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.
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.
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.
For several months of moderate existential crisis I've been trying to really figure out God, even as I recognize that it's futile because billions of people have their own ideas about God and most if not all of them are wrong and I'm not likely the smartest person in the world. I think God is too big and complicated for any mortal being to really understand. Charles Darwin put it thus: "A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can." I no longer believe there is one definitive "true religion," because if there is, God has done a terrible job promoting it and most people throughout history and still today have failed to find it or be attracted to it. I think religions represent people's best attempts to understand, and each of them approaches him from a certain angle and has certain insights and truths but really knows very little in the final analysis. Perhaps multiple seemingly contradictory teachings about God are all true, like the blind men's observations about the elephant, or perhaps they're all laughably wrong. I'm trying to keep an open mind. I try to take in a lot of ideas, but my current thoughts about God, which I hardly claim to be revelatory and hardly expect to be final, are mostly inferred from my own experience and my observations of this world he created.
(For now I'm going to keep using masculine pronouns for him because that's what I grew up with and what most people are used to, though for all I know he's more of a she, a they, or an it. I'm not going to capitalize them here because the frequency of that would become awkward and distracting.)
I've questioned, of course, whether God even exists or all my experiences with him have been confirmation bias and delusions. After an analysis I described a few months ago, I am fairly confident that confirmation bias and delusions can't account for all of them, and that some higher power has at times communicated things to me I couldn't know on my own, but I also feel that this higher power has recently been less than honest with me and let me down big time, so that's kind of torn my brain apart. I've wondered if God isn't really all good. Maybe he's more of a Chaotic Good or a Chaotic Neutral who isn't above lying when he feels like it. Maybe he's a capricious being who helps, hinders, or ignores people more or less at random. How could I know? If he tells me he's good, if he tells me he loves me, he could be lying. I don't know what's a more disturbing thought - that God doesn't exist, or that he isn't entirely trustworthy. It reminds me of a Legend of Zelda fanfiction I read once where the characters discovered that Hyrule's goddesses were just ordinary women who accidentally became immortal, then studied science and created the world with its eternal cycle of good vs. evil because they were bored. I loved that fanfiction and I wish I could remember what it was called because the site I got it from has hundreds.
This summer I also read The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss by David Bentley Hart, which is available to "borrow" on archive.org. It outlines what looks to me like a pretty airtight philosophical case for God's existence, certainly one light-years beyond the paint-by-numbers anti-theism of people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Of course most of this philosophy isn't original to Hart or even remotely new, but he covers so much so well. I would hate to try to do his arguments justice by paraphrasing them in a few sentences. I'll comment on the title, though - the book is divided into those three parts, being, consciousness, and bliss, because he argues that despite their obvious theological differences, most religions really have the same concept of God as the totality of those things. An Orthodox Christian, he liberally quotes from Hindu and Muslim as well as Christian thinkers. But this is, in fact, a very different concept of God than the one I was taught in the Mormon Church. I was taught that God is an embodied, exalted human being occupying a physical space on a planet somewhere, not "just" a force that fills the universe. I think Joseph Smith made a point of rejecting all this philosophy to close the distance between people and God, to make him more relatable and accessible. Mormons would conversely argue that these "philosophies of men" led to the obfuscation of these truths and the corruption of the original Christian church. I know philosophy has its limitations, but if it's that useless, I don't know why God gave us brains in the first place.
The world doesn't look to me like the product of a divine plan where every detail is worked out with perfect foreknowledge. It looks more like the result of a science experiment. It looks more like God just set it in motion to see what it would come up with. Everything is just too complicated to fit into the little box my religion gave me to put everything in. If we humans are the purpose for which God created this planet, then I'm hard-pressed to understand why dinosaurs were here for 550 times as long as we've been, why more than two-thirds of its surface are covered with water that will kill us if we drink it, or why its sun's life-giving rays cause cancer, to name just the first three examples that pop into my head. I find it very difficult to believe that every living organism has a spirit designed by God before the world was formed. There are more microorganisms living on and inside my body than there are cells in my body. If God planned each of them individually, it makes more sense to believe that they're at the center of his plan and I'm just here to host them. The final straw for me was the incredibly hideous Demodex mites that live on humans' (and other mammals') faces and fill up with feces until they explode. I'll be nice and not include a picture that nobody asked for. I find it very, very, very difficult to believe that these creatures' existence was a conscious, premeditated detail of God's plan. I think he just didn't bother to stop them from evolving.
