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.


Related Links

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A wolf in sheep's clothing looks like a sheep

I must admit that I was glad when I heard the news that Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women Now, and John Dehlin, had both been asked to attend a disciplinary council by their local church leaders.  Before you think bad of me for that, it isn't because I have some kind of grudge against either one of them.  Rather, I felt a sense of relief seeing that church leaders were not afraid to do their job even when they know the world will cast stones at us over it.

In both cases calling a disciplinary council was well justified.  Whatever the Ordain Women Now movement may have started off as, it has become an organization that actively recruits members of the Church to protest and rebel against what the Church has clearly laid out as doctrine.

Kelly's local leaders have informed her that she was acting contrary to doctrine and counseled her to cease and desist.  The Church officially requested her group not protest the last General Priesthood Meeting and made it clear that what they demanded was contrary to the doctrine of the Church and the will of God.  She got an answer and refused to back down because is was not the answer she wanted.  She has gone far beyond simply asking a question and nothing proves that better than the fact that her website now has missionary-like discussions designed to try and convert other Mormon women into accepting her false doctrines.

As  Elder George Q. Cannon said:
...we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term.
While Kelly and her followers portray themselves as faithful Mormon women who are just asking a question, their actions are exactly what Elder Cannon described.  As Elder Ballard said, "in the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as a loyal opposition".  The Church is a kingdom, not a parliament or a debate club.  The king is Jesus Christ and he has called men to be his prophets and apostles that they will lead the Church according to his will.  Those who are members of the kingdom become members by entering into a covenant that they will follow, not lead, and obey, not rebel.  Nobody is forced to join, nobody is forced to stay against their will, but if you want to say you must live by the covenant you made when you joined.

A wolf in sheep's clothing looks like a sheep.  They will point to their Mormon upbringing, their pioneer ancestors, their mission service, their temple marriage and anything else they can to lead others into seeing them as a sheep.  Their actions show otherwise and when somebody points out their wolfish behavior they talk about how hurt they feel over that, how noble their motives are, and play the martyr.  They don't answer accusations, they just play for sympathy and cast blame.

Kelly has done that as well.  It was she, not the Church, that made the news of her disciplinary council public.  I can't think of any reason for her to make the letter public other than to try and evoke sympathy and support from the media, or in the hopes of harming the Church's reputation.  If it was the latter then it backfires somewhat as the letter show that when she claimed her Bishop refused to meet with her for some time and she was not given the option to attend the counsel via video conference she was not quite accurate.

As for John Dehlin, I first became aware of him at the time that he was all excited about the news that Trey Parker and Matt Stone would be creating The Book of Mormon Broadway musical.   I'm not a avid follower of his podcast, but of the ones I've listened to often I seen a pattern of confirming, not refuting, accusations and false ideas about the church.  He poses as a self-confessed doubter, doubting the existence of God as laid out in the scriputures, doubting the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and the validity of the Church's claim to be the kingdom of God on earth.  It is normal for people to have doubts, but seeking to spread doubt is not how somebody resolves doubt.  If you want an example of taking on kind of questions and issues that undermine people's faith and dealing with them in an honest way, go visit, not Dehlin's podcast.

Through his podcast Dehlin sets himself up as a role model, branding like minded doubting members 'Thinking Mormons' implying that those who have firm testimonies are intellectually inferior.  After Elder Uchtdorf's 'Doubt your doubts' talk, he posted "Doubt those who encourage you to doubt your doubts" on his Facebook page.   Bruce Nielson who blogs at has spent more time than I have watching Dehlin's actions and concludes:
I detect in John a private goal of actually encouraging reduced belief... How else do you explain John’s huge bias towards doubt to the point of wanting to collect all possible reasons to doubt in one document and not offer a single helpful suggestion on how to help people past these issues? Or his attack on President Uchtdorf’s rather excellent talk that actually was trying to address the very problems John Dehlin claims he cares about?
 It may be that Dehlin is just misguided in how to approach his own spiritual journey rather than somebody out to deliberately undermine the Church from within, but given his actions and the effect they have on others due to his public status, and the other things mentioned in the letter from his Stake President, a disciplinary council does appear to be more than justified.

One of the sad things about apostacy is that Satan can blind a person to the point where as they act against God's kingdom they believe themselves to be on the side of the angels.  Such was the case with Korihor:
Alma 30:53
But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.

I do sincerely hope that both Kelly and Dehlin ultimately reach a point where they are members firm in the faith and comfortable with the Church and it's doctrines.  For Kelly it may be a long road back as she is completely unrepentant following her excommunication and has expressed a desire to appeal all the way up to the First Presidency if possible.  I hope that those who Kelly has recruited to her cause will not have to pay the same price she is paying.

Below are some articles and blogs posts on this topic I consider worth reading:
Here's why Kate Kelly was not excommunicated for asking questions
Thank You, Jesus! LDS Church Responds to Ordain Women
Ordain Women is not the answer on Mormon women’s equality
Missing Context in Discussions About LDS Women
Church Disciplinary Councils and the Court of Public Opinion
The Mormon Controversy: And why it’s hurting more than feminists
Church Leaders' Message Addresses Doctrine, Questions