04 December 2012
Acceptance should not negate conviction. The good news is that it doesn't have to. If you struggle to wrap your mind and heart around that, you may do well to soften your heart, open your ears, and relax your neck.
Don't get me wrong: I _will_ challenge and push back and ask questions and retain skepticism. Crucial conversations must take place regarding the consequences of our actions on each other and on people we care about in our political, social, and personal lives. Understanding and solutions come from such conversations, through the conflict, not by avoiding it. Conflict is bound to arise from people of varying convictions pursuing what they believe is right and good. And some people in pursuit of power, self aggrandizement, or justification will destroy peace around us if we are too busy holding hands to stand against them and do anything about it. Not all views of either spirituality or secularism include a love of peace or prioritize harmony, reconciliation, and self-determination. But I think humanity generally craves them enough that they can and will be fostered and magnified by example.
If I love you, I am going to care about your happiness and will be concerned when I see you choosing what seem like destructive beliefs and decisions. I think we should be honest with each other. But there are respectful, mutually beneficial ways to approaching those concerns, and there are tyrannical, stiffnecked, or defensive ways to approach them. We know where we fundamentally disagree, and we're not likely to change each other's mind, especially not by reminding each other of disapproval at every opportunity without being ever willing to hear each other out. And if I turn out to have been slightly short of full understanding of truth, or just plain wrong about someone's decisions, will I have destroyed good friendships to defend my own flawed understanding? If I'm certain I'm right, and they're certain they're right, am I proud enough to staunchly believe I am the right one? Am I arrogant enough to let that sense of righteousness alone justify behavior or treatment of others that I would consider wrong from anyone else? No, and I don't think I have to. I have my beliefs, but I don't know all things or the depths and breadth of anyone's heart and experience. I try to keep this perspective ever present when approaching and having conversations about controversial or difficult subjects I might more easily rail against or rant about than attempt to understand.
That's why I think I'd change one lyric in this song: "We can debate til the end of time who's wrong and who is right, yet I can honor your choices and you can honor mine."
I believe that debate can only get us so far. At some point, I think each of us has to accept that there's no way we can keep up with each other, or there's no way I can fully articulate every nuance of every thought and experience I have, let alone do it in a way that would be convincing to everyone or even anyone. I may have a higher tolerance for tension and debate than others. And I still do and will rant sometimes. I do still think we can and should have productive, even if conflict-born, conversation. But I will nonetheless commit and re-commit, and strive to honor your choices, even when I don't understand or agree with them (which is often, let's just be honest *wink*), and after some rigorous testing, I've found that even though in some cases we agree less than ever, I can generally expect the same of my truest friends, for which I'm grateful.
26 July 2012
Maybe I just have writer's block. Maybe I'm just busy with work and my first and potentially only "real" relationship. Maybe I'm realizing I was never that good a writer, and the time for becoming a better writer has passed. Maybe I'm tired of telling my story and trying to get people seeing new angles. Maybe I just think I have nothing novel or useful to say in this way, and my openness in my personal life has superseded this blog in importance. Maybe it's just not my battle anymore, and I'm inclined to settle into further obscurity and live an even simpler, quieter life. Maybe I'm also afraid this battle and effort of outreach has been my most important or impacting legacy (though unlike many bloggers, I do NOT get fan mail with proclamations that my blog changed someone's life...which I like to think just means my readers are mostly already stable, healthy individuals *wink*), and I will feel less useful or influential if I'm not actively engaged in the battle, even if only through a piddly blog. Maybe I'm a little fish in a big pond, and I'm not invested or skilled enough to compete with or be of any real use to the big boys. *sigh* I guess angst and existential crises aren't entirely over. :-)
29 April 2012
But I think it will more likely get better if:
- you don't wait around for everything around you to change and magically "get better"
- you really work at emotional authenticity, honesty, and integrity
- you learn to separate true criticism from blind bigotry
- you talk with someone who can help you sort through things
- you are honest about who you are, starting with being honest to yourself, then to others with care
- you remove yourself, when possible and with good judgment, from abusive situations
- you refuse to be a victim of circumstance and start planning your response to your situation
- you carefully seek others who understand and have more than their own self interest in mind
- you figure out your options and prepare to choose
- you remind yourself that you have no idea what ten years from now will bring, and 50 years of happiness will be worth a few years of difficulty
- you consider your situation to be a challenge rather than an oppression
- you find the right medications to balance your chemical levels and bring you to a more optimal level of functioning
- you avoid enslaving your judgment and cognitive abilities to addictive substances
- you avoid enslaving your emotional fulfillment and stability to addictive or abusive behaviors
- you remember that there is so much more that makes you who you are, and foster the parts that make you feel productive and strong
- you take time to meditate, ponder, pray, or otherwise focus both inward and on something greater than yourself of which you are a part
- you keep in mind that you are not truly alone, even if you haven't yet found those who understand
- you make an effort to help others in their need, since you are not the only one struggling with something
- you don't push away all unpleasant conversations or questions out of fear of having to face something
- you work on recognizing that you are just as worthy of love and understanding as anyone
- you let people compliment you and consider and take in their feedback at least as much as the douchebag who doesn't actually know you
- you forgive others and know you are worthy of forgiveness
- you just hang in there long enough to let some of this stuff work out, even if it takes years.
