Shut the door!

The intersection of LDS discipleship and conscious citizenship

Month: March, 2013

The difficulty of dissent

Disagreeing with the prophet is hard. I mean, really really hard. I don’t know if you understand how difficult it is to disagree with the prophet when you’ve been born and raised in the church, served a mission, sealed in the temple, had a child die and know that your hope of seeing them again is tied to the covenants you’ve made in the temple, and live in the i-15 corridor so your entire culture as well as religion is Mormon, unless you’ve been there yourself.

I mean, I’m doing something I have been taught my entire life not to do. I can quote you scripture and verse on the dangers of steadying the ark, and whether by the voice of me or of my servants it is the same and I have a testimony of the brethren as prophets, seers, and revelators. And yet.

Heavenly Father told me to go to graduate school. He told me to go to the specific university I went to and to have the educational opportunities I had. And He arranged for me to have experiences that prepared me specifically to teach at BYU-I. I was interviewed by general authorities and approved by the Church Education board, which includes the First Presidency. And I held these same opinions when I taught at BYU-I as I do now.

Would I have written these blog posts if I had still been employed by the church? No, because I am disagreeing with official church policy, and I wouldn’t feel like I could do that as an employee of a church organization. So, I’m freer now. The interesting thing is that my time at BYU-I taught me a lot about church history and how the history of the church is very different in substantial ways than what is taught in Church History. It taught me a lot about how decisions are made in the church, how attitudes shift over time, and how revelations are received. If anything, my time at BYU-I made it easier to disagree with the church. And when I see the church have to disavow statements made by its own apostles on politically sensitive issues in the past, I wonder how much of what we are getting today will end up being disavowed in fifty years.

But Sister Arnell, I can hear you say, The Proclamation wasn’t just some off the cuff remark. It has the signature of all of the apostles and the First Presidency. And you’re right. It does.

There’s lots of  ways I could deal with that argument. That the Proclamation has never been put forth for a confirming vote to the members of the church to be accepted as doctrine, and therefore is not binding. That it was a politically motivated statement put forth to meet an evidentiary burden for the church to be able to file an amicus brief in the Hawaii gay marriage case (Baehr v. Milke) that was undergoing trial at the time. That the line about “other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation” may be a whole lot broader than we are willing to give it credit for.

But no. I have to be honest. I don’t know how to reconcile the Family Proclamation with what I have felt the Spirit tell me to be true. And that is that the government shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of gender when it comes to recognizing the validity of marriages as long as there are benefits attached to being married. I am not saying that churches should be required to perform weddings. I am solely talking about government recognition.

But I know that Heavenly Father spent a decade teaching me how to read law decisions, question authority, and be skeptical of claims to power. I served under good zone leaders and bad on my mission. I obeyed them both the same. I served under two mission presidents and two temple visitor center presidents, all of which had very different leadership styles, all of whom were good men. I’ve had multiple bishops. I’ve seen calls made by inspiration and calls made my desperation. I know that while the church is lead by men of God, they are also men who have been raised in specific historical and cultural contexts. And really, all I know is what Heavenly Father has told me through the power of the Holy Ghost. And I have no idea why it is so different from what the brethren are teaching. And it worries me. And it scares me. But I can’t deny what I know.

Does that mean I expect all members to believe the same way I do? No, absolutely not. Does that mean I think I am right and they are wrong? No. It means that right now I am in a place where my understanding is different. And most humans don’t do to well with different. So that causes problems some time. And when you get into “my truth is different from your truth” then that sounds like a bunch of post-modern nonsense.

But right now my truth seems to be different from the truth held by most members of my faith. There isn’t an easy answer to that dilemma. So I’m doing what I can to keep asking for knowledge. One of the most commonly repeated commands in the scriptures is to ask, and we’re told that if we do, we shall receive. So I keep asking. I keep praying to Heavenly Father to let me know if I’ve been misguided, or if I’m doing this out of some sort of need to be different or special or noticed. I keep checking myself to make sure this isn’t pride. And I keep asking for further knowledge.

Maybe I’m wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe I’m ahead of the curve. That would be first time. But right now I’m okay with where I am with God. That’s the only thing that gives me the courage to disagree with his servants.

And hopefully, we can continue to treat all people, regardless of political opinion, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation with nothing but love as this discussion continues, both here and in our homes, workplaces, and places of worship.

With love always.


