28 September 2009

Being Your Own Best Friend

Abe dared us all to write about The Big M. Okay, I'll rise to the occasion. I'm not a jack of all trades but this topic I think I know a little bit about.

I first discovered it completely on my own when I was about 13. I was sitting on the sofa reading a book. When I shifted positions, hmmm. What just happened? Bit of a zing there. Curious. Nobody had ever told me anything about this. I tried it again. Zing, again. Hey what was that? I sat still and tried to solve the mystery, and realized something else was going on in a particular locale where I'd never noticed anything before. Gee, I didn't know I had a pressure cooker built in there. This was weird. To this day I have no idea how, but I just knew instinctively that something had to get out. So I went into the bathroom, and 30 minutes later emerged wide-eyed and giggling.

[excuse me, I have a quick staff meeting]

Okay, I'm back. Where was I? Oh yeah, getting in touch with myself. Well, as any normal boy would, I quickly became an expert. And soon ran into the full barrage of guilt from on high in Salt Lake, filtered through well-meaning, obedient but (I've since concluded) innocently clueless local leaders. So I did my best to refrain from hand to gland combat and went without for long stretches sometimes, but I never pulled it off completely. And the Church-sponsored guilt was incredible. Kimball's Mirage of Forgiveness set me back years in terms of spiritual confidence. Sometimes I still want to go buy a copy of that book just so I can burn one particular chapter atop a big pile of crumpled Kleenexes. Most Mormons don't know about Kip Eliason who killed himself out of Church-imposed guilt that he couldn't stop. Horrific. The Church deserved to pay every penny Eliason's dad sued it for.

[excuse me again, now I have to go walk the dog]

Okay, back again. So the mission comes (oops) and goes, I make it through without a single "slip up" except for that one time when my MTC companion remarked the next morning about the little earthquake he thought he felt during the night (slight bunkbed tremor). I'm thinking wow, I must be Superman. Can I sustain this? Answer: LOL! Finally I get married and experience "the real thing", but guess what. I also discover that spouses of the Mormon female persuasion often grow up with even more unnecessary Church-sponsored guilt and hang-ups than the boys do. Fortunately I have coping skills. Said spouse's sanity eventually goes kablooey, and your humble correspondent finds himself single once again. And this time re-examining lots of things in light of little son who will someday be sitting on a sofa when something suddenly goes zing, and by that time I'd bloody well better be more equipped to deal with the issue (oops) than my dad and church leaders were.

[sorry for the interruption, I have to go rope the pony]

So I start reading and researching. What is really the basis for all this autoerotophobia? I'll spare you the details of the process, but the climax was finding a lengthy, thoroughly researched scholarly article about the entire history of official LDS treatment of The Big M. I learned that "official" pronouncements about it had been all over the map since the first mention in the 1870's which was right in line with the hysterical and hysterically false Victorian notions of the time, through the 1920's when Church publications were a lot less stiff about it and merely counseled parents to discuss it with their kids so it didn't get out of hand, and then the pendulum swung back again with the advent of Spencer Kimball, Mark Peterson, and Boyd Packer's seminal Little Factory speech which re-ignited a firestorm of new guilt in new generations of otherwise normal fine upstanding Peter Priesthoods, and now it seems that Church publications are going softer again. My hero-worshiping nephew says he's never heard a word about it in his incredibly conservative ward.

[sorry for another interruption, I have to clean a rifle]

OK, back again. My conclusions from all this? Real true gospel truth doesn't fluctuate like that. Only possible logical conclusion? I had the bad luck to come along at a time when a handful of church leaders were force-feeding us all a diet of personal prejudice cloaked in the mantle of authority, masquerading as gospel truth despite the total absence of any Scriptural basis for it.

Result for me? I won't beat around the bush. More loss of trust in LDS leaders and increased attention to identifying the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. The loss isn't complete, but the trust is now much more narrowly focused and placed. Outside that shrinking circle, I take full responsibility for my own judgments and conclusions, based on the best reasoning, study, and inspiration I can find. Oh, and while I am of course decorous, I have completely lost all that old paranoia and become the most laid-back, tolerant, open, frank, unshockable, unprudish person you will ever meet. SO much healthier.

And my final judgment now tells me that, as long as it doesn't become an obsessive addictive behavior, The Big M is a delightful part of being a boy. God's way of keeping us chaste until we're married (and after). Honestly, it seems to me a demonstration of the staggering creative genius of God; imagine how much He must love us, to give us the capacity to feel like that! And the intelligence to conceive of such a thing and then create it. Are there words to describe it? No! But what an incredible celebration! And it's portable, too! Not to mention heart-healthy and good for warding off prostate cancer. And how can we love others unless we love ourselves first, right?

