Welcome to my online Mormon non-fiction novelette. It started out as a priesthood lesson, and has blossomed into what I now believe to be the most honest and thorough exploration of the history and mystery of the recently abandoned legacy of Mormon “Curse of Cain,” theology ever perpetrated by an actual, active member in good standing of the LDS church. I will be examining all the canonical, and attendant justification theories connected to the one-time LDS ban on the ordination of black African male members to priesthood offices. And of course, Mormon “dark skin” curse theology in general.
One peculiarity of a blog is that it insists on posting my last input first rather than in the order I want it. This means I’ve written four chapters of this tome already and this introduction is actually posted last so far. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I decide to post an epilogue. Go find the menus and follow the essays as numbered in order. It will make more sense but actually, they’re also self-contained enough to read randomly or browse.
If you haven’t yet read the most current statement by the Brethren on Race and the Priesthood, you can find it here: http://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng The more you know about the issue and its history the better, I can’t explain every character in the play and every piece in the puzzle. I’ll cover most of them, but please, stay here and read on a bit first. I’ll get you to the meat and potatoes of it soon enough. And I should caution you that I’m going to focus on process and politics a lot more than the typical LDS writer would, and if you’re naïve enough to think the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is immune to either, stop reading right here. Nothing I have to offer is going to matter to you.
Prayer, Pondering, and Revelation. That’s the process and order of the Church. For the present exercise, I will be representing the “pondering” part of that formula. Make of it what you will.
I’m the guy who wrote this. That’s pretty much the deal. No more, no less. Well, that and I have the magical power to communicate with small furry animals.
I’m not primarily setting about offering you my answers to Mormonism’s “Negro Question.” I’m just trying to sort through both the origin of the question itself, as well as the answers so far “officially” given by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the last 161 and more years now. As I say, for the moment I’m still a member in good standing of the church, so I’ll be doing it from I an LDS perspective. Definitely not the LDS perspective. But certainly AN LDS perspective.
This is not a conference talk. This is not a Sunday school lesson. This is definitely not a sacrament meeting talk. And for those of you who’ve never tripped the white fantastic out in Provo, I assure you for all my lunacy, this is no more crazy than anything going on in a BYU religion class—I’m just poking my doctrinal probe in a slightly different direction from the “Earth has wings and the 12 Lost Tribes are living on them” school of Mormon theological ponderings. (Yes indeedy, this is a theory advanced by some unnamed BYU religion professor around the mid-1970’s, according to my Utah-born and raised better-half.)
I’m certainly not very sorry to disappoint you rabid anti-Mormonists out there, all of whom are probably rubbing your palms together hoping for some real “inside” dirt. This extended essay, even at my most emboldened isn’t going to come close to a trashing of the Mormon religion. However, I’m sure you will find me helpful to the cause of Mormon-bashing anyway. It’s going to be easy enough to take away from my musings a nasty spin here and an-out-of context quote there…but you guys are going to do that no matter how carefully I write anyway. So do your worst.
One of the most underrated LDS precepts is the notion that Truth exists in a sphere entirely independent from all other forces and considerations. That’s a double-edged sword. As a modern descendant of actual Vikings and Norsemen, I certainly understand that analogy. The Viking sword cuts in two directions: don’t hurt yourself on the backstroke Oscar. Or, as that pathological hoaxer Al Gore tried to say once: Yes, sometimes there’s such a thing as an “Inconvenient Truth.” In his case unfortunately, his “Truth” was surrounded by so many now exposed lies that whatever merit his argument had to begin with has been nullified by his own hyperbole. In short: According to Gore’s alarmism, as of this writing Manhattan should be under water and all the polar bears should be dead. It isn’t, and the bears are actually pulling statistically higher numbers in DNR population counts every year for about the last ten. The latest news bulletins point out that Crazy Al’s polar bears are now being endangered because of too much ice! When it comes down to it, Pontius Pilate was far more brilliant than he’s given credit for when he said: What is Truth? And then of course ignored what he knew to be the Truth and murdered Jesus Christ because it was politically expedient.
Like Pontius Pilate, we today as Latter-day Saints are confronted with a very inconvenient “Truth.” Or rather, a “set of Truths.” Like Pilate, even a casual examination is more than
sufficient to prove beyond any rational doubt what the facts are in the case before us. Unlike Pilate however, in the case of Mormonism and the Mythical Curse of Cain, the man is obviously guilty. We are all obviously guilty. We as a body of Christ are guilty. We, like Pilate, will find that the cause of Truth and history itself, will never allow us to simply wash our hands of the matter, turn our backs on the issue, and casually walk away from the problem, never to be bothered by it again. The problem has not and will not vanish in a puff of cheerful, well-meaning vapor and blow away across the fields of time because we’ve all decided we’re beyond it now. Unlike Al Gore, we don’t need science and we don’t need thousands of partisan “experts” to prove the case against Mormonism’s history of racism. We have the words of Mormonism’s highest leadership, officially published and recorded, and openly preached and defended for generations.
Now that’s an inconvenient truth.
