My husband and I just finished watching the Matrix trilogy. While we fast-forwarded through some of the more violent scenes, I thought that the movies were completely awesome. It was our first R-rated experience. It took some wrestling with my inner demons to not feel immense culture-induced guilt in watching it. I do not desire to watch gratuitous sex and violence (just regular sex and violence? That phrase has always confused me), and I really hate horror movies, no matter what they're rated. Mr. T cannot handle watching scary movies either. We stick to Star Trek most nights.
But I want to say this: oddly enough, watching that trilogy has given me a way to cope with the things I see happening in the LDS Church that I feel are wrong or well-intentioned but misguided and hurtful. Let me explain.
As Mr. T and I have discussed together, the gospel of Jesus Christ is different from the institution of the Church. They mix and mesh together, absolutely, but in my mind there is Truth and then there is Policy (and sometimes what we think is truth but is actually culture and tradition). When I enter a church building, I feel like I am entering the Matrix. ("Brother Anderson . . . ") The structure of the church is built upon inherent assumptions, expectations, and programs. There is a higher structure governing these programs. It's called the Patriarchy. (I did note that the Architect of the Matrix was a white-bearded, elderly man.) Yet, there is also a Truth that exists outside and through and even despite these human-run programs. This Truth, at its core, is the simple good news of the Gospel: Jesus died for us so that we have time and space to try to be better individuals and so that we can return to God. Love God, love your neighbor. That's pretty much it. It's simply stated, but difficult in practice and very easy to add extraneous rules to. Lots and lots of rules, hemlines, dresses not pants, proclamations, etc. That's where the Church struggles.
Of course, there are mechanisms of the institution that seek to keep people safely inside the net. Sometimes they're from the ward council, sometimes it's a home teacher or a visiting teacher or the missionaries, even the stake presidency:
Then there is Truth. The Matrix of the Church does contain and incorporate Truth, as I see it. There are many ways that the institution of the Church has helped me in genuinely good ways: I've developed discipline and leadership abilities; I've learned how to speak and interact with others in a group or individually without needing alcohol or violence; and I've learned of the importance of community and of caring and serving those who may be very different than me. These are all valuable things to me, and the Gospel Truth informs much of our ideologies, programs, and policies. Sometimes we even talk about Jesus in church.
But sometimes the Matrix perpetuates false thinking. In my case, I believe that our understanding of gender and sexuality is greatly hampered by our insistence that boys are boys (as they have been defined by Western culture) and that girls are girls (as they have been defined by Western culture). Each has their place in heaven, and you can't get to heaven without the other.
But there are those who get lost in this rigid order. Gays. Singles. The divorced. Lesbians. The infertile. Those in abusive LDS marriages or families. Transgender. Democrats, even, although we supposedly have a non-partisan policy. Women who want to work. Women who don't want kids. All of these people are deleted from our programs (whether through leaving the church, being expelled from the church, or, tragically, through suicide), or are made to feel so guilty that they become shells of themselves to comply with the expectations. Women in particular are brought up to think that they need a priesthood-holding man as their intermediary to God, and that a good Mormon woman is self-abasing and always needs to be presided over.
Today, during Stake Conference, the visiting Seventy, talking about the importance of marriage and the law of the Celestial Kingdom and the oath and the covenant of the priesthood—I kid you not, it was intense—said this: "A woman's face is like a painting, and her husband is the artist." Mr. T and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was followed with "Brethren, we need to help put woman up to where God wants them. We need to let them know how special they are." Not two days ago I had been watching The Sound of Music with my son and cringing at the lyrics to "Sixteen Going On Seventeen":
You wait little girl
On an empty stage
For fate to turn the light on
Your life little girl
is an empty page
that men will want to write on
Seriously, I thought we were past this era. The Seventy went on to say that you can't go to the Celestial Kingdom if you're not married [again, I don't think that we fully understand what heaven is, and it's also clouded by that polygamy thing], and that's why we try to get you young singles married so quickly, which made at least 40% of the women in the congregation hang their heads in guilt, anxiety, and shame. The Seventy's wife then got up and said, "I am so grateful that women are not ordained," but in the same breath she said, "It is such an amazing thing that God gives His power to men, that He trusts them with that power. And I get to enjoy the blessings." I find being put on a pedestal and treated like a child that can't be trusted with sharp objects offensive to my spirit. It is benevolent sexism at its finest.
What do I do when incredibly offensive things like this happen, and Jesus is nowhere in sight? It would be so nice to leave the Mormon Matrix permanently. Someone bore their testimony today saying, "I know that this is the only true and living church on the face of this earth" and Mr. T and I looked at each other and smiled, because Zion, at least in the Matrix movies, is not on the face of the earth but underneath it.
Yet I feel there is still a way to participate in the Matrix while having an understanding that transcends it and adopts a more inclusive, loving attitude toward the rest of God's children who are not a part of the Matrix (although we send lots of representatives to fix that). And what is that way? How can I dodge all the truly bigoted and sexist comments?
"Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead . . . only try to realize the truth. [. . .] Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."
Truth cannot be learned in one year of a Gospel Doctrine class. Truth extends beyond the boundaries of the institution of our church, and in encompasses not only humanity but the entire universe. The LDS Church, as an institution, is only a very small part of an immense universe. We will spend our entire lives discovering new truths. Some we may not like or may conflict with what we were taught, but I would rather live by Truth than in a fabricated sense of security.
I hope to see all of you in church on Sunday along with Brother Anderson. Bring your sunglasses.
Keep it real,