Monday, December 15, 2008

Prop 8 Revisited

My brother is currently working on his PhD at Harvard and has seen his fair share of politics there this past year. He has a gay friend in his creative writing class who began e-mailing him a couple months ago about his feelings concerning Prop 8 and the LDS church. My brother sent our family his correspondence with this friend and I wanted to share (hope that's okay, Justin.) He is much more eloquent in his writing than I am and said so many things I've thought but didn't know exactly the right way to word it. Here are the latest e-mails from my brother's friend, and then my brother's response. (It's a little long but worth the read.)

Hi Justin,

Hope you had a splendid Thanksgiving. You have a right to choose your belief but this is the problem with our self-absorbed society. That for too long we make choices or vote based on what is best for our selves, our immediate family, or our Church. For example, I've heard endless Republicans voting in 2000 and 2004 for Bush solely for tax-break reasons and didn't really worry much about the other issues. This is quite the shame and the reason we are in the dire predicament we are today. I think model citizens must vote on what is best for the greater good, the betterment of society. Even you yourself admit, that gays are oppressed, by suggesting when gay marriage becomes universal that somehow you will be. First, let me assure you that as a married, hetero, white male you will always be accepted in society. I admire people like the famous Steven Young and his wife who are supporting our cause because they realize that "separate but equal" must not stand. For too long gays have lived on the fringes of society, even closeted, gay Republican politicians have been getting caught in public parks, bathroom stalls, and canvassing the internet for their longings. Many teens are driven out of their homes, physically and mentally abused, and end up homeless, addicted, and in many cases contract HIV. This is not the life that most gays want to live but being marginalizes has its consequences. GLBT's deserve to be part of mainstream America and part of humanity's social fabric. We make the world colorful with our creative designs, serve disproportionately yet discreetly in the military, and comprise some of the most caring teachers and care-takers. The time for suffering in silence is over. We demand the right to be happy and enjoy the fruits of unconditional love. We want to get married, have the right to adopt or bear children, and buy vacation homes in suburban enclaves, next door to our hetero counterparts, if we choose to. I know this idea might be hard for a devout person like you to chew on. But I have a problem with Mormons telling gays to be celibate in this life with the promise of quenching their thirsts in paradise. This false promise is like Al Qaeda promising its terrorists recruits to target Christendom with the promise of 70 virgins in paradise. I am sorry to compare your religion to rogue Muslim extremists but the reality is that a truly liberal democracy will separate itself from the vestiges of religion.

I think you are right that the tide is changing. PROGRESSIVES are increasingly become a powerful force and the good news is we accept and allow for ALL to be part of holistic and mosaic society. Progressive will never exclude anybody, not even Mormons. But for the sake of my book, I think its better the controversy ensues so I can sell more copies . . . just kidding. :)

Warm cordial regards,


Hello again, XXXX. I apologize for not writing any sooner, but I've had a lot going on with Christmas shopping and homework for classes.

If I may, I’d like to address the points of your email. I hope that as I do though you will understand that I am trying to do so in the least contentious way possible (I respect you as a friend and, though we disagree on this issue, I see it as no reason why we should have hard feelings with one another).

Regarding your comment that our country should not vote based on “what is best for our selves, our immediate family, or our church”... I think that’s a question of splitting hairs and I disagree. I think that each individual should vote how their conscience dictates to them and should not be swayed by popular opinion, Hollywood , cult leaders, superstition, or other silly things. However, I think a person should DEFINITELY vote to protect their family (especially their immediate family). I think the family is the basic building block of society (which is cliché but true nonetheless) and I feel very strongly about voting to protect my family. And if society tells me that I’m intolerant or a bigot because I want to protect my family, then it is they who are being intolerant of my own views and values--hence my aforementioned fear of being discriminated against. And it’s already coming true. Because Mormons don’t support gay marriage it has now conveniently become “pc” to attack us for other things that make us different (I’ve seen the news media and I’m not blind to what people in the Harvard community are whispering). That’s unfair though. It’s a tyranny on tolerance, and tolerance has to go both ways. You can call me “self-absorbed” if you want, but that is simply discriminating against me for my views.

As for republicans voting for Bush solely because of tax-break reasons: if that’s true, then they are all idiots. I believe and hope that the majority of people who voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 did so because they thought he would best fulfill the office of president and not for personal/financial gain. Still, I realize that is the stereotype of the Republican Party and, I am the first to admit, in every stereotype there is a little bit of truth. So I agree that it is “quite the shame” and do not associate myself with anyone who would do that.

As for the question of whether gays are being oppressed, I can only say that I myself do not oppress anyone nor do I support people that do. That being said, the people who voted for Proposition 8 in California did not deny gays of any “rights.” Proposition 8 only sought to keep the definition of marriage between a man and a woman and only denied homosexuals the use of that definition. However, gays who cohabitate in California are still able to enjoy the same “rights” that are given by the US Government and California and enjoyed by married couples. They can have a civil union, but they are not “married.” And, for you, I suppose that becomes me forcing my beliefs on other people. For me, however, it is an issue of protecting my own rights as a heterosexual married man. You may not understand that though, so let me explain...

