21 August 2011

Today I Saw The Future

Today I saw the future. And it was profoundly touching and wonderful.

Some of you may not know that in 2009, legislation which became known as the “Kill the Gays Bill” was introduced in the national legislature of Uganda, already known as one of the world’s most homophobic countries. This law would have imposed the death penalty for homosexual activity and for being HIV-positive (such activity is already punishable by lengthy imprisonment there). It contained extradition provisions to impose these penalties even on Ugandans who engaged in same-sex relations outside Uganda, and it included penalties for individuals, companies, media organizations, and other non-governmental organizations who expressed any support for LGBT rights.

It’s one of the dirty secrets of American Evangelical Christianity that this draconian bill was introduced swiftly in Uganda after a conference there that featured speeches by three prominent American “Christian” ministers who claimed, among other things, that homosexuality was a "direct threat" to the cohesion of African families. LDS friends who supported the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign, these are the types you made common cause with during that effort. People who actively promote the imprisonment, persecution, and the execution of God's gay children. Perhaps you should re-think those alliances.

Uganda is one of over thirty countries to criminalize any homosexual activity, which in many places also makes the provision or even advocacy of health or prevention care for HIV illegal. If you’ve ever wondered why AIDS is such a problem in Africa, there’s one of the reasons right there.

This proposed Ugandan legislation provoked significant international outrage, as well it should have, and the bill was ultimately put on hold. So it hasn’t passed, but it hasn’t been voted down yet either. It remains a potential threat.

Uganda was for a long time a British colony, so British cultural influence remains strong there. And one brave Anglican bishop, believing that the message of Christ required charity for all—imagine that—decided that his Christian discipleship wouldn’t let him go along with this pernicious legislation. So he spoke out against it. And soon became the target of death threats himself, along with his family. Undeterred, he continued to confront Uganda’s raging homophobia and to support acceptance and tolerance for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

For his efforts, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo not only put his own and his family’s lives at risk, he was also named one of 2010's most influential religious figures by the Huffington Post.

And today, Bishop Christopher was the special guest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego. I wanted to see him and I thought it was important for the kids to hear his message too, so I took them along. He spoke eloquently of compassion for all and the duty of every Christian to have it for everyone. This, he said, was what compelled him to speak out in his own country even at the risk of his own life.

I pointed out to the kids that they’d never had to face the choice between exercising their Christian faith and having their lives threatened. Their eyes got a little big at even thinking about such a thing. I was glad to be able to show them a little of what the wider world is like.

And then the moment when I saw the future, represented by the three members of the clergy who conducted the service. First was the presider, who is openly gay, and whose depth of faith clearly showed in his beaming smile as he led the proceedings. Second was Bishop Christopher, resplendent in his bishop’s robes and the only African up front. Third was the assistant dean of the cathedral, a 5th (?) great-granddaughter of Joseph Smith. I looked at the three of them and thought “How wonderful. This is what it will look like years in the future. This is what heaven should look like. Race, ethnicity, gender and its straitjacketing, sexual orientation, none of that will matter. All God’s children will have an equal place at the table, just as they are, all commemorating the Savior’s life together, equally privileged." It was as moving and touching a moment for me as any I’ve ever had. Someday, God willing, someday other churches will get that same message and see that same eventuality.

The presider was a friend of mine, so after the service we were invited to a reception and got to meet Bishop Christopher and his very sweet and gracious wife Mary. She must have the patience of a saint to have endured the persecution they have, especially with ten children to worry about! We had a wonderful chat with them, and I was particularly glad that the twins got to learn a little about life in a far-away place from someone as brave and dedicated as Bishop Christopher.

As we walked back to the car, enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful park, I was sure this had been one of the best ways to “keep the Sabbath holy” in quite some time. Attend church, focus on the Savior, hear from an inspiring Christian servant who has actually put his own life at risk for his faith, and be able to teach the kids about all of it, as well as show them—and see myself—what the future must inevitably look like. A wonderful day indeed.

20 August 2011

15 August 2011

What Should The Rule Be?

The last couple of days I've been watching an interesting discussion online, prompted by an anguished LDS mother's request to a counselor for guidance on how to deal with her lesbian daughter. I know this is a point of great difficulty for many, many LDS families. Here's what the mother wrote:

Our 20 yr. old daughter told us 2 1/2 yrs. ago that she was gay. Considering she had just broken things off with a not so great relationship with boy and she has always dated boys, this was a shock. This was during a very rebellious time in our daughter’s life and she left home twice. We are LDS and have lived our faith and been very involved and active in the church her whole life. No one can believe she’s gay. We continue to support our daughter in those positive endeavors; college, sorority, she comes to dinner every Sunday and I send her little cards with positive, uplifting things written and we go to lunch, shopping etc…but for me this lifestyle is wrong and so I don’t want it in my face or around me…which means I prefer she not talk about it, partners are not allowed to come over, etc. We let her know that she gets to choose the lifestyle she wants to live – it’s her life. But we also get to decide what we will or won’t allow around us – it would be hurtful to her father and I to see her with another girl and out of respect to us we feel she should not bring them around. The church doesn’t have any clear-cut guidelines for How Parents Can Best Handle Dealing with this type of situation…and I wish they did. We really feel like we’re trying our best to keep our family together and strong in love but I see that not being enough on down the road. I fear that as each year passes and we continue to stand firm that no partners are to be brought around – our relationship will begin to deteriorate and we don’t want that. We extend our love to our daughter always – but will not allow her to bring her partner to things – will this further alienate us from her? Are we not being fair? What about respecting our feelings and beliefs?

