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“Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.” (Bernard Berenson)

I thought immediately of all those covenants that I made as a Mormon. Some would tell me that I’ve lost my integrity by breaking eternal covenants. I felt bad about that for a while. Now I see that integrity demands that I break covenants made under falsehood. Constancy in promises can be a vice which values personal reputation over loyalty to the truth.

The only promises I regret breaking are those I made to flesh and blood.

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Shaking Hands With The Bishop

Masturbation (and more) is on my mind again.

I just read a comment by “struggling” about his struggles with masturbation. I can feel echoes of my own life in his story.

The other issue here is that while on my mission there could have been no time in my life where I was more dedicated to abstaining or avoiding sexual thoughts or activities. Furthermore my days were always completely planned and scheduled so it is not like I was not busy and being idle. I had never masturbated until the near end of my mission and that seems really quite odd to me. It nearly destroyed me. I thought I would be sent home from my mission cuz I had read the statement that no young man should go on a mission who engages in such an activity. I fell on my knees in some disgusting foreign country bathroom and weeped excessively while expressing the most intimate of feelings with my Father in Heaven and promising never to do it again. After that I tortured myself mentally and emotionally…maybe even physically. I constantly fasted for strength(once for 48 hours), prayed, confessed, memorized scriptures, wore tight clothing, went without sleep to avoid being in bed where the “temptation” was strongest and all the while trying to serve as the EQ president in my singles unit while battling thoughts of failure, inadequacy, and at times suicide.…

I was just trying to do what the church leaders kept telling me to do. I looked for relief. I read a lot and I read from Miracle of Forgiveness, To the Young men only, talks by Featherstone, some article which may or may not have been from Elder Petersen, my scriptures, skousen books and many more that were not directly correlated to the topic on tab; to what end I am not sure. All I wanted was relief not anxiety. That is what I was searching for. One could argue that I was anxious because I continued in the practice, maybe so, but I fought with everything I had. Every ounce of energy was dedicated to winning this battle every night and after weeks of battling, struggling, enduring, the battle would extend to two fronts as “tension” would infiltrate my daily activities. The funny thing is that I would not even consider myself a “Peter Priesthood” type of guy. Most of my friends were not even LDS but I cant help but feel bad for what those “pristine” mormon children feel when they cannot overcome masturbation or anything that one could logically call an even more grave mistake.

Then there’s Sister Mary Lisa with her painful, touching story of being pregnant out of wedlock and later married to a non-Mormon. She speaks of the pain and humiliation she endured for 13 years.

A couple months later, I realized I was pregnant. All I could think about was my high priest dad’s words from my childhood: “Any daughter of mine who comes home pregnant out of wedlock is no longer my daughter.”…

Being in the primary presidency for years, I was expected to teach all those diverse children about eternal families and what they should strive for in their own lives, because anything less is not what righteous people do. I remember teaching about how families can be together forever while looking into the hurt and wounded eyes of Brother Z., the teacher whose impending divorce had just been announced the week before, and whose daughter was crying in the back row. I hid my own pain well, I thought. Until later that night when my son asked me, “How come WE’RE not sealed together forever?” How do you explain such a nasty concept to a child? Your father doesn’t believe the church is true, honey, and if we don’t go to the temple, then we aren’t sealed together forever. “But why not? He loves me, and I love him!” I know. I know. It’s God’s plan. “But where will we GO when we die? Who will I be with??” If you are really righteous, and marry your own sweetheart in the temple someday, you’ll be with her and your children! “But what about you and Dad?” Oh, don’t worry about us. It’ll all work out in the next life. I’ll be OK. “But will I see you there?” Pain like that eviscerates and is impossible to hid from your children.…

Imagine my horror in finding out that the beloved prophet Joseph Smith (whom I had admired enough to name my son after, along with Joseph in Egypt) had married over 30 women, some of whom were still married to men he had sent on missions! Imagine my horror in reading the accounts of how he convinced Heber C. Kimball to give his 14 year old daughter to him in plural marriage by promising her entire family eternal salvation if they said yes! Imagine my horror when I found out that he did his plural wife thing behind Emma’s back, and denied it publicly when someone called him on it!!

