Mar 24, 2009

The Faithful Dissident's First Anniversary

A year ago on this day, I published my first post.

Throughout the past year I managed to attract a number of regular readers and others who stumble upon my blog. Recently I was made a permablogger over at Mormon Matters and I've guest posted several times on Feminist Mormon Housewives. Sometimes I'm still amazed that anyone wants to read stuff that originated in my mind.

I thought that some of you may be interested in hearing the story of what became the catalyst for this blog.

I read a lot of news and somehow stumbled upon the story of Peter and Mary Danzig (see here and here to refresh your memory), which troubled me. And the more I read, the more troubled I became, not just about the Danzigs, but about things related to the Church and Mormonism that I had never heard of. And low and behold, I discovered something called The Bloggernacle.

At first I just read and read and read. But I had so many thoughts myself that I started to feel compelled to write them down. I began to think that perhaps I could start my own blog. But I wasn't a writer and I was definitely no scholar. Who would read it? And wouldn't it be like blasphemy or something? If someone found out it was me, could I end up like the Danzigs? So I put it out of my mind for a while.

I remember one day feeling incredibly frustrated by church. Something that someone in my branch had done to tick me off, combined with all the disappointing things about the Church that I had read, not to mention the fact that a couple of well-meaning yet overzealous missionaries scared off my non-member husband a couple of years before, and just the fact that I was utterly alone in the Church in general, made for an intensely negative spiritual time in my life and I was feeling very disillusioned. So I went out for a run in the melting snow to blow off some steam, my mp3 blaring, and that's when the idea to start a blog came back. And this time I wasn't going to shrug it off. But what would I call it? Feeling torn between faith and logic, I felt strongly that an oxymoron best described me. And then it came to me: The Faithful Dissident.

So, a year later, where am I now? In some ways I think I'm in a much better place now than before I started blogging, while sometimes I think that it just opened a can of worms. But I don't really have any regrets. I've met some wonderful people through blogging and although I've never met any of them in person, I think that we've made some special spiritual connections with one another that wouldn't have been possible any other way.

I can understand why some Church leaders don't want anyone to delve into Church history. I think that once you do, it's virtually impossible to maintain exactly the same beliefs that you had before you decided to delve deeper. So I'm actually hesitant to recommend doing so to anyone. It's a tough road to go down and there's really no going back.

In the past few years, my former view of the Church has been shattered. It's lost its shine and even some of its goodness in my eyes. My view of the Church is no longer this beacon of light and impeccable righteousness. I don't think it'll ever be the same. How can it be? But it's not enough to make me leave. I've just had to redefine what it means to me, FD.

I think what I've redefined more than anything is my priorities. To me, the most important thing is not to simply "follow the prophet," but to "love (my) neighbour as (myself)." To many Mormons it's all the same thing, but to me, sometimes paradoxes get in the way. Does this mean that the Church has become redundant or irrelevant to me? Not at all, since it's still very much the foundation upon which I build my life and faith in God. Does this mean that I now think that anything is acceptable? Of course not. What it means is that I'm willing to open my mind and spirit, look deeper into something and give it more consideration than most think is necessary. By doing so, I've been able to look at things very differently, learn a lot about the world and my fellow brothers and sisters, and even let go of some very stubborn grudges I had been holding towards some people. It's been a very humbling experience.

The decision of whether or not to remain active is really quite simple. Am I better off with or without it? Is it going to influence me for better or for worse in the future? My way of answering those questions is to ask myself yet another question: who and where would I be today if I had not been raised in the Church? I'd like to think that I'd be much the same person that I am now, but I tend to believe that the uniquely Mormon perspective of who God is and the Plan of Salvation -- as lacking in details and specifics as I think these doctrines still are to us -- are what have kept me from losing all hope and becoming very bitter and cynical about this world. And ironically, I think it's those fundamental beliefs that have shaped some of the views I hold which are so controversial or borderline apostate in the eyes of many of my fellow Mormons, whether it be related to racism, polygamy, socialism, or homosexuality.

