Sunday, April 13, 2014

New Regime

Our bishop was released today and his first counselor got bumped up to bishop.  This is the same first counselor who I had an email exchange with several months ago about his disagreement with the way I taught a Sunday School lesson.  He's actually a very good man, very dedicated to serving, but I'm not sure if he'll treat me the same way our old bishop has.

Despite me agreeing to talk about my church issues with Bishop at some future point, after our initial discussion, he never brought it up with me again.  In the meantime, I've continued as 1st Counselor in the Relief Society presidency, I've taught a lesson, I've given a talk, and I've planned a dinner and service project for the night of Women's Meeting.

Also in the meantime, I've found it more and more difficult to sit through some parts of church.  I think the hardest part for me is when people praise Joseph Smith or talk about the inaccuracies they've been taught about church history.

Oh, and course the smackdown Ordain Women got at last week's General Conference.

I had a brief chat with Bishop today after the announcement that he was released.  I gave him a big hug.  He asked me about the conversation we had awhile ago, and whether I wanted him to tell the new bishop, or if I would rather he not mention it.  He pointed out that new bishop would realize soon enough that I don't have a temple recommend. I thought about it for a second and told him that he could go ahead and tell new bishop.  Then it would be up to him if he wanted to do anything about it.  I'm still willing to serve.

At that, Bishop got a little teary-eyed and took my arm and said, "You're really needed."

As husband said to me on the drive home, "Beggars can't be choosers."  Haha.

We really are in the unique situation of being understaffed with a lot of need (well, unique if you're in Utah or anywhere out West).  Bishop and his wife were called from outside the ward so now they're leaving, and she was serving in the YW presidency.  We have 2 families that do a lot of work moving out of the ward in a couple of months with no immediate replacements in sight.  And the ward mission leader just got made 2nd counselor in the bishopric, so we need another one of those too.

Still, new bishop is very by the book (and young.  I believe he's just 30)  I could see him basically insisting that if I can't get a recommend, then I can't be in the Relief Society presidency.

At which point, I won't be serving anymore, which is why I'm still going,

I found myself today looking around the ward, wishing in a way that I could just believe.  It would make things simple.  Right now I feel like I'm in a strange limbo.  Not fully part of the ward, but not ready to leave yet.

But if I'm released, I won't really have much reason to show up every Sunday anymore.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Yesterday I had lunch with a Jewish friend of mine and as we discussed researching our own genealogies, she asked me about Holocaust victims having work done in the Mormon temple.  She was trying to be diplomatic about it, and I think I helped the conversation when I said, "As someone probably on her way out of the Mormon church, I can tell you I think it was really offensive." 

She pointed out to me that in the couple of years we've known each other I've never said that I was "on my way out."  I've talked with her a few times about my issues with the Church, in an explanatory fashion, because I've never been a typical Mormon and she personally has a couple of reasons to be offended by things the institutional Church has done.

She said, "You've never said it like that before.  And I'm sorry, my friend."

Because she recognized that it is a loss, and it is sad, even though it's also freeing and positive.  That meant a lot to me.

We continued to talk about the Holocaust victims issue and before I could say it, she said, "On the one hand, I am upset by it.  On the other hand, if you think that you're saving people, I can understand why they would do it."

First of all, how charitable of her to recognize that the motivations behind that incident may not have been solely based in pride, but also in love for what Mormons see as their spiritual brothers and sisters.

This is also my perspective of Mormons in general.  I think there are motivations at the institutional level that may not be as pure, but I think in most wards, when they talk about and push missionary work, they're talking about saving souls.  One of the reasons I am reticent to be up front with too many people about how I feel about the Church is because ultimately I know it will make them sad, and wonder what they could have done.

To which I would want to say, Really, everyone, I'm fine.  I promise.

Which is why I'm mostly quiet about it.  Maybe my comfort with being quiet and being affiliated with the Church will change, but for now, I'm okay with serving and not making a big deal about how I feel.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Like A Weight Lifted

I have experienced an unexpected side effect since talking with my bishop last week.  The lifting of guilt.  I didn't even realize how much guilt I carried until I set it down last week and walked away.  Guilt over having a cup of coffee sometimes, guilt over not wearing my g's, guilt over feeling like a hypocrite.

