Saturday, May 26, 2012

It Doesn’t All Come Down to Joseph Smit

In conversations with people about my concerns with the LDS church, they often say “Well, it all comes down to whether Joseph Smith was a prophet or not. If you believe he was a prophet then your concerns don’t matter.” That mentality is supported by this quote forGordon Hinckley “That is the way I feel about it. Our whole strength rests on the validity of [the First Vision.] It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens.” I’m not really sure what this argument is supposed to prove; I guess the idea is that either I believe in Joseph Smith and should therefore should just let my issues go or I don’t believe in Joseph Smith and am therefore an apostate and not worth listening to.
The problem is, that argument doesn’t hold up. Belief in the church does not come down to whether Joseph Smith was a prophet or not because the church he started is incredibly different from the church that exists today. If we were still the church of Joseph Smith, we’d be polygamists, with very different temple experiences, living the law of consecration, speaking in tongues and seeing visions. Women would be giving blessings, running their own organization with their own money and decision-making power and lesson manuals. Members of the first presidency and quorum of the twelve would disagree, and do it in public. Doctrine and manuals would not be correlated, conference talks would not be edited to put them in line with orthodoxy. These are just the things I cam come up with off the top of my head. The church has been through major changes since the days of Joseph Smith. So to my mind it is entirely possible to believe that Joseph Smith was inspired without believing in the modern church. That isn’t to say I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, but as far as the truth of the modern church goes, it’s almost irrelevant whether he was or not.
So why did Gordon Hinckley made a statement like this? Why do members tell me the same thing? If Mormons aren’t actually living the church Joseph Smith started, why is he the one people always come back to? Part of me wonders if it’s because it’s an easy blanket statement to make. It’s easy to say, “Well, if you believe this part, then you should just sweep all your worries under the rug because one part being true makes it all true.” The First Vision is an awesome story; it teaches that anyone can have remarkable experiences, that God answers prayers, that anyone can do important things and matter to God. That’s a lot easier to accept then things like polygamy or sexism and racism in the church. The hope appears to be that if someone believes enough in one part, they will believe in the whole.
But this, in my experience, has a tendency to backfire. It has for me anyway. There are parts of the church that I still believe, that feel right to me at this point in my life. There are parts that feel wrong to me; I mean inherently wrong in my soul, and have always felt that way. If that were okay; if I could say “I believe in x but not y” and have the be accepted, then I could stay. And the truth is, everyone doesthat. No one does everything, no one believes everything. How many Mormons say the keep the Word of Wisdom and eat meat every day? How many don’t pay fast offerings? How many have a problem with polygamy? How many believe in evolution? You get my point. But publically it’s called being a cafeteria Mormon, and you catch flack if you express doubt or ask questions publically. So, even though every Mormon does it, there is no space for vocalizing it in Mormonism. So people leave because they don’t believe it all, and have been told it’s all or none. So if they don’t believe it all, they feel there is no place for them. Many go from believing in Mormonism to believing in nothing connected to religion. The all or nothing model sticks, and it makes people leave the church. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to the church, since they care so much about numbers and maintaining activity, to move away from the all or nothing mentality?

Monday, May 21, 2012

The One Thing I Regret About My Marriage

Three years ago I was sealed to my husband in the Oakland Temple. His whole family was there. Mine was not. My grandparents were not present and neither were my sisters. My grandparents are not Mormon and my sisters were not endowed although both held temple recommends.

 I grew up hearing that the only valid marriage was in the temple. And since I live in the United States, I also knew that if I chose to do a different kind of wedding ceremony before my sealing, I would have to wait a year for no apparent reason. (Although if I had done something after, there wouldn’t have
been anything the church could do about it. Not like they would have cancelled my sealing for going to another church or courthouse. Wish I’d thought of that at the time.) It didn’t occur to me that I had any other option aside from a temple sealing. So I chose to be married in a place where some of my family were forbidden to enter.

The church claims that it is pro-family, that family is the most important thing. But it feel utterly justified in banning family members from some of life’s most special events and punishing those members (at least in the US) who choose their family over the church by making them wait a year to be sealed and attaching a stigma to that wait. So basically the church is only pro all-Mormon, all endowed families. My sisters were worthy to enter the temple, but were banned from my wedding anyway. How is that pro-family?

I feel I owe my grandparents an apology. My sisters are members, and one of them is making the same choice I did next month. But my grandparents aren’t members. They were not allowed to see their only child, my mother, get married. They are still angry about it, and in my mind they have every right to be. And then I did the same thing to them. I chose to exclude them from my wedding. And I feel so guilty for that. There are very few things I regret doing, but that is one of them, and it physically hurts to think of the heartless way I acted.

