Thursday, June 11, 2009

He Said: Retreats and Symposia

During the course of the past ten years I have grappled with the fact that despite my discouragement my wife Bored in Vernal has chosen to associate herself with some pretty ultra-liberal symposia which includes Counterpoint, Rosewood Retreat, and Sunstone Symposium. It isn't that I am anti-intellectual that I don't like her going it is because in terms of faithfulness they have had a decided affect on her formerly orthodox beliefs in the teachings of the Church.

When I first courted and married BiV I had recruited her as a fresh returned sister missionary in my BYU student ward to help me extract quotes voluntarily from talks by Spencer W. Kimball in to a compilation by Yoshihiko Kikuchi on Proclaiming the Gospel: Spencer W. Kimball Speaks on Missionary Work. When I first met her she was far from the bleeding-heart liberal she is today. Then she was an ultraconservative who didn't believe in worldly music, television, or doctrinal theories. Her idea of a great time was going to the Sperry Symposium and she looked forward to attending BYU Education Week.

During this time early in my married life I was working for Richard O. Cowan in the BYU Religion Department. I attended many Church-supported seminars including the Mormon History Association, the Sperry Symposium, and the CES firesides. Brother Cowan was personally involved in all the accepted LDS symposium, forums, and associations and I went to help him whenever he gave a presentation. A couple of times later in my life I was a respondent to his papers.

I personally met Elder Boyd K. Packer a couple of times while working for Brother Cowan who encouraged me to emulate my boss who he said was "a trusted historian" and that he heard good things about me and that I was also trusted. Being as Elder Packer was one of my heroes I wanted to follow his advice since I know there is safety in staying close to the leaders' guidance. Elder Packer during the time I was a student at BYU for seven years discouraged members of the religion department and the CES from associating with the Seventh East Press types and specifically the Sunstone Symposium. Being as my desire was to work in the institute of the Church and eventually become a BYU religion professor I aligned myself to him.

His talk the Mantle is Far, Far Greater had a very decided influence on me particularly in relation to LDS history and influenced my desire not to associate with those who demeaned or tried to put down church leaders:

That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith--A destroyer of faith--particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith--places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities.
I personally knew all of the members of the September 6 group that ended up being excommunicated. After their leaving the church they began attending the more liberal symposia to raise the awareness of others to their mistreatment by Elder Packer and other church leaders. I particularly did not want to put myself in proximity to people who questioned the church nor its leaders. I vowed to never attend such conferences while my leaders discouraged it.

Over the years including in 1993 Elder Packer has consistently come out reaffirming his stand on liberals and their forums:
three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. . . . In each [area], the temptation is for us to turn about and face the wrong way, and it is hard to resist, for doing seems so reasonably right.

The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals. Our local leaders must deal with all three of them with ever-increasing frequency. In each case, the members who are hurting have the conviction that the Church is somehow doing something wrong to members or that the Church is not doing enough for them.
In our married student ward I was asked to talk about Mother in Heaven and had BiV help me to collect statements. At first she was satisfied with the concepts that we found particularly the one by Lorenzo Snow that said women who gave birth would be saved in the kingdom of heaven. Little by little over the years she began to lose her fervor and to become bored hence her name Bored in Vernal. When she heard about the September 6 group particularly Janice Allred and Margaret Toscano she felt it was unfair that they were excommunicated. She didn't press the issue for many years until about nine years ago.

One of her close friends who was married and had four children decided she would leave her husband of twenty-five years and become a lesbian. The two had known each other as young mothers in La Leche League and networked together. I recognized her propensity for becoming gay right from the beginning when one of her friends or relatives was receiving shock therapy for being gay and she spoke out harshly against the Church psychologists who were helping him. I also saw a note once lying on a dresser in her parents' home where we were visiting where she apologized for kissing another woman after that I was not comfortable being around her. In addition she never treated her husband with much respect and constantly badmouthed him as being weak and less active. I knew that her marriage was in trouble and I didn't want her to influence BiV in those ways.

In about 2002 after the friend left her husband she convinced BiV to go with her as a roommate to the Rosewood Retreat. BiV wasn't very forthright about her attending this conference nor going and staying with the friend later. She actually lied to me since she knew I was opposed to liberal conferences and symposiums and just said she was going to visit. I didn't know where she was going until after the fact. I also felt very uncomfortable with her friendship with the woman at first because I didn't know if she would put a move on my wife. My fears later proved unfounded as BiV wasn't her type. I am not totally homophobic having had several gay employees but I watched the woman talk for hours to my wife calling her sweetie and professing her love.

