An Ex-Mormon Woman Looks Back at the Church
Editor’s Note: Tonight Mitt Romney will accept the Republican nomination for president and publicly embrace his Mormon faith. For the first time, a Mormon stands a very good a chance of being the president. But what is Mormonism? What is it like to be a woman inside the Church of Latter Day Saints? Becky Grant, known to thousands of CounterPunchers as our business manager, was raised a Mormon. This spring Alexander Cockburn talked to her about the Church.
–Jeffrey St. Clair
What can we expect from a Mormon man in the White House?
All the Mormon men I know are good at justifying anything with the doctrine of the Church. Take my uncle, former Mormon bishop, a chemist and head of what used to be called Morton Thiokol. He’s a sweet guy, and would call himself a good Mormon. He believes his know-ledge of science is a gift from God that he needs to exercise to its fullest. He’s gone on to hold patents for most of the explosives used by the Army. He’s done some good things. He holds the patent for the propellent in the airbag. But he’s says that his patent for the explosive that’s used for fracking is for the environmental good.
You would assume that a Mormon guy would be honest and trustworthy and forthright, but the Mormon religion is not like branches of Christianity where they’re just basing things on the Bible. Mormons are basing it on doctrine that can be renewed all the time, whatever the current prophet – the president of the Church – says. If the prophet says, Support proposition 8 (the California Marriage Protection Act), for example, then the Church puts money into it. I think their ethics are completely backward.
What the prophet says goes?
Yes, he receives prophecies from God, I don’t know, maybe on a daily basis. LDS General Conference comes twice a year, and whatever he says is the new doctrine.
I’ve never met a Mormon man who has any real respect for women. First of all, if you’re a Mormon man, then you believe you’re going to have multiple wives in the afterlife. So, even though he’s not acting on the will of God at this point in time here, on earth, to have many wives, a Mormon will tell you that this will be a commandment again definitely in the afterlife. To Mormons, life on earth is just a twinkling of an instant in the rest of your life. If you’re a good Mormon, you can go on to become a god and have your own planet and worshippers. So, there’s no basis to really and truly love and respect your wife because there’s going to be another, or many more, in the afterlife.
So, Mitt Romney, clearly a devout Mormon, looks at Mrs. Romney and he’s thinking, I love Ann, but …
Yes, he might be looking at the Relief Society president of his ward and thinking, Wow, maybe she’ll be mine in the afterlife. It just doesn’t exactly lead to respect for women to have their husbands thinking like that.
Because here’s this wife you have just for the twinkling of an eye, and then, when you die…
Well, she’ll be your wife still, but maybe your sister-in-law will be your wife too.
What are women meant to think of this?
Women aren’t privy to all the information in the temple. For example, when you go to the temple – and I haven’t been because I was never worthy – the Mormon man in the temple gets a secret name, and his wife has a secret name that he knows and she knows, but she doesn’t get to know his secret name.
Women are the descendants of the “evil” Eve. Women aren’t allowed to hold the priesthood. For example, in my first marriage three bishops and my father all told me – these are all Mormon men – that my utmost duty as a new wife was to please my husband, make sure dinner was on the table, make sure he was well taken care of, to put on makeup before he came home from work, and to please him in any way. And when I went to a couple of different bishops, because I was sort of tattled on by my ex-husband (he went to the bishop and said I wasn’t doing my wifely duties), they told me that I was pushing him into affairs by not fulfilling my duties and that it was my job to please him any way he sought.
It’s a bit different these days because women work more outside of the home, but if you’re a real good Mormon woman, you stay at home, you don’t have a career. If you aim to have one, you can forget about it because right away it’s time to start breeding. My husband has cousins, and one of them was once asked, “How many kids are you planning to have?” And he said, “As many as my wife’s body can handle.” Most of the people I went to school with have four or five kids by the time they were 35.
I’m always struck by the fact that former Mormon women are quite feisty, get-up-and-go types.
Well, you might say that of me.
You mean the regular Mormon woman is a pretty oppressed creature. The husband rules.
