08 January 2014

We'll link arms around you if it's true

In discussing legalization of same-sex marriage, you go right for claims designed to elicit emotional responses of fear and tribalism. You enumerate terrible and violent social and personal consequences in places that have accepted same-sex marriage. I can tell you right now that if that's true: you have unexpected defenders.

If you show me where your churches are being menaced, where you are being harassed with slurs and turned away from work and housing, where you're being fined and jailed for speaking your beliefs, and where your neighbors are being beaten for their religious belief that male-female marriage is the only union approved by God, then I will bring passionate defenders who disagree with those beliefs, and we will link arms around your home, your churches, and your neighbors to protect you and the people you care about from your assailants and tyrants. We will stand against our own if we must to ensure that what has been done to us does not become our sin, too.

Tell us where it's happening, and we'll come to your aid the way nobody has come to ours when we've been called faggots by strangers in cars and "gay" has become popular vernacular for "stupid", "lame", and "ridiculous", or when our neighbors were literally beaten into curbs, our homes and churches vandalized, and gathering places violently stormed. We will not let that happen to you. We care about you. Many among us have children of their own, and those who don't have our own children care about yours, who are our nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters.

Where are the attacks? Many of us will try harder to listen and not dismiss your persecution. We'll try to remember how few listened to us for so long and called us oversensitive and drama-prone. I recognize many won't, and some would like nothing more than for your religions to dissolve, and they'll be loud, but many of us will defend and protect your rights as we would any group facing tyranny, even if we get less attention for it than the radicals. We will not allow your churches to burn, your homes to be invaded, and your children to be "recruited".

Tell us where. Tell us how. We will help put a stop to it. But people are catching on: you don't get to pretend it's "us or them" anymore when it comes to liberty. You don't get to hide behind potential abuse you might face: we're here to stand with you against it.

Now what are your reasons?

29 December 2013

OK, but what if you were REALLY wrong...?

As I described in a previous post, I have often gone back to the question of whether I could possibly "go back" or re-integrate LDS belief into my perspective if I thought and felt it were correct to do so. When I've heard other "post-Mormons" swear they couldn't go back, I have patted myself on the back for thinking, "I could go back in a heartbeat if I thought it was right." Covenants, callings, garments, and all. I don't feel any draw to go back, despite missing certain aspects of involvement (community, service opportunities, evaluating and remembering principles and paradigms in a somewhat formalized setting, singing and playing hymns, primary songs, feeling like part of something unique with the grandest mission possible...aside, maybe, from the universe of The Lord of the Rings: that place is sweet!). But if I believed it was right, of course I could go back. Even if a spirit came to me and started to teach me something unexpected, I hope I would listen critically with full intent to seek and understand any truth being presented.

One day, in one of those moments, something occurred to me.  What if I died, found that life continued, and was not met by Jesus but by Fred Phelps. Well, crap. This gave me pause...as in, completely halted my self congratulatory humility. I was disgusted by some of the prospects. What if this spirit tried to teach me that slavery was OK in some circumstances, that Mosaic Law regarding virgins was actually God-given and correct, that thirteen-year-old girls should be assigned to fifty-year-old men, that people should be eaten alive as sacrifices, or that child abuse is, in fact, not as bad as consensual sex between unmarried individuals? I could hear out the Buddha, Muhammad, or Vishnu, I think, but there's no deity or prophet other than Jesus (as I understand him) before whom I'd readily kneel, and I'd rather roast in hell or cease to exist than receive instruction from Osama Bin Laden or Warren Jeffs. I think the vast majority of the world would find no fault in this, but it's an extreme illustration of the possible limits of my openness to truth or reliance on human understanding. Even if Muhammad was the figure waiting for me on the other side, there'd be no immediate kneeling and no humble familiarity.

Maybe I could console my sense of intellectual honesty with the idea that irrational or violent fundamentalism is hugely unlikely to be the true explanation of the universe and existence compared to a religion like moderate Mormonism or Islam. But is that objectively rational? Is it possible for me to be truly objective? Does openness to all possibilities make me scarily susceptible to false ideas, or is it the empowering key to finding truth? Both?

