05 February 2011

Not Again


Living in an LDS congregation and region that was particularly active with personal and financial support for Proposition 8, I saw up close and personal what Mormons actually think of gay people. I also heard over and over the advice of LDS leaders on the subject, their jeremiads about encroaching loss of religious freedom and societal degradation that—they said—must inevitably follow if marriage equality becomes law.

As an attorney I’m trained to be skeptical of just about everything, and to demand, or find, proof for any claim anybody makes about anything. So when I heard LDS apostles talk about specific cases of religious liberty being infringed by “the gay agenda,” I checked those cases myself.

I found that every single time, the LDS leaders had misrepresented the facts. Not their predictions or extrapolations, but the facts of the stories they told. I’m being kind with my description of what they did, of course. I could use stronger words. I was stunned. How could these men I’d been taught to revere as “prophets, seers and revelators” do that? Facts are facts, and they’d not been truthful about facts. Yes, I know it's one thing to be mistaken about details on occasion. But that's not what happened here. This was consistent, repeated misrepresentation with the goal of persuading the flock that a danger loomed large, when in truth the "encroachments on religious freedom" were a total myth, completely unsupported by the actual cases LDS leaders cited. That’s when trust evaporated.

I would have thought that, over two years later, the myths spread about those alleged cases of infringement of religious liberty being infringed by “creeping secularism” or “anti-religionism” or “the gay agenda” or the bogeyman du jour would finally have succumbed to the readily available truth.

Alas, no. This past week Dallin Oaks, LDS apostle, gave a speech at the known-for-its-conservatism Chapman University law school in SoCA in which he reiterated some of the same myths about these alleged instances of encroachment on religious freedom which had “already happened.” I won’t bore you with the details, they are easily found through Google search by anyone who’s interested. The bottom line is that once again, Oaks’ speech spun the facts in such a way as to completely misrepresent what actually happened.

I won’t go into a detailed analysis of whether Oaks’ predictions of encroachment on LDS religious freedom are valid. But in sum, he essentially says LDS religious freedom should be given carte blanche but not necessarily the freedoms of other religions, e.g. those who want the religious freedom to perform legally binding same-sex marriages in their churches—a freedom which LDS intervention in California actually took away.

What is most dismaying to me, however, is that this man who I know many of my family and friends revere as having a special right to higher levels of insight and inspiration nevertheless persists in spreading falsehood. I’m not talking about his predictions for the future. I’m talking about his use of examples, actual reported legal cases, in which the facts and implications are completely different from what he wants his audience to believe. Yet those who are not attorneys probably won’t take the time to research the cases (or even know where to find them) or see the distinctions. They will simply rely on Oaks’ opinion, ex officio, and believe his conclusions without question.

With all due respect to Oaks, gentle reader, it’s irrelevant whether you believe he is a prophet, seer and revelator or not. The bottom line is that he has spun facts in a way that completely misrepresents the truth, in order to support his pre-determined conclusion. How can his position in the church justify that? Giving him a pass on this just because he’s an apostle means you think a different standard of honesty applies to him than to others outside the twelve (or fifteen). Do you really want to go there?

How many times does this have to be said? How many debunkings does it take to kill a myth that reinforces religious prejudice? I’m beginning to understand what Hercules dealt with when he tried to kill the Hydra. Sheesh.


Joe Conflict said...

What does this do to you in terms of your own feelings about the church?

austin said...

I read that today too and the whole time I wanted to just yell "But what about...?" or "That's not really what happened!" It was disappointing and full of logical holes.

Drew said...

Perfectly said!

santorio said...

When Oakes first joined the church hierarchy, I thought great, someone with an intellectual background to balance all those businessmen and insurance salesmen.

But then he got involved in the salamander debacle, almost to the point of perjury or obstruction of justice, if my sources are correct. At a minimum, he learned the art of spinning that he now appears so eager to practice.

Oh well

Trev said...

