The LDS Books of Which I Just Got Rid
Extricating myself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a rather gradual process, as I've held onto as many bits and pieces as I could in an attempt to minimize the existential crisis and convince myself that my twenty-one years of membership weren't a waste. So, for example, I stayed subscribed to the r/latterdaysaints subreddit until I got banned for encouraging nuanced thinking and intellectual honesty. The other day I took another step forward by getting rid of several LDS books that I'm never going to read again and in a majority of cases never read the first time. I'd already tossed my old "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet and my old "To Young Men Only" pamphlet (based on Boyd K. Packer's anti-masturbation General Conference talk that was quietly removed from the church's website a few years ago) in the recycle bin weeks earlier, but destroying actual books rubs me the wrong way unless the books themselves rub me the wrong way. I think the only books I've ever intentionally destroyed was Wizard's First Rule, that I burned after the delusional neighbor who loaned it to me stabbed me in the back and set in motion the worst day of my life, and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, which I encountered at my old book warehouse job and surreptitiously tore the cover off of because I didn't want to sell it for reasons that should be obvious to decent human beings.
But just because these books no longer mean much to me doesn't mean someone else shouldn't benefit from them, so I chose to gave them away. Most of them, anyway. A few were gifts from family members or belonged to now-deceased family members so I'll keep them around for that fact at least. But the majority I took to the local YSA ward yesterday a couple hours before stake conference started. I set them up on a table outside the north chapel because it was empty and I've paid enough tithing to entitle myself to use it. The table outside the south chapel was covered with little papers and things, including a stack of little orange advertisements for stake conference that had obviously missed its chance to be of any use to anyone. At least I was able to give one of them a second chance.
Here, then, are brief descriptions of these books because I lack the motivation to find anything better to write about today. I'm sorry.
They Lie in Wait to Deceive Volume 1 - I picked this up a few years ago at the Logan Institute even though I had already read all four volumes in this series online. In this volume, Robert and Rosemary Brown strike back at professional critics Jerald and Sanda Tanner and some guy named Dee Jay Nelson who, in the seventies and early eighties, pretended to be a leading Egyptologist and went around giving lectures against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. The Browns painstakingly documented all his lies about his credentials and experience, and were so successful that his career ended and today he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. I consider that a worthwhile effort even though real Egyptologists have also said plenty against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.
The TRUTH About "The God Makers" - As I write this I've just remembered that I got this book from my now-deceased grandmother, but it wasn't a gift per se, she just had it laying around and didn't need it anymore, so I guess that's all right. This one is also available online. "The God Makers" is the title of a book and movie by evangelical countercultist Ed Decker, and both are regarded as laughable sensationalist garbage even by most other critics of the LDS Church. Their most lasting legacy is an excerpt posted on YouTube under the inaccurate title "Banned Mormon Cartoon." (Years ago I asked "Banned by whom, exactly?" I'm still waiting on a response.)
The Church of the Old Testament - I think I got this from the book warehouse on one of the days when they let us take free books home. I never read it. Presumably it attempts to root modern LDS practices in the very different practices of the Old Testament. Latter-day Saints and Christians in general read a lot of things between the lines of the Old Testament that Jews don't, and I suppose until we can ask the authors about it in person we won't know who's right. I'm more skeptical nowadays, but the author did have a BA in anthropology, a graduate certificate in Middle East Studies, an MA in linguistics, and an MA in Middle East studies (Hebrew) with minor in anthropology and archaeology, so he wasn't just some hack writing faith-promoting drivel for Deseret Book.
Mark E. Petersen - Virtually the only thing anyone remembers apostle Petersen (not Peterson) for is his insanely racist pro-segregation speech to BYU faculty in 1954. I picked up this biography by his daughter from the book warehouse in hopes of discovering that he had some redeeming qualities. I never got around to reading it, and since I'm no longer required to convince myself that he was a representative of Jesus Christ, I see no reason to do so in the future. I did, however, read Church Historian Leonard Arrington's diary a couple years ago, and I learned that Petersen was one of the leaders who fought Arrington at every turn when he tried to publish balanced and transparent history. So now I remember him for two things. That's an improvement. (Incidentally, after his death in 1984, Arrington remarked that his BYU speech "was one of the most bigoted and narrow-minded talks ever given by a 'disciple of Christ.')
On Becoming A Disciple-Scholar - I wanted to be a disciple-scholar. I wanted to be a paragon of faith and intellect working in harmony. Strange, then, that I never made the time to read this relatively short book. I must have been too busy arguing with strangers on the internet.
Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work - I bought this my freshman year of college at the peak of my enthusiasm to convert the world, even though it's available online. David Stewart was and is a believing member, yet the issues he raised in this book and elsewhere threatened my testimony quite a bit. As I grew up, claims about the church's spectacular growth were ubiquitously touted as proof that it was true. He pointed out with solid data that its growth rate had steadily fallen since the late 1980s and that a solid majority of members on the rolls no longer associated with the church in any capacity. (This has now become so obvious that it's common knowledge among people who aren't completely out of touch with reality.) What's worse, he pointed out how Jehovah's Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, and evangelical missionary and/or church planting programs (aka the ones that don't claim to be led by living prophets) have consistently and dramatically outperformed the LDS missionary program (aka the one that does claim to be led by living prophets) in terms of numerical growth and retention. Now look, I don't expect an "inspired" missionary program to have no room for improvement or nothing it can learn from other groups, but I do expect it to not necessitate some random guy outside the church leadership structure writing a book about why it sucks. So that was a faith crisis shelf item for a long time.
Saint Behind Enemy Lines - This is the story of Olga Kovářová Campora, a convert to the church from communist Czechoslovakia. I was going to read it earlier this year and then I didn't. I'm sure it's very inspiring and I don't begrudge her finding peace and/or joy wherever, but even as a believer I couldn't help thinking about how atypical her experience is for Eastern Europe. Today, thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the church has fewer than 3,000 members in the Czech Republic and Slovakia combined. A few years ago it had more Slovak members in Sheffield, England than in Slovakia. Maybe it still does, but the Slovak branch in that city was closed after not very long (with none of the fanfare that accompanied its opening, of course), so I don't know.
Sunshine for the Courageous Latter-day Saint Soul - Stories to make one feel warm and fuzzy, I'm sure. I suspect that many of them are drivel, but only having read one and found it tolerable, I shouldn't assume.
Brother to Brother - I stole this one from the book warehouse. It had been rejected, so we couldn't sell it and I was supposed to toss it in the recycle bin, but as one who had been obsessed for years with everything I could get my hands on about the church's (usually but not always abysmal) history with Black people, I had to read it. I snuck it home with me and read it. Co-author Rendell Mabey was one half of one half of the two senior missionary couples sent to Ghana and Nigeria in late 1978 following the revelation that made Black people eligible for priesthood ordination and temple ordinances. This is his story, and it's a faith-promoting story that has the benefit of being true. Between 1946 and 1978, tens of thousands of West Africans had obtained literature from the church and desired to be baptized. They knew about the priesthood and temple ban, of course (though additional stuff like Mark E. Petersen's BYU speech are another story), but tended (and still tend) not to care the way African-Americans tended (and still tend) to care. Many of them were still waiting when the missionaries finally arrived and baptized them.
Counseling With Our Councils - I got this from the institute when I was part of the Leadership Committee of the Latter-day Saint Student Association. I "won" it somehow, out of all the people there, but I don't remember how or why. With that being the case I feel kind of bad that I never read it because it looks really boring, but now it can be put to some use.
Then there's the little stack that I would have just recycled if they'd been all I had, because they're not real books, just manuals - three copies of Gospel Principles (I think the small one is an older edition, but I didn't care enough to look) and two volumes from Teachings of Presidents of the Church (Gordon B. Hinckley and Joseph Fielding Smith, the latter carefully curated to omit any of his teachings on race or science). I really ought to get rid of more books since I'm most likely going to move to another state next year, but I'm not sure I can bear to do that unless I apostatize from science fiction.
Hayden Nelson, the officer of the Logan City Police Department who abused me on January 14, 2020 (aka the worst day of my life), is being sued along with a dozen other officers for abusing someone else more egregiously that same year, and the city of Logan for sweeping it under the rug. I learned about this lawsuit from Cache Valley Transparency, a first amendment auditing YouTube channel that LCPD has been illegally trying to squelch with bogus privacy complaints and stalking charges. I expect it will be thrown out soon thanks to the legal doctrine of qualified immunity that exists for the sole purpose of enabling cops and other government officials to violate people's constitutional rights with impunity, but I'd love to be wrong. At least it validates my perception of what happened to me. The incident described in the lawsuit is far worse than mine, yet the disgusting incompetence and maliciousness of the officers involved is identical, and the subsequent cover-up by the police department is also very familiar. I've reached out to the district court to ask if I can get involved somehow and testify about the kind of people Hayden Nelson and the department leaders are, I've reached out to the department leaders to mock them (again), and I've reached out to city attorney Craig Carlston to politely explain that these words he's quoted as saying are a load of crap:
"I know that the police department, and all the officers, take these things very seriously. My experience with the police department is they've been really diligent about complying with the constitution and state code, and they care deeply about those things."
