Some of my Best Friends have been Excommunicated MormonsPosted: April 17, 2012
I keep threatening to take some old DVD tapes of me as an 1980s rabble rousing women’s activist to some place where they can be digitized and sanctified into the Great Eternal Internet Byteland Nirvana. There’s me–barely pregnant–talking motherhood, pregnant teenagers, and teaching with Maya Angelou. There’s me sitting between Betty Friedan and Kate Millet–brokering a cease fire and discussing International Women’s day–about ready to give birth to Doctor Daughter. Then, there’s me, dancing with Sonia Johnson who always said that my music made her weep.
Doctor Daughter is on her way to the big 30 and a big fat Bollywood Wedding next month so it’s on my mind a lot. It’s been over thirty years since Sonia told me about her life as a Mormon wife. Wow. We also have that stanky, regurgitated taste of the Mommy Wars that I thought I’d left behind in Doctor Daughter’s toddlerhood brought back by Willard and wife. That ignites something in me too. I didn’t leave Doctor Daughter’s side until she was way over the big ONE. I was a SAHM when I met all these legendary feminists. But, when Doctor Daughter weaned herself from my breast and took her first steps, I finished my Masters and decided to teach college. I made decisions for myself. But again, we’re in an age where men want women that let men make decisions for them.
I have a first edition signed copy of “From Housework to Heretic”. It’s not only signed, it’s inscribed by Sonia Johnson to the very young me. My music made her weep while her story made me scream. The picture that I glued into to the book of us is so early 80s. It’s a reminder of the last days of the fight for the ERA. It reminds me of treks and phone calls to Missouri and Oklahoma.
I have a lot of memories of these days including that of a friend who died not that long ago who had the audacity to marry a Catholic women. He was a mentor and a good friend I met while teaching my first college gig. He’s got a lot in common with Sonia. They both were excommunicated from the LDS church after a life of knowing nothing else. Yup, some of my best friends were excommunicated Mormons.
I also had Mormon friends in high school. I remember them as being really wild. Omaha was the winter stake or some such thing. The LDS temple was not even a block from my house. I know it really well because my Mom used to do genealogy research there. I had to chase her down in their microfiche room frequently and I heard them occasionally attach the title “sister” to her. Any Mormon woman can tell you what that means. Oh, btw, this is the room where they chased down all those dead relatives who get baptized post-mortem. Yup, no consent, no conversion, and no compliance is required for that. That’s the same treatment that Ann Romney gave her outspoken, feisty atheist dad.
When my own mom died, my Dad gave all her research to that LDS church. I was not a happy camper. I wanted all references and pictures of me removed. It’s the only thing surrounding my mother’s death that really upsets me. The thought that any one I loved might be subjected to spiritual kidnapping gives me the supreme willies. As my Mom lay dying, I read the verses of the Bardo of Dying and kept thinking that I really hoped the Mormons didn’t try to kidnap our Karma. I’d say “soul” to convey the importance of that to you, but that’s not a Buddhist concept at all.
Because of all of this, I believe it’s a really big mistake to give Willard Romney a pass on his religion.
I hate to join the likes of fundie christians, but there it is. I know excommunicated Mormons. I also know that any one who really takes this religion seriously should not be setting policy for women and children. The stories from Sonia that I remember best are the ones about “the voice”. I’m going to quote from my copy of From Housewife to Heretic and I want you all to think about this. It’s the story of a woman that knows male dominance and abuse. This excerpt comes from a point in a senatorial hearing where Senator Birch Bayh asks Ms. Johnson “what percentage of the people within the Mormon church share your views” as a Mormon for the ERA. Just like today, the sensibilities of equality and civil rights are subject to a man’s personal mythology.
“When Senator Hatch spoke to me, his voice changed. He put on his churchmen’s voice for me–unctuous, condescending; I was not alone hearing it. Several people asked me afterwards whether I had noticed. Indeed, I had, and said to myself incredulously at the time, “For heaven’s sake, Sonia. Do you mean to say that men in the church have been speaking to you like that for forty-two years and you’ve never noticed it?” It is incredible how we blind and deafen ourselves so we will not see the truth of how men really feel about us and really treat us.
I suppose the only reason I heard it that day was that such a tone was wildly inappropriate in the marble chambers of the Senate Office Building, so out of place that even I, whose ears had become inured to that insufferably patronizing tone from hearing it since birth, was shocked into awareness. This was not church, he was not my spiritual superior in this room, and he was not supposed to be functioning as if he were-that is, as if he were a Mormon Male. But he forgot himself and related to me as pompously and arrogantly as he must have related to women in the church all his life, this style came to him with such ease and naturalness.
