Saturday, September 10, 2016

More Thoughts on Polygamy, Pt. 3

The more I examine LDS doctrine as an ex-member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—commonly referred to as the Mormon Church—the less sense it makes. This surprises me because, for many years, I prided myself on being a rather reflective Mormon. I wouldn’t have thought I’d miss out on so many bizarre, problematic, improbable, outlandish, or blatantly nonsensical implications. In fact, I thought Mormonism was a particularly strong religion, philosophically speaking. And I guess I probably still think that of Mormonism, but I would make a distinction between Mormonism and LDS theology. The LDS Church believes its teachings simply are Mormonism. Why, they’ve even tried to prevent other sects from calling themselves Mormon, even when those sects trace their roots back to Joseph Smith and affirm the Book of Mormon as scripture. But Mormonism, to me, is something bigger than the LDS Church, and I don’t think the LDS Church is particularly good at practicing Mormonism. There is, from my perspective, a great deal of tension between the LDS Church and Mormonism, which is why some people such as myself who fall in love with Mormonism end up leaving the LDS Church when we realize the two don’t mesh. Put simply, the LDS Church doesn’t practice the Mormonism it purports to preach.

With my current interest in polygamy quite piqued, I have realized the explanations I was given in my youth for its practice are inadequate and unpersuasive. Now, there are numerous defenses of polygamy that have been offered over the years, many of which are quite familiar to the typical LDS person. I think they have all been shown to be problematic, based on historical and demographical inaccuracies, etc. But many of these—such as the idea that polygamy was a way to offer financial support to widows—are merely pointing to the supposed benefits of polygamy. They are not really explanations for why and how polygamy got started in the first place. As far as that goes, I know of only one explanation, and it is supported by official LDS scripture: Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of Mormonism, asked God about polygamy after seeing it in the Bible and was told that it was a divine law he would be required to obey if it was revealed and explained to him. That’s why polygamy got started, if you want the official LDS narrative.

There is a glaring problem here. The supposed revelation in which God explains polygamy and tells Joseph Smith he must obey it if it’s revealed to him has been canonized as LDS scripture. It’s section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It’s something anybody can read. The logical implication is that every single person who reads the D&C is obligated to practice polygamy and that not doing so brings one under condemnation. Of course, Mormons actually believed this for several decades after the “revelation” was received. Early Mormon Apostle Heber C. Kimball taught, “You might as well deny ‘Mormonism,’ and turn away from it, as to oppose the plurality of wives. Let the Presidency of this Church, and the Twelve Apostles, and all the authorities unite and say with one voice that they will oppose the doctrine, and the whole of them will be damned.”1 Meanwhile, Joseph F. Smith taught at the LDS Church’s 1878 general conference, “Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity, or nonessential to the salvation or exaltation of mankind…. I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false.” And yet, despite the fact that anyone and everyone can now read D&C 132 and learn the “law” of plural marriage, the LDS Church today forbids its practice. Apparently, knowing the law is not sufficient for having to practice it—a notion that directly contradicts the official narrative for why polygamy ever got started in the first place.

Another problem: why did the requirement to practice polygamy extend beyond Joseph Smith when he was the only one to whom it was apparently revealed? Pretend for a moment that knowing about the law of plural marriage does obligate one to live it. As I’ve always heard and understood the story, God was warning Joseph that he was getting himself into something pretty serious and deep. It was like God was saying, “You know, Joe, once you open up this can of worms, there ain’t no going back. Are you sure you want to know about this stuff?” But if polygamy is such a sensitive, sacred, and touchy thing, why did Joseph’s curiosity have to kill the whole damn institutional cat? That is, why did the obligation to practice polygamy extend beyond the one person to whom it was initially revealed, beyond the one person who was supposedly willing to take upon himself such a burden? It doesn’t really add up.

But let’s go back to the fact that practicing polygamy, in this lifetime anyway, is now prohibited by the LDS Church. As I already suggested, this doesn’t make much sense given that anybody with an LDS Doctrine and Covenants can read about the law of polygamy, and knowing about the law of polygamy is supposedly what obligated Mormons to practice polygamy in the first place. As problematic as this is, let’s ignore it for a minute. Let us ask instead, why did the (official LDS) practice of polygamy come to an end? Much can be said about this, especially as it relates to politics and the desire for Utah to be granted statehood, but what is the official LDS narrative on the matter?

