We’ve added a new permablogger and I thought an interview would make a great introduction:
What is your background in the church? What were influential factors that shaped your view?
I grew up in a mainstream Mormon household in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have a lot of Mormon pioneer ancestry (7th-generation Mormon from one line), but my convert grandpa had devout Protestant and Catholic ancestry that I proudly claim in my spiritual heritage.
My parents encouraged us to ask questions about Mormonism and directed us to their well-stocked bookshelves to seek answers. As the youngest I benefited not just from gospel discussions with my parents, but many spirited discussions with older siblings. My parents had scientific worldviews that influenced my beliefs, and I didn’t comprehend how strongly some people felt about evolution till I got kicked out of a youth Sunday School class as a teenager.
One element of my spiritual upbringing that might be unusual was a sort of jaded view of church administration. Although there was a lot of pride in pioneer ancestry that connected us to historic church leaders, there were also family stories that showed the more human, sometimes uglier side.
I fully believe our church leaders are good, inspired men and women doing their best, but they aren’t perfect. Sometimes it can be hard to deal with those imperfections. My family also had a horrible experience where the system broke down. People trusted an untrustworthy man over my father because that man (a family member) held prestigious church callings. The deceit tore my father’s family apart, and the fallout ruined many people financially, emotionally, and spiritually. It was a cautionary tale.
I consider myself orthodox/mainstream, and I’m not offended to be labeled TBM. I grew up in Salt Lake, so I’m used to people calling me brainwashed for staying active in the LDS church. 🙂
How did you find Wheat and Tares and what keeps you here?
I discovered the Bloggernacle about a year and a half ago. In June 2014 I got called as a Gospel Doctrine teacher in a conservative ward in the Salt Lake Valley. I hadn’t been in the ward very long, and my first lesson covered issues that were a little too applicable to the turmoil surrounding the just-issued disciplinary action notification letters on progressive leaders.
I didn’t feel like I knew the private views of ward members well enough, and wasn’t sure if any had strong opinions about what was happening downtown. I vowed to become as informed as possible and tried to get my head around the different viewpoints on those and other disciplinary actions. The Mormon Archipelago was one of many sources I used to get a broad range of views. It became clear that each blog catered to specific audiences. Some overlapped, but it was becoming easier to pick up patterns among various Mormon subcultures.
Wheat and Tares was one of the few places where I could see members with a wide range of views having discussions together. I also felt more comfortable. As a SAHM [stay at home mom] I don’t have any credentials (publications, graduate degrees, public accolades, etc.) beyond a stale undergraduate degree from BYU. Here, I felt like my arguments still had validity without them.
What is important to you now?
There are three big topics I get passionate about:
Scriptures. Where some people find God in nature, meditation, or the arts, I feel close to God in the scriptures. I did a semester at the BYU Jerusalem Center and on the first day they took us on a tour ending at the Garden Tomb. So many students were crying, overwhelmed by the Spirit. I wondered if I was broken because I felt nothing (and I seriously love old stuff).
A couple days later I was reading the Old Testament and getting that intellectual rush when different ideas and concepts come together. Suddenly I got an overwhelming warm feeling. I laughed as I realized that I’d come halfway around the world to figure out I’m closest to God when I study the scriptures. And, of course, I love ancient cultures, so there’s that.
Gender Issues. As a kid I did the Hermione Granger thing – proving that a girl could be as smart as any boy. While my family was very supportive of intellectual pursuits, there was still a traditional view of priesthood and the importance of the patriarchal order. Once priesthood authority was invoked, you snapped to attention.
Teenagers always have gender fights, but adding deference to the priesthood in the arguments put them in a whole other realm. Every so often an insecure teenage guy would reference priesthood authority to prove superiority. It was even worse when grown men did the same. I knew it wasn’t right, but it wasn’t something that felt appropriate to fight. The dissonance between the girl power message of the world and deference to priesthood holders in the church is difficult to reconcile, and I know girls leave because of it.
The other problem is the reliance on gender stereotypes. As one who has never fit the “girl” mold, it’s a major challenge to attempt conformity when you don’t possess many of the traits you are told God gave you. My husband has the “woman’s” instinct, not me.
Mental Illness. This is still a tough one for me to talk about, but it’s really, really important. I grew up with a typical WASP-ish stigma against mental illness. I went into a deep depression after the birth of my first child (looking back, I had shorter episodes prior to that). I was lucky to have something few others had – an observant husband who happened to be in the medical field. He helped me logically understand what was happening and encouraged me to get the help I needed. The antidepressants worked okay, but not great, and I still had a stigma against therapists. After about 10 years I hit rock bottom and reluctantly went to a therapist. It only took a few months for her to recognize that my disorder was chemically based (genetic) and got me on the right meds. When the positive emotions started flowing in I was overwhelmed. I hadn’t felt joy and excitement for the future for a long time.
I don’t like that our church culture still spreads the message that depression and other disorders can be fixed through the Sunday School answers: scriptures, prayer, temple, etc. Spiritual solutions can bring a feeling of peace, but it’s only a temporary reprieve. We need to learn how to better recognize mental illness and encourage people to get the medical help they need. It’s wrong to let people suffer when help is available.
If you were asked to sum up your beliefs in four or five sentences, what would you say is the core of what you believe?
I believe that both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother exist and they care deeply for their children. I believe the power of Christ’s Atonement is very real, not just in the context of repentance but also in any suffering and pain that we experience. I believe that this is the restored Church of Jesus Christ, but I recognize that each child of God has unique needs that may lead them on different paths. I believe in an afterlife and that family members are mindful of what we are experiencing on earth – like Elisha said, “they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” (2 Kings 6:16)
Please welcome Mary Ann to Wheat and Tares