First of all I need to remind myself that this is a blog post I am writing, not a book, although I suppose it is possible that one day a book could be forthcoming. Secondly, although I stopped believing in Mormon teachings more than half a lifetime ago, and finally resigned my membership more than a decade ago (when I discovered such an action was even possible) the LDS church still manages to reach into my life and I continue to let it. Thirdly, I wanted to respond to a recent video recording of one of the Elders in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, David A. Bednar. That will probably be my next post, but before doing that I felt a bit of context would help.
Mormons love their witty phrases and as each new one gathers momentum through repetition in Sunday talks, meetings and conferences, one that probably applies to me now is “they leave the church, but they can’t leave it alone”. I don’t think this is because I carry the memory of either a happy or unhappy upbringing or feel any great sense of attachment or loss, but more because of the danger I think the LDS church poses to others. I admit a certain anger when I discover how many lies I have been told and have in the past accepted without subjecting them to appropriate scrutiny, but like they say, “When the prophet speaks, the debate is over”. Yes the lies have caused me anguish, but I have been much more angry at myself for my gullibility.
On the face of it Mormons are almost benign in the same way that The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy describes Earth as “mostly harmless”. I had one or two really lovely friends when I was involved with the LDS church. I felt that most of the people on the ground were pleasant enough and honourable, but rarely was I able to cultivate the strength and quality of friendships that I have always enjoyed outside the organisation. I rarely encountered anyone who seemed to share my interests in music and other arts or ideas, philosophy and politics. Local leaders appeared to work hard to get me to abandon my musical allegiances, preferred activities and even my outside friends, unless they were targets as potential recruits. Pronouncements would often be made in church meetings that caricatured in a most derogatory manner activities I found lifted me into happy places with no apparent evidence except that the prophet had decided that Satan was active in these projects. Despite the fact I rarely agreed with the LDS position on many aspects of social policy and culture I didn’t see through claims that the church was led by prophets and seers until much later.
It is known that the church does not tolerate dissent and people who break their moral codes and covenants have always been brought before their kangaroo courts and disciplined with excommunication or the lesser punishment of disfellowshipping - unless the perpetrator was deemed important enough for their misdemeanors to be forgiven (that may be something to explore another day). It is not until the past decade or so that I discovered the even more extreme punishments meted out without challenge in the church’s early history. My essay about “The Ballad of Thomas Lewis” mentions something of this in the 2015 post “Relections on Life In A Cult 1”.
In my childhood, through my adolescence and into adulthood, until I stopped going to church, there seemed to be an extraordinary interest in matters related to sexuality. This is particularly odd (although Mormons relish their reputation of being a “peculiar people”) since Mormon sexual appetites have been the source of much controversy and strife since the beginning. The founder, Joseph Smith, married many women (at least thirty-four on record, two of whom were just fourteen years old), mostly without the knowledge or approval of his legal wife, Emma, and often without the knowledge of their own husbands whom Smith had sent away on missions that may have lasted for years. The church was forced to cave on this “eternal law” in order to avoid the crippling sanctions, as well as the threatened imposition of others, which were causing damage to the organisation. The manifesto of 1890 told their men to obey the law of the land and stick to marrying one wife. This was not altogether successful and a further manifesto had to be issued in 1904 when plural marriages had continued to be found being conducted in the USA, Canada and Mexico, even among church leaders.
In a similar vein, the history of the LDS church with regards to people of African descent has been less than honourable. Brigham Young (another “prophet”, with fifty-five wives, and the second president of the church after Smith) was responsible for racist comments that nowadays are rightly considered outrageous. Among these were that men having as little as one drop of African blood in their bodies would never be allowed to hold the priesthood, when such a “privilege” was afforded all other “worthy” males from the age of twelve upwards. He didn’t think much of racially mixed marriages either,
"Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so," (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 110).
Being a prophet he should have had at least some insight that, in 1978, another “prophet”, Spencer W. Kimball, would declare that God had said that all worthy males may at last hold the priesthood. Perhaps it was coincidence that by the 19070s the church was having some trouble getting permission to build a temple in Brazil and that the Brigham Young University sports teams had a bit of a problem arranging fixtures with other teams whilst the racial bans were still in place. That’s not to mention the threat of the loss of tax-exempt status if the policy did not change.
