Digging Through Trash: Symbols in Tyler Glenn’s (ex)Mormon Music Video

This week, rockstar Tyler Glenn will launch his new solo album, “Excommunication.” As a teaser, he has already released two music videos, Shameless, and the highly symbolic and controversial exmormon coming-out video, Trash. You can take three minutes to watch it now. I recommend full screen.

We exmormons have never had an anthem before. Not officially. Sure, we’ve clung to some of the obvious mainstream pop greats, like REM’s Losing My Religion, Tori Amos’s Crucify, or one of my favorites, Sarah McLaughlin’s Witness. (I’ve got a whole playlist of atheist-themed music right here.)

As true-blue Mormons, we had a hymnal cram-packed with songs that praised the Church and all its trappings. We had many musical ways to express our feelings. But since leaving, we have to make do with whatever generic anti-religious or faith-transitiony music we happen to come across, and bend it to fit our specific experiences.

But not anymore, thanks to rockstar Tyler Glenn, frontman for Neon Trees, a Mormon who came out as gay two years ago, and who optimistically clung to the belief that his Church, which claims to espouse “the pure love of Christ,” had a place for him.

For those of us who hoped the LDS Church was trending to broaden their range of invites to the spiritual banquet, our hopes were crushed last year, when they made it clear that gay, bi, trans, and queer folk (like me) would be denied the full earthly blessings of marriage and family. Not only that, but our children would also be denied the sacred saving ordinances and blessings of the Gospel, and all the social benefits that come along with it, the most important of which is a sense of belonging in your family and community.

No other “sin” in Mormon canon has this designation.

This policy change has come to be known as “The Exclusion Policy,” and in my mind, it encourages and excuses further bullying among Mormons against LGBT people and their children.

This must have been a soul crushing time for someone like Glenn, who did as he was taught and stood up for the Church, who risked mockery from worldly critics, who remained loyal, and sincerely believed the Church was making progress toward opening their arms to welcome LGBT members fully into the fold.

It was soul crushing for me, and I’ve been out of the Church for fifteen years.

In response, Glenn has spent these months, especially since April when he released Trash, using his musical and speaking talents to express his deeply felt conflicts over this policy, over its effects on gay Mormon youth, over his faith crisis, over uncovering the lies the Church has taught, over his sense of betrayal, and over his exit from Mormonism. These past months, he has done as he was taught by the faith of his birth: He’s stood up for what he believes.

As much as we like to think human beings are rational, we primarily think in emotion, symbols, and imagery. This is what I mean when I speak positively of “spirituality”, this irrational aspect that is central to our humanity. Music is important for our spiritual selves. It is symbolic and resonates the multiple parts of our minds in sync toward a particular theme or idea in a way that words and logic can’t.

Music is a mantelpiece of Mormon culture, and I was a musical child. We were taught a scripture: “For [God's] soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” D&C 25:12

As a spiritual atheist, I have room in my symbolic mind for a bigger God than the Mormon God of my youth, a God who can delight in all kinds of songs, any song that arises from the sincere heart of man. Not only does he think the simple, off-tune passionate Primary song of a six year old is delightful, he also would think that the angry, critical, irreverent exmormon, mourning his loss in a high-production-value music video, is delightful. It is an honest expression of one of his children revealing genuine, raw pain, and pointing a much-needed accusatory finger at an organization which has legitimately wronged a whole class of people. Several classes of people, in fact: Gay Mormons, heterodox Mormons, exmormons. Or pretty much any Mormon who is, as Glenn described of himself and many of the rest of us have as well, a square peg in a round hole, a round hole which refuses to accommodate the shape of the peg, and expects the peg to contort until it is snapped in half. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunstone Symposium 2016 Presentations – Autism & Exmormons Online

Here are the slides and text for my two presentations at Sunstone Symposium, delivered July 28th and 29th in Salt Lake City:

Neurodiversity (Autism) and Mormons
(panel with Natasha Smith and Adia Heuser)

Slides

Notecards (full text)

ExMormons Online: How Internet Communities Fuel the Exodus, and Aid Faith Transition and Recovery

Slides

Notecards (full text)

ICSA Dallas 2016 Presentation

The slides for my talk given on June 30, 2016 at the International Cultic Studies Association annual conference in Dallas, TX. The title of this talk is, “Mormons Online: How Internet Communities Fuel the Exodus and Aid Post-Totalist Recovery.”

ICSA 2016 Slides

ICSA 2016 Notecards (full text)

 

Consolidated Analyses of LDS Manipulation

I’ve created a number of blog posts and videos analyzing line-by-line the mind control and manipulation in LDS General Conference Talks and articles. Here you can find links to all of them in one place.

It first may help to have an idea of the named manipulation techniques used by cults and high-demand groups. They are all listed in The Methods of Thought Reform, with brief definitions. And of course I expand upon these greatly in my book, Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control, where each gets its own chapter.

To help familiarize yourself with these control tactics and develop your critical thinking skills, I’ve created a set of Mind Control Bingo cards that you can print, so you can learn to identify these techniques while watching Conference or reading the Ensign. (I am not responsible for any consequences that may result from playing Mind Control Bingo in Sunday School!) I don’t want you to just take my word for it – you can be an analyst, too.

