Sunday, February 17, 2008

Can I Put My Earrings Back In Now?

As I grow older, I'm not getting wiser, I'm just getting more confused. I spent a lot of time and energy as a young mother coming to terms with strange doctrines such as God was once a man and the literal conception of Jesus, only to have these demphasized twenty years later. It took a lot of faith and struggle to follow the counsel of Church leaders back then not to use birth control and to have as many children as possible (not to mention their counsel on sexual practices between married couples!). Now it feels like the sacrifice I made has no meaning. Young couples today are told to pray about the decision of how many children to have. I wonder what my family would look like if that had been the counsel I was given. How would it have affected my strained relationship with my husband, my years of depression? How much better could I have done as a mother and as a member of the community?

As time goes by and I measure the years of my Church membership in decades, I see big changes. I welcome many of these, but struggle with feelings of anger. Why was my marriage and my Church membership burdened with the hard patriarchy rhetoric while men and women enjoy much more equality today? What would my choices and opportunities have been if the emphasis on education for women had been preached when I was 21?

Some of the changes are not welcome. I don't see the need for us to defend our status as "Christians." When I joined the Church, I worked for and gained a testimony of our distinctive doctrines, and I don't like to see them watered down so that we can fit in better with evangelical interest groups.

I've seen the reorganization of 5 First Presidencies now, and it will be interesting to see what new directions they will take us. I'm excited about the Church today. I see more acceptance of diversity. I see more openness in dealing with Mormon history. There is an effort at distinguishing between Mormon culture and doctrine. I see a better understanding of international issues. But I fear I'm becoming an LDS dinosaur.


woundedhart said...

I've long wondered how women who went before me have dealt with these problems. I'm so glad for the changes in certain stances that have taken place, and maybe part of it is that there are more of us now that would not survive the former church culture. Is that the response that you hate the most? That it's because you're so much stronger than I?

Maybe we're just still really far from the "whole truth".

Doc said...

Tough questions. As for the Children, I don't know, but looking back on it are there any of them you would send back?

As I learn more and more about the history of Blacks and the Priesthood band I was blown away by how it appears that BY was the instigator of it, cultural prejudice and fear of intermarriage at its root, and that it hung on for over 100 years as policy just because of extreme conservatism in changing anything we do along with some lingering racism in lifetime appointed apostles. It was disorienting. I felt like my whole point of reference had shifted into blowwing sands.

Ultimately it appears that the Church, like each of us, is a work in progress. I have to believe the Church is heading in the right directions and that God is teaching all of us as quickly as we ourselves let him. God couldn't eliminate sexism or racism any faster than the time it takes for us to work it out ourselves.

As for fitting in with evangelicals, I am not so sure we have shifted doctrine so much as pulled emphasis back a step to where it probably should have been all along. Christ is the center of the Church. We all knew that. The esoteric debates I think may have distracted us for a while, but re-emphasis on the Book of Mormon, which BTW, is the source of any evangelical type leanings I have myself, is the root cause.

My question would be how do we know a doctrinal shift (really only in emphasis) is or isn't guided by God's hand. Sometimes I think we just need to have faith that it will all sort out eventually, figuring out what we know solidly.

Aquinas, an ecumenical blogger at Summatheologica had a very eye opening post over here. I think we have to carefully sort out if we holding onto distinct, quirky doctrines out of identity politics or out of a real desire to grasp all truth. Although, clearly, we need identical caution in emphasizing similarities.

Do we really believe there is truth to be found in all religions? Are we able to find it and embrace it? Can it ever mean we need to let go of a doctrine that has largely been exaggerated or distorted by reactionary debate? Are we letting go because we are embarrassed or ashamed of revelation? These questions are extremely difficult to sort out, but for me this is the work involved in getting to know the true path of God.
Perhaps an acceptable path one day may no longer be as we grow in knowledge and mature. It seems reasonable that course adjustments will be needed as we learn and are capable of comprehending more.

Stephen said...

Today's lesson from the Teachings of Joseph Smith got my attention, about how the core of the gospel is the testimony of Christ and the rest is just appurtenances to it.

Starfoxy said...

I'm one of the younger women that benefits from the shift you're talking about. From my point of view, women like you are the pioneers, and revolutionaries that fought and struggled to my life so much better. I have nothing but respect for women who worked with and through the hard patriarchy.

I don't think asking anyone if they would send their children back is very fair. I think it is perfectly reasonable for a person to say/admit/believe "we had too many kids" and does not necessarily imply that they'd like to get rid of some of their existing kids. While children are always ultimately worth it, that doesn't mean that the initial cost cannot be too high.

manaen said...

