Monday, November 5, 2012

Mitt Like Me



I think we all know by now Mitt Romney is a Mormon. And if you didn't know it, I have a strange obsession with the LDS Church. It's partly due to the fact that I am a history, linguistics and genealogical geek. Also, it helps that I have Mormons on both sides of my family.


Read here to get the full background story on my maternal side. I've got Scottish mormons on my father's side too and you can read more about their history in this book, written by the historian, and I'm happy to say my distant relative, Polly Aird. Check it out. Only $39.95 on amazon.



Thank You, Ancestry Dot Com

Anyway, for those that don't like reading (and yet you're reading this sentence) here is a photo-journey to summarize my Swiss mormon side:



Zoom out to view grandparent generation
(Catholics on the left, Mormons on the right, Atheists at the bottom).

 

Zoom out some more (and fyi: we're just showing the Maternal side now)


Zoom a bit more....


Everybody got that?

Great.

Back to November, 2012.


Mitt Romney is the Republican candidate up against our current incumbent Democrat, Barack Obama. I am only stating the obvious due to the fact that there may be someone in 2127 reading this and thinking, "Who? What? When? Zoid?"

As we count down to Election Day, I've noticed that more and more people--crucial, moderate voters-that don't really like Obama but don't want the guilt complex of voting for a man less in favor of civil rights-have said in some form or another that Mitt Romney, due to his Mormonism, would understand the "gay" plight.

Wait.

Rudd double-take, Paul Rudd's double take from Wet Hot American Summer
What?



Now, I'm not going to stand up on a liberal soap box and say that all mormons are bad. Nor am I about to say that Mitt Romney is the devil incarnate--that would be rather ironic, considering he is a Christian. But, as a history geek, as someone obsessed with the LDS Church, and yes, as a gay woman I'd like to set a couple important historical things straight:


What Is Mormonism? Where Does It Come From? And How Do I Get Tickets?


Beginning in the late 1700s America was going through a Second Great Awakening--an incredible Protestant revivalist movement. 

Just imagine it:  everyone--and I mean everyone--in your family is jumping in on the action to join this new, hot, sexy, young Church that literally just started down the street from you--isn't that just so lucky? You have a prophet that goes to the same blacksmith as you!--and this new wave of Protestant revivalism is going to reform the heck out of you. Everyone who is cool is doing it. And if you don't, it probably means you're secretly a loyalist. Or going to hell. I mean, your first three children died before the age of five and your crops are failing--maybe if you convert and repent that won't happen anymore?

Meanwhile, high off of winning independence from the Old World in 1783, started by a minority of Enlightenment intellectuals, America is going through its first massive immigration surge. The push to move West, find and claim a piece of land is immense because there is no regulation--or if there was, it's still literally being put into the constitution--and you are "free"...so long as you can survive.

And this is the world in which Joseph Smith, Jr., Founder of the Mormon Faith, was born into in 1805.

I won't go through the entire history of Joseph Smith's revelations, and his family's background history with religious magic (although--interestingly enough, Joseph was a self-proclaimed Seer of gold--as in, he would "see" where gold was buried by looking through a hole in a hat...). You can wikipedia that.

Just know that 25 years later Joseph has his series of visions, is visited by the Angel Moroni, digs up the (in)famous Golden Plates and translates them from the "reformed egyptian" into what is now known as The Book of Mormon. $14.99 on amazon. Gift-wrap is available.


Boy Has Got Polygame

Joseph Smith, by Sutcliffe Maudsley,  profile drawn from life 
Joseph Smith, any historian (and high ranking members of the LDS) will agree, must have been a charismatic and attractive man (and I don't mean physically--if the paintings done by Maudsley during Smith's lifetime are any indication, Vincent van Gogh got off better). Smith could get the confidence of many people to believe him to be a modern prophet of God. Now that takes chutzpah. 

He was no different in his married life. When he married his first wife, Emma Hale, it was actually against her father's will--he told him to buzz off two years prior. But, Joseph kept pushing for it and one night in 1827, he stole Emma away. Emma recalled, “I had no intention of marrying when I left home...[but] Preferring to marry him to any other man I knew, I consented.” Months later they returned to the Hale home to retrieve Emma’s belongings.  Mr. Hale, as you can imagine, was more than tee'd off: “You have stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have followed her to the grave.”*


Not exactly... the best Father-of-the-Bride speech I've ever heard. Also, for being a prophet of the Christian God whatever happened to the honor thy father bit? Do father-in-laws not count? 


Chutzpah. 


Anyway, Joseph Smith had supposedly made revelations about Polygamy beginning as early as 1831, but the Revelation of 1843 is the one that historically, socially and when-talking-about-societal-stigmas has politically bound the Mormon Church forever to the taboo of polygamy.



