Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Darling From the Lions

So Amanda and I collect offensive books. OK, that came out wrong. We collect books which are products of their time, which now seem offensive because the world has (in my view) improved, especially with regards to gender, sexuality, and racial relations. Because we have a bookshelf full of titles like The Secret Power of Femininity, The How to Catch a Man Handbook, or Dare to Be True Adventure Series: A Prophet in Palmyra (a choose your own adventure style book based on the founding of the gospel in which even mundane choices lead to either eternal, unmitigated happiness or sure eternal damnation) our friends are wont to chip in to the collection when they find more that would fit the theme. Recently, our friend Alea shipped us My Darling From the Lions by Janice Barrett Graham. I'd been hearing about this book for months; Ms. Graham's out-spokenness and proud-to-be-not-PC attitude had caused even Deseret Book to shy away from her manuscript. I had read some of her blog posts at her website and was flabbergasted by her lack of respect, her dogmatic view that everything is either a black or white issue, and her revelry in saying things "the world" disagrees with. I decided to read enough of her book that I could at least post the most offensive parts for all of you to enjoy. As it turned out, however, I managed to stomach the whole thing (there are some advantages to 4 hours on a train or bus every day) and was surprised that there were a lot of redeeming things to say about the book. There are, however, more than a few glaring flaws as well.

Simply put, the narrator (and author) is insufferable, dramatic, over-wrought, and quite probably manic-depressive. The entries--the book is a series of cobbled-together journal entries spanning a number of years--alternate between drastic lows and extreme, maudlin highs. As if the whiplash of the narrative weren't already enough, Ms. Graham sees fit to ascribe each new high or low to some new-found blessing of the Spirit or to the buffetings of Satan, she sees herself as a pawn in some epic game of chess. Such moralizing made me suspicious that she had been writing her journals with an outside observer in mind from the very beginning; no experience or emotion can remain uninflected or unanalyzed, lest her posterity read her journal and not be certain that greater forces were at play in her day-to-day life. Even near the beginning of the book, it is painfully clear that many of Ms. Graham's difficulties are often the direct result of the decisions she is making, her very unhealthy attitudes towards the gospel, and her painfully obvious emotional problems. I was very often moved to compassion for her, not only because her problems were so often beyond her power to solve them, but because her own instability inevitably exacerbated the already difficult times her family goes through.

For those of you who have never heard of the book, it documents the story of Daniel Graham's struggles with homosexuality. His experimentation with pornography and live homosexual encounters are only disclosed well after they have taken place, and in dramatic and painful ways. Although I was moved with compassion towards Daniel, who obviously regretted his behavior and wanted to change, Ms. Graham's reactions to the experiences were disturbing and very off-putting. In the moments where you would most assume Daniel would need the most comfort and love, his mother was frantically blaming everyone in her life for allowing this horrible thing to happen, was shockingly disappointed with Daniel, and at times could not even bring herself to talk to him. The good will and empathy I felt for Daniel's struggles were blunted by my horror at Ms. Graham's untoward attitudes toward her own son.

If any of you do read this book, I think that you will be surprised at how absolute and pat her answers are to every struggle. She is constantly reading or listening to a book from Deseret Book which offers her a panacea to solving her gospel difficulties. She does seem to gain some amount of comfort from her books and tapes, but it makes me a bit nervous just how much faith and time she puts in to gospel commentaries and pop-psychology. She delivers her own conclusions in the same absolutist tones as the morals in her books are delivered to her; given how many of Deseret Book's products she endorses in her book, and how well her work would have fit in with so many of their products, it must have stung to have them reject her manuscript.

Daniel is eventually "cured" of his homosexuality. He is disappointed that he can't go on a mission because of his sins, but he seems to be happy enough to be free of his homosexual feelings. I buy the thesis of the book that Daniel turned to homosexuality out of curiosity, discouragement with his lack of success with a girl he loved, and the fact that his traits and interests (music, theater, and clogging) were better appreciated within homosexual circles. Furthermore, Daniel had apparently been teased and hated by many of his peers for his un-manly ways. I suppose there is a chance that his hyper-masculine culture actually constructed and convinced Daniel that he must be gay, and should act the part.

