Friday, May 31, 2013

"Providing for your Family" and the Family Economy

The past week has fostered some interesting discussion in my home. You have read about the nature of these discussions in the previous posts. Thanks to a brilliant description from a trusted friend and mentor, I have developed a greater clarity on how to articulate my feelings on the matter.

One of the more challenging discussion topics I've engaged in over the past few days has been about how I would recommend changing our dialog in the church about the responsibility to provide for one's family. The really hard question has been this:

If I had grown up in a church that taught that it was acceptable for men to choose to stay home and raise his children while his wife worked--and had I decided that such was the course I wanted to take--would I have pursued my education as intently as I did?

In all honesty, I'm not sure I would have. At least not if I had grown up with a goal to be a stay at home father.  

So if we were to try to change the dialog to be more open about the choice of whether a mother or a father (or neither) stays home with their children, how do we do it without inadvertently discouraging higher education?

This is where the comments of my friend and mentor made such a powerful impression. She discussed the different aspects of a "family economy." This included, of course, the need for financial support. But I realized it also extended to the housework, the dishes, laundry, cleaning, and home maintenance. It included extra curriculars, vacations, and schooling and extended to church attendance, service, and gospel instruction. 

In short, the family economy was made up of all those things that made it possible for a family to thrive economically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Perhaps we should spend more time talking to our youth about that. Perhaps we could teach them that education is a virtue unto itself, and that it contributes to the family economy regardless of whether the degree is used in employment-for when you enrich the life of one family member, you enrich the life of the family.

Maybe we could teach our youth that if they pursue an education, then they have options; that they can discuss with their spouse who is better suited to employment an who is better suited to raising children.  In short, they can decide how to distribute the roles so that each person maximizes their personal contribution to the family economy.

We could teach them that they need to prepare themselves to fill both roles, and that which role they fill can be decided with their spouse.

Inevitably, someone will ask, "but how do you reconcile this with The Family: A Proclamation to the World which states, 'By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children?'"

If a husband jointly decides with his spouse that the family is better served by her employment, is he not providing the necessities of life?  If a wife jointly decides with her spouse that the children are better served by his demeanor and character, is she not ensuring the nurture of her children?  Remember, the Proclamation teaches principles about the family; it does not require strict interpretation of gender roles.  As my mentor said:

The most important thing is for the family to succeed and the children to be taught that the family works together and will triumph over any obstacles that come their way.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

If the Relief Society Weren't so Matriarchal....

....I might have planned my life to be a working mom.

Oh hey!  I'm Janelle, Benjamin's wife.  I'm guest-posting today, sharing my perspective on his most recent blog post.

Okay, before you all have a heart attack, yes, stay-at-home moms work.  I know.  I'm one of them.  You know what I mean by "working mom": a mom who goes out to work at an office-type setting every day.  A 9-5er.

Before I explain myself, I need to give a disclaimer/warning on this post: there are some skeletons in this particular closet.  The doors are opening, reluctantly.

Skeleton #1: I have ADHD.  No really.  I know.  It's shocking, right?  You never would have guessed.  I also suffer from depression, though not a severe form.  I was diagnosed with both at the age of 21.  I spent my school years floundering without direction, and succeeding only because my patient mother kept at me, much to both of our chagrin at the time.  I'm a two-time college dropout, due to a lack of self-motivation. As an ADHDer, I thrive best under pressure and with routine and structure.  It's hard to come by those things from within.

Skeleton #2: I'm also a really terrible housekeeper.  Seriously.  I don't offer to host playdates very often because the house is never clean.  I rarely even invite people over for dinner anymore, which is actually a bummer.  I get easily overwhelmed, and when I have too much to do, I just sit and do none of it.  Kind-of like when you're going on a trip, and you start your laundry at 10:00 the night before, and then pack an hour before you're ready to pull out of the driveway.  You don't do that?  Well, I do.

Skeleton #3: (deep breath) My name is Janelle, and I'm addicted to the computer.  I don't say it lightly, though it sounds like I'm making light.  My friends often tease that I'm the first to respond to emails because I'm always on the computer.  I don't think they realize just how much I actually am on the computer during the day.  I'm on Facebook, email, forums, playing logic games, etc.  All. Day. Long.  It's really hard for me to say this out loud, because it's definitely skeletal, and not something I'm proud of.  The best days are when I have a LOT to do (see structure under #1), and I don't have opportunities to be on the computer.

Okay, now that I've laid all that out (and am apparently a really lame person), let's tie it all together.

