Friday, July 18, 2014

They Get to Talk, We Get to Listen

Years ago a woman in the ward whom I considered to be an actual friend dropped by my house after yet another meeting that I had missed. Convinced that my lagging church attendance would bring about my ruin, she began her remarks with, "I just have to say this," and then bemoaned the fate of my marriage and fretted over what might become of my poor children.

Because I considered her to be an actual friend, I listened politely. Then, when she finally finished, I countered with, "Okay, then I have to say this," and began to explain my misgivings about the Mormon Church, beginning with the marginalization of LDS women. Aghast that I would actually criticize the leaders of the one and only true church, she shut down the conversation, doing everything short of covering her ears and singing Praise to the Man at the top of her lungs.

--This was back when I foolishly assumed that I also got to say things.

Similarly, a couple of years later, another woman from the ward whom I considered to be both intelligent and sophisticated invited me to watch Gordon B. Hinckley's first interview with Larry King. Because I considered her to be both intelligent and sophisticated, I tuned in on the appointed night. The next day she gave me a call. After gushing over her beloved prophet's performance, she asked, "What did you think of the interview, Donna?"

Me: "Well, President Hinckley is a very genial and well-spoken man."
She: "Yes, isn't he amazing?!"
Me: "Ahem, well, his gift for PR aside, I was alarmed by the number of inaccuracies in his answers. For example, when he said that polygamy isn't doctrine--"
She: "Oh right. I just wanted to hear what you thought."
Me: "Okay, that's what I'm telling you. I also thought he ducked Larry's question about--"
She: "Good. I just wanted to hear what you thought."
Me: "Uh-huh. Well, thank you for that."

--This was back when I foolishly assumed they really wanted to know what I thought.

Not that this dynamic is unique to the Mormons.

In her memoir, My Life in France, Julia Child recalled a dinner party she attended as a young woman. Surrounded by intellectual heavyweights, she came to the both frustrating and enlightening conclusion that her opinions were based on emotions rather than ideas. Later she described one-sided encounters with her didactic father who shut down her every attempt to reason and/or disagree with him.

It seems everywhere you go, the emotion gang isn't keen on listening to the idea gang. Nevertheless, we can't stop trying to voice our opinion, hoping more will switch out feelings for thoughts. Last Friday Robert Kirby wrote an excellent column in the Salt Lake Tribune imploring ultra orthodox Mormons to accept rather than shun their nonbeliever relations. To those (emotion gang) believers who marginalize their atheist offspring, Kirby suggested:

"… consider the very real possibility that you’re an idiot. First for letting theology get in the way of love, and second for believing in a plan/god/spirit that would condemn Buddy for being a wonderful human being but unfortunately not a believer."

Naturally, I couldn't stop myself from sharing the article on my Facebook wall, and, naturally, it drew the expected response--this time from a complete stranger who just had to say:

"So, according to Kirby, throw out all of your beliefs to concentrate on making some people feel better about the here and now. Tomorrow doesn't matter, and you should feel great about the soul of your loved one NOT going to a loving place in the afterworld. If you don't do this, you are an idiot. No, Kirby is an idiot and lost. It looks like the only way he will be happy is if we are all lost as well. Hmmm, I guess that makes him a liberal, too."

Having had my share of what former Congressman Barney Frank once referred to as an "argument with a dining room table," I merely wished the above soul-saver a nice day, privately empathized with his loved ones, and refused to be drawn in to another pointless, one-sided conversation.  

Perhaps Kate Kelly's bishop put the emotion gang's philosophy best. "You are entitled to your views but you are not entitled to promote them," he explained upon her excommunication--an event that has prompted some to bemoan the end of the "Mormon Moment," a supposed six or so year LDS renaissance that has shone the church in a positive light. 

I have a different take on this recent Mormon Moment. From where I sit, it consisted of a failed campaign to block gay marriage, a hit musical, a failed campaign for president, disingenuous ads featuring members who would be marginalized in their real-life wards, a xenophobic LDS rancher whose views on "the Negro" managed to even offend Hannity, and an accomplished civil rights attorney who challenged the LDS patriarchy.

