When I lost my faith in Mormonism, several people, including my bishop and my father, said something I hadn’t expected: “You just took the church too seriously.” They told me I just needed to focus on the good, the true, in the church, and set aside the parts that were neither.
My father has always been able to do that, and it works for him. But I was all in, as I had been taught to be. After all, there were no lessons in the manuals about doing things halfway, no conference talks about the virtue of indifference. No, we were committed to “walk[ing] up to every covenant” we made, or we knew we would be in Satan’s power. And we accepted the doctrines of the church, no matter how absurd they might seem to others. To quote the Book of Mormon musical:
I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob.
I believe that Jesus has his own planet as well.
And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.
But on some level, I don’t know that I accepted every last thing. For example, although I knew that the Doctrine and Covenants clearly outlined a “young earth” with a temporal existence of 7,000 years, I accepted that the earth was much older than that and that evolution was likely true. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone in trying to reconcile some church teachings with what I knew of reality, but then there was always a small group of people who not only accepted every last teaching but embraced it, especially the absurd.
A few years ago, I mentioned that I found Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy and polyandry troubling, and someone told me that this was an obvious test of my faith, and I had failed. The implication seemed to be that the church is always right, and its leaders have never made any mistakes. This is entirely in keeping with Joseph Smith’s teaching that “whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is.” He further taught that we should obey “even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of heaven only in part, but which in reality were right because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation.”
For some people, this means that if we object to something because it violates our conscience (the Light of Christ, in Mormon terms), we are rejecting God’s “special revelation.” Granted, I don’t know too many church members like this, but they are out there; they are those who take their religion deadly seriously.
I stumbled across one of these hyper-Mormons, as I have come to call them: Michael Crook. I know, I could say something about his web design, but I won’t. There’s a lot to take in on his site, from his political positions to his book about founding a 2 Unlimited fan club. (I must be really old, because I have no idea who that is.)
At first I thought his site might be a parody, as it’s so over the top, but I think he’s probably serious, from his condemnation of interracial marriage to his vendetta against Bishop Kevin Kloosterman, whose talk at the Circling the Wagons conference extended compassion to gay church members and asked their forgiveness for the way we as Mormons have treated them.
It doesn’t help that Brother Crook looks more than slightly deranged and says he spends most of his time watching cable TV. But the scary thing is that most of what he says on his site has been taught from the pulpit by church leaders or are outlined in the scriptures. Most people would be appalled at his statement that, if a woman does not “fight to the death defending her virtue” he “would call her motives into question.” To his mind, “there is no such thing as rape” because not fighting to the death indicates consent; and where there is consent, there is no rape. Sick? Yes, but it’s not much of a stretch from LDS Prophet Spencer Kimball’s statement:
“Also far-reaching is the effect of the loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation where there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.” – Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, page 196
Likewise, his concern over interracial marriage is in keeping with church teachings. Crook writes, “A disturbing tread is on the rise: black-white marriages. It’s an alarming trend, but it appears that it’s here to stay.”
But, creepy and racist though his position might be, it’s entire consistent with current LDS church teachings. As Brother Crook points out, the current LDS Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3 lesson “Choosing an Eternal Companion” states:
“We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question” (“Marriage and Divorce,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977], p. 144).
Of course, Crook does the church one better when he says, “I will never understand what attracts someone to a member of the same gender or another race. It’s disturbing in a sense, but of course everyone does have their moral agency. Hopefully, this trend of interracial marriage declines and quickly!” He’s right: that first sentence is quite disturbing.
I could spend some time on his politics and other views, which are pretty much what you would expect from a hyper-Mormon, but that’s not my point. Michael Crook is what someone looks like when they take Mormon teachings completely seriously. Yes, I know, most Mormons would probably say he’s “looking beyond the mark” or, to borrow from Bruce McConkie, getting ahead of the caravan. But what he’s doing, really, is taking the church at its word and holding them to it.
The problem here is that the church’s teaching change and are emphasized (or not) based on the circumstances. The discouragement of interracial marriage is not emphasized anymore, and I would guess that most Mormons would be shocked to find it’s still in a church manual. Likewise the teachings about it being preferable to die than to lose one’s “virtue” have been softened, though apostle Richard Scott taught not too long ago that even rape victims may share a “degree of responsibility for abuse.”
What this illustrates is that few people in the LDS church, even leaders, take everything seriously. Brother Crook admits that he doesn’t attend many church activities and is “horrible when it comes to home teaching or anything like that.” I find it fascinating that one can take such a rigid approach to some church doctrines and in condemning others but at the same time refuse to participate fully in the church that he says is essential to salvation.
I’ve never understood people who are wedded to an extreme orthodoxy but can’t be bothered with orthopraxy. Weird, huh?