Reflections on Heartbreak and Choice

Dear Brother Givens,

I came across your post on abortion today.  I confess that I did not read it carefully because I am trying to be kinder to myself.  From what I did read, you quote several writers and statistics, and ultimately ground your opinions in your own visceral reactions to abortion and especially the procedures used in the second and third trimester.  I wonder, though, did you try to speak directly to any women who have had abortions?  Did you read any firsthand accounts of abortions by women who do not regret them?  Did you send out a call to your general female acquaintance to share their experiences with you?  I guarantee that you personally know some women who have had abortions, though, given what you wrote, I am not sure they would have trusted you with their experiences.

Here is what I would have told you.  I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from childhood.  I served a mission.  I have held many callings.  I remained chaste until marriage and remain faithful in my marriage.  And I had an abortion a few years ago on the first day of my fifteenth week of pregnancy.  

[Read more…]

On Terryl Givens and Abortion

Yesterday Terryl Givens published what he characterized as “A Latter-day Saint Defense of the Unborn” at Public Square Magazine. He ultimately concludes that Latter-day Saints are obligated to oppose abortion and that there is basically no room for personally opposing abortion but supporting its legality and availability.

Givens seems completely sincere in his revulsion for abortion. But that sincerity has led him to pen (type?) a deeply misleading and unchristian jeremiad against his fellow citizens and fellow-Saints who take the opposite tack.

I’m not going to detail all of the factual and legal problems with his piece, though I will highlight a couple of what I consider to be the big problems. I’m also want to point out that the way he’s framed his argument undercuts any assertion that he makes it in good faith and that it demonstrates a huge lack of moral imagination.

[Read more…]

Uyghurs, the Church, and Religious Freedom

Uyghur girls. Xinjiang. Photo by kpi. CC BY 2.0

About a week ago, Disney released its live-action Mulan for rent on Disney+. As people watched it, they noticed something: in the closing credits, Disney gives “special thanks” to eight government entities in Xinjiang, where parts of the movie were filmed.

This has led to calls to boycott the movie in the U.S.[fn1]

Why? It’s a long(ish) story, told better by others, but the short version: Xinjiang (in western China) is home to about 12 million indigenous Muslims. The largest of these groups are the Uyghurs.[fn2] Since at least 2017, the Chinese government has been aggressively detaining its Uyghur population in concentration camps (which it calls “re-education camps”). Today, an estimated 1 million Uyghurs (which represents more than 8% of the Muslim population in the region) are detained in these concentration camps. Moreover, Buzzfeed has determined that China has recently built 268 new compounds in which to detain its Uyghur population. [Read more…]

Accusers and the Myth of a Meritocracy

Photo by Brijesh Nirmal on Unsplash

Samuel Alonzo Dodge is a PhD candidate studying American Religious History at Lehigh University. He teaches a variety of history courses at DeSales University and has published with the Journal of Mormon History, Methodist History, and the Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University. He lives in Allentown Pennsylvania with his wife and three children.

It is a challenging time for many reasons not the least of which is the social distancing that though necessary, keeps us from meeting together in person and can stress our sense of community. This sense of the importance of community is what shaped my thinking as I read the Come, Follow Me lesson earlier this summer, Alma 30-31. Though perhaps not immediately apparent, The account of Korihor and his contention with Alma has important lessons for us regarding our conduct, vulnerability, and responsibilities as members of religious and civic communities.

[Read more…]

Birthday, Baptism, Pandemic

My son was supposed to be baptized a few months ago. His grandparents had tickets to come to Chicago. He was ready to invite his best friend from school and some other friends who, while not Mormon, have come to all of my kids’ baptisms to love and support them.

And then a global pandemic hit. My parents had to cancel their flight. The church shut down its meetings and its buildings. We worked to recover.

These days my son goes back and forth on when he wants to be baptized. He’d really like to wait until his grandparents can share the day with him but, because of age and health conditions, his grandparents can’t really travel here until there’s a vaccine and they’re able to get the vaccine. While we’re hoping for early 2021, who knows if it will happen before another birthday rolls around.

