The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stunned me this week by announcing that it was dropping its infamous 2015 “Policy of Exclusion” (as it is commonly known among groups who consider it infamous).Read More
Faith & Religion
I created this podcast episode:
Next week, on Nov. 6, 2018, Americans will have an opportunity to vote to significantly check President Donald Trump’s power by electing Democrats to the House of Representatives and the Senate.
In this episode of Mosaic, an urgent invitation to vote, and a reflection on the last time Americans had the chance to weigh in on who should hold the power in this country.
I wrote about the upcoming return of LoveLoud:
Last year, the first LoveLoud Fest drew a crowd of more than 17,000 people to the Brent Brown Ballpark in Orem, generating cheers not only for Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees but also for calls for more inclusion for LGBTQ+ individuals in Utah and throughout conservative religious communities.
Organized by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds, the festival was created “to help ignite the relevant and vital conversation of what it means to unconditionally love, understand, accept and support LGBTQ+ youth in an effort to keep families together,” an official FAQ states.
Saturday, the festival returns in a new location — Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City — which has the capacity to more than double last year’s attendance.
“It’s really just a numbers thing,” Reynolds said in a recent phone interview. “We wanted to get as many people in as we possibly could.”
The effort was endorsed last year by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the church’s continued support is an open question.
“We applaud the LoveLoud Festival for LGBT Youth’s aim to bring people together to address teen safety and to express respect and love for all of God’s children,” the church’s statement from 2017 reads. “We join our voice with all who come together to foster a community of inclusion in which no one is mistreated because of who they are or what they believe. We share common beliefs, among them the pricelessness of our youth and the value of families. We earnestly hope this festival and other related efforts can build respectful communication, better understanding, and civility as we all learn from each other.”
The Daily Herald requested a comment from the church in light of the return of the festival and received a new statement, which reads in part, “We remain committed to support community efforts throughout the world to prevent suicide, bullying and homelessness. Every young person should feel loved and cared for in their families, their communities and their congregations.”
But the church’s statement this year does not name the festival, and the church did not clarify — after multiple requests for clarification — the current status of any relationship between the LDS Church and LoveLoud or an update to last year’s endorsement.
“God’s message is one of hope and we want our LGBT brothers and sisters to know that they are loved, valued and needed in His church,” the statement continues.
I produced this podcast episode:
In the previous episode of this series, McKenna Denson shared her experience recording a conversation with her former Missionary Training Center president, Joseph Bishop, in which he can be heard admitting to sexual misconduct with multiple women while he was a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the recording, she confronts him with the allegation that he raped her while she was a Mormon missionary in 1984, an allegation he denies.
In this part of the series, the spiritual dimension of this story begins to untangle.
How has the church responded to emerging facts — both "the church" as a collection of individual believers, as well as the corporate institution based in Salt Lake City?
In this column, I spoke with Dan Reynolds about his faith (and his mom):
On a recent phone call with Imagine Dragons lead Dan Reynolds, I asked him about his Mormon faith.
Specifically, is it harder to stay in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a rock star or as an LGBTQ ally?
“To be honest with you, I don’t think it’s hard for any of that,” he said. “Because I really was raised to just do whatever you felt in your heart, regardless of what people think. I really feel like my mom is like the most punk rock woman I know. Which sounds like a real funny thing. She’s this woman that raised nine kids and is super Mormon, but she’s also super intelligent and powerful and did whatever she wanted to do regardless of what people around her thought, and I really get with that.”
The Mormon singer has been in headlines since organizing the LoveLoud concert last summer, which brought performers and activists together to raise support for LGBTQ youth within Mormon communities. The story of the concert was the subject of the HBO documentary “Believer,” which is available to stream now, and July 28 will mark the return of the concert to Utah.
With LoveLoud, Reynolds is carving his own path as a “punk rock” Mormon.
“I identify with people who follow their truth regardless of what others think,” he said. “Being a Mormon missionary, for me, when I was a Mormon missionary, felt like it was my own punk rock thing. It wasn’t cool. People throw Slurpees at you, you’re this stupid guy in this white T-shirt with a name badge, and people make fun of you. And so for me, I feel like my definition of punk rock is following your truth regardless of the popularity of it.”
