Lessons from the Silk Industry in Utah

Why do I have such an easy time being vaguely indifferent to things most church leaders say, regardless of who they are or what they want from me? 

That's a fun story so I'll tell it to you.

I was in Young Women as a teenager when the Personal Progress value projects were still a thing, while at the same time the curriculum du jour for adults was to study the life of a dead prophet. I already had this nagging sense that it was weird that we only studied the lives of LDS men in this kind of detail. I also had a fixation at the same time with the history of women's suffrage, thanks almost entirely to the movie Iron Jawed Angels.

I arrived at the intersection between women's suffrage and Utah spontaneously while falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. I decided this was something I was already going to dedicate at least 10 more hours of my life to and called it a value project. Along the way, I bumped into the history of the silk industry in Utah.

Silk Culture, 1895. Photography by George Edward Anderson. Courtesy of the Church History Catalog

What the failure of the bank in Kirtland was to Joseph Smith, the silk industry was to Brigham Young. Namely, a colossal waste of time and money.

Brigham Young decided, based on I still don't know what, that a good use of the time and limited resources of the women still trying to figure out how to survive in Utah should be dedicated to hand raising silk worms for the creation of silk. If you don't know anything about silk creation, it's ridiculously labor intensive. It relies entirely on your ability to meet the dietary/environmental demands of a bunch of worms whose constitutions are incredibly delicate. These worms are just waiting to yeet themselves off the mortal coil at the slightest offense.

And that's before any fiber has been produced. 

All for a task the women were not choosing to do themselves. Most notably, Zina D. H. Young, wife of Brigham Young who was appointed by him to oversee the silk production, hated the silk worms sufficiently that they gave her nightmares.

The silk industry in Utah was a colossal failure. They couldn't get the machines to process the silk. What they were able to produce had no market outside of Utah and was frequently sold at a loss to the producers.

Brigham Young said he wanted his coffin to be lined with pink Relief Society silk. There was more than one woman in Utah who probably heard that and thought to themselves "if that geezer wants silk in his coffin, let him come down here and make it himself."

As a convert who was reading about all of this on 2007 dial up internet, totally unsupervised, I had the space to come to my own conclusions about what I was reading. The lesson I took from it was this: Men in the Church would rather waste women's time and the Church's money on something they can see is a failure, rather than admit they were wrong. And God is 100% willing to let them embarrass themselves like that.

I went into my adulthood as a member of the Church knowing this was a thing that could happen, largely because it had already happened. It planted the seed in me not to automatically prioritize anything, just because a man in the Church with a title was telling me to do something, because they're still mortal men capable of misleading me. They can have me spending resources on something that will never succeed.

I had a brain with the ability to judge for myself, a mouth with the ability to say "No," and a God who was teaching me early to use them both.

It's an important lesson if you don't want to be raising silk worms in the desert, asking yourself repeatedly "how did I get here?

Epilogue: Proposition 8 happened the following year. If you even thought for half a second of suggesting those two experiences are unrelated, no you didn't.


Tatuí is a city in Brazil that I served in with two Brazilian companions and an Argentinian I was training. It is in my top 5 of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

I would live there in a heartbeat. There's not an ugly inch of it anywhere.

Well, there shouldn't have been. The only ugly inch of it was me. I was (Biblically speaking) ass-deep in what I can only call a colonizer's mentality. All I cared about was baptizing people, and I was becoming frustrated and depressed that it wasn't happening for us.

The congregation there was a tiny unit of some of the most dedicated church members I've ever seen. They basically took turns rotating the callings around between the same 4 or 5 families. They were so generous and loving. I cannot overstate that. It was not an insignificant sacrifice for some of them to feed the missionaries. There were times we used our allowance to buy the food that we and the families we were eating with would eat that day. There were also days where we just didn't eat at all.

It was one of those Not Eating days. We were knocking doors simply to have something to do, to pass the time not thinking about how empty our stomachs were. It was later in the day, well past the almoço meal time.

We were walking past a building that was under construction when a little red car pulled up to us. A woman we didn't recognize called out to us. She was the sister of a member visiting from the city. She said she had been looking for us. She had something to give us.

She handed us a whole rotisserie chicken.

We thanked her profusely.

She didn't know us. She didn't know our almoço had fallen through for that day. She couldn't have known that we were hungry. She didn't even know how to find us and drove around the town for hours, looking for us.

