Sep 23, 2009

Why I'm Not Bothered By The Bruce C. Hafen Talk

The Bloggernacle is abuzz this week about a controversial speech that Bruce C. Hafen recently gave at the Evergreen International annual conference about same sex attraction.

There have been different reactions to the talk, such as here and here.

Certain statements from the speech, such as the following, could certainly be upsetting:
"Having same-gender attraction is NOT in your DNA"

"If you are faithful, on resurrection morning—and maybe even before then—you will rise with normal attractions for the opposite sex. Some of you may wonder if that doctrine is too good to be true."

"Find a therapist who can help you identify the unmet emotional needs that you are tempted to satisfy in false sexual ways."

"In 1973, in response to increasing disruptions and protests by gay activists, the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations removed homosexuality from their official lists of disorders."

"Evidence that people have indeed changed threatens the political agenda of the activists, because actual change disproves their claim that homosexuality is a fixed condition that deserves the same legal protections as those fixed conditions like race and gender."

“The false belief of inborn homosexual orientation denies to repentant souls the opportunity to change and will ultimately lead to discouragement, disappointment, and despair.”
I should be upset, but strangely enough, I'm not. Maybe I'm just a little too optimistic, but I'm just waiting to someday hear something like the following, perhaps even by Bruce C. Hafen himself:

"There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren that we have interpreted to mean that homosexuality was a psychological disorder that could be cured by therapy. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, "You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?" All I can say is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Thomas S. Monson or Boyd K. Packer or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about same sex attraction before now. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them."

Sound familiar?

So, I look forward to the day when that statement is released from some high-ranking Church official, coming like a bolt of lightning to those who couldn't see it coming before. In the mean time, I'll just shake my head and let it go.

Either that's another glimpse into Stage 5, or apathy has set in.

Sep 20, 2009

Adolf Hitler, Graf von Stauffenberg, And God

Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg.

The remarkable name was perhaps a sign of the remarkable life to come for one of the most fascinating figures from World War II. Graf von Stauffenberg headed probably the most famous, yet ill-fated, plot to kill Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. I watched his story told in the miniseries War And Remembrance (the sequel to The Winds Of War, which I saw just a few months ago), and I was reminded by it again after watching the film Valkyrie last night.

A brief summary of Graf von Stauffenberg's life from Wikipedia:
"Although Stauffenberg agreed with some of the Nazi Party's nationalistic aspects, he found many aspects of its ideology repugnant and never became a member of the party. Moreover, Stauffenberg remained a practicing Catholic. The Catholic Church had signed the Reichskonkordat in 1933, the year Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power. Stauffenberg vacillated between a strong personal dislike of Hitler's policies and a respect for what he perceived to be Hitler's military acumen. On top of this, the growing systematic ill-treatment of Jews and suppression of religion had offended Stauffenberg's strong personal sense of religious morality and justice.

From the beginning of September 1943 until 20 July, 1944, von Stauffenberg was the driving force behind the plot to assassinate Hitler and take control of Germany. His resolve, organizational abilities, and radical approach put an end to inactivity caused by doubts and long discussions on whether military virtues had been made obsolete by Hitler's behavior. With the help of his friend Henning von Tresckow, he united the conspirators and drove them into action.

Stauffenberg was aware that, under German law, he was committing high treason. He openly told young conspirator Axel von dem Bussche in late 1943, "ich betreibe mit allen mir zur Verfügung stehenden Mitteln den Hochverrat..." ("I am committing high treason with all my might and means...."). He justified himself to Bussche by referring to the right under natural law ("Naturrecht") to defend millions of people's lives from the criminal aggressions of Hitler ("Nothilfe").

Stauffenberg decided, only after the conspirator General Helmuth Stieff on 7 July, 1944 had declared himself unable to assassinate Hitler on a uniforms display at Klessheim castle near Salzburg, to personally kill Hitler and to run the plot in Berlin. By then, Stauffenberg had great doubts about the possibility of success. Tresckow convinced him to go on with it even if it had no chance of success at all, "The assassination must be attempted. Even if it fails, we must take action in Berlin", as this would be the only way to prove to the world that the Hitler regime and Germany were not one and the same and that not all Germans supported the regime.