When BiV returned from the her first Rosewood conference and began attending on a regular basis I was concerned. At one of the Rosewood Retreat they all dance under the stars and talk about Mormon feminist issues. They had a native American female shaman who taught them about practices and how they could apply to the church. My wife really became involved in the conference and tried to keep it going. Rosewood Retreat started out with some connections to the Exponent Retreat and even the LDS Relief Society but later became more liberal. Although it filled a need in my wife I wasn't totally sad to see it end.

When we moved up to Utah in 2005 and after she met a few people like Janice Allred, Carol Lynn Pearson, and Margaret Toscano she decided to get involved by writing a chapter in Pearson's book on how homophobic I was, and she represented the conservative element on a panel at the Counterpoint Conference about what it is like to have eight children and being a temple going Mormon. I began to fight less over her attendance and dropped her off at the University of Utah and went down to the LDS Family History Library to do genealogical research.

Eventually she started going to Sunstone Symposiums about this same time. Compared to the other two conferences Sunstone was pretty tame. At least at Sunstone you get all kinds from conservatives to liberals to ultra-liberals. My daughter who attended with my wife told me that even though some of the speakers have ax to grind with the church and depresses her when they are so negative that at least there is a mix of different talks. BiV began presenting there after being on a Counterpoint panel and has become a presenter, panelist and now even edits their "Touchstone" column.

I don't know why there needs to be liberal conferences with so many new sponsored conferences like the Society for Mormon Philosophy & Theology Conference. I would prefer she or I attended places that are sanctioned by our leaders. Since the main concern of belonging to groups like Sunstone are intellectual stimulation I feel such conference should meet their needs.

I recently counseled with Elder M. Russell Ballard about my uncomfortableness with my wife being at Sunstone and he told me he doubted she was an apostate and would ever leave the Church. Even though neither he nor I might like the liberal philosophies or negative talks given there that I should be encouraging of her intellectual pursuits. I was recently asked by her to be a respondent at the Sunstone Symposium since I am so conservative. I actually thought for a few minutes about going and might have gone had I had any vacation nor the money to afford the Sheraton Hotel. With a kid on a mission I even had to tell BiV she had to sleep on a couch at my daughter's apartment at BYU. Now that Elder Ballard tells me to support BiV I am blogging on this blog which is as close as I really want to get to liberals.

11 comments:

  1. One of her close friends who was married and had four children decided she would leave her husband of twenty-five years and become a lesbian. The two had known each other as young mothers in La Leche League and networked together. I recognized her propensity for becoming gay right from the beginning when one of her friends or relatives was receiving shock therapy for being gay and she spoke out harshly against the Church psychologists who were helping him.

    While I understand that many people in the church still cling to the belief that people "choose" to "become" gay or lesbian, I think it's important to recognize that those feelings are not chosen--they simply are. If you are referring to the behavior of the woman, then there is a distinct tone of judgment and harshness directed toward a state of being you cannot understand. While I am not suggesting you condone her choice to leave her marriage and seek out a mate she felt more comfortable with, I am suggesting that a more charitable view might be taken, and judgment left to her clergy, who will know the details of her experiences and temper that judgment with appropriate mercy.

    I understand your concerns about your wife's interaction with this person. I think it's important to note that unless your wife is also SGA, or unless she feels a need to experiment sexually, nothing could ever happen. I reiterate, people do not "become" gay. Those feelings are not chosen. If you are speaking of the lifestyle choice of seeking out a same-sex partner, that is a reference to behavior, and not to the state of feeling attracted to members of one's own gender. Our church leaders have made it very clear that there is a distinction between the feelings and the actions. In my view, your wife's decision to continue her friendship with a woman who was likely ostracized and excluded by other church members because of her lifestyle choices, was Christlike and unexpected. I am grateful for people like her.

    While I don't know the continued story of the woman in your post, I encourage you to look at the life of Kim Nordyke Mack (who blogs at http://how-i-deal.blogspot.com/). There are others like her, of course, but she is one who is willing to share her story in print and online, and is therefore accessible.

