Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Lighting Candles for True Believers


Subtitle:  I'm not converting to Mormonism.  I'm arguing that we should  love and respect those who are in sects and groups when they need help and kindness.

Imagine that you are a young, married woman with a budding family, and you're a Second Generation Adult who grew up in Quiverfull. Your husband gets arrested and convicted of a crime that sickens people. Both inside and outside of your religious sect, and you become a reminder of all of your husband's deeds -- and you haven't even had time to consider whether you believe if he's guilty of anything. He's your husband who has been good to you. Imagine that you have a different story to tell, because from your perspective, your husband never did one thing to hurt you or your children. Your church folk abandon you and your children, and you'd never imagine that this would happen. Never in your wildest dreams could you have dreamt this.

You probably have a few aunts or uncles or grandparents who have been waiting for years to talk to you about an alternative, but your parents wouldn't let them get close enough to you. You can turn to them for help, even if it's just to find a kind ear to validate what you've been through. This confuses and threatens you, though, because you still believe what was drilled into you about how women should act. 

The highest form of worshiping God is having babies, serving your husband, and raising your children to honor God in the same way that you were taught.  Mary Pride taught that we need those souls and little bodies to grow up to vote in the right American leaders, and many others give so many other reasons for having as many children as possible that you fear what will happen if you don't. You will bring shame upon God and dishonor the unborn that the heathens offer up in death to the god's of irresponsibility and convenience.  Fascinating Womanhood taught you to serve your husband well. You did so with all your heart, but you didn't earn what was promised. Those heathen people on the outside could never be trusted, and they hate your God and everything you stand for. Evil lurks everywhere outside of your religious group -- the only place you can find safety, comfort, and understanding.

You've devoted your whole life to domestic tasks and arts, but you suddenly need to provide for your family. You don't know how to even go about that. You've lived in your family home, but now, it is gone.

Someone suggests that you contact social services in your state. You get help to find a subsidized rental home, you get food stamps through your state program, and you sign up for WIC to get good nutrition for your young ones. A neighbor tells you about a food pantry at a nearby church, and there's another one that gets help and support from state government. You're not living like you were, but you're able to at least get food for your children. You were also told about a charity that collects and distributes donated furniture to families with children in need. The charity brings everything right to your door, and you're in desperate need because all you were able to really keep were your family's clothing and whatever you could carry away with you when the local Sheriff made you leave. You find out about scholarships and private charities that can help both you and your children get a good education.

Religion? Who really has much time to think about religion. People talk trash about what you believe, and if the subject comes up, most people grimace in disgust. People talk about the worst examples of those affiliated with your sect.  Lydia Schatz and Hana Williams are offered as examples to you of how your system didn't work. You're told about the beloved leaders who molested their children's nanny and lost their ministry. 

People rail in disgust because they know that you used Bill Gothard's curriculum to educate your children, and there he was -- a man in his seventies who asked parents to send his daughters to "train" at his religious centers. Not everyone believes that it's true, but so many girls now talk about how they were teenagers and he was their leader who spoke to God, and he wanted to "date" them. He would play footsie with them in the hired car that drove him around on long trips from state to state. His own organization threw him out. You trusted him for God's sake, but now it seems that all have abandoned you along with him. How do you know who to believe?

There are so many questions, and at the same time, you're also consumed with just how you can make sure that your children are kept safe from harm and have enough food to eat. You cling even harder to what you know and the faith that has sustained you and your family your whole life. While the world may turn its back on you, you must remain faithful to God in this life so that you will not be forsaken by Him in the next life. You have no place where people will just listen and love you. Everyone wants you to pay the piper, and that means making some religious decision that you believe right now will damn your soul and that of your children. Why do people ask so much when you just need to find time and freedom to catch your breath?

But if nothing else, you can access secular resources that will help you squeeze through these meager times. You can get food. You can get medical care for your children. There are people who will help you get prepared to meet the demands of this great challenge.

