Monthly Archives: November 2013

Focusing on Pants. Really?

A couple of days ago I read an article that appeared in a blog for the Salt Lake Tribune. About a year ago you may remember that there was a “Wear Pants to Church Day” that was organized in an effort to “celebrate inclusiveness in the LDS Church.” The article on the Trib’s blog highlighted a recent decision by last year’s organizers to sponsor the second annual version of the event for December 15, 2013.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m a bit peeved by this. I shouldn’t be, I guess. I really don’t care if people wear pants to church. Male, female, child, hedgehog—doesn’t matter to me what they wear. (The hedgehog might make a good post someday. We’ll see.) When I was a bishop, I didn’t care how people came to church; I just wanted them there to worship with the Saints.

pants1According to the organizers’ website, the purpose of the day is to foster inclusiveness and (apparently) signify solidarity in that effort. In their words, “we believe that everyone is welcome at Church.”

In fact, they make it a point on the website to quote words of apostles and other general authorities toward that end. M. Russell Ballard’s words stress how everyone is needed at Church. Chieko Okazaki states we need to rejoice in our diversity. These are all great thoughts, and therefore worthy of our support.

And that’s when it hit me. Why I was a bit peeved. I don’t mind leaders stating the obvious about how we are all needed and how diversity is good. After all, I experienced that first-hand as a bishop as I tried to get a huge diversity of people into the pews.

What I do mind is those sentiments being co-opted and tokenized by people who aren’t my leaders. Elder Ballard says “your talents, strengths, and contributions are needed urgently in the Church,” and some organizers say “let’s use our talents, show our strength, and contribute to the conversation by wearing pants to Church on a specific Sunday.” Somehow that seems disingenuous.

Further, why would the announcement of the second annual Wear Pants to Church Day (to “show there is more than one way to be a good Mormon woman” because “we believe that everyone is welcome at church”) be newsworthy, but the Church leaders’ exhortations about that need that were used by the organizers was not considered newsworthy when first uttered? It seems a bit odd that Chieko Okazaki saying that everyone is needed at Church receives absolutely no notice in the news, but setting up a day to wear pants to show that everyone is needed at Church is newsworthy.

(As Arsenio Hall used to say, “Things that make you go ‘hmmmm.'”)

I strongly suspect—although it is not overtly stated on the website—that the Wear Pants to Church Day is a form of nonviolent resistance, defined as “the practice of achieving goals through symbolic protests…and other methods, without using violence.” The organizers want to change something they feel needs changing, and it is as if they believe that the preaching of inclusiveness from the pulpit is not enough. Instead, members need to do something out of the ordinary—something noticeable—to make a real difference.

Wearing pants is a symbolic gesture that does nothing, ultimately, to further inclusiveness. If the organizers wanted to make a real statement about celebrating inclusiveness, why not organize a “bring your neighbor to church (no matter what they are wearing) day?” Wouldn’t bringing others be inherent in the definition of “inclusive?”

A post on the organizers’ website (from Noelle) rightfully praised Sister Virginia Perry for enveloping a sister in love, even though the sister didn’t dress the same as others at church. Rather than the organizers asking people already attending to dress differently, why not invite others to come so they (and members) have the opportunity to experience the love that Sister Perry exemplified? Why promote symbol over real substance?

I’m reminded of a passage from a book by C.S. Lewis where he talks about introducing novelty into religious expression at church meetings. (I believe that calling for the wearing of out-of-the-ordinary clothing on a particular day counts as novelty, no?) He states:

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s decision waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” (Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer, pg. 5.)

If the organizers of Wear Pants to Church Day want to focus attention on the celebrant rather than on Him who should be the real focus of our worship service, then they seem to be achieving their goal. If they want, instead, to help people be more inclusive, there are better ways to do it—including following the advice of Church leaders who have been preaching inclusiveness for generations.

On December 15 I won’t be engaging in a symbolic gesture proposed by a news-grabbing website. Instead, I’ll be doing what I do every other Sunday—serving the Lord and doing my best to make everyone feel welcome and included at church.

Them which Despitefully Use You

When Christ walked the earth and began His formal ministry, He taught as one “having authority.” This amazed those around him, who were used to hearing preachers who repeated or reinforced the words of others. Christ didn’t do that; He taught His own words and preached His own gospel.

One of the earliest recorded instances of such preaching is known as the Sermon on the Mount. It provides a whirlwind tour-de-force of virtues to which disciples of Christ should aspire. Understood correctly, the sermon sets a bar that is so high it provides a pattern that those disciples can seek to apply all their lives.

One set of virtues that seem particularly difficult for mere humans is found in Matthew 5:44-47:

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

I’ve pondered on that passage a lot over the years since I became comprehendingly aware of its meaning—its real-life meaning—when I was in my teens. In the multitude of times since then when I have both been offered and perceived offense—intended or not—I have reflected on how to apply it to my life. And, in my application, I have had varying degrees of success.

tears3How does one deal with those who thoughtlessly trample our feelings? How does one differentiate between intent and callous disregard? How does one deal with the offender and salve wounds when one is the offended?

These are some of the most troublesome questions of life, and answers have led to a wide range of results—from individuals being willingly abused to nations going to war. How is one to respond; how is one to treat others?

How we treat others is clearly set forth by Christ and the guidance for how we are to treat others must govern our response. We are to love all, we are to bless those who deride us, we are to show good works to those who will never acknowledge them, and we are to pray for our persecutors.

Does it matter whether the deriders, the ignorers, or the persecutors knowingly or unknowingly deride, ignore, or persecute? In judging between the knowing and unknowing state of the offender, we could easily make unrighteous judgment in the heat of the moment. No, love should be exemplified to all offenders, regardless of intent.

A quick side-note here: If one is being abused, in any degree, then one does not need to willingly stay in the situation that permits such abuse. When you are being burned, Christ doesn’t expect you to keep your hand in the fire to prove your willingness to live up to His ideals. What He expects is that once abused, the burden is then on you to control how you, in turn, react to the abuser.

Reacting with love to all offenders is, of course, hard. (Nobody ever said being a disciple was easy, now did they?) How does one deal with wounds to the psyche inflicted by others? The answer is, of course, through the prize of real discipleship—the Atonement of Christ. That Atonement doesn’t just cleanse us of our sins, but it makes us whole and provides the sweet Balm of Gilead that removes pain and swallows suffering. It replaces bitterness with blessings.

Why is my mind on these matters even now? As I said, there have been a multitude of times in my life when I have been both offered and perceived offense. This week offered another such opportunity to re-evaluate my discipleship and try to apply lessons learned at the feet of the Savior.

The particulars of the opportunity don’t really matter. What matters is that I recognize them for what they are or what they can be—a chance to show forth an increase of love in the face of offense, to seek my Savior’s love, and to give comfort and solace to those I love most dearly in this life.

It is time to consider how to remove the hand from the fire without using the fire as a tool to burn bridges. It is time to consider how the offenses will affect future relationships. Regardless of the results of those considerations, it is a time to show forth love to the offenders, regardless of intent.

And, as I do so, I will take comfort in the words to a popular hymn penned by Charles Wesley:

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past.
Safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none;
Hangs my helpless soul on thee.
Leave, oh, leave me not alone;
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed;
All my help from thee I bring.
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of thy wing.

An Ironic Double Standard

In the category of double standards, there is a recent article on the Gay Star News blog about possibly the “worst tipper ever.” It seems that Dayna Morales, a server at the Gallop Asian Bistro in Bridgewater, New Jersey, served a family that did not leave her a tip on a $93.55 restaurant tab. In deciding to not leave the tip, the following message was left on the merchant copy of the charge slip:

I’m sorry, but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle & how you live your life.

receiptMorales summarized her Facebook post about the incident by saying she was “THOROUGHLY offended mad pissed off and hurt” and that whichever family member wrote the note should “keep your damn mouth shut and pray we never cross paths again.” On a follow-up comment she said that “it took very [sic] fiber of my being not to spit in their food and say something.” In reporting on the incident, the Huffington Post called the message “homophobic.”

Let me get this straight: It is permissible for a person to be labeled homophobic for not leaving a tip, but it is fine for gays to establish blacklists and call for boycotts (don’t forego just the tip, but the entire check) if a person contributed to the passage of Proposition 8 in California?

Can you say double standard?

The irony exemplified by the double standard would be head-shakingly sad, but what is really scary is that there are folks on the Gay Star News blog leaving comments such as the following:

It’s appalling behaviour. Unfortunately they’re not breaking any law but it underlines how wary we have to be around religious folk. They’re full of hate!

It is notable that the note-leaver never said anything about being “religious folk.” That is an assumption on the part of the commenter. Then there is this one which also stereotypes the note-leaver into the religious-folk category:

Further proof that religious people are subhuman, and we need to stop freaks like this bringing up children.

Similar comments against religious people appear among the hundreds of comments on the Facebook post.

