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

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.

What does the excommunication of John and Kate mean for the Bloggernacle?

I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but the New York Times reports that John Dehlin and Kate Kelly face excommunication with church leaders.

I’m not going to discuss the morality or the logistics of these actions. I’m sure there will many others who will. What I am interested in is how this will affect the Bloggernacle.

Our Thoughts has been around for 11 years. It’s one of the oldest LDS-themed blogs, and about six months after it’s founding is when others started to pop up everywhere.

The Bloggernacle has served as a great vehicle for discussion difficult issues or questions without anyone fearing judgement or retribution. People felt comfortable expressing their doubts, and many found it cathartic and encouraging.

With Dehlin and Kelly facing excommunication, will it change the Bloggernacle. Will people stop asking difficult questions or sharing troubling doubts? Will people end up leaving the church because there’s nowhere to work through their challenges?

What do you think?

What do you fear to be wrong about most?

I was reading a post over at apophenia a couple of days ago where she posted on the thought provoking idea of “what do you fear to be wrong about most?”

Late one night at Etech, Matt Webb asked a bunch of us what we would be most afraid to be wrong about. In other words, what are we most invested in and would have our realities shattered if we were wrong. This question blew me away and got me thinking.

Many of the comment threads here on “Our Thoughts” continually rehash the same ideas over and over and as far as I can tell a lot of the beliefs held here aren’t really based on anything more solid than feelings. (Don’t get me wrong, if that floats your boat then I wish you the happiest of sailing). However I wonder if having such a rigid viewpoint of the world might set some up for great disillusionment.

My real point is, though, considering which of your beliefs you are most invested in, how would you react to hypothetical but 100% concrete evidence that your beliefs were wrong. I would hope that everyone would say, “ok, while this may be life changing news, I suppose I have no choice but to change my beliefs. I think I can do it.” Would you change your beliefs if you had 100% correct scientific information that they were wrong?

What if the hypothetical evidence was 99.9% probable in its accuracy leaving only a .1% chance that your beliefs are correct, what would you do?

Marriage & Cynicism

I started listening to episode 20 of the This Mormon Life podcast this morning. I would have listened to it last week, but my iPod wasn’t syncing podcast for some reason.

Anyhow, I really enjoyed the analogy they started where they compared cynicism in the Church with stages of marriage.

The honeymoon stage corresponds to the stage of our youth (or a converts first years). It is during this stage when we are blind to imperfections and are under the impression that everything is ideal and imperfect.

During the stage right after the honeymoon (not sure what it would be labelled, maybe something with the word dissonance in it), quirks or annoying habits start to appear. From a ecclesiastical standpoint, this could be the stage when we come to a realisation of (or are exposed to) inconsistencies or imperfections in the Church (whether apostles debating doctrine, actual church history, repulsive statements from leaders, offending actions of members, etc).

During this second stage, many marriages end up in divorce. Likewise, many members at this stage in their faith fall away. Some even become very bitter, a parallel to bitter divorces.

From what I have heard so far, it doesn’t seem like Dallas, Janelle and Amanda go much further in the analogy (granted I haven’t heard the entire thing yet), but I think there is at least a third stage. In this stage in marriage, a person comes to a realisation that quirks and habits are inconsequential in a marriage and love amounts to more than that. They realise they need to adjust their way of thinking and how they view their spouse.

Same goes for the Church. As Amanda said, we come to a realisation that we need to accept the new things we learn, adapt our understanding to match the things we learn, or completely reject the thins we learn. Successful church membership, like successful marriages, I believe cannot be built upon rejection.