book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: A review of Harvest: Memoir of a Mormon Missionary by Jacob Young…

Here’s another repost of a book review I wrote for my original Blogspot blog. This one was posted October 6, 2013, and reappears here as/is.

 I just finished Harvest: Memoir of a Mormon Missionary, an interesting book written by returned Mormon missionary Jacob Young, who spent two years serving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia.  Young was a missionary at the tail end of the 1990s.  I was especially interested in reading about his experience because I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia in the mid 1990s.  Although Russia and Armenia are different places, they were both once part of the Soviet Union.  In the 1990s, there were still some things going on in both countries that made the experiences of living there somewhat similar.

Young’s job as a Mormon missionary was to convince Russians to join the LDS church.  Given the culture in Russia– especially given that during Soviet times, religion was pretty much discouraged or even outlawed– being a missionary in Russia must have been tough.  Russians are notoriously fond of tea, alcohol (especially vodka), and cigarettes.  Convincing locals to give up these things so that they could be Mormons must have been very difficult.  And Young does confess that he and his ever changing companions did have challenges in getting potential converts past the first discussions, even if they managed those.  However, I was surprised to read that Young was a reasonably effective missionary who did baptize a number of people, a few of whom stuck with the church.

Despite his successes, Young suffered through some annoying and eccentric companions.  He had one companion who sang and hummed incessantly, annoying Young to no end.  He had another who would use a mirror to spy on Young when he used the toilet, checking to make sure he didn’t masturbate during the few minutes he was alone.  The companion would aim the mirror at a small, high window in the bathroom.  Having lived in Armenia, I am very familiar with the type of window Young writes of.  My first apartment in Yerevan had one.  Since missionaries are supposed to be with their companions at all times, dealing with the very hard core ones was a real challenge for Young.

Young also suffered a crisis of faith.  He writes of missing music that wasn’t church approved, reading books that weren’t religious in nature, and not having to spend all his time knocking on doors, pestering people who weren’t interested in Mormonism.   Young wrote to his parents about his sliding faith and talked to his mission president, who seemed to be a good guy.  He also confesses to “cheating” on a few rules.

As I finished reading this book, I wondered where Young stands on Mormonism today.  I got the sense that he might have left the church or at least gone inactive.  I did not get the impression that he got a big sense that Mormonism is “true”.  He does, however, concede that while the mission was not really the best two years of his life, he did gain a lot from the experience.  Having had my own tough trials over the 27 months I spent in Armenia, I could definitely relate to that sentiment.  There were many days when I wanted to escape Armenia… and I didn’t even have to deal with the constraints that Mormon missionaries have to deal with.  I lived alone for most of my time as a Volunteer and could drink all the liquor, coffee, and tea I wanted.  If I had wanted to smoke, I was welcome to do that, too.  Masturbation was also not forbidden to me and I was allowed to dress pretty much as I saw fit.  Armenia in the 90s was just a tough place to be, though; and I think Young’s time in Russia was similarly difficult.

And yet, there’s not a day that passes that I don’t think of those days in Armenia.  They changed my life.  I came away from the experience with more than I put into it.  While Young may not have appreciated the job he was there to do, he does write about all the things he did take from his mission experience.  He apparently became quite proficient in Russian and was able to read, write, and speak it.  While I was able to speak and understand passable Armenian (smattered with a few Russian words), I could never write it and reading it was always a painfully slow exercise.  There were times when it was actually easier for me to read Russian, which is a language I have never formally studied but sort of rubbed off on me.

I admire Jacob Young’s writing, which is personal, confessional, and very fluent.  His book does have a few comic moments, but it’s mostly very introspective and revealing.  Young puts a human face on Mormon missionaries, who probably aren’t looked at as humans by the masses trying to avoid being hooked into a conversation with them.  Young concedes that he didn’t enjoy pestering people for the Mormon church, even though there were a few people who joined the LDS church and appreciated it.  Young admits that as a missionary, he pressured people who weren’t sure.  He and his companions targeted people who were lonely and vulnerable.  He baptized married women, even if their spouses didn’t want to join the church.  He sowed dissension within families when he baptized single people whose families weren’t interested in being LDS.  There were also times when he was “schooled” by Russians who had spent a couple of hours on the Internet and learned more about Joseph Smith than he knew, just by reading sites that weren’t “church approved”.  Young admits he was embarrassed when a Russian told him about Joseph Smith’s habit of bedding and marrying teenagers and women who already had husbands. 

I am impressed that Young realizes and admits to doing these things in the name of scoring more baptisms and being a more successful missionary.  I am especially impressed that he realizes that doing these things may have caused problems for the converts.

