Nov 28, 2008

Shotgun Weddings

Continuing along in my "Dummies" series, I'm currently reading "Catholicism for Dummies." There's a lot that I love about Catholicism and a lot that makes me glad that I'm not Catholic. This book has helped clear up some of the misconceptions I had about Catholicism, whether it's the issues of celibacy or marriage annulments, and it's also helped me appreciate a lot about the faith.

In the chapter about Catholic marriage, it says:

{In most dioceses, Catholics who want to marry are asked to meet with a priest or a deacon at least 9 to 12 months before the wedding. This period is called Pre-Cana after the name of the town, Cana, where Jesus and his mother, Mary, went to a wedding feast, and Jesus changed water into wine. During the Pre-Cana period, the priest offers practical financial and emotional advice to the couple, as well as instructions on the spiritual nature of marriage and Natural Family Planning (NFP), which, by the way, is not the old, forsaken Rhythm Method. Because the Catholic Church forbids all artificial contraception, regulating birth and planning the size of a family must be based on morally allowable means, such as NFP.

Why is so much time spent in preparation? Why can't weddings be spontaneous? Because the Sacrament of Matrimony is a vocation for life. The Catholic Church wants to prevent impulsive, shotgun weddings, or anything done in haste, rashness, or imprudence.}

If there's any religious group of people who knows "spontaneous" weddings, it's Mormons. I've known Mormons who met someone at BYU, got married, and had two kids in the same amount of time it took me to decide whether or not to get married. How many really wait 9-12 months? Some may not even wait 3 months. We all got a laugh out of the impulsive engagements and weddings in "The Singles Ward," but it's perhaps not all that far off from reality. We've all seen it, haven't we? I'm the result of a pretty spontaneous international engagement myself, even though my dad wasn't Mormon at the time of their marriage, and they beat the odds by staying together. It's surprising, actually, just how many do beat the odds, but I've seen quite a few who didn't. I've seen those who feel pressured into getting married ASAP and having as many kids as possible ASAP and they sometimes end up miserable and divorced with several kids. It's not nice.

OK, so most of us would probably not want to discuss the details of "family planning" with our bishop. I know I wouldn't. But is there not anything we can learn from our Catholic neighbours? I know that the bishop and stake president probably give young couples a "talk" when they have their recommend interviews, but should it be more? The Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony is for life and therefore they think it's wise to not rush things and give the couple plenty of counsel. Mormon temple marriage is for eternity.

So why the rush?

Nov 22, 2008

My Prop 8 Manifesto

This post is also currently being featured at Feminist Mormon Housewives.

Although I’m usually able to write a post fairly spontaneously as the thoughts come to me, this is one that I’ve been procrastinating for several weeks because it requires so much thought and tact in order for it to be effective instead of offensive.

Another reason why I’d been procrastinating writing this post is that I know that most of us are sick to death of the Prop 8 debate and wish it would just go away. I sort of dread bringing it up again, I still don’t know exactly where I stand on gay marriage, and I’ve communicated with other Mormons who are in the same boat. The purpose of this post, however, is not to debate whether Prop 8 was right or wrong, but to focus on the future.

Even though I’m thousands of miles away from the drama of Prop 8, I feel very impacted by the whole issue. Lately I’ve been debating with myself about whether I should make a personal statement, a sort of “Prop 8 manifesto” about where I stand on the issue, and post it on my personal network of friends (some of whom are gay) in order to “clear the air,” or just remain silent and hope that it blows over. Perhaps it’s also a way for me to finally find some sort of inner peace in the matter.

First of all, who would my manifesto be directed to? Well, I guess it would be directed at the two groups that I feel like I’m standing in between: my gay friends (as well as gays in general) and the Church that I consider to be my spiritual home. I don’t entirely agree with either side, neither do I entirely disagree with either side. But I’m afraid that both sides may misinterpret my silence as meaning that I’m OK with how things unfolded.

