complaints, condescending twatbags, LDS, rants, slut shamers

Repost: Speaking of shameless shaming– Breastfeeding is not an act of public indecency!

Here’s a repost from July 27. 2018, inspired by the swath of people who seem to think that breastfeeding a baby is an act of public indecency and my recent post about the Duggars and “defrauding”. As you can see, the fundies aren’t the only ones who have screwy beliefs about modesty. I am posting it mostly as/is, as I consider what today’s fresh post will be. The featured image is in the public domain.

I would be remiss if I didn’t post about this news story I read last night about a Mormon woman who was shamed by her bishop and stake president for breastfeeding (link was removed because it no longer works).  According to KUTV, an unidentified LDS mom of four from northern Utah lost her temple recommend because she decided to breastfeed uncovered while she was in the foyer of her church.  Temple recommends are basically cards that identify worthy members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  One must have a valid temple recommend in order to visit the church’s temples, where “sacred” and secret religious ordinances, including many weddings, take place.  Temple recommends are very important to faithful Mormons.

A few weeks ago, the mother had gone to see her bishop about getting her temple recommend updated and signed.  The bishop told her that church members had complained about her openly breastfeeding her 18 month old baby.  LDS churches have “mothers’ rooms” where breastfeeding moms can go to privately feed their babies.  The bishop said she should either use the mothers’ room or cover up, since her decision to openly breastfeed might cause the men in the church to have “sexual thoughts”.  The bishop refused to sign the temple recommend and she had to get it signed by the first counselor instead.

Later, the mom visited her stake president so he could also sign her temple recommend.  The stake president also brought up the breastfeeding issue and quoted from a church pamphlet about the importance of modesty.  The pamphlet, “For the Strength of Youth”, is well-known to LDS church members and provides guidelines about how church members are to present themselves. 

The mother said that she got very upset during the meeting and had to leave the room several times to calm down.  The woman’s husband, who was also in attendance during the meeting, was told that he needed to “control his wife”.  The husband was also told that if he supported his wife’s decision to publicly breastfeed without a cover, he would also lose his temple recommend.

Some people may wonder why the woman didn’t simply use the mothers’ room.  Apparently, the room is off of the bathroom and this mother claims it’s too isolating for her.  Also, she says she can’t hear the service in the mothers’ room.  The mom warns that even after her child is weaned, she doesn’t plan to back down on this issue.  She correctly states that breastfeeding is not a sexual act and publicly feeding her child is not wrong.  She wants the church to be more accepting and sensitive toward mothers who choose to breastfeed in public.

As I read this story, I was, at first, very irritated on the mom’s behalf.  Fellas, if you’re turned on by a woman’s breasts, that is your problem.  It’s not up to women to protect you from your sexual thoughts.  You need to exercise more self control and realize that breasts are, first and foremost, intended to feed babies.  I realize that public breastfeeding is a somewhat new phenomenon in that, until recently, many women would feel uncomfortable exposing their breasts in public to feed their babies.  But dammit, breasts are not primarily for titillation.  They have a purpose.  A man’s sexual reactions to seeing a woman’s breasts are secondary to that very important purpose.  When it comes to embarrassment about breastfeeding, it’s the men who need to get over themselves, not the women.

Then, after reading about how this mom was treated by church leaders, I was irritated by her reaction.  I understand that the LDS church is the type of organization where membership is very important, particularly within family circles.  It’s not like it is in my family, where people attend different churches.  Most of my family members are protestants, but they aren’t all Presbyterians.  I have an aunt who is Episcopalian and a sister who is an atheist.  My mom played organ in Baptist and Methodist churches for most of my life.  Yes, many of my family members go to church, but there is no pressure to attend a specific church or practice a particular religion.  This is not necessarily true for Mormons.  To them, family participation is essential and in devout families, there is intense pressure to be Mormon and participate fully in the church.  Leaving the church can lead to a host of unpleasant consequences.

And yet… here is this nice couple doing absolutely nothing wrong, sitting there listening to church officials berate them for doing something totally natural and necessary for their baby’s health, and threatening them with eternal damnation for not conforming to their stupid rules about modesty.  I realize I’m not Mormon and never have been, but it’s inconceivable to me that these people tolerated those shameful remarks from church leaders.  They should have told both the bishop and the stake president to go fuck themselves (sorry, I’m in a mood this morning), gotten up, and walked out, vowing that their children would not grow up to be tithe payers.  I may be very cynical or even naive, but I think that’s ultimately a response that would get church leaders to listen.  Seriously, fuck those guys.  They are just regular men put into positions of leadership in a manmade religious organization.  They only have as much power as their members are willing to give them.  As long as church members allow them to talk to them in that way, the abuse will continue.

I do think it’s abusive to subject breastfeeding mothers to shame, scorn, or ridicule for daring to feed their babies in public.  If you think the church is right about this, the next time you have a meal, put a blanket over your head or go sit in the bathroom to eat.  Tell me, is that a pleasant way to dine?  Why should mothers and babies have to tolerate that?

It seems to me that this mom is very faithful to her beliefs.  She is exactly the kind of member the LDS church would not want to lose.  She cares enough about the church to want to hear what is said during meetings, even when she’s nursing her child.  While I personally think Mormonism is bullshit, she clearly doesn’t.  I don’t think she’s the kind of church member they’d want to alienate, since she has clearly had several children who will one day pay tithes… that is, if the church doesn’t one day drive them out with their outdated and anti-woman policies.

Churches are definitely losing members lately.  Nowadays, many people are abandoning religion or attending churches that offer more in the way of personal enrichment or entertainment.  I have never attended a Mormon church service, but Bill has.  He tells me they are extremely boring, except perhaps on fast and testimony days, when members get up to testify that the church is true.  I have heard that a number of colorful testimonies have been offered on those Sundays, although in order to enjoy them, you have to be fasting…  I’m not sure that’s a good tradeoff.

