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Uneasiness

May 27, 2010

This post will be a bit disjointed. It comes across quite linearly to my mind, but then again, I jump from site to site, thought to thought.

Yesterday, I rediscovered Seth Payne’s blog. He had an interesting post that asked, “Am I a Mormon critic, Apostate, or Apologist?” I think he did a good job at expressing the tenuousness and uncertainty of the position (whatever it is). For example:

Frankly, I have no real interest in criticizing Mormon truth claims, even though there are many I don’t personally find plausible (see below).  The same theological and historical criticisms of Mormonism have been around for a long time.  I have nothing to add and even if I did, I have no interest in doing so.

So, while I am not a critic of Mormon truth-claims; I am a critic of some LDS Church policies.  Namely, I vehemently disagree with the Church’s stance on Same-sex Marriage and I have made my views public on several occasions.  Most of my criticism of the Church’s stance came right after the Proposition 8 fallout in 2008…

…Having said that, I become extremely frustrated when people try and label Mormons as “homophobic” or “bigots” etc…  Its just not that simple.  My mother, for example, absolutely adores my gay friend Devan but she supports the Church in its policy.  This is not bigotry.

(Nevertheless, I have some issues with this. People who insist that they have “no problem with” gays but simply feel resigned to obeying church policy…or people who insisted way back when that they had “no problem with” blacks, but simply felt resigned to the “fact” in their mind that God thought differently…egh.)

Payne’s article continued in a similar scope for apostate and apologist. Appealing to one side, but then to the other, to show how the reality (at least from his perspective) doesn’t fit so neatly on one side or the other.

The thing that caught my eye, and made me click into a new thread was Payne’s mention of John Dehlin (and accusations of his being a “fifth column” by certain faithful apologists).

What an interesting character. Dehlin is certain to start a fuss on either side, it seems. At Further Light and Knowledge, a popular disaffected Mormon board, topics that mention him blossom into pages of charged criticism. But what was interesting about the topic linked by Payne was that it was much of the same thing, but from faithful members.

How could it be that someone who wishes to salvage what is a crumbling testimony and provide a way — however unorthodox — for people to stay in the church can be seen as dangerous to people in the church?

I think I began to understand the positions of people like Will Schryver.

As I see it, Dehlin is just one of many pied pipers who appeal to the pride of those inclined to craft a belief system adapted to their personal tastes and capacities rather than adapting themselves to the system described by revealed doctrine. Of course, this is something that has been going on from the very beginning. It has manifest itself in numerous variations, but all essentially amount to “the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture,” whose appeal has found receptive ears from the time of Adam until the present day.

…Dehlin is content to make a place for himself just outside the gates of Zion; close enough to hear the music, but not so close as to assist those engaged in its construction. That he (and those like him) continue to gather others likewise content to pass their days outside the walls of the holy city is really no surprise to those of us familiar with the words of the prophets. But let no one be deceived: there will be no refuge; no salvation; but only ultimate disappointment for those who make the conscious choice to pitch their tents on the wrong side of the fence.

From this perspective, I can understand why he would be seen as dangerous, or how cafeteria/liberal Mormons in general could be seen as dangerous. Dan Peterson commented:

I don’t believe that “cafeteria Mormons” would have made the trek westward, nor settled the Great Basin.

I don’t believe that those who subjectively pick and choose which doctrines they will accept provide a good basis for the growth of the Kingdom.

I think this is all pretty self-evident.

I think the differing fortunes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the “Reorganization” demonstrate this rather clearly.

I like Elder Maxwell’s distinction between those who are “active” and those who are “valiant.” The former are welcome, but the latter are the real strength of the Restoration.

I can feel a counter to this. “A Cafeteria Mormon may not have made the trek westward, but he also would not have betrayed his conscience and engaged in polygamy.” Or something like that.

But that’s the entire problem, according to these guys. The Cafeteria Mormon places himself — a fallen man — above god.

As usually happens in these discussions (on either side), John came to defend himself and his position. To ask forgiveness for some excesses and deficiencies in the past. That sort of thing.

And…as usually happens in these discussion (on either side), others surgically questioned his position, his motives. As I read the back and forth at MADB, I was struck by the cold and critical approach taken.

The impression I was left with after reading through the entire thread was one of distaste and uneasiness. I don’t really know how to put my finger on it. I’m certain that the apologists are good people, that John is a good person, that “Cafeteria Mormons” are good people, that critics are good people, but each side seems tainted in a way. In the end, I get the feeling that no one is picking a “superior” side, but he or she simply picks the taint that he can live with.

