I used to post screenshots of myself arguing with people on the internet, usually on Facebook, usually critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a lot more often. I get into fewer arguments than I used to because I'm trying to be nicer on social media and I've figured out that most of them are a waste of time anyway. I'll often give one response to a stupid comment and then ignore whatever the person says next, which I suppose makes me a troll, but it's my compromise. Sometimes I just can't not say anything. I'm not made of stone. Anyway, I got into a couple of arguments recently that I don't regret because I was standing up for important principles - and not with critics of my church, but with members, who collectively do far more damage to it than the critics could dream of.
People who get their idea of gender roles from the 1950s are bad enough, but at least they're almost in the right century. It's a little startling to realize that people live and work among us who get their idea of gender roles from the Bronze Age. (When I say "people" of course I mostly mean men, but I've seen plenty of internalized misogyny, so I can't discount the possibility that some women also hold these views.) I encountered the second one in as many months on a recent YouTube re-upload of Valerie Hudson Cassler's 2010 FAIR Conference presentation "The Two Trees". In this presentation she outlines a potential non-sexist paradigm for the part of the Latter-day Saint endowment ceremony where women covenanted to hearken to the counsel of their husbands (or obey the law of their husbands before 1990) while men covenanted to hearken directly to God. Though I respect her and her work, I don't find this paradigm convincing because a lot of it is pure speculation, because that part of the ceremony was changed in 2019 and rendered most of it moot, and because we know that Brigham Young (who oversaw the all-male committee that wrote down and systematized the endowment ceremony 35 years after it was introduced) believed that men were responsible for leading their wives to salvation. I think placing men between women and God was simply a sexist mistake that didn't get corrected for a very long time. But anyway, I encountered this guy in the comments:
Benevolent sexism in a nutshell: "Women are superior to men, so they shouldn't have rights." Note how I tried to be civil by not attacking him as a person, even though I think nothing of him as a person. I didn't say that he was woefully out of touch with reality and irredeemably sexist, I just said his comment was. Also, yes, Moses 4:22 is descriptive of the power struggle in fallen marriages. The "desire" here is not one of love, but control. The same language is repeated in Moses 5:27: "Satan desireth to have thee... And thou shalt rule over him."
Like, seriously, what is he thinking? Does he think any substantial percentage of women spend all day in bed while men wait on them and buy them things? Yes, I'm sorry, my attempt to be civil faltered under this barrage of stupidity, but I did still say that his behavior, not he himself, was delusional. I should have picked better phrasing than "household chores" to better encompass women's labors in other times and cultures that don't fall under that category, but you get the idea. And studies have found that when both partners in a heterosexual couple have jobs - which is increasingly a requirement in today's economy - the woman still does most of the housework. A better question would be, if men's gender roles are so awful, why have they fought tooth and nail to keep women out of them? Because they're concerned about women? Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. But anyway, I had to let the matter drop until I get some more life experience.
And then there was this. I'm in this Facebook group that deals with critics and criticisms of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because I've long had an interest in that sort of thing and a desire to defend my faith, but I've butted heads several times with its primary demographic of conservative middle-aged white people. When so many people struggle to get along with me, of course I have to consider that maybe I'm the problem - but I think not.
For one thing, they're still in the mindset that the main threats to the Church are evangelical Christians - which is no longer the case in this secular age when mainstream American society doesn't care about evangelicals' opinions on anything - and not only waste a lot of time arguing with them, but often go from defense to offense, hypocritically mocking and poking holes in their beliefs. For another, they have such a persecution complex that they regard any member who wants to see any kind of change in the Church as an apostate and a threat. They seem to have a particular distaste for everything Jana Riess writes. She's more radical than I am but I would die without more liberal members like her pushing back against the insufferable conservative church culture. For another, they're very big on the apologist victim-blaming game, e.g. "If you experienced a faith crisis after discovering uncomfortable things about church history that you were never taught, it's completely your own fault for not reading everything the Church has ever published." For another - and they certainly aren't alone in this - they bend over backwards to avoid developing a shred of empathy for LGBTQ+ members, because recognizing these members' pain would give them cognitive dissonance over the Church's teachings and policies that cause much of it. (I live in that cognitive dissonance.) So any gay man who's less than enthusiastic about choosing to be alone and celibate until he dies or marry someone he isn't attracted to is seen as a threat.
