Guest Post by St. Ain’t: “Everybody put your hands up!”

In a few days, SLC will be cheek by jowl with party members ready for the annual “I’m part of the Mormon elite, how ’bout you?” zip up your magic Wonder Undies and join the General Conference doodah parade on Temple Square. Members will be solemnly asked to raise their hands and sustain the board of directors, um, the general authorities of LD$ Inc.

But how effective has the practice of sustaining its leadership been in stemming the flood of abuse cases in the Mormon church? Is a balance between supporting the church and providing protection and support for abuse victims possible? Let’s examine the last few decades.

If you look at the number of reported incidents of ecclesiastical abuse (see Mormon Alliance.org), coupled with the number of court cases in the US alone, to cite just a few. Using this method has been as effective as calling 911 six months after a life-threatening emergency.

“Sustaining leadership” is one of the many tools of coercion used to keep the church members in lock-step with the ga’s humanly flawed will. It is a weapon of fear used to muzzle victims and parents who, in good faith, go to their Bishop to report abuse. And it is the nail in the cognitive coffin for those, like me, that have gone to their leaders expecting help and instead are told to keep quiet and not harm the church, don’t hurt the priesthood holder/guilty party, and to acknowledge their (the victim’s) part of the blame. The victim’s silence is then guaranteed for the rest of their lives by having it become a condition of Temple recommends, church callings, and their exalted (or not) status in the next life.

Can you imagine a 9 year old standing up in church and voting to not sustain a Bishop because she had told him in her baptism interview the year before that her Daddy touched her in naughty places and she begged the Bishop to get him to stop, but the Bishop did nothing? Should the mother stand up instead, when she has been told by that same Bishop that the abuse happens because she hasn’t been ‘submitting’ to her husband as instructed by the scriptures?

Or maybe the 12 year old boy who’s been abused by his Scout leader since Webelos? Certainly not the boy’s father, who was abused by his scout leader 20 years before and the dad’s church calling (and in many cases his job) is dependent on sustaining the ward and stake leadership.

The church says that it is perfect, but the members are not. Then why does this perfect church act more like a corporation intent on the $$$ bottom line, than the disciples of christ it claims to be? The LDS church declares itself the “one true faith”; yet Mormons share the same horrific record as Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Jews and other insular religious societies; 1 out of 4 Mormon girls, 1 out of 6 boys will be abused.

Rather than change procedures to protect its most valuable asset (children, as future members) the church seeks only to limit its liability. The CHI tells the Bishop to check with local and state laws first, and only to notify authorities in abuse cases if they are required to by law. And the church has a cadre of lawyers assigned to challenge those legal requirements. It’s about monetary liability, not moral obligation to its most vulnerable members.

Christ said suffer the children to come unto Him; shouldn’t this apply to the victims coming to their church leaders for protection, counseling and ultimately, healing? Unless the church faces up to the fallibility of its leadership and changes policy and procedures accordingly, the abuse will continue.

Until then, raising your hands serves only to stir the hot air spouted from the podium.

Built to Deceive?

CV Harquail writes a very popular management blog, and yesterday she turned her attention to organisations that are Built to Deceive. I follow her because her writing applies so well to so many things. Religion, business, personal relationships can all be authentic or inauthentic. She spells out that an organisation is built to deceive when it:

  • Has employees who are willing to accept a lie as the premise of their organization’s identity
  • Has employees who accept that their work for the company will hurt some customers
  • Has employees who don’t believe that customers should be treated with respect
  • Has employees that cannot be completely proud of their work
  • Has employees that are willing to act unethically in order to sell their product

Let’s do some word switching so that this applies to religious groups:

  • Has members who are willing to accept a lie as the premise of their church’s identity
  • Has leaders who accept that their work for the church will hurt some members
  • Has leaders who don’t believe that members should be treated with respect
  • Has leaders that cannot be completely proud of their work
  • Has leaders that are willing to act unethically in order to gain converts

If you’re a religious person and your feathers got ruffled by reading that, now may be the time for some introspection as to how you can better combat elements of deception and manipulation that creep into your congregation.

