Keeping Mormonism really nice- for all?

To the outside world Mormons can look  a bit like Grenda’s shiny happy company employees.  If the ‘I’m a Mormon’ advertising campaign were anything to go by it would seem that ‘we are all individuals’.  It would also appear that despite our unique, and sometimes idiosyncratic life journeys, our common belief in Christ and our commitment to building a thriving and joyous church community rewards us with a sense of goodness and belonging in our lives.  And perhaps in most cases this might be so.

But if we cast our eyes over the cultural history of our church there is an aspect of its development which has me deeply concerned.  Now, nobody likes to have someone rain on their parade, the wet blanket doesn’t provide any comfort, and a sour puss can undermine the joie de vivre of any pleasant afternoon tea party – we all know that.  Mormonism at the centre can give one a very pleasant ride.  Nice clean cut people, saying nice things, being nicely in agreement with each other, being nice to each other, living in nice homes, carrying out the nice routines of Mormon life with barely a flicker of insolence can be very, very nice!   There is nothing as inconvenient as the acerbic misanthropist lurking in the shadows shouting ‘stinky poo’ at all of the ‘jolly hockey sticks’ being played in crisp white shirts and ladder free pantyhose on the manicured lawns of large and spacious mansions.  But what to do about it when you become aware of the cynic, the pessimist, the disgruntled, the skeptic? 

What do you do about those who, following the prophet’s advice, got married in the temple, but the marriage fell over because despite the appropriateness of the venue, the choice of partner wasn’t great because all they had in common was church?

What do you do about the black or brown person who feels both the flushes of spiritual transformation that the church offers but also a deep commitment to their language and the struggle of their people, but can’t bring that to the Sunday feast because its not wanted on the trestle tables full of white folk’s casseroles?

What do you do about the single mother who despite paying a gross tithe on her meager benefit loses sleep as she struggles to think of ways to feed her kids without having to go through the humiliation of asking for a hand out that the bishop usually seems reluctant to give?

What do you do about the woman who has to sit through another Relief Society lesson about the blessings of the priesthood while her husband, the former bishop, currently has his manhood saluting some one else?

What do you do about the young person who with their no holds barred adolescent critique feels so suffocated by expectations of a kind of bubble gum goodness that they get their nose pierced just to show that they too can be an a#$! h*&!!  – just not one of those!

What do you about the elderly woman who says at the end of her life, ‘This parenthood caper hasn’t been all that it was cracked up  to be, having so many children is one of the biggest regrets of my life…. and my husband was a lazy twat!”

What do you do about the curious and the questioners who over the years have built up a huge resource of incredible scholarship which identifies some unflattering things about the church  including some dodgy stuff involving teen gals and married women?

What do you do about the tithe payer who wants some answers as to where the heck her money is going after it leaves her hands but can’t get answers from any one at the local level, and is shut down by those in the Curia (a.k.a. COB)?

What do you do about the faithful woman who year in and year out was as chaste and as virtuous as chaste and virtuous can be (just like she was told to be in Young Women’s) but is fed up with having to watch sexy little flirts with their come hither ways, get to the temple with their quivering and eager grooms, before her?

What do you do about the woman who, armed with years of scholarship, thought, publications, public notoriety and a career which includes outstanding leadership in her field, gets tired of coming to church where she is made to feel like a naughty girl for not staying at home and producing babies and canned peaches?

What do you do about that boy who can’t in all good conscience serve a mission, and the thought of it gives him the horrors for all kinds of reasons he can’t quite identify – not the least being that he simply doesn’t have a testimony.  What do you do when he  goes off the rails in order to put his service out of the question?

What do you do about the non-Americans who simply can’t see in any way shape or form how the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were in anyway justified, and are stomach sick by the church in America, who for the most part wouldn’t have it any other way because a President stupidly said in conference, ‘I think we’ll go with the President (Bush) on this one’?

What do you do with the fury over yet another good Mormon kid lost because they were gay and were sent over the edge by a church funded political campaign that says, ‘You are not the same as me, so don’t expect the same as me’?

Here are some natty tried and true ideas that Mormonism has deployed over the years:

Ignore them:  There is nothing quite like social isolation to make people sadly drift away.  You can see it at ward activities.  There will be the usual hustle and bustle of those ‘in’ the ward as they catch up in the cultural hall with each other.  While the infectious sit quietly wondering how much longer they have to endure being a no-one.  Even nice Mormons might say to themselves, ‘I should go over and say hello’, but look up without regret later to see the chair empty.   

Send in the Henchmen:  The message boards on the internet are full of them, and there’s usually an outspoken one or two on the high council, the Bishopric or the Stake Presidency!  They tantrum and reprimand, they discipline and chastise and let those questioning communities know, in no uncertain terms  that they are out of place.  With their superior understanding of how things ‘should be’ they brazenly attempt to eviscerate difference with a ready arsenal of ‘is’ and ‘is nots’, and  ‘be in’, or ‘be out’! You can hear them shouting – ‘What are you talking about,  you foolish people – I don’t feel that way so you must be wrong!’  Or, ‘what you are  saying  is making me feel bad, so what you are saying MUST be bad!’   They are deeply loyal to the church and will defend it with all of their might.  It makes them very reliable and great to have around leadership, but they can be unruly, explosive and damaging.