I'm increasingly inclined to attribute most of the circumstances of my life and others' lives to luck, good and bad, because I simply can't accept the disparities. I am so, so lucky compared to most people in the world today and most people who have ever lived. I've spent most of today sheltering from the awful cold in a decent apartment listening to Spotify Premium and playing Callahan's Crosstime Saloon while millions of people didn't even get enough to eat. I have education and hobbies and realistic career goals while countless people have never had a higher purpose in life than staying alive. Am I better than them? Am I more deserving than them? Did a capricious God arbitrarily decide to favor me over them? The only adequate theistic explanation I can think of is that God blessed me so I can bless others, but that still makes me special, chosen, entrusted with a responsibility that most people aren't. It still rubs me the wrong way. The solutions to the problems of evil and suffering that I've been taught still more or less satisfy me, but I'm growing reluctant to call God "Father" or conceptualize our relationship in those terms, because if a "real" father treated people the same way, he would go to jail. If my "real" father had withheld basic human needs from me as a "learning experience" that would "make me stronger" or whatever, or if he'd given me the silent treatment for months at a time to "test my faith" or whatever, we would call that abuse. I'm not saying God's methodology is abusive, I'm just saying I'm no longer satisfied to think of it as parenthood.
So I gravitate nowadays toward a deist vision of a God who pushed a button, set a bunch of things in motion, and sat back to see what would happen. I'm inclined to feel - even as I recognize this is a privileged view that people whose lives are living hells might not be able to share - that my existence is a miracle and a joy not because it was premeditated and inevitable, but precisely because it wasn't. And yet... and yet I know, or at least have more cause to believe than I can seriously doubt, that God has intervened in my life sometimes, in response to prayer or just because. He may well intervene more often than I notice and I wouldn't notice because I don't notice. It's my burning desire for further guidance and aid that drives me to put so much effort into knowing him despite the impossibility of the task. And I still sense in my heart what a lot of people sense in their hearts even though their religions don't teach it - that in some way I existed before I was born, and had some idea what I was getting into and why it would be worth my while. Many people's experiences have shown that they knew each other before this life and only had to find each other again to recognize it. I think God does have a plan and I think he has things under control. So I have these contradictory philosophies going on in my head. Or rather, they seem contradictory to me now but they may both be correct from a certain point of view when God's bigness and complexity are finally understood, if ever, which I doubt.
Extricating myself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a rather gradual process, as I've held onto as many bits and pieces as I could in an attempt to minimize the existential crisis and convince myself that my twenty-one years of membership weren't a waste. So, for example, I stayed subscribed to the r/latterdaysaints subreddit until I got banned for encouraging nuanced thinking and intellectual honesty. The other day I took another step forward by getting rid of several LDS books that I'm never going to read again and in a majority of cases never read the first time. I'd already tossed my old "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet and my old "To Young Men Only" pamphlet (based on Boyd K. Packer's anti-masturbation General Conference talk that was quietly removed from the church's website a few years ago) in the recycle bin weeks earlier, but destroying actual books rubs me the wrong way unless the books themselves rub me the wrong way. I think the only books I've ever intentionally destroyed was Wizard's First Rule, that I burned after the delusional neighbor who loaned it to me stabbed me in the back and set in motion the worst day of my life, and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, which I encountered at my old book warehouse job and surreptitiously tore the cover off of because I didn't want to sell it for reasons that should be obvious to decent human beings.
But just because these books no longer mean much to me doesn't mean someone else shouldn't benefit from them, so I chose to gave them away. Most of them, anyway. A few were gifts from family members or belonged to now-deceased family members so I'll keep them around for that fact at least. But the majority I took to the local YSA ward yesterday a couple hours before stake conference started. I set them up on a table outside the north chapel because it was empty and I've paid enough tithing to entitle myself to use it. The table outside the south chapel was covered with little papers and things, including a stack of little orange advertisements for stake conference that had obviously missed its chance to be of any use to anyone. At least I was able to give one of them a second chance.
Here, then, are brief descriptions of these books because I lack the motivation to find anything better to write about today. I'm sorry.
They Lie in Wait to Deceive Volume 1 - I picked this up a few years ago at the Logan Institute even though I had already read all four volumes in this series online. In this volume, Robert and Rosemary Brown strike back at professional critics Jerald and Sanda Tanner and some guy named Dee Jay Nelson who, in the seventies and early eighties, pretended to be a leading Egyptologist and went around giving lectures against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. The Browns painstakingly documented all his lies about his credentials and experience, and were so successful that his career ended and today he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. I consider that a worthwhile effort even though real Egyptologists have also said plenty against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.
The TRUTH About "The God Makers" - As I write this I've just remembered that I got this book from my now-deceased grandmother, but it wasn't a gift per se, she just had it laying around and didn't need it anymore, so I guess that's all right. This one is also available online. "The God Makers" is the title of a book and movie by evangelical countercultist Ed Decker, and both are regarded as laughable sensationalist garbage even by most other critics of the LDS Church. Their most lasting legacy is an excerpt posted on YouTube under the inaccurate title "Banned Mormon Cartoon." (Years ago I asked "Banned by whom, exactly?" I'm still waiting on a response.)
