Monday, October 4, 2010

How Can We Bring About Positive Change from the LDS Conference Rhetoric?

I'm so alarmed by the recent rash of suicides among the LGBT youth in America, and after this weekend, living in Salt Lake and being fully exposed to the information disseminated at this weekends General Conference, I'm very sad that the leaders of the LDS church, the default religious leaders of my community, are still encouraging division among brothers & sisters. It's just so wrong! And so I, like so many others, am once again driven to speak out about my own feelings.

The widespread dissatisfaction with the LDS church leadership I am currently witnessing is not a new phenomena. It's been this way since the very inception of the LDS church - the public at large didn't like what Joseph Smith was doing with his new religion & congregation. This disapproval (though it was mostly disapproval at what Joseph Smiths did with others' wives and various con jobs he was wrapping up on the side) is what led to the mobs that drove the Mormons from every city they settled in until they ultimately turned to the inhospitable Salt Lake valley. Surely there have been spikes in the negative public image at various points in history. Things were pretty bad back in 1978 just before blacks were gifted with the priesthood through a new revelation. Certainly things have been heated since Proposition 8 came along, thrusting the involvement of individual members (at the encouragement of church officials from the pulpit) into the limelight. So this recent rash of youth suicides I mentioned...  It has brought this newest chapter in the long civil rights path of our young country to a head once again.
Justin Aaberg, 15, Anoka, Minn., July 9, 2010
Billy Lucas, 15, Greensburg, Ind., Sept. 9, 2010
Seth Walsh, 13, Tehachapi, Calif., Sept. 19, 2010
Tyler Clementi, 18, Ridgewood, N.J., Sept. 22, 2010
Asher Brown, 13, Cypress, Texas, Sept. 23, 2010
Raymond Chase, 19, Monticello, N.Y., Sept. 29, 2010
Children are killing themselves because they are alienated from their peers in every way.  And their peers alienate them because their own parents and leaders have taught them to fear and scorn anyone that is different from them.  And this back-to-school trend is absolutely not the beginning of youth suicides.  I got a mailing from the Human Rights Campaign that talked about the suicide of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11 year old Massachusetts boy in 2009, due to bullying because he "acted like a girl". There are so many. It's truly tragic and alarming. My own 11 year old son is the victim of bullying and ridicule at school this year, simply because he has long hair. Kids call him a girl and tease him mercilessly, just because of their perceptions about sexuality!

This weekend was the LDS church's fall session of their General Conference. This is an opportunity for the membership to hear messages from the top leadership of the church. And as is typical at this time each year, things are heating up. I've read a few news articles yesterday and today, excerpting Boyd K Packer's talk, but after several LDS members claimed his message is being taken out of context, I decided to listen to the entire talk on the church's own website
Packer begins by proclaiming the fear and confusion facing the young people of the church today. He refers to the churches revelation "The Family: A Proclamation to the World", issued 15 years ago. He quotes it in part by reading the following:
We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.
He then further quotes LDS scripture to define union between a man and woman as a commandment from God. He goes on to discuss the concept of free agency, so prevalent in this religion. He talks about how sacred is our ability to create life. He talks about obedience and prayer. He promises that an obedient, willing & prayerful husband and wife will be gifted with children, happiness & a personal relationship with God. These blessings, including children, may come now or in the hereafter. He also stipulates that "pure love presupposes that only after a pledge of eternal fidelity, a legal & lawful ceremony and ideally after a sealing ordinance in the temple, are those life giving powers released to the full expression of love. It is to be shared only and solely between a man & woman, husband and wife with that one who is our companion forever." He warns that Satan is miserable and impotent, and that he can not stand any happiness and seeks to tempt us to sin and therefore, into misery. He likens pornography to a plague, "relentlessly trying to invade every home mostly through the husband and father". He talks about the spiritual fatality caused by this plague. He then promises that the priesthood can protect us from this plague, or any other bad habits and addictions. He warns parents to protect their families from these plagues. He warns not to succumb to these counterfeits for marriage. His next quote lays out exactly how he feels about homosexual tendencies, and the italicized portion is the quote which has sparked so much upset and so many claims of being taken out of context.
Any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. In the Book of Mormon we learn that wickedness never was happiness. Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and the unnatural . Not so. Why would our heavenly father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our father."
He quotes more scripture and goes back to talk of breaking addictions through the power of the priesthood. Then he goes on to tell a story of a child who brought a kitten to class with him. the children asked if the kitten was a boy or a girl and the teacher quickly asserted that it didn't matter. But the children persisted and finally one boy said he knew how to tell - they could vote on it!
You may laugh at the story. But if we're not alert, there are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of Gods laws & nature. A law against nature would be impossible to enforce. For instance what good would a vote against the law of gravity do? There are both moral & physical laws, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of the world that cannot be changed."
He warns that if the membership does not protect the LDS idea of family, the very foundation of civilization will be threatened. He begins to wrap up his address with a message of repentance for your unworthy habits and addictions. He promises peace & happiness for families who are obedient to these laws.

