French Lives, Arab Lives

If I may depart from all things Mormon and address the other great issue of the moment…

“The worldwide tributes to Paris are beautiful,” an old friend wrote on Facebook. “The Empire State changed its colors to blue white and red…..people are able to change their Facebook profile pictures to the colors of the French flag…Saturday Night Live had a moving tribute….but I’m curious as to why I didn’t see any of these types of tributes when 150 souls were lost in Kenya or when 50 souls were lost in Beirut.”

Many others have expressed similar sentiments, and a blog post has gone viral on social media to add teeth to that observation. Titled “From Beirut, This Is Paris: In A World That Doesn’t Care About Arab Lives,” the writer – a Lebanese citizen named Elie Fares, who, I think, is male, but I’m not sure, so if I’m using the wrong pronoun, forgive me – talks about how he’s been troubled since the Paris attacks, but for a different reason than many.

“Amid the chaos and tragedy of it all, one nagging thought wouldn’t leave my head,” he writes. “It’s the same thought that echoes inside my skull at every single one of these events, which are becoming sadly very recurrent: we don’t really matter.”

I quote him at length:

When my people died on the streets of Beirut on November 12th, world leaders did not rise in condemnation. There were no statements expressing sympathy with the Lebanese people. There was no global outrage that innocent people whose only fault was being somewhere at the wrong place and time should never have to go that way or that their families should never be broken that way or that someone’s sect or political background should never be a hyphen before feeling horrified at how their corpses burned on cement. Obama did not issue a statement about how their death was a crime against humanity; after all what is humanity but a subjective term delineating the worth of the human being meant by it?

He concludes with the bleak assessment that we live in a “world that doesn’t care about Arab lives.”


I don’t blame him for thinking that way. Certainly it’s a question that merits further consideration. But, pragmatically speaking, there are other less pessimistic reasons why the situations are treated differently by the media and the public. The Middle East has been so volatile for so long that many view casualties in its war zones as grimly, tragically commonplace. I would attribute a lack of outrage not to a lack of compassion but rather to a surfeit of cynicism.  We’ve been at war in the Middle East for as long as my youngest three children have been alive, and we’ve grimly come to expect people, even innocent people, to die in that region. We’ve steeled ourselves against the misery by convincing ourselves that chaos, at least in that part of the world, is more or less commonplace. I think we do that as a spiritual survival mechanism rather than as an expression of racism.

The world was united in outrage when terrorism struck a peaceful setting like Paris because it reminded us that evil is unconstrained by geography. For good or ill, it’s far more noticeable to many when terror strikes in a locale so far removed from the day-to-day violence that many in Beirut have inexcusably had to endure for far too long.

So, yes. On its face, there is an undeniable inconsistency in the attention paid to one atrocity and not another. Some would call that deplorable, as it shows that, at least to some degree, we revere some lives more than others, and we’ve become inured to much human misery.

But there’s also a more encouraging way to look at this. The outpouring of compassion for Paris shows that the world is not so far gone as to be incapable of outrage in the face of horror. Rather than condemn any perceived inconsistency, the wiser approach is to applaud people’s better instincts as they search for ways to show love and support for those who suffer. That’s the approach likely to inspire greater compassion for all lives in all parts of the globe.

Rameumptom Watch: Thoughts from the Cheap Seats

Yeah, me again. I left this blog untended for months on end, and now I can’t shut up. Sorry about that.

Members of my church are responding to this new policy change in a host of different ways, and several have thought it appropriate to post links to messages prepared by two of the most beloved leaders the Church has ever had: Gordon B. Hinckley and Neil A. Maxwell.

President Hinckley wrote a First Presidency message for the July, 1990 edition of The Ensign titled “A City upon a Hill.” In it, he warned that we were in the midst of “a great sifting time” as the divide between the standards of the world and the standards of the Church continued to grow wider. The saints were to be tested as to which side they would choose. President Hinckley went on to say that “the time [of sifting] is here,” meaning the test to which he was referring was taking place in 1990, when these words were spoken, and long before any of the issues in the 2015 policy were being actively considered by the general membership.

Elder Maxwell’s talk making the rounds is titled “Meeting the Challenges of Today.” It was an address delivered at BYU in October of 1978, just months after the revelation that extended all priesthood and temple blessings to black members of the Church. The focus of the speech is on the tension generated when religious opinions are offered up in the public square. It warns of a growing “irreligious imperialism” infecting political discourse and counsels members to follow the First Presidency rather than embrace the secular trends of society at large.

