Monday, March 28, 2016


Why I left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints



I have wanted to document for some time the process and experiences that led me out of the LDS church, but have been reluctant to do so publicly for concern over how it would be interpreted by the people I care about. When it comes to belief and disagreement, too often it involves pain and insult, and while my intent is not to cause pain or insult, it is, unfortunately, unavoidable because people equate beliefs with identity, and my disagreement becomes an attack on intelligence and character. For those who may internalize my decisions and interpret them as a personal attack, I’m sorry that your interpretation makes you feel that way. I make no apology, however, for the decisions I have made or where they have led me.  I am sharing my story now and making myself vulnerable with the hope that in spite of the insult and pain it might invoke for some, for others it might be inspirational and foster understanding or be the catalyst for conversation that will improve the quality of a relationship.



PROLOGUE

I was born and raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have pioneer heritage - Danish-born ancestors who converted and made their way to Salt Lake City in the ill-fated Willie and Martin handcart companies. My grandfather grew up alongside Boyd Packer and Russell Nelson and served as a General Authority in the Second Quorum of the Seventies, as well as the president of the St. George Temple. My mother served in the Uruguay/Paraguay mission, and my father served a mission in Germany. My parents met at Brigham Young University and were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. My mother was a stay-at-home domestic super-mom who devoted all of her spare time to the study of Mormon doctrine. My father was a successful businessman who travelled extensively and served as Young Men’s President, first and second counselor in different bishoprics, as Bishop, and ultimately as a counselor in a Stake Presidency. My family was what I refer to as competitively LDS. We were in it to win it.



We had morning scripture study before school, Family Home Evening lessons every Monday night, never missed a meeting on Sunday, were diligent fasters, paid generous tithes and fast offerings, had family prayer every morning, and frequented the temple. When I was five years old, I was diagnosed with late-stage, malignant cancer of my kidney. For a couple of years, I went through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. I recall receiving many priesthood blessings at this time. In spite of my grim prognosis, I did make a full recovery, and this experience shaped the way I felt about my life. I saw my life as a miracle, and I was told as much by the adults around me.  God had saved me for a special purpose.  I was given much, and much would be required of me. I think that perspective put a bit more pressure on me as far as how seriously I took my devotion. I knew that I would be a leader, serve a mission, and be a stellar Mormon housewife/mother.  I took every opportunity I could to testify of my faith to my non-member friends, I gave out Books of Mormon, I bore my testimony on fast Sundays from the pulpit, I never had a sip of alcohol, tried not to swear, never had sex before I was married, graduated from seminary, went to school at BYU, and served a mission at Winter Quarters in Omaha, Nebraska. I came home from my mission, got married in the temple, and got pregnant eight months later. I was winning. Nothing was going to stop me.  Celestial Kingdom or bust.



MICHIGAN

In the spring of 2009 we moved to Detroit when my husband had a job as a First Officer for Mesaba Airlines flying commercially out of Detroit Metro Airport. We found a townhouse to rent with our two children, ages 3 and 1, that was located in a ward full of medical students whose wives were similarly abandoned by their career-occupied counterparts and kept busy taking care of the kids and serving in the ward. There was a great deal of camaraderie amongst these women. I could also sense an undercurrent of competition as far as church and image were concerned. It was extremely hard for me to let my guard down in that crowd. I fault myself for that. I care too much about what other people think. It made it that much harder for me when events in my life did not go according to my plan. My husband was furloughed from Mesaba Airlines a few months after we moved to Detroit. We were left with no job at the peak of the recession in a city experiencing the worst economic crisis in the country. We went on welfare. We prayed, fasted, and went to the temple. We paid tithing on our welfare money. We met with the Bishop.  I became pregnant with our third child. My husband was depressed. He started taking resumes to random businesses all over town. Eventually, he landed a job at Discount Tire. We felt like it was an answer to prayer. I felt like our time of unemployment was a test of faith, but that God was going to take care of us as long as we stayed faithful and kept the commandments.



 My husband enjoyed working for Discount Tire, and he advanced quickly to the point where we considered making it a career and giving up his dream of being a pilot. We considered making Detroit our permanent home. Around this time, one night in conversation with my husband, me with my pregnant belly and unpredictable mood swings, he admitted to me that he had occasionally looked at pornography and masturbated throughout our then seven-year marriage. This is where my story takes a turn.



 I have learned that it is hard for people who do not have an LDS background to understand what degree of devastation this news brought on me. My head and gut were swirling with dread, anger, fear, shame, guilt, embarrassment, anxiety, loneliness, and grief. I felt ugly, and my self-image plummeted.  I made no attempt to ask my husband why or what questions. It’s not part of the scripted dialogue that I had learned. I had been programmed and conditioned to react to pornography as a death sentence to a marriage. I could not look at my husband as patriarchal material any longer. He had violated his role and was threatening my chances of making it to the Celestial Kingdom with my family. He became my enemy,  my project, and my burden.