Just some clarification

I used to teach at BYU-Idaho. I no longer do. I retired, if that’s the word for a 37 year old, for two reasons. One, I developed fibromyalgia and could not cope with the demands of a full time career with the serious chronic pain that I was dealing with in a way that was fair to my family or my job. 

Second, Heavenly Father told me it was time to come home and homeschool my son, who would be entering into kindergarten. Teaching him to read has been one of the highlights of my career.

Nothing I say should be taken to be the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Brigham Young University-Idaho or any other church affiliated institution. These are just my thoughts about trying to figure out how to live by the Spirit and be motivated by love as a member of this church.

I love you all.

What about the effects on society if gays are allowed to marry?

In which I will address all the reasons I have heard on why we, as a society, should not allow gay people to marry.

1. Oh noes, think of the children!

I do think of the children. I think of all the children in foster care who can’t get into long-term placements because there aren’t enough straight people willing to provide long-term families. I think of the children in foster care who can’t get adopted because gay couples aren’t allowed to adopt. I think of the gay children who grow up knowing that they will never be allowed to get married, that society thinks their love is less worthy because of something they have no control over. I think about how the rates of teen suicide are higher (some estimates place it at five times higher) among LBGTQ teenagers than among straight teenagers. I think of all the children who are bullied at school. I think of Matthew Shepherd who was born the same year as I was, who also studied political science, who was tied to a fence rail and beaten with a pistol butt and left to die. I think of Jaden Bell, and Josh Pacheco, and Tyler Clementi and Seth Walsh and Raymond Chase and all the other nameless children who died rather than continue facing the society we have right now. I think of the children who get kicked out of their house because they tell their parents they are gay so they end up living on the street. So yes, I am thinking of the children.

2. Oh noes, think of the religious freedom.

There is a huge difference between allowing states to allow gay marriage and requiring churches to perform marriages. But what about that case back east where the church had to allow the gays to get married? The church in question had a public hall that they rented out to members of the community for all sorts of public events. The church was told that refusing to serve gays in a business setting was discriminatory. The church was not required to actually perform the wedding, just to allow all members of the community to rent the space in question, which was not a church.

But what if they picket our churches for not performing marriages? Have you not been to General Conference? We get picketed all the time already. That’s because other people have first amendment rights too, not just the religious. Guess what? BYU football games got picketed back when we didn’t allow blacks to have the priesthood. Entire universities refused to compete against them. Did that cause the government to force us to give blacks the priesthood? Not according to the brethren.

I am fully in favor of allowing gays to get married but not requiring churches to marry them if they don’t want to. I think that’s kind of the point of living in a pluralistic society.

3. Oh noes, think of the schools.

Will we require our teachers to teach that gay marriage is okay? I don’t remember ever learning that straight marriage was okay in school, but do you mean that we’re not going to fire teachers for including literature in which there are gay people who are not scorned and mocked and bullied? Then, okay, I’m good with that. Are we going to include literature that has single parents, or kids living with their grandparents, or kids living in foster care, I’m good with that too. Are we going to show that stable families are good for society, regardless of their makeup? I think that’s a good plan. I’m good with children being exposed to the realities that match their own life rather than a preapproved list of Dick and Jane style homogeneity. I also think everyone should read The Great Gatsby and O! Pioneers, so take my curricular choices with a grain of salt.

4. Oh noes, think of the sex education!

People are going to have problems with sex education regardless of what’s being taught. So, biologically, reproduction should be covered in science class. Diagrams, etc. Sex education should teach you when it’s okay to have sex (i.e. when both partners are willing participants and explicit consent has been obtained.) It should teach you about the emotional complexities of being sexually active. It should teach you how not to get pregnant and how not to obtain a sexually transmitted disease. So, like I learned how to put on a condom in sex ed. And I think I looked at photos of diseased parts. And that sexually transmitted diseases were really easy to catch.

I don’t think I ever got educated about how to have sex. So for teaching gay sex in class, I’m not really sure what that means. Because straight people have oral sex and anal sex as well as gay people, so sex is sex to me. I mean, I think the world would be a lot happier if everyone understood the importance of lube, how to perform oral sex, and the necessity of clitoral stimulation in achieving the female orgasm. But I don’t remember any of that getting discussed in sex ed. So, maybe some of y’all went to schools where they discussed varying positions, but my town freaked out when they found out that we got shown a condom on a banana, so that’s where I’m coming from here.