I’m sure the church is very important to this mother and her husband.  It’s a pity she didn’t just tell her leaders that she’d find a church where breastfeeding mothers are more respected and men are taught that they need to control their lust.  The onus should not be on women to protect men from “falling”.  The men should be taught to self-regulate.

And… for the last time, breastfeeding babies isn’t sexual.  If you think it is, you’re the one with a problem.

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celebrities, Duggars, Ex, LDS, religion

How worshiping at the “church of George Carlin” serves me better than being a fundie…

Today’s post is going to be kind of convoluted and philosophical. I had originally meant to write about the Duggar family, but then I had an interesting talk with Bill this morning that I think can co-mingle with this topic. Bear with me… or don’t bear with me. It’s up to you. But I think these two topics are relative to each other, even if they don’t seem to be.

This morning, I came to the realization that George Carlin, who was famously foul mouthed and frank about his opinions, really had certain truisms nailed. I learned a lot from George, even though he was “godless”. He didn’t believe in the magical thinking, legalism, and mind fuckery that comes from religion. Instead, he was all about common sense. I appreciated Carlin’s astute observations about life, and I looked up to him… probably more so than I did my own parents.

Much to my father’s chagrin, George Carlin, who was raised Irish Catholic and eventually rejected religion, had a huge influence on me. When I was growing up, I worshiped at the “church of George Carlin”, instead of my dad’s preferred faith, the Presbyterian Church USA. I think the “church of George Carlin” probably served me better than being raised Presbyterian did. Not that being Presbyterian was particularly “traumatic” in any way. In my experience, being Presbyterian was just kind of boring… at least until I realized that the Presbyterian is a big part of my heritage. In that sense, being Presbyterian is interesting. But not interesting enough that I want to go sit in a pew and listen to sermons.

My dad didn’t like George Carlin. He used to lecture me when he’d catch me watching Carlin on HBO. He didn’t like Carlin’s seemingly liberal politics or the language he used. My dad would lament about how I found Carlin so funny and brilliant, decrying Carlin’s use of profanity. Dad believed that profanity was a sign of stupidity and a lack of vocabulary. Of course, my dad was wrong about Carlin. Carlin was right about a lot of things… and he was certainly not someone who lacked vocabulary. I also don’t think Carlin was necessarily a liberal. I think he believed both political spectrums sucked. But I also think that many people believe that if you aren’t on their side, you must be on the other side. There’s no room for moderate views, and in my opinion, not tolerating moderate views can cause huge problems.

One thing I appreciated about George Carlin was that he had no problem pointing out hypocrisy and silliness, especially as it pertains to religion. A lot of religious practices needlessly complicate life. If you need an example, just have a look at the Duggar family, and how they’ve fallen from grace. This is a family that lived with a LOT of rules and control. But underneath it all, they were full of shit… carefully hiding their sins. I think if they had embraced their sins and been honest, they wouldn’t be in the regrettable situation they’re in right now. They went from being a family to emulate, to a family humiliated.

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of clips from the original reality show that made the Duggar family a household name. I’m reminded anew of the many false stories and outright untruths the Duggars told the world. It turned out that a lot of what they were telling the public about their lives was straight up bullshit. They presented a fake image and a false reality, and a lot of people bought it, and their formerly huge reality TV show. The clips I’ve been watching have been uploaded on YouTube by someone who starts each video with a minute of the Megyn Kelly interview done in May 2015, showing Jessa and Jill. Jill weeps on camera, while Jessa glances sideways at her, having just said how “wrong” people are that Josh is a “monster”.

Jessa flat out lied in that interview, minimizing what Josh Duggar did to her and three of her siblings. That’s a direct violation of one of the Ten Commandments! So much for obeying the Bible! It’s more important to obey Jim Bob Duggar– “God” in their home, and its “mini cult”. To his family and friends, Jim Bob is not a mere man. To the Duggars, he’s “the MAN”… and those who don’t obey him pay a price. But recently, the whole world has been reminded that Jim Bob Duggar is, in fact, just a man. And as awesome men go, he couldn’t hold a candle to George Carlin. But Jim Bob would probably consider Carlin “satanic”.

Incidentally, Jim Bob and Michelle also lied in that 2015 interview with Megyn Kelly. Why did they lie? Because they’re full of shit, and they worship money and power more than they do the Bible. It’s not so much that I care about the Bible per se. I just don’t like hypocrisy, or people who try to conceal their sins with lies and convoluted religious bullshit.

Many of us were eager to believe that the Duggars really did have a squeaky clean household. Lots of people thought Jim Bob was telling the truth when he said his children had no unfiltered access to the Internet or television. They seemed so wholesome and loving. Michelle Duggar wouldn’t show her knees or shoulders. The kids were shown wearing “Wholesome Wear” swimsuits, which were good only in that they probably helped them avoid sunburns. Jim Bob ran races in jeans. I guess that was supposed to make him appear to be “godlier”. Does Jim Bob really think God cares whether he runs races in jeans or running shorts? Or is he just doing that to look as if he’s a “hardcore Christian”? We all know now that Jim Bob is not any better than anyone else, particularly when it comes to being “Christlike.”

One brilliant example of why I worship at the church of George Carlin. This is a hell of a sermon. “Smug, greedy, well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins…” Amen, George. And you can hear that he wasn’t really liberal, because he wasn’t about political correctness.

Hell, they even refuse to call “deviled eggs” by their proper name. Instead, they call them “angel eggs”. Supposedly, Michelle Duggar came up with the name years ago, saying that she didn’t like the name “deviled eggs”. Michelle supposedly said that the eggs were so “yummy” that they should be called “angel eggs”. Here’s a link to a photo of the Duggars’ famous “Yellow Pocket Angel Eggs”. I see someone commented that they’re, in fact, “deviled eggs”. Changing the name doesn’t change what they are. Michelle and her daughters could take a lesson from George Carlin, and his sermon on “soft language”, and how that language is used to conceal “sins”.

