26 April 2009

The Cocoon

This morning I attended sacrament meeting at the chapel where Stuart Matis did. And where he left this life. I wanted to see the inside of the place, to see one of the wards there face to face. It ended up being ironic in several ways. I have to warn you, this post is calm but not always nice.

I arrived about 10 minutes early and sat in the rear pew near the chapel entrance. I wore khaki trousers and a conservative blue & white striped dress shirt. No tie, maybe that's what made the difference. If so, all the worse. Of the dozens of people who walked past me, including the missionaries, only one stopped to say anything, and he simply wanted to know if that was a Blackberry in my hand. The chapel was packed. Everyone busy talking and jostling babies and instructing fidgety children, ignoring the prelude music and the visitor in the back without a tie. The hymn singing was perfunctory and lackluster, as seems to be the norm in more and more wards. Even In Humility Our Savior, which is my all-time favorite sacrament hymn and profoundly moving when done right. You'd think that people who profess to have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ would sound more enthusiastic than that when singing a hymn whose melody is so beautiful and whose lyrics so perfectly capture the miracle of the Atonement.

I left after the sacrament was passed because I had another appointment and couldn't stay for the full meeting. But I probably would have left anyway. What is happening to me? Why am I more and more discontented with the weekly worship of the church I was brought up in and taught never to depart from because it was the ultimate repository of truth? Why do so many sacrament meetings strike me as more topic du jour seminar sessions than actual worship services? What's happened to the enthusiastic participation I saw and felt as a youth, both in myself and others?

Instead, where do I find myself as I write this? Where have I fled for actual reverence and inspiration and quiet reflection and real worship? Once again, Grace Cathedral. It's quiet now, evening services will start soon and they are likely to be small, not like the big set piece they have in the morning. I sit writing alone in the pew, pausing every few moments to gaze upward at the stone arches which soar at least 100 feet over my head. The sweet smell of incense still hangs faintly in the air, the same scent used at the ancient temple in Jerusalem. In the late afternoon sunlight the stained glass windows, which are everywhere--main level and clerestory--glow like tapestries of jewels and bathe the cathedral in a soft rich glow. A small choir starts to prepare for the evening service, singing a simple unison melody that rings up and down the nave, pure, sweet notes blending with an innocence and sincerity that I never heard this morning in sacrament meeting. The echoes take several seconds to die away. I wish they would keep going on and on. And now they're starting "All Creatures of Our God and King." Angelic.

There is a reverence here that I have not felt for years in any LDS chapel. A depth, a richness to the quiet. The stained glass windows are strewn with portraits of Christian heroes. The walls are frescoed with pictures of 100 years' worth of others who've built the cathedral and the Christian community. They all still seem to be present here. High along the transept walls are flags flown during the American Revolution. Another reminder of who went before, what they fought for and made possible for us. I can no longer deny that all of this resonates with and reaches me in ways that no LDS chapel ever does. The order of Mormon services, the designs of Mormon chapels, nothing about "the way we do things" on Sunday is divinely ordained other than the ordinance of the Sacrament itself. Everything else has been designed and designated by human beings. Our services have morphed over the years; having originally been designed by leaders who came from "Low Church" and ritual-phobic Protestant traditions, now they seem almost like business meetings sometimes, which I suppose is consistent with the evolution of the Church into a corporation and the ascendance of the power of the bean counters in Salt Lake.

As I sat in that comparatively ordinary LDS stake center this morning and looked about, I was struck by several things. One, the organist was a 20-something young man. Having been a 20-something young man ward organist, I always wonder when I see another one when he's going to come out. We are so anomalous. Two, one of the priests at the sacrament table was a dead ringer for Andrew Pankratz 10 years ago, it was astonishing. Both made me think of Stuart Matis who left his body on the stairs not 50 feet from where all those people were sitting, completely oblivious both to Stuart and to the statistical fact that there were more like him somewhere in their midst.

And I realized that in many ways Mormon life is like a cocoon. One I grew up in and frankly have learned to resent as I've gotten older. It is safe and insulated and looking out at the world through its diaphanous walls filters every perception you have about everything outside The One True Church. Mormon life places incredible demands on its members' lives, time, resources, and mind share. This perpetuates the tendency, often unquestioned, to look at everything in life through Mormon-colored glasses. Things that don't quite fit or make total sense in a Mormon cultural and theological model, like whether capitalism might actually have some drawbacks, or whether God might not mind so much about His gay children as some of His straight children seem to, well, those just don't compute so we'll just not think about them. We're too busy anyway.