A couple years before my experience, I had come to recognize that police brutality specifically against black men was a problem. Before then, of course I heard about the endless string of murders by law enforcement but as a card-carrying conservative I was required to believe that racism magically disappeared in the 1960s, so I had to assume that most of the victims brought it on themselves by not cooperating. However, when confronted by more information, I changed my mind, because honest adults do that sometimes. And I still didn't get mad about it. I just saw it as a terrible fact of life that I couldn't do anything about. And in fairness, it's true that my subsequent attempts to do something about it have had no discernible effect on anything except the number of my Facebook friends. But I feel guilty for not getting angry about it until it affected me personally. I guess I've just got to forgive myself and move on. I'm determined not to let the issues drop even if everyone else who jumped on the George Floyd bandwagon loses interest.
There are really two issues here with substantial overlap: police abuse, which affects all races to some degree, and systemic racism, which encompasses far more than police abuse. I want to eradicate both. I recognize the intersectionality in my own situation, that even as Hayden Nelson bullied and discriminated against me for being autistic and "weird," things almost certainly went better for me than they would have if I had darker skin. I feel a special love for Elijah McClain, one of the most Christlike individuals in the world, who was murdered by three police officers and two paramedics for "looking sketchy." (Okay, so the actual charge is manslaughter, but I can't grasp the fine legal distinction between murdering someone and merely assaulting them to death for no reason.) I made him my Facebook profile picture some time ago so people can't forget about him or the pending legal action against his murd- I mean manslaughterers. Now when I see his picture it really feels like I'm looking at myself. I hope that's not some kind of inappropriate appropriation or white savior thing. I want to live vicariously through him in some sense to keep him alive in some sense, but not in a weird way.
Today is Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the US, kind of. White people in the South used all kinds of legal loopholes to keep black people in conditions that were slavery in all but name. Still, it was an important day. And now thanks to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, it's a federal holiday and a state holiday in every state. Time will tell whether this is an empty symbolic gesture or whether the awareness generated by it translates into a reduction of racism in the United States. So far, it's certainly exposed a lot of racists here in Utah, and I assume elsewhere as well since these Utahans usually just parrot whatever the other Trump worshipers are saying. You might think that celebrating the end of slavery was something we could all agree on. You would be wrong. This holiday, according to them, is a fake holiday, a made-up holiday (as opposed to the naturally occuring holidays that are woven into the fabric of the universe), PC culture, and/or wokeism, or it's bad because we have too many holidays already or because we don't have a holiday for some other group that they've never cared about in their lives (and 9 times out of 10 we actually do have such a holiday), or they've never heard of it and would rather boast about their ignorance than fix it, or they don't see why black people can't just let go and stop focusing on the past and focus on the time white people declared their independence from England instead. Yeah, these people who think they're Christians are going to be really surprised when Jesus incinerates them.
I didn't know about Juneteenth until a few years ago either. But as soon as I learned, I had no objections to it because I'm not that much of a monster. I'm happy to celebrate it now. USU did some great events over the last few days that I would write about in detail if I'd gotten more sleep. As soon as I sign off here I'm headed to the final one, an interfaith devotional with the Bonner family and some other cool people.
Things that Stood Out to Me in the April 2022 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The conference opened with a big emphasis on full-time missionary service, obviously in response to the big drop in missionary numbers that hasn't yet rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. It reminded me that my last love served a mission once. So that was a depressing note to start on.
Reyna I. Aburto asserted on Saturday morning, "The Church is more than the buildings and the ecclesiastical structure; the Church is us, the members. We are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with Christ at the head and the prophet as His mouthpiece." I loved to hear her say that because for a few years I've been responding to the false and annoying cliche "The Church is perfect, but the people aren't" with "The Church is the people." This cliche is as nonsensical as "The body is perfect, but the cells aren't." The last time I brought this up, the other person insisted that the Church is Christ. And I said no it isn't, because without the people, it would be nothing more than an idea in Christ's head, and also, the Bible describes it as the bride of Christ, and I'm not sure what kind of weird modalist reading could twist that into saying they're the same entity. Anyway, most members are more likely to listen to Sister Aburto than to me.
Patrick Kearon, I mean Jeffrey R. Holland was on fire during the Saturday afternoon session with his candid recognition and denunciation of abuse. "The abuse was not, is not, and never will be your fault, no matter what the abuser or anyone else may have said to the contrary. When you have been a victim of cruelty, incest, or any other perversion, you are not the one who needs to repent; you are not responsible. You are not less worthy or less valuable or less loved as a human being, or as a daughter or son of God, because of what someone else has done to you." I think Elder Kearon should be an apostle.