5. Oh noes, we don’t have the data!

We don’t have enough data to know what will happen, therefore we can’t allow it to happen. This is a basic fallacy called “argument from ignorance.” You just flunked Introduction to Logic. Do not pass go. Do not collect your college diploma.

6. It’s always been that way/Judeo-Christian/Old Testament

Slavery had always been that way. Domestic violence had always been that way. Rape had always been that way. The Old Testament is a crazy place to draw your evidence from because unless you want to make your wife sit in a tent one week out of the month, never eat crab, grow a beard and never trim its corners, give up bacon and never wear a cotton-poly blend again, you need to be careful about arguing from the Old Testament. Especially since the OT has all sorts of whacked out family groupings in it that would appall most Christians today. I mean, if you believe in a literal Adam and Eve, their children were having sex with each other, so yeah. We also have penicillin, the internet and flush toilets, so I’m good with progress. We’ve also stopped lobotomizing those with mental illnesses. And given up monarchies. So, you know, change is sometimes good.

7. Oh noes, dog sex/marriage!

To borrow from Bill Maher, which is rare for me, women have been voting for almost a century now and we haven’t seen any hamsters in the voting booths.

Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg can tell the difference between a human being and an animal.


Why I am in favor of marriage equality

I have been privileged to attend several weddings of people I love. Many of these weddings have been in the temple. Some have not. I’d like to talk about one particular wedding today.

Many years ago, I think it was twelve, my brother Jon met the love of his life. His name was Todd. They have been together ever since. In the intervening years they have supported each other through job insecurity, major health problems, parenting children, home remodeling projects and dealing with each other’s families. They were married in all but the word.

Jon and Todd happen to live in California. In the scant few months that marriage was legal in that state, they got married. They had been together close to a decade at that point. They held their wedding at a friend’s house, and in the beautiful sunshine of a Southern California afternoon, they pledged to each other the commitments that they had already been living. And I felt the Spirit in my heart, confirming to me the sanctity and holiness of what they were doing.

My experience witnessing the wedding of these two men that I love was no different from witnessing a sealing in the temple. Their love is as welcomed and recognized by God as the love between a man and a woman.

Does this make me outside the LDS mainstream? Yes. Does this make me less of a Mormon? Culturally, yes. Doctrinally – probably, but hopefully not for long. I don’t know what the consequences are for saying this out loud, but it would be dishonest not to say it.

With my educational background, I can make a legal argument. Conservative judges can strike DOMA down as Congressional overreach easier than liberals will be able to strike it down with the equal protection clause. You can make gender arguments that it is discriminatory to let a man marry a woman, but not a woman marry a woman. Marriage is a commitment between two people. I know people want to say it should be between two people and God, but we let atheists get married in this country, so legally, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

But legal arguments aside – though I know how vitally important they are going to be in the next few days – what the issue comes down to for me is love. I love my brother. I recognize him as a child of God, and I respect him and the choices he makes for his life. He loves Todd. It’s evident that Todd loves him. They take care of each other and support each other and love each other. They are married. It’s just mean to say, “Nope, your love is worth less than the love of heterosexual couples.”

God loves Jon and Todd. I love them too. Let’s make their life and their marriage a little bit easier. Let’s make their marriage equal.

Commenting policy

To quote Wil Wheaton: Don’t be a dick.

You can disagree with other people on this blog. That means me and the other commenters. If you are rude, if you deny the reality of others’ experiences, if you are more intent on harm than help, in destruction than dialog, I will delete your comment. If I had to do this more than once, you will be banned. There are real people attached to these names, and this will be a safe space for them


I am tired down to my bones. Tired of trying to explain why I am tired. Tired of fighting all the little things that add up to a mountain and a constant uphill trudge.

This Steubenville rape case is just the last straw. If you haven’t heard the words “rape culture” by now, you must have been ignoring the whole thing, which I probably should have done, but I just couldn’t.

I’m going to soapbox here for a minute.

Rape culture is a society giving women a list of do’s and don’t’s that boil down to “make sure he rapes the other girl.”

Rape culture is a society where women are scared to go out by themselves at night.

Can we think about that for a minute? We’ve created a society where women are scared to be by themselves. Isn’t that horrifying? The ability to be alone, to be yourself, to choose to do whatever you want is limited because of fear.

I’m scared to go camping by myself. Not because of the wild animals, but because of the wild humans who are more terrifying than any bear or cougar. They will just maul you to death and then eat your corpse. It will hurt for a bit, but it will be over quickly, especially if the cougar manages to get the right bite on the back of your skull to sever the spinal column.