[excuse me, but darn it, that monkey just won't behave, I'm gonna have to spank it]

When I was a kid I was so frightened of even the mention of The Big M that I learned to lie to the bishop when he asked about it. You might say I learned to beat the bishop at his own game. Now, complete about face. Aforementioned little son is now not quite so little, he knows all about it, knows what to expect (well, theoretically), and knows he is in for a rollicking good time. Like tasting every flavor in a banana split in every cell of your body, a million times magnified. But warmer. He has none of the hang-ups or prudery I had, he is going to grow up happy and healthy and well-adjusted and confident in himself and delighted with this gift God gave him. He also knows that if any prying bishop asks him anything about this topic, he is to tell said bishop to butt out, he doesn't discuss it with anyone but his dad, and if said bishop has any more questions he's to talk to dad. And God help that bishop if he actually follows up with me.

So that's the long & short of it from here. And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go change the oil. And then practice the organ. And then the flute . . .

25 September 2009

The Town Hall Meeting That Didn't Pass Correlation

Unbeknownst to almost all but those who attended, I recently had the opportunity to host a town hall meeting which brought together a very interesting group of guests to discuss some hot topics with a group of active Latter-day Saints. For reasons that will become apparent, video and audio of this town hall meeting were deep-sixed by its producers who wished to stay in the good graces of the LDS Media Dept. But purely for historical purposes, I am able to present a transcript of the evening's discussion here.

Alan: Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, brothers and sisters, this evening our first guest is Mr. Hank Hanegraaf, host of the popular radio show The Bible Answer Man, and well-known expert on the Mormons. Hank, we'll turn it over to you first.

Hank Hanegraaf: Thanks Alan.

You Mormons, you think you're Christian but you're really not. I don't buy all the smiley-faced happy fulfilled Christian lives and good neighbors stuff your PR machine pumps out, I am an expert on you people and I know what you really believe and how you really feel. You actually worship a heretical imitation Jesus concocted by a false prophet with a criminal history and a propensity for stealing other mens' wives and underage girls to satisfy his own lust. He wrote some fake scripture that has no historical proof. You really believe that Adam is God who had sex with Mary to create Jesus. You actually believe that you can be like God and everybody knows that's Satan's original temptation to Adam and Eve. You fell for a tale told by a demon disguised as an angel of light who preached another gospel, so you are accursed just like Paul said. I don't care what you say, I know that you secretly believe your works will save you and get you into heaven. You don't really believe the Bible when it talks about salvation by grace. You're not orthodox, you don't even qualify for the title of Christian because you don't believe in the true Jesus.

True Christians don't care what you say or how much you protest that you are Christian and believe in Jesus and rely on His atonement. We know your so-called testimonies are fabricated subjective feelings and not to be trusted. We are orthodox Christians, we know the real Jesus. You are deceived and you must change. You have to leave the Mormon cult and never touch it again, because if you keep believing and acting like Mormons you are going to hell. Don't bother telling us how Christian you are, because we know you're not. We know you're not really happy, that you're actually miserable, trapped in your Satanic cult. Cult, cult, cult.

Back to you, Alan.

Alan: Well, Mormons, are you offended? I don't know how you couldn't be. Do we have any questions from the audience?

Audience member: Yeah. Mr. Hanegraaf, how do you get your head through doors? You could bottle and sell all that arrogance, presuming to tell the Mormons what they really believe when it's so clear you have a hostile agenda that's bent on attacking and vilifying them at every turn and you have no idea what's truly in their hearts or heads.

Hank Hanegraaf: You are presumptuous and evil. No further comment.

Alan: Thank you for the question. Our next guests are Dr. Dean Byrd, Dr. Jeff Robinson, and special guest Elder LaVon McConkie Christensen Smith of the 49th Quorum of Seventy, who represent NARTH, Exodus International, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Gentlemen, who'll be your spokesman?

Byrd & Robinson: By all means, Elder Smith. He has the mantle of authority.

Elder Smith: Thank you brethren, you are obviously well-schooled in The Unwritten Order of Things as preached by President Packer.

You gay Mormons may think you were created homosexual but you really weren't. You may think you're happy and fulfilled after coming out of the closet but you're really not. I don't buy all the smiley-faced happy fulfilled lives and good neighbors stuff your PR machine pumps out, I am an expert on you people and I know what you really believe and how you really feel. Being gay is not actually in anybody's DNA because that would contradict the Plan of Salvation. All the professional associations who say homosexuality isn't a mental disorder only changed their minds because of political pressure. Being gay is actually just a temporary earthly affliction like blindness and it will go away when you die. No I won't take any questions about how I know that. Regardless, you have to struggle against it and resist it because if you give into it, you'll be eternally miserable. You mustn't let yourselves fall in love the way you want. I don't care how strong it is or how fulfilling it is or how natural it seems. The Church knows what's really going on here and you don't.

