"You Can't Do That" and Other Stumbling Blocks

When I was investigating the Church, I told the people around me I wanted to get baptized after I'd only been to services a few times. I hadn't read much of The Book of Mormon. There were many things I didn't know or understand. But I had felt the Spirit of God and knew that this was the place where I would find God. I knew I was supposed to be baptized.

What was the response?

"You can't do that."

They didn't have missionaries. They didn't have anyone to teach me the discussions. I was coming to Church in a different place from where I lived because of where my friends, who were members and who had invited me, were living.

It got bad enough that I set a date for myself to get baptized and told them they had that long to figure it out and deal with their scruples. And they did.

Then I found out about patriarchal blessings in one of the lessons I had in Young Women. I wanted mine. I went to my branch president and told him that.

"You can't do that."

I hadn't been to church long enough. Could I wait a year? Six months?

But that's not what the lesson I was taught said. It said that if I felt like I was ready, then I could have one. So I showed up outside of my branch president's office every week for over a month to ask again. Finally, he talked to the stake president, who told him there was no rule or timeline mandated in the Handbook of Instruction that prevented me from receiving my patriarchal blessing. I finally received it 4 months after I was baptized.

Then I went to Brigham Young University. I was in one of my favorite wards I've ever attended. Everyone around me was so kind and supportive. They helped me deepen my knowledge of the restored gospel and the scriptures. And when all the young men in my classes started receiving mission calls, I wanted to as well. I felt "called to the work," and the Doctrine and Covenants said that was enough.

"You can't do that."

They didn't let women serve at 19 at the time. I had to wait. Why? Because I might get married instead. The hypothetical possibility of reserving me for a man was more important than the calling I had received from God.

I had the opportunity to serve in the temple regularly for the first time in my life. I was from an area where the temple was two hours away, which meant I got to go only a couple times a year, at most. As the only member in my family, I had many names to do. And as the endowments started piling up, I could feel the weight of my responsibility to get the names done weighing on me. I didn't have a ward full of endowed people to rely on in my student wards. It was just me. And the more I went to the temple, the more I craved that divine closeness, the spiritual support for how much harder it was for me to be a member of the Church than it was for everyone else. I was totally on my own, no support from large extended families like they had. I needed more support to come from somewhere. So I started asking to receive my endowment.

"You can't do that."

I needed to be getting married (preferably, in their minds) or serving a mission to get endowed. That was the rule at the time. It didn't matter that I already wanted to serve a mission. It would be so much more special if I could go with my husband! Didn't I see that? My life was just supposed to stay on hold for him, whoever he was. The idea that I would have a spiritual development and progression separate from his was a totally foreign idea at the time, and wasn't reason enough for me to receive my own endowment. Meanwhile, as the ordinances in my own family backed up higher and higher because I was in student wards with no access to the endowment or other endowed people, I was just stuck and alone.

Then the identity of the mysterious young man I would eventually marry was revealed to me. Hurray! And we both went on missions. We were planning our wedding. And after years of alienating my family with all the milestones of my adult life they didn't get to witness because I was in Utah thousands of miles away, I wanted to have a ring ceremony so they could at least watch me get married.

"You can't do that."

And every reason I was given, especially the one that it took away from the validity and the sacredness of my temple sealing, was later disavowed when they did away with this rule.

All of this to say, I've been in the Church for almost 18 years. I have seen so many changes come into the Church and its culture in that time. The things that were impediments to me as a young believer and convert are no longer there, in part because I left so many bloody knuckle prints on heaven's door, pleading for these things to change. Heaven bore witness to how many times I was told "You can't do that" by my own community—with shallow, indefensible reasons for why my journey needed to be so much harder and lonelier than it needed to be.

Changes like these do not come about simply by waiting. They come because the faithful, especially those who are most affected by the lack of change, keep praying and pleading with heaven for change. The hurt goes on the altar because it never should've been mine to carry. Let God witness it. Let him see, feel, and know the burdens I bore in his name, solely at the behest of my community whose reasoning for it was poor and indefensible because it all came down to a single failure: they couldn't begin to imagine the impact their choices were having on me. And until they could begin to understand it, they could never conceive of why their status quo needed to change. Their ignorance and desire to remain in what was familiar and comfortable was a form of bondage to me. That was true.