Discipline them:  Mormons come a second only to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in terms of the structures they have in place for disciplining their own.  They deny temple recommends (or temple recommend interviews in my case), they threaten, convene church disciplines, they excommunicate, disfellowship and  place on probation.   It hangs over the aberrant like a meat axe, and those in power have in some situations wielded it with abandon.  But that’s as old as the church has been around.  For an organization born out of a heresy you’d think there would  be some sensitivity to thinking differently?  But we largely live with some kind of palpable intergenerational institutional fear – its part and parcel of the Mormon deal.  We grew up on morality tales of this or that person being axed by Joseph Smith  for questioning him and we’ve been taught to be fearful of that horror!

So I have a question:  Is it always necessary to preserve the niceness at the core by using meanness at the periphery.  Is all this shiny happiness we see at the centre dependent upon mean mouthed Mormon malevolence in the middle managing  the mouthiness at the margins? Perhaps that’s why a certain orthodoxy is maintained and valorized, it creates a  barrier between the ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Christ dealt to that when he condemned the inner circles of the religious elite for their proper attention to the law but their purposeful neglect of the marginalized.  I have to take comfort in that – because to me – that’s the gospel!

I grew up with the analogy of the church being likened unto a wagon passing by yapping dogs on its journey to glory.    But I’ve been thinking lately that  the Christ I know would stop the wagon, jump out, pick up the dog and make room for it in his wagon by telling the well dressed toady sitting next to him to walk for a bit while he makes a new friend.

  • Yet Another John

    Yes, I believe Christ would stop and pick up the yapping dog. I even believe he would stop the train for a bit. But the wagons would go on, with or without the yappers.
    I do agree with the gist of your post though. I think the toughest test our leaders face is transitioning the Church from a Utah/US centric society to a global one and still retain a central core of beliefs and doctrines. And I do believe we need to have common beliefs and practices.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Hi John! Agreed! Sometimes its very difficult to determine the difference between the behaviour required of someone who follows Christ and the behaviour of someone who is required to be the ideal patriot. Out here its even more infuriating – the cultural habits of a brand of Mormonism born in Utah feels like wearing gloves on our feet at the periphery. Agreed also that the wagon will go on – but I’m wondering if one day we’ll be surprised at the yapping dog who gets left behind.

  • Tom O.

    For those not in the Church in America who can’t understand how the war in Afghanistan was justified, I’d buy them an airline ticket so the could visit lower Manhattan.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      How on earth does a criticism of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq have anything to do with the atrocities that occurred in New York? Surely, if 9/11 was really the excuse they would have invaded Saudi Arabia? If our country was bombed by terrorists who hid in Fiji we wouldn’t declare war on Fiji! I don’t want to take any of the pain and grief suffered by innocent victims where ever they are but surely, surely you smell a rat?

    • Wellington Phoenix FC supporter

      … And I’m sure Palestinian and Arab “Christians” would buy Tom a ticket to visit Gaza and the West Bank to see how they live in fear for their lives.

  • Tom O.

    First, I said nothing of Iraq. The statement you made, which I was responding to, argued that there was no justification for starting the war in Afghanistan. Surely, you’re familiar enough with the facts to know that the 9/11 attacks were planned by an organization based in, trained in, and protected by the criminal regime then running that country. If one cannot see justification in 9/11 for conducting a war against Afghanistan, then I’m afraid no rational dialogue can occur.

    Saudi Arabia? We should start a war there based on the nationality of the 9/11 terrorists? How does that make any sense? Are you suggesting that country, institutionally, played a role? If so, you are making an argument that not even the most leftward critics of the Bush Administration have made — at least, the ones who don’t wear tinfoil hats.

    But this is all ultimately beside the larger point of your post…which seems to be that if the Church wants to “get with it”, it needs to either 1) drop the perception that it is simpatico with US conservatives or 2) adopt the kinds of causes (presumably including pacifism, gay marriage, and female ordination) that all the ” right thinking ” religions get behind these days. Or at least, that it shouldn’t say or do anything to challenge or offend anybody.

    If your country was bombed by terrorists who were hiding in Fiji, and they had planned their attack with the full knowledge, support and protection of the Fijian government, I would hope to heck that your country would bomb Fiji back to the stone age, so as to prevent a repeat performance.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I think I rest my case!

      • Wellington Phoenix FC supporter

        I find it VERY hard to envisage Jesus choosing to fly a Stealth bomber and dropping bombs on civilians in either Afghanistan, Iraq or Fiji for the sake of revenge! But I know what he did to the money lenders and religious [legalistic] hypocrites in the temple.

    • http://themormonworker.wordpress.com J. Madson

      Oh brother. You would think the past ten years would have made us realize the folly of our ways in invading other nations. This line is particularly revealing:

      “If one cannot see justification in 9/11 for conducting a war against Afghanistan, then I’m afraid no rational dialogue can occur.”

      You see, the only “rational” position is to support war against Afghanistan. Anything other than that is irrational.

      • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

        And there it is! Well said!