I don’t know what Elder Jacob Young is up to now, but I did really like his book, Harvest: Memoir of a Mormon Missionary.  I would certainly recommend it.  Four and a half stars from me…

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book reviews, LDS, religion, sex

Repost: A review of Happiest Misery: My Life As A Mormon by Jared Lonergan

In light of Mormon sex therapist Natasha Helfer’s excommunication, I’m going to repost a couple of relevant book reviews. Keep in mind, they are unedited and posted as/is. This first one was posted on the Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife on September 7, 2014.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been keeping myself occupied with reading, playing computer games, watching re-runs on iTunes, drinking beer and listening to music.  After I finished reading about Betty Broderick, I decided I needed to read something that wasn’t true crime.  Some time ago, I downloaded Jared Lonergan’s book, Happiest Misery: My Life As A Mormon (2013).  I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading this book, especially since I love “exmo lit”.  But now I have read it and overall, I thought it was good reading, though perhaps a bit unconventional.

Jared Lonergan is a talented writer and I was definitely interested as he described being raised LDS in Kansas and Chicago.  As Lonergan explains, it’s not so common to be Mormon in those places.  Like many faithful Mormons, he was very much involved in his faith and did his best to follow its many rules.  One of the many rules of Mormonism is that sex before marriage is prohibited.  So is masturbation.  For Jared, these rules turned out to be very difficult to follow.

Jared starts his story as a nine year old youngster, noticing the pretty women in the church.  One of his older friends goads him into telling an older girl how “hot” she is in a rather vulgar way.  He gets away with it because he’s so much younger and cute.  It seems to ignite a sexual obsession within him; but then, Jared is obsessive about a lot of things, like weight and physical attractiveness, his own and that of other people.

Most of this book consists of an almost obsessive, stream of consciousness-like spew of Jared’s thoughts.  As someone who has studied a lot of psychology, I found Jared’s thoughts very interesting. He’s always thinking about sex, but he knows he’s not supposed to indulge.  So he tries to distract himself or shame himself into thinking about other things.  He doesn’t use a lot of official swear words– only occasionally does he slip up and utter the word “fuck”, for instance.  Instead, he uses the Mormon equivalents to swear words like “fetch” and “frick” and “crap”.  I’ve always found it amusing that some folks think it’s better to say “fetch” rather than “fuck”.  The intent is the same; it’s only the letters that are different.  But Jared dutifully avoids officially swearing, just like he avoids sex and other “sinful” behaviors to the point of driving himself mad.

Jared also has an eating disorder.  He is obsessive about food, his weight, and exercise.  He gains and loses weight, especially on his mission to Bordeaux, France.  He describes his mission as a terrible time in his life and spends the whole time obsessing over the girlfriend he left behind, Annie.  Annie is also Mormon and has dreams of a temple marriage and perfect family life.  Jared wants to give her that, but he has trouble fitting into the Mormon mold.  That inability to conform causes him heartbreak, although maybe in the long run, not conforming was for the best.

Jared’s parents were Mormon converts and they joined the church before Jared was born.  He explains that a couple of missionaries came over one day and impressed them by being respectful and upstanding.  According to Jared’s parents, he wouldn’t have been born had it not been for the Mormon missionaries, who impressed them by convincing them how important family is.  Three brothers followed Jared’s entrance into the world.  Perhaps because his parents were converts, Jared’s upbringing seemed to be a mixture of hardline conformity to Mormon ideals and familiarity with life outside of Mormonism.  Jared writes about his brother, Aaron, who requires multiple brain surgeries.  Mormonism probably helped his family cope, since the church believes that families can be together forever… as long as everyone pays, prays, and obeys, that is.  And Jared does his best not to disappoint.   

As I read this book, it occurred to me how utterly distressing, frustrating, and impossible it must have been for Jared trying to grow up in the church.  He’s obsessive, sexually frustrated, and seems terrified of doing something that will get him sent to the wrong echelon of Mormon Heaven (which frankly, to me, sounds like a really boring place).  He tries to act and look the part of the perfect Mormon, but no one is perfect and some people are less perfect than others.  So on top of trying to come of age and mature into a healthy adult, Jared is trying and failing to become the perfect Mormon male.  He doesn’t measure up and it leads to depression and rejection, since other people expect him to be who he’s not. 

Parts of this book were annoying to read.  For instance, Jared doesn’t like fat or ugly people and he liberally insults them.  But then he turns around and acknowledges his own shortcomings and his inability to be perfect is a kind of torture for him.  It ends up being poignant and kind of tragic.  At one point, he visits a doctor who tells him he needs to masturbate because his prostate is enlarged and causing him pain.  But Jared can’t do that because it’s “wrong”, according to his faith.

Parts of this book are kind of funny, too.  I thought Jared’s overuse of “swear words” like “fetch” and “crap” were humorous, if only because to a non-Mormon, they just sound silly.  I mean, in most ways, Jared is a normal, red-blooded teen with hormones running through his body and sex on the brain.  But he has to substitute the word “fetch” for “fuck”.  So when he has a “nightmare” about almost indulging in lustful sex with a supermodel, he says “Fetch off!” and “Fetchin’ hell”…  and it seems ridiculous.

I thought Jared’s thoughts on his missionary experience were interesting, too.  It seems like being a missionary might have opened his eyes a bit about how others see the church.  He also had his eyes opened about some of the church leaders, recognizing that they were really just men. 

