I stopped following r/latterdaysaints on reddit after I was banned for encouraging critical thinking and intellectual honesty. I was legitimately trying to help; I'm not such a jerk that I'll go into people's safe spaces for the purpose of tearing down their beliefs. For example, in a discussion about young people's loss of trust in institutions such as the LDS Church, I explained the real reasons for young people's loss of trust in institutions such as the LDS Church. One would think that anybody who wants to address a problem would want to understand the real reasons for it instead of a straw man. But no. So now I'm done trying to help and I'll just content myself with watching the church shoot itself in the foot over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. But the other day someone in another subreddit shared a screenshot of part of a post in r/latterdaysaints and I was going to write a post here explaining why it was wrong, but then I went and read the whole thing and several of the comments and I decided to just copy-paste them here and add my commentary in bold.
What is an "Anti-Doctrine?"Anti-Doctrine is my term for a doctrine or teaching that is said to be part of our shared beliefs only by those who do not believe.
"anti-doctrine" then, has a double meaning because it refers to both the opposite of doctrine - something that we do not teach instead of something we do teach - and it also refers to its use by "anti-Mormons" [emphasis in original]
Common usage by antagonists to faith
These anti-doctrines are often presented as "What your religion REALLY teaches" or as some sort of secret that was covered up and never revealed to you, the unsuspecting believer.
(insert snarky tone How kind of the non-believer, then, to reveal what you were secretly believing all along!)
How to recognize Anti-Doctrine
Because the word "doctrine" just means "teachings," anything taught by church members in any positions of authority could be called "doctrine." This can create confusion and, indeed, openings for antagonists to use to attack our faith. However, Elder Neil L Anderson guides us with a better standard for finding out what The Church really teaches:
There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many.
Therefore, long-ago statements by church leaders, no matter how important they were, may not qualify as a doctrine of our faith if those statements haven't survived to be taught today by our leaders.
In other words, "what the church really believes" is what it teaches in public today, what the majority of members actually believe, and what we practice. It's not the random thoughts, speculation, or interpretation of cherry-picked statements from other flawed humans - even when those words are found in scripture! It's certainly not the ill-willed proclamations of antagonists who want to extend the words or actions of an individual to be indicative of our entire belief system.
A Few Examples of Anti-Doctrine
The list goes on. Anybody trying to tell you what "Mormons Really Believe" is making an effort to load more and more into your "Truth Cart" so it's easier for them to tip it over.
There is no standard, consistent, accepted definition for what constitutes "doctrine" in the LDS Church, which is why nobodies on reddit have to go into long-winded explanations like this. (I don't mean to insult OP by calling them a nobody, but simply to differentiate them from the men in leadership positions whom one might think would be the proper source of such explanations.) The challenge is to craft a definition that includes all the parts that the current prophets and apostles teach but not the parts that past prophets and apostles taught that the church would rather forget about. Members commonly say doctrine is the stuff that never changes, which is useless circular logic because we don't know what's going to change until it changes. And this whole exercise is a pet peeve of mind because the word "doctrine" just means "teachings." I was surprised and impressed by OP's intellectual honesty in pointing that out. I was going to argue that most of these things used to be doctrine by any reasonable definition even if they aren't anymore, but I actually don't think OP would dispute that. I also like their acknowledgment that some things aren't true even if they're found in scripture, though I certainly was never taught that level of nuance in any church setting and had to get it from Ben Spackman's blog instead.
I would agree that most of LDS Church's doctrine, unlike its history and finances, was never hidden from me. But there was the small matter of women covenanting in the temple to obey their husbands. When a friend from high school asked me about that, I had no idea what she was talking about, but I believed my church's doctrine that men and women were equal, so I told her it wasn't true and didn't give it another thought until January 2019 when the media reported on the removal of that part of the temple ceremonies. It felt like a punch in the stomach.
In addition to dozens of statements by church leaders for over a century that certainly exceed any threshold of being "random" or "cherry-picked," the "skin color is a sign of a curse" thing is canonized in the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. (What a strange coincidence that this teaching isn't in the Bible but it is in two books produced by Joseph Smith.) I was in my freshman year of college before I recognized how racist it is to believe that God gave the wicked Lamanites a "skin of blackness" to dissuade the "white and delightsome" Nephites from marrying them. In the last couple decades or so apologists have argued that this skin color change should be read metaphorically, but that certainly isn't what generations of (white) leaders taught and even now I doubt it's what the majority of (white) members believe. So okay, OP did say "even if those words are found in scripture." Fair enough. But this "anti-doctrine" has a more authoritative basis than the others on their list.
I will comment on some other items from the list as opportunities present themselves.
I was taught approximately a third of these as a convert, by several sources and leaders, and they were presented as doctrine. I understand my experience is not universal, but it is frustrating when members tell me I should have known they weren't "doctrine".
This is the top comment and I appreciate it.
I'm a recent convert (less than 6 months) and I've been taught a few of these things and yes they have been taught to me as doctrine, so I'm confused by this post.
This is a reply to the top comment and I appreciate it.
Can you list which ones you were taught? I also think this is tricky because the actual answer may be a variation of some of the statements given.
This is another reply to the top comment and I appreciate it.
Sure, and agreed, sometimes it's a variation.
