Thursday, April 18, 2013

"How can you belong to a church that...?"

Ah, yes. The ugly parts of church history.

"How can you belong to a church that used to practice polygamy?"

"How can you belong to a church that didn't extend full membership to black members until 1978?"

How can you???

People get really hung up on this. There are things in Mormon history that modern Mormons (and others) aren't thrilled about. By modern standards, these things were insane. Some weird stuff happened 200 years ago, especially among our fledgling faithful. If you read certain accounts, it's even crazier. And unfortunately, some pretty weird stuff has happened recently as well.

So, how do I deal with that? I don't know, how can you be a citizen of a country that exists because of complete brutality toward the people who initially inhabited its land? How can you be a citizen of a country that used to allow slavery? How can you be a citizen of a country that didn't allow women to vote until well over 100 years after it was founded? How can you be a citizen of a country that currently employs "enhanced interrogation techniques"? How can you be a citizen of a country that elected George W. Bush as President--twice? (I kid, I kid.)

Every organization that has been around for any length of time has some black marks on its history. I'm not going to judge the United States as a terrible place to live and pay taxes today based on how it treated black people 200, or even 50, years ago. That's not the country I live in right now. That country no longer exists.

In much the same way, the LDS church that practiced polygamy and excluded blacks from holding the priesthood no longer exists. I, personally, have never been a member of that church.

To be sure, there are still things about the Church that I'm not thrilled about--its position on gay marriage, the inequality of women, and a gazillion cultural issues. And there are things about America that I'm not thrilled about--No Child Left Behind, our obsession with war, uh...the debt crisis. But I'm not just going to up and leave America to find some perfect country that has always lived by 21st century standards and agrees with every single one of my political positions. Obviously such a country doesn't exist. I could spend my entire life searching for that country and where would that get me?

So I accept the LDS Church with all of its historical--and current--flaws. I don't have to agree with its history in order to benefit from what it is today. And I don't have to agree with everything that it is today. Those things I mentioned that I'm not thrilled about? I see those things as areas in which we can make progress. And we have! Women prayed at General Conference! If we never make the progress I hope for, well, I'll deal with it, just like I dealt with W's re-election in 2004. ;)

The key to my acceptance of the Church's flaws is the way I view the Church leadership. Given my agnostic leanings, I don't necessarily consider these guys to be acting for God in everything they do. In order to accept an organization's flaws, you have to be comfortable acknowledging that the organization is run by flawed individuals. And I am. It doesn't bother me one bit. I'm still happy to live in America, even though I don't like President Obama's positions on certain issues.


  1. This is a false equivalence. The United States openly acknowledges it's historical sins admits how, why, and when it all happened. Most importantly, regret and sorrow is expressed for wrongdoing and efforts are made to redress wrongs.

    The mormon church has not done anything like that about any of the things they've done in the past. When it comes to institutional racism the most the church has done is claim ignorance, even in the face of piles of documentation explaining it all plain as day.

    Its easy to overlook the crimes of an institution from which you personally benefit but that shouldn't and doesn't let that institution off the hook. It just means that you're ok with it.

  2. I absolutely agree with you. I don't think any of my rationalizations for participating in the Church necessarily let them off the hook. Their prolonged discrimination toward blacks (that extended long after the Civil Rights Era) was shameful, and I don't accept any of the claims that it was "God's will" or that the 1978 change was the result of "revelation" or was all about "the Lord's time".

    My use of U.S. history as a comparison (not necessarily an equivalence) was just to show that black marks on the history of an organization/nation don't have to cancel out whatever benefits that organization/nation offers in the present.

    But you're right. I do accept the modern church, even with its wrongdoings. I don't condone its history of discrimination, nor do I condone some of the current issues I mentioned, but I do accept that it's part of our history. Just a part I'm not proud of.

    Having said that, I do think the 2013 changes to the scriptures are a step toward admitting that maybe they were wrong, specifically the explanatory note preceding Official Declaration 2. "Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance." It's soft, and maybe I'm reading this into it, but I think this is sort of admitting that it wasn't "God's will", but rather the will of some Church leader from the 1800s--a time when discrimination toward blacks was, unfortunately, the norm. I have wished for many years that the Church would just come out and admit that this was a practice rooted in societal attitudes that fit their historical context, rather than insisting that it was all the result of revelation. I think this small change to Official Declaration 2 is...maybe, sorta getting at that. Something more definitive would be appreciated, but I'll take what I can get.

    Thanks so much for your comment. :)

  3. I'm so with you on a lot of what you said here (especially the part about W being elected twice. TWICE!). I differ in that I do think that the church leaders are called of God. However, unlike many of my fellow saints, I don't believe that makes them infallible. If I have to believe the leaders of the church are infallible, then I have to leave the church.

    Also, I wanted to add, that one of the reasons I DON'T leave despite all the black marks, is that if all of us who were uncomfortable with the status quo left, then nothing would ever change. If all of the women (and men) who were uncomfortable with the gender inequality left, a woman may NEVER have prayed at general conference. Change happens because we stay and use our voices.

  4. I would be eager to learn about the scriptural changes in 2013, since I had no idea.

    So when a church can just change the Word of God, that's okay with you?

    Anyway, it's not the history that bothers me anymore. I have dealt with that, much the same way you have. What I cannot stomach is the state of the church now: Women are still second class citizens (and it's not just lack of Priesthood--it's how they are treated), women are taught body shame, they're still trying to tell us what underwear to buy, they accept gays but only if they remain celibate, sex before marriage is considered a sin so bad your life is practically ruined if you do it (I find this incredibly harmful), they want 10% of my gross income but won't tell me how they spend it, they say they have unpaid clergy but the GAs live in splendor, they won't let parents siblings and friends attend weddings unless they pay the temple tax....I'm running out of room. Please do give us an essay on each of these, lol.

  5. Am I okay with the church changing the Word of God? Well, since I don't really consider the scriptures to be the Word of God, yes. I'm okay with that. They didn't change any content. They changed the introductions to the Official Declarations, and I think they corrected some grammatical stuff. But even if they had changed content, I would be okay with that, too. I view the scriptures as a source of inspiration for good living and dealing with life's challenges. If someone were to "improve" that inspiration, I would be okay with that.

    I'm working on addressing every blasted issue I have and how I deal with it! Believe me, I have so much to say about all of this (ask Andrew, poor guy has to hear me carry on about it all the time--I started this blog to give him a break!). :)

  6. I have really appreciated your blog, your candor, your honesty and your hope. One thing that I have noticed that seems to set your blog apart from the myriad Mormon thought blogs out there is that you really seem to want to invite a civil discourse that is comfortable for so many degrees of believing. I love it! I think it mature and a breath of fresh air.

    Thanks for not so much creating a laundry list of complaints that may or may not be true based on one's personal perception ( I really don't feel oppressed as a woman in the church). Thanks instead for seeking the good, for being such a follower of Christ in your word and efforts. I think your blog shows this very well. I wish we could all be such humble followers and seekers of good.

    1. Wow, thank you so much! This is pretty much the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. :)