In this column, I hoped to catapult some of the momentum of the new HBO film "Believer" toward other fine LGBTQ+ Mormon documentaries that feature queer folks as the protagonists.:
The new documentary “Believer,” which features as its main subject Imagine Dragons lead Dan Reynolds, debuted Monday night and is now available to stream on HBO.
The film follows Reynolds, a well-known member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he wrestles with his growing sense of responsibility to use his fame to speak out as an ally of the LGBTQ+ community — and particularly, to challenge some of his own church’s polices and teachings.
“I am a privileged, white male in 2018 who’s just trying to contribute in my own way that I can, which is from my culture, and that’s Mormonism,” Reynolds said in a recent phone interview. “And that happens to be a culture that has been at odds with the LGBTQ community.”
I relate to Reynolds’ position as a straight Mormon who feels frustrated by the LDS Church’s policies and teachings regarding homosexuality and who hopes for change. Seeing the film at Sundance this year was something of a transcendent experience for me, because it was thrilling to see a movie on such a large scale (HBO! Film composer Hans Zimmer! Imagine Dragons!) talk frankly about concerns I have felt palpably since I was a student at BYU.
But “Believer” is far from the first documentary to highlight stories or concerns of queer Mormons, and it’s worth trying to wrangle some of the attention a movie as big as “Believer” can generate toward other movies that, unlike “Believer” feature queer people as their main protagonists.
This is an approximate transcription of a talk I gave in church today at the Memorial Park 1st ward in Houston, Texas.
My wife Katie and I met on Facebook in 2015. At the time, she lived in Alberta, Canada, and I lived in Provo, Utah. She was working as a social worker, and I was working first as a teacher and then as an entertainment reporter at the local newspaper there in Provo.
She eventually moved to Utah and we continued to date, and then on Canada Day in 2016, which is July 1, we got engaged. And then a few months later in October 2016 we got married.
We were living in Provo, and then last year, we got a call from my wife's sister who lives here in the Houston area, and she wanted to get another apartment for her teenage son, our nephew, so that he could transfer schools. So she called us up -- Katie had gotten into grad school in New York City, so she knew we were going to be going to New York City, but we had a year in between because Katie is Canadian and she was working on her immigration papers -- so we had this amount of time before we were going to be moving, and my sister-in-law called us up and said, 'How would you like to move to Houston and live with Carson for a year, so he's not alone in that apartment?'
And at first we thought, 'That's a wild idea,' but then we thought, 'Let's be wild!' So we decided to do that. We quit our jobs, and we packed up, and after we did all of that, we were looking at the weather report, and discovered it was raining a lot in Houston -- and then it was raining a lot in Houston, and then my sister-in-law's family was flooded out of their house, so they ended up moving into the apartment where we were going to live, but by this time, we had already made up our minds to come, so we decided to come anyway.
It's been an interesting year, or not quite a year, but it's been an interesting time, because we've been kind of living from place to place. We were in an Airbnb for a while, we were in different people's houses, and now, in a few weeks, we're going to finally be going to New York and having some stability again, but it's been an interesting year.
One thing that has been hard for me during this time is not having a really stable sense of community. I have felt displaced at times, and so this experience has really renewed my testimony of the importance of being part of a community, because I've kind of felt the lack of it, and that's kind of what I'm going to be talking about today.
Community: a 'complex connection'
I want to share a couple quotes from a poet named Wendell Berry, who's also a farmer and somebody I like a lot. He said this:
A proper community … is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members -- among them the need to need one another.
He also wrote at another time:
A healthy community is a form that includes all the local things that are connected by the larger, ultimately mysterious form of the Creation. In speaking of community, then, we are speaking of a complex connection not only among human beings or between humans and their homeland but also between human economy and nature, between forest or prairie and field or orchard, and between troublesome creatures and pleasant ones. All neighbors are included.
I really like that idea, thinking about the communities that we live in -- not just among humans, but just the broader community that we're a part of in nature.
The talk that I was asked to base my talk on is called "The Needs Before Us." It's by Bonnie L. Oscarson, who, when she gave this talk, was the Young Women general president. This was in October 2017.
