Due to being tired and stuff I've put off writing about this for a couple weeks, and now it's rather old news and the LDS Church has already moved on to its next controversy, this time pissing off its right-wing members by distancing itself from Operation Underground Railroad founder Tim Ballard over alleged predatory sexual misconduct that's no worse than Joseph Smith's. But this news blew up in my circles a couple weeks ago, and I thought I should do my part within my maddeningly limited capacity to spread it further. As I said recently after watching The Last Voyage of the Demeter, how can I possibly be scared of this
when real monsters look like this?
These women were both arrested and charged with six counts of felony child abuse after an emaciated child with ropes on his wrists and ankles escaped from their secluded house and asked a neighbor for food and water. On the right is Ruby Franke, a Mormon mother of six who ran the YouTube channel 8 Passengers, which I had never heard of until this news came out, but which was apparently very popular among people who have nothing better to do than watch other people's families do normal family things. Granted, they weren't all normal. Ruby has some twisted ideas about discipline. Like a true Republican, she believes that things like food and beds are privileges, and appeared to take a sadistic level of pleasure in withholding them from her children to teach them lessons. She let her six-year-old daughter go hungry at school and took away her teenage son's bed for months. People raised concerns about her over the years and called Child Protective Services multiple times, but nothing happened to her and her channel's popularity continued.
So of course many are wondering, is she a terrible person because she's a Mormon, or is she a terrible person who just happens to be a Mormon? The LDS Church covers up child abuse, silences the victims, and protects the abusers, but it doesn't condone child abuse as such. No normal member would think that what she did is okay. Yet the church does condition people to believe that their irrational or delusional thoughts come from the Holy Ghost, so that may have been a significant factor in her justifying her unorthodox methods. And frankly, it often frames trials and deprivations as God intentionally giving us "learning experiences." Heavenly Father, the perfect all-loving parent, allows billions of his children's basic human needs to go unmet every day so they can grow and become more like him. Why is it divine wisdom when he does it but child abuse when Ruby Franke does it?
The one on the left, Jodi Hildebrandt, is much worse. If Ruby Franke is Iran, Jodi Hildebrandt is Afghanistan. They entered into a close relationship after Ruby gave up her YouTube channel to join Jodi for a weird pseudo-therapy program called Connexions. A very close connection. There's been a lot of speculation that they're more than business partners and more than friends, and while it is homophobic to assume that raging homophobes like Jodi are closeted, it's hard to avoid that kind of speculation when she sits so close to Ruby and strokes her leg. Anyway, Jodi is a straight-up sociopath, pathological liar, and gaslighter who used her therapy practice to destroy marriages and families. She reminds me of a neighbor I used to have who claimed she could read people's auras and see the future, then drove people apart with lies and manipulation. In this case, her influence undoubtedly made Ruby worse. My understanding is that she was the one who actually carried out the physical abuse of Ruby's children that got her arrested, while Ruby was arrested for living in the same house and knowing about it and not doing anything.
Jodi is also Mormon, and in her case, the church has a lot more direct and obvious culpability. She isn't entirely in sync with it either - it's run almost exclusively by men, while she holds all men in contempt - but she worked with apostles such as Richard G. Scott to design its addiction recovery program, she was on its list of approved therapists, and she was recommended by countless bishops to help with so-called pornography addiction. The way she pathologized masturbation and portrayed anyone who did it once a month as an addict in Satan's grip was at odds with legitimate science and therapeutic practices, but very much at home with Mormon teachings. People assert, and I have no reason to doubt, that Mormon therapists throughout Utah, Idaho, and Arizona are still doing the same thing, though they aren't on the same level of pure intentional evil as Jodi Hildebrandt. I don't know who needs to hear this, but masturbation is a normal, healthy, and almost universal activity that evolved in our primate ancestors as much as forty million years ago. I think, too, that Mormon clients were more susceptible to Jodi's psuedoscience because they're taught to base their worldview on feelings.
