Quick followup thought on General Conference

I’ll write more on this later in the week when the official remarks are published, but I think that Elder Dallin H. Oaks talk from General Priesthood Session on Saturday night with well worth some brief comments.

As I was following conference on Twitter (in all honesty, General Conference is pretty much the only time I ever use Twitter) and I was disappointed in the responses that his talk seemed to be generating.

The first group were predominately men, and in general the comments were: “Boom! #ElderOaks just schools #Ordainwomen, #dropsmic”  This, in my opinion, totally mischaracterizes his talk, and is a completely inappropriate way to deal with members of the church who have publicly stated that feel marginalized and misunderstood.  The reality is that this talk schools all of us.  This talk took existing information and presented it in a way that reiterates what the priesthood is, while opening our eyes to a grander vision of the potential for the priesthood in our church and lives.

The second group were supporters of Ordain Women who seemed to quickly dismiss his remarks thinking he was digging in and arguing for the status quo (although, I’ve noticed this morning that many seem to have stepped back from that). This talk was not about maintaining the status quo, if anything it was laying the groundwork for a changes and shifts that are likely coming.

I think that Elder Oaks talk should come as an assurance to those women who feel marginalized and underutilized in the Church.  It shows that those in positions of control are thinking about this issue and discussing it at depth.  I expect this is the first of many talks that will trigger a paradigm shift (I know, I know, it’s a cliched buzzword, but I couldn’t find an adequate synonym) in how we as a Church look at the priesthood and the roles women fulfill through their priesthood authority.  I believe we will discover that through priesthood keys there are a great many roles that women can fulfill when that authority is delegated to them.  This talk certainly justifies an expansion of areas where women can fulfill priesthood opportunities.  I think this list of considerations is a good place to start.

I know that the Lord cares about each and every one of us, especially those who sit in our pews and silently feel ostracized either by ideology or socialization.  Our church structure and culture are NOT perfect.  Our organization is simply the best that His chosen servants have come up with based on guidelines in the scriptures coupled with ongoing revelation.  Our culture is comprised of imperfect people, so of course it is imperfect.  I think that changes will come in a manner the Lord sees fit, and will probably look very different from many people’s expectations.  It will probably happen too slow for some and too fast for others, but the result will be a church that operates in a more Celestial manner in relation to the roles of men and women.

I hope to be able to delve in more deeply when the talk is published later this week.

 

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The blessing to me, that was blessing my daughter.

I read something this morning that pierced my soul when I read it.  It literally caused my heart to race and my hands to begin to tremble.  This emotional reaction came on so suddenly and strongly that my cognitive processes were unable to keep up and I didn’t immediately know why this short paragraph had effected me so dramatically.  To put this feeling into context, it was basically a mini-panic attack.  Now, being a advocate for mindfulness, I recognized that I needed to process this experience and get to the root cause of why I felt so attacked by what I read.  So, here is what I learned about myself through my internal reflection.

I’ll start with what triggered this.  It was a testimonial from a man named Adam on the Ordain Women website that was shared on Facebook.  Here is the link, but I’ll also share Adam’s entire testimonial here:

About three years ago I remember standing in a circle, surrounded by men (some important to me, some not so much). We were about to take part in one of the more significant events of a child’s life. In this instance, that child happened to be my own. I remember looking straight ahead through a gap between my uncle in-law and an old friend of mine, who more or less invited himself into the circle. What I saw was a face that stared back at me with a handful of emotions painted on it. Admiration, appreciation, a sense of parental pride, perhaps. Yet there she was, sitting on a bench, a mere spectator. Some of the men in the circle couldn’t tell you the full name of my infant, let alone did they sacrifice their bodies to keep her alive for 9 months. And they certainly had never spent one sleepless night ensuring the comfort of my little girl, amidst incessant cries. I remember thinking, “Something isn’t right here. She should be the one to do this.”

This is simply a small example among countless others that make it crystal clear to me.

I believe women should be ordained.