The husband ultimately rules. My mom has been working for my dad her whole life. My grandmother wanted to go out and get a job after the kids left home, but my grandpa didn’t want her to. Most women are in charge of taking care of the home. Some of them are probably fine with that. The man is ultimately head of the house; he’s the one who holds the priesthood. So, if you hold the priesthood, when it comes to big decisions, you’re the one who has the ultimate say, to say the prayer to ask God to tell you what the answer should be. If you have the priesthood, you also have the power to heal, also the power to receive counseling from the Holy Ghost, more so than the wife would, even though the Holy Ghost is available to anyone who has been baptized. But women will never hold the priesthood – though maybe some day they will. They were never going to let blacks into the Church and ultimately they did.
What about Mormon men and money?
Well, if you’re making a lot of money, you’re blessed; so, the more you make, the more blessed you must be.
So, if Romney makes $23 million in 2010, which he did, that’s a sign that God is blessing him powerfully?
And he’d tithe 10 per cent to the Church?
Yes, and you’re also supposed to be giving to the missionary fund and other funds. There’s a whole list of them on the tithing slip. They expect you to give a lot more. At the end of the year you go to tithing settlement, and they call you in, you meet with the bishop – the head of your ward, that is – and he says, did you give 10 per cent? My parents and most of the people in the ward took their checkbooks in because they wanted to make sure they were going to get all their blessings. Everyone paid more than 10 per cent.
And if you don’t pay your 10 per cent, presumably God isn’t too happy.
Yes, if you’re not paying tithing, that’s a sin, basically. I wouldn’t say it’s akin to adultery, but it’s really looked down upon if you don’t pay tithing.
Let’s say there are three candidates for the White House – a Southern Baptist, a Mormon, and an Episcopalian – would you think we’d be worse off with a Mormon president?
Yes, I think so, because, on the environmental front especially, he’ll have no qualms. If you’re a good Mormon, you’re going to be a god someday and you’re going to have your own planet, so, it doesn’t matter what happens on this earth.
Just move on.
Yes, it doesn’t really matter because this is so temporary – earth is practically like a motel on the interstate. So, there are no ethics about what happens to the environment; plus, if you’re doing something for science, that’s backed by God, so environmental considerations get overruled.
Mormons have no tolerance for abortion or gays. That’s a generalization, of course. I do know Mormons who say, We’re all God’s children, but if you ask most Mormon men about being gay, they see it as a disease gay people want to spread. I heard that my whole childhood. It’s a slippery slope, they say. If you support gay marriage, it’s just one more step toward a gay guy sleeping with an 8-year-old boy. The slippery slope thing is huge. You start drinking coffee. Pretty soon, you’re on to beer and wine … It’s funny, because Mormons take a lot of Prozac, more per capita than in any state in the union.
Mormons are more depressed?
Western medicine is a technology that God gave us; so, we might as well use it. All those years of following, of being a lamb, of being told to shove difficult things under the rug – that does something to you. Besides, we’re only here temporarily, so why not feel warm and fuzzy. Yes, Mormons are often depressed. When I was growing up, three neighbors committed suicide, men in their 60s. There are lots of Mormon suicides.
What appeals to converts about Mormonism?
A lot of it is social. You go to church and church activities; it’s happy; you sing songs and you get a burning in the bosom, and it’s all good. They say the burning in the bosom is God, but you can also get a burning in the bosom watching Toy Story 3.
My mom moved from Chicago and went to Brigham Young University, converted pretty quickly; my dad was born and raised a Mormon. There were only one or two kids in my elementary school who weren’t Mormon. They were Catholic. I loved going over to their houses. There was one boy who was a Jehovah’s Witness. He had a hard time, especially when he had a broken arm and wasn’t wearing a cast, just a dishtowel.
Did the Church give you some good things?
Sure, the ability to push through and look on the bright side, plus my mom was really into canning in the 1970s – it’s kind of had a resurgence with Martha Stewart. Self-sufficency and getting stuff done. I think Mormons are pretty driven. Take the Mormon logo – the beehive, called Deseret, which is also the pet name for the state. Being a worker bee … My favorite hymn is “Put your shoulder to the wheel and push along.” I have to give credit to the Mormons for that. They take some things too far – or, my Mom did … like believing cleanliness is next to Godliness. They’re a little over the top on that.
To get statehood, Mormons had to get rid of polygamy, but it’s rampant in Utah Valley. It’s still around. It hasn’t gone away. The way we would know is we’d be driving along as kids and we’d see a house like a big square apartment building in a field with a bunch of Suburbans parked around the outside. It was in southern Utah more than Utah Valley. Apparently there’s a lot more in Las Vegas now.