Hey, some people believe we never landed on the moon. That was all faked on a sound stage in the deserts of Arizona. 911 was an “Inside Job” and even though the two guys who invented the claim and wrote books, blogs, and made video documentaries for over ten years proving it, have abandoned their contention that the Twin Trade Towers were brought down via pre-staged, controlled demolitions, that does nothing to slow down the promulgation of this now abandoned claim. What is Truth? Well, usually it’s whatever you feel like believing, and nothing I can say is going to change your mind. The 911 “Truther” movement is a religion. “Global Warming” is a religion. Mormonism is a religion. And anti-Mormonism is more than all of these, blatantly a religion. Religious Truth is based upon what you believe rather than what you know. And worse yet, even science is only based upon what you think you know, not necessarily what is. That’s why science, religion, journalism, history, all tends to blur together instantaneously into a highly subjective puree of “facts” and “events” and “reasons why,” that no two people however intelligent, inspired, godly,
devout, objective, observant, or ingenious, can usually agree upon even when both are standing right there when whatever it was happened, or whoever it was said what you think they said, or whoever it was did what you think they did.
I was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Renton Washington in 1957, essentially at the end of the Boeing Aircraft plant runway. My father was a tool and die maker, and shop steward at the plant. I spent most of my formative years between there and starting in grade 2, the “Berkeley of the Northwest,” Bellingham Washington, where my parents both resumed schooling and attended Western Washington State College—now a university. On campus, my dad took me to speeches where I heard Hubert H Humphrey campaign for the Civil Rights Movement, saying the Democratic Party had to stop being the party of states rights, and become the party of civil rights. In March of 1967 around my 10th birthday, Donovan Leitch released Mellow Yellow and I found a camp of hippies living in our backyard when I got up to take my Schwinn Stingray out of the shed to do my paper route at 0:500 before school. The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s the same year, and that summer the entire album played nonstop up and down the streets from every open window and doorway, echoing the strains of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, along with Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale, and other psychedelic hits like Rod Stewart’s first hit with Small Faces, Itchycoo Park. It’s all too beautiful…man…
On the opposite socio-political side of the LDS street, one of my best friends in the church had a father who was building a bomb shelter, waiting for the Commie invasion, and the “Nuclear Balloon to go up.” (I can’t help but think how let down he must have been some 20 years later at the collapse of the Soviet Union.) One of my fondest memories of this time in my life was getting together in clandestine experimental demolition sessions with the son of this John Burch-survivalist and another church pal who was a descendant of Parley P Pratt. We made a pipe cannon, and several spectacular pipe bombs out of abandoned plumbing. They were detonated by some cannon fuse, and powered by high-grade shotgun powder we convinced the young Pratt to swipe from his dad. We blew up a pond, retrieved a few trout in the process, and shot several large ball bearings halfway through a very large maple tree. If only the Mormon Scouting program were like that all the time I’d have made it to Eagle.
Interrupting my Pacific Northwestern Nirvana, we did a year’s stint in Johnson City (actually Jonesboro) Tennessee, where my father got his Masters at East Tennessee State University. We lived in a trailer park out in the county. They called me “Puhfessor” because I read above grade level and could do simple mathematics. (Haven’t progressed much since then.) Three girls in my class dropped out of 7th grade to get married that year. At recess they played a game called, “Yanks and Rebs.” This involved chasing the “Yanks” through the woods and throwing rocks and sticks at them. Guess who got to be the only “Yank.” I also learned the hard way that in 1968 you couldn’t bring your black friend into the 7-11 to buy him an Icee. I learned that your home teaching families would occasionally appear to welcome you at the doorstep, but when you got inside they would discretely threaten you with a sawed-off shotgun, tell you never to return, and then wave from the porch as you leave their tar-paper shack surrounded by half an acre of tobacco, shouting, “Y’all come back now, ya’hear!” I was also treated to fast-and-testimony meetings where faithful Saints would bear witness of their gratitude to the Lord for helping them to get out of Baltimore where they could live in a town and attend a church where they didn’t have to put up with “niggers.”
That year, Merle Haggard had a hit with I’m Proud to be an Okie from Muskogee. The ETSU campus Lefties countered with a local hit called, I’m Proud to be a Hippie from Johnson City. The most ironic thing about that, is that the Okie rednecks Haggard was praising in song have all embraced pot over moonshine, they went hairy and bearded in the late 1970’s with the “Outlaws,” like Hank Williams Junior and Waylon Jennings, and far from being fore-square and supportive of law and order, the rednecks of Oklahoma, or East Tennessee and parts south are more than ready to “Stick it to the Man.” Haggard, in his ridiculous “Nashville” frigging cowboy hat, sequines, and giant, lettered guitar strap with his name on it, was also wrong when he said “white lightnin’ was still the biggest thrill of all” in Muskogee.
That would be crystal meth.
We returned to Bellingham, where dad’s buddy who rented the house had let his kids whack hammers into the ivory keys of mom’s hereditary upright Steinway that her grandparents had hauled across the prairie on a handcart into Burly Idaho in 1847 or whatever. (Known as the “Thousand pound Albatross” and cursed every time the family had to move–and is still hanging around my neck at the moment, but being passed on to my offspring to plague them for another generation.) In the course of another year or two of mostly unemployment, man landed on the moon, (allegedly) Woodstock closed out an era, I started high school, took up playing bagpipes, and then, we moved more or less permanently to Brooklyn Park Minnesota, where my father completed his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. He became once again, habitually unemployable because he was at that point well overqualified to greet shoppers at the lumber yard, and the HR department of Menards looked at him with suspicion every time he applied. In the words of Monty Python: “It’s a fair cop, but society is to blame.”