I was taught as a kid that I would get to create planets, by a guest speaker at a youth activity who joked that he would create a planet full of ski resorts. He never said I would be limited to just one. Then as an adult the church came out with an essay claiming that "Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of exaltation is often similarly reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets" and "few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet." So even as a believing member that was kind of annoying. Just last week I found this quote on its website by accident while reading about aliens:
"Nothing is more basic in the restored gospel than these truths that, because of recent events of space travel, are so timely. The great hope of the gospel for us is that we may come to a oneness with our Lord and our Father and partake of this same work and glory and godhood. Being joint-heirs of all that the Father has, we may then look forward to using those powers to organize still other worlds from the unorganized matter that exists throughout boundless space. Creating other worlds, peopling them with our own eternal posterity, providing a savior for them, and making known to them the saving principles of the eternal gospel, that they may have the same experiences we are now having and be exalted with us in their turn—this is eternal life. No wonder this possibility continues to fascinate and inspire Saints of all ages. This hope is what inspires members of the Church to seek eternal marriage and to seek in all things to be one with our Lord Jesus Christ, because we want to be with him and participate in all the marvelous things of which Paul the apostle said: 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.'
Pretending for the sake of argument that this is the only quote about exalted Latter-day Saints creating worlds (which it isn't), we could say that it's a prime example of "anti-doctrine" because it's just an assistant BYU professor writing in the church's youth magazine. But we would still be well-advised to ask why the church approved it for publication and where he even got the idea that "nothing is more basic in the restored gospel" than this "great hope of the gospel for us" which "continues to fascinate and inspire Saints of all ages." Or do we just need to split hairs about the difference between creating a world and receiving a planet?
I had an institute teacher who said that Black people's skin color was caused by the "curse of Cain" as recently as 2015. The Come Follow Me manual for 2020 included this quote: "The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing [see 2 Nephi 5:21-23; Alma 3:6-10]. The dark skin was the sign of the curse. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord [see 2 Nephi 5:20]. . . . Dark skin . . . is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. , 3:122-23)." After an uproar from Black members, it was replaced with something entirely different in the digital version. Setting aside the fact that they edited this quote to completely misrepresent what Joseph Fielding Smith actually wrote (hint: it was more racist), it's kind of bonkers that the manual writers apparently didn't think it would offend anyone because it says that dark skin isn't a sign of a curse anymore. They're in their own little world sometimes.
I am surprised people are still being taught that polygamy is required for the highest level of celestial glory. I've heard members offer their opinion that we'll all have to practice it because a lot fewer men will be in the celestial kingdom, but nobody asserted it as a given. On the contrary, I was blessed with institute teachers who assured us that it isn't true just because Brigham Young taught it.
This is confusing to me (as a lifelong member). I have heard many variations of the “polygamy is required for salvation” conversation. If polygamy ISNT important, than why is it canonized in D&C? I grew up being told polygamy would be happening in the celestial kingdom, and that has become something I’ve grown to include in my belief system.
Well for me, due to the lack of comment from current leaders, I chose to follow past teachings & scripture and believe that polygamy will be a huge part of the celestial kingdom. I think too many members are saying, “polygamy won’t be required” simply because they don’t want it to be. But again, past teachings and scripture seem to tell it in a much more black and white way. I’m happy to be proved wrong, but that’s just how I accept polygamy in the church.
It would be difficult to overstate the centrality of polygamy to LDS doctrine in the nineteenth century. The prophets and lay members of that era would unequivocally reject the church's current stance that the Lord's standard is monogamy and he only commands exceptions on rare occasions. For example, in August 1862 the Deseret News reported Brigham Young preaching, "Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire…. The scarcity of women gave existance [sic] to laws restricting one wife to one man. Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged. Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers…. Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s servants have always practiced it. 'And is that religion popular in heaven?' it is the only popular religion there..." This wasn't the first or last time he denounced traditional marriage. But I'm sure the current prophet is entirely trustworthy on that subject.
Interesting post. One issue is when those points still correspond to scripture in canon still I don’t think it can be classified as “Anti”. Like D&C 107:53 which says adam lived in the valley of Adam ondi Ahman which is in Missouri and can be found on the church website:
“Spring Hill was named Adam-ondi-Ahman by the Prophet Joseph Smith, as indicated by the Lord in revelation (see Doctrine and Covenants 116). Five weeks later, on June 28, 1838, the third stake of Zion was organized there. An 1835 revelation identified the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman as the place where Adam blessed his posterity after leaving the Garden of Eden (see Doctrine and Covenants 107:53–57).”
Leaders don’t really talk about this anymore but it’s still there. So what do we do with it?
The issue isn’t the garden it’s that Adam the first man lived in Missouri when the rest of the Bible narrative was in the Middle East. When did he get over? You have believe in the literal flood to get them over there or some other migration and a lot of people want to believe that’s metaphorical or regional but it doesn’t work if Adam lives in Missouri. Next if there was a flood when did the native Americans from Asia get over to this land and how did they get here if not for the Bering straight? It makes sense if the Book of Mormon is the story of all the descendants but science puts the Asian migration at 15 thousands plus years ago.
Joseph Smith caused a lot of problems for his church by doubling down on the literal historicity of people who didn't exist and events that didn't happen. Adam and Eve, Noah's flood, and the Tower of Babel are all myths and were understood as such by the people who wrote them down. Joseph Smith misunderstood them through his nineteenth-century American worldview and codified his misunderstanding as doctrine. Many members today take more nuanced views of them, but the other three books in the LDS scriptural canon (and some other supposedly prophetic teachings) fall apart if they aren't literal history. No Tower of Babel = no Jaredites.
Well shoot if I was there thousands of years ago, I could tell ya. Stories from the old testament have been passed down over thousands of years surely with details forgotten and others exaggerated.