I shared my predicament at this time only with my mother and my mother-in-law. I couldn’t talk to any of my friends in Michigan about it because it would have shattered my self-inflicted fragile image of Mormon perfection. So I lived in my own private hell. My husband’s attitude was one of remorse - for the act, and for the pain that it had caused me. He made clear to me that he would submit to whatever I felt would be best to treat him for his problem. My mother-in-law is close friends with an LDS therapist, and she sent us materials from LDS family services on pornography addiction, as well as a number of recommended books. We started reading these together at night. It was torture. They were all more or less put a picture of Jesus on your computer- type suggestions, along with stricter obedience to the commandments, i.e., read more scriptures, spend more time on your knees.  My husband was only going through the motions to satisfy me, and I felt completely burdened. I felt like it was totally unfair that I had to physically care for two small children, as well as the one growing inside of me, AND take responsibility for the eternal welfare of my husband. I contemplated leaving him and felt myself leaning in that direction. I felt like I could find someone better who could be more of a helpmeet, and a pornography addiction is a completely valid reason for splitting up. Mormonism had taught me that pornography is an epidemic, and if you are married to an addict, no one will judge you if you abandon your eternal temple marriage and find someone who is more worthy of your virtue. That was the message I had taken home, anyway.



I asked my husband to make an appointment to see our bishop so that he could confess, repent, and if necessary, lose his temple recommend for a time until he could be fully forgiven. We found someone to watch our kids and went over to the church on a weeknight to meet with the bishop. He shook our hands, took my husband into his office, closed the door behind the two of them, and left me sitting out in the hallway on a chair. They talked, and I waited outside, for about 30 minutes or so. The door opened, they had tear-stained cheeks, I watched them hug, and then we left. I have trouble recalling a time in my life when I have felt so ignored and frustrated. My husband told me that the bishop had given him a blessing and promised him that he would overcome his addiction. The bishop did not see any reason to take away my husband’s temple recommend, which irked me in a way, because wasn’t this a serious sin? I had been taught that this was a home wrecker, a heinous, vile, repulsive sin of the worst kind, and the bishop was going to just brush it under the rug? Isn’t it “second only to murder?” And, what about me? No one offered me a blessing or gave me any advice whatsoever. If there was any advice to be given to me, it was to forgive my husband and be more supportive. It was my problem, not his.  Nothing was resolved, but the bishop’s blessing did give me some comfort that my husband could still someday be Celestial material. I told myself that maybe it was necessary for him to have this experience so that when he overcame it, he would be better at counseling the other men who would come to him for help. I was also relieved, in a way, that he had been furloughed from the airlines and was home every night where I could monitor computer activity as opposed to being in a hotel room by himself where I wouldn’t have a clue what he was doing. I wondered if maybe getting furloughed from the airline industry and finding a job with Discount Tire was some kind of tender mercy from Heavenly Father.



Then, in 2010, a couple of months after I had given birth to our third child, Mesaba Airlines, which was now a part of Pinnacle Airlines, called back their furloughed pilots. Since his initial reveal my husband had not looked at any pornography, and this prospect of his going back to flying and being away and vulnerable to temptation gave me massive anxiety. Of course, he wanted to fly. It was his dream career, and we had practically mortgaged our souls to get him trained and in the door of the industry.



We had a decision to make - either stay with Discount Tire, make Michigan our home, continue pursuing the Mormon dream, and maintain a porn-free household, or my husband would fly again and risk pornography coming back into our lives and ruining our family for eternity. I put an ultimatum on my husband. He would fly again, but if he looked at pornography while he was away and demonstrated his weakness and inability to resist temptation, he had to quit and find another career, or I would find a new husband. So he went back into the air, and I waited with dread for the day when he would come to me and admit that he had screwed up again.



MY SISTER:

I have an older sister, who I am close to and whom I love. While I was living in Michigan, she was living in Tennessee with her husband and four children. We talked regularly on the phone. She and her husband were also living the Mormon dream. They were devoted members of their ward, serving in every calling they were asked to serve in, engaged in missionary work, and frequently going to the temple. In October 2010, Julie Beck was serving as the Relief Society General President of the LDS Church, and she gave a talk in General Conference that encouraged women to learn about the history of the Relief Society. At the time, my sister was serving as a Relief Society teacher in her ward. She was asked, in response to Julie Beck’s talk, to teach a lesson on the history of the Relief Society. My sister researched the Relief Society (using “safe” sources, i.e., FAIR and FARMS) and found that in the early days of the church, women were ordained, giving blessings to each other, and were much more intimately involved in the organizational and leadership aspects of the church. She was excited, and she expressed that excitement in her lesson. She told me about her lesson and the exciting things she was learning about, and she sent me a copy to read over, which I will attach. I was excited too. It was awesome to think that women were so involved in the early days of the church, and to wonder if maybe it would be like that again at some point in the church’s future. She gave her lesson.



