Truth Hurts

January 18, 2016

I was going to write about the appalling remarks by Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of the last post’s subject, Russell Nelson, but really, what can you way about someone who thinks it’s a good thing for gay church members to become desperate enough to pray for God to change their sexual orientation? There’s so much wrong with that, I don’t know where to start. Suffice it to say that it’s been unnerving and a little depressing to see the LDS church take so many steps backwards in the last few months. For an excellent discussion of where things stand (at least for me), see Greg Prince’s blog: The Exclusion Policy and Biology vs. Behavior.

I once knew a woman who would say the nastiest, most personally demeaning things to other people, and when the target of her attacks took offense, she would shrug and say, “I’m sorry the truth offends you. I’m not being mean. I’m just telling it like it is.” Invariably, these personal attacks were part of an effort to play people off each other. In her mind, those who really cared about her and respected her would accept “the truth,” and she could in some weird, twisted way feel she had helped them and bonded with them. The reality was that she caused a lot of hurt and pain, and most of her family and neighbors resented her deeply. A few particularly insecure family members took every criticism to heart and tried in vain to gain her approval. Of course, she never gave it, and the cycle of hurt continued until she died. Come to think of it, I don’t think it ended with her death; family members are still hurting from her nastiness over the years.

Some religious groups follow this same pattern. I knew a man who had been a Jehovah’s Witness, and he told me that, when they went door to door proselytizing, they would sometimes try to get people angry with them, as they felt they would be blessed for being hated and persecuted, as the scriptures say. It seems to be part of the motivation of the Westborough Baptist Church’s “God hates fags” program. Often used as a justification for intentional division is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

This theme is expanded in the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 16:

And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for itcutteth them to the very center.

As I said, the problem is when the division is intentional and unnecessary, and it usually happens because someone is trying to assert dominance and exclude those who won’t accept their dominance. When called on it, people always say they’re just telling the truth, and it’s not their problem if you find truth offensive.

It’s this weird “I’m only saying this for your own good” attitude that explains, at least for me, the church’s retrograde statements and policy changes in the last few months. Like the woman I knew, there’s an unsubtle message behind the “truth-speaking” going on: you are with us, or you are against us, and you must choose which side you’re on.

I’m sure a lot of people will take issue with what I just said, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me at this point. Witness where the church has gone in the last few months:

Almost exactly one year ago, the LDS church was using the relationship between Tom Christofferson (Apostle Todd Christofferson’s gay brother) and his LDS ward as an example of how gays and the LDS church could find harmony. According to KUTV, Elder Christofferson noted that his brother had “returned to the faith” and he and his partner were “active participants in their neighborhood ward.” In November, we learned that the church now considers Tom Christofferson and his partner to be “apostates,” which would preclude them from any kind of participation in the ward beyond attendance. This month, Apostle Russell Nelson doubled-down by affirming that the policy excluding gays and their children from church blessings was given by revelation from God.

In 2012, the official church web site,, acknowledged that same-sex attraction is not something that people can change but that it was something to be “borne” or “endured” in the hope that it might change in the next life:

We believe that with an eternal perspective, a person’s attraction to the same sex can be addressed and borne as a mortal test. It should not be viewed as a permanent condition. An eternal perspective beyond the immediacy of this life’s challenges offers hope. Though some people, including those resisting same-sex attraction, may not have the opportunity to marry a person of the opposite sex in this life, a just God will provide them with ample opportunity to do so in the next. We can all live life in the full context of who we are, which is much broader than sexual attraction.

Just over a week ago, the church published on the web site a talk that suggested that, if gay members would only get “desperate” enough, they could through prayer have their sexual orientation changed:

Gratefully, the Savior has paid the price for every gift of the Spirit we will ever need to help us. It’s up to us to prayerfully discover which gifts we need. We may need the gift of self-discipline or of cheerfulness. Perhaps we need the gift of patience, or the gift to be healed, or the gift to forgive. Perhaps we need the gift to have our sexual feelings be in harmony with eternal laws. Perhaps we realize that we cannot live one more minute without the gift of unshakable faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. When we’re desperate for any gift of the Spirit, that is when we will finally pray with all the energy of heart for that gift. And the great news is that each spiritual gift we receive takes us one more step forward into our true selves. …

I pray that this year you will have some moments of anguishing desperation that will propel you further along the path to becoming the man or woman you were born to be. Your true self is spectacular! Never settle for less.

