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March 19, 2007

A Matter of Conscience

In an earlier entry, I wrote about why history matters to those who investigate the claims of the LDS Church. I concluded that the history of the church matters to the extent that historical facts (actual history, not the whitewashed, “faith-promoting” version peddled by the LDS Church’s Correlation Committee) tend to establish that the church’s claims to exclusive divine inspiration and authority are spurious.

Ultimately, though, the history of the church figures only tangentially into my decision on whether to remain in the church or leave for pastures of a more verdant hue. I am not a member of Joseph Smith’s church. Or Brigham Young’s. I am certain that at the upcoming General Conference in April, there will be no talks expounding on the Adam-God doctrine or encouraging the members to “mercifully” spill the blood of heretics and apostates. It is not the historical “messes” that fuel my disaffection with Mormonism. Rather, my disaffection is fed by the expanding disparity between my personal values and a church whose doctrines, policies, and culture are diametrically opposed to those values.

I am a member of Gordon B. Hinckley’s church. It is the church’s current teachings to which my children are exposed in Primary and Seminary. It is the current church that demands 10% of my income and 100% of my “time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed [me], or with which he may bless [me], to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.”

My 96 Theses represent a variety of issues I have identified as problematic in the church, along with suggestions for improving things. Many of them, I admit, are minor. For example, I would not consider leaving the church over the way the church reports its statistics. At the same time, I am deeply troubled by some of the problems I see in the church, to the point where I question whether I can, in good conscience, maintain my affiliation with and membership in the church. Some ex-Mormons take the position that, as a matter of personal integrity, one who does not believe in the foundational truth claims of Mormonism should resign membership. I don’t think integrity demands that I discontinue my membership simply because I no longer believe some or all of the key doctrines. In that sense, I remain a New Order Mormon. I do think that integrity demands that I not profess to believe things I do not believe and to limit my participation in the church. For that reason, I did resign from my callings. But membership itself is a trickier proposition.

While I do not think integrity demands that I resign, I think morality might. Some of the church’s doctrines and policies so offend my personal notions of what is decent, fair, honest, and good that I don’t know if I can continue to lend my name to the organization.

In thinking about which of the issues I have with the church might be considered “deal breakers,” I have concluded that most of the things I have identified would fall outside that category. Thus, if the church were to adopt, say, 80 of the suggestions I have made in my 96 Theses, I could not say that I would be satisfied. It would depend on which 80 were adopted and which 16 were not. Considering things in this way has helped me identify my core values and where the church contradicts them.

First, I think it is important that I articulate my core values. Then, it will be easier to see how the LDS Church offends them. I have identified ten of my core values. Obviously, this is a short list of things I value, but to those who are familiar with Mormonism, it will become apparent fairly quickly why I am having issues with the church.

  • I value the worth and dignity of every human being and consider all human beings equal regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, physical or mental      infirmity, social status, national origin, or sexual orientation.
  • I value individual conscience and freedom of personal expression in word, deed, and appearance.
  • I value truth and the responsible search for truth, and I hold authority accountable to truth, not truth to authority.
  • I value holding beliefs tentatively and subjecting them to revision in accordance with new light and knowledge responsibly obtained.
  • I value science and reason and the quest for understanding the world in which I live.
  • I value personal and institutional honesty, integrity, and authenticity.
  • I value justice and mercy, the quest for a more just world, and the quest to understand and empathize with others.
  • I value charity and love, the quest to alleviate suffering in the world, and the quest to inject compassion into human relationships and interactions.
  • I value peace and the quest to create a safer, more tranquil world.
  • I value life, appreciate the natural world, and seek to live with joy and enthusiasm.

I think that the LDS Church stands diametrically opposed to many, if not all, of the values I have just listed. It is for this reason, and not because of any historical issue, that I am feeling more and more like I have a moral imperative to dissociate myself from the LDS Church. Whether I do this through formal resignation or simply through diminishing my activity in the church to the most marginal of levels, I have not yet decided. In this post, I highlight just one of the ways in which the church stands opposed to my values: its stance on homosexuality.

The church’s teachings on homosexuality and its treatment of gays and lesbians stand in direct opposition to my values. The church teaches that homosexuality is, under all circumstances, sinful. It teaches that gays and lesbians are under the influence of Satan and need to repent. The church demands that homosexuals abstain not only from sexual activity but any public display of affection with someone of the same sex. Historically, and until very recently, the church sponsored “treatments” for homosexuals that amounted to physical torture. At least one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has condoned violence against gays. The church continues to perpetuate myths about homosexuality that have been refuted by scientific research. Another Apostle recently suggested that parents of adult homosexual children are justified in declining to appear in public with them or introduce them to their friends. And the church actively promotes legislation aimed at denying gays and lesbians of full equality before the law and the church expends time and resources, and encourages its members, to oppose efforts to secure equal rights for homosexuals.

