Thursday, 20 February 2014

Natasha Helfer Parker, you can do much better than this.

The March Ensign hasn't made it to my mailbox yet, but the PDF version online seems to have already created a bit of a stir in some places.  At issue is the article "The Lord's Standard of Morality", taken from a devotional address given at BYU-Idaho by By Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy.  It is interesting that this comes out so soon after the media tried to make an issue of this video from BYU-Idaho's Housing and Student Living Office:




The objections made against the video are in some ways similar to those made against the Ensign article, even though the complaints against the article are coming from Natasha Helfer Parker, a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and Sex Therapist who includes her church membership in the list of her credentials on her blog and seems to have focused her career on providing her services to the LDS community.

You would expect Parker to be on the same page as the church when it comes to defining sexual morality, but instead she levels a number of complaints in her blog and even takes exception with church doctrine.  I intend to respond to her points here.

Authority
Elder Callister begins with a story from his father's life as a lawyer, telling of a time he won his case citing a single supreme court ruling to trump several newer rulings to the contrary made by lower courts.  He compares that with how God's authority trumps everything coming from men.  To this Parker says:
Callister singlehandedly wipes away all evidence-based “best practice” methods or approaches, as well as any personal revelation for self or child by stating that, “One declaration (from God) trumps all the opinions of the lower courts, whether uttered by psycholo­gists, counselors, politicians, friends, par­ents, or would­ be moralists of the day.”
The issue being discussed however is morality.  What 'evidenced-based best practice methods or approaches' are there with respect to determining what is moral?  Moral laws are laid down by a moral authority, and that would be God, not psychologists, or therapists for that matter.  God communicates them to us through scriptures and through living prophets and apostles as there is not one moral standard for one person and another for another person.

Parker goes on to explain her objection further saying:
The problem with this approach, of course (discussed in General Conference by Uchtdorf), is that God’s “declarations” have been communicated and interpreted by fallible men – Callister included.  This is why it is so important to rely not only on prophetic teachings but also ...others who would have our best interests in mind when coming to conclusions on such an important and sacred topic as sexual morality.
As I said previously, nothing Elder Uchtdorf said undermined the divinely inspired doctrines of the church or it's policies.  It was not a license to try and sort through and cherry pick what you think the church is right about and reject what you think the church may be wrong about.  While friends, family, professionals and others can add valuable understanding and insights, if their recommendations go outside the boundaries set by the church then they are the ones in error. I would hope that is what Parker meant, but her scare quotes around the word 'declarations' along with her outright rejection of some of the church's moral standards makes me suspect that is not the case.

She also seems to overlook the fact that all the research and studies she is prone to rely on also comes from falliable humans.  People who mostly do not have any kind of relationship with God, who do not have the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and who have grown in being in the world and of the world as well.  There have been cases of studies deliberately faked, right down to inventing the raw data out of thin air, all to serve an agenda.

Masturbation
Parker's next objection is that Elder Callister refers to masturbation as 'self-abuse' (which is not an uncommon way of referring to it).  While she has a point that 'self-abuse' is not a precise and correct term for what he is talking about, Elder Callister does define his usage of it saying: "Self-abuse is the act of stimulating the procreative power of one’s own body."  I seriously doubt anybody who heard his devotional address or who reads the article will not understand what he is referring to, and if they really don't get it, they will have it laid out very clearly for them if they follow the footnotes.  This is hardly worth hyperventilating about.

Parker's objection however goes much deeper than the semantics.  She says:
...to [refer to] masturbation as self-abuse shames a natural developmental process that begins in the womb and hinders an important relationship with self that needs to be developed in a shame-free environment in order to facilitate the transition into healthy marital sexuality.  He states that the Lord “condemns” masturbation – I have seen no evidence of this in any scriptural resource.  The only “condemning” has come from a religious culture at large (way before Mormonism even existed) and certain LDS prophets of old who have spoken on the subject...
This is completely at odds with the position of the church.  We are not talking about some personal remarks from long ago by somebody who happened to be a church leader.  President Spencer W. Kimball got up in General Conference and as the Prophet and as the President of the Church declared that masturbation "is not approved of the Lord nor of his church".  That is a 'Thus saith the Lord' statement and it did not come with an expiry date.  He goes on to say: "Latter-day Saints are urged to avoid this practice. Anyone fettered by this weakness should abandon the habit..."  Seems pretty clear to me.

