Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Separation of Church and State II: Necessary for the Protection of Both - by Derek Staffanson

Religious conservatives contemporary to Jefferson and Madison assaulted the newborn Constitution as Godless, and persistently accused the two politicians of being atheists throughout their careers. To these religious conservatives a “wall of separation” between the Church and State was nothing less than a scheme to undermine religion. They could hardly have been more wrong. While not conventionally religious, the letters and works of the two men reveal them to be profoundly spiritual people. Like modern religious conservatives who level similar charges against entities such as the ACLU, People for the American Way, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, those religious conservatives manifested a remarkable inability to grasp the difference between advocating liberty in religious matters and attempting to extinguish religion. And like their modern counterparts, they failed to understand that strict separation between state and religion is actually essential for keeping the flames of religion burning.

Within the text of Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, these thinkers were very insistent upon that point. They would have been rather skeptical of Mitt Romney’s claim that “Freedom requires religion.” They were well aware that for hundreds of years people have been imprisoned, tortured, and slaughtered in the name of religion. Religion has been a force in shackling men at least as often as liberating them, particularly when associated with the state. Under those conditions, it seeks to use the force of government to cement its temporal power, stifling new ideas while neglecting the persuasion which is the root of any effectual religion. At the same time, government when united with religion seeks to appropriate the moral authority of its partner, manipulating the modes of religion to promote its own agenda, as we experienced with the Bush administration in their Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

Hardly trying to purge God from the nation, these founding fathers (and their modern separationist counterparts) were trying to create an environment in which religion could flourish. A level playing field allows any moral sentiment the opportunity to make its case, to rise or fall on its own merits. They sought a society in which organizations would be forced to rely on exhortation rather than coercion to promote and defend their beliefs; in which dogma could be challenged and, if found lacking, cast aside. They hoped for a society in which new ideas and new systems of belief—such as the LDS faith—could be explored and, if they drew people through their fruit, take root and blossom. When government either tries to play a role in favoring religious beliefs and practices, or neglects its duty to protect the freedom of conscience which is the root of religious freedom, government hinders that process. Religion as a result becomes superficial and hollow, a matter of compulsion rather than faith. A purely secular, areligious government, one entirely indifferent to religion, best enables religion to achieve its full spiritual potency.

Of all people we in the LDS faith should understand the importance of freedom of conscience. We are taught that the Lord raised up this nation as a land of liberty in order to restore his Gospel where it might not be smothered by the oppression of contemporary religious orthodoxy. The Church suffered great hardship and persecution because the freedom of conscience which Jefferson and Madison favored was so imperfectly protected.

This principle is part of the Church canon, in the Eleventh Article of Faith:
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almight God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
D&C 134:4-5 & 9-10 makes the Gospel’s position even more clear on the subject:
“We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience

…We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship (emphasis added).”
In seeking to instill in government a systematic predisposition towards religion, religious conservatives typically point to the such patriots as George Washington, who spoke emphatically of the importance of religion for the nation in such works as his farewell address. These conservatives balk at the idea of a secular state, protesting that such a state betrays Washington’s vision by favoring atheism. They are wrong. A firm separation of Church and State does not encourage or aid atheism over any other belief. It merely allows atheists the same freedom to follow the dictates of their conscience as anyone else. It grants atheism the same opportunity to make its case as any theology. And atheists should unquestionably have that right. Freedom of conscience is a lie, the lie of toleration, if it is proffered only to theistic beliefs. Do we as Christians so lack confidence in the persuasive power of the doctrines of Christ as to require atheism repressed by the government, indirectly or otherwise?
Meaningful religion needs no government sanction or support to sustain itself. In Jefferson’s notes for the debate on Virginia’s disestablishment, he outlined such an argument:
“Christianity flourished three-hundred years without establishments. Soon as established, decline from purity. Betrays want of confidence in doctrines of church to suspect that reason or intrinsic excellence insufficient without secular prop (The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian Boyd editor, vol. 1 p.538-539).”
Yes, Washington and other prominent founders expected the United States of America to be a religious nation. But that brings us to the second sense of the phrase “Religious (or Christian) Nation,” one in which the people of the nation upholds Christian virtue by free choice, as dictated by one’s conscience. Jefferson and Madison expected true religion to flourish in the U.S.—a religion which conventional Christians then and now would hardly endorse, but a religion nonetheless—by virtue of its power to touch the hearts of those who freely experiment upon its claims, and the persuasion of those who have experienced its goodness in their lives. They expected religion to be refined and improved through the process of free inquiry and exploration. A Christian (or religious) nation in the first sense of the word—in which government takes a hand in promoting religion, is directly antithetical to that desire. By increasingly seeking to intermingle the two, pursuing government favor for their own religious beliefs, religious conservatives are impeding the very goals they supposedly hope to accomplish. If they would follow Madison and Jefferson in strengthening the wall between the two, they could better ensure that this nation protected the religious and personal liberties we celebrate today.
In the next issue: Separation of Church and State III: Making a State Incognizant of Religion

The Persistence Of Racialized Discourse In Mormonism - by Darron Smith

(Originally published in 2003)
Twenty-five Years after the Revelation—Where Are We Now?

JUNE 2003 WILL MARK THE TWENTY-FIFTH Anniversary of the announcement by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that all worthy male members, regardless of race, are eligible for priesthood ordination. The 1978 declaration created a moment of great hope and optimism within the Church, and many assumed this revelation would usher in a new era of success in proselytizing among African Americans. However, the promise of a quarter-century ago has only partially been realized. This is because the Church has not done enough to remake its racist past and present in such a way as to coincide with its mission to teach, preach, fellowship, and retain African Americans.

Projects designed to fully embrace African-American saints will meet with difficulties, I believe, until each of us recognize just how persistent and pervasive racism in U.S. society is. It is present in virtually every facet of life, including the workings of religious organizations. So, even though the priesthood ban was repealed in 1978, the discourse that constructs what blackness means is still very much intact today. Under the direction of President Spencer W. Kimball, the First Presidency and the Twelve removed the policy that denied blacks the priesthood but did very little to disrupt the multiple discourses that had fostered the policy in the first place. Hence there are Church members today who continue to summon and teach at every level of Church education the racial discourse that blacks are descendants of Cain, that they merited lesser earthly privilege because they were “fence-sitters” in the War in Heaven, and that, science and climatic factors aside, there is a link between skin color and righteousness. A complete disruption of these discourses will require a rearticulation of Church history and an understanding of how that past interrelates with secular racial history. Further, a greater number of black voices will need to be heard in leadership and scholarly settings, where, with sensitivity and without the threat of censorship or sanction, they can communicate ways the now-defunct ban continues even today to create for African-Americans a position of “less-than” in Church spaces.

RACISM is articulated in multiple and complex ways. The popular perception of racism is that, either by word or deed, racists commit acts of aggression against someone of another race. The problem with this definition is that it assumes only individuals are implicated in racist practices whereas institutions are not—or, if they are, it is usually in isolated incidents. This notion that racism is a function of the individual keeps us from understanding the larger reality of racism as discourse in which social actors perform racial scripts in numerous ways.

