Monday, October 27, 2008

Be Vulnerable to Divine Grace--D&C 163:10b

I've been watching Shrek -again- with the kids. A great line:
At the end, when Shrek bursts into the wedding, Lord Farquaad states,
"Now really, it's rude enough being alive when no one wants you, but showing up uninvited to a wedding?"
Honoring Elder Ballard's call to "go viral" in support of California's Prop 8, we have received quite a few emails from Mormon friends.

Less popular than the fight in California, Florida has its own constitutional amendment on the ballot which, if passed, would ban gay marriage. Both Jenn and I voted early, and voted against it. We do not believe that gay marriage poses any threat to our marriage or family; just the opposite, this proposition is unjust, and a threat to our family. We have no fear of change--
when it embraces human rights and equality--unraveling the social fabric, but see several historical examples where such changes were necessary to sustain society.

Marriage in the United States today always involves a secular component, and only sometimes a religious. Certain benefits have been extended to married partners, which benefits are wholly secular, and have no basis in scripture--such as health care, hospital visitation rights, and legal matters when entering into contracts. Extending these benefits to all couples in no way abrogates religious commitments some attach to marriage, nor does it require a church to extend marriage to anyone.

If extending these benefits to homosexual couples is scripturally wrong, I ask where? And even if the Bible or some Restoration scripture did include such a verse, I ask if "sinners" should be denied equal secular benefits before a secular government?
D&C 134:9 We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
If a church wants to deny rights to its members, it should do so within its own purview--not by "mingling religious influence with civil government." Personally, I question that gays should be denied spiritual benefits before any government, religious or secular.

We're all fallen, all sinners in need of grace. Accepting that, and being "vulnerable to divine grace," is a scary proposition. It means that you have to love yourself and others as much as God loves you and them. Few are ready for that sort of religion.

I don't care what some think that the Bible says. Let's not go Old Testament, or else you'd have to stone your grandmother the next time she goes out for whipped topping on Sunday. You want to quote Paul's writings? Please. Paul also said that women should stay silent in church and keep their heads covered. At least twice he told slaves to be obedient to their masters (Col. 3:22; Eph. 6:5), which was used as an excuse for slavery, as though God would have us treat certain of His children differently because they looked different from those in control. Regarding both gender and race equality, Christianity and especially Mormonism was (is) at fault for not championing human rights--but using scriptures to support positions of fear and ignorance, and condemn acts of institutional violence. I refute that scripture is to be understood outside of its political, cultural, and historical contexts. I refute that a prophet is an unmediated source of God's Word, but instead is connected to his own biases and background.

D&C 163:7 a. Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth, which cannot be fully contained in any finite vessel or language. Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture.

b. Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God’s nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied.

This difference in interpretation and implementation of scripture (Christian and Restoration) is at the heart of why we left the LDS Church. Conflicted over church emphases that did not assert the worth of all persons, it was a true epiphany when we read the modern scripture from a Prophet of God, given in March of 2007:
Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.
It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.

We all are sinners, in need of grace. Not one of us is better than another, nor is one family better than another. Yet as long as humans have been around, ugly exceptionalism has justified the oppression of "others," human beings that have had the unfortunate luck of being different and in the minority. Christ came to the sick, to the marginalized--not to the whole who need no physician. His ministry challenged basic human instinct, and because of this many were ashamed of His company. That shame is reciprocal.

The article below, posted today on the Huffington Post, is the best representation, for me, of the conflict we faced, of belonging to a church that wasn't challenging pain and suffering as Christ did, but turning a blind eye and at times contributing to it. Our protest has very much to do with social justice, and the radical ministry of a Christ who challenged the alienation and violence churned out by existing social structures to sustain the status quo on the backs of the marginalized. I endorse Vogel's comments, and conclude with it by including it below:

Joe Vogel

Joe Vogel

Posted October 27, 2008 | 04:53 AM (EST)

In late 2002, as President George W. Bush began building his case for preemptive war in Iraq, a remarkable thing happened. In contrast to the general timidity of American churches in response to the conflict in Vietnam, leaders of faith were speaking out. Observed the Reverend Jim Wallis at the time:

Opposition to war with Iraq has come from a wide spectrum of the churches - Roman Catholic, Protestant denominations, Evangelical, Pentecostal, black churches, Orthodox. All of the statements, letters, and resolutions from church leaders and bodies take the threat posed by Saddam Hussein seriously, but they refuse war as the best response.
Importantly, these church leaders are not making their decision based on whether or not they approve of President George W. Bush - some do and some don't. Rather, they are doing so on the basis of Christian theology and moral teaching.

One notable exception to this dissent: the Mormon Church.

