When I was a small boy in primary, I first learned about living prophets. My primary teacher had a large photograph of David O. McKay, the President of the Church at the time. I thought he was a very impressive looking man. But what was particularly unusual about the picture was that I remembered seeing the man every Sunday walking around chapel. He usually had a broom, or was picking up left-over Sacrament Meeting programs and the cheerios dropped by other toddlers.
It wasnt until several years later, when reflecting on the experience, that I realized that the janitor had a passing resemblance to the prophet. But the episode was my first experience with prophets and revelation. I learned to respect, even reverence the mortal head of the Church. My church teachers taught that the prophet was concerned for each member of the Church, that he prayed to God continually for asking His blessings to be upon the members of the Church, and that the Lord spoke to His prophet, and gave the prophet instructions that were vital for the salvation of the members of the Church. I also learned that one should never question the teachings of the Prophet. I learned that God had called other men and had inspired them to lead the members of each stake and ward. When these men gave us their counsel, it was the same as if God Himself had spoken the words. Many years later, I came to realize that these men are, indeed, as inspired to give me direction in my life as the janitor was.
When I was a young man, the Church was having trouble keeping up with the booming population in the San Jose area. Before I graduated from high school, my family lived in two stakes and seven wards, even though we moved only once, down the Almaden Expressway about 10 miles. This growth led to a continuing building shortage. When I was a deacon, we had primary and MIA meetings in one building while our Sunday meetings were held across town in the Cleaves Avenue Building. The Cleaves building was, I believe, the first church building owned by the Church in San Jose. The building dated from something like the 1920s. The chapel was small, able to accommodate only about a third of the ward for Sacrament Meeting. The rest of the ward sat in an abbreviated cultural hall located at a right angle to the podium behind a large window. Classrooms were in chronic short supply. There was a dank, dark and very mysterious basement, as well as one large, musty room on a second floor. More than once, neighborhood kids were found in the building courtyard strung out from sniffing glue. The Cleaves Building was located about 45 minutes our home, as well as everybody elses home. Before the consolidated meeting schedule, the men and Aaronic Priesthood boys would travel the 45 minutes to the Cleaves Building early Sunday morning. After Priesthood, the men would drive home to pick up the women and children for Sunday School, leaving the Aaronic Priesthood at the building in the vain hope we wouldnt get in too much trouble. The few men who stayed behind, because their families had second cars, usually frequented a donut shop a couple of blocks away, at least until some stake official berated them for breaking the Sabbath, if not the Word of Wisdom.
Nearby were train tracks, the end of a switching yard, many tracks across, with trains frequently rumbling by headed for the nearby Del Monte canning factory. Also close by was an ice factory that had a large slag of chipped ice exuding from one of the freight doors. The ice could be scooped up in your hand and formed into something like a snowball. What could be more tempting than a snowball fight in between Priesthood and Sunday School? We had many.
It was about this time that Doug, my best friend growing up moved into our ward. Doug was a pretty interesting guy, just interesting enough overcome a slightly scientific, nerdy twist to his personality. Doug would bring model rockets that we all would ooh and aah over in between Priesthood and Sunday School. Later we would watch nonchalantly from the sidewalk as the rest of the ward came roaring down the narrow residential streets, late for Sunday School. The streets were always jammed with cars, because their was no parking lot. Other times we were not so nonchalant. Three of us would line up on one side of the street, and three other fellows would be on the other side of the street. When the cars would come racing down the street, anxious for their Sunday School lessons, we would pretend to pull a rope taut across the street. Brother So and So would slam on the brakes and skid to a stop as we held up our empty hands, from a safe distance, of course.
We often went down to the railroad yard. It was fenced, but the fence was full of holes, and we
easily got in. We would put pennies on the tracks and retrieve the flattened disks of copper after the trains rumbled by. We were loud, boisterous, and curious about the possibilities of an empty freight car left on a siding with no attendants. One Sunday, about a dozen of us were patrolling the tracks when we ran into someone paid to patrol the tracks. We all broke into a run. The railroad yardman bellowed at us to stop, to stay where we were. Doug and I, the fastest runners, were the furthest away, and we kept running. The rest of boys dutifully stopped. Doug and I shortly arrived back at the church, panting and trying our best to look innocent. About fifteen minutes later, Craig, the oldest of the kids down at the tracks, and whose father was in the stake presidency, came walking back to the Church, and got the Bishop to go with him back to the rail yard to ransom the rest of the Aaronic Priesthood. Doug and I decided that wed better do our utmost to be dutiful ushers that morning.