    I understand that this was not the point of your post, and don't really wish to detract from that. I do hope, however, that you'll consider what I've said. There are many of us who experience SGA who live among you. Those of us who remain active in the church also remain silent about our heavy burden because of the misconceptions and judgments of brothers and sisters who are comfortable believing statements such as the ones I cited at the beginning of this comment. And I'm wondering, had the woman you speak of felt free to talk of the feelings that were causing her stress, perhaps her needs might have been met, her burden shared, and some heartache in her family mitigated.

    It's all conjecture, of course, but a side, nonetheless, I feel bears exploring.

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  2. Samantha, thank you for this thoughtful comment, and for the link to Kim's blog. Dr. B. and I have decided to tackle the subject of same sex attraction and the Church soon.

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  3. Samantha:

    I appreciate your feelings on this matter. I have some gay acquaintances that actually give me a different perspective. I had one man that worked for me that told me up front and unabashedly that he choose to be gay. I suspect that for some it is biologically hardwired but for others like my friend who referred to himself as a "bad boy" as he would describe his different relationships that he likes to be a little bit naughty. In the case of SSA I think many of those who fight it tend to be the hardwired types. I am not for exclusion of gays and consider them children of our Heavenly Father. I have more respect for those who can maintain marriages despite feelings of attraction for members of the same sex. As to my being critical to my wife's friend she seems to go from one relationship to another. If she were in a committed relationship I might be more sympathetic or if she got married. Christ actually decries adultery or fornication where he says they are the only accepted reasons for divorce. I think he meant that for all kinds of marriages or if you are not religious relationships. I can't do much about biblical sanctions like Paul makes or LDS policies and frankly I agree with them. I'm just not in to free love. I don't believe pressure will force religious groups like the LDS to change their perspective and the gay issue is totally different than former priesthood issues that are now corrected.

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  4. Agreed with Dr. B. If you don't think people can become gay, then you haven't known very many of them.

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  5. ABH--I am one of "them". I work with them on a daily basis in my profession, which seems to have a higher percentage of gays and lesbians, and my calling in the church is specifically geared toward my mingling with and nurturing those with SSA. Those who say they have chosen to be gay or have become gay have simply acknowledged feelings that were inherent. Some might also feel heterosexual attraction equally or to a greater or lesser degree. But in order to "become" gay, one must already have the inclinations.

    Also, I did not mean to infer that one should condone free love, nor that chastity and fidelity were not important. I'm simply saying, the woman who has divorced is not dead yet. Our job is to show love even when the way she chooses to live her life is not what we believe the Lord would have her choose. My sister spent years outside the church because she felt she was not welcome to come back. Of course, this opens up the question of perception verses reality, but still, I think the Lord would be wish for us to reach out in any way possible to those who are acting in ways we see as sinful or rebellious.

    Again, I apologize if this is detracting from the original purpose of the blog post. Obviously, it's important to me.

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  6. Thanks for putting yourself out there, Dr. B. I sympathize with your frustration over your wife's changes. I admire your ability to tolerate that.

    You probably know that President Hinckley has instructed us to no longer advice gay Saints to marry straight women. That used to be the practice of many bishops and mission presidents and devastated many lives. May be, you can agree that President Hinckley took a step in the right direction.

    It is difficult for adolescents to figure out how to relate to their sexuality responsibly. That is why it is so important that adults in their lives can provide them with relevant and accurate information.

    Children tend to get into trouble when parents, teachers, and clergy are in denial, refuse to speak about sexuality openly, or distribute prejudiced or superstitious information.

    The nature of homosexuality is really an empirical question. We can determine what is true or false on the merits of the evidence.

    I know that Elder Packer means well. Unfortunately, it is also clear that he has not considered the available evidence. That leads me to conclude that his text reflect his personal opinions, not the word of God.

    As you know, it is quite common for LDS leaders to proclaim their personal opinions. Sometimes, personal opinions are right, sometimes not. In the end, it is up to us to determine what is best for us and our families.

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  7. Now that Elder Ballard tells me to support BiV I am blogging on this blog which is as close as I really want to get to liberals.

    What, are liberals lepers? Do you think liberalism is contagious?

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  8. You went snooping around your wife's friend's house and read her private note?

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  9. Anonymous:

    Not true I was standing in her living room where a mattress was on the floor and saw the note on the credenza with the letter spread out open on the top of the credenza. I later saw the same note in a different place on another occasion that I won't go in to here.

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  10. Dr. B., and you read it? Groovy. Remind me to continue my paranoia (well-founde) of Mormon doctors.

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