Dale G. Renlund gave the concluding remarks in the women's session on Saturday evening. He talked about the Young Women theme. Just a couple weeks ago, a former church member in my poetry class shared a poem about the sexism that was drilled into her in the Young Women program, and it excerpted the pre-2019 version of the theme. A current member recited the theme from memory and a never-member beatboxed along with it, which didn't really work but was funny. The current member mentioned the 2019 revision from "Heavenly Father" to "heavenly parents," and acknowledged, "It's not much, but... it's not much." I respectfully disagree; I think any phrasing in a thing that gets repeated every week and memorized for life is significant. Elder Renlund also fixated on that phrasing and talked about Heavenly Mother. After rumors and reports about him and other leaders, I had some idea what he would say. "Very little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven, but what we do know is summarized in a gospel topic found in our Gospel Library application. Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject. I wish I knew more. You too may still have questions and want to find more answers. Seeking greater understanding is an important part of our spiritual development, but please be cautious. Reason cannot replace revelation."
A lot of people are very upset about that. Personally, I think he did the best he could and I choose to focus on the postiive that he discussed Heavenly Mother at all. I don't think any reasonable person will be able to interpret him as saying that we shouldn't talk about Her or that she's "too sacred" and needs to be "protected" by Heavenly Father. (By the way, I've seen Elder Renlund and his wife relentlessly tease each other in a smaller and less formal setting, so I'm pretty sure he wouldn't relate to that ridiculous and sexist hypothesis at all.) Granted, many members of the church are not reasonable people. But I don't think this talk would have the same chilling effect on discussion as President Hinckley's similar talk in 1991 even if that were Elder Renlund's intention, which I'm sure it is not. The culture is very different. The essay is on the website. And right after the caution that "Demanding revelation from God is both arrogant and unproductive" came an implied openness to receive it anyway: "Instead, we wait on the Lord and His timetable to reveal His truths through the means that He has established."
On Sunday morning, Russell M. Nelson referred to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and actually mentioned the two countries involved by name this time. He said, "None of us can control nations or the actions of others or even members of our own families. But we can control ourselves. My call today, dear brothers and sisters, is to end conflicts that are raging in your heart, your home, and your life. Bury any and all inclinations to hurt others - whether those inclinations be a temper, a sharp tongue, or a resentment for someone who has hurt you. The Savior commanded us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who despitefully use us." And that phrasing really stood out to me because everyone over the age of two without a severe mental disability has wanted to hurt someone else at some point, but we're not supposed to admit it. Only dangerous and scary people admit it.
Dallin H. Oaks' Sunday afternoon talk was so repetitive of his previous talking points that I really and truly thought I was watching an old conference by mistake, and I would have said so, but I was watching at someone's house and switching between a laptop and the TV as the latter kept failing to work, and I realized it was unlikely that she had brought up the wrong conference on both devices. I've been uncomfortable with Oaks' anti-LGBTQ+ talks for years but now my conscience leads me to straight-up disagree on at least one major point. Even granting "that exaltation can be attained only through faithfulness to the covenants of an eternal marriage between a man and a woman," I do not see how legalized or socially accepted same-sex marriage "oppose[s] progress toward exaltation." Most people aren't choosing same-sex marriage over opposite-sex marriage, they're choosing it over being alone until they die, which wouldn't get them any closer to exaltation either but would probably make them a lot less happy in this life. If same-sex marriage can't be sealed in the temple, then it ends at death and is moot in the long term. I see no reason why the Church needs to keep worrying about it at all. I know that if it does, it's going to continue pushing out its younger members and shrivel up to a shadow of its former self as the older ones die off.
New children of record during 2021: 89,069
Converts baptized during 2021: 168,283
Wards and branches: 31,315
Full-time teaching missionaries: 54,539
Church-service missionaries: 36,639
Temples in operation: 170
Temples dedicated during 2021: 2
Temples rededicated during 2021: 1
Growth has started to rebound from the catastrophe of 2020, but not all the way, and it was in steady decline for thirty years before that anyway.
Following President Nelson's trend, most of these temples are clearly not warranted by membership numbers alone (which have actually gone down in the UK and California in recent years) but will be more convenient for nearby members to attend. Breaking from the trend, one wasn't announced for Utah. Oh no, whatever shall we do? How will we get by with only 28 temples?
Good for Ohio though. Some of my favorite people in the world live in Ohio.
Coming Out with Doubt
I recently arranged to hang out with someone from my ward because I didn't look forward to being alone for every hour of spring break and she seemed like a safe person to talk to about some stuff. We were going to go for a walk but when she had to work late, we went to dinner instead. It wasn't a date. I made sure to tell her up front that I was only seeking friendship, so she wouldn't have to wonder about my intentions, and she appreciated that. She told me about her awkward drama with two guys from the ward who are competing for her affections. If I needed a reminder of how grateful I am to not have anything to do with the world of dating anymore, which I didn't, that would have sufficed. I felt bad for them but also amused that someone besides me is going to suffer this time.
