After being unemployed for nearly a month, I returned to my job on Monday. The company took out a loan from this new government program to be able to reopen. See, only billion-dollar banks and corporations qualify for huge taxpayer-funded bailouts. Small businesses like this one have to content themselves with taking out loans. But that's none of my business. Anyway, the timing came as a surprise to me because, though the initial closure was due to Amazon's issues due to the beer bug rather than due to the beer bug itself, I assumed it would remain closed at least until May 1 when Governor Herbert will start to loosen up his "Stay Safe, Stay Home" policy a bit. Or maybe until July, depending on how long Amazon takes to straighten out its issues. I had just started getting used to my life consisting solely of sitting at home alone and going on long walks alone. The first couple weeks dragged on and on and on and with no end in sight, the thought occurred to me more than once that I might end up hanging myself, but then the days just started to zip by. Sleep in a little, work on my Spotify playlist, take a walk, and bam, it's already dinnertime.
I hope it's safe to go back because I couldn't legally decline the offer and continue to collect unemployment insurance. For that matter, I haven't gotten nearly as much money from unemployment insurance as I was supposed to. Utah's website was all like "Yes, the federal government passed this bill to increase weekly unemployment payments by $600, but we're not doing that yet because something something bullcrap." And yes, I agree with those complaining that essential workers should also be getting $600 weekly raises, if not more, but I never asked to lose my job so I don't appreciate being painted as some kind of villain for getting paid to do nothing. Anyway, the company is taking new precautionary measures and there are a lot fewer of us anyway since many employees have gone home to their families. Every other workstation is empty, weekly food days are gone, congregating during breaks is forbidden and I always wear a mask. It should be fine until the second wave hits during flu season and Utah has no herd immunity.
I'm very frustrated with the people who refuse to take this pandemic seriously, who implicitly treat it as a joke or explicitly claim that it's being blown out of proportion. Someone recently complained that all my Facebook posts nowadays are "judgey" of people doing things that I don't approve of. Well yes, I suppose I am a bit judgey of people whose apathy and/or stupidity is actively endangering God knows how many innocent lives. I do believe that if there were any justice in the world, the virus would evolve to specifically target the people who are protesting for the right to catch it. I'd rather just catch it and get it over with too but I recognize that other people don't want to die and I have no right to kill them if I can avoid it. Even if, according to Republican logic, they are sub-human and don't count as evidence of the virus' seriousness because they were over sixty or had underlying health conditions. "All lives matter" my butt.
It's kind of sickening that as a society and as a species we're at a point of having to weigh people's lives against something called "the economy". Because people's lives are, you know, an actual thing, whereas the economy is a manmade illusion. We invented this stuff called money, we decided that it has value because we say it does, and we decided that most adults' every waking moment should be spent stressing over it. We twisted the wholesome principle of honest work for honest pay into a system designed to keep poor people poor and make the average life revolve around the constant pursuit of money. I recognize that money is a necessary evil and that running modern civilization without it would be virtually impossible. I don't know of a better alternative. But still, a slight reality check would be nice. Money is not real. The economy is not real. The stock market is just a bunch of numbers. So why do we worship them? Why are we debating what number or percentage of human lives is an acceptable sacrifice to prevent this manmade illusion from floundering further?
The mental health problem, at least, is a legitimate concern that the people saying "stay home" over and over have almost entirely glossed over. It took a heavy toll on my mental health until I got used to it. I didn't think giving up my limited social activities would make any noticeable difference, but it did, and then one of my greatest worries was realized when I lost my job. Life was boring and lonely and miserable and even though I was getting used to it I'm glad I have my job back. I feel somewhat validated in what I said years ago when I first got this job - that it's a very good job, and it's like a marriage, in that you start out all excited and stuff but as the years where on it becomes commonplace and tedious and you have to consciously remind yourself every day how blessed you are to have it. Of course, I will be leaving and probably never coming back after I become a graduate instructor and hopefully kick off a teaching career this fall. But it's hard to say what that will even look like. Will I do everything online? Will the university even be open? The uncertainty kind of blows. But even so, I think I'm finally figuring out how to be an adult and for the first time since becoming one, I'm optimistic about the future.
