Friday, March 31, 2006

Protest At BYU

Someone has guts. The Daily Herald reported that a group of BYU students planned to protest the firing of a BYU whistleblower today, Friday, March 31.

The student protesters would step into a chalk circle, remain there until three, and tape their mouth shut with stickers saying BYUSA to show that students have no voice on campus.

The whistleblower was fired for stating that student candidates on campus might be improperly sifted by administrators. BYUSA is the student body organization at Brigham Young University

Why Kids Can't Write

The Washington Post's Jay Mathews argues that activists' rejection of high stake testing is merely an irrational fear of the unknown. In Mathews' opinion, these kind of tests, now mandated at several grade levels, do not compromise education because good teachers do not engage into drill fests. Mathews misdiagnoses the problem. The technical requirements of the tests shape the curriculum. That means that fundamental skills such as writing, reasoning, and analysis are increasingly marginalized.

I love my children's school, which provides them many opportunities. Somewhere at the policy level, however, the focus is off. In Maryland, third grade used to focus on composition. Due to testing pressures, the curriculum has dropped story, letter, and report writing. There is no compensation in later grades.

I am all for identifying kids that are not up to grade level and supporting them. But that cannot mean that children can no longer acquire basic life skills.

Composition elevates thinking to another level. Few things focus one's thoughts as having to put them down on paper in a coherent and concise way. In the workplace, you need to know how to properly describe a situation. Otherwise you cannot share information in a world of large organizations and bureaucracies.

My daughter's teacher will kindly provide my wife and me with a composition curriculum. Thirty minutes to an hour per day during the summer will probably be sufficient for our daughter to develop her writing skills at an age appropriate level. I am concerned, however, about her peers who will not have that opportunity.

It's already a problem. Teaching at a state college, in my experience most freshmen cannot write a coherent report, no matter how short or simple. A friend of mine who teaches history at Yale reports that she encounters the same problem.

After twelve years of schooling, young adults should be able to write a report about an automobile accident. They should be able to analyze a text, be it a speech by the President of the United States or a scene of Shakespeare.

The notion that multiple choice tests are the appropriate college entrance exam is not only ridiculous but damaging. Multiple choice tests are unable to measure thinking and understanding. They deemphasize skills such as composition or mathematical analysis and proof. Instead the tests are emphasizing the most trivial aspects of education. Multiple choice tests privilege "what" over "why," recognition over reasoning, memorization over skill. If that's what's rewarded then we need not be surprised that the educational attainment of college entries is trivial.

To be sure, the most responsible state legislatures have supplemented No Child Left Behind with short answer questions. Unfortunately, they neither count towards the federal mandate nor are they a substitute for proper composition.

Until we abandon the notion that one can rank order the nation's students with multiple choice tests such as the SAT, we will not be able to provide our children with a proper education. Easy and convenient measurement might be politically convenient. It makes for a crippled education.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Darron Smith: Correction

I apologize for posting inaccurate information about the Darron Smith interview. It will actually air on Sunday night at 6:30 on KUED.

Check your local listings to find out when your PBS affiliate air Religion and Ethics between April 2-8. Religion and Ethics updates the program website Friday evening to reflect next week's program.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Darron Smith on TV

Religion and Ethics interviews Darron Smith this week. Darron Smith was a professor at Brigham Young University whose contract was not renewed presumably because his research showed how Latter-day Saints of African descent continue to be affected by racist theology.

For those of you who live in the Salt Lake area, the show will broadcast on KUED, the local PBS affiliate, on Friday evening at 6:30.

The Ultimate Revelation

If we believe in God as the creator then the creation is the ultimate revelation. Hence doctrine has to accomodate the creation or the nature of things.

The scientific consensus has determined that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon. So are hermaphrodites and barren couples. Therefore we ought to consider homosexuality part and parcel of creation.

Theology that does not reflect these manifestations fails to account for the creation and thus undermines itself.

When it became clear that naturalism contradicted racism, dogmatic insistence to the contrary crippled Mormon theology, corrupted the hearts of our children and damaged the Church as an organization. I hope that does not happen with sexism.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sex and Salvation

On Times and Seasons, Nate Oman cuts right to the chase. He argues that Latter-day defenders of gay marriage have failed to engage Mormon theology. General Christian arguments are insufficient justifications, according to Oman, because they do not consider Doctrine and Covenants sections 131 and 132. Sections 131 and 132 define salvation in terms of a union between male and female. That is no small matter. After all, salvation is the ultimate end of Christian theologies.