I told her that I just recently came to the conclusion that I simply straight-up don't believe in some teachings and claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A lot of people wouldn't see that as earth-shattering. Members who don't believe every single part are the rule, not the exception. But I tried for a really long time to avoid that route because I saw it as logically untenable to pick and choose parts of a religion that claims to be the only true and living church, the kingdom of God, uniquely led by revelation. It's all or nothing, I thought. But I grew tired of trying to make certain things work or pretend they made sense, so here I am. And I hesitated to share that fact with anyone. As invisible as I feel pretty much all the time, I know that a few people in and out of the church, including some who don't even believe in God, admire me as a truth seeker and an example of balancing faith and reason. I didn't want to shake anyone's faith, or to be seen as a hypocrite or as proof that faith and reason can't be balanced after all. I picked this person to confide in because I knew she wouldn't judge me and she didn't have enough preconceived notions to be too disappointed. She asked for examples of what I don't believe anymore. I said, "I don't believe that same-sex relationships are wrong." Without skipping a beat she was like, "Yeah, me neither."
The Church's opposition to homosexuality - which in fairness, it shared until pretty recently with the entire Judeo-Christian world - has bothered me a lot for a little over a decade, ever since I befriended a real live lesbian who shockingly didn't appreciate being told that God wanted her to pursue a life of celibacy. (I didn't volunteer that information, thank goodness. I didn't even know she was a lesbian yet. She asked me "What are your thoughts on gays?" and I told her and she said "Houston, we have a problem.") As I talked to her, the horrible real life implications of the glib phrase "The attraction isn't a sin, but acting on it is" - an improvement on the Church's previous stance of "Homosexuality is a curable pathology" - suddenly sunk in. Still, I remained agnostic about it. I tried to maintain some epistemological humility and not claim with certainty that the Church's position was wrong. God's ways are not my ways. Just because I and countless others find something deeply confusing and hurtful, I told myself, doesn't mean it isn't from God. I listened to countless rationalizations and obfuscations from happily married straight people about why it isn't as fundamentally unfair as they know it is. I decided I would just love people and not judge their lifestyle choices, and if God didn't like their lifestyle choices, that was His problem, not mine. And I continued to experience cognitive dissonance every time I became aware of yet another gay person who had left the Church because its teachings made him or her miserable.
The tipping point actually came last week when the final speaker at the Logan Institute's LGBTQ+ and allies seminar, a happily married straight man, gave everyone a handout of quotes that were supposed to rationalize and obfuscate the fundamental unfairness of the Church's position but had the opposite effect on me. For example:
Robert George: "If one believes that 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identity' truly is central to one's identity or being, then The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' teaching about marriage and family, including but not limited to the Proclamation on the Family, will always be highly problematic and, indeed, mysterious. It will be defensible, if at all, sheerly by appeal to authority." Okay, so sexual orientation per se is a pretty modern construct, but people have had varying kinds of sexual attraction for as long as people have existed, and how can that not be central to one's identity or being in some way if marriage and sex are central to God's plan? How can the purpose of one's existence be uncoupled (no pun intended) from the internal motivation to take part in it (or not)? Dr. George is certainly correct about the appeal to authority - though apologists have tried to fill in the gaps, church leaders themselves have made little if any serious attempt to explain or defend the Church's stance on homosexuality beyond "God said so."
N.T. Wright: "We have lived for too long in a world, and tragically even in a church, where the wills and affections of human beings are regarded as sacrosanct as they stand, where God is required to command what we already love and to promise what we already desire. The implicit religion of many people today is simply to discover who they really are and then try to live it out." I believe this statement, and yet when applied in this context, it singles out (no pun intended) a small segment of the population (percentage-wise) and holds them to a different standard than most people. If you're part of the heterosexual majority, then in this context God is regarding your wills and affections as sacrosanct to a significant extent. He is commanding what you already love and promising what you already desire. Maybe you won't be able to find someone, but that's because of bad luck, not because He doesn't want you to and forbade you from trying. Oh, and there's also the small detail that people's sexual and romantic wills and affections are typically the ones God gave them in the first place.