To be honest, in the bigger picture, it doesn't matter whether or not the garden of Eden was in Missouri or not. It has no bearing on our eternal salvation, and is likely why 'leaders don't talk about it anymore'.
Even as a member I hated when other members fell back on "That's not important to my salvation" as a way to avoid thinking about legitimate questions or issues. How many hours a day do you spend on things that aren't important to your salvation?
Do you consider (up-to-date) instructions in the church handbook to be doctrine? As a transgender person, I know some members who have rejected handbook instructions regarding trans people as being church teachings/doctrine (both to claim the church is more welcoming or less welcoming to trans folk, in fact).
Though to be fair, I think in most cases they simply refused to believe I was telling them the truth about what's in the handbook.
I just thought it was cool that a transgender person was participating in this thread. I bet fifty thousand dollars they'll be out of the church within five years.
If "doctrine" means "teaching," then there really is no separation between policy and doctrine. Handbook instructions, letters from the first presidency, and the like might all be considered doctrines.
But we must not put too much weight on the word "doctrine." Too many people treat that word like it means "eternally true forever and perfect" when it still just means "our current understanding"
Elder Maxwell used to speak about this occasionally, suggesting that there is clearly an as-of-yet unrevealed hierarchy of truths, ranging from the "true but unimportant" to the "true and of eternal significance." To say "the handbook is doctrine" doesn't really solve anything unless the person saying it and the person hearing it have the same understanding of what the word doctrine means.
Here, OP rejects the useless circular logic definition that annoys me so much, and I appreciate it. I also agree that the supposed distinction between policy and doctrine is pretty pointless. Supposedly they both come from the Lord.
Some of these things were certainly fringe ideas, but others were accepted beliefs taught and understood by most of the church at one point or another.
Once widely accepted:
Between 1967 and 1978, a churchwide policy (as opposed to a fringe idea) based on the First Presidency's interpretation of scripture (as opposed to, oh I don't know, revelation or something) prohibited women from praying in meetings at all. It seems the church was "inspired" to remove this policy by ERA activist Sonia Johnson, who wrote in her memoir, "Apparently what happened was that my testimony before the Senate subcommittee - in which I quoted church leaders' affirmation of the 'exalted role of woman in our society,' and pointed out that they considered women too 'exalted' to offer prayers in sacrament meetings - began circulating immediately and widely underground in Utah, alerting many Mormons for the first time that women had been officially cut off from such prayers for a long time.... Most Mormon women, accustomed to having so few rights in the church, had not even noticed, and besides, not allowing women to pray in sacrament meeting had been well on its way to becoming standard practice in many localities of the church before the directive....
"One woman in Provo, Utah, read the testimony and vowed that she would not sing in church until prayer privileges were restored, because 'the song of the righteous is a prayer unto God.' Several faculty members at Brigham Young University were shocked into action and demanded an accounting from church headquarters. In the end, so much hue and cry was raised that President Kimball was forced to admit that the policy was not in accord with scripture and could not stand..."
I’m sorry if this comes off wrong, but I have to be blunt concerning the quote from Elder Neil Anderson. It has bothered me since he said it at General Conference. His definition of ‘doctrine’ is not straightforward. Theoretically, in order for his definition of ‘doctrine’ to be taken seriously, all members of the Q15 need to repeat this teaching, right? But which Q15? Is it all living 15 at one time? Is it all 15 over a certain period? What if 14 have repeated the teaching, and the remaining one passes away? Do we hope the next one continues the tradition? Does everyone need to start over then? Are we all supposed to carry little notebooks with running tallies of who taught which doctrines when hoping we reach BINGO on our score card? Is this how we identify God’s doctrines? What do we have to hold onto that has been revealed by all members of the Q15? This list has got to be short and I would love it if anyone who has done the work tracking the individual teachings of all members of the Q15 to share it with me.
I am more inclined to follow the well established definition of ‘doctrine’ in our theology: a teaching conveyed by a member of the Q15 (prophet, seer, and revelator, witness of the name of Christ, whether in public or private, in the right context). Yes, this definition provides a litany of contradictions and forces us to conform nuance, but we are at least left with some doctrine to interpret. The ‘doctrine’ described by Elder Anderson leaves us nothing to hold onto.
It's especially silly when you consider how many LDS beliefs are based on one or two verses of scripture.
Mistakes are a certainty.
Science has shown over and over again that our politics are a greater predictor of our moral stance than our religion, and that's pretty obvious. Tell me you're a "Christian" and I know less about your view on some moral issues than if you tell me you're a staunch Republican or Democrat.
By implication, then, we can't rely on our own ideas of "church" or "doctrine" to keep us grounded. We will tend to either read our own philosophy into the scriptures (like when one person in my ward started blabbering about how capitalism is at the heart of the Proclamation on the Family) or we will have thoughts like "that's not doctrine, it's policy" or "that's just his opinion, not speaking as a prophet" or "They're just a local leader, not a general authority," or "the prophet made a mistake."
Our political and ideological bubbles are so thick sometimes that we are actually unable to recognize when we're the ones drifting on the wind. Has the world drifted to the right or the left, or have we? Has the church changed, or is it us? Our psychology, in a self-defense overdrive, tries to protect us from "being wrong" by making it impossible for us to consciously see what the truth may be.
As social pressures shape various churches and believers, we have something to anchor ourselves to: Prophets. Our prophets, speaking as a united quorum of diverse backgrounds and political leanings, can become an anchor during perilous times. Will they be wrong sometimes? it is a certainty. Will they be wrong less than you? Almost certainly.
But most important, they will continue to hold the keys of salvation.
