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On the differences between Christian marriages and secular marriages…

In my Facebook feed, I saw linked an article that aimed to discuss why same-sex marriage is not the same thing as Christian marriage. As I read through it (mainly because I wanted to understand how others think…I know that many people did not find the Supreme Court decision to be a joyous occasion, but I wanted to understand better why), I think that I got something of what he was trying to say, and I actually found it — if I might say so — beautiful. Just a few parts from the post (I have removed the formatting from the original so that the text won’t take as much space):

There exists a dichotomy between what Christians and society understand marriage to be. But this dichotomy isn’t new; the rift wasn’t just created by SCOTUS yesterday. Christians have always had a distinct and special understanding of what marriage is; and it differs wildly from society at large.

So, what is Christian Marriage?

It’s not a tax benefit. It’s not hospital visitation rights. It’s not insurance benefits. It’s not a legal arrangement provided by the government.

It’s not even the consensual, legal partnership of two adults who love each other and want to spend their lives together.

These things seem to be what people think marriage is. And for the American Government, it now seems that that is exactly what it is. But Christian marriage is, and always has been, something different.

Christian Marriage is the holy, sacramental giving of one man, and one woman, fully to each other. With the purpose of being fruitful, creating new life together, and nurturing that life within the complimentary presence of both a mother and a fatherChristian Marriage is meant to reflect Christ’s self giving relationship with the Church and it is a microcosm of God’s covenant with his people. Christian Marriage is an echo of triune love; as God created out of an overflow of just that. And so God has granted humanity, the ability to create life out of human relationship. In this way, marriage is a holy and creative reflection of the divine life.

That is Christian Marriage.

I can respect traditional, orthodox Christians for their views on marriage (or other things) because of the extent that these folks are living a vision presented through their religion and worldview. To be fair, I dislike and fear some of the positions pursued through this vision. But even though I think that rejecting contraception, divorce, and so forth are extreme and not workable models for everyone in society, I think that from within the worldview espoused from the post I quoted, these things make sense as a reflection thereof.

That being said, I still recognize the problems in this model (and perhaps the problems in any one-size-fit-all model). The beauty of this uncompromising vision is a great yet terrible beauty. It’s not something I want for myself.

So, I want to move in this post by commenting on the inspiration I got from a Facebook quote from a friend:

Read more…

The social aftermath for the legalization of same-sex marriage

This week looks like it has been a really great week for progressives in terms of Supreme Court case decisions…with the two highest profile cases being the affirmation of the Affordable Care Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage across the entire United States. But another case that was decided this week that should also make progressive folks happy is the upholding of disparate impact in its Fair Housing Act decision — this wasn’t quite as certain since a lot of folks thought the court would gut the Fair Housing Act as it did the Voting Rights Act (…and in the aftermath of that, a lot of states just coincidentally decided to push through all manners of voter ID restrictions and what not).

But, back to same-sex marriage.

I was surprised to find early in the morning that my Facebook feed was entirely supportive. I live in Texas; I know I have conservative friends — I don’t unfriend anyone, and I don’t think people unfriend me all that often. I know I have conservative Christian friends both within and without Texas. So the silence gave me pause.

….it turns out that they had not all disappeared, since in the afternoon I saw more and more articles and posts challenging the decision, lamenting what will happen to America (or at least, the people in America who still oppose same-sex marriage). What will happen to religious freedom?

I was heartened by the comments of one marriage equality supporter who pointed out that the divide shouldn’t be seen as severe as it might look. This isn’t exactly a red vs. blue thing, because even 61% of younger Republicans support same-sex marriage. So, that suggests that a lot of the backlash may be age-related, and as time passes, backlash will die down.

…however…I don’t know if I’m totally satisfied with this. I still think that there is something to think about the social aftermath of the legalization of same-sex marriage.

I am not talking about the curtailing of anyone’s rights or any speculative slippery slope or anything like that. I just want to reflect on what will happen when a very controversial issues has been legalized while many people still vocally oppose it.

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Growing up black in a white church

In light of the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, (and some of the sad, yet sadly predictable responses to such), Fatimah Salleh wrote about the black church. I encourage you to read the entire thing, but I’ll share just a snippet:

…Upon their arrival here on the auction block, black Africans were subjected to white Christianity. A white Christianity that used their Bible to support black subjugation, a white Christianity that preached of a cursed skin and black bodies adherence to white ownership. Yes, all of this destruction and degradation was cloaked in Christianity.

White Christianity used their white Jesus to tell black folks they were anything but children of God.

But. But.

