Thursday, December 29, 2011

Traditions ≠ Doctrine

I wish I'd known about this woman before she died. She sounds like the kind of person who could make being Mormon tolerable.
Ask yourself some questions about traditions. Are there some traditions in your Relief Society or Elder’s Quorum that perhaps were very functional a few years ago but just aren’t meeting people’s needs now? Are there some things we need to do in our wards because that’s the way we’ve always done them? Do we have stereotypes and attitudes about things that are left over from other days? Could the work move forward more effectively if we rethought some of those traditions?

 Are there traditions of the fathers--and of the mothers--that represented goodness in times past but that may no longer be appropriate? Yes, there certainly are.

 Are there some traditions that are still good ones and to which we should cling even more tightly? Absolutely! 

How then, do we tell them apart? Or will the prophet and our priesthood leaders tell us? I think it is inherent in the wonderful law of agency that God doesn’t do our work for us and he doesn’t expect us to do each other’s work. The prophet’s job is to receive revelation for the Church, not for the individuals. Our job is to receive revelation for ourselves, not for the church. We have a responsibility to take our questions to God and struggle with those questions in the process of receiving revelation. Will my personal direction from God be the same as yours? I don’t think so. We’re individuals. God deals with us as individuals. This is the same God who made not just apples but pears and apricots and persimmons and grapes. He likes diversity. He invented it.

Chieko N. Okazaki, Disciples
I was reading this post from Wheat & Tares earlier today, and it made me think of this quote, which I saved in a draft several weeks ago. I'm coming to the conclusion that most of the Mormon "rules" are tradition, not doctrine. I'm also coming to the conclusion that I don't care if something is doctrine--if it doesn't feel right to me, then I'm not going to do it. I place my own personal relationship with God above that of my relationship with the church.

This comment from that post does an excellent job of summing up the problem we have with knowing what is official doctrine and what is opinion, tradition, or advice:
Entertaining for a moment however that a Prophet can speak both the infallable words of God AND the fallable words of dated grandfatherly opinion, how do we tell the difference? That really is the key, particularly given that when Church leaders speak, they make no effort to distinguish the quality of their commandments, but rather seem to usually speak in straightforward command language. Mormons “should do this”, or “should not do that”.

Robert Millet poses this question in a talk titled “What is our Doctrine”

He talks about a conversation he had with a baptist minister who was politely trying to explain the challenge in understaning what Mormons believe. In the minsters words, according to Millet:

“Bob, many of my fellow Christians have noted how hard it is to figure out what Mormons believe. They say it’s like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall!”

I have noticed, as per Deseret New’s faith section, as well as in other sphere’s of Mormon apologetics, this tendency to insist that when people bring up topics such as Blood Atonement, or racism, etc, that the standard response is something along the lines of: “well, that is taken out context” or “not everything spoken in the past is relevant as doctrine today” or “Define us by who we are and by our central beliefs rather than who we are not or by obscure or irrelevant beliefs.”

So, we have all these messages criticizing people for all of the wrong way’s for interpreting Mormon doctrine, belief, commandments etc. Still, we have very little useful information regarding how to “correctly” interpret it. Then, what we do get is very subjective even still. Millett for example answers the question thus:

“3. In determining whether something is a part of the doctrine of the Church, we might ask, Is it found within the four standard works? Within official declarations or proclamations? Is it discussed in general conference or other official gatherings by general Church leaders today? Is it found in the general handbooks or approved curriculum of the Church today? If it meets at least one of these criteria, we can feel secure and appropriate about teaching it.”

So if it was found in the Standard Works, ie, the selectively assembled literature of “yesterday”, then thumbs up. If it is being talked about in General Conference, or in Church manuals “today” then thumbs up. However, if it is in Church Manuals from yesterday, or from any assortement of Prophetic statements of a former generation, then thumbs down. If it is in the manuals and conferences, quotations, etc, “today”, then…thumbs up today, and thumbs down tomorrow????

