Another Discussion with Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat responded to my email.  Here’s what he said:

“Thanks for your letter below. I was out ill last week and so am only able to get back to you now.

I appreciate your effort here, and your desire to explain. While I fully understand that many people don’t support gay marriage (I have always understood that), I still think it’s odd to push for a right to deny services. I agree with you that people shouldn’t be forced to go to a gay wedding if they don’t want to (i.e. the wedding photographer.) But this push to, for instance, the right to fire gay people by those who don’t agree with their gayness just seems very strange to me. There are a gazillion things in the workplace that we all come upon that we don’t approve of, yet this one is a fireable offense? That seems so extreme to me that I can’t wrap my head around it as just a religious conscience issue. It seems discriminatory.

What is going to happen here, I think, is that as gay marriage becomes more accepted then eventually people who don’t agree with it will learn to go along with it and just look the other way. That is fine. But just as seating blacks at the lunch counter became mandatory, so will be at least tolerating the idea of gay people getting married and raising families. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. But you do have to go along with it. Sorry, but if you’re running a business open to the public, you just do. In the cases you describe below of florists and photographers, etc., it won’t mean they have to go to gay weddings. But they will have to sell them flowers. Maybe they can arrange to have a clerk in their shops who doesn’t mind do it for them, and they can “look the other way.” That has been the way of all these advances in civil liberties we’ve had in this country for generations, for women, minorities and now gays. Some people don’t like it, sometimes for genuine reasons, but eventually, over time, they go along.

Or maybe I’m naïve, as you suggest. Wouldn’t be the first time! I believe the American arrow, as imperfect as it is, generally points toward more equality and more rights for more people. That’s why this is happening. By the way, your points about marriage being for procreation were rejected by heterosexuals a long, long time ago, many of whom are happily married without kids.

I do appreciate you writing to me. I agree that we need to respect one another’s views, especially when we disagree on something so personal. Respecting religious conscience is crucial, but it isn’t any more crucial than respecting other peoples’ rights. And so we’re sorting that out. I think religious folks are still going to get along fine in the world, though it is changing.

Danny”

And now my reply:

Hi Danny,

I appreciate your response, and it raises some issues that I didn’t directly address simply because my letter was already too long.  The main one is the distinction between “being gay” and “engaging in homosexual acts.”  We must all admit that sometimes straight men engage in homosexual acts, and sometimes gay men engage in heterosexual acts.  So what is “being gay” exactly?  I’d say the only reliable test is whether the person self-identifies as being gay.  Religious organizations are coming to accept this identity as a real and even unchanging facet of an individual’s personality, but they still are not accepting homosexual behavior.  (And I’d bet money that the Catholic Church, as one example, never does accept homosexual behavior, at least not in this century.)

Right here in Seattle is an excellent example of the distinction I’m talking about:  Josh Weed.  Have you heard of him?  He’s a gay man who because of his Latter-day Saint faith never has engaged in homosexual behavior and instead married a woman.  Eleven years and three children later, he claims to be happily married.  He’s become a minor celebrity since he came out on his blog more than a year ago.  He’s been hosted by Ricki Lake and published in the Washington Post.  Oddly enough, the Seattle Times seems unaware of his existence.  I’m surprised the Seattle Times doesn’t find him interesting enough to merit a story.

I actually don’t know of any person or organization that wants to “fire someone for being gay.”  Religious organizations may want to fire someone for engaging in homosexual acts, especially when those acts are made public with the title of marriage.  I graduated from BYU.  Every BYU student adheres to the “Honor Code,” which includes a promise to only have sexual relations within marriage.  (You may remember a few years back when one of BYU’s best football players dropped out over “Honor Code” issues.  I don’t think the nature of the infraction was made public, but the fact that his girlfriend also dropped out, made it easy to guess.)

If the complaint against the Catholic School should lead to a successful lawsuit, then BYU’s Honor Code would be legally suspect. And if BYU’s Honor Code should be challenged in court and declared illegal, then BYU would be unable to maintain the campus environment that is central to its mission.  Church-run schools exist not only to teach theology in the classroom, but also to create a campus environment that is in harmony with the church’s theology.

So the distinction between gayness as an identity akin to race verses engaging in homosexual behavior is one that conservatives make and which liberals must admit does exist, even if they believe it’s immoral to impose these sorts of values on a homosexual person.

Another distinction that we should consider is the difference between selling something that is uniform in an anonymous transaction verses the customized, personal services of a photographer, baker, etc. One of the comments on your column addresses this distinction much better than I can. This was posted by “Principled Atheist” of Duvall in response to the same column that inspired my letter:

[Comment from my last post.]

Danny, I concede that the Arizona law was broader than it needed to be.  I hope you can concede that it wasn’t based on an imaginary problem. You can be pro-gay marriage without thinking it’s right to force artists to create something that violates their conscience.

Sincerely,

Lara Updike


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A Brilliant Comment from a “Principled Atheist”

Danny Westneat’s column in last Sunday’s Seattle Times (to which I responded in my previous post) triggered a long comment thread on the newspaper’s website.  Last I checked, there were more than 400 comments, many of them along the lines of, “Your side is more hateful than mine!” followed by, “No!  Your side is more hateful, and that’s why I hate you!”

Buried in the trash talk were a few intelligent statements, and one comment that was brilliant.  It was submitted by someone who uses the screen name “PrincipledAtheist” and claims to reside in Duvall (a town northeast of Seattle).  I took the liberty of cleaning up the principled atheist’s punctuation:

“It occurs to me there is a distinction to be drawn between the type of business model where one simply sells a good or service on a strictly anonymous basis, say a bakery that simply sold baked goods, and a business model where one is invited into someone’s life or home to help craft a unique, personalized good or service.

“It does seem fundamentally immoral to ask someone to use their creative powers to honor a union that their religion tells them explicitly is an immoral union.  When you compel a wedding photographer or caterer or baker to labor towards what they believe are immoral ends, you have trespassed on a basic human right.