For the last while, probably for 2 or 3 years, I've been wrestling with the Church's place in my life.  While I struggled and questioned and wondered, I put on a happy face at church, taught lessons, held callings, and no one would have guessed that I had any issues at all simmering just beneath the surface.  The cognitive dissonance was painful and overwhelming at times.  My brain hurt trying to reconcile each new fact I learned about Church history, or how I felt as a woman in the Church, or how much I hated the Church's political opposition to gay marriage.

Last week, I admitted out loud that I just don't believe in Joseph Smith and the Restoration to someone besides my husband and my former Mormon friends, and I finally felt like I was being authentic.  Granted, no one else in the ward knows, but I don't really feel the need to proclaim my beliefs (or lack thereof) to everyone.  I can continue to serve and be friendly with people and it doesn't matter what goes on inside my head.  What does matter is that I don't feel that pressure anymore to conform to some rules that I don't think are necessary.

I feel like I'm giving someone the perfect ammunition for saying, See! She just wanted to sin!  But that's not it.  It's not that I wanted to break the rules, it's that the rules didn't make sense for me anymore when they were made up by someone or something that I don't believe has any real authority over my life.

I was just reading in one of the Mormon feminist Facebook groups as someone railed against another asinine Church policy that won't allow adult men and women to be alone together, and I realized how I suddenly don't feel as invested in the fight.  Yeah, I will comment about how stupid it is, and roll my eyes, but it's not causing me pain anymore.  I don't have to cringe and wonder how to place this stupid thing on my shelf and make excuses in my head for why it makes sense because these rules come from the highest level of the Church so there must be a reason.  Instead, I observe and I move on, because I don't feel like I have to defend the Church anymore.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Meeting with Bishop

Last night I met with my bishop and gave him a run down of where I am with regard to the Church.  I knew this conversation was coming.  My temple recommend expired at the end of October and since then his counselors have each tried to meet with me to do their part of the interview.  What should have been a simple thing for them to check off their list was complicated when I told them that I needed to talk to Bishop.  Bishop told me he would set aside some time to talk with me, and yesterday he emailed me to see if I could meet last night.  Might as well get it over with.

Our Bishop has been in place for about 7 years, so he's been our Bishop for the entire 6 years we've lived here.  I worked really closely with him when I was the Young Women's President for 3 years.  He's a very good man who cares so much about our ward, which has a lot of struggles.  I knew he would be kind in our discussion, but I didn't know what the end result would be.  Like I said, our ward struggles and we barely have people to staff the leadership callings.  Would I no longer be the 1st Counselor in Relief Society despite the need?  That seemed likely.

We wound up having a good conversation and I left feeling relieved that I had finally done it.  I got a bit emotional at times.  I didn't go into a lot of detail, but I gave a brief list of some of my issues.  When we first sat down he asked me what was going on and I told him I've been having issues with the Church for a couple of years and it's to the point where I don't feel I can answer a couple of the temple recommend questions the way they're supposed to be answered.  He asked if it was about gay marriage and I said that was part of it.  I said, "I'm having issues with gay marriage, with some of the historical issues of the Church, with the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, and with women's place in the Church."  (Despite both of them being politically conservative, I know that women's issues in the Church really chafe the Bishop's wife, so that at least isn't anything he hasn't heard before.)

I told him, I'm sure it's all things you've heard before..., and he responded, I don't know if I've heard ALL of it.  I said that I think generally the Church does a lot of good, the people are good, and I love our ward and the opportunities I've had to serve.  But there are these problems. 

Interestingly, he told me that he thought I was coming in to talk with him about gay marriage.  I said, "I wish that was all it was.  If it was, I'm sure I could tuck that away on my shelf and go along with things.  The problem is, it's everything on top of everything.  It's the historical problems, it's the political problems, it's everything."

He had obviously prepped for the gay marriage discussion, however.  About a year ago, Elder Ballard came to our region and had a meeting with all of the Bishops in the area.  My Bishop took copious notes and every so often when he feels it's appropriate he'll share some of what Ballard taught in Ward Council or in Sacrament Meeting.  Last night he told me that in that meeting someone asked Ballard about gay marriage.  Ballard responded that unlike blacks in the Priesthood, marriage between a man and a woman is our theology and will never change.

(I didn't mention the many, MANY prophets and apostles who taught in the past that it is our theology that blacks not have the Priesthood...)

