Thursday, September 1st, 2011
40

Ask An Ex-Mormon! A Conversation

My friend Beau and I grew up together in Tucson, Arizona, where he was the quarterback of our high school’s football team. We’ve since traveled around Italy together, sipped wine and talked about music until sunrise, and, one memorable time, got drunkenly chased out of a Vegas casino. Beau and I have a lot in common, our vices included, which is why I always forget one big thing about him: Until very recently, Beau was a Mormon. He never went door-to-door trying to convert people, nor did he ever march against gay rights. But for 18 years he faithfully went to a Mormon temple every Sunday with his parents and three brothers.

Mormonism has become an increasingly visible part of our culture in the past few years, what with Big Love's five-year run on HBO, Book of Mormon on Broadway, Mitt Romney leaping on the cover of Newsweek and "I'm A Mormon" billboards in Times Square. Yet while we often hear about Mormons, we hardly ever hear from them. Instead, we often get our reports second-hand, and from a writer whose sneer (and I'm guilty of this, too) poisons the conversation immediately. In an effort to more honestly understand one of America’s most-feared religions—and one that’s getting bigger all the time—I turned to Beau, who has left the church despite protestations from his devout family and now manages a wine store in Brooklyn.

Cord Jefferson: To start with, let's talk about your background in Mormonism, because I don't even really know it.

Beau Rapier: My dad's family converted before he was born and my mom's great-grandparents were Mormon—maybe great-great. My dad initially married a non-Mormon out of high school and had two kids with her (my half sisters), then went to Vietnam. After that he wasn’t really church going for some years but became so again when he got divorced and began dating my mom.

CJ: On a scale of one to 10, how Mormon would you say your childhood was? Ten being insanely strict? No soda?

BR: I guess a seven? We had soda. Because of my dad's first marriage and the fact that his dad was not a very observant Mormon. My childhood was Mormon but not in a fully sheltered way—and Tucson is not Provo. I always had non-Mormon friends.

CJ: Lately, everyone seems to be talking about the "strangeness" of Mormonism, but when I would hang out at your house, I never felt strange at all. Your parents were always super nice to me. I even remember your dad driving me and your brother to buy Bush tickets. It’s not like they were banning rock concerts and making you read scripture all the time.

BR: No, they loved pop and rock music. I can't tell you how many times I heard Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. And I never felt like we were only Mormon—but I still definitely felt different than my friends, most of whom were not Mormon.

CJ: What do you mean you weren’t “only Mormon”?

BR: It never completely defined me. I recall being almost embarrassed by it.

CJ: Why embarrassed? Lots of other kids were religious in Tucson.

BR: Because I thought I was different. Other kids were religious, yes, but not Mormon, at least not the ones I was friends with. I couldn't go to birthday parties on Sundays, my parents weren't friends with the non-Mormon parents, etc.

CJ: Did you like hanging out with the other Mormon kids we went to school with?

BR: Nope.

CJ: I remember a bunch of the other Mormon kids were always way more tight-assed than you and your brothers, which is why it surprises me that you said your house was a seven. The [really, really devout Mormon family from our neighborhood] must have been like an 11 then.

BR: Yeah, they were pretty much already in the celestial kingdom. The idea that you can build a Mormon fortress in which to ignore all the realities of the outside world was epitomized by them, in my mind.

CJ: It sounds like you were skeptical from early on. Can you remember the first time you thought, "Y'know, this might not be for me"?

BR: I don't know about skeptical. I didn't really think about it. I think teenagers wonder how they fit in the here and now, not how their existence fits in the cosmos. Basically, I didn't really question my faith or background. I just hid it until I had to confront it, and that began at the very end of high school and then continued for years.

CJ: But you were drinking and having premarital sex, right? Isn’t that kind of an indirect way of questioning your faith? Is disobeying questioning?

BR: It can be, but I don't think I was really pondering questions of faith when I started drinking in high school, and the premarital sex didn't actually happen until after I graduated. I think looking back the answer is yes, I was looking at other options. But I didn't think about it in those terms then. I think lots of people of every faith experiment in these ways but ultimately decide to embrace their religion.

CJ: Sounds like your dad did that.

BR: For sure.

CJ: Did your parents know about your rebellion, or did you hide it from them?

BR: I did hide it, but they were having their own marriage issues at the time, so it was easier for me to do my thing without much scrutiny.

To be honest, I’ve held out the possibility of “coming back” to my mom for some years, and only in the last four or five did that possibility diminish to a point of becoming almost impossible.

