This week, Tyler Glenn of The Neon Trees released a single entitled “Trash”. The focus is Glenn’s disenchantment with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Hereafter referred to as “the Church”). Glenn was a member of the Church and openly gay. Then six months ago the Church released a statement reaffirming it’s stance on LGBT relationships: those in same sex marriages are considered apostates and that children of same sex couples cannot get baptized in the Church until they turn 18. So Glenn left the church, “You have to understand I served a mission, I was raised LDS. I believed it up until six months ago and the church showed me the church was not true.” (KUTV)
Tyler Glenn in music video “Trash”
I watched the “Trash” music video. I saw pain and confusion. I saw a man working through likely the hardest thing in his life. This is not a review or commentary on his music or the video. I will not for a second act like I know what Glenn is going through. I do not know what it feels like to be gay when your Church condemns practicing that lifestyle. My comments here are not about Glenn and his personal experience nor have I ever met him. This is about former Mormons (or current Mormons or those who are not Mormon) publicly demonstrating frustration and discontent with the Church. Glenn just so happens to be the latest example.
I’m used to seeing my religion openly scoffed at, derided, and misunderstood (more often deliberately misunderstood). This has been the story since the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, or as historians call it the founding of the Mormon church in 1830. This contempt reached a low point during the Mormon extermination order enacted by Missouri Governor Lillburn Boggs in 1835 that wasn’t rescinded until 1976. Jump forward a century and a half and you have the provoking Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon Musical” that vilifies, disparages, and satirizes the Church’s doctrine, missionaries, values, and people. In it’s now very successful five year run, going on six, no buildings have been blown up nor has anyone been shot. Actually, the LDS church good-naturedly chose to take out ads in the playbill saying “the book is always better” encouraging show goers to give the real thing a try.
Clearly, Glenn is not the first to have a massively public platform to share his ex Mormon feelings about the Church. He will not be the last. Being a born and raised Mormon myself, there comes a certain pride when you see a group like Neon Trees (when they first got big) roll on the scene with a Mormon frontman who shares your same beliefs. He and other talented Mormon artists with that kind of international platform have never given me validation for my religion because all of the sudden it appears ‘mainstream’ merely because someone popular likes it. It made me happy that the world could see that we are ‘normal’, talented, kind, and good, but it never made my religious choices feel validated because somebody popular also thought I was right. Hopefully we’ve left high school behind us.
But back to the Church’s lack of being mainstream–That is the very key right there which is why I don’t quite understand it when individuals and groups rally to make certain practices or doctrines more modern. The Church has never been popular. Mormonism will never be mainstream, it will never be ‘in’, it will never be easy, it will never be ‘what everyone is doing’. That’s the point. Let me say it again: that is the point. Case in point, dressing modest (a principal of how Mormons dress) is never popular unless its a trend. I clearly recall long sleeved dresses coming back in style after Kate Middleton strutted the look on her wedding day in 2011.
I’m writing this not to assure myself that ‘I’m okay’ after seeing a high profile Mormon like Glenn so openly thrash the LDS faith. I’m the biggest supporter of freedom of speech and defend his right to ridicule my faith and his former way of life. I’m writing this to remind people that what he is saying is nothing new. There is nothing new in the feelings he is sharing about the Church. That discontent has always existed for some and if they pursue it, yes it will envelope them and they will leave the Church and through their art, their voice, their talent have a desire to express that angst, that discontent, and even a sense of betrayal like Glenn has.
I had a tidal of de ja vu when I read what he shared in a recent interview. I’d heard this before… The context is this: one week after the church released its November 2015 statement (referred to earlier) he had watched a family member baptize his nephew:
“It pains me to watch my brother get to do something, that because I’m gay I am stripped of. It is not right. It is not right.” –Tyer Glenn (KUTV)
I don’t really have words to express how sad, how lonely, how lost that would make one feel. But let’s pretend for a moment that Glenn is not the one who said this. Who else have you heard say this about a principle or doctrine in the Mormon Church: “its not fair” or “it’s not right” or “I don’t agree with it.” You know where I’ve heard it? People in my community, other religions, ex Mormons, and more importantly people who are Mormon. Then there’s the most important source I’ve heard this from: the Bible and the Book of Mormon. This last one will make people who hate the Church, don’t believe in God, or feel Mormonism is crap click right off this article because if you don’t believe in God, or even kind of hope to believe in God just a little bit, scriptural messages don’t interest you (But hey, to those leaving, thanks for reading while it lasted!)
Here’s the first thing we need to understand about why Mormonism isn’t mainstream. It’s not about you or me. It’s about God and what he can do through you and with you, and how through that relationship you can reach your divine potential and become the phenomenal person he knows you can be. In a society that worships the self (self promotion, self aggrandizement, “If it’s not convenient for me, I’m out”) this is enormously unpopular.
Now to the goods. This is where it’s at. I get revved up when I read these verses because it is Exactly. What. We. See. Today. Here are some verses in holy scripture, among hundreds, I selected to connect to current events.
… “your hearts are not drawn out to unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities”
Commentary: Here we have the ‘self’ pitted against God again. Scripture reading folks recall that it was Satan in the preexistence who said (and I’m paraphrasing) give the glory and honor to me, then Jehovah stepped in and said ‘no, let the glory be Thine [i.e. God’s].”
1 Peter 1:14-16
“As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.”
“Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”
Commentary: Don’t mold yourself, your life after your lusts (what you want, your desires). Being ‘holy’ includes sexual sin and sexual sins consist of same sex relationships.
1 Peter 2:11
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”
Commentary: Notice the imagery war against the soul. That is terrifyingly powerful. Carnal lusts are the downfall of marriages, of relationships, of societies. How much sadness and heartbreak can we attribute to adultery, infidelity, rape, sex slavery.
2 Peter 2:1-2
V.1 “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”
V.2 “ And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.”
Commentary: False prophets and teachers are particularly well hidden these days. They come in the form of (among other things) people trying to rally for a cause to make the church change doctrine. But what I really want to point out is in v.2 where it says that because of a false teachers, truth will be degraded and mocked. This is possibly one of the most frustrating things to a member of the LDS faith, or any religious person for that matter–when something good or a truth, or a revealed doctrine is purposefully changed to serve the ways of those who want to make a buffet out of the word of God.
2 Peter 2:12
But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.”
Commentary: Have you ever gone to a movie that you really enjoyed then talk about it with your friend who just tears it apart, then you find out they haven’t even watched it yet? Note to anti Mormon commentators: read the Book of Mormon, watch General Conference, read the stories that people close to Joseph Smith tell about his character, then get back to me. I’m not about to tell you your favorite book is garbage just because of what an online review says. I’ll give you the courtesy of reading it first myself with the intent to understand. And that is key to a book review, if you go into it with an agenda you’ll write the review according to said agenda. You get the point.
“they had peace…save it were a few contentions concerning the points of doctrine that had been laid down by the prophets…
V.23 “And in the seventy and ninth year there began to be much strife. But it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi, and many of their brethren who knew concerning the true points of doctrine, having many revelations daily, therefore, they did preach unto the people, insomuch that they did put an end to their strife in that same year.”
Commentary: This could’ve been written yesterday. Some people within and outside of the Church, always seem to have issue with gospel doctrine, principles, and prophetic statements when they don’t align with how society feels about them. For example: Proclamation on the Family, First Presidency Statements on same sex marriage, General Conference talks that talk about women’s roles or the importance of marriage…pick one). This is not new and the lash out we may see against these statements is in no way related to the goodness and purity of the doctrines taught. If anything, I sense that the amount of vitiriol shown toward certain statements is a measurement of how much we need it in this world.
Helaman 13: 24-29
V.24 “Wo unto this people…that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.”
Notice: he says olden time, so they too in Book of Mormon times were also reflecting on more ancient times when prophets were scorned. This public scoring of doctrine and principles was nothing new to them either.
On to v. 25, and this is absolutely fascinating because I hear this amongst God fearing people constantly:
“And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.”
Note: I’ve caught myself at times thinking, ‘yeah, if I had witnessed the parting of the red sea with Moses, this whole Mormon thing would be easy because I would know.” About that. Let’s take a look at those same Isralites at the Red Sea parting years later creating golden idols as Moses brought down the Ten Commandments then broke them when he saw the people worshipping false Gods. Miracles don’t convert. Nor does science. The Spirit of God does.
And again. V. 26 “…if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with im, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.”
Let me set before us an example of how we’ve seen this play at:
Random Mormon: “The Church should do this and this and make gays feel more accepted by being more lenient in their stance.” (gay is interchangeable with other things like abortion, women and the priesthood, etc.)
Church: “No. The Church is not a democracy. We don’t let members vote out doctrine or practices based on popular opinion or what is trending in society. It is run by God.”
Random Mormon: “Okay then you are not a true prophet, you don’t receive real revelation so I’m going to go my own way and get support from people who think likeminded and maybe along the way I’ll get enough backing to change the Church. The Church is only right if it aligns with my opinions and let’s anyone participate in sacred covenants, regardless of their lifestyle. The Church is being intolerant and bigoted because they won’t ease up on the LGBT members.”
Now to finish this off with scripture:
v.28 “But behold if a man shall come among you and say….do whatsoever your heart desireth…ye shall receive him, and say that he is a prophet”
v. 29 “Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance…your gold…and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well then ye will not find fault with him.”
Then the final word in v. 38: “…ye have sought happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.”
Commentary: Nobody likes to be called out for something they shouldn’t be doing. Who liked being grounded? We’re human, we like to be told we’re amazing and incredible and if someone tells us to change our lifestyle because it is incorrect, it can hit us hard. How helpful is the mentor that never sets you straight? Whenever the prophet or leaders of the Church say something that is opposite of what mainstream society believes to be ‘right’ the Church is yelled at. Bytheway, what is ‘right’ changes every decade. Hello moral relativity. No wonder we are so confused.
It is a fascinating lesson in human nature to watch Mormons sometimes shake their finger at God when what his prophets say does not align with their personal opinions on what is considered ‘right’.
The point is that if you are a Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and you believe that Joseph Smith restored the Church to the Earth, then it follows that you also believe in modern prophets, revelation, and the Book of Mormon and the Bible all the time, not only when it is convenient. So even if you don’t agree, they aren’t going to change. But when you make it a cause for people to rally to, you’re public display of discontent (like passing around pamphlets to promote your a change in doctrine) may result in excommunication which you may choose to also make a public display of depending on who you are, to make a point to your followers and the Church. Church leadership does not represent it’s 15 million members to God–Church Leadership are representatives of God on Earth.