She was released shortly thereafter. It was a total slap in the face. The women in her ward were offended at the very mention of women holding any kind of authority or having the slightest shred of autonomy in the church, regardless of whether or not it was historically accurate. This was pre Ordain Women era. People had not even begun to have the conversation on women and the priesthood. I remember my sister expressing her frustration with her ward’s reaction to her lesson. She had not taught anything that was not from church-approved sources. She was simply telling stories that none of the women in her ward had ever heard, and they found it threatening.  It was an optimistic lesson, with an amazing vision for women in the church. Read it for yourself. It was amazing. In any case, it was not received well, and my sister was let go. I was frustrated too. My sister started to look for more on the Internet in the way of the church and its early history; I think initially to sort of vindicate herself. At first it was from the site Feminist Mormon Housewives, and from there she found Mormonstories.org. She became obsessed with learning more about the history of the church. She is a voracious reader, and she started reading “Rough Stone Rolling,” learning things about Joseph Smith that we had never heard of in all of our years of study, seminary, and church attendance. She shared the things that she was learning with me.  She started to question, and I started to worry about her.



THE ULTIMATIUM

While I worried about my sister in Tennessee, my husband was back flying for Pinnacle, often gone on a trip when Sunday rolled around, leaving me to get my three small kids dressed and ready for church on my own. I was serving in the ward as a counselor in the Primary Presidency. And, still trying to live the life of a good Mormon, I got pregnant with my fourth baby. I was still talking to my sister in Tennessee fairly frequently, and she was slowly transitioning out of the church. I was extremely worried about her. My mom was worried too, and the two of us decided to take an approach of listening and loving her back into the church. I felt confident that there was nothing that she could say that would sway my faith, and that if I offered her a sounding board to express her frustrations, she would come back.



 And then it happened. That day I had long been dreading arrived. I was talking with my husband one night, and he dropped the bomb….he had done it again. He had looked at pornography on one of his trips. The kids were asleep. I got up, walked downstairs, and screamed. I don’t even know where the sound came from. It was involuntary. I had a full-blown panic attack. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I might die. I didn’t say anything to my husband that night. He left on a trip early the next morning. I had to decide if I was going to make good on my ultimatum and make him quit flying or cut my losses and move on. I thought about taking the kids and catching a flight back to Utah while my husband was on his trip, so that we wouldn’t be there when he got back. I was so emotionally tortured. It was hell. I called my mom and confided in her what was happening. She had just talked to my sister in Tennessee about a podcast on Mormonstories.org that discussed pornography, sex, and masturbation, and she suggested that maybe I listen to it just in case it had something to offer that I hadn’t thought about before. I was ready to try anything. So I listened. It changed my life.



This particular podcast features a panel of three people discussing the topics of sex, pornography, and masturbation both from a Mormon and a secular perspective in a very logical, frank, and almost a humanistic kind of way. There was no shame, no guilt, no warnings, or threats in their dialogue, just examination and discussion.  In the process of listening to these people discuss these issues, I realized that my approach had been completely and utterly destructive and wrong. I called my husband. I told him that I wanted him to listen to this podcast, and we would talk when he got home. I was worried that he might respond to it like he had to the other materials we had been sent, that he would give me the big-eyed sorry puppy look but be unwilling to change, and that our conversation would be more of the same, “I’m so sorry, I don’t know why I do this. I’ll never do it again. I’ll do anything you want me to do to change, just name the punishment.” It wasn’t.



When my husband came back from his trip, we sat down together and had what I would go as far as to call our first real conversation. I let go of the feelings of hurt and betrayal, I didn’t use shame as a tool to invoke guilt, I let go of my fear, and for the first time I asked simply, “why?,” and I let my husband talk. I listened. For the first time, he was able to open up about it without feeling shame or guilt, and instead of empty apologies, we faced the issue head on and discussed it from every angle that we could think of. I realized that in all of the times his viewing of pornography was brought up in conversation, I had never once asked him how often he had looked or what he was looking at. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought to find out how big of a problem it actually was. I was conditioned to think that any viewing of pornography constituted addiction, which now is absurd to me. This post-podcast conversation was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It saved our marriage. I think that the podcast gave us the tools that we had been in desperate need of to be able to communicate about pornography. It took the fear out of pornography and made it a human experience, one that can be analyzed and discussed. I will be forever grateful for that podcast and how it gave me hope when I was despairing. I took back my ultimatum, and my husband and I came up with a new approach. I decided I was through setting up tests that were likely to fail. I wanted complete honesty in our relationship. I was not okay with pornography being a part of it, that was clear, but if and when it did happen while he was away, I wanted full disclosure including an in-depth examination of what led to the act, what the triggers might be, what emotions were felt during and after, and an honest discussion of whether or not it was worth it. I felt that removing shame and guilt from the equation, and making it not a guilty pleasure, but more of a mindful pornography exercise, would be a much healthier way of making progress with this issue.