The problem, of course, is that desperation only drives change where change is possible. Say I decided that I am not the man I was born to be because the physical condition I was born with makes it difficult for me to swallow some kinds of food without extreme care. I’ve had many medical procedures to make it easier for me to swallow, but my doctors tell me I’ve progressed as far as I’m going to go. I suppose I could become desperate to change this aspect of my body, enough so that I would pray that God would “heal” me and make me the person I was born to be. After all, I shouldn’t settle for less.

What would be the end result? All the prayer in the world isn’t going to change the fact that I have a narrow part of my esophagus ringed with scar tissue. If I followed Sister Nelson’s counsel, in the near-certain absence of change, my desperation would turn to despair. At some point I would be forced to accept that I can’t change that aspect of my body, or I would give in to despair, which derives from the Latin de esperare–literally “without hope.” Given my history with depression, I have a pretty good idea where things would end.

If the church itself acknowledges that sexual orientation–whatever its roots–isn’t something you can will or pray away, what is the point of Sister Nelson’s wholly inappropriate remarks? Does she–a trained and licensed therapist–really believe gay Mormons can and should follow her counsel to change their “sexual feelings”? I doubt it very much.

What this is about is drawing clear lines between the church and “the world.” If we take her at her word, the problem is not only behavior, but also desire, because, she wants us to believe, both can be changed. Obviously, someone who doesn’t change his or her sexual orientation through prayer and the gifts of the Spirit isn’t desperate enough. And those members who give into despair (and let’s not kid ourselves, there will be more than one) clearly didn’t channel their desperation into righteous avenues. It’s not her fault if lives are destroyed; she’s only telling it like it is.

In the end, however, I don’t believe any of this was meant for the benefit of gay or lesbian members or nonmembers. It was directed at straight members as another distinction that makes for a peculiar people. “You are not like them,” the members need to be told, “and you must not tolerate people like that in the ranks of our people.”

Like the woman I knew, the point is to divide, to pit friends and family against each other, forcing them to put the church first. It’s a destructive and wholly unrighteous game, but that is what is happening.




Where Was Julie Rowe in 1991?

September 11, 2015

I have to admit that my knowledge of current LDS/Mormon culture isn’t as good as it used to be, mostly because I don’t attend church services and have far less frequent interactions with Mormons. A friend sent me an article from the Salt Lake Tribune about how a subset of Mormons is preparing for impending doom and the Second Coming.

Apparently, a church member named Julie Rowe had a near-death experience several years ago and has written books about the knowledge she received through that experience:

Here’s how the doomsday scenario plays out: History, some preppers believe, is divided into seven-year periods — like the Hebrew notion of “shemitah” or Sabbath. In 2008, seven years after 9/11, the stock market crashed, a harbinger of a devastating recession. It’s been seven years since then, and Wall Street has fluctuated wildly in recent weeks in the wake of China devaluing its currency.

Thus, they believe, starting Sept. 13, the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, there will be another, even larger financial crisis, based on the United States’ “wickedness.” That would launch the “days of tribulation” — as described in the Bible.

They say Sept. 28 will see a full, red or “blood moon” and a major earthquake in or near Utah. Some anticipate an invasion by U.N. troops, technological disruptions and decline, chaos and hysteria.

Some of these speculations stem from Julie Rowe’s books, “A Greater Tomorrow: My Journey Beyond the Veil” and “The Time Is Now.”

Rowe, a Mormon mother of three, published the books in 2014 to detail a “near-death experience” in 2004, when the author says she visited the afterlife and was shown visions of the past and future.

Though Rowe rarely gives specific dates for predicted events, she did describe in a Fox News Radio interview “cities of light,” including scores of white tents where people will live in the mountains and sometimes be fed heavenly “manna.” She saw a “bomb from Libya landing in Israel, but Iran will take credit.”

