| ||Basically the story of my evolution out of my adopted religion, Mormonism, and my experience in reading the scriptures of Christianity. Included to dispel the gloom are several stories of my spiritual re-awakening after some dark times.|
The following is my personal
account of losing my Mormon moorings and faith:
STANDING ON THE PRINCIPLE
by Abraham Van Luik, email@example.com
I became a convert to "the Principle."
The Principle of a plurality of
wives, that is. It was the spring of 1965, just over a year since I'd been
baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).
I became a Mormon at Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio, Texas.
That's where I met a set of superb missionaries. But I doubt if I'd have been
interested in their message if it had not been for a couple of preparatory
experiences over a period of years.
First there was this mysterious
high school that was always on the evening bus but never on the morning bus.
When I got up enough courage to ask, she told me she went to "early morning
Seminary." "Weird," I thought. She gave me stuff to read that I couldn't
understand, and after I'd attempt to read she asked me questions I couldn't
answer. I kept trying to read because she took me serious. One of the books
she gave me to read was by an unschooled young man who had received it from an
angel. When I handed it back later, she asked if I could think of any other
explanation than that this was a book from heaven. I couldn't explain where
this book came from, but thought this angel business hard to believe. But I
did begin to like this girl and her strange religion. I wondered if Mormons
were Christians and hoped they weren't. I never got past the first few pages,
and only remembered "and it came to pass."
I was asked to leave high school
before my time, something about
fighting. I forgot about Mormons until my first visit to Salt Lake. I was
working as a traveling salesman with a friend of the family. He introduced me
to some friends of his who hated Mormons and entertained us with provocative
stories. They asserted that missionary work provided a fresh supply of
gullible women for hanky-panky in the temple. I thought my one and only
Mormon acquaintance and found myself skeptical.
Nevertheless, after an evening of stories I was sure there was some fire
under all that smoke. Early the next day I went to Temple Square and felt the
sap of righteous indignation rise when I beheld that sooty gray edifice and
people running around with little suitcases. I thought that, even as I stood
beholding that edifice, chances were good that some vile evil was being
perpetrated therein. I saw the "No Smoking" sign. I thought: "What
hypocrites these people are!" I reached for my Pall Malls to show "them" what
I thought of their pretensions to piety, and as I did a voice spoke clearly in
my mind: "Grow up. Throw those things away. You know better."
I looked around as my half-full
pack hit the side of the wire basket. I
was alone. Shaken, I walked into the little gray Visitors' Center and asked
the first person I came to: "Are Mormons Christians?" I received an agitated
look and a sharp reply: "Of course we are!" I was disappointed. I'd decided
Christianity was not for me some time ago. Six months later I smoked again.
Then I joined the Air Force with
a guy who'd been raised in Arizona.
He'd been allowed to associate with LDS kids, but he was told by his parents
it was the Church of the Devil, and he was not to join. Of course boys go in
the service so they can disobey their parents, and the first Sunday at boot
camp he wanted to see "the missionaries."
There were three of us from the
old neighborhood who joined the military
together, and our first Sunday, having been given the opportunity of either
latrine patrol or church attendance, we trooped off to the chapel where a roll
call of denominations saw groups filing out different doors. All the major
denominations were called, and it seemed only "general Protestants" were left.
As if an afterthought, there was one last announcement: "Oh, and The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
My friend got up and said: "That's
me, are you coming?" I said: "I
thought you were looking for the Mormons." He gave me a strange look and
walked out. I followed. So did our mutual friend.
I felt an agreeable strangeness
when I saw two guys near my age, in suits
and hats, sitting and leaning on a green Rambler. It is difficult to forget
their incredulous look when our leader announced: "We are interested in your
church." Only the three of us had filed out, and none of us were LDS. Soon
they were scheduling "discussions:" three for today, three for next Sunday,
and baptism the following Saturday.
They'd have to get special permission
to take us off base baptism night,
but the Branch President, a Captain, would arrange it for us. They might as
well have said God would arrange it: after a few days of being ordered and
threatened by any and all persons with stripes on their sleeves, the thought
of a person with two silver bars on his shoulders seemed easily as lofty.
I recall the moment when I was
converted: it was in the midst of a
largely unintelligible discussion when I asked if there were animals in
heaven. That instant and solid "yes" was electrifying: I knew animals had
souls! My main objection to Christianity had just gone up in a puff of smoke.
Speaking of smoke: somehow I just knew they were going to tell me to live by
what I knew was right and throw those things away. I wasn't going to tell
them how I knew, but as soon as they mentioned I'd have to give up my smoking
they were the proud owners of a nearly-empty pack of Camels.
The night before our baptism
us three "investigators" had a discussion.
We were getting cold feet. Finally I suggested: "If it is the true Church,
we're doing the right thing. If it isn't, we're just getting wet. There's no
We were late to our baptism.
I almost didn't make it into the water
because I refused to confess any sins to the interviewing Elder. I said I'd
given up smoking and that was my only sin. He said I wasn't sufficiently
humble. I tried to think of another sin but failed. He acted uncertain but
finally let me get wet. I thought he was a morbid weirdo: I didn't yet know
that confessing minor human shortcomings was an art-form that certified
humility and spirituality. I had a lot to learn.
