Wednesday, March 30, 2011

181 and Still Goin' Strong

Dear General Authorities and General Officers of the LDS Church,
The 181st Annual General Conference is coming up this weekend, April 2-3, 2011. Yay for you guys! I know most of you aren’t too keen on following recommendations from, you know, us lesser mortals. But I know some of you are still putting the finishing touches on your talks, so I made a little list of suggestions for your kind consideration. Oh, and if you decide to follow any of the these, it’ll be our little secret.
  • Please go easy on the gushing over Thomas Monson. He’s the leader of a major world religion, so he’s entitled to respect. But prophet adulation makes general conference look like a North Korean leadership love-in. If you just can’t help yourself, tell Pres. Monson he’s awesome during the continental breakfast before the first session to get it out of your system. Then skip the phrases such as “we love you” and “we honor you” and “your tireless devotion is an example to us all” and “thank you, dear leader, for your leadership” and “you are magnificently magnanimous among the multitudes of modern mormons.” Okay, the last one was a bit much. But you get the drift. If a few speakers just skip the gushing, there will be more than enough time for another song, which typically has more spiritual impact than the delivery of even the best conference talks anyway. (But pick a good song; NOT “Called to Serve”).
  • It’s pretty clear that the 15 apostles of the church are in charge. In fact, it’s one of the clearest things about Mormonism. So, my tip: If you’re an apostle, you don’t need to remind us of your position, your claim to authority or your duty. Just say what you have to say sans the word “apostolic.” If you’re a non-apostle general conference speaker, just assume that we all understand that the apostles are the big kahunas and move on to something that sounds more like a sermon and less like a Politburo speech praising the Glorious Central Committee.
  • Don’t overstate how amazing it is that conference is full of wonderfulness even though “no one is assigned a topic” for their talks. I accept that as true, but it’s not exactly as miraculous as turning water into wine, ahem, pure grape juice. I’m pretty sure people take some cues from items on agendas circulated among the hierarchy in the run-up to conference. I’m in favor of assigning topics, to be honest. It might increase the variety of useful topics, and improve the quality of talks.
  • By all means, cry repentance. It’s a major part of Christian theology. But since condemnation has nothing whatsoever to do with repentance, can you just leave out the condemnation this time, please? 
  • Yes, you are giving a formal speech to a large audience. But please, please, please speak like a human being living in the 21st century. Sorry to break this to you, but a lot of your talks sound either like a recitation of the Federalist Papers or a parent monologue from a Disney Channel sitcom. By all means, be creative. Make those corny jokes. Surprise us with some cool turns of phrase. Just be clear, and normal. If you use disciplined, interesting, thoughtful language, your high school language arts teachers will groan just a little less. So will everyone listening to you.
  • The recent Salt Lake Tribune article on the issue of infallibility is nothing new, but it is an important summary of some of the pitfalls of the culture of righteous leadership celebrity. I know you HATE the Tribune. I’m not a regular reader either. But it was a good article. Read it with an open mind.
  • On a related point, please keep in mind that general conference talks ARE. NOT. SCRIPTURE. Hopefully, they’re carefully prepared. However, they are not canonized through the magic of the sustaining of general authorities and general officers of the church. Also, they are not canonized by a large number of “Likes” from TBM Facebook users. More importantly, by attempting to elevate general conference talks to the rank of scripture you’re only painting yourselves into an even smaller corner than you already have. If any of you are planning on speaking about this (frankly pathetic, thanks JRH) notion this weekend, just delete that section now while there’s still time. Or skip it when it rolls up on the teleprompter. Of course, I’m a pragmatist. I’m pretty sure that at least one of you won’t be able to resist. 
I saved my most earnest request for last...
  • Leave us gay folk alone just for once. Please. And don’t use a bunch of ridiculous code words for The Gay when we know exactly what you’re talking about. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you Boyd. And Dallin. And the resta y’all. LET. IT. GO. Look, I’m just asking for ONE conference here.
You’re welcome.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Of Lies, Meltdown and a Full Life

"Lie" is a strong word. To me, it involves an intentional act. The intent may be malicious. It may stem from a desire to protect ourselves or others or to avoid difficult emotions. There are lies we tell others. There are lies we tell ourselves. And there are lies that we like others to tell us.

I've been pondering that last category lately. If I'm being honest, my doubts about the "truthfulness" of the Church began when I was a teenager. Not just the usual teenage doubt we all experience, but deep doubt because so many things didn't add up in my mind and in my heart. The sum of the parts weren't equal to the whole person I was but didn't want to see.

Despite that doubt, for a long time I intentionally immersed myself in the church and largely dismissed or rationalized away viewpoints critical of the church and its leadership. I wanted to be assured the church was what it claims to be, even if that meant being told half-truths and outright lies. I was a devoted Mormon boy. I hitched my wagon to that well-known Mormon notion of "follow the prophet and you'll be blessed and be happy." Because of the level of dysfunction in my family, I turned to the church as a surrogate family, with all the psychological peril that entails.

