Monday, August 3, 2015

The Evolution of Gender Role Responsibilities in Marriage within the LDS Church

Back in October 2008, I wrote two posts, on consecutive days, that generated the most comments in the history of my blog.  They were focused on The Family: A Proclamation to the World and what it said about presiding in the home.  If anyone wants to read them after finishing this post, they are at the following links:

"Fathers Are to Preside" and "Presiding: An Evolution of Definition"

I came across those posts today, and I want to share another commentary on the section in question - worded as a response to something I read in a group forum from a Mormon man who was defending the traditional division of labor within marriage as the one and only righteous model.  He was defending traditional gender roles in marriage and society at large by emphasizing what was said to Adam and Eve when they left the Garden of Eden.  There is a lot more I could say about that approach, but I want to focus this post on the aspect of the LDS Church's current position concerning how spouses are to construct the performance of their parental responsibilities. 

The following is what I said to him - and what I would say to anyone who tried to insist that the traditional delineation still is in place as the requirement to be considered faithful for Mormons:

Have you read, carefully, the section in the Proclamation to the World that describes the Church’s *current” stance on gender roles within marriage – or have you, like so many other members, glossed over that section by assuming it says exactly what you were taught in your formative years, simply because it uses much of the traditional terminology in some places?

The following is a close, tight reading [with commentary, to make an important point] of the actual words: 

“In these sacred responsibilities [all of the responsibilities listed previously in the paragraph, importantly without disclaimers or exceptions], fathers and mothers are obligated [strong word choice] to help one another [not insist that the other perform the traditional responsibilities alone] as equal partners [which means "preside in the home" is being defined very differently than it was in the past and, in practical terms, is merely honorific in the best marriages]. Disability, death, or other circumstances [again, no qualifications or limitations in this wording] may necessitate individual adaptation [change to the traditional norm initiated by the spouses themselves with no need to seek permission from anyone else].” 

There absolutely is room in this statement for the traditional allocation of parental responsibilities (and I believe nearly all of the top leadership still believes that is the ideal, where possible), but there is NO room in it for insisting that those responsibilities are the sole domain of either spouse, ordained by God to be exclusive and definitional. If a man insists that he must provide and his wife must nurture by divine command simply because of their biological sex difference (and neither is obligated or excused in participating in the other spouse’s domain), for example, that man is acting in opposition to the Church’s stated position in the Proclamation. If a man refuses to consider doing dishes or changing a diaper or reading to his children, for example, simply because he is the man and those tasks are not part of his responsibilities – or if a woman refuses to consider working for compensation outside the home simply because she is the woman and that assignment is not part of her responsibilities – in that situation each of the individuals is not in line with the Church’s current counsel regarding marriage. The published standard no longer is about each person individually and separately; it now is about the couple as one, understanding the overall responsibilities of parenthood and figuring out how to make it work so their own marriage can provide what it is supposed to provide – together, helping each other, being equal partners

Too many members don’t understand, but this isn’t the LDS Church of my youth and early adulthood.  The Proclamation doesn’t say what Pres. Benson once said. It’s time members let go of his former counsel and embrace what is quoted above and being taught now. 

As long as a couple is sharing parental responsibilities by helping each other as equal partners, their own individual adaptation of the traditional roles is in line with the current, published standard – and everyone else needs to get out of their home and stop judging them for their righteous exercise of agency – no matter how they structure their marriage differently than anyone else would structure theirs

Friday, July 31, 2015

Holding On and Letting Go: Mormonism Is Unique, but Not As Unique As Many People Think

I have heard a lot of Mormons bemoan what they see as the abandonment of some unique aspects of Mormon theology and history that they believe and cherish.  I share that general concern that we not lose our uniqueness and become just another Protestant denomination, but I disagree that we have abandoned our uniqueness in an attempt to become more mainstream.  I believe we have abandoned some of the unique aspects of our historical interpretations of doctrine that I have come to see as "the incorrect traditions of our own fathers".

To frame this around missionary work and the message that is presented currently to people who are investigating the LDS Church, let me mention a few areas of improvement I see now compared to when I served a mission:

Improvement #1) My daughter served a mission in Germany just last year – and she taught most of the things most people mention loving so much. She didn’t teaching a new, watered down version of Mormonism, different than I taught almost 30 years ago. She taught the same concepts and principles – but she could dig in and tailor what she said to each person in a way I couldn't when I served.

