30 October 2010

In Praise of Pulchritude

The latest episode of Glee generated some advance media buzz because two of its hottest male stars appeared for the first time with very little clothing on, and during the show both characters were extremely uncomfortable with it. That got me thinking about why, and I realized how many people--guys particularly--would share their sad, overinflated prudery. From time to time there's also some discussion in the MoHoSphere about whether it's morally wrong to appreciate pictures of male beauty (because of the Mormon misinterpretation of the "appearance of evil" thing, a topic for another time).

Coincidentally, I'm reading a book that offers an interesting insight on this point, and I wanted to share.

The book is called Sailing The Wine-dark Sea: Why The Greeks Matter. It's a fascinating look into the culture and the people who became the foundation for all of Western civilization. But despite the incalculable debt we owe to the ancient Greeks for ideas like representative democracy, aesthetics, drama, literature, and more, Judeo-Christian cultures have always been uncomfortable with the ancient Greeks' tolerance and even encouragement of homosexuality and those statues of guys who weren't wearing much of anything.

Most conservative Christians and Mormons, while recognizing the Greeks' artistic and social and political achievements, would probably not choose for their own homes any replicas of such statues. I even heard of one LDS stake president who called Michelangelo's David "pornography." My parents once attended an art festival and purchased an original sculpture, small enough for a tabletop, of a man & woman passionately embracing. Both were unclothed. They put it in the living room. I thought it was beautiful and very tasteful. But apparently somebody from church saw it during a visit and complained to my parents, so they moved it to their bedroom. Apart from the gall of criticizing someone's own choice of art in their own home, I was amazed at the aggressive prudishness. How cleverly diabolical, to persuade someone that the mere sight of God's greatest creation is morally wrong (spare me the "sacred, not secret" bit, that's not the topic here). I understand my parents moving the statue because they didn't want to give offense to any other visitors. To my dad's credit, it's now back in the living room.

Art like that, no matter how tasteful, makes a great many conservative Christians and Mormons uncomfortable. They're baffled by why the Greeks created so many unclothed statues. Their religious tradition's heavy overlay of original sin and the idea that the flesh is corrupt, plus the hysteria that has overtaken modern American society about child molesters and sexual abuse and wardrobe malfunctions in Superbowl broadcasts, all seem to have robbed almost all American Mormons and Christians of any ability to think calmly and rationally about anything less than fully clothed in a way Queen Victoria would have approved. But this book I'm reading gives some compelling insight about why the Greeks created those statues, and why such art resonates with gay guys particularly. And I think also answers the MoHo question about appreciating depictions of male beauty.

Many straight people assume that gay people's attraction to those of their own gender is merely "abnormal" and "unnatural" lust, thus any appreciation of the physical form of someone of one's own gender must also be "abnormal" and "unnatural." Apart from the fact that this is just plain wrong, it is also demeaning and dehumanizing.

In fact, there is another aspect, much loftier, that's perfectly captured by the Greek statues and any art that follows the same lines, as so well put by the author of Sailing The Wine-dark Sea. It is that those statues capture an ideal:

"The kouros [statue of a young man, unclothed] is the Greek in his idealized state, eternally young, eternally strong, but fixed for all time--not in process, not on his way from boyhood to manhood, but eternally achieved, eternally One. As the ultimate ideal, he must be naked, for no costume but his own skin could serve his eternality. . . . Forever beyond all development (which would necessarily imply disintegration at a later stage), he belongs to the World of the Forms. He is the Form of Man, the perfection, of which all beautiful and heroic men partake as partial examples, the man that all men would wish to be.

The kouros, then, is not merely the expression of a Greek idea but of a profound human longing that the Greeks were the first to uncover and that reverberates through art and literature ever after . . . the wish to be absolved . . . from the "change and decay in all around I see"--and its expression in notes high and low, in measures quick and slow--whether in Homer's lost utopias of Troy and Ithaca or in Sappho's plangently expressed desire for youth and regret over age, whether in Socrates' earnest aspiration to "shuffle off this mortal coil" and ascend to the World of the Forms or in the molded pathos of the kouros--is Greece's most complex and valuable gift to the Western tradition. . . . The kouros . . . speaks with one authoritative voice: "Here is our ideal, the best we have to offer."