99 Problems But A Bitch Ain't One: Try 56.


Joseph Smith, and some of his direct followers, were attacked, tarred and feathered, mobbed, and more than once made to leave a city they had tried to make home. Smith had worked his way across the land from New York, to Missouri, to Ohio and then to Illinois. Each new venture would fail at being Zion.


Now, you might have noticed, for being an American-born religion, Mormonism certainly wasn't welcome at home. And with this kind of vehement oppression and continued banishment, I've noticed that groups of people tend to self-segregate even further, become even more entrenched in their beliefs and self-righteousness.


Don't worry, I'm not saying Mormons "got what they deserved." It's more that they're part of a trend in this country; most American minorities are persecuted or ostracized at one point in this country. It's the reaction to this societal "hazing" that gets my goat, when it does happen: sometimes a minority group will turn into its own fierce oppressor, as a sort of last resort for self-protection, and cut itself off from anything that might make it more vulnerable than it already feels. Kind of like an animal cornered in a cage, when you think about it. 


Joseph Smith went on to "seal" himself to supposedly 56 women, whom at the time of marriage ranged from 14 years old to 58. There is no firm documentation of all the marriages or the amount of sex Smith was actually having with these women. And the LDS Church continues to debate whether Smith was the main proponent of Polygamy or if it was Brigham Young (one of his earliest converts).


However it started, the urge to practice polygamy as part of being a practicing mormon took a strong hold on its followers. These women (and men) truly believed that it was God's will--and if they didn't, they'd be "destroyed" by Christ if they did not consent. It feels weird stating the obvious, but it's kind of...not really...consent...if you're forced to do something.



Joseph, Interrupted


If Joseph Smith was a sex addict, then today he would be considered a sex offender and a pedophile for acting on that disorder. If Joseph Smith was a disillusioned sociopath with schizophrenic tendencies, believing himself wrongly to be doing God's will according to the Church's current stance, then he'd again be labeled as an outsider and possibly excommunicated.

Don't believe me?


By the end of the 19th century LDS was under severe pressure by US Congress. After Joseph Smith had been killed by yet another angry mob, Brigham Young uprooted the Saints and lead them to Salt Lake City, Utah. The American Government still wanted to stop polygamy and took some pretty drastic measures to do so:  in 1862 Lincoln signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy ActCongress escheated all of the Church's assets to the Federal Government and would not ratify Utah as a state so long as they were practicing plural marriage. This meant they were under siege, disenfranchised and pretty much hated by everyone else in the country.


So, in 1890, the then-President of the Church, Wilford Woodruff made a dramatic decision. He sent a message to the US Government that the LDS would not acknowledge polygamy and that any followers planning on getting multiply-hitched should "refrain" from doing so.


The result: Utah got ratified, Church-approved polygamy died out, and since then the Church of Latter Day Saints has continued to try--fiercely--to disassociate itself from Joseph Smith's revelation. When on Larry King, Live, current President of the Church of Latter Day Saints Gordon B. Hinckley stated the Church's official position quite clearly:


"I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church...If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church. 


...More than a century ago God clearly revealed unto His prophet Wilford Woodruff that the practice of plural marriage should be discontinued, which means that it is now against the law of God."


So, the 1890 Manifesto killed off the 1843 Revelation, and it has been since canonized (Woodruff would begin to call it a "revelation" about a year later). That does beg the question, though: which revelation is more of a revelation?

It Sucks Being The Group That's Hated. 

In that same interview, Gordon Hinckley called me a "so-called" lesbian.

And according to him, I have a "problem." 


In turn, I stick out my tongue and say I think he is a supposed Mormon who has a major problem with his prophets and his Church's history. But, let's face facts: there is a pretty good shot we're going to have Mormon President, if not tomorrow, then possibly one day. And right now, that means getting a President with spiritual issues based in fear and oppression. The Church has a history (ask any defector) of saying to not fall in line, to not uphold what the group tells you to do, is cause for excommunication. It makes sense: for a Mormon, the worst punishment would be banishment. But, when it comes to me getting my marriage rights, I don't like my odds. 


Maybe Mitt would give up on fighting Gay Marriage. Maybe he wouldn't do much at all given the fact there is much more going on in the world than homos being happy. Even I'll admit Syria is more of a civil crisis than my lack of tax exemptions. 


But, he is certainly not sympathetic to us. He wouldn't fight for us. And it's ironic, really. Because Mitt's Mormon ancestors?

Polygamists. 


All over the family tree.


Just like me.





-Beryl




*http://wivesofjosephsmith.org/01-EmmaHale.htm


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