From whom/where did you receive counsel not to use birth control? My (then) wife and I took our guidance about it from this article on pp, 23-24 of the 8/1979 "Ensign,".
Some quotes from it are:
I recall a President of the Church, now deceased, who visited his daughter in the hospital following a miscarriage.
She was the mother of eight children and was in her early forties. She asked, “Father, may I quit now?” His response was, “Don’t ask me. That decision is between you, your husband, and your Father in Heaven. If you two can face him with a good conscience and can say you have done the best you could, that you have really tried, then you may quit. But, that is between you and him. I have enough problems of my own to talk over with him when we meet!” So it is clear to me that the decisions regarding our children, when to have them, their number, and all related matters and questions can only be made after real discussion between the marriage partners and after prayer.

[...]we need not be afraid of studying the question from important angles—the physical or mental health of the mother and father, the parents’ capacity to provide basic necessities, and so on. If for certain personal reasons a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, the method of spacing children—discounting possible medical or physical effects—makes little difference. Abstinence, of course, is also a form of contraception, and like any other method it has side effects, some of which are harmful to the marriage relationship.
So, as to the number and spacing of children, and other related questions on this subject, such decisions are to be made by husband and wife righteously and empathetically communicating together and seeking the inspiration of the Lord. I believe that the prophets have given wise counsel, [which would be well before this article in 1979] when they advise couples to be considerate and plan carefully so that the mother’s health will not be impaired. When this recommendation of the First Presidency is ignored or unknown or misinterpreted, heartache can result.
As I meet other people and learn of their circumstances, I am continually inspired by the counsel of the First Presidency in the General Handbook of Instructions that the health of the mother and the well-being of the family should be considered. Which makes it authoritative back then.
So, I'm wondering who was counseling you otherwise and when they did it.

Bored in Vernal said...

Thank you for quoting that article. I consider it a seminal piece in the change of direction the counsel on birth control took. However, in 1979, it was the ONLY thing we had, was written by a doctor, Homer Ellsworth, and had no support from Church hierarchy. EVERY prophet up to that point had spoken on birth control condemning it. Believe me, I did the research. The overwhelming statements from the prophets played a key role in my decisions back then.

Confutus said...

I don't believe for a moment that we are jealous of other Christians and want to be just like them. I think we're trying to persuade them to be more like us. Doesn't diplomacy work better than warfare, sometimes?

If that means setting aside doctrines that are more or less speculative and not well founded in scripture, especially when they have been siezed by our enemies and caricatured, and when debates about them are diversion from our principal message of repentance, then I'm perfectly willing to set them aside until the Lord sees fit to reveal more.

Kristine said...

Manaen, there was PLENTY of official counsel denouncing birth control--BiV did not just hear it from a few quirky sources. Check Melissa Proctor's article in Fall 03 Dialogue or _Multiply and Replenish_ (ed. Lester Bush) if you need a quick primer on the history.

Kalola said...

Let's see if what I want to say makes sense. I feel most of the changes that have occurred, and will continue to occur, within the church are a sign of the times. I think with the advent of the internet, much of what may not have been discussed in the past and questioned, is now coming to light. It is my belief that with each passing generation in the church, many more changes will occur.

This may not be pertinent to your discussion, but the Ninth Article of Faith comes to mind:

"We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."

I guess I just feel that change is inevitable, albeit difficult at times to accept.

manaen said...

BiV & Kristine, pls note that the last quotation I gave in #5 draws from the General Handbook of Instructions then extant. The next-to-last quotation talks of "the prophets" -- without naming them -- giving counsel before that article that the health of the mother should be considered. I recall a First-Presidency letter from well before that article which said similar things. These are the authoritative statements that I used to decide the 1979 article was correct. I recognize that different people gave different views, but I maintain that official counsel well before 1979 was as summarized in this article.

aaron said...

Nice post! I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your openness.

My first question is this: what has kept you in the church?

I admire you for sticking through those tough times.

My mother left the church in the late '80's. There were many things she didn't agree with doctrinally. However, when I speak with her about how the church is now she is constantly saying "Wow! That's not how it was when I was in it!"

I would like to know how you stayed in the church and why you have remained active...

Michemily said...

I'm also curious about what has kept you faithful. I liked reading your thoughts.

Bored in Vernal said...

What has kept me in the Church? I don't want to answer this question too flippantly. I promise to think about this and post more on it later, ok?

