By Their Fruits Shall Ye Know

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There is another sex abuse scandal in the LDS church right now. (Who am I kidding? I know of several, but this one is national news/a Big Deal.) You would think, with my background, hearing about this kind of thing would sting, or hit home, or something. Sadly, it doesn’t really. I have thoughts and feelings about the principles of it, but I don’t have super intense emotional responses to this kind of thing because it’s just so damn common and so damn familiar. Thinking that – writing it – does elicit sadness in me, and I guess that is where my heart sits in it. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. It’s broken and selfish and wrong.

And, so familiar.

My semi-public abuse confrontation was just wrapping up about a year ago, and I was in the middle of it when McKenna Denson released her audio of the confrontation with her perpetrator, former MTC president Joseph Bishop. I sat in bed with my husband one night and we listened to the entire thing. We had already walked through a good part of the process we engaged in at that point. I had (still do – maybe one day I’ll feel free to make those available, but I have concerns that make that not possible at this time) my own recordings from various meetings we had been in with different people, including my perpetrator and my mother (not the same individual, just to be entirely clear.) The thing that really struck me the most as we were in the middle of all this trauma is how familiar this all sounded. The professed regret coupled with quite half-hearted remorse and excuse making. I heard that again today when listening to the audio confession of Sterling Van Wagenen. (Seriously, at one point in this interview, Sean is talking to Van Wagenen about his motivations, with him saying how sorry he was for what he had done. This dude calmly talks about his sex addiction, business struggles and marital problems, discussing how it was all falling apart the night of the abuse and his wife wanted a divorce. He says how he was so distraught and so depressed and he knelt down and said this heartfelt prayer. And, then the story hangs there in mid-air with this pregnant pause. Because what he isn’t saying is the rest of it. “I knelt down and said a heartfelt prayer…………………………………. and then I got up and decided to abuse a child as a way to cope.” Guys, this what religious trauma looks like. This, right here, is where it’s born.) It is disconcerting, but it is not even close to surprising.

I felt very positive when I left the first meeting I had with my ecclesiastical leader. I felt (and still do) that he was genuinely alarmed and intended to do the right thing. I wasn’t completely bulldozed in the meeting with my perpetrator. There was some acknowledgement, and to this day he is very deferent to me, my husband, my sister, anyone he thinks may have the “upper hand”… However, I also experienced his absolute inability to be completely honest with himself let alone me or anyone else. He would tell different stories and different parts of the story to different people depending on what they already knew. When his wife found out and separated from him, he very bitterly exclaimed to her how I had ruined his life. (A bit ironic there, yea, but I have a pretty thick skin at this point. Being consciously healthy under pressure will do that.)

You know, you can say what you want, I guess, about what is and isn’t the case, what did or didn’t happen, or what anyone’s motivations may be, but let’s just go right back to the Mormon constructs we know so well : by their fruits shall you know them. I continue to be honest and open and as frank as I know how with anyone I communicate with about it, and I sleep very well at night knowing what my motivations were and are. It’s up to them and God, I suppose, to decide if they can say the same. I did everything I could, and I feel free from any further responsibility in that.

One of the most eye-opening experiences when confronting abuse in a religious construct is the discernible inability of the religious institutions involved to really have any concept of justice and morality in facing these issues. It is so apparent to me that both myself, McKenna and now Sean Escobar are also intimately acquainted with this. It’s not a fun club, but there is a certain comradery of knowing in it that I think is what drives us all to use our voice to educate, inform and advocate for healthier communities, families and churches, if possible. It’s a hard fight. It feels very up hill. However, something that Sean said in his podcast really struck me, enough so that I posted it on my Facebook page. “You are as sick as your secrets.” (If it’s not this episode, it’s the next.)

