Sunday, November 22, 2009

A response to comments

First of all no need to apologize; it’s the nature of blogs (and email and texts, etc.) to make people sound harsher than they are. I really don’t get offended very easily; negative comments mostly make me curious as to why other people don’t think I’m as smart as I think I am. I’m obviously the most brilliant person alive, if only the rest of the world would realize it and hand me the reins of power. (Or the rains of power, I’ll take whatever, I’m not fussy.)

Let me respond to your comments one at a time:

You said “I don't think that anyone is arguing that gay people want marriage rights so that they can bring down the institution of marriage from the inside out…” Actually there are some people who believe exactly this. Most Church members are not this extreme, but some are. And there are some non-LDS groups that we were allied with that do believe this view, or similar ones (i.e. there is a great gay conspiracy attempting to trick us all to hell, or other such nonsense.) When we make common cause with groups like that sometimes we are assumed to agree with all of their viewpoints and this obscures our message. It also allows some of their ideas to bleed into ours.

“I think when people use the word "destroy" it means more along the lines of making marriage less sacred.” This is still the same argument, only said in a nicer way. The underlying assumption is that gay people are inferior and they would spoil marriage (“make it less sacred.”) The point isn’t to learn to use nicer words, but to actually talk about, and understand the issues in a way that the gay community would accept as fair. Offensive attitudes are still offensive even when they are delivered with kind words.

“I think both sides need to understand that, while their are extreme fringes, most people on either side are just good people, trying to make sense of their world, and make decisions that will make the world a better place for them and their kids.” I agree, but even good people can have bigoted attitudes. Nowadays we like to think of racists as pure evil, but the fact of the matter is that 50 years ago there were a lot of good, honest, nice people who really in their heart of hearts didn’t believe that black people were as good (clean, wholesome, intelligent, etc.) as whites and thought it entirely unfair that black people couldn’t stay in their own specially designated black zones. They believed that desegregation was a violation their rights because they should have a right not to be in the same stores, or share restrooms with people they thought of as dirty or inferior. They really believed that giving blacks equal rights threatened their rights. Just because someone is trying to do what they think is best doesn’t mean they are doing what’s best, and that is why it is so important to deal with people on the basis of respect and equality rather than on the assumption of their inferiority or unworthiness.

“For some people that means marriage as Christian religion has traditionally defined it- between a man and a woman.” I addressed this form of the argument in my original post. If I were to look up marriage in the dictionary we would all think it strange if it said “Marriage= between a man and a woman.” Such a definition doesn’t make sense. Marriage does not mean “between a man and a woman.” Marriage is what is between them, or in other words it is a type of relationship. If we focus on defining the type of relationship that marriage is, and the role that it should play in society then who can enter into such a relationship will flow from that definition naturally. I also believe that from a public attempt to create such a definition would flow other types of relationships that are beneficial to society, and thus would be worth giving official recognition to. As would the recognition that it is the relationship that is sacred, not the word “marriage”. This would also leave the question of rights denied, or religious beliefs threatened, out of the issue.

I believe that the debate on marriage should not be about who should marry (and especially not about who we deem “worthy” to marry), but what marriage is, and its role in society. These issues go way beyond the issues of gay marriage and begin to incorporate the much larger issues and problems facing marriage that the current debate is obscuring (casual divorce, poverty, marriage-like cohabitation, unrealistic expectations, adultery, selfishness, etc.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A response to comments

Last things first: I’m not sure where I’m being smug. (Unless it is the fact that I feel strongly that I’m right ;-) ) And where is the line between thoughtful evaluation and judgmental anyway? I surely don’t know. I do try to be fair, but still give honest expression to what I see and how I fell about it.

Next question: “Does "the other side" recognize our arguments in terms we recognize as accurate, fair, and respectful?”

Answer: That should not be relevant to our behavior. Poor behavior on the part of those we disagree with is no excuse for poor behavior on our part. I could do a whole post on this, but I think that what you’ll find is that most of the time what we think of as “the poor behavior” of others is, in fact, due to misunderstanding and not malicious intent, and that assuming malicious intent only contributes to the problem.

Which ties into your first question: What does this even mean to “acknowledge the arguments on the other side in terms that they would recognize and accept as accurate, fair, and respectful?”

