Tag Archives: Church

Let’s Talk Allocations.

And LDS friend of mine once posted on Facebook a quote to the effect of “When we die, if the atheists are right, religious people still die happy, because they won’t ever know. If we die and the religious people are right, they still die happy, but the atheists are in trouble.”

Ignoring the fact that I butchered the quote, the logic is pretty sound.

For the past 20 blog posts, I have become obstinately one-sided. I found myself so suddenly surrounded by hate and harassment at the onset that I threw myself as hard as possible in the opposite direction. I stopped offering respect because I was fighting so hard for my own. I mean all the things I have written about—with such a sensitive subject, I write from my heart and my life experiences—and I will continue to pursue and expunge subjects as they come up. I am of the opinion that the LDS church causes a lot of harm in the family unit and damage to the world at large.

However, the fact that I find myself looking at religion in terms of black-and-white disturbs me. In my gut there is so much gray area, and it’s a hard pill to swallow, realizing I’m not too different anymore from the uber-conservative Mormon. As I mentioned before, I’ve become a hypocrite who asks for respect without giving it.

This blog post isn’t coming out of the blue: It’s been stewing inside of me for months. There is good. That’s what I’m going to write about this time.

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Most obviously, the Church gives its members a community. This is especially vital in Utah—if you aren’t part of the Mormon community, your other chances for community come in the form of “Heathen” Facebook groups based around partying and alcohol. Not only does the Church connect you to your neighbors (as wards, stakes, and districts are set up geographically), but it also gives members a grander sense of their place in their universe. It offers people the idea that there is an awesome plan for their lives, an individualized destiny, choices they can make that get them into the highest levels of the neatly-hierarchal afterlife. A Heavenly Father with an open heart and plan gives people hope and their lives purpose.

Service. One of the big reasons why the church is set up geographically is so that its members are better able to serve each other. I complain often of how this includes visiting with the intention of drawing non- or inactive-members “back into the fold,” but I couldn’t count on both my hands how many times the Relief Society (the women’s organization within the church) has brought my family full dinners when my mother was stuck in bed recovering from surgery, a miscarriage, or depression. One Christmas when finances were low, my family found gifts on the front porch every night for a week. When my mother finally left her abusive husband but found herself financially bereft, the bishop paid the rent on our little apartment. In preparation for youth summer camps, my hands helped put together a hundred emergency kits and baby blankets that went out across the world. Teenagers rake the leaves and weed the gardens and sing to the elderly weekly. Wards are set up not just as community hubs, but as support systems.

These are just a few examples of what are unmistakably acts of human love. And at the core of every Sunday message, this is what everyone is preaching—love. And I believe that the masses mean well, even when the message is executed with a million contradictions.

I’m not one of those agnostics who argues that religion has no place in the world at all. I believe that it absolutely does—within parameters that I feel the LDS church oversteps—because of the simple fact that it makes so many people happy.

That’s what I’ve been meaning to argue this whole time I’ve been bashing: Everyone’s right to the thing that makes them happy. I grew up around thousands of people who found great happiness in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I am still surrounded. My own mother is one such person. Sundays give her strength and hope and peace and happiness, and I would never wish my mother to feel any other way. Just as I have grown and questioned and struggled, so have many Mormons, and at the end of the day, many make their own choices to stay. No one has the right to take away another human’s happiness. More often than not, my blog is about the small-town Utah Mormons, and I understand that outside of the bubble things are better, and that there are also exceptions.

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Let’s face it, though—my blog isn’t for those who are happy and strong in their church membership. That’s not why I write. I support happiness unequivocally, but my blog is a community and support for those who, like me, are transitioning happinesses. Just as I would never mean to offend my mother, I do not write to offend anyone who is happy in their faith. It’s like accidentally calling Dominoes when you want Pizza Hut—you came to the wrong place. If you want Dominoes, hang up and try again.

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Let’s Talk Patriarchy.

This is incredibly difficult for me to write about. It’s a tumor the doctors are still afraid to operate on because its fatty little tentacles wrap around my heart. It’s still cancerous. To make this blog post effective, I have to talk about my personal life.

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I wasn’t a Mormon in practice until I was seven years old. I might never have been if my mom hadn’t married Julio.