So what are the commandments, and what use is it to speak of commandments, performance, worthiness, etc, if we can’t even define these things in clear terms?
I disagree with the conclusion Millet comes to, that "if it meets at least one of these criteria we can feel secure and appropriate about teaching it." I think a lot of the criteria he mentioned are sketchy, like things that are discussed in General Conference and in approved curriculum. There's a lot of stuff in those sources that I absolutely would not accept as doctrine. I keep using this example because it's the only one I can immediately think of, but they've been talking about avoiding sleepovers in GC lately and have now even included it in For the Strength of Youth. I do not believe that this is intended as church doctrine, and if it were, I would ignore it in favor of my husband's and my judgment.

Basically, the moral of the story is that I think 1) the church has an opinion on a lot of things it doesn't need to have an opinion on, and 2) Mormons do a terrible job of differentiating between moral requirements and traditions that are not essential to salvation.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Molly Mormon Memory

I'm actually not a huge fan of the vaguely cheesy alliteration here, but it's an appropriate name for what it is (and I'm probably going to turn it into a label for future posts like this). I have very few memories of my childhood, which is kind of frustrating because I often can't even use my own personal experience as evidence of the things I'm talking about--or specific experiences, at least. I mostly have impressions and feelings left over. So when I do have a specific memory, I want to document it.

I remembered this last night, and it made me sad that such a small event stuck in my memory for so long. One Sunday in Primary, when I was probably eleven (nearing my graduation into Young Women), we were singing "A Child's Prayer." I always loved that song, but liked the second verse so much better and was disappointed that the boys always got to sing it when we did the harmony. That day I was feeling frustrated with it, and mentioned to my class that if they wouldn't let the girls have the second verse, I would just sing with the boys. My teacher turned to me and asked why I wanted to be rebellious.

I was really upset by this, because as the oldest child in my family--the one required to set an example--I prided myself on being obedient, mature, and responsible. I was humiliated and hurt that she would think I wanted to be rebellious. It makes me sad now when I realize that this was just the tiniest baby spark of feminism in me--all I wanted was a chance to sing the other verse once in a while, and it never occurred to the leaders to bother switching up the usual roles--and it was interpreted by my teacher as a desire to cause trouble.

Funny how little has changed in the fifteen years since then. Funny how Mormons like to think that feminists are just people who want to cause trouble, who like to stir up controversy and contention. And by funny I obviously mean sad.

Friday, December 23, 2011

I don't think I believe in sin.

Or maybe I do... but in a way very different from traditional Christian ideas of it.

I don't think I believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin. But I might believe that cheating on your spouse is.

I certainly don't believe that drinking coffee or alcohol is a sin. But I might believe that abusing your body is.

I realized a while ago that I was starting to have a reaction every time I saw the word "righteous"--a snicker or a derisive snort, maybe some eye-rolling, depending on the context. I'm discovering that I kind of hate that word. Which maybe isn't fair, because it has a pretty simple definition; I guess I just can't extricate it (yet?) from the judgmental, self-congratulatory way it's used in Christendom. I think this part of the definition is the most problematic:

b : arising from an outraged sense of justice or morality<righteous indignation>

I don't find it as funny as "righteous", but I do find my eyebrows sneaking upward when I read the word "sin", too.

a : an offense against religious or moral lawb : an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible < it's a sin to waste food>
c : an often serious shortcoming : fault
a : transgression of the law of Godb : a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God

The last one seems to come closest to something I can work with, except that I get a Garden-of-Eden fallen-state kind of sense from it and that's not what I mean. Sin as any kind of action that puts you at odds with your self--that I could get behind. Heading to this Wikipedia page now to get an idea of where I should start looking for this kind of belief. Do any of you know? What do you think "sin" is, if anything?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sealings, Polygamy, and Other Things that Make Me Want to Cry

Tonight, based on my current understanding of things, I feel like I have two options: Either accept that God is sexist, or accept that the LDS church is not true.

As of tonight, I do not believe that God is sexist.

I do not believe that anyone will practice polygamy in heaven (whatever that is). I think the concept is sick, and the fact that no one seems to know whether or not it is actual current doctrine is kind of disturbing. Until it is actually refuted by the church, however, I will believe that it is considered doctrine but the church won't admit it (because let's be honest, they'd be stupid to do so).