That's why that cork-brained stake president I mentioned before was so laughably, pitiably wrong about Michelangelo's David. It, and those Greek statues, are actually homage to perfection (and aren't Mormons supposed to be trying to achieve perfection?), to the pinnacle of the Creator's art--in fact, they try to depict what I'm sure most Mormon men hope to be after the resurrection. They are reminders of what all of us partake in, partly, and of what we might hope to approach through dedicated care of the divine gift of corporeality. They represent a longing for the eternal, for youth and beauty to stay that way forever.

Gay guys get this; it's intuitive. But you don't need to be gay to understand it. I am sincerely sad for anyone who can't see this perspective, who may be so bound down by the traditions of their gymnophobic fathers that they can't comprehend this reverence and appreciation but remain stuck in the attitude that all such depictions are necessarily base and obscene. In fact it is that attitude which dishonors both the Creator and His creation.

Mormons are fond of the truism "As a man thinketh, so is he." So to anyone, Mormon or otherwise, who thinks these statutes or the "David" or anything like them are porn and obscene, I say get your minds out of the gutter and show more respect not only for others but for the Creator's work. Thomas Cahill, author of Sailing the Wine-dark Sea, is right; such art captures a way of thinking that honors divinity, invites us to aspire and achieve, and fills our lives with beauty. It's not porn, it's perfection. It's not shameful, it's sacred. It's not degrading, it's a celebration of the divine gifts of life and creation.

DAC Epidemic

Seems there is a never-ending stream of news stories about new and various health disorders of all kinds, physical and mental. I ran across one a while back that I've realized is quite widespread among a certain segment of the population and I wanted to bring it to everyone's attention because this one I think we can actually do something about.

DAC is rather unusual. It's an acquired syndrome, and like other mental conditions is not physically painful to the person who suffers from it. But it is detrimental all the same, because over time it changes and warps the sufferer's perspective and ability to deal with others on an equal level. Those who are afflicted with this unfortunate condition usually acquire it through no conscious choice, of course. Normally it results from repeated exposure to those who display similar behavior, especially authority figures.

DAC is insidious because it also hurts others: those with whom the DAC sufferer interacts and treats in abnormal, patronizing, and sometimes even pejorative ways. DAC sufferers are usually not aware of the damage they do, but it happens all the same. I've seen it myself, and it's all the more sad because DAC is totally preventable and can be eradicated so easily.

Oh, I just realized I didn't identify DAC fully. DAC stands for Disparaging Acronym Compulsion. It's found most often among conservative Evangelical, Catholic, and Mormon groups, and its most common example is relentless use of the dismissive acronyms SSA and SGA. I've written elsewhere about why these are bad.

My heart goes out to those who suffer from DAC. Just having DAC is no sin, though acting on it certainly is. I realize that many people with this condition will not be able to free themselves of it in this life as long as religious authorities perpetuate DAC. Some will be able to control their behavior despite having DAC, and I salute them for their heroic struggle, because DAC can be a powerful urge. But with regular reminders and doses of truth, it can be controlled. Certain geographical areas are more susceptible to it, like Utah Valley and Mesa Arizona, and ultimately more drastic public measures may be necessary there to curb the spread of DAC and its dolorous effects.

But for now, the best we can do for DAC sufferers is to be compassionate, understand that their situation's not entirely of their own making, try to help them be strong and overcome DAC's sad, relentless urge to euphemize.

23 October 2010

Tough Situation, Tough Words

I've noted previously that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints place huge cultural emphasis on being nice and that they hate, hate, HATE to be the bad guys in anything.

So exchanges like the one I'm going to provide here will be extremely difficult for good-hearted, faithful, well-intentioned, prophet-following Latter-day Saints to read. But there's a lot at stake, and I truly believe that all such Mormons need to seriously consider the viewpoint stated by columnist and radio personality Dan Savage below.

The exchange started with a letter from a devout, sincere Christian who said this:

Dear Dan:

I was listening to the radio yesterday morning, and I heard an interview with you about your It Gets Better campaign. I was saddened and frustrated with your comments regarding people of faith and their perpetuation of bullying. As someone who loves the Lord and does not support gay marriage, I can honestly say I was heartbroken to hear about the young man who took his own life.