  • Aj70

    Tom O .as an Englishman,and ex royal marine , I know my fair bit about a country attacked by terrorists.at no time during the 27 active years of the I.R.A. Did we attempt to bomb Ireland back to the stone age, we did actively and successfully track down the perpetrated and prosecute with extreme force. If as kiwi Mormon points out we had gone after the financial backers then American/uk relations would have ended years ago.there is also substantial evidence that the house of saud/ bush funded and fostered the Taliban.an organization originally set up and trained by the us forces during the 80s when Russia was the bad guy.a lesson they had learned in Vietnam. Ie an insurgent force can out wit the large military might of a superpower.However this is an argument not worth pursuing as cold hard facts will defeat your opinion which you are of course entitled to hold.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Yes, yes and yes!!!!!!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002233755926 Sharon Ruth Doty

        WOW…. as one who has studied LDS teachings but not become a Mormon…your insight and view is AMAZING. I feel you are on the right track in distinguishing the CHRIST of the Bible from the religiosity of Mormonism. I love Jesus Christ and find no fault in Him. I am in viewpoint a Baptist, but first a Christian. There are hypocrites in most all churches, but the saying goes that counterfeit money proves there is the real thing out there. I was long ago interested in the idea that the LDS church is the restored church. If that’s true (total apostasy) we should all be Mormons (no matter what)…but in my study of the scriptures I concluded that the claim wasn’t true… thus (if my study was correct) one need not feel they are abandoning God if they abandon the LDS church.
        If what I found in my study interests you… I could explain. But if not… well ….THANKS for the excellent insight!

        • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

          Hey Sharon – yes cultural Mormonism is a complex and sometimes deeply distressing faith journey at times. But it can also be joyous, transformative and utterly satisfying much of the time. I have flirted – on more than one occasion with finding another faith tradition and have a great respect and appreciation for the Baptists as I grew up attending their services with my oma, (in between catholic services with my step father and mormon services with mum). Right now I consider myself an ‘ecumenical Mormon’ and regularly attend Anglican services with my sons who attend their schools. But thanks! I appreciate it very much and love that you have participated here!

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002233755926 Sharon Ruth Doty

            One thing I think is great is to read of folks who are not afraid to ask questions. I am opinionated(until I learn something different)….but not closed-minded. There is a big difference between the two. And I see in scripture an encouragement to question… I Thess 5:21 says to test everything, and hold onto what is good.

  • Aj70

    Now for the real issue.our church does not do different well.we like a standardized ,correlated congregation for brand Mormon.we fudge the figures and announce our membership is 14+million.as any ward clerk knows the ward actual membership ( regular bums on pews) is usually 1/3 of what the ward role actually says.so figure around 5million active. Why this discrepancy? We are not lying but judging by the most popular phrase in priesthood buzz word bingo( lost sheep) we know that the retention of members after baptism is a major issue.this like kiwimormon suggests is due to the non cookie cutter members of our wards . Who are they why is the church not servicing their needs. Why is corporation Mormon not delivering it’s message to the yapping dogs. I don’t suggest we adopt gay marriage in the temple or the other knee jerk responses Tom o suggests. But perhaps we need to be Christ like, visit the marginalized, tend to their concerns, love them genuinely . Too radical , d,ya think ?

    • It’s Not Me

      I’m not sure the LDS church counts its membership any differently than other churches. When the church announces membership numbers, it does not add the qualifier “active.” There is nothing whatsoever misleading about the announced numbers.

      One has to wonder about the wisdom of labeling people, as well.

  • AnnieB

    Putting it simply…I detest the “I am a mormon” billboards and TV commercials. My devotion to Christ is not up for sale, it happens to be sacred to me. Living the gospel is hard and needs discipline its not all happy smiling faces. We have members that are filling up prisons, suicidal, depressed….the list can go on. Its all false. I wish we would be keener in actually acting like christ and serve those in our church that are suffering.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Thanks AnnieB! Well said.

      • Kate Graham

        I agree, Annie B! Plus I loved saying that- it rhymed! :)

  • http://themormonworker.wordpress.com J. Madson

    The “I’m a Mormon” Ads are interesting to me. The church is no longer selling the idea that God spoke to Joseph, the Book of Mormon is scripture, etc but a mood. It’s not even selling a lifestyle. It’s promoting the idea that people from every possible lifestyle can be mormon and what does being mormon add to their life? The ads don’t say, in fact, they seem to argue that mormonism is good simply because mormonism can accommodate many different types of people. Does it make their lives better? perhaps but it apparently doesn’t make them weird and not being weird is what matters.

    As to the message on being happy and smiling, I’ve noticed this emphasis on sentimentality now become part of stake and ward conference here in UT. The message was given in explicit terms that no matter what ails you in life all you need to do is smile. Stop complaining, stop being stressed out, just smile. Your smile will pay your mortgage, your smile will keep you warm in winter, and if you get hungry, well smile.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I have to concur here. I feel really frustrated with ‘brand Mormon’ and the role of the PR department in pitching religion. The church’s marketing strategy just feels wrong. Frankly, I wouldn’t know what the message of mormonism is – except as you say – we’re nice! I feel like the message of the gospel has been undermined by slick campaigns and photo ops and I would go so far as to say that the PR department with their undue emphasis on ‘religious competition’ has turned the church from the possibility of being vibrant, critical voice for social justice (as I read the BOM) to a sniveling , punitive, corporate hierarchy. And it makes me so bloody cross!!!!

