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| Elder Holland was supposed to be the main speaker at the kick-off of the Young Single Adult conference here in Arizona this weekend. My daughter received an e:mail today that explained that Elder Holland wouldn't be able to attend because he was needed for an emergency assignment. There were a lot of negative comments floating around on Facebook and Twitter about the no show.
The singles had to pay fifty dollars each in order to participate in the events this weekend, so a few of them were vocal about no Holland. He's been scheduled for months, so I wonder what kind of emergency pulled him away. I hope it's to publish another essay, those get good threads started!
| I walked out of stake conference today in the middle of Henry the-church-is-true-because-I-treasure-it Eyring's address. It felt awesome.
This Stake Conference was one of those broadcast ones where a GA in SLC addresses several stakes as once and we sit in a dark room watching a massive screen. Eyring was presiding. The conference built up to his message which was basically: Since Non-members don't come to church it is impossible for them to be happy. TBM's love their kin. It's impossible for a TBM to be truly happy unless all of their kin are also coming to church. Therefore church members are accountable for bringing all their kin into full activity in the church.
I'd stopped caring what was being said long before this so I was only half listening, but at this point my wife leaned over and whispered "I'm deeply disturbed by this message and think we should leave." (In young women's she had been constantly pressured to `save' her wayward relatives and peers). She didn't have to suggest it twice. We stood up, gathered the kids and walked out.
We ate lunch at home and talked with the kids about how we should respect other people's free agency, how we are not responsible for other people's choices, and, most importantly to me, that sometime the church leadership is wrong and it is okay to disagree with them. We then drove out to the beach as a family and enjoyed the rest of the day together. Best Sunday I can remember.
| The church spared no expense with this building. Rumor has it that the chandelier, alone, was a million dollars. The public tours started last Saturday, so it's getting a lot of buzz online and in the local media. While standing in line to tour the temple, my daughter was confronted by a man that told the group of young adults that the money spent on the temple would have been able to help so many poor people. One of the kids told the man that for Mormons, the Temple is the house of the Lord. "Wouldn't you construct the very best if you believed it was for the Lord?" Then they spent the next few minutes telling each other about the vast resources that the church has spent on welfare/humanitarian efforts. I had to bite my tongue, but I wanted to say "yeah, the church spent as much to build a mall as they have on 25 years of humanitarian aid", but I don't have the desire to crap on TBM parades/testimony circle jerks like I did just a couple of years ago. Anyhow, very nice building.
That reality really gets me angry. There's a gigantic room in the middle of the Temple where a sign reads: "Family waiting area for Temple Sealings". There are several sealing rooms that surround this center waiting area. The thought I shared with my wife is that this temple waiting area is only for temple recommend holding members that are able to attend the actual wedding. I mentioned that it's sad that so much thought was put into making it comfortable for those allowed to participate, but that there isn't really much for those that are excluded. This is a hard reality. At no time did the tour mention that non-LDS will be excluded, even from weddings, once it's dedicated.
| Just wanted to share a couple of comments from ward council today.
First off, they shared that in stake training they have learned that right now 7 percent of missionaries are coming home early. This was from the general church as a whole. Our stake is experiencing a 5 percent rate of coming home early. Can't say I am surprised or feel that it is a bad thing.
Secondly, we talked about the same sex marriage law change in the state of Utah and we read the entire letter from the first presidency about not using chapels for gay marriages and how important a mother AND a father are in having a "real" family. One of the sisters piped up that if you don't have a father AND a mother in the home, then the future of that child is hopeless. :shock:
My father died while I was a kid and so I was raised by my mother. So I spoke up at this point of time and pointed out that a blanket statement like that was probably more harmful than helpful. I probably came across stronger than I needed to because this was personal to me. She agreed and backed down.
Then the bishop talked about mormons for equality. He then clearly said that these mormons are standing on satan's side of the line. :shock:
I was feeling a bit overwhelmed from the prior comments, that I didn't say anything at the time. But I think it is time to let the bishop know, I am one of those liberal mormons. Just in case he wants to release me.
We'll see how that goes.
Interesting morning on the home front.
| Today was another regional stake conference, the southeast US this time around. The broadcast originated from a stake center in Orlando, FL. It was beamed to 48 stakes in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Russell Nelson was the ranking official at the meeting. Two members of the 70 were in attendance, Robert Gay and Erich Kopischke. Carol McConkie, a member of the General YW Presidency, was also in attendance.
Robert Gay spoke on "wickedness never was happiness". He said that at a previous stake conference QandA session, a member asked how they could respond to their ex-mormon friends that say they are happier outside the church than they were while they were members. Robert then quoted the scripture in Alma where he says that wickedness never was happiness. He didn't address why this person might be happier outside the church, he merely assumed they weren't really happy and that they were wicked. He said that true happiness is only available to members of TSCC. He briefly mentioned the hastening of the work. Members should reach out to less actives or people that have left the church. Invite them back, be nice them, love them.
