"Let all evil speaking be put away from you"

My husband went to do a visit with the missionaries. They visited a less active sister, and I cannot begin to say how angry I am about what happened to this woman.

She told them everything. The rumors people in my ward started about her and her kids. The names they've called her. What I heard was so vile, it doesn't bear repeating.

I am beyond incensed. I remember when this woman stopped coming to church. She went from being at church almost every Sunday to completely disappearing. I don't socialize much at church, so I never heard any of the rumors. But I am ashamed to associate with anyone who would talk about a single mother like that. 

I'm angry enough that I can't sleep. My heart is broken.

There's one thing my husband repeated to me that I just can't get out of my mind.

"I didn't stop coming to church because I don't have a testimony. I stopped coming to church because I got tired of fake people being fake."

How many people who don't come to church anymore fit that description? They love the Lord. They love the restored gospel. They believe everything they've been taught to be true. They just can't take being abused and bullied by the people who have every reason to know better, who promised before all the hosts of Heaven to do better.

I honestly don't know how to go and sit in those pews on Sunday. I don't know how to occupy a space where the way people behave is so completely incongruent with what we profess to believe. I don't know how to show my face in Relief Society. All I want to do is stand up and demand the truth. 

Who said those things about her? Why? How could you? How dare you?!

This woman doesn't need visiting teachers coming with a plate of cookies and some obnoxious shallow message. She needs the women responsible for this to go to her, to her children, and apologize. That's what she deserves. I'm not going to listen to one more sermon about home and visiting teaching without stating that fact as plainly as my language and emotional restraint will allow. 

This woman deserves to be in the Church. She deserves to live the life of faith she envisioned for herself when she was baptized. She deserves a friend. The only thing I know how to do with what I feel is to tell her I will be her friend, and the seat next me is always hers.

It doesn't feel like enough. It feels like such a shriveled offering that is coming years too late. I want to rain down fire and destruction on every person that did this to her. Part of me feels like that's the only way I could ever make this right. The rational part of my brain tells me the flipping tables is best left to Jesus. But it doesn't stop me from concocting every imaginary testimony and Sunday School comment my brain can concoct. 

I won't tell you where I started. But for now, this is all I could probably say without going into fisticuffs and Hulk-tearing the Relief Society lace tablecloth: 

Don't say anything behind anyone's back you don't intend to repeat to the Savior's face

ALL Families are Ordained of God, Not Just Yours

My family isn't anything like what Mormons would consider to be the ideal family. The way we talk about families as these loving places of safety, let alone the literal manifestation of God's providence? That's not my family's narrative. It never has been. 

 It has made me think a lot about what we could say and do differently to avoid making people feel excluded, or like God somehow made a mistake with their family. 

One thing that will help with this is to get rid of blanket statements that lump all families together. Never assume the person in front of you at church has had a life anything like yours. "We all understand" or "we all know" or "anyone in this room" statements have got to go.

Another is for those with loving families to be more aware of how they talk about their families in our meetings. I don't have a problem with people who come from loving, functional households expressing the love and gratitude they feel for their families. But no family in the Church is more valuable than any other, and a relationship with the Church doesn't guarantee that family won't still be dysfunctional. Dysfunctional families don't get that way because the people in them have done anything wrong, or are guilty of some glaring moral failure that has disqualified them from God's love. That's not how divine love and moral agency works.

I come from three generations of divorced women who have survived every kind of challenge imaginable. The women in my family are the strongest women I have ever known. They are not failures. They have triumphed over human suffering with courage, grace, and grit. Anyone would be privileged to know them. 

I've heard people thank God for allowing them to be born into families with the restored gospel. I've heard them refer to their parents and family members as the choicest spirits of heaven. But members of the church don't have a monopoly on that. I'm grateful I was born into a family that isn't part of the church. I'm grateful for the choice spirits Heavenly Father has sent to my family, to heal generations of pain and suffering. They were also called and chosen to do a great work, one that many members of the Church would never volunteer for.
I'm grateful that God cares enough about my family to reclaim and redeem them, with the exact vision to make us equal in stature to any other person born in the covenant. I'm grateful that Christ sees no ultimate difference between me and anyone else.
My family may not be perfect. But that family has given me my grandmother, who is the most Christ-like person I have ever known. I wouldn't trade her for the most perfect of all functional Mormon families that has ever existed. She doesn't just love people when it is easy, when people do what is right. She has loved people through the worst they could do to themselves and to those she loves. She doesn't judge. She never takes their pictures down in her house. The way I see it, the Church can only reward her. There's nothing they could do to improve her incredible soul.
God doesn't give us the families we "deserve" or "earn." He gives us the families where we can do the most good and grow the most through our associations with them. For most of the human race, that means being born outside of the Church. That is not a mistake or misfortune. It's the wisdom of God, who ultimately doesn't need his children to be born into a single religious community to have meaningful relationships with them.

Sit Down, Daniel C. Peterson

Where to even begin with this? It's one thing to have men in the Church invalidate your concerns. It's quite another to have those men use you as a puppet as they do so.

I have served faithfully in the temple for the entire duration of my membership. The form that service has taken in my life for almost three years now is as a female ordinance worker in my local temple. Daniel Peterson does not speak for me and my experience. He is not a female ordinance worker. He has never encountered the blatant sexism, disrespect, and inequality that exists in that service. He will never understand what it means to metabolize those mortal frailties together with the supernal goodness of God.

There is so much more to the criticism he is dismissing than holding towels. And it isn't coming from women outside of those temple spaces. It also comes from within, as it has done in my case. His post represents the worst in LDS men and their inability to understand sexism in the Church: their tendency to speak over women and their own experiences as he does so.

I don't want yet another reason to sit in a chair on my temple shift. To me, this does not represent real change.

I want men to listen to me/believe me when I speak.

I want a real answer about why the exception to women officiating over initiatories and endowments without ordination doesn't also apply to performing baptisms and sealings.

I want to know why my matron and her assistants honestly don't believe they have real priesthood authority. I want to know why they feel like they have to give deference to the presidency and the sealers. I want to know who told them this.

I want to know why even though the female general presidents just issued a letter to stake leadership about not restricting menstruating Young Women from participating in the baptistry, local leaders and parents are not being trained to stop doing this.

I want to know why Heavenly Mother isn't in the temple films. She participated in the creation of the Earth and is the literal mother to the human race. But she's completely absent from those representations in our worship. It makes no sense.

As a female temple worker, I already spend a good portion of my day sitting in chairs and standing in hallways. I already struggle to find value in that work, especially now that we literally don't have enough brothers to fill the schedule.

There are so many other ways we could (and should) be improving temple service and worship for women in the church. Giving them another reason to sit in a chair and expecting them to be happy about it is not even close to the most important item we need to address.

Healing Political Divisions Through Temple Worship

We had stake conference this weekend. The topic was the blessings of temple attendance. The context is the new Meridian temple has caused attendance in Boise to drop off a cliff, across all days and times. Sessions are canceled daily, if not multiple times day.

Many of the messages addressed the idea that attending the temple will diminish the power of evil in our lives. Nothing all that unusual there. Lots of emphasis on Malachi, "lest I smite the earth with a curse" language. For Mormons, Malachi is about as fire and brimstone as we get. Nothing unusual there either.

But then, a member of the stake presidency gave his talk. He equated the curse in Malachi with "the political division in our country," and I nearly had a heart attack. It was one of those moments where I find myself thinking "I don't know where you're going with this, but I will walk out if you get crazy."

He went on at length about Russians buying Facebook ads to create international conflict between different groups of people. I'm not sure how, but he tied this back to the temple and said that attending the temple is how we will heal the divisions he's talking about.

