Some of my facebook status updates have pointed out a frustrating ordeal that has been going on for the last couple weeks, and I've realized that several people have been discussing it online with only bits and pieces of the story. Here is a lengthy account of what has happened. Obviously, this is only my version of the tale, but I can assure you that nothing that could be considered incriminating against me by my Church leaders has been omitted.
My second child was born a couple months ago. Rather than doing it in a hospital as we did with my daughter two years ago, we chose to have our son in a birthing center with the aid of a midwife. (I highly recommend Better Birth to anyone pregnant in the Salt Lake/Utah County area). For me, the best part of having our son at the birthing center was that my wife was able to use a birthing chair that she sat on instead of laying on a bed. I sat in a chair directly behind her, where I could hold her and offer her encouragement. Because of this, my son's birth was a drastically more intimate experience than that of my daughter's. Unlike my daughter's birth, where I was more of an observer, I felt like I was an active participant (though, obviously, not participating in the way that my wife was). Seeing the birth from her perspective was beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. (You can see what I saw here).
Throughout the pregnancy, I wanted my wife to able to be more involved with his baby blessing and wanted her to be able to hold my son as many of my other friends have been able to do. Experiencing his birth in this way made me want to do it even more--to allow her to hold him and be intimately present during his blessing, just as I was able to hold her and be intimately present in the delivery.
We had just moved into a new house a couple weeks before our son was born, and was not entirely sure how our new bishop would feel about this. We also did not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable in our new ward by having my wife in the circle during his blessing in front of them. Rather than bring this desire up with our bishop, we instead chose to address another concern that we had--that both sets of our parents live across the country and would not be able to witness the blessing of their grandson. In order for them to be able to still be a part of it, we wanted to be able to bless him in our home so that we could Skype it with them. I have had dozens of friends bless their children in their homes and felt this would be a non issue. We met with our bishop and expressed this concern. He told us he thought it was fine, but wanted to discuss it with our stake president.
A few days later I got a call back from the bishop telling me that the stake president said no to what we wanted to do. I called him back that afternoon and discussed it with him. He seemed to care little that our parents could not attend and saw the blessing as only a Church ordinance. I decided to tell him about the powerful experience that I had at my son's birth and the desire I had that my wife be able to participate more intimately in the blessing, hoping that he might understand our desires. I made it clear that my wife would not be participating as a priesthood holder, but as a mother holding her child. He did not care. He told me that he held "ecclesiastical jurisdiction" over the stake and that his "advice" was that we do the blessing during our ward's sacrament meeting. Our phone conversation was cordial, but left me frustrated. I wrote the following shortly after the call on facebook (which is only shared with friends):
After being able to closely hold my wife as she sat on a birthing chair to give birth to my son, I was adamant that she hold him as I blessed and named him--so that she can participate more closely in the blessing in the same way I was able to participate more closely in his birth (as opposed to largely being a mere observer as we both were with our daughter's birth and blessing two years ago).
Not wanting to make a statement in sacrament meeting, we decided we wanted to bless him in our home. The added benefit with doing it at home is that we would be able to share the blessing by Skype with his four grandparents who are all on the other side of the country and unable to make the trip for the blessing.
Spoke with our bishop and he was fine with it, but wanted to talk to the stake president first. He called last night and told me the SP said no. I called the SP this afternoon and he said that my wife could not hold our son, we could not do it at home, and that we could not share it with his grandparents. I tried to avoid arguing with him, but made as many points as I could. He simply appealed to tradition, the handbook, and his ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
My feeling right now is to just do as we planned and make this a father blessing his child and not care about any Church recognition.
After prayerful consideration, my wife and I decided that the "advice" that my stake president gave me was not what my family needed and we chose to do the blessing at a family gathering a couple weeks later. It was a beautiful experience, and perhaps the most spiritually fulfilling that I have had as a father. This was how I described it a couple says later:
Two days ago, outside a cabin near Bear Lake, my beautiful wife held my son as I offered his baby blessing. In the circle were my two brothers and brother-in-law. Just outside of the circle, but seemingly a part of it were my two sisters-in-law, along with 4 nephews and two nieces. My parents were watching via Skype. As I was blessing my son, my daughter ran in and wrapped her arms around my wife's legs.
My daughter held my wife, while she and I held our son, and my family essentially held the four of us. I couldn't have asked for anything better.
Life was good... until a few days later when I got a call from the ward executive secretary informing me that our bishop wanted to meet with me. I thought it may have been related to our blessing, but, in my naivete, I actually started to believe that I might be getting a calling--perhaps even to be gospel doctrine teacher, as I have always wanted to be.
The bishop asked if we could begin our meeting with a prayer, and his opening words made it very clear that I was not getting a calling: "Heavenly Father, we are thankful for the principle of obedience..."