Robert Johnson: It's become increasingly common to believe that one "mortal human being has the responsibility for making our lives whole, keeping us happy, making our lives meaningful, intense, and ecstatic." Stephanie Coontz (misspelled Coonz): "Never before in history had societies thought that such a set of high expectations about marriage was either realistic or desirable." Maybe Latter-day Saints get this idea because the Church teaches that marriage is the most important thing in the universe and, once entered into, should be one's highest priority at all times. I thought this quote was on the list to imply that gay people shouldn't make such a big deal out of marriage because it isn't all that great, which would be pretty freaking hypocritical. After looking at the original article and its brief mention of LGBT+ individuals, though, I think it's on the list to imply (even though neither of the people quoted were talking about this) that gay people shouldn't mind dating and marrying the opposite sex without getting to enjoy any of the romantic feelings or attraction that straight people take for granted, and which gay people also get to enjoy when they date and marry the same sex.
So now I've had no choice but to change my mind. God's commandments can sometimes be very difficult to follow, but I'm pretty sure they aren't supposed to be a constant source of avoidable pain and trauma. The fruits of the Church's teachings on this subject tell me loud and clear that they aren't from God. If they are, then it seems to me that celibate gay members should find happiness and inner peace that outweigh the benefits of being in a relationship, and those who leave to pursue gay lifestyles (assuming they would even still want to) should feel empty inside and want to come back. From what I've seen, this is overwhelmingly not the case. (Of course there are rare exceptions on both sides, and there is sometimes middle ground. John Gustav-Wrathall was excommunicated in 2005, and has continued to attend church every week with his husband. Tom Christofferson broke up with his long-term boyfriend to get rebaptized, and now he's dating men again because he got lonely. A gay friend of mine is zealous about the gospel and committed to celibacy, and on my birthday he told me he was interested and kissed me on the lips.) The bottom line for me is that the gospel is supposed to work for all of God's children and the Church is supposed to be a healthy place for all of God's children, but it doesn't and it isn't, and consequently something needs to change. I don't presume to know exactly what, but something.
Even if it's true that opposite-sex marriage is a requirement for exaltation in the highest degree of heaven, and consequently the only form of marriage that can be sealed for eternity in the temple, it doesn't logically follow that a temporary same-sex marriage is worse than no marriage at all. On the contrary, since same-sex love and relationships are every bit as real and meaningful as opposite-sex love and relationships, a same-sex marriage that ends at death still provides the personal growth and development between two imperfect people that I believe is the main purpose of marriage. (I'm pretty sure that reproduction is not the main purpose of marriage, which every non-human organism on the planet gets along just fine without.) The Church could keep its temple sealing policies and teachings about the hereafter, and still stop punishing gay members for doing what makes them happy. This would still confer a kind of second-class status on gay members and be unsatisfactory to a lot of people, but it would be an astronomical improvement. In 1948 BYU students Kent Goodridge Taylor and Richard Snow told President George Albert Smith that they were in love with each other, and he told them to live their lives as best they could. Of course, that was a few years before gay people in the US started agitating en masse to be treated like human beings, which apparently frightened church leaders and sparked the rampant homophobia and witch hunts of the 1960s and 70s.
And even if my fallible mortal logic is wrong and it is true that marrying the wrong person somehow gets you farther away from exaltation than being alone, I don't believe that any God worthy of the title would be more concerned about chastity violations between people who love each other than about, say, the LGBTQ+ suicide rate. So there's the whole matter of priorities too. Again, not a perfect solution, but there is ancient and modern scriptural precedent for God allowing people to live a "lower law" when the "higher law" proves impossible for them.
My friend asked, "Are you a pretty logical thinker?" I said, "Yeah." She said, "That makes it hard." And then I complained about the hostility I frequently encounter in the Church to critical thinking or any kind of nuance whatsoever, as exemplified in recent remarks by Brad Wilcox and Wendy Nelson. My friend hadn't heard about the latter, and she smiled and shook her head when I described them. And then that led her to the topic that I would have brought up next anyway. She brought up a Sunday school lesson that our bishop taught last year, which I've complained about on this blog multiple times, but I had gotten over it and I'm only bringing it up again because she did. In this lesson he very forcefully asserted that God wants all married women to work unpaid 96-hour weeks as homemakers, and told the women present to only use their college educations to be better mothers, not to have careers (emphasis his). My friend remembered him saying that people who disagreed were "babies" in their understanding. I don't remember that, but I remember him saying that we were following the "natural man" and the world's lies, so the same general idea. I was very concerned about the women who sat through this nonsense. I was concerned that those who recognized it as nonsense would leave the Church, and those who didn't would either give up their dreams, feel guilty for having dreams, or feel guilty when modern economic realities forced them to have careers whether they wanted to or not. Now I know how two of them reacted. My friend said that she and her roommate were both angry about it, and then she went home and bawled.