At my new duty station I learned
that many LDS young men had joined the
service to get away from their parents and the Church. I was assigned ten
young men to home teach, and all were inactive. I saw one on the train
platform in town. He was friendly and said he was getting a medical
discharge. A foot problem. He said his name and the name of the town he
lived in, "south of Salt Lake," and as he waved good-bye added: "Come and see
me." I thought he meant it.
At my third duty station I learned
I could get time off to go to General
Conference. So I hitchhiked to Salt Lake, with less than two dollars in my
pocket: it was a few days before payday. I'd forgotten the guy's name, the
one on the train platform that had invited me to come and see him, but had
read enough Mormon literature to know that prayers are answered. I'd also
forgot the town, except that it started with an "M." I made it to Murray and
tested the Spirit: nothing. I made it to Midvale and tested again: panic! I
called the one and only recruiter in the phone book and asked him if he knew
this guy that had just got home from the Air Force with this certain medical
condition and he asked himself if it could be - - - - - - - - - that I meant.
I recognized the name and said: "That's him! Where does he live?" He said he
couldn't give out that information and hung up.
The family name in an "M" town
was easy to find in the phone book. No
answer. Either my heart sank or I felt a hunger pang. I stuck my thumb up on
State Street: back to Salt Lake.
To line up all favorable influences
possible, I returned to and called
again from Temple Square. An answer! But it was his mother and my friend
wasn't in town and wouldn't be for a long time. She tried to get rid of me.
In desperation, I talked and talked, told my conversion story, and how I'd
come here with no money but with sufficient faith that I knew I'd see the
Prophet with my own eyes. She reluctantly came and got me, fed me, and put me
up. I went to Conference each day, sitting in the reserved section for
military, and sent some postcards. When I returned to my duty station five
days after I'd left, I still had change in my pocket. I was back six months
On the way home that second time,
I was excited, and not only because of
Conference. I had met and gotten along well with a young daughter of Zion
that I was planning to see again. I was 20 and single and beginning to catch
the marrying spirit of my newly adopted culture. She was 16. Love was in the
air. In the air in my head, at least.
I was hitchhiking back to my
duty station in Mountain Home, Idaho. A
Cadillac picked me up about Woods Cross, Utah, at that time the unfinished
part of Interstate 15, and the friendly driver said he could take me as far as
Pocatello. Although that was out of the way, it would give me a clean shot at
a long westbound ride. So I accepted. I began to talk about the Church and
my impressions of Conference. So did he.
He asked me if I knew where any
of David O. McKay's revelations were
recorded. I answered that as far as I knew they were printed in the
Improvement Era, in the First Presidency's column. That's what I'd been told
by my missionary Elders, who'd taught me well. He chuckled and said that that
column was often excerpts from speeches and writings put together by staff.
He asked me to write that down and see if he was right. The point he was
making was that, since John Taylor, no prophet had received revelation because
the heavens were closed. I didn't understand.
He asked me how I thought God
would react if the people running His
Church took it upon themselves to ignore His will. I couldn't imagine such a
scenario, but he asked me to read the first few verses of D& C 132 out loud and
explain them to him. It was my first reading of this section, and thus my
first real confrontation of the Principle. These verses seemed to me to say
that they who have the new and everlasting covenant - which had something to
do with Abraham and others having many wives - revealed to them and do not
obey, are damned. He commended my perceptiveness, and asked me to write this
down also for further study and spiritual confirmation. I was very
uncomfortable now, since I began to realize this guy was pushing this
"polygamy" I'd heard about. I remembered something I'd heard.
I said: "But a Prophet has, by
revelation, suspended the practice, isn't
that so?" I was hoping this was the right answer. He assured me that the
Prophet in question, Wilford Woodruff, never unequivocally made this claim.
He asked me to write that down and check it out. This Prophet had claimed to
have seen terrible consequences for the Church if it persisted in practicing
the Principle, but this vision of coming persecution was not granting
permission to avoid those terrible consequences. The answer to the dilemma
posed by this vision had already been revealed to this Prophet's predecessor,
John Taylor. He handed me a pamphlet containing John Taylor's secret
revelation and asked me to write down the familiar challenge: "fast and pray
about it and see if it isn't a true revelation from God." I wrote.
Then he asked: "Do you think
God would ever direct a Prophet to mortgage
the temples, let gentiles hold title to them, to get the Church out of a
financial scrape?" "Of course not." "Write that down and check it out." I
did. By the time I got to Pocatello he had asked me to ponder why it was that
when these things were revealed to missionaries in France, hundreds recognized
the truth. I didn't know the answer. I wrote.
I asked him if he was a practicing
polygamist and he said no. He said he
was a Mormon in good standing because his calling was to maintain his
Priesthood, which was still valid, and ordain those who were born into or
converted to the underground Church God had set up until He chose to cleanse
the Latter-day Saint Church. He gave me a Farmington address and asked me to
contact him in six months and let him know if the Spirit and my researches had
confirmed all he had said.
I was converted, for a while.
I was even hinting, in my efforts to
introduce my former friends to the Church by mail, that this Church was mostly
true but not totally true, temporarily. If they joined, I would then teach
him the rest of the story as I had been taught it, I thought. None joined.
They all stopped writing.