If Proposition 8 had failed, then gays would have been able to use the definition of marriage to support their lifestyle. That means that homosexuals could approach ministers, priests, and clergymen of any denomination and ask that they be married. The clergyman in question, who does not believe in homosexuality, refuses to marry the homosexual couple. The homosexual couple, in turn, feels that they are being “discriminated against” because the clergyman refuses to accept their definition of morality as his own. They approach the government for redress. The government, who has in this situation defined marriage as between any two persons of legal consenting age (man and woman, man and man, woman and woman, etc.) agrees that the homosexual couple has been discriminated against and prosecutes the clergyman, forcing him to comply with the law and marry the homosexual couple. This is an infringement of the clergyman’s rights (freedom of religion), but the government doesn’t see it that way. The constitution has been changed to incorporate gay marriage and thus the clergyman must abide by the state’s ruling. The clergyman refuses. The government, in turn, denies his church its tax-exempt status and strips him of his right to marry anyone (if he’s not willing to marry homosexuals, then they’ll take away his license to marry heterosexuals). The clergyman has now been completely stripped of his legitimacy and his rights as an American citizen. In the good ol’ U.S. of A, he has been denied the right to freedom of religion. He has been labeled as intolerant and so others have become intolerant of him.

Now, that may seem like an extreme situation...but it’s not. In fact, here is an example of something similar that happened in Massachusetts ( If gays are unhappy with the definition of civil unions and demand to have the definition of marriage placed on that union, that’s just one step away from discriminating against me and my church for not upholding that definition. And, while I support your ability to choose your lifestyle and sexual orientation and I feel you should have the same financial rights as proscribed by civil unions and domestic partnerships, I only see the same-sex marriage question as ending badly for me and those that can’t personally support homosexuality as being moral. Thus my earlier point: you may now feel you are being discriminated against--that you are a “second-class citizen”--but I no longer see this as an issue of civil rights. I see it as a slippery slope that leads to my rights of freedom of religion being discriminated against. People are trying to redefine my definition of marriage.

Now, if Steven Young chooses to support gay-marriage, that’s his prerogative (although, from what I understand, it’s only his wife that has come out on that side of the fence). He is welcome to do so though and I wish him the best. But I don’t listen to what the media says (or football stars). I make up my own mind about things.

Regarding closeted gay republicans...that’s up to the gay republican. If he feels that homosexuality is immoral, then I understand his feelings of oppression (for, aside from feeling oppressed by his community, he must also feel he is oppressing himself), and my heart goes out to him (or her). If he feels that homosexuality is not immoral though, then he should not feel oppressed. That’s the thing. I’m not going to discriminate against you or our gay republican friend because I disagree with your or his lifestyle (that’s hypocritical, discriminatory, and frankly distasteful). But I’m allowed to believe it’s immoral. And that shouldn’t really bother you because I also believe that having sex before marriage is immoral (and gambling, and alcohol, and pornography), but even though none of my non-Mormon friends believe that, they are still my very good friends (whom I love and respect) and I don’t think ill of them for doing those things (why should I if they don’t hold my views?).

As for the “many teens [that] are driven out of their homes, physically and mentally abused, and end up homeless, addicted, and in many cases contract HIV,” I sincerely wish that weren’t the case. I abhor human suffering and would not shun or abuse anyone because they were homosexual. So frankly, the comparison is a little insulting...because it assumes that by not supporting homosexuality I am somehow a factor in that equation. On the contrary, homosexuals in our church and in my family are accepted with open arms. And, while I will never tell that person that I think what they are doing is moral, I will tell them that I love them and won’t ever treat them any differently because of that lifestyle choice.

Now, the following quote I especially disagree with because it makes too many false assumptions:

“GLBT's deserve to be part of mainstream America and part of humanity's social fabric. We make the world colorful with our creative designs, serve disproportionately yet discreetly in the military, and comprise some of the most caring teachers and care-takers. The time for suffering in silence is over. We demand the right to be happy and enjoy the fruits of unconditional love. We want to get married, have the right to adopt or bear children, and buy vacation homes in suburban enclaves, next door to our hetero counterparts, if we choose to.”

To assume that gays are the sole source of the creative arts in the world is very offensive. Some gays are colorful and creative and others aren’t. That’s perpetuating a stereotype which, as I said before, is obviously based in some truth, but is nevertheless a stereotype and, as a generality, is false. I don’t know how many gays serve in the military...but neither do you, so to assume that they serve disproportionately is to assume too much. Either way, I respect and appreciate the sacrifice that all our servicemen make (be they gay or straight) and value all their sacrifices equally. As for being caring teachers and care-takers, I never said you weren’t...but so are many straight what exactly are you accusing me of? Not recognizing the talents and skills of people merely because they are homosexual? That’s bigotry because you are assuming something hateful which I don’t in fact do. And as for vacation homes in suburban enclaves, you are more than welcome to be my neighbor. I have no problem with it nor do I see any reason why there should be. BUT, if my children ask me why our neighbors are two men living together, I will teach them about homosexuality and I will teach them that it is wrong (because I am practicing my freedom of religion). I will also teach my children that our homosexual neighbors are our friends and, even though they don’t believe as we do, they believe that what they are doing is ok and we should not treat them any differently than we treat our other friends. Likewise, I would teach my children and family to serve and support our homosexual neighbors. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, nor should I be discriminated against for doing so.

