What Was, What Is, and What Will Be when Religion Limits Itself?

My name is Lisa Downing. I am a member of the Heath, Ward in the Heath, Texas Stake. I’m not an anonymous internet voice. I am a child of God, a convert to the great faith tradition encapsulated in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At my baptism at age 17 (some 40 years ago), I made a personal covenant with God—an extra one beyond those baptismal covenants outlined in the Book of Mormon—to always seek truth, light, and knowledge so that I can better honor and serve God and His purpose. Such a quest has no end yet is filled with new beginnings. It’s tiresome. Right now I’m tired. But my personal covenant requires something of me, something uncomfortable.

I find myself unable to validate through the gift of the Holy Ghost certain, limited statements made at Saturday morning’s General Conference, specifically remarks pertaining to truth in the address of Dallin Oaks.

These days, speaking up is becoming increasingly risky, and nothing feels more contrary to light of Christ than that. But the greater risk accompanies a denial of the Holy Ghost and so I will add my voice to that of Elder Oaks. Neither of us—none of us—can see God in any way other than through a dark glass, but perhaps, if I add what I have been given to see of the Divine, and if you add yours, the vision of God will come better into focus. Testimony is like a symphony. Each note alone has some small sound to convey, but only when all notes are joined do we understand the Great Composer.   Continue reading “What Was, What Is, and What Will Be when Religion Limits Itself?”

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An LDS Trans Woman’s Response to General Conference

Today’s guest post is written by an LDS trans woman in reaction to President Oak’s Saturday morning General Conference address. Her thoughts and experiences may be her own, but the responsibility to hear her through the lens of the pure love of God belongs to us all. –LTD

I spent Saturday with a lesbian friend.  We had barbecue hamburgers and a very pleasant day.  When I arrived home around 8 PM, I noticed several messages asking if I was okay.  I couldn’t understand why I, so I responded to a friend of mine, assured them I was fine, and asked why they were asking.  I was told that President Oaks had given a very disturbing talk regarding the LGBT members of the church at General Conference. Continue reading “An LDS Trans Woman’s Response to General Conference”

The Prophet, the PoX, and the Vulnerable Seminary Student

June, 1828: Joseph Smith and Martin Harris take a break from translating the golden plates onto foolscap because Emma Smith is about to deliver a baby. Harris desperately wants to take the 116 pages to his wife in order to justify the time and money he is investing in Smith. Smith reportedly prays twice for permission to let Harris show the manuscript to his resentful wife. Twice he’s told no. Harris persists and Smith, who imagines (financial) value in winning Lucy Harris back to his prophetic corner, prays a third time. And this time, the wearied Lord tells him Harris may take the pages. Cue foreboding music.

You know the rest of the story. Months after Emma is delivered, Smith journeys to Palmyra to learn why Harris hasn’t returned with the manuscript. Smith finds a distraught Harris, who admits the pages are missing and assumed stolen. Grief-stricken, Joseph loses his ability to translate further. After a period of repentance, his gift is restored.

Moral of the story: Don’t tempt God. Respect His answers. It’s often said that the Lord agreed to let Harris take the manuscript to teach his prophet a lesson about the difference between following the Lord’s will versus following his own. I propose it also teaches what happens when our study and faith is grounded in faulty assumption.

Like all lessons of history and scripture, the lesson of the lost manuscript is meant for more people than just Joseph Smith. Continue reading “The Prophet, the PoX, and the Vulnerable Seminary Student”

Unpacking the Polygamy Wound

Most families (and most individuals) lug a couple of proverbial storage trunks around with them. Into these, we pack the unpleasantries. The first trunk hides away the things we hope go unnoticed, often facts about our history we’d rather no one realize or things we’d like to forget. In the second trunk, we store our unexamined behavior and ignorance because out of sight and out of mind seem to belong together. We don’t reach into the first often, but we reach into the other too often. It shouldn’t surprise us that Mormonism also hauls around the same two trunks; after all, Mormonism is a collection of human beings, each linked as family in the way of strong cultures. The existence of these two storage trunks in Mormonism doesn’t diminish the many wonderful things each openly displays, like our love for God and one another. Yet, we can’t fully know ourselves unless we examine the things we’d prefer not to look at, nor can we grow fully. Continue reading “Unpacking the Polygamy Wound”

Polygamy Culture, Pt II

My recent post regarding polygamy culture, followed as it was by this interview from Sisters Quorum, has raised some controversy. The discussion has rankled some LDS members who perceive the phrase as an attack on Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. In other quarters, some claimed “polygamy culture” is just patriarchy. Today I’ll address both these arguments in brief, acknowledging that, like any developing concept, growth and adaptation are likely ahead. Continue reading “Polygamy Culture, Pt II”

Polygamy Culture

There’s “rape culture,” and then there’s “polygamy culture.”

Most people understand that “rape culture” is a term that identifies ways a society blames female victims for the inappropriate (and often criminal) behavior of men. The classic example is the man who asserts a woman “was asking for it by wearing that short skirt.” Polygamy culture, on the other hand, is one in which a man is, essentially, justified (or too-readily forgiven) for inappropriate sexual behavior while the woman who refuses him is villainized.

Both rape and polygamy cultures are generous to the man and critical of the woman; however, polygamy culture excuses itself, not by blaming the woman, but by claiming, in one form or another, that the compassion of God rests with the man. In polygamy culture, the woman is either seen as unrighteous for not giving consent or not seen at all. Too many Mormon women are abused by polygamy culture.

These are a few examples of what polygamy culture looks like: Continue reading “Polygamy Culture”

The Bishop, the Mission President, and the Sexual Predator…Now What?

It sounds like the lead-in to a bad joke, but the reality is, Joseph Bishop, a former LDS bishop and repeat mission president, is also a sexual predator. In the recent MormonLeaks audio release, a former female missionary confronts Joseph Bishop, her MTC Mission President in the 1980’s, about his attempted rape of her in the basement of the MTC, and then levels additional accusations of sexually predatory behavior with other women, including another young female missionary. He withholds confession of the attempted rape (he just doesn’t remember that pesky detail; it was so long ago), but aligns himself with adulterous husbands and accepts the title “sexual predator” without denial. To make matters worse, priesthood leaders up the chain of command—specifically Carlos E. Asay (deceased) and Robert E. Wells (emeritus)—took no disciplinary action against him. In fact, they allowed him to remain in his positions of authority and did not prevent him receiving other assignments in which he had private, intimate contact with vulnerable women. Needless to say, people are talking. Screaming. There is justifiable, warranted outrage. But the one thing that I have not heard anyone say is “I don’t believe it. This could never happen.” Continue reading “The Bishop, the Mission President, and the Sexual Predator…Now What?”