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.
If I had a nickel for everyone who's asked me if I have a Christmas playlist, I'd have two nickels, which isn't a lot, but it's weird that it's happened twice. I hadn't actually bothered to make one because I feel like I hear enough Christmas music without making a concerted effort to do so, and I had some Christmas music on some of my other playlists and that satisfied me. But I made one just to make these two people happy. The title is a placeholder for something clever that will probably never come to me. The picture is from "The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives" (1933), a really great cartoon if you can look past the racist bits, which I admit is easier for me because I'm not the subject of them.
After last week's post it should come as no surprise that I'm agnostic about Jesus. Not about whether he lived - scholars are almost unanimous in the affirmative on that point - but about whether he said and did the things the Bible says he said and did. I don't want to be agnostic about Jesus. I want to love and follow Jesus. But if I'm honest, I have to hold everything to the same standard of scrutiny right now. The Christmas story itself has some issues that I once regarded as little more than interesting bits of trivia but now must take into real consideration. Apparently nobody had ever heard it until it was written down decades after Jesus' death, the timing of the Roman census doesn't line up with his birth, and the word translated as "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14 really just means young woman. None of these disprove his divinity, of course, but they raise questions. How important is it for the details that have been passed down about Jesus to be accurate? Can we really know him if they aren't?
These last couple days, I'm unexpectedly believing in him more after I read Return from Tomorrow, George G. Ritchie's account of a near-death experience. I've heard that near-death experiences can be explained by hallucinogenic chemicals flooding the brain. He explains why he doesn't believe his was a hallucination but acknowledges that one can never know for certain, that there's still an element of faith involved. In any case, it was powerful to read and the world would be a better place if all of us hallucinated such things. I'm not going to make it the foundation for my spiritual views but I do take it quite seriously. I love his initial description of Jesus: "He would be too bright to look at. For now I saw that it was not light but a Man who had entered the room, or rather, a Man made out of light, though this seemed no more possible to my mind than the incredible intensity of the brightness that made up His form.
"The instant I perceived Him, a command formed itself in my mind. 'Stand up!' The words came from inside me, yet they had an authority my mere thoughts had never had. I got to my feet, and as I did came the stupendous certainty: 'You are in the presence of the Son of God.'
"Again, the concept seemed to form itself inside me, but not as thought or speculation. It was a kind of knowing, immediate and complete. I knew other facts about Him too. One, that this was the most totally male Being I had ever met. If this was the Son of God, then His name was Jesus. But... this was not the Jesus of my Sunday School books. That Jesus was gentle, kind, understanding - and probably a little bit of a weakling. This Person was power itself, older than time and yet more modern than anyone I had ever met.
"Above all, with that same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this Man loved me. Far more even than power, what emanated from this Presence was unconditional love. An astonishing love. A love beyond my wildest imagining. This love knew every unlovable thing about me - the quarrels with my stepmother, my explosive temper, the sex thoughts I could never control, every mean, selfish thought and action since the day I was born - and accepted and loved me just the same."
At a minimum, Jesus is real in the same way that Santa Claus is real, and I don't mean that derisively. I mean that he represents something good and beautiful and inspiring. And I frankly feel that the idea of Jesus surpasses what's actually in the Bible. We have no record of Jesus advocating social change. Some scholars argue that as an apocalyptic preacher, he saw social change as a waste of time because the world was about to end anyway. Yet now many of us take for granted that because he loves everyone infinitely and equally, he would support sweeping measures - not just individualized acts of kindness - to make life better for marginalized people. We believe we're following him when we do so. The nineteenth-century abolitionists believed they were following him even though, so far as is known, he never once spoke against slavery. I, for one, see social justice and true religion as inseparable. I think it's pretty useless if not straight-up dishonest to preach that all people are equal before God without being actively concerned about police murders of Black people, sexual harassment and assault, or anti-LGBT hate crimes. I hope Jesus is, after all, more than a symbol for the best impulses of humanity, but I can't say he is with the certainty I once could, so I have to take as much as I can get.
