I stopped going to Elders Quorum a while ago because of the occasional sexist comments that I didn't feel like tolerating, but I figured I should give it another chance. So of course this last week we had a lesson on marriage. I thought about walking out, but I figured God would bless me if I endured the pain. It started off with the obligatory acknowledgement that gay people exist before proceeding as if they don't. Then for most of it, the floor was open to ask questions of the stake president, the bishop, the bishop's second counselor, the Elders Quorum president, and a relatively new high councillor who's at least four decades younger than the previous one. And the first question asked was this: "How do we handle conflicts, like if my wife wants to work and I want her to stay home?" Really, of all the examples he could have chosen, he chose that one. I impulsively said "She should get a better husband" at what I hoped was the right volume for him not to hear but for the row between us to hear. I don't have a lot of patience left for this nonsense. Even before I became an angry feminist, there was never a point in my life when I would have seriously considered trying to stop my hypothetical wife from getting a job, unless the one she had in mind was prostitution or multi-level marketing. And of course I was set to walk out if I didn't like how this question got answered.
The bishop's second counselor answered first. He's very quiet, and I've never had an opinion about him until now. I wish I could remember all his exact words, because in conveying the gist of them it sounds like he was totally shutting this guy down, but he wasn't, he was just sharing his perspective. He said that his wife has a passion for working in special education, and it doesn't bring in much extra income, but it makes her happy and it makes her a better person, so why would he try to stop her? He said it's important to treat his wife like a person and make decisions together and not just be like "I want you to do this" or whatever. He said she only worked while the kids were at school, but different families have different circumstances and just saying the woman needs to stay home all the time to change diapers or wash dishes or whatever (which is pretty close to an actual Spencer W. Kimball quote) is sexist. I was very pleased with his answer and politely pretended not to notice how much it contradicted what the bishop said almost a year ago. If what the bishop taught us about gender roles in his Family Proclamation lesson is true (spoiler alert: it isn't), then the second counselor's wife needs to repent for not being completely fulfilled by motherhood and homemaking. On this occasion the bishop shared how happy his wife was with only motherhood and homemaking, but he held back on saying that God requires all women to do the same. It's a good thing his second counselor spoke up first and that the stake president I complained to after his Family Proclamation lesson was in the room.
(Pic to prove I'm not lying)
Toward the 1:09:30 mark of this video, if you are so inclined, you will see me reading an excerpt from my story "Do Robots Dream of Electric Horse Debugger?" that won second place in the Graduate Fiction category of the USU Creative Writing and Art Contest. Ironically, the excerpt I read had been cut from my contest entry to fit the length restriction, but the contest director was my thesis chair and after my defense I mentioned this and he said he loved that scene and offered to get it reinstated for publication. My story and some other stuff can be read in the latest issue of the USU English Department literary journal Sink Hollow.
Despite my terror of public speaking, it was a really great experience except that I noticed a typo in my excerpt that I, my thesis chair and Graduate Fiction Writing professor, my eight Graduate Fiction Writing classmates, and the Sink Hollow editor had all failed to notice before, and also when an acquaintance in the audience said "Great job" afterward I responded "You too." I ran into Paul Fjeldsted, a bishop I had years ago who was there to support his niece. I love that man. I won big in bishop roulette with him.
On Friday another stalker came out of the woodwork.
The catalyst for this, I believe, was a meltdown on my Facebook timeline from someone I knew growing up who used to be a phenomenal guy but now has a pathological hatred of our the church we grew up in. I have many friends who have left the church, including the majority of peers who grew up in it with me and the majority of my graduate school classmates, but I'm not accustomed to someone on my Facebook timeline going ballistic about how the Latter-day Saint pioneers were the personification of evil and deserved to be persecuted. It was most unfortunate. I didn't waste much time addressing his thoroughly un-nuanced historical sound bites (other than pointing out that the pioneers did not "introduce slavery to Utah" because the native tribes were selling each other's children to Mexicans well before then, after which he moved the goalposts on the definition of slavery) but fortunately another friend was willing to engage with him more and call out his toxic behavior until he stopped. It really just reinforced my sense of where I stand, since I've become more critical of the church lately, but I still feel defensive when it's unfairly attacked, and I criticize it because I want to make it better, not burn it to the ground. I understand that he's angry because he learned a lot of things that weren't in the paint-by-numbers version of history he learned at church. I've been angry about that too. But he's merely traded it for a different paint-by-numbers version of history, one with the colors reversed. It's most unfortunate.