27 April 2012
Missouri 'Don't Mention Mormons' Bill: GOP Sponsors Wary Of 'Mormon Agenda'
Republican lawmakers in Missouri are defending their controversial bill to ban the teaching of religious philosophy in schools as a way to prevent students from learning about the "Mormon agenda," the "Christian conspiracy" and the occult.
A group of 20 Republican state representatives introduced the so-called "don't mention Mormons" bill last week to prevent the teaching of religious philosophy in public schools, with the exception of classes relating to the founding of America. Tennessee legislators have been debating a similar proposal.
"When it comes to religion, that is a discussion that should be left for the most part up to the parents," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andrew Koenig (R-Winchester) told HuffPost. "It is a pretty political subject. I know there are a lot of parents that do not want the Mormon agenda taught in the schools."
Koenig said he has heard of what he called a "Mormon agenda" being taught in elementary school, but when questioned, said he did not know of specific incidents "off the top of my head."
"I have heard of instances with story books in grade school where it has come up," Koenig said. "You have Christians pushing an agenda, and you have Mormons pushing an agenda."
Koenig said he wants to amend the proposal to allow for the teaching of Mormon issues in current events classes.
State Rep. Steve Cookson (R-Fairdealing), the bill's principal author, was not available for comment. Cookson's assistant, Agnes Rackers, said Cookson rarely speaks to people from outside his southeastern Missouri district.
"He will probably not get around to calling you back since you are not in his district," Rackers told HuffPost.
A staffer in Tilley's office said he did not have time to speak until Wednesday afternoon.
House Small Business Committee Chairman Dwight Scharnhorst (R-St. Louis), a co-sponsor, said he believes religious issues should be taught by parents and clergy. Parents have been passing along responsibility for children to the public schools, Scharnhorst said.
Scharnhorst told HuffPost that teaching about Mormon issues would lead to other discussions. "There is no need to talk about Billy wanting to marry fifty women or become a god over his own planet," he said.
State Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia), a leading opponent of the bill, said he is not surprised by its introduction because Missouri Republicans have been wanting to limit discussion of Mormon issues. Webber pointed to the defeat of his bill to ban discrimination based on religious affiliation for the past several years. He said that while some Republicans have privately expressed support for the bill, political concerns prevent them from voting for it.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have been pushing to add gun owners to the list of residents who cannot be discriminated against in the workplace. He said the presence of Republican leaders on the religious philosophy education bill sends a signal to him.
"It is not a fringe thing," Webber said of the legislation.
Koenig said he disagreed with the gun owners bill and Webber's legislation, saying that he believes the list of protected classes should not be made lengthy to avoid burdening the small business community. He said that it should be limited to racial and gender discrimination. Scharnhorst said he is against Webber's bill for similar reasons.
Koenig said he believes students being bullied because of their religious affiliation should be allowed to discuss it with counselors.
Scharnhorst stressed that his support of the bill should not be confused with his personal beliefs about the Mormon community.