To get an idea of how it’s done, here are my written analyses of LDS Conference talks:

If you’re more visual, here is a series of videos I made with Jonathan Streeter, in which we watch a Conference talk together and discuss the manipulation tactics as we first see them:

I continue to develop new material along this vein, so watch this space for more!

And I invite critique. If you think I’m off base, I would love to hear why. I respect logical, fact-based counterarguments. If I’m wrong, you should be able to make a solid case against these posts and videos. But I expect you to actually read and/or listen first – not doing so means you are committing a Straw Man Fallacy.

New Mormon LGBT Policy Promotes Child Abuse in God’s Name

I'm not.

Meme created by Rutger MacDonald

This is perhaps the biggest moment in all the history of Mormonism. Most definitely in my lifetime. Whatever comes, however this is handled, the fallout from the news that leaked on Thursday will ripple down to generations to come.

For those who don’t know, the Mormon Church changed their official policy for how to handle same-sex marriage. These couples are to be excommunicated (no surprise there) for apostasy – a surprise, because the sin of apostasy typically deals with orthodoxy of belief, not with sin. 

What has people so fired up is that children of same-sex couples – including children of divorcees where only one parent is same-sex married – are:

  1. Not allowed to be blessed as a baby to get their name on the records of the Church.
  2. Not allowed to be baptized and confirmed with the Gift of the Holy Ghost along with their peers at age 8.
  3. Not allowed to receive the priesthood with their peers at age 12 (boys only).
Full text of the policy regarding children of same-sex couples.

Full text of the policy regarding children of same-sex couples. .

Source: http://www.scribd.com/doc/288685756/Changes-to-LDS-Handbook-1-Document-2-Revised-11-3-15-28003-29

Which also means they will not be able to attend the temple, pass the sacrament, or participate in many other activities with their peers, even if they are active in Church.

When they turn 18, they may receive these ordinances and go on a mission only if they are not still living with the gay parent(s), disavow same-sex marriage (thereby disavowing their family system, which is like disavowing a part of one’s self), and get permission from the First Presidency. This applies to any child who has ever lived with a parent who has ever cohabited or been married in a same-sex relationship.

I normally write analytical posts, logical, ordered trains of thought, pointing out contradictions, backed up with facts and science. I’ve been asked, for instance, to write an analysis of Apostle Christofferson’s interview, similar to what I’ve done for various conference talks.

I can’t do that this time. This policy, and Elder Christofferson’s interview, would be easy enough to pick apart logically, especially since this flies in the face of many LDS doctrines, and Elder Christofferson contradicts himself in his own interview several times.

The trouble is, I can’t distance myself emotionally from this topic to provide an intellectual perspective. These policy changes are way too personal for me. 

Not because I know so many LDS LGBT people and mothers of children who are directly hurt by this policy. And not because I’m bisexual and genderqueer myself. And not because if my 21-year-old son wanted to be baptized, he’d have to get permission from the Prophet. (He’s shown absolutely no desire to get baptized, but if he did I’d support and accept his spiritual choices 100%.)

No, this drills deeply into to old wounds in my soul which have never fully healed. Wounds inflicted on me at age 7 by my first grade school teacher. Emotional wounds that caused me, a little child, to want to die, and that made me get very, very sick and to almost die.

According to a story my family proudly tells, I was saved only by a Priesthood Blessing, given by my brother, in which he was inspired to bless me with a will to live. After that, my fever broke and I pulled through.

These wounds, both physical and mental, would inform how I related to other people for the rest of my life. They would leave lingering social anxiety that I battle to this day, with the help of medication. Read the rest of this entry »

Elder Uchtdorf’s Spiritual Abuse:
“Be Not Afraid, Just Tune Out All Opposing Signals”

Keep Calm and Believe Believe

When I first heard Elder Uchtdorf’s Saturday morning talk during the October 2015 General Conference, I had high hopes it signaled a movement toward a kinder, gentler LDS Church. I hoped that some combination of pressures from public critical voices, the mass exodus of fleeing member, and Uchtdorf’s sincerely held Christlike outlook on the Mormon gospel had finally manifest as a teaspoon of change in a organization which so desperately needs it.

(Optional: View the video in which I analyze Uchtdorf’s Saturday Morning talk with Jonathan Streeter.)

My optimism turned out to be baseless. (But then, I always have tended to be bright-eyed and naive.) I knew other General Authorities would undo Uchtdorf’s good words. I just wouldn’t have predicted he’d undo himself, that same evening, in the Priesthood Session, in his talk, “Be Not Afraid, Only Believe.” 

I expected better from the folk hero of progressive Mormons.

He begins telling the story of biblical Daniel, who was taken captive into Babylon. To make sure his audience is paying attention, Uchtdorf has the young men place themselves into the story:

“Think of it, my beloved young Aaronic priesthood holders, Daniel was very likely your age when he was taken into the king’s court to be educated in the language, laws, religion, and science of the worldly Babylon. Can you imagine my young brothers how it would have felt like to be forced from your home, marched 500 miles to a foreign city, and indoctrinated in the religion of your enemies?”

