What We Know that Ain’t So

South High (now Salt Lake Community College)

This past Sunday I spent several enjoyable hours reviewing video from a 2015 trip to Edinburgh. Grandpa Stout, as we know him, was born in the fabled city.

We spent a day away from the tourist attractions to retrace the haunts of his youth before post-war economics forced the extended Stout family to leave Scotland’s verdant hills for Zion’s mountains.

Through a series of timely miracles, three generations of extended family arrived in Salt Lake, taking up residence in a basement apartment. Grandmother, Grandfather, Mother and Father, two teenaged sons, and Mother’s two spinster sisters. When a home on the other side of South High went on sale, Brother Stout went to a local bank, seeking a loan. But as a new immigrant, he lacked any collateral (“What is ‘collateral’?” he asked.)

A capstone miracle occurred as the Stouts were leaving the interview with the loan officer. The Bank Manager came in and noticed the Stouts. “Why, Brother and Sister Stout! I haven’t seen you in years!” The Manager had been a missionary in Edinburgh. After a bit of talk, the Bank Manager learned the reason for their visit.

“Why, I’d be happy to co-sign the loan for Mr. Stout,” the Bank Manager told the loan officer.

So the several members of the extended Stout family relocated from the basement apartment in a ward that had welcomed them with open arms to a lovely little home two blocks away, in a new ward and new stake. And here’s where the confusion began.

The Stouts were willing to attend their new ward and stake. But no one came to greet them. In Edinburgh each trip to and from Church had taken at least 45 minutes. So when Sunday came, the Stouts decided to walk the two blocks to visit their “old” ward one last time.

But one last time became another time. And another time. What was only two blocks to walk on Sunday, compared to three hours each Sunday taking buses and walking to get to and from the two Sabbath meetings back in Scotland? Besides, no one from the new ward and stake took the time to darken their door.

As the years passed, the Stouts only heard from the new ward when there was a fundraiser. A perfunctory knock on the door and a curt request to donate was the extent of “fellowship.”

Grandpa Stout became a popular fixture at South High and was eventually elected Senior Class President. Still no one visited.

Then Margaret Andrena (or Rena to family) came to Utah to visit her three sisters. For some reason, Rena was waiting at the bus stop near the house. A stranger joined her at the bus stop, and apparently noticed her looking at the Stout home.

“You see that house there?” the stranger asked.

“Yes,” Rena replied.

“Polygamists. One man. Three women.”

Rena did not laugh. Rena did not correct the stranger. But when Rena got home later that day, the Stouts had a great laugh about being taken for polygamists. And as Grandpa Stout walked the streets of his childhood, the story was trotted out again.

I imagine there was an entire ward, maybe an entire stake, convinced the folks living in the house next to South High were polygs. Cohabs. Filthy sinners. The ward members may have imagined they were being magnanimous to risk knocking on the dreaded door during the fundraisers.

But what they thought they knew wasn’t really so.

As for young brother Stout, mister Senior class president, he ended up falling in love with a blonde beauty from the ward which had so loved the Stouts when they were a poor immigrant family living in a basement. Young brother Stout and his beautiful blonde bride raised a family of attractive blonde kids. The oldest of that passel of blonde kids grew up and became my husband.

Meanwhile, young brother Stout became Professor Stout and then Dean Stout. Though these days he’s mostly known as “Grandpa.”

But I wonder if there aren’t still tales told in other families, of a time when there was a family of polygamists living next to South High.

And I wonder how often we create a fiction about those around us that prevents us from embracing them as brothers and sisters, fellow children of God.

For if we think of our fellows as anything less than fellow children of God, then what we “know” isn’t so.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

2 thoughts on “What We Know that Ain’t So

  1. As the years passed, the Stouts only heard from the new ward when there was a fundraiser. A perfunctory knock on the door and a curt request to donate was the extent of “fellowship.”

    Maybe back then, things were different. How did Brother/Sister Stout hold callings? How did they have a temple recommend? If their records were in a completely different ward and stake, then (in theory) they shouldn’t have been able to hold a calling or get a temple reccomend interview. Occasionally I’ve had to deal with the thorny issue of members living in Ward/Stake A who want to attend Ward/Stake B. The handbook has been clear for years that it requires local bishop/stake presidency approval, plus approval by First Presidency. I think the reality is that most bishops and stake presidents don’t usually follow the formal procedure and wink at the arrangement, but it is important (in my opinion) that members attend their correct units absent some real exigent circumstances.

  2. I suspect things weren’t as strictly enforced in those days. And not everyone was as diligent in seeking out each member in their geographic ward boundaries as the two delightful Scottish ladies President Monson mentioned in a talk, who sought out a family living in an industrial park within their ward boundaries. That Monson story was delightful precisely because it didn’t represent the norm.

    That said, there could have been machinations of which my father-in-law was not informed. After all, he was just a child.

    By way of explanation, I know of a family living in a college town. In my observation, college towns tend to have an unusual number of SJW types due to the nature of liberal arts education. Whether my observation is true in every case, the fact is that the family found their ward to be led by folks who denigrated parental authority and traditional values (i.e., girls being raised to value motherhood and boys being raised to value providing for their eventual family).

    It so happened one Sabbath that one of the girls came home, confused because her teacher had told her she should focus on having a career rather than becoming a mother. I can see how this could have been innocent. After all, when a young person seems so focused on their traditional gender role that they appear unaware of other possibilities, a compassionate teacher might feel it appropriate to suggest a girl could learn a useful skill and a boy could learn to nurture.

    In this case, however, the mother of the girl was concerned. When she attempted to contact the teacher, she was told by the Bishop that she was not permitted to talk to any teachers of her children. This was by no means the only problematic situation the family had experienced in this ward, but it is the situation that is most concise and easy to explain.

    What parent wants to be told they cannot interact with their child’s teachers, particularly when they have reasons to believe those teachers are instructing the children contrary to traditional community standards?

    Eventually the parents received formal approval at the bishopric level to attend another ward, one whose boundaries, incidentally, included households a mere 4 houses away from their home.

    But in time a new bishop was called and a new stake president was called. In compliance with policy, they decided this rogue family should be asked to resume attendance at their local ward. They called the parents into their office and instructed them on policy, offering them the chance to petition the policy by writing to the First Presidency.

    In this case, the mother quietly informed her local leaders that independent of what the First Presidency said, she would attend the ward four houses away. If that meant she and her husband could not hold temple recommends, so be it. If that meant their children could not be baptized or ordained to priesthood office or issued limited use temple recommends, then so be it. But she had a responsibility as a parent to raise her children in light and truth, and she had continued reasons to believe her authority to do so would continue to be undermined in the congregation within whose boundaries she lived.

    In this case, the stake president in question has regular interactions with the First Presidency. And it appears this stake president took advantage of this proximity to counsel with the appropriate member(s) of the First Presidency. Two days after the mother’s insistence that she would continue to have herself and her children attend the other congregation, the Stake President dropped by. She and her husband and her children had been granted permission from the First Presidency to continue attending the other congregation.

    It is possible that such a drama occurred in the case of the Stout family. But there would not necessarily have been reason to inform the teenage son. All the older adults who would have been involved in any formal permission (or lack thereof) are now gone on to other pastures.

    So, IDIAT, you are right about current policy and how strictly it can be enforced. Yet exceptions occur.

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