Now, after going over the entire address, I can safely say nothing is taken out of context. With that in mind, here's what I think of his words. I've noticed that President Packer tends toward this theme. He harps on homosexuality, intellectuals, feminists, morality, pornography, etc. I wonder what sins he sees in himself that make him so fearful of these things. In a facebook note linked below the comments suggest Packer is gay and another commenter, a church member, is insulted at the "disgusting things" implied about President Packer. I was far more offended by the statement that being gay is disgusting, than I ever would be, were it implied that my religious leader was gay! Her paradigm demands that she see that as disgusting. I see it not as an inflammatory remark to imply such, but simply an obvious possibility based on human behavioral psychology.

Anyhow, skipping further speculation on Packer's sexual tendencies, I see Packers early comments about the family and free agency as a way to ensure that his congregation perceives homosexuality as a choice. His provision that a husband and wife may be gifted with children only in the hereafter is typical of the LDS church's advice of delaying blessings & happiness till the next life, in exchange for suffering in this one. Just as they counsel their homosexual members to live celibate lives now in order to possibly be free of these desires someday, maybe not till the next life.

When he quotes the scripture "wickedness never was happiness", he implies gays are miserable. He mixes together references to homosexuality as this "fake unnatural love" with the feelings of shame & guilt associated with pornography in order to confuse his congregation and make them fearful of homosexual relationships. Packer's switch from addictions to homosexuality & back again works to suggest to the congregation that homosexuality is somehow a bad habit or an addiction to be overcome.

When he talks about voting on natural laws, my blood really starts pumping. Gravity is indeed an irrevocable law that can not be changed, even if we were to put it to a vote. The ridiculousness of this statement is unmatched in his talk, since gravity is a proven scientific fact, demonstrable in every aspect of our daily lives. Morality however, is a fluid social agreement, based on the times we live in. For instance, it used to be moral for a Mormon man to have several wives. Currently I believe several wives is considered immoral among the Mormon leadership. Until someone can prove to me a constant, unchangeable law of morality, I won't have this conversation.

It just makes me want to cry for these manipulated children when he ends with an admonishment to repent. The entire message of fear is couched in language of parental love and concern. Well I'm not buying it!

As a personal side note, that from-the-pulpit fear mongering couched in fake love, and dripping with old-man creepiness I might add, is a large reason for my departure from regular church attendance, and a contributing factor in my decision to "resign" from their membership officially.

This sort of fear mongering and hate rhetoric fan the flames of homophobia. My 11 year old son, the same boy who gets teased for his long hair, has 3 friends. Today he came home and informed me that his parents told him he can no longer have sleep overs. His parents told him yesterday evening that sleeping over with friends led to temptations they need to protect him from. Wow.