For the sake of argument, I shall suspend my doubts about section 132 and assume it to be an authoritative text.

In that case, it’s important to be precise. Oman is right that the new and everlasting covenant is about males and females. It is not about the traditional family. It’s about polygamy. The definition of eternal marriage in verses 15-32 is sandwiched between passages about polygamous Old Testament patriarchs and kings. Hence it is clear that eternal marriage or the new and everlasting covenant is polygamous, a fact that has encouraging implications for gay marriage.

Typically though not exclusively, Mormon polygamy was polygynous, which means that one man was married to several women. Hence the new and everlasting covenant can include lesbians as long as their relationship is mediated by the inclusion of a man.

More importantly, Latter-day Saints do not practice the new and everlasting covenant in its original form any longer. Under legal pressure, President Wilford Woodruff declared in 1890 that polygamous eternal marriages were suspended.

Hence no Latter-day Saint are unable to enter into the new and everlasting covenant in its original form. Notice, Woodruff’s Official Declaration does not lay claim to prophesy or revelation. It merely announces a policy change with the authority of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. The Official Declaration does not redefine the requirements of salvation but assures that LDS authorities will not tolerate new polygamous marriages.

As none of us can live polygamy, that policy change would amount to our damnation if one were to rely on D&C 132 only. Unless one assumes that section 132 is ambiguous or needs to be supplemented with other texts, contemporary Mormon practice becomes absurd. The LDS Church would be left without the ability to provide for the salvation of our generation.

It is not my place to determine how far the flexibility will stretch. In the context of Buckley Jeppson’s case, extending temple marriage to gays and lesbians is not on the agenda.

We know, however, that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon and as such a part of the creation. Christians, especially Mormons, believe that the atonement can safe every child of heavenly. It seems to me then that any notion of salvation needs to include those children of Heavenly Father that happen to be homosexual. Otherwise our soteriology will remain not only incomplete but mired in contradiction.

In the meanwhile, it is in the public interest to have a space for believing Mormons to pursue their sexuality in a responsible and safe manner. The best way to obtain that is in a committed, legally sanctioned, monogamous relationship. That does not require theological change. It only requires realism and a little bit of tolerance.

Vee Have Vays of Making You Speak!

Finally, I have been snarked. Pathetically, I had to ask for it three times. But the humiliation was worth it. Check it out!

Monday, March 27, 2006


Since the topic came up at Our Thoughts, here is my analysis about excommunication and Mormon theology:

Excommunication is too much of a temptation for leaders to exclude people that disagree with them. Particularly, the excommunication of historians and other scholars is problematic.

If one takes Mormon theology at its face value then researchers who are threatened with excommunication find themselves in a situation where salvation is unobtainable regardless of what they do.

If the scholars get excommunicated for their research then they lose access to the necessary sacraments. If they submit to authorities and deny their research then they are denouncing their best efforts of determining the facts. That amounts to a lie. Lying is a sin, which results in damnation.

Creating a situation where neither repentance nor salvation are possible is a much greater sacrilege than anything that any historian could possibly say.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Why God Really Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah

When Steven B. proposed language that welcomes gays and lesbians into the LDS Church without violating Mormon dogma on Open Sky Visions, some posters replied that God must hate gays. Why else, was the argument, would God cast fire and brimstone on the heads of homosexuals in Sodom and Gomorrah?

When one reads Genesis closely, however, it becomes clear that the Sodomites were not punished for homosexuality but for violating hospitality. Read for yourself:

4. Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter;
5. and they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them."
6. But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him,
7. and said, "Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly.
8. "Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof."
9. But they said, "Stand aside." Furthermore, they said, "This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them." So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door.
10. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door.
11. They struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves trying to find the doorway.
12. Then the two men said to Lot, "Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place;
13. for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it."

The locals demand from Lot that he turn over his guest to be raped. That's pretty bad. To avert that evil, Lot offers his daughters to the mob. That would not make sense if God were concerned about sexual sin. But when the locals decline the offer and threaten Lot, that's when the messengers of God declare that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has become imminent.

Genesis 19 is not about homosexuality. It's about hospitality.

