It's always interesting when a discussion on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' former ban on priesthood and temple blessings for people of African descent partially morphs into a discussion on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' severely deficient dating culture, as happened recently in the comments section of a blog post about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' current circumstances and future prospects in Brunei. At least I say it's interesting because then I can copy that discussion and save myself a lot of effort. Selected comments follow.
First, some guy named Tony complained about President Nelson not apologizing for the ban when he spoke recently at the NAACP convention. Many people think the Church should apologize, but for whatever reasons, it hasn't and at this point is probably never going to.
[C]hanging your mind later doesn't make up for the tears, heartache and pain. I lived in London before the ban was lifted and there were quite a few black members. We had black women married to white men. He could go to the temple do his endowment. She couldn't and couldn't be sealed to him or their children! Can you understand that heartache and pain? While we went to priesthood meeting the black male members had to sit outside! While we went to the temple and served missions they couldn't! While we had many different callings they were restricted to Sunday school president or teacher! Can you comprehend how that made people feel. I sat with people who broke their heart because they were good members but because of their skin colour they couldn't be full members!No retro fitting of history changes that trauma but an apology would help!
Then this guy Johnathan chimed in and I was very impressed by what he had to say.
With all due respect, I can to a degree understand that pain. I am not a black person, but I am a single man in his late thirties. Because of my single status, I've been denied visiting my nieces and nephews in primary and made to wait outside due to the teachers thinking I'm a "weirdo" or a "pervert" due to my single male status. I was released from my calling in the young men leadership as soon as a new bishop was called, because that bishop was prejudiced against me due to my single status. Before the release, he would sit in our classes, micro-manage and interrupt each time I would try to speak, despite the fact I was trying to bear testimony or share uplifting experiences from my mission. This same bishop refused to allow me to go on a temple trip to Manti with my own teenage nieces and nephews, not because of any worthiness issues on my part, but because in his own words, having me as a single adult man in his thirties on the trip would be "innapropriate."
He's not the only bishop or congregation to treat me this way, either. When I was 33, I went to the closest YSA ward I could find to my house (I had just moved) and was rudely told I didn't belong there due to my age.
The Stake President's wife in my current stake asked me if I needed to have a worthiness interview with her husband because I had made the offhand comment that I, "wasn't in a huge hurry to get married."
As a YSA and an older single adult, I've been handed pamphlets from prophets and apostles condemning me for being single - accusing me of not having my priorities straight, not being eternally minded, being lazy, shiftless, or a "menace to society." I've sat through lectures from Institute teachers, Bishops, Stake Presidents, and Apostles and Prophets during the Priesthood Session of General Conference accusing me of being unworthy, sinful, not honoring my priesthood, etc., simply because of my social status, and not based on the actual thoughts and intents of my heart.
For years, these experiences taken together filled me with bitterness and anger towards the church, and severely tried my faith. However, through a long difficult period of personal reflection, prayer, and scripture study I've come to realize a few things:
One is that you can't sit around waiting for other people to apologize to you (no matter how justified you are in your position). As a follower of Christ, your first responsibility is to love your enemy, bless them that curse you, do good unto them that despitefully use you. Jesus didn't say, "Refrain from doing good until you've managed to cast the mote out of someone else's eye." We know what he did say, and it involves changing the mind and the heart of the one person you have control over - yourself.
On my mission, when Elder Eca from Nigeria was handed a copy of the Church News pertaining to the 25 year anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, he bore his testimony about it. He served in the inner city in Louisville Kentucky, and he was constantly asked about the priesthood ban.
"I don't care. We didn't have it then, but we have it now, and that's what matters."
The 1978 revelation is retroactive, as is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. All who didn't receive the blessings who are still living can now go to the temple and be baptized and be sealed. We have African and African Americans who hold the priesthood now and are serving as general authorities of the church. And all who died before receiving these blessings will receive them by proxy through temple work. This is stronger than a verbal apology. This is action to right the wrongs of the past. Besides, Christ himself already made the ultimate apology, he apologized to the Father for all our mistakes, including the mistakes made by our leaders. All of these injustices are swallowed up in His infinite Atonement.
Then Dane, the resident tough guy, offered a word of caution.
Johnathan: While I admire your turn the other cheek attitude, I also hope you haven't become a doormat in putting up with these types of behaviors. There is nothing inherently wrong in standing up for yourself and sometimes in life, it is essential to do so lest you begin to lose your mind. Too often in life, and particularly in the Church, things get swept under the rug.
Johnathan took the advice in stride.
Very true, and I appreciate your concern, too.
While I do believe there are times to turn the other cheek, I recognize there are times to defend oneself, also.
However, one of the main things I'm wary about in myself (or in others who have been wronged) is developing a victim mentality because of the injustices performed against us.