For instance, many of us are familiar with slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crowism, segregation, and more subtle enactments of institutionalized racist practices. These are historical events that, thankfully, have been repudiated in the present-day United States, yet the racial perceptions about the “other” that underwrote each of these practices have yet to disappear. So instead of overt racism, most of today’s racial discourse operates in the way individuals, groups, and organizations interact with each other. In other words, how we see ourselves is, to a greater or lesser extent, through the prism of race. Race is not limited only to bodies and skin color, but extends to ideas, values, and beliefs that are held as “normative.” The primary locus of racism at this level is found in the privileging of one group over another. Typically in the United States, whiteness emerges as the preferred prism through which people come to appreciate history, art, literature, and popular culture, and which underwrites much that takes place in the justice system, as well as in business, education, housing, and health care.

In my graduate work in the field of cultural studies, I have found the dichotomy of blackness/whiteness to be helpful in unveiling how racialized discourse influences notions of power and privilege. Blackness and whiteness can be thought of as classifications that have been historically determined through social relations based on oppression, repression, and, to some extent, “progress.” So the construction of blackness as “other” in the Church was not an anomaly, especially given the overlapping secular racist discourses that were endemic in U.S. society—the way in which blackness was named by whiteness. For example, just as today whiteness constructs the idea of black urban spaces as dangerous, sexual, and drug-infested, whiteness in the Church also defined blackness as cursed. Until very recently, black people have not been able to name themselves (which may explain the seeming fixation of the black community to continually represent itself). Since their earliest contact with Africans, Europeans have represented blackness in a number of ways ranging from criminality and fear to myths about hypersexuality and about exceptional abilities in music and athletics.

The seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries produced many ideas about the black body through a regime of pseudoscientific truth.(1) During the eighteenth century, for example, black slaves in North America were construed as threefifths a person—chattel property without souls. Such a notion about blackness provided a basis for many whites to justify the inhumane treatment of black slaves. The power of language also enabled academic disciplines to embrace assumptions about black peoples’ so-called inferior values, mores, and behaviors. And whiteness, as the fortunate opposite of blackness and its negative attributes, became firmly established as “normative.”(2)

Not surprisingly, early LDS leaders were influenced by many of those ideas about blackness. Pseudo-scientific literature regarding the inherent status of blacks was abundantly available and even found its way into Church publications such as the Millennial Star, Times and Seasons, and Juvenile Instructor.(3) But, unfortunately, some leaders went further in portraying blackness in explicitly negative terms by adding a theological layer that implied these inferior characteristics and status were Godgranted or, at least, God-approved. The key element in this theological mix was the adoption of the idea (prevalent during the time it was appropriated) that God “marked” Cain with blackness and “cursed” him so that he would forever be persecuted. Early leaders extended this to mean Cain and his descendants would never hold the priesthood and taught that this mark and curse continued even after the flood through Canaan, Ham’s son through his wife Egyptus, whose descendants were believed to be the negroid races.(4) Further anchoring the early LDS appropriation of negative notions concerning blackness are several Book of Mormon teachings that associate dark skin with that which is vile, filthy, and evil, and white skin with that which is delightsome, pure, and good. A metaphorical reading of darkness as representing that which is loathsome is harmful enough, but many leaders taught that this as a literal fact, that God could and sometimes would darken the skin of those who fell out of his favor, and vice versa.(5)

Although African-Americans are not usually imagined to be among those who are the descendants of the Book of Mormon Lamanites, it is instructive to look briefly at some of the discourse in just this past half-century concerning this literal interpretation of the skin-color/God’s-favor link. In our lifetime, it has not been uncommon to hear Church members speak about “rescuing” the Lamanite (meaning Native American) population from its own spiritual demise. Numerous scriptural references in the Book of Mormon articulate that the Gentile/white population is supposed to take the gospel to the Lamanite people (Morm.5:15; 7:8), and many members take as literal the Book of Mormon passages that hint that the skin of Lamanites will whiten as they accept the gospel (Jacob 3:8; 3 Ne. 2:15). Spencer W. Kimball, the Church president who received the revelation that repealed the ban on black men holding the priesthood, manifested great concern for Native Americans during his long tenure as an apostle. Speaking in the October 1960 General Conference, he made a statement that was seen as powerful advocacy for this dispossessed minority but which also illustrates how language can powerfully inscribe color consciousness: “I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today. . . . For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome as they were promised. . . . The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.”(6)

ONCE IDEAS, EVEN erroneous ones, become internalized to where they work as the lenses through which we unconsciously view the world, it takes a great deal of effort to make them conscious again. And, to some degree, black people in the Church agree or accept—at least partially—the traditional discourse on black spiritual demise; otherwise they would not join. I did not find out about the priesthood ban on blacks until after I joined the Church, and, sadly, I passed on much of the folklore while serving an LDS mission in Michigan. Looking back on that experience, I venture to say that had I known about such teachings in the Church, I might not have joined. I remain a member currently because of my faith in the Church’s basic doctrines and my hope that a more thorough change will occur to undo the traditional racial discourse on blacks still being perpetuated in many corners of the Church. It is not enough to change a social practice, policy or mandate without pushing through the arduous task of rearticulating the discourse that helped to create it.

Many Church members suppose that their leaders are inspired on virtually all matters, including race. But it is impossible for white people, even prophets, to really know blackness unless they develop relationships with blacks that move beyond mere acquaintance, peer, co-worker, or fellow ward member. Without many meaningful intimate relationships with the racialized “other,” how else can we move beyond the profound distortions brought on by the long-standing discourse and the warp of privilege? Even some of the LDS intellectuals who hail discourse on race and speak on those issues summon many of their notions from white sources and cultural spaces. Many seem to me to be cultural tourists, yet they are often called upon to give their “expert” analysis of blackness, just as most official discourse in the Church about the roles and divine nature of women is articulated by men. There is not nearly enough speaking from black spaces that can offer a different interpretation of reality.

Blackness as a discourse that embodies social practice must be reconfigured to provide a different construction of knowledge and truth. Blacks and whites must find new ways of creating mutual cooperation and unity in the Church, and blacks must be given more freedom to speak from the full range of their experience, not just from those experiences that fit comfortably within the predominant discourse. Otherwise, that discourse will never change. Blacks who do move toward Mormonism should not be made to feel that blackness is synonymous with curses, marks, or indifference. And this can be accomplished only by a formal repudiation, in no uncertain terms, of all teachings about Cain, the pre-mortal unworthiness of spirits born to black bodies, and any idea that skin color is connected to righteousness.

NOTES

1. Immanuel Kant, “On the Different Races of Man.” Found in This is Race: An Anthology Selected from the International Literature on the Races of Man (New York: Schuman, 1950); David Hume, Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1988); John Locke, Two Treatises on Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), chap. 1–6.