As the six months went on I was
shocked to find some material from a book
containing the discourses of Pres. McKay being used as the Improvement Era
First Presidency column. I showed my bishop but he just smiled and explained
that not every issue contains new word from God, sometimes inspiration says
that a reminder or refresher of a previously espoused principle is needed. I
couldn't fault that approach, that made sense.
Then I learned to split words
in D& C 132 and separate the "new and
everlasting covenant" from the Principle. I learned that the Manifesto was
directed at an unfriendly and unbelieving audience and was worded to satisfy
them. After considerable reading I was satisfied that there was some evidence
of revelation involved in the discontinuance of "the Principle."
I had trouble, as I read John
Taylor's secret revelation, with some of
the side-effects of the revelatory process. It seemed contrived to me. Then
I was pleased to find someone who knew someone who had done some homework on
the John Taylor revelation and had been able to dismiss it. I didn't
understand all the arguments, I liked what I did understand and accepted the
rest on faith. I also learned from that same source that most of the French
missionaries repented. I was satisfied.
Right at the end of the six months
since that fateful hitchhike, I
chanced upon a fireside in Boise, Idaho, with a speaker who had been secretary
to Pres. J. Reuben Clark, Jr. Two things I remember from that talk. One was
that Bro. Clark memorized the Church's voluminous budget. The other is that
Bro. Clark was severely tried by the fact that at one time the temples had
been mortgaged. He suffered over this, and prayed long and hard in great
anguish because he was certain a Prophet had erred. Then a voice came to him
and said in effect: "Mind your own business, Bro. Clark, do not question Me."
Reuben was at peace. I was on fire!
I went to my former bishop, with
whom I'd discussed part of my quest, and
told him the rest of the story. I asked him if I should write this man in
Farmington as per our agreement and bear my testimony to him. The bishop, to
my surprise, said: "No, he won't be impressed by your testimony and you will
only be giving him another opportunity to come between you and the Spirit."
End of that episode. But . . .
As a byproduct of this studying
and interviewing process I was made
acutely aware of the fact that the Principle was still a matter of doctrine,
and definitely an eternal prospect. Why, one couldn't believe in a Divine
Savior without believing in the Principle. After all, God the Father wouldn't
violate His own laws and lie with a woman without the benefit of matrimony!
And God's marriage is Eternal marriage, by definition. Thus there is no
Savior, and hence no salvation, without the Principle. A profounder thought
had never before entered my mind. The men who taught me this doctrine were
the very persons I'd come to look up to and revere as my spiritual leaders,
men who had been chosen by God through Prophets to lead me, and I believed
I came to believe in the Principle
as the most profoundly sacred of
doctrines, one that should not be lightly discussed, but should be reverently
spoken of only among the spiritually mature. I was flattered to be in that
club, and the studying I had been doing was evidently having a discernible and
positive affect on me: two years a member and I was asked to teach the Gospel
Doctrine class! I bathed in this privilege. The Higher Priesthood and the
temple followed in rapid succession.
Coming to know and love this
wonderful Principle had opened up a whole
new world of thought for me: I was an enthusiastic convert - for the
eternities only. I wondered what Catholics knew of this doctrine because they
called Mary "Queen of Heaven" and "Heaven's Bride." Of course they knew
nothing, not having a Prophet. They just stumbled onto a partial truth,
that's all. But in my mind She was Bride and Queen, and I liked that idea, it
felt right. I thought of Mother as Bride and Queen too: two Sisters in the
Principle, how Heavenly it all seemed! In my imagination, that is.
I was so fully aware of and converted
to the Principle in my heart that
in my daydreams, especially when out in the desert wilds of southwestern
Idaho, I sometimes dwelled on my eternal life and how glorious it would be.
In dream-vision I would behold numbers of young, beautiful women in a great
mansion splendidly set overlooking a great valley. My mansion. My valley.
My women: my wives.
What a comfort this doctrine
was when my relationship with my young girl-
friend fizzled. I was momentarily crushed, but my dream was essentially
unaffected: there were plenty of imaginary future love-objects to turn my
heart to, in faith.
Dating experience brought me
to know a number of LDS women. Many of them
didn't fit the image of the ideal woman I was projecting from my ultra-
orthodox imagination, and I shied away from some of them because they were
disturbing to me. Their outlook on sex and marriage was a lot more casual
than I'd supposed it should be, and at the same time I could sense that the
Principle was not a good subject to ever bring up with any of them. They just
weren't committed to, just didn't live, and just didn't know the Gospel in all
the ways that I had supposed they should. I found no one to share my
polygynous dream. It went underground.
I had total faith in its being
an inspired dream, solidly based on
scripture and on McConkie's "Mormon Doctrine," which, not unlike the man from
Farmington, spoke of the future restoration of the "Holy Practice."
Eventually, the hospitable lady
in Salt Lake became my wife's aunt, since
she introduced me to her niece and I accepted. It was marriage, and raising
daughters, that brought me up short. It was somehow never appropriate to
speak of the Principle to my wife, since she spoke with sharp disapproval of
some of her relatives who were into it. My dream stayed relatively dormant
over the years. It didn't seem important anymore, except on special occasions
when meeting some poor woman that had been abused or abandoned, or was
otherwise having a hard time, I would think inside myself: "don't worry,
you'll be provided for (i.e.. a good husband, like me) in the next life." It
wasn't a dominant dream, just a little self-comfort to allow me to turn away
from suffering with a clear conscience, knowing God would make all things
right in the end: give all women a man. I was a patriarchal innocent.
