29 September 2011

21 September 2011

Free to Serve

Before my dad married my mom, he was an Army officer. He has always been very proud of his military service and I have always been proud of him serving. I remember as a kid seeing on his home desk and in his drawer the various badges and ribbons and insignia of rank he had worn on his uniform before I came along. I thought it was all very cool. I played soldier with my neighborhood friends like any other boy and imagined what it would be like to really be in the Army like my dad had been. As I grew it became clear that my asthma would disqualify me from any military service, which was disappointing. But I have remained proud of my dad’s service and have been very glad for that family connection to the service of our country.

I always respected the military traditions of duty and honor and integrity and meritocracy. Of goals and achievement, of judging and promoting based on performance and capabilities. The discipline that was inculcated, which enabled ordinary people to set aside or overcome their own foibles and do extraordinary things.

So I was stunned to eventually learn about the history of racial discrimination even in the U.S military and how relatively recently that discrimination was eliminated. I was amazed and embarrassed to read statements of people and politicians—and even senior officers—at the time who fought with everything they had to keep that racism in place and to prevent racial equality. Racism seems so indisputably opposed to everything the great American experiment stands for, to everything the United States military is sworn to protect, and everything I knew of its values.

And that’s why, as I learned about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, read its history and saw its effects, I inevitably came to the same conclusions. It was the same bigotry, just directed at another group that’s also historically been misunderstood and abused and discriminated against, solely because of an unchosen personal characteristic the majority didn’t share. What could sexual orientation possibly have to do with one’s ability to do one’s job, whether military or not? So why should gay people be singled out for being kicked out of the military if the same kind of treatment was illegal in civilian settings? It just made no sense. It went beyond nonsensical to self-defeating and even damaging to national security as I read about the effects, about the cost of kicking out able, dedicated service members who wanted to stay and had key specialties the military needed.

Others far more knowledgeable have told that story in far more compelling detail than I could. Suffice it to say that I agree with the opinions of many senior officers: DADT was stupid, counterproductive, harmful. A terrible mistake.

And that in turn is why, with the memory of respect for my father’s service, last night I went to the San Diego LGBT Community Center to join the celebration of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I knew it was a historically important moment and I wanted to be with the hundreds of others, including active and retired military personnel, who would be there to celebrate the correction of this great wrong, and the step our military service took toward greater faithfulness to American ideals.

It was remarkable to hear the story of guest speaker Eric Alva, who sustained permanent damage to right arm and who lost his right leg to a land mine. Who knew the first American serviceman wounded in the Iraq war was a gay Marine? Or the stories of a female Navy Academy graduate kicked out for being gay, or an active duty Navy hospital nurse who the next day could go to work for the first time and say “Yeah, okay, so what?” Or the story of a highly decorated Army bird colonel, now retired and happily married to his husband.

It was inspiring to see the obvious patriotism and love of country in the crowd of hundreds who listened to those stories, to see the dozens of little flags waved during every speech, to hear the cheers and shouts and military parlance, to see the pride and happiness on countless faces. They whooped and cheered as one of the speakers described waking up that morning feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and how elated she was that she could finally just be herself, honestly and without the deception that DADT had forced so many to live with for so long. I’m sure it was just like the first day of emancipation for African-American soldiers in the Civil War, finally free and eager to defend the nation that had given them that freedom.

But most inspiring of all was when the colonel, final speaker on the program, asked everyone to stand and join him in reciting the pledge of allegiance. And this time, he said, say those last six words like you’ve never said them before. Because starting today, he said, we are closer to making them true.

Click the Play button below to see what followed.


video

17 September 2011

Very Touching

Like virtually everyone else, my kids love hugs. Who doesn't. They need hugs. They thrive on them, on the wordless reassurance of love and acceptance and comfort and security. It's my job and my privilege as a dad to give all that to them so they can grow up happy and healthy and well-adjusted.

Everybody needs hugs. The sense of touch is a remarkable thing. Humans need to touch each other. Babies who aren't held and cuddled when they're tiny don't grow as well, and I think I remember reading that they end up having other emotional problems as they get bigger too.

The touch of a good friend is heart-warming, and the touch of a wife or husband or partner is even better. In a class by itself. It can set the heart racing, endorphins flowing, make the world brighter and more beautiful. It's magic. It makes life amazing.

Even if you don't have such a person in your life (which I don't), one can always hope to find them in the future, and can look forward to the thrill of that kind of touching.

And, at the risk of sounding like Johnny One Note, this is another reason I find the Mormon church's teachings about gay people not just wrong, not just cruel, but hypocritical. Nevermind the fact that the scriptural basis of the whole approach is highly questionable. The requirement that in order to remain in full fellowship a gay person must cut themselves off from all hope of this most fundamental need, the need to be touched, there's just no other word for that but "cruel."

And I'm not talking about sexual touching either. That's a completely separate issue. I'm just talking about the holding hands, the rubbing backs, the hugs, tne arms round shoulders, the stroking of the backs of necks or earlobes, all that innocent stuff that straight couples have been doing publicly in Mormon worship services since anybody can remember. The kind of thing that Mormon culture welcomes and encourages. But if two gay people do it, OMG OMG OMG. Call Church Security and throw them to the ground on the public sidewalk at Temple Square and have them arrested. Ask them to stop, ask them to leave. Mustn't even allow a public expression of such a thing.

OK, disproportionate, yes. But hypocritical? How?

Since the Prop 8 debacle the Mormon church seems to have been trying to repair some of its self-inflicted damage by taking what some characterize as a kinder, gentler approach toward gay people. I see this and basically shrug. Self-motivated penitence is one thing, the forced penitence of somebody who picked a fight, got beat up, and then tries to make up afterward is not quite as trustworthy or praiseworthy, I think, but hey, if it's an improvement at all, then good. I guess.

But so far, it's all cosmetic. It seems forced. Purely reactive. It wouldn't have happened if the church hadn't provoked such indignation by intervening in politics the way it did. The theological box into which the church has painted itself--and which forces it to act as it does--remains as airtight as ever. So while it's nice that the church has stopped coercing gay male BYU students into electroshock conversion therapy and stopped (publicly) calling gay people "perverts" as it used to do, the underlying reasons for that earlier approach haven't changed. Just the packaging.

And that's why I think it's hypocritical. I know they're doing what they think is their best to put a nicer face on things, and that's good. But an organization that claims to be led by revelation from God should be out in front leading advancements in truth and knowledge and learning and doing better in loving, charitable treatment for all God's children. It shouldn't have to be dragged kicking and screaming toward accommodation of social change (like no more racial discrimination) that all the less-inspired have long since accepted as basic fundamental humanity.

So the fact that the kinder gentler approach is just a new veneer over the same old doctrine that justified such horrible treatment before, well, in a sense it almost makes things worse. Because as long as the doctrine remains unchanged there will be people who cling to the old brutal homophobic ways of doing things and insist they're justified. I know some will say it takes time to change big organizations. But this one can turn on a dime if it wants. That's what it did in 1978 with the change in policy on priesthood. But the key there was a leader who realized how wrong the church had been and had the courage to change it. I don't see any indication of any current Mormon leader heading that direction as far as rescuing the church from its self-constructed box on the gay issue.