I once told a friend that a testimony is like the stock market. It fluctuates and has its highs and lows, and in order to profit from it you have to be in for the long haul. I'm not sure whether it's appropriate to say that I have a testimony. A testimony is usually considered to be a witness of a knowledge that someone has and I'm very hesitant to say that I know anything. I do, however, have faith. And I have decided to invest it for the long haul.

I've only "come out" to a handful of fellow bloggers and friends I've met online that I've connected with and trust. Aside from that, only my immediate family members know who FD really is. I realize that someday, someone who knows me may stumble across my blog and put two and two together. In the mean time, although I've sometimes been tempted to reveal more, remaining at least somewhat anonymous allows me greater freedom to write what's really on my mind.

So that was my first "annual report" and I look forward to more in the future.

Some fun facts:

Most controversial post: Hard to narrow down, but anything to do with Prop 8 was generally controversial and I decided to compile my thoughts in My Prop 8 Manifesto

Post that generated the most comments: That would have to be Ezra Taft Benson vs. Democratic Socialism, which I wrote around the time that some Mormon Republicans were branding Obama a reincarnation of Stalin. Keeping up with all the comments on this post got to be a full time job and for the first time, I had to close down a thread. Even now, I still get lots of hits on that post. And in case any of you are wondering whether I've repented of being a part of "Satan's counterfeit plan," all I can say is that I'm still content with "spreading the wealth around."

Most thought-provoking post: There probably isn't much that requires more mental aerobics than reconciling the Church's teachings on gender and the reality of intersex and transsexuals. I presented my thoughts on the subject in Gender: A State Of Mind.

Most personal post: I related the very personal story about my brother and a conflict I had with him in 'Tis The Season For Making Amends.

Post that was the most fun to write: I would say that would be How I Co-Authored Barack Obama's The Audacity Of Hope simply because I thoroughly enjoyed the book, particularly the chapters about faith, which I cite in the post.

Post that was hardest to write: I really had to cough up my pride and let go of an enormous grudge against my sister-in-law in I Have A Confession To Make. In that post I also let off some steam about religion in general.

Most Frustrating Post: If I discount all the political and socialism stuff, Elder Russell M. Nelson gets the dubious honour for his conference talk about "cheap" marital options. My commentary on Elder Nelson's talk in How I Got My Husband Off The Clearance Rack on FMH generated a lot of feedback from other Mormons who were equally offended by his marriage analogies.

Post that I'm personally most proud of: Make Some Room. This post came as pure inspiration at about 2 am one morning just after the US election and I wrote it in a relatively short amount of time. I got some great feedback when it was posted on FMH and I even received e-mails from some members who thanked me profusely for it.

Now... here are some gems that I've discovered in the Bloggernacle over the past year that I recommend:

For the best-researched posts that I still cite from time to time, the prize goes to three bloggers:

Mormon Heretic for Was The Priesthood Ban Inspired?

Bored In Vernal: Hieing to Kolob for Evolution Of Birth Control Teachings In The Mormon Church

Dichotomy: Mormon In The Closet for LDS Gay History Timeline

Most touching post:

God's Love by my good friend Cody from GayLDSActor.

Other special mentions:

"I'd Like To Bear My Testimony:" Why I Came Out To My Entire Ward by Clint from Soy Made Me Gay.

Rick from Politicalds (one of my favourite blogs and the one that I probably spent the most time on) did this great post entitled Pro-Death? on why that description apparently fits him better than "pro-life," which sparked an interesting debate about abortion, euthanasia, and animal rights, among other things.

Late Addition:

Ray, coincidentally I just stumbled upon this post of yours from last year about When Moral Issues Become Political Issues. This is a keeper! Even if just for your position on abortion, which is exactly how I feel. Very good for all of us who feel torn on these issues.

Mar 18, 2009

Wanted: Men On The Outside

“Perhaps the Lord needs [] men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They... can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else... Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted... the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose."

{Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59 [quoted by Ezra Taft Benson, “Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints,” Ensign, Jul 1972, 59]}

I came across the above quote in an old Mormon Matters post and was struck by it for several reasons:

Firstly, I don't think I've heard or read anything quite like it from Church leaders before.

