30 December 2008

Mormon Kids Are So Tolerant That They're Blind to Right and Wrong

Yeah, that's what she said. Telling me about one kid in her ward's youth program who had expressed some difficulty and disagreement with the Church's stance on Proposition 8.

I've known her for some time and she is a wonderful person. She is kind, smart, talented, devoted to faith and family, accomplished, energetic, well-read, intelligent, a great mother to her kids and well-regarded in her community. Outstanding in every way. I have always respected her judgment. But I was surprised by her perspective.

I listened quietly as she told me how the youth of the Church today have grown up in an atmosphere that pushes and stresses tolerance as the supreme virtue above all else. And obviously she thinks this is a bad thing. Everything is out there for them, she said. Everything is available, and everything is presented as just "an option." So in her opinion, they think everything is equally acceptable, and thus when it comes to same-sex marriage, they have lost the ability to even recognize that it is just intrinsically, fundamentally wrong. By definition.

I didn't disagree or quarrel with her. No good purpose would have been served. But this brief conversation captures very well the essence of the whole issue and why for many, this gap will and can never ever be bridged.

Many, especially in the LDS Church, are locked into seeing this as a non-negotiable matter of divinely ordained moral absolutes to which ideally everyone must adhere. They see the voice of God in the First Presidency's letter advocating support for Proposition 8. Non-Mormons point to the Bible as establishing God's Pattern For Marriage. Both feel threatened to their foundations by any prospect of change.

Many others see no solid historical or scriptural basis for that perspective other than personal prejudice and bigotry, point out that marriage has been "re-defined" many times throughout history, and believe that the tolerance lamented by my friend is in fact a long-overdue abandonment of an irrational hostility toward something that's always been part of the human condition anyway. They point to the fact that slavery was finally eradicated in most of the world only after millennia of its being an unquestioned and assumed part of The Divinely Fixed Order Of Things, with apparently supportive references to it throughout the Bible (far more than references to homosexuality in fact), and ferociously defended by many good Christians as approved by God. But that still didn't make it right.

With rare exceptions, this gap cannot be bridged. There is simply no way to reconcile these perspectives. They are as different as chalk and cheese, and are destined to duke it out until one prevails either through the courts or through the ballot box. About the only time I've ever heard of any individual changing from the first category to the second is when they discover that a loved one is gay and suddenly the issue becomes personal and provokes some very profound re-assessment of beliefs.

What think ye? Are today's Mormon youth so soaked in a culture of tolerance that they have lost the ability to discern right from wrong?

25 December 2008

The Appearance of Godliness, But . . .

While channel-surfing recently in search of minimally interesting audio wallpaper to accompany housecleaning, I stumbled on a Discovery Science Channel series about a family with 17 children and one on the way (10 boys and 8 girls). Amazed but without time to stop and watch right then, I set the box to record this thing and went back later to skim through the various episodes and find out what kind of people would have 18 kids today and how they did it. Results follow.

This is an extremely conservative fundamentalist Christian family in Arkansas. Kids are homeschooled and allowed only very restricted access to the Internet. Parents send two chaperones with each child who goes on a date because “when you're alone bad things can happen” and the kids “want to stay pure.” They are under strict instructions never to kiss until after marriage; handholding and the occasional hug is it. The families' conversation and their Web site are saturated with references to God, to “the Lord,” the Bible, and so forth. One Web site slide show photo shows wife Michelle gazing at husband Jim Bob (yes, his real name) with an adoring look in her eye as he sits at the head of a 20 seat dining table lecturing to the kids with an open Bible before him; it's captioned “Michelle admiring Jim Bob for being the spiritual leader of their home.”

One episode featured 20 year old eldest son proposing marriage to a girl younger than him whom he'd met a few months prior at a homeschooling conference, the first girl he'd ever fallen for. Footage shot during their engagement showed them holding hands and saying “I love you” to each other over and over and over again. They were obviously seething with hormones and gritting their teeth to be satisfied with arms-length hand-holds and finger caresses until after they said “I do” and could really let loose. But no kissing! He explained that when you kiss someone, you give part of your heart away to them, but he wanted to keep his heart “pure” for the one he married. They're now hitched and he's running his own used car dealership in their Arkansas town. Neither has been been to college, no indication that either one plans on it.

