I haven’t been writing much about Mormonism lately. I haven’t had a need to, since my husband’s daughters have become adults and their whackadoodle mother is no longer interfering in our lives. But today, I need to write about the “so called church” once more.
Regular readers may know that my husband, Bill, was once a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as “The Mormons”. When I met him twenty years ago, he still attended church and obeyed its tenets. At the time, he assured me he believed in the church with all his heart. As I got to know him better, it became very clear to me that Bill was going through the motions. His belief was basically a facade. He’d put it on in an attempt to keep his family together and his first marriage intact.
Bill and his ex wife converted to Mormonism in 1997, when Ex’s son was nine or ten years old and Bill’s two daughters were three and six. At the time, Bill believed the church might help fix his marriage, which had been fraught with problems from the beginning. At first, the church gave Bill a place to direct his attention besides his disastrous homelife. The church provided him with positive regard that comes from the initial “lovebombing” church members heap on potential new members. There were things to do, people to get to know, and places to spend what little free time Bill had in those days. Lovebombing usually wanes once a person is firmly entrenched. Like most everything else in the church, it’s basically a facade designed to influence people to join up and stay put. It’s not unlike the intoxicating lure narcissists use to get their supply. It wasn’t long before Bill noticed the lovebombing was ending, and shit was getting real.
Two years later, Bill and Ex separated, and by June 2000, they were divorced. Bill resigned from the church in 2006, and eventually lost contact with his daughters for years. They treated him with contempt for divorcing their mother and turning his back on “the one true church”. Some readers may recall that in November 2016, Bill’s younger daughter popped back on the radar when she showed up as a “person Bill might know” on Facebook. At the time, I was livid, because she had been so mean to him and assured him that she wanted nothing to do with him. But in the wake of that situation, Bill and his daughter started chatting, emailing, and Skyping. He still hasn’t seen her in person since 2004, but they now speak regularly. Older daughter is now 28 years old and still lives with her mother.
Last night, Bill Skyped with his younger daughter, who is now the mother of two very young children. Her husband, who grew up in a very Mormon family, is currently searching for a job. Like a whole lot of people, he’s interviewed at many places. He scored a job offer that turned out to be based on lies. The company that hired him couldn’t pay him, and expected him to do things other than what they hired him to do. So, though he’d moved his family to a new city for the job, that opportunity disappeared after just one day.
Meanwhile, he’s got a son who’s not quite two years old and a six week old daughter to support. He only graduated college a couple of months ago and doesn’t have enough experience to land a job that will pay enough to support his family. They’ve only just moved into an apartment, but now it looks like they’ll need to move again, since the city they just moved to doesn’t have the job opportunities they need to get her husband launched into a job that pays enough to support the family. Younger daughter found someone to take their apartment, but they’ll probably lose their security deposit. They really need that money.
In the course of their conversation, younger daughter described to Bill what it was like growing up with Ex, who basically kept everything chaotic. She would have done that whether or not they were LDS, but the church certainly kept things more complicated. Because along with having to keep up with family responsibilities, job requirements, and basic life stuff, they were also having to keep up with church crap, including tithing. Although the church promised that it would make life better, the reality was, it made things all the more complicated and expensive. Younger daughter found comfort in the church that she didn’t get from her family. But it’s come at a price.
Last night, I listened to Bill try to talk to his daughter. He’s still afraid to be totally straightforward with her, because he’s afraid of alienating her and doesn’t want to lose their newly established connection. She’s still a believer in the church, and even I will admit that there have been times when the church has been helpful to her. For instance, going on a LDS mission helped younger daughter escape her mother’s toxic household, the same way the military helped Bill escape it. But any help the church extends comes with strings attached.
Yes, the church has social welfare programs for its members, but members who use it are expected to “pay back” the church by doing time consuming work for no pay. And anyone who is taking help is expected to tithe on whatever money they do have. So here you have a church that is wealthy enough to pay for everything in cash, but won’t pay members to do necessary work like cleaning its churches. Imagine that… the church could hire custodians again– people whose job it is to see that the church is clean and might actually have an incentive to care about doing the work properly. They’d be earning an actual paycheck, rather than needing the church’s assistance and tithing on their welfare, or whatever. But instead of hiring people, they expect members to clean the meetinghouses for free as “service” to the church. People who need assistance are at the top of the list of those expected to work for free, even though they should be spending their time looking for work that pays.
