The first real crack in my lifetime of "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn't sexist" conditioning came not from any critical source, but from the section on "Mothers' Employment Outside the Home" in the Eternal Marriage Student Manual. I was raised to believe that anything in the church that seems sexist to modern sensibilities is really just misunderstood. But after being in college for too long, some of these quotes that I'd probably already heard growing up really rubbed me the wrong way, and then this line in particular from Spencer W. Kimball jumped out as unequivocally, unapologetically, and undeniably sexist: "No career approaches in importance that of wife, homemaker, mother - cooking meals, washing dishes, making beds for one’s precious husband and children." Translation: Women have the most important divine role, which is to perform household chores for men and children. To be perfectly frank: barf. And from then on I couldn't stop seeing all the sexism that I'd been taught not to see.
In February of last year I linked to this manual section in a blog post about how the church's teachings (aka doctrine) on women have evolved. Within a month, the entire section had quietly disappeared from the church's website. Coincidence? Probably, but you can't prove it. And that wasn't worth making a whole other post about, but yesterday a reddit post brought to my attention some more recent and more subtle deletions from the manual, and I just have to talk about them.
Elder Spencer W. Kimball
“Boys seldom criticize a girl for using too little makeup. Sometimes they say, ‘She’s a nice girl, but I wish she’d dress up, and she uses too much makeup.’ To be overdressed, to be gaudily dressed, to be dressed to look sexy, to be overdecorated is bad taste, to say the least. The young woman is smart who can don just enough powder and lipstick to convince the fellows it isn’t makeup at all, but the ‘real you.’...
“Young men should keep their faces shaved, their hair combed, their haircuts reasonably conservative, their nails cleaned. Overtight, suggestive pants brand young men as vulgar. Young people can be smart and personable, dignified and attractive by finding an area somewhere less than the extremes and still in good style” (“Save the Youth of Zion,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1965, 761).
This quote is arguably a bit sexist - it reminds me of M. Russell Ballard's "Put on a little lipstick now and then and look a little charming" comment that may or may not have been blown out of proportion a few years ago - but it has the rare distinction of being more nitpicky about men's dress and grooming than women's, so I appreciate that. I assume it was just removed because dress and grooming standards have changed since 1965 (except at BYU) and it comes across as obnoxiously Pharasaical (like BYU). A lot of women like men with beards. Also, I know it's perfectly normal for women to wear just a little bit of makeup and for men to erroneously believe that they aren't wearing any, but Elder Kimball's phrasing here seems to encourage deception, so that's kind of funny.
Women's Divine Roles and Responsibilities
President Ezra Taft Benson
“It is divinely ordained what a woman should do.... The divine work of women involves companionship, homemaking, and motherhood” (“In His Steps,” 64).
“Brethren of the priesthood, I continue to emphasize the importance of mothers staying home to nurture, care for, and train their children in the principles of righteousness” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 60; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 49; see also To the Fathers in Israel, 3–4).
See To the Mothers in Zion, on pages 352–57.
“A mother’s role is also God-ordained. Mothers are to conceive, bear, nourish, love, and train. They are to be helpmates, and are to counsel with their husbands” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1984, 6; or Ensign, May 1984, 6).
“It is divinely ordained what a woman should do, but a man must seek out his work. The divine work of women involves companionship, homemaking, and motherhood. It is well if skills in these three areas can first be learned in the parents’ home and then be supplemented at school if the need or desire presents itself” (“In His Steps,” 64).
“There are voices in our midst which would attempt to convince you that these home-centered truths are not applicable to our present-day conditions. If you listen and heed, you will be lured away from your principal obligations.
“Beguiling voices in the world cry out for ‘alternative life-styles’ for women. They maintain that some women are better suited for careers than for marriage and motherhood.
“These individuals spread their discontent by the propaganda that there are more exciting and selffulfilling roles for women than homemaking. Some even have been bold to suggest that the Church move away from the ‘Mormon woman stereotype’ of homemaking and rearing children. They also say it is wise to limit your family so you can have more time for personal goals and self-fulfillment” (“The Honored Place of Woman,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 105).