Now, I come from a very traditional LDS family and was raised to respect faith and good moral values. I should applaud any family that teaches the same to their kids, right? So I was surprised by my reaction to this family and to their rules, particularly for dating and courtship. What reaction? Visceral, gut-level revulsion. I was baffled. Why should I feel that way about this apparently happy family that seemed to be teaching their kids many of the values I also thought I supported? Certainly these parents have the right to organize their home and teach their kids the way they want. So why such disgust? After days of pondering, I think I've got it. My reasons have nothing to do with their efforts to raise a stable family and everything to do with their view of the world and of the right way to navigate it.

These people look at the world in black & white terms, God and godly things on one side, evil everywhere else. While this may be a psychologically comforting and easy approach, it's just not how real life works. These parents are stuck in a less-than-fully mature stage of faith which, if imposed on their kids, will probably fracture the faith and world view of some of those kids when they bump up against some life experience their parents' overly simplistic approach can't explain. There are 10 boys in this family so statistically there's a good chance one of them will discover that he's gay; what will happen to him, coming from this environment? Life is far more complex and the world far more vast than these people seem to want to believe, and God is the creator of all. Yet their approach seems intended to prevent intellectual curiosity and exploration of that world. Example: full parental support for eldest son's marriage at age 20 to the only girl he'd ever fallen for, with neither kid having even started college or dated anyone else seriously before. Personally I couldn't imagine doing that without taking time to leave home, learn about the world and life and relationships on my own, and figure out based on my own experience what I wanted for my life. But this kid didn't seem remotely interested in such stuff. Now that's certainly his choice, and he's not me. But the fact that the idea of something like that didn't even seem to occur to him? That is not the stuff of which Galileos or Columbuses or Einsteins are made.

These folks seem blithely convinced that their way is God's way and everything they do is divinely directed. They teach their kids this, and someday at least one of those kids will discover otherwise. When that happens, watch out kid for some serious blowback. The parents' support of the Quiverfull movement confirms that they take an extreme fundamentalist and literalist view of the Bible. This is the same mindset that produced the Scopes Monkey Trial and 150 years of unrelenting anti-Mormon bigotry which continues today and makes a profitable business out of teaching lies and prejudice to ostensible “Christians.” In short, it fosters hypocrisy, which I hate more than just about anything else. I am no shining example of peerless personal consistency, but I don't go around claiming I have God's truth while charging people to hear me spread falsehoods and bigotry about others. This family believes in a strain of “Christianity” which actively promotes just that.

Which brings me to one of my biggest beefs with their approach. It's overly extreme and unnecessary! It's Puritanical in every bad sense. They deny their children innocent and pleasurable learning and experience not for any real moral purpose but just because they seem more scared of the evil they think lurks in everyone than willing to trust their kids to make the right choices for the right reasons, or to teach them how to do so. They seem to think people can't control their own physical passions unless someone else is there to make them do it. They are teaching their kids that even the most innocent displays of affection are dangerous and disloyal, that God wants them to remain unequipped to bridle their own passions or learn how to deal with a variety of challenges on their own. Puritanism = anger over the relentless, nagging suspicion that somebody somewhere may be happy.

My conclusion? These parents don't seem to want their kids to learn how to find their own ways in life or decide what they individually want to be. And to me, that doesn't seem like love. It seems like control masquerading as love. The purpose of our coming to earth was to gain experience in freely choosing amongst all the alternatives we'd confront. Sometimes our choices are black & white, but often they just aren't that clear, and we struggle to decide what's right and best. That struggle is a crucial part of acquiring greater wisdom, knowledge, and judgment. I think a mature parent who truly loves their child for the right reasons and wants that child's greatest happiness will do what God our Father did: equip the children as best He can, then gradually set them free to make their own choices, find their own paths and destinies. He will stay close to give instruction and support when called on, but He will never limit or restrict their own ability to choose for themselves. That would destroy the purpose, which is admittedly high risk for Him: He risks losing the eternal companionship of many of His children as a result of their own choices. But He knows that only through free exercise of the right choices can any of us become as He is—which is, after all, the whole point.