"Yet those who are not attorneys probably won’t take the time to research the cases (or even know where to find them) or see the distinctions."

You're right. I don't want to take the time. But I *am* interested. I kept waiting for the substantiation of your claims of misrepresentation to surface, but they never did. Could you educate us readers on the actual details of those cases and what they were? I always question these cases they bring up when they speak, but, as you say, I'm lazy and don't want to take the time to look them up. If you've already done the work, do share, rather than just saying you did it and leaving it at that.

Sean said...

Further evidence that "the Church" is not only untrue, but has an agenda to push. After all the "brethren will never lead the church astray." It will lead many an intrinsically good person to their destruction.

As so nicely sung via Handle "Are we like sheep?" Are we following the right shepherd. With each breath I take and story I read I'm convinced Mormonism is going to become a dangerous force in this country.

Steven B said...

I read Oaks' enumeration of the usual culture war case evidences--the New Jersey pavilion, the New Mexican photographer, etc--as merely highlighting the general conflict between LGBT civil rights and objecting religious believers. As such, they do highlight his point without getting into all the details of the particular cases. So I see this less as of a distortion of the facts than if it were in a speech focused on same-sex marriage.

That said however, I was somewhat shocked to see how Oaks truly distorted and spun the 2006 article that Georgetown University Law Center professor Chai Feldblum penned, titled "Moral Conflict and Liberty: Gay Rights and Religion".

First, Oaks make a few sly attacks at Obama and then refers to Feldblum as "President Obama's head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" (She is one of five members and is not the chair). Feldblum was appointed in 2009 and confirmed by the senate in December, 2010. Yet Oaks, in the same sentence implies that Feldblum "recently" asserted that a "sexual liberty" should override religious expressions, as if she made the statement as part of her powerful position as "head" of the EEOC.

In her article, Feldblum, in fact, never used the term "sexual liberty." Rather she was referring to a type of liberty described by Justice Kennedy in the Lawrence case where he said, "These matters [personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education], involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

Feldblum termed this liberty “Identity liberty,” and in the context of LGBT rights "sexual orientation identity liberty." But Oaks calls it "sexual liberty" (in quotation marks) and claims that Feldblum advocates "sexual liberty" as such a fundamental right that it should prevail over a competing “religious-belief liberty.” Feldblum's own conclusion, however, is that "Laws passed pursuant to public policies may [occasionally] burden the belief liberty of those who adhere to either religious or secular beliefs. [But] What seems of paramount importance to me is that we respect these core beliefs and do the best we can in this imperfect world of ours to protect both identity liberty and belief liberty to the greatest extent possible.

bradcarmack said...

I had a similar "But what about...?" and "That's not really what happened!" when Elder Christofferson spoke of the importance of agency and taking a stand on moral principles in his fireside address last Friday. I that same day advocated religious freedom at BYU with a number of people, including Kevin Worthen, BYU VP of Advancement. If the moral principle of religious freedom is so fundamental and the duty to respect individual agency so compelling, then why does BYU insist on expelling LDS students who decide to become atheist or Catholic or Muslim or Episcopal? The Honor Code allows a Baptist student to convert to Mormonism; a Mormon who converts to Baptist is automatically and summarily barred from graduating or enrolling, despite that student's willingness to abide the remainder of the honor code. Why would God or the board of trustees be interesting in incentivizing religious activity on pain of withholding a diploma? If these principles are so important to apply, why are they not practiced?
I also have some concerns about Elder Oaks's legal analysis on whether same-sex marriage is a civil right (http://bradcarmack.blogspot.com/2011/02/chapter-7-in-re-proposition-8-perry-v.html http://bradcarmack.blogspot.com/2011/01/chapter-6-rebuttals-to-common-anti-same.html).

Pablo said...

Well done, Rob.

Oh, Dallin Oaks. This is yet another sad reminder that where there is no vision, a Mormon leader will step in a pile of dog crap. In this case, Oaks himself helped put the pile of dog crap there in the first place.