After the prayer, the bishop immediately began asking about the facebook post above, telling me that I was publicly mocking a confidential discussion between me and the bishop and SP. I told him that I was not mocking them or disparaging them at all and asked how he even knew about the post. He told me that the SP brought it to his attention and asked him to discuss it with me. When I asked how the SP knew about it, he told me that it didn't matter. I asked again, and he said that it was public and anyone could see it (which I knew was dishonest, because my status's are made so that only my fb friends can see them). I pointed out that only my fb friends could see my posts and wanted to know which one showed it to him, and he again said that it didn't matter how he or the SP came to see it and that it was public for anyone to see.
As we were discussing the post, he repeatedly said that I was mocking him and the SP. I ensured him that I did not and that I could show him the post on my phone to prove that I had not. His response: "No. I don't need to read that again." He accused me of lying on my post saying that I had claimed the bishop gave me "carte blanche permission" to do whatever I wanted with the blessing. I told him that I had not and instead had said that he thought it was fine but wanted to discuss it with the SP first. I told him that I could show him the post on my phone to prove that I had not lied on my post. His response: "No. I don't need to read that again." He then went on to say that I was claiming that I was saying that women should be ordained in the comments of the post. (BTW, I've never publicly supported the ordain women movement, largely because I believe we need less, not more, priesthood authority in the Church). He said that if I believe that women should be ordained, then he has a real problem with me. I told him that to the contrary, I told others in the comments who were making my post about women's ordination that they should take that discussion elsewhere. I told him I could show him what I actually said on my phone. His response: "No. I don't need to read that again."
From there, he started telling me that others in the ward have gone to him, complaining about me. He said that I was saying in my elders quorum that women should be ordained. I told him that if someone had told him that, it was not true and they had completely misunderstood me. Rather, what happened that Sunday was that during a lesson on the Relief Society, where my fellow elders were giving the stock answers about how great women in the RS are, I raised my hand and said. "Instead of just saying how great the RS is and how the Church couldn't survive without them, can we ask how we might actually help the women in the Church feel more valuable? There are lots of young women and women in the Church who, from the age of twelve, feel like they are less valued in the Church because they are women. Given the limitations we have from our policies and doctrines, what are some things we can do in our ward to help them feel more valued?"
I kid you not, as soon as I finished saying this, the bishop jumped in and responded: "They have babies. Doesn't that make them feel valued?" Had I not known he was serious, I would have thought it was an inside joke.
This turned into a lengthy argument between the two of us, with him certain that there are not women in the Church that feel this way. I told him that my wife, other family members, dozens of friends, and many acquaintances have expressed this. I told him about the Claremont Mormon Women's Oral History Project, with hundreds of oral histories of Mormon women from all over that show this as a consistent theme. He dismissed all of this, claiming that he has never seen any women who feel this way.
This went on for a while and then moved on to the question of sustaining leaders. He said that because I did not obey my SP's advice that I was not sustaining my Church leaders. I told him that to the contrary, the reason that I spoke with both of them was because I sustained them, and that otherwise I would have just done it behind their back as others suggested I should have. "No, if you sustained your leaders, you would have listened to the advice the SP gave you." "I did listen, but we decided that the advice he gave was not the right thing for our family. We aren't obligated to obey all of our leader's advice." "Of course you have your agency, but there are consequences for not using your agency to listen to your leaders." "I called him and sought and listened to his advice. That's what it means to sustain him." "No, to sustain your leaders means to obey whatever they tell you." "That's not what 'sustain' means though." "That's what it means to me." "That's fine if it means that to you, but that's not what the word means." "Well you can play your word games if you want to try to get around being obedient." "I'm not playing word games." "Well then you should sustain your leaders by being obedient to them."
This meeting went on for an hour and a half, looping in circles and going nowhere. Eventually he said he had to meet with the financial clerk and that we should just end the meeting by agreeing to disagree. I hated the whole feeling of bitterness that filled our whole meeting and desperately wanted to find some place of agreement that could bring in a spirit of love, understanding, and concern--aka The Spirit--before I left. I asked him if I could ask him a couple questions.
"Bishop, I know you don't believe this, but I promise you that there are many young women and women who feel less valued in the Church because they are women--because they have two X chromosomes...."
"Bishop please, I assure you that there are women who feel this way. My daughter..."
"There are some men that feel less valued."
"I'm sure there are, but please, can I ask you my question."
"Bishop, I don't know our ward members very well, but given the large percentage of young women and women in the Church who feel this way, I can guarantee you that there are young women and women in this ward who feel that they are less valued because they are women. My daughter..."
"Nobody in this ward has expressed this."
At this point I was starting to tear up. "Bishop, please don't interrupt me. My daughter is only two years old right now. In ten years she is going to be in Young Women's and I don't want her to feel that she is less valued in the Church because she is woman. I don't want her to feel what my wife, my family members, my friends, and many others have felt. I know you don't believe me, but I promise you that many feel this way. What I'm asking you is to just take this to the Lord. Pray to Heavenly Father and ask him if there are any young women or women in the ward that feel this way. If I'm wrong, then I'm wrong. But can't you please at least ask the Lord this. You're the bishop of this ward. You've go the keys to help them. If God tells you that this is the case, then just ask for understanding about how they feel and how you can be inspired to help them. Bishop, if you do this, I will love you so much. I will have so much respect for you."