There are parts of this book that are well worth reading. Ms. Graham learns valuable lessons about trying to love her son no matter what he does, her defense of him against ridicule in a judgmental and ridiculous culture is touching, even if it comes too late, and both she and Daniel seem thrilled that they have pulled Daniel back to a life-style that both are more comfortable with.

Ms. Graham's defense of her son unfortunately reaches a non-sequitur fever pitch by the end of the book, such that she seeks to blame her own short-comings as a mother, Daniel's poor choices, and the emotional attrition they have all suffered on "the world" and its wickedness. I will agree with her that pornography use and casual sex can be emotionally stunting or even mentally scarring, but Daniel was not trapped or even fooled into his mistakes under false pretenses; his own weaknesses lead him down his road and he willingly followed. For a woman who claims that all homosexuals can be cured of their same-sex attraction with a little self-control and counselling, she seems comically unwilling to acknowledge that her own actions, namely her frantically full schedule while her children were growing up, her draconian punishments for minor mistakes, or her unconcealed shame and disappointment at Daniel after his first confession might have been part of the impetus for Daniel's secrecy and emotional insecurities.

At various times in the book, Ms. Graham blames the wickedness of the world on Darwin, John Kerry (who refused to concede, thus dividing the nation), Bill Clinton (for shaming the US with his Lewinsky scandal), and internet chat rooms. Although she is quick to forgive herself for her unkind words to someone at church she was mean to because she "know[s] that [she is] still loved and of infinite value" (even though she does not repent or apologize), she does not grant the same forgiveness to anyone else in her life except eventually her son. Her intimation that all homosexuals must feel the exact same way as Daniel, and can thus be treated in the same way as Daniel seems to be the same form of over-simplification that led Daniel's peers to judge him as necessarily gay for liking music and theater. I know that Ms. Graham only wants to help other people like her son, but I wonder if the way she goes about trying doesn't eventually end up doing more harm than good.

For those of you who think that rampant hypocrisy is funny, or if The Office's Michael Scott isn't enough of any anti-hero for you, I would recommend reading My Darling From the Lions. The book is actually quite enjoyable if you treat the characters as fictitious and can laugh at them for their absurdities. If you slip back into a real-life paradigm, however, and are depressed by Ms. Graham's naked hatred and judgmentalism, just don't say that I didn't warn you.

Monday, November 17, 2008

absurdly long post about Prop 8

I have spent the last few weeks stewing over the gay marriage debate. Although I kept my fingers crossed that Prop 8 would fail, that we Mormons would look dumb for investing so much money into a symbolic measure, and that we could all move on in relative peace. Instead, the bill passed and we are looking down the barrel of a PR nightmare for the Church, the culture wars are only starting to get heated up, and I'm faced with another pit in my stomach from the anger and shame that we spent $20 million as a people on Prop 8.

This will probably be the longest post that I have ever done, or that I plan on doing again. Hopefully, if I do this well, I will be able to sum up my positions clearly and be able to leave the issue behind; I'd much rather be blogging right now about the heinous new wallpaper they have installed in the lobby of my apartment building, the Decemberists concert we went to last week, and my thoughts on President-elect Obama. My last posts on Proposition 8 were written more for me than for any of you, however, and I want to have one more go at convincing you all that Proposition 8 was wrong.

