things like this

It’s things like this that caused me to constantly question my faith in the church, and (ultimately) in god. This article is from the June 2011 Ensign, a mormon magazine for church members. I grew up in a home that subscribed to the Friend, the New Era, and the Ensign. I liked Friend; it had cool games and fun stories in it. As a teenager, I used to skim the New Era, but I mostly felt like a failure who could never possibly measure up when I read the articles in it. I would take the posters out and put them on my walls to bolster my spirituality. I was given a copy of the Ensign as a newlywed, and I knew what the magazine was supposed to do. It was supposed to bolster my faith. It was supposed to give me courage and peace and joy, it was supposed to give me tools to live a spiritual life.

It really didn’t.

When I read lines like these, lines written in all seriousness and with no hint of self-examination or acknowledgment of church history, it’s really hard to take any of it seriously. This particular articles begins with the sentence, “Latter-day Saints have been blessed with revealed truths regarding families that remain unknown to the world at large.”

Let’s take a step back here. Latter-day Saints were “blessed” with the “revealed truth” of polygamy, and despite the cries of modern Saints protesting that this is “ancient history,” um, no. It’s not. It’s still a huge part of the spiritual/ afterlife doctrinal teachings, and in fact the 1890 Manifesto suspending polygamy actually just advises mormons to obey the law of the land regarding marriage. Plural marriages continued in certain territories for several years afterward, under the erroneous belief it was legal (or at least, not illegal) in those territories. Furthermore, the wording in the Manifesto leaves a clear loophole for LDS members to begin practicing polygamy again — it just needs to be legalized. Crazy you say? Not so much. Polyamory is gaining more attention and acceptance as a viable lifestyle, and it will no doubt come to the point within a few years/ decades that polyamorous families begin seeking legal rights. At that time, the LDS church will be faced with an uncomfortable choice: Disavow their history and large portions of their theology completely, or fight for poly marriage rights and lose faithful members by the boatload?

But that’s not the only “revealed truth” the mormons have been “blessed” with regarding families; it’s just the most well-known. Obviously, everyone also knows about that dark (no pun intended) period in LDS history when they opposed Civil Rights and letting blacks have the priesthood. In addition, LDS leaders have often spoken out against interracial marriage, claiming such marriages lead to divorce and problems. Don’t believe me?

Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 302: “When I said you must teach your people to overcome their prejudices and accept the Indians, I did not mean that you would encourage intermarriage. I mean that they should be brothers, to worship together and to work together and to play together; but we must discourage intermarriage.”

The LDS church also funded several anti-feminist books and pamphlets during the 1960’s and 70’s, with the repeated statement that while they “respect” women, the women belong in the home, not in the workforce.

These are the sorts of revealed truths he’s talking about, “truths” that have been proven false by time and experience and law time and time again. Yet this is his start to the article. And even back when I was sincerely trying to be a faithful mormon, I simply could not perform the doublethink required to read these “faith building” magazines and ignore church history. I was more than willing to believe that the LDS church was the most correct church on earth (man being fallible, limited in knowledge, and current prophets overwriting previous prophets and all), but this constant stance of the church brazenly proclaiming, “We are the truth, the light and the way. We are always right,” with this background knowledge of, “Yeah, always right except for that one time and that other time and that one other time . . . ” It required a level of voluntary ignorance I could not maintain, nor continue to cultivate.

Also, his little paragraph on marriage statistics? That paragraph employs several techniques that are frowned upon in intellectual discussion and debate. Most specifically, it employs an appeal to emotion and an appeal to a specific morality. It also neatly presents only a portion of the information — he neglects to mention the history of marriage laws and divorce (it was in the 1920’s that head-and-master laws began to be ignored in the court of law, which allowed women to leave abusive and unhappy relationships without fear of having their money and children taken). He neglects to clarify that the shifting perception of marriage from a family duty (marry the neighbor girl so we can join our farms and families) to something personal and for love shifted the entire meaning of marriage. Once, you married because your family needed you to. You married for politics or land or wealth or to bring strong new workers into your family to help with the family business. Love was so little considered in these matches, it wasn’t even a consideration. In fact, among the nobility love of ones spouse was often considered unseemly, emasculating, and shameful. It wasn’t until the Edwardian and Victorian eras that liking and loving your spouse began to be considered not merely a hopeful bonus to marriage, but a key factor.

As marriage turned from what was essentially a business deal to a love relationship, the reasons for a marriage to end simplified. Once upon a time, you could be miserable in your marriage and so long as it benefited your familial and social circle as a whole, you sucked it up and dealt with it. As marriage became romanticized, a very real question arose: If you marry for love, what happens when you fall out of love?

That question has no easy answer. My answer happens to be, “Work through it. Go to marriage counseling. Fall back in love. Give it everything you’ve got.” Other people respond, “Cut your losses, get a divorce.” Still others will say, “Try and work through it, try and fall back in love — but if you don’t, you don’t.”

Of course, he ignores all these sociological and historical factors, instead presenting marriage as a one-dimensional, easily defined and historically accurate concept. It’s honestly infuriating, as even a casual student of history should be well aware of the long traditions of arranged marriages, concubines, kept mistresses, and yes, even same-sex marriages throughout history and cultures.