MY EYES WERE OPENED

 Things started to get better and better between me and my husband. I stopped viewing him as my project, and I stopped feeling responsible for keeping him from looking at pornography. I was confident that he would be honest with me when it happened, and that if we could pick apart the experience and identify triggers and eliminate the shame, the problem would resolve itself. 



I had been so leery of the podcasts that my sister had been listening to. I was willing and wanting to listen to whatever she had to tell me in conversation, but I could dismiss it fairly easily because I wasn’t familiar with the materials she was referencing, and I wasn’t about to waste my time verifying whether or not it was true by exposing myself to anti-Mormon sites and literature.



I felt differently after I had listened to the podcast from Mormonstories.org, though. It was such a radically positive experience for me and for my husband, I had to believe that the podcasts were safe, and that I should listen to more of them in case they turned out to have more positive repercussions on the way I was viewing/living my life. I hoped as well that it would help me relate more to my sister as she expressed her concerns to me. So I listened. Every morning I would walk on the treadmill in our basement and listen to another podcast while my babies played around me with their toys. I learned about peep stones, treasure hunting, multiple accounts of the first vision, the lack of geological evidence to support the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, and the awful truth of polygamy. I had served my mission at Winter Quarters. I had given tour after tour around the visitor’s center where I had explained to so many people that, “the only reason polygamy was practiced was because there were so many Mormon men killed, there was an excess of women who needed to be cared for, so the Lord allowed it for a brief period of time to benefit the widows in need.” That was the extent of my knowledge and my rationalization. I had never heard of polyandry. I did not even know that Joseph Smith had practiced polygamy. I had believed that Emma was his one and only. And this is when I started to feel angry. The more I learned about Emma Smith’s frustrations with her husband hooking up with a new woman behind her back every time she turned around, the angrier I became. I felt a cynical sense of relief that my husband was only involved with digital women. A thought started to develop in my mind that to this day makes me well up with anger. The thought was this, “Why were we, as members, being asked to turn a blind eye towards the “mistakes” of the brethren in the early church when we were holding our own men to unhealthy standards of perfection and then falling apart when they didn’t meet those standards?”



I was raised to be so sexually na├»ve. I had no clue. I became repulsed by Brigham Young.  Fifty-five wives started to feel like a major indicator of sexual perversion.  I came upon the story of Helen Mar Kimball, and it blew my mind. The poor woman was a victim of spiritual manipulation and coercion.  Her life was destroyed by Joseph Smith, her story was tossed aside, and I was supposed to write that off like it was some innocent mistake by a man who is purported to be “second only to Christ?” I felt myself slowly opening up to the possibility that, at the very least, the church was not as true as I had thought it was. There was a significant margin of gray that I was not privy to in all my years of study and church attendance. I told my husband about the things that were troubling me, and he was skeptical as to the validity of what I shared with him. We continued to attend our ward, my husband continued to fly, and I continued listening to the podcasts and to my sister.



FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY:

While my husband was on one of his trips, he found a copy of the book, “Under the Banner of Heaven” by Jon Krakauer that was left on a plane. This book explores the murder committed by the Mormon fundamentalist brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty. In order to explain how Ron and Dan justified committing murder in the name of God, Krakauer gives a thorough telling of the history and origins of Mormonism, which includes many of the facts that I was sharing with my husband at the time that he questioned whether or not were true.  My husband is a big fan of Krakauer and loved reading his other books, so I guess reading Mormon history from a source that he was familiar with and trusted got through to him in a way that my re-telling of the podcasts I was listening to just did not. The two of us together started to question how it was possible that we could spend 30 years in a religion that we thought we knew forwards, backwards, and inside out, and come to find that we were completely in the dark. I don’t think it is uncommon at all, at this point, for a person who is working their way out of the church, to feel betrayed and angry. I know we did. We were still attending church, but we started to be more reluctant to give our “time, talents, energy and everything that we had been blessed with,” to an organization that did not seem to be all that it claimed and that I felt had nearly caused me to destroy my family over an issue that now seems to me much more of a molehill than a mountain. We estimate now that my husband looked at pornography maybe a dozen times, certainly not more than that, over the first seven years of our marriage. So, we started to make some changes. I asked to be released from my calling. I stopped going to church on Sundays that my husband was not home to help me. My husband started drinking coffee to help him stay awake in the cockpit. We continued learning more about church history and about confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, and group think.



With each one of these changes came a flood of anxiety. I was well versed in Satan’s slippery slope, and I wrung my hands over each one of these decisions, thinking that I was on a path straight to hell, but determined to go ahead anyway because I felt I had been deceived, and I wanted to start making my own choices based on what was best for me and my family and not on what a bearded white man in the sky wanted me to do. I get choked up when I watch the scene in Disney’s “Tangled” when Rapunzel escapes her tower and is torn apart by the ecstasy of her new found freedom that she can’t fully grasp because of the guilt and fear that her mother has raised her to feel. That was me. I was sure the wrath of God would be upon me in the form of some misfortune with each step I took to distance myself from the church, and yet simultaneously I reveled in my newfound autonomy.



THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL’S BACK:

In June of 2012 I gave birth to my fourth and final baby. By this time, my husband and I were not attending church at all. We were openly admitting to our friends and family that we were experiencing a crisis of faith. With the stress of the new baby in addition to my other three babies, the faith crisis, and my husband being away so much of the time, I realized I could not continue to stay in Michigan and be okay. I needed family support. My parents and a few of my siblings had all re-located from Salt Lake City to Logan, Utah. We decided that we should move to Utah and my husband could commute to Detroit, which we knew would significantly decrease his amount of time at home, but would be better for me if I could be close to family. My mother and father were experiencing a faith crisis of their own. My mother was serving as counselor in a young single adult Stake Relief Society Presidency, and my father was serving as a counselor in a young single adult Stake Presidency. I was happy to be moving close to them so we could figure things out together.  So we packed up our family and moved back to Zion.



When the move was over and we were settled in, we knew we had some decisions to make with regards to our church membership status. Neither my husband, nor I were ready to remove our names from the records of the church. We also did not desire to attend a ward. I still harbored so much anger towards how I felt I was conditioned to respond to my husband so destructively, there was no way I wanted to send my children to primary where they would be taught that drinking coffee and tea (of which my husband and I were partaking) was a sin and have unnecessary anxiety over the spiritual welfare of their parents. I should say, however, that I was extremely concerned over how to teach my children the things that I felt they could only learn in church, i.e., honesty, morality, modesty, etc. I also wondered how my children would respond when, inevitably, other kids would ask them why they didn’t go to church. So, I decided that I would institute home church. For a year or so on Sundays I would sit my kids down and have a lesson about a variety of world religions, picking one to focus on each week, so that I could give them an overview of religion in general around the world. Then we would have a short meditation exercise and a discussion about a moral topic of my choosing. It worked pretty well.  This way, when my kids were asked at school why they didn’t attend church, I told them to respond with, “We have home church. Just like some kids go to school at home, we have church at home.”



The bishop of the ward that we had moved into eventually asked he if could stop by for a visit. We had decided we would be honest and frank with everyone who stopped by from the church. When the bishop came over, we invited him in, explained that we would not be attending meetings on Sunday or any ward activities and that we would not accept any callings, but that we were not ready to take our names off of the records of the church. We requested that we be removed from the lists of the ward auxiliaries so that they would not contact us. My husband and I had no desire to be on a list that someone else felt they had stewardship over. The bishop was cordial. He expressed concern over our faith crisis, challenged us to read the Book of Mormon and pray, and bore his testimony.



Over the next year, we had multiple visits from the Relief Society Presidency, the Elder’s Quorum, and the kids’ primary teachers.  Each time we would express gratitude for the visit, explain that we were not attending and did not want any further visits, and that we would love to get to know everyone in the neighborhood in the context of neighbors/friends, but not as a ward responsibility or obligation.



By February of 2014, the church visits had not stopped, and my husband and I were ready to take the next step. We were ready to sever all ties with the church and move on. So, on February 8, 2014 I sent in my e-mail requesting the removal of my name and the names of my children from the records of the church. I remember being hesitant to click the “send” button and wondering if it was the spirit prompting me not to do it and immediately following that thought up with annoyance that I had been conditioned to have that response in the first place. I clicked “send,” and that was that.



BORN AGAIN

With the abandonment of the church’s construct, came an entirely new way of viewing life and people. I stopped making decisions concerning my life now based on the life I was anticipating after death. This was a huge paradigm shift. It changed the way I felt about everything. I started to love my family more intensely, and ironically, I feel like my love took on a new dimension that is far more unconditional than it ever had been before. Since I am no longer concerned about or sure of a life after this one, it makes the present life of utmost importance. I no longer feel like people are my responsibility. I no longer view them through the lenses of what they could or should be but instead allow them to be who they are in the moment, and I either choose to have a relationship with them or not. I have realized how fearful I have been of people, being raised to think that I was superior because I had a truth that they did not. It has been a great relief to let go of that fear. My oldest son came home from school telling me that the kids were asking him if he was Christian or not. I told him to tell them that he isn’t Christian, he’s human, and to leave it at that. I have also learned that you don’t have to belong to a church to teach your children to be good people. I have given up the regimen of home church, and have evolved into nightly discussions with each one of my children, individually, trying to analyze with them the events of their day. My objectives, in terms of childrearing, are to cultivate within each of my children empathy for all living things, and an ability to think critically. TED talks have become my new conference talks. They inspire me and give me faith in humanity. I feel optimism for the future not because Christ is going to come back and fix the all of our problems, but because humans are taking responsibility for the environmental and political dilemmas that we are facing and coming up with solutions.