Which leads me to a question: what is the church going to do about these pandemic-delayed baptisms? [Read more…]

Toward a Humble Church

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A decade ago, I sat despondent in Relief Society during a lesson on humility. Law school exams were fast approaching and I felt overwhelmed. An arbitrary system was about to base 100% of my grades on half-day tests. Regardless of my objective mastery of the material, the system was designed to force competition against my smart and talented peers. I would be graded on a strict curve. Those grades would then be aggregated to assign my relative class rank. Without a sufficiently high class rank employers would flick my resume into the recycle bin. My future career was at stake. The legal job market was deep in a recession. I feared failure, and that my student loans would never be repaid.

I sighed and decided to interpret the lesson as a chastisement. I needed to repent and learn humility. I needed to learn “a modest or low view of my own importance.” [Read more…]

Excluding Our Fellow Saints From the Sacrament

In Illinois, we’re now halfway through our sixth week under a stay-at-home order (and my family’s seventh week at home). And the stay-at-home order looks like it’s going to last at least another month here. That means at least 12 Sundays in Illinois without meeting together at church (and, even when the stay-at-home order ends, some people may make the eminently responsible and defensible decision to continue social distancing, and delay their return to church).

Ultimately, I don’t think putting church meetings on hold is optimal. (To be clear, it’s both necessary and good. It’s just not ideal.) We need human contact, and we need the spiritual benefits that come from gathering together. That said, it’s necessary, and on net, saving the lives and the health of our fellow Saints is both beneficial and will bless us and them.

Still, this extended time away from church means that some people—single women and families without priesthood holders in the home, for example—won’t have the ability to take the sacrament for three months or more.

The church has made a tentative stab at recognizing the position these women and families are in. On April 16, the church provided instructions for administering the church during the pandemic. The instructions provide that “In unusual circumstances when the sacrament is not available, members can be comforted by studying the sacrament prayers and recommitting to live the covenants members have made and praying for the day they will receive it in person, properly administered by the priesthood.” [Read more…]

Is not this the fast I have chosen?

Breanne loves hiking and biking and traveling.  She is a friend of all faiths.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.   (Isaiah 58:6-8)

Fasting is a shared religious tradition.

I remember when I first learned that Jews have yearly fast days beyond just Yom Kippur. I was a graduate student in Jerusalem and was talking to a friend, who mentioned that he was fasting that day for one of the annual fast days commemorating the destruction of the Second Temple.

I was familiar with Yom Kippur and thought I understood a lot about fasting, so I asked him what he was fasting for. He looked confused, so I explained that in my religious tradition, we fast for something…perhaps something that requires greater faith than just prayer can provide. There is generally a goal of something that we want or need, so we sacrifice to show God that we truly desire that thing and hope to open ourselves up to further blessings. So what was he fasting for?

“No, no, no,” he said, shaking his head. “Fasting isn’t for something. It’s…” and here he paused, trying to think of the right way to explain it to me. [Read more…]

The Temporal Urgency of Faith

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Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Introductory Note:  Several years ago during General Conference I started journaling the messages my soul most longed to hear.  I posted one of those last Conference.  I’m doing so again now.  This requires a suspension of disbelief:  it contains a mix of true and aspirational content, and is written as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

Faith without works is dead.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to cast our spiritual burdens upon the Lord, rely on the grace of his Atonement, and put our faith in him during adversity.  But the Gospel also preaches that our spiritual health is intertwined with the physical welfare of our neighbors.  Pure religion looks not just to eternity but to now.

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them:  ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled’; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  (James 2:14-17)

[Read more…]

Shelter-In-Place and the Sacrament

Just over a week ago, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve announced that the church was (temporarily) suspending meetings throughout the world as a response to the novel coronavirus. In the announcement, we’re asked to continue to care and watch out for each other. The letter also tells bishops and stake presidents to figure out how to allow members to take the sacrament at least once a month.