“All through our history we have carved out an exemption through Conscientious Objector status for those whose deeply-held religious beliefs prevented them from shouldering arms.  I don’t see why we should assume those who claim something similar in regard to this issue are being cynical.  After all, it is not only expressed quite clearly in their Bible, but reinforced through 2000 years of common practice.  I would take them at their word that they cannot honor both their God and modern civil law.  They are not insincere.

“Instead I see those who would compel them to obey as being the cynical ones–being strangers to any deeply held beliefs other than some nebulous concept of ‘equality,’ they assume any protestation of faith fraudulent, a convenient cover for bigotry.  But maybe you’re wrong?

“The left seems peculiarly deaf to the irony of forcing people to labor in violation of their conscience.  After all, it was probably the signal issue of the 20th Century: who decides? the individual or the State? And after the horror of the Holocaust and all the ham-fisted totalitarianisms most thinking people decided the individual conscience should prevail, not the collective.  Yet now ‘progressives’ are throwing their lot in with the State–’bake them a cake or we take your property and prevent you from pursuing your livelihood.’”

Not many people can express themselves with such intelligence and dignity.  Thank you, Principled Atheist for sharing your opinion.

 

 

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On the Arizona Controversy — An Open Letter to Seattle Times Columnist Danny Westneat

In last Sunday’s Seattle Times, staff columnist Danny Westneat wrote about the uproar in Arizona over Senate Bill 1062, which provided a legal defense for people who deny services to someone if they can show they’re motivated by a strong religious belief.  Referring to the possibility of firing an employer “for being gay,”  Westneat wrote, “Churches and private religious organizations have always been able to do this sort of thing (hello, Eastside Catholic).  At this point in our history, I really don’t understand this push among some Republicans and some businesses for a legal ‘right to deny services.’”

Dear Danny,
I’d like to help you understand. There is a great divide in our nation between those who adhere to a historical conception of sexuality and those who embrace a new morality.  Furthermore, discussion and negotiation between opposing groups is often mean-spirited and not in good faith. And so I write this letter hoping it will help the Right and the Left to understand one another.  If we cannot agree, let us at least understand.  From there, I hope we can find a way to live together as citizens of one nation.
A point on which I think we can concur is that we’re in the midst of a social revolution.  In our state of Washington, we have legalized gay marriage, and other states have done the same.  Our Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, paving the way for same-sex marriage to become the law of the land.  The pundits say public opinion is shifting toward acceptance of same-sex marriage and that a slight majority of Americans now favor it.
Social conservatives seem to be losing, and we are worried about the social and economic future of our nation because we believe the proper use of sexuality is essential to the well-being of children and ultimately society.  But more to the point of today’s discussion, we’re increasingly worried about our own ability to live peacefully alongside those who feel emancipated from our older way of thinking.
I assume you are aware of the many business owners who have faced legal challenges for refusing to provide services for same-sex ceremonies.  There’s the couple who runs a bed and breakfast in Vermont ; they paid $35,000 in fees and promised to never again host a wedding or wedding reception of any kind.  There’s the baker in Oregon who had to close his business.  There’s the photographer who lost in New Mexico ’s Supreme Court.  There’s the florist in our own state, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, who is being sued by our Attorney General.
Also in Washington State, there’s the judge who asked his colleagues to whom he might refer gay couples if they should ask him to officiate at their wedding.  He was officially sanctioned by the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct and agreed to never perform another marriage of any kind.
There are other similar cases.  The most troubling of all is very recent. Just last month a man filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination because a Catholic School  withdrew its job offer upon learning that he was married to a man.  He is being represented by Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).  Though the employer is a religious organization, the argument put forth is that the position is in food service and thus has nothing to do with religion.
Is it not reasonable to wonder how much longer your statement that religious organizations are able to fire gay people will be true?  It’s quite plain that we are being backed into a corner.  I’m reminded of what Jacques Barzun, celebrated cultural historian and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, observed about revolutions: “Revolutions paradoxically begin by promising freedom and then turn coercive and ‘puritanical,’ to save themselves from both discredit and reaction. . . . Old shackles are thrown off, tossed high in the air, but come down again as moral duty well enforced.”
At the end of the day, the central problem with our situation is that marriage is not a private activity but a social institution.  It’s a title granted by the community that places on all community members an obligation to recognize and support a relationship.  Friends and relatives are expected to attend the wedding and offer gifts.  Family members are expected to accept the new spouse as one of their own. Employers are expected to provide healthcare benefits to the spouse. Single people are expected to leave married people alone.  The list goes on and on, the idea being that this relationship is a building block of society and thus we honor and support it.
In the eyes of social conservatives, though, same-sex marriage is not a building block of society, and it is an affront to our consciences.  Yet the obligations that homosexual marriages place on community members are also placed on us.  People are expected to expected to employ their skills and creativity toward something they believe is fundamentally immoral.
Oh, I know, that’s offensive talk.  But I want to be plain so you’ll understand.  People often say homosexual marriages don’t hurt anyone, but we don’t agree.  Sure, they don’t cause any immediate physical harm, but a moral philosophy that accepts homosexual marriage is, in a word, not sustainable.  To give homosexual couples the title of marriage is to say there’s no significant difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality.  And to say there is no significant difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality is to say that the salient purpose of sexuality is to satisfy an individual’s wants.
Social conservatives (and Darwinians too) think sexuality’s salient purpose is to perpetuate life.  If a society is to continue, it needs people to procreate and to do so responsibly.  In other words, it needs men and women to marry, to make children together, and to provide for those children the necessities of life.  Love and affection are important, but they are not the overriding reason for marriage.
Gay marriage makes it difficult to teach children about where sex fits into life socially and morally.  When a homosexual couple sits down with their child to discuss the birds and the bees, they cannot say that the purpose of sex is to have children. They will have to tell their child that his or her life began with a donation and that sex within their family always has been and always will be simply recreational.  While many on the Left think this is okay, we think it’s unnatural.  Is that so crazy?
I hear people express hope that within a few decades all the fuss will be over, that all Americans will accept same-sex marriage as normal and good.  May I submit to you that this is naïve thinking?  I would guess that in the coming decades, a significant portion of religious Americans will accept homosexual marriage.  But I’m sure the most faithful will not.  Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, etc., are governed by scriptures.  Until they are ready to burn books, I daresay Progressives must be satisfied with only a partial victory.
Simply put, Danny, we don’t think chastity is merely an incidental or private virtue, and we aren’t going to change our minds.  And thus, while homosexual people are afraid of being treated as Blacks were during the Jim Crow era, we are also afraid of being treated as second-class citizens.  Our religious heritage is out of step with the new majority, and so it seems we may be pushed out of certain industries, ostracized from certain circles, confined to a legal ghetto.  This is why there is a push “among some Republicans and some businesses for a legal ‘right’ to deny services,” because we’re hoping to create a legal framework that allows both gay couples and people of faith to live outside the closet.
Sincerely,
Lara Updike
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God’s Gifts Put Man’s Best Dreams to Shame