She starts the talk by talking recent natural disasters around the world including Hurricane Harvey, which had been very recent when she gave her talk. And then she shifts to talking about how we can serve within our own communities. She said:
Today I want to mention an aspect of service that I feel is important for all -- no matter where we are located. For those of us who have watched news of recent events and have felt helpless to know what to do, the answer might actually be right before us.
One of the things she talks about in her talk is how we can go to church with an attitude of servce toward the people with whom we will worship. She said:
A(n) area of focus for our service can be in our ward families. Occasionally our children would ask us the question, 'Why do I have to go to Mutual? I just don’t get very much out of it.' If I was having a good parenting moment, I would reply, 'What makes you think you go to Mutual because of what you get out of it?' My young friends, I can guarantee that there will always be someone at every Church meeting you attend who is lonely, who is going through challenges and needs a friend, or who feels like he or she doesn’t belong. You have something important to contribute to every meeting or activity, and the Lord desires for you to look around at your peers and then minister as he would.
She was dropping the word "minister" before it became official.
She also quoted President Spencer W. Kimball who said, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.”
'Think globally, act locally'
This talk reminded me of the phase, "Think globally, act locally," which happens to be something I have on a bumper sticker on my car. Sister Oscarson talked a lot about that idea. She said:
I also think that sometimes it’s easy to miss some of the greatest opportunities to serve others because we are distracted or because we are looking for ambitious ways to change the world and we don’t see that some of the most significant needs we can meet are within our own families, among our friends, in our wards, and in our communities. We are touched when we see the suffering and great needs of those halfway around the world, but we may fail to see there is a person who needs our friendship sitting right next to us in class.
This is a pretty interesting and complex idea.
Quoting again from Wendell Berry, the poet, he said something similar:
Properly speaking, global thinking is not possible. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. The right local questions and answers will be the right global ones. The Amish question, 'What will this do to our community?' tends toward the right answer for the world.
So it's a really interesting idea to me that Sister Oscarson and Wendell Berry are getting at here. Acting locally and being aware of the needs of those immediately around us doesn't mean that we stop thinking about the broader, global questions and problems that are happening around the world. It doesn't mean that we isolate ourselves from the world's problems. Rather, it's an invitation to to refocus our efforts on the ways in which those global problems, those generalized problems, affect our local communities and our own families.
In Houston, there are a number of organizations that are concerned with local ramifications of global issues. We can join forces with some of those institutions, like Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston’s Refugee Services and Refugee Services of Texas and Human Rights First -- these are organizations that are based here in Houston. And also, our fast offerings go to local needs, so as we pay fast offerings, we're also contributing to local issues.
I was reading in the Houston Chronicle and I learned that "Harris County alone welcomes about 25 of every 1,000 refugees that the U.N. resettles anywhere in the world — more than any other American city, and more than most other nations. If Greater Houston were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for refugee resettlement."
I thought that was really interesting. And of course we know that Houston is a very diverse place, with people from all over.
Just yesterday, I read a news report (that was published yesterday) that an agency has signed a lease to loan a warehouse in Houston to the federal government for the housing of children that have been separated from their parents at the border.
So if we look around us, there are needs all over, right here in our homes, right here in our communities. And if we're looking and praying to see how we can notice those opportunities to help, and willing to act on those promptings, then we can really be a great help in our communities.
Displaced from a community of faith
Sometimes, people are displaced from their communities not from natural disasters or political disasters but spiritual disasters -- personal disasters -- or a crisis of faith.
I mentioned that Katie and I met on Facebook. We actually met in a Facebook group specifically for Mormons who sometimes struggle or have questions or problems with their faith, and so I have personal experience of how even online communities can be legitimate kinds of communities to help minister to each other and offer support. (But they also can't replace in-person communities and ward communities.)
It can often be hard to minister effectively to those who have had a crisis of faith or who have struggled with doubts unless the person ministering has personally gone through those doubts themselves -- however, everybody can help. Everybody can offer genuine help to those who have suffered in different ways than they have personally.
If we lead with love, if we are always humble, and if we listen more than we speak as we're ministering to people, I think we can help everybody, even if we haven't gone through exactly what they've gone through.
