The Revelator, Part VII

May 20, 2014

Craig was beginning to think this was all pointless. What exactly was he supposed to be gleaning from the emails Alex was forwarding him from Tanner? The kid alternated between bravado and a weird, almost childlike, deference to DuPlessis. Nothing had been leaked so far, but then Craig hadn’t expected anything. After all, the revelator was busy spying on Tanner Scott at the behest of Alex DuPlessis. Wrap your head around that, he thought. It felt strange just thinking about it, as if he were Bérenger watching the people around him mutate, only these guys were turning into angry, paranoid cranks afraid of their own Inboxes. I’d rather be a rhinoceros, Craig thought.

He’d had a long day full of meetings (Mormons like their meetings, don’t they?), and stuck in traffic on traffic on Beck Street near the refineries, he had noticed that the clutch on the BMW had begun to chatter. As he stepped out of the car into the hot garage, he could smell it: the pressure plate was going. He’d bought the car during the first of what now seemed like an endless series of midlife crises. Oh, well, that one had just saddled him with a hefty car payment and a ruined clutch. This latest one had turned his world upside down.

Ana had left a note saying she was off with the girls getting some potting soil for a Young Women’s service project. Craig never seemed to have time for such things anymore.

He sat down at the kitchen table, opened the laptop, and started reading the surreal exchanges between Tanner and DuPlessis. Each email to or from Tanner had been dutifully forwarded to Craig, with relevant portions highlighted in yellow. He felt like a zoologist observing the grooming rituals of a pair of chimps in the wild.

He never knew how to respond to these reports, so he would limit himself to brief comments such as “keep up the good work” or expressions of gratitude that DuPlessis had given him the honor of working with him.

“Whatcha doing, Dad?” Porter asked.

“Nothing that can’t wait,” Craig smiled, snapping the laptop shut. “What’s up with you?”

“Nothing much,” Porter shrugged.

“How’s the garden going?”

“The tomatoes are much bigger, and the serranos are starting to look like real peppers–tiny, dark green ones, but they finally look like they should.”

“That’s a good sign,” Craig said. “How’s your friend–Loren, was it?”

“Much better. I think I’ve figured out how to deal with those guys.” Porter grabbed a cookie from a bag in the pantry.

“Oh? How’d you do that?” Craig took a couple from the bag, too. Ana wouldn’t be happy that he was blowing his diet, but then a good father had to make sacrifices when opportunities for father-son bonding arose.

“I just figured I’d make it more painful for them than it is for Loren. I’m bigger than any of those guys, and they know they’d get caught if they ganged up on me. So, I decided to take them on, one at a time. Every time someone bothered Loren, I bothered him. Whoever knocked him down got knocked down. By yours truly.” He seemed pleased.

“Don’t they tell the teacher?” Craig took a pair of glasses from the cupboard, retrieved a jug of milk from the fridge, and filled both glasses.

“They would, but then everyone would say they were the pussies. The funny thing about it is that Loren is actually pretty strong, and pretty soon he realized he didn’t need me anymore. Still, they’re not going to take both of us on, so we stick together.” He dunked his cookie into the milk.

“Well, officially, I can’t condone any physical violence, but I’m proud of you for standing up for Loren. I know what it’s like to be bullied when there’s no one around to help.” Craig dunked his cookie, for good measure.

“We’ve become friends, Dad. I thought he was weird, but he’s just quiet. Really funny when he does talk, though. I’ve been helping him with the flowers because there’s too much work for just one person. I even brought some roses home for Mom after school.” He pointed at a Mason jar with half a dozen pink roses on the counter. “I never knew you had to give them so much attention and care. My teacher says if you don’t prune and water and fertilize them just right, they grow wild, and the flowers are small and kind of ugly.”

“These are beautiful. You guys must be pretty good at it.”

“Yeah, just don’t tell anyone. I have a reputation to protect.” Porter laughed, taking another cookie from the bag. Craig took one, too. For the boy, he said to himself.

Later he opened yet another long rant from Tanner about how the “good guys” might have taken a few lumps, but they’d come back in fighting form. Craig had long believed that Tanner had never been able to distinguish between religious faith and team sports. Being an apologist was for him like being a season-ticket holder to BYU football, though very few BYU fans engaged in the kind of trash-talking and taunting that Tanner did. Suddenly it hit him: Tanner was a child, with the temperament and maturity of a pre-teen. He would gladly put Porter up against him any day. Tanner bullied those he perceived as weak, but Porter would defend them every time. It was Tanner who was weak, he could see that much.

He had taken a risk having DuPlessis invite Tanner first, but rather than proceed carefully, as Craig would have done, DuPlessis seemed to be egging him on every time he flew off the handle. Was DuPlessis actually feeding the kid’s rage? It sure seemed like it.

When Tanner speculated about the leaker, naming names, DuPlessis encouraged him. “Yes, I’ve never been convinced he was entirely on our side. Maybe your friend can find out more about him for us.” He had even agreed when Tanner suggested that Dalton Kane could possibly be the mole. DuPlessis had seemed almost delighted when Tanner referred to Kane as “that fat old blowhard.”

At the same time, DuPlessis went out of his way to stroke Tanner’s ego. “I reached out to you because I know I can trust you. You’re not like the older guys, who have divided loyalties because over the years they’ve become too friendly with the enemy. You’ve always stayed on the right side of the line.”

Apparently sensing that Craig might not approve of all this, DuPlessis had written, “I have to make him believe he’s safe with me. Until then, he will always have his guard up. We’ve got to convince him we aren’t setting him up.”

This made it official: Despite his well-known ego and self-proclaimed wit, DuPlessis was, well, quite an idiot. If any of the exchanges with Tanner ever made their way to Kane and the others, DuPlessis would be finished as an apologist. From Craig’s position, DuPlessis was risking everything–his reputation, his position among the apologists, and his most valued friendships–and there was no potential reward for the risk. The best DuPlessis could hope for would be that no one would ever find out about his plan. But it was plain that DuPlessis not only didn’t realize the risks he had taken but had not understood how foolish the “plan,” if it could be called that, was. For now, however, Craig let him play at puppetmaster, hoping that Tanner wouldn’t shoot his mouth off at the wrong moment.

It needs to be more painful for them, he thought.

“How long do you plan on keeping Tanner in the dark?” he had asked DuPlessis after he had received another email of play-by-play commentary on Tanner’s rising zeal.

“One month is enough,” DuPlessis had replied. Craig wondered how he had arrived at this arbitrary time limit, but then nothing DuPlessis was doing made any sense. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. It made perfect sense if DuPlessis were an angry dimwit, which he was, of course.

After three weeks, Tanner had pretty much attacked the characters of every member of the Short List, including Craig.

“I’ve met Craig,” Tanner had written. “I don’t like him. He tries so hard to be ‘nice,’ but we all know it’s an act. I don’t even know who invited him to the list in the first place. I wouldn’t have, anyway. The condescending bastard.”

Craig had met Tanner exactly twice, first at a dinner honoring Dalton Kane, when Tanner had sat across from Craig and had talked for two hours straight. Amused, Craig had let him talk, interjecting only to nod at appropriate moments. And then there had been the night he’d seen him at the church before the Young Women in Excellence program. As far as he could recollect, he’d never communicated directly with Tanner by email, phone, or any other way. Oh, well, he thought. Not exactly the kind of friend I want to have.

Ana looked over his shoulder. “I thought you were done with that stuff. You promised.” She set some bags from Home Depot and one from VerDon’s Crafts on the counter.

“I know I did,” he said, sheepishly. “It’s a long story, but I have to stop some bad things from happening.”

“What bad things?” she asked.

He tried to explain it all, from the attack on Arlen to Tanner’s mysterious friend to the collapse of the list. But it all sounded so silly, like the plot from an old episodes of The Avengers, a cheesy British spy show he’d watched as a boy after school. Only he wasn’t Steed, and he didn’t think Dalton Kane would look very good in a leather catsuit. He told her about Porter’s class and how he felt he was in the same position to do something about the bullies, but he didn’t sound convincing, not even to himself.

“I don’t understand any of it,” Ana said. “Those people are nuts. I’ve been telling you to walk away from that for years, but you never listen.”

“I know,” Craig said. “I’m sorry.”

“Do you really think something bad is going to happen?”

“Not if I can help it,” he said.

“You’re like children,” she said, shaking her head in disgust and walking away. “Time to grow up!”

She and the girls went out to the backyard to work on their project. Even Porter went out to help.

Craig went back to the emails, feeling a little slimy by the time he finished. He went out to the back patio to see how the project was coming. Porter was putting the last of the miniature rose plants into small ceramic pots.

“They’re for a program at the nursing home.” Ana said. Once a quarter, each ward in the stake was assigned to provide a “family night” at a nursing home within the stake boundaries. Craig had always thought the place was depressing, but the flowers might cheer things up until the next time the Angel of Death came calling.

As they loaded the trays of flowers into the back of the SUV, Craig wondered why he couldn’t force himself to be interested in something worthwhile. A few years before he had briefly volunteered as a Spanish translator at the county’s free medical clinic, but his schedule kept changing and he couldn’t keep it up. The only constant in his life, it seemed, was his obsessive-compulsive participation in these pointless message boards.