But you know what? The world is HUGE, SO much bigger than it looks through The Mormon Cocoon walls. So much more complex, nuanced, filled with colors and grey areas and unanswered questions and astonishing beauty and achievement that has nothing to do with the Church. So much knowledge that doesn't flow through BYU or Correlation. So much faith and Christlike action that knows nothing of Mormonism. But growing up inside the cocoon, I never knew any of that. There wasn't time to learn it or be exposed to it. I had to stick to the map that The Church had laid out for my life, because The Church told me that was the only way I could get to the only acceptable end-goal in the celestial kingdom. Anything else was second-rate and therefore to be disdained. Lots of black & white thinking resulted. Lots of judgmentalism. Lots of us vs. them attitudes, lots of inflexibility, intolerance, obsession with statistics and performance and a loss of focus on the fundamentals. And lots of lost opportunities to go places and meet people and learn things that were out in the world just waiting to be explored, but all rejected out of hand because they weren't connected to The Church, or else The Map's dictates meant that I didn't have time for them. I had to stick to the schedule. More like the railroad track, actually. And I'll be honest. I resent it.

I can't help contrasting that with what I saw in the evening service at the cathedral tonight. I was surrounded by people of every race and color and age and orientation, all there in a Christ-focused service of worship to recommit themselves to following the Savior's example. It was simple and profound. The consistent focus of each message and song was the Savior and how we respond to His message. The cathedral is high atop a big hill in the middle of a bustling city. Getting there takes some commitment. But these folks were there because they wanted to worship the Savior and hear His words. I can't remember the last time I went to an LDS sacrament meeting and heard a "talk" like the things I regularly hear in the consistently Christocentric Episcopal services.

So why do I stay? Pretty simple. I can go to Episcopal services for inspiration whenever I want. But apart from my testimony of the Savior and His gospel, I stay in the LDS Church because, as one lady at Grace Cathedral told me, maybe it is my mission from God to increase tolerance and understanding of God's gay children, to break down and overcome prejudice and fear, to smooth the path for my brethren and sisters who come after me, to take some of the hits so that they won't have to. I hope that doesn't sound pathetically noble, it's not meant to be. But somebody has to do it. I have been struck by how close in time Scott and I felt prompted to come out, and then we end up becoming friends and both increasingly vocal in our lives and our blogs for greater tolerance and understanding of homosexuality within the Church. Our kids are friends now too. Maybe his timing and mine weren't coincidence after all. Maybe we are privileged to be part of a small but growing number of people who are poking holes in The Cocoon and letting in some fresh air and fresh perspectives, helping to pry open some rusted-shut doors so the LDS Church of a future day will be a little more like the loving embracing arms of the Savior it purports to follow. If so, I will count myself very blessed to have been able to contribute my widower's mite.

25 April 2009

Somebody's Going to Hate Me For This, I Just Know It

Disclaimer: I realize that this post puts me at risk of some stereotype-based mockery. To which I say: Feh. I care not. I am totally enjoying myself and it's time for a light-hearted post. Especially after the grinder that was last week at the office. Major project progress and I am going to beat my deadline but I am totally wrung out.

So I have rewarded myself by heading for the hills. I'm sitting in Christopher's Fine Foods (click on the link and look for green chairs, that's where I'm at) in beautiful sunny blue-skyed, cool-breezy Napa California. Free Wi-Fi to feed my data addiction, and grilled prosciutto & brie with fig confit on panini with a bottle of San Pellegrino to feed the rest of me. Beautiful California Craftsman decor, amazing gelatos and pastries over there in that glass case screaming for my attention, soft jazz and the scent of hazelnut coffee wafting through the air along with the cool breeze. This is civilization. I feel like I've been exhaling for half an hour, breathing out the stress. Okay, anybody inclined to mock my proud Californianism can do so now, I just gave you major set-ups. Especially with the sandwich. Our state is a basket case fiscally, but in many ways it's still one of the most wonderful places on earth and I still feel really lucky to live here.

