An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for September, 2012

Role Models

My post today is found at

Creative Religion

Dane Laverty, who formerly blogged at Times & Seasons is forming a group interested in getting rid of the problems of religion while retaining the benefits. Check out his Introduction to Creative Religion here.


And They Lived Happily Ever After

I don’t think R-rated movies damage kids nearly as much as fairy-tale romances portrayed in books and film. For example:  Mr. Darcy’s sad life of wealth and ease is enriched when he woos and wins the saucy Elizabeth Bennett—and rescues her from a future life of poverty. A prostitute (who looks like Julia Roberts) finds happiness with a john who turns out to be a lonely, well-heeled businessman (and looks like Richard Gere).

Americans grow up with the idea that finding the right person is the secret to a happy life. Still, very few paragons of perfections are available to choose as marriage partners. Most of us have to make do.

Terrell Dougan, in a wise and witty piece on Huffington Post, details how she perfected her husband. Find it here. It’s worth a read whether you married your dream mate or not.



Mormon Values and Politics

Mormons who are convinced the Republican party has values that mirror those of their Church, should take a look at this analysis  of official Church statements on the issues of: The ideal society, giving to the poor, abortion, marriage, immigration, and freedom of religion.

Of course, legitimate differences of opinion exist within the Church on how to interpret scriptures and the statements of leaders. Certainly, each member has a right and responsibility to make his own decisions on these issues.

Too often, however, Mormons automatically assume the Republican Party reflects Church values on every issue. For example, I’ve met many Mormons who believe the Republican Party stance on abortion is identical to that of the Church.       Not true. The current Republican Platform does not permit abortions to protect the life and health of the mother, for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or for a severely impaired fetus that will likely not survive birth. These are all exceptions the LDS Church considers valid.

A person who wants her vote to reflect her religious values should do the research and be aware of what her church teaches and how well candidates’ rhetoric matches those teachings.

How Many Steps?

My niece, Daffny, posted the following on Facebook recently:

Not seeing things politically the way others do does not make me ignorant, uneducated, ill-read, anti-religion, or lacking in common sense. It means I have a different opinion than you. It means I am looking at things through a different lens than you are (or possibly just watching different news channels). That is all it means.

I think Daffny’s comment was a reaction to her sister, Rudi. Rudi takes politics so seriously, I’ll bet she no longer drives a blue car and has discarded her old BYU blue sweatshirts for right-wing red. During the primaries, Daffny posted a picture on Facebook of a sign with a humorous comment about Rick Perry. Rudi responded with a harsh tirade. Recently I received an email requesting my donation to Romney’s campaign. I commented on Facebook that I thought it odd for a multimillionaire to ask middle income people for money. Rudi posted a personal attack on my page. It was like I’d insulted the prophet.

I’m not sure why people feel it’s all right to say things online that they would not say in person. My cousin Krafti feels it’s appropriate to send me emails with racist statements about the President although she knows we have an African-American daughter-in-law and a biracial grandchild.

Of course, rudeness isn’t limited to the Internet. I dodge political discussions with my brother Dooby who doesn’t mind telling me I’m an unenlightened moron because I  think Intelligent Design has no place in a public school science curriculum. Dooby, of course, may only be evening the score for the times I dressed him in my clothes and called him Sally because I wanted a little sister instead of a brother.

Why are 21st century Americans so politically intolerant that we can’t listen to an opposing opinion without anger? Democracy is based on a free exchange of ideas, but many of us shut down differing ideas with insults and name calling. How many steps are there between hate rhetoric and the murderous mayhem we currently see in the Middle East over an offensive film?

What Kind of Vision? What Kind of Members?

At First Unitarian Church this Sunday, Pastor Tom Goldsmith began his remarks by alluding to the terrible events of the past week—the murder of the U.S. Ambassador and guards in Libya, the anti-American uprisings throughout the Middle-east. I thought, “Wow! There’s not a Mormon congregation hearing any reference to current events this morning.” Even on the Sunday following 9/11 and the Sunday following the assassination of JFK, Mormon congregations heard the same standard talks and lessons on the same, standard topics.

Pastor Goldsmith segued his comments on the current outburst of intolerance and violence into a sermon on freedom—freedom from—and freedom for. He used the Vatican’s condemnation of Sister Margaret Farley’s book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Social Ethics, as an example of the constraints which more conservative religions place upon members. Then, he turned the barb to Unitarians who pride themselves on being “creedless.”

Unitarians, Episcopalians, and other liberal denominations have been losing members for decades. “The problem is not that we don’t have freedom,” said Goldsmith. “The problem is we haven’t decided what our freedom is for. We haven’t defined our vision of a moral society.”

Goldsmith gave no “call to arms.” He provided no solution for his congregation. How could such an immense problem be resolved in one brief sermon? What he did accomplish was to leave his flock with an important issue upon which to ponder—to think—to work on their own visions of a moral society and the best way to achieve it.

Mormons, and probably members of other fundamentalist faiths, are uncomfortable with open-ended questions and problems without black and white answers. Mormons are used to top-down answers and directives. That is why Mormon bishops failed to offer comfort to their congregations on the Sunday following JFK’s assassination as well as the 9/11 attack. Mormon local leaders generally wait for authority from headquarters before deviating from the standard script for meetings.

