Saturday, March 28, 2009

Coming home in a pine box

My jaw dropped open when I read this post written by Kurt, a young gay Mormon man:

I have asked Bishops if it was better for me to kill myself or live my life with a husband and they told me they didn't have the answer.

I don't know quite how to respond to this. It's a level of pastoral malpractice that borders on abuse. It renders me speechless.

It would be one thing if this were merely one isolated case of a well-meaning member of the lay clergy with no training in pastoral counseling providing harmful advice. However, it is not isolated. Kurt asked this question to more than one bishop and got the same answer.

Then there's the case of John G-W, whose near suicide was averted only with the intervention of a kindhearted Episcopalian priest. John says:

[A]t that point in my life when I was getting ready to end it all, my LDS leaders were more or less AWOL. In fact, given where I was, some of the things that were said and done by certain leaders crossed the line from being missing in action to being callous and irresponsible.

John is a diplomatic guy. I'm not. Where do these bishops get the idea that the sobbing 18-year-old in their office should be led to believe that ending his young life by violent means is more honorable than entering into a stable and loving partnership with a life companion of the same sex?

It turns out that there is a source for this malignant idea, and the source might surprise you. Apostle Marion G. Romney reported that his father said the following to him just as he was boarding the train to go on a mission:
My son, you are going a long way from home. Your mother and I, and your brothers and sisters, will be with you constantly in our thoughts and prayers; we shall rejoice with you in your successes, and we shall sorrow with you in your disappointments. When you are released and return, we shall be glad to greet you and welcome you back into the family circle. But remember this, my son: we would rather come to this station and take your body off the train in a casket than to have you come home unclean, having lost your virtue. (Conference Report, October 1952, pg. 34.)

Isolated quotes by General Authorities have little power on their own, unless they resonate with the underlying culture of Mormonism. This one, apparently, resonates because it has taken on a life of its own. It gets circulated frequently around LDS culture and is adapted to various new situations. At best you can consider it a dangerous, undisciplined use of hyperbole intended to provide shock value for a moral lesson; at worst, it's fully canonized theological support for honor suicides.

I recall being shocked as a young missionary when I heard a General Authority repeat Romney's anecdote in an all-hands meeting of the Missionary Training Center in Provo. A feeling of coldness that I will never forget rushed over me in that moment. I knew in my heart, although I couldn't have articulated it at that time, that they wanted me dead. My only sin at that time was homosexual orientation. I had never touched another person, of either sex, in my entire life. (Back then same-sex attraction was a sin; you would be excommunicated and shunned just for admitting the inclination.)

One of the more recent and troubling applications of this principle was when the mother of Stuart Matis, who tragically took his own life on the steps of his local LDS chapel, used it to console herself:

Although losing our son was difficult, it has been comforting to know that he was faithful to his temple covenants." (In Quiet Desperation, pg. 20).

I'm sorry, but WTF.

I should add a postscript. A little over ten years ago one of my nephews, the son of my sister, ended his life with a .22 caliber handgun he had been given as a Christmas present the year before. He was 19 and just two weeks away from starting his LDS mission. I do not know for sure that my nephew was gay. He and I never talked about it. There were enough signs (for example, no dating experiences even though he was handsome and an all-state track star) that I'm reasonably confident that gay issues were involved.

I was one of the pallbearers at the funeral, and I felt the weight of his lifeless body as we carried the casket from the hearse to the snowy, desolate grave site. I saw the look of devastation on my sister's face as she buried her son. The loss of my nephew's life has echoed through my family from that day forward. (FYI, this is not the same sister I wrote about here.)

I reject the LDS doctrine of suicide as remedy for shame. Until the Church eradicates this by public and repeated teaching to the contrary it will have blood on its hands.

Kurt, I only know you through your blog, but I am very proud that you have rejected shame and have started to walk with your head held high. I wish you well in your journey.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Deseret News news

Now this:

[N]ine reporters for LDS-owned Deseret News, the largest newspaper in Utah, recently went public with having received an editorial directive before the marriage campaign in California which prohibited them from publishing any negative news stories toward the Mormon Church or positive toward gay people. At least two editors at the paper were demoted due to their disputes with Editor Joe Cannon [over] the directive.

Via: Oasis California News

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Defending the family

Anthropologists categorize cultures as either guilt based or shame based. (See here for a quick summary of the differences between the two.) The U.S. and Europe are thought to be guilt based due to the influence of Christianity. Cultures like that of Japan, Mexico and ancient Greece are thought to be shame based. The difference is the relative power of social conformity and the role of internal versus external morality. The Southern U.S. is more shame-based, compared with the more guilt-based North and West. Honor plays a larger role in shame-based cultures. Conscience is more important in guilt-based cultures. (There’s a reason that duels were popular in the South but not in Minnesota.)

I think LDS culture is moving more towards being a shame-based culture. It is not alone in this; to me this is the biggest difference between U.S. Evangelicals and mainline Protestants. The evangelicals are more shame based, while the protestants are guilt based. Mormons are following the lead (and political causes) of their Evangelical brethren.

“Avoiding the very appearance of evil” is classic shame-based behavior. The pressure in LDS culture to use particular and instantly recognizable vocabulary and set phrases is a sign of a shame-based culture. Rigid gender roles are another characteristic of shame-based societies. The rhetoric about "defending the family" is part of a shame-based culture where honor is to be defended.

Unfortunately, I think the larger picture can be summarized as the Church following the political lead of U.S. Evangelicals whose worldview carries over elements from the shame-based culture of the American South. This is absolutely not native to Mormonism. It’s a relatively recent import. If the Church leaders weren’t so obsessed with getting the popular kids (the evangelicals) to like them, we could have avoided this mess.

(See here for a related post on one of the Mormon blogs.)