According to the CHI via the only source I know of (a friend on Facebook; since, of course, the church thinks it's okay to keep its policies secret from members): "The current policy is that a sister may only be sealed to one husband during her life. Should she be married more than once, she may be sealed to all her husbands, but only after she and all the husbands have died. This is an improvement from the past where even after death we would only seal a woman to her first husband." While men are, of course, allowed to be sealed to whomever the eff they please, even if their former wives are still alive. I cannot think of anything that would make me okay with this disparity.

Though I don't know the actual words, I know that temple sealings involve women covenanting to obey their husbands. Unless husbands also covenant to obey their wives, I think that is bull. I also know that there's crap about women telling their husbands their new names, but never being allowed to know their husbands' names themselves. I've tried for eight years now, and I still cannot think of anything that makes this acceptable to me.

I think I could handle it if we were just talking about Mormon culture. The patriarchal system, women being denied the priesthood, the constant denigration and suppression. It's horrible and painful and humiliating, but I could live with it knowing that it's because of mortal, fallible men who were born in the freaking 30s and 40s for crying out loud. Yeah, it kind of makes sense that they still believe a woman's "place" is at home. I can ignore that, just like I ignore the emails forwarded from my beloved grandmother in which she talks about how much she loves learning things from Glenn Beck.

But at this moment I am finding it impossible to believe that God is directing a church that places so much emphasis on ordinances and denies women equal access to them.

I have not been feeling fantastic tonight, so this is probably not the best time to be thinking about these things. I was already really tired when I got online a couple hours ago, and then I found out that I accidentally offended the crap out of someone I don't even know, and I was feeling so bad I just sort of crumbled. I cried for about fifteen minutes, feeling terrible and like I'd embarrassed myself in front of the new community I already depend on so much. Then I actually felt kind of indignant, for reasons that I won't go into because I don't feel like writing out the whole story. And then I started reading an ongoing conversation about polygamy.

Not much later I ended up here, writing this. Maybe I'll feel better in the morning, or in a couple days, I don't know. Right now I am feeling utterly betrayed and totally lost. I read a woman's experience with the temple sealing and just felt nauseated the entire time. My entire family on my dad's side is LDS, and has been for generations going back to Emma Smith. How is it possible that they've all gone through that same thing? How can they all be a part of this? I feel so weird thinking about all the people I love who've done it--my parents, my best friends from college, aunts and uncles I love dearly, countless cousins, my little sister...

The worst thing is that I really don't want to be having these thoughts. I really, really don't want to finally decide that I don't believe it. This is all I've known my entire life. I don't want to be one of the people I always heard about growing up. I don't want this, I don't, I don't.

It's probably time to go to sleep and stop thinking about this for a while. I'm hoping desperately that things will look better tomorrow.

Friday, December 16, 2011

You're Killin' Me, Maxwell.

I just want to know if this really did happen. Was this actually said?
Finally, remember: When we return to our real home, it will be with the “mutual approbation” of those who reign in the “royal courts on high." ... Could such a regal homecoming be possible without the anticipatory arrangements of a Heavenly Mother?—Neal A. Maxwell, April 1978
 ...Anticipatory arrangements. 

Anticipatory. Arrangements.

So let me get this straight. Are you really telling me, Neal Maxwell (yeah that's right, I took out that A), are you saying that we know we have a Heavenly Mother because the scriptures tell us there's going to be a party in heaven when we get back--and everyone knows you can't have a party without a woman to make all the plans?

I'm feeling like yes, that IS what you're saying, given the unbelievably condescending nature of the entire talk that is the source of this quote, and especially since these are the lines that were taken out by that little ellipsis up there:

"There we will find beauty such as mortal 'eye hath not seen'; we will hear sounds of surpassing music which mortal 'ear hath not heard.'"

Ah, yes. Naturally, Heavenly Mother would have been the one to hire the band.

Maybe I'm overreacting here. I don't know. But I find this so, so demeaning and incredibly offensive. How could he honestly have just insinuated that when we return to heaven we are going to find our Heavenly Mother heading up the Party-Planning Committee?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Part of the Whole

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us Universe. A part limited in time and space, he (she) experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion from his consciousness. Striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion; not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the one obtainable measure to achieve peace of mind.”
--Albert Einstein

This post from Doves & Serpents is brilliant and lovely.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Feminist Intent (and Failure)

I'm not the first Mormon (or Christian) to arrive at a crisis of faith via feminism, and there's a reason for that.