Overall, I liked Happiest Misery, though I thought the ending was a bit abrupt.  I’m not sure how Jared feels about the church now.  I got the feeling he had turned into an exmo, but I’m not really certain about that.  I do think it’s a fascinating look into the psyche of a young man growing up Mormon, especially since I suspect Jared may have had something else going on mentally besides simple growing pains.  I recommend it.

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book reviews, religion

Reviewing Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult, by Lilia Tarawa…

Roughly a month ago, I wrote a post about Gloriavale Christian Community, a religious sect founded by Neville Cooper, otherwise known as Hopeful Christian, and located in New Zealand. That post was prompted by a message I got from a lawyer in New Zealand who is involved in litigation against the community. The lawyer had read my review of I Fired God, by Jocelyn Zichterman. Zichterman was raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church, but left the church after many years of abuse. The New Zealand based attorney was hoping I would spread the word about a similar situation in his country. At the time, I didn’t think I’d heard about Gloriavale Christian Community, but then I went on YouTube and, sure enough, found a video of a TED Talk done by Lilia Tarawa that I’d seen a few years ago.

I included this video in my previous post about Gloriavale, but it bears repeating here.

Lilia Tarawa also wrote a book about her experiences growing up in a “religious cult”. In her case, it was a church founded by her grandfather, a charismatic man who was born in Australia and came to New Zealand in 1969 to start his movement. Because Tarawa’s grandfather’s name was Cooper, the group was originally called “Cooperites”. But then one day, Neville Cooper had a revelation that all of the sect’s members should change their names to something more “Christian”. So Neville Cooper became Hopeful Christian. Just about everyone else in the group also abandoned the names given at birth and adopted positive “Christlike” adjectives as their names. For instance, one man changed his named to “Fervent”, while another was called “Stedfast”. Another changed his name to “Willing”. Many of the members also changed their last names, as Cooper did. Lilia writes that her parents were high ranking enough that she and her siblings weren’t forced to change their first names, although they did adopt the surname “Just” for a time… until they eventually fled the group.

A screengrab from Tarawa’s Ted Talk.

In her 2017 book, Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult, Lilia Tarawa describes what it was like for her and her siblings to grow up in a very regimented community. Lilia is one of ten children, nine of whom were raised in Gloriavale. Only her youngest sister, Arielle, was not born on the compound. Lilia’s parents were also born in Gloriavale; her mother was named Miracle because Miracle’s mother had been pregnant with her when she, Neville Cooper, and two others were in a plane crash. Truly miraculously, everyone involved in the crash survived with cuts and bruises.

Growing up, Lilia wore long blue dresses and white headdresses. She was not permitted to cut her hair, shave her legs or armpits, or wear makeup. The community had a school and a library, but the books Lilia and her friends and family members were allowed to read were limited and highly censored. Lilia was not allowed to listen to “worldly” music. She and the rest of the females in the community were taught that they were to follow men, specifically Tarawa’s grandfather, who was regarded as a living prophet of sorts.

Once the girls had their first menstrual periods, they were deemed old enough to marry. The marriages were arranged, and the women were expected to have many babies and do what was regarded as “women’s work”– cooking, childcare, teaching, and the like. Females were not encouraged to excel academically or aim for careers outside of the community. The men were expected to work for the many companies owned and operated by the community, or to do manual labor. Everyone read the Bible. The whole community ate meals together, and whole families lived in large, single rooms. When the women had babies, they were mostly delivered on the compound. Childbirth was considered a natural thing, and medical people were not involved unless it was unavoidably necessary. From the age of seven, Lilia was helping women give birth. So were her brothers and sisters.

In spite of what many of us “born worldly” folks might think, Lilia Tarawa grew up thinking she lived in a paradise. Everything was taken care of, and she was surrounded by family and friends, as well as New Zealand’s natural beauty. And everyone wore the same clothes and lived the same lifestyle, so it wasn’t like Lilia missed anything more “normal” kids had. Sometimes, new people would join the community. Lilia’s friend, Graciela, who had been born in Chile and adopted by a white family, came to the group and introduced Lilia to things she had never known about. Lilia couldn’t pronounce Graciela, so she just called her friend “Grace”. Grace and her family eventually left New Zealand for the Elmendorf Christian Community in Minnesota, but Grace eventually returned to Gloriavale. She had a great impact on Lilia’s coming of age. It was through Grace that Lilia first got a taste of the world beyond her grandfather’s artificial utopia.

As she got older, Lilia’s view of the community began to change. She was a smart young woman who did well in school. One day, her grandfather rebuked her in front of the community. He read in her progress report that she had “leadership capabilities”. Hopeful Christian was miffed, since he didn’t think girls should be leaders. Lilia was humiliated as he berated her in front of everyone. Another day, she was in a library and found a romance book. It was forbidden for her to read such a book, since it was considered “worldly”. But she started to read it and became hooked, then smuggled it out of the library. Her brother, Sam, found out that Lilia had taken the book and snitched on her. Musical artists, like Shania Twain, were very attractive to Lilia. But Shania’s music, as well as Justin Timberlake’s, Taylor Swift’s, and Beyonce’s, were forbidden to Lilia. She was still introduced to them by way of friends like Grace, or by chance.