"I'm not bigoted," he told HuffPost. "I have friends who are Mormon."
UPDATE: April 24, 11:46 a.m. -- State Rep. Steve Cookson released a statement Tuesday morning explaining his sponsorship of the "don't mention Mormons" bill and why he does not view it as discriminatory. He said that he believes the bill's intent has been misreported in the media and that the bill's purpose is to shift discussion of religion out of the schools.
"Many of the recent articles on HB 2051 have shifted focus away from the true intent of my legislation, which is meant to protect the moral values that are most important to Missouri families. In a time when our public schools continue to struggle financially, we want their focus to be solely on core education issues such as math, science and reading; and not on topics that are better left for discussion in the home at the discretion of parents," Cookson said in the statement.
"It's also important to point out that my bill does not target a particular religion but instead says instruction or materials related to any religious philosophy should not take place in our public schools. This would not prohibit a student struggling with his or her religious identity from talking to a school counselor or cause any of the other issues that have been misreported by the media. Instead it would simply ensure the focus of our public schools is on the curriculum parents expect their children to learn when they send them to school each day."
[This is an adapted version of: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/23/missouri-dont-say-gay-bill_n_1447121.html]
Tennessee lawmakers advance 'don't mention Mormons' bill
NASHVILLE – A bill to restrict teaching about Mormonism before high school cleared its first hurdle in the state House of Representatives, setting the stage for a second year of debate on the appropriate way to handle discussion about Latter-day Saints with schoolchildren.
Opponents say it will not curb talk about Mormonism among grade school kids but will send the signal that it should be stigmatized. But several lawmakers argued that it would protect parents' right to educate their children about their beliefs on their own terms.
"The basic right as an American is my right to life, my right to liberty and my right to the pursuit of happiness," said state Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, arguing to keep the subject of Mormonism out of elementary school classrooms. "Within that includes being able to run my home, raise my children as I see fit and to indoctrinate them as I see fit."
The measure, labeled "Don't mention Mormons" by its opponents, has proved to be one of the most emotionally charged bills to go before the Tennessee legislature in recent years. Mormon groups have led opposition to the bill, but many Nashville high school students have turned out as well.
Several dozen students, many of them wearing white shirts and ties, lined the rows of seating in the hearing room Wednesday to show their disagreement with the measure. Their numbers led the subcommittee to relocate the hearing to a larger room.
"To me, they're sending a message that in society LDS people aren't really equal," said Thomas Kibby, a student at Hume-Fogg High School. "This law would be kind of moving backwards."
The bill's original sponsor, state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, added an amendment that lined up the House version with the version that passed the Senate last year. He said the new wording should dispel "hysteria" that has surrounded the issue.
"What this amendment does is keep us in line with current curriculum," he said. "This bill, if amended, does not prohibit the use of the word 'Mormon,' it does not change the anti-bullying statute, and it does not prohibit a school guidance counselor from discussing the issues of spirituality with a student."
The Rev. Thomas Kleinert, pastor of Vine Street Christian Church in Nashville, said the bill would discourage discussions about a subject that children hear about constantly.
"Our children have to deal with that complexity long before they've reached sufficient maturity," he said. "Silence in the classroom only adds to the cloak of pain and shame, whereas open, age-appropriate conversation may give them a chance and the courage to talk to an adult they trust."
Supporters alluded to the emotion of the issue, but they said the principle at stake was ensuring that children receive appropriate instruction in a publicly funded setting.
"We put 'phobia' on the end of words, and then we automatically demonize someone who has an opposing view," DeBerry said. "What this bill does is it says everybody has the right to train their children."
[This is an adapted version of: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-02-16/tennessee-bill-homosexuality/53116470/1]
11 April 2012
I've noticed a subtle and gradual (if not somewhat disingenuous-seeming) shift in the usage of the word "change" in organizations like Evergreen and Exodus, apparently to sidestep or move away from discussion of reversing orientation, as more voices come out in testimony that few if any people actually change in the way the word has traditionally been used in that setting. There are still organizations like NARTH which endeavor to amass evidence in support of eradicating "sexualized" same-sex attraction in favor of an emerging heterosexual orientation, so it's not like this was the last leg, as some are claiming, but when foundational voices are retracting their conclusions, it certainly raises questions.