Secondly, it seems to be quite a contrast from the usual message of haste for the need to be converted in this life, not to mention Moroni's promise that "if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 10:4), as well as "God giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not" (James 1:5). In fact, it almost seems like a contradiction to me.

Thirdly, it reminds me of the discussion we had earlier about The Faith Gene and it seems to confirm the theory that some are unable to believe, not because of their own wrongdoing, but because God sees fit that "the beauties and glories of the gospel (be) veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose." That "men on the outside" can sometimes actually "do more good" elsewhere than in the Church.

Thoughts, anyone?

Mar 8, 2009

International Women's Day: Are LDS Women Femiphobic?

Today is International Women's Day. Since it fell on a Sunday, I was at church today and it was the subject of a talk in sacrament meeting coinciding with the upcoming Relief Society Anniversary that will be celebrated in my branch later this month.

The RS president in my branch gave a nice talk about all the usual RS values: sisterhood, charity, service, motherhood, etc. But there one part in her talk that bothered me.

She started off by mentioning how she remembered an International Women's Day years back where Norwegian women protested with a slogan that I can translate as "Don't give up on your demands!" Upon hearing this, a sister in the congregation let out a laugh that sounded just a tad like mocking to me. The RS president went on to say, very proudly indeed, that never in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the sisters "demanded" anything of the like.

Let me start off by saying that I'm not implying here that LDS women should start "demanding" things from the Church. When it comes to things like the priesthood, most Mormon women I know (myself included) have no real interest in obtaining it. Most of us probably don't even feel unequal, unless you count things like polygamous temple sealings -- which most probably don't give much thought to until they find themselves involved in one.

But are LDS women marginalizing the efforts and accomplishments of feminists -- the things that we are supposed to be celebrating and giving thought to this day? The reason why I say yes is because I used to do it myself. Just a few years ago, I could have been that sister laughing at feminists in sacrament meeting.

I'd be lying if I said that I was a good feminist. And to be perfectly honest, I have to say that more often than not, I have viewed the feminist movement as something negative: women telling me to burn my bra, wear pantsuits, or make sure that every kid in the country grows up in daycare while mom climbs to the top of the corporate ladder. But the older I get and the more I learn about history and the world around me, the more thankful I am for the women who went before me and paved the road so that I have as much access to the highway of life as my husband. Yes, I'm even thankful for those terribly "demanding" feminists who never "gave up."

I think that most LDS women have a cynical view of feminism (as I did) because they believe that the only aim of feminists is to pull them out of their homes and force them to work while their kids get shipped off to daycare, even though they have chosen of their own free will to be a stay-at-home mom and love it. They feel that their choice of lifetyle is being mocked, devalued, and discouraged. And I certainly think that sometimes this is the case.

But let's look at the other side of the coin. Is there not a Mormon equivalent of the die-hard, anti-traditional, bra-burning feminist? Aren't liberal, career-oriented, childless women generally looked upon by most Mormons as being selfish -- or perhaps even having an active hand in the breakdown of the family? We often hear how the traditional family is "under attack," which was reiterated in church today. And who is "attacking" it? I think that many LDS women think that feminists are. Perhaps that's why the word "feminist" still instinctively conjures up a negative feeling in me until I actually consciously think about it. And the more conscious thought I give it, the less threatened I feel by feminists.

But just as troublesome to me as die-hard feminists telling me that my place is in an office and not at home, is Mormons telling me that my place is not in an office but at home. Mormons can sprinkle as much sugar as they like on it, but the message is always the same: a woman's place is in the home raising children and it's not just where she should be, but where she should want to be. And a woman who doesn't want to be, or chooses to be childless, can perhaps barely be called a woman at all.

In her talk, the RS president addressed the concern that some have about a church that excludes women from the priesthood. Her explanation was that women make up for it in terms of equality by being "partners" with the Lord and giving birth to children -- something that men can't do. I sat there wondering where that leaves me. And I sometimes wonder whether I'm the only woman in the Church who is wondering. At times it feels like finding my place in this world is a lot easier than finding my place in the Church. Personally, I'd like to have some say in what my role in this life is.

