Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Sun, The Wind and a Cloud of Dust

There is a fable by Æsop that tells of an argument between the Sun and the Wind. 
While arguing over which of them is most powerful, the Sun and the Wind see a man walking along the road below them. The Wind challenges the Sun to see which of them can get the man to take off his cloak. While the Sun hides behind a cloud, the Wind goes first, blowing powerful gusts to force the coat off of the man. The more the Wind blows, the tighter the man wraps the coat around himself. After many attempts, the Wind gives up, exhausted and out of breath. Then the Sun takes its turn, directing its heat toward the man. As the man becomes warmer and warmer in the radiance of the Sun, he decides to remove his cloak. 
The moral: Gentleness does more than violence (as stated by Jean de la Fontaine) or, alternatively, Moderation produces better results and extremes.
To apply Æsop's fable to my experience in Mormondom: I see the sun as the kindness, openness and love experienced among members at the personal level. I see the wind as the demands of the prevailing church culture (which the hierarchy both actively reinforces and passively allows to flourish) to conform to rigidity, dogma and human authority. What makes dealing with this even more maddening is that there is so much inconsistency and lack of clarity, even amidst declarations that the church’s positions are consistent and clear. 
There are far too many in the church who are more than happy to shake the dust of their feet with dismissiveness and contempt for any who view the world or live life differently than they do and blow that dust into a whirlwind. The most recent proof of this comes in the form of widely-circulated public addresses by Boyd Packer, Keith McMullin and Bruce Hafen over the last two years, the church’s clumsy involvement as proponents of Prop 8 in California and similar political campaigns elsewhere over the past decade or so, and the flatulent windbaggery of surrogates of church leadership and rank-and-file Mormons who feel compelled to stir up the wind even more by rushing to the aid of their celebrity fear-mongers. We now have a cloud of dust so expansive and dense that it blocks the light and warmth of reason and compassion within Mormon society regarding homosexuality.
Is it even possible to change this sad state of affairs? How do we calm the winds and let the dust settle? Efforts like those of Marlin Jensen in Oakland a few weeks ago, and the public statement read by church spokesperson Michael Otterson just a few days ago are a start. Jensen spoke with compassion and, just as important, he listened. The statement Otterson read was thankfully devoid of the dismissive term “so-called” found so often in Mormon language. It also spoke with greater respect toward gay rights groups and gay people in general. The statement made plain there are disagreements, but it also mentioned common groud. It condemned bullying and cruelty, and seemed to issue a challenge to the membership of the church to reflect on what it really means to love one another. Perhaps someone can start a Facebook group in support of that.
Having seen for myself how the church has a history of speaking out of both sides of its mouth, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach. As you might have guessed by now, I’m a bit jaded.
As I’ve been thinking about what comes next, this came to mind: For many years, people have compared the somewhat mysterious workings of church headquarters to those of the Kremlin of the Soviet era. The church seems to be communicating in coded messages so much of the time. It’s as though public speeches by the general authorities (especially general conference) are like speeches to the Politburo. Then, a spokesperson will “clarify” with the PR interpretation to the media and the general public. My take on the latest cable from LDS HQ is that the church may be going through its own Cuban Missile Crisis. There is something going on behind the scenes that cannot be clearly known, in part because of the secretive and enigmatic nature of hierarchy and bureaucracy of the church.
On any given Sunday, Mormons tell each other how wonderful it is that the leadership of the church is completely united. Mormons love the fantastical, and this is no exception. There is every indication that the leadership of the church is grappling with what it means institutionally and doctrinally to have gay people in the church. The vexing question is how the church can provide a truly meaningful and inclusive place for gay people as individuals and as families to find spiritual and emotional fulfillment, and whether it really wants to. As yet, the brethren do not have a unified answer. 
The dust among Mormons---in church meetings and classes, within families, among groups of friends, on Facebook, in conversations, within the Bloggernacle, an here in our little Mohosphere---will be in the air for a while. But it will eventually settle. Once it does, it will be for church leaders to decide whether they want to be the Wind or the Sun.


  1. "We now have a cloud of dust so expansive and dense that it blocks the light and warmth of reason and compassion within Mormon society regarding homosexuality."

    This is such a succinct summery of the current situation. It is so sad.

    I am guilty of getting mad and contributing to the dust myself. I hope that the dust settling does not take too long.

  2. Our perestroika will come. I have hope that it will be so.

  3. as always, well said and thank you.

    i do find it quite telling that the "official" statement from the church in response to the HRC came from and was signed by otterson and not the brethren. yes he is the head of pr but he is not the final voice for the church, the brethren are, and they set the course and tone for church doctrine, culture, and attitudes. for the statement to carry any real significance in the short and long term, it should have been signed by the men at the top.

    thanks again