Tanner’s tirade continued over the next week, and Craig was starting to get bored. A child throwing a sustained tantrum isn’t interesting even at the beginning, and once the tantrum has reached its peak, even the most attentive parent learns to tune it out. Craig had stopped caring what Tanner was saying, but he wondered how long Tanner could sustain the ranting. Surely, he’d get tired eventually. Then he reminded himself that DuPlessis had maintained an unmatched level of righteous fury for some twenty years without interruption. Once, an apologist, trying to be charitable, suggested that DuPlessis may not have started out angry and nasty but had been pushed to it by constant attacks from anti-Mormons.

No, Craig had been there when DuPlessis had arrived on the old listserv boards, as angry and spiteful as he would ever be. Nothing had changed since then. Craig had been fresh out of grad school then and was still dating Ana. Since then he’d landed his dream job, married and had four beautiful children, and had lost his faith along the way. But had anything really changed for him, either?

Maybe it was time to give DuPlessis’ plan a little nudge to shake things up a little.


The Revelator, Part VI

May 19, 2014

“Have we any apricot jam left?” Alex called from the breakfast table.

“No, dear heart,” Jean called from the kitchen. “I’ve put what we have left out on the table for you.”

Alex stared at the two jars. “Green Fig Conserve.” What is that? he thought. He recognized the other jar: Jean’s rose-hip jam. Pushing the jars away in disgust, he buttered his toast and ate it quietly as he logged into his email account.

A week had passed, and things were already moving. As he had made clear to Craig, they needed to take their time.

Tanner was in, just as Alex had expected him to be. All it had taken was a subtle appeal to his vanity, the same way it had with Craig. Most people were pretty easy, weren’t they? Alex understood human nature, and he prided himself on being unmoved by such things, though heaven knows others had tried many times. But he wasn’t in it for personal glory–though there had been quite a lot of that, he had to admit–no, it was only the glory of God and the progress of truth that mattered to Alex.

The note from Tanner was predictably long, his enthusiasm and apparent anger rising with each sentence. Good, thought Alex. People make mistakes when they’re angry. Perhaps Craig had been right to invite Tanner first.

There wasn’t much of interest in the email, mostly Tanner pledging his loyalty and cursing their enemies, but buried in all that had been a couple of sentences Alex had almost missed:

“My friend has a tentative identity for Sidious, a name and address, though he has not yet confirmed this information. Be assured that, if my friend is correct, Jared Richards of Sandy, Utah, will wish he’d never crossed us.”

Alex smiled. That bit of good news might even get me through sacrament meeting, he thought.

Later, Alex sat with his phone and thought how best to reply to Tanner’s message.

Jean nudged him sharply with her elbow. She whispered, almost hissing, “Put that away, and pay attention! Sister Niekirk has put a lot of effort into the lesson.”

They sat in the Relief Society room, where a large woman stood in a frock that was obviously designed for someone much younger. She was clearly nervous, her carefully sprayed hair starting to wilt a little while tiny beads of sweat forced their way through what Alex imagined were several layers of makeup. On the table in front of her, several pages of notes were spread out, along with a tattered lesson manual. In the midst of the sprawl stood an elegant crystal vase holding several pink roses carefully arranged.

Typical, Alex thought, smirking. They never get to the meat of the doctrine, but at least they have their floral arrangement.

“… the meek: for they shall inherit the earth,” she was saying.

It was a nice thought, Alex had to admit, but the meek always ended up like Arlen Compton. People who want light discipline are unlikely to inherit the earth, he chuckled to himself.

He had once felt meek, though it was more fear than meekness. At 19 he had dutifully submitted his mission papers and had been called to, of all places, Córdoba, Argentina. He had spent two months in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, USA, where he had felt completely disoriented. Most of the missionaries were kind to him, but others could sense his fear. They mocked his accent, apparently mistaking him for a posh Englishman. But mostly he had just been overwhelmed. He had thought he understood the doctrines of the church, but the others, mostly from Utah and Idaho, seemed to belong to a different religion than the one he had known in South Africa.

Each week they had walked up the hill to the temple, where he once again recoiled when he had to pantomime having his throat cut or his heart torn out as “penalties” for not keeping the temple covenants secret. The food did not agree with him, and the long hours had exhausted him mentally and physically. And, no matter how hard he tried, he could not keep up with the others in learning Spanish. At a low point, he had heard his instructor tell his companion, “Just try and encourage him. He just doesn’t have the talent or intelligence to pick up the language or the discussions easily. Keep him in your prayers.”

When he arrived in Argentina, his American companion had told him, “I’m out of here in a month, so don’t give me any crap.” They had done very little missionary work, and Elder DuPlessis had spent most of his time memorizing the discussions. But with almost no interaction with real Argentinians, he hadn’t really learned the language. When he did give a discussion, he rattled through it quickly, leading some investigators to laugh at him. “¡Mirá, hablá castellano, che!”

Early on, he had felt humiliated by Catholics and Evangelicals who obviously knew more about the Bible than he did, and he had sputtered angrily when he could not counter their attacks.

“Don’t worry about it,” his companion had said. “You’re not going to convert anyone by bashing.”

No, but he would never let them get the upper hand again. The rest of his mission he had worked harder than he had thought possible, and eventually he could carry on a conversation in Spanish, though some people still made fun of his accent. But no one could touch his knowledge of the gospel. He had pored over the scriptures, reading them through twice in English, twice in Spanish, and every siesta, while his companions had slept, he had systematically studied gospel topics according to the official, church-published Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary. He had even managed to get a full set of Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation.

He had come home with a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the gospel and a fondness for dulce de leche and yerba mate.

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” Sister Niekirk’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

Sometimes he thought the Savior must have had MIC in mind when he had said those words on the Galilean mount two thousand years before. Alex and his fellow-defenders had been sorely persecuted, but he knew that a great reward in heaven would await him if he could just endure to the end.

He looked to his right and saw that the two sister missionaries, both American, were staring into their scriptures. He wasn’t entirely sure, but one of them–definitely the better-looking one, he thought–looked as if she were sleeping. She didn’t have Jean’s elbow to keep her focused.

After priesthood meeting–a yawner about magnifying your calling–Alex had made his way out to the carpark, where Jean and the boys waited next to the car.

“I don’t know why you lock it,” Jean said, obviously unhappy that she’d been made to wait in the heat. “No one is going to steal a ten-year-old Ford.”

Alex started the car in silence.

As they rounded the corner onto Walter Sisulu Road (the name still irritated Alex), Jean turned and said brightly, “Wasn’t that a lovely Gospel Doctrine lesson from Sister Niekirk?”

“Oh, yes, lovely,” he agreed absently.

“What was your favorite part?” Jean asked.

“So much of it was wonderful,” he lied. “I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite. What part did you like best?”

“That last part about loving our enemies and doing good to people who hate us. The world would be so much better a place if we could all learn to do that, don’t you think, dear?”

“Yes, yes,” he said, thinking. “I am convinced that we show our love best when we combat hate and error with truth. Standing boldly for the truth, no matter the consequence–that is the greatest love we can show.”

Jean shook her head, “No, Alex, I don’t think that’s it at all. We are to turn the other cheek and pray for our enemies. Jesus never said anything about fighting back.”

“Allowing people to remain in ignorance of the truth is not love,” Alex said, glaring at his wife.

She sat silently for several minutes. As they neared the last turn before the gate, she smiled brightly. “Weren’t those flowers beautiful? Sister Niekirk said she’d be happy to give me a cutting. They’re a lighter shade than the Love Knot but darker than the new ones your friends sent us. They’ll make a perfect transition between them.”

Alex braked to a stop at the gate.

“Hello, sir! Glorious day, isn’t it?” Zanoxolo said, grinning broadly. “And you, Ma’am, you’re looking radiant this afternoon!”

“Just open the gate,” Alex said, staring straight ahead. Jean gave him a dirty look, but he pretended not to notice.


The Revelator, Part IV

May 15, 2014

Alex sat at the kitchen table, grumbling to himself about having to eat such unsatisfactory fare. Most Saturdays Jean rose early to cook a hot breakfast for him and the boys, and today of all days he had expected something showing a little more gratitude. He and the boys would be working in the rose beds all day, and they would need real sustenance. Couldn’t she understand that?

As he dunked the hard rusk into his steaming cup of rooibos, he opened the browser on his laptop to the MIC message board. He noticed straightaway that a thread posted the day before with the startling title “Sex Scandal at MDB?” had been locked immediately. Intrigued, he navigated to the MormonDiscourse board, only to find a new post from the revelator:

“As promised, I have a partial roster for the secret ‘short list’ of MIC posters. I can confirm that the following individuals are definitely involved in the group: Dalton Kane, Steven Marsden, Reid Gordon, Tanner Scott, and Alex DuPlessis. Others will be named at a later date.

“My sources tell me that this group’s activities have been fairly benign, limited as they are to discussions of scripture studies, BYU sports, and the sex lives of MormonDiscourse posters. A recent discussion, for example, focused on using a private investigator to reveal intimate details of MDB posters’ sex lives, after which the group decided that anonymously informing posters’ bishops would be, in the words of Brother DuPlessis, ‘the most honourable course of action.’ It is not known if refreshments were served.