2. Some scholars have applied the term “regime of truth” to refer to this type of discourse. For example, much work done in anthropology, sociology, medicine, and law has created a way of talking about race that has inhibited access by many people of color to certain economic, housing, medical, and educational resources. For instance, even as legal scholars discuss the need for the law to be “colorblind,” they are actually acknowledging how “color conscious” it really is. And in popular culture, blacks have been represented as inclined toward criminal behavior, which, in turn, has had wide-reaching effects on criminal conviction rates. Biologists have argued that skin, bone, and hair are linked to all sorts of genetic characteristics, and such ideas have often been used to try to fix and secure human difference. The fallout from such constructions is that many members of racial groups “stay” within their own spaces because of the way these disciplines (law, anthropology, sociology, biology, and religion) have constructed and legitimized these differences. Thus the term “regime of truth” speaks to the fact that the concept of race is far more a social construction than a biological one, and that the term “race” is less a description than an instrument of power.

3. See Latter-day Saint Millennial Star 15 (1853):422, 20 (1858):278; Times & Seasons 4:375–76, 5:395, 6:857; Juvenile Instructor 3 (1868):142.

4. Interestingly, the Ku Klux Klan is one of the few “religious” groups who still teach that blacks descended from Ham. And although not actively perpetuating the doctrine through official channels, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, unlike many world traditions, has not sufficiently distanced itself from this folklore nor the extension by certain LDS leaders that blacks descend not only from Ham but from Cain as well.

5. The primary scriptural basis for this teaching is 2 Ne. 5:21.

6. Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Reports (Oct. 1960): 32–34.

This Rolling Stone - by Cody McKay

Recently I have been simultaneously reading two books. One is called The Sixties Chronicle, which is basically a pictorial history of the events of the decade from 1960-1969 and also includes first hand accounts and commentary on the events. The other book is a biography of President David O. McKay called David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism and which, although written by two Mormons, is a pretty truthful and fairly unbiased account of President McKay's tenure as Prophet of the LDS Church and isn't shy about tackling controversial issues such as the Church's opposition to the civil rights movement, for example. I'm really enjoying both books immensely, and I've decided that in spite of his faults, I really like David O. McKay. He seems to be a great proponent of free agency, free thinking, and seems (to me, at least) to be a "spirit of the law" kind of individual as opposed to a "letter of the law" individual. That being said, he did also err on the side of inaction at times.

With
the recent endorsement of the LDS Church, an ordinance in Salt Lake City which bans employment and housing discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals was passed. Many gay rights activists were surprised by the Church's endorsement, and I admit I was surprised as well (but was very pleased by what I see as a positive step). The LDS Church is still adamant that it will not support gay marriage and will continue to fight for what it believes is right as far as that issue is concerned.

Some in the gay-rights community are skeptical, feeling that the LDS Church only did this to save face with those who have a less-than-favorable impression of the church and did it simply to boost their image. That may be true, although it seems to me the LDS Church usually does what it feels is right regardless of how popular those decisions make them.

Some in the gay community are also indignant, feeling that they owe the LDS Church no gratitude for this endorsement when the church is still actively working to deny their civil rights. This is an understandable feeling. I, for one, am grateful for any strides the LDS Church makes in regards to gay
rights, just as I am thankful for strides that those in the gay-rights community make in creating an atmosphere of communication rather than antagonism. I think we all have a long way to go, but I am thankful for small steps even if it is "two steps forward, one step back" at times.

As I've been
reading about the sixties, I am reminded of how volatile the issue of civil rights and desegregation could be, and although racism still exists today, it is fascinating to see how far the civil rights movement has come. It is interesting to look at the photos in The Sixties Chronicle and be reminded of a time not very long ago at all when black people couldn't sit at the same counter as white people or use the same restroom or drinking fountain; black people couldn't attend white schools and were denied employment because of the color of their skin; that a black person couldn't vote or marry a white person; that the whole "separate, but equal" idea was such a sham. One looks at these pictures and sees very plainly that whites were always given preferential treatment. They were given the better jobs, got to sit in the choicest seats, and weren't denied many of the normal things life didn't offer the African-American. And when blacks attempted to fight for their rights, they were assaulted, beaten, hosed, attacked by dogs, intimidated, threatened, and killed, often by the very people whose job it was to supposedly "serve and protect."

As I've read about these issues, it dawns on me that there were many segregationists who probably felt that the threat of civil rights for blacks was completely destroying the foundation of their very lives. They literally felt as if their world would fall apart if blacks were to obtain equal rights. I've seen pictures of a woman holding a picket sign that says, "Integration is a mortal sin." Another sign held by a young man says, "The only way to end niggers is exterminate." Another white man with a gun threatens a black man who is attempting to enter his store. Still another pours hydrochloric acid into a swimming pool where blacks are having a swim-in. Parents pull their white kids out of a school where a little black girl, attending first grade for the first time since desegregation has taken effect, has to be protected by federal marshalls. Police and local government leaders refuse to follow the policies the federal government has laid out concerning desegregation, and it is only through federal government protection that they publicly back down (although in private, they still commit some horrendous acts). A church is bombed and kills several black girls. Civil rights advocates are tortured and killed.

This was not so long ago. Even as I read this book about David O. Mckay, it is interesting to see where the LDS Church stood on civil rights issues. Realizing that church leaders and members were a product of their time, it is still amazing to me to see how blacks were treated by people who professed to belong to a church established by the Savior himself. Most church leaders were opposed to racial integration, including David O. McKay, and were suspicious of the civil rights movement. J. Reuben Clark, Henry D. Moyle, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Ezra Taft Benson, and Mark E. Peterson all opposed civil rights and said things that would certainly be considered racist today, if not then. There was a great resistance to change and progression as far as this issue was concerned.
One man in the First Presidency, Hugh B. Brown, was more progressive in this area and said the following in the October, 1963 General Conference when members of the NAACP threatened to picket Temple Square after being rebuffed in their desire to meet with the First Presidency:
“During recent months both in Salt Lake City and across the nation considerable interest has been expressed in the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the matter of civil rights. We would like it to be known that there is in this church no doctrine, belief, or practice that is intended to deny the enjoyment of full civil rights by any person regardless of race, color, or creed.

We again say, as we have said many times before, that we believe that all men are the children of the same God and that it is a moral evil for any person or group of persons to deny to any human being the right to gainful employment, to full educational opportunity, and to every privilege of citizenship, just as it is a moral evil to deny him the right to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience.

We have consistently and persistently upheld the Constitution of the United States, and as far as we are concerned that means upholding the constitutional rights of every citizen of the United States.

We call upon all men everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God's children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the brotherhood of man."
While not sanctioned by the church at the time as an "official statement," it later was reluctantly elevated to "official" status two years later when NAACP leaders threatened to organize a series of marches in front of the Church Administration Building.

As I've read all these things and thought about today's current climate, I cannot help but see the parallels between the civil rights movement of the 60s, the women's rights movement, and the gay rights movement. Just as whites feared their world would come crashing down as blacks tried to gain equality; just as men thought their worlds was crashing down when women tried to gain equality; so I think many straight people feel the same way as gay people try to gain equality. It was not so very long ago, too, that you could be arrested for being gay or when homosexuality was considered a disease (and some people still feel that it is). Although I do think gay people have suffered discrimination and violence from hate-crimes, I do have to say that I think black people have been treated far more harshly in American history than gay people have (although I do think gay people have been treated very unfairly, too).