Stauffenberg's part in the original plan required him to stay at the Bendlerstrasse offices in Berlin, so he could phone regular army units all over Europe in an attempt to convince them to arrest leaders of Nazi political organizations such as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and the Gestapo. Unfortunately, when General Helmuth Stieff, Chief of Operation at Army High Command, who had regular access to Hitler, backtracked from his earlier commitment to assassinate Hitler, Stauffenberg was forced to take on two critical roles: kill Hitler far from Berlin and trigger the military machine in Berlin during office hours of the very same day. Beside Stieff, he was the only conspirator who had regular access to Hitler (during his briefings) by mid-1944, as well as being the only officer among the conspirators thought to have the resolve and persuasiveness to convince German military leaders to throw in with the coup once Hitler was dead. This requirement greatly reduced the chance of a successful coup.

After several unsuccessful tries by Stauffenberg to meet Hitler, Göring and Himmler when they were together, he went ahead with the attempt at Wolfsschanze on 20 July, 1944. Stauffenberg entered the briefing room carrying a briefcase containing two small bombs. The location had unexpectedly been changed from the subterranean Führerbunker to Speer's wooden barrack/hut. He left the room to arm the first bomb with specially-adapted pliers, a task made difficult because he had lost his right hand and had only three fingers on his left. A guard knocked and opened the door, urging him to hurry as the meeting was about to begin. As a result, Stauffenberg was able to arm only one of the bombs. He left the second bomb with his aide-de-camp, Werner von Haeften, and returned to the briefing room, where he placed the briefcase under the conference table, as close as he could to Hitler. Some minutes later, he excused himself and left the room. After his exit, the briefcase was moved by Colonel Heinz Brandt.

When the explosion tore through the hut, Stauffenberg was convinced that no one in the room could have survived. Although four people were killed and almost all survivors were injured, Hitler himself was shielded from the blast by the heavy, solid-oak conference table and was only slightly wounded.

Stauffenberg and Haeften quickly left and drove to the nearby airfield. After his return to Berlin, Stauffenberg immediately began to motivate his friends to initiate the second phase: the military coup against the Nazi leaders. When Joseph Goebbels announced by radio that Hitler had survived and later, after Hitler himself personally spoke on the state radio, the conspirators realized that the coup had failed. They were tracked to their Bendlerstrasse offices and overpowered after a brief shoot-out, during which Stauffenberg was wounded in the shoulder."

Von Stauffenberg was executed by a firing squad on July 21, 1944, leaving behind a wife and five children (the youngest unborn). The courtyard where he and others were shot is now a memorial site in Berlin.

Something that I didn't realize until last night was that von Stauffenberg's plot to kill Hitler was just one of many in a long line of failed attempts to rid the world of him. Apparently there were somewhere around 15 known plots to assassinate him. (Some sources say 17, one I read put the number as high as 40.)

In the film Valkyrie, there is a scene where von Stauffenberg is sitting in what looks to be a Catholic church, presumably looking for spiritual guidance. Of course, whether or not there's any truth to that scene, we can only speculate on. But, being the devout Catholic that he apparently was, one would expect that he sought out God for help with this enormously dangerous mission. I was thinking of when Nephi was commanded to slay Laban in the Book of Mormon. Laban's life was not worth the cost to his people if he had been allowed to live, which is why Nephi is given the green light to behead him. It makes me think of the millions and millions of people that perished because of Hitler's regime. Von Stauffenberg's attempt came late in the war (1944). People were trying to liquidate him already as early as 1939. Imagine if the first ones had succeeded. Imagine if only von Stauffenberg -- as late as it was -- had succeeded. Think of all the additional destruction and lives that were lost in the final months of the war. Did God care about the innocent citizens of the world during those terrible years in the same way that he cared about Laban's people? I sometimes wonder.