I don't know that humbly and readily kneeling before Jesus as I understood LDS doctrine to describe him would make me remarkably humble. I think it defies the dismissive stereotypes of the "lost" being rebellious and stiff-necked, but what if the truth were something completely obliterating any range of expectation I might have had? If I wouldn't readily bow and submit to an unexpected master, how much intellectual honesty and humility is actually reflected? How much of my ready response, "I would kneel," is actual openness to truth, how much is residual conviction or latent belief, how much is self delusion about my openness and teachability, and how much is nostalgia for the familiar? When I believed in LDS doctrine, I prided myself on my conviction, faith, and loyalty to the truth when I firmly knew that even a spirit could not deceive me, that if an angel came with a message other than "the gospel" I knew, I would not be deceived. And I called it humility before the Lord that I would not be so proud as to put more stock in the words of an angel than in the inspiration I had been quietly given through feelings of testimony and fruits of the Spirit. And many Muslims have that same conviction and loyalty to the truth as they understand it. And Westboro Baptists. And Jews. Are we to praise the Jewish person for having the "humility" to accept a spiritual impression that Christianity is true while deriding the supposed "lack of conviction" of a Christian who accepts a spiritual impression that Islam is true? Am I supposed to pat myself on the back for being willing to accept Mormonism if taught it in another life and simultaneously pat myself on the back for being unwilling to "be deceived" by false spirits preaching things that contradict Mormon doctrinal understanding but which bring "the fruits of the Spirit"? Where does conviction end and arrogance begin?

Would I be so nobly submissive to the truth if I were really, really wrong?

22 December 2013

Who owns "religion" and "marriage"?

I'm honestly perplexed as to why the use of the term "marriage" continues to be a sticking point even among some who support full civil union rights. Does the Westboro Bigot Central being called a "religion" in legal or cultural terminology make you feel like your religion or conception of religion is slighted or demeaned, or do you just qualify and classify different religions differently and shrug it off when loonies call themselves a "religion"?

Is the Westboro circus kind of the drunken Vegas marriage of religions? You're not a fan, you think they're completely misguided and idiotic, and you think it's a mere parody of what you believe marriage to be about, but it regrettably slips through the basic requirements or guidelines meant to define and protect relationships like yours?  And same-sex marriage might be...like a nonprofit that does good things and which you even could donate to but which just doesn't have the elements to make it a "religion"?

There may be some among you who actually believe legally recognized religions _should_ have to meet stricter requirements before receiving specialized tax statuses or exemptions or being able to operate in certain ways.

Do you just "tolerate" religions you believe are false being able to use the term "religion" because they meet some minimum requirement, but draw the line at other groups or churches you think don't have the traits that make up a "religion"? Do you think the population should just vote to determine who can be called a religion, or set the guidelines for what constitutes a religion? Would you maintain that view if your religion was eventually marginalized to the point of being very poorly regarded by most of society and unlikely to court much sympathy if under fire?

Is it actually, subjectively different since it's also objectively a different thing? Government doesn't create or set up religions: it just recognizes certain organizations as religions for tax, prisoners' rights, or other practical reasons. In that way, it's different from marriage because government both creates its own marriages and recognizes or incorporates marriages created by religious entities. But I'm not sure how much that distinction actually comes into play for people who are discomforted by the thought of having the same-sex unions called "marriages".

Anyone have some insights from a personal perspective?

25 October 2013

What if you were wrong about...?

A friend asked me over brunch one day some time ago, "What if, just imagining, what if after you die, you find that life continues--you continue--and you're led to someone who explains that he's the Savior? How would you react?" It was a question I already had asked and answered myself, checking in with myself periodically to see if the answer was still the same.  It was then, and it is now.

I explained that despite the guilt-inducing stories of my Mormon social upbringing in which some rebellious character gets to the other side and is too ashamed to look Christ in the face, I don't have the sense that that would be my experience. I acknowledge that could change, depending on what perspective might open up to me at some point, but actually living it has given me a different conception.  I've lived as honestly and sincerely as I know how, and I fought for years to hold on to what beliefs or "testimony" I could and give myself ample time to come back around before heading off in any direction other than the one that had, for years in the past, seemed so trustworthy.  I've acted and prayed carefully for years.  I don't feel "rebellion" in my path.

I will not always get it right, and I don't want to mislead anyone or miss opportunities to help someone in the best way when I could have done so. But when it comes right down to it, I hope I will always find a way to let go of my own pride about how right I've been or egocentric pride about what kind of "example" I'm being and will instead humbly, deliberately, and actively seek to embrace truth in front of me.

And for that reason, the short answer to that ultimate question is really just three words: I would kneel. I still get choked up saying that, but I don't see any other way. My friend said he somehow knew that would be my response. I took that as a compliment. Sure, I don't expect that is what will happen, but I don't think I have it in me to be totally dismissive about the possibility, it having meant so much to me for so long. And sure, if it does happen, I might wonder how I had lost sight of it or how many souls I could have brought to the greater truth during my time wandering.  And I might have questions to ask and critical thinking to incorporate into or balance with faith, but in the end, I believe what ultimately matters is that when truth presents itself, no matter how scary or unexpected, I embrace it and try to do the best I can with it.  After all, that's how I've found the peace and perspective I have today, and I'm not so proud as to assume I've got it all figured out now. For that reason, I believe I would kneel, and I would ask, "What now?"

20 June 2013

A True Man's Apology

This apology is a really big deal.

Thank you, Mr. Chambers, for having the integrity to _not_ play the oppressive, manipulative "we've always believed this way" card popular among accountability-avoidant PR departments. Thank you for making efforts over the last year to shed or distance yourself from the disingenuous and serpentine wordcrafting popular among certain of your peers.

I don't have any illusion that Chambers is moving towards embracing same-sex relationships as a spiritually ideal, Biblically approved option, and I still disagree with some fundamentals of his views, but I very much respect his persistent efforts to build his organization's integrity despite some very harsh criticism from those who have been his associates and fellows.

I heard him speak at a conference in Salt Lake almost 7 years ago now, and his rhetoric and tone seem to have shifted towards greater authenticity and frankness since then. He recently had the courage to admit, after years of evasive wording about "change", that few if any people actually change their orientation, at least not to the point of eradicating same-sex attractions. I believe many stick with the "change" angle with the intent to offer possibly life-saving hope for another way a few seeking souls may not have considered, downplaying or omitting the phenomenon of persisting same-sex attraction as irrelevant to their success in living according to their religious paths. But it's not irrelevant when heroes and careers are made or broken by a standard that was more slick marketing than human reality, or when an intensely conflicted young gay man can't understand why he hasn't had enough faith or put in enough effort to achieve what so many supposedly have, and he feels like a failure or loses all hope for happiness as he perceives it. Chambers' admission was not a hair-splitting, nit-picking quibble that cowed to some "gay agenda": it's a paradigm-shifting, potentially life-saving truth. He also announced Exodus would be dropping sexual orientation change efforts as a focus of their ministry, either de facto or explicit.

He isn't changing his personal, religious beliefs, as far as I can tell, and he may well intend for all of this to better position him and others to coach those desiring paths they believe to be Biblically congruent.  Nonetheless, he offers many vulnerable apologies to a wounded and potentially unforgiving audience, such as the following: 

"I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly 'on my side' who called you names like sodomite—or worse...

"I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine...

"And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions..."

Those, I believe, are the words of someone who knows what it means to be a true man.

04 June 2013

Worthless Gumshoe Cupcake

I just listened to this interesting LDS-centric discussion on how to teach youth about chastity without objectification or shaming implications: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/teaching-chastity.

It's great that there seems to be at least a clear consensus that Elizabeth Smart is not "guilty of consensual sex" (implication that "consensual sex" is something to "be guilty of" being another conversation). Yay for that. It wasn't long ago that she _would_ have been considered by many to be "guilty" for not fighting to her death, if necessary, to prevent rape. Not resisting until death would have meant she dishonorably valued her life more than her "virtue" (apparently, when talking about chastity, there's only one "virtue", the definition of which presumably means either "virginity" or "absolute abstinence enforced to the death except with one's legally married, binary-opposite-sex spouse" or some such thing).