“Life doesn’t change because you post a sign.” Angel eggs are still devilishly delicious, despite Michelle’s decision to change the satanic name.

As George Carlin famously said, “Life doesn’t change because you post a sign.” Changing the name of a classic egg appetizer doesn’t change what the appetizer is, even if you’ve exchanged a “satanic” name for an “angelic” one. And, of course, deviled eggs aren’t satanic– that’s ridiculous. However, one of Michelle’s own eggs produced someone whom some might consider “satanic”, as he sits alone in a jail cell, pondering his bleak future. Of course, I’m referring to Josh Duggar, one of Ma and Pa Duggar’s so-called “gifts from God”. In fact, Josh was the very first “gift from God”… and now, he seems more like a ruined first pancake.

I remember in the early days of the Duggar family’s rise to fame, Jim Bob Duggar used to preach to the masses about “buying used and saving the difference.” The Duggar patriarch was famously cheap, doing everything he could to save money so that he could keep supporting the “gifts from God” that came in the form of his 19 children. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar proclaimed that their huge brood was a sign of God’s favor, even though having so many children meant that, for many years, the Duggars lived in poor conditions. The story back then was that they were a “humble”, Christ loving family, cheerfully accepting that there was always a line for the bathroom and never enough tater tot casserole to go around.

But then came the reality show, and many fat paychecks from TLC. Never mind that it meant that the children were forced to work, and they were on television, a medium that the Duggars claimed they eschewed in their home. Gradually, viewers saw the family’s fashion sense change. Instead of homemade jumpers with huge collars on the girls, and khaki pants and polo shirts on the boys, we started to see the family wearing name brand clothes. Granted, they supposedly bought those clothes at thrift shops and second hand stores, but they still changed their style. They were famously frugal and “cheap”… but because they focused more on legalism, collar lines and hem lines on the girls, and being open about praying and singing, they ignored the huge problem that was being covered up and has cost them so much.

Just this morning, I read a story by The Sun about how the Duggars can send Josh “care packages” through the prison commissary. Josh, who used to go to the grocery store with his family and load up on cheap, processed foods, and paper plates, can now get a package of several lunch bag sized bags of chips for a whopping $22. If he wants candy bars, he can get a package of those for $22. His wife, Anna, has to visit him by video, for which she pays 25 cents a minute. Or she can send him an email for $5.

When I think about how the Duggars used to demonstrate how they’d save money by letting the daughters give the guys haircuts or making their own laundry detergent, it boggles my mind at what Josh’s crimes have cost the family. The costs have been huge… not just in terms of the vast amount of money spent, but also their own reputations. I wonder if the outcome would have been different if Josh had been dealt with appropriately when he was much younger. What if he had grown up in a family where things could be discussed openly, and there wasn’t the constant pressure to appear like perfect Gothardite Christians? Would people have more respect for them if they had been honest instead of trying to cover up their lies? What if Jim Bob and Michelle had paid more attention to actually raising their kids and knowing them well, instead of making sure everyone wore modest clothing and “buying used and saving the difference.” I’ll bet actually raising and protecting their kids would have cost them a lot less than homemade jumpers and haircuts.

So many people think the answer to living a better life is to be someone they’re not, embrace legalistic belief systems… and to cover up their sins. This morning, Bill and I talked about this concept, as he discussed a recent session he had with his Jungian therapist. Bill had told his therapist about how, prior to Easter 2000, Bill had always enjoyed visiting his father and his stepmother at their home. But then, they allowed Ex to use their home as a setting for her humiliating ultimatum over Easter 2000. That was where she falsely declared Bill a “reprobate” of sorts. She didn’t use that word, of course, but that was what she meant.

The issue was, Bill wasn’t “bad”. He wasn’t a reprobate at all. That was a false narrative his ex wife was pushing, as she was also supposedly embracing Mormonism and using religion to present Bill as a bad person. By allowing Ex to use their home as the setting for Ex’s condemnation of Bill, Bill’s dad and stepmother changed the conditions of how Bill saw them, and their home. And then, instead of doing what he was expected to do and had always done in the past, Bill went off script, which really fucked things up, and changed the course of the future.

Ex thought Bill would beg forgiveness and bend to her will. But Bill had had enough, and it was time for a reckoning. So, when Ex told Bill he was “bad” and needed intensive church based “therapy” with his LDS bishop (who was a lay person with no professional training in counseling) or she would divorce him, Bill decided he wasn’t going to accept her conditions. He asked, “Where do I sign?” instead of “What can I do to make you love me again?” And that decision was not what Ex expected. It made Bill seem “satanic” to her… suddenly, he wasn’t the man she arrogantly thought she knew, inside and out. Suddenly, he was someone who was capable of saying he’d had enough. He couldn’t be controlled, and that somehow made him “evil”. She had to banish him. She used Mormonism and its strict “moral code” to justify what she was doing, which was ultimately harming the children and Bill.

Then I came along, and I upset the apple cart even more by refusing to dance to Ex’s tune. I refused to go along with her plans for Christmas in 2004. Because I insisted on being treated like an adult, instead of one of Ex’s flying monkeys, I became “evil” and needed to be cast out of the cult. I couldn’t be trusted around the children, because I might influence them. I’m sure she thought of me as “Satan”, too. But they were influenced anyway, and as most children do, they went their own way… or, at least a few of them have. That’s how it is in Jim Bob Duggar’s little fiefdom, too. Some of his children are going their own way. Jim Bob might think of his wayward children who have gone astray as “touched by Satan”.

