I understand that you have recently been excommunicated.
You may recall that several years ago, I and my husband offered to help you with your podcast. At the time we were proposing to ask if Gladys Knight might be willing to be interviewed. For the longest time, my Dropbox included items from Mormon Stories.
Actively Agitating to Encourage People to Doubt their Testimonies
We didn’t help much. In fact, a few years ago when I tumbled across your rambling youtube video describing the dozens of reasons people leave the Church, I didn’t even recognize that you were someone I had corresponded with in the past. In those days a friend, presumably influenced by your certainty, was confidently proclaiming that President Monson was senile, along with a variety of other items from your general direction. At that time I, in good faith, participated in your survey that attempted to update the research that had shown why people leave the Church. I even sent it to my ward list.
I got two responses. One was from a man who had decided to give up trying to be a good Mormon, explained to me a variety of reasons he doubted. I corresponded with him and explained that the doubts he had were specious (they were, honestly) and expressed my hope that he would work his way past those doubts. The second response was from a long-time friend who warned me that your survey was bad stuff.
President Monson Senile
When Conference rolled around, I was intrigued. How would the Church handle President Monson’s senility? As I saw President Monson confidently address the conference multiple times, I was amazed to see how well he was handling the alleged dementia I’d been told he was suffering from. That was years ago now. He has continued to discharge his opportunity to address the Church well. If he’s senile, may I be that senile when I get old. Heck, may I be privileged to only be that senile now.
Doubting God, Christ, and the Atonement
I hear that you doubt the existence of God, the need for a Christ, specifically the need for a god to perform some act or sacrifice to restore us to the presence of that God in whom you don’t necessarily believe.
I suppose you have never experienced God, then.
Beyond the need for a Christ and Atonement, which is pretty standard Christian fare, I suppose you have never felt the enormity of the good God has done, freeing you from a past eternity of vague being and gifting you spiritual life, gifting you the chance to taste of physical life. I’m guessing you have therefore never fallen to you knees in gratitude, exclaiming something to the effect “I [now] know that [I am] nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (c.f., Moses 1:10)
I was amused by something my autistic brother wrote in an essay about his autism, to the effect that he had not believed in a God until he experienced God, which lack of belief in God had made our mother’s task of raising my brother much more difficult when he was younger.
I will note, as did President King, 1 that it is strange to see you claiming a desire to remain a member of a Church when you do not believe in the core truth claim of that Church, namely that there is a God, that Christ is our Savior, and that the atonement is literally the mechanism (and the only mechanism) by which we may return to God.
I haven’t ever had the luxury of denying there is a God, for He has spoken to me in ways I cannot deny. He told me to stop kicking against the pricks when I had doubts as a teenager. He told me my faith was enough when I was a doubting female missionary in the MTC en route to Italy. When I was torn about what form of birth control to use during the early months of my marriage when I would be working with cesium, he spoke the cryptic answer “eight,” and my son was conceived exactly eight months later (the brochure for the birth control had claimed a year). He gave me a dream that foreshadowed the death of that son, the birth of my autistic daughter, and the birth of a neurologically-typical daughter after that, though it wasn’t until I was sitting at breakfast with my three daughters and experienced what I had dreamed so many years before that I understood the message.
The answer I might rank highest in my personal list of favorites was the “No” He uttered when I asked if I should take a certain job opportunity. I argued with Him about that one. It wasn’t His job to tell me no, I told Him. And yet, had I not heeded that “No,” I would not now be married to the amazing and gentle Bryan Stout. I’d be happy to talk with you about the details of that sometime, if you’d like.
Supporting Ordain Women
Let’s ratchet way down on the list, now. Dear Kate Kelly and her muse, Nadine Hansen, have made an amazing amount of noise about the issue of how women are treated in the LDS Church. Specifically, as you know, they have proposed that the only way woman can ever truly become equal to men in LDS circles is for women to be granted the priesthood. 2
It appears that Kate and Nadine and other supporters haven’t ever bothered reading the Doctrine and Covenants. I mean, at least the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price include stories. Stories in volumes of scriptures are a bit like pictures in books – they make it so much easier to understand what is going on.