Last night I felt the Spirit pretty well during a session of stake conference, helped by a 19-year-old speaker who inexplicably was even funnier than I am. I went out to eat with some people afterward and we didn't get our food until 10:30, so I was up late and too tired to feel the Spirit today, but these things happen.
At my suggestion, Rick Satterfield's temple website now has all the temple matrons (female) listed along with the presidents (male). This started late last year, but he's very busy. I don't know if my feminist blog posts have had any tangible effect on things within the church, but I know that this suggestion did, so I can die happy because I'm not useless.
Two Fridays ago, a full week before I expected to hear back from them, I got an email from the FSY people saying in part, "We regret to inform you that we will not be able to hire you for this particular job at this time." I was pretty qualified with my teaching experience and they were desperate for male counselors, so I first assumed it was because of my blog and/or social media posts. That was a known risk that almost dissuaded me from applying in the first place, but I wasn't about to lie or censor my true feelings and beliefs about anything. Anyway, while they have a right to try to hire those whose values and believes they feel are in line with their own, the chance that they've managed to only hire young people who agree with the church position on same-sex relationships is zero. Another possibility that occurred to me was that they'd discriminated against me for being socially awkward, but while that was a definite possibility and a thing that has been done to me throughout my life, I gave them the benefit of the doubt because the first option was sufficient and reasonable enough. In either case, though, I assumed they had been spineless and dishonest (albeit no more so than most people) to write "we will not be able to hire you" instead of "we have chosen not to hire you."
But on Monday I found out the real reason. Several FSY sessions have been canceled due to low enrollment. For a moment, that news made me feel better about myself and their honesty. Then it alarmed me. At worst, this means that a sizable percentage of the rising generation is not interested in church stuff at all - and everyone knows the church has a severe retention problem with this generation, but I wouldn't have thought it this severe. At best, it means that the leaders who have been hyping this thing up in vain are out of touch with the youth's actual wants or needs - and that problem has been apparent since Brad Wilcox's talk earlier this year went viral for all the wrong reasons, but I wouldn't have thought it this severe. I think it's a real shame because EFY, the North American precursor to FSY, was a mind-blowing, life-changing experience for me at age seventeen. It's hard for me to comprehend that any young Latter-day Saint who cares about or believes in church stuff at all wouldn't want to go. Granted, being surrounded by thousands of church members wouldn't be the same thrilling once-in-a-lifetime event for anyone who's grown up in Utah as it was for me.
Speaking of cynical young church members, I read this very balanced, very relatable article on "Five Real Reasons Young People Are Deconstructing their Faith." I'll resist the impulse to quote the entire thing and try to just go through each of the reasons. The author notes, "Depending on who’s using the word, deconstruction can be a complete demolition of Christian belief, a critical re-appraisal of one’s faith tradition, or an honest acknowledgment of doubt and questions." For me, deconstruction has been a process of rejecting and trying to replace false paradigms that I was implicitly or explicitly taught in the church. For example: everything spoken in General Conference is scripture, scripture comes straight from God's mouth and isn't filtered through human culture or limitations, scripture and science describe the same things and consequently the latter must be reconciled or rejected, prophets and apostles never make serious mistakes with long-term consequences, the "traditional" gender roles promoted by the church aren't sexist, and same-sex love is less authentic or meaningful than opposite-sex love.
