Saturday, January 30, 2010

Proposition 8 Trial Summaries

The Proposition 8 trial wrapped up this week and summaries (of sorts) have been issued by both sides. The American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8 in Federal court, prepared their summary of the trial, where 17 witnesses were presented by the paintiffs, nine of which were "eminent experts . . . including professors from Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Cambridge, and UCLA who are recognized internationally as leading scholars in history, economics, psychology, sociomedical science, political science, and more." Here is the outline of the plaintiff's case:

Prop. 8 does irreparable harm to Americans
Stigma and Discrimination (Testimony of GREGORY HEREK, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Davis and ILAN H. MEYER, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health)
Economic Harm (Testimony of M.V. LEE BADGETT, Ph.D., a Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and EDMUND EGAN, Ph.D., Chief Economist for the City and County of San Francisco)
No Substitute for Marriage (Testimony of NANCY COTT, Ph.D., the Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University and LETITIA ANNE PEPLAU, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles)

Marriage has shed discriminatory restrictions over time
• (Dr. Cott testifies about the history of marriage in the U.S.)

Gay men and lesbians are entitled to the full protection of the 14th Amendment
History of Discrimination is Ongoing and Includes Prop. 8 (History Professor GEORGE CHAUNCEY, Ph.D., testifies)
Gay Men and Lesbians Remain Politically Vulnerable (GARY M. SEGURA, Ph.D., Professor of American Politics in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University, testifies)

There is no good reason for Prop. 8’s denial of fundamental civil rights
Procreation Not Defining Purpose of Marriage (Dr. Cott further testifies about marriage
Equal Rights Will Not Harm Others (LETITIA ANNE PEPLAU, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles and MICHAEL LAMB, Ph.D., a Professor and Head of the Department of Social and Developmental Psychology at Cambridge University testify about child raising)

Here is video from their Jan. 27 news conference (courtesy the New York Times):

Andy Pugno, General Counsel for the Defense of Prop 8, remarks:
What may be lost in all the sensationalism of the past two and a half weeks of trial is that the burden of proof to invalidate Prop 8 lies squarely with the plaintiffs. They cannot win unless they prove that the voters were “irrational” when they chose to preserve the traditional definition of marriage in our state. Contrary to their public relations claims, the outcome of this case does not depend on whether the Prop 8 sponsors can prove that homosexual marriage will harm traditional marriage. The controlling legal issue is not whether homosexual marriage is good or bad, but rather whether the people have the right to decide what is best. The plaintiffs simply did not carry that burden.
If, by declaring that plaintiffs must establish "irrational" intent of the voters, he is referring to "Rational Basis Review," the lowest level of judicial scrutiny, then he is probably correct, as we have observed in marriage cases in other states (New York, for example); the defense need only show any governmental interest, however related, to justify a statute. Boise and Olson, however, have made a strong case that the situation involves a suspect class being denied a fundamental right, and that would typically require a higher level of scrutiny and a more "compelling" governmental interest in order to justify Proposition 8.

It will be several weeks before closing arguments will be presented to Judge Walker.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Proposition 8 on Trial

For any who may be unaware and for those interested, the Federal trial challenging California's Proposition 8 is now in its third week and resources are available on line.

Live Blogging from the court room: By those supporting Prop 8, and by those against Prop 8.

Court hearing transcripts are here.

Dramatic reenactments will be available on video here.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

In a horrific story published in the Deseret News, we learn of children being tortured and killed in Nigeria because they are suspected of being "witch children." It is time for the world to reconsider just what the Bible is and what it is not.

Labels: , ,

The Gay Agenda Redux

Meanwhile, over the weekend.... Behold the power of Prop 8.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

LGBT Religious Freedom Threatens LDS Religious Freedom

In his 13 October, 2009 speech to BYU-Idaho, Elder Dallin H. Oaks warned of two forces that could have the potential to erode religious freedoms--1) increasing atheism in society and 2)the rise of LGBT civil rights. Oaks focused primarily on the latter.

The crux of his concern with gay rights seems to be expressed in this passage from the speech:
The so-called “Yogyakarta Principles,” published by an international human rights group, call for governments to assure that all persons have the right to practice their religious beliefs regardless of sexual orientation or identity. This apparently proposes that governments require church practices and their doctrines to ignore gender differences. Any such effort to have governments invade religion to override religious doctrines or practices should be resisted by all believers. [Emphasis added]

Elder Oaks suggests that "apparently" measures to eliminate discrimination and harm unto LGBT people, and in this case specifically religious freedoms for gays and lesbians, may actually advocate governments to force religions to "override religious doctrines and practices."

The Yogyakarta Principles is a set of 29 international principles launched as a global charter for gay rights in Geneva, March, 2007 and presented to the United Nations in November, 2007. The Principles, intended to address documented evidence of human and civil rights abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, was influential in a declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity presented to, but not officially adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December, 2008.