If Wilford Woodruff's hearing had been a little better, the Mormons actually could have had all this to themselves and the Napa & Sonoma valleys would have been filled now with Deseret Book stores, Mormon Handicraft shops and Hogi Yogi's instead of these Satanic vineyards and wineries that supply the world with some of the best vintage around. Remember when the wagon carrying Brigham Young first rolled into sight of the Salt Lake Valley, Brother Brigham was really sick. He raised himself up, looked out at that Godforsaken salt patch, and mumbled something. Wilford thought Brigham said "This is the place, drive on" or "this is the right place, drive on" or something like that. Nope. What he actually said was "This is a disgrace! Drive on!" Meaning "forget this, let's go to California."

And by the time Brother Brigham was well enough to travel any further, hundreds of people had stopped in the valley, unpacked, and started planting crops. He didn't have the heart to uproot them again, so there they stayed, battling crickets, seagull poop, Indians, sunburn, Johnson's Army and a dearth of truly complete civilization until Williams-Sonoma arrived about 150 years later. So if Brother Brigham always seemed kinda cranky after that, it's because he knew what he was missing a few more hundred miles out there to the west. What he was missing is what I'm sitting in the middle of right now. OMG it's beautiful. Peaceful. Idyllic. Live and let live. Nobody cares who holds hands with whom here.

Moral of the story: Next time you haul a sick prophet around in a buckboard looking for a new home in the middle of nowhere, make sure you ask him to repeat himself before you start buying real estate and laying out sidewalks on his say-so. If you jump to conclusions you could seriously skew what God really wanted for His kids.

19 April 2009

Angst Antidote

William Wordsworth wrote about "the Happy Warrior." I hope I fit his description. This video is for all non-married gay Mormon guys, for the times you are discouraged.

To brethren in mixed-orientation marriages, I honor and am amazed by your faithfulness and commitment, and there are a few things in this video that probably aren't for you. Watch it if you want, of course, there's nothing "inappropriate," but for you a few of the clips might not have the desired effect.

I put this together to remind myself and my brethren of how blessed we are. Attitude is everything. Sure life isn't 100% bliss, but most of the time it's pretty great. Have a look and you'll see why I think so.

18 April 2009

To Utah Republicans: Change or Die

I realize full well that the following story will play right into the hands of those cultural Mormons who are locked and loaded and ready to be the lone holdouts clinging to righteousness in a world where the Constitution is hanging by a thread until they step forward to save it. But we don't live in a fantasy world folks, this is reality, this is the future of Utah's majority party and of Utah's political influence if somebody there doesn't wake up, give Chris Buttars the boot, and start re-thinking some things:

McCain Strategist Warns GOP Risks Becoming 'Religious Party'
Steve Schmidt urges Republicans to begin voicing more support for civil unions and gay rights
Friday, April 17, 2009

John McCain's top adviser from the presidential campaign urged fellow Republicans on Friday to warm up to gay rights and warned that the GOP risks becoming the "religious party" with its opposition to same-sex marriage. 

Steve Schmidt, in his first political appearance since the election, spoke at the Washington, D.C., convention for the Log Cabin Republicans -- a grassroots group for gay and lesbian Republicans. 

He urged Republicans, in the near-term, to endorse civil unions and stop using the Bible as rationale for gay-marriage opposition. 

"If you put public policy issues to a religious test, you risk becoming a religious party," he said. "And in a free country a political party cannot be viable in the long-term if it is seen as a sectarian party." 

Schmidt, whose sister is a lesbian and who supports same-sex marriage, said he understands the Republican Party probably won't reverse its resistance to same-sex marriage anytime soon. 

But he suggested that the party will be increasingly marginalized if it sustains that opposition long-term. 

"If the party is seen as anti-gay, then that is injurious to its candidates" in Democrat-leaning and competitive states, he said. 

President Obama also stops short of supporting gay marriage -- he supports civil unions -- but states across the country are moving toward extending such rights to gay couples. 

Schmidt predicted gay marriage will create a bigger and bigger divide between the GOP and the electorate in the years ahead. He said that as young voters age, they may adopt conservative views on the economy and national security -- but they will not abandon liberal, social beliefs. 

This would put the Republican Party at odds with a swath of voters, Schmidt said. 
"I believe Republicans should re-examine the extent that we are being defined by positions on issues that I don't believe are among our core values," he said, while still calling social conservatives an "indispensable part of the conservative coalition." 

Schmidt's position is not new. Schmidt recently asserted his support for same-sex marriage rights in March during an interview with the Washington Blade, a newspaper that covers gay and lesbian issues. 

But Schmidt's advice to his party took a different tone than the social platform trumpeted Thursday by McCain running mate Sarah Palin -- the Alaska governor gave an out-of-state political speech for the first time in months Thursday, to an anti-abortion group in Indiana. 

