Thursday, December 18, 2014

Questions for Jedediah S. Rogers, Author of The Council of Fifty, Published by Signature Books

by Seattle Jon:

Signature Books recently published The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History, a compelling and interesting look into the operation of the Council of Fifty, the secretive and powerful group that worked for forty years to bring about Joseph Smith's political vision. We encourage you to buy it here for the book lover on your Christmas list. Signature provides this summary:

Mormon leader Joseph Smith had an ambiguous relationship with the United States government. He was fond of the U.S. Constitution but distrusted democracy, even "republican forms of government," because people could as easily turn against you as stand by you. Instead, he voiced approval of "theocracy," the church president heading a council of Mormons and non-Mormons who would oversee secular matters. He put his idea into practice in 1844 in Illinois by creating the secret Council of Fifty, saying it would replicate the "councils of the gods" in heaven. In the Great Basin the council oversaw everything from water rights to the regulation of hunting and grazing during the first few years in the valley. Among the council's more controversial practices was how it anointed its leader their temporal king. Whether it was fealty to king or fraternity generally that drove their emotions, the members felt an inseparable bond, writing about how they spent hours together in "sweet conversation." One council member described one of the meetings as "a long session but pleasant and harmonious," while another wrote that "much precious instructions were given, and it seems like heaven began on earth and the power of God is with us."

As I did with Signature's Cowboy Apostle and Lost Apostles, I've asked the author a few questions that came to mind as I read the book.

Seattle Jon: Why fifty? Why not twenty-four or ninety-nine?

Jedediah S. Rogers: Fifty seems to have originated with the purported 1842 revelation directing the organization of the council. The problem is that revelation has gone missing, if it ever existed. So this is speculation. Perhaps Joseph Smith had a thing for numbers: twelve, fifty, seventy. A round number, fifty, rolls off the tongue, alliterative. Beyond these considerations, I suspect Smith desired a body of men large enough to assume real-world governing responsibilities, so he organized it roughly the size of a typical legislative body. I think Smith had other considerations, too. He liked to bring folks together in a common purpose and to invest them in a cause. He used original inductees to launch his campaign for president. Conversely, Brigham Young considered the council too large and unwieldy; he preferred the streamlined efficiency of two counselors and the Twelve.

The council was not the only time groups of fifty were brought together to fulfill a task. On the trek west, the pioneer companies were divided into groups of ten, fifty, etc. In the early years in the Salt Lake Valley the council called "a company of fifty mounted men, to preserve the city and vicinity from Indian depredations," and Parley P. Pratt prepared a group of fifty men to explore the "country South," what we know as southern Utah.

SJ: Was the Council of Fifty a secret combination organization or a sacred organization? Or both?

JSR: Like temple rites, council rites seem to be cut from Masonic cloth. Upon initiation, new members received keywords (charge, name, and penalty), not unlike inductees to Masonic lodges. Many of the council's members also belonged to the anointed quorum. But it would be a stretch to refer to the council as a "sacred" organization, though meetings replicated some trappings of temple rites and were sometimes devotional. Benjamin Johnson, a council member, referred to it as Smith's "private council." Others often mentioned that the council discussed matters in confidence. Some of these were sensitive, not least the possibility of relocating—or, perhaps more likely, partially relocating—in the Republic of Texas or Mexico's "Upper California." Perhaps especially, Smith recognized that the theocratic nature of the council and its designs would raise eyebrows, even in nineteenth-century America.

Young became super sensitive to leaking council information, no doubt partly because the teaser in the Nauvoo Expositor about Smith being a "self-constituted monarch" was partly responsible for his death. In one 1849 meeting Young nearly comes unglued, and threatens violent retribution, when he finds "a member of the council had been guilty of divulging the secrets of this council." In the string of meetings held early that year, we see the first mentions of "blood atonement." I can see the impulse to keep those conversations secret. But at that time the council was the governing body in the Salt Lake Valley, passing laws and making public decisions, all in secret. It's a most curious chapter in Utah's political history.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

MMM Search Term Roundup 14: October 2013 - December 2013

by Scott Heffernan:

See all Search Term Roundups here.

When someone finds Modern Mormon Men via search engine, we get to see what they typed to get here, giving us a small glimpse into the thought processes of those who happen upon our site. I think our readers need to see these, so I'll be sharing them monthly. Some are funny, some are sad, some are disturbing. Maybe we can work together to give some context or help answer some of those curious questions. WARNING: Although some of the more explicit entries have been excluded, saucier phrases that are included have not been edited.

is it okay to cut up lds hymn book
If it touches the ground, you're actually required to do this.

mormon dating too expensive
Mormon dating is pretty much the cheapest dating you're going to get.

heavy petting
I actually prefer light.

book of mormon musical parental guide
Yeah, I think I’d have the kiddos skip that one.

nephi, have some peanuts

why mormon men are awesome
Because we blog about our feelings.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Interview with Jared Garrett, Author of Beyond the Cabin

by Eliana:

Jared Garrett has recently published a YA novel titled Beyond the Cabin based on his own experiences growing up in a cult offshoot of Scientology. I've followed him over the years as he's gone through draft after draft, editorial hope and crushed dreams. I read the book, even though I don't read much YA, and found it interesting—especially when coming from an LDS author even though the church has no part of the book.

Eliana: Beyond the Cabin ends much earlier than I would have hoped. Why do you choose to end it then instead of after a successful escape?

Jared Garrett: Long answer to this, but it's at the heart of everything in this story. Please bear with me! Beyond the Cabin was a tough story to write. For one, it's sort of my story - particularly how I would have preferred to have handled my experience in the cult. Another reason it was challenging is because the story takes place over around 4-5 months, but it includes events that happened over a ten-year period, in a very different order too. So I had to find the right story to tell—the right arc for Joshua to travel as he comes to terms with his life and circumstances. But I also needed to make sure that the story was true to who he was and who I am.

The truth is I never escaped, per se. I did a lot to gain control of my personal, inner life and eventually by extension my destiny. From age 10 to age 13, I subsisted on fury and bitterness. I realized my temper was a mess, so I started studying the Dao and meditating. Through that, and honestly through some of the stuff the cult had us do, I found control over my emotions, eventually finding a way to switch them off. After gaining this control is when I started truly seeing the cult around me with open, clear eyes. At that point, I had for all intents and purposes escaped from their control. I didn't do punishments. I ignored tyrannical edicts. I let adults scream at me while I smiled at them.

Monday, December 15, 2014

MoTab Muppets Christmas Concert

by Quinn Rollins:

I haven't ever been to a Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert. In between my dislike of crowds and the feeling that I get about ten hours of choiring every April and October (I know the choir doesn't sing at every General Conference session, but some kind of choir does), I feel like get my fill. I've heard good things about them, but choir music just isn't my thing, man. I've heard good things about their Christmas concerts, but I figure I'll let someone else take those tickets who really wants to go.

This fall when they announced the guest performers for the 2014 Christmas concert, I knew that would change. Because it was my people. Friends I had grown up with, who I looked up to, personal heroes and co-conspirators and teachers. The Sesame Street Muppets. A guy named Santino Fontana was on the bill too, but you throw in nine of the most famous characters in television history, and they're going to take over the show. So I started plotting.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gender Incongruence and the LDS Church: Frontier of Understanding (Parts 1-4)

by Russ Peterson:

Note: This is the full installment of this week's multi-part post. Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4 hereherehere and here.

In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have taught that "gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." Although we are accustomed to thinking of this doctrine as unique to the LDS tradition, it is in fact among the first truths recorded in scripture:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:27).
The image of God, which includes male and female, is the image and pattern after which God created Adam and Eve, whereupon which He commanded them to multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28). Latter-day Saints believe the family is "ordained of God." In other words, we hold the family—consisting of man, woman, and children—to be divinely organized by God for the accomplishment of His work, which is to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).

The fact that man and woman act together in the creation of life is in accordance with divine design. Latter-day Saints believe that sexual relations within the bonds of matrimony constitute a sacrament of marriage, binding two souls together according to the covenant they have made. This pattern, instituted of God for the happiness of His children, neither originated in nor concludes with the mortal sphere. According to the plan of happiness, the family is the fundamental social unit both in time and eternity.

For the vast majority of His children, the nuclear family—consisting of man, woman and children—is congruent with individual development in terms of biology, identity, and attraction. For example, most individuals that appear to be male have functional male sexual anatomy, experience an internal sense of being male, as well as feelings of attraction toward women. Conversely, most individuals that appear to be female have functional female sexual anatomy, experience an internal sense of being female, as well as feelings of attraction toward men. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to this agreement of biology, identity, and attraction as gender congruence.

Gender congruence is so common to the human experience that it is difficult for many to imagine a state of incongruence between biology, gender, and attraction. Furthermore, gender congruence—the most common outcome of human development—is so innate to personal experience that few individuals outside the social sciences even become aware that biology, gender, and attraction are separate constructs that can and do develop independently of each other.

