Dec 11

Comparative Polygamy

I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Cairo when a man came up to me. He commented on what I was wearing, suggesting that I wear red more often.

I was used to this. Egyptian culture, unlike the culture that I grew up in, encourages men to have opinions about things like the colors that women wear. Men will accompany their wives to makeup counters, and even go alone to department stores to purchase high-end cosmetics and perfume for their wives, mothers, and sisters.

We fell into conversation. His English was excellent. As we spoke, he mentioned Islam and asked if I was married. I was used to this, too. Muslim men in Cairo – even married Muslim men – would often approach single women and flirt with or proposition them. A common line was “I should take you as my second wife.” It was always a bit jarring to me, as an American woman, to have men approach me in an obviously lusty, flirtatious way when they were already married. But this particular man in the lobby had not yet married. He was planning on working a few more years before he did so. Continue reading

Dec 04

On Faith Transitions and Rejecting the Binary

Ever since the new essays dealing with more complex bits of Mormon history appeared on lds.org, almost daily I encounter facebook statuses and posts in private groups of people reeling, overwhelmed and disoriented, unsure of what to do. These are good people, people who have devoted their lives and their talents and their faith to the Church, many of them deeply orthodox. Their statuses are, for me, an unsettling echo of the statuses of many of my more liberal and progressive Mormon friends last summer when Kate Kelly and John Dehlin were facing Church discipline. It seems it’s been a hard year for Mormons of most stripes.

For a while I didn’t look too closely at the statuses. They reminded me of the numbness and shock I felt, over a decade ago before social media existed, when I pored over books in the Harold B. Lee library shortly after taking out my endowments as a younger, pre-mission-age single woman at BYU. I didn’t know then where to turn, whom to talk to. When I did bring up the information I found in those books to close friends and family – secret “spiritual wivery” and polyandry, blood atonement, racist pronouncements said over the pulpit in the name of the Lord – even the least dogmatic immediately told me not to worry about it or not to read it. My protestations that I wasn’t reading anti-Mormon materials but historical documents and books written by LDS scholars fell on deaf ears, and, even more unnerved, I realized that this was not something I could talk about with any of my LDS friends. It was many, many years before I did. My faith transition was achingly alone.

And so, when John Dehlin issues a request, as he frequently does, for people to offer their advice and stories for how they handle their own faith transitions, I find myself wondering what advice I or any one of us can give. Continue reading

Dec 03

More On Modesty

By all appearances, I was a modesty success story as a teenager. For whatever reason, I was naturally inclined to cover up, squeamish even about changing in front of friends, and by 16 I was, without much prodding, essentially dressing for BYU and, later, garments. I owned no skirts above the knee, nothing too tight, nothing sleeveless, and, through the throes of the 90s midriff craze I layered colorful tank tops under my shirts to ensure no one saw a flash of my stomach.

Continue reading

Nov 24

Toward a Relational Understanding of Salvation

In his popular book Believing Christ, Stephen Robinson relates a parable which at least in my experience has become quite influential in LDS discussions of grace. In this story, Robinson’s young daughter asks if she can have a bicycle. Robinson replies, save your pennies until you have enough. Some time later, he discovers that his daughter has diligently followed his instructions, and has managed to save all of sixty-one cents. They go to look at bicycles, but his daughter is devastated to realize just how much more the bicycle costs than she is able to contribute. Robinson, however, tells her that if she gives all that she has, he will pay the rest, and he purchases the bicycle.

The parallels here are fairly obvious. We cannot achieve salvation on our own—but we are still required to contribute however much we can, no matter small it may be. In this approach, 2 Nephi 25:23—“it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do”—describes a situation in which we do what we can, we contribute what we have, and grace makes up the (vast) difference.

I think this parable has good to offer, particularly in its stress that we are not expected to do more than we can, and its focus on Christ’s ability to save us. In this, it serves as an important corrective to an over-emphasis on works. However, I have some serious reservations about it. Continue reading

Oct 19

The Problem of Evil, Church Edition

The classic formulation is of the problem of evil is that (1) God is all-powerful, (2) God is good, and (3) evil exists. How is it possible that (3) is the case if both (1) and (2) are true? Mormons, I think, tend to question (1), to posit a God who is not all-powerful, and to emphasize that humans have genuine agency and God rarely appears to override it. (Some also seem to move in the direction of questioning (3), saying things like “everything happens for a reason” or framing everything, including the negatives of life, as engineered by God, and thus essentially making evil illusory. I think this is hugely problematic, but that’s a tangent.)