Some of the rights declared in the Yogyakarta Principles include:
The Right to the Universal Enjoyment of Human Rights
The Rights to Equality and Non-discrimination
The Right to recognition before the law
The Right to Life
The Right to Privacy
The Right to a Fair Trial
The Right to Freedom from Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The right to Work
The Right to Adequate Housing
The Right to Education
Protection from Medical Abuses
The Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
The Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
The Right to Freedom of Movement
The Right to participate in public life
The Right to Participate in Cultural Life

Here is the actual passage in the English version of the Yogyakarta Principles that Elder Oaks referenced:
PRINCIPLE 21. The Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. These rights may not be invoked by the State to justify laws, policies or practices which deny equal protection of the law, or discriminate, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

States shall:
a) Take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure the right of persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, to hold and practise religious and non-religious beliefs, alone or in association with others, to be free from interference with their beliefs and to be free from coercion or the imposition of beliefs;
b) Ensure that the expression, practice and promotion of different opinions, convictions and beliefs with regard to issues of sexual orientation or gender identity is not undertaken in a manner incompatible with human rights.

The Yogyakarta Principles in general, and Principle 21 in particular, seem to be reasonable expressions of human rights that should be extended to all people. Why should they not be also extended to gays? Do LDS religious freedoms trump LGBT religious freedoms?

One critic of the Yogyakarta Principles, Piero A. Tozzi, from the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, sees a sinister intent in Principle 21 to undermine religious freedom (PDF):
Under the guise of affirming “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity, the Principles undermine religious liberty. Principle 21 explicitly states that such rights “may not be invoked by the State to justify laws, policies or practices which deny equal protection of the law, or discriminate, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” . . . What would be the practical application of such a Principle, for example, with respect to a church, mosque or synagogue whose “practice” was to refuse to perform same-sex weddings or commitment ceremonies? [Emphasis added]

Elder Oaks obviously has the same concern as the above critic, yet neither provides any substantive argument why governments would be forced to impinge upon the religious freedoms of one group over the other. Piero A. Tozzi merely throws out a question based on fear and Elder Oaks suggests that such governmental mandates "apparently" will happen. Such fearful logic provides a fragile foundation upon which to build a case for denying basic human rights to LGBT people.

The Yogyakarta Principles are aspirational visualizations of global human rights policy designed to help bring an end to "violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation and prejudice . . . directed against persons in all regions of the world because of their sexual orientation or gender identity." But it is important to note that they are not binding in any way, nor has the UN adopted any similar measures. The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute notes that:
. . . the Principles reflect only the views of a narrow group of self-identified “experts” and are not binding in international law: The Principles have not been negotiated nor agreed to by member states of the United Nations – indeed, not a single UN human rights treaty mentions sexual orientation and repeated attempts to pass resolutions promoting broad homosexual rights has been repeatedly rejected by UN member states. Insofar as they represent an attempt by activists to present an aspirational, radical social policy vision as a binding norm, however, the Principles merit closer scrutiny.

Is this aspirational vision of "freedom of thought, conscience and religion, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity" the frightening boogyman that precipitated the LDS involvement in Proposition 8 and which may ultimately destroy our collective religious liberty?

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Rhetoric of Elder Hafen's Evergreen Address

The thing that really struck me, when reading Elder Hafen's September 19 address to Evergreen International, was his choice of words.

On being gay

When discussing the homosexual condition he used negative words that paint a picture of tragedy, sorrow, and suffering:
. . . I learned that the operative word for him really was “suffer.”
Sometimes you may feel frustration or anger or simply a deep sadness about yourself.

Other terms Hafen employs: Daily struggles, victims, challenges, difficult, miserable, angry dog, immoral behavior, imperfection, mortal bitterness, estranged from God, afflictions, confused, disturbed. He also twice compares the same-sex attracted to those who have been abused as children (more about that below).

The Church's Response

So, through his rhetoric, Hafen paints the gay person as one who suffers a terrible situation. Consequently, he tells us that the church's response to this tragic condition, is, or should be, one of glowing compassion:
Remember President Hinckley’s confidence in you: “Our hearts reach out to [you]. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and sisters.” And President Packer has echoed, “We do not reject you… We cannot reject you… We will not reject you, because we love you.” With that kind of leadership, I pray that all Church members are learning to be more compassionate and understanding.

Only once does Hafen suggest that the culture contributes to the hardship of being gay. But only to say it is because of "increasing cultural confusion that now swirls around the topic of homosexuality," by which he means that society is becoming more accepting and tolerant which makes it harder for gay LDS members to live the strict moral code the theology requires!

On the Atonement

When Hafen discusses the effect of the Atonement, he must first set up a condition to be remedied. Given that church leaders now emphasize that being attracted to those of the same sex is not itself a sinful condition, what is it that the Atonement needs to reconcile? Without evidence, Hafen posits that gay people "feel" estranged and separated from God. Apparently Elder Hafen has not read the accounts of LDS suicides, where knees were worn from lengthy prayer or where one chose the temple grounds to die so as to be more quickly received by God's angels. Still, Hafen has described being gay in such tragic terms that surely gay people must feel estranged. It is one of the blessings of the Atonement to heal this "sense" of separation from God:
Even though same-gender attraction is by itself not a sin, its presence can make us feel estranged from God. That sense of separation arises from our knowing that this attraction runs counter to our eternal nature as a son or daughter of god.
. . .
I classify same-gender attraction within the category of “adversity,” because typically you haven’t brought it upon yourselves. It has consequences similar to being harmed by the sins of others, such as the separation from God felt so commonly by the victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Here again, gays are compared to victims of "childhood" sexual abuse, because, according to Elder Hafen, both commonly feel separated from God.

