Rules

Shortly after arriving at the MTC, I attended a meeting in which the MTC President spoke. The first law of heaven he said was obedience; we could not learn anything else as missionaries unless we learned to obey.  “Obey 100% of the rules in the missionary handbook.” 

I left the meeting committed to the idea of obedience. If the handbook told me to jump on one foot with my hand on my head before going to bed, I would have done it.  It didn’t tell me to do that but anyone whose been a missionary knows that the handbook is pretty strict. The handbook told me to wake up at 6:30 and go to bed at 10:30.  I couldn’t have dinner any latter then 5:00.  I wasn’t allowed to watch TV, listen to music other than the mormon tabernacle choir,or go swimming.  I was only allowed to call home twice a year.  In addition I had to obey whatever rules my Mission President created.  My Mission President’s rules said that I couldn’t eat anything prepared by a member or investigator, I wasn’t allowed to speak English, and  I was only allowed to play soccer twice every six weeks.  As an MTC missionary I never asked why the rules existed, I just did them because I believed that obedience brought God’s blessing. 

I thought that everyone lived the rules.  Boy was I in for a shock. My first day in the field  I complained to my journal “the Elders here are staying up past 10:30 PM.  They say that there are always things to do.  I don’t want to make a quick judgement but I am committed to obey.  They say it would take a miracle. I intend to make miracles happen.”

The next day during studies I made a list of all  my obedience problems.  I examined every rule that I had broken and wrote it on my list. 

I brought my list to my companion. The list made him angry.  He told me that it was important to be obedient but not that obedient.  His message: Sleeping in to 6:35 was o.k., eating at 8:00 instead of 5:00 was o.k.,and  it was o.k. to eat in members houses.  Of course he said we wouldn’t do anything grave like go see movies.  I thought that my companion was preaching a great heresy.

As I met my zone, I realized that most of the missionaries in my zone taught this heresy. They called certain Elders rulers; missionaries who made a point of obeying ALL of the rules.  My zone branded me a ruler.  

Bending to peer pressure, I relaxed my stance on the rules secretly wanting to obey them.  As I did so, I realized that most missionaries pretended to have a stance of “obey but not that much” around rulers but when they were together they had a total disregard to the rules.  

Soon I let my companions do whatever they wanted.  My fourth companion bought Transformers 2 and we watched it in a member’s house.  On Christmas eve, we had a sleepover at another companionship’s apartment.  While I did these things, I still had a desire to be totally obedient. 

But as I descended deeper into apostasy, I saw “rulers” in a different light.  Once I saw a group of american missionaries conversing at a bus station on transfer day.  As americans usually did, they spoke in English.  A “ruler” missionary entered the conversation.  While the others spoke in English he spoke in Spanish.  It looked like a tedious task.  I had the thought that the rules were stupid. 

About a year out, companion #7 came.  He was a notorious rule breaker.  At the time, I was tired of rules and really curious about what was going on in the world around me.  I decided to take advantage of my companion’s rule breaker status and I asked him if he wanted to go to an Internet.  This was the first time I planned a rule breaking scheme.  After my first time, I got hooked on it. 

At first I thought that I would repent of my rule breaking but eventually I realized that I could never go back to being ruler.  Breaking rules made me free to be happy every day of my mission.  Keeping them made me feel like a machine. 

One of my district leaders taught me a message I adopted for the rest of my mission.  He taught that the secret to missionary success was not obedience but enthusiasm.  He taught that rules were a barrier to happiness on the mission.  

From the time I learned that message to the time I left my mission, I advocated that doctrine.  Rulebreakers claim to feel regret going home.  There has not been a day in my life when I have regretted being a rulebreaker as a missionary.  Breaking rules made me some dear friends and helped me have a hell of a time as a missionary. Breaking rules opened my eyes to the mechanical nature of the Mormon gospel and factored into my loss of faith. 