When we consider the central role of procreation in the Plan of Happiness along with the declaration that "gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose," it should not surprise us to realize that these teachings undergird a set of cultural beliefs within the Church about those whose experiences are different from the gender congruent majority. These beliefs might be summarized as follows:
  1. Since gender "is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity," matters of gender and sex are always clearly defined in the mortal state.
  2. A loving Father in Heaven wouldn’t create circumstances that give rise to gender uncertainty, gender incongruence, or same-sex attraction.
  3. Uncertainty (or confusion) about sex or gender is a Sign of the Times and/or evidence of the deterioration of society.
  4. Gender incongruence proceeds from an individual’s decision to deviate from the Plan of Happiness.
My purpose is to give members of the Church the understanding necessary to "bear one another's burdens" in terms of gender incongruence, just as we are under covenant to do so with regard to every other problem incidental to the mortal sphere. Although I will not be writing in technical terms, some basic biological concepts bear explanation and discussion; my goal is to do so in a manner accessible to the general membership of the Church.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Gender Incongruence and the LDS Church: Frontier of Understanding (Part 4)

by Russ Peterson:

Note: This is the final installment of a multi-part post. Continued from Parts 1, 2 & 3 herehere and here.


With the recent revolution in thinking about gender incongruence, the world will be increasingly unable to discern our Christianity if it continues to witness the perceived rejection of those who struggle. Thus the Church stands at a cultural crossroads: If it changes its policies toward same-sex marriage or other gender-incongruent situations, the Church risks diluting its focus on the eternal family as it is currently defined. However, if the Church is not perceived as welcoming of gender-incongruent individuals, it will increasingly fail to be seen as a light to the world.

Observing the ever-changing attitudes and values of society—and hopeful for the Second Coming of the Savior—some members of the Church have adopted a defeatist attitude toward the world and the issues set forth herein. Some expect that the Lord will come and save the Saints from having to wrestle with gender incongruence and related challenges.

Church members study the signs of the times and prepare for the return of the Messiah, but ultimately the Lord will come when He chooses. Until then, He has set forth his expectation that, as Saints, we are to study the issues and work out our own salvation. With a perfect knowledge of human development and sexuality, the Lord is neither limited in His capacity to understand nor inclined to judge according to the contracted notions of men. Rather, He loves all of His children and seeks to save each of them. We are not fit for His kingdom until our attitudes fully reflect His. There is much room for growth among Latter-day Saints in the care, love, and welcoming of those with gender incongruence.

When we consider the doctrine that "It is not good that … man should be alone" along with the understanding that gender incongruence (including same-sex attraction) is not purposely chosen, it is clear that for most in the world, the issue of same-sex marriage is viewed not through the lens of righteousness versus wickedness, but rather from the perspective that mutual commitment is worth honoring. Imagine for a moment that the men of the Church were given a commandment to remain single throughout mortality. Would we offer support to them, or would we leave them to carry this burden alone? In either case, what kind of success might we expect? Certainly there is more room for compassion and understanding regarding this issue than is common in our discourse.

Regarding the cultural crossroads at which the Church now stands, we may remember that the Church faced a similar juncture regarding polygamy. When the Church faced a threat to its mission and its very existence over plural marriage, the prophet changed the policy—but not the doctrine—of marriage. The Manifesto clearly outlines the thought process behind the change. Members of the Church were asked to consider whether the entire work of the Church should cease because of the persecution that surrounded the issue of plural marriage. The answer was that the Church would observe the law of the land in order to realize its mission. Are echoes of the past applicable today?

Finally, we return to The Family: A Proclamation to the World, which teaches that "Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation." Earlier we considered one circumstance that called for individual adaptation. Are there others? Is there space for us to acknowledge that certain individual and family situations are beyond doctrinal reconciliation here in mortality? Can we grow such that as Church members we support our brothers and sisters with gender incongruence, offering encouragement and love while withholding judgment? Can we do less and still call ourselves Latter-day Saints?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gender Incongruence and the LDS Church: Frontier of Understanding (Part 3)

by Russ Peterson:

Note: This is Part 3 of a multi-part post. Continued from Parts 1 & 2 here and here.

Cultural Beliefs Revisited

Earlier we summarized a set of cultural beliefs within the Church about those whose experiences are different from the gender congruent majority. In light of what we have just considered, let us revisit each of them in turn:

1) Since gender "is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity," matters of gender and sex are always clearly defined in the mortal state.