We're all familiar with the insistence that opposing same-sex marriage or gay lifestyles is not bigotry, that you don't have to agree with someone to love them. I believed that for several years. It rings true in theory. But the more I learn about the history of the gay rights movement, the more convinced I am that this opposition is inextricably rooted in bigotry after all, even if most such people are sincere when they say they don't hate gay people. The gay rights movement started with the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969, when gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn decided they were tired of being harassed by police officers. That's why Pride Month is in June. Conservative Christians didn't lift a finger or say a word to protest anti-gay bullying and discrimination back then, but now they have no problem complaining about the existence of Pride Month. How "loving" of them. In the 1970s, the gay rights movement faced significant setbacks thanks to a conservative Christian named Anita Bryant who spearheaded a coalition to roll back non-discrimination ordinances and bar gay people from public life. The coalition was called Save Our Children. She was no different than the modern morons throwing around the "groomer" buzzword as if they forgot about "snowflake." Painting gay people as a threat to children is the definition of bigotry. Likewise, I believe freaking out that "traditional" families will disintegrate and society will collapse if gay people have the same right that straight people take for granted is also bigotry.
This is a very, very obvious realization that most of my generation came to before I did. Don't get me wrong, I wanted to. My heart and my brain both told me it was wrong to ban same-sex marriage in a secular, pluralistic society based on religious beliefs that many people don't share. But believe it or not, I am capable of being humble sometimes. My church taught me that God wanted same-sex marriage to be illegal, and I didn't like that and I wasn't comfortable with it, but I acknowledged that didn't mean it wasn't true. I acknowledged that God's ways were not my ways. I'm never going to supplant my conscience with someone else's dogma like that again. I've seen much too much of the pain that these teachings cause real live gay people, and there's no way in hell this pain comes from a loving God. If it does come from a god, then this god is not worthy of my devotion. I saw a meme once upon a time that says, "For being so concerned about gay marriage, God sure was preoccupied with dinosaurs for millions of years." While this is technically a non sequitir, it intuitively rings true to me now. This obsessive focus on sexuality and gender, most of it coming from old white people, feels much too petty and small-minded for the Creator of this massive and ancient universe.
For a few months before I left the church, I did my best to be an LGBTQ ally and create a more inclusive, loving environment by posting things on that topic in my ward's Facebook group. I never posted anything that was in opposition to the church's teachings or policies. That didn't stop my bishop and stake president from both inquiring about my activism when I sought a temple recommend. They granted the recommend, but they had to make sure I was aware of the church's teachings and policies - even though it was impossible not to be - because my inclusiveness and love were a red flag to them. That frustrated me a lot, but my bishop confided in me that he'd grown up in a different generation and had to adjust his own feelings about gays and lesbians, so I empathized with that. In my next ward, the bishop deleted my first LGBTQ-themed post and straight-up lied to me that the group was for ward news and announcements only, even though nobody had a problem with the memes I posted or the articles about dating that one of his counselors posted. I didn't empathize with that. I lost respect for him and blocked his number.
Recently there was a shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, which most Americans have moved on from by now just like they move on from every shooting. In the reddit circles I frequent, a lot of discussion centered around the fact that the shooter was a nominal member of my former church and whether it was fair to blame the church for his actions. I don't think it is. He clearly wasn't an active member by any stretch, and as hollow and unconvincing as the church's professions of love for LGBTQ people are, they do pretty clearly rule out murder. But I do think it holds a bit of culpability in a broader sense. Anti-LGBTQ protests and hate crimes have skyrocketed in the last couple years at the same time that white supremacy has skyrocketed, and while I've been privileged enough not to notice until now, it's not altogether surprising. Another thing I've learned from history is that social progress is always followed by a backlash from conservatives who feel threatened by other people having rights and/or being treated with respect. I've decided that any and all sources of stigma that could possibly contribute to this environment in any degree need to stop. I want to fight this bigotry and the only weapon I have is my words. I can be pretty good with words. They could be a pretty effective weapon. Oh, but what I don't have is a following of any decent size, so that frustrates me a lot. Not that I don't appreciate both of my readers very much, but I want to influence the world, dang it.
I want to be live-and-let-live toward my former church. I'm not interested in trying to deconvert people for intellectual or historical reasons. Life is short and cruel and I think people should believe whatever makes them happy as long as it doesn't problems for other people. But I am going to be adamant from now on that same-sex relationships are not wrong and gender transitions are not wrong. I'm done agreeing to disagree on unscientific and unethical beliefs that ruin people's lives. I don't claim to speak for God, I'm just following my heart and my brain, and if God has a problem with that he's welcome to step in and let me know anytime, but I won't have anything nice to say to him if he does. If he has a problem with gay marriage, he could have adopted a better strategy than creating millions of gay people and then commanding them not to do anything gay. Oh, and also here's David Archuleta talking about his own experience suffering in the church and then being validated by God. His description of meeting with a clueless apostle just confirms to me yet again that these men really are acting out of ignorance and prejudice, not revelation. (He doesn't mention it in this clip, but the apostle told him thrice that he needs to find the right girl, even though mixed-orientation marriages are usually horrible for everyone involved and the church has claimed that it no longer encourages them.) His departure is very embarrassing for the church because of his celebrity status, and I expect it will go a long way toward bringing about the changes that we all know are inevitable for the simple reason that its current position is not sustainable.