WWJD?

I’ve been following David Hayward’s blog at nakedpastor.com for some time now. (No, it’s not a site about naughty priests. The “naked” bit is purely metaphorical.) He’s become proof to me that religious leaders can be self-reflective, thoughtful, and honest with themselves and those whom they shepherd. There’s no arrogance, no patronizing mantle of the priesthood, no demands for obedience. He seems to be a guy who sincerely wants to do the right thing and isn’t afraid to publicly admit that spiritual leadership can be intimidating and awe-inspiring.

Today’s comic floored me. One of Hayward’s gifts is to distil issues that affect all religious communities. This particular cartoon wasn’t targeted at Mormonism, but it nails the LDS Church with as much precision as South Park’s episodes “Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?” and “Probably“:

From the big, broad desk that creates an impassable boundary of authority between the bishop and his visitor, to the hole in the floor that causes the dissenter to drop out of existence, that’s how it works. The man who sits behind an enormous desk and resorts to booby traps to do away with honest dissent is not a spiritual leader who speaks for God. He is a coward who refuses to engage someone because he probably knows deep down that he’d lose in a fair fight.

Kicking people out of the church is not something that was ever associated with Jesus. As a practice it is deeply tied to political power and maintaining authority by the privileged group. All early excommunications had to do with those who preached a nonconformist theology — Simon Magus, Montanus, Marcion of Sinope, Valentinus, Novation, Sabellius, Arius . . . The list goes on. After the rise of institutional Catholicism excommunication became a means of preserving dogmatic control and silencing debate. By the middle ages, Kings and Popes were excommunicating each other as they squabbled for power in Europe. Throwing someone out of the church is tied to attempting to discredit someone and deprive them of a voice or authority among fellow believers.

“Excommunicate” means “to cut off from communion.” To deny someone community, companionship, and common fellows. If you look at the word in a more concrete sense — Ex Communicate — the point hits home. Like an ex spouse or ex friend, an ex communicate has also lost a line of communication. They’ve been shut out. They may want to have a conversation, but the powers that be aren’t interested in returning the favour.

Mormons also use the term “Disfellowship” to describe a lesser form of ex communication, which usually lasts a year and isn’t meant to be permanent. But I don’t really know if I’d want to go back to people who wanted to “Dis-Fellow” me, or deprive me of friendship and peers. Terms of disfellowshipment include not being allowed to pray in public or address the congregation — again, depriving the victim of communication.

What would Jesus do, when confronted with someone engaged in a serious personal struggle with theology? I certainly don’t think he’d kick them out. Excommunication as a term and procedure isn’t in the bible, and the scriptural references used to justify it are vague at best. I’ve heard Mormons use Matthew 18:8-9 to explain why we excommunicate. But the metaphor talks about one person and their own body; it seems to really be about self-purification, and that jives with Jesus’ numerous teachings about minding your own business and not wasting your time looking out for sinners to stone.

Excommunication is no different from forcible conversion. I don’t see any difference between LDS authorities who call a “court of love” and the Spaniards who forcibly made Catholics of American Indians or Muslims who offered conversion or beheading to those they conquered. Dragging someone in or out of a faith system has nothing to do with what is in the best interest of church members. It has everything to do with what is in the best interest of church leaders.

Why Young Women are Walking Away

There’s a disconnect among the leadership of the LDS church. You won’t hear it said at General Conference, but the Mormons are bleeding members in the 18 to 30 age group. Less than half of the kids I grew up with in my staunch, strong LDS ward are still in the church. And yet all the leaders do in response to this is tighten down. Stricter gender roles. Abolishment of homosexuality, even for those who are not Mormon. Reinforcement of the idea that a woman has no place outside the home.

The church has just finished revamping its Personal Progress program for girls aged 12 to 17. A welcome change includes marginally less ugly jewelry for completing milestones. (The old ones looked like disco medallions and nobody, not even the staunchest Molly Mormon in my class, would ever wear them in public.) The new manual is “soft and pink,” just like the girls are supposed to be. Great.

