Saturday, 8 August 2015

The end of LDS Scouting?

I remember well when I was first called to be an Assistant Cub Leader.  It was the only time I was tempted to turn a calling down.  While I grew up in the Church, my youth was spent in a small, poorly organized branch that did not have a Scout troop.  They did make a try at it which only lasted a couple of months but that was it.

Camping was not part of my childhood except for a father-son camp that my father wasn't able to attend and wasn't all the fun for me.  I was not a camper and not really interested in camping even if I had the chance.  The calling really felt like a bad fit for me, but I accepted it on faith.  The fact that Cubs did not do overnight camping was a relief to me.

It turned out to be the most fun I've ever had in a church calling.  The Akela was a master of all things Scouting and we quickly became close partners able to play off each other much like Abbot and Costello at times to the delight of the boys.  I found it was a great way to have a second childhood and catch up on experiences I missed out on the first time around.

That was nearly 20 years ago.  The boys from my first pack are now young parents.  Except for a few years in the middle I've been involved with Scouting ever since that first calling.  My family goes camping each summer, often more than once.  My children have mastered campcraft skills I still don't have, and we have built up some great memories over the years (some of them only being great because they are now memories).

I have a great fondness for the role LDS Scouting plays in a Sr. Primary boy's life.  I've seen boys amazed at how much fun they can have without ever touching an electronic device.  I've seen boys eat things they would never eat at home, only because they cooked it themselves over an open fire.   I've seen boys thrilled to get to light fires, or use tools and skills that they thought nobody would let them try.

For some boys, Scouting is the only place in their life where they get a male role model.  They grow up in a fatherless home, go to a school where their teacher is a woman, go to primary where their teacher is again an woman.  Nothing wrong with women teaching school or Primary classes, or serving as a Cub leader too, but there is something deeply wrong with a boy being totally deprived of any male role model.  If you know what to look for, you can tell what boys are in that situation without having to ask.  You can see it in their struggles to get along and relate with other boys among other things.  Scouting expands their world dramatically and prepares them to move from being a follower to a leader.

It was surprising to me when the Church quickly floated the possibility of breaking away from the Boy Scouts of America in the wake of their decision to permit openly gay leaders.  This would be a drastic move that would deeply impact the BSA.  If the Church did it, the number of boys in the BSA could fall by as much as 400,000 and as many as 30,000 Scouting units could vanish.  It was also a surprise because Scouts Canada has had a policy like this for many years (along with religious exemptions) yet the Church has not withdrawn from Scouts Canada.  That may however be because Church Headquarters doesn't seem to have Canadian Scouting on it's radar very much.  Our most recent handbook on LDS Scouting from the Church is decades old and in desperate need of updating.

Currently, church-sponsored Scouting groups are rare outside of North America, so it is reasonable to think that if the Church does pull out of the BSA to create it's own program, that the Church will withdraw from Scouting worldwide and implement it's new program globally.

The statement from the Church noted that "In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the Church’s governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet." This to me was a very disrespectful, and even underhanded thing to do.  The Church may simply be firing off a warning shot across the bow of the BSA over how the vote was carried out, but it could mean there is a schism within the BSA between LDS/religious Scouting and secular Scouting.  The Church has been a strong force for keeping religion in Scouting and it was only two years ago that Bishop Gary E. Stevenson delivered the keynote speech in the Boy Scouts of America National Annual Meeting talking about how duty to God was at the core of Scouting.  Has this provoked more secular minded members of the BSA to act against religious conservatives in their ranks?

Part of the concern over this change in the BSA is that it would leave the Church open to legal action by activists seeking to have the courts overthrow the religious exemption.  There may also be concerns about the Church propping up an organization that will make a role models for youth of people living a lifestyle contrary to the standards of the Church.

As much as I do love what Scouting is for the boys, I more and more find myself thinking that perhaps a church produced program would serve our boys better.  In my experience up here in Canada, LDS groups are largely isolated from the broader world of Scouting as it is.  There is an awareness that the values of Scouts Canada do not fully align with the values of the Church and it leaves LDS Scouting group leaders, local church leaders, and parents reluctant to participate.  For many Scouting is not seen as being part of the Church or as a church program. 

By invoking religious exceptions, a Scouting group becomes what is called a 'closed group' which puts restrictions on some activities.  If somebody wants to register with a Scout group and goes to to find one, their search will not list any closed groups in their area, nor can the closed groups do much more than use word of mouth to let others in the community know they can come join them.  It is extremely rare for any LDS Scouters to hold a leadership position outside of their ward's own group.

Camps organized by the Area or Council run to Sunday afternoon, forcing LDS Scouts to leave early, or just discouraging them from going at all.  Church leaders and parents are reluctant to participate in such camps as they will be co-ed as well.  Important Scouting events often wind up conflicting with things like General Conference, Stake Conference, or other events so LDS groups become an isolated sub-culture within the Scouting movement.

Then there are the bureaucratic annoyances. Area and Council boundaries do not align well with Ward and Stake boundaries, and up here a person needs two interviews with Scouts Canada personnel, a police records check, and more before they are allowed to serve as a Scouter.  If a Bishop wants a new Scouter in September, he better have extended the calling in June so the process can be done in time.

These issue may not be as big a factor in other parts of the country, but even so I believe that the Church has the resources and the people to put together a better alternative program.  I think it could be done in a way that would cost less, have a clearer priesthood preparation focus, be easier to administer, fit better with the existing church structure, and have more support from parents and local leaders.  It would be something we can implement worldwide and have control over policy and practice.  It would also have a greater claim on religious freedom than the BSA when protecting itself in court if need be.

There really is no telling how this will wind up and I hope we will not have to wait long for a clear answer on what the Church will do.  We are the salt of the earth and God's wisdom may be that our salt is still needed to preserve Scouting a while longer yet, or it may be time to go now.  As long as the boys get what they need, I'm happy either way.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Missing more than Church in July

Sadly (but not surprisingly) the Supreme Court of the United States has forced gay marriage on the whole country.  Equally sad and unsurprising was that some members of the Church took it on themselves to attack the leadership of the Church over the letter from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve affirming the Church's stance that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.  Paul Malan posted his letter to his Bishop on his blog and it has been circulating on social media ever since.

Normally a member's difficulties with accepting Church doctrines would be a private matter between that member and their Bishop, but Malan has chosen to make this very pubic instead and I think it is fair ask why.  As far as I know Malan has not stated his motivation for going public with this but I don't think we can rule the possibility that he may be trying elevate his standing in the eyes of others by posing as the brave dissident, or an attempting to rally like minded Mormons into some kind of movement of dissent, or perhaps a bit of both.  It may be that it was just a matter of poor judgement and failing to recall that the Lord said: 
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.  Matt 18:15

Whatever the case, the letter is public, and so my reply must likewise be public for the good of those who may have been mislead by his words.  Below you will find the text of his letter, quoted in purple text, with my reply below in black.

Dear Bishop,
On July 2, 1964, The Civil Rights Act officially ended segregation and discrimination based on the color of our skin. The following spring, in General Conference, Ezra Taft Benson warned members about the dangers of going along with the “dangerous” civil rights movement:
“The Lord never promised there would not be traitors in the Church. We have the ignorant, the sleepy and the deceived who provide temptations and avenues of apostasy for the unwary and the unfaithful, but we have a prophet at our head and he has spoken.”
To his credit, Malan provides a source for his quote, let us look at it again with some context:

"For our day President David O. McKay has called communism the greatest threat to the Church - and it is certainly the greatest mortal thread this country has ever faced.  What are you doing to fight it?  Before I left for Europe I warned how the communists were using the Civil Rights movement to promote revolution and eventual take-over of this country.  When are you going to wake up?  What do you know about the dangerous Civil Rights agitation in Mississippi?  Do you fear the destruction of all vestiges of state government? "
"The Lord never promised there would not be traitors in the Church. We have the ignorant, the sleepy and the deceived who provide temptations and avenues of apostasy for the unwary and the unfaithful, but we have a prophet at our head and he has spoken." - Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Volume Three: By W. Cleon Skousen
I struggle to see how an intelligent person with normal reading comprehension skills can go over that and conclude that Elder Benson was opposed to civil rights.  He clearly was speaking about communism, and his fear that communist agents were piggybacking on the civil rights movement to undermine constitutional government. Elder Benson was known for his constant opposition to communism all his life.

Elder Benson was also not the only one with such concerns, there were many who believed as he did, and the head of the FBI testified before the House Ap­propriations subcommittee on Jan 29th 1964 that communists were using the civil rights movement to recruit young people to their cause and to spread their propaganda.

The only reasonable conclusion I can see is that this is a deliberate attempt to smear Elder Benson.  I hope I am wrong about that, but if not I would direct Malan to recall what the Lord said about attacking his chosen leaders:
Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.
D&C 121:15

There is also a very large dose of irony in Malan starting his letter like this, for he himself appears to be following the "avenues of apostasy" because of his devotion to what the media is telling him is a civil right.  We have a prophet at our head, and he has spoken, but Malan is turning his back and refusing to listen.

Benson’s warning against civil rights was a continuation of racist beliefs written decades earlier by the First Presidency, under George Albert Smith, who said that if a Mormon hoped for racial equality he had “lost sight of the revelations of the Lord.”

Before that, Joseph Fielding Smith taught that black people were “an inferior race” and that their curse would continue “while time endures” — a belief perhaps initiated by Brigham Young, who taught that God’s penalty for interracial relationships was “death on the spot. This will always be so.”
When our culture began to recognize the nonsense of racism, N. Eldon Tanner declared that there was “really nothing we can do to change” the Church’s position on “the Negro,” declaring it “the law of God.”

Thankfully, God’s laws may be unchanging, but our understanding of them is not. The Church recently approved an essay in which they “unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

Our prophets and apostles were simply wrong about God’s relationship with black people and the moral implications of marriage between races.

Here we have an example of a common misunderstanding about both the ban on ordaining blacks to the Priesthood, and also the statement made about it on

The only doctrine regarding blacks was that they would not be permitted to hold the priesthood until some future time when the Lord gave the OK for it, which happened decades ago.  Brigham Young said the day would come when blacks would have all the blessings other members have.  This is a strange thing for somebody to say if they believed blacks were inherently unworthy of the priesthood.  It was also doctrine that in spite of that priesthood ban, the faithful black members would still make it to the Celestial Kingdom.  It was not a sin for a white to marry a black, but it was discourage since the decedents of the white spouse would be subject to the priesthood ban, and because such marriages faced additional stresses that often resulted in divorce. 

Back in Brigham Young's day other churches debated if blacks had a soul or not, if Christ's atonement covered their sins or not.  They segregated them into black churches (which endure to his day).  They supported slavery as biblical, and if a slave owner wanted to use his black female slave for sexual pleasure, well she was his property so they considered that OK.  You would have had a hard time finding a Mormon among those KKK members out lynching blacks.

No revelation was ever received as to why the ban existed.  Naturally people speculated using their own understanding of things.  Leaders of the Church speculated as well, and their opinions were influenced by what was commonly accepted as true in their day.  Today many of those speculations are rightfully seen as racist, but those opinions were not the doctrine of the Church so it is not valid to try and use them against the Church.

The statement the Church issued about blacks and priesthood renounces the racist speculation and opinions stated in the past about why the ban existed, but it does not repudiate the ban itself. The ban is not from man but from God and in the scriptures we can see it existed as far back as the time of Abraham. (Abr. 1:27). It was right to have the ban before the revelation came to end it, and it was right to end it when the revelation came. It is wrong to assume the ban indicated that Church doctrine declared blacks were inferior beings, just as the gospel being withheld from the Gentiles until after Christ's ascension did not mean that Gentile races were inferior.  

The snippets of quotes Malan gives (again without any context) portray men's opinions as if they were the doctrine of the Church.  It is Malan's understanding of what is and is not doctrine that is flawed here, which leads him to a wrong conclusion about the Church.

In the wake of this month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling, you have been asked by the First Presidency to read a statement reaffirming the Church’s position on gay marriage. Our leaders seem inclined to repeat the pattern established during the civil rights movement and assure us they are “powerless to change God’s unchanging laws.”

There is nothing new or surprising in the wording of the letter you’ve been asked to read, but, as with past statements on race, it perpetuates misunderstanding and reinforces the “otherness” of our gay brothers and sisters. As a father, I hope our church can become a welcoming, safe place for my children to learn from Christ’s loving example within the context of their Mormon heritage. This letter makes that connection less likely.

As a courtesy to me and my family, would you please let me know when you plan to read the letter you received? We are happy to worship elsewhere on July 5 or July 12 if you will let me know which date to miss.

You have consistently shown kindness and patience with me and my family, and I appreciate that. I hope you will discern my respect for you, even when we see things differently.

There is a logical fallacy known as 'the straw man'.  This is when somebody makes an argument by setting up a false and flawed presentation of the other side's position (a straw man) then goes and knocks it down to claim victory rather than address what the other side really is for.  In this case Malan (deliberately or not) sets up a straw man of a Church that went contrary to God's will in the past over a civil rights issue, and tries to use that as justification for ignoring the Church today on gay marriage. 

Human sexuality is a sacred thing.  The power of procreation is the most god-like power mankind has been granted and so abuses of that power are sins of a very serious nature.  Homosexual acts are one such abuse.  They are violations of the law of chastity and those who engage in them are subject to the same Church discipline as those who commit fornication or adultery.  Marriage is by God's decree a union between a man and woman. 

These are doctrines, and unlike the priesthood ban there is no prophecy saying that it will ever change.  It can not change as it is fundamental to the entire plan of salvation.  The scriptures condemn homosexual acts, and so do all the prophets and apostles who have every spoke about it, alive or dead.  The Church is clear that those who live by the gospel standards are able to receive all the blessings of the gospel, regardless of what temptations they have to wrestle with along the way, and we are to treat each other in love and kindness.

Malan has a choice, the same choice we all face.  He can either put his faith in the world's views, or exercise faith in the word of God as contained in the scriptures and spoken by living prophets and apostles.  He can't have it both ways any more and if he continues to follow the path he is on I expect he will find himself missing far more than a sacrament meeting or two.  Anybody who grew up in the Church likely heard many times that in the last days men would call good evil and evil good, that the ways of the world and ways of the Church would diverge more and more until all middle ground was lost.  These are those days.  

In my heart I feel this is a turning point in history.  A point where the differences between the world and the Church will test the devotion of all members more and more.  Some testimonies will be purified and strengthened by this.  I take no joy in knowing that some will go the other way and sift themselves out of the fold.

I encourage everybody to follow the prophet, not turn their back on them.  If the contents of the letter from the Church is hard to accept, go into 'investigator mode' and use study and prayer to seek confirmation from God that it is in harmony with His will.  Pray for the courage and strength to stand for what is right, and the wisdom to be able to do it in a loving and kind way, even when others are not kind in return.

For those of you who accept the doctrine of the Church but are troubled by opposition coming from other members, take note that an attack like this had to rely on taking things out of context and misrepreseting the doctrine and history of the Church to manufacture a justification for rebellion.  The Church is on solid doctrinal ground and we should not be afraid to stand up and defend the Church from attack.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Easter weekend for me means a trip to my parents home where we gather with my siblings and their kids.  I'm focused on spending time with extended family so I'm not as in touch with what is going on out in the world around Easter time.  I was blissfully unaware of websites training people how to object to the sustaining of General Authorities, or press releases by those planning to do so.  All the same I can't say that I was terribly surprised that 5 or 6 people made their opposition clear in General Conference.

Many faithful Mormons have reacted with varying degrees of anger or disdain towards that handful of objectors.  I can understand having that kind of reaction when somebody disrespects somebody you care about but to be honest, I'm glad they did it.  I do not say that out of any sympathy for their causes.  I'm also not convinced that it was necessary for them to be so disruptive in how they expressed themselves.

I see three possible situations here:

1.  They have a legitimate reason to object.

To me this the most far fetched thing possible, but the whole point of calling for a sustaining vote is so that if there is a legitimate reason why a certain person should not hold a certain office, it can come to light.

2.  They are sincere, good-hearted people who think they have a legitimate reason to object when they do not. 

If this is the case, objecting will lead to them receiving the counsel and information they need to realize their mistake. Back in 1980 when there were objectors over the issue of the church's opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment the objection was only leveled at the first presidency, not the Quorum of the 12, so the objectors were invited to meet with the President of the Quorum of the Twelve (President Hinckley) to address their concerns.  In this case, since they objected to both the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve they are invited to meet with their Stake President. Hopefully this will lead to them obtaining a better understanding, realizing their mistake, and gaining a renewed testimony.

3.  They have gone apostate already.

It is tempting to assume that this is the case right off the bat, but in our hearts we should be open to the possibility that they are honestly mislead people.  If however they truly have gone apostate then it is still a good thing that they have spoken up.  It is in their best interest to be released from covenants they do not intend to keep, and it is in the best interest of the church to keep an apostate from appearing to be a faithful member.

There is a difference between being able to do something, and whether you should do that thing or not.  In objecting to sustaining a leader, it should only be done in the first case, but no matter what case it is, the person doing it is likely to see their objection as legitimate.  The good thing is that in any of the cases above, their objecting begins a process that will lead to a better situation for the church and the individual as long as truth is not resisted.  

Can vs. Should

The difference between 'can' and 'should' applies in another recent event in the church. 

Recently, Elder D. Todd Christofferson remarked that members are free to hold as a personal belief views on same sex marriage that are not in line with the church's position.  This makes sense as the requirements for baptism (ie: membership) in the church don't require a person to know and accept 100% of the church's position on everything.

If a person believes in God, has faith in Christ, believes the restoration, commits to live the gospel standards, and doesn't have any past sins of a serous nature there is nothing to stop them from becoming Mormons.  Every convert, and every member born in the church, is carrying around some idea or belief that is not correct.  The purpose of the church is to create an environment where we learn and grow.  As we attend church, study the scriptures and live the gospel, God can work on us to help us shed false ideas and replace them with truth.

It would be a mistake however to assume that because a member can hold such a view, that they should.  Nothing in what Elder Christofferson gave any endorsement to a pro same sex marriage position, in fact he made it clear that acting on such views by organizing against the church, or trying to pull people away from the church are not acceptable, and that the position of the church with respect to opposing same sex marriage is not going to change.  There is no apology from the church for it's efforts to keep same sex marriage from being legalized, and no acceptance of gay marriages as moral or legitimate in the eyes of God.

I recognize that there are solid members with testimonies of the gospel who feel tension between the position the church has taken against same sex marriage, and their personal feelings on the issue.  Often this strikes very close to home where there are desires for a child or other family member or close friend who is gay to be happy and have companionship. A life of faithful celibacy seems like a hard thing to ask of somebody, yet that is what God asks.

Over the short term, that tension can be maintained and lived with, but I hope that those members are seeking for a more harmonious relationship with the gospel during that time.  God loves all people, and he wants the best for each person as well.  His commandments are not given without an understanding of the complexities of mortal life and our own emotions.

Since God can truly love a gay person and also hold to what His moral laws decree at the same time, then we can also truly love those around us no matter what their orientation, without compromising on what is right in God's eyes.  We can cling to a view on same sex marriage that is contrary to what the church teaches, but we should seek to harmonize our hearts with the gospel. 

We just have to learn to love as God loves.  I fear that those who give up on seeking after that may be expressing objections of their own in some future General Conference.  They can do that, but that doesn't mean they should, and it doesn't mean eternal consequences can't result from it.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

In search of fairness

It is not every day that the church calls a news conference like it did the week before last.  I'm sure that more than a few people anticipated or even hoped for some great change.  I saw people speculating that sister missionaries would be allowed to serve for two years and other such things until it was announced that the topic would be non-discrimination and religious freedom.

I have linked those two topics together for a long time.  The relentless push to make gay marriage legal has succeeded up here in Canada, but having it made legal has not been enough for LGBT activists.  They now push for it to be accepted and celebrated by all, and any who dare not conform become targets of their anger.  Likewise in the United States, and Elder Oaks pointed to a number of examples of this.

What the Church called for in the press conference was exactly the right thing.  The debate has become polarized with Christians feeling that the institution of marriage is being vandalized and gays feeling they are hated and mistreated just for being gay.  When each side sees the other as an enemy the middle ground becomes a minefield and nobody wants to go there.

Being gay is no reason to refuse to rent an apartment to somebody, or hire them, or do business with them either.  Not unless doing so is harmful to the free exercise of religion, or if it violates the freedom of religious institution to operate according the requirements of their faith.  For that reason the Church is well within its rights to require that Church employees, employees of some Church owned entities, and students at church operated schools adhere to the moral standards of the Church.  While that standard would exclude practicing homosexuals, it would not forbid gays who live by the standards of the Church.  It would also exclude heterosexuals who are breaking the law of chastity.  It isn't what you are, it is what you have done.

While it was the right thing for the church to call for a balanced approach that seeks to find a solution respectful of the needs of both sides, it remains a goal that seems a long way off.  The reaction of the LGBT community has been deeply hostile, casting the press conference as an attempt to buy off the gay rights movement with a deal to give them some things they want in exchange for (as they see it) legal protection to continue to be bigots.  The reaction from the religious right was not as harsh, likely due to the fact that when it comes to defending traditional marriage we Mormons have earned a lot of credibility.  Even so, some Evangelical leaders have brushed off the recommendation as naive.

While I fully agree with the message presented in the press conference, I am unsure if it will have much impact on legislators or judges.  Especially outside of Utah.  With gay marriage coming before the US Supreme Court the topic is timely, and Elder Oaks certainly has the legal credentials to give weight to his words so there is some reason to hope that it will influence outcomes.

What constitutes 'fairness' is subjective however.  At this point a lot of people feel that there simply is no way to achieve it, that each side defines fairness in a way that conflicts with how the other side defines it.  Finding that middle ground is the 'hard work' that Elder Oaks and Christofferson talked about.  Believing that finding it will be easy would be being naive, but believing it doesn't exist at all is a cynical self fulfilling prophecy

Over 10 years ago I became friends with a co-worker who was an openly gay man.  He was friendly and personable and we often had lunch together in the cafeteria there.  We talked about all kinds of things.  This was shortly before same sex marriage became legal in Canada so the topic often came up.  

Our conversations were never contentious, I would explain in detail my position and my reasons for it and he would do the same.  No slogans, no name calling, just calm discussion.  I eventually left that job and while he and I still disagreed about legalizing same sex marriage, he came to see that the hate filled Christian bigot stereotype just wasn't accurate (in my case at least).  He reached a point where he saw that my motives and my reasons were rooted in standing for a moral principle I honestly believe in, without hate or bigotry.

If the LGBT community, the religious right, lawmakers, lawyers and judges can get to that point, then we have a shot at achieving fairness for all.  If that doesn't happen, then this press conference will stand to condemn all those who failed to do their part to make it happen.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Dear Charlie Hebdo...

Dear Charlie Hebdo,

Being an ocean away, I never heard of you before the attack on your office that resulted in the needless death of twelve people, including the two unarmed police officers providing security outside.  What those gunmen did was evil, and now that they are dead they will face a justice system far better than they would if they were taken alive. 

The emotional outpouring of support around the world is both understandable and strangely irritating to me.  Injustice like that provokes sympathy, but it bothers me that others seem to be trying to lay claim by proxy to a virtue of courage that in reality they do not show.

How many of these media talking heads have spent years refusing to admit the existence of radical Islamic terrorism, refusing to use the term even after a terrorist attack in Ottawa, the utter destruction of a Nigerian village, the beheading videos, and everything else that has happened?   How many people who marched for unity in France also protested against people with traditional views on marriage or pro-life ideas who were invited to speak at a university or college?

Rex Murphy is a commentator here in Canada who hit the nail on the head in this column. I can't help but wonder however if he had to say this in the somewhat conservative National Post because the forum he is best known for (the ever so politically correct CBC) still avoids labeling terrorism as terrorism.  They are the broadcaster of choice to those very people that Mr Murphy points an accusing finger at.

I stand in opposition to both those terrorists who attacked you and to the self-censorship so prevalent in the media.  I stand firmly for the principle of freedom of speech, but I hope you understand that I can't offer my personal support for what you produce in your magazine.  Perhaps it is too soon to start this conversation, but there is no question that your magazine produces material that is lewd, puerile, insulting, derogatory, inflammatory and even pornographic at times.  I do not question your right to produce it, but I do question the wisdom in producing it.

Not because there are those who would lash out violently when offended.  Prophets, apostles, and missionaries have offended people many times in the past and become the targets of violent persecution and even murder as a result.  I've offended my share of people (although not to the point of them trying to kill me) and it is not in my nature to try and appease a bully.

I'm saying that your brand of humor is unwise because when you denigrate and mock a race, gender, group or religion, you erode the foundation of all freedoms.  I expect you would point out that you target Christians, Jews and Muslims equally and think yourself noble because of it, but that doesn't really make it any better in my eyes. 

When you stir up contempt for your targets, you dehumanize them into caricatures not to be taken seriously, not to be listened to, not to be afforded any respect.  You facilitate and inspire your readers to accept the kind of prejudices that would lead them to make other people second class citizens because of their beliefs.  It is a subtle attack on freedom of religion and there is no higher purpose in it for you than to provoke a cheap laugh by appealing to the lowest common denominators of society in a quest for profit.

We Mormons faced a lot of violent persecution in our early days specifically because there were people who stirred up contempt against us in much the same way you stir up contempt against your targets.  Innocent people were killed by mobs incited to violence by publications that attacked and mocked Mormons.  Just because you have a right to do something doesn't mean it is the right thing to do.

So please don't take my condemnation of your attackers as any kind of endorsement for the material you publish.  It isn't.  I won't be buying a copy of your latest issue and if I want to point to an example of courageous free speech, I'll refer to Malala Yousafzai or Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Saturday, 25 October 2014

If you are surprised, you have NOT been paying attention.

Two Canadian soldiers are dead.  Attacked and killed on Canadian soil by cowards who did not dare to face them in a fair fight.  Cpl. Nathan Cirillo  was shot as he stood, unarmed, as a sentry at Canada's National War MemorialWarrant Officer Patrice Vincent was run over in the parking lot outside a government office in a strip mall.  His killer is reported to have waited there for hours for the chance to kill a soldier.

Both of the accused are recent converts to Islam.  Both had already acted in such a way that the government felt compelled to revoke their passport in a bid to keep them from joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Unable to join the fight there, they each launched their own attacks here.

It really doesn't matter to me if there was any kind of organizational support behind them, if their attacks were planned or coordinated with others or not.  Even if you consider them both to be lone wolves, the fact of the matter is that they were both incited to plot and carry out their murderous plans by a subculture that now exists within every Western nation.  A subculture that glorifies murder in the name of Islam and promotes an ideology of violence and repression.

These acts should be a huge wake up call to the sleepy citizens and politicians who had their heads stuck so deep into the religion of peace sand that they couldn't tell this was coming.  I'm not saying that all of Islam is violent and repressive, but anybody who denies the existence and influence and danger of that violent subculture within Islam is like that character in a disaster movie that you hope dies of their own stupidity before they bring more disaster on those around them.  This denial gives space for that subculture to flourish even further, and blocks effective actions against it.

Striking back by vandalizing mosques or persecuting somebody for their religion is not acceptable behavior.  But a lack of condemnation from Canadian imams isn't good either.  A lack of public outrage from the Islamic community invites people to see nearly all of Islam as being sympathetic to terrorists or worse.  And I'm not talking about just these two incidents, but every time all over the world that radical Islamists rise up in violence or display their cruel and repressive intentions the near total silence from the rest of Islam is deafening.

The Westboro Baptist Church and the KKK are pushed to the fringe of society for their extremism.  To belong to either of those groups makes you a social pariah both in Western civilization and among Christians.  Why don't we see those Imams calling for violent jihad treated the same way in Western nations?  Where are the outraged followers of Muhammad shouting down and protesting against the radicals, or rejecting their ideology, stripping them of respect and influence over other followers of Islam?

If they really want us to believe that these kinds of acts are reprehensible to them and an aberration among their religion they need to do more, and be louder about it.  If they don't then it's hardly surprising that some people would draw certain conclusions (as some already have), and for some of those people to strike back against a perceived threat with vandalism or worse.  I don't want to see that happen.

I sorrow for the loved ones of those soldiers.  There has been a heartwarming outpouring towards their families and the best of Canadian values has been on display in our reaction to this.  But I feel sorrow for Canada as well, because despite the usual rhetoric from politicians about being more resolved then ever, I struggle to believe the political willpower to solve this problem will last long enough to see it solved.

I think if  any Western government really did do what it had to do to remove that subculture from their nation, their actions would become politicized, and with the aid of a biased media their citizens would be stirred up to replace the government with one who will only do what is politically expedient at the moment, just as what happened in the USA in reaction to the World Trade Center attack and the response to it. 

If we look for a similar situation in the Book of Mormon, then the story surrounding the Title of Liberty comes to mind.  We think of Captain Moroni rallying his people but often overlook the broader story.

Captain Moroni raised the Standard of Liberty to rally the Nephites against the enemy within, the king men.  When the king men saw they were outnumbered they fled, intending to join with the Lamanites and continue their efforts to overthrow the Nephites from there.  Captain Moroni intercepted them, and all those who would not take an oath to uphold the Standard of Liberty were put to death.

Later, after the Lamanites began to wage war on the Nephites, the king men rose up again and deposed the rightful leadership.  Then they worked to deny the military of supplies and reinforcements.  Captain Moroni defeated them and executed their leaders.  Once again, any who would not uphold the Standard of Liberty and fight for the Nephites rather than against them were also put to death.

Don't misunderstand what I'm getting at here.  I am NOT calling for blood in the streets, my point is that when there is a subculture in a free nation that seeks to overthrow that freedom, and is willing to resort to violence or illegal actions, it must removed quickly, decisively, and as completely as possible.

If the subculture that generates radicals is not stamped out, we will have more radicals, more attacks, more deaths.  This subculture is not just something that exists in some mosques, it exists in a milder form in some university lecture halls, high school classrooms, and in much of the popular culture.

Those academics and actors who promote the idea that Western civilization, capitalism, or Christianity, is a force for evil, and the idea that those who do not subscribe to the right ideology are not entitled to the same level of respect or freedom as others grooms impressionable minds to be radicalized and helps make violence appear legitimate to them.

Sedition and treason are not protected free speech.  A religion stops being a religion when it advocates overthrowing the government to replace it with a theocracy, and a free and democratic society can not expect to endure if it tries to prove it's commitment to diversity by celebrating a culture that encourages, condones or facilitates violence.

If the deaths of  Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and the other victims of terrorist attacks around the world do not eventually lead to the death of  political correctness then Western governments will not be able to eradicate this cancerous subculture in their society.  It will be almost as if they died in vain, and that is a tragedy for everybody.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Playing around with bigotry.

Recently, The Book of Mormon Musical began showing here in my city.  Naturally this has brought some attention to the church in local media, including an article in a local paper and a short interview with out Stake President in a local newscast.  Naturally the Church takes the high road, not protesting against the play or even denouncing it directly.  Instead the Church has purchased full-page, inside the front cover ads on the playbill encouraging people to read the book now that they've seen the play.  Well done.

Any negative message from the Church, no matter how it was worded, would be counterproductive.  It would leave people with the impression that perhaps the play makes a valid critical point of some kind.  Critics would pounce accusing us of being afraid of a harmless play, wanting to censor others, and worse. 

Well, I am not representing the Church, I'm just a regular everyday Mormon.  I would never seek to limit the free speech of others, and I'm not going to limit my own free speech either.

I'll admit that I haven't seen the whole play, I can think of hundred better ways to spend my time and money, but I have seen some of the musical numbers and read a couple detailed synopsis of the play and I have some comments based on what I have seen in those sources.  These are comments that should have been made by any pundit or blogger who want to uphold freedom of religion, but it looks like many of them fail to notice the connection.

Obviously the play is crude, vulgar, filled with profanity, deliberately blasphemous and wildly inaccurate in it's portrayal of Mormons, missionaries, our faith, civilization in Uganda and more.  No surprise given it comes from people responsible for TV shows and movies of a similar bent.  People going to see it know it will be like that and won't mistake it for some kind of documentary.

So no big deal, right?

Well, perhaps not.  All humor has to have some intersection with something that is perceived as being true or the joke falls flat.  When audience members laugh at a joke at our expense in that play, how often will that perceived grain of truth be something that is actually true?  How often will the 'truth' they perceive be that Mormons are lacking in judgement and rational thinking skills, or that all LDS missionaries are ignorant social misfits or liars, or that religion is general is a foolish concept.  While people won't view it as a documentary, I expect a great many of them will view it as symbolic of how things really are.

This connects with why we don't have people performing in blackface any longer, portraying those of African heritage as shiftless, lazy and ignorant comedic characters.  Those performers were funny to people in the past because racist attitudes lead them to see the act as having an element of truth.  Today we don't share those attitudes, so the act loses it's connection with truth and we see it as the racism it is.  Likewise with performances that vilified Jews or any other minority group.  People didn't see themselves as racist, they just considered their views accurate.

But it's harmless right?  All just a bit of fun that doesn't mean anything.

Again I would disagree.  We like to think we are rational people ruled by our minds, but the truth is that we are deeply emotional people most of the time and what we feel often has more power over us than what we think.  This is why some works of art are seen as dangerous by totalitarians.  They can't tolerate a play or painting or book or song that will sway the emotions of the people against them.  They ban and suppress anything that could incite opposition.

An example of this is Shen Yun Performing Arts, a company based in New York that is dedicated to preserving ancient Chinese culture through traditional dance and other performing arts.  I took my wife out to see their show as her Christmas present and we were blown away by the beauty of it.  What I did not expect was there they also had a dance number portraying the current persecution of believers of Falun Gong by the Chinese government.  It was poignant and powerful.  Many members of Shen Yun are Chinese citizens who want to promote greater freedom in their homeland.  Shen Yun is not permitted to perform in China.

For some, The Book of Mormon Musical will become the thing that leads to them investigating and even joining the church, but for many others I expect the result will be a hardening of their heart against the message of the restored gospel.  I also expect that the play will promote that idea that people of our faith are intellectually deficient.  Why hold Mormon views on marriage or anything else as worthy of respect and consideration when Mormons discredit themselves by believing in a religion like that?  

Mockery has the effect of dehumanizing the target and relegating them to second class citizen status.  It leads people to feel justified in denying them their rights or persecuting them in other ways.  While totalitarians will ban arts that would incite opposition against them, they will also promote arts that attack and demonize their enemies.

The mocking of any religion promotes religious bigotry and it is a swipe at religious freedom itself.  While there are some out there who recognize how this play encourages that (see the links below), mostly it seems to be a good stealth weapon.  

 I'm not saying that this one play is going to create some huge wave of persecution against Mormons or anybody else.  It will have it's day and fade away.  But I am saying that it is a sign of the times we live in, evidence of a larger trend in society that Mormons need to be aware of so they can oppose appropriately.  It is a call for us to let our light shine all the brighter.  The less truth people see in those who mock us, the more their mockery will only damage themselves and the sooner people will see that play and anything like it for what it is.


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