If your message is that we should not judge people based on their sexual preference, how do you justify judging entire groups of people for any other reason (including their faith)? There is no part of me that took any pleasure in what happened to that young man, and I know for a fact that is true of many other people who disagree with your viewpoint.

To that end, to imply that I would somehow encourage my children to mock, hurt, or intimidate another person for any reason is completely unfounded and offensive. Being a follower of Christ is, above all things, a recognition that we are all imperfect, fallible, and in desperate need of a savior. We cannot believe that we are better or more worthy than other people.

Please consider your viewpoint, and please be more careful with your words in the future.


I'm sure there are countless Latter-day Saints who could have said exactly the same thing to Mr. Savage, and truly, honestly believe every word of defense of their own good faith and intentions. I am sure all such persons believe they really are trying to follow Christ.

Now, here's the tough part. Mr. Savage's words will not be easy for any such Christians to read, much less give good faith consideration to. But I think they must, if the current epidemic of gay-bashing and bullying and suicides is going to be stopped and not repeated.

To members of my own extended family in particular, I know you read this blog. You will probably want to take great offense at Mr. Savage's words. I beg you not to do that. Please try to set those feelings aside and give every possible consideration to what he says. That's the only way you'll be able to understand how I and so many others look at not only this issue, but at protestations by LDS and other Christians that they really don't mean anything hateful or bigoted or discriminatory when they fight against gay marriage or continue acquiescing to so much of what is believed by Christians and Mormons about gay people. The LDS Church has recently stated over and over again that it desires civil dialogue and discourse. Good. I'll take the Church at its word, and say that all its members who supported Proposition 8 need to read what Mr. Savage says, take it to heart, and really try to understand how they come across and what results from their words and beliefs.

OK, here goes:

Dear L.R.:

I'm sorry your feelings were hurt by my comments. No, wait. I'm not. Gay kids are dying. So let's try to keep things in perspective: F--k your feelings.

A question: Do you "support" atheist marriage? Interfaith marriage? Divorce and remarriage? All are legal, all go against Christian and/or traditional ideas about marriage, and yet there's no "Christian" movement to deny marriage rights to atheists or people marrying outside their respective faiths or people divorcing and remarrying.

Why the hell not?

Sorry, L.R., but so long as you support the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, it's clear that you do believe that some people—straight people—are "better or more worthy" than others.

And—sorry—but you are partly responsible for the bullying and physical violence being visited on vulnerable LGBT children. The kids of people who see gay people as sinful or damaged or disordered and unworthy of full civil equality—even if those people strive to express their bigotry in the politest possible way (at least when they happen to be addressing a gay person)—learn to see gay people as sinful, damaged, disordered, and unworthy. And while there may not be any gay adults or couples where you live, or at your church, or in your workplace, I promise you that there are gay and lesbian children in your schools. And while you can only attack gays and lesbians at the ballot box, nice and impersonally, your children have the option of attacking actual gays and lesbians, in person, in real time.

Real gay and lesbian children. Not political abstractions, not "sinners." Gay and lesbian children.

Try to keep up: The dehumanizing bigotries that fall from the lips of "faithful Christians," and the lies about us that vomit out from the pulpits of churches that "faithful Christians" drag their kids to on Sundays, give your children license to verbally abuse, humiliate, and condemn the gay children they encounter at school. And many of your children—having listened to Mom and Dad talk about how gay marriage is a threat to family and how gay sex makes their magic sky friend Jesus cry—feel justified in physically abusing the LGBT children they encounter in their schools.

You don't have to explicitly "encourage [your] children to mock, hurt, or intimidate" queer kids. Your encouragement—along with your hatred and fear—is implicit. It's here, it's clear, and we're seeing the fruits of it: dead children.

Oh, and those same dehumanizing bigotries that fill your straight children with hate? They fill your gay children with suicidal despair. And you have the nerve to ask me to be more careful with my words?

Did that hurt to hear? Good. But it couldn't have hurt nearly as much as what was said and done to Asher Brown and Justin Aaberg and Billy Lucas and Cody Barker and Seth Walsh—day-in, day-out for years—at schools filled with bigoted little monsters created not in the image of a loving God, but in the image of the hateful and false "followers of Christ" they call Mom and Dad.