“Stay tuned for more of the wacky world of the Short List.”

The response at the Short List was predictable: outrage and disgust that one of their number had betrayed them and given ammunition to their enemies.

“Someone has hacked us!” Tanner Scott was sure of it. “I’m on it. They’ll regret ever calling me ‘Bieber, Junior.’ I know a little about hacking, you know, and it won’t take me long to find those motherfuckers!”

Alex grimaced slightly at the foul language, but Tanner was just a kid, so such lapses could be forgiven.

Reid Gordon sounded worried. “I knew I shouldn’t have used my work address for the group, but I thought it would be safe. what if they contact my boss? He would never understand. I could get fired.”

Dalton Kane vowed to get to the bottom of this. “It is clear that an enemy hath done this, and I am sad to say, it is an enemy among our very ranks. This is deeply, deeply troubling. I am routinely accused of despicable behavior, but this, brethren, this is what real evil looks like. I do not know how or when, but the traitor will be exposed. Mark my words.”

The outrage soon gave way to panic, with several posters echoing Gordon’s concern that they could all be at risk. What else could the revelator know about them? Then, as if the members had all come to the same horrified conclusion at the same time, the list had gone silent. Not a single email had been received for more than 8 hours, which was surely a new record. It was as if the Short List had simply closed its doors for business.

“Come on, dear heart, it’s time to get to work on the garden!” Jean called cheerfully as she strode into the kitchen wearing a broad-brimmed hat, modest shorts, a DA campaign t-shirt, and work gloves. The twins looked up from their video game as she called out, “You too, boys! Let’s go!”

Alex didn’t move a muscle. “Can’t it wait, love? I’ve got some important work to take care of,” he said through clenched teeth.

Jean frowned and wagged her finger at him in mock scolding. “You promised, my dear! A promise is a promise, after all.”

“Come on, boys, you heard your mother!” he snapped at William and Daniel. They shrugged and shuffled out the door ahead of him.

At such times, Alex had to remind himself that Jean’s constantly pleasant demeanour was a good thing. Fifteen years younger than Alex, she had been instantly drawn to him when they met at the district centre’s chapel between broadcast sessions of general conference. He had impressed her with his keen intellect and, of course, his unfailing devotion to the gospel. Still, he had always felt she had married beneath her. A convert to the church in her teens, she had embraced the church’s teaching that within each of us was a spark of the divine, and that we could, with faith and diligence, become just like our Father and Mother in Heaven. As she immersed herself more and more into the gospel and the church, she felt strong enough to shed the weight of shame and inadequacy she had felt as a child. Her parents had, it seemed, been constitutionally incapable of giving her any praise or approval. They continually criticised her appearance, her marks in school, her behavior, and anything about her that they found objectionable–and that was almost everything.

Alex, like everyone else who met Jean, was instantly taken by her cheerful and positive outlook on life. He had never met anyone before who so genuinely believed that everything in life would turn out for good, no matter how difficult things could get. Unlike his first wife, Jean made him want to be a better person, not just for her, but for himself, too. The cynical part of him had initially been unable to accept that someone could be so genuinely good, but try as he might, the more he dug beneath the surface, the more goodness he found.

Jean was confused when he tried to explain his important work for the association, but she had felt she shouldn’t stand in the way of what Alex thought was right. She always said he was brilliant–he couldn’t help but acknowledge that he was much her intellectual superior–and he told her that the church needed such men to stand for the right. He told her not to worry herself over things she couldn’t possibly understand, and eventually she had learned to live with his evening work.

The sun shone brightly as Alex trudged into the front garden. A security guard smiled and waved from his air-conditioned booth at the community’s main gate just a few metres from their garden. They young man’s name was Zanoxolo, and Jean had befriended him some time ago, although Alex had warned her that it was never a good idea to get too chummy with the help. But good-natured Jean had ignored his advice, and soon she and Zanoxolo had become fast friends. When the garden was in full bloom, Zanoxolo often wore one of Jean’s flowers in the lapel of his dark-blue uniform jacket. She often took him fresh produce from their back garden and gave him a few jars of whatever they had canned that year. His favorite, he said, was the rose-hip marmalade Jean made every year when the blooms had faded. Zanoxolo had never tasted anything like it, he said. “Like heaven on earth.” They always had more than enough of the marmalade because Alex couldn’t stand the stuff.

Jean explained that the garden as it stood was a little too crowded to accommodate the new plant, which had somehow survived the long journey from Idaho relatively unscathed. It was downright miraculous, she said. Kneeling by the plant closest to the front walk, she showed Alex how best to cut the branches back and then to check for disease or signs of weakness. As she snipped off a stem, she became slightly emotional. “I don’t know why, but I always feel a little cruel and guilty when I cut back my beautiful plants.” She knew it was silly, she said, but she felt a motherly connection to each plant, knowing how she had nurtured and developed them to a beautiful maturity. At least one would have to go, she told him, her voice breaking slightly again. to make room for the new plant.

Alex did the best he could to stay focused on the roses, but his mind kept wandering back to the Short List. He had been right to worry, he thought, while the rest of those buffoons had been distracted by Sidious. As he snapped off a large branch, he wondered how he could keep the lines of communication open without exposing anything else to the revelator.

“Alex! Be careful, dear! You’re cutting too much out!” Jean shouted, interrupting his thoughts. She caught herself and said much more softly and sweetly, “I don’t mean to be critical, but please do try to be more careful.”

“Sorry, dear. I’m afraid I haven’t the knack for this sort of thing.” He tried to sound cheerful, but he thought it came out a little forced. Jean winced slightly, and then her smile returned.

“You mustn’t get discouraged,” Jean smiled broadly. “One plant at a time, one stem at a time, and you’ll get there.”

That’s it! he thought. One at a time, I’ll pluck away the branches and get to the root.

He worked for what seemed like hours, pausing only when Daniel appeard with two glasses of cold lemonade.

“Who’s the other one for?”

Daniel smiled. “Mum says we need to take care of Mr. Zanaxolo. He’s our friend.”

Alex couldn’t but feel a little guilty as he watched Daniel hand the glass to the grinning security guard. He knew he should be grateful, as Zanaxolo had been teaching his boys some advanced football skills. Even if Alex had possessed the talent, he knew he didn’t have the time for such things. He had sacrificed a great deal for the association, but it was a cause he believed in. He raised his glass toward Zanaxolo, who raised his in return. Cheers, mate.

That evening, Alex sat with his laptop, wondering where to start. First, he knew he had to contain some of the damage on MormonDiscourse, where numerous apostates had feigned outrage over his actions. Somehow, his well-intentioned efforts to help a Latter-day Saint sister in real danger had been twisted into a tawdry tale of sexual blackmail. This could not be allowed to stand.

Although his fingers were still stinging from multiple thorn pricks, he began typing a new post on MormonDiscourse:

“Although I am loath to wade into this cesspool of the worst humanity has to offer, I must risk having some of the contamination rub off on me to set the record straight.

“Recently, in violation of the board’s rules, my name has been used without my permission. Most decent human beings understand the need for anonymity on the Internet, and the continued ‘outing’ of my personal, private information by several people here is unacceptable, although entirely within character. I would try to reason with your better selves, but alas, I’m afraid you don’t have any better selves.”

That was a good start, he chuckled to himself. This wasn’t the first time he had complained about his name being used here. It happened a few times a year, and he had taken the opportunity each time to condemn this outrageous invasion of privacy in the strongest terms. Yes, he was well aware that his name was widely known on that board and elsewhere, and he himself had acknowledged his identity on MormonDiscourses. Still, it was the principle of the thing, and board policy had been violated. Besides, it gave him another chance to drop in and vituperate the apostate horde. He so enjoyed watching them gnash their teeth helplessly.

He cracked his knuckles and continued:

“Under normal circumstances, I would be inclined to let such a dastardly deed pass without comment; however, in an unexpected and diabolically clever twist I hadn’t thought you riff-raff capable of, my name has now been associated with a lie of the darkest hue. Only the most deranged and foaming-mouthed anti-Mormon could ever imagine me capable of delving into other people’s most intimate lives, let alone using such information to hurt other people. I am left to consider that the purveyors of this devilish fabrication have devised it because such a scheme of blackmail is something they would do if they had the chance.”

It was perfect. He hadn’t actually denied the accusation, and at the same time he had masterfully turned a potentially embarrassing episode into yet another display of the depths to which the Lord’s enemies would sink in their campaign to ruin lives.

Besides, whoever leaked the information could not possibly prove the accusation without revealing poor Arlen’s situation. They wouldn’t do that, would they? No, they were much lesser beings than he, but even they would never sink that low.

One branch at a time, he remembered. Now he just needed to find a secure and trusted channel for sharing information. Surely someone on the Short List had remained untainted by the recent discussion and could be counted on for absolute discretion and confidentiality. He looked over the list carefully and, after a quick prayer, made his choice.