      • It’s Not Me

        So the church shouldn’t attempt to counter the perception that Mormons are just a bunch of wacked out wingnuts?

        • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

          I think the PR department should probably try and figure out what the church rather than branding the church as if it were are simply a competitor in the religious marketplace. Its one thing to evangelize and another to play a game of identity politics to increase market share.

  • Pingback: Good stuff « Pseudoserious

  • tennesea

    I can’t even put into words how much I love this post, and relate to EVERY SINGLE THING you’ve brilliantly put into words here. Simply brilliant! Grateful to Joanna for linking this article.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Cheers Tennesea! Thanks for reading.

  • donna tagliaferri

    my heart is broken for her pain. i know that the adversary does all he can to separate us from each other. i have been extremely blessed with every leader i have had, i have hugely sinned but was never sent away. i have fascilitated food orders from kind bishops whose only concern was do they have enough? i am so guilty of not reaching out enough, and i will be more mindful. i love the Savior…i try to be his hands. i was thinking i wish this woman was in my ward, and then i thought, what if she is? i will treat all people better. my daughter is an older single and i hate how she is treated sometimes. people are not thinking. they give us a lot of opportunities to forgive!

  • Mikhail

    This article posses many questions. Might I submit an answer to every question:
    “The gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses much more than avoiding, overcoming, and being cleansed from sin and the bad influences in our lives; it also essentially entails doing good, being good, and becoming better. Repenting of our sins and seeking forgiveness are spiritually necessary, and we must always do so. But remission of sin is not the only or even the ultimate purpose of the gospel. To have our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit such that “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2), as did King Benjamin’s people, is the covenant responsibility we have accepted. This mighty change is not simply the result of working harder or developing greater individual discipline. Rather, it is the consequence of a fundamental change in our desires, our motives, and our natures made possible through the Atonement of Christ the Lord. Our spiritual purpose is to overcome both sin and the desire to sin, both the taint and the tyranny of sin.” Elder David Bednar

    • http://tademings.blogspot.com T.A. Demings

      So, really what you’re saying is that the answer to all the questions raised is to just call the questioners sinners and to say that they simply don’t have the “desire” enough to overcome sin???

      As I read through each of the questions and examples posted here I couldn’t’ help think all the way through that the way the church handles each instance (aside from the answers listed such as punishment and isolation) is to say that those who are not the shiny happy people are the ones who are sinning and who don’t have a strong enough desire to resist the adversary. It is in this instance where the church and its leaders take the emphasis off of love, compassion, service and shift it simply to a matter of sin versus righteousness. Yet, we all know that even those who appear to be “righteous” and “virtuous” are not always so, and those who are authentic in their lives are the one judged as sinners–we’re all sinners; if we weren’t wouldn’t we be lifted into heaven like the city of Enoch?

      • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

        I actually love that Bednar quote but I think, for me, its best understood in the context of the institution rather than the individual. I recall the much quoted passage in Malachi ‘bring ye all the tithes’. That’s often been used to bully the members into tithing, but that’s NOT what that verse is all about. The prophet’s criticism was at the religious leaders for not using the offerings of the people for their purported use. If Bednar’s quote were used in the context of reassessing and evaluating the refreshing the ‘church’ then we wouldn’t need to have this conversation.

      • Mikhail

        Kiwi, I appreciate your post. I also agree that there are many issues that the “Mormon Culture” does not address. My concern is that accentuating what the culture does not provide, while ignoring the positive, leads only to a feeling of being overwhelmed and will ultimately lead to surrender. I believe that the answers to life’s difficulties are not found in the “culture,” but in the Gospel. When one feels marginalized, I would invite a study of II Nephi 26: 26-28. “Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
        “Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
        “Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.”

        I think there are many more people that feel “marginalized” in the culture than there ought to be. However, I believe that the true connection with Christ is the balm by which we can be healed of the pain of such feeling of being rejected or minimized in importance. Forgiving those that we feel marginalized, rejected or ignored by is an important principle to apply in our lives, so that we can avoid the negative feelings brought about because of the failures of others.

        We can all do better, as individuals, to help others feel a part of Christ’s family.

        • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

          I do agree that in the ideal world we would live in a place where we wouldn’t have to worry about those who are marginalized because there wouldn’t be any. But my study of the scriptures does indicate that it is incumbent upon Christian communities (churches) to attend to the weary, the hurt, the suffering, the poor, the widow and the fatherless. In fact I would go so far as to say it would be the litmus test of our discipleship.

          I absolutely agree that the church can be a wonderful place – it absolutely has been for me (most of the time). Yes, I utterly agree that we need to allow the healing and transformative power of the spirit of Christ to change us, bless us and help us to forgive when we are hurt but wouldn’t it be better if that pain wasn’t coming from the community that is supposed to be a refuge from the storm? Christ is perfect, but we as a disciples of Christ are still akin to the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness waiting for the Lord to call us over Jordan into the Land of Promise. Until Zion is with us and Christ has taken his place as the ‘King’ and the ‘Prince of Peace’ in his temple, we need to be deeply conscious of the kind of community we are creating. I don’t think its necessarily a marker of our Christianity that we are happy and positive all of time. A marker for me is how much we care for the least among us.

