Thursday, December 13, 2012

You Don't Want Me Here? I'm Out.

I will not be returning to church when the new year starts. That was my plan for a while, but recent events have made it clear to me that is what I need to do.

A group of Mormon Feminists created a Wear Pants to Church Day. I've stated my opinion on that here on the Exponent. Recently, responses to this event have gotten even stranger than the ones I listed in my Exponent post. Organizers have received death threats. Women involved have gotten messages from people they don't know calling them sinners and all kinds of horrible names. The event page has been taken down, either because people were protesting it so much that Facebook took it down or because of the death threats received. People are being threatened with violence for suggesting that women have the option to wear pants to church. Pants = Death. This is not okay. This is wrong on a fundamental level. And these are members of the LDS church threatening to kill other members over pants, over gender equality.

I realize that this is a fringe group of members. I realize that there are many members who are wonderful people, including my friends and family. But if this craziness is what the church attracts, I just can't stay. If something so simple as questioning a cultural practice (not a church doctrine) creates this kind of reaction among members, there is little hope for changing gender inequality in the LDS church any time soon. It is so entrenched that people go insane defending a cultural expectation. So while I love my Mormon family and friends and know they do not support the behavior exhibited by other members, I don't feel I can stay in an organization that breeds this kind of mentality among some of its members. So I will not be returning to church after I wear pants this Sunday to show solidarity.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Unknowable God

I've been having a conversation with a friend, started by All Are Alike Unto God. The conversation has gone all over the place, and recently hit on the notion of eternal gender. My friend had this to say about it: "But, I do believe that our spirit's gender is what it has always been. Can our body's sex be different than our spirit's gender? Would God allow a spirit woman to be born in a man's body? I would doubt it."

That struck me as a very strange statement, reminiscent of a statement made by Boyd Packer about gay people. He said that a loving God would never create a gay person. (This statement was removed from the official version of the talk.) Both of these men seem very sure they know the mind of God. Both are convinced that God would never do something they do not understand.

These men can accept that a loving God would create a child with a disability so severe they cannot walk, speak, eat or take care of themselves. They can accept a loving God would create a person with cancer, would allow people to be born into war zones and famines, would allow children to be born from rapes and addicted to drugs. All of this is okay for a loving God to do, but someone who is gay or someone who feels that they are a different sex then their body is not something God would do.

I realized that this has nothing to do with the love of God, but the need to make God make sense. I'm having flashes to the Joker in the Dark Knight (go with me on this) when he tells Dent that people can accept all kinds of horrible things as long as it is part of a plan they understand. Mormons have been taught that disease and tragedy is part of God's plan, so they accept that a loving God can allow these things to happen. But homosexuality and transgender are not a part of their plan, so in their minds God could not have been involved. So God becomes an excuse for their own belief system, rather than something outside of themselves. And since they define God, their God tells them that their opinions are doctrine. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I understand the need to explain God, to claim to know God's mind. It's a way to make the world make sense. If we know exactly who God is, that makes the world simpler; we can know exactly what we are supposed to do in any given situation. I don't begrudge anyone that desire, or the desire to provide knowledge of God to others. But I've found that the more I try to define God, the less divine God is. If God can be broken down into a list of do's and don'ts, God feels less like God.

While reading She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson, her discussion of the Trinity spoke to me. The Trinity is a concept many Mormons struggle with, even mock, because it cannot be easily explained. They laugh or shrug because it doesn't make easy sense, while their God does. But Johnson believes is that the lack of clarity is the point. God in unknowable, that is what makes God divine. God cannot, and should not, be easy to explain or God would cease to be God. The Trinity serves that purpose. It makes God difficult to define so that we don't fall into the trap of thinking we now the mind of God.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

This is Not a Triumph for Mormon Feminists

Yesterday the LDS church made a big announcement in General Conference. The age of LDS missionaries has been lowered. Men can serve at 18 and women at 19. While this is an interesting change, many in the bloggernacle are treating it as a triumph for Mormon feminists. I see how they can see it that way, I can't. I can't see this as anything but another slap in the face to Mormon women.

The problem that many Mormon feminists had with the previous missionary set up was that there was an age gap for no apparent reason, and well as a difference in length of time served, again for not apparent reason. Both of these differences still exist. Women are still serving at a different age than men and for a different length of time. That status quo has not changed at all.

The reason given for this change was that it would make getting an education easier. In many places, you cannot start school than leave for two years or eighteen months. You lose credits, your place in school and even your chance to attend school in some cases. When men left at 19, they had a year to either screw around in school or waste time before going on a mission because they couldn't or didn't want to start school. Now, they wont' have that year, and will be able to start school easily when they return if they wish. Now it's the sisters who get put in that position. They are the ones whose education is in jeopardy just as the men's used to be.  So it's not okay for men to hang around or mess up their education, but it's fine that the women have to do that. How is that any kind of equality?

