[My darling husband has finally read this post, and I am updating it based on some of his comments. One of his suggested edits was the title, which used to read “A Mormon Princess Defects.” Though he mostly liked this post, there were a few areas where he felt I had written in a manner that invited misunderstanding. I have also invited Christine’s daughter, Emily, to send me her edit of how she believes this post should have read, given my opinion but her knowledge of the hearts of Christine and Malcolm. This post will remain my work, and Emily’s edit, if she submits it, will be a separate post.]
If you are familiar with me and Millennial Star, you know that we are always sorry when someone decides to constructively desert their faith in Mormonism. Some of my colleagues express this sorrow by attacking.
I don’t typically listen to John Dehlin’s podcasts, but I have been wondering what was happening with him, in the wake of the recent excommunication of Kate Kelly. And so I browsed to his Facebook page and looked at the chatter going on over there.
This is how I came to listen to John Dehlin’s recent four-part podcast covering roughly six hours of conversation with Christine Jeppson Clark. Christine is a long-time friend of John’s, and her father is the now-deceased general authority, Malcolm Jeppson.
There are four points of interest here for me, as Christine describes her father’s involvement in coordinating discipline for individuals suspected of apostasy and her path out of the Church:
- An expanded view of how Church discipline is both local and yet under supervision.
- The importance of schema in interpreting our past and our present.
- The danger of living in fear and isolation, taught incorrect “truths.”
- How blessed I have been, by contrast.
I see Christine’s decision to depart from the faith of her childhood as a natural consequence of various factors, but I don’t take her actions as a legitimate critique of the Mormon faith. T 1 to paraphrase Baruch Spinoza:
“What Christine says about Mormonism tells us more about Christine than about Mormonism”.
Christine’s father, Malcolm, was a boyhood friend of Boyd K. Packer. When Malcolm died, President Packer said in his eulogy that Malcolm was the most perfect man he knew, or words to that effect. Christine has inferred that Packer’s funeral encomium must have meant that her father was perfectly obedient.
Malcolm Jeppson left behind a 600 page book documenting his life, including details of his Church service. Seen through Christine’s eyes, the book describes a Church at odds with the public story and a man who could not distinguish between cultural bias and “inspiration.”
As discussed during these recent months, Church discipline is ostensibly carried out by local leaders. And yet there has appeared to be some level of direction from higher-level authorities.
As Christine discusses her father’s legacy, she speaks of three particular meta-events:
- Malcolm Jeppson’s decision to counsel with and discipline hundreds of sexually active young adults during the beginning of the sexual revolution in the 1960s
- Malcolm Jeppson’s concern about a leader who was holding a large number of disciplinary councils, going in to the meetings with the excommunication paperwork already complete.
- Malcolm Jeppson’s involvement with the excommunication of Avraham Gileadi based on incorrect information.
Christine, as one who no longer adheres to belief in the Mormon Church, found fault with her father’s attempts to exert ecclesiastical suasion on the sexually active singles in his single adults stake. Apparently she isn’t aware that sexual sin has long been a matter the Church leaders have worried about, or that sexual sin underpinned the conspiracy that led to Joseph’s death. 2 Her new, enlightened self finds fault with a father who would discipline young people for either having sex out of wedlock or being so intent on getting into a state of wedlock that they throw off other obligations (e.g., walking away from a mission call to wed and bed their honey).
However the next bit, about the concern the leaders and Malcolm had regarding a rogue, excommunication-happy local leader, speaks comfort to me. The higher-level leaders worked to correct this leader, to help him know that, though local decisions resided with him, he was being a whack job. Using my surgery analogy, this guy was whacking off spiritual limbs left and right. I think we all agree that it’s good when a supervisory level of leadership can reign in stupid at the local level.
