9/27/14

Pro-Choice and Marriage Equality

Abortion was a heated issue when I was at Berkeley more than thirty years ago; gay marriage not even a shadow on the horizon. All those years ago, my sensibilities were entirely liberal if not rabidly radical. I saw opposition to abortion as the evil that many find in opposition to gay marriage today.

I remember clearly my Berkeley circle being taught the power of words in fighting the good fight. We were told never to say “pro-life” but always to contrast “pro-choice” with “anti-choice” because it removed anything verbally positive from our opponents’ argument. It also reduced their argument against us into a hateful position against choice.

I see the same thing happening in the arena of gay marriage. If the issue is defined as conflict between “marriage equality” and “marriage inequality’' then good guys want to be on the equality side. I know I do. There’s absolutely nothing verbally positive about inequality, indeed it is a hateful position. But what if phrasing the issue in terms of equality reduces the argument so much that the “pro-eternal life” aspect vanishes?

Carefully chosen words can obscure but not undo outcomes. In abortion, a human life is prevented from happening. In gay marriage, an eternal life is prevented from happening—or at least hangs by a thread. Here again, words are vital. We are all spirit children of a Heavenly Father, and as such our spirits will go on forever. “Eternal life” is something else, an immeasurable enhancement of forever where we—only as male and female couplings—can have eternal increase, children, eternal life.

I take comfort in knowing that only God knows our hearts, only he judges our souls. No matter what behaviors we engage in on earth, the inner workings of our hearts weigh heaviest on the scales of judgment. Having said that, I agree with Dr. Phil that the best predictor of future behavior is relevant past behavior. Gay people who act on homosexual inclinations in this life take those inclinations with them, just like I take my un-mastered temper and impatience with me, into the eternities.

With God all things are possible, and the Mormon Church is adamant that a homosexual who foregoes acting on those inclinations physically in this world will find those inclinations left behind in the next.

You can argue the doctrine, and many do, but the doctrine is what makes the Church the Church, and if the doctrine changes, it’s not the Mormon Church anymore. And don’t bring up blacks and the priesthood because that was never doctrine to my knowledge. The only doctrine I have ever found, and believe me I have looked, is the revelation granting blacks the priesthood. There is absolutely nothing official to my knowledge that documents the beginning or the reason for withholding the priesthood from blacks.

On the other hand, I lose count of all the official teachings of the plan of salvation, which, by definition, must prohibit physical relations between those of the same gender. Eternal life, or at least its best chance, depends on it.

9/20/14

Mormons Succeed by Following

A recent Huffington Post article called The Mormonizing of America brought to general attention things well known to Mormons ourselves and which, the author Stephen Mansfield posits, explain Mormons’ current pre-eminence in American society. He notes that Mormons “aggressively pursue the most advanced education possible, understand their lives in terms of overcoming obstacles, and eagerly serve the surrounding society.” He also points out that “[m]anagement, leadership, and organizing are the essential skills of the faith. It is no wonder we “thrive in administrative systems and hierarchies.”

From the point of view of a five-year-old in Primary giving her first talk, the public speaking skills alone are invaluable. But more than the leadership skills we inevitably learn, it’s the following skills that really make us successful. Not following as in sheep, but following as in setting aside our own egos, desires, and opinions on behalf of a higher ideal. Sometimes that ideal is as lofty as getting to heaven; other times it’s as inconvenient as being volunteered to deliver invitations to another organization’s activity.

In the latter case, there is bound to be some grumbling---Mormons are human after all—but even if the occasional member finds a way to bow out of unpleasant requests, most of us just get it done, and therein lies the crux of success in any situation.

When we find ourselves in the military, the senate, or the boardroom, we’re often as comfortable supporting other leaders as we are doing the leading ourselves. We’ve done both, understood both, and, over time, been given the chance to master both.

Society in general is increasingly taught that what matters is the self—self-expression, self-fulfillment, self-reference. I’m not philosophically opposed to any of the three, but having worked in a variety of settings with a variety of people, individuals who focus on the self are pains and, in my opinion, need to get over themselves. How refreshing and delightful for leaders and peers alike to associate with people who are able to set aside egos, desires, and opinions and just get it done. If we know how to make other people successful, no wonder we’re successful.

Being a Mormon is no guarantee of humility and teamwork, but Mormon doctrine is a sure recipe for teaching both. Go us.

9/14/14

Three Blind Men and an Elephant

A friend of mine, an inactive Mormon since the age of fifteen, has taken to Facebook asking for clarification of Mormon doctrine. She wants to know why some Mormons—self-identified as devout—came to her lesbian wedding while others—self-identified as devout—said they couldn’t because the LDS Church doesn’t support gay marriage.

My friend feels hurt—very hurt—by the family members who chose not to come to her wedding, faithful Mormons who believe their religion precludes them from attending a gay wedding and believe that other Mormons who attended don’t understand their doctrine correctly. On the other side are friends who chose to come, faithful Mormons who believe agency allows them to support her right to choose for herself and believe that other Mormons who boycotted don’t understand their doctrine correctly.

It’s like arguing over when life begins: there is in fact an answer to that question, but the answer will be known indisputably only in a future perfect eternal realm. Meanwhile here on earth, we have to do the best we can with what we have. None of us can step outside our experience—we are defined by it. If we experience the trunk of the elephant, life goes up, down and all around. If we experience the side, life is big and flat, unchanging in every direction. If we experience the tail, life isn’t much, just a few flicks of thin rope.

The Old Testament Israelites were governed by an overwhelming number of rules, even, as I understand it, exactly how many steps they could take on the Sabbath. Joseph Smith wanted us to learn correct principles so we could govern ourselves. The problem with my friend’s question is that there are a multitude of correct principles that apply to attending a gay wedding. We each have to struggle and puzzle out for ourselves which course of action is correct, and I would expect there to be a range of conclusions, just like faithful Mormons come down on different sides of whether to tithe on the gross or the net, whether to watch t.v. on Sunday, whether to cook with wine.

I suspect it really doesn’t matter what choice we as individuals make—we’re all at different places in the gospel—as long as we feel peace about it. The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that judging someone else’s correct principle as wrong is like the bumper sticker President Uchtdorf cited in General Conference: “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”