The next Sunday, the Ward leaders had a new program for us. From then on, we would be working on our Scouting merit badges for the hour and a half in between Priesthood and Sunday School. Did I mention that I became an Eagle Scout about a year later? But I never did earn my railroading merit badge.
I had many enjoyable experiences participating in the Churchs programs while I was a teenager. I was active in the Scouting program, as I mentioned earlier. When I was 14, our Scout troop took about 16 kids for a week of hiking and camping along the John Muir trail in the Sierras. There were dance festivals that the girls liked and the boys didnt. There were basketball games. Our ward placed third in the Area tournament when I was a senior. There were the Saturday night dances at the stake center. I enjoyed a real camaraderie with the youth in our ward and the ward adjoining ours. Doug and I continued our friendship, even though the ward split when we were about 15, and we were in different wards. We still went to seminary together, and we went to the same high school.
Seminary taught me everything the Church wanted me to know about Mormon history. Despite the monopolization of the curriculum, I was aware that there were alternative sources on Mormon history. These alternative sources were generally regarded as sinister plots of the devil to distract the attention of the general populace from the accomplishments of the Mormon pioneers. I had heard of Fawn Brodie and Juanita Brooks. But good Latter-day Saints didnt read that stuff. That Mountain Meadows thing may have happened, but it certainly had nothing to do with the Mormons. Joseph Smith was always being persecuted, but no one ever bothered to mention why his neighbors were offended and upset at his actions. For many years, I would not read No Man Knows My History. I just didnt want anything to do with those perverted writers.
Much later, I came to the conclusion that just reading Fawn Brodies book wasnt going to have eternal negative consequences, and that whatever Brodies opinion about Joseph Smiths claims of divine visits, her book was regarded as the standard historical reference on Joseph Smiths life. With some foreboding, I started to read. To my own astonishment, I enjoyed her book. True, it presented a different perspective on Joseph Smiths life, but the book also presented quite a bit of historical information and context that, amazingly enough, I never heard of in seminary. Here was a Joseph of immense complexity; a charismatic persuader and a poor organizer; a person who loved his wife and coveted his neighbors wife; a farmer who hated farming; a generous man who grasped at wealth not his own. Here was a different perspective on Mormon history, a perspective that often made more sense than the seminary version of Mormon history. Obviously, Brodie believed Smiths claims to be fraudulent. But I could read the history presented in her book, and come to my own conclusions about the truthfulness of Joseph Smiths claims. After finishing the book, my testimony of Joseph Smith was not only intact, but I actually felt better about my beliefs. It was as if knowing Joseph Smiths faults as well as his virtues made him a more real person, instead of the lionized, prophetic profile painted by the LDS Church in their seminary version.
At 19 years of age, I was called to serve a mission to Indonesia. The MTC packed me full of the Indonesian language and shipped me off to Jakarta. What was particularly interesting about my mission call was that Doug was also called to serve in Indonesia. We left for the MTC on the same day in May, 1976.
The Church had been established in Indonesia for only about seven years when I arrived during the summer of 1976. The mission was small. On the island of Java, with a population of 85 to 90 million, the mission usually had about 35 to 40 missionaries. The Church consisted of eight branches in eight cities on the island of Java. The mission president, from the Netherlands, and a few expatriate members, resided in Jakarta. For two or three months at a time, a district of four elders would be laboring in one of the outlying branches, with no other contact with members of the Church except for the local members. I mention this because of the fair amount of freedom the missionaries in Indonesia had to determine their own rules of conduct. The mission rules were mostly what the four elders in the district decided they were. We were not heavily regimented with behavioral prohibitions from the mission headquarters or from Salt Lake. We read news magazines. We watched Kojak on television every Sunday evening with the member family that lived a few doors away from us. We played basketball whenever we could, even after that sport was banned by Salt Lake City, because our mission president didnt know what basketball was, at least not until some bright-eyed, impressionable recently arrived elder ratted on us. In any event, there werent very many basketball courts around anyway. One of the welfare services missionaries, a 35-year old sister on her third mission, had Sports Illustrated shipped to her. She passed around the swimsuit issue to the elders who were working in the same city. I remember turning quite red in the face while flipping the pages, and getting teased about it by my more worldly companions. We even had vacations! At least, they seemed like vacations to me. Our visas could only be extended for a total of about seven months at a time. When our last extension expired, the Church put a group of us on an airplane for Singapore. We would check in with the mission president in Singapore where we had to cool our heels for about five days while our visas were renewed at the Indonesian embassy. It was against the law for us to do any proselytizing while we were in Singapore. We were supposed to stay in the city, and stay out of trouble. So we did tourist kind of things. The Church sent me home a month before I was scheduled to go home because my visa had expired again, and the Church didnt feel it was worthwhile to send us to Singapore again. We were diligent missionaries, and did our best to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. We were not allowed to tract. That was against the law. But it was easy to meet people. Indonesians, for the most part, wanted to talk to us, and we had a fairly easy time getting appointments to teach. Very few people were interested in joining a Christian denomination in this largely Islamic country however, and baptisms were not frequent.
Doug was called to be the zone leader for the east and central Java zones. I was his companion. That was the most enjoyable time of my mission. We rode the trains to the five cities that were Dougs responsibility. And it was his responsibility. I was just along for the ride. I felt that I had a license to do some real traveling around Central and East Java. I never felt constrained to a particular geographic area, even though I was. My particular geographic area was always included a large city and as far as we could travel into the countryside on our bikes. I have vivid memories of those trips, talking with the Javanese people we met, seeing their farms, their shops, their homes and their families. While visiting another city, Doug and I would split up with a different pair of missionaries who were assigned to the city. I would participate in and observe the discussions given by the local elders.
After returning from Indonesia, Doug and I went back to BYU. We roomed together for our Sophomore and Junior years. Doug then transferred to the University of Arizona in Tucson to become a professional student.
I was a junior at BYU, contemplating graduate school, when I met Donna. Donna was finishing her senior year at BYU, majoring in English. We went to the same student ward, and lived in the same apartment complex on 9th East. Donna was a convert; she had joined the Church on her own when she was 14. She was (and is) pretty and had a lively personality. I spent most of my Sacrament Meetings around this time looking at her instead of listening to the speakers. On our second date, she told me that she did not want a reception after her wedding. That is when I started to get serious about her. Donna graduated in April 1980, and returned to her home in Glendale, CA. I spent the summer in San Jose working during the week, and driving down to see Donna on the weekends. We both returned to Provo in the Fall; Donna to do student teaching and obtain her teaching credentials; I returned for my senior year. We were married the following December in the Oakland Temple.
All of my family attended our wedding. My Bishop and his wife attended. My parents friends were there. My friends attended. Doug came from Tucson. Donnas mother, a non-member, came to Oakland and went to the temple with us, but was consigned to wait in an anteroom for an hour while our wedding took place within the temples restricted rooms.
We spent the next year and a half in Provo, while I finished my masters degree. In 1982, we had our first child, Mark. After I graduated, we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where we lived for the next four years. Our daughter, Emily was born in 1985. I suppose we were a fairly typical young couple in the Church. We were struggling with finances, coping with toddlers, and learning to live with each other. We moved several times, and were members of four different wards in three different stakes during this four years. We fulfilled a succession of Church callings in the Primary, in Scouting, assistant ward clerk.
In 1986, I was offered a job in Dallas, Texas. We decided the housing market would be much more favorable for us in Dallas than in the San Francisco Bay Area, and so decided to move to Texas. We bought our first house in a suburb of Dallas, where we remained for ten years. By the time we moved again, into Dallas proper, we had become very disillusioned with the Church, and with our experiences in the Church.
How does an attitude get formed? How does an attitude change over time? I hardly know how to write about our Church experiences during the ten years we lived in the suburban Dallas ward. Even now, it is hard for me to identify why I began to sour on the Church. I was always aware, I think, of shortcomings in the Church. But the Churchs shortcomings had never bothered me. After several years in Suburban Dallas, however, I began to perceive that the Church was not the beneficial influence in my familys life that I thought it should be. The programs were mediocre. Teachers and leaders never did anything more than go through the motions. Very few people seemed to care about my family. Sacrament meetings were dull and repetitive. Service projects seemed always designed to impress the community rather than to serve the community. My son had no real friends at Church. All the kids his age went to a different school, and for the most part were a year behind him in school, and they werent really that nice to begin with. My daughter had some nice friends, but she was already being exposed as early as Primary to rigid gender roles (when asked why boys but not girls get the Priesthood, the teacher told the class that girls get to have babies). Donna was always trying to do inventive things with her callings, but was continually rebuffed for not confining her efforts to the lesson manual.