I can create chore charts and checklists for myself -- and I have -- that work well.  For about four months at a time.  I'll be honest.  When it comes to housework, I have little motivation with regard to accountability.  I know that it's disappointing to Benjamin (and to myself, yes) when the house is a mess, but I also know that he's not going to fire me for it.  At least, he hasn't yet.  I trust that he'll always forgive me, and for that reason, I don't try quite as hard.  Also, though I can plan out our days, and schedule activities, etc., true structure is lacking in at-home parenting.  I find myself, much as in school, floundering without direction or motivation.

Before Bug was born, I was a working woman.  I enjoyed that I could come home at the end of a workday, and tick off specific things that I accomplished that day.  If I was frustrated or fed up, there was usually a specific and identifiable cause I could address or ignore.

Each time Benjamin has spent extended time at home with our girls, he has made a specific effort at housework.  While I attended Girls Camp two years in a row a few years back, he cleaned the bathrooms, vacuumed, and cleaned the kitchen while I was gone (he worked during the day and had Bug with a babysitter, but he had her in the evenings and still managed to do these things).  This week, he cleaned the garage (which involved removing everything from it, sorting, rearranging, etc.), weeded a garden bed then planted it, started digging a trench behind the garage to promote better drainage, fed our girls, took walks with them, bathed them, played games with them, and even managed to strategically get a nap in while they both napped.

If I were the breadwinner in my family, I see several changes that might happen:

(1) Housekeeping would be less of an issue.  Benjamin is much more self-driven than I am.  He notices the messes more (in fairness, maybe he'd begin to notice it less as he spent more everyday time in it).

(2) Ben works better with specific ages than I do.  He understands better than I do the best ways to talk to Bug on her level, and to help her understand things a little more long-term.  He understands child psychology better than I do.  Part of that is study, but I think part of it is just a spiritual gift.

(3) Our girls would have more active days.  Instead of playing solo or watching TV most of the day (which happens when I'm on the computer all day long), they'd go out more.  Maybe it would be outside in the yard.  Maybe it would be the park.  Maybe it would be museums or the zoo.  But they would have more active childhoods.

(4) I would miss my girls.  I did miss them this week.  I think, though, that if I were in a position where being gone all day was a regular occurrence, as opposed to a sudden week out of nowhere, I would get used to it.  There would still be a little pull on my heart, but I'd acclimate.

(5) I'd spend more quality time with my family.  This seems counter-intuitive, but let me explain.  If I had a "real" job where I was already on the computer most of the day, it's not that big of a deal to have Facebook running in the background.  When I got home at the end of the workday, I'd be less likely to hop on the computer right away, and more likely to actually spend time with Benjamin and the girls.  Currently, Ben and I chat on Google Talk throughout the day.  Not all day everyday, but often.  Knowing that he would be on the computer far less than I am, I wouldn't be chatting with him nearly as much, which would result in more real conversations in the evenings.

(6) Weekends would be better.  Benjamin can't do huge home improvement projects with the girls hanging on, but he can do smaller ones.  Currently, in any given month, Ben is gone one Saturday camping, working around the house 2-3 others, and we spend family time together (hiking, playing, whatever) one weekend, though it may be only half a day.  If Ben weren't working on a series of small home improvement projects every weekend (because he was able to accomplish some of them during the week), we could have weekend that were filled more with fun and family than with work.

(7) Our garden would be happier.  He would weed it.

(8) I would be happier.  I can't say this definitively, but it's a possibility.  With so many perks (see above) of improved family home life, and the opportunity to have structure, routine, and specificity, I think I would thrive better, and be more satisfied with my life in general.  Again, I would miss my girls, but I think it's something I would adjust to.

So when Ben says, "So if Janelle ever finds a job that provides an equal or better living than mine, you'll find me at home with the girls," he's not booting me out of the house just because he wants to stay.  This is actually a topic we've discussed at length in the past, and again this week.  It's an arrangement that would work for us, and work well.

Friday, May 24, 2013

If the Church Weren't so Patriarchal....

... I might have planned my life to be a stay-at-home dad.

I got to be home two days this week while Janelle was on jury duty.  I got to plant the garden, clean the garage, play board games, and even took a nap!  There might be a little bit of "grass is greener" syndrome going on here, but I could definitely see myself adjusting to it and being extremely happy staying home and raising the kids while Janelle went to work and earned our living.  

I never really considered it an option.  I was raised on the notion that the man was responsible to provide for the family and I set my goals to accomplish what was expected of me.  If I had ever been taught that I truly had a choice (in more than just a lip-service kind of way) I honestly might be a very different person than I am today.