Tough words. I stress that I am not directing these to any individual person in my family or otherwise. They are a general example of what I believe is a valid response to Christian protests that no hate or bigotry is ever intended, only love. Like it or not, Mr. Savage is responding to things like Boyd Packer's descriptions of homosexuality as "unnatural and immoral" because that's how those descriptions came across.

I know this puts particularly LDS people in a hopeless position, caught between their faith's demands that they follow the teachings of someone they accept as an inspired leader, yet sincerely wanting to be compassionate as well. Mr. Savage's words correctly point out that there really is no reconciling those two positions successfully.

And guess what. That's exactly the position many gay Christians, LDS or otherwise, find themselves in. Absolutely no way to successfully harmonize what their churches teach and what they know of themselves. So, faithful Mormons and other Christians who want to be true to your faith but can't stand to think of yourselves as bigots or haters, how does it feel to be caught in a dilemma not of your own making where you know you face feeling or inflicting hurt no matter which way you go? Do you understand a little more now?

Maybe that realization will help a few LDS and Christian hearts and minds understand the position of their gay brothers and sisters who want to be faithful. Maybe they'll be a little more willing to set aside defensiveness and really listen and consider that perhaps something other than the ostensible love is actually getting through and having an effect, while whatever love there may be is falling short. (To be fair, as I've said before, some of the most truly Christlike people I've ever met have been active Latter-day Saints. There needs to be more such people.) I hope those who can actually see that will then consider how to change and grow so this horrible epidemic can be stopped for good.

The only way to break those deadlocks is to prioritize. What's going to win out? Dogmatic judgment or Christian charity? How did Jesus prioritize? I think most people know. Your neighbor as yourself, and all that, right? And what did Paul say the greatest of all virtues was? Actually, breaking this deadlock shouldn't be hard at all.

21 October 2010

Reality Check

One of the cool things about life is that you never know how you will be pleasantly surprised. Recently I have met a number of people who've taught me a lot and I'm really glad they did. When you're a kid you assume your life is normal and everybody else's life is like yours, right? Well these people have reminded me that, not only was I incredibly sheltered and lucky growing up, but that human nature is amazingly resilient, and I should be very grateful for what I have because lots of people have had things worse. I really admire the courage I heard in their stories.

One was a guy in his mid-60's who was an alcoholic by age 16 despite a strong Lutheran upbringing. Never went to college, kinda drifted through life without any real sense of purpose. Divorced, second wife died. Abandoned his faith for many years. Now he's trying to find it again. He never lost the sense that God was there and loved him, but he's still not figured out what his life's purpose is. He seems determined. I admire his tenacity; it's hard for me to imagine going through much of a lifetime without any clear goals or understanding of what you are meant to be. And being an alcoholic at age 16? Wow. He's weathered a lot.

Another was a 40-something Mexican woman, one of 12 children who grew up in Tijuana with an abusive father and a distant mother. Staunch Catholics till they moved across the border and parents stopped going to church. Dad gone almost all the time working, drunk and physically abusive when he was home. Some of the kids kept going because it was their only source of stability in life. A tough life got even tougher for this woman when she realized she liked girls, not boys. She married, regardless, had a daughter. Then divorced. She's a teacher and lost her job, hasn't been able to find permanent work for a while. Her life is very difficult, but she persists in looking for work and retains her faith and hope that things will get better.

I felt a little ashamed after hearing these stories, ashamed at how easily I forget how lucky I am, even with the challenges I face. I was glad for the reality check these two friends provided. They could have given in to a victim mentality and blamed others for their unhappiness, which would have made them even more miserable and kept them stuck and unable to move on with a happy life, but they chose not to. Good for them. Attitude is everything, and theirs is really good despite their challenges. I felt fortunate to hear their stories and to see their faith that God had cared for them through it all.

17 October 2010

Latest Column

Ah, Sunday. The day of rest. A day on which I can even leverage a blog post, which is a lot more restful than writing a new one.

Recently I was invited to contribute a piece to gay.com's "Writes of Passage" series which is running as part of National Coming Out Day. The premise is to write a letter from the me of today to the pre-coming out me of years ago. It was lots of fun.

