An Evening with a General Authority

Last night, in a devotional directed at Church Educational System (CES) employees, Elder Ballard spoke of challenges that many youth face, including questions asked on social media.

(Kids these days and their FaceSpace, amirite?)

From a Deseret news article about Elder Ballard’s talk:

“Drawing on the scriptures and the words of the prophets, [students] will learn how to act with faith in Christ to acquire spiritual knowledge and understanding of His gospel,” he said. “And they will have opportunities to learn how to apply the doctrine of Christ and gospel principles to the questions and challenges they hear and see every day among their peers and on social media.”

Applying the doctrine of Christ to questions of church doctrine makes sense. Is it true and is it helpful? Does it follow the golden rule?

Elder Ballard continued, comparing faithful interpretations of history to vaccinating the youth against topics that are “sometimes misunderstood” — a polite way of saying, negative toward the church.

You know, we give medical inoculations to our precious missionaries before sending them into the mission field, so they will be protected against disease that can harm and even kill them. In a similar fashion, please, before you send them into the world, inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful and accurate interpretations of gospel doctrine, the scriptures and our history, and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood.

And in a praiseworthy show of transparency, Elder Ballard listed a few topics which in some circles (or at least in the not so distant past) would have been considered anti-mormon.

To name a few of such topics that are less-known or controversial, I’m talking about polygamy, and seer stones, different accounts of the first vision, the process of translation of the Book of Mormon [and] of the Book of Abraham, gender issues, race and the priesthood, or a Heavenly Mother. The efforts to inoculate our young people will often fall to you CES teachers.

Perhaps if I’d been further inoculated as a youth, I wouldn’t have found these topics so difficult to digest when I finally found them too hard to swallow. So roll up your sleeves while I share with you what I remember being taught about this list while at the same time you’re going to get inoculated.

Before you run off searching high and low looking for how far the rabbit hole goes, Elder Ballard warned of the dangers of access to too much information:

It was only a generation ago that our young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the church. Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations. Mostly, our young people lived a sheltered life. Our curriculum at that time, though well-meaning, did not prepare students for today — a day when students have instant access to virtually everything about the church from every possible point of view. Today, what they see on their mobile devices is likely to be faith-challenging as much as faith-promoting. Many of our young people are more familiar with Google than they are with the gospel, more attuned to the Internet than to inspiration, and more involved with Facebook than with faith.

For the sake of Elder Ballard’s concern about Google, I’ll only use church approved sources for the inoculation and I’ll stay far away from Facebook.

Continue reading An Evening with a General Authority

Cutting Your Nose to Spite Your Face

“Cutting off the nose to spite the face” is an expression used to describe a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem.

According to a report by KUTV, The Church has issued a statement responding to a bill on Utah’s Capitol Hill that would toughen penalties for hate crimes against “ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation”. The church doesn’t want it to pass because it thinks it shifts the balance too far away from religious liberties in favour of gays:

“The Utah Legislature achieved something extraordinary last year in arriving at legislation that protected both religious liberty rights and LGBT rights,” said church spokesman Dale Jones in a statement Wednesday afternoon which was released in response to media inquiries. “Interests from both ends of the political spectrum are attempting to alter that balance. We believe that the careful balance achieved through being fair to all should be maintained.”

I’m trying not to have a knee-jerk reaction here, but the article points out that according to the Utah Department of Public Safety, the rates of reported hate crimes are staggeringly more likely to be based on religious intolerance rather than homophobic bigotry. I’d say this is a clear case of cutting off the nose to spite the face. I just don’t get it.

Fine. I’ll stay. But I’m really pissed off.

I broke two of my rules with that headline: I used the word “really” and I swore. But there it is.

Despite the implied message in that charged, clickbait headline, I’m not staying because I feel pressured to.

I’ve been busy over the last week or so. I’ve been reading dozens of blog posts, listening to dozens of podcasts, watching dozens of videos, responding to dozens of private messages, and reviewing hundreds of Facebook comments. I’ve been ruminating on it all.

So why am I staying?

For years, I’ve been exercising autonomy in my religious beliefs, believing what I wanted regardless of whether it was conventional or traditional. I’ve refused letting anyone else dictate what I could believe.

A few days ago, Mary said something that reminded me of this. She determined that she’s staying because she won’t let some men decide whether she stays or goes. I’m staying because I’m exercising my autonomy.