I think my disillusionment with the Church, however, began with the Young Women program. Donna and I had been living in the suburban Dallas ward for several years before we began to notice that very few of the young women from our ward were attending college. We talked of their generally silly nature, and how they did not seem particularly suited, by inclination, for academic pursuits. Rather their characters seemed inclined towards flirting. Their goals, activities and pursuits did not extend beyond marriage and children, with maybe an LDS mission thrown in for consideration. One Saturday evening, Donna and I listed every young woman we knew of from the suburban Dallas ward who had graduated from high school. Beside their name, we listed what they had done since graduating from high school. A few had gone on missions, most had married or seemed headed towards marriage in the near future. Most were active in the Church. One had died in an auto accident. Two or three we had lost track of. A few had gone to college, but had not actively pursued college degrees. In fact, we were aware of only one young woman that had graduated from college. Interestingly, that young woman had also stopped attending Church within a year of her high school graduation. At the time, Donna was concerned about this disturbing trend, but I passed it off as nothing more than an unusually silly group of young women.
Over the course of several months, Donna and I talked about these young women, what we knew about their personalities and their family situations. Donnas first calling in the suburban Dallas ward was to be the Young Womens Secretary. She also taught Seminary for a short time, so we felt that we were in a position to make at least some general observations about this group of young women as a group, and in certain cases, about specific individuals.
One of the first young women we discussed had been an excellent high school distance runner. "Mary" participated at state track meets and cross-country championships, and came in second, as we recall, in a long-distance event at the State Finals when she was a senior. She received an athletic scholarship to attend Northeast Louisiana University, in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Mary had been dating a returned missionary before she left for college, and her mother was somewhat distressed that she had accepted the scholarship offer to Northeast Louisiana instead of either a) attending BYU or b) marrying the returned missionary. Her mothers distress, however, became alarm when Mary told her mother that she liked to go dancing at a Country and Western dance hall with a young man (not LDS) she had met at the University. There did not seem to be any attachment between the two, they just liked to two-step on Saturday nights.
Now, perhaps the reader has not been to Natchitoches, Louisiana. Natchitoches is the town where the movie "Steel Magnolias" was filmed. I have been there. It is a delightful small town. It looks utterly charming, just as it was depicted in the movie. But Marys mother felt seriously threatened by these developments. Marys mother began commuting every weekend to Natchitoches to be with Mary, and to be sure that Mary did not fall into any temptation or serious attachments. Amazingly, her ploy worked. Mary dropped out of school after one semester, abandoned her scholarship, returned home, married the Returned Missionary, promptly got pregnant, and then, with her husband, moved into her parents house until Returned Missionary could finish his education.
Another young woman in the suburban Dallas ward was actually a very good student as well as a very nice person. In fact, when "Jane" was a senior in high school, she was selected as a National Merit Scholar. I know she was a National Merit Scholar because I saw her picture in the newspaper. Otherwise, I would never have known of her accomplishment. Nobody at church ever mentioned or discussed it. Now, I have to interject here to explain that if either of my children achieve such an accomplishment, I am sure it will be the first topic of conversation I bring up with all my correspondents for several months, be they casual acquaintances or life-long friends. But no one in the suburban Dallas ward ever said a thing about Janes achievement.
After graduating from high school, Jane chose to attend Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. From that time forward, everyone could depend upon Janes mother getting up every Fast and Testimony Meeting to express her love and concern for Jane. We were given minute details concerning her mothers prayers for Jane while she was subject to the pernicious influences of non-LDS professors and friends, to her mothers hopes that Jane would meet a nice young returned missionary and get married, and to her mothers concerns that Jane was not taking enough institute classes.
Janes mothers concerns were well-founded, seemingly. It took Jane two and a half years before she found the man of her mothers dreams, got engaged, dropped out of school, and got married.
Donna and I particularly remember a third young woman named "Sue." The summer after Sue graduated from high school, the Young Womens president, in Sacrament Meeting, presented Sue with her Young Womanhood Recognition Award. The YW president went into some detail concerning all the hard work, planning and perseverance that were required to earn the Young Womanhood Recognition Award, and then she detailed Sues accomplishments. Donna and I looked at each other in amazement as we were told that Sue was being honored because 1) she had twice cooked dinner for her family, and 2) because she had knitted several pair of baby-booties for use in the local hospital.
In August, Sue left to attend college at Utah Valley Tech. She attended classes for a month or so until she met a recently returned missionary. She stopped attending classes, was engaged the following month, dropped out of school, and was married over the Christmas holidays. One year after Sue received her Young Womanhood Recognition Award, Sue was back at Sacrament Meeting, pregnant, and all the young women were making a fuss over her. Her husband, having completed all of one semester of college before he also dropped out of school, was working for his father-in-law.
