I am a Mormon. Which also means that I am a Christian. Because Mormons believe in Christ, the same one from the King James Holy Bible. Shocking, I know, but true.
And once again, I won't argue my religion with you.
**SIDE NOTE: Although I am bringing up the fact that we have forgotten "how" to be Christian to one another and as a culture within the LDS religion, I have received feedback that this seems to be a problem across most Christian faiths/communities. Apparently, Christians in general have forgotten what it means to be Christ-like. How in the world did this even become an issue in a faith that is literally based on the teachings of Christ Himself? Let's discuss it.
I cannot tell you how thankful I am for the honest conversations we had on my Facebook page with Chapter 1 of this series. I was terrified to post and start all this, I braced for the incoming arguments and denials from those who are the problem and therefore cannot see the problem. Instead I was met with love by ALL those who stepped forward to say they had the same experiences and wanted a change in hopes to remain connected to the faith they love so very much. I was also asked by many how they can help and what can they do differently to assist in the change. WOW! That meant the world to us, to have such an honest conversation about changing the way we deal with one another within the ward families.
Chapter 1 was about divorce and the treatment of families who are no longer "forever."
In this chapter of my attempt to reveal a poisonous issue within the culture of our church, I want to discuss the shaming and judgment that comes down upon those who are met with life's struggles and the ensuing guilt we feel when we don't measure up to the standards. When, in all truth, those sometimes absurd standards are the literal destruction of our spiritual selves. And let's just be honest for a moment, isn't religion for sinners? Since when did religion become a place for the "already exalted" and the "perfect?"
There are three standards and/or over-the-top expectations that I would like to address personally because they have negatively impacted my life and my marriage/family, as well as numerous other families that I know and love. Because these standards/expectations are so ingrained in us as LDS and treated as black or white (with little to no gray area), we have developed a very bad habit within our LDS culture of judging and shaming one another incessantly when those standards aren't met. This shaming leads to guilt and then struggles are hidden rather than dealt with and the "sinner" is left feeling alone rather than loved and supported.
Sexual purity is the first. Now before anyone freaks out and accuses me of suggesting that we shouldn't value chastity, allow me the chance to explain my point. I value chastity very much. I raised my children to value themselves and others and not to treat sex as something freely given at anytime with anyone. However, sexual purity in our culture is more than just having sex casually.
We are taught to abstain from sex until marriage. I have no issues with this standard. But somewhere along the way we morphed purity into a tendency to be absurdly prude. We are taught that we shouldn't even have impure thoughts and we grow up equating anything relating to sex or sexuality as taboo, wrong, and something we simply don't speak of. We don't date until we are 16, and even then we are only allowed group dates until we turn 18 and can finally be alone on a date.
But this isn't teaching self control, this is teaching avoidance, and in today's world avoidance is near impossible. And yet we still expect our LDS children to treat the world they are growing up in the same as the same world their parent and grandparents grew up in. We are expected to just avoid and abstain. And I'm going to just say it...here goes...NO WONDER Mormon college students have a reputation with non-LDS students as being "secretly freaky." Here are some of the typical comments and sayings among our young single adults: "Oral is moral" and "you can't loose your virginity by doing anal." Way to go parents! Your avoidance tactic was brilliant!
Sexual feelings and thoughts are natural, and just because you have those feelings or thoughts doesn't make you a sinner nor does it mean you should feel automatically ashamed. I have personally met numerous people who admitted that their parents never had the sex talk with them, never felt they could openly discuss the topics being discussed among friends at school, and many of those people admitted to not knowing what the hell they were doing in the bedroom once they were married.
Why is this a huge issue? Because avoiding sexual conversation and forcing your children to completely suppress any and all "impure" thoughts without proper and healthy discussion often leads to the following:
1. Increased curiosity.
2. Children "educating" each other and excluding parents.
3. Lack of proper tools and knowledge to deal with raging hormones as they increase.
4. Shame and guilt which leads to increased hiding and loneliness.
5. Rushed marriages just to end the sexual tension, the waiting, and the guilty feelings.
6. Unbelievably high porn addiction rates among LDS men (addiction being the key word.)
7. Astonishingly increasing divorce rates 10+ years into the marriage. (I asked 10 divorced LDS women what was the #1 reason for their divorce and the top two unanimous answers were 1. Rushed into the marriage and started having kids only to wake up one day and realize you actually never really got to know one another on a truly deep level and 2. We became parents almost immediately and just forgot the romance, the sex, and the fun part of being a married couple. Sex was for reproducing and became a chore.)