My daughter at three weeks. Photo by Royal S. Cardon.

 

A few months ago, a friend recommended to me a BBC series titled “Call the Midwife.”  Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, it portrays a young nurse serving alongside Catholic nuns in the poorest neighborhoods of 1950s London.  My husband and I were hooked after the first episode.  As the new midwife catches babies in grimy flats, she is sometimes unable to contain her disgust at the crudeness and filth she encounters, and yet she is moved by the miracle of birth, the illimitable love parents feel for their infants, the sacrifices they make to raise them.  It seems my husband’s and my reaction was not unusual; to the surprise of some entertainment critics, the series has been wildly popular, attracting about 10 million viewers during its second season.

Last night my husband and I watched the show’s Christmas special.  When it ended and I’d finished blowing my nose, I returned to my world, September 2013.  You might think this would be a happy return.  Many things are much better now.  No workhouses.  No rats in my flat.  And yet I found myself complaining, “I wish I lived in the ’50s.” And my husband understood.  “Me too,” he said.

Those entertainment critics would think we’re duped by nostalgia, but I believe my feelings are not ungrounded.  Western civilization has acquired innumerable comforts and opportunities since the ‘1950s, and in many ways we’ve become more enlightened.  But we’ve also given up some crucial things.  Perhaps our greatest loss is babies.  Yes, babies.  Those bothersome creatures that wreak havoc on a woman’s body, that drain a man’s bank account, that ruin a good night’s sleep, that bring us to our knees in frustration, guilt, even shame and anger.  Babies are a lot of trouble.

But what is life without babies?

In our year, 2013, pundits and their audiences have been debating Time Magazine’s recent cover story, “The Childfree Life:  When Having it All Means Not Having Children.”  In the article, author Laura Sandler reports on and defends the increasing segment of adults who are choosing to avoid parenthood.  I heard her explain on talk radio that Americans are finally questioning our “cultural imperative” of procreation.  She recalled a college professor asking students to raise their hands if they wanted to someday raise a family.  Almost all hands went up, but when the professor asked why, no one had a ready answer.  The apparent moral of her anecdote was that countless generations of Americans have been duped into the oppressive assumption that they must procreate.  It must be emotionally traumatic for parents, she said, to meet the challenges of raising a child if it wasn’t their heartfelt desire to become a mom or dad.

The trouble with this modern philosophy is that it fails to admit what men and women are: members of the animal kingdom.  We have been reproducing for millennia not because we’re westerners, but because we’re home sapiens.  Clearly, procreation is not a cultural imperative; it’s a biological one.  That someone would argue otherwise and be taken seriously by the media establishment is nothing short of absurd and alarming.

Putting biology aside, let’s consider this philosophy from a spiritual perspective:  happiness springs from having what you want?  Pain and frustration are only endurable if they stem from an individual choice to pursue a dream?  This worldview—in addition to setting one up for a lifetime of disappointment–degrades parenthood from a meaningful sacrifice to a pet project.  It demeans the status of children to that of pets.   Indeed, when the subject of procreation arises, a prevalent theme in Internet discussions is “Each to his own and mind your own business!”  This attitude skirts the issue: We might believe that today’s birth control methods and abortion procedures have erased the biological imperative to reproduce, but the fact remains that babies are necessary.  If our civilization is to survive, someone has got to make them and raise them.  The discussion should center on the question “Who bears this responsibility?” but it usually revolves around the topic of self-determination, as though liberty erases responsibility.  Is childrearing to be delegated to the poor and uneducated so that the privileged classes are free to  pursue their dreams?

Few people seem to recognize that our nation’s most precious asset is our babies. One day they will run our government and economy.  One day they will see to our physical needs.  In the mean time, they do something even more important: they teach us to love.  They compel us to put others above self.  They force us to move beyond the adolescent pursuit of personal dreams to the discovery that, in the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”

Time conducted a survey along with their article in which 34% of respondents said our nation’s declining birth rate is a good thing, more than double the 11% who said it was a bad thing.  Fifty-five percent said it was neither good nor bad.  I marvel that Americans are ignorant of the economic woes that come with a below-replacement birthrate (woes that are now bedeviling nations like Japan and Russia) and are oblivious to the spiritual bankruptcy staring us in the face.  This is why the primitive 50s are looking better every day.  Life in the 21st century is so entertaining, so convenient, so comfortable and so empty.  We are pampered by time-saving technological miracles, but have less and less time for the miracle of life.

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“Ender’s Game,” Sci-Fi and Mormonism

Last Saturday I attended a private viewing of “Ender’s Game,” the new sci-fi adventure film based on Orson Scott Card’s best-selling book of the same name.  Card’s son and his wife—with whom we became friends several years ago through our church network—invited my husband and me to see it with a bunch of their local friends.  Perhaps my response was colored by the personal connection, but I loved the movie.  I can’t think of any film adaptation that is more faithful to the genius of the original work.

In an interview with Wired magazine, Card said something I thought was funny: “In a way, being a Mormon prepares you to deal with science fiction, because we live simultaneously in two very different cultures. The result is that we all know what it’s like to be strangers in a strange land.  It’s not just a coincidence that there are so many effective Mormon science fiction writers. We don’t regard being an alien as an alien experience.”