But what was equally true was that there was nothing wrong or evil in pushing back against all of that, with all the strength I possessed. I would live to see so many of these stumbling blocks I encountered change for those who came behind me. Young people in my church community today don't have to make many of the same choices I did anymore—and thank God for that! I called down the powers of heaven to me to witness these burdens so no one else would ever have to carry them again! I have been witness to the power that these prayers—my prayers—have had to build the kingdom of God on the earth by affecting these changes.

And we're not done. There are many more such changes that need to come to fruition , including (but not limited to) making the Church fully accessible to everyone in our community. Our LGBTQIA+ and disabled people, our women and single Saints, our marginalized, abused, and forgotten in communities of color all over this world.

The kingdom of Heaven is not built, our work is not finished, until ALL are safely gathered in. That is, until they all CAN be safely gathered in. Until all that resists unity, diversity, equity, and inclusion that will define Heaven are removed by the Saints, whose job it is to build that kingdom. To never say again to someone who is trying to come to Christ "you can't do that."

Because with enough time and effort from the Saints, you'll find they can, in fact, do that.

God Loves ADHD, Even When You Don't

Something that people with ADHD don’t get to say enough is how toxic the hurtful words of other people are to our well-being.

I’m never going to be “normal.” No, not if I try harder. No, not if I write things down. No, not if I set every alarm on every device I own. Not with every planner, calendar, and app ever made. There is no amount of effort I can make that will turn me into someone else, the version of me that everyone wants to pretend could exist if I could just be more like them.

When you see enough people in your life wish for you to be someone you’re not—family, friends, teachers and professors, colleagues and coworkers, bosses and supervisors, church leaders and members—there is a very real part of yourself that can’t help internalizing some of it. And given enough time, it can break your self-esteem completely. All the wishes and frustrations of others with you become a very long list of reasons not to like or trust yourself anymore.

I am no exception. My mind has become a poisoned well from all the wishes people have made for me to be someone I’m not. And some of the labor that I get to do now, that so often goes unseen by everyone else, is to purify my thoughts so that criticism doesn’t have access to me anymore. I have to relearn how to like and trust myself again, as I am. I have to do that despite all the evidence to the contrary that so many have found, even though it feels impossible.

My trip to the temple today was about reclaiming my ability to love myself a little bit more than I did yesterday, to believe there is something worthwhile in me even if other people have failed to see it in the past. And God, who is the only one who has never done this to me, came through again with some suggestions to make it easier: to use music to drown out some of the negativity and noise, and a reminder that I am part of that body with Jesus Christ that he claimed as his own.

I am wanted. I am loved. I am cherished. ADHD and all.

2 Nephi 5

So y'all now know where I stand on Nephi being an unreliable narrator. In one of my previous posts, I talked about this in reference to his treatment of his family and his leadership. I tackled the racism superficially, so let's go ahead and choke slam it the rest of the way.

20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence. 21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
2 Nephi 5:20-21

Has this passage been used historically to enable racism in the Church, including the justification for the racial priesthood restriction? Yes. Absolutely. Curse of Cain. Curse of Ham. Less valiant in the preexistence. Slavery being perpetuated into eternity. The whole shebang. This isn't the origin, as early pro-slavery church leaders pursued biblical justifications for slavery like everyone else. What this verse did was present the opportunity for Saints so inclined to create their own Mormon flavored versions of those justifications.

How does Come Follow Me approach these attitudes and the racism that perpetuated them?

What was the curse that came upon the Lamanites? In Nephi’s day the curse of the Lamanites was that they were “cut off from [the Lord’s] presence … because of their iniquity” (2 Nephi 5:20–21). This meant that the Spirit of the Lord was withdrawn from their lives. When Lamanites later embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, “the curse of God did no more follow them” (Alma 23:18).
The Book of Mormon also states that a mark of dark skin came upon the Lamanites after the Nephites separated from them. The nature and appearance of this mark are not fully understood. The mark initially distinguished the Lamanites from the Nephites. Later, as the Nephites and Lamanites each went through periods of wickedness and righteousness, the mark became irrelevant.
Prophets affirm in our day that dark skin is not a sign of divine disfavor or cursing. President Russell M. Nelson declared: “I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and His commandments and not the color of your skin” (“Let God Prevail,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2020, 94).
As Nephi taught, the Lord “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).