Younger daughter says her husband can go work for Deseret Industries, a church owned business. But it won’t pay enough, and working there will no doubt come with expectations and commitments beyond simply earning a paycheck. While in the short term, working there would bring in much needed money, in the long run, it may turn into a situation that will keep them impoverished.
As Bill was telling me about this, I read an article in Deseret News about Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart. At age 64, Ed Smart has come out as gay. He wrote a letter explaining things. He says he’s going to divorce his wife, Lois, and perhaps leave the LDS church, which he says doesn’t have a place for people who are LGBTQ. Ed Smart is the father of Elizabeth Smart, who has famously parlayed personal tragedy into a career.
In 2002, Elizabeth Smart, then 14 years old, was abducted from her home. She spent nine months being repeatedly raped and abused by her captors before she was finally found. Now 31 years old, married, and the mother of three, Elizabeth Smart is an activist. But when Elizabeth was missing, her dad, Ed, was front and center. For a time, he was a very visible representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He and his wife, Lois, seemed to be perfect. They had six beautiful children, money, prestige, and a seemingly blessed life. I’m sure a lot of people looked at the Smart family and held them up as an example as to why Mormonism “works”. Some people may have even joined the church because of this attractive, high profile family. The Smarts certainly did their part in promoting the church, even though Elizabeth’s kidnapping might have even been directly related to Mormonism, given that her abductor used Mormon beliefs to justify his actions and get Elizabeth to be compliant.
A couple of years after Elizabeth was reunited with her family, Ed and Lois Smart wrote a book called Bringing Elizabeth Home. I read the book when it was first published. It was full of LDS church quotes which supposedly helped the Smart family get through their ordeal. A couple of years after I read that book, I purchased a DVD about the fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) called Banking on Heaven. Ed Smart appears on that DVD basically excusing fundamentalist Mormons, reminding everyone that he is descended from polygamists. He was still selling Mormon bullshit to the masses, even as he privately realized that he was gay and that gay people have no place in Mormonism. Even then, he must have realized that he was promoting lies that ultimately would complicate lives for other people.
As I read about Ed Smart’s decision to come clean about his sexual orientation, it occurred to me that his wife, Lois, is now in a pickle. Because in the LDS church, a woman needs a man to take her to the highest echelon of Heaven, the Celestial Kingdom. To reach that level in the afterlife, Mormons have to be temple married, and women have to be married and “sealed” to men who are “worthy”. Marriage in the temple is supposed to be for eternity. Marriages that do not take place in the temple are only for “time” (meaning time on earth).
According to Mormon beliefs, Ed Smart isn’t worthy anymore. So where does that leave Lois, who presumably now must get a “temple divorce” and find some other guy to take her to the CK? At her age, finding a worthy LDS man who hasn’t already been married will be difficult. It would likely mean that after death, she’d be in a polygamist relationship, if the man was already married and sealed to another woman. Because, in the eyes of the LDS church, sealing is forever, unless one gets a temple divorce.
Resigning from the church or excommunication or even getting a divorce doesn’t necessarily cancel sealings. There has to be a temple worthy man waiting in the wings, ready to take on the responsibility of taking the woman to the Celestial Kingdom. If there isn’t one, a temple divorce won’t be granted. Although Bill never got one himself, I have heard and read stories of people who have. It’s not easy, particularly for women. A man can be sealed to as many women as they want, as long as his tithing is paid. A woman can only be sealed to one man, and he has to be temple worthy.
Even if the man quits the church, the church will ask the ex husband for dirt in the form of a letter asking if the wife has done anything that would make her ineligible to be sealed. And also, any children resulting from the marriage would also belong to whichever man to whom the wife is sealed, particularly if the ex husband left the church. An ex wife would also get a letter if her husband wanted to be sealed to another woman, but church officials seem to care less about what the woman says, even if she’s still a faithful member. Because again, men can be sealed to multiple women. I must state right here that I don’t actually believe any of this nonsense. What’s important is that church members do, and they go through incredible trauma because of it. I know that this issue can cause huge emotional wreckage to those who divorce and remarry, not just to the divorcing couple and their families, but also to the people they marry and their families.