So what do you think? Are LDS women a bunch of femiphobics? Can they really appreciate what the feminist movement has given them without mocking it?

Mar 3, 2009

The Validity Of Deathbed Confessions

A few months ago, I was talking to my parents about the movie Emma Smith, My Story, which they had just seen. I haven't yet seen the movie myself, but I was surprised to hear my father express skepticism that Joseph Smith ever practiced polygamy. Since Emma herself denied it -- even on her deathbed -- he seemed to think that there was perhaps some validity to her statement. After all, deathbed confessions are pretty reliable, right? Would someone like Emma actually tell such a big lie on their deathbed?

According to Wikipedia:

"Newell and Avery, in their biography, Mormon Enigma, make the claim that Emma witnessed several marriages of Joseph Smith, Jr. to plural wives. However, throughout her lifetime Emma publicly denied knowledge of her husband's involvement in the practice of polygamy and denied on her deathbed that the practice had ever occurred. Emma stated,

“ No such thing as polygamy, or spiritual wifery, was taught, publicly or privately, before my husband's death, that I have now, or ever had any knowledge of...He had no other wife but me; nor did he to my knowledge ever have.”

Emma Smith claimed that the very first time she ever became aware of a polygamy revelation being attributed by Mormons to Joseph Smith was when she read about it in Orson Pratt's booklet
The Seer in 1853. Her son, Joseph Smith III, became prophet/president of the Reorganization — which gathered many of the Latter Day Saints still scattered across the Midwest and elsewhere. Many of the Midwestern Latter Day Saints had broken with Brigham Young and/or James Strang because of earnest opposition to polygamy. Emma's continuing public denial of the practice seemed to lend strength to their cause, and opposition to polygamy became a tenet of the RLDS church (now known as Community of Christ). Over the years many church historians attempted to prove that the practice had originated with Brigham Young."

Emma Smith is, to me, one of those tragic characters of history. Re-reading some of the parts about her in Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling it's sad to think about how her life was and how it could have been, particularly when she and Joseph seem to have truly loved each other:

"With Joseph gone from her life, Emma withdrew from religion. She was reluctant to talk about Mormonism. Approached by representatives of one of the Mormon churches that sprang up after the exodus, she told them, "I have always avoided talking to my children about having anything to do in the church, for I have suffered so much I have dreaded to have them take any part in it." Her sons grew up believing the Bible and the Book of Mormon but with little knowledge of their father's teachings -- and none about plural marriage. Eventually the reform Mormons who founded the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, made up of Saints who had not gone west, persuaded Joseph III to take the leadership. Emma joined but never took a leading role. She fended off Joseph III's increasingly urgent questions about plural marriage, leaving the impression that her husband had never supported the principle but keeping the door open for the revelation she knew he had received. When asked about the Book of Mormon and Joseph's translation, she professed complete belief. Like the 1844 reform group led by William Law, she believed in the early Joseph whose doctrines conformed to conventional Christianity. Until her death in 1879, the memory she chose to perpetuate for her children was of this milder Prophet rather than the religious revolutionary of the Nauvoo years." (Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, page 555)

Personally, I find it hard to deny that Joseph Smith ever practiced polygamy. I don't doubt that he kept many things hidden from Emma, at least for a time, but it's hard to imagine that she was totally oblivious to it all -- assuming it even happened, which she asserted it did not. So was Emma's pants on fire? Was she guilty of telling a huge whopper? Or could she have actually believed it herself? Could she have been so hurt, angered and traumatized by polygamy that she, somehow, "blocked it out?" I find it interesting that she "professed complete belief" when it came to the Book of Mormon and its translation, much like all of the witnesses who left the Church or were excommunicated but never denied their testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

How much do you trust a deathbed confession? Why do you think that Emma denied that Joseph practiced polygamy even as she was facing death? Do you think she herself believed what she was saying, perhaps for the reasons stated above? Do you think that she lied out of hurt and anger? Did she just want to protect her children? Or do you think there was any validity to her deathbed confession?