So while I support many of the values these parents are trying to teach their kids, I can't support how they do it. Why did I feel repelled by this family? Because they seem unwilling to take the risks necessary to allow their children to be everything they could be. They are limiting their own childrens' ability to grow and gain wisdom, knowledge & experience in the name of “love” that is actually fear and control. And that is the opposite of the way God runs his family; it has an outward form that pretends to be godliness, but denies its power.

24 December 2008

23 December 2008

What I Would Give

Two days till Christmas. The weather sucks, the shopping's done, I can feel smug about sitting back and avoiding the traffic and the airports. Managing to concentrate on work but not with matchless enthusiasm, that's for sure. Aspirations fading fast that I will be able to discipline myself to do anything productive tomorrow.

With little kids at home I'm fortunate to have reached the stage where I don't care about my own Christmas presents anymore, for me the best thing about the season is the focus on giving and making others happy. My mind is wandering to friends and on-line family members I have been blessed to meet these past few months. Can you love people you haven't met? I think so. I've met a handful of blogmates--you know who you are--and I consider myself very blessed to know each of you. In this on-line family I see strength and weakness and faith and doubt and hope and discouragement and determination and talent and all the other wonderful paradoxes that are part of life. Each of you inspires me. Like Bravone, I wish I could dig into a bottomless barrel of wealth and give each of you every temporal gift you ever wanted. I wish I could invoke some magical power to give you every happiness you ever sought.

With all of us so far-flung and tied down by life's commitments and resources, I know I can't do all that. But I can and do keep you in my prayers and wishes for a wonderful Christmas. If I could wish one thing for each of you, it'd be what you see in this picture. Someone's hand to hold. Someone there for you, somehow, in some way. Someone to let you know that you're not alone, that you're loved, accepted, understood. If Christmas is a tough time for you, reach out. Let someone know. Heck, let ME know. I'm only one tiny voice in cyberspace but even if I can do nothing more than provide a listening ear or keep you company for a while, I'm glad to do it.

And just as importantly, I wish for you the opportunity to be that person for someone else. I've been blessed to be able to do that more than once and few things make me happier. To be the one to extend the hand, the assurance, the caring, isn't that what the Savior would want each of us to do. In the closing words of my favorite Christmas movie "The Bishop's Wife": "Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most, and then let us each put in our share: kind words, warm hearts, and the outstretched hand of tolerance--all the shining gifts that make peace on earth."

20 December 2008

Strikes When You Least Expect It - Ain't It Great?

One of life's greatest pleasures is to discover after the fact that you just might have had a little inspiration strike when you didn't even recognize it, and you only see how things fell into place from the rear view mirror. I am no pillar of exemplary spirituality, but have been lucky enough to have had this happen to me a few times. And it happened again tonight. My heart is dancing.

On the way home from a busy day, it suddenly occurred to me that I should stop at a nearby mall to look for one last-minute Christmas present. I hadn't previously planned to do this, but went with the inpulse. After breaking the 10th Commandment at the Apple Store while hefting an iPod Touch, I walked past a large central plaza and saw a fairly good-sized group of people standing in a big circle round the fountain in the middle. They stood quietly, holding candles and with signs pinned to their shirts that said something about equal rights. But nothing more specific. Curious, I approached and asked the purpose for the vigil.

The woman I approached said in a very kind and soft voice that they were there to protest the passage of Proposition 8, to let all its supporters know that they and this issue were not going away, and that they wanted to make a peaceful public statement.

I extended my hand, took hers, and said “I am an active Mormon, and I apologize for everything that has been done by my church to perpetuate hostility and misunderstanding. We are not all like that; many disagreed with the directive from Salt Lake which was extremely troubling to lots of us, and it has caused tremendous conflict within the church membership that you would not otherwise hear about. But there are lots of us who support you, so don't let the media's focus persuade you otherwise.”

A group instantly gathered around me. They interrupted each other to say over and over “Thank you, thank you thank you, that gives us hope.” I told them of my children who, when Proposition 8 was explained to them, recoiled and instantly recognized its unfairness. The group gathered round me were amazed and touched, and said “that is the future we rely on to bring more charity and tolerance to the world.”