If you think about it, in some ways, Satan was really just an agent of change. Sometimes the change was bad or difficult, and sometimes it was indifferent, or even quite good. After all, what would the world be like if Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten the apple? Would we all still be living in the Garden of Eden, naked, and frolicking in paradise? What fun is that? How does one grow from that experience? Sure, working all the time is hard, as is having to birth children… but hanging out in paradise isn’t very challenging or rewarding. Being stuck with Ex, likewise, wasn’t rewarding… although it was pretty challenging.

The “church of George Carlin” taught me that people have to be allowed to think and act independently. Blind obedience to one person or idea isn’t healthy. Independent thought is essential. That’s how positive change and growth can happen. George Carlin was a brilliant man… but he was also humble enough to propose that people worship someone other than him. He said, instead of worshiping God, we should worship the sun… or maybe Joe Pesci. In that sense, George Carlin, as an atheist, was probably more Christlike than Jim Bob Duggar will ever be as a “Christian”.

George Carlin says you have to “stand in awe” of the bullshit peddled by religion…

Imagine the heartache that could have been avoided if the Duggars had just worshiped George Carlin instead of Bill Gothard. Maybe Josh would have still been a pervert, but at least they could have a laugh about it. Naw… there’s nothing funny about a man who is so sick that he wants to watch children being abused and gets sexual gratification from it. That’s a problem that should have been taken care of many years ago… and maybe could have, if not for the distraction of religion, and the illusion of power and money grabs that come from adhering to strict religions. For all of the emphasis the Duggars place on being “saved”, religion and control couldn’t “save” Josh or spare his victims. He’s still sitting all alone in a jail cell, probably hoping someone might think enough of him to spend $22 on some Doritos and Cheetos for him.

So, given Josh Duggar’s pathetic example, I’m sticking with worshiping at the church of George Carlin. I think it serves me better than Duggar style fundie legalism ever could. And with that, I think I’ll praise George and get on with the rest of my day.

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advertising, LDS, religion

Repost: Selling church…

I was looking for some old commentary about the Duggar family yesterday when I ran across this post from August 24, 2016. It made me cackle as I read it, so I decided to preserve it for posterity’s sake. The post actually has little to do with the Duggars, but it is about religion, and how religion can screw up people’s lives on many levels. I tagged the Duggars, though, because at the time I wrote this, Jessa Seewald was pregnant with her second child, who went on to be named Henry. I commented that I hoped the second baby would have a name less obnoxious than “Spurgeon”. I guess the name Henry is less obnoxious indeed, so kudos to Jessa and Ben for that.

Every once in awhile, someone in our local Facebook group will ask about where to go to church.  Germany has many churches, of course, but most of us in the local Facebook group are English speakers.  A service conducted in German is not so useful.  Many people attend services on one of the local installations.  Not everyone has access to the installations, though.  And some people are looking for a specific type of service.

I had to giggle yesterday when a newcomer asked where she and her family could attend services.  She has three kids and wants to find an American style church that will be good for them.  Her family is not affiliated with the military, so they have no access to the installations.  And they are Methodists.  Well…  sure enough, there were quite a few folks who were willing to sell their church.

There are always folks from the two Baptist churches scouting for members.  The first time we lived here, we were invited to a Baptist church by a woman who was a lapsed Catholic.  Bill and I don’t attend church.  He’s too scarred from being Mormon and I just don’t give a shit about church that much.  I think Bill is actually a lot more spiritual and potentially religious than I am.  I’ve just never really cared too much about attending church one way or another.  I see church as a place to go for socializing and sometimes pretty music.  A good minister who isn’t too boring is a huge plus.

This is a picture of the closest thing my family has to a “family church”. My dad and his siblings were raised in this Presbyterian church in Natural Bridge, Virginia. I, too, was raised Presbyterian, but it hasn’t seemed to have stuck.

Someone also mentioned a church near one of the installations that is Pentecostal/Assemblies of God.  I knew a lot of folks who were involved in that faith when I was growing up.  I’d say it’s not much like Methodism.  Methodists are rather mainstream and moderate.  The AoG and Pentecostal folks struck me as being a lot more like holy rollers.   

One person mentioned an English speaking Anglican church.  I think if I were inclined to attend services, that’s the one I’d want to go to.  But the original poster says she’s wanting an American style church and my guess is that the Anglican church would not be very American.

And yes, sure enough, there was a plug for the local Mormon ward.  The folks who were plugging it touted the excellent youth program and said a person can be as “active as they want to be”.  It was all I could do not to comment that there is a HUGE difference between Mormonism and Methodism.  One brave soul did ask the question and I know he knew the answer:  “Is there a significant difference between your faith and the Protestant faith?” 

One of the LDS ladies selling the Mormon church advised him to visit one of the official church Web sites for information.  Right.  Because we can’t have people finding out the non whitewashed version of what Mormonism is all about, can we?  The person who advised the guy to visit LDS.org or Mormon.org took pains to empathize that Mormons believe in Jesus Christ and is a Christian faith.  She also mentioned “instantaneous friends”.

Now…  here’s one thing that maybe the LDS apologist hasn’t considered.  Real friendships aren’t formed “instantaneously”.  Real friendships take time to develop, and must be nurtured.  “Instant friendships” are most likely going to be assigned friendships.  Assigned friendships are almost always fake.  The LDS church is pretty much rife with assigned friends.  Home visitors, visiting teachers, Relief Society, and everything else…  They will be friendly until you start asking uncomfortable questions.  Aside from that, it may be pretty damaging for young women to be told that if they engage in sexual contact before marriage, they are akin to chewed pieces of gum or shattered vases.

The apologist also emphasized that newcomers are “welcomed”.  Maybe that’s so, at least the first time a person shows up to a meeting.  But if he or she starts coming regularly, there will be pressure to be baptized.  There will be pressure for the newcomers to get on board with the status quo– look the right way, dress the right way, drink the right liquids, pay the right amount of tithing…  I highly doubt that a person who comes to meetings for the three years a typical military tour lasts will simply be encouraged to attend casually.  Mormonism requires big lifestyle changes that the entire family is pressured to embrace.

