Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Apostates Not Welcome

The Mormon church has a curious position on religious freedom. Their eleventh article of faith states,
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own cconscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
I can't really argue with that, but in practice things are somewhat different. Take for example the status of students at BYU. Non-Mormons are welcome, but former members are not. Mormons BYU students must be active church members or else they aren't welcome. It is their school and they can do what they want, but their internal policies don't seem terribly tolerant of other religious views or dissenting religious views. So, if you don't like it, then don't go to BYU.

Recent events have made me wonder how these types of institutional policies bleed over into the personal lives of Mormons.

I went to Utah with my family with the intention of staying with my wife's parents while we visited with her family and my parents and doing activities in the area. We also invited along my 17 year old son's girlfriend who is a very nice girl, but not a Mormon. On Sunday morning my wife and daughters went to church, but the rest of us slept in and didn't go to church. My in laws normally have church at 9:00 am, but things got rolling late so they went to 11:00 am services. I was sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast with the kids when my FIL comes strolling through.

"So, you're all too big to go to church now?"

"Yup," I reply.

As he passes through on the way to his bedroom he very loudly proclaims, "Well I don't like that. I don't like it one bit! Because that's what we do around here and if you don't like it then maybe you shouldn't come here. That's what I think."

Great. So, we all get dressed and, as has become tradition with us apostates, go out for lunch while the rest of the family is at church. After a nice lunch at KFC we start heading back when we notice a remote controlled plane over the houses. So I went over to the local remote control airport and we watch a plan fly and chat with a local RC pilot about his hobby. While we are wrapping up my cell phone rings. My very distraught wife informs me that I need to come back right now.

When I get back I send the kids in and walk down the sidewalk to find my wife who has left the house to escape her father. She didn't give me a blow by blow, but basically he took her into his bedroom with my MIL and told her that everyone who lives under his roof has to follow the house rules. Apparently this includes visitors and the rules included church attendance. He was also upset that my son's girlfriend was staying there. Since one of the main reasons for coming was going to the AMA Superbike races on the following Sunday this was a problem because none of us had any intention of attending church on that day. Of course, my wife had informed him when we were coming, who we were bringing, and what we were doing so he could have informed us before arriving that we weren't welcome. So we walked and talked for about an hour and headed back to the house to discover all of the kids milling around outside and looking uncomfortable.

While we were gone, my FIL had "caught" my son and his girlfriend alone in her bedroom downstairs. They were sitting there reading books, but apparently he vented on them and sent them out. My wife and I went in and my FIL announced that he had a rule that he thought would solve the problem. Our sons wouldn't be allowed downstairs where the girlfriend was staying. Fine, I said, that sounds reasonable and easy to handle. Then it was like nothing happened and my MIL continued preparing supper and conversation turned to normal topics. I waited for him to address the problems with me, but things seemed to be resolved for him with that one new rule.

My MIL was grilling ribs to welcome us and had invited her three other daughters over with their families. I was inside, but as people arrived the party moved to the front yard as my sister informed her siblings of the day's developments. Eventually the whole party moved out front because no one ever came in. My MIL was wearing dark sunglasses while grilling and I thought it was strange but didn't really make note of it until later in the week when she did the same thing.

The rest of Sunday passed reasonably and Monday and Tuesday, too. I was hoping that the storm had blown over and Sunday was just one of my FIL's classic blow ups that I'd only heard about but never witnessed. But Wednesday morning while I was out in the garage with the boys working on the dirt bikes and getting ready to ride in American Fork Canyon my wife comes out in tears. My FIL had accosted her about what bad guests we were and how messy the kids rooms were and how disrespectful the kids were and what a poor job we were doing raising the kids and teaching them values. He also asked her if I was still a priesthood holder. I asked her what she wanted me to do. I was ready to go in and talk to him, but neither of us thought it would accomplish anything. I was hoping we could just try and keep the peace and fly under the radar and get through the week and go back home. It's a little bit of a problem when you're 1500 miles from home with 7 people and hadn't planned or budgeted for staying in a hotel.