Thanks for the post. And forgive me if I use this as inspiration for a post of my own.

P.S. A side-by-side "Oaks says this, reality says that" post would be great. As Sean said, this is all about pushing an agenda, not the truth. A comparison chart of the facts vs. the spin would make that painfully obvious, again.

Stake Pres. said...

From my view point as a stake president I feel that the brethren are doing their best to be respectful towards gays and their rights all the while maintaining their view that marriage should be between a man and a woman only.

Max Power said...

For the "brethren" to be "doing their best to be respectful of gays," it would require them to actually be truthful about the bile they are spreading.

Oaks is a liar. Flat-out.

They aren't doing anything remotely respectful to the gays. Their support of the equal housing and employment initiatives in SLC don't mean anything if they are still going to spread their lies about gay marriage.

Stake Pres. said...

Well I am sorry that you feel that way Max. Criticizing the brethren in this way though is not becoming of a member of the church. I hope you can find forgiveness in your heart and understand the difficult position that our prophets, seers and revelators are in with regards to this issue.

Max Power said...

"Criticizing the brethren in this way though is not becoming of a member of the church."

That's laughable. These dolts need to be criticized and called out for the charlatans and liars that they are.

The only difficult position they are in is how to keep up the mind control over the members who are starting to think for themselves.

Scott N said...

@Max: I don't think you'll get anywhere arguing with "Stake Pres."... I just spent a half hour reading his blog...

There's a post that argues that the church isn't racist--but promotes the idea (which the church has subtly tried to minimize over the last couple of decades) that dark skin is a result of unrighteousness (quoting Spencer Kimball's statement that the Lamanites are becoming visibly lighter-skinned due to their righteousness).

There's a post that suggests that women who complain about the busy schedules of their husbands in positions of leadership need to be "reproved betimes with sharpness"--possibly during family prayers (when they are supposed to remain silent and therefore can't reply to criticism). He suggests that prayer can be a good opportunity to take "corrective steps" with the wife--such as insisting that she better live the Word of Wisdom so that she can "lose a little weight", or telling her to stop nagging (though he does specifically suggest not using the actual word "nagging")...

There's a post in which he states that he knows that Joseph Smith is a prophet--because the Book of Mormon speaks of him and even mentions him by name! (And there doesn't seem to be any hint of irony in his "testimony"--I honestly don't think he recognizes the circular reasoning he's adopted).

In short, he's the worst sort of Mormon--bigoted, sexist, and smugly (if illogically) convinced of the correctness of his views.

Scott N said...

(Further reading of my blog has me questioning my earlier assessment. Now I'm not really sure whether he's a dogmatic Nazi-Mormon or a brilliant satirist...)

Rob said...

@Scott: I wondered at first too. But not for long. If the content of Stake President's blog isn't enough confirmation that it's satire, the name "Paternoster" should do it. Anybody who doesn't know Latin, look it up.

Scott N said...

@Rob: Well, it's almost certainly not his real name (although it can be a surname), but I could see a TBM choosing "Our Father" as a blogging alias...

I tend to take people at face value, and as a result I can be easily sucked in to a well-done satirical piece. That could certainly be the case here (in which case, kudos to Mr. Stake Pres.)

But unfortunately I do know a few people (including my own [er... Sarah's] SP) who aren't all that different (in real life) from Mr. Paternoster's online persona.

Max Power said...

I'd better stop arguing with him then before I strengthen his testimony that the church is true because it receives so much opposition. :P

Stake Pres. said...

Brethren, I would urge you to read the comments section of my blog wherein I have showed that my last name 'Paternoster' is in fact the same name as my father who was also a stake president. Another user even provided a link where he is mentioned in the Ensign.
Please be understanding to those of us who are called to lead the church in these the latter days.

Rob said...

@"Pres. Paternoster":

Your blog is hilarious, thanks for brightening my day.