And “Gadianton robbers” of Book of Mormon infamy, meaning secret and corrupt leaders, are “already here.”

Her purpose in speaking out, Rowe told interviewer Kate Dalley, was “to wake more of us up. … We need each other as we unify in righteousness and continue to build a righteous army. When we need to defend the [U.S.] Constitution, we will be ready.”

I would be kind of bummed if the end came just as the college football season is getting underway, but we’ll see what happens.

Given the LDS church’s long history of encouraging emergency preparedness–at one time suggesting that church members stockpile a year’s supply of food and necessities–a cottage industry has grown in Utah and other places where Mormons make up a significant part of the population. But there has always been a subset of people in the church who have combined the preparedness fervor with right-wing politics and prophecies of doom. (These “doomsday preppers,” as they’ve come to be known, are not limited to Mormonism but are found all across the US.) Some LDS teachings just seem to be more compatible with these beliefs, so it’s not surprising that there are quite a few LDS preppers. It seems that every ward has at least one.

But I lived in a ward once where such beliefs and activities thrived. Between 1991 and 1997, my wife and I lived in an LDS ward in Orem, Utah, located just south of University Mall. For much of that time I was elders quorum president and then the bishop’s executive secretary. The ward was about 80% young married BYU student couples, with perhaps 10-15 families (a mix of older couples and families with kids).

Anyway, the ward was remarkable to me for two reasons.

First, among the “established” families, there seemed to be a high percentage of “doomsday preppers” with extreme right-wing views. Pretty much every sacrament meeting included at least one person warning of impending calamity and railing against the “New World Order,” the UN, and so on. Bo Gritz bumper stickers were common, and I was grilled more than a few times as to why I didn’t support his candidacy and instead supported one of the fake parties that were in on the conspiracy. One of the more militant couples routinely would email me right-wing propaganda, and they even got me a subscription to a right-wing magazine, whose name I have forgotten. It just showed up one day, and then about a month later, this sister approached me after church to ask, “Do you like the magazine?”

The other notable feature was somewhat related. There was a Uruguayan woman in the ward, and sometime prior to my moving in, her sons were sent to jail for stashing guns in and around Temple Square, as they were convinced that church president Ezra Taft Benson, a known right-winger, was being drugged and held against his will by people who didn’t want him speaking out on the aforementioned New World Order. They were going to bust him out of captivity in his apartment at the Eagle Gate Towers. I heard about this because the First Presidency sent out a letter saying that, if members of the church were ordered not to wear their tempe garments in jail, they should not wear garments. Our bishop then chuckled, telling us this was the result of the Gedo brothers suing for the right to wear garments in jail.

While I was elders quorum president, the brothers were released from jail and moved back in with their mother. These guys were certifiable and took every opportunity to disrupt meetings and corner people in the hallways at church. They were told they couldn’t be given temple recommends because they weren’t doing their home teaching (I wasn’t about to inflict them on anyone in the ward). So, the bishop told me the stake president was “ordering” me to assign them as home teachers. I told him no, but that if need be, I should be released as elders quorum president, but I was not going to do that. My bishop smiled and said, “Good. I didn’t want to do it, either, but I didn’t want to say no to the stake president.”

A few months before we moved out of the ward, things escalated with the Gedo brothers, and they were told that, during meeting times, they had to be in the meetings, or they were not welcome to be there (the one brother kept accosting young girls in the hallways). During Sunday School one week, the one brother scared the crap out of a young girl, who ran screaming to the second counselor in the bishopric, an older man in a wheelchair. The Gedo brother ended up punching the counselor in the face, breaking the man’s glasses and causing him to bleed. Unfortunately for Brother Gedo, a very large man happened to see the altercation and tackled him, subduing him until the police arrived. I emerged from Sunday School to find the church filled with police officers. Following that, the stake presidency asked me (by then I was executive secretary) to go with the bishop to deliver a letter from the church’s legal department barring the brothers from all church property. They threatened to kill us and our families, but we delivered the letter.