CJ: So when did you actually start actively questioning the faith?

BR: In college, I guess. Kind of a cliché, but I really began to be interested in what I thought and believed and slowly began to question the principles and ideas that Mormonism is based on. Things came up and we all—you, I, our friends—were more and more interested in social, political, historical and even religious issues. That influenced me immensely.

CJ: Were you questioning the very simple red flags like, “Wait, Jesus was in America and nobody knows how he got here?" Or were you questioning big picture things like, "Do I believe in organized religion at all?” Both?

BR: Hmm. No to the first question. I think all religions expect a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the faithful, so a god or a son of a god traveling to another continent is peanuts: he just got there. Of more interest to me was how the Mormon church responded to social issues: questions of morality around race, sexual orientation, etc. I think the questioning of big-picture things came later, but as a result of all the initial little stuff.

CJ: You and I spent a lot of drunken nights together during this period, and until right now I wasn’t aware that you were trying to hash out your faith that whole time. This was a really internal struggle for you, huh?

BR: Yeah, I suppose so. But I was having a great time and not being very introspective about it, except maybe in my writing from time to time. I don't think I really began questioning God and existence until a couple years ago, after I’d been married and had a kid. Drunken nights may seem like a great time to unload but in fact they often focus you on the exact moment—which is great and I celebrate it.

CJ: I imagine once you were out of your parents' house that you stopped going to church.

BR: Basically. I think I skipped a few times toward the end of high school and got away with it. But when I went to college I never once went to church on my own, which, looking back, is pretty telling.

CJ: Did your parents know?

BR: Sort of, though they always asked about involvement in the campus church, and I’m sure I let them think that I was participating in Mormon stuff. There were a lot of Mormons at Arizona State but I purposefully never connected with any of them.

CJ: I guess I went into this conversation stupidly thinking that there were going to be certain clear milestones that marked your move away from faith, but that's not really how life goes. It's all just gradual.

BR: I think there are milestones when you look back. One was certainly my decision to lose my virginity to my girlfriend at the age of 18. I did think about that one pretty long and hard.

CJ: Is that one a big no-no for Mormons?

BR: Sure. It isn't actually a game over, no-going-back decision, but at the time I thought it was. I think plenty of Mormons have premarital sex but then repent and ultimately rejoin the community. To be honest, I’ve held out the possibility of “coming back” to my mom for some years, and only in the last four or five did that possibility diminish to a point of becoming almost impossible.

CJ: What do you mean “held out the possibility of coming back”? You told your mom you might be Mormon again one day?

BR: Not exactly. I told her not to stop praying for me or thinking that I might repent. At the time I started doing that I had read a lot about writers and artists who had “returned” to religion later in life. I felt like I couldn’t rule that out for myself. Now I tell her that because even if I don't think it’s true, I respect other people's needs to order their universe.

CJ: And for your mother to be comfortable she needs to believe there's a chance you'll return to the fold one day?

BR: Yes, that is entirely true. She needs to believe that.

CJ: So, here’s something: While your move away from Mormonism was gradual, Mormonism almost immediately rejects people who question the faith. I remember when you couldn’t see your brother get married because you weren’t allowed to enter the temples. At what point did Mormonism stop considering you a Mormon? Was it before you stopped considering yourself a Mormon?

BR: They still consider me a Mormon, just not one with the privilege to enter the temples. I lost my temple privileges when I stopped applying, though I’m sure I could have lied.

CJ: Hold up, you have to apply for privileges?

BR: You need what’s called a “temple recommend,” which is given by the bishop of your ward. You have to say you obey the rules and pay tithes.

CJ: Do they give you a certificate or something?

BR: Yes, it looks more or less like a business card.

CJ: Holy shit. I had no idea. You can literally be "a card-carrying Mormon"?

BR: Exactly.

CJ: That’s a perfect segue. Let’s talk some Mormon myths. Everyone's favorite is the holy underwear. What's up with that?

BR: I would have to say that I don't know entirely since I’ve not participated in the ceremony that explains them fully. My understanding is that they represent a symbolic shield from the temporal and often immoral mortal world.

CJ: You only get them when you get married in a Mormon ceremony?

BR: Um, I think you also get them before you go on a mission.

CJ: The mission! I forgot! Did you ever consider the mission?

BR: Not really, though I never officially said I wasn't doing it. I just let the window of opportunity pass. Another instance of not manning up to my real feelings.

CJ: What’s the window?

BR: Most people go between 19 and 21, though a little later for women sometimes. There are also missions for retired couples.