As for the right of the homosexual to adopt or bear children...that’s a whole separate can of worms that I don’t have the time to get into right now. Besides, we both know our opinions diverge on the matter and neither of us will likely convince the other of his opinion, so we probably shouldn’t bother addressing it. HOWEVER, if you’re curious why I believe the way I do and, rather than argue with me, you wish to hear the reasons for my beliefs, then I’m happy to tell them to you. But I doubt that’s the case (most people prefer arguing about politics over being understood by their friends). Still, if you’d ever like to have a candid discussion about what our mutual beliefs are (outside of our recent emails), I’d be happy to talk to you. I’d also be curious to hear more about your own views (on homosexuality but also on religion).

“I have a problem with Mormons telling gays to be celibate in this life with the promise of quenching their thirsts in paradise”: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘quenching their thirsts in paradise’ but I assume you mean that the desire will be taken away from them in the after life. And that’s actually not the case. We teach that the same desires, appetites, and passions one has in this life are carried over into the next...which is why it’s so important to learn to control them here (while we have a body and ample opportunities to learn self-control), rather than in the spirit world or when we are resurrected and it is too late to change. Which just goes to show that you are still assuming a lot things about me and my faith.

“This false promise is like Al Qaeda promising its terrorists recruits to target Christendom with the promise of 70 virgins in paradise. I am sorry to compare your religion to rogue Muslim extremists...”

Yes, I admit, that’s a bit of a low blow. But I believe the comparison you are trying to make is that I actually believe and practice what my religion teaches me (like, in your example, the Muslim terrorists). But the difference is that I am not forcing my religion on people by blowing up mosques and churches and killing people. I am not forcing my religion on people period. I am asserting my right to vote (as were my Mormon brothers and sisters in California ) and they did not force any religious principle on homosexuals. It could instead be argued that homosexuals were forcing their beliefs on a religious institution (marriage). But again, that’s something we probably won’t agree on and so I won’t bother belaboring the point. Suffice it to say, I am not offended by the remark (because I choose to associate myself with the positive connotation that I actually believe and defend my religion)...but I’m not blind to the fact that the comparison is meant to be insulting.

“...but the reality is that a truly liberal democracy will separate itself from the vestiges of religion.”

Yes, a truly liberal democracy will separate itself from the vestiges of religion. I don’t argue that. I’m conservative though so, frankly, I see that as a bad thing. Religion should never interfere with government, true, but the government should also never oppress those that have faith in a religion or allow those that hold no religion to persecute those that do. And recently I feel like Mormons are being persecuted because of their religious beliefs (which it seems other people want to label as “intolerance”).

One final thing though...

I’m willing to admit that Mormons played a critical role in getting Proposition 8 passed in California ...but Mormons make up less than 2% of California ’s population. So clearly other people were the reason it passed. In fact, all of the Bishops of the Catholic Church supported the measure (as did Evangelicals and other Christian groups). Even more interesting, the largest group of people that voted for Proposition 8 was African-Americans (who turned out in droves to vote for Obama). So, really, it was the African-American vote that caused Proposition 8 to, if people are going to accuse my church of being intolerant, why aren’t they saying the same thing of African-Americans? Actually...I just checked, and it looks like they are:

I’m not trying to argue with you or convince you of my beliefs, but lately I’ve been getting a lot of guff from people for exercising my own beliefs (even though I really had nothing to do with Proposition 8 and am just a faithful member of my church). Frankly, I think everyone else is being hypocritical by saying I’m intolerant. They are welcome to say it and are welcome to believe it (I support freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion), but when people get upset with me for standing up for my own beliefs...well, it’s easy to get upset. So fine, let’s disagree with each other (that’s what democracy is all about after all), but let’s not persecute people for upholding their beliefs. Just let people vote and don’t give them guff for doing what they feel is right.

Anyway, that’s my response (for what it’s worth). I remind you though that you are still my friend and I regard you as such (I don’t feel that you’ve ever discriminated against me or that you dislike me because I’m Mormon), so I hope you will take all that I said with a grain of salt and not take any of it as a personal attack. Similarly, I hope you will still consider me your friend (in spite of our differences of opinion) and I look forward to talking with you more in the future (perhaps on topics more amenable to our mutual interests, like creative writing). I also would be happy to continue our current conversation (in email or in person), provided that we both respect each other’s views (which I am actually very confident you would do because you’ve always been a very gracious gentleman in class and it is one of the reasons why I consider you my friend).



Monday, November 24, 2008

The Environment

I try not to get too worked up over politics, for the most part, because most policy decisions are reversible. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy talking policy, debating ideas, and getting offended for a while, but in the end tax policies can be readjusted, infrastructure can be modified, relationships with other countries can be tweaked, and the people's relationship with its government can be mended. Just now I am feeling pretty good about our ability to change course with a new President Obama at the helm.

There are, however, certain decisions that are not reversible. I am thinking about actions such as wars and casualties of war and the death penalty. These are actions that, once done, can't be taken back. Another big one, in my mind, is how we treat the environment. Once a species is lost, it can't be recreated (unless we find dinosaur DNA in an amber-entombed mosquito, in which case all bets are off). Once a habitat is lost it takes generations upon generations to reappear. Once a person gets cancer or some other terrible disease from our pollution, we can't take it back.

