“A Little Hippyish”

I got M and J’s permission to share this on the blog and M read it before I published it though she made me take out the best line. :(

“So are they pretty straight arrows, all good with them?” SP2 asked me when he called a little less than a year before my released to get some info on the J&M who he was thinking of asking to perform a musical number at the adult session of stake conference. He’d called to ask about their musical aptitude, but included the above question as well.

To me J&M, a late 20s couple, were all good, but I felt that they didn’t really fit SP2’s definition of “straight arrow”/orthodox member and thus saying yes to that question felt a touch misleading. M (wife) had ruffled feathers from the get go, calling out people in casual settings for uncharitable speech in woke ways, her husband J has shoulder length hair and a beard, and both had given the WILDEST talks I’d ever heard in church when we had them speak after moving to the ward.

M talked about how the church had been a good place for her, but had struggled since the pandemic, had lots of LGBT+ friends and those sympatric who had struggled with and left the church. M said something like, “while the church has been a good place for me, I also acknowledge those whom I love that have felt harmed by the church.” NEVER HEARD THAT OVER THE PULPIT. She ended her talk with saying that she did not KNOW the church was true but believed it, and had a lot to work through. Her husband gave a similar talk.

I invited them to the safe-space group soon after.

So when SP2 asked me about their orthodoxy, I didn’t feel like yes was the right answer according to his definition, but thought “why does that matter for them just to sing?” So I tried to think of an answer that wasn’t misleading but one that wouldn’t arouse too much concern. I thought “a little edgy,” but worried that would bring on more questions.

Then I thought of it: “Um… they’re a little hippyish.” He kind of laughed, they performed, and it was beautiful.

And we proceeded with our safe-space group with them and other members, but toward the end, I started worrying if what I was doing was working. M sounded SO much like the many of the contributors to Feminist Mormon Housewives: troubled childhood, feeling rescued by the church, feminist/liberal awakening, very far-left views, and lots of frustration with the church based on those views.

Not that I knew anyone personally, but the impression I got c. 2009 was that it sounded like the bloggers at FMH almost all wanted to leave, and were something as a support group to each other on the way out the door. That worried me in the case of M, and I hoped to try to steer things in what I thought was a better direction.

But no such luck, it seemed. The pinnacle statement came when we had last years’ May safe-space meeting which happened to come the day after I’d been told I’d be released and the ward boundaries redrawn.

At the end of the meeting M made the following declaration. “I’m so torn,” she said. “I won’t shop at Chick-Fil-A or endorse Harry Potter because I don’t want to hurt people. How does it make sense that I’m in the church? But the church will always be a part of me and so will Harry Potter.”

Yikes, I thought, I’ve never personally seen anyone who stated views so staunchly make it work with the church (maybe they’re out there, I just don’t know them).

I figured that based on all I’d seen in the Bloggernacle, M was headed for the door. It would probably take a couple of years of hemming and hawing on the way out (like I’d seen on the Bloggernacle) but she was on her way out. And the trend I’d noticed is that when such wives leave, they usually take their husbands with them.

So that made me really sad, but I figured it was hard fact that I had to deal with: I’m here to do my best but I can’t control other people, just like I can’t control my own children. I made a good effort but I couldn’t insist on the outcomes I wanted for people.

The following week as I sat across from M at our ward’s final linger longer, she expressed great appreciation to me for being her bishop while I thought “That’s really nice, which makes it all the more painful that you’re headed for the door.”

I was so sure of my analysis that I was missing a few interesting clues like the fact that the previous Sunday evening, the new bishop had called me to asked what kind of young men’s leader J had been, and me, not thinking that people like them would ever be called into the bishopric, thought the new bishop was simply asking about J as a YM adviser. “No, YM leaders were a little down the road in terms of callings,” the bishop pointed out as the all laughed at me later for missing the obvious.

And the fact that J&M both introduced me to J’s dad who’d flown in from out of town as I sat with them at the linger longer was another missed clue. Missing all these clues, I was flabbergasted when at the stake meeting where they called us all together to explain the new boundaries and call the new bishoprics, J called to be made a high priest then into the bishopric.

“What!” I thought. “The hippies don’t get called into the bishopric! They get seen as somewhat dangerous and thus kept away from ‘sensitive’ callings like Young Women or other leadership callings. People talk about how to reign in their wild comments in gospel doctrine and other classes. They don’t get put in the bishopric, and what was J doing still having his long hair and beard?!” (I may say more about that later.)

Had everything I thought I knew about church culture been thrown out the window? Did I not know the cultural “rules” anymore? Part of me felt like I’d wake up in the morning and not be able to read the street signs. Was M NOT headed for the door like I assumed?