  • Meaygghan

    I really love this post. I am close to many people who feel marginalized by Church culture in one way or another. In many ways I do too, but I usually attend and I hold a calling. In any case, I think my close friends — my closest friends, in fact — have really big hearts and are sensitive people. They may put some off because of their brashness, or their need to see the world their own way. I think my friends could contribute a lot to the diversity of Church culture. But they don’t feel included or welcome, so they seek spiritual satisfaction elsewhere. I just wish we could get rid of the “do or die” feeling that pervades the Church, especially in the youth programs. I wish we had more Type B personalities in leadership positions, and we approached spirituality as a journey, rather than a formula.

    • http://tademings.blogspot.com T.A. Demings

      I agree with you 100% on how I wish spirituality was approached as a journey rather than a formula. Very well said.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Thanks for your thoughts Meaygghan – well articulated.

  • Art Director

    I love that you have a passion for helping church members be better. I think most church members want to help the church and its members, but not everyone has the same idea of what will help.

    You fault “the henchmen” for speaking “with their superior understanding of how things ‘should be’.” You seem to be somewhat opinionated about how things should be yourself.

    I served a mission in Sweden, where I was told almost daily: “The only thing that is ever wrong is to tell someone else what they are doing is wrong. Now go home!” Time after time people told me this and every time I wondered if any of them would catch on that they were telling me what I was doing (in their opinion) was wrong.

    A lot of your questions seem to boil down to “what do you tell someone who is bothered by how the people around them live or what the people around them say?”

    I would tell them to not be too concerned about how others act, how others behave and what others think of them.

    I’ve never heard a church leader tell flirty young girls to sleep around and then take their “quivering” boyfriends to the temple, so I refuse to fault the church if that’s what some people choose to do. I think it’s unfair to take something that one member once said and blame the church for they’ve said or done.

    That said, I really sympathize with your concern that many times those who are making unfair or ignorant pronouncements of others seem to “win” simply because they keep showing up to church while those who were offended leave. It bothers me and I wish that people could both be less dumb and more patient.

    Preaching repentance is a tough business. How do you get people to recognize their faults? How do you get them to want to change?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Hi Art Director – I appreciate your comments. I don’t think I blame the church per se. I hope I’m pointing my finger at aspects of Mormon culture, that to my mind, need discussion! I don’t see that its the fault of any one person, or any one thing, but when we all have the power to collectively change it, but can’t because of gate keepers and institutional bullies, that, I do believe needs to be questioned.

  • http://www.ijustlookedup.com Sue

    Brilliant, beautifully spoken, and such a needed conversation.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Thanks Sue – much appreciate.

  • http://www.ijustlookedup.com Sue

    Thank you for speaking with an honest heart and voice. We all need to get taking this way.

  • Sonny

    Kiwimormon,

    Thank you for very much your thoughtful and insightful post. I have been reading a few online LDS communities for a few years now. It is only through this experience that I have come to know how diverse our church really has become, and I have become greatly more aware of those that feel marginalized for whatever reason.

    I don’t consider myself as orthodox as perhaps most LDS, but also not as heterodox as some I have read. But having said that, I do not fear or feel contempt or disapproval for those that believe, dress, or behave differently than I. I strongly feel that embracing greater diversity makes our community richer and stronger, if we will allow it.

    My very best to you. My dad served his mission in New Zealand and the Cook Islands (1950-53) and loved every minute of it. He so identified himself with the Maori that he has told me many times over the years that he feels like a Maori trapped in a white man’s body. He is very sincere, and I hope that his saying this is not insulting in any way.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Kia ora Sonny! I’m not insulted in the least! Tell him from me that he’s welcome in the whanau of Aotearoa!

  • Porter

    This is a wonderful post. I have been following these issues for several years, but I dont think I have ever seen someone put all of these issues together is such a compelling and kind way.

    And to Mikhail: simply quoting a general authority doesn’t solve these problems. This is real stuff happening in wards across the world, and it affects people in ways that can be incredibly damaging. These issues are very real to many of us who have been in the church for many years, and it really misses the point. Elder Bednar didn’t address any of these issues directly in his talk, and you ignored them as well. Save these bland quotes for you sacrament talks.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Cheers Porter – I’m grateful for your comment. I don’t know that Mikhail meant to share the Bednar quote to undermine this discussion (at least I’m hoping that he/she didn’t). I think its a great quote, and as I shared with Mikhail, it is absolutely appropriate if we reposition it to critique and interrogate our collective church culture and its attendant social habits rather than use it to convict individuals.

