The Gayest Meeting I’ve Ever Attended

I spent the first half of last Friday at a workshop sponsored by the LGBT rights advocacy organization OutFront Minnesota. The purpose of the meeting was to help religiously-inclined folks organize to defeat the definition of marriage amendment in the vote that will be taking place in MN in November. I wouldn’t normally attend a political meeting like this, but I found the fact that the meeting was geared towards people who are active participants in a faith organization intriguing.

I attended the workshop with my good friend John, and three other members of the LDS church. I don’t know how many people attended the workshop (100, maybe?), but it’s pretty safe to say that Mormons were statistically over-represented at this meeting, which was surprising given that the LDS church has gained a reputation for being strongly supportive of definition of marriage amendments. John summed it up well in his post:

At the beginning of the day, when folks were invited to introduce themselves and share their religious affiliation with the group, when I and the other LDS folks introduced ourselves as Mormon, the assembly actually cheered. No other religion represented there yesterday elicited that kind of response. For me and others, it was quite emotional.

I don’t say this to convince you of how awesome I am (although, for the record, I am very awesome). Rather, I’m just acknowledging that  being a gay-marriage supporter is a bit of a taboo in the Latter-day Saint culture. However, I don’t think any of my fellow Mormons from my local congregation will be particularly surprised to learn that I do not support the amendment.

I’m not a political person. I’ve never championed a political cause. I’ve never had a sign in my front lawn encouraging people to vote for anything or anyone. I have no idea who my representatives are in the state or federal legislatures.

I don’t know how active I will be over the next several months in encouraging people to vote against the amendment. I might be very active, or I might not be. We’ll just have to see. If you’re a Mormon, I might try to strike up a conversation with you sometime over the next several months about it. Don’t be afraid. I’m nice!

So, why would I consider specifically approaching Mormons to have a conversation about the amendment? Because I want my fellow Mormons to feel empowered to choose how they feel about this political issue, rather than assuming that they are “supposed” to vote a certain way just because they are members of the Church.

Here is a promise to my fellow Mormons:

1. I promise I will never try to change anyone’s mind about the morality or immorality of homosexual actions.

2. I promise I will never encourage anyone to do or believe anything contrary to official church policies or doctrines (relative to this issue, lol. Hello, loud laughter!).

Deal?

I Hate this City

Regular readers will recall that I’m trying to collect all entries in the PostSecret project that explicitly reference Mormonism. You can see all the secrets I’ve collected here.

This secret appeared in the latest installment of PostSecrets:

I love being a mormon... But I Hate this city (Salt Lake City UTAH)

My question: does the author live in SLC, or do they hate it from somewhere else?

I’ve always liked Salt Lake City, but, of course, I’ve never lived there.

If you know of any other secretes not in my collection, please let me know.

What’s the deal with Mormon Missionaries?

Huzzah! Another question in the inbox! This question comes from my friend Nate, who blogs over at Thoughts on the Urban Environment. He’s also one of my co-conspirators at a new website I’ve started but haven’t told anyone about yet: Streets.mn.

Here’s Nate’s question, presented in pieces:

I have a couple questions about the LDS Church missionary system.

Y’all love these questions about Mormons. Luckily, Mormons are one of my favorite things to talk about, so keep ’em coming!

How does it work? Who does it? Are they volunteers? And, if you are from, for example, Minnesota, do you typically do your missionary work elsewhere, such as another state or country? Or, would one stay within their own local community?

Mormon missionaries are volunteers – not only do they not get paid, they mostly have to pay their own way. Missionaries make monthly payments TO the church to pay their own way. The church uses a sort of global sliding scale to determine how much it costs based on where you’re from and your ability to pay. The current cost to be a missionary for people from the US is $400 per month. Since many missionaries serve in poorer countries where expenses are cheap, the church can shift funds around and keep costs low for everyone. The church uses this $400/month to pay all of your expenses, so Missionaries don’t ever have to directly pay for housing, utilities, transportation, supplies, etc. Missionaries receive a small stipend each month (~$150) to pay for groceries, and miscellaneous living expenses, though it is anticipated that much of their food will be provided by members of the church.