LDS doctrine asserts that gender is immutable and eternal. This gospel principle suggests an ideal that frequently is not met in mortality. We have considered a few of the many disorders of sex development, along with some of the genetic and hormonal conditions that may seriously complicate matters of sex and gender identity and development. While biological sex, gender, and attraction usually develop according to a pattern that naturally perpetuates life, each is separate. Whether in matters of biological sex, gender identity, or attraction, gender incongruence usually unfolds outside of an individual’s awareness and/or control.

2) A loving Father in Heaven wouldn't create circumstances that give rise to gender uncertainty, gender incongruence, or same-sex attraction.

This is one of the most infatuating and divisive beliefs regarding matters of sex and gender in LDS culture—and certainly one of the most persistent. The belief originates from a misapplication of logic: If the eternal pattern of life and procreation includes perfect agreement between sex, gender, and attraction, how could the children of God—being His creations—experience anything different? Or, in other words, "Why would a loving Father do that to His children?"

The answer is that he wouldn't. And doesn't—any more than He creates war, famine, disease, or natural disasters. Each of these is common to a fallen, mortal state. But the fact that God doesn't create gender incongruence is not to say that many of His children don't experience the same, because they do. Matters of sex, gender, and individual development are not immune from the effects of the Fall.

As a church, we collectively invite nonbelievers to take the proverbial "leap of faith"—to choose to believe in something they have not yet experienced. Many refuse to do so, saying they cannot believe in something without experiencing physical proof. When we say, in effect, that gender incongruence does not exist because we personally haven't experienced it (or because we don't want to believe it exists or because it makes us uncomfortable), are we not essentially making the same mistake? At the very least, we are allowing personal ignorance and biases to interfere with the support and compassion we might otherwise render to our brothers and sisters who struggle with some of the more difficult challenges of mortality.

3) Uncertainty (or confusion) about sex or gender is a Sign of the Times and/or evidence of the deterioration of society.

This has been a common interpretation of the increasing visibility given to matters of gender incongruence, particularly as those outside the gender-congruent majority have been more vocal in asserting their points of view. However, other factors are at play here, and in the interest of our discussion I will observe a few of them.

First, from the scientific community has come the understanding that gender incongruence is neither consciously chosen nor likely to change over time. This understanding has been at odds with the cultural/religious belief (still to be revisited) that gender incongruence proceeds from an individual's decision to deviate from the Plan of Happiness. However, this understanding has prompted a seismic shift in thought about those who struggle with gender incongruence. The effects of that revolution are still being realized.

Second, in our day modern technology increasingly facilitates communication between those with common interests who had previously been unable to connect. This happens not only with regard to gender congruence/incongruence, but also with many other issues, concerns, and interests. Communication networks have provided a voice to many groups who have not previously been accorded an audience in the public square.

Third, when we finally do hear these voices, is it surprising that the gender congruent majority would be uncomfortable with their messages—particularly when they focus on what has been termed "radical self-acceptance"? Or to use the words of one observer: "That's fine if [gay and lesbian individuals] want to live their lives however they want, but do they have to demand that the rest of us accept it and call it normal?"

This question strikes at the heart of the acceptance that gender incongruent individuals seek for themselves. For a frame of reference, recall that several decades ago, left-handed individuals were encouraged (and often forced) to adopt right-handedness because it was viewed as "correct" in the minds of many educators. We might suppose that left-handed individuals disliked this coercion and welcomed the day when they could choose to exercise their preferences without it.

From that frame of reference, we might understand the greater aversion that gender-incongruent individuals have to the messages that they are defective and that they therefore must live their lives according to someone else's determination of what is right for them. For many of these individuals, the process of "coming out" involves an acceptance of self that is likewise a final and deliberate rejection of self-hatred and self-loathing. We might not agree with the message, but from this example hopefully we can understand its context, and how it doesn't stem from a person's desire to be "wicked."

4) Gender incongruence proceeds from an individual's decision to deviate from the Plan of Happiness.

As understanding replaces ignorance, this belief persists primarily among those who cling to tradition over truth, and who prefer to render judgment instead of compassion. Can we pass judgment on that which we haven't experienced? Or can we continue to deny the reality of gender incongruence because we haven't personally experienced it? Does personal discomfort prevent us from rendering Christlike compassion?

Not always but often, discomfort with a particular issue can be an indication of inner conflict. Being at peace with our own individual sexuality can help us think clearly and render support without judgment to those whose struggles might be very different from our own.

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