After the arrests, Jodi's niece Jesse (they/them) came forward to share how she physically and emotionally abused them while their family was making them live with her for an extended time. Jesse's family didn't know the extent of what was going on and didn't want to. Jesse's family got upset with them for creating controversy by publicly criticizing Jodi over a decade ago. The LDS Church is not blameless for that. It teaches Mormons that "contention is of the devil" and that negative emotions come from Satan, so many of them are very immature about conflict and treat calling out unacceptable behavior as a bigger sin than the unacceptable behavior. I hope Jesse's parents and siblings have all seen this interview and done some soul-searching.
Then a formerly anonymous client, Adam Paul Steed, shared his story in greater detail than before. Jodi got her license suspended for a while in 2012 after she told the BYU Honor Code office things about him that, even if she hadn't made them up, would have been confidential. (Of course, the BYU Honor Code office has its own long history of crossing legal and ethical boundaries to persecute students, which a few years ago resulted in BYU's police department becoming the only one in Utah history to be threatened with decertification.) Jodi destroyed Adam's marriage by convincing his wife that he was a sexual predator and a threat to their children. The best part? She apparently did it on behalf of the late Elder Harold G. Hillam, a high-ranking Mormon and Boy Scout leader who held a grudge against Adam after his role in getting the statute of limitations for child abuse victims in Idaho extended and getting Boy Scout leaders who abused children removed.
With the exception of Elder Harold G. Hillam, I wouldn't say that LDS leaders are personally to blame for this abuse. I would say that they actively fostered an environment where it could happen, and they proved themselves yet again to be horrible judges of character and no more "inspired" than anyone else. The LDS Church deserves the negative publicity this story has brought it and will bring it for years to come.
Even though I didn't like the Star Wars sequel trilogy very much, I don't have the raging hard-on for Disney to fail that a lot of people clearly have, and it makes me very sad that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is bombing at the box office. Harrison Ford acted his heart out and he deserves better. I suspect that most people just aren't giving it a chance because they think an action movie with an 80-year-old lead actor is ridiculous, but I thought it was handled very well. Indy's age is a major theme of the movie. Not just that he can't do all the things he used to do, but that the world around him has changed and no longer seems to have a place for him. It's an almost meta deconstruction of a character archetype that was never meant to last beyond the 1930s, and it gives Indy a satisfying character arc and his series a satisfying conclusion. Some people complain about the plot holes and silly parts, and I think they're overreacting. I'm not aware of any fictional movie plot that doesn't fall apart if you think about it too much, and the Indiana Jones movies were never meant to be very realistic or serious. I watch them to be entertained and I give them more grace than movies with loftier ambitions. This movie entertained me. It bored some people, and I guess that's just a matter of personal taste. But I hope we can all agree that it's nice to see Nazis get what they deserve instead of being allowed to march openly in the street.
I am not pleased with most of the Supreme Court's recent decisions. The whole thing seems like a farce to me, given that its interpretation of the constitution is mostly dependent on the political leanings of the presidents who appointed its members, and that there appears to be no check or balance on their power to force that interpretation on the entire country. Because of this, one of the worst presidents in American history has left an impact that will last long after he's gone to jail. I hate what Republicans are doing to this country. I hate their pathological revulsion to science and education and equality. I hate their vicious crusade against human rights and everything good and virtuous. Of course they're trying to raise the voting age now because they know young people aren't going to swallow their bullshit. They know their days are numbered. Their party is going to die, and it thoroughly deserves to die. But God knows how much irreversible damage it will do in its death throes.
I still spend too much time arguing with idiots on Twitter. Since yesterday I've gotten into several arguments over this tweet:
Tessa said she was told this by one leader in one ward. She didn't claim it was a widespread, consistent, or "official" Mormon belief. Yet at least a dozen Mormons asserted that she was lying. I have no problem believing her, not only because I was also taught weirder spiritual things than that in the church, but because I personally remember a small controversy in 2012 over the revelation that multiple temples barred menstruating girls from doing baptisms for the dead. The Salt Lake Tribune article and By Common Consent blog post about it can still be accessed via a two-second Google search. With a little more digging, I found the spreadsheet that Feminist Mormon Housewives readers compiled by contacting several temples and asking about their policies. But "spurious media" and feminists aren't acceptable sources when you have a persecution complex because ad hominem logical fallacy. Hence the arguments. Today I got so frustrated with one jerk who had the critical thinking skills of a clam that I gave up trying to reason with him and just pissed him off until he blocked me, which was very satisfying.