The incident with Sue was especially disturbing to us because we knew Sues mother was not pleased that Sue had married so young, or, even more importantly, that Sue had not thought it worthwhile to even finish the one semester of college she registered for. We know that Sues mother placed a strong emphasis on education and accomplishments for her children. Sue and her siblings always had books to read, frequently went to the library, had all the music lessons and culture that their mother could get them to accept, and had all the scholastic encouragement that a dutiful and enthusiastic mother could give them.
Why did Mary and Sue drop out of college after only one semester? Why did Jane, the National Merit Scholar not finish college? ("Mary," "Sue" and "Jane" are, of course, fictitious names for real people.) In fact, why could we only find one young woman in 10 years who had obtained a college degree? We began to consider that there were cultural reasons why LDS young women were not attending college. In the end, we concluded that there were not only cultural, but also institutional reasons why LDS young women did not take learning seriously.
First, the stake presidency told the young women that college was not important. While they would admit that it was not wrong to go to college, they also suggested that young women would more appropriately spend their time by developing spiritual values, reading the scriptures, and preparing for marriage and motherhood. At girls camp the summer before we left the suburban Dallas ward, the stake presidency directed that the young women not participate in the camping, hiking and other outdoor activities that are usual at girls camp. The hiking, camping and other outdoor activities were confined to a Saturday several weeks before in the Church gymnasium. The stake presidency felt that girls camp was too invaluable an opportunity to waste time on camping and other outdoor activities. While at girls camp, the activities for one day consisted of studying the First Presidencys family proclamation.
Furthermore, look at the activities that 12 and 13 year-old girls are supposed to do and compare that to the activities for 12 and 13 year-old boys. The boys do Scouting. They go camping, fishing, hiking, orienteering, they study different vocations, they do leatherwork, shoot rifles, learn how to operate sail boats, learn about flora and fauna, learn first aid, citizenship, canoeing, swimming, lifesaving, they play ball, they goof around and have fun with their friends. They are encouraged to do as much as they can in school, in church, in their community, and in their life. The Boy Scout Handbook is loaded with exciting ideas, fun things to do, goals to accomplish, skills to learn, and places to go. The Young Womens Personal Progress book, on the other hand, is designed to get young women focused on temple marriage, motherhood, and spirituality. Every page of the book is a peachy-pink color, and young women are shown stylized pictures of a girl praying, a book of scriptures, and the spires of a temple. Suggested goals and activities for the girls include: write in their journals, learn more about the sacrament, read scriptures about faith, teach a child how to play ball, share the gospel principles contained in two of the girls favorite hymns, read an article in the Ensign, be responsible for getting up by themselves for two weeks, provide baby-sitting free of charge for someone attending the temple, make their home more pleasant by making a table decoration, learn about fasting, look up the words moral and courage in the dictionary.
Twelve and thirteen-year-old girls do not need to be thinking continuously about marriage and motherhood! The Church certainly does not expect 12 and 13 year-old boys to be continuously thinking about marriage and fatherhood!
I noticed another example in the October 1996 issue of the Ensign, pg. 46-7. Related there is the story of a woman who lives in Missouri, who married a man incapable of financially supporting his wife and children. We are supposed to pity the woman because she had no telephone or running water for long periods of time, because she had to grow much of the food for her and her family, because she had to do her laundry in rainwater, and was dependent on gathering nuts and berries in the forest. We are supposed to be especially proud of her because throughout all her trials and tribulations, she did not cease supporting and sustaining her husband, nor did she corrupt her childrens lives by seeking paid employment. I cant believe it!! No father should wish this sort of existence for his daughter. I unhesitatingly would tell my daughter, were she in such a position, to get a job, leave the bum, and put the kids in child care. What is the Church trying to tell its young women?
Two issues later, in the December 1996 Ensign, there were a series of articles about being a "Modern Pioneer." In one article, a young woman marries a recently returned missionary. Of course, he has several years of college education to complete, but they immediately begin to have children. The young wife, of course, does not work outside the home. The young couple feels the admonishment not to go into debt. So, the young man goes to school full time, works full time, fulfills a demanding Church calling, and never sees his wife or children. The young mother never sees her husband, the children never see their father, and the mother goes batty taking care of children 100% of the time with no support from her husband. Is this the sort of existence we want for our young people? Is this what being a "modern pioneer" means?
