Comparing the People Who See Everyone Else as Gentiles

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Sometimes when someone writes a critique of Mormonism, someone will come along and accuse the writer of bigotry against Mormons. To prove the point, they'll replace the word "Mormon" with the word "Jew" or "Jewish," suggesting that finding Mormonism silly is as bad as anti-Semitism. It happened on my blog, somewhere.... I can't find it now, and don't really care, but my response was to say that by virtue of having grown up Mormon and served a mission for the church, I'd earned the write to say things about it others find offensive, so tough shit.

But I finally found a document where *I* want to substitute the word "Mormon" for the word "Jew," to show why I'm glad to be a post-Mormon instead of a regular old devout Mormon.

Here goes:

For po-mos like me, the cool thing about being born a Mormon is you can do it as much or as little, as well or as badly, as you like. You can be professional, amateur or pro-am. This understandably pisses off the pros, who marry a fellow full-timer, know all the stuff in the manual and keep up with all the latest fads.

What we, the po-mos, find offensive, especially from people who market themselves as being intelligent and questioning, is the literal interpretation of ancient petty rules and regulations, and subsequent attempts by the ultra-competitive to out-devout their fellow TBMs by coming up with new, even more arcane policies. We're not talking about the proper Ten Commandments here, but bylaws such as the rules on caffeine in soft drinks, which maybe made sense before we found out how much caffeine there is in chocolate, but don't any more. Or the ban on playing cards, which didn't even make sense before the advent of computer solitaire, and makes less sense now. Following these laws to the letter and beyond is, for us, like driving a petrol car 100 years from now on some kind of principle.

Of course there is not complete symmetry; for every time where replacing one term with another works just fine, there are several more where it doesn't. Consider, for instance, this passage in the text I'm working from:

And yet the amazing thing is, I won't be excommunicated or fatwa-ed by frum Jews. There's no mechanism for it, and not a lot of desire for it, even from the fundamentalists among us. The worst that might happen is I won't be invited to a couple of Passover suppers next year. More likely, I'll be asked on to platform debates to discuss whether the Jew-ish are really Jews.

Mormons can be excommunicated; there is a very real mechanism for it, and it's a means by which people are chastened and humiliated in the name of love. There's also a desire among those who use the mechanism to keep it active and efficient, to purge people who aren't completely frum. (I admit I love that term and would love to see Mormons coopt it as thoroughly as they've coopted "gentile.") Not only do they want to kick us out, they want to deny us the right to even use terms like Mormon when referring to ourselves, and to limit our ability to discuss the church (including its doctrines and its policies) as well as our own experiences, as if by ceasing to believe or follow all the tenets of the church, we've lost the right to care about the time we spent being frum.

But here's the thing: I might be excommunicated, but I'll never be a gentile. I'm a child of the covenant who has rejected the covenant as damaging and immoral. I reject all sorts of things about Mormonism, but there are others I embrace, and I've written about those ways extensively, as in this piece, or this one. Above all, I don't reject my SELF. And that means I get to use whatever terms I want from Mormonism to discuss myself and my identity, and you Mormon frum out there can be mad all you want, but you can't do a damn thing to stop me.

7 Comments

I was JUST talking about this last night. No kidding. There exists in other religions levels of orthodoxy and non orthodoxy. There doesn't in the LDS church. I wish there was. Instead, there is excommunication and non-temple recommend holders etc.

I'm totally a non-orthodox Mormon and I'm hoping it will catch on.

You sound like I did 5 years ago.

I'm just sayin'... That's the thing about being "post-Mormon." You never know when your Mormonism may come back and bite you in the butt.

Hi D'Arcy--I'm with you. I hope it happens SOON.

Hi JGW--well, it's not like I haven't been dealing with people telling me I'm not a "real" Mormon for my entire life: I always drank coke, and was a feminist, and had unorthodox views. So it's also not like my butt has never been bitten before by the whole issue of Mormon identity. And I still like and claim the term post-Mormon. And I still find the theology of the church vile and reprehensible in most ways, and could never sit in a meeting and raise my hand and sustain most of the things members are asked to sustain, and I still think that following the old gits in SLC is a serious impediment to spiritual maturity. But there's simply no point in pretending that Mormonism isn't one of the primary institutions to shape me and my view of the world, and in that way, I get snippy when someone tries to tell me I can't claim my Mormon identity.