At the time, Sonia believed the “churchmen’s voice” had given her a unique power
“Hatch, on the other hand, being the sort of patriarchal male who tends to view women as so much alike that one approach will work for all, prepared to assert in his usually successful ways his innate male superiority.
This faulty judgement always gives women the upper hand when dealing with patriarchs, because such men usually have not developed alternative strategies, and are left defenseless and foolish when their stereotypes fail them–as they are increasingly failing them.
“Mrs. Johnson,” he intoned down his shiny Boy Scout nose, “you must admit that nearly one hundred percent of Mormon women oppose the Equal Rights Amendment.” (Here’s where Bayh allowed the Relief Society sisters from Hatch’s ward and stake to applaud and stomp.)
When the tumult subsided, I replied “oh my goodness, I don’t have to admit that. It simply isn’t true.”
When one has just been spoke in one’s churchman’s voice, one does not expect to be answered back like that and Hatch, chagrined, began his serious work of intimidation and humiliation. Ironically, however, the harder he worked, the more ruffled he himself became and the calmer I felt. We began to have a delightfully brisk dialogue–at least, I enjoyed it:
Hatch: I notice in your letter to the legislature that you had twenty women listed.
Johnson: There were not just women on that list … The point here is that the numbers of adherents have never proved an issue true or false. You yourself belong to a church of only three million members which purports to be the only true church in the world. That is a pretty precarious position.
I remember well the role of the LDS church and its corporate cronies–like the Marriott Hotels–and what they did to the ERA. This Vanity Fair article has been quoted on this blog by Boston Boomer and me. I’m going to do it again.
The Romneys’ Mormon faith, as Mitt and Ann began their life together, formed a deep foundation. It lay under nearly everything—their acts of charity, their marriage, their parenting, their social lives, even their weekly schedules. Their family-centric lifestyle was a choice; Mitt and Ann plainly cherished time at home with their children more than anything. But it was also a duty. Belonging to the Mormon Church meant accepting a code of conduct that placed supreme value on strong families—strong heterosexual families, in which men and women often filled defined and traditional roles. The Romneys have long cited a well-known Mormon credo popularized by the late church leader David O. McKay: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
So, again, what does this personal belief have to do with public office? Let’s continue with the Vanity Fair article.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is far more than a form of Sunday worship. It is a code of ethics that frowns on homosexuality, out-of-wedlock births, and abortion and forbids pre-marital sex. It offers a robust, effective social safety net, capable of incredible feats of charity, support, and service, particularly when its own members are in trouble. And it works hard to create community, a built-in network of friends who often share values and a worldview. For many Mormons, the all-encompassing nature of their faith, as an extension of their spiritual lives, is what makes belonging to the church so wonderful, so warm, even as its insularity can set members apart from society.
But a dichotomy exists within the Mormon Church, which holds that one is either in or out; there is little or no tolerance for those, like so-called cafeteria Catholics, who pick and choose what doctrines to follow. And in Mormonism, if one is in, a lot is expected, including tithing 10 percent of one’s income, participating regularly in church activities, meeting high moral expectations, and accepting Mormon doctrine—including many concepts, such as the belief that Jesus will rule from Missouri in his Second Coming, that run counter to those of other Christian faiths. That rigidity can be difficult to abide for those who love the faith but chafe at its strictures or question its teachings and cultural habits. For one, Mormonism is male-dominated—women can serve only in certain leadership roles and never as bishops or stake presidents. The church also makes a number of firm value judgments, typically prohibiting single or divorced men from leading wards and stakes, for example, and not looking kindly upon single parenthood.
The portrait of Romney that emerges from those he led and served with in the church is of a leader who was pulled between Mormonism’s conservative core views and practices and the demands from some quarters within the Boston stake for a more elastic, more open-minded application of church doctrine. Romney was forced to strike a balance between those local expectations and the dictates out of Salt Lake City. Some believe that he artfully reconciled the two, praising him as an innovative and generous leader who was willing to make accommodations, such as giving women expanded responsibility, and who was always there for church members in times of need. To others, he was the product of a hidebound, patriarchal Mormon culture, inflexible and insensitive in delicate situations and dismissive of those who didn’t share his perspective.
So, the question I pose is which etcha-sketch Romney POV is the one that would be president? Personally, I do not care what Romney does in his temples, his many houses, or his car elevator. All I know is I do not want to hear that churchman’s voice coming from behind a podium with the Presidential Seal.