Finally, Malcolm’s interactions with Avraham Gileadi indicate that Malcolm was poorly informed, thinking Avraham was merely a “rock star” turned “scholar” to defraud people and lead them away from “truth.” Malcolm, as the obedient leader in a position to advise local leaders, worked to ensure that individuals believed to pose a risk to themselves or the Church were brought to the attention of local leaders. This also showed how such cases are watched by higher leadership. It isn’t that local leaders are directed to necessarily excommunicate, but local leaders can be removed from leadership if they show a lack of willingness to counsel with individuals who higher leadership believe pose a threat. Going back to the surgery analogy, these would be leaders who would rather see the patient die than conduct surgery.
In the case of Avraham Gileadi, it appears someone in a high place had gotten a wrong “brief” on Avraham’s activities, intent, and the scholarly basis for his work. Avraham was disciplined for the wrongs others believed he had conducted. Ultimately the discipline was overturned when it was found the original premise for disciplining Avraham had been incorrect. Going to the surgery analogy again, this is like cutting off the wrong limb, or conducting surgery on the wrong patient.
As someone who had posted honestly on the internet back when the September Six were disciplined, I considered the threat of potential discipline. I determined for myself that if I were wrongly disciplined, that I would trust in the Lord to know that the discipline was wrong. In that case, I expected that the Lord would be able to correct every wrong. In my past, I have seen the calming effect it can have when an individual willingly submits (always presuming no one is in actual danger by so submitting).
This leads to the matter of how we understand what is happening, our schema or worldview.
Interpreting our Past
As Christine describes her past self, she speaks of someone who revered her father as a god, one in authority who must be followed. Christine never “partook” of unapproved literature, blindly obeyed at risk to her own life (speaking of childbearing 3), gave up her own hopes and dreams 4 to live the Mormon “ideal,” and did such Morg-ish things as oppose the Equal Rights Amendment without ever even reading the proposed amendment. She revered the handcart ancestor who obeyed ill-informed leaders making promises that weren’t fulfilled 5 and ended up stranded at Devil’s Gate. She reviled her ancestors who turned their backs on Mormonism.
Christine remembers herself as someone who lived in fear of those who did not embrace Mormonism with the purity and rectitude she held herself to. But she also fails to recount any memories of having a spiritual confirmation that Mormonism was true. 6 She speaks of talking with her Dad and getting advice by proxy from Boyd K. Packer, but she never says anything about going to God and getting her own answers.
In fact, she regards those instances in her father’s book where he describes the direction he received to be crazy stuff, not allowing that there was anything other than cultural bias for the “promptings” he received. 7
As Christine reviews her past through what I have elsewhere described as puke-tinged glasses 8, she sees people mindlessly obeying. In effect, she projects onto others what she herself had done for many decades.
What Christine fails to admit in her schema is the possibility that she, as a pampered Mormon princess a person with unusual access to the highest leaders of the Church, might have missed a fundamental aspect of the faith experience that some of us have enjoyed, in our obscurity. 9
Some of the rest Many of us have actually walked an unconstrained walk with God. Some of the rest of us weren’t just parroting the words our teachers taught us. 10 Some of the rest of us have reason 11 to believe in the Book of Mormon as something more than a young man’s invention (e.g., chiasmus, Helaman 5:12’s description of a tsunami and storm surge, the marriage practices illustrated by the story of the Queen of the Lamanites). Some of the rest of us have known about the scientific method and applied it to our Church experience from the time we were children. Some of the rest of us have known about the scientific method from the time we were children and applied it to our Church experience. 12
Christine now looks at the lives she used to revere and sees blind stupidity and coercive leaders. 13 She now looks at the ancestors she reviled and sees right-thinking individuals who acted to protect themselves from exploitation. She sees herself surrounded by those without authentic faith based on real data. 14 Christine merely sees deluded naifs propping up an earthly empire headed by leaders living out a 1950s version of the perfect world. 15
The Danger of Believing Incorrect “Truths”
The one point on which Christine had based her faith was the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, based on the pretty informed by pictures of Joseph sitting with his hands gliding across the inscriptions on the golden plates.