Right now there's a big push within the church from scholars and laypeople alike to deconstruct the implicit paradigm of prophetic infallibility that simply doesn't hold up under any amount of scrutiny and often causes people's faith to shatter altogether. What most of them fail to acknowledge is that these incorrect assumptions didn't just grow up in a vacuum, but have been actively promulgated by generations of church talks, manuals, and magazines. Encouraging members to put exclamation points next to everything the prophet says and question marks next to everything else they hear or read is functionally little different from claiming the prophet is infallible. One article I read recently conflates "fallible" with "imperfect" (a much broader term) and then claims, "When a prophet is speaking or presenting a message in his official capacity as prophet, seer, and revelator, he does so under the direction of the Lord. His imperfections outside of his role as prophet do not limit his capacity within his role as prophet." If that's true, then prophets are infallible. We can't have it both ways. We can't pretend fallibility doesn't actually mean anything. We can't say we don't teach that prophets are infallible, and then claim that prophets have no human limitations in their role as prophets - which, by the way, would reduce them to nothing more than God's ventriloquist dummies. It also leads to the unhelpful circular logic that if a prophet is wrong about something, he wasn't acting within his role as a prophet (but you're not supposed to say so until after he's dead).
Now, getting back to the other article. Point 1: Trust in Large Institutions is Declining All Across the Board. The author notes that this is for good reason, and that "Younger generations appear far more eager to hold institutions accountable for their misdeeds and misconduct than the institutions themselves, especially regarding sexual abuse, sexism, racism, and fiscal irresponsibility." I believe my church is a fundamentally good institution and that most of the people in leadership positions are good, but I still don't entirely trust it. It's let me down before and it will again. It wasn't transparent about its history until the internet and hemmoraghing membership gave it no choice, and it still isn't transparent about its finances. My last bishop gave useless advice about a situation he didn't understand and was less than honest with me. He isn't "the church", but as a leader or even just as a member, he is inseparable from it. The church is the people. Without the people it's nothing. "And since the church claims to hold itself to a higher moral standard, institutional failures and distrust will always cascade and ripple outward." (When this author says "the church" he's referring to "a multitude of denominations, movements, and traditions from all over the world centered around the life and teachings of Jesus," but most of what he says is word-for-word applicable to mine.)
Point 2: We Live In a More Diverse, Accessible, and Global World. The author notes, "In contrast to previous generations, Christians Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to attend school, work alongside, and develop relationships with people who live, look, and believe differently. Relational proximity has massive implications for cultural acceptance, social awareness, and interpersonal empathy." This isn't a bad thing - nobody should believe in a religion for the sole reason that they were born into it - but it is a challenge. Of course, most Latter-day Saints in the world are used to being a minority and have lived with this challenge for as long as they've been Latter-day Saints. I suspect that those are Utah are far more likely to be thrown for a loop as the population diversifies or they venture out onto the internet and encounter different, often openly hostile perspectives. Personal acquaintance with LGBTQ+ friends and family members who no longer have to remain closeted in this day and age is also a huge factor in young people, including myself, rejecting what the church teaches about their lifestyles. From the USU English department alone, I'm acquainted with five LGBTQ+ people who have left the church because it made them miserable, and one who has stayed but whose beliefs are far from orthodox.
Point 3: High-Performance Christians are Simply Burning Out. "No one loses a lot of sleep if the spiritually apathetic or consumer-centric churchgoer deconstructs their faith. But when it’s a popular Christian singer/songwriter, a former missionary, a member of the worship team, or a heavily-involved church volunteer, people start paying attention." Yeah, some of the people who leave and subsequently devote all their free time to ranting about their former religion aren't much of a loss, but the church is also losing some of its best and brightest people. Some remaining members look at their departures as "the separation of the wheat and the tares," which is not only uncharitable but flat-out wrong. The tares in the parable are deceitful and actively trying to cause trouble, and the whole point is that you can't tell which ones they are until Jesus (not you) gets rid of them. I've burned out a little myself. It's impossible to maintain the enthusiasm I once had for sharing the gospel with the entire world when the world overwhelmingly seems to not give a crap.
Point 4: The Prideful Prioritization of Conformity Over Unity. "If everyone in your church is expected to look, talk, think, and believe exactly like you, your church isn’t as welcoming as you assume. Instead, you’ve created a culture that sacrifices unity for conformity." (emphasis in original) Young people want to discuss their legitimate questions and doubts without just being told to study their scriptures and pray more, and they don't care if men wear pastel shirts to church or women have multiple ear piercings. The church has progressed by leaps and bounds in this area but still has a long way to go.
Point 5: The Acceptance of Political Idolatry and Conspiracy Theories in Christian Communities. "It’s difficult to put into words how discouraging it can be to watch the very people who taught you the value of discernment fall into conspiratorial rabbit holes or succumb to inflammatory misinformation. Or, as Carey wrote in a blog post, “When Christians lose their minds, people lose their faith.” (emphasis in original) This. This. A thousand times this. When I see how stupid a significant number of middle-aged American members of my church are on social media, I become legitimately afraid that if I ever get married, my wife will turn into a moron on her fortieth birthday. I don't have much of a desire to affiliate with people who think that Trump is the rightful US president and critical race theory is Communism. Even without the conspiracy theory aspect, I have very little patience for the kind of people I used to be who think their political views are the only ones that a righteous Saint can hold and aren't shy about saying so. I'm not sure what part of "principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties" is so damn hard for members of The Church of Donald Trump of Latter-day Republicans to understand. I think this is much less of an issue in Young Single Adult wards, though I've still witnessed a high councillor's wife get up and bear her "testimony" that "social justice and reproductive justice aren't really justice."
Just one more quote to wrap up, and this is a key takeaway for me since I need to critique myself and not just other people: "Deconstruction without reconstruction is a tragedy. If the path you’re on isn’t making you a more generous, compassionate, hopeful, and merciful person (or, in other words, more like Jesus), then the destination isn’t worth the journey." Ultimately, I only want to believe what's true, so ultimately, I believe that will bring me closer to Jesus. But I know I need to go about it in the right way and I'll keep making course corrections in that regard. I can't not take the journey, though. I was made for it. Everyone should read that article in full, so here's the link again.
Last week in Elders Quorum, the teacher asked us what things we wish we knew about Jesus. I chickened out of sharing my question because it was too weird. My question was this: since we know that the Atonement covers non-human animals in some way, because they will also be resurrected and inherit eternal bliss, did Jesus also experience their lives and all of their pain as He did for us?
This pain is not insignificant. It was a leading cause of Charles Darwin's faith crisis. He wrote, "With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me. I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I wish to do, evidence of design & beneficience on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficient & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice."
More recently, militant atheist Richard Dawkins wrote: "The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored."
Non-human animals deserve to suffer even less than most of us do. And in a way, their suffering is all the more cruel, because they lack the mental capacity that most of us have to contextualize and cope with pain. And yet God requires their suffering as an integral part of their mortal existence, just as He does of us. It seems reasonable to me, then, that Jesus was willing to go through everything that was required of them, just as He was willing for us. And as I contemplate that, I have another question: even though non-human animals are (probably) not accountable when they rape or murder each other, does Jesus still have to pay a price for those violations of moral laws, as He does when humans sin in ignorance?
This is all, of course, just a less considered subset of the problem of evil that everyone knows about. Daniel C. Peterson has said: "Consider... this supremely complacent remark, offered by a vocal atheist critic of Mormonism during a 2001 Internet discussion: 'If there were a God,' he reflected, 'I think (s)he’d enjoy hanging out with me - perhaps sipping on a fine Merlot under the night sky while devising a grand unified theory.' Only someone very comfortably situated could be so marinated in smugness about the question of whether or not God exists.
"But the vast majority of the world’s population is not so situated, and, for them, atheism, if true, is very bad news indeed. Most of the world’s population, historically and still today, does not live, well fed and well traveled, to a placid old age surrounded by creature comforts. Most of the world has been and is like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the slums of Cairo, the backward rural villages of India, the famine-ridden deserts of northeastern Africa, the war-ravaged towns of the southern Sudan and of Rwanda. If there is going to be a truly happy ending for the millions upon millions of those whose lives have been blighted by torture, starvation, disease, rape, and murder, that ending will have to come in a future life. And such a future life seems to require a God.
"Yes, the problem of evil is a huge one, but to give up on God is to give evil the final say. It is to admit that child rapists and murderers dictate the final chapters in the lives of their terrified and agonized victims; that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot really did triumph, forever, over the millions they slaughtered; that, in the rotting corpses of Darfur and Iraqi Kurdistan, we see the final, definitive chapter of thousands of lives; that there is, really, no hope for those whose health is in irreversible decline; that every human relationship ends in death, if not before.
"This would not be good news, and I see no compelling reason to accept it. In fact, I see numerous persuasive reasons to reject the claim. But that is a subject not just for another occasion but, necessarily, for a great number of other occasions."
First and foremost, I believe in the message of Easter, that Jesus rose from the dead and that all people and other animals will likewise rise from the dead, because without some compensatory afterlife, existence is as depressing and pointless as Richard Dawkins suggested in the rest of his quote: "In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference." Wanting to believe in a purpose doesn't mean there is one, but if I'm wrong, I've lost nothing. And faith and hope go together for a reason. (I do recognize that other belief systems about the afterlife exist, Christian or otherwise, and there are reasons why I believe mine makes the most sense, but I don't want to denigrate the others by getting into that.)
Daniel C. Peterson spoke at the Logan Institute of Religion on Friday. He was one of their more exciting guests in my book. I respect his scholarly work. I respect that he resigned from the Republican party and denounced Donald Trump. I respect that he defends Islam against its detractors nearly as much as he does his own church (and the detractors are often members of his own church). One curious fact that's become a running joke with him is that critics of the Church of Jesus Christ constantly portray him as evil and mean-spirited and insist that his writings are full of ad hominem attacks. I could list a few apologists of whom that actually is true, but I just don't get it in his case. I guess he's just the best at what he does and that makes them angry. He's one of my faithful-intellectual role models and it makes my day whenever I comment on his Facebook page or his blog and he likes my comment.
He talked about the official and unofficial witnesses of the Book of Mormon and plugged the film Witnesses of which he and his wife were executive producers, and which the Institute showed that evening. I watched it in the theater last summer and yelled at an old lady the third time her phone went off. After it ended, someone said to her, "That person who yelled at you, that wasn't very Christlike." Right, she disregarded the most basic well-established theater etiquette and everyone else who paid to see the movie, but I'm the rude one. Okay. Sure. /s <- Sarcasm tag because it turns out neurotypical people can't understand written sarcasm unless it's labeled as such. Anyway, other than the three times the old lady's phone went off, the movie was all right. I went home and moved on with my life and woke up in chills that night as the quote at the close of the movie, in which a newspaper reporter in 1888 describes David Whitmer's integrity and sincerity, seared into my soul. That was weird because it's not like I didn't already believe in the witnesses. I think their testimonies are pretty dang incontrovertible. But it's a good movie and I recommend it. This time, during intermission, someone behind me said she likes the humor even though it's kind of sacrilegious. She's the most sheltered person in the world if she thinks anything in this movie is sacrilegious.
I hope to get back to my usual long-winded self in time for General Conference next weekend, but at this time I don't feel like waxing all thoughtful and detailed because I haven't slept well at all this week. Lots of waking up and not getting back to sleep. I spent most of the last three days making a Spotify playlist of the eighties. I'm sure there are thousands of Spotify playlists of the 80s, but this one is going to be exactly the way I want it, including for instance more songs by Bangles and Eurythmics and "Weird Al" Yankovic than most people would be inclined to include in theirs. I typically organize playlists by topic. I have a couple by genre, but usually I prefer to shuffle all the genres together. This is my first one based on a certain time period. Although every decade has countless great songs, the eighties is my favorite by a small margin. In the future when I'm chronically sleep-deprived again and need something easy to do, I may move onto the nineties and seventies.
Oh, I almost forgot. "Marie," a former recurring character on this blog whom I'm now going to out as Elisabeth because I don't bother with pseudonyms anymore and she already found out that I was writing about her so it doesn't matter if anyone else knows it too, felt a need to send me this comment that I made once. The original post no longer shows up. It was one of those Facebook trends that everybody did, a cartoon of how God made you and what ingredients he put in. I can't help laughing at my comment now because it's so pathetic but so legitimately clever at the same time. Unlike the movie Witnesses, however, it may be just a smidge sacrilegious.
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.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.