stallioncornell

True and Living

So I continue to wade into online and offline discussions about the church’s policy of denying crucial gospel ordinances to innocent children, and the consensus seems to be that I have “rejected the prophets,” in the words of one Facebook commenter who seemed really enthusiastic about getting the ball rolling on my inevitable excommunication. Privately, I’ve been told that the only faithful thing for me to do is to “stop talking about it.” Someone else told me that I’m faithless for referencing statistics that show a marked uptick in LGBT suicide rates among LDS teens since the policy was announced – they’ve quadrupled by some measures –  because it “makes the Church look bad,” even though the church eventually acknowledged the same sad facts in a public statement.

This has been real eye-opener for me, if for no other reason than it has demonstrated just how far removed from a Zion society we really are. The eagerness of so many of us to condemn and ostracize those who show even the slightest hint of discomfort with conventional Mormondom is especially disheartening. After all, I’ve been a pretty conservative, straight-arrow, whitebread, Republican, orthodox Mormon for most of my life, so I had no idea so many other members were this anxious to get rid of me. I also had no idea that calling attention to a deeply troubling suicide trend was more offensive than the fact that a group of uniquely vulnerable young people increasingly see death as a preferable alternative to a life in the Church.

But I’m not leaving. I’m not even going to slacken my activity level. I intend to remain fully engaged and committed, and I intend to continue to sustain the prophets.

(I will now give voice to a straw-man accuser who will helpfully say all of his accusations in italics to distinguish them from my own reasoned, sage-like responses.)

Sustain the prophets? Say what? You can’t sustain the prophets if you disagree with them.

Of course I can. In fact, that’s one of the truest tests of discipleship – to follow human and fallible leaders that have all the same amount of agency I have, even when they’re not always right. That was my position well before this policy came on to the scene, and that’s my position now.

But by disagreeing with this policy, you’re not following them.  

Not at all. I would not be following them only if I were to subvert this policy and refuse to comply with it.

Wait a minute. You’re saying you will comply with this policy?

Of course I will. In the unlikely event that I were ever a bishop, and a married gay couple gave consent for their innocent child to be baptized, I would do everything within my discretion to make that happen.

That’s not complying with the policy!

It is. Thankfully, this policy, and particularly the clarifications that came after it, gives the bishop a great deal of discretion. Children are to be denied blessings and baptism only in cases where life with married gay parents constitutes a “primary residence.” So in joint custody cases where one divorced parent is an active member and the other has remarried someone of the same gender, which are likely to constitute the vast majority of cases to which this policy applies, I would likely have the discretion to assign the designation of “primary residence” to the parent living in circumstances that would allow the child to receive all the blessings of the gospel.

That may work most if the time, but that won’t always work. So what about cases where you couldn’t do that?

In those cases, a child cannot be baptized without First Presidency approval. So I would petition the First Presidency for approval.

Yeah? Well, what if they turned you down?

Then I’d show up on the doorstep of the Church Office Building and beg.

Man, you just can’t take no for an answer, can you?

I wouldn’t want to, no. And I don’t understand why so many would want to. Just as I don’t really get why so many are gloating over their own righteousness and reveling in the pain of those of us who are struggling with this policy, I also don’t get why everyone wouldn’t be looking for every possible avenue to include rather than exclude, to show compassion rather than condemnation, to welcome rather than reject.

Get off your high horse, you NOM*. The fact is, you can go through all that nonsense and still come up short. You can camp out in front of Thomas Monson’s office, and he could still tell you no. So what then?

What then? Then I weep. Then I return to these precious, innocent children and their parents and, with tears in my eyes, tell them that despite everything I could possibly do – and I would have done everything I could have possibly done – the Church still won’t let them be baptized. Then I would plead with them to turn the other cheek and not reject the Church that has rejected them. And I would organize a ward council to find as many possible ways to include this child and their family in every possible way within ward activities and use every resource available at my disposal to let them know they are valued, they are wanted, and they are loved.

Wait a minute. Their families? Even the gay couple?

Yes. Even them.