Even if some people try to avoid “either extreme,” the problem is that things aren’t so simple. It’s not like there is a line, and there is a left and a right and a middle. Even when we try to avoid “the extremes,” we push the line out a third distance to make a triangle. If a fourth person or group wants to avoid our triangle, he pushes out into a quadrilateral. And so one, and so forth.

We are never united.

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28 Comments
  1. My great, great, great granduncle made the trek.

    We uncovered his own personal copy of the “Book of Commandments” (the old Doctrine and Covenants) a couple years ago.

    It was full of snide remarks, criticisms and gripes about Brigham Young and Joseph Smith written in the margins.

    He made it to Utah.

    Even the peanut gallery can be pretty die-hard faithful.

    After all, I’m still here.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the link to my post!

    I just wanted to clarify one point. When I say that my mother adores my friend Devan but supports the Church policy…. the specific policy/doctrine I am referring to is that homosexual behavior is a sin. She doesn’t hate gays — what I would consider bigotry. In fact, she has provided some significant care for gay men and women suffering from Aids.

    I see bigotry springing from a strong dislike or even hate for a particular group. I don’t see this in most Mormons who support the Church’s position that homosexuality is sinful.

    Seth

  3. Further clarification:

    I don’t see hate in most Mormons who believe homosexual *behavior* is sinful. An important distinction, I believe.

  4. Seth R:

    Of course, as you said, you climb mountains just for the thrill of danger and excitement. I could imagine fleeing your home for the desert would bring a similar sense.

    Seth P (arg too many Seths in one room!):

    I wasn’t trying to argue that your mom, despite her comments, is *secretly* a bigot who hates (or that most Mormons are bigots who hate).

    As you wrote in the entry that you linked within your post:

    When the Apostle Paul says that homosexuality is sinful – this simply makes it so. Of course, my mother is a devout Mormon and so when her Church leaders teach her that homosexuality is sinful, and that homosexual marriage is a step down the path of social decline and decay – she understands these things as literal truths.

    That was what I was chafing against.

    I have heard people talk about the days of the Priesthood ban and say things like, “yeah, I had/have no problem with blacks; I think they are equal, etc., But God had his policy for the church, so that’s that.” or, more nefariously: “Hey, I have no problem with blacks, but God says they are cursed, so who am I to argue?” (We can then argue about whether people are conflating speculation with the gospel truth, or whatever else. But that’s a side issue, I think.)

    The point that bothers me is that people recognize there is a distinct gap between what they feel, and what they think God feels, and so they defer to God.

    And, furthermore, as the thread continued, some people believe that is *entirely the point* of religion. That Cafeteria Mormons do not do this is why they are “dangerous” to the church. And so on.

    • “but God says they are cursed, so who am I to argue?”

      well, and that’s the heart of it, isn’t it?

      who can prove there is a god

      who can prove this is what god said

      and if there was a god who didn’t like entire groups of people, why would they still exist?

      the god(s) of most religions are petty, vindictive, genocidal and touchy egomaniacs

      so, there’s nothing stopping them from simply eliminating whatever group is not liked

      it’s also pretty clear that the god of any one particular group at any time in history, was pretty much against whoever the worshipping group was against.

      religion has been and remains the tool to justify, reinforce and make into “tradition” whatever prejudices we already have

  5. “My mother, for example, absolutely adores my gay friend Devan but she supports the Church in its policy. This is not bigotry.”

    Yes, yes it is.

    Today an active Mormon wouldn’t hesitate to call another Mormon racist who, for religious reasons, opposed interracial marriage, or who supported racial segregation. Because the LdS church no longer is institutionally racist. But because the LdS church is still institutionally homophobic, Mormons want to not be called homophobic when they, for religious reasons, oppose gay equality and rights. Opposing gay rights is the very definition of homophobia, bigotry and prejudice.

    It’s an ugly thing to be a bigot, and I don’t blame people for not wanting to be called one, but if the shoe fits… Maybe start shopping at a better shoe store?

    This is the real problem I have with Mormonism in general (and especially Mormon apologetics) – the abdication of personal responsibility simply because, “well, that’s just what my church teaches.” If you oppose complete and full gay equality, then you’re a homophobic bigot, pure and simple. Just like if you oppose complete and full black equality you’re a racist bigot , and if you oppose complete and full female equality you’re a sexist bigot.

  6. @Seth P

    As I already wrote on your post, it’s not necessary to hate in order to be rightfully called a bigot or prejudiced. Homophobia, like racism, sexism, and all other forms of prejudice can be and are embraced by all sorts of people. It’s about having ideas based on emotion or religion that aren’t amenable to contradictory evidence and reason.

  7. You’re right to take issue with the idea that someone can “adore” a gay person but think the Church is correct in its aggressive campaign against their civil rights. It’s like being a slaveowner who wants to keep slavery legal but tells people that their house darky is the sweetest man in the world. That’s not just bigoted. It’s patronising and bigoted.

  8. rAmen Molly. rAmen.

  9. Molly and Craig — I support Gay marriage and hope to see it universally legalized within my lifetime.

    I simply do not agree, however, that a person who follows their religious conviction that homosexual behavior is sinful, is a bigot.

    The fact is, reasonable people can disagree on the issue of homosexuality and civil rights. So, we can take it to the extreme and say that the Mormons support stripping gays of their civil rights. This, however, is not a fair representation of how many Mormons thinks about the issue. They see it as a way to “protect” (whatever that means) the “traditional” understanding of marriage.

    When we resort to calling Mormons who supported Prop 8 bigots and homophobes we do so at our own peril because we force Mormons further into a defensive mode.

    What is more productive is to engage in constructive dialogue and to try and understand, even though we vehemently disagree with, the viewpoints and views of another person. Ten years ago my mom would have opposed civil unions. Today, as a result of meeting my gay and lesbian friends she is more amenable to the idea and I would venture to guess that she would support such a measure. This is progress. This moves us forward.

    Why was MLK such an effective leader in the civil rights movement? Because he sought to bring people together. I think the same applies today and when we employ words like bigot and homophobe so freely, we actually hurt the very cause we wish to promote.

    Just my $.02

    Seth

    • You’re an accommodationist.

      We need more than one pre-approved tactic to bring about equality.

      Calling out prejudice and denouncing beliefs that stand in the way of equality are necessary. Allowing bigots to remain comfortable in their bigotry only perpetuates discrimination.

      Can reasonable people disagree on the issue of race and civil rights? Is it unfair to call people who want to reinstate segregation racist or bigots? Is it unfair to call fundamentalist Muslims sexist for their barbaric treatment of women?

      Mormons were just trying to protect “traditional” marriage when they were told to oppose the legalisation of interracial marriage and desegregation. Should society have refrained from calling Mormons racist pre 1978? Did it hurt the cause of racial equality for BYU to be boycotted by other college sports teams because of their racism?

      Where’s the difference? I just don’t see it.

    • But maybe that’s just because it’s my rights that are threatened (or non-existent).

      I have no patience for those who “love the sinner, hate the sin”. It’s just barely disguised prejudice, and not very cleverly at that.

      “Because god said so” is a terrible excuse for perpetuating and defending discrimination. It just means you have no moral courage of your own.

      What you don’t understand is that this isn’t a theoretical thought-exercise. Your mother’s views have real, negative consequences for my life. She is actively participating in keeping me a second-class citizen. If that doesn’t merit the status of bigot, then I don’t know what does.

      My argument is not that your mother’s idea of sin makes her a bigot, (though it probably does), it’s that her idea of forcing her opinion of sin on me, that she opposes my secular, civil rights because her religion teaches some idiotic nonsense is what really makes her, and those like her, bigots.

  10. Craig — can you provide me a reference to fact that Mormons were told to oppose desegregation? I’m not doubting your claim…. I’ve simply never heard this claim before. I know Utah was one of the last states to make interracial marriage legal but I don’t know the extent of Church involvement in that.

    I’m not discounting the negative impact of these views on the lives of gay people. I see it all the time. My point is the progress takes time and the fact is we are making progress on this front. More states have legalized gay marriage civil unions…. polls show the younger generation are in favor of legalizing gay marriage by a significant margin.

    Of course, the question of gay rights is muddied by the fact that there is no clear, unequivocal consensus that homosexuality is an inborn trait — I personally believe that it is. Conversely, it is evident that some people are born with different skin colors etc… This make the debate much more complicated and so I think you references to segregation etc… are hyperbolic and simply don’t apply here. However, can we have a disagreement about the State’s rights issues surrounding civil rights? Sure, those questions are still ongoing.

    Was ancient Greece full of bigots? They certainly practiced homosexuality but they didn’t have gay marriage. Older men had sexual relations with younger men as a rite of passage, of sorts.

    Its easy to dismiss others as believing in “idiotic nonsense”. It is much harder to try and understand where they are coming from and then engage them in an effort to work towards progress.

  11. “In the end, I get the feeling that no one is picking a “superior” side, but he or she simply picks the taint that he can live with.” I like this sentence, I think it captures something. As I have talks with a fairly orthodox friend of mine this is what it seems to come around too, a feeling that neither of us can really help what we believe, we just find convincing what we find convincing, we each can only live with what we can live with. We each have arguments we think completely destroy the other side, we each see leaps in the logic of one another but can’t seem to understand what our opposing number finds so lacking in the articulated reasoning behind our deeply held beliefs. Understanding this disconnect can be hard to do, but its kind of essential grounding for dialogue. It’s that search for the ‘invisible string’ in one another’s arguments that offers the only true chance for understanding. Ultimately however changing ones thinking on foundational issues is difficult to accomplish, and not likely to be seen in someone else just because you’d like them too. I enjoy the dialogue however, I find the desire to understand compelling, and agree its only in an attitude of openness and non judgmentalism that that is even possible. Great post.

  12. My mother, for example, absolutely adores my gay friend Devan but she supports the Church in its policy. This is not bigotry.

    I’m sure some of her best friends are gay.

    The saddest thing to me about this area is that it shows how easily and how thoroughly we can quash our best impulses. Mormons do not mean to be bigots, they most surely do not. They are good people who value human qualities like compassion, empathy, and fairness.

    And all it takes to get them to subvert their moral sense is to tell them “Thus saith the Lord.” It renders them absolutely helpless to the most evil bigotry that human nature is capable of. What a tragedy! What a social problem.

  13. Nate, thanks for the comment. Realizing much of that was pretty important for me, especially realizing “neither of us can really help what we believe, we just find convincing what we find convincing.”

    I think one thing that really helps me reassess some of my less charitable argument or assumptions is remembering, “Hey, even if I cannot see it, there is a reason that this person believes this. There are foundational assumptions that I simply do not share that make his conclusions reasonable.” So often, I feel like people cannot understand or cannot comprehend that someone could have different premises or assumptions in a positive way. They argue instead, “The only way someone could believe that is if they were brainwashed/irrational/sinful/prideful/(insert other negative quality here).”

    However, at some point, recognizing that there are different assumptions that lead to different beliefs doesn’t work. After all, however selfish it is, I’d like to change those assumptions (as many others would like to change mine). It’s difficult to say, “well, there are valid reasons you would think what you do” when at the back of your mind, you also have this: “You are clearly wrong, and your error is dangerous.”

    I dunno. I guess it’s one of my own personality quirks too. I play to win. It’s one of my weaknesses.

  14. However, at some point, recognizing that there are different assumptions that lead to different beliefs doesn’t work. After all, however selfish it is, I’d like to change those assumptions (as many others would like to change mine). It’s difficult to say, “well, there are valid reasons you would think what you do” when at the back of your mind, you also have this: “You are clearly wrong, and your error is dangerous.”

    This is what it comes down to for me too.

    Of course I understand why Mormons are opposed to gay rights. I grew up gay and Mormon. I understand very, very well. And I was once a homophobic, sexist bigot, but I changed.

    Tthe fact is, when your beliefs impact my rights, my happiness, my humanity, you don’t get a pass. You don’t get to claim, “it’s just my religion”, no matter how well intentioned. You’re hurting other people, you’re dangerous, and you’re a bigot.

    It’s as simple as that.

    Oh, and civil unions are nothing more than gay segregation.

    • and we know how well “separate but equal” worked out for black people….

  15. And all it takes to get them to subvert their moral sense is to tell them “Thus saith the Lord.”

    It’s because of there assumptions, because they find the above sentiment convincing, that creates one of the biggest barriers to understanding between the ‘faithful Mormon’ and those of a more secular bent. Daniel is absolutltey right about that. When I get into arguments about gay marriage I often tell the orthodox Mormon, well you can still believe what you believe and there be gay marriage, Mormon’s already teach a gradated view of marriage to their children (temple marriage vs. non-temple marriage) this just adds another “grade” of marriage that your free to tell your children is less then ideal. Plus the experience of the Roman Catholic Church in America, and its insistence on not conducting marriage services for the already divorced, shows that arguments that the government would force gay marriages to be solemnized in LDS temples lack historical precedence. You are free in America to still have you prejudices, but for some reason the idea that you can live and let live about beliefs in a civilly courteous way is just hard for some people. You’d think that at least the fatalist branch of religious belief that all these “horrible things” are going to have to be allowed to happen before the blessed “wrapping up scene” would at least provide the orthodox Mormon with theological ground cover to allow for a more widely civil society, but they won’t sanction gay marriage because they have to “keep there selves more unspotted from the world.” Aw disconect.

  16. Seth: I see bigotry springing from a strong dislike or even hate for a particular group.

    Denying people equality to the law, in particular marriage and all the rights, obligations and protections that it confers is strong dislike and hatred

    you have to really not like a group of people to make them legally second class or deem them unworthy of equality

    it’s just not a comfortable thing for people to honestly admit these feelings – and the code is always “some of my best friends are…..”

    when the reality is you cannot be any meaningful friend to a person who is a member of a group you don’t like or view as equal

    and it’s doubtful that they’d be interested in being any kind of meaning friend with you if they were aware of your true feelings.