And I testify that Jesus Christ has gone through everything that we have gone through, and that everybody else has gone through, and so if we can direct people to that source of ultimate comfort, then, Jesus Christ can fill in the gaps where our personal experiences with whatever problems people are having fall short.
Service without ego
Another thing from Sister Oscarson's talk that jumped out to me is about service without ego, service without doing things for the sake of being seen by other people.
I saw a movie this week that reminded me of this talk. The movie is about Mr. Rogers. I don't know if any of you know about this, but there's a movie playing right now here in Houston that is a documentary about Mr. Rogers.
Mr. Rogers was an ordained minister. But he decided he would focus his efforts on this television program. And thematically appropriately enough, the program was called "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." He was really focused on helping -- in his case -- children, mostly. But I love the way that he really showed what is to me genuine Christlike love for other people. He saw the value of every person and every child.
I want to read the lyrics to one of his songs, because I think this attitude is the kind of thing that I want to exemplify. The song goes like this:
It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair–
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you–
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.
But it’s you I like–
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.
I love that song. I feel so much love when I hear that song and think of those words. And I think if we adopt that type of attitude, recognizing people wherever they are, and seeing the value that they have, no matter what they're going through, I think that will really help us in our efforts to minister to those around us.
A Father's Day example
I want to close with an example of ministering to our own communities and families with an example from the scriptures of this that also relates to Father's Day, which is today. In Luke 15, we learn of the story of the Prodigal Son. In verses 11 through 19 or so, we see the story of this father. It says, "A certain man had two sons."
One of these sons gave up all of his inheritance and opted for a short period of time of riotous living and disobedience, and then he ultimately had the consequences come of those bad choices, and he thought he was going to perish of hunger, and he lost everything, and he didn't think that he was a worthy person. Then it says, beginning in verse 20:
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to be merry.
And then it goes on to say that his other son was a little bit jealous of this, or feeling like, "I've always been obedient, how come you're not throwing a party for me?" And it says in verse 31:
And he said unto him, 'Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.'
So to me, this is an example of a father who understood his role as a nurturer for both of his two sons.
With the second son, he knew how to communicate with him and make him feel reassured of his love. And I think it's very poignant that with the first son, when he came back, it makes a point to specify that the father was "still yet a great way off" when he went to enthusiastically greet his son and forgive him and just love him where he was.
Finally, I'll share this quote from President Uchtdorf. This actually comes from the talk right before Sister Oscarson gave her talk in that same General Conference session. He says this:
On your journey back to Heavenly Father you will soon realize that this journey isn’t just about focusing on your own life. No, this path inevitably leads you to become a blessing in the lives of God’s other children -- your brothers and sisters. And the interesting thing about the journey is that as you serve God, and as you care for and help your fellowmen, you will see great progress in your own life, in ways you could never imagine.
Perhaps you don’t consider yourself all that useful; perhaps you don’t consider yourself a blessing in somebody’s life. Often, when we look at ourselves, we see only our limitations and deficiencies. We might think we have to be 'more' of something for God to use us -- more intelligent, more wealthy, more charismatic, more talented, more spiritual. Blessings will come not so much because of your abilities but because of your choices. And the God of the universe will work within and through you, magnifying your humble efforts for His purposes. His work has always advanced on this important principle: 'Out of small things proceedeth that which is great.'
I testify that we are each capable of looking within ourselves at the experiences and the talents and the skills that we have been given -- the spiritual gifts that we have -- to then bless the lives of others. And also, if we pray to have our minds open and our eyes open to the suffering that is immediately around us, within our own families, within our own communities and wards, I testify that the spirit will put actions in our mind that if we follow them, will not only bless our own lives, but will bless the lives of other people in ways that only we can. And I bear this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
In this column, I wrote about a cool event happening this weekend:
It’s prom season — a little late in the season maybe — but for these couples and singles, a little late might be OK.
The “Second Chance Prom Night,” to be held Saturday evening in Colorado City, Arizona, is a party for adults who grew up in the Short Creek community of Mormon fundamentalists who never got a chance to go to prom as kids.
“I don’t personally know of anyone who went to a prom,” said event organizer Margaret Cooke to ABC4 News4Utah. Cooke grew up in the Short Creek community herself.