Then came the part for which I later wondered whether I had been sent there. One young woman interrupted the others and said “I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear you say these things. My father's family is all Mormon, and they have cut off all contact with me ever since my dad died eight years ago.” Clearly this young woman was a lesbian and had been completely ostracized by her active Mormon family. I told her that her family was wrong to do that, and she should not lose heart. She was nearly in tears as she said “Hearing you say these things gives me hope that maybe things will change in my family.”

I shook hands with several of them, again assured them that there were many Latter-day Saints who shared their dreams of tolerance and equality, told them to keep their chins up and their candles lit, wished them all a Merry Christmas, and headed to my car.

In Doc. & Cov. 81:5, the Savior instructs us to “lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” I am elated and humbled to think the Spirit may have whispered today to someone as flawed and fallible as me, in order to point me to another child of God whose hands were low and knees were weak and whose heart yearned for her family, so that she would be comforted and gain renewed hope for the future. As I said above, my heart dances still. And thus we see that God truly is mindful of all His children.

19 December 2008

Prop 8 News Flash - The March Continues

Flouting what seemed to be widespread legal opinion prior to November 4th that pre-election same sex marriages would remain intact if Prop 8 passed, today the "Protect Marriage Coalition" filed suit to have all pre-election marriages of same-sex couples in California invalidated, thus confirming that Prop 8 proponents are not content simply with the new constitutional provision but are also determined to retroactively wipe out all pre-election same-sex marriages in the state.

Today's second surprising development was the announcement by California Attorney General Jerry Brown that he is reversing his prior position on Prop 8. While he previously said he would defend the measure before the California Supreme Court after it passed, on "further reflection and a deeper probing into all aspects of our Constitution, it became evident that the Article I provision guaranteeing basic liberty, which includes the right to marry, took precedence over the initiative" and therefore, based on his "duty to defend the law and the entire Constitution, [he] concluded the [supreme] court should protect the right to marry even in the face of the 52 percent vote."

In short, California's Attorney General will now urge the California Supreme Court to throw out Proposition 8 as creating an inherent and internal conflict within the state constitution.

No links necessary. Google any of this and you'll find the story. The roller coaster ride continues!

17 December 2008

Several Thousand Words

That's what this one's worth. Discovery, joy, fear, bigotry, loss, hope, the prospect of a brighter future. Delightful and very touching. And it's only a few minutes long. The Closet. Enjoy.

And if you're in the mood for a shocking news story about a flaw in California's new constitutional provision, go here.

16 December 2008

Skirmish Over, But Analysis Continues

Those of you sick of hearing about Prop 8 will be happier if you click elsewhere before reading further.

If you're still here, then I'll assume it's because you remain interested in the whole packet of issues that congealed as Prop 8 in California. Yesterday I heard a radio interview with someone in the leadership of one of the organizations that's appealed Prop 8 to the California Supreme Court. He said the long-term plan was to overturn Prop 8 and the constitutional amendment in California, whether at the Supreme Court or by another ballot measure in 2010, and then go state by state with similar efforts to repeal their constitutional provisions as well. He took a very long-term view and counted on the fact that a majority of younger voters opposed Prop 8, a trend he expected would remain constant nationwide. Those who spend their time looking for conspiracy theories to explain major events and trends needn't waste their time here; conspiracies are by definition secret, but this plan is very "out" in the open.

That said, today I read a very thought-provoking discussion of the Church's involvement in this issue. It's worth pasting here:

"Singled Out

In the turbulent aftermath of proposition 8’s passage in California, the Church made some noise about being unfairly singled out by gay rights activitists. Whether or not the Church served as a lynchpin in the coalition that pushed the proposition through, its centralization alone makes it a logical target.

But here I’m interested in turning the question around: why have gays been singled out by the Church?

In my opinion, the Church’s strongest argument against gay marriage is that which highlights the importance of maintaining the status of opposite-sexed parents in our image of the ideal family. Maybe there’s some validity to the contention that, given its potential benefits to society, government incentives should adhere to and support this particular ideal, which begins to erode if it loses its singular status.