One of the driving forces to the modern environmental movement is this photo:

This is photo is entitled "Earthrise" and was snapped by astronaut William Anders from lunar orbit on December 24, 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission. For the first time in human history we were able to see the Earth completely, as a whole. Look at the photo and what do you see? Many people, for the first time, saw an egg-shell thin atmosphere, its smallness in the immensity of space, and how everything is intimately interconnected. It is no surprise that while orbiting the moon the crew of Apollo 8 read the creation story from Genesis to a live TV audience.

Here is the final verse from the creation story in Moses, chapter 2:
31 And I, God, saw everything that I had made, and, behold, all things which I had made were very good; and the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
This impresses on me the need for our religion and our country to take a leading role in the vigorous protection of the Earth, and to not let a species or a habitat be destroyed without a serious effort to preserve it for ourselves and our children. There are lots of good social policy reasons to protect the environment, which I will undoubtedly chronicle to our faithful droves of readers in the future, but the most persuasive arguments to me are those based on something deeper like faith and beauty and a connection to the Earth and a belief that the Earth is sacred and worth protecting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Fountain of Life

Stem cell research is another polarizing topic of late. I definitely think that people are intentionally under-informed on this subject. Perhaps if the details about stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research are more clear, those supporting this area would not be instantly vilified. I will first say that all life must be treated with respect, whether it be human, canine, porcine, or a single cell.

As always, we have to start by introducing some terminology.

Multipotent progenitor cells - Cells that have the ability to develop into several other cell types, all of which are closely related. A good example is the blood stem cell that can develop into cells like red blood cells, platelets, T-cells, B-cells, etc.

Pluripotent progenitor cells - Cells that have the ability to differentiate into a large range of cell types. It is now commonly accepted that pluripotent cells can develop into any cell that is included as part of the embryo, i.e. organ tissue, bones, nervous system.

Totipotent progenitor cells - A cell that can produce all cell types needed to develop a fetus, including extra-embryonic tissue like the placenta.

The hope of stem cell research, is to take a multipotent or pluripotent stem cell and guide it to develop into a desired cell type. These cells can then be used to replace or repair damaged cells in the body. For example, a person with Type I diabetes might benefit from having stem cells developed into new, functioning pancreatic cells that can be placed to compensate for these patient's lack of insulin production. Amazing! One current limitation is that we can not take a multipotent stem cell, like a blood stem cell, and make it develop into a non-blood cell tissue like pancreatic tissue. Only a pluripotent stem gives us that power.

Where can we get multipotent stem cells? Some can be harvested from the umbilical chord, some from bone marrow, and some from fat. There is even a small amount of pluripotent stem cells available from these tissues.

If we can obtain pluripotent stem cells from adults, or non-embryonic sources, then why would we want to use embryonic stem cells? First off, the potency of non-embryonic is often limited, second, cells differentiated form adult stem cells often have shorter life times, or fail in transplantation. Embryonic stem cells (ESC) are truly pluripotent, and cells derived from ESC progenitors currently display superior performance at their relative function. That doesn't mean we abandon adult stem cells, it only means that we must continue to compare the function and potency of cells from all sources. In fact there is research currently investigating the potential of turning multipotent stem cell into a pluripotent one.

The controversy of ESC research I believe is mainly a result of false links to abortion. I do not know of ANY embryonic stem cell line that has come from an aborted fetus. The vast majority of ESC lines are the result of in-vitro fertilization. That is, the combination of sperm and egg outside the body, and chemical stimuli to induce proliferation. Despite all of the scientific advances, this cluster of cells will not, can not, develop into a human being.

The essential missing component of life is the womb. From a biochemical standpoint, the womb is a complex relationship between mother and fetus that can not be replicated in the lab. From a religious standpoint, the womb is the vessel of mankind. I find it very significant that Heavenly Father would so choose to introduce his Only Begotten into the world after being harbored in this consecrated manner.

As the cells for embryonic stem cell research have never been introduced into the womb, I must maintain that it is not parallel to abortion. If the manipulation or destruction of cell clusters from in-vitro fertilization is murder, then how should we feel about any other tissue that is of human origin? Should we preserve fat after liposuction? Should we protect the rights of an appendix? I am not devaluing life. I am just pointing out that a group of cells should be treated as such. The benefits and promise of stem cell research are magnificent, and I support the harvasting and culture of cells from all sources, save aborted children. Do not confuse embryonic stem cell research with abortion, the two could not be more different.

Simply put, stem cell research seeks to improve and preserve life.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Boy O Boy

I've busy and distracted and haven't had a chance to respond to Jake's rant on Operation, oh I mean, Proposition 8.

My initial reaction to the news of the LDS church's direct involvement in the political process reminded me of a quote I heard in the late 90's. This statement was released by the Shell Petroleum company after being (justifiably) accused of participation in Nigeria's civil conflict with the Ogani people:

"Some campaigning groups say we should intervene in the political process in Nigeria. But even if we could, we must never do so. Politics is the business of governments and politicians. The world where companies use their economic influence to prop up or bring down governments would be a frightening and bleak one indeed."

My main issue with the LDS church's support of Prop 8 is in the method, not in the motive. I adamantly proclaim the sanctity of marriage, and agree that on a religious level this union is only between a man and a women. I also agree that the LDS church retains the right to comment on ethical and moral issues - "
churches and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak out and be engaged in the many moral and ethical problems facing society."