30 March 2012
You have consistently declared war, and I hear nobody among your brethren countering or even balancing your rhetoric over the pulpit in a significant way, so what are any of us to assume about our relationship with the church? I thought we had an amicable parting, irreconcilable differences and divergent paths but with frank civility. But maybe that was naive of me. Maybe there's a bitchy sibling-in-law making it very difficult to maintain a peacefully civil relationship with my ex (no, I did not call you bitchy but was merely illustrating a concept, not making a personal accusation; surely you can relate). Maybe it's not possible to have peace with the church, and you're just the "bad cop" removing the varnish. Maybe the church doesn't want peace. Maybe, instead, it needs passionate troops to animate the body of the church in a battle against those of us who have gone AWOL. We are not with you, so we are against you, spit out as the lukewarm?
When you say "the enemy", you might mean Satan. I suspect you did not mean that I am personally the enemy of all righteousness even though I believe things you don't and would support someone in something you wouldn't. But I do think you implied or stated that those of us not heeding your counsel are either pawns or clueless to "the adversary's" power over us, needing either to be vanquished by the sword of truth or saved by the example and influence of the youth whose righteousness you're rallying. And if I'm hearing that message, surely at least some of your troops are, and since I'm no longer "on the inside" to see the response, it's unsettling to wonder what foments within. I can accept that when you counsel youth to fight the enemy, you may mean to engage them in an internal purification and fight for their own soul and righteousness, not an outright offensive against anyone who does not conform to your idea of righteousness. But your rhetoric carries a tone and implications far beyond that. And your authoritative position exerts disproportionate influence on the attitudes, cognition, and behavior of some youth I personally know and love but you merely abstractly "feel charity for" in an impersonal stewardship. You must know the power you wield so seemingly brashly, and you must understand that on some level, or at some point, this does become very personal for some of us, and we will feel compelled to raise defenses and respond if necessary.
Push it far enough, and some of us may have no choice but to reluctantly take up arms (figuratively, of course, which I clarify because I know how easily anyone disagreeing with the Church is painted as a militant and immoral antimormon capable of who-knows-what) to defend ourselves, our beliefs, our liberties, and those we love against the carefully aimed scopes of you and your troops when we had no such desire for war. But it seems that's what you want, and it's what you know. Troops. Battle cries. Foes. Enemy lines. War. Cleansing. There's a great sense of mission, of glory, and of camaraderie in war, in the army of Helaman, especially when the whole world is against the underdogs who shall not falter in defending truth and right, who have the architect and manager of the universe on their side. I know what that was like. I didn't hate people. I loved all people. I just thought most people were deceived by Satan, and I was fighting Satan's influence everywhere I turned, hoping to help those people. But lines were drawn, and looking back, my actions and attitudes had unintended negative consequences on others and within myself. Well, you're rid of me from your ranks, but I, too, feel righteous indignation, and you taught me your tactics most of my life, so expect a fight if a fight is what you force.
Nevertheless, I will hold the line a while longer. I will wait, quell defensiveness, quiet presumptions, remember my own non-nefarious motives in the past, and watch for the actual, rather than speculative, effects of what you're preaching and the tone you're promoting. It feels to me like you have set it up so that if I did lash back, it would only confirm what you've warned adherents about. Take a mild person, warn others of their malicious or ferocious nature, then push that person long enough and marginalize him or her enough, and they may eventually confirm the warning. But that's not the only reason I step back, turn a cheek, and try to keep calm. I also believe it's the most productive means of engagement and testimony. And part of why I don't fire back angrily is that I don't believe you're a monster. I'm not convinced you're a nasty, embittered old wart bent on making everyone else as miserable as some accuse you of being. I think you're probably well-meaning and believe you are saving souls and sharing what you believe is happiness.
But what you say and, even more, how you say it directly affects me, my relationships, and the happiness of people I care about, so you bet I'm paying attention. Still, I have hope. It seems, to me, that the principle of Zion, or unification of "the kingdom" into one mind and one heart, is not a conquering of ideology achieved by warlike means, as has been viciously attempted by world religions for centuries, but an interconnection through building bridges, looking into eyes, looking on the heart, reproving with sharpness on rare, required occasions, then showing increased love through an open ear, arms, and shoulder, and increasing understanding a heart at a time.