But, black slaves refused to believe the Christianity presented by their enslavers.
Instead, in what can only be counted as one of the greatest acts of radical resistance, they claimed Jesus for themselves. What they chose to find was a God who saw them, what they chose to believe was that God could answer their prayers much like the God of the Hebrew slaves…

As a black person who has been a member of the LDS church my entire life, I can’t say that I have much personal interaction with the black church. My parents are converts from black churches, but I have not talked to them too much about their experiences. I know that my father sees something in Mormonism that converted him for sure.

I know that my one experience going with a friend to his black pentecostal church ended up with me being exorcised (or whatever the hell they would call it) for Mormonism in a back room.

As an atheist, I don’t get Christianity. I don’t get why Mormonism attracts black followers, but then again, I don’t get why black people would join the religion of their enslavers. But then again, I don’t perceive to have any experiences with the divine, and I don’t get Christianity or Mormonism in general, so it seems natural that those more specific cases would seem more opaque.

But I think that the first time I really started thinking about the black church was during Obama’s presidential campaign when all of the Reverend Wright stuff came out.

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What would it take to believe that God cares about me?

Four years ago, I wrote a post about the oft-asked question: “What would it take for you to believe in God?” I discussed how I see many atheists answering the question with very “objective” sorts of scenarios…but my own criteria would be far more subjective.

The question is a perennial favorite in online discussions, and of course, it came up again. I answered with the following:

i would just look for some subjectively perceived consistent response/reaction to my reaching out to said deity (as would be expected if I were talking/engaging with someone), especially if the interactions and engagements with said deity subjectively improved my life.

The importance of subjective perception here is that all the objectivity activity in the world wouldn’t matter if I didn’t recognize it and interpret it as such. But what I’m getting at here is that I would have to feel as if God is a being that can be interacted with…and who will interact back in a way that can be perceived and recognized as such.

But that second part…that gets at another question, because someone could certainly believe in God, but not believe that he’s all that great, right?

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The LDS Priesthood Ban as an Impermissible Method of Accounting

Official Declaration 2

For most (but likely not all) of its history until 1978, the LDS church denied the priesthood from its black male members, and denied the benefits of its temple ordinances to black male and female members. There have been several theories raised regarding the reasons for the ban, but the church has generally disavowed most theories as being non-doctrinal. The position today has been that the priesthood ban was not doctrinal, just a “policy.” Yet…this raises another question — if it was just a policy, why did it require so much time, effort, and prayer — and even a revelation — to change?

I don’t really have any answers on this, but this morning, I thought of the ultimate inside baseball nerd analogy between Mormonism and tax (…yep) that will probably alienate 80% of people who read this article and piss off the remaining 20%. Here goes nothing.

The analogy is as simple as this: The LDS “priesthood ban” was like an impermissible method of accounting.

For y’all non-accountants, accounting methods are basically rules determining how you recognize items of income or expense. For example, one’s overall method of accounting might be “cash basis” (recognize items when the cash is received or paid out) vs “accrual basis” (recognize items when earned/economic performance has occurred).

The IRS sometimes likes people to send statements or forms announcing what methods they take. However, for many methods, it says that people declare the accounting method simply by accounting for items a certain way on their return. For example, chances are that when you submitted your first tax return (if you are an American, I guess), you did not notify the IRS that you were taking (most likely) a cash basis accounting method. (And did you not know that you too, as an individual, have accounting methods? Because you do.) Because the IRS likes consistency, generally, something done in two consecutive tax returns is considered to establish a method of accounting.

…That is true even if the method of accounting is not permissible. Do it two years, and you’re stuck with the method, where the IRS is likely to bring it up in audit, with penalties and interest…

If someone finds themselves in an impermissible accounting method, they can’t just change it back, all sneaky like, just by doing the right thing on their next tax return. Rather, they still have to file an appropriate form notifying the IRS of a change in accounting methods — and they must calculate an adjustment based on what the tax impact would have been had they done everything right all those years. Because that’s really what the IRS cares about — when you have an established method of accounting, that has a cumulative effect on taxable income. Sometimes, the effect is small or short-lived (for example, if you were immediately deducting a cost that should have been capitalized into inventory, then the timing difference will only be as long as it took you to sell the inventory…which could just be a few months, depending on the inventory turnover), but sometimes the effect is large or long-lived (for example if you were immediately deducting a cost that should have been capitalized to a non-residential building…then that should  be recovered over the 39-year tax depreciable life of the building…considerably longer.)

So, why would anyone submit a change of accounting methods if they found themselves in a bad one? That sounds like it is just asking for trouble from the IRS, since those applications go directly to the IRS. The upside here is the effect of that adjustment can be spread out over 4 years (whereas, if the IRS catches you, they will suggest an immediate change), and generally comes with audit protection. If a taxpayer catches their mistake before the IRS, so the logic goes, then they get a little bit of a break.