It is interesting to me that the LDS Church always seems to be in the rear and very slow on the uptake when it comes to equal rights. Church leaders in the 60s opposed civil rights legislation, and the state legislature consistently shot down bills that would give equal rights to blacks. The church also opposed the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s. This quote is taken from a Utah history website:
"The attack against ERA seemed, at times, alarmist and hysterical. Equation of ERA with sexual permissiveness, abortion, child care, homosexuality, and unisexuality drew the debate away from the constitutional principal of equality to issues of 'traditional family values.' But the attack did reflect the fears of many about the changing roles of women and men and about the changing form of the family. There seemed to be danger in equality for the ideological/cultural concept of the father as head and provider, mother as nurturer and manager, and children as replicas into the next generation. Many feared the equality would make women more vulnerable and exposed, that men would feel freer to abandon family responsibilities.

Certainly it was these fears which prompted Mormon church leaders to eventually join their financial resources, their promotional skills and their far-flung network of members to the counterrevolution. Church leaders in 1976 described ERA as 'a moral issue with many disturbing ramifications for women and for the family as individual members as a whole.' President Spencer Kimball declared it 'would strike at the family, humankind's basic institution.'

Donations to support the anti-ERA effort were solicited by ward bishops; speeches against the amendment were deemed appropriate at all church meetings, and church buildings were used as an anti-ERA literature distribution points. Church sponsored anti-ERA organizations operated in Florida, Nevada, North and South Carolina, Missouri, Illinois and Arizona."
Likewise today, the Utah state legislature (which is predominantly Mormon) consistently shoots down bills that would protect the rights of gay citizens, and of course we are aware of the financial and grassroots backing that existed from the LDS Church in the fight for the passage of Proposition 8 in California. The parallels with both civil rights for blacks and equal rights for women seem very similar to the current gay-rights struggle vis-à-vis the LDS Church. But just as blacks and women have received more equality over the years (although there is still inequality, racism, and sexism that exists), I think it is inevitable that gay people will receive the rights they long for. I really do think it's a difficult, if not impossible task to stop "this rolling stone."

And just as I think it's hard to look back and read about the way the civil rights movement and battle against the Equal Rights Amendment (which people are still trying to pass) were handled by the LDS Church, I am reminded about the current battle that is happening with gay rights and wonder how history will view the LDS Church. I don't know what will happen or even necessarily what should happen, but I do think gay rights are going to be a reality, especially as the older generation dies and the newer generation, many of whom seem to support gay rights, comes to the forefront. There will be some lost battles, but I think the war will be won, and just as I know there were people who thought their worlds would collapse as blacks and women gained more equality, I think those people who oppose gay rights will be surprised at how little their worlds will really change for the worst. Heck, they might even discover that their worlds are better. Change can be a very good thing, even if some people don't believe it is progress.

Black And Mormon: A Review - by Kaylana Mars

I first learned of this book (by Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith) while listening to the podcasts of Mormon Stories by John Dehlin. He featured Darron T. Smith as one of his guests to talk about Blacks and the Mormon Church. Darron was just coming off being dismissed from BYU because of his work on this book (or at least a significant reason).

This whole podcast intrigued me and when he mentioned Black and Mormon I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. This intrigued me because one I am a white Mormon American woman and also from Utah, the main hub of the Church. I grew up in Utah County where we could count on one hand all the people of color in our schools, one Black, two Asian, and two Hispanic. Not a lot of diversity. So I go back to the question of why this should affect me, why should I be interested? Because I never was able to gain a view of that side of the world while growing up. My dad did a pretty good job on teaching us tolerance by his actions, which is so important. So I feel blessed by that. But by the time I came back off my mission, studying Spanish and Applied Linguistics in college I really wanted to gain various perspectives, struggles, cultural ideas and traditions into my own worldview. I had gotten so much of that on my mission and attending college outside of Utah.

I was fed the same folklore of Blacks being descended from Cain and thus the reason they were denied the priesthood and temple covenants for so long, it never sounded right to me, but I never questioned it either. I glossed over the details in the Book of Mormon on Nephites being good and thus white and the Lamanites being bad and thus the curse of darkness came upon them. So with this “white is better” culture and dogma I really began to wonder what other people felt about this. What is a person’s reaction when they find the joy and spirit of the gospel and then find out if they had joined a few decades earlier they would have been denied the most sacred promises of God?

The other reason I find it interesting, intriguing and important is because I feel marginalized as a woman in a male-centered Church. I feel these questions are important to look at and ask. And so I picked up Black and Mormon.

There are eight articles and each focus on various aspects of Blacks in the Mormon Church. I want to focus on the ones that really stood out for me.

“How Do Thing Look on the Ground?” The LDS African American Community in Atlanta, Georgia by Ken Driggs

I found this article so refreshing on how diversity in the United States and in a Mormon ward/branch can find what they are looking for in their worship. I feel too often that worshiping becomes a tradition, the way things have been, and therefore should always be. So to learn that this ward in Georgia can have a spiritual and meaningful sacrament meeting is so amazing! I really want to head down there to Georgia to live at least for one Sunday the wonder that is their ward! I feel that this is important since our Church is our Church meaning that it should incorporate traditions and cultures and backgrounds of those in the congregation.

Another topic it explores is how the racist policies of the Church’s past affect black members of the Church. It’s hard to fathom that the racist folklore is still being passed around in Church, that many missionaries will still use those false ideas to explain it all away when it only brings more hurt.

I have also found the stories in this article to be inspiring, because despite the racist policies and doctrines of the Church many still stay and find their own peace and answers from God.

Unpacking Whiteness in Zion: Some Personal Reflections and General Observations by Darron T. Smith

I really loved this article by Darron. He puts it all out there on the table for us white people and I find that refreshing and once I think about it, so true.

Darron explains:
"Whiteness is a cultural and social construction, a system of structural privileges that advantages whites in way the people of color do not experience. Whiteness is not only limited to bodies and skin color but also to ideas, knowledge production, values, and beliefs that are held as the norm…People of color are rarely seen in movies except as villains or as sidekicks to the white protagonists. Books, greeting cards, children’s toys, billboards, and popular magazines are overwhelmingly situated in whiteness…Whiteness as a protected and often guarded entitlement goes unnoticed and, because unnoticed, also unchallenged. As a result, white people are either unable or unwilling to recognize how their elite position enables them in numerous and significant ways." (p. 151)
I’ll never understand what it’s like to be looked at differently, treated differently because of my skin color, my traditions, and my background. So let’s talk about it, get it out there in the open.

Never in church do I recall anyone asking the questions about why blacks were denied the priesthood or any whys really. I was just recently talking to my dad about this and he finally admitted that ‘yes, mistakes were made.’ But even being a history major he fully believes that the Church has never been racist, that during the Civil War the North was not racist and the South was; two very big dichotomies that allow us to see things as either or, black or white, and nothing in between. Could Brigham Young still be considered an inspired prophet while holding racist theories and ideas? Well, yes. The Lord can only work with what He’s got so if that means he’s got lots of bigoted white folks I guess that’s what he’ll have to use. So old traditions are going to get in the way, thus we’ll continue to get older, white, and usually American, but now spreading to Western Europe general authorities.

I feel it’s extremely important to talk about race issues, women’s issues, culture, traditions, and well, all issues within the Church. Where is a better place to discuss it than in Church with our fellow worshipers?

To me this book brought to light the good, the bad, and the ugly within the Church. It’s important to recognize what needs to be talked about before we can actually talk about it. I’ve been so enlightened by reading this book, so much more aware how my actions or lack thereof can leave a permanent mark. Granted, I’m living in Utah County once again and find diversity lacking, but now when it does come up I have more enlightenment and knowledge to share with others. It’s my responsibility to destroy the awful folklore that I hear and see as well as be open to new ideas as diversity continues to grow and hopefully, in turn help others on this path as well.

The Book of Mormon: An Anti-War Document - by mormongandhi

With prosperity come growing evils

Gordon B. Hinckley once said of the Book of Mormon that its “narrative is a chronicle of nations long since gone. But in its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions of those problems. I know of no other writing, which sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord.”

“But with prosperity came growing evils,” Hinckley continues. “The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living. These evil schemers led the people into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final and total extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.” In this light, it makes sense to view the Book of Mormon as an anti-war, pro-kingdom scripture.

The people of Jesus does not smite again

Andrew Bolton points to the ‘golden age’ of the repentant and responsive Nephites in the 4th book of Nephi who, “in keeping the commandments of the resurrected Jesus, enjoyed peace, faithful marriages, and all things common for nigh on 200 years.” The fundamental reason to view the Book of Mormon as a document that advocates nonviolence is found in the following passage, according to Bolton:
“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which dwelt in the hearts of people”. Later as the golden age began to decline the people hardened their hearts: “for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity. And they did smite the people of Jesus [...] and the people of Jesus did not smite again.” (4 Nephi 1:34)
Jesus explained to his disciples among the Nephites the root-causes of the wars and contentions that would destroy their people. After the third generation had passed of those who saw and heard Jesus, Jesus tells his disciples:
“…it sorroweth me because of the fourth generation from this generation, for they are led away captive by him even as was the son of perdition; for they will sell me for silver and for gold, and for that which moth doth corrupt and which thieves can break through and steal. And in that day will I visit them, even in turning their works upon their own heads. (3 Nephi 27:32)
I am grieved because of the destruction of all people

Also Nephi, the first writer in the Book of Mormon, was distraught by the vision of the future carnage that was to take place among his children:
“And now I, Nephi, was grieved ... because of the things which I had seen, and knew they must unavoidably come to pass because of the great wickedness of the children of men. And it came to pass that I was overcome because of my afflictions, for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all, because of the destruction of my people, for I had beheld their fall”. (1 Nephi 15:4-5)
In 1 Nephi 14, the great and marvelous work among the children of men – known to the LDS community as the coming forth of the Book of Mormon to restore the “plain and precious things” that were taken out of the Bible – will be either to the “convincing of them unto peace and life
eternal”, or unto the “deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds:”
"Therefore, wo be unto the Gentiles, if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God. For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other— either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken."
We are without Christ and God in the world

Mormon, the abridger of the history recorded in the Book of Mormon, demonstrates a vivid concern with regards to the historical consequences of war among the children of Father Lehi and of the wickedness that led his people to destruction. He is eager to show to the remnant of the house of Israel, the indigenous peoples of the Americas today, of the things that led to the utter destruction of their ancestors, and describes in this manner the devastating results of the infighting between the Nephites and the Lamanites, as well as among the Jaredites:
“And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually. And there never has been so great wickedness among all the children of Lehi, nor even among all the house of Israel as among this people” (Mormon 4:11)."

“And now behold, I, Mormon, do not desire to harrow up the souls of men in casting before them such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before mine eyes; but I knowing that these things must surely be made known, and that all things which are hid must be revealed upon the house-tops [...] I write a small abridgment, daring not to give full account of the things which I have seen [...] that ye might not have too great sorrow because of the wickedness of this people.” (Mormon 5:8-9)

“For behold the Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with their fathers; and they are without Christ and God in the world; and they are driven about as chaff in the wind. They were once a delightsome people, and they had Christ for their shepherd; yea, they were led even by God the Father. But now, behold, they are led by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they." (Mormon 5:16-18)
Establish peace with the Book of Mormon and the Bible

Ezra Taft Benson once said:
“The Book of Mormon verifies and clarifies the Bible. It removes stumbling blocks; it restores many plain and precious things. We testify that when used together, the Bible and the Book of Mormon confound false doctrine, lay down contentions, and establish peace. The Book of Mormon is not on trial – the people of the world, including members of the Church, are on trial as to what they will do with [or rather how they will use (added by author)] this second witness of Christ." (A New Witness for Christ, 1984)
It is clear that the Book of Mormon is an anti-war document and that it has a role to play in the
latter day movement as well as in the peace movement in our day, seeing Nephi’s reaction to the vision of the destruction of his people on the American continent and to what would befall the Gentiles - if they did not repent. Remember Hinckley said: “I know of no other writing, which sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God”.

For that reason, Nephi hopes that through his writings he may be able to convince his children to believe in Christ and, if possible to avert the killings and slaughters that “must unavoidably come to pass”: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23)

I suppose the common mistake is to believe that the plain and precious things restored in the Book of Mormon are solely doctrinal: that small children are in no need of baptism, that baptism ought to be by immersion, that Jesus truly was resurrected and that he is the God of the whole world. But our Savior is concerned with more than just sacraments and ordinances. He envisions a world of social and political righteousness, with peace on earth and with justice to all. The Book of Mormon and the Bible remind us of the words he uttered to Pilate in response to a question of whether he was a King:
“My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence”. (John 18:36)
In this single verse, Jesus sets forth his methodology for social change: nonviolence.

Nonviolence was not a foreign concept to early Mormonism. T
he Prophet Joseph Smith did say, “I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom [foreseen by] Daniel, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world. It will not be by sword or gun that this kingdom will roll on: the power of truth is such that all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel”.

Mormon nonviolence: a restoration of gospel principles

The main purpose of the Book, as explained by Mormon himself on the title page, is to restore knowledge of the covenants God made with the house of Israel. This restoration of covenants puts forward a premise that the promises God made to the fathers are dependent upon the righteousness, or in other words, the nonviolence of their children. That is why the blood of the prophets is crying
from the dust – not for revenge, but to show us a better way to the Promised Land, so that we may in truth establish the Kingdom of God on Earth:
“And now behold, I would speak unto the remnant of this people who are spared, ...that they may know of the things of their fathers... : Know ye that ye are of the remnant of the house of Israel. Know ye that ye must come unto repentance, or ye cannot be saved. Know ye that ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again - save it be that God shall command you. (Mormon 7:1-4)

“Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ which shall be set before you (1) not only in this record but also in the record that shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you.” (2) (Mormon 7:8)
If we were to do as Mormon says, and were to lay hold upon the words of Christ in his sermons of nonviolence and love, then these are the words of nonviolence that must be imprinted in our minds and in our hearts:
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they, which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matthew 5:9-12)

“And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy; but behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good. Therefore those things, which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled. Old things are done away, and all things have become new. Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect." (3 Nephi 12:43-48 & Matthew 5:44-48).


mormongandhi is looking for alternative and more peaceful ways of thinking and living. He calls himself an advocate for nonviolence in the Restoration movement. He currently lives in Oslo, Norway and works for Norwegian Church Aid as an advisor for peace and reconciliation. He has a BA in peace and development studies from Bradford University in the UK, where he studied religious peacebuilding, as well as a master’s in peace operations from GMU in Washington D.C. For an alternative and nonviolent study of the Book of Mormon, mormongandhi is publishing a study chapter every week on mormon nonviolence (latter day satyagraha) at http://mormongandhi.com. Each chapter follows the set-up of the Institute Study Manual of the LDS Church (total 52 chapters). In addition, you can share your thoughts and insights on the nonviolent readings of the Book of Mormon with other “peaceable followers of Christ” (Moroni 7:3) at the discussion forum http://peaceablefollowers.wordpress.com, created in parallel to the “latter day satyagraha” site. You may contact mormongandhi directly by emailing him at mormongandhi@gmail.com


NOTES

1. See sermon to the Nephites after his resurrection: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/3_ne/12/
2. See sermon on the mount to the Jews: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/matt/5/



The Dawning Of A Brighter Day - by Boyd Petersen

In 1982, Eugene England surveyed the history and current landscape of Mormon literary production in a seminal article published in BYU Studies entitled “The Dawning of a Brighter Day: Mormon Literature after 150 Years.” There England celebrated the flowering of Mormon “faithful realism”; the publication of Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert’s anthology of Mormon literature A Believing People; the creation of a course on Mormon literature at Brigham Young University; and the foundation of the Association for Mormon Letters in 1976. He saw these as signs that Mormon culture was not only producing but beginning to recognize a unique literary heritage.

Nevertheless, England saw with clear vision that much of work remained to be done. He acknowledged that no scholarly bibliography of Mormon literature had been produced. He also recognized that a unique Mormon literature not only required writers but criticism, and he lamented that little had been done.

Twenty seven years later, we have much to celebrate: Print-on-demand technology and the blogosphere have allowed Mormon literature to develop in ways England could never imagine. Mormon literature is being taught and Mormon literature courses are being introduced to college campuses, public and private, across the nation as Mormon Studies becomes a recognized academic discipline. And the Association for Mormon Letters continues to champion Mormon literature and criticism with its yearly meeting, awards, and literary journal Irreantum.

Indeed, many of the deficits sorely felt by England in 1982 are today beginning to be met: the Mormon literature database has become a first-rate bibliography of Mormon literature, criticism, and film. Works of literature and criticism are being published not only by Mormon studies publications like BYU Studies, Dialogue, and AML’s own Irreantum, but by blogs, especially A Motley Vision and Segullah. England would have been thrilled to see the 2007 publication of Terryl Givens’ People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture by Oxford University Press. And he would have been an enthusiastic supporter of the wonderful flowering of Mormon cinema and the seminal publication of an issue of BYU Studies that recounted the lost history of Mormon cinema.

As we look forward to the bright future the twenty-first century promises for Mormon literature, we at AML also want to look back. Specifically we want to recreate some of the early conversations that led to the creation of AML and revisit some of the features that made AML a community for those interested in Mormon literature. One of the features of AML that first attracted my attention was the regular electronically published columns on a variety of literary topics. Two of those columns ultimately led to books: a look at the humor of Mormon culture by Ed Snow’s Of Curious Workmanship: Musings on Things Mormon and a literary analysis of the Book of Mormon by Richard Dilworth Rust’s Feasting on the Word: The Literary Testimony of the Book of Mormon.

In a world where blogs are ubiquitous and our attention is constantly divided by many good things, we know launching another blog may seem redundant. However, I trust you will find on the AML blog (http://mormonletters.org/) a conversation that will stimulate great discussion and, hopefully, inspire great Mormon literature and criticism (perhaps even a few books!). To commemorate the bright future we see for Mormon literature and simultaneously remind us of our roots, we have titled the new blog after Eugene England’s 1982 essay.

England’s essay suggests that for Mormon authors to create great literature, they will have a “special respect for language and form” while at the same time draw upon the theological and historical realities of our unique Mormon heritage. England stresses that the themes available to the Mormon artist do not come from our trivial peculiarities, but rather from our unique theology and history. As England states, “I don’t mean irrigation and polygamy and Lamanite warriors but rather a certain epic consciousness and mythic identification with ancient peoples and processes: the theme of exile and return, of the fruitful journey into the wilderness; the pilgrim traveling the dark and misty way to the tree of salvation; the lonely quest for selfhood that leads to conversion and then to the paradox of community; the desert as crucible in which to make saints, not gold; the sacramental life that persists in spiritual experience and guileless charity despite physical and cultural deprivation; the fortunate fall from innocence and comfort into a lone and dreary world where opposition and tragic struggle can produce virtue and salvation.” These themes, argues England, would “nurture” the artist’s imagination “with the most challenging and liberating set of metaphysical possibilities and paradoxes.” Great Mormon literature can only come from Mormon artists who know their Mormon literary heritage, know the forms of their genre, and simultaneously take their craft and their faith seriously.

England cautioned against the Scylla of “didactic, apologetic, or sentimental writing” (“pious trash” as Flannery O’Connor called much of Catholic literature), even as he warned against the Charybdis of “sexual explicitness or sophomoric skepticism as faddish, but phony, symbols of intellectual and moral sophistication and freedom.” The Association of Mormon Letters has consistently attempted to promote these two ideals. While we have, at times, drifted too far to one side or the other, we are firmly committed to this radical middle. This is why I am happy to associate with this organization and am equally excited about our launching the new blog. I hope you will all find yourselves at home there as we attempt, in the words of Eugene England, to “bring to full flower a culture commensurate with our great religious and historical roots.”

When Moral Issues Become Political Issues - by Ray DeGraw

Editor’s Note: The author is an active, believing member who has served and continues to serve in many callings in the Church. His political opinions and religious views are “all over the map, depending on the issue,” as he puts it, and he does not wish to be indentified as an LDS Lefty or be classified with any particular label that would imply things to others. In his own words, he says, “I'm not a classification; I'm an individual who supports the Brethren fully while trying to obtain and follow personal revelation.” With his permission, we are pleased to feature this brief essay that we think so eloquently outlines how to examine moral issues that enter the political arena.

Once a moral issue enters the political arena, it no longer is just a moral issue. It becomes a political issue, subject to different forces and obligations and stresses and interpretations ad infinitum than when it was “just” a moral issue. This is not the thread for it, but abortion is a perfect example of this. How I feel about it as a strictly “personal moral issue” varies radically from how I feel about it as a political, legal issue. That’s the core reason why the Church can and should comment on moral issues while not attempting to dictate political action.

This essay fleshes out that foundational claim – that once a moral issue enters the political arena, it is OK for Mormons to vote differently than they might preach.

My moral stance on abortion is, unsurprisingly, that of the Church: Abortion is not murder, and it is not inherently a sin in all cases, but it is a serious action that should be undertaken only in specific situations – like rape or incest, when the mother’s life is in danger, or when the fetus cannot survive birth. Furthermore, it should not be automatic even in these situations.(1)

When abortion enters the political arena, however, my stance changes radically. The same statement in the Church’s website Newsroom also includes a concluding statement, which rarely is quoted in these discussions:

“The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.”

Why not? As a political issue, there are three options:

1. Always prohibit abortions – not consistent with the Church’s moral stance;

2. Always allow abortions – not consistent with the Church’s moral stance;

3. Allow some and prohibit other abortions – can be consistent with the Church’s moral stance.

It would appear that I should support #3 as the basis for legislation. I don’t. I support #2 (even practices like partial-birth abortion, which I find simply revolting and barbaric in theory, but absolutely necessary in strictly limited instances) instead of #3, for the following reasons:

1. Exceptions must be decided through compromise among differing beliefs. Most who accept exceptions would support abortion in situations where the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother, but many don’t. I think most would support exceptions for cases of rape and incest, but many don’t. Fewer support a doctor’s determination that the fetus won’t survive birth, since there is an element of subjectivity in some cases. Compromise that does not include the exceptions the Church allows would be in direct violation of my own moral code – forcing birth in situations where I believe the parents (including my wife and I) should be able to choose abortion, if necessary in their situation. I can’t support that.

2. It would be fairly easy for a doctor who is committed to abortion as an option for all to over-estimate the danger to the mother’s life if an abortion was desired. In order to address this potential conflict, the courts would be required to assign a second doctor to verify the initial diagnosis, but this doctor would be just as likely to be opposed to abortion as an option. If so, the verification might be withheld for many women whose decisions I would support otherwise. I can’t support that.

3. The most tricky situation legally is in cases of rape. Here’s what’s tricky about it:

• For abortions in these cases to be allowed, there would have to be a charge made of rape.

• Any charge would necessitate an investigation.

• An investigation would require the possibility of a trial.

• Typical investigations and trials cannot be undertaken and completed in nine months – especially in cases that might boil down to “she said/he said”. In reality, these cases actually would have a “prosecutorial window” of only about 4-6 months – since the pregnancy might not be known until the second month and would need to be terminated prior to the third trimester in order to avoid late-term abortions that would never receive legal support.

• In these situations, to be a viable option, an abortion would have to be possible before the completion of any legal action to determine the validity of the claim.

• Rape cases are difficult to prove, but under this “exception” construct, abortions should not be allowed for spurious accusations.

• Therefore, these cases would need to be expedited to reach a conviction that would justify the abortion occurring.

• The cases that should not be rushed, ever, are explicitly those that are the most difficult to prove. Such a focus makes it less likely that the charge will be substantiated, meaning that legitimate cases have a greatly reduced chance of being proven – meaning that the perpetrator has a greatly enhanced chance of being acquitted.

• If abortions are granted on the basis of the accusation, in order to address the nearly impossible task of convicting within 3-4 months of the charge being made, the courts would need to be willing to punish women who make spurious claims in order to have that abortion. Otherwise, a charge of rape would become the automatic action of any woman desiring an abortion, effectively legislating the allowance of abortion in any situation.

• The near impossibility of determining guilt in some cases, even when the accusation is valid, would mean that many women would be punished for having to make the case in a shortened time frame – for making a claim that is difficult to prove in an expedited time frame.

• The possibility of being prosecuted for making a valid but unprovable accusation would have the practical effect of scaring many women away from making such an accusation, thus effectively legislating option #1 for many in the guise of #3. I can’t support that.

Given that I can’t support outlawing all abortions, and that I can’t support outlawing all abortions with the exceptions of rape, health of the mother and viability of the baby, all that is left for me is to leave the decision in the hands of the individual mother (and father, where applicable) and let them deal with the moral consequences of their decisions.

Morally, I am opposed to abortion, but I allow for exceptions; politically, I oppose legislation that restricts abortion in any way that would not address the issues I articulated here. I have yet to see a proposal which I can support.

Abortion is just one example of this conundrum. Morality dictates our individual choices, but as has been said elsewhere: “You can’t legislate morality.” That statement is usually taken to mean that you cannot force people to behave morally. This example illustrates why it is also impractical.


NOTES

1. http://www.newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/public-issues/abortion

A Child Is Born In Bukavu : a Christmas message - by mormongandhi

A child is born in Bukavu, and sadness fills his mother’s heart... Bukavu is not the city of David. It is a town in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. War has been ravaging the country for years. Ever since Kabila invaded the former Zaire with military support from the US. It is a war that no one speaks of – but it has cost the lives of millions of people and caused unimaginable suffering.

The child’s mother is a young girl, a daughter of the area. This young girl is named Maria. Maria was a girl like most any other girl in her town. She walked miles for water, she helped her mother with the cooking and she also tilled the land. She learnt how to read in primary school, but ever since the war her parents no longer could afford to pay her school fees. Maria was a believer in the Christian gospel – and went like all other young girls her age to church on Sunday.

Church was a mud hut with a roof made out of straw. There on Sundays, the kids would gather to learn about God. The preacher, an older man with glasses and graying hair, would always talk about God’s love for humanity – and that God once, long time ago, had come to the world as a male child to save humanity. In church, she had also learned some words of English. She knew that when you greeted someone, you had to say: “Good morning, class."

The morning breaks


That was then. Prior to the attacks... One day, as the morning broke and shadows gathered, foreign soldiers drove into town. The houses were set on fire. The adults were gathered on the square and the older men were executed one by one. This is how Maria lost her father – and she and her mother witnessed it. The soldiers held their heads for them to watch. Maria was afraid. After having seen the murder of her father, they also separated her from her mother. She was chosen from among the young girls to follow a group of soldiers. One of them stripped her of her clothes and forced himself on her – he, subject to the commanders’ orders.

Now she held this young child in her arms. Her heart was filled with sadness, and she knew that her firstborn child would have given her joy under other circumstances. Some months after the soldiers left, Maria was chased away. The villagers who were left behind were ashamed of her and of the other girls who had become pregnant. These girls were a constant reminder of the day when the men in the village had been powerless – confronted with the threat and the fear of a gun. “Do not ever come back”, were the last words she heard as she was running for her life into the deep woods.

Maria sings to her little child a song she learned many years ago: “Lullaby, lullaby, my little one. Lullaby, my child so dear. Thy precious life has just begun. Thy mother holds thee near”. And yet, she knows the words do not ring true. True, all life is precious. But not one soul will ever value the life of this child. Born of a violent union, unwanted by his mother, into a world where people willingly march to the sound of guns. What future can she promise him? What life can this child possibly hope to have? Even though she loves him, he is a constant reminder of what happened to her, and like the villagers who once chased her away she cannot find peace when she looks into his eyes.

Its ranks are filled with soldiers, united, bold and strong...


Victory, victory... The guys were singing and shouting, drunken by their thirst for blood and proud of their conquest. Bukavu had been encircled, trapped, taken, raped and ravaged. The soldiers executed the orders of their commander and had in turn executed the elders of Bukavu – one by one. Herodes was the commander’s name. His boys feared him.

They were now men. They had proven it – to themselves and to him who had led them into victory. Joseph, one of the soldiers, the one who raped Maria, was nonetheless feeling some unease. In following orders, Joseph had forced himself upon this young girl. The others had told him that having sex with a virgin was going to save him from the disease that was making him weak, this pandemic they called AIDS. But more importantly, the others respected him now. He had become one of them: their partner in crime.

You are the man! We saw you, Joseph. You did it. You made her cry – you and your gun. You made her scream. The words were both making him feel proud and good about himself, but for one reason, unknown to him, they were also haunting him. Could he look at a woman again without thinking of the pain he had caused to this young girl – whose name he would never know? In order to survive – either you dominate or you are dominated, Herodes used to say. To rule, you have to systematically brake down the bonds that bind communities together. They need to fear you or fear will overtake you...

I am trying to be like Jesus

War does not bring out the best in us – it brings out the worst in us. True, some acts are acts of courage – but aren’t those heroic acts always associated with saving lives, and not with taking them? Fear begets fear. It is the opposite of love. Misery begets misery. It is the opposite of joy. Violence begets violence. It is the opposite of peace.

The nativity story told the world of a little baby boy, born to Mary, a girl chosen among other girls to be the mother of a Savior, rejected by men and yet, many are they who believe he is their safe ticket to heaven. The story from Bukavu is the story of a little baby boy, born to Maria, a girl chosen among other girls to be the victim of a soldier, so he could gain accept in the eyes of his comrades, so he could become a man, taking by force what he believed was a safe ticket to health.

Jesus taught us that he was not Herodes. “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence”. Jesus was nonviolent. Not exactly what you would associate with being a King. He was God. He was love, both long-suffering and kind. That is why he came to earth as a man and not as a woman: not because God favors men, but because the concept of what it means to be a Man on earth is so contrary to what it means to being God in heaven – who Mormons believe is male. Be kind, as a child, he said to them, and loving as a hen gathers her chickens:

“O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you. Yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not. O ye house of Israel, whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.”

Love one another

It was necessary for Jesus to come to earth in the form and shape of a male – to represent God as his firstborn son, the first among all great men, a king of kings. “Little children, a new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

The divine irony is the fact that Jesus exhibits throughout his life traits that we call feminine: peaceful, loving, kind, sharing, meek, forgiving, gentle, and caring. He helped the poor and he healed the sick. We crucified him, because he was a threat to men everywhere. He challenged the very idea of what it means to be a man: strong, violent, forceful, greedy, noisy, arrogant and proud. He challenged the way we think about achieving peace, not by dominating others before they dominate us, but by showing us a better way to freedom – paved with love and with sacrifice.

In short, this was the message Jesus gave to the modern House of Israel, to the modern sons of Jacob: “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am”. He showed all men an alternative masculinity - that of the nonviolent male who sides with the poor and the downtrodden. Come, follow me, the Savior said.

Gaining A Testimony - by Jonathan Scott Griffin

"Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my funderstanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.

But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.”

(Alma 32: 28-30)

I have more liberal leanings than most members of the Church. Sometimes this causes conflict with the conservatives in the Church. However, I also have a testimony of the Gospel. But this testimony didn’t come immediately. I hope that my words, as a member of the Church who leans more to the left, will persuade and help those in the left to remain active in the Church, despite how other members of the Church may view them. I believe that those on the left side of the spectrum, such as myself, and others, can remain in the Church and be active in the Gospel, no matter what others may say.

My story starts out when I was a missionary stationed in Nauvoo. I was sent there on a year long service mission, not with preaching involved, but just service. The Church said it was because of my high-functioning autism. But I, to this day, feel the real reason the Lord sent me there was because of my struggles with the Church. I didn't have the firmest testimony. In Nauvoo I was exposed to the ghosts of the past, or rather, in simpler terms, to a plethora of Church history, some of it long forgotten. It was from the Journal of Discourses I learned about the many wives of Joseph Smith, blood atonement, Adam-God doctrine, the racist statements against blacks from General Authorities, and so forth. These things even further shook up my already fragile faith. I began to lash out on my companions, to cry in my bed, and just be overall pugnacious. I wanted the truth exposed. I didn't want to destroy the Church, but rather only for the Church to admit mistakes had been made. I knew I couldn't afford the Journal of Discourses, so I did something else. I bought a book, which took snippets from what general authorities said. However, now that I look back, I realize this was an anti-Mormon book. It took snippets from what they said, but failed to put things into context as to why they said them. Eventually my mission companion took the book to my mission president. I received a call from him. I was surprised to hear no condemnation in his voice, but rather concern and love. I was called to his office the next day. Instead of chastising me, he told me how proud he was of me, for researching, delving into issues, and told me the Lord blessed me with a great mind. He bore testimony to me that I would learn the truth, and rather than stop researching, told me to keep reading. The more I read, from what is the new Mormon history, rather than the anti, or just faith promoting, truth sunk into my mind. Sure, I had some breakdowns, but the mission president never sent me home, always loved me, and tried to answer my questions to the best of his ability. A miracle happened. The Lord filled me with the light of truth, and now I don't have any doubt in my mind that the Gospel is true. This is Christ's Church.

In regards to reading different history of the Church, how has that helped me? When I come across people who are antagonistic towards the Church, or are just generally well-meaning but, like I did, have concerns, I pray to Heavenly Father for guidance. Dipping into that knowledge that I have gained, from the honest history which tells warts and all, I am able to use that knowledge, fused with the Spirit, to try and alleviate their fears. I talk to them, in their language, about Old Testament prophets, and New Testament prophets, and I point out parts in the Bible where they didn't act accordingly, and tell them that our living prophets, are God's mouthpiece, but like the imperfect prophets of the Old and New Testament, they make mistakes as well.

As for D. Michael Quinn, yes he is excommunicated, but he still believes in the Church. He is not a bitter anti-Mormon. In fact a couple years ago, about 2006 or 2007, he wrote a favorable article about Joseph Smith's First Vision and the evidence surrounding it. He gave much evidence to corroborate his claims, and even dismissed some anti-Mormons in the process. When I talked to him on the phone, he gave a very powerful testimony on the truthfulness of the Gospel and the Church. It was beautiful. I find his books Mormon Hierarchy, and Early Mormonism and the Magic World View to be outstanding pieces of scholarship.

I know the Church is true. I know that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, and that this is Christ's Church. I also know that we have living prophets and apostles. I also know that we shouldn't fear questioning, and, like Hugh B. Brown said, there is room for doubt when it helps us grow. I know that reading from the history of the Church, and studying controversial issues, helps us increase in knowledge and wisdom. I know that we can admit the prophets don't always act accordingly, and sometimes make mistakes, but that we can still sustain and follow them. I know that instead of distancing ourselves from those pondering leaving the Church, and having doubt about the Church's validity, we need to reach out and love them just as Christ would. President Hinckley once said that we should continue to love people, even if they never join the Church, and to be their real friends. I think the same applies to those who are thinking of leaving the Church; always be their friend. It may be difficult to stay in a Church which seems so conservative at times, but I believe the Gospel is for everyone, even those with different political views.

Pray for strength and guidance, that we may always see the truth within the Church, and within the Gospel, so that we may remain strong, like a fortress, all the while reaching out to those, in love, not judgment, who are struggling. May the Spirit and the love of Christ and Heavenly Father help us in our endeavors.