I honestly don’t feel that most of the people involved in these situations want to do wrong or cover up or sweep things under the rug. I may have said this on the blog before, and I know I’ve said it in conversations with probably a dozen people. Good people want to do good, but when institutional priorities (traditions, dogmatic structures, reputation) are at odds with priorities and needs of individual people, the priorities of the institution win every. single. time. It’s not even close to a competition. If we want to improve these statistics and protect children, we have to have institutional priorities that people can embrace and feel safe with. If that’s not possible, we collectively have to vote with our feet and walk away until they get enough of a message to be compelled to change. At least that’s how I see it.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Truth and openness and honesty and frank conversations slowly move the needle. I feel like what I did in my community was a pretty small thing. What Sean Escobar and McKenna Denson have done is most assuredly much bigger. (I almost feel embarrassed to speak about this like my platform is equivalent to these two rockstars of abuse advocacy.) But, I think what we would all likely agree on is the value that we find in taking pain and doing something good with it. One voice is very small, but adding each voice can eventually make enough noise to make a difference. We’ve all been given a different burden to carry. Take those bruised pieces, plant them in beautiful ground and go do good in the world with the power your knowledge gives you. By their fruits.

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Faith, Fear and Fundamentalism

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I spent a good deal of my adult life being motivated by fear. I have always been a thoughtful person, someone who questioned and looked for context and nuance and meaning. However, I was raised in a social structure that had very prescribed ways to do, think and be. This was a conundrum for me for many, many years, and it created a dichotomy that I found very difficult to reconcile. In fact, I never have.

Polygamy has been a real spectre in my life. It’s not something I discuss an awful lot because it’s a real part of the real lives of people I really know and deeply care about, and, in reality, it is a very complex issue. However, I have strong opinions about it, and, while I do try to be fair in my assessment, I wouldn’t call them particularly positive. I still look at the influence that this belief has in my everyday life as the “other woman” in my marriage, even though there is really no one else. It is the thing that to this day makes me feel never quite worthy, never quite good enough. I guess that the easiest and kindest way to communicate this is that I fought very hard for several decades to find a way to fit into this box that was so necessary to my religious tradition. One of the scariest steps I ever took was to let myself admit that it wasn’t healthy for me, and I had to just say no to living that lifestyle. I vividly remember that day and the fear that accompanied it.

“What if I’m wrong?”
“What if I really will lose everything?”
“What if I have completely missed the boat here, and I will be alone forever?”

And, that’s the day that fear stopped holding the rudder of my life. Because once I faced those questions and contrasted them with the price I would pay for continuing to ignore my own heart in favor of messages whose sources I wasn’t confident in – because, hey, what if? – it became abundantly clear that I must take the risk. I would rather live in a way that felt true to my spirit and be potentially alone than to follow someone else’s agenda out of fear. I ugly cried for an entire day and half the next, afraid that my husband would leave me, but I have had peace in that decision from that day forward. (I wish that I could say that I haven’t succumbed to the fear again, but I have. The difficulty this causes in my marriage can overwhelm me on bad days.)

I’ve heard people talk about the Mormon traditions surrounding the afterlife as “sad heaven” because the fear message of separation from friends and loved ones if you go off-script is so prevalent. (In fact, it was strongly reiterated from the pulpit of LDS General Conference just this last weekend.) Mormonism is built upon the principles of agency and personal responsibility as well as a strong emphasis on knowing the truth for yourself. Yet, if you don’t follow the herd in lock step or your revelations aren’t the right ones, we’re told that you will be not only damaging yourself but damning your family unit. I find these messages difficult to reconcile. I think, in fact, that they are quite contradictory and it’s not really possible for religious people to have it both ways. Is God’s priority our heart even if he has to wander the wilderness to find it? Or, is God’s priority following the rules even if our heart isn’t really in it?

I talked last week about how we teach each other how to be better and how grace and connection are the currency of persuasion. I am really not sure why this approach often seems to not translate in religious structures because human nature doesn’t change based upon our environments – it’s quite universal and consistent. I get that motivating with fear works, at least for some people and for a time – it did for me. But, it was temporary. It was an empty faith that owned me more than me embracing it. It wasn’t authentic let alone powerful.

I don’t know what it takes to bring people back to religion because I’m not there. I would imagine that it is unique to each individual and that, for some, a different path will always be more healthy for them. I can say that it isn’t fear and judgment and shame. Those things brought me to my faith crisis, and when I put them down by the roadside, it was a blessed and blissful relief. When I recognize them around me, I shy away in concern that they will overwhelm my life again. What I can say is that, if I ever do change my perspective and decide to participate in religion again, it will not be motivated by fear. You cannot be bludgeoned back into the fold, but I think you can be loved back into the fold.

I am under no illusion about the certainty of my position – I know I could be wrong. However, I believe in a God that knows my heart and knows that my life choices continue to be made in integrity. I am doing the best I can with the knowledge, information and resources that I have. I believe that God wants my heart above all else and that the wilderness is likely the only place we can meet. I no longer fear that.

