Showing posts with label Liberation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Liberation. Show all posts

Things I'm Tired of Explaining about Infertility to Other Members of My Church

Infertility in the LDS Church is such a weird place to occupy because it's the place where so much of the Church's messaging on sex and gender, on Complementarianism and traditional divisions of labor within the community, completely fall apart.

Being a parent may be the most important thing some people will ever do. I have no issue at all with people saying this about themselves to describe their own journey through the world. But that's not universally true for everyone because of someone's gender or alleged propensity for reproduction. The fact that infertility exists at all is all the evidence you need of that. If it were somehow necessary for a person's salvation or exaltation for everyone to have children, it wouldn't be withheld from anyone.

Having children is not the most important thing I will ever do. For me, there are entire lists of priorities and experiences that are more important for me. The greatest happiness and joy I could ever know is not being withheld from me. My life is complete and joyful without children in it. It is not only possible to be happy without children, there are many aspects of happiness and self-fulfillment that I have access to that parents will never know. Those who have spent their entire adult lives as parents shouldn't pretend to know what my life is like, or expect me to be unhappy in it. It's far from the worst thing that could happen to someone. It's definitely nowhere near the top of the list of the worst things that have happened to me. Those who act as if it is are useless to and unprepared for ministering to infertile individuals and couples in any meaningful way. Especially when the most important message many of need to hear is "God has a plan for you that will ultimately be better for you than having children."

So why do people, including church leadership, continue to treat having children like it's essential to our salvation, when neither the gospel of Jesus Christ nor any of the covenants we've made present it that way?

Power consolidation. Boundary maintenance. Cultural curation for the kind of person who treats children as an identity marker and avatars for their own influence on the world.

It's how the Church is trying to ignore the problem of dwindling membership, which this exact messaging has caused, instead of addressing the problematic gender disparities reflected in this messaging.

No one is entitled to have children, then to use those children as a means of self-fulfillment, spiritual education, or approximations to the divine experience of being God. Even if you can have children, this is a harmful way of viewing children because it makes having children all about the parents and their needs.

You don't have children to meet your needs. You have children to meet their needs.

I didn't need to have children to learn that lesson, or many of the other lessons that people needed to become parents to learn. There is more than one way to approach that kind of selfless love, in all kinds of relationships. Parenting is one of many, not the only kind of selfless love, and certainly not the most important kind of selfless love for many people.

And what kills me in talking to members of the Church who try to push back against this perspective is this: they claim to be the arbiters of the ultimate form of selfless love because they are parents. But these are the same people who will pound on the single piano key about parenthood to such an extreme that it alienates other people. And when they do, and someone tells them it's harmful, they're the first ones to say that what they're doing is more important than anyone else's feelings. They talk of a selfless love they don't actually possess—not for people outside of their family and, I would argue, not for anyone inside of it either.

All this to say: the Venn Diagram overlap between people who don't respect or value people at church with infertility and the people who also enmesh themselves in disturbing ways with their own children is a circle.

Catch neither one of us wanting to be at church with them as adults.

Sex and Gender in Creation

M82 Galaxy, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/CXC/UofA/ESA/AURA/JHU

So the whole approach that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has with gender, and it being an eternal binary and complementary? And they say that binary is necessary because sex is necessary to creation?

Let's unpack that and throw it into the recycle bin.

So Creation involves two different creative acts at its core, which I want to discuss:

  1. Making Stuff
  2. Making People

Scripture gives us a couple different accounts of the Creation. 

In Genesis, God (understood singularly) creates everything, with the exception of "Let us make man in our image." That statement remains plural in a way that goes totally unacknowledged and unexplained in the text. 

Moses 2 then has God speaking in the first person telling this story. 

We learn during the endowment that the Creation involved a collective effort between God, Jehovah (the premortal name of Jesus), and Michael (the premortal name of Adam). 

The creation of Stuff in these depictions are non-sexual in nature, and nonsensically male. Especially since Abraham 4 calls this a collaboration between plural Gods. With God being a title that is shared, according to Mormonism, between perfected heterosexual couples, it simply makes no sense that our conceptions of Creation do not include women anywhere. That's not how they're read, understood, or taught in any official capacity. 

The label of "God" didn't yet apply to Jehovah or Michael in their premortal, unembodied, unordained, and unendowed states. But somehow, we are more comfortable with their participation in the Creation than we are with acknowledging the perfected, resurrected, empowered contributions of our own Heavenly Mother.