Then he pulled out a copy of the Family Proclamation, folded it up, put it in an envelope and gave it to me to read.  I assured him that I have read it many times.  He emphasized the "this is our theology" line again.

I was reflecting on this after the fact and it occurred to me how I am so far beyond the point where quoting a General Authority at me will make me jump back in line.  GA's don't have the authority they once did for me.  I honestly think overall they're good men, doing what they think is right, but to me they're just that - men doing what they think is right.  And I don't happen to agree with them on a lot of issues.

Bishop tried to convince me that the issues I'm concerned about are just the small things that don't really matter in the big picture.  I don't think he really understood that my issues are with the foundation of the Church itself.  When you doubt Joseph Smith, the Restoration, and the Book of Mormon as fact, where does that leave you in Mormonism?

We had a discussion specifically about the temple recommend interview and he said as far as he's concerned, it's really only the first 2 questions that matter.  Do you believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost?  Yes to that means you're on par with most Christians.  I said yes to that one.  The second question is about believing in the Restoration through Joseph Smith.  He said, If you've got those two, you're fine as far as I'm concerned.  I said, Yeah, I don't think I can say yes to the second question anymore.

We talked a little about Joseph Smith and he sort of backed off from the idea of the First Vision as correlated and said something like, "As long as you believe Joseph Smith had an experience, a vision, an experience of some sort, no matter what other weird things he did later in life."  Yeah, I can't even give him that.  I don't know what happened to Joseph Smith, but I definitely don't think the beginnings of the Church, and the inspiration for the Church, are as clear cut as we think. 

Bishop's biggest arguments about why the Church is true are its amazing growth and the fact that it works as well as it does.  He said something about how the Church is growing and I couldn't let that pass.  I said, "Is it?"  He said, "Well, when I joined 40 years ago there were, what, 2 or 3 million.  Now there's..."  I supplied, "15 million."  He said, "Right."  To which I said, "Yes, but that's who has been baptized.  It's not taking into account how many are actually active."  He said that was true.  I said that's still an extremely small percentage of the world's population.

To him the sheer numbers of people who believe that this is the One True Church is a strong argument.  I replied, Yes, but there are lots of people in other religions who are also extremely dedicated to their faith and believe it's true.

The ultimate argument for him is that the Church works so well, provides for so many through the welfare system, and is based mostly on volunteer service.  The fact that so many are willing to volunteer their time to the Church is a miracle to him.  Several times he reiterated his point about the Church working so well and still existing.  At one point he asked, "How did the Church last so long if it's not true?"  I said (yes, I actually said this), "Well, early on they isolated themselves and were in a situation where you either go along with everyone, or you're an outcast and you don't survive."  (Husband pointed out when I was discussing with him later, "How did other groups founded around the same time survive?  Like the Seventh Day Adventists?")

What I didn't say, but thought, is that there are lots of huge corporations in the world that work very well (or, at least on par with the Church.  I don't know if the Church works "very well".  Different discussion.) and manage in a bureaucratic fashion a huge workforce.  The difference, of course, being that we don't get paid.  But it's amazing how well guilt and indoctrination and loyalty will work to inspire people to do what they're told.

I told him that when we were in Utah for Christmas, I thought a couple of times about how much more simple it would be if I could just believe, if I could just go back to thinking it was true.  Part of me wishes I could turn my brain off, but I can't.  There are some really beautiful ideas in Mormon theology, and part of me wishes I could just proceed with the status quo.

The meeting ended with him saying that he hopes I'll still come, to which I said of course, and that he hopes I'll still serve, to which I said, that's up to you.  I'm happy to keep my callings if he wants me.  He said he does.  Maybe once he reflects on that a bit, he won't want someone who doesn't believe to be the 1st Counselor in the Relief Society Presidency, but we'll see.  Like I said, he was prepped for a gay marriage discussion, not an "I'm pretty sure I don't believe in Joseph Smith" discussion.

He said a very nice prayer, asking for me to have peace and to find my path (which I know means he hopes I'll see the light re: the Church, but his phrasing was very generous and non-specific).  Then he gave me a hug and asked if it would be okay to have future discussions with me.  I said that's fine.