Also, the unhinged bigot who posted a different picture of herself with her family proclamation flag every single day of Pride Month (and still has the first one pinned to the top of her profile even though Pride Month is over) is now asking people to donate $50,000 to fight against a restraining order that someone filed against her. She thinks her constitutional rights are being violated. She has a very shaky grasp of how the Constitution works. She thinks the establishment clause prohibits public schools from teaching LGBT equality because that contradicts her religion, but not from teaching her version of God. (Of course, most of her right-wing Christian allies think her church is a heretical cult and won't be teaching her version of God or respecting her beliefs much at all if they get that kind of power, which, again thanks to young people, they won't for long.) Maybe I need to repent for being amused that other idiots are giving her money just so she can make an ass of herself in court.
But also, you know, people like April Wilde Despain are the backbone of the Republican party and the reason Trump got elected, so that's not very funny at all.
Assuming I pass the trial, which I know I will, I have a freelance writing job that won't likely support me but will allow me to rest easier while I keep looking for other stuff. I'll be writing things based on customers' ideas that they don't have the time or the skill to write themselves. I won't be allowed to discuss any of that writing here, or even get any credit for it when it's published, but I'll get a little money and hopefully have a little fun. The trial has been fun. I wrote 3000 words based on the criteria and in the next couple days I'll revise it and send it in.
A couple of evangelical missionaries came by while I was lounging in the yard the other day. After I figured out that they weren't a charity asking for money, I was glad to talk to them for a few minutes. They came all the way from Florida to share their message out of love and I hope people don't give them a hard time for it. The core of that message, unsurprisingly, is on the sufficiency of Jesus' grace, which by implication contrasts with the more works-based salvation of Mormonism. "Those who trust only in the perfect work of Jesus," says the flyer they gave me, "Are enough in God's sight right now, Are forgiven of all their sins right now, Are perfect in Christ right now, Will live with Heavenly Father forever." Personally, though I know Mormonism's emphasis on righteousness and self-improvement is toxic for a lot of people, I always kind of liked it. I think people should have to do something to earn salvation so that Putin doesn't get into heaven by converting right before he's executed for war crimes. I don't agree with the claim that "Nobody is good." I'm not perfect, maybe I'm not even great, but I am objectively light-years better than someone like Putin. Most of my intentions and motivations are good even when the execution falls short. And I don't think most evangelicals believe that you should just give up and not even try to be good since Jesus took care of everything.
They asked why I left Mormonism, and I kept my answer deliberately vague. Policies, political actions, historical problems. I didn't want to make things awkward by saying I left because of how it treats women and gay people, because their church probably isn't much better in that regard. I didn't want to get into any arguments so I didn't ask questions when they invited me to ask questions. I did mention, because I didn't want them to try too hard to convert me to their particular denomination, that I'm hesitant to commit to any belief system because I no longer believe spiritual feelings are an indicator of truth. They agreed and said that's why they just use the Bible. I didn't press the issue of how they know the Bible is true without a spiritual witness. They probably would have said something about how reliable the manuscripts are. I remember from past Mormon/evangelical debates that the latter often claim the Bible has been proven true by secular evidence, which of course it hasn't, but someone who's already committed to believing it's true can certainly find secular evidence to fit that paradigm. (It also depends on what you mean by "true." No serious scholar could say with a straight face that it's inerrant, consistent, or univocal, but that doesn't mean you can't believe in it in some more nuanced sense.)
As it happens, right before they showed up I'd been reading about George Harrison's death. He was Hindu, and a quote he loved from the Bhagavad Gita was included in the liner notes of his final posthumous release: "There never was a time when you or I did not exist. Nor will there be any future when we shall cease to be." It's such a beautiful thought. If I had wanted to get into an argument, I would have asked if he's burning in hell right now for picking the wrong religion. Mormonism, for all its faults, answers that question with an emphatic no, but I doubt these missionaries could have done the same. I did discuss this issue with an evangelical at Gospel Peace Church last year. His reasoning was that all of us deserve to burn in hell, so God is being generous and graceful by saving any of us. I think that reasoning falls apart without the premortal existence that Mormonism and, as indicated in George Harrison's beloved quote, Hinduism both teach. If God brought the entirety of me into existence from scratch in this world, then a. I didn't ask to be created in the first place and b. it's entirely his fault I'm not perfect, and therefore he has no right whatsoever to condemn me to hell. Furthermore, why doesn't he show himself to the world and tell everyone to accept Jesus, thus saving virtually all of us instead of a lucky few? In Mormonism, he requires faith because we've forgotten about the premortal existence and we're being tested to see what we'll do. In evangelicalism, I see no such justification.
