Update: True Confessions of an Uprooted Utahn

Well, I’ve been gone for a week–not long, but enough to provide me with a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. I left Utah, and everything and everybody in it, behind me so I could begin a new stage of independence, career advantages, and normal liquor laws.

And to be completely honest, so far it’s been hard. Really fucking hard.

I don’t, by any means, regret coming. I’ve known for a long time that I could never be happy if I stayed in Utah. But my family and all of my friends are 1,500 miles away from me, a fact that became painfully more acute the more time I spent in the car driving here. My seven fantastic brothers aren’t just a short drive away when I need a hug or a round of Black Ops zombies. Chad, my best friend and constant companion for the last year, isn’t with me either. Lois, my giant mutt, is staying with a boarder because my interim abode doesn’t want dogs in their fabulous flat (I don’t blame them–the furniture alone is super fantastic¬†without¬†a carpet of shaggy black hair). But I miss her, too.

I’ve gone out a couple of times with people and groups I met online–all strangers, all not my friends. I had fun, but right now the process of meeting new people only serves to remind me how much I appreciate my cohorts back home. During the day, when I’m out looking for jobs and apartments, I’m totally fine and love every second of it; at night, when I’m alone and the wind is blowing powerfully around my little make-shift bedroom, the loneliness is nothing less than overwhelming. (Not to even mention living with all your shit packed in your car or in storage, the absence of picture frames and other personals, the copious piles of laundry, the complete lack of sex or any physical contact… I could go on.)

But it’s definitely not all bad. Job prospects are looking great–I have two interviews in the next couple of days, and I’m really looking forward to meeting people wherever I end up taking a job. The guys I’m staying with are fun, kind, insanely helpful, and are really looking out for my best interest (they’d rather me stay with them indefinitely than take an apartment in an area that’s even remotely unsafe). My roommate is coming out in a couple of weeks, and we’ll have a blast living together.

I feel pretty lucky to have such a fortunate set of circumstances surrounding my departure. My tiny network here is supportive and friendly, and I have nothing but positive outlooks for the future.

I encourage all of my friends in Utah to do the same–come to Chicago! After all, we’re friends because you don’t fit the stereotypical mold, which probably means Chicago has more to offer than Utah. But be warned–taking off to a new place is not a bed of roses….. Yet ūüôā

Wives, Lies, and Ugly Ties: Modern Mormon Complicity in FLDS Polygamy

Late last night, because I couldn’t sleep, I purchased “Prophet’s Prey” by Sam Brower and downloaded it on my Kindle reader. Rather than slowly nodding off as planned,¬†I was immediately so immersed in the horrific story Brower told that I stayed up reading well after my eyes itched painfully with tiredness.

After Brower, a private investigator, was contacted by a family who tried to leave a secretive compound on the border of Southern Utah, he became fascinated with the criminal history of the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Initially, he had misgivings; after all, these stories he heard were almost too tragic to be true. However, during the course of over seven years, Brower uncovered evidence that allowed him to spearhead the prosecution of the FLDS Prophet, Warren Jeffs, and begin Jeffs’ accusation and conviction on counts of child abuse, rape, financial fraud, and innumerable other crimes.

Brower does not shy away from calling Jeffs and his cohorts what they are–perverted old men with insatiable appetites for booze, power, money, and sex with underage girls and boys. He is, as he should be, completely biased against Jeffs and leaves no room for other interpretation on that count.

However, Brower can’t help sliding in edgewise a defense of the modern Mormon Church, of which he is a member. He, parroting Church authorities, completely eschews the practice of polygamy as a fringe behavior practiced only by the FLDS and a handful of early Mormon leaders. He believes the FLDS has full responsibility for the crimes they commit in southern Utah.

Which, in literal practice, they do. Nobody made Warren Jeffs, who was the principal of his own private polygamist “academy”, secret little boys away and brutally gang rape them in “sacred” priesthood initiation rites. Nobody forced him and his cohorts to take girls as young as 12 years old to wife, and rape them as well. Nobody held a literal gun to the head of the mothers and fathers who abandoned their young sons on the side of the desert I-15 highway so all the girls could be reserved for the old men (earning the ditched male teens the name of “Lost Boys”).

But to restrict the issue only to FLDS behavior doesn’t tell the whole story. You’ve got to do a little digging to find the rest. The Mormon Church, despite their voracious attempts to distance themselves from the FLDS, are undeniably and ever so intimately complicit in the damnable behavior in southern Utah, which continues to this day.