And yet…  this is what the apologist says…

“…you will find a very welcoming group of individuals and families who simply wish to share the hope and happiness they find in following this faith.

If that’s true in Stuttgart, it would be the first time I’ve seen a group of Mormons take a laid back approach to their faith.  You’d think that people who are sincere about wanting to sell their church would want to be honest and upfront about what attending would mean.  And if they have nothing to hide, then why can’t an investigator take the time to read multiple sources to help them make up their minds?  Even if there are a lot of people with axes to grind posting about Mormonism, it seems to me that a person with strong faith and conviction could easily overcome those obstacles.  Moreover, if there are a lot of people with axes to grind, maybe that should tell you something about the church itself.

I guess I can understand being a member of a church you love and feeling like everyone misunderstands it.  On the other hand, if you expect people to join your church, you should be open to allowing them to make an informed decision.  Mormonism and Methodism are not much alike.  They have different beliefs.  The newcomer looking for a new church should do her homework for her own sake, and that of her kids.  I did notice, though, that she knew something about Mormons.  She responded to the one guy who asked about “significant differences in beliefs” and told him to “Google Mormons”.  I guess she got the message.

On a different note, yesterday I listened to a very interesting discussion/interview conducted by a guy who interviewed a woman raised according to Bill Gothard’s principles.  It was quite eye opening and really put a different spin on fundamentalism.

This guy, Chris Shelton, usually talks about Scientology, but in this video he talks to a woman who was raised in the Quiverfull movement.  Crazy stuff!

Edited to add in 2021: originally, I ended this post with my comments about Jessa’s second pregnancy. But since she’s now had four kids and is living in her sex pest big brother’s old house, I figure that commentary is no longer relevant. I think I’m just glad that I don’t care about going to church. Seems like it can cause a lot of problems for people. I wonder if Josh Duggar would have turned out more normally if he had been raised in a home where he was free to talk about sex. Maybe he wouldn’t have been normal in any case, but I really don’t think fundie Christianity and its many rules and regulations, as well as its clearly misogynistic bent, helped matters at all.

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law, LDS, religion, social welfare

“Get baptized, get help…” The despicable practice of forcing people to submit to religious indoctrination to get welfare assistance…

I was going to write about this topic yesterday, before I got sidetracked by Josh Duggar and the awful revelations that are being discovered at his ongoing trial. Thankfully, I don’t feel compelled to focus on Josh today, so I’m going to tackle another issue I read about a couple of days ago, concerning the state of Utah and its practice of referring needy people to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for welfare assistance.

I first became aware of this issue after I read a thread on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard. Someone titled a thread “Forced to join the mormon church to get welfare help!!” Since I have master’s degrees in social work and public health, and have witnessed firsthand how politicians like to foist social welfare and public health issues on churches and charities to solve, I knew I would be interested in this topic. So off I went to the Salt Lake Tribune to read.

The article was written by Eli Hager of Pro Publica, “a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.” I’ve got to hand it to Eli Hager. This report was very compelling reading about women who needed help securing housing or food. But the state of Utah has made getting welfare assistance so convoluted and difficult that they were forced to turn to the Mormon church for much needed and life sustaining assistance. According to the article in the Salt Lake Tribune:

Although maintaining a safety net for the poor is the government’s job, welfare in Utah has become so entangled with the state’s dominant religion that the agency in charge of public assistance here counts a percentage of the welfare provided by the LDS Church toward the state’s own welfare spending, according to a memorandum of understanding between the church and the state obtained by ProPublica.

That means the state, which should have an interest in caring for its citizens, is fobbing off a large amount of the responsibility to the state’s dominant religion– The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And that often means that people who need help have to approach religious leaders instead of secular government officials. Often, the poor people who need help wind up being pressured to be baptized into the LDS church.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as the Mormons, are well known for sending missionaries all over the world in order to spread their belief system. Utah is heavily populated with members of the LDS church, although ever since the Internet became widely available, a lot of people have decided to leave the religion. Missionaries seem to have the most success in baptizing people who need help of some sort. They aren’t as successful in places were people are well fed, healthy, and basically happy with their lives. But if people need food or shelter or help with their bills, the case for joining the religion becomes more attractive, even if the people in need don’t believe in the doctrine or don’t want to subscribe to a highly demanding faith like Mormonism.

Regular readers of my blog probably know that I’m not a fan of the LDS church. I have never been a member myself, but Bill was a convert for awhile, and his daughter is a devout member. I used to have a pretty negative opinion of the church, but I’ve since softened my stance somewhat. After all, younger daughter was able to depend on church members when she needed to escape her mother’s abuse. Of course it would have been much better if she had been able to contact her father, who would have happily helped her. But she was effectively alienated from him for years, and was too afraid to reach out to him. So, when younger daughter turned 18 and no longer wanted to live under her mother’s rules, she left. And it was members of the LDS church– the same organization Ex used to help alienate Bill from his daughters– that helped her succeed in her bid for “freedom”.

The LDS church does have a powerful, impressive, and rather extensive welfare system for helping its members. Bishops have “storehouses” where they keep food and other supplies. Church members who fall on hard times, particularly if they are tithe payers, can go to their bishop and ask for help. There is money available for temporary help with rent and utility bills. Typically, the member is expected to “pay” back that help somehow, perhaps by doing free work for the church, like cleaning the restrooms or some other “calling”.

According to the article:

The church’s extensive, highly regarded welfare program is centered at a place called Welfare Square, ensconced among warehouses on Salt Lake City’s west side. There, poor people — provided they obtain approval of their grocery list from a lay bishop, who oversees a congregation — can get orders of food for free from the Bishops’ Storehouse, as well as buy low-priced clothes and furniture from a church-owned Deseret Industries thrift store. (Bishops can also authorize temporary cash assistance for rent, car payments and the like; recipients often have to volunteer for the church to obtain the aid.)