And then there was the shunning. Lilia’s older sister, Sara, and her brothers, Sam and Victor, decided they couldn’t tolerate Gloriavale anymore. They left, and were shunned by the family. Of course, Sara, Sam, and Victor were wholly unprepared for life outside of a religious cult. They had to figure out how to live in the modern world before they were legal adults. There were also other abuses detailed in the book, such as corporal punishment. The group is, not surprisingly, a proponent of not sparing the rod as a way of showing “love” to children.

Naturally, Lilia and her family eventually left Gloriavale, or this book would not exist. I don’t want to give away more of the story, since I do think this book is well worth reading if you’re interested in religious communities. Lilia Tarawa writes well, and has an engaging voice. My one complaint is that the lead up to her “escape” is a bit long. Once you get to the escape and her emergence into the world, the book is pretty much ending. I think this book would have been an even stronger account if she’d spent a little more time writing about adjusting to life outside of Gloriavale. But maybe she’s planning a new book for that part.

I did find it interesting to read about how Lilia went from reading the Bible, waterskiing in long dresses, and birthing babies, to clubbing, wearing tight pants, shaving her legs, and drinking liquor. I see on her official Web site, which I linked above, that Lilia is into yoga, public speaking, and writing. She writes of wearing Tommy Hilfiger sunglasses and typing on an iMac, a far cry from the more luddite existence she had when she was a child. Lilia writes that she found herself embracing her sexuality, but it was a shock to get to that point. Even the act of having her hair trimmed and layered was a bit scary for her, although she enjoyed the results. Again… these were aspects of the book that I found intriguing and would have liked to have read more of, rather than stories from her coming of age. Or, at least I think she should have balanced them out a bit with explaining more about what it was like to become of the world. A lot of her experiences seem to be about discovering pop music, fashion, and being a “normal” young person by attending clubs. But as we all know, plenty of “normal” young folks aren’t obsessed with pop music, fashion, or clubbing.

In any case, I’m glad I read about Gloriavale. It is an interesting community, and Lilia Tarawa has offered the world a fascinating look at a group a lot of people don’t know about. I wasn’t as horrified by her story as I was Jocelyn Zichterman’s, but I am glad she was able to leave the community with her family, and they have been able to find peace and joy outside of the cult. And perhaps most tellingly, when Lilia did go back to visit Gloriavale, she listened to her grandfather speak, and realized he was nothing more than a narcissistic charlatan. The hero image she’d had of him when she was growing up was shattered. I think a lot of us can relate to that experience, as we mature and start seeing the world and the people in it through more experienced eyes. It’s kind of sad when that happens, but I think it eventually does lead to more enlightenment and the chance to live a more authentic life. So… here’s to Lilia Tarawa and her family’s new life of freedom and discovery. May they live long and prosper in this crazy, modern world.

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law, LDS, religion, true crime

Repost: Rape culture in churches

I am reposting this blog entry that originally appeared on October 16, 2016. I have no reason for reposting it, other than I think it’s an interesting piece. Bear in mind that it was written almost five years ago and I haven’t changed the content, so some comments may be outdated.

I just read a very disturbing article about a lawsuit that was just filed against a Jehovah’s Witnesses church in Weber County, Utah.  The lawsuit was filed by a woman who claims that she was repeatedly raped by a church instructor and JW officials later her made her listen to a recording of one of her assaults.  The woman seeks a jury trial and $300,000 to cover medical care, legal fees, and general damages. 

According to the article I read, the woman may or may not have gone to the police after she was allegedly raped by a church instructor.  The Salt Lake Tribune states that members of the JW faith are encouraged to bring problems to church elders rather than involving outsiders.  Having done my share of reading about Jehovah’s Witnesses and having had a relative who was once a member, I can affirm that this attitude is prevalent among people involved with the Witnesses.

In this case, the assaults against the woman allegedly took place after she went out with the instructor on a date.  He took her cell phone from her and said she had to kiss him on the cheek to get it back.  She refused, so he kicked her out of his car.  Later, he came back for her and the assaults apparently escalated from there.  When the assaults were brought to the attention of JW officials, they began an investigation…  but it was not an investigation against the perpetrator.  Instead, the young woman was investigated.  Below is a quote from the article linked above:

In April 2008, the Roy church formed a judicial committee to investigate whether the girl engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior — “a serious sin” in the religion. During the meeting that included her mother and stepfather, the lawsuit states, church leaders played a recording of one of the purported rapes, obtained from the instructor, for four to five hours “repeatedly stopping and starting the audio tape … suggesting that she consented to the sexual behavior.”

The woman alleges that she was raped several times.  Realizing the patriarchal culture within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s possible that she felt like she had to do what this man said.  She was likely taught to do whatever the church officials told her to do.  As the attacker was apparently her church instructor, she probably felt that she had no choice.  It really is a shame that people continue to get and stay involved in religious organizations that promote this kind of thinking and do nothing to empower everyone, not just the men. 