David Archuleta recently shared an hour-long Instagram video in which he opened up about struggling to reconcile his faith and his sexuality, about his loneliness and depression and suicidality. Now if you want to uphold the Church's teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and if you disagree with the path that he's thinking about taking, that's one thing. But if you are a baptized member, you covenanted to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Not just those you agree with or those whose struggles you can personally relate to or those who will never cause you cognitive dissonance by being the way God made them. And that does not, by any stretch of the imagination, involve constantly trying to minimize their struggles and belittling them for not having more faith or stamina when required to do things you probably wouldn't be willing to do yourself. The desire for companionship is fundamental to almost all human beings. It is not analogous to alcoholism or whatever other temptations these people compare it to. For one thing, even if you struggle to abstain from alcohol, there are still countless other things you can drink. And LGBTQ+ people who get no empathy, no understanding, and no love are killing themselves all over the place. David Archuleta's vulnerability will save many lives. So anyway:
Most of the comments were in agreement and insensitive - a bunch of happily married straight people who think God appointed them to police gay people's adherence to the law of chastity wondering why David Archuleta has the audacity to think God should change the law of chastity. Also, they think young people pretend to be bisexual for popularity points. Emily clarified that in her opinion David Archuleta "is now an anti-Mormon." But there was just enough pushback from the minority of actual Christians that an admin warned about the post being muted or taken down if it escalated too much. So I escalated it. I put the devil's tool of contention to a good purpose. I said something like, "Yes, you are a terrible person. [Something something I don't remember] And all of you people mocking him without having watched the video can go to hell." And then I replied to a few people, including the genius who thought David Archuleta needed to "work through his struggles" but not, you know, actually tell anyone about it or get any support. And commenting was turned off and then the post was deleted. A friend in the group who has been equally disgusted with its direction, and for whom this post was the final straw, tried to make a comment but was too late. I print it here so her effort won't be in vain:
How is it that when we see someone publicly voice the pain and confusion they’re feeling regarding keeping their covenants in the church, this group’s knee jerk reaction is to treat them as though they were the new John Dehlin or Zelph on the Shelf? Did you and I watch the same video? He has literally been struggling with suicide ideation, a hell that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and you say “poor little rich boy”? Seriously, THAT is your reaction?? That “poor little rich boy” is still a human being, and as someone who has frequently struggled with my own mental health issues, HOW DARE YOU insinuate that he somehow deserves less compassion and empathy just because he also says he’s open to having a gay relationship!
Yeah, maybe you and I wouldn’t advocate for making that kind of choice, but you wanna know the secret to keeping gay people in the church? Maybe don’t belittle them, even if behind their backs, when they open up about how hard this mortal journey has been for them. “Yeah but everyone has their struggles!” Yeah of course they do, but do you speak of other people’s struggles the same way you do of this? But no, his struggles can just be dismissed and waived away because he’s a public figure, and a gay one at that.
P.S. bisexuality is a real thing. Presuming that those who identify as such are largely just trying win popularity points is beyond ignorant. Even if someone were making it up, it shouldn’t change the way you and I treat them or speak about them.
Emily's next post was, "I am leaving the group." And that brought out a lot of sadness, and a few people who didn't know what had happened asked why, but of course after making the post for attention she didn't stick around to answer questions. One of the few people who displayed any basic decency on her previous post spoke up here too, so I'll give him a shoutout.
Alas, when I spoke up for basic decency on this new post, people got pissed at me. I won't attempt to reconstruct the whole argument, because it probably isn't that interesting and several comments by me and others were deleted. You'll just have to look deep inside yourself and decide if you trust me or not. I said this to one person who lamented the deletion of the previous post:
I felt like this was pretty straightforward stuff, but I was wrong.
