Taking Mormonism Seriously

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?

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16 Responses to Taking Mormonism Seriously

  1. Hopefully, Crook’s website will encourage Church leaders to clarify doctrine and clean up old manuals. Members need clear messages when Church policies change or they may be influenced by nuts like Crook.

  2. Diane Sower says:

    My dad’s made the same kind of comments to me as well. I’m 58, and he’s 88, and he has mentioned that I took other people’s poor intentioned ideas about the gospel way too seriously, and missed the boat about the good. And he may very well be right. All I know is I’m in a better place now. That place is called universalism, and I don’t judge anyone on their works, their sexuality, their race, their ethnicity, or their past crimes. For me, it just works. As a female, mormonism got to the point of killing me.

  3. aerin says:

    Both the inter-racial marriage and responsibility for rape doctrines or opinions (depending on who you talk to) should be officially denounced and repudiated.

    I’ve discussed with some faithful mormons before who claim that “everyone knows” that those things are not doctrinal and no longer believed. To my mind, if they are officially no longer believed, they should be clarified so there is no confusion. Sort of like the dream mine. But the LDS church doesn’t work that way.

    I believe that there can still be some “mystery” in faithful worship – while fully acknowledging past missteps – past mistakes and false doctrine. For both of these issues, I suspect the vast majority of LDS would agree with the sentiments – renouncing and clarifying both opinions/doctrines as false.

    Often the argument is that we don’t get to determine what is revealed in what time.

    But it seems to me that if even one couple is dissuaded from marriage because of this old doctrine; or one person is raped who takes that part of Miracle of Forgiveness literally, and feels that they have sinned because they lived…well, to my mind that is one too many. Neither argument is sticky or even very difficult to reconcile mormon theology.

  4. Grain O' Salt says:

    Are you at all aware of Michael Crook’s past? Perhaps Michael has turned over a “new leaf” and is sincere about his faith…this time. But a simple Google search will tell you much about Mr. Crook and how he spent most of the last decade. In short, don’t waste a lot of time or thought on Mike or what he has to say because it most likely doesn’t mean much.

  5. […] can’t seem to win — non-belief can always be blamed on caring too much or not enough. This helpful diagram should make it all clear. You can lapse in one religion, and […]

  6. jen says:

    I have seen Michael Crook’s blog and videos linked on facebook… and all of my friends told me NOT to look.

    I read Spencer Kimball’s quotes, and blamed myself for being abused and assaulted. The fact that I was alive showed that I wasn’t virtuous.

    It’s AWFUL. Makes me a little ill.

  7. nightshad says:

    Runtu, you’re an admitted anti-Mormon, and you condemn a man for his past? I guess we’ll permanently hold everything you did in your past against you. Is that fair?

    Some of the things you refer to happened six years ago. Get over yourself.

    • runtu says:

      No, I don’t hold anyone’s past against them, and I haven’t condemned anyone that I know of. Rather, I was pointing out that the views Michael Crook has are not at all unexpected, given the teachings of the LDS church. Had I taken Mormonism that seriously, I might have believed the same things.

      I’m not sure what I’m referring to that happened six years ago, but given that someone has a history of harassing people, it’s best to be wise. So, yes, I wish I had known the history before I posted that. As for being an anti-Mormon, I don’t know why you would say that; I certainly haven’t admitted to being something I’m not. If I had any interest in tearing down or destroying Mormonism or Mormons, I’d be happy to admit to being an anti-Mormon; because I have no such interests, I reject your accusation.

      And I got over myself a long time ago. Makes life a lot better.

      • nightshad says:

        You left. That makes you an anti-Mormon. And he never “harassed” anyone. Everything was a sort of “fair game” thing.

        Our company works with him, and gladly so. And yes, he HAS turned a new leaf, not that matters to your seemingly judgmental readers.

        There’s nothing wrong with holding the Church to its words, as you put it.

      • runtu says:

        Hmmm. I’m sure it will be news to my bishop that I “left.” 😉

        So, Mike, are you Michael Crook or someone else? I’m confused.

    • Grain O' Salt says:

      Did your Britanee Drexel harassment happen “six years ago”? How about your “grief trolling” and phony Facebook “tribute pages” where you cruelly mocked accident victims? You remember, the one from last year? Nice try, Mike, but unfortunately for you, simply tweeting a lot doesn’t erase your sleazy past. Put in “six years” as a devout Mormon and perhaps the memories of your sordid past will fade. Until you prove otherwise, this will be assumed to be yet another one of your phases where you go overboard, get bored then attack whoever your perceived “enemy” is (this time) via your tweets and blogs.

  8. Grain O' Salt says:

    “Nightshad” is Michael Crook. He doesn’t have any kind of “company”; it is a one man operation with a website. No one “works with” him. Sock-puppet comments are one of Mike’s favorite trolling tools. If Mike has turned over a new leaf, fantastic. I hope he really has. But before getting into any kind of discussion or debate with Crook, one should be aware of his sordid past, a past liberally dotted with deliberate, offensive, obnoxious online trolling just for the sake of amusing himself. If he indeed is sincere and is still a devout Mormon a few years from now, kudos to him for making a positive change in his life. However, those who may be unaware of his past have the right to know who they’re dealing with before they waste time trying to have any sort of serious discussion with him.

  9. nightshad says:

    Actually, Nightshadow Productions, LLC is a registered company. But don’t let facts get in the way or anything. I don’t know what all this “new leaf” crap is, but I can assure you there’s more than one person at the company.

    All the events that Salty mentions happened years or months ago. Get over it.

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