Hearing that also made me angry all over again - about the lesson, and about the total lack of any retraction, correction, or apology to those harmed, because we don't seem to mean it when we say we don't believe that our leaders are infallible. A few months later, referencing my complaint to the stake president, the bishop privately acknowledged to me that "We all make mistakes," but my friend and I are pretty sure he still doesn't think he said anything wrong. She was chill about it, though. She said we don't have to believe everything we hear, and if something feels wrong, it probably is. She shared another experience in another ward when the principle of modesty was, as per bloody usual, taught completely wrong by telling the women they needed to cover up to help men control their thoughts. (Jesus would have told the men to pluck their eyes out if they had a problem.) And she was upset, but that very week she saw a quote in institute that she was able to take to her bishop to convince him that this was the wrong way to teach modesty, and he asked how she would teach it and asked her to prepare a lesson, and she was terrified but she got a reprieve from the you-know-what pandemic. Because of her taking this stand, though, when the time came for her mother (who had originally seen nothing wrong with the modesty lesson) to require the young women at some church activity or other to wear shirts over their bathing suits, she refused. My friend said people like us need to be here to take stands like that and to create space for others who otherwise wouldn't be welcome. I agree. It just feels at times like a ridiculous burden that we don't deserve, especially when less nuanced members and leaders openly resent us as they push the culture in the opposite direction.
I told her about how I had become an out-and-out feminist in the last couple years because of my ex-neighbor Calise, who probably still has no idea that she had this effect on me. (This friend already knew something of the less positive effects that Calise had on me and had said that she "sounds like a butthead," so I jumped at the chance to give a more nuanced picture.) Because of her, I started to question things that I had never questioned because they were conditioned into me. Calise made the most beautiful artwork and she wanted to be a teacher and share her passion with children. It made me sick to think that anyone would tell her not to use that God-given talent because she had a one-size-fits-all role to change diapers, wash dishes, and so on. My friend said that she really appreciates men like me. That was nice. She said we have "a lot of very conservative men" in our ward and that the ones in our home evening group have made several "domineering comments" and she finally called them out on it. I stopped going to Elders' Quorum for a while in part because of sexist comments like the high councillor's assertion that his wife "understood her role as a homemaker" and that her career was to follow him wherever his career took him. They weren't frequent by any means, but I felt like life was too short to gamble every other week on whether or not one would pop up.
I said, "The whole thing about the man being the breadwinner and the woman staying home..." "...is bullcrap," she interrupted. I was going to say "...only solidified after World War II and was only feasible for white Americans of a certain social class where women could afford to stay home instead of working as housekeepers for wealthier families," but I guess her more concise version covered that. Of course, I don't think it's bullcrap if/when a heterosexual couple decides with equal input and without coercion that it's the right option for their specific circumstances, but it is bullcrap when preached as God's eternal model for everyone ever. So anyway, I've come to the conclusion that I don't believe anything the Church teaches about gender roles. It's lost all credibility on that subject for me because its current teachings are just a watered-down version of more egregiously sexist teachings from a few decades ago (that some people are still perpetuating). And while men and women are obviously different, everyone is an individual and you simply cannot make any generalization about one or the other that will always be true. (Not to mention that many differences stem more from culture and upbringing than biology.)
I could have gone on about things I don't believe anymore, but my friend asked what I do still believe. So I started listing those off. I believe the basic theology, which, although I don't often say so because I have no interest in denigrating other faiths, in my opinion is the most complete and makes the most sense of any Christian theology. As an example, I mentioned the teaching that some part of our identities, which Joseph Smith called "intelligences," is uncreated and co-eternal with God. This resolves the theological problem that if God created us from scratch, it's His fault that we aren't perfect and His fault that we sin. I don't know if she ever considered that before but she looked impressed. I believe in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. For whatever reason, after saying that I felt a need to reassure her that I don't like polygamy. It's one of the major issues that keeps a lot of people up at night but doesn't bother me much for some reason, but if I were a woman like my friend it would probably bother me more, so I felt like I needed to be sensitive to that after mentioning that I don't have any real problems with Joseph Smith. So we got on a tangent about that because she said that she doesn't like it either but she thinks it was necessary for a time and she just recently learned about how it empowered plural wives to take turns going back East to get college educations. I said, "The Church was more feminist in the nineteenth century than in the twentieth." She said, "Ohhh yeah."
She had said she needed to be back around 6:45, but when I glanced at my phone at 6:35, she told me not to worry about it, to take my time. We left around quarter after seven. I had a delightful time and appreciated her empathy and thoughtfulness very much. I am starving for these intellectual discussions that I can't have at church or with my family. She said she thought I wasn't giving myself enough credit for everything I still believe. I agreed and no longer felt like it was a big deal to share this with both of the people who read my blog.