RunnerGirl20 said...

On the topic of the idea of God once being a man having been deemphasized....I would have agreed with you on Saturday. But on Sunday we had Lesson 2 in the JS manual and there was practically a whole paragraph in it on God once being a man. The RS teacher read through the quote as breezily as a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. No one batted an eye, no one commented.

As a convert, I have long battled to come to peace with this doctrine, but I have not been successful. I had actually taken great comfort in the fact that the church seemed to be moving away from it. I tried to convince myself it wasn't really doctrine, just some speculation on Smith's part. But on Sunday I realized that not only does the Church consider it doctrine, members are totally on board with it.

MCQ said...

I taught that lesson yesterday. I agree that there is some tension between recent church leaders' pronouncements on the subject and what the lesson manual says. My understanding of this, however, is that we are currently studying "The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith." That doctrine was unquestionably one of his teachings.

The fact remains, as President Hinckley said, "we don't know much about it." That's also the reason you get few comments on it in class. Not because everyone accepts it without batting an eye.

Bookslinger said...

I joined the church in 1982, and members then were still saying that birth control was evil.

I remember Spencer Kimbal being quoted as saying to have as many children as you physically could while maintaining the health of the mother. The implication being to have children until the mother could not in good health bear another.

Manaen, that 1979 article, along with the prophet's advice to his daughter, can still be interpreted to support the idea of "have as many children as you are able to health-wise."

Rich said...

Thankfully I had a (Stake Pres) father who wisely instructed me as a new husband (in 1979) that "if God intended sex only for procreation, he would have made us like all the other animals, going into heat only when females ovulated", or words to that effect. "It's primary purpose is to strengthen the bonds of love and friendship between a husband and wife", he added.

I've since come to realize that it's also why marriage (and sex) is recommended for "older" folks who are past their child-bearing years.
(And why I'm likely to marry again after my divorce is final :^)

Anonymous said...

"Now it feels like the sacrifice I made has no meaning. "

Reading this comment, I'm so sad for you.
I have to say that while I really believe you have bishops or other ward members preaching that birth control was wrong, this was not actually the official policy of the church. I think maybe it was kind of like the cola products thing.....some people were convinced it was in the word of wisdom and therefore insisted on telling others it is strictly against the WoW, even though the church doesn't forbid it (although many leaders go ahead and avoid it because of the spirit of the law).
My mother and father are super Mormon, active, strong testimony, live the gospel every day for the joy of it. They married in 1967. They used a diaphram to space out their 6 children....the 6 children they both planned on from the beginning of their marriage.

Anonymous said...

cont. from above
They fully believed they were following the official policy of the church on birth control and having children.

Anonymous said...

Cont. from above....again

I just had to add that my parents raised me (I was born in 1971) pointing out the difficulty of the Catholic position on birth control (not allowed) and how the church's policy encouraged children, but let couples use bc based on their circumstances and prayer, etc.
Same with abortion. They pointed out that the Catholic church's policy had no room for exceptions, where as the church's policy did.

Anonymous said...

I have to second Anonymous. I, too, am so sorry that you feel that you made unnecessary sacrifices. I also hope that you believe that you were blessed for making them in the spirit of obedience.

I was married in the 1960's and my active parents, as well as active friends, thought that using birth control was acceptable to space children, and to control the number, as guided by the Spirit. We knew that not everyone thought that way, but we thought they were not considering that the "health of the mother" involved emotional as well as physical health.

We saw the 1979 Ensign article that manean mentioned in the comments as an attempt on the part of Church leaders to reaffirm (not change) the policy that the decision of how many children to have was entirely between the couple and the Lord, and that one could use various methods of birth control, if that seemed prudent.

woundedhart said...

It's not hard to find sources stating that the church didn't approve of birth control, and that it has been taught as evil. It is a change in stance that they've been teaching that it's up to the wife and husband to decide when and how many, though I'm pretty sure they don't really approve of people choosing not to have any kids.

From Philip F. Low, “Realities of the Population Explosion,” Ensign, May 1971, 18:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strongly encourages married couples to have children. It is against birth control. In a letter from the First Presidency to bishops and stake presidents, dated April 14, 1969, the Church’s philosophy is expressed: “We seriously regret that there should exist a sentiment or feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. We have been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth that we may have joy and rejoicing in our posterity."