Simpsons fans may remember that Homer has trouble differentiating between Mormons and extraterrestrial beings.  But it’s actually not unusual to be an alien in mainstream American society.  That’s the story of our nation, innumerable ethnic and religious minorities living with one foot in their subculture and one in the broader society.  Do most American subcultures produce more sci-fi writers than would be expected for their population size?  I don’t know, but I doubt it.  I see a better explanation for why Mormons are especially adept at sci-fi: our theology.  Like good sci-fi, Mormon theology is logical and expansive.

Much of “Ender’s Game” is about the interesting realities of waging war in a zero-gravity environment.  There’s no up or down.  Once a body is set in motion, it’s helpless to change direction until it collides with something else.  Brushing up against something doesn’t cause a glancing blow; it causes an object to spin.  When the protagonist Ender Wiggins and his comrades first enter a zero-gravity training room, they are disoriented.  The laws of physics haven’t changed, but without the Earth’s pull, they must adapt to realities they never before imagined.  They must change the way they think, the way they strategize.

Mormonism is to Christianity what a zero-gravity environment is to Earth’s environment.  Perhaps the best example of this is our foundational story of a pre-mortal existence.  We believe that everybody who ever lived or ever will live on Earth was once together in heaven with our Spiritual Father (and Mother–but that’s another blog post).  He oversaw the creation of the Earth and presented to us a plan designed for our progress.  We would go to Earth where we wouldn’t be able to remember Heaven, where we would acquire bodies, where we would learn and prove ourselves by confronting evil and death.  In this situation, would we fight valiantly for life and truth, or would we turn to darkness and despair?  Those who proved themselves true and faithful would be able to progress toward the ultimate goal of becoming like our Heavenly Parents.

Jesus Christ is still a central figure in this story.  He’s the Father’s firstborn son who was more capable than his younger siblings (us).  Because the plan meant descending out of God’s presence into darkness, we would need a Savior to rescue us.  Jesus volunteered.  Lucifer, another prominent spirit, also volunteered.  The trouble with his offer was he wanted to change God’s plan; he wanted to ensure that everybody would be rescued by robbing us of our agency (free will).  We believe this plan would not have worked; it would have thwarted God’s purposes.  Our Father chose Jesus, of course, and Lucifer rebelled and became Satan.  He persuaded a third of God’s children to follow him as he was cast out of God’s presence.  We refer to this conflict as the War in Heaven (We believe chapter 12 of the biblical book of Revelation is about this conflict).

I learned this story as a toddler.  Now I teach it to my own toddlers.  I grew up singing songs with words like “I am a Child of God” and “I lived in heaven a long time ago, so did you.”  I love this story.  It’s at the heart of my identity.  It’s the story by which I measure all other stories.  It teaches the infinite capacity of humankind while explaining the reason we encounter evil in this life.  It also enshrines free will as the most valuable gift other than life itself.

It troubles many Christians, though.  It’s disorienting to theologies that begin with Earth.  Which way is up?  Which way is down?  Does it degrade God to say that humans can reach His height?  Ultimately, this story brings God closer to man.  In fact, all of Mormonism brings God closer to man.  That is why it’s a powerful religion.  It expands on the Christian belief that God made Himself knowable by sending His Son into mortality.  And it holds humankind to the highest standard of being, literally, God’s children.

In an interview with Salon magazine, Card was asked, “Are any aspects of the two books particularly Mormon?”  “Not really,” he answered, “except in the sense that they’re written by me and I’m a committed, believing Mormon.”  Sometimes I say “Not really” to mean “Kind of, but this isn’t a good time to talk about it.”  I think this is what Card meant because I see many Mormon themes in “Ender’s Game.”  It doesn’t seem he intended the novel to be an allegory in the fashion of C.S. Lewis’  “Chronicles of Narnia.”  I’m guessing he wanted to tell a great sci-fi story that explored the human condition and ended up retelling part of what is for Mormons the story of all stories.  (Seeing as he’s an insightful man and has spent decades thinking about “Ender’s Game,” I can’t imagine he’s never noticed the parallels.)

For example, one might ask, “What kind of Father sends his Son to do the dirty work and overcome death?  Why didn’t the Father come to Earth himself?”  Most Christians don’t ask this question because they don’t believe Jesus is literally God’s son, but simply God in mortal form.  In Mormonism, though, this is a real question and there’s no pat answer.  The obvious assumption is that the plan couldn’t have worked that way.  In “Ender’s Game,” Card gives us a possible answer as to why this is the case.  Why didn’t Colonel Graff fight the war of all wars himself?  Because he couldn’t.  He was too mature.  But he did know how to select and prepare someone else to do it.  Jesus was God’s prodigy, as Ender was Colonel Graff’s prodigy.

And in Mormon theology, what is Earth but a simulator, a perfect game or test to prepare us for the next step in our journey toward becoming a Commander?  The conditions here on Earth are as close as possible to the realities of eternity so that we’ll be prepared for them.  I love how the climactic battle of the movie isn’t a simulation as Ender had supposed it was.  This reminds me of a long discussion I had with my brother.  He’s inclined to see mortality as only a simulation.  I’m inclined to see it like the Graduation Battle, the warriors thinking it’s an important dress rehearsal but afterward discovering that this performance has real, lasting consequence, including casualties.

Another principle of Mormonism is that God operates by faith.  Faith is the power by which the worlds were made, by which Christ atoned for our sins.  It’s the power by which everything good is accomplished.  And we also define faith as “not to have a perfect knowledge of things,” but a “hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21).  Colonel Graff believes Ender is the only one who can save humanity from destruction.  He believes Ender is “perfect” for this role.  But others doubt him, and he doesn’t know perfectly whether he’s right until the plan is actually executed.  Did the angels of heaven—like the commanders in “Ender’s Game”—watch in trepidation while Christ atoned for our sins and overcame death for all mortals?  I think they did.  I think God the Father watched God the Son with perfect faith, and the rest of us tried to mimic that.