Other leaders like Elder Boyd K. Packer, Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone and Elder Richard G. Scott have condemned it in General Conference and elsewhere, and here she has before her another condemnation of it.  If that is not enough, For the Strength of Youth, The Parent's Handbook, the Eternal Marriage course for Institute students, and even the Church History Gospel Doctrine course we all had last year contain condemnations of it. Often these currently used official publication quote the very leaders that Parker wants to dismiss, but quoting them in current manuals gives those quotes a current day stamp of approval from the church.

Just because something is natural doesn't make it moral.  It is pretty natural for teenagers to fornicate for example.  Even proving something has certain heath benefits doesn't make it moral.  There are plenty of studies out there suggesting a little red wine may be good for you.  If something is good for the body but harmful to the spirit, then it is harmful.

Fear
Parker also objects to the style of teaching used, saying "Callister uses fear-based language and overall approach that is inconducive to healthy sexual education.".

Here she misses the point that Elder Callister is not teaching a sex-ed workshop, he is instructing people on morality.  I'm not really sure how you inform people of the negative effects of sin and the harm it can cause in their life, without actually telling them that those sins will cause harm and have a negative effect. Warning of real dangers and describing the real consequences of something is not fear-mongering.  While he warns against immorality, he also says sexual intimacy within marriage has "the blessing and endorsement of the Lord".

Pornography
Parker states:
Callister allows for no level of arousal or sexual thought outside of a spouse as a natural part of being a mortal human.  He speaks of avoiding material that is “pornographic in ANY way.”  For many of my OCD clients this becomes an impossible feat
Elder Callister is not teaching about what is and is not a natural part of being a mortal human.  He is talking about morality, which requires overcoming the natural man and living by the moral standards the Lord has set.  He clearly laid out that "Pornography is any picture or narrative that feeds the carnal man within."  so yes, if some painting or sculpture at the local museum has that effect on you, you are wise to avoid it, look away, do not dwell on it.  If Parker feels a certain amount of indulging in pornography is OK, she is again at odds with the standards of the church.

Also, Elder Callister later says:
We cannot avoid seeing every improper billboard or immodestly dressed person, but we can drive out the improper thought once it arises. The sin is not in involuntarily seeing something improper; the sin is in entertaining the thought once it comes

I don't understand objecting to the use of 'addiction-style language' for something that for many men has proven to be a powerful and destructive addiction.  Likewise, objecting to the statement that overcoming such an addition will not be something you do without applying some will power is strange.  Has anybody overcome any kind of addiction to anything without exerting any willpower?  If Elder Callister said it only took willpower, that would be worth objecting to, but that isn't what he said.

Modesty

On modesty Parker complains:
He participates in classic “rape culture” ideology where the woman is responsible for the man’s sexual thoughts and actions.  This paragraph was truly shocking: “Women particularly can dress modestly and in the process contribute to their own self­ respect and to the moral purity of men. In the end, most women get the type of man they dress for.”


There should be no question in anybody's mind that if a woman dresses in a sexually enticing manner that it will provoke the men who see her towards thinking of her sexually and thus feeding the carnal mind.  The entire porn industry makes billions off of that fact. It's true that men have a choice to not respond in that way, and they are accountable for their choice.  Women have a choice too, they can dress in a way designed to provoke carnality in men or in a way that is designed to avoid provoking that, and they are accountable for that choice.

Elder Callister's remark implies that it is the men's moral purity that is harmed if they engage in such thoughts or acts, not the woman's.  At the same time, dressing in a sexually provocative manner is wrong even if men don't take the bait. Just as it would be wrong to try and provoke somebody to anger even if they keep their cool.