The Church of the Old Testament - I think I got this from the book warehouse on one of the days when they let us take free books home. I never read it. Presumably it attempts to root modern LDS practices in the very different practices of the Old Testament. Latter-day Saints and Christians in general read a lot of things between the lines of the Old Testament that Jews don't, and I suppose until we can ask the authors about it in person we won't know who's right. I'm more skeptical nowadays, but the author did have a BA in anthropology, a graduate certificate in Middle East Studies, an MA in linguistics, and an MA in Middle East studies (Hebrew) with minor in anthropology and archaeology, so he wasn't just some hack writing faith-promoting drivel for Deseret Book.
Mark E. Petersen - Virtually the only thing anyone remembers apostle Petersen (not Peterson) for is his insanely racist pro-segregation speech to BYU faculty in 1954. I picked up this biography by his daughter from the book warehouse in hopes of discovering that he had some redeeming qualities. I never got around to reading it, and since I'm no longer required to convince myself that he was a representative of Jesus Christ, I see no reason to do so in the future. I did, however, read Church Historian Leonard Arrington's diary a couple years ago, and I learned that Petersen was one of the leaders who fought Arrington at every turn when he tried to publish balanced and transparent history. So now I remember him for two things. That's an improvement. (Incidentally, after his death in 1984, Arrington remarked that his BYU speech "was one of the most bigoted and narrow-minded talks ever given by a 'disciple of Christ.')
On Becoming A Disciple-Scholar - I wanted to be a disciple-scholar. I wanted to be a paragon of faith and intellect working in harmony. Strange, then, that I never made the time to read this relatively short book. I must have been too busy arguing with strangers on the internet.
Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work - I bought this my freshman year of college at the peak of my enthusiasm to convert the world, even though it's available online. David Stewart was and is a believing member, yet the issues he raised in this book and elsewhere threatened my testimony quite a bit. As I grew up, claims about the church's spectacular growth were ubiquitously touted as proof that it was true. He pointed out with solid data that its growth rate had steadily fallen since the late 1980s and that a solid majority of members on the rolls no longer associated with the church in any capacity. (This has now become so obvious that it's common knowledge among people who aren't completely out of touch with reality.) What's worse, he pointed out how Jehovah's Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, and evangelical missionary and/or church planting programs (aka the ones that don't claim to be led by living prophets) have consistently and dramatically outperformed the LDS missionary program (aka the one that does claim to be led by living prophets) in terms of numerical growth and retention. Now look, I don't expect an "inspired" missionary program to have no room for improvement or nothing it can learn from other groups, but I do expect it to not necessitate some random guy outside the church leadership structure writing a book about why it sucks. So that was a faith crisis shelf item for a long time.
Saint Behind Enemy Lines - This is the story of Olga Kovářová Campora, a convert to the church from communist Czechoslovakia. I was going to read it earlier this year and then I didn't. I'm sure it's very inspiring and I don't begrudge her finding peace and/or joy wherever, but even as a believer I couldn't help thinking about how atypical her experience is for Eastern Europe. Today, thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the church has fewer than 3,000 members in the Czech Republic and Slovakia combined. A few years ago it had more Slovak members in Sheffield, England than in Slovakia. Maybe it still does, but the Slovak branch in that city was closed after not very long (with none of the fanfare that accompanied its opening, of course), so I don't know.
Sunshine for the Courageous Latter-day Saint Soul - Stories to make one feel warm and fuzzy, I'm sure. I suspect that many of them are drivel, but only having read one and found it tolerable, I shouldn't assume.
Brother to Brother - I stole this one from the book warehouse. It had been rejected, so we couldn't sell it and I was supposed to toss it in the recycle bin, but as one who had been obsessed for years with everything I could get my hands on about the church's (usually but not always abysmal) history with Black people, I had to read it. I snuck it home with me and read it. Co-author Rendell Mabey was one half of one half of the two senior missionary couples sent to Ghana and Nigeria in late 1978 following the revelation that made Black people eligible for priesthood ordination and temple ordinances. This is his story, and it's a faith-promoting story that has the benefit of being true. Between 1946 and 1978, tens of thousands of West Africans had obtained literature from the church and desired to be baptized. They knew about the priesthood and temple ban, of course (though additional stuff like Mark E. Petersen's BYU speech are another story), but tended (and still tend) not to care the way African-Americans tended (and still tend) to care. Many of them were still waiting when the missionaries finally arrived and baptized them.
Counseling With Our Councils - I got this from the institute when I was part of the Leadership Committee of the Latter-day Saint Student Association. I "won" it somehow, out of all the people there, but I don't remember how or why. With that being the case I feel kind of bad that I never read it because it looks really boring, but now it can be put to some use.
Then there's the little stack that I would have just recycled if they'd been all I had, because they're not real books, just manuals - three copies of Gospel Principles (I think the small one is an older edition, but I didn't care enough to look) and two volumes from Teachings of Presidents of the Church (Gordon B. Hinckley and Joseph Fielding Smith, the latter carefully curated to omit any of his teachings on race or science). I really ought to get rid of more books since I'm most likely going to move to another state next year, but I'm not sure I can bear to do that unless I apostatize from science fiction.
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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.