So, here it goes:

To my friends who are gay or supported gay marriage:

First of all, I wish to issue an apology to those of you who have found yourselves to be the victims of true hatred and bigotry. I know that certain members of my faith and other religious persuasions have treated you unkindly, unfairly, and in a way that no Christian person should be able to legitimately justify. I have encountered comments by certain Mormons that make me cringe and I am sometimes ashamed to have to call them fellow members of my church.

I simply ask that you carefully consider how you apply the labels of “bigot” or “hate.” I have seen indications of these words being thrown around as ignorantly and as indiscriminately as those who label gay people as “perverts” or “sinners.”

Please understand that my religion is just as personal to me and as defining of who I am as your sexuality is to you. Although it is true that I am free to leave my religion if I please, physically leaving it would not mean that I would be able to just deny my faith, just as you would not able to deny your attraction towards the same sex. In many ways, I don’t feel that I chose my religion – it chose me, just as I’m sure you probably feel about your sexuality. If you have not experienced what it feels like to have a personal relationship with God, then you cannot understand exactly how it is – just as I cannot understand exactly what it’s like to be gay. In order for you to suggest that I am using my religion as a crutch or an excuse to hate homosexuals is just as unfair as it would be if I were to suggest that you chose to be gay or that you could be heterosexual if you really wanted to.

I wish to be honest. I personally believe that marriage is something that we do not need to redefine. I am perhaps too much of a traditionalist in this regard for those who disagree with me. But it is how I feel and it would quite possibly be enough to affect how I would vote on an issue such as Prop 8. However, I do not regard my personal views as a nullification of yours. I acknowledge that my personal belief is simply that: my personal belief and ideal. I have mine and you have yours.

I have given a great deal of thought to the issue of Prop 8 and I sympathize greatly with both sides. Obviously, I was not eligible to vote on Prop 8, but if I had been, I would most likely have refrained from voting on it. To be honest, YES and NO felt neither entirely right nor entirely wrong to me. I wish that there could have been some middle ground, but there wasn’t. I wish to state for the record that I personally oppose the explicit appeal to support Prop 8 by the leadership of my Church and its involvement in the YES on 8 campaign. I feel that it violated our policy of political neutrality and it troubles me greatly. However, this does not mean that I oppose Mormons campaigning as individuals or voting according to their personal conscience and convictions – even if this means that they voted YES.

I cannot apologize for our right as a church to teach and uphold the values that we believe in. Although I oppose the Church’s involvement in the Prop 8 campaign, I do not oppose our right to uphold the traditional definition of marriage as individuals. Contrary to what you may believe, we are not told to hate homosexuals. Neither do we teach that being homosexual is a choice, even though a few ignorant Mormons may attempt to spread this false belief. If what we teach in our churches translates into an influx of Mormons voting YES on 8, or others propositions like it, then this must be respected as it is how democracy works. People need to be allowed to vote their conscience and for most of us, our conscience is heavily influenced by our individual religious and spiritual experiences — just as your own conscience is heavily influenced by your own unique life experiences and even religious beliefs. You may feel that we defeated gay marriage, but in reality we have probably done nothing more than delay it. Out of respect for the democratic process, you are free to continue to campaign on behalf of your cause and to persuade more people to support gay marriage the next time another such referendum is organized.

To my friends who are Mormon, supported Prop 8, or who oppose gay marriage:

First of all, you need to understand that my opposition to the Church’s political involvement in the YES on 8 campaign does not automatically make me an apostate. I’ve struggled to understand the reasons why the LDS Church opposes gay civil marriage so adamantly and yet is silent on other “moral issues” that have such a huge impact on society, families and children. I’ve read the official statement from the Church and I’ve read countless arguments from supporters of Prop 8 as to why it was so important that gay marriage not become legal. Many of these “reasons” were not morally-based, but rather founded in the fear of legal implications gay marriage would have on the separation of church and state, our tax exempt status as a church, our right to perform marriages as a church, and how Mormons would be allowed to continue to practice freedom of religion. Most of these have been disputed by lawyers – even Mormon ones – and so these “reasons” appear to me to be at best speculation and at worst pure scare tactics by the YES on 8 side. Supporters of gay marriage have some very compelling reasons for why they believe that gay marriage should be legal and I sympathize with many of them. There is, however, one reason I have not been able to hop on the gay marriage bandwagon: although marriage has evolved over time, it has never been redefined in the sense that it has been between members of the same sex. Gay marriage is still in relative infancy in the few places on earth that it’s legal. We simply don’t know how or whether it will affect the traditional family long term. It may, or it may not, depending on who you believe. Both sides have “evidence” to defend their views.

In an official release, the Church leadership stated:

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 and work together for a better society.”

Notice that they said that “members need to be understanding and accepting of each other,” not that “members need to pressure and guilt-trip each other into agreeing with the Church’s official position.” We must remember that although the Church took an official position on Prop 8, an “official position” does not equal “official doctrine.” Although our official doctrine opposes any sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman, many Mormons are able to uphold the Church’s teaching on homosexuality while still opposing a constitutional ban on gay marriage. We also need to remember our history. Although the Church did not take an official stance, many Mormons – including General Authorities at the time – opposed the black civil rights movement in the 1960’s. To say that black civil rights and gay marriage are exactly the same thing is debatable. But to say that there are absolutely no parallels is, in my opinion, inaccurate. Some members during the 1960’s disagreed with Church leadership, the most prominent being George Romney, who was pressured by General Authorities to cease his involvement in the civil rights movement. Romney ignored this pressure and continued to be involved in the movement in a manner that did not jeopardize his membership in the Church. And now that we look back, it’s not difficult to see who was on the right side of history. To be fair, I need to mention that some of those Church leaders who opposed black civil rights later admitted that they were mistaken.

The First Presidency has also stated that:

“The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men and women. Protecting marriage between a man and a woman does not affect Church members’ Christian obligations of love, kindness and humanity toward all people. “

Unfortunately, a few Mormons have mistakingly believed that they fulfilled their “Christian obligations” by critcizing and cutting down homosexuals or members of the Church that sympathize with their cause, instead of by showing “love, kindness and humanity toward all people. “ I believe that these Mormons do not represent the majority, but it saddens me that there were any who participated in such behaviour. Sometimes, an insignificant number of people can do a significant amount of damage.

The Church urged that “(a)s Church members decide their own appropriate level of involvement in protecting marriage between a man and a woman, they should approach this issue with respect for others, understanding, honesty, and civility.”

We need to ask ourselves whether we’ve really approached this issue with the utmost “respect for others” that should be expected of a people that often feels disrespected by the world and even fellow Christians. Have we, as individuals, taken the time to see things — as best we can — from the perspective of those we oppose, in order to have as much “understanding” as we possibly can, or have we quickly dismissed them? Have we been 100% “honest” in the way that we have run the Prop 8 campaign, or have we engaged in exagerration and scare tactics? Have we managed to treat those we disagree with – and even those who persecute and hate us – with “civility,” or do we hold to the “eye for an eye” philosophy?

Prop 8 has been voted on, it passed, and gay marriage was defeated in California, as well as in other states. Whether it’s deserved or not, we are getting the “credit” for the victorious YES on 8 campaign. As Mormons, we perhaps think that we have done our duty and can now relax, when in fact our job is just beginning. Now it’s time for damage control and focusing on building bridges.

Whether we are right or wrong on the issue of gay marriage is really quite irrelevant. Many people are very angry at us and things may get uglier, the persecution more intense, and the temptation to retaliate even stronger.

The question is: what are we going to do about it?

Nov 16, 2008

Make Some Room!