This situation among the JWs in Utah sounds an awful lot like the recent hullabaloo about Brigham Young University’s policy of bringing rape victims up on Honor Code violations.  Women who dared to report rape to the police or University officials were getting in trouble for putting themselves in situations where they might be assaulted.  For the record, I think these kinds of policies are disgusting and they keep our society in the Dark Ages.  

Of course people– male or female– who choose to sexually assault others should be held responsible for their actions.  At the same time, I don’t think it’s wrong for people to look out for themselves.  I wish these churches and universities like BYU would do more to promote personal safety outside of the religious sense.  I wish they wouldn’t simply tell women to protect their virginity and purity because that’s supposedly what God wants.  They should be empowering them to protect themselves because they don’t want to be victims of crimes. 

It’s interesting that this subject came on my radar this morning.  I just saw a Facebook post by 11th Principle: Consent about how rape culture develops.  Although I would absolutely never say that it’s okay to rape someone, I do think it pays to be careful.  One young woman made a comment about how she’d gotten very drunk at a party and was raped while she was unconscious.  She wrote that it was wrong that she was raped, but she shared some responsibility in the situation by drinking so much that she passed out.  She got a lot of indignant comments from people who said that no part of the rape was her fault at all; she bore absolutely no responsibility toward the crime perpetrated against her.

At the risk of pissing off a lot of people, I will go on record as saying that I agree that rape is never a victim’s fault.  However, I do think that everyone– males and females– should take some responsibility for their personal safety.  One of the comments I read on the 11 Principle: Consent Facebook page was this:

– if you went for a walk, but someone chose to stab you, should you have stayed in?

-if you decided to go for a drive, but someone drove into your car, is it your fault?

-if you went for a swim, but someone drowned you, was it your fault because you put yourself in a position where you could be drowned?

My response is that in the above examples, precautions could have been taken to lessen the chance of harm or mitigate the harm that did occur.  For instance, when you take a walk, you choose areas where there are people around.  You carry a cell phone that is charged and ready in case of emergency.  You tell someone where you’re going.  You might learn self defense.  These are things you can do to lessen the chance that you’ll be a victim.  You might still end up being victimized, but you will have taken steps to lessen the chance of it.

If you go for a drive, you wear a seatbelt (even though I hate them).  You make sure your car is safe to drive.  You don’t drink alcohol or take drugs before getting behind the wheel.  You make sure you are well rested.  You might still have an accident, but you’ve done your part to lessen the probability.

If you go for a swim, you make sure you can actually swim.  If you can’t, you learn how and stay out of the deep end until you have the appropriate skills.  You take someone with you when you swim.  You use floatation devices if you need them.  You might still drown, but the chances are not as high as they could be.

When it comes to assaults, sexual or otherwise, I think the same responsibilities apply.  Don’t get so fucked up that you black out.  Don’t go to parties alone, especially if you don’t know the people hosting them.  If you do get assaulted, it’s certainly not your fault.  But my guess is that you will learn from the assault and take steps to be sure it doesn’t happen again.  It sounded to me like the young woman who said she shared in the responsibility of her attack had simply learned from it.  She’d made a mistake by getting so intoxicated.  I have made the same mistakes myself on a number of occasions.  There, but by the grace of God, go I.  

Is it ever your fault if you get assaulted?  No.  The person who chooses to perpetrate a crime is always the guilty party.  But the point is, there are things you can do to lessen the chance that you will be a victim.  I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge that.  I don’t think that line of thinking promotes “rape culture”.  I applaud the young woman who realizes that she was wrong to get so drunk that she passed out.  At the same time, I think it’s sad that there are shitty people out there who would take advantage of a woman so distressed.

I’m reading the article about the lawsuit against the JWs just as everyone’s talking about Donald Trump’s infamous “locker room” talk.  I have friends of every stripe opining on a potential U.S. president talking about grabbing women by their pussies.  I have a number of very religious relatives criticizing Hillary Clinton because– well, probably because she’s a female liberal.  These same supposedly God fearing people see no problem with voting for a man who brags about forcing himself on women and grabbing their crotches.  But if a woman gets assaulted, instead of being outraged, they look for ways to blame her.  I don’t think that’s right.  But I do think there are things people can and should do to protect themselves.

As for the woman suing the JWs, I don’t think it’s wrong that she’s filed a lawsuit.  This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a pervert ending up in power.  It’s not just the JWs, either.  Lots of churches empower creeps who then victimize their supposed underlings.  I’ve read about plenty of religious organizations who don’t do enough to keep bad people from powerful positions.  I think they should be held accountable when these things happen.  Again, from the article:

A leader from the congregation apparently warned the girl’s parents in November 2006 that the instructor — who previously attended church sessions in Ogden and Oregon — was a “bad kid” who had “engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a female member of the Clearfield congregation.” The plaintiff says that warning wasn’t enough.