The Atonement, then, gives those gays who feel estranged from God a sense of being "more at-one with God even while still overcoming the attraction."

Hafen all but admits that gays won't necessarily be "healed" or changed into heterosexuals in this life. So he describes a second blessing of the Atonement as one where Christ "helps us bear the burden of our afflictions." Therefore, he instructs the Evergreen attendees that if Christ "doesn’t deliver you right now, for whatever reason, you[r faith must run so deep that you] will not give up on Him or on yourself. There truly is light at the end of your tunnel, no matter how long it is."

The language of Reparative Therapy

Although the footnotes include several works by Dean Byrd and one by David Pruden, there are clues in the text of Elder Hafen's address that convince me that LDS church leaders have drunk the Kool-Aid and aligned themselves with the theories and therapy of Joseph Nicolosi and those at NARTH.
Stop focusing so much on yourself, including hating yourself, and spend more energy caring about other people. Build good associations with people of your gender. Find a therapist who can help you identify the unmet emotional needs that you are tempted to satisfy in false sexual ways.

The self-loathing gays who seek support from groups like Evergreen and Exodus International are taught that they are gay because of bad parenting. The thesis is that homosexuals suffered a developmental deficit in early childhood which can be "repaired" through safe, appropriate same-sex bonding experiences later in life. Elements of this theory go back to Freud, but the entire model was developed by Elizabeth Moberly in her 1983 popular work Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, and extended by Joseph Nicolosi in his 1991 book Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality.

Hence, Hafen admonishes Evergreen participants to "Build good associations with people of your gender" and "Find a therapist who can help you identify the unmet emotional needs." This advice is a direct reference to the so-called "reparative therapy" developed by Nicolosi. It is “reparative therapy” speak. The phrase “false sexual ways” refers to the thinking that gay people unconsciously seek to fulfill unmet childhood same-sex parent-bonding needs through same-sex sexual activity.

The other link to Nicolosi's NARTH organization is the comparisons by Hafen to childhood sexual abuse. A frequent assertion by NARTH and the Focus on the Family's Love Won Out ex-gay roadshow is the claim that most women become gay due to childhood sexual abuse. So I found it revealing that Elder Hafen would insert indirect references to childhood sexual abuse in his address. Hafen even offers Evergreen Executive Director and NARTH Vice-President of Operations, David Pruden's wild assertion that:
. . . we know from the research that among women up to 80% who have same-gender attraction were abused in some way as children. (David Pruden, Lead My People, Audio CD, 2005)

Hafen's alignment with NARTH, whose major focus is that therapy can help gays become straight, furthers the LDS credibility problem among progressive society because it appears, by nearly all accounts, that the therapy just isn't working.

Labels: , ,

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Way it Was - 1878

News brief from the Salt Lake Tribune, July 27, 1878

Both Gentiles and Mormons patronize the evening trains to Lake Point and Black Rock to enjoy the luxury of salt water bathing, but at the last named place dressing rooms are few, and the gentlemen are therefore forced to use one room in common. And that is what troubles the elders, who have a decided aversion to exposing to the gaze of their ungodly companions the shape and style of that much talked of article of apparel known as the Endowment robe. As the Chinaman expresses it, it is "shirtee drawers alle same," and the sly manner in which the elders slip out of that holy robe is truly amusing to the unanointed beholder. The saintesses, however, have not the courage to exhibit that disgraceful undergarment to Gentile-women, for they know how prone a woman's eye is to photograph any article of dress upon the mind, and the sisters therefore cannot be induced to disrobe in the presence of the uninitiated. Such a fact in itself is nothing more or less than a confession on the part of those who wear Endowment robes, that the ceremony by which the rules are put upon them is a humbug and a fraud. Otherwise brethren and sisters, why is it you are ashamed of the wretched looking things?

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gentle Savior

Contemporary Christian singer David Phelps, who is one of the finest singers on the planet, performs “Gentle Savior”. A truly inspired song and an inspiring performance. I don't usually go for Contemporary Christian music, but this guy is really remarkable as a vocalist. And the message is beautiful.

Where are the signs? Which way should I go?
I planned each step but now I don’t know.
Tomorrow is a chasm of uncertainty
But, I will go there, if You’ll go with me.

Gentle Savior, lead me on.
Let Your Spirit light the way.
Gentle Savior, lead me on.
Hold me close and keep me safe.
Lead me on, Gentle Savior.

Why can’t I walk away from my regrets
And why is forgiveness so hard to accept.
My past surrounds me like a house I can’t afford.
But You say, "Come with me; don’t live there anymore."


And when I reach the valley every soul must journey through
I’ll remember then how well You know the way,
I’ll put my hand in Your hand like a trusting child would do
And say…

Labels: , ,

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bishop Gene Robinson's Prayer

Here is the text of the prayer given by Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson at the Lincoln Memorial for the opening inaugural event. I think it is just perfect.

A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama

By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


Labels: ,

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What Sweeter Music

Here is a wonderful choral piece for your holiday inspiration.

If you are unfamiliar with the music of John Rutter and enjoy sacred choral music of the British tradition, you should definitely check out his body of work. Much of it is available at Collegium Records.

What Sweeter Music

What sweeter music can we bring
Than a carol, for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!

Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
And give the honor to this day,
That sees December turned to May.