By That Same Spirit

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I don’t read near as much as I did when I was actively navigating my faith crisis, but I do occasionally pick up books that catch my eye when I see them mentioned. Recently, I read Truth Seeking by Hans Mattsson. I think one of the reasons these types of stories still appeal is that faith crises follow a very similar track, and anyone who has experienced one can relate to the journey of fellow travelers.

If you aren’t familiar with Hans Mattsson, he was the high-ranking area authority that was at the center of the Swedish rescue. The church sent their historians right from the top to meet with a core group of Swedish members who were deeply troubled by historical issues in the church. Instead of the questions being resolved, this meeting led to the defection of dozens of very faithful families. Frankly, it was a bit of a disaster for church headquarters though that isn’t really the point of this commentary. What really struck me when reading this book was a very brief few paragraphs that are close to the end. Mattsson’s connections meant that he was good friends with general authorities in the church. When it became clear that he wouldn’t be able to reconcile the historical issues and would leave, one of these people sent him a last-ditch letter in an attempt to persuade him to stay. This is a brief excerpt of what really stood out to me:

You are too good of a man to come to the other side unrepentant. You will quickly remember…that you allowed something to happen to your spirit, and you changed. You will also recognize that you can no longer do anything to change that because the same spirit that you had here in this life will be with you on the other side, and you will feel miserable when you realize that you have been bound to Satan.

I have no idea if other religious traditions use this paradigm, but the idea that you will possess the same spirit you leave this world with is something that I have always been familiar with. It is often used in this context, where it comes across as a bit of a warning which, from a black and white way of thinking, makes sense.

I genuinely appreciate people who care about me enough to be concerned about the changes in my life. The truth, however, is that I haven’t changed that much at all through this process. My conclusions are different than they were before. My relationships with people and things have shifted. But, my character is exactly what led me here, and I find a lot of confidence in that fact. The ability to look at an issue objectively is a positive in my life. The desire to know where the facts lead at all costs isn’t a scary thing for me. I am extremely comfortable anymore with uncertainty and don’t stress near as much as I used to about it.

I could be wrong in my conclusions. I am not infallible or incapable of misreading the facts. However, my ultimate desire to genuinely sort things out, should that be the case, will right me quite quickly when I reach my judgement day, I have no doubt. Because, if missing information changes the overall picture of how I see religion, it will be my nature to reassess that and move on in the direction of greater clarity. I trust that process a lot at this point and don’t fear it. I trust God and my ability to discern much more than I trust men and the messes they make in the midst of dogma.

I have a few favorite quotes that guide how I interact with issues like these. I’ve liked them for a long time, though it’s probably only been a few years that I’ve felt brave enough to live by them.

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.” – Thomas Jefferson
“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” – J. Rueben Clark
I have never felt more honest and at peace with my relationship with God. The concept addressed here, that you don’t just magically morph into a different person when you die, rings true to me. Still, rather than being a warning, it has become quite a comfort. I am doing the best I can with the information I have and will continue to live my life by that standard. Rather than a dance with the devil, integrity leads one to truth, even if the journey is more windy than one would expect. Because of that, my spirit is strong, and my conscience is clear.

Let’s Talk About Sex!

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I’ll go ahead and start this post with a disclaimer that I will be frank about this subject. If you’re squeamish about sex in general this might be outside your comfort zone, and you can click away now. (On the other hand, it might be just what the doctor ordered!)

I’ve made it a bit of a life mission to understand relationships in general and intimate relationships specifically. I study people, and it’s not at all uncommon to make a comment in passing about an observation and to later find out that I was actually picking up on something correctly. People fascinate me. How people relate intrigues me. While this has served me well as a tool to nurture a strong and successful marriage, it wasn’t always that way.

