Saturday, September 26, 2009

A response to comments

First why respond as a new post? Because it is fun that way, also it is a good way to keep the discussion at the top of the page so to speak.

Unsurprisingly there were a number of comments on my Gay Marriage post. Hopefully I can address some of them here.

First several of you cautioned me to show tolerance even to intolerant Church members. I could not agree more. Everyone has weaknesses and one of the great things about being in a large organization is that we are exposed to others’ weaknesses and strengths. Intolerance is definitely a weakness (and it just happens to be one of very few that drives me up the wall.) Tolerance however is one of those principles that must be handled with care, it should never be confused with condoning bad behavior, nor should it be a reason for staying silent in the face of destructive behavior. What it means is that disagreements should be handled with respect for, and charity towards, those you are in disagreement with, not silence. Tolerance of the intolerant means that I accept that they are children of God, as I am, and are in need of the atonement of Christ, as I am, and that they are deserving of my love. It does not mean that intolerance masquerading as righteousness should remain unchallenged or unnamed.

Several of you recommended that I read the interview with Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman. I have several times, in fact I linked to it in my post and it was one of my main sources of information on the Church’s position on gay marriage. This interview I think address the easy to moderately difficult questions about the Church’s position on homosexual behavior in general (this was a pleasant surprise to me because I expected an interview of Church officials by a Church reporter to only ask the easy questions.) The discussion on gay marriage is several years old at least (the first time I saw it was when the amendment to the U.S. Constitution was proposed.) The interview really only states the belief that accepting gay marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage because it would redefine it (an argument that mostly leads nowhere because the real question isn’t should we redefine marriage but is the new definition better or worse than the old one.) Its main contribution is that it defines the threat as against the institution, not individual marriages. It is in the statement on Prop 8 that the Church more clearly explains why it believes such a redefinition is a problem. And I believe that the reason laid out in the post accurately reflects that position. (If you still think otherwise please let me know what the other reasons are, I really would like to know.)

The interview with Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman I believe was intended primarily as a statement of religious belief, not policy. That is not true for the statement on Prop 8. That statement is an argument made in an attempt to change public policy. And as such it would have been more effective had it been addressed to a wider audience or helped give Church members the tools to talk to a wider audience. The statement was written in such a way that it sounded like an attempt to show the rightness of the Church’s position, but because of the way it mixed the religious and secular reasoning it could not be used in any attempt to persuade a fence-sitter or someone who was in disagreement. It could only reinforce the beliefs of those who already agreed with it. In other words, I could not send it to someone who was not already a Mormon and did not already believe in the Church's teachings and position to that statement and expect them to come away convinced.

This ties into the comment made by Anonymous at 7:06. I have no problem combining secular reasoning with religious belief— in fact I think that it is vital! The point I was making when I talked about the intermingling of the two making the statement useless was not that intermingling was wrong or that the Church was wrong to do it. The point was that it made the statement unusable as a tool to promote public policy. If we want to impact national (or state policy) it cannot be based on religious reasons- that would cause the state to become an instrument of religious enforcement. It can only be based on universally demonstrable truths. Take smoking as an example. If the only reason that we can give for not smoking is that God said not to do it, then those who believe can use that belief to govern their own behavior, but they cannot use it as reason to have the government force people who do not believe to change their behavior. If, on the other hand, we can do an objective study and show that secondhand smoke increases other people’s risk for lung cancer then we can make a strong case for banning smoking in public places. The same holds true for gay marriage. If the only reason for homosexuals not to marry is that God said not to, that is insufficient grounds for using the government to prevent them from marrying. If, on the other hand, it can be objectively shown that gay marriage would be harmful to society (not very likely) or that unique recognition of heterosexual marriage would benefit society (much more likely) then that would be sufficient grounds on which to base public policy.

Carrie: about Elder Wickman’s statement. Your question brings along with it a lot of assumptions. First, doctrinally what he is saying is an interpolation (and a very logical one) from our current state of knowledge about the pre- and post- earth life, it is not revelation. As far as I can recall, nowhere in scripture is this taught. There have been other times in the history of the church when ideas were taught that were then overturned as new revelation came forward. One that relates specifically to the pre-mortal life was the teaching that people of African decent were fence sitters in the war in heaven (they refused to support Christ, but didn’t join with Satan either) and thus withholding the priesthood from them was justified. This teaching has now been specifically condemned as false by Elder Holland. Similar situations can be found regarding other doctrines, such as polygamy or the changing of the temple ceremonies. My point is that there is always the possibility that the Lord could provide us with additional knowledge that would overturn earlier assumptions, just like what has happened in the past. Also, let’s be clear in what I was saying, I was not declaring that someone who engages in homosexual behavior will be in one of the lower levels of the Celestial Kingdom, only that that is one possible way that I can see that God could allow for homosexual marriage, without needing to overturn the idea that a continuation of posterity in the next life requires men and women working together in an eternal marriage. I’m sure there are other ways and I’m sure that if that’s the way He’s going God’s already got it all figured out.