It's self-explanatory that this was removed for the same reason as the entire section on "Mothers' Employment Outside the Home." I'll just examine a few lines that stand out to me.
"It is divinely ordained what a woman should do, but a man must seek out his work." Translation: women have a one-size-fits-all role, while men are free to seek out roles that fit their individual talents, interests, and personalities. They may, of course, still end up stuck in crappy jobs that they hate in order to support their families, but not for lack of trying. And this really gets at the heart of why "complementary" or "separate but equal" gender roles are not equal at all and never have been.
"These individuals spread their discontent by the propaganda that there are more exciting and self-fulfilling roles for women than homemaking." Translation: if a woman doesn't feel sufficiently contented or fulfilled by menial household chores that her husband could just as easily do, she's been deceived by propaganda. She couldn't have possibly reached that conclusion on her own, and even if she did, she's not smart enough to know what's good for her.
"Some even have been bold to suggest that the Church move away from the 'Mormon woman stereotype' of homemaking and rearing children." Please read this in Owen Lars' voice: Like the Church moved away from the 'Mormon woman stereotype' of homemaking and rearing children by showcasing career women in its "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign?
Benson's anti-feminist masterwork speech referenced here, "To the Mothers in Zion," remains in the manual despite all these other deletions. That's a bit of an oversight, which I brought to someone's attention with the online feedback form in March.
President Spencer W. Kimball
“Tomorrow when I repeat the phrases that will bind you for eternity, I shall say the same impressive words that the Lord said to that handsome youth and his lovely bride in the Garden of Eden: ‘Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.’ ...
“... You came to get for yourself a mortal body that could become perfected, immortalized, and you understood that you were to act in partnership with God in providing bodies for other spirits. . . . And so you will not postpone parenthood. There will be rationalists who will name to you numerous reasons for postponement. Of course, it will be harder to get your college degrees or your financial start with a family, but strength like yours will be undaunted in the face of difficult obstacles. Have your family as the Lord intended. Of course it is expensive, but you will find a way, and besides, it is often those children who grow up with responsibility and hardships who carry on the world’s work” (“John and Mary, Beginning Life Together,” New Era, June 1975, 8).
“Supreme happiness in marriage is governed considerably by a primary factor—that of the bearing and rearing of children. Too many young people set their minds, determining they will not marry or have children until they are more secure, until the military service period is over; until the college degree is secured; until the occupation is more well-defined; until the debts are paid; or until it is more convenient. They have forgotten that the first commandment is to ‘be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.’ (Genesis 1:28.) And so brides continue their employment and husbands encourage it, and contraceptives are used to prevent conception. Relatives and friends and even mothers sometimes encourage birth control for their young newlyweds. But the excuses are many, mostly weak. The wife is not robust; the family budget will not feed extra mouths; or the expense of the doctor, hospital, and other incidentals is too great; it will disturb social life; it would prevent two salaries; and so abnormal living prevents the birth of children. The Church cannot approve nor condone the measures which so greatly limit the family” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 328–29).
This section already omitted many quotes that straight-up denounce birth control as evil, because they don't jive with the church's current position that it's a personal decision. So Kimball's quote made the cut the first time around but now it crosses the line. Why? Probably because it pressures couples to have children that they can't afford or otherwise aren't ready to take care of, which is just plain terrible for everyone involved. I'm particularly disgusted that he, a man, considered "The wife is not robust" to be a "weak excuse" for not popping out as many babies as possible. This flat-out contradicts a far more reasonable David O. McKay quote on the preceding page: “In all this, however, the mother’s health should be guarded. In the realm of wifehood, the woman should reign supreme." (Then why does she need so many men to tell her how to do it?)
