Sunday, June 07, 2015

In which I recall some of my childhood experiences of the Mormon church

Before I launch into this next part of my story, I want you all to know that most Mormons are not a*holes. They are ordinary people, and ordinary people are usually pretty decent. It may have been my bad luck to have encountered a bunch of people who were a*holes and who also were also Mormon and who used their religion to justify their a*hole actions. Unfortunately, the bad apples are the ones who tend to define an entire group (in any tradition).

To continue:

Mormon congregations (called wards) are based on geography and after divorcing my SF, we moved to Cupertino and were in a different ward. Throughout my childhood, we lived in areas where Mormon population density was small so the wards were geographically rather large. I was always the only Mormon kid in my school. So new ward, unfortunately for us that most of the ward lay in an upper-middle class area. Remember, mid 1970s...a woman now thrice divorced and belonging to a religious tradition in which preaches that a woman's sacred duty is to stay home and raise her family and the father is responsible for financially supporting the family as well as leading the family in its religious education.

The Mormons are well known (and admired) for their ability to create community. In addition to its geographically based congregations, the church also has a system of "home teachers" and "visiting teachers". This is a responsibility of all adult members (male and female) who are assigned a group of people in their ward to visit once a month. A person is both a home teacher as well as one who is visited, and active and inactive members are included. It can be as simple as a few minutes of chatting if you see each other at services or as formal as a home visit complete with lessons and anything in-between. The point is to make some sort of personal contact with every member of the ward. The visiting rosters are rotated every few months so that everyone has a chance to meet everyone else.

However, from 2nd grade through 9th grade (excepting part of 7th and 8th grade when we were inactive because we lived in an area where the closest LDS church was a three hour drive away), I never remember a single visit of Priesthood to my home. Single woman with a daughter=household without Priesthood, and it's the Priesthood who is responsible for educating the family and providing religious and spiritual guidance. This period in my life encompassed FIVE different wards within the Bay Area or Central California. The church teaches that women have the right to Priesthood blessings and services (for wont of a better word), but I don't know if this is a recent teaching (as a result of the rising number of mother-led households within the LDS community) or if my mother even knew she could request them. Or if requesting would lead to more judgement (why yes, Sister, we can visit your household since you are divorced and no longer have a Priesthood holder in your home. We are very sorry that your marriage didn't work out. Marriages are really hard work; are you sure you did everything you could to make it work?")

There are lots of things in the Mormon tradition that I never knew about, even though I was raised in it and went to services and extracurricular activities regularly. I fasted on Fast Sundays (first Sunday of the month) and knew to pay tithe.

But I never knew that women could be missionaries and have ALWAYS been able to be missionaries. In my experience, girls were always taught that their role was to be mothers and homemakers. This is definitely a role worthy of respect, but since I lived with a single mom, I knew that women had different choices. (Note: there are several types of missionary service in the LDS church, but I am referring to the proselytizing missionaries. Until recently, the minimum age a woman could be a proselytizing missionary was age 23, although recently reduced to age 19. Now almost half of these missionaries are women.)

I never knew about Patriarchal blessings, which is an individual, personal, and thoughtful blessing usually given to a person in their teens which is to help guide them through their lives. (However, any member at any age is entitled it so adult converts are not excluded.)

I never knew that Mormon practiced laying of hands on the sick. This is something the Priesthood does.

I never knew that a person could request a blessing.

This was not the failure of the Priesthood in a single ward...this was in EVERY ward in which we lived. The only time I remember any Priesthood notification to our household was one year in which the Bishop (head of the ward) enclosed a note with the end of year tithing summaries in which he noted that my mother had paid less tithe that year. I don't know the contents of the letter, but I do know how my mother interpreted it: "oh my God! They've sent me a bill! I can't believe that they've sent me a bill!" She ranted about this for days.

When I was a teen and we'd moved back to Lindsay, my mom had reached the end of her rope. She sent me to church but was inactive herself. (She was also under an incredible amount of stress from all fronts and I honestly think she just needed a few hours of solitude each week.) My mother made me a dress to wear to church, which was no small achievement on her part. Not that she made the dress, and this was the 80s, so this dress had LOTS of fabric. The achievement was getting me to wear it. But I had been shamed enough in prior experience in different wards about the way I dressed (once even being barred from chapel because I was wearing trousers, later followed multiple criticisms about the type of dresses I did wear. Not nice enough, not lady-like enough.) So it's a tribute to how strongly I actually wanted to go to church to wear a dress. (I admit, it was pretty and I really appreciated all the work my mom put into it.) But then people kept commenting that I wore the same dress every week. It was always cleaned and ironed (so.much.fabric...). They commented that my hair was too short, people would think I was a boy. They kept commenting to me about why my mother didn't attend services. They kept saying how sad it was that she was divorced, not once but three times, as if the flaw wasn't that she fell in love with the wrong men but that she couldn't change them into better ones.

Finally, I reached my limit. The Bishop had asked me to stay after services to talk to me, and I honestly don't remember what he said, but he said something that set me off. Sick of constantly being commented on my appearance and pissed off at the way they treated my mom, I lost my temper and told the Bishop to go to hell. And he, possibly tired of a rebellious, constantly questioning (read: insubordinate) teenaged girl, told me to leave and not come back. I stormed out in a fit of righteous adolescent fury which quickly turned to elation. I didn't want to be there, and they didn't want me there. Win win!

And I didn't return for 30 years.


jeanius said...

A lot of these are similar reasons why Jason & I left the church not long after we were married (and -gasp- not in a temple either!). It makes me a bit sad that your mom didn't get the support she needed.

jeanius said...

A lot of these are similar reasons why Jason & I left the church not long after we were married (and -gasp- not in a temple either!). It makes me a bit sad that your mom didn't get the support she needed.