We don't know why God has assigned you to struggle and suffer and grieve and be celibate and lonely your whole life, but that's your fate if you want to go to the Celestial Kingdom so deal. It doesn't matter that I've never experienced your pain and your sorrows and your grief and I don't comprehend your agony, your torture, your burden.

I don't need to. I have the mantle and I know how you really feel. You are fooling yourselves if you think you're happy or fulfilled. So stop smiling and laughing and loving each other and caring for each other and for pete's sake, stop marrying each other. You're not really happy that way. Forget about all that "by their fruits ye shall know them" stuff. It doesn't apply to you.
You have fallen for a tale told by a demon disguised as an angel of light who preaches another gospel and you risk losing your eternal blessings if you follow your heart. Because the Church knows there will never be any more revelation about the Celestial Kingdom, we have it all in Section 132 and there can't be any other model. Too bad, you have to adjust or be damned.

You're not really in love with another guy. You can't be. What you feel isn't really love. It isn't really fulfilling. Your feelings and convictions are fabricated and subjective and not to be trusted.
I and the other General Authorities are the Lord's mouthpieces, we know what you really think. You are deceived and you must change. You have to go to therapy and become straight and leave the gay cult and never touch it again, because if you keep believing and acting gay you are going to hell. Don't bother telling us how happy you are, because we know you're not. All that stuff about pride and happiness and embracing and support and cameraderie and peaceful hearts and a clear view just can't be true. We know you're secretly miserable, trapped in your selfish selfish lives. Selfish, selfish, selfish.

Back to you, Alan.

Alan: Dr. Byrd and Dr. Robinson, do you have anything to add?

Byrd & Robinson: No. Except our office phone numbers and 10% off for anyone who signs up tonight and pays in advance for our special package of Pray Away The Gay therapy sessions.

Alan: Thank you gentlemen. Are there any questions from the audience?

Audience Member: Yeah. How come Elder Smith sounds just like the professional Mormon basher when he's obviously agenda-driven and clueless but still says he knows what gay people really think and feel better than they do themselves? Does it not even occur to him that he's just as offensive to gays with that attitude as Hanegraaf is to Mormons, and just about as accurate?

[At this point Church Security entered and hustled the questioner from the room and shut down the presentation]

24 September 2009

Thank You Michael

The place: Los Altos LDS chapel. The event: ordinary, I just needed some practice time on the organ and piano. The surprise: Michael.

The organ at the Los Altos chapel is not particularly good, but it was adequate to practice on. I was working my way through a favorite toccata when suddenly a small boy's eager face popped up above the side of the console. Bright blue eyes, tousled blond hair, Cub Scout shirt. I stopped.

Hello, who are you?

Michael! (big smile)

Pleased to meet you Michael. Do you like music?

Yeah! I play too!

How old are you?


Would you like to play this organ?


Okay, come have a seat.

(Michael sat down next to me)

You know, Michael, I started playing when I was nine too.

Really? Well, actually I started when I was five.

That's funny, because actually I started lessons when I was nine, but I started playing when I was five too.


And I used to sneak out of Cub Scouts to go play too.

Really? Wow!

OK, go ahead and play something for me.

I got off the bench and pushed it in close so he could reach the keyboard. Michael instantly began playing something with great enthusiasm, and not without his share of mistakes. But he pressed on regardless. I praised him when he was finished.

That was great, Michael. You're a good player.


At this point Michael's parents appeared, they were in charge of the Cub Scouts that night. They introduced and apologized for his interrupting my practicing. I assured them it was no problem. They said Michael, try playing Happy Birthday.

He did. Again, not without a few mistakes (the organ can be intimidating for a small boy), but he got through it. And it wasn't just a barely contrived imitation either, Michael knew it well, complete with chords in harmonic progression. Clearly he had taken lessons and had practiced.

So I said Slide over Michael, we are going to play a duet. He did. He played the melody, I added basso profundo chords in harmony and the pedals for the full theater organ effect. We played Happy Birthday together and ended with a crash bang flourish. He was practically jumping with excitement to have been part of generating such glorious noise.

His beaming parents said Come on, Michael, we should let him get back to his practicing. So Michael and I shook hands and he went back to the Cub Scouts.

As I watched him walk away I thought of the curious irony I'd just seen. Some years back there was another small blond blue-eyed boy who used to sneak away from church activities to go practice on the organ and piano in his local chapel. He too started playing when he was five, and was taking lessons at nine. He too couldn't resist going in to listen whenever he heard a skilled grown-up practicing on the organ or piano. He too was full of enthusiasm and eagerness to play and wasn't afraid to try music that challenged him. His life ended up filled with amazing musical adventures and he did achieve his dream of playing in some great cathedrals. He also grew up to realize that there were other ways he wasn't like the other boys, and that there was a good chance that boys who sought out music like he did at such an early age might end up liking other boys too, like he did.