Elijah Abel, early black Mormon with Priesthood

like this guy, who was a Seventy

Now, getting back to Mormonism…early in the church, we know that some black men were ordained to the priesthood…but we know that early in the church, at some point, this stopped happening. Not only were black men excluded from the priesthood, but black men and women were excluded from the benefit of temple ordinances.

The church stresses now that this was just a “policy” but not a “doctrine,” but that even “policies” require “revelations” to change. What’s that all about?

If a policy — even an “impermissible” policy like a priesthood ban — is like a method of accounting, then we can say that a revelation is like the application required to change an accounting methods.

I guess in the end, this analogy is kinda lame though. I mean, who is the IRS here? Is it God? What would it mean for God to audit you or the church? The IRS doesn’t immediately audit impermissible accounting methods because it doesn’t necessarily catch them immediately, but would the same be true for God in an LDS worldview. Can a leader who has implemented a theological “impermissible method of accounting” be said to have led the church astray? What would a catchup adjustment to fix the cumulative effect of the priesthood ban look like, and has the LDS church made that adjustment? What would the penalties and interest of God catching the mistake first look like, and is the LDS church actually paying those instead?

Love as Irrational as Faith; Faith as Self-destructive as Love

I was reading two blog posts by a Facebook friend of mine whom I regard as crazy smart and yet pretty at odds in the spiritual and theological dimension (which is typically bound to be the case when contrasting a believing Mormon with an atheist of Mormon upbringing.)

The first one I want to discuss is his post on — as he himself puts it — his “irrational” faith. He begins by writing:

I know that my redeemer lives. This knowledge is born of my faith, and my faith comes from my personal spiritual experiences. My experiences are repeatable for myself: therefore, to me, they are scientific proof. To anyone else, they will mean nothing unless that anyone else has his own corresponding spiritual experiences.

Whoever searches for a reason for faith in external proofs is a fool that does not understand faith. What, would such a searcher have the same demands for evidence were someone to profess love for that person? Is not the unspeakable bond of the heart sufficient? If not, love can never be in the life of that person. And, since faith is love, so goes faith.

But open a heart to love, and it opens to faith. There are things about love for which I have no reasons, but only trust, and that trust is sufficient even if irrational. When I allow this irrational, unproven faith into my life, I find that my heart fills and then spills over with joy and love. When this faith guides my heart and my actions, I seek to do good and to serve others. Would I subject such goodness and service to withering doubts to drain my desire to do them? Or would I be better for it if I kept my faith, nurtured it, purified myself that my faith would become more perfect?

I find much to agree with here (although not so much with what is written afterward by not quoted here. Then again, maybe that’s precisely what a faithless sociopathic murderer-lying-in-wait would say). Even as a nonbeliever, I find myself preoccupied with subjectivity, unlike so many other nonbelievers I know who are so preoccupied with the external proofs of objectivity. To me, I value my experiences — experiences are the closest thing to me. I live with my experiences.

Read more…

On Being Heard within Mormonism

Over at Mormon Matters, Dan Wotherspoon has teamed up with Gina Colvin (A Thoughtful Faith) and Natasha Helfer Parker (Mormon Mental Health) to co-produce a podcast about being heard in Mormonism today. This podcast was created mostly in response to this past weekend’s General Conference, in which a few folks indicated that they were opposed during the sustaining of church leaders. This move appears to have been obviously ineffective, with much of the discussion from orthodox members criticizing the stunt. However, one counter-response is that this was supposed to be the institutionally legitimate mechanism for expressing opposition, so if it isn’t, then can grievances be expressed?

I think that a lot of people have covered this topic in one way or another. I know that Carol Lynn Pearson has discussed it on some podcasts she has been on. Stephen Marsh covered the topic of being heard a while back at Wheat & Tares. I don’t think that the answer is what a lot of people really want to hear — one has to really “pay ones dues” (you know, the phrase: “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care”), and even after that, framing and approach are super critical. Presenting messages in the heat of the moment — from the depths of pain or anger — is just likely to backfire. This produces systemic biases against change and agitation (the status quo can always just dismiss critics as being too emotional, too non-objective, etc.,), but this is meant as a descriptive, not a normative statement — it’s just the way things are.

While I think the podcast reached at similar ideas, what I found fascinating with this podcast with the implied, perhaps subconscious conclusion that each of the participants — Dan, Gina, and Natasha — expressed in some way or another. Rather than talking about ways of being heard within Mormonism, I feel that each participant expressed how they have come to a point where they have a certain independence to or distance from the church institution where they are secure in their own foundations, experiences, etc., and so they don’t feel they need to be heard.