Why are such comments scary? If the comments had been turned around so the same words were directed at gays, would they then be considered homophobic? If the person explaining why a tip was not left is painted with the broad brush of bigotry, should those calling for extreme sanctions against religious people also be considered bigots?

If there were no double-standard at play, then one would think so.

I find the comment by the tipper hurtful, but I don’t think it rises to the level of homophobia. (It is helpful to remember the old maxim: Never attribute to malice what can be explained with stupidity.) I also understand the reaction of Morales; if I had been her I would also have been hurt by the insensitivity of the commenter. However I find the over-the-top comments left in support of Morales to go beyond hurtful and some should be clearly considered in the category of religious bigotry.


Are LDS Tensions Really Mounting?

In an essay posted two days ago on Religion Dispatches, commentator Joanna Brooks examined what appeared—at least to her—to be “divergent impulses on LGBT issues” among Mormons.

harryreidorrinhatchThe essay, entitled, “‘Hardwired’ for Hetero Marriage, LDS Tension Mounts Over LGBT Rights,” seemed focused on magnifying the apparent dichotomy between actions by those in the US Senate (including active LDS members Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch) who passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and those in Hawaii where the Church is actively encouraging members to oppose legislation legalizing same-sex marriage.

It seems curious to some that members of the Church can support ENDA on one hand but oppose same-sex marriage on the other. Joanna is not alone; there have been numerous other articles appearing in such places as the New York Times, the Huffington Post (written by Mitch Mayne) and Mother Jones. As one would expect, an article also appeared on the Affirmation website.

What all seem incapable of grasping is that workplace discrimination and marriage redefinition are two entirely different issues. Being against discrimination in the workplace doesn’t mean one has to be for changing the millennia-old definition of marriage.

joannabrooksJoanna has long been a champion of LGBT issues and has, from time to time, taken stances on such issues that are the opposite of those taken by the Church. Vocal activists and sympathetic commentators have cast the discussion in such a way that support for one issue and opposition to another is seen as inconsistency. An understanding of nuance seems to be entirely lacking.

The Church has always been opposed to same-sex marriage. It runs counter to the very fabric of our theological DNA. As Joanna says, we are “hardwired” against it. The basis for that hardwiring is that homosexual behavior—which behavior is implicit within the societal stamp of approval granted by same-sex marriage—is considered morally wrong. It is, simply put, a sin. Here’s how the Church states it on one of their websites:

The Church’s approach to this issue stands apart from society in many ways. And that’s alright. Reasonable people can and do differ. From a public relations perspective it would be easier for the Church to simply accept homosexual behavior. That we cannot do, for God’s law is not ours to change. There is no change in the Church’s position of what is morally right.

When it comes to treating homosexuals (or, indeed, all under the LGBT umbrella) differently within the workplace or society at large, that is a different issue. The Church has long been a champion of treating others civilly. Quoting again from the Church’s same website, we find that the Church is very clear on the issue of how we should treat each other as children of God:

This official website does not offer a comprehensive explanation of everything related to same-sex attraction, but it does reflect the feelings of Church leaders as to how we should treat each other as part of the human family. … But what is changing — and what needs to change — is to help Church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere.

Indeed, as the Church stated when the website was launched, it’s purpose was to “encourage understanding and civil conversation about same-sex attraction.” It was not to signal a change in whether homosexual behavior was now, somehow, morally acceptable. It was not to signal a change that members should acquiesce to same-sex marriage initiatives.

In an official 2009 statement supportive of non-discrimination ordinances, Michael Otterson stated “I represent a church that believes in human dignity, in treating others with respect even when we disagree—in fact, especially when we disagree.” It is possible to see the support offered to ENDA by LDS legislators to be in the same vein, but that support is not inconsistent with opposing same-sex marriage. Again, the words of Michael Otterson apply here:

The Church supports these [nondiscrimination] ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage. They are also entirely consistent with the Church’s prior position on these matters. The Church remains unequivocally committed to defending the bedrock foundation of marriage between a man and a woman.

It is a pity that those who support or advocate same-sex marriage (such as Joanna Brooks, Mitch Mayne, and Affirmation) cannot understand the nuance of the Church’s positions on these matters. Understandably, those who advocate same-sex marriage take a different approach to the question of God’s law relative to homosexual behavior. On the Affirmation website the following question is asked:

What teaching of Jesus justifies creating a legal license to treat some people worse than others even unto turning them away out of dislike of who they are or who they love when we’re taught the Golden Rule, a recognition that each person is created in the image of God?