I know without any doubt, and have known for a long time, that I'm gay. Yet for a long time I sought out assurance that I wasn't. I tried to resolve my turbulent inner conflict while keeping up the outward appearance of calm certitude. For many years, I allowed myself to believe the lies I could be "cured" and that I would find only misery in the big, bad "gay agenda." I internalized the notions being spewed at me: that I was confused, that I was a threat to the morality of society, that I was undermining the perpetuation of humanity, that I would forfeit my salvation if I ever pursued what my heart told me was honest and good, but which I was led to believe were the work of Satan himself.

To say all this messed with my mind is an understatement that defies the strength of any adjective. I realized that for me, the "Iron Rod" was actually a plutonium fuel rod and that the church understood me about as well as Homer Simpson understands his daughter Lisa. The nuclear reaction that was once occurring in my soul due to the collision of Mormon dogma with my fundamental nature as a gay person could be contained and cooled only temporarily. A catastrophic meltdown was inevitable. 

I don't have any profound wisdom to offer here. I'm not claiming to have a complete understanding of what it means to be gay, and I'm not saying that everything the church does is evil or based on a lie. If Mormonism works for some people, I am genuinely happy for them. If they are able to navigate a path and find joy in a belief system I no longer can, I applaud them. It is not for me to dictate to another how he or she works through the deeply personal and complex matters of spirituality and identity. I merely ask that I be allowed the same privilege to pursue my life, my liberty and my happiness in a peaceable way that works for me.

However, I do have a question: Why do so many of us like to be lied to? In many aspects of our lives, we seek out and hold onto the truth. We do so even when it is painful because we know how important it is to see things as they really are, not as we imagine them, and certainly not as well-meaning but misguided people try to tell us they are. But it seems that for some of us, in some areas of our lives, we want assurances even if they are built upon lies. Why do good and smart people want to be lied to? And even if the teller of untruth doesn't have the intent to lie, we sometimes provide a substitute for that intent by intentionally lying to ourselves about what particular information means to us.

Here in my post-Mormon, post-meltdown state, I'm finding that while I may appear to be dangerously radioactive to the average devout Mormon, I don't appear that way to everyone. I certainly don't feel that way. There are many ways to sustain and renew my soul that don't involve false hopes, magical thinking and lying to myself. Discovering them is like basking in the sun, hearing the flow of water in a river or the waves on the ocean, feeling a cooling breeze, feeling the vigor that comes from a good walk or run, and seeing clearly after a haze clears at long last. In this new phase, I'm trying to focus less on the half-life of what came before and more on the full life of the present and future. 

The unstable fissile material that once fueled my spirituality and warped my identity has now mostly melted away. I'm cleaning up what I can, trying to be patient as the fallout naturally decays over time, and continuing the daily process of telling myself the truth.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Enabling Power of the Law

Here’s a bit of somewhat old news I just noticed in my internet wanderings. On February 4, 2011, a member of the legal community received an award for positive contributions to the law and made the following statement to the group presenting the award: 

“Rather than seeing law as an instrument of domination, it is our mission to use it as an enabling power to help men and women achieve greater independence and ultimate potential.”

Sounds like the words of a champion of civil rights, doesn't it? Maybe even the words of a proponent of gay marriage? Nope.

The speaker was Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, and previously a lawyer in the banking and finance sectors. The award was given by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, an association of mostly Mormon lawyers and judges. Christofferson went on to say:

“All man-made systems are imperfect and include elements of injustice. Still, you can strive to make the legal system in which you live and work come as close as possible to the perfectly just legal system of God.”

I'll admit I'm using these quotes out of context. But in what context can they be put that could reconcile them with the legal stance the (Corporation of the President of the) Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken against gay marriage? I'm not talking about the religious stance. That's a completely different matter.

For over a decade, the church has unabashedly advocated a position on gay marriage that uses the law as an instrument of domination against people who wish to enter or who have already entered into same-sex marriages. It has done so in a ways that hinders their independence and limits their ultimate potential as equal citizens of their communities, states, the nation and the world. In many places in the United States, it has thwarted the advancement of justice in our man-made system. Divisiveness doesn’t help us to "form a more perfect Union" and seek a godly kind of justice in the lives of individuals and families of any configuration.

Other parts of Christofferson’s speech were more in line with what I have come to expect of the lawyers and former lawyers within the church hierarchy. Here’s a particularly rich example:

"Since all legislation is based on moral is not an imposition of religion or religionists to take part of discussion. There is no justice in one side of deeply held values sinking to silence the other because it espouses different values."

People of faith, just like all others, are welcome to contribute to the ongoing, difficult and sometimes painful development of the law. But it’s just a tad disingenuous for a Mormon apostle to assert that the church is being silenced in the public square when it systematically silences gay people, feminists and intellectuals within the church.