We're supposed to base our entire notion of divinity on the power of sealed men and women—and no other type of relationship. But our understanding and presentations of the Creation are too timid to even acknowledge that any woman was even there.

If gender matters so much in the creation of Stuff that women don't even get to participate, or approach in no way supports the need for women in these partnerships. And if women were present for and are essential to the Creation, then the way we interpret and teach the Scripture needs to change drastically to include women. One has to give away to the other.

And then there's reproduction! Surely it takes a combination of the right equipment, requiring both men and women in the gender binary to reproduce! This may be where the sidewalk ends in terms of "the known world" in Mormonism, but this is the reason we give, more than any other, for the justification of why we cling to the gender binary.

The greatest incongruence between what we believe and what we teach on this front is apparent in the endowment. In that depiction, there are no women present. Returning to Scripture, there is no need to see it this way. Abraham 4 speaks plurally about the Creation of Adam and Eve, that there are multiple participants there. Genesis 1 or Moses 2 can also read this way if we get comfortable with the voice of God including both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, a duet of voices instead of a solo masculine voice. That's not what we teach, but I believe it should be.

You can have a cosmology in which women are so important to a heterosexual couple, no eternal union is complete without one. Or you can contradict this notion entirely and maintain that God's children only need a Father. And these thoughts do contradict each other at their core. Yet somehow, they've existed together in the air we breathe for so long, we don't even have the language to name this contradiction unless we gather it from somewhere outside of our community. But pointing out that contradiction isn't enough for some people to challenge the gender binary as anything less than divine.

Nevermind that sex and gender are delineated separately in Scripture—male and female created first, Man and Woman named second.

Nevermind that there's no necessary connection between gender and what reproductive capabilities and equipment someone may or may not have.

Nevermind the way the flimsy eternal gender binary falls apart every time another intersex person is born neither male nor female, as if that detail somehow escaped God's perfect notice—whoops! Like God suddenly forgot their own rules.

We are at a place in scientific advancement where we can produce healthy biological offspring between same sex parents. That technology and capability is new to us, but none of it is new to God. God understands genetics, and has for the entire history of our relationship with them. The potential and ability to use genetics in this way has been there this entire time. As with all assistive reproductive technologies, creating life doesn't cease to be sacred just because a penis never entered a vagina at any point. And if that's the hill we're dying on, that battle was lost back in the 1980s when gamete donation and IVF became a normal part of reproductive healthcare. The children born from medical interventions in pregnancy aren't lesser people because of how they were conceived. There's no reason for this to be different for queer couples who use those technologies, even as it defies what we've traditionally thought as being necessary to create life.

So what makes sex holy? Is it the gender binary? The monogamy? The presence of a sealing ceremony? The ability to produce offspring? Which parts of heterosexual coupling are the necessary elements to honor and serve God?

It's not monogamy, and there are many dead polygamists who will fight you on sight for suggesting it.

Infertile couples will tell you it's not the ability or inability to produce offspring. None of us are being thrown out or blocked from full participation in the Church because of that.

"Children are entitled to a mother and a father," they say. But single parents, widows and widowers who don't remarry, don't have their sealings cancelled because their children are missing a parent of a certain gender. 

None of these justifications for maintaining the gender binary as a necessary part of our faith holds up to scrutiny. And since the sealing ceremony is being withheld from people based on their adherence to the gender binary, queer exclusion is a policy with no real valid justification other than "We've always done it that way," and "because we said so."

But let's say none of this convinces you. The idea that queer people in same-sex relationships cannot bear their own children is the hill you're willing to crucify others on. Within the structure of eternal family building, this still doesn't matter because adoptive sealings exist! 

If my husband and I adopted a child and my brothers-in-law adopted a child, we are both equally shut out of those children's lives because we didn't give birth to them in the covenant, and are therefore not sealed to them. The circumstances are identical. The roll that will fix it is identical. Because sealing works for me and my husband in our relationship, there is no necessary reason why it wouldn't similarly work for queer couples of whatever configuration. 

The seating solution would exist deep into eternity, especially for the number of eternal families that will end up divided over queer rejection. According to one of the speakers at general conference last week, no one is going to be forced to remain in a familial sealing where they don't feel safe, valued, and respected. For that reason, there will be many queer people in search of families in eternity, from every age and culture in the world.

