Conflicted about the church of my youth

I should start off this post by saying that I desperately want the LDS church and its teachings to be all that they claim to be.  The church has been an integral part of my life for my entire life.  It has shaped who I am and the way I think.  I have a deep respect for many of the values and want to instill them in my children.  I spent much of my teenage years memorizing scriptures (and am thereby the proud holder of the insano samurai sword of light from seminary) and spent two years attempting to convince other people that the church was the only way they could be truly happy.  I even went so far as to jeopardize the ability of a wonderful woman to have a sexually fulfilling mortal life by marrying her under the guise that we were great friends and a great team and that somehow the eternities would rock so much that it wouldn't matter that she had married a 6 on the kinsey scale (5 at best) who would be about as sexually fulfilling as a laundry basket.  And now we have brought two fantastic kids into the mix, who are wonderful, but who complicate the matter significantly.

So all of this to say that you can rule out me simply not wanting the church to be true.  I desperately want it to be true.  I asked to be released from my calling and said that I would stop going to church back in May.  Yet I still attend more often than not because I'm so lost without it.  A couple of nights ago, I had a brief discussion with a man where he inquired a bit into my life (small talk) where he, perhaps rightfully, made a distinction between the fact that I had been raised a mormon and where I was today.   I responded back that I was still a mormon but that I didn't know where I stood.  The conversation itself was harmless enough... but I went right home and cried my eyes out because the thought of not having my Mormon identity left me with very little other identity.

So you might ask, if you want to be a mormon so bad... why don't you just be a mormon?  What the freak is causing all this fuss.  Here are my main areas of confliction.

1) How we have treated and even how we currently treat gay/lesbian/other-relevant-category members.

You might say that I've had a bit of experience in this area.  I've spent the majority of my remembered life bouncing around the idea of suicide.  I was not a happy teen by any stretch of the imagination.  Now, not all of this can be blamed on the church as some of it is just society at large and some of it was just simply my inability to deal well with life.  In early teenage years, the conversation didn't come up frequently enough for me to even know that much about it, but I certainly knew that there was something wrong with me.  Then as I grew I was taught that Ellen was evil, was given this pamphlet, and read "The Miracle of Forgiveness."

The pamphlet doesn't talk specifically about homosexuality except to tell an ambiguous story about a missionary who beat up his companion for some undisclosed reason relating to the fact that his companion was homosexual and who then confesses this act to Boyd Packer.  Boyd Packer's response is that "Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn't be well for a general authority to solve the problem that way."   As I read this as an adult, I hope that the beat up companion must have forcibly come onto (a rape situation) the companion doing the hitting and that it was honestly about self defense which I could probably excuse.  But as a young man I didn't get this and just assumed that being attracted to other men made you so unlovable and so unworthy that even a general authority would beat you up and leave you for dead on the side of the road.  I must not be the only one who took the story to mean that as I once (testing the waters) asked a fellow missionary how he would respond if he found out that his companion was gay and he simply responded that he would beat him up.

Miracle of Forgiveness sends a similar message.  Spencer Kimball talks as if he were talking directly to someone who was attracted to someone of the same sex and calls them a pervert and implies (as does the pamphlet) that the person brought this great wickedness upon themselves.  Great morale booster for an introverted and awkward teenage boy, eh?

Anyways... my past is in the past now.  I spent the first 3/4th of my mission severely depressed over the issue and then did have an amazing spiritual experience where I knew that God loved me and knew that I would always (at least in this mortal life) be attracted to men and that God was ok with that and that he would walk by my side through all of it.  I cannot deny that this was true revelation as it flew so directly in the face of everything I had ever been taught and everything that I inwardly believed about myself and it was so strong.

With all this said, it wasn't actually my own experience that led me to feel a need to distance myself from the church.  In September 2012, yet another friend came out and disclosed briefly about his troubled and suicidal past on facebook.  I'd lived through this and had heard this story countless times from others... but for some reason this hit me with great force (even though this wasn't THAT close of a friend) - maybe just that last straw on the camel's back.  But at this point, I seriously questioned my ability as a Christian to even morally associate my name with an organization that made people feel this way about themselves.