EPILOGUE

For two years now, I have not been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I do not miss it at all. I do not regret my decision. I feel like my life has been every bit as fulfilling, and even more so, than it was when I was a fully participating member. I recognize that I am very fortunate as my family relationships have, for the most part, been relatively unscathed. My in-laws are incredible people with enormous capacities to love. Most people have varying degrees of liberality in their interpretation of church doctrine. I lucked out. My in-laws’ interpretation has allowed them to love my family just as intensely as they did before we left the church, and to say that I am grateful for that is a gross understatement. My parents’ journey led them to resign their church membership as well, and a monumental benefit of that decision is an opportunity to get to know them, especially my father, in a way that I was never able to before. Because my father was asked to serve in the church in so many time-consuming callings, between travelling for his career and spending time at the church building attending to his duties, we rarely interacted with him. Over the past two years, my father has been present in my life and the lives of my children in a way that has brought so much joy to us all. My definition of love has changed. I used to equate love with sacrifice. Now I equate it with being present. My ability to be present has exponentially increased as I have moved away from religious constructs.







TO THE PEOPLE I LOVE WHO STAY

As I mentioned before, there are varying degrees of liberality when it comes to interpretation of church doctrine.  I have a younger sister, who I love. I love her so much it hurts. We are closer than close. We have taken turns helping each other through hard times, and the thought of not having her in my life makes me want to die. That is how close we are. She chooses to stay. Her experience growing up in the church was not the same as mine. It wasn’t the same as my older sister’s, who I also love and am close to.  My older sister and I are cerebral. We live mostly in our heads. My younger sister is emotionally gifted. She is able to feel things in a way that I am not. She has always been able to speak a language of love that makes people feel better and draws people to her. She loved growing up in the church and looks back on her experiences very fondly because they invoke memories of good feelings and love that she shared with the people around her there. She loves the church community, and she enjoys the feeling that she gets when she attends meetings. She is also intelligent. She recognizes problems within the church. Her heart has been repeatedly broken on behalf of her homosexual friends as the church continues to reject them. She is evolving as the church evolves, but for now she chooses to stay. I know that there are many different reasons why people benefit from continued church membership. I respect that.



The most tragic scenario, that I wish so badly could be obliterated, that happens far too frequently, is when a family is torn apart and relationships destroyed because of the disappointment that results when someone leaves the church and the interpretation of church doctrine in that family is too conservative to allow that person to be loved any longer. That is real tragedy. Isn’t it irony at its finest when the church’s stated goal is to preserve families eternally, when I have trouble thinking of anything that has done more to destroy family relationships than religion? “No amount of success can compensate for failure in the home.” I love my friends and family. I love my friends and family who continue to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I want that love to be unobstructed by differences in belief. Don’t feel pity, disappointment, sorrow, or pain on my behalf. I am doing greater than great. I am loving my life and living it to the best of my ability. I choose to love people because we are all complicated, amazing, and flawed and have potential to do incredible things. Whether you choose to stay or not, love me, and I will love you back.