I've been wrong about many things, but I try to keep an open mind so I can eventually realize when I'm wrong and change my beliefs. LDS prophets don't do that. Like, ever. They don't back down, they don't retract, they don't apologize. Therefore I consider myself a much more reliable spiritual guide for myself than they are. The current prophet and his wife have doubled down on perpetuating the falsehood that he speaks for the Lord every time he opens his mouth, and even though members are allowed to say "prophets aren't infallible" in an abstract sense, they're told that they can't pick and choose which of the church's teachings to follow, and they're told that if they ever receive personal revelation that the church is wrong about something, their personal revelation is wrong because the church said so. Members who argued against the priesthood and temple ban on Black people before 1978 were wrong until suddenly they weren't. The lack of an honest and coherent solution to the serious problems of prophetic fallability was the final straw that drove me out.
My grandmother, one of the most faithful people I’ve ever known, very much believed that she was destined to make babies for eternity and she was not looking forward to it. She even wrote a poem about her dissatisfaction with the prospect of “eternal increase”.
I’m not saying that means it is doctrine. But I am saying she did not get the idea from “anti-Mormons”.
I'm sure this was an isolated anomaly, right? Right?
I’ve been in the church 40 years and many of these were definitely taught as doctrine, even by Elder Anderson’s definition. I’ve been surprised that many now see some of them as ‘not doctrine’
Others, I agree we’re [sic] never doctrine, and other still, we’re [sic] definitely taught as doctrine, again, by elder anderson’s definition, but are no longer doctrine and in fact have been renounced by the church.
Anti-doctrine definition may help you, and that is great, but clearly this has seemed to create significant confusion over what is really doctrine.
Not much to add here, but "by the mouths of two or three witnesses" and all that.
There is a fairly clear precedent in the history of the church on how the church has made significant changes in doctrine.
In 1835, Joseph Smith and the general assembly of the church voted unanimously to print the “Lectures on Faith,” in the Doctrine and Covenants, in order to provide a sure foundational doctrine of the Godhead.
Almost 100 years later, in 1921, a council of leaders in the church felt the doctrine laid out in “Lectures on Faith” contradicted the then current acceptance of the teaching that man becomes like God, so with the new printing of the D&C, the lectures were removed.
Today, it is rare to find someone in the church that is familiar with Joseph’s Lectures on Faith.
I read the Lectures on Faith for the first time last year, having heard that they were really profound or something. They were okay, I guess. And yes, they do contradict current LDS doctrine, for example by asserting that the Godhead has only two members, the Father and the Son.
By definition, doctrine is what is generally taught by a religion. Granted, most of these things are not acknowledged as “doctrine” today, but at one point many of them were taught. My parents, in their mid-70’s still believe we’re all going to have to trek to Missouri. When I told my mom that isn’t taught anymore, she couldn’t believe it! Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s a lot of these were taught to me.
My sixty-something bishop in a YSA ward in a college town in 2021 had missed the memo that married women are allowed to have careers now. Kidding, there was no memo.
The idea that women will be eternal baby makers is unsupported. We have no evidence that pregnancy is required to make spiritual bodies. We have no idea what that process entails. Its a farce to claim mormons believe women will be eternally pregnant in the CK.
I know firsthand that some mormons believe it and some don't. I had an institute teacher who asserted that this is the reason why men can be sealed to multiple women but not vice-versa. I've seen a guy claim that his wife looks forward to it. I agree that it's an absurd and disgusting belief, but it's a pretty logical extrapolation from the church's doctrine that physical bodies and heterosexual marriage are requirements for exaltation in the CK. That's not "no evidence." On the other hand, Brigham Young taught it, so that's pretty compelling evidence that it isn't true.
Yeah that one drives me crazy as well. The ultimate, core doctrine of all our beliefs is, as best I can tell, "God is Love." If God loves his daughters perfectly, would he ever turn them into machinery or in any way seek to turn them from whatever path each of them wants to travel through the eternities? Would a celestial husband, seeking to be like Jesus Christ, be a part of making his other half a mechanism for fulfilling this insane idea of doctrine?
It's literal nonsense that preys on fears and exploits our inability to understand what awaits us in the life to come.
If the LDS Church's view of women is meant to be representative of God's view of women, they have good reason to be afraid. For most of its history it's treated them as little more than baby-making machines. The first quote that pops into my head is this gem from Spencer W. Kimball that was quietly deleted from the Eternal Marriage institute student manual last year: “Supreme happiness in marriage is governed considerably by a primary factor—that of the bearing and rearing of children. Too many young people set their minds, determining they will not marry or have children until they are more secure, until the military service period is over; until the college degree is secured; until the occupation is more well-defined; until the debts are paid; or until it is more convenient. They have forgotten that the first commandment is to ‘be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.’ (Genesis 1:28.) And so brides continue their employment and husbands encourage it, and contraceptives are used to prevent conception. Relatives and friends and even mothers sometimes encourage birth control for their young newlyweds. But the excuses are many, mostly weak. The wife is not robust; the family budget will not feed extra mouths; or the expense of the doctor, hospital, and other incidentals is too great; it will disturb social life; it would prevent two salaries; and so abnormal living prevents the birth of children. The Church cannot approve nor condone the measures which so greatly limit the family” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 328–29).
Perhaps most pertinent is Doctrine and Covenants 132, the section of canonized scripture that coincidentally outlines both polygamy and exaltation as if they're somehow related, wherein the God of Love references women as objects that are given to and taken away from men as he sees fit. If he has the slightest concern for their agency or happiness, he chose a strange way to show it. Now of course, the scriptures themselves may contain anti-doctrines, but I'm not sure that can apply here seeing as this entire section is attributed to the Lord himself in the first person and wasn't even translated from another language. We'd better pray that Joseph Smith made it up.