We have to start acknowledging that the formation of these families is a better solution than forcing queer people into celibacy—a state which is contrary to divine mandate, happiness itself, and the ability for anyone to receive their full inheritance in the Kingdom of God. If the only alternatives you can come up with for queer relationships are ones that God would reflect because of how they harm individuals and place their relationships on unequal footing with everyone else, it's a good indication that it's a man-made problem paired with shoddy human problem-solving. An all-knowing God wouldn't set someone up to fail from something they can't change in such an eternally unfair way. (See Genesis 2:18 and D&C 38:24-27)

What this really comes down to, the more I think about it, is the insecurity that comes to people of a certain age and status in the Church in admitting they are wrong. There is fear in having to acknowledge the holiness in all kinds of love, and all the many kinds of relationships that are born out of this love.

If anyone can fall in love with anyone and form a family, then doesn't that make MY family less special and holy?

No. Of course not. Unless your family relationships were born out of duty and obligation instead of love, and you now have to admit that there was no need to put yourself, or anyone else, through that. I've personally been left holding the bag with church policies that are disavowed only after they've done damage to me. The harm that has happened to others is no justification for ongoing harm. If the best time to have changed that approach was twenty years ago, the next best time is now.

The insistence of heterosexual supremacy in the Church is full of contradictions, which should be our first clue that it doesn't come from God. It's preventing us from taking the gospel "into all the world," according to the injunction the Savior gave to his original apostles. It's preventing the fullness of the gospel from reaching many who cannot access it because of their sexual orientation and gender expression, which have never been and never will be valid reasons to withhold access to God from anyone. (See Mark 16:15, 2 Nephi 26, and Alma 32)

Queer people deserve to participate fully in the Church. They deserve to be sealed in the temple to their partners. They deserve to know the joy that comes from being able to form eternal families. They deserve to be able to seek out valid and essential healthcare without having their positions in the Church threatened or questioned in any way. They deserve to be in the pews with us, presenting as who they truly are. Honesty is the Spirit of worship, and we need to stop asking queer people around us to build their lives on foundations of lies and deceit for the comfort of others at church.

Don't let anyone tell you this has to be difficult. It's not difficult to see the unnecessary obstacles created by policy. It's easy to recognize them for what they are and commit to getting rid of them. The love we have for God, which requires us to love ALL of God's children, should compel us to make these things right. We should want to envision the arms of God stretching out wide enough to include everyone in this world.

Being the voice of a loving God, who doesn't fail and is not a hypocrite in that love, is the easiest thing in the world. We would all know that if that was the God we worshiped.

And, as a warning that is needed by some: just because you do not worship a God who loves and honors queerness doesn't mean that version of God doesn't exist. It does mean you've prevented yourself from perceiving God that way.

In the same way those who have claimed to serve God have justified slavery, you will end up with egg on your face when you realize God does not endorse forced subjugation and exclusion of anyone. Affirmation, like abolition, is simply the right thing to do. No appeals to Scripture will ever change that.

We don't have to keep making this mistake. We can believe that when God said he loves all people, that all are welcome and none are forbidden, that God is no respecter of persons, that we are all children of God—we can believe it.

Instead of fighting the will of God, we stop making excuses and just... do it.

Celebrating Pride Month at Church in 2023

We've made the decision to start going back to Church in-person. For the long, ridiculous saga of what has kept us away for so long, all of that is here.

Since this decision coincides with Pride month, I bought myself something in preparation.

Image Courtesy of KerspiffityPins on Etsy

In my voyages across the internet, I saw a queer person say that the corporate, sanitized message of Love is Love needs an update for our current moment.

They suggested "Queer People are in Danger."

It has never been more important for allies to make themselves visible. Not just for the sake of queer folks knowing where the safe ports are in the storm, but to willingly put ourselves in the gap between them and those who would do them harm.

If someone has a problem with queer visibility in my congregation, let them express it to me, the person who is least affected by that expression. Let me be the one to say, without hesitation, "It's a shame that when y'all taught that families are forever, you didn't mean mine."

Let me be the one to ask, "Who made you the judge of my sister, my brothers-in-law, and many of my friends? When exactly did Jesus Christ put you in that position?" 

Let me be the one to drop whatever I'm doing and sing "Jesus Said Love Everyone" like the choir kid I am. Admittedly, I still don't know the words. I was never in Primary because I'm a convert. But for my queer friends and family, for those in hiding in the pews next to me, it's a small thing I can do to make the people around me a little safer.

Whether we can admit it or not, whether we like it or not, our congregations are overwhelmingly not safe places for queer people to approach God or find rest to their souls.

We cannot change what we won't acknowledge, so acknowledging it openly is the place to start.