So this is a draft I've been sitting on for over two years and have finally decided to just get out of my drafts file so the effort put into it won't be wasted. I wrote it early in the week to post on the weekend according to my habitual schedule but then had to keep updating it as more details came out in the news every day, and then because I was very busy with school I gave up and shelved it. This is how I left it the week of March 20, 2018, except for one brief interpolation denoted by brackets and a few tweaks to bring it into conformity with the revisions made to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Style Guide later that year.
Post Draft Begins
The good news this week is that I got [I don't remember what I was going to put here so obviously it wasn't that good]
The bad news this week is the scandal in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which of course thanks to my weekly format and busy schedule I'm writing about after everyone else, but maybe that's for the best as it's given me time to reflect instead of lashing out. Please forgive this recap that may well be redundant to you. And please read the entire post before deciding to hate me. I've had to revise a few times as additional information keeps coming out, so I apologize if I've missed anything crucial.
An anonymous woman who served as a Latter-day Saint missionary in the early eighties alleges that the president of the Missionary Training Center, Joseph Bishop, groomed and tried to rape her. She claims that she told Carlos E. Asay of the Seventy about it, and that he said he would speak to Joseph Bishop about it, but he never did and Joseph Bishop never faced any consequences whatsoever. Unfortunately, the late Elder Asay has not responded to requests for comment. The latest legal investigation started in January and closed because the statute of limitations expired thirty years ago and they can't actually do anything about it, but it has suddenly blown up due to the unauthorized leak of an audio recording of an alleged interview between the victim and Joseph Bishop, in which he admits to his alleged crimes in great detail for the better part of two hours and forty-four minutes. And since this woman was choosing to keep the whole matter mostly private, whichever "friend" leaked it without her permission and probably ruined her chance for a settlement is kind of a dirtbag.
Outside of the recording, Joseph Bishop has before and since denied all accusations except asking to see her breasts and giving a backrub to another missionary living in his home. His son claims that he told him about these things sometime before the accusations came. Admitting that much either increases or reduces his credibility, I'm not sure which. The breast thing in and of itself is a terrible and unacceptable thing for a man in his position to have done and should have cost him said position at the very least had it been known at the time, but far less than he stands accused of now. The Church's official statement can be found here. Some people whose view of reality is filtered through the assumption that everything the Church does or says is in bad faith have read such victim-blaming and negligence into this statement that I can only assume they aren't seeing the same one I am.
Of course, as with unsubstantiated claims regarding suicide statistics, there are those who want this to be true because they don't care about assault victims so much as they hate the Church and like having tragedies to weaponize against it. There are also those church members who immediately assume it can't be true because he was an MTC president. Both types are dangerous. The rest of us have two competing prerogatives: to take seriously women (and, in theory, men) who claim to have been abused or assaulted, and to take caution against ruining innocent men's (and, in theory, women's) lives. Most people these days seem to resolve this difficulty by just not caring about the latter item. It seems like men accused of abuse or assault are presumed guilty until proven innocent, just because the topic is so emotionally charged and people are out for blood. And that's disgusting.
Because I was so disturbed and needed the full context, I read the transcript while I should have been doing homework, and it looks extremely damning. And it probably is. Unless it isn't legit. As absurd as that may sound, an ex-Mormon skillfully crafting fake but convincing evidence to embarrass and/or extort money from the Church would not be without precedent. See: Mark Hofmann I'm willing to regard the accuser as acting in good faith unless and until proven otherwise, but I mention this possibility and perhaps focus disproportionately on it because many people haven't bothered to consider it at all - assuming, apparently, that modern recording devices are magic infallible purveyors of truth, even though many of these same people had no hesitation in dismissing the undercover Planned Parenthood videos as "deceptively edited" without watching them. Joseph Bishop's son Greg claims that the accuser has also made spurious accusations against at least ten other men without filing charges which, if true, obliterates her credibility. But I don't know if it is. No one has denied it, but if it's true I'd like to know why she isn't in prison for life.