CJ: OK, back to the myths. Why can Mormons drink caffeinated soda but not coffee?

BR: That's not exactly right. Some LDS authorities have said no caffeine, no Coke, no Pepsi, etc. Others, however, focus on the original “word of wisdom,” which says no coffee or tea. It's still unclear in my mind.

CJ: How about the racism? We’ve talked about this one a lot over the years. From what I’ve read, the church has backpedaled a ton on its racist positions, most likely in an effort to get more black converts. What’s up with the racism in Mormon doctrine?

BR: I hesitate to act as an authority on LDS doctrine, because I’m not. But clearly there was racism inherent in the doctrine. As I understand it, "blacks" could not receive the priesthood in the Mormon church until 1978. One question I always had was who is black and who isn't? Who decides?

CJ: Like, was anyone brown off limits, or was it just people of African origin?

BR: Right. The official church stance ended before I was born, and it is hard to say from a personal stance, because there weren't a lot of black people in Tucson and the ones who were weren’t Mormon.

You can join the church and, no matter what, everything is cool. It’s just a question of how cool. Do you want to give up smokes and whiskey for that extra level of eternal salvation?

CJ: I remember when a Mormon girl in my 6th-grade geography class straight up asked the teacher if it was true that blacks were marked for their sins. Some of that stuff was obviously still being taught

BR: Yeah. I never knew and still don't know what was considered black in the LDS church, other than they adhered to the Biblical idea of a curse on Cain and the African peoples (which is crazy enough!).

CJ: But now that’s all over, right? Blacks are now all good with the Mormons?

BR: I don't think most of the people I knew growing up in the church were racist, and certainly no more so than a random sampling of the population, which isn’t exactly comforting. But there were a few obvious ones, just like among the parents we knew.

CJ: How about Mormon sexism? I feel like pretty much every major religion, if you go back to its origin, is sexist. Is Mormonism more so?

BR: Not that I'm aware of, unless you take the outliers (i.e. polygamists), who are now not a part of the church by official decree. Though I should say that the conservative focus on “family values,” which many Mormons back, is, in my opinion, not without some hints of sexism

CJ: True. So polygamists are the Mormon radicals?

BR: Polygamists are not allowed in the church. They can't get temple recommends and thus are not, as you said, “card-carrying Mormons.” But I think they like it that way. They’ve established their own break-off religion, which has and wants nothing to do with mainstream Mormonism.

CJ: Based on a lot of what you’re saying, aside from the scripture and banning outsiders from temples, Mormonism doesn’t really sound so different from a lot of other Christian sects. Lots of Christians believe homosexuality is a sin, and a great many Christians supported Prop. 8. Why do Mormons get singled out so often?

BR: It’s a younger religion, for one. And there is less of a place for in-betweeners—those who want to be Mormon but less aggressively—as opposed to, say, Catholics who use condoms against the Vatican’s wishes. That in-or-out mentality can make Mormonism seem harsher, and it’s much less inviting to outsiders who want to explore it. Where Prop. 8 is concerned, I think a lot of other Christians supported it, but certainly not to the extent Mormons did. Also, because Mormons are relatively removed from the political sphere, when they do get involved it’s bigger news. I mean, how often do people mention that Harry Reid is a Mormon? He doesn’t publicly discuss his beliefs as openly as politicians from other faiths.

CJ: I think a lot of people who are non-religious, myself included, have this visceral idea that Mormonism is somehow “worse” than other religions. Like, it seems more cultish. Having taken a step back from Mormonism, do you see why people might think that?

BR: Sure, there is an inherent “other” issue on both sides here. Mormons were made to feel like outcasts by other religious groups in the middle of the 19th century. They then ended up embracing that and to this day they wear that status as a badge of honor. When they are singled out or “persecuted,” it’s just a sign that they are God's “chosen people.” Sound familiar? Personally, I think that narrative will fade with time as they become more integrated with society, as all religions seem to do.

CJ: Scientologists will probably always get fucked with.

BR: Haha! Maybe not. John Travolta’s triracial great-granddaughter will probably be president—and still a Scientologist.

CJ: You’re one of four brothers, and it amazes me that you're the only one of the four to leave the church. I don’t know your brothers well, it just seems strange that the oldest, the one the younger ones look up to, left, and the others stayed. Do you have any theories about why you're the only one to split?