  • SPE

    Thank you for this post. I find it interesting that one commenter added female ordination to the list of supposed negative consequences of the church lightening up. Would it be so terrible if a woman was your bishop? Your stake president? The prophetess? No.
    Would Jesus exclude our gay spiritual siblings from blessings because a few people believe they are not born with their sexuality but choose it? No. People used to say the white race was superior because all the other races lacked the capacity for higher mental function, empathy, and reason. This was the justification for slavery and racism for hundreds of years and often under the banner of Christianity. Let’s not be those generations–let’s truly live as Jesus wants us to. The Church could stand to be a little less corporate and a little more compassionate

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Yes, it was a little unfortunate in light of the intent of this post! His argument however does deserve to be considered. Recent research does suggest that the progressive churches in the US are struggling because they appear to have too much flexibility and seem to ‘allow’ everything. Unfortunately conservative religions seem to ‘sell’ better in the religious market place, probably because they offer certainty and tradition. I think that has to be an argument we are honest about moving forward.

      But I’d LOVE a woman bishop or Stake President. That would be AWESOME!! A bit like having a female doctor I reckon – at first it seemed odd for my mother’s generation but after a while she wouldn’t have it any other way!

  • http://www.trevorprice.net thenextvinnie

    As a proponent of bringing into and keeping in the fold all those that have a desire, I appreciate your words.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Cheers! Much appreciated.

  • http://www.teachingchildrenpeace.org Liz

    Thanks so much for your very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I wish we could have a church-wide discussion on how we can help (and love) the people in every one of these situations. I feel like some of us in the church are so sheltered that we don’t notice things happening to the people around them–I had a truly “aha” moment as you wrote of the boy who is so terrified of serving a mission that he goes off the rails so he won’t be expected to serve. But I also think that most of the time when we as church members are not kind to each other–whether it be those on the fringes or those in the center–it is because of insecurity. I think we all need to be secure enough in our relationship with Heavenly Father and the gospel that we can open our minds–and especially our hearts–to those who are struggling or do not have the same experience with Mormonism that we do. I think there is far too much fear, and that this causes the “us” and “them” mentality. I wish we could let go of the fear and just be open to seeing each other as Christ sees us. We’re probably all the yapping dog sometimes, and we all need a ride on the wagon.

  • Donna Tagliaferri

    I have one question….it is not meant to be combative at all…but lately I have read so many blogs like this one…I agree wholeheartedly that it is easy to feel marginalized by the culture of the church…what is your thought on the gospel? I feel I might need to duck from sniper fire….but does anyone think the Book of Mormon is a book from God? Translated by supernatural powers from a prophet? Is revelation something anyone believes in? I am just curious.

    • http://tademings.blogspot.com T.A. Demings

      Personally, I’d like more Mormons to study theology. I haven’t been able to do so in a very professional setting, but what little I have has caused me to think about just the simple term “gospel” which most Mormons use incorrectly. Literally the term means “good news” or good news of Christ. I can only imagine that means love–seeing how Christ is love. In that regard I believe and love the gospel. Were it not for all the other things that seem to cloud and overshadow this religion, I would be devoted to something that puts love above all else.

      Frankly, I have a hard time with the Book of Mormon simply because it seems to glorify war so much–and that is not something I can agree with on a personal level. It seems that God in the Mormon world is viewed somewhat parallel to those of other Heaven and Hell religions–that being one of love and compassion only when you are “righteous” and one of fire and brimstone in the case of any mistakes and sins. Also, the timelines in the book do not line up with other scripture, and so it seems false. I have a hard time believing the Joseph Smith stories supplied by the Church because they seem to vary largely from others available, and it’s hard to determine which to believe. With regards to the Church’s deceit on such things, I’d have to go with not believing what the Church supplies.

      Revelation as far as it is taught by the Mormon religion is not something I believe in–it seems to fluctuate so much and according to the opinions of the current leaders and/or according to popular issues. Generally speaking though, I cannot trust any organization that is largely run by men–American white men to be more exact (also for this reason, I don’t trust government in the U.S.). We need more women, and we need, in general, more diversity in such positions.

      • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

        Some extraordinarily good points here, and I don’t think you are alone in your concern about them. I don’t believe the church will mature until it catches up with and addresses all of these concerns. I also share your concern with the confusion over the use of the word ‘gospel’. I do get somewhat disappointed when people substitute the word ‘church’ with ‘gospel’. ‘I love being a member of this gospel’ seems a slightly daft thing to say. I understand the intent and respect that, but I would have to agree we don’t seem very conversant with theology in general, let alone our own theology and I think it would go a long way in helping us figuring this religion gig out!

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Love your question Donna! Its something I’ve been thinking about as a result of this post. I think its one thing to knock the pins over but another to set them right again. To be honest I can’t account for the BOM. I’ve listened to, read anything I could get my hands on with respect to it and feel like I know the arguments for and against. But I can’t help but say how utterly miraculous and stunning I find it. I simply can’t account for it. And there it is! I do get frustrated at times with how the scriptures seem to be storied, and read as a valorization of personal standards or a justification for war. I simply don’t see the BOM this way. To me its manifesto for building a Zion community. And I’m strongly encouraged by the idea that some aspects of cultural Mormonism are deeply condemned by the BOM. In fact I would go so far as say that my indignation with the church comes from a close reading of the BOM. So, there you have it – I don’t know how it came to be, but I can tell you that I find it compelling regardless and I’m OK with my ‘enchantment’ with it.