 

Cookie Cutter Gender Roles

The LDS church believes that women and men have distinct roles and a distinct destiny.  Mormon men are to be breadwinners and mormon women housewives.  Mormon men will become Heavenly Fathers who will govern universes while Mormon women will become Heavenly Mothers to nurture spiritual children.  Although women who choose to be housewives are certainly equal to those who do not, Mormonism imposes a cookie cutter model woman and model man.

Women who choose to be housewives make an honorable choice.  Raising children is a full time job. Women who devote themselves to that are no less than women who devote themselves to the workplace.

My problem with Mormon gender roles lies in that it imposes a cookie cutter model for women and men.  Women are told they have to become housewives.  Men are told they have to be breadwinners.   While there are certain traits that can be characterized as masculine or feminine, ultimately gender is just that: a gender.  Every human being is more than his or her gender.  Each person should determine his or her role in society through their aspirations and by determining how his or her talents can best serve others.

Why the LDS Church Will not Accept Gay Marriage

Heavenly Father may guide his church through his prophet but let’s face it; often Heavenly Father urges the prophet to do what society is urging him to do.  The LDS church has to be sufficiently mainstream to attract new members. It will continue to adapt as society changes.  Many liberal Mormons hope that the church will change its stance on gay marriage as a response to external pressures.  Even though I am totally a non-believer, I hope the church will change for the sake of gay men and women who believe in it; however, I am not optimistic.  I believe that the fact that the church responds to pressures is the reason it will not change; it needs to respond to pressures from the christian right, internationally, and within the church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a part of the christian right.  Their belief in the atonement, in human depravity, and in a single pathway to God are closer to the beliefs expressed by evangelical Christians than by those expressed by the left.  If the church is to appear mainstream it must look like evangelical Christians.  Unfortunately evangelical Christians have not thrown open the door to the church.  By participating in coalitions with other churches on the right, the Mormon church can affirm is Christianity and have a place in the mainstream.

The church seeks international expansion. If the church were to approve gay marriage, its efforts would be undermined.  The church is growing fastest in Latin America.  Most people in latin american countries have negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians. If the church accepted gay marriage persons, the church’s credibility would be undermined.

Pressures within the church will keep the prophet from getting a revelation on the gays’ behalf.  While there are mormons who believe the leaders of the church mistaken, there are many who favor the policy. For some the policy gives them an excuse to maintain their bigotry towards the gays.  Others believe that the doctrine of the church is unchangeable; reversing the policy on gay marriage could shatter that illusion.  A person in my own family who is loving told me he would leave the church if the church permitted gay marriage. He believed that the doctrine of humans having spirit children would be undermined by gay marriage.

The other day, I heard a Mormon say that the leaders of the church respond the petitioning.  I could sense in his comments that he was not satisfied with the church policy about gay marriage.  He seemed optimistic that things would change.  I am not so optimistic because I know that the church responds petitioning.  Pressures from the christian right, other countries, and within the church will keep the church from changing at least in the near future. We can hope that future decades will bring a change in circumstances so that the Lord can speak to his prophet.

The Sexual Guilt Cycle in Mormonism

Dr. Darell Ray did some outstanding research on sexual guilt in religion. He gave David Packman an interesting interview in which explained that religions are obsessed with sex.  He believes that when people have sex and feel guilty because of their religious upbringing, they only have one place to turn for forgiveness, their religions.  If religions can control your penis and your vagina, then they can control you.

Mormonism is the master of sexual control.  I believe that the general authorities genuinely believe that “misusing” the “powers of procreation” is a serious offense; thus I do not believe their motivation in controlling sex lives is to control people but control people they do!  Allow me to share some memories first of how sexual guilt was instilled in me, second how it kept me tied to the Mormon church for a period in my life and third how I freed myself from it.

When I was a preteen, I found out that there were certain sins so serious that I had to talk to my Bishop about it.  My parents told me that committing a “bishop” sin would ruin my life and the Bishop, a man five or six times my age, seemed so very scary; thus I resolved never to commit a “bishop” sin.  Pornography, masturbation, and premarital sex were “bishop sins” (that’s how I understood it).

