Thursday, June 25, 2009

A New Effort to Reconcile the Church and Gays

There is a new effort gaining some notoriety on the interwebs to soften the church's stance on gays and reconcile the two groups. The website is called People are asked to read and sign their name to a petition which will be delivered to church leaders on November 4, the anniversary of the Prop 8 vote.

As always, I went to the comment section of the story by the Salt Lake Tribune to get an idea of what people are thinking, as there is really no better representative group of the general population than the comment section of an online paper (picking up the sarcasm?).

The gist of the comments from members of the church opposed to this effort is that the prophet has spoken through revelation, the doctrine of families and sexuality is set and eternal, and no amount of public protest can change that fact. The gist of the comments who support the site is who are Mormons to decide morality for everyone else and deny rights to citizens born homosexual? As is often the case, both sides are partly right and both sides are partly wrong.

The petition and website are inaccurate in several ways, and the reactions to them are also inaccurate. The petition reads, in part:
This means scrupulously acknowledging such practices as “reorientation”-- reparative, revulsion, and shock-therapies; such teachings as homosexuality being an evil perversion, a condition that is chosen and changeable and one that can be overcome through fasting, prayer, sacrifice and heterosexual marriage; and using scriptures that are taken out of context, mistranslated or that are highly selective to condemn homosexuality.
As far as I can tell, the church did away with most of this years ago and now, even before Prop 8, emphasizes that it is not safe or effective to try to change the person. The current teaching, as far as I understand it, is that if a person is gay they can still be temple worthy by simply living the law of chastity. I say simply, but, of course, it must be agonizingly difficult. This is why Elder Marvin Jensen of the Seventy and Church Historian has said on several occasions that the church weeps with those good members going through this supremely difficult trial.

I am not aware of the church using scriptures "taken out of context, mistranslated or that are highly selective to condemn homosexuality." There are scriptures in the Bible that condemn homosexuality and take a very harsh view of it, but I don't believe I've seen the church cite these scriptures, as is the practice of many born-agains, to bolster its argument. Instead, the church relies on modern revelation, specifically The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

So far, I think we're good. This is where the common ground can be found. I do not think it would be a repudiation of our teachings on morality and the family to recognize that homosexuality is not a choice, that gays should be afforded basic rights, and even that gays should be allowed to be married under our civil laws. As a church we do not oppose many marriages that would run contrary to our views of it, such as shotgun Vegas weddings, for instance. We can stand by our belief that marriage is sacred and that eternal life is available only to those who are sealed in the temple under priesthood authority while at the same time allowing civil marriages that fall outside of our beliefs. The two are not mutually exclusive. This may not be ideal, but we live in a big, complex world and we can't control every variable or person or practice that runs contrary to our beliefs.

Where the problem comes is where the church is asked to repudiate "such teachings as homosexuality being an evil perversion." "Evil perversion" seems harsh, lets just call it sin. No matter the semantics, though, this will not change. First, it is not the homosexuality that is a sin, but homosexual actions, which is not a small difference. In any case, changing the church's teachings here would be reversing a prophetic pronouncement and one of the most basic doctrinal tenets of the church: the sanctity of the heterosexual marriage.

Not only is it theologically untenable, it is not necessary. As I stated above, there is no reason why we can't hold on dearly to our beliefs but still allow gay marriage amendments and votes to go forward without our opposition. Allowing gays to marry will not cheapen my marriage, or any other temple marriage that has ever been performed, nor will it negate or lessen the prophetic and doctrinal truth that we espouse. We can still use our influence through our missionary program and our examples and discussions with our neighbors, but going the political route is more harmful than beneficial. The church won't, and shouldn't, reverse its teachings about marriage, but it can, and should, take a different approach in public statements and treatment of non-Mormon gays. These are very different things that should not be confused and completely intertwined.

Finally, the site makes a big deal about suicide rates among gays, especially young gays. This is, of course, tragic and we should be doing everything we can to avoid this substantial problem. But to lay the blame at the feet of the church is wrong. I will admit that there has been some pretty harsh rhetoric coming out of the members of the church, and I can only guess how painful and disorienting that must be for young people who are struggling to understand their sexuality and trying to reconcile the fact that they are otherwise good kids who feel like they are being demonized for feelings they can't control. Bottle all of this up internally with no outlet, and you have a recipe for disaster.

But the church has always stressed love and sympathy and tolerance of the person. Many members can't separate the condemnation of the sin and the person, and I admit that it is very hard. When church teaches that homosexuality is a sin, but that the person is to be loved and respected, many members use this as a basis for over-the-top rhetoric against the sin and the person. The fault is not with the church, but with the individual that misinterprets. The church, I believe, can and should stress this point more clearly and often for those that don't understand.