But they’re sinners!

That they are. As are you. As am I. As are all fifteen men in the highest offices of the Church. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Let’s set aside the straw man for a moment. For more than a century, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints excluded people from full fellowship in the Church based on folklore about Cain, “less-valiant spirits,” and other nonsense that was passed off as doctrine. Many within the Church viewed that as wrong, and now the Church has admitted it was wrong. But at the time, even those who viewed it as wrong could not very well go about ordaining black people, even though they believed that was the right thing to do, or, even more significantly, even if it was the right thing to do. Discipleship required them to be patient enough with an imperfect church that they were willing to endure the mistake in order to sustain leaders who, unlike a perfect Christ, have weaknesses and blind spots and therefore actually need to be sustained.

And isn’t that a better story anyway? Isn’t it better to imagine a church that develops and grows and learns from its mistakes?

That’s the story, incidentally, that the Lord has always expected us to tell. This may be a bit of a tangent, but I don’t think that people who stand up in a testimony meeting to praise this as “the only true church” realize that they’re misquoting the Lord, who never actually said that. What he did say was this was the only true and living church. (See D&C 1:30) Plenty of other churches have truth in them. Some have gobs of it. But this church is both true and living. It is more than just correct principles; it is the living people doing everything in their power to apply them. And the Church, like all living things, develops, grows, and learns from its mistakes.

If you don’t think so, and you think that sustaining the prophets and apostles absolutely means that, in every difference of opinion, they’re always right and you’re always wrong, then you need to pray with everything you have that your children never come to you with hard questions. Because when they start asking you why John Taylor repeatedly said the Church would never stop practicing polygamy, or why Brigham Young made all kinds of racist claims that the Church has specifically disavowed, you better have a miracle in your back pocket if “well, they were wrong” is never an acceptable answer.

 

* New Order Mormon. I’ve been repeatedly told I’m one of these, as if this designation were a real thing that deserves my authority and respect, which it isn’t, rather than just a nasty name that intolerant members use to label people they don’t like, which it is.  

I know what I hate

24410582I’d never heard of Caitlin Flanagan. Apparently, she’s an editor at The Atlantic who was raised in a home where voting for Democrats was more than mandatory.

“When I was young, my father told me what his father told him: If I got in the voting booth and so much as reached for the Republican lever, the hand of God would come into that voting booth and strike me dead,” she said.

That quote is an excerpt from her brilliant Time Magazine piece called “Why This Democrat Won’t Be Voting for Hillary Clinton.” It’s a devastating critique of Hillary’s history of destroying the women who dare to come forward with tales of Bill Clinton’s sexual predations. For decades, I have been waiting for feminists to catch up with their principles and recognize the Clintons for who they really are. And now, finally, this is beginning to happen.

And I have Donald Trump to thank for it.

With a single tweet, Trump reintroduced Bill and Hillary’s sordid history into the national dialogue, and the name “Juanita Broaddrick” has actually been uttered in their presence by people who live outside the right-wing echo chamber. I had given up hope that this was possible, yet The Donald made it happen without even breaking a sweat. And I can’t help but be grateful.

I want to make sure I am not misunderstood here, so I have to dump a boatload of caveats on you before I say what I’m going to say. I think Donald Trump would, at best, be an absurd president, and, at worst, a terribly destructive one. His immigration proposals are racist, reactionary, and largely ridiculous. He has no real ideological convictions to speak of, and he doesn’t seem to have any interest in the real work of governance or respect for its constitutional constraints. His election would essentially dismantle the Republican Party and set back the conservative movement by a generation or two. I will not vote for him under any circumstances, and if he and Hillary are my two choices, I’m sitting this one out.

Okay? Caveats out of the way? Good. Here’s the point I want to make:

I don’t hate him.

Understand what this means. There are many political figures who make my blood boil just by showing their smug little faces on a TV screen. The Clintons certainly top that list, but this odious group draws its membership from both the left and the right side of the aisle. Whenever Ted Cruz opens his smarmy, self-satisfied mouth, for instance, I have an irrational urge to pound my fist into it, even if he’s saying something somewhat reasonable.

