Friday, January 8, 2010

Resolutions for my bishop

I have some New Year's resolutions for LDS church leaders. Let's make 2010 the best year ever!

Resolution 1: End the outdated practice of ritual shunning through excommunication.

Like many things in the church, change is underway, but it appears to be happening slowly as part of a gradual process. I'm old enough to remember the bad old days when BYU security conducted secret investigations and kept lists of suspected homosexuals. I'm old enough to remember when they announced the results of church courts publicly in Priesthood meeting. I'm old enough to remember when you could be excommunicated merely for admitting homosexual orientation. I remember when excommunicated members were treated as if they were radioactive.

A lot has changed. Church discipline today is used much less often. It mostly depends on the views of the man who happens to be the bishop or stake president. Over time the importance of Church discipline seems to be diminishing.

Let's just put a bullet in this thing now. As a call to repentance, it's ineffective. As a social practice, it's barbaric in its cruelty.

Resolution 2: Repudiate the theological justification for rejecting gay family members.

In October 2009 LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks gave a speech in which he encouraged parents to withhold familial love from adult children who do not follow the LDS life template. Oaks provides a theological basis for rejecting gay family members, arguing that since God's love is conditional ours should be, too. I have read a number of blog accounts of how this advice has been applied by families against gay family members.

(Oaks is also known as the person who encouraged LDS parents not to acknowledge the same-sex partner of their adult child socially or provide hospitality.)

Carol Lynn Pearson's No More Goodbyes argues eloquently against the doctrine of conditional love. Someone should tell the correlation committee about this one.

Resolution 3: Train bishops in basic social service practices and ethics.

LDS bishops engage in counseling with no training in suicide prevention, family systems or ethics for providers of social services. A small amount of training would help avoid cases of pastoral malpractice such as this one:
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.

Bishops, let's work to make 2010 a year when we work to prevent the suicides of gay Mormon youth, not cause them. We've come a long way from the days when General Authorities would say that it was better for us to tie a millstone around our necks and throw ourselves into the Great Salt Lake than be gay. In 2010, let's make this official.

Resolution 4: Allow openly gay members of the Church to participate in meetings.

Again, I see a lot of gradual change happening here. I know of several folks who have married their same-sex partner and still attend church. Although the official rules require that these believers remain mute, church leaders appear to be unofficially easing this restriction.

It's a trend that many have been praying for.

Resolution 5: Don't withhold temple recommends from supportive family members.

There seems to be wide variation in how gay-supportive family members are treated in church. There have been reports of bishops and stake presidents who refuse to give temple recommends to members of the church who are otherwise eligible but who are too "gay friendly".

The start of a new decade would be a great time to quit pushing away sincere adherents.

* * *

I was going to end with a resolution about staying away from anti-gay politics, but thankfully this one was implemented in 2009.

Happy 2010!


A.J. said...

I wish I was brave enough to post this on my facebook. great list. -A.J.

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

Wow. That's really bold. Great post. I appreciate the supporting links. They are especially informative.

Quiet Song said...

Is this the Dallin Oaks quote your post refers to? "To pose an even more serious question, if an adult child is living in cohabitation, does the seriousness of sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage require that this child feel the full weight of family disapproval by being excluded from any family contacts, or does parental love require that the fact of cohabitation be ignored? I have seen both of these extremes, and I believe that both are inappropriate.

Where do parents draw the line? That is a matter for parental wisdom, guided by the inspiration of the Lord. There is no area of parental action that is more needful of heavenly guidance or more likely to receive it than the decisions of parents in raising their children and governing their families. This is the work of eternity."

If so, I personally thought it was a very, very even handed discussion of how a faithful family member (in this case parents) should deal with all manner of "divergences." Cohabitation and substance abuse, being only but two of the possible acts this type of advice is relevant.

J G-W said...

Well, as you've suggested, the Church may quietly be moving in this direction already -- without grand theological proclamations or revelations.

I have one thing to say about excommunication and other forms of Church discipline... People lose respect for Law when laws are enforced arbitrarily or don't seem to fulfill the purposes they were supposedly designed to serve. When otherwise faithful, loving, God-fearing people are excommunicated or disciplined in other ways because of what they are, or because they love and support a family member, when people begin to realize that, they will stop taking excommunication or other forms of discipline seriously.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi A.J. and GMB,

I'm glad you liked this post. Thanks for stopping by and leaving comments.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Quiet Song,

Thanks for your comment.

No, I was not referring to the quote you provided, although now that you mention it, I also disagree with that quote's attempt to stigmatize loving, committed relationships between two adults.

To see this, imagine if you replace "cohabitation" with mixed-race marriage. (These unions were illegal in Utah until the Supreme Court forced the state to allow them in the late 1960s, with vocal opposition by the Church.) What would we think if Oaks had said something like this:

To pose an even more serious question, if an adult child marries a person of another race, does this violation of God's law against the mixing of the races require that this child feel the full weight of family disapproval by being excluded from any family contacts, or does parental love require that the fact of racial fraternization and its resulting miscegenation be ignored? I have seen both of these extremes, and I believe that both are inappropriate.

By changing the quote to deal with race, you can see the inherent prejudice. Setting the upper limit as merely "ignoring" the offense, Oaks completely removes from the table any positive response such as celebrating or welcoming the union. You can't even imagine that the person making this statement would offer congratulations or attend the wedding in good faith or treat the couple with anything other than (at best) icy, polite distance. And that's the upper limit of what Oaks can imagine.

You might counter by saying, what if we substituted uncontroversially self-destructive behavior such as extreme drug abuse for "cohabitation" in Oaks' quote. My problem with this is the impossibly arrogant assumption that LDS Church leaders have a monopoly on deciding what is and is not self-defeating behavior. I, for one, vigorously object to the absurd idea that stable, loving adult pair-bonds are self-destructive. On the contrary, they are life giving! Parents do not always know better than their adult children, especially in matters concerning how those adult children should live their lives.

(I also object to Oaks' use of the term "cohabitation" to describe legally valid marriages such as J G-W's. It's factually inaccurate and shows disrespect for civil law.)

My comment in the original post was not in response to a specific quote by Elder Oaks. Instead, I'm referring to the overall argument presented in his October 2009 conference talk. Andrew S. has a nice summary of the problem that this talk causes.

Thanks again for reading and leaving a comment. Although I know that you and I don't see eye to eye on this stuff, I am glad you are making your voice heard. These are important conversations! Best wishes to you.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi J G-W,

I'm with you on this. I think there is gradual progress being made on all these fronts. I'm impatient for it to happen, but I take comfort in knowing that direction of change is positive.

I agree with you that the potency of excommunication as a means of social control gets diluted when it is applied to sincere people whose motives and actions inspire our sympathy and admiration.