So, coming back to sex, and growing up with all these dire warnings, I eventually felt resigned to damnation for failing to conquer the temptation to masturbate. This wasn’t the worst of it though. LDS teachings about homosexuality blighted much more of my life. For several years speakers to the general congregations on Sundays would find some way to thump the pulpit about the evils of homosexual behaviour. To my shame I bought into the lies that homosexuality was a deficiency that could be overcome as one might attempt to overcome an illness or an addiction. As I was coming to the end of my teens there was still an overwhelming sense that homosexuality could be cured through making a good marriage. Many years later, whilst in counselling after finally being diagnosed as having tried to cope with depression for much of my life, I worked out that I had never before been able to identify as gay because the very idea was simply something that could not exist. My counsellor explained that it was in every sense “beyond the pale”. I admit I have wondered about what could have been had I flowered into a healthy and whole adult - assuming such a creature has ever existed. I am pretty sure now that I would have recognised some people’s loving approaches and I may well have explored relationships with one or two men for whom I can now admit I felt great affection. At the time, though, my feelings and attractions to other males were something I seriously thought was a phase I would grow out of. By the time I reached my late thirties I had to begin to face the fact that I would probably not now grow out of these feelings … feelings for which I still didn’t have a name.
During the campaign for the November 2008 presidential election in the USA there was an even greater campaign being fought in California. It was a campaign for God and for the moral salvation of the people of the state. On 16th June 2008 the state began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. For Mormons, Roman Catholics and others holding strong religious convictions this was anathema. An organisation known as Protect Marriage was formed from a number of feeder campaigns to fight this equality measure. The presidential election was also an opportunity to introduce changes to California’s state constitution and “Proposition 8”, defining marriage as the legal joining of one man and one woman, was devised. Voting on this was to be taken in California on the same date as the main election. As with any political process in the USA a vast amount of money was required. The film “8:The Mormon Proposition” explores how the LDS church was instrumental in finding the resources necessary to run the campaign. Many people sacrificed life savings and their children’s college funds, because their bishops told them God required the money. Any adult Mormon who had been “through the temple” would also have promised in a solemn oath to give all their time, talents and everything with which the Lord had blessed them to furthering the cause. These oaths were naturally used as further leverage. LDS leaders also suggested names of suitable people to front the organisation who would not immediately be associated with the LDS church. Naturally they also denied any official involvement and had worked to cover their tracks. They were found to have submitted falsified accounts of their support for Prop 8 and following an enquiry after the events had to revise their figures substantially upwards with suspicions that there was still much unaccounted for expenditure.
I was very surprised to discover a personal dimension to this campaign. One of my own brothers, who had lived in the USA for many years, had donated money and gone out canvassing on the streets in California near to where he was living at the time. He also told me it would be inappropriate for P to attend Dad’s funeral. He had to go back to the USA before the funeral. We ignored him and P was at the funeral to be my rock and my support.
As events unfolded over the coming months I felt an urge to try and work out my thoughts about the situation. Coming out had cost me so much in terms of security, health and family relationships that I sure as hell wasn’t going back in again! I sat down with a piece of paper and a pencil and the words to “Someone Is Telling Me Lies” eventually appeared. As I continued to work on what I thought was going to be a poem it became clear it was really meant to be a song. I hadn’t attempted to express any thoughts as either poems or songs for more than thirty years. I had no plan to write more songs or to perform this one. I had not even given any thought to how I would describe myself. It was simply an expression of how I felt about those events. I recycled a tune I had composed for my ceilidh band (and had rarely used) that I thought would work in this context. I ended up recording the song using my Mac-based home studio and Logic and created a page on MySpace. To this point, it is one of only two songs (the other being "Who's The Fool" for a local environmental campaign) I have purposely recorded as Marshlander and it sounds very different from what I now do in live performance. Writing this unlocked a door through which trickled more songs. When two friends started an acoustic music night in Downham Market I rather liked the idea of being completely acoustic, so Marshlander became a singer of his own songs with simple guitar and percussion accompaniment. Maybe, when I get round to recording more of my songs properly, I’ll be tempted to throw the kitchen sink and the contents of the boat into the production. I think though that I should probably not ignore the fact that anyone who has seen me perform solo will know me as an acoustic musician. We’ll see.
Anyway, this song is now six or seven years old and I have since rewritten the words almost completely and worked a little on my singing voice too. I have only ever performed it once and that was acoustically. There may never be another Marshlander song like this. For whatever it is worth, this is Marshlander history.
Go to this link for this old pre-formed Marshlander recording
|A different and later version of some of the lyrics for this song. It's all different these days.|