I hadn’t thought much about them until a friend talked about standing up for her beliefs against leaders of a non-LDS church. I think refusing to assign them as home teachers was the only time I ever said a definite “no” during my years as a believing Mormon. I was trying to remember the exact circumstances of their original arrest, so I went to Google and found that the story doesn’t end there.

I knew James (the creepier one who punched the guy in the wheelchair) had been arrested for making “terroristic threats” and a number of other things.

But then I stumbled across something that completely blew me away. The woman in our ward who had sent us the subscription to a right-wing magazine later was sued by David Gedo for paternity to establish that he is the father of her youngest child. My first thought was that he’s even crazier than I thought, but according to her appeal, she acknowledges his likely paternity. I’ll quote from one of the relevant court proceedings:

Mother has been married to [Father] for over eighteen years. [Child], the fourth of five children, was born into the marriage [in 1998]. Gedo filed this paternity action in 2005, seeking to adjudicate himself as [child’s] father. Mother has acknowledged the possibility that Gedo may be [child’s] biological father.

The parties’ versions of events since [child’s] birth are wildly divergent. According to Mother, [child] has been happily living with her and Father in a cohesive family unit, has seen Gedo only briefly since his birth and not at all in the last three years, and has never formed any sort of parent-child relationship with Gedo. Mother also asserts that Gedo acquiesced in Father’s role as [child’s] father, never paid child support or any other costs pertaining to [child], and never took any steps to establish his parentage. According to Gedo, Gedo has a strong parent-child relationship with [child] and has “paid child support, medical bills, and costs at birth.” Gedo acknowledges his lack of legal action to establish paternity, but claims that he brought this action after Mother cut him out of [child’s] life.   The district court made no factual findings below, and for purposes of this appeal we simply acknowledge the factual disputes between the parties.

I would bet money that the folks I knew in Orem are among those expecting the end of the world is coming this month. Me, I’ve never understood the attraction of these kinds of beliefs, but then there’s always someone out there who does. Hopefully, he or she isn’t in your ward.

Cheryl Bruno Hits One out of the Park

July 17, 2015

I just finished reading a very impressive review from Cheryl Bruno of Brian and Laura Hales’s Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding.

Too Much Monkey Business: Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s Polygamy for the Unsettled Latter-day Saint

She’s absolutely right: the problem is that the Haleses superimpose 20th-century LDS understandings on 19th-century evidence. Thus, what doesn’t work with a modern understanding is minimized or ignored. It’s the same reaction I had when I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Interesting, sure, but hampered by a need to put everything into a Marxist dialectic. 

The Hales book is an excellent example of Hayden White’s argument:

Before the historian can bring to bear upon the data of the historical field the conceptual apparatus he will use to represent and explain it, he must first prefigure the field–that is to say, constitute it as an object of mental perception. This poetic act is indistinguishable from the linguistic act in which the field is made ready for interpretation as a domain of a particular kind.

The Haleses have prefigured the field of study as correlated history, which severely constrains the “object of mental perception.” For my money, Emma Smith: Mormon Enigma and In Sacred Loneliness are far more useful in giving a “better understanding” of Mormon polygamy. But as Ms. Bruno suggests, the Haleses seem more interested in a reconstruction that comforts Mormons who are troubled by the history.

Top Ten Things Overheard When President Obama Met with LDS Leaders

April 3, 2015

10. What do you mean, was it my mother or father who was “white and delightsome”?

9. We wanted to invite some prominent LDS Democrats to meet with you, but we couldn’t find any.

8. I really appreciate the family tree. I had no idea you could trace my ancestors all the way back to Cain.

7. What were you thinking, building a mall?

6. That’s a tie pin, not an emblem of my power and priesthoods.

5. Which one are you guys, again? Xenu or Moroni?

4. Does that jello have ramen noodles in it?

3. No, I’m not interested in Melaleuca.

2. That’s not the five points of fellowship; it’s just Joe Biden greeting an intern.

1. Why do you keep calling me the “so-called president”?

Mormon Polygamy Documents

December 9, 2014

I thought some readers might be interested in this new resource from Brian Hales.