I may currently live in Texas, but my heart will be in Colorado City this Saturday night.
I never got to go to prom. Let me put it another way: my high school had a prom, but I never went. I grew up in a Mormon community, too — though my break-off branch of the religion founded by Joseph Smith was the one led by Brigham Young, which formally discontinued the practice of polygamy a century ago (at least, it did among currently living spouses, but that’s a topic for another column).
And I too credit my Mormon community as a youth as one of the main reasons I skipped out on prom, though most of my Mormon friends growing up did go. Actually, I was asked to prom by a woman in my ward on behalf of her daughter, and even though I had had a crush on that daughter throughout much of my youth — let’s call her Veronica — I was so scared of school dances that I didn’t go.
I still think about the conversation sometimes.
“You know, Veronica doesn’t have a date for the prom.”
“Oh…is that right?”
I created this podcast episode:
While McKenna Denson was was training as a Mormon missionary in the MTC in Provo, Utah in 1984, she says the MTC president, Joseph Bishop, raped her in a basement room.
Last year, she confronted Bishop in person and recorded their conversation, where he can be heard admitting to sexual misconduct with multiple women throughout his time as a high-ranking church leader.
Bishop denies the rape allegation, but a Brigham Young University police report shows that he told officers that while he served as president of the MTC, he asked a young sister missionary to expose her breasts to him in a basement room.
On this episode of Mosaic, the #MeToo movement comes to Mormonism.
In this first entry in a special series on #MormonMeToo, we'll look at how the Mormon concept of obedience helps shed light on this complex, difficult story.
I produced this podcast episode preview:
The next episode of Mosaic will cover how the #MeToo movement has reached Mormonism.
McKenna Denson will join the podcast to discuss her recorded conversation with Joseph Bishop in which he admitted to sexual misconduct with multiple women. Denson has accused Bishop of raping her at the Missionary Training Center while she was a missionary and he was the MTC president.
The story will also feature Jessica Lowder, Sam Young, Lindsay Hansen Park, Gina Colvin and others in a multi-episode series.
In this column, I discuss the relationship between Mormonism and Disney:
I’ve started a new podcast, Mosaic, and in a recent episode, I investigated the relationship between the Walt Disney Company and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mormon culture and Disney products have always seemed to be extraordinarily compatible to me, as a Mormon who has long loved Disney movies. And I find that interrogating the compatibility between Mormonism and Disney offers a window to understand the faith more deeply, including some of the potential problem areas in Mormon culture.
When I spoke with Disney producer Brigham Taylor in 2016 before the release of “The Jungle Book,” he told me that executives at Disney have come to rely on Utah audiences in a big way.
“I remember coming up in the film group at Disney Studios and learning from our head of distribution at the time how much he loved the filmgoers out here,” he said. “Our films always over-performed wildly in Utah.”
In 2017, Google released search data that showed that in the previous year, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming — the three states in the U.S. with the most Mormons — Googled “Beauty and the Beast” at a higher rate than any other states.
Even fictional Mormons love Disney. Where did Elder Price from “The Book of Mormon” pray to serve his mission? His “favorite place”: Orlando.
I produced this podcast episode:
The influence of the Walt Disney company on Mormonism is real -- and the reverse is also true, with Mormons having played significant roles at the company going back to its very beginning.
What is it about Disney culture that makes it so compatible with Mormon culture? Or is it the other way around? And is that a golden Moroni on top of Cinderella's castle?
Turns out, taking a close look at the relationship between Disney and Mormonism offers an opportunity to understand each one in deeper ways.
In this column, I re-think my initial reaction to "Avengers: Infinity War":
This past New Year’s, while the rest of the world was up clinking their Martinelli’s and kissing their loved ones to ring in 2018, I was looking back, heavy with regret, on the many times in 2017 when I screwed up.
That self-loathing session led to my first column of the year — titled, “From ‘Blade Runner’ to ‘Spider-Man,’ it’s time I owned up to my 2017 mistakes” — but I apparently learned nothing.
Last week, I reviewed “Avengers: Infinity War,” and I gave it a D+. It wasn’t a movie, I said, and beyond that, it wasn’t even dumb fun, I said. (Just look at all that genocide!)