He began typing: “Dear Craig …”


The Revelator, Part III

May 15, 2014

It had been two weeks since his lunch with Jack, and Craig had thus far succeeded in avoiding apologetics in all its forms. He had stayed off the boards and the Short List, and he was starting to feel less of a pull to go back. His wife, Ana, had for a long time pleaded with him to disengage. She had a very simple and sincere faith, and she believed that spending so much time on “trivialities” distracted people from the important parts of the gospel. Besides, she had begun to believe that the apologists were wolves in sheep’s clothing, bent on destroying testimonies, not salvaging them. She wondered if they hadn’t been partly successful with Craig, and she was naturally quite pleased when he told her of his plans to walk away from that mess.

“I’ve prayed for this for a long time,” she said, hugging him tightly and kissing the side of his neck. “Sometimes it feels like I’ve lost you to those men. I want you back. I need you more than they do.”

Craig had been surprised at how much more productive he had become without the distraction of the Short List. Each day he noted that the Short List folder in Outlook was filling rapidly–93 unread messages already–and he wondered what they could possibly be talking about. But each rise in the number reinforced in Craig’s mind that he had made the right choice in walking away. It had been good timing because he suddenly had a lot on his plate at work.

He’d barely made a deadline to get a report to his boss, working an hour late before sending it off. He would check in later to make sure his boss had approved the report. Walking to his car, Craig called Ana to tell her he was late and would have to meet the family at the church for tonight’s “Young Women in Excellence” meeting. He knew how hard Eliza had worked on her project, and he wasn’t going to miss it. Craig was just finishing his Double-Double as he pulled into the parking lot. Eliza had recently taken a class in floral design, and for her project she would be displaying a carefully designed arrangement to show off her developing talent.

As he opened the meetinghouse door, he saw Tanner Scott dressed in an uncomfortable-looking suit and sitting in a chair in the foyer. What the hell was he doing here?

“Craig!” Tanner said cheerfully. “Where have you been, bro? We thought maybe you were in an accident or something.”

“No, just busy,” Craig replied, hoping to make a quick getaway.

“You must be here for the Young Women thing. Bo-ring!” Craig gave him a look of disapproval. “Oh, right, you have a daughter that age. What is she, 13, now?”

“She’s 16,” Craig said, trying to look annoyed–which he was.

“Uh, sorry, dude,” Tanner said, sheepishly. “You’ve totally missed out. All that stuff about perversion and everything. You gotta come back.”

“Excuse me?” Craig asked. Perversion?

“Oh, ya, we got some really juicy stuff on Arlen. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.” Just then the door to a nearby bishop’s office opened. “Can’t talk now, dude. Interview. Later!” With that Tanner was gone.

Craig hurried down the hallway and entered the Relief Society room, where a few dozen people walked around several displays of arts and crafts, where beaming young women explained their displays and how they related to the Young Women values. In the corner Eliza looked radiant in front of a beautiful arrangement of pink roses on a table. A tastefully decorated placard read:

“Individual Worth.”

“I am of infinite worth with my own divine mission, which I will strive to fulfill (D&C 18:10).”

“Hi, Daddy,” Eliza said, giving him a brief hug. She looked so much like her mother, especially her deep green eyes, except she had Craig’s dark hair.

“You look beautiful, as does your display,” Craig told her. “I knew you had talent, but this is amazing. I’m so proud of you.”

“Glad you could make it,” Ana said, taking hold of his hand and leading him to a chair. “I wasn’t sure you would.”

“I would never miss anything like this,” Craig said, though they both knew he had in the past.

“It’s enough to know you’re trying,” Ana whispered as the bishop stood up to begin the meeting.

She held his hand through the meeting as the young women rose, one after another, to present their projects and explain their importance of values in their lives. Craig looked down the row at his four children. Eliza sat nervously winding a strand of her hair around her finger as she silently rehearsed her lines, but Sarah and Noemi seemed completely absorbed in watching these older, more mature girls explain the values of the Young Women program, which they would someday experience for themselves. Porter, who was 13, was clearly not enjoying the program. Craig watched him fidgeting in his seat, rolling his eyes every time one of the young women used a word like “blessing” or “special.” Feeling some pity for his son, Craig handed him his cell phone, trying hard not to make it too noticeable.

Porter’s face showed a mixture of gratitude and relief. Ana had given him a look of mild disappointment, but soon Porter was busy playing Ridiculous Fishing, having tuned out the rest of the meeting. Craig wondered if that’s what had happened to him: he had pushed aside the good, positive things in life to focus on a narrow and ultimately meaningless game. In his zeal to defend his faith, he had forgotten about the values he had been raised with. Maybe Ana was right, and religion was less about Native American DNA and more about individual worth and divine potential.

Later that night, Craig logged into his computer to check on the report from work. As he had hoped, his boss had approved the report without changes–he was kind of lazy that way–and had simply forwarded it to the client.

The Short List box now had 107 unread messages. Craig’s mind returned to his brief encounter with Tanner. What could he have meant by “perversion,” and what did Arlen have to do with it?

Craig had long admired Arlen, a long-time LDS poster on MIC who taught humanities at a small college somewhere in Kansas. Arlen found LDS church history and doctrine fascinating and could always be counted on for insight into just about any topic. He frequently reminded people that he had a testimony that the gospel was true, but he made it clear he was not interested in defending the orthodox, correlated position. Many times he had angered Dr. Kane and his friends at the association by publishing essays that poked holes in their apologetic works. Alex and a few of the others had begun taunting him for his lack of commitment to the gospel, saying he was obviously too lazy to choose a side and stick with it. Arlen had been unapologetic–no pun intended–and said he was comfortable with his faith and was happy to let others believe as they pleased. He was, he said, interested solely in the truth.

What did they have on Arlen, and what were they going to do about it? He had to know, so he opened the Short List folder.

The first few messages involved snarky jokes about Sidious, and then the bombshell dropped.

“To: Short List

“From: Tanner Scott

“Gentlemen,

“As you all know, a friend of mine has been working on identifying Sidious’ IRL identity, and he is making progress, I believe. In the course of his investigations, he has discovered some information that may be useful to members of the list.

“Many of you are aware of Arlen Compton, who pretends to be a believer but constantly undermines all our efforts to bring scholarly light to the study of Mormon scripture and history. While not one of our main suspects for Sidious, Arlen has remained a ‘person of interest,’ so to speak, for obvious reasons.

“As you all know, last year Arlen confided in a fellow Short Lister that he had separated from his wife for a brief period of time. Out of sensitivity for Arlen and his family, this information was shared only with members of our group and a few others. However, in the course of his investigations, my friend has discovered that Arlen engaged in some fairly sleazy activities during that period.

“In September of last year, Arlen used his personal email address to join a ‘fetish’ dating site, where he listed his interests as ‘handcuffs and light discipline,’ among other things too disgusting to share here. My friend has found no direct evidence that Arlen ever met up with anyone from that site, but he has shared with me a few pieces of ‘erotic fiction’ that Arlen posted on the site’s message board. (I will make copies available to anyone who is interested in verifying my friend’s findings.) Arlen’s participation in that site appears to have ended several weeks before he reconciled with his wife and returned home, though we cannot be sure.

“Our concern, of course, ought to be for Arlen’s lovely wife and family, who are probably unaware of his activities. If he did indulge himself at that time, he may well have put his wife at risk of AIDS and other STDs. I personally feel morally conflicted because this is something his wife should know.

“What say ye, brethren?”

Craig felt physically ill. He had long known some of these guys were capable of a lot, but he hadn’t imagined they go this far. Shaken, he continued reading.

“To: Short List

“From: Alex DuPlessis

“There can be no question, we have a moral responsibility to let Arlen’s wife know of the dangers to which she has been exposed. The most honourable course of action would be an anonymous email to Arlen’s bishop. Perhaps then he can get his fill of ‘light discipline.’ If no one else will do the right thing, I will.”

Several members had responded to Alex’s email, but they spoke only of making sure that nothing could be traced back to the group.

They hadn’t as yet contacted Arlen’s bishop, so the revelator would have to act quickly.


The Revelator, Part II

May 14, 2014

It was getting late in Bloemfontein, and the darkness had fallen over a row of stuccoed houses with red, Spanish-tile roofs. Alex DuPlessis was still awake, having years ago adjusted his schedule so he could be online when most of the other members of the association would be home from work. It was nearing 11:00 pm in South Africa, and a few members on the American East Coast would be appearing within the hour. Alex didn’t mind waiting because he had other things to do. The Utah boys would have to wait until tomorrow.

Jean had gone to bed over an hour ago, having resigned herself early on in their marriage to knowing that Alex wasn’t available at this time of night. He tried to make it up to her most weekends, helping her tend the roses that made their front garden the envy of all the neighbors. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day, as he and the twins, William and Daniel, had promised to help Jean plant a new variety his friends had shipped from the Horticulture Department at BYU-Idaho. With luck and a lot of care, the roses would be in full bloom in time for the Rose Festival. He hated gardening, and roses were the worst, with their thorns and sickly sweet smell. The things we do for our loved ones.