In the May 1998 Ensign, page 96, a general conference issue, President Faust relates the story of a 17-year old girl whose mother unexpectedly died. Faust goes on to relate how the young woman learned how to run her fathers household, do the shopping, laundry, take care of her younger brothers, and all the other household chores that her mother used to perform. Meanwhile, her friends were going to college. The young woman got married when she was 19, and her husband "was thrilled to have a wife that knew how to cook and handle the budget." She never went to college, and she is now (in 1998) a stake Young Women president. My point is, the Church, the lesson manuals, and the General Authorities will never say that they dont discourage education. Faust goes on in the same article to talk about education in positive terms. But the fact is that Church authorities and lesson materials do not present academic achievements, graduate school, the Ivy League or the like as honorable alternatives for Young Women. No positive role models are provided in this regard. The examples the Church holds up to the Young Women of the Church are just like the one that Faust presents above: not educated, married young, good at housework. In the example above, Faust states that the friends of the young women who did go to college were having marital problems, apparently because they had gone to college. Moreover, what kind of father would encourage his daughter not to go to college, just because he didnt have a female presence in his household to take care of him. Are we to understand that he couldnt manage to provide himself with clean underwear?
Within a week of our daughters 12th birthday, we moved to another ward in Dallas proper. A few weeks later, the Young Womens President and the Beehive teacher came to our house to meet our daughter. They were extremely polite and sincere. We asked what sort of activities or lessons the young women in the Dallas ward had on Activity Night. They mentioned four verbs: cooking, cleaning, sewing and baby-sitting.
Young women are subject to the demands of their culture. I believe that Mormon girls in the Young Women organization are socialized into accepting the roles of wife and mother and nothing else. They are socialized into accepting an obedient role to their priesthood-holding husbands. But I do not want my daughter, or my wife, to go through life with no education, with no purpose but to serve her husband and her children. I believe women should be just as accomplished as men, if not more. I find it abhorrent that young women are taught that they have no worth or value to society except as wives or mothers. Every young woman deserves the best education her family can provide. They deserve every opportunity for careers, accomplishments and education that their brothers receive.
A young woman who has skills, learning and abilities can make a real choice. She can choose to have children because she wants them. A woman with no skills, no learning, and no abilities has children because she has nothing else to do. That is not a choice. The LDS Church and culture strives to have young women concentrate solely on temple marriage and motherhood.
As our ten years in the suburban Dallas ward progressed, Donna and I always felt like our opinions and preferences were viewed as strange, secular, not in conformity with what a good Latter-day Saint would think. But I had always thought that my opinions were main-stream Mormon. I couldnt figure out if the Church had changed or if I had changed, because I didnt notice any changes in either me or the Church. Yet, I was now undeniably different than the Church, and the Church was different than I remembered it being when I was growing up in California.
I remember occasions during my life when I was moved by the Spirit. These occasions were not frequent in my life, but I did have them. There were occasions, however, associated with the Church when I felt the Spirit of the Lord. I remember blessings that I gave on my mission. I remember feeling inspired when I blessed our children as babies in Church. But as my life progressed, I had to admit that I was seldom inspired at Church. I was bored at Church. Priesthood lessons had become a struggle to avoid either sleep or nausea. As I grew older, though, I increasingly felt the Spirit in other settings than Church. Movies can inspire me, including R-rated movies. Good literature moves me; biographies of inspiring men deeply move me; the experience of enjoying a play at the theater can make me feel the Spirit. The paradox seems to be that the older I get, the less I feel the Spirit at Church, and the more I feel the Spirit at places and venues that the Church would have me avoid.
Shortly after we left the suburban Dallas ward, I read Mountain Meadows Massacre, by Juanita Brooks. I found Brooks presentation to be balanced, honest, and the best account of the massacre that could probably ever be written. I could not then, and do not today, understand why the Church did not even mention the massacre in seminary, in any of the religion classes I had at BYU, in any of the classes I had in Sunday School, Priesthood, or at any other church function. Even recently, Gordon B. Hinckley stated at a public function that "no one can explain what happened . . . we may speculate, but we do not know." It is true that some of the details are not known, but a lot more is known about the culpability of certain Mormons for the Mountain Meadows Massacre than Gordon B. Hinckley admits to. But, apparently because the Church establishment wants to present the best face possible to the public, or because they are concerned about the fragile faith of some members of the Church, they choose to ignore, to mislead, to talk about something else, sometimes even to lie about what is known about what happened at Mountain Meadows.