And those are only a few of the issues that we've created, all because we are too scared to actually put away our prude armor, be uncomfortable for a few minutes, and have honest discussions with our children about completely natural feelings and urges. I'll go even further and say those honest discussions about our urges, desires, and needs should be occurring with our spouses and future spouses as well. What does he truly like or want sexually? What do I truly like and want? How do we communicate those things to one another when we've never talked about sex and sexual needs before?
Boys and men need to understand that porn sex isn't necessarily realistic, but at the same time they need to feel comfortable talking with their partner about their sexual desires and the new things they wish to try. In addition, girls and women need to know that it is okay to have sexual desires, to want to be adventurous sexually, and that it's not sinful to explore things outside of missionary style in the bedroom. This is for all Christian faiths, stop raising your children to be scared and ashamed of sex talk. You can be a good Christian and still know and understand your sexual side.
The second unrealistic practice that we have adopted as a church is the modesty standards for girls...not guys, girls. Once again, I'm all about modesty, but we have left Crazy Town on this one and headed straight for Absolutely Ridiculous-ville. In fact, I'm going to flat out say that this standard is more than just unrealistic, it has actually become harmful in many ways, including teaching our children to judge one another. Allow me to explain.
In our culture, moral accountability is placed on the girl and her choices with modesty. Church talks, youth lessons, New Era articles written by authorities, all place the ownership on the girls to make modest choices in their clothing in order for both male and female youth to maintain their morals and standards. I cannot tell you how many times throughout my life I've heard leaders explain to young women that how they dress might send the wrong message to the boys, put impure thoughts into the boys' heads, or show a lack of respect for one's self.
Now I can accept two of those as actual wisdom, for the most part, except we aren't speaking of short skirts and crop tops. These warnings are for sleeveless shirts or dresses that show the tops of shoulders, leggings worn with tunics and boots, and bikinis and tankinis. But primarily it's that second statement that truly grinds me to my core: "You don't want to put impure thoughts into the boys' heads."
How is that considered a safe teaching to tell anyone, boy or girl? When are the boys taught that they should be able to stand in front of a girl who doesn't have our same modesty standards and be accountable for and in control of their own thoughts? I have a boy that has grown up in the church and the only one teaching him this is me, his mother. My girls, on the other hand, are constantly receiving counter-teaching by me to negate the shaming they receive from leaders and other youth.
As examples of the well-meaning turned absurd practice of modesty, our culture of course has taken it too unhealthy levels (it's what we do):
1. Some girl youth camps (only girls attend) not only require one piece swimsuits (which we all know that tankinis can actually cover more than most one pieces), they also require the girls to swim with a t-shirt and shorts over the one piece as added modest protection. Yet at Scout camps (all boys), boys actively swim shirtless and aren't made to feel as though they need to over-cover their bodies. This practice teaches young women in our culture that their bodies are things that should be covered and hidden, breeding a feeling of shame and guilt if we don't, while the boys get to be boys and are maintaining their moral thoughts because our girls are protecting them from seeing a shoulder.
2. Also at these young women camps the girls are encouraged to come up with skits on various topics including modesty. I've personally witnessed these skits make fun of girls who might not dress like LDS teens do and suggest that anything outside of LDS youth standards is considered too provocative and basically wrong. The problem with this is that there are quite often non-LDS youth attending these camps who don't have our standards and yet witness the skits making fun of their personal choices. Another problem is that this encourages our LDS youth to judge their non-LDS friends and family for their choices. I've personally heard LDS youth use friends as examples when speaking about poor choices in modesty in the world.
3. There is a clear divide between many LDS girls and we as leaders are encouraging this divide without meaning to. We hold an activity called a Modest Fashion Show where girls bring modest examples and demonstrate to other girls how to dress modestly at school, church, and even dances and special events. The divide comes from LDS youth who are raised in partial member homes or who struggle with social status and fitting in with friends. This fashion show is intended to encourage modesty but I've seen the more "Molly" girls take pride in showing off their modest choices, and judgement and resentment overshadows encouragement.
Let's look at real examples where we as leaders have missed the mark by a mile and caused more harm than good.
1. The viral incident at BYU where the young female student wearing leggings, boots, and a long sweater was studying in a library and a male student handed her a note and then like the coward he was, left before she read it. The note shamed her for her clothing and literally implied that the girl's clothing choices caused him to have impure thoughts and thus caused damage to his grasp on his standards. The girl was completely covered and yet still managed to "cause him to have impure thoughts." This is what we as leaders taught this young man to believe.