Read more…

Christians, Same-Sex Marriage, and Homonormativity…at Wheat & Tares

I have finally gotten around to expanding my thoughts on Mormons (but also other Christians) missing the opportunity to defend the family by preaching homonormativity at Wheat & Tares.

Without rehashing both posts, I will summarize another way:

I feel like a lot of religious groups say something like, “Well, since same-sex couples don’t make babies, we have absolutely nothing constructive we can say about them. We can’t make any statements about better vs. worse ways to engage in relationships with others if they don’t lead to babies.”

Some commenters elsewhere on the internet have said that because they see any homosexual activity as sin, that they really see no difference between gay monogamy and gay promiscuity — to them, there is no difference. (And then there are those who say that gays are inherently promiscuous, and therefore…there is no benefit to trying to get them to be monogamous? [but, somehow, trying to get them to be celibate is a definitely better idea.])

I don’t get it.

Beyond Belief and Unbelief: The Abundant Life

In his latest episode at Mormon Matters, Dan Wotherspoon seeks to discuss faith crises from a perspective beyond belief and unbelief. I wanted to share/summarize the comment I had written about certain things discussed in that podcast here:

I loved the recentering of the discussion that we need to move away from abstractions about what eternal life/godly life entails, and I loved the concept that this involves life and living…the “short list” per Carlisle — things like autonomy, personal dignity, a sense of self-direction, etc., etc., (In other words, the abundant life is when one is living a life with a sense of personal dignity, a sense of autonomy, and things like this…and ideally, religions and churches help one with these sorts of things.) I like the idea that faith crises can be connected to these ideas, and that concerns about “beliefs” may actually be a few steps removed from more basic concerns about “short list” items.

But I don’t think the problem is that the church or people in the church or whatever fail to move away from abstractions into the specifics. Rather, I think the issue is that Mormonism is *very* specific about lived experience concerns, asserting a checklist or list of rules or specific prescriptions. This is stifling to anyone who doesn’t fit it in any reason. Read more…

The Lost Opportunity to Preach Homonormativity

One of the things that befuddles me about traditional Christianity (and also Mormonism) is its morality about sexuality. Ostensibly, one of the sells about these religions is supposed to be their fruits. A life transformed by Jesus Christ is supposed to look like something, but more specifically, it’s supposed to look like something good, and as has been discussed at LDS & Evangelical Conversations, certain Christians should agree on what that life should look like.

I asked what a life transformed by Jesus should look like, since from my view, Christians seem just as petty, judgmental, spiteful, rude, angry, inconsiderate, as everyone else (it’s as if….contrary to the claim that religion is obviously decisive in one’s life…that instead, religion is irrelevant.) (But it’s worse than that…it’s as if religion is not just irrelevant, but also sometimes harmful…as some of the fruits I see from Christians are self-denial, self-rejection, inauthenticity, lying to oneself and to others, fearfulness, and so on. It is these sorts of things that cause people to have faith crises, I think.)

Some people answered that Christians sin just like everyone else, so one shouldn’t expect Christians to be perfect. Then someone gave me the standard Biblical answer for what sorts of things should be manifesting in a transformed Christian life.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control

The fun thing about this scripture is how generic it is…how…it doesn’t seem to fit the moral code that Christians want to enshrine in law, and how it isn’t even unique to Christianity.

That being said, for the most part, I think that I can recognize that there are some human ills and deficiencies. So, you know, I can see how lying is bad…I obviously can see how stealing is bad, how murder is bad. These things produce worse outcomes — even if those outcomes don’t come immediately. (Of course, there’s room to argue on whether these things are bad in every situation, or whether there are justifications. Ethics is not a solved problem.)

I don’t think Christianity is unique to recognize these things as bad, and I don’t think one needs to be Christian to recognize these things as bad. I think that many people can often be “unaware” or “unconscious” about things they are doing that are harming their lives, and that frameworks or concepts or ideas or worldview that can help people be more fully “awake” are helpful. However, I think that some things that Christianity is adamant are “bad” just…don’t make a lot of sense.

I think that homosexuality is a clear example.

Katie L wrote a great post that I think is relevant here.

The argument typically goes like this: sexuality is given to humanity for expression in marriage between a man and a woman.  Homosexuality falls outside these boundaries, therefore it is sin. It is like alcoholism or a propensity toward violence because it is a natural urge of which God has forbidden expression.  Like other impulses of the “natural man,” we might feel drawn to certain behaviors, but that doesn’t make acting on the impulse justifiable or correct.