There she chastised Obama for supporting abortion rights and defended her abortion opposition. 

Schmidt also said Friday that Republicans need to reach out, not only to gay voters, but young voters and Hispanics. "The rapid growth of the Hispanic-American population for instance could soon cost Republicans the entire southwest if we don't recover our previous share of the vote," he said. 

14 April 2009

More Reasons

This Easter really was different from all others for me, and not just for the reasons in my video post. I spent the day doing things I'd never done on an Easter Sunday before. Each one made the day a lot more meaningful than other Easters and together they added up to a day I'll remember for a long time.

First was attending Easter services at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I tell you, the Episcopalians know how to do Christian festivals right. In addition to the booming pipe organ and a packed cathedral's worth of thousands of people singing joyously, they had the brass section leads and the timpani from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra playing too. Imagine how that sounded echoing through a great stone & concrete cathedral. Sun glowing brilliantly through stained glass, exultant joyful noise like that echoing around, it was thrilling. THAT is how Easter hymns should sound.

Second I actually don't want to say much about. Suffice it to say that it was a beautiful sunny day and I spent a good chunk of it not cloistered in a soundproofed wallboard chapel dozing through repetitive lessons, but out in a huge city surrounded by God's children of all ages, colors, economic strata, origins, and experiences, as I like to think the Savior would have been, and I found opportunities to act as I think He would have acted. And I saw others doing the same. Wonderful and heartwarming. Mahler on the iPod as usual, symphony chorus singing the early Christian hymn Gloria Patri ("Glory to the Father"). Which matched my mood of exultant gratitude after that magnificent Easter service as I walked through that sunny, windswept city surrounded by so many of my brothers & sisters from all over the earth.

The third was a much more somber experience, but appropriate too for Easter. I discovered last week that I work just a few miles from the Mormon chapel on whose front steps Stuart Matis killed himself. This is tragic, hallowed ground. The last thing I did on the evening of Easter Sunday was to go there and sit and think on those very same steps. I wanted to be there in that same spot, to see what he had seen. I pondered what I knew and had read of his life and his struggles, so many of which I also feel. The Mahler 8th Symphony was not right for this; I switched to the MoTab singing "Consider the Lilies":

Consider the lilies of the field,
how they grow, how they grow.
Consider the birds in the sky,
How they fly, how they fly.
He clothes the lilies of the field.
He feeds the birds in the sky.
And he will feed those who trust him,
And guide them with His eye.

Consider the sheep of his fold,
How they follow where he leads.
Though the path may wind across the mountains,
He knows the meadows where they feed.
He clothes the lilies of the field.
He feeds the birds in the sky,
And he will feed those who trust him,
And guide them with his eye.

Consider the sweet, tender children
Who must suffer on this earth.
The pains of all of them he carried
From the day of his birth.
He clothes the lilies of the field,
He feeds the lambs in His fold,
And he will heal those who trust him,
And make their hearts as gold.

It wasn't till the choir sang "Though the path may wind across the mountains, He knows the meadows where they feed" that I realized what I had been carrying inside for months as a result of reading Stuart's story and, sadly, stories of others like him. But it burst out anyway. I sat on those very steps where he'd taken his last look at mortal life, put my head down on folded arms and sobbed until my gut ached. For his pain, his frustration, his anger at trying to be everything the Church told him he should aspire to with only misery for reward. For his sense of betrayal. For the loss which his departure means to we who are left behind. For other of my brothers, like Doug Stewart, buried so near my mother far away, and for all of the "sweet tender children" who left just like Stuart did and for the same reasons. I had not realized till then how keenly I felt their loss. I was truly wracked with grief and there was no holding it back any longer.

Gradually the gut-wrenching convulsions subsided. The tears still flowed, though, as I heard the lyrics "He will heal those who trust him, and make their hearts as gold." How I pray that means Stuart and all those like him who've gone on ahead. I remembered reading a quote from Stuart's mother that the Spirit whispered to her in the temple that he was all right. And gradually my tears stopped too. Peace and calm returned. I arose, walked slowly to my car, and drove home.