My youngest sibling is far more tech-savvy than I'll probably ever be. My family didn't even have a computer until I was in second grade, but by the time my sibling was four they were drawing better with the mouse than I could with a pencil. Nowadays they collect old TVs and VCRs and VHS tapes, and recently they got a device that allows them to digitize VHS tapes and put their contents up on YouTube, which so far they've done with two. As a good brother who loves them and wishes them success in everything they do, I hereby promote these videos to both of my blog readers without being asked.
A Dozen Dizzy Dogs
This is a simple narration of a simple children's book that my siblings and I watched multiple times well after we'd aged out of the target demographic. Our dog Milo (to whom the video is dedicated along with me) didn't watch it as attentively but he did react to the barking dogs in the little live-action interludes. Now it appeals to me for the nostalgia. I don't remember why it appealed to me back then, but it was probably for the song at the end. If nothing else, watch the song at the end. It starts at 18:42. In a just world it would have won a Grammy.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King!
I anticipate that this one will be of interest to more people. My sibling's friend found this at a thrift store, and there's no information about it online. It's always fascinating, sometimes infuriating and sometimes refreshing in a weird way to stumble upon an unexpected gap in the internet's virtual omniscience. A lot of effort seems to have gone into this video for it to simply disappear from humankind's collective memory. For starters, ten children recite lines about Martin Luther King at a public gathering. Most or all of the children and some of the adults in the audience should still be alive to remember it. Then there are appearances of varying length by Dr. King's widow, Dr. King's sister, Rosa Parks, the Great American Mime Experiment, the Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir, ventriloquist Willie Tyler and dummy Lester, the hip-hop group Full Force, and a group of "friends of Dr. King" including Bill Cosby (awk), Sidney Poitier, and Stevie Wonder. So it's not the fanciest production ever but I would have expected it to be a slightly bigger deal than it is. In any case, I'm grateful that my sibling has rescued it from the dustbin of history.
A Nun Harassing Strangers
This video is from July but a page I'm following shared it the other day and I just have to talk about it. Two women in Italy are kissing for a TV show, and a nun physically separates them and yells, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph! It's the devil! It's the devil!" I would just roll my eyes at her being a crazy old lady who's probably jealous because she's not allowed to kiss anyone, but what really alarmed and sickened me was the cavalcade of commenters who lauded her behavior and condemned the women for laughing at her. Yes, a lot of people exist who think it's admirable to harass strangers for not believing as you do. I don't believe that God cares if two women kiss - like, at all - but unlike the people who insist that he does, I don't claim to speak for him, so let's assume for the sake of discussion that I'm wrong. Two facts still remain. First, nobody on the planet is going to repent and change their lifestyle because a stranger physically accosted and yelled at them. Of course they laughed at her. They would have been justified in doing worse. (Not a lot worse. I'm not saying they should have beat her up or anything.) Second, I'm not sure what Bible these people have been reading if they think this kind of behavior emulates Jesus in any way. He spoke his mind when people asked for it, but he didn't go around publicly butting into their business and trampling on their right to live as they chose. Sorry not sorry but I can't wait until the generations that think this way are extinct.
I left the church but, as prophesied, I can't leave it alone. I watched General Conference for a few reasons - because I was curious how differently it would come across with my current perspective, because it's given me comfort and inspiration in the past and I was open-minded enough to see if it would still do so, because I have two nieces (so far) who will be raised in the church and I maintain an interest in the church's development for their sake if nothing else, because it gave some structure and purpose to my lonely weekend, and because I've written about every General Conference since I started blogging weekly on this platform and I might break that tradition but there's no need to do so yet. Here are my jaded, cynical, faithless observations and opinions.