I felt kind of sad last night when I thought about not going to the temple again.  For all of its problems, the temple is a place where I have felt peace.  I worked in the temple for 2 years at a time when I was really struggling in other areas of my life.  School was going terribly, and I had been unceremoniously dumped by my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years.  The temple was a refuge for me at that time.  The endowment has been giving me more and more angst over the last couple of years, but I will always love initiatories, where women administer to women.

Surprisingly, my husband seemed a little sad as I told him how the meeting went.  I thought it went about the best it could and afterward I felt some relief at finally being out in the open, at least to Bishop.  Husband kept telling me he was proud of me, but it was tinged with sadness.  His family heritage is very Mormon.  Old school, polygamous Mormon pioneers.  If we were to ever leave the Church outright, it would be a huge stumbling block in our relationship with his family.  He's a cultural Mormon much more than I am, despite his liberal politics and ability to see the institutional Church with perfectly clear eyes.  I am a little distressed that I made him sad, but I'm glad I was so open with Bishop. 

I know that less understanding men might have immediately released me from my callings and labeled me as "trouble."  Bishop just requested that I not preach my doubts and I said he doesn't need to worry about that.  As I said to him, I have no desire to disrupt other people's happiness.  I don't feel the need to be evangelical about the things I have learned.  I'm more concerned with just coming to some sort of peace within myself.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Separate, But Equal

Now there's a loaded phrase, especially in the United States, fraught with hundreds of years of racial baggage.

I find myself using it a lot lately as I think about how it feels to be a woman in the Mormon Church.  My sister-in-law sent me Neylan McBaine's post about moderation that she wrote for Feminist Mormon Housewives.  My SIL told me it resonated with her, and that she really related to this more moderate way of thinking, which I completely understand.

I read through the post quickly yesterday, and I admit that this is not a thorough analysis, but rather my own initial reaction.  Neylan McBaine talks about sisterhood in beautiful ways, and her ideas of moderation do appeal to a part of me, but I am torn.  She makes so many good points in her writing, but I find myself thinking, "Yes, but...." when I read her words. 

Husband thinks it's dumb that we divide things by gender in the Church.  I actually really enjoy time with the sisters.  Relief Society was always one of the best parts of my singles wards.  I think having a space where Young Women can feel safe to share, without the tension of lots of male and female teenagers' hormones piled together, is a good thing. 
But right now I feel like there's a serious structural problem in the Church, based on the patriarchy.  When talks like "LDS Women Are Incredible" can still happen in 2011, and be considered an acceptable way to speak about over half of the membership of the Church, there's a problem.  I worry that if we keep things separate, if we create a very strong Relief Society, and bestow Priestesshood upon all women, it still won't be seen as equal.  Priestesshood will have lesser meaning than Priesthood and will still be subsumed somehow.  Women will lead the Relief Society, but men will still lead the Church.  I think men and women should lead the Church.
I would be thrilled to see a strong Relief Society, more in line with its original purpose.  A kingdom of priests like it was supposed to be.  A woman presiding at the head, through her Priestesshood.  That is a lovely vision.
I think Neylan McBaine's moderation is a good place to start. However, I fear that because of how the Church is now, settling for anything less than total equality in standing for women will doom us to a future of perpetual second-class status.  That's the problem with separate, but equal, versus just plain equal.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Legitimate Reasons

Before I was released as Young Women's President, sometimes I worried that saying I was having a faith crisis and feeling disaffected from the Church was just a cop out on my part.  Like maybe the real reason I was pouring over the inconsistencies of Church history, or studying the problems with scripture historicity, or fretting about women's roles and the Church's involvement with political movements, was because I was so worn out driving Young Women and planning activities that I was just looking for any excuse to get out.

Well, I can safely say that's not the case.  I haven't been Young Women's President for about 5 months, yet my issues with the Church remain.  I kind of figured, but it's nice to know for sure that I wasn't just looking for an excuse.

Because in reality, being with the Young Women energized me.  I might have dragged my feet sometimes to get out the door to go lead a Wednesday night activity, but I always noticed that at some point in the middle of the activity, as I was giggling along with the girls about something silly, I felt happy to be there, and revived by their spirits.  It wasn't always hearts and flowers, but I loved those girls a lot (still do) and thrived on their energy.