I spent my mid-late teens hanging around Saint Paul and Minneapolis, playing bagpipes mostly with Irish Catholics and a select few Scots of both Protestant and Catholic varieties of the “orthodox” Christian orientation. This is due to a chance advert that came over the radio during the comedy hour in the 1969 VW microbus while mom was helping me deliver the Bellingham Herald, just before we left that little berg. The Bellingham Highlanders were recruiting new students for their reformation after years of inactivity. I never did understand the fascination my parents had with Highland bagpipes: My father’s heritage is all staunch, very conservative Norwegian Lutherans. My mother’s people were Danes who converted to Mormonism in the Old Country and basically came over in handcarts and settled southern Idaho. Maybe it was just so different, so much less boring than either of their upbringings, that they wanted their kids to have something better, or at least less boring. But the circumstances leading to the union of a North Dakota farm boy and the daughter of a southern Idaho cream taster from Burley, that eventuated in my worldly appearance in Renton Washington, is another story entirely.
In 1972, I entered Anoka High School—the second class to use the new facility after abandoning the old building where Anoka’s sole claim to international stardom, Gary Keillor, attended ten years earlier–Yes, his name is Gary. Just plain old Gary. And he grew up off West River Road right near where I did in Brooklyn Park, not Anoka. Not in some mythical Lake Wobegon. He wouldn’t know a Norwegian bachelor farmer if he came up and bit him in the arse. And I’m sure many of them would like to. I played bagpipes on Keillor’s first couple of Prairie Home Companion broadcasts from the hall of a local Minneapolis church.
Musically, I was listening to Monty Python and the Bothy Band. (You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced playing Python’s Death of Mary Queen of Scots in a Stevens Avenue apartment off of Loring Park with the room filled with drunken kilted pipers after a long parade.) None of these bands will be familiar to most of you: Silly Wizard, Silly Sisters, Horse Lips, Steel Eye Span, Finbar Fury, Dave Swarbrick, and any of the other Celtic/British Isles folk/rock bands I explored in those days. Focus, Golden Earring, Kraftwork, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Ekseption, the original British Nirvana, and
Beggar Julia’s Time Trip, and a host of other “foreign” musical artists filled my ears. And while
the ethnic mix of my artistic and social circles centered around the Celtic regions, the truth is, the mix of actual local participants and attendant musical or social fellows, was a broad panorama or Nordic, Native American, English, French, German, and any other immigrant communities that had ever made their way to Minnesota. It was truly a melting pot: one of the best players of the Scottish, Highland bagpipe that played in our Irish band, was of Swedish extraction.
Socially, I was hanging around iconic “liberal” figures like those in the American Indian Movement like Russell Means and Clyde Bellecourt. I played at military balls at Fort Snelling for Hubert Humphrey. On the other side of the ticket, I played Malcolm Forbe’s birthday party and snuck over a hundred dollars of cracked crab and exotic smoked salmon and seafood home in my pipe case.
I may have left out my serious appreciation of the American appearance of Queen in 1973. In fact, my first serious girlfriend at BYU thought my devotion to Queen meant I was gay. Apparently they didn’t listen to Queen in Cody Wyoming unless they were gay. But, I digress.
Around about 1973-74 I got my first introduction to LDS Curse of Cain mythology. The encounter arose out of a Sunday school lesson on blackness in general, probably out of the Book of Mormon or Book of Abraham. I got the full, Bruce R McConkie, Mormon Doctrine version with cheerful embellishments from several other noted LDS “authorities,” like Joseph Fielding Smith. It sounded a bit silly, but it was no skin off my nose at that point and entirely academic so I neither thought much about it nor felt compelled to explore more. The guy who taught that lesson as best I can recall was named Steve Rollie. (SP?) It would be more correct to say that he “questioned” the lesson on every point, more than taught the points the manual wanted taught. And he resigned from the church about a year later over that specific lesson and the Curse of Cain issue in general. He was the best Sunday school teacher I ever had, and he was also a dead-ringer for John Denver. (Dating myself.) We young adults all went canoeing with him once back in the day, around Lake Calhoun and the chain of lakes in Minneapolis. That summer had been a big year for John Denver, and fans were waving and shouting his name at us as we paddled by them on the shore.
In 1976, I studied documentary film at Film in the Cities in Saint Paul. And while all this time I’d been the “designated driver” and at times hassled for being far too squeaky clean, I seemed to frighten all the local Mormon chicks and I later learned the local bishops were all warning eligible future dates or mates from the LDS population to steer clear of me. But there are plenty of fish in the sea, and if you’re not catching around the harbor, you simply sail out to the fishing grounds. The following year, prompted by a lot of deep, spiritual pondering, and the fact that my father had thumped me on the back of the head and said, “I don’t know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, but you can’t do it here,” I began what turned out to be a 9 year sentence to a full-immersion exploration of my maternal Mormon roots in Provo Utah, pretending to attend BYU and follow-up my film studies.