But just last like year with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” here I am, in the same position again, having to eat my words.
Let’s just say I was under Loki’s spell this whole time.
I want to be clear: The change has not come because I believe anything I said in my review is technically false — not only do I still stand by what I wrote then, I also stand by what I wrote about “Homecoming” last year. But in both cases, I was looking at the wrong thing. I was looking for the wrong thing.
And I was missing the bigger, bolder thing that was in front of me all along.
My central mistake was in having the wrong expectations each time I sit down for a movie in the MCU. I want to be careful here: Marvel movies don’t come with some kind of a “get-out-of-having-to-be-a-good movie-free card.” They deserve to be compared, favorably or not, to other blockbuster movies.
But formally, on the most basic level, these movies occupy a space that has never been tried before on film, and that means that these particular movies won’t always work in the same ways that blockbusters usually do. To have 19 interconnected movies, all with their own casts of Hollywood stars and big personalities, is a feat that truly requires superhuman powers.
I produced this podcast episode:
The formation and maintenance of a personal identity can involve a lot of difficult inner work — and even the most rigorously defined ones can be messy, contradictory and full of holes. And when personal identity comes into contact with the identity of a community, the resulting friction can pressure one side or the other to evolve — or break.
On today’s episode of Mosaic, we’ll hear three stories about personal identity interacting with community identity and belonging.
In this column, I discuss the film “Come Sunday”:
While listening to NPR over the weekend, I learned that one of my favorite movies from Sundance 2018, “Come Sunday,” is now streaming on Netflix.
Quick side-note before I get into what I want to talk about today: Am I alone in resenting the fact that I had to learn this piece of information from NPR? At the festival, it was already known that “Come Sunday” was a Netflix movie, but I didn’t hear any dates mentioned. Now, only a few months later, the film has already been released, with not much fanfare.
I am disgruntled that in today’s film landscape, with so many great movies appearing on streaming platforms, often skipping theaters altogether, many of them can often fall through the cracks. I won’t see any “Come Sunday” posters hanging on the wall at my local megaplex. I probably won’t see or hear any ads for it.
If a movie is released but nobody knows about it, is it really released at all?
Anyway. I can’t stay mad at Netflix that long, because they funded “Come Sunday!” And now it’s available to watch!
So I want to talk about it.
In this column, I discuss Joseph Bishop, the defilement of sacred spaces, the widespread loss of trust in benevolent institutions, and how art can help to process it all.:
After news broke last week about a sex scandal at the Provo Missionary Training Center, I decided to make some time to re-watch the 2016 Oscar winner, “Spotlight.”
The film generates suspense and catharsis by focusing on the grinding process of investigative work of journalists at the Boston Globe around 2002, before they published nearly 600 stories uncovering widespread sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area, as well as the institutional attempt to cover up the abuse, an ironic effort to preserve trust in the church.
As I watched the film again last week, I looked for similarities and differences between that scandal and the one currently embroiling my church.
The scandal, as it has been disseminated in several published stories, in police reports and in official statements from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is that Joseph Bishop, while he was the president of the MTC in the 1980s, had a private room in the basement of the MTC, where he asked a sister missionary to expose her breasts to him for his gratification. She alleges that he also attempted to rape her, and the church — in its second statement to the public — admitted that church leaders have known about multiple women making allegations against Bishop since at least 2010.
Bishop remains a member of the church in good standing to this day.
Strangely, it would appear from my social media feeds that whether this currently developing story is a scandal in the first place may be in question. This tragic story, some say, is just a one-off, a case of a “bad apple,” not an indication of systemic corruption. In online discussions, I’ve seen some among the Mormon faithful show more skepticism and mistrust toward fellow churchgoers calling foul on the church than they can muster toward the church itself, or its leaders. Others are more skeptical of the first woman who came forward than they are of her alleged abuser.
But the story hit me personally, in part because I was employed by the MTC for four years as a teacher, and those years were among the most satisfying and uplifting years of work I’ve ever had, despite the unique challenges they posed. I’m a Mormon who, like many of us, believe in the existence of sacred spaces, and who would identify the MTC in Provo as just such a space.