When I started going to the temple to do baptisms for the dead, maybe one or two youth would not be able to come.  They were objects of humiliation and speculation.  I didn’t want to be the person that people looked down at by sitting outside the temple.

Teachers, Bishops, and General Authorities obsessed in our meetings with pornography.  I was convinced that looking at porn was a horrible wickedness.

When I started masturbating, I felt like trash. It took me about a year and a half to come out to my Bishop.  During that period I felt that I was the worst teen in the ward.  The teens that sat outside of the temple had the courage to go to the Bishop and face humiliation.  I just assumed that the rest of the teens were “chaste.”  ( I wonder now if there were others like me).

When I talked to the Bishop and quit, I felt redeemed.  I told others that I used to be a bad person but that Jesus saved me.

Fast foward a few years.  When I got back from my mission I was getting quite firm in my desire to leave the church. I made the decision to start masturbating again.  I thought that because I saw things differently I might have a different experience.  I felt like trash again. The guilt was so powerful that the only way I could silence it was by returning to the only consolation I had; my belief in the church.  For months, I fell into this “sin”, returned to my belief in the church, returned to disbelief, and went back into this “sin.”  My internal world was in chaos.

What helped me free myself from this cycle was coming out to selected people about what was going on.  Another thing that helped me was to realize that I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t like how I felt.  Sexual guilt faded away slowly; it was  a process. Today I live without sexual guilt and when I look back I marvel at how effective the Mormon church was in creating an internal world in my mind in which sexual exploration outside of the marital bed was almost as bad as murder.

Discovering the Meaning of My First Secular Christmas

Christmas music has a special place in my heart. When I got to high school, I joined choir. Once we performed “Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel” during a concert. We stood in a dark room holding candles. It hit me was that Jesus’ death brought light to dark places of my sins.
This Christmas season, memories of that song come back. Once I believed that the atonement of Christ is a bueatiful doctrine; today I believe that it is disguisting. Finding the meaning of Christmas without Christ is difficult.
At first I thought I would celebrate the commercial aspects of Chrismas; Santa Claus, presents, and Christmas parties. However, I soon realized that my fondest memories of Chrismas was not Santa at all; it was in my celebration of the light of Christ that I formed powerful memories.
Songs about the birth of Jesus I have heard have brought a sense of loss. I would love to sing along but when I try I can’t feel the passion I used to feel; I don’t believe in him anymore.
My sister is into applying pagan symbols to her own mormon faith. As we talked the other day, I had an epiphany. I can apply mormon beliefs as symbols to my own secular beliefs. Jesus is a symbol of light. We all pass through dark places and are in need of it.
I don’t believe that humanity needs the light Jesus is purported to have brought; the light we need is the light of love. Christmastime is about charity and family-time  This Christmas I enjoyed my time with my family and giving presents.
I learned that Christmas transcends Christ. To me Jesus is a symbol of its meaning; light and love.

As a Non believing Mormon

I am still a member of the church but I don’t believe in it. In my time as a nonbelieving mormon the Mormon church has been screwing people and I’ve been there to watch it.

I am getting pressure from the ward executive secretary to go to tithing settlement. I have not paid a cent the whole year. If I were to go I would have to pay a lot to be considered a full tithe payer. The church is not worth that much money to me. It never hit me how much my parents and grandparents sacrificed in tithing all their lives until now. The thought made me sick to my stomach. The church accepted the sacrifice of my family willingly and expects everyone to pay up. It feels like a scam.

A few months ago I attended a Ward Conference. During the Priesthood meeting, a member of the Stake Presidency spoke. He told us that there were people in the room that had problems with pornography. He said that they would never receive forgiveness unless they went to their Bishop and told him about their sin. In that moment couldn’t believe that I once believed that crap. I once thought that a Church ought to monitor and control my sex life. I pity anyone who felt like I once did because of the President’s talk.

I respect Mormons but in some ways the Mormon Church damages lives.

Born again again

Life is a series of “born again” experiences: these are experiences in which you come to believe in something so strongly that it defines your life.  When I was a teenager, I was “born again.”  Then as a missionary, I was “born again again.”