But there’s a lot that could be done, on the policy front, to support families in various ways. And the Church is not involved in any of it. The utopic vision the Church invokes in the gay marriage debate cuts a remarkably broad swath across society, yet its political focus is bewilderingly narrow. Do gay unions pose a particular threat qualitatively different from–and more virulent to our social fabric–than no-fault divorce laws or absent, deadbeat parents, for example?

Should they so choose (and many do), mothers and fathers are accorded the legal right to sleep around, divorce their partner (if they were married in the first place), and abandon their children in pursuit of their own happiness. Where the needs of the community (here children’s need for involved parents) and the desires of individuals are in tension, the law, it seems to me, largely triumphs individual opportunity. Divorce affects nuclear families directly and immediately in a way that gay marriage can only exert a weak, indirect, nonspecific influence (if at all). Given this context, would it not be consonant with our established values to champion gay marriage? It may be individualistic, but for that very reason it should hold some attraction. After all, why should gays sacrifice themselves by accepting the status of outcast in order to preserve a particular vision of society when others who are disrupting that vision more violently are not being asked to make comparable sacrifices?

Is gay marriage really the most alarming threat to the Church’s current vision of acceptable family arrangements? (And I mean in society at large, not merely among its members, since this is the turf on which gay marriage is being fought.) Is this simply a question of pragmatics–the Church is choosing a battle it thinks it can win, whether or not it is the most important battle to win? Is it a matter of dispositional conservatism, which reflexively recoils from enacting change while throwing its energy into preventing it? Or are there cases in which the Church would (or should) fight to effect change rather than simply hinder it?"

You can read the entire post and discussion here.

12 December 2008

Today I Saw The Future - Sort Of - I Think

When I first started my career I worked at a place I'll call Company X. I was just a kid and thrown into this big, sophisticated place and expected to work alongside some pretty seasoned senior executives sometimes. Sink or swim. Fortunately, I ended up having a great experience although I always felt outclassed by the age and expertise of just about everybody I worked with. It's been a few years since I left but I still keep in touch with a handful of friends I made there. Company X has since been acquired by someone else and virtually everyone I knew there has left. The business world is like that. No surprise.

Today I attended a lunch for Company X alumni. I still felt like the inexperienced kid as I sat near the end of a long table and watched several dozen of my former work colleagues get together, visit, and reminisce. Most had gone on to other places, continuing successful careers. A few had reached retirement age. There was more gray hair in the room than I remembered from years ago, and less hair overall on most heads. These people were still my seniors and superiors in every way.

Sitting at the table, I was struck by something. The last time we were together, we were all surrounded and enveloped by the hard-grinding, high-pressure, stress-filled atmosphere created by the relentless pursuit of profit and company business. Our noses were all to the grindstone, our schedules packed with meetings and projects and metrics and goals and measurements and reviews and meeting the numbers (gee, sounds like life as an active Mormon, doesn't it). Days were long and performance expectations high.

This time, there was none of that. Everyone was there because they wanted to be, because they cared about the others, because they valued the friendships and wanted them to continue. The atmosphere was one of caring and contentment, of missions accomplished, of affection and relaxation after all the battles were over.

So as I watched all these reunions, I couldn't help thinking ahead to, say, 100 years from now, when I and all my blogging brothers will have moved on to the next place. After the hard-grinding, high-pressure, stress-filled adventure of mortal life and the relentless pursuit of—well, whatever we pursue here—is over. I envisioned all of us gathering together someplace, having somehow weathered all the storms and strife of life, meeting for the sheer joy of reunion and cameraderie. To talk about old times, old struggles, old questions, to simply savor the happiness of being together, of affection and relaxation after all the battles are over.

I don't have anything close to the answers I want from the gospel or the Church about a lot of pretty serious questions. I don't think the Church itself knows the answers to some of them. The road that lies between us and that far future reunion I imagined today is going to be very rocky sometimes, and some battles are really tough for all of us. I don't how how we're going to get there, or what shape we'll be in when we arrive. I think there's a pretty tough slog ahead. It's tough to have a testimony of the gospel taught by a church that denies you the hope it extends to most other members and can't explain how you should expect to achieve the same eternal blessings they look for. Talk about a rock and a hard place. Tough, very tough.