The LDS Church's cautious official response to the war (one of the most consequential decisions in recent American history) and near-unconditional subsequent support for the Bush Administration (in 2005, Dick Cheney was awarded an honorary doctorate and invited as the commencement speaker at BYU, the Church's flagship institution), raise important questions about the Church's involvement in political affairs, particularly when an issue has moral/ethical implications. When should it speak out? When should it stay neutral? And how does it treat its members with minority views?

Nearly six years and thousands of lost lives since the war began, Mormon authorities still haven't weighed in on Iraq, Abu Ghraib, or Guantanomo Bay. Neither have they directed semi-annual Conference addresses to the genocide in Sudan, human rights violations caused by multi-national corporations, or climate change that could have devastating effects on future generations. Instead, in the past few months they have decided to take action on a "moral issue" of a different sort: denying gay couples the constitutional right to get married in California.

In support of California's Proposition 8, the Mormon Church has gone into political overdrive. Under the direction of Church leaders' admonition over the pulpit, they have formed a formidable grassroots machine, providing boots on the ground, making phone calls, writing letters, forwarding emails, while donating an astounding $19 million to the cause.

"What we're about is the work of the Lord, and He will bless you for your involvement," apostle M. Russell Ballard proclaimed in a broadcast to church buildings in California, Utah, Hawaii and Idaho.

This stand, sadly, follows a disturbing trend of being on the wrong side of history on issues of social justice and equality for the LDS Church.

For nearly 150 years, the Mormon Church stubbornly held to a racist policy that refused all members of African descent the privilege of entering temples or receiving the Priesthood. Even as slavery, segregation, and Jim Crowe receded into the American past, the Mormon Church still treated its own black members as second-class citizens. The practice was justified as the plan of God. Apostles and prophets, the highest authorities in the Church, rationalized the continued discrimination by pointing to the "curse of Cain" and disobedience in the pre-existence. Other leaders said they simply didn't know but were sure God had some mysterious reason for keeping the full blessings of the Gospel from black people. Only a rare few leaders, including apostle Hugh B. Brown (and many more grassroots members), spoke out on behalf of civil rights. So the infamous ban lived on until 1978.

Along with polygamy, this blatant institutional racism is perhaps the most regrettable scar in Mormon history. Though progress has been made, race remains a taboo subject to this day for most Mormons, shrouded in shame and myth. It hasn't helped that the Church still hasn't publicly acknowledged or apologized for its racist past.

Yet this is not the only example of the Mormon Church attempting to stifle progress and equality. In the 1970s the Church went to great efforts to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment for women. Much like Proposition 8, they argued that it undermined the traditional structure of the family. Church leaders called it "a moral issue with many disturbing ramifications for women and for the family as individual members and as a whole." President Spencer W. Kimball said it "would strike at the family, humankind's basic institution."

Sound familiar?

So here we are, in 2008, and now the threat is gay people who are already gay, who love each other and in many cases live together, and want to get married. How does this hurt the average Mormon family?

If the concern really was the practical welfare of the family, perhaps the Church could instead invest its vast resources into making healthcare universal and affordable, expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act, cracking down on child predators, and improving the quality of our educational system. All of these issues have a direct impact on my family and millions of others.

You hear of marriages ruined all the time because of abuse, neglect, or stress over finances. But I have personally never heard of a divorce caused by another gay couple getting married.

Yet instead of focusing on issues that can really help nourish our families we obsess over a word. A word we refuse to share. A word that has never been perfectly fixed. There was a time, after all, when inter-racial marriage was just as taboo and illegal as gay marriage. Marriage has been many things, but the common ideal has been and should continue to be a relationship built on love and commitment.

So to my fellow Mormons: I ask you to please re-consider. Take the time you would spend fighting this errant cause with your family. Go to a movie. Take a drive together. Watch the World Series.

Maybe you don't completely understand homosexuality. Maybe you think it's a sin. But shouldn't we leave that to God and allow others to make their own choices? As followers of Christ, isn't it always better to err on the side of compassion and love?

Martin Luther King once lamented in his famous letter from Birmingham Jail:

So often the contemporary Church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church's silent---and often even vocal---sanction of things as they are.

In case after case when the moral chips have been on the table, I have hoped for my Church what Dr. King prayed for in his time: that "the Church as a whole will meet the challenge of [the] decisive hour." But sadly, so often on the issues of peace, equality and social justice, it has failed, whether by silence or misguided support.

With Proposition 8 it is time to stand for justice, not discrimination. It is time to stand for equality. It is time to be on the right side of history. Regardless of race, gender, or sexuality human beings are human beings and deserve to be treated as such. Today I voice my public support in favor of treating my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as equals, and ask my fellow Mormons to do the same.


House of Mellor said...

It will be interesting Seth what all the outcomes will be after the votes are counted next week. This year seems more intense than usual when it comes to politics. I have several friends who live in California or are from California who know people still living there. Proposition 8 has caused some serious tension! I personally think this election feels like it will never end and am looking foreward to it being overwith.

Jenn said...

Amen to that sister!