So if Janelle ever finds a job that provides an equal or better living than mine, you'll find me at home with the girls.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Corianton's Sins: Sex ≠ Murder

Since we're talking about sex this week, let's look at one of the gems of Mormon conventional wisdom: sexual infidelity is a sin next to murder.

This piece of wisdom is so pervasive that I never really started to question it until recently.  But the way we use this conventional wisdom in our culture has begun to bother me.  So I did what anyone ought to do when evaluating cultural notions in religion: turn to the source document.

The genesis of the sex-murder association comes from the Book of Mormon.  The prophet Alma led a missionary effort to some apostate religionists who were known as Zoramites.  The group of missionaries he led included one of his sons, Corianton.  Apparently, Corianton got himself into trouble and hooked up with the city's famous whore.  After returning from this missionary effort, Alma sat down with Corianton and had a heart-to-heart on the matter.  Alma tells Corianton:
Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost? (Alma 39:4)
The common interpretation of this passage assumes that "these things" is referring to Corianton's sexual improprieties.  Thus, the only sins greater than sexual sins are murder and denying the Holy Ghost.

Let's entertain this, for a second.  This doesn't have to mean that sexual sin is as bad as murder, or anywhere near the same severity as murder.  Organizationally, the Church doesn't believe this.  If it did, your garden variety missionary wouldn't be able to authorize a potential convert's baptism if sexual sin existed.  The First Presidency must authorize the baptism of any person who has committed murder; mission presidents have to authorize baptism of people who have had or participated in abortions, or who have engaged in homosexual activity.  But vanilla sexual sin (or even the not-so-vanilla type) only need to be cleared by a missionary as young as 18.

To draw an analogy, if murder and sex ran a race, murder would win and sex would come in second place.  That might make it look like a close race, but in actuality, murder ran a 3:57 mile and sex ran a 7:43 mile.  They're nowhere close to each other.

Now that we've entertained that notion, let's move on and challenge the idea that Alma is even talking about sexual sin.  To make my challenge, I'm going to employ a very sneaky trick I like to call "reading the verse before."
4 Yea, [the whore] did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.
 5 Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost? (Alma 39:4-5)

So does the term "these things" refer to Corianton's tryst with the whore, or does it refer to the fact that he left  his ministry and damaged the credibility of the missionary effort?  The text isn't clear.  But we get more clues if we employ another trick I call "reading further ahead."

11 Suffer not yourself to be led away by any vain or foolish thing; suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots. Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.
 12 And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities;
 13 That ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done. (Alma 39: 11-13; emphasis mine)

It appears that a large part of Corianton's sin was that he interfered with the conversion of people to the Gospel.  His actions dissuaded people from hearing the word of God.  To put it in more modern terms, it would be like an LDS missionary putting on his name tag, strutting into a strip club, and blowing all his money on lap dances--how seriously do you think people are going to take that missionary?

This interpretation actually make more sense that the sex-is-next-to-murder interpretation.  Interfering with someone's spiritual conversion is to put them at risk for spiritual death (or separation from God), which sounds a lot more similar to murder than having sex.

Now for something a little different:

Lay off of Corianton already.  We tend to hold him up of the poster boy for all things bad about sex, and the only thing we talk about with respect to him is that he went and had sex.

Again, I say, lay off of him.

Alma's instruction to Corianton consisted of four chapters. In only one of those chapters does Alma directly address the sins among the Zoramites.  That means only 25% of the chapters were about the sins.

Or if you look at it in terms of the 91 verses, of which only 14 were about the sins, or 15%.  That percentage holds up if you look at the number of words.  The point being, Alma spoke about other things about 5 times as long as he spoke about Corianton's sins.  Those other things were the Resurrection, the plan of Salvation, the Atonement, and repentance.  You could argue that Corianton was getting this lecture because of his sins. And you'd be partially correct.  But there's more to it than that.

Before I wrap up, let me point out that the mission the the Zoramites is estimated to have happened around 74 BC.  The discourses to Alma's sons are dated for that same year.  So the amount of time that could have elapsed between the end of the Zoramite mission and Alma's talk with Corianton is at most a year and probably much, much less.  I would imagine that this talk happened within a couple of weeks if not within a few days.  At the end of the lecture, Alma tells Corianton
And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them. And may God grant unto you even according to my words. Amen. (42:31)
That sounds an awful lot like "go thy way and sin no more."

Think about that.  In the span of 91 verses and maybe a couple of weeks, Alma has gone from "the sin next to murder" to "go preach the gospel to the world."  How does our dialog about sexual sin compare?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Not the Virtuous Time You Think It Was

There's a lot of chatter going on in the world about the Mormon dialog around virtue, chastity, and virginity.  I've not really wanted to get into it too much because there are so many better articulated pieces about it.  While reading about it, there were a couple things that I wanted to explore more and a couple of things I wanted to emphasize in the discussion.

