At ‘The Lord’s University’

I first need to apologize about the lapse in writing these past weeks. I’ve been having an internal debate on the direction to take this blog and got mired in that and distracted long enough to keep myself from writing. I’ve decided, for now, to follow along with my current motion and just keep it linear and autobiographical unless something strikes me. So, that little bit of unrelated discussion aside, on with the meat of the post.

When last we left him, our intrepid hero was embarking on a deadly, covert mission to Rexburg, Idaho. (Sorry, I’ve always wanted to write something like that.)

Goofiness aside, as mentioned in my last post, I ran to college less than three months after returning to my hometown of Kansas City. I wanted to keep up the ‘spiritual high’ and ‘positive atmosphere’ of the mission as long as possible, and what better place to do that than at a Mormon college?

So I was off to the oft-frigid land of Rexburg, sometimes colloquially named Iceburg. College, by and large, was a great place for me, especially initially. I was able to be with friends from my mission, and made great new friends, most of which are still close to my heart, and connected via internet and online video games, if now physically distant today. Far and away the best part of the college courses themselves was singing in the BYU-Idaho Collegiate Singers and the Men’s Chorus. Not only from the friendship and camaraderie that I was able to forge, but the high quality of musicianship, hard work and the amazing music we were able to make. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to sing with a group at those levels again.

My issues and problems with this church owned and church run school, to be fair, might not be unique to LDS schools. All the same, college did very little to positively reinforce my view of mainstream Mormonism and the church in general. Yes I understand it was my choice to go there, but I constantly chafed at the immature honor code. Why are the commandments, and the eternal judgment and justice of God, not good enough? What about shorts, flip flops, goatees, skinny jeans, or a five o’clock shadow are immoral? Granted, it would seem that the Testing Center were the only ones with a crusade to enforce these ‘higher laws.’ I was never asked by a teacher to leave class because in my groggy rush to a 7:45 class I had forgotten to shave, which was a semi-regular occurrence. The whole situation makes me think of that scene in the film Spartacus, ” Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?” It all made very little sense to me, but I wore pants to school when it was hot and shaved off my goatee anyway because that was the ‘code,’ and until it was changed, that’s what I had agreed to.

The core issue that really chafed me the most was the main problem inherent with being at a church school. When I was perfectly happy with everything and active in church it wasn’t a problem at all. However, the flip side of that coin caused serious issues when I started having disaffection with the church, which started around 2009. When my activity started faltering, I was called in for an interview with my school congregation’s bishop. With no concern as to the causes or root problems I was facing, he warned that if my attendance didn’t pick up I would be faced with losing my ecclesiastical endorsement, which is a requirement for enrolling in classes and is renewed annually, but which a school bishop can pull at any time for any reason he sees fit. This would have effectively halted and possibly endangered my academic progress. Needless to say the meeting was less than inspiring and I left feeling worse about both school and the church.

To back up a little, I’ll share a phrase I heard from a favorite mission leader, and fellow missionary, from my mission. “Mormons (and you could probably insert many people of religious influence here) are like dung. Spread around they have the possibility of nurturing, fostering growth and being a social fertilizer. Grouped in a clump, they just stink.” Not wanting to get into the debate on the positives or negatives of religion in general, which might be a fun topic for a later post, I use this quote to illustrate one of my issues that first began my disaffection with the church. For a church that claims to be the one and only true church, touting the fullness of the restored gospel and all the saving ordinances, the church produces some of the most backwards, unintelligent, judgmental, cruel, ignorant, and harmful human beings I have had the displeasure of meeting.

Having grown up in “the mission field” I was not exposed to many of the more kooky, fringe members of the church, though I certainly knew they existed. Most of them were all older than me and I could dismiss their relative kookiness to age and senility. However, one of the problems when you are attending a school where 99% of the school’s student body are active, ecclesiastically endorsed members of the LDS church, you find that you are surrounded by the possibility of hundreds of crazy people.

This craziness was manifest in a lot of different ways. One example was how an entire hour and a half religion class was derailed by a discussion of the evils of Facebook. Obviously most of the class, those that were even mentally present enough to care to participate, were divided on the issue. You see, up to this point, the IT policy of the school had blocked Facebook, along with plenty of other harmless sites, from being accessed on the school network for bandwidth issues. When the school underwent a much needed upgrade to their IT infrastructure, many of those restrictions were lifted because it had become a non issue. The reason I know this is because my networking professor at the time was part of that project and was using it to help teach us, through real application, about network design, information flow, etc. Yet this girl student in my religion class was fully and seriously bothered that President Clark (the school’s president) had “given into the pressure of ‘the world'” and how horrible it was. I’m not even joking. This was one of the more comical and benign shows of the craziness I, or any attendee of the school, could relate to you. I could write pages and pages of what it was like to be a democrat at this school during the 2008 Presidential Election…

Back to the beginnings of my disaffection. While I was at the time dedicated to the ultimately morose notion of living a celibate life and finding joy in other areas, I distinctly remember the first time I decided to skip church because I was just so fed up with it. After the fifth straight week where the two main speakers in sacrament meeting were an engaged couple asked specifically to talk about how they met, how happy they were, and how exciting their marriage plans were, rather than any doctrinal point, I’d had enough. My church attendance became sporadic and based on if I was required to teach Sunday School that week.

Fast forward back to my meeting with the bishop. I knew that the system was in place to demonstrate attendance over participation or actual spiritual nourishment. With our meeting block reversed I would go to Elder’s Quorum and Sunday School first, sign my name on both role lists, sitting in the back of the room with a book, homework, or playing on my iPod and not participating in any way unless the topic was somewhat interesting. Then after making sure I was seen by a member of the bishopric I would leave and skip sacrament meeting, maybe staying for all three meetings once a month or so. So it was that I became what a few of my friends and I refer to as ‘spiritually less-active,’ something that is far more common at “The Lord’s University” than a true believer would want to accept.

This disaffection eventually led to interference with my actual school work, so I made plans to move back home to Kansas City, the first baby steps towards leaving the church behind, and towards the realization of the doctrinal issues and snags I ended up finally having to face.