I hope you didn't think I was one of those people trying to tell you you can't claim your Mormon identity.

I'd rather have a Mormondom with you in it somewhere, even if only on the "post-Mormon" margins.

Hi JGW--

No, I didn't think you were telling me that I couldn't claim my Mormon identity. I guess I thought it was more along the lines of hinting that my Mormon identity claims ME--that at some point I might awaken to the ways in which Mormonism offers me fulfillment, or even an avenue for meaningful spiritual development. It might offer that to others, but it absolutely does not offer that to me.

I don't know. I've written about eight conclusions to that paragraph and none of them get it right. I am very sensitive right now to the way Mormonism stunts human development. I have recently been hurt very, very deeply not by my own Mormonism, but by someone else's, in ways that involve alienation from one's body and emotions, and an impoverished vocabulary for talking about identity. But I also know that however much I have been hurt, my pain is minimal compared to the pain this person is inflicting on themself and on those even closer to them than I am. It's just so unnecessary, and so SAD.

I offered that more light-heartedly than I should have.

I agree, you absolutely always choose what to do about your Mormon identity/heritage. I think our Mormon heritage would agree that it's always our choice. But to a certain extent I think it is also true that we both own and are owned by our identities.

The way I experienced this is that I had a moment of clarity in which I understood that I could keep "kicking against the pricks" or I could face this and come to terms with it... Make peace with it. That was very much my sense of it at the time. I gradually got up the courage to go back into the "lion's den," trusting that I would find the peace I desperately needed -- with God, with my Church, in my heart, with my family... The Spirit promised me I would be OK, and so far that promise has been more than delivered on.

I'm not saying the choice as I perceived it is the only kind of choice a person in your or my situation has before them. There are other choices. And since you are woman, I think a very valid choice is for you to insist on finding your peace a safe distance from an institution where women have no authority and where abuse of authority over women (and lack of consequences for abuse) is all too well documented. Coercing thousands of gay men to marry unsuspecting straight women is only one example of the kinds of abuse we're both aware of.

I love and respect the kind of peace you're trying to make. Your NY Times editorial, by the way, was breathtaking. Just beautiful, and compassionate. And something -- incidentally -- I think could be read and appreciated by the most devout LDS members.

My journey back to the Church was done for selfish reasons. It was the only way I have felt I could find peace. (It's not been easy for my husband, and that's something I've had to wrestle with.) But I hope that journey will have some positive side effects, one of which is developing an enriched vocabulary for talking about faith and identity in the framework of LDS faith -- something I hope can benefit folks like your friend.

Hi John--

thanks for clarifying what you were saying.

You're right that there's a way in which we both own and are owned by our identities, and there's even a way in which the church can claim me: after all, I'm still officially a member; I'm still one of the people who swells the ranks of the church. I know some people think I should have my name removed for various reasons, but I am OK with the trade-off, since my membership still gives me a certain credibility on the topic of the church.

That said, I think the farthest I can venture into the lion's den is Sunstone and the occasional Sunstone party. I was just talking to a friend about this earlier today--there's a way in which I sometimes feel like a circus freak at these things, and I can only bear it in small doses. For instance, at the party Friday, I mentioned the word "diarrhea," and this very strange woman got all squeamish and objected strenuously that I was actually discussing my body as a reality that impacted my life! Things like that happen far too often in Mormon circles. I don't have the energy to pretend I don't have a body, and I don't especially enjoy the company of people who are alienated from their own bodies.

This relates to an entry you wrote recently about Job, about the integrity of body and spirit.... I had a remarkable epiphany today while I was having acupuncture, and I learned something about my spiritual life because I was caring for my body--no, I was caring for my entire being. Anyway. Like all epiphanies, this one is hard to articulate. It had to do with power and strength, and the fact that one reason I have a very problematic relationship to power is that I was never given any official, explicit training in how to exercise it, only in how to submit to it. That is one of the greatest disservices the church has done me--out of a very long list of disservices--and I'm really not sure how I'm going to train myself to have a better relationship to power. I just know it's something I have do now, and that being involved with the church will not help with that project at all.

But I am glad there are people like you who are working to change the church from the inside, and to make it more congenial to a wider range of people.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on November 30, 2009 6:01 AM.

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