That’s important to note here. My visceral negative reaction to politicians does not directly correlate with whether or not I agree with them. For instance, I oppose Barack Obama on just about everything, but I consider him to be a decent man, so he doesn’t make me want to shoot out the television screen every time his face pops up. Ditto Bernie Sanders. I think he’s a buffoon peddling utopian nonsense, but he’s a kind-hearted and well-intended buffoon. Just being wrong isn’t enough to provoke my ire. You have to be a sanctimonious, hypocritical jerk, too.

You know, like someone named Clinton. Or Ted Cruz. Or Glenn Beck. Or Michael Moore. Or Nancy Pelosi. Or Rosie O’Donnell.

But not, for some reason, Donald Trump.

I realize this doesn’t make a lick of sense. Trump’s practically a mobster, and if my criteria for political loathing were in any way consistent, my stomach should turn every time I catch a glimpse of him. But it doesn’t. Instead, he makes me laugh. I find I want to listen to him just to find out what outrageous thing he’s going to say next. When I DVR the Republican debates, I fast forward through all the boring political boilerplate being spewed by the real candidates and focus on Trump’s far more ludicrous answers.

I tell you this not just to confess my secret shame, but rather to make a larger point.

Even though I’ve deliberately tried to disconnect from politics these past few years, I can never fully step away. I therefore retain a certain set of ideological convictions that prevent me from ignoring Trump’s grotesque excesses just because the guy is entertaining.

But most of America isn’t so ideological. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I actually envy people who can go about the important business of their lives and pay little or no attention to the squalid sideshow of politics. Good for them.

But if I don’t hate Trump, there’s a pretty good chance that they don’t hate Trump, either.

Remember that they also won’t view him as a traditional Republican – again, the Trump brand has more power than the Republican brand, which means people who would typically never imagine voting for a Republican will imagine voting for Trump. These are not people who obsess over every bit of political trivia and wake up in the middle of the night to write blog posts about it. No, these are people who, on Election Day, will be voting with their gut, not their brain, and all things being equal, guts go with the one that’s harder to hate.

Is that Hillary or is that Trump? Your brain and your gut are now telling you two different things, but you know what the answer is.

 

 

In all Patience and Faith

So my frustration with the current LDS policy that withholds crucial gospel ordinances from innocent children has led me to a number of online discussions where I’ve encountered people just as angry, or far more angry, than I am over this state of affairs. What I’ve learned is that there is a template for many of these discussions which requires that participants speak the language of Dissident.

And I’ve discovered that, for all my objections, I don’t really speak Dissident.

To speak Dissident, one has to always assume the worst possible motives for the leaders of the LDS Church. They can’t just be wrong;  they supposedly have to be exposed as lying fascists. Every mention has to include snide asides about how they’re all in it for the power/money/babes, and frequent mention of Thomas S. Monson’s presumed senility and dementia is de rigeur.

So, as I encounter hardcore Mormons who now defend the Brethren with arguments about how the Gift of the Holy Ghost is not really a big deal – a position that would have been unthinkable to them two months ago – I also encounter equal levels of rigidity from those who think it impossible to imagine the men inflicting this policy on them are anything but devils in disguise. Certainly the Lord’s church wouldn’t ever be capable of such egregious error, and so, clearly, this isn’t the Lord’s church.

I find both of those positions equally ignorant of the principle of agency. We all have it, even prophets and apostles. And the Lord will never, ever interfere with it, even in the case of prophets and apostles. That’s why the prophets and apostles need us to sustain them – not because they’re perfect, but precisely because they aren’t.

Much has been made, for instance, of President Russell M. Nelson’s talk where he states that this policy is “the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord” and that he and the other apostles have received “spiritual confirmation” that this is the case. Those who speak Dissident are quick to note that this elevates this policy to the level of doctrine, making it infallible. End of discussion, right? Consider these words of the First Presidency: “We feel very sure that you understand well the doctrines of the Church. They are either true or not true. Our testimony is that they are true. Under these circumstances we may not permit ourselves to be too much impressed by the reasonings of men however well-founded they may seem to be.”