No, it’s the humans that do the real damage. It’s the humans that leave scars that last a lifetime. It’s the humans who play with your body and kill your soul. It’s the humans who think they have a right to your body because you chose to walk by yourself home from the library after studying for three hours for that physiology final you have tomorrow. Or because you wore your hair in a ponytail so obviously you want someone to grab you by it and throw you to the ground. Or because you walked by a construction site. Or a dorm. Or down the street in your neighborhood.

It’s the humans who say, “hey, she was drunk.” Who blame a girl, not even a woman, for “bad judgment” because getting intoxicated obviously causes boys to forcibly penetrate you repeatedly, take pictures of it, send them to their friends, laughing about what you did. It’s the humans who excuse this behavior because boys will be boys, and skill at sports washes away any “mistakes.” And then sentences you to less time in prison than you would get for pirating a DVD or possessing cocaine. What does that tell the victim? You are less important to society than a bootleg of Gigli. 

Rape is not a mistake. You don’t just fall over and end up with your penis in someone’s vagina or anus. You don’t accidentally rape someone. Rape takes intent. It’s an act of power over someone who you consider less than, non-human, the other. It’s not about sex and boys are horny and it just happens. It’s about perpetrators not thinking their victim is a person.

Stop teaching “boys are boys.” I have a son. He’s a total boy. But he’s not an asshole. Boys don’t have to be assholes. You have to teach them to be assholes. And really, when advertisements feature women selling everything, it creates a culture where the women are just objects that are for sale. The female body is something to be consumed, that is designed to be looked at, that exists to be looked at.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of a culture that thinks it is okay for you to come talk to me on the subway, and when I am not interested, I’m automatically a bitch or a lesbian. You know what? You don’t have a right to my time or attention any more than you have a right to my body. I do not exist for your ends. I am an end in and of myself and you do not own me. So if I choose to spend time with you, consider yourself lucky, and if I don’t want to spend time with you, that’s not my problem, because I do not have responsibilities to you other than to respect you as a person. And I’ll do that.

And if you bitch to your friends about how the girls never like the nice guy, because they are really selfish shallow status-obsessed bitches who always friendzone you, then you’re not really a nice guy, you’re a misogynist in nice guy clothing.* And if you think for one instant that anything a woman does entitles you to have sex with her other than her explicit consent, you are wrong. Because if you do, then I am going to walk up to you and hit you with a baseball bat. Because you didn’t say no, so that means you are consenting to it.

Unconscious means no.

Wearing a mini skirt means no.

Walking by herself means no.

Hair in a ponytail. NO.

Hair not in a ponytail. NO.

She’s had sex with you before. NO.

She’s had sex with your friends. NO.

She’s never had sex. NO.

She flirted with you. NO.

She drank alcohol. NO.

She did drugs. NO.

I mean, really. You learned no when you were a two year old. How difficult is it to get this through your mind, society? The default of “can I have sex with this woman or man” is no. NO NO NO. Just stop it.

And yes, I know people will say, that focusing on changing the behavior of the rapist is unrealistic. You know what? I don’t care. According to RAINN, almost 2/3rds and 38% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. You know what that means? You aren’t safe with your friends. We’ve created a culture that means most people are not safe ever. And nothing about the way I dress is going to change that. So stop telling me that I should spend my life expecting to be raped, because that is wrong. You create that culture by saying it. And then excusing it by blaming the victim. And then creating a culture that is so misogynistic about the treatment of victims that only 3% of rapists actually spend any time in prison.

Women are people. Men are people. Stop raping people.

And, because I’m going to assume that the people reading this are the ones who wouldn’t rape someone, though statistically, who knows, I have some advice for you too.

Stop rape culture. Stop laughing at jokes that objectify and sexualize women. Stop consuming media that sexualizes women. Stop making excuses for men being assholes. Name and shame, people. Name the behavior when you see it. Point out how this perpetuates a culture that promotes a society that makes people into victims, and victims into the cause instead of the effect. I’ve read enough social construction IR theory to know that this works if people are committed to making a change. So put it into action.

Stop rape. Stop rape culture.


*I read this argument somewhere and can’t find it now, so I’m just going to say that it is not mine and if I can find it later, I’ll come back and link it.

The Gospel According to Ruth

Was doing a little bit of though experimentation today about what the Scriptures would look like if Christ had appeared for the first time today and were being read two thousand years in the future. Instead of lepers and Pharisees and unclean women, what would the stories be about? It ended up looking like this.