I was amazed to learn that the
girls we were raising were just like me in
so many ways. It was no surprise that I could relate to our boy's good and
bad growing-up experiences and behaviors, but I was shaken by the fact that
our girls were as alive, as curious, as independent, and as stubborn as he,
and as I had been. I recognized myself when our 15-year-old announced she
wasn't going to live a dull, normal life like ours. I was delighted.
Then after 16 she began to lose
that individualistic streak, and by 19
she was worried about never getting married. A needless worry, and I like
being "Grampa," but the point here is that I was concerned seeing her change
into a model LDS teenager and abandon her previously nonconformist and
adventurous outlook on life, the one I could identify with. I noted, however,
that I also had to adjust to a myriad of realities in life and put it out of
my mind as being a normal transition into adulthood. But the point was that I
began to wonder if the domesticated LDS woman was made, not born. A very
disturbing thought, but I suppressed it.
It was about this time that I
was really enjoying the preparation for and
the giving of father's and every other kind of blessings. I'd bless anything
that would hold still. Those occasions were highs for me. But I began to
realize how different it was to bless a son with an inspired look into his
future, as compared with doing the same for a daughter. That was perplexing:
eternal prospects for men were quite different from eternal prospects for
women. That had never occurred to me before.
I was beginning to lose my patriarchal
innocence - if indeed I ever had
any judging by my relationship with my wife. It is difficult to assess what
effect my wife has had on my progress from fantasy-polygynist to feminist. To
be sure the Principled dream was near death at the start of my married life
and remained largely dormant. She tells me I've never been and am not now any
joy to live with and that I do not now and have never really known her. She's
right on all counts since for the first 14 years of marriage I assumed I knew
who and what she was and never bothered to check reality with her. Then for
the next six years I transformed from a chubby, true-believing Priesthood-
bearing robot into a chubbier mean-machine anarchistic feminist. I'm not at
all the person she married and she has every right to terminate the current
arrangement. None of this has been fair to her: first I presume to know what
she is when I don't then I presume to know what she ought to be, which is
radically different from what I'd always presumed her to be. It isn't fair
and my wife will be the first to tell you I know nothing about women, and very
little about anything else worthwhile. She says I've ruined her life, and
that is undoubtedly true.
But returning to my story, for
years I didn't let any of this growing
awareness of the differences in the present and the eternal prospects for men
and for women in the Gospel get to me. Then came 1982. I became mired in the
Church's political doings against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the
State of Illinois. Trying to stay aloof from this nasty fight didn't work too
well since, as a Priesthood leader, I was called on to conduct letter-writing
actions in my group meetings and to organize petition drives. I resisted and
stayed neutral for a number of reasons. First, I wasn't all that convinced
there was as much mischief going to come from the passage of this amendment as
its critics feared. Second, all the old fundamentalist-Christian anti-Mormon
factions were solidly in the anti-ERA camp, which told me the ERA must be a
good thing. Finally, I was horrified to see what a gut-wrencher this issue
was at the grass-roots level in the Church when I heard a young girl's tearful
testimony in fast meeting about how she was pro-ERA but now she felt moved to
publicly thank Sister so and so for helping her see the truth and be right
with Heavenly Father again.
When I was absent one weekend
I found out my Seventies' group had done
political letters during lesson-time. I told the bishop I wanted to keep this
type of activity out of my group meetings and he said I was rejecting the
counsel of a Prophet of God and gave me the list being addressed in the
letters and a model letter. So I repented. I wrote and mailed my quota of
letters. I felt just terrible afterward. I felt chastised by whatever spirit
I had in me: I had gone against its promptings.
But I didn't fall through the
spiritual floor until it began to dawn on
me that the reason I had to be against the ERA was to safeguard the Church's
doctrine of woman's place, including the Principle, my secret dream! I made
that discovery by reading about the place of woman in LDS thought in my
considerable library. I never bought an LDS book I didn't read, but I never
before noticed that there was anything in particular that they had to say
about women in terms of who or what they were. It was amazing to me that in
all my readings I'd never before picked up on the fact that the preponderance
of LDS speakers and authors who bothered to say something about women not only
believed in the correctness of the Victorian idea of separate spheres, but
they extended that idea -endorsing it as doctrinal - into the eternities. And
the keystone of this doctrinal structure was D& C 132: the Principle!
This was familiar and revered
territory, the stuff that my dreams had
been made of, but now my eyes and heart were seeing things from a perspective
I'd never entertained before. The spirit inside me was taking a new tack and
causing me to ask as I read: if I were a woman, how would this strike me? The
answers were devastating.
I could care less about the sexual
aspects of polygamy from either a
man's or - what I'd supposed to be - a woman's perspective. What I found
devastating was the fact that the revelation promulgating the Principle, and
hence my very own inspired dream, REIFIED women. D& C 132 made a woman
property, man's property, to be collected by him according to the dictates of
his desire as long as no other man owned her, and to be used by him to
multiply in the eternities thereby glorifying God. Worst of all, God and man
are buddies in this revelation: if he explains the Principle to her and she
won't listen, God will destroy her and replace her many-fold. In other words:
"Don't worry, faithful man, I'll not allow your disobedient wife to rob you of
your dream: I'll kill her and supply you with replacements!"