Headway on this problem (or any other problem, really) can only be based on relationships founded on trust, love and respect (see D&C 121:41-42) not accusatory rhetoric. If “the other side” feels like they are misunderstood or constantly being maligned, that trust will not be able to develop and as a result our ability to impact events will be greatly reduced or even reversed. Example: There are those within the Church who have said that the goal of gay-rights groups’ attempts to legalize gay marriage is an effort to destroy marriage. When you think about it, such an argument is silly, but also extremely offensive. First: it accuses gay activists of lying (because what they are saying explicitly is that they want to be married, not that they want to destroy marriage.) Next: it accuses the activists of pursuing destructive goals rather than constructive goals, and while I cannot say I’ve heard from every gay-rights activist, I haven’t heard any that would classify their goals as an effort to destroy the very institution they want so badly to join. But worst of all: it carries with it an assumed point of view that homosexuals are so toxic that their very presence in the institution of marriage would destroy it. Can you imagine being told time and again that you are so toxic that you mere presence is destructive? That you are so evil that something you believe to be beautiful, wonderful, and valuable would be destroyed by your proximity, and not only would it be ruined for you but that you would ruin it for everyone else? Would you trust someone who told you things like that? Would you listen to anything they had to say? You would have to ignore them just to keep you self-respect intact. And if you think that gay community doesn’t hear those unstated messages you need to listen closer – they hear it loud and clear. The same thing can hold true when members assume or accuse gay people of devaluing marriage or otherwise having nefarious intentions. I could go on, but learning to see this is the type of thing that I mean when I say we need to recognize our bigotry.

Until we as an organization can come to truly understand that what gay community is attempting is something that they see as constructive (whether or not we agree with it), communicate that understanding, and then deal with the issue (and the people) on that basis we will not only be ineffective; in the long run we will be counterproductive.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

One Small Step…

I literally leapt from my seat with joy when I surfed over to the Church’s web site this week and read that the Church was coming out in favor of a civil rights law protecting homosexuals against discrimination. While we still have a long way to go, it filled my heart with joy to see us taking the fist steps down the path toward more Christ like concern for our fellow men.

In my initial post on Gay marriage I gave the church a C+ for the way in which they were addressing the issue. A part of the reason for the low grade was the failure of the Church to directly repudiate the bigotry that was being carried out under the banner of marriage defense. In the general “battle” to protect marriage the Church had aligned itself with some groups that had more far-reaching and bigoted goals than the protection of marriage (and some of these goals have begun to bleed though and color church members’ thoughts and actions), also some members of the Church were using the Church’s stand against gay marriage as a justification for denying homosexuals other basic rights and legal protections (take as an example the repeated inability of the Utah Legislature to pass a workable hate crimes bill because the supporters insist on including sexual orientation as one of the categories against which a hate crime can be committed.) Even though the Church had specifically stated that they were “not opposed” to extending basic (non-marriage) rights to homosexuals, this message wasn’t loud enough to be heard over much of the bigotry on the right.

Last week that changed. Although I first heard the news on the Church’s web site, it was on the front page of The Oregonian, and reported in the New York Times (also here) as well. The Church’s official public relations spokesperson, speaking on behalf of the Church, explicitly stated the Church’s support for a measure before the Salt Lake City Council granting civil rights protection for homosexuals in housing and employment. While this was presented as being in harmony with earlier statements (and in a sense it was), it represents a radical change. The Church went from being “not opposed” to being in “in support of,” and not just abstractly “in support”; they took active steps to support the civil rights of homosexuals in the face of opposition from groups with whom they were previously allied.

While I still think that we have a long way to go as a church when it comes to gay rights issues and learning to see homosexuals as our brothers and sisters, this is a very welcome step in the right direction. It tells the critics on the far left and the extremists on the far right that we actually do mean what we say and that the position on gay marriage isn’t part of a larger agenda to marginalize homosexuals. Hopefully both the statement itself and the language in the statement will serve as reminder to Church members that bigoted words and ideas are not part of the Gospel of Christ.

If this represents an actual change in position leading to a real sustained effort (as a recent follow-up statement by Elder Holland indicates), in my mind this would move the church from a C+ to B-. Among other things, we still need to admit that there are bigots in our own ranks and address them. We need to help people to understand what bigotry is, why it is dangerous and how to recognize it. We need to learn to acknowledge the arguments on the other side in terms that they would recognize and accept as accurate, fair, and respectful. We need to address our arguments using independently verifiable, universally acceptable, objective data and not pick and choose among studies (we can’t ignore the ones we don’t like and blindly generalize from those we do.) And we can refuse to align ourselves with people and groups using this issue to further agendas of bigotry.