Yet Kate, Nadine, and supporters such as yourself are smart. You aren’t the kind of people who “need” to have pictures in your books, or stories in your scriptures. So I don’t know why you all remain apparently ignorant of D&C 28:
4 And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.
5 But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;
6 And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;
Now, I know you and others have given yourselves a pass on this, because you are convinced that President Monson is senile. Yet let us consider, for fun, the possibility that a loving God might have a reason for restricting priesthood to men. Is there any evidence for why restricting priesthood to men might have benefits?
In fact, mainstream Christianity has performed this experiment for us over the past decades. We can study the various denominations that have opened their priesthood to women and observe the results. People who barely know how to spell the word “Mormon” observe that these denominations have declined in the number of adherents. In no case is there evidence that membership increased in the aftermath of the change. The Church of England, in particular, shows a long and steady decline in the fifty years since admitting women to its clergy. Active membership comes in at roughly 2%, more than an order of magnitude lower that the participation of Mormons in their faith community. The only bumps on the Church of England graph are the annual count of actual members, when the “bump” is the over-estimate from the period before the actuals are tallied. If you’d like the references for these statistics and studies, I’m happy to provide them.
So, perhaps, a loving God might be happy to retain a differential status between men and women that is correlated with increased rates of participation.
Kate and her organization claimed they were only asking President Monson and the other leaders to pray about the matter. This indicates they don’t understand the nature of the English language, which seems odd for professionals. Yet they did get the response to their speaking. The response was that the priesthood, as requested, may not be shared with women at this time.
I don’t know what faithful reaction to such an answer might look like for Kate and her followers. But I know what my response would be. I wouldn’t have published that last “conversation.” I would have attended my disciplinary council, particularly once my volunteer staff informed me that there was at least one person willing to pay my way to Virginia so the experience wouldn’t even have to come out of my own pocket. 3 I would have written an article on my website that explained my realization that I had overstepped the line between advising and commanding the leadership. And I most definitely wouldn’t give a press conference where my dress advertised that I couldn’t possibly be wearing temple garments.
I mention these things by way of advice, because I do have experience with autistic people who honestly don’t understand how such social situations are to be negotiated. 4
You and others might not actually be autistic or in other ways socially impaired. Unfortunately, that means you don’t have the excuse and concomitant expectation of leniency an impaired individual can rightly command.
It’s a bit like the story of the pastor who returned from the Holy Land in the early 1900s, when unusual weather conditions had rendered the Red Sea little more than a long puddle. The pastor confidently proclaimed to his congregation that it wasn’t a miracle that Moses and the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea without drowning. The pastor was therefore shocked to hear exclamations of praise from the pew in the back. He attempted to calm the shouting woman, becoming irritated. Then she ceased her songs of praise long enough to explain, “Praise God, who could drown and thereby thwart the armies of Pharaoh in a mere puddle.”
So you can either claim impairment and sympathy for inability to understand or you can claim full function and willful opposition. You can’t claim to be fully functional *and* inspire sympathy.
Speaking of Stories
Dear John. You have made quite a fuss about how the Book of Mormon has historicity problems and the Book of Abraham isn’t what it claims to be.
First off, you do know that Joseph didn’t read the words off the plates and the papyrus, right? The process by which he performed the “translation” was to put the seer stone(s) in his hat, block out the light, and read the words that appeared on the stone. This process, intriguingly, is completely consistent with the Old Testament temple practices, particularly the veil in the temple made from the skin of a [badger/dolphin/dugong].
Further, according to the account of one early neighbor of Joseph Smith, an account of the Urim and Thummim being discovered, along with the method by which they were to be used (placed before the eyes with the head covered with animal skin) was contained in the 116 lost pages (see Don Bradley for more info). 5
This process would be perfectly capable of producing whatever text God and the appropriate prophets wanted, independent of the adequacy of the original text at hand.