To attend BYU, I was forced to butch-off my wonderfully soft and pretty hair and shave my fairly decent beard–which fuzz was considered a sign of manly maturity, and all-but required in my native Scandinavian culture. When I arrived at BYU I couldn’t help but notice the Osmonds were all running around with long hair and beards, escorted by a soon-to-be excommunicated patron General Authority who acted essentially as a personal promoter for the family, who explained that the reason the Osmonds had been effectively exempted from mission service was that they were far too famous to be able to serve, and the reason they attended BYU in spite of violating the grooming code, was because they had to maintain a popular look for professional reasons, and they would do far more missionary work in their capacity as entertainers than by serving a conventional mission. This of course, being true, one might wonder why BYU didn’t adopt long hair and beards if that look was far more popular and conducive to missionary work. This notwithstanding, BYU bishops were openly extorting me into “volunteering” to serve a mission, claiming it was mandatory, telling stories out of the Ensign of great violinists who gave up two years of their lives to serve, only to return having lost scholarships and dropped behind in skill such that they never amounted to anything on the violin—but of course still bearing witness that it was worth it. I certainly appreciate those sorts of testimonies. On the other hand, one of my piping friends in Utah told me how his mother fell to his knees in tears and begged him to serve a mission, saying, every male descendant of the family had served a mission since the clan had entered the valley and he would shame the family for generations if he didn’t follow suit. Though it doesn’t approach a weeping mother and the shame of generations, in my case, two of my BYU bishops indeed, openly explained that they were withholding my priesthood advancement unless I conceded to serve a mission.
None of this coordinated pattern of systematic needling, pestering, and cajoling of course seemed to inspire me to sign up for a mission. Rather, it all made me want to tell my bishops to give the lecture to the Osmonds—tell them to cut their hair and get a shave, get out of the sequined jump suits and start pounding doors and passing tracts. Tell them there’s no excuse for not going on a mission–not education, not a career. Tell them president Kimball has commanded “every worthy male” to serve a mission.
The actual, final, moderated quote is this:
Certainly every male member of the Church should fill a mission, like he should pay his tithing, like he should attend his meetings, like he should keep his life clean and free from the ugliness of the world and plan a celestial marriage in the temple of the Lord.
While there is no compulsion for him to do any of these things, he should do them for his own good.
You see, I had just barely gotten my life and brain together and mustered the scratch to go to college and decided what to do with my life. Perhaps they never considered me a candidate, but until I got to BYU I had never been asked by a bishop or anyone else to serve a mission. I knew all about the opportunity, it had just never been made pointedly clear to me that it was so “essential” to being a proper Latter-day Saint. Oh yes, I’d done all the praying and pondering and as far as I was concerned it was settled—I was going to BYU to study film. Well, that was the wrong answer I learned. “Just keep praying and you’ll get the right answer,” in the words of my first-year, first semester BYU bishop. But the Utah social imperative for a mission was far more personally and practically expressed, in the words of about 90% of the freshman BYU women students I attempted to befriend my first year there:
“Where’d you serve your mission?”
“I haven’t gone.”
“Oh, when are you going?”
“Uh, don’t know. Hadn’t planned on it. I’m trying to get a degree in motion picture and television directing…”
Granted, my second year there I found no such resistance from the female population. Once a Mormon girl gets a year or two older than high school and remains unwed, the standard of courtship acceptability apparently drops dramatically. This is particularly true if you cared to make the trip up to Salt Lake and attend a YSI dance at the Terrace Ballroom. There you would be competing with fat, balding, truly dull and painfully uninspired returned missionaries pushing 30 in their Greek fishermen’s caps. I found that 23-25 year-old sisters still unwed or particularly, divorced, were far less interested in mission service than basic compatibility, especially if you didn’t have a dew-lapped belly covering your belt buckle, or were inherently violent, terminally stupid, a philandering scoundrel, or had chronic halitosis.
From the Terrace in Salt Lake, to the Wilkie ballroom on campus, nearly every weekend at BYU was a scene somewhere of hormonally-pumped young Mormon men and women desperately selling each other on the notion that “The Lord” as told me that YOU are the one… It’s the next step in the LDS young men’s program: Primary, Seminary, Eagle, Mission, BABIES. And the young women feel a kindred pressure in a complementary conditioning system.
In retrospect I freely admit it was financial suicide to pursue a degree in film and television. Even with such a degree it only inherently qualifies you to clean toilets for a living—which in good part became my ultimate fate anyway. But I make no excuses nor do I feel I need to regret my life choices. I enjoyed my time in Mormondom. It’s one half of my heritage and I’m not particularly ashamed of it at all. I’m happy with the way things turned out. I have a good wife and family, own two houses, three sheds, a dog, and feel the Lord has guided me in all the important areas of my life to take me where I am today.
Who knows? Far worse than not serving an “honorable” mission, is being sent home from one early—for any reason. Because in Utah Mormon culture, whether dysentery, smallpox, a ruptured disc, broken ribs protruding from your chest, not sticking to the flip charts, just being a lazy smart-ass in general, having a bit of nookie with the sister missionaries on the side, or worse yet, snogging your same-sex companion, it’s pretty much all the same in the Valley. We often make fun of the Roman Church for forbidding it’s prime young men to marry in order to enter the priesthood, pointing out that it’s no wonder that church is riddled with clergy sexual abuse. But the Mormons on the other hand, pair up couples of hormonally-peaking young men for two years of non-stop day and night contact at the height of their sexual drive and seem surprised at the resultant mission-related chastity-failures along the lines of all sorts of sexual preferences, or at least, sexually desperate opportunities of any random gender.
Just the rumor and innuendo of not completing a full mission can be enough to scar and stigmatize an “unsuccessfully” returned missionary for life. I had one roommate who went to South America and came right down with some weird intestinal parasites or something. Toughed it our for over six months till he was down to about 98 pounds and he had to confess he was horribly sick. They tried to treat him in-country for another several months, but finally, after nearly killing himself for lack of proper treatment in the US, they put him on a plane for home, for good. And still, he was ashamed. He went home early. And there would forever be a question mark hanging over his missionary service.