Again, we can turn to the D&C. In what is termed Official Declaration 1, LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff is quoted thusly: “The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it … confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice.” Woodruff proclaimed that if the Mormons continued to practice polygamy, it would come “at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice).” Never mind that, in times past, the Lord supposedly made allowances for ordinances to be performed outside of temples when circumstances required it. Never mind that, in the past, it was nearly a hallmark of being a true prophet that one would be persecuted, arrested, or both. Never mind that official LDS Church publications had previously declared, “It would be as easy for the United States to build a tower to remove the sun, as to remove polygamy, or the Church and kingdom of God.” Never mind that Woodruff himself had previously stated, “If we were to do away with polygamy ... then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel, and finally give up our religion altogether and turn sectarians…. We just can’t do that … come life or come death.” Never mind that LDS Church President John Taylor had also received a revelation, several years earlier, in which the Lord said of polygamy, “I have not revoked this law, nor will I, for it is everlasting, and those who enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so, Amen.”

To reiterate, the practice of polygamy was stopped, according to the official narrative, because it would cause too darn much harm to allow its continued practice.

How very ironic.

In total, polygamy was practiced in the LDS Church for approximately 60 years. It has since been practiced by various offshoots of the LDS Church for nearly twice that long. I’m not saying polygamy was a good thing during the time the LDS Church sanctioned its practice, but even if we ignore that particular time period, the harm that has been caused by polygamy ever since the LDS Church disavowed it has been monumental. Assassinations, welfare fraud, ostracizing, rape, incest, and the sexual exploitation of children are just some of the things you’ll find taking place within polygamist communities, some on a regular basis. Yes, these things also happen outside of polygamist communities, but within such communities these acts are frequently tied directly to the community’s beliefs, teachings, and culture. In the Kingston group, for example, church leaders believe their bloodline can be traced back to Jesus Christ and must be kept pure. Incestuous marriages are thus fairly common. A brief look at the FLDS Church reveals practices too disgusting and disturbing to be worth repeating. Given the official LDS narrative, then, it appears that God was okay instituting polygamy knowing these atrocities would be the result. However, God was willing to stop polygamy in order to spare Wilford Woodruff and other high-ranking church leaders from going to jail.

It sure pays to be among the elect, doesn’t it? Feel free to take a vomit break. I’ll wait.

It is indeed an outlandish story the LDS Church weaves. Polygamy was so important that Joseph Smith had to practice it. God couldn’t allow otherwise—even though God would indeed allow otherwise just 60 years later, when the practice thereof would be an inconvenience—even though it was actually quite an inconvenience when it was first practiced, but that’s precisely why God warned Joseph Smith that he was getting himself into something he couldn’t get himself out of—except that you actually can get out of it, if it’s going to cause a lot of harm—even though God’s making people practice polygamy in the first place has led to way more harm than would’ve occurred had God never forced Joseph to practice it in the first place—but, of course, God couldn’t allow Joseph not to practice it, given that He was revealing the law of polygamy to Joseph and once you know about it, you have to practice it, no matter what—except that you really don’t, apparently.

Etc., etc., ad absurdum, ad nauseum.

Ad nauseum, indeed.

1 All quotations in this blog entry, except those from the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, are conveniently located at Those wishing for original sources may find them cited there.

Friday, September 02, 2016

More Thoughts on Polygamy, Pt. 2

I’ve had a lot of thoughts swimming around in my head about polygamy. Some of them I shared in my previous post, which was hastily written and published. I expect this post will be even more scattered than the last one. I’m just trying to capture some random thoughts and observations. Make of it what you will.

At the Sunstone Symposium, a woman said the following about why she and her family had chosen to leave the FLDS polygamous group around the time that Warren Jeffs came into power: “We left because we knew what was being taught didn’t match what was in the scriptures.” This isn’t an exact quote, but is as near as I can remember it. When I heard this, I could imagine many a Mormon nodding along, thinking this woman had acted so wisely to stick to the scriptures and not listen to anyone who tried to teach something counter to their message.

