I was once driving to a work meeting with a colleague when the subject of religion came up. During our conversation, he casually stated that, as a Mormon, I had been brainwashed.
I was deeply pierced by the ignorance behind this statement. To put it in context, not only did this colleague know next to nothing about my religion, but he barely knew me!
Brainwashing is also known as "mind control," and these days is an idea that is heavily pressed by anti-cult movements. Some of these movements are religious movements, others are encouraged by government bodies (such as the movement in Russia that really started growing in the 1990s), and some are considered "entreprenurial"--in other words, the anti-cult movement has money to gain because it is in the business of getting people to worry about cults. This could include journalists or news organizations. If you've been in a newsroom before, or around people who produce news, you probably understand that one.
There are very strong viewpoints around the topic of mind control, and while I've read a lot about it, I'm not really impressed by what I read. The anti-mind-control community comes across as a tiny, self-absorbed world awash in black-and-white thought.
You are certainly allowed to think I'm crazy, but for my part, I'm not at all worried about being (present tense) or becoming (future tense) brainwashed. The Mormon religion is far too excited by the idea of "free will" and its importance in God's plan to go down the path of forcing people to believe.
A disrespectful term?
I was intrigued to learn that a group called FIRM (their website is fascinating, though I admit I don't know much about them) has taken a stance against the word "brainwashing" being applied to what they call religious minority groups:
The Foundation against Intolerance of Religious Minorities, associated with the Adidam NRM, sees the use of terms "cult" and "cult leader" as detestable and as something to avoid at all costs. The Foundation regards such usage as the exercise of prejudice and discrimination against them in the same manner as the words "n****r" and "commie" served in the past to denigrate blacks and Communists.
I think I've felt the disrespect they speak of. The sad part is that it mostly communicates ignorance. If you're considering informing someone that they are brainwashed, I think it's a good idea to make sure you understand as much as possible about their situation beforehand. Discussing things with them in depth and listening to their point of view should probably be a part of that.
As for my own mind: I'm just not the type of person to let myself be brainwashed. (They all say that, don't they?) My specialty is researching and comparing viewpoints, running opposing ideas through my head, and constantly taking my bearings in this busy world.
For those reasons I absolutely refuse to entertain any off-the-cuff diagnosis of mind control.
Finally, some researchers think that consumers today are the ones who are actually brainwashed. This seems more likely to me, and it's sad that this issue gets very little press.
I created a new section called Mission Tales where I'll be sharing some of the things I learned and experienced on my mission to Japan. I hope to expand this section more in the near future!
Recently the New York Times featured an article called Some Mormons Search The Web and Find Doubt, which discussed the way prominent LDS church member Hans Mattson began to doubt the teachings of the Mormon faith through material he found on the web.
As I read the article, I admit that I felt my usual sentiment: "This again."
Not wanting to discount Mr. Mattson's experiences, I read every paragraph and bullet point in the article and did a mental check--did any of this material make me uncomfortable? Did any of it make me doubt my faith? Had I examined the materials and histories in question, to my own satisfaction?
The "this again" feeling that I felt comes from my own past, sleuthing around the internet in my spare time and researching more about my religion. I'm a curious guy, and I love learning new things.
My experience in uncovering "truth about Mormonism" materials on the internet mirrors that of McKay Coppins, who just yesterday wrote a reaction piece called Why The Internet Hasn't Shattered My Mormon Faith for Buzzfeed. McKay compares his own experience of uncovering internet materials at a young age with the experiences of Brother Mattson, and explains that after consuming these materials, they became part of his religious experience, and he is comfortable with the idea of "ugly" things in the history of the Mormon faith.
One of the first Mormon-critical websites I came across back in 1995 (as a senior in high school) was extremely critical of LDS church leaders' teachings against things like masturbation. The website quoted (accurately, I'm guessing) from a church leader's talk in which he encouraged young men to forego the act and do whatever they could to avoid it. After reading the material, I found that while I had been a bit shocked to come across this in such a random way (back when web surfing would lead you in random directions almost 100% of the time) I was mostly satisfied with the contents of the original quoted talk. I've since realized that much of the doubt-casting material that is written about the LDS church is written without the expectation of thoughtful consideration or reciprocal research. The assumption seems to be that LDS church members are so ensconced in their blind faith that they'll simply read the information and either immediately move along blindly or realize their faith has been misplaced and continue to educate themselves from the same source.