Welfare Square was built in 1938 amid the Great Depression, an intentional repudiation by church leaders of government welfare as epitomized by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. We “take care of our own,” they famously said.

I don’t necessarily begrudge the church leadership for asking people who need help to give back. However, I do think it’s wrong for the church to serve as a de-facto welfare system that serves people who don’t want to be involved in the religion. Joining the LDS church is not a minor thing. It requires a lot of lifestyle commitments and a willingness to give up some privacy. Members in good standing also must tithe ten percent of their income in order to get all of the “benefits” of being a member. They will be visited by church members who will teach them lessons and see if they are maintaining the lifestyle standards imposed by the church, such as abstaining from tobacco and illegal drugs, not drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol, and regularly attending church. And if the person takes out their “endowments”, they will literally be expected to change their underwear.

Moreover, some of the church’s beliefs are, quite simply, hard to swallow. Plus, anyone who researches the church’s history, and reads up about the actions taken by “heroes” such as founder Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, particularly if they happen to be a person of color, may not appreciate the doctrine very much. For more information about that, read up on Lamanites, and “white and delightsome“. From an article from The Atlantic titled “When Mormons Aspired to Be a ‘White and Delightsome’ People”:

Like other religious groups, Mormons have a complicated history around race. Until a few decades ago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught that they “shall be a white and a delightsome people,” a phrase taken from the Book of Mormon. Until the 1970s, the LDS Church also restricted black members’ participation in important rituals and prohibited black men from becoming priests, despite evidence that they had participated more fully in the earliest years of the Church.*

Granted, the church has evolved a bit since 1978, when Black men were finally allowed to have “the priesthood”, but I can see why some non-white people would prefer not to be LDS. And even without the complicated racist history of the LDS church, I just don’t think it’s right to try to force people into a religion just so they can have shelter and eat food every day. I don’t think taxpayers who need assistance should be forced to listen to a sales spiel from religion peddlers. Anyone who is a citizen and has ever had a job in which they paid taxes, which would be most Americans, should have the right to dignified and respectful assistance when the need arises. State governments should not be allowed to shift that responsibility to private groups or religious organizations.

Jeez…

According to the Eli Hager’s informative article, “over the past decade, the Utah Legislature has been able to get out of spending at least $75 million on fighting poverty that it otherwise would have had to spend under federal law, a review of budget documents shows.” Meanwhile the church gets new members, some of whom might decide to stick around beyond baptism and contribute tithe money. It’s a win/win for the state and the church, but maybe not so much for the people who are being compelled to join a religion they might not believe in just so they have enough to eat and a roof over their heads. It doesn’t seem like a very “Christlike” policy, in any case.

One of the women profiled in Hager’s article is Black. She has significant health issues, and her daughter had to drop out of school to help her with basic things like getting up, hygiene, and wound care. She clearly needs assistance and isn’t able to work. However, she was not able to get welfare assistance from the state, because her income was too high to qualify. She was explicitly advised to approach LDS church officials for help instead.

According to the article:

The bishop of her local congregation, called a ward, decided that as a precondition of receiving welfare, she would have to read, understand and embrace Latter-day Saint scripture… Church representatives came by her apartment to decide what individual food items she did and did not need while pressuring her to attend Sunday services.

The woman initially cooperated with the church’s demands, but later balked. She realized that while she knew many people had been blessed by Mormon welfare, she just plain didn’t believe in the doctrine. It was important to her to stay true to her own beliefs. And for that, she says she was denied further assistance. What a terrible insult to her dignity and self-determination!

In another case outlined in the article, a woman needed assistance with food and warm clothes. She was raised LDS, but has serious problems with the church’s doctrines. She doesn’t want to apply for help from the state because of the strict lifetime limit on receiving assistance. She thinks it’s better to save the chance to request assistance for when she’s older. When she asked for assistance from the LDS church, she was told by the bishop that she had to marry her child’s father and live with him. He then said he could perform the ceremony right there in his office. The woman didn’t want to marry her child’s father, and didn’t want to be married in an office. So she declined, and she’s still cold due to lack of clothing and adequate shelter. How very Christlike, right?

The LDS church’s welfare system is a great benefit for those who are happy to be church members. But it’s not so great to be someone who has to conform to the demands of a bishop in order to get that assistance, particularly if they aren’t members, and have no desire to be members. The church is allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion; the state isn’t. And the state should be providing basic welfare assistance for its needy citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. My guess is that if the “shoe was on the other foot”, so to speak, and LDS church members were suddenly required to change or denounce their beliefs for financial or food assistance, they would be crying foul.

Hager’s article is pretty long, and details the circumstances of several people who felt like they were forced to explore Mormonism so they could get much needed welfare assistance. I’m not going to go deep into the stories of the people in the article because, at this point, the article isn’t behind a paywall if you haven’t used up your “freebie” articles. Suffice to say that I think this practice is despicable, underhanded, and wrong. It should be outlawed.

And… lest anyone think I am just picking on the Mormons, I will state that when I was studying for my social work master’s degree, I encountered an evangelical charity in Columbia, South Carolina that ran a homeless shelter. In order for people to get help, they had to attend a church service held at the mission.

Naturally, many Republicans felt okay with this practice, since many of them are church going Christians. A lot of them would rather see churches and charities take care of the poor and hate to see their tax dollars going toward helping those who are down on their luck. But churches are not always staffed with people who are trained to assist people trapped in poverty and understand the complex and different reasons why they are impoverished. And some churches are just plain corrupt and toxic, which is plain to see if you’ve been reading my other blog posts this week.