No doubt some of the plots on Hitler's life were better planned than others. But surviving at least fifteen of them -- only to eventually end his life on his own terms -- was almost unbelievable. It almost seems like he had protection from a higher power. While it's hard to believe that God intended for Hitler to do what he did, I do have to wonder why God apparently did not see fit to intervene -- or even help those who were noble enough to risk (or lose) their own lives in order to rid Germany and the world of perhaps the worst dictator humankind has ever seen.

I know I probably have a bad habit of asking impossible questions. I guess I was just wondering whether anyone else has had similar thoughts.

Sep 15, 2009

Sacrificing Principle for Profit: Church Wildlife Enterprises and Hunting Preserves

"To what degree should the principle of 'respect for life" be extended to bird and animal creations? What do the scriptures, Joseph Smith, and other early Church leaders teach about the grand design and purposes of God's non-human creations? Does having "dominion" over the kingdom of creatures mean we are their predators and exploiters or does it suggest a "stewardship" relationship in which we become their caretakers in order to help them "fulfill the full measure of their creation?" If the scriptures teach, "woe be unto man that sheddeth blood or wasteth flesh and have no need," and "the blood of every beast will I require at your hands," what rationale could be used to explain Church-owned, revenue-generating enterprises such as Deseret Land and Livestock and the Westlake Hunting Preserve? Do these operations constitute sacrificing principle for profit?"
-Sacrificing Principle for Profit: Church Wildlife Enterprises and Hunting Preserves, Sunstone Magazine

Yesterday I did a post about tithing and we had a discussion about where it goes and what it's used for. I was appalled to learn about a Church-owned/run/sanctioned hunting preserve where missionaries are called to tend to flocks of birds and other animals so that they can multiply and be hunted down for large profit. You can read about it on Deseret News here.

I found out that the Church owns two hunting preserves: Deseret Land and Livestock, and Westlake Hunting Preserve in Utah County.

Here are just a few of the facts that caught my attention:
  • Making it a "missionary calling" for couples to tend to the preseves so that wildlife numbers are increased, thereby increasing the number of animals killed for profit
  • Archery hunting of animals such as elk, which I regard as being especially cruel
  • Over $11,000 for a weekend getaway to bag a trophy elk
  • 6 year waiting list (at least as of 2000) to hunt
  • Charging thousands of dollars for hunting permits to kill trophy game
  • The response the first brother who spoke in the podcast got to his letter by the presiding bishopric, inquiring of how this operation could be justified
  • The refusal of the Church to publish any financial records of where all these huge profits are going
Please, please, please, I implore you all to listen to the podcast that you can download for free here. There is so much that is worth being made aware of and discussing. I wish I had a transcript of the two talks on it, but I don't. So please listen to it and come back to discuss it. The first few seconds have very bad sound quality, but please be patient and listen to it in its entirety.

I'll be honest. I'm a little more hardcore about this stuff than most of you probably are. Some of you may read this and think to yourself, "Girl, take a pill." I'm a vegetarian, I'm anti-gun, I'm anti-hunting (unless it's needed to save human life), and I'm especially against bow-hunting. Along with humanitarian causes, I donate to animal causes and I've petitioned many times against canned hunting, which I would say this Church enterprise fits the definition of. So, I've donated to causes that fight against what the Church is doing (Hmm... isn't that a temple recommend interview question?). It's one thing to expect this from members of the general public who, as much as I oppose it, have a legal right to hunt. It's another to see it justified, owned, and supported by the LDS Church, whose leaders (at least at one time) had the guts to speak out against the needless slaying of animals for recreation. And on top of that, I'm supposed to continue to give 10% of my income, trusting that it's not going to be used for anything ungodly.

I'm appalled. I'm saddened that, as the second brother in the podcast said, we have to so greatly reduce our expectations about the Church. I think the message that he wanted us to get was that we almost have to expect the Church to engage in such disappointing behaviour because it's a human organization. If we expect the Church to act ethically and to respect all of God's creatures, then we expect too much. If we expect our tithing money to go where we think it goes, we expect too much.