BR: I can't really explain it. Maybe I'm naturally more skeptical? I think my individual experiences have something to do with it; my friends—my real friends, like you—certainly come into play. But I guess it is all of this and more. Recent studies suggest that children in the same family have very different experiences growing up based on birth order and mitigating factors in their parents and other family members’ lives. That being said I'm happy for all my brothers and the lives they lead. Even if we don't agree on everything, we love and respect each other, so I’m thankful for that.

CJ: Does your family believe you're going to hell?

BR: No. There is no “hell” in the LDS doctrine.

CJ: Oh! I did not know that. Is there anything comparable?

BR: There are different levels or kingdoms in eternity—three, I think—but only the top one allows you unfettered access to your family and loved ones. That level is reserved for card-carrying Mormons or those who were baptized post-mortem (yup, that happens). The bottom tier isn't hell, it's just not perfect paradise. It’s sort of like being stuck in a nice place forever.

CJ: And that’s for EVERYONE? Even nonbelievers?

BR: Yeah. It’s easy to see the appeal, right? Stuck in on OK place for eternity. It’s not so bad.

CJ: Totally. That’s actually really progressive compared to trying to scare people into thinking they've got a lake of fire to look forward to if they don’t obey all the rules.

BR: That’s part of the reason Mormonism is still growing big time. You can join the church and, no matter what, everything is cool. It’s just a question of how cool. Do you want to give up smokes and whiskey for that extra level of eternal salvation?

CJ: Unlike some people I’ve talked to who have drifted away from their childhood faiths, you don’t sound very bitter about your years in the church. It almost sounds like you think you could have had a happy life in the church. And it definitely would have been easier where your family is concerned. What’s the trade-off for you? What made leaving worth it?

BR: The trade-off? I don't know. A small part of me still hopes I might find some religion in a miraculous way later in life. But until then I have a wife and son whom I love and adore, and I don't think I would have them in another scenario in which I stayed Mormon. I also have intellectual honesty. I feel totally in touch with myself, and when I feel something now, I know I’m feeling something real. I guess in place of searching for complete understanding I've decided to search for peace and happiness that I can have now. I don't think paradise or heaven is an absence of strife or problems; I think it’s an acceptance of them, and I want strife in this life.

CJ: Having been raised in a faith, and now raising a son, do you feel better about raising a secular child, or do you think he'll be missing out on something?

BR: Good question. I do feel a little guilty that I can't in true faith give him answers to some of the big questions. But I also feel that we all have to face questions of existence, and I'll be honest with him and he will know that I love him unconditionally and from there he'll have to do the same thing we all should do and become an adult. Hopefully, that will take a very long time, ’cause I like him as he is now.

CJ: OK, last question: Throughout its history, Mormonism has parted ways with plenty of former tenets (e.g., the polygamy, the racism, the caffeine). Do you think it's just a matter of time before gays are accepted into the fold?

BR: If by “accepted” you mean “given the right to marry and all the other privileges” then I think it is definitely a matter of time, albeit a lot of time. I hope that that will happen in most major religions eventually, but it will probably be long after it does politically and socially. So we're talking decades, if not centuries, and I seriously doubt in our lifetime. But as it happens I think it will happen in the LDS faith, too. Before they become obsolete they will accept gays.

CJ: And President Romney?

BR: No chance.



Cord Jefferson is a senior editor at GOOD.

40 Comments / Post A Comment

johnpseudonym (#1,452)

I could never be involved in a religion that forbade Dr. Pepper.

Lemonnier (#14,611)

@johnpseudonym Not to mention its cheapo incarnation, Dr. Thunder.

BadUncle (#153)

@johnpseudonym They call me Mr. Pibb.

ep (#8,509)

There's also the institutional analysis of the Mormon church that individual testimonials can at times shed light on. And it is here that the organization earns its location in conventional wisdom as something closer to the Scientology end of the cult-to-religion spectrum. That there are Mormons who work through issues of morality and mortality is not surprising and not something that structurally differentiates Mormonism from other organized systems of belief. But the privilege cards, the pay-to-play secrecy, the hierarchical enforcements, the apocalyptic preparedness, the segregationist demands, the tithing requirements and so on are all hallmarks of an operation that hasn't evolved a survival strategy that doesn't rely on the pressures of social control. And that outsiders are suspicious, alarmed, or mocking is not only to be expected it is actually by design. Strictly alienating outsiders confers exclusivity and strengthens member loyalty. That's good for the growth of the "church", but it's an institutional disposition that should remind wider society that marginalizing Mormonism is still probably a pretty good idea.

Davis (#4,805)

@ep

1. Re: Apocalyptic preparedness: One assumes you refer to the practice of storing food, water, fuel, and other necessities. If so, this has nothing to do with the apocalypse and everything to do with being prepared for non-apocalyptic emergencies.

