Crisis struck last weekend. Prudence, which it runs out I am capable of possessing once in a while, dictates that for the time being I keep it to myself apart from a half dozen friends and all of my Fiction Writing classmates who deserved an excuse for why my second story is garbage compared to the first. For a few moments after seeing the news I never wanted to see, I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that my life and my faith were about to shatter beyond repair. Then I ran into my bedroom to pray but discovered that I couldn't speak. I tried to pray silently but discovered that I couldn't think. So my prayer was just Help me, help me, help me, help me, help me.
I reached out to this guy in the ward that I know a little bit for a priesthood blessing. I didn't want to be too much of a burden on the guys I usually ask. While waiting for him to get back to me and then waiting for him to arrive, I cooked a frozen pizza and force-fed myself half of it, despite my complete lack of appetite, because I was starving. I offered the rest to him when he arrived, and he said it would be a good idea to make himself eat, and he appeared to have an even harder time doing so than I did. He wasn't doing well. He asked if he could stick around for a while after the blessing so he didn't have to be home alone. He asked if I've ever had questions about my faith, and I outlined the most recent one in very vague terms. I didn't want to tell him about my situation because I just wanted comfort from the blessing; I didn't want to open the channels for advice that I wasn't ready to accept. And he gave me the shortest blessing I've ever gotten and I appreciated that. He cried afterward. I think it helped him more than me. So that was cool.
I invited him to accompany me to Come Follow Me with people from the ward. While there, I went through mood swings and wasn't in hell the entire time. I sat there for half an hour while two girls and four guys discussed the proper care and washing of different kinds of hair, a topic that I found altogether uninteresting but still better than being home alone, and then as I was poised to go be home alone again some others arrived very late and we played Werewolf. I threw myself into it with gusto. When I figured out that my in-game lover was a werewolf, I protected her with as much zeal as I would a real-life lover who murdered people. When others falsely accused and killed me, I was only upset that it would lead to her death as well. I can be selfless like that.
I didn't look forward to bedtime because past experience had given me some idea of what I was in for. I'd gotten the obligatory blessing, and I would pray, and I would get sufficiently calm and peaceful to fall asleep, and I would wake up an hour or two later in a cold sweat with my heart doing its best impression of the ungodly screaming over the bridge of Rammstein's creepy and inappropriate song "Mein Teil", and there would be no more calm or peace or sleeping for the remainder of the night. Well, I did wake up and fail to get back to sleep until the sun rose, but the rest didn't happen. I didn't feel good by any means, but I felt all right. I soon came to the realization that God was shielding me from the worst of the pain. And He continued to shield me throughout the week, and I thanked Him and prayed more and tried harder and got better. Wednesday morning I woke up from a nightmare that ruined most of my day, Thursday morning I woke up from a nightmare that ruined the next half hour, and Friday morning I woke up from a nightmare that I was able to put out of my mind right away.
It's not like I'd never thought to pray for comfort before. I'd just rarely noticed any of this magnitude, no matter how hard I pleaded. I don't know what's so different this time, if the nature of the situation has made me more desperate or more deserving or what. I do know that whatever suffering remains is a part of life that I shouldn't try to avoid or expect to be exempted from. Now I feel like I'm in a good place where I haven't stopped hoping for and believing in one specific outcome based on God's previous communications to me no matter how unlikely it looks at the moment, but I'm also patient and trying to be open to any outcome and the necessary understanding that will come with it. I know, I hate having to be so vague too. I'm annoying myself.
One thing I've consciously done to enhance this effect is listen to a playlist I started nearly two years ago, which has taken on ever greater significance. Sometimes, like in the mornings when I wake up feeling like a dead battery and vulnerable to all manner of negative emotions, songs like "Head Above Water" and "Echoes of Andromeda" and "Boasting" have returned to my head.
I canceled my Tuesday morning classes so I wouldn't have to get out of bed until I felt like it, which greatly disappointed my students, I bet.
My ex-neighbor and dear friend Steve drove up from Salt Lake on Monday evening. We talked a little about what happened, but mostly watched Disney+. We watched Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and then some of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons - "Bart Sells His Soul", "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace", "The Springfield Files", "Lisa the Skeptic", "Bart on the Road", and possibly another that I forget at the moment. He went home around noon on Tuesday, which I later realized was his birthday. He gave up a third of his birthday for me. And I couldn't believe it was two years to the day since we went to see Jojo Rabbit, aka one of the finest films ever made. Where does the time go?