After checking the windows and doors, switching on the alarm system, and looking outside to make sure all the streetlamps in the gated community were in service, Alex grabbed a stick of biltong and sat down at his desk to catch up on the day’s events. He quickly read through the latest messages on the board, pausing only occasionally to put a dirty apostate in his or her place. He then took a few moments to skim through the rants at MormonDiscourse, or as he preferred to call it, Outer Darkness, feeling his moral outrage swell with every insult these traitors dared hurl at the true church and its prophets. Finally, he checked his email and, after deleting an advert from a specialised nursery in Pretoria, opened the folder for the Short List–the super-secret closed list of “safe” MIC posters. He wiped his wire-rimmed glasses on his shirtsleeve and noticed immediately that his friends were still talking about “Sidious,” a relatively new poster on MormonDiscourse whose insulting posts had gained him a lot of fans among the crowd of yammering, sycophantic apostates.

Alex knew his friends had dealt with such people before, and he was confident they would ferret him out in the end, so he wasn’t particularly concerned with Sidious. At this point, all anyone knew about Sidious was that he was a business executive of some sort.

“The guy is nothing,” Dalton R. Kane, a religion professor at BYU, had written in his latest email to the group. “He thinks he’s hurting our feelings and is delusional enough to believe we actually care anything about him. Epic fail!” Alex smirked at Kane’s awkward attempt to appear “cool” to the younger generation of apologists.

“What I find most amusing,” Kane continued, “is the continuous refrain that we at the association have engaged in personal attacks and mocking of others. Why, I’m surprised I haven’t been arrested by now, knowing how despicably and cruelly I’ve behaved. Remind me to send flowers to the grieving widows of those whose souls I have so ruthlessly destroyed. Needless to say, it will be a cold day in the telestial kingdom when I allow myself to be lectured on morality by a half-wit apostate punk like him!”

After a few more paragraphs deriding Sidious’s recent posts (they’d begun calling him a “hillbilly economist”), Kane had closed with this:

“I couldn’t care less about this low-life yahoo! As Elder McConkie once said, ‘What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? The caravan moves on!’ I think we can all agree that the best course of action is to ignore this loser. He’s not worth any more effort on our part, and we should just forget about him. By the way, has there been any progress on unmasking him? Not that it matters to me.”

As lightning flashed in the distance over the Highveld, Alex stretched his arms over his head, yawned, and ran his fingers through his graying ginger hair. Regaining his focus, he opened an email from Tanner Scott, one of the rising generation of apologists. Tanner had become an avid participant on the MIC board as a teenager, where with youthful zeal he had joined in the attacks on posters who claimed to be “struggling” with church issues (everyone knew they were lying apostates). Some of the old guard had expressed hope that Tanner’s mission would have a moderating effect on him and motivate him to tone down the attacks, but Tanner came back to the board with renewed energy, seeming to relish every new opportunity to cut the wicked down to size. Alex had been happy to know that someone would be carrying on in this important work long after his generation had departed from the scene.

Tanner’s reply was unusually terse: “Our mutual friend is on the case. I will notify the group when progress has been made.” The lack of rhetorical flourishes told Alex that Tanner was deadly serious.

Satisfied that the Sidious affair was under control, Alex tore off another chunk of biltong with his teeth and went back to his special project. Sidious might bother other members of the group, he thought, chewing the spicy dried meat, but there were weightier matters afoot. Somewhere out there, there is a mole of the blackest character … and I’m going to find him!

For several months, some dark soul had been sharing confidential communications from the MIC group with the scumbags on MormonDiscourse. Alex had begun a few days before to systematically review everything he knew about the apparent leaks. He started working backwards, noting the time of each “revelation” on the hated board, and correlating it to when the information had been discussed originally among his friends. So far, there didn’t seem to be a clear pattern. Sometimes the information went out hours after the relevant discussion, and at other times there was a lag of several days up to a few weeks. No revelations had appeared in the last four weeks, leading Alex to believe one would be forthcoming.

Next he went to the revelations themselves. The latest had disclosed the existence of the Short List, which Dr. Kane had organized in the first place to keep MIC secrets out of Sidious’s reach. Whoever the mole was, he (Alex was sure it was a male) knew more than he should about the group:

“My sources reveal to me that, in response to my earlier disclosures, a group of MIC posters has formed an exclusive email list to discuss recent leaks and to coordinate the apologetic programme with privacy and secrecy. Oops! Further revelations on the activities of this de facto apologetic junta will be forthcoming when fact can be separated from rumour.”

“A complete but ‘short list’ of group members may be difficult to compile, but my sources assure me that a partial roster will be in my hands shortly.”

Three weeks had passed, and Alex was becoming more worried about the breach in security. How much did the “revelator” know, and who was his source?

Strangely, no one else on the Short List seemed at all disturbed that the church’s enemies had discovered the list’s existence. Dr. Kane had said only that someone must have shared too much with a friend, which is why the revelations contained so few details. He asked that members be more circumspect and respect the group’s privacy. Everyone agreed, and attention went back to finding Sidious (the bastard!).

Alex thought how difficult it was now to track someone down. He missed the bygone days when you could more or less tell your friends from your foes online. Back in the mid-1990s, he had been going through a painful divorce and had sunk into depression. He was barely functioning then, managing only to get up in the morning and plod through another day of work before collapsing in his sister’s spare bedroom at the end of the day. Reading his scriptures had helped, but he had sat alone and discouraged each Sunday in church, telling anyone who asked that he just needed time to sort himself out. Still the depression weighed on him as a heavy yoke, until he had prayed with all his might for something to come into his life and give him meaning and purpose again. A few days later, he had stumbled across a listserv discussion group about Mormonism. Each day he read eloquent and scholarly defences of the gospel from such stalwarts as “cdowis” and “wenglund,” and more and more his blood boiled as he read the disgusting attacks hateful anti-Mormons made on the true church of Jesus Christ.

After several weeks of cautious lurking, he could abide no more, and his moral outrage poured out in denunciations of the despicable character of these evil enemies of God. All the anger and hurt from the last several months found a focus in those who would dare fight against the true church. Alex told himself he was defending truth, but deep inside he knew he had been chosen to cut the wicked down to stubble and humble the haughty. As the rage flowed out of him, the depression gradually dissipated, and he found himself invigorated by this unofficial but undeniable calling from God. He had been at it for nearly 20 years now. As the years passed, he had sometimes found it difficult to keep up the proper level of high dudgeon, but each time he felt the smallest twinge of empathy or kindness toward God’s enemies, he reminded himself that he simply could not allow the darkness and gloom to enclose him again. He surprised himself with his ability to draw on unknown reserves of bile until the encroaching sense of humanity had been suppressed.

An hour had passed, and still he had no leads as to the mole’s identity. He snatched the last bit of biltong from the desk and distractedly tried to pop it in his mouth. In his haste, he dropped the meat to the floor, upon which his beagle, Abish, lunged for it. He swatted at the dog’s nose with the back of his hand, and the dog yelped and retreated in fear.

“I’ve missed something,” Alex said aloud, retrieving the biltong from the floor and inserting it into his mouth. “I know I have. Sooner or later, though, I’ll get him.”


The Revelator, Part I

May 14, 2014

“Why do you hang out with those guys?” Jack asked, taking another sip of his diet Coke. “You don’t even believe in the church anymore.”

Craig had been wondering the same thing for quite some time. He stared absently into the carefully manicured gardens at the Lion House, where he and Jack sat at a wrought-iron table finishing their lunch. It was a convenient place to meet, being on the same block as the Church Office Building, where Jack worked, and only two blocks from Craig’s firm. The roses along the stone wall surrounding the garden were in full bloom, their blossoms almost the same shade of pink as the rhubarb pie they were both enjoying.

“I feel like someone needs to be the voice of reason, and maybe that has to be me.” He savored a bite of pie and said softly, to no one in particular, “Not that they listen to me anymore.”

They used to listen, Craig thought to himself, unconsciously rolling between his fingers the expensive cufflinks his firm had given him last year. Not long ago he’d been sort of a star among the “defenders of the faith,” as they liked to call themselves. A relatively young partner in a major accounting firm in Salt Lake City, he had just enough credentials for the apologetic group and had made a name for himself as a sort of expert in discussing Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible. But it hadn’t started out that way.

Ten years ago–had it been that long?–he had been struggling with some church issues, though he couldn’t remember specifically what they had been. Not finding answers in “official” church publications, he had gone to the Internet to find answers, anything really to reassure him that his worries were unfounded and he could return to a comfortable belief in the faith of his fathers. For a brief moment, he had allowed himself to imagine what it would be like if there were no answers and the church wasn’t true, after all. The thought had terrified him and spurred him to look harder for answers. The dim fog of despair had finally lifted when he had found the Association for Mormon-Interfaith Scripture Studies and its message board, Mormon Interfaith Conversations. Here were the experts, the guys who had the training and dedication to look into the issues and find scholarly answers, no matter how hard it was to squeeze positive evidence out of the historical and archaeological record. They’d done the heavy lifting, and he could relax. He was going to be OK. Feeling obligated to help others as MIC/AMISS had helped him, he had begun to participate on the board as much as possible, and eventually he’d been asked to submit a paper on the JST.