All at once I saw my most private
and sacred dreams of the eternal
Principle as a cheap horror movie wherein a brilliantly radiant Cosmic Giant
floats among the stars. Tiny umbilical-like threads connect the Cosmic Giant
to myriads of shiny creatures, many of them obviously with child, who light up
the cosmos by reflecting His glory. The cords feed these creatures with his
Life, since they are dependent beings, and in turn they multiply, allowing him
to populate his expanding domains. The scene shifts to the reaches of space
around this family group. The nebular background comes more and more in
focus, and it is like a spider's web except that worlds -not flies- lie at the
nodes of the intersecting threads, and at the frontiers it can be seen that
web is still being spun, worlds are still being created. A close-up shows
Cosmic hatchlings leaving their mothers and migrating outward to these worlds
whereon they spend their larval life-stage. Suddenly backing away an immense
distance from this scene, it gradually becomes evident that the universe is
pocked with continuously expanding loci of these Cosmic Giant nests, ever
expanding into the void.
The final scene is that of a
contemporary young girl in a typical
Wasatch-front chapel sacrament meeting. The focus changes to the speaker, a
woman that looks like the girl. Must be her mother. She is speaking on
eternal marriage and how grateful she is for a husband that honors his
Priesthood, because that's what makes their prospects for being an eternal
family secure. The focus changes again to the girl and the voice fades into
silence. The girl doodles "I have a Mother there" under a self-drawn cartoon
of a girl in a wedding dress and a boy in a fancy suit. The sun floats above
them. She turns and makes eyes at a fine looking young man. His eyes meet
hers for a moment and his face turns red. She smiles approvingly and
scribbles a baby between the girl and the boy in the picture and draws stars
and worlds around the family group as if they are floating in space. She
titles the drawing "Families are Forever."
Making the connection between
C 132 and the Church's adamancy about the
ERA being a clear and present danger hit me like few things have ever hit me.
To deal with my inner turmoil, I wrote a lengthy complaint disclosing my
discoveries and asking someone in authority to make sense of it all for me. I
gave sixty pages of ponderous prose to my bishop, asking him to forward it up
the chain of authority until someone could give me some definitive answers.
He threatened to try me on teaching false doctrine if he found copies of this
floating around the ward. He said it didn't seem like an honest inquiry but
looked like it was prepared for publication. He said I wasn't serious about
wanting answers. He said the stake president would excommunicate me if he
sent it to him and that he would not do so, to protect me. Serendipitously,
we got the opportunity to move and moved.
In my next ward I went to the
bishop and told him my story and he said:
"Welcome home, I was blackballed for 16 years for refusing to believe God had
anything to do with the Blacks' exclusion from the Priesthood." This was the
policy that was finally corrected, by revelation, in 1978. He said I'd be at
home in that ward, that half the ward, at least, thought as I did. They did
and I was at home.
But in the meantime I read and
pondered enough so that I became, in my
heart of hearts, a religious feminist: based in part on my observations of
and experiences with my daughters, I knew that women and men were endowed with
the same hunger for the numinous, and with the same capacity to experience and
interpret the spiritual. I began to see how women were acculturated
differently from men, even in my own home, and could see this was necessary to
fit them to their auxiliary roles now and forever. But I also began to sense
that only an unacceptably cruel God could endorse the expenditure of so much
effort to extinguish the natural, human, spiritual self-expectations of women
in the Church and in society at large. My illusions about the Church were
crumbling and my world-view was coming undone. I called on many for help, but
got only a few solid attempts in return, one of which I will call the "earnest
"Brother Van Luik," said the
earnest voice softly, "we both know that
somewhere in your innermost being there is a moral malignancy. You know what
it is, I do not. But we both know that until you repent and root it out you
cannot receive the Spirit of Truth. Would you commit to earnest prayer and
fasting, repenting to the best of your ability, and let me know in a few days
how you are doing?" I protested that, like Joseph Smith, I was racked with
the foibles of human nature, but I was not guilty of any gross misdeeds. But
yes, I would commit to prayer and fasting. The earnest voice wasn't entirely
satisfied, and neither was I. That ended an extended session, in the presence
of my wife and my wife's aunt, with a man who had agreed to help me with my
My problem now was that as rapidly
as I was becoming convinced that women
were men's spiritual equals, I was also becoming convinced that I could not
hold that view and remain a Mormon. The earnest voice quoted prophets and
psychologists on the differences between men and women, but that didn't dent
my "testimony." I didn't really care who worked and who stayed home. I
didn't care who did the dishes or changed the diapers. Who could read maps or
perceive the needs of children better didn't dissuade me either. And I simply
did not believe that a Loving Father had decreed a division of spiritual labor
for a wise and glorious purpose perhaps not fully known to us. At this point,
I already felt I knew better.
