Monthly Archives: January 2014

Half a World Away (or Further)

The Church’s issuance of what is undoubtedly only the first guidance and instructions to priesthood leaders in the United States relative to gay marriage has led to a lot of commentary around the world. I provided my own comments on the topic and then looked around for thoughtful comments by others. Some I found were just that—thoughtful. Others, not so much.

One interesting read was penned by New Zealander Gina Colvin, over at the KiwiMormon blog on Patheos. Her essay was emotional and emotive, based upon what she saw as two overriding flaws in the Church’s instructions: they were Utah-centric and they were theologically “not thorough.” I found the reading interesting enough that I decided to analyze her analysis, as it were—at least in part.

Here’s how KiwiMormon addresses the first flaw she sees:

The first flaw in this missive is that once gain [sic] the WHOLE, GLOBAL, WORLDWIDE church is implicated in the political machinations of Utah. As the ultra  conservative Utah church responds to the super conservative Utah politics it sends doctrinal ripples out to the rest of the world which means that with impunity they have a habit of dropping very gauche, very noisy, and very foreign eggs in our local nests.

utahIf one’s “first flaw” can be demonstrated to be incorrect, then are the conclusions drawn from that flaw also incorrect? Of course. The major problem with KiwiMormon’s assumption is that the “missive” wasn’t addressed to the WHOLE, GLOBAL, WORLDWIDE church; it was addressed to the “congregational leaders throughout the United States,” as it clearly states at the top of the instructions.

One would think that the leaders of a worldwide church could, if they chose, address instructions and provide guidance to a subset of the world and plainly label it as such. (Which they have done.) But, KiwiMormon views such as a “gauche, very noisy, and very foreign egg” now intruding in her local nest.

While KiwiMormon has chosen to be offended by the purpose, tone, approach, and content of the instructions, this seems more like a case of her pulling the egg into her nest and there seeking to pick apart something that may not be entirely applicable to that nest.

As evidence that the direction from leaders in Salt Lake City was not needed, KiwiMormon provides the factoid that “20 democracies around the world have legalized same-sex marriage” and that this hasn’t resulted in heterosexual marriages imploding in those places.

A quick look at the 20 democracies reveals that they consist of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay. (That’s actually only 19. Wikipedia lists the United States as the 20th country, but I didn’t include it because same-sex marriage is only recognized at a federal level, not at all state levels.)

The fact is that KiwiMormon is using faulty logic. Asserting that “marriage is still good” in these other countries and, therefore, Church leaders should not address an issue in the United States ignores two rather salient facts.

First, the Church can—and does—issue leadership directives for individual countries and localities. Yes, the two volumes of the General Handbook are issued worldwide, but these are augmented by local directives that come from area offices. If the commenter wants to know what leaders in her locality are instructed to do, then she should check with those local leaders. I’m sure they could share copies of leadership instructions that they’ve received, if they are so inclined.

(The fact that the Church issues specific instructions to leaders in different localities should not be news. Perennial gay-rights activist and gadfly Fred Karger has been trotting out examples of localized instructions regularly over the past five years as a way to strengthen his anti-Church efforts.)

Second, with the number of members in the United States it shouldn’t be a surprise that any local instructions provided to leaders in that country would be inherently more public than local instructions to leaders in other countries. (According to the online Church Almanac, as of the end of 2008 there were 5,974,041 members in the United States and 3,465,199 members in the other 19 countries combined. Of the 19 other countries, only 2 had more than a million members each: Brazil and Mexico. New Zealand, the local nest apparently disturbed by instructions to United States leaders, had less than 100,000 members.)

Because KiwiMormon doesn’t believe that Church leadership has a right to drop “very gauche, very noisy, and very foreign eggs” in any location other than Utah (even though their instructions were clearly made only to those in the United States), she concludes her umbrage with this particular point in this manner:

So, I’m hopping mad that Utah church gets to create a sanctioned flashpoint of discussion within our global congregations. Because as Mormons, when it comes to politics, we tend to only talk about approved topics, and when an official announcement is released it then becomes an approved topic. But of all of the political issues that the Brethren could have gotten their knickers in a twist over, why same-sex marriage?

If the commenter can stop hopping for a moment, perhaps she could understand that the Brethren don’t see same-sex marriage as a political issue. They see it as a moral issue, as they have stated over and over again. In fact, in the instructions by which KiwiMormon is offended, the Brethren are clear that they believe they have a “right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family and morality.” Does KiwiMormon really think the Brethren don’t have a right to give guidance and provide instruction on moral issues?

The second flaw that KiwiMormon finds in the Church’s recent instructions is “the theological one because it’s simply not thorough.” She then goes on to provide a litany of questions (some good questions, actually) that the instructions don’t answer. That she does this after labeling the instructions “plainly a heteronormative narrative pronounced in the name of God” and “just like [earlier] white racist narratives” is a pity. Such characterizations poison the well and does nothing to advance discussion in any meaningful way.

Here characterizations also, quite frankly, appear quite intolerant. What KiwiMormon wants to do is to provide the acceptable moral issues that should be discussed (in her question list) while saying the moral issue of same-sex marriage is off-limits because it is a political issue. Is her moral compass is more sure and true than that of the leadership in Salt Lake?

The biggest problem with her “second flaw,” however, is that in her approach to the “first flaw” she effectively cut off any possible solution for the second. In her upset with the first flaw she didn’t like those “foreign eggs” dropping into her local nest. Yet wouldn’t answers to any of the questions she raises in the second flaw come as such “foreign eggs?” If not, how does she suppose they would come? It seems disingenuous to decry missing answers while opposing the media and method by which such answers would undoubtedly come.

In sum, I found the KiwiMormon essay to be knee-jerk and reflexive. It was a rant, not a reasoned (or reasonable) analysis of the Church’s reaction to an issue in the United States. I have no doubt that her rant will resonate with the “we’re mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore” crowd, but it is unpersuasive to at least this reader.

Traversing Rough Waters

A while back I posted my thoughts about the demise of traditional marriage and the ascendency of same-sex marriage in Utah. The gist of my opining is that I really am not happy with the track down which I see our society moving. (You can read that post for more on my feelings.)

There has been a bit happening since then along this track, some obvious and some not-so-obvious. First, the US Supreme Court has stayed Judge Shelby’s order, meaning that same-sex marriages have, for the time, been put on hold in Utah. samesexThis caused Governor Herbert to say that the marriages performed to-date should also be put on hold and not recognized by the state, but US Attorney General Eric Holder directed that the marriages will be recognized by the US Government.

The Supreme Court will eventually consider the matter and decide the appeal. The common-wisdom expectation is that they will decide in favor of Shelby’s ruling and that doing so would signal the beginning of same-sex marriage nationally. Time will tell. Frogs in a bucket.

A not-as-obvious development is the issuance of instructions yesterday to the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on the matter. The document provides reminders as to the purpose of life, the purpose of marriage, and how people should be treated as we navigate this time of societal transition.

The instructions make excellent and fascinating reading. Of particular import are these words:

Consistent with our fundamental beliefs, Church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the Church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions, or other activities associated with same-sex marriages. Nevertheless, all visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there.

While these matters will continue to evolve, we affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same-sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree.

In these few words the instructions indicate what leaders can and cannot do when it comes to utilizing Church authority or resources in behalf of same-sex marriages. There is little surprising here, and I suspect there will be the usual outcry from societal “progressives” about the narrowness of the Church’s view. (The Church’s instructions are starting to get picked up and commented on by the LGBT press. The headlines selected for such articles are telling.)

What I found fascinating in the instructions, though, is what is missing: There is no outright rejection of the validity of same-sex marriages. The statement says that “sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are … married” and that the Church is “entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members.”

The point is also clearly made that those who enter into same-sex marriages “should not be treated disrespectfully.” With this I agree, but there is not a clear signal here for leaders as to what they should do with congregants who do enter into same-sex marriages. Are they disciplined? Are they excommunicated? Or are they listed in Church rosters as a family unit? What about bishops providing counseling if same-sex marriages run aground (as many marriages do)? What if they adopt or use artificial insemination to have a child and want that child blessed? What if they (in the case of a male same-sex marriage) want to bless their child? Or baptize them? Or ordain an older one to the priesthood? Are they assigned home teachers and visiting teachers? Are they allowed to hold teaching callings? Any callings?

There are many unanswered questions, even with these instructions. I suspect that time will tell the answer (or, as the instructions say, “these matters will continue to evolve”), but it brings to mind a somewhat analogous situation—the legalization of marijuana.

Wait—what does THAT have do do with the legalization of same-sex marriage? Let me explain.

Happy woman with fresh hemp at cannabis plantA few years ago, some locales within the US went through a loosening of drug laws such that marijuana was essentially legalized for “medicinal purposes.” One such locality was California which has, arguably, the most lenient drug laws in the country. It is now legal within the state for people to use and, in many counties, grow marijuana.

The state guideline is that a person can grow 6 mature plants, which in many rural areas makes marijuana a viable cash crop that can bring in real money to people who otherwise would have very limited income ability. (Think of what the crop size would be at 6 plants per person if there are 6 or 7 people in the family.)

So something that was previously illegal is suddenly legal, and a priesthood leader is faced with an issue: What happens if your relief society president or young men’s president starts cultivating marijuana and selling it?

The answer? Nothing. (I know this from personal knowledge of individuals in this situation.) The individuals are doing nothing illegal; they are upholding the “laws of the land.” They can be engaging in behavior that would have previously labeled them as drug dealers, and still be temple worthy.

What, then, about a same-sex couple who gets married according to the laws of the land? The Church’s instructions yesterday don’t say “we don’t recognize same-sex marriages.” Had the Church done so (and, understand, they may still do so in the future), then the priesthood leaders’ options would have been more limited—members entering into same-sex marriages would, in all liklihood, have been disciplined according to Church guidelines.