Where, oh where does the time go? Friday and Saturday marked the two-year anniversary of the worst day of my life (which encompassed an entire sleepless night). I'm not going to explain it again. I wrote about it at the time in a blog post which is still there if anyone's interested, but which I don't recommend because it's somewhat incoherent. I was still reeling from shock and confusion and anger, and I jumped around chronologically several times. But it was useful for recording quotes and details while they were still fresh, which has helped me with subsequent accounts. The most definitive one, and the one which I do recommend to anyone interested, is an essay I wrote for class last year called Things That Rhyme with "Elise." Though it doesn't include every possible detail, it is much better-written overall. It left a big impact on my classmates and my professor. Actually, because it was so long, I split it into two parts and submitted them separately instead of writing two essays. And the first part had just a bit of foreshadowing of what I like to think of as the greatest plot twist since (spoiler alert) "No, I am your father." I still laugh a little to myself when I think of how my professor began her feedback letter to the second part.
I have such a sick sense of humor. I mean, I felt really bad about this plot twist, though not as bad as I did about living through it. Everyone was so invested in the story, thought it was so sweet and so cute. I felt like I was preparing to shoot a puppy as it looked up at me with eyes full of love and trust. But to continue:
Yes, there is some mention of race in the essay even though the worst day of my life had nothing to do with race, because I wanted to acknowledge that larger conversation and show my awareness that even when I am misunderstood and mistreated for being different, I maintain some degree of white privilege. There is zero doubt in my mind that my interactions with the police and hospital staff would have gone even worse if I was black. And as much as Officer Nelson can go fuck himself, I'm not accusing him of conscious racial prejudice. But he was very obviously prejudiced against me because of my mental illness, and it's also self-evident that white cops in the US are conditioned to perceive and treat black people as more threatening, while white healthcare workers seem to believe they have different biology altogether. We saw this, for example, with the cops who assaulted a neurodivergent black man named Elijah McClain for "looking sketchy," then claimed he had exhibited "superhuman strength" and the fictitious medical condition of "excited delirium" (both often used by police to justify brutality). We saw this with the paramedics who injected him with ketamine without attempting to talk to him and overestimated his weight by eighty pounds. Those cops and paramedics should be publicly executed just like they publicly executed him. So yeah, I wanted to recognize my privilege of not getting murdered for existing while black. It would have been very tonedeaf not to do so.
I couldn't have asked for more understanding than I got from my professor and classmates. It was kind of intimidating, in the era of #metoo and #believewomen, in a predominantly female class in the hotbed of liberalism that is a college English department, to assert that two women falsely accused me of some form of sexual misconduct. (In saying that, I don't mean to suggest that I have it worse than the women who are actual victims and still don't get taken as seriously as they need or deserve. USU is currently being sued, and its police chief Earl Morris was recently forced to resign, for that very reason.) I am grateful that everyone believed me and empathized with me. I don't take that trust lightly. There was one part of the essay that I'd been tempted to gloss over because it put me in a less positive light, but I realized that if a classmate from my undergraduate non-fiction course (with the same professor) could write an essay about abusing her husband, I could admit to being less than perfect too. And then only one person even commented on that part in their feedback.
Toward the end of my essay, I didn't have room to explore all the introspection and gossip and recovery that filled the months after the worst day of my life, and in particular the process of reconciling what I thought I knew of Calise's kindness and maturity with her very unkind and immature action, so I tried to summarize it. I tried to explain why, to the best of my knowledge, Calise and Talease did what they did. I didn't want to cast them as one-dimensional villains when in real life I know them to be complicated people, and I've forgiven them and I didn't want anybody to hate them. (Maybe someday I'll be able to say the same about Officer Nelson.) But my professor and classmates didn't think that worked. They said Calise and Talease already came across as complicated, and that the end of the essay needed to stay focused on me and not them. So I changed that. In my first blog post about them, even though I did hate them at the time, I kept them anonymous (unlike Officer Nelson) to avoid any appearance of vindictiveness. But after a while I stopped keeping them anonymous because I hope that someday they'll notice what I've written about them and get the side of the story that they never asked for and then barred me from sharing. Is that a socially acceptable thing to do? No, and I don't care. If people are going to abuse me no matter what I do then I'm going to do what I want.
I've written a little prayer/poem that goes like so:
Father, forgive Talease, for she is delusional.
Father, forgive Calise, for she is naive.
Father, forgive Officer Nelson, for he is stupid and poorly trained.
Father, thank you for giving the emergency room staff at Logan Regional Hospital what they deserve. [Note for future historians: this is a reference to the COVID-19 pandemic that made healthcare workers' lives a living hell.]
Father, forgive me, for I am autistic.
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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.