While I took the older kids riding, my wife escaped the house with her mom and sister so no more confrontations. But when we got back we packed everything else up moved a couple of blocks away to my SIL's house. My FIL goes to bed early so he wasn't up when we left, but my wife told my MIL and think it really upset her. She rarely displays emotion and in my opinion shows all of the symptoms of battered wife syndrome. She knows better than to speak up or contradict her husband. As we were leaving she was wearing very dark sunglasses she got after cataract surgery. I'm guessing she was crying and didn't want anyone to see. I'm guessing that the same thing happened on Sunday afternoon while grilling and listening to her children discuss their controlling father.

The rest of the vacation went well. We didn't see my FIL or MIL again before I left. We didn't go over for dinner or talk to them at all. I feel very sorry for my MIL. But she can't/won't oppose her husband and always ends up going along with him no matter how wrong he is. She stood by while he abused his children when they were young and the pattern continues as adults. Strangely, I feel no anger toward my FIL. I just feel sorry for him because he is such a pathetic creature. He's had a hard life and is 75 now. He'll never change and I doubt he even recognizes a need to change. While staying with my SIL I talked to her husband. My FIL works part time at his business and my BIL confronted him at work and let him know that he's washed his hands of him. He let him know that he has alienated the only people in the world that are still willing to make an effort to visit him. It's really sad to see a person with so little love and consideration and a complete lack of empathy for those who should be closest to him.

I'm having trouble figuring out what role my FIL's Mormonism plays in all of this. He's pretty out there even by Mormon standards and I doubt that most Mormons I know would see what he did as acceptable. Yet, I do think that the Mormon culture and belief system reinforce his behavior. He sees things as black and white. He's authoritarian. He believes that disbelief or disobedience should be punished. He believes that people should be free to make choices but should have to suffer consequences even if the consequences are arbitrarily harsh and serve no purpose. He believes that non-Mormons are bad and have no morals. I'm wondering how he views my son's non-Mormon girlfriend. The impression I got is that he thinks she slutty and can't be trusted to be alone around his grandson.

Oh well. I don't anticipate visiting my in laws ever again or really having any more contact with them. The vacation was uniformly good with the exception of when we had to be in contact with my FIL. The solution for me is to just not have any more contact with him. I'd be sad about that, but I don't want my kids associating with him and I don't think that they'd miss him. My MIL is a different story, but as long as the FIL is part of the package I doubt we'll be seeing her much either.


Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Hi.. my father is 72 and is very like your father in law. Unfortunately, I believe that the church in Utah reinforced this type of behavior among the church members. It was not uncommon to hear of wife and child physical abuse when i was growing up.

Maybe the church is a kinder gentler Mormonism, but what you are seeing of your FIL was typical of what I escaped.

Rebecca said...

Sounds like your vacation was super fun and totally drama-free (sarcasm, sarcasm). My grandfather sounds a little like your FIL, although toned way back. He's VERY controlling, and though he's always "nice" about it, he COMPLETELY believes he has the right to pass judgment on, and control, everyone's life.

Once my SIL dyed her hair a sort of dark brown/burgundy -- much closer to her natural color, but my grandfather had only ever seen her blonde and apparently thought it was natural. Anyway, he gave her a huge lecture on not changing what God gave us and how disrespectful it is, blahblahblah. I won't even get into the faulty logic inherent in that.

Another time he saw my cousin's boyfriend playfully slap her ass, so he pulled the boyfriend aside and said he didn't ever want to see him touch my cousin in her "special place" again. Talk about blown out of proportion, and totally inappropriate. And now this has turned into the longest comment EVER, and has almost nothing to do with your post. And I still going to publish it.

GuateMom said...

Drama, drama, drama. I think the kids are better off not being exposed to that kind of behavior and faulty logic. Maybe you can just bring your MIL to visit you so that the kids can still have that association. She could probably use the break from FIL too!

considering said...

You know, it seems your church leaders must be supporting this man's behavior, probably along the lines of get thee behind me Satan and avoiding even the appearance of evil.

Bull said...

I can't figure out why the church punishes members for trivial behavior and lets major things slide. It just doesn't make much sense.