First things first, the Earth is a lot more than 6000 years old. Claiming that traditional marriage has remained the same for 6000 years makes a good slogan for a 30-second campaign ad or for a t-shirt, but it simply isn't true. Strict Biblical literalism is totally indefensible to anyone who knows about the history of the book, its translation, or anything about the themes and messages actually contained within the Bible. In fact, if any of you want to argue that marriage has always been between a man and a woman for Bibilical reasons, I will expect a thorough denunciation of Abraham, Jacob, Soloman, Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young as well, not to mention the members of the 12 who are sealed to their second wives as well. While I'm on the topic of the Bible, I should probably touch on the shaky underpinnings of the mainstream Christian assault on homosexuality. It is true that there are a number of verses in both the Old and the New Testaments speaking out against deviant sexual practices. Asserting that these scriptures were written for our day, and with monogamous homosexual relations in mind, however, is much less clear-cut. I am not trying to argue here that homosexuality is condoned through ancient or modern scripture, but I do know my Bible well enough to assert that Christians should by no means feel that the Bible forces them into condemning it. In fact, I would guess that it doesn't make the top ten of scriptural injunctions or lessons taught by the Bible. There are many people who look to the story of Sodom as rock-solid proof that homosexuality is the harbinger of our destruction--sometimes I wonder if any of them have actually even read the story, or if they've only read the Cliff's Notes. I would submit that the story of Sodom, wherein a gang of men tries to rape a stranger and Lot offers his own daughters as sexual proxy instead, tells us much more about the wickedness of their society than a simple "gays are bad" epithet really expresses. But hey, if you are still insistent on joining the mainstream Christians in condeming gays, can we pass a law against eating strangled things next?

In all seriousness, however, I do think that religious reasons are potentially the most persuasive in convincing me that the support the Church gave to Prop 8 was not a mistake. If the Church were to come out and tell me that God--for reasons unknown and unexplainable--wanted me to support Proposition 8, I might have less venom for it. As it is, however, the Church has come out with all sorts of reasons for why they supported Prop 8. When the reasons given are as ludicrous and intellectually insulting as what they were, I am hard pressed to believe that they came from God (who I believe is far more intelligent and thoughtful than to dictate such things). I'm wondering why God hasn't come out with a list of reasons why the Word of Wisdom is a good idea, or explanations for why we keep the law of chastity? It seems to me that when God speaks, He usually just commands us to do something and expects us to realize that it is for our own good; I first grew suspicious that the Yes on 8 action was the work of men when they felt the need to justify themselves to me. Furthermore, I have prayed about this issue and feel that I am not in the wrong to speak out (Michael, as you have pointed out to me, this is absolutely not the most important issue in the world, I mean exactly what I say here that my efforts are not wrong, it is not that I feel a religious duty to speak up, just a religious confirmation that it is OK if I so choose). I'm still waiting for a "thus saith the Lord" on this one. If I get one, I'll delete this post immediately. For those of you who do believe that God has spoken on this issue, might I recommend that you keep your reasons for supporting Prop 8 to just that. The discussion need not get any messier than our simple disagreement over whether God has spoken in the case or not. When you try and enter the realm of logic and reasoning, however, you must expect to be challenged on the field of logic (cue sound of cracking knuckles here).

When I wrote my first post blasting a ban on gay marriage I hadn't really culled the internet for what others were saying about the issue yet. My first post on gay marriage was essentially a straw man because the statement by the Church was so bad; even those of you who adamantly supported Proposition 8 agreed with me on almost all of my criticisms of what the Church news room was putting out.

I read a rather brilliant bit of argumentation from the Yes on 8 campaign titled "Six Consequences if Prop 8 Fails" (I've included the link to one with a rebuttal attached to it). Although I think that the author is fear-mongering and purposely misleading, they are also very effective and as a debater, and I can respect effective argumentation, even if it is patently evil (I still listen to Bill O'Reilly's talking points, for example). Although I can appreciate such argumentation, I also think that it is the root cause of the backlash the Church is now facing; gays in California are upset, not only because they no longer have the rights they feel they should have, but that they lost those rights to what was, to them, a very misleading, fear-mongering, and unethical campaign (by the way, this might be a good time to condemn the violent reaction that has since ensued. I’m all for democracy, picketing, and protesting, but I think we can all agree that violence and vandalism are pretty universally undemocratic). I try to be manipulative or overly harsh when I'm in a debate round, but I will try and be more even-handed in picking apart the arguments I have heard and read for Proposition 8 than they were themselves. If I get a little overly-animated in my criticisms, however, please don't take them personally--I'm only trying to distance myself from some argumentation and philosophies that I feel are unbecoming of any self-respecting Christian.

