Thursday, January 24, 2008
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
I don't know when a speech from the pulpit has filled me with more hope than Obama's address at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on January 20, 2008.
We need to elect this man.
(By the way, Obama is the only major candidate to address the need for better treatment for gays and lesbians in front of nongay audiences.)
Friday, January 18, 2008
Chicken Patriarchy never allows itself to be pinned down to a single perspective; chameleonlike, it alters its attitude from day to day and sometimes even from sentence to sentence, too chicken to stand up for what it believes.
Why is this lack of clarity allowed to exist? Why doesn't the church either repudiate the doctrine of patriarchy or stand up for it even if it is unpopular?
If patriarchy is God’s will, why not stand up and take the flak for advocating values that have been taught from Adam to Paul, from Joseph Smith through most of his heirs, from the temple to the pulpit? If it’s not, why continue to cling to patriarchal language and women’s ritual submission to men?
The answer is unclear. It may reflect a desire on the part of the leadership to create a "big tent" where people who have differing views can coexist. In other words, the old-school father-knows-best types can go to church with (younger) we're-equal-partners types. The problem gets smoothed over.
It is an interesting article, well worth reading.
It occurred to that these days the church's pronouncements about homosexuals have the same kind of ambiguity. On the one hand, there appears to be change, as I commented earlier:
The official stance of the church has not stood still in the face of social change. The church has evolved to understand that gay people are not moral reprobates. The church now views homosexual orientation as morally neutral. It is now officially a “challenge.”
The epidemic of broken homes, suicides and misery arising from the church’s past encouragement of mixed-orientation marriage has been one of the big motivators for the church’s current recommendation that marriage not be used as homosexual change therapy.
These are two identifiable changes in policy, supportable by recent statements by LDS leadership. Yet, not everyone seems to have gotten the memo. For example, Kimball's The Miracle of Forgiveness has never been repudiated.
There's a parallel to be drawn here.
The church intentionally allows the level of ambiguity that it has on gay issues. This allows old-school homophobes to coexist in peace with (younger) more egalitarian types. It's not exactly what you would call moral courage.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Here's my comment:
This thread always causes stress. Why? There’s serious cognitive dissonance going on here.
1) The official stance of the church is that expression of same-sex love is a sin just one notch down in severity from murder. Yet, people who have any real-life contact with gay folks don’t smell the stench of evil. Gay people seem pretty wholesome and decent up close. And this is not the case with other “near-murderers” like rapists, child abusers, wife beaters, etc. Something just doesn’t click.
2) Our culture has shifted toward seeing homosexuality as benign. A recent poll showed that Christians are seen as needlessly “anti-homosexual” by 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers. This is not political correctness driven by media elites; this is a sea change in public opinion.
The official stance of the church has not stood still in the face of social change. The church has evolved to understand that gay people are not moral reprobates. The church now views homosexual orientation as morally neutral. It is now officially a “challenge.” BYU recently amended its honor code so that coming out (as a celibate homosexual) is now permitted. BYU students are now often quite open about their sexual orientation.
(Note that in 1976 the criterion for excommunication was lowered so that homosexual orientation itself was excommunicable, where previously a sexual act was required for excommunication. The church has significantly reversed itself since then.)
3) The church is reeling from a huge legacy of failed and troubled marriages that have resulted from its earlier advice that gay people should enter into mixed-orientation marriages (a straight spouse plus a homosexual spouse). A few of these marriages have achieved some kind of accommodation, but– not surprisingly– the majority have not. As the impatient General Authority bellowed to my father during his meeting about my situation: “It’s unbelievable how much trouble this causes!”
The epidemic of broken homes, suicides and misery arising from the church’s past encouragement of mixed-orientation marriage has been one of the big motivators for the church’s current recommendation that marriage not be used as homosexual change therapy. (Unfortunately, not everyone got the memo, and many young gay people in the church aspire to mixed-orientation marriage as a goal.)
4) Increasingly, gay people are less willing to hide in the shadows. As more gay people come out, more straight people get to know them (and no longer fear them), and this creates a cycle of increased openness. Approximately 4% to 6% of men and 3% to 5% of women are strongly (that is, nearly exclusively) homosexual in orientation. This cycle of increased visibility and acceptance shows no sign of stopping.
So now the cognitive dissonance: many of us have experienced items 1 - 4 above and can at least imagine a more progressive stance by the church, for example, where same-sex civil unions, domestic partnerships or civil marriages are tolerated “for time” as are civil marriages of heterosexuals. But that day is not here and may never arrive. What are we supposed to do?
Personally I see some parallels to the turmoil in the church in the 1960s and 70s with the civil rights movement. Many members of the church were intensely uncomfortable to see their church oppose civil rights for blacks in the early sixties. Later, as the sea change of public opinion became apparent, the tension became almost intolerable. (I was there; I saw this first hand because I was a Mormon in the Deep South.)