Gordon B. Hinckley, a much-beloved LDS prophet who passed away only a few years ago, strongly ¬†stated that “this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church.” All modern Church members will hasten to agree. If you use the search term “polygamy” on Mormon.org, nothing comes up except profiles ¬†of smiling teens with pithy little statements like, “I love pizza. I’m a Mormon.” They completely ignore the issue whenever possible because the inevitably ensuing conversation is not pleasant or comfortable or easily explained.

Because what Hinckley won’t say is that the Mormon book of scripture, Doctrine and Covenants, is exactly what FLDS polygamists use to back up their belief in the righteousness of polygamy–and that it is¬†still in the modern Mormon canon. Not only is it in the canon, but the scripture itself insists that polygamy is a “new and everlasting covenant”–not something that can be easily broken by the sundry demands of the US government, as when then-prophet Wilford Woodruff revealed God’s sudden change of heart that Mormons stop practicing–and that “no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter to [God’s] glory.”

And not only will the Church try to cover up their modern involvement with polygamy–they have also attempted to completely rewrite their past to avoid the uncomfortable discussion.¬†Meet with missionaries for the first time, and they won’t talk about polygamy. Fresh-faced 18 year-old boys out preaching the immutability of Mormonism probably won’t even know that Joseph Smith had upwards of forty five wives; and if confronted with that fact, they frequently will react with outraged denial.

But the facts are these: Joseph Smith had at least 33 wives; historian Fawn Brodie documents as many as 48 in her biography of Smith, titled No Man Knows My History.  Subsequent prophets and apostles, including Brigham Young, practiced polygamy and encouraged others to do the same. Polygamy, the everlasting covenant, was only officially halted in 1890, when God conveniently changed his mind pursuant to the United States government threatening to seize Church property and throw leadership in jail. But Mormon leadership sent offshoots of polygamists to Canada, southern Utah, Arizona, and Mexico to continue the divine practice.

Modern Mormon lore loves to evoke sympathy from current members and converts by telling the story of Joseph Smith’s mythical tarring and feathering–the tale is often told as proof that Satan was working hard to halt the work of the Lord from taking place. According to the current version, the poor, innocent prophet was dragged out of his bed in the middle of the night and tortured by an angry mob for no reason except that he was trying to do God’s will. The story is printed in illustrated storybooks that are given to young Mormons, and is often used as a parable in adult church sessions.

What the Church won’t tell you is the most important part of the story–that this angry mob was comprised of the fathers , husbands, and brothers of the young women that Joseph Smith was claiming God told him to marry, and then often consummating that “marriage” with sex. There were also members in the mob whose wives had left their husbands, hoodwinked by Smith’s charm and convincing preaching, and were spiritually wedded to him as well. The mob arrived at Smith’s house originally intending to castrate him for what they–correctly–believed where the sexual sins he committed against their loved ones. However, the doctor who was to perform the castration got cold feet, and the insatiable mob did indeed end up tarring and feathering Smith–a judgment he was probably lucky to get away with, considering the take-justice-into-your-own-hands fervor of the time. The persecution that the early Mormon faith faced had less to do with Satan’s hold on the hearts of men than the bizarre practices that members held dear; and so it was that they were chased out of every state until they found refuge in Utah.

The continued perpetuity of this fictional account of events¬†is evidence that the Mormon Church is anything but prepared to be honest about its polygamist roots.¬†Any attempts made by non-members, or even current members, to expose Smith’s extensive wife-taking, or criticism of Church history in general, is met with the cry of “You are an anti-Mormon!” and immediately written off as Satan having gotten hold of the hard hearts of men to try to stop the work of the Lord. Mormons are instructed to never even look at “anti-Mormon literature” (which, when published by organizations run by Evangelical Christians, is admittedly pretty stupid and unbelievable). However, this means that most Mormons have no idea of the true nature of their Church’s polygamist roots.

But the true crux of Mormon complicity in FLDS polygamy comes not from mainstream Mormonism’s history. It comes from its future. This is where any denial truly becomes nothing but (pardon my French) steaming, stinking¬†bullshit. Because any member who is even mildly familiar with Church doctrine believes that the divine commandment of polygamy will be reinstated when the heathen gentiles are ready for it–probably beginning during the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and then for the rest of eternity. God will inflict His will on the entire world, and the Mormon Church leaves no doubt that part of that sacred will is to practice polygamy.