Missionaries do not get to choose where they serve. They submit an application to the church headquarters in Salt Lake City, and in a few weeks, they are told where they will be sent. It is not negotiable, except for in special circumstances. Typically only significant medical circumstances would result in a missionary staying in their hometown or state, but staying within the country is typical. The US exports missionaries, though the long-term global goal is to avoid missionaries having to cross national borders.

Most missionaries appear to be young men straight out of high school or college. Do people of other ages do this? Are women involved in the missionary process? Or, do women participate in ways other than door-to-door interactions?

Single men are permitted to serve if they are between the ages of 19 and 25, and are encouraged to serve as soon as possible after turning 19. Single women may serve anytime at age 21 and up. Men serve for 24 months, women for 18 (Do NOT ask why there are different rules for men and women – there is no good reason and it reeks of sexism). Senior couples can also serve after they are retired and no longer have kids at home. They are typically given more administrative roles, which is why you don’t see 70-year-old couples riding mountain bikes around town and wearing backpacks.

Is doing some type of missionary work required by the Church to continue being an active member?

No, although serving a mission for the church is very much a rite-of-passage and the cultural pressure for young men to choose to serve a mission can be extremely great.

Did you spend time doing missionary work? If so, where, and what was your experience like? Did being a missionary, biking around neighborhoods, help cultivate your love of bicycles?

Thanks! I look forward to reading the response.

I was a missionary in Ohio from 2000-2002. Believe it or not, I didn’t touch a bicycle the entire time, although in hindsight, that was clearly a mistake (for several reasons). I had many wonderful experiences as a missionary that I will forever cherish, although I generally consider it to be an emotional low point in my life. I’ve written previously about my decision to serve a mission. Beyond that, I’m happy to leave that chapter of my life in the past, at least as far as this blog goes. I’m happy to talk your ear off about it in person sometime, should we find ourselves with a few hours to kill in an airport or something. Thanks for the question!

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Lost Faith at BYU

Regular readers will recall that I’m trying to collect all entries in the PostSecret project that explicitly reference Mormonism. You can see all the secrets I’ve collected here.

A reader supplied the following secret, which is at least as old as 2006, but which I didn’t have in my collection. If you know of any others, please send them along.

this is where i lost my faith

The image is of the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, UT.

I really like this secret.

Unhealthy Shame

Huzzah! Another question in the inbox! This one comes from a reader named Ellie. This is no ordinary question, though. The following question involves a sensitive subject and is of a sexual nature. You’ve been warned! Read at your own risk! You must be 18 years old (or this tall) to read this post.

Since this question is both long and complicated, I’ve rearranged it slightly, and I’ll present it and respond to it in pieces.

I understand you may not want to answer this on your blog because I am under the impression you may have a lot of followers from your church on here, which is why I attached my email. I hope to hear from you soon!

You are right, many of the readers of this blog are my fellow members of the LDS church, and this topic has the potential to offend many of them. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.

Most people who have never been involved with the church are shocked to hear Mormon views on masturbation. Outside of the church, as I’m sure you know, masturbation is viewed as a healthy, necessary part of growing up. Inside the church, from what I gather, it is perceived as an awful, disgusting sin that can lead to homosexuality and other horrible things.

I think this is perhaps a little bit of an overstatement about the perception of masturbation in the church. It’s true that there have been church leaders in the past who have suggested that masturbation will lead to homosexuality or any number of other things we would describe today as sexual deviancy. However, you will not find these teachings in the church anymore (or if you do, I think most members of the church are smart enough to simply outright dismiss them as ridiculous). Some members of the church may still use words like “awful” or “disgusting”, but this will vary greatly among members. The church continues to teach that masturbation is sinful behavior and should be avoided, and I suspect most members do not object to these teachings. But I also think that there is a growing number of members of the church willing to use words like “normal”.

Many healthcare professionals and therapists would say that what the church teaches on masturbation is unhealthy and can cause self loathing and unimaginable shame. It seems that to set yourself to such a high standard, if only at least as a young person going through puberty, will inevitably lead to failure (according to WebMD anyway, 95% of males and 89% of females say they have masturbated).