I beleive that marriage is a religious action, and should not be governed by the state in any way. I feel the church would be better served to break away from defintions approved or disapproved by government, and instead guide membership as to the symbolism and eternal commitment that is marriage.

My issue is with this statment read to congregations in California. In particular is the admonition that members donate"of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman."

This is where I feel the LDS church made a mis-step. I agree with their statement of belief, an encouragment to prayerfully consider the issue, and an appeal for tolerance and love, but I disagree with the call for donations. Using economic influence (directly or vicariously through it's members) to force "moral" changes in society, is a frightening prospect.

The problem is that if we give one church, or organization, the right to request monetary and literal action from it's members, then we are doomed to give all large groups, be it companies or churches, the protection to swing the club of economic influence. Pray that you always stand on the side far away from the blow, lest the giant is the self contradicting "Shell" and you are the "Oganis".

How can you be a Mormon and Republican?

One of the reasons I wanted to write a blog that no one would ever read was to answer the most annoying question on earth: How can you be a Mormon and a Democrat? We surely will attempt to answer that question as we go along, but today I want to throw it back out there: How can you be a Mormon and a Republican?

I'd like to take a look back at the last eight years of near complete Republican control of all levels of government, meaning the executive branch, legislative branch, and judiciary. We've had eight years of George "W" Bush, six years of Republican control of Congress, and a conservative Supreme Court that became more conservative over the last eight years with three Bush appointments of hard right judges including the replacement of swing voter O'Connor. So lets turn it up a few notches from "Reconciliatory" to "Hyper-Partisan" and take a look at some of the things that have happened while the Republicans have been on the watch.

Seriously? Torture? Here is a nice timeline of the Bush administration's dalliance into the torture scene. From Abu Ghraib to Guantánamo, here are some of the delicately name "enhanced interrogation" techniques specifically authorized and utilized by the Bush administration: stress positions, exploitation of phobias, forced nudity, hooding, isolation, sensory deprivation, exposure to cold, waterboarding, forcing men to wear women's underwear, performing "dog tricks" on a leash, 18 to 20 hours of interrogation a day for months at a time, slapping, use of vicious dogs for intimidation, dietary manipulation, environmental manipulation, and sleep "adjustment."

Not only is torture immoral and should in no way be condoned under any circumstances, it is plainly against United States law and violates the Geneva Convention. Even more, studies are showing that torture does not yield reliable information. It is simply appalling that our government allowed this to go on.

Big Brother is watching. The Bush administration secretly created a domestic spying program to monitor communications by its own citizens, without the need for a warrant. A warrant is a simply way for the government to go to a judge and present some evidence that, in this case, it has a reason to collect information from someone believed to be a threat. Such a hearing can be completely confidential and allows for a system of checks and balances that our Founding Fathers envisioned. This may be the most appalling, to me, abuses of power the Bush administration perpetrated. So next time you hear a strange clicking sound in your phone, hang up fast.

Iraq War
The biggie. I won't go into all the detail, it is pretty well known by now, but here is a rough overview. We were told that, contrary to all credible information, that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11. We were told that Iraq had WMD's, which turned out to be false. So those were the big reasons we were sold on to go to war, we're talking war here, and those were bunk. So when the bottom fell out of those excuses, we were told to just be happy we were liberating Iraqi. We were told the soldiers would be welcomed as liberators. They were welcomed with IEDs. And, as a nice little bow on top, the adminstration had no feasible plan for the occupation, which is now nearing the six year mark.

The cost for overthrowing a regime that, while admittedly horrible, had never attacked us and was no threat to attack us in the future? Try 4,201 US military casualties, over 30,000 wounded, $602,819,000,000 and rising, and a number we don't hear that often because it is liable to make us sick, nearly 100,000 documented Iraqi civilian deaths. How Christian.

I could go on, and I likely will later, but let me finish up with one thing the Republicans did not do for all of their control and power over the last eight years. There are many single-issue voters in this country, and I suspect even more so among religious people. And I suspect that the largest single-issue voter issue is abortion. So for everybody that votes one party on that single issue because that is the only issue they care about, or for people that might otherwise be more independent or even liberal but for this issue: You may have wasted your vote.

I will state here that I support the Church's stance on abortion found here, that abortion may only occur in very limited instances: rape, incest, health of the mother, if the baby cannot survive beyond birth.

However, there has not been a bit of movement or even attempted movement on this issue for the past eight years of Republican control. The appalling secret is that abortion is a political issue used during the election cycle to get votes and then left dormant by politicians until the next election. Politics is simply not the way to make a real difference on this issue, and voting Republican because of this issue will get us nowhere.

I realize these are fightin' words. And I certainly don't mean to suggest that you can't be a Mormon and a Republican, that was a little rhetoric to get the ball rolling. There is no "good Mormon" political party, both have serious flaws and both have serious virtues. But I don't want to have to answer the question of how I can be a Mormon liberal because the premise of that question is that you cannot and you must be a Republican, which is false and wrong and I reject it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Prop 8 and Tax Exemption

Here is the church's response to the Prop 8 hullabaloo:
Since Proposition 8 was placed on the ballot in June of this year, the citizens of California have considered the arguments for and against same-sex marriage. After extensive debate between those of different persuasions, voters have chosen to amend the California State Constitution to state that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Voters in Arizona and Florida took the same course and amended their constitutions to establish that marriage will continue to be between a man and a woman.