She drove away and I never saw her again.

We went back to our apartment and ate that entire chicken between the two of us. That night in my prayers, with a belly full of chicken, I asked for every single good thing I could think of to happen to her. It was all I had to give.

People looked at me and my plastic rectangle and plucky determination thought that's what made me an angel. But there were so many times where I just wanted to shout from the rooftops:


The angel, to me, is the woman who drives for three hours with a rotisserie chicken, looking for someone she doesn't know and then, through the power of her own prayers and determination, finds them.

These were the seemingly ordinary acts of kindness I witnessed in the lives of regular members of the church as they took care of us and each other, guided by something I can only call providence because nothing else seems to fit.

Whenever I find myself needing hope, I remember her. I remember how that chicken didn't solve all my problems, but it was what I needed. Hope is a lot less frustrating and disappointing when it's invested in the things I need, rather than the things I want. The Brazilian people I met made me a better person because of how well they understood this. The art of constructing happiness out of inadequate materials is to meet the needs you can with what you have, and to be satisfied with whatever the result looks like, without complaint.

What I want is the solutions and cures that probably don't exist for a lot of problems.

What I need is the garlic bread my husband just handed to me.

There's the angel and the miracle.

It's enough. 

Cruelty and Violence in Mormonism: Online Harassment

I'm currently working on a series about rejecting the influence that violence and cruelty have in Mormonism, past and present. This post is inspired by my recent interactions with DezNat. The influences that invite that cruelty are many. For now, I will address one.

Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has local lay ministry, there is a certain degree of influence guaranteed to each member in the lives of their fellow congregants. We are positioned intentionally to teach each other. We are taught to accept the offerings that others give to us, to see the holiness in them, no matter how helpful or unhelpful they are, based purely on the good intentions of the person who is offering them to us.

Younger generations are increasingly unwilling to participate in this relationship when it is one-sided, or even actively harmful. There is no more getting credit for trying for the sake of keeping up appearances. If what someone says, even in the spirit of trying to be helpful or preserving faith, relies on anything that appeals to the rejection of another person's human dignity, we're not going to politely say "thank you."

We're going to reject that offering.

This upends the status quo of lay ministry in the Church. People who have "waited their turns" are not getting the power and influence they were promised because an entire generation of people were taught to say "No" and mean it. And they're furious about it.

The social signifiers attached to the illusions of the Perfect Family, the Perfect Leadership, the Perfect Congregation, and the Perfect Church Member are falling apart. Why? Because members can no longer get away with harmful messaging and behavior that was previously considered eye roll worthy, at most.

Our refusals and rejections make them "look bad," in a community where, in some families, appearances and reputations are the only things they care about. Conveniently, they've forgotten that we were all taught better than that, and that's exactly how we intend to carry ourselves as adults.

And since an entire generation is leaving the Church, they no longer have the ability to shame them back into submission in person, as happened to their generation. So they're trying to do it online. This is misguided for a few reasons. It doesn't work. It didn't work then. It doesn't work now. You can't generate love and loyalty to Christ by being the exact opposite of everything he represented.

That, and people who aren't LDS can see it happening in real time. What DezNat and other conservative members of the Church forget, if they ever properly understood it, is the internet is forever. And they are actively harming the reputation of the Church more than any disaffected member ever could.

If what you want to be judged for are your "best," most active, most loyal members, rather than your "worst," most angry, most jaded forget affiliates... what does it say when the "best" are engaging in online harassment against all but a small cohort of like-minded anonymous accounts?

I'm saying this as a believing, practicing member of the Church. You cannot cannibalize people and expect to have a healthy community that lives long into the future. The cruelty of church members is a form of apostasy that has the potential to destroy the Church.

When people have a positive view of the Church, it's because of the uncommon, unexpected ways that we love, help, and serve our neighbors. That's what the bulk of my experience has been with both current and disaffected members. I may be willing to bounce back from that cruelty because I fully acknowledge that it doesn't make up the bulk of my church experience. Many others do not have that same patience.

So why does this need to be said?

Because I'm seeing a greater degree of cruelty from active Saints, particularly the ones who genuinely believe they have a license from their leaders to be cruel to LGBTQ+ people and the people who support them. This used to be relegated to the random uncle who would commandeer a portion of testimony meeting every month, and even good-natured conservative folks would roll their eyes.