Oh, the irony! I honestly think one of the key reasons I became an unorthodox Mormon (back when I was still a member of the LDS Church) was my close study of the scriptures. More and more, I saw the modern LDS Church in opposition to the scriptures. Since leaving the LDS Church, these things stand out to me even more. Taking the Lord’s name in vain? That’s exactly what I see the LDS Church doing much of the time. Drawing near to God with their lips but otherwise denying Him? The LDS Church again. Calling bad things good and good things bad? You guessed it: the LDS Church. Trusting in the arm of flesh and denying the Holy Ghost? See also, LDS Church. False idols? Have I mentioned the LDS Church? But it goes beyond the principle-based stuff I’ve mentioned. Some teachings of the LDS Church are blatant and undeniable contradictions of what you find in scripture. To cite just one example, in LDS scripture, the Lord says, “Whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall … inherit the kingdom of God…. And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock” (3 Nephi 11:33, 40). Well, according to current LDS theology, you actually have to be baptized by the right people in order to inherit the kingdom of God, and being baptized by those people only allows you to inherit one-third of the kingdom of God, while truly inheriting all that the Father has requires being baptized by a Mormon, being confirmed a member of the LDS Church by a Mormon, dutifully attending LDS Church services, receiving the priesthood (if you have a penis) or pledging that someone with a penis will always rule over you (if you have a vagina), participating in sacred (but also secret) rituals within LDS temples, having your marriage sealed in an LDS temple by a Mormon, abstaining from alcohol, abstaining from tobacco, abstaining from tea, abstaining from coffee, not making unnecessary purchases on Sundays, giving 10% of your annual income to the LDS Church, and so on. (It also used to require having more than one wife—another rule that applies only to those with a penis.) Now what did 3 Nephi 11:40 say again? “And whoso shall declare more or less than [baptism and faith in Christ], and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil.” Yeah, well. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

Going back to polygamy, I guess it annoys me when I see Mormons acting like polygamists are nuts when they themselves are guilty of so many of the same things. I mentioned last time that one of the shows I’ve been watching lately is A&E’s Escaping Polygamy. The show focuses on people fleeing from the polygamist communities in which they live. I was surprised how many people who choose to abandon polygamy nevertheless retain their fundamental religious beliefs. It’s not uncommon for the person fleeing polygamy to express a genuine concern that, because of her (or, much less often, his) choice to leave, she is going to be damned to Hell. These people are suffering so intensely that they are willing to choose eternity in Hell over life in polygamy, here and now. Super sad. Anyway, one of the main people on the show who helps others to escape—and who escaped herself from the Kingston group several years earlier—is now LDS. Maybe I’m reading into things, but I swear I’ve seen her balk at some of the comments that these former polygamists make. Not that I completely blame her. It’s wild to hear someone who has escaped the FLDS community express the belief that Warren Jeffs is a true prophet. It seems insane. But the LDS Church has a prophet, and the typical member of the LDS Church is unwilling to doubt anything that the LDS prophet says or does. The underlying mentality is the same. No, I don’t think Thomas S. Monson is a monster, and I wouldn’t want to compare him to Warren Jeffs. That’s not my point. Rather, I am comparing the unwavering confidence in and deference to church leaders that exists in both the FLDS community and the LDS Church. Thank God—literally—that Monson isn’t like Jeffs. But that doesn’t mean the LDS attitude toward church leaders is any healthier than it is in the FLDS community, at least from what I can tell. And thus it annoys me to see an LDS person roll her eyes at the “absurdity” of what an FLDS person believes.

Speaking of retained beliefs, another moment from Escaping Polygamy that stands out in my memory is when a person who had fled the FLDS Church talked about her experience meeting Warren Jeffs. Other people on the show, who had left a different polygamist group, were asking her how it felt. You could tell they expected it not to be a pleasant experience, as though the woman would have or should have sensed Jeffs’ depravity or something. But this woman, despite leaving, still believes Jeffs is a prophet. And when she talked about meeting Jeffs and shaking his hand, she described the experience as one that involved a sense of peace in her prophet’s presence. This isn’t one of those times when an LDS person scoffed, so that’s not my point. But I found it very interesting. LDS often point to feelings of peace as evidence that something is true, because they regard a feeling of peace as more or less synonymous with the presence of the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost shows up and makes you feel peaceful precisely to inform you that something is true. That’s the Holy Ghost’s #1 job. So, in the LDS world, feelings of peace are markers of what is good and right. They play an essential role in gaining a personal testimony, to converting non-Mormons to the LDS Church (“Do you feel peaceful when I share my beliefs with you? You do!? Wonderful! That’s the Holy Ghost telling you my church is the one and only completely true church on the entire planet!”), and to living life in general (“I knew I should accept the job offer because I felt peaceful about it when I prayed for guidance, so now I know God wants me to take the job.”) Well, this ex-FLDS woman felt at peace when she met Warren Jeffs. How does that make any sense on the LDS model? It doesn’t, which means the typical LDS person will point the finger of blame at the woman herself. She was confused, or she fell prey to Satan’s trickery, or something. Just as the ex-FLDS woman probably “knows” it was the Spirit giving her those feelings, LDS folk “know” it wasn’t. Call it a win-win?