How did the guy end up a “church instructor” if church leaders knew he was a “bad kid”?  One has to wonder.  At the same time, isn’t it crazy that someone like Donald Trump, who openly admits to being a pervy creep– even if it was privately– might end up leading the country?  No wonder we have issues with so-called “rape culture”.

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bad TV, religion, scams

Repost: TBN=Total Blasphemy Network

Here’s another repost. I wrote this Epinions review of the Trinity Broadcasting Network on August 11, 2003 (!!). I am reposting it because it’s kind of entertaining, and again, has NOTHING to do with current events. Perhaps the next post will be fresh. Waiting for inspiration now.

Pros: Unintentional comedy makes the comedic quality of the programming even funnier.

Cons: Paul and Jan Crouch. Tasteless. Constant pleas for $$$$! 

The Bottom Line: A few gems scattered in a pile of rubbish. Dig deep to find them.

Well… maybe that title is a little harsh, but goldarnit, I’m not usually inspired by the Holy Ghost when I watch TBN. Usually, I’m just inspired to laugh my hiney off for a good long while. Why do I watch it? Usually because there’s nothing else on and I’m tired of watching Fox News or 7th Heaven on ABC Family Channel. I hate to admit it, but TBN is darn funny sometimes… although I do think that it does occasionally teeter on blasphemy. The network uses God and religion to squeeze people for money. Love gifts? Yeah right… do love gifts go to pay for those ugly monstrosities of furniture that sit on the stage? Tsk tsk tsk…

A mildly entertaining cartoon I saw on TBN.

The first time I ever spent any time watching TBN was in a Microtel motel room (see my review) last Labor Day weekend. I was lying in the sweltering, stinky room, drinking a Red Stripe beer, and watching some Christian musical group sing some sappy song about Jesus called “That’s Him”. At the bottom of the screen was a telephone number. I noticed that the number was NOT toll-free. The camera was panning over the audience, which was staring at the singing group, dreamlike. I expected to see someone pull out a lighter and hold it up. It reminded me a little bit of the old Nashville Network back in the 1980s. I was fascinated by the spectacle, but had to turn the channel… only to flip it back later. Superbook was on! For those of you who don’t know about Superbook or Flying House, these are cartoons about the Bible. They’re both very similar– Japanese anime, where two little kids, a boy and a girl, find a Bible up in the attic and take trips along with a robot. At least I think that’s what happens… Anyway, I found myself watching the stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. The cartoons were entertaining, but still a little bit creepy! And what was it about them that made me want to watch?

When we got back from our trip to Tennessee last year, I’d find myself flipping to TBN occasionally. And one day, I caught Pastor Paula White on the tube. Pastor Paula has perfectly coiffed blonde hair and wears very expensive suits. Her audience is very multi-cultural and, I have to admit, the woman is quite a dynamic speaker. If I closed my eyes and listened to her, I’d think I were listening to a sister in the ‘hood, but Paula looks very much like the classic Barbie doll (with short hair, of course). Her appeal is that she’s easy on the eyes, but she relates to the people. She stands up at the pulpit and shouts, “Turn to the woman next to you and say, ‘Girl, you been pregnant! You got a dream about to be born!'” And I have to admit, sometimes the woman makes sense. But the sermon lasts about twenty minutes– albeit an energy packed, hyperactive twenty minutes in which Pastor Paula gets so excited that she sounds like she’s about to hyperventilate and maybe pass out. To hear the rest of the sermon and see if she actually does, in fact, faint dead away, you have to order her tapes, which cost an ungodly amount of money. Or you have to send her a “love gift”. Do the love gifts pay for those expensive suits or the fortune she must spend on her hair?

A recent clip of Pastor Paula White, speaking in tongues.

If you ever catch Pastor Paula during a TBN fundraiser, you’ll no doubt be treated to watching her speak in tongues while she lays hands on people! One time she did this and one of her goons (they typically stand behind people to catch them when they inevitably fall backwards from the sheer power of her touch), wasn’t paying attention and dropped someone! I hate to admit it, but I had a good long laugh at that one (I’ll bet that goon caught some serious hell afterwards)! Paula White mentions in every broadcast that she was molested when she was a little kid and her daddy committed suicide when she was seven. Well, not to belittle her experiences, but must she bring it up in every broadcast? And after she mentions all of these unfortunate events, must she then speak a few words in tongues? It seems a bit contrived to me.

The late Paul Crouch, speaking touchingly about “doctrinal doo doo!”

I also enjoy watching when Paul Crouch, who, along with his wife, Jan, is one of the station’s founders, comes on to beg for money. He wears these weird looking ties to go along with his funky combed over hair and the extremely tasteless gold furniture on the set. I watched last night while he begged for money to help set TBN up in China! The other night, Paul Crouch claimed that the government of Fiji demanded that TBN set up more stations there. But to do that, they needed more satellites and for that, they need more of your money, so call now, PLEASE! Apparently, TBN is all over the world now, spreading all over the place like a virulent disease! And are these folks in third world countries pledging money to support the TBN kingdom in Santa Ana, California? If they are, is this the best use of their hard earned money? Come to think of it, is pledging money to TBN the best use of anyone’s hard earned money?