I don't know what I expected to happen. I live in the most progressive section of Boise, so they honestly know better than to take political sides in a church meeting. But I'm also trying to parse out exactly what he was getting at because it wasn't entirely clear. Was this a warning that the political contention we're currently experiencing is being manufactured, at least in part, by outside agents? Because even though that's probably true, it's by no means the dominant source of that division.

As a progressive person of faith, the source of that division for me is the blatant, deliberate abuse of power against the disadvantaged by a narrow conservative majority. That is not something you can pawn off on the Russians. But I thought seriously about what he was trying to say, and it occurred to me that his feelings and mine may not actually be that dissimilar.

Was he, as a conservative person, trying to address the toxic ignorance on which many of those actions and policies rest? The more I thought about it, the more sense that made. I know this man and like him pretty well. I don't think he was making thinly veiled statements against progressives as the source of all evil in the world, which is what I was afraid of.

Instead, I think he was trying to address that fear and suspicion itself.

The more I think about it, the more I believe it was a caution about the narratives we choose to believe about people, regardless of what our persuasions are. And the idea that the temple can heal that spirit of suspicion and fear, that it can heal the relationships damaged by forces at work in society, that is an interesting proposition. Taken in view of other counsel they offered, to spend less time on things that don't matter so we have more time to worship in the temple, that thought is really compelling.

Imagine if people watching pundits on the news, or sharing toxic messages on Facebook, spent that time at the temple instead?

And even myself, as much as I try to only share accurate information about stories that truly matter. How many times have I needed peace because of the unfair world we live in, and not found it out here anywhere?

The more I thought about his remarks, the more I realized he was doing something I no longer thought was possible. A conservative person was using his moral authority to undo some of this damage, instead of denying it exists or passing it off on someone else. He also made me confront my own learned defensiveness, and to think about how I need to create space in my own mind for conservative people not to be villains, to contribute to this healing we all need so much.

My husband and I are not politically similar at all. He didn't vote for Trump, but the fallout in Congress and society at large has still directly affected our ability to talk to each other in a serious way. But this talk in stake conference shifted something in each of us, and we were able to talk about having a real political common ground for the first time in over a year. It was like a wall had finally come down. I can't describe what that meant to me.

I can trust conservative people to care as much about what matters to me as I do. I can trust them to respond to suffering with a desire to help and make a difference. Getting past this animosity matters to all of us, not just to me. Conservative people want that reconciliation. And yes, I'll be honest that I didn't believe this anymore. But I'm seeing now that this lack of trust is something I need to change if the conversations around me are ever going to.

If my conservative friends and church family are finding strength and clarity to change, to imagine people differently because of the temple, I can join them in doing the same. 

Considering Temple Ordinances when You're the Child of the Incarcerated

I don't talk about this very much, because it comes from a painful place where all of my secrets are kept. But I felt I needed to talk about this today. So here we go.

My father was a deeply flawed human being, whose lifetime of behavior was deeply influenced by three things:

  1. He believed he had been wronged or failed by every person in authority in his life 
  2. He believed he was accountable to no one 
  3. He couldn't handle any loss of control 

These are based on what I heard him say about himself, what I've learned about him from people who knew him, and what I saw in him for myself as his daughter.

I don't know the full extent of what my father's criminal history was like. I know it went on for years through addiction, domestic violence, and a general vindictiveness that at times that overtook his rational behavior. Cops came and went powerlessly through my life. My father was what they called "Teflon." They could never make any charges stick to him, could never get a conviction.

For whatever reason, where I'm from, being a serial abuser, an addict, and incarcerated wasn't enough to terminate his custody. My mother tried numerous times. Every time she tried, she opened herself instead to scrutiny about whether she was a fit mother.

His self destruction continued to tear through my family's private life until we each put an end to it through forced separation. At 15 years old, the first and only time he was ever incarcerated, I told my father to stay out of my life. It was a request he never fully respected. 