To uber-conservative members of my family who read this blog, caveat: gay.com has things on it that, while certainly not obscene, you also probably wouldn't find in a Sunday School lesson manual either. So go on to something else if that makes you uncomfortable.

OK, that disclaimer out of the way, if you'd like to read the froth I came up with, click here.

15 October 2010

Poe's Law In Utah County

OK, probably some of you have never heard of Poe's Law. That's because it's fairly new, only been around for about five years. Succinctly put, it says this:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing.

For more details, click here.

Now, what does this have to do with Utah County?

Well, admittedly, the Utah County thing is a guess. But only because I can't imagine this latest example of Poe's Law emerging from anywhere else within Mormondom.

Very soon after Boyd Packer's Conference talk started rumbling round the world, somebody posted a link on Facebook to a hitherto relatively obscure blog purporting to be written by someone called Gay Mormon Guy.

I've been blogging for a while now. I've run across most gay Mormon blogs at some point. But I'd never heard of this one before. When I heard of all the hubbub about this blog, I went there to find out more.

What I found was the single most compelling example of Poe's Law I've yet seen to emerge from Mormon culture. A blog that is so relentlessly obsessed with reinforcing every possible Mormon stereotype of strictly orthodox behavior that it strains credulity, yet it seems consistently serious. Is there an actual person behind this? If so, he's got some healthy self-confidence for a gay Mormon boy:

"I grew up in an almost perfect family, with superheroes for parents and inheriting at least some of their awesomeness. I was a star student, champion athlete, great musician... you name it. And then I realized that everyone wasn't like me. Everyone didn't grow up as an Incredible... and suddenly it didn't seem fair that I could sit in on a class and recite back, word for word, what the teacher said, or read a textbook once and have 99% comprehension... when the girl next to me studied for hours just to memorize the quadratic equation."

Yep, that's a quote from Gay Mormon Guy. Now you see why I wonder if this is on the level. Would a real person actually say such stuff? Or does this tip off astute readers to another example of Poe's Law?

A further read through this blog reveals an almost daily drumbeat of vignettes, stories and observations that sound straight out of the Church Education System's Model For The Perfect Seminary Student. Every waking moment of Gay Mormon Guy's life seems consumed with becoming more soaked in Church stuff. One reads post after post and gradually a sense of unreality sets in. It's just too, too much. One begins to suspect it is in fact a parody. Or written by a committee. Poe's Law again. Don't believe me? Try reading it yourself for a while and see.

Particularly interesting was the response to Gay Mormon Guy's post about Boyd Packer's Conference talk. Naturally GMG rallied to Packer's defense with a lengthy exposition which caught fire on Facebook and within just a couple of days had vaulted GMG's blog followers from a few dozen to over three hundred. Most of them women. A careful review of the nearly 300 comments he got to that one post also indicates that probably 2/3 of the commenters were female, whose responses range from short expressions of admiration to gushing paragraphs of adulation normally reserved for celebrity general authorities. And GMG seems to love it, if his answers to their comments are any indication. If there really is a GMG. More Poe's Law.

Your humble correspondent also submitted a comment to Gay Mormon Guy's post, in which among other things, I pointed out the fact that all reputable professional organizations who've studied the issue agree that sexual orientation is not chosen and can't be changed--something contrary to what Packer preached, so on that point at least, Packer was not correct.

Very soon after I submitted that comment, Gay Mormon Guy added the following to his blog:

"Most comments are published as soon as I read them. Anything with potentially controversial content is eventually published, along with a response, if it is (1) well-written, (2) well-meaning in nature, (3) does not contain statements contrary to Church teachings, and (4) relevant."

Guess what. My comment didn't pass muster. I expected this. Apparently Gay Mormon Guy not only has a healthy dose of self-esteem, he is also intent on keeping his blog rigorously "faith promoting". And that's fine. If he exists, he has the right to do what he wants with his own blog.

But something just doesn't pass the smell test here, ya know? The tidal wave of adoration that flooded that blog within just a few days was like nothing I've ever seen before. The blog itself is like nothing I've ever seen before. It's like Seriously So Blessed without the humor. Gay Mormon Guy is completely unidentified on the blog profile too; nothing, zero, zip, nada about who he is, where he is, what makes him tick. If he exists.