A day later, my gut still hurts and I still have that feeling of exhaustion that comes after huge stress and its release. I truly had no idea that I'd felt any of this so deeply, but obviously I did. But what I also have is a renewed desire to stand up against the ignorance and the prejudice that drove Stuart Matis away from all of us, and to do whatever I could to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. A greater willingness to speak truth to power, if necessary, and to anyone else who tries to perpetuate the causes of his pain. A greater trust that God and the Savior know intimately all of the desires of our hearts, that they love us no matter what, and want us to be happy. A greater gratitude for the Savior's atonement that makes it possible for all this earthly pain to be healed and for us all to rise one day as He did.

I hadn't really planned on going there, it was a spur of the moment thing. But how appropriate that I should do this on Easter Sunday. A day when incredible tragedy was overcome by unbelievable miracle, one that is a free gift to all of us as well. Thanks to that gift and its giver, someday Stuart and I will meet. I will embrace him and say that his departure was not in vain, for it inspired me and many others to be strong. And we will be able to strike up the friendship that for now has only to wait patiently. As I do.

10 April 2009

Who We're Dealing With

By now lots of you have probably seen that creepy vid from the National Organization for Marriage with the zombies darkly intoning prophecies of civilization's doom and fascistic denial of all kinds of personal freedoms if same-sex marriage continues its progress. We'll ignore for now the fact that all of the horror stories their script referred to were thoroughly debunked during last year's Prop 8 campaign. I wanted to pass on three points of follow-up.

1. Comic Relief

First, thanks to Clark for flagging a hilarious parody that's already been posted by geniuses unknown. Well worth watching.

2. Wickedly Insightful Commentary

Second, some thoughts from columnist Mark Morford (full text here):

"My favorite part has got to be the lightning.

The fake lightning, that is, flashing just off to the side, a cheap 'n' cheesy special effect that momentarily lights up the actors' faces in the most sweetly melodramatic way as they stand there against the dark 'n' stormy backdrop like devout Christian zombies, delivering delightfully weird and wooden lines about being openly terrified of those openly terrifying gay married people.

Yes, it's merely another series of strange, alarmist, deeply homophobic ads from yet another seething anti-gay group you've never heard of (the National Organization for Marriage, or NOM), ads which are running right now in five states in response to two stunning, watershed gay marriage upheavals in Iowa and Vermont, AKA two more states now shamelessly roaring down the highway to hell.

Have you heard? Turns out the married gays are still on the march. No longer merely a coastal phenomenon, undeterred by the economic recession, as yet unsmited by God's redneck fury, these bizarre, relentlessly loving creatures are now invading the heartland. Will the nightmare of love never end?

You just gotta see these strange, hateful little ads (as of this writing, the unintentionally hilarious audition reels of the terrible actors reciting the fake lines have been, alas, taken down).

The ads emphasize how the gays are moving closer to Christian homes, businesses, schools and genitalia, and many terrified citizens with souls the size of marbles clearly don't know what to do or how to protect their children -- or their crotches -- from the onslaught because, oh my God, I think I just saw two men kissing on the mouth! Help me, Jesus!

But something is different. Unlike the comparatively sophisticated Proposition 8 ads funded by huge amounts of Mormon "panic cash" here in California, these low-budget spots reek of something else, something a bit more briny and stale and, yes, ultimately enlightening.

What's most striking, what sets these ads apart from most homophobic campaigns of the past, is the palpable tone of desperation. It's a feeling that these groups are, more and more, clutching at straws, scraping bottom, leaning on the most absurd, least tenable arguments imaginable, each one more shrill and desperate than the last in a losing effort to appeal to an ever-shrinking audience of increasingly indifferent, bored homophobes.

This, to me, is the best news of all. The bizarre inscrutability of these crappy little ads is the surest sign yet that the barricades of intolerance are collapsing, the tone is shifting. Put it this way: hate groups like NOM have lost nearly all political power they enjoyed during the Reign of Bush. It's now clear, given the wonderful events in Iowa and Vermont, they're losing the last of their ideological footing as well. There's still a long way to go, but the walls are crumbling fast."

3. Who We're Dealing With

Third, who are these people? This vid was created by the National Organization for Marriage. The folks who run that organization include the following (thanks to the Green Mountain Daily for this information).

The executive director is Bryan Brown, formerly with the Family Institute of Connecticut. Fundamental Catholic ties.

The Chair of the Board is Robert George, professor at Princeton and fundamental Catholic. Many conservative ties. To quote Andrew Sullivan, "his passionate opposition to the civil equality and freedom of gay people is the core principle of his politics." Ties to American Enterprise Institute, involved in opposition to Prop. 8.