Someone who knows Joseph Bishop personally asserts that he has dementia and espouses this hypothesis. His son, Greg, asserts that he was under medication for the heart surgery he mentioned having a couple days before the interview. Certainly it's obvious in the transcript that he isn't all there. He seemed like a rambling child, with the interviewer a (mostly) patient teacher guiding the discussion and constantly redirecting him back on topic. She said he had tried to rape her and he said he didn't remember that but spilled his guts about his other alleged crimes, with no resistance, despite knowing he was being recorded and despite denying it in before and since then. And he kind of rambled all over the place and sometimes he just talked about it as casually as the weather but other times he talked about sex addiction and tried to make himself the victim but other times he was like "I feel really bad about it" but when the interviewer talked about how her faith and her life were ruined, he was just like "Wow." He said he didn't remember some things, which people have taken as proof of his dishonesty despite how open he was about the other details. The whole discussion is weird. Something is off.
I'm not advocating per se for Joseph Bishop's innocence, which I haven't the expertise to declare, but all I'm saying is that we can't immediately rule it out as so many have done. This is why we try to have fair trials and lawyers instead of just convicting people as soon as an apparently damning piece of evidence comes to light. If the recording is discredited, which unfortunately won't be a matter for the police or court system to resolve since the statues of limitations is up, I won't have made an ass of myself and slandered a (mostly) innocent man. It's worth a reminder, too, that both our secular legal system and the church discipline system are imperfect necessities for maintaining some semblance of order. Both will inevitably overlook people who should have been punished and punish people who shouldn't have been. We can only look to God's final judgment for any hope of true justice - and then, of course, we can also take comfort that He will be far more merciful to all of us than any of us deserve. Without this, life is irredeemably and irrevocably unfair.
If true, the mere fact of a high-ranking church leader doing something terrible, however tragic and unacceptable it is, has little or no bearing on the legitimacy or integrity of the organization. Everyone has agency and any good man can choose to no longer be a good man. Far more problematic in my view are a couple other aspects of the alleged situation. First, Joseph Bishop claims in the interview that he struggled with sex addiction and unresolved sexual sin before beign called as MTC president. If so, why would God allow the selection of such a man to a position over vulnerable young women? And second, of course, the alleged unwillingness of Elder Asay to do anything about it. I suppose that too would mostly reflect on him as an individual, but it would sure make the institution look bad. On both of these questions, though, the other men whose sides of the story could enlighten us on the answers are deceased, so any speculation from detractors or defenders of the Church seems to me of limited value. I'm not going to worry about it. I have the Holy Ghost for myself and how anyone else deals with Him is not my concern.
But regardless of the outcome of this one person's guilt or innocence, it should serve as a wake-up call and an urgent reminder that no one - no one - is incapable of doing terrible things simply by virtue of his religion or his status within it. If you ever catch yourself saying "He couldn't have done that, he's a good Latter-day Saint", stop. Just stop. See: Mountain Meadows Massacre Other instances of abuse and assault unquestionably happen within the Church. I don't think we have an exceptional problem with it, and we'll never be able to stamp it out entirely because humans will be humans, but we have to do what we can to address the instances that have happened and prevent future ones. This doesn't happen to be one of the myriad problems in the world that I've channelled my limited time and resources into addressing, but I hope that mentioning it here will be some small help to those who are working on it. This article from Leo Winegar and this site from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops that he recommended to me are good resources. And I would generally recommend going to the police before religious leaders who have no legal authority.
End of Post Draft
I already went into more detail in a post last year, but to recap the rest of the story since then: the woman, McKenna Denson (who changed her name from June Hughes after her reputation started to catch up with her) does, in fact, have an extensive record of trying to extort money from people and institutions with false accusations and fraudulent lawsuits - including but not limited to the aforementioned rape accusations - going back about four decades to before her mission. Oh, and she also solicited donations by pretending to have cancer so basically she's Satan. When the Church's lawyers documented these facts, they were evil scum-sucking victim blamers promoting rape culture. When McKenna's partner and biggest supporter Mike Norton documented these facts, he was a hero acting with courage and integrity. A couple days later her own lawyers quit for undisclosed reasons. So mysterious. The last news about her was in February when she dropped the lawsuit and the case was sent to settlement instead, but for the most part, she's dropped off the face of the Earth and her support has evaporated.
The story hits a bit closer to home now that I've also faced false accusations from a pathological liar. Fortunately, I was "only" accused of stalking, and all that happened was Officer Jackass chewed me out for a few minutes and then forced me to go to the hospital to talk to the world's most apathetic social worker. At no point did either of them ask a single question about my side of the story or give the slightest indication of considering that I might have one. Thinking back on it I've fantasized about giving Officer Jackass a piece of my mind, telling him exactly what I think of him and explaining in detail, even though he didn't ask, why pretty much everything he thought was completely wrong, but at the time I was too confused and scared to do much more than sit through his abuse. I worried that it might cause additional problems in my life and was prepared to file a lawsuit if it did, but it doesn't seem to have gone on any sort of permanent record so that saves me some hassle. So that was my admittedly one-sided experience with the culture of hashtag believe women.
Besides my original question of why McKenna Denson isn't in prison for life, which still stands, I now have two more: how many people left the Church because of her, and how many of them came back after her career of lies was exposed? Knowing what I do about human nature, I'm guessing the answer to that last one is zero, give or take.
Last weekend, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, "In my video message, I invited all to join in fasting on Sunday, March 29, 2020. Many of you may have seen the video and joined in the fast. Some may have not. Now we still need help from heaven.
"So tonight, my dear brothers and sisters, in the spirit of the sons of Mosiah, who gave themselves to much fasting and prayer, and as part of our April 2020 general conference, I am calling for another worldwide fast. For all whose health may permit, let us fast, pray, and unite our faith once again. Let us prayerfully plead for relief from this global pandemic.
"I invite all, including those not of our faith, to fast and pray on Good Friday, April 10, that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized."
I'm not sure now why I didn't bother to mention that in my little recap of personal General Conference highlights. Fasting is whatever for me. I do it and I believe it enhances my pleas to heaven but I've rarely found it to be a super profound or uplifting experience. It drains me so much physically and mentally that I usually do little more than sit on the couch until I can eat. Sometimes I eat an hour or two early. I'm skinny, okay?
Certainly I gave no thought to the seemingly superfluous fact that this invitation had been extended to "those not of our faith". Of course they would be welcome to participate, just as they are always welcome to watch General Conference or attend the meetings and activities we used to have before the you-know-what, but I implicitly assumed that few would have cause to notice or care about this invitation, and that their participation in the fast, however welcome and appreciated, would be statistically insignificant.
Well, what do I know about anything? That very weekend a few missionaries made a Facebook group for the fast, which swelled to over half a million members by the time Good Friday rolled around, at least in my time zone which is the only one that matters anyway. It swelled to over half a million members despite Facebook's mindless algorithms freaking out over this rapid growth and blocking many if not most of us from adding our friends because something something spam. I tried to add people at least eight times with no success. That would have been impressive enough, but reading through the posts absolutely blew my mind. Post after post from people who stopped participating in the Church years ago, or actively disaffiliated from it, but now wanted to join with us in this fast. Post after post from people who had never been part of our church, including Catholics, various kinds of Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, pagans, and even atheists, who wanted to join with us in this fast.
I've never seen anything like it before. Interfaith cooperation, sure, but not on such a grassroots and global scale. I also noted that the contempt for Muslims and/or LGBT people which I've witnessed from scores of so-called Latter-day Saints elsewhere on Facebook was nowhere to be seen in this group when Muslims or LGBT people posted to identify themselves as Muslims or LGBT people. This group seems to have brought out the best in virtually everyone. I can't help thinking that if it were to serve as a model for the human race going forward, if the pandemic brought us all together and made us forget our petty differences and live as a harmonious global community, it would be a net positive for the human race by far. Of course that won't happen or won't last more than a couple months but it's a nice thought regardless. At least within this group I hope bridges that have been built that will last lifetimes, especially as it is now being transitioned to the more generic "Worldwide Inspiration".
Today my Easter celebration has consisted of joining a Zoom devotional with my old ward, hiking a couple hours out to a secluded spot to pray, and eating Cadbury eggs. I wish my religious community and society in general made as big a deal out of Easter as we do Christmas, but it is a little harder when it's observed on a different day every year because something something moon phases. Regardless, I believe that because of the hope embodied in the message of Easter, everything is going to be okay in the long term no matter how many people are killed by the you-know-what and whatever else. Each and every one of them will live again. And I'm not afraid to join their numbers. If it were up to me, I would much rather just get the you-know-what and take my chances than be stuck at home alone for God knows how long. But I don't want to cause more avoidable deaths either because that's still wrong even if they are temporary. So whatever. Happy Easter!
General Conference has been disrupted by disease pandemics twice before, in 1918 when it was postponed for a couple months and in 1957 when it was canceled altogether, and its being disrupted a third time really underscores the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in as a global community. But thanks to our miracles of miraculous technology in this, the world of tomorrow, the disruption didn't amount to much this time around and things continued on schedule with the necessary precautions taken. The only real loss was being forced to use Tabernacle Choir recordings for the music instead of the originally planned live multicultural choir from the Wasatch Front. Yes, I know a multicultural choir from the Wasatch Front sounds like an oxymoron, but apparently they were going to make it happen and it would have been cool.
I have little to say about the actual content of the actual talks, because most of them seemed to hammer home the same point over and over: the importance and desirability of seeking and receiving personal revelation. That's exactly what one would expect on the two hundredth anniversary of Joseph Smith's First Vision, and exactly what I wanted to hear in this delicate phase of my life where I crave said personal revelation. I have a strong testimony of personal revelation because I've had experiences with God placing thoughts in my head, giving me knowledge I didn't have and guiding me to do things I couldn't do on my own. I've also had experiences with begging God for said guidance, being told to make my own decisions, and making my own decisions which then lead to disaster. Last year I got pretty upset with him for not helping me out of a situation that I was only in because I followed his prompting to begin with. Maybe it was just a learning and growth experience. Maybe the actual outcome didn't matter to him. But it mattered to me.
So in this situation I'm currently facing which is none of your business, I have perfect faith that God can help me, but whether he will is another question altogether. And if he's not going to then I'd just as soon bail out now and not waste any more emotional energy on it. But after these messages and the thoughts and feelings that came to mind, I feel good about continuing in my present course one day at a time. And my present course involves hoping and praying but not actually doing much of anything because I can't. I have to learn patience, you see, during those periods of life when I'm all but powerless to effect actual change. It sucks.
I did also like these words from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: "When we have conquered this [the you-know-what], and we will, may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighborhoods and countries from the virus of poverty. May we hope for schools where students are taught - not terrified they will be shot - and for the gift of personal dignity for every child of God, unmarred by any form of racial, ethnic or religious prejudice. The rising generation deserve so much more."
Okay, so actually the United States of America is the only country where students are terrified they will be shot, because the United States of America is the only country where students are shot in schools on a regular basis. And usually it bothers me when church members or leaders bring up specifically American politics or concerns in what's supposed to be a global context. But in this case, the rebuke is so well-deserved that I'm letting it slide.