Other materials focus so much on personal experiences that while they may be powerful criticisms to some, it may also be easy for regular LDS church members to say, "well, that hasn't been my experience"--for example, not every member of the LDS church has been condemned or excommunicated or disciplined in a manner that was probably inappropriate to the circumstances. Again, I feel fortunate: I know of such situations, I believe they were inappropriate, but upon examining them I believe that no human organization is exempt from such occurrences. Further, knowing about these things makes me a stronger church member, a better leader. I feel better able to differentiate between compulsive decisionmaking driven by blind adherance to dogma and well-reasoned decisionmaking driven by consultation with God, his imperfect followers, and our innate capacity to explore and discover.
A friend of mine once told me that she dropped out of religion at age 16 because her clergyman refused to allow her to continue asking him "why." Apparently, for him it was important to have all the answers--otherwise he probably would have let her continue to discuss her doubts. But it was also apparent to me that it was important for her--for some reason--to continue to believe in the following 35 years that every other religious person felt the same way. After she told me this story, I realized that decades had passed in which she refused to go back to examine this situation critically. That door, it seemed to me, closed quickly, painlessly, and with a suspicious lack of hesitation.
I may be biased--I know I am biased--but as I consume doubt-casting information here and there on the internet, I have yet to find anything that falls outside these parameters. I have a brain, I can do my own research, I can talk to others. I can make my own decision to live with the ugly things or go off in search of some better belief systems. These, I believe, are all things God wants us to do and think about.
Sometimes it's good to step back and ask yourself why you believe in something that requires faith. What does it do for you?
Here are what I believe to be the "best parts" of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Emphasis on family
I'm happier when I spend time with my family. When we're together, we grow close and can help and encourage each other. Our home is a place where we can be to get and give support. This is a huge realization for me, and it's a big gift. I don't think I would know much about this source of happiness if I wasn't part of a church with such strong emphasis on the family.
I love having a single day every week where I can meet with other like-minded people and study the teachings of Jesus Christ. I try to "keep the sabbath holy" by studying how I can be a better follower of Christ, and helping others do the same.
The importance of being a Follower
Our society really puts the idea of leadership on a high pedestal. Sometimes I feel it's over-emphasized. In order to be a good leader, you have to be a good follower first.
Even though our society talks about "followers" as if they are weak, in reality it depends on what you are following, and how you are following.
To follow Jesus Christ simply means the following:
- You put Christ's words and actions into effect in your own life.
- You try to put away the things that keep you from becoming a happier person. Bad habits, poor decisionmaking, etc.
- You give faith a try, even when you feel you don't understand every last "why". You take action on what you've learned, and on the good that you've felt.
- You continually ask yourself the hard questions. It's the opposite of being a brainwashed, braindead, zombie-like follower.
- You work hard to put your past mistakes behind you. You constantly strive to change for the better.
- Even though you still make mistakes (maybe you drop back into a bad habit, etc.), you understand that this is all part of being human, and you can pick yourself up and start again.
What's the alternative to being a follower? Or the risk of not being a follower?
Most commonly, I think many people make a sort of half-decision to distance themselves from their spiritual side. Because they have not traveled very far down that path before, they may do some fortune-telling and tell themselves, "well, I think I know how this is going to go, because I saw this crazy religious guy in the news, and the result would be X or Y, so I won't do that." Dwelling on our own fears of what might happen, we may foresee a high probability of disaster or failure rather than the distant possibility of failure, and then put away the thoughts of making a spiritual journey.