Ken VonKohorn is a board member and chair of the board of Family Institute of CT, which is conservative religious, not just Catholic. He's a money manager in Westport, CT and has written for AEI. Robert George is on this board as well.

And last but certainly not least for this blog's readers, Matt Holland is a board member, former political science professor at BYU, newly named president of Utah Valley University, and--yep, you guessed it--son of Jeffrey Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Once again, Scrum Central scoops the MoHoSphere.

09 April 2009

General Conference: "Faith And Doubt Can't Co-exist!" See What The Church Really Thinks

With all due respect to whoever said that in General Conference, I don't believe it. Not only does my own experience tell me otherwise, I am encouraged to see that I'm far from alone. If you want to see what the rank & file who don't have spotlit scarlet overstuffed wing chairs actually think about the co-existence of faith and doubt, click here and be prepared for some surprises.

08 April 2009

Inconsistent? Absolutely.

Blogger Max Wilson argued a while back that the Church was not inconsistent to defend polygamy but fight same-sex marriage because natural law supports the former but not the latter. Since many people continue to believe the Church is inconsistent in this regard, I thought the question was worth examining and Wilson's argument worth a response even though his discussion is a bit old.

Granted, it is not necessarily inconsistent to claim that natural law sanctions one type of behavior and prohibits another. And that would be a compelling argument in defense of the Church's actions IF there were a commonly accepted definition of natural law that led inexorably to those actions.

But there is no such consensus. Definitions of natural law have been all over the map since before Plato's time. That's why, though some analysis of natural law formed a basis for the writings of Jefferson and other Founders of our country, none of them tried to write "natural law" itself into the Constitution of the United States or any of its other laws. They recognized that fluid, fluctuating, debatable, and differing ideas of "natural law" are fine as philosophy and sources of competing moral principles, but they are impossible as actual real world statutes with which real people's actions must comply. In the real world there must be documented, defined agreement on standards, details and definitions because laws must be written, debated, and voted on in order to take effect.

So even if Wilson is right that the Church's motivations have a consistent basis, the Church's actions are not mutually consistent. Once upon a time, it fought nearly to the death against state action to prohibit the Church from adopting its own particular form of marriage which differed radically from what the rest of the country knew "natural law" required. Now the Church itself finances and supports state action to prohibit others from adopting their own form of marriage which differs radically from what the Church says "natural law" requires. In the 19th Century the Church said "how does our alternative type of marriage hurt yours? Just leave us alone!" Now in the 21st Century the Church rejects the arguments of same-sex partners who want only those marital rights already enjoyed by others and who say "how does our alternative type of marriage hurt yours? Just leave us alone!"

If the Church is "consistent" in relying on natural law as supporting polygamy but not same-sex marriage, then that means ultimately for the Church, the absolute bedrock non-negotiable foundational requirement for marriage is the joining of opposite genders. Whether two or more persons are involved takes a back seat to the ironclad requirement that to be a marriage, it must be male-female. Apparently everything else can fluctuate but not this. No doubt such inflexibility rests on Doc. & Cov. Section 132:19, which is probably the most important single verse in the entire LDS scriptural canon if current Church programs and practices are any indication. Everything in the current corporate Church revolves around it.

But there are some problems with what the Church has done as a result of this motivation.

First, it has successfully leveraged its members' finances to write into secular law a religiously based definition of marriage and in the process stripped from a specifically targeted people an existing civil right. This is unprecedented in American history. And how supremely ironic that this was done by a church which was itself once threatened with legal extinction for precisely the same reason it now attacks as a "threat to civilization": it chose to adopt and advocate a form of marriage that others didn't like.

Second, requiring that everyone, LDS or not, adhere to a particular form of marriage because the Doc. & Cov. says that only men & women sealed in the temple will receive exaltation essentially imposes a religious standard on everyone in a secular society, even those who have no interest in or desire to follow LDS standards or beliefs. I don't see how this can be defended in light of the 11th Article of Faith or Doc. & Cov. 134:9 which says we don't believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government.