The new bishopric called my wife as YW pres who in turn called M as one of her advisors, and we’re all pretty good buddies. But I kept wondering how M was doing based on everything I’d seen. She didn’t seem to be voicing a tone of unhappiness but her far-left views didn’t seem to have changed either.

It was M that I quoted on a comment on a previous post: “Speaking only for myself, I’m in a much better place now than when we moved here. Obviously there’s still a lot I don’t know or understand and would like to talk about, but I don’t feel as desperate or lost. And a huge part of it is just knowing there’s a group of people in the same boat!”

Interesting. Again her social views haven’t changed at all. When they invited us to go with them to the temple in the fall, my wife asked her if it was okay if we stopped to get food at Chick-Fil-A. “As long as I’m not buying,” she said a little apologetically and added that she was now boycotting McDonalds and Starbucks over Palestine.

The kids these days (the tile of my next post).

Of course the bishop who called him, he and his wife also in the group. Though we’d spent more time with the new bishop and wife than anyone else as a couple while bishop, they’re kind of mysterious, like I said, so I called up a mutual mentor to ask if he had any insights. He said the new bishop was very impressive but that he and his wife didn’t talk about themselves much. But he added this caveat. “I did at one point tell her. ‘I believe that deep down you are a hippie.’”

When I passed that story on to the J&M, I added, “A ward run by hippies? My kind of ward!”

They weren’t sure about the hippie moniker but took understood I meant it affectionately.

“Does the stake have any idea what they’re getting!?” I asked.

M replied. “Well, if they don’t, God does.” And that got me a little teary-eyed as that’s was a big goal I had with the group.

M, of course, is only one person, but I’m seeing some interesting trends among the younger members and am curious about the implication of M not only staying because she’s found “other people in the same boat,” but that some of those in the boat are being called into local leadership at a young age.

To me this suggests some possible trends, which would also suggest to me some cultural changes ahead. More musings in my next posts.

23 comments for ““A Little Hippyish”

  1. Amen. What a blessing. Props to the T&S admin, who now seem more willing to invite dialogue, even a little critical conversation to this space. This is what the Church needs—constructive, open conversation. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but sharing the space and experience of those on the fence, those marginalized, those who might not fit our expectations, makes for a place we can all feel at home with one another. Encore.

  2. I am one of those liberal, feminist, with a bad childhood who read FMH that you would have predicted was on the way out. You were a good bishop for making room for people who do not fit the conservative, male centric, people with wonderful childhoods that is expected of “good Mormons. I was fine with my liberal ideas, my femism, and even the bad childhood until we moved back to Utah after being military and living all over. This was where family was, and we really like the variety of outdoor activities Utah offers, so we moved back. There was just no room in my Utah wards for a liberal feminist, and with my less than perfect childhood on top of not fitting in at all, it finally drove me out of at least activity and made me seriously question what I had believed. How can a church be “true” when the people treat anyone who doesn’t agree with them politicly like crap? By their fruits ye shall know them, and people just were not Christlike to anyone who was not the exact same mold. So, I am inactive and now questioning things that didn’t bother me before. Because if a church people are not good, who cares about if that church is factually correct. Somehow that church is failing badly in the Christlike category of being Christ’s church. Perhaps if I had a bishop who was willing to give callings to hippies and liberals and others who believed but didn’t follow the Republican Party, I might still be active.

  3. I’m sure it’s different in UT, ID, and AZ. But here in SoCal, there are fewer and fewer orthodox men available to do priesthood callings. I think we will see a rise of hippyish local leaders out of necessity and not necessarily because that’s the direction the SLC Church would like to go.

    In a weird way, it would help preserve orthodoxy if women were available to be bishops and EQPs because the stake would have a larger pool of orthodox members to do the required callings.

    It will be interesting to see how the next decade looks in my ward and stake.

  4. I guess I should have said bishops, clerks, and exec secretaries, high councilors, etc. Not EQPs. It’s not like Relief Society would go away even if women could hold the priesthood…

  5. I’m sorry for the years of terrible posts. I’ve got a few more on the way! But this is a great post and we need to hear more about and from people like M and J.

  6. Thank you for the kind comments and thanks to T&S for letting me share. I wish you’d had that hoped-for experience too, Anna.

  7. T.M. Overley: There’s certainly no dearth of “critical conversation” on the bloggernacle if that is what you are implying (if anything they take up all the oxygen in the room). In the particular subculture niche of very online Mormons it’s the conservative position that is uncomfortable and edgy. (Which isn’t to say that we don’t appreciate Stephen F’s very traditional and straight-laced contributions ;)

  8. I am with Dave on this as I think lots of this is because it is CA. I have a daughter and son-in-law that moved to CA after living in traditional AZ church culture all of their lives. My daughter tells me I would like the church more in CA. :) I am sure I would. Here in AZ we have way too many peter preisthoods and molly mormons to pick from. The non-traditional, hippies, liberals, etc get the callings that I have. I do have to confess that I use my non traditional label to avoid leadership callings. It is so easy to do here. I wear my “I dont want to be here” face at church, say non traditional comments when the bishop and SP are in the class, and the biggest help was home churching during covid. It is as if I was wearing Jesus hair a blue shirt and jeans! Untouchable!