Many people also fear that by following some religious figure, they'll transform into a mindless sheep at some point--as if they would suddenly be required to give up their precious identity and critical thinking skills and follow someone off a cliff! They imagine the likes of Jim Jones and see themselves falling for his charisma. Usually it is their own inner fears that they are confronting, rather than some objective reality. This is natural as they struggle with the adjustment to a change in thought. (If you believe you would actually follow someone like Jim Jones, I think you should apply an objective set of standards to measure the effects of your belief system, because these days we are surrounded by opportunities to turn anything into a Jim Jones scenario, from consumerism to patriotism.)
Second, the complete, polar opposite of all this is the idea that "people don't change". It's a pessimistic concept that keeps us from reaching our potential, because we don't believe in ourselves. What that idea is trying to express is, "people don't change for the better." Or just, "there are no truly good people," and "humans are evil."
But in fact we can change for the better, even if we sometimes stumble a bit on the path. Our decisions determine our destiny. And we can make good decisions.
So, being a faithful follower of Christ actually makes you into a greater leader. You act on principle, stand up for what's good, and spread the good news to other people who may benefit from it. You help them change for the better. This makes you a happier person.
Now, where in all of this have you been brainwashed, or become a mindless sheep, as some would suggest? I just don't see it.
I have learned that becoming an educated, thoughtful follower is crucial to our spiritual development.
Being a Missionary
I used to be afraid of people who I didn't know. When I was a missionary in Japan, I learned that everyone is a potential follower of Christ. Everyone has a good side. Everyone is looking for positive change. They might not know where to find it. Even some people who call themselves Mormons haven't yet found this kind of change! It's a long journey. As we study the gospel of Jesus Christ, and teach it to others, we learn for ourselves how we can find even more happiness and peace in our lives.
Those are, to me, the best parts of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Being a Mormon doesn't mean "avoiding this" or "condemning that." Being a Mormon means striving to be more like Jesus Christ. It means forgiving ourselves. It means finding the hope and peace that we need.
Can they choose a prophet from outside of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles?
This question reminds me of these kind of movies:
See also: Bruce Almighty.
Hey! What if an ordinary guy became the prophet? Could that happen?
Well, in a way, LDS apostles are ordinary guys. They all started with ordinary careers. They have not been hidden away in a seminary since birth.
But usually, somewhere in their ordinary lives, they began to respond to God's call in some way, like through service, teaching, or some other activity. They are all ordinary people, but they made extraordinary decisions when the time came, just like many people do both in and outside of the Mormon church.
Here's the thing. If God is really running the Mormon church, it makes sense that he'd want his prophet to have been an Apostle first. Especially since the prophet is also the President of the Church, and not just someone who tells people what he thinks that God says. There is an administrative and leadership capacity there that is absolutely crucial, no matter how many people think that religion doesn't need to be organized.
Having met several of these Apostles myself, I have been very impressed with them and their work. One of them, a former nuclear engineer, taught me how to listen for the voice of God (he has a surprisingly good sense of humor, too). Another one of them, a former car businessman, helped my Dad pursue his gift of wisdom and become an author. Yet another, a former educator, helped me see how serious and powerful the work of the Lord is.
I feel really grateful that I was able to meet these apostles. I think any one of them would make an excellent prophet of God. That may sound weird to some, but somebody has to do it, and these are highly educated, extremely spiritual people who have dedicated their lives to service.
People of color were not permitted to hold the priesthood in the LDS church until 1978. Nowadays, they can hold any priesthood office in the church. That's quite a difference! Why the change?
The history of the LDS church leading up to 1978 gives us a good view on the issue. Some feel that the situation was similar to Christ's temporary denial of baptism to the Gentiles in New Testament times (Acts 10:15-28).
If you're interested in the history of blacks and the LDS priesthood, you should check out the great timeline available at BlackLDS.org.
If you are wondering why God would "just decide one day" that people of color could hold the priesthood, or if you wonder if the LDS church was full of racists, I recommend reading up on the history at the same website.
The LDS.org website also has a well-researched article on Race and the Priesthood with the following information:
Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings. In June 1978, after “spending many hours in the Upper Room of the [Salt Lake] Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance,” Church President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received a revelation. “He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come,” the First Presidency announced on June 8. The First Presidency stated that they were “aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us” that “all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood.