Third, for Latter-day Saints to flatly reject even time-only secular civil law-based same-sex marriage because of religious belief grounded in Doc & Cov 132:19 suggests that no marriage which differs from a temple marriage is quite as legitimate. That is a dangerous position for LDS to take. How many temple marriages are maintained in form only by spouses who are desperately unhappy and have no desire to be shackled to their spouse for eternity? How many end in divorce? How many temple-wed spouses find their faith, individually or together, taking a different direction over time than that which initially took them to the temple? How many "temple marriages" have not been "sealed by the holy spirit of promise" as the Doc. & Cov. requires for efficacy and thus will not in fact be binding in the next life? How many include spouses who are gay and who followed the Church's advice to "just get married and everything will be all right," and thus inadvertently doomed themselves and their spouses to a life of misery? Is form really that much more important than substance? Does the Church seriously insist that God would want any of His children to go through such a charade--which ultimately won't profit them anyway--rather than have actual happiness and fulfillment in this life? (I should say here that I have boundless respect for those Saints who are in mixed orientation marriages and choose to stay and honor those commitments, and I mean absolutely no disparagement toward them whatsoever. They are amazing.)

Statistically speaking, the number of people who marry in the temple in this life and have that marriage ratified by the Spirit will be microscopic. The Doc. & Cov. says that everyone else will be relegated to angel status, servants forever to those who were worthy of a greater weight of glory. That sounds pretty final. During mortality, marry in the temple to someone of the opposite gender or else sorry, zap, angel status, next please. If that section alone were authoritative, then a huge majority of God's children would have cause to be rather depressed.

Yet God loves all His children equally, right? And the whole purpose of proxy ordinances in the temple is to make possible for every one of them every eternal blessing that God could possibly stretch His mercy and justice to bestow, is it not? Doesn't the Church teach that those who didn't or couldn't marry in the temple in this life through no fault of their own will still have every possible blessing available to them in the eternities, though the Church itself isn't quite sure how?

So I ask in all good faith, not because I think I already have the answer, but because I don't, and I want the Church to tell me this. If I or anyone else knows that we simply cannot sustain a temple marriage in this life, we cannot in good faith make those covenants because the desires of our heart are not for a person of the other gender, then we are incapable of complying with what the Doc. & Cov. says is an absolute requirement for ultimate exaltation. If we take Doc. & Cov. 132:19 at face value, as it appears the Church does, then we have no hope for the kind of exaltation that allows eternal increase. And that would deny the equal love and justice of God for all His children, because He would have set a standard for the highest rewards that millions of His children simply cannot meet.

In such circumstances, what possible good purpose is served by trying to prohibit these children of God from at least seeking a happy, fulfilling relationship in this life even if it may not last in the eternities? If someone is honest about being unable to comply with the temple marriage standard in this life because they are gay and didn't choose to be, why rub salt in the wound and insist that they then condemn themselves to a life of loneliness and self-denial? What possible purpose does that serve, either now or in the eternities? I know the results: the sad, frightened, confused, lonely, despairing eyes of every gay member of the Church who wants to be faithful to the gospel but realizes that the price is to give up their honesty, integrity, their sense of self, and their hopes for happiness in this life. It is not good for man to be alone, said God. Yet what God said is not good is precisely what the Church says its gay members must do if they want an eternal reward from that same God who said what they're doing isn't good, a reward that the Church itself can't even define.

If the Church makes generous allowances for those who can't marry in the temple for other reasons, why not for this? Why insist that gay members deny themselves ANY companionship or happiness if they have the integrity to acknowledge that in this life at least they're incapable of the temple standard? If God really will change them to be heterosexual in the next life as Lance Wickman theorizes, why would it matter that during mortality they at least had the happiness and comfort of a spouse of their own gender if they couldn't comply with the temple standard anyway? And if He won't change them and they will be gay in the eternities, then that means there is a HUGE gap in our current knowledge about eternal possibilities, Doc. & Cov. 132 is incomplete, and God must have some other solution in mind for His gay children. One I'm sure most conservative Mormons don't even want to think about. Gee, that 9th Article of Faith can really come back to bite you sometimes, can't it.

I'm guessing the quick & easy Sunday School answer to these questions would be "because marriage means sex, and sex between two people of the same gender is immoral and breaks the law of chastity." To which I respond: the LDS scriptural canon says nothing about homosexuality. And the handful of Biblical verses normally used to condemn it are at best arguably ambiguous and a strong case can be made that they do not in fact condemn what most Church members think they do. All post-restoration Presidents of the Church having grounded their condemnations of homosexuality on this shaky basis (and having made further claims about its origin and treatment which have proven disastrously wrong), how can today's Saints who are gay have any confidence in the Church's shifting stances or its painful prescriptions for their earthly behavior as the price of eternal happiness?