Dallin H. Oaks talked about the monetary value of the church's humanitarian aid, which is being disclosed in unprecedented detail in obvious response to criticism about how little per capita the church gives in humanitarian aid. He gave a total of almost a billion dollars annually, which is almost one percent of the value of the Ensign Peak "rainy day" fund at the time whistleblowers leaked it in 2019. I'm not knowledgeable enough to criticize the church's financial priorities much, and unlike a lot of people I recognize that charitable donations are not the primary reason why religions exist, but I just wish members would recognize that context before jumping to the conclusion that almost a billion dollars is a lot of money. He talked about partnering with good people of other faiths, and the fact that God works through them because one church can't do everything alone. I liked that. I also liked that he didn't feel the need to remind everyone that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The For the Strengh of Youth pamphlet, which I critiqued slightly a few months ago, got an overhaul beyond what I ever would have anticipated. Dieter F. Uchtdorf discussed the new edition and totally threw all the previous editions under the bus. Since it first came out in 1965, it's been a list of do this, don't do that. Some of the this's and that's have changed in fifty-seven years but the overall approach has not. Now that's all been scrapped in favor of generic principles to guide the youth in making their own choices. For example, the sexist list of "immodest" clothes that girls shouldn't wear and the stupid injunction against multiple ear piercings have been replaced with, "Heavenly Father wants us to see each other for who we really are: not just physical bodies but His beloved children with a divine destiny. Avoid styles that emphasize or draw inappropriate attention to your physical body instead of who you are as a child of God with an eternal future" and "The Lord’s standard is for you to honor the sacredness of your body, even when that means being different from the world. Let this truth and the Spirit be your guide as you make decisions - especially decisions that have lasting effects on your body. Be wise and faithful, and seek counsel from your parents and leaders." Based on my anecdotal observations, I think this is the church's way of capitulating to the reality that its young female members are wearing whatever they want and getting as many piercings as they want anyway.
As I anticipated, the bit about homosexuality has been revised: "I am attracted to people of my same sex. How do these standards apply to me? Feeling same-sex attraction is not a sin. If you have these feelings and do not pursue or act on them, you are living Heavenly Father’s sacred law of chastity. You are a beloved child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Remember that the Savior understands everything you experience. Through your covenant connection with Him, you will find strength to obey God’s commandments and receive the blessings He promises. Trust Him and His gospel." This is a nicer way of saying that God expects you to be alone until you die or marry someone you aren't attracted to and will probably divorce, and that you're better off dead because God will make you straight in the next life. (Never mind that no human has ever said the words "I am attracted to people of my same sex.") I know or know of scores, maybe hundreds of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who were miserable in the church and became happy after they left. That's why I stopped believing what the church teaches about them. Why didn't they "find strength to obey God's commandments and receive the blessings He promises?" Am I supposed to believe that every single one of them just didn't have enough faith? Even the ones who still attend church with their same-sex partners?
The pamphlet also includes this gem: "Is it wrong to have questions about the Church? How can I find answers? Having questions is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith. In fact, asking questions can help build faith. The Restoration of the gospel started when 14-year-old Joseph Smith asked questions with faith. Seek answers in the scriptures, in the words of God’s prophets, from your leaders and faithful parents, and from God Himself. If answers don’t come right away, trust that you will learn line upon line. Keep living by what you already know, and keep seeking for truth." I never heard this kind of stuff as a youth, but it's all over the freaking place now that the church is facing an unprecedented retention crisis (especially among the youth). I like that questions are framed as a positive thing, but also the constant emphasis on "questions" per se has really started to irk me. I didn't leave the church because of my questions, I left because of the answers. A big question I had was "Why did the church tell women not to have careers and then quietly stop telling women not to have careers?" And the answer was, "Because its past leaders were sexist and attributed their sexism to God, and its current leaders can't admit that its past leaders were ever wrong about anything because that would call their own reliability into question." The church promotes a circular assumption that the answers to the questions will always vindicate it and put it in a positive or at least tolerable light, and that simply wasn't the case for me.
Tracy Browning, the first black woman in a general presidency, became the first black woman to speak in General Conference. For those who say it doesn't matter, yes it does, for reasons I know you know, so shut up. She talked with a normal voice instead of a patronizing General Conference voice. I liked that. She hasn't been assimilated yet.
Russell M. Nelson spent much of his first talk condemning abuse. While he didn't directly allude to the recent Associated Press articles and child rape scandal that obviously motivated his remarks, it was nice to see the prophet kind of respond in some capacity instead of continuing to hide behind anonymous PR employees. It really annoyed me that the First Presidency delegated this issue to them while taking the time to write a letter about changing the name of tithing settlement to tithing declaration. He immediately went on to talk about truth and how we need to be careful about who we trust, which seemed to be a way of calling into question the integrity of Pulitzer-winning journalist Michael Rezendes in a way that won't get him sued for slander.