This question refers to the LDS practice of baptism for the dead. For some time, individual LDS church members had been performing these baptisms for deceased holocaust victims. To an LDS church member, this is one of the highest offerings that can be given to a deceased person. The deceased person is not "automatically" a member of the church; rather, the temple baptism means they have an opportunity to accept membership if they desire it.
The misunderstanding of this doctrine lead to many complaints from Jews, who felt that the holocaust victims were being disrespected or force-baptized into the Mormon church. While neither one of these is really true, the LDS church entered into a formal understanding with Jews in 1995 that temple baptisms for holocaust victims would come to an end.
Is this a big deal to Mormons? Do they feel frustrated by this decision? Why did the Church stop such an important practice? I believe the answer is in this quote by Russel M. Nelson, one of the Apostles of the LDS church:
Be we all reminded that, in the Lord’s own way and time, no blessings will be withheld from His faithful Saints. The Lord will judge and reward each individual according to heartfelt desire as well as deed.
While it's important to do what we can for people we respect and love, if it is impossible to reach those people, at some point the Lord will work it out. We also have many opportunities to grow personally as we build trust and friendship with those who do not share our beliefs.
According to Elder Wickman of the LDS church,
If you have some legally sanctioned relationship with the bundle of legal rights traditionally belonging to marriage and governing authority has slapped a label on it, whether it is civil union or domestic partnership or whatever label it’s given, it is nonetheless tantamount to marriage. That is something to which our doctrine simply requires us to speak out and say, “That is not right. That’s not appropriate.”
As far as something less than that — as far as relationships that give to some pairs in our society some right but not all of those associated with marriage — as to that, as far as I know, the First Presidency hasn’t expressed itself. There are numbers of different types of partnerships or pairings that may exist in society that aren’t same-gender sexual relationships that provide for some right that we have no objection to.
Some ask the question, "what could possibly be wrong with allowing some other group to do their own thing?" The LDS church position seems to be that laws permitting gay marriage will harm us as a people, as a nation, or as a world. LDS teachings proclaim that children deserve to be raised in a home with both a mother and a father.
Others might think that a high number of divorces have already soiled the reputation of this kind of "traditional marriage." However, it should be clear enough that the LDS church encourages members not to divorce, but to work out their problems instead. As a result, the divorce rate among church members is lower than the average in the U.S.
This is, like everything else involving mankind, an imperfect balancing act. The LDS church doesn't see itself as a perfect organization, but it does see specific ideals that are worth striving for. Members are not expected to judge others. There are gay members, divorced members, members who are jerks, members who are mentally ill, etc. and that's all part of the plan.
So LDS church leaders work very hard to communicate the importance of traditional marriage, while reaching out to homosexuals who may feel offended by this. Take for example, this quote by Gordon B. Hinckley, former President of the LDS church:
“People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have inclinations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are.
“We want to help these people, to strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties. But we cannot stand idle if they indulge in immoral activity, if they try to uphold and defend and live in a so-called same-sex marriage situation. To permit such would be to make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families” (Ensign, Nov. 1998, 71).
See also: Resources for Gay Mormons: Websites, Books, and Videos here at RookieMormon.net.
Because of the law of chastity of the Mormon church, it would be impossible for an actively homosexual couple to be baptized, which is a prerequisite for getting a recommend to enter an LDS temple. (Those bolded words are the key).
Currently there is no law that forces the Mormon church to perform temple sealings (the actual name of a temple marriage) for couples who are not of their faith. Also, there is no law that forces the Mormon church to allow those who disbelieve its teachings to receive baptism.
There are gay Mormons who do have temple recommends and attend the temple. They are just not practicing homosexuals.
There are many roles for homosexuals, or anyone without a temple recommend, within the LDS church.
God loves homosexuals too.
God's does not withdraw his love from any of us based on our genetics or our choices! (However, we can distance ourselves from His love as much as we want.)