Carol McConkie spoke about obedience. Obedience above all things, this was the only way to happiness. She said that just because mankind has changed its views on what is acceptable behavior, doesn't mean that God's will or way of life has changed. She mentioned obedience to the 10 commandments, tithing, the law of chastity, etc.
Erich Kopischke spoke about hastening the work. Hastening the Work also didn't necessarily mean missionary work. We should be examples of righteousness to those around us.
Russell Nelson gave a talk that could have been given to the primary kids. Just the basics. He mentioned 9 facets of doctrine that would enable us to be happy.
The underlying message from all 4 speakers was that true happiness is only available in TSCC. It seemed like an attempt to inform members that leaving the church would inevitably lead to sorrow and a terrible life.
| I went to the 12 and up "adult" session tonight. They talked on and on about Hastening the Work. It was tedious. In the past, the adult sessions have been the best sessions. I have left them feeling uplifted and renewed. Tonight I felt as though I was forced to sit through another two hour youth program that was poorly put together. My teenagers were none too keen either.
After the sessions I took the kids to get some frozen yogurt (per mormon culture). They deserved it. My kids started talking about the universe and science. I told them that I believe in the big bang and evolution. They seemed a little surprised. Then my DS opened up a little. He told us that prophets can get things wrong. To prove it he quoted Joseph F. Smith (I think) saying that man will never walk on the moon. I told him that I could one up him on that and then told him about Joseph Smith talking about man living on the moon. My DS was stunned. He started to try to make excuses for Joseph Smith and said that it was probably a vision for a future time. I laughed and told him no, it was for Joseph Smiths time. I explained what the moon aliens were suppose to look like. DS was shocked and wanted to see proof of it. Half of me wants to show him, the other half wants to allow him to come to this on his own when he is ready.
On the way home my DD said that with all of the church meetings, get togethers that are not optional, and the constant talks on missionary work our church looks and acts like a cult. I laughed and told her that if our church didn't want to be accused of being a cult we should stop acting like one. Then DS asked how we could know for sure if a prophet is talking for himself or for God. Before I could say anything he gave the usual answer - pray and find out for yourself. I asked him - what if you prayed and the answer was the opposite of the prophet. DS responded - I guess you go with the answer you received. I told him that was correct and went a little further telling him that no matter who is in authority over him be it a coach, teacher, or the prophet himself - if it feels wrong, it is wrong and he would be better off trusting his own instinct.
What seemed like a big waste of time and a tedious chore turned out to be a wonderful night. I hope that with some luck my children will be open to questioning and thinking for themselves. I thought that it was too late for my teenagers. After tonight - I am hopeful.
| As soon as I looked at the ward bulletin this morning, I knew we were in for a doozy. All the bishopric were speaking, for one. And there was a special insert in the bulletin with our ward goals for the year. After the goals were listed (8 convert baptisms, 75% of endowed adults with current temple recommend, etc...), there were six challenges to individual members. I'll list them for your viewing pleasure:
Well, I can definitely get behind #4! Maybe #2 as I do still have a temple recommend for another year. The rest have me cringing, either due to the hastening the work theme or #3 because my DH's recommend expired last month.
- Each person to extend an invitation to at least one non-member and one less-active member to come to sacrament eeting or meet with the full time missionaries.
- Each person to prepare and perform a temple ordinance for one of their own family members.
- Each endowed member to have a current temple recommend.
- Each member to personally assist the "poor and needy."
- Melchizedek Priesthood: Monthly attendance at full time missionary teaching appointments
- Monthly invitation to bring someone into your home.
So, it was all a bit of a guilt fest, and then our mild, non-assuming bishop pulls out this gem: "These goals are very important. In fact, your exaltation depends on you doing this." WHAT?! I would never have expected him to say this. The reasoning was that we made certain commitments at baptism, and this is part of the deal. Oh, the look I shot DH. We were both stunned. And five minutes later, I had to give the closing prayer. DH leaned over and said, "Make it very zen." (In allusion to the Buddhist book I was reading during sacrament.)
| Ganesh Cherian of Wellington, New Zealand is currently a Stake High Counsellor and has served as a bishop for five and a half years. Feel free to address comments to Ganesh on this site or visit his own blog LDS Essays.
Last month our Stake Presidency selected President Uchtdorf's renowned talk `Come join with us' from the October 2013 conference for our fourth Sunday `Teaching for our Times' lesson. President Uchtdoft gave an impassioned plea to those who have left the church, admitting mistakes in leadership, and promising a place for those who doubt. Since then it feels like the church has changed. While Uchdorft's talk seemed extraordinary at the time, in retrospect it feels like it was a preface for that change. Change that is not without its challenges.
During this particular lesson one of my fellow high-priests informed us that two friends (a former Bishop, and a Stake President) in England had recently left the church over the `Race and the Priesthood' essay. As dutiful leaders they had instructed their congregations, referring to the `the seed of Cain' explanation for withholding the priesthood from Black members of the church until 1978. This recent `clarification' had apparently undermined their understanding of both revelation and doctrine. Though I haven't left the church, this shift to more transparency is a challenge for me as well. Not because I don't welcome these revisions. They seem very fair and thoroughly researched. But like my fellow high priests, I too used these now discarded explanations and doctrines throughout my leadership to teach - and now I'm left to wonder.