So to the comparative paucity of readers who check in here occasionally, I say have a look at Gay Mormon Guy. Comment on his posts, see if he lets yours through. Tell me if you think he's on the level or whether this is Poe's Law in action and we're seeing a very polished hoax.

Gay Mormon Guy, if you're for real, I challenge you to draw the curtain and tell us who you really are. With the hundreds of fans and followers you've acquired in the last week or so, you're in a perfect position to acquire some real prominence as the poster child for How A Faithful Gay Mormon Boy Should Live. So take advantage of it! You could have a great career ahead of you.

If you're real.

11 October 2010

Packer & The Saints vs. Brigham Young

Boyd Packer's speech during the recent LDS General Conference stirred up worldwide controversy over his insinuations that being gay was a choice, his statements that homosexuality (and therefore gay people) was/were intrinsically unnatural and immoral, that God would never "do such a thing" to any of His children, etc. Packer said nothing he hasn't been saying for the last 30+ years as part of building his reputation as one of Mormondom's most vocal opponents of The Gay. He just reiterated it more forcefully, and with spectacularly bad timing as the LDS Church is spending millions to repair its post-Prop 8 image with the "I'm a Mormon" TV ad campaign and in the wake of a cluster of suicides by gay teens bullied beyond endurance.

Others have criticized the substance of what he said, the post-Conference amendments to his text, the implications of removing his reference to the LDS Proclamation on the Family as "revelation." I won't re-hash any of that here.

Instead, I've been struck by statements from Packer's defenders and what they say about real-time attitudes toward The Gay within the LDS Church.

Officially, the Church says we love and welcome them as long as they follow the same standards of morality and chastity that straight people do (nevermind that the result of doing that is to take away all hope of any happiness from those gay Mormons who choose to comply).

But statements from the rank & file in response to non-Mormon criticism of Packer are far more telling and far more honest an indication of what the truly believing actual Mormon In Your Neighborhood probably thinks about the whole gay issue and how their Church is dealing with it.

So I now present you with a series of quotes pulled verbatim from a Facebook Group called "I Support Boyd K. Packer." I'll go very light on my own commentary here, preferring to let these faithful Mormons who support Boyd Packer's remarks speak for themselves. I'll not discuss the doctrinal and scientific errors in their statements, though I assure you there are plenty (some of which the LDS Church itself has repudiated). I'll ask only that you consider whether, knowing what Packer said and insinuated, these statements would honestly, genuinely make any gay person feel truly loved and accepted within the LDS Church.

"This is a testament to all the followers of Christ of what a wicked world we live in. Nobody reads the bible anymore, it has been cast aside for things of not [sic]. I am so grateful we have Leaders like President Packer to voice MY opinions. I will forever and always follow the things that are said to us by Gods Holy Prophets."

"Not only did he clearly stand for the truth, he gave hope to the hopeless. Many feel like they can't change, like they're born that way to stay. NOT SO! The atonement can help us all. A man of God just promised it." I believe the Church has already stated that homosexuality is not something that the atonement of Jesus Christ needs to or should be expected to fix.

"I'm not understanding why anyone who is part of our church is arguing with this man, the apostles and prophets are called of god and speak only words through the spirit and through revelation. we sustain these men when they are called and should do so throughout there [sic] calling."

"Vicious ideologues make benign and loving people offenders for a word. We cannot countenance this. Mormons' very religious freedom is at stake. Don't be silenced by bullies." Side note: the "bullies" are Packer's critics, not the Packers of the world.

"Why is freedom of speech such a double standard? I'm so proud to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints!"

To a brave soul who posted a link to the Facebook page for Affirmation, an advocacy group supporting gay and lesbian Mormons, two commenters wrote: "why are you on here?!?" and "I agree wy [sic]". Keep in mind the "why is freedom of speech such a double standard" question just above.

"Leviticus 20:13 - "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

"I support Elder Packer. Through him, Heavenly Father provided a message of love and hope for ALL of His children." Marlin Jensen, senior member of the LDS Seventy, has publicly acknowledged that the Church does ask its gay members to give up all hope of companionship, intimacy and happiness in this life.