My classmate and colleague Kylie also offered to hang out, so after our class on Tuesday I went up to ask if she was still good to hang out that evening. As soon as I started to speak, she put her hand on mine, and I thought about how USU's sexual misconduct prevention trainings told us not to touch someone without permission, even though we know full well that's not how neurotypical people live their lives. And I thought about my old friend Bracelets who used to touch me on the shoulder a lot until she saw the Temple Grandin movie and decided I didn't want to be touched. And I thought about a girl in my ward who came up to give the closing prayer after I had spoken in sacrament meeting, and touched my knee as she walked by. I think, in fairness, that this isn't just about neurotypicals vs. autistics but about women vs. men. Because women are raised to be more affectionate and nurturing, I think they can touch men's hands or shoulders or knees without these automatically coming across as romantic or sexualized gestures, whereas the reverse is not true.
I remembered when a friend in high school was crying about her grandmother dying, and I needed to comfort her but I didn't know what to do but I didn't want her to think I didn't care so I finally admitted, "I'm trying to decide if I should put my arm around you or not," and that made her laugh through her tears a little so I guess it was better than just putting my arm around her. Speaking of dead grandmothers, I was at the funeral of mine a couple months ago, seated right next to my grandfather, who howled with grief a couple of times. If ever there were appropriate contexts to touch someone without permission, these were them. And it was still hard, it still rebelled against my conditioning, to put my hand on his wrist. And then I felt awkward. Should I take it off now? What if he wants to move his arm? I'm not really letting him move his arm. I envied a little Kylie's ability to put her hand on mine all casual-like just because she knew I was having a rough time.
I couldn't think of anything more exciting to do than watch a movie, but fortunately for me, Kylie hasn't seen any Star Wars except for Rogue One and both of SNL's Undercover Bosses skits with Kylo Ren, so I picked the original Star Wars movie to guarantee that I would get invited back at least eight more times. She observed that Darth Vader is a jerk for kidnapping his own daughter, that stormtroopers don't aim very well, and that the use of computers in warfare was a pretty new idea in 1977 and that's probably why the movie was so popular. After the next movie, she reiterated that Darth Vader is a jerk for strangling his own men, and also reflected on the lack of women and racial diversity that's been somewhat fixed in the more recent movies. She said Princess Leia is an interesting character - specifically, it's interesting that she's a strong character but she still has to be sexualized. I hate myself for using that word twice in one post. Anyway, Kylie wasn't judging; she said the movies were fair for their time. I should have apologized in advance for what happens to Leia in the next one.
She made me watch the SNL skits, and I made her watch the Robot Chicken sketch that introduced the world to Gary the stormtrooper.
I also talked to my old friend Eliana on the phone a couple times, and the first conversation mostly turned into her complaining about the Church. Kylie has left the Church too, but we have nuanced and mutually respectful discussions about it, and I look forward to reading her folklore paper about how patriarchal blessings might have roots in the Smith family's fascination with folk magic. When Eliana left a couple years ago she still believed in the Book of Mormon and stuff but didn't trust the leadership because of their past mistakes and current LGBTQ policies. Now she sees nothing good, wholesome, or true in any of it. I didn't try to argue and I hoped that my listening allowed her to let off some steam. But I kind of wanted to ask, Can you live with yourself knowing that I'm still in the Church because of you? I used to tell her about all kinds of issues that bothered my testimony, and she was so chill about all of it and confident that the Church was where God wanted her to be. She was my anchor many times. You never can tell what the future holds, can you? Anyway, we don't talk much anymore but I appreciate that she's still there for me.
For Thanksgiving, I was going to visit a nearby great aunt whom I shamefully never visit because I'm always welcome but that means I have to kind of invite myself at any given time, but she got sick. So I went to my bishop's house. Although I haven't always cast him in the most flattering light, he is a great guy. I wish I could say the same about my last bishop. Some others from the ward also showed up, and someone else in the ward had a friend who wasn't in the ward but was going to come, but he went to the wrong house so we started without him. He showed up fifteen minutes in and guess what? He was one of my students. So he saw me without a mask on and sat right next to me and that's kind of funny, isn't it? I hope he didn't take it as a personal jab when I said that I like teaching college students because if they don't want to be there, they don't show up.