Why does the chilling winter’s morn
Smile, like a field beset with corn?
Or smell like a meadow newly-shorn,
Thus, on the sudden? Come and see
The cause, why things thus fragrant be:
‘Tis He is born, whose quickening birth
Gives life and luster, public mirth,
To heaven, and the under-earth.

We see him come, and know him ours,
Who, with his sunshine and his flowers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.
The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a room
To welcome him. The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart.

Which we will give him; and bequeath
This holly, and this ivy wreath,
To do him honour, who’s our King,
And Lord of all this revelling.

What sweeter music can we bring,
Than a carol for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?

Music: John Rutter (b. 1945)
Text: Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Translating the Hebrew Bible into . . . Hebrew

Latter-day Saints with strong feelings regarding the King James version of the Bible, or even those who have advocated revising the English Book of Mormon into more updated language and style (see my take here), may find this article in HAARETZ of interest.

There is a private commercial project underway in Israel to translate the Hebrew Bible into modern Hebrew -- to rewrite it into the same language, only with different words.

The reaction of the Education Ministry was to ban the use of the translation in schools. So, even if they wanted to, Israeli teachers and students, at least officially, may not sample this work.

Those who conceived of the project say that they have the best of intentions.
"The language of the Bible is a 'foreign language' for Israeli students, and there is a need to interpose easier language, so that teachers can have free time to delve deeper [into the material]," said Rafi Mozes. Avraham Ahuvia, who translated the work, added: "I was convinced [to put out the book] because we teachers translate the Bible orally in lessons for the students, who have a difficult time understanding the grand language."

The article provides a sample, comparing the original verse of Genesis with the new translation:

. . .[T]he original - "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" - and the [modern] translation - "At the start of creation, when God created the world."

The article concludes:

Motivated Bible teachers today need not make it easier for native Hebrew speakers to understand the language of the Bible, the same language in which they speak. They must not make the Bible easier for them, which essentially means killing the Bible softly. Rather, they should demonstrate that a small amount of thought and effort is all that is required to understand the Bible as it was written.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Gay Brains - A New Study

New research, utilizing brain scans of 90 volunteers, is being described as the "most robust measure" made of differences in brain structure and activity between gay and straight people.

The scans reveal that in gay people, key structures of the brain governing emotion, mood, anxiety and aggressiveness resemble those in straight people of the opposite sex.

U.S. News reports:

MRI and PET scan studies are showing remarkable similarities between the brains of gay men and straight women, and between those of lesbians and straight men.

For example, the brains of straight men and of gay women share certain common features: both are slightly asymmetric, with the right hemisphere larger than the left, say the Swedish researchers.

On the other hand, the brains of gay men and straight women are both symmetrical.

Similar trends emerged when scientists tracked connectivity in the amygdala, the region of the brain involved in emotional learning and in activating the fight-or-flight response. They noted strong similarities between gay men and straight women, and lesbians and straight men.

This significant study adds to the growing evidence pointing to a biological connection with homosexual orientation. For Latter-day Saints, the findings of this new research give us all the more reason to reject the view that homosexuality consists merely of what a person does. It points us toward the understanding, long advanced by gay people themselves, that it's "who you are."

Photo showing connectivity in the amygdala from New Scientist.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Heavenly Voices

Here is a performance by the Kings Singers of John Rutter's beautiful carol There is a Flower. Latter-day Saints who appreciate a cappella choral music should enjoy this inspiring piece.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The 1968 Revolution You Never Heard Of

In a Los Angeles Times opinion piece, Nancy Polikoff, law professor at American University and author of "Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law," discusses the impact of a little-known U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1968. She calls it the "1968 revolution you never heard of." In the case, the court "repudiated centuries of settled law by granting constitutional recognition and protection to a previously outcast group: children born outside of marriage and their parents."

The case had to do with the rights of parents and children in unwed unions.
Under common law, a child born outside marriage used to be fillius nullius, the child of no one. In the Middle Ages, it was even a lesser crime to kill a person who had been born to an unmarried woman. In the U.S., well into the 1960s, such a child's birth certificate might be stamped "bastard."

The State of Louisiana maintained to the court that it was "not trying to punish or discriminate against anyone":
Louisiana's purposes ... are positive ones: the encouragement of marriage as one of the most important institutions known to law, the preservation of the legitimate family as the preferred environment for socializing the child. ... Since marriage as an institution is fundamental to our existence as a free nation, it is the duty of ... Louisiana to encourage it. One method of encouraging marriage is granting greater rights to legitimate offspring."

Polikoff notes that the Supreme Court rejected that reasoning and refused to penalize the unwed parents or the children born out of wedlock:
Encouraging marriage and expressing disapproval of nonmarital sex were no longer constitutionally sufficient reasons to deny equal rights to children or to their parents.

Citing last week's California Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry, Polikoff, remarks that those who argue against rights for non-traditional families "may assert that they do not intend to punish or discriminate but simply want to promote marriage. It's an argument that rings as hollow in 2008 as it did in 1968."

From a Latter-day Saint point of view, is it better for families to suffer financially and emotionally so as to uphold the LDS doctrine of sexual purity, or should we be more concerned with the welfare of the individual families themselves? Did the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968 contribute to the disintegration of the Family?