What would you have done in 1975 if a black person you loved asked you why he or she would never be worthy of going to the temple? Basically, you would have had two possible approaches: 1) a strong doctrinal defense of the policy (”mark of Cain,” etc.) or a softer God-will-fix-it-in-the-Millenium approach. Seriously, think about the bind you would have been in. You would feel tremendous sympathy for your friend, but doctrine is seemingly immutable. Your natural sense of fair play and human dignity would have made you very uncomfortable unless you were able to suppress it by appeals to authority or your own racist impulses. If blogs had existed in 1975 there would have been long threads arguing back and forth. You can just imagine the debate.
That’s pretty much where we are today with homosexuality. It’s not a good place to be, and quoting Leviticus won’t make the problem go away.
If you don’t know any gay people, I am going introduce you to three by way of their blogs. Read them and try to see the world from where they sit.
The first is a man from a Mormon heritage who is currently raising young two boys in Utah with his male partner. They are a delightful, wholesome family. His blog is http://utahcog.blogspot.com.
The second is Chris Williams, whom some of you may know. His previous blog has an astonishingly powerful personal account of his coming out. I have a summary of it on http://mohohawaii.blogspot.com/2007/03/chris-aka-hurricane.html as a starting point. Chris’ current blog is http://family-blend.blogspot.com.
Finally, there is a very interesting case of a gay man who, despite being partnered for many years with another man, has gone back to the LDS church and attends faithfully, even though he doesn’t have the standing to give prayers, lessons, etc. His blog is http://youngstranger.blogspot.com. He is a man of real spirituality and humility.
Okay, I have spoken my piece. My advice is to step back a bit from the turmoil we feel on this issue, regardless of which side we’re on. Yes, it is a sensitive topic. Yes, there are some differences of opinion among believing Latter-day Saints. Yes, the policy of the church seems in the process of a transition. Yes, it’s hard for gay people and the straight spouses in mixed-orientation marriages. Yes, the church is against gay sex.
What we need now is compassion, empathy and listening on all sides, including mine. In my opinion.
Monday, January 14, 2008
SAN DIEGO, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Studies of lesbian and gay couples reveal some key factors that may promote healthier relationships in straight couples, a U.S. psychologist says.
Psychologist and researcher Robert-Jay Green of the Rockway Institute and of Alliant International University in San Diego says the studies of lesbian and gay couples found that the homosexual couples had flexibility about gender roles and an equal division of parenting and household tasks.
In a series of studies Green conducted with Michael Bettinger and Ellis Zacks, lesbian couples were found to be emotionally closer than gay male couples who, in turn, were found to be emotionally closer than heterosexual married couples.
"It all comes down to greater equality in the relationship," Green said in a statement. "Research shows that lesbian and gay couples have a head start in escaping the traditional gender role divisions that make for power imbalances and dissatisfaction in many heterosexual relationships."
Heterosexual couples could learn from gays couples about sharing housework and childcare, using softer communication in conflict and having more nurturing behaviors toward one another and their children, the researchers conclude.
Coincidence? I think not.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Courage. Sometimes you see it in the most unusual places – even at church.
A few weeks ago, on a typical Sunday, I was settling in for what I thought was some typical lesson on some typical topic I’d heard before. Being somewhat a regular at church for the past 50 years, my church-going experience has become a little routine. I know what to expect, and it usually delivers. But this particular day would be different.
A member of our congregation stood at the podium. He hesitated for just a moment – which of course caught my attention, and then he began to speak. Quickly, I realized that this would not be a typical lesson on a typical Sunday. He said things I have never heard in church before. It was about time.
His heart poured out in a story of grief, sorrow and love. Unconditional love. He talked about the experiences of his son – who happens to be gay – and Mormon. Yes, you read it right - gay. This wasn’t the typical presentation of homosexuality that we Mormons are accustomed to. You know, the quick knee-jerk condemnation with the invariable references to Sodom and Gomorrah – and even hell. No. This was about a father’s love for his son. A son who just happens to be gay.
And so there he was, this modern-day David with his few chosen stones, to fight this gargantuan Goliath of unspoken shame in our faith. And he faced his opponent with courage. He quickly attacked the prevailing notion that homosexuals somehow “choose” their innermost desires. He recounted how his son had made every attempt to live the LDS standard, by honorably serving a mission, dating girls and ultimately getting married. All the steps recommended by naïve church leaders who sincerely believed that by somehow acting straight, you would eventually become straight. It is a false hope.
Eventually, the forces of nature had their effect. This son realized that living a lie is no life at all. However, to become honest with himself, his family and his faith, meant that he would ultimately risk losing them all. Perhaps this is why suicide is so prevalent among those who are born to be gay or lesbian. This burden of nature can overwhelm even the sturdiest of souls. But he was determined that he would no longer live in shame and hiding, but to come to terms with his own being. He was gay and he knew it. No amount of wishing it were otherwise could avail him of who he was.