I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but the idea of taking the sacrament at least monthly, while nice in theory, could be a significant problem in reality. A couple days ago, a well-meaning member of my mother-in-law’s ward came to visit her. The visitor was, apparently, unaware of the risks of coronavirus, but my mother-in-law is in a high-risk demographic (older than 65 with some underlying health issues). [Read more…]

The Tear in the Narrative

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Daniel Chaffin is an Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Nebraska Kearney. He is a former bishop and loves backpacking, pickleball and is an aspiring foodie.

It was the day of my dissertation defense. I dressed in my best suit and strode into the Brick University Building early in the morning. I have always been an above average student – not remarkable, but above average and I felt cautiously optimistic. I had done my homework and prepared strategically. I sent multiple drafts of the dissertation proposal to my chair and my final draft to my committee, refined and perfected my PowerPoint slides, and brought food. As it was customary for a PhD student to feed his committee, both physically and intellectually, I was not going to disappoint on either front. I brought fruit, juice, coffee; I even brought spinach quiche. While there were some technical challenges as I skyped in an offsite committee member, it was nothing I couldn’t handle. [Read more…]

What I Wish My Prophet Would Say

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Kenneth Merrill graduated from BYU with a degree in Philosophy and now works as a cinematographer in Los Angeles, CA. He’s married, with two boys, and in his spare time he likes to play music, rock climb, practice sleight of hand, and read/write—but mostly he just ends up staring at glowing screens.

It was a warm summer day in Long Island City, an area of Queens just across the river from Manhattan. My companion and I were on our way to an appointment in the Queens Bridge Projects when we stopped to talk to two older ladies on their way back home from the grocery store.

“Hi, I’m Elder Merrill, and we’re out here to tell people that we have a living prophet on this earth today. Would you be interested in hearing more about that?”

With frightening directness, one of the women turned to me and asked, “Oh really, a prophet? What’s he been prophesying lately?”

I probably stood slack-jawed for a decent 5 seconds before the next words tumbled uncontrollably out of my mouth:

“Drugs are bad.” [Read more…]

Christ’s Hands

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Elle Mae is a queer Mormon feminist who recently gave this talk in her ward.

In a BYU devotional by Dean Carolina Nunez titled “Loving Our Neighbors,” she said: 

Loving our neighbor requires getting close to our neighbor and giving of ourselves. In Spanish, the term for “love of neighbor” is amor al prójimo, or “love of the one who is in proximity.” The term prójimo connotes a physical closeness and personal touch that neighbor simply fails to capture for me. We follow the good Samaritan’s example not by abstractly loving from afar but by truly connecting and spending time with each other, by genuinely giving of ourselves. This is not always easy: getting close often involves sacrifice and discomfort. It can be awkward, time consuming, and emotionally draining. Surely the Samaritan had other plans for his day, but he stopped to love someone who needed him.

Genuinely giving of ourselves cannot be done just because we want to “be righteous” we have to be vulnerable enough to love those around us without a reward in mind or box to check. Opening our hearts to people is part of building Zion. Our love can’t be conditional on certain outcomes. [Read more…]

The Meetinghouse and the Temple

Michael Haycock has a bachelor’s from Yale and a master’s in religion from Claremont Graduate University.  He currently serves as the Ecumenical/Christian Life Coordinator at Georgetown.  Views are, of course, his own.

LDS theology is like the double helix of DNA, unzipped:  it has two parallel strands that circle around each other, but which rarely connect. 

DNA

On one strand rests the Meetinghouse, with much of the Christianity we received through scripture ancient and modern and which we share with much of Christendom. 

On the other is the Temple, the divine anthropology of the eternal family, and eternal progression, which we hold unique among Christian faiths. [1]

I am convinced that much of the theological friction within the LDS Church is born of the gaps between these two theological strands, amplified by official near-silence on how to bind them together. [Read more…]

I’m terrified about having kids.