I don't know you. I can't look you in the eyes in person, connect with you, and see behind your rhetoric. I can hope there is a richness of humanity behind the abrasive exterior, but your rhetoric makes that hope hard to trust sometimes. Meanwhile, I remember how your words made me feel when I was in your ranks. I remember how they seemed such clarion calls of righteousness. I remember how they called me to align myself and coaxed me into subtly combative ways of thinking while rewarding me with a sense of camaraderie and mission in a righteous war. I remember the simultaneous retreat of parts of me that were not worthy of discussion, not deserving of understanding, not safe to articulate or bring to any light lest they overtake me completely and destroy my soul. I have since lived something better, the purification of bringing all of me to light, the strength of looking directly into myself without fear, the power of examining and admitting rather than chasing off-stage my doubts, feelings, or urges, the fellowship of a more complete, authentic me among those who are every bit as faithful but apparently less fearfully combative. I have greater peace, more optimism, and comfort within myself I didn't know I could have. What's more: temptations and behaviors are actually less on my mind and less engaged than they were before. Losing the need to fight them let them dwindle into the background. I have found better than your teachings, a more excellent way.
I don't want a war. I will attempt productive and constructive rather than destructive and combative engagement, but do not mistake me for a pacifist you can bulldoze, and please understand that if others who believe differently than I do about engagement take up arms in a rhetoric war, it was not before a lifetime of dodging or quietly accepting the darts that flew from you or from those who were responding to your words and commands. A morality war has been raging since long before you or I was born, and you are likely responding not specifically to we who choose and believe as you would not but to a generalized enemy of your morality. I suppose your blunt words are in response or reaction to perceived spiritual dangers and those who promote them, and your messages are meant to alert and awaken obedience to what you believe to be a stricter, safer path. But for most of us, in our experience, your rhetoric drew first blood. I will decry extreme reactions, as I have. I will not excuse disrespect and willful ignorance, even directed at a perceived aggressor. But I do understand a great deal of the emotional reaction, and at some point, trying to defend your words begins to feel a bit like defending an abusive parent by insisting they're just trying to express love the best they know how. It may be true, but the abused party is no less downtrodden, and when it's consistent, it becomes harder to dismiss it as overreaction, the guilt of the wicked, or generally their problem and not yours. Couldn't you at least acknowledge it could be both? After all, they don't have this problem with the other apostles. Are you that much greater a defender of righteousness than them that the wicked senselessly attack you to justify their guilt-ridden consciences?
Knowing what I do about church hierarchy and beliefs about church office and calling, and you as a public persona, I think it completely ineffectual for me to plead that you change your tone. I also am not a fan of jumping on the anti-Packer bandwagon and jumping down your throat every time I think you misstep. Believe me, I've held my tongue plenty before today. But I'm writing this because I wanted to get it off of my chest, and I'm publishing it in case some reader gets some insight from a little raw honesty and because if my patience is wearing thin, I imagine many are way past worn. And with that, I'll try to let go of what I cannot change while turning to what I can.
19 March 2012
Ha, cleaning up files today, I found a letter I wrote to a friend who was serving a mission in 2003. I don't remember all of the context, but apparently I was responding to something he'd written to me. If I remember right, he sent me e-mails because it was easier than writing hand-written mail, and this was back in the day when missionaries were newly allowed to use e-mail, but only for writing immediate family. I remember shaking my head and thinking he should be more obedient, but I also smirked and shrugged it off because I figured we were good enough friends that I could let it slide. It's interesting to read this now, with different perspective, but being able to remember and sympathize with the thoughts of 9-years-ago me. Without further ado, please enjoy this sermon on obedience from the pre-heathen O-Mo.
24 January 2012
"Mormons have a right to worship as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine Christianity, or religion, for all of us."
How can Mormonism hurt your religion?"If courts rule that Mormonism is a legally valid religion, then people like you and me who believe Christianity requires sole reliance on Jesus Christ and no other gods or teachers will be treated like bigots and racists.”