One of the common themes we hear in the Mormon church with resepect to sexual morality is that societal standards have deteriorated, and that we should return to those more virtuous days when sexual morality was the norm.

Let's be clear about something though.  Those virtuous days are a myth.  They never existed.

When I was in graduate school, I read a report from the Guttmacher Institute1 that claimed over 95% of Americans had sex prior to getting married.  What's more, that trend has been in place since before the 1950's.  I didn't believe the report was accurate, so I replicated the study using CDC data from the National Survey on Family Growth.  Much to my surprise, I found very similar results.

Premarital sex is the norm in the United States (and the world), and it has been for much longer than you think.

I recently listened to a podcast from Mormon Matters in which one of the participants described a article that reviewed births in the 19th century with a focus on births that happened less than 9 months after the wedding.  Unforutnately, they neither used specific numbers nor cited a reference that I can find, but I'm trying to verify the claim.

The evidence I have gathered so far indicate that 40% of women in the mid-19th century were giving birth less than 8 1/2 months after marriage2.  Certainly, some of these were preterm births, but if you add in miscarriages and women who were having sex with the good fortune of not getting pregnant before their marriage, I would imagine that percentage is still higher than 40%.

Another, less scientific, evidence I came across was in a book Tracing Your Family History.  The author advises people not to look for marriage records only prior to the birth of an ancestor, but also after.  He says:
Marriage records are often missed because people assume their ancestors practised the rule of 'no sex before marriage.' After many years as a full-time genealogist I have serious doubst as to whether many people have ever heeded that maxim...
So, anyway, I really doubt the past was any more virtuous than the present.  At least if by 'virtuous' you mean the distorted definition of the word that is in use by the Church (and rightfully, a definition that is currently receiving much criticism).  It would be more accurate to say that I really doubt the past was any more chaste than the present.  (I have no doubt that in many ways, the present is more virtuous than the past3).

If you're going to say that anything has changed between the past and the present, you are probably limited to saying that we talk about it more now than we have in the past.  There are good things about that, and there are bad things about that.  But when we have discussions about sexual morality, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that our ancestors were so pure.  They weren't.

1 Summary report and detailed report

MINTZ, Steven, and Susan Kellogg. Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life. NY: Free Press, 1988. (summary here)

3 For instance, women who were raped in the past were stigmatized, considered damaged and impure.  Such a vile stigma is the antithesis of virtuous.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Leading with my Faith

I have failed1. My goal for my writing has been to demonstrate that a person can have doubts and remain faithful. I set out to prove that one can be critical of social custom and still be committed. I want to show that a person can question the things that are taught at church -- that one can attempt to distinguish between revealed doctrine and the interpretations of men -- without losing one's conviction.

In discussions I've had about some of my recent writings, I've been shown that I'm not doing a very well at accomplishing my goals.  The reason I'm failing is quite simple: I never write about what I believe.  I only write about what I don't believe.  And if I continue to do that, I'll never maintain the rapport with the average Mormon audience that I need to accomplish my goal.

One of the recent events that helped me realize this flaw in my writing was General Conference.  Among the many great messages at Conference was one that simultaneously inflated my pride and humbled me.  Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk titled "Lord, I Believe" in which he discussed the relationship between faith and doubt and how the one can continue to grow in the presence of the other2.

The foundation of Holland's talk was Mark 9:11-27.  This is the passage where Christ is approached by a father whose son is tormented by a devil.  The son thrashes and foams at the mouth; he throws himself at the fire in an attempt to harm himself.  That father is at his wit's end, and comes to Christ begging for relief.  Christ tells him, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."  The father replies, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."

When I first heard this talk, I did a little happy dance of my own.  Just one week earlier I had given a talk in sacrament meeting.  I originally had been given a very vague topic and had incorporated this story into my talk.  My emphasis had been on reaching out to those whose faith is struggling with patience and acceptance, and that doing so would, in fact, hold them over until they could strengthen their faith.  So while my emphasis was a little different, I made several similar points to Elder Holland's3.

So there's the ego part.  Now for the humbling part.
Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.
Just to show that I'm not completely humbled, I do want to point out that Elder Holland's statement is only conditionally true.  An expression of faith is only more courageous when made to a group of people who disagree.  It's incredibly easy to express your faith to people you know agree with you.  It's also incredibly easy to express your doubts to people you know agree with you.  But as I discussed previously, just as it is more difficult to declare your faith to people who disagree with you, it is also difficult to declare your doubt to people of faith.