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I just spent the holidays with family. I’ve been married a year. I’m approaching my mid-30s. And due to an unrelenting year at work, I’ve gained some weight. So perhaps unsurprisingly, the last few weeks have featured a conversational dance of hinted “are-you-pregnant” questions.

I’ve ignored the hints and laughed off the passing comments about future grandchildren. What I haven’t responded with is my honest answer: I’m terrified about having kids. [Read more…]

So You Have $100 Billion.

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple weeks (interrupted, of course, for impeachment and Christmas) about the church’s $100 billion endowment. And I want to add to that discussion. Specifically, I want to think about the question of how the church could change with a $100 billion endowment.

I’ll note that in the earliest iterations of this post, I thought about freaking this as some sort of (unsatiric) modest proposal.

But that has a couple significant problems. What I’m going to lay out here is not at all modest; it would represent a sea change in church finances. Moreover, it’s not a proposal so much as it is brainstorming. But a $100 billion endowment absolutely requires brainstorming. And my brainstorm?

[Read more…]

The Church of Contrition

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 9:20)

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Note:  During the last few General Conferences, I’ve pondered what message my spirit most yearns to hear.  Today I’m writing out that message for others, as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  This writing requires a suspension of disbelief: I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

I speak today to apologize.

I believe a sincere “I’m sorry” is second only to “I love you” as the most powerful sentence anyone can utter. [Read more…]

Women Witnesses for Ordinances

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced this morning that women can now serve as witnesses for baptisms and temple sealings.

I’m thrilled about this change.  As I wrote two years ago, the Church’s longtime refusal to let women serve as witnesses contradicted Jesus Christ’s own example of choosing women to be the first witnesses of his Resurrection.  And as co-blogger Jonathan Stapley  details, women as witnesses has long precedence in the modern Church as well.

This change matters.  It’s not just a technical hand-waving exercise.  Women witnessing our saving ordinances matter. [Read more…]

A Conversation with my Catholic Husband on the Word of Wisdom

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“Did you see your Church just officially banned green tea?”

“And vaping. That’s days-old news.”

“Mormon news isn’t real to me until the Washington Post covers it.”

“Fair enough. The best take I’ve seen so far is Jana Riess’s.”

“The Washington Post agrees:  they quote her. The Word of Wisdom is ‘not necessarily a slam-dunk in terms of clarity.’ That seems accurate.”

“The problem is our cultural norms surrounding the Word of Wisdom have strayed so far from its literal text that we’re all left wading through layers of shame and confusion.”

“You know what Jana or you or some other sassy Mormon feminist should do? Write a Rachel Held Evans style book: ‘A Year of Word of Wisdomhood.’ It would be hilarious.[Read more…]

Book Review: Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question

David B. Ostler
Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question
Greg Kofford Books, Salt Lake City, Utah
July 2019, xiv+183 pages, Appendix, endnotes, index.
$32.95 hardcover, $18.86 paper (Amazon), $17.99 Kindle.

Bridges is a short volume that addresses one of the issues facing most religions in many parts of the world: people dropping out. Surveys suggest that there are many reasons for what has been called “the rise of the nones” an especially pertinent phenomenon among young adults. The relevancy of that Old Time Religion seems to be in question.
[Read more…]

Clearance vs. Cancellation

From the Women’s Bible Commentary:

Deuteronomy prohibits the husband, who sought to secure for himself a cheap divorce from his spurned bride, from ever divorcing her. To our ears, this provision sounds appalling, binding a young girl for the rest of her life to a man who “hates” her. In patriarchal ancient Judah, where women’s social status and economic survival depended on membership in a male-headed household, the provision was probably intended to guarantee her security.

The Deuteronomic law relies on some assumptions that don’t match our modern interpretation of marriage:

  • Women in marriage are entitled to protection because they are unable to protect themselves.
  • Men in marriage are obligated to protect the women they marry because those women are otherwise unable to protect themselves.