How we present ourselves is also a form of communication, and a woman who dresses provocatively sends a message that her moral standards are not all that high.  Right or wrong, that is the message others will read into her appearance.  Men with a low standards will respond favorably to such a display while  men who want to live a high moral standard will be less inclined to offer a woman dressed that way their romantic attention.  Elder Callister's remarks may grate against political correctness and feminist ideology, but they are an accurate assessment of human nature.

Lust
Parker claims that Elder Callister "speaks of “lust” as the reason why many would choose to have premarital or extramarital sexual experience...Lust is just another word for sexual arousal – and there are many times when it is appropriate to feel lust and especially to lust after your spouse"

What he actually said was that "lust is motivated by disobedience, self-gratification, and lack of discipline".  He doesn't say it is the sole cause for those sins, he only sited that the difference between love and lust is that love seeks obedience to God and lust rebels against it. Parker has taken him out of context on this point.


Is it ever appropriate to rebel against God?  No, so it is never appropriate to lust.  Is it rebellion against God or a sin to sexually desire your spouse?  No, Elder Callister already said sexual intimacy with your spouse has "the blessing and endorsement of the Lord" so that desire is righteous, not lust.

Homosexuality
Again Parker sets herself in opposition not only to the church.  Regarding the requirement for homosexual to refrain from homosexual behavior to remain in full fellowship in the church she says:
It is my strong position that this is not a healthy stance for any human who naturally craves and needs the communion of partnership.  It sets the Mormon LGBTQ population up for almost guaranteed failure – being put in the position where they are forced to choose between personal/relational health or community acceptance and participation closely tied to their spiritual development and relationship with God (also part of personal health).  Are we at all surprised that our Utah LGBTQ youth lead the nation in suicide? 
I in no way want to downplay the struggles of homosexual Latter-Day Saints who strive to live all the commandments of God out of faith.  I would not wish that struggle on anybody.  I know members who have succeeded at it, serving missions and living happy productive lives of service, and others who have came to tragic ends.  No story however, no matter how sad or how inspiring, changes what God has deemed immoral into something that is moral.

Satan doesn't just want to drag people down into sin.  He wants to destroy people's lives if he can and cut them off from having a chance to repent in mortality.  He does all he can to get the sinner to become self destructive, but the solution is not to make people comfortable in their sins but help them repent and live the gospel.

Purity
Parker's last objection is over Elder Callister saying that living a morally clean life "will make us eligible for a spouse of like purity".  Parker goes on to describe the ongoing challenges faced by those who have made serious mistakes and repented.  How they often still struggle with feeling impure, fearing rejection or actually being rejected by someone they hoped to marry, all because of their past mistakes. 

I agree with Parker that if a person repents of a sin and is forgiven and cleansed of it through the atonement that it should not be a factor in how they feel about themselves or how others feel of them.  Satan will of course try to bring up the past to discourage them, and people who hold past resolved transgressions against somebody are guilty themselves, perhaps even being worthy of the greater condemnation for their unforgiving attitude.

There is another false idea out there however that can contribute to people into committing such sins, and that is the idea that after they violate the moral standards of the church, repentance will remove all consequences.  This is not so.  Repentance will remove the stain of sin, it will lift the shame and heal the wounded heart, but there are always other consequences that will have to be lived with.  That is why it is always better to obey than to sin and repent.  Elder Callister is encouraging those he is addressing to seek after the better life that comes through obedience.  While that can be hard to hear for those who have strayed and come back, it is still a true principle, and it needs to be taught.

But shouldn't Elder Callister have offered some hope to those who have been less than perfect?  Actually, he did, but the article in the Ensign is an edited version of the full speech he gave.  Below is a quote from the full speech.  The part in bold does not appear in the Ensign:

What if I made a mistake and violated God’s standard of morality—is there any hope for me? Of course there is. God made it clear that His standards cannot be violated without suffering the consequences, but because He is loving and compassionate beyond measure He gives us this glorious hope, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.”For every honest soul who changes his heart, and forsakes his sins, God has promised, “though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow.”
I don't know if the edit was made to fit a required word count limit or what the case was, but I think it has the effect of dampening Elder's Callister's message of hope to the repentant.  Even still the core of that message of hope is still there, and the speech should be taken as a whole.