Probably the most poignant episode of Escaping Polygamy, for me, was one that aired only recently. It was about yet another woman who desired to leave the FLDS Church. She had a 13-year-old daughter that she hadn’t seen in three years, despite their both being FLDS. You see, the 13-year-old daughter, at the age of 10, had been selected to be part of the “United Order.” This gave the girl something of elite status, but it also removed her from her mother’s home and effectively severed their ties. As the mom described it, she (the mom herself) wasn’t “worthy” of seeing her daughter.

I was appalled. What kind of sick and twisted belief system would tell a mother she isn’t worthy of seeing her own child? The answer hit me like a ton of bricks: the LDS belief system. No, the LDS Church doesn’t literally and physically remove children from their parents just because the children are exceptionally righteous. Not in this life, anyway. But a key part of LDS theology is that, in the afterlife, families are together only in the celestial kingdom—the top bracket of the hereafter. Thus, as far as family relationships go, what the FLDS woman was experiencing today is exactly what the LDS Church teaches could happen to you tomorrow. Even if you’re a decent person, if your children are more “righteous” than you, it is quite possible that in the next life, they will be taken from you, to live with the elite class, and will no longer even be considered your children. You will not be worthy to go where they are, and you will be separated forevermore. Your children will literally be too good for you, and you will neither deserve nor be allowed to retain the title of mother or father.

I’m sorry, but this warrants profanity: fuck that.

Maybe I sound overdramatic, but this is some seriously sick shit. Few things about the LDS Church have hit me as hard as this realization. I’ve always known this was the doctrine of the LDS Church, but somehow it took seeing such an atrocity enacted in the here and now for me to grasp just how messed up of an idea it is. Had I not spent a few minutes being horrified before I saw the connection to LDS theology, I don’t know that it would have had the same effect. We’re desensitized to what we already know. LDS theology is so familiar to me, it’s hard to see it for what it is. That’s why leaving the LDS Church has been so eye-opening. The longer I’m away, the more certain things stand out to me and I can’t for the life of me believe I never noticed them or never realized they were so damn glaring.

Okay, I guess I’m going to turn this into a three-part series. The final thing I wanted to discuss takes things in a very different direction, so I might as well make it its own post. That’s not a bad thing. This three-part series will end up practically doubling the number of posts I’ve written this year. Yay!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

More Thoughts on Polygamy, Pt. 1

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve become more interested lately in learning about polygamist groups that trace their heritage to Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of Mormonism. Over the summer, Melanie and I watched several reality TV shows about polygamy, and I can’t help but find the culture fascinating. Some of these shows are more sensationalistic than others—“reality” is a loose term when you’re talking about reality TV—but the presentation isn’t what grips me. Instead, I find myself completely captivated by the ways in which these polygamist groups mirror the culture in which I myself grew up as a member of the mainstream LDS Church. If you have no connection to the LDS Church and know little about Mormons other than their historical affiliation with polygamy, it may seem absurd that I could find the similarities between the groups that still practice polygamy and the LDS Church startling. But mainstream Mormons today are about as anti-polygamy as anyone, and the majority of them would be appalled to think their culture bears any resemblance to the “depraved” and “apostate” sects that still adhere to the doctrine of plural marriage. That’s the mentality I grew up with. But now, I continually find myself shaking my head in amazement at the similarities. It can be truly stunning.

I listed several of the similarities between mainstream LDS culture and polygamist cultures in my previous post, but I didn’t really elaborate on them. I was simply reporting some of the things I’d heard at Sunstone from former members of polygamist groups. In this post, I will elaborate on those points but also raise some new ones. I will also explain why I find lacking some of the typical responses LDS folk often given for why polygamy was ever practiced in the first place.