Improvement #2) I don’t want our “folklore” taught by the missionaries, and it isn't being taught. I don’t want much of our current culture taught by the missionaries, and it isn't supposed to be taught. I want them to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, including the unique aspects of Mormon theology – and they are. I have no quibble whatsoever with the missionary discussions that are in Preach My Gospel – and I absolutely am a bit envious that my kids get to teach in a very different way than I had to when I served and said the same memorized words, in the same order, to every. single. person. I. taught. My daughter gets to rely on the Holy Ghost to help her teach individuals about the Gospel and the Restoration in different ways, not teach the exact same lessons to widely diverse people.

Improvement #3) I want all of the unique gems of our theology to be taught in ways that make as much sense as possible to those who are listening – and, often, that can be done better by using Biblical passages they already say they accept than to focus exclusively on the Book of Mormon. Our relationship to our Heavenly Parents is a perfect example. It is rich in the Bible and, essentially, non-existent in the Book of Mormon. Teaching it from the Bible through passages Christians supposedly already accept (even if they don’t understand them) isn’t sacrificing our teachings in any way. In fact, I see it as strengthening and emphasizing those teachings much more than I used to be able to do.

Improvement #4) There is a lot of stuff from our past that I and many people who read here don’t want taught. We’ve moved on from much of it, and we celebrate and thank God for that. Being unique and being similar (and, in some cases, exactly alike) are not mutually exclusive – and I believe it’s worth letting go of some “uniqueness” if, in fact, I believe that those unique things are not eternal and, in some cases, even are damaging and not of God. I don’t mind at all much of what we have jettisoned in my lifetime, even as I share the concern that we not jettison what I see as the wonderful aspects of our peculiarity.

That’s not an easy balance to strike, and it never will be accepted unanimously by our membership, since we all see things slightly (and even radically) differently - but I really like the fact that I see the Church leadership making an honest effort to strike that balance of both holding on and letting go.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

When Stories Outgrow What They Are Intended to Teach

A friend of mine said the following a while ago, and I thought it was profound.  The discussion was about the benefits of taking some things literally and other things figuratively, mythologically or symbolically.  I bolded a few things I want to highlight. 

When it comes to religion I've found that the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything (other than 42) is . . . hymns. I hope you're still with me, I was serious. That's my answer for a lot of the questions I've had (in my life).

So why hymns?
Setting scriptures or gospel principles to music helps us remember the principles better. It's a mnemonic. For instance, I have several hymns memorized but I have a real hard time committing those scripture mastery scriptures to memory.

I think that was the point of all the stories in the scriptures - being vehicles to help us remember the principles they relate. The problem is that the stories grew a life of their own - so much so that the principles the stories teach are completely overlooked or overshadowed.

Noah's Ark for instance. It can be a story about following God . . . or about seeing a job through to completion, planning ahead, providing temporal needs for your family, and doing the right thing despite peer pressure . . . or we can search a mountain range for remains of a boat and try to arrive at the true size of a cubit to see whether there was enough room for the dinosaurs.

Adam and Eve is another one that's trending these days. My facebook feed is filled with creationists attacking evolutionists and vice-versa. In some ways, the story has outgrown the teachings, even to the point of contention.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I Don't Like Polygamy, but Many Critics Are Hypocrites

I don't like polygamy - and I loathe the way polygamy works in many situations. I understand abhorrence for polygamy in our current culture and time, but I also think it's interesting to see attacks on it in our own Mormon history from people who think it's disgusting that anyone over 100 years ago could even entertain the idea. Not only is there the historical reality of it being so widespread, but many of those same people don't fuss nearly as much about serial adultery or multiple sexual relationships outside of marriage. I know people personally who despise polygamy and think of it as a great evil who are far less vocal or bothered by someone using willing women for nothing but sex - no commitment, no emotional attachment, just a body to use momentarily and forget.

It also doesn't escape me that such complete disregard for sex involving commitment is much more prevalent in our own society than polygamy is or ever has been - and yet polygamy (even when every person is a consenting adult) is called a great evil while serial, non-committed sex is accepted, at worst, as a moral failing. Polygamy is labeled a terrible threat, while rampant non-committed sex is almost ignored in similar discussions - even when the numeric and structural elements of such sex are polygamous in nature.

Again, I don't like polygamy, but I have worked with high schools and colleges for many years. Give me a choice between polygamy among consenting adults (with no hint of coercion and/or eternal punishment for not participating) and what I know of the sexual practices of many high school and college students, and I'll take that type of polygamy every day - and twice on Sunday.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

White Collar vs. Blue Collar Leaders in the LDS Church: Two Qualifying Points

There was a group discussion last year about the percentage of local church leaders who are white collar vs. blue collar workers.  It was an interesting discussion, with input from quite a few people.  The following was one of my comments, highlighting two things that I rarely, if ever, see mentioned when this topic arises - and which I believer are critical to a full conversation: 

1) It’s interesting that (when I saw the figures last year) Salt Lake City is the most upwardly mobile city in the United States, meaning a higher percentage of people who are raised in the lowest socio-economic quartile end up moving into the highest quartile as adults. (Just for the sake of information, Seattle was #2.)  The LDS Church itself mirrors this, when viewed broadly compared to other religions.