Today I tried really hard to pay attention in church and be open to the Spirit, and I did pretty well. I didn't even close myself off when a couple of people in Elders' Quorum said a couple of things about gender roles that made me want to stab my eyes out.
This event happened on campus recently in the science building auditorium where ten years ago I took my first college class ever and gained a testimony of organic evolution. It was filmed, so I expected by this point that I could link to a YouTube video and have that be the post with just a touch of commentary from me, but no luck.
Ratio Christi is an apologetics group that seeks to prevent 70% of Christian college students from leaving their faith. I have been invited to its meetings but have a class during that time. On this occasion it was represented by Matthew Markham, the guy who sends me texts and emails, and Gil Sanders from Weber State University. The Latter-day Saints were represented by Kwaku El. As you may remember, Kwaku fell from grace in my eyes after his plague parties and CES Letter videos last year, but I decided not to let that ruin my enjoyment of his funny and intelligent contributions to the discussion which, incidentally, turned out to have little if anything to do with the end of faith. The participants discussed their theological differences on the nature of God and how to discern truth, and ran out of time to discuss their similarities.
The moderator announced from the beginning that this was to be respectful, an example of the dialogues that should be taking place to exchange ideas and determine truth. It was not a formal debate. It lived up to that promise, but that didn't stop small-minded audience members on the Slido app from submitting bad faith questions (no pun intended) such as:
"How does the LDS community explain the lack of archaeological evidence for it's [sic] historical claims?"
"Why does the LDS church use the king james translation when Joseph Smith made a translation with a plethora of 'corrections' made to the bible"
"Kwaku you said that your church has eternal truth. Yet your church changes its official teaching over time. How can that be? Because truth never changes."
"Why do [sic] the Mormon president tell Mormons to not check into the history of the LDS church?"
"Why are none of the LDS temple ordinances ever mentioned in either the Bible or the Book of Mormon?"
"If there were gods before the LORD, Why does God say this? Isaiah 46:9 (KJV 1900): For I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,"
"Kwaku, why do you by definition follow a [sic] Another Gospel?"
"'You dont [sic] need to care about them, to care about what they wrote.' JS lived an immoral life. How could someone trust what he says based on his actions?"
"To be exalted, you must be temple worthy. This is determined by a bishop (maybe your plumber). Why not worship him? He holds the keys to your exaltation."
"It seems that Mormonism is rooted in emotionalism" [Astute observers may notice that this is not a question.]
"What do you think of Joseph Smith's practice of divination by using a seeing stone to receive revelations. When this practice is condemnd [sic] in Deuteronomy 18:10"
"If exaltation is so wonderful why did Jesus not teach it? Why is it not contained in the Bible, or the Book of Mormon?"
"You talk about being sealed in marriage in heaven but the Bible says otherwise. Luke(22:30) for they are neither mary [sic] nor are given in marriage." [Astute observers may notice that this is not a question.]
"How can you believe the teaching of Mormonism when it verbatim is exacly [sic] what Satan taught which lead [sic] to the fall of man."
"What do you think of the lamanite dark skin curse?"
"Kwaku: is the earth also flat?"
"If I convert to mormon, can I keep smoking weed?"
"What about Joseph Smith's practice of Free Masonry which is rooted in lucifarenism [sic]?"
A few other questions also showed skepticism toward LDS truth claims, but were actually thoughtful and worthwhile questions. Strangely enough, I didn't see anyone attacking the evangelical faith, though several criticized Gil for talking about philosophy so much. One complained, "Why is the Mormon the only one quoting Scripture?" Gil's point, which he explained, was that he had started his faith journey as an agnostic, and his study of philosophy was what led him to believe in one Supreme Being in the first place. It was the prerequisite to him taking Scripture seriously at all. Philosophy "proved" a certain kind of God and then evangelical Christianity was the only religion that matched. Both evangelicals really downplayed the significance of emotions or spiritual experiences, which they regarded as unreliable and often meaningless. Kwaku, as one would expect, defended those things but acknowledged that they have to be weighed against logic and common sense. He pointed out that we're emotional beings by nature and our brains are unreliable too.