Now the church is taking strides in this area.  They have published this pamphlet  and this website which basically put the church on ground that at least matches the personal revelation that I received in October 2006 (mentioned above).  But try as they might, I just can't see that there is an actual space for gays and lesbians in the church unless they are willing basically to hide it and act like everyone else.

I really struggle with the church's involvement in Prop 8.  Even after the wonderful stride of "God Loveth his Children" the church still thought that the best place for $25 million or so of its members money was for a hateful political campaign that denied others the right to worship (aka marry) as they felt appropriate.  It makes me absolutely sick that with all of the world problems that I feel God actually cares about alleviating that we felt that the best place for our money was to fight a civil rights issue that would clearly be overturned as the constitution kind of guarantees civil rights.  And I can't help but feel that the underlying message that this involvement sent is basically stronger than the nice messages attempted by Mormonsandgays and God Loveth his Children.

I also have an acquaintance who is for all intents and purposes committed to the church.  He home teaches, he attends church, he keeps the law of chastity (not doing anything with his boyfriend that wouldn't be allowed for an unmarried heterosexual couple).... yet he is dating a man and so he is not welcome to use priesthood or to attend the temple.  It seems possible that this dating might lead to an engagement which I can only imagine will lead to full excommunication which possibility weighs down my heart as if with lead.  We just need to be more loving and inclusive than that.

2) I struggle with the sexism that exists in the church.  I don't have long stories to tell about this one... but it just seems so incomprehensible to me that we would say to women, "Yes, God loves you.  God hears your prayers.  You are expected and invited to do all sorts of work in the church.  Yet, men are allowed to act in God's name and well... again he listens to your prayers and stuff... but you aren't given the power to act for God because you have a uterus and thereby you don't even need to be able to access God's authority."  I just don't get it.

3) I struggle with the fact that we seem to misrepresent our actual beliefs in an attempt to put on a good PR and to convert people.  Now history isn't really my thing and while there's been tons of talk these days about Joseph Smith not only being a polygamist but also marrying women who were already married to other men, Joseph Smith translating the book of mormon by reading off a stone in a hat, Joseph Smith hiding his polygamous ways from his wife Emma;  I'm much less concerned about the fact that all of these things happened than I am with 1 and 2 above which relate to how we treat people today.  But I am concerned about our inability to talk openly and candidly about our history and I'm especially concerned about the PR we put around polygamy today (see #14 in this Q&A). While our words simply claim that we do not practice polygamy anymore, our policies and practices at least indicate that we believe that it is an eternal principle.  I feel that it is very misleading to say that NONE of the church's 14 million members practice polygamy because while maybe none of them are having mortal marital relations with two wives at the same time, there are lots of church members with two or more wives.  As far as I understand it, the church's policy today is to never allow an alive woman to be sealed (married) to multiple men at the same time (although I was super surprised in reading this book to see that this hasn't been the practice throughout the church's short history), yet men are allowed to be sealed to as many women as they marry -- provided they are no longer legally married to the others or that the others are dead.  I know of many men who are sealed to two women in this case.  I've even recently heard of a woman who recently became a spiritual sister wife simply because her ex husband has been remarried and because it is not church policy to cancel a sealing unless the woman is interested in becoming sealed to someone else.  To me, this says that no matter what we say about our practice of polygamy, we clearly still believe that polygamy is real in the eternities.... and if this is going to be our doctrine, I feel like we ought to at least tell people that.  I find it very misleading to say that "the general standard of marriage in the church has always been monogamy" if we do believe in polygamy for the eternities.  From the temple book linked above, it seems that belief in the truth of the principle of polygamy was even required back in the day to be allowed to worship in the temple.

I don't really know what the answer is here.  I agree that it doesn't really help anyone to dwell and rehash history... but I do think we need to be talking about it some.  I do think that if we're going to tell a story of restoration and apostasy where God took away the priesthood whenever people didn't follow his will that we need to find someway to honestly reconcile the fact that Joseph Smith was marrying multiple women (including women that were married to someone else) if we're going to claim that God didn't take the priesthood away from us then.