This is particularly interesting, since the Book of Mormon folks are constantly whining about the weakness of their written language. It was a source of centuries of angst. Yet I can imagine those ancient angsting prophets paired up on the other side of the veil with William Tyndale. In that case, it would be no wonder that so much of the text as transmitted via the seer stones resembled the King James Bible, which in turn had been largely derived from the late and martyred Tyndale.
In the process, I can imagine them attempting to get Tyndale to spell out the word “alpaca” and having Tyndale say, “horse is good enough.” Or them trying to explain the exact metallurgical make up of their weapons, and having Tyndale pass along “steel swords.”
The things I love in the Book of Mormon are many. For one, I adore Heleman 5:12 and the description of a tsunami/hurricane and storm surge. I’ve done the computer search for “whirlwind” in the Bible, and the only biblical reference to whirlwind is clearly speaking of a desert storm.
I love the Queen of the Lamanites, who was clearly engaging in a series of levirate marriages by which the right to rule the kingdom was being transmitted. Such marriages had been outlawed in the Western world by a series of ecclesiastical and legal shifts around 1050-1100 A.D., and so they were unknown in Joseph’s world. Nor would this marital mechanism be something Joseph Smith would be able to learn about from the Bible accounts of Tamar and Ruth. The dude didn’t even know there was a wall around Jerusalem. He wasn’t the kind of scholar who could have cobbled together a plausible socio-economic fabric for an ancient kingdom lasting a thousand years.
I’d completely be with you on the Amlicites versus Amalekites screw-up, but that one was clearly an error introduced by the printer. If you haven’t studied the Skousen version of the Book of Mormon text, it’s a treat. Complete with Tyndale-era grammar.
You have objected to the DNA evidence, or lack thereof. There are perfectly valid explanations for this, as you know. At least, I would suppose that you would have actually researched these things before mouthing off on the internet about how this is a major challenge to historicity.
Speaking of DNA, let’s talk about Joseph and his dozens of “wives”
Since Joseph and his practice (or lack of practice) of polygamy is a particular passion for me, I was almost sad to see that this hardly features at all in your discussion with Dr. King. And then you did toss it in, stating as fact that Joseph had dozens of wives, some of whom were the wives of other men.
So I realized it isn’t that this “fact” doesn’t bother you. It is that this is one of the challenges to your testimony that is so ingrained that you no longer even question it. You take it for granted that all educated people know that Joseph was a abusive opportunist who slept with women independent of whether their youth, marital status, or advanced age would appear to make sleeping with them ethically problematic.
Oh, and it went without saying that you presume Joseph betrayed Emma in all this sleeping around.
Meanwhile, you and almost everyone else ignore the data that show how unlikely it was that Joseph was having sex with anyone, much less those who were stupid young, icky old, or married to someone else.
First, there is no credible DNA evidence proving Joseph was parent to any child born to a woman other than Emma. The one case where he might be related occurs in a case where the descendants of the woman and Joseph have common ancestry. And there was a good reason that had nothing to do with biological paternity that would cause a dying Sylvia Sessions [Lyon] to tell her daughter Josephine that Joseph was her father. If you aren’t familiar with the DNA data or the explanation for Sylvia’s dying confidence to her daughter, I’d be happy to fill you in.
Second, there are likely only two children born to any polygamist prior to Joseph’s death, the children born in February 1844 to 1) William Clayton and Margaret Moon and 2) to Joseph Bates Noble and Sarah B. Alley. The children born in 1842 to Sarah Peak Noon and Mary Clift (and the possible child miscarried by Eliza Snow) were likely engendered by seducers who had been taught by John C. Bennett that “spiritual wifery” or illicit intercourse was acceptable. Mary Clift testified that her child was engendered by Gustavus Hills, one of Bennett’s seducers, Eliza Snow’s November poem about the vile wretch who feel on the blood of innocence “side by side and face to face” is pretty graphic, and if Heber C. Kimball was told he couldn’t marry the two Pitkin spinsters, why would Joseph command him to marry an abandoned English convert who had children by the husband who had abandoned her? Honestly, it seems most likely that Sarah Peak Noon had been seduced by one of Bennett’s followers and gotten with child, with Kimball merely stepping in as protector, only becoming a true “husband” after Joseph’s death.
