Toward a Less Micromanaging God

I grew up with two related beliefs about making decisions. The first was that in most cases, there was a right decision, a choice that you were supposed to make. “There’s the right and the wrong to ev’ry question,” asserts the hymn. The other was that with enough asking, God would reveal to you what that correct choice was. I heard again and again what a wonderful blessing this was, that God had a clear plan for your life and would guide you along that path, that you wouldn’t ever be left on your own to figure out what you were supposed to do. In fact, figuring out and then following God’s will for you was the entire point of this life. “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them,” explains the book of Abraham. Read More

The Cost of Making Women Ecclesiastically Superfluous

It first dawned on me that women weren’t necessary in church when I went to BYU Education Week as  a teenager and heard what were meant to be faith-promoting stories about believing LDS women behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, who were unable to have an ecclesiastical organization because there wasn’t anyone with the priesthood to run it and who therefore didn’t get to take the sacrament for decades, but who nonetheless personally kept the faith. Rather than being inspired, I was somewhat taken aback when it occurred to me that for all the importance Latter-day Saints place on having an organized church, it is secondary to the importance of maintaining strict gender divisions. I realize that in the particular situation of the Cold War, there were added complications affecting what was possible. But a principle nonetheless became clear to me: if the choice was to ordain women, or to not have a church at all, Mormons would opt for the latter. (This led me to wonder: what if the only way to restore the church had been to work through a woman? Would the Mormon God simply decided to not have a Restoration rather than to allow a woman to act in his name and with his authority?) Read More

How to Get Those Darn Gay People to Stop Being So Obsessed With Their Gay Identities

One of the complaints I’ve heard numerous times from Latter-day Saints is that we gay people are way too obsessed with our gayness, that we get caught up in some outlandish homosexual identity (which might eventually lead to the dreaded “gay lifestyle”), and that we need to just stop thinking about sexual orientation as being that big of a part of who we are. We’re discouraged from even using the word “gay,” because it might swallow up our identities and make us think that there’s nothing else to us. Mormons who claim to be especially enlightened have informed me that they just don’t think about people in those terms, that they’ve transcended even being aware of such details about a person, and then complained about gay people who “force” their orientation on others by talking excessively about it, and thereby making everyone feel unnecessarily awkward and uncomfortable. Others have objected to an idea put forth by some church members that gay Mormons have a particularly challenging trial, pointing out that everyone has difficulties in life, and asking, when did we decide that gay people should get all this special attention? Read More

95 Theses

1. Taking the sacrament with your left hand is basically saying that you’re okay with being a goat on the left hand of Jesus.

2. When people who disagree with me share their political views in church, that’s inappropriate and should be discouraged. When people who agree with me do it, they’re just speaking common sense about moral issues.

3. Luther was a hero inspired by God. Also, people who criticize the church today should be swiftly excommunicated.

4. Before you doubt, doubt the doubt that leads you to doubt whether your doubts are actually doubts.

5. We don’t talk about Heavenly Mother much because she doesn’t matter for our salvation. It’s preferable to have sacrament meeting talks that focus on the essentials, like BYU football.

6. If you run into a show involving mummies and Egyptian papyri, do some comparison shopping before purchasing them as a potential source for new scripture. You might be able to get a better deal if you’re open to instead using the texts accompanying traveling zombie exhibits.

7. When you do your visiting or home teaching before the last week of the month, it feels really awkward for everyone involved. Better to play it safe and show up in the last 24 hours.

8. This high council talk is so good that I don’t mind that sacrament meeting is going twenty minutes over, said no one ever.

9. The most righteous people know that the church is true with every fiber of their being. The somewhat less righteous only know it with the finely woven threads of their existence.

10. Mormons don’t make a big deal out of Easter because they think about Jesus every week during the sacrament. (Churches that make a big production of Easter don’t actually think about Jesus during Communion, but instead about a different Messiah figure named Alfred.) Read More

Stepping Out of the Big Tent: The Possibility of Leaving Mormonism

I’ve been reading with interest the lively conversation taking place right now at Wheat and Tares about why people leave the church. This is of course a topic that has been extensively discussed over the years, and this thread has lots of classic elements, including a thoughtful original post that brings up a wide variety of factors, and people in the comments speculating about the extent to which those who end up leaving were ever truly converted. I’ve been reading these sorts of discussions for a long time now, but they’ve become interesting to me in a new way this past year, for reasons that are probably obvious to anyone familiar with my current religious situation.

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Chastity and Consent

CW: General discussion of sexual assault 

When I was a teenager, my Utah County ward had a “morality talk” for the youth about every six months. (It was only years later that I learned that in other contexts, “morality” had a much broader meaning, and wasn’t just code for “chastity.”) Often they wouldn’t tell us the topic in advance, guessing (probably correctly) that pretty much no one had a great desire to hear yet another morality talk. We would asks our leaders suspiciously, is this going to be about morality again, and they would dodge the question. The talks, usually given by the bishop, tried to emphasize to us the seriousness of engaging in “immorality.” We heard a lot about the sin next to murder, and why sex outside of marriage was so terrible (not, of course, that the word “sex” was ever uttered). Often we would be allowed to submit anonymous questions, most of which turned out to be variants of “how far is too far?” and “how do I know when I need to confess?” There were no clear answers given to these questions, though we did get to hear about the dangers of “necking” and “petting,” terms which no one seemed able to quite define. We watched what we called the river movie a lot (the one in which a bunch of teens go river rafting, and one reckless young man neglects to wear a life jacket, while the voice of Spencer W. Kimball warns about evil.) At the end we would hear about the atonement and the possibility of repentance, with encouragement to come talk to the bishop if necessary. To my leaders’ credit, I don’t recall hearing analogies suggesting that engaging in sexual behavior would cause irreversible spiritual damage that even the atonement couldn’t fix (e.g., leaving you as chewed-up gum or a board with scars from nails). On the other hand, I wasn’t paying all that much attention. One of my friends in a different stake told me that her YW leader had bought them all crystal temples, which, if they remained pure, they were to present to their husbands on their wedding nights. If they slipped, they were supposed to smash the temple. I wasn’t overly aware of the problems in this discourse at that point in my life, but even I thought that was a little weird. Read More

Remembering Katie

 I don’t actually remember the first time I met Katie. I know what time period it would have been, probably sometime in the fall of 1999. But I’d heard about her long before I met her, because her older sister (who blogs here as Seraphine) and I were roommates at the University of Illinois, where I was a grad student. Seraphine and I were in the habit of talking late into the night, and in the course of our many conversations, we traded a lot of information about our respective families. When Katie showed up, then, it just meant putting a face with a person with whom I already felt somewhat familiar. Our time at that university and in the small singles branch connected to it overlapped by a year, but I can’t say I got to know her very well.

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15 Observations from a Compulsive Church-Hopper

As some of you know, I’ve recently found myself engaged in the project of visiting as many churches and other religious groups in my local community as I can. I have a spreadsheet which currently has 143 entries; thus far, I’ve visited 41 of them. (My hope is to see another 60 or so in the coming year, but I’ll have to see how long my energy holds up.) I’ve seen Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Church of Christ, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Lutherans, Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eastern Orthodox, Muslims, Christian Scientists, Unitarians, Pagans, Buddhists, and lots of nondenominational Protestants. These are some random observations arising from my experiences thus far. Read More

Madness in Charlottesville

I imagine I’m not the only one to find myself suffering from what I might call outrage fatigue this year. Every week seems to bring some new preposterous happening, whether just the White House administration and our clown-in-chief doing or saying something else ludicrous, or scarier things coming from so many places. Nuclear threats. Cover-ups in high places of collusion with foreign powers. The health care of millions on a precipice. People being shot by police officers for the color of their skin. Official resistance to combating climate change. The list goes and on and on. And I feel like with every week, my ability to be horrified by something completely awful gets deadened a little more. Read More

Credit, Blame, and the Influence of the Church

Think about these scenarios.

—A man expresses gratitude that his experience serving in various callings in the church has given him leadership skills that have helped him in many areas of his life.

—A teenager navigates high school without trying drugs and alcohol, and credits church teachings.

—Two young adults marry in the temple, after years of hearing how important that is.

—An LDS woman is asked how she survived a very difficult situation. She says that the teachings of her faith were what sustained her.

—A couple is recognized for their humanitarian efforts. They explain that this came from the values they got from a church which emphasizes service. Read More

Does This Life Matter?

Many of you are doubtless familiar with the object lesson in which you hold up a rope or a long string, and point to a tiny bit in the middle as representing this life, with eternity stretching in both directions, both before and after it. We did this more than once in church classes when I was a teenager, as a way of emphasizing the importance of having an eternal perspective. In Mormon cosmology, mortal life is just a speck of time, infinitesimal in comparison to the eternities. Read More

Toward a More Straightforward Expression of Female Desire

When I was a freshling at BYU, I lived in a Heritage Halls apartment with five other girls.  Then, as now, I had little interest in attending social events with hordes of people. The dorm held a variety of such events, and I did my best to steer clear of them. One event which I particularly remember was a dance in which your roommates selected a date for you. I told my roommates I had no interest in attending, and planned to spend the weekend back at my parents’ house doing other activities. I was standing in the hall one afternoon when I overheard them talking about me in the kitchen, trying to figure out if I really didn’t want to go, or if it was merely an act, and they should override my expressed wishes and find me a date. Read More

Spiritual Practices That Actually Work

Okay, this title is somewhat misleading, as rather than being a helpful list of spiritual practices that actually work—which is something I’m still trying to figure out—it’s an attempt to start a conversation about the subject. I’d love to hear people’s ideas and experiences about what’s worked for them. I find that I love the idea of spiritual practice in theory (and my therapist, of all people, is constantly telling me I need to incorporate more of it into my life), but I run into a lot of obstacles. (In my case, the challenge is often How to Be Spiritual When You’re Neurotic, but I’m interested in how people have addressed other issues as well.) Read More

Would Jesus Heal Someone in a High Risk Pool? The Theology of Health Care Reform

Like many people I know, I was quite dismayed by the House’s recent passage of the abominable American Health Care Act, which seems to most fundamentally be about giving the rich a giant tax cut with the horrific side effect of making access to health care far more difficult for poor Americans in particular. (Don’t miss Michael Austin’s thoughts on this at BCC.) This one hits close to home—I was one of those who was uninsurable prior to Obamacare, due to having had the audacity to get treated for depression. I still remember the rejection letter I got from a health insurance company telling me that if I could manage to be symptom-free for seven years, they would maybe reconsider. The delicate question of how I was supposed to achieve the enviable status of being symptom-free for seven years with no insurance to pay for treatment was of course not addressed. I remember asking around about what to do, and people telling me that I should have just lied on the application and not mentioned the mental health care I’d gotten, especially given that it was paid for out-of-pocket; no one will ever know, they said. But possibly more out of neurotic paranoia that I would get found out than commitment to honesty, that didn’t feel like a real option to me, so I made my way forward with no insurance. I was lucky in that I was young and physically healthy, and yet every time I thought something be wrong with me, I would be sick with anxiety that it would turn out to be something serious and I would have no way to pay for treatment. Read More

Things I Like About Mormonism

I went to have a chat the other day with the rector of the local Episcopal church where I’ve been attending services, mostly just because I am manically talkative right now and always looking for a new victim to process my religious journey with. Fortunately, he turned out to be a skilled listener. And something that really impressed me came early on, after I told him my basic background (namely that I was a super conflicted Mormon who’d been recently dabbling in all things Episcopal and loving it). He easily could have used that as a launching point to do a sales pitch for the Episcopal tradition, or plunged into a narrative of Mormonism as an oppressive tradition from which I needed to escape. But instead, rather my to my surprise, the first thing he asked was, “what do you like about Mormonism?” As a lifelong Mormon I am perhaps overly alert to potential proselytizing, and the thought may have crossed my mind that this could be a trick question, part of “building a relationship of trust” or “establishing common ground” so that then you can later pounce and get the person to convert. But as the conversation continued, it was clear that nothing of the sort was happening. He genuinely wanted to learn more about Mormonism (he didn’t know much), and in particular my experience of it. He didn’t have an agenda for me; he just wanted to hear about my spiritual journey. It’s an absolute delight to talk to someone with that attitude.

Anyway, the conversation got me thinking about what I do like about Mormonism, and inspired me to dig out a post I started years ago on the topic and expand it. Here are some of the things I came up with:
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Aunt-ing

First of all, I want to say that from my observations as a childless woman, being an aunt is nothing  like being a mother. Yes, if you’re lucky you get to interact with the kids a lot, and you adore them beyond all reason, and sometimes they drive you crazy. But you just don’t have the same level of responsibility for them. Crucially, you have the luxury of being able to return them to their parents and flee to a child-free wilderness if it gets to be too much. From what I’ve seen, motherhood is a bone-deep thing and you are never really off duty. (Even when you’re sleeping. In fact, certainly not when you’re sleeping if your children come and get into bed with you.)

I start with that because I don’t buy that in being an aunt, I’m “learning to be a mother” or expressing my intrinsic motherhood (along the lines of “all women are mothers”). Nah. Not really. But, that said, being an aunt is one of the most fun things in my life, and I’d like to think that aunts (and uncles, too), while they don’t replicate actual parenthood and are rather a thing of their own, can contribute some good things to everyone: the kids, their parents, and the aunt herself. Read More

Calling All Space Doctrine

I think I got the term “space doctrine” from our family’s long-suffering home teacher (imagine the patience of a man who would faithfully home teach a family like mine for literally decades), who once in response to a rather wacky lesson being taught, put his head on the pew in front of him and said, “once they get into space doctrine, it’s all over.”

Anyway, these are some of the more, ummm, exciting things I’ve heard over the years.

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A Hunger for the Word

Many years ago, I wrote about my experience of depression: “I often feel a profound hunger for language, for something that will honestly speak to the realities of my experience. But it is not easy to find words that speak to this hunger. I sometimes go to bookstores or libraries and hunt with a sense that I am falling off a cliff and I need words, I desperately need them, and I can’t find them anywhere.” I often reflected on this passage in Amos:

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and not find it.'”1

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  1. Amos 8:11-12 []

Seven Deadly Heresies

I’ve been thinking recently about some of the wild theological controversies in Christian history, such as the inclusion of the word filioque in the Nicene Creed (having to do with whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son), which was one of the dividing lines between East and West; the Reformation debate over justification by faith alone; and the meaning of the Eucharist: transubstantiation, or just a symbol? (I recently read about how during a particular historical period in England when anti-Catholic sentiment carried the day, you could be outright imprisoned for elevating the Host.)  And I’ve been thinking also about Mormon disputations with other Christians, focused on issues like the nature of God and salvation by grace, as well more internal Mormon controversies over matters such caffeinated drinks, Book of Mormon historicity, and of course all kinds of questions related to gender and sexual orientation.

Those who are deemed on the wrong side of these debates might get the label “heretic.” Bruce R. McConkie famously spoke of “seven deadly heresies”: the doctrine that God is progressing, the theory of evolution, the idea that temple marriage guarantees exaltation, the notion that you can get a “second chance” in the next life, the idea of progression between kingdoms, the infamous Adam-God doctrine, and the teaching that you have to be perfect to be saved. While I might actually believe in some of McConkie’s particular heresies, or at least be open to them, I’m thinking that there are nonetheless certain teachings that I’ve heard regularly which I think are deeply destructive—in my view, much more so than not  having the “right” view of the Trinity/Godhead, or even of Book of Mormon historicity. So here’s my list of my own “seven deadly heresies”: Read More