In Mormonism one is made to feel guilty about sexual activity before marriage.  I recently learned that Mormons feel more guilt about sex than any other type of religious people.  Allow me to outline how this guilt is instilled.  Starting at age 12, my teachers used a scripture in which Alma tells his son that sexual sin is second only to murder.  I was told that should I commit this sin, I could never receive forgiveness unless I discussed it with a man four times my age.  My parents told me that if I looked at pornography, if I masturbated or if, God forbid, I had sex, the decision would haunt me the rest of my life.  Certain individuals couldn’t enter the temple or partake of the sacrament.  They were silent lessons of the horrible state of sexual sinners.

When I began to discover my sexuality around the age of fourteen, I started masturbating.  These moments of satisfaction cost me the Spirit and my self-esteem.  I felt like a freak and a depraved wretch.

I knew I had to go to the Bishop to repent but, I was too ashamed. I didn’t want to be the person cast out of the temple and unable to partake of the Sacrament.

When I was 15, I attended an EFY.  I decided to participate in the Choir.  During the first rehearsal, one of the pieces was “I am a Child of God.”  The song had added a bridge section between the two verses. During the bridge we sung “You are my savior, yes you.”  Looking back, I realize how cheesy the whole arrangement was.  But it moved me to tears.  I had always believed that if I repented, I could receive forgiveness of my sins.  But at EFY, I felt it. I felt like I was in Jesus’ arms.   I came out of the experience with grace.  I looked at the sky and promised Heavenly Father I would go to my Bishop.

I went to my Bishop and told him what I had done.  I struggled with the “flesh” for a few months but then one day, I stopped masturbating cold turkey.

From the day I sung “I am a child of God” until my mission, I never lost the passion of my EFY experience.  That experience was truly my second birth.

As a missionary, I lost my faith. I have written about it in more detail about it elsewhere.  This experience was more of a process than a single event.  However it was just as profound, just as magnificent, and just as lasting as my EFY experience. When I lost my faith I realized that although I make my fair share of mistakes, I was a good person.  God didn’t demand perfection; I just needed to be good to other people.  I realized that masturbating as a teen did not ruin my life forever.  I was born again again.

My born again again experience contradicted my first born again experience at EFY.  As I reflect on the past, I recognize that there are many born again experiences in life. Just because I have one doesn’t mean that in the future, I won’t have another.  I am passionate about what I believe but that doesn’t mean that I will never change it.  In the sea of life, I will never reach the horizon of absolute certainty but I will always rely on the map of my tentative beliefs.

Primary

I grew up in the Mormon Church.  From early childhood up to age 12, I attended an organization called Primary.   What is done in Primary is disturbing; it brainwashes children, it does not give children a choice in their religion, and it teaches children to have excessive guilt.

First,  I believe that Primary is brainwashing.  I hesitate to use that word but I believe it is the only suited description for what goes on.  Children are taught the basic principles of the gospel over and over.    Children stand up in front of the Primary and give talks whispered in their ears by their parents.   Older children are asked to memorize a talk  written by their parents before they come to Primary. The kids giving the talks say that they know the church is true.  No they don’t!  However after repeating it a billion times and being taught about the church every Sunday, of course they are going to come out of the experience “knowing” that the church is true!

Second, Primary does not give a choice of religion to children.  Children sing that they “belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”  Richard Dawkins says that we should not label children because kids are not old enough to decide that they want to be a part of that religion.

Third, Primary teaches kids excessive guilt.  Kids are told that if they do not do everything perfectly they will not live with their families in heaven.  As a child I once told a silly lie to my Mom and lived for a year with unbearable guilt.  I thought everyone else in my family would make it except for me.   I imagine Outer Darkness over and over again.  I felt I had to tell my Mom about my lie to be forgiven but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Finally I did tell her but now I realize how silly the lie I told was and how silly my guilt was.

There is damage done in Primary.  As an adult,  I found it very hard to come to a state of non-belief.  It took overcoming wiring in my brian that began when I was a gullible little child in Primary.

