and as an enemy of fairness and equality," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. Kendell grew up Mormon in Utah. "To have the church's very deep and noble history telescoped down into this very nasty little image is as painful for me as for any faithful Mormon."

She's right. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, as a Mormon, this "nasty little image," as she calls it, is painful. Many in the Church will say that it doesn't matter, that "the work will go forward," while others almost seem to relish in it, having their persecution complex reignited and becoming virtual "martyrs for morality." But maybe image does matter. Isn't that what PR people are for?

Church spokeswoman Kim Farah claims:
"In reality the Church has received enormous support for its defense of marriage."
Maybe so, but I can guess where that support is coming from and it worries me in terms of where all the Church's growth will be coming from in the future.

And we think that Mormons have a conservative Republican image now?

How will it be when we've alienated virtually every progressive out there with this scary, anti civil rights image? Whether or not that is true is a whole other debate, but it's certainly becoming our image -- at least in America -- and I think that it will require investigators of the Church to really work hard at looking at the issues from a balanced, fair perspective in order to figure out what the Mormon religion is really about, as opposed to our image as a church. And how many will be able to do that? So, how much does image matter to you as a Mormon? Do you care about any of this? Why or why not?