Now, in full disclosure I am not a supporter of the Ordain Women movement, but I am not a detractor either.  I do think there are equality issues within the Church and culture that need to be addressed, and I think that this movement is shining a light on areas of inequality.  However, my own personal opinion is to have patience with the Lord’s revelatory process and look at the way the system now works and search for the good that exists because of the current sex-segregated priesthood system while not putting blinders on to any gross inequalities and injustices.

Back to Adam’s story though and my personal reaction to it.  As I came to grips with my immediate emotional response, I began to realize that I reacted so strongly to this story because had my wife blessed our first daughter instead of me, irreparable damage may have happened to my family.  Not some imaginary damage, but real, lasting, devastating damage that may have ended my relationship with my wife and daughter.  The fact that I was able to bless my daughter provided me with a measure of protection from forces that were trying to destroy me shortly after my daughter was born.

One seriously under-reported mental health problem among men is male-postpartum depression and anxiety.  I came down with this very swiftly and severely following my daughter’s birth.  Even though I had been through battles with depression prior to this, this time it hit so quickly and so unexpectedly I couldn’t even consider disclosing what I was going through to anyone.  My internal thoughts and my supposed implications of becoming depressed right after the birth of my first-born were too horrific to let anyone who could have helped me know what was going on in the deep, dark recesses of my mind.  I kept a smiling face publicly, but within myself was a torment too great to put into words.  Too often, the only balm that I felt could have ended my torment was to run, to leave me wife and daughter; after all, if this was how bad I felt simply because my daughter had been born, what good was I to them?

Yet the Lord in his infinite wisdom has decreed that fathers should bless their children.  So, in the midst of being racked in my mind with continual torment, I knew that on an upcoming Sunday I would need to stand before a congregation of fellow members, my family, and my wife and allow myself to be a vessel of the Lord and a conduit for revelation.  I needed to spend time in prayer and fasting so I could be the person who the Lord, my daughter, and my wife needed me to be when that blessing was given, and that’s what happened.  Giving my daughter her blessing connected her to me, it renewed within me a strength and commitment to her and to her mother.  Now it was not a complete fix, I did eventually need both therapy and medication to overcome this challenge, but the act of giving my daughter a blessing was a great protection.  It was the first step of many that saved my family from the brink of destruction.

Let me conclude my remarks by speaking directly to you, Adam.  Do not discount your role in the rearing of your child and the importance of the fact that YOU were the person responsible for his/her blessing.  Yes, your wife sacrificed 9 months and the health of her body to bring this child into the world, and she will continue to sacrifice for the care and well-being of this child, but those 9 months also gave her a 9 month advantage in getting to know your child and his/her personality.  As a father, you need every opportunity given to you to connect to your children and understand them, and still you will never catch up with your wife in being able to sense when something is wrong, when they need help, and how to succor and care for them.  She had 9 months of pregnancy followed my months of breastfeeding and cuddling.  You need your time too to get to know this child, and the blessing is a wonderful opportunity to do so.  It is a few minutes where if you can prepare yourself, you can feel the touch of revelation and see the same potential in this child that Heavenly Father does.  These are revelations your wife has likely already received during her months of pregnancy and her first moments with her newborn.

If you feel your wife was a mere spectator during the blessing, take corrective action when your next child is born or during future ordinances.  Be more selective and intentional about who is in the circle beforehand.  Have a family gathering before the service with all invited members of the circle and have your wife offer a prayer that the Holy Spirit will guide your words in the blessing.  In your prayer as a couple the night before, as your wife to say that prayer and ask her to seek for things in that prayer that you ought to include in your blessing the next morning.  Go out of your way to include your wife in this blessing within the Lord’s guidelines as we currently understand them.

I simply want to share that in this specific regard I hope that the Child’s Blessing remains the father’s responsibility.  It was a necessary and protective blessing to me in my family, because if I had witnessed my wife blessing our daughter when I felt so disconnected to this newborn, I may have given in to the horrific thoughts in my mind to take off because clearly my wife wouldn’t have needed me.  She had carried her, she had delivered her, she was now feeding and caring for her.  If she had also blessed her, that what good was I?  I hate to think what I might have done if I can succumbed to such thoughts.  I hope that as we pursue opportunities to increase women’s equality in the Church, we do not eliminate traditions that bring blessings to fathers in our relationships with our children.  This goes so far beyond and deeper than the “women have children; men have the priesthood” platitude, this is about advocating an equality in the father/child and the mother/child relationship.  Something that is vital for both fathers and children.