My mom was a 24-year-old single woman with three kids who made her living by running a daycare in her living room. Julio was an immigrant from South America whose green card was about to expire. Although the signs of emotional abusiveness were visible within the first month of dating, it wasn’t until I took an intro to Psychology class my freshman year of college that we knew that Julio had Antisocial Personality Disorder. This disorder is colloquially known as psychopathy, or the disorder of being a psychopath. Persons with ASPD is characterized by a violation of other’s rights and a disregard for consequences. They are impulsive and controlling, making them successful in such fields as politics and business. The most damming characteristic of ASPD is the systematic charisma of the person. Often they refuse to see a psychologist because they don’t see or feel that there is a problem. When they do see someone, it’s usually because a family member got them to. Like Julio, however, they maintain such a charming and polite appearance that they walk out of offices still undiagnosed. Sometimes, like Julio, they can flip the tables entirely and get the family member that brought them in diagnosed with something.

Although my mom divorced Julio over a year ago (and has been separated from him longer than that), his disorder still stains every day of my life. My family suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse for twelve years and we are still very much dealing with the aftermath.

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One of the first things Julio did to establish himself at the head of his ready-made family was forcing us to go to church. A man who didn’t believe in God took all the necessary steps to obtain the Priesthood, the Mormon God’s ultimate power—reserved only for men.

95% of Sundays during those twelve years, he stayed home in bed. Whenever he was disappointed in me or my sisters, though, he insisted on making us sit down so he could put his hands on our heads, a physical display of his dominance, in the name of giving us a Priesthood “blessing.”

When I believed in God, I knew that a man like Julio did not have the right to give blessings. Julio, the man who makes you eat your puke if you get sick, who makes you hold his steel-toed work boots out in front of you for thirty minutes if you come home three minutes late, who shoved my mom around the workplace, who rubbed his teenage stepdaughter’s backs every night to check what they were wearing because they weren’t allowed to wear bras or underwear to bed—

No god would give a man like that power over me.

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Not only did the Church give Julio authority by principle over his all-female family, but when my mom moved to divorce him, the Church shit its pants.

It didn’t matter that her husband was an abusive psychopath and my mother’s catchphrase of the time was “I want to die.” My mother was repeatedly told that she had to stay and work it out by men from the Church who came to lecture my family. She was told the same thing by her LDS therapist.

The icing on the cake is that even though my mom and Julio are legally divorced now, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which my mother believes in, she is still eternally married and bound to him in God’s eyes. She is still sealed to Julio past death and into eternity.

The only way for her to get out of that is if she finds a new man to get herself sealed to.

Because God doesn’t let unsealed women into heaven.

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The Mormon organization is obsessed with patriarchy, with men being the head and always having the final word, from the top to the bottom, women and children explicitly subordinated. But I’m not tackling the top of the totem pole (although there’s plenty of examples just from taking in the all-male leaders of the Church and the gender-specific “powers” of the Priesthood). I’m pointing out, with my handfuls of shit and pain, how much harm it has the power to wield behind household doors.

Let’s Talk Red Marks.

We didn’t go to church very often when I was a kid. My single and tired mom let me bring my dinosaur encyclopedia to look at instead of hymns the few times we did go. I wouldn’t know I had been a technical part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at all if there wasn’t pictorial evidence of chubby baby me after my induction into the religion, drowning in white lace, my deep blue eyes half confused and half pissed.

When Mom married Julio, our lazy-family-bath days turned into tights that pulled two inches below my crotch and dresses with thick tags that itched. Bath day turned into the day that Mom pulled brushes through her screaming daughter’s hair and shoes guaranteed to blister. “Going to church will unite us more as a family” was Julio’s justification.

Weekends with Dad, however, were guaranteed to be church-free. When I was fourteen my dad would drunkenly stumble and snatch an official paper I found in his scrapbook with the letterhead CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS from my hands, a document I can only assume wrote out the reason my dad didn’t go on a mission. It directly followed the pictures of him with a full head of hair, in a suit at the Missionary Training Center, the place where young men and women were taught before leaving their homes for a couple years on “service missions” for their religion. The only times I saw him dressed up, not in a suit but his black working shoes, khakis, dark green button-up shirt and a Homer Simpson tie were the three occasions my sisters and I were baptized, his wedding to Kristi, and the one time I was eight and asked him to take my sisters and me to church.

Right after being baptized, I was high on praise and expecting CTR (Choose the Right) rings and books from adults telling me I was holding the iron rod to heaven. Maybe I had also been excited by the way my dad looked at my baptism—the button-up such a different look from his bald-guy-with-a-motorcycle-tee usual—that I wanted to see the phenomenon again. It was the only time he ever took us.