    @ Anne – I think I am the male equivalent of you as I relate to your comments a lot. I have also struggled with some of the same things you mention. Although I have never had a “faith crisis” like lots of members, I have for some reason questioned leaders, policy and members/culture my entire life. Add self taught church historian to my mix and lets just say I look at the church very different. As for members not producing “fruit” as you mention above, or better yet, bad fruit, this was something I thought of a lot in my church life. I had some rally bad fruit leaders in my day. What helps me is to look at the “church” as the org that supports the Gospel of Jesus. We as members focus on the “church being true” when IMO it is the Gospel of Jesus that is true. The church with all its policies, programs and procedures (and people of the church that fall short) are just here to do our best with the Gospel until Jesus comes and then there will be no more church. The church as we know and love (and maybe not like at all) will not exist. The gospel is simple and unchangeable. The church (and some of its members) is complicated and sometimes just a hot mess. Hope this view may help you someday.

    Having said all this….I think what Bishop Stephen has shared about what is going on in CA is coming to a church near you. Maybe not soon but for sure in the coming years and for lots of reasons. Heck, as an old man, I dont recognize the church that I was a bishop of just 10 years ago. In the coming years we will see the unintentional consequences of all the changes the current leader has made the last 6 years. Going to be very interesting to see! Get your popcorn and your testimony….

  9. We had an Elder’s Quorum President recently with long hair and a beard. I just figured he took “I’m Trying to be Like Jesus” seriously. :)

    May I humbly suggest the Lord knows exactly what he’s doing in calling “unorthodox” members to leadership positions? (M had it exactly right that God knew what he was getting.) We’re not backup plans, only chosen because of a shortage of the orthodox members the Lord would really prefer to call. To mangle 1 Samuel 16:7 “Look not on his political leanings, or on the length of his hair, for the Lord seeth not as man seeth, for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” The sooner we can get over conflating “Mormon culture” with the gospel, the sooner we’ll realize people who don’t fit the culture but love the gospel have a lot to contribute. And being asked to contribute will make them feel like valued members of the community and more likely to stay.

    That was my problem with Utah wards. I enjoyed my time as an undergrad at BYU and for a while thought I might want to teach there, but exposure to non-student wards changed my mind. Keep in mind these were the observations of a very young man who never got too deeply embedded in a ward. But it felt like anyone who didn’t fit the Utah mold was judged as not being faithful to the gospel. Being white, male, heterosexual, and committed to not talking about politics at church, I could pass as what they were expecting. (People I talked with in other contexts were shocked, shocked!, to learn I generally voted for Democrats.) My sister had a harder time. Anna, I have no trouble imagining your experience and completely understand your reaction.

  10. Again, that’s for the opportunity, Stephen C!

    I wanted to share this story to highlight some topics I wanted to blog about. Again, I hoped to helped people with concerns stay in the church when I created our safe-space group, and some of the discussions I had when with ward members when I put it together seemed to suggest some discomfort perhaps with too many unconventional people sticking around. No one came out and said that exactly, but I did hear some worry that such unconventional people sought concerning changes. And not surprisingly, many in the group would like some change.

    To me that suggests some differing ideas of what people would like the church to be and we’ve seen such expressions on the bloggernacle for years. And I see this younger generation as being rather different that us older people, even to the point of defining orthodoxy in different ways.

    I’m guessing these trends will lead to more unconventional people sticking around and that could lead to greater variance in our wards and church practice.

    California may be a little different, but we do have plenty of conservative older men. In our particular area, we do have smaller wards making fewer potential bishops to pick from. I mentioned my own calling in that context. And like I said on that post (like RLD mentions) I did very much feel called by God, but also felt that being in particular circumstances (which I believe God oversaw) facilitated the calling.

    So, yes, lots of topics I’d like to discuss: the implications of smaller wards (that seems to be a trend in a number of places), differences among younger members, the implications of putting those young members in charge, all of which, I think, will lead to greater variation. That may concern some people going forward, but I think it will be really interesting. My new bishopric has certainly been so.

  11. I certainly do not think every EQ pres in every ward is called of God. I certainly DO think some are. Heck I dont think God called Brigham Young. I think that was more a logical pick by the members and God let it happen. If you think everyone was called of God then we tend to think the bad leaders are perhaps God’s fault or worse the church is not true. My first mission pres should not have been called to lead missionaries. It was an awful experience for me.(working with him, not the mission) I still have issues with church leaders that stem from my mission pres experience.