Lois Smart probably won’t have any issues… or at least not the issues that less famous members would experience. She’s wealthy, attractive, well-known, and well-respected. I would not be surprised if she remarries and even gets sealed to someone else. But, I write about this to illustrate how complicated church shit can make things. Divorce is hard enough when there is no religious bullshit involved. If you’re a believer in Mormonism, you have a whole ‘nother set of commitments to deal with… and that complicates things a lot. Not only do you have to deal with the emotional pain of it and the expense, you also have to deal with the involvement of a lot of unrelated people… church leaders and members who are in your business and folks who want to make sure the proper procedures are followed so that Heavenly Father won’t be pissed off. It’s totally ridiculous, yet people tolerate it, and things are made much harder than they need to be.
As far as I know, Bill is still considered “sealed” to his ex wife, even though he’s resigned, she’s remarried, and her husband joined the church. The reason I think this is because, based on the experiences of others who have been divorced and resigned from the church, I know that when a previously sealed woman wants to be sealed to another man, the church typically sends the ex a letter asking them if there is any reason why the member shouldn’t be allowed to be sealed to someone else. LDS church folks are very good at tracking people down, so even though we’ve moved a bunch of times, I would expect them to be able to find Bill and send him the letter. He’s never gotten one, and I suspect that Ex uses the prospect of who will be sealed to her as a means of keeping her current husband in line. Of course, by now, maybe neither of them cares anymore. Maybe they both know it’s all a crock of shit and makes life harder than it needs to be. In fact, maybe Ex’s current husband even looks forward to being free of Ex in the afterlife. Who knows?
It’s likely that Mormonism no longer serves a purpose to Ex and she’s abandoned it. Meanwhile, her daughter is still mired in it… and it’s complicating things for her, because she’s been pressured to get married and have babies. She doesn’t have a job; her husband is newly graduated and doesn’t have a job. But they have themselves and two small children to take care of. Ex has also insinuated that maybe older daughter could also come out there and live with them, an idea that younger daughter has wisely vetoed. (Ex is a big fan of foisting needy family members on each other, or glomming on herself… again, making shit much more complicated than it ought to be.)
On the up side, this situation isn’t as dire as it could be. Younger daughter is 25 years old, not 18. She has some college education, although she hasn’t yet finished her degree. She’s bright enough to realize her mother is crazy and has reached out to more competent and “together” people for help. She has skills and talents that she can easily use, and she’s already proven that she’s resilient and competent. But she and her husband married and had a baby before either of them finished school. They now have a baby girl who has some health issues. Her husband is out of work and under tremendous pressure, and younger daughter, who hasn’t yet had a chance to graduate school or launch, can’t help him with creating a financial situation more conducive to having a family. Meanwhile, in addition to all of the stresses that come from having a young family and needing work, there are church commitments that must be considered as well. Younger daughter and her husband don’t have the status, money, and connections that Ed and Lois Smart have.
My head hurts as I consider all of this, and I’m not even LDS. To Bill’s credit, he did gently suggest to his daughter not to do what her mother is famous for doing; that is, she shouldn’t expect that Heavenly Father will work things out for her. She needs a plan. She needs to put on her own oxygen mask before considering the needs of the church. To younger daughter’s credit, she is clearly cognizant that her mother is nuts, and she’s ready to reject any “big ideas” her mother has for getting out of the situation she and her husband are in right now. She’s reached out to Bill, who is ready and willing to help her. But my lord, it seems to me that this situation could have been a lot less complicated without the church. I’m sure they’ll get through it… but it could have been easier if they’d just waited to finish school and launch careers before leaping into marriage and parenthood. And maybe they would have done that if religion hadn’t gotten in the way, reminding them of their “duty” to procreate and make more tithe paying members for the church.
I’m not quite an atheist myself. I think I have a belief in a higher power. However, as my good friend Dave once put it, “Having religion in your life is like driving with bugs on the windshield.” As I ponder the life choices inspired by religion that have led people to make decisions that needlessly complicate their lives, I think he may be right.