The first eight years of my marriage weren’t always amazing, and it was mostly my fault. I was raised in a super conservative community that really didn’t provide much in the way of guidance on what constituted a healthy marriage. Because of my background, I don’t trust men easily, so I went into my marriage with the attitude that men were pretty much pigs but mine was mostly okay. (This legitimately embarrasses me now.) This caused a ton of conflict for me. My husband and I have always had a very strong intimate connection (ahem, we like sex), but I constantly felt a push and pull emotionally about it. I will never, ever forget when that shifted for me. We were arguing one day, and I yelled right in his face, “YOU ONLY WANT ME FOR MY BODY!” My memory of this unfolds in slow motion as I see the face of the most amazing man in my life crumple. I could see in his eyes that I had hit my mark in the most heartbreaking way. I immediately and profusely apologized, but it took many days for things to feel normal again. Some time after that fact, I found (just kidding – he brought it home to me, and I swallowed my pride and actually read it.) The Proper Care and Feeding of Husband’s  and had the most important paradigm shift of my life. Realizing that my husband’s need to connect with me was not only sweet but incredibly flattering was eye-opening, freeing and changed our marriage practically overnight.

My interest in relationships coupled with my abuse background means that I talk to a lot of women about these things and how they relate. (I’m not sure how it comes up, but it does.) What I’ve come to understand is that a LOT of women struggle with sex. A lot of women are conflicted about it. A lot of women aren’t well educated. A lot of women, especially religious women, can’t reconcile the messages they receive, and their relationships suffer. A lot of women eventually give up on it altogether. This makes me so, so sad because it doesn’t have to be this way.

I’ve had a few conversations over the last few weeks that have really made me think about how important this subject has been to my marriage and how I wish more women had a healthier relationship with sex. I guess you can think of this as my list of things I would try to communicate to, say, my daughters (who happen to read this blog – you’re welcome, girls!) about what I hope they won’t have to learn the hard way.

Sex is good for you. As in, active couples experience less stress, less pain, greater immunity, stronger self-esteem and consider themselves happier than couples who aren’t as connected.

When you look behind the curtain around social issues surrounding sex like pornography addiction, there is pretty strong evidence that shame plays a huge part. Unhealthy attitudes about sex can actually contribute to the perpetuation of what psych professionals classify as “intimacy disorders.” Regular sex in healthy contexts reduces  the shame, guilt and disconnection that are the root of these problems.

While there are many things that contribute to divorce and tons of complexity surrounding why marriages fail, having regular sex reduces your overall risk of divorce. Sex is not a band-aid that can fix or save otherwise crumbling marriages, but it does facilitate strong relationships. I have a hard time understanding how people not having regular sex overcome arguments, misunderstandings and the general stress of life. We would have sunk a long time ago.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying your partner. Nothing. If you have issues believing this, see point 2 – guilt and shame weaken families; do it for your kids. (So much innuendo! I couldn’t help myself.) My seemingly pretty conservative father-in-law pulled my husband aside after we said “I do,” patted him on the back and pretty much said, “Go enjoy each other.” I continue to be grateful for that gem of advice.

Regardless of what your personal religious beliefs are, there are very few things between husband and wife that are actually doctrinally prohibited in the bedroom. 95 percent of the things people get up in arms about are pure dogma. If you and your partner are comfortable, safe and connected, everyone else can shut up and get out of your bedroom. The quality of your relationship is the key here. It’s all about respect.

You’re biologically built to connect with your partner. Sex releases prolactin and oxytocin that are known as bonding hormones and literally makes you closer to your spouse. If you’ve noticed that it’s easier to have hard discussions after sex or to overlook things that might bother you when you’re stressed, this is what is at play.

If you genuinely don’t see what all the fuss with sex is about, read a blog, find a counselor or pick up one of the many books that are amazing resources.  It can be better than just something that you get through to have kids. These are a few of my favorites that I recommend regularly.

And They Were Not Ashamed by Laura Brotherson – This is written from an LDS perspective and is particularly suited for those who are either still LDS or those that aren’t but still find it hard to get past cultural messages that can interfere with intimacy.

The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex by Sheila Wray Gregoire – I love everything that this blogger does. She’s Christian but very open and frank.

Intimacy Ignited by Dillow and Pintus – This is an excellent study of the Song of Solomon that can really help people to unlock religious shame around sex.

P.S. I also wanted to link up to my guest feature on http://www.inspireyourmarriage.com. I’m honored to be able to share with a wider audience how I make my marriage a priority. Check it out along with all the other marriage-strengthening stories! (And, welcome to any readers who found me through this blog!