Note: This was originally posted on Twitter. Within hours, my friends wiped out much of the seller's stock. I then posted follow ups with other products LDS folks could consider to show their Pride support. Here are the links to those:

By the next day, there were all kinds of people being foolish in my mentions, interrogating me about how I can support queer LDS people and still follow the prophets. You know, because those two things have to be mutually exclusive. Here was my response:

I find it endlessly fascinating that whenever a dude tries to confront me about treating queer people with dignity and respect at Church, they always question/accuse me of not following the prophets. Not Christ. The prophets, specifically.

If you think the leadership of the Church have given you an open license to bully and exclude queer people and those who love them from the Church, it's because you don't have the scriptural literacy or moral rectitude to know any better.

I've been in the Church for seventeen years. 

I've lived through the tenure of enough church leadership to know one thing for certain: they agree on absolutely nothing, including this. 

Those who look to church leadership for an absolute, unchanging consensus on any issue are going to be disappointed.

That is the one thing they have never been able to produce because they are human.

I didn't join this church for the sycophantic fan club of prophets, whose reverence for church leadership borders on idolatry. 

There are LDS folks who criticize Catholics for the way they revere Saints, when the way y'all treat church leadership isn't that different.

I joined the Church to worship Jesus Christ, not the servants he employs. It is his example I care about most. His teachings are the foundation of my life. His voice is the one I seek. His radical compassion, empathy, and love is what I am striving to emulate in my life.

Jesus Christ was kind in ways that many of our leaders were not and are not. Thank God for that. It would be a real shame if an omnipotent God's access to any of us was frustrated because of some guy named checks notes Dallin. 

Some of y'all want so badly for the Church to be a country club of the comfortably like-minded, you forget the example of the Savior, who never once vaulted himself above anyone, who had no use for wealth or status, who never once preached uniformity as a virtue. It is Christ who conquered death and the grave. It is Jesus who has risen, who will be my judge in the last day. It is to him I will answer for how I spent my life and my time.

Not to the prophets and not to any of you.

If the moral choice of my age is whether to love queer people and make the Church safer for them, or to allow rich people and paid actors on Fox News to convince me to dehumanize and exterminate my own siblings in Christ, I'll be honest: I'm taking my chances on love. 

I've spent way too much of my life being entrusted to teach Latter-day Saints their own beliefs, scriptures, and the words of your own prophets for "but what about the prophets?" to be the question I'm being asked right now. I've been every kind of teacher I can be in the Church. Every age and gender, in multiple countries and languages, called and set apart by every priesthood leader I've ever had.

If that thought perturbs you, maybe it's you who needs to work on your testimony of the priesthood. Not me.

A Prayer of Deliverance for Queer Church Members


 

After reports of bullying on BYU's campus towards Sarah Coyne, a professor who mentioned her transgender child in class, let's not have any confusion about what thay bullying represents and where it comes from.

You cannot teach the pure love of Christ for the LGBTQ+ community at the same time you exclude them from church fellowship.

You cannot talk out of both sides of your mouth and expect anything but cruelty, bullying, and ugliness to follow.

You do not reap grapes of thorns or figs from thistles.

Those who sow in hatred reap in violence.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Matthew 7:18-19

LGBTQ+ exclusion is an evil fruit from the corrupt tree of exclusionary church policies. Those policies are good for nothing but to be hewn down and cast into the fire.

We have been divided against our own at the behest of evangelical Christianity for long enough. Anyone who insists we do this to our own is no friends to us.

We are the house that cannot stand when it is divided.

How many more of our people, our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our friends and neighbors, our family members in Christ have to suffer and die before we see the error of our ways?

How many more will it take for the error to become apparent?

I plead that deliverance comes quickly.

Lord, thy people perish. 

Give us the courage and strength to run the hatred of strangers from our midst.

Let words of unkindness and violence turn to ash in the mouths of those who speak them. 

May all the inner vessels of those who have steeped malice be scoured clean. 

May those who have made the cups of others bitter be forced to drink to the dregs themselves.

Bring all conspiracies, all tyranny, all oppression into the light where all may see plainly.

Let those who deal in secret have their names be known and spoken in truth from the rooftops in the light of day.

Let there be no peace in Zion until all may rest therein.

That is my prayer today and always. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

How to Address Domestic Violence in the Church

Source: World Bank
From a domestic violence survivor: take all of the outrage you feel for what Michael Haight did to his ex-wife and children, and direct it into helping the people around you who are in that exact same precarious position.

