Aug 26, 2008

"Who Is On The Lord's Side? Who?"

This past Sunday at church, I heard an interesting discussion in Sunday School. The question was asked why people who leave the Church often become Anti-Mormons and begin attacking it aggressively. One brother responded that it was because in the Gospel, there is no such thing as no-man's land or neutrality. If you're not on God's side, then you're on Satan's side. There's no middle ground. Period. My husband happened to be with me at church that day and he whispered to me, "Do you think that's true?" I just shook my head.

Later on in the day, we went for a hike on a nearby mountain and talked about it some more. We discussed what this brother had said and whether someone like my husband, since he is not a member and doesn't agree with everything, is on Satan's side by default, since he's not really on God's side -- at least by the Mormon definition. I told him that I thought that it applied more to me personally, since I am already a member of the Church and have taken upon myself the name of Christ and therefore have pledged to live his commandments. However, I also said that I didn't think it was so black and white.

So now I've been thinking about neutrality in the Gospel: whether it should exist and whether it exists at all. If you're like me, when you hear the word "neutral," then Switzerland comes to mind. They were neutral during WWII and escaped the terror and destruction that was going on in virtually every other country around them. Until recently, they weren't even a member of the UN. They have managed to avoid wars, conflicts, and if you go to Switzerland (which I have and I LOVED it!), you'll see that this neutral philosophy has worked out pretty darn well for them. But there's a dark side to their "neutrality." Turns out that some of their citizens weren't as "neutral" as we'd like to think, particularly those who were running the banks and guarding Hitler's stash of blood money and Jewish belongings.

The problem with neutrality in the Gospel is that things aren't always as blatantly evil as Nazism. And at the same time, things that the Church proclaims to be good and righteous haven't always been so. (The one that of course always comes to my mind is racism and attempting to stifle black civil rights.)

The brother who was commenting in Sunday School told about how he and his wife took part in a demonstration of Christian people in front of the Norwegian Parliament in protest of Norway's marriage law, which was recently changed to include same sex marriage. (I have not heard any appeal from the pulpit at church asking Norwegian members to protest or vote in a certain way as we have seen occur in California, but some members take it upon themselves to do so.) While I don't object to the fact this this brother and his wife went to protest, I'm not sure I would have done so myself. Although I would have rather seen the traditional marriage law unchanged, I personally believe that if a democratic society sees fit to adopt a civil law that doesn't affect my freedom of religion or personal civil rights, then it's not really my call -- even if I disagree with it. Personally, I would feel more motivated to protest if I felt like my religious freedom was being taken away (i.e. if the government suddenly forced all religions to perform same sex marriages in their churches, mosques, or synagogues). At the moment, nothing indicates to me that the government intends to take away anyone's religious freedom.

Same sex marriage is just one example that tends to be a divisive issue among Mormons. The Iraq war is another issue that finds Mormons on polar opposite sides, as well as different political ideologies, and all can find "evidence" within the Gospel to support their views.

So, how do we know "who is on the Lord's side, who?" And for those who are unsure about what is right in the Lord's eyes, are they sitting on an invisible fence, fooling themselves into thinking that they're not really Satan's soldiers?

Aug 19, 2008

"Mom, Dad. I'm gay."

(Note to my mom and dad, before they both have heart attacks: This post is NOT about me! :)

There are Mormons out there who have heard these words from their own kids. I think we tend to convince ourselves that this is one of those things that happens to "other families." Families that are maybe weaker in the Gospel or parents who haven't raised their kids right. But I don't think that could be further from the truth. Have you ever thought about what you would do if it happened to you?

I've enjoyed reading the thoughts and experiences of active Mormons who happen to be gay. A couple of blogs that stand out are and Even though no one in my immediate family has ever "come out," I have often thought about how I would react and how it would affect my relationship with that person. Both of these blogs made an impression on me and taught me a lesson in compassion and understanding. I encourage all Mormons, regardless of your feelings regarding homosexuality, to read them. If you read their experiences with an open heart and mind, I think you will be as impressed as I was with their humble attitudes and dedication to the Gospel, despite their struggles.