 

 

 

 

 

I Finished Watching The Keepers

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I finished watching The Keepers this week. I started it last summer when we were still really wading through our rough patch trying to navigate all the changes in our life. I had a bit of a meltdown at my husband after episode three which subsequently triggered a much-needed hard conversation. It was good, and we got through it pretty well, I think, but I had to stop watching the show. It was just too much at that time. Six months later, I was able to finish it without getting stuck in the rough emotions it brings up. (For those that are completely in the dark, The Keepers is a documentary about the murder of a nun that ended up being wrapped up in some pretty severe abuse in the Baltimore Catholic church.)

I had a thought when I first started watching this, and it’s something that I’m not sure that a lot of people understand. I don’t even know if I can communicate in a way that will be clear enough to shift perspectives, but I’ll try. This story follows several women who tried to prosecute their abuser who happened to be a priest. One of the women, Jean, begins telling her story by outlining her family history and how she had these amazing, devout parents who were truly good and god-fearing people. She then goes on to chronicle her absolutely unbelievably horrific abuses within that Catholic faith. These were experiences where the power invested in the church had been used as the most evil and vicious weapon against this then child. I vividly remember watching this last year and having this crystal clear realization that Jean’s church was not her mother’s church and that she could never have the pure and positive experience with Catholicism that her mother experienced – it had become a poisoned well for her.

I talk to a LOT of people. People share their abuse stories with me. People share their struggles with faith with me. I think that many people do not understand what it is to navigate these experiences, and there are narratives built up around them that, while they serve to shield the teller, are really hurtful and untrue. Jean’s story is quite extreme – it goes way beyond anything I have to deal with in my daily life. Still, it illustrates so clearly that not every environment is good for every person. Jean struggles and works her entire life to connect with divinity in a way that feels safe and supportive, but it absolutely, unequivocally cannot be in the Catholic church. There are too many devils there for it to be God’s house for her – ever.

Life is NOT one-size-fits-all. More than anything else, I think most people want to share their stories with others. They want to be heard. They want to have the freedom to choose paths that are healthy and productive and whole for them. They want to do this and still have family and friends see the bigger picture with compassion and understanding and love.

I think so many people look at other people’s lives from the outside in and think, “Gosh, I feel so sad for them because they are giving up something that is so important/fulfilling/helpful to me, and I want them to have that, too.” I understand that sentiment and where it comes from. But, please understand that you are interpreting their choices through your lenses. Another approach I hear a lot is the idea that, yes, these things are hard/wrong, but XYZ Belief System is the only way and so you just have to suck it up and push through and keep dancing with the devils until God sorts it out. The simple fact is that being healthy when your background includes significant trauma is incredibly difficult in the most supportive environments, and each person’s individualized experience requires unique and creative solutions that often include thinking outside the box. Going against your entire culture to achieve that isn’t the easy way – it’s actually quite traumatizing itself, and you have to be pretty over paying a high price to maintain that status quo to be brave enough to do it anyway.

I do not inherently have an issue with religion. I don’t think Catholicism is bad any more than I think Mormonism is bad. They are very positive parts of many people’s lives. Still, that is not the case for everyone. You don’t have to wear someone else’s shoes to acknowledge that as understandable and valid. You don’t have to get comfy on their bench to concede that is seems truly healthy for them. You don’t have to give up your belief to love someone who has had to let that go. You don’t even have to be sad that they choose different priorities than you do. I believe God is big enough for all that. Are we?

FAQ on Escaping Polygamy

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Because of our connection with the Escaping Polgyamy episode that I blogged about a month or so ago, I have wanted to address some of the FAQs around this episode for a while. I guess today gets to be that day. Like I have already said, I can’t speak to all the circumstances that are portrayed, but I can offer some behind-the-scenes insight into the AUB with some of the false narratives that the show perpetuated. Shall we?

Was the featured family in danger from their church/community/the wives’ family?

No. Not only that, I don’t even believe they felt they were in any danger. Living in their community had become uncomfortable because the husband in this story had made bad business deals, taken advantage of people and just generally stopped interacting in a way that promoted neighborly feelings (lied, stolen, failed to keep commitments with no communication.) He was in hot water on multiple fronts (including a legal dispute with his non-member brother over ownership of the home they moved from) and wanted a quick and easy out. In addition, his wives come from a very close-knit family, and he wasn’t a huge fan of what he felt to be too much influence there. I’ve always found him to be very controlling and personally feel that if the wives are in any danger, it’s from him.