That makes me sad because I have friends who cling to their faith and desperately want to see that kind of reconciliation. But as long as the church holds to its current doctrine I don't see how that's possible. They will never be anything but second-class citizens, permanently excluded from eligibility for the eternal rewards which the church teaches are the only things worth striving for. Unless the doctrine changes. And that would require a re-write of everything in a way not seen since the time the church started polygamy. I don't see that happening for a very long time, if ever.

And that's why it's so sad that the Mormon church tells its gay members not to touch each other. You must deprive yourselves, it says, of this most fundamental of human needs, one so basic that babies die without it. This is what God wants you to do. Would that be the same God, I ask, who said it's not good for man to be alone? Yes, that would be Him. Oh, I see. And that's consistent how?

12 September 2011

Words Kill. Again.

I am stunned to learn of another gay Mormon suicide. A returned missionary, married father who finally came out, was promptly excommunicated from the church for reasons I don't know, and his staunch Mormon wife--apparently believing she had to protect her kids from perversion--left him with their five children and wouldn't let him see or talk to them. Unable to bear the shame, separation or loneliness, yesterday he killed himself. All alone. And now the wife's family is not allowing these fatherless kids any contact with their dad's extended family either; apparently dad's family was "too tolerant" of homosexuality. So these kids not only lose dad, they lose half their family too.

Three weeks, start to finish.

What's it going to take for some people to wake up and see the damage, the tragedy that their myopia continues to inflict?

What's it going to take for Mormons, Christians, Catholics, anyone else who cloaks homophobia in religious "principle" to see that they're perpetuating an atmosphere of such poison?

Mormon children are taught a song when they're young that includes the words "Jesus walked away from none, He gave His love to everyone, So I will, I will."

Why do the adults who teach the kids that song never seem to get the message themselves?

If memory serves, the New Testament shows that the thing which drove Jesus to furious anger faster than anything else was hypocrisy, the smooth protestations of the outwardly religious that they were following all the rules, when inwardly they were corrupt as hell and blind to the greater principles of loving God and their neighbor as themselves. These were the ones for whom the Savior reserved His greatest scorn.

I think this man's wife and his local leaders deserve to take their place with the "scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites" the Savior condemned to the kind of punishment nobody would want. I pray for his children that they will be able to heal someday from this horrible, totally unnecessary tragedy. And I pray for their father that he'll find the peace he seeks as he waits for his children to live their lives and someday join him again.

In paradisum de ducant angeli in tuo adventu susipiant te maryres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem, aeternam habeas requiem.

May angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, once a pauper but no longer, may you have eternal rest.

03 September 2011

Awwwwww

Just watch it and prepare to be delighted.

21 August 2011

Today I Saw The Future

Today I saw the future. And it was profoundly touching and wonderful.

Some of you may not know that in 2009, legislation which became known as the “Kill the Gays Bill” was introduced in the national legislature of Uganda, already known as one of the world’s most homophobic countries. This law would have imposed the death penalty for homosexual activity and for being HIV-positive (such activity is already punishable by lengthy imprisonment there). It contained extradition provisions to impose these penalties even on Ugandans who engaged in same-sex relations outside Uganda, and it included penalties for individuals, companies, media organizations, and other non-governmental organizations who expressed any support for LGBT rights.

It’s one of the dirty secrets of American Evangelical Christianity that this draconian bill was introduced swiftly in Uganda after a conference there that featured speeches by three prominent American “Christian” ministers who claimed, among other things, that homosexuality was a "direct threat" to the cohesion of African families. LDS friends who supported the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign, these are the types you made common cause with during that effort. People who actively promote the imprisonment, persecution, and the execution of God's gay children. Perhaps you should re-think those alliances.

Uganda is one of over thirty countries to criminalize any homosexual activity, which in many places also makes the provision or even advocacy of health or prevention care for HIV illegal. If you’ve ever wondered why AIDS is such a problem in Africa, there’s one of the reasons right there.

This proposed Ugandan legislation provoked significant international outrage, as well it should have, and the bill was ultimately put on hold. So it hasn’t passed, but it hasn’t been voted down yet either. It remains a potential threat.

Uganda was for a long time a British colony, so British cultural influence remains strong there. And one brave Anglican bishop, believing that the message of Christ required charity for all—imagine that—decided that his Christian discipleship wouldn’t let him go along with this pernicious legislation. So he spoke out against it. And soon became the target of death threats himself, along with his family. Undeterred, he continued to confront Uganda’s raging homophobia and to support acceptance and tolerance for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

For his efforts, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo not only put his own and his family’s lives at risk, he was also named one of 2010's most influential religious figures by the Huffington Post.

And today, Bishop Christopher was the special guest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego. I wanted to see him and I thought it was important for the kids to hear his message too, so I took them along. He spoke eloquently of compassion for all and the duty of every Christian to have it for everyone. This, he said, was what compelled him to speak out in his own country even at the risk of his own life.

I pointed out to the kids that they’d never had to face the choice between exercising their Christian faith and having their lives threatened. Their eyes got a little big at even thinking about such a thing. I was glad to be able to show them a little of what the wider world is like.

And then the moment when I saw the future, represented by the three members of the clergy who conducted the service. First was the presider, who is openly gay, and whose depth of faith clearly showed in his beaming smile as he led the proceedings. Second was Bishop Christopher, resplendent in his bishop’s robes and the only African up front. Third was the assistant dean of the cathedral, a 5th (?) great-granddaughter of Joseph Smith. I looked at the three of them and thought “How wonderful. This is what it will look like years in the future. This is what heaven should look like. Race, ethnicity, gender and its straitjacketing, sexual orientation, none of that will matter. All God’s children will have an equal place at the table, just as they are, all commemorating the Savior’s life together, equally privileged." It was as moving and touching a moment for me as any I’ve ever had. Someday, God willing, someday other churches will get that same message and see that same eventuality.

The presider was a friend of mine, so after the service we were invited to a reception and got to meet Bishop Christopher and his very sweet and gracious wife Mary. She must have the patience of a saint to have endured the persecution they have, especially with ten children to worry about! We had a wonderful chat with them, and I was particularly glad that the twins got to learn a little about life in a far-away place from someone as brave and dedicated as Bishop Christopher.

As we walked back to the car, enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful park, I was sure this had been one of the best ways to “keep the Sabbath holy” in quite some time. Attend church, focus on the Savior, hear from an inspiring Christian servant who has actually put his own life at risk for his faith, and be able to teach the kids about all of it, as well as show them—and see myself—what the future must inevitably look like. A wonderful day indeed.


20 August 2011

15 August 2011

What Should The Rule Be?

The last couple of days I've been watching an interesting discussion online, prompted by an anguished LDS mother's request to a counselor for guidance on how to deal with her lesbian daughter. I know this is a point of great difficulty for many, many LDS families. Here's what the mother wrote:


Our 20 yr. old daughter told us 2 1/2 yrs. ago that she was gay. Considering she had just broken things off with a not so great relationship with boy and she has always dated boys, this was a shock. This was during a very rebellious time in our daughter’s life and she left home twice. We are LDS and have lived our faith and been very involved and active in the church her whole life. No one can believe she’s gay. We continue to support our daughter in those positive endeavors; college, sorority, she comes to dinner every Sunday and I send her little cards with positive, uplifting things written and we go to lunch, shopping etc…but for me this lifestyle is wrong and so I don’t want it in my face or around me…which means I prefer she not talk about it, partners are not allowed to come over, etc. We let her know that she gets to choose the lifestyle she wants to live – it’s her life. But we also get to decide what we will or won’t allow around us – it would be hurtful to her father and I to see her with another girl and out of respect to us we feel she should not bring them around. The church doesn’t have any clear-cut guidelines for How Parents Can Best Handle Dealing with this type of situation…and I wish they did. We really feel like we’re trying our best to keep our family together and strong in love but I see that not being enough on down the road. I fear that as each year passes and we continue to stand firm that no partners are to be brought around – our relationship will begin to deteriorate and we don’t want that. We extend our love to our daughter always – but will not allow her to bring her partner to things – will this further alienate us from her? Are we not being fair? What about respecting our feelings and beliefs?