In the iron age society of Deuteronomy, marriage entitles women but obligates men. Restricting men from abandoning their obligation is the objective of restrictions on divorce, not an intention to protect women from harm within the marriage relationship (which isn’t addressed), but to require men to protect women from a patriarchal society in which they have no standing or power and are financially and physically vulnerable. [Read more…]

Book Review—Jana Riess, The Next Mormons

41VNW2NVATLRichelle Wilson is a PhD student in Scandinavian studies and comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is a talk producer at community radio station WORT 89.9 FM and a member of Dialogue’s editorial staff.

When I first heard Jana Riess was undertaking research about Millennial Mormons, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait for this book to be released. Given the heightened sense of generational divide in America right now, thanks in no small part to deepening political polarization and an ongoing series of culture wars run amok, research like this is vital for the health of our communities. 

The Next Mormons doesn’t disappoint. Riess writes in a clear, engaging style that is approachable to non-specialists and folks who don’t know much about Mormonism. In spite of its seemingly niche topic, I hope this book receives a wider audience since Riess’s findings are important and have broader implications for religion in 21st-century America. [Read more…]

Love: A Proclamation to the World

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Today’s Proclamation is courtesy of best-selling author Mette Ivie Harrison.

I proclaim to my family of Latter-day Saints today that love is the organizing principle of the universe and that it is the most important value of all previous generations, all future generations, and of this generation. The pure love of Christ is the foundation of all that we do as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is what teaches us to find the divine in ourselves. It is what allows us to see ourselves and others more clearly. It is the only thing that enables us to become better people: kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, more expansive in our views, wiser, more learned, and more capable of serving others truly—without judgment or superiority. [Read more…]

Linguistic Curiosity and Mormon Culture

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A few years ago, I found myself enmeshed in a long afternoon conversation with a linguistics professor.  His area of expertise includes analyzing changes to English wrought by internet communications.  As he opined on the etymological drift of a verb’s transitive and intransitive forms during the last twenty years, I was fascinated by his approach to grammar and language.

“It must drive you crazy to be so precise with your usage,” I remarked, “and yet be surrounded by people who use words incorrectly all the time. Do you ever feel like Henry Higgins?”

Instead of agreeing, he challenged me.  “There is no such thing as incorrect word usage,” he responded. “Rather, when I hear others use a word in a non-standard way, I ask myself: what is the cultural context and experience in which they were raised that led them to that usage?  I’ve found asking that question leads to a wealth of productive research.” [Read more…]

When in Romans

We’ve been getting a lot of online discussion lately as a result of the legalistic view of the gospel that’s been presented in General Conference, and particularly the introduction of a new term: qualification. The term may be new, but this is the same Mormon discussion we’ve been having since the get-go: grace vs. works. Mormons have a tough time comprehending grace as a gift, assuming that works are necessary to “qualify” for God’s grace, which leads to checklists of actions required to qualify, worthiness interviews to ensure we have done the things on the checklist, and at least doing the mental calculus to see if we’ve done enough, and sometimes just for personal gratification, noting that others have not done what we deem is “enough.” As a faith tradition, we are very works-focused. The idea that our puny efforts matter at all in the grand scheme of things is because we care so very much about no unclean thing entering, and we’re willing to tackle them personally at the Pearly Gates to prevent it. [Read more…]

Latter-day Saint Parents, Please Stop Apologizing for Your Child’s Wedding

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Emily B. grew up in New Hampshire but currently lives in Maryland, where she spends most of her time writing and teaching writing classes. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from BYU and just finished a PhD in English at the University of Georgia. She and her husband have no children but two very spoiled cats.

Last summer while attending a conference for work, I met a woman from Utah, Trudy (not her real name). It was one of those contexts where we quickly figured out that we were both members of the Church and started chatting, just making small talk. Trudy asked if I had attended this conference before, and I explained that I had meant to attend the previous year but that my sister’s wedding plans had changed, preventing me from going. She then told me all about her adult children and her son’s upcoming wedding.