Makes me wonder why I expect anything at all anymore.

All I can say is that I will not give another penny to an organization which knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately supports canned trophy hunting for profit. And I will not give another penny of my money to an organization which is so secretive in its administration of the massive funds it takes in and possesses, that I can't even see where it's supposedly "helping" people.

So, I could wonder whether God would rather that I financially support canned hunting and real estate in Florida, or medications and microloans to the third world, but I think I already know the answer.

If there's something I've learned the past couple of days, it's this: the Church truly is only what you make out of it. It's an incredibly human and fallible organization that we put on way too high a pedestal and it's inevitable that the good faith of members who donate large sums of money, believing it's all going to the poor, is going to be violated. And it saddens me that the organization that I always looked up to -- to have the best expectations of -- cannot live up to those expectations and may even violate them in horribly unethical and hypocritical ways, such as with these hunting preserves.

I should have known.

I apologize if I seem angry, but I am. Of all the huge Church-related disappoinments and disillusionments I've had over the past few years, this probably tops them all because of what it means to me personally. It tops all the uncertainty and conflicting information about Prop 8 and how much money the Church did or did not donate to that cause. It tops all the business about malls and squares in Salt Lake City.

It's a monster pill for me to swallow.

Sep 14, 2009

10%: Does It Matter Where It Goes?

Something has been on my mind for a long time, but I've never been able to come to any decision about it and the end of the year is quickly approaching.

Let me just start off by saying that even though I can be very frugal, I've always paid a full tithe and have never done so begrudgingly. I'm incredibly fortunate and I have no qualms about giving 10% of my income to helping others in need. So I'm not really questioning whether I should or shouldn't give 10% of my income to others at the end of this year, as I always have. Where I remain undecided, however, is where my 10% should go.

I think that many of us assume that our tithing goes to help the needy. But, if I understand it correctly, it doesn't. That's what fast offerings are for, which most of us probably comes secondary to tithing.

We don't have tithing slips (as pictured) in Europe, which makes it much more efficient. There are no cheques, no way to donate cash, and so there is nothing to count after church. I simply transfer my tithing at the end of each year directly into a Church bank account and then I get a statement that I use when I file my income tax in the spring. The drawback of this system, however, is that because no one ever sees a tithing slip, I don't think that members think very much about the other categories. I was a bit disheartened (and concerned) when in the past couple years after I specified in the transfer a certain amount going to the Humanitarian Fund, the clerk would approach me at church, confused about what I meant. This has happened twice. It seemed rather sad to me that I was apparently the other only donating to the Humanitarian Fund. I assume the money got to where it was intended, but I'm not sure it did. Perhaps it just got lumped in with my tithing.

There seems to be a lot of confusion over what tithing money goes towards. Many accused the Church of using some tithing funds to fund Prop 8 on some technicality. There are similar accusations regarding the Church's involvement with Evergreen International. And then of course the Church is a big business in Utah, which most of us international members are pretty clueless about (you Utahns will have to educate me about this). I still have no idea how many of the accusations are true, partially-true, or completely false. I guess it depends on who you want to believe. There are always technicalities, just like in politics. It would be nice to have a Truth-o-Metre for this kind of stuff.

So, since I have some concerns about where my tithing it going to and what it's being used for, I've felt strongly about just giving my entire 10% lump sum directly to the cause that has always been closest to my heart: humanitarian aid. I came close to doing this last year, but chickened out at the prospect of not being able to call myself a "full tithe payer." I'm also perhaps a bit superstitious in fearing that to lose that title may result in my life spiraling out of control and God throwing financial hardships at us when we've worked hard and really penny-pinched in order to stay out of debt and save up a good downpayment when we bought our house. I realize that if I give my entire 10% to the Humanitarian Fund or as a Fast Offering, I'm not technically going to be able to call myself a "full tithe payer." But does it matter? Does the Lord care more about the 10% than what category it goes into? Or should all these things be secondary to tithing and building up the Church as an organization around the world? Some say that it's important to give without having any expectations or demands about how the money is used. But I feel torn about that.