I don't know how to have faith anymore in any case. The stuff they said about Jesus was beautiful, but that doesn't make it true. How can I know if it is? There's certainly not much secular evidence that the historical Jesus was born for me, lived perfectly for me, died for me, rose for me, intercedes for me, and will return for me. (In fact, the disappointments of two thousand years of Christians who believed he was returning in their lifetimes have made that last point very implausible in my book.) I used to believe spiritual feelings could fill in the gaps where secular evidence failed. Now I don't. People in religions that are incompatible with Christianity get the same feelings. And these missionaries agreed with me on that. So what else is there? I could choose to believe just because I want to, but I could just as well do that for anything. I really want to believe George Harrison's Bhagavad Gita quote, but being beautiful doesn't make it true either, and I really don't want to believe in the reincarnation cycle so that would make me kind of a hypocrite. I suppose I only have myself to blame for not asking these questions when I had the chance. I did take a look at the website on the flyer: beyeperfect.org/forus
With this being June, of course the Mormon bigots on Twitter - and of course other bigots on other social media platforms, but I don't see them as much - have grown even louder about their desire for a world where LGBTQ people don't exist. This kind of backlash is to be expected, since conservatives did the same thing after the civil rights movement and the feminist movement. Those of us who believe in social progress just need to brace ourselves, ride it out, and wait for most of them to die off. This one got more attention than she deserved because her husband or father made the mistake of wearing a Flight of the Conchords shirt, and half of Flight of the Conchords noticed.
Mormons actually have a long history of bullying marginalized groups (black people, women) and then crying about religious persecution when they get called out on it. But yes, the hypocrisy this time around is particularly gross. Especially because, contrary to the church's current retcon that monogamy is the Lord's standard and polygamy is a rare exception, Brigham Young and George Q. Cannon consistently taught that polygamy was the true heavenly order of marriage and monogamy was an unnatural aberration that made civilizations collapse. Kind of like gay marriage is supposed to do.
The people she's addressing neither claim nor have any obligation to be loving, tolerant, or inclusive toward hateful, intolerant, and exclusive ideologies. Racists could make the same complaint - oh wait, they do. And quoting a gay musician who's married to another man was an odd choice. And in case anyone is confused about the purity of April's intentions behind hanging a document in her yard that she knows nobody is going to stop and read, she helpfully spelled it out.
Here, not for the first time, is my take. If you don't want to celebrate Pride Month, don't. If you don't want to put a rainbow flag in your yard, don't. But don't play stupid and pretend you don't understand why it's a thing. It blows my mind to see middle-aged people acting like they can't remember how LGBTQ people have been treated within their lifetimes, and why LGBTQ people don't just quietly live their lives like straight people do, and why LGBTQ people make such a big deal out of their sexuality or gender identity. If they hadn't been marginalized for centuries, Pride Month wouldn't be a thing. But they were and it is, and people who never lifted a finger to defend them against bullying or harassment or discrimination (or obviously never would have if given the chance) need to shut the hell up about how they've opted to deal with those things on their own.
These bigots think they're speaking for God. I know they aren't. Their version of god is a small-minded, petty creep who conveniently happens to be prejudiced against the same people they are, even though he supposedly created those people and doesn't make mistakes. And their church is going to die if it doesn't change, because most people under forty have no desire to be like April Wilde Despain or to worship alongside people like Aprile Wilde Despain.