That's not what this is anymore.

The message we bear to the world is that Jesus of Nazareth is a loving, caring Savior who is a champion of the oppressed, the deliverer of those who experience cruelty because they've been devalued by society.

We do not help him when we become what people need to be saved from.

The Harm of Perfectionism in LDS Parenting

There are few subjects I find more exhausting than LDS parents who decide, while their children are still young, to go to war with the very notion of those children ever having any real autonomy of their own. I've seen and heard parents in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints concoct the terms by which their children will lose everything from holiday participation to financial support if their children don't grow into the exact adults they want their children to become.

It's one thing when these people express these expectations of their children in their own home, or even in church settings where they're bound to find some amount of like-minded support. It's another when they're bold enough to outline their plans for anyone on the internet to see.

Which is what Matthew P. Watkins, an LDS blogger and podcast creator decided to do, using his four year old daughter as the character in the scenario he's concocting.

There are plenty of people in the world who can explain why what Matthew P. Watkins is saying isn't as loving or mature of an approach as he thinks it is. Several people, including those outside the Church, already have. But because this is a Mormon parent whose thinking is carefully constructed on the foundations of LDS beliefs on marriage and family, I won't use that approach. I think it's important to refute the approach he's defending and advocating with the language of the faith he believes in. That way, those who might be tempted to adopt it in their own families will understand why it's the wrong approach to be using.

What qualifies me to tell Watkins and those who think like him that this kind of parenting is trash? Because I'm just a convert who has spent an inordinate amount of my own time in the Church explaining to parents that this kind of behavior is abusive. It relies on coercion as a teaching tactic, which God has condemned. And at the time God was condemning it in the scriptures, he wasn't talking about all the non-Mormon parents out in The World. He was talking about people like Matthew Watkins.

One of the most oft-quoted scriptures in any LDS setting is from D&C 121:34-46, which most church members recognize as the "unrighteous dominion" section. It's where God defines, in plain language, what religious abuse is and outlines for members of the Church what they should be doing instead.

Persuasion. Long-suffering. Gentleness. Meekness. Love unfeigned. This is the kind of spiritual leadership and parenting God teaches should be happening within the Church.

Sometimes, I just want to sit these parents down, slap these verses down in front of them, and say "Point to which one you think means coercion, force, manipulation, and ongoing punishment into adulthood." Because honestly, if they've reached adulthood in the Church while thinking this is the behavior God has given them license to engage in, I have to think it's because their problem is one of scriptural literacy.

But like anyone else who has served in the Church as a Sunday School teacher as many times as I have, I can already hear the defensive response I would get back from such a maneuver.

"But Sister Collins. What about reproving betimes with sharpness?"

That's another part of the section I've linked to above. That's the part of that section LDS parents use in their moral licensing to believe they get to reject whoever I want, however they want, with no filter, tact, or respect for anyone's boundaries.

But like I said before: I've clocked so many parents like this already. I already know how to respond.

"How exactly do you think you're going to act like that, then show an increase of love afterwards? Hmm? How? You can't. Because you've already proven your faithfulness isn't stronger than death. Your faithfulness to your children is non-existent when you treat them like this." 

When LDS parents treat random people at church with more kindness, tolerance, and respect than their own children, just because of ideological similarities and reputation curation, that's the definition of hypocrisy. That's not what being a good parent looks like. It's not even what being a good person looks like, to say nothing of being a good Christian.

And the thing is, it doesn't matter that I think that. What matters is when children see their parents doing this and come to that conclusion on their own. Whether parents like it or not, their children will grow up and begin passing their own judgment on their parents as representations of the principles and values they've attempted to teach. Once those children start seeing and recognizing the hypocrisy in their parents' discipleship, the disconnect between how their parents behave towards them and what Jesus taught, they lose all moral authority in the eyes of their children.

The most glaring form of this hypocrisy is centered on the temple. Many LDS families use the standards for entering the temple as a justification to distance themselves from anyone and everything that deviates from that standard. The trouble with that, of course, is that a family's home is NOT a temple. Ostracizing and showing favoritism based on religious devotion is deeply inappropriate. It's exactly the kind of self-righteous behavior Jesus taught against when he was on earth.

You don't have to take my word on that. It's in the Sermon on the Mount. God never intended for Latter-day Saints to only surround themselves with people who think and act exactly like they do.