Looking at this and the earlier deleted Kimball quote, though, I am impressed that the manual made a distinction between "Elder" Kimball and "President" Kimball. Usually when an apostle becomes president of the church, subsequent publications attribute all of his quotes to President So-and-So regardless of when he made them, which is lazy and misleading.
Wayward Children Born Under the Covenant
The Prophet Joseph Smith
“When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother” (in History of the Church, 5:530).
It's surprising to see anything from Joseph Smith deleted. He's had a better track record than most of his successors. And I don't know why this quote was problematic. I could see the church maybe wanting to move away from the implication that temple sealings remove children's agency, but the subsequent Brigham Young quote implies that far more strongly. Maybe the Joseph Smith quote encourages complacency by focusing on the ordinance (dead works) and not on the parents' actual efforts and worthiness? Maybe recent scholarship has cast doubt on its accuracy? That's all I've got.
I'm grateful for these deletions, except for the last one, which I don't care about one way or another. I just wish the church actually announced or drew attention to them in some way. Yes, I realize it's awkward to explain why quotes from prophets, seers, and revelators are no longer acceptable for publication, but when the church just quietly discontinues old teachings without correcting or superseding them, people who were previously taught those things continue to teach them anyway. Case in point: last year, in a fifth Sunday lesson in a YSA ward in a college town, my sixty-something bishop was very adamant that God wants all women to be full-time homemakers, and told those present to only use their college educations to be better mothers, not to have careers, and that anyone who disagreed (like me) was deceived by the world's lies. Mostly I was pissed off and incredulous that he had failed to notice the shift in the church's position over the last thirty years, but I also felt a little sorry for him when I complained to the stake president (who agreed with me) about him teaching the same thing that the prophets taught when he was our age. With regard to this manual specifically, many institute teachers probably use a paper copy and will never notice the online revisions unless somebody tells them.
But speaking of sexism, thanks to the recent states' rights free-for-all opened up by the repeal of Roe v. Wade, a ten-year-old rape victim from Ohio had to travel to Indiana to get an abortion. I hope God is warming up a spot in hell for every politician who thinks it's even an option to force a ten-year-old rape victim to endure pregancy and childbirth. (I argued with a family member who claims that pro-choicers don't care about her at all, that they're just using her as a pawn for their agenda to murder babies, as if liberals don't denounce rape literally all the time.) But I guess I can take some comfort in knowing that Utah, despite ranking as the second most sexist state in the nation and being a near-constant political embarrassment, will never be that bad... right?
Well, nobody is interested in a treatise on my current opinions on abortion, so suffice it to say that they've gotten more nuanced and more sympathetic to the viewpoint that men who know and care very little about women's health should not be in charge of decisions about women's health. If Roe v. Wade had been overturned a few years ago I would have celebrated. Now, not so much. I think it is the "right" decision from a strictly constitutional perspective. I think it was always ridiculous to claim that the US constitution protected a right to abortion. If you want it to, then that's what amendments are for. But I think the decision is unfortunate because many US states will seize on this opportunity to pass absolutely barbaric laws that will hurt a lot of women. The most vocal element of the pro-life movement doesn't believe in making exceptions for any reason. It believes that abortion is never medically necessary and that a child conceived in rape is entitled to the same protections as any other.
Even if this is the "right" decision from a strictly constitutional perspective, it's very disturbing that Samuel Alito approvingly cited Matthew Hale, a 17th-century British misogynist who established the legal precedent of allowing married men to rape their wives until 1991. He famously wrote, "The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract." (This, of course, alludes to the broader common law notion of coverture under which wives were absorbed into the legal entities of their husbands, giving up most of their rights as well as their last names.) It's also very disturbing that Clarence Thomas wants the court to pursue this same logic further and revisit its decisions on same-sex marriage and birth control. Targeting both abortion and birth control, which some social conservatives will do as soon as they get a chance, is a special kind of malicious insanity.