The truth is, because of health issues, they likely wouldn’t have been able to come to California anyway. But they still knew that if they had they would have been unwelcome. They knew they wouldn’t have been allowed to see me get married, and that I made the decision to leave them out. That was not the right choice for me to make. It was wrong of me to choose the church over my family. And I want to tell them I'm sorry. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to apologize to them because it would probably cause problems with my mother. They might hold it over her head or ask her why she hasn’t apologized. And with my sister getting married in the temple, they might give her a hard time too. (Our relationship with them is complicated.) But I feel like I need to make some kind of restitution to them somewhere, so here it is.

Dear Oma and Opa, I owe you an apology. When I got married I did so in a place where you were not welcome. I should not have done that. Even if you had not been able to come, I should have gotten married somewhere that would have welcomed you if you had been there. I should have made it clear that my family was more important to me then some religion. What I did was wrong and unkind and I am so sorry.

I should have gotten married somewhere that welcomed my whole family, not just those who believe a certain way. I regret the decision I made to marry in an LDS temple and if I had it to do over again, I would do it differently. I’m sorry for the decision I made and if that decision hurt your feelings or made you think I cared more about a church then you. I did not feel that way then, and certainly do not feel that way now. Any religion that would exclude family from events like weddings is wrong and I’m ashamed to have been a part of something like that. I wish I had figured that out sooner.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Things You Should Never Say to a Person Who is Childless by Choice

I recently read an article called “Infertility: 16 Things You Should Never Say to a Woman Who is Childless but Not by Choice.” It was posted on the FMH Facebook page, and I was shocked by the insensitivity experienced by the author of this article and those commenting on the Facebook thread. I imagine that most people don’t intend to be rude, but honestly.

On the Facebook thread, someone said that she could write a similar list of things not to say to women who are childless by choice. I like that idea, so here’s my attempt. I haven’t too many experiences with people being insensitive about my choice, mostly because we’ve only been married three years and K is still in school. But I’ve gotten a few comments. Recently there were a couple of episodes on Daughters of Mormonism discussing being childless by choice, so I’m drawing on that as well. Here’s goes:

1. “Oh, you’ll change your mind.” You’re right, I might. But I might not. And assuming you know me better then I know myself and that I made this choice lightly enough to just change my mind one day is a little absurd, don’t you think? 

2. “But kids are so much fun!” That’s your opinion. I don’t find little kids all that much fun. Why would that change if they are mine and I’m around them all day, every day? And is it a good idea to do something as big as having kids just because it’s fun? 

3. “Being a mother is the best thing you can do.” Being a mother is a great thing to do. And there are all kinds of great things that people can do, for themselves, their families, their communities. The best thing that someone can do depends on the person. There is no one best thing for everyone. 

4. “You’re being selfish.” Why is selfish to choose myself and family’s needs over someone who doesn’t exist? I don’t have children that I am neglecting, I am just choosing the needs of people who are already alive over the needs of someone who does not exist. I also feel that there are so many people who are already alive who need help, and that the people who are alive and in need should take precedence. And at this point, I would make a bad parent because I would resent my kids. I’m choosing not to put a child into that situation because that would be unfair to them. How is that selfish? 

5. “There are kids waiting for you in the spirit world.” First, show me doctrinally (Saturday’s Warrior does not count) that we are assigned spirit children. I know that many people feel that way about their children. I don’t discount their experience, but I don’t share it. It could also be said that there are people here who are waiting for help; children waiting for a stable home. Why do spirits count more than those that are already here? 

6. “But there are women who can’t have kids and want to!” I understand that. It is a sad thing. But how exactly would me having kids help them? It wouldn’t change their situation at all. 

7. “God wants you to have kids.” I am entitled to personal revelation for my life. You are not entitled to revelation about my life. So you don’t know what God wants me to do. Trust me when I say that I do. 

8. “You need to give your mom/mother-in-law grandkids.” My mom and mother-in-law won’t be the ones raising my kids. They would be my responsibility. Kids are a big deal, and having them just to make someone else happy seems like a recipe for disaster to me. 

9. Keeping talking to me as though I’ll have kids. Dude, I just told you I don’t want kids, so why are you still assuming I am? Respect me enough to respect my decision and trust me enough to believe that I am doing what I feel is right for myself and my family.