Celebrating an Anniversary

I’m turning 35 this year.  It feels in my head like a milestone mark, being closer to 40 than 30, and puts in my mind the number of goals that I need to accomplish in the next 5 years: losing 40 (yes 40) pounds, running a 5k in under 27 minutes again, completing my licensure requirements for the Clinical Mental Health Counselor license and starting my at home part-time practice, earning a promotion to a supervising position in a university advising office, but I digress.

Turning 35 also makes me think of other things turning 35 this year, those events and persons who also came about in 1978 and are still with us today.  The comic strip Garfield.  I’ve loved Garfield since I was about 5 and I was probably about 11 when I figured out that in Garfield’s annual birthday strips he turns the same age I do.  The first test-tube baby.  It’s not me, but my parents bought a funny birthday card when I turned 18 that jokingly implied that (I wonder how many other people got that card in 1996).  Both Pope John Paul I & Pope John Paul II started their papacies.  Also, one that I always remember because it shares my exact birthday is the premier of the original Battlestar Galactica series, although the 2003 version was better.  While, of course, I don’t have any personal memory of any of these events, 1978 seemed like an interesting year.

English: Spencer Woolley Kimball, the twelfth ...

English: Spencer Woolley Kimball, the twelfth president of (LDS Church) from 1973 until his death in 1985. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is one other thing that is turning 35 this year, and other than my own birth is probably the most significant event from that year on my life.  On June 1, 1978 President Spencer W. Kimball along with the other members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received the revelation extending the Priesthood to all worthy male members putting more than a century of institutionalized racial discrimination to rest.  This was announced publicly on June 9, 1978 and the policy was effective immediately.  There is so much that can be written and said on this topic.  I noticed that the Salt Lake Tribune wrote three articles on it, and I’m sure more from other sources followed.  All of this is on top of all the things that have been written previously, my favorite being the short book President Kimball’s own son wrote for BYU Studies.

Rather than do another scholarly look trying to historical milestones or a  discussion of how the ban impacts the sociological issues of contemporary LDS society, I want to talk about how this ban impacted my life and what I have learned because of its existence.  I stated above that the two most significant events in my life in 1978 were my birth and the this revelation.  Some might wonder though how this could have really effected me, a guy who was born into the Church, white as white could be, who never had to worry about whether or not he would be ordained when he turned 12. Well, life is about connecting with other people and through my years of connecting with others it has become clear to me that despite President Kimball’s revelation, the simple fact that I am Mormon and the simple fact that this ban existed had an impact on how I have been about to connect and get to know people in all my years of life.

I don’t remember how young I was when my mom first told me this story, but I feel like I’ve known it my whole life.  She was still pregnant with me on that fateful June 9th, and she was packing up for a move because my dad had just finished his graduate studies and they were heading back to Southern California to be close to friends and family.  My parents were the only Mormons in their families since both were converts and they didn’t get much support in their decision to join the Church.  In the few times I ever heard my grandparents discuss their initial skepticism of my parents’ decisions the Priesthood ban was never mentioned, but my parents both mentioned questioning joining the Church over the ban.  Both of them said that the comfort and guidance of the Spirit allowed them to overcome whatever skepticism they had and hope in a future day policy change comforted them.  They only had to wait a few years for such a change.  My mom said that all she could do was sit down and cry, she was so overcome with joy.  My dad was off running errands and heard on the radio.  He came home so excited and happy and said he just held my mom and cried the second he came through the door.  It is a touching image I’ve always been able to see in my mind’s eye.