A generally recurring theme within the Yes on 8 camp is that gays only want marriage in order to anger conservatives, to "normalize" what they know is really just a sinful lifestyle, or to promote their liberal agendas; gays already have equal access to everything that heterosexuals do through civil unions and a little bit of legal arrangement, easily accessible through These arguments are problematic (and false) for a wide number of reasons.

First, gays do not have equal rights with heterosexuals’ marriages, no matter how much time or effort they expend with lawyers. For example. Even if equal rights were available to them after spending lots of money on legal fees, however, is it really just to force them to do that paperwork and legal wrangling in order to attain rights that come so easily to heterosexuals? I'd be curious to know how the Mormons would react, for example, if the government suddenly started charging us ten times as much for a marriage license as they charge for other Christians, simply because a majority of voters in America passed a law singling us out for our inadherance to the doctrine of the Triune God. The argumentation coming out of the Yes on 8 camp has little to do with why homosexual unions should be singled out to have fewer rights than heterosexual ones; instead, they rely on scare tactics, inherent prejudices, and Biblical injunctions against those icky, icky gays.

Debates about normalization or toleration always rile me up a bit. I hear people talking about the ills of tolerating evil all the time; however none of them seem able to explain to me where the doctrine comes from. The Christ I am aware of "tolerated" publicans and sinners, Roman rule (much to the chagrin of the powers that be), adulterers (a sexual sin, I would point out), and every person He has spoken with, past or present. This leads me to believe that we don't need to attack and punish all evil-doers in order to be righteous ourselves or build a righteous, godly society. We can call homosexuals to repentance and still give them political rights. Christ was not concerned about punishing these people in public, simply to avoid the appearance of tolerating them too much. The religious drive to not tolerate evil in society is very reminiscent of Christianity (the crusades, the Inquisition, the witch trials of America, to name a few), but is only very loosely related to Christ's doctrines or examples (the cleansing of the temple is the closest I can come up with, although an intra-religious conflict seems much different to me than Christ over-throwing the law of the land in order to set up religious rule). Is it unreasonable to assume that God is powerful enough to punish the wicked without our help? I think the rub against "normalization" of homosexuality in society seems to me to rest upon the belief that sin will become more prevalent if we do not stigmatize it. Even if this were true, since when has the role of the government been to stigmatize sin? Am I missing a clause in the Constitution that grants government the mandate and the powers to provide for the common religiosity? On a more scriptural level, I would like to point Mormons to D&C 121:41. I am all for having laws which punish societal evils like violent crime and breach of contract, but I do so in order to make society safer and more livable, not because I want to stigmatize or scare people into a more Mormonly life. I would submit that Mormons are dangerously close to abusing their priesthood powers when they seek to use it (and the Church's resources and credibility) to pass laws which, as their stated purpose, are there to make homosexuals feel less loved or comfortable in society (lest they feel that we are tolerating their evil, or think it a normal or acceptable lifestyle). The proper venues for correcting sin are the pulpits and missionary messages we send out to the world, not additions to state constitutions. It is not as if the Church is really in any danger of being seen to tolerate or condone the sins of homosexuals. Moreover, since when did we really care whether the world sees us as being harsh enough on sin? I would point out that although Christ was much maligned for tolerating and loving the sinful echelons of society, he was never mistaken for an adulterer himself, nor was his doctrine confused with advocating such sins.

While I'm on this issue, I want to attack the notion that we can and do "love" homosexuals, even as we are trying to take away their equal treatment under the law. I was struck by the following quote in the interview that Elders Oaks and Hickman gave:

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At what point does showing that love cross the line into inadvertently endorsing behavior? If the son says, ‘Well, if you love me, can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for holidays?’ How do you balance that against, for example, concern for other children in the home?’
ELDER OAKS: That’s a decision that needs to be made individually by the person responsible, calling upon the Lord for inspiration. I can imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, ‘Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.’ Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that would make that the likely answer.
I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”
Is anyone else bothered by the intimation that parents wouldn't want to introduce their son or daughter to their friends, lest they be seen to be tolerant of their own children? Maybe it's better for the world that I don't have any children, but I would like to think that I would love and be proud of my child, no matter how sinful I thought they were. More than that, I am confused about how homosexuality is so qualitatively different from other sins that a theoretical child could commit. Would these hypothetical parents be ashamed to introduce their hypothetical child to their hypothetical friends if the child were a smoker? What if the child were sexually active, but with members of the opposite sex? I am pretty certain when I say that my parents would love me no matter what I ever did, even if they couldn't respect me. I have no doubt that my parents would come to my arraignment if I were ever arrested for some crime. I will furthermore go so far as to say that if my parents were openly ashamed to claim me, I would doubt whether they loved me any more. I will admit that these reactions that Elder Oaks is condoning (I was tempted to be a jerk and use the word tolerating, let the record show that I didn't) are probably normal. I personally think, however, that we should expect more from our members ( I have loved you, love one another). I also think that we should be more empathetic when gays feel that we are being hateful of them with our rhetoric in supporting Prop 8; we are strongly implying that their parents were right in shunning and being ashamed of their children for having same-sex attraction. No amount of telling a child that you love them will be effective in communicating that idea when you otherwise show them that you are ashamed of them, and that God supports our efforts to sweep them under the rug (or into the closet, if you will).

Before I move on to the supposed societal harms that gay marriage may pose, I want to address the issue of language change which seems to be oh so troubling to so many people. Homosexuals did not steal the word gay, nor is our language any less communicative because the word means something else. I've never met anyone who still speaks in Shakespearean iambic pentameter or still declines their nouns to mark their parts of speech, like we did in the Old English phase of our language. Language is constantly changing, and society is both helping to cause that change, and adapting to the changes in language. There are always multiple ways to describe any action, group, or political stance. Just as we have been asked to call ourselves "members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" rather than "Mormons," in order to avoid the stigmatized label which brings up negative stereotypes in the minds of some, any political movement will seek to define itself using politically neutral or favorable terms like "pro-choice" rather than "pro-abortion" or "pro-life" rather than "anti-abortionist." I think the key to understanding the issues at hand are to cut through the convenient, but often misleading labels and focus on what each really stands for. Although the meaning of words and concepts is important in our society--much of law is an attempt to find socially agreed upon standards of words and concepts ranging from where life begins and ends or what constitutes taxable income--it is equally important that we never slip into the fallacy that the meaning of words defines us, rather than the other way around. Our spirituality or righteousness is not contingent on how our society defines our beliefs, rather on how God judges us. I detect an intense fear within many people that if society can redefine what marriage means, that our marriages will somehow be less important or valid in the sight of God. Are we really so insecure in our own beliefs? Does it really matter to you that other people claim to be married (keeping in particular mind our beliefs in eternal marriage, and that no marriages are complete in the sight of God unless they are sealed in a temple)? I would submit that, from a Mormon perspective, a gay marriage is no more or less valid in the sight of God than any marriage that is not sealed in a temple. There, I know that that will sound really offensive to some, but it was the elephant in the room and needed to be pointed out.

The issues of how gay marriage can affect society will be markedly more difficult to parse because there is so little data out there and so much double speak on the issue. People seem Hell-bent on citing civilizations that have collapsed "because of gay marriage or homosexuality," but then walk away from historicity when I can cite dozens of better studies, or even religious quotes to prove that such was not the case. I'm not going to stage both sides of the debate for you, especially since most of you won't agree with everything that Sonja Eddings Brown believes in anyway. Instead, I'll address what I think are the most persuasive arguments that I've heard and also anything that I have heard from any of you.