2. Re: The strict alienation of outsiders. I'd be interested to hear the ways in which this occurs. There's really one major aspect of the church that is closed to those who aren't member (or member who aren't complying with the teachings of the church), and that is the temple (which is separate from weekly church meetings). Any one could walk into any church service at any time. And, in my experience, Mormons outside of Utah tend to be fully integrated into their communities and have real and lasting relationships with "outsiders."

3. Re: segregationist demands: Please elaborate.

4. Can you give us a sense for what you believe the "marginalization of Mormonism" should, in your opinion, look like? Are there are other groups, religious or otherwise, that you also believe should be marginalized in a similar way?

ep (#8,509)

@Davis

Get off my porch. Thank you and have a good day.

Davis (#4,805)

@ep I see.

Davis (#4,805)

@ep So, the implementation of your proposal to marginalize Mormons has already begun! Fair enough. (And I suppose it must be somewhat disconcerting to find that one's echo chamber – where one can copy and paste from the text from a freshman seminar on the sociology of religion – has been rudely disturbed.)

LR Whitney (#199,592)

@ep Actually, you've confused "Mormonism" with the actual doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Unfortunately, the lunatics are now running the asylum, and they've been doing so since 1847. And the asylum is in Utah, all nicely shielded from normality all that time. The environment in which Mormon culture evolved has been violent and bizarre and biased by a systematic, unrelenting persecution by the forces of Christian America, aided by an attendant backslidden rabble more than happy to bloody their hands in the sport of fecking with the Saints so the "Good Christians" don't have to. So yeah, the Utah product has been a bit weird and still is. But you'd be surprised what happens to those same basic doctrines when they crawl out of that hot, stinky, dusty valley. For one thing, the rank-and-file birthed outside the Utah genetic pool has normal thought processess and a healthy skepticism not present in their Utah drone counterparts. They've known for years for instance, that their underwear wasn't "magic," and Brigham Young was poorly or miss-quoted more often than not by longhand, off-the-cuff scribes who reconstructed most of the Journal of Discourses and most other so-called un-canonized "prophecies" jotted down over the generations, half from memory days later as they squinted at their notes. And the other half the time Brother Brigham in particular, was just blowing smoke out his ass for emphasis or entertainment purposes. The Mormon church is really, right where the Apostolic father's died out in Christ's original Church. Nobody living today actually knew Brigham Young or Joseph Smith, and nobody living today even comes close to the visionary drive or charismatic mission of Joseph Smith. Neither did Brigham Young. Or really, anyone since. So they're all really just sorting out crap from prophecy, and piecing it together still. Theoretically, yeah, one of them could go into that big prophetic vision mode, but so far, not so much. Not since Joseph Smith. Whether you buy any of it or not, that much is obvious.

It's really just a matter of time before Mormonism is exposed to the world enough, and the "world" steals the demographic base from Mormonism enough through conversion, and then the whole religion can develop and internalized idea of what is or isn't "weird." At the moment, the Utah product still has trouble with that, particularly with the leadership. But then again, they're dropping like flies as well, and every generation of the oligarchy that passes on brings a broader and broader influx of "normal" into the religion.

But by comparison, there are still hillbilly rednecks in Tennessee who will beat the hell out of you or fill your ass full of OO buck for trying to tell them that the first Biblical Gospel can't be traced back before the 4th century after the death of Christ, and that it's not in King James English, nor written by the hand of Jesus, or Matthew for that matter. And the Christians have been working on that one for thousands of years. So sometimes, it takes a while for even the most well-meaning to sift through generations of self-serving folklore and faith-promoting BS to find out what's really true and what isn't.

Bittersweet (#765)

This was really excellent – thanks for the thoughtful and open discussion.

real talk (#47,418)

Wait, though, can't Mormon women not actually join the temple unless they have a male relative who IS "card-carrying"? Like, they can belong if their husband or father or uncle or whatever does.

And I think I would say that the conservative "family values" stance is very sexist, not just a little.

But I do really like this series. Thanks for the candid discussion.

gimlet (#10,400)

@real talk No, they can – usually, women only start going to the temple and doing those rituals when they get married, so they tend to go with their husbands. But older single women can do most of the rituals on their own.

Now, if you read the doctrine carefully, it IS true that you can't get into the highest level of heaven without a husband. And in the temple ritual, the husband is an intermediary between the wife and god. Which is fucked up, and only a small part of the reason I think the church is VERY sexist, not just a little.