A long discussion has ensued. The clear majority opinion is probably best summed up by this pithy comment:


The difficult truth is that taking a hard stance is going to push the daughter away. Period. . . It’s fine to have rules, but you have to figure out at what point the rule just doesn’t work anymore. Sometimes you adjust the rules because you can’t parent adult children the same way you parent young children and expect to be able to maintain a relationship.


But so far I think the best discussion of the whole issue is the one I've posted below in its entirety. Well worth reading.

I think that it’s fair to concede . . . that the LDS church’s official stance is unquestioningly that personally engaging in homosexual encounters is a sin. (I agree though, with those who argue that there is room for debate regarding the scriptural and doctrinal backing for this stance by the church).

But I think that misses the core of this question. Mom in the OP is saying she believes that it is a sin, and is asking how to go about her relationship with her daughter, who she believes is sinning. I don’t think she is questioning her opinion on whether or not her daughter is sinning, I think she is asking how to have a relationship with her daughter without compromising her own values by contributing in some way to what she believes is a sin.

My two cents is that you can stand strong in your beliefs and still show love and decency to those who have different beliefs.

Opinions vary widely on whether homosexuality is a sin or not. So, i think this comes down to understanding you have a difference of opinion. Treat it like that, and lose the sentiments that “she is sinning, but I know I need to figure out how to ‘accept’ her anyway.” This sentiment resembles this one: “I am right, and you are wrong, but if you follow my rules, I will forgive you for being wrong, I will be good enough to love you anyway.”

We don’t want to participate in things we believe are wrong, but I assume we all have friends and loved ones who hold opinions we find offensive, or who do things we think are wrong. But we continue to love them, and don’t do those things ourselves. I am betting in most cases, we keep our mouths shut about the parts of those people we don’t approve of, because we know we can’t oppose our beliefs on them, and will damage our relations with them if we try.

But we muddle this with our kids I think, because we feel responsible to raise them in our own truth, and feel we failed if they do not embrace our truth.

When kids are kids, it’s appropriate for a parent to be the deciding factor on what is right and wrong, and to make rules, and to create consequences for breaking rules. That’s how we teach kids, and we hope we do it well enough to teach them our values in a meaningful way.

But with adults, even our own offspring, it’s no longer appropriate to give them rules and consequences. They are entitled to their own beliefs, to form their own values, and to make their own choices. And when we set up consequences for other adults who refuse to share our values, it does not teach them, or bring them to our side, it just alienates them.

I would say rule number one in having a healthy relationship with your daughter is to think apply this question to yourself before you set rules with her. “Am I setting limits with her because I need her to respect my space/beliefs/personhood like I respect hers? Or am I asking for things because I want to impose my beliefs on her and show her that I don’t support her choices?”

As an example, you have the right to decide what you do and don’t allow in your house. But, are the rules you are making really intended to keep you and your home from spiritual or other types of damage? If something she wants to do there would cause you damage, then by all means make a rule. But if you realize you are making a rule that only has the purpose of letting her know you do not approve of her or her life, and of showing her that when she is in your house, you are in control of the parts of her or her life you don’t like, you might want to reconsider.

You do not have a right to decide who a person (any person) is allowed to be when they are in your presence. If you don’t like who your daughter is, then don’t be around her. But you can’t change who she is, and she won’t come around anymore if when she does she gets beaten over the head with your opinions about how wrong she is. You are not losing her if you don’t want to be around her whole self, you are rejecting her.

I think [one] can argue that [some] scriptures could be construed to indicate that God is opposed to homosexuality but I don’t see the remotest indication in them that suggests that God is demanding you cut off relationships with people who don’t believe as you do, or who don’t act as you would. I also don’t know of any modern prophet who has said people should cut their gay friends or relations out of their lives, or treat them badly. I am also missing the part where God said it’s OK to leave people alone about theirs sins (cause we all sin) but gayness is special and requires special action.

So I don’t think you are compromising your values, morals, or loyalty to the LDS faith by embracing your daughter and her partner and not judging and not forcing your choices for her onto her for her to be allowed to be fully your family. In fact, I think the scriptures, and modern prophecy, have been rather big on a thing called agency.


I usually don't copy other people's words unless they say things better than I could. In this case, they did.

26 July 2011

"Has It Injured Me?"

Recently in reading about LDS history, I ran across a quote from Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the church. He was no doctrinal liberal by any means. Yet in no less a prominent venue than LDS General Conference he defended the sale of coffee, liquor and tobacco by ZCMI (Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution) the church-owned department store in Salt Lake which was started back in the 19th Century.

I couldn't help but notice the parallels between what this LDS church president said about Mormons selling booze and what marriage equality supporters say to modern Mormons who oppose same-sex marriage. The argument is the same, but when it comes to civil, non-religious marriage--which carries none of the theological connotations drinking does for modern Mormons--the analysis no longer applies to the church? If anyone can explain that one to me, please do.

Here's the original quote. I believe Smith was a member of the LDS First Presidency at the time:

"Some of our pretended pious people, a few years ago, were shocked and horrified by seeing the symbol of the All-Seeing Eye and the words 'Holiness to the Lord' in gilt letters over the front of Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution. Especially was this the case with some of our brethren when they found these letters over the drug department of Z.C.M.I. Why was it? Why some of these pious (?) Mormons found that Z.C.M.I. under the symbol of the all-seeing eye and the sacred words, 'Holiness to the Lord,' sold tea and coffee, and tobacco, and other things possibly that Latter-day Saints ought not to use; and at the drug store, Z.C.M.I. kept liquors of various kinds for medicinal purposes. It was terribly shocking to some of the Latter-day Saints that under these holy words liquor should be kept for sale. Has it injured me, in any sense of the word, because Z.C.M.I. drug store kept liquor for sale? Has it made me a drunkard? Have I been under the necessity of guzzling liquid poison? Have I made myself a sot because liquor was kept for sale by Z.C.M.I.? I am not the worse for it, thank the Lord. And who else is? No one, except those pious Mormons (?) who in open day or under the cover of night would go into the drug store and buy liquor to drink.... Those who were the most horrified at seeing the All-Seeing Eye and 'Holiness to the Lord' over the front door of Z.C.M.I., I will guarantee are the ones that have bought the most tea and coffee, tobacco and whiskey there.... It does not matter to me how much tea and coffee Z.C.M.I. sells, so long as I do not buy it. If I do not drink it am I not all right? And if the poor creature that wants it can get it there, that ought to satisfy him. If he could not get it there, he would not patronize Z.C.M.I. at all, but would go some where else to deal." (Conference Report, April 1898, page 11)


Now, try this version:

"Some of our pretended pious people, a few years ago, were shocked and horrified by seeing the [Church stop its opposition to marriage equality] . . . Why was it? Why some of these pious (?) Mormons found that [the church, which uses] the symbol of the all-seeing eye and the sacred words, 'Holiness to the Lord,' [no longer opposed same-sex civil marriage]. It was terribly shocking to some of the Latter-day Saints that under these holy words [marriage between two persons of the same sex should be allowed]. Has it injured me, in any sense of the word, because [the church recognized that gay persons should be able to enjoy the same legal rights, privileges, and all the personal benefits of marriage as straight persons]? Has it [hurt my marriage]? Have I been under the necessity of [abandoning my wife in order to find another man to marry myself]? Have I made myself a [promiscuous party boy] because [a gay person, whether or not they were a member of the church, was allowed to marry the person of his or her choice]? I am not the worse for it, thank the Lord. And who else is? No one . . . It does not matter to me [whether gay people marry each other] so long as I do not [leave my wife or husband, which I would never consider just because someone else was allowed to marry who they wanted]. If I do not [marry a person of the same sex, since I am not attracted that way,] am I not all right?”