I’m generally sympathetic to the move to make divine omnipotence limited (whether inherently, or because God chooses to make space for agency.) But here I want to consider the question in a context I find particularly challenging: the church. How do we make sense of it that God seems to be allowing all kinds of problems in the church? Just to clarify, I’m not talking about the kind of problems that arise in any human community, as flawed people with different temperaments and opinions do their best to work together. I’m talking about problems in the structure, in teachings and practices, in the scriptures and prophetic statements—the things that, if you take the church at its word, God is directly engineering. Continue reading

Oct 17

Feminism, Pain, and the Atonement

I’ve recently come across the troubling accusation that LDS feminists deny the atonement, expressed both in this post, and in comments in various places. A few thoughts in response.

First of all, I note that this discussion primarily focuses on negative encounters with individuals. LDS feminists are upset, it is so often assumed, because they’ve had negative experiences with priesthood holders. Obviously, this happens. But two points about this:

1) There are so, so many ways you can encounter painful aspects of the church—in scriptures where females barely appear, in a prohibition on prayer to Heavenly Mother, in temple covenants which differ by gender, in the historical and possibly eternal practice of polygamy, in the denial of priesthood to women, in the depressing fact that women are an “auxiliary” and not ecclesiastically necessary. The problems are much deeper than simply having a bad experience with one’s bishop.

2) Negative encounters with priesthood leaders always take place within a broader setting of structural inequality. They wouldn’t be nearly so fraught if this weren’t the case.
Continue reading

Oct 07

Tuesday’s Twice-Baked ZD: Please, Don’t Love Me

In today’s edition of that good ol’ Bloggernacle comfort food, Twice-Baked ZD, Lynnette makes the startling assertion that she doesn’t want to be loved.

I’ve had various encounters throughout my life with anti-Mormons who were out to save me from this terrible cult in which I am a member. Needless to say, this is an attitude I find extremely off-putting—in fact, as an unorthodox Mormon who engages in plenty of my own critiques of the Church, there are fewer things that rekindle my loyalty and connection to it more than encountering people on a mission to rescue Mormons from their delusions. But this is the thing that really gets to me. That if you ask these people why they’re behaving this way, often they say that it’s out of love. That they love Mormons. All I can say is, please oh please save me from this version of love. Continue reading

Sep 10

Tired of Pep Talks

Because I was born and raised a Mormon, it seems only right to begin this post with a definition:

Pep Talk

n. Informal

1. A speech of exhortation, as to a team or staff, meant to instill enthusiasm or bolster morale.

2. An enthusiastic talk designed to increase confidence, production, cooperation, etc.

Now  watch this video.

For the last 5 years or so, I think we have seen a definite uptick in the number of pep talks us LDS women have been getting. We’ve been told how incredible (!) we are. How needed we are. How moral we are. How important we are. And it seems to me we can’t go even one General Conference (not to mention a single Sunday) without being told how equal we are 10 times. It is clearly a priority that we be buttered up.

And you know, there is a reason for this rather manic upswing in compliments. You may have heard of Kate Kelly—excommunicated not necessarily for believing that women should be ordained, but rather for being the ring leader of a very large and PR savvy group of people who agreed with her. Plus the rumblings of mid 20’s (my own demographic) leaving the church in droves. Women especially. Thinking of my own group of friends from BYU, I see the migration. I would estimate that only 40% of the women in my different groups of friends are still active in the church (interestingly, my friends from the Women’s Studies minor and feminist clubs have a higher activity rate than those from my major, ward, or work groups. Stereotype busted!) Continue reading

Sep 01

The Commenting Olympics

The Bloggernacle has always been a competitive place—witness the fiercely contested Niblets—so it’s about time we added some formality to our favorite way of proving we’re better than everyone else: the comments section.

Want to compete, but specialize in a particular style of obnoxious commenting? Never fear; with multiple events, the Comment Olympics offer a way for everyone to win gold! You can try:

  • Wrestling with your trials (which are so much larger than everyone else’s)
  • Shooting down others’ attempts to talk about their problems
  • Boxing someone else into a corner
  • Sailing through conversations without really listening
  • Cycling through the same old arguments again
  • Swimming in your tears over other people’s unrighteous choices
  • Skating on thin ice of people’s limited tolerance
  • Curling your lip in disdain, then rapidly trying to turn it into a fake-nice smile
  • Mental gymnastics
  • And, of course, the passive-aggressive triathlon: sulk, blame, run.

Start training today!

Aug 29

For the Ones Who Never Wanted a Fight

I’m a rare presence around these here parts.  But I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about something particular for a few months now–enough that I thought perhaps I could write something little (and by little I mean personal and rambling) about it.