So I wondered as I watched a happy, bouncing Cub Scout walk out of the chapel where Stuart Matis left us. What is your destiny, Michael? In you I see myself, years ago. What will your life become? Will you stay with the music? Will you play in the great cathedrals too? Will you too find one day that you like boys perhaps more than the other Cub Scouts do?

God willing, by the time you are a man, I and others will have won some battles and, if you do end up joining our ranks, your life will be easier and smoother than ours have been. We owe it not only to Stuart and Doug and those who've already gone ahead, but to you and the countless other Michaels who are following us. So that your happy smile and infectious enthusiasm and sparkling eyes will stay happy and infectious and sparkling as you grow to manhood, and you'll be able to find your own way and life and happiness in a society that is more ready to welcome you just the way God made you.

Thank you Michael, for letting me see the past and the future together, and for refreshing my resolve.

22 September 2009

The Voice Of Experience

The following was posted to a Yahoo group for gay Latter-day Saints and is about as succinct and perceptive a statement on its topic as I've ever seen. It's worth passing along:

I tried Evergreen for a few months. Found the weekly meetings to be awkward and shameful. Same guys, week after week, reporting of the sins they couldn't seem to stop committing. Afterward, they would go out for the "after-activity" which would pretty much facilitate hooking up, for those who were interested. Although I realize this may not happen everywhere, and it may not still happen in my area, that was my experience.

I even attended a conference with my wife during that time period (about 3 years ago). I had guys giving me their numbers in the restroom, and my wife was very upset about all the guys she believed were "checking me out" during the various meetings. She swore she would never go to one again, as did I - but for different reasons. She was very disturbed by the "meat-market" atmosphere. I couldn't handle being around so many guys who were SO F'd up. It was like: "let's sing hymns, and pray, and pretend this is just an attraction we can get over", but then during our spare time in the conference, let's see who we can hook up with"!

In total contrast to this experience, I just returned from attending my first Affirmation Conference. I felt an AMAZING spirit all throughout the conference. The people attending were real, authentic, and seemed at peace with their lives. So many of them (and Russ from the article is a prime example), just seemed so full of joy and happiness. I felt hope, and love, and closer to God than I have felt in years. Though it has been a couple of years since my experience with Evergreen, I couldn't help but reflect throughout the conference on what a vast difference the two experiences had been for me.

20 September 2009

Shaking My Head In Disappointment and Disbelief

Well, two steps forward, one step back as they say. But this time it seems more like a huge leap backward. Bruce Hafen's speech at the Evergreen Conference (posted to the Newsroom at www.lds.org if you really want to read it) is the most concentrated mishmash of misconceptions, proof-texting, selective (and erroneous) conclusions, reliance on discredited "experts", illogic (same-sex marriage will overtake and destroy traditional marriage and prevent children from being raised in two-parent households) and fundamental ignorance (being gay means men want to be women) that I have seen in a long time, not just from an LDS source but from any source. So much for all the rhetoric about love and acceptance. I am beyond disappointed. I am profoundly shocked that this level of ignorance and guilt-laden veiled hostility still prevails within LDS leadership.

The fundamental premise of Hafen's address is that God's gay children are--they must be--flawed. Crippled, broken, stunted, staggering as they crawl forward under this nightmarishly heavy "burden," this "challenge" which those not so afflicted cannot comprehend (well, that last part's true, anyway). Their lives are miserable crap because they "struggle with the affliction of same gender attraction." In Hafen's mind all of this must be true if LDS theology as currently understood is also true. Ruled out a priori as unworthy even of mention is the possibility that God may have a purpose for His gay children and a place in His kingdom for them which that theology--by its own definition incomplete and subject to change--may simply not yet recognize. Or which may currently be withheld because prejudices like Hafen's prevent its willing reception and acceptance.

He repeats as doctrinally guaranteed the latest popular myth that resurrection will instantly confer on all such poor pitiful souls all the wonderful wholesome heterosexual desires they allegedly longed for in mortality but never achieved. Apparently it is simply incomprehensible and therefore not to be discussed that somebody might actually like being gay, might find great joy and fulfillment that way. His source? Dallin Oaks, of course. Dallin Oaks' source? Ah, well, that's a bit unclear as yet. Certainly not the LDS Scriptures or any binding prophetic announcement though.

I'll leave to others the time and tasks of refuting all of Hafen's misconceptions and false conclusions. Some have already started and I look forward to reading their efforts.