“I’d walk away from that shit if I were you,” Jack said, earning a dirty look from a blue-haired missionary sitting at the next table. “I told you about that meeting I was in,” he continued, more quietly but urgently. “The Brethren are watching over everything, and you don’t want to be associated with any of that,” he said, jabbing a forkful of the pink, gooey pie in Craig’s direction before shoveling it into his mouth.

A few weeks before, Jack had casually mentioned a special meeting he’d been invited to at the Church Office Building regarding the huge number of Mormon-related web sites, both pro- and anti-Mormon, that seemed to be springing up everywhere. After an introduction by J. Kendrick Balsam of the Seventy, Jack’s boss, Brother Gladden, had stood there in his charcoal suit, methodically going through a long series of PowerPoint slides, each discussing a particular web site or message board. After each slide, the assembled managers and leaders would pass judgment. Those sites deemed to be “of interest’ would be monitored by the Strengthening the Church Membership Committee, which would issue regular reports to be discussed at follow-up meetings.

The usual suspects showed up on the screen. The men rolled their eyes and chuckled at the ironically named “Recovery from Mormonism” site, one man with a greasy comb-over saying bitterly, “That’s like saying you need to recover from a steak dinner. What a bunch of losers.”

A Christian web site run by a widowed former Mormon brought howls of derision. “What a b-word!” a man in a fraying pastel suit to Jack’s left had said. “We should be grateful her husband’s dead because now her stuff is only half-assed.” Elder Balsam reminded the man to watch his language but said he agreed with the sentiment, noting that the woman’s husband had died of Alzheimer’s disease. “That’s what happens when you kick against the pricks. The Lord takes His vengeance as He will. I almost feel sorry for the poor devil.”

The meeting had dragged on, covering everything from “after Mormonism” sites to feminist blogs to a strange site about same-sex attraction that had something or other to do with locks and keys. To Jack it was a mass of confusion, but Brother Gladden had soldiered on through even the worst and most hateful opposition the Internet had to offer. At one point, he had paused, wiped his forehead with a monogrammed handkerchief, and sighed, “I almost feel like I’ll need a shower after this.”

The parade of hate had become almost numbing when Jack was surprised to see the MIC/AMISS logo on the large screen. Brother Gladden mentioned that some of the brethren had expressed concern that the board might be a front for nonbelievers who were trying to suck in the credulous and sow the seeds of doubt and apostasy. Given the confusion over the purpose and direction of the association, Brother Gladden had felt it best to bring it up with the assembled group.

“I don’t see what the fuss is about,” said the representative of CES, a stocky man in his forties whose hair was prematurely white. “They do top-notch work, and since we aren’t allowed to teach such things in seminary, they’re the next best thing.”

“I tried out their message board once,” a small, redheaded man with a pencil mustache said hesitantly. “I lasted two days. They were kind of mean, and I didn’t get the impression they were out to help me or anyone else. They seemed to enjoy making fun of people more than defending the church.”

“Maybe that’s who President Packer had in mind when he warned us of the so-called intellectuals,” a fat man in suspenders offered from the corner of the room.

Elder Balsam stood up suddenly, his eyes flashing and his long, thin face red against the white wisps of his hair. “I know the brethren who run that association,” he said, barely controlling his temper, “and they are fine, upstanding members of the church and scholars of impeccable reputation. They founded that organization as a resource to help the struggling and shore up the faith of those who want more than the correlated gospel. The idea that they knowingly would work against us is preposterous!”

“What if they’re doing it without knowing?” Jack had asked aloud, without intending to.

“Young man,” Elder Balsam had glared at him, waving his bony hand in dismissal. “This isn’t your concern. Leave it alone.”

“Yes, sir, uh, elder, sir,” Jack had said, feeling more than a little intimidated. Still, later that day, his boss had told him that several others in the meeting had been expressing the same concerns about MIC for a number of weeks. Brother Gladden had spoken with his former mission president, who was now in the Presidency of the Seventy. He had been assured that some of the brethren were more than a little dismayed at the direction the association had taken.

“Don’t worry about it, Jack,” Brother Gladden had said. “The committee is keeping an eye on those guys, whether or not Elder Balsam approves. I know some of those guys over there, too, and they probably do think they’re doing the church a service. I’m not so sure. In any event, I’m staying away from that place, and I would advise you to do the same.”

That had been nearly a year ago, and yet Craig still found himself knee-deep in the “association.” Some months before, Craig had quietly gone through what he told himself was a “faith transition.” He had realized that his participation in apologetics had amounted to pasting layer after layer of wallpaper over the crumbling wall of belief behind it. Eventually, there was nothing left but the paper, which had folded and blown away like a tattered three-dollar note from the Kirtland Anti-Banking Society. He had told only Jack, as his fumbling attempts to open up to his wife and his parents had met with steely resistance. Jack had understood, being an unbeliever himself, but he pressed Craig again about his relationship with the apologists.

“At least get off that stupid email list,” Jack said between bites of pie, which Craig noticed had dripped onto his white shirt and tie. “I mean, Jesus, how can you justify that cloak-and-dagger shit? Someone is going to get hurt, and it might just be you.”

“Like I said,” Craig sighed, “someone has to be the voice of reason. Maybe if I stop things while they’re still on the list, before they get out in public, I can limit the damage.”

“You keep telling yourself that,” Jack said dismissively. “But you don’t really believe that.”

No, I don’t, Craig thought, but he didn’t feel safe telling Jack the real reason he was still there. At carefully chosen intervals, he had been leaking the group’s plans and activities to less-than-friendly sources. He’d been careful to cover his tracks and couch what he called his “revelations” in terms that would obscure their source, and in so doing he had managed to insert the tiniest wedge of paranoia into the leadership at the association. They had even started a restricted email group “for security reasons,” never realizing that they had invited a mole in as one of its founding members.

He hadn’t sent anything out in a while, but it was time.


Niche Mormonism

May 12, 2014

I have a good friend who is a Bible Studies scholar and an active, believing, faithful Latter-day Saint. He served an LDS mission, married in the temple, has a calling in his ward, served as an institute instructor, and currently has a child on a mission. He’s happy in the LDS church and believes it is God’s true, restored church on the earth.

Recently, he’s come under attack from at least one Mormon apologist because my friend subscribes to the “Documentary Hypothesis,” which proposes that the five books of Moses in the Bible are a combination of two independent narratives along with other later redactions. According to my friend’s accuser, taking a non-traditional approach to the scriptures disqualifies one from belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, the accuser has suggested that my friend leave the church and find another more compatible with his beliefs about scripture.

Whether or not the Documentary Hypothesis is compatible with belief in Mormonism is, in my mind, irrelevant because my friend considers them so. What interests me is the attitude, which I’ve seen increasingly, among some people who feel they have the right to decide who does or does not belong in the LDS church. This attitude crops up usually around a person’s favorite axes to grind. For example, I know one guy who would, if he could, excommunicate all liberal Democrats because he believes “the gospel is conservatism.”

Fortunately, the church seems to be run by people who are not interested in such trivial gospel hobbies but are more concerned about members’ testimonies and commitment. President Dieter Uchtdorf recently remarked that there is plenty of room for people in the church who may not believe exactly the way others do. And people who want to drive them out should “stop it.”

I told my conservative acquaintance that, if he had his way, the church would be smaller and less of a force in the world. He said he would prefer to sift the bad (liberal) elements out because it would “revitalize” the church. I think it would just make for a tiny “niche” church. To my surprise, he was fine with that. He said, “We already are a niche church.”

But I think he’s wrong. What gives the church vitality is its diversity of culture and opinion. Working together, people who otherwise might occupy different ideological spaces build something worthwhile. Organizations focused on ideological “purity” tend to stagnate and eventually wither away.

The LDS church needs people like my friend, good, honest people who are committed and unafraid to follow what they believe.


Parental Narcissism

April 16, 2014

An old friend of mine from my days as a missionary was telling me about the struggles of some of his children, and I reassured him that all families have issues. His family is not unique. Our kids bring us joy and pain and make us proud and sometimes make us just shake our heads and chuckle ruefully.

Like most of us, he wonders if his children’s issues are “his fault.” Where did he go wrong? What could he have done better? How could he have helped his children make better choices or feel differently about themselves and the world they live in?

I’ve felt those same feelings. I’ve watched each of my children make stupid mistakes and make choices my wife and I had specifically taught them not to make. I’ve had sleepless nights worrying about a child, reviewing over and over all the mistakes I made as a parent and wondering whether, had I not made those mistakes, that child would have avoided the current problem.

My wife sometimes tells me I could and should write a book about being a father, as with six children, I’ve dealt with quite different personalities in different circumstances, even though they all have grown up in the same home with the same parents and are products of the same genes. I always say that I could write a book about how to do parenting wrong, and I’m only half-joking.

But really, when I think about it, taking credit for my kids’ mistakes (and their triumphs) seems a bit narcissistic. If there’s anything every parent understands (or should), it’s that their kids are individuals with their own desires, interests, and thought processes. They are going to choose certain things no matter what. Yes, we have a responsibility to “teach them correct principles” and give them appropriate consequences when they do or don’t make wise choices. That’s what parents do. But in a large sense, they “govern themselves” despite all the teachings and consequences we provide.