Jesus is COMING!

There were about eight middle-aged guys standing behind Crouch last night, and a couple of guys were in three-piece suits. One guy in a three-piece suit (ETA: I later learned it was Roger McDuff) who regularly appears on TBN fundraisers looks just like a big ole Q tip. He has curly white hair that sits atop his head; when he sings, he looks like he’s either going to take a big dump or have a heart attack. There’s another guy with a goatee and bleached blond hair who always sings a song called “Come On In”, which sounds like it was written for Branson, Missouri. The other guys look like they missed out on Nashville and became aluminum siding salesmen instead. They appear to have come fresh from a convention. As I watch them on stage, singing about Jesus, I get the feeling they’re all heading for a bar for some bourbon (probably Jim Beam) and soda after they’re finished with their musical numbers. The camerapeople never miss panning over the audience, though, to catch folks singing along, or closing their eyes in reverence or powerful swooning as these fools in their suits sing their pseudo country songs about Jesus. Of course, sometimes the songs are more R&B influenced. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with programming religious music that’s more mainstream, but if you’re gonna do it, at least invite singers who look like they believe in the words they’re singing. Some of these ding a lings look about as sincere as game show hosts.

She’s pissed that nativity scenes can’t be displayed on public property. Happily, she no longer cares about such Earthly trivialities.

I was spared the sight of Jan Crouch and her pink hair and flashy, sequined clothes last night, but I’ve often seen her on other nights. She reminds me a little bit of a warped game show model, sort of hovering by, looking on supportively as her husband wheels and deals for cash. Sometimes I wonder what kind of a life she leads. What was her wedding day like? Yes, I know… I have too much time on my hands. She wears so much makeup that under all those hot lights she looks like a plastic doll that was held too close to a flame. Half her face melts off in the heat. Any day now I expect her pink hair to melt down like a big wad of cotton candy after a summer storm.

The point of all of this ranting? I don’t get the feeling that this network is about worshiping God or Jesus at all. I get the feeling that this network is about cheating people out of their money, occasional entertainment, sometimes good, but often pretty laughable and mediocre, and tasteless and tacky behavior. My husband and I were flipping channels one day and we actually caught an extremely garish wedding being broadcast. It must have cost well over $100,000, it was such a production. And despite all of the dancing in the aisles that went on, I didn’t get the feeling that the ceremony had anything to do with two people joining together in the presence of God. What’s more, it was on cable TV for all the world to see.

I remember watching this wedding on TBN. It was between Juanita Bynum, a self-described “prophetess” and Stephen Weeks. The marriage did NOT last, despite all of the money spent and religious people involved.

For all its money grubbing, though, TBN does have its sterling moments. Sometimes there’s a good religious show on with a pastor who has a worthwhile message from the Bible that speaks of something besides tithing. Not only are the messages sometimes good, but the person delivering them is often a pretty good speaker. The Saturday morning lineup is okay sometimes, although I think if I were a kid, I’d probably rather watch another channel. If you’re a Davey and Goliath fan though, TBN is the place to be on Saturdays.

Do I recommend TBN? Not if you’re serious about wanting to praise or worship God. If you want a laugh, then yes, TBN is fine. Every once in awhile, you might even come upon an inspiring program where a pearl of wisdom will be imparted onto you. Sometimes you’ll laugh. Sometimes you’ll see some bizarre things that will make you wonder. But I do caution you to be careful. Some of this programming might be dangerous if you don’t keep yourself grounded in reality. There are some people who can’t seem to do that. Unfortunately, those poor souls are the ones that keep TBN in business.

And here are the comments from that post. One person apparently thinks I’m going to Hell.

10 comments:

  1. AlexisARApril 12, 2013 at 6:16 AMI think the Q-tip head guy might be Roger MacDuff, or something similar to that.My mom was telling me several TBN stories 9To be honest, I haven’t found the channel yet since we moved. I need to find it.) Someone was hosting the fall or spring praise-a-thon (the big findraisers)- I think it was Dean Brown of the Dean and Mary Brown singing duo. He spoke on the microphone to a woman on the stage who happened to be Roger’s wife. He asked her if she was a singer. She said, “No, my husband’s a singer.” He laughed and said , “You call Roger as singrer?” obviously jokingly, although those of us with discerning ears might have fund truth in his words.Roger’s wife found neither humor nor truth in Dean Brown’s words. “I most certainly do consider Roger a singer.” she practically exploded.

