Zelophehad’s Daughters

On the (Occasional) Spiritual Necessity of Defying the Church

Posted by Eve

Rusty’s post speculating about the ultimate fate of missionaries involved in bizarre baptizing schemes over at Nine Moons has reminded me again of a thorny issue I’ve considered from time to time: the occasional spiritual necessity of defying the church.

Like every lifelong Mormon, I sat through the youth lessons on peer pressure that always featured the same narrative: bad kids want good Sister Molly to [make a bong, watch an R-rated movie, go to a frat party, cheat on a test]. Good Sister Molly is sorely tempted. They’re her best or only friends, they threaten to ostracize her, they cajole and crook their fingers seductively, they mock and insinuate that she’s been brainwashed by her parents’ bizarre faith–they pull out all the stops. But in the end good Sister Molly walks serenely away, her resolve to Stand For Truth and Righteousness, as we were constantly told to do in Young Women, deepened, her values and self-respect intact.

Somehow even the prissiest, most dated of those stories always inspire me. I have spent much of my life longing to be a person of absolute and unwavering devotion to principle, and too often failing to be that person (although I continue to long, ardently, and continue to fail as well). But what I wish I had somehow understood, particularly before my mission, was that while it’s always correct to Stand For Truth and Righteousness, Truth and Righteousness simply won’t always coincide with the instructions that come out of the mouths of one’s local–or even general–priesthood leaders. (And, for that matter, that it’s really quite unfair to expect any human being to be above error.) My failure to make that distinction, a distinction I acknowledge is usually far from evident, has sometimes cost me a lot of self-doubt, frustration, and misery.

For example: it’s now patently obvious to me that I should have bowed quietly out of seminary and Young Women’s. Seminary especially made me miserable. I had little to say to the other youth, and I struggled and struggled to believe some of the more ridiculous things I was taught there. But I heard only one official explanation for my misery: if you don’t like a church program, something’s wrong with you. Try harder. Have a better attitude. Repent. Suppress your unseemly objections, and make more of an effort to fit in. I never quite managed to seriously entertain the possibility that if I didn’t like a church program, there might be something wrong with the church program. Or, far more likely, the church program and I just weren’t a good fit for each other, and each of us would simply be happier without the other. That a separate peace might be made with church programs, and further, that extensive self-flagellation over one’s failure to thrive in them is a waste of time and emotional energy. Instead I alternately reveled in and despaired over my evidently congenital propensity for apostasy. As an adult, it’s been an enormous release from guilt and self-doubt to realize, for example, that under most circumstances Enrichment Night simply isn’t for me, and under no conceivable circumstances is Pursuit of Excellence ever likely to be for me. Except as a metaphysical exercise, there’s no need to work out whose “fault” it is, the program’s or mine. I can just quietly not participate, at considerable gain to my spiritual life and peace of mind.

In mission life the stakes were much higher, since they involved people’s souls. The pressure for numbers was relentless. For a long time I found myself locked in the same dynamic: on some level I knew that the programs the APs foisted on us every several months were fairly ridiculous. But the lurking doubt that my distaste was just evidence of my congenital apostasy persisted. It wasn’t until my last area that I found the confidence to disagree with one of the APs over the way a particular sister had been taught and baptized–in haste, in violation of several of the church’s guidelines, and just in time for the “miracle” of our mission achieving exactly the 150 baptisms that had been our collective goal for the year. I still feel good about the way I was able to express my disagreement to the AP, who was an utterly sincere if somewhat overzealous young man. I wasn’t angry. I was calm and collected but clear: the sister shouldn’t have been baptized, and I wasn’t about to pressure anyone else in her family into baptism. We walked away from the conversation disagreeing about the situation, but with no hard feelings, I think.

At the end of his podcast about what we might call the “soccer” baptisms he witnessed in Guatemala, John Dehlin speaks of the need to inoculate missionaries against such abuses of the gospel, to teach missionaries to trust their own consciences. The danger of an authority structure that’s so nearly absolute is that it can so easily begin to erode people’s very souls in this way, corrupt them into doubting or denying their own deepest, most sacred knowledge of right and wrong, of good and evil.

Let me hasten to add that I have no interest in rebellion for rebellion’s sake. I’ve long since come to the conclusion, as I suspect most people who stick with the Church have to, that the vast majority of what my general and local leaders ask me to do is, at the very least, spiritually harmless. I shrugged and took out my second earring when the directive came down, although I sincerely doubt that a second earring is going to lead me to damnation. But I consider such acts, which cost my conscience nothing, an important part of the price I pay for the inevitable occasional moments of spiritual civil disobedience, when it is wrong, really wrong, to do as one’s told. These constant, harmless obediences are a demonstration of my loyalty, a demonstration I feel is necessary to those moments when I have to no choice but to defy or dissent.

So when we teach good Sister Molly to Stand For Truth and Righteousness, let’s also teach her that the bad kids with the pot might who want her to sell her soul for a mess of pottage might someday appear in the guise of her zone leaders, her Mormon peers, or her bishop.

Stand for Truth and Righteousness, Molly. Do what is right, let the consequence follow. The price of acting against conscience and surrendering self-respect, even to as worthy an institution as the Church itself, is simply far too high.

28 Responses to “On the (Occasional) Spiritual Necessity of Defying the Church”

  1. 1.

    This is probably were having one of those “white personalities” helps. I come from a long line of incredibly stubborn people. But none of us are really in-your-face about it.

    I think some might call this “stiffneckedness,” and I wouldn’t disagree with them. But I can’t help but feel I got some benefit from it – including the time I was a missionary in Japan.

    Particularly, a Zone Meeting in Nagaski with about 20 missionaries and our Zone Leaders.

    Little setup: I was always terrified of cold contacting a person on the street. My first attempt upon arrival in Japan was, frankly, a bit traumatic. And I never really got over the problem, even until the end of my mission. I was lousy at street contacting. As a result, my weekly “contacts” numbers were always lousy (for which I was frequently taken to task). I felt bad about it, but I also couldn’t really see it changing. You could get contacts any number of ways, but without a doubt, “streeting” netted about 90% of them for most missionaries.

    Well, the Zone Meetings were always pretty fun. You got to hang with other missionaries besides your companion, and there were usually some fun things planned as well. Basically, it was vacation for us.

    Our ZLs were in fine form. They had inspirational Michael Jordan clips, clips from Hoosiers, and others. Their motto for the meeting was “Standing Inside the Fire” and they were doing their best to light us up.

    Toward the end, we were all seated in a circle in the local meetinghouse and it was now “commitment time.” Where you commit to do something more than just feel stoked about the Gospel work.

    Anyway, the ZLs were going around the circle, one by one and committing each missionary to double the amount of “contacts” they were going to get this upcoming month. One by one, each missionary agreed. My companion and I were the second to last on the circle. My companion agreed. This was obviously supposed to be the climax of the meeting for Elder G. (our senior ZL).

    Then it came to me – “will you commit to getting twice as many contacts this month?”

    Long pause.

    “No… I can’t.”

    Long pause. Everyone looked a bit uncomfortable.

    Elder G. tried asking again and got the same response. He tried to find out what the problem was. Asked me for ideas about how we could “get there.” But ultimately, he got nowhere. I knew myself too well. And I knew there was no way that my contact numbers were going to be anything other than what they had been for the last year of my life. I wasn’t going to promise unless I meant it.

    I felt horrible. I’d pretty-much killed the moment. Some people looked a bit disappointed in me. I felt like I was dragging everyone down with my own inhibitions. I felt like I was just too substandard of a missionary to do what the Lord required.

    And yet, at the same time, a small part of me felt empowered. I actually rather resented that Elder G. had chosen such high-pressure shame tactics to get what he wanted. Another part of me was actually relieved that I had been able to stick up for myself and not compromise on my integrity (such as it was).

    I never did much like Elder G. after that and I think the feeling was mutual – though, by all other accounts, he struck me as a basically decent fellow. We both tended to avoid each other after that.

    Later, I read a story about how Brigham Young, as a boy flatly refused when his local minister tried to pressure the local youth into taking a vow of chastity.

    A small vindication of sorts, and a reminder that righteous works should never be compelled of people. Funny how a small incident like that small missionary gathering, where I’m still fairly sure I was equally, if not moreso, in the wrong, was a bit of a spark that allowed me to stick up, not only for myself, but for other missionaries and for my investigators, and ultimately, for my wife and children. To this day, I feel like I learned something good about myself then.

    And no, my street contacting skills never did improve. Ultimately, I stopped worrying about it, and re-directed my efforts to inactive members (with pretty good results – actually). Never did have a single baptism on my mission…

  2. 2.

    I’m jaded to the shock and awe stories other missionaries tell about how horrible their mission or the missionaries were before after serving in chile.

    I served in Chile Santiago North from ’98 to ’99 and the stuff John and Rusty were talking about—well, I experienced some, heard stories as the mission next to mine was baptizing more than 1k a month and my mission was very close on its heels. Of course, disobedient mission stories ran rampant (as in most missions–the difference being is I witnessed a lot of it)Not to mention, like most latin american countries–the soccer baptisms had been going on for decades. There were the legends from the sixties, seventies, and eighties and the rolls to prove it. In the first couple of areas of my mission, I followed Elders who had baptized 40-100 in my area. Needless to say, that was fustrating because there was usually only about 8 who were active of those numbers–a few months after their baptisms. After 6 months of my mission, and some baptisms I’m not proud about (and still not)–I vowed not to make the same mistakes and followed the rules about baptisms. The thing is–Missionaries are young, but they know the rules about baptizing. They know what they are doing when they bend the rules or simply not follow them.
    Anyway, our mission was starting to make the shift from putting the focus on baptism to retention and reactivation when the Prophet came down to Chile. He met with the missionaries before the regular session with the members and railed upon us. Ever been yelled at by a Prophet of God? Well, we heard President Hinckley’s wrath, and we got the message. That’s one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Needless to say, I was still being pressured to bend rules, but I spoke up. When one of my former junior comps told me that they taught three discussions at once on the street–and then another three a few days later….for their seven investigators (they were all friends and family) I questioned her about it. Our ZL at the time was another of the 3 discussions at once crowd and needless to say, we were being pressured to do it–but most of the missionaries in my zone did not to my knowledge.

    But then, like seth–I’m a white too.

  3. 3.

    Eve, your commentary makes me appreciate again one of my faithful, forgiving mother’s best gifts to me when, after some dumb Relief Society occurance, she cheerfully exclaimed “I don’t care how stupidly or arrogantly the dear members of the church act, it’s the Lord’s church, not theirs, and their stupid decisions won’t keep me from attending and serving in the Lord’s church and doing my best to live our faith.”

    I was in middle school at the time. Her comment was an authoritative statement from a committed saint that I respected on the reality of eggregious errors of judgment on the part of church members and leaders in the course of church work. All my life it has saved me the trouble of wondering if I should feel guilty if I wasn’t fully embracing every decision made or program carried out in my ward, misson or stake. It was liberating to me as a YW, and then later as a college student, as a full-time missionary and as a member of the Relief Society, and has helped me to navigate the mire of unforgiving anger or sense of betrayal at unmet expectations, and to stay fully and freely committed to the gospel of Christ and determined to serve in His church in spite of the idiocies.

    I’m not a white like Sherpa and Seth. I tend to be content to be one of the crowd. So I thank the Lord for that gift from my mother. I try to pass it along to my children.

  4. 4.

    Eve, I love this post–thank you for it. Separating gospel from church programs has never been difficult for me or a source of guilt for me–I don’t know why, but I’m thankful for it. Like Sherpa expressed above, having this attitude/ability freed me from the more confining aspects of YW, allowed me to wrinkle my nose at the more bizarre aspects of Seminary, and walk away with my testimony of the gospel intact.

    Like you, I wish it could be taught…but then we run into the question of whether an institution that doesn’t ride herd on its members through guilt and shame–that frees its members from itself–can maintain itself? I would like to think that it could, that in fact membership would flourish in a less pressured environment…but what do you think?

  5. 5.

    Amen! Amen! Amen! I loved this post. Thanks Eve.

  6. 6.

    Just quickly, because I’ve got to make myself stop blogging and start working:

    Thanks to all responders.

    Great stories, Seth and Sherpa. Like Seth, I hated street contacting, but I eventually managed to learn how to do it in a somewhat passable, mediocre way. Once in a while I had positive experiences street contacting, but it was always hard for me and never got much easier.

    Mary and Emily, I’m glad that you two both internalized that message of separation much earlier in life than I managed to. (It’s entirely likely that most people don’t go through my protracted neuroses about such things.) Emily’s question gets right to the heart of the problem, though: how can an institution, particularly an institution like the Church that claims divine authority, teach people to regard it skeptically and still maintain itself? After I typed this up and went to bed last night, I found myself lying awake worrying this problem over. It’s entirely possible that the Church really can’t teach skepticism about itself, except perhaps in certain limited ways–the talks I’ve heard over the years about valuing people over programs, for example. Hmmm. I don’t really know, either.

    Jay, glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for stopping by!

  7. 7.

    I’m struggling with this post. On one hand, I want to cheer. Of course, if a leader wants you to do something immoral, unethical, etc., it shouldn’t be cheerfully complied with. This certainly seems to be the case in the unethical baptisms.

    OTOH, I really don’t agree that it’s good policy to just opt-out of whatever programs we have declared are of no use to us. I hated the old homemaking more than anything (based on content), but found a way to attend as I had been counseled, while still making it a positive experience. It would have been easier if I’d had the slightest interest in the topics, but since I wasn’t it was more of a challenge. And it was a blessing in the end.

    FWIW, I do think there are program problems, but rather than opt out, I hope we try to improve them. That’s why I’m trying to get scouting banished before my boys are old enough to be involved. >:->

  8. 8.

    Alison, thanks for a thoughtful response.

    “OTOH, I really don’t agree that it’s good policy to just opt-out of whatever programs we have declared are of no use to us.”

    Well, that’s not quite what I said above. I actually didn’t opt out of the programs in question; with the benefit of hindsight, I only now wish I had. I went for years, and I was miserable for years. It wasn’t simply that I airily declared to myself on the slightest acquaintance, “Oh, that’s of no use to me.” In the case of seminary, it was that I was being taught all kinds of kooky false doctrine that was actively destructive to my testimony. When I look back on my youth the problem was not that I didn’t try hard enough. The problem was that I tried way too hard for way too long to make something work that simply never was going to.

    President Packer once promised us all that we’d never regret enrolling in seminary. With all due and genuine respect, may I just say that such has not been my personal experience. I deeply regret ever having anything to do with seminary.

    The narrative you outline, in which a program is initially distasteful but becomes, as you put it, a “blessing in the end,” as we show up and attempt to make improve the program, is the standard story we tell about what we might broadly term personal program discomfort. No doubt in many cases–maybe even most cases–it’s applicable. There is much to be said for pitching in, for doing one’s best to make a program function and be worthwhile.

    My concern is when that becomes the only narrative sequence we can apply to our experiences with the church–or, as I said above, when the only possible explanation for personal program discomfort is a deficiency in the person. Sometimes it’s just time to throw in the towel and quit trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Sometimes it’s time to give things a break: take six months off from Enrichment, or Visiting Teaching, for example, (or, my current strategy, fenagle a calling in nursery so that you don’t have to sit through Sunday school) and then come back at it fresh later.

    And hey–good luck getting Scouting unentwined from the Church. That, I say, is an entirely worthwhile undertaking.

  9. 9.

    I’m trying to get scouting banished before my boys are old enough to be involved. >:->

    And hey, good luck getting Scouting unentwined from the Church. That, I say, is an entirely worthwhile undertaking.

    Amen and amen. My older son just turned 7, so I’m hoping you can work fast, Alison. What can I do to help?

    Also, great post Eve. I like that you mention rebellion for its own sake, which is what I know I’m probably more prone to than the principled occasional disobedience you’re discussing.

  10. 10.

    What is so bad about scouting? I’m looking forward to being the mother of a scout.

  11. 11.

    I read your other post on seminary. Sad. I went to high school in Orem, Utah. Almost without exception, my seminary teachers were great. Seriously. My 9th grade teacher (Lakeridge Jr.), was such an amazing influence. In spite of my parents daily family scripture ritual, seminary was where I realized the scriptures were actually interesting. The teacher may well have been goofy by adult standards, but he reached a bunch of us.

    Yes, I had one that told us we had to be polygamists (eventually) if we wanted to go to the celestial kingdom. (But the math teachers across the road also made a stink about teaching girls calculus because they were “just going to go home and have babies.”) And if I ever have to hear “I’ll build you a rainbow” again, I’ll serious lose my lunch. But it was mostly positive and mostly doctrine. Although I didn’t love it at the time, in hindsight I don’t even mind the scripture chase. Knowing those scriptures inside out has served me more than I dare to admit in the past couple of decades

    We did early morning in Florida. Sometimes is was great and sometimes is was awful. I taught GD to the seniors and once asked them what book of scripture they were studying in seminary that year. Not ONE of them knew–and it was MARCH. They all got credit for seminary that year.

    We also had a motto: “Seminary…it’s about sleep.”

    If they attended 50% of the classes they passed (with some makeup work or something, like a crossword puzzle) and got a trip to Island of Adventure in Orlando. So it wasn’t all about attending because they had an undying devotion to scripture.

    Anyway, my oldest completed seminary in Utah, my second will graduate next year. It wasn’t perfect, the teachers varied, but all in all they had a really positive experience and a strengthened testimony because of it.

    Perhaps it’s that more oversight was (is) needed?

    …when the only possible explanation for personal program discomfort is a deficiency in the person

    I agree completely. Of course the programs have flaws–and they won’t be fixed by more fasting and prayer on my part. I do get weary of having program suggestions always met with the attitude that it’s simply a matter of my, apparently, insufficient testimony.

    But do you see that many programs that really are “sow’s ears”? Or just ones that, at times, need tweaking, better administration, or new manuals? (Or a new ward?) Scouts being one we seem to agree on. :)

    Sorry to go on so. I do enjoy your thoughts.

  12. 12.

    Amen. My favorite portion: “So when we teach good Sister Molly to Stand For Truth and Righteousness, let’s also teach her that the bad kids with the pot might who want her to sell her soul for a mess of pottage might someday appear in the guise of her zone leaders, her Mormon peers, or her bishop.”

    My (outstanding) mission president told us constantly that he’d never judge our mission, that too many of us felt like he was going to give us a grade on it. He said it wasn’t his place to say you reached this goal so you’re successful, you didn’t reach this one so you’re not. He constantly reminded us that judgment of our mission was reserved for a certain place and time & that God knew exactly where our hearts were. We’re accountable to God, not to the manual.

  13. 13.

    Ziff, I’ll let you know. :)

    rk, where do I start? How about here?

  14. 14.

    Alison, no need to apologize for going on! As is probably evident, all of us around here like to go on…and on…and on….we don’t really see it as a flaw.

    But do you see that many programs that really are “sow’s ears”? Or just ones that, at times, need tweaking, better administration, or new manuals? (Or a new ward?)

    Good question. Maybe I should rephrase: some programs, at some times in my life, have been “sow’s ears” for me personally. The tricky thing is, of course, that the very same programs might be someone else’s literal salvation. And I certainly don’t want to demand that the church, or my ward, march to my peculiar beat. So at such impasses, particularly when I find myself spiraling into misery, it’s sometimes been important for me to remind myself to cut my losses instead of throwing good emotional energy after bad and just get out. Maybe later, there will be an appropriate time to get back in again.

    This discussion is reminding me of something a bishop once said (I offer it not to give the perspective any kind of special bishop imprimatur, but just because it struck me as sound advice generally). He said in a sacrament meeting or lesson, he could usually tell within the first five minutes or so if the talk was for him. If it was, he listened. If it wasn’t, he assumed it was for someone else and read his scriptures quietly to himself instead. I think there’s much to be said for that view.

  15. 15.

    Kathleen, what a great mission president.

  16. 16.

    #13

    I read your link and I’m not convinced. I’ve never been approached by the scouts about donating money or buying things. A few months ago, I was approached by a scout to sew some quits for an infant crisis center and I was happy to do it. (By the way, the prospective Eagle scout compiled and distributed all the materials. He even sewed many of the quilts himself.) I’ve seen scouts do great things for boys. Do I thing that the young women often get shortchanged in favor of the young men in scouts? Well yes, but that is a different discussion. Still that does not mean that scouting is not a wonderful program for boys.

  17. 17.

    Great post, Eve. I’ve come up against this not in the program areas, which, for the most part I’ve enjoyed (the occasional financial planning Sunday School “lesson” notwithstanding), but in official church stances, or doctrines. But, I think it’s possible, probably even healthy emotionally, to disagree with the Church while still supporting your leaders.

    I happen to strongly disagree with the Church’s position on gay-marriage. But, when it came time to vote, I still voted the Church’s way and probably always will. I see it similarly to blacks and the priesthood. President Kimball wasn’t the first Church president to pray that the ban be lifted. But, whatever personal distaste President Kimball and previous Presidents had for the practice was kept to themselves while still doing what they could to change it. I think the fact alone that they were praying about it shows that they would have liked to have it changed. Believing the Church is true (whatever that actually means) doesn’t mean that I believe the Church is always right. And if we conflate the two, we risk stagnating any growth or change. No thanks.

  18. 18.

    rk, I don’t think the scouting program’s capacity to benefit young men is in question. I’m certain it does benefit many young men. The problem, as I see it, is the obligatory nature of scouting in church life. Scouting isn’t for everyone (I’ll call Ziff, our only male and therefore our only survivor of scouting, to testify to this in further detail, but for the moment let’s just say that as seminary was to me, so scouting was to Ziff.)

    “I’ve never been approached by the scouts about donating money or buying things.”

    Our family was approached every year to donate. My mother, who had six daughters and one son who hated scouts, eventually took to asking the collectors when they were going to collect for a program to benefit her other six children.

    I was a Girl Scout, and we sold calendars and cookies to raise money. I went around in my uniform when I was ten knocking on doors (good prep for mission life, I’m sure, although I was terrible at it). I tend to think it’s a little annoying that the Boy Scouts ask for donations instead, as if we should be so thrilled by their very existence that we should support them financially.

    Nate S., thanks. The doctrinal issues are the trickiest to negotiate, in my experience.

  19. 19.

    Eve, thanks for another thoughtful and interesting post.

    The biography of Gordon B. Hinckley recounts an incident during the stage of his life when he and Marjorie were raising teenagers. He answered the phone one evening and got an earful from one of his daughter’s YW leaders. The daughter wasn’t attending mutual, wasn’t progressing towards her award, etc., etc., and the leader was calling to enlist the help of the parents to help “motivate” their daughter. GBH told the caller that he was aware of his daughter’s non-attendance at MIA, and while he appreciated the leader’s concern, he considered it to be a private matter. She wouldn’t let it drop and continued to insist that the parents intervene until he had to end the call somewhat forcefully. You can probably guess that the reading of that passage caused a warm and swelling motion in my bosom, and my testimony of GBH increased.

    Rusty’s thread caused me once again to be heartily grateful that my own experiences have been so different. Our mission president always told us to work hard, do our best, and enjoy our missions. It was expected that we would work 60 hours per week, but that was the only goal or number I remember ever being mentioned. Browbeating and intimidation are antithetical to my understanding of the gospel and to my experience in the church (with the exception of stake priesthood meetings where the topic is home teaching), so it is good for me to occasionally be reminded how lucky I have been. It is interesting to me how people who purport to value agency and who warn against the pernicious influence of peer pressure can sometimes violate the agency of others in the most flagrant ways.

    I can’t blame my experiences in defying the church on anybody else. Sometimes my understanding of what the church taught ran counter to my own judgement. After years of real pain and real damage to me and those closest to me, I had to reconsider my actions and do some backtracking. At the time, it <em>felt</em> like I was acting in direct defiance of the church’s teachings. I remember thinking that if that is what the church expects, then the church can go to hell. I’ve since realized that my original understanding was incomplete, and developed an appreciation for the idea that the church is a living thing.

    But I consider such acts, which cost my conscience nothing, an important part of the price I pay for the inevitable occasional moments of spiritual civil disobedience, when it is wrong, really wrong, to do as one’s told. These constant, harmless obediences are a demonstration of my loyalty, a demonstration I feel is necessary to those moments when I have to no choice but to defy or dissent.

    Exactly. That is a great insight.

  20. 20.

    #18

    I can see how the frequent solicitations would be annoying. Children need to work for what they get not just expect someone to donate. If I were approached for solicitations like that I would go to the leaders and tell them that I would be happy to pay the scouts to paint for me or do some large projects around my house. Then I would ask not to have more solicitations for donations.

    I sense that common thread throughout these posts is not that you are “defying the church” but rather we sometimes have problems with the way some of us imperfect people handle some situations.

  21. 21.

    Interesting post. To tie this back to the earlier post on positive thinking, my sister (the one who has been very ill) chose not to attend Young Women’s for the last few years she was in it. Two things contributed to her decision: 1. She had a real dingbat of a leader who would berate her for not being cheerful. 2. the serious symptoms of her illness, including loss of muscle control and temporary blindness(!), appeared during a Young Women’s camp experience floating a river in rural Alaska: she almost died, but her leaders thought she was “faking it,” and it fell to the other young women to take care of her for two days. Despite the leaders having cell phones (and this river being in one of the few places in the state where there was cell signal), not one of them thought to contact my parents and let them know that something might be wrong.

    So between the sense that the inaction of her leaders had materially harmed her and the leader who told her she had to be cheerful and that being negative had no place in a true follower of Jesus, she felt that she was better off not going to Young Womens. I really can’t fault her for this decision.

  22. 22.

    An excellent post. I have the impression those who feel as you do about some programs are often the same people who, using your example, would loudly and pointedly refuse to remove a second earring. I appreciate your sense of balance.

    I consider such acts, which cost my conscience nothing, an important part of the price I pay for the inevitable occasional moments of spiritual civil disobedience, when it is wrong, really wrong, to do as one’s told. These constant, harmless obediences are a demonstration of my loyalty, a demonstration I feel is necessary to those moments when I have to no choice but to defy or dissent.

    This is great, and aptly summarizes several stories told by Carlfred Broderick in “The Core of My Belief,” (published in Phil Barlow’s collection entitled A Thoughtful Faith: Essays on Belief by Mormon Scholars, (1986) and also My Parents Married on a Dare from DB.)

    I don’t care how stupidly or arrogantly the dear members of the church act, it’s the Lord’s church, not theirs, and their stupid decisions won’t keep me from attending and serving in the Lord’s church and doing my best to live our faith.

    I think I’ll have that engraved on my next set of scriptures, or perhaps cross-stitched for my wall…

  23. 23.

    Mark IV- I’ve been looking for the story you mention in comment 19. Is this it? (I hope not. I like your version better.)

    Ginny’s attendance at MIA was less than perfect during her senior year in high school. There weren’t many other girls her age in the ward, and with her heavy load at school she sometimes stayed home to study. At one point, the YWMIA presidency called on Gordon and Marjorie to explain that because of Virginia’s inconsistent attendance her sixth and final Individual Award, an annual recognition based heavily on attendance, was in jeopardy. Suffering from the hypersensitivity of adolescence, Ginny was sure that the leaders were less concerned about her well-being than about how it would look to have Gordon Hinckley’s daughter not receive an award. After the leaders left, neither parent said anything about the conversation to their daughter.

    Go Forward with Faith, 173.

  24. 24.

    Nitsav,

    I’ve given the book away so I can’t confirm for sure, but I’m guessing that is the incident I remembered, or misremembered.

    It’s funny – I would have bet my next paycheck that there was a phone call involved instead of a personal visit. But I think it says a lot about both the Hinckleys that they let their daughter decide for herself about MIA attendance and award achievement, and that they said nothing to her about the leader’s visit.

    Thanks for doing the legwork and factchecking. Now I’m wondering how many other things I’m certain about aren’t exactly correct. :-)

  25. 25.

    I enjoyed this post, Eve. I still don’t know entirely what to do with the kind of master narrative you describe, in which if something related to the Church doesn’t seem to be working for you, you exercise faith by trying harder–and then eventually you see the blessings of being involved. Does faith always mean sticking it out, I wonder? Are there times when your faith might also call you to walk away, or even to resist? It can be a hard thing to figure out.

    One of the things I’ve also struggled with is learning to differentiate between things that are hard in a way that’s positive, that stretches you–and things that are hard in a way that just beats you down. I think I’ve sometimes almost assumed that Church programs were supposed to make you miserable, as that’s what I picked up from the talks about how one shouldn’t expect Church involvement to always be easy or convenient. Which, of course, it shouldn’t be. But it actually took a long time to dawn on me that while Church involvement should probably be somewhat challenging, it’s maybe not meant to feel like a giant black hole in your life.

  26. 26.

    One of the things I’ve also struggled with is learning to differentiate between things that are hard in a way that’s positive, that stretches you, and things that are hard in a way that just beats you down.

    So. Very. True.

  27. 27.

    Eve, I loved this post and the FMH post on seminary. I grew up on the Wasatch Front and pretty much had the exact same seminary experiences.

    Seminary, however, was something I could stand. YW was not. My parents moved when I was 14 to a different stake in our same town. I had already attended girls’ camp 2 years in my previous ward and had gone through the mandatory ward camp “initiation” where the yearlings have to succumb to the wiles of the older girls. I did this with patience, as I was in the company of all my friends and knew it was just part of the way things went at camp.

    Upon entering my new ward, I was again made to go through initiation with the new Beehives, an initiation that was commanded by my fellow Mia Maids and under the oversight of our YW leaders. They chose to do this right before the stake fireside, and it consisted of being blindfolded, dressed like babies, “fed” baby food (most of it ended up smashed in my head full of little braids), and taken around the stake camp in our infantile, blindfolded condition. I ended up missing the stake fireside that night as I spent the time at the cold water pump at our camp site washing my hair and undoing my braids so that I could get the baby food out. I also missed our ward campfire testimony meeting that night, as I sat alone in my tent with my cold, wet hair, crying about how awful this move had been for me, and how badly I had wanted to go to the stake fireside since this was the designated “spiritual” night of the camp.

    That was pretty much it for me and the YW program. I was embarrassed, and I felt singled out as an older, newer person in the ward. I was embarrassed to see the girls who did this to me in my YW class, and the leaders who had looked on, so over a period of about 10 months I slowly stopped going the Church block and began to sacrament meeting only. It was the best thing I ever did! I was made to talk with the bishop on many occasions on how we could “fix” the YW program so that I would feel comfortable going, but I never felt comfortable telling him about my experiences and the true reasons why I wasn’t attending. I also never told my parents, the girls, or my leaders because I was afraid I would look like a loser. This was the mid-1990′s, after the advent of the new camp program we still use today.

    This experience has also led me to think that the Boy Scout program may not be the best thing for every good LDS boy.

  28. 28.

    I had similar experiences with not fitting into YW, Hegemony, it was pretty rough- the girls didn’t like me because I was shy and smart and wasn’t trying to get the attention of the boys like they all were (56 ways to do hair and makeup was not my thing). I always would have preferred being a boy scout- at least they got to do fun activities like wood carving, canoeing, leatherwork, rather than forced to do activities either too difficult for me (sew) or being told that sewing/cooking/cleaning were women’s duties. (how does wood carving make a man a better man/priesthood holder?- their activities were definitely more for fun and their own personal enrichment, then my activities. And they got badges and a great uniform, instead I had to wear a dress and have silly wooden roses as Personal Progress memorabilia. Finally I asked my dad to give me badges- so he gave me little pins/brooches, one the “silver circle” award (a silver-plated circle with the words “silver circle” on it, to denote my having completed the YW/seminary program and generally being a well-rounded person.

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