Part of becoming an adult involves starting to make your own choices but also accepting the responsibilities that come with those choices. If we took it on ourselves as parents to prevent our kids from making choices, they would be ill-prepared to survive as adults. Unfortunately, I’ve known parents like this who rule their homes by imposing strict rules and controlling behavior with an iron fist. In almost every case, the kids adopt one of two extreme attitudes: hyper-vigilant deference to authority or an equally overdone hostility to authority. Both extremes have their problems, obviously.

I’ve also known families who believe strongly in letting their kids do what they wish and suffer consequences only as they naturally occur with only minimal instruction and no structure. Again, the children of such parents tend not to develop skills they will need as adults. In my experience, more often than not these kids end up dependent on their parents as adults, which is ironically what the parents were hoping to avoid.

Most parents, myself included, live somewhere in between these two extremes. We teach our kids our values, set family rules in accordance with those values, and specify specific consequences when those values and rules are not followed. But, if I’m at all typical, we worry that we have moved too far to either side, and we recognize that what worked with one child may not work with another.

In “Raising Arizona” a couple of doofus convicts steal a baby, with one grabbing a copy of Dr. Spock and saying, “Here’s the instructions.” But there aren’t any instructions. There’s no one-size fits all approach that works with every child in every situation, so we muddle along as well as we can, guided solely by our values, our beliefs, and whatever skills we pick up along the way from observation, experience, or research.

I don’t think my son would mind me talking about how completely unprepared we were for him. Nothing we did produced consistent results, and we really felt like we were flying by the seat of our pants. Then he was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, and suddenly everything made sense. Despite not knowing what we were dealing with, we did most of the things we should have done, and he is, as always, a wonderful son. We’re proud of him. But he knows as well as I do that we made a lot of mistakes with him. Not long ago I felt prompted to apologize to him for some of the stupid things I’d done as a father. He told me he loves me and appreciates me for the father I am, and he apologized for being such a pain in the neck growing up.

But I don’t claim credit for him growing up to be a good man with a good heart and a lot of talent. That’s on him. But I do feel pretty good about my parenting with all of my children simply because I know I haven’t screwed up in any major or irreparable ways, I haven’t been abusive, and I’ve done my level best to be the kind of father I want to be.

My missionary friend and I could tell you a lot of stories about mistakes our kids have made and how painful that has been to watch, but we can also tell you about our kids’ talents and personalities and successes–the things we are proud of. Maybe it’s just that we have to take all of it together. Our kids are who they are not because we were good parents (though I think it helps) and not only because of their successes. They, like all of us, have learned from their mistakes.

Maybe parents and children need to cut each other a little slack.


Grant Palmer: A Personal Review of “A Personal Review”

March 31, 2014

This morning I was drawn to Jonathan Cannon’s review of Grant Palmer’s An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins:

An Insider’s View — A Personal Review

I should mention that I didn’t read Palmer’s book until well after I had left the church, so it was not instrumental at all in my exit, though it obviously has affected quite a lot of people. I should also mention that I don’t know Jonathan Cannon and had never heard of him before, so I have no prejudice for or against him.

Let me start with a quote from the review:

Academic authors are generally allowed to make their own interpretations, and it isn’t considered unprofessional. What is unprofessional is to not cite relevant sources, or provide people with resources to find out more about contested topics. As far as I can tell, Palmer cites many useful secondary sources, and can be used effectively as a starting point for a new student of Mormon history.

First of all, I am probably looking at this differently than Cannon is, but I don’t consider Palmer’s book to be an academic or even remotely “objective” review of the issues. Palmer’s intent, clearly stated several times, is to present the problematic issues clearly and succinctly so that a general audience can understand them. As Cannon writes:

First, I hope to alert the reader of An Insider’s View to a fact that Palmer doesn’t hide, but that is easily overlooked because of rhetorical choices made by the author; namely, that the history presented is a popular summary and consciously removes many real ambiguities in the historical record.

It seems a little odd to criticize Palmer for providing a “popular summary” when that’s exactly what Palmer says he is providing. Apparently, however, Palmer’s “rhetorical choices” lead the reader to forget the purpose of the book. I think most readers are smarter than that, but let’s take a look at what Cannon means. We get a glimpse of the problem here, when Cannon is discussing his reaction to some podcasts Palmer recorded:

 And then he presented conclusions with great confidence, as if the evidence compelled him to arrive there.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but I think this is what Cannon is talking about when he refers to “rhetorical choices.” Cannon believes–and I agree with him–that the “evidence” (church history and origins in their non-Correlated form) doesn’t necessarily lead to unbelief. If it did, there would be no apologists and no “faithful historians.” Palmer, like a lot of former Mormons, likely does feel that “the evidence compelled him to arrive” at unbelief, and I think he’s been pretty clear about this in everything I have read from him. For Cannon, that Palmer is at peace with his conclusions represents an “exaggerated confidence” that affects the contents of the book so much so that it invalidates Palmer’s conclusions. Palmer, he argues, “removes ambiguities” that would undercut his conclusions.

I agree that “ambiguities” and alternative narratives are not presented, but then I wouldn’t expect a non-scholarly summary to provide that at all (it is a short read, after all). What would be “unprofessional” in a peer-reviewed book or article is not so in a book written as a summary for a general audience. Cannon seems to find fault with Palmer for writing a book for a stated purpose while at the same time calling him “unprofessional” for not following the rules that would govern a book written for a different purpose. Cannon finds this quote to be a rhetorical device to shape the reader’s bias:

Over the years, scholars of all stripes have made contributions and counterbalanced each other by critiquing each other’s works. We now have a body of authentic, reliable documents and a near-consensus on many of the details. From this base, the overall picture of Mormon origins begins to unfold. This picture is much different from what we hear in the modified versions that are taught in Sunday school.

It’s difficult for me to find fault with this statement: there is “near-consensus on many of the details,” and the picture these details paint is indeed quite different from what we get in Correlated lesson manuals.

That said, in my view, the evidence is more ambiguous than what Palmer presents but less ambiguous than Cannon suggests. Let’s take one example. Multiple accounts from people who were involved in the translation of the Book of Mormon or in the house at the time indicate a process that was essentially a word-for-word dictation. Of course, no one could possibly know the process except for Joseph Smith. Here’s the relevant paragraph:

I happen to have read a little about this issue, and find Palmer’s removal of ambiguities problematic. This statement appears to imply that all of these individuals each reported all of these facts: that Joseph looked in his hat with a seer stone in it, and that he saw the words to speak word for word in the stones. The quotes that follow do support the stone and face in hat picture. We can be quite confident of this fact. What Joseph saw in the stones turns out to be highly ambiguous, historically. I think ambiguities, like this one at the very beginning, ultimately make Palmer’s conclusions regarding Joseph Smith as a translator/revelator much weaker than Palmer’s confident narrative would lead a reader to believe. Instead of glossing over the ambiguities, this brief article examines some ambiguities of translation and the quality of the historical evidence in greater detail, and arrives at a different picture than Palmer. Unfortunately, the evidence is ambiguous, contradictory, and open to a variety of interpretations. I would find this less disturbing if Palmer’s tone hadn’t set us up to believe that he was going to present: “reliable documents and a near-consensus on many of the details” (from the Preface).

Cannon seems to be arguing that the evidence in support of a word-for-word “dictation” process is ambiguous, but the article he links to doesn’t help him here. Three quotes (two from people involved or in close proximity to the translation process, one secondhand and 70 years removed) are given in the FARMS/MI article, all three of which support Palmer’s “near-consensus” that the process involved the words appearing in the seer stone. The author of the article, Stephen Ricks, tells us why he thinks that method is “problematical from a linguistic point of view,” but he gives no counterevidence except to quote a non-Mormon minister, who was not involved in any aspect of the translation process. And even then, the minister’s statement isn’t at all inconsistent with the “word by word” process, saying only that “the Holy Ghost would reveal to [Joseph] the translation in the English language.” Based on this rather poorly done apologetic article, Cannon damns Palmer as not allowing for a different process, even though there is nothing beyond Stephen Ricks’ linguistic objections to suggest such a different process.

Ultimately, no one knows what Joseph Smith saw or didn’t see, but the issue here is that most members of the church are completely unaware of Joseph’s “seer stone,” its provenance, or its role in the translation process. In short, whether anything came word for word is irrelevant to most people I know. Inventing some sort of ambiguity that you can see only when Stephen Ricks squints at it is hardly damaging to Palmer’s claims. But Cannon seems to think readers have been misled because Palmer promised “near-consensus” (he didn’t) and hid the ambiguous:

Unfortunately, the evidence is ambiguous, contradictory, and open to a variety of interpretations. I would find this less disturbing if Palmer’s tone hadn’t set us up to believe that he was going to present: “reliable documents and a near-consensus on many of the details” (from the Preface).

I might agree had Cannon presented something here that led to a “variety of interpretations,” but he hasn’t.