How hard is it to leave the AUB? How do people generally leave this group?

Most people quietly move away or just stop attending. While there is definitely cultural pressures to stay and comply with the lifestyle expectations, there’s no overt threat employed to ensure people do. In fact, if you want to go back to one of the earliest episodes featuring the AUB, they set up a scenario where the “young girl” was getting “picked up at church” to get away when this woman had left the church years before. (They showed the hosts “helping her shop for new clothes” when the reality was she had not only piercings and tattoos but a baby and had never worn a prairie dress as anything more than a costume. She certainly didn’t need help shopping for “regular clothes.” Please understand that I don’t care about the tattoos, piercings or the baby, but am merely illustrating that she left the church as a teenager on her own volition.) I still live right in the middle of a predominantly AUB community. I have never felt in danger in any way. My neighbors are still kind to me, and my kids still play with their kids freely.

Didn’t he imply that the church could take his wives?

Anyone can pressure anyone else to leave their spouse, and it happens here on occasion (and is wrong) in the same way that it would anywhere else, but “taking spouses” and “reassigning wives” does not happen in AUB culture. That’s just not a thing. If the family wanted to stay together, there is nothing anyone in the church could do to stop them outside of advising them that they think it’s not a good choice.

Is there an AUB militia?

This assertion that the husband in this episode made is based on a half-truth. Like many mainstream Mormons and even Christians, fundamentalists are apocalyptic in their beliefs. Jesse belonged to a church-sponsored preparedness group for a time that practiced self defense, first aid and community protection in the event that the world fell apart. (There are lots of similar, private groups among the mainstream LDS church membership, especially in our area.) Their approach was always defensive in nature with the main goal of being able to safely move people from other in-danger communities to safer, more rural areas like ours when things collapsed. The group was completely disbanded about 3 years prior to the show’s filming when new leadership took over and no longer exists, to my knowledge, in any fashion. His claim that this survival group was partially to control members and they were coming after him for turning on them is a blatant lie.

Is there a God Squad??

This was probably the funniest untruth in this whole show to me. There is nothing that could even be construed or rebranded as a God Squad. We have nosy neighbors that will probably peek out their windows if you drive through our subdivision, but that’s about it. The vehicle they showed that they said was watching them is an old, dead International Scout that belongs to my pack-rat neighbor. It literally had not moved from the spot they filmed it in on the side of my road for as long as I’ve lived here. We live in a regular subdivision with a public, county road running right through it. All our houses are privately owned and there are no church spies. (We have a very tall fence, but that’s because the freaking deer eat everything in sight if you don’t set up defenses. Ha ha ha!)

Was there a gun pointing at the family when they were moving?

I addressed this in a my first post, but the short answer is no. Absolutely not. This was a pretty disgusting lie, and not just because it implicated my family. Though they have plenty of actual problems, the AUB is arguably the most peaceful, mainstream, open-minded and non-violent fundamentalist group.  Nobody I know would have ever done such a thing, and we certainly did not. The fact that he targeted this claim at my home is ironic considering the pretty public disagreement I have with the church. I have zero motivation to protect the public face of the AUB at this point. But, I do care about my friends and neighbors. They’re good people.

Was anything this episode said true?

There were a lot of cultural things that were portrayed fairly, in my opinion. Polygamy is difficult for the staunchest believers, and that was discussed in a way that wasn’t dishonest. Whether or not I think Jesse was genuine in his criticisms is another thing and really just my perspective based on our long-time acquaintance and my pretty low opinion of his personal integrity.

What did this family get for being on Escaping Polygamy?

I don’t know what all the arrangements for financial compensation were. At the very least, their moving expenses were covered, and the show secured and paid for 6 months of housing for the family with separate homes for both wives. Upon their move, they were completely isolated and disconnected from their families, though they have since reestablished contact.

What’s your opinion on the show in general and the work the hosts do?

I have kind of mixed emotions about this. I definitely believe that no one should feel trapped and that everyone should have resources should they make a choice to move on. I believe that there are some circumstances where these women do a lot of good and provide an out, and I applaud those efforts insomuch that the stories are true as presented. Still, the fact that I have first-hand knowledge of dishonesty and the perpetuation of stereotypes with an agenda makes me really question their motives and the truthfulness of anything they present. I believe that the show’s producers, hosts and other crew knew that they were creating narratives that weren’t actually, ahem, reality. I think that is kind of a shame. There is enough complexity surrounding fundamentalist culture that just telling a story without embellishment is compelling enough – there’s really no need to lie.