18 July 2011

The Real Rainbow

I had a wonderful childhood with loving parents, a classic suburban neighborhood with soccer moms and kids on bikes and skateboards and lots of green grass and the occasional backyard swimming pool. The beach just minutes away. I remember realizing there were kids who lived in the middle of the country a thousand miles from a beach, and honestly not comprehending how they could endure it.

I grew up thinking pretty much everyone’s life was like mine. That everyone looked and lived basically like I did. There were virtually no ethnic minorities in our area; it was as WASP-ish as could be. Even the kids who went to school at St. Bonaventure’s instead of the public schools all looked like the rest of us, except for those school uniforms. I went to church every Sunday where everyone looked like me too, and was taught there that God loves everyone throughout the world. As far as I knew, the world looked like my neighborhood. Things seemed pretty good. God was in his heaven, all was right.

Then I grew up and left home and went on an LDS mission and encountered real poverty for the first time. The first house I was ever invited into was so small that I had to crouch down and literally squeeze through the door. Inside were two rooms that totaled maybe 200 square feet. For a whole family. Later I met a very old grandfather who had outlived everyone else in his family and was so poor he slept in a niche of bare rock in the corner of an unfinished basement of a large apartment building on a hillside. No heat in the winter, and winters were very cold. I learned pretty fast that the world did not look like my home neighborhood.

Fast forward some years. Everyone at church still looks the same. With very few exceptions that I noticed usually didn’t last long before drifting away, it was the same WASP-ish middle and upper middle class nuclear family types I grew up with. The ones that fit the church-approved mold for what you had to do in order to go to the highest heaven. But I also noticed that virtually nobody new came in the door, and when one occasionally did, they didn’t stay long. Hmmmm. Wonder why.

Emerson said “give me truths, for I am weary of the surfaces.” And last weekend I had a massive dose of truth, of what the real world looks like. Of what all of God’s children look like, in their incredible, amazing, magnificent, blazingly colorful variety. A true symphony of diversity. I was a volunteer at the San Diego Pride Parade & Festival. For two days I watched as the most incredible parade of humanity walked past. Every conceivable size, shape, age, color, appearance, dress. White-haired grandpas and grandmas, little kids in strollers. Skin from the palest to the darkest, and every shade in between. Dress from the most prosaically conservative to the most outlandish.

The coolest thing was that everyone was accepted just as they were. No opprobrium, no pejoratives, no prejudice, no raised eyebrows or harrumphing about more than one piercing per ear or pressure to make everyone look like everyone else. Mr. Normally Fairly Conservative me was delighted to get a picture with the most fabulously dressed and beautiful African-American woman. I think she was a woman. Whatever. Didn’t matter.

What also didn’t matter was stereotypes or orientation. I met guys there dressed in the most wildly outlandish stuff who I know for a fact are straight, and guys who I knew were gay yet dressed in the most ordinary “straight guy” clothes, and without a hint of stereotypically gay mannerisms. Lesson: Don’t judge. Orientation doesn’t matter. They are all children of God, with the right to live free of prejudice and fear and homophobia and to have their lives and the way they love respected.

If there was one group there larger than any other, it was the regular, ordinary-looking people. Grey-haired men with scruffy beards in cargo shorts and t-shirts, who looked like they could be truckdrivers capable of beating the crap out of you in a bar fight, were holding hands and kissing each other tenderly. Women couples who looked straight out of the suburbia I grew up in, holding hands and pushing strollers with their kids. So many kinds of families. The outlandish types were the minority. Most were just regular folks. So much for "the gay lifestyle."

Honestly, I wish every Mormon ward and stake would have the courage to bring their comparatively cloistered and sheltered youth to the Pride Festival. Let them walk around and see the rainbow of diversity that is really what God’s children look like. They’ll learn things from that which no officially sanctioned lesson manual recited in a plain brick classroom could ever teach. Jesus went to church, of course, but I think afterward he didn’t go home to nap or shut himself away in a room and do nothing in order to “keep the Sabbath day holy.” My bet is that he went right back out amongst the people wherever he was, talking, teaching, visiting, helping, observing, eating, drinking, healing.

On Saturday there were reportedly some 200,000 people watching the parade, and I think all of them must have flooded into the festival at the park afterward. It was astounding to see. All celebrating diversity and being proud of who they were. Though some folks don’t quite know it yet, the battle has been won. This progress can’t be stopped. What a great thing to live in a time when I can see it all happening.

13 July 2011

Nails It

It's always interesting to read comments to Utah newspaper articles about gay issues. Normally they're the predictable mix of personalities and perspectives, with a shifting cast of characters re-hashing basically the same point-counterpoint. After one reads enough of such stuff, one begins to see the patterns and to draw some conclusions.

And one develops an eye for particularly insightful, perceptive analyses too. I just ran across two such comments in a Salt Lake Tribune article on an upcoming film by Kendall Wilcox about gay Mormons. I think they're spot on, about as insightful as any I've seen, so I thought I'd save all of you the time of hunting through the comments yourself, and share them here.

Comment One:

Many church members don’t understand how the church’s position is homophobic and damaging. I will lay it out for you.

The LDS church’s position is: “same-gender attraction is not a sin, but acting on those feelings is—just as it would be with heterosexual feelings.”- (from Helping those who struggle with same-gender attraction by Jeffery R Holland.)

Holland goes on to say “‘We do not reject you,’ he said. ‘… We cannot reject you, for you are the sons and daughters of God. We will not reject you, because we love you.’”

This is how the members are taught to react to gay loved ones. It is not overtly homophobic, but here’s the catch – while ‘acting on homosexual feelings’ – presumably engaging in homosexual sex – is characterized as no more condemnable than ‘acting on heterosexual feelings,’ straight people are able to, within the doctrinal framework, find suitable life partners, marry, and consummate their marriages with a meaningful sexual bond. No such mechanism exists for gay individuals, and they are relegated to a life of loneliness and insufferable longing.

The church doesn’t just deny them sexuality, it denies them intimacy and companionship – such an integral part to the LDS experience. Additionally, and though the official position is acceptance and understanding, most gay LDS people experience at least a lack of understanding and at worst –and frequently - experience bigotry, vitriolic and callous rhetoric, and a decent amount of institutionalized, or at least institutionally-condoned hate.

Living as a gay person within the framework of LDS-think invariably becomes insufferable. It is quite simply impossible for most individuals. When the circumstances become unbearable, some end their own lives. Others GET OUT. Mr. Wilcox seems part of the latter group, it’s just taking some time.



