Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gay summer camp

Tobi and I spent five days in southern California last week attending gay summer camp.

Tobi channels his inner hula boy
What is gay summer camp you ask?

Well, it's an event where several hundred gay men get together for a week of outdoor recreation, socializing and learning new skills. Tobi and I had a great time.

Every evening there was a social hour with a special theme. Most people dressed up in costumes reflecting the theme. On Hawaiian night, Tobi went all out. (He actually won the prize for best costume. :-))

I especially liked the au naturel time in the camp's Olympic-sized swimming pool (no swimsuits needed!). It was also great to go hiking in the surrounding hills. We had some truly beautiful sunsets.

Throughout the entire week it felt really good to be in a group of men and to be accepted as a male couple in that group. This is understandable. Most of us with LDS backgrounds had a rough time growing up gay. It takes a bit of extra work to smooth out the rough edges and find our place in the world.

I don't know what the point of this post is, except to say that sometimes life can be really good. You can be loved; you can be accepted; you can feel whole. Oh, and I recommend going to gay summer camp.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Black Mormons

Tobi and I went to a screening of the new movie Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons tonight.

One thing that you may not know is that African Americans have been members of the Church since its founding, and that in the 1830's some black men were given the priesthood. The movie included the story of Elijah Abel, a black member of the Church who was ordained an elder by Joseph Smith in 1836. Apparently, there is good documentation that at least seven black men were given the priesthood in the 1830's. The first branch president of Boston was black. The ban against blacks holding the priesthood was only later instituted in Utah by Brigham Young.

The movie is very much targeted at a faithful LDS audience. (It's faith promoting on the whole.) I thought it soft-pedaled the Church's history of racism, but maybe that's what you have to do to keep the movie from being rejected by an LDS audience.

One of the things I liked about the movie was the amount of interview footage of black Mormons who had experienced the ban.

The filmmakers, Margaret Young and Darius Gray, answered questions after the screening. They mentioned that the film will be available on DVD in mid-November. The DVD has 100 extra minutes of historical material, which sounded very interesting.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I attended a friend's Anglican church this summer, and it was good to compare his religious experience to my own. (I described an earlier visit to this church here.)

One point impressed me so much that I actually saved the program because I wanted to remember this text:

[The consecrated bread and wine are] the gifts of God for the people of God. Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on the journey, you are welcome at God's table to share in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In my friend's church there is no concept of being 'worthy' enough to take the sacrament. To a Mormon, this concept is revolutionary. How much of our lives have we spent as Mormons agonizing over our worthiness, usually beginning with our first innocent steps of sexual awakening as young adolescents? Answer honestly! In Mormonism worthiness is for the most part the edifice of our sexual guilt and shame. (There are occasional exceptions where worthiness is judged in nonsexual terms.)

In essence, there are two ways to think about this:

View 1: We all fall short of perfect love and righteousness, but where we are in our journey is not as important as what feelings or hope we bring for a more godly life.

View 2: Some of us are worthy [to take the sacrament, speak in church, etc.]. Others of us are not. Leaders of the church judge who are worthy. We talk of God's love and yet we fear his disapproval, the withdrawal of the spirit.

I'm not very religious, but I am increasingly attracted to a view of the world where people are given the benefit of the doubt and assumed to be doing the best they can. I don't think the spirit withdraws. The LDS concept of 'worthiness' is a form of spiritual abuse. I don't think I understood it in those terms until I saw a more compassionate alternative in action at my friend's church.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Telling the truth matters

I'm going to resist the temptation to make this blog too political, but, hey, it's the season.

I've been thinking about ethical standards of truthfulness lately. I've noticed that the Democrats (Obama in particular) do a much, much better job of this than the Republicans.

I ran across this article that captures it perfectly. I recommend the entire article, but this is the gist:
For Republicans, there is no longer any moral taboo whatsoever against lying outright. The only relevant question is whether the lie is effective -- not whether it should have been done in the first place. Karl Rove can rail against the inexperienced nature of one vice presidential candidate -- a Democrat -- and without the slightest bit of explanation (or shame), but happily pipe up with praise for an unequivocally, plainly less experienced Republican pick. It is not expected that he be self-consistent in the slightest. Everyone understands from the outset that his role is to say bad things about Democrats, and good things about Republicans, and if the two things conflict spectacularly it is not considered a symbol of his dishonesty or evidence of a histrionic maliciousness towards factual discourse. It is merely spin. He can make a farce of his own prior arguments -- what does it matter? If he is comfortable with it, and the people who look to him for guidance rally behind it, then we can Newspeak our way into and out of any argument as neat as you please.

So what of it, if offshore drilling will not reduce gas prices. It's fine to say it anyway -- it doesn't matter. So what if the President of the United States says "we do not torture", and then we discover that the White House itself authorized acts that are torture under any rational definition of the word. He's the President, he can lie about anything he likes, as long as it has nothing to do with sex. And honestly, even if it does.