    • You’re really going to have a problems with that. If you say bigotry springs from a strong dislike or even hate for a particular group, you’re going to have to radically change your idea of “strong dislike or hate” in order to say something like, “Denying people x is strong dislike and hatred.” It is a strange (and ineffective) argument to say “you have to really not like a group of people to make them legally second class or deem them unworthy of equality.”

      Sure, it may seem that way from the outside, but to the inside, it will always seem grossly inaccurate.

      Again, you make it about “feelings.” When I’d say that for the most part, it’s not about feelings.

      • but how is bigotry not based on feelings – in particular xenophobia and disgust response

        there is nothing rational or logical about hating or disliking an entire group of people

        • but that’s the entire point. You’re assuming that this is based on feelings.

          EDIT: this wasn’t your comment. This was Nate’s, above yours:

          And all it takes to get them to subvert their moral sense is to tell them “Thus saith the Lord.”

          It’s because of there assumptions, because they find the above sentiment convincing, that creates one of the biggest barriers to understanding between the ‘faithful Mormon’ and those of a more secular bent.

          So, let’s suppose that this is true. (Not to say this is the truth in all cases, but let’s suppose that it is true in some cases). Then, what this means is that someone could oppose gay marriage or gay rights or whatever else not because it “feels” wrong, but because they assent to a framework of rights and privileges (e.g., from God) that simply does not include and does not support gay marriage. So, one can easily say, “I don’t hate you/dislike you. It’s just, this is how God said things should be.”

          You can dislike that course of argument, or disagree with it, but if you continue to confuse it with “hating or disliking an entire group of people,” then you will continue to miss the point completely.

          • I don’t remember writing what you’re quoting, but it does sound like something I’d have written.

            but this is good and I understand this now when I didn’t before:

            “but because they assent to a framework of rights and privileges (e.g., from God) ”

            It comes down not to emotion at all, but the rule framework the person is operating in.

            And when a person makes the mistake that I did to assume we’re operating in the same framework – secular/civil law – and we are not, then we’re talking at cross purposes.

            Thank you for explaining that POV that I hadn’t considered.

            yes, that does put a bigger picture spin on it.

            I concede the point to you.

          • Oops, I apologize. That wasn’t what you had written. That’s what *Nate* had written above the comment you had written. Sorry about that.

            I guess the problem is in a political sphere, you have to FIGHT for your point. If you want civil law to be “secular,” then that is a point you’ll have to fight for, similar to how you have to fight for Democrat or Republican, independent or green or otherwise.

            Quite obviously, people *do* vote with their beliefs and worldviews.

  17. replying to andrew, but going wide

    the law in a democratic country is already secular, there’s no need to fight for that.

    what inspires people to vote is their self interest – which is sometimes religious, other times it’s other things.

    but, that’s why laws are written down and built over time through legislation, court cases, etc – so they aren’t at the whim of the people, otherwise, it’s not democracy, it’s rule by the mob.

  18. the law in a democratic country is already secular, there’s no need to fight for that.

    Not necessarily. Obviously, plenty of people take such a view of history that says “liberals” have gone too far with what the constitution explicitly says about freedom of religion, and that “separation of church and state” is judicial activism.

    but, that’s why laws are written down and built over time through legislation, court cases, etc – so they aren’t at the whim of the people, otherwise, it’s not democracy, it’s rule by the mob.

    The problem is that the *democratic* aspect IS what makes mob rule. All of the checks and balances that our system has are designed to prevent a full democracy. Nevertheless, you still have people who cry about judicial activism and would like more, rather than less, democracy. You *do* have people who form political action committees to make sure that their voices are heard in Congress.

  19. The problem is how polarized politics has become since roughly Nixon. There is the story about a freshman congressman being lead around the capital by his party leader and introduced to various fellow Democrats. After a while the congressman gets impatient and asks when he’s going to meet ‘the enemy’, the party leader acts shocked and says that ‘the Republicans aren’t the enemy, there the opposition’ (the story actually ends with the party leader stating “now the Senate, that’s the enemy”, however that’s not really the point.) The point is how so many American’s treat those with differing opinions as the enemy, when there just the opposition and should be treated with some respect. Ultimately under the American system it is as Andrew says, you have to win at the ballot box to get your way, it just feels like in the past both the left and right weren’t quite so anxious to impose their cultural viewpoint through law, this applies to both advocates for and against gay marriage, as well as to many other issues.

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