The thing is that, well, I’m a person with some pretty solid beliefs and standards, but I’m not a fighter.  And I never have been a fighter.  Mostly, I just want to live a quiet, peaceful, content life away from fights of any kind if I can help it.

So, if someone comes at me wanting a fight, I’ll probably panic a bit, shake a little, attempt a response, most likely do some kind of cry session at some point, but ultimately, I will simply walk away and do everything in my power to never encounter that person or thing or place again.

I’ve rarely witnessed a fight where one or both parties actually changed their minds or apologized so, sometimes I just think, “Why?”  Why do that and feel like crap when I could be talking with nice people or making a pie or kayaking or giving a hug or…practically anything else?

I know, I know.  You want to tell me things like, “Some things are worth fighting for!”  and “If you don’t fight for x, then who will?” or “We need people like you in the church!” or “Stay.  Stay and make change happen.”

But…you see…I can’t make change happen.  I thought, once upon a time, that I might, that I could.  But, no.  Maybe someone else can….  But not me.  And the only thing that my tiny, microscopic attempts have gotten me…are fights.  Fights and judgement and anger and vitriol and self-righteousness and denials and a more intense, deep, visceral pain than I have ever known in my life.

And what is the point of wasting so much precious time in my short, small life… on that?

This is the voice of the silent ones who leave.  The ones who don’t want to tell anyone else that they know better (we don’t claim to, really)…  But, from their side, see a disintegrating community with no options.  With no one listening.  With no one even caring.  And still…we don’t want to make anyone feel too bad about it.  We can’t assume we know what other people need, after all.

We just don’t want a fight.  We just want to live a couple Sundays (or all the rest of our Sundays) without getting slapped across the face.

And we disappear.  So many of us are disappearing.  And do you even notice?  Do you?  I’m not really sure, but maybe it doesn’t matter to us anymore.   And sometimes that makes us sad.  Because we miss our old sense of belonging to a community that once existed in our hopes.  But we’ve discovered, miraculously, that when we walked away, we didn’t have to fight anymore.

And it was okay. And joyful.  And right.

Because there’s no time for meanness and fighting.  Not in our short, small, beautiful lives.  No time at all.

Jul 17

CFP for the Fifth Biennial Faith and Knowledge Conference

The Faith and Knowledge Conference has just issued its Call for Papers. If you’re in a relevant discipline, you should definitely consider participating; it’s an awesome conference.

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The Faith and Knowledge Conference was established in 2007 to bring together LDS graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines in order to explore the interactions between religious faith and scholarship. During the past four conferences, students have shared their experiences in the church and the academy and the new ideas that have emerged as a result. Papers and conversations provided thought-provoking historical, exegetical, and theoretical insights and compelling models of how to reconcile one’s discipleship with scholarly discipline. Continue reading

Jul 10

Taking Ally Isom at Her Word

On Sunday I decided to bear my testimony in sacrament meeting and talk about my involvement with Ordain Women. I’ve transcribed below approximately what I said. In case you were wondering, in my opinion it was only the third strangest testimony of the meeting. Yay for Mormon weirdness!

Next post I’ll share the response so far from my local leaders and fellow ward members. I think you’ll find it to be generally good news.

This past year I taught Book of Mormon in seminary and I absolutely loved it. I loved the kids, even when they were half-asleep or all-the-way asleep, or even when my son was making smart remarks. What I especially loved, though, was the opportunity to help the kids develop a personal relationship with God.

I love the Book of Mormon and am deeply moved by many of its teachings. One of my favorites is when Nephi teaches us that all are alike unto God. Over the years this scripture and other Church teachings have led me along a path of life that may be different from yours, and that is what I’d like to talk about even though it is hard for me. I feel very vulnerable baring my soul like this so I hope you’ll bear with me. Continue reading

Jul 04

Of Persecution, Polygamy, and Youth Treks

This guest post comes to us from Greg Nelson. Greg lives in Allen, Texas, with his wife and three kids, and has business degrees from both BYU and BYU-Idaho.

