Questions of Orthodoxy

These questions can only be answered Yes or No. Yes must be unqualified; if your answer is “mostly, but there are exceptions,” then for the purposes of this exercise the answer is No. What questions to you say yes to? What does it say about your level of orthodoxy?

  1. Is it against God’s will to shop on Sunday?
  2. Is membership in the LDS church and completion of LDS temple ordinances necessary for salvation?
  3. Is homosexuality immoral?
  4. Is it important to attend church every week, with exceptions for illness and occasional vacations or travel?
  5. Is it God’s will that only men should have the priesthood?
  6. Is the Book of Mormon a historical document describing real civilisations in the ancient Americas?
  7. Were Adam and Eve literal people and the only progenitors of humanity?
  8. Is it God’s will that only priesthood-holding men be permitted to act as witnesses for LDS rituals such as baptism and marriage?
  9. Should tithing be a prerequisite for temple worship?
  10. Should women with young children who are not yet in school refrain from working outside the home?
  11. Was it the will of God that black men should have the Curse of Cain (no access to the priesthood) until 1978?
  12. Did God want the Israelites to engage in genocide of Jericho, including soldiers, citizens, women, children, babies and livestock?
  13. Were Columbus and the Founding Fathers inspired by God to establish the United States so that the LDS church could be founded?
  14. Is it impossible for the LDS Church to ever fall into apostasy?
  15. Should funerals for LDS people be used mostly as a missionary opportunity?
  16. Should travel and online shopping be avoided on Sundays?
  17. Should abortion be outlawed?
  18. Is it possible to be LDS in good standing and a registered Democrat?
  19. Is oral sex an impure and unclean practise?
  20. Should divorced people, regardless of the reason for their divorce, be prohibited from marrying again in the temple until a one-year period after a civil marriage has passed?
  21. Is homosexuality a form of mental illness?
  22. Is it important to only partake of the sacrament with the right hand?
  23. Do you believe The Three Nephites and John the Beloved are still alive today?
  24. Is the earth 6,000 years old?
  25. Can demons be ordered out of your presence by invoking the name of Jesus Christ?
  26. Should all four sessions of General Conference always be attended or watched?
  27. Do you believe you can tell an angel from a demon by shaking his hand?
  28. Is it acceptable to cut off social contact with apostates?
  29. Should married women refrain from working outside the home?
  30. Should people who advocate prayer to a Heavenly Mother be subject to church discipline?
  31. Should all secular entertainment including music, television, and books be avoided on Sundays?
  32. Can wearing garments protect you from physical harm?
  33. Will exalted couples produce literal offspring in the Celestial Kingdom?
  34. Should homosexual behaviour be criminalised?
  35. Does birth control violate God’s will?
  36. Should abortion be criminalised?
  37. Do you believe that polygamy will be practised at some future time on Earth or in the afterlife?
  38. Is sex only for procreation?
  39. Do you believe that Zion will be established as a literal city in Missouri?
  40. Should Mormons with same sex attraction be required by Church leaders to undergo reparative therapy?
  41. Is it acceptable to cut off contact with family members who are inactive or apostate?

Ideas From a Different Perspective

Ask and ye shall receive. I thought it was worth reposting CJ’s answers to my barrage of questions about how she operates as a nonconformist believer in the LDS Church. It seems that we’ve both encountered the same difficulties; I left, she stayed. Both paths have their pitfalls and advantages.

This may be disappointing, but the secrets to my success are, largely, that I’m 1) possessed (I like to think) of a good sense of humor, 2) am, by and large, intellectually lazy, and 3) self absorbed. These aren’t good things, but they allow me to function.

A good sense of humour is always a good thing. Intellectually lazy can also mean that you’re not rigid in your thought process, and self-absorbed can also mean introspective and not vulnerable to being shamed into groupthink. Every vice is the flipside of a virtue.

Many of my more typically faithful friends take the church incredibly seriously on every issue; I don’t.

I took my faith very seriously and personally. Perhaps that’s why I ended up leaving when it all fell down? I wonder if the seriously devout are more vulnerable to leaving when they have a crisis of faith as they are less comfortable with ambiguity?

The way I look at it is, I was given free agency for a reason. Jesus, by and large, is very clear about how to follow His teachings. I tend to keep those things about the church, which I personally feel reflect those teachings (or help me, personally, become more Christ-like) and discard the rest. However “true” any church is, ultimately, it’s only a man-made institution run by men. I don’t have any trouble accepting that Boyd KKK Packer wasn’t, um, all that divinely inspired–and the fact that I generally regard him to be a homophobic douchebag doesn’t really damage my Testimony.