Growing up, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard just about every excuse for the ban that has every been thought up, and I probably adhered to couple of them on occasion at different times in my life.  By my mid-20’s I had pretty much settled on the idea that the ban was instituted by Brigham Young as a non-revelatory policy, and was allowed to continue and prosper in the early church thanks to the bigotry of the era and theories about Cain and whatnot that entered our church via converts and dialog with other Christians.  I personally don’t know why it wasn’t reversed when the idea was explored in the 1920’s and again in the 50’s, but I personally assume it probably has to do with a lack of preparation within the existing Church membership for the eventuality of a multicultural and multiracial Church.  Beyond satisfying my own curiosities and questions about the origin and existence of the ban, I didn’t think about it that much for several years.  However, over the past three years, I have had a number of experiences that have opened my eyes to the legacy of the ban and the impact bigoted members of the Church have had on new converts.  I have now reached a point where I will no longer turn a blind eye to racist comments and I feel very strongly that I need to lovingly work with Church members for change whenever unacceptable behavior, comments, or ideas are perpetuated.

This change within my was gradual and started when I befriended a Haitian member of the Church who was from Chicago.  He was a convert, and talked about how joining the Church had been hard on his family and mother in particular.  I was able to bond over the fact that being a second generation Mormon, I was able to witness a turnaround in my extended family over the years and I wished him hope that he would someday see the same thing.   He countered with the fact that the priesthood ban, and the continuing racist attitudes in the Church would probably make it difficult for his family to ever really be okay with his membership.  I understood how the priesthood ban might be a factor, but I asked him about these continuing racist attitudes, and so he told me.  Story after story about being denied standing in blessing circles, having to listen to stories about his ancestors being less worthy in the pre-existence, and often having his ideas and input ignored in leadership meetings.  It was all very disheartening to hear, so I decided to cheer him up, and what better story to tell then the one that had brought me so much comfort: the story of my dear little pregnant mom becoming so overwhelmed with joy that she had to sit down and cry back on that fateful June 9th.  So, I told the story . . . but, something must have went wrong in the telling.  He responded with, “yeah, some people weren’t ready.”  It was the strangest response to this story I’d ever had, and while quickly rewinding through my mind I figured out that when I said my mom had become overwhelmed when hearing the news, I had left out the critical “with joy.”  I quickly corrected his assumption, but needless to say, that tidbit of info is not as effective a tool when added as an addendum to the story.

I was annoyed with my friend, and actually a little offended that he could have ever assumed my mother was a racist.  It just didn’t compute to me how my point could have been misunderstood that way.  Still, I swallowed my pride and this exchange of ours had no lasting impact on our relationship.  That moment of misunderstanding stuck in my mind though; a reminder to myself to me more conscientious when sharing that story in the future.

About a year later I was in my Master’s program and I reached the semester where I would take the mandatory Multicultural Counseling course.  I hadn’t been looking forward to this class.  For the most part, living in Dallas had given me a distaste for “crying-wolf racism.”  It seemed so prevalent in all local politics and this was also around the time of the 2008 election, so I had unfortunately developed a thick skin to accusations of racism and assumed nearly all contemporary accusations were unwarranted (I still believe there are unwarranted accusations–I’m looking at you Chris Matthews–but I no longer jump to the default position that an accusation is likely unwarranted).  This class though was amazingly insightful.  We had a very diverse group of students and for the first time in our lives we really talked about these issues with the goal to increase our ability to develop empathy across cross-cultural and cross-racial boundaries.  In all honesty, this class was the most spiritually fulfilling exercise in my life outside of Church, and I would still say that even if I had not had the experience I’m about to share.

The professor and the TA who led this class were very thoughtful and deliberate in the approach to the material.  The development of bonds of friendships and trust were encouraged in the early classes so that when we discussed our personal experiences of bias, prejudice, and bigotry we would be able to discuss openly with minimal offense.  Multicultural competence is difficult and being able to bring 20 strangers together of differing backgrounds to openly discuss these issues is challenging.