"No need to apologize for the Truth! We all know that Christ himself was criticized and eventually killed for the Truth. No apologies required!"

"I can't help that [sic] feel those who are fighting against the church and the talk that was given is because they do not know God as we know God."

"Always remember- the wicked taketh the truth to be hard. President Packer, thank you for the words of strength."
So anyone who disagrees with Packer is wicked.

"Homosexuality is unnatural and where would the world be without procreation to carry on human kind. I support President Packer and know we must follow the prophet to be safe in these troublesome times. It does, indeed, seem that there is a persecution of religion and those that choose to follow God's commandments."
And who was it that worked for two decades to prevent marriage equality and revoke those rights where they'd already been recognized?

"The truth hurts and that's why everyone is so bent out of shape over his speech...God's law is God's law and it will never change, regardless of whether we ruffle a few feathers of those that believe otherwise."

"Just looking at the mechanics of men and women we know homosexuality was not what God intended. We can love those people that haven chosen this "lifestyle" but denounce the behavior. I wish people understand the difference. Homosexuality is a choice not the way God intended."
Man doesn't have wings so we mustn't fly in airplanes either.

"You are one of my prophets, seers and revelators called by the voice of Heavenly Father. I know God lives, therefore, I know you speak what he would have you speak. I thank you and I love you, President Packer!"

"Bro. Packer, please hang in there and DO NOT COMPROMISE YOUR PRINCIPLES! if the LDS Church will stand firm against Pink fascism, then God will bless & protect us."
Pink fascism.

"President Packer is a prophet, he hears the voice of the Lord. He wouldn't have been permitted to say what he did if it was wrong, morally or otherwise."

In response to this last comment and the others like it, I need only quote past LDS leaders:

Brigham Young: "I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken the influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually."

Again, Brigham Young: "Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another's sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them. They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. They never can hold sceptres of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course."

George Q. Cannon, Counselor to three Church Presidents, expressed it thus: "Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone."

Pink fascism. Threats to religious liberty. They don't know God like we know God. They are wicked and they should be killed. And those who do know God will just fall into lock step and march to Boyd Packer's drum, unquestioningly. This is how the world outside Mormonism sees the LDS Church loving and caring for gay people. This is why the Church's claims of welcome and inclusion ring hollow.

I don't think I need to say any more.

01 October 2010

The Mormon Dilemma and Why Prop 8 May Have Been Good After All

Here's my latest guest column at Brody's Notes and Scribbles, which you can also read here.

The recent rapid-fire of suicides by priceless, gifted, irreplaceable and relentlessly bullied young gay people has jump-started public reflection on why so much homophobia seems so furiously resistant to persuasion toward the kinder, gentler approach many of its practitioners' churches ought to teach. History is no stranger to Christians inflicting incalculable suffering on others in the name of Jesus, so we're seeing just the latest chapter in a long tradition. Many Christian churches seem to indirectly foster such hate and homophobia by their obsessive focus on the sinfulness of same-sex relationships and their fear-mongering that civilization itself is at stake in the fight against The Gays. And many critics of such churches are revving up their demands for such churches to back off, admit their complicity in so many gay suicides, and repent for the damage they've done.

Others have spoken passionately about broader Christian traditions in this respect. And, as usual, the Mormons are in a category of their own. They led the fight for Proposition 8 and their money made its passage possible. To most Prop 8 opponents, the Mormons are just a quirky cult with an unusually virulent strain of homophobia. But the real reasons for that aren't as apparent. In the wake of these recent suicides and calls for Christian churches to back off behavior that fosters such lethal bullying, Mormons are actually stuck in a far more difficult situation than most of their opponents imagine as regards this issue.

Niceness is a cardinal Mormon virtue. Mormons hate, hate, HATE to think of themselves as the bad guys. Within their own theological framework, there is genuine encouragement to be kind and compassionate and forgiving. I've seen this countless times, and some of the most truly Christlike people I've ever met are active Mormons. This focus on being nice, combined with a religious/social worldview that can easily occupy every waking moment, combined to produce much genuine puzzlement and dismay among the rank & file after Prop 8 passed. "Why do they hate us so much" was an honest question for many Mormons, who simply didn't comprehend what life was like outside the Mormon culture and world view. They were simply defending morality; how could they possibly be the bad guys?