Comment Two (in response to Comment One):

I think you are right. I don't know if this is correct but I also understand that masturbation is not ok either in the Church so they do not even have that outlet. I have met some who have left for the very reasons that you state. It just became incredibly unbearable for them but many still do believe in God and have faith. They just choose to not be setup for failure anymore. It seems they have opportunity to become more healthy emotionally when they leave and free themselves of all the shaming and setup for failure they experience in the Church. As a parent, I would rather encourage a gay child to be who they are in a responsible and caring manner and do good with their life. It still seems odd to me that all of these men and leaders that are telling them what they must go without to be ok with God are men who have all those things and aren't willing themselves to make those kind of sacrifices to go without all of that. It is like a rich person not sharing with a poor person and telling them they must be poor and should be happy and rejoicing in their poverty. Strange.

03 July 2011

Mass

Sunday again. An appropriate time to write about a church service. But you're not expecting the kind I'm going to write about.

In my early teens I discovered a recording of what was called a mass, and which had some of the features of the Roman rite I was learning about. But other parts of it were very different. There was a rock band, a jazz band, and at one point the priest threw the bread and wine to the ground. It shocked me, even though I wasn't Catholic.

But it also fascinated me, because it talked about faith in very blunt ways I never heard at my own church. Soft bluesy riffs with lyrics like "I believe in one god, but then I believe in three. I'll believe in twenty gods, if they'll believe in me. That's a pact, shake on that, no going back." Imagine something like that alongside a very neo-classical and exuberant Gloria Patri, Gloria Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, sung by the celebrant and a children's choir. The mix of medieval, classical, modern, jazz, rock all jumbled together was like nothing I'd ever heard.

And the early teenage boy in me loved the catchy and edgy song about the creation of the earth and how humanity had gradually become more and more corrupt: "God said let there be light, and there was day to follow the night, and it was good brother, and it was good brother, and it was good brother, and it was goddamn good." Youtube vids of the Mass are surprisingly few, but here's a video of that particularly delightful part, done admirably by a Lithuanian orchestra and chorus of all things! And the lyrics are worth reading since you may not understand everything from the chorus. Some delightfully cynical stuff (e.g. "God said it's good to be poor. Good men must not be secure. So if we steal from you, it's just to help you stay pure.")



It's no secret to anybody who reads this blog that I have had growing differences of opinion with the Mormon tradition in which I grew up. How could I not, having come out of the closet a few years ago. Most gay Mormons end up leaving the church entirely because they realize if they go along with the church's demands for personal belief and behavior, it becomes impossible for them to live happy fulfilled lives. I've seen many friends, gay and straight, decide the LDS church isn't for them, and they end up agnostic or even atheist. This is logical; if you leave one strict, authoritarian, demanding religious tradition and don't trust it anymore, why would you want to find and affiliate with another? How could you trust any of them after you'd decided one was not credible?

So it's been interesting for me to explain to friends like this why I retain my Christian faith. It's not the same as it used to be, certainly. But those basics still make more sense to me than any other explanation for life and the eternities, and I still try to live by them. Like so many other paradoxes in life, I find my faith becoming simpler and more complex at the same time. Simpler in that I feel myself gradually focusing on a smaller list of fundamentals; faith, hope and charity. And more complex in my increasing comfort with ambiguity, incompleteness, different levels of meanings, different sources of truth. With not knowing, after being raised in a church that relentlessly stresses knowing and certainty and shames any confessions of doubt. Today I said out loud "Is it possible to be a Christian Buddhist?" It was a serious question. Yeah, like I said, simpler and more complex at the same time.

And after all these years I've realized that's what I liked about Leonard Bernstein's Mass. It throws everything into the pot, everything in life. The high church classical, the street musicians, the formally robed celebrant, the scruffy busker and sultry lounge singer. All are children of God. All at different stages of life and faith. They're not all in white shirts and suits and floral print dresses. And in the Mass, even the celebrant experiences a loss of faith. But then starts to find it again. Maybe that's the message that resonated with me back in my teens, when I couldn't quite articulate why. Life is so much more complex than I was being told at church, but it's possible to keep your faith even in the rough and tumble that is the real world.

So here is one of my favorites from Bernstein's Mass, it's called A Simple Song. I loved it the first time I heard it, and have sung it a lot myself ever since. Still do. BTW, "lauda laude" means "praise, highest praise."

29 June 2011

Where Are They

Several friends have recently told me of numerous e-mails they’ve each gotten from schoolmates or mission companions who’ve essentially come out in those e-mails, either explicitly or implicitly by asking questions that only a closeted person would think of. It’s startling, really, how many. Active, faithful Mormon guys. And these are only the ones I’ve heard of. Obviously there’s got to be more.

Statistics I’ve seen from various sources say that between 1% and 10% of any given population will be gay. In 2007, 80% of all Mormon missionaries were young single elders. I’ll assume that proportion is still current. As of the April 2011 General Conference statistical report, there were 52,225 missionaries serving at the end of 2010.

Combining these statistics suggests that somewhere between 400 and 4100 of the LDS missionaries now serving are gay. And these are just the guys (I couldn’t find statistics for how many single female missionaries were serving). They will come home and, if they’re strong enough, start looking for people like my friends who are out and who can answer questions about how to reconcile who they are with what they’ve been taught.

I admit, I envy these guys. Things still aren’t where they should be, but they’re a lot easier now. When I returned from my mission, before the days of widespread acceptance of civil unions, growing acceptance of marriage equality, and the openness that now prevails, I intuitively understood that coming out of the closet was unthinkable. So I did what I was told was my only hope for happiness: stifled and tried to kill off that part of myself, got married to a beautiful girl who did not deserve what ended up happening, and learned to be a very good actor.

Imagine living your life as if you were on a stage 24/7. Every waking moment having to monitor your own actions, words, nuances, thoughts, even the way you move and dress, for fear of tipping someone off to who you really are because if they found out, you’d be at risk of losing everything. That’s what it was like. Exhausting. Ultimately the marriage ended and that made it possible for me to get off the stage.

So now I’m hearing all these stories about gay Mormon guys popping up right and left. Some more traditional types think it’s an “epidemic” of people who have “decided” to be gay. That’s silly, of course; it’s well-settled that nobody “decides” to be gay. Or straight, for that matter. You just are what you are. All we’re seeing is more gay people who are comfortable de-cloaking and being at ease with who they are. And that’s a good thing.

But it makes me wonder, too. According to everything I’ve read, the proportion of gay people in any given population has always been fairly constant. That means back when I was a missionary, and just afterward when I was at college, there were hundreds of gay guys serving and at school with me too. Yet I look around me and see how many in my demographic there aren’t as compared to, say, the missionary age guys, and I ask myself “Where are they? Surely they’re somewhere. Where?”

The only thing I can think of is they’ve already drifted away from the LDS church, or they did what I did and are still there, but padlocked in a basement below the closet door. Married, with kids, working jobs and in the church, set in careers and being husbands and fathers and doing all that normal Mormon stuff. And probably just suffering in silence. Still on stage, like I was. Perhaps they’ve already given up any thought or hope that things could or should be different. Too invested in marriages and kids and reputations and careers now, fearing it’d cost more to disentangle than they’d recoup by coming out and being true to who they really are.

Some of them may be content with that. Some may still be suffering, perhaps even agonizing, over the what if’s. Some may have gotten so numb from the suffocating that they can’t imagine ever changing things. On auto-pilot. It’s easy to do in the Mormon church, where virtually every aspect of your life can be dictated for you, if you let it.