We tend to look at where leaders end up and ignore where they started. I think that’s an important element of this conversation, because not including it places Pres. Uchtdorf and others at the top as “white collar workers” while ignoring the fact that they started their adult lives with blue collar roots. I know a lot of local leaders about whom that could be said (white collar workers as adults who understand blue collar issues very well) – and if I ever become a Stake President (God forbid), people will chalk me up as just one more white collar worker, not realizing I came from a background of significant poverty. (My father was an elementary school janitor with eight kids, and my mother didn’t work outside the home. At the end of many months, my parents counted their available balance in coins, not bills.)

2) Another overlooked element is that we tend to misrepresent (or, at least, forget how little we know about) the financial situations of Jesus’ closest disciples – the ones that became the leading apostles of the early Christian Church. We emphasize the fishermen – but that isn’t an accurate characterization. Of those about whose professions we know, there was a physician and a tax-collector – and the “fishermen” (James and John) appear to have been business owners and not time clock laborers. Those four would be considered white collar workers of their time – a time when the white collar work population was significantly lower, as a percentage, than it is now. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember if the others’ employment prior to following Jesus is mentioned, but Judas had enough financial knowledge to be the group’s Treasurer (and we also tend to ignore the implications of why a treasurer was necessary, in our tendency to think of the group as poor, uneducated itinerants).

Perhaps this isn’t as new a discussion as we tend to believe - or maybe it simply wasn't an issue back in the day. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

I Don't Look for "The One, True Interpretation"

I am completely comfortable taking whatever I want from a story and leaving the rest - choosing how I want to interpret it. I do that with commercial fiction, from historical books, from myth and even from scriptures. 

Where I am convinced of a scriptural story's allegorical, figurative or mythical nature (Jonah, Job, some of the more extreme narratives in the Book of Mormon, etc.), I don't try to draw lessons from a literal interpretation - but in cases where I simply can't be certain, I pick whatever interpretation gives me the most powerful message - and, in some cases, I pick multiple interpretations (one literal, one allegorical, one mythical, for example) and take multiple lessons from each one.

Some people who want the one, true interpretation can't stand that approach, but it works for me.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

My Sacrament Meeting Talk: What is Fasting? (not what we generally think)

I spoke yesterday on the topic "What is fasting?"

Between two talks that lasted longer than anticipated and an intermediate hymn that took a while to start, I had five minutes left. Afterward, I realized that was a good thing, since it allowed me to focus on the heart of the message I wanted to give.

I started by mentioning how important it is to understand what something means in order to live it properly. I used reverence as an example by saying that I could be sitting silently in church and be totally irreverent. Reverence means "deep respect, worship, adoration, etc." - and I could be thinking about sports or my job or any other topic that did not make me reverent. I also pointed out that some of our hymns are supposed to be sung "confidently", "with vigor", "enthusiastically" - and many of them are sung best when sung loudly. Those songs, when done appropriately, are sung reverently - since they convey deep respect, adoration, worship, etc.

(If I'd had more time, I would have used modesty as another example. We largely have taken an important concept, when viewed in its entirety as "moderation", and narrowed it so restrictively to the way we [and, mostly, women] dress that it has lost much of its transformative power - and, in many cases, we have begun to term conservative immodesty [over-dressing for an occasion or activity] incorrectly as modesty.)

I told everyone that I had planned on reading Isaiah 58, which I highly recommend and see as the best explanation of what fasting is and is not, but that, given the time constraints, I would summarize the central message, instead. I first said that I don't think God cares one bit about us not eating when we can choose to eat, in and of itself, and that fasting is not supposed to equal not eating - just like reverence does not equal being quiet or silent.

With that, I focused on Isaiah 58. The first few verses explain why Israel was condemned for the way it fasted. They abstained from food but simultaneously continued to oppress the poor - and performed their normal labors - etc. Fasting changed nothing about their practices and their lives. They also fasted for their own benefit, including making it an obvious sign of their righteousness. In fact, by wearing sackcloth and using ashes, they put on disguises that made them appear to be poor - a rank form of hypocrisy.