Agreed. Any time the church sets a behavioral standard and the members fail to live to that standard, shame will likely follow. Shame is a problem in the church, not only regarding masturbation, but for many topics. A quick google search will reveal many personal stories from individuals who feel like they can never measure up to standards set by the LDS church (or other churches). The rhetoric surrounding the topic of masturbation can be especially shame inducing.

I also read this article that I thought was interesting (http://www.i4m.com/think/sexuality/masturbation_help.htm). However, the article also made me wonder what this man would do if young people at his church confided in him about their masturbation ‘struggles,’ what would he say to them? Would he speak his mind and try to ease their pain the way he perhaps wished someone would have eased his, or would he remain anonymous the way he did in the article? Food for thought!

Ok, fair enough for that guy. I don’t disagree, although I think the article is weird and unnecessarily explicit.

I have seen how the churches’ views on masturbation have led someone very close to me to feel horrible amounts of guilt and shame and I wish I could take all that shame away from him. It breaks my heart to hear him be so hard on himself about the topic, using words like dirty, and unworthy, it makes me sick. I guess what my question is, what is your opinion on this topic?

Yes, it sounds like your friend is in a very sad place. I think the most unfortunate part of the situation is that your friend probably thinks he’s alone – that he’s the exception in the church for struggling with this. Far from it. If his peers were willing to speak more openly, I expect your friend would discover he is in good company. I hope you can convince your friend that there is an important difference between feeling legitimate guilt for doing something you are not proud of and feeling unhealthy shame. Shame is rarely a useful emotion.

My hope is that masturbation becomes more normalized within the church. I think the church is afraid to teach that masturbation is “normal” behavior, because they’re afraid people will accept that as license to engage. However, I expect that the church will find that each generation in the church will increasingly adopt a “normalized” perception of masturbation regardless. I expect teenagers will grow up increasingly hearing persons outside the church using words like “normal” and “healthy” to describe masturbation, including well-respected therapists, doctors, and other professionals. Regardless of whether the behavior is sinful, the church will have to decide if they want to continue to emphasize teachings that modern scientists and therapists disagree with.

The church has de-emphasized without disavowing many teachings in the past (forbidding birth control, for example). I predict that this will eventually be one of them.

Anyway, that’s all I can say about it. If you need any more light reading, I’m a fan of The Mormon Therapist, who has written on the topic of masturbation many times.

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Is there forgiveness for Murderers?

Huzzah! Another question in the inbox. This one comes from my friend Greg, who is back from the dead after falling off the face of the planet for the past 10 years (sorry, inside joke). I’m gonna warn you, though. This is a great question, but it’s heavy. Here’s the question:

Reuben, with the latest update in the Susan/Josh Powell and their sons’ case, there are many around me that are immediately condemning Josh to certain Degrees of Glory. Although, everyone knows that we are not capable of making such judgements, they all start flinging scriptures and opinions of how the Bible, BoM, and D&C explain murder. So my question isn’t really pertaining to the Powell case, but rather murder in general. Can forgiveness be given to those who plan and execute first degree murder? (Not that I’m planning anything.) I’m just curious to some outsiders perspective on the matter. . .

So in case anyone out there is living under a rock, Greg is referring to the tragic recent events involving the Powell family out in Utah, members of the Mormon church. Josh Powell, a man who (in hindsight) clearly has severe mental issues, [probably] killed his wife Susan back in 2009, and [definitely] killed himself and his two sons, ages 5 and 7. For more details about the events, see Wikipedia. An example of the controversy Greg is referring to can be found here.

First, let me just say that hell if I know what happens to murderers, right? You’ve got me…

But when has that ever stopped me from pretending like I have all the answers?

I don’t really understand the whole idea of a literal atonement. The metaphysics are beyond me. I don’t understand how Jesus dying thousands of years ago saves me from my actions today. Or how His suffering somehow means that I don’t have to. Or why a loving God would require suffering to begin with. The equation just really doesn’t add up for me. Why wouldn’t we all just suffer for our own sins? How, metaphysically, does one person’s suffering transfer to another person? If God is all powerful and all loving, why couldn’t He forgive us if He felt like it even without Jesus? And who is the bean counter in heaven that makes sure everyone’s Suffering Account (TM) is paid-in-full?