Oh yes, I may have not served a mission, but I’ve lived with numerous brothers who have, and I could curl your spiritual nose-hairs with some of the stories they tell. But my point is, not serving a mission in Utah LDS culture is like dodging a wartime draft in American culture. And Utah Mormons have no perspective at all on just how fanatical, obsessive, peculiar and regional and Mormon-specific that ethos is.
If you concentrate all the Mormons into one valley, then naturally, all the criminals in the valley are going to be Mormon. All the idiots in the valley are going to be Mormon. All the A-holes in the valley are going to be Mormon. It’s not a reflection of the religion, it’s just human nature and statistics. None of the inadequacies of my Utah Mormon cultural experience ever at any time disturbed my personal testimony of the greater truth of the church’s overall organizational inspiration. Even so, the church is chock-full of people, and people are all flawed by nature. If you let that one jerk, or that local or regional or societal collection of jerks drive you from the overall inspiration of the supporting, prophetic structure of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, then that’s down to your personal vanity and inspirational stupidity.
As usual, I was born about twenty years too early to do anything but push the system and make trouble, but here’s a little something I’ll take at least some credit for setting into motion:
And if you think I’m boasting a bit too much, here’s “Studio C” circa 1978:
Actually, that’s a show I called “Nurdsville” and frankly, in 1977, the idea of sketch comedy particularly in the communications department was heresy. Or at least a waste of good
video tape that could be put to use transferring Church History slides to VHS. Theatre and commo were two different worlds, and video and film did not mix. Times change, even
BYU grows up I suppose if you wait long enough, just too late for me to get a piece of it. You can say what you want about BYU, but it does bring “world” Mormonism into close contact with the provincials of “The Valley,” and that ongoing contact may eventually diminish the inherent distrust and paranoid fear of the “world.” Just not fast enough to do me any good. The locals however, still call it “BYZoo,” call it’s residents “Zoobies,” and basically rob and pillage them coming and going, cramming six or seven of them into two and three bedroom, black widow-infested basement apartments as the foundation of their retirement income at hundreds of dollars a head.
You may rightly say, I criticize the “Utah church” as if it’s some separate entity. You will dispute this notion I suspect, claiming that the “Utah church” is the church, and Utah “culture” is the “culture of the church.” I counter that contention by saying that the world is the church, and though the present leadership may well have been born and bred in Utah, God is no respecter of persons, nor is God a respecter of regional, cultural, ego-centrism, or notions of ethnic purity and superiority, even if that includes the home of the Brethren along the Wasatch Front.
34 ¶Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no arespecter of persons:
The Utah church has spent nearly two centuries trying to freeze its ethnics and society in the bunker-mentality that drove them out there in 1847. I have the pioneer pedigree on my mother’s side alright. I could claim that culture by bloodlines if need be. But so what? What has dressing up in Quaker hats and sun bonnets every July 24th got to do with me? Very little at this point. I didn’t serve a mission, I didn’t get married in the temple first off. It didn’t destroy my life. Didn’t drive me into heresy and darkness. Hasn’t crippled my social advancement. And if you care to challenge me on that, I have a cache of missionary-roommate horror stories from BYU I could get into. Likewise, I could name several “perfect case” scenarios in which the mission-temple-wedding-family-home-evening formula was far less than effective. Starting with Marie Osmond. And several BYU roomates who, when arriving just off their missions used to be annoyed by my imagined rowdiness, and who now are devoted apostates. And worse.
Not buckling into the social pressure to conform to Utah custom might have made me less of a “Mormon,” but certainly no less a Latter-day Saint. And if you think it does, well you know where you can stuff it. I’m not Utah product and I’ll tell you exactly where you can stuff that whole line of reasoning if you press me hard enough. I know all those words and have fluent command of them. I’m an outlaw. I grew up in the “mission field.”
I finished two years of upper-division courses at BYU, and completed my senior internship without a single general studies credit by about 1980. I learned what I felt like learning, got diverted by female pursuits, and ran out of money. This does not lead to graduation, but it’s sort of the vocational ed approach to filmmaking and something of an adventure anyway I guess. Taking then church president, Spencer W Kimball’s advice far too literally, I got married, and did not put off raising a family for school or career reasons.
There will be many excuses, of course: “I could not support a wife and go to college.” “I could not have children and maintain myself in school.” “I thought it would be proper to wait a few years for my marriage and my children.” What the Lord will say to these excuses we can only imagine. We are sure he will at least say, “You have not placed first things first.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.292)
There may have been some hormonally-driven motivation in there as well. But that’s not a bad thing either. (Separate lecture, separate set of anecdotes…IE: Evening campfire at Sundance 1980—“Mind if I sit with you here by the fire? I like to keep my instrument warm…and my bagpipes get cold too…”) Still not sure why she married me but I‘m not complaining. Inappropriate pickup line. Worked fine anyway. She passed the test.
Out of necessity, I took time off school, intending to refinance my education via something known as a “job.” There were unfortunately not many of those during Utah’s economic crash of the early 1980’s when former engineers from Geneva Steel were taking draftsman jobs for 6 bucks and hour and if you had a job at all, you could buy a 4 bedroom house in Provo for a dollar down and monthly payments that were pocket change because half the real estate in two valleys was either in foreclosure or in desperate need of selling to free the occupants so they could leave the state for work. After a couple of years and writing a few screenplays, and quite a-typically actually being paid for it–even getting one actually produced–while at the same time wrestling lunatics at the Utah State Hospital for three fifty an hour, any one of which who would eagerly bite your nose off if you gave them a chance, I decided it was time that I returned to Minnesota to get a “real” job.