It looks to me like this is a good faith effort to bring the two sides together, but there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between doctrine and public policy. For the church and its faithful members, requiring that it reverse its prophetic pronouncement and no longer consider homosexual acts sins is a non-starter. But members of the church can begin separate the politics from the doctrine and reach out with more understanding and tolerance.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Because Iranians totally wish they were Republican

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Irandecision 2009 - Iranians Support the GOP
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

I read elsewhere some words of wisdom from Henry Kissinger, who said that Obama is right to not take sides in Iran's current election drama. Without going into it too much here, it's very rarely that I agree with Kissinger on anything. But, quite frankly, his brand of conservative is far more desirable than the current crop who have little to no clue about the intricacies of international relations. Kissinger knew how to dress his deceptions well, and even stumbled across a truth every now and again. Bellowing about Obama's refusal to back Mousavi, on the other hand, fails to take into account how doing so might harm future US-Iranian relations, even if (and especially if) Mousavi is the ultimate victor. In a country where the US is demonized almost as often as Israel, we do ourselves no favors by picking favorites in political disputes. Despite Obama's drastically better grasp of international relations, the image of the US abroad hasn't recovered to the point where we can do anything effective in this situation, other than voice our strong belief that the elections should be judged honestly, and that everyone should have an opportunity to freely speak their mind. It is sad that Kissinger's view on this subject is in the minority in the Republican party -- here's to hoping that won't always be the case.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Utah Escapes Global Climate Change Thanks to New Governor

I remember when Utah used to have a really normal, really smart, really pragmatic man running our state. Now we have Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert. As Gov. Huntsman begins the process of being confirmed by the Senate to take the post of Ambassador to China, he has turned the reigns over to L.G. Herbert.

This is what we call the old bait-and-switch. We are sold on a product that we like a lot and that we want to own, in this case Gov. Huntsman. Then at the last minute we get a somewhat similar product that is different enough to be of much less value, in this case L.G. Herbert. We've been betrayed. I never thought I'd have this deep sense of longing for a Republican.

So right off the bat L.G. Herbert, at the Western Governor's Association meeting, attired in the classic all-black look, professes his serious doubts on climate change and publicly mulls over whether to remove Utah from the Western Climate Initiative. Thanks for everything, Huntsman, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

By the way, can't you just imagine ultra-conservative L.G. Herbert gritting his teeth as the late Gov. Huntsman enrolled Utah in the WCI, supported civil unions and other gay rights, criticized Congressional Republicans as "irrelevant," and generally made of mockery of Utah County-style extreme conservatism? But all those worn down teeth finally paid off, L.G. Herbert, because you're in charge now.

Now, I'm no scientist. Far from it. So lets take a look at the institutions that consider climate change very likely (in scientific parlance "very likely" means 90% to 99% chance it is true) a man-made problem: the U.S. EPA, the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, NASA, the U.S. Geologic Survey, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program which include thirteen federal agencies (for those keeping track, we now have every scientific body of the United States government), the United Nations, Science Magazine, MIT, the National Academies, Britain's Royal Meteorological Society, and on and on and on. If you are able to find a scientific body that disagrees, by all means bring it forward.

But let's listen to what L.G. Herbert has to say:
"I've heard people argue on both sides of the issue, people I have a high regard for. People say man's impact is minimal, if at all, so it appears to me the science is not necessarily conclusive."
Hmmm. Compelling. "People" do say that. My uncle, for instance. Also, a guy in my neighborhood. Keep going, LGH.
"Is there a hidden agenda out there? Help me understand the science."
Yes, every-major-scientific-body-in-the-world-that-has-studied-the-issue, do help us understand.
Herbert told the Deseret News after the discussion he wasn't convinced because all he heard was "the science is conclusive, the science is over. The debate is done. I'm saying, 'Based on what?' "
Seriously, LGH. Somebody show us what the conclusion to this debate is based on. Because if you're just going to point to a bunch of scientific reports, no thanks. Rather . . .
He said polls have shown the public is divided on the issue.

"I think people are confused," he said. "Most people are ignorant of the issue. They all say it sounds good until all of a sudden you've got $4-a-gallon gasoline."
The clincher! I think we can all agree that when it comes to science and major global environmental issues, we should base our reasoning and conclusions on divided public polls and people that are unhappy about high gas prices.

This is going to be our new governor? Ugh. We can debate about just how bad global warming is going to be, and what steps should be taken to best protect us and sustain us, but there simply is no more debate over the fact that human-caused global climate change is real and it is serious. The debate is over based on scientific facts and consensus. It's not haughty to say so, it is haughty to think that you know better.