What do you think?

Sep 8, 2009

How Much Do You Value Your Church Membership?

You fellow Mormon bloggers out there have probably had to ask yourselves a certain question:

What if you were "outed" and summoned to a Bishop's court for blogging?

I've asked myself this many times. I'm not naive. I know that I could easily be "outed" and -- depending on how high a tolerance my local leaders have for such -- be subject to discipline for openly discussing my unorthodox and/or heretical opinions on here.

So what would I do if that happened? What would be my options?

Option 1: I would delete my blog and renounce whatever I've said on here that could make me subject to discipline (I'm not saying that I have said anything that would make me subject to discipline, I'm simply saying that I don't know. I think the verdict would vary from place to place and among different local leaders.)

Option 2: I would stand by all that I've written and refuse to delete my blog on the grounds that I need an outlet in order to discuss things that my leaders do not wish or cannot discuss with me. I would not renounce the personal beliefs I currently have, although I would try to be as respectful as possible of our different points of view. I would accept whatever judgment came my way, which would leave me with two post options:
  • Remain a (somewhat) believing and (somewhat) active Mormon by attending Church and keeping these things pretty much to myself outside of the online community. In other words, I would be doing basically what I'm doing now, but would either be disfellowshipped or excommunicated.
  • Stop attending Church and completely withdraw from my local Mormon community. This, however, would probably not eliminate my internal Mormon identity.
Option 3: Willingly resign my Church membership before judgment falls.

I've tried to imagine any one of these scenarios. Option 1, I think, would be very difficult for me. It would eat away at me to put on an act, and yet I've become quite good at keeping these things to myself, though it's not easy to do and it unlikely to be sustainable over a lifetime. My hope is to find a constructive and respectful way to interact with like-minded Mormons without getting myself kicked out.

Option 2 would be heart-wrenching and difficult, for myself and probably for my family as well. So Option 2 is what I fear the most, but it's also the one that seems most realistic if I were to find myself in a disciplinary situation. And to be honest, I'm not sure that I would have the guts to follow through with Option 2 because of what it would do to my family. I know they would continue to love me and never disown me (I'm very fortunate that way), but it was a big enough deal to them when one of my brothers started drinking. I'm not sure how they would handle having a child/sibling being excommunicated. The difficulty of the situation would perhaps make me consider (and perhaps even follow through) with Option 1, but I know I'd probably be equally unhappy with either Option 1 or 2.

Option 3 is understandable. Being subject to a bishop's court must be mentally and emotionally exhausting. I like my Church leaders, but it would be intimidating to plead my case when they can't really understand it and because I'm not the most eloquent speaker, particularly when it's not in my mother tongue. Neither would I have anyone who could witness or vouch for me.

So I guess what it boils down to is how much we all value our Church membership. My impression is that most Mormons view it in a very literal sense. "What is bound on earth is bound in heaven." In other words, what we do here has eternal consequences and losing one's membership in the Kingdom of God here on earth is a HUGE deal -- particularly in terms of what it means for family relationships.

There's no question that I value my membership in the Church. But I'm not sure that I value it in the same literal sense. All these stories of people (gays, feminists, intellectuals, scholars, etc.) getting excommunicated has made me fear it less in the literal sense. There's no question in my mind that many of these were/are people of immense faith, integrity, and being true to their inner light and convictions (even if they may be wrong and even if they deliberately did things that they knew were grounds for excommunication) -- qualities that are highly esteemed in Mormonism -- and so how can I believe that God will literally shut them out in the next phase of life?

So, if I were to lose my membership one day, would I be sad? Yes. Would I dread the unavoidable pain it would cause to my family? Yes. But would I see it as the end? No.

If you found yourself in the hypothetical situation that I outlined above (for some of you, it may not just be hypothetical), what do you think you would do? What would be the consequences?

How much do you value your Church membership? Do you ever fear being disciplined? Why or why not?