So now we see stuff like this facebook note that very closely reflects my own feelings on Packers address, as well as fantastic official statements like this one from The Human Rights Campaign. Joe Solmonese, president of HRC says:
Words have consequences, particularly when they come from a faith leader. This is exactly the kind of statement that can lead some kids to bully and others to commit suicide. When a faith leader tells gay people that they are a mistake because God would never have made them that way and they don’t deserve love, it sends a very powerful message that violence and/or discrimination against LGBT people is acceptable. It also emotionally devastates those who are LGBT or may be struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identify. His words were not only inaccurate, they were also dangerous.
Educated LDS friends talk about how they don't agree with Packer's statements about homosexuality not being preset. I don't understand how someone can pick and choose which tenets of their gospel they can agree with. If my religious leader is preaching something that rings false to me, this is a red flag for the entire belief system in my opinion. One very telling comment touched me.
When I hear the words of President Packer, my heart hurts and I feel uncomfortable. I interpret this as a departure of the spirit. When my own leaders counsel causes this departure of the spirit, what am I to make of it?
As Duane Jennings, co-director of the Salt Lake chapter of Affirmation says... this weekends conference comments about gays are "evidence that the church hasn’t really changed, and that its positive moves [like supporting Salt Lake City’s anti-discrimination statutes] have been just an attempt to improve its image in the wake of Proposition 8.” I'm afraid of what may come from this latest log on the firey civil rights debate. I don't think we've seen the last of our losses unfortunately. And like Isaac Higham, I feel that "the blood of the innocents drips from the hands of those who strangle the life and the hope out of them through their bully pulpit." But as renown author John Krakauer extensively demonstrates in his book "Under The Banner of Heaven", the LDS church has a rich tradition of violence and separatism. Their leadership believes in the blood atonement and it could be that none of this even bothers these men.

All I can do is hope more people will feel the truth and see how false this message is. I believe that someday we will move past hate, and even past tolerance, and past acceptance, into a real and complete love of each other, for all our similarities and our differences! And I think this message of fear from President Packer is just the sort of vehicle to bring about some of that change! I have faith that at least some people will instinctively want to move away from this message of division and fear, and find something that feels closer to God, without the strings of fear and brainwashing attached. And what a wonderful thing it is, when we start our quest for a higher truth! Some beautiful journeys have just begun!

- Flora


  1. THANK YOU!! I have been having this argument all day and you have said much more eloquently what I have been trying to say. :)

  2. I have happened upon your post following comments linked from one blog to another over the past several days.

    I am seething with so much to say and I don't really know where to start. Let's start with context: I'm a California-born recovering Catholic now living in the Nation's Capital. I broke free of the force-fed hate coming from my own religion because I simply couldn't do as you mention SO many others doing ... accepting one part of one's religion/doctrine/teaching and questioning others. As a kid I felt I was so lucky to listen to teachings and "pick what I like" because I was raised in a forward-thinking parish and my parents supported my conscious thought. However, somewhere in college I realized that showing up at the salad bar of church every Sunday, taking some and leaving the rest, was nothing short of hypocritical. I couldn't do - in a building, as a part of an organization, created by man - what Jesus asked me to do, "turn the other cheek". So I stopped. From that second forward, when the lecture mid-mass was about who we should vote for in the upcoming elections, I got up and left. I said no more. I made a declaration to commit my life to living in the here and now with other people, loving others and treating them with kindness. To always commit my life dedicated to others living without, to be compassionate, patient and understanding. I was not going to be lead my coercion, by guilt, and by fear. I was not going to listen to a man in a frock as "the voice of God" for one second longer. My life is about me and god, whenever and wherever I see fit.

    Oddly, I'm the most spiritually satisfied person I know.

    For more context: my first boyfriend was Mormon (as was my sister's) and we learned a lot going to public high school with these "others". Life outside Catholic school ... woohooo!! I own 2 book of Mormons, have Mormon friends and happen upon more Mormon blogs then you can ever imagine. (Does every Mormon in the free world have a blog?) ... As my home-state battled over Prop 8, I spent too much time online reading and wondering and postulating and commenting and seething. But yours is the first post, rather you're the first person I've come upon, who has had the courage to do as I did and say salad bar religion is not for me. You stood up for your convictions, even if unpopular and stuck to your guns. My applaud is RESOUNDING from across the nation!

    In the past several days I have read blog upon blog and comment upon comment where Mormons are "scared" to dissent, scared to disagree, scared to say, "Hey wait a minute!" Although I know much of the Mormon church, it is impossible for me to fully understand the weight of the words spoken from men who run a business. These "prophets" or "Elders" as they are called. (Yes, no different than priests or pastors, though their words have so much more power).

    All I am saying (jeez, I won't shut up already!) is that I am humbled by your strength. It saddens me when people sugar-coat hate speech and say, "well, what they really mean is....." No! Breeding, teaching and preaching hate is just that. People want to pray through it. To never question the humans that make these statements. They won't say, "The entire tenets of this church's foundations are built on exclusion and I won't stand for it."

    Church is not faith. Church is not God. I know for many these are one in the same.

    Thank you for seeing through that smoke screen and supporting and loving your child and your family and remaining a person with faith.