“In many ways, I feel about the Church the same way I feel about my family…I and my siblings might go on for hours about what’s wrong with the family, but let an outsider say one negative thing and my claws will come out.  I fight it and complain about it, and it’s so deeply woven into my identity that I can’t imagine who I would be without it.” –Lynnette

This behavior is everywhere, but especially in our young missionaries. Just about every one of them returns home with a newfound loyalty and commitment to the church, developed at least in part by the refiner’s fire of outside criticism and persecution. With each slammed door, skins thicken and commitment swells. To be sure, some develop a loyalty because they’ve actually seen how the Gospel of Jesus Christ can transform and bless lives. But I submit that a significant number return home so certain of their testimonies simply by virtue of having that  testimony challenged and questioned day in and day out. We as a people relish these missionary experiences. They strengthen our resolve.  An example would be Elder Holland’s April 2014 General Conference talk, which describes in disturbing detail how two sister missionaries had food spit and thrown at them simply because they were Mormon. Continue reading

Jun 27

Returning

I’ve been inactive for a few years now. In some regards, it was a conscious decision. 3-4 years ago, my life got really complicated, and those complications included God and religion. I needed a break to find my center and figure out how to be okay with who I was, and I needed to do that work independently. My inactivity was never meant to be permanent. My husband (I think) used the term “sabbatical” at one point to describe my time away, and that idea stuck with me. I was still as Mormon as ever. I was just on a temporary sabbatical from church attendance. Continue reading

Jun 23

For Kate

“Excommunication in our church is akin to spiritual death. The life-saving ordinances you have participated in like baptism, confirmation, and temple sealing are moot.  In effect, you are being forcibly evicted from your forever family.

Given the gravity of the situation, I feel like being invited to a council of this sort is akin to being invited to my own funeral.  Reading stories like this one in the New York Times are like reading my own obituary.” – Kate Kelly

 

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise women at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night. Continue reading

Jun 19

Communities

I don’t remember where I was when I first heard about the September Six. However, I do know that I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I read about it obsessively, trying to make sense of what was happening with my church. But there was only so much to read. There was no internet, no friends posting on Facebook, no storm of blog posts. I was just starting my freshman year at BYU, and leaving the church didn’t feel like a viable option. I don’t think I even really wanted to leave. But I felt like I had nowhere to go to process the anger and disillusionment I was feeling.

When I read the first NYT article about Mormons facing church discipline, by contrast, I immediately starting texting and emailing friends, who shared the shock and outrage that I was feeling.  I’m finding it impossible to keep up with even a fraction of the online discussion. At church on Sunday, I skipped Sunday School with a couple of friends to discuss the situation.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about communities. Continue reading

Jun 18

“Apostasy,” Part I: What Kate Kelly’s Apostasy Means to People Like Me

I loved my mission. It was by far the time in my life when I felt the happiest and most confident in the Church, most certain of its truth, most integrated into its community. Swedish Mormonism seemed an idyllic and open-hearted version of its American cousin, where the utter weirdness of the Church relative to the dominant, very secular Swedish culture meant that the Mormons trying to keep their church alive needed everyone–they couldn’t nudge each other out over small things, they couldn’t afford to reject the weirdos or the disaffected. The boundaries were bright and the margins were thin–if you were willing to be in at all, you were in all the way. Continue reading

Jun 18

LDS Church Leadership Agrees to Meet with Kate Kelly

In a surprising turn of events, LDS Church leaders have finally agreed to meet with female ordination activist and human rights attorney, Kate Kelly. After ignoring or rebuffing her requests for over a year, Church leaders have invited her to a meeting in her former ward building in Virginia on June 22nd.

According to the Church Public Affairs department, this meeting is an attempt to continue the many “wonderful conversations with Mormon women” that the Church has reported having taken place, including past discussions with Margaret Toscano, Lavina Fielding Anderson, and Maxine Hanks, to name only a few.

However, having temporarily moved to Utah, Kate Kelly is refusing to attend the meeting, much to the confusion of Church leaders and members alike, who are wondering why she would avoid a conversation that she and her organization, Ordain Women, has long sought.

Nevertheless, the Church is pushing forward in its outreach to Mormon feminists, with many local bishops now seeking “wonderful conversations” with women in their congregations in order to discuss matters of importance to these women, such as church callings and temple recommends.

The outcome of these conversations remains to be seen and is difficult to predict since they are structured by rules in Church Handbook One, which is not available to women. Church leaders insist, however, that such conversations are being held “out of love” for these sisters, and that they will clarify the place for Mormon feminists in the LDS Church.

Jun 16

Room for All in this Church

A collective statement from a number of bloggers, podcasters, and other online publishers, in support of clemency and openness.

We face a difficult and pivotal moment in Mormonism as LDS leaders and church members wrestle more openly with complicated aspects of our faith, its doctrine, and its history—often in spaces afforded by the Internet. In light of possible disciplinary action against prominent voices among us, we the undersigned Mormon bloggers and podcasters affirm the value of the conversations that take place in the LDS “Bloggernacle” and express our hopes for greater understanding and compassion from all of us involved in current tensions.

May we all remember, as scripture teaches, the intricate intertwining of mercy and justice. May we all follow the admonition to seek understanding before judgment, even as we address matters that can be difficult to talk about. Continue reading