I was sitting next to him in Sacrament Meeting when the namesake—the tray with the little pieces of bread—finally came our way. The fact that the bread was supposed to be Jesus’ body was always overshadowed by the secular growling of my stomach. My grandma had the tray—then my sister—then my dad would take his piece and hand it to me—

Except my dad didn’t take a piece. He just stiffly took the tray and was tried to hand it off, like he was trying to play hot potato with the best part of church. My tiny body locked.

“Dad,” I whispered in the silent chapel, “why didn’t you take one?”

Dad got his gruff face on, the one that didn’t look me in the eyes. “I’ll tell you later at home,” he grumbled.

He never did. He never told me what was on the paper he ripped out of my hands, either.

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The children’s Sunday School was held in the basement of the old brick building and not well-lit. The light from the windows on the far side of the room barely cut through the gray at all. There was just enough for the tubby brunette woman to lecture using the chalkboard. An equally bloated and cheery woman, this one blonde, passed a basket down the row of squinting children. This was it! The little reward I had come to expect and crave! It was a beautiful pencil, painted black with lead like a cherry.

Up on the chalkboard, white lettering reached through the gloom like the Holy Ghost. The woman wrote a series of scriptures down and told us to mark them in our own copies with the red pencils. The basement primary children hunched over and rifled through pages to obey. My eyes filled with panicked tears.

I had scriptures, a brand new set my mom and Julio had rewarded me with for getting baptized with Brittney Skye McDonald in fancy gold scrawl on the cover. I knew how to look up scriptures, although it took me longer than everyone else since my method was flipping through both books of scripture until I found the name I was looking for in the corner. I’d marked scriptures plenty of times before, practicing in colored pencils on the dozens of generic copies of the Book of Mormon lying around my house. It was the act of being told what to mark that shook me to my core as wrong. I learned that I should mark scriptures only when finding them special to me.

“I don’t like this church,” I confidently told my dad, slipping into his large calloused hand when I rejoined him in the light. “My church is way better.” The church building I regularly went to with Julio and Mom had tall white towers and new cookie-cutter carpets and cupboards—Dad’s church building was a square red-brick three-story that creaked in all corners.

It was a few years until I realized both churches were the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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“He gave up,” my mom told me one of the dozens of car rides we took together when I was nineteen. I asked her to tell me, flat out saying I wasn’t going to ask him again, why my dad didn’t go on his mission last-minute.

My answer: “He just decided he didn’t want to do it anymore and gave up.”

I looked away from her and out the car window at my valley home flashing by, the spires of church buildings so frequent they could have been keeping the earth pinned to the ground. I didn’t relay the message to her when my gut told me I was giving up, too. What started in that shady basement a decade earlier was only the first of handfuls of disagreements.

Let’s Talk Brainwashing.

The last time I went to church was for the Primary Program. The Primary consists of all the children in the ward (neighborhood) between 3 and 12 years old, and the Primary Program is when the whole hour of sacrament meeting is dedicated to listening to them sing. As I have two siblings that fall into the age range, my mother invited me and I didn’t resist going.

As the program went on and the children took turns walking up to the podium microphone to quote scriptures and dedications between songs, a lump slowly grew in my throat. The program that I used to find adorable as hell was hitting me in the face as full-blown brainwashing. They take the children at three years old and pump them full of lessons and songs and commandments to memorize and before they can realize they’ve been indoctrinated they grow up and the gospel way of life is all they’ve ever known. They’re the kind of Mormon adults that will quote the Church when asked for their opinion and won’t know the difference.

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At five years old, the Church is teaching my brother and children everywhere that he is going to do things in his life that he should be ashamed of and that the only way to be happy is to “repent and come unto Jesus” (not to mention repenting to the 40+-year-old stranger behind the big desk). They are teaching my ten-year-old sister to run away from me in tears when I come home with a second ear piercing, only to come back later and beg me to take them out so I can be in heaven with her. The Church is engineering the children to think only white in what is taught as a black-and-white world.

When it came time for the congregation to sing the closing hymn with the Primary, I opened the hymn book like everyone else, but I couldn’t sing. When my sister asked me why I didn’t, I whispered back “Because I don’t believe God loves any of those children.” We laughed, because I said it like a joke.

But because I don’t believe in their god, I also kinda meant it.