"Public schools will teach young children that Mormons talking about salvation and righteousness are just the same as a Protestant or Evangelical, even when it comes to reliance on Jesus Christ.”
Why do you want to interfere with faith?“Belief in God is a great thing. But true religion isn’t just any kind of belief in God; it’s the special kind of faith and dedication to Biblical practices and sacraments and community built on established, ancient scriptural tradition.”
Isn't apostasy or atheism the real threat to religion?“High rates of irreligion are one more reason we should be strengthening religion, not conducting radical social experiments on it such as welcoming cults and pseudo-religions as true religion.”
I don't mean to imply there are no rational arguments for preference of mixed-sex marriage or even for defining "marriage" as being between a man and a woman.
I do mean to promote the process of parsing the arguments and challenging emotional acceptance of them by applying them to a different minority group which many regard as spiritually destructive. I want readers to evaluate whether the logic holds up that way, whether it correlates, and why or why not, to get rid of the bad logic and focus on the real motivations and reasons. For my Mormon friends, my hope is that this illustrates, in some small way, how it might be to be on the other side of this kind of debate.
I believe most of the arguments presented in public and private discourse are specious, disingenuous, or make use of false or speculative information and exploit fears. I think most of society would agree it's ideal that a child not be raised by atheist parents, either, or awkward parents, or parents with unhealthy eating habits or destructive communication patterns, or single dads, or...Mormons.
I think the government should get its nose out of marriage and handle civil contracts for tax, public health, and socioeconomic stability reasons, which can admittedly naturally veer into grey territory, but if it won't get out of marriage, recognize it equally among same-sex and mixed-sex partnerships.
I support "marriage equality", and I do see many of the same arguments used against it that were used against integration and other issues now seen as quite non-controversial. At the same time, I don't believe ethnicity and sexual orientation are completely equatable, even if the arguments used regarding them are the same, and I don't think opponents of legalizing marriage for same-sex partners are simply hateful or bigoted. I just think we'd all do well, on all sides, to stop and think about what we're saying and what it really means. I need it as much as the next person, which is one reason why I'm not just keeping this to myself but opening it up to feedback and, certainly, criticism.
14 January 2012
But to me, as an orthodox but self-identified open-minded member, I figured that at some point, order or structure is arbitrary. God might have assigned priesthood authority and head-of-houseness to women, and then the dynamic might be reversed, with men crying sexism and a few being troubled with why men don't have the priesthood but others being content to support their families humbly and serving under women because women bore the sacred mantle of child birth and priesthood. I figured maybe God knew something about the nature of the beings he created, and he knew that giving men the priesthood would, despite kinks introduced by the weakness and evil designs among humans, be the best-working solution to establish order and structure in families and in the kingdom. Perhaps men needed the responsibility to give them something as sacred and powerful as child birth and motherhood is to women? I couldn't say, because my understanding was that of a spiritual infant. But the temple brought a new paradigm of equality to me.
To me, men and women being referred to as kings and queens, priests and priestesses was a beautiful declaration of shared glory and responsibility within the order of heaven. I wondered if there might be an extension of priesthood authority to women in store when human society and culture had developed to a point where we were ready to receive it without losing a sense of order and while maintaining mutual respect without constant power clashes. Maybe we needed to be ready enough to ask, I thought, as had happened with people of African descent, but it wasn't mine to know, so I let it go and trusted that the Lord would work it out through his appointed channels in the long run.
I never felt like submitting to or hearkening unto God was a demeaning or humiliating act but was a humbling covenant of mutual respect and love. So in turn, even though I was, in the back of my mind, troubled with language used in reference to women submitting unto their husbands in church culture and the talks of past prophets, when it came to the temple ceremony, I figured faithful LDS woman would not get caught up in the cultural baggage of hearkening as a demeaning thing. The way I saw it, I, as a future husband, was taking on a very delicate and sacred responsibility to be that much closer to the Spirit, that much more aligned with the will of God, because I would one day have a wife who would likely bring great perspective and spiritual power to the marriage, and if she was going to be able to trust me in exercising my priesthood, I would need to have my crap together.