That last bit predates Elder Nelson’s talk by six decades or so. It was a letter from the First Presidency to Lowry Nelson, a BYU professor of Applied Sciences who had written Church President George Albert Smith about his concerns about the church policy of withholding the priesthood and temple blessings from black members. In 1947, over the course of a series of letters, President Smith stated that the idea “that all God’s children stand in equal positions before Him in all things” is “contrary to the very fundamentals of God’s dealings with Israel.”

He went on to state that those of African descent were less righteous in the preexistence, and that is why “it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.” He goes further to decry the “repugnant” concept of “the intermarriage of the Negro and White races” which has “has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now” and “is contrary to Church doctrine.”

These letters were signed by the full First Presidency, including my great-grandfather David O. McKay, who succeeded George Albert Smith as President of the Church. Seven years after this letter was written, President McKay had this to say on the same subject:

“There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”

That’s inconsistent with the 1947 letters, but it’s entirely consistent with the Church’s current essay on the subject.

“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

From the LDS.org essay “Race and the Priesthood.”

So how do you reconcile these contradictory positions? The only intellectually and spiritually honest answer is: you don’t. They are irreconcilable. One prophet was right, and one prophet was wrong. One prophet called it doctrine; another denied it was doctrine. And then another got rid of it altogether.

Doesn’t that mean the Church is a fraud? Quite the contrary. It means the Lord teaches his people the way he always has – “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” (2 Nephi 28:30) If that’s the process, then surely it means that the Church is going to move away from positions of error when it receives greater light. Infallibility never, ever comes into play.

But why is that the process? Why does he permit leaders to stumble in darkness and say and do things that are later proven to be incorrect by an application of greater light?

The answer is agency. Agency is the central purpose of our existence, and that’s true of prophets and Webelos leaders. (That’s me, incidentally. The extent of my current ecclesiastical authority is the supervision of 10-year-old boys learning how to conduct flag ceremonies. And even in this capacity, I’m far from infallible.)

One of the preeminent challenges of discipleship is sustaining leaders that are capable of error, who are just like you, me, and everyone other than Christ who has ever and will ever live. It means speaking Dissident is the wrong approach. It means when the Lord tells us to follow the prophet “in all patience and faith,” (D&C 21:5) he was right to put the word “patience” first. We recognize the importance of being patient with an imperfect bishop or relief society president, but we somehow think that once someone enters the Quorum of the Twelve, they have their agency extracted and patience is no longer necessary. That’s bad reasoning. Even more importantly, that’s bad doctrine.

So how do I explain Elder Nelson’s report of spiritual confirmation of a policy that, to me, contradicts fundamental gospel principles and remains wholly wrong? The answer is that I’m patient. I certainly don’t question Elder Nelson’s motives. I may not believe what he believes on this point, but I believe he believes it, and I respect the authority of his office. I don’t bolt from a church that has proven, time and again, that it is a force for great good in this world, that it is home to the influence of the Holy Ghost and the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and, that, not on my timetable but on the Lord’s, it will eventually get it right.

The Possibility of President Trump

Let me preface this piece by reiterating where I am with regard to presidential politics. I believe that the existing structural flaws of American constitutional government are irreparable, and that the very concept of the nation state is archaic and obsolete. I therefore see this election as a contest to determine who gets to be the guy who flips the lights off on their way out.

So with that in mind, my interest in this campaign is equivalent to my interest in, say, superhero movies. Deciding who is the best candidate is a bit like deciding which Avenger I like best. It makes for a colorful discussion, but it’s ultimately inconsequential, as far as I’m concerned. That helps me stomach the fact that everyone with a chance to win the White House is either an idiot, a criminal, or both.

Which, of course, brings us to Donald Trump.

trump1-575x385If you want to understand the Trump campaign and you’re not reading Scott Adams’ blog, you are missing the one writer who has accurately predicted every single major development in Trump’s campaign. I read it regularly – he updates it almost every day – and I’ve been amazed at how insightfully he demonstrates Trump’s masterful ability to persuade with methods that have little or nothing to do with rational thought.