I’m not staying because I was told to, because I was told I was needed, or because I was told that I couldn’t be Mormon while not attending. I’m staying because I chose to.

As someone else said this week, if I leave, my voice diminishes. If I stay, my voice remains. Although, I haven’t been in a leadership position for nearly 7 years, I’ve still had opportunities to speak my mind. I’ve been a teacher for over 4 years now, which allows me to control the rhetoric. Even though I often feel alone, I still have hope that I can change dialogue, and new dialogue leads to new values, priorities, and paradigms. And when I’m no longer teaching, I can still share my thoughts and opinions. If I leave, all I have left for a voice is online (here, social media, etc), and the only ones who’ll listen are those who already agree.

I’m not just any Mormon. Despite not being born in the church, I consider myself Mormon culturally, not just spiritually. The Mormon sacraments are an important part of my life. The ability I have to participate in them as not just a recipient but a bestower allows me to participate in the sacraments of my children not as a bystander, but as a conduit. Something my Catholic ancestors couldn’t do.

If I left, I miss out on baptizing half of my children. I miss out on remaining my son’s hometeaching companion. I miss out on escorting my sons through the temple and seeing my daughters go through. I miss out on serving a mission with Mary. These are all milestones I find value in as a cultural Mormon.

I’m also staying because what became apparent to me this week is that there exists in the church many people who understand and fulfill their baptismal covenants to mourn with and comfort those who grieve, free of judgement and bias. I want to be one with them. While it’s a challenge to be unified in building true Zion in a church that’s so pharisaical, knowing that there are loving, compassionate people in the church makes me want to be part of it. Certainly, I can do that outside of the church, but I believe opportunities exist within the church for me. And the church certainly needs more communists.

Another reason I’m staying is because the esoteric aspects of Mormonism appeal to my heart. Deeply. And while I lament that much of the esoteric that was common in the early church of nearly 200 years ago has disappeared or been minimized, I recognize that the temple still contains it. While some might find it odd, I find it satisfying, and it serves as my connection to a time when angels visited the earth, people saw visions with stones, and spiritual fire engulfed entire buildings. By staying, I still have access to the temple.

It’s an odd circumstance. The Mormon church is one of the few Christian churches that puts restrictions on who can enter religious facilities, which forces me to follow their rules if I want to use those facilities. I stay, completely aware of this.

So why am I upset?

I’m upset because the new policy is abhorrent.

Let’s just set aside the fact that the policy was written by the church’s law firm and not the prophets, seers, and revelators. (That’s a blog topic on its own.) It’s ridiculous that the church now says that anyone in a same-sex marriage is apostate. It makes no sense. Gay Mormons can be supportive of the church in every other way (paying tithing, keeping the commandments, serving in a calling, home teaching, living the Word of Wisdom, and so forth), yet if they marry someone of the same sex, somehow that’s considered a turning away. If you’re going to list marriage as a sign of apostasy, why not list living common law as a sign of apostasy?

In addition, it’s hypocritical to mandate church discipline for marriage when there are far worse things (rape and child abuse for example) for which church discipline is optional.

Finally, limiting the children of gay parents from fully participating in the church’s sacraments is wholly unfair. The church is not actually concerned with protecting children; it’s using that as an excuse to punish its gay members who are parents. If the welfare of children was truly important, then things that actually damage children would be addressed. For example, making church discipline mandatory for those who abuse children or labelling child abuse as a sign of apostasy would be a start. By not taking action on things that actually harm children, the church shows us that its stance on protecting children is empty and meaningless.

The so-called clarification letter issued by the church certainly improves the lives of children in straight families with gay parents or children in gay families who have already received ordinances. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this policy still targets a group of children in the church: those of gay parents.

And the policy clarification changes nothing for our situation. Our bisexual daughter, should she choose to marry a woman and have children raised in the church, would still be a target of the policy. I would still never be able to to bless or baptize those grandchildren.

And that hurts. My church has hurt me.

Last Thursday, it felt like my church sucker punched me in the gut. Today, those bruises are not gone. I don’t feel less angry. My decision to stay is not an admission that the policy was right. No, I categorically reject the policy. It is entirely wrong. I’m staying despite the policy.

Speaking of my daughter, some have suggested that I need to take steps to protect my daughter. That just stinks of patriarchal sexism. My 17-year-old daughter is an independent, strong young adult getting ready to go out into the world on her own. She needs no protection from her father. She can take care of herself, and she has done so.