From N. Eldon Tanner, “No Greater Honor: The Woman’s Role,” New Era, Jan 1977, 31:

"It is of great concern to all who understand this glorious concept that Satan and his cohorts are using scientific arguments and nefarious propaganda to lure women away from their primary responsibilities as wives, mothers, and homemakers. We hear so much about emancipation, independence, sexual liberation, birth control, abortion, and other insidious propaganda belittling the role of motherhood, all of which is Satan’s way of destroying woman, the home, and the family—the basic unit of society."

From Marion G. Romney, “Scriptures As They Relate to Family Stability,” Ensign, Feb 1972, 57

"With respect to birth control, President Joseph F. Smith said, in 1917:

“I regret, I think it is a crying evil, that there should exist a sentiment or a feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. I think that is a crime wherever it occurs, where husband and wife are in possession of health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity. I believe that where people undertake to curtail or prevent the birth of their children that they are going to reap disappointment by and by. I have no hesitancy in saying that I believe this is one of the greatest crimes of the world today, this evil practice.” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 278–79.)

"On these matters, the First Presidency has recently said:

“We have given careful consideration to the question of proposed laws on abortion and sterilization. We are opposed to any modification, expansion, or liberalization of laws on these vital subjects.” (Letter to stake presidents in the state of Washington, October 27, 1970.)"

This isn't something that has just been imagined by a few unfortunate women who resigned themselves to bearing as many children as possible. It has been taught in the church. The health of the mother was always an afterthought, and things like depression were not then thought of as legitimate health concerns.

Anonymous said...

I've thought a lot about these changes in the Church, as well as the responses from the two anonymouses that say, essentially -hey, sorry that you listened to the prophets, BiV. It turns out they weren't that serious, afterall.

This Church, at least the church I grew up in, values obedience. If the prophet says, take out your earring - you take out your earring. If the prophet says, for instance, don't use birth control and women shouldn't have careers unless they are working to support their fatherless children, then as faithful LDS, you do them, you don't rationalize and find a way to wiggle out of these requirements.

Mormons are told in no uncertain terms to follow the prophet. It's unacceptable to chastise someone for following the prophet too closely. "Continuing revelation" is the Church's get out of jail free card. But it screws the faithful people who followed the prophets' previous commandments. See polygamy for a tragic example of this.

Bored in Vernal said...

Anonymous at 9:21--Thank you for your understanding. In connection with my thoughts I often think of the women who faithfully entered polygamy, and how they must have felt when it was revoked.

Wounded Hart,
Thanks for the quotes. I was disturbed by some of the comments demonstrating a lack of understanding of the official position of the Church in our history, so I have done another post clarifying these things!

PS If you post under anonymous, at least give yourself a name or some initials in your comment so we can distinguish you anons from each other!

CW said...

This post is so very close to home for me. My own experiences (sacrifices) were very parallel to yours, BiV. A little over a year ago the past all came crashing down on me. I was angry and resentful at the Church and my husband. After a brief separation from both, I started on a long journey of understanding and forgiveness--for the Church, my husband and for myself. I am more at peace now than ever in my life, and I feel ever so much stronger, physically and spiritually. After months of grieving the past, I feel a spiritual energy to go forward. I realize that I did what I did because I was trying to be obedient. I understand that in order to give us agency, the Lord has to allow us (all of us, even prophets) to make mistakes. And, our mistakes (and those of prophets) can negatively impact others. And I now know that the last 35 years of my life have not been without merit. The redemption of the past is in the eyes of my grandchildren.
Thankfully, my daughters do not have to deal with the same things I had to. They are so free to be who they really are and want to be. And so am I. It is this release that has brought me peace. I am thankful that through it all, I hung on, and I am thankful that God hung on to me.

Carl said...

RunnerGirl20, I think if you had a better understanding of this doctrine you would find it incredibly inspiring, rather than disappointing. What greater comfort can we have than hearing the Savior's words when he tells us that he goes to "my father and your father," to "my god and your god." Jesus taught us throughout his entire life, both in words and in deeds, that we are not a different species from God, but merely in a different phase of development. The widespread Christian doctrine of irreconcilable human depravity through original sin and our complete distinction as creatures, from our creator, has caused an incredible amount of pain and suffering in this world. God, through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith, dispelled this doctrine and liberated humanity to its true potential.

The flipside must also be true. If eternal life is truly eternal, and if as Joseph, Brigham and others said, there will never be a time when we cease learning, then God was once in a less mature state than he is now. But this is not any cause for alarm. All we need to know is that God is capable of meeting our every need, and he certainly is.