Again, I do not intimately know the ins and outs of all fundamentalist communities. I can communicate what is generally considered to be credible rumor that circulates among the spectrum of fundamentalism about the hierarchical structures involved, and I can say what I know to be true of the AUB by direct experience. I will not claim that Escaping Polygamy is all a lie, but I can say unequivocally that it is most definitely not all the truth. At the very least, take it with a grain of salt.

 

Wait – Are You a Mormon? Or What?

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I’m sorry I missed posting last week! That’s a first since I started the blog, but I was really sick with a bad cold/sinus thing, and something had to give. We’re all on the upswing now!

This blog is a sometimes awkward space for me. I originally started it completely on a whim as a way to speak to people who I actually know in real life, and I have sometimes written in a way that assumes the reader has at least some basic context. However, a good part of the readership growth does not fit into this category, and I find that the missing details sometimes cause confusion. Hopefully, I can do a better job of providing context, starting with today’s question. Am I Mormon?

While this seems to be a simple question, it’s kind of not. The answer is both yes and no. I was raised as a member of the AUB or Apostolic United Brethren which is a fairly liberal-leaning Mormon fundamentalist church, so I have never been on the rolls of the mainstream Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was, however, baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because that’s how fundamentalists do that – there’s no “AUB baptism” or “FLDS baptism.” I also attended the modern LDS church for portions of my teen years and was probably more active as a non-member than a lot of my officially-baptized peers. I heard John Bytheway speak live at a stake youth conference in my father’s California ward when I was an older teen, played ward basketball and had plenty of bishop’s interviews. (Non-members have to have a new interview for every activity because guest recommends are one-time use.) In addition, my own church culture was pretty much identical to the mainstream church down to the manuals we used, except there was also polygamy. So, yes, I’m very Mormon while no, I’m not considered a member by many in the LDS church.

For many years, I hated this question, dodging and avoiding it. I felt embarrassed by my background and, frankly, found it very complex to answer. If I said “no,” it was completely overlooking the fact that I have deep-rooted cultural context in Mormonism. I have maternal family that goes all the way back to the first Mormon converts in England. My family was born, married and died in Nauvoo and on the trek west. (Not the same ones at the same time – ha ha!) I was raised on LDS primary and Sunday school, learning the same things from the same resources as my member schoolmates in Utah. On the other hand, answering “yes” in my circumstances felt dishonest and like I was pulling one over on people. While my husband thoroughly enjoyed engaging with missionaries that came to our door, I hated it and avoided it at all costs. Because, really, what do I say? Having any kind of open conversation required a level of transparency that I was just not comfortable with among strangers.

Taking my place as someone who has a rightful place at the table of Mormonism with something to add to the dialogue has been an interesting journey. Some of my first deep research I ever did into the history of Mormonism related to polygamy because it was a pretty huge catalyst for me (for some strange reason – ha!) In the process, I discovered the Year of Polygamy podcast and Lindsay Hansen Park who is now one of the top researchers on the history of polygamy and fundamentalist culture. I remember the first time I heard her interviewed (and I really hope this is the right one!) One of the things that struck me the most was her assertion that the entire spectrum of Mormon thought belonged at the table, and the mainstream church had neither the power nor the right nor the ability to insist that the conversation be a vacuum that they determined. This honestly blew my mind. It was the first time that I had heard someone who came from a mainstream LDS background say that my story was part of the picture and valuable and worthy of seeing light. As someone who was pretty traumatized as a child by LDS friends that were forbidden to associate with me when their parents heard about my background, this was a Big Deal and changed my perspective significantly. It continues to shape my approach to my engagement with Mormonism today.

So, I am a Mormon, culturally. I do have a Mormon Story, you could say. When I talk about things that are pretty consistent across all Mormon society, I don’t always even discuss the fact that I have a more complicated history. However, I do bring up the complexity when it’s pertinent to what I’m discussing, so you’ll also hear me talk about my fundamentalist background and the things that are unique about it. I apologize if that’s sometimes confusing for people – especially those of you who are not versed in the complexities of Mormon culture as a whole. Hopefully, this will clear that up and provide some context.