How can modern Mormons decry FLDS polygamy, and then usher in its renewed dispensation hand-in-hand with God’s impending return? How can they today, right here, right now, continue to allow men to be spiritually “sealed” forever to more than one woman, but only allow women to be sealed to one man–and then deny that they practice polygamy? Why, when receiving their temple rituals, must the woman give her husband her “spiritual name” so that, once past the veil of death, he may call her name and locate her and other wives–but he mustn’t give her his? I know these little details sound bizarre, but bear with me here. These seemingly little details are¬†screaming signs pointing to the fact that modern Mormonism is not only entirely hypocritical in condemning FLDS polygamy. They are still very much entrenched in it themselves.

Seems pretty unequivocal, doesn’t it? Despite the fact that Mormons claim they have nothing to do with the FLDS, they actually have everything to do with it–they began the practice, and they continue to preach its eventual restoration. And, because the Mormon Church has such a strong foothold in Utah’s financial, political, and legal department, the ability to take action against the abuse in southern Utah is entirely within their reach. Ask yourself why they aren’t doing anything.

Never has the LDS Church admitted to or apologized for their liabilities–and I doubt they ever will. However, to continue to insist that they have nothing to do with this “breakaway” FLDS sect is simply dishonest, and their continued reluctance to take responsibility¬†allows the enormous entity that is modern Mormonism, with massive power to do good, to simply turn their head the other way. Is the Mormon Church really interested in the welfare of children? Do they truly believe that they use their finances for good in the world? Then let them take a close look at the environment that they fostered by their own doctrine; let them pay for the lawyers, the investigators, and any other means possible to prosecute the men who are sexually abusing young children; let them admit responsibility for the revelation of polygamy, and for the belief that someday it will again be reinstated; let them actually do something¬†good for once, and better the lives of the people who they, albeit long ago, helped ruin. Let them take responsibility. Let them, for once, be Christlike.

The Lizt: Books Worth Reading

In no particular order and bound to change at any time, every book in this list is guaranteed to provoke and delight. 

  • Arguably, Christopher Hitchens
  • The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin
  • Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  • The Ebb-Tide, Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Works of William Blake, William Blake
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • Under the Banner of Heaven, John Krakauer
  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  • Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
  • The Glass Castle, Jeanette Wells
  • Bud, not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis
  • The Master of Ballantrae, Robert Louis Stevenson (do NOT see the movie)
  • In Memoriam, Lord Alfred Tennyson
  • Thrawn Janet, Robert Louis Stevenson
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
  • Tomcat in Love, Tim O’Brien
  • Don’t Know Much about History, Kenneth Davis
  • An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, Grant R. Palmer
  • Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg
  • Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  • The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Refreshing Assumptions

One of the first things I’m invariably asked when people find out I’m from Utah is, “How are the Mormons?”

I admit, it’s delightful to regale them with tales of the strange culture. Even people who are somewhat familiar with the Mormons are shocked to hear about the extremely stoic lifestyles that members willingly pursue.

“No¬†coffee?” “No¬†sex?” “No sleeveless shirts?” “No¬†booze?!”

Nope. And then I am assaulted with exclamations of the bizarreness of it all, followed by shaking heads and “I just don’t get it.”

Non-LDS Utahns, the out-of-state vindication is fabulous. Sometimes, despite the fact that you know you’re swimming in a sea of insanity, Utah can seriously wear you down. It’s frustrating to be in a small minority, and to be regarded with condescension by people who just¬†know you aren’t happy. I’ve often thought that I was happier while I was in the Church–not because I loved the lifestyle, but because I had innumerable friends and family.

Outside of Utah, though, I’m not crazy. I’m not extremely biased, or liberal, or weird. Relative to my peers in Chicago, I’m very clean cut and middle-of-the-road opinion-wise.

And when I meet people, I don’t have to immediately assume that they’re LDS–I can assume exactly the opposite. I haven’t met a Mormon yet! And everyone here who knows Mormons loves them, because they aren’t harrowed up in the conservative culture Utah fosters so well.

I’m really looking forward to a long, pleasant separation from the Mormon Church, and hoping that the distance will help me knock the chip off my shoulder I developed while in Utah. Out here, I’m surrounded by pleasant people who are nice simply because they are–not because eternal damnation awaits them if they are not. Nobody’s trying to recruit me. Nobody thinks I’m miserable. Nobody cares what I believe.

If you’re a young and non-LDS individual (especially ex-Mo) stuck in Utah, do yourself the biggest favor of your life: Get Out Now. Allow yourself to be in the norm. Stop having to always assume the worst, and refresh yourself in the outside world. And come hang out with me in Chicago!!

You can be just like me!
You can be just like me!