This post is currently being featured on Feminist Mormon Housewives. If you're interested, you can follow the discussion here:

I mentioned in my intro last week on Feminist Mormon Housewives that I consider myself to be a social democrat. I have been through several rounds of “the socialism question” around the Bloggernacle and it has been exhausting. Although this is a non-issue to most of us Mormons who live in social democracies, such as I do here in Norway, I have come to realize that it is a different story among American Mormons. It seems that I represent a small minority in the Church, at least among those I have corresponded with online, and I have felt on several occasions that there is no room for my belief. Comments have varied between support and downright disdain, with “communist” and “Satan’s plan” sometimes surfacing. The purpose of this post, however, is not to begin another round of the socialism debate, but to discuss being able to claim the place in the Church that is legitimately ours.

I was chatting to a good friend recently about how difficult it is to claim your place in a church where you feel so outnumbered. He commented how confusing it can be when different scriptures seem to contradict each other. The same can be said from teaching and quotes from General Authorities. The reality is that in many cases, I can read a scripture and receive a totally different answer or impression than another person who reads the same scripture. Is there really only one truth to everything? This of course doesn’t give us a license to rationalize things that we know are right or wrong, but could it be that there is singular “truth” than we believe? Could it be that finding “truth” in something does not require us to automatically exclude other possible “truths?” In other words, that we can have differing views on the same thing and both be right, depending on the time, place, and circumstances? Perhaps there is more leeway in our personal beliefs on a lot of issues than many assume.

I know that many will disagree with me, but I have a hunch that Joseph Smith was, in many ways, a liberal. Although some of his actions trouble me, I find more liberty and openness in many of his teachings than I do in other prophets. Ironically, some of his most fascinating teachings are to be found among his teachings of polygamy, but I think there is wisdom to be found in them in regards to other circumstances that we find ourselves in today. In a letter to Miss Nancy Rigdon from 11 April 1842, he writes:

“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.

“God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added.”

Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be. He will be inquired of by His children. He says: “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find;” but, if you will take that which is not your own, or which I have not given you, you shall be rewarded according to your deeds; but no good thing will I withhold from them who walk uprightly before me, and do my will in all things—who will listen to my voice and to the voice of my servant whom I have sent; for I delight in those who seek diligently to know my precepts, and abide by the law of my kingdom; for all things shall be made known unto them in mine own due time, and in the end they shall have joy.” ( Official History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.134-136, See also “The Letter of the Prophet, Joseph Smith to Miss Nancy Rigdon,” Joseph Smith Collection, LDS archives)

One of the reasons why I enjoy blogging so much is that in the Bloggernacle, I get the liberal Mormon perspective that would be very hard to get in church. A non-Mormon whose only exposure to Mormonism is the Bloggernacle could be led to believe that the majority of us are fairly liberal, but I think that this is actually very disproportionate to reality. Let’s face it, liberal Mormons are grossly outnumbered in the church. I think that conservatives sometimes feel threatened by liberals and want to quash liberal thinking and ideas, perhaps going as far as to practically chase them out of the Church, while liberals sometimes feel they’re at war with their own fellow members and then end up leaving the Church when they conclude that it has no room for them and they start feeling sorry for themselves.

What I’m about to say may be a hard pill to swallow for both liberals and conservatives.

I believe that we need each other. That’s right, all of you conservatives out there who sometimes drive me nuts with your ideas need to be there for me. And yes, perhaps to your chagrin, that means that you need me too.

I believe that God created us liberal and conservative for much the same reason that He created us male and female. We need each other to survive, to maintain balance and to draw from the strengths of each other. Although our levels of liberalness vs. conservativeness may fluctuate over the course of our lives (mine certainly have), I don’t believe that leaning more towards one side has to come at the expense of the other. In fact, it shouldn’t.

I’m now going to take the liberty of over-generalizing what it means to be liberal or conservative. Of course, there are many, many grey areas, so please don’t accuse me of not seeing them. Most of us (hopefully) maintain a healthy balance of the two. However, as a general rule of thumb, liberals bring the following assets to the table of Mormonism:

  • Open-mindedness and willingness to accept multi-interpretations of the same Gospel.
  • Compassion and understanding for those who don’t fit the mold.
  • Willingness and sometimes even eagerness to change when change is needed.