A few years ago, I had a bishop who I felt was being unfair with me. He'd cut me off when I'd speak to him, wouldn't let me elaborate or explain my situation, and only gave me questions in interviews that I could answer with, "Yes, sir!" I got tired of that behavior after a while and made clear to him that he was being manipulative. He apologized, and respected me after that.
Recently, regarding the bishop I mentioned in my previous comment who wouldn't allow me to go on the youth temple trip to Manti, I confronted him about his treatment of me (and others in my ward who had special needs), as well. Unfortunately, he is a military person who acts constantly like, "It's my way or the highway." I was so upset with him for a while that I actually was worried that I might get in a physical fight with him. I can be a fiery tempered person, and so I have to watch myself and my temper.
After a lot of consideration, prayer, and talking with family and friends about what to do about the situation (I was prepared to take my concerns to the stake president or higher), the words of a scripture I'd memorized years earlier kept coming back to me:
"The Lord shall fight for you and ye shall hold your peace." (Exodus 14:14)
I felt that I needed to step back, forgive the man (let go of all the anger I had towards him - despite the fact that he wasn't changing his behavior as fast as I would have hoped), and see how the Lord would handle it.
Fortunately, that story has a happy ending (at least for now).
About six months ago our Stake boundaries were rearranged and I was placed in a different ward from him. That solved my problem, but I was still worried about other members of his ward (some who were friends of mine) who had also had problems with him. Luckily, he was released (two-years early) from the bishopric about two months ago. I had also found out through the grapevine that some members of the ward were possibly taking their case against him to the church's legal department, which may have lead to the release.
Yes, sometimes we need to fight, and other times it's better to follow the example of Zion's Camp, where we initially think we have to fight, but really the Lord is testing our patience and wants us to "Stand still, and know that I am God."
For every bishop and ward member who has been a jerk to me, I can name other bishops or ward members who've been kind or friendly or considerate. And I've even seen some of those jerks come around and let go of their old prejudices through time and patience.
I'm not saying that what happened with that last bishop of mine will happen in every case of a leader we disagree with, but I do advocate for taking each scenario one at a time and turning to the Lord for specific answers.
Perhaps feeling a tad guilty for splitting the discussion in half, Johnathan brought it back around in his next comment.
One thing I forgot to mention was how the Priesthood Revelation has affected me personally.
Because of it, I'm now sealed to two members of my extended family with black heritage: a cousin-in-law from Nigeria, and a sister-in-law from Brazil (who has probable African roots, as well as probable native-indian Brazilian roots).
Additionally, I've dated African and African American women in the past (both named Keisha, coincidentally), and wouldn't be against someday marrying a black woman if I happen to meet one I'm compatible with.
We could have all left it at that, but I I wanted to express some empathy and camaraderie to Johnathan. Dating is utter garbage. Dating in the Church of Jesus Christ is, if possible, doubly so. (Every YSA acknowledges this. It's just that most of them think it's worth it for the chance to get married, but I don't.) And I could have spent a couple hours writing a tirade against it, but I exercised restraint and tact instead. I'm occasionally capable of that.
There is a horrific double standard in our culture. When a man in single, it's his fault and he should be condemned. When a woman is single, it's a man's fault and she should be pitied. What if we all minded our own business?
That set him off again, and it was glorious. Not because I reveled in his discomfort, but because he gave our culture a piece of his mind that it so, so richly deserved. And yet he was so calm and articulate.
Very true. And I'm well aware of the disparity between how male and female singles have been talked to and treated for years in the church.
I've heard all women praised from the pulpit for being beautiful, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy, or being sweet spirits, whereas the same speaker has cast doubt as to there being any single man living his priesthood to be worthy enough for them.
I've had a bishop who would excitedly welcome ever single woman in the YSA ward with a big hug (as if they were his granddaughters), but when I walked up to talk to him and introduce myself, he kept his distance and stared at me like I was a drunken hobo who'd wandered in from the street. And that's not just the first time I met him, that happened on several occasions while I was in his ward.
I had a Stake President sit us all down as an Elder's Quorum and give us a lecture about how it was our duty to "date every girl in the ward." Not taking into account the individual worthiness of these women, or the strength of their testimonies, or whether or not they had any social skills, or dressed or acted in a way to attract the opposite sex, or were good conversationalists, or whether or not any of us had chemistry with them at all. To clarify, this was not a ward where dating wasn't happening. This was a typical Idaho Falls YSA where dating and marriage were happening all the time, and I was a prolific dater in the ward. When I didn't have a steady girlfriend in that ward, I was still asking someone out at least once a month. But we still got the blanket sweep of, "You need to be dating all these sweet spirits, you lazy slobs!"
And it wasn't just from the leadership, either. I and some other men in the ward had a conversation with three of the ladies where they told us their perspective was, "Every woman deserves to be chased." (Not "chaste," but "chased.") As in, pursued by suitors. Yet, these women were themselves picky. I later asked all three of them on dates at separate times: one stood me up; another went with me to a movie, then never spoke to me again; and another went with me on a date, then didn't speak to me again for months (luckily, she and I became friends a lot later, but she did end up marrying someone else). And they were picky with other men, too.
To be fair, though, it hasn't always been condemning the men. I've heard talks (particularly from institute teachers) where they've said, "If none of you single people (men and women) make it to the Celestial Kingdom, it'll be your own fault!" And another where a man got up and chastised his daughter (who wasn't present), for dumping the boyfriends he thought were perfect for her, so in his mind that meant she now had to "settle."
This benevolent/not-so-benevolent sexism isn't nearly as pronounced in my ward, but it's present, just as it always has been as I've grown up in the Church. We did stop saying "Ladies first" at linger-longers, a commandment that I started ignoring anyway, so that's progress.
I bring these things up, not to condemn these leaders or teachers, but to point out an interesting phenomena I've noticed in the church. I call it the "parents' goggles" or the "grandparents' goggles." Many single people out there will know what I'm talking about. Your parent or your grandparent or your bishop has been happily married for decades, so all they remember now is the good times they had courting their sweetheart, and the happiness they've enjoyed since that union. They've completely forgotten all the heartache they went through from being rejected, stood up, having their love unrequited, or all the searching and struggling they had to do before they found someone compatible for them (and who the Lord also approved of). Additionally, many of them were young in a time period where dating had a more universally accepted social-infrastructure. The rules were clearly set out. The man courted the woman by doing such and such, and the woman either accepted or rejected by doing such and such. I'm not saying it was a better system - just that the gender roles were more generally accepted by the parties involved, so you didn't have as many question marks as to how you were supposed to approach courtship. A lot of the older generation still think dating is just as simple as it used to be, so they're frustrated and blame us singles, assuming that we're just lazy because the process itself should be so simple and straightforward.
One last problem is getting talks from people who married young or who married their "high school sweetheart." These can be the worst in my opinion. A lot of these guys/gals were the prom king or the captain of the football team, and the girls were a cheerleader or the homecoming queen (insert other popular teenage social positions at your discretion). Yeah! Dating was so easy! I was attractive and popular, so members of the opposite sex just kept lining up to go out with me, so I had to beat them off with a stick! These people generally have no concept of what it was like to struggle with dating as a teenager, let alone struggle through all of your twenties alone, let alone struggle through most of your thirties (and beyond) alone. Dating is completely different for me now in my late thirties than it was when I was fresh off my mission at 22. And people who got married in their early twenties straight off their missions can't grasp that.
Understand, I'm not trying to be negative. Talks condemning all singles for being unworthy, or ones that talk about how easy the dating process should be, used to really upset me. As a person who has actively dated and tried to get married throughout my entire adult life, anymore I just kind of turn a deaf ear to the talks that don't apply to me, and look for the ones that are more sympathetic to singles in general, or the ones from speakers who I can see actually have been through the trenches with dating and do understand what we go through. And I try to understand that many of these speakers are just seeing us through the distorted lens of "grandparents' goggles," and forgive them for it.
I agree with virtually all of what Johnathan said. Of course, his remarks and my approval of them are not anti-woman, but anti-putting-women-on-a-pedestal. And the people who put women on a pedestal are usually men. Funny how we perpetuate this cycle of abuse against our own kind. It reminds me of how I read in an Anthropology class years ago that women, not men, are by and large the ones who perpetuate the tradition of female genital mutilation on their own daughters and granddaughters, falsely believing that they're being helpful. And I think most women hate being put on a pedestal too. I don't think they want to be worshiped. I don't think they want to be held to impossible standards. Of course, I'm not a woman and I could be completely wrong.
I think I relate to Johnathan because I anticipate being him in a decade or so. Of course, my efforts to date are half-hearted and rare and undoubtedly by my late thirties will have ceased altogether, and I also anticipate being very rich by then and I don't care what anyone says, I don't have a single problem in my life that money wouldn't completely and immediately solve, so the situations aren't entirely analogous. But I've been in love and I've wanted to marry specific people at specific times so I imagine a normal person's generalized desire to get married is like that, but constant, and my heart goes out to Johnathan and everyone else in that same boat. I hope someday our culture will grow up. Until then, whenever I hear an insensitive comment at church or in institute about how I need to ask girls out, I just mentally flip the guy off and let it go. It's not worth getting too upset over.
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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.