LMA and MLK

Years ago I coined a phrase that still feels right. I like to say that I suffer from LMA, Liberal Mormon Angst.

It was hard during the Bush years, especially when I knew I was expected to defend Prop 8. And I tried. I was a young, faithful Mormon girl, and I tried so hard to feel good about Prop 8. But my heart was never at peace. I’m pretty sure I said some stupid things, which I regret, in my attempts to defend the Church’s stance. I prayed and prayed, trying to get God to tell me what position I should take on marriage equality, which fight I should fight. But God never directly answered the question. All I ever got was, “Just love the LGBT people in your life, no strings attached. That’s what you can do, so do it well.” Well, ok then. It leaves a lot of unresolved concerns in my mind, but at least I don’t have to fight against LGBT families. I need to love. I can do that.LMA was hard during the Obama years. Especially during that darn “Mormon Moment,” when it wasn’t just the normal expectation to support the GOP candidate; now I was expected to support Brother Romney! But how could I? (Sure, compared to what we’re dealing with today, he looks good. But my neighbor’s cat looks like a good candidate when put against today’s White House, so that’s not saying much.) My moral compass wouldn’t let me support his big corporation loving, 47% of the population hating, binders full of women toting, flip flopping self… Although if he’d stayed true to who he was as the governor of Massachusetts, I might have been able to get on board. He did good things as governor. Then he changed his position on virtually everything, taking a hard right in his presidential campaign, so I ended up A) disagreeing with his positions, and B) unable to trust that he has any moral backbone. Also, I still have the same questions about all the Romney loving Mormons in my life…. If Mitt had run for president with the same pro-healthcare, pro-gun control, pro-choice, pro-environmentalism ideals that worked for him in Massachusetts, would they still have supported him? Would they be claiming different positions on all these issues too? Did it bother them that their hero couldn’t make up his mind about his stance on anything? But as morally confusing as I found the Romney camp, I was the one who constantly had to answer the question, “How can you support Obama and call yourself Mormon?” (Short answer: because his values align very closely with mine.) Those were hard years.There was a brief window of naivete in 2016, where I thought my LMA burden might get a little lighter. Mormons weren’t pleased with Trump gaining traction, and support for the leading Republican candidate was at an all-time low. Utah didn’t vote for Trump in the primary. And then they scrounged up Evan McMullin out of nowhere, giving me hope that Mormons were willing to think outside the GOP box. I even had some sympathy for my conservative LDS friends, left without a a candidate. But I hoped that in this new world, where Mormons were checking out other options, maybe there would be more room for me and my liberal ways? I might still not agree with a lot of church members on politics, but at least we could mostly all agree on #NeverTrump, #AnythingButTrump, right? A common enemy has brought groups together more than a few times before.

My hope was short-lived. The Mormon resistance folded like a house of cards…. True, less than 50% of Utah voted for Trump in the general election, but it was still enough to give him the state. I was disappointed, but not shocked. The heartsickness started setting in when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang at his inauguration. Helping to celebrate a man that we all knew was dedicating his life to terrorizing most Americans, as if he were just another president.

And then this new report, that Mormon approval of Trump’s presidency ranked higher than any other religious group throughout 2017. (Read about it here.) 61% of Mormons reported approval of this president! We’re the only group that showed over 50% approval. It shouldn’t surprise me. Mormons have always been so predictably Republican, that the GOP doesn’t even try to actually court our favor. They assume that we’ll vote how they tell us to, and they’re right.

But call me crazy–I thought this time could be different! Every time there’s an election, the Church issues basically the same statement about how “principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties,” and reminds members that we should “seek candidates who best embody those principles.” Now we have a leader who demonstrates a total lack of any principles on a daily basis, and we’re ok with it?? We’re giving him a thumbs up? The biggest thumbs up in America? Who are we??? Why can’t we make a stand for values with at least the same showing as any other religious or non-religious group in America?

People both inside and outside the Church question whether I’m really dedicated to my faith, since they can smell the LMA all over me. But what neither seem to understand, is that my stubborn moral code is a direct result of being raised LDS. By the time I was grown, I’d listened to countless sermons and taken home eleventy gazillion cutesy handouts, all telling me to “stand for truth and righteousness” and to seek after things that are “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” So I feel a deep rooted obligation to stand up against the direct opposite. I can’t figure out why 61% of my fellow Mormons aren’t standing with me. We don’t have to agree on what steps we should be taking as a country. But it should have been a no-brainer to agree on all these lines that should never, ever have been crossed…. 61% approval. Not 61% expressing tolerance, or resigned disappointment. The I’m-not-happy-but-I’m-not-the-type-to-protest crowd are presumably mixed into the other 39%. No, 61% of us actually approve of all these moral lines being completely erased.

I don’t actually know who the 61% are. Most people aren’t as vocal about their support for Trump as they’ve been for others. And that’s fine, because I don’t want to know. Once I know that someone is in favor of my oppression and the oppression of so many others, I can’t un-know that about a person. But I do notice all the people who aren’t expressing disapproval or dissent. I notice when they don’t have a word to say when the president and his posse are attacking others, whether it’s via words or policies. And I can’t figure out what happened. We all grew up doing the same role-play activities, preparing us to be bold in the face of moral danger. When has there ever been a better moment to take a stand??

Of course, there are two sides to the LMA coin. It doesn’t just make it hard to feel safe around fellow Mormons. Sometimes it isn’t so safe around fellow liberals either.