I dont think I realized it at the time, but Brooks book changed my opinion of the Church establishment. Clearly, they were presenting a sterilized version of historical events to suit their own purposes. Looking back on the evolution of my thinking, I believe at this point I began to regard official Church history with some skepticism, realizing that the Church had an agenda, and that the Church selectively used pieces of its history to promote that agenda. If the Church authorities decide that it is inappropriate for women to give Priesthood blessings, then all references to 19th century blessings administered by women are eliminated from all Church material. If the Church wants to present Joseph F. Smith as a strong family man, then all pictures of his extended and polygamous family disappear from Church materials. If the Church wants to promote itself as an apolitical institution, then all references to the Churchs involvement in the political process (such as efforts to turn back the Equal Rights Amendment, efforts to influence prohibition votes, efforts to promote various political candidates in the past) disappear from Church materials. If the Church wants to present a standardized version of early Church history, then all references to the several differing accounts of the First Vision disappear from Church materials. If the Church wants to suggest that archeological discoveries in Central and South America support the idea that those civilizations are connected to the Book of Mormon, they will put pictures of Mayan temples in the Book of Mormon. But they wont honestly discuss the few pros and the many cons of connecting the Book of Mormon to ancient American civilizations. Boyd K. Packer will state that historians are obsessed with the truth, and that historical facts should not be used because it will damage testimonies. Paul H. Dunn will fabricate stories about his baseball and war experiences that never happened. Gordon B. Hinckley will say that the Church stopped practicing polygamy in 1890, and that it never was practiced by more than 2or 3% of Church members.
None of the aforementioned historical incidents bothered me nearly so much as the half-truths, misleading statements and outright lies that Church leaders use to hide and obscure all reference to the incidents. I cant trust Church leaders. Their obfuscations may help other testimonies, but they ruined mine.
I know that I grew to detest the Church bureaucracy. From generic architecture to mind-numbing lesson material to blanket condemnations of the contemporary society, it seemed that the Church bureaucracy was trying to squeeze Church members into a mold that allowed for little or no deviation from an orthodox, conventional interpretation of life. I didnt want to be pressed into the Church mold, at least not the mold that I seemed to see everywhere in the Church.
Sundays became the worst day of the week for Donna and me. Donna was willing to admit that the Church wasnt working for us quite a bit sooner that I was. Sunday became the day Donna and I argued, not about the Church, but about all the other things that were going badly in our lives, but I was gun shy of facing the real problem. The real problem was that the Church wasnt working for me, and I still desperately wanted it to work. The stress Donna and I felt promoted marital conflicts about stuff that didnt even matter. But I was afraid to talk about what really mattered; I was afraid to admit that the Church was ruining Donnas life, and my life, even as I was determined that our daughter would never go to YW.
One week, while still desperately wanting the Church to work and to make sense in my life, I received a call from the Stake secretary. Somebody from the stake wanted to discuss a calling with me. I quickly surmised that the calling was Elders Quorum President. Several other members of the Elders quorum received similar calls. The appointments were scheduled over the next few days. However, before the appointed day arrived, I received another call, informing me that my appointment had been canceled. With some relief, I surmised that the Stake authorities had already decided who they wanted to be the new Elders Quorum President. Sure enough, the next Sunday, one of the stake high counselors was in our quorum meeting, and announced that recent move-in to our ward, a salesman in his early 20s who had never been to college, was to be the new Elders Quorum President. Afterwards, I talked with some of the other members of the quorum. Their appointments were also canceled. We discussed the new Elders Quorum President, and wondered what qualifications he had that the rest of us didnt, not that any of us wanted to be Elders Quorum President. We had seen the new president cozying up to stake leaders at social functions, and then decided that he had one qualification that none of the rest of us had: he would do what the stake leaders told him to do, and the rest of us wouldnt. The new guy knew nothing of our lives or experiences. As I reflected on this, I got an overwhelming urge to disobey, to say "Screw you." I didnt want to do what the church authorities wanted me to do anymore. The whole Church hierarchy seemed built on the premise that most members would do what they were told. And I didnt want to be told anymore.
About this time, our Bishop decided that the Young Men and Young Women in our ward needed a dress code. He explained his reasons over a campfire on a river rafting trip the Young Men took down the Guadalupe River in the Hill Country of Texas. (The Young Women were not allowed to go.) My son and I were there. The Bishop said that he had talked to too many of the Young Men who were admitting that they were sexually aroused by the Young Women in our ward. The Bishop was worried. His solution was the dress code. Girls would have to wear skirts that covered their knee; no tight-fitting clothes were allowed; no scalloped neck-lines; no leggings were to be allowed on girls on any church activity unless the Bishop approved. The dress code was, in fact, quite a bit more stringent that anything I had experienced even at BYU. After all the prohibitions had been explained, one of the Bishops counselors stood, and told the gathered men and boys that he had had reservations about the Bishops plan when the Bishop had first discussed it with him. But the crux of the matter was that the Bishop was entitled to inspiration for the ward, and that it was our duty to follow that inspiration, and that he, the counselor, intended to follow the Bishops counsel and to have his family do the same, and asked for a sustaining vote then and there to support the Bishops dress code.