Is... is she serious? Is she really serious? Unbelievable. Everyone knows you don't use three adverbs in one sentence. It sounds awful.
I also got a reply from Darryl Barksdale, the founder of FAIR. In keeping with that organization's grand tradition of scholarly rigor and academic standards, his comment was a puking emoji. Then further down in a new thread he said, "I gotta tell you... Emily was the wrong one to go. I'd happily trade her for Nicholson." (Both of those comments were deleted). Now, I've barely had any interactions with this guy, but he's one of the biggest jerks I've ever observed, and I respect him a little bit more than I respect law enforcement. So it was a mistake for him to let slip that my presence in the group bothered him so much, because that knowledge made me happy, and I don't think that's what he was going for. I replied, "Boo hoo." And then he went and made it even better:
Yes, this jerk I've barely interacted with was so bothered by me not being a homophobe that he left the group. I never tried to make this happen, I never tried to harass him into leaving the group, I never would have thought to care enough to muster up the effort to carry out such a thing, and he just dropped it in my lap. Tender mercies.
And then you see this guy Leighton. He was the main guy who argued with me and several of our comments were deleted. I haven't respected him much either - mostly because of his deliberate lack of empathy on this very issue - and he, too, made the mistake of letting me know how much I bothered him. His last comment addressed to me ended with "Shut. Your. Mouth." I could just imagine him seething. I could just imagine his frustration that he couldn't make me take orders from him. He could have just blocked me, and that would have taken less effort than continuing to respond, but maybe he was too angry to consider that. I guess putting periods after every word was his last-ditch effort to intimidate me. That comment was deleted, but my reply to it stayed up and is now a bit of a non sequitir.
Really, all this because I espoused the controversial notion that mocking lonely and depressed people is wrong. I was rather surprised to discover the depth of Leighton's personal vendetta against me, especially when, twenty minutes after I acquiesced to the admins' damage control and stopped commenting, it manifested in what struck me as a rather bizarre obsession with trying to get "the fellow" (me) kicked out of the group. Maybe he has a crush on Emily.
Objecting to objectionable behavior is literally my objectionable behavior that Leighton objects to. Wow.
Please, tell me more about what you think.
I did not make any nasty comments about Emily in her absence. You can't choose to ignore something that doesn't exist.
No, I did not literally say that. Leighton began the argument by replying to my comment pictured above, "Suggestion: shut up." I said, "I have a suggestion for you too, but it would get me kicked out of the group :)" (Both of these comments were deleted.) Leighton said, "On the evidence, that would certainly be appropriate and desirable." I said, "Because I'm the only person here who's even trying to follow Christ?" (That comment was deleted.) So it was a rhetorical question, not a claim, and its obvious intent was to highlight the absurdity of him saying I should be kicked out for speaking up against bullying marginalized people. I also said "trying," and that was a deliberate word choice to acknowledge that I'm by no means perfect, in this instance I wasn't the one spitting on everything Christ stands for.
Ah, so he does know how to represent people's words accurately, as long as the people is himself.
Sorry, I'm still confused. Please explain it again.
I don't know about 2 and 3, but 1 did not happen. Boo hoo, Leighton. Honestly, this is one of the most pathetic things I've ever seen.
My friend is biased, but her summary of the whole debacle is good enough for me:
I do want to say one last thing in my defense. I am a very imperfect individual, but in this instance, I was callous toward people who were first callous toward people that I love. In other words, I was callous not because I don't care about people, but because I do. And I won't pretend that Jesus would have said exactly the things I did, but I do think He would have also been blunt and even rude - like He was when the Pharisees were dicks to marginalized people - and I am perfectly confident that on the whole I did the right thing and He's proud of me. I won't apologize for objecting to objectionable behavior. I can't change all the things in the Church that I would like to change, but I can and will refuse to tolerate members choosing to make it a more toxic environment than it needs to be. It did take a lot of time that I could have spent on homework, but now my effort is on record here so it can be magnified by both of the people who read my blog.
"We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord." - M. Russell Ballard
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, 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.