Ariana Rees probably doesn't remember me, unless I really weirded her out, but I used to message her on Facebook with questions about dating because she wrote articles for LDS Living or some such magazines with titles like "Just Because You're Single Doesn't Mean Something is Wrong with You," and bless her heart, she responded. Because she has pronouns in her bio, I knew she was either out of the church or didn't really believe in all of it, and this confirmation of that fact brought me joy. I'm sure Monster Cock's response did little to make her reconsider that decision. It sure validated mine a thousand times over. You put up with their shit? Really? Really?
In other uplifting news, Ukraine is going to launch its counteroffensive any day now, and given its performance relative to Russia's performance so far, I'm very optimistic that Putin's death is nigh. And I've finished my first full week of not being a substitute teacher anymore and I'm never going to do that again, even if I can't find another job. I'll starve first. Maybe that's not uplifting news, but having principles and sticking to them is important. Theoretically, with all this free time, I can think of better things to write about than bigots on Twitter. I do hope to transition to writing about their church a lot less often. I've been out for a year now. I've heard that most people need a year of deconstructing for every decade they spent in it, so that would be one more for me. And I can't even imagine where my beliefs will be in a year, if I haven't starved by then, so that'll continue to be a terrible and wonderful adventure.
As I mentioned, conservative Mormons on Twitter base a substantial part of their identity on bullying transgender people under the pretense of standing up for truth and righteousness. Actually, Mormons throughout history have a pretty long track record of bullying marginalized groups and then acting like they're the real victims when they get called out on it. In this case, when they get called out on it, I've seen a variation of this response over and over again: "It isn't loving to affirm someone's delusions." And there's a lot to unpack in that little sentence or others like it.
First, of course, it's a gross oversimplification to dismiss the entire transgender phenomenon as "delusions." Perhaps some percentage of individuals with gender dysphoria really are just delusional. I'm no expert. But there are so many other factors at play. In order for Mormons' theology to work, they need the world to be divided into unambiguous males and unambiguous females, but it just isn't. It never has been. Many biological ambiguities and nuances exist. Even if everyone's body was entirely one or the other, the theology doesn't rule out the possibility of gender mismatches between bodies and the spirits that inhabit them. When this possibility is suggested, most Mormons will try to rule it out by saying "God doesn't make mistakes," but the actual reality of the countless things that can and do wrong with people's bodies would rather suggest that it's guaranteed to happen many times.
Second, it's very, very, obvious in context that conservative Mormons throw around the word "delusions" to mock and delegitimize transgender people, and not because they actually give a rat's ass about transgender people's (or anyone else's) mental health. Delusion is an accurate clinical term, but most people just use it as an insult, and this case is no exception. Given how irrational and/or demonstrably false many of the Mormons' own beliefs are, I could just as easily call them delusions and go around contradicting them as an act of "love," but I try to be a little nicer than that.
Third, you can't cure people of delusions just by telling them they're wrong. Duh. Of course, in thinking that "Nuh-uh" is somehow an adequate solution to gender dysphoria, they're only following in the footsteps of their church, which has nothing to offer transgender people in that regard. It doesn't help them, it just insists that they stay miserable in their own skins because God supposedly said so, according to some old men who have been on the wrong side of nearly every major social issue in American history. The more I think about this version of God, the more petty and small-minded and pathetic he seems.
Fourth, the entire premise of the sentence is debatable. Life is brutal and miserable and short. I don't want to believe anything that isn't true, but if someone else's belief in something that isn't true makes them happy and harms no one, I see nothing loving about trying to take that away from them. In the last years of my great-grandmother's life, she delusionally believed she was living in a motel instead of a nursing home, and nobody tried to correct her because why the hell would they? In an episode of the fantastic evangelical Christian radio show "Adventures in Odyssey" that I used to listen to every day, a mentally ill man had an imaginary dog that he loved very much. This one kid was determined to prove that the dog wasn't real, but the consensus of all the other characters was that he was being a jerk and needed to cut it out. Of course, these people might retort that transgender delusions do harm people, partly because of the lie that children in the US are getting irreversible sex reassignment surgeries and partly just because they feel like a man wearing a dress is an existential threat to their theology. There undoubtedly are people with gender dysphoria for whom full transition isn't a healthy option, but that's up to qualified medical professionals to decide on a case-by-case basis, not for nobodies on Twitter who still don't know that biological females with XY chromosomes exist.
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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.