I see that you don’t take the taboo against “speaking ill of the Bretheren” very seriously. Good on you.

Which leads me to the second point: I’m intellectually lazy. Sure, Joseph Smith was a raging philanderer, but, hey, so was Moses. I don’t notice Jews leaving Judaism in droves, because their leaders aren’t perfect. Or, as Mr. CJ puts it, a lot of things seem more excusable, because they happened a really long time ago. I admire people who really delve into church history, but I’m not one of those people. The fact that a lot of the church is, maybe, whitewash doesn’t bother me. This is probably due to the fact that my first degree was in medieval history. Churches change their histories all the time, to suit their purposes. You can’t have it both ways: either a church is unchanging (and therefore rigid), or it’s changing (and therefore untrue). You really can’t win. So I sort of go with the flow, and tend to poke fun at the stuff that’s obviously BS.

So even if the whitewash of history affects basic truth claims such as the historicity of the Book of Mormon, that doesn’t bug you? I’m envious.

I learned a lot about social interaction in high school. Popularity insulates you from a lot, and popularity is, ultimately, about confidence. If you tell people, “this is who I am, and I’m cool”, they tend to believe you–as people are sheep. I don’t really look for, or accept criticism about the fact that I continue to “wrongly” accept homosexuality as perfectly OK. It bothers me on the inside, but hey–they’re wrong and I’m right.

I’ve been generally fortunate in my leaders, although I’ve run across bishops, now and then (fortunately not *my* bishops) who’ve had huge issues with me. By and large, the people who tell me I’m an evil apostate aren’t in positions of authority. They just disagree with me, and “I disagree with you” seems to, in their minds, translate into “you’re not righteous, go fry”.

My biggest defender is my sister. She’s very vocal about telling people to go sit and spin. When we were in our university ward together, it was like this evil “through the looking glass” version of “Singles Ward”. People were genuinely nasty to each other. A few girls really seemed to make it their mission to attack anybody who wasn’t like them. You were “too Molly” or “not religious enough” or “too ugly” or “too boring” or whatever. One girl, who made me horribly sad, told me she couldn’t be friends with me, because I was just the sort of vapid, craft-making Pioneer wannabe her parents always wanted her to be and she hated me for it. She saw what she wanted to see, and heard what she wanted to hear. She also told me, on another memorable occasion, that she wished her parents had taught her about hair and makeup and attracting boys, and not about academic subjects–because she might be at [insert name of country’s top medical school here] but she couldn’t get a date. Honestly, what a miserable person.

Do I blame the church? Yes, and no. The church is like any other clique; it’s a coercive environment and, if you let it, it’ll brainwash you.

Is it inherently coercive because it’s an organization? Is it acceptable that it can “brainwash” its members? Does this mean the church strikes an acceptable balance for you between beneficial and coercive?

Honestly, I think–and this is bad, but true–another reason I get away with being myself is that this is a church that places tremendous, unhealthy emphasis on appearance, and Mr. CJ and I have, more or less, the “appearance of righteousness”. In other words, we look like June and Ward Cleaver 🙂 The whole feminist thing used to bother me more, until I realized that I could use the fact that people didn’t take me seriously to my advantage.

I had a particularly unpleasant interview the other day, and I responded with, “Mr. CJ and I have made this decision together, and he feels led by the Spirit in it”. Well, nobody can say anything to that, can they? He and I “blame” things on each other all the time, with the other’s approval.

Ha! So the key to being a successful active Mormon nonconformist is to subversively use the tools of conformists. Do you ever get tired of the charade? Or is it a pretty small price to pay to be left alone?

We have never placed the church, or the church’s needs, above our own. Our relationship has always come first, and we’ve always done what was right for us. Thus, while our relationship certainly isn’t perfect, we’ve managed to avoid many of the issues that other couples have. I’ve spoken to many people who’ve developed huge resentment (justifiably!) over feeling “married to the church”, and the church’s intrusion into their lives.

I think this viewpoint is probably what most distinctively brands you as a nonconformist Mormon. I agree that for far too many members (including my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) the church comes before everything. It is not hard to find examples of people who initiated divorce because their spouses went inactive, or families who shun gay or apostate children. Placing the church first means placing your loved ones second.