So where does this leave me?

Well, I’m staying in the church with some conditions. I will not be silent. I’ve been a supporter of LGBT rights in the church for at least 12 years, but it has mostly been silent support. This summer, when our daughter publicly came out, I used it as an opportunity to publicly declare my support for marriage equality, that people should have the right to be in a monogamous, loving relationship raising children in a stable, nurturing home regardless of the sex of their spouse.

I will remain a strong supporter of LGBT rights in the church. LGBT Mormons need safe places to practise their religion. LGBT youth need support and encouragement, not rejection and being told by their leaders and parents that they disgust them and there’s no place for them in heaven. It’s bad enough that our society rejects LGBT people. Followers of Jesus shouldn’t reject them, too.

I’m not sure how sticking up for LGBT members will work in practice with my social anxiety, but I’ll try my best.

For the last six months, since my grandmother died, I have not been sharing anything on Facebook other than status updates. That’s changing as of today. I will return to sharing articles on my feed, especially ones that are critical of the church, that challenge conventional Mormon views. People need to regularly take inventory of how they view the world around them; they need to check the tint of their glasses. I no longer care how that affects the way people view me. I’ve made Mormonism work for me and I’m at peace with my relationship with God. What others think of me changes neither of those two things.

I worship God according to the dictates of my own conscience.

Why I’m struggling (and it’s not what you think)

This weekend has been trying for me.

Since the church’s policy change regarding same-sex marriages was leaked on Thursday, my Facebook feed has been like a firehose regarding reactions to the changes. I tried to read so many thoughts, article, and blog posts in an effort to help me figure things out.

It didn’t work that well.

Instead of direction and guidance, I received anxiety and depression. There were times on Friday and Saturday when trying to respond to claims or viewpoints that I found myself shaking and had to stop.

Even going to the temple Friday night didn’t help. In fact, my endowment session felt like a two-hour stupor of thought. I drove away from the temple as lost and depressed as ever—a far cry from the guidance and inspiration I had received the week before.

A lot of emotions have run through my heart and mind. I’ve been upset, confused, hopeless, lost, abandoned, hurt, sad, lonely, disgusted, sick, and so many more.

As a parent of an LGBT child, I’ve struggled to know what to do. My daughter left the church earlier this year, but the changes still hit me hard, and I’ve been seriously considering throwing in the towel.

Before this weekend, I never fully understood what people go through when they wrestle with the decision to leave the church. Something I’ve learned is that it’s a complex decision with no easy answer.

In fact, two years ago, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed this very topic in general conference:

Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.

Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.

I can say with frankness that the last paragraph describes me. As the church as grown more evangelical and my understanding of the actual Gospel has become more Christ-centred, this growing divide has become problematic for me.

But there are aspects of Mormonism I love and that I can find in few other places: an anthropomorphic God, a feminine divine, the masonic temple rites, seer stones, visiting angels, continuing revelation, and the list goes on. Scriptures like D&C 18:10, D&C 93, Mosiah 4, and 4 Nephi 1 resonate with me.

So I continued on, focusing on what is right.

But this policy change and how it could affect my future grandchildren feels like the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.

And I find myself once again contemplating leaving. This time, however, it feels so intense. I find parallels even to the faith crisis story I shared 8 years ago.

But here it is three days later, and I haven’t found it any easier to decide what I’m going to do.

There are so many factors at play in me head. As I’ve commented several times, the church is like a cherry pie: it tastes so good, but it has pits.

Here are some of the things that make it taste so good to me:

  • The symbolism in the church found in baptism, the endowment, the Sacrament, and various other places.
  • The temple
  • God being a resurrected, glorified man who is our father
  • Having a mother in heaven
  • The example and teachings of Jesus (arguably this could easily be found elsewhere)
  • The unique teachings in Mormon scripture, specifically how we should treat others
  • The brotherhood of a quorum
  • Continuing revelation
  • A personal relationship with God

I’m not going to list out all the pits, but I will say there are many, and some of them are big. Despite the common rhetoric found among its members, the Mormon church is not perfect.

So I find myself in the middle of various forces pulling me in these two directions: all the positive trying to keep me in and all the negative trying to push me out.

But there are some other things that are making it difficult to make a decision:

  • I worry about not being able to baptize my three younger children
  • I worry about not being able to be an escort when my two boys go through the temple
  • I worry about Mary and the children following me
  • I worry about leaving Mary to take the role of a single mother at church on Sundays
  • I worry about never being able to go to the temple again, the one thing remaining that ties us to the esoteric church of 200 years ago
  • I worry about not completing temple ordinances for my ancestors, something I have been working on for 25 years.
  • I worry about others having to come to my home to give Mary and our children blessings
  • I worry about being the last person in my family to go on a mission despite being the first
  • I worry about what it would mean to my parents, who were my pioneers
  • I worry about what it would mean to those I taught and baptized on my mission
  • I worry about not being able to give my boys the Melchizedek Priesthood, something my dad was never able to do for me.
  • Related to that, I worry about not being able to be ordained a high priest by my dad, the last chance I have to get my priesthood lineage from him
  • I worry about satisfying those who already expect me to leave

So, for anyone wondering what I’m struggling with, it isn’t about trying to reconcile my beliefs with the new policy to rationalize it. I think it’s wrong. Period.

No, I’m struggling with so much more and with something far more complex.

And I don’t know how long it will take before I have my answer, nor what will happen when something like this happens again.

What I do know is that it’s not an easy decision for those who decided to leave the church, and we should be careful about judging them when they do.

The Lord healed the people

In our Gospel Doctrine class today, we were discussing the story of Hezekiah. I won’t get into all the details of his story here, but there is one aspect I felt impressed to write about here.

When Hezekiah started his reign, he inherited a kingdom from his father and grandfather, who each had reigned in unrighteousness. They had disrespected the temple and let it get to a state disuse and misuse.

His first order of business was to gather the Levites together to sanctify the temple. Once the temple was back to working order, he invited all of Israel to come together to celebrate the Passover, something they hadn’t done for a long time.

This brings us to 2 Chr. 30:17–20: Continue reading The Lord healed the people

Medical Emergency During Sacrament Meeting

Sacrament meeting was very eventful yesterday.

With about 25 minutes left to go and half way through the third speakers talk, we had a medical emergency in the congregation.?Ǭ† This particular emergency happened smack dab in the middle of the chapel.?Ǭ† Very quickly, members close to the situation tried to assist and get control.?Ǭ† One quickly left and called 9-1-1 to summon the paramedics.

Now, if that wasn’t interesting enough, the response of the rest of the congregation was.

We had a member of the stake presidency sitting on the stand for our meeting (you know, the guy who is suppose to be presiding at the meeting).?Ǭ† He did absolutely nothing and sat there as if it was any other Sunday meeting.

Our bishop sent one of his counselors down to investigate.?Ǭ† The counselor, after assessing the situation, went out into the hallway and waited for the paramedics to arrive instead of reporting back to the bishop.

The speaker received no direction from the leadership on the stand.?Ǭ† He just stayed at the pulpit and continued to give his talk until he was done.?Ǭ† No effort was made to shorten it or look to the leadership for guidance.?Ǭ† He clearly didn’t have anybodies attention.?Ǭ† Everyone in the congregation was watching the unfolding drama happening in the pews.

After his talk, the other counselor instructed organ player to play interlude music while we all sat there.

When the paramedics arrived, the entire congregation sat and watched them work on this individual to a nice rendition of “I know that my redeemer lives”.

Nobody at any time attempted to give a blessing to the person in distress.

The themes of all the talks were… wait for it… ?Ǭ†”How to be better disciples of Christ”.

I cannot recall a time where I felt more akward in sacrament meeting.

Have you ever been in a sacrament meeting where a medical emergency has occured??Ǭ† How was the situation handled?

Cleaning the chapel

When my family joined the Church 30 years ago last month, local units were responsible for raising funds to build any new meetinghouses.

Since then, the Church has done away with this practice. They bring enough tithing in each year to fund each building institutionally.

I can see the wisdom in such a practice. After all, it takes some of the pressure off the members to finance the buildings, and allows for controlling discrepencies between building size and status.

I’ve noticed something in the last few years. Members seem less inclined to want to clean the chapel. They seem less concerned with whether their crumpled paper towel hits the garbage can. And so on.

Granted, my exposure is limited to a small percentage of the thousands of meetinghouses the Church owns, so the evidence I have is anecdotal.

That being said, I wonder if it is common enough to be a general trend. If so, is there a correlation between absence of personal fundraising and the seemingly lack of respect for keeping the meetinghouses clean?