4.  I don't like that we are a church that has stopped asking questions.  It seems that the whole premise of the church (and the whole point of having a prophet today) is that people can ask questions to God and that God will answer them unless he has a really good reason to withhold the information.  I feel that we live in confusing times and that there are SO many questions (ie, we don't eat in the same world as Joseph Smith these days, so what are the updates for the word of wisdom -- energy drinks? GMOs?  etc; is it time for women to hold the priesthood?; Homosexuality -- is there anything that we are doing that is causing this?  Is there anything that we can provide to these people to honestly help them?  etc etc etc).  Yet for all this talk of an open cannon, I feel that question asking is discouraged and that we believe that we pretty much know everything that we need to know.  So again, I feel like our policy and practice is trumping what we are saying our belief is.

So those are my big thoughts.  It has been helpful at least to get them written down.  But I am really struggling and would appreciate any kind words or thoughts.  

Put down the anger. Now who do you want to be?

I had a bit of a thought provoking experience tonight, so I thought I would take a minute and try to process my way through this in writing.  Recently, I've become more and more frustrated with how long it takes to put my two year old son to bed.  We (generally me now that Amy has another little one to take care of) lay with him and cuddle him while he falls asleep which occasionally is a really lovely experience.  But more often than not, it is an experience of a boy crawling up and down the bed and on top of your head and the only time he is still is if you put him in a death grip.  Tonight, I had been working on getting him to bed for two hours.  I'm taking a CPA test in two days and was feeling remarkably frustrated that this was taking away from my study time.  At about the 1 hour 45 minute mark, Amy took off to go to some party (where I'm assuming she still is, although I have no idea why an adult party with an infant would still be going on at 1am) for some much needed out time.  At about the 2 hour mark, I just kind of lost it and screamed at him and threw him in his crib with a string of profanities under my breath on my way out.

He cried and cried.  Terribly confused and scared.  Obviously tired.  He called for daddy.  He called for mommy.  Through stifled sobs, he cried for Brennan.  He promised to, "Stay in the Bed."  He begged to "cuddle with Brennan."  But I was just so angry that none of it penetrated me.  This went on for a bit.  It probably wasn't very long, but I don't really know.

The thought came into my mind, "Put down the anger.  Now who do you want to be?"  I took a moment to ponder in the hallway and collect myself.  My memory was transported to a letter that I had written to myself last summer during a "self-help camp" for lack of a better term.  It was a letter written from my golden father.  It contained all of the kind words that the little boy in me wanted to hear from my father.  As I was a fairly new father to my son at this time, it also contained the words that I wanted to always be sure to say to my boy.  That night at "camp", I had the opportunity to be held by a man and to have this letter read to me.  I vowed that I wanted my son to be held by me and and to hear these kind words from me frequently.  I realized instantly that my intense anger was stopping me from being the father I intended to be.  So after taking a brief moment to collect myself, I ran into him and held him tight and apologized profusely and told him how much I loved him.  I held him on my chest stroking his hair long after he had fallen asleep.

As I sat folding laundry and watching Meryl Streep videos on YouTube, I thought further about the anger in my life.  I have been morbidly (mostly inwardly) angry at the Mormon church for a few years now.  It's grown especially bitter as of late (most surely not helped by having recently joined the group feminist mormon housewives on facebook).  While still being relatively active in the church from an outward point of view, any actual spirituality on any level has been pretty much absent as my initial knee jerk reaction is just to stay away from it all.  I've been so angry that I haven't even been able to honestly ponder who it is that I actually want to be.  I'm very unsure about the role that organized religion will play in my life from here on out... but I do know that I don't want who I am to be dictated by my anger.  As I saw very, very clearly tonight, I don't like angry me.  Angry me lets me ignore the most important people in my life while they wail in distress.

It's time to put down the anger and figure out who I want to be.  Twenty years from now (or even a few months from now), I don't want who I am to be someone whose primary spiritual characteristic is being mad at some organization.   It's time to figure out who I want to be.