Also from where I sit, the only real LDS goodwill ambassadors seem to have been that goofy but lovable chorus line of missionaries, and the accomplished civil rights attorney. Only the dancing missionaries are fictional characters and the attorney has been excommunicated. --So ends the Mormon Moment.

I just had to say that.


  1. I love your insights. And I agree 100%.

    This recent show of the patriarchy's "muscle" [ahem] feels like the last gasp from a handful of weak and desperate men who know that they and their antiquated views are about to become extinct.

  2. Did Kate Kelly's bishop actually say that -- "You are entitled to your views but you are not entitled to promote them." It sounded like a joke. I had no idea the guy really said it. Can't the church use some of the money it is saving on custodial services and social activities and put them to good use in hiring a publicists to go over the statements of lowly local authorities used in high-profile excommunications? A dentist or real estate broker can't necessarily expect to know how to word such statements in less pejorative ways.

    Do they have any clue as to how autocratic they sound when making such statements?

    I understand now why they want their euphemistic courts of love to be handled at the local level. Then when a really outrageous comment such as what was said by Kelly's bishop hits the light of media, the Church can blame it on it being the words of a local authority and not church policy, as in "I don't know that we teach that."

    It's a crafty little system, but I think it's gone about as far as it will ever go. People are more media savvy than they were in the past. It no longer works to spray Febreeze on bull shit. (I heard that elsewhere, by the way. The words are not originally mine, but they'rte oddly apropos in this case.)

  3. @AT - It does seem like the leaders will have to make changes soon, or the church will shrink in numbers, at least to the point that it becomes a regional cult in the U.S. I think they will make changes to survive, as they have in the past. And then, of course, rewrite their past.

    @Marion - thanks!

    @Alexis - the local handling of disciplinary councils is badly handled in so many ways. I guess the leaders in SLC think they remain removed from the decision, but in cases like Kate's, nobody really believes that -- after all, they could overturn it, right? Also, as you suggest, why leave a member's eternal fate in the hands of her local bishop/State Farm agent?

  4. Here here Ms. Banta. I agree with your version of the 'Mormon Moment'.

    I left the church for a number of reasons, some being intellectual but more being emotional. It just didn't 'feel' good to be in church anymore. My emotional self got beaten to a pulp in my final year of church activity.

    There are a few of us from the 'emotion gang' that get the picture and feel our way out. :o)

    1. I wish I had left when it felt wrong. I stayed in it--miserable--for several years before studying my way out. So, yes, you make a good point. I don't think it has to be one or the other. Feelings are very valid. :) I was aiming my criticism at those that don't seem to employ any thought to their opinions.

  5. These people all shut you down out of fear -- fear that your observations might force them to think, and fear that their belief system was fragile all along.

    1. Exactly Ahab. Fear is the driving force in these situations.

  6. I had a good number of questions throughout the last six years of my Mormon life. My questions got bigger and bigger and the answers got smaller and smaller. So it was after the questioning that the feelings became a bit meaningless and trivial. So I suppose thinking and feeling plays a large part in leaving for most of us.

    Fear is certainly a driving force; not to mention power and control. The need to be right.

    1. Feelings definitely played into my decision to leave. It felt wrong to believe that blacks were less righteous in the pre-existence, etc. Forget trying to prove it. But I think there's some obvious logic behind that assumption. ;)

      But yes, fear and the need to be right were huge. Also all the time we'd invested in it. -- So hard to admit it could have been better spent.

  7. Great post Donna, but why do you think the people from the Iamamormon ads would be marginalized?

    They seemed like stereotypical, annoying, run of the mill Molly Mormons to me...

    1. To be honest, I haven't seen them all. I've looked at the website where people can post their own and was somewhat overwhelmed. I imagine there are a lot of run of the mill testimonies there, though.

      The ones that stick in my mind are a guy on a skateboard, a champion surfer girl, and a female dentist who runs a free clinic part of the year in Latin America. Not exactly candidates for excommunication (assuming the dentist and surfer embrace their divine role outside of work, and the skateboarder is gay, but they didn't seem exactly stereotypical either. Two professionally successful women and a guy who might be seen as something of a hippie/slacker in a conventional Mormon setting.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    2. Ha! Good thing I'm always proofing. I meant to say the skateboarder is STRAIGHT. Talk about a Freudian slip!