"Children have a right to be raised in a home with a mother and a father." This statement is an abuse of the word right. Children might be better off in a home with both a mother and a father, but such does not translate into a legal right. Seriously, should we ban the raising of children in single-parent homes? If so, Prop 8 does not go nearly far enough, and ends up doing essentially nothing; the law would be straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

"Gay marriage steps on the rights of our children... by changing marriage for everyone." The notion that gay marriage somehow cheapens heterosexual marriage frankly baffles me. For those of you who are married, please respond to this post (if anybody is actually reading this far!) and tell me if you love your spouse less because people you disapprove of have been allowed to marry. If so, did your love go down when Massachusetts allowed gay marriages? How about the recent change in Connecticut? I don't mean to be rude, but if you honestly love your spouse less because other people are joining the same club you're in, I sincerely think that you should never have gotten married in the first place. I wrote my last post with the subtext that I would not leave the Church simply because there are some people in it who I consider jerks. Marriage is valuable and beautiful, even if people you do not like or respect are able to take part in it. Do we really owe our children a society where only men and women can marry each other? Go ahead and show me the data (or at least the internal logic) which shows that banning gay marriage will increase a given child's chances of being raised by both a mother and father. Barring that, Ms. Brown's statements are more of a smokescreen than really an argument. If you want a society in which all children are raised by both a mother and father, pass a law that demands that all children be raised by a loving mother and father. Good luck making it work, but it will be really fun for me to watch you try.

"Having a traditional definition of marriage is a society stabilizer." Really? Do you have any examples of this? If traditional marriage really has been around for 6000 years, where are all those societies which had traditional marriage? Besides, what is really the definition of a "stable society?" Iraq was pretty dang stable under Saddam, so was the USSR throughout most of its history. Rather than argue for anything sane, the Yes on 8 group is spinning long strings of positively-connotative words (preserve and tradition, to name just 2 that show up frequently) together and hoping that most people won't look at them hard enough to realize that they're making this up as they go along. Once again, I have to respect them for pulling it off--they clearly won this round of the game. What I'm trying to show is that it's not true, even though lots of people in California believed it. If you want something to chew on for examples of stable societies which rejected the traditional definitions of marriage, I would urge you to do a little research into ancient Greece or Rome. They clearly rejected the notion that marriage is one man, one woman, and 2.3 children living a luxurious middle-class life-style. If homosexuality was the poison that eventually led to the down-fall of their empires, it sure took its sweet time about finally collapsing them; they are arguably the two most successful and longest-lasting civilizations the world has ever seen. Seriously though, I invite any of you to ask me to do this research for you if you honestly believe that there are historical traces of societies collapsing due to gay marriage. You must, however, do me that favor in return of not asserting that there are societal ills that will come from gay marriage if we allow it unless you can prove that fact.

"Gay parents will teach all children--especially those that they are raising--that it's OK to be gay." I would submit that it is a fundamental right of parents or guardians to teach their children whatever they feel is right. Had we put it up to a vote in 1850, how many people in America would have voted that it was a "societally good" thing that Mormons be allowed to teach their children the doctrines of polygamy? How about the pre-1978 doctrines on race? Would any of you have been down with the government coming in and raising our children for us, because they didn't like what we were teaching them? How much sociological data would they have to bring in before we caved, finally acknowledging that our pedagogy was causing "societal harms" like functionally single-parent homes (how many children can a polygamist father really be a good father to?)? I'm sorry to be so blunt on this point, I just feel like we Mormons should have recognized by now that we have the biggest glass house ever, yet we're still throwing the most stones out of anyone (20 million of them at last count).
There's yet another problem with this argument, however. I don't think that any studies have shown that gay parents raise a higher percentage of gay children than straight parents do. I haven't done extensive research on this, but I'd be willing to wager a nickel that there is not a statistically significant difference between the different types of marriages and number of gay children that come out of them (as long as I can count the numbers of gay children in extremely religious and conservative homes that commit suicide rather than face the shame (ahem, stigmatization) of "coming out"). By contrast, do gay children only come from being taught poorly by bad or broken homes? Anyone who knows any homosexuals knows that the unequivocal answer to that question is absolutely not. Even if you believe that homosexuality (and same-sex attraction) is 100% a choice, I feel that it is unjustifiable, offensive, and ignorant to assume that people become gay because of some parental deficiency. If any of you reading this have gay children, you did not "turn them gay." If any of you reading this are gay, you are not broken, or the product of bad parenting. I invite any rebuttals on this point if any of you have read good research on this issue. Be forewarned, however, that I am a scientist myself, and I will demand that the research be both credible and quality--no Kinsey please.