That being said, Elder Holland is entirely correct about something -- we cannot build our faith if we only express our doubts.
Do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.”
So bear with me for the next few weeks (or months, or years, or lifetimes) as I try to figure out the balance of expressing my faith while exposing my doubt.  Please recognize that I set out to write a culture blog.  I have a long list of cultural topics I want to write about that were the motivation for me starting this project at all.  Most of them are critical.  It might take me some time to get in the habit of writing about faith.

I'm not entirely sure how to start, so any suggestions you have to help me along my way would be greatly appreciated.

1 Oh the dramatics!
2 I would argue that doubt is a necessary condition for faith, but that's a topic for another day.
3 Unfortunately, I ended up cutting this part of the talk because the assignment changed and I didn't feel that this story was a good to the revised assignment.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Inclusive Scouting Needs More Help

It's May!  Later this month, the  Boy Scouts of America will have a national meeting in which a proposed membership policy will be put to a vote.  Following the feedback received during the Voice of the Scout survey, the proposed change has been changed.

Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all youth who meet the specific membership requirements to join the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Sea Scout, and Venturing programs. Membership in any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone. 
I am disappointed that the new revision doesn't allow for homosexual leaders.  But I am grateful that it permits homosexual youth.  When looking over the results of the Voice of the Scout survey, there really wasn't much option for what to do.  Let's take a look at some of the results1

No support for middle of the road policy
I've previously expressed support for the earlier policy proposal that would allow chartered organizations to made their own decisions about membership policies.  This would allow every organization to include members consistent with the beliefs of that organization.  Unfortunately, "Parents, teens, and the Scouting community do not favor a local chartered organization option."  I was pretty disappointed in this finding.  It appears that no one on either side of the issue understands the idea of compromise.  I would also wager that very few are interested in considering the cognitive dissonance associated with revising the membership policy to people in conservative religions.  Clearly, there needs to be more discussion between parties and less villification.

The majority of youth favor a change in policy
The youth don't care if homosexuals are included in scouting.  More impressively, they do think the current membership policy is "does not represent a core value of Scouting."

Feelings are more evenly split among adults
Forty-five percent of parents oppose the current policy, while only forty-two percent support it.  Opposition to exclusion has been growing over the past three years and is expected to continue to do so.

Organizations don't believe youth should be excluded, but don't want leaders
The clear result was that almost everyone thinks it is unacceptable to deny a scout their Eagle Scout award based on sexual orientation.  The chartered organizations also reported "A change in the membership policy specific to youth only would be consistent with the religious beliefs of the BSA's major chartered organizations."

The BSA's only choice right now is the proposal described above
I know that some will say that isn't true.  Some will say that if the BSA wanted to take a stand for what is right, they would either stand firm on the current policy or change it (depending on what you think is right).  But let's be realistic for a moment.  Through this survey, the BSA estimated that a complete change of membership policy to full inclusion would result in a loss of between 100,000 and 300,000 youth.  That may not seem like a lot compared to the 3,516,817 youth the BSA claims to serve, but keep in mind that even in an active troop such as mine, we have nearly twice as many boys on our roster as actually attend (we tend to retain some of them in hopes that we can make it easier for them to come back).  To put it into perspective, the National Jamboree this year--which is expected to be a huge event--only anticipates 40,000 participants and volunteers.  So changing the membership policy could result in an exodus of youth equal to 7.5 times the size of the National Jamboree.

On the other hand, the BSA estimates a gain of 10,000 to 20,000 youth if it changes its policy.

Say what you want about doing the right thing, but there's very little value in doing the right thing if it is going to leave the organization crippled or dead.2

What will it take to get this policy changed?
It's really quite simple.  We need more people to commit to enrolling their sons and daughters into scouting programs the very second this policy changes.  We need more people to commit to donate to scouting the very second this policy changes.  The side that favors excluding homosexual leaders has made their willingness to walk away clear.  If the side that favors inclusion can't convince the BSA that they will make up the difference, then this policy will continue to stand.

So here is my commitment.  My contributions to scouting won't change from the levels I've given historically for now.  But as soon as the BSA changes it's membership policy to at least allow chartering organizations to decide whether to include homosexual youth and leaders, I will double my contributions.  Depending on my financial situation, I may even give more.

Until then, the BSA only gets from me what it's already getting.

1 If anyone knows where to find a summary that includes detailed information, I'd appreciate it. I hate that there is no detail in the linked summary.
2 This might be a low ball estimate since surveys weren't sent to many people who were on the outside of scouting.