Keli Byers attained a level of stardom (or infamy, depending on your view) recently when an article she purportedly authored appeared in Cosmo (the shining bastion of journalistic excellence that it is). It’s title?
It turns out that Byers also has a blog entitled The Hypocritical Blogger (“hypocritical,” I think, because she says that she hates blogging, but still ironic given the positions she takes in Cosmo). On September 1, she published a post as a follow up to the Cosmo piece. It’s title?
In this follow up, she expresses surprise at the “vehemence and anger and hatred which has been thrown at me from people within the LDS and Christian communities.” You see, ” it hurts to see so many people saying these things about me–a fellow Christian sister and imperfect human–when they don’t even know all the details.” This post represents her attempt to set the record straight, and correct a number of “common misconceptions” spurred by the Cosmo article.
(Do you see what’s happening? Surprised at people’s anger at her piece misrepresenting their positions, she’s published a post to keep people from misrepresenting her positions…)
Now, I’m all for people being able to clarify themselves, and to be understood in the manner they meant to be understood. Yet as I read her post, the overriding thought going through my mind is this:
Who the hell cares?
Lay aside, for a moment, her attempts to fight back against what I imagine is a great degree of disagreement and probably a fair amount of bullying. Do a thought experiment with me.
Echos -os -os -os -os
We’ve discussed before the way the media seeks out and devours counter-(Mormon)-cultural content, and champions progressives willing to throw off the shackles of the Stepford Church. Regardless of what nuances Byers intended you to pick up around her thesis, here’s what other news outlets picked up on when they ran with the story.
- Jezebel – “BYU Student Challenges ‘No Sex’ Policy and Church’s Treatment of Women”
- HuffPo – “BYU Students Can’t Have Premarital Sex, But This Woman Wants to See That Change”
- Think Progress – “Mormon Student Fights Back Against BYU’s ‘Slut Shaming’ Stance On Women’s Sexuality”
- The Dish – “I was punished because a man had touched me”
These stories and others were also re-posted on a number of other news outlets, and likely on a number of walls and feeds and message boards. Each time, the negative (and inaccurate) message about BYU and the Church was reiterated throughout this BYU/LDS Church/religion-shaming echo chamber (see also Wikipedia).
For example, from Jezebel:
“Brigham Young University student Keli Byers penned a bold open letter for Cosmopolitan this month, in which she challenges her school’s regressive, anti-woman ban on sex. It’s an incredibly brave move, considering that, as a teen, Byers was suspended from church for being sexually assaulted by an older Mormon missionary—a nonconsensual trauma that rendered her “unchaste” in the eyes of church elders….
“I don’t know what it feels like to have your life and community defined and anchored by a religious institution, so if I were Byers I’d cut and run and leave those dicks behind (or, rather, ahead)”
A Stumbling Block
Back to our thought experiment – how do you think people will respond to the message of the restored gospel if this is one of their only exposures to the Mormon Church?
“Hi, I’m a missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…. Yes, the Mormons, that’s us…. BYU, right. Yeah, I went there before I became a missionary…. No I hadn’t heard that. We don’t read Cosmo…. Well, no, we’re not a slut shaming church…. Well, of course, I agree, we shouldn’t make anyone feel worthless because of mistakes they make…. Well, sure, if she was banned from church because of being assaulted, that would be terrible, but I can assure you that as a church-…. No, seriously, we don’t ban-…. Um, okay, can I at least leave a pass along card with you?”
Maybe a few will be lucky enough to stumble onto Byers’ appendix, but even then, what good will it do? The misconceptions she points out are aimed largely at helping her save face rather than correct the narrative about the Church that most Latter-day Saints are upset about. When she finishes with those misconceptions, she moves on to calling out those who bully and judge her.
How will make any kind of positive impact? We already know that people don’t get past headlines.
“Hi, I’m a missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…. Right, the Mormons. That’s us…. I didn’t read it, no, but I’ve heard about it from a few folks…. I don’t know the details in her case, but really, we don’t-…. No, we’re not on Twitter either…. No, I don’t think bullying is okay…. Or name-calling, yes…. But truly, the things we really believe about women-…. I’m just saying, in my experience we-…. Can we at least come back and discuss some of your concerns. They’re absolutely legitimate…. You’re sure?… Well, here’s a pass along card for a free DVD, you can call-… Okay, well, thanks anyways.”
That’s why I have an issue with this. Byers’ agitation for change will become a stumbling block to those that might have otherwise accepted the gospel.
On a grand scale, the Church will be fine. It’s weathered worse. On an individual scale? Someone’s life could have been different if they’d heard a testimony about Joseph Smith rather than a chastisement of Mormon peers.
And with that, we’ve almost come full circle. Irony has come up a few times already, and we’re not done with it yet. Byers writes,
“You don’t have to agree with either lifestyle, or condone it, or accept it, or respect it. In fact, you can totally reject and hate someone’s… choices if you want. But you don’t get to demean someone, or judge them, or publicly chastise them just because you don’t like what they choose to do…
“It is not my fault my honesty and frankness concerning this fact makes you uncomfortable…
“We would all do the world good to deal with our own struggles and issues before pointing fingers or making it our job to determine someone else’s worthiness“ (emphasis added).
But… uh, wait… wasn’t that kind of exactly what you did in Cosmo? And again in your follow up?
You can’t criticize BYU or the Church or even your old bishop without “publicly chastis(ing) them just because you don’t like what they (chose) to do.” You can’t publicly air grievances without violating your admonition to privately “deal with (y)our own struggles and issues before pointing fingers or making it (y)our job to determine someone else’s worthiness.”
What’s more, you can’t call people out for being upset, or even for being bullies, without doing it either! Heck, “it is not (their) fault (their) honesty and frankness concerning this fact makes you uncomfortable.”
(*sidenote – bullying is awful and always unacceptable.)
The “universal tolerance” folks always miss this. A judgment on the manner in which I make my own assessments about the behaviors of others is still a judgment.
The Savior didn’t tell us not to judge. He commanded us not to judge unrighteously.
“With Great Power…”
In reality, people have every right to be upset. True to form, the media ate up Byers’ sob story, and now (true or not, and with or without the right nuances) it has become, for many, a fair and accurate representation of the Mormon Church.
And misconceptions or not, Byers is responsible for the content they published, even if she didn’t write the article herself.
She says “don’t judge me”-
Well, she says it now. In Cosmo, she was quoted as saying she’d “rather be judged and scrutinized than silenced and shamed,” but whatever, I’ll grant her whatever she wants when it comes to her assessment of herself.
-but she can’t pretend like her actions don’t have consequences, and she can’t pretend like she’s not responsible for those consequences.
She made a dumb choice. The right thing to do now is own it, and correct the misconceptions that harm the church, not the ones that hurt her ego.
She talks about how campus isn’t a very loving place right now. I feel for her. That sucks. But she’s added fuel to the fire that makes the world we live in unloving to Mormons. She should waste and wear out her life correcting the issues that she herself helped spread.
The lesson here, perhaps, is to be mindful of the voice you have online. By small and simple things do great things come to pass, and that power naturally carries with it a great responsibility to chose our words carefully. Our words can echo farther now than at any other time in history. We may welcome the fame and influence that comes with carving out our own spot on the Church-hating bandwagon, but…
Beware of buyer’s remorse.