Such an emotionally charged issue concerning the most personal and cherished aspects of life — family, identity, intimacy and equality — stirs fervent and deep feelings.

Most likely, the election results for these constitutional amendments will not mean an end to the debate over same-sex marriage in this country.

We hope that now and in the future all parties involved in this issue will be well informed and act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different position. No one on any side of the question should be vilified, intimidated, harassed or subject to erroneous information.

It is important to understand that this issue for the Church has always been about the sacred and divine institution of marriage — a union between a man and a woman.

Allegations of bigotry or persecution made against the Church were and are simply wrong. The Church's opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility toward gays and lesbians. Even more, the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

Some, however, have mistakenly asserted that churches should not ever be involved in politics when moral issues are involved. In fact, churches and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak out and be engaged in the many moral and ethical problems facing society. While the Church does not endorse candidates or platforms, it does reserve the right to speak out on important issues.

Before it accepted the invitation to join broad-based coalitions for the amendments, the Church knew that some of its members would choose not to support its position. Voting choices by Latter-day Saints, like all other people, are influenced by their own unique experiences and circumstances. As we move forward from the election, Church members need to be understanding and accepting of each other and work together for a better society.

Even though the democratic process can be demanding and difficult, Latter-day Saints are profoundly grateful for and respect the ideals of a true democracy.

The Church expresses deep appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the many Latter-day Saints and others who supported the coalitions in efforts regarding these amendments.

One issue that the protesters don't understand is the tax exempt status of churches (otherwise know as 501(c)3 organizations). There are two areas of lobbying of concern: political activities and legislative activities. According to the IRS, as to political activities, "501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office." The church has never, directly or indirectly, participated in such activities. In fact, over the years the church has consistently encouraged members to be politically diverse. Here is a good link with information on that issue.

As to legislative activities, the line is a little more fuzzy. The IRS defines that line by stating that "no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status." The IRS considers hours put in by paid workers and volunteers and expenditures devoted to the action. So the church may influence legislation so long as such activities do not constitute a substantial part of its activities. Unfortunately for the protesters, the LDS Church is big and has a lot of money, so it would take an enormous effort to cross the line in the so-called "substantial part test."

According to this list, the church itself donated $4,943 to support Prop 8. The church does not release financial information, but it is believed to have billions of dollars in assets. Members individually donated millions more. But this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the available assets. And the few thousand volunteers that got involved were just a small percentage of members in California, the United States, and throughout the world. There is no good argument that the church devoted a substantial part of its resources to Prop 8, especially given the hundreds of millions of dollars donated every year to issues such as poverty, disease, and natural disaster relief.

So, while I may disagree with how the church's went about its support for Prop 8, the protesters calling for a loss of the church's tax exempt status are either ill-informed or voluntarily deluding themselves.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Proposition 8

The Church has been receiving an inordinate amount of vitriol and hate because of Proposition 8, and against my better judgment I have decided to make a comment or two about it.

First off, I disagreed with how the Church got involved but agree with the Church's stance on homosexuality. And, as I understand it, this is the Church's stance: Marriage is between a man and a woman; we support basic rights for same sex couples such as hospital visits and insurance benefits under some sort of civil union rubric; same sex attraction can be biological and this is not a sin nor do we try to change the person; acting on a same sex attraction is a sin.

Many, many liberals will disagree with this stance. They call it bigoted, hateful and intolerant. They call the Church hypocritical for supporting a proposition that limits a marriage to one man and one woman with our past of polygamy.

As to the last argument, here is my rebuttal. The Church has never supported same sex marriage, it has always been between man and woman. In the past that included polygamy, but several factors coincided to end that practice, with the end coming by revelation from a prophet. So polygamy is off the table now because of what we consider God's will. That leaves only marriage defined as between one man and one woman. It is not a repudiation of our past practices a beliefs in any way. It is entirely consistent with our belief system from the beginning.

As to whether support of Proposition 8 is bigoted, intolerant or hateful, I believe it is not. The Church has made progress in supporting gays and reaching out to some gay advocacy groups. It is completely respectful of those that live a gay life but will not support what it believes is a fundamental change in the institution of marriage to include a group that has never been so included and goes against the very core of our beliefs in the primacy of the family. Also, focusing on the same sex marriage issue while ignoring the way Church leaders reach out to and support individual gay members is disingenuous.

I don't happen to agree with the way the Church went about supported Proposition 8, not from a doctrinal standpoint but from a social standpoint. I think the best way to spread our beliefs is not through such heavy-handed tactics, but through love, example and missionary work. I'm not sure the benefit of winning that vote is worth the hate and vitriol the Church is receiving because of the way it supported Proposition 8. That in no way means we should apologize or be ashamed of our support for the nuclear family, but it means we choose the most effective way of conveying our message.

Of course, the Church has received a disproportionate amount of blame and hate for Proposition 8's passage. Members of the Church equal 3% of California's population, and many members of the Church likely voted against it, so not even that full 3% were involved. Furthermore, 29 other similar votes have occurred in other states and the opposition is now 0-30. It is true that members (not the Church itself) poured in millions of dollars, but the opposition had millions of its own and in the end what really counts are the votes.