I will say as a lawyer that this speech would not pass muster if I were the senior partner in a law firm and Bruce Hafen turned it in to me as a memo or a brief. Perhaps that's the nature of his audience and the function of this speech, and I understand that. But his was not an intellectually honest approach. He's been a law school dean, for heaven's sake. He must be capable of better. Or else he believes his job requires him to set objectivity aside and advocate only the Church's position. If he truly does speak for the Church, then that's all the more reason to be disappointed.

As a lawyer himself, Hafen should know that an honest examination of any issue demands a full look at evidence for both sides. The evidence against what Hafen says is strong and growing stronger. He ignores it all and presents only a select handful of items that support his perspective. Sadly, his speech confirms that LDS leadership continues to be ill-informed and mistaken about a host of issues involving gender and sexuality, and that from such a position they continue to make policy and puport to announce new "doctrine" that will affect the lives and potentially the eternal destinies of countless numbers of God's gay children. It is speeches like this that have robbed me of all trust in LDS leadership about this issue.

And with that, I'm going to try my best to be cheerful today, anticipate the skillful refutations of Hafen's remarks which are sure to emerge, and with my enthusiastic children I'm going to go enjoy the local LGBT Center's Family Picnic Day.

17 September 2009

The Winning Song

Matt waxes eloquent about Blue October and I can vouch for that; in a recent chat, he sent links to several of their songs and his enthusiasm was obvious. He likes the moodier stuff, which is fine. I instantly adopted "Jump Rope" as latest favorite and have played it for the kids already as a good life lesson--and certainly catchier than any of the childrens' songs they hear in church. Enjoy.

15 September 2009

Letter to Dad

I wish I could tell you. I wish that you knew
Everything in my heart and what I've tried to do
All my life so I'd be what you wanted me to.
But for now, it will just have to wait.

You're a wonderful dad, how could I ask for more?
You're the one when I hurt I would always cry for;
When my boat was adrift you'd bring me back to shore.
Yes of course I do love you, of course.

And the ears of a child pick up things you forget,
And his eyes quickly spot what you don't see as yet,
And he quickly discerns that his home safety net
Is unlikely to hold him through this.

Now the child is a man and you think that you see
All that he has become, that you want him to be,
Bur there's part of his soul that he's finally set free
That you probably never will know.

For the years of experience teach him that you
Simply could not withstand, simply could not pull through
If he told everything his heart knows to be true
About who your son always has been.

Please forgive me if here I have made a mistake
And misjudged you. I just want to spare you heartache,
For I truly believe that you just could not take
Full disclosure about who I am.

It's because I love you that I'll bear this alone,
And will try the same selflessness that you have shown.
To protect you, your son will stay partly unknown.
For your happiness, I'll give up mine.

Maybe someday when both of us see much more clear
And we're free of an earth life so tainted by fear,
Maybe then I'll be brave, you'll be ready to hear.
But for now, Dad, it just has to wait.

13 September 2009

Mormons And Catholics on Gay Marriage, And Whether Disagreement Is Apostasy

A group called Catholics For Marriage Equality in Maine is exercising its right of free speech to advocate a position on Maine's upcoming marriage equality referendum which is different from that urged by local Catholic clergy. Part of its efforts include an on-line petition "affirming that the Church can define marriage as it wishes for its members but that marriage as a civil right is the prerogative of the state to define."

That's about as succinct a statement as I've ever seen of the principle at issue here and, more importantly, of the concept I think most Mormons fail to grasp.

Mormons are urged to become involved politically and to vote their consciences after careful study of the issues on any ballot. L. Whitney Clayton, one of the Church's main spokesmen during the Prop 8 campaign, stated publicly that Mormons were free to disagree with Church leaders on same-sex marriage if they wished. So when I see blog posts like Evan's worrying about whether his disagreement means apostasy, or read of excommunication being imposed because of statements on blogs, or see a Youtube video of a bishop cutting off the microphone of a member who dared to actually take Elder Clayton up on his assurance, I think there's reason to worry about whether the Church actually walks the talk, and whether it can tolerate any disagreement even from members in good standing. I am disturbed by the mere existence of the euphemistically named Strengthening Church Members Committee (created by the extremely right-wing and John Birch Society supporter Ezra Taft Benson) and hate even having to think about whether I should be afraid of my own church if I simply express my opinions. I respect church leadership and do not desire to stir up needless confrontation, disrespect or disagreement. But they are not God Himself, and if they invite me to approach God directly for personal revelation and guidance for my own life, then that is what I'll do, and "let the consequence follow." Like Job, "till I die I will not remove my integrity from me" (Job 27:5). My covenants are with God, not with the institutional church.