My testimony was now becoming
strong and simple: it was not good that men
had placed themselves between woman and God. I was beginning to sense that
that's what an all-male Priesthood effectively does. I was beginning to sense
that women acquiesced in and even defended this arrangement because it gave
them a sense of security in an uncertain world to be able to put the burden of
the quest for individual spiritual maturity on another. In turn, the men
placed that burden on the shoulders of file and general leaders, with each
level assuring the one below it of its righteousness in exchange for
obedience. Like the story of the ant-kings attempting to cross the desert in
a sandstorm with each holding the other's cape: each was satisfied they were
making great progress, but a larger view showed they had formed a great circle
in the middle of nowhere.
When a letter came from the earnest
voice to follow up on our discussion,
love and concern were conveyed. The letter reiterated the plea to rip out
from myself this moral malignancy that was blinding me. The letter expressed
the fear that I was being led away by Satan. The sincerity, the heartfelt
nature of these pleas, were readily apparent. But I rebelled. Search as I
would, I was confronted with the fact that I'd never felt more in control of
my self. I could find no moral malignancy. I did sense I was being
manipulated by the strongest emotions of which I am capable: love and guilt.
Guilt, when not obviously the result of doing what one knows or feels to be
wrong, is simply fear in the face of existential uncertainty. In order to
rebuke this attempt to manipulate me with need for love and my natural human
uncertainty, I sent back an unkind letter. I knew what I knew. I knew it
wasn't much, but I was determined to live by my own light. End of that rescue
Having moved again I went to
my new bishop and asked him if I could be a
good Mormon and not believe that D& C 132's polygamy provisions were inspired.
He consulted a book and pondered for a while and said: "To be in good
standing, you must be baptized and earnestly strive to obey the commandments."
He paused and I smiled: I liked his approach. Then he added: "You must also
believe the major doctrines of the Church." I felt as if I were home free.
But then he said solemnly: "Polygamy is one of the major doctrines of the
Church. Thus, in my opinion, you can not be a member in good standing and not
believe in polygamy." I found this experience worth retelling on a television
talk show called "People Are Talking" in Philadelphia that a twist of fate
brought me to in the summer of 1988. The ex-regional LDS public information
man that I shared the floor with assumed he was the senior companion and
fielded most questions, which was fine by me. When asked concerning polygamy
he answered that "we" had put that behind us 100 years ago, and only enemies
of the Church and people not honestly interested in truth would still bring
this subject up. He asked if we could move on to a meaningful subject. I
raised my hand and was recognized. I said we had suspended the practice of
polygamy. That much was true. But the revelation from God to Joseph Smith
explaining the practice could be found in Section 132 of any edition of the
scriptural book called the Doctrine & Covenants. A recent Mormon Apostle had
written that the Holy Practice will commence again after Christ's return,
showing the Principle was still revered. Finally, when I went to my bishop
just two years ago and asked if I could be a member in good standing and not
believe that polygamy was commanded by God and an eternal reality, he said no.
After the program this brother took me aside and said he agreed with me but
this was not the proper place to air "our" dirty linen. I said nothing, but I
remember musing that perhaps the exposing of "our" dirty linen in this type of
forum represented the only real hope of ever getting it seriously scrubbed.
Returning to this bishop who
thought denying polygamy heretical, wisely
he added that this was a matter that fell under the jurisdiction of the Stake
President and suggested I see him. I did.
I was asked to put all my current
conclusions about the Mormon view of
woman's place aside and start my spiritual development over by reading the
Book of Mormon and praying to know whether or not it was true. Then, from the
strength of knowing Joseph Smith to be a Prophet of God, I'd be able to see
that my present views are wrong and not inspired. He likened me to Apostle
William M'Lellin, who showed much promise but lost it all over polygamy. He
warned I would lose my family, wife, children, and grandchildren, and not only
in the eternities. My wife would lose confidence in me, he prophesied, which
has happened. I would certainly succumb to sexual temptation, he hinted.
Being middle-aged and 50 lbs. overweight, I was pleased at the prospect, but
it hasn't happened. One should have faith, I suppose.
In the meantime ward boundaries
were redrawn throwing us into a new ward,
and this time I decided to keep my mouth shut. My wife ratted on me, however,
and the bishop called me in. I explained how I felt, and he answered that he
and his wife see things as I do. I showed him an offensive passage in a
manual, one that I will discuss below, and he said the manual was obviously
wrong. I liked him. I was asked to be ward clerk and High Priest group
instructor. Clerking was a drag, but I had a lot of fun with the latter
assignment. The High Priests were amazingly interested in the minutest
details of the religious history of the Middle Ages. They were sad when I was
asked to stick to the manual, after a year of wandering through history, and I
resigned. I resigned to my class by pointing out to them the items in the new
manual I could not in good conscience teach. They were elderly innocents and
didn't know what I was talking about. In that last lesson they supported both
the pro and con sides of the issues I was explaining to them. They were
really nice people and a lot of fun.
But heresy, once germinated,
keeps growing. My original 60 page
complaint I had expanded into a 400 page book over a period of years. The
period of years is so long that the early chapters were written from an
apologetic viewpoint while the later chapters are bitingly critical. Now that
I'm relaxing a bit I'm in the process of homogenizing the whole book and
injecting measured doses of objectivity in selected parts. A couple of years
ago I gave a rousing paper at a Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City on the
Mormon view of woman's place, using one of the conclusionary chapters from my
book, and got some criticism and a lot of supportive comment. I got a few
letters published in DIALOGUE and SUNSTONE.