They ended up talking a lot about their different visions of heaven, including this controversial LDS idea from the Bible that we can become gods. Matthew said that really all he wants is to praise and adore God for eternity. I can't relate to that. Certainly God deserves to be worshiped, but if that's the only reason He created us and the only thing He has for us to do forever, I think that makes Him an egotistical creep. Kwaku talked about how cool and reasonable it is to think that eternity is such a long time and we'll be able to keep progressing and God will at some point give us responsibility over something. Gil said he's down with the idea of continuous progression in heaven, but there will always be an unbridgeable chasm between us and God. Kwaku said yes, God will always be above us, and if it's less controversial to call ourselves "exalted beings" instead of "gods" because words carry all kinds of baggage and can mean anything, and the word God comes from Odin anyway, then so be it. So it seemed like he and Gil basically believed the same thing and that was shocking.
The discussion reminded me of a philosophy class I took once, in fact. It was like "Oh, that's a good point. Oh, that's a good rebuttal. Oh, that's a good rebuttal to the rebuttal." I'm sure nobody changed their religious views that night. I'm sure everyone just had their pre-existing biases reinforced. I'm no exception, because not only am I a Latter-day Saint but I figured out some time ago that if I ever stop being a Latter-day Saint, evangelical Christianity is one of the last religions on Earth I'll consider joining. (Catholicism, Buddhism, and Sikhism are at the top, if anyone cares.) So I can't objectively read a whole lot about the merits of their respective positions into the fact that the beauty of exaltation has never resonated with me more than it did that night. I passed through a phase years ago where I couldn't bring myself to care whether God was an exalted man with an exalted wife or "only" a shapeless force that filled the universe, and exaltation was so far beyond what I wanted or deserved that I didn't care about that either, so long as I could be assured that I would be happy in heaven regardless of the details. I have a testimony of those things now.
They wasted their time discussing whether Mormons, in their view, are Christian. Wikipedia says they are. Move along. The moderator asked the weed question as a joke. As anyone who knows him would expect, Kwaku said he knows a guy. Ha ha.
I shook everyone's hand afterward, even Kwaku's, and went outside before the Ratio Christi guys could return to the little tables they had set up with cards and pamphlets. My eyes were drawn to a little stack of cards with the angel Moroni silhouetted beside the words "The truth will make you free" and a link that, upon investigation, went to a nearly two-hour video called "An Earnest Plea to Latter-day Saints" about all the reasons why our church and the Book of Mormon are fraudulent while evangelical Christianity, by implication, has no historical or theological or scientific problems whatsoever, and the inerrancy and miracles of the Bible are of course fully supported by secular archaeology and textual criticism. This earnest plea and sincere concern for the welfare of my eternal soul moved me so much that I took all the cards.
Recently I did an endowment session at the temple for the first time since March of last year. I started last year with a goal of attending every week, but as news of something called a coronavirus became prominent, I had already decided to stop attending a couple weeks before every temple in the world was closed. Then as they gradually reopened, I didn't feel like trying to get one of the very limited appointments so I could go sit in a room with people who were probably unvaccinated. After the First Presidency implemented a mask mandate in all temples and the one in Logan, Utah doubled its capacity, I was able to go on Thursday.
My testimony of temples and their ordinances stems from three experiences. First, while being confirmed for some dead people, I felt a presence that felt like the Holy Ghost, except that it was in the shape of a person and occupied a space in front of me and to the left, and I felt it reach out and touch me on the arm before it disappeared. Second, I talked to a woman in the baptistry who may or may not have been one of my deceased ancestors, because her last name was Nicholson and she recognized me while I had no memory of her or the previous conversation she claimed we'd had about family history. Then last year while the temple was only open for live sealings, I felt like walking over one morning, and the moment I sat down on the grounds I felt flooding into me an overwhelming response to a prayer I'd made a couple times during the week. It was almost a visionary experience. I hope to go into more detail about it someday after it comes to fruition.
I've never had anything like that actually inside the temple, where instead I would sit in the celestial room wondering, "If I sit here for five more minutes, will I receive revelation? Ten more minutes? What if I leave right when I was about to receive revelation?" So as much as I would have hoped that my first time doing an endowment session in twenty months would be something spectacular, it wasn't. I felt good there. I felt like some aspects of the ceremony were still weird or insultingly simple. I didn't notice any revelation. But I felt good. I took a picture on the way out.
That evening I second-guessed, not for the first time, whether this theology with its teachings and temple ordinances that all revolve around eternal marriage and parenthood is even compatible with me. I don't seem to fit very well into this one-size fits all plan of happiness that's supposed to apply to everyone. And even with the increased awareness and compassion for LGBTQ+ members, I doubt anyone in leadership recognizes that people like me exist. The one and only time an official church channel has come close to acknowledging that people like me exist was last year when an article by the Ensign staff acknowledged that "Most of us experience sexual feelings as part of our mortal experience." (emphasis added) That's it. I latched onto that little crumb of recognition because it was unprecedented. If God made the plan of salvation and exaltation, and then God made me the way I am, and then God left me with zero ecclesiastical support, I have serious questions as to why.