“Congratulations!” I said. “That’s exciting!”
“Well…” Trudy said, grimacing a little. She sighed.

Instantly, I knew what she was about to say. It’s a sigh and grimace I’ve seen on many occasions when a Latter-day Saint parent, or perhaps even a sibling, mentions an upcoming wedding. [Read more…]

The Presiding Authority of President Eubank

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Photo from Church News profile of President Eubank.

President Sharon Eubank gave a masterful sermon this morning on being Christlike. She effortlessly spoke with power and authority, quoting scripture (while adding gender parity), admonishing us to lift and light together, and reminding us that Jesus Christ reached out to all.

President Eubank is a force for good, both as a member of the General Relief Society Presidency and as the Director of LDS Charities (the first woman to hold that position). When she proclaims: “You are making progress. Keep going. He sees all your hidden sacrifices and counts them to your good and the good of those you love. Your work is not in vain. You are not alone. His very name, Emmanuel, means God With Us. He is surely with you,” she knows of what she speaks.

A few weeks ago, President Eubank also spoke as the featured guest at a stake women’s conference. Her message was a similarly powerful one on the themes of love and service.

And yet who presided at this stake meeting?  As listed in the program, it was the stake president. [Read more…]

Personal Revelation and Sustaining Prophets

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Rachel Allred lives in California and loves her husband, her toddler, and ice cream (not necessarily in that order).  She generally tries to make the world a more empathetic place.

I literally started crying in the cab Thursday. It was a Lyft. The driver asked if I was okay; I told him I was.

I knew The Policy was wrong. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. I felt like death when it was announced. My heart sank. My lungs filled with lead. My mind started screaming. My soul recoiled. I don’t know how else to say it. I was just completely numb.  I walked around in a vaguely ragey, disbelieving fog for days.

That weekend in November 2015, my beloved husband and I (this was back when he went to church; I’ve wondered since if the policy was the beginning of the end) went to a thrift store to buy clothes with rainbow patterns.  We specifically chose a thrift store whose proceeds are donated to LGBTQ support organizations. We wore our rainbows to church that Sunday. We went with subtle patterns. Too subtle, maybe, because we had to tell people that’s what we were doing, but I was playing the organ so at least some people noticed.   [Read more…]

Let Love be Love

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Nicole is a mother, feminist, and activist living in the Salt Lake Valley with her partner Kerstin and blended family of seven. She credits the women in her life for shaping her values and her hope for a world filled with compassion, authenticity, and uncompromising love.

It’s so hard to find any words to express my feelings about the news about the changed policy.

I type and delete and type and delete.

I couldn’t find the right words because I couldn’t find words that were true enough to myself, but that I thought would be safe from hurting or offending my family who are still members.  I love my family very much and they have been so great with Kerstin and me.  Since they’ve been so careful not to hurt us, I really, really don’t want to hurt them.

I think I’d just like to describe my dream world. [Read more…]

On Chastity and Closed Doors

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I have a fondness for cheesy Christian romance novels.   Their plots feature all of the emotional turmoil and external drama of harlequin romance novels – but they add faith crises and subtract sex.

One trope in these novels is to set up a wicked foil to the wholesome protagonist.  In-need-of-repentance characters lurk in the subplots, steeped in dark allusions and transgressed boundaries.  Think of Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.  Jane Austen evinces plenty of scandal, yet there are zero explicit mentions of sex.

In order to stay “clean,” Christian novelists have learned to invoke religiously-tinged shame by writing proxies for sex.  All “sin” happens off-screen.  A common scene is the chance encounter after dark.  A woman stands in the shadows, heart pounding, face lit by candlelight.  A man with a half-unbuttoned shirt leans against a doorframe.  After two pages of banter, he steps across the threshold.  The door shuts.  The chapter ends.  At that moment, the reader is cued to assume the characters had sex. [Read more…]