Social Engineering at the Hands of Your Own People?


Let's imagine that the State that you live goes on a mission to make sure that they do all that they can to ensure that no one follows your religious tradition again. Similar ones are okay, but you are convicted that you need to follow what you've trusted all your life and what your parents trusted and what they trusted. You owe that to God. The State is filled with all kinds of Christians who honor the sanctity of life, but they've decided that your religious freedoms make their own look bad. It's a mark of scorn on their beliefs and their own history.

So when you go to get the resources that our nation has made available to you to help children in need, you/returned away because your husband is in jail. He'll never get out, and while you'll never marry again, you are going to have to pay the price for him. You're now at the center of social genocide and the religion that is the only thing that you know. They've taken your home, and they've cut you off from the access that you have to what all other Americans can access. Unless you renounce your religion, you cannot clothe, feed, or find a safe place for your children to rest their heads at night. The US Constitution declares religious freedom for all and that no government will interfere or punish you for your religious beliefs. Well, it's in the Constitution, but since all of those benefits come to you through the State that you live in, in pursuit of their agenda, they will not provide you with a thing.

The Most Painful of Human Challenges

If we have a soul in us and a reasonably kind heart, it's terribly painful to look upon a person who has fallen into the most difficult pitfall in life. It can be health problems for which there are no cures. It's worse if people fall prey to financial mistakes, trusting a con-artist who takes all that they own, or just someone who earnestly trusted someone who exploited them. These examples hurt us inside so much that we don't want to even look at them. Those things don't really happen. We fear letting ourselves feel compassion for them. I think that they remind us that we are all human and fallible, and life can be a horribly cruel process and unfair place that can make it hard for us to survive. No happy, healthy person wants to think about this kind of pain. It robs us of the idea that we are fairly safe in this life, especially if we worked hard to make smart and responsible choices.

But I think that such things reveal who we are by breaking us down into two kinds of people who say one of two things when they consider tragic circumstances.

That will never happen to me,

and while it's sad,

I'm safe from that sad end."

~  OR ~

"But for grace, there go I. 

If just a few things were different,

that suffering could be my own.”

The first bunch of folks does all that they can to not look, and pain becomes an occasion to pridefulness. As Isaiah once wrote, "they hide from their own flesh." 

The second bunch of folks realizes that they are really not much different from the other guy. If they're Christians, they're reminded that Jesus said that at the end of this life, they will face Him. He will say, "I was hungry, and you did not visit me." And in protest, the person who hid from their own flesh says, "But when did that happen? I did not know!" And I'm sure that all who read this will recall that Jesus says, "If you've done it unto the least of people, you've done it unto me." We are told to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to do good to those who used us spitefully. We are called to care for our religious and cultural enemies through the example of the Good Samaritan. We are called to go out into the world -- that messy, messy world full of widows and fatherless people in need.

Considering Short Creek

While the mainstream press contends that those who still follow the religion of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints religion were only evicted for non-compliance with the system set up to rightfully adminster the properties and benefits accumulated by the sect, many families in Short Creek contend that they paid their taxes and complied with all requirements, but they still lost everything. I am told that many who were put in charge of the UEP Trust have used properties to grant properties and homes to their friends and relatives so that they could establish their own presence and preferences within the new local goverment that they hoped to create. It became not only social engineering to dissolve the sect, but it became an opportunity to make a lot of money and effectively gerimander to gain control of the town.  

There are no marriages since the Bishops were thrown out or thrown into jail in 2006. There is no child abuse in the community now. There is no trafficking now. But people outside of the community continue to claim that the same abuses that took place prior to 2006 are just as prevalent. I'm told by people who live in Short Creek and work with the survivors that the factors that people found to be repugnant are no longer taking place there at all.