The Millenium Begins Today

Mormons believe that Jesus will come and initiate a thousand year period of peace upon the Earth.  During this millenium, there will be no war.  The LDS Church will fill the whole Earth.  Temples will be constructed everywhere. 

Some Mormons believe that they will live to see the beginning of this epoch of peace.  I don’t blame them for thinking so.  The scriptures record that before the millenium, there will be wars and rumors of wars. There will be natural disasters and the world will decline morally.

Mormons look at the Wars in which we are engaged and see the hurricanes and the diseases.  They use these to justify that the millenium is fast approaching.  They look at the recent revolution in views about sexuality and claim that the World will descend into a moral condition worse than it was in the days of Noah.

However, Diseases and natural disasters have always occurred. (Although I will concede that natural disasters could occur more frequently as a result of global warming).  War has been the history of man since the beginning of our species. 

I am more optimistic about the future than my Mormon friends.  I actually believe that while there is much immorality in the World, we are improving morally.  In recent centuries, we have overcome much racism, we have established the ideals of human rights, we have done much to fight inequality, we  have become more religiously tolerant, and we have established democracy in many parts of the World.  I believe that these are moral improvements.  The future seems bright.

Mormons are right to assume that sexual morality is different than it was back in the “old days.” I don’t know that I want “old days” sexual morality.  You know they used to force gays to stay in the closet.  Just because sexual morality has changed doesn’t mean we don’t have it anymore.  I don’t think there are more people cheating on their spouses  today than there were back in my grandpa’s days.

I really want mankind to overcome its heritage.  Let’ stop waiting for the millenium to solve our World’s ills.  I think God wants us to solve them ourselves.  The millenium begins today.

“Born again” Coming to terms with my sexuality

“Homosexuality is a serious sin.” That’s what the For Strength of Youth Pamphlet said.  When I was thirteen, I had the conception that homosexuality was something terrible.  I believed that it was a “choice” that people made to do sexual perversions.

In my middle school, a lesbian girl sat in front of me.  I don’t remember how it happened by I told her I believed that homosexuality was a “serious perversion.” She broke out in tears and told me that “gay people love each other.”  I laughed this off.  Of course they don’t love each other! I thought it was all about sex.

When I was fourteen, I came to realize that I was gay.  However, because of my prejudices, I had a negative view of my own sexuality.  I didn’t believe that my attraction to men could constitute real love.  I believed that it was carnal and fleshy. 

I read David Copperfield by Charles Dickens when I was 17 years old.  It became a personal favorite.  In the book the protagonist,  David calls Agnes, his wife at the end of his life, his “good angel” and the “hero of his life.”  I had this emotion that a woman would come into my life and save me from my homosexuality.  She would be my good angel.  We would have a real love.  But I never found a girl like her.  She was but an illusion.

I grew up with physical attractions to men; I called them carnal and lustful.  But I also grew up with this spiritual attraction to some ideal woman I had never met.

As a missionary, I liked someone of the same-sex.  I realized that I had more than a carnal desire for sexual intercourse.  I desired a real love with him.  I had felt this way before about some men but this was so powerful that I recognized it.

The hero of my life, and my good angel was not real.  I didn’t need to be saved from my “homosexuality.”  Rather, I had been saved from my negative prejudices about it.  I was born again!

I hope to encounter true love with a man.  I want to be married.  I now offer a plea.

I know now that my church instilled a negative view of homosexuality in me.  Please don’t instill this negative view in your children.  I don’t ask that you tell little kids about homosexuality but when they are mature enough, please tell them it’s o.k. You never know if one of them might be gay.

Please, do all you can to support same-sex marriage.  You can say that legal benefits are sufficient for same-sex couples.  They aren’t.  By denying them the right to marriage, you communicate a message to the gay community that their families are second-class.  Imagine how the children raised in these families must feel.  They are told by society that their parents are not living an acceptable lifestyle.  Imagine how gay teenagers must feel.  They see how society denies gays basic rights and they don’t feel comfortable with themselves.

Please do all you can for gays.  They are loving and moral.  They don’t deserve to be told that they are perverts.