God is not afraid for us to question and debate with Him. "Come, let us reason together," he said in Isaiah 1:18. "Reasoning together" IMHO means there's a give and take, stating positions, discussing disagreements. The Lord asks us questions (Doc. & Cov. 50:13), why should we be afraid to ask questions of and even disagree with Him? Abraham did so; he engaged in lengthy disagreement with the Lord and after protracted negotiation persuaded Him to change his mind about destroying Sodom. When my children disagree with me and question me honestly, I honor their integrity and praise them for their independent thought and discernment. I reward them for their effort to grow and understand, I don't punish them for presumption. The God I believe in would do the same for us, I think.

In preaching on Ezekiel 14, Joseph Smith analogized the Latter-day Saints to ancient Israel and said that "the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men" in the church, and that if they "were depending on the Prophet" they were "hence . . . darkened in their minds" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 237). Leaders of the church have repeatedly urged members to seek answers for themselves and not ride on the coattails of anyone else's testimony. Of course, the standard traditional Mormon conclusion is that anyone who does this "the right way" will automatically get inspiration and answers to prayer that fall exactly into line with whatever any church leader says. Departures from that standard are not tolerated well. But if we are to take the church at its word, then the church itself must make allowance for such variations. After all, inspiration can't be controlled or correlated and there is no guarantee as to its outcome (John 3:8).

With that in mind, I return to the Catholics in Maine and have shamelessly stolen a page from their playbook. They have prepared a public statement which I think goes well for Latter-day Saints in any other state who support marriage equality and don't believe their faithfulness to gospel principles is compromised by so doing. Since this issue will be on the ballot again in California, I'll use that state as a model, but this statement could work for any state. I think something like this statement could help more Latter-day Saints understand why they should not feel threatened by, and indeed, can feel good about, same-sex marriage. Here it is, revised to fit an LDS context:

As faithful Latter-day Saints of the State of California, we believe that the right of every citizen to practice freedom of religion is based on the principle of respect for the dignity of each individual. Without that guarantee, the danger of one religious tradition or doctrine dominating another threatens all and protects none. We have been on the receiving end of such threats in the past, and integrity requires that we not forget the suffering that ensued.

Making the equality of citizens not only an ideal but a living truth, we affirm the decision of the California Supreme Court to end marriage discrimination by ruling that the California state constitution's equal protection provisions must allow civil marriage for same-sex couples. Our declaration of conscience is based on the following:

The American principle of the separation of Church and State was enshrined in the Constitution to ensure that no particular religious perspective would be imposed on our pluralistic society.

LDS teaching on social justice has been central to the building of a just society, creating awareness of diversity in the human family, calling us to lives of respect for one another, not just grudging tolerance.

We remember that Latter-day Saints were once denied civil rights, treated with suspicion, ridiculed because of our sacred rituals, and questioned as to our allegiance to the United States because of our own version of "non-traditional marriage." The memory of that tragic history we suffered ourselves challenges us to remain vigilant whenever bigotry and injustice enters into public discourse.

Same-sex civil marriage does not in any way coerce any religious faith or tradition to change its beliefs or doctrine or alter its traditional marriage practices.

We know that God is a most gracious and wonderful Creator. Many of us have gay and lesbian relatives and friends. We value the love and commitment we witness in their relationships; their devotion to each other and their children. Civil marriage bestows the dignity and equality called for in our nation’s highest ideals, “the inherent natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

As Latter-day Saints who affirm as doctrine our obligation to obey, honor and sustain the law, and whose scriptures confirm our belief that it is not "just to mingle religious influence with civil government" (Doc. & Cov. 134:9), we have an obligation to differentiate between sacramental marriage and civil marriage. Therefore, we perceive that same-sex civil marriage poses no threat to our Church. While we respect the authority and integrity of the Church in matters of faith, our prayers and discernment have brought us to a new openness on this issue. We do not ask the Church to perform same-sex marriages. We do implore the Church to honor the State’s prerogative to authorize civil marriages for our gay and lesbian family and friends.

Grateful for the gift of our faith and the ways that we have been nourished by faith throughout our lives, and also grateful for our citizenship in America and in this State, we sign this statement as faithful LDS citizens of California.

10 September 2009

Does The Marriage Sanitize "The Sin"?

Warning: We're now turning away from light-hearted music and back to a serious topic. Stop now if you're not prepared to wrestle with a thorny issue.

A common LDS objection to marriage equality is that sex between two people of the same gender is ipso facto sinful and a civil marriage doesn't change that. According to this perspective, two men would still be sinning by having sexual relations even if they were "legally and lawfully wedded" (in the words of the Law of Chastity as taught in LDS temples).