I go by Jesus’ definition: “church” is anywhere two faithful members get together. I don’t think God is particularly bothered by our denominations. Plenty of amoral people claim to be Christians of all stripes, and many atheists are moral, Christ-like people. Ultimately, calling yourself Christ-like doesn’t actually make you Christ-like. I think, based on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus was pretty clear that He was more interested in how people act than how they label themselves.

To coin a line from Thomas Payne, enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Church leadership may be divinely inspired (sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t, I think), but however divinely inspired we are, we’re still human beings–and, therefore, not perfect. It’s foolish to presume that just because someone speaks for the church, he’s free from the moral, ethical, and intellectual defects infecting the rest of us.

That’s a fairly Universalist perspective. So do you feel that actual Religion (meaning specific denominations and their dogma) are irrelevant in the face of religion (meaning a less nit-picking quest for truth, ethics, morality, and meaning)? If this is the case, do you see Mormonism as what you were born to and the familiar framework that you stick with, but that it’s not the end-all-be-all Religion?

Take my in-laws, for example: they are surely motivated by love of the purest sort for their son, but they still express it, on occasion, in ways that don’t, you know, get me totally excited. Purity of intention isn’t the issue. Much like with the church, I try to ignore the action (where warranted) and focus on the intention.

I think salvation is between the individual and God. Jesus said that salvation is a free gift; we have but to accept it. One of the huge issues I have with the Catholic Church is the idea of intercession; why must I confess my sins to anybody? Likewise, I think people mislead themselves by focusing on church authorities to the exclusion of the actual Gospel.

My understanding of the role and relevance of church authorities–in any church–is that they’re supposed to help us, the faithful, live the Gospel. But ultimately, like Jesus said, we must be aware of false prophets–and recognize that, indeed, the responsibility of discernment is ours alone. We can’t blindly “just follow orders”. I prioritize my free agency above any one leader’s dictates; if I honestly, in my heart of hearts, think a leader’s counsel, or a church principle, is not helping me live the Gospel, I ignore it.

I’ve heard similar sentiments from people who remain faithful Catholics despite thinking the Catholic hierarchy is chock full of horrible wankers. It is a very pragmatic and useful approach, but requires thick skin to deal with the authoritarians that seem to heavily populate religious communities.

In the final analysis, I think we’ll be judged on the basis of our honest exercise of our free agency. Most of the religious justification for my views comes from Matthew, which, if it can be summed up in one sentence, is a long-winded explanation of the Golden Rule. If given a choice between doing what we know is wrong, out of fear, and doing what we know is right, even if it means suffering the condemnation of the world, which path would Jesus endorse?

That’s shocking and revolutionary! Kind of like Jesus! Gasp.

It is possible, I think, to be both free-thinking and conformist. It’s an issue of choosing your battles. If you look, on the outside, like a “typical Mormon”, a lot of times, people either leave you alone or cut you a lot of slack. I guess I’m something of a hypocrite; I’m OK with wearing garment-friendly clothes, even though I honestly think God doesn’t care whether my knees show or not.

I also tend to frame my arguments–e.g. in terms of equal marriage–in terms of separation of church and state. Say “the Prophet is wrong” and nobody will listen to you. Say “it’s irrelevant what the Bible says, in this country, we have separation of church and state”, and they just think you’re a crazy Libertarian. Which I am. And, undoubtedly, I’ve been pigeonholed as such. Then again, I strive for balance–for every pro-equal marriage argument, I bake a bitchin’ cherry pie 😉

All joking aside, every Mormon knows that the key to getting people to like you is to bring snacks.

Now, aren’t you sorry you asked?


I think I can see it now — a nonconformist stays or goes based on how seriously they take authority. If anything, my priggish, puritanical Salt Lake-style family shaped me to be an absolutist. I grew up Knowing(TM) that the Church Was True(TM) and the Book of Mormon Was True(TM) and that I should Follow The Prophet(TM). With such an iron rod approach to church membership, it’s no small wonder I felt so let down. Rigid structures are prone to shattering under pressure. I suppose if you’re the sort of Mormon who isn’t paranoid about falling off a path without keeping a white-knuckled grip on the safety rail, it’s a little easier for you to move along at your own pace, and you are less concerned about the cracks in the sidewalk. I can’t in good conscience contribute money or my labor for the Church’s benefit any more; I simply disagree too much with what they do with the financial and non-monetary assets of their membership. I held them to Celestial standards; you seem to have a more pragmatic view, as if they were politicians. In my crisis of faith, I was a bit more all-or-nothing than someone like you who is getting something of value out of it and does not believe that having faith requires handing over your brain. It’s a different viewpoint from mine, but also one I understand better now.