MY SISTER'S RELIEF SOCIETY LESSON


I should warn you before we start that this lesson was fairly difficult for me. I'm not a big fan of Sister Beck's teaching style, especially as she relates to women's issues, so having to give a lesson on her talk on the history and work of the Relief Society was kind of like reverse Christmas had come early! And, as I expected, I found some things in the talk that I agreed with, and some that I didn't. I'm hoping that I don't offend anyone with my ideas. In the past, I've joked with Joseph that I was going to get myself kicked out of Relief Society. I wondered aloud once what the ceremony for that would be like, and he suggested that members of the Presidency come to your house and ritually break all your casserole dishes. ("You'll never make a Jello salad again!!") Hopefully it won't come to that! I will also apologize in advance because, while I usually love hearing as much as we can from you sisters, the nature of this lesson didn't seem to leave me as many opportunities to let you contribute. I do have one or two places where I would could use your comments, and of course your input and suggestions are always welcome, but I do apologize for so much of this lesson being my lips flapping!
    Here's what I liked: At the beginning of the talk, Sister Beck contrasts the lives of two sisters: One is living in Brazil, surrounded by a husband and children. The family is poor, but they are trying to live the gospel. The other sister is living in Hong Kong in a tiny apartment on the 80th floor. She is the only member in her family, and she lives alone. However, like the other family in Brazil, she is striving to live the gospel, and she is a great source of strength to her branch. I like the fact that even though these two women are living in vastly different circumstances in two very different countries, they are valuable to the people around them because of their love for others and the gospel. I also liked her reminder that "Relief Society was organized to be a defense and a refuge," as she put it. I have heard time and time again, even from people who have had issues with the church, or have even left the church, that the best thing about being LDS is that you always have someone to watch your back! And the RS rocks at this! Break a leg, have a baby, have a family member die, or even if you just need advice on anything from how to change the oil in your car to how to cook a turkey, and the RS will be there to help, probably with something delicious to eat!
    Here's what I didn't like: Sister Beck's entire section on warnings. She claims that there are "myths and misperceptions regarding the strength, purpose, and position of Latter-day Saint women." Now, personally,  I don't think it's a "myth" that there are serious issues with equality for women in the church. It's a problem that I've been thinking a lot about lately. The history of the Relief Society that we've been encouraged to study can tell you even with a cursory reading that things are very different now for women than they were at the beginning of the church, and not always for the better. We'll talk about that in a minute, but maybe the best reason for studying our history is so we can take a good look at what has been lost. After all, Sister Beck admits that, "We study our history because it helps us change." Finally, sometimes I think that in general church talks tend to be addressed to a certain type of idealized person, and it can be isolating if you don't fit into that mold. Sister Beck talks about married women and young women who are "sober, discreet, and chaste." I don't know how many of you remember my lesson where I brought in Hershey's Kisses and demonstrated that it really doesn't matter which one you get, because they're all the same. We are not candies, ladies, even though we may be sweet! (Show picture of blond girl.) [There is a picture of a simpering blond young woman in the Ensign right in the middle of this talk. Just looking at her is enough to make a cat sick. She is the epitome of everything the church wants you to be in the worst possible way.] If you do not look like this, great! If you have made mistakes in your past, wonderful! If you are not married, we need you! If you are loud and opinionated, we could really use that! If you or your loved ones are having problems like drug use or struggles with homosexuality or morality or faith or depression or any one of a million human problems, we could use your perspective. Whatever your background, marital status, education level, or how much you earn a year, remember that RS connects us "to a great worldwide sisterhood," and we need every voice.
    So, you might be interested to know that I followed Sister Beck's advice to study the history of the Relief Society. If you go to the Joseph Smith papers website, you will notice a link at the bottom that will take you to the minutes of the original Relief Society meetings, between 1842--1844.   I have almost finished reading the notes, and it reminded me a little bit of a quote I read once by Mark Twain, where he says something along the lines of he read the Old Testament once and promised God that he would never do it again! It wasn't that bad, but I did learn some interesting things that I thought you might like to hear about: For one thing, I found the best name in the universe: Talithacuma Garlick! Sweet, huh? Best name ever!! But in all seriousness, this was a tumultuous time for the church shortly after the Relief Society was organized. It's really complicated, but basically it involved a man named John C. Bennett, Joseph Smith, and polygamy. Much unhappiness resulted. If you want to know more, I would recommend Brother Richard Bushman's book on Joseph Smith, "Rough Stone Rolling." I was  impressed, however,  by how democratic the original RS was. Did you know that you had to be voted in based on your good character? And while the first presidency of the RS was set apart, that was after they had been nominated and voted for by the rest of the society! (Incidentally, it was a Sister Whitney who proposed Emma for the president, not Joseph.) I also thought it was interesting that the men didn't have an automatic veto! There was a bit of an argument at the first meeting on what exactly the society was going to be called. We were nearly the Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society, thanks to John Taylor, but Emma Smith and Eliza Snow won the argument! Taylor said, "Your arguments are so potent I cannot stand before them." The RS also functioned as a kind of court: If someone was presented as being unworthy of entering the society, that person had the right to face her accusers and to have someone speak in her favor. The society was also responsible for chastising wealthy men who failed to pay poor widows what they were owed: Joseph himself suggested that any man in this position should be "discountenanced by the Relief Society." I thought it was interesting that the women were given the authority to censure the men here! I don't know exactly how someone would be "discountenanced," but I'm assuming it involved social shaming somehow. ((Maybe they would knit him a big blanket that said, "Where's my money, jerk?" on it? Or maybe they'd toilet paper his house for Enrichment Meeting?) Of course, the main job of the Relief Society then, as it still is now, was to help the poor and afflicted, and it looks like they did an admirable job. Nearly every meeting includes a list of money or goods collected to help people who were sick and in need of work, food, and clothing. Sometimes the sisters could only afford to give a little money; sometimes they could only offer a pair of warm socks for the temple workers, but everyone tried to contribute. It was amazing to see how charitable they were capable of being, considering that the Saints had recently been driven to Nauvoo from Missouri, and new converts, many of whom were desperately poor, were coming from abroad at this time. The sisters also looked after each other. There was a lady named Clarissa Marvel who had been accused of making "scandalous falsehoods" about Joseph. Her case was discussed, someone defended her, and they resolved to talk to her in private and get her side of the story. Eventually Emma points out that Sister Marvel has no parents, and "she is under our care and observation--she needs friends." Joseph had some wise words about this for the RS that you may be familiar with: "Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind." Would anyone like to give a personal example of when someone's kindness made a difference?
    I think the most amazing thing that we often don't know or talk about is how much these women enjoyed the gifts of the Spirit. By a show of hands, how many of you knew that women used to be able to give other women blessings when they were sick? In fact, there's an instance in the RS minutes where Sisters Cleveland and Whitney administered to Sister Leonard for the restoration of her health. I've heard that it was common for the women to wash and anoint with oil other women who were about to go into labor. Joseph Smith defended this practice during a RS meeting, as you may know! And I also encountered several times in the notes instances where women would speak in tongues (while another woman interpreted) and prophesy! I can tell you that during one such meeting, Eliza R. Snow pronounced a blessing on a Mrs. Buel, and then Sister Cleveland spoke in tongues, and then Sister Sessions interpreted. The report of that meeting was, "nearly all of them arose and spoke, and the Spirit of the Lord like a purifying stream, refreshed every heart." I loved that image! We have some nature documentaries that we like to watch as a family sometimes, and there's a scene where some extremely thirsty elephants are making a long and dusty journey across the desert to get to the place where they know the rains will fall. When the rains do come, you can actually see the earth, in a series of time-elapsed photographs, turn from brown to green, and you have never seen happiness and refreshment until you have watched an elephant tumble into that life-giving water after its walk over miles of desert! Now, what about us? How many times do we come away from RS feeling refreshed and uplifted? What do we do well? What could we work on? Thoughts?

    Going back to Sister Beck for a moment, she says, "As we have studied the history of Relief Society, we have learned that the Lord's vision and purpose for Relief Society was not of a sleepy meeting on Sunday. He had in mind something much, much bigger than a women's club or special-interest entertainment group. He intended Relief Society to help build His people and prepare them for the blessings of the temple. He established this organization to align His daughters with His work and to enlist their help in building His kingdom and strengthening the homes of Zion." She's right! So how can we do that? Is part of the problem how we think of ourselves and our role in the church? Claudia Bushman (wife of Richard Bushman of "Rough Stone Rolling" fame.) said something that caught my ear the other day: "Mormon women have always had opportunities when they were willing to take them. What we lack is vision." Even back in the early days of the RS, they were worried about overstepping! There was a Sister Spencer who was appointed to be on a committee whose responsibility was to assess the needs of the poor and to collect food, clothing, and money for them. She expressed her fears that they were usurping, as she put it, the bishop's place by doing this work. However, later in that same meeting, Elder Reynolds Cahoon spoke and said they shouldn't be fearful. He said God had organized the RS through Joseph and Emma, and I'm quoting here, "the objects and principles of this Society are vast, not fully understood. The organization of this Society and the Church is similar according to the mind and order of God in it every want may be supplied. Every one has their duty and their place. How long will it be before this society will want a store house to store their goods... The time will come when all persons will find relief through this Society...this Society is raised by the Lord to prepare us for the great blessings which are for us in the House of the Lord." Isn't that great? And I'm happy to report that the minutes record that after this speech from Brother Cahoon, "The Committee all seemed to have gained new courage, desired to remain in their places and do with their might all they could do." Sisters, I have to ask: Are we really doing all that we can do? Are we too used to giving the responsibility for our salvation over to the priesthood holders? Have we stopped thinking about ways that we could lead, even if the overall structure doesn't change? I know women may never hold the priesthood, and as disappointing as that is to me, I'm willing to concede that there might be reasons for this that we just don't know about yet. But I recently heard someone say this: "When I hear women say that they don't want the priesthood because they don't want the responsibility, that's a sin! If there are practical reasons for it, fine. But since when do Mormons shy away from responsibility?!" I thought she had a good point! I've heard several people suggest different ways that we could take more responsibility and be more involved even with the current priesthood structure. And for the record, I'm not saying these things should happen, just that it's a possibility. I think we're afraid to talk about these kinds of things, and I wish that weren't so. For example: Women could pray in General Conference, have representatives sit on the stand with the brethren, be a Sunday School president, an Institute director, a mission zone leader, an assistant to the president, a college president, and be judges in Israel, like Deborah in the Bible. (She sounds like she was pretty awesome, incidentally! A judge, and a prophetess, and the king wouldn't go into battle without her!) No one is asking us for battle advice lately, but there might be other ways where we could help with judgment that doesn't require a priesthood authority to be present. Women have a unique perspective that has an equal, not inferior, role to play in building the kingdom of God. Just something to think about.
    In conclusion, sisters, I hope you will always find, in your experience, as Sister Beck said, that "Relief Society, when it operates in an inspired way, can replace fear, doubt, and selfishness with faith, hope, and charity. As we move the Lord's work forward, the history of Relief Society will continue to be written by faithful sisters throughout the world. The Lord is strengthening Relief Society in the living present and preparing a glorious future for His daughters." Those strong and faithful sisters are you! And I think Sister Beck is right: Our history is still being written! I bear you my testimony that we are capable of great things, just like the women that came before us, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.