When we were in the midst of our unit on the African American experience my eyes were opened to their hardships (both historical and current) that most in the community still face.  Being able to discuss life experiences openly with my peers and hear their stories was profoundly impactful.  There was no single one insight, but rather layer upon layer I was able to better understand viewpoints that had previously eluded me in my life.  At the conclusion of one of the classes, I began my 45 minute drive home feeling overwhelmed, but uplifted.  As I drove home the uplifted feeling left because I found myself dwelling on moments in my life when I had not handled a situation as well as I should have, or I had allowed myself to judge someone unfairly.  In this moment of guilt, I found myself most strongly ruminating on the misunderstanding I had had with my friend over my mom’s reaction to the end of the priesthood ban.  I felt so guilty that I had taken offense, however modest, at his assumption.  I should have understood his experience better, and if I had, then of course I would have understood why his perspective was to assume racism unless the opposite had been clearly stated.

I found myself unable to stop ruminating on this feeling of guilt (my tendency to ruminate is something I’ll probably discuss in the future), and as it was locked in my head I began to find myself getting angry.  I was angry at Brigham Young  for instituting the ban, I was angry at subsequent church leaders who let it stand, and I was angry at current Church members who used the ban as an excuse to still hold racist attitudes and to perpetuate falsehoods.  The question formed in my mind, “Why would God have permitted this atrocity within His own Church?”  Those 20 minutes from the moment I got in my car until I reached that point was the strongest challenge to my Testimony I have ever experienced in my life.  I had known the Church was true since I was 16 years old, and nothing had caused me to waiver in my belief like the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing that night.  It might have only lasted about 20 minutes, but the term “crisis of faith,” almost feels like an understatement.

Fortunately, my years of Sunday School classes paid off, because I said a prayer right there while driving.  It was brief, but sincere and can be summarized to basically “Please don’t challenge me like this right now.  Between my work and school responsibility I cannot handle a challenge to my faith to this magnitude right now. Amen”  No sooner had I said “Amen,” my phone rang and of all the people in the world who would have called me at 9:45pm on a Thursday night, it was my Mom.  Now understand, that my Mom almost never called me on weeknights while I was in grad school.  She knew I was almost always in class, so she would wait until Sunday nights to call.  Remarkably too, there was no real news to share, she just wanted to call to say hi and check in.  I was in complete shock, I could barely respond to her questions. I didn’t tell her in that phone call what I had been going through in the 20 minutes before she called.  I just spent those 5 minutes listening to her voice and feeling reassured.  Once our brief conversation concluded, a feeling of peace permeated through my body, and I knew that my prayer had been answered.

I realize that I am posting this publicly and that many who read this may not fully understand how I can view this as more that a “coincidence.” Well, I’m comfortable with people calling it a coincidence for their own interpretation, but understand that this coincidence had a profound impact on me.  None of the frustrations or anger that I had felt towards the priesthood ban left me, but I felt assured that while whatever failings of man had allowed for the creation and perpetuation of the priesthood ban, God had not been negligent.  I was reminded that He works in his own ways and own timetable through us, His imperfect servants.  Also, as imperfect as we are, we need to be striving towards perfection, and the disease of racism is one of the things holding His children back from perfection, but for the first time in all of human history we can finally combat it head on.

Prior to that night, I had been trying to stand on the sidelines of racism, to let others battle it out.  Since that night, I had felt that I need to strive for opportunities to combat it on the front lines, especially within our Church community.  Racism has no place in the hearts of the disciples of Christ and my hope is that by sharing my story others will question their own attitudes and feel motivated to speak up and challenge themselves and others when we engage in racist attitudes or conversation.

—–

I do want to offer a couple more bits of information on this topic before I conclude.  First, many people in the Church and outside often demand that the Church leadership offer a condemnation of myths regarding the origin of the ban, what we forget is that they have, and they did way back in 1978:

“Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world . . . It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject.”

Also, many argue that the Church is looking too much for uniformity among its members in both appearance and attitude, well we have a pretty strong condemnation of that belief from our current leadership:

Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected J...

Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected Jesus Christ, as depicted in the Christus Statue in the North Visitors’ Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“But while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.

It also contradicts the intent and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency—with all its far-reaching consequences—of each and every one of God’s children. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.

The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.”

Let us as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints be examples to the world of openness and love to all people regardless of race, color, or creed.  All of us are Children of God and should be treated accordingly.