It is beyond disturbing to me that a place so special to me would have a secret history. That somewhere in the vicinity of some of my most uplifting experiences, a room existed where a man responsible for the spiritual and physical well-being of young, faithful missionaries committed acts of sexual abuse. That within feet of that room, missionaries were and continue today to be instructed that “perfect obedience” to mission leaders would lead to heavenly blessings, as well as assurances of physical safety.
I reported on Sundance documentary "Believer," which explores conflicted Mormon faith and challenges teachings and policies of the LDS Church regarding homosexuality:
When Imagine Dragons lead Dan Reynolds confronts The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on its teachings and policies about sexuality — and homosexuality in particular — he does so from the inside, as a "Believer."
That's the name of a hit Imagine Dragons song, as well as the film that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival Saturday evening at the MARC theater. Directed by Don Argott, the documentary follows Reynolds' story of interrogating his own relationship to a church he grew up in but whose policies he now views as harmful.
But "Believer" — despite being picked up by HBO for broadcast later this year — is not cut from the same cloth as "Going Clear," another HBO documentary that debuted in 2015 as an expose of the Church of Scientology.
"We knew right out of the gate we weren't looking to do the 'Going Clear' version of Mormonism," Argott said in an interview at the press line at the premiere of "Believer." "It wasn't about that. It was about telling Dan's story, and obviously, we have to get into the issues. We have to get into some of the history, but it's not a slam piece, it's not a take-down piece on the Mormon Church by any stretch. It's about people within the community wanting something more from their religion. And I think in that respect, it's kind of hard to argue with it."
And Reynolds himself — even now — still considers himself a member of his church.
"I don't feel any need to denounce Mormonism," he told reporters. "I think it would do no good for me to walk away from the faith. I think there's a lot of parts of Mormonism that I cherish and love, and I believe if a house is burning, you don't just walk away. You stay and try to put out the fire. And that's my goal."
My essay "What Remains When Disbelief has Gone?" was read by Stephen Carter on the Sunstone Magazine podcast:
It’s one thing to talk about a faith that one has “outgrown,” but the question of what happens when those who have outgrown their faith outgrow their doubts is even more tantalizing.
I produced and hosted this podcast episode, along with Gina Colvin:
Derrick Clements and Gina Colvin give a quick nod to Thor: Ragnarok and then provide a thoroughly Mormon review of Star Wars VIII.
In this column, I discuss the cycle of triumph and relentless resurgence of evil in the "Star Wars" series:
Last weekend, I was preparing for a 16-hour marathon of all eight live-action “Star Wars” films — which would start at 7 a.m. and go until 1:30 a.m. — when I was struck by a disturbing thought: The heroes in “Star Wars” are constantly celebrating, but their victories never last.
I thought of the time that the Rebel Alliance packed into a giant throne room and cheered as Princess Leia celebrated Luke, Han and Chewbacca for destroying the Death Star. John Williams’ triumphant score says it all (no really, Google that scene with the music removed — it’s hilarious and shows how much emotional heavy lifting that triumphant score was doing). It seemed that night that the villains had lost.
But then, not only did the Empire’s forces not fall apart after the Death Star went down, they “Struck Back” in the next movie, and by the next one had even built a new Death Star all over again.
Then, I thought of the time that the rebels blew up that Death Star, in a moment that saw the demise of both the Emperor himself and Darth Vader, too. Now it was really time to celebrate, and all across the forest moon of Endor (a place that may be in a galaxy far, far away, but that somehow always makes me homesick for Northern California) you could hear ewoks ceremoniously offering their “yub nubs” of joy loudly to the heavens. It seemed for sure that now, the Empire was gone for good.
Well, they may have been, but then apparently came along something called the First Order, where the baby snake Kylo Ren cosplays as his grandfather Darth Vader and explodes with more rage than anyone in the galaxy has seen since the time a certain someone slaughtered a whole Jedi elementary school of younglings.
I even thought of the time long before any of it, on Naboo, when the entire palace neighborhood took to the streets to joyously celebrate — um, what were they celebrating? I think it involved the defeat of a trade federation. Something to do with taxes?