What makes this worse to me is the fact that church leaders had a chance to make things right. They had a chance to prove that they do in fact value women in the same way the value men. And the intentionally chose to keep the status quo to keep men and women different. It would have been so easy to make the age the same in this instance, but they CHOSE not to. The pain of this is incredible for me It's not just old policy or unexamined tradition. It is a deliberate choice in brand new policy.

I"m tired of this. I'm tired of this church not giving a crap about the women who are members. I'm tired of fighting and hoping for change just to have garbage like this happen. To me this is not a step forward; it is proof that the church does not think women are as good as men and has no intention of making changes to give women more of a voice.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mormon Diaries

I've found that when I anger one person in a public setting, at least one other comes out of the wooodwork to express appreciation or shared opinions. That is how I met the author of this book. I was irritating her cousin, a guy I knew freshman year at BYU, on Facebook and she friended me. She's written a book called Mormon Diaries that is coming out this month. It is a series of essays sharing her experiences as a Mormon and leaving the church. It is incredibly well-written, and explores, in a respectful and real way, the difficulty in leaving the church you dedicated your life to for years.

"Brought up in a religious home, Sophia believes the only way to have a forever family is by following church leaders and obediently choosing the right. She goes to the right school, marries the right man in the right place, and does the right thing by staying home to raise her children. But when she starts asking questions about grace, love, and the nature of God, she realizes her spiritual struggles could rip her family apart. 'Sophia Stone has a fine eye and a searching heart. Her story of growing up in and reaching through her Mormonism for a deeper, more authentic spirituality reflects all the ways that religion can both keep us satisfied with easy answers and push us to more difficult and complicated realizations. We need a hundred more books like this one . . .' –Joanna Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl

'Sophia Stone captured my attention from the beginning. This collection of personal essays, about questioning the legitimacy of Mormonism after having faith in the religion for the first 30-something years of her life, is not just a controversial quake to a reader’s heart and soul. Stone’s voice is brave, bold and intriguing. And surprisingly relatable to someone who is not religious.'-Jessica Bell, author of String Bridge"

Mormon Diaries comes out this month; keep an eye out for it! It is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It's Okay to Say No

I just listened to a Mormon Expression podcast about opening your mouth and taking a stand. It's an awesome podcast that I found inspiring. It's hard to speak out against the majority but I feel that we can't complain about things that are wrong if we aren't doing something to draw attention to it (which isn't to say you have to be vocal in a specific way; there are many ways to draw attention to problems.)

Listening to this podcast made me feel better about something I did on Sunday. I ended up in Gospel Doctrine class because I thought a woman I love and respect was teaching. We have long discussions about the church and women's position in it. We don't always agree, but she is understanding and extremely intelligent so talking with her is always fun. And she is a fantastic teacher. So we walked into the classroom and someone else was teaching. It felt rude to walk out, so we stayed. The lesson was Alma 39. I wasn't really paying attention so I'm not sure how the teacher got here, but he started railing about enthusiasm and ragging on people who refuse callings. He described his early life in med school, where every night he and his family had church activities. He spoke with pride, saying that having this constant participation in the church brings joy and there is no good reason to turn down a calling. His method for curing unhappiness was to do more in the church.

I was enraged. I thought of the posts on the Expoenet and FMH written by women who are utterly exhausted, and yet feel like they can't say no to a calling or asked to be released. You can feel the pain, the helplessness, the despair in these posts as they ask permission to do what they know is right for them by turning down callings. I thought about the people I know who feel they don't know their fathers because all their growing up years their dads were never home. They were always in church meetings and neglected their families in the process. I was enraged that this man felt okay telling a room full of people that it is never okay to turn down a calling and that joy comes from spending all your time involved in church stuff. That doesn't hold up in many people's experience, and it ignores the fact that people are capable of determining what is best for them and their families. It says that some random church leader show does not know much about my life knows better then I do what will be best for my mental and physical health, my family relationships, my job and schooling etc.

So after the lesson, the woman I know went up and called him out. She shared that her dad was constantly absent in church callings and because her mother was an unstable person, she had to take over as parent as a young child. Every time her dad left she was terrified. She believes he should have been home but he chose the church over his family and his family suffered. She and her siblings have been damaged by his continued absence. I went and stood with her and gave my two cents, telling him abut the women I know who are literally killing themselves trying to do everything. They are hurting themselves by always saying yes to callings they don't have the capacity to fill it. And when they finally feel that they have the right to decide for themselves what they can handle, then they hear a lesson like this and go back to feeling like sinners for not being able to do it all. We spoke at him for about 10 minutes.

He looked a little deer in the headlights; he's a convert and very enthusiastic about the church. I don't think he has ever encountered such a strong negative reaction to something he has said, and I also don't think he has considered that there are legitimate reasons for saying no to a calling. He seems to assume everyone who says no is just lazy.