    Our apostles are called by recommendations from the quorum. Our “prophets” are called by living the longest. Our stake pres are voted on by the stake leaders. (casting lots like Jesus did) God’s hand could be in it, but I would not call it the norm. Hey I told you I look at things differently! :)

  12. I do believe that God plays a role in church functionings and in my life even if there are many other factors.

  13. REC911, let me clarify that there’s no voting on a stake president. When a stake is reorganized, the visiting authorities interview the outgoing stake presidency, bishops and branch presidents, and the high council–I recently had my first and probably last interview with a general authority as a result. It makes for quite a Saturday morning. They’re invited to recommend people who might be a good stake president, and explain why. That’s it. Then they go home and hope the phone doesn’t ring. (I wasn’t worried.) The visiting authorities seek inspiration and do more interviews before finally making the call.

    I’m not going to insist that every calling is inspired. But I know a lot of them are. In this case, I had three people I knew well in mind to recommend, but then just a couple of days before the interview I felt like I should recommend someone else that I barely knew, though he’d impressed me in the few interactions we’d had. He turned out to be the one that was chosen. In fact it sometimes seems to me that the Lord is more willing to tell Church leaders who should be called to leadership positions than what they should do once they’re in them. Maybe it’s a case of “personnel is policy.” But we also believe in agency, and that we’re here to learn by experiencing both good and evil, and all that happens inside the Church as much as outside. (Seems to me that if the Church is true in the sense that our doctrine about why we’re here is correct, we should expect the institution to be kind of a mess. Learning and growing from messes–our own and those of others–is what mortality is all about.)

  14. @Stephen C., my experience with T&S is that comments are often censored, even if there is nothing that conflicts with the standards articulated by the blog itself. It’s a matter of moderators who aim to control the dialogue or cut out faithful members from the discussion for personal reasons. It’s refreshing that Stephen Fleming is forthright, fair, constructive, and open to other member’s voices. It’s a more covenantal approach.

  15. I suppose one might argue (perhaps what REC is implying) that asking for that input from leaders on potential stake presidents could like like a kind of voting, RLD. But I don’t think the two (“inspiration” and “information”) need to be mutually exclusive. They can overlap and I like that your own story is one of feeling inspired in whom you suggested. That suggests a more dynamic process and lots of people being involved.

  16. T.M. Overley, what you’re probably thinking of is that when a specific commenter consistently derails conversations or crosses the lines of acceptability too often by saying things like an Anglican priest who came closer to Christ through excruciating pain deserved the excruciating pain because he was an Anglican priest, then we will mark that person as someone whose comments go directly to moderation. But that’s a topic outside of this discussion.

  17. I’m glad you like my posts, T.M. but I’m not wanting to get in the middle of a fight on this (or other posts). All blogs have their own personalities and dynamics. Not all blogs or commenters will be everyone’s cup of tea.

  18. Anna, I’ve thought about your comment on fruits of the church members who aren’t Christlike to those who are different than they are. And what I can think of is the parable of the ten virgins. Half thought that they were doing the right thing and would be welcomed in, but weren’t. Jesus gave that parable as a warning. Perhaps you’ve had a disproportionate amount of interaction with those who have lamps, but they are not full of oil.

  19. RLD – I have also participated in the SP selection process and it was very similar to yours. I was not “invited” to recommend, I was told to list 3 candidates and my first choice should be #1 and so on. During my interview, of maybe 2 minutes, I was asked why I picked the person in the #1 spot. These “picks” had to be from the eligible group and that was those who were being interviewed. I believe in revelation. I also have no problem with casting lots. If it were not a vote in any form, they would not need our 3 choices from each person interviewed. They would interview all in the eligible group and ask God. Heck I am crazy enough to believe that they GA could have asked God on the plane trip who he should call and just meet/call the person when he arrives.

    Yes, this does not mean that all the GA does is tally up the #1’s and make the call. However they could as the majority of the stake leaders would support that person as he was their #1 choice. Since we are human, I am guessing that some leaders interviewed didn’t list who they thought should actually be the next SP but who they thought was going to be picked as the next SP. Some members like to get it right so to speak.

  20. @REC911: If it were a vote they’d only need your #1 pick (unless they’re doing ranked choice voting, I suppose). They wanted three names because they were gathering information, not votes. They get more information by not just interviewing you, but hearing what other people say about you.

    I also find it fascinating that the Lord always makes us work for revelation. He doesn’t just want us to have the right answers, he wants us to learn how to get the right answers ourselves–eventually.

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