    • amberbird

      Because I’ve been speaking up here and on Joanna Brooks’ Facebook quite a bit lately, I was thinking just this morning that people might think I didn’t believe in the Gospel or that I might be against the Church. I’m glad you asked this question, giving me a chance to say out loud what I thought in my head. I believe that anything humans are involved in will be imperfect or, at least, imperfectly administered. I don’t claim to understand or like everything in the Gospel or the Church. But I do, with all my heart, believe that the Gospel is true. I believe the Book of Mormon is true scripture (and since another person brought it up, I don’t believe it glorifies war…I can’t read it without feeling I am meant to understand that war is a horrible thing…) and was translated by Joseph Smith, a prophet of God. I believe that revelation was and is. I could go on, but the fact is that I believe truly and deeply enough to have held to it and have risked not getting the things I want most in this life. Just as I can deeply love another whilst knowing/suffering their faults, I deeply love the Gospel and even the church whilst not loving every teaching or loving all the behaviours of my fellow saints. And, to keep on theme of the post, that’s coming from someone who has a list of reasons that she isn’t the Mormon norm. Marginalised? Yep! But, fortunately, also loved. Thank goodness my ward (and stake) have scads of people willing to embrace all.

  • Amari

    Dear Kiwimormon, thank you for your post.

  • Pukekochick

    All your questions started with “What do you about…?” Sometimes the answer is you don’t have to do anything. Sometimes the person who is different is happy being slightly apart. I take responsibilty for how much I mix or not. We are all on our own spiritual journey and eventually have to be mature enough to know we make our own choices. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me because I am not married. I’m happy.
    One of your comments about the whites men’s table surprises me (Although I expect you are talking about the prophet and apostles) because I love the multiple ethnicities in our local wards and my experience has been the ward’s leadership is chosen without regard for race or profession.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Kiaora Pukekochick – I take it you’re a Kiwi too – awesome – thanks for your comment. I take your point about not having to do anything if someone is happy! This post isn’t really about them. Its about those who are troubled with an aspect of Mormon culture but find that those who are happy are so busy being happy that they are either oblivious to or intolerant of those who aren’t as happy as they are. I’m not talking about the prophet or apostles, I’m talking about wards not being culturally neutral sites, but places which usually privilege a Anglo-centric normativity and call it Mormonism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002233755926 Sharon Ruth Doty

    I applaud those who question the definition of “gospel”… The LDS view is tied to obeying laws and ordinances….but I would suggest that there aren’t any listed in the comment or perhaps definition found in I Corinthians 15:1-4

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I think I would have to agree with you there!

  • honey

    The church is all of its members and I want to know which of its members get though life without ever being on the margins? I’m a life long member who has spent all of my life active, and on the margins for some reason or another ( single, divorced, married to a non-member etc.) I don’t vilify other church members for their weaknesses in not supporting me, it is a waste of my time. I try (and fail regularly) to be the person I want to be and help others along the road. That is what baptismal covenants are about. I doubt that there is even one G.A. that has no experience on the margin. Those of us who are so in need of empathy will only gain it by giving it.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I know its not perfect, but I can find no where in my study of the message of Christ that says anything but that our Christian discipleship is demonstrated in the way we serve, accommodate and care for the least of us. Churches fail as a communities when that one hard and fast doctrine is not taken utterly seriously. Sure, I understand the need to put on our big girl panties, suck it up, and give, but when intolerance for difference becomes systemic then some outrage is justified – at least that’s what I think – for what its worth!