I felt a little bad for ganging up on him and fore being very blunt. But if he doesn't know that what he is teaching can be damaging it won't change. And he is jst a teacher; there is nothing that makes him more right then anyone else. Just because he has been given a podium that does not mean he can say what he wants and expect everything to think he is correct or more intelligent then anyone else in the room.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I Judge My Worth By What I Do

I've recently gotten myself into something of a mess. I've said yes to too many projects and am now so swamped I'm about to go crazy. Literally, I don't sleep, I don't have time to eat and I barely see my husband. I'm working full time, stage-managing a show (which is a full time job in and of itself), working as an intern for a non-profit doing communications and creating an index for someone that I've never met's family history. This is on top of the writing I normally do for the Exponent and other blogs. I'm not writing this to say "Look how cool I am!" I'm trying to figure out what motivates me to get into situations like this.

Part of my problem is that I want to feel I'm contributing to society. My job, while a good job, is fairly specific and can't really be said to add to the goodness in society. I catalog books, and while books are great things, putting book information into a libraries system just doesn't cut it for me in the do good for the world department.

The bigger issue though is that if I"m not doing something extra, something different, something useful, I feel like a failure at life. And my idea of is useful is pretty specific. The fact that I'm the person supporting my family financially doesn't feel important enough to me to make me feel like a useful person. I don't know why.

I'm beginning to wonder if my drive to do too much is based in the Mormon idea of earning salvation. In most other Christian traditions, salvation is free to those who accept it. They don't need to earn it through good works or perfection. But in Mormonism, we need to earn our way to heaven, by serving, being worthy, etc. We are only saved after we've done everything we can do. But then, because Mormons claims Christianity, we are also taught that all we do is never going to be good enough, so Christ fills in the rest. But he only fills it in if we do everything we possibly can. This creates a bunch of stressed out Mormons who do a lot of good but feel they haven't earned their way to heaven.

I have no idea if I believe in heaven or the Atonement, but I was brought up to do everything I could do. I wonder if that stuck; if I'm not doing every good thing I can possibly do, then I feel like a failure.

I'm not sure what this has to do with anything; just trying to figure it out.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why I Won't Leave the Church Alone

People who leave the church are often accused of not leaving the church alone. Church members and leaders act all offended that people are angry at the church, as though they in no way deserve anyone's anger. Here's the problem with that; they church won't leave those who leave alone. So if they get to stick their noses in my life, I get get to stick my nose in theirs. If the church wants people who leave to leave the church alone, they should follow suit.

This breaks down into two issues in my mind. First, there are the church members who won't leave you alone. Second there is the fact that the church has inserted itself into EVERY aspect of your life, and felt justified in doing so. Detangleing yourself from that is an extensive process.

First, the church will not leave people alone. If you haven't been to church for a while, people comment, as though you didn't know you'd missed church and they are providing you with vital information. People who never speak to you at church make a point of telling you haven't been to church and that they missed you. How is that possible if they never speak to you when you are there? Then they send all kinds of people to your house who don't know you, and are frequently only there because they are supposed to. They have never exchanged words with you and will likely never do so after they are released from having to visit you. (Yes, I'm being a bit snide. I actually really like my current visiting teachers, but that was after I requested a change.) Then if they find out you are struggling, the bishop calls you in every couple of weeks and is passively aggressively threatening until you tell him you won't meet with him any more. So if the church can send people in to comment on my life and pass information about it up the food chain, I can comment on what the church does.

This is not my primary point however. The church feels okay inserting itself into every single aspect of my life. It has rules about everything I do and think. It feels it has the right to tell me:
-What I can and cannot eat.
-What I can and cannot drink.
-What I can and cannot wear.
-What I can and cannot wear on Sunday.
-What I can and cannot do on Sunday.
-What I can and cannot watch.
-What I can and cannot read.
-What I can and cannot listen to.
-What jewelry I can and cannot wear.
-What words I can and cannot use.
-Who I can and cannot date and marry.
-Who I can and cannot be friends with.
-What I can and cannot say and write about the church.
-What I can and cannot say about the church in public.
-What jobs I can and cannot take.
-What my role and purpose in life is.
-What I can and cannot do with my husband in private.
-What kinds of birth control I can and cannot use.
-Who, when and how I could date.
-What my family will look like.
-What my priorities should be.
-What I can think about.
-What God I should worship.
-What church I should attend.
-What leaders I should listen to.
-How I spend my money.
-Who I give money to.
-How I spend my time.
-How I might raise my kids.
-What my relationship with my husband should look like.
-What I should study.

There is nothing in my life the church doesn't feel it has a right to make a statement about. For most of my life, I've been following those rules because I was Mormon. But now, I need to figure out which rules I want to keep and which I don't. I never got a second ear piercing because the church said I wasn't supposed to. But now that I'm sorting through what I do and don't believe, I also have to sort through the rules as well. I couldn't think of a good reason for not getting a second piercing, and I wanted one so I got one. I've chosen not to drink at this point, because there are legitamate health and family reasons not to.

But since there is not a single aspect of my life, it's going to take me some time to parse out what rules I still want to follow. And since the church feels justified in inserting itself into every part of my life, I feel just as justified in inserting myself into every aspect of the church. If they don't want me there, maybe they shouldn't be as involved in my life and decisions.