I'm not a Mormon, nor do I believe that it's a kind belief system to follow. I don't understand it to be a Christian religion. It is a sect that falls outside of what Christian theologians consider to be the pale of orthodoxy. To be Christian, your definition of who Christ is must be defined and fall within an essential, minimum standard as per the Bible. No branch of Mormonism meets that demand according to my own Protestant standards. But considter that, for a time in the Southern Baptist Convention and in many other Protestant groups, I don't believe that their definition of who Christ is conformed to that essential, minimum standard, either.

I believe that Joseph Smith had problems was a charlatan who made things up as he went along, combining his own ideas with those he borrowed from Free Masonry. If he really believed what he taught, I think that by modern standards, he would be considered schizophrenic at the very least, and he probably suffered with a comorbid personality disorder.

At the same time, I consider my own experience in a church that followed Quiverfull ideology. Until things became horribly painful for me and those around me, I would even consider that they were in error. In fact, I would have contended for their beliefs. I know this is true because I contended on behalf of the leaders in that church. When my husband wanted to leave, I refused. I'd invested my faith and hope in their system, partly because they'd treated me very well. Well, they did for a time. I was blind for a time. And during that time, I needed a safe place to think -- apart from the pressures of what was right to believe and apart from what I thought might happen to me if I went against the system. That takes time. It takes solid evidence that what takes place and what is professed is just wrong.

If someone took my home away from me and denied my proverbial children food and clothing in an effort to get me to denounce that Quiverfull church, by the second year, those efforts would only have made me more devoted. As a martyr, I would have doubled down and fought for what I believed in. I would appeal to my Constitutional rights to practice whatever religion I wanted without discrimination because such was my civil right. Even after I left of my own will, my counselor reflected back to me that while I thought that my pastor who condoned domestic abuse and had lied to me -- while I had nightmares about him assaulting me -- she said that I also sounded like his greatest champion and defender. I know the pain of hearing that because I knew it was true. Without judgment, she became like a mirror that allowed me to see myself clearly. And what I saw felt like a knife through my heart, remembering Augustine's words about how God's Word had pierced him, but the result was love.

So, when I consider the faithful women in Short Creek who love God as they understand Him and love their children, I think of my own experiences. I think of how I felt and how painful it was when the price of plain old human comfort was contingent upon my religious faith. I needed help, but payment was required by most. I had to prove myself worthy of help.

I had no children. My husband and I had well-paying jobs and good educations. No one was taking away my home, and I had all that I needed in material goods that were necessary for survival -- and then some. I could pay for counseling. While my family wasn't too thrilled or supportive about my religious choices, I was not shunned. And I hear about the challenges faced by families in Short Creek, and I think that but for fortune, there go I. How different was my situation at different times than theirs, save that I didn't have the additional pressure of the social engineering that deprived me of religious freedom by taking away all of my ability to provide for my own basic human needs?

On Mars Hill, the Apostle Paul spoke to people who were by no stretch of the imagination either Jew or Christian believer, and he found a common point of respect for them which opened up a way for those people to understand that we human beings aren't really all that different from one another. He honored them. With the women in Short Creek, they share with me many religious texts that are the very passion of my life. While we put them into perspective very differently, I know that we share many ideas that are from shared moral religious law. I celebrate those things, and I remember that those same texts tell us that God loves and woos us to repentance through His kindness. With so many things in common that we both hold precious, how could I not love them when I see so much of myself in them. We share religious texts and principles of goodness. We share the experience of being a part of religious groups that people don't understand. We know what it is to be hated for those things. And we know what it is to seek to honor, serve, and please the One who created us all.

There is no way that my conscience will give me leave to not identify with them. We are sisters (and brothers, too) who are where we are in our lives and in our understanding. We know what it is to have needs, to love God as we understand Him, and to love our families. And I hope that through kindness, I can be a part of the effort to carve out a little place for them to consider that more safe possibilities exist for them. I know that I still find that my understanding for God's great love and hope for me just grows in width, and depth, and height all the time. Why would I want anyone else to have anything less?

But for the grace of God, there go I.