Antagonists will do this intentionally. Many people may simply be misinformed and think they are true. I’m confident many of our members also share anti-doctrine about other faiths. It’s also difficult to say some of these things were never presented as “doctrine” but your point on frequency and recency is well-noted.
Yep, I've been in multiple Sunday school lessons where we mocked mainstream Christians for supposedly believing that God the Father and Jesus Christ are the same person and that Jesus prayed to himself. That's not how most of them understand the Trinity at all. In fact, as I've said before, I can't understand how three persons in one substance are significantly different from the LDS doctrine of the Godhead. The Book of Mormon states multiple times that there's one God, most Mormons would insist that they only believe in one God, and most Mormons would also say that Jesus is God just as much as Heavenly Father is God. But that's none of my business.
Ali Khamenei and Brigham Young
When I saw these tweets on r/NewIran, no joke, my first thought was astonishment at how much Iran's theocratic dictator sounds like an LDS prophet. I didn't bother to mention it because most Iranians have never heard of the LDS Church and I see no reason to change that, but some of these statements could have come almost verbatim from a conference talk or Ensign article not very long ago.
Of course, I don't mean to insinuate for a moment that LDS prophets are exactly the same as this man or that they should also be publicly executed. Much of my astonishment over the similarity stems from the fact that this man is talking about mothers and housewives to sidestep the more pertinent subject of him having women imprisoned and abused for refusing to cover their hair. But other than that weird bit of misdirection, the tactic of defending oppressive gender roles by praising women, even by claiming they're superior to men, is identical to what the LDS Church has done countless times. And while we're on the subject, the LDS preoccupation with "modesty" stems from exactly the same place as the Muslim hijab requirement - namely, the toxic doctrine that women have a moral obligation to protect men from sexual temptations. One can easily imagine Ali Khamenei, or whoever writes his tweets, telling women without hijabs, as Dallin Oaks told women who don't follow the LDS dress code, that they are "becoming pornography to some of the men who see you." But as the Islamic Republic soon will be, the LDS Church has been forced to back down on this issue a lot.
You know who isn't backing down? Missouri Republicans, who recently voted to require female lawmakers to keep their arms covered. (Insert obvious joke about the right to bare arms here.) No, I can't believe this is real life either. The Republican Party is a cancer.
I recently read Wife no.19, or the story of a life in bondage. Being a complete exposé of Mormonism, and revealing the sorrows, sacrifices and sufferings of women in polygamy by Brigham Young's ex-wife Ann Eliza Webb Young. While I was reading it I met up with an old friend and she asked what I've been reading lately and I didn't mention this book because I assumed she was still a member of the church, but it turns out she's an atheist going through the motions for her parents' sake, so that was kind of funny and reinforced yet again how screwed the church is. Anyway, I had been aware of this book's existence for quite some time but somehow not curious enough to read it. I had an institute teacher who mentioned Ann Eliza Young in his church history course. Mind you, this teacher was/is in most respects a really great and thoughtful and compassionate and funny guy, so I regret that this one anecdote gives a negative impression, but he just dismissed her as a gold digger and portrayed it as funny that she lost her alimony lawsuit because Brigham successfully argued that she had never been his wife because polygamy was illegal. And for some reason that was good enough for me. But I recently was reminded of her book's existence and realized that now I had no reason not to read it.
It's no secret that my feelings toward the LDS Church at this time are primarily negative, but this book's portayal of it is so overwhelmingly negative that I couldn't help being skeptical. Surely Brigham Young wasn't that evil. Surely Mormon vigilantes didn't murder that many people. Surely Utah wasn't hell on Earth for all women. Granted, this wasn't the first time I'd heard claims of Brigham swindling people in business or missionaries lying to European converts about polygamy. After reading it, I went to see what FAIR had to say about it, curious whether LDS apologists could legitimately call Ann Eliza Webb Young's credibility into question or disprove any of her claims about historical events. FAIR has no article about the book and only so much as mentions it a few times, usually to cite it as evidence that even "a later wife of Brigham Young's who divorced him, published an anti-Mormon book, and spent much of her time giving anti-Mormon, anti-polygamy lectures" believed that Joseph Smith took Fanny Alger as a plural wife before Emma caught them having sex in a barn. So I guess I'm free to assume the accuracy of everything she wrote.
I just want to share a couple of quotes that hit my heart especially hard. Page 395: "When flippant newspaper correspondents, after a visit to the valley of the Saints, go away and write in terms of ridicule of the Mormon women, calling them fearfully ugly in looks, they little know what bitter, hard, cruel experiences have carved the deep lines round the eyes and mouths, and made the faces grow repulsive and grim, and taken from them all the softness, and tenderness, and grace which glorify a happy woman's face, even if she be ever so plain of feature. If these men, who write so carelessly, could only see the interior of the lives that they are touching with such a rough, rude hand, they might be, perhaps, a little more sympathetic in tone. It is no wonder that the women of Utah are not beautiful; there is nothing in all their lives to glorify or beautify their faces, to add at all to their mental or physical charm or grace. They are pretty enough as children; as young girls they can compare favorably with any girls I have seen in the East; but just so soon as they reach womanhood the curse of polygamy is forced upon them, and from that moment their lives are changed, and they grow hard or die - one of the two - in their struggles to become inured to this unnatural life. This system either kills its victims outright, or crushes out every bit of hope and ambition from them, leaving them aimless and apathetic, dragging out existence without the least ray of present happiness or future anticipation to lighten it."