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Dancing with Wolves

I have just included links to the Skeptic's Annotated Bible and its creator Steve Wells' blog Dwindling in Unbelief. Call me a skeptic if you choose, but the truth is I am simply interested in what we can learn from the absurdities, the injustices, the cruelty, violence, intolerance and contradictions that occur in the Bible. Wells has presented a treasure trove of delectable biblical and religious problems that, frankly, I find hard to resist.

For example, when Lot offers his virgin daughters to the angry mob, what moral lesson is being taught? Or why does God, who just destroyed Sodom & Gomorra, seem to turn a blind eye when Lot's daughters get him drunk and bare children by him. And what about that pillar of salt? Such a strange story. One of many curious and troublesome accounts in scripture.

Much like B.H. Roberts' Studies of the Book of Mormon, the issues that Steve Wells presents deserve to be seriously considered by any thinking, believing Christian.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Franciscan Friars Martyred for the Sanctity of Marriage

Five Franciscan friars, killed in 1597 on what is now the Georgia coast, are on their way to receiving sainthood for having died defending "traditional" marriage. According to the 500-page historical report, which was delivered to the Vatican in late March, the Spanish missionaries were slain by Guale Indians in a dispute over polygamy.
Friar Pedro de Corpa had spent a decade before his death in the late 16th century as a missionary converting Indians to Christianity in Spanish Florida, which then included the 100-mile Georgia coast.

De Corpa was assigned to a mission near present-day Darien, Georgia, when he infuriated the nephew of a Guale chieftain who planned to take a second wife. The friar admonished the nephew, a baptized Christian named Juanillo, and told him polygamy violated God's law.

On Sept. 14, 1597, Juanillo led warriors smeared in war paint to de Corpa's hut, where he was preparing for morning Mass. They killed the friar with stone clubs, severed his head and displayed it on a pike by a nearby river landing.

The warriors killed the other four friars over the next few days.

Bishop J. Kevin Boland, the head of the Savanna Diocese considers the friars true martyrs "because of their unwillingness to water down the teaching of the faith. . . It's very timely in today's culture, where marriage is under horrendous attacks." In fact, the martyrs have their own website.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Envisioning a God with a body

A regional newspaper out of Ontario, Canada, The Record, published an article which presents the views of Jewish biblical scholar, James Kugel regarding what the Bible says about the nature of God.
Contrary to popular opinion, God in the earliest books of the Bible didn't know all things.

Nor did He exist everywhere, all at once . . . . The Book of Genesis describes God walking through the Garden of Eden, Kugel said.

"Walking is not something you do when you're omnipresent," he quipped.

And at one point, God asks Cain the whereabouts of his brother Abel.

The verse implies that God didn't know Cain had killed his brother, Kugel said.

God also says, in Genesis 18, that He heard rumours about things happening in Sodom and Gomorrah and that He must go and see if they are true.

"That not only implies that He's not everywhere all at once, but He doesn't necessarily know everything -- he's going to go down and check," Kugel said.

This viewpoint will not come as "news" to the average Latter-day Saint. But it is interesting to note the comments of Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig of the Beth Jacob Congregation in Kitchener:
"[Kugel's observations] really shook me up . . . But I think that's very, very good and very healthy because we get complacent in our beliefs."

Rosenzweig said that it never dawned on him that early biblical references to God's human physical features might not have simply been metaphors.

If those descriptions were not in the Bible, the notion of a God with physical form would be heretical, he said.

"That would be idolatry."

The article briefly touches on the transition in thought regarding the corporeal God of the early biblical books up to the omniscient and omnipresent God, which is said to be the dominant Jewish view at the time of Jesus. Written for the lay person, it is a short, easy read. Of course, I've always appreciated James Kugel's tendency to point out the obvious in what is so often illusive.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Assortative Mating - The New Marriage Trend

Well the fundies were right, marriage as an institution is in trouble. According to census records, fewer than one in four households in the United States are comprised of married couples with children. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, marriage is now the province of the affluent and educated, whereas, the poor and working class tend to have children out of wedlock and avoid marriage altogether.
"We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids," said Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm.

In recent years, the marrying kind have been empowered by college degrees and bankrolled by dual incomes. They are also older and choosier. College-educated men and women are increasingly less likely to "marry down" -- that is, to choose mates who have less education and professional standing than they do.

According to University of Michigan sociology professor Pamela Smock, class status is a good predictor of whether two people will marry or cohabit.
"The poor aren't entering into marriage very much at all," said Smock, who has interviewed more than 100 cohabitating couples. She said young people from these backgrounds often do not think they can afford marriage.

Others are put off by their own parent's marital problems.
Victoria Miller and Cameron Roach, who have been living together for 18 months, are two such people, and they say they cannot imagine getting married. . . . Together, they earn less than $20,000 a year and are living with Roach's father. They cannot afford to live anywhere else.

"Marriage ruins life," Roach said. "I saw how much my parents fought. I saw how miserable they made each other."

Miller, who was pressured by her Mormon parents to marry when she was 17 and pregnant, said her short, failed marriage and her parents' long, failed marriage have convinced her that the institution is often bad for children. Shuttled between her mom and dad, she moved eight times before she was 16.

"With my parents, when their marriage started breaking down, my dad started to have trouble at work and we spent years on government assistance," Miller said.