Can you see now why Mormons might be uniquely prepared to tackle the interesting questions of sci-fi literature?  Because our theology blows out of the water many of the assumptions our society has formed around Christianity.  We use the same Bible, the same laws of physics, if you will.  But we use them without the mental gravity of viewing Earth as the beginning and end of reality.  This view is disorienting—at first.  Then it’s empowering.

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The Republicans’ Suicidal Wing

 I’m the sort of person who feels inspired by phrases like “rule of law.”  So it may seem odd that I’m turned off by the wing of Republicans who oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants as a matter of principle.  Illegal immigrants are criminals, they say.  Four million people are waiting patiently at our nation’s front door, they argue, and we don’t have the moral courage to kick out the 11 million schmucks who snuck in the back!  What about justice?!

The problem with this argument is that immigration’s not about justice.  Throughout time people have migrated around the planet not because they were moral or immoral, but because humans are like cattle:  they go where the grass is greenest.  I’m reminded of those who question whether our European forefathers were morally right to settle lands that first belonged to the American Indians.  In our gut we all know this is a ridiculous question.  It wasn’t right or wrong.  It was inevitable.  The opportunities were enormous, and the American Indians couldn’t stop them.

So when we talk about the northward migration of millions of Hispanics, we must keep in mind the giant economic forces at play, compared to which politicians and their laws are puny players.  Our nation’s reputation for freedom and prosperity has created a human river flowing to our borders from regions of poverty and unrest.  This flow can be managed but not erased (not so long as we are free and prosperous), and thus, as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services explains on its site, “severely restricting immigration often results in increased illegal immigration.”

If we, as a nation, were determined to dam the Mexico border crossing, of course we could do so.  Imagine Mexico and the United States going to war—we would seal the border in a matter of hours.  To build and maintain a sufficient barrier, though, would be enormously expensive.  We don’t have the political will to make that investment.  This is because our 11 million illegal neighbors aren’t actually a problem.  Their longtime presence here has proven there’s room for them in our pasture, way more room than our immigration policies suggest. 

This isn’t to say our Mexican border is adequately managed.  No one knows for sure how many people are croming from Mexico into the U.S. illegally, but it’s thought to be in the hundreds of thousands per year.  Clearly, this is a national security problem.  I believe an essential part of the solution is allowing many more people to come here lawfully, especially on temporary work visas.  Regular people are willing to stand in line and answer questions in order to enter a new country.  Let’s give them that opportunity so Border Patrolman don’t have to chase them down in the desert.  Let the Border Patrol save its resources for capturing the bad apples. 

As for those undocumented immigrants already here, we have three choices:  1) continue having a huge underclass that is vulnerable to abuse, is not paying taxes, and is not fully able to participate in our economy, politics and community life; 2) spend billions to forcibly remove them; or 3) offer legal status.  The first choice is not working.  We have a schizophrenic system that gives citizenship to children–including world-class education and healthcare–whose parents are not supposed to even be here, let alone work.  The first choice is also not in keeping with our faith in liberty and justice for all.  The second choice, deportation, is unpopular and inhumane.  And so we come to the last choice: amnesty. 

Some call amnesty justice.  Some call it mercy.  I call it our only viable choice.

Hispanic immigrants are changing the economy, culture and politics of their new home, just as all immigrants do.  This, of course, causes some grumbling among those who dislike change.  That’s life.  Let’s not be petty.  And let’s remember that they’re doing some necessary things we U.S. citizens have forgotten how to do, namely picking fruit and making babies.  As a fan of both fruit and babies, I’m grateful they’re here.  I’m glad to offer them citizenship.

If Republicans insist on making this debate a morality play, they will be playing the part of Javert, the policeman in Les Miserables.  Javert spends his life tracking down Valjean to bring him to justice for stealing a loaf of bread.  In the closing scenes, the selfless Valjean offers his very life for the sake of his loved ones while Javert, tormented by the conflict between law and mercy, throws himself into the river.  Like Valjean, Hispanic immigrants are sacrificing for the sake of their children.  Meanwhile, anti-amnesty Republicans, with their devotion to the letter of the law, are leading the party toward suicide.

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Facebook Prophecies

Facebook Prophecies

If you’re a Facebook user, you’ve probably seen a black-and-white photo of interracial marriage protesters presented alongside a current-day photo of gay marriage protesters.  Splashed across this meme are the taunting words, “Imagine how stupid you are going to look in 40 years.” 

The image would be perfect in a time capsule.  When I am 72 years old, will the Facebook prophecy have come to pass?  Will the controversy be dead?  Will I be embarrassed that I publicly opposed same-sex marriage?

The parallels between the Black Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Rights Movement seem to be a driving force in our nation’s increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage.  Today the most celebrated era in American history is the one that made heroes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., the era when our nation finally honored its creed that all men are created equal.  Nobody wants to be like the villains in this story, the segregationists who argued that blacks are inherently inferior to whites. 

We are proud and grateful, of course, for what civil rights activists achieved in the 1960s.  The story is an important part of our American legacy.  But is it the right historical lesson to apply in considering the Gay Rights Movement?  The fact that of all racial groups it is African Americans who are least likely to support same-sex marriage is a good reason to reexamine the comparison:  Both are stories about marginalized people seeking greater participation in mainstream society.  And like African Americans, LGBT activists have sought protection from bullying and for fair access to education, housing and employment. 

In these respects, the historical comparison seems valid; the LGBT cause seems just.  Even the request for domestic partnership laws does not seem unreasonable, an accommodation for those who don’t fit the usual mold. 

On the other hand, in their latest push, seeking the title of marriage and the opportunity to acquire children, LGBT activists have effectively jumped ship from the Civil Rights Movement into a different stream of history called the Sexual Revolution.  They are no longer asking to be treated like everyone else; they are asking society to fundamentally change the rules to accommodate their sexual inclinations. 