(blah blah ex-Mormon lady soapbox blah.)

LindaSDF (#49,562)

@gimlet The husband is not an intermediary. He is given the priviledge by Christ.

LindaSDF (#49,562)

@real talk They need to talk to their bishop. But, no, a woman can go to the temple if she is ready to learn what they teach there, and make those covenants. The only "Man" that is required is Jesus Christ.

153351 (#47,469)

But this isn't "Ask a Mormon!" It's "Ask an Ex-Mormon"?

melis (#1,854)

@153351 Ask A Jack Mormon!

Carrie Frye (#9,863)

@153351 You're right! It was Cord's editor, not Cord, with the false advertising. Corrected now.

@153351 Yes, it's "Ask an Ex-Mormon" – which is similar to "Ask the Ex-Spouse After a Bitter Divorce," only more vitriolic.

katiebakes (#32)

This is truly awesome, thanks for this. Having spent a lot of time in Salt Lake City and and also having become addicted to a lot of Mormon mommyblogs (don't ask, it's Jolie's fault) I'm incredibly fascinated by these kinds of things. The part about not going to church being telling hits close to home for me; I was raised intensely Catholic but haven't been to church in years other than Christmas Eve. (I still feel a lot of fondness, probably a lot of it nostalgia/tradition-based, for the religion and have a tendency to downplay its institutional problems — which is why I liked his comparison to Catholicism above.) Thanks again, Cord and Beau.

jolie (#16)

@katiebakes I agree with all of this. Including and especially the part where it's all my fault.

Carina (#4,319)

Good conversation, guys. Like.

But maybe next time if you want to Ask a Mormon, maybe ask a "card-carrying" Mormon? We're here, reading The Awl, just like you.

Well, not "just" like you, I had to ask my husband for permission to use the internets, unlike the rest of you cads and hussies.

melis (#1,854)

@Carina Have you read any of the articles with Xarissa? She is a current Mormon and has been asked many questions.

Carina (#4,319)

@melis I have! She's ginchy!

Davis (#4,805)

I like this. A few comments:

I admire Beau’s lack of animosity towards Mormonism. Many Mormons can’t understand why people have left the church feel bitterly towards it, but it’s always made sense to me, and I greatly admire those who are able to transcend it. I also greatly admire his thoughtfulness and intellectual honesty. We lose too many people of his ilk.

I take issue with the statement that “Mormonism almost immediately rejects people who question the faith,” an assertion buttressed by the fact that Beau wasn’t able to enter the temple to see his brother married. Not allowing Beau to enter the temple had nothing to do with his rejection of Mormonism and everything to with the fact that he wasn’t complying with some very basic Mormon doctrines. There are plenty of people who don’t question Mormonism who attend weekly church meetings who aren’t allowed to enter the temple for the same reason. And for the record, Mormons question their faiths all the time. I myself have undergone phases of serious questioning, and in discussing those doubts with friends, parents, and church leaders, I have never, ever felt rejected, judged, or condemned. (And I’m now wondering if this statement derives from a confusion between Mormon congregations, where we attend weekly meetings, and the temple, which is not tied to a congregation and which we attend less frequently and is far less communal. In other words, being denied the opportunity to go to the temple is not the same as being denied the opportunity to attend church.)

I’d quibble with the notion that strict Mormons are trying to “build a Mormon fortress in which to ignore all the realities of the outside world.” Obviously many of us make attempts to reduce influences we don’t view as constructive or healthy, but I don’t think that has much to do with trying to ignore realities.

With regards to the question of Mormons and people with black skin: there were a few black men ordained to the priesthood by Joseph Smith. The policy of denying the priesthood was instituted later. Over time several unofficial, folk (and very racist) theories explaining this policy developed. It’s exceedingly rare to meet a Mormon who today believes them. The little girl in Cord’s class would have learned that at home, or possibly from a rogue teacher. But unless Cord is older than I think he is, that hadn’t been taught officially for quite some time.

As to why many non-religious people regard Mormonism as being “worse” than other religions, it’s my belief that it has to do with the relatively higher level of religiosity among Mormons, and, to a lesser extent, the fact that we’re a little exotic.

Also, I really doubt the reason the church is growing has anything to do with the fact that we don’t believe in a traditional Christian hell.

martina (#47,781)

How do I take this as informed information when the first paragraph has an obvious (to real Mormons, anyway) error?