Non-homosexual Mormon church members are likely to be OK with serving alongside homosexuals. A member would most likely be reprimanded or disciplined for showing hateful behavior toward homosexual members.
Fearful attitudes toward gays may persist in some members of some congregations, but this mirrors the world at large--these sorts of things just take time to change.
Under What Circumstances Can a Gay Person Become a Mormon?
Gays can and do join the Mormon church. They can be (and usually are) productive members and are not looked at as worse humans than anyone else. They are not spotlighted or paraded around. Usually, other members do not know they are gay unless they want to share that fact, and sharing that fact is not really a problem for those who really want to.
Gay members are asked to live the law of chastity, the same law of moral behavior that all members of the church are supposed to live. This means that they are to abstain from (homo)sexual activity and avoid inappropriate thoughts. If gay members sin or transgress, the repentance process is available to them just as it is to every other member of the church, and does not necessarily mean formal church discipline or losing their membership.
Are Gays Really Welcome in a Mormon Congregation?
Contrary to the typical outsider's view, empathy toward homosexuals is likely to run fairly high in most LDS leadership cadres, especially among bishops. The bishop's job is to help members of the church find their way through life's challenges. A fast way to become an ineffective bishop would be to condemn someone or make them think they are a permanent failure, or arrived on earth as a broken, satanic individual.
I personally know several people who are one of LGBT and who made a choice to remain members of the LDS church. In fact sometimes it seems that they re-make this choice every week as they ponder current events and their own place in the world and their religion. The fact that they remain active members seems to be due to their deep relationship with God, and it seems to work in spite of difficult trials they've had to endure as they see through a glass darkly in regard to the reconciliation of their faith and their genetics.
The LDS church encourages members to grow spiritually by pondering, seeking God's help, and struggling through their trials, whatever those trials may be.
What Roles Can Gays Play In the LDS Church?
I can't think of any LDS church role, leadership function, or other capacity in which a gay member could not serve. In fact, as one church spokesman said:
As has been mentioned, there is a relatively tiny handful of callings within the Church that require marriage.
I know of at least one gay LDS executive secretary, so if you're gay and willing to live a chaste life, serve God and your fellow humans, the leadership doors within the LDS church are probably open to you.
(Those of us who aren't huge fans of working in leadership roles can do other things, like teach or arrange charitable projects or clean up the church--all equal in importance to God.)
For more information on Gays in the Mormon church, please see the Resources for Gay Mormons page.
First, not everyone believes that Mormon women lack the priesthood power. So the conclusion that "women don't get to" may not be true. There are women inside the church who believe that temple-attending LDS women can hold a form of priesthood power, though this point has not yet been clarified through official channels.
Here is another general remark on the topic.
From Mormon.org, quoting Gordon B. Hinckley, former President of the Church:
“Women do not hold the priesthood because the Lord has put it that way. It is part of His program. Women have a very prominent place in this Church. Men hold the priesthood offices of the Church. But women have a tremendous place in this Church. They have their own organization. It was started in 1842 by the Prophet Joseph Smith, called the Relief Society, because its initial purpose was to administer help to those in need. It has grown to be, I think, the largest women’s organization in the world... They have their own offices, their own presidency, their own board. That reaches down to the smallest unit of the Church everywhere in the world...
“The men hold the priesthood, yes. But my wife is my companion. In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are co-equals in this life in a great enterprise.”
Priesthood "powers" do not make men superior in any way to women.
Some women may wish they could become a bishop, or a stake president, or hear confessions of sins. While that isn't possible in the LDS church, women have an extraordinary role to play, and they can have the gift of healing, see visions, speak in tongues, perform miracles, prophesy, protect their families, serve as missionaries, and more.
I think it is enlightening to understand that "women wanting the priesthood" means that these women do share core beliefs with their fellow Mormons. Unsurprisingly, the media and many anti-LDS Christian ministries ignore that pertinent fact. Some of them would seem to prefer that these women just become unhappy and leave the church. But that's not happening in significant numbers. So: What does this situation really say about the church, its doctrine, and its members?