The Battle against Biology

And so we come to the first premise of the Gay Marriage Movement, which is that sexual orientation is a more significant characteristic than gender.  Scientifically speaking, the premise is absurd.  Second, the movement presumes that society’s primary purpose in recognizing marriages is to celebrate romantic love and create financial ties.  A quick survey of history and anthropology refutes this premise.  Throughout the world, concepts of religion, law and love vary widely, but on every continent and in every culture there is a core concept of marriage.  Universally, marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman, centered on the procreative act and, as night follows the day, the raising of children.  Even polygamous marriages fit this definition, making the same major contribution to society that monogamous marriages do: marriage secures a father to his children by tying him to their mother. 

Marriage, then, is first and foremast a biological institution that stems from nature.  Considering that no society has endured without it, we may well assume it’s also a biological necessity.    

This is where many Americans need a history lesson on the Sexual Revolution.  For more than a hundred years, sexual revolutionaries have sought to weaken moral norms that hinder sexual expression.  Promoting birth control, abortion, cohabitation, casual sex, no-fault divorce and homosexuality, the Sexual Revolution has succeeded in convincing the developed world that the primary purpose of sex is to have fun.  A few consequences of the Sexual Revolution have been good, but the most notable ones have been unintended and disastrous. 

Take, for example, the invention of oral contraceptives.  Margaret Sanger, who later financed the scientific research necessary to create the pill, wrote in 1916, “No one can doubt that there are times when an abortion is justifiable but they will become unnecessary when care is taken to prevent conception.  This is the only cure for abortions.” 

Since its debut in 1961, the pill has been a reliable, affordable form of birth control, offering physical and financial relief to countless women.  And what of Sanger’s cure for abortion?  Today effective contraceptives are available to practically all American women, yet the U.S. Census Bureau reports more than a million abortions are performed in the United States each year.  Today about half of all pregnancies in our country are unplanned.     

In other words, the magical pill has failed to stop the stork.  It did, though, seem to start something else.  In the five decades since the pill was invented, babies born to unwed mothers went from approximately 5% of all births to about 40% and continues to rise.  In other words, we have a historical correlation between access to contraceptives and a dramatic increase in out-of-wedlock births.  This bit of data would be perpelxing if the reason weren’t obvious to even the casual observer:  our society’s advances in reproductive medicine have been accompanied by a cultural shift in attitudes about sex and marriage.  The pill’s larger legacy is widespread promiscuity and thus, ironically, more unwanted pregnancies. 

Single mothers—most of them young and poor—and their fatherless children pay the largest price for our society’s acceptance of casual sex.  Social scientists have gathered a veritable mountain of evidence showing that children raised by single parents do not fair well compared to those with married parents.  These innocent vicitms of adult choices face serious challenges that are overburdening our school systems, welfare systems and justice systems.  We must help them the best we can, but so far no payment or program has been able to compensate for what is missing in their homes. 

A parallel story can be told about the other so-called victories of the Sexual Revolution.  The push for birth control created the notion that sex can and ought to be disconnected from babies.  The push for no-fault divorce created the notion that marriage can be separated from total commitment.  And now same-sex marriage promotes the idea that family can be disconnected from biology. 

Two people of the same gender are inherently unable to start a family, but we are asked to pretend they can.  We are asked to believe that babies don’t need mothers, that the differences between men’s and women’s minds and bodies are incidental, that shared DNA is not an important aspect of family bonds.  Absentee fathers are now called sperm donors and paid for their services.  Healthy young women with limited education make a median wage by renting their wombs and delivering babies.  The resemblance to prostitution is striking, but we are asked to call these women altruists.

The Family Forecast

This is all to say that our new invention called gay marriage is one more expression of the age-old desire to circumvent nature’s demands.  We don’t need a crystal ball to see the future; we can see the writing on the wall.  

Forty years from now, the consequences of same-sex marriage will be much larger than what the average supporter intends: the words marriage and family will mean anything and everything.  The cycle of attraction, commitment and conception will have been sliced into bits and sold to the highest bidder.  Eggs, sperm, wombs and babies will be commodities.  The love of many will wax cold as they avoid the natural sacrifices that teach devotion.  The wealthy will exploit lower-class women.  Children will be robbed of their right to a mother and father.  Sex will be a plaything.  Procreation will be a technological process.    

Of course not everyone will accept this way of life, and so, forty years from now, America will still be divided over the issue.  The battlefront will have moved, but the principles will be the same.  On the one side will be those who believe government and technology can free us from nature’s tyranny.  On the other side will be those who revere the God of nature, who know it’s foolish to thwart the processes He designed. 

Forty years from now, I’ll still be standing on this side.  I won’t be ashamed.  And a mountain of social science will confirm my position.

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A Talk on Love by Julie Weaver

One singular thing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that our clergy is not paid.  All adult members are expected to help run the congregation by fulfilling assignments from teaching Sunday school to mopping the kitchen.  Not only does this keep costs down, it also keeps commitment up.  When I go to Sunday services, I am not just attending church; I am attending my church with my ward.  The bishop presides over our sacrament meetings, but he normally doesn’t do much speaking; instead, members of the ward give “talks” on an assigned topic.  Our services may not be as professional as some are, but they are personal and profound.   

A few months ago a friend of mine, Julie Weaver, gave a talk that I found especially meaningful.  I asked her if I could share it on my blog, and she said yes.  Julie is one of the women who mentored me through adolescence.  She’s a decade younger than my mom, a hairdresser and British, so she seemed very glamorous to me when I was a teen.  I remember her cutting my hair, giving out motherly advice at girls’ camp and coming to my rescue when I called her in a panic over a service project—a few minutes later she was at my house, urging me to say a prayer before I continued to panic.  She’s a remarkable woman and teacher.

 A Talk on Love by Julie Weaver

Since I was last up on this stand to give a talk, I have had the mind-blowing experience of going back to school as a 50-year-old.  I received my two-year degree from Cascadia, my Bachelors at the University of Washington, and I currently attend Antioch University in downtown Seattle in their masters program for clinical mental health counseling.  I have watched my husband hold his breath as I attend classes in the most liberal of universities, to see if my faith of this beautiful gospel will remain steadfast in my heart as my intellect grows.  In this program, critical thinking over culture, gender and religious belief is a high priority, and so when I read the words of Melissa Wei Tsing Inouye in the January 2013 Ensign, I wanted to share them with you:

“After graduating from high school, I attended Harvard University (Massachusetts, USA), where I made a wonderful discovery. Although my college classes placed a clear priority on critical thinking over religious belief, in the Latter-day Saint community that included university students, professors, and institute teachers from the Boston area, I met people who excelled in their academic work and still remained active, committed members of the Church.