This claim of polygamy making women ugly would easily be dismissed as her subjective opinion if not for the fact that, as she mentions, outsiders noticed and commented on it - most famously, Mark Twain in Roughing It: "With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform [on polygamy] - until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically 'homely' creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, 'No - the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure - and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.'" Not so funny anymore, is it?
After escaping from Utah, initiating divorce proceedings, and going around speaking against polygamy with the help of Gentile friends, Ann Eliza Webb Young writes on pages 589-91: "I had felt [polygamy's] misery; I had known the abject wretchedness of the condition to which it reduced women, but I did not fully realize the extent of its depravity, the depths of the woes in which it plunged women, until I saw the contrasted lives of monogamic wives.
"I had seen women neglected, or, worse than that, cruelly wronged, every attribute of womanhood outraged and insulted. I now saw other women, holding the same relation, cared for tenderly, cherished, protected, loved, and honored. I had been taught to believe that my sex was inferior to the other; that the curse pronounced upon the race in the Garden of Eden was woman's curse alone, and that it was to man she must look for salvation. No road lay open for her to the throne of grace; no gate of eternal life swinging wide to the knockings of her weary hands; no loving Father listened to the wails of sorrow and supplication wrung by a worse than death-agony from her broken heart. Heaven was inaccessible to her, except as she might win it through some man's will. [Outside of Utah] I found, to my surprise, that woman was made the companion and not the subject of man. She was the sharer alike of his joys and sorrows. Morally, she was a free agent. Her husband's God was her God as well, and she could seek Him for herself, asking no mortal intercession. Motherhood took on a new sacredness, and the fatherly care and tenderness, brooding over a family, strengthening and defending it, seemed sadly sweet to me, used as I was to see children ignored by their fathers....
"Women are the greatest sufferers. The moral natures of men must necessarily suffer also; but to them comes no such agony of soul as comes to women. Their sensibilities are blunted; their spiritual natures deadened; their animal natures quickened; they lose manliness, and descend to the level of brutes; and these dull-witted, intellectually-dwarfed moral corpses, the women are told, are their only saviours.
"What wonder that they, too, become dull and apathetic? Who wonders at the immovable mouths, expressionless eyes, and gray, hopeless faces, which tourists mark always as the characteristics of the Mormon women? What does life offer to make them otherwise than dull and hopeless? Or what even does eternity promise? A continuation merely of the sufferings which have already crushed the womanhood out of them. A cheering prospect, is it not? Yet it is what every poor Mormon woman has to look forward to. Just that, and nothing more."
Oof. Until reading this passage, I had believed that the LDS Church was progressive on women's rights in the nineteenth century and had merely gone astray by refusing to progress further with the rest of society during the twentieth century. Ann Eliza Webb Young says otherwise. This could, again, be her subjective opinion, but I have no reason to doubt it. This isn't presentism. She wrote contemporaneously. She didn't look back through decades of hindsight, with the benefit of modern assumptions about women's equality founded on multiple feminist movements, to condemn the church. She looked around at what was, for her, the here and now, and she saw that the LDS doctrine that men intercede between their wives and God, which was explicitly taught in the temple ceremonies until 2019 (and arguably remains implicit in some ways), was already sexist by the standards of 1876. That's pretty damning. Of course, if some apologetics for this doctrine are to be believed, it's really placing an extra responsibility on men because women are superior to them. Ali Khamenei, or whoever writes his tweets, would be proud.
A while ago, as I mentioned, I was moving through the interview process to be an FSY counselor until suddenly there were no openings because several sessions were canceled due to low enrollment. As part of that process I had to prepare a five-minute devotional based on a section of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. So I read through the pamphlet again for the first time in years. I think it teaches good values for people young and old people to live by, but as the cynic and skeptic that I am, I don't agree with every single thing in it, and now that I'm no longer trying to become an FSY counselor I'm free to say so. It's not like anyone should expect it to be perfect or timeless - the first edition, published in 1965, was very different and is kind of a laugh riot now. (My favorite part is "Pants for young women are not desirable attire for shopping, at school, in the library, in cafeterias or restaurants.")
Having said that, I can only remember six parts in the current edition that I disagree with and I'm not going to read the whole thing again, so this will be a short post! And again, it does contain a lot of good stuff. The pamphlet, I mean, not my post. Insert your own quip about none of my posts containing a lot of good stuff here.
"Young men generally take the initiative in asking for and planning dates."
This is true, of course, but it shouldn't be. Young women should be encouraged to go after what they want instead of passively hoping someone will offer it to them. This sentence is only descriptive, not prescriptive, but still it offers implicit encouragement to an uncool status quo and could be deleted without losing anything of value.
Dress and Appearance
"Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance."
The sexist double standard here is so obvious, it would be funny if it was funny. The reasons this section gives for dressing modestly are to "show that you know how precious your body is" and "show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him." Yet this passage shows what the writers really believe: that dressing modestly is far more important for women because they have a responsibility to help men control their bestial urges. It's nice that they, unlike many people in the church, didn't explicitly state this toxic and false belief, but it needs to be scrapped altogether. Either make a detailed list of clothing that men shouldn't wear, or be equally vague for women.
"Young women, if you desire to have your ears pierced, wear only one pair of earrings."