I believe that equal rights for gays is the civil-rights issue of our time. The LDS Church was wrong on slavery; it was wrong on desegregation; and it is wrong again as it opposes equality under the law for gays and lesbians. Its teachings are based on ignorance and fear, its past practices nothing short of despicable, and its current attitude regressive. Real people are being harmed every day by the church’s teachings and practices, and I am embarrassed to have my name associated with an organization that can only be accurately described as bigoted. If this were the only issue on which I found myself in disagreement with church teachings and policies, it would be of sufficient gravity to warrant my dissociation. Of course, it is not the only issue. I’ll cover some of the others in subsequent posts.

Update: The LDS Church has published a new pamphlet designed, well, no one is really sure what it is designed to do, but the effect seems to have been further alienation and marginalization of gays and lesbians (to whom the church still can refer to only as "persons afflicted with same-sex attraction." The church is moving backwards on an issue on which the rest of the civilized world seems to be making at least incremental progress. For discussion of the pamphlet, see here and here and here and here.

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Comments

Eric,

that was amazing. i read this shortly after reading john hamers comments about the 96 theses. i sympathize with john and i get his point. how nice it would be to somehow capture the community feeling we had in the church and remain proud of our mormon heritage.

your post, in many ways, captures the thoughts i had about why the only option is to leave. there is value in mourning what could have been and what was, but i realize that morality forbids me from returning or allowing my kids to participate in any way.

well done.

I sense an undercurrent of sorrow in your post that may not be apparent to those that haven't experienced a loss of faith. It isn't regret. I don't think any of us feel remorseful for the decision that we have made to dissociate ourselves from this organization. In almost all cases, we're satisfied with knowing the truth and living by it. It's just tragic on so many levels. This church betrays its members.

My wife and I will be resigning from this church eventually. Personally I don't know if I feel a moral obligation to do it, but I do agree with your objections to the modern church. If my sense of integrity doesn't give me the impetus that I need to resign, perhaps my sense of outrage will. Time will tell.

Thank you, Equality.

I think that a believer could easily read your list of issues and see no incongruence with the church, so that the question becomes: why do you not see the virtue of the church where others do?

I suspect the answer lies in your unwillingness to ignore or modify certain facts and/or skew your view of the church in order to sustain a presumed virtue. It's as if you don't want the church to be true...at least not enough to subvert (a believer might prefer the word "submit" -- sick bastards) your own concience in favor of a sustained faith.

So how do folks like us get to this point where we are no longer willing to lie to ourselves? ...where we will no longer submit our minds to external authority?

Why do we no longer align the conscience with the Mormon god?

Perhaps I could just as well ask "why do we awake on any given morning?" Lots of different reasons but ultimately no better answer than that it's just what humans do.

Mel,

You may be right that with respect to some of the values I have articulated, a faithful Mormon might argue that the church does indeed share them. But in the main, I think that there ought to be little argument that the humanist values I have identified conflict with the values the church promotes. Take the first for example. I have stated that I value the worth and dignity of all human beings, including those of homosexual orientation. That is a humanist value: it affirmatively denies that humanity is “‘fallen,”‘ that there is something “‘wrong”‘ with homosexuals that can be “‘cured”‘ through application of the Mormon gospel. A faithful member of the church, I would think, would argue that my value is based on limited human reason and is in opposition to the revealed word of God contained in the scriptures and propounded by the latter-day inspired prophets. A faithful member would argue that God has, in every age, given laws regarding the proper expression of human sexuality and that these laws proscribe homosexuality. A faithful member’s values on this subject are influenced most strongly by the belief that the “‘law of chastity”‘ as taught in the church is immutable, comes from God himself, and is therefore good. In this view, homosexuals are, in God’s eyes, sinners in need of repentance. So, at the heart of the difference in views is the source of our respective value systems. And this goes back to the paradox I mention at the beginning of my post: that history is not the ultimate deciding factor in my decision about my continuing membership in the church, but it is important to the extent that it allowed me to accept the notion that the church’s leaders are not, in fact, any more inspired or enlightened than the rest of humanity and do not speak for God. Once I entertained that idea, I was free to jettison the values that are a necessary consequence of believing in the church’s foundational truth claims in favor of values I believe are informed