  • Michael

    Your blog likes to provide insightful comparisons between “Mormonism at the centre” and here in New Zealand. This presupposes that you have the information to do so free from your own biases against Americans which you have freely expressed elsewhere.
    We have lots of clean cut people at our branch here who are very good at asking the questions and providing the standard answers so it seems everyone is in agreement as you suppose. I have also been to many lovely homes of our Mormon churchmates and routinely see them at church doing their routines around and never find them insolent. Granted, our house is now a few meters short of the last one, and I just raked the lawn off because it had too many weeds and needed replacing, but it will be back to a manicured weed free golf green presentation by late spring. It will provide a nice back drop to the spacious entry to the house.
    I quite agree with the limited choices of partners, but can’t agree on the lack of catering to brown people or even black people since you mention them. It looks to me like lots of white Mormons have done their bit by marrying them, but hopefully not out of lack of choice. But what is the church to do about the poor migrants who may not even be brown, but somehow life has created changes for them and they can’t sing their national anthem in church on their national day or hear the lessons in their native language? What is the church doing about it for me?
    I really find it hard to place my casserole on the trestle tables at our branch. So many brown people insist on attending our church that even last fast and testimony, one of the brown people had to single me and the family out by saying “wow so many brown faces”. Of course, we have about 140 coming out to church and we are only one of two families that are white. What is the church doing for us here in New Zealand when we can’t place our white people food on the table? It’s so tough.
    I can’t say that I have been humiliated by asking for help from the Bishop. But, lots of people have given me a hand over my life in the church and I have also given a hand. Its great having a community where people do like to help out. I don’t try to guess the feelings of others when they need help or the motives of a Bishop in deciding what to do about it. He may very well know more than me, or even you about it. I certainly don’t know how usual it is since I don’t get copies of the minutes of all of the Bishop’s meetings.
    What does any church or school do with kids who feel so suffocated that they not only get their noses pierced, but they get so sick from the drink they jump off a bridge after the ball or die in a car. Good, grief, what can we do about it.
    What do we do about any old woman or even an old man who feels disappointed about anything, why stop at kids.
    What can the church do with the curious questioners? Well, at some point the curious questioner starts to feel a little different from those who don’t have the same questions and after rocking the boat for what seems too long for everyone, they find another place that feels better. Whether the questions are about tithing, who gets the fast offering and how much and often, or why women never give the concluding talk in church, or if they do, it doesn’t happen often enough.
    I just wonder why the church hasn’t done more to provide fewer opportunities to those flirtatious girls. They should really do more for the non flirtatious high BMI girls or just the non flirts. Why doesn’t the Church respond more like the rest of society which favours the non flirt and the woman who has preferred a Friday night with Ben and Jerry or even a New Zealand ice cream and too much Brigit Jones?
    Why doesn’t the church do more for boys who are otherwise proud of themselves but want to do something different? The workplace is so much better for young people, because they always decide their hours and what they want to do. What do you do about a young guy, living wildly and decides he doesn’t want to spend his weekends inhaling the fumes from smoking tires? Pretty tough when people make their own choices and change. What can the Church do about?
    On any question of international affairs that involves Americans and a view different than mine, which is all of them, I will use the word stupid to qualify the position.
    What do you do the non Mormon kid who was outed by his non Mormon roommate and then kills himself? What is being done by the Church or anyone about it? What do we do about those who fund positions different than mine? Why can’t we all agree to agree with me?
    I can’t possibly work my way through the other bits.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Gee -thanks – I think??

  • http://shantalhiattblogspot Shantal Hiatt Sessions

    Hello. I came across your blog from Joanna Brooks. I really admire her work as a progressive Mormon and I was also impressed by your thoughts here on your blog. I’ve written a novel about culture in Utah, which references many of the same concerns you have, and I wonder if you’d be interested in reading it and writing a review (if you like it).

    Thanks, Shantal

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Love to! Are you in Utah?

      • http://shantalhiattblogspot Shantal

        Yep, I live in Northern Utah. And I’m delighted you’ll read my book. How shall I get it to you?

        • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

          I’ll privately email you and we can arrange that. I’ll be in Utah next week for a couple of weeks and perhaps you could send it to me there.

  • EOR

    I know no one probably wants to address this, but being an unhappy inactive member right now myself I will say that one of the (decidedly smaller, but still important) obstacles is Relief Society. Relief Society is wonderful, but there is no way that an 18 year old girl, and a 92 year old woman belong in the same group. I can only speak for myself, but the Sunday after I turned 18 was the last meeting I attended for several years. I was woefully out of place with all the doilies, and recipes, and talk of motherhood, baking and sewing. They should split RS up if not by age, then at least by interest. I want to talk about deep doctrine, not bake sales and parenting. Those are just my 2 cents.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      That’s a shame – but I know what you are talking about. It seems a bit out touch to position discussion and conversation always at feminine domesticity. Its like asking men to always talk about their jobs in EQ or HP and expecting the younger men to be fabulously interested in the work of the tax accountant! But of course, men don’t usually do that – they get to discuss doctrine, be a bit edgy, and ask questions. In RS often we are about making everyone ‘feel’ nice. It could be better I think – you are quite right.

  • lpf43

    Because there are so few youth in our Stake they are all in one ward; the other wards in our stake have none. Our members are ‘newly wed or nearly dead.’
    Hence, our RS has only young marrieds/mothers, a few over thirty singles and ‘matures’ . It works rather well thru the home-making-meeting-substitute ‘interest groups.’ We have several groups of varied interests with some over-lapping memberships. As I understand it, anyone can suggest a topic for a group once a few people have expressed interest in a topic.
    While there are a few groups interested in cooking and homemaking, there are also some dealing with other relevant interests. In RS we mostly stick to Gospel topics which are all the more interesting because of the perspectives of the different ages of our women.
    A YSA ward is the ideal for someone like you, but if one is not available you would be amazed what an 18 year old can learn from a 92 year old about doctrine AND doilies.

  • fashion

    You should read this article by Eugene England. http://www.eugeneengland.org/why-the-church-is-as-true-as-the-gospel

    He explains that we are put together in these geographical ward groups so that we can be offended, disillusioned, and hurt and still learn to love and forgive despite it all. Judging those who are judgmental is still judging.

  • Kassie

    I want to be you when I grow up!

  • Raymond McIntyre

    I remember as a young Mormon male feeling more or less unwanted as I simply wasn’t the Mormon norm. Fun to be around but never wanted as a partner and it was made sure thatI understood that.

  • J. Weight

    I couldn’t have said it any better amber. I think when you look at the core of the gospel it makes sense and as you venture out farther to the council, the suggestions, the members, you see that it gets a little more complicated. I find that if I respect others choices to be a classic Mormon or diet Mormon then they respect my decision to think/be a diet Mormon with Lime (just as an example) ;)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X