    My mom said another time during the fall or spring praise-a-thon the collective group of singers was just sort of jammming on songs they all knew, acompanied mostly by m/ary /brown on the piano. Mary Brown is a versatile pianist with a good ear who changes keys and songs at will. Someone had invited an obnoxious trumpet player who was olaying some sort of micro-trumpet. The trumpet isn’t the ideal instrument to accompany a grrup of singrers jamming to gospel songs or anythig else. The trumpet has its place, but that place is not an impromptu vocal jam. Mary Brown apparently agreed with my mom, so she was modulating all over the place in a very successful attempt to lose the trumpet player, ho lacked the skills and ear to keep up with her key changes. 9They were harmonically sound changes, my mom said, with seamless transition chords. The singers could hear it and follow, but the poot trumpet player didn’t have a prayer f following aloing. Mary Brow and her husband Dean must have disagreed on the appropriateness or necessity of having the trumpeter play along. At onepoint a cameraman or controller slipped up (or maybe they showed it on purpose; who knows?) and showed Dean Brown shaking his fist at his wife Mary.

    Do you remember Nancy Harmon and the Love Special? I’ve seen her on videotape. Nancy Harmon may be still alive and kicking and maybe even performing, or she may be six feet under. I haven’t a clue. nancy had whatactually sounded like not a bad black gospel singer voice, although she was about as white as Lee Harvey Oswald. She tended to have a lot of young people on her program who were not exactly overloaded with talent. I have to give her credit for trying to give them all their big breaks.

    At one point, rumors concerning Nacy harmon’s person life were apparently circulating. She devoted the mojority of one show to addressing those responsible for passing these rumors. she and all her young bsack-up singers were quite vtrioli in calling these rumor mongers to repentance. My best guess id that someone in the rumor circuit had accused ms. Harmon, a singlewoman, of being a lesbian, but the topic of the rumors was never addressed.

    I’ve seen a coul eof videotapes of LaVern and Edith tripp’s show. Edith Tripp (Edith Tripp was supposedly part Indian princess. Why is it that no one is a descendant of common Indian stock, but, instead, of Indian royalty?) had a solo every week, yet you could walk into a random IHOP and pick the first person you saw and hand him or her a microphone, and the person’s performance would be superior to that of edith tripp.
  2. knottyApril 12, 2013 at 1:19 PMSince I wrote that review, I have pretty much given up on watching TBN. We moved a few months later and our new cable service didn’t air TBN. I got out of the habit. I will admit that religious programming can be very funny, though. And of all the networks, TBN seems to have more comic moments than others.
  3. AlexisARDecember 10, 2013 at 8:41 AMDo you know who the guy is with the goatee and bleached blond hair?

    my mom’s best friend lives nd teaches in a part of California that has a lot of dust Bowl Oklahoman and Arkansan descendants, and it’s essentially an extension of the Bible Belt. she got so tired of one woman on her staff sending out mass emails promoting one of Pastor Paula’s appearances that she forwarded the emails to the district technological director and complained. the offensive emails were stopped, but now the God-squadders hate my mom’s best friend (how Christ-like of them) but she’s fine with that as long as she isn’t bombarded with any more offensive emails. 
    1. knottyDecember 10, 2013 at 3:19 PMPerhaps I should take a similar action with my uncles who keep sending me emails full of racist political bullshit.  

      I don’t know who most of the people on TBN are… but I do get quite a kick out of watching that network!
  4. UnknownApril 16, 2014 at 12:36 AMPaul Crouch recently passed away…one of the sons is now running the station (he and his wife look like the younger versions of Paul and Jan). The older son has been exiled since his daughter is suing the network for financial abuses and sexual misconduct. With all the money this network is worth, one can only imagine the amount of corruption there is in that organization. BUT, if you REALLY want a laugh, you ought to tune into SBN, the network of Jimmy Swaggart (yes, he’s still around)! He’s maintained control through generational incest (Jimmy, the son Donnie and his son Gabriel). They’re all alike! One show that will really give you a laugh is called “Frances & Friends.” It’s Jimmy’s wife, Frances, and a “panel” of sycophants who discuss doctrine and current events! The ignorance of these people is astounding…I’ve never seen anything quite like it on TV! It’s actually quite sad because it confirms every negative stereotype that’s out there regarding Christians! I am one, so it makes me cringe to think that anyone (however dishonest) would buy that ALL Christians are like that! Anyway, check it out! You might have to search hard…some areas don’t list them as SBN, but instead the station is carried on a series of stations all called “Shop Zeal.” Good luck!
    1. knottyApril 16, 2014 at 1:15 AMLOL… Thanks Thurza! We seem to have a number of religious stations where I live and every once in awhile, I pass them on the dial. We very well might have Swaggart’s station. I’ll look for it!
  5. UnknownAugust 25, 2015 at 1:22 AM“Do not touch My anointed ones” Ps 105:15 and I Chron 16:22; very dangerous
  6. knottyAugust 25, 2015 at 7:12 AMHuh?
    1. AlexisARAugust 3, 2017 at 9:47 AMI didn’t see Cici girl’s reply earlier. She’s one of the people who takes psalms 105: 22 and 1st Chronicles 16:22 (“Touch not mine anointed, and do my prohets no harm”) literally and assumes they plainly refer to the hustlers on TBN. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the faith (and intelligence) of a small child?
    2. knottyAugust 3, 2017 at 9:52 AM😀 That would be so nice.
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