Now, in Utah there is a gay advocacy group that is proposing bills to the Utah legislature which track some of the Church's stances on the matter and, without having read them yet, I do hope the Church will consider supporting them to mend some of the divisions. Whether we like it or not, the Church is as much a social structure as a religious one, and we do have to be part of our communities. It is on us as individual members to represent the best that the Church is and try to explain our positions on these matters. We can't play the same game as the protesters in California, Utah, New York, and everywhere else. We must be respectful, tolerant, even supportive, without compromising our beliefs.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The "L" word and other social taboos

So as not to place blame where it is not due, anyone reading this blog should be aware that there are multiple authors contributing. If you look at the bottom of a post, you should see the affiliated authors name or initials. However, I feel that for the most part you will find a significant level of similarity in our ideas. If we do have a different point of view, I'm sure a worthy debate will emerge. That's what is beautiful about our country.

Enough on that. Let's move onto the dreaded "L" word.

When I told my Grandma that I was a liberal, she almost passed out. Literally. She held her head in despair and wondered out loud "I never thought I would see the day..." I have tried to rationalize with her, and many other friends and family since then, mostly to no avail. What makes so much sense to me, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually is also the hardest thing to help others understand. I will continue to try anyway.

If you haven't hit the link to the definitions of "liberal" I suggest you do so before moving on.

Let's take a journey back to the beginning, where there "were many of the noble and great ones." One plan, and on plan only, was proposed to "prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." (Abraham 3:25) The fundamental component of the plan of salvation is choice. It is the free agency to follow the guidelines and example we have been given. If God had sent the second that raised his voice on that monumental day, all would have won the prize, but only through absolute order and elimination of choice. Our religion values the freedom of choice, and I feel we must award to others, the same rights we demand. In other words, if I want the right to worship how I want, and live the way I want, should I not grant that same privilege to others, especially if their ideas differ from my own?

In the political gradient between freedom and order, most of us inherently sit somewhere in the middle. We can't accept complete freedom, that would be anarchy; and we can't accept complete order, that would be prison.

I value individual freedom more then about anything else, and so I am a liberal. I favor the freedom of action with respect to matters of personal belief or expression, and so I am liberal. I encourage progress, representation, tolerance, generosity, and freedom to act upon the dictates of my own conscience, and so based on both connotation and denotation, I am liberal.

I admit that some of my motivation for embracing freedom, is a fear of being forced to obey. Maybe Huxley or Orwell got to me, but I would rather live in a country that gives people the choice of guiding their own future, than live in a place that all are forced like cattle to follow. Of course that means that I must also accept that people might choose a direction that I disagree with, but it also means that I maintain the ability to live the way I want too.

Now back to the present. I look at Obama and I see the prospects of a better world. I may not agree with every aspect of his campaign or his individual character, but we share the hope of a more tolerant world, where two very different people can sit down and talk about their differences before unleashing war. We share the hope of breaking down the racial divide that penetrates through generations despite denial, and the political divide that is propogated by money and greed. We share the desire for the United States to regain its prowress as the world leader in invention and inovation, so that "we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of "peace on earth, good will toward men."" (JFK)

And that is why I am a liberal.

Careful. If you agree, then you might be a liberal too.

Election Day and Founding Fathers

Lest Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman call me un-American after my last post, I thought I'd clean it up and maybe share some thoughts as we go vote for a new president.

The point I was trying to make, and maybe it came across and maybe it didn't, is that I don't think we can point to one form of government or one political party and say, "That is God's." Governments and political parties are made by imperfect men and women for imperfect men and women. As to Democrats and Republicans, their values and platforms shift from year to year and decade to decade. The Republican Party today in no way resembles the progressive and liberal Republican Party of which Lincoln was a member.

So when I hear someone say that a good Mormon must be a Republican, or ask how I can be a good Mormon and a liberal, it is like fingernails scratching a blackboard. I count to ten, take deliberate breaths, give that person an open-handed slap in my mind to ease the tension, and then try to explain. If you are 40 years old, have been a member of a certain political party all your life, and have always just followed the party, your views have shifted a lot over the years. You can't just blindly follow a party. I don't align myself 100% with any candidate's views. I disagree with Obama on abortion, I think he should reveal the names of all of his donors, which he hasn't done, and I wish he had more foreign policy experience, and there are others. But his views generally line up with mine.

I am belaboring the point, as I often do. I've got a little of the Biden in me.

Anyway, as I said, to get Palin and Bachman off my back, and to assure that President Bush's last action in office is not to wiretap my phones, I wanted to talk about the Founding Fathers for a minute. I went through a phase where I really wanted to read a lot of books on the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War period. I gained, of course, a deeper understanding of their sacrifices and virtues, as well as their faults and imperfections. It should be no surprise that some of them had terrible vices and flaws. Some were slave owners, some were adulterers, johns, liars, some had uncontrollable tempers, and the the like. If you think we are partisan now, look back at how vitriolic they were. But despite these imperfections, we know they were inspired to do the things that they did.

Here is a fascinating account of their temple work being done in the St. George Temple. My favorite line is Wilford Woodruff's assertion that they were "best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth." That doesn't mean that they were perfect, it just means that at the time, without the Gospel on the earth and gift of the Holy Ghost, they were the best. God needed a nation in which he could reveal his Gospel and used these men to establish it.