There is nothing in either speech with which I disagree. I heartily endorse both messages without qualification, and they are certainly worth your prayerful consideration.

What I find troubling is that so many seem to think these speeches are uniquely applicable to the situation in which we now find ourselves. Because they really, really aren’t.

Consider that neither message is speaking about division within the Church, but, rather, the great divide between Zion and Babylon. The counsel is to leave the world and join the Church. Those members who, like me, oppose this policy have already done precisely that. We made our decision and have decided to follow the prophets. The reason we find this matter so troubling is not because we long to adopt the standards of the world, but because we find this policy inconsistent with gospel principles that the prophets have taught and continue to teach.

To claim we are not following the prophet now is to claim that prophets have repudiated the Second Article of Faith, which teaches the beautiful doctrine that we will be punished for our own sins and no one else’s.  Certainly this principle remains at the core of our doctrine. For generations, primary children have been asked to memorize these words and repeat them in sacrament meeting. That practice continues to this day.

So should I follow the prophet when he tells me that we shouldn’t punish anyone for anyone else’s sins, or should I follow the prophet when he tells me to punish an innocent child by withholding the Gift of the Holy Ghost and the Aaronic Priesthood from them throughout their childhood and adolescence because of someone else’s sins?

President Hinckley and Elder Maxwell spoke of choosing between the ways of the world and the prophets of God. Yet our current situation calls us to choose between two diametrically opposed messages given to us by prophets of God. How, then, are these talks/articles in any way applicable to our current circumstance?

The clear implication by those who cite these two articles/speeches is that those who are struggling are the ones being sifted out, and that those who accept this policy without reservation are the ones who can smugly and self-righteously pat themselves on the back for passing the test. Who would take comfort in that at a time like this? Who would watch those of us struggling and rejoice that the Lord is purging His church of the faithless rather than reach out to us in charity and love?

This calls to mind the story of the Rameumptom in the Book of Mormon, which tells of a group of people who would stand on a massive elevated platform and rejoice that the Lord “hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell.” (Alma 31:17)


I find it deeply depressing that some seem to delight in the spiritual misery of others, especially when those others are desperately trying to follow the Lord according to the dictates of their own consciences. As Latter-day Saints and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can, and should, do far better than that.

Coalescing Policy Narratives

I confess that I haven’t been particularly productive since last Thursday night. Even after the reassuring divine message I received while walking my dog, this new church policy has consumed my thoughts and overwhelmed my heart these past few days, to the point where I feel like I can neither talk or think of anything else.

I don’t want to reiterate or justify my own position, which has not changed from my two previous posts on the subject. Rather, I want to review some of the pools of consensus that seem to be coalescing as members struggle to come to terms with this issue. Near as I can tell, those pools are settling on the following narratives to explain/justify/vilify the newly established policy that the children of gay parents are to be denied blessings of full church participation until age 18. This list is in no way comprehensive; I’m only going to address the narratives that I think require further comment.

1. The Abrahamic Test Narrative
D&C 101:4 says the members of the church “must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.” This policy represents just such a trial, and we need to rise up and accept the challenge, just like Abraham did.

Actually, D&C 101:4 is addressed to the Saints who were driven out of their homes by angry mobs. In context, the revelation is providing an explanation for why God allowed the Saints to suffer such horrible persecutions in that instance. It is not a blanket prediction that every member of the Church will be required to make an Abrahamic sacrifice.

In addition, the comparison to Abraham overlooks what was unique about his particular experience. Remember, Abraham wasn’t just asked to do something difficult, like give away all his wealth or wander in the wilderness for 40 years. He was asked to do something he knew to be morally wrong. The distinction is critical. Isaac had been born to Abraham’s wife through miraculous circumstances, but even if he hadn’t been, the law of the Lord prohibits murder and requires fathers to love and protect their children, not slaughter them. So Abraham was asked to do something that violated everything he knew to be right.

This narrative is invoked by many who defend this policy, and I think most of them don’t realize that, by doing so, they are unwittingly acknowledging that their conscience is telling them this policy is wrong.

2. The Follow-the-Brethren Narrative
The Brethren are prophets and apostles of the Lord. They are his anointed servants with the authority to lead this church, and they cannot lead us astray. This came from them, which means it’s right. So who are you to say that it’s wrong?

That phrase “lead us astray” has been the source of much mischief over the years. It originally comes from the following statement by Wilford Woodruff after he had issued the Manifesto ending the practice of polygamy in the mainstream LDS Church.

The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.

The simplest way to interpret that statement, and the way that, I think, a majority of members do interpret that statement, is that the prophet and apostles are essentially infallible. I say “essentially” because there are a host of other statements, many of them far more recent than this one, where prophets and apostles candidly admit that they are, indeed, fallible and capable of error.

So the way a lot of people reconcile “the prophet won’t lead you astray” with “the prophet is not infallible”  is the idea that the prophet can make mistakes, but only tiny ones. If the prophet thinks you’re somebody else and calls you by the wrong name, or if he forgets his wife’s birthday, or if he misspells a word, or if he gives someone the wrong directions on how to drive to his house, well, that’s because he’s human and fallible. But surely he could never get any significant point of doctrine wrong.

But the fact is that, yes, he can, and history has shown us clear examples of where he has.

The most painful is the Church’s longstanding denial of full participation to black members, which lasted for more than a century and was based on Brigham Young’s wrong idea that black skin was the mark of Cain. Granted, that was an idea that did not originate with Brother Brigham or the Church; it was a longstanding justification for American slavery. But Brigham believed it, and he taught it with confidence from the pulpit and used the principle to shape policy. And he was wrong, and, today, the Church openly acknowledges he was wrong. 

One of the reasons I believe that the ban endured for so long is that later prophets erroneously believed in the “essentially infallible” theory. Among other factors, they couldn’t lift the ban because they couldn’t bring themselves to admit that one of their predecessors had simply made a big mistake.

So if the prophet can be wrong, and not just by a little bit, then what does it mean to say that the prophet cannot “lead us astray?” Well, I don’t have an easy answer to that question. I think it means that if you stick with the prophet, even though he can be wrong, that you’ll ultimately end up where you need to be in the end. Even if it takes a century to change course, as it did with the priesthood ban, the Church will eventually get it right.

This isn’t good enough for a lot of people who end up with damaged faith when they discover that prophets make mistakes. And I sympathize; I wish prophets didn’t ever make mistakes. But an infallible prophet would also have to be a prophet without agency. God never tampers with agency, even with his prophets. That’s what mortality is all about.

3. The Brethren-Are-Bad-Guys Narrative
This policy was written by a bunch of out-of-touch homophobes who love power more than God. 

So the flip side to #2, promulgated by some of those who, like me, oppose this new policy, is that not only are prophets fallible, but they are incapable of doing anything right. Or, even more sinisterly, they are incapable of doing anything for the right reason. They’re bigots; they’re haters; they’re liars; they’re control freaks, or, among the more charitable who buy into this narrative, they’re kindhearted, senile idiots.

People who believe this fail to provide an adequate explanation for why the vast majority of what these allegedly terrible men teach and do is overwhelmingly positive. The messages they share at Conference are Christlike and kind, and they have devoted their entire lives to service, requiring them to attend to their demanding duties until the day they die. The colossal amount of goodness to be found in the Church would not be possible if it were being led by the corrupt villains described by this narrative.  And while I think this policy is a grievous error, I think it is an error implemented by men who actively sought the will of the Lord and were trying to do the right thing.

4. The Brethren-Know-Better-Than-Me Narrative
I think the policy is wrong, and my conscience, my gut, and even the Spirit are telling me it’s wrong. But the Brethren are more righteous than I am, and they are closer to the Lord, and obviously they know something I don’t, so I will support this in spite of myself. 

This is a variation on the “Follow the Brethren” narrative, except, in this instance, the person sees a conflict between their personal feelings and their loyalty to the Brethren. In the “Follow the Brethren” narrative as described above, the loyalists feel no such conflict and are proud to be able to among the truly righteous who do not question their leaders. In this narrative, the internal conflict is agonizing, and the only way to reconcile it is to cede personal moral judgment to supposed moral superiors.

This narrative presumes that men are apostles because they are better people than we are. And that may be true in some cases, as I certainly think they are better people, or more righteous people, than I am. But I also think that way of people in my own neighborhood, many of whom would be outstanding apostles. When you have a worldwide church with millions of members and only a dozen or so high leadership slots, you inevitably have a massive overabundance of talent.

The following is from an article titled “Parables of Mercy” by Richard Lloyd Anderson which appeared in the February 1987 edition of The Ensign:

Despite his spiritual stature as a prophet, [Joseph Smith] never claimed personal superiority to other Saints. In fact, he said, “I don’t want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous. God judgeth men according to the light he gives them.”

That light is not dependent on the intervention of any other human being, even a prophet. You have direct access to heaven, and you have the right to the light and knowledge of the Spirit. No one stands between you and the Lord Jesus Christ. And if the Spirit is undeniably telling you something, you can trust it without getting approval from Church Headquarters.

These are my thoughts for the day. I’ll stop now. More to come, I’m sure.

What God told me while I was walking my dog

I find that my most effective and productive prayers take place when I’m walking my dog.

Granted, these prayers are highly unorthodox. They don’t involve closing my eyes or using King James English. They’re structured more like conversations, and, I confess, the conversations have gotten a bit heated at times. I am not yet righteous enough to avoid being angry with God, and sometimes I take it out on Him as I’m strolling with my pooch through the vacant area that’s set aside for an extension of Highland Drive that, hopefully, will never be built. Regardless, it’s at these moments that I can look to the sky and plead my case directly to the heavens.

As I said in my last post, I have been deeply troubled these past 48 hours. While turning off Facebook for the weekend has helped me calm down, it has not changed my opinion of my church’s latest policy that denies saving ordinances and blessings to minor children because of who their parents are. This has put me at odds with my church and its leaders in a way I have never been before. It’s not a position I welcome or sought. And, needless to say, it has been the primary subject of my Dogwalking Dialogues with Deity ™.

So this morning, I was talking to God, and God talked back.

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand. I didn’t see a pillar of light; there were no (visible) angels present; I wasn’t called upon to translate ancient records, lead my family into the wilderness, or part a large body of water. But the message was as profound to me as if Jesus Himself had whispered it in my ear. Because, in a way, He did.

The message was simply this:

“Be patient. It will all work out in the end.”

These words were accompanied by a feeling of peace, love, and kindness. They didn’t come with a timeline or an agenda as to how this will happen. This revelation was also devoid of any confirmation or condemnation of the policy I found, and still find, so deeply troubling. What it told me was that I shouldn’t leave the Church; I shouldn’t rail against its leaders, and I shouldn’t demand that resolution of these concerns happen by means of a process/schedule of my choosing. This does not change my position, but it does change my demeanor.

I think the leaders who wrote this policy were in error, but I also think they were acting in good faith and following their consciences, and that they sincerely believe this policy is in the best interests of the Church. I believe that these are kind, wise men who have devoted their lives to Christ and are trying to serve them to the best of their ability. I find I can sustain them and respect them, even though I may not agree with them in this instance.

I recognize that this response may not be adequate to satisfy some of my friends who believe this demands more strident action to right this wrong. I have read calls for protests, for rallies, for organized resistance to compel the Church to change its position. To those going down that path, please know that while I understand and even sympathize with your motivations, I am not going to join you in these actions.

Over time, I have observed that public shaming of the Church is the least effective way to get it to change. And it does change. But it changes according to the light and knowledge it receives from heaven, which is not dispersed in contentious, heated confrontations. I firmly believe that no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile. Yes, I stole that last bit from D&C 121. It’s the best blueprint for dealing with any disagreement or dissension, within or without the Church.

So, to sum up: if you want to get revelations, you should walk your dog more often.

Steve Urquhart: Let’s retee, adjust our stance, and swing again.

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of being out of step with my church, and it’s tying me up in knots. As my Facebook friends already know – and I’m taking a short weekend-long sabbatical from Facebook in order to calm down – I am deeply troubled by the Church’s new policy to withhold blessings from children of same-sex couples. I find all the explanations and justifications for this policy that have been hitherto offered to be unpersuasive. I see this policy as a fundamental contradiction with one of our most basic Articles of Faith.

I love and sustain the Church and its leaders. I have been richly blessed by my association with this church which has done immeasurable good in this world. God’s hand has been clearly visible in its work. I wish to remain a member in good standing. I have no interest in tearing my church down. I have defended it repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, and I will continue to defend it as often as I am able.

That said, I cannot escape the conclusion that this policy is a profound error.

As I thought what I would write about this, I saw an essay on Facebook written by Utah State Senator Steve Urquhart, who was one of the primary movers and shakers behind the legislation protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination that recently passed in Utah with the Church’s full support. Steve was my neighbor when I lived in St. George, and he’s one of the finest people I know. He’s also one of the brightest, most clear-thinking individuals on the planet, and what he wrote on this subject expresses my own opinion perfectly. With his permission, I am reposting his words here.


I want to explain why I care that the Mormon Church has decided to ostracize (i.e., exclude from privileges and rites) the children of gay parents (e.g., parents in committed same-sex relationships).

The Church’s decision will hurt individuals. It will hurt families. And it will hurt the Church.

Let me be clear upfront. To my core, I love the Mormon Church. My life is immensely better because the Mormon Church—and so many of its loving, giving, beautiful, Christ-like followers—was there to guide me, my mother, and one of my brothers. My childhood was sloppy. My family was messy. After our already-unsound foundation was rocked by tragedy, my mom, my brother, and I joined the Mormon Church. We were in free fall, and the Mormon Church caught us, supported us, and saved us. Yes, it is flawed, but the Mormon Church is a glorious institution.

Also, the Mormon Church does much, much, much good in this world—most of it very quietly. The leadership of the Church and the members of the Church are consumed with doing good things. Though the Church sporadically frustrates the bejeebers out of me as it struggles to find the right place on issues involving women and gayfolk, Mormons are my people. They are my tribe. And if any of you bastards dare to storm the gates of the temple, I’ll dust off my Triple Combination (scriptures) and use it to beat the living hell out of you. Got it?!

My fellow tribesmen and tribeswomen, I hope you know that many gay members of our tribe need the Mormon Church. They believe in the Church. They draw strength from it. Like the rest of us sinners, they fall short but keep going because of their faith. This policy change will deny their kids rites and blessings.

In addition to our gay tribes(wo)men, there are gayfolk who want nothing to do with the Church themselves, BUT they fully support and appreciate their children’s devotion to the religion. This beautiful reality should be easy to grasp. My dad, for example, thought the foundational claims of the Mormon Church were total bullshit, but he 100% appreciated and supported his boys’ devotion to the religion. He encouraged and paid for my mission. Why? Because he realized that he fell short. He knew that we needed help. And he was proud that we had the discipline to believe and live according to our faith. If he weren’t in Sailors Paradise, I guarantee you he also would defend the gates of the Temple. (He’d have some hilarious asides, but he loved that crazy-ass institution, because it was good for his boys).

Okay? That’s point one. You shouldn’t cut people off from full participation—especially if you believe that they need an extra portion of help and salvation.

Point two. This hurts the Church, because it is bigoted and small. The Church has actively ostracized two groups: polygamists (those who stayed after we got out) and blackfolk.

To justify the decision to ostracize kids of (some) gayfolk, people argue that the same policy applies to kids of polygamists. Yes. That makes my point about bigotry. Honestly, we can’t stand plygs. Our religiously hillbilly cousins claim the same genealogy, name, scriptures, traditions, and stories, and it drives us crazy. People confuse us for them, and we really don’t like it. So, we ostracize them. We are prejudiced against them. And our leadership handbooks reflect that bigotry.

We have been trying to put behind us our ostracism of blackfolk. Just like we now do for kids of gayfolk, for over a century we ostracized blackfolk, denying them rites and privileges. Just like members are now doing regarding kids of gayfolk, members spent a century explaining away the racial bigotry as a mystery of God, something to be cured in the next life, etc. But it was just bigotry. The Church recently took the healthy step of admitting that. The racism of Brother Brigham found its way into church practice (and leadership manuals) and was, then, unfortunately, followed for generations. It was never of God. It was fear, misunderstanding and bigotry.

And that’s what the ostracism of children of gayfolk is: fear, misunderstanding, and bigotry. It’s not of God. It’s of man. And it needs to change. Members of the Church don’t need to explain the denial of rites and blessings as somehow good for a targeted, ostracized group of people. That’s transparently wrong and embarrassing. It is now clear–Church approved–that anyone truly in touch with God’s will would have known that the ostracism of blackfolk was wrong. They would have been right to speak out against it.

I don’t know the will of God. He doesn’t speak to me. But it seems his messages must get garbled in Google Translate at times. When I tried to tell my dad the Joseph Smith story, he said, “Son, you seem reluctant to talk with me about the idea of God talking to a man. I believe it. I see it every day. I know lots of people who talk with God. It is an undisputed fact. But . . . from what I can tell, he must tell them some crazy-ass shit.” It must be difficult to clearly hear and interpret the will of God.

The Mormon Church has learned some lessons from its history of ostracizing blackfolk. We now know that the prophets Brigham Young, John Talyor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Harold B. Lee all struggled to find God’s actual will regarding his black children. We had it wrong for a long time. Similarly, the Church is struggling to find God’s will regarding his LGBT children.

Suffer not the children in my tribe. Let’s continue to work on this issue. The Mormon Church really has made some good progress on LGBT issues. Really. On this one, though, we shanked it into the woods. Let’s retee, adjust our stance, and swing again.