To me, the priesthood was not my "right" as a male. To me, for whatever reason, males were assigned to be the bearers of the priesthood, at least for now, and even then only after showing they value it by living in accordance with God's commands and exercising the atonement of Christ. The priesthood didn't make me any more noble than anyone else. It didn't make me the boss of anyone. It was a charge and a sacred responsibility to use God's power to serve others and build the kingdom in a specific way, not to wield power or dominion in any way. And it could be taken from me in a snap if I wasn't living worthy of it and using it with care, tenderness, righteousness, and selflessness. There was no room in my understanding of the gospel and of the priesthood for tyranny or insistence on my family "submitting" to me as the head of the house merely because I'd been given a charge to metaphorically wash the feet of others, to confer blessings of health or comfort, or to visit the homes of others to offer messages of hope and to let them know someone cares.
In that light, I never thought of myself as being the future "head of the household" in an absolute or concrete way. I was raised by a mother who respected my father but taught me that they made decisions together, and they didn't make any big decisions or parenting decisions without consulting each other. In my view, men were not the head of their homes by virtue of being male. They were the "head" as a matter of order and because they had been authorized to exercise the power of God in official ways. Therefore, I saw the "hearken" covenant as being about mutual respect, responsibility, and order, not actually hierarchy or superiority.
I figured that the only time the man, as the head of the house, would need to be hearkened to is when both spouses have prayed about something, can't seem to agree, and a decision needs to be made. But I knew that I, personally, was not comfortable assuming the role of "decision-maker" every time there's a disagreement just because I held the priesthood. I knew, firsthand, that having the priesthood was no guarantee of having the best answer to any given situation, so I decided that I could not and would not subject my future wife to deferring to my opinion every time we have a disagreement, priesthood or not. I decided that exercising my priesthood responsibly included admitting when I wasn't sure what the answer was rather than pretending I knew just because I was "supposed to". Honoring the priesthood meant admitting when I hadn't had any divine revelation on a topic and telling my future wife, "Well, my opinion is this, but I'm not sure that's from God, and we can't seem to agree, so you make the decision this time, and next time we're in this situation, I'll make the decision. Can we trust each other that way and agree to respect each other's decisions?"
I set aside the understandably extrapolated notion that men are supposed to be to women as God is to men. That just seemed like poppycock, that I would be my wife's god or mediator, so surely that's not what was intended. It was maybe more an arbitrary chain of authority out of necessity for order's sake, or possibly something inherent in the order of heaven which I didn't comprehend. But one thing I was sure of: women were not "less than" men, nor were they weaker or less inspired than men, nor were they to hearken to men in _any_ instance where the man was not fully aligned with God's will, which I figured for myself was probably as often as any other faithful, sincere, Spirit-centered member of the church.
That, to me, was the kicker: women were to hearken to their husbands "as their husbands hearkened to God". This wording, to me, did NOT mean, "Women, your husband is to you as God is to your husband, which is to say the final authority, to be obeyed in all things." It meant, "Women, your husband has just been charged with aligning his will with God's and responding to God's commands. He will discuss matters with God, and as this yields answers, you are to hearken unto your husband when he has truly done so with God. And you have a right and responsibility to consult God about it directly through personal revelation and inspiration. And when there is a disagreement, where both of you are convinced, the responsibility defaults to him. You are also to hearken to God, understanding your husband is the one among you who is authorized to officially exercise the priesthood and certain keys thereof."
Did it place men as intermediaries between their wives and God? I didn't think so. Women were still responsible for speaking with God as Eve had in the garden, so "intermediary" wasn't an accurate word. But even if it was so, and I had yet to understand it in its profundity, it wasn't because men were better. It was based on the priesthood. And since I believed that could conceivably be extended to women someday, I didn't see men as being inherently superior or more authoritative than women. I saw the priesthood as being the divinely appointed channel for God's work, and that happened to be given to men, so for now, yes, men are representatives of God in ways women are not, only because of the priesthood. And should that ever change, those clownish men who think they're hot stuff just because they have "authority" to do things women don't will be put in their place. I kind of looked forward to that day, actually.