Let’s begin with the similarities.

Similarity #1: Suffering persecution is evidence that you belong to God’s true church
I don’t know how much actual persecution the average polygamist faces, nor the average Mormon. But Mormons are notorious for having a persecution complex. Often, they will equate anything in the world that doesn’t cohere with their values, beliefs, and/or desires as a kind of persecution. At the risk of exaggerating—though not by much—a Mormon might see the fact that the corner grocery store remains open on Sunday as a form of persecution. Less controversially, Mormons being the brunt of a joke on TV could be seen as persecution. Almost certainly, non-Mormon Utahans griping about the LDS Church’s stronghold on state politics, about the obnoxiousness of LDS neighbors, or other general complaining about the surrounding culture is regarded as persecution. Sure, most Mormons aren’t being tarred and feathered nowadays, but they are persistently mocked and ridiculed by outsiders, at least from their own perspective. And why is that? Because the LDS Church is Satan’s enemy #1. And why is that, you might ask? Simple: because the LDS Church is God’s true church on the face of the earth. Thus, it is the only religious institution that truly threatens Beelzebub’s plan of dragging as many souls as possible down to Hell to be his partners in misery. The Devil has a vested interest in making the LDS Church as laughable to outsiders as possible, so as to prevent converts and encourage apostasy. From what I’ve heard out of the mouths of ex-polygamists themselves, polygamists say the exact same thing about why they face persecution—because Satan is working so very hard, and so very specifically, against them. After all, why would he bother stirring up trouble for those who already belong to false churches and who are therefore already in his grasp? (What’s that? Religious groups other than Mormons and polygamists face persecution? Hush, hush, now! It’s time to move on! Go!)

Similarity #2: Doubting or questioning what you’ve been taught is the result of Satan planting those thoughts in your head
It’s more of the same logic here. Satan’s out to destroy God’s work, so of course he tries to confuse you by making you cock an eyebrow whenever a religious leader tells you something like God can make a square circle. Don’t question it! Don’t try to make sense of it! The more you linger on a doubt, the more chains Satan is able to wrap around your neck! Don’t be that guy! It’s amazing how much peace and tranquility comes from turning off your critical thinking skills!

Similarity #3: When laws are passed that stand in the way of the religion’s wishes or moral dictates, Satan is to blame
This probably counts as a subset of similarity #1, but I’ve heard it from polygamists and LDS Mormons alike. Polygamists point to the example of child labor laws that stand in the way of their building up the Kingdom of God on earth, as they are striving to do. Mormons point to things like the legalization of same-sex marriage, which stands in the way of their building up the Kingdom of God on earth, as they are striving to do. When will people learn that God does not want happiness for children or the gays! C’mon, already! No matter which religious group you belong to, make no mistake that when it comes to the nation’s law books, Satan is head ghost writer.

Similarity #4: Ugly stories about the church, its history, or its leaders are lies concocted by those who seek to destroy God’s work
Who are in turn inspired by Satan, of course. It’s infuriating to me when Mormons refuse to believe anything that opposes their belief system because all such things are automatically dismissed as lies. Critically evaluate my position and dismiss it. That is fine. But that’s not how it usually works. Knowing something contradicts the narrative they were raised with is enough for most Mormons to stop listening altogether. Well, I consider it a giant red flag whenever a religious institution uses its beliefs as a Litmus test for determining truth rather than the other way around. I’m sure this is a problem in many religious cultures and not just among Mormons and polygamists. Even so, I have learned that “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” is indeed a common retort for the latter two. One woman who spoke at Sunstone is a lawyer who worked on some of the legal cases connected to Warren Jeffs. She spoke of two polygamist women who were made to testify and who had to listen to the recording of Jeffs having sex with a 12-year-old girl in the FLDS temple. After refusing to answer the lawyer’s questions about it, the judge finally forced them to answer. “The God and the prophet never do wrong!” was all one of them would say. The other simply reported that she didn’t trust the audio recording one iota, considering it a fabrication of those determined to harm the prophet and the church. Sigh. Unshakeable faith is not a virtue, my friends. If your faith won’t shake even when reality hits it smack over the head, that’s not a matter of standing firm. That’s just having one hell of a stiff neck.