I re-entered the Great White North in 1985 with a wife and family, where I have remained, endured, and reasonably prospered up to this writing. We’ll see how that goes after publication of these culturally suicidal ramblings.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have sketched out this very condensed history of my life as a way of illustrating how I was exposed to a lot of very cosmopolitan, intellectually liberal, pro-farmer labor, pro-union, “progressive” thinking and academic mores concerning “higher criticism.” Frankly, my Euro-Christian Socialist relatives in Dakota on my father’s side created the Farmer-Labor Party, a party once so fiercely communal and self-sufficient that it only affiliated itself with the national Democratic Party a generation or two after its invention because they had to organize to vote in federal elections in some reasonable fashion, and at the time the Democrats were the closest match. In many ways they’ve lived to regret that, and they’re definitely not happy today with the current crony-capitalist, government employee, academic, intellectual, urban bias that has taken over the party. In short, there’s damned few farmers, and damned few laborers with their attendant traditional family and religious values actually being represented by the DFL party today. My point being is, that I am well aware that I think and certainly write like an outsider by Utah-based standards. This is because I am not a product of the Wasatch Front culture. This, I submit, makes me no less loyal a Latter-day Saint than any of the festering burble of authors from Provo to Bountiful, happily regurgitating mediocre pap for the consumption of the complacent masses of Saints along the Wasatch Front. And I can say that without offending any of them because they would have to look up all the offending words before they could be offended. (And they’re not going to read down this far.)
Ich bin ein Ausländer.
(For my Norwegian cousins: Jeg er en utlending.)
Since Brigham Young entered “The Valley,” Mormons have been inventing ways to self-identify themselves as “special” on the one hand, while on the other refining ways to stain or tarnish the very nature of lesser-souls, the “outlanders,” if you will–even though the very heart of LDS theology defines all mankind as the literal sons and daughters of God, and puts no qualifying sacraments or conversions upon mankind to lay claim to its divine origions. Mormonism became a question of gatekeeping, rather than soul-saving. Mormonism became fascinated with itself and its “chosenness.” It has spent nearly two centuries self-expounding upon the theme. While Mormons profess a three-level system of eternal reward, frankly, they haven’t ever had any interest in the 2/3rds of humanity who by all reckoning aren’t going to get to the highest rank in the system anyway, and even then the church has concerned itself mostly with the highest rank of the highest rank. The Mormon church teaches that mere paradise beyond human understanding is an insufficient reward meet only for the weak and failed of God’s children who were not pious enough for Celestial Glory. No, I’m not kidding. That’s the Mormon conception of “salvation” in a nutshell.
Not unlike the Russian Revolution, Mormonism, like the Soviet Union, in order to combat all the overtly miserable elements of its society, very
quickly become entirely all about “chosenness.” The most chosen of all God’s most chosen. Suffering and denial became the ultimate evidence of God’s unique selection, not some divine curse for making stupid choices in life. The more sacrificing, humble, and miserable you were willing to make yourself, the faster your rise in the organization. If you’re not a candidate for that rare and elite, self-deprived body of “True Believers,” then, frankly, Mormonism didn’t have a place for you. Or in modern terms, a “program” for you. And for enduring all this suffering God would reward you with earthly and heavenly booty, including the joy of watching your enemies pay for their crimes against the Saints. The early church was indeed quite open and brazen in its pronouncements along these lines. We’re still paying for it.
Word of Wisdom superiority in particular became THE major indicator of “faithfulness,” or “loyalty.” Hundreds of millions of people in thousands of cultures have an alcoholic drink now and then, or even regularly, and remain faithful, religious, devout, family folk. Not in Mormonism. In Mormonism, any alcoholic consumption is an indicator of immediate treachery and disloyalty. One a year, one a week, one a day, it doesn’t matter. Any alcohol at all for any reason, being consumed within the context of Mormonism means you are weak-willed, fallen and vulnerable. You are not reliable for anything. You are flagged and segregated and assigned “keepers.” If you actually read the 89th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants: That’s not an LDS “Health Law,” as it is widely described today. It is not a law at all by its own self-description. It’s not a standard the Lord demanded. It’s a bit of advice the Lord explicitly ordered should not be maintained as a strict commandment. But in a bruised and battered church, crawling out of the persecutions of pioneer Mormonism, well, when you see a brother hanging out with “Gentiles” and sharing a beer at the local tavern, what you see is not a friendly fellow. What you see is an almost certain back-stabber in the making, fraternizing with, and probably collaborating with the enemy. And as that paranoia progressed it coincided with a political movement pushing for national prohibition, so Heber J Grant made sure he got his political way with his own flock, even if the national movement was a failure that only gave us organized crime and transformed the local tavern from a quiet haven from the wife for the mature menfolk after a hard day’s work, to a common all-night festival of debauchery, and easy hookup-spot for young men and women. To Heber J Grant however, it seemed the cheapest and surest way to separate his “chosen” Mormons from moral or social contamination via the Gentiles that surrounded them and the “evils” of alcoholic excess he politically decried.