I have come to believe that abortions should be reduced through education and birth control, not through legal coercion. I think the consequences of this decision will far outweigh the benefits, and I'm as frightened for the future as I can be in my position of privilege where it won't affect me. I really don't know what more to say than that. Everything I could think of saying has been said more eloquently and more passionately and with more credibility by someone else. I'm sorry to every woman who will be negatively affected. The effects will be so long-lasting and far-reaching that this just may surpass the January 6 insurrection as Donald Trump's greatest legacy. Of course, the fact that Supreme Court decisions are predicated on the political affiliations of the presidents who appoint the justices kind of proves that the whole thing is a farce.
Trigger Warning: sex
The August 2020 issue of the Ensign is one of the last issues of the Ensign that will ever be published, because beginning in January it will be renamed the Liahona, which is the name currently given to the magazine for all Latter-day Saints who don't speak English, though it's not quite equivalent to the current Ensign because it covers material for adults, teenagers, and children while English-speakers have three separate magazines for those categories. Beginning in January all three magazines will be available to everyone, though they will vary from language to language in frequency of publication and amount of content just like the Liahona already does. This change, like rebranding EFY as FSY and cutting ties with the Boy Scouts, removes a systemic difference between the Church in the United States and the Church everyone else. It's an important step toward actually being a global faith and not just trying to act like it.
The cover of this issue says "Talking about Sexuality from a Gospel Perspective" and several of the articles inside do exactly that. Now, I find it really pretentious and annoying in the mainstream society how people go on about their obsession with sex and sexuality and sex life and sexual orientation and sexual health and sexual this and sexual that and sex and sex and sex, pretending that the world revolves around their most primitive animal instinct and trying to make it all sophisticated and intellectual. But I concede that it's got to be talked about sometimes, and there are good ways to do that and bad ways to do that. This issue is obviously striving to promote the good ways to do that and get rid of the cultural stigma, discomfort, and wedding night confusion that plagues our church along with all Christian denominations (and probably other religions) that teach that sex is good within marriage and wicked in any other context. In fairness, sex education at my secular middle school in liberal New York sent mixed messages too. It was all like "Don't have sex, but if you do, use these free condoms."
For a while I've noticed the irony that while I think sex is disgusting beyond all reason, I'm far less squeamish about it than many who ostensibly believe it's beautiful and sacred at the right time. I don't believe that sex is beautiful and/or sacred, because I simply can't, but if you claim that you do, freaking act like it. Don't tell me sex is ordained of God and then treat it like a swear word. So this magazine is a breath of fresh air. It does refer to sex over and over again as "sexual intimacy", using seven syllables where one would do just fine, but that's still accurate and I can live with it. What really irks me is when people just call it "intimacy". As such, this passage from "Conversations about Intimacy and Sex That Can Prepare You for Marriage" was my favorite part of the whole issue:
"A lot of people use the word intimacy as a synonym for sex, but this can be incomplete and a little confusing. Intimacy refers to feelings of closeness created within emotional, intellectual, and physical areas of relationships. There are a few types of intimacy:
Saying "intimacy" because you're scared of the word "sex" is a slap in the face to everyone who's ever had a meaningful friendship. Elsewhere, Ty Mansfield has noted, "I’ve even known of men who questioned their sexuality simply because they developed a deep emotional love for another man. It seems our culture often has difficulty distinguishing deep love and intimacy from sexual or erotic desire, and it certainly doesn’t help when in conservative religious cultures we use terms like intimacy - a general human good and need that transcends sexuality - as a euphemism for sex."
On that note, I was happy to see an article by a gay Latter-day Saint on "My Experience Living the Law of Chastity with Same-Sex Attraction". It's the usual "I don't know why God did this to me but I trust Him and I have a really strong testimony" spiel that I would have expected, and I think the article's actual contents are less important than the fact of acknowledging and listening to our LGBTQ+ members in the first place. I'm actually far more interested in the author's Hasidic Jewish background. I think converts from Judaism are even rarer than gay converts, and he's both, and most of Judaism isn't really okay with homosexuality either. Did he know he was gay while he was Jewish? Did anyone else? What was that like? When he converted to the Church of Jesus Christ, which he mentions his Jewish community wasn't thrilled about, did they drop the gay thing and decide this was even worse? How, if at all, does this unique background inform his perspective on both LGBTQ+ and Christian topics?