This is an argument I myself espoused for many years.  But then I took a closer look and realized that I had failed to take note of some critical differences.

First, consider the nature of sexuality itself.  I think we can all agree that sexuality is not inherently evil; at worst we might say it is morally neutral, a power humanity has been given to exercise for good or ill.  At best (and I think a strong argument can be made for this), it’s inherently good.

Contrast this with urges toward addiction or violence, or other urges symptomatic of the “natural man,” such as avarice, hatred, or judgment.  These natural inclinations necessarily lead to destructive ends.  There is no situation where addiction is healthy.  There is no situation where violence is the best answer.  There is no situation where hatred can be used positively.  There is no situation where it’s correct to envy or condemn.  That’s not the case for sex.  Sexual urges are something fundamentally different from these other urges (which I like to call “diabolical” vices).

Please note that, in and of itself, this doesn’t make homosexuality right — it just makes questions of sexuality DIFFERENT from cases of addiction or violence.  We can all think of circumstances where sexuality is used in destructive ways.  But a closer examination reveals that this tends to happen when sexuality is tied up in one of the diabolical vices: sexual coercion is violence; sexual addiction is, well, addiction; lust is the de-humanizing of someone made in the image of God and reducing them into an object for personal gratification; infidelity is dishonesty and betrayal.  The list goes on.

Which of the diabolical vices is homosexuality attached to?  Dead serious question.  Because I can’t find one.

Not only that, Jesus said, “By your fruits ye shall know them.”  When I examine committed, mature homosexual relationships, I see the same kind of fruit emerging as in committed, mature heterosexual relationships.  I see people who are willing to sacrifice, work together, and grow together to become something greater as a couple than they could be alone.  I see stability and peace.  I see the transformation that comes from sharing a life with others.

Yep. See, the way that Christians and Mormons want to lump homosexuality itself with things like lying (see the comments to this article) just befuddles me — like do they really not see the categorical difference between the two? Do they really not see the inherent destruction in some things that don’t exist in others?

(Then again, some people argued that from a sinful perspective, what may be evil may look good and what may be good may look evil…but doesn’t this really undercut the idea that we will know based on fruits? If moral intuitions actually cannot be trusted, and everyone doesn’t necessarily recognize what is moral as moral, then doesn’t this actually put us close to relativism?)

I mean, it feels like some Christians only see out of homosexuality a particular form of promiscuous hedonism. One person in one of the discussions seemed to think that the discussion on homosexuality was an open and shut case because to him, the fruit of homosexuality is AIDS. In these comments and others, there doesn’t seem to be an acknowledgement that 1) straight people can be promiscuous, can catch diseases, etc., too, and 2) gay people can live their sexuality in non-promiscuous ways.

I just feel like if Christians want to espouse a sexual ethic of commitment and monogamy, they are missing an opportunity to preach that ethic consistently to homosexuals. I mean, as some of the most heteronormative people — in the sense of espousing the father and mother, 2.5 kids, and white picket fence is an ideal — Mormons in particular have a really easy way out of their LGB conundrums: espouse homonormativity. (P.S., I think LDS ideas about eternal gender vs fallen bodies gives them an easier out on transgender issues, but that’s a different post.)

To be sure, homonormativity is not without its critics; after all, one could make the claims that the sort of standards around heteronormativity are a perfect storm of classist, racist, consumerist, sexist, and all sorts of other bugaboos. But hey, it just goes to show that someone could advocate for particular expressions of heterosexuality (hetero, homo, bi, or other) without moving to an “anything goes” standpoint. And the thing is: lots of people who are raised in Christian or Mormon homes would *love* if this were an option open to them. Many already want to do this — they want mother + mother + 2.5 kids + white picket fence, or father + father + 2.5 kids + white picket fence. But what do we do instead? We insist celibacy. For some people, it isn’t better to marry than to burn with passion. They can just deal with it or gtfo. And that’s what people do. They gtfo, and they actually do engage in a lot of the destructive behaviors because they were taught that their sexuality in and of itself was wrong (so if you’re going to be wrong, why not go all the way?)

…I understand that this will probably always be too much to ask of the Christians who enshrine sexuality to being about a penis entering a vagina with the hopes of producing babies — they will not be amused or satisfied. And I guess it is true that there are still people who think that even *contraception* is sinful, so it isn’t even enough to point out that most straight people aren’t doing that. (Oh, they are just fallen sinners too…)

But I dunno, people seriously and unironically discussing how committed, monogamous gay relationships are comparable to lying or how they should be included in lists of moral deficiencies…yeah, that just doesn’t seem like great fruit to me.


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