But my favorite LGH line comes way at the bottom of the story: "regardless of the debate on the science, I'm a capitalist." Thanks for clearing that up, Herbie: Science and capitalism are now mutually exclusive. Science is for commies.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

DHS Was Right (about Right-wing extremists)

Here come the extremists. This type of thing is terrorism, pure and simple. The fact that our current President is black may be one of the factors that's tipping these nuts towards more direct action, but there's no question that on the Right side of the political debate there is way too much militarism. I've written here before (mostly in the comments) about hate speech on the Right being a precursor to violent actions. I expect more of the same; so does Mr. Tiller's killer (note the date on the article's byline).

Pres. Obama and Religious Tolerance in America

It will come as no surprise that I really liked Pres. Obama's speech in Cairo. I think it is absolutely necessary for America to overcome its fundamental distrust of Islam in general, as opposed to extremists in particular, in order to better secure ourselves and promote democracy abroad. Pres. Obama is doing well walking the sometimes fine line between finding common ground where it exists and condoning anti-democratic practices and customs.

But there was one section of his speech that I wanted to highlight that I thought was pretty relevant to this blog. In the section where Pres. Obama addressed religious tolerance, he said:
Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld -- whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt.


Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism. In fact, faith should bring us together.
We live in an America where we are lining up religion and politics, and I think that is extremely harmful to both. Politicizing religion and religious-izing politics sullies and impedes them both.

Look, I love seafood, and I love Nutella. But I do not think that they go well together. I try to keep them separate and enjoy them each on their own. I don't dip my shrimp in Nutella or smother my salmon in melted Nutella. It ruins them both when you eat them in the same bite. Likewise, religion and politics are two things that I love to talk about and debate and learn more about. But combining them almost always has very negative side effects. Of course, it is easier to separate Nutella from seafood than it is to separate your politics from your religion, but no one ever said this life was easy and it is something for which we should strive.

In America, the current trend is that the majority of those who attend church more frequently vote for Repbulicans and the majority of those that attend less frequently or not all vote for Democrats. This is becoming so pronounced that we are getting the two mushed up in our minds. Liberal activists see conservatives as a bunch of irrational, kooky born-agains and conservative activists see liberals as a bunch of godless hedonists. This then becomes a positive feedback machine where the deeply religious dig in against the liberals and the non-religious dig in against the conservatives and all of the sudden we aren't even talking about politics anymore and what is the best way to run the country, we are talking about whether a Mormon should even be allowed to run the country or if atheists can be trusted in federal office or if religion itself should be done away with because it is irrational and only leads to wars and bigotry.

On the one side, then, as Pres. Obama pointed out, we have hostility towards religion under the pretense of liberalism, and on the other side the championing of overt religion as the only way to effectively run the country. What's more, conservatives demand ideologically pure religion (with suspicious glances at conservative Catholics and Mormons). In the end it looks like we certainly deal with religious tolerance and freedom better than most Muslim countries, but we aren't really doing that great in our own right.

It does religion no good to get intertwined with politics. Whether it is fair or not, many liberals have simply discounted Mormonism completely because they see it as too politically conservative for them. Otherwise good people who love their families and believe in God have shut their ears to our message because of politics. Politics. Are we really willing to shackle our religion with politics and miss out on the chance to touch the lives of millions of Americans? I want to emphasize again that the purpose of this blog is not to justify liberal politics through Mormonism, but to show that they are at least compatible and that a diversity of political thought in the Church is good for its long-term well being.

And it does politics no good to get intertwined with religion. Religion is based on faith and personal conversion, whereas politics must be based on facts and societal good. Often what is good for one is good for the other, but using religion as the reasoning to justify politics never works. It only leads to arbitrary decisions, distrust, and disenfranchisment.

So as Pres. Obama urged Muslims to practice religious tolerance and freedom, I could not help but think of our own issues. Liberals are becoming hostile towards religion, conservatives are becoming hostile towards the non-religious, and religion in America is becoming too indistinguishable from politics. This can only turn out badly for both.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Real Utah Senate Race?

Utah Democrats have a seemingly legitimate candidate to run against Senator Bob Bennett. Sam Granato has decided to make a run for the seat, and the timing and situation are nicely aligned such that there is definite cause for optimism.

Granato is the owner of the Salt Lake City deli chain that bears his name. He is also a non-drinking chairman of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. He is also known in political circles as someone who is involved with local leaders, moderate, and well-liked. This is exactly the type of candidate Utah Democrats need to be running right now: moderate, connected, and likeable.

Combine Granato's personal attributes with a political climate in Utah that is complex these days, and you have the recipe for a potential upset. Pres. Obama is more popular in previously dark red Utah than could ever have been predicted. Sen. Bennett is under fire from state Republican activists because, amazingly, he isn't conservative enough. These charges stem from the unthinkable actions of trying to think through issues instead of just toeing the party line. Because of this Bennett has some primary challengers from the right in the forms of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Tim Bridgewater.

There is recent history suggesting that Utah Republican activists are willing and able to defeat a very conservative federal office holder with someone even more conservative. Jason Chaffetz, our cute little ultra-conservative from Utah county, defeated Chris Cannon in a primary and eventually won a House seat.

So what if the perfect storm occurred? What if Mark Shurtleff defeated Sen. Bennett in the primary? Mark Shurtleff, while no lightweight, isn't exactly the most charming or articulate or popular politician in the state. Combine a candidate who has positioned himself way to the right against a moderate, well-liked Democrat, in a year where Pres. Obama is polling well in Utah, and you might just have the ingredients for an upset. Or, at the very least, a competitive Senatorial race for the first time in years.

And in a state where one party dominates as much as Republicans do in Utah, a competitive statewide race that builds momentum for the Democratic party would be a huge victory.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Whence a Mormon President?

Will the first Mormon POTUS, if there ever is one, be a Democrat or a Republican? The knee-jerk response, of course, is that he or she will be a Republican because the Church is viewed primarily as a conservative institution and because far more Mormons are politically conservative than politically liberal (but it doesn't have to be that way!).

But digging a little deeper may reveal some interesting opposition to this notion, despite the decades of religious-type devotion Utahns and Mormons have shown to the Republican party.

There are currently six Mormon U.S. Senators, all from the West. It is well known at this point that Senate President Harry Reid is a Democrat and that the Utah Senators (Sen. Hatch and Sen. Bennett) are Republicans. Two of the remaining three Mormon Senators, however, are Democrats: the cousins Udall (Mark from Colorado and Tom from New Mexico). The other Mormon Senator is Idaho's Mike Crapo. That makes an even 3-3, with the tie-breaker going to the Democrats because they have the Senate President.

So it is apparent that a Mormon Democrat can be a viable candidate. The most interesting question, however, is whether a Mormon could ever be nominated for President in the Republican primary. This is a primary dominated by the religious right and Southern Baptist conservatives. John McCain, in 2000, ran a campaign that explicitly defied the political power of the religious right, going so far as to call Jerry Falwell an "agent of evil," and was defeated by George W. Bush, who explicitly ran to the religious right.

In 2008 John McCain changed his tone, courted the religious right, and won the nomination easily. Mitt Romney also explicitly courted the religious right, but didn't have a prayer. Between McCain and Huckabee, the Southern Baptists could easily overlook Romney for someone who was less Mormon. Huckabee famously fueled the flames of religious ire by asking the rhetorical and contextless question of whether Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers. He quickly retracted the statement, but the damage was done.

As a Democrat I am often angry at the way the extreme left of my party treats religion in general and Mormonism specifically. Part of the purpose of this blog is to prove that a Mormon can be a Democrat, but also that a Democrat can be a Mormon. But I wonder if there the same amount of anger that Mormon Republicans feel towards the extreme right of their party that distrusts Mormons and would, under no circumstances, support a Mormon president, even if he or she was conservative.

A Gallup poll taken in February 2007 attempted to gauge Americans' views of our religion. It showed that Mormons have a net -10 (42-52) favorability rating among Republicans, a smaller net -4 (43-47) among Democrats, and a net +8 (48-40) among independents. Protestants, who make up the vast majority of conservative voters, had a net -16 (36-52) view of Mormons, while Catholics had a net +25 (56-31), and those professing no religion had a net -7 (39-46). It is also the case that the more religious the person, the more negative view she has of Mormons. Again, the Republican party is dominated by more frequent church-goers. By all of these measures it appears that a Mormon is more likely to be voted in by Democrats and independents than by Republicans. By ideology, however, the reverse is true, in a big way. Those that consider themselves conservatives have a net -1 (44-45) favorability, while those that consider themselves liberal have a net -33 (28-61), and moderates have a net +8 (48-40) view of Mormons.

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that Mormons poll better among Democrats than Republicans, but worse among liberals than conservatives. That appears to be a contradiction and may even itself out between the two.

So what does all of this mean? First, don't hold your breath for a Mormon President any time soon from either party. Even though moderates and independents have a net positive view of Mormons, the more extreme wings of both parties do not, for different reasons entirely, and they decide who wins the nomination.

But there is no doubt right now that Democrats are currently doing more work appealing to independents and swing voters, while Republicans are having an internal debate about whether to become a more "big-tent" party or to establish an ideological purity, and the latter seems to be winning out. Given that, I think right now it might be more likely that a Mormon president be a Democrat than a Republican.