I may choose to ignore people who comment anonymously. I choose never to be anonymous online myself. I have little tolerance for this behavior.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Bar Mitzvah for a Mormon Girl

CNN published "A rabbi, a Mormon and a black Christian mayor walk into a room..." today. It is an entertaining article and profiles a unique friendship among three very different men.

The article served to remind me of something that occurred in my own family. It may seem small to others but it had a profound effect on all of us.

One of my nieces in California was invited to a Bar Mitzvah by a friend. I'm not certain if she attended the ceremony itself or simply the celebration of it. My own knowledge of Judaism is so sketchy I can only guess, since most of my own knowledge comes from bad movies.

I do know that the invitation occurred months before the actual event. She was honored to be asked and the invitation was rather exclusive as I recall, the only non-Jew he invited, I think. Months of anticipation and preparation followed, undoubtedly for the young man but also for my niece.

News of the invite quickly spread throughout my very Mormon family.

We were all concerned that she conduct herself in a manner that would be respectful to her friend and the importance of the event she was attending.

Conduct was the main concern in the early months. As the event drew near, more practical considerations received attention. She got a new dress and new shoes. In addition, another of my nieces styled her hair and helped her with other aspects of her personal appearance.

Okay, this may not be unusual for teenage girls. However, it IS a bit unusual for my niece who is somewhat resistant to appearance and hygiene issues, especially if they are at the core of power conflicts with her mother.

I'm not certain if the young man or his family knew how important our family, but especially my niece, considered this invitation. To be invited to such a religiously significant event left a lasting mark on all of us.

It introduced her to other religious beliefs, religious people and religious ceremonies in an authentic and significant way.

I cannot imagine a better way to obtain that type of knowledge.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Units Imploding, Any Survivors?

If the devil's usual tactics do not work to make Mormons lose their testimony or go inactive, I think he tries to destabilize local units from within. From my observation, I think this is happening more and more.

Okay, what do I mean?

I think he targets the units' social dynamics. This can take many forms. I'll give you some examples both old and new:

- Thomas B. Marsh's wife's disagreement with another sister over milk strippings that resulted in him apostatizing and leaving the Church for years.

- Controversies over people's children can infect unit dynamics. For example, if one member's child jilts another member's child in a romantic relationship.

- Personal dislike between members can affect whether some individuals are fully included in the unit's activities or in the unit's communication system.

- Letting personal political differences affect how we act at church and how we treat members we disagree with.

- Older members of the ward alienating new members. I've addressed this on this blog before.

- Letting our personal feelings over something interfere with our voting to sustain a church leader or not sustaining a church leader by our actions.

I was once in a ward where some people opposed sustaining a new Bishop. I don't know all the details but it had to do with his professional position and an action his company was taking. The members disagreed with it so they voted not to sustain him as Bishop.

I once saw a man oppose sustaining a young boy to be a Teacher in the priesthood because the man's own son had his ordination delayed because he had not completed something. So, in protest, he opposed the next boy's advancement.

These circumstances are undoubtedly more complex than how I've presented them. They are used solely to give you an idea of what I'm referring to. 

However, I still remember vividly the fear on the boy's face when the man opposed his ordination and how carefully he scanned the audience the next week when his ordination was voted on again, this time unopposed. I'll never forget his countenance and I was very young at the time.

I hate to use more specific examples because they would be real life ones from my experiences and could inflame the issue all over again if someone reads them here.

Units are populated with people. People are imperfect. Throw immaturity and pride into the mix and you may well have an explosion.

I don't have a lot of advice to offer on this issue. We've been cautioned to school our feelings. That is about the only thing I can recommend.

Even when we have been treated unjustly by church leaders the only real option we have is how we will react to it. I've been lied to by local church leaders. I've also been lied about by local church leaders. I know of multiple incidents that involved misbehavior towards others by both leaders and members.

It can happen. It has happened. It is happening and it will happen again in the future.

I would suggest the following:

1. Avoid knee jerk reactions and carefully think through how you choose to "act" to what has happened. It will have implications for you and others.

Anger is a knee jerk reaction and an all too common one. If you delay acting you will probably avoid anger.

2. Avoid acting in a way you know will be harmful or immature.

I'm going to strike hard at the women on this one. It is my opinion that women who have not advanced beyond high school generally retain a high school maturity level and often the social dynamics that go along with it. This often encourages cliques and affects social interactions in units.

The high school model tends to be exclusionary rather than inclusive. I've not noticed this being a problem as much amongst more mature women. I think women cause a lot of the social problems at church.

I've watched some unit incidents get wildy out of control because of immaturity. More mature behavior could mitigate it or even end it entirely.

3. Don't talk about the incident with others and don't encourage others to discuss it either.

One good way to avoid inflaming the situation is to get your information from a qualified source, like the people directly involved, for example. Don't accept or encourage hearsay or second-hand information from anyone.