If you don’t, get out

One thing I’ve found to be true about Mormons is that they love to put off an aura of inclusion when proselytising to new members. But once you are in, heaven help you if you break from the herd.

If you don’t show your orthodoxy — instantly, flagrantly, and without thought — when these sorts of moments arise, you may as well just declare yourself an apostate. There is no room for apathy on Mormon matters when you are a Mormon. Before I even began to doubt my testimony, I didn’t have my religious affiliation listed on my Facebook account. Mormons asked me why I didn’t. When I told them I thought is was odd to religiously label myself on a social networking site, they reacted with incredulity and suspicion. When the South Park episode “All About the Mormons” came out and I didn’t join the rabid rabble-rousing at church, I was asked why I wasn’t angry. I shrugged and said that South Park makes fun of everybody, so in a way it showed that Mormons were relevant. Plus, the episode gave the Mormon the last word, with Eric Cartman of all characters declaring him to be cool. I won’t forget the looks of disgust I received. When relatives were collectively fawning over Glenn Beck and I said I didn’t really consider him a news source, but rather an entertainer who used politics for subject matter just like most other talking heads, I practically had my head taken off. Apparently failing to be a Glenn Beck groupie means you are also a bad Mormon.

Tonight at a family gathering my parents and cousin found out about the Hot Mormon Muffins calendar. I’d known about it for a while. Like the Hooters restaurant chain, I found it funny, tacky, and harmless. Big fat prudes will raise their hackles and declare it scandalous, but even big fat prudes know deep down that it doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s slightly less tacky than the “Men on a Mission” calendar. Even if you don’t like it, there are bigger fish to fry as far as visual depictions of the female body go, and the calendar is so blatantly goofy that I don’t understand how someone could think it was worth taking offence at.

Yet my family was horrified that I failed to get as upset as they were. I couldn’t just sit there and not participate in the conversation, which was what I hoped to get away with. They instantly noticed that I wasn’t frothing at the mouth, which made me the collective target. I was asked what I thought of it. I said that I didn’t defend the calendar. I thought it was tacky, kind of funny, and didn’t really do much to harm or help the church, and it wasn’t worth getting anybody’s knickers in a twist. After all, everyone in the room had favourite TV shows that showed far skimpier outfits on women. The calendar didn’t use the term “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and never implied that it was affiliated with any one organization. The term “Mormon” is very broad and doesn’t belong to any one group.

That’s when I really got it. Everyone knows that Mormons and the LDS church are the same thing, I was told, revealing the (unfair) collective opinion that those who are not LDS should be allowed no claim on Mormon culture or faith. The calendar was an assault on the church, they said, and so should be condemned. It was an affront to virtue, chastity, temple covenants, family values, and the children of these horrible slutty irresponsible mothers who thought so little of their own value and the value of their church membership as to appear in images that cover up way more skin than your average billboard.

My mom, someone who constantly complains about “the feminists,” shot out at me that this calendar “did not further the cause of Feminism,” a clumsy and deliberate attempt to use my own Feminist principles against me. I had to bite my tongue to keep from rolling my eyes. A calendar with some fairly tame pin-up style photos is hardly going to raise my hackles compared to more substantial women’s issues. I asked my cousin if she was going to stop watching movies that showed girls in bikinis. In all seriousness, she declared yes. I have no doubt that she really meant it in the moment, but my point was made. A couple of the younger people in the room laughed at her to hear such hypocrisy laid bare, as everybody knew that such a promise would never be kept.

But the worst of it came when my dad turned to the creator of the calendar. He was clearly someone who deserved to have his BYU diploma withheld from him (the church did this because of the Men on a Mission calendar) and be kicked out of the church (because denying someone their diploma isn’t enough). His reasoning? “If you want to be part of the group, be part of the group. If you don’t, get out.”

He looked at me when he said this. He is aware of most of my basic issues with the church, and I was stunned to think that this exclusionary view is actually held by all my family members. There is no spectrum of faith in their view. They see a tight Mormon herd, and instead of roaming around to see the world they stay tight on their little patch of dogma, with everyone clamouring and pushing to stay as close to the centre as possible. After all, they certainly don’t want to be one of those weirdoes on the edges.

I don’t stand in the centre of the herd. And they can all see it. And I suppose they really do think that if I won’t clamour to get to the centre, I should get out.