And I'm still looking for ways to serve them.  Last night, one of the girls came over to get SAT math tutoring from Husband.  While they worked on math problems, I started making her a grid of all of the colleges she wants to apply to and the pieces that we need to pull together for those applications so that we can keep track of everything.  Her mom is from Peru and doesn't speak English and wouldn't know where to start with trying to get her daughter into college, as much as that's exactly what she wants for her.  So we're here to step in and help. 

I'm planning care packages to send to my YW at BYU and her sister who is on a mission.

So, yeah, as worn out as my ward can make me, and as ready as I was to be released as Young Women's President, that's not anywhere near the heart of my crisis with the Church as an Institution.  I still want to serve, and I'm excited about the new opportunities I'll get as a member of the Relief Society Presidency (even if sometimes I might get tired and complainy).  I have seen truly Christ-like service occur in our ward.  I'm just a little skeptical of the motivations of the institutional Church.

Monday, September 9, 2013

New Calling

I feel like I just got called to be Gospel Doctrine teacher.  Oh wait, I did (just a few months ago).  I think Bishop ranks Sunday School teacher right above, maybe, Greeter, in importance in callings.  He seems to think it's not a hard calling at all, and it always gets easily pushed aside when he thinks someone should be in a more important (on his scale) calling.

So yesterday I got called to be the Relief Society 1st Counselor, which apparently in our ward is the counselor over Enrichment, which...I don't even know what that means.  It used to be Homemaking and now it's Enrichment, but I don't think regular Enrichment activities happen anymore, right?  Being in Primary for 2 years and YW for 4 years means I no longer have any idea how Relief Society works.

(I told Bishop that over 10 years ago I was the Homemaking counselor in my university ward to which he said, "Pssh, you're not that old."  Thanks, Bishop.  Actually, I got called to be Homemaking counselor 16 years ago, so the moral of the story is, I'm old.)

I'm meeting with the RS President tomorrow night to discuss what it is I'm supposed to do.  Against my unofficial Calling Difficulty Gauge, with YW President as a 10 and 27th member of the Welcoming Committee as a 1 (my last calling in my giant YSA ward), I expect this to fall around a 4 or so.  I rank being the sole Gospel Doctrine teacher as a 6, possibly a 7 during this year of Doctrine and Covenants.

So I said yes.  Later I asked Husband if I was being a hypocrite given my issues with the Church and he said he didn't think so.  My ex-Mo friend who is very supportive of wherever I happen to be at the moment, articulated it better when she texted me that as far as issues go, RS Counselor is pretty good because it's mostly helping and planning, right?

True.  Teaching Gospel Doctrine has been tricky, particularly this year.  If we had been studying the New Testament, no problem!  But I got thrown into D&C, and having to wrestle with Joseph Smith and now Brigham Young and all of the issues there, without being a complete hypocrite to my class and lying through my teeth every week has been a challenge.  As much as I dreaded this calling, it's actually wound up being a really good period of learning for me as I try to figure out how I feel about things.  I actually gained a little respect for Brigham Young this week.  As much of a misogynistic tyrant as he was, the man had organization skillz!

But helping and planning?  That I can do!  The whole helping and service aspect of the Church is one of the major things that keeps me there.  Yeah, I get annoyed when I feel taken advantage of, but I love genuinely being able to help someone with something they need.  For instance, one of the YW is coming over this week to get SAT help from me and Husband.  Something like that, where you feel like it matters and isn't just bureaucratic busywork, that's good stuff!

Bishop said to me yesterday to think about what I wanted to do about my Gospel Doctrine calling.  I know he wants me to keep teaching through the end of the year, because in our ward a new calling doesn't necessarily mean you get released from your old calling.   Also, for some reason, Bishop doesn't think being the sole Sunday School teacher is a hard calling.  I mean, it's not hard, but it is time-consuming.  I spend several hours every week preparing my lesson, and I teach EVERY week, and if I'm not going to be there, which I'm usually not at least one Sunday a month, I have to try to track down a sub, which can be quite a feat.  Whenever I tell anyone rational that I'm the only teacher, they think that's insane.  Don't know why Bishop doesn't see that.

So for the moment, I have 3 callings (I'm also Sacrament Meeting chorister.  That might be a 0 on the Difficulty Gauge...)  I think I'm going to tell Bishop I'll teach through the end of the year, but only part-time, meaning, get me a co-teacher, stat!  He may just decide if he's going to call a co-teacher, he might as well just call a new teacher and be done with it, so we'll see.