When Christine learned that Joseph mostly “translated” with his face covered and the golden plates often not even present, her brittle 16 testimony was shattered. The realization that her honored father had been involved in the excommunication of Avraham Gileadi and seemingly a million other things combined to undermine Christine’s confidence in the Church.
Christine , safe in her bubble, had believed with certainty so many subtly incorrect myths that the fragile her testimony she’d built in her bubble world couldn’t withstand reality. It isn’t even that all the pillars of her testimony were false, but enough had been false that the structure of her former belief system was destroyed. This is similar to how the slightly distorted published version of William Daniels’ testimony regarding Joseph Smith’s death caused the prosecution to discard all he had said. 17
From listening to the hours of podcast, it seems Christine believed that she couldn’t love those who were different, 18 that she had to serve until her soul had been strip-mined. 19 , that to drink or smoke or do drugs or have illicit sex damned a person forever. 20 Christine didn’t appear to have believed in a God who would save all mankind or in a Savior who will take any sin or sorrow on his shoulders if we would but turn to God and desire to return. 21
Given the God Christine worshiped, it is a wonderful thing that Christine can now love everyone (except possibly the deluded naifs who cling to the LDS faith). It’s a fine thing that she can sip an alcoholic beverage and realized that hell fire doesn’t automatically descend to consume her soul. 22 It’s great that she realizes that individuals can behave in a moral way whether they adhere to a faith tradition or not.
But for some of the rest of us didn’t fear we never feared our fellow men, but did love them all. We knew that cigarettes or alcohol or face cards don’t transform a person into evil. We knew that “godless” men and women can behave ethically.
Some of the rest of us had studied science, knew that all things must be proved, acted based on what we felt was right even when that didn’t adhere to the general expectation held up for the congregation. 23
Thank God for My Mother
Christine became a woman in the early 1970s. My mother went to college in the early 1960s and I went to college in the early 1980s. So though I didn’t live Christine’s exact life, I am aware of the milieu of which she speaks.
Christine [apparently] obeyed every whim of her culture.
My mother married an Asian man when it was still illegal to do so in Utah (they went to the LA temple to be sealed).
Christine talks about Elder Sterling W. Sill refusing to sit on the stand with a man who had a beard.
My mother got called in to talk to Elder Sterling Welling Sill, her grandmother’s nephew, and together with her intended was grilled about whether or not they should actually enter into an inter-racial marriage. I think Mom’s grandmother put Sterling up to it, personally. 24 After the extended interview, Elder Sill allowed them to be married and even gifted them a silver gravy boat. It is instructive to note that many of his concerns were realized in my parent’s lives.
Christine talks about how she never dared read anything that wasn’t from approved sources.
My mother read widely, and had friends who were feminists, who had been arrested for protesting on the White House grounds. She encouraged us to read and think and explore, and two of her favorite magazines were Scientific American and Exponent II. She told us she would love us if we wished to evade the draft by traveling to Canada and that she would love us if we told her we were homosexuals. She even still loved us when we refused to help with chores on Sunday because we didn’t want to ‘work’ on the Sabbath (though on that count she did admit to wanting to smack us for being self-righteous). 25
My mother handed me Nightfall at Nauvoo to read when I was a young teenager. And even though that book destroyed my fragile teenage testimony, it caused me to build a relationship with God. And that God encouraged me to remain a Mormon despite my doubts. That God eventually smiled with subdued amusement when I finally realized His request that I remain a Mormon wasn’t just a phase.
Christine raised her children in the same rigid culture she herself had adopted. So it isn’t terribly surprising that many in her entire 26 family have left the Church along with her.
My mother raised us as though we were God’s children, and accorded us the same freedoms and respect God accords us. As my mother wrote:
If you were a gardener, your child the seed,
Your task it would be to garden and weed
‘way wild things that threaten destruction 27 and strife
and prepare the young plant for the rigors of life.