On the other side of things, conservatives are generally stronger in the following areas:

  • Dedication and loyalty to the faith.
  • Unwavering testimony even during times of intense doubt.
  • Protecting the Church from undue or negative change and influence.

Some of these strengths can also be weaknesses, depending on how we apply them. For example, conservatives may be so concerned about tradition and literal interpretation, that they fail to see the need for change when it’s needed. Were it not so, the priesthood ban would have either never happened or would have probably ended much sooner. On the other hand, the unwavering faith and loyalty to the prophets on the part of conservative members was the glue that kept the Church together during incredibly difficult times in our history such as polygamy and the pioneer journey west. Bottom line: liberals give wings to the Church when it needs to fly, while conservatives keep it grounded when the skies are too stormy to make it safe.

What I’m not asking for is for the Church or the prophet to sanction my personal ideas and opinions. What I am asking for is for fellow members to acknowledge that I can legitimately maintain my beliefs without necessarily being guilty of apostasy, heresy, or spreading false doctrine. I may even be correct in my seemingly wacky views. No one is required to agree with me, but I am required to follow my personal truths as I believe that God has revealed them to me. And when this is done within the frame of reason and acceptability that the Church has deemed appropriate – which allows for more dispute and variation than most members even realize – then I think we need to respect the liberal views of our fellow brothers and sisters: views that may be too liberal for us, but perhaps not so for our Heavenly Father.

So, my conservative brothers and sisters, make some room for us on the teeter totter.

And to my fellow liberals: don’t get off or it’s just going to come crashing down on all of us.

Nov 12, 2008

Telling Satan Where To Go

This may sound like an odd question, but do you ever talk to Satan? Not like in a "Tuesdays with Morrie" or a taunting "Come and get me!" type of way, but more like, "Satan, go to Hell!" (which I guess is pretty convenient for him.)

My mom was out jogging a few days ago. It had been a stressful few weeks with some tension in the family and all the mental and physical stress of getting my younger brother ready to go on his mission to Argentina (he just left yesterday). Things are better now, but at the moment she was out running, she was mentally praying for the strength that she needed to get through these difficult weeks. As well, she had a bit of a freaky encounter that was a reminder of what we're all up against.

Although she would never pray to Satan or have a conversation with him, she certainly tells him off. Basically, she said something along the lines of "I know you're out there and you're not gonna get me or my family! So get lost!" And just as she rounded the bend at that moment, a big snake was sprawled out right in the middle of the trail. The freaky part is that first of all, snakes aren't usually out in November in Canada, especially on this particularly cold day. Second of all, the snake she saw wasn't one of those common garter snakes that we all run into occasionally. Based on her description, I think it was a northern water snake, which I've rarely seen, and whenever I have they've been during the summer in the water. Thirdly, snakes are usually freaked out by people, but this one just looked at her and twitched a bit, almost tauntingly. Strangely, my mom didn't freak out, but remained calm and simply stepped over the snake, not daring to look back.

So, just a coincidence to the skeptic, perhaps. But I take it to be more of a reminder of a reality that most of us prefer not to think about.

Has anyone else had any freaky encounters of this sort?

Nov 5, 2008

Mr. President

Well, today I feel like I have jet lag after pulling an all-nighter, but it was all worth it.

Just as "Where were you when Kennedy got shot?" is the question of my parents' generation, hopefully for my own generation, the question will be, "Where were you when Obama was elected?" I wonder if we can really fathom right now just how huge this is -- not just for America, but for the world. If a black man can get elected in America, then he can get elected anywhere. I think that one of the most impressive things about the night was seeing the reaction, not just of blacks and other minorities, but of whites. The fact that they got emotional and jumped for joy over the election of a black president spoke volumes.

Just as the election of Obama will hopefully be the catalyst to truly healing the wounds caused by racism in America, I can't help but wonder whether we, as a Church, will ever be able to fully recover from the wounds of our own racist past.