This issue also contains what I believe is the first ever acknowledgement in any official Church source that asexual people exist. In "Bridling Your Passions: How to Align Sexual Thoughts and Feelings with the Lord's Expectations", we find this gem: "Most of us experience sexual feelings as part of our mortal experience." (emphasis added) Not much, obviously, but it's more than the absolute nothing that I've gotten up to this point. When no other article includes such a caveat, and two or three of them assert that these sexual feelings are a gift from God, I could perhaps be forgiven for wondering if God forgot about me, or deemed me unworthy of the gift, or simply ran out. After all, if the universe has a finite amount of eternally existing matter that God just arranges into planets and people and stuff instead of spawning them ex nihilo, He's got to start cutting corners eventually.
Naturally, there's a lot of focus on how to teach your kids about this stuff, but without going into any real detail. Two or three articles mention the importance of using proper names for body parts. Again, I don't believe these body parts are beautiful or sacred but they are entirely normal and healthy things to have so there's no point in demonizing them. They could have strengthened their point considerably by using those names themselves. It would have sent such a powerful message: "Look, if we can say 'penis' in a church magazine, you can say it to your kids." And I'm sure many readers would benefit from learning, as I did recently, that what they call a vagina is, in fact, a vulva, which consists of at least eleven parts with weird, often Latin names, and the vagina isn't even one of them. The vagina is, in fact, inside of this apparatus. (After reading the magazine, I looked this stuff up on Wikipedia in the hope that familiarizing myself with the not-vagina would help me be less viscerally disgusted by what I think looks like an aborted sarlacc fetus. It didn't work.)
Obviously the Ensign is only meant to be a jumping-off point for these discussions, and is not considered the place for going into a lot of actual detail. I would just like to add my two cents that these discussions should include more than the bare minumum of detail. It's true that my happiness in life has declined in inverse proportion to how much I know about sex, but I'm in the minority, and I don't think anyone particularly enjoys being clueless and taken by surprise on their wedding night. I first learned about sex from a book that described it as when a man inserts his erect penis into his wife's vagina, and pretty much left it at that. So I visualized it as something that took place in the bathroom standing up. (This is anatomically impossible because of how the vagina/vulva is positioned, but I didn't even know that much.) Fortunately the guys at my lunch table at school filled the gaps in my knowledge whether I liked it or not.
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.
Happy twentieth birthday to "The Phantom Menace" and eleventh birthday to "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", two much-maligned films that I used to love and still love and won't apologize for loving even though I'm now aware of their shortcomings. I feel pretty freaking old, though, since I remember both of their releases like they were yesterday. Yet Jar Jar Binks and CG gophers are timeless.
I am, of course, no fan of abortion or the absurdly stupid and/or scientifically illiterate arguments so often employed in its defense. However, I regard Alabama's new law with its lack of exemptions or nuance of any kind, and any mindset or legislation along similar lines, goes much too far and is morally wrong. I don't anyone thinking I support that sort of thing. (For that matter, these days I've stopped rooting for anti-abortion legislation altogether, as I think it's far more important to change hearts and minds and provide decent sex education, birth control, and scientific information.) However, I'm not getting super worked up about it because it's going to be struck down, and that's actually the point. The whole thing is a ploy to reach the Supreme Court in the hope of overturning Roe vs. Wade with the help of Trump's more or less conservative appointees. For some reason most people don't seem aware of that. While most of the outrage against this law and the men who passed it is justified, painting them as stupid and/or ignorant isn't. They know exactly what they're doing. I don't think it's justified and I think it will fail, but it's a bold and brilliant maneuver.