But a daisy’s a daisy. A rose is a rose.
The plant must be true to its form as it grows,
True to the form from the maker sent
And not to the will of the gardener bent.
I believe in a God who loves us all so much that He is willing to give us freedom despite the pain He knows we will inevitably inflict on one another. I believe it is within the appropriate purview of Church leaders to attempt to “garden and weed” and prepare the body of Christ for the rigors of life. But just as any parent will at times err, so our leaders, at times, will make some choices that are less than completely ideal. But a parent’s error rarely invalidates their right to be a parent. And so a leader’s error likewise rarely invalidates their right to lead (and luckily we don’t pay our leaders, so there should be no hesitation to release someone who is erring significantly, either whacking off spiritual limbs or refusing to perform life-saving spiritual surgery).
I submit that the thing Christine has rejected is a
brittle 28 mockery of the Church Joseph founded, or the Church many of us believe in. It’s hard to get beyond a puke-tinged damaged view of the Church, but I do believe there is a future wherein Christine might be as bemused by her current actions as she clearly has been with her rigid days as a [member of the] Mormon elite Princess.
- Obviously Christine is acting based on what she legitimately believes. I merely feel that the defection of any high profile member of a group is not necessarily a valid reason for deciding a group or movement is wrong. If that were the legitimate criterion for determining a movement or goverment was wrong, then there is no right in this world. ↩
- This was me beating a horse that those not familiar with me won’t understand. ↩
- Specifically, Christine didn’t use birth control during the first years of her marriage, when she gave birth to three children in less than three years. ↩
- Christine had wished to travel to Vienna and pursue advanced education, but instead settled on serving a mission and then marrying. ↩
- This was her female ancestor who traveled to Utah in one of the ill-fated handcart companies that got stranded at Devil’s Gate in 1856, who then arrived in Salt Lake City and became a plural wife. Christine supposed this plural marriage business might have come as a complete surprise to her female ancestor, however the Church had been open about its teachings regarding polygamy since 1852, making it extremely unlikely that Christine’s female ancestor could have been unaware that plural marriage was a possibility in her future as a Mormon woman. ↩
- If the audio contains any mention of her own spiritual experiences, I did miss them. Her family may well be able to tell me that she has had such experiences, but I don’t believe the audio interview discussed those experiences or how she now reconciles those experiences with her departure from the Mormon Church. ↩
- This is derived from her discussion regarding Avraham Gileadi’s case. Christine and John did not go into what they considered to be so unfounded and scandalous, as they didn’t want Avraham to be hearing about it for the first time on the podcast. But Christine’s clearly felt disdain for what passed as spiritual proof to justify her father’s actions regarding Mormonism. ↩
- This deleted bit about modified spectacles merely had to do with how a person’s schema fundamentally affects how they not only perceive the world, but how they remember their past. ↩
- Again, I am talking about her schema, which has changed to conform to her current view that Mormonism isn’t right. Christine no longer believes in the faith of her youth. If she had experiences in her youth that supported belief, she makes no mention of them in the podcast. ↩
- My husband objects to me using “some” here, as he feels that word implies a minority of individuals. But I am content to leave this one “some” rather than “many.” ↩
- Here I am speaking of objective reasons, rather than spiritual reasons. ↩
- Christine’s daughter argues that it isn’t possible to apply the scientific method to spiritual experiences. But not all experiences related to Church are spiritual, and even spiritual experiences exist in a material world that informs the interpretation of the spiritual and sometimes has an impact on the material world, as in the case of visions, dreams, and warnings. I like a story told by a Brother Bench, ancestor to a friend. He kept feeling a prompting telling him to get off his horse. When the prompting became too loud to ignore, he slid of his horse. Almost immediately afterwards, the gear strapped to the back of the horse slipped, causing the horse to rear and fall to it’s death in the gorge below the trail up the mountain. In another instance, a friend spoke of having a prompting to turn back from a trip towards a promised “beach.” They did so, and the next morning they found that all four tires were flat. She interpreted the warning as having saved them from getting stranded at the remote beach without any means to continue their journey. ↩