Because I'm from a small town, I lived in constant fear of running into him. This happened several times throughout my life, most commonly at the library. But I believed, rightly or not, that he stalked me without my knowledge throughout my life. He showed up uninvited to my high school graduation and caused a scene. He took a day that was about me, and made it about himself and his needs. It was the pattern I had come to expect after eighteen years.

I attended college at BYU primarily because I wanted to put as much distance between myself, my father, and the community in which I was raised, as my money could buy. I was home for the summer from BYU after my freshman year. He was homeless, living in a van behind the church my grandmother attended. He had already ruined his ability to stay with her because he kept bringing drugs into her apartment. 

I was at work on the other side of the state. My mother showed up and told me that my father was dead. She kept looking at me expectantly, waiting for my reaction. I truly didn't have one. What was I supposed to feel? In a lot of ways, in relation to my father, I'm still sitting in that moment, trying to figure out what my reaction should be to his life, and its place within the context of my own.

I don't love him. I don't even like him. After years of trying to force myself to feel differently out of guilt, I managed to achieve a kind of indifference towards him. To me, he's a stranger. Someone I don't know anymore, and I have no desire to know.

When the Ties that Bind Aren't Blessed

The reason I bring all of this up is because this history is a strange backdrop that, seemingly by design, never really leaves me in my worship as an active, practicing Mormon.

His death was on the front page of the newspaper in my hometown, made headlines across the state. In all the stories I every saw, except his actual obituary, my relationship to him was never mentioned. But it didn't matter. The church rumor mill had already gotten a hold of it. All I wanted was to be left alone. People I went to church with were all so sorry. Really sorry. Didn't I want to know how sorry they were?

This bothered me, but I could have put up with it. Yes, thank you. Your concern and sympathy are duly noted. (Please stop.) Thank you. (why am I thanking them?) Yes, it was sad. (I feel like I'm handing out participation trophies at the sympathy awards.) 

But then they started bearing testimony. They didn't know my family, but they sure as hell thought they had my family and God's plan for it all figured out. They knew there was no pain like losing a parent (that's not why I'm hurting) and that families would be forever (God, if you're listening, I'd like to negotiate my contract) and I would see him again.

Do you want to see him? Would you be saying this of he had killed someone else? Why do you think I want to see him, then? 

"He will always be your father." (Jesus, come get your people. I'm about to use my hands instead of my words.)

Getting through my father's temple ordinances, especially as we progress through the check boxes, is getting harder. He's overdue to be sealed to his parents, which then puts him into final position to be sealed to me. And I am not okay.

I get through life in a "family-oriented" faith by pretending my father doesn't exist. When we say families are forever, I hear indistinct buzzing noises. When tuning it out doesn't work, I just think to myself "that doesn't apply to me yet."

This is a huge part of why I'm a temple worker at a young age. Because God needs me to want something that is completely incompatible with my own desires. My eternal progression depends on this. That's what everyone keeps telling me. And every conversation I have with God on this subject has sounded like: "Why are you making me do this?" followed by silence.

I know God can change me. I know God can fix my father. I know everything I need to know to feel differently about his situation. It hasn't helped because this isn't a situation that can be changed by what I do or don't know. I don't want to feel differently. I want justice. And I disagree that forcing me to reconcile with my abuser for the sake of an ordinance is what I deserve.

Am I cutting off my nose to spite my own face? Maybe. Am I the one who has to deal with that? Yes. But there is no recognition for people like me at church, no narrative that helps us through experiences we just don't want to be having.

I am not going to be able to do the ordinances for my father and his family without listening to people talk about how happy they are for me. They don't understand. They don't understand me. They don't understand how I feel. They don't understand my situation. And listening to people who will never understand what I feel is exhausting.

The way some women felt about polygamy? Like it completely erased them, in exchange for exaltation in some future moment?

That's how I feel about this.

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