I had been made to feel low and dirty and worthless for my two weeks of sex and my lifetime of keeping an “illegitimate” baby out of wedlock, all by the very church that had been founded by a guy like Joseph Smith???

You know, I can think of only one way to express how I feel about teaching children to be ashamed of their sexuality:

Fuck… That… Shit!

Don’t even come near my daughters with that poison. You seem like a nice person. I don’t want to have to beat you down.

I’m fed up. The shame implicit in the way the Law of Chastity is typically taught is mental and emotional child abuse. I know you’re trying to keep them clean and pure (nobody wants to be a chewed up piece of used bubble gum), but your delusional good intentions would pave the way to a hell full of self-loathing for my daughters. I can’t let that happen.

If one of my daughters comes home pregnant outside of marriage or—heaven forbid!—she masturbates, she will be received as always with open arms and heartfelt kisses. She will never be less than my beautiful, my priceless, my incomparable daughter.

You can call me a sinner if you want. You can blame my non-belief on my not-so-secret sins if that makes you feel justified in your beliefs. But leave me and mine alone. I’m happy to be rid of you and your hateful ideas.

So put down your copy of The Miracle of Forgiveness and nobody gets hurt. Close the door on your way out.

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My Brother and Sister As They Truly Are

I always had to translate my little brother and sister’s words for my parents. Growing up with them, I learned their language much better than Mom and Dad. Their tongues which were too large for their mouthes and their mental retardation prevented them from speaking as well as other children their age. My name was “Duhn’thin” for years. My brother or sister would say something and a blank look would cover my parents’ faces. I’d chime in with what they had said, and life would go on.

Their language was unintelligible to outsiders. I learned this when some neighborhood kids mimicked what they heard my sister say. “Duh, duh, duh,” they taunted her. I loved her and it hurt to see her mocked, but I didn’t want to be dumb by association. I stood by and left my sister undefended.

Years later in high school, I had a chance to redeem myself. I stood outside the locker room when one of the short school buses pulled up. I was looking somewhere else when I heard one of the guys yell “Dog! Ugly!” I turned around to see that my sister was the target of this attack. She attended the same school as I did; she had been mainstreamed as they called it. Redemption would have to wait for another day. The situation stunned me into inaction. I was too ashamed of my sister to stand up and defend her.

To this day, when I hear people say offhandedly “that’s retarded” it feels like an attack on my brother and sister, but I don’t say anything. How do I explain without seeming too thin-skinned?

Even though I loved my brother and sister, I often wished that they weren’t retarded. I wished that they could have been normal. Mormonism holds out that hope. It teaches that mentally retarded children were especially valiant champions in God’s cause during our existence before we were born. As perfect innocents, they are assured of their salvation and exaltation in God’s Kingdom when they die.

As a corollary, I would someday meet my brother and sister without the false burden of mental retardation. I have daydreamed all my life about the day that I would meet them and be able to have a normal conversation. I imagined how they would look: normal at last. They wouldn’t make people feel uncomfortable anymore. They wouldn’t embarrass me anymore. I would be proud to be their brother.

Maybe you can understand why it is heartbreaking for me to give up that hope. I now realize that there is no immaculate soul hidden inside my siblings, untainted by retardation. When they die, no sparkling gem will ascend to heaven. The retardation isn’t the illusion. My little brother and sister are retarded.

Instead of loving my brother and sister as they truly are, I have been hoping to meet someone who doesn’t exist. I have been ashamed of their true selves. I will never be able to talk to them, except in our shared language.

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My wife and I watched parts of To Catch a Predator last night, the one where guys chat online with people who they think are underage, arrange to meet with them for sex, and arrive only to be greeted by all of America sharing their most shameful moment. I cheered the television crew on months ago when I first started watching this show, but something strange has started to happen. I don’t think the producers of the show wanted me to, but I started to have compassion for these sexual predators.

As chance would have it, I heard on the radio yesterday that this television program caused a man to commit suicide.