It was tough when my marriage ended. It’s still difficult sometimes. I feel awful for what happened to both of us because I, trying to be the faithful priesthood holder, trusted the “inspired” counsel of leaders who obviously didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

That’s past. Now I’m able to build a new more authentic life. And it’s been great, wonderful, exhilarating. I can’t imagine going back on stage. Nothing would be worth carrying that burden again.

But I look around at my demographic on the road of life, a ways ahead of those friends who are getting all the e-mails. And there are far fewer of us I can see on the road at this stage than at theirs. I know there must be just as many of us in the world. But it looks like most of them are still cloaked. And if they’re still cloaked at this stage, chances are that’s where they’ll stay.

If they freely choose that, then okay, that’s their prerogative. But I freely chose it too, and I know how I ended up feeling. And how I feel now. So my heart breaks for those of them who are staying silent and invisible out of duty, or fear, or inertia, or apathy. Because I know how they’re feeling and what they’re missing. I wish there were some way I could find them and say “I know. I understand. I’ve been there. It can get better if you want it to. It’s really not as scary as you think. There are so many of us waiting to welcome you.”

Everyone has to decide what's best for their own life, of course. But I think Professor Dumbledore was right: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

28 June 2011

What's The Difference

I've actually gotten this question from friends and family. Why do you have to shove this in our faces? Why do you have to advertise it? Why do you force us to confront something we find distasteful? Why can't you just keep it to yourself? Why can't you be satisfied with civil unions and leave marriage alone?

Well, with Davey Wavey's help ("borrowed" from his Break the Illusion Blog), here's what I hope will be a new perspective on those questions.

The Heterosexual Privilege

As I’ve mentioned more than once, I think being gay is pretty awesome – and it comes with a number of benefits, including never having to deal with tampons. But let’s face it: When it comes to privileges, straight people definitely take the cake.

The Heterosexual Privilege Checklist is a list that helps straight people get a better understanding of what it’s like to be gay in a very hetero world. It makes it a little bit easier for straight people to put themselves in the shoes of their gay friends and family. I encourage you to share this article, which I’ve reproduced below, with your nears and dears in the hopes of facilitating some meaningful dialogue.

On a daily basis as a straight person…

I can be pretty sure that my roommate, hallmates and classmates will be comfortable with my sexual orientation.

If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.

When I talk about my heterosexuality (such as in a joke or talking about my relationships), I will not be accused of pushing my sexual orientation onto others.

I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my sexual orientation there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological consequences.

I did not grow up with games that attack my sexual orientation (IE f*g tag or smear the queer) [I actually heard one of these phrases from a friend just a week or two ago. He realized what he'd said and immediately apologized. Just goes to show you how entrenched this stuff is.]

I am not accused of being abused, warped or psychologically confused because of my sexual orientation.

I can go home from most meetings, classes, and conversations without feeling excluded, fearful, attacked, isolated, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, stereotyped or feared because of my sexual orientation.

I am never asked to speak for everyone who is heterosexual.

I can be sure that my classes will require curricular materials that testify to the existence of people with my sexual orientation.

People don’t ask why I made my choice of sexual orientation.

People don’t ask why I made my choice to be public about my sexual orientation.

I do not have to fear revealing my sexual orientation to friends or family. It’s assumed.

My sexual orientation was never associated with a closet.

People of my gender do not try to convince me to change my sexual orientation.

I don’t have to defend my heterosexuality.

I can easily find a religious community that will not exclude me for being heterosexual.

I can count on finding a therapist or doctor willing and able to talk about my sexuality.

I am guaranteed to find sex education literature for couples with my sexual orientation.

Because of my sexual orientation, I do not need to worry that people will harass me.

I have no need to qualify my straight identity.

My masculinity/femininity is not challenged because of my sexual orientation.

I am not identified by my sexual orientation.

I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my sexual orientation will not work against me.

If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has sexual orientation overtones.

Whether I rent or I go to a theater, Blockbuster, an EFS or TOFS movie, I can be sure I will not have trouble finding my sexual orientation represented.

I am guaranteed to find people of my sexual orientation represented in my workplace.

I can walk in public with my significant other and not have people double-take or stare.

I can choose to not think politically about my sexual orientation.

I do not have to worry about telling my roommate about my sexuality. It is assumed I am a heterosexual.

I can remain oblivious of the language and culture of LGBTQ folk without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

I can go for months without being called straight.

I’m not grouped because of my sexual orientation.

My individual behavior does not reflect on people who identity as heterosexual.

In everyday conversation, the language my friends and I use generally assumes my sexual orientation. For example, sex inappropriately referring to only heterosexual sex or family meaning heterosexual relationships with kids.

People do not assume I am experienced in sex (or that I even have it!) merely because of my sexual orientation.

I can kiss a person of the opposite gender without being watched and stared at.

Nobody calls me straight with maliciousness.

People can use terms that describe my sexual orientation and mean positive things (IE “straight as an arrow”, “standing up straight” or “straightened out” ) instead of demeaning terms (IE “ewww, that’s gay” or being “queer” ) .

I am not asked to think about why I am straight.

I can be open about my sexual orientation without worrying about my job.


All of this isn’t to say that straight people have it easy by virtue of being straight. We all have our challenges and obstacles. But the heterosexual privilege may help some straight people get a better and deeper understanding of what it’s like to be gay in today’s society.

26 June 2011

An Amazing Day

Last Friday. Wow. It's gonna be hard to beat that one.

A year ago on 24th June I stood on a stone jetty on the shore of Cape Cod and had the privilege of officiating at not one but two marriage ceremonies, both read from an iPhone. It was picture-perfect. Blue sky, blue water, clear sunshine, smiles and happiness as you'd expect at any wedding. All four new spouses dear friends of mine. So Friday was their anniversary. I can't believe it's been a whole year!

I will always remember that day as one of the highlights of my life. Not only that, it was my birthday as well. How many guys can say that on their birthday they performed two weddings for four friends? How amazing is that? What a birthday present they gave me. Thanks guys!

And then this year, not only do I get a flood of birthday greetings from friends far and wide, and not only do I have the happiness of thinking of those weddings, but the New York state senate gives us all a gift and passes marriage equality. On my birthday. And on friends' anniversaries. Of all days! What are the odds?

A friend in Tennessee had a power outage at home for about 3 days, and on Friday, his lights came back on. He posted a Facebook status about it, to which I replied that thanks the NY state senate, the drive for equality across the country can say the same thing: "My power has come back on."

One of the ways we celebrated was with a trip to the annual Highland Games yesterday. My family's sense of Scots tradition is strong and we enjoy attending these events. I wore my kilt the whole day, though, not just at the games, including for morning excursions around downtown San Diego. You wouldn't believe how many compliments I got on it, including while walking down the street, a guy driving past slowed down, rolled down his window, honked, gave me a thumbs up, and shouted "love the kilt!" I shouted back "Thank you!"

I pity any guy who's never worn a kilt, or who doesn't have the guts to do it in public. It feels great. And imagine all the adulation they're missing out on. Plus you get the fun of being playful with brazen women who ask the predictable question. This actually happened to me yesterday. I told her nothing was worn, everything was in perfect working order. She said she still wanted to verify for herself. I told her take a number and call my admin, there were others queued up ahead of her. She laughed and got the message, I think.