We moved again and I chose relative
inactivity. The kind that drives
record keepers crazy, where you leisurely drift in and out of the "inactive"
category. The bishop and his wife came to see us and said they were glad to
have us. He said our ward had no "weirdos" in it, unlike some neighboring
wards I supposed, for which he was grateful. His wife added sincerely that if
such people could only be brought to study the Gospel in depth they wouldn't
fall away in the first place. I had promised to be gracious, but fell from
grace. I offered that I had studied the Gospel in depth for two decades and
as a consequence no longer believed it to be true. Conciliatory things
were said but the word got around. The High Priest Group Leader called me
with a home teaching assignment and called me to cancel the assignment that
same day. He was clearly uncomfortable making that second call. I was
willing to visit with people, I like people. I figured if they wanted to take
risks I was game. But they didn't.
My wife's aunt, in her valiant
efforts on my soul's behalf -and I do
recognize the sincerity and love that motivates her- called on one of her
connections. This one could speak authoritatively. He had been commissioned
by and reported to the late Apostle Mark E. Peterson as a special emissary to
those who had come under the influence of fundamentalist offshoots,
particularly those practicing polygamy. He had been the instrument, with my
wife's aunt at his side, that excised the polygamous branch of the family from
their error and grafted them back into the Church. I most heartily admit that
this was good for them, and near-miraculous, given the length and depth of
their previous commitment. So I used the good offices of my wife's aunt to
ask this man a question or two that would confirm or deny the disturbing
realities I was continuing to find hidden in "the Gospel."
I honestly attempted to explore
and understand the strongly negative
feelings I was now experiencing concerning the same all-male Priesthood I had
lived with, for, and through for many years. As I kept reading I became more
and more convinced that the denial of Priesthood to women in this life was a
necessary preparation for the denial of Godhood to women in the next life.
If this were the true reason
for an all-male Priesthood I had finally
found my moral malignancy: to have believed in and supported a system that
systematically robbed women of their eternal birthrights as human beings -
Godhood. To test this perception I implored my wife's aunt to ask her
specially-commissioned missionary friend this question for me: "If Heavenly
Mother came to conference, who would preside, She, or the prophet-president?"
To my chagrin, the answer came back through my intermediary as: "She would
recognize and defer to her Husband's authority in the prophet."
This answer confirmed all I had
been so oppressed by in my reading: man
is to become God, woman is not, in the Mormon view of eternal life. To say
this is one man's opinion and not Mormon doctrine is disingenuous when so much
in the writings of Mormon leaders, in official instruction manuals, and in
scripture itself points to this same conclusion.
I had been in error all the years
that I'd blithely assumed that when a
man and a woman became eternally one as mentioned in D& C 132:20, they became
"gods," and thus were among the many composing the ..."Divine Brotherhood of
the Universe, the ONE GOD, though made of many." (Roberts 1948 p.100) In
fact, I was rather enamored with Elizabeth Cady Stanton's bold and prophetic
interpretation of Genesis 1:26-28:
"It is evident from the language
that there was consultation in the
Godhead, and that the masculine and feminine elements were equally
represented ... instead of three male personages, as generally
represented, a Heavenly Father, Mother, and Son would seem more rational.
"The first step in the elevation
of woman to her true position, as an
equal factor in human progress, is the cultivation of the religious
sentiment ... of an ideal Heavenly Mother, to whom ... prayers should be
addressed, as well as to a Father.
"If language has any meaning,
we have in these texts a plain
declaration of the existence of the feminine element in the Godhead,
equal in power and glory with the masculine. The Heavenly Mother and
Father! 'God created man in his own image, male and female.'" [emphasis
in original] (Stanton 1895 pp.14-15)
The special emissary's placing
an exalted woman essentially under the
authority of a mortal man was incompatible with the view expressed by Ms.
Stanton. This view denied Divine authority to an exalted woman. It denied
that Mary was "Queen of Heaven," unless Queen were redefined to exclude any
notion of authority or dominion, and "Heaven's Bride" loses its pizzazz if
Queendom isn't involved. This limiting view was totally compatible with that
expressed by an official of the Church back in 1895, however, in a message
that was written, in part, to directly counter Ms. Stanton's assertions.
George Q. Cannon was a counselor
in the First Presidency when he wrote in
the Young Women's Journal:
"The tendency to attribute God-like
powers to members of the female sex is
exhibited nowadays in the adoration which is paid to the mother of the
Savior . . . . That great care must be exercised among the Latter-day
Saints upon this point there can scarcely be a question . . . . There is
too much of this inclination to deify 'our mother in heaven'. . . . As
Latter-day Saints we cannot be too careful . . . regarding the Being whom
we worship . . . . The most terrible woes which came upon Israel . . .
were the result of departing from the worship of the true God . . . . We
know . . . that our Father in heaven should be the object of our worship.
He will not have any divided worship. We are commanded to worship Him,
and Him only.