I've previously discussed just what constitutes "unchastity" as follows. The LDS temple ceremony describes it as "no sexual relations with anyone other than one's husband or wife to whom one is legally and lawfully married." Since only heterosexual couples are admitted to the temple, naturally this definition conforms to their relationship, so it's not necessarily dispositive as a full description. But my understanding has always been that chastity means "no sex outside marriage." Until recently, marriage was impossible for gay people so gay sex was ipso facto "unchaste" by this definition.

But now gay couples actually can marry in a growing number of places. If the LDS Church nevertheless insists that faithfully monogamous gay couples are still being "unchaste" in their sexual relations with each other even when they're "legally and lawfully wed," then it has created a new definition of chastity that has never been used before, one that is not only marriage-based but gender-based. The Law of Chastity would then be "no sexual relations outside the marriage of a man and a woman, or ever between two people of the same gender under any circumstances."

This would be unprecedented. Some might say "of course it's unprecedented, gay marriage is unprecedented too, and we have never had to consider this issue before." That may be correct, but it begs the question. Just what does unchastity consist of? Is sex between two people of the same gender ipso facto unchaste even when they are in fact legally and lawfully married?

The Church would need a scriptural basis to say that, so in order to answer this question we find ourselves right back at the issue of whether the Bible condemns homosexuality per se. No statement I have ever seen by an LDS leader that condemns homosexuality or gay sex rests on anything but a Biblical basis, since the uniquely LDS scriptural canon says nothing about it. Many statements by past LDS leaders about homosexuality have proven to be flat-out wrong (e.g. "there is no such thing as homosexuality, only homosexual behavior" and "it can be changed"). And solid Biblical scholarship supports the proposition that those few verses popularly believed to condemn homosexuality as sinful do not in fact mean that at all.

We must also consider the wealth of Biblical denunciations of adultery and heterosexual fornication, which far outweigh the scriptural attention given to homosexuality. If proportion is any indication, then God appears to care much more about heterosexual sin and breaches of marriage covenants than He does about homosexuality.

I've previously concluded from all this that unchastity is most defensibly defined as breach of a marital covenant of sexual faithfulness, or indulgence in sex without a marital covenant, and has nothing to do with the genders of the parties involved.

A couple of days ago, chatting with a friend, I quoted a couple of verses from the Doctrine & Covenants (for non-Mormon blog readers, that's one of the books of Mormon scripture in addition to the Bible) almost inadvertently, but realized as I did so that those verses solidly support my thesis that unchastity consists in dishonoring a marriage covenant and is not a function of gender.

Doc. & Cov. 132: 61~2 say "If any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else. And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified."

Consider the circumstances in these verses. A man has sex with multiple women. He is not married to any of these women. In the eyes of the LDS Church, he is therefore guilty of repeated adulteries, which the Church considers an extremely serious sin.

Now, repeat that exact same fact pattern, a man has sex with multiple women. This time, however, he is married to all of them. This time there is no adultery; in fact, adultery is impossible here. The man "cannot commit adultery" with them and he is "justified" in his relations with each.

What's the difference? The marriage covenant. That's all. The mere existence of that marriage covenant transforms what would otherwise be a serious and excommunicable offense--sex with multiple partners--into something that is completely "justified." In fact, the marital covenant makes it impossible for that same action to be sinful.

This is official LDS doctrine.

The logical conclusion is exactly what I've stated before: it's the existence or absence of a marital covenant that makes sexual relations chaste or unchaste.

If that is true, then how could two men or two women who were "legally and lawfully wedded" to each other still be "unchaste" by having sexual relations within that legal marriage? After all, they "belong to [each other] and to no one else." Why wouldn't they be quite as "justified" as the man who had sex with multiple wives, since all of them were doing so within a marital covenant?

Ah, some might say, but the man in the scripture is still having sex with women, not men. Response: doesn't matter. The principle is that a marriage covenant "sanitizes" what would otherwise be the sin of unchastity.

Doesn't matter, some might say, it can only do that if the parties are of opposite gender. Response: show me the scriptural basis for that belief. Well, it's those pesky Biblical verses which, as I said before, arguably do not condemn homosexuality after all in the way many people assume. We are still left with the principle that a marriage covenant can render both sinless and "justified" behavior which would otherwise be sinful.

Note that this principle is not confined to LDS temple marriages. So if a government decides to enact laws allowing gay couples to marry, and a gay couple then marries under those laws, and LDS scripture says adultery is impossible between two people who "belong to" each other by virtue of a marriage recognized by law, and the LDS Church believes in "obeying, honoring and sustaining the law," then how could the LDS Church still claim that sexual expression within that legal, lawful same-sex marriage nevertheless remains sinful?

Comments welcomed.