I amused myself yesterday morning by reading through the comments to a news story about New York marriage equality in Salt Lake City's Mormon-owned newspaper. There weren't as many Chicken Littles predicting impending doom of civilization as I expected, a nice surprise. Sure there were some, trotting out all the old arguments that they don't know have been thoroughly debunked already. And I was surprised at my reaction most of all. A couple of years ago I would have jumped into the fray and started jousting with these people. Now I just shrug and smile. Not worth the effort. They won't be persuaded, their fears are groundless, and marriage equality is inevitable anyway. My challenging them won't change any of that. Demographics alone are turning the tide and bending the arc of history toward justice, as Dr. King said. I'm glad I'm along for the ride.

And now it's a beautiful perfect summer Sunday, quiet and relaxing. Time to catch up on sleep, go to church, relax and read, chat with friends, blog. I have a lot to be grateful for.

12 June 2011

To LDS Friends & Family

I'm about to ask you to do a difficult thing. It is to read something. Something you probably wouldn't otherwise run across, or choose to read even if you did see it.

So, with respect, I will remind you that Joseph Smith himself said "by proving contraries is truth made manifest." That means we can learn truth by comparing and contrasting competing, disputing and opposing positions on things. And so in that spirit, that's what I'm about to ask you to read. This will challenge some of your beliefs. But remember that Pres. J. Reuben Clark said if the church has the truth, then it can't be harmed. So there should be nothing to fear.

This article was written by a friend of mine and it's been picked up by a national news blog. Please read and give good faith consideration to what it says. It may make you uncomfortable. But it seeks to do what Joseph Smith said, make truth manifest by examining contraries. Nobody should be afraid of that.


---------------------

Timed for the annual gay pride celebrations, the LDS Church’s official magazine, the Ensign, has an anti-gay manifesto in its current issue.

The article is written by Elder Bruce D. Porter a General Authority who was formerly a political science professor at BYU. The article’s subject is political, not spiritual.

Placing political op-ed pieces in the Church’s educational materials is not a good idea. In fact, mixing politics with religion, in general, is a bad idea. It results in bad politics and bad religion.

Three things struck me when reading the piece. First, there’s the virulence of its anti-gay sentiment. The article contains no words of compassion, just condemnation and a call to political action against families the Church doesn’t approve of. Then there’s the cowardice. The article doesn’t mention gay people by name, and it doesn’t use the term homosexuality. It is written entirely using code words. And finally, the article repeatedly claims victim status for the Church. It evades all responsibility for the disaster that was Proposition 8.

You can read the essay for yourself, but I will respond to a few of the most egregious parts.

The first four paragraphs lay the foundation of a straw man argument. Porter presents as controversial the completely uncontroversial position that the family is an important social institution. (Can you see where this is going yet?) After this set up, Porter gets ready to attack his straw man:

[M]any of society’s leaders and opinion-makers increasingly seem to have lost their bearings when it comes to understanding the vital importance of the family.



We live in a day … when good is called evil and evil good. Those who defend the traditional family … are mocked and ridiculed. On the other hand, those … who seek to redefine the very essence of what a family is, are praised and upheld as champions of tolerance. Truly, the world has turned upside down.


Sigh.

For the record, those of us who are on the receiving end of the Church’s political campaigns do not mock the Church. We disagree with the Church’s political actions, and we are harmed by the practical consequences of those actions. There’s a difference between disagreeing and mocking, even if the Church doesn’t see it.

As for the argument that proponents of marriage equality want to “redefine the very essence of what a family is,” one can also ask if President Kimball redefined “the very essence” of LDS priesthood in 1978. Extending the rights and benefits of marriage to a small minority of people has no effect on existing marriages, just as giving the LDS priesthood to blacks did not “redefine” the priesthood already held by others.

As usual, just exactly how same-sex marriage is an attack on the traditional family or on traditional marriage is not explained, it is merely taken for granted. For a thorough discussion of these issues, I would recommend to Elder Porter the transcript of the federal court case that overturned Prop. 8 in California. (Why was Elder Porter, an expert from BYU, not a witness at that trial?)

Next, Porter dismisses tolerance as a virtue while simultaneously accusing any who engage in debate over gay issues as intolerant:

Latter-day Saints are often accused of narrow-mindedness or lack of tolerance and compassion because of our belief in following precise standards of moral behavior as set forth by God’s prophets…. Until recently in our national history, tolerance referred to racial and religious non-discrimination. It meant civility in the political arena; in other words, respecting the right of others to express their views, even if we do not agree with them. It meant treating all people with decency and respect. Such tolerance is an important and vital part of our American heritage.

Today, however, the world is in danger of abandoning all sense of absolute right or wrong, all morality and virtue, replacing them with an all-encompassing “tolerance” that no longer means what it once meant. An extreme definition of tolerance is now widespread that implicitly or explicitly endorses the right of every person to choose their own morality, even their own “truth,” as though morality and truth were mere matters of personal preference. This extreme tolerance culminates in a refusal to recognize any fixed standards or draw moral distinctions of any kind. Few dare say no to the “almighty self” or suggest that some so-called “lifestyles” may be destructive, contrary to higher law, or simply wrong.

When tolerance is so inflated out of all proportions, it means the death of virtue, for the essence of morality is to draw clear distinctions between right and wrong. All virtue requires saying no firmly and courageously to all that is morally bankrupt.

I don’t know where to begin with this kind of twisted and self-serving statement. First of all, the Church is hardly in a position to bring up racial tolerance. Its racist policies were firmly in place within recent memory (I grew up with them), and it used virtually the same language in arguing against civil rights for blacks as it now uses for gay people! The argument, then as now, was (mis)framed in terms of morality and supporting families.

Now, as then, the Church seems unable to distinguish between what influence it should exert over civil laws and the influence it has over religious laws. Why isn’t Elder Porter railing against the evils of alcohol and coffee? Where’s the Church’s support for a referendum that would outlaw alcoholic beverages and Starbucks? And if religious views are so important to respect, where’s Elder Porter’s support of gay-affirming churches who want to bless gay unions?

The theme of Mormons-as-victims continues:

Curiously enough, this new modern tolerance is often a one-way street. Those who practice it expect everyone to tolerate them in anything they say or do, but show no tolerance themselves toward those who express differing viewpoints or defend traditional morality. Indeed, their intolerance is often most barbed toward those of religious conviction.

In other words, Porter thinks the right of free expression is stifled by open political debate. Porter confuses the right of free expression with an (imagined) right to say whatever one wants without having others who disagree get their chance to present their own arguments. But, apparently, the opinions of others (including those actually harmed by the Church’s political actions) don’t matter. According the Porter, the Church knows better than the people whose lives it seeks to disrupt:

By defending the traditional family [i.e., legislating against families the Church doesn't approve of], Latter-day Saints bless all people whether others recognize it now or not.

Excuse me for not extending my thanks as I watch my partner lose his right to live in the same country as me due to the Church’s efforts to “bless” my life whether I recognize it or not. Please, spare yourselves the effort! The Church is accruing some pretty bad karma with its effort to ‘bless’ people like me by attacking the one thing in our lives we care most about: our families.

In the middle of all the politics, Elder Porter does bring up one religious point. However, it’s the heretical idea that has recently been introduced by LDS leaders to the effect that God’s love is conditional.

God’s love is sometimes described as unconditional…. But while God’s love is all-encompassing, His blessings are highly conditional, including the very blessing of being able to feel and experience His love.