I don't have a testimony that heterosexual marriage is a requirement for the highest level of heaven. I don't have strong feelings about anyone else's non-abusive marriage. I don't care if someone marries a man, a woman, twelve women, a goat, a train station, themself, or whatever. If God does, that's His problem. I can't relate to people who feel really personally invested in the sanctity of the principle of "marriage between a man and a woman" above and beyond their own lifestyle preference. I've come to realize, however, that I do have a testimony of the importance of eternal marriage. That is to say, I'm absolutely certain with regard to marriage that, as Bender Bending Rodriguez would say, "Anything less than immortality is a complete waste of time." This testimony of mine first came out when I saw a post in my Facebook news feed, from a page called GodVine, about whether or not marriage exists in heaven. I didn't bother to read the article, I just took notice of the overwhelming majority of commenters asserting with obnoxious Christian dogmatism that it does not. I'll be the first to acknowledge that my reaction was ruder than it needed to be.
Me: Then what the hell is the point of marriage?
Person 1: For procreation.
Me: News flash, you can have kids without being married.
Person 2: But it's a sin if you aren't.
Person 3: You sound like you need Jesus.
I couldn't argue with that, because I do, in fact, need Jesus, so I let the matter drop. But I've seen this over and over again, as for some reason GodVine keeps posting about it, and it drives me crazy. Billions of species for billions of years have procreated just fine, but in order for humans to do it without sinning, God needed to institute a social contract that ends at death and has zero significance beyond this world? That any affectionate feelings existing between spouses will likewise cease to exist as they're too busy worshiping God forever to care about the loss? I personally don't find such a theology compelling or worthy of belief. It's also quite the divine middle finger to infertile couples, who, as I mentioned last week, aren't even rare.
Even with its eternal nature, many (most?) members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also believe that marriage is all about procreation. On my more cynical days I feel like the Church just wants me to marry anyone who has a womb. It does teach that eternally married couples can continue having children forever, but spirit children, like our Heavenly Parents do now with the spirit children being us. Many believe that the process for making spirit babies is the same as the process for making earthly babies. I didn't believe that when I thought it was just an assumption people made, but after learning that it was taught by Brigham Young, I believe it even less. Theologically, scientifically, and logistically, I find the concept as absurd as it is grotesque. And as often as not it leads members to conclude that we'll all practice polygamy in heaven, because they think a man impregnating women 108 billion times is less absurd than a woman being pregnant 108 billion times. Color me repulsed either way.
I'll grant that having children is a purpose of marriage. But again, because the latter is in no way a prerequisite to the former, I don't believe it's the purpose. At its core, I believe it has a lot more to do with two imperfect people growing together, learning to compromise and sacrifice and tolerate each other, and developing Christlike attributes in ways that neither could alone. And it makes intuitive sense to me that men and women could have complementary differences to facilitate that process - but what those differences might be, I couldn't say, because no conceivable generalization about men's brains or women's personalities will hold true one hundred percent of the time. Long after forgetting everything else he said, this statement by a local institute teacher has stuck with me: "We have these stereotypes in the Church of 'Men are like this and women are like this,' and sometimes they're true and often they're not." Boom.
Anyway, these are questions and concerns that I have, which I want to be transparent about, and in lieu of actual answers to wrap this post up all nice and tidy on an uplifting note, I'll just reiterate that I do have a testimony of temples and that if and when I get married it had better last forever or it won't be worth the trouble by a long shot.
I walked late into Elders' Quorum a couple weeks ago because I had ducked in to another ward's linger-longer to get food. I did that all the time in my previous stake without a thought, but after two years I still don't feel quite at home in this stake and I had to push myself. But I got the food, I ate the food and then I went to Elders' Quorum and I have no regrets about my priorities. They were talking about sexual transgression and respecting women. As a backdrop we played clips from then-BYU president Jeffery R. Holland's speech "Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments," which for the most part I think is phenomenal and really powerful even though most of it doesn't apply to me. It's just so well-done that it almost convinces me that sex is as beautiful and sacred as I'm supposed to believe it is, and not as disgusting as I know it is.