Louis William Conradt Jr., of Terrell, Texas, a Dallas suburb, was suspected of being one of those men, except he didn’t show up at the house. That didn’t stop the TV producers and police from showing up at his, though, and as officers knocked on his door and a camera crew waited in the street, Conradt shot and killed himself. (Associated Press)

The radio hosts, the kind that are paid to act like brain-damaged teenagers, related this story, basically said good riddance, and danced on his grave. Their callousness elicited my compassion. Wouldn’t someone mourn for this destroyed life?

I’ll openly admit that I have ephebophilic tendencies. I gather from the term “jailbait” and popular humor that I’m not alone in the adult male population.

I and most of those who are similar to me choose to abstain from acting on any attraction we feel. We know it’s wrong to prey on an adolescent’s inexperience. We shrug off the attraction and go on with life. I don’t lose sleep over it because I’m not ashamed. I chalk it up to being a human being and forge ahead.

There is so much hatred and fear surrounding sexual predators these days. It sells an awful lot of commercial airtime. Sometimes it’s easy to forget who sexual predators are. They are not some alien species. They are our neighbors, our friends, our brothers, our husbands, our fathers… our sisters, our wives, and our mothers. They are us. We are them. They are human beings who cross a perilously thin line. Are the rest of us so different?

We seem to be afraid to acknowledge that pedophilia (for example) is one aspect of human nature—an aberrant and harmful one—but human nonetheless. Whatever it is that separates a pedophile from a non-pedophile is uncomfortably thin. We prefer to think of them as aliens rather than see their humanity, rather than acknowledge the thin ice below us. There but for the grace of Fortune go I.

As I watched the news crew publicly shame those men, I allowed myself to see something that I hadn’t noticed before. I watched as their hopes and dreams died. The weight of what the future held for them made some weep, some get physically ill, and some just sit dumb with shock. These were weak, stupid people, not inhuman monsters. The show put a human face on sexual predators.

I want to protect my children above all else, but I am not insensible to the suffering of these men and the tragedy of human frailty.

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Family First

I felt smugly self-satisfied that I had gotten the right answer. I turned in my essay to my eighth-grade English teacher. She had assigned us to write on how we defined success. I felt sure that my classmates had written about schools and careers and other worldly pursuits. Instead, I took the moral high ground with the help of a Prophet of the Mormon church.

My church leaders repeatedly emphasized this teaching: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” (Benjamin Disraeli as paraphrased by President David O. McKay) The church prepared all young men to become husbands and fathers. Our whole lives should be centered around marriage and fatherhood, just like our Heavenly Father.

I wrote about being a father and husband because of the church’s teaching. I considered any other goal petty and trivial. I had written about the only worthy goal. I fantasized that my teacher would recognize the moral superiority of my goals and applaud my wisdom. That never happened. I probably received a good grade based on the mechanics of the essay (i.e. thesis, support, support, support, conclusion), but I never heard from her about its content.

All the same, Disraeli’s catchy phrase shaped how I feel today. I still believe that my wife and children should receive my first attention. They should expect to receive the best of me, leaving the leftovers for my other pursuits. My fondest hopes lie in the continued health and happiness of my family. My family gives me my greatest joy. I look forward to time with my wife and girls at the end of the day. They keep me going.

I could have learned this attitude from some other source, but I didn’t. I learned it from the Mormon church.


I immediately noticed the motorcycle decor in his modest home. My missionary companion and I had been in his neighborhood so we decided to visit this inactive member of the congregation we served. We had heard that he hadn’t attended church in years, so we decided to see what we could do to bring him back into the fold.

Motorcycles didn’t interest me, but I asked him about them anyway in the interest of building relationships of trust. For the next couple of hours he regaled us with stories about his new Harley-Davidson Softail. I heard about truly insane hill climbing trials. I picked up new phrases fraught with wisdom like “Loud pipes save lives,” and “There’s only two kinds of riders: the old and the bold.” He made something of a convert out of me by the end. When I later served in Buffalo NY, I made sure to buy a 75th anniversary t-shirt from the Harley-Davidson/Buell store.