I’m not making an argument here specifically about the Word of Wisdom. I’m making an argument which, if you have the interest, patience, and discernment to pursue through all four of my essays on the subject of Race and the Priesthood, will sufficiently demonstrate to you through canonical references, historical documentation, and the words, testimony, and sermonizing of LDS apostles, prophets and presidents past and current, that the “order of the church” has very little to do with the “prophet” having breakfast with Our Lord and Savior every morning in the Holy of Holies, and taking his direct notes from this daily Divine Direction into the routine administration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m addressing a now conceded issue by the Brethren Themselves that error is indeed possible in the proclamations of even the highest of LDS authorities, and in at least in the case of the “Negro Question,” has openly been admitted at the pinnacle level of LDS “Prophet.”
In canonical terms, nobody who smokes or drinks or enjoys a cup of tea or coffee is going to hell because they do so. Some health risks may be present, but it’s not a spiritual consideration even by Mormon canon. There is no canonical penalty for “breaking” the Word of Wisdom. It is not possible to violate a suggestion or recommendation. But, by rigidly, socially, or politically enforcing Word of Wisdom compliance as a “test of fellowship” however, now the Word of Wisdom breaker, while not condemned by the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants itself, finds himself guilty of breaking implicit “policy” agreements with church leadership, or as they say, “not supporting the Brethren,” and thus can become charged with not being in “full fellowship.” (Yes, church “policy” is “political” not “doctrinal” by definition.) The church, harangued by an era of strong prohibitionists in leadership, a “T for total abstinence” political and social movement brought back by LDS leaders after encountering it while serving missions among the strict Methodists of England, has as a “democratic” unit “decided” it’s going to go one better than the literal Word of God on the matter of the Word of Wisdom. It isn’t “good enough” to Utah’s modern, “evolved” social Mormonism that a person be faithful and devout and sincere. It has been decided that any would-be “Saint” also has to
give up all the common, human pleasures normal people find inoffensive. It’s an offshoot of fanatical Methodism, not Joseph Smith’s “temperate” Mormonism. It’s Emma Smith’s idea of a “holy lifestyle,” not Joseph’s. Total abstinence from the evils of “dirty habits” like liquor and tobacco is the foundation of the Salvation Army, not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Today, a Mormon candidate has to be willing to “prove” themselves “worthy” not of God’s family or the forgiveness of Christ, but of the of the fellowship of the “Saints,” by giving up something that not even the Lord has required as a mandatory sacrifice. If the prospective “Saint” is ready to go “one better than God,” in essence, Mormonism has decreed that perhaps then we’ll think about letting you hang out with us. It’s an LDS attitude as prevalent today as in yesteryear. Indeed, the social elements of Utah Mormon culture drive the recruitment program and self-perpetuates itself. The argument goes: anyone ready to give up smoking and drinking is “enlightened” and ready to join the church. The counter argument goes: making the baptized give up smoking and drinking actually only means that those who aren’t interested in either are statistically far more likely to join the church. Those who are fanatically opposed to smoking and drinking are exponentially more likely to join the church thus by majority in body and leadership, this ethos becomes more and more entrenched in this “policy,” quickly inflating its importance to primacy over actual, important doctrine. In a few generations the church became in this way, almost exclusively about not smoking or drinking. Do that first. Prove yourself to us. And then we’ll let you into the waters of baptism. If you extrapolate that social phenomenon out into thousands of social, political, ethnic or cultural issues, and you soon have an extremely inbred and elitist organization.
I sat through a “joint teaching” experience a few months ago with two missionary elders and a couple of African investigators. They hadn’t been doing the “assigned” or “agreed” readings but were still keen to read and discuss scripture while we were there. At the end of the lesson however, the ringleader elder couldn’t help but give these two a lecture about how there were plenty of serious investigators out there who would love to hear the Word of God, and if these guys didn’t follow through with their agreements to read the assigned scripture, they were wasting the elders’ time. He said in summary, that he and his companion could be teaching people who appreciated their efforts instead of wasting their time here with you deadbeats.
Now, I didn’t serve a mission, but it seems to me that these elders were lucky to have anyone willing to sit down and listen to a damned thing they had to say. I’ve gone from apartment to apartment one day a month with these rotating characters, as they tried to chase down people hiding behind couches, blocked by front-men at the door claiming they weren’t home. And those were the “appointments.” Seems to me it was their job to waste their time in this fashion. And if they couldn’t interest these two investigators or any others for that matter, it was their job to part on good terms, leaving whatever of the Good News they were willing to accept, rather than wheedle and nag them and get into their faces about who’s wasting who’s time.
And then the other elder hit them with a “challenge to baptism” as he hit the door. These guys hadn’t read more than a few chapters of the Book of Mormon. The message clearly seemed to be: Hold off smoking and drinking a few months, take the dip–job done. That seemed to be their plan. So, I guess Mormonism isn’t entirely committed to the best of the best all of the time. Not when mission statistics are at stake. Mind you, personally, I think the notion of holding up general fellowship or simple baptism because of smoking or drinking habits is asinine in an eternal scheme of things. It’s not church canon. It’s a policy, just like the “Negro Priesthood Ban” was not canon, not a revelation, and just “policy.” But if you’re going to make knocking off beer and cigarettes the primary covenant of membership in the church, while at the same time you have missionaries telling investigators overtly or covertly that all they have to do is hold off their liquor and smokes a few months, sneak through baptism, and then try your best to moderate later on, well, that isn’t really productive for anyone. That’s just hypocrisy.