It’s not a crime to be poor, nor is poverty necessarily a sign of moral failing. Poor people don’t need to be made into “church projects” or “do gooding”. Some people are poor due to bad luck or bad circumstances. They don’t need to be “shown another way.” They need what all people need in order to survive. And they shouldn’t be expected to change their beliefs or adopt new beliefs in order to get basic things they need, especially in a very wealthy country like the United States.

I realize that not all bishops are jerks. Some are wise and kind, and don’t try to coerce the disenfranchised into getting dunked into the LDS church to boost their membership rolls. But Utah’s practice of pressuring people to become Mormon, and submit to church rules in order to receive help that should be provided through taxes paid to the state, must end. It’s not fair, and it’s not right, even if many Mormons do believe their church is “the one true church.”

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Duggars, law, LDS, mental health, religion, true crime

Strict religions often destroy people and their families…

It’s the first day of December 2021, which means that Josh Duggar is FINALLY in court, answering to federal charges that he received and possessed child pornography. Although cameras and recording devices are not allowed in court, this trial promises to be a spectacle of the highest order. Josh Duggar, as many people know, is the eldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. The Duggar family is extremely well-known for being fundamentalist Christians. For years, they made a lot of money promoting their beliefs on reality television with their show, 19 Kids and Counting. They were famous for having extremely strict and conservative Christian– specifically Baptist– religious beliefs.

Many people admired them, and fully believed in the wholesome image they projected. Some people went as far as to try to emulate the Duggars. Ma and Pa Duggar were often asked to speak about their beliefs, selling them to people who were looking for a way to survive our turbulent times. Their image of closeness, coupled with strict morality and behavioral guidelines, were very appealing to the masses. It helped that most of the children were bright, articulate, and attractive, and came across well on TV. They made their strict lifestyles seem normal and desirable, as if they had a blueprint to God’s favor.

In 2011, before the shit hit the fan, I can remember being admonished by a high school friend when I criticized the Duggars on social media. In fact, my old friend pretty much quit communicating with me when I didn’t react with shame following her public chastisement. She indignantly wrote that she “loved” the Duggars. But then the skeletons started falling out of the closet. I don’t know how my friend feels about the Duggars now, or even if she remembers that she once criticized me for criticizing them. Knowing her for as long as I have, I suspect she doesn’t “love” them, or their image, as much as she did in 2011. The Duggars are certainly no longer that shining beacon of hope and prosperity that they once were. They’ve been tarnished by the worst kind of scandal, and it’s been perpetrated by the eldest child– the one who was supposedly “golden” and promoted as the straightest arrow in Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s quiver.

Here it comes… this may score the Duggars their highest ratings yet.

In May 2015, In Touch magazine published damning reports of how Josh Duggar molested four of his sisters and a babysitter when he was a teenager in the early 2000s. Suddenly, the world heard about how Josh, who had grown up on television, and had a highly visible job promoting conservative “Christian family values”, was not the paragon of virtue he purported to be. Later, there were reports about how Josh had cheated on his wife, Anna, and met with a sex worker, with whom he was accused of having “violent sex”. Then it came out that Josh had a paid account with Ashley Madison, a Web site that is notorious for providing married people with the easy means of having affairs.

This aged terribly… Josh is such a scumbag.

What is so sad to me is that even though he did these horrible things, his sisters were basically forced to defend him. And, in fact, in their belief system, the girls were basically told that they were at fault for tempting their brother (and other males). They didn’t get any real help in recovering from the abuse. Instead, they were told to cover up and “keep sweet”. Meanwhile, their brother got away with what he was doing… at least until that bombshell dropped in 2015. And it’s only gotten worse as the years passed. He’s probably about to face a reckoning… God willing, anyway. 😉

Even with all of this proof of how “not Christ-like” Josh is, people still championed him. They fell for the image, rather than reality.

I think the below video is about when Jill started to separate from her toxic family. While I don’t necessarily agree with some of the things her husband, Derick Dillard, has said, I do think he’s done a lot to help her become healthier. She’s reportedly gone to counseling and, just this morning, it’s been reported that she may be called to testify against her brother in court. I pray she tells the whole truth.

The beginning of the end, back in 2015.

None of these stories are those one would expect of someone who is a strict Christian, as Josh was supposedly raised to be. I remember how, before all of this bad stuff came to light, the Duggar parents would proudly tell everyone about their “strict” Christian values. We all heard about how they didn’t allow their children access to television or the Internet. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar were held up to be excellent parents. However, it’s pretty clear that they’ve failed spectacularly on many levels, in spite of their religious beliefs. And now, a lot of innocent people are paying the price.

Having observed this phenomenon, and having known some so-called “religious” people who have turned out to be total dirtbags, I am now convinced that strict, controlling religions can really damage, or even destroy, families. I have seen how charismatic people get in power and start to believe they are above the law. They invoke “God’s favor” to explain why they can and should be allowed to do terrible things. The people who are involved in the strict religious groups somehow accept and even cling to those beliefs, even when it puts them in danger and makes them miserable. And then it comes out that the so-called “leaders” are about as far from Christlike as a person can get.

Please note– I am not referring to mainstream religions that aren’t “culty” and controlling. I don’t think that most mainstream churches are that damaging. I base that on my own experiences growing up going to church. I mean the churches that dictate everything from how you will spend your free time to what kind of underwear you’re allowed to wear. Those religions don’t work well. The Duggars are just one example of how they can really fuck up an otherwise nice family. The Turpins are another egregious example. Later in this post, I will share an example of a non-famous family that has been damaged by religion and the bad behaviors promoted in the name of religion.

I grew up at a time when almost everyone I knew attended a church of some sort. I was raised mainstream Presbyterian, which is a fairly benign and undemanding denomination. We went to church on Sundays and my parents were very involved in the music programs. Mom was an organist and usually didn’t work at the church that my dad and I attended (my sisters had all moved out of the house). But I didn’t grow up with any strict religious rules or anything, and I wasn’t subjected to “worthiness” interviews with a pastor. No one ever asked me about my sexual habits or anything else that is super private like that. We didn’t even say “grace” at the table.