After two hours, we finally got down to business and asked him why he didn’t come to church anymore. His answer forever changed my attitude about church service. This older man had converted to Mormonism early on when the LDS church wasn’t well established in the area. The church asked a lot of its members back then. It was routine for him to spend almost every night away from home on assignments for the church. After a while, this began to wear on his family life. He decided to leave the church to save his family.

We gave him some unsatisfactory excuses about the church not being like that anymore and how his attendance would strengthen his family. I didn’t think the excuses would convince him, and they didn’t. He thanked us for the visit, and sent us on our way. I left his home convinced that he was making a short-sighted choice, but he had planted a thought in my mind.


My wife was taking classes at the university to finish her degree. I watched our new daughter on the nights Lacey had classes on campus. I was serving in the Elders Quorum presidency and feeling the pressure to be away from my family on the nights Lacey didn’t have classes. Home Teaching always needed to be done. I needed to go out with the missionaries once a month. We needed to make visits to members’ homes as a presidency. Various congregation members had little emergencies that needed attention. I needed to attend the ward’s monthly temple night. We needed to meet with the Elders in the quorum for monthly interviews. The list goes on.

I probably could have been away from home most evenings, but David O. McKay and the Biker from Hamburg NY whispered from the back of my mind. A lot of the things that I could have allowed to take me away from home seemed less important than being with my family. I began to build up a boundary between my family and church service.

I had always heard that serving the church also brought blessings to the family. Serving God would call down blessings from heaven on my home. My leaders intended this to justify all the hours spent away from family in the service of the church’s needs. The tension between this idea and Disraeli’s “No success in public life can compensate for failure in the home.” forced me to find a balance between the two ideas. I decided to serve in the church, but only if my personal attention to a church job was more important than time with my family. I felt justified by God in saying no to uninspired activities. A night of wandering around with the missionaries trying to find someone to talk to didn’t often make the cut.

While serving in the presidency, I attended a world-wide church broadcast for priesthood leaders. The church leaders taught us that we needed to find balance between church service and family time. They expressed sympathy for the demands that church service placed on us and gave us general guidelines on how much time each calling should require of us. This broadcast brought me peace of mind: they agreed that we need to set boundaries to preserve balance.

The Elders Quorum President at the time had a young son himself, but often left his home to serve in his church calling. I know that this was hard for his wife, but they were conscientious people and did what they thought was best. I wished he wouldn’t, but I knew that the President would pick up the slack when I refused some church service. I wished he would delegate and allow someone else to take care of things more often. Instead, he took a the-buck-stops-here stance. I could admire that in a way, but I thought he lacked balance between family and church life. If he spent more time with his family, I would have felt less guilty about prioritizing my family, but he had his own choices to make, and I had mine.


We entered the Stake President’s office dressed in our Sunday clothes with our little one in tow. The Elders Quorum President had moved away, and the Stake President had asked us to meet with him. We sat down in his wood-panel office and made small talk for a few minutes. Getting serious, he called me to serve as Elders Quorum President and asked if my wife would support me in serving.

With the example of the previous Elders Quorum President in mind, I told him that I would serve in the calling but that I had some concerns about the amount of time it might require. I told him about Lacey’s classes, her callings, and the other demands on my time. I said that I worried that I might not have enough time to serve well, but I would do my best. Then he did something unexpected.

He thanked us for coming in, said that we did the right thing by bringing our concerns to him, and told us he would be in contact with us if he had anything further for us. I left his office a little stunned. I felt like I had just turned down a calling—very taboo. Faithful Mormons do not turn down callings. At least they shouldn’t. I sat with my wife and daughter in the car for a long time. We talked about going back to his office and telling the Stake President that we took it all back: we new that I could serve faithfully in the calling. We eventually decided to leave it in this inspired hands. I started the car, and we left for our home.


The LDS church promotes itself as family centered. It has been a mixed blessing for me in that arena. I’ve focused on only one way that Mormonism has influenced my family life. What effects, good and bad, has the LDS church had on your family?

(Here’s a humorous antidote for the terminal sappiness of that commercial I just linked to, if you feel the need.)

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