When I was much younger, I was a very conservative, black and white thinker. Back then, I was pretty sure what I would do if I had a child that had chosen to be gay. (Because back then I was pretty sure it was a choice.) I think that my approach would have been somewhere between a serious chastisement and an ultimatum and/or disowning that child.

Now that I'm older and see the world in technicolour, rather than black and white, I think I would approach such a situation with a lot more understanding and compassion. Still, there are still a few technicalities that I don't know how I would handle. After hearing about a family I knew from my old ward and their compassionate reaction to their return-missionary son's "coming out," along with their struggle to know how much they should accept or not accept, I've done some thinking about it. I'm going to make a list of the dilemmas that such families face and it would be interesting to hear how others in the Bloggernacle would handle such a situation in their families. I'm sure some of you have actually experienced it for real, so it would be interesting to hear your perspective. So, here are some possible challenges for Mormons with gay family members:

  • First, when your loved one says that he or she is gay, how do you respond? With anger? Disgust? Disappointment? A desire to change them? Partial acceptance? Or total acceptance?
  • If you have a son or daughter who is still a minor and says that they are gay, do you try to change them? Do you suggest counselling?
  • Do you encourage them to keep their sexuality a secret?
  • Would you attend the same-sex civil union/wedding of your child? Would you welcome their partner into your family as an "in-law?"
  • If your child is an adult, has moved out of your home, and has a partner do you allow them to bring their partner to your home? If they are in a committed partnership, perhaps even married under the law where possible, would you let them sleep together in the same room?
I think that last point is the one where many parents struggle. How do we know whether we are simply upholding the rules of our household or imposing our beliefs on others? I have friends who live common-law and if they came to stay in my home, I would never think of forbidding them to sleep together, even though I personally don't believe in living common-law. The same would go for a homosexual couple. If I had an adult child who was inactive in the Church and living common-law, I think it would be difficult for me to deny them the same right to decide for themselves, just as with my friends. I know there are Mormons who forbid their unmarried adult children to sleep with their partners when visiting, but I wonder if it's right. Once children become adults and decide for themselves what path they want to take in life, do parents have any right to impose their beliefs on them? If so, is it worth it if it means sacrificing the relationship between parent and child?

So, your child says, "Mom, Dad. I'm gay." What do you do?

Aug 13, 2008

The "D" Word

As a follow-up to my last post, I wanted to share a very thoughtful essay that I came across. Entitled The Spiritual Roots of the Democratic Party: Why I Am a Mormon Democrat, by Todd Compton, it's an excellent summary as to why some Mormons feel that the Democratic party ideals are more in line with Gospel principles than the Republican party.

I'm under no illusions about "converting" any of you Mormon Republicans to the Democratic party, but at the very least I hope it will correct some of the myths about Mormon Democrats being rebellious, flaming radicals, or bad Mormons who don't live the principles of the Gospel.

Here's the link to the essay. Enjoy.

PS: Boyd K. Packer is a Democrat? Wow.

Aug 10, 2008

The "S" Word

Forgive me, but I need to vent.

With the upcoming election in the US, emotions are running high. And we Mormons are no exception. You could ask why I even care. I’m not American, I don’t live in America and I’m not even eligible to vote. So maybe what I say doesn’t really matter.
I was born and raised in Canada. The past six years I’ve lived in Norway. But I have strong ties to the US because of family, friends, and the fact that I grew up in a border town. I’ve travelled extensively through the US and every day I watch American TV, read American news, and am surrounded by American media. I love America and Americans. I think that America does a lot of things better than anyone else in the world. Taking care of its poor is just not one of them.

I find some of the online political debates interesting, particularly where Mormons are concerned. Liberals and Conservatives duke it out and both try to defend their points of view with scriptures and “what Jesus would do.” I’ve taken part in some of the discussions and have been surprised by some of the things I’ve read, particularly the resistance where health care is concerned. If Obama wins, he has his work cut out for him.