If you can't get your information from a qualified source, retain your ignorance. Believe me, it is worth it.

Shut down the gossip network by refusing to be a part of it.

4. Admitting you were wrong, or may be wrong, is not a sign of weakness.

If you are a church leader it won't reduce your authority or your power to admit error. It may be agonizingly hard but it will be the right thing to do.

Christ never erred, but we aren't so lucky.

5. Remember, the Atonement covers everything.

If someone who was disciplined is back in the church, in full fellowship, then what occurred in the past is entirely irrelevant. Let it go -- completely!

6. Accept your church leaders decisions gracefully and acknowledge that they have the authority to make the decisions even if you do not personally agree with them.

On occasion, I've had the audacity to question leaders personally over why they did something. This was usually in a church interview for something else. The leaders have ALL explained what they could to me. Every time, I have been convinced of their righteous decision making usually because there were caveats I knew nothing about.

7. Recognize that you have responsibility for your own actions and that your actions may well affect someone else's activity whether you intend it or not.

Not intending to hurt someone does not excuse you from doing so. Actions are not always consistent with intent.

Enough said, at least by me, and this post is already longer than I intended as well as later than I intended.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Case Study: Mormon, Ex-Mormon and Miss Piggy

Years ago when I attended BYU, there was some sort of controversy on campus about something being offensive, beards or something similar. Yes, I know this is still a daily occurrence at BYU. Somebody is always finding something offensive there.


In addition to the usual drivel in the school newspaper, I remember someone writing a satirical piece arguing that Miss Piggy was offensive and any paraphernalia using her was being removed from the BYU Bookstore. It was funny and I remember laughing about it and dismissing it from my mind.


Fast forward a few years. A fellow graduate student who was a BYU-Hawaii graduate told me that he worked in the BYU-Hawaii Bookstore when this Miss Piggy farce piece ran in the newspaper. Not realizing that it was satire, they took it seriously and removed all Miss Piggy kitsch from the bookstore. My friend told me that they reasoned that if BYU was doing it then they should follow suit. It wasn't until he attended BYU himself that he realized it was satire.


If this action strikes you as odd, consider something I learned when I attended BYU-Hawaii. Sarcasm doesn't exist in all cultures. It does not exist in Polynesian and some Asian cultures. I learned this the hard way. No, I'm not going into any more detail.


In addition, even if sarcasm does exist in their culture a language barrier can often confuse it rendering people unable to recognize it.


If you Google "Miss Piggy" and BYU now you will find postings on Ex-Mormon sites where people claim that when BYU removed Miss Piggy they knew they had to leave the Church. Some other postings also relate this historical anecdote as fact. A few postings correctly identify it as a "farce."


I'm wondering how many other misunderstandings, misinterpretations, intentional obfuscations, outright lies and other similar instances have also morphed into fact over the years.


It makes one wonder . . .

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Statistically, I Didn't Exist

When I worked as a professor I was a real oddity. Not because of my personality, but because of my subject area and political persuasion.


I was a conservative Republican political science professor. There are so few that fit this category that it doesn't make up even one percent of all political science professors. Statistically, I didn't exist.


If I hadn't been Mormon, I believe I would be a liberal Democrat. (I'll address this issue more in an upcoming series.) For now, I want to highlight a few comments in a wonderful piece in Inside Higher Education. It's entitled "An Acceptable Prejudice" by Thomas C. Terry. He's an Episocopalian Associate Professor of Mass Communications at Idaho State University. The entire essay is well worth reading.
I’ve attended numerous scholarly conferences since that lunch where Mormonism has been discussed, and it is amazing to confront snide and disdainful comments and even overt prejudice from intellectually and sophisticated academics. 
I was at a conference at Wayne State University. The speaker ask how many of us voted for Bob Dole. Mine was the only hand.


I didn't hear a lot of snide comments about Mormons. But, apparently they were said, because I had friends and colleagues tell me about them later, privately. It was usually to give me a heads up about avoiding such people if I wanted tenure.
Many of the academics consider themselves liberal, socially responsible, and broad-minded individuals, the repository of the best in America. They’re proud of themselves for voting for Barack Obama (a bit too smug maybe?). They would splutter and bluster and be generally outraged to be considered prejudiced. None would consider saying anything similar about African-Americans, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans . . . well, you get the idea. But anti-Mormonism is part of the same continuum that contains discrimination against any group. Why, then, is it allowable publicly express bias against Mormons?
It was a bit difficult to separate my Mormoness from my Republican conservatism. I cannot be sure what exactly the other professors were reacting to. I can only guess. But, given that my experiences mirror Professor Terry's, I cannot assume mine were unusual.


Given how few of us there were, the other professors could pretty much insult us with impunity.