So what is to be done? Can same-sex nuptuals save marriage from its decades-long slide into an elitist institution?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Libera - Stay With Me


Libera Rocks!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Greatest Boy Band in the World

Years ago, I made an arrangement for a small choir that I sang with, coupling the text of There is a Green Hill with the great Thomas Tallis tune that Vaughan Williams used in his famous Fantasia. We performed it at a couple of nursing homes and Sacrament meetings and a dear friend asked to use it in an Episcopal Easter service. Having been composed in the 16th Century, it has a modal, ancient church quality that some Sacrament meeting members objected to and a few comments were made after the service. At the same meeting we also performed something from "Les Mis," and were somewhat nervous about singing a selection from a stage musical in a Sacrament service. Yet the piece members found objectionable was not the Broadway show tune, but the Thomas Tallis composition, which sounded too "Catholic" for the "restored church" congregation. [Oh well.] Tallis was a Catholic until his death in 1585, and he left a legacy that still inspires this Mormon today.

Lately I've been listening (almost non-stop) to the music of Libera, sometimes called "The Greatest Boy Band in the World." Sounding like a cross between a traditional English boy choir and Enya, with doses of Enigma thrown in, the effect is often mesmerizing and inspiring. Like the Tallis piece mentioned above, Latter-day Saints may object to occasional Latin language or portions of the Anglican litergy in Libera's repertory, but there is much here to uplift and inspire. Check them out at their web site. The long history of this remarkable ensemble is related at Wikipedia. Full tracks of the choir's earlier recordings can be streamed here. BTW, Libera does a sublime version of Abide With Me:

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Jesus is the Homosexual Agenda"

At the 75th Episcopalian Convention Bishop Gene Robinson remarked:
Jesus is the agenda, the homosexual agenda -- I believe that with my whole heart . . . .

I am standing here before you believing that I am the beloved child of God because of God’s action in my own life. When I took Jesus Christ to be my lord and savior, I was speaking about a God who is not locked up in scripture 2,000 years ago, but is alive and well and working in my life as we speak. And my agenda is to speak the witness that I know of this living, loving God who loves me for all I am and all that I was created to be, wants the best for me, wants to forgive me of all my sins and raise me up from all my foibles . . . Jesus rarely pointed to himself in the synoptic gospels, he was always pointing to God and that is what homosexuals in the church want to do, to keep pointing to God and saying this God saved me from what the world and the church was telling me about myself.

While the church said I was an abomination, God somehow, miraculously, gracefully got through to me and said, “Wrong. You are my son, my beloved, in who I am well pleased.” I want to tell the world about that kind of God because the world tells people all kinds of reasons why God doesn’t love and accept them and they are all wrong. Because God loves all of God’s children. That’s the homosexual agenda in the Episcopal Church.

Gays are often said to have an "Agenda;" the assumption being the societal legitimacy or acceptance of homosexual behavior. But the truth is, gays are really asking for recognition of homosexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation. And Robinson is taking it even further; the recognition of the homosexual person as accepted and loved by God. If God loves all his children, why should the Episcopal Church exclude gay people? It is a good question.

But Bishop Robinson's words are important for another reason.
I am standing here before you believing that I am the beloved child of God because of God’s action in my own life.
Gene Robinson is saying that God has acted in his own life in a way that convinces Robinson that he is accepable to God.
While the church said I was an abomination, God somehow, miraculously, gracefully got through to me and said, “Wrong. You are my son, my beloved, in who I am well pleased.”
If Robinson is acceptable before God, how about former LDS Bishop and frequent 'nacle blogger Chris Williams, who recently came out? Or any gay person, for that matter? If they are an abomination to God, why do a great many openly gay people feel loved, accepted and validated by God? How is it that many report The Spirit working in their lives? If God hates the sin but loves the sinner, why do so many religious, but openly gay, people report a firm conviction, often the result of answer to sincere prayer, that "God loves me just the way I am, the way he intended me to be"? Are they parroting someone else's agenda? For Bishop Robinson, the Homosexual Agenda, in the Episcopal Church, refers to gay people bearing witness that they "know of this living, loving God [who] saved [them] from what the world and the church was telling [them] about [themselves]."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The LDS Church and Constitutional Amendments

Yes, we may be talked out on the subject, but this article from the Salt Lake Tribune, written by Michael Paulos, author of a forthcoming documentary history on the Reed Smoot hearings, seemed too relevant to be missed. It may not be widely known that, in addition to anti-polygamy legislation such as the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862 and the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, there was actually a movement to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting the Mormon practice of polygamy.
A few days following Smoot's election in 1903, the Deseret News reported the following: "Congressman Jenkins of Wisconsin today introduce[d] the following amendment to the Constitution of the United States. 'No person shall willfully and knowingly contract a second marriage while the first marriage is still subsisting and undissolved. Any person who shall willfully and knowingly contract a second marriage shall never hereafter hold, occupy or enjoy any office of honor or profit under the United States.'" (Deseret News, Jan. 31, 1903). . . Attempts to drum up support for this amendment occurred periodically between the years 1903 and 1906.

Smoot countered by recommending a national marriage law:
I have assured the Senators that I will support any measure, no matter how strict or what penalties it imposes, [with] provisions for the punishment of fornication, adultery, incest, unlawful cohabitation, and kindred offences. I hardly think that we need worry much about this constitutional amendment proposition. (Reed Smoot to Joseph F. Smith, April 9, 1904.)

