Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sad today

So the founder of Mormon Stories has been excommunicated.  This should be no surprise I suppose and its not as if I'm not very well familiar with how the rules and culture of the LDS church work.  But it makes me sad.  I'm not sad about it because I was a huge fan of listening to his podcasts.  Honestly, his podcasts are very long (3-5 hours per subject is not unusual) and I rarely have time for them.  I couldn't say I was a follower of him in any particular way, though I think he may have been more careful to be accurate in what he said than some other podcasts I did have time to listen to.  I live in the same town as he does, but we've never met.  It's sad because community is something horrible to lose.

Recently, the local Bishop stopped by to ask if we still didn't want any contact from the church.  The funny thing was we had never actually said that (we said we wanted no proselytizing contact, which is a very different request), and showing up at our door step uninvited while believing that we didn't want contact is kind of inherently rude.  As he left he said we would be welcome back.  And in a way I'm sure he meant it.  If we would be willing to never express any disagreement, be willing to look like everyone else, silently endure lessons and official church materials that presented often in an insulting and infuriating way, and be willing to be subjected to emotionally traumatic discipline whenever someone spread a rumor about us then sure we'd be welcome back.  These are the same people who told my wife that she couldn't conduct the music in Relief Society while wearing pants because she couldn't represent Jesus while wearing them.  Sure, we'd be welcome back in a sense.  If we openly discussed our opinions and explained why certain historical teachings were actually incorrect or didn't express the love of God appropriately we'd certainly be excommunicated as well.  Silence, except in private consultations with priesthood leaders who probably aren't interested or knowledgeable in the subjects at hand, is the price of admission if you have a problem.  That is unless you just get lucky and live somewhere the culture is different, then all bets are off.  As it was, I could hardly discuss basic biblical translation scholarship without scandalizing my home teacher.

Some parts of me miss having a "ward family."  There were times in my life the social support structure of the LDS church was very helpful and healthy for me.  There were times it was the only place outside of my family I could go and feel welcome and accepted.  As wonderful and as healthy as the social situation is in our new church, just like having a new child can never really replace one who has died gaining a new church family can't really replace one that fails to love or accept you.

So yes, some parts of me miss the emotional security that a healthy relationship with a ward can provide.  Some parts of me miss feeling like I fit in with one of the only social groups I remained attached to through out my whole life.  Caring enough about truth and love enough to leave wasn't without cost.  And its not as if going back would ever truly be an option.  I value the truth too much and I value the more expansive view of the Love of Christ that I can find outside of the LDS church too much to ever be willing to suffer in silence again.  If I wasn't silent, I would be treated like John Dehlin was treated.

That doesn't mean it doesn't still hurt.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Why? How?

I haven't put up much information about how I came to disbelieve in the LDS church doctrinally for several reasons.  These include
  1. I don't want to start any arguments with people.
  2. I don't want to inflict unnecessary pain on people.  Complicated church history and doctrinal stuff can really hurt sometimes.
  3. When religion is so core to identity, its nearly impossible to discuss it in a negative context without it feeling like an attack even if for all the world it isn't meant as on.
So I've focused on the social and emotional aspects of leaving the church, which are profound and healing to write about.  Unfortunately, this kind of silence on the doctrine has a price.  I   It makes it look like I'm fitting right into the traditional narrative that I left because I was offended by somebody.  And honestly there were people who were offensive.  Society is full of offensive people and sometimes it is an emotionally healthy thing to do to leave toxic situations behind.  But when I felt my salvation was on the line, I wasn't just about to leave because of a little social toxicity.  This is me, I'm used to dealing with socially toxic situations that I normally can't fix (unless I try hard and I'm lucky) and that I often simply have to endure for a while till they get better.  Its kind of part of my life story.  So I want to share just a little more of how I came to make the doctrinal decisions to leave.  This won't be a grand theological argument.  Just a narrative of how I came to think it was worth the sacrifice of much of my sense of security in my emotional, spiritual, and personal identity to take a deep dive into the complicated messy nature that makes up life to figure out if the church was true.  Not just the kind of "I know the stories and I feel good about it" true, but the of "I know a lot about it that can be documented in the historical records and I still believe it" true.