Only absolute physical force was construed as rape, with little or no consideration for non-physical power dynamics or psychological duress. If she stopped resisting psychologically or even became "consensual" at some point after the initial trauma, then being kidnapped into mountains and thrown into a tent alone with an old, crazy a-hole in the middle of screaming-is-futile-nowhere might not have excused her from resisting with all her might every day of every month she was held captive, and she might likely have been shamed and called to repentance for giving in and becoming a willing participant in sin. Thank goodness that has seemingly changed.

It's also great that so many people seem to be listening to Elizabeth Smart when she talks about the reality and psychology of sexual abuse. I appreciate how freely so many offer consolation and empathy for her traumatic experiences and express full confidence in her value and wholeness as a person. But I do think it should be made clear that women have been saying exactly what she is saying for decades upon decades, and I wish it didn't take someone who fits a certain, specific mold of "purity" or "righteousness" to get so many to listen for the first time. Maybe that's not what has happened, or maybe not on a large scale, but it seems like women like Smart often receive unlimited sympathy and forgiveness while women who said the same thing but didn't fit that mold have been scorned, dismissed, and belittled, in addition to the trauma they had already experienced. It's hugely unjust. But I believe people tend to listen more to those with whom they identify, so I try to keep that in check in myself. I try to listen more openly and support more personally without surrendering critical thought or prematurely abandoning what I have already experienced or learned. Sometimes it's a tough balance, to me, between being truly compassionate and open to truth and avoiding being duped by a sob story or crafty spin. But it's a bit hard to look back and realize the people I disrespected because I was more concerned with being right about my ideas of how things are and should be than with seeing and understanding someone as a living, breathing human with real, personal, complex experiences.

It also seems to me that Ms. Ruzicka is either so singularly defensive of an ideology as to become extremely disingenuous about the reality of the influence of lessons taught or messages conveyed by some leaders and teachers, or she is quite ignorant of what has actually been taught and of the power of a few not-directly-challenged, even if relatively isolated, lessons by respected authority figures and loved ones.

I heard several of those object lessons growing up, and the more active, faithful LDS young women I talked to throughout the years, through college and after, the more I realized how pervasive those messages had been, and the more I tried to balance them in my own teaching. Even when I still lacked conviction of their error and would not directly criticize those messages, I defended what I thought people "meant by that" while trying to heal damage caused by the implications, intentional or unintentional.

I have different ideas about "chastity" and "virtue" than I used to, and I'm now just another godless heathen "outside" of the Church. But I'm passionate about this because I regret saying so little back when I still knew of the problem but didn't want to make anyone or the Church "look bad". I don't expect the Church to refrain from teaching youth that sex outside of marriage is absolutely a transgression or sin. I do expect the young women I care about to be taught those ideas in ways that don't degrade, objectify, and shame them with false analogies and powerful but deeply inaccurate object lessons. I don't speak up to attack the Church as an institution, a set of doctrines, or a culture (though I have plenty of beefs with all of the above). I speak up because it's just not enough to say, "That message is ridiculous and is not taught, so there's no reason to address it," or, "Mormons are medieval," or, "Everyone knows those object lessons are stupid and the official doctrines of the church teach something different." Not everyone knows that. Not every kid tells his or her parents every lesson they learn, especially by the age when they're learning this kind of lesson. Many kids quietly question and process and imprint without a word. Some errors are worth examination and correction without defensive over-protection of institutions.

To the young ladies and young men I personally care about: no matter who says it, you are NOT a chewed up piece of gum, even if you have made decisions or had experiences that don't fit your or my ideals. You are your passions, your beliefs, your decisions, your affinities, your integrity, your experience, your  learning, your opinions, your uniqueness, your talents, your strengths and weaknesses, your humor, and a whole lot more things that make you you.  I beleive a truly good, whole person doesn't think of his or her potential spouse as a brand new shoe to wear in to fit his or her own foot. Instead, see if this approach rings true for you: