I don’t know how many times in the past couple of days I’ve read something along the lines of, “I have a testimony that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet, so I know this can’t be wrong,” or, “This is what God wants, so we shouldn’t question it.” As I’ve argued in the past, I think we’ve ended up with practical infallibility — we might in theory say that the Brethren could be wrong, but in practice, we’re expected to act as if they couldn’t be. A rejection of the notion of infallibility as understood by many Latter-day Saints, then, doesn’t necessarily allow for disagreement on specific issues. Continue reading
I haven’t been sure what to post about this. There have been so many excellent, thoughtful, articulate posts that have tackled the problems of the new church policies regarding gay members and particularly their children that I’m not sure I have much to add. But I find myself wanting to say something anyway. This is where I am and what I am thinking. Continue reading
It’s time for a confession. I’ve been a member of the church my whole life. I go to church regularly, and I could probably qualify for a temple recommend if I wanted one.
But I don’t. And I have never been through the temple.
For a long time, I was really defensive about this. Getting endowed is one of the things that marks you as an adult member of the church; like being single, being unendowed will place you, in the eyes of many, in the category of the spiritually less mature. If you got endowed at a young age, you may be oblivious to the social dynamics surrounding this. But if you were older, or an adult convert, you may have some idea of what I am talking about. There is a hierarchy, and there are insiders and outsiders. If you haven’t been through the temple, there is no shortage of reminders that you aren’t a full member of the church.
One of the doctrinal situations in the church that many feminists (and even some non-feminists) find particularly challenging is our lack of knowledge about Heavenly Mother. We know that she exists—this has been reiterated by a recent gospel topics essay—but, troublingly, we are not allowed to pray to her or worship her. I’ve personally blogged about the topic a couple of times—once about why I don’t want to believe in her (because she’s silent and subordinate), and once about why I do (because I want to believe that women are equal in the eternities). Every time this topic gets discussed, I encounter women sharing the deep desire to have a connection not just to an eternal father, but to a mother as well. It’s not good enough just to have a father, they say; we also need the influence of a mother in our lives.
It is worth noting, however, that these kinds of arguments are exactly those being made against same-sex marriage. Children need opposite-sex parents. It’s not enough to have just a father (or a mother)—they need the influence of the opposite sex as well.
Rumor has it that there’s going to be a new gospel topics essay on the ever-so-delightful subject of women and the priesthood. I came up with a list of arguments that might be made. Tell me, what am I missing? And which ones do you think are most likely to get used?
1) Women are important/valued/necessary
a) Women are essential to the plan of salvation, “a keystone in the priesthood arch of creation.” (Russell M. Nelson)
b) Woman are God’s supreme creation: “And so Eve became God’s final creation, the grand summation of all of the marvelous work that had gone before.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)
When I came out a few years ago, I thought of getting in touch with Affirmation, which is an organization for LGBTQ Mormons as well as their families and friends. But I had a vague idea in my mind—I’m not sure from where—that they were somewhat hostile to the church. I figured that I was having enough trouble negotiating the challenge of being a gay Mormon without dealing with that, so I didn’t pursue the idea further. Continue reading
The following is a slightly longer version of a talk I gave in sacrament meeting on August 30, 2015.
A Broken Heart
Patience, I suggest, is linked to the injunction to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Ether 12:27 reads, “if men [and women] come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto [people] weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all [those] that humble themselves before me.” This is not a comfortable verse. I have to admit that for much of my life, I have been wary of it. I have imagined God with a long computer print-out of all my flaws, ready and waiting to show them to me. But today I want to consider the matter in a somewhat different light.
The caricature of the Mormon feminist is that she gets hurt by a priesthood holder exercising unrighteous dominion, and gives up on the system altogether, without realizing that the system is actually benevolent and there are unfortunately a few bad apples. Or to use Elder Oaks’ analogy, she has a bad experience with a particular electrical appliance and gives up on electricity.
I was kind of ambivalent about attending Sunstone this year. I hadn”t been in a few years, and I wasn”t sure I was up to making it through a conference—especially after the chaos of having a family reunion earlier that week. But after I got asked to be on a fun-sounding panel, I figured that I”d might as well do all three days. And I have to say, I”m so glad that I did. I really enjoyed myself.
One of the most vexing problems for any religious tradition which asserts exclusivity claims is the problem of sincere believers in other faiths. Evangelicals are confronted by Mormons with firm convictions that the Book of Mormon is authentic scripture. Mormons must grapple with situations in which people report a witness that the Catholic church is the true one. Christians who hold that Christ is the only way to know God are posed with the problem of people who report encountering God in Islam. And so forth. Continue reading
I’ve read a lot of posts on gay marriage in the last few weeks, and seen a lot of arguments. But I have a question about the subject that I haven’t ever really seen directly addressed. So I’m going to jump into the fray, and ask it. My question is: what, exactly, does the church want non-LDS gay people to do? For members, the requirement is currently either celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage. Though I find this situation problematic, I want to set it aside, and ask what the church might realistically hope for when it comes to the vast majority of gay people who aren’t LDS.
Here are the options I can come up with:
I used to be one of the admins for an internet community that dealt with mental health issues. A lot of people in that community had dealt with abuse, and one of our goals was to keep it a safe environment for them. So we asked people to use trigger warnings when they brought up certain topics. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me. But while we did our best to enforce this policy, inevitably people ended up reading stuff that was triggering. And we emphasized that while we did what we could, ultimately it was their responsibility to learn to take care of themselves when that happened. Continue reading
Early in our blogging years, a memorable incident involved one of my sisters sharing a personal experience. Another blogger came by to inform her that she could not have had the experience she reported. Why not? Because he had in his mind a neat system of how life worked, and her experience didn’t fit his system.