So between Joseph, the dozens of men Joseph permitted to contract plural marriages, and the nearly one hundred women involve in these plural unions, we only can confirm two children actually born into this marriage system, and one of the two fathers documented a discussion where Joseph opined the engendering paternal parent might have to be excommunicated.
The three additional men who appear to have engendered a child prior to Joseph’s death did so around May 1844, months after two fellows had apparently produced children on plural wives without suffering any ecclesiastical sanction.
I’m happy to continue this line of discussion any time, demonstrating that the common presumption that Joseph was a seducing liar who betrayed everyone is absolutely without solid foundation. 6
So what about marriage in heaven?
The whole thing about Mormons is this idea that marriage lasts into eternity, that in the highest heaven the work of God is continued by those joined in the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage.
Here is the rub regarding marriage between individuals who are of the same gender.
There is a joke told, of a man who had only one leg and who therefore wanted some early Mormon leader (Brigham Young?) to heal him and bless him with a second leg. In response, the leader responded, “But if I bless you with a second leg in mortality, you’ll have three legs in eternity. It is better to go through life with one leg than eternity with three.”
Are some people attracted to others who are of the same gender? Heck yes. Am I one of those? Surely have been. I am more attracted to men, statistically, but I could have been happy with a “right person” who was the same gender I am.
What of those who are 100% attracted to those of the same gender, and completely not attracted to those of the opposite gender? It’s a bit like a married person who finds themselves possessed of a burning desire to bed someone to whom they aren’t married. That desire, in my experience, can be overwhelming, a passion that displaces almost all, that can leave one insensate, hardly able to respond.
Yet is it better in life to marry someone of the same gender and thereby spend all of mortality in a union that cannot endure into eternity, or is it better to forge a single life in mortality, trusting in God that eternity can hold all the joy any other faithful believer can enjoy?
Two legs on earth or three legs in heaven?
It’s a fundamental part of the Mormon eschatology and cosmology, this concept of heterosexual dual-gender partnerships under God’s authority, freeing individuals from their eternal but vague existence as mere “intelligence” by gifting them spiritual life.
Overturning this is not a mere matter of tolerance, it would require fundamental restructuring of Mormon doctrine regarding the afterlife.
Could we encourage our members to perform ceremonies uniting same-gender couples? Yes, but it would be like that 19th century leader giving the man a third leg in heaven. Given our beliefs about eternity, it is not a right thing to do, to pretend that there is no consequence to such marriages.
Of course, to the rest of the world, Mormon beliefs regarding the after life don’t matter a whit. Therefore, I would hardly expect the rest of the world to legislate and behave according to Mormon eschatological tenets. In the same vein, I would expect Mormons to be kind and generous to all, independent of their beliefs and behaviors, so long as these were acceptable according to the law of the land.
Obviously it would be wrong for an individual to force themselves maritally upon an objecting individual of the same gender. It takes two to marry or even righteously couple.
Similarly obviously, it would be wrong for a corporation to deny same-gender families housing and services.
The grey middle ground is how the rights of individuals and small groups with conscientious objections should be weighed against the rights of individuals with “undesirable” characteristics in the eyes of the objectors. 7
I remember as a small pre-schooler knowing that the two fellows living in the house that shared the driveway with us were gay. So gay couples were among the families that existed in my knowledge base from my earliest formative years. I do think that less harm is done by association with gay and lesbian couples than some might have imagined in a prior age.
Yet if we honestly believe that God’s true eternal destiny for the most faithful of his followers is to eventually enter a heaven where only heterosexual family topographies are accepted, then there will remain tension.
At this point we come back to D&C 28, where it is not permissible anyone other than God’s appointed revelator to alter doctrine.