But all the same, today's reunions were warm and sweet and peaceful and somehow gave me hope that the Father of us all will indeed give us the righteous desires of our hearts sometime, somewhere. I wish I knew how, or when. I wish I knew what He knows about why he made so many of us the way He did. But I do have faith that at some future time, the battles will be over, we'll know what we need to know, and everything will be worked out. Today I had a little glimpse of how that might feel. It was really wonderful. So to all my blogosphere brethren, I am glad and honored to be here with you, to be part of this big “family,” and I hope that what I saw today really is a foretaste of some wonderful, peaceful, joyful future gathering for all of us when the missions are finally accomplished.

08 December 2008

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad and Irresistible Christmas Gift

Well, it's the holidays and I can finally let loose after waiting months to say this.

MoHoHo, Merry Christmas.

Okay, anti-climactic at best. Keep the tomatoes, cabbages and rocks to yourself please. I can't be the first one to think of that, can I?

I believe in living a balanced life. Hence, yesterday's burst of seriousness expended, today I turn to the utterly frivolous, but with this expectation. Someone somewhere who reads this post will end up seriously in my debt, because I am about to enable that person to wreak horrible, delightful revenge on whoever is the bane of their existence. So with that conviction, I hereby present my readers with this Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad and Irresistible Christmas Present for whoever in your life drives you almost unforgivably nuts.

I am not responsible for the consequences of your choices.

07 December 2008

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

All right, Mormons. Every one of you who fears "the gay agenda" or sees any degree of homosexuality as a threat to The Plan, every one of you who's ever called something "gay" in a general sense as a putdown (and that means most people between ages 10 and 25 in the Church right now), every one of you who fears public school indoctrination of Our Innocent Little Ones with stories of princes marrying princes, or of the Church being sued for not permitting gay marriages in temples, every one of you at BYU who opposes any public mention of homosexuality that isn't pejorative. Listen up. I'm about to tell you why all of that is just a distraction, and who you should really be scared of. Believe me, it ain't who you think.

Will and Grace, Ellen, Brokeback Mountain, candlelight vigils and marches in front of temples, all of the screaming, yelling dykes on bikes, the limp-wristed, aggressively gender-bending thong-wearing RuPaul wannabes and mincing teabags who march in Gay Pride parades—these are no real threat to you. They are an extreme fringe that gets media attention out of all proportion to their numbers. They are not your enemy. Getting all worked up over them is like picking a fight with an inflatable weighted Bozo the Clown punching bag. It'll tire you out, they won't go away, and they won't have any real effect on your life either.

For anybody who's even remotely homophobic, who believes that being gay is a choice and that their precious youth could be "persuaded" into adopting it, who believe that "the gays" are out to destroy their families, the real threat is elsewhere. Who and what is it?

Drum roll please.

The real threat to you is every gay or bisexual person, whether in the Church or not, who does not gender-bend. Who is not in-your-face militant about gay rights 24/7. Who is or has been married (regardless of genders). Who has kids or wants them. Who has a good job and tries to do it well and responsibly. Who doesn't sleep around, cruise the bars and abuse drugs or alcohol, and who tries to live an honest, ethical, decent life according to the Golden Rule. Who watches and plays sports as well as loving some of the arts. Who tries to be tolerant and respectful of others, and who tries to make life better for themselves and everyone around them. AND, by the way, just also happens to be attracted to persons of the same gender.

People like that—they are the biggest threat you face. Do you know why? It's because all homophobia depends on irrational judgments and stereotypes. It's easy to catcall and hoot and pick fights with a depersonalized stereotype, even one that actually happens to be a living, breathing person. No problem to indulge some self-righteousness there, some complacency, some sense of virtuous defense of The Kingdom against the encroaching Destroyers Of All We Hold Traditional and Dear.

But what if you suddenly found out that your best friend from high school, or the guy you played football with, or served a mission with, or the woman you worked in Relief Society with, whose temple wedding you attended, whose career you envied, whose kids you know, whose testimony you've heard in church—what if you suddenly discovered one day that they've actually been gay all along? What if you discovered that your kids' new playmates, who are bright and cheerful and well-behaved and apparently doing great, come from a home with two daddies or two mommies? What if it's your son or daughter who you've watched growing up and whose heart you know to be good and faithful and true?