So I will differ with Mr. Power. While I love much about the Church and have faith in the gospel principles taught by the Savior, on this issue the Church has spoken and acted inconsistently. During the recent Prop 8 campaign it was profoundly disturbing to see senior Church leaders spreading half-truths, myths and scare tactics as part of the campaign. More inconsistency. As one of my fellow bloggers put it recently, the Church was willing to seek revocation of "the new and everlasting covenant" of plural marriage for the legal advantage of statehood, then turns a blind eye to the illegal immigration status of thousands of new converts in the U.S., and now vigorously campaigns to insert into secular civil law a religously based definition of marriage. Where is the consistency in "obeying, honoring and sustaining the law"?

07 April 2009

Yes, We Honor The Law, Except When It Goes Against Our Traditions

Those who protest same-sex marriage on religious grounds should read the Iowa Supreme Court's response to such opposition:

"It is quite understandable that religiously motivated opposition to same-sex civil marriage shapes the basis for legal opposition to same-sex marriage, even if only indirectly. Religious objections to same-sex marriage are supported by thousands of years of tradition and biblical interpretation. The belief that the “sanctity of marriage” would be undermined by the inclusion of gay and lesbian couples bears a striking conceptual resemblance to the expressed secular rationale for maintaining the tradition of marriage as a union between dual-gender couples, but better identifies the source of the opposition. Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained— even fundamental—religious belief.

Yet, such views are not the only religious views of marriage. As demonstrated by amicus groups, other equally sincere groups and people in Iowa and around the nation have strong religious views that yield the opposite conclusion.31

This contrast of opinions in our society largely explains the absence of any religion-based rationale to test the constitutionality of Iowa’s same-sex marriage ban. Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring government avoids them. See Iowa Const. art. I, § 3 (“The general assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . .”). The statute at issue in this case does not prescribe a definition of marriage for religious institutions. Instead, the statute declares, “Marriage is a civil contract” and then regulates that civil contract. Iowa Code § 595A.1. Thus, in pursuing our task in this case, we proceed as civil judges, far removed from the theological debate of religious clerics, and focus only on the concept of civil marriage and the state licensing system that identifies a limited class of persons entitled to secular rights and benefits associated with civil marriage."

To that, I would add only one thing: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

04 April 2009

Damn Those Renegade Activist Conservative Republican Judges!

Popular myth, especially in the Church, holds that gay marriage is being forced on an unwilling public by "renegade" judges who run roughshod over the laws to impose their legally baseless political agendas.

Well, sorry folks. I've read the Iowa Supreme Court's opinion and was extremely impressed by its thorough examination of all arguments both for and against gay marriage, and its logical, impartial analysis of the Iowa Constitution--which is exactly what a state supreme court is supposed to do. I've heard the hyperventilating from gay marriage opponents lamenting this alleged travesty and am persuaded that if anyone is bent on imposing a political agenda despite what the law says, it's them. Their claims just don't stand up to actual scrutiny.

And in case anyone is wondering where these "renegade activist judges" actually come from, have a look state by state, and notice the political affiliations:

Massachusetts (Goodridge, 2003) Margaret Marshall, appointed by Chief Justice Gov. Weld (R) in 1996, elevated to Chief by Gov. Cellucci (R);

California (In re Marriage Cases, 2008) Ronald George, Chief Justice appointed by Gov. Wilson (R) in 1991, elevated to Chief by Gov. Wilson (R);

Connecticut (Kerrigan, 2008) Richard Palmer, Associate Justice appointed by Gov. Weicker (Ind.); in 1993 -- Note that Weicker was a Republican during his time in the House and Senate. He won the governorship as an independent.

Iowa (Varnum, 2009) Mark Cady, Associate Justice, appointed by Gov. Branstad (R) in 1998.

See any (D)'s there? Nope. These are all Republican "renegade activists." Focus on the Family, better re-tool your lobbying. Latter-day Saints, better look around for another political affiliation. If you can find one. Meantime, do us all a favor and strike the "renegade judges" bit from the talking points. It's crap.

03 April 2009

Proud of You, Iowa!

Possibly more important than California because Iowa is mainstream, not Loony Left Coast or Atheistic Northeast Liberal. It's heartland, patriotism, American values, apple pie. And now it's an inspiration for equality. I'm proud of you Hawkeyes! I suspect within a few years California will have followed your lead. The tide is flowing that way and it can't be stopped. (thanks to www.towleroad.com for the great image)