I've heard theories that the skins, rather than talking about the complexions of people, refers to the clothing skins they wore, or some kind of mark they would put on their faces such as tattoos or body art. I've also heard people lean into the notion that this was meant to be metaphorical, centering the images in the text of flint or scales in their eyes. What the church is attempting to teach now in Come Follow Me is that we don't know what is meant here, but it's NOT complexion. I don't find any of these compelling and I want to talk about why.

So we don't know what it means? But we know it's not racist? So which is it? You can't have it both ways like that. So let's be honest!

We know it's not intended to be racist because the Church tried that for over a century, and it became obvious it was ungodly, abusive, false. We are willing to admit now that such attitudes contradict Scripture and the nature of God because our community existed in the ridiculous position of maintaining racist policies in the face of those scriptural contradictions that condemned us. THAT'S how we know the Lamanite "curse" is not supposed to signify complexion skin color.

We paid dearly for that lesson in how many people were denied the fullness of God and his blessings, so let's not diminish that history so we don't have to repeat it. Especially since the Church exists in cultures and societies around the world who are currently attempting to conceal this kind of history so they can go on repeating it.

Besides being disingenuous with what our experience as a community has been, my issue here is that these attitudes deserve more complex and sophisticated dismantling than this. Especially because with these justifications of alternate curses being proposed, the crucial lesson here is going unlearned.

It is counter to the nature of God and the order of heaven to punish the innocent. Curses that expand beyond the necessary bounds of punishing the perpetrator(s) are inherently unjust, regardless of the nature of the curse. We don't believe that children are punished for the sins of their parents. Period. That's what the scriptures teach. We have an entire Article of Faith dedicated to that principle. God does not curse anyone for sins they didn't commit. People do that. God does not.

The racial priesthood restriction became our Original Sin, with more steps. It was nothing short of hypocrisy, perpetuated by prophets and apostles who had every reason to know better, but didn't. It was where the leadership of our church, in the attempt to appear smart and clever, copied the homework from the rest of Christianity when they became obsessed with scientific racism and eugenics, and it took us WAY too long to admit the mistake. And in many ways, our community STILL can't openly talk about it or admit to it. Which is how we end up with weak sauce explanations like the one given in Come Follow Me for 2 Nephi 5.

I'm not afraid to say that prophets and apostles are capable of teaching false doctrine. They are imperfect human beings who are susceptible to making these kinds of mistakes and leading people astray. This is a reality we must be prepared to face as believers in community with one another.

If we can't see and condemn these failures in someone like Nephi, how can we hope to see and recognize them in someone like Brigham Young, J. Reuben Clark, or Bruce R. McConkie?

Note that Come Follow Me quotes 2 Nephi 26. These are some of my favorite verses in all of scripture. Let's realize together that Nephi had to grow into this revolutionary vision of a God who embraces all people without prejudice. By the time Nephi reaches the maturity to say that "all are alike unto God," the perpetuation of his prejudice and the attending destruction in the conflicts of his people were already set into motion. He spent his remaining years finally teaching the truth of respect and inclusion his younger self didn't know how to believe in.

At the exact moment he finally envisions the love of God, the curse he describes in 2 Nephi 5 had already taken root into the cultures of two groups who would go on hating each other until the bitter end. The prejudice Nephi taught became the defining obstacle for the Nephites and Lamanites, shaping the beliefs who came afterwards, who continue to appeal to and describe this curse throughout the rest of the narrative. Nephi created this curse, at least in part, and every generation after him found ways to perpetuate and reinforce it.

The Book of Mormon was written for our day. And it's hard to describe this curse and NOT think of racism because it is very much like a curse in our modern day. This prejudicial hatred is a destructive force in our society. It's perpetuated by people in power who seek their own personal gains by feeding into those conflicts. And like any curse, it doesn't have to come from God to have the worst kind of power imaginable. All it takes for such a curse to survive is for the people who are impacted by it to never challenge their relationship to it in any meaningful way. Like cancer, it spreads and worsens by going unacknowledged and untreated.

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