And they wonder why so many new converts go inactive…
If Mormonism had and still has little or no interest in ministering even to otherwise totally righteous white folk who’s only “vice” is that they sneak a beer or two on the weekends, drink coffee or tea, or maybe have a smoke now and then, you can imagine what evolved around those black and not-so-white folks who had more specific “canonical” condemnations assigned to them simply for being themselves. If Mormonism felt it had to mark the “weak” among its fold by making up rules about “vices” or “dirty habits,” and catching them in the act, just how hard was to identify the clearly “marked” alleged descendants of Cain and the other darker races, and label them as “weak” or “inferior” spiritual creatures? If Heber J Grant, or any single LDS “prophet” could be so wound up in social and political movements that he was able to sway the entire church and its regulating bodies into an end-run around the literal Word of God in order to promote his pet secular causes, how hard was it for Brigham Young to groom the hearts and minds of his contemporaries and successors into accepting the popular political and social, even “scientific” “Truths” about “The Negro?”
It wasn’t hard at all. In “Truth,” nobody of any authority in the LDS church gave the whole “Negro Question” much of a thought for 161 years, at least insofar as questioning the reason for having a question in the first place is concerned. Rather too much thought however, was given to justifying and rationalizing the question with scripture and apocryphal revelations and gospel principles. Those often quite “authoritative” rationales only dug the church a deeper hole in which to fall when it finally moved into the light and could see the problem clearly. For generations, there were no “Negroes” around “The Valley” anyway. It was entirely academic. And it just all seemed to make sense. “Prophets” had explained it was a commandment from God. And it was in the canon. Or so they maintained at the time. That’s where the thinking ends in Mormonism. End of discussion. Argument closed. If anything needs to be clarified, God will personally come down and explain the changes with thunderbolts, earthquakes, and a set of stone tablets.
The latest LDS statement on Race and the Priesthood of December 2013 attempts to retroactively separate the “Inspiration” of Mormon leadership from Mormon politics and Mormon society. But that’s not possible. People are People. It’s all the same in a blur in a sheltered, regional, cultural sensibilities. And rather than spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church that bears His name has for too long been more concerned with promulgating its inbred regional blur of cultural sensibilities worldwide. Many of you out in the “real” world, out in the “mission field,” are suckers and sitting ducks for the cultural wackiness that is the Wasatch Front. And you will eagerly embrace it right alongside the Word of God until you simply don’t know the difference. I’m doing you a favor I think, lifting up the “Zion Curtain” as the anti-Mormonites call it. Just far enough to get the general picture. Just far enough to get a real good peek at what “Zion” has been all about since 1847 and Brigham Young’s “reformation” of Joseph Smith’s church. (And yes, that’s exactly what Brigham Young called it.)
Under Brigham Young, and in the rocky bunker of the Inter-Mountain West, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ceased to be a universal church—a world church. It became a tight cluster of True Believers and the Elect, hiding out from the World, and certainly the US government and a plethora of other foes. That’s not an attack, that’s not an insult. It’s just history. Certainly, Brigham Young’s Mormons had every reason to be paranoid, because people really were out to get them. But, while Brigham Young’s “nation building” efforts produced a hard-core legion of fanatics that eventually outgrew their little hideaway and survived their persecutors with the strength of an organization able to finally re-emerge into the real world, it also distorted the original mission of the church and did generations of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual damage to the people of the fundamentally survivalist culture it created. More importantly it produced a people woefully ignorant, naïve, and estranged from the “outside” world. If you don’t understand that, concede that, then you will never understand half the “problems” now unfolding in Mormon “doctrinal” matters as it moves onto the world stage. Nowhere is this more evident than in LDS attitudes on race and skin color.
When I was a kid we dragged home a device known as a “Chick-u-bator,” from some thrift shop or garage sale. It was a little yellow flying-saucer shaped bowl with a clear dome and a small light bulb in it. It hatched eggs and you could watch through the dome as the baby chicks hacked their way out of the shell. My mom secured some fertilized eggs and we began to watch and turn them faithfully several times a day, and count the days till hatching. Part of the job was to sprinkle a little water into the mix to keep humidity up while you were rotating the eggs. One day, after doing the sprinkling, I apparently went off to put the sprinkling can away without putting the dome back in place and wandered off for several hours and forgot about it. Later, when I returned to service another rotation, and I found the lid laying beside the hatchery. I replaced it and hoped no damage had been done, but I was pretty sure I had killed the eggs. I continued the routine in hope, but when hatching time came and went, eventually it was down to me to crack one open and check. Sure enough, it was filled with rotting, stinking, dead baby chick. Well, I couldn’t eat eggs for months after that.
There’s a lesson in that somewhere. I’m not sure what the immediate analogy is. I meant well. I screwed up. I killed a bunch of baby chicks. The next time I made damned sure not to leave the lid off. Eventually we had baby chickens. People make stupid mistakes. Learn from them. Stop killing baby chicks.
Or, I think more what I meant to say was this:
If you want to continue to enjoy the sausage, do not go to the sausage factory and learn what’s actually inside the casing. (Not an exact reduction of the parable, but close enough.)
You have been warned. I’ve given you enough evidence to know that if you crack open this basket of eggs you’re not going to find a bunch of cute, fluffy little baby chicks. Be sure you’re curious enough to really want to see for yourself.
Actual thesis begins…