Suddenly all the neat, simple, easy black and white categories of your prior judgmental life don't seem so easily applied anymore, do they. These aren't the abrasive, foul-mouthed, boozed-up, AIDS-flaunting cartoon characters you've imagined storming The Gates of Zion at Satan's bidding. These are good, decent people that you know and love, who you've seen are trying to do and be their best. When you see that someone can be and do all the "normal" things you approve of and which you yourself also love and support, and they can also be gay--oops. Suddenly something doesn't compute anymore.

Light and truth are toxic to the mold and fungus of prejudice. So anybody who wants to continue clinging comfortably to their beliefs that The Gays Are Coming To Get Us had better avoid any possibility of finding out who in their circle of apparently normal, average, ordinary family and friends is gay. Because chances are there's somebody who qualifies. Somebody you love, somebody you've always thought was just a "regular person." And who would thus seriously threaten your carefully constructed house of fantasy cards that shelters your favorite myths about Those People. Nothing angers a person more than to be shown irrefutably that one of their precious prejudices is wrong. So if you don't want to have your world rocked like that, then do your best to keep the blinders on. Because your real enemy may be a lot closer than you think.

Of course, if you can weather such a discovery with some calm common sense and the charity that Christ commands us all to have, you may just discover that there was never anything to fear in the first place. And you might find yourself not only rid of an imagined enemy, but of a crippling prejudice as well. Funny how that works sometimes.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

06 December 2008

Thank You Bill O'Reilly

Thanks Bill for tipping me off to one of the funnier things I've seen lately. I never would have heard of it if you hadn't kicked up a fuss. It's clear you didn't think this was one bit humorous, but I think you should lighten up just a bit. We've had enough grit-your-teeth seriousness over this issue, let's at least laugh a bit before the next round.

03 December 2008

The Best Christmas Movies

I like classics and understatement. So my two favorite Christmas movies are a lot older than me, and both are quite restrained, compared to more recent beat-them-over-the-head fare like The Santa Clause and such. I've seen almost all the holiday movies in recent memory and in my opinion, they don't match my two favorites for quality, production value, and message. Both have been re-made at least once, and one of them several times. But the remakes just aren't as good. I can't decide which of these two I like more. I think I like them equally well, for different reasons. So on the assumption that few of my blogmates have seen the great originals, let me pass on a couple of recommendations.

First is the 1951 black & white version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim. Faithful to the original Dickens story, it has a little bit of the schmaltz that sometimes shows up in movies from that era, but overall it is a very compelling production and the best of all the film versions of this story. It is not all touchy-feely. It deals with serious issues. There are no song & dance numbers. Parts of it scare my kids. But the seriousness at times makes the redemption at the end all the more wonderful. You can see that it really is a “mighty change of heart”, which is what the Savior's message is all about.

Second is the original 1948 version of The Bishop's Wife with Loretta Young, David Niven, and Cary Grant. Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston should spend time in purgatory for their recent dismal remake called “The Preacher's Wife” which was way dumbed down. In a story set just before Christmas, Niven plays an Episcopalian bishop trying to raise money for a new cathedral. In response to his prayer for guidance, God sends an angel (Cary Grant) who reveals his identity only to Niven. They don't get along very well, and the angel ends up falling in love with the bishop's wife (Young). Everyone but the bishop marvels at the angel's knowledge and experience and are baffled by the little miracles he works here and there. There is a wonderful bit of music by the kind of boy's choir that's unknown today in a neighborhood church. I won't tell you how it all resolves, you'll have to watch it for yourself. But the very last scene is one of the most touching and sweet I've ever seen and I never tire of watching it. Hint: it mentions “tolerance” specifically as one of the “shining gifts that make peace on earth.”

Buy both. You won't be disappointed. And let me know what you think.

01 December 2008

Different Perspectives

A good friend of mine is a Church employee. He was born and raised in Utah County, as was his wife. Though he has traveled some (always in some Church-related capacity), they have never lived anywhere but Salt Lake or Orem. Recently he has asked me some very pointed questions about Prop 8, wanting in good faith to know the perspective of a “non-Utah Mormon” who has seen the issue close up as he knows he has not.