What they did in forming this government was something truly new. Not many people in all of history have done something truly new, but they did. They stood up to the greatest military power on earth to create a nation that, for all intents and purposes, should have either never won that war or collapsed very soon after. There are so many close calls and lucky breaks that it defies all logic unless you believe there was a greater force driving it forward.

Clearly we live in a world they could not possibly comprehend or could have predicted. I guess that is what is so amazing about what they did, that the constitution they wrote in 1787 survived the Civil War and end of slavery, the Industrial Revolution and urbanization, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the nuclear age (and President George W. Bush, the greatest accomplishment of all). So, we vote, we argue, we threaten to move to Canada, but in the end we are in awe of what the Founding Fathers created and how it is still thriving today and how, no matter who wins this election, it will continue forward and meet the next great challenge. We can be proud of our country and its foundation no matter who leads it. Hopefully Obama, though.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hug a Pinko Socialist Theocratic Autocrat

Before I get into the meat, I was thinking that there are two ways to look at this blog, and one is probably inappropriate. This is not a view of Mormon doctrine through the eyes of liberals, this is a view of our culture and politics through the eyes of a Mormon liberal. Big difference.

Second, I hope to have some fellow bloggers on this site soon who are smarter than me.

Now, the question that spawned the immediate creation of this little enterprise was on my wife's blog, directed at me. The question was, what do I think is the role of government. I thought about this a lot as I was raking six huge bags of leaves. My blisters will be other-wordly by tomorrow. Anyway, I thought I'd start real broad and work my way in, in a manner that will be likely both boring and wordy (I'm a lawyer!).

The Twelfth Article of Faith says: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." I think that's where we start. It is clear from this and a reading of the scriptures that there just isn't a single system of government that is "right." There may be some that are inherently better than others, but I don't know if I could make that list.

We have members of the church in hundreds of nations comprising nearly every form of government you can imagine. Tonga has a king, Europe is what conservatives would call Socialist, Venezuela is Socialist, countries in Africa and South America have dictators, and there are faithful members in them all that support the government and obey the law.

Righteous people in the scriptures had kings such as Mosiah, Benjamin, and David; they had communal living such as in 4 Nephi and in Acts, which was resurrected in the early church of this dispensation; they had judges such as in Israel and the Book of Mormon (perhaps a system of activists judges is God's way?); Joseph Smith created a form of theocracy which was continued by Brigham Young; and other examples probably exist that I am not remembering right now.

All this is to say, I don't think there is (capital) A role of government that members of the church should embrace. As long as the decisions they make are righteous or, if we lower our standards a bit, not unrighteous, we believe that we obey them.

Of course, in America we have a specific form of government with a constitution that makes it clear that not everything goes. The constitution lays all power on the shoulders of the people, giving some responsibilities to state and federal governments. I'm not going to go through them all, but the federal government is given authority over things like war, interstate commerce, taxation, and immigration. The judicial branch is given authority to interpret the law, including the constitution itself.

The constitution is inherently and purposely broad, meant to be conformed to a changing world. The founders themselves never agreed on its full meaning. So it seems to me that the role of government, to finally get to some sort of answer, is whatever the people want it to be. We probably all agree that the government should protect us, most of us would agree that it should provide infrastructure, educate our children, and promote fairness.

But if the people want a government that runs a single payer insurance system, the constitution wouldn't forbid it. If we want a government that provides free university level education to all citizens, the constitution wouldn't forbid it. If we want a government that mandates equal pay for women, the constitution wouldn't forbid it. If we want a government that taxes the rich more than it taxes the poor, the constitution wouldn't forbid it.

So I think the role of the government should be whatever not unrighteous thing the majority wants. Right now the majority is likely going to vote in a Democrat to be president and that party to control both houses of Congress who have promised a progressive tax system, expanded health care, more access to education, and an end to the war in Iraq. So that is the role of the government. The government is constantly cleaning up the messes of the Invisible Hand, so lets avoid those messes in the future. This is where I come down. Safety, prosperity, fairness, and opportunity.

If in the future the people want a change, they will elect new leaders with different goals. Government will have a new role. But in a broad view, as long as the government is not oppressive to the majority and is not unrighteous, I think we should respect that.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Getting things going

Like anything anyone writes, and especially blogs, I don't know if anyone will ever read this or think it is interesting. I might not even find it interesting and I might give up after one post.

Nevertheless . . .

I've wanted to try this out for a while. I purposely waited until the end of the election season because campaigns get nasty and rhetoric gets conflated and feelings get hurt and I wanted to avoid the bulk of that. That said, I hope this doesn't just turn into a political blog because I think most people find those a little too heavy and pedantic. I certainly am not trying to politicize religion, mine or anyone else's, nor to religious-ize politics. But Mormons are a political people, I believe, and creating a place to talk about politics, culture, and religion from a left-leaning point of view could be helpful, even to those who disagree.

I think no topic is off limits and that we should be open to listening to every possible point of view, respect the person, and then make informed opinions of our own without having to bring anyone else down. That means being open and honest about topics as disparate as war, human rights, abortion, homosexuality, scripture, families, and anything else you can think of.

I will not claim that this is an original undertaking. There are plenty of liberal Mormon bloggers out there who have been at this for a while and who are very good at it. Once I figure this thing out I'll provide some links.

I'm going to enlist my wife, who has quite a substantial network of friends online, to advertise this little blog to anyone interested and we'll see if we can't get a little dialogue going.