2. A young LDS girl was very active but grew up in a partial member family. Her parents didn't take issue with her wearing a bikini on family beach trips or her wearing tank tops to her work outs. During a standards discussion in Sunday School, an active male youth in her church made a backhanded comment about some of her clothing in pictures on her social media. In all the pictures the girl was with her family and even her mother was wearing a bikini in one of the pictures. The male youth went on to shame the girl in front of the class for her choices in clothing and how it "made him feel" and that she "can't be mad that no Mormon boy asks her out when she doesn't dress like a Mormon." The leader diffused the comments but didn't correct the male youth and the young girl went home embarrassed and devastated.
3. A young LDS girl who was active attended a semi-formal dance at her school. There were no LDS youth at her school and her mother made the choice to allow a dress that was modest but didn't necessarily measure up to the LDS standards of modesty. This was a Catholic school dance, so there was already a modest standard in place. During a discussion at a young women's camp another younger female pointed out that her parents had shown her the picture of the girl in the dress and how they discussed AS A FAMILY how she wasn't brave enough to uphold her LDS standards around her friends. The leader allowed this girl to "politely" shame the other young girl and led the discussion in an effort to "help the girls see that their choices affect younger girls that look up to them." The discussion got back to the girl and her parents and left the girl embarrassed and devastated that she was talked about in that manner, by both a family she looked up to and leaders that she trusted.
4. A young non-LDS bride-to-be was very excited about her wedding dress. She was marrying an LDS return missionary, and his parents were not exactly happy that he was marrying a non-member. One evening at dinner with his family, the young girl described her dress to her future in-laws out of sheer excitement and expecting the same excitement. Instead, she left crying and feeling ashamed after the man's parents explained that she dress was immodest and they couldn't allow her to wear it if the wedding was help in the chapel. The young girl was confused and hurt by their reactions to her dress that she and her own mother picked out. The young LDS man stood beside his future wife and happily moved the wedding to an outdoor facility where the young bride proudly wore her beautiful dress, knowing that her husband loved her and had her back. However, this incident forever put a bad taste in her mouth for the church and our standards and is actually NOT how we are taught to handle these situations by Christ.
5. Because of an ongoing investigation and law suit I cannot tell you the name of the college at this time, but recently a primarily LDS university allowed one of their NCAA coaches to regularly hold a "Classy vs. Trashy" practice, in which the "classy" team was Molly-type Mormons and the "trashy" team
was non-member or members who had multiple piercings or tattoos.
These are just a few of the examples where young girls and women were hurt by the incessant judgment disguised as teachings and by the absurd take on modesty that we have developed as a culture.
The third and final topic I'm going to use as an example of our destructive culture is the actual way in which we divide ourselves, our cliques or caste system if you will.
Here we are, supposedly some of "the most Christ-like people you'll ever meet" to non-Mormons, and yet we will tear each other apart inside our own culture. True story.
1. Forever families vs. divorced or partial member families.
2. Married Relief Society sisters vs. single sisters (older generations).
3. Seminary kids vs. teens that cannot attend seminary for one reason or another. Your child WILL be judged for this, even if a full-ride scholarship potential for college prevents your child from attending due to early morning practices.
4. Return missionaries vs. those that never went on a mission.
5. Pioneer lineage vs. converts.
6. Molly Mormon girls vs. normal teenaged LDS girls
7. Those who don't struggle with the Word of Wisdom vs. those that do.
8. Temple recommend holders vs. those are not.
9. Those that can attend any and all meetings (sometimes spending 6 hours at the church on Sundays or Wednesdays instead of with family) vs. those that choose not to take more time out of their family life.
The list could go on, but the point isn't the list itself. The focus should be that there is a divide at all among us as a Christian culture, and the biggest point is that we divide ourselves. And on each side of this divide there is judgment, shame, and guilt as we look across at the "others."
And before you deny this "caste system," let's remember allllllll the jokes, sayings, common phrases, and songs about these exact divisions. I rest my case.
I am actually embarrassed to admit the number of people I know that have left the Church due to never feeling like they are "Mormon enough." And for those that will argue that you don't go to church for the people, you go for the Lord, that argument doesn't stand up in a religion in which you LIVE the culture and are surrounded by church members on a daily basis.
It is very hard to feel the Spirit and feel the love you are supposed to feel in church when you have been treated like a lesser human being because you don't play "keeping up with the Mormon Jones'."
We HAVE to fix this ongoing trend that is going in the opposite direction of being Christ-like. We are CHRISTIANS and it's time we start behaving as such once again.