Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How You Become the 'Bad Guy'

Last week the LDS Church excommunicated activist and Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly. The fact that she was condemned by her local church authorities for apostasy is not news. What was news to me was the response the LDS church leaders released late last week claiming that questioning and doubting is something that is allowed within the Mormon community. "Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding," the statement reads.

I don't want to talk about Kate Kelly. But I do want to talk about the church's official statement. Thanks to the Internet, many of the questions that were ignored or denied by the authorities of the church can now be discussed.

It has been almost seven years since I started this blog. I started with a very political motivation. At the time, I was wading around in what is now commonly labeled "tea party" ideology. Ron Paul, The Constitution, Ezra Taft Benson, The Constitution, Cleon Skousen, The Constitution. I have since dipped into discussions of religion, among other topics. Over time my views have evolved toward a more liberal ideology, and back toward a more moderate view.

I don't consider myself a talented writer, but I have always enjoyed making the attempt. When I was a college student, I would write letters to the university paper, as well as the town rag. It is a way for me to process my thinking. When I began discussing/debating, at first it didn't seem to be a problem that I made political/religious points; not in the period where I supported conservative causes and followed church doctrine strictly. Later on, in so many cases, trying to talk about these questions caused friction and discomfort among those with whom I interacted in real life (after I was not a conservative ditto-head anymore).

Strangely enough, most of these same people were uncomfortable with what I would write online as well. So... it's not advisable to talk with people face-to-face about topics like politics or religion, but it's also not a good idea to write about them online. This has more often than not caused me much worry and apprehension, and in recent years, I all but stopped writing on this blog. So it was surprising to me to find out that these discussions were somehow welcome at church, of all places. I guess I started blogging because I didn't have a place to go with all these questions. And when I started asking, I found it caused conflict online and offline. I guess I assumed if I couldn't talk about it with most family members, and if I couldn't talk about it online, then bringing it up at church probably wouldn't be a good idea. If only I had known...

The only arrow I had left in my quiver that allowed me to get away with some of my unorthodox behavior and actions was that I was a lifelong active mormon. But since I haven't attended for a few months now, and I don't intend on returning anytime soon, I have no ability to talk about these things in a familiar setting online. To the believers, I am now Kate Kelly; I am the apostate; I am angry; I am whatever they need to label me so as to not have to actually respond to the problems I am pointing out. An ally wouldn't ask these questions anyway. And we don't associate with people like that, either. But yes, we allow for questions....

IF.... you use the right tone
   .... you ask in the right way
   .... you ask in faith and not doubt
   .... you take no for an answer
   .... you come up with the same answer as the leaders in the end

BUT ... don't talk to just anybody
         ... don't post questions/doubts online
         ... don't believe anything that isn't correlated church material
         ... don't assume there are any answers in this life

After listing the countless stipulations for when someone CAN raise questions, there is very little room, and then we all know the right answers already, so I can't really figure out what the questioning is for.

The truth is, for years I had this blog, I listened to Mormon Stories, I was a member of a private Mormon Stories message board, and later part of private Facebook forums. I listened to more podcasts. I read church history books. I wrote blogs that for some reason I hoped no one in the church would read. I met dozens if not hundreds of bloggers who wouldn't even use their real names because they were afraid to be found out by family members and peers. They were afraid possibly to lose their employment with BYU, or be released from callings at church, or looked upon with distrust by family and friends. Seems like strange behavior in a church that "welcomes doubts and questions."

As for myself, I found answers, but they were not the ones I expected, and they often were in conflict with what was said in official church sources, if they were addressed at all. I have been doing this for years, along with tens of thousands of others with similar questions, online. If questions or doubts were welcome in church, there would be no need for places such as these to exist. If they were welcome, local church leaders would actually know about some of these questions and how to respond to at least a portion of them. Why would we feel like we had to go into private hiding places, where we could feel safe behind a cloak of anonymity, like a drug or sex dealer, just because we didn't have that unshaken testimony? 

The simple fact is, what the church, and what my church associations wanted was silence. Silence is so much easier. Believing without questioning is so much more smooth. You see, they are never uncomfortable with religion as a topic; only when the discussion falls in line with what is acceptable at church, or is considered faith-promoting. They send tens of thousands of young men and women out into the world to profess their beliefs on religion throughout the globe. However, the communication is usually only one-way. We have the truth, listen to us, but we aren't interested in anything that falls outside our "truth." As for politics... you are basically always welcome to bring your political views to the table as a Mormon. Mormons are very active citizens, and are very informed on political matters. You usually just can't question war, christianity, capitalism, republicanism, conservatism, scripture, income inequality, patriarchy, misogyny, heterosexuality, or traditional marriage (see: mormon plural marriage). I'm sure I'm leaving some important topics out.

The LDS church is saying questions are welcome because it sounds good for public relations. I welcome anyone to come visit with me about some of the questions I have. I have never been uncomfortable having those kinds of discussions. But there have been so many arbitrary rules imposed on when it's okay to discuss, that I honestly don't know if it's ever okay anymore. So I would love to see it. I would love to find out where the space is for people like me, during regular church activities, where we are allowed to talk about evolution, science, Book of Mormon historicity, gay marriage, Book of Abraham translation, priesthood/temple bans, Adam/God doctrine, blood atonement, Book of Mormon translation, Doctrine and Covenants / church history revisions, etc. I have been out of activity for months now, and have never discussed any of these questions with any true believers within my local church community - the community where I was born and raised. It's uncomfortable to talk about, I understand. I just don't want anyone pointing the finger at me as to why no conversations are happening. I don't point the finger back at my faith community, either. I point it straight at the fact that questions and doubting are NOT welcomed. Not really. Not by most Mormon leaders.

I know of a person who left the church long ago, who will not have anything to do with his family because they still are associated with the Mormon church. I always thought there must be something really wrong with him. Sure, he doesn't want to be Mormon anymore, but why can't he let his family alone? Now I wonder if I understand a little better. I never wanted to be labeled and classified as the enemy. But the longer I don't have contact with my church counterparts, including my family, the narrative that they use to describe me and explain the why's and the how's of it all support the narrative that those who leave the church (who can't leave it alone) are deceived, are unhappy, are sinful, are angry, are whatever we need to label them to support the ideology that the LDS church is perfect. It's sad. I can't imagine not wanting to have anything to do with my family, but I can see how both parties could be going down that path.

Communication is difficult. Certainly, if the antagonism continues to grow, either silently or outwardly, it will not be all their fault. But it will not be all mine, either. It's unfortunate that we let these wedges fester because it is too uncomfortable to talk openly about difficult subjects, where things are not always black and white.

I was raised with the idea that telling the truth was the best policy. I guess telling the truth never was that easy. I guess if you insist long enough, you eventually become the bad guy. 

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