At some point during my young adulthood, people started becoming more polarized about religion. I noticed many people became very devout. A lot of megachurches started popping up, and people like Joel Osteen became extremely popular. Shows like 19 Kids and Counting were on television, promoting strict religious beliefs. On the other hand, I also noticed a lot more people identifying as atheists. And I noticed that while many people were going to church more often than ever, a lot of people had also completely abandoned religion.

Then I married my husband, who was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when we met. When Bill and I first encountered each other, he claimed to be a “true believer”. Later, I found out that he actually wasn’t a TBM, but was going through the motions in an attempt to save his marriage to his ex wife. Ex supposedly was, at that time, devout. Or, she claimed to be, anyway. One thing is for certain, though. She used the church to hurt other people. I have noticed that Ex isn’t the only one who’s done this, either. I have known many high-conflict types who have invoked religion as excuses as to why they should be allowed to act like perfect assholes or, in the case of Josh Duggar and others, do illegal and immoral things. After all, Jesus always forgives, right?

A couple of days ago, I ran across a heartbreaking video by a YouTube personality called Exmo Lex. A few months ago, Exmo Lex, who is a former Mormon, posted a video about how her in-laws were calling her a “jezebel” behind her back. I watched that video when she posted it, although I’m not sure if I wrote about it. I happened to see it while we were in the Schwarzwald, so I’m not sure if I ever got around blogging about this. However, I do remember seeing this video and feeling terrible for Exmo Lex. She was describing a very toxic situation that was partially caused by religion.

Exmo Lex talks about her in-laws were calling her a “jezebel”. She and her husband were afraid that her in-laws were indoctrinating their children.

Exmo Lex indicates that she thought her in-laws were respecting the boundaries she and her husband set. They don’t want their kids indoctrinated or influenced by Mormonism, which is a strict religion. To me, that sounds very reasonable, but I also know that true believing Mormons are often very convinced that they alone have the “truth”. And when someone decides to break ranks because they no longer believe, or are unwilling to submit to “authority”, families can go on the attack. The battles can become very toxic and even illegal in a hurry, and as Exmo Lex points out, sometimes they aren’t above using children to further their agendas. In the video below, you can hear Exmo Lex talk about the aftermath of the decision she and her husband made to leave Mormonism and be public about their choices.

This video shocked me more than it probably should have. It’s not like I haven’t heard similar stories from people who have decided to go their own way from a strict religion. I think if I were Exmo Lex, I would get a restraining order, pronto. I hope she’s taking good notes, in case her in-laws try to get custody of her children, or something. Jeez!

So often, we hear about how “lovely” religious families are. They are promoted as close and loving, having each other’s backs. We see them well-scrubbed, singing pretty songs about religious faith, Jesus Christ, and God’s love. But then it turns out that religious people are as fallible as anyone is. That’s because everyone sins. But some religious people turn out to be the worst sinners of all– and they leave a lot of heartbroken, damaged, people in their wakes. Many times, people who have been hurt by religion are left with nothing, not even their so-called loving families.

I have heard and read so many sad stories of people who grew up in very strict religious families or belief systems. More often than not, rather than providing safety, comfort, and security with the knowledge that someone always has their back, people in these families are actually members of a mini-cult. They must engage in group thinking, and anyone who deviates from it is cast out. This is not what I would call loving or “Christlike” behavior. This is toxic control, and it’s very harmful.

I have written so many posts about this phenomenon, and I have learned that even when the belief systems are “different”, the mechanics of the highly controlling groups are surprisingly similar. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have different beliefs than Mormons do. But if you take a close look at the way their groups operate, you see that a lot of their control tactics are the same. Ditto for groups like the Cooperites of Gloriavale, The Way, the Children of God, and others. The groups all have that thing in common– once a person has seen beyond the smoke and mirrors and wants out, they are ostracized. Why? Because the rebels are a threat to the group’s power and resources. Those who won’t toe the line are treated as if they have a disease that can spread and kill everyone… or, at least kill the belief system, which a source of power, and often, money.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with believing in God or going to church, or following any other religion. It’s when religion turns into fanaticism or cultism with strict controls and legalism that I think problems arise. That’s when we start seeing supposedly “loving” parents turning on their own children, kicking them out of the family circle, and defending abusers instead of protecting victims. I would also argue that a lot of abusers started out as victims. I think Josh Duggar was a victim before he started hurting others. If he could have gotten some real help from someone other than Jim Bob Duggar’s fucked up fundie friends who are not any better than Josh is, maybe some of this tragic shitshow that is now commencing could have been avoided. Or, at least, it might not have been on such a public stage. Imagine how hard this is for his children, and all of the other innocent people who will be affected. Meanwhile, the public will revel in watching this legal drama unfold.

Jim Bob Duggar wearing a rare “sheepish” expression. The shit is hitting the fan.

I have to admit, I will also be watching to see how Josh’s case progresses. I am as interested as anyone is. It’s not because I delight in seeing his family humiliated, though… well, maybe I don’t mind seeing Jim Bob humiliated. I think it’s long overdue. I think Jim Bob is about as far from a decent Christian as a person can get. He hides behind the Christian facade, but it’s really about power and money for him, and his “reputation”. It’s certainly not about following Christ.

I do hope some good will come out of this latest chapter of the Duggar family saga. And I also hope that Exmo Lex and her husband are able to heal from the rift they’re experiencing. I think people should be loved for who they are, and allowed to follow their own beliefs, as long as no one else is harmed. I don’t think it’s harmful to grow up outside of religion or any other kind of extreme indoctrination. Maybe if more people were allowed to evolve naturally and authentically, we’d have fewer people hurting others.

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