08 September 2009

Music Break

And now for something completely different. No, not a man with three . . . . And if you don't recognize that allusion to a classic Monty Python sketch, I'll just let you do your own research.

No, this is your humble correspondent's latest veer into the off-topic weeds of Music You Have Never Heard Of Before. Disclaimer: my musical training is mostly classical, but I love quality regardless of genre, whether rock, jazz, classical, pop, ska, zydeco, whatever. I especially love when different styles can be blended successfully.

Accordingly, I present for your listening pleasure Rondo Veneziano. See, told ya that you'd never heard of them before. Imagine energetic Europop style beats and counterpoint, bright and catchy melodies, modern complex syncopation mixed with the style and musical structures of Mozart or Vivaldi. All played by a chamber ensemble dressed in 18th Century formal dress with powdered wigs, playing violins, violas, cellos, electric bass guitar and drums. How's that for eclectic. Hope you like them as much as I do.

05 September 2009

Thank You, Soldier (Get your mind out of the gutter, it's not what you think)

Scissor Sisters blaring through the iPod, I checked baseball scores on the iPhone as I boarded the plane this morning and walked down the aisle for a seat. I'd checked in late so had to head toward the back of the plane. There behind the wing was a 30-something guy, blond and slightly thinning hair, blue eyes, in the window seat. Aisle seat by him was empty. I looked straight at him. He looked up at me. Eyes locked. He had a hint of a smile. Friendly air about him. So I took the aisle seat. Didn't say anything, music still going.

Plane begins to taxi so I turn everything off, and the conversation begins. He's a former junior high school history teacher now on active duty with Army intelligence and soon to depart for Afghanistan. I shook his hand and said "Thank you for your service." He'd been in San Francisco visiting friends, was looping through San Diego to see family before heading back to base in Georgia.

He began to tell me of his adventures in the city. Among other places, he'd gone to Castro Street. Hmm, this beginneth to be interesting. He showed me the picture he took of the huge rainbow flag on Castro which he will show to his Army buddies back in Georgia. He'd also gone into Hot Cookies on the corner and bought them some cookies made in unusual anatomical shapes. A joke gift, he said. The military in the South is SO homophobic, quoth he, that said buddies were sure to be loudly offended by such a gift, which was precisely the point. Having grown up in San Diego, personally he didn't give a rat's tuckus about someone's orientation, and thought Don't Ask Don't Tell could be done away with too. Hmm. The interest increaseth.

Conversation went all over the place. The war. iPhones, iPods and Apple software. Microsoft. Cloud computing. My kids and vacation plans. His duties in the Army. Baseball. His marital status--single--and his dating status--girlfriend in North Carolina. OK, not family, but obviously an ally. He was open and friendly and engaging, and had a big bag of cashews he shared with me. (One blog reader will recognize the irony here and probably laugh himself silly. You know who you are.)

The plane landed and we walked to baggage claim together, still talking. Time to test my own mettle. So I said I wished I could be there to watch him show that photo and those cookies to his buddies. He laughed heartily and said it was sure to be a good time, because they were so narrow minded and prejudiced and believed every possible stereotype that he knew wasn't true. I saw my opening. So I smiled and said "Well, let me give you another way to bust their stereotypes. You can tell them that on the plane to San Diego your seat mate was a gay dad who liked baseball and loves his kids and was just as 'normal' as anyone they'd ever see in Georgia." (Wow, I actually said it calmly to somebody whose name I didn't even know! Serious progress!)

He threw back his head and roared with laughter. "Really?" he said. "That's right," I said. "Classic!" he said. "They won't believe it!" I laughed with him. The conversation went on from there, back to baseball and the woeful mismanagement of baggage in various airports. Finally the suitcases started burping out of the little tunnel onto the carousel. Mine were first. I grabbed them, turned back to him. We shook hands firmly, finally got around to introducing, locked eyes again and smiled big. I wished him success and safety in Afghanistan, he wished me a great holiday weekend, and we went our separate ways.

God bless our troops. Especially the ones like him.

04 September 2009

My First Anniversary

One year and a day ago,
The storm that wracked my heart
for years was unabated, and
was ripping me apart.

One year and a day ago
I thought it was my fate
forever to be agonized
while trying to be straight.

One year and a day ago,
Despairing and resigned
To never knowing peace inside,
Then Spirit spoke to mind.

One year less a day ago
the gift of courage came.
I spoke the truth with trembling voice
And never was the same.

One year and a day now past,
the world is brilliant, bright.
The storm has calmed to radiant peace,
and life is filled with light.

One year and a day have brought
New knowledge, new intent,
New friends I love with all my heart,
New faith to supplement.

One life long and for eons hence
I will, without a doubt,
Still bless and thank God for the day
I finally came out.