“I looked up to these Latter-day Saints because they were sympathetic to my intellectual questions—many of them had grappled with similar questions themselves—and because of their cheerful faith. Their examples taught me that faith and intellect are not mutually exclusive. I began to realize that it was God who gave His children intelligence—described in Doctrine and Covenants 93:36 as “the glory of God”—and who instructed us to “seek … out of the best books words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118). . .

“T. S. Eliot wrote a poem, “Little Gidding,” that has had deep significance for my perspective on intellect, experience, and faith. At one point in “Little Gidding,” the poet describes a place where one might set aside rational, critical purposes and focus solely on the experience of the spiritual:

You are not here to verify,

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

Or carry report. You are here to kneel

Where prayer has been valid.1

In such a place, we lay aside the critical means by which we evaluate the things of the world and prepare to encounter God on His terms. In such a place, we base our ultimate trust not in reasoning but in experience.”

It is with this spirit that I prepared a talk about love, Christ-like love and love of our Heavenly Father. 

The values which a child perceives to be most important to his parents may well become the values by which his own life will be guided.  For example, a father who spends most of his time teaching his son to play ball without putting the same emphasis on spiritual and intellectual training will likely influence the child to adopt athletics as the supreme value in life.  Parents who excessively stress the importance of wealth may find that the accumulation of money has become the highest value in a child’s life.  A parent who is overly concerned with physical beauty and fashionable clothes may find their child to be a vain person whose highest value is to appear physically attractive.  What do our children have as their highest value?  What do we have as our highest value?

I read a book about the life of a man who at six years old heard his aunt and uncle (who were looking after him) talk about how creepy and ugly he was.  He went through life with his head held down and was afraid when he met anyone that they would be scared of his ugliness.  He reasoned out in his mind and felt he understood why his mother did not love him, and consequently he had an awful life and was greatly disturbed. 

In my second graduate class, I was taught about the roots of the word psychopathology, which I had understood to mean illness of the mind.  It actually translates into “distress of the soul.”  The young man in the book I read could be diagnosed with several mental illnesses but I feel “distress of the soul,” from lack of warmth and love, is a better diagnosis.

It is no mistake that at the beginning of every treatment plan I have studied there have been strict instructions for the therapist to give unconditional positive regard, warmth and patience.  In other words, the key to good counseling intellectually is to help a client feel accepted and safe—or as we would put it here at church, “loved.”

John Powell said that “most people believe we are personally the masters of our own fates and the captains of our own souls.  The truth of the matter is that we are very largely shaped by others, who, in an almost frightening way, hold our destiny in their hands.  We are, each of us, the product of those who have loved us . . . or who have refused to love us.”

This could be a depressing thought, but I reaped some hope from part of this statement, because I have known some pretty wonderful people that came from some horrible family situations and the common denominator amongst these people was that at some point in their life, early and later on, they found out that God lived and that they were a child of God and that he loved them.  If we are a product of those that love us, then we can be a product of our Heavenly Father’s love, and this gives me great hope.

It is harder for a person to feel or recognize Heavenly Father’s love if they don’t experience some kind of love on this earth.  Just as “distress of the soul” can be relieved by good counseling from an empathic therapist, it can also be relieved by kind words and actions of those around them.  But before we can be practitioners of the highest, noblest, strongest kind of love, we have to understand it.  It is the pure love of Christ – it is charity.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 13:

“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

So what this scripture is saying is that we can send our children to seminary, to Young Men’s and Young Women’s, to primary activities; we can take part in charitable activities, Eagle Scout projects; we can teach wonderful lessons every Sunday and prepare fabulous home teaching and visiting teaching visits; we can visit sick people until we are blue in the face; and we can help a million families move; we can donate all of our money to the mission fund and fast offering; and it is all worthless without the highest, noblest, strongest love called “charity” in our hearts.  

So if we have this highest, noblest, strongest Christ-like love, we would always have patience with our loved ones, not just with those who don’t try our patience.  We would be kind, never jealous, never selfish, never taking offense and always giving people the benefit of the doubt.  Have you noticed, these are all things we feel in our hearts?  It is easy to hide jealousy or harsh judgments, but we have the example of our Savior who truly gave every one the benefit of the doubt.  When he was on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Well, brothers and sisters, I personally feel there were plenty of people who know what they were doing, and when I think about them crucifying my Savior, I want to rip off their beards and slap them around a bit, but Christ with his purest, noblest love would and could not believe the worst.  He gave them all the benefit of the doubt and asked his father to forgive them.

My mother once wrote a poem for me that said the oil to soothe any earthly woes could not be removed from its Heavenly place.   It required my knees to bend and my head to bow.  I believe that oil to sooth is the love of our Heavenly Father, the love that he sent his son to show us.  It is a love we can forget we have if we do not humble ourselves for a few minutes on a regular basis to reap the strength it brings and relief it can be to our distressed souls through prayer. 

I want to bear my testimony that this is truly Christ’s church.  I believe this with all my heart and intellect.  I am thankful for this testimony, and I pray that we can all bend our knees more often and dip into the oil that soothes us as we live in this harsh world.  I promise that we will see things differently, feel things differently and love differently if we do this.

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When Sex is a Party Favor

A topic trending in the news over the last few months is rape.  There was the girl in Steubenville, Ohio, who was assaulted while unconscious at a party.  After she awoke, she learned that pictures of her naked body were circling among classmates.  An almost identical thing happened in California, but with a sadder ending.  When the victim discovered what her “friends” had done, she committed suicide.  A couple weeks ago, rapper Rick Ross lost his Reebok endorsement contract for publishing a song celebrating date rape.  “Put Molly all up in her champagne,” the lyrics go.  “I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.”   

A teenage writer published in the The Seattle Times last month decried the misogyny she sees in today’s youth culture.  The word “slut,” she reported, is “used casually in teenage conversations both as a cutting insult and a term of endearment.”  She noted that Facebook groups called “its not rape if you shout SURPRISE!!!” and “its not rape, it’s a snuggle struggle,” have received almost 1,000 likes.  “There is a surprising number of female participants in those rape-as-a-joke Facebook groups,” she wrote, “It’s the mindset of our generation, male and female both.”  

At a time when women have more educational and career opportunities than ever before, when the prevailing wisdom is that we are equal to men in our autonomy and value, what are we to make of this news trend?  Is this just a fluke string of outlier incidents?

I don’t think so, one reason being that I recently visited a shopping mall.  The enormous advertisement hanging over teendom’s coolest clothing store, Abercrombie & Fitch, was a shirtless young man with his pants unzipped.  I could not see his genitals only because words strategically covered them.  This is called pornography, but no one seemed to mind its prominent display in a public place.  

Youth today have grown up with these sorts of displays all around.  Sexual images, jokes and stories permeate our entertainment, commerce and even politics.  Promiscuity is embraced as normal.  And so our youth are taught that sex is at once all-important and inconsequential.  Sex is funny, cool and pleasurable, not sacred and not dangerous so long as there’s a condom.  Sex is no longer a tool for forming families, the story goes.  It can be a way to express love if you should happen to love someone, but if not, it’s still enjoyable.  Everyone needs it and deserves it, and it’s no big deal.  Sex is a joke, a status symbol, a party favor.    

Considering this cultural environment, it’s easy to imagine why young men emboldened by alcohol might believe rape is just a prank.

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Sifting Through the Supreme Court Oral Arguments

The Supreme Court’s recent hearings on cases involving gay marriage offered some relief from the storm of protests and media coverage raging outside the courtroom doors.  In sharp contrast to the tone of our national debate, the justices and lawyers operated under a code of decorum, reason and humility.  Their careful discussion centered on jurisprudence, such as the states’ right to regulate marriage verses the federal government’s practical need for a uniform definition in tax law.  This focus on technical questions indicated the justices may avoid the larger issue.

 The technical questions, though, bear on the larger issue more than one might think.  One in particular seemed telling:  In considering the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the justices wanted to know why President Obama is appealing a decision he claims to support.  Lower courts ordered the President to give homosexual married couples the same tax breaks as heterosexual married couples, and he purports to agree.  How can he appeal and then refuse to defend his appeal?  As Chief Justice John Roberts said, “I don’t see why he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions and execute not only the statues, but do it consistent with his view of the Constitution.”  Justice Antonin Scalia worried, “I’m wondering if we’re living in this new world where the Attorney General can simply decide, yeah, it’s unconstitutional, but it’s not so unconstitutional that I’m not willing to enforce it.”

Nestled within the legalese was a more simple dialogue about the merits of gay marriage.  Charles Cooper, defending California ’s Proposition 8, asserted that “redefining marriage as a genderless institution will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes, and it will refocus, refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults.”  Opposing him, Theodore Olson argued that Proposition 8 “walls off gays and lesbians from marriage, the most important relation in life, thus stigmatizing a class of Californians based upon their status and labeling their most cherished relationships as second-rate, different, unequal and not okay.”    

Olson used the popular argument that homosexual marriage is comparable to interracial marriage, but it seemed to fail.  Justice Anthony Kennedy pointed out that when the court overturned laws prohibiting interracial marriage, such marriages had been occurring for hundreds of years in other countries.  “The problem with the case,” he said, “is that you’re really asking, particularly because of the sociological evidence you cite, for us to go into uncharted waters.”  Chief Justice Roberts was also suspicious of the comparison to racism: “I’m not sure that it’s right to view this as excluding a particular group. . . . The institution developed to serve purposes that, by their nature, didn’t include homosexual couples.”  Justice Samuel Alito complained, “You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet.”  Referring to California ’s civil union laws, the chief justice wondered whether homosexual couples were seeking only for a label.   Olson confirmed this idea, saying, “It is like you were to say you can vote, you can travel, but you may not be a citizen.  There are certain labels in this country that are very very critical.” 

Altogether, the court seemed to believe gay marriage constitutes an unprecedented change and, at least in the state of California , this battle is over a single word.  The remaining argument, then, was that our nation’s new conception of homosexuality has altered the meaning of the law.  When Justice Scalia probed, “When did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage?” the counsel said there is no specific date.  He asserted that homosexual marriage became a constitutional right “when we –as a culture determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control.” 

Granted, this is true in a sense; today, even in conservative circles, most people believe homosexual orientation is a physical condition that is not chosen and cannot be erased through medicine or therapy.  The next step in this argument, though, constitutes a fantastic leap:  Roberta Kaplan, arguing against DOMA, claimed that America has reached “a moral understanding today that gay people are no different and that gay couples’ relationships are not significantly different from the relationships of straight married people.”  DOMA, she said, was based on “an incorrect understanding that gay couples were fundamentally different from straight couples, an understanding that I don’t think exists today.”

Kaplan is suffering from wishful thinking.  It has not yet been a year since President Obama changed his stance, and today more than 30 of the 50 states have laws banning gay marriage outright—there’s no consensus.  Her implicit hope that consensus is around the corner is not likely to be realized because the procreative act is unmistakably distinct from other sexual acts.  The difference between homosexual and heterosexual is the difference between man and woman.  Is this not fundamental?  As Cooper said in his closing argument, that is not a hard question.  The distinction is biological, not moral.  We may or may not attach moral meaning to the difference. 

Looking forward to June, the Supreme Court might punt the issue elsewhere or rule that homosexual couples deserve the tax breaks of married couples.  But the natural distinction between homosexual and heterosexual cannot be lost on these judicious men and women.  Thus a ruling that the Constitution forbids a state from making the distinction is not probable.  Judging from his convoluted legal-political stance, the President foresees this too.

 

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