What about the White Horse prophecy?
I only heard the phrase recently – it’s something Glenn Beck has talked about – but, as kids, we were told that some day a Mormon would be president and we should go to Church every week and make sure our names were on the rolls for every class we attended, because somehow this would be checked on when the Mormon became president and we would only be protected if we had been going regularly. I always thought it sounded really scary. It could be part of the MBSN – the Mormon BullShit Network – but there was a lot of that kind of thing, stories to scare us into being obedient children.
Here’s an excerpt, adapted for Vanity Fair, from Michael Kranish and Scott Helman’s book The Real Romney, which recounts the 1983 pregnancy saga of Peggie Hayes. According to the book, Hayes was a single mother raising a young daughter at the time. Romney was her church leader and helped set up the 23-year-old nurse’s aide with what the authors describe as “odd jobs for other church members.” Hayes recalled that Romney “was really good to us. He did a lot for us.”
When Hayes became pregnant that year, Romney sat down with her and “said something about the church’s adoption agency.” Hayes, who recalled that she “wanted to” have the second child, eventually came to the realization that Romney “was urging her to give up her soon-to-be-born son for adoption, saying that was what the church wanted.”
More from Vanity Fair:
Hayes was deeply insulted. She told him she would never surrender her child. Sure, her life wasn’t exactly the picture of Rockwellian harmony, but she felt she was on a path to stability. In that moment, she also felt intimidated. Here was Romney, who held great power as her church leader and was the head of a wealthy, prominent Belmont family, sitting in her gritty apartment making grave demands. “And then he says, ‘Well, this is what the church wants you to do, and if you don’t, then you could be excommunicated for failing to follow the leadership of the church,’” Hayes recalled. It was a serious threat. At that point, Hayes still valued her place within the Mormon Church. “This is not playing around,” she said. “This is not like ‘You don’t get to take Communion.’ This is like ‘You will not be saved. You will never see the face of God.’” Romney would later deny that he had threatened Hayes with excommunication, but Hayes said his message was crystal clear: “Give up your son or give up your God.”
Hayes eventually decided to have the baby, but when she did give birth to her son Dane, he had health problems that required surgery. Looking past their uncomfortable conversation before Dane’s birth, she called Romney and asked him to come to the hospital to confer a blessing on her baby. Hayes was expecting him. Instead, two people she didn’t know showed up. She was crushed. “I needed him,” she said. “It was very significant that he didn’t come.” Sitting there, in the hospital, Hayes decided she was finished with the Mormon Church.
Fits with your experience and memories?
Sounds familiar. Bishops take on all kinds of roles – the Church believes you should always go to your bishop first – about everything. They play family counselor, psychologist, life coach, etc., … and usually these guys are not qualified to do this. All the suicides in our neighborhood – these were all guys going to the bishop, going to church. The power given to bishops really should be considered unlawful. I know somebody personally who is a sexual offender – a pedophile – and he was counseled by his bishop to ask for forgiveness from God and the parents of the kids he molested, but they didn’t tell him to get help. Now he’s a father and a Boy Scout leader, and I have to wonder if the kids who are around him on regular basis are safe.
I had the option of utilizing the Mormon adoption service and was encouraged to, but not pressured, luckily. There were about five Mormon girls within a block of my house who all got pregnant at the same time – these were 16 and 17-year-old girls – all Mormon. It demonstrates that something is seriously going wrong when all these girls in a neighborhood are getting pregnant – it wasn’t just “in the water,” liked they joked. One friend of mine used the adoption service, and she’s recently reunited with her daughter, who is my son Nick’s age now. Another neighbor girl was forced to conceal her pregnancy and then give her baby up for adoption – she’s never been the same, and finally she’s left the Church and is living happily with a non-Mormon guy. I think that the three different bishops who blamed me for my ex looking at Hustler, cheating on me, etc., … and for not doing my wifely duties – as a pregnant 17 and 19-year-old – were hugely out of line. My dad was right there on board in their court too – and my uncle gave me similar advice. All these Mormon men were basically telling me that I was the property of my husband and, in the eyes of God, I was sinning by not being submissive to his needs – inviting in the devil. It seems like another lifetime, and retrospectively I just really feel disgusted that a teenage girl could be pressured like that. It’s really sick.
Alexander Cockburn’s latest book, Guillotined, is just out from CounterPunch.