“And he denieth none that come unto him, black and white and every shade in between, first world and third, conservative and liberal, rich and poor, male and female and those who don’t feel at home in their own bodies; and he remembereth the gays, and the transgendered; and all are alike unto God, both stay at home mom and working mom, and the stay at home dad while mom is working full time, and the single parents, both male and female, and the childless by choice, and the childless not by choice, and the ones with pioneer ancestors and the ones who will be the pioneer ancestors for their descendants, and the ones who lived their lives honorably to find themselves broken by the choices of others; the one who left, and the one who did the leaving; and the ones who have anxiety disorders so they sit out in the foyer during Sacrament meeting because it freaks them out to be around that many people, and the widow at 80 and the widower at 30. For the Lord looketh not on his countenance or her pink hair or her tattoos or his multiple piercings. All are alike unto God, for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. And the Lord gives us a commandment, that we love one another; as he has loved us, that we also love one another.”

The Gospel According to Ruth Chapter 1, verse 1.

I think verse two is something like, “You are the children of God, so act like it.”

On being a feminist woman in the Mormon church.

Be a Christian. I think at some point, you have to deal with the fact that while the Church was founded by Christ, it is run by men and by man. That means that what the church does sometimes is based on the understanding of man. And because of the patriarchal structure, it’s largely based on the understanding of men. And for the most part, they are good men, but still, they are men, and they have male experiences, and they are raised in a church culture that emphasizes the inherent, immutable, eternal differences between men and women.

So men and women are different. I’m okay with saying that. But I don’t understand how that difference plays out in the church. Why can’t women be a ward finance clerk? I don’t understand how a church that emphasizes the difference between women and men can then logically say that men can make all the decisions with a minimal amount of input from women. Ward Councils are overwhelmingly male, and the women who are on those councils are quite frequently the only woman on the council, and have been socialized to be subservient to the opinions of men.

So, how do you do it? You be a Christian. You take the doctrines of the Church – above all, love – and the ordinances – baptism, sacrament, temple ordinances – and you do the best you can. And you pray for patience. And maybe you get a tattoo of Sisyphus to remind you that others have fought this fight. And you read the history of the church – not the History of the Church – but the books put together by academics who document the role that women played in this church before cultural conservatism got grafted onto the root stock of the gospel.

And you pray. And you realize that God made you to be you, and the general counsel given may not apply to your life at this moment or ever. And you pray some more, and learn to listen to the Spirit and for the Spirit and you learn to trust in the path God has set for you. Because if you know that you are living in accordance to the will of God, then it is easier to get over the hurtful comments. And there will be hurtful comments. And you go to the temple and you pray for inspiration to make sure you are really doing this to be in line with God’s will for your life and not out of pride. And you pray some more. And you make girlfriends who feel the same way you do, so you can have someone to sit with in Relief Society and roll your eyes with, or to pat you on the back when you speak up and everyone else is rolling their eyes. And if you are dating, you make sure he knows what he is dealing with and that he is supportive of you. And if you’re married, you just keep talking to him with love, because eventually, if he loves you, and not just the idea of you, he will understand how much hurt is being caused to you by this church that you love, and he will learn why sometimes you have to get up and walk out of sacrament meeting before you call the speaker an idiot. And he will listen to you rant sometimes when you just have to get it out of your system. And he will eventually, if he loves you, start pushing for the changes that will make church a safer place for the woman he loves.

Not every man married to a feminist woman starts out a feminist, but usually they end up one. And it can take years, but know that other women have done this, and are doing this, and your effort will make it a little bit easier for women down the line.

There’s a theory in political science called the spiral of silence. The idea is that people in the minority fail to speak their opinion because they are worried about being discriminated against. That lack of representation makes others less likely to speak out because they think they are alone. It takes someone to speak up first to give others the courage to speak out. So be that person. Know that you are not alone. Even if you are alone in your ward, you are not alone in the gospel. And the countless unnamed women in the scriptures stand with you too.

It is hard to be a feminist or feminist-leaning woman in this church. I don’t mean doctrinally, but actual on-the-ground living the life in Mormon culture. It is an exercise in patience and perseverance. And it’s an opportunity to develop a sense of humor, because you have to laugh or you’ll cry. And sometimes you’ll cry. And that’s okay, too.

Above all, deal with all others from a place of love. Love is never wrong.