Ironically, hospitality plays only a minor role in the theology of latter-day fundamentalists, a fact that should remind us that not everything in a three thousand year old book is relevant in our era.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Costs for Iraq

Remember when Wolfowitz argued that the war would not be expensive because Iraq would pay for its own reconstruction with its oil revenues? Shortly thereafter George W. Bush's chief economist Lawrence Lindsay was fired for revealing that the Iraq War would cost $200 billion.

It turns out to be a lot worse.

Nobel price winning economist Joseph Stiegliz and Linda Bilmes have published an analysis of the financial costs of the Iraq War. You can download their paper here. By the time, one pays the indirect costs of the war we are well on our way to spending more than one trillion dollars. It may be as much as two.

That means that each American household will have to contribute $10,000.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Costs

The sad thing is that the current policy makes it impossible for some of our children to reconcile their essence with their religion. The consequences are traumatic, sometimes deadly.

The experience of Bishop Harding's family illustrates what it is like if one of your loved ones happens to be gay and LDS.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Latter-day Samaritan

Buckley has been asked by his ecclesiastical leaders to forsake his faith. He has responded that he will not deny his faith and his heritage. He knows that love is not a sin. Buckley understands that God created him in his image.

In spite of Pauls teachings that privilege celibacy, Mormons understand the power of the sex drive. We know that most people will have sex. Hence we tell them to get married early.

Behavioral codes have to accomodate reality, not the other way around. The fact is that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon. Homosexuality occurs across a wide variety of species including primates.

Furthermore, no species relegates procreation to volition. For humans that manifests itself in the sex drive.

It is not only unjust and unfair to deny humanity's sexual nature to individuals who happen to be created with a different sexual orientation. It's futile.

Most people will have sex. Homosexuals are people. Therefore homosexuals will have sex.

People who do not recognize that are in denial. Even if motivated by the best intentions, this mindset has negative consequences, which include physical violence against homosexuals in the form of bodily injury and homicide. There is also symbolic violence against homosexuals by way of humiliation, marginalization and scapegoating.

Symbolic violence may lead to self-destructive behaviors when gays cannot reconcile their religious commitments and their sexuality. In some cases that means suicide. In others it means that gays act according to the negative image that Mormon society and doctrine prescribes for them.

Bad ideas have consequences. How do I know it's a bad idea? Because the notion that homosexuality is a sin destroys our children.

There is no reason why there needs to be another Stuart Matis. We only need to take responsibility for our ideas instead of blaming God.

Nobody is innocent. We are all responsible when it comes to the power of bad ideas.

Fortunately, Buckley is a pretty strong guy. He bears his cross with dignity. The way we treat him pains him. But in the end, Mormon culture will be better thanks to Buckley's strength. I am grateful for the opportunity to support him. I wish I would have supported Stuart Matis.

In my eyes, Buckley is a Good Samaritan of our generation. He doesn't see himself that way. He just wants to be a good Latter-day Saint. But one cannot say that as a gay Mormon man without helping the weary, burdened, and injured that we encounter on our community's paths.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Conservative Logic of Gay Marriage

1. People who have sex ought to be married.
2. Gays and lesbians will have sex.
3. Therefore gays and lesbians ought to get married.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Moving the Bar

The Washington Post carries an AP story about the threatened excommunication of Buckley Jeppson from the LDS Church. Mormon leaders fault Buckley for being married to his husband in Canada.

In the past, the Mormon prophet Gordon Hinckley has declared that homosexuals are treated no different from heterosexuals. For example, Hinckley said in an interview published by the San Francisco Chronicle on March 13, 1997:

"Now, we have gays in the church. Good people. We take no action against such people—provided they don't become involved in transgression, sexual transgression. If they do, we do with them exactly what we'd do with heterosexuals who transgress. We have a very strong moral teaching concerning abstinence before marriage and total fidelity following marriage. And, regardless of whether they're heterosexuals or otherwise, if they step over that line there are certain sanctions, certain penalties that are imposed."

Now that gays and lesbians can actually get married, it seems that the LDS Church is about to establish a new standard. LDS leaders seem to prepare to declare marriage a sin.

You can read more about Buckley Jeppson's case at the web site of the Safe Space Coalition, which also provides you the opportunity to share your opinion about this issue with LDS leaders. The Safe Space Coalition is a group of Mormons and friends of Mormons who strive to provide a safe space beyond despair and suicide for gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints.