In Matthew 19:14, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Maybe the elders of the LDS Church have never read these words. Or never taken them seriously. Yesterday they banned the children of same gender parents from receiving blessings or the priesthood. (OK , they actually only banned the sons of GLBT folks. Daughters of straight couples are also forbidden the priesthood.) Even adult children of gay parents cannot be baptized in the Mormon faith until and unless they renounce their GLBT parents.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe the LDS faith is the one true faith and I think never participating in it may in fact ultimately be healthier emotionally, psychologically and, most especially, spiritually, for the individuals involved. The church authorities could actually be doing these kids a favor in the long run.
For seven years I served as the minister of a Unitarian Universalist church in Utah. Almost half of my congregation was ex-Mormon. I know the pain that faith can cause. I know the havoc it can create in people’s lives who don’t fit the stereotype of the perfect Mormon, or who just can’t help but question some of the beliefs. People can lose their jobs, their homes, and their families when they become apostates.
And there is so much good about the faith as well, which is why it can be so hard to leave it. This latest action will doubtless drive more people to leave the LDS church. They will be, as before, mainly the ones who really strive to follow the teachings of Jesus and finally realize that their church hierarchy either can’t or won’t do the same.
There is much grief in Mormonland today, tears, sorrow and pain. My heart breaks for those who are suffering.
“Let the children come.” “Do not hinder them.”
If you are still a member of the LDS faith, it may be past time to find another church, my friends. Unitarian Universalist congregations will welcome you in the fullness of who you are. Other faith traditions will as well.
Please know that you are worthy of love and respect. You are a precious child of God, blessed from the moment of your birth. The whole sacred world is your temple. You don’t need theirs.
The same week that Kate Kelly was excommunicated from the LDS church, my congregation named me “Minister Emerita”, one of the highest honors that can be granted to a Unitarian Universalist minister.
They did this even though I am a woman and a lesbian to boot. My faith tradition is not only open to the gifts that women and LGBT people can bring, we actually celebrate diversity in our ministry and in our congregations.
Kate was excommunicated, but frankly, she wasn’t asking for very much. Although her group is called Ordain Women, ordination in the LDS church is very different that what it is in most other faith traditions. Virtually ever 12 year old Mormon boy can be ordained into their priesthood. Catholic women who are working for ordination want women to be in a priesthood that really has a special status. The Pope has not excommunicated any of those feminists for their activism.
No, the Pope instead said last week that the mafia was excommunicated.
I don’t know Kate personally, but from everything I have heard, she is a fairly nice person and not a criminal by any stretch of the imagination. Has John Swallow, the disgraced and likely to be convicted ex-attorney general of Utah, been excommunicated? Will he be? I doubt it and I also suspect there are many Mormon men who have committed serious crimes, including rape and domestic violence, that still have their temple recommends.
Patriarchy stinks. It just does.
I have a lot of respect for Kate Kelly and the other women (and men) in the Ordain Women movement. But if they get tired of beating their heads against the temple walls, I hope they know that there are other churches that would welcome them with open arms, churches that would be grateful for the gifts of the spirit they have to offer. We won’t ordain them, unless they attend an accreditted seminary, get a Masters of Divinity, and successfully get through the intensive fellowshipping process, but the same is true for their husbands, brothers, and sons.
It is all about the difference between the love of power and the power of love.
Upon hearing that two faithful Mormons are being threatened with excommunication from the LDS church for daring to question the heirarchy’s policies on GLBT people and women, I thought immediately of the reading below:
Read NY Times news article (here)
Cherish your Doubts, by Robert T. Weston
Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the handmaiden of truth.
Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.
A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error,
for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.
Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false.
Let no man fear for the truth, that doubt may consume it;
for doubt is a testing of belief.
The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing;
For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.
He that would silence doubt is filled with fear;
the house of his spirit is built on shifting sands.
But he that fears no doubt, and knows its use, is founded on a rock.
He shall walk in the light of growing knowledge;
the work of his hands shall endure.
Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help:
It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the handmaiden of truth.
Sometimes justice requires a wrecking ball. The walls and structures of oppression need to come down. Of course those in power want to maintain it. Of course they are upset when courts don’t rule in their favor.
Utah is like that. They are grasping at straws as the walls of their carefully constructed culture come crashing down around them. Young Mormons are leaving the church in droves because of the rigidity of thought. Thank you, internet, for enlarging their world.
The state’s case against marriage equality is truly bizarre. It would be funny if real people weren’t being hurt. If children were not being denied the right to have two legal parents, simply because their parents are of the same gender. Utah does not allow anyone who is “co-habiting” to adopt. It doesn’t seem to matter what is best for the children.
From the court case:
*See full news article (here)
“To allow the “difficult policy choice” about marriage rights to be made by “judicial fiat” would not be akin to the “narrow” decision that ended bans on interracial marriage, but instead would unleash “an unprincipled judicial wrecking ball hurtling toward an even more important arena of traditional state authority,” the state said.”
“That wrecking ball would impose “novel” and “corrosive” principles about marriage and parenting and would undermine state sovereignty, according to the 120-page reply brief the state submitted to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals just minutes before its midnight deadline Friday.”
The arguments and images sound like hyperbole because they are, and they also show just how terrified the Utah state officials are of any change at all that might threaten Utah’s patriarchal theocracy. They then name the risks of marriage equality:
“Those risks include: fewer and shorter heterosexual marriages; an increase in fatherless and motherless parenting; reduced birth rates and more out-of-wedlock births; less “self-sacrificing” by heterosexual fathers; and increased social strife, the state said.”
Utah’s birth rate could stand to drop a bit, not that marriage equality would help with that. Those 10 kid families put a real strain on the schools – which our legislature barely funds. I am really not clear how letting LGBT people get married can do any of the things listed. And, nothing like trashing all the single moms and dads out there, most of whom are doing fine jobs parenting their kids.
Same gender marriage does threaten the patriarchal norms of Utah, however. A marriage of equals runs totally counter to the culture here. It might make heterosexual women think they can challenge the status quo even more, that they can have a real voice in the public square and in their marriages. Some of those women might even start asking to be admitted to the LDS priesthood. Oh, that is already an issue.
Racism, sexism, homophobia have got to fall – even if it requires a “judicial wrecking ball.”
Read an earlier post on Utah’s “Gender Diversity” (here)
Utah’s suicide rate has been consistently higher than the U.S. rate for the last decade. See the statistics here.
The number of drug overdose deaths – a majority of which are from prescription drugs – in Utah increased by 59 percent since 1999 when the rate was 10.6 per 100,000. Our state is #8 in the nation in drug overdose deaths. See more statistics here and here.
Utah culture is currently very toxic and frankly, deadly. It is much worse for Mormons and even worse for LGBT mormons. How LGBT people are treated in Utah is appalling. (See an article on gay LDS youth being thrown out of their home and forced to live on the streets – here) .
I did a sermon on this issue last week. Read it here. If the LDS faith wants to continue to exist, they really need to address these issues and soon. They say they support “traditional” families, but their families are currently being torn apart by suicide and by drugs. Attacking other families won’t help them, it will only hurt them as they will also lose almost all of their GLBT members and many of the friends and families of LGBT people. They need to look at their own culture. This really is a crisis that faith alone will not solve.
Video of this sermon posted (here)
Opening words (here)
Have you ever been called a saint? Have you ever been called a sinner? If so, it’s time to get over it. It is just not true; it isn’t who you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in your life, be it good or be it bad. You are not a saint and you are not a sinner – and neither is the person sitting next to you. Your neighbors aren’t saints and they are also not sinners. It might be a stretch, but I think that is probably true even for our politicians here in Utah. They may be self-righteous, but they are far from saints. They may be corrupt, but they are not just sinners.
No, we are all human. We are capable of amazing acts of compassion, generosity and love. We are also capable of disgusting acts of cruelty, selfishness, and hate. It is important that we learn to accept this. It is critical that we learn to forgive each other and ourselves. It is the only way that we can begin again in love and create the kind of world we would like to see for ourselves and for our children.
It is a radical religious idea, that there are no saints and no sinners. It is not the history of most religions in this country or in the world.
Most common is the theological belief that we are all sinners, and are saved only by the grace of God, or maybe just by believing in certain very specific ideas about God.
Universalism was born out of a rejection of the idea that some are saved and some are damned. I love the quote from our reading about God dragging the last sinner kicking and cursing into heaven.
If you think that some of your neighbors are damned because of their sins, and by neighbors I mean every other human being that shares this planet, then it is not much of a stretch to try and make their life in this world a living hell. Hey, you’d just be doing God’s will. I won’t count up all the atrocities committed in the name of this type of religion. They include the crusades, 911, and all the witches and heretics that were burned at the stake. They include hate crimes and the murders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and they include the genocidal war waged against the native peoples of this continent. Who cares about a heathen, who cares about a heretic, and who really cares about a sinner? God is going to punish them with hell anyway, so why do bother to treat them decently now?
Saying you love the sinner, but hate the sin, also just doesn’t cut it. If you really love someone, then you look beyond whatever flaws they might have or mistakes they might have made. You shouldn’t qualify that love by saying what you hate about someone. That isn’t love, it is just self-righteousness. Don’t tell someone that you love them, but that you believe God thinks that their love is an abomination. That’s not love; it’s spiritual violence.
Conservative beliefs about sin and damnation are obviously dangerous to the people they consider to be sinners, but they are also dangerous for those who hold those beliefs.
I did an interview on a Christian TV station in Salt Lake a couple of years ago. The man wanted to talk about how the Bible condemned homosexuality, but I somehow managed to turn it into a discussion about why one should never take scripture literally. The scariest part of that experience for me was when he said that we are all sinners. I responded that while I knew that some people did very evil things that caused great harm, my experience was instead that most people wanted to do good and tried their best to do so. He responded by saying that the person who stops and helps you change your flat tire goes home afterward and abuses his child. I think he really believed that, and it was a frightening view of the world. I asked if he believed that he was evil too, and he said that he was. He said that was why he believed in Jesus and the Bible. His religion was all that was going to save him from burning in the hell he believed that he deserved.
How can someone live like that, believing that they are nothing but a depraved sinner, believing that humans are nothing more than horrors? It is a belief that I think must eventually rot your very soul.
You can’t see the good in yourself or in anyone else and you focus instead on your failings and the so-called sins of others.
That world must seem a dreary and dangerous place.
That fundamentalist scared me, but I also had to feel some compassion for him, as it seemed a very sad and limited life that his belief system was causing him to live. Maybe there would be pie in the sky when he dies, but meanwhile here on earth his spirit was simply starving for joy.
You can’t love yourself if you think you are nothing but a sinner. You can’t really love other people either if you can’t love yourself. Yes, we all do some bad things, things we are ashamed of; things we regret, but those sins don’t define who we are as people. No matter what we have done, we have the potential to make amends, if not to the same people we have hurt, then to someone else and even to the world as a whole. That is the glory of being human and the grace that comes from being alive.
There are other theologies that don’t think everyone is a sinner, but they divide up the world into the sinners and the saints. People that believe in those religions, of course, think they are the saints and those other people over there are the sinners.
They are doing everything right, and God will reward them for their efforts. Saints tend to love themselves, at least as long as they continue to feel that God is blessing them.
In the old story of Job, a righteous man as described in the Bible, his life quite literally falls apart and he begins to question both himself and God. What had he done wrong that life would treat him so cruelly?
His neighbors assumed that he must not be as righteous as he appeared. Which is another danger with that type of theology, which says that if people are suffering it must be their own fault, because suffering is all a part of God’s plan.
I do not think we can blame God, or the divine, for the bad things that happen to us. I also don’t think everything good that happens is part of some cosmic plan.
Much of our suffering is human caused, either because of the acts of individuals or because of what we do collectively as a society. The same is true for the good things. That doesn’t mean we should not be grateful for the good things is our lives, but we also don’t always have to blame God or ourselves when bad things happen.
“If only I were a better person, if only I could be more Christ-like, if only I could be compassionate like the Buddha, then everything would be OK.” Saints have a hard time, because, well, no human being is really capable of pure sainthood. Yes, we all have a spark of the holy within us and in that sense we are partly divine, but there is no way that any of us can achieve God-like perfection. Thinking we can, trying and failing, can be spiritually devastating.
Some of the new age philosophies contain a similar trap. “Think positive thoughts, repeat your aspirations in the mirror daily, release the power of this crystal, and don’t forget to check your horoscope. If you do everything right, you will be rewarded either in this life or in heaven.
But what happens when you can’t do everything right? When you just aren’t good enough?
I think we know what happens, because we see it all around us, here in Utah. People are so polite. When I first moved here, I was startled by one of the common expressions here. If you bump your shopping cart into someone in the grocery store and say that you are sorry, what is the response you are likely to get?
In other places, someone might say, “no problem,” “no worries,” “it’s OK”, or even “you need to watch it.”
Anyone know the phrase I am talking about? Right, people here tell you, pretty much every time you apologize for anything: “you’re fine.” I am used to it now and even say that myself sometimes, but in the beginning I was tempted to say, “No, I am not ‘fine,’ I just made a mistake and I am sorry.”
There seems to be a culture here wants everything and everyone to be “fine.” Some of it comes, I think, partly from LDS theology. Mormons are essentially Universalists, believing that all can choose to be saved, if not in this life then in the next. They are also Unitarian in their belief that we all have divine potential. I obviously have no real quibble with any of that. Mormons are actually in many ways our close cousins in the larger family of world religions.
But I cannot help but be concerned about the suffering I see around me. I worry about the people who know they aren’t “fine”, that everything is not OK, but they can’t tell anyone because if you are supposed to be a saint, then you must be good all the time. You must do everything right. Perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. That, my friends, is impossible and is a distortion of the universalism that Joseph Smith inherited from his father and which influenced how his church developed. Universalism says God loves all of us, just the way we are. We don’t have to be perfect.
Utah has extremely high numbers of people who are diagnosed with depression. Many get addicted to prescription drugs, trying to ease their pain. There is also a very high suicide rate in Utah, particularly among young people. We also know that it isn’t just young people who kill themselves. We tragically lost one of our own just this last week.
Is this epidemic of severe depression and suicide partly because people can’t, in the end, live up to the expectations they have for themselves? Do they feel like failures because they aren’t perfect, because they can’t control their “same gender attraction,” because sometimes the contradictions are so great that they are swallowed up by despair? Do they feel like being depressed is even worse than it is because it is something they are not supposed to experience? They are supposed to be “fine” but they are not. They judge themselves as unworthy, perhaps too unworthy to continue living.
I’m going to quote the Pope here, who said, “Who am I to judge?” Who are we, indeed, to judge? How can we judge others or even ourselves? Who are we to call someone else a sinner, and who are we to think that we can become saints?
Simply human, that is all we are, and it is a wonderful thing. We can, as the Rev. John Wolf has said,
“(We can) search for the holy, rather than dwelling upon the depraved. (We) call no one a sinner, (because we know) how deep is the struggle in each person’s breast and how great is the hunger for what is good.”
Let us continue search for the holy, wherever we might find it, that we each might find a way to feed our hunger for the good. But most of all, may we learn to forgive ourselves and each other, as we begin, again, each new day of our lives, in love.
I read this blog post by Myke Johnson this morning. I needed it. It was a good reminder.
“A young lesbian woman carried another poster that said, “Your signs are mean but we love you anyway.” No matter what happens next, such love releases an inner power that is indestructible. I think that is part of what Dr. King was talking about. It was visceral and immediate. By tapping the power of love through non-violent action, he felt first hand a new way of being in the world. He fully experienced his own dignity and the dignity of his people. After that, what else could matter? He had been to the mountaintop.”
Sometimes hurt, pain, and especially anger can get in the way of love. Yesterday was a difficult one for me. An article was published in our local newspaper about my decision to leave my ministry here in Utah and return to California. One of my reasons for leaving is the lack of marriage equality in Utah. Read it (here) The article was fair , and I have a long and very good relationship with the reporter.
The headline read:
“Activist Ogden gay rights minister fed up with Utah, moves to California,” which set up a certain tone that I do not think accurately reflects my feelings about leaving. I would have been happier if the words “fed up” were not included. Tired maybe, sad definitely, but there is much about Utah that I love. My leaving is about going to a place I will be happier, not escaping a place I hate. I am not leaving in disgust, I am going home. I also understand that being able to move is a privilege that is not available to everyone. Many people have family here that they do not or cannot leave. Most of our family is in California. We have no relatives who live in Utah. Other people stay here because of their jobs. Ministry however, by its very nature, is a profession where periodic geographic mobility is the norm. I promised the church I would stay five years, and I will have been here seven by the time I leave. While some ministers stay longer than that, seven years is by no reasonable measurement a short-term ministry. I know that I am very lucky to have the option of moving.
There was a video of the interview that was posted by the article, but most people didn’t seem to watch it. Or maybe they did. Virtually all of the people who actually know me, who had met me face to face and in person, expressed simple sadness that I was leaving. They also understood that I was not disparaging the all Mormons by criticizing the actions of its hierarchy. Many faithful LDS people have the same opinions about those actions as I do.
It was people who don’t know me who felt compelled to call me a quitter, to say they were glad I was going, or to make disparaging comments about my weight. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I admit that it was painful. Many of comments were just mean and almost all were anonymous as well. I’d like to say to them, “Your words are mean, but I love you anyway.” I, too, have been to the mountaintop. I know that the Divine Spirit loves us all, just the way we are. Would that we all could understand that, and treat each other accordingly, to treat everyone with dignity and respect, especially when we disagree. I hope that my time and work here has served to bring that day just a little bit closer. If that is at all true, I am well satisfied.
It is kind of hard not to fall on the floor laughing when you read Utah’s latest arguments against marriage equality. (See NY times article.) Utah is promoting gender diversity? Since when? Are there suddenly going to be more women in state government? How about in the LDS priesthood? No, that would impact on the patriarchy. They just want gender diversity in marriage and nowhere else where it might actually make a difference.
I think diversity is in general a good thing. At my church we try to include both men and women in positions of leadership. We also try to include people of differing sexual orientations and ages . It is always good to have input from singles and couples, parents and non-parents, people who are abled bodied and people living with a variety of disabilities, immigrants and the native born, the financially comfortable and the struggling. Bouncing ideas off of people with different life experiences usually leads to better, more thoughtful decisions on an institutional level. I wish Utah would begin doing that, but I am not holding my breath.
No, they just want to mandate “gender diversity” in the very personal institution of marriage and the family. They also seem to think that one’s gender defines everything about them, that men always parent one way and women a completely different way. Don’t they know any families where the woman works and the man stays home with the kids? Hmm. Maybe not. They should talk to some of those folks too.
Do they also really think all same gender couples have identical parenting styles? My wife and I both identify as female, but if you asked our now adult children if our parenting styles were exactly the same, they would laugh at you. (Click here to read our daughter’s toast at our recent wedding.)
There have been a number of reputable studies of children raised in same gender households (Click here for a report of a recent one). While it is not scientific, our three children are all outstanding young adults. We are very proud of them. They are well educated, employed, and trying to help make our world a better place. I am more than a little tired of a state that clearly does not really value children, despite its pretensions of being family-friendly, disparaging my family and my kids. (Read my post on Utah’s “Gold Standard”)
For the Utah Attorney General to maintain that Utah believes in gender diversity is just a lie if it isn’t a joke. Maybe if they did, we wouldn’t be having this discussions at all. Institutions that do have real gender diversity tend to be much more accepting of LGBT people. (see my post on the ordination of women and GLBT acceptance.)
Utah is a state dominated by a very patriarchal church. By gender diversity they can only mean that they want to maintain rigid sex roles where the men “bring home the bacon” and the women stay home barefoot and pregnant, obeying their husbands in all things. That is the ideal family to them I guess. They should then be just as concerned about the heterosexual marriages that try and function as equal partnerships. Maybe that will be their next step. Be afraid. Be very afraid if they win.
It would be funny if it weren’t so heartbreaking.
While many in this country are shivering in the coldest of storms, a polar vortex bringing travel to a halt, we are driving back to Utah from a state where the sun still shines. I spent the last three weeks in California, the golden state where I was born, the one that in my heart will always be my home. What a trip, what a journey, and what a swirling of emotions, the last few weeks have been. With more than a hundred friends and family members, on January 3rd we exchanged our wedding vows and danced late into the night. Our joy was even deeper thinking that when we got back to Utah our marriage would also be recognized.
The smoggy hateful skies had parted there and the light of love was shining brightly. We felt the excitement from afar. We imagined all the weddings I would have done outside the courthouse, and seeing in person the tears of gladness falling down the cheeks of lovers old and young. But there would be time to celebrate, we thought. Time to officiate at more weddings. It seemed that justice had finally come.
Then, just as our car was almost packed, justice was so quickly snatched away. The vortex of hate blanketed Utah again.
When the court case on Utah’s Amendment 3 was first pending, and the state began to make its case, I wrote a poem called Rage
A few lines were:
“Shall I burn
Down your temples
And set fire to your lies?”
I feel some of that same rage today. I also feel disappointed that we missed the celebrations, and will return only to share the grief and the pain. I also know, as Unitarian minister Theodore Parker said, that the arc of the universe bends toward justice. I hate that the arc is such a long one. Parker worked to end slavery but racism still thrives more than a hundred years later. I also know that love, in the end, is so much stronger than hate. I know that faith can be greater than fear. I do know that the snow will eventually melt and the sun will shine again. In the meantime, we will just have to keep each other warm.
To my Mormon Cousins:
If it made you happy
If it kept you strong
I would smile for you
And bless your journey
If you found the one
Whose soul met yours
In the ancient dance of bliss
I’d just have to cheer you on.
She makes me happy
She keeps me strong
We sing a sacred song
I don’t need your temples
Your bishops or your priests
I have my own
With folks that love me
With folks that care
A God that is all love
I don’t need you
To cheer me on.
I don’t need your blessing
I have my own
You can’t rain on my parade
But don’t take my money
To try and prove
Your way is somehow better
Than my own
If you try to outlaw my love
Your own heart will shrivel
And your God will look away
Embarrassed by your coldness
Your hubris and your fear.
Your temple it will fall
Crushed by weight of the wrong
That you have done to others.
Let love in before your faith
Turns to ashes in the wind.