As many may be aware, following the October General Conference the church released four essays, and without fanfare quietly included them in the `Gospel Topics' section of the church's official website. These essays have comprised the First Vision Accounts; Race and the Priesthood; Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah; and Book of Mormon Translation. Each is a challenge to the seemingly authoritative version of our history - and the intention is to release more revisions/explanations by April 2014. Drawing on historical evidence and scholarship these essays go further than any previous official publications issued by the church in contradicting those narratives that good members have long repeated as justifications for our more curious doctrines and practices. And naturally, many are baffled.
Our first Joseph Fielding Smith lesson for 2014 for instance included a discussion about the first vision being our resounding witness of God and Jesus Christ as separate individuals. But after a careful reading of the new source material it would appear that the First Vision account as we have come to know it, was virtually unheard of for the first decade of the Church's existence. What we now regard as pivotal to our claim to divine mandate was absent for the first members. Leaving many questions over what those founding Mormons actually believed about the nature of the Godhead, and what caused them to join the church?
As a former Bishop I am perplexed. I have repeated stories to my ward to justify particular church practices. I have given the hard line on church policies and doctrines and have held people accountable. As recently as June I reasoned with a friend that polygamy was needed because there were so many more women than men at the time, an argument that the polygamy essay seems now to repudiate.
All of this has caused me to grapple with my own questions. Is it possible that I have hurt people with doctrines and dogmas that in the light of these essays seem to sit on shaky ground? I understand how essential it is to `sustain' the Brethren but these days I live with a caution that those ideals that I believe today could be dismissed by future First Presidencies. As a Bishop I once performed a wedding for a friend of a friend. The grooms ex-wife and her girlfriend were guests and as I was seated at their table during the reception we chatted. It became apparent that they had really enjoyed the way I had conducted the ceremony and they asked if I would be willing to be their forthcoming `Civil Union' celebrant. I turned them down explaining that as an officer of the LDS church I wasn't permitted. I tried to be as sensitive and compassionate as possible and one of the women seemed genuinely understanding of my position but her partner was visibly upset. At the time I felt reassured that I was `right,' andthat any distress I had caused them was totally justified. I even congratulated myself on some level that I was sharing the gospel with them. I look back at that experience with regret. I now wish that I had just reached out and given them both a big hug.
I also question myself regarding how blameless I am in my representation of these doctrines as definitive? Was I complicit in telling stories I suspected were problematic? Could I have made an effort to be more informed? Could I have asked more questions, been more thoughtful, mindful? How did I get to this place where I have cause to wonder about my own, and the church's integrity?
Today I am reeling from the translation of the `Book of Mormon' essay. Exactly how was I to know that Joseph Smith got the words to the Book of Mormon by burying his head in a hat. How was I to know that a stone he found in a well was instrumental in this process of translation? Every picture, or video I have ever seen has him sitting at a table with the gold plates before him pouring over these `curious characters' by the light of a candle! Was I načve to have faith in this story? Was I wrong to retell this story as a teacher, as a missionary, or as a priesthood leader? What am I now to make of the `truth of the matter' when it speaks neither to my heart nor my soul. What am I to make of a story I find confounding and frankly bizarre?
In New Zealand, as with other Mormon outliers we can sometimes have an insular view of the church. Away from the political, economic and academic machinations of the Mountain West, questioning is muted with accusations of `intellectualizing' and `lack of faith'. In our predominantly Polynesian community faithful feeling is trusted before reason, and conformity is valued over critique. My Pasifika brothers have been powerful and untiring servants of the church, sacrificing time and their meager means to do so. Because of language, education or cultural barriers it is unlikely that many of the older generation will ponder these revisions as I have. We may find ourselves on opposite sides of a delicate line, they preferring a version of church history that agrees with the `fabric of faithful feeling' and myself seeking an understanding of the facts? Will we then be pitted against each other? What if they, or others, who are disinterested in these historical revisions) are my Bishops or Stake Presidents? Will this mean that I will be judged unworthy or unfaithful?
As we discussed these issues in class, some High Priests were visibly mortified, others bewildered, and a few exhilarated. Maybe this signals a return to the kind of lessons where plenty of heated discussion, peppered with rampant speculation was the order of the day. The kind of high priest's banter that occurred before correlation and before our lively discussion were suppressed by our rigid adherence to a strict curriculum.
But as for me I am left to wonder where I go from here. I am torn. I love my church and credit where I am in my life to years of church service - but I cannot ignore the dishonesty. I feel aggrieved that in attempting to sustain and perpetuate stories of faith, the church has accredited doctrines to God that are simply fictions. Can such a chasm be bridged as President Uchtdorf suggests?
As we file out of class, a fellow high councillor remarks, `Isn't it interesting that today's challenge to our faith is coming directly from the church?'
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