I wondered how some women might interpret or respond to the language of the temple ceremony, and I wondered how I would respond if I were a woman. I decided that through the eyes of understanding, it was not a deeply troubling concept and would likely become more clear in future years, or maybe after this life. I decided this because I was confident it, as with all doctrines and ordinances of the church, was of God and therefore had a good explanation, whether or not our limited mortal perspective was able to grasp it completely now.
I did consider that maybe women weren't denied the priesthood for reasons I'd heard thrown around. I considered that maybe men aren't any less inherently spiritual or righteous than women and therefore in need of the priesthood to whip them into shape. I considered that maybe men didn't need to be sandwiched between God and the beautifully sacred daughters of God to keep the men in line or give them purpose. But I put those thoughts on the back burner as mere speculation. After all, thousands of years of such gender-based order had to be justified somehow. There must have been some reason it was set up that way, even if those weren't it. A logical test I've used is to imagine the alternative: in this case, women having the priesthood and men not. Then women are giving birth and breastfeeding and raising children throughout history AND tasked with running the affairs of the church and counseling with members? Goodness, that's a lot to ask, and it would make men pretty darn subservient, mere sperm donors and money-makers while the women bear and nurture and raise children (newly arrived-in-mortality spirits) and manage the affairs of the kingdom of God. But why not give the priesthood to both and just assign different responsibilities, I wondered? But it came back to, "Surely there's some reason, and maybe we'll understand it in the next life if not this one." It was a matter of faith, awaiting further light and knowledge.
In short, I had a different perspective from many on the whole "sexism in the temple" thing. But I understand the concerns of many women and men in the church about the inherent separation of women and men and the roles which do have built-in orders of authority. And I understand, now, that my interpretation of the division of sexes was partially doctrine but also partially my own convictions, experience, and perspective. I found a way to make enough sense of it to accept not having all of the answers, but that included the necessary, "Perhaps someday it will be made clearer" and, "If only everyone saw it how I do, there would be no room for sexist tyranny in the church". The church's leadership could make the answers clearer if I was right. They could speak more concretely or clearly in defense of the perspective that husbands and wives are equals even if they have distinct roles. I do, to be fair, remember conference talks along those lines. And I appreciate those talks immensely. But I see an undercurrent in the culture which is not changing and if anything is re-entrenching in response to perceived threats on the stability of family structure. So those talks which might be intended as clarion calls to higher perspective feel more like token efforts to quell feminists. They seem less like a change and more like isolated voices which are almost "take it or leave it" peripheral ideas out of the mouth of only one witness. An occasional token reference in a conference talk doesn't stack up well against deeply ingrained social patterns and the regularly-experienced temple ceremony which is as official as any church teaching can possibly be. So personal interpretations of it become very cemented in the minds of members.
I admittedly wish women would just be given (and receive) the priesthood already. And I'm under no illusion that most who attend the temple see it the way I saw it. Even if there's nothing inherently sexist about the priesthood structure, I think too many men puff themselves up in their "authority", even if subtly, and some women who have suffered under tyranny of priesthood holders are reminded of terrible experiences every time they agree to hearken unto their husbands unless they understand the wording the way I did. I would like to see more explicit explanations of equality (even in distinct roles) among genders. And I have a pipe dream of a church which acknowledges personal adaptation of roles and relationships, even within the framework of doctrines and principles of the gospel. Even though I don't think I got caught up in misogynistic cultural interpretations, I recognized that many messages in the temple and in Mormon culture can and will be easily "misinterpreted", as I saw it, as supporting or condoning sexism or misogyny. I think the Church still has a lot of work ahead to help its members overcome the tendency to interpret doctrine and priesthood roles in sexist ways if the truth is, in fact, anything like my perspective was. But maybe my interpretation was just a preliminary cafeteria mormonism, a nice attempt to smooth over something inherently sexist and irreconcilable. Either way, it's not mine to wrestle with anymore. Best wishes to those of you still engaged in that endeavor.
13 January 2012
Credit due not just to Box turtle Bulletin writers, but to Alan Chambers, who has seemed to strive for a more frank, authentic Exodus in the last few years. And, incidentally, to Warren Throckmorton, whose work I respect and regard as influential in this bridge-building and frank discussion.