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

My Episcopal Crush, and Converting to Pluralism

The metaphor of a “crush” to describe my newfound love for the Episcopal tradition is really quite apt. I’m smitten. I’m infatuated. I’m giddy and excited, and I even find myself feeling almost guilty at times for being so happy about this when so many terrible things are happening right now in the country and in the world. But it’s spring! And the sun is shining, and the flowers are blooming! And I get to go to church! Oh, so much church. On Palm Sunday a friend asked which of the Holy Week services I was planning to attend, and I said oh, all of them, and she laughed. But I can’t get seem to get enough. (For one thing, I think I’m absolutely famished for good liturgy, in a way that I didn’t even realize.) And just being at church, just being in the building, makes me ridiculously happy. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this about Mormon church, not just because it’s beaten me down a lot over the years, but also because I suspect that it’s hard to have a period of falling in love with a tradition in which you’ve been immersed since you were born, and is never going to be new and exciting in the same way. Yep, this is a crush for sure. Read More

“You Just Don’t Understand”

As someone who’s been raising questions about LDS teachings and practices pretty much since my Primary days,  I find that one of the most infuriating responses to people’s concerns is something along the lines of, “you just don’t understand,” whether the gospel generally or the specific principle being discussed. Because if you did understand, it seems to be assumed, you would cheerfully accept it, no more questions needed thank you very much. In years of feminist discussions, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been told that women who are discontent “just don’t understand” the true, eternal nature of patriarchy; or the meaning of divine gender roles; or the many opportunities the church gives to women. When people try to clear up complicated issues by producing a slew of GA quotes that purportedly explain everything, I find myself at a real loss as to how to best respond. Read More

My Holy Week Experience

Palm Sunday

Holy Week kicks off! I’ve been excited for this ever since I found myself not just doing drive-by visits to the Episcopal church, but attending regularly. I’ve dipped in and out of different Holy Week events in the past, but I’ve never gone to all of them. This is actually my first time attending a Palm Sunday service.

We meet in the courtyard outside the chapel, and they distribute palms as we enter. We hold them up as they read the opening liturgy outside. They have a choir with handbells, and the music is just gorgeous. We slowly process into the building. Most of the service is taken up with a reading of the Passion narrative. They’ve assigned different people in the congregation to voice the different characters, which really brings it to life. (I’m amused to note that one of the rectors is playing both Judas and Pilate.) Since that’s the focus, there isn’t a sermon, although they do have Communion. (I’m coming to realize that Episcopalians pretty much do the Eucharist whenever possible.) They don’t read the Resurrection part of the text, of course, since it’s not Easter yet, so the service ends on a rather serious note. The congregation leaves in silence; unlike regular Sundays, the rectors don’t stand near the doors afterward and shake hands with people. But I leave on a real high nonetheless, excited for the coming week. Read More

Some Easter Reflections on Receiving Gifts

One of the movies produced by the church that I actually rather enjoy is Nora’s Christmas Gift, partly because even though it has its cheesy moments, I like Nora, who  is funny and real. But I also appreciate its message, which is one that resonates with me. Nora has to cope with life circumstances that I think most of us would find quite challenging, as age and declining health put her in a position where she finds herself more dependent on others. She has to cope with the unsettling shift from being the person who organized things and offered help to others to being the person in need of help. She quite understandably resents the situation and resists the help. But at the end of the movie, it occurs to her that learning to accept what others offer her—and ultimately what God offers her—is what Christmas is ultimately about: “let earth receive her King,” she says, with a dawning recognition that is it up to her to allow grace to affect her life. Read More

“The Hardest Thing There Is”: Turning to Christ in the Midst of Sin

In his writings, the great reformer Martin Luther, who turned the theological world of the sixteenth century upside down, returned again and again to a very basic problem: how do you believe in the atonement, or grace, or the saving work of Christ, on a personal level? How do you really take in that those things apply to not just humanity in general, and more to the point, not to some category of “good people,” but to a sinner like yourself? “I have often experienced,” he wrote, “and still do every day, how difficult it is to believe, especially amid struggles of conscience, that Christ was given, not for the holy, righteous, and deserving, or for those who were His friends, but for the godless, sinful, and undeserving, for those who were His enemies, who deserved the wrath of God and eternal death.”1 Luther noted that when he found himself consumed by the forces of sin, it was nearly impossible to turn to Christ for rescue and forgiveness. He attributed this at least partly to the work of the devil, whose voice constantly whispered in his ear, reminded him of his unworthiness, and informed him that Christ would surely damn him. He described his experience of being frightened of Christ: “even at the mention of the name of Christ,” he recounted, “I would be terrified and grow pale, because I was persuaded that He was a judge.”2 Luther also observed the inexorable and unforgiving logic of the conscience: “You have sinned; therefore God is angry with you. If He is angry, He will kill you and damn you eternally.” He went on to even suggest that as a result, “many who cannot endure the wrath and judgment of God commit suicide by hanging or drowning.”3

The only way to quiet these condemning voices is, of course, to throw yourself utterly on the mercy of the Savior. But Luther was well aware that this is much easier said than done. To turn to Christ, to look for grace, while being assailed by the forces of judgment and condemnation, he observed, was enormously challenging: “to do this in the midst of struggle is the hardest thing there is. I am speaking from experience, for I am acquainted with the devil’s craftiness  . . .”4

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  1. Luther’s Works Volume 26: Lectures on Galatians, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), 36. []
  2. Ibid., 178. []
  3. Ibid., 150. []
  4. Ibid., 38. []