Mormon temples aren't open on Sundays.

cardine (#47,957)

I liked this conversation. It was like reading a profile from "I'm A Mormon," only it's "I'm Not A Mormon" or "I Was A Mormon." I guess we're all just people with our own perspectives, mine of which includes being a card-carrying single female Mormon.

But seriously, I don't care that there are some mistakes. It's good to see people's various perspectives. Thanks for this article.

Nice interview. I do have to take issue with Beau's notion that Mormonism isn't particularly sexist. Young Mormon girls are indoctrinated to believe that their best possible future is as a housewife and a mother to as many children as she can bear. My own grandparents vocally described my mother as a "disappointment" because she only had two children, and speculated on "the great things she could have accomplished with her intelligence if she had been born a man."

I suppose this level of sexism isn't unusual in any Christian denomination, but the Mormon representation of it always felt a little pronounced to me. Dunno. At any rate, it's real; the church wants to see women back in the home and supported by their breadwinners.

A funny aside: Mormon Sunday School is sexually segregated, and for three years we lived in a small Montana town where I was the only boy. Thus I spent several years as a "Merry Miss," which never fails to crack up every Mormon and ex-Mormon I've shared this with.

Lemonnier (#14,611)

@Eric Jacobsen@twitter I went, "Huh?" at that too, but I chalk it up to a difference in perspective and experience. I stopped going to church around 12 or 13, for three reasons, two of which stemmed from sexism.* First, I was told (in response to a question I asked) that MLK wasn't getting into the celestial kingdom because he wasn't Mormon. (I didn't even know about the pre-1978 ban on black men in the priesthood at the time.) This struck me as absurd and weirdly bureaucratic.

Second, a friend and I hid in a closet and eavesdropped on a priesthood meeting, to see what the big, exclusive, secretive deal was. It mostly focused on scheduling a basketball tournament. So I was like, "okay, the priesthood is basically a treehouse with a "no girls allowed" sign on it. And I'm supposed to take these jokers seriously?"

Third was the grooming you describe, that begins at 12 or so. (Though I don't remember Primary being sexually segregated– I thought that started with Merrie Miss.) I went to a relatively progressive ward in the northeast, which at least tacitly accepted the notion of women working outside the home, but it was made pretty clear that this was not Jesus' No. 1 choice for you. That was pretty much when I said, F this noise.**

*Also, the prospect of getting up at o'dark -thirty every morning for Seminary. It was pre-adolescent feminism *and* laziness.

** My Mormon upbringing prevents me from using actual curse words, apparently.

LindaSDF (#49,562)

@Eric Jacobsen@twitter In your grandparents' day, the emphasis was on girls getting married and popping out the babies. But, God has finally gotten thru to the leaders with a reality check, that girls can now go to BYU to get an actual education, not just to get their MrS degree. That it's not always practical or even realistic, to keep popping out babies like crazy.
I would like to see the day when women CAN stay home with their children, if they want to, but sadly, that's not always a realistic option.

Carina (#4,319)

@Eric Jacobsen@twitter

I think much of what you posted is either out of date or a confusion between cultural and doctrinal Mormonism.

Any time you have a religion like Mormonism that has a lay leadership at the local level you're bound to hear, and possibly internalize, ideas that aren't actually part of the church's dogma.

I was never "indoctrinated" that my best possible future is a housewife and mother to as many children as I could bear.

Have I heard random church members say such things? Sure, but they're people with their own cultural opinions not representing the official church doctrine. And then I flipped them off and told them they were assholes.

Frankly, my mother, who is a professor, is still pissed that I just have a bachelor's degree. It was always expected that I would educate myself as far as possible, that I'd have a career, and then I'd have a family…you know…LIKE EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD. Poseidon's Trident! I'm in my mid-thirties with a couple of rugrats! Could I have had more children? Yes. Did I want anymore? HELL NO. Did the Mormon church tell me to have children? No. Did I decide I wanted to? Yes. Did I make a choice to stop? Yes. LAWS OFF MY BODY ZOMG NORMAL.

It is kind of funny you were a Merry Miss (I'm glad they did away with those silly names) but Sunday school isn't segregated. There are three hours, only one of which is split by gender. The first is the entire congregation (Sacrament Meeting,) the second is Sunday School, which is, for lack of a better term, integrated, but split by age, and then the last hour is split by gender after age 12, with the men going into Young Men/Priesthood and the women into Young Women/Relief Society.

Fundamentally (ha) it all comes down to a lay leadership and cultural differences. Of course you're going to get some level of out-there sexism and misinterpretation of doctrine in isolated or rural communities. Those ideas exist regardless of religion. That doesn't mean it's representative of a church in total. Any time a religion allows any of its members to give sermons or to teach any class, you're going to get people interpreting and spouting things that aren't true. I don't doubt that you heard all kinds of crazy nonsense, that doesn't mean it's doctrine.

Anyway, I've got to get back to my new-fangled career.

bax (#59,900)

@Carina

Regardless of allowances made for rogue Sunday School teachers, LDS doctrine is fundamentally sexist. As long as women can't hold the priesthood and don't have the same opportunities for church leadership as men, sexism will be part of the doctrine. Mormon culture can only progress so far as long as it is working from that framework.

BadUncle (#153)

I have a few Mormon friends, some of whom are very talented artists and designers. And if they were representative of the LDS Church as a social instrument, I'd be nothing but supportive. They are some of the most decent, guileless people I've ever known. Sadly, though, the Church's invasion into secular matters – particularly about the human rights of people that do not share their faith – makes it as dangerous an institution as the Tea Party.

also? Revelation is a con. Don't believe me? An angel just appeared inside my hat, and wrote the reason down. And I'll tell you for 10% of your income.

melis (#1,854)

@BadUncle Do you accept PayPal?

JJH23 (#49,299)

This conversation between the two friends is interesting and seems innocent. But, there is a fair amount of information passed between them that is just not true or simply paints a picture that is not really the norm. I do appreciate BR's attempts to state that he does not speak for the Church, and in most cases he does a good job of explaining Church positions and describes some of the unique social aspects of the LDS Church. But I would hope that all those who are reading this realize that this is a person interviewing someone who never really accepted and has not truly lived the Mormon doctrine, it would be better to form an opinion or learn about the Church from a more legitimate source. That being said, I think this BR person has lived a fairly common LDS life and has made his decision to not participate anymore, which is his choice. I did find it somewhat interesting that they were surprised that all of his brothers are still active members. I think that shows the lack of understanding as to why people join and remain.

LindaSDF (#49,562)

The phrase that stood out was "Tuscon is not Provo".
This just confirms my suspicions, that it's not the LDS church that people leave, but the Utah Mormon culture. I really think that everyone thinking to leave the LDS church, who are living in what I call "Mormon Central", should leave there and come out here to what Utah Mormons like to think of as "The Mission Field" (even tho Utah needs missionaries as much, if not more, than we do). And it doesn't count if all you did was serve a mission here. I'm talking about living day to day lives, with jobs and homes and family. Living where you are not the majority religion, or were some other religion is the majority religion (lots of Catholics and Jews where I live).
Too many Mormons in the west seem to think that they can't inter-mingle with the gentile population without being contaminated by it. They need to learn to stand on their own two feet. To develope a testimony of the GOSPEL of JESUS CHRIST, and not just of Mormonism.

bax (#59,900)

@LindaSDF

I agree that the insular Utah Mormon culture can be quite off-putting and may be one reason people leave the church. But the interviewee didn't live in Utah and didn't leave because he had a problem with the culture. It sounds like he left because he was skeptical of the doctrines and didn't like all the rules. I was a Mormon in lots of places that weren't Utah (IL, SC, KY, AZ, KS, TX) and left because I realized I don't believe in God. Most of the other ex-Mormons I know left because they are gay. I guess I just get annoyed when people blame everything on Mormon culture when clearly there are other valid reasons for getting out.

tomgotto (#113,504)

And then you have the audacity to say "Yet while we often hear about Mormons, we hardly ever hear from them." But then you interview someone who not even Mormon anymore. There are millions of Mormons in the USA and you decide to interview someone that is no longer Mormon to get an "insider's" view. That is laughable at best and even irresponsible and bad journalism (if this is supposed to be called journalism).

tomgotto (#113,504)

This article is full of crap. I stopped reading after the first paragraph because if the author cannot even get simple things right in his opening paragraph I assume it is only going to get worse as he introduces more complex or delicate topics.

His lack of understanding and sloppy research was exposed when he said "for 18 years he faithfully went to a Mormon temple every Sunday with his parents and three brothers."

The inaccuracy is exposed when one realizes that there is not a single Mormon temple that is open on Sundays. There is no way this guy went to the temple with his family on Sundays.

Don't believe anything here.

LR Whitney (#199,592)

@tomgotto You're an ass. You make me ashamed to be a member of the church. I apologise for you.

Five things you don't know about Mormonism – and how Romney will sweep the Casserole Belt!
http://brettcottrell.blogspot.com/2011/11/five-things-you-didnt-know-about-mitt.html

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