The rest of the verses focus on the pure intent of fasting: helping the poor, the afflicted, the imprisoned, etc. In other words, fasting is supposed to help people who generally don't understand poverty and hunger in a powerful way forge a link with people who don't have the luxury of choosing to fast - who go without food regularly and without end in sight - who would never dream of making a show of their poverty - etc. In a way, it is similar to temple work, which is supposed to connect our hearts with our ancestors in a unique and eternally-binding way and help us respect, understand and love them differently than we could without that concept.

I emphasized that if we are not feeling connected to the most poor and needy - the truly destitute among us and throughout the world, in some way and to some degree, we are not fasting as it is meant to be. If we are not becoming more Christ-like in how we interact with those who are hungry and marginalized and outcast and demeaned and ridiculed and "stand in need of comfort" in some way, we are missing entirely the foundational reason why we are supposed to fast. If we are not receiving the suffering of the poor, we are not fulfilling a pure fast.

I said there are legitimate reasons why we should fast at times for certain blessings in our own lives, but that if we make ourselves the center of most of our fasts we are, in a real way, no different than the Israelites in Isaiah 58.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I Remember the Pioneers because I Can’t Forget Them

The following post is from two years ago and is the best post about honoring our pioneer heritage I have read, ever.  To call it stunning is not hyperbolic.

When I think about pioneers: July 21, 2013 - Rebecca J (By Common Consent)

On a personal note:

My wife's fourth-great-grandfather was one of the first two native Italian converts to the Church. (The journals simply record the day and not the order.) His ancestors had been the Waldensians - "The Poor" - who had been persecuted and killed by Catholic armies for 500 years for refusing to accept Catholicism. Those people were driven out of their Italian homeland time and time again, at one point almost becoming extinct, but they vowed never to leave for good - so they kept filtering back to their valley until the killing finally stopped. It was a sacred bond they had with that land, passed on for hundreds of years through intense hardship, suffering and death. If you want to read an amazing story of dedication, faith and dogged determination, their history is stunning. (Whenever I feel like being sorry for myself because I'm not understood, I think of them and immediately realize how self-centered and blown out of proportion that self-misery is.)

John Daniel Malan walked away from that sacred homeland and his kindred dead when the saints were asked to gather to Utah, largely because he chose to believe in a modern prophet, the Book of Mormon, the principle of vicarious ordinances and the eternal vision the missionaries preached. He did it largely as a sign of his devotion to his heritage and his belief that his new religion honored them in the fullest way imaginable.

I don't want obsession and fanaticism, but, as a friend once said:

I can't resist having the profoundest respect (for him - and others like him).

Blessed, honored Pioneer, indeed!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Certainty, Not a Lack or Loss of Faith, Causes Many Faith Crises

I believe the expectation of knowledge over acceptance of faith causes a lot of crises. Those crises are not caused by losing faith; they are caused by losing certainly. 

In fact, I believe certainly breeds many crises. A crisis can't occur without the breaking of certainty - and certainty is a lack of faith, in a very real and important way. If we insist on knowing everything, we lose the ability to believe the unseen - and seeing something that doesn't fit our certainty shatters that certainty - since we can't hold on to what is left - that which still is unseen.

Working through a faith crisis is, to a large degree, an acceptance of uncertainty - a willingness to wait and not leap to conclusions (generally the opposite of previous conclusions, as in the example of a completely zealous Mormon who becomes an equally zealous Anti-Mormon).

Working patiently through a faith crisis involves patience and weighing of options (multiple, complex, mixed-up, paradoxical options), and that is opposed to certainly and the expectation of knowledge. It requires faith that an answer might exist beyond the simple, two-dimensional caricatures at the extremes of the spectrum - and that "the answer" might not come in the desired time frame.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Opposite of Pride Is Not Humility; It Is Self-Loathing

I believe the opposite of pride is not humility. I believe the opposite of pride (self-elevation) is self-hatred / self-loathing (self-lowering). The opposite of loving one's self too much (pride) is loving one's self too little / hating one's self. The cure is learning to love ourselves - and we can't do that if we equate loving ourselves with pride.

The second great commandment in the law starts with the foundation of self-love, which then can be extended to loving others as ourselves. That type of self-love comes from love of God - meaning, I believe, in this context, recognizing that God loves us for who we are - since, "We love Him because he first loved us." Thus, accepting that God loves us is the first step toward rejecting self-loathing - and accepting that God loves everyone else as much as He loves us is the cure for the other extreme: pride.

We are children of God, and HE loves us - he LOVES us - he loves US. That is the foundation on which everything else can be built.