A girl who is today participating in the Young Women’s program has never lived in a world without the Internet, laws prohibiting sexual discrimination in the workplace, and increasingly generous accommodation of the demands of family by employers. She will have seen a gender-neutral approach to leadership positions in government, business, and education. She will hear about how the United Nations has identified gender inequality as essentially the root of most problems in third world countries.

But then what will she see at church? Mormonism assigns her career, life, and personal duties based on her biological function. Men have no such restrictions. Women are permitted to supervise only women and children, in a very outmoded way of thinking about the competence of a woman. Men are given leadership, authority, and the ability to seek a unique identity in their professional choices. As Jeans put it over at Beginnings New:

I’m okay with the pink, and I think I can get the hang of all the new sparkly doodads, but my only complaint is with the description of the leadership opportunities the program provides: “doing this will help you learn the leadership skills for your future roles as a wife, mother, and homemaker” (34). End of sentence.

Women are not overtly mistreated in Mormonism. LDS doctrine and culture certainly does not encourage wife-beating, and statements regarding women are generally kind-hearted and laudatory, if a little patronizing in a Victorian “angel in the home” sort of way. But they are infantilized and denied authority, independence, or identity, which often leaves them vulnerable to being abused or marginalized. Essentially Mormons have taken a snapshot of mid-19th century views on women and tried to freeze them in time. Shoot, even the underwear women are forced to wear after going to the temple is modeled on 19th century undergarments. They’d go great with a corset but are highly incompatible with modern clothing. But the social taboos around discussing the difficulties of garments, bras and menstruation ensure that Mormon women steer clear of modernization and stay put in their Victorian underwear, both in the literal and philosophical sense. And Mormon women are well trained to always keep a smile on, to always work harder, and to never complain, as it implies some kind of lack of faith to do so.

The Personal Progress program is essentially a dry run for adulthood as a Mormon woman. You work, work, work, and in return you’re handed a few trinkets. Boys who earn their Eagle and Duty to God awards are given elaborate Courts of Honor, with photos, awards, and great ceremony. Young Women awards are given to the girl by the Bishop, someone who had no role in her participation, and the trinkets are handed out as a quick matter of ward business at the beginning of the meeting. Where’s the elaborate ceremony where her female leaders, who guided her in so much effort, is able to honor her? I noticed this as a teenager and saw the message: This is what it is to be a Mormon woman. You’ll work, work, work, and never get recognition. That’s reserved for the men.

When I went to the temple, this message was repeated again. I could see the pattern. Adam got to do everything interesting. Eve stood by, mute and still. She follows him. She makes her oaths to him. Adam handles the business of actually engaging with God, Satan, and serious discussion of doctrine. There is no mention of a Heavenly Mother. I can see my future. If I do everything that I am told, then I will bear children on earth, and keep bearing them in the afterlife, except with even less time and attention from my husband. The spirit babies I will bear will never be allowed to speak to me. They will never know my name, because I am “too sacred” to discuss.

That’s when I walked away. In it’s 19th century setting, it could be argued that Mormonism offered a certain degree of empowerment to women, because they were all economically, socially, and religiously discriminated against. The freedom afforded polygamous wives when their husbands were away may have been welcome. But if you take a look around today, the world offers women a significantly better deal than Mormonism, with its outmoded caricature of Donna Reed serving as the only mold to fit into.

That’s why they’re walking away. The church has repeatedly failed to adapt or re-think its view of women. Why is the canonization of Victorian views of women now a point of doctrine? Why must the gender divide be so impenetrable? Stuff like this guarantees that more women will simply walk away. It’s why I left, and it’s why many, many others I know have left. I don’t want to be on a pedestal. It’s confining and I can’t move anywhere. I don’t want to be stuffed into a box. It’s stifling and leaves me unable to breathe. I don’t want to have the joy of choosing to be a mother taken from me because it was an assignment from the beginning. It makes my love for having a family irrelevant.

Time to pay attention to the ones who are walking away, Salt Lake. Perhaps showing your true colours on the cover of the Young Women’s manual isn’t such a clever idea after all.