Matt. 5:46-48

When God commanded us to "be perfect," it was only in the grace we show to others when they fall short of our expectations. This graciousness, not the performance of outward observances of law, is what make God perfect. It's the only way to become like our Heavenly Parents, and to receive that same quality of mercy from them.

I have given this same warning over and over again to these kinds of parents. They rarely listen. They don't even begin to see the wisdom in what I've told them until it is far too late to change the outcome. The damage they do to their relationships with their children becomes the teacher they have to learn the lesson from.

"If your temple cosplay is more important to you than having a relationship with your adult children, I have news for you: you won't have a relationship with them. Or their spouses. Or your grandchildren. That's the road you're walking on, and that's where it leads. And when you arrive at that place, the only person you will have to blame is yourself."

"I'm deconstructing and my spouse is not. What do we do now?"

Here's another toxic cultural thing I absorbed from the Mormon zealotry that I'm letting go of: the idea that if you married in the Church and one of you leaves, it's the end of the world and the only way to resolve it is to get divorced. I don't know when I absorbed this, but I did. And it has done a lot of damage to me over the years.

At the root of this belief is the idea that only the Church can hold your marriage together. Your shared orthodoxy is your marriage, so there is no real or lasting love without it. If the only thing holding a marriage together is religious observance and obligations to the institutional church, that's not much of a marriage. I didn't understand this until I distanced myself from the institutional church and saw my marriage was largely unchanged. My husband and I have an entire shared world together: history, dimensions, shared interests, experiences, and common values that still exist independent of our religious lives. I didn't stop loving him just because I can't get through a sacrament meeting anymore. Those two things are unrelated. There's no reason they should be. He understood that long before I did and has given me the space to figure that out.

I love my husband because of who he is, not because of who he is in or to the Church. That's not how I measure his worth as a person. There's so much more to him than that. That perspective has been life-changing for me. It took stepping away for me to realize that what my happiness looks like in my own marriage was being dictated to me by strangers. And they were very bad at knowing where and how I would find my own happiness. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your marriage is to remove the casual observers and all the people from the cheap seats who only show up to throw things at you. Don't let people like that decide how happy you get to be

A good marriage is not dependent on shared religious beliefs. A good marriage comes from shared values and respect. Building each other up, cherishing similarities and differences wherever they exist. This isn't impossible. From my perspective, largely because my husband is also my best friend, it isn't even hard.

That's not to say that modifying something that is foundational to a relationship is easy. It has to be done in a spirit of mutual love and respect. No one ever thinks how valuable that love and respect for change is until they find themselves in the position of needing to receive it. I know I never did until I was in that position myself. And as the one who was asking for space and grace, I knew how important it was for the mutual respect I was asking for to start with me.

Through several conversations over a long period of time, I repeatedly made the commitment that I would respect his decision to stay, to be a safe person to him in his desire to believe, and honor this part of who he is. I would not ask him to give up this part of his life. I said that and I had to mean it. If I wanted him to respect my decisions to separate myself from attending church, I needed to respect his decision to stay.

And that's what we did for many years.

When he had responsibilities for his calling, I didn't stop him. When he would go to the temple, I wouldn't complain about it. When he would have meetings to go to, I didn't object. He had the freedom to live his faith without my interference.

I'm not going to sit here and pretend like that was easy for either of us. It was hard. It was work. But we did it because we love each other and we're committed to staying together. To having a relationship that would grow with us through every stage of our lives.

When I found out that the women at church were pestering him, constantly asking him where I was, telling him how much they missed me, making his worship time about my absence, I communicated my frustration with that to the Relief Society president. I accepted that these interactions with the organization I was distancing myself from were going to continue because some of these boundaries were mine to enforce. Not his.

He showed me equal respect for my desire for that distance. He listened to me as I lamented the parts of me that were changing. He didn't always understand, but he tried. He stretched himself to have compassion for what he couldn't understand.

Even when we would have disagreements, there was never a moment where I felt like he was making my struggle about himself. And we had some truly uncomfortable conversations where all I asked him to do was to listen to my perspective. There were times when that was tremendously uncomfortable for him. But he went to that place with me anyway.

He became the cheerleader at my wrestling matches, even when the one I was wrestling with was God. That image to him has always been funny. I let him laugh. It's okay with me that he sees the absurdity in my situation. It helps me to see it too, to laugh at myself. I need that. It keeps me from being overtaken by despair.