Feminism is simply the belief that women are equally as important as men and should not be told they must or cannot do something based on the fact that they are women. It's a pretty basic concept--and it takes about a two-second examination of most Christian churches to see that it is not part of the program. Once you realize that, you kind of have to question what kind of God really wants women to be forever ruled over by men.
"Dr. Schussler Fiorenza at Harvard says the intention of Jesus was feminist," I said to Sandy one evening.

"Mine, too," he said. He's a smart man, my husband.

I believe Sandy's intention was that, derived from a concept he held in his mind of equality and justice. But like me, like so many of us, he lived with an unconscious gap between concept and practice. Most "feminism" doesn't filter down into ways of relating, the way faith is practiced or votes are cast. I've seen churches give honest lip service to women's equality as a concept, while life and worship there go on in the same old patriarchal ways.

--Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 68
I've seen churches do this, too... Every Sunday of my life growing up. And a lot of times since then, like in this delightful gem from the LDS church's PR guy. If you want to read something that doesn't actually make logic cry out from its grave, try these responses to that article. I haven't listened to the Daughters of Mormonism podcast, but I love all three of the written responses. I think Kristine's--the last link, over the word "article"--might be the most poignant, though Amelia (at the Exponent) and Lynette (at Zelophehad's Daughters) do a fantastic job of showing, point by point, why Michael Otterson sounds like an idiot in that article.

Ways "the equality of women" does not filter down in Mormon life:

  • Obviously, the priesthood. We are told arbitrarily that men get the priesthood and women do not, despite plenty of scriptural evidence that women had that kind of responsibility in both the Old Testament and New Testament, as well as Joseph Smith's time.
  • "Quaint" traditions of sacrament meeting speaking order--youth speakers (often female, then male, although not strictly because who really cares about the youth speakers) followed by adult speakers (female, then male)... and prayer order--woman opening, man closing. Note also that women do not pray in General Conference.
  • Similarly "quaint" practices of asking a husband's permission before extending a calling to his wife. (This is not the same as when they ask the wife if she will sustain her husband in his calling, which he has already been offered; this is actually asking permission, and it is done before the woman is even asked if she will accept the calling.)
  • Archaic gender roles that are still taught as doctrine, including: 
  1. The constant discouragement of women to work outside the home. I cannot think of one legitimate reason why it matters which parent stays home with the children, and yet Mormons still insist that it must be the mother. If men and women were truly equal, both parents would share equal responsibility for raising the children and providing for the family, and how those duties were split would be up to each individual couple--end of story.
  2. That in every sphere, women are responsible for home and family while men are responsible for the outside world. Men work, women stay home; women visit other women and give them a spiritual message, while men visit whole families to do the same thing; in General Conference, the female speakers almost exclusively address women and children while the men address everyone. 
  3. That Mormon girls are taught practically from infancy that they are responsible for making sure men are not tempted by them--and, consequently, that Mormon women believe their four-year-olds would be "immodest" in sleeveless dresses. It's fascinating how we manage it, but women are sexualized just as much in LDS culture as they are elsewhere (just from the opposite angle).
  4. The wonders of chicken patriarchy, which I will discuss further at a later date because it's a topic so ridiculous as to deserve its own post. 
  5. That Mormon girls aren't encouraged to go on missions because the church prefers that they be married before they're 21; that church leaders can't seem to stress enough how much they don't want a lot of sister missionaries; that, when girls do go (two years later than their male peers), their missions are six months shorter, as though to continue emphasizing that they're not the real missionaries; that there is no female leadership on a mission, and all sister missionaries must report every last detail to teenagers who are younger than they are; that male missionaries routinely dismiss female missionaries as "distractions" and wonder what attractive ones are doing there (because obviously it's only the ones who couldn't get married who go).