Cannon mentions alternative theories for the production of the Book of Mormon. I have to admit I’m always puzzled about the apparent belief that critics must provide a comprehensive theory for the production of the book. Why is this necessary? It’s the text of the Book of Mormon that provides clues to its origins, no matter how it was produced, and as Cannon notes, the text makes perfect sense in a 19th-century context. Insisting that Palmer and other critics provide a production process makes about as much sense as insisting that, unless I know how it happened, I must accept that Gob Bluth really did make a yacht disappear.

I appreciate the compassion with which Cannon approaches people who feel “betrayed.” I don’t believe I fit in with that category, as I was well aware of the issues in church history for some 10 years before my exit, but I completely understand why people feel betrayed by a church that presented only a sanitized, Disney-like version of its history. The contrast with the known history can be quite jarring, to say the least. That Cannon acknowledges that the church has done things that would lead people to feel betrayed is commendable. He goes on:

To those of you who feel betrayed and would like a resolution that leads you back to trust in the LDS church, I would suggest a few kinds of questions I’ve picked up from literary theory, postmodern thought, and economics. A warning, I’m not an expert in any of these and so likely to be misapplying them.

As someone who studied literary theory, including postmodernism in grad school, I always cringe when people bring this into a discussion of Mormonism, so forgive me if I don’t take that seriously. I’ve seen a lot of people misuse postmodernism, from Blake Ostler to Juliann Reynolds and a lot of others, as if it provides a more mature, nuanced approach to Mormonism. It really doesn’t. Postmodernism asserts that “truth” is irrelevant, and even if there were some truth or reality, it would be inaccessible to humans precisely because being human distorts our perception of everything. Because postmodernism is skeptical of science’s ability to approach truth, Mormon apologists have seized on that skepticism to argue that a subjective, spiritual approach to truth is superior. What they aren’t telling us is that postmodernists would say that the spiritual approach is just as worthless as science and reason for arriving at truth. So, I am not sure what to make of his brief allusion to postmodern literary theory.

These questions don’t seem particularly rooted in postmodernism or literary theory, though the notion that there’s always an agenda behind every statement sort of touches on it. (By the way, an excellent discussion of the rhetorical purpose of historical writing is found in Hayden White’s Metahistory.)

That said,  I’ll take a stab at Cannon’s questions:

“What is the purpose of the history being taught (there may be many)?”

The history taught in the church accomplishes two purposes: 1) it presents a cohesive, positive narrative of the foundational claims of the church that makes sense and inspires church members. 2) It almost always presents history to inspire moral choices, which of course are easier to present if there is little or no ambiguity. I suspect the conscious subordination of history to its rhetorical purposes explains why church history reads like something from Walt Disney.

“What are the alternatives to how it is being taught (take the time to think of more than a couple)?”

For me the best alternative wouldn’t require a huge adjustment in the content of what is taught but in how it is presented. Because the history is presented as a sort of inspirational example, it is approached with a sort of reverence and awe that is incompatible with viewing historical figures, such as Joseph Smith, as real human beings. I’m not really sure what it would look like, but I would suggest toning down the hero-worship and showing the history in more human terms. People are forgiving of prophets as humans, but not so much of prophets portrayed as saintly superheroes.

“How would each of these alternatives contribute to or detract from the purposes?”

Showing the human side of the history would be more effective in accomplishing the two goals I mentioned above. If we want to motivate flawed humans to accomplish great things, show them flawed humans who did accomplish great things (assuming of course that Mormonism is a great accomplishment).

“Is it necessary that all of the changes come at the institutional level?”

Yes, I think it is necessary because the institution has created an unrealistic view of its leaders and its history. Individuals can change that attitude, but as long as the church promotes such a hagiographical approach to its leaders and history, those who reject that simplistic approach will be outliers who will probably be criticized by their fellow members.

“How long am I willing to wait for the institution to change?”

I couldn’t care less how long it takes. It’s their church, and they’ll adapt as they have to.

“What signs can I find that the institution is changing?”

I think the recent essays are signs they are changing. At least I hope they are.

“Does my view of Prophets match the present and historical reality?”

I view prophets as human beings with human failings, so yes, my view does reflect the reality.

“Are my unrealistic expectations one piece of my feelings of betrayal?”

This is the reason for such feelings for many people, but remember that it is the church that taught people to have those “unrealistic expectations.” Frankly, the question here seems to do what I’ve seen the church do a lot: passive-aggressively shift the focus to what the member is doing “wrong” instead of acknowledging the church’s actions and intent.

‘Is Mormonism mine, or does it belong to the General Authorities?”

It’s a nice thought to believe that a Mormon can have a Mormonism that is “yours,” but we all understand that “your” Mormonism is still constrained by the acceptable boundaries set by the church and its leaders.

Finally, I’ll comment on one quote that hits the mark:

“I find Palmer’s evidence too incomplete to compel me to more than a guarded agnosticism regarding the foundational claims.”

What Palmer’s book ought to accomplish is to motivate people to learn more about the issues. His book is not the definitive work on early Mormonism any more than a political party’s “voter’s guide” is a complete and exhaustive summary of that party’s agenda. Where I think Cannon has gone wrong is to apply academic standards to a book that is decidedly not academic.

Palmer’s book is invaluable in introducing people to issues they probably have never heard of, but readers should take it as the starting point in their journey of discovery, not the end. Its value lies in summarizing the issues. Having a better and more accurate view of LDS history does not require someone to lose faith or leave the church; it may, however, require an adjustment of attitude and an acknowledgment that life doesn’t fit in a tidy little box, no matter how much we would like it to.


Applause for Another Mormon

March 26, 2014

This one is right in line with my earlier post, “I don’t need to listen. I’m right.”

To the Saints Who Tell Heretics and Apostates to Leave

I have watched the same phenomenon of some Mormons who take great pleasure in telling questioning, or doubting members to leave the church, and it’s always puzzled me. After all, the mission of the church is to invite people to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him” (Moroni 10:32), not to weed out undesirables. Unfortunately, some people have taken it upon themselves to decide who gets to stay and who must leave. I never have understood this drive to divide the body of Christ, but I think the writer gets at some of the reasons behind it:

In a way, I can understand this impulse. Mormons sacrifice a lot for their faith. We live moral standards most people are baffled by. We attend hours of church meetings every week. As young adults, we even give up eighteen months  to two years of our lives, asking people every day to learn more about Christ and come unto Him. When you have done these things for God’s church, to have someone come along and question it feels like a slap in the face–especially when that questioner is not some ignorant outsider but another member who has made these sacrifices too. It is painful and sometimes scary to see people so similar to me find fault with something I love so much.

I would, however, caution against labeling all questioning and doubt as “find[ing] fault” with the church, but I that’s a minor quibble. As I wrote earlier, it’s quite easy to take offense when someone criticizes what we hold dear or sacred, and our natural “fight or flight” response is to become defensive and hostile. That’s just part of being human.

The same is true of those who have left. We feel as strongly about our reasons for leaving as Mormons feel about their reasons for belief. When members react with hostility to us and our beliefs, we can be equally as defensive and angry, and that just leads to more misunderstanding and animosity.

But most of the time what I have seen isn’t Mormons being “mean” but rather well-meaning family and friends being at a loss as to how to deal with loved ones who have rejected what Mormons hold sacred. They may ask themselves, How could someone walk away from something so beautiful and uplifting? How can they not see what I see in the church and its teachings? How can I stop them from making such a terrible mistake?

Because most Mormons have no experience dealing with the “apostasy” of a loved one, they may say or do things that seem hurtful, although they are well-intentioned. We who have left–again, speaking solely of my own experience–are extremely sensitive to criticism of our choices because we understand how painful and gut-wrenching it has been to arrive at them. We start out in a defensive position, and we may react badly, and the cycle continues. Love is the key for us, too.

What we are talking about are deeply held, highly personal beliefs that govern how we live our lives. Even the attempt to convince someone to change the way they look at life is going to be fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding and hurt. It should be obvious that starting out with hostility and rejection on either side is the wrong way to have that conversation. Love may not bring the unbeliever back, but it certainly can help relationships survive a major life change.

The thought strikes me that this essay and the earlier one from Chris Henrichsen would not have been written had there not been an increase in core members walking away from the church. There’s no stampede for the doors, but enough people are leaving to allow us to see patterns both in why they leave and how other church members respond. That the response can involve rejection and animosity may have inspired Dieter Uchtdorf’s kind and conciliatory “Come, Join with Us” talk in last October’s general conference.

Maybe President Uchtdorf wasn’t speaking so much to doubting members as he was to their staunch family and friends when he said, “my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.” If an apostle tells me there’s room for those with questions and doubts, how can I insist they leave? Better to rejoice that they are still here and strive to love, even if their questions sometimes make me uncomfortable. After all, I don’t have to agree with someone to love them. And there are many things I’ve been wrong about in life, but choosing to love others has never failed me.

The reality for today’s LDS church is that more people are making a conscious choice to leave for a variety of reasons, and the church really has two issues to work through: How to prevent the loss of more members, and how to deal with those who do leave. I have no idea how they plan to address these issues, but it does my heart good to see both leaders and lay members promoting kindness and love. The gospel Jesus taught is about love, and love ought to trump all other considerations. John Lennon said that “love is all you need,” but really, love is all we have.


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