"In the revelation of God the
Eternal Father to the Prophet Joseph
Smith there was no revelation of the feminine element as part of the
Godhead, and no idea was conveyed that any such element 'was equal in
power and glory with the masculine' . . . . [Quote from Stanton's "The
Woman's Bible."] Therefore we are warranted in pronouncing all
tendencies to glorify the feminine element and to exalt it as part of the
Godhead as wrong and untrue, not only because of the revelation of the
Lord in our day but because it has no warrant in scripture, and any
attempt to put such a construction on the word of God is false and
erroneous." (Newquist 1957 pp.135-136)
This strong statement by Cannon,
though dating from a century ago, is in
full accord with a telling passage in a temple-marriage preparation manual
that is still in use. In what must be the keystone paragraph of the whole
manual, a passage briefly glimpsing into the glorious celestial state for
which temple-marriage is the preparation, the following is stated:
"In return for fulfilling our
roles, according to the Lord's guidelines,
both men and women will receive exaltation and continue in their roles
for the eternities. Having received exaltation, man will continue to
govern and control as our Father in Heaven does, and women will continue
to be helpmates to their husbands and will have spirit offspring." (The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1979 p.60)
Although this is the statement
my one bishop said was "obviously wrong," I
wasn't so sure at that point that he was as much in harmony with some of the
"major doctrines of the Church" as he should have been. This statement
effectively took away from me the little ray of hope I clung to in D& C Section
132:20, the verse that promises eternal couples will be "gods." The temple-
marriage manual was quite clear. Man (note the use of the singular: he is an
individual entity) will be as the Father, truly God. Women (note the use of
the plural: woman is anonymous, a collective entity) will not be gods as the
Father is God. Their godhood is different, with a little "g" only, they are
to live in the glory that has been given their husbands (D& C 25:14) and serve
him by reproducing eternally (D& C 132:63). The conclusion seems to be that
exaltation for a man means Godhood, while for a woman it means eternal
servitude and childbearing, which is something entirely different.
It began to dawn on me that the
Priesthood and its temple endowment were
tools actively being used to control women's spiritual self-expectations. The
temple taught that woman was a spiritual dependent in the Divine Order. Men
exercising their Priesthood in the Church and in the home prepared women to
receive that teaching, and reinforced it afterwards. The Priesthood is a
constant reminder to women that the power to act in the name of God is
entrusted only to men, in imitation of the celestial order wherein only men
are God. When I saw that clearly, I vowed to not participate in these
institutionalizations of unrighteous dominion any longer.
I had, at one time, wished that,
like the revelation that removed racist
restrictions from the Priesthood, a day would come wherein sexist restrictions
would also be removed. In addition, if a few changes would be made in the
endowment, the problems I perceived would largely be gone and I could
enthusiastically re-enter the temple. But as I continued to study the
doctrinal web containing the exclusion of females from Priesthood I began to
see that it wasn't going to be all that simple because, according to modern
revelation, it was God who was deeply into the moral malignancy of seeing
women as things and not as persons. Fixing a practice or two and editing a
few words in a ceremony would never allow me to forget that God had revealed
Himself to be immoral - in my estimation at least - in D& C 132.
In D& C 132 God lets His sons
know that they must own multiple women (at
least one woman according to current understanding) to enter into His society.
It is through becoming attached to a man that a woman becomes eligible for
exaltation, according to D& C 132:63, and it is often said that the same is
true for the men, they must also be attached to a woman to become eligible for
exaltation. This idea has been cited as prima-facie evidence of the equality
of men and women in the Church. Yet this ignores the Principle, which
suggests a man may be united to and thereby validate many women for
exaltation, while women are restricted to one man. It also ignores the fact
that the temple enforces the Apostle Paul's injunction for women to obey their
husbands, and for men to obey Christ, placing men squarely between women and
the Divine. It seems to me obvious, now, that the exclusion of women from
Priesthood and Godhood is necessary to make the eternities safe for the
One may take refuge behind the
idea that Mormon doctrine is not well
defined at this point and suggest I am wading through conjectures and personal
opinions and jousting at aery phantoms. But the words of God in D& C 132
eloquently argue for the eternal exclusion of women from Divine Authority. It
is D& C 132 that shows that the male-centeredness of the Priesthood is
deliberate and absolute. It describes Priesthood and exalted Godhood as male
spheres by being addressed to men, and by threatening God's personal
intervention on behalf of men: He will destroy disobedient women! This makes
a mockery of the popularly presumed and romantic reality of an eternal
marriage that results in both men and women becoming "gods."
As long as the Principle stands
within Mormonism, I can not be a Mormon
in good standing and I must stand on principle: the Principle must be done
away for time and for all eternity. Only then can Patriarchy, with its
exclusions, be done away. We must recognize the Goddess' own eternal throne
of power and see that she is an equal among the Gods, Queen and co-regent of
Heaven. Then there can be peace on earth.
Newquist, J. L. 1957. "Gospel
Truth, Discourses and Writings of President
George Q. Cannon," Zion's Book Store, Salt Lake City.
Roberts, Brigham H. 1948. "Discourses
of B.H. Roberts," Deseret Book Company,
Salt Lake City.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. 1895.
"The Woman's Bible. Part I. Comments on
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deutoronomy." European Publishing
Company, New York, as reprinted in Barbara Welter, 1974, "The Original
Feminist Attack on the Bible (The Woman's Bible)," Arno Press, New York.
The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. 1979. "Foundations for Temple
Marriage. Teacher's Manual." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, Salt Lake City.
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