Every community, every congregation, every class in every school, every neighborhood, every group of people you have ever been a part of has had victims of domestic violence in them. No one ever wants to acknowledge that. But that's the truth.

I'm not telling you not to be angry. Be furious! But don't just express your disapproval on social media and expect anything to change. Be the safe place a family like Tausha's could've gone to. Then go find the Tausha near you and help her.

I had people around me in my community who did that, over and over again. They pulled me out of the toxic environments my parents had created. Make sure the people around you know they can come to you if they're in trouble.

The most important thing I could ever tell you as a survivor is this: never assume that anyone you know is immune to abuse, that "if she was really in trouble, she'd tell me." Never assume that to be true. Never think you'd be able to spot them if you weren't actively seeking them out.

No matter how safe and happy things appear in the intimate relationships around you, all it takes is one phrase to let people know you're a safe person to them.

"If that ever changes, you can come here." 

That's all you have to say. Say it explicitly to anyone you care enough about to want to save them if they found themselves in real danger with nowhere else to go.

In a church setting, take advantage of opportunities to plant seeds in lessons, at activities, during talks you might give, Family Home Evenings, or any other gatherings in your home. Quote the section about abuse from the Family Proclamation. Teach those around you what it means and why it matters.
We warn that individuals who... abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.
Share the Church's resources about abuse and where to find them in Gospel Library. Make sure those with whom you serve are familiar with those resources and their content. Wherever you serve or worship in the Church, be prepared to help families who are in these situations.


It's also important to prepare you children in age appropriate ways how to respond to these situations appropriately. Teach them that preventing domestic violence begins in their own choices in how to treat others. Teach them how they can help friends, teammates, and classmates if another child confides in them that they're being abused. Don't wait until after that confidence has already been placed in them by someone else.
 
Be a safe, discreet person who can be trusted with these kinds of confidences, whose goal is to empower others to make the choices that will keep themselves and their children safe.
 
I'll give you an example from my own life.
 
I taught in Young Women for many years in my last ward. During that time, a family who lived near us had their youngest daughters take the missionary discussions in our home. The oldest daughter was indifferent, if not outwardly hostile to any kind of religious messaging. She was disruptive during lessons. She was the type of teenager that someone could've looked at and thought "I can't wait until you leave my class and never come back." I didn't treat her any differently. I could see real pain inside of her and treated her with kindness, no matter what she said or did. I refused to give her the reaction she was looking for. I treated her with the love she deserved, rather than matching the energy she was putting out.
 
At 10 p.m. on a week night, she showed up at my house. She and her father had gotten into a fight. She asked if she could stay the night. I didn't hesitate. I brought her inside. I made up the guest bedroom, set out towels and toiletries in our guest bathroom. I made her some chamomile tea. We talked for a little while. Her father guessed at where she was. My husband spoke to him outside while I continued talking to her. We kept everyone separate until they both were calmer. I asked her privately if she felt safe going home. She said she did. That was the only time I pressed her for the truth. 
 
I told her if she ever needed to come back, she knew where to find us. She wasn't the only one from that Young Women group who reached out to me when they were in dire straits. 
 
That's what this looked like for me because I was serving in Young Women. For you, it might be relatives in your own extended family, the friends or teammates of your children, coworkers, or anyone else around you going through divorce. Divorce always has the potential to be dangerous, especially in the first year.
 
I had a person I worked with at my first veterinary clinic who filed for divorce while I was working there. I checked in on her repeatedly to make sure she was okay. It didn't matter that we weren't that close. We didn't have to be for me to care about what happened to her.

When you do these things from a place of love, or even just concern, it won't be weird or awkward. You're making it clear that there's space in your life for them if they need it. They'll come to you if that need arises. 
 
All you have to do when that happens is say, "Come over."

Becoming Found Family within the Church

Growing up in an unstable home environment with parents who struggled with a host of issues that included poverty, addiction, alcoholism, domestic violence, and racial violence, one of the skills I learned early on in my life is gathering and assembling found family. I had so many adopted mothers, tied to so many different communities who cared for and about me.

The reason I made it out of poverty and avoided becoming a statistic was because of the support and mentoring I received from people who were my chosen family, rather than being limited to the support my biological family could provide.

While the Church is not the only group capable of forming these kinds of relationships, it's especially important for members of the Church to know how to do this, and know the meaningful distinction between found family and "ward family" or "church family."

Let's start off by talking about that distinction.