We've discussed virtually every issue and factoid that's been raised since this whole thing started. You can probably guess which side he supports. I've explained to him my perspectives and how I understood the arguments on both sides of the question.

Three conclusions emerged from our conversation. First, we both have faith in and a testimony of the gospel. Second, he says I am what he calls a classical liberal, someone who has the basic view of rights and role of government that Jefferson and his contemporaries had, and who makes no important distinctions between economic liberties and civil liberties, and this colors my view of proposed laws that affect civil liberties. He's probably right. I think that he is politically very conservative but not pig-headedly so.

Third, and most salient here, was our different perspectives on the First Presidency's letter that kick-started the whole Mormon Machine into action in California. Essentially, we differed on how to identify revelation. I laid out for him the history of First Presidency letters over the years which have shifted Church policies and teachings, sometimes 180 degrees about, even flatly contradicting previous FP statements (e.g. on birth control). Since truth is always internally consistent, I told him, this history suggests to me that First Presidency letters can sometimes include the personal advice and opinions of the First Presidency. Otherwise, to use the same example, if birth control was “contrary to the teachings of the Church” in the 1960's when David O. McKay issued his letter on it, it would still be “contrary to the teachings of the Church” today. But it isn't. I don't see this shift as the result of revelation since it seems highly unlikely to me that the Lord would instruct the prophet that birth control was sinful at one point and then just 40 years later, for no apparent reason, change His mind and tell another prophet something else. Occam's Razor always applies: All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best. The simplest solution here is to explain this shift as the result of near-universal acceptance of the use of birth control in the United States and the almost complete breakdown of all objections to it on any basis. I did not analogize specifically to Prop 8 but my friend's discomfort with this line of analysis confirmed that he understood where it could lead.

Friend in question did not see things as I did. To him, letters from the First Presidency constitute The Voice of The Lord on whatever question they address. Therefore, if those letters change Church policies or positions, then that constitutes continuing revelation. He believes that all official acts of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are based on revelation and that any “correction” (as he sees it) should come from God alone. He acknowledges that we both believe in continuing revelation but he does not see “the Brethren” making “corrections along the way” whereas I do (and he's right, that's how I see things). He sees them as “always inspired” and believes I see them as “working through things until they eventually get it right, if they do.” I think that last phrase was a bit overstated, but he is correct that I see even top Church leaders as often using their own best judgment in running Church affairs. I believe they do receive revelation in that process but I've seen enough in the Church to know that many if not the majority of decisions taken at all levels are taken according to the individual leaders' own opinions and personal judgment. Sometimes those decisions proved to have been inspired after all. Sometimes they are demonstrably bone-headed and reversed. I allow for both possibilities. Friend in question would simply see all decisions of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as always inspired according to particular circumstances.

I pointed out to him various quotes from past presidents of the Church which urged individual members not to rely on their leaders without question, but to get for themselves a testimony that what they were being taught and the ways they were being led were truthful, that prophets were only prophets when speaking as such, and that they always remained fallible men whose own experiences colored their perceptions. He acknowledged all of this and it made no difference. To him, FP letters are the modern equivalent of “thus saith the Lord” and are to be followed. Period. I'm sure he wouldn't object to individual efforts to gain a testimony of any particular FP instruction because to him, there can be only one right answer to such efforts.

He assured me that he didn't doubt my faithfulness, that we simply had a different perspective on this issue. I suspect that privately he worries I am on shaky ground because I “question The Brethren” and even “presume to correct them.” For my part, I think his approach is a little bit pie-in-the-sky-ish and it doesn't reflect the reality I have personally seen of how the Church is run.

Naturally this made for a very interesting discussion about Proposition 8 in particular. I'll spare you the details of that. But it seems pretty clear to me that he's the “Iron Rod” type of Mormon whereas I'm more of the “Liahona” type. And I'm curious to know what others think of Friend in Question's approach, whether in the context of Prop 8 (assuming we're not all heartily sick of the subject yet) or otherwise.