However, the statement wasn’t that clear-cut. While, no doubt, some who enter into same-sex marriage will be disciplined because “sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are … married,” others in other areas will not be disciplined because they “should not be treated disrespectfully.” (I am not saying that someone cannot be respectfully disciplined; they can. Not all—not even all leaders—will see it that way, though.) All discipline happens at the discretion, interpretation, and inspiration of local leaders, unless given direct and pointed guidelines from the general Church leadership. There is still a huge gray area here, even with the instructions issued yesterday.

Those instructions makes it clear that those who enter into same-sex marriages are still allowed at Church. And it is beyond question that they are not breaking the law of the land. Perhaps, as with the marijuana growers, they can still hold callings. (Even callings teaching youth? Who knows?) If they previously had a temple recommend, can they still retain that temple recommend?

Understand that I’m not saying the marijuana cultivation example is completely analogous with the legalization of same-sex marriage. Someone who grows ingredients for alcoholic beverages can get a temple recommend while those who partake of alcoholic beverages may not. Those who grow marijuana (or, presumably, opium or other items used to create mind-altering substances) in places it is legal can still get a temple recommend while those who partake of them may not.

So, it is possible that a distinction could arise, somehow, that those who enter into same-sex marriages may still be welcome at Church, but may not be able to fully participate in some ways. It is too soon to tell if this will be the way that things develop, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Indeed, there are many unanswered questions during this time of traversing rough waters. One would be wise to pray for those responsible for such decisions.

 

Looking Backward and Moving Forward

New Years is always a time to examine past accomplishments and figure out what you want to do in the future. I’m looking forward to 2014. It’s not that 2013 was bad or had bad memories; I’m just looking forward to the new year. In fact, I was telling my wife yesterday that I’m actually excited about it. (It’s the first time in years that I can remember being excited about a new year.)

I’m not one to make New Years’ resolutions; I’ve found over the years that they just don’t have much meaning. Instead, I work on bettering my situation incrementally. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. In 2013 it generally worked.

Personally, I was able to get in better shape by the end of 2013, losing over 75 pounds from my high weight. (I was just plain tired of carrying around all that extra weight.) I was ecstatic that I was able to end December weighing about 3 pounds less than I started the month–the holidays are always a tough time to loose weight. I plan on losing a maximum of 25 more pounds during the early part of 2014, then want to reach a maintenance weight that is down about 85 pounds from my high. I’ve also, just within the past two months, started exercising with the help of a personal trainer. I’m going to be more aggressive and determined about it in 2014.

NewYear02

Also in the “personal” category 2013 saw my disengagement from FAIR. For well over a decade I volunteered as vice president of the organization. I resigned from that position on January 5 and I’ve essentially pulled out of all participation with the group. (I’m an all-or-nothing type guy. Before it was all, so the only way to pull back—for me—was to go to nothing.)

Since FAIR had been, for so long, a large part of my social, emotional, and spiritual outlet, I recognized a need to replace that. It took some time to personally mourn the resignation and subsequent disengagement, and then it took some time to figure out an approach that would work for me. The result was starting this blog (the one you are obviously reading) later in the year. I did so to provide an outlet for my musings and commentary on life. This post is my 28th, and I plan on continuing blogging during 2014 as I find it enjoyable to so muse.

Financially, I started 2013 going into some debt for a business venture I was trying out. That venture didn’t pan out like I hoped, but I learned a lot from it. I was also able to pay off that debt (plus some) by the end of the year. I can now see a point in the first half of 2014 where, if I apply some discipline, I’ll be able to get out from under my credit card debt, which would be fantastic.

In my business I am more “lean” than I was a year ago, with a better focus on what I want to do in the coming months. Now it is just a matter of going out and “doing it” to make that focus pay off. I expect the next few months to be very busy as I try to implement the business changes I’m anticipating.

I also have a desire and goal during 2014 to do a bit more travel than I did in 2013 and earlier years. We are planning a real vacation in the third quarter (the last one we had was in early 2006). Plus, I want to identify and attend a few business-related activities (conferences, etc.) that may produce opportunities. (Anybody got any ideas?)

In my family the last year has not been a time of huge changes. If memory serves me right, there were no marriages, no births, and no deaths among my relatives. That will change in 2014, as one of my brothers-in-law is dying of terminal cancer. (Yesterday the doctor wasn’t sure he would live to see 2014, but he apparently lasted the night. We don’t expect him to last much longer.)

On a brighter note, we are expecting another grandchild, this one in August. Barring any surprises now unforeseen (and we know they can always happen), that will be the extent of the family changes in the new year.

Spiritually 2013 saw several highs and lows. I’m in a better place right now than I was a year ago, and I’ve come to terms with some issues that were bothering me. Nothing earth shattering or testimony destroying; just things that brought up feelings within me that weren’t always conducive to the Spirit. I’m glad that the Lord is patient with His children (including me). In 2014 I’m looking forward to more opportunities to spend time with my own ward (congregation) and the people there that I love dearly. I haven’t had that opportunity for the past year, but 2014 looks brighter in that regard.

I hope that you and yours have good memories of 2013 and are looking forward to a great 2014. Me? I’m still excited for what the year will bring.