That Sunday lesson ended, but the story and struggle continue – of a son who must live his life as he was created, and of a courageous father who remains steadfastly loyal in his love for his son. I’m not sure if my religion will eventually accept these people for who they are. I hope so. Personally, I am willing to make room on my pew for those who are seeking the same “Balm of Gilead” as I. It is only right.
For those of us who are gay, the love and support of family and friends means everything.
When I came out (post-mission, temple-married with kids), my LDS parents stood by me. It was a difficult transition, and there were many tears shed on all sides. I still remember the look of shock on their faces when they first heard the news.
Their loyalty to me during this period and after a difficult divorce changed my life. Even though they have both passed away by now, I can still feel their love for me burning brightly inside.
I have mixed feelings about the fact that the cognitive dissonance that developed in them due to the church’s harsh stand toward me eventually caused them to lessen their activity in the church. Shortly after I came out, my distraught father was able to arrange a meeting with one of the General Authorities he had worked with when he was stake president. My dad came back from that meeting literally in tears. The reception was that icy.
This happened a number of years ago and things may have progressed since then. Nonetheless, I think the church risks painting itself into a corner on this issue. There is a tremendous difference in opinion between the generations about issues of gay acceptance. There is such a thing as being on the wrong side of history– I am old enough to remember the “mark of Cain” sermons and Sunday School lessons about valor in the preexistence affecting skin color.
A tidal wave of change is coming on this issue. You heard it here first.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Monday, January 7, 2008
We were the only gay couple at the party. Everyone was very friendly, and I think they were touched that Tobi had brought his boyfriend. People can be compassionate about this. It is my hunch that the meanness of the Republican political machine over the past few years is causing a backlash-- I got the impression that some of the straight people at the party were rooting for us. Maybe I'm imagining this, but it seemed that way. In any case, I was touched by their generosity of spirit.
At dinner we sat across from a charming Asian-American coworker of Tobi's with an outgoing personality and great sense of humor. She and her boyfriend had spent some time in Japan so we got to compare notes. As the night wore on our section of the table became the most boisterous. We definitely had the best jokes.
Tobi's boss likes to visit wineries and stock his wine cellar from his travels. He had brought all of the wine for the evening from his collection. Some of it seemed to be rather fancy. I don't study wine so I'm not sure. During the cocktail hour before dinner, he and I had the following exchange:
ME: So I understand that you are an oenophile.
TOBI'S BOSS (bluntly): What's that?
ME (realizing that I've blown it and that there's no recovery): A person who likes wine.
TOBI'S BOSS: I don't know, but I like Hilo.
ME: (blinking involuntarily) Excuse me?
TOBI'S BOSS: I don't know if I like Hawaii but I know I like Hilo.
I don't remember much after that. I may have eaten some more of the oysters that were being served as an appetizer, but I can't be sure. Gratefully, we sat down to dinner shortly afterwards and things started to improve.
* * *
Sometimes I feel very, very lucky. I have the cutest, nicest boyfriend you could ask for. I'm looking forward to 2008.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
On Christmas eve we walked through Temple Square. Tobi was impressed by the Christmas lights as well as the architecture of the pioneer-era buildings. We raised just a few eyebrows as we walked arm in arm (it was cold, and we were feeling romantic from all the Christmas lights), but the general feeling of the crowd on Temple Square was friendly and accepting. We ducked into a Japanese restaurant on Main Street for some sukiyaki to beat the chill.
Tobi and I also made a run to Siegfried's, a German deli in downtown SLC that stocks all kinds of great European Christmas treats. We stocked up on marzipan and whitefish. Highly recommended.
On Christmas Day we braved the black ice in Sardine Canyon to visit one of my sisters and her grown kids in Cache Valley. It was Tobi's first introduction to my large Mormon family. Considering that the idea of Christmas is still new to him (coming from Japan), he did well. He especially liked the cinnamon rolls and peppermint bark my sister had made. It was a cultural experience for him. Even though my family is active LDS, they accommodated Tobi graciously. Only the new husband of one of my nieces seemed reserved, but he warmed up by the end of the visit. We break them in one at a time. The marzipan we brought helped.
In the evening of Christmas Day Tobi and I went to a party at the home of some artist friends of mine in Salt Lake. These friends create art but also collect it. Their house is like a museum, with original paintings covering every wall. There were about 12 people at the very convivial dinner, many of them artists. I noticed that five of the dinner guests had paintings hanging on the walls of my friends' house. The party was a great mix: there were three gay male couples, two husband-and-wife couples and several single (straight) people of both genders. There's nothing like candlelight and stemware and a talkative crowd to set the Christmas mood.
Tobi and I left Salt Lake refreshed and buoyed by the love and support of my friends there. I also feel grateful that my very Mormon family has grown accustomed to their gay contingent and that this is really no longer an issue. In the end, the people you love matter most.