Similarity #5: Extreme reverence for church leaders
Maybe this one doesn’t seem so bad on the surface, but hear me out. On one episode of Escaping Polygamy, a woman was fleeing her FLDS community. In the midst of collecting her belongings and whatnot, she had to sneak into an FLDS school. As she darted through the school, you could see photos of Warren Jeffs hanging on the wall. Knowing who Jeffs is, this turned my stomach. These people are quite literally victims of Jeffs, and yet their buildings and homes are pockmarked with visual shrines to the man. I found myself thinking, “Shouldn’t it be paintings of Jesus on the wall? Isn’t that who they’re supposed to look to? Isn’t that who they claim to worship?” And it immediately hit me that Mormons do the exact same thing with pictures of their leaders. The last time I attended the LDS temple, I found myself disturbed by the photos of church leaders hanging in the chapel where one waits for a temple session to begin. It just didn’t seem right. And it isn’t. I guess it’s okay to have images of people you admire in your house, but in LDS culture, it’s something of a duty to have at least one photo of the prophet on prominent display in your home. Why??? Mormons rise whenever the president of the church walks into a room, hold public celebrations in honor of their leaders, swap stories about when they had the honor of touching or even being in the same room as one of these men, etc. It’s all a bit disturbing. We do this with celebrities, yes, but that’s my point—are these men celebrities? Should they be???

Ay, carumba. I don’t have time to finish this post now, and I’m not even sure if it’s structured the way I wanted it to be. I feel like it’s a rough draft at best, but with the limited time I have nowadays, I don’t really have time to second guess it. I’m officially calling it “Part 1” and hoping that “Part 2” will be something coherent whenever I get around to it. I don’t feel like this post added much of anything. Like I said, it was a rough draft with me gathering thoughts. I wasn’t sure I’d hand them over like this without reorganizing and restructuring, etc., but oh well. Sue me.  Can you tell I’m ending this rather abruptly?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunstone 2016

Note: I am backdating this post to yesterday, because I had written most of it by then and just never got around to publishing it. Until now. So there.

This weekend at the University of Utah was the Sunstone Symposium, an annual multi-day conference geared toward Mormon and Mormon-related intellectualism. The bulk of the crowd consists of liberal and/or “fringe” Mormons. There are also many ex-Mormons who retain an interest in Mormonism, and then there are those who belong to groups (or have come out of groups) that also trace their lineage, in some way or another, to Joseph Smith. (Many of these people call themselves “Mormon” but are not members of the mainstream LDS Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT. While I believe they have every right to use the term “Mormon,” I make a distinction here purely for convenience’s sake—because nothing says convenience quite like a lengthy parenthetical aside.)

My first time attending Sunstone was two years ago. I couldn’t go last year because I was in Nauvoo, but this year afforded me another opportunity to be a part of the Sunstone extravaganza. Of course, I’ve gone through some big changes since I last attended. This year, I went as an ex-Mormon. As such, I was interested in far fewer sessions. I don’t really need to attend a session on how doubt can be a healthy thing and has its place within the LDS Church when I myself am no longer a part of the LDS Church and no longer feel a need to come to terms with how much (or how little) I doubt. But the theme of this year’s symposium was “Many Mormonisms and the Mormon Movement.” There was a conscious effort to bring a wider range of “Mormon” voices to the conference, and that resulted in many polygamous sects being represented (sometimes for good and sometimes for ill). My interest in polygamy has increased much over the last while (though I have no interest in practicing polygamy myself, I assure you), so I ended up attending only one Sunstone session that was not polygamy-based. The very first session I attended this year featured a panel of women who currently live in polygamist families. Edith Barlow and Elsie Blackmore are the 13th and 25th wife, respectively, of Winston Blackmore. Also on the panel were Elise Barlow, Hanna Blackmore, and Dollie Blackmore, three of Winston’s 145 biological children. (That’s not a typo. He has 145 biological children.) They spoke highly of their experiences within a polygamous family and culture and of the joy that it brings them. They were articulate and funny. I very much appreciated and enjoyed hearing from them, and I felt nothing but good will toward them. Then, as a kind of afterthought, I remembered some of the ideas that weren’t being expressed but are pretty much guaranteed to be a part of their polygamous culture—unhealthy ideas and attitudes about different races, for example. That made me sad.