 

Not All Church Family is Found Family

I've been in the Church as a convert for almost seventeen years now. I joined as a teenager, the only member in my family. I've been in enough congregations to know the difference between ward family and found family.

Ward family is conditional. It exists within the shared identity of being members of the Church, and therefore only fully extends to members of the Church. Those who aren't members and are unlikely to ever become members, or who were formerly members and are no longer fully engaged with the Church, are often seen as being unworthy or undeserving of that network of help and loving care. The reason for this is because with church membership comes the expectation of reciprocation. In this line of thinking, the church member will pay it forward at a future time through ongoing service through the Church. The issue is not that people are receiving benefits to which they have not previously contributed. Rather, it's the boundary setting that happens with those who have no intentions of paying it forward through the same network of finite resources.

Church family also often centers around the formal administration overseen by local leadership on the ward council. It may or may not be facilitated through delegated assignments, volunteered service, or shared resources extended through church social networks. Because no one person has total control over this council and the causes it chooses to undertake and how, the help that is given through it is shaped by the personal beliefs and life experiences of many different people. Because of that, mileage and results will vary wildly based on geographic location and the cultures (and politics) of the surrounding areas.

Anyone who is familiar with the concept of found family, or comes into the church with the expectation that church family will function like found family, is going to be confused by what they see happening in many places. And because it's important for church members to understand the difference, to be willing and capable of doing both kinds of giving, this comes with acknowledging those differences honestly.

Found Family is Unconditional

Found family is an ongoing, personal relationship between individuals that isn't bound by shared identity, social networks, or life experiences. It's a much closer relationship than a casual acquaintance at Church. It's a friendship where a person is fully integrated into a family's embrace as one of their own. The exchange of love and gratitude is mutual, flows in both directions, and exists solely within the individual family. There's no expectation for anyone else outside of that relationship to be benefiting from it. So while two different communities may be coming together and sharing in a mutual space with one another, there is no expectation that their communities will directly benefit from that exchange.

For example, if an LDS family decided to sponsor a family of refugees and developed a found family relationship with them, there would be no expectation for the refugee family to join the Church. If an LDS family took in a queer person who was also a former member of the Church, there would be no expectation for them to come back to church because of that association, or in exchange for resources. The relationship itself is the reward, not anything monetary or otherwise valuable that the relationship could be used for.

Found family relationships often materialize spontaneously through already existing friendships. But through my own reflection, I'm realizing they exist when people create space in their families, their homes, and their lives for those relationships to materialize.  It's one where the jump has been made together from acquaintance or casual friendship to actual family. Those relationships are grown, nourished, and are sincerely cherished on both sides.

Not every relationship in the Church should be one of found family. I'm not suggesting it should be. But recognizing the ways that God works through found family is an important one for people of faith to understand and embrace. There is a kind of good that only be accomplished through found family relationships and in no other way, including by the a church or ward family. There are families who have space in their lives at different seasons to create found family relationships, and some who don't. It's important to be able to assess situations impartially and to understand which is needed.

In Psalms 68:6, David taught that "God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains." I've seen that ministry work through my own life in the Church. The trajectory of my life changed completely because members of the Church facilitated both found family and church family relationships. Knowing how to do both is good discipleship and allows those who belief in Christ to follow his example in moments where it can do the greatest good.

Racism in the Student Body at BYU-Idaho

In 2002, BYU-Hawaii celebrated the second largest graduating class in the school's history. The Church News wrote a story about that day. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke, saying "This should be one of the greatest days of your life. But take time to remember again what so many have sacrificed and done for you in order that you could be here today."

One of the graduates featured was Bernard Balibuno, from the Republic of Congo, with his wife Yaya and their son, Steven. Steven was an infant at the time. They are pictured in the article, which I've included here for a very specific reason. Photos like this are why the Church tries so hard to engage in educational outreach across its global membership. Church leadership wants to be able to point to photos like this as an accomplishment and say to the world, to themselves, and eventually to the Lord, "this is what we did with what we had."

And to be clear: I don't think there's anything wrong with celebrating the inclusion and diversity in education that Brigham Young University campuses, especially when the point is to highlight the excellence of black, indigenous, and other non-white international students. But a necessary part of that is also how these campuses engage in racial justice when these students are made to feel unsafe and unwelcome in these settings. The Church can't have the former without having tangible plans in handling the latter.

Where is Steven Balibuno today?

He's a student at BYU-Idaho. And two days ago, he shared a story with the BYU Idaho Scroll about the racism he is experiencing on that campus.