God's wrath (or sense of humor). You pick.

You might say that I was a very fastidious student. That might be an understatement. But that's not specifically what this post is about, so we'll leave that there.

There was only one time in particular when I remember free loading. It was the last week of my university career (the reading day before finals). My international tax teacher had agreed to let us do the final project (filling out a 5471 information return) in groups. While I normally prefer to not work in groups at all (so much easier to be fastidious on one's own), I was fairly worn out by this point of my career (new baby, both of us trying to finish our grad degrees, senior-itis) and I was eager for a little "help" from my classmates.

So I did something completely uncharacteristic of me and organized a 'party' for anyone in the class who wanted to get together to complete the return. Also completely uncharacteristic of me, I didn't really even look at the return before the party (okay... a little... but way less than the normal me would have). I went to the party, copied down the answer that we came up with together and got it ready to hand in.

The teacher had promised us a lively discussion about the form... or as lively as is humanely possible about a form put out by the government. So I had promised myself that I would at least look over my classmates' answers before our final and try to understand it. But I didn't.

Then came the first portion of God's wrath. The Gardner had a fun game for us to play.

"Everyone, this is going to be the best final ever. Please pick a number one to one-hundred." I settled on 67. The magic number was 62 and I was the closest. Oh goodie, what did I win. An A? A candy bar? what?

I had won the opportunity to come down in front of everyone and explain each line of the 5471. Gah! Thanks to some jokes and some help from the class... I made it through. But it was rough.

I figured that this ordeal was punishment enough. But the wrath had not ended. I come to Canada and start my job and immediately, I am put on a project with a different group than mine to prepare some 150 odd 5471s for a very wealthy US citizen gone Canadian. I've prepared some 50 or so. The man's social security number and address forever ingrained in my psyche (this hasn't been one of those cases where you type it in once and it flows to the rest of the return. Both of those facts about him must be typed in three times each on each one).

As God as my witness, I will never freeload again. The consequences are more than I can bear.

Can man survive without woman?

Amy and Hyrum are gone for the week to Washington. So I attended a ward potluck today without them. As I introduced myself to people, I let them know about Amy and Hyrum's situation... so they wouldn't be too shocked were I to be holding a baby next time they saw me... and telling people that they existed seems to just be part of the introduction process. Repeatedly, I got similar reactions usually revovling around how hard it was going to be for me to not have someone to provide me with some good homecooking. I've gotten similar responses when Amy was pregnant, when she toured the UK with BYU Singers, when we were apart during our move etc. So I'm pretty used to them. I generally just smile and say yup.

One comment today in particular was laughable. A woman responded, "Good thing there was a potluck today so you could at least have something to eat tonight." I really wanted to reply, "Oh yes, it is such a miracle. I don't know what I would've done. This is the only thing I'm planning on eating this week. I mean, by Wednesday or so, I might get desperate enough that I'll have to figure out how to order a pizza or open a package of oreos or something. But yeah... I'm completely uncapable of even remotely taking care of myself."

Then my next instinct was to be a little more truthful yet sarcastic and be like, "Yeah, it's rough. Last night I had to cook for myself. The best I could do was a medium rare steak with roasted red potatoes and broccoli. Then this morning I had to settle for breakfast sausage, fried egg, toast, strawberries, bananas and camomille tea. And tonight, I was thinking I was going to be forced to eat a cheddar dijon chicken broccoli mixture on authentic made-at-home-by-me flour tortillas." [side note... I just finished making/eating the above mentioned thing (I'm not sure what to call it...burritos? wraps? heaven?) and it was AMAZING!]

I settled on, "Yup I'm glad there's a potluck" and moved on. I don't want to upset the world too much because I know how scary a man who is powerful in the kitchen can be to a woman. I assume I'm not the only man feigning helplessness to help women feel good about themselves. I mean, if women knew that we could survive [as in eat and keep house] without them then they might feel that their only real purposes in this life were reproductive and to help us spend our salaries. And we [men] do like them [women], so we don't want them to feel unneeded or useless. And for this reason, I just say yup.