Persian bas relief of a prisoner

Actual photograph of Daniel taken into captivity (not really)

This employs a technique known as “Identification and Example.” We are to put ourselves in Daniel’s shoes, and to imagine ourselves in the story. This lowers defenses and helps to convey the emotions and morals of the narrative. 

What does Uchtdorf want us to learn? A couple of things, for instance:

“The pressure on him must have been immense to abandon his old beliefs and adopt those of Babylon. But he stayed true to his faith…”

Hanging gardens of Babylon

Setting the scene. Some pretty immense pressures indeed.

Uchtdorf relates this ancient tale to modern times. He speaks of defending unpopular truths, particularly on the internet, where we might be “flamed by those who disagree with us.” He points out that Daniel could have been literally flamed for his beliefs by the evil and murderous Babylonians.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego on fire

Old school flaming

Elder Uchtdorf speculates that Daniel may have been like modern Mormons who “have to work for our testimonies,” which is another way of saying that it’s difficult – and desirable – to set aside tangible evidence and our own direct perceptions of reality in favor of believing as Church leaders want.  Read the rest of this entry »

An Atheist Spiritual Experience at Sunstone

How can an atheist have a spiritual experience? It happens to me all the time, and it happens more often when I am true to myself and my sense of reality.

First, let me be very clear. I am speaking only of my own journey, my own psychological and spiritual path, my own beliefs. I am not speaking of your truths, path, or experiences. I do not wish to dictate your direction in life, or say that my perspective is right and everyone else is wrong. I do not judge or shame, nor do I believe I am more fully evolved that anyone else. It is important for me to clarify that, since so many of my readers are LDS or freshly exmormon, accustomed to hearing authoritarian statements delivered in an absolutist, prescriptive frame. That is the opposite of my purpose.

I am an atheist. To me, this simply means I do not believe in God. I grant that one or more gods may exist, but that does not make me agnostic because I do not believe in any of them. I do, however, believe that human beings think in stories, emotions, and symbols, and in this sense, we all have an internal spiritual language. Belief in the unseen can be healthy, especially when it is self-directed. So I consider myself a spiritual atheist. More on this here.

Meet the Exmormons Panel

Meet the Exmormons: Alan Rock Waterman, John Dehlin, Kate Kelly, Marisa and Carson Caulderwood

So I went to my first Sunstone Symposium, where the 2015 theme was “The Mormon Mind.” I felt a little mistrustful at first, nervous, expecting to have to walk on eggshells so as not to offend the touchy true believers. How would they react to a longtime exmormon? How would they react if I professed my inability to believe in the literal truth of God, Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon? Worse, how would they react when they heard my presentation, which basically calls Mormonism a cult? Thanks to my recent experiences going back to church, I knew I could listen to their confessions of faith without flinching (mostly). But how would they react to me? Read the rest of this entry »

Sunstone Slides, The Cogs of Dissonance and Consonance: The Levers of Control in LDS Doctrine

Many people requested copies of the slides after my presentation at Sunstone Symposium last week, entitled The Cogs of Dissonance and Consonance: The Levers of Control in LDS Doctrine. Click for the full slide deck. Audio of the talk is currently available for free at Sunstone’s website. Or you can purchase a hardcopy.

 

Cogs of Dissonance Slides

 

 

Mormon Marriage Equality Is Next

Rainbow Temple

Within eight years or less, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will allow civil same-sex marriage to members. Another five years after that, the Church will allow same-sex temple marriage.

I’ve been making this prediction for a couple of years now. With Friday’s SCOTUS ruling, it’s time for me to go on record.

Seven years ago, I said that gay marriage would be legal in most US states within ten years. No one believed me. It wasn’t even a major political issue then, except in California, where they were actively trying to make it illegal. LGBT activists weren’t pushing hard for marriage at the time, but I saw that conservatives efforts to actively ban marriage equality would force the issue, and they would lose.

I’m using similar reasoning to explain why Mormon leaders will rapidly reverse their stance. In fact, Mormonism will lead other hyper-conservative, fundamentalist Christian sects on this issue. Evangelicals will take a couple more decades to come around.

This is a daring prediction to make. The LDS Church has doubled and tripled down on their position, leading the fight against marriage equality. They were 50% of the funding behind Prop 8 campaigning, and funded other nationwide efforts to suppress marriage rights. They fought in courts, all the way up to SCOTUS, to enforce the marriage ban. And even Friday, on this historic decision, they doubled-down yet again by issuing a statement, “The Supreme Court will not alter doctrine.”

So how can I be so sure they’ll do an about-face? Read the rest of this entry »

The BITE Model and Mormon Control Released on Kindle!

The article I wrote ten years ago, based on Steven Hassan’s BITE Model of cult control, is now an ebook! I updated it and added more content and it is now available on Kindle for your reading convenience.

The original is still available for free right here on this website. If you’d like the new, more convenient read, head over to Amazon for The BITE Model and Mormon Control.

 The BITE Model and Mormon Control

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