The problems with such questions are manifold. The wording presumes that one would only oppose same-sex marriage “out of a dislike of who they are or who they love.” Such characterizing of one’s ideological opponent in this way is politically necessary, even if it isn’t true. The Church does not “dislike” what Affirmation implies they dislike. What they dislike is exactly what they said they dislike—behavior that is inconsistent with what is understood to be morally right.

Also implicit in the Affirmation statement is the concept, of course, of “who they are.” It is, in the minds of many, an accepted and foregone conclusion that homosexuality is an innate, hardwired (to borrow Joanna’s wording) characteristic, like eye color. Those who believe that the jury is still out on that conclusion are viewed as out of touch with reality. They are stereotyped by their opponents as flat-earthers, 9/11 conspiracists, Luddites, those who deny moon landings, or, worse, racial bigots.

While those outside the Church (such as the writers for the New York Times and Mother Jones) may not understand the nuances of the Church’s positions on nondiscrimination ordinances (like ENDA) and same-sex marriage, those within the Church (such as Joanna Brooks, Mitch Mayne, and Affirmation) really should. And they should be able to effectively explain those nuances to others. That they are unable or unwilling to do so is regrettable.


Friends at First are Friends Again at Last

Yesterday afternoon, about 1:50 pm, I received a phone call from a friend. She had just heard that a shared friend had collapsed at work and passed away suddenly, without any warning or indication.

That friend, Ryan Runia, was special to me. I served as his bishop for several years, and we spent lots of time together. We served together, we worked together, we played together, and we made plans together. We spent time worrying together about people—particularly youth—in the ward in which we lived.

There were also times—more than a few—in which we discussed and contemplated serious matters, of an eternal nature. I knew of his love for his wife and his children. I knew of his desires for them and to be the best he could be for them. I knew of why he had made the decisions he had that brought him to where he was. I knew of his plans for the future.

While I was bishop and while the Runias lived in our ward, Ryan served faithfully in many callings. Of particular note, Ryan served as a Sunday School teacher (for youth, of course), an assistant clerk, and later as ward clerk. At one point the Spirit directed that he be released as ward clerk and called as Scoutmaster and into the Young Men’s presidency. He was back, again, with the youth—a place where he seemed to particularly thrive. In all those callings (and more) he served with faith an excellence.

Ryan, helping others with humor and great attitude, in a 2011 youth service project.

Ryan, helping others with humor and great attitude, in a 2011 youth service project.

As a bishop, I became attached to many people over the years. It was particularly easy to become attached to Ryan—I just found his personality one that was naturally attractive. Perhaps it was his sense of humor (which resonated with mine); perhaps it was his solid grounding in the gospel. Whatever it was, we seemed to gravitate toward each other from shortly after we first met.

It has been a few years since the Runias moved from our ward, and I was released as bishop of the ward about a year ago. Many, if not most, of the people I became attached to over my tenure as bishop—like the Runias—have moved from the ward and the neighborhood. Very few of those people attempted to make any contact with me after they left, even those who I tried to reach out to.

Ryan, however, was an exception. He would, periodically, contact me to see how I was doing. He would let me know that he was doing well. He was willing to come to our home and visit. I had the impression that he didn’t view me as a bishop, but as a friend. I looked forward to seeing him on those rare occasions when our paths would cross.

I can count on one hand the number of people who have extended that kindness to me, as Ryan did. I guess I understand why so few have—in their eyes I was their bishop and not, necessarily, their friend. Since it was different with Ryan, I expect to feel his loss for years to come. I carry with me many fond memories. I am nothing special, but the bond I felt with Ryan was special; it was real and tangible and eternal. He was and still is my friend.

As I write this there are tears in my eyes. I am saddened by the sudden loss of one so young, so promising, and so full of hope and desires for life. My heart aches for his family, left behind, and the loss they must now come to terms with. I struggle with what I can do to help assuage the grief that those closer to Ryan are experiencing.

Even in the midst of sadness and loss I do not feel despair. Hope does, indeed, spring eternal. I know Ryan understood that life is short and then we return home to our Father. I have no doubt that he is there, missing his earthly family and friends, but glad to be back “home.”

His departure, while premature, signals a separation that is only temporary. We shall see each other again, with outstretched arms and a welcoming embrace. The struggles of life behind us, I shall at that point greet Ryan with the famous words of Joseph Smith in my heart: “Come on, dear brother, since the war [of life] is past, for friends at first are friends again at last.”