If you want to go off and engage in your own definition of compassion, you are free to do so. But if you are so dedicated to your version of compassion that you value that more than your membership in the Church (evidenced by that matter of becoming a minister in another Church for the express purpose of performing marriages in conflict with Church doctrine), then at least you should be willing to understand why a reasonable leader might perceive this as rejection of the doctrine, privileges, and core eschatological beliefs of the Mormon Church.
Is it “true” or not?
Dear John, you have taken umbrage with the common phrase “The Church is true.” You have equated the Church’s claim that it is true with a corollary that all other belief systems are therefore abominations.
Let me suggest a parable, of sorts. When I was a young child, my dad would stop by the discount Hostess store. He’d usually buy this weird caramel-colored bread that Mom would then use to make peanut butter sandwiches. In my memory they didn’t even have jam or jelly, just plain old creamy peanut butter.
One particularly time, however, Dad came in the front door with a box of Ho-Hos. “Whose my friend?” he sang out. A passel of dark-haired children, including myself, gathered around, like seagulls being offered bread crumbs. We each took the proffered silver packages, tore them open, and bit down on the delightful chocolate covered cream cakes (even if they were past their expiration date). In this instance, the contents of the box were true to the labeling on the outside.
However after the box was empty, my Dad saw fit to use that box to store nails. I don’t know how many times I went down to the basement and saw the box sitting by the radial arm saw, thinking that I’d found a stash of Ho-Hos. My disappointment when I learned the box only contained nails was always poignant, particularly because there was one time when the box I found down there actually did contain Ho-Hos.
It’s not that nails aren’t useful, in many ways even more useful than Ho-Hos. But in my disappointment, abomination might not have felt like too strong a word.
The question with respect to other Churches is not whether they are abominations, but whether they answer the functional requirements of Mormon eschatological thought. When a Mormon says the Church is true, they are either parroting back a phrase that they haven’t examined or they are saying the Church is aligned with God’s mission of saving each individual through the entire history of the world if they are willing to accept salvation, a mission that requires proxy baptism, that requires that we love one another so deeply that we can melt the hardened hearts of our dead, a mission inspired by God’s overwhelming and individual love for each and every one of us, a love that God, a personal god intimately concerned with our doings, demonstrates regularly to so many Mormons on a constant basis.
The term “abomination” in the Book of Mormon serves roughly the same purpose as the term “eternal damnation,” discussed in the Doctrine and Covenants. Which is to say that God will use words to help scare us towards Him, if that’s what it takes. But you should know Mormon doctrine well enough to know that Mormons, alone of all religions, have a mechanism (baptism by proxy) for saving everyone in the human family who wants to embrace salvation prior to final judgement, even if the remorse required for any necessary repentance occurs after this life.
You know, as non-Mormons might not, that these proxy ordinances do nothing to constrain the eternal individual in whose name the ordinances are performed. If Mormons are wrong, performance of these ordinances does nothing but 1) teach Mormons that all mankind throughout all generations are their kin and 2) keep Mormons busy away in their temples, where they aren’t bothering anyone else.
Speaking of All Mankind…
Dear John, I think I’ve addressed almost all your key objections, save one. You have hammered on the silly things people came up with to explain why the prophet wasn’t letting Blacks hold the priesthood. I think it’s pretty clear that Joseph Smith had no problem with the idea of Blacks having full rights to the highest blessings of Mormonism. Brigham made some policy decisions and people in the 1800s said some speculative things.
Once Blacks no longer had full privileges, the United States entered an era where the nation was nearly ripped apart over whether or not states could permit slavery. Secretary of War, Floyd, attempted to divert the state’s right issue by declaring war on polygamy, the other of the “twin evils of barbarism.” But Brigham refused to be manipulated into conflict, even though defiance cost the Saints dearly.
The bigotry arising from slavery and its abolition created terrible scars. A brief study of the Norfolk 17 demonstrates the terrible damage inflicted when equality is sought using political force. 8
As to the state of Mormon hearts, my grandmother was so offended at the possibility that her daughter would marry a Chinese man that she honestly suggested the problem would be solved if the Church would revoke the priesthood authority of all non-whites. And she was a “progressive” Democrat.
So many have presumed that Mormon leaders retained the priesthood ban because they were stupid, that they got this wrong, and that therefore all other politically incorrect stances are subject to revision (being faithful in marriage, being modest, discouraging marriages that aren’t consistent with Mormon eschatology, sustaining the prophet as God’s mouthpiece and authorized to lead as Moses led).
But what if God forced the leaders to retain the priesthood ban, much the way Socrates forced a young man’s head under water. There was never an actual eschatological requirement that Blacks be barred from priesthood and the temple, theories about fence-sitters in the war between God and Lucifer notwithstanding. But having been populated by bigots, and having grown up in the midst of a uniquely bigoted time and place in the world, God’s fledgling but true Church (as Mormons think of themselves) was likely to incur a rich history of horrific abuse, as we have seen in so many other communities.
Perhaps God would retain His Church pure of the likely rich history of actual abuse, at the price of keeping our Black brothers and sisters from our influence until we could be trusted to embrace them without significant stupidity, only admitting them to our presence when most of us could be trusted to wear the history of the ban like a hair shirt.
If one looks at the future century, Blacks in the world are projected to increase from roughly 1 billion of 7 billion to 4+ billion of 11 billion, at which some demographers expect world population to level off.
I don’t know about you, but I can imagine God keeping us from actually committing heinous acts for a century of bigotry by imposing a ban. In this view, His purpose would have been ultimately to serve the future tens of billions of that race, knowing that the thousands who might have embraced the full gospel (and suffered abused of which reports would endure for all recorded time) would have the chance to be saved posthumously. Thus no eternal harm done, except to those who keep straining at this gnat.
Reproving Betimes with Sharpness
Dear John, you have proposed that true love would manifest like the long and patient experience you had with President Jensen, who admitted to Dr. King that he was not courageous enough to take disciplinary action against you.
Again, let us remember D&C 121, where The Lord counsels that transgressors are to be unmistakably corrected soon after their infraction (betimes with sharpness), afterwards showing forth an increase of love.
Unfortunately, you have been let to behave as you would for so long that it will be nigh unto impossible for your leaders to express love in a way you will be willing to accept.
You have opined that they were imperfect. Their imperfection may not have been in disciplining you, but in letting the corruption fester for so long that it destroyed you and so many others.
But William W. Phelps came back after attempting to get Joseph Smith killed. So did Orson Hyde. Even John C. Bennett may have attempted to return, based on his December 1843 visit to Nauvoo and attempt to apologize in Boston.
There may be a time when you stop hating me for being arrogant. You might stop hating Dr. King and posting his professional rating url for sympathizers to abuse.
I hope that day comes, whether in this life or the next. I believe in the Mormon story, that you and I and all mankind fought for the right to come to this earth, fought to support God’s decision to provide us a Savior, who would provide an atonement, in accordance with God’s wisdom and in opposition to Lucifer’s “great idea.” You have been my friend for an eternity. You have even been a friendly acquaintance here on earth. I hope in some eternal realm to find you at my side again.
- Based on the transcript of the recording he asked you not to make – I guess such things might be legal in Utah, like no-fault divorce after 6 weeks, versus the year it takes in my state of Virginia, where recording someone who requests not to be recorded isn’t legal… ↩
- See my critiques of the six discussions/conversations posted by those seeking female ordination:
Critique of Discussion One
Critique of Discussion Two
Critique of Discussion Three
Critique of Discussion Four
Critique of Discussion Five
Critique of Conversation Six ↩
- Open Letter to Kate Kelly ↩
- This reference to autism is prompted by John’s extreme difficulty, during the recorded interview, understanding what was being requested. ↩
- Also see How Joseph Interpreted the Plates. ↩
- To learn more, read my series regarding the possibility of A Faithful Joseph. ↩
- See the recent news conference regarding balancing religious rights with LGBT rights. ↩
- See my post on the Norfolk 17 and Virginia’s Campaign of Massive Resistance. ↩