Brady Williams, of TLC’s My Five Wives, was also at Sunstone. (So were his wives, but they didn’t want to be on the stage, having “had enough of the spotlight,” according to Brady.) He argued in defense of “progressive polygamy,” which he deemed “feminism’s strangest bedfellow.” His family left the Apostolic United Brethren years ago and now practices polygamy for reasons that have nothing to do with religious beliefs. It is simply the structure of the family they have created together, that they love, and that they want to keep intact (as they should). Brady defends a view that is very forward-thinking, wherein a marriage system can remain closed but accommodate any variety and number of parties to that marriage: a man and five women, two men and a woman, five women and two men, three women without a man at all, etc. The key is that each party to the marriage has an equal say as to whom the marriage will include, and each party’s voice must be heard. That’s an oversimplified retelling of his view, but it was certainly interesting. I see no blatant logical or ethical flaws in his position, though I question how emotionally healthy it would be for at least most people to have more than one (concurrent) spouse.

Most of the sessions I attended were not friendly toward polygamy. Most presenters spoke of it as inherently damaging and problematic, with several of them being former members of polygamist groups. What fascinated me above all else was hearing these former members of fundamentalist Mormon sects describe mentalities that are oh-so-familiar to me because of my LDS background and upbringing. These are mentalities that I have long abandoned, and yet examining them within the framework of systems that I believe are clearly morally corrupt and/or psychologically unhealthy made it all the more obvious to me that these ways of thinking—no matter who adopts them—are just plain batshit crazy (to use the phrase I most want to use, if I may be so frank). Here is just a sample of the kinds of thinking I heard: Persecution is “proof” that you belong to the one true church, because that’s who Satan would want to target and hinder the progression of. If you find yourself seriously doubting or questioning what a church leader has taught or something that you read in the scriptures, Satan is putting those thoughts into your head. Because of his grasp on the world at large, Satan is also the author and perpetrator of laws that go against God’s will, prevent the building up of God’s kingdom on the earth, and otherwise corrupt society—which, in this case, includes anti-polygamy laws and child labor laws. Stories that reflect poorly on church leadership (past or present) are lies made up by those outside of the church who are intent on destroying it and thwarting God’s work. These are shaming, paranoia-inducing, critical-thinking-discouraging, coercive, manipulative, and otherwise controlling mentalities—and every single one of them is very familiar to me as someone who was born and raised in the LDS Church.

On Sunday, Community of Christ held “Sunstone Sunday” to finish off the Sunstone weekend. Community of Christ is one of the sponsors of the Sunstone Symposium, so a special announcement is made inviting people to attend our church services the day after the official symposium concludes. We had a ton of visitors, which was cool. I met some new people, and they all seemed great. Community of Christ seems to attract the cream of the crop, I have to admit. But not all of the guests were new to Community of Christ. Lachlan Mackay, my boss during my time in Nauvoo, came out for Sunstone and taught our Sunday School class. He explored the question of how it is that, given Mormonism’s militant beginnings, the RLDS Church / Community of Christ could nevertheless develop into a “peace church.” Then, during the worship service, Toronto-based John Hamer delivered the sermon. Hamer’s theme, taken from Luke 12:13–21, was “Be Rich Toward God.” It was an awesome service all around.

And now for some photos from my Sunstone adventures:

This is probably my very favorite souvenir of Sunstone 2016, the work of a gentleman by the name of Matt Page.  (He also dressed as Brigham Young and was a popular photo-op among Sunstone guests.)

Many people aren't aware that Brigham Young's son regularly performed in drag. This is a cardboard cutout of a photo of him in character. And no, this isn't a joke.

Lately, I've been thinking of taking up that quaint old habit of reading books again.  I got this from the discount / clearance / bargain bin table at Sunstone and feel eager to read it.

Brady Williams and his wives are bookended by Mica McGriggs (moderator) and Lindsay Hansen Park (one of the top people at Sunstone but also famous for her Year of Polygamy podcast series, which is well worth listening to ... though it might make you both sick and sad).