The Lord's standard of morality is not popular with the world, and it will become even less so in the years to come.  We can choose to listen to the 'lower courts' that would have us embrace masturbation, homosexual behavior, etc. as natural, healthy, normal and acceptable, but the highest court there is has already given it's ruling, and those who live by it will be blessed.

9 comments:

  1. Very well written and expressed! I took the liberty of posting the URL for this page to others.

    I would love to see you join : http://www.christianforums.com/ ... and participate with other LDS posters who are defending our beliefs in the fourm called Unorthodox Doctrinal Discussion , the link being found at the bottom of the home page. (My name on this site is "Mormonfriend". Hope you can check it out.

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    1. I've done some apologetics online before but I don't think I'll have the time for it. I'm trying to get two blog posts out a month and I'm only managing to do one.

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  2. Thank you for this.
    You are a kindred spirit.
    You captured my feelings about her post exactly.

    So glad someone had the nerve to stand up to her and call her out.

    It is concerning that naive or troubled or susceptible LDS clients of hers (and others who seem to believe her or put stock in her words) are being so carefully led........

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    1. Thanks, I admit I am braced for a backlash if this gets widespread so it's nice to start with some positive feedback.

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  3. This so-called 'LDS' therapist would have done well to remember this counsel by President Packer: " All of the mocking does not come from outside of the Church. Let me say that again: all of the mocking does not come from outside of the Church. Be careful that you do not fall into the category of mocking."

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  4. Thanks for joining the online conversation about this.
    http://divinginwhispers.blogspot.com/

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  5. Thank you! You pointed out a lot of the same things I saw when reading the complaints. I appreciate you providing the full speech too.

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  6. I do not enjoy bursting anyone's bubble... I lived in one myself for many years. Sometime reality is painful and we're not ready for it. Perhaps that is why Heavenly Father has allowed the culture in the LDS church to avoid the TRUTH about the culture and climate being maintained in the Church. Maybe he felt it best to spread out the "polygamy" issue from the "sexual addiction" issues because there was much more to understand and learn about sexual addiction. I am hoping I am seeing signs that the time is approaching us now... and that he believes we have evolved enough in our knowledge and awareness to begin confronting it. If you're still a little lost, let me point out that the modesty issue isn't the true underlying issue. The true issue is sexual addiction. To speak of "modesty" when a serious addiction and disorder is infecting our culture as a whole in a society (and the Heavenly Father cares for all, not just LDS) would be like having the expectation that the world is suppose to change their behavior, instead of addressing the people who have the disorder or bad behavior. It is crucial to address the causes and real therapeutic solutions. It is ludicrous to continue to skew over a serious problem such as sexual addiction by blurring it with "modesty". In fact, it is insulting and further ensures the problem will continue to manifest, harm and offend. Sexual Addiction can not be properly addressed by telling women to change their behaviors. Neither can it be addressed through shame, denial, or ignorance of the existence of this real disorder. Yes, pornography, prostitution, peeping toms, pedophilia, and rape are all serious problems in our society, but it demands TRUTH, education, compassion and understanding. I think the LDS have failed to acknowledge the REAL issue because they know that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both fit the profiles of sexual addicts. Given, sexual addiction is a far more complex and complicated issue than polygamy, or even changing the rules allowing black people to hold the Priesthood; sexual addiction is still a societal taboo, unlike our evolved understanding of alcoholism and drug abuse. The truth is, the very core roots of sexual addiction are embedded in it, and the damage is escalating. Therefore, it is time to tell the TRUTH. It is time to care about the real truth. It is time to try, under the correct leadership, to begin the healing and forego the real issue as a "modesty" issue.

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  7. Two more responses to Parker's blog:
    http://divinginwhispers.blogspot.com/2014/02/morality-doctrine-vs-presentation.html
    http://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2014/02/20/rape-culture-in-the-ensign/

    Both well worth reading!

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