Steven Balibuno, a BYU-Idaho student studying computer science, was walking down the street toward Broulim’s when he heard monkey noises. He was confused but assumed someone was just joking around with a friend. He didn’t want to believe that those noises were being made at him.

Balibuno continued his journey, but the monkey sounds didn’t stop. Still puzzled, he looked up to find himself face-to-face with a white boy who was in the window of the NorthPoint apartments.

The stranger and Balibuno looked at each other for a moment. He put the pieces together and knew those noises were being directed at him.

Balibuno shouted at the boy in the window to stop it.

The boy in the window continued with the monkey noises while still looking directly at Balibuno.

Balibuno was not happy. He changed his course and went back to his apartment to tell his roommates what had happened to him. He was determined to find this boy.

After Balibuno and his roommates knocked on three doors, they were able to find the boy from the window. Before anything was said to him, the boy began to apologize. Balibuno asked why he chose to make monkey noises at a black man who was passing and did not stop when told to.

The boy in the window had no explanation beyond saying, “I only do it when the sun sets.”

The cached article, written by Candy Zillale, is linked here because the original is currently unavailable. I encourage everyone to read the experiences of Steven and other students on the BYU-Idaho campus who have also been on the receiving end of racial slurs and prejudice in Rexburg, Idaho. This isn't something that should ever be swept under the rug.

I only knew to go looking for this article from the Scroll because of appeals from BYU's Black Menaces page on Instagram. In a video whose intent is to bring attention to issues of racism at BYU-Idaho, there is a clip of two white students brazenly filming themselves saying the N-word racial slur. Sebastian from Black Menaces is asking for help from the student body to identify the students so they can be reported and held accountable by the Honor Code office and university administrators.

BYU-Idaho is a small campus. It won't be difficult to identify the two students in the video if students, faculty, and church members make the effort to identify these individuals. Anyone with information is encouraged to report these, and any other students engaging in racist behavior, to the Student Honor office at 270 Kimball Building, Rexburg, ID 83460-1686. Their phone number is (208) 496-9300, email address at sho@byui.edu.

As Candy Zillale stated in her article for the Scroll, "No one, regardless of their race, deserves to feel unsafe in their own community."

If these are the values we want to uphold, we need to hold accountable any student who introduces animosity to students of color on campus, regardless of whether the intention was to cause harm or not. Nothing that is harmful can ever be funny when an inclusive, diverse community is what we're striving to create.

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."

Maybe Don't Advocate for the Church's Version of "Health Care"


I recently saw a take that the Church shouldn't be building more temples in Utah when they've never built or operated medical clinics in foreign countries.

As a woman who was forced into using the BYU health center, women deserve better than what church-sponsored health care looks like.

My PCOS went undiagnosed and untreated for the entire time I was at BYU because the only doctors I had access to were dogmatically opposed to women receiving treatment for ovarian cysts. 

Why? 

Because the treatment is birth control pills. Those doctors don't prescribe birth control pills and the Church-sponsored insurance plan doesn't cover them, even when they're being used as hormone therapy instead of contraception.

Religious dogma does real harm when it combines with medicine, especially since that intersection inevitably passes through denial of care to the detriment of patients. 

We should want to see less of this in medicine. Not more.

We're all going to be much happier if the Church sticks to what they know.

Marginalizing the Poor, the Widow, the Fatherless, and the Stranger


If you have ever uttered the phrase "welfare queen" or "welfare state" in a derogatory manner about actual human beings, you have reason to repent.

Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.

Prov. 17:5

Reopen yourself to compassion about whether people have basic safety in their lives.

Set yourself free.

16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

Mosiah 4:16-18

In fact, let's Mormonize it for a little bit.

And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.

Zech. 7:10

If you can see the filth and offensiveness in the language of four letter words, but not in dehumanizing the poor, widow, fatherless, and marginalized in this language, your moralizing on "clean" language doesn't amount to much.

On Women Being Absent from Scripture

I read this post from The Exponent this morning, and I related so profoundly to what the author was describing in how we teach a male-centric view of scripture in the Church. From that place of frustration, I went to the scriptures on my own in search of women and their stories. 