I stopped believing that God cares about this when I read Leonard J. Arrington’s diary and learned that General Authorities in the 1970s disagreed among themselves about whether it was even okay for women to have one pair of earrings. My thoughts were a. why the hell was it any of their business and b. why should I believe what they said publicly about earrings thirty years later?
Entertainment and Media
"Do not attend, view, or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way."
Nobody in the church follows this ridiculously un-nuanced standard unless they eschew entertainment and media altogether. It would rule out any movie that depicts Jesus Christ being tortured and executed. It would rule out any movie that depicts Joseph Smith being murdered. It would rule out Star Wars, which the local Institute had no problem screening at an activity even though it literally has "wars" in the title. It would rule out any Peanuts cartoon where Lucy yanks the football away and makes Charlie Brown flop onto his back.
"Choose not to insult others or put them down, even in joking."
I could quibble about how Jesus insulted people all the time, but it's really the "even in joking" part I take issue with. This happens to be how I bond with my friends. Without my snark, sass, and sarcasm, few of them would notice that I exist. And in fact, multiple studies have found that romantic partners who tease or roast each other are happier. I observed this principle years ago when Dale G. Renlund and his wife Ruth spoke in the USU Spectrum. They roasted each other constantly and I thought it was way more romantic than the "My wife is a literal goddess and I am unworthy to kiss her feet" spiel I usually hear from LDS men. I wish I remembered all the specifics. I just remember that he teased her about the time she thought it would be nice to frame his stethoscope and then her mother almost died because he couldn't find his stethoscope, and he teased her a lot about being a lawyer, and then he said, "I know, I know, it isn't fair to judge the entire profession based on four... or five... hundred thousand bad apples."
"Homosexual and lesbian behavior is a serious sin. If you find yourself struggling with same-gender attraction or you are being persuaded to participate in inappropriate behavior, seek counsel from your parents and bishop. They will help you."
As I have recently explained, I don't believe that homosexual behavior is a sin because in my observations, for the most part, gay and lesbian members who pursue committed monogamous same-sex relationships against the church's wishes seem considerably happier than those who pursue lives of celibacy or marry someone they're not attracted to. I expect this passage will be reworded with a bit more sensitivity but not really changed for some time. Seeking counsel from parents and bishops is a bit of roulette. In the past, parents might have "helped" by throwing their child out on the street and bishops might have "helped" by arranging some kind of conversion therapy. Things have vastly improved by now but there's still no standardized training to ensure that parents or bishops in the church know what they're talking about. In a recent study, gay Latter-day Saints said the most helpful thing bishops can do is show love and empathy, and the least helpful thing they can do is remind them of church teachings and policies that they're already perfectly aware of.
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.
The First Three Weeks of the Logan Institute of Religion's LGBTQ+ Allies Seminar
During the surprisingly painless Sunday school lesson on the Family Proclamation a couple months ago, someone in my ward mentioned a class the Logan Institute of Religion had done for LGBTQ+ allies, and said they were going to do it again. So I sought it out and signed up. It's not a standard class, but rather a seminar that started partway through the semester and is held once a week. It's had three meetings so far. They're an hour and a half each, but unfortunately I can only stay for about fifty minutes because of a time conflict. They're led by Brother Diamond, who's also in my stake presidency, and I've heard him talk about LGBTQ+ things before when he taught a class about all the controversial things. I didn't know what to expect from this seminar but just knowing that it exists with the institute's approval gave me hope for a better future.
As it turns out, Brother Diamond does very little, which is great. He opens by showing a music video - so far we've gotten two selections from Zach Williams and one from the Bonner Family - and then reiterates this quote from M. Russell Ballard: "We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord." That's essentially the course objective. Then he turns the time over to an LGBTQ+ Latter-day Saint attending USU who shares their story for thirty or forty minutes. Then everyone breaks into little groups and discusses what they've heard for a few minutes, and then the LGBTQ+ person takes questions. (Brother Diamond told everyone the first time to stay respectful during this portion, and he said he feels protective of these people and he's from England so he knows how to be rude.) Notably missing from this format is the teacher feeling a need to constantly remind us of church teachings on marriage and gender as if we're somehow at risk of forgetting about them. It's all about listening, learning, and loving. I'm very happy that the LGBTQ+ people get to speak for themselves and be as real and honest as they want. Their faith strengthens mine, though of course I never want to fall into the lazy self-serving "Look, here are some LGBTQ+ people who haven't left the Church, so everything is fine" trap.
So in the first meeting, this guy with an interesting hairstyle got up to speak and I thought, "He must be gay." He turned out instead to be asexual. I couldn't believe they started off the seminar with an asexual person. It was only the second time in a church setting - the first one being the aforementioned Sunday school lesson a couple months ago - that I heard anyone acknowledge the existence of asexual people, and the first time I heard the term used. I could imagine people seeing this as a copout, since he doesn't have any real desire to get married and he can just not get married and not deal with as much heartache as someone who does want to get married but is told their otions are to marry nobody or to marry somebody they're not attracted to. For me, though, it was kind of incredible to hear him speak. I'm vaguely aware that I fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, but I don't give that fact much thought. It causes me some angst because I do experience some romantic attraction and some desire for companionship and some awful cognitive dissonance about whether or not I want to get married, but that decision has been made for me and I don't feel like it affects my life much at this time. I 100% came to this seminar as an ally, not as an LGBTQ+ person seeking something for myself. But I got something anyway.
