How to Be a Mormon in Good Standing: Keep Your Mouth Shut

Conformity from
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Dirty laundry
In 2012 I received a distraught phone call from a local church leader. He was concerned about my first few blog posts at KiwiMormon.

“You are airing our dirty laundry,” he complained. “We don’t do that.”

He’s right. Good Mormons don’t air the church’s dirty laundry.

This habit of keeping our mouths shut goes right back to the church’s early Utah years when federal spies would descend on Salt Lake City and try and get Mormons to rat out polygamy.

“Shut your mouth” was a decree, a policy, a doctrine and became a dirty cultural habit that has continued as one of those unspoken Mormon expectations.

Good Mormons aren’t disloyal.   Good Mormons praise the church.  Good Mormons idolize its leadership.   If a Good Mormon happens upon some dirty, sordid, corrupt, ugly, mean bits they call it anti-Mormon and don’t speak of it.

Hustling for your Worthiness

The problem is,  the LDS Church has never been beyond reproach, and neither have its leaders.   At the church’s highest-level polygamy continued on the sly even after it was declared over.   When the priesthood was extended to Blacks there were high profile leaders who were part of the ultra right and racist John Birch Society.   While there are public statements nudging toward inclusivity of our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters, an inexplicably awful exclusion policy was orchestrated by some top members of the Q15.   And while the brass bangs on about how women in the church are powerful, not one single man in the church is spiritually accountable to a woman while every woman in the church is potentially accountable to a cadre of men.

But the expectation for Mormon loyalty means that we are supposed to keep our mouths shut about anything that might ‘bring the church into disrepute’,  even if the church is responsible for its own disrepute.  It’s your fault for speaking it out loud, not the church’s fault for doing bad stuff in the first place.

The social and cultural implications of all this mouth shutting are enormous.   It means that Mormons are likely to never tell the whole truth about the church – even to themselves. So we sit about in classes, or interviews or meetings measuring what we say, finding the right words, adding a bit of artifice here and a bit of pretence there, pressing the right flesh, holding back the whole story  – and in the words of Brene Brown, we become masters at hustling for our worthiness.

Waiting for Change

I’m aware that there is some consternation in the uppermost parts of the Holy SLC about the social problems that poor pastoral practice is having. It becomes apparent that in some areas even a small nudge of doubt, inexpertly expressed, can get you punished, shunned or suspected.  But I’m  unsure about whether or not that there is a collective will at the top to do anything about it.   If there was why haven’t  they done the following:

  1.  Trained Bishops and Stake Presidents on the language and the reasons for faith crisis and specifically directed them NOT punish people for their evolving faith lives.
  2.  Questioned the gendered nature of Priesthood.
  3.  Apologized for the historical wrongs of their predecessors.
  4.  Installed a feedback mechanism for top leaders so that they get to hear honest advice from people who are made not to feel afraid that they will be demoted for not toadying.
  5. Revoked the November exclusion policy.
  6.  Biffed out those terrible fundamentalists and dangerously incomprehensible curriculum materials that make no exegetical or theological sense.
  7. Removed the right of local leaders to discipline.
  8. Been more emphatic about the evils of racism.

But, they haven’t. And so the pretense, the hedging, and the Sunday games continue. Then people give up and leave because playing the game  and feigning unquestioning certainty just gets too much.

At the Inside Edge
So, it occurs to me that those of us who have been tipped to the edge of the church because we have broken the cardinal rule of Mormonism – loyalty– aren’t really wanted anyway.

Some people spend years trying to make it work.   It has become a challenging spiritual practice for me to show up and try to be gracious to all of those people whose view of Mormonism is small and simple and coherent.   I’ve gone to church for years with these kinds of people.  They are great and I love them, but unless I can be myself with them,  they aren’t really my people.  They aren’t my people because nothing in Mormonism has asked them to make space for me or my concerns. I’m tolerated but not really wanted and I only get to be tolerated because I’m good at the game.    I know I’m not really wanted because I’ve seen the way people are treated around here and elsewhere when they start to question.  They lose social status for the ‘sin’ of doubt and are rendered apostate or spiritually lazy.  So, it’s no surprise under these conditions that many simply can’t do it anymore.  Then their disaffiliation is ignored, as I expect mine would be too if I slipped into inactivity.  I’d go without acknowledgment and without any thanks for the money and time that I have spent on the church for over 32 years of showing up and doing the business.

And so it goes with most of us on the inside edge.   We could float away tomorrow and do so without causing one ruffled feather from the suits.   And that’s the issue – many of us are rendered utterly dispensable the minute we give off the aroma of disloyalty.  And doubt spoken out loud is as good as treasonous.

Until we remove every interview or policy or statement that measures or demands our loyalty to the church and/or its leaders –   the LDS church is never going to be anything other than a Fowler’s Stage 1-3 church.   Good for rule-keeping, certainty and belonging if we keep within the rules –  but terrible for faith, transcendence, vulnerability, and unity with God.

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