As I thought about that scene over the next few weeks, and discussed it with Donna, I began to realize how silly the whole campfire episode had been, and how silly the Bishops reasoning was. Donna, of course, picked up on the follies of the situation right away. Here was a Bishop, concerned about what the Young Men were thinking and doing around the Young Women. So, who has to change? Do the Young Men have to change the way they are thinking and acting? Did the Bishop consider teaching the Young Men about chastity and modesty? No, what happened is that the Young Women had to change the way they dressed! Young Men were having a problem, but the Young Women were getting blamed for it.
A few weeks later, the Bishop was excommunicated for sexual transgressions. Aaaaah!! Now I understood. The dress code had nothing to do with either the Young Men or the Young Women. It was the Bishop who couldnt keep his zipper up. And the whole ward was supposed to fall in line with this "inspiration," and the women were to change their wardrobes.
As I thought about these things, it also occurred to me that there werent any Church leaders who knew me, who knew what I thought, who knew what I believed and what I doubted. They never talked to me. The general authorities didnt know me. The stake leaders didnt know me. My bishops knew who I was, but they didnt understand me. And they certainly didnt understand Donna. I felt that there was no one in the entire Church who really understood me except for my wife, and God. All of a sudden, the whole Church organizations seemed superfluous to me. God knew me. God understood me. My wife understood me. Why did I need all of these home teachers, and quorum presidents, and Bishops, and Stake leaders, and Regional Representatives, and general authorities. They had nothing to do with my life. The stuff they were preaching was as foreign to me as I must have been to the people of Indonesia. Not even my parents understood. They were as uncomprehending as everybody else, including the janitor.
I believe there are two possible reasons for joining or continuing ones membership in the Mormon Church. The first and most obvious reason is that one believes the Churchs claims; that the Church teaches the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and that Church leaders are the sole authorized representatives of Jesus Christ on earth. The second reason for associating with the Mormon Church is that, whatever one thinks of the Churchs divine claims, one believes that the programs of the Church are beneficial for oneself and ones family.
The Churchs programs were beneficial to me when I was growing up. I have many fond memories of my friends from Church, and the activities that we participated in. I wanted my family to have the same benefits that I had. The problem is, the programs arent good any more. Primary was generally pretty good. But Donna and I think the Young Women program is disastrous. The Young Men program is fine as long as it follows the Scouting program, but the Scouting program usually isnt followed very well, and generally stops by the age of 14, after which the Young Mens program seems to be non-existent. Donna writes much more eloquently about Relief Society than I can. I dont intend to spend much time writing about my opinion of Relief Society in this essay. As our ten years in suburban Dallas progressed, Donna found Relief Society to be increasingly dull and irrelevant to her life. As for Seminary, and the Church education system, the whole program is essentially a propaganda exercise. The Church spends millions of dollars to maintain Brigham Young University, but BYU is no university; it is an indoctrination center. As a CPA, and graduate from the accounting program at BYU, I can say that BYU has one of the best accounting programs in the country. But then, accounting isnt very controversial from a theological standpoint. Donna majored in English and minored in History. In recent years, some English, History and other professors have quit the University, or have been fired for teachings and writings that the Church establishment did not agree with.
I had not corresponded with Doug for about ten years. A couple of years ago, we located each other through the Internet. After hemming and hawing about the subject for a couple of emails, it came out that Doug and I had come to many of the same conclusions about the Church. Donna and I cant describe the sense of relief we felt to finally, after many years, find someone out in the world who shared our opinions about the Church. It gave me a sense of validation and a sense of relief. At the same time, Donna and I both wondered why it took us so long to come to our conclusions about the Church.
In the past several years, the Church has begun to persecute members who dared to express their own opinions, who dared to present research that contradicted the carefully-reconstructed truth about Church history, who dared to say that Meseo-American archeology and the Book of Mormon dont have anything to do with each other, who suggested that there were faults with the Church. In turn, I became less willing to follow the Prophet and the Apostles. I was being lied to. I was being misled. Church leaders want things their way, but I dont want that way for me or for my family.
Mark S. Bantawrite to the author's e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org