President Joseph F. Smith responded,
"I say let the national solons amend the Constitution, to punish and insult and degrade this little handful of men who are rapidly passing away, and when they shall see the magnitude of their acts compared with the insignificance of the cause, they and their historians will laugh at their folly, and write them down asses in the broadest sense." (Joseph F. Smith to Reed Smoot, April 9, 1904.)

It goes without saying that the outcome of this past week's debate in the Senate adds an ironic twist to the history of marriage amendments in the United States. Especially considering President Smith's words.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Firmage on the DOM Letter

In Friday's Salt Lake Tribune Ed Firmage strongly criticised LDS church leaders for endorsing the Religious Coalition for Marriage last month, saying,
Both polygamy and theocracy were the reasons given by the mobs that burnt our homes, murdered our people, torched our temples and chased us into what was then Mexico . . . Now, we've changed sides. Now, we join the bad guys and beat up on those who most need and deserve our protection and fellowship.

Of the Religious Right Firmage blasted,
How in the name of God dare they? These self-righteous, self-appointed shepherds of the American Constitution. They would be better advised to keep such crap carefully contained within the walls of their half-empty churches. The American Constitution is too important a document to be abused in this manner.

I was not surprised at what Firmage said. However, buried in his outspoken rhetoric was this thought provoking gem:
Sexuality and gender are holy mysteries: just how we become human, how we gradually assume the image of God, upon what graduated plane do we tend more toward the male or the female and still call God father, mother . . . All this is holy ground.
This whole ground ripples with the holiness of the Lord. We feel God's spirit wafting through the land and the water of our soul. Just what is sexuality? Gender? God's image? We take off our shoes.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Coffee - The New Health Food

We all know that tea is rich in antioxidants, "one of the best things you can drink," they say. Well, now coffee is praised by science as a disease fighter. From significantly reducing type II diabetes, "colon cancer by as much as 25 percent, reducing liver cirrhosis by as much as 80 percent, to helping alleviate asthma symptoms, knocking out headaches and, get this, preventing cavities," according to Fox News. Latte anyone?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mormon Leaders Welcome Gay Couples

"Forget everything we said about the purpose and destiny of mankind, we spoke with limited understanding. Sincerely, the First Presidency."

No it is not a real statement. It is my initial response to the suggestion of MikeInWeHo, who provided the framework on a LDSLF Mormon Stories thread: (message 105)
"Write an imaginary statement from the First Presidency announcing that married gay couples are welcome in the church. This must be done without altering any basic church doctrine, the Law of Chastity, or the restored understanding of the nature of deity."
My first inclination was almost flippant, but communicated my feeling that changes to policy regarding gay people would require major revisions to fundamental doctrines. I have long believed that there is no place in Mormon theology for the homosexual. But then I thought about it after MikeInWeHo posed his question, and upon some reflection, I actually don't believe it would be as difficult as one might suspect. In fact, I doubt any major revelation would even be necessary.

What would be required for the church to welcome and embrace gay people into its fold?

1. The biblical passages condemning homosexuality would need to be reinterpreted as speaking in the context of idolatry, cultic prostitution, pederasty, rape and abuse, and not referring to righteous, loving homosexual relationships. A new interpretation would not be difficult, given the context of these passages.

2. It would require the church stop viewing all sexual activity that falls outside of the ideal as being akin to murder. Gay sex would be viewed as appropriate intimate behavior for committed gays. Yes, falling short of God's design for humanity, but not inherently sinful. I do not believe this view would be a difficult step, given that non-procreative sex is entirely approved by the church within an appropriate setting. Already the church welcomes divorced people who remarry into full fellowship and does not consider this sinful, despite the strong condemnation by Jesus himself.

3. An appropriate model of behavior would need to be established to accommodate Gay and Lesbian saints. This would involve inclusion of gay people in "Gold and Green Balls", church socials and youth programs. And yes, it would require Same-Sex Marriage. Only with a truly comparable paradigm can homosexuals be held to the "same standard" as heterosexuals. I would think that a few simple additions to the Handbook of Instructions is all that would be needed.

4. Church members would be encouraged by its leaders to welcome and be inclusive of members and visitors who do not fit the stereotype, who fail to wear white shirts and ties, or may sport facial hair. Single members who are over 30 should not be stigmatized or shamed. This should not require a new "revelation."

5. Questions related to the eternal destiny and purpose of gay, lesbian and transgendered people would simply be answered with, "we don't know."

6. Finally, the proclamation on the family would need to be amended to be more inclusive of people who, for whatever reason, find themselves outside of its vision.

I do not see anything difficult or requiring changes to major doctrines or even a new "revelation" in order to give gay people a place at the table. Forgive me if I appear to be treating lightly what members may hold sacred or idealize. I just do not see why the inclusion of gay people is considered something that can "never happen."

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Non-transferable Priesthood

. . . . But this man, because he continueth ever,
hath an unchangeable priesthood.
(Heb. 7:24, KJV)

Hebrews 7:24 states that Jesus' priesthood is permanent and non-transferable (Gk., which passeth not from one to another; "unchangeable" is the rendering of the KJV). But if this same priesthood, which is "after the order of Melchizedek," cannot be given to another, according to Hebrews, how then do Latter-day Saints claim to bear the Priesthood of Christ?