I know I'm not supposed to even have an opinion, but I do and there it is and now I'm done. Here's something positive that happened to me this week, not to make anybody jealous but just to prove that I am capable of noticing positive things. I ran into my ex-roommates' mom for the first time since January, and that was just a little nerve-wracking after what they did to me and the lies they probably spread to justify it (a story which will be explained in much greater detail in my upcoming memoir), and I thought maybe she'd be pissed, but she said she felt bad about how things happened and wanted to give me something, and the something turned out to be an envelope with eighty dollars in it. I guess she's been carrying it around for three months just in case. I wouldn't have run into her if I hadn't gone out to buy temple garments that afternoon, so I accepted that as a very welcome tender mercy.
I wrote recently about the movement to change aspects of BYU's Honor Code enforcement that are wrong and have put some students through unacceptable abuse. I'm told that others who actually want to rewrite or do away with the code altogether have piggybacked onto this movement, but what I've actually witnessed is self-righteous Latter-day Saints assuming that the wronged students' complaints are a disengenuous smokescreen and that they should have gone to a different school. Now, I don't believe BYU has ever asked random people to defend it from legitimate accusations, and I don't believe it's ever responded to such accusations by saying "If you don't like us, don't go here." So I'm honestly a little baffled by the sheer number of people who think it's their duty to defend BYU by victim-blaming its accusers and saying "If you don't like BYU, don't go there." It now comes as no surprise to anyone with a functioning brain that this week BYU changed its Honor Code enforcement policies.
The main idea behind these changes, which may not be the only ones, is to get rid of the culture of students being encouraged to tattle on other students for trivial violations that are none of their business. So, for example, students making accusations will no longer remain anonymous, and the students being accused will actually be allowed to face their accusers, except in a few vague circumstances. Why this wasn't the case all along is beyond my comprehension. The default anonymity policy was asinine and couldn't have reasonably been expected to foster anything positive, and it didn't. Let me be clear; while I don't like BYU and didn't go there, I believe most of its administrators act in good faith and that the current director of the Honor Code office is a swell guy and that these changes are at least as much a result of the goodness of his heart as the negative publicity. I applaud BYU for acknowledging some of its shortcomings and fixing them quickly instead of defending them.
And this isn't the first time. It's been considerably less than three years since BYU overhauled its policies to stop the Honor Code office from grilling sexual assault victims, compounding their suffering and expelling them if they were found to have violated it. Of course this was an unintended consequence, not the result of administrators deciding it would be fun to punish rape victims, but regardless of intent the approach was poorly thought out and wrong and catastrophically hurtful. During a crapload of national scrutiny and backlash in mid-2016 (which won the Salt Lake Tribune a Pulitzer prize the following year), many Latter-day Saints could be heard to opine, "If you don't like BYU, don't go there." Then an advisory council of the school's faculty recommended 23 policy changes. And then BYU, to its credit, adopted every single one of them. And then its self-appointed defenders completely failed to learn any lesson whatsoever and made complete idiots of themselves again this go-round.
Full disclosure: I am one of those who believes the substance of the Honor Code itself, not just enforcement, needs to change. The beard ban that arose to counter 1960s American hippy culture is desperately obsolete and accomplishes little more than making BYU weird for the wrong reasons. I, for one, have found shaving to be an enormous and unwelcome inconvenience. and the spinny blade things to be highly ineffective at their one purpose for existence, so I do it once a week and use the sideburn trimmer for my whole face. None of my fellow students or faculty at USU could have ever possibly cared less. In fact, some guys grow out their beards just to mock the BYU football team when it visits. So yes, I think that's a stupid policy and will support any protest movement against it, but obviously these things have to come on a priority basis. As in my previous mention, I acknowledge that the vast majority of BYU students have positive experiences. But with these policy changes and hopefully more to come, the minority who don't are being heard, and their future numbers should be much lower.
Oh, here's another positive thing. Please take two and a half minutes to watch it.
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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.