He talked about how he came out to his mission president, and his mission president totally dismissed his concerns and said he was too young to know this about himself and insisted that he will be attracted to his wife, and insisted on meeting with him every transfer, which was very embarrassing. Then a recent gay convert knew exactly what to say to cheer him up. I could relate a little. When I've told peers in the Church about being asexual, typically they didn't know what that was but could understand and accept it as soon as I explained. It's not complicated. If some people's hormones make them want to have sex with boys and some people's hormones make them want to have sex with girls and some people's hormones do both of those things, it's really just common sense that some people's hormones can't be bothered to do either of those things. And because I know what the Greek prefix "a-" means, I started identifying as asexual long before I knew others were doing the same. But my parents refused to accept it. My dad yelled once, "You're not 'asexual'! Maybe that's the buzzword..." When I asked, then, what terminology he thought I should use to indicate the fact that I've never had the slightest urge or desire to have sex at any point in my life, he said "Chaste, or celibate." Of course neither of those words is adequate because they describe behavior, or more accurately a lack thereof, and say nothing about the underlying cause that differentiates me from most people.
I just loved that this guy didn't hold back on sharing his experience with his mission president and how negative it was. During the Q&A session, someone asked if it had damaged his testimony that the mission president was called by God. He said it had made him angry at the time, but maybe the mission president needed that experience and maybe someday he'll remember it and be better for it. He said that church leaders have made plenty of mistakes, that church leaders are just like us, that the only difference is they have more authority. I just loved that kind of real talk. He was in my discussion group, but I didn't say anything because all I could think of was how much his experience resonated with mine, and I didn't want to make it about me. Then I left early. He probably thought I was offended.
The next week, we got a speaker who was asexual and genderfluid. Though biologically female (at least on the surface - other things may not line up, but it would be kind of gross for me to speculate on the inner workings of a stranger's body, so I won't, but I just want to be clear that I'm not oversimplifying biological sex or its connections to gender dysphoria), often they feel more male and sometimes they don't. I really wish I could understand what that feels like. I only know what it feels like to be one person - me. I don't have any point of reference to know what it's supposed to feel like to be a man or what it's supposed to feel like to be a woman. If I did feel like a woman, how would I even know? I guess a big part of it is just feeling like you're in the wrong body, but I don't even know what that feels like. The important thing, then, is for me to recognize that just because I haven't shared and can't personally relate to an experience doesn't make it less real or valid for someone else. They related this experience to Romans 8:16-18: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Before I had to leave, I was able to ask if they've had any struggles with the temple or other highly gender-segregated aspects of the Church. They said yes, some, but they feel so good at the temple that those struggles are minimized. In response to someone else's point-blank question, they acknowledged that they believe some things in the Family Proclamation are wrong, reiterated that church leaders receive revelation through their biases just like we do, and said that some things probably aren't going to change as long as certain people are around. I am so grateful to the institute for providing this safe space for them and others to be honest about beliefs that the institute would not likely share or endorse. We simply cannot "listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing" if we pressure them to self-censor and only say what they think we want to hear. In any case, church members of all stripes should all be able to accept that more light and knowledge on God's transgender children will be forthcoming. Dallin H. Oaks said in 2015, "I think we need to acknowledge that while we have been acquainted with lesbians and homosexuals for some time, being acquainted with the unique problems of a transgender situation is something we have not had so much experience with, and we have some unfinished business in teaching on that."
The third week we heard from a gay woman. (She preferred to identify as "gay" rather than "lesbian", but in this context it's the same thing.) Growing up, she realized that she liked girls and that other girls didn't like girls, and she tried to get over that by looking at boys and thinking "If I liked this boy, what would I like about him?" and acting more boy-crazy than any of her friends. She said a lot of gay people do this kind of masking, so if they come out later in life, it's not helpful to say "But you weren't like that before!" I could relate a little to this experience too. I've never been gay, but being called "faggot" five times a day on the school bus made me a little defensive regardless. I made a big screaming deal out of all my crushes until people got really annoyed at me. "Look," I tried to say, "I like girls, I like girls so much. Just girls and that's all."
Growing up in the Church, she heard the teaching that "the attraction isn't a sin but acting on it is," and thought that meant she wasn't supposed to think about it, talk about it, or read about it. She wouldn't even acknowledge it to God. A Young Women leader told her class that same-sex attraction wouldn't exist in the next life, and she interpreted that to mean that God wanted her to kill herself so she could be fixed. Fortunately she didn't go through with it like many others have. As she pointed out, an LGBTQ+ youth aged 13-24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the United States. Again, I loved this kind of real talk - not that I loved what she said, of course, but I loved that she didn't sugarcoat it to make straight people more comfortable. And then, like so many others, she believed that her same-sex attraction would go away if she served a mission. Fortunately that wasn't her only reason for serving a mission, and she said she loved everything about it. Afterward, when she found that she was still gay, she finally opened up to God about it and got into a healthier place. She acknowledged that the lifestyle options left open to her by church teachings aren't thrilling, but she was hopeful and faithful. I don't remember more specifics about that and I missed some stuff because she talked for a long time and I had to leave before we even got to the group discussions.
None of the speakers had quick and easy answers for how to make their lives in the Church easier. If quick and easy answers existed, this seminar wouldn't need to. But I think they taught us how to create a healthier and more inclusive and accepting community. Again, this works in large part because Brother Diamond recognizes that it isn't his job or our job to be obsessed with whether LGBTQ+ people are "acting on it". Adding a caveat to every expression of love is not loving at all. They know the Church's teachings, and they are following the Church's teachings, but if they ever change their minds about that, it's between them and God and doesn't absolve any Latter-day Saint of the commandment to love them, mourn with them, and comfort them. This seminar is exceeding my expectations.
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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.