Holland refers to the impulse for sexual transgression as "a physical appetite so conspicuously evident in all of us," and I can't fault a guy in 1988 for not recognizing that asexual people exist, or even for not noticing that some people's physical appetite is not for the opposite sex. But in the clips we heard he also refers to "the God-given power available in every one of us from our early teen years on to create a human body" and says that "all of us" carry "daily, hourly, minute-to-minute, virtually every waking and sleeping moment of our lives, the power and the chemistry and the eternally transmitted seeds of life to grant someone else her second estate, someone else his next level of development in the divine plan of salvation." Okay, so, people with fertility problems aren't even rare. They're 9% of men and 11% of women. Those percentages may have gone up in the last few decades because of plastic pollution or whatever, but still, this is a really obvious and perplexing oversight.
And then the teacher said we need to respect women by not telling sexual jokes, and asked for examples of how we respect women. I remained silent because, as is often the case at church, I knew my contribution wouldn't be welcomed. I would have said that I respect women by speaking out against the aspects of church culture and teaching that degrade them, and then the guys who believe those aspects and/or think the Church is perfect would have felt really uncomfortable.
Putting women on pedestals is not respect.
Treating women like children is not respect.
Telling women that they don't need the same privileges and opportunities as men because they're special is not respect.
Telling women that motherhood and homemaking constitute the entirety of their God-given role is not respect.
Telling women that they need to be careful how they dress so men don't get aroused is not respect.
A few months ago I respected women by sending the following email to the stake president, which I mentioned at the time but now reproduce in full because the bishop knows I wrote it anyway:
I'm sorry to trouble you about this, but I won't rest easy until I speak out.
On May 30, Bishop [Redacted] of the [Redacted] Ward gave a Sunday school lesson which, though it contained good and helpful information - I particularly appreciated him acknowledging same-sex attraction and telling people to chill out about not being married by their late twenties - overall made me feel sick, unwelcome in the Church, and reluctant to ever go to Sunday school again. Specifically, he was very blunt and adamant that God wants all women to be full-time homemakers. He straight-up told them to use their college education to be better mothers, not to have professional careers, full stop, no caveats, no nuance. And I knew there was no point in trying to discuss it with him because he was also adamant that anyone who feels differently (like me) is following the "natural man" and the world's lies about women's equality. (He had a very us vs. them tone throughout the lesson, like Latter-day Saints are the only people on the planet who believe in family values.) At least twice he referred to the people who feel differently "outside the Church", which came across to me as a conscious attempt to invalidate and put down the many people in the Church that he knows perfectly well also hold that view and constituted a sizable portion of his audience. He stressed that this was DOCTRINE, this was SCRIPTURE, this was from A LIVING PROPHET.
He based this part of his lesson on the section of the Family Proclamation about fathers being primarily responsible for providing and mothers primarily responsible for nurturing. But that section is very short and vague and doesn't say most of what he thinks it says. I know that what he said is what the Church taught when he was our age, but I don't know how he could have failed to notice that it's not what the Church teaches anymore. In the last thirty years the Church has backed down a lot on the women's-place-is-in-the-home rhetoric and even reversed it with the "I'm a Mormon" campaign showing off (usually married) career women to the world as positive examples. In 2017, the Church's newspaper did an in-depth article on mothers who worked outside the home and some of the history around them. It explained that the stay-at-home-mom "doctrine" originated in the 1950s and (even while acknowledging that some of it came from living prophets and has been printed in church manuals) described it as "culture" and not some kind of eternal principle. So I'd say that's the closest thing to an approximation of where the Church stands right now. https://www.deseret.com/2017/9/6/20618595/mormon-women-navigate-cultural-pressures-around-work-family-and-faith I could go on (and have elsewhere), but I think this shift in the Church's teachings is pretty self-evident to anyone paying attention.