I know the intent of top-level control over Mormon meetings is to keep false doctrine from being taught. However, I do think Church leaders would do well to consider:  a) Is it working? I still hear plenty of spurious stories told over my ward pulpit. b) What are the effects of no spontaneity, no reference to current life situations in meetings? Does it cause members to feel the Church lacks relevance to their own lives? c) What kind of people are attracted to an organization which values cut-and-dried answers over thinking and problem solving—and are these the members that will most benefit the Church?

Prayer for the Uncertain

Prayers of request strike me as woefully close to letters to Santa—“I’ve been good, now give me what I want.”

Prayers of praise always make me wonder if God doesn’t think of them as kissing up in an attempt to be made “favorite child.”

Prayers of gratitude make sense—most of us receive far more than we deserve.

But, if I were God, I would want to hear heartfelt communication from my children—favorite or otherwise. I would want to hear something like this lovely prayer by Catholic monk, Thomas Merton 

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


Merton isn’t asking or praising. Knowing his own inadequacies, he hopes and trusts that his searching, his desire to do right, somehow makes his life meaningful and fulfills his part in God’s plan.

Why Men Fail

David Brooks’ thought provoking column in this week’s NY Times,“Why Men Fail,” argues that women adapt better to social and economic change than men do. Consequently, American women are moving upward economically while men are in an economic decline. According to the statistics Brooks quotes, annual earnings for males declined 28% in the past 40 years.  

One theory supporting the upward economic mobility of women is that during times of social change, the people at the top (males) resist change. They wait for—even fight for—things to go back to the old order. People at the bottom of the economic ladder (women) take advantage of change to improve their own position. Certainly, statistics about the number of women currently earning college degrees (60%) support this theory.

Brooks quotes from a book by Hanna Rosin, The End of Men, which claims that women today have freed themselves from old stereotypes of masculine and feminine behavior while men have not. Our son, Techie, sees this in the tech industry where he works—and he criticizes women who have given up their roles as child-bearers and nurturers.

I think it’s unfair to blame women for the social changes that allow them opportunities to advance economically—and it’s not my place to judge the personal choices of others. But while I believe in the right of every couple to determine their individual roles and responsibilities for their own family, I don’t think we can wish our society back to the 1950s.

I suspect the problem of stagnant growth and member retention which the Mormon Church is currently experiencing could be solved if the 50% at the bottom of the power structure had an equal voice in policy making.


Stranded in Primary

Molly, my 11-year-old neighbor, stopped to chat with me last week. Molly discussed her dog, school, and her older sister who has a more eventful social life than Molly. “Hillary got to paintball with the Young Women last night. She came home with red paint in her hair!”

“When do you turn 12?”

“Not until February. Kelsey and Brielee are already in Beehives. I’m the only one left in Primary. Activity days are no fun now with just 8 and 9-year-olds.”

 I felt for Molly. George and I have been called to teach the 11-year-old Primary class in two different wards—I suspect many wards dump that calling onto new move-ins. The class starts out with a good-sized group of boys and girls, but month-by-month the roll decreases until one poor kid is left there alone—for several months if she has the only late-summer birthday.

If Church leaders are truly concerned about the number of young people they are losing, they should look at the Primary experience. A two-hour block of reverent Primary time following Sacrament Meeting is grueling—but kids can handle tedium— with the support of friends. Take away the friends and Primary can be torture for those left behind. Kids who are miserable in Primary will likely carry unpleasant associations with church into their adult lives—and make different choices about how to spend Sundays.

In my day girls moved into YW (then MIA) as a group at the beginning of the school year. Before the three-hour block, boys turning 12 attended Priesthood meeting on Sunday mornings but stayed in their same Sunday School class. Primary classes for 9, 10, and 11-year-olds were divided by gender, so I don’t know if boys quit attending weekday Primary when they turned 12 and had Scout meetings on Tuesday evenings.

For most kids, grade level rather than birthdays determines their closest friendships. Our two oldest children were born in October. Church classes separated them from their classmates each fall until friends with late winter and spring birthdays were advanced to their Church group.

In the slight chance the Primary General Board is interested, I have a suggestion for the problem of kids being placed in Church classes without their classmates:  Move the kids according to their grade placement (except in special circumstances best determined at the ward level). When school starts in the fall, move all 6th graders as a group into YM/YW. Sixth-graders are generally in middle school and feel Primary is too babyish for them, anyway. If 18-year-old males who are not yet elders can attend Elders’ Quorum as potential elders, why can’t 11-year-old boys attend Deacon’s Quorum as potential deacons?

Yes, I know school starts at a different time of year in the southern hemisphere, but is there a valid reason for insisting that every Church class throughout the world be teaching the exact same lesson every Sunday?

If the point of children and youth programs is to prepare young Mormons to become committed adult Church members, doesn’t it make sense to tailor programs to meet the needs of the kids?

Reading the Book of Mormon

Runto’s Rincon posts an honest experience when acting on the words of Moroni “and God shall show unto you that which I have written is true (Moro 10:29).

Find it here.

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