Here is a similar sentiment conveyed by a popular modern Christian:

"It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. ...It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it s with immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry , snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."

- C S Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Bored in Vernal said...

Cayblood, I love that quote by CS Lewis!

m_and_m said...

I posted this on the other thread, bu thought it might be interesting here.
"Often when young couples come, they ask the specific question, “How many children should we plan to have?” This I cannot answer, for it is not within my province to know. With some persons there are no restrictions of health, and perhaps a number of children will be born into the family. Some good parents who would have large families are blessed with but one or two children. And, occasionally, couples who
make wonderful parents are not able to have natural offspring and enjoy the marvelous experience of fostering children born to others. Planned Parenthood involves a good deal more than just the begetting of children. Nothing in our lives deserves more planning than our responsibilities in parenthood. (Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, Oct 1966, p. 132)

That was in 1966. And that was Elder Packer, who is very bold on these topics and not afraid to lay it all plainly on the line. Is choice about multiplying and replenishing really all new? I don't think so.

Also, I have found quotes that supported exceptions for the sake of health going all the way back to the early 1900s. (which means by definition that it could not have been birth control per se that was being condemned but the attitudes that would cause couples to want to use it)

I'm compiling some of these in a post even as I sit here, because I don't think we realize how much is the same. Focusing too much on the differences, imo, can be harmful and cause pain that may be unnecessary (I hate feeling your pain, BiV, and so I say that out of concern, not criticism). I think there is just too much consistency that has existed along the way, and seeking to find those links and connections has the potential to be powerful and even healing when these kinds of questions come up. IMO, that is.

SO, BiV, maybe things really aren't as different as you think. I hope and pray you can embrace all of your desires and efforts that you have had and then recognize that the Atonement can cover the struggles of life that have occurred. I am so sorry for your struggles. But our day brings its own challenges and perhaps the struggles will come later if we find that we missed the boat by not having as many children as women in the past did, or at least by not being willing to sacrifice to do so. (We suffer from the effects of a culture of convenience, and it is taking its toll and will have its own consequences.)

Maybe some of it is that the doctrine along the way really wasn't understood (re: patriarchy, for example). Yes, there have been more clarifications of these things over time (for which we are all grateful), but I have found threads of these kinds of things all throughout the past as well. I just am not convinced it is all so radically different.

I think each era has its challenges, including the line upon line nature of enlightenment. Think of all the many ways our children and their children will benefit in ways we never did, simply because of technology and all the wonderful blessings that are unfolding as the fullness of times fills its meausure. Shall we not go forward in so great a cause? :)

FWIW, I don't see you as a dinosaur, and I for one rejoice in the decisions you have made and think you will reap eternal blessings for them. I also think the principle of sacrifice which you have lived by having children even when it was hard cannot be overstated. Again, there is wisdom and order, of course, but our generation too often, imo, goes to convenience and worldly goals when perhaps we could use a bit more sacrifice. (I say this because our leaders have talked about their concern of delayed marriage and falling birth rates in the Church.)

Sorry for the loooong comment.

m_and_m said...

Part of the reason I am commenting so much on these threads is that I have seen other women, in my own stage of life (still having children) thinking that things really were different, and that their sacrifices were not appreciated nor recognized nor expected. I really think the recent broadcast has let us know that sacrifice is still expected, and that having children is still something that is not easy, that the world does not support, and that is not even going to always be supported in the culture of the Church. But it IS still supported by our doctrine!

And, BiV, it's never too late for an education! :)

ESO said...

BiV--would it make you feel any better to know that many women born in the 80s still have the lingering feeling that maybe birth control just isn't "right"? I have known of several cases in my current wards.

I think I too often fall on the opposite side of things than you, BiV. Where you made all sorts of sacrifices to be obedient, I very easliy shrug off "advice" that sounds like personal opinion, even if that person is the prophet, with an easy "that doesn't apply to me." Seriously, it just rolls of my back. I wonder how I will end up? When I am in your stage of life, will I look back and be mad I wasn't more obedient?

Alice said...

In 1998 I had an institute teacher (in a preparing for celestial marriage class) who was asked about "family planning". His response is that we should "plan on having a family".

No mention of "it's a personal choice between husband, wife, and God".

So I don't think it matters so much if the church taught that it was a personal choice much earlier, it's still a problem if young people are being taught that they can't use birth control as late as 1998.

Thankfully, my mom used limited birth control and I never grew up thinking that it was a bad thing.

I got an IUD after my first baby, and did wonder briefly if IUD's were bad. :)