Women are present in the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament. Women are not named in scripture at the same frequency as men. That's isn't the same issue as the women not being present, or being actors in the stories, especially in stories where men in those collectives also aren't named. The Book of Mormon especially is a text that focuses primarily on community impact and reactions. Women are present in every story that it tells of crowds, tribes, multitudes, and factions

We could blame these factors for why don't talk about or study women in any detail at Church, at least not to the same depth or degree that we have studied the lives of male prophets, living and dead. But when you realize the multitude of women whose lives and experiences are recorded in scripture, that's not enough of an explanation. The women's lives and experiences are there. So the questions we have to ask ourselves are: 

  • Who taught us to look at a collective of people in scripture and assume the audience is dominated by men, or that men are the actors in the stories and women are passive? 
  • Why aren't we teaching from the lives and experiences of women in the scriptures that do exist? 

There are answers about men becoming the default, specific moments in time we can point to that has had this impact, regardless of what the Church's intent was. The Topical Guide and footnote references for the 1981 edition of the scriptures were created by a mostly (if not all) male team of returned missionaries under the direction of Bruce R. McConkie. These are the same references in use today. The perspective they teach from is ignorant of, if not hostile to, the spiritual needs of women. Any woman who has ever seen the Topical Guide entries for Birth Control and Interracial Marriage, or has gone looking for an entry on Infertility, has felt that hostility.

We project what our lived experiences are in church onto the scriptures we read. We also view our scriptures through the examples we use and emphasize to teach various principles. There are plenty of scriptures featuring women that get no play time in church for teaching the principles they represent. Sometimes, this is because a man's story gets emphasized for that same principle instead.

But more often than not, I think the male default in curriculum happens year after year because the stories starring women make men uncomfortable. In many cases, they exist to detail the disrespect and violence that men have shown to women throughout time, and how God rejects and punishes men who abuse women. Some of these stories are graphic in nature, featuring sexual violence against women as a key feature. It would be impossible to study these stories without confronting those elements. 

So if you don't know that there is a story in the Old Testament where God nearly destroyed the entire house of Israel because men in the tribe of Benjamin brutally raped and murdered one woman, there's a reason for that. (See Judges 19-21)

The Levite of Ephraim, Alexandre-François Caminade

Stories featuring women in scripture often exist, at least in part, to condemn the selfish, inexcusable behavior of men. That's why men don't tell those stories. In many cases, they've never heard of them. The ones they have heard of, such as David and Bathsheba, they've grossly misinterpreted. They've been raised on a steady diet of church instruction that emphasizes the stories that entrench their own roles instead. That's all they know.

When you sit down with the standard works and read them through the lens of actively searching for women, you start to see them everywhere. They're not absent. There's a filter over the scriptures and how we've been taught to read them that makes women disappear that has to be dismantled.

The Good Shepherd

Let's talk about sheep.

Jesus taught that we are his flock of sheep. And the likes of Greg Olsen have made that sentiment way more endearing than I think it was intended to be. When you actually know something about animal husbandry, his meaning changes from the way we typically understand it.

If you had to describe sheep, here are several words and phrases you could use:
  • helpless 
  • vulnerable 
  • fragile 
  • able to be injured or killed remarkably easily, especially by accident
I'm learning animal husbandry for my certification as a veterinary nurse. Sheep scare the shit out of me. Handle them wrong and you can literally snap their necks. Their skeletons are fragile. They can't regulate their body temperatures much beyond 50°F. If you handle them roughly, you can break their back legs. You can't grab them by the fleece because you can permanently ruin their skin. They can't jump especially well. They have no natural defenses of any kind. If you remove a baby from its mother before she can bond with it, even to save its life, she will abandon it entirely. Touch them wrong and you could do irreparable harm to them.
 
There's no such thing as a little "oops" with sheep. Every sheep has to be treated like the slightest injury is a big deal. There's no such thing as being too sensitive or too careful with sheep. Their feelings matter because they are incapable of withstanding any kind of violence. There is no place for violence in a sheep herd. 
 
The shepherd's biggest worry for the sheep isn't just that a predator could come and wipe them all out. It's also that he could literally kill them by accident through bad husbandry.  
 
If you fancy yourself any kind of shepherd like Jesus Christ was, in any kind of ministering capacity, you need to recognize that one of the greatest threats to its survival isn't wolves. 
 
It's you. 
 
Specifically, you assuming you know what you're doing whenever do not. Because in that scenario, it's not a question of if you will do irreparable harm to some of the sheep in your care. It's when and how.
 
To be a good shepherd is to love sheep in all of their "I'm allergic to tap water" glory. To care enough to know how to handle them with love, meeting all their needs, no matter what they are.
 
When we talk about Jesus being the Good Shepherd, that's what that means.

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