A could-be-better photo of D. Michael Quinn and John Nielsen, who presented at a session entitled "Who Holds the Keys?: FLDS Perspectives on Authority." Did you know that, in the FLDS community, the Celestial Kingdom is divided into three levels reserved for those whose marriages consist of 3 wives, 5 wives, and 7+ wives, respectively? That was new to me!  Apparently, it all ties back to Freemasonry and Brigham Young, like so much of polygamist culture and belief does (though not the actual polygamy part, funny enough).

Being goofy in my souvenir Infants on Thrones t-shirt.  Now that I've left the LDS Church behind, Infants on Thrones is the only podcast I listen to with great regularity.  It's irreverent, often hilarious, and features among its pantheon of hosts none other than the aforementioned John Hamer.

Lach Mackay and I pose with Emma Smith and Joseph Smith III at the Salt Lake City Community of Christ on Sunday, July 31st.  I got somewhere between zero and two photos with Lach while working in Nauvoo, but I'm not sure any of them were just the two of us.  This was as close as I could get.  For whatever reason, cardboard cut-outs are all the rage lately.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Potpourri No. 42

I’m alive. Here’s an update.

Work Life
My job continues to go really well. They seem really pleased with me. I receive frequent praise. My supervisor called me into a meeting room today and told me she’s already trying to get me to be a salaried employee, complete with a pay raise. They don’t normally do this so quickly, but she thinks I’ve been doing an amazing job and, according to her, they don’t ever want to lose me. I like the job very much because I work largely independently and get to spend a good chunk of my day listening to music. Most of the time, it’s a somewhat busy but not-too-stressful job. A nice combo. I often think about how happy I am with it, and I don’t think you could ask for much more than that.

Personal Life
One of the best things to happen in the last month is that I’ve started taking guitar lessons again. As I’m sure I’ve said on this very blog, probably numerous times, one of my biggest fears is that I will look back on my life and curse myself for not doing a whole lot more with music. I’ve taken guitar lessons, in spurts, a few times in my life, but I’m a much more disciplined guy nowadays. I think this time around, it really has a chance to pay off. And so far, it is. I’m playing a lot more music, and in turn, I’m writing more music. I think having a job where I’ve been able to listen to so much music has helped inspire me. When I’m listening to really good music, I find myself thinking I want to spend as much of my free time as possible writing and playing.

Home Life
I guess this is a subset of personal life, but whatever. Melanie and I continue to love our home, but the first big problems have already appeared. When it rains, we have issues with flooding. One of our downstairs bedrooms gets water soaking up into the carpet. Apparently, there’s a crack in the foundation and the water in the ground seeps in. It’s not coming in so fast that it’s hugely problematic, but it’s certainly a big nuisance. And it stinks up the carpet, and it makes a good chunk of that room unusable because you don’t know what will get ruined. And then we have to run a high-powered fan for days at a time to dry things out, which is noisy and likely racks up the electric bill. Our garage is also quite bad if it rains a lot. It turns into a lake inside. Many books have already fallen victim to it. We can’t reliably store anything in the garage, apparently, because water will get to it eventually. My books were in boxes, but the bottom of the box gets all soggy and then the water starts to soak up into the book. There was only one book that was in such terrible condition, I threw it away. But several have become warped. And that depresses me. Books are one of my treasured possessions.

Family Life
Family life is going really, really well lately. We went through a very rough phase with Peter, where he was pretty much abusive to us, no matter what was going on. It didn’t matter how you treated him, he would treat you like garbage. It was extremely depressing, and I’m not using that term lightly. But that situation has improved dramatically over the last two or three months, and it’s wonderful. I also love that Melanie and I are in a situation where we can date once in a while. Just last Saturday, we went out to lunch and two movies at Broadway, a theater that specializes in independent film. It was a splurge, but it was great. I continue to be crazy about that girl, and I don’t get sick of spending time with her. In fact, it’s much harder for me to enjoy work now that Melanie and the boys are on summer vacation. I feel like I’m missing out, and that’s really sad. But I think they’re enjoying the summer thus far. They’ve kept busy playing around. As they should. Melanie, unfortunately, has to have surgery in a couple of weeks. If everything goes well, it will be an outpatient surgery and shouldn’t be too debilitating. But that doesn’t mean it will be fun or that she’ll be wanting to (or allowed to) go out and play the next day. I just hope she recuperates quickly enough to enjoy the latter half of her summer break.

In sum, life continues to get more and more wonderful. And that’s pretty damn cool.  I guess that’s all I’ll say for now.