One person in one of the health care debates referred to me as “an unabashed socialist.” I’m not a political scientist, so I’m not going to get into a detailed analysis of my political leanings, except to say that my ideals best fit the label of “Social Democrat.” I don’t agree with everything regarding socialism, but all I can do is give my point of view and tell about what has worked for me. I’m not talking about the Soviet Union or North Korea here. I’m talking about good ol’ modern-day, western European democratic socialism. Socialism: the dreaded “S” word.

I’ll never say that the systems under which I’ve lived are perfect. I can point out plenty of problems and challenges that need to be addressed. However, I have to say that I get frustrated when American Mormons deem the systems of other countries to be a “failure” because we might have to wait a few months to get a non-emergency operation, or even “evil” because so-and-so prophet was a Republican. Some go as far as to say that you can’t be a “real” Democrat and a good Mormon. Or you can’t be a Democrat and a “real” Mormon. Some view Liberalism and Mormonism as the antitheses of each other. You can be one, but you can’t be both.

I saw the case of one member in the US who was adamantly against socialized health care and at the same time was trying to spread the word about raising money for a toddler’s liver transplant. It was a very admirable gesture and I certainly hope that the local ward came through with the funds to help this child. But if I needed a liver transplant, I’d be sleeping better at night if I knew that my government health plan was going to pick up the tab, than if my surgery was riding on my local ward, or whoever else, chipping in out of the goodness of their hearts. Perhaps I’ve just become too cynical over the years, but I just don’t have much faith in the charity of my fellow man. If I needed a transplant, I think my odds would be better if people are forced to pay taxes to fund my care than if they are given the choice. On top of that, I know that their turn will eventually come and they will need to see a doctor for whatever reason.

A government that includes things like socialized health care, or social benefits and programmes may not be the only solution. But has anyone come up with a better one? It may be superficial to do so, but I’m only going to look at the surface. I don’t live in a mansion and I don’t drive an Escalade. (If I did, I wouldn’t be able to afford the $12 USD/gallon gas!) We have to pay pretty hefty taxes and the cost of living is very high. It can be hard to keep your head above water and stay out of debt here, just like anywhere else. However, we don’t have to worry about who will pay if we have to go to the doctor, have surgery, chemotherapy, or get disabled. If we have to take some time off from work for illness, we won’t lose out on income. If we had kids, we could take time off to be with them during their first year of life or when they’re sick, without worrying about losing our jobs or pay. Some people here have a little and some have a lot, but the class difference is less evident and virtually everyone has what they need. Maybe not what they WANT, but what they NEED. When people have what they need (i.e. a roof over their heads, food on the table, basic healthcare), then they’re generally happy. A happy population with minimal poverty naturally results in less crime, which makes society generally safe, peaceful, and productive.

Canada and the Scandinavian countries have consistently topped the UN’s Human Development Index of the best countries in the world to live in. Since 1985, Canada or Norway has been first every year, except for 1991 and 1993 (Japan) and 2007 (Iceland). This is largely to do with health care and the state welfare systems. Somebody please tell me why this is bad for me and my fellow man?

You may say that it’s wrong for the government to restrict gun ownership. I say I’m relieved to know that if I tick off some guy in traffic, it’s very unlikely that he has a gun in his glove compartment. In my view, the less guns in society, the better. You may say that there’s more to it than just providing for the physical and temporal needs of a population. I say that basic, temporal needs (i.e. food, shelter, clothing and basic health care) must be met before spiritual needs. You may say that providing health care or welfare should be up to charitable individuals and not the government. I say that even if the most charitable people have limited resources. You may say that we should be free from the burden of taxes. I say that you don’t get anything for nothing and the funds have to come from somewhere. You may say that we should be self-sufficient and not rely on the government for our needs. I say that part of the human experience is having to rely on each other and no matter how prepared or self-sufficient we are, we are dependent on each other.

So why are some American Mormons so adamant about defending a system that leaves so many people on the street when they should be in a hospital, or widens the gap between rich and poor? And what religious basis is there for this?

Scandinavian society has its faults and I could make a list of things that I don’t like about it, but it’s generally a peaceful, productive, equal society that cares for the basic needs of the people. Last I checked, that’s what the Lord wanted.

So, someone please tell me. Is God frowning on Scandinavian socialism? If so, please come and rescue me from this oppressive government.

Aug 4, 2008

Faith In Action: Join Our Prayer Roll

We've been having a very interesting and lively discussion about prayer here on The Faithful Dissident. I've enjoyed it very much, have found it to be enlightening and appreciate all the comments that you have shared. The discussion is far from over, so keep your comments coming if you have anything more to say.

I was thinking more about prayer the past few days as there are a few people on my mind whom I would like to help. Unfortunately, there's nothing much I can really do for them except pray. Although I have expressed my doubts about prayer in the past, by no means have I abandoned the practice and so I felt inspired to start a prayer roll here on my blog.

I invite you all, regardless of your current spiritual state, Mormon or non-Mormon, to join in and add the names of anyone you feel needs some heavenly help in their lives, for whatever reason. Post the name of the person and tell us a bit about their situation if you wish. Feel free to change the person's name (as I have done) for the sake of privacy. I'm sure the Lord will know who we're praying for, even if the name has been changed. Tell us as much or as little as you wish about the person you are concerned about. Here are the three that are on my mind at the moment:

Fredrick: I met him last summer as he took a summer job at the nursing home where I work. I was impressed by his patience and gentle way with the old people, not just because he was the only male in a female-dominated workplace, but also because of his age. At just 18, he fit in very well into a sometimes extremely challenging and stressful work environment, where patients are often aggressive, verbally and physically abusive, and downright unpleasant to be around. Fredrick had gone on to become a truck driver, recently finished his schooling and started work. He still picked up a shift here and there at the nursing home until he fell ill a few weeks ago. A couple days ago at work, I heard the news that he has been diagnosed with a brain tumour. He's just undergone surgery, 80% of the tumour has been removed, but he now has to wait to hear the results of whether or not it's cancerous. On top of that, his sight has been compromised and it's too early to say whether it will come back, which in itself is a huge obstacle for a 19 year-old who thought he was going to spend his years driving trucks. Please pray that Fredrick's tumour is benign. And if it's not, that he will have the strength to fight through the treatment he faces and win the battle.

Mohammed: This young man hails from Afghanistan. When he was approximately 5 years old, his family was wiped out by a bomb during the war with the Soviets. He was the only survivour and was sent to an orphanage, where he spent his childhood. Since the orphanage was run by Soviets, he was not raised in the Muslim faith. Around his mid-20's, he escaped Afghanistan, without any passport or identification, and made his way across some of the old Soviet states, where he lived on the street and was sometimes subject to beatings. Eventually he reached Europe and crossed through several countries until he entered Norway hidden on a boat. Once there, he applied for political asylum and has been awaiting the decision on his case for almost 5 years. A couple of years into his Norwegian stay, a couple of Elders struck up a conversation with him on the street and he eagerly accepted the Gospel. Mohammed has worked hard, against the odds, and built up a decent life for himself with a job, staying active in the Church, and learning fluent Norwegian. His life has been like something out of a sad movie and yet he always remains cheerful, hopes for the best, and is extremely grateful for whatever help is extended to him. This past spring, he had another meeting with the Norwegian immigration authorities who will decide whether he can stay in Norway or if he's to be deported back to Afghanistan. He was told he would be informed of the decision in 3-6 weeks, but now it's been over 3 months. Some of the other asylum-seekers that had a meeting the same day that he did have already been approved, but he is still anxiously waiting. We've been hoping and praying and though local Church leaders have petitioned on his behalf, it's out of everyone's hands. We pray that he will finally have that cloud hanging over his head removed, so that he will no longer have to remain stateless. Pray that he will be given the opportunity to live his life in peace and safety and not have the flame of his potential snuffed out because of the political situation he was born into.

Cliff's sister: A reader who commented in the prayer discussion told of his sister, who was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Even though Cliff and I don't see eye-to-eye on some things, I feel for his sister and family because I know that ovarian cancer is tough to beat. Pray that she will have the strength to beat this terrible disease.

I hope that we can all remember these people in our prayers and, God-willing, we'll see those we care about receive the divine help they're in need of, in whatever form the Lord sees fit to deliver it to them.