Truth Hurts

January 18, 2016

I was going to write about the appalling remarks by Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of the last post’s subject, Russell Nelson, but really, what can you way about someone who thinks it’s a good thing for gay church members to become desperate enough to pray for God to change their sexual orientation? There’s so much wrong with that, I don’t know where to start. Suffice it to say that it’s been unnerving and a little depressing to see the LDS church take so many steps backwards in the last few months. For an excellent discussion of where things stand (at least for me), see Greg Prince’s blog: The Exclusion Policy and Biology vs. Behavior.

I once knew a woman who would say the nastiest, most personally demeaning things to other people, and when the target of her attacks took offense, she would shrug and say, “I’m sorry the truth offends you. I’m not being mean. I’m just telling it like it is.” Invariably, these personal attacks were part of an effort to play people off each other. In her mind, those who really cared about her and respected her would accept “the truth,” and she could in some weird, twisted way feel she had helped them and bonded with them. The reality was that she caused a lot of hurt and pain, and most of her family and neighbors resented her deeply. A few particularly insecure family members took every criticism to heart and tried in vain to gain her approval. Of course, she never gave it, and the cycle of hurt continued until she died. Come to think of it, I don’t think it ended with her death; family members are still hurting from her nastiness over the years.

Some religious groups follow this same pattern. I knew a man who had been a Jehovah’s Witness, and he told me that, when they went door to door proselytizing, they would sometimes try to get people angry with them, as they felt they would be blessed for being hated and persecuted, as the scriptures say. It seems to be part of the motivation of the Westborough Baptist Church’s “God hates fags” program. Often used as a justification for intentional division is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

This theme is expanded in the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 16:

And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for itcutteth them to the very center.

As I said, the problem is when the division is intentional and unnecessary, and it usually happens because someone is trying to assert dominance and exclude those who won’t accept their dominance. When called on it, people always say they’re just telling the truth, and it’s not their problem if you find truth offensive.

It’s this weird “I’m only saying this for your own good” attitude that explains, at least for me, the church’s retrograde statements and policy changes in the last few months. Like the woman I knew, there’s an unsubtle message behind the “truth-speaking” going on: you are with us, or you are against us, and you must choose which side you’re on.

I’m sure a lot of people will take issue with what I just said, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me at this point. Witness where the church has gone in the last few months:

Almost exactly one year ago, the LDS church was using the relationship between Tom Christofferson (Apostle Todd Christofferson’s gay brother) and his LDS ward as an example of how gays and the LDS church could find harmony. According to KUTV, Elder Christofferson noted that his brother had “returned to the faith” and he and his partner were “active participants in their neighborhood ward.” In November, we learned that the church now considers Tom Christofferson and his partner to be “apostates,” which would preclude them from any kind of participation in the ward beyond attendance. This month, Apostle Russell Nelson doubled-down by affirming that the policy excluding gays and their children from church blessings was given by revelation from God.

In 2012, the official church web site, mormonsandgays.org, acknowledged that same-sex attraction is not something that people can change but that it was something to be “borne” or “endured” in the hope that it might change in the next life:

We believe that with an eternal perspective, a person’s attraction to the same sex can be addressed and borne as a mortal test. It should not be viewed as a permanent condition. An eternal perspective beyond the immediacy of this life’s challenges offers hope. Though some people, including those resisting same-sex attraction, may not have the opportunity to marry a person of the opposite sex in this life, a just God will provide them with ample opportunity to do so in the next. We can all live life in the full context of who we are, which is much broader than sexual attraction.

Just over a week ago, the church published on the LDS.org web site a talk that suggested that, if gay members would only get “desperate” enough, they could through prayer have their sexual orientation changed:

Gratefully, the Savior has paid the price for every gift of the Spirit we will ever need to help us. It’s up to us to prayerfully discover which gifts we need. We may need the gift of self-discipline or of cheerfulness. Perhaps we need the gift of patience, or the gift to be healed, or the gift to forgive. Perhaps we need the gift to have our sexual feelings be in harmony with eternal laws. Perhaps we realize that we cannot live one more minute without the gift of unshakable faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. When we’re desperate for any gift of the Spirit, that is when we will finally pray with all the energy of heart for that gift. And the great news is that each spiritual gift we receive takes us one more step forward into our true selves. …

I pray that this year you will have some moments of anguishing desperation that will propel you further along the path to becoming the man or woman you were born to be. Your true self is spectacular! Never settle for less.

The problem, of course, is that desperation only drives change where change is possible. Say I decided that I am not the man I was born to be because the physical condition I was born with makes it difficult for me to swallow some kinds of food without extreme care. I’ve had many medical procedures to make it easier for me to swallow, but my doctors tell me I’ve progressed as far as I’m going to go. I suppose I could become desperate to change this aspect of my body, enough so that I would pray that God would “heal” me and make me the person I was born to be. After all, I shouldn’t settle for less.

What would be the end result? All the prayer in the world isn’t going to change the fact that I have a narrow part of my esophagus ringed with scar tissue. If I followed Sister Nelson’s counsel, in the near-certain absence of change, my desperation would turn to despair. At some point I would be forced to accept that I can’t change that aspect of my body, or I would give in to despair, which derives from the Latin de esperare–literally “without hope.” Given my history with depression, I have a pretty good idea where things would end.

If the church itself acknowledges that sexual orientation–whatever its roots–isn’t something you can will or pray away, what is the point of Sister Nelson’s wholly inappropriate remarks? Does she–a trained and licensed therapist–really believe gay Mormons can and should follow her counsel to change their “sexual feelings”? I doubt it very much.

What this is about is drawing clear lines between the church and “the world.” If we take her at her word, the problem is not only behavior, but also desire, because, she wants us to believe, both can be changed. Obviously, someone who doesn’t change his or her sexual orientation through prayer and the gifts of the Spirit isn’t desperate enough. And those members who give into despair (and let’s not kid ourselves, there will be more than one) clearly didn’t channel their desperation into righteous avenues. It’s not her fault if lives are destroyed; she’s only telling it like it is.

In the end, however, I don’t believe any of this was meant for the benefit of gay or lesbian members or nonmembers. It was directed at straight members as another distinction that makes for a peculiar people. “You are not like them,” the members need to be told, “and you must not tolerate people like that in the ranks of our people.”

Like the woman I knew, the point is to divide, to pit friends and family against each other, forcing them to put the church first. It’s a destructive and wholly unrighteous game, but that is what is happening.

 

 


Stupid or Inspired?

November 13, 2015

Much has been written about the LDS church’s new policy that denies church ordinances and membership to the children of gay parents. I couldn’t think of much to say other than to express my total disagreement with the policy, so that’s what I did earlier this week.

An LDS friend and I were discussing the policy, and he said there were only two possible explanations for it: either church leaders were “stupid,” or they were “inspired” (his words). I told him I thought there were any number of possibilities, and he naturally asked for some examples. I had planned to write a thoughtful post about other possibilities, but then the church issued a “clarification” that preempted my response.

To recap, the church policy was as follows:

Children of a Parent Living in a Same-Gender Relationship:

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may be baptized and confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service only as follows:

A mission president or a stake president may request approval from the Office of the First Presidency to baptize and confirm, ordain, or recommend missionary service for a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship when he is satisfied by personal interviews that both of the following requirements are met:

  1. The child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.
  2. The child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.

This is worded such that:

  1. No child living with a same-gender couple will receive a name and a blessing in the church.
  2. No child living with a parent who “has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage” can be baptized, receive the priesthood, or serve a mission until they have turned 18, don’t live with that parent, and disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.

In short, taken at face value, the policy applies to the children of anyone who has ever lived in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage, regardless of their current situation. I know a man who, while he was a BYU student, met a guy at the MTC, where they both taught a foreign language. They lived together until they graduated essentially as a couple, being both roommates and lovers. A few years later, this man married a woman and has children. As the handbook is worded, his children would be affected by this policy in the same way as the children of a parent currently living in a same-gender relationship.

One need not be a prophet, seer, or revelator to predict the outrage among church members and non-members alike. My LDS friend said that church leaders must have anticipated the outcry because to suggest otherwise would mean they were (again in his words) “stupid.” He acknowledged that the policy made no sense to him and was troubling, but he suggested that sometimes the Lord inspires His servants to make decisions that don’t make sense to the rest of us, and if we are patient, we’ll see the wisdom in it.

I agreed with my friend that these church leaders would have thought long and hard about the change in policy, and I said they probably considered that the loss of a few members and some temporary bad PR was an acceptable cost of setting a definite boundary. I dismissed rumors that church leaders were caught off-guard by the reaction, especially among members of the church. It seemed likely that they expected “fringe” members to leave the church over this issue, but then such members are not their focus, anyway. Certainly, Elder Todd Christofferson’s  brief video interview gave no indication that the church would reconsider or reverse its decision; basically, he just tried to reassure members that this was done with good intentions and that they should follow the prophet. The policy, then, didn’t seem like a crazy one-off, but a carefully deliberated policy change run through all the normal channels of the church bureaucracy and ecclesiastical hierarchy.

In that spirit, I thought of all the possible reasons for the policy. The obvious one is, as another LDS friend put it, “boundary maintenance and prophylaxis” to prevent creeping acceptance of homosexuality among church members. In a more cynical moment, I thought perhaps this might be a manufactured crisis designed to further the “great sifting” some keep speaking of between the wheat and the tares. In the end, I didn’t think it was either stupid or inspired, but rather a needlessly cruel policy that, intentionally or not, divided families and hurt children.

But today the LDS church’s First Presidency issued a “clarification” of the policy. The important parts are as follows:

The provisions of Handbook 1, Section 16.13, that restrict priesthood ordinances for minors, apply only to those children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship. As always, local leaders may request further guidance in particular instances when they have questions.

When a child living with such a same-gender couple has already been baptized and is actively participating in the Church, provisions of Section 16.13 do not require that his or her membership activities or priesthood privileges be curtailed or that further ordinances be withheld. Decisions about any future ordinances for such children should be made by local leaders with their prime consideration being the preparation and best interests of the child.

Whatever else I can say about this, it is not a clarification but a clear retreat from the earlier policy.

Again, the policy as originally published covered children of “a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship.” Now it’s applied only to those children whose “primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship.” (I’ve already heard from a couple of attorney friends that this wording may cause even more problems in custody arrangements, but I’ll let others discuss that.) The second paragraph allows for some baptized members to be “grandfathered” in as members fully eligible for church ordinances and participation. This is also a clear retreat from the policy as originally published.

Obviously, this policy affects fewer children, but it still restricts the membership and ordinances of children for something they haven’t done. Likewise, it does nothing to change the clear message that same-sex couples and their children are not welcome in the church.

Had the policy been written with these “clarifications” in the first place, there probably would have been some outrage, though probably less among church members (at least that’s my guess). But it took more than a week for these clarifications/changes, and in the first attempt to “clarify,” Elder Christofferson made no clarifications whatsoever. In the meantime, faithful members I know and love have been agonizing over their membership in a church that treats gays and lesbians this way. People I know who were on the margins of the church told me it was the last straw for them, and even some people who wanted to stay in the church left over this. The church has likewise endured a lot of bad press over the new policy.

Looking at the big picture, I realize I was wrong. If, as I believed, church leaders had carefully crafted this policy as they believed they had been inspired from God, there would be no retreat, no walking back in the face of public criticism. What this tells me is that they really hadn’t considered how this would be received and were probably quite shocked at the outcry.

In the short term, it was wise to dilute the harshest parts of the policy, but there is one effect that I think may be lasting: a number of people I know had never considered that church leaders could be wrong. They had absolute trust in the wisdom and basic goodness of their leaders, and they never had any reason for fundamental disagreement with them. Until now. A lot of members have realized that their leaders got this completely wrong, and not just in a “mistakes of men” sort of way, but in actively hurting families and children. Probably most members will accept the “clarifications” as given, but I wonder if the brethren have altered the foundational relationship of trust they had with many members. I suppose we’ll find out.

I’m sure many church apologists are now saying this was all just a tempest in a teapot, a misunderstanding. Me, I think I have the answer for my friend.

Stupid.


What Can I Say?

November 10, 2015

I’ve been mulling over my response to the LDS church’s new policy of denying ordinances and sacraments to children of gay parents, wondering what I could say that hasn’t been said already. Honestly, as shocked and disgusted as I am with the policy, I am more interested in the reactions of individual people I know to it. Most former Mormons and non-Mormons who have an opinion agree with me that this is a misguided and needlessly cruel policy that does nothing but further divide families. On the other hand, I have seen quite a number of Mormons simply accept the policy at face value, some even applauding it as drawing a line between the church and the evils of same-sex marriage. But what has gratified me the most has been the reaction of faithful LDS friends who love the church and believe with all their hearts yet cannot reconcile this terrible policy. To be sure, I don’t enjoy watching them struggle, but it does my heart good to know that I’m not alone in being deeply troubled by all of this.

So, what am I supposed to say? The only thing I can think of is this: When I am asked to choose between conscience and obedience, I choose conscience. When I am asked to choose between love and policy, I choose love.


Put Down the Matches

June 30, 2015

I understand that some people are very upset about the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States. That said, I think some people are overreacting just a tad. I’ve heard people say the decision was the worst thing to happen in the United States, ever (no, I’m not making this up) or that it means the end of our civilization as we know it. But no one comes close to the hysteria of some people who say they are willing to set themselves on fire to protect the sanctity of marriage.

I think they should just chill out a little. It is not the end of the world. Other countries have legalized same-sex marriage without dire social consequences, plagues, or locusts. So, in the spirit of defusing some of the tension, I offer ten things potential self-immolaters to ponder so they can stop worrying and learn to love teh gayz:

10. When you see the rainbow flag, remember it’s a benign symbol of pride in one’s heritage, just like the Confederate Battle Flag.
9. Who would you rather hang out with: Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger, and Abby Wambach–or the Kardashian sisters?
8. When a heterosexual couple marries, you don’t automatically imagine them having sex, so stop doing it when gay couples marry.
7. Thousands of American couples will be getting a tax cut, and tax cuts are always good, right?
6. Bristol Palin is deliberately depriving another child of having a two-parent home, and no one is protesting her.
5. You’ll have even more opportunities to re-gift that fondue pot you got for your wedding.
4. Gay people have been marrying for a very long time, just not to each other.
3. It’s still illegal to marry your Cocker Spaniel.
2. Gay couples now have the same opportunity to become boring and domestic, just like everyone else.
1. The next time you hold your spouse’s hand, you can be sure that no one else’s marriage is going to weaken yours in any way.


A Good Day

June 26, 2015

Last week I walked past the Stonewall Inn while I was wandering around Greenwich Village. It seemed like such a quiet, nondescript location for the real birth of a civil-rights movement.

Today the Supreme Court took a big step in solidifying the gains that movement has made in the last 46 years.

Obergefell et al. v. Hodges

There’s still a lot remaining to do in fighting discrimination and injustice, but this is a day to be celebrated.