The Book of Mormon musical is coming to town again. (It probably doesn’t make the rounds any more often than other big shows, but it sure feels like it comes around a lot!) So here comes another round of listening to my open-minded, coexisty, liberal friends talking about what fans they are of this show. They don’t hide it from me either; it never seems to occur to most that I might possibly find this offensive. That’s weird, right? If the Fox Newsy folks made a big Broadway musical called The Quran or The Torah, making fun of their respective religious groups, I can’t imagine anything but outrage from this same circle of friends. Likewise, if the show had been called The Bible and mocked any other Christian group, the Fox Newsies would be seeing red. But the Southpark guys were smart, and they picked the religious group that nobody would care about defending, and wouldn’t even defend themselves. The Church has consistently shrugged it off, which maybe isn’t the worst strategy. “Don’t feed the trolls,” right?

But here’s the thing. I don’t believe in mocking or demeaning anyone’s religious groups or beliefs. Particularly groups that have been historically oppressed. (We haven’t forgotten about Mormons being chased out of the United States at gunpoint, right? Mormon history is complicated, and we’ve taken our turns at being the oppressors. But let’s remember how we landed in the desert with our circled wagons.) So, I feel like I owe my own religious group at least as much respect as I’d grant any other. And it’s disappointing to feel pretty alone in that belief. The LMA has never made life easy or comfortable. It challenges me every day. My beliefs aren’t easily fit into one box. I’m not sure that deeply examined, truly consistent beliefs could ever fit neatly under one label. I don’t mean “consistent” as “never changing,” which would imply “never learning.” But I try to be consistently true to myself in what I believe and how I use my voice.

I don’t need everyone to agree with me on everything–how boring would that world be? I would just like to see, in these deeply upsetting times, people willing to upset their own comfort zone a little more. There will be people today posting MLK quotes about peace, and using his words to justify their own silence and deterrence from rocking any boats. They see themselves as promoting unity. This misuse of King’s words is an insult to his legacy. Silence about the plight of the oppressed only deepens the divides created by the oppressor. If we’re ever going to move closer to achieving Martin Luther King’s dream, we need quiet moments of introspection to ask ourselves uncomfortable questions. And we need loud voices to promote our convictions.

A Little Teaching Fantasy

You never know which random moments will stick in your head forever. There’s a day from my AP US History class that still haunts me. It was my junior year of high school, so that would have been in 2000 or 2001. (In a pre-9/11 world… That’s not actually relevant, but I just have this general sense that it was an entirely different era.)

For some reason, our teacher showed us this video from…. Dateline? 60 Minutes? Something in that genre? It was all about the standardized testing culture in Texas. Their students had to take a test called the TAKS, and it was a big deal. We watched clips of pep assemblies to hype kids up for the TAKS. We watched cheerleaders jumping around with their pompoms and cheering about doing your best on the TAKS. We watched walk-and-talks down hallways covered with motivational TAKS banners and posters full of test-taking strategies. We watched glassy eyed teachers explain all the ways they’ve been getting their students to practice for the TAKS and incentivizing them to do well…

It was terrifying. And completely bizarre. My 16-year old brain couldn’t wrap itself around what I was seeing. I was used to taking fill-in-the-bubbles tests every year, but I’d never for a moment thought they mattered. I knew there was some sort of connection between our test scores and our parents’ property taxes, but that wasn’t enough to make me care about those mind-numbingly boring tests. I couldn’t fathom what kind of kool-aid could have convinced the entire state of Texas to get so worked up about filling in bubbles! I’d known since early elementary school that standardized testing was the most meaningless waste of time all year. Who managed to fool an entire state into wasting even more time and resources??

Little did I know….

I couldn’t have imagined what was coming. I didn’t understand that No Child Left Behind was being passed at the time, and that it would force-feed the same kool-aid to the whole country. I definitely didn’t imagine that I’d become the glassy eyed teacher administering these pointless-at-best, harmful-at-worst, and misuse-of-resources-in-any-case tests year after year. And every year, I have flashbacks to watching that video in US History, blissfully unaware that my future was playing out on the tv screen.

(I won’t go into all the reasons our testing obsessed culture needs to be stopped. There are a million articles and videos on the subject. But for a quick refresher, I’ll direct you to John Oliver.)

As we enter another year’s testing season, I find myself retreating to a dream world. I have this fantasy about a world where teaching and learning were treated with the same respect and reverence that we give state testing. What would that be like…?

Imagine the emphasis every day for every kid to “get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy breakfast; you have important learning to do.” Snacks might even be provided.

Students would treat every class with the best focus and effort they could muster, because this matters.

There wouldn’t be interruptions over the intercom. Ever.

Nobody would get pulled out of class.

Fire drills and earthquake drills and lock-out drills and lock-down drills would never cut into class time.

We would be extra certain that every student with a disability or other need was getting every accommodation necessary for their success. Not just on paper.

Those who need small groups to focus, would get all of their learning time in small groups.

When a student needed more than the allotted time, somebody–a learning coordinator, an administrator, somebody besides the teacher–would give them as much time as they needed. Students would be encouraged to go at their own pace.

All necessary materials would be provided. Teachers wouldn’t be paying for their own supplies.

Speaking of dollars, all the money going into the testing industry would instead be coming into both our classrooms and our pockets.

A teacher’s professional judgment would be utilized as a valuable resource and prime piece of data.

Phones would never be in students’ possession.

Cheating in any form would be a BIG DEAL.

Curriculum and materials would be developed around teachers’ stated needs and desires.

Basically, I’m dreaming about a world where everyone cared, like, really cared, about teaching and learning. Didn’t just care with their words and with memes on social media, but cared with time, dollars, and respect. I’m dreaming about a world where teaching and learning never had to compete for a place on the priority list in school.

The crazy part is, if we could convince everyone–children and adults–to invest as heavily in the learning as the testing, guess what? The testing would take care of itself! If you want better output, you have to focus your energies on the input. How is that not obvious?

Put down the testing kool-aid, America. Those cups are full of poison.