[This is an example of bad religion, and it's not coincidental that it is linked to unjust politics.]

Finally, it’s back to politics for the wrap-up, with a call to political action:

The Church is a small institution compared with the world at large. Nevertheless, the Latter-day Saints as a people should not underestimate the power of our example, nor our capacity to persuade public opinion, reverse negative trends, or invite seeking souls to enter the gate and walk the Lord’s chosen way. We ought to give our best efforts, in cooperation with like-minded persons and institutions, to defend the family and raise a voice of warning and of invitation to the world. The Lord expects us to do this, and in doing so to ignore the mocking and scorn of those in the great and spacious building, where is housed the pride of the world.

The sense of persecution is just breathtaking, and in case you missed it, the call to “give our best efforts” means to donate money, and to do this “in cooperation with like-minded persons and institutions” means to give money to groups like the National Organization for Marriage, a political organization that was created by the Church to get Prop. 8 on the ballot in California. (Elder Holland’s son Matthew was a member of the original board of directors.)

But there’s more:

May we as members of the Church rise up and assume our divinely appointed role as a light to the nations. May we sacrifice and labor to rear a generation strong enough to resist the siren songs of popular culture, a generation filled with the Holy Ghost so that they may discern the difference between good and evil, between legitimate tolerance and moral surrender.

Many younger LDS people are not okay with this message. It is not “popular culture” that makes young Mormons sensitive to the plight of their gay peers; it is an emerging sense of justice. I know many devout members of the Church who are heartbroken over the harmful ideas that Elder Porter repeats here. Many members are ashamed of what their Church is doing, and rightly so.

Elder Porter, please know that demeaning someone else’s family does not strengthen your own.

I thought things were changing with these folks. Apparently, they are not. Is the Church warming up for the fight in Minnesota in 2012?

There is a silver lining here. It’s clear that Elder Porter’s op-ed sermon is very defensive. He knows that the Church’s position is unpopular with many members of the Church and that its involvement in Prop. 8 was a PR disaster. The subtext of the article is a sense of panic that the Church is losing this one.

01 June 2011

To All Christians who Oppose Marriage Equality For Religious Reasons And Say They're Defending Marriage And Religious Freedom For Our Own Good

To such Christian friends:

If you ever wonder why your protests of love and concern and "defending the family" and "we're watching for your souls so you must try not to be or at least try not to act gay" and "we're not discriminating,we're defending morality" ring oh so hollow, just consider the words of one of your favorite Christian theologians:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."

—C. S. Lewis

Is that how you would want to be treated?

31 May 2011

New Blog

No, I'm not doing a new blog. But I just ran across one that's worth your attention. There's one out there which went viral during October 2010 LDS General Conference after Boyd Packer's infamous homophobic speech about The Gay which he was subsequently required to edit for publication.

Its author, who refuses to identify himself, revels in the angst and torment of "struggling" to be a faithful Mormon while also being gay. He loves the adulation of hundreds of followers who laud his every post for his bright shining example of devotion to God, the prophet, and every word that proceedeth forth from The Church Office Building.

While constantly proclaiming his own humility and propensity to fall short of perfection, he holds himself out as a beacon of faithfulness and obedience and a savior of the lives of other strugglers. For example: "I've had the daily opportunity to touch people's lives and help them find the faith to avert suicide, fix broken marriages, and pursue lifelong dreams." Yes, that's actually a quote from his blog.

Hmmm. I seem to remember the Savior saying "when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth; That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."

Mr. Perfect Sufferer follows the same basic script for each post. It's the same model for inspiring introspective sermonettes used each Sunday morning by Lloyd Newell for the "Music & The Spoken Word" broadcast of the Tabernacle Choir. One need only read a few of his posts in succession to discern the pattern.

He also censors and filters every comment that comes in response to his posts. And he rejects any which disagree with his agenda. The result, of course, is an echo chamber into which none is admitted or allowed to speak except those who already see things exactly as he does--and who see him as a bright shining exemplar. It's no surprise that the overwhelming majority of his blog followers are straight women.

Fortunately this is not characteristic of the entire Internet. And somebody (not me, I had nothing to do with this) has now had the creativity to start a blog which answers Mr. Perfect Sufferer and actually allows the freedom to discuss and debate his Highly Processed Inspiration Packets which he himself does not permit. If there's any justice or fairness in the world, this one will catch on just as fast as his did after Packer's speech. In any event, it will certainly be a better tool for learning and discovering truth, since Mr. Perfect Sufferer seems to have forgotten the insight of the founding prophet he no doubt claims to revere: "by proving contraries is truth made manifest."

To see not only Mr. Perfect Sufferer's thoughts but also engage in actual free discussion of them, click here.

25 May 2011

We've Already Won

Over there on the left sidebar amongst my favorite quotes is one from Cesar Chavez: “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”

I’ve had a stressful few weeks and have gotten a bit down about some things. But I think I’m bouncing back. Obviously I’m well past high school, and I know it’s common to hear of more mature adults deriding teens and 20-somethings for all kinds of things, “the world’s going to hell in a handbasket if we leave it to them,” that sort of thing.

But I don’t see that. And one of the things that’s helped me do it is the story of James taking Josh to his high school prom. I don’t know where, and I’m not sure when (other than that it’s recent), but this story and this picture warmed my heart. It was unimaginable when I was in high school. It still is in some less enlightened, tolerant and accepting places. But the fact that it is possible, and even welcomed, in some places now gives me real hope for the future. The same hope that those in the early days of the civil rights movement saw for younger generations of African-Americans. And just 50 years later, look who’s in the White House. Only a hundred years after Teddy Roosevelt was so cowed by national outrage for inviting Booker T. Washington to dinner there that he never met publicly with Washington again.

Focus on the Family Chief Executive and President Jim Daly recently conceded that marriage equality opponents have “probably lost” the battle already. And he’s absolutely right. Demographics alone doom his and anyone else’s opposition to marriage equality nationwide. I’m sure pockets of resistance will remain long after it becomes law, but the tide has already shifted. Polls show that growing majorities of Americans support gay marriage. Homophobia will eventually become as odious as racism.

John Adams said “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

In the same vein, those of past generations who suffered through aggressive police round-ups at bars and clubs, and who finally started to fight back, they studied politics and war so that those of the next generation would have liberty to study demographics and philosophy. Those of that generation have been studying demographics, politics, philosophy, and debate so that those of James and Josh’s generation can have the right to finally and freely be who and what God made them to be, without the stifling shame and fear of the past.

And that’s why this picture warmed my heart. Because it told me that the battle has already been won. Like Chavez said, once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.

22 May 2011

Evensong

I love the Anglican tradition, always have. Many of my friends know that sometimes I like to go to the local Episcopal cathedral, where I know a bunch of people and get to practice on the organ sometimes and have even sung with the choir.

Part of the Anglican tradition is a late Sunday afternoon service called Evensong. It's kind of like an abbreviated church service, there's no communion or sermon, it's just a series of prayers and scripture readings and music. A wonderful way to end a Sunday with peace and contemplation and reflection.

I like this service a lot. So I thought I'd share it with you. The music you'll hear is Faure's "Cantique de Jean Racine", whose lyrics you can find with a quick Google search if you want. They're beautiful. This is an actual live recording from today's Evensong service sung by the choir of men and boys at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego, with pictures of the cathedral and some of its people. I hope you'll see why I love this place.

video