It upsets me to think that my future wife may have been conditioned by lessons like this one to believe that her career ambitions are sinful, and to think that some women present for this lesson were thus conditioned. It's wrong and it's harmful. It will lead to depression, guilt, faith crises, and disaffection from the Church. (It's already led to me losing a great deal of trust in local leadership, but I'm not primarily worried about myself.) Anecdotally, the twenty-something LDS women I know - not all of them raging liberals by any means - are far more open-minded on this topic. A majority of them see no reason why they shouldn't pursue careers (one staunch believer has straight-up told me she wants to work at least part time because she'd go insane being stuck with kids all day, and that if she sat through a lesson like this one that equated womanhood solely with motherhood she would leave and not come back for a long time) and those who do want to be stay-at-home moms have no desire to force their preference on everyone else. Many of the latter will end up working anyway because modern economic realities have made it impossible for many families to survive on one income, Bishop [Redacted]'s talk of sacrifice and frugality notwithstanding. I know for a fact that I wasn't the only person in the room who vigorously disagreed with what he said, and that his belittling of us did not persuade us to reorient our thinking. I don't believe this part of the lesson provided any benefit whatsoever to counterbalance the negatives, either. Women whose staying home is in the best interest of their particular families can make that decision for themselves without a man incorrectly insisting that it's the only option God will allow.
The damage has been done, but I would appreciate it if this never, ever happened again. I didn't reach out to him because he made it abundantly clear in the lesson that he's not open to discussion because he thinks his views are the word of God.
I carefully avoided using the word "sexist" in the body of the email and then went ahead and put it in the subject line. And the stake president agreed with me, and as I later learned during an unrelated meeting, he shared the email and withheld my name, but the bishop knew I wrote it because it was so well-written. Blush. He said he wasn't mad, that he makes mistakes like everyone, and he hopes I would be comfortable talking to him about such concerns. I might have done so if he hadn't pre-emptively dismissed views like mine as the product of the natural man and the world's lies.
So in Elders' Quorum, not for the first time, I kind of wanted to say something about seeing women as individuals with individual talents and skills and interests, not as interchangeable wombs with legs, and encouraging them to pursue all those things on equal footing with men and speaking up when they face discrimination large or small. But that would have been too controversial. On that particular day it also would have made me a hypocrite, since I had made a sexist joke that morning.
I was at the home of some female ward members having pumpkin waffles, and this guy from the ward was there and I don't remember why but at some point he said "Women, am I right, Chris?" And then a few minutes later he was about to leave and three more women from the ward showed up. And he said something like "They're replacing me - three are worth one, right?" And I didn't give my response any thought. I think I'm generally regarded as a funny guy, and that's because my brain unconsciously observes and processes principles of humor. So in this case, I immediately noted the gender ratio between the three and the one, saw the opportunity for a joke, and inferred from the guy's comment about women a few minutes earlier that he would find it funny. And he did, and the women whose home we were in either did or pretended to as they laughingly said that I could leave.
I've hated myself since then for making this joke that was entirely inconsistent with my feminist values. Of course I didn't mean it, and of course the shock value was kind of the point - but still, it reinforced a societal power imbalance and it was wrong and I'm sorry to the whole world. At least I can no longer feel holier-than-thou about that one time a few months ago when I was at a church activity and a couple of people told racist jokes and everyone except me laughed.
Getting back to Elders' Quorum, the bishop was there and he said that if we could see how the women in our ward are feeling we would get our crap together (paraphrased because I don't remember how he said it). He decried the gender imbalance in the ward and the percentage of men who don't come to church. I didn't feel like chastising the ones who did come to church about the ones who didn't was quite fair. I also was kind of like, I know I'm a bad person and need to improve myself in countless ways, but I don't want to marry any woman in this ward and none of them want to marry me, so I'm not going to do it for them and I feel like it's none of their business. The unquestioned assumption throughout the lesson that all of us experience the same sexual temptations made me feel kind of excluded and invisible too, but that's hardly just a church problem.
We (and by we I mean the bishop and other guys not including me) discussed how, as men, we have a duty to protect women, even though virtually the only thing women need to be protected from is men. One guy recalled a time when he talked back to his mother while his father was nearby, and the next thing he knew he woke up at the bottom of the stairs with a hole in the wall. Everyone except me laughed because child abuse is funny. I guess honoring women means having zero emotional maturity or impulse control - in other words, acting like a police officer. The bishop said that any true man would gladly take any pain rather than let his wife experience it. I'm down with that, but I'd expect her to feel the same about me. I'm not made of stone either.
I do think men in the Church are pretty good at not sexualizing women in the ways discussed on this occasion. A few months ago I heard one talking about how women from this one South American country are way hotter than the women from this other South American country, and his brother married a woman from this other South American country and she's - here he shook his head and made a hand motion toward his throat - but he was young and about to leave for a mission to this one South American country, so of course he didn't know anything.
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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.