But the thing is, if you are just going to want to argue with me, I don't want you to read this.  If your going to feel so hurt by it that you'll feel a need to distance yourself from me, I don't want you to read this.  If you feel like your testimony in the LDS church is wavering and you want to know my story, well, if you value the pursuit of truth that much go ahead and read it.  If you just value my friendship and want to understand me better, by all means I beg you to.  I could go on for pages upon pages about all the life events that led to triggering my dying thirst to know more about the LDS church.  But I'll give you the short version. 

Growing up I also had access to this little program called LDS infobases that had a huge collection of religious materials in from theological and academic standpoints.  I just loved to browse through it and tangentially follow subjects that just occurred to me or just following the hyperlinks to whatever sounded fun.  In any case I once found information in it about the temple that I didn't know what to do with.  It talked about the law of consecration being still active via the temple covenants,  about the true order of prayer and what was so true about it, and about a supposed link between freemasonry and the temple focusing on some kind of supposedly common metaphor regarding some kind of rope or string or something being around one's neck.  I had no idea what any of that was talking about, but I figured I'd learn when I got to the temple.  Growing up I was taught a variety of things that weren't true about the temple.  These included:

  • That there were no such things as blood oaths in the temple except in the imaginations of anti-mormons.
  • That the temple covenants had never changed.
  • That the aspects of the temple ceremony other than the covenants had only changed to modernize the language.
These claims are indisputably not true.  They are historical absurdities.  The only one even close to disputable is if you just don't like using the term "blood oath" to describe a sacred ceremony but anybody who knows about the temple ceremony history knows exactly what is meant by that so its just a matter of preferred wording.

I also learned that the temple ceremonies gave a kind of literal access to heaven by the means of what I'll call heaven's login credentials.  Brigham Young is quoted today in Boyd K. Packer's temple preparation book describing them as key words, tokens and passwords if I recall the phrasing properly from the book.  I believed it literally, not figuratively.

Later I had a teacher at college who tried to claim that Joseph Smith was martyred as the result of an evil masonic plot for revenge (which is not true to the best of my knowledge) on Joseph Smith for publicized his intent to reveal some otherwise lost key word of masonry in the temple (which is close to true).  I had bumped into that subject in infobases as well, but only from someone writing that there was no substantive evidence masons had anything to do with Joseph's death.  Even if I didn't take this college teacher too seriously sometimes I still had never heard what the theory behind why the martyrdom might have been a masonic plot before since the writers in the infobase software apparently didn't think that was worth the time to cover.  Then again, the teacher in question was just a tad obsessed with Freemasons and literally believed a version of their mythology, so I let it slide as him being crazy.

When I went to the temple none of the stuff I had learned from LDS infobase about Masonry and the temple made any sense.  Where were even the roots of this supposedly disproved masonic connection?  I didn't recognize anything I experienced as having to do with the article.  It didn't bother me, just left me curious to figure out what everybody was talking about.

So eventually my wife and I started reading the Dialog Journal which was a wonderfully safe place to learn about the controversial issues in Mormonism from a scholarly rigorous place.  We were steadily becoming less orthodox but still true believing members.  But of all the questions I was curious about, dialogue journal wouldn't touch masonry and the temple with a 10 foot pole- more or less only stating that since both sets of ceremonies were held to be a forbidden subject by those who experienced them, little could be said about their connection beyond that it was significant and more significant than some apologists claimed.  I tried looking it up on FAIR- and their denials were so overwhelming as to be somewhat unbelievable.  I fully expected I'd find that the temple had some contemporary social influence in socially significant but eternally insignificant ways.  So a complete denial of substantive connection while admitting that the ceremonies were parallel enough to cause some people to claim the temple ceremonies were plagiarized from masonry just made me feel like FAIR wasn't dealing with evidence properly.  Nobody would talk about this subject in a detailed yet believable way.  Eventually, while reading the newspaper I read about some website whose author got in trouble with the church supposedly for talking about masonry and the temple.  It had never occurred to me to do a google search before.  So I found the Feminist Mormon Housewives and the Mormon Expression podcasts on the temple and masonry.  While they were very respectful in tone and content, they turned upside down most all of what I had believed about the temple.  I found profound connections between the temple and masonry that covered the central covenants, tokens, and keywords that I previously believed were directly given from heaven and some were secret even to the Devil himself because they were guarded by heaven so closely.  That's more or less what Joseph Smith is said to have taught anyways when I read the seven volume History of the Church set.  I found changes that weren't just language modernization.  I found that entire covenants and teachings had been added and removed over time.  I found that some of the covenants in the past were distinctly unchristlike and had sometimes led to tragic consequences.  In the early Utah era the connection between masonry and the temple was so obvious that it was talked about more or less openly, with some sources indicating that church leaders sometimes used the phrase "Celestial Masonry" to describe the temple.  I found that there was every reason to believe that Joseph Smith wasn't just trying to restore and change Christianity to a true and perfect state, he was also probably trying to restore and change freemasonry to a true state as part of a restoration of all things.  And there was a problem with that idea.  I had already dealt with the masonry obsessed college teacher and having researched the subject for myself a little decided that the masonry mythology wasn't true.  Not just fallen or some kind of apostate or derivative thing.  Just not true.  A fabrication, though a rich and satisfying one for modern people who aren't expected to believe it literally.  When it seemed that the only way I could believe in the temple the way I used to was to believe in some kind of warped version of the mythology of freemasonry, I couldn't believe in the temple in the same way anymore.  But you don't just stop having a literal belief in the temple and do it casually.  The temple is core to the LDS religious experience and I had always taken it very seriously.  My belief in the temple had been grounded in the teachings of LDS leaders from the top of the church to my local  leaders (some of whom were supposedly superb gospel scholars) and from the past all the way back to quotes from Brigham Young all the way to the present.  Shattering my trust in those people led me to no longer trust anything I had been taught about the church.  I started a desperate period of re examination and learning.  I tried out multiple theories for why the church could be true sort of despite everything.  I had to start reconstructing it all from scratch.  And the pieces simply didn't fit anymore.  It felt like I had two choices- abandon my attempt to make the LDS version of God the only one that could be real for me, or stop believing in God.  My relationship with God was stronger than my belief in the LDS church.

It was during this period of desperate faith reconstruction that the local Bishop started threatening us with church discipline over Bonnie Jean's clothing assuming that we were secret Ordain Women supporters.  You could say that in that period that I desperately wanted to believe the LDS church was true but that I was trying to figure out just how much or how little that might mean.  While sympathetic to Ordain Women's social justice concerns for the LDS church, we never found women's ordination to be a burning issue personally and we never formally or informally joined any group pursuing the matter.  The Wear Pants to Church day was something we supported in rejection of the threats of violence and spiritual intimidation against LDS feminists in general and that organizationally had nothing to do with female ordination even if there was overlap between the supporters.  It was a matter of intense personal irony to me that for all the questions and doubts that we had, we were attacked vigorously on something that was for us personally a very minor concern.  Once the local leaders had behaved so inexcusably threateningly towards us over what we looked like, we were certain never going to discuss any real concerns with them or with anybody who would report to them because they made it clear their only real interest in us was to find a reason to discipline us if they could.  Even if they had to stretch for it.  I never really felt emotionally safe in LDS church services since that time.  Which really was a tragedy since LDS church buildings had been one of the place I felt the most emotionally safe growing up.  Sometimes we don't feel emotionally safe around LDS people anymore either if we don't know them well- especially we've heard them speak negatively about non believers in the past.  I've even had coworkers openly criticize non believers or less believers around me without even realizing I'm one of the people they are being rude to.

Since the LDS church was still our people and our spiritual home, we tried to make it work for us sometime even after our belief fell completely apart.  In the end it just wasn't worth it.