- I don’t believe this characterization should be in question, in light of the content of the podcast. ↩
- This is based on the account of a friend bearing testimony of the Book of Mormon, and being unable to answer Christine’s inquiry regarding the factual or objective basis for the testimony. ↩
- I myself have voiced the argument that some of the sayings from Church leaders regarding women in the workforce and the importance of mothers staying in the home are clearly informed and influenced by the need after World War II for women to vacate the jobs they’d taken in support of the war effort so shell-shocked veterans could have a job. ↩
- I felt “brittle” went nicely with “shattered.” But it apparently caused some to object. ↩
- Again, this is me referring to my other writings and theories, which people reading this post out of the context of my other writings won’t understand. ↩
- This refers to her fear of non-Mormons. ↩
- My words, but I think it’s clear that she felt she had to work very, very hard to support the Church, well past the point of what was reasonable according to her current schema. ↩
- This was informed by the discussion between John and Christine regarding breaking the Word of Wisdom. This is a step John hasn’t yet taken, but that Christine has. There appeared to be a feeling on John’s part that this decision to imbibe alcohol was something momentous, as Christine recounted the care she’d taken to measure her blood alcohol level as she imbibed. ↩
- I say this because I was married to a man whose Army Sergeant threatened him. Apparently it was this fellow’s modus operandi to get a clean cut Mormon kid and make him stand in the center of all his fellow recruits who were ordered to maintain a standing push-up until the Mormon kid would smoke the lit cigarette the sergeant had at the ready. The sergeant knew from past experience that he could break most kids of their Mormon faith by getting them to smoke that cigarette. My former husband replied, “Sir, I smoke, I drink, and I sleep with women, but I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and Jesus is the Christ.” Even though I eventually decided I had to separate from my former husband, I do enjoy that story. I find the practice of “breaking” Mormon kids by forcing them to smoke is somewhat analogous to the way the foreign students at BYU circa 1961 would seduce Mormon girls by forcing them to touch them in an “unchaste” manner. In both of these examples, the individuals “broken” by the experience appear not to have understood that Christ can forgive one from having smoked or touched a man’s privates. They don’t appear to have understood that coercion is the sin, not their exposure to the coercion. But then again, they probably didn’t have a Primary leader, like me, who talked about the fact that a Mormon kid participated in the My Lai massacre and begged them to never do a wrong thing merely because their leader told them to do it. ↩
- Already discussed this with regard to Christine’s discussion of drinking alcohol and measuring her blood alcohol level. ↩
- This was a reaction to Christine’s story of opposing the Equal Rights Amendment without even having read the amendment. Christine also makes much of the fact that she was unaware of the scientific method until very recently, and appears to believe that the scientific method destroys much of what she used to believe. If I have said I have a problem with stupid people, it is this–people who believe unbelievable things without thought. Christine pretty much asserts that this would be a valid interpretation of herself prior to deciding to leave the Mormon Church. As someone who believes and has crafted that belief based on the principles of the scientific method, I object to Christine’s characterization that her belief was based on fantasy and myth and the open inference that all Mormons adhere to unbelievable fantasy and myth. ↩
- It’s not really germane that I think my great-grandmother was a bigot. But then again, that great-grandmother hated my mother for being the child of the “godless man” who had eloped with my grandmother, so it isn’t as though her “bigotry” was confined to foreigners. Ironically, family members, possibly from Sterling W. Sill’s side of the Welling family, had been bigoted towards my great-grandmother’s children because they were the offspring of an excommunicated polygamist. ↩
- Apparently some of you think I’m self-righteous as well… LOL ↩
- Four of Christine’s six children have left the Mormon faith, but two remain in the Church. ↩
- Corrected the spelling on this. ↩
- The word isn’t needed to convey my thoughts, and has merely served to make people angry. ↩