So what of it, if Sarah Palin says crooked things with a straight face? Name me one Republican who will object. Name me one -- just ONE -- diehard conservative who will be angry at the lie, instead of praising her for it. To hell with facts, there is another election to be won.

This is why I consider the Republican Party to be, at this point, a wrecked party. There is no self-consistent philosophy other than the acquisition and protection of their own power: there are certainly no moral or ethical boundaries that the party will internally enforce. John Edwards, a Democrat, had his political career effectively terminated when news of an affair came to light; a Republican can visit a prostitute wearing a diaper, and find himself easily forgiven. You can lie, you can staff your government with morons and ideologues, you can give a speech saying one thing while doing the exact opposite (a Bush specialty, in his State of the Union speeches. We bemoan constantly the Democrats' failure to keep a unified front, in order to pass a more meaningful agenda -- but you would be hard pressed to find even a single, lone Republican in Washington willing to buck the moral collapse of their own party. Such people once existed: they were voted out of office. All that remain are "mavericks" like McCain, figures who will countermand every previous belief in order to regain the support of his own party.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Vote your hopes not your fears

Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain's presidential bid,
recently said
, "This election is not about issues." This statement certainly seems consistent with the recent Republican convention. Issues, such as the dire state of the economy, were simply not mentioned.

So what has happened? The GOP, if you are to believe its convention, is now primarily centered around religion and cultural identity. Vice-presidential candidate Governor Palin of Alaska, more than John McCain, and perhaps even more than George W. Bush, is the candidate of religion and cultural identity. Palin is said to be the future of the party. If that's true, then it's snowmobiles versus arugula from here on out.

There's a lot of similarity between Palin and Bush. Like Bush was in 2000, she's a charismatic, evangelical Christian governor with no record, and this becomes a campaign asset. The choice becomes one based on personality and cultural identity instead of the specifics of public policy.

What would a Palin presidency look like? There's a 30% percent chance McCain would not survive two terms in office. We've already seen this presidency in outline. It's the Bush administration. From what we can piece together from Palin's record, she and President Bush share three main traits: 1) an authoritarian impulse that leads to the abuse of executive power, 2) weak impulses for fiscal restraint and 3) absolute certainty in a simple, black-and-white world view.

In the case of Bush this has led to catastrophic leadership in foreign relations, fiscal irresponsibility on a criminal scale and serious erosion of the U.S. Constitution. For starters.

What would a Palin presidency look like? I'm terrified even to think. It's clear that she

  • Wants creationism to be taught as a science in schools

  • Wants no factual sex education taught in schools

  • Thinks banning controversial library books is a good practice

  • Doesn't think global warming is caused by humans

  • Wants to make abortion illegal in all cases from the moment of conception, including cases of rape or incest

  • Is hostile to all forms of gay rights. Her position mirrors that of the Republican platform, namely no to military service in any capacity (including non-combat jobs such as translators and researchers); no to hate crime legislation; no to anti-discrimination protection in employment and housing; no recognition of domestic partnerships in any form; no possibility of adoption rights by gays; no possibility of foster parenting by gay people.

To quote Andrew Sullivan:
[The Bush/Rove Republicans] can do anything and defend it - invade a country on false pretenses, grind the military into extreme danger, trash the Geneva Conventions, expand government at a record pace, threaten war with Iran and Russia - and still say with a straight face that they are the party of national security, fiscal restraint, foreign policy wisdom and military pride. It doesn't matter what they do; these people believe in this cause because it is about God and America and their own identity. And when you have a major political party constructed like that, they can do anything. And they have.

I'm sure conservatism will one day recover - because it is right about the main issues: government needs to be kept in its place, taxes should be low and budgets balanced, individuals should be able to pursue their dreams as free of government control as possible, families do matter and need to be free from government interference, free markets and enterprise are the only guarantees of prosperity, moral choices - and their consequences - should be faced by the individual responsibly, and we have to be strong in our defense and prudent in foreign policy. This is the conservatism I still believe in.... But it will only come from the ashes of this fundamentalist, mean-spirited, parochial, arrogant, big-spending, irresponsible shambles of a party. We have to repudiate the party of Rove and Abramoff and Romney and Dobson and Cheney and Bush II.

Burn it down and start over.

Palin is dangerous and unqualified to assume the presidency. McCain's choice of VP may have been politically expedient but it was also reckless and has not put "country first." In fact, it has made the McCain/Palin ticket the risky vote.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

History in the making

ME: You know, France might have a gay president in 2012. The mayor of Paris is a gay man, and he's thinking of running for president. If he won, he would be the first gay head of state.

TOBI: (pause) Wow. Is he cute?