"And what if I don't."
"Then I can't have that level of respect for you. Bishop, I'm going to go all missionary method here. Will you pray to Heavenly Father and ask him if there are some young women or women who feel this way and for understanding and inspiration to help them if they do?"
I'm pretty much crying at this point; and in as cold as a manner as you can imagine, he looked at me and replied: "I don't have to take your advice."
I stood up and loudly told him, "Then I have no respect for you." And walked out the door.
After I got home and told my wife what happened, I recalled that a few days earlier I had discovered that my elders quorum president was a facebook friend of mine. I usually have a strict policy of not having warm members as facebook friends, but accidentally added him a couple weeks earlier confusing his friend request for a friend of mines. (He went to my old high school and had several mutual friends from my HS days.) I went onto fb, saw that he was online, and then asked him if he sent any of my posts to our stake president or bishop. He first denied it, but after pressing him further, he said that the bishop had gone to him with concern and he shared the post because he saw that I had been frustrated and was concerned about me. (Remember, the bishop told me that the SP notified him about the post.) After further discussion though, especially concerning that discussion in EQ that he had misrepresented, it was obvious that more than just a concern about my frustration had occurred--after all, the bishop didn't just see the fb post, but had also read the several dozen comments that followed it. I quickly unfriended him.
That night I felt a complex mix of anger, frustration, and sadness because I had really wanted to be active in this new ward and now felt that it would be nearly impossible. I know it's not manly to admit this, but I shed a lot of tears into my pillow that night.
Three days later it was fast and testimony meeting. I had resolved myself to not let this get into the way of me being an active participant in the ward. Since the bishop had told me that others besides someone in my EQ (which turned out to be my EQP) had complained about me, I thought I would share as honest and heartfelt testimony as I could to ensure the ward that I had a deep love and testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that I believed in the key claims of Mormonism, but that my testimony was not grounded or fixed on institutions, humans, and 'things'. You can read what I said here.
I felt inspired as I spoke, but it was clear from those who spoke after me that they did not understand what I was hoping to relay. Each person went through the list of things I discussed, strongly declaring that they "have a testimony of X and KNOW that X is true." Besides the lovely testimonies of the two missionaries who didn't seem to be responding to me, not one of them testified of the gospel of love. One of the respondees was a counselor to the SP who began: "I don't want to take any time away from your testimonies, and I appreciate Brother Ericson's honesty, but I want to say that I have a testimony of X and KNOW that X is true..." Funny thing is that I have never met this man and when I got up I only identified myself by my first name. Near the end of the meeting, even the bishop got up and bore the script, even though his counselor had begun the meeting with his own testimony.
Two days ago (Thursday), I got a call from the SP's secretary telling me that the SP wanted to meet with both me and my wife this Sunday. He said that the SP just wanted to know how we were doing and that it would just be an informal 15-20 minute visit. I had hopes that this meeting would be more about love and understanding instead of the abuse of authority and judgment that had been exemplified by my bishop last week. However, I learned with the bishop to not put too much hope into others. It had been several months since I had last gone to the temple. I had really wanted to the last few months (especially with the new video), but with a new baby that needs frequent nursing (and not wanting to cause nipple confusion by using a bottle too early), we can been unable to. I desired the peace and meditative contemplation that I always feel in the temple and wanted to go on today (Saturday) in case the SP tried to take my temple recommend away for disagreeing with him and the bishop. My wife pumped herself like a cow so that we could leave our son and daughter with some friends, and we drove to the Jordan River Temple (where I was first endowed just over 15 years ago).
As we were driving to the temple, I became ever more eager to feel the peace away from the storm that had been unsettling me since my meeting with the bishop. We discussed how we needed to use this time in there to think about why it was we wanted to stay active in the Church.
We entered the doors of the temple and went to throw away some gum in my mouth and get a drink of water. My wife told me she was going to go ahead and get dressed and would meet me in the waiting chapel. As she walked away, the thought crossed my mind that the bishop or SP would have already canceled my temple recommend and that if my wife got in, I would have to find someone to track her down and let her know what had happened.
Instead, I found my wife talking to a confused recommend-checker who couldn't understand why nothing would come up the computer when he scanned her TR. Not only were my suspicions correct, but they had done this to my wife as well--someone who they had never spoken to. Just to make sure, I had the checker scan my TR. It had the same result.
Normally when I leave the temple, I feel peace. This time I felt anger, frustration, betrayal, and deep sadness. We called the SP's secretary to try to get a hold of the SP to get some understanding of what had happened. He knew nothing of the matter and could not reach the SP. He was only able to contact the 2nd counselor, who knew nothing about it. I called the bishop afterwards. He repeatedly told me "You need to talk to the SP."
I've never felt so angry about something in the Church before. Not only did we suffer the embarrassment of what happened in the temple, but I am frustrated that they revoked my recommend, annoyed that they did so without even notifying me, and angry that they did this to my wife--who, as I have mentioned, they haven't even spoken to.
The temple is almost the only thing that has kept my wife active. And because of me, they are punishing her. This, in some ways, hurts the most.