Kristin M. Yee's talk resonated with me the most, as she spoke about the difficulty of forgiving people who never apologize or accept responsibility for wronging you, a category that might, hypothetically, include ex-neighbors, police officers, so-called healthcare workers, deadbeat parasites, and/or elementary school administrators, hypothetically. In the absence of justice, my resentment feels like the closest thing I have. Giving it up feels like pretending that what happened was okay. I know I need to reorient my thinking for my own mental health. It kind of helps and kind of just pisses me off when I remember that many, many people have been abused and discriminated against far worse than me and never received any justice. This planet needs to burn.
Ulisses Soares spoke about the equality of men and women that doesn't yet reflect lived experience within the church, throwing in the obligatory patriarchal language to obfuscate the church's drastic evolution on this topic in the last fifty years. In all seriousness, I think he's a great guy who means what he says, I'm just annoyed at how the church teaches different things and then pretends it's always taught the same things. D. Todd Christofferson spoke about belonging and inclusion and diversity, which again doesn't yet reflect lived experience within the church but I guess that's why he needed to speak about it. The church would have less work to do in this regard if it had started rooting out racism in 1830 instead of 2020.
Gérald Caussé spoke about our need to use resources wisely and be good stewards of the Earth. Though not unprecedented, this kind of environmental message is almost unheard of within the church. It hasn't been a priority at all and it directly contradicts the political views of a majority of its American members. He said that left His creation incomplete and gave us the opportunity to contribute with art and music and I don't remember but I'm going to assume he said writing too. This came dangerously close to contradicting the political views of a majority of the church's American members, namely that artists and musicians and writers should have majored in something useful and don't deserve to afford to be alive. But this concept of being co-creators with God is a really great one. It first occurred to me in 2013 when I got chills from a slideshow of stars and nebulae set to the David Arkenstone track "Stepping Stars." God had left space silent and David Arkenstone had filled the silence with the sort of thing that we all somehow know space should sound like. That particular video is gone but this one is close enough.
Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about why Latter-day Saints don't (usually) use the cross as a symbol. He made the interesting claim that because the earliest Christians didn't use the cross as a symbol, this is an evidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of the original Christian church. Actually, Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century often wore or decorated with crosses. They became less popular in the twentieth century and were made officially taboo by David O. McKay in the late 1950s, in part because he felt they were "purely Catholic." Holland expressed empathy for several of the various struggles that people face, including the struggles of LGBTQ people that are caused by the church.
David A. Bednar gave a talk that came across to me as a thinly-veiled passive-aggressive condemnation of the increasing number of members who don't wear their temple garments every day, mostly because he shared a parable about a guy who wasn't wearing garments and he said the word "garments" over and over. I thought the church was lightening up about that sort of thing.
Russell M. Nelson spoke again. I don't buy the narrative that the world is the worst it's ever been. I recently read a history of the 1970s, and talk about a decade that I'm grateful I didn't live through. I don't buy the teaching that the 0.2% of people in the world with access to temple ordinances in mortality have a degree of access to God's power that no one else does. That would make God a respecter of persons. And then I didn't pay much attention to the last session so I'll skip ahead to his final talk where of course he announced 18 new temples. I used to get so excited about new temple announcements because they meant that the church was growing and expanding throughout the world. Nowadays most of them mean nothing of the sort. Nelson keeps announcing them for areas where active membership isn't even large enough to staff them, let alone use them in appreciable numbers. The church will be scrambling to find a lot of senior missionary couples in the near future. At this point it feels like he's just showing off. He didn't announce 18 new temples because the church needs 18 new temples, he announced 18 new temples so the church can boast that it now has 300 temples operating or in planning stages, even though its annual membership growth has fallen from 2.19% to 0.85% in the last decade. But at least none of them were in Utah.
General observations: A higher percentage than usual of women (which isn't saying much) spoke and prayed, obviously in reaction to criticisms about the low percentage of women who speak and pray in General Conference. Bonnie H. Cordon was announced with her proper title of "President," not "Sister," which is such a small thing that shouldn't have taken until 2022 to implement but here it is and it's good. Most speakers continued the disturbing trend of quoting and fawning over our beloved prophet President Russell M. Nelson to a degree that I never observed with his two most recent predecessors. Neil L. Andersen was the most egregious. This prophet worship, coupled with the reality of how many things past prophets have gotten wrong that we're supposed to just not care about, was a big part of why I left.
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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.