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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Taming of the Modern Mormon Man (Part 1)

by Russ Peterson:

Note: This is Part 1 of a multi-part post to run the rest of this week.

I first stumbled across the MMM website only recently. As an inherently visual creature, I was immediately struck by the graphic of the man holding the baby bottle. I saw someone who—although tired of trying to calm his fussy little one—was nevertheless glad for the opportunity to escape the mundane and collect his thoughts while allowing his child the freedom to wander semi-supervised in the church foyer. I reflected on the internal dialog I’d entertained many times in similar settings. I saw myself.

To me the image represented the resignation I’d felt when my life was on autopilot. I had the nice home, the decent marriage, and the steady job—albeit the kind that slowly robs a man of his pride, confidence, and independence. It was when life couldn’t have been any better that I sometimes wondered if it could get any worse.

I had been tamed.1

In retrospect it had happened so gradually I hadn’t even been aware it had happened at all. Childhood had set the stage perfectly. My parents had a high conflict relationship, and their arguments frequently centered on church activity and attendance. My father was LDS but not active, and I grew up swayed to my mother’s view that his “unrighteousness” was the cause of all the problems at home. Hence I determined at an early age to remain active in the Church and to avoid conflict at all costs. Anger was not an option.

My perspective on anger was heavily reinforced through years of church activity. I learned to equate anger with sin. Anger was associated with all sorts of evil: unrighteous dominion, the spirit of contention, and a host of other ills imputed to the “natural man.” Furthermore, I understood that the “natural man is an enemy to God,” and that his base impulses had to be put off, overcome, and subjugated to the governance of the spirit. Consider for example this counsel given during the priesthood session of the October 2009 General Conference:
“I ask, is it possible to feel the Spirit of our Heavenly Father when we are angry? I know of no instance where such would be the case.


To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible.”
I wish to tread lightly here. In context, this speaker was talking about the many instances where anger gives rise to abuse, oppression, and other unrighteousness. Unfortunately we know that such is often the case, even among the men of the Church to whom this leader was speaking. This vast problem needs to be identified and corrected, and this leader was forthrightly doing so.

But I always struggle when anger is equated with sin, because I can’t reconcile that view with the scriptures. I can’t imagine Jesus in a pleasant mood when He took a whip and drove the moneychangers from the temple. He was angry, and He used His anger to accomplish a righteous purpose. The same was true when Jesus was known as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. He was frequently angry with individuals and nations—sometimes so much so that He destroyed them. The “wrath of God” (scriptural phrase) is kindled when His children disobey Him. This is God we’re talking about—the being in whose image we are made and on whom we are to pattern our lives.

War on Masculinity

Whence cometh, then, the war on anger? I’d like to examine this in context of a larger cultural war on men and masculinity. With the rise of feminism has come a much needed recognition of oppression and abuse of power; usually this has involved men wielding anger as a primary instrument whereby they have accomplished their designs. We all know the saying: “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Further, we are instructed doctrinally that:
“…it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39).
Men (who have traditionally been in positions of power) have so often failed to exercise that power with restraint and to the benefit of humanity that in Western society we have become largely suspicious of men exercising power of any kind. Anger—so often a tool of oppression—has become particularly vilified by association. Thus in Western society especially, men aren’t supposed to be angry; we are supposed to be tame.

But anger isn’t the problem. Anger is an emotion that enables us to recognize injustice. The Savior’s action against the temple moneychangers provides the perfect example: He was incensed that His Father’s house had become a “den of thieves” and He drove out the offenders with a whip.

I could go on giving countless examples of how great men and women throughout history have used anger not only to identify injustice, but as the driving force behind their actions to correct it. If we suppose that anger is evil, we must conclude that God is evil, because in the scriptures He is frequently angry. The primary difference between God and man here is not the presence or absence of anger. Rather, it is that whereas God always governs His anger perfectly and employs it in the service of righteousness, man does not.

There are several other principles that—incorrectly understood and applied—also cause us in LDS culture to inadvertently participate in the war on men and masculinity.

(to be continued) ...

1 How does a man know he has been tamed? There is no single answer, but common indications include:
1) offering no resistance to being “hen pecked” (continually badgered) by a spouse or significant other
2) being a “yes man” or “nice guy” of whom others continually take advantage
3) ceding/being unwilling to assume leadership roles in the home
4) allowing family member(s) to verbally berate or otherwise abuse him
5) being conflict averse to the point that significant wrongs/issues are ignored
6) neglecting health to the point of not being able to defend the family if needed.

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Russ Peterson grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho and is an avid outdoorsman with interests ranging from astronomy to wilderness survival. When not camping or backpacking, Russ is a mental health counselor with interests in gender and suicide prevention. He lives in the Intermountain area and enjoys spending time with his five children. Reach him at rhpeterson <at> gmail dot com.

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