John and Pamela: I think you have touched on one of the great (and not entirely unjustified) fears of the religious right with this issue. There are some gay rights activists who are attempting to use the government to force changes in religious doctrine. Just because someone is on the political left does not make them a liberal.

Anonymous at 7:33: Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog, and for leaving comments! (I’m not being sarcastic, I really am glad you took the time to read!) I have seen many members of the Church with similar beliefs about the incompatibility of Mormonism, Liberalism and Democratic politics. In fact that is one of the reasons why I decided to start this blog. In my experience the belief that Liberalism and Mormonism are incompatible stems from one of several things: a misunderstanding of Mormon teachings, belief and doctrine, or a misunderstanding of Liberalism, or some combination of these. One of my goals is to help correct those misunderstandings. Because you are anonymous I can’t really speak to your level of understanding of Mormonism, as to your understanding of liberalism- let me use an analogy.

I assume that at some point you have stumbled across descriptions of our church and faith made by enemies of Mormonism. Not just people who are ignorant, but people whose goal it is to tear down the Church and our people. They tell outright lies, and they twist the truth so hard it turns into a lie. Such statements aren’t really all that dangerous to those who know the truth; we see them for what they are. Imagine, however, that all you had ever heard about the Church had either been filtered by or explained by its enemies. What would your opinion of the Church be then? If all I knew about the Church came from its enemies I surely would think it was a terrible organization and I’d want nothing to do with it. The same holds true for political discourse. So many people have gotten their entire understanding of liberalism from the conservative media, people like Limbaugh, Beck, and Savage. These people make millions by making conservatives angry at liberals. If you’re not angry they’re not getting their ratings. People like this are a very bad place to get information about what liberals believe. If all I knew about liberalism was from these sources I would not believe that it was compatible with Mormon belief. Fortunately, for conservatives, these guys have just about talked themselves to the point where their silliness is almost universally apparent (death camps for the elderly, from Democrats the defenders of the defenseless and the authors of Medicare? How much more ridiculous can you get?) Hopefully for conservatives real leaders will start to emerge soon. My point is that if all you’ve ever heard about Liberals and Democrats is from people like this or has been explained to you or framed for you by people like this then you don’t actually have any real idea what it is we believe.

I hope that you will take the time to browse back through some of my older posts (I did several posts that dealt with liberalism on a general level rather then on an issue specific level.) Also helpful would be to read about Harry Reid (Democratic Senator from Nevada, Senate Majority Leader and active Church member.) He said that he believed that it was easier to reconcile Democratic values with Church teachings then Republican ones. President James E. Faust (former member of the First Presidency) was a Democrat and served in the Kennedy administration. Elder Marlin K. Jensen (a current member of the Quorum of the Seventy) is also a Democrat. In fact “On April 22, 1998, Jensen was sent by the First Presidency to give an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune in reaction to a recent First Presidency statement and to explicitly state that someone could be a devout Mormon and a member of the Democratic Party.” (from the Wikipedia article on Elder Jensen and footnoted to a transcript of the interview) Further back in the past Elder Marion G. Romney (former member of the First Presidency) served in the Utah state legislature as a Democrat.

I’m with Harry Reid; I think it is much easier to combine Mormon beliefs with Democratic liberal beliefs then with Republican conservative ones. Although I would be thrilled if I was able to convince some people of the value of Liberalism, I’d be quite satisfied with increasing their level of understanding of the issues and helping them to see that despite what Rush Limbaugh and his cronies say Liberalism is not a synonym for evil.

Anonymous at 7:06: I addressed the main body of your comment above. As for the PS, I would be careful about arbitrarily placing limits on God. From what I can tell the only limits on God are those imposed universally by Justice, Mercy, and Love. I would recommend taking a little time to study the history of polygamy in the Church. Remember than many people define marriage as only between ONE man and ONE woman and thus marriage to a second women while still married to the first is not valid and thus adulterous. Adultery is exactly what Joseph Smith was accused of by his detractors. In essence, the Lord allowed for a time what many people believe was adultery.


Carrie said...

Chris, thanks for your thoughts!

PamelaStanley said...

Chris, I am constantly in awe and admiration of how calm you are in your responses to some of the comments left on your blog. I think you and I both know my responses would have been heavily laden with swears. I started many times to leave a comment in response to Anonymous but thought you would do a better job.

Chris said...

Thanks, PamelaStanley. One of the advantages to being a liberal in a conservative environment is that I am constantly reminded that humans are complex and any attempt to simplify them to stereotypes doesn’t work, someone can hold some bigoted beliefs but still be a kind and even generous person in other ways. I’ve also learned that most Mormons are good people trying to do good, and like everyone we just make mistakes about what is good sometimes. I’ve found that if we really want to change people the best way is to build them up, and to assume that even their mean or poor behavior is the result of a misguided attempt to do good. Even if on occasion this isn’t true, treating them as if it was it always seems to work better.