But this got me thinking. Are we just being nice and letting women think we need them for this or are there a good proportion of this men who are helpless in the kitchen? I know I'm a little more adept than most, but I don't I've ever met anyone who was completely hopeless. Like, my dad's one of the more macho men I know... and I believe that he could survive. Once when I was an early teen my mom went to Europe for a month... and I don't remember much about that month besides burning my mom's tupperware in a bonfire, but I'm pretty sure we survived okay. I did hear a tale from a friend about a roommate who turned frozen chicken nuggets into charcoal... but I feel like stories like this are hopefully the exception.


Please revel in the rejection a bit longer....

Today Amy sent me to the store on the way home to pick up ground beef because our loveable neighborhood grocery store supposedly gives you 10% off on the first Tuesday of the month, and she had forgotten earlier (although she had remembered the hummus because she is a hippie and not a carnivore).

Anyways, so I get to the self checkout with my ground beef and Canadian oreos (yet another thing that just isn't quite the same). I check out and get to a screen where it asks me whether I wanted 10% off or extra skymiles for my special first Tuesday of the month thing. I clicked on the 10% and then it proceeded to tell me that I wasn't qualified for the deal (I learned later that it was because I hadn't spent over $30).

Then to ensure that I acknowledged that I was a failure, another screen popped up asking me to push a button to acknowledge that I wasn't getting the 10% off. How much rejection do grocery shoppers need these days? If I hadn't spent enough, was it really necessary to even offer the 10% to me to begin with? And then was it really necessary to dig the rejection into me like a spork dripping with poisoned macaroni?

It's a good thing the machine took my $20 bill... because if it had rejected my queen paper, that would've been a bit too much.


Then maybe you shouldn't ask.

I'm pretty open... duh. And I'll admit that there have been plenty of times when I have volunteered information without being asked. But if you ask, there's no question... I'm probably going to answer you. And you probably better be okay with that.

Here are the times when questions have led to the most problems....

I had a roommate at BYU that I didn't get on great with. Once I was in a bad mood and he suggested that I take a cup or something back to the girls who had lent it to us. I told him that I didn't want to talk to girls. He asked if I was heterosexual.... let's just say that our relationship never really recovered from that one.

Tests.... these aren't really a part of my life anymore sadly. But I would always hate the "What did you get" question. I have an uncanny ability to do well on tests. It's really my only life skill and it's not really useful anymore. So last semester, in my tax classes, I got the high on every test... time after time after time unfortunately. Questions would only result in strange reactions. Whenever anybody would ask, I would want to scream, "Let's look at the track record okay.. .it's higher than yours... I'm sorry... but at least you have lots of job offers" (I was hard pressed to find one). I just wanted normalcy. I would hate the reactions that would clearly seem to state, "I didn't really want to know." Well friends, don't ask, don't tell.

Most recently, a co-worker (3 years my senior in accounting experience) asked about my salary. Now I know you aren't supposed to discuss these kind of things.... but he asked. So while slightly more hesitant at first, I did tell him. Only to find out that I did in fact make substantially more than him. He hasn't been awful about it.... but it has been awkward... and he has brought it up a few times since then. I apologized profusely and said that I had no idea why it would be so (informing him that I'm positive that he's more valuable to the company than me)... but yeah.

So moral of the story... unless you're going to be okay with whatever possible answer comes out of my mouth... you should be careful what you ask. I'm just not the sort of person that waits for the most heated sessions of truth or dare to let things come out. Gah... I sure hope I never have secret information. I wouldn't last long in interrogation.


Did you know that the Orem city library separates its religious books into different areas depending on whether they are written by Mormons or not even though they have the same call numbers? I realized this the hard way when I had to find a book written by Rabbi Kushner for my ethics class this weekend. Would it really be that concerning if books by Rabbis occasionally touched books that were written by Sheri Dew? I was curious to see if they separated Stephanie Meyer's books to a holier plane than other books about vampires, but I had a cold, pregnant wife in the car, so I didn't do more research on the matter.