I miss you, my friend.

Is It Really Style?

In a different post I addressed what I see as limitations (failings, if you will) in a proposal for apologetics put forward by Bill Reel and ostensibly agreed to by Richard Bushman. In this post I thought it productive to address a related issue which has to do more with how apologists address the doubts of doubters.

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Non-Ideal Apologetic Ideals

This morning while doing my daily work, I listened to a podcast interview with Richard Bushman. The interviewer is Bill Reel, a volunteer with FAIRMormon, the rebranded successor to FAIR. Bill’s purpose in interviewing Richard, at least in part, is to discern how one can and should treat doubt, doubters, criticisms, and critics.

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Marriage and You

There is a great, simple, easy-to-read post over on Seth Adam Smith’s blog entitled Marriage Isn’t for You. It was posted a few days ago and it has gone viral (to say the least), being viewed by millions of people. It has been commented on in lots of places, including the Huffington Post, the Today Show, the UK Mail Online, and Cosmopolitan. (Is anyone really surprised that someone writing in the narcicistic journal Cosmopolitan doesn’t agree with what Seth Adam Smith wrote about being selfless?)

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I ran across a poem yesterday (well, I ran across it again), and I absolutely love it. At this point in my life it has much more meaning than it did in my earlier life, and I think it profound. The name of the poem is If, and it was written by Rudyard Kipling.

Movie Day: Ender’s Game

Last evening my wife and I went on a date (gotta love date night!) and decided to see Ender’s Game. This is actually a movie that I’ve been anticipating for quite a while. I used to read a lot of science fiction, and I always considered Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, to be one of the best specimens of the genre out there. It won the two most prestigious awards for sci-fi writing, the Nebula Award (1985 best novel) and the Hugo Award (1986 best novel).

In fact, in preparation for the movie, I re-read Ender’s Game just about ten days ago. It is a quick read, and I was able to dedicate an entire day to reading it. (I love it when I can read a novel in a single sitting. My legs may be numb when done, but it feels good to read that intently for that long.)

Ender2I knew going into the movie that it couldn’t do justice to the scope of the book. There is no way that a two-hour movie can cover the same amount of context, back-story, and character development that you can get in a book that covers years of a character’s life. I also understood that the film would need to make Ender older than in the book. (In the book he enters battle school at the age of 6; in the movie he is clearly in his teens.)

As I was watching the movie, I found myself continually “filling in gaps” with my remembrances of the back-story. In fact, at one point in the movie (can’t remember the exact scene) a person sitting next to me in the packed theater whispered to her companion—loudly enough for me to hear—”that whole part went right over me,” where I picked up on what was happening because I had previously read the book.

I suspect that some other people might have had the same experience a time or two, so I was particularly interested in my wife’s impressions. She is not a huge sci-fi fan and she has never read Ender’s Game. As we were talking after the movie, she said that she simply thought that they were rushing Ender extremely fast toward command status. (In the book, that process takes years; in the movie it takes a couple of months.) Other than that “rushed” feeling that she sensed, she did say that she enjoyed the story. She found it engaging and that it flowed well for her.

One thing that I missed in the movie that was much clearer in the book was the relationship between all the Wiggin children. Peter, Valentine, and Ender Wiggin all have different personalities that blossom and grow through the book, and none of that is in the movie. (Peter makes a single scene and Valentine appears in only two scenes.) The unmatched and unrivaled genius of the children, which sets them on differing but complementary life trajectories, is enjoyable to read and contemplate.

Casting in the movie is pretty good. It stars Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, the manipulative, strategic-thinking, hard-nosed military man who runs the battle schools and recognizes Ender’s genius. At his side is Viola Davis as Major Anderson, who examines and considers, primarily, the psychological side of the exploitation of the children before and during battle school. The tensions between Graff and Anderson in the movie seem to illustrate the moral quandaries presented by developing the violent tendencies of children in service of a greater societal good. Ben Kingsley does an good job playing Mazer Rackham, a hero of the first bugger wars who swoops into command school and helps to finish Ender’s training.

The lead role—that of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin”—was played by Asa Butterfield, who also previously played lead roles in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (which I absolutely loved) and Hugo. He did, I believe, a credible job as Ender, though he was not as multi-dimensional as I thought Ender was in the book.

All in all, I thought the movie was good. It did not—it could not—follow the book exactly, but it was a good “movification” of a great book. If you haven’t seen the movie, I would suggest you do so. If you haven’t read the book, then I highly encourage you to do so after you see the movie.