I think the real shame about this whole debate is what was said between the lines. Claiming that children would be better off in state custody or in a single-parent home than in the home of a loving homosexual couple says one of a few things about that couple: either they cannot really provide a stable, loving environment for a child, they cannot teach a child how to flourish in society any better than a foster-home could, or they are such intrinsically horrible people because of their sexuality that society is at a net-loss if they are allowed to raise children. I'm actually fine with any or all of these things being said, if you actually believe them, but please don't do us the disservice of pretending that that is not what you are actually saying, if you actually are. This is where the Sonja Eddings Brown interview gets rather ridiculous; if she is so quick to praise the loving, successful relationships of the gay people she knows, how can she then turn around and claim that gays in general are damaging children? I might be more likely to believe that gays should not be given marriage rights if some overwhelming number of their marriages or child-rearing led to abuse, pedophilia, or socially inept and maladjusted children. If that's what you are claiming, however, it's probably not a very good idea to praise homosexuals up and down--just a bit of free debate advice, Ms. Brown.

I know that there are some of you re-reading the Proclamation to the World, worried that "the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets." Although I do not wish to argue that this is not true, I would submit that homosexuals being allowed to form marriage-like monogamous units in which they love each other in every substantive way except for one is not a disintegration of anything, but rather a closer approximation to the model of the family that society so desperately needs. I would like to also point out that the members have been called upon by the Church to spend anywhere near $20 million to stop the more serious problems in the status quo (or at least they are not doing it if they’ve been asked). In our society that is rife with pornography, prostitution, rape, incest, pedophilia, and adultery, I somehow doubt that God is pacing the floor that we might get to call gay civil unions marriages in California. If you want to look to the disintegration of the family, don't look to the symbolic, but the real-life degradation of marriage as witnessed by crime, abuse, divorce, and unwed motherhood. Also, please allow me to feel that the Christian right was being a tad bit disingenuous by clamoring to defend the family, while simultaneously supporting John McCain, a known philanderer, for the highest office in the land. Also, the notion that heterosexual marriage is intrinsically holy for including only one man and one woman, and gay marriage is intrinsically bad, regardless of other indices is the same logic that claims Hitler (or Bush) will be exalted for being a Christian, yet the Dali Lama is Hell-bound, despite living like one.

If you'll permit me to be a bit snarky for a moment, I would like to give a few examples of marriages that the Yes on 8 crowd would like to call godly: Britney Spears had a "just for fun" marriage for all of 55 hours in 2004 before it was annulled. Anna Nicole Smith married a billionaire 63 years her senior and spent the years after his death fighting legal battles for his money. Hundreds or thousands of people (far too many of them LDS) meet and get married after knowing each other for only a few weeks or months, only to later get divorced.

In closing, I would like to once again ask what right we have to define marriage on a pubic policy level. Is it only because this issue is important to our theology? I would submit that baptism is far more important for the salvation of humankind that marriage is, and yet there are no laws dictating proper baptism (thank heavens). Is homosexuality worse than other sins in our society like adultery? Will Proposition 8 actually prevent any sin from taking place? Barring any real answers to these questions, I esteem the efforts to define marriage as irrational, reactionary, and totally wasteful.

If homosexual marriage really were the harbinger of the apocalypse, I think that we should be galvanizing internal strength in Christ, rather than concerting efforts to punish and restrict the outer world for its sinfulness. If you want to avoid catching a cold, the most effective way to respond is by washing your own hands, not by eliminating all pathogenic bacteria in the world (because you never will). This fight against Prop 8 has been a bruising, costly, and marginalizing distraction from the very serious, very urgent issues of perfecting the saints, redeeming the dead, and sharing the gospel.