But Mormons are stuck, you see, between that genuine desire to be nice & kind, on one hand, and a theology which enshrines heterosexual marriage in a Mormon temple as not only the pinnacle of life's achievement but also an essential, non-negotiable requirement to get into the highest degree of heaven and live with God eternally. If you don't have such a marriage, you ain't gettin' in. There are other tiers in the Mormon heaven, but Mormons all aspire to the top level and treat all other possibilities with a mix of pity and regret. Because everybody is supposed to want--and be able to get to--the top level.

There is no explanation anywhere within Mormon theology for homosexuality. None of the three books of scripture unique to the Mormon canon ever mentions it. Thus, Mormon leaders have relied historically for their condemnations of homosexuality on the same half-dozen oblique and questionable Bible verses the rest of Christianity uses against The Gays.

But with a twist. Mormon church presidents are regarded as living prophets. Thus, to the Mormon faithful, when their church president speaks, it is the same as if God Himself spoke. This belief trumps all other considerations in the Mormon mind. There's an old joke that says the Catholics say the pope is infallible but don't really believe it, and the Mormons say their prophet isn't infalliable but don't really believe it. It's funny, but it's largely true. Even if an active Mormon privately questions something the prophet says, if they can't resolve the quandary they usually end up complying anyway, thinking "well, he's the prophet, he must know something I don't."

So when we combine that attitude of presumed prophetic infallibility with the belief that heterosexual temple marriage is an absolute and indispensable requirement for achieving the only heaven where families can be together forever, it's easily seen why many Mormons are so passionately opposed to homosexuality and marriage equality. It's not just that "the Bible tells me so," which is sufficient justification for other Christians. It's that AND the fact that "the prophet tells me so," AND their view that gay relationships strike at the very heart of life's ultimate purpose and literally destroy the eternal destiny of Mormon families. And if their society legitimizes those relationships, many Mormons fear their children will be lost to that belief and thus be lost to their parents forever.

That is very powerful stuff.

And that is also why this issue is far more painful for many Mormons than most non-Mormons realize. More and more Mormons are starting to seriously question the actions of their church in the Prop 8 debacle. They see their children, friends, relatives coming out of the closet--active Mormons themselves who've summoned the courage to buck their church's culture and be true to themselves. These brave souls volunteer for the front line on this issue that is so impossibly irreconcilable within current Mormon theology. The ostracism they risk is not just a social thing for this life--it is, to the conservative Mormon mind, volunteering for eternal damnation. Yet many honest, kind, and nice straight Mormons can't, when they think about it, quite accept that God would so condemn their children, friends and relatives on that basis. They are caught between what their hearts whisper and the official orthodoxy of their church's teachings. And official Mormondom does not tolerate cognitive dissonance well, especially when it speaks out.

This has produced the latest flavor of Mormon belief about homosexuality (by my count, this is Version 4 or 5 over the past century): it's okay to be gay but you can't act on it. Shouldn't be surprising that the Mormons and the Catholics synched up to push Prop 8. But this latest band-aid over a gaping doctrinal hole does nothing to resolve the ultimate dilemma: honest Mormon hearts see the impossibly painful contradiction between their theology--which can't explain gay people and whose whole eternal structure is threatened by their existence--and the tears and fears and aching hearts of their gay children and brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers who want only to be able to love the way they believe God meant them to. Heart and head don't match. More and more Mormons are understanding that "be gay but don't act on it" means "give up all hope of happiness." Faced with such dilemmas, as I said before, most Mormons will default to following the prophet because they think that's safest. "He must know something we don't."

But the doubts don't go away. And as best I can tell, the questions among the Mormon rank & file about their church and gay issues are growing. Quietly, at grass-roots levels, but they do seem to be growing. I expect that will continue. Somehow, someday, the gap in Mormon theology has got to be filled. It would be one of the great jokes of American history if Mormon muscle to pass Prop 8 ultimately yielded nationwide constitutional recognition of marriage equality rights, even in Utah, which would thus force the Mormon church itself to accommodate same-sex marriages. Maybe then God will speak to the Mormon prophet and fill in the eternal picture. And maybe then the real purpose for pushing Prop 8 will finally be clear. The irony: priceless.