New Black Leaders
Anyone who's bothered to peruse the rest of my site has noticed that I follow the Church's past and present relations with people of black African descent religiously, no pun intended, so it brought me great joy to see the number of men of black African descent on the annual General Authorities and General Officers chart double from three to six in one afternoon. I mean, the chart isn't out yet but when it is these men of black African descent will be on it.
With a much larger and faster growing church membership, it's quite ironic that Nigeria took eleven years longer than Kenya to get its first General Authority. Speaking of growing church membership...
I don't know why they stopped reporting the annual statistics in the conference itself, but I think it was a good move because it makes it harder for lazy members to be like "Yay, the Church is growing because it's true" and pat themselves on the back for doing nothing. Still, the latest statistics do contain some data to be happy about. After being its lowest since 1937 in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, the Church's growth rate in 2019 went up instead of down for the first time in thirty years. This will probably be an increasing trend rather than a fluke because we knew it was coming sooner or later as an inevitable result of countries with smaller membership bases and higher growth rates finally gaining the critical mass to make a dent in the global trend. Of course, that global trend might completely go to hell in 2020 thanks to the you-know-what disrupting missionary work and church operations, but the long-term future is bright.
The youth speakers in the Saturday afternoon session were adorable, yet powerful and moving in their conviction. I want to hear random people speak in General Conference more often.
The Church has a new logo to broadcast its Christ-centric focus to the world. This logo will be used for official broadcasts and publications. Naturally, it goes without saying that we ordinary members should not start plastering this logo all over our own memes, inspirational quotes, blogs and so forth, falsely implying official endorsement or sanction for them. I will continue to use my little Moroni favicon that faces the wrong way.
Also, it really triggered some guy named Kenneth and I thought that was funny.
I've accepted that despite all my effort I will never be as smart or influential as Jaxon Washburn is without trying, but I've been Facebook friends with him for a few years and he didn't used to be this sarcastic, so I'm going to take credit for that aspect of his personality. You're welcome.
New Proclamation to the World
Declaring to the world the truth and importance of Joseph Smith's First Vision, this is only the fifth such proclamation from church leadership in history. I mean, there's nothing in it that we didn't already know, but it's a cool thing to hang on your wall. Read it here.
President Rusell M. Nelson saved these for the end of the last session, as he always does except when he decides to be a troll and put them in the women's session.
Bahía Blanca, Argentina
Enthusiasm Level: High
Enthusiasm Level: Moderate
Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Enthusiasm Level: High
Enthusiasm Level: Moderate
Benin City, Nigeria
Enthusiasm Level: High
Enthusiasm Level: Literally nonexistent as soon as I realized that of course he wasn't talking about Syracuse, New York
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Enthusiasm Level: Through the proverbial roof
Shanghai, People's Republic of China
Enthusiasm Level: I swore out loud, but in a good way
These latter two temples obviously took a great deal of delicate work behind the scenes. In the case of the PRC, President Nelson was of course uniquely positioned to make it happen because of his positive relationship with the country going back decades. I knew better than to get my hopes up but I didn't think it at all unlikely that something would happen in that regard with him as President of the Church. I think it's neat that as an Apostle over thirty years ago, he also spearheaded the Church's establishment in several countries of the Soviet Union. In his book Accomplishing the Impossible he recalls meeting with Bulgaria's head of religous affairs Tsviatko Tsvetkov who gruffly said, "Mormons? I've never heard of you." To which he responded, "That makes us even. We have never heard of you, either. It's time we got acquainted." Everyone laughed and the tension dissipated. Love that man.
During this last bit I thought of my paternal grandmother who joined the Church fifty years ago, and how awe-inspiring it must be for her to witness the growth and changes that have happened during that time. I don't expect or hope to live that long, but I wonder what the next fifty years will hold?
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.