If I feel like it, I might respond later to the post-prop-8 conflict between the gays and the Mormons. Although I think that both sides have committed lots of sins (Garth, I'll send you an e-mail on this, because I don't want to make accusations and expose our specific sins in public), and both sides share some of the blame. Mostly I just think it's funny that we Mormons get off on feeling persecuted and hated. Freedom of speech is wonderful when it gives us the right to speak out against gay marriage and get our laws passed, but it is suddenly horrible when it is used to criticize and mock us after we get our way (even though, in this case, the other side has gone too far, unfortunately turning us, the aggressors, into martyrs). If churches are too holy to be picketed, they are too holy to be used as political staging grounds. Referees in football are usually wise enough to give both sides of a fight a penalty, even if they only see one punch; I think you have too much faith in the virtue of people, Garth, if you want to lay all the blame for this conflict on the angry gays. I'm also very hesitant of the "by their fruits ye shall know them" scripture because I know so many horrible people on both sides of the conflict. If I strictly applied that scripture I don't know if there would be any good people left worth knowing at all (myself included).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Caveat to my rage

While I was an undergrad at BYU, a student organization ran a soapbox. Once a week, students could stand on the quad with a microphone and bellyache about whatever they wanted to; needless to say, I was an active participant. One of the rules was that no student could "speak evil of the Lord's anointed." I was never kicked off of the soapbox, so I'm pretty sure that I never broke this rule, but I must admit that I am not sure that I even knew what the prohibition meant. Now, after my own (failed) personal campaign against California's Proposition 8, and after a lot of anger and doubt, I think I finally understand what that rule meant.

Throughout my life as a Mormon, I have been taught to defer to the prophet and the apostles with reverential awe. Watching General Conference every 6 months only added to their aura of other-worldliness; these men spoke from a massive wooden pulpit, their image projected on a movie-screen-sized wall in the darkened chapel, and they said things, not only that I had been taught, but things that I knew and felt were true. It's not so much that the theatrics of it all were meant to confuse me--I was regularly taught about their personal histories, their families, and the fact that they were people just like me--but for whatever reason, I still believed that they were somehow different--better even--from mere mortals like myself.

I still believe that these people are apostles and prophets. I honestly think that God has chosen these people to lead His Church, to try and help people to live better lives, and to do the administrative chores that come with any organization as large and complex as the Church.

I'm also coming to realize, however, that these leaders are also people.

Maybe BYU's rule of not "speaking ill of the Lord's anointed" is not so much an attempt at unrealistic optimism--holding to the belief that the glass is half-full, even when it clearly isn't--but rather an acknowledgement that nobody ever does anything that is totally good, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. Focusing on mistakes and personal flaws of Church leaders unduly detracts from the good things they undeniably do. Furthermore, the belief that sins or mistakes necessarily invalidate good deeds is the quickest way to nihilism and total gridlock. If only perfect people were allowed to be apostles then there wouldn't be any. Or if, for example, serving in a community organization with someone who had sinned (maybe even committed acts of domestic terrorism) in the past made the whole endeavour an act of "tolerating" their evil, then nobody could join any organizations at all. Isn't the whole foundation of Christianity that everybody, to some degree or another, is a horrible sinner?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't consider myself an apostate, just because I feel that the Church is totally dropping the ball on this whole gay marriage thing. I don't plan on leaving just because they have made, are making, and will most definitely make mistakes in the future. I just think that it's important to acknowledge when mistakes are being made and try to correct them. I am still going to rail against policies and actions that I feel are unbecoming of God's church.

There is a natural tendency in the Church to try and hide our mistakes from others. Perhaps it's because we don't want our "enemies" to know that we are human and prone to the foibles of our historical time and culture. We don't want anti-Mormons to gloat over our mistakes as proof that we are not what we claim to be, God's church restored to the Earth through a prophet.

I guess I can only hope that my ranting about the mistakes of my Church does not distract you from the fact that it is, on balance, a great organization. I want to speak out against the mistakes we Mormons make for the same reasons that the Church speaks out against sins during General Conference--to correct them and to improve our standing with God.

I realize that for many of you, this caveat is meaningless. Either you won't accept that the Church is making a mistake with its stance in California, regardless of what I say, or you have been complaining with me for months and already need no convincing. Before I started my next post, however, which will be another indelicate assault on the faulty logic and PR nightmare that is Proposition 8, I wanted to make sure that all of you (myself included) knew exactly where I stand. Isn't that what blogs are about?