Mormon Polygamy Documents

I may not agree with Brian’s conclusions, but I respect him for trying to make sense of some difficult issues from a faithful perspective.

Conflict of Interest

February 5, 2014

Just noticed this little blurb about the Monson summons on the MormonThink web site: “Note: The MormonThink website is not involved in this private lawsuit. We merely report the news.”

Fair enough. But let’s look at the court document itself, which begins, “Information has been laid by Thomas Phillips of Kemp House, 152-160 City Road, London EC14 2 NX, UK.”

Who is this Thomas Phillips? you might ask. MormonThink reported on November 29, 2012, “Tom Phillips has agreed to act as the managing editor of MormonThink.”

Oh, that Thomas Phillips.

The frustrating thing to me is that I like the MormonThink web site. It’s as fair and balanced as anything out there, and yet they will forever be associated with Tom Phillips, who is anything but objective about the LDS church. Fairly or not, Mormons will now dismiss MormonThink as the site run by the guy who wanted to put Monson in jail. And that’s a damned shame.

Update: From David Twede’s (former managing editor of MormonThink) blog: “However, what Tom (primarily) and the MormonThink team (supportive) have done is truly amazing.”

Mormon apologists must be celebrating today, as Twede et al. have just given them a huge gift.

Fellow Traveler

December 30, 2013

I’ve recently been reacquainted with someone I knew back when I was an amateur Mormon “apologist” on a couple of LDS-related message boards (we’ll call him “Bill”). I’m surprised, though I wouldn’t say shocked, that he has gone through the terrible process of losing faith in Mormonism. I should say that it’s bad enough to conclude that the foundations of your worldview are not based in reality, but it’s worse when your conclusions cause unspeakable harm to your relationships with your loved ones. I would not wish that process on anyone.

He describes his “exit story” in several blog posts, starting with this one. The story, though definitely his own, follows a familiar arc: First, he desires to believe in his religion (see Alma 32). I’m not talking about a casual wish that your religious beliefs are true, but a genuine and passionate desire to believe and to delve deeply into those beliefs in order to have an even deeper understanding and commitment to that faith. (I can relate to this, having devoured everything I could for many years, devoting my commute time to the scriptures and teachings of LDS prophets.) This intense study leads to the discovery of the problematic, and even though he recognizes the problematic, he dismisses it as being irrelevant to this deep understanding of basic gospel principles he seeks. Eventually, life experience combines with this further light and knowledge to lead him to an unfavorable conclusion about his religious beliefs, and he walks away the best he can. Like me, he looks back at his years in the LDS church and realizes that he wasn’t very happy as a Mormon. For me, that was the more devastating conclusion than figuring out that the church might not be what it claimed to be.

I can already hear the clucking of some apologists, who remind us that these exit stories follow predictable forms because they are more about meeting the apostate community’s expectations than they are about what really happened. I would simply respond that these stories are similar because the process is similar. How could it not be? Those who wave away exit stories nonetheless find great inspiration in individual stories of conversion to the LDS church, even though these stories, too, follow predictable forms and themes. Conversion stories are similar because the experiences are similar, just as there are common experiences in losing faith.

What I find interesting is that the primary issues for others are not necessarily the ones central to my crisis of faith. That said, I completely understand the process of filling a growing “shelf” with unresolved church issues, which works as long as we have some important, critical tenet we cannot let go of; an LDS friend once put it this way: All paradigms are subject to rethinking and shifting, except for a testimony of the truth of the gospel. In other words, can turn any which way around that central axis, as long as you’re still anchored to it. Like me, Bill was able to continue in his belief for years despite knowing some of the problematic “red flags” of Mormonism. But his account shows exactly what it’s like to reach the breaking point at which that tenet, that testimony, collapses with the weight of the shelf. It’s an awful experience.

Why am I sharing this? It is not to erode anyone else’s faith but rather to provide what I think is an important glimpse into what a faith crisis is and why it happens. (Perhaps some might use it as a cautionary tale. That doesn’t matter to me.) Also, I’m hoping that those who are in the middle of such a crisis will realize that it eventually gets better, whether you find yourself back in the church or not. A faith crisis is not the end of the world.