There is a tendency that troubles me in some popular LDS theological discourse to make theology into nothing more than an intellectual game. Don’t get me wrong; I think theological speculation can be quite interesting. But I think we lose something vital when it gets disconnected from the actual experience of living human beings. Continue reading
When I was at the University of Notre Dame, one of my favorite spots on campus was the Grotto, a small replica of the French Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was a small cave built of rock and filled with candles, and you could go there anytime, day or night, for prayer and reflection. I found it invaluable as a respite from some of the turbulence of my life. And I often reflected upon the fact that there was nothing similar at the other religious university I attended, that BYU seemed a model of efficiency but had no place on its campus for religious contemplation. Continue reading
While I disagree with the church’s position on same-sex marriage, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that those who hold that position are simply evil homophobes bent on ruining the lives of gay people. My observation is that this opposition largely comes not from a particular animosity toward gay people—though that certainly may play a role at times—but from the fact that the contemporary church heavily emphasizes obedience and the importance of following the prophet. For Latter-day Saints who equate faithfulness with a willingness to strictly comply with the instructions of General Authorities, the question of same-sex marriage is simply not up for debate. Continue reading
This is a basic overview of feminist theological issues. I have a vague memory that I wrote it for a specific purpose, but I don’t remember what. In any case, I found it hiding in the depths of our queue, so I figured that I’d might as well blog it.
Though it’s not my particular specialty, in the course of my studies I’ve encountered a fair amount of Christian feminist theology. As I’ve thought about the various issues raised by feminist theologians, a recurring question for me has been that of to what extent and in what ways these issues are applicable in an LDS context. In comparison to mainstream Christian teachings, how might LDS beliefs either be supportive of, or pose challenges to, feminist ideals? Here I’d like to look at a few distinctive aspects of LDS teachings in this context. Continue reading
“Deep doctrine” is one of the phrases I most dislike in Mormonism. It’s usually used with reference to questions like the location of Kolob, the Lost Ten Tribes, the role of other planets in the Plan of Salvation, the characteristics of different phases of existence, the meaning of various symbols in the book of Revelation, and so on and so forth.
If people want to spend their time exploring such subjects, I have no objection. I have plenty of my own strange interests. What I dislike, however, is the framework in which these topics are “deeper” than more central teachings, or that they are for the spiritually sophisticated. “Deep” all too often gets used as a synonym for “esoteric.” And one might ask, all right then, what are the “shallow” doctrines? Faith, repentance, the atonement? Are those doctrines that you grasp before moving on to the more advanced ones? Something seems more than a little off in such a model. Continue reading
I’m eating Cheerios for breakfast, and contemplating the small plastic pill box sitting in front of me. Seven days of psychotropic magic. Unlike my evening meds, the morning ones are small and easy to swallow. But the thought crosses my mind, as it so often does—why am I doing this, exactly?
After too many of them, the hospitalizations start to blur together. Sparse double bedrooms with doors that you’re not allowed to shut. Showers that turn themselves off every minute or so, so that you have to keep pushing a button to keep them going. Rules against having anything sharp, against shoelaces, against pens, against personal electronic devices such as cell phones or laptops. That last one makes life particularly challenging. One or two payphones for the unit, with stiff competition and time limits. A common area with a television which, except during groups, is on almost constantly. If you aren’t all that fond of television, it’s likely to drive you crazy. Crazier, I mean. Continue reading
The March 2015 Ensign includes a BYU-I devotional from Elder Dallin H. Oaks titled, “Stand as Witnesses of God,” which divides the world into believers and unbelievers. Oaks pulls no punches in critiquing the latter, using the term “anti-Christ” to describe atheists, and asserting that the Great and Abominable Church is “any philosophy or organization that opposes belief in God.” I find this framework to be troubling, and this characterization of atheists to be unfair.
Oaks isn’t sure that atheists really have moral standards. He is worried that “today many deny or doubt the existence of God and insist that all rules of behavior are man-made and can be accepted or rejected at will.” But this doesn’t necessarily follow. You can believe that rules are (human)-made without seeing them as something to be cavalierly rejected or accepted. You can still take ethics seriously. Oaks acknowledges that atheists are not necessarily moral relativists but raises the concern that “absolute standards not based on belief in God are difficult to explain.” The moral values of atheists are suspect, in other words, because he fails to find any persuasive reason for them. But unbelievers could make a similar move, critiquing believers by making the case that their moral principles are based on something imaginary and are therefore not to be trusted. I think we would all do well to acknowledge the ability of people to make genuine moral commitments regardless of their status as believers or unbelievers.
Agency is central to LDS theology. We fought a war in the pre-mortal existence to preserve it, and it is an essential part of becoming like God. For this reason, one of the aspects of patriarchy that I find most disturbing is the way in which it affects agency, particularly female agency.
To make sense of this assertion, I need to start with a discussion of the nature of freedom. Mormons as well as other moderns tend to have what is called in theology a Pelagian understanding of freedom, as advocated by the early fifth-century Christian thinker Pelagius in his ongoing dispute with the well-known theologian Augustine. For Pelagius, freedom means the absolute ability to choose good or evil. The will is neutral, un-inclined in either direction, and entirely autonomous. Although in reality all humans fall short, perfection is in fact within human reach—there is no reason why a human being could not in theory make all the right choices. Sin is external to the will, something we choose; it does not infect the will itself. Continue reading