I know the sunday school answers to these questions, and no, I don’t find them helpful.

But here’s the thing: If I’m going to believe in Jesus (which I choose to do), then I’m going to believe in the most powerful Jesus I can imagine. And the most loving and compassionate one, too. The Jesus I can believe in is not one that will save me from some sins but not others. He’s not a sort-of-powerful deity that isn’t quite supreme enough to overcome the highest tier of sins, or the kind of deity that creates us (with all our flaws) without providing a path for redemption. And He certainly is not a God of vengeance (vengeance makes for great comic books – Ghost Rider anyone? – but lousy Christian deity). So yes, I absolutely believe that forgiveness is possible for murderers. And rapists and [insert horrible crime]ists. I won’t settle for any lesser Jesus.

Also, whose idea was it that some sins are more grievous than other sins in God’s eyes? I’m not sure I believe that at all.

Any more questions?
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Sacrifice a waste

Regular readers will recall that I am trying to collect all entries from PostSecret that explicitly reference Mormonism. You can see all the secrets I’ve collected here.

Sometimes I feel as if all this sacrifice was nothing but a waste.. maybe it's the church I attend, or maybe it's the world i live in... but all i can think is wow....... Jesus must be Pissed!!

I’m not sure if this totally meets the requirements of explicitly referencing Mormonism, but there are a few clues that this secret is referencing Mormonism. The big giveaway, of course, is that the background text on the right half of the postcard is from “Lesson 22: The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Primary 3: Choose the Right B, (1994),103.

The image is pretty Mormon as well. I don’t know if it’s an exclusively Mormon image (probably one of y’all can tell me). Many Christian faiths appreciate the Garden of Gethsemane scene, but Mormons tend to depict it more (artists of other faiths tend to depict the cross scene more than Mormons).

As for the secret itself, it doesn’t really resonate with me. I can appreciate the idea of pondering how deity feels about our actions, but I admit that I don’t totally understand what the author meant by “maybe it’s the church I attend (assuming s/he was referring to the LDS church).

What do you think?

Crazy Mission Stories

Huzzah! Another question in the inbox! This one comes from Joey at Wide White.

I came across this video of two Mormon missionaries getting attacked by a parrot when they knocked on a guy’s door. It made me wonder if you have any crazy stories of things like this happening during your time as a missionary?

Here’s the video:

HA. LOL. That video is great.

That missionary’s reaction to (what appears to be) a perfectly harmless pet bird is priceless. Plus goober Missionary #2 swatting at the bird like a 12 year old with a giant grin is pretty good, too.

So you want to talk Mission Stories, huh?

Here’s the thing about mission Stories: Mormons love to tell them, but after a while you just get kind of sick of them. Mission stories all start to sound exactly the same after a while.

You see, missionaries all get home from the mission, and start telling each other mission stories. And everyone is pretty sure that their mission stories are better than everyone else’s. And all these returned missionaries try to convince each other that they served in the biggest ghetto ever and there has never been a ghetto more ghetto than their ghetto. And then you figure out that their definition of ghetto is Richfield or somewhere else completely middle-class. And then you figure out that you’ve all got exactly the same set of stories.

Plus, a lot of things that are really funny at the time just don’t make great stories. For example, watching this video was funny, but imagine Goober Missionary #2 trying to tell his friends at home about this experience 10 years from now.

One time, we were out tracting, and we knocked on a door, and when the guy opened it, lol, a bird came out! and I was like “Sqeeeee!” and my companion was like “Heeyeyyeyeyywoo!” And then the bird flew back in the house and they guy told us he wasn’t interested in the Book of Mormon and asked us to leave. Oh man it was crazy! Fun times.

See, not exactly riveting.

After a while, you get a little bit jaded. Now, if I’m sitting in Sunday School and some dude raises his hand and says, “Well this one time on my mission…”, I just roll my eyes.

“Oh great,” I say, nudging the guy next to me. “It’s Mission Story Guy.”