I contend that the New Testament writers did not use the term priesthood in the same developed way that modern LDS members do. In the LDS idea of priesthood several elements are integrated into one:

     1. Priestly duties (healing the sick, laying on of hands, etc.)
     2. Authority (keys, etc.)
     3. Divine Power

To bear the priesthood, in Mormon thought, is more than merely performing the responsibilities of the ministry. The individual also possesses keys of authority -- the authority to act in the name of God, and to work with the power of God. So one does not describe the Latter-day Saint as "going into the ministry." Instead, it is said, he "holds" the priesthood, because he bears not only responsibilities, but also power and authority.

The New Testament does not appear to use the term priesthood with the same developed understanding. In fact, outside of the Revelation to John, we do not read in the New Testament about any Christian priests, except in a metaphorical sense. Yet there was certainly a "work of the ministry." An organized system of church officials certainly existed, which included deacons, bishops, elders and apostles. But they are never called "priesthood holders." In the Bible we find the same elements of the composite priesthood as defined in Mormonism--power, authority, priestly duties--but never combined under the term "priesthood." We read in the New Testament about Jesus giving the Apostles both power, authority and duties, but these elements are never drawn together and called "priesthood."

To understand why this is so, one must realize that at the time the New Testament books were written there was not a decisive break between Christianity and Judaism. The earliest Christians considered themselves Jews. They were the group of Jews that believed that the Messiah had come. They continued to worship in the temple. Their priests officiated in the temple. Their priesthood was the Jewish priesthood.

To the early Christian, the term priesthood referred the "role" of the Jewish Levitical priests. If someone was referred to as a priest, it was not because he was considered to have power or authority, though he may have possessed such gifts. It was because he carried out priestly duties. A person's "priesthood" was not the mystical composite that he "held." A person's priesthood was his duties, his priestly calling. When the New Testament writers spoke of priests they were, with few exceptions, always referring to the Jewish priests who officiated in the Jewish temple. An Apostle, Bishop or Deacon would never be spoken of as having the priesthood, because he did not perform the duties of a Jewish priest.

Before Christianity could have a priesthood of its own, a division had to take place between Judaism and Christianity. Only after Christianity considered itself separate from Judaism and the Levitical priesthood, could it refer to its ministerial officials as a "priesthood" body.

The decisive event that helped to cause this separation was the destruction of the temple in 70 a.d. It was after the fall of the temple that the question of the effectiveness and meaning of the Levitical system was added to the question of why Jesus died. It was at this time that the book of Hebrews appears to have been written and attempts to give meaning to both catastrophic events. The entire thrust of the book is to show the supremacy of the new system over the old.

Jesus was not a priest in the Levitical sense. Yet, it was argued, He performed a work far more permanent and far more important than any Levitical priest could have. The Levitical priests' work had to be repeated by a succession of priests, because it was not permanent. Jesus, in contrast, performed a supreme and holy work that continues to be effective because it is eternal and everlasting. His priestly act is once and for all, whereas the Levites must offer their sacrifices daily, weekly, and from generation to generation.

When Hebrews 7 refers to Jesus as having a priesthood, it means that he had a holy calling, a priestly duty to perform. There is no attempt to describe the mystical composite priesthood which is "held" by ecclesiastical leaders in Mormonism and traditional Christianity.

    23) Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24) but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25) Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

    26) Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27) Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
(Heb. 7:23-27, New International Version)

Christ here is not described as having power and authority or "keys". The focus is upon how he lived (holy, blameless, pure, ie., like a priest) and the work he performed (sacrificed for sins). It follows that Christ's mission (i.e., his priesthood) is one that no one else can fulfill. Christ's priesthood (his priestly work) is unique to Him. It cannot be given to another. I don't believe any LDS priesthood "holder" would wish to fulfill Jesus' unique priestly calling. It is an "unchangeable," "non-transferable" priesthood (Heb.7:24).

The epithet "after the order of Melchizedek" in verses 11 and 15 is used to describe the eternal nature of Christ's sacrifice. Melchizedek is a character that shows up here and there in the rabbinic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc., where everyone wants to make him a super being. His person is shrouded in mystery. Even Mormons speak of the priesthood having been named after Melchizedek "because he was such a great high priest." But this is only part of the picture. What was of particular significance to the author of Hebrews was the fact that "eternity" was associated with Melchizedek--perhaps because of the phrase "without father or mother....." Some ancient people thought of Melchizedek as a being that popped in and out of the world and lives on still. Christ's priestly duty, then, was "after the order of Melchizedek," meaning (in Hebrews) that Christ's sacrifice was eternal (like Melchizedek). His role as true high priest and mediator has not been given to another, because (like Melchizedek) "he lives" (Heb.7:8,25).

In conclusion, The Letter to the Hebrews is not concerned with whether Christians may act in the name of God, perform ecclesiastical duties, or be endowed with power from on high. The book is strictly contrasting the Jewish Levitical system and the destruction of the temple to the work of Jesus Christ. Although the LDS Church today has a structured, ecclesiastical priesthood, bearing the titles Aaronic and Melchizedek, which names were given by revelation and not without reason, the perpetuation, function and duties of these priesthoods do not have a direct correlation to the issues discussed in Hebrews 7.

Notes: For a discussion of Melchizedek and the "eternity" connection, see George Wesley Buchanan, To the Hebrews, AB 36, 121. See also John Welch, The Melchizedek Material in Alma 13:13-19.