So, when will we see the first black Mormon prophet?

I can't help but wonder if I will ever see that in my lifetime.

Nov 2, 2008

Why Are You Still Here?

This week I had a bit of a spiritual meltdown. Sometimes the things about the Church that trouble me get to be so overwhelming that it feels like a spiritual panic attack: like the walls are closing in and you just can't take it anymore and need to get out.

So after I let out my frustrations, which I need to do periodically whenever they build up, I started thinking about why I'm still here.

I came to a conclusion: it all boils down to Jesus.

Life in the Church is a constant struggle for me because my spirituality is like a roller coaster ride that I can't get off. Roller coasters can be scary and yet most people love them. Even if they vomit afterwards, the ride itself was fun enough that chances are they will want another ride someday. Right now, I'm in the vomiting period, for lack of a better analogy. But I'm not getting off the roller coaster because even though I have no guarantee, I'm hoping that Jesus will be waiting for me when the ride is over.

I'd like to say that I will be able to just tune out all the painful aspects of Mormonism whenever I hear or read them. I'd like to say that I'll be strong enough to not let them get me down or make me angry. I'd like to say that I will able to focus only on the things that make me happy about life as a Mormon, and not the things that make me sad. I'd like to say that whenever I question or disagree with something in the Church, that I will be able to keep it entirely to myself and never voice my opinion. But I know I'll never be able to do any of these things entirely. Still, though, it somehow doesn't matter so much to me as long as I focus solely on Christ and my personal belief -- not in the Church, but in Him.

Today in church I had an opportunity to get back to basics. For the first time ever in my branch (at least for the past 6 six years I've attended it), we held Young Women's. An inactive sister has recently decided to come back and has been bringing along her 2 daughters, aged 11 ad 13. Another young sister who was visiting our branch decided to hold YW and asked me to come along for class. The two girls seem very sweet, innocent, and genuinely interested in the Church. They seemed to enjoy the class and the opportunity to have their own class with teachers who are not senior citizens, like most of the rest of the branch. So we had a nice, simple lesson about how we can be a positive influence on others. We touched on topics such as bullying at school and standing up for what is right. As I sat there and looked at these girls, I thought about how they were at such a vulnerable age and how most kids would never have this unique opportunity to sit down and talk about morals and values. I thought to myself that this is good; this is what I love about the Church. This is how I grew up, it's what I was taught, and it's what shaped me into the person I am today. With all my faults, I am adamant about the need for more compassion and mercy in this world. I'm fiercely opposed to racism, bigotry, and injustice. Although I'm far from perfect, I try to avoid hypocrisy like the plague and I'm afraid of being corrupted by my personal pride. All of these things I learned from my parents and from the Church. I think that is what Jesus would want. And that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.

I know that some of you out there are going through the same sort of struggles as I am. Perhaps you're tired of having to constantly defend your personal political convictions to other Mormons. Perhaps you've had it up to here with the whole Prop 8 issue. Perhaps you are tired of trying to convince fellow Mormons that Barack Obama is not the Antichrist. Perhaps you are feeling really disillusioned by the hypocrisy of Mormons. Perhaps you are gay. Perhaps you are married to a non-member. Or perhaps you are a Mormon misfit, for whatever reason, and feel like the Church doesn't have a place for someone like you. And yet, if you're reading this right now, there is a reason why you've decided to stick around. For me, it's all about Jesus; the simplicity and the purity of His message. And while it's not my place to demand change from the Church in the areas that I would perhaps like to see it, I take comfort in the following quote, which was provided by a great friend of mine:

"I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually." -Brigham Young

I think that we sometimes make the mistake of believing that this is an "all or nothing" church. Either you believe it all, or you believe nothing. But I no longer think it has to be this way.

So, I ask all of you who struggle to stay active in this church or have considered leaving to take a step back, breathe, put things into perspective, and think. Why are you still here?