I had some fun times as a missionary. I have many fond memories of life as a missionary and different things that happened on people’s doorsteps. I met a million different kinds of people, met some really great folks, and was rejected in pretty much any way you could imagine. But I really don’t like to talk about the mission much. Those experiences are important to me, but they don’t really make great stories, and they don’t define me – and the mission overall just wasn’t a high point for me.

I love watching vids of Mormons on YouTube, though! I love that all these 19 year olds have so much free time on their hands, little to no direct supervision, and increasingly, video cameras and bicycles. It’s a perfect combination for YouTube!

Maybe some of my readers have some good mission stories for you, though. What do you say, readers? Ever get chased by a bird while knocking doors?

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Not Against Gay Rights

Regular readers will recall that I am collecting all entries in the PostSecret project that explicitly reference Mormonism or the LDS Church. You can see the rest of the entries I’ve collected here.

The newest entry is disappointing for several reasons.

I'm Mormon... and im NOT against gay rights.

1. It’s not really a statement about anything. This person is “not against” gay rights perhaps in the same sense that I’m “not against” macramé.

2. Which gay rights are we talking about? All card carrying Mormons say they support [edit: some] gay rights.

3. Even beyond playing semantics with this one, it’s disappointing that the author of this card thinks this needs to be a secret. Plenty of  Mormons are openly supporting gay marriage.

This secret is a dud. Enough Milk already. I’m ready for some Meat!

Mormon or Christian?

Huzzah! New question in the mailbag! I’m proud to say that this question was asked just a couple days ago (as opposed to the last questions I answered 2 months late…) This one comes from Joey at Wide White:

Do you consider yourself more Mormon or Christian? Or does the distinction even matter? Within Christianity it seems that some, such as Catholics or Baptists or others, identify more with their sect/denomination, while others, particularly “evangelical Christians,” identify themselves more broadly as Christians.

I wonder because I asked 2 Mormon missionaries who approached me once why it was so important to convert me if I was already a Christian. You don’t really see Lutherans trying to convert Methodists. I’ve seen Baptists try to convert Catholics, but that’s only if they don’t consider the Catholic (or even Catholics in general) to be Christian in the first place. I wondered why it mattered that I specifically be Mormon if we’re all Christians anyway. They said something about heaven having tiers and Mormons are the top tier and other Christians are on a lower tier. At least that’s how I remember it. I could be totally misrepresenting it.

Anyway, if this is a dumb question, feel free to make all sorts of fun of me.

Good question! The great Are Mormons Christians? debate is always a fun one, and it’s being asked a lot lately due to Romney’s likely success at securing the Republican nomination. I think the answer is simple – of course Mormons are Christian. When taking an overview of worldwide religions, it is very clear to me that Mormons fit under the Christian umbrella.

In my shallow understanding of Mormon history, I get the impression that past generations of Mormons weren’t overly concerned about whether other Christian sects accepted them into the Christian body or not. In fact, I get the impression that until the mid 20th century, Mormons considered their rejection by other Christians a badge of honor – evidence that Satan was trying to tear down God’s chosen people – evidence that the rest of Christianity had been corrupted. However, today’s Mormons are very quick to insist that they are Christian, and that the chasm between Mormonism and other Christians isn’t as wide as many think it is. Being accepted into the body of Christianity is very important to the modern church.

Still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t significant differences between Mormonism and other Christian sects, which most Mormons also quickly acknowledge. Mormonism likes to maintain a comfortable arms length from the rest of Christianity – close enough that we share many common beliefs – far enough that we’ve got enough unique truth that you should leave your current church to join us.

As for me, I definitely identify with the Mormon label more than I identify with the Christian label. Mormonism is more than a set of beliefs – it’s a culture, a way of life, a group of people. It’s no secret to readers of this blog that I don’t always agree with the LDS church – I’m not Mormon necessarily because I agree with it – I’m a lousy Mormon as far as other Mormons are concerned. But I’m proud of the Mormon label because it represents a people and a way of life that have always been good to me. It’s not really about beliefs. It’s about people – and I LOVE Mormons.

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