Wrestling with God is a holy thing. It's a sacred activity in a sacred space that not everyone is called to. But I am. The person he loves, who pursues holiness and honors the sacred, is still here. It just looks different now. And I view my challenge as making sure that no matter what he chooses to be, that he's a good one. If he's going to be a Mormon, he's going to be a good one. He's going to honor the covenants he made to treat all people with dignity and respect.

Occupying that space with him has given me the space I needed to heal, to find clarity on what consumes without illuminating, to remove those aspects of Mormonism from my life. I have a healthier relationship with my religion now, in large part, because of my husband.

Folks who stay need to do a better job of honoring the callings their family members and loved ones receive to wrestle with God. If you trust God as much as you say you do, that shouldn't be a scary place for you to be.

And for those who truly can't understand why their loved ones would ever choose to wrestle with God, let me provide insight from someone who has been there: there comes a point where there are no other enemies left and it's the only way left to grow.

Accept the calling to be a cheerleader. Be in the front row seats when you're invited to show up. Make sure that person in your life knows that you're there to support them. It doesn't need to be more complicated than that.

It's easy to read 1 Cor. 7:12-17. It's harder to actually do it.

Maybe that's part of what God is teaching you if this is the situation in which you've found yourselves.

Addressing Mental Health and Prayer with LDS Youth

Coming from someone who was in Young Men/Young Women adjacent callings for years in my previous ward: the most important thing I ever said to a room full of teenagers is that mental illness doesn't mean that God has given up on you.

Even if your family is no longer in the Church, do yourself a favor. Go say those exact words to the Mormon/Mormon-adjacent kids and teens in your life.

How did we get to the place where we have to say that? I have theories based on the youth I taught. The group who needed this the most were the teenage boys. Hands down. No question. And I think how we get here isn't necessarily through "mental health treatment doesn't work" messaging. The youth I had weren't sequestered from getting real professional help. 

What I think goes wrong here is the idea that prayer helps in every situation.

People with mental illness have a very different relationship with prayer than those without it. Prayer does not cure, or even improve, mental illness. I will go so far as to say the best messaging is that prayer has no impact on mental illness.

Kids in religious households need to hear this very explicitly. They need to hear it from the adults they love and trust. The first person saying it to them should not be their Sunday School teacher when they're 14 and 15 years old. (Ask me how I know.)

What happens if they don't hear that? The following logical progression: I am depressed, anxious, struggling with an illness in my brain. I prayed for help. I can't "feel" the answer. I'm too broken for God. God doesn't love me anymore. 

They will go to this place on their own, independent of the example you've set for them in pursuing mental health treatment in your own life. They need someone they know and trust to help them contextualize religious devotion through the lens of mental illness.

I would also add to this: There isn't anything wrong with teaching young children that they can feel answers to their prayers. There's a lot wrong with that messaging if it doesn't evolve with them as they grow up and mature into adulthood. 

As a religious person with mental illness, God isn't someone I interact with through my feelings, especially when I'm in crisis. God is the one teaching me to reach out, ask for help, and to keep asking until I get the help I need. God is the one in that situation telling me not to give up on myself, and to take care of myself. 

When I'm in crisis, there is very little else God is going to be saying to me. Why? Because God knows better than I do that Prozac is better than prayer for me in that moment. It can make religious people uncomfortable to say this because they feel like it's admitting failure in God.

To me, it's like purposefully having a conversation in a loud room and making the person I'm with scream at me, when I already know they don't like to yell.

I take my medicine because it quiets most of the noise from my mental illness most of the time. Then when I pray, it's less of a struggle to hear and interact with God. That's just the nature of being me. There's nothing wrong with that. And it doesn't mean God doesn't love me.

Our teens struggle more with their mental health than other teenagers because they're getting very different messaging about God's direct, granular involvement in their lives than most other teenagers, with no corollary for mental illness. So they go from "God is in every detail of my life" to "God is nowhere to be found." 

That's not good! It's enough to make any mental illness worse because our youth feel like the most loving, most selfless part of their support system abandons them when they need it most.  

If you're going to raise your children in a religious environment, there needs to be a healthy understanding that God isn't a magic gumball machine who takes away every problem just because they pray. How we talk about mental illness needs to be a part of that.

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