That last bit is actually cultural, not something taught from the pulpit. But don't worry, we have plenty to go on in that department, too:

  • Like the crap about going to BYU for an "MRS" degree, or 
  • Men taking a stretch break during the talks of the female speakers in General Conference and thinking it's totally justified by the fact that "they just hate the way they talk," as though we listen to the men because we super love the way they sound... 
  • Or the fact that just about every talk ever in the entire history of the world geared toward women talks constantly about being mothers and daughters (see that blasted Daughters in My Kingdom again), when (1) not all women are mothers, and (2) the men certainly do not refer to themselves as fathers and sons a comparable amount of the time...
  • Also in this vein, the fact that out of the 53 talks given to date by the nine current members of the Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women general presidencies, there were only 9 that were given in the main sessions AND were not about women or family (at least three or four of those talks were about virtue, but I decided not to count those since the men speak on virtue quite a bit too) 
  • The fact that girls have been "discouraged" from joining Girl Scouts, for which I have not been able to find out the justification
  • The fact that the Scouting program usually gets exponentially more money than the Young Women program
  • And the fact that Young Women activities are geared toward crafts and "homemaking skills," as though making a sugar scrub and getting countless makeovers and listening to guest speakers talk about how to dress for your body type and having "modest" fashion shows and drying flowers are all really essential skills for life (how about fixing a leaky faucet? changing the oil in your car?)

Blech. I could go on. And probably will at some point. But I think this will suffice for now. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I created this Blogger account a year or so ago, when I was considering doing some secret political ranting because in real life people can't handle it. I named it after Valentine Wiggin, from Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, because I think she's a great character. And since this is a secret blog and all, I figured I may as well leave it there, since I don't plan to actually work very hard to keep this anonymous--I guess anything that's in place without me having to worry about it will work well enough.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Declaration of Intent

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, by Sue Monk Kidd

This book is my beginning. It is about breaking free from a patriarchal society, discovering the feminine side of the Divine, and becoming a whole person. Technically this process already began a few months ago for me (and the argument could even be made that it began eight years ago)--but when I came across this book I became aware of the process, and discovered a path it might take.

"In order to voice the soul, we will have to balance our inner experience with an outer one... Having had a transforming experience within, [a woman] begins now to find the impulse and the means to express it."

I haven't undergone the transforming experience yet; I am only just beginning to search for it. But I've already been talking about this process as I've begun it, and even before I knew I was beginning it, or that there was anything to begin. I can't retreat inward at this stage, to have the inner experience before I address the outer one. In fact, for me I think this process will involve learning to balance the outer experience with the inner one, because the outer experience is what will come more naturally to me. I have never learned to connect, not with myself and not with any Divine, and that is something I now need to learn to do.

When I first began this journey, I was sure that no matter what happened to my feelings about the LDS church, I would always be Christian. I spoke to friends who'd become pagan when they left, or atheist, and I knew that that wouldn't be me. But for a few weeks now, I think about God and find myself unable to see how he actually could exist. As I've read this book, a little question has popped into my head every time Kidd has mentioned the necessity of accessing the feminine divine: Why? What does that even mean? What divine is there really, and why does it matter if there's a feminine one? The need to escape the patriarchal society, yes, that makes perfect sense to me. But the more I try to grasp the idea of divinity, the less probable it seems.

I don't like this. I'll be honest--it worries me. I don't want to be atheist; but then, deep down, I don't really think I am. I think what I am is disconnected. I want to believe in divinity, but  I can't grasp it consciously because I've been cut off from it for so long (it's been almost four years since I stopped going to church, and seven or eight since the distancing started). My spirit, or whatever, is stagnant. Incidentally, I think this has affected my body, too--I thought about it yesterday and realized that my weight gain corresponds pretty darn closely with the times when spirituality started to fade from my life. (In fact, it also corresponds with some other kinds of stuck-ness in my life, including financial and educational. Interesting.)

I think I need to feel connected to divinity again--both to the God I grew up with, and to the feminine divine that I know must be out there too. If there is a Divine, I need to have it flow through me, to cleanse, to reanimate, to strengthen. Ultimately I need to figure out what I believe. We'll start with this divinity, and from there we can address my issues with being Mormon. After that... I guess we'll see.

Friday, December 2, 2011


“I desire the spirit of God to know and understand myself[.] I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting.”
--Emma Smith
(read with no small amount of irony in Daughters of My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society)

"All that is gold does not glitter... Not all those who wander are lost."
--The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R Tolkien
(and, conversely, "all that glitters is not gold"--The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare)

These two concepts are my starting point.