A long discussion has ensued. The clear majority opinion is probably best summed up by this pithy comment:

The difficult truth is that taking a hard stance is going to push the daughter away. Period. . . It’s fine to have rules, but you have to figure out at what point the rule just doesn’t work anymore. Sometimes you adjust the rules because you can’t parent adult children the same way you parent young children and expect to be able to maintain a relationship.

But so far I think the best discussion of the whole issue is the one I've posted below in its entirety. Well worth reading.

I think that it’s fair to concede . . . that the LDS church’s official stance is unquestioningly that personally engaging in homosexual encounters is a sin. (I agree though, with those who argue that there is room for debate regarding the scriptural and doctrinal backing for this stance by the church).

But I think that misses the core of this question. Mom in the OP is saying she believes that it is a sin, and is asking how to go about her relationship with her daughter, who she believes is sinning. I don’t think she is questioning her opinion on whether or not her daughter is sinning, I think she is asking how to have a relationship with her daughter without compromising her own values by contributing in some way to what she believes is a sin.

My two cents is that you can stand strong in your beliefs and still show love and decency to those who have different beliefs.

Opinions vary widely on whether homosexuality is a sin or not. So, i think this comes down to understanding you have a difference of opinion. Treat it like that, and lose the sentiments that “she is sinning, but I know I need to figure out how to ‘accept’ her anyway.” This sentiment resembles this one: “I am right, and you are wrong, but if you follow my rules, I will forgive you for being wrong, I will be good enough to love you anyway.”

We don’t want to participate in things we believe are wrong, but I assume we all have friends and loved ones who hold opinions we find offensive, or who do things we think are wrong. But we continue to love them, and don’t do those things ourselves. I am betting in most cases, we keep our mouths shut about the parts of those people we don’t approve of, because we know we can’t oppose our beliefs on them, and will damage our relations with them if we try.

But we muddle this with our kids I think, because we feel responsible to raise them in our own truth, and feel we failed if they do not embrace our truth.

When kids are kids, it’s appropriate for a parent to be the deciding factor on what is right and wrong, and to make rules, and to create consequences for breaking rules. That’s how we teach kids, and we hope we do it well enough to teach them our values in a meaningful way.

But with adults, even our own offspring, it’s no longer appropriate to give them rules and consequences. They are entitled to their own beliefs, to form their own values, and to make their own choices. And when we set up consequences for other adults who refuse to share our values, it does not teach them, or bring them to our side, it just alienates them.

I would say rule number one in having a healthy relationship with your daughter is to think apply this question to yourself before you set rules with her. “Am I setting limits with her because I need her to respect my space/beliefs/personhood like I respect hers? Or am I asking for things because I want to impose my beliefs on her and show her that I don’t support her choices?”

As an example, you have the right to decide what you do and don’t allow in your house. But, are the rules you are making really intended to keep you and your home from spiritual or other types of damage? If something she wants to do there would cause you damage, then by all means make a rule. But if you realize you are making a rule that only has the purpose of letting her know you do not approve of her or her life, and of showing her that when she is in your house, you are in control of the parts of her or her life you don’t like, you might want to reconsider.

You do not have a right to decide who a person (any person) is allowed to be when they are in your presence. If you don’t like who your daughter is, then don’t be around her. But you can’t change who she is, and she won’t come around anymore if when she does she gets beaten over the head with your opinions about how wrong she is. You are not losing her if you don’t want to be around her whole self, you are rejecting her.

I think [one] can argue that [some] scriptures could be construed to indicate that God is opposed to homosexuality but I don’t see the remotest indication in them that suggests that God is demanding you cut off relationships with people who don’t believe as you do, or who don’t act as you would. I also don’t know of any modern prophet who has said people should cut their gay friends or relations out of their lives, or treat them badly. I am also missing the part where God said it’s OK to leave people alone about theirs sins (cause we all sin) but gayness is special and requires special action.

So I don’t think you are compromising your values, morals, or loyalty to the LDS faith by embracing your daughter and her partner and not judging and not forcing your choices for her onto her for her to be allowed to be fully your family. In fact, I think the scriptures, and modern prophecy, have been rather big on a thing called agency.

I usually don't copy other people's words unless they say things better than I could. In this case, they did.