My position on Trump is that he’s a shoo-in for the GOP nomination, which means he will be crushed in the general election, simultaneously destroying both the Republican Party and the entire conservative movement in the process. This contradicts Scott Adams’ prediction, which is that Trump will win the White House in a landslide. Previously, I couldn’t imagine such a thing happening for a number of reasons – Trump’s xenophobia will alienate Hispanic voters; no Republican can win the Electoral College given current demographics, and Trump is such a personally repugnant fellow that no serious person could consider elevating him to the highest office in the land.

Now I’m seriously considering that maybe Scott Adams might be right.

Let’s break down each reason separately.

1.Trump’s xenophobia will alienate Hispanic voters.

Hispanics constitute 10% of the electorate and represent the largest non-white voting bloc in the country. As the country becomes increasingly diverse, it becomes next to impossible for any candidate to achieve victory without solid support from Latino voters. George W. Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, while Mitt Romney only managed a paltry 27% eight years later. The Latino trend away from the Republican Party has only accelerated since then, and given Trump’s ludicrous proposal to wall off the Southern border and deport 11 million people in the largest forced relocation of human beings in recorded history, surely we can expect 110% of Hispanics to vote for Hillary this time around, right?

Don’t be so sure.

As Adams repeatedly points out on his blog, Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” describes how The Donald conducts negotiations. He begins by asking for the moon – something far too outrageous for the other side to possibly accept. That anchors the discussion on Trump’s turf, so that when the final agreement is reached, it’s actually far closer to what Trump really expected to get all along. Surely, Adams posits, this is what Trump is doing on immigration. When he comes out of the primary, he is sure to abandon the more extreme elements of his unworkable and immoral proposal and champion something far more reasonable. The fact that it will flatly contradict his recent position won’t be a big deal at all. Massive ideological flip-flops haven’t proven to be a problem for Trump at any point in this campaign, and it won’t start here.

So Trump comes down from the Great Wall and tells Hispanic voters that he recognizes the insensitivity of his original stance, and he asks them to take a second look at the “new Trump.” By doing this, he doesn’t lose any Tea Partiers – where else are they going to go? Hillary? – but he has the potential to persuade Hispanic voters to take a second look.

But will they?

I’ll address that under point #2.

2. No Republican can win the Electoral College given current demographics

In 2012, Mitt Romney won a larger percentage of the white vote than Ronald Reagan did in 1980. It wasn’t nearly enough. Hispanic voters, as noted above, are increasingly Democratic, and black voters have been voting almost unanimously for Democrats for more than a generation. Diversity, therefore, strongly favors the Democrats, and as the country becomes less WASPish, the GOP, which is the party of old white guys, fades in influence. 240 out of 270 electoral votes are not even going to be contested this time around – those belong to Hillary right out of the gate.

At least, that’s how a conventional race looks. But Donald Trump’s presence makes this a decidedly unconventional race.

A recent poll showed Trump getting 40% of the black vote. That’s almost 4 times higher than the best showing by any Republican in the last thirty years. It also shows Trump with 45% of the Hispanic vote, even before he softens his ludicrous immigration positions. How is this possible?

Well, I think the reality is that no Republican could get these numbers, but Donald Trump is not viewed, by most voters, through any partisan lens. Their experience with Trump predates his political involvement, and their opinion of him is not necessarily tainted by his party affiliation. The Trump brand trumps the Republican brand.

In addition, it’s clear that black support for Democrats is more cultural than ideological. For instance, churchgoers overwhelmingly vote for Republicans, but black churchgoers still unanimously vote for Democrats, despite the fact that they more often line up with Republicans on social issues.  But since Trump isn’t really perceived as a Republican, the GOP stigma that repels black voters won’t necessarily come into play.

If a Republican can erode the monolithic black support for Democrats, even a little bit, that’s a huge game changer. And if Trump really can get a whopping 40% of black voters, there is absolutely no way Hillary can win.

3. Trump is such a personally repugnant fellow that no serious person could consider elevating him to the highest office in the land.

To me, this is the most self-evident argument of the three, yet it’s also the weakest. Fact is, people love Donald Trump. They respond positively to him on a visceral level, which means that rational argument isn’t going to convince them to ignore their gut feeling.

I bump into this kind of thing all the time when I point out that Bill Clinton is a sexual predator – people ignore the facts because they just love Bubba. And people have consistently ignored every ridiculously asinine thing that has come out of Trump’s mouth. No, that’s not true – they don’t ignore his incendiary rhetoric. They embrace it. They love that he speaks his mind, even though what he says should be unspeakable.

The bond Donald Trump has established between himself and his supporters is deep and powerful, and it has little or nothing to do with ideology or policy. It’s going to be very difficult, therefore, to talk a Trump lover out of it, since their adoration isn’t even remotely rational to begin with.

All this said, I still can’t quite bring myself to believe that we’ll ever have to say the words “President Trump” and mean them. I keep thinking the country will eventually snap out of it. But keep in mind that when it comes to politics, I’ve been completely and utterly wrong most of the time. Just ask President Romney.

Gosh, doesn’t “President Romney” sound so much better than “President Trump?”

Schlomo the Christmas Whale

Schlomo

Christmas comes to everyone
In homes or holes or caves
And sometimes Christmas even comes
To those beneath the waves…

……

Gather ‘round, children – come hear from a fool
A truly remarkable tale
of the Jewish leviathan saving the yule
Meet Schlomo, the Christmas whale

CHORUS:
Schlomo, Oh Schlomo, from heaven above
We know that below where we sail
Was Schlomo, Dear Schlomo, wet mammal of love
Schlomo the Christmas Whale

Schlomo’s poor Hanukah never went right
He cried when the sharks and the squid
Would laugh as he tried his Menorah to light
Yet, tragically, it never did

Yet Schlomo’s Menorah brought magical joy
Even without any flame
It gave him the power to see a young boy
And Billy McGee was his name

Billy McGee had a dog named Annette
Annette was his one single friend
But Billy was starving and willing to bet
Their lives would undoubtedly end

CHORUS:
Schlomo, Oh Schlomo, we can’t get enough
Of your sweet inspirational tale
Schlomo, your blowhole exploding with love
Schlomo the Christmas Whale

At Christmas, poor Billy just wanted to sing
But collapsed on his way to the choir
Schlomo was watching and saw the whole thing
On his candles without any fire

With Billy unconscious, there wasn’t much time
Schlomo would have to act fast
He beached himself willingly up in the slime
An act that he knew was his last

CHORUS:
Schlomo, Oh Schlomo, your life that you gave
Your legend will never grow stale
And nor will your carcass, nutritious and brave
Oh, Schlomo the Christmas Whale

Annette staggered by and she took a big bite
Out of Schlomo – you might think it rude
But Schlomo’s pure sacrifice made it all right
By offering his body as food

To church Annette dragged her sick master along
Where Billy awoke and he crooned
And everyone cried at his beautiful song
Even Muslims all wept at his tune

One Muslim was Achmed, an angry young man
Who came to spread panic and fear
But Billy’s pure warbling altered his plan
And led him to shed a lone tear

The tear trickled down Achmed’s care-stricken face
And into explosives it dripped
It shorted out triggers that he’d had in place
To blow up the chapel when tripped

That Christmas when many were saved, it was true
When death and destruction would fail
And all from the love of an undersea Jew
Dear Schlomo, the Christmas whale

Schlomo, Oh Schlomo, from heaven above
We know that below where we sail
Was Schlomo, Dear Schlomo, wet mammal of love
Schlomo the Christmas Whale

Schlomo, Oh Schlomo, your life that you gave
Your legend will never grow stale
And nor will your carcass, nutritious and brave
Oh, Schlomo the Christmas Whale

Schlomo, Oh Schlomo, we can’t get enough
Of your sweet inspirational tale
Schlomo, your blowhole exploding with love
Schlomo the Christmas Whale

 

Merry Christmas!

Political Thoughts from the Titanic Crow’s Nest

how_to_make_donald_trump_hairdoI think I would feel better about myself if I were to re-register as a political independent, since the number of national Republicans who don’t nauseate me has dwindled to almost nothing. (Go Kasich!) I figure that when the standard bearer of your party is Donald Trump, it’s probably time to leave your party.

The problem is that every major political candidate in Utah is elected in Republican primaries, so there’s value in maintaining RINO status in order to still have some semblance of a voice in the process. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to care about a process that has zero chance of producing a workable, sustainable government.

“Sustainable” is a word most people don’t use to describe governments, but the reality is that the government, at least on a federal level, is barreling toward total insolvency at a rapid clip, so the sideshow of who gets to take the wheel as the ship of state zooms iceberg-ward makes little difference to me. But people still seem interested in my opinion, so I thought I’d take a moment and let you know what I’m seeing up here in the crow’s nest as the iceberg draws closer.

First of all, all you Romney-ites who think Mitt can swoop in for a last-minute rescue are fully delusional. The deadlines to register for the early caucuses and primaries have long since passed, and you can’t win if your name is not on the ballot. And before you say “write-in,” remember that votes for write-in candidates are not counted unless the candidate registers as an official candidate, which is something Mitt is not stupid enough to do for what is sure to be an exercise in futility.

And don’t get any ideas about some last-minute Romney convention rescue, either. Conventions used to allow for that sort of thing, but that was back when Nixons and Kennedys were floating around. Conventions are now rigidly structured as drama-free infomercials, and candidates get to choose their own delegates out of their immediate circle of friends and family. So the only way the Romney fantasy works is if Ivanka Trump abandons her comb-over pappy and votes for the Mittster. Not gonna happen.

So what will happen? Well, Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. That’s what will happen.

Never mind his lead in the national polls – look at the state-by-state polling in the early primary contests. Trump is up in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, and in Florida by more than 20 points, and he has been for some time. And as of today, he’s even ahead in Iowa according to a CNN poll. I remember seeing an online MSNBC clip – I don’t usually watch MSNBC on purpose, but this clip was interesting – where one commenter pointed out that if Jeb Bush had numbers like Trump’s, everyone would be saying the race is over, but since it’s Trump, everyone’s wondering when he’s finally going to implode.

He’s not going to implode. If mocking a female journalist for menstruating, making fun of John McCain for being a POW, calling for special ID tags for Muslims, making up news reports about Arab rooftop celebrations of 9/11, and saying every other stupid thing Trump has said on an almost daily basis hasn’t blown him up, what will? What could he possibly say that’s more outrageous than what he’s already said? Every time he shoots off his big, stupid mouth, his numbers go up.

He’s your nominee, Republicans. And then he goes down in flames against Hillary, the most corrupt candidate in the history of the Republic. The end. Anyone who tells you otherwise who isn’t Scott Adams is either in denial or an idiot.

Scott Adams, you may or may not know, is the genius who writes the “Dilbert” comic strip. He’s also writing a fascinating series of blog posts about Trump where he calls Trump a “master persuader” who is using hypnotism techniques to change people’s minds. His thesis is fascinating, even though, in the final analysis, it’s wrong. Adams thinks Trump’s magical powers will be enough to persuade Hispanic voters that building an American version of the Great Wall of China and deporting millions of people in the largest forced relocation in human history is a good idea. Trump’s talented, but he’s not that talented. No, he will barbecue the Republican brand and leave it as a charred husk for generations to come. But, still, Adams is worth reading, because, even though he’s wrong, he’s wrong in a very interesting and intelligent way.

That’s all I have to say about politics. It might depress you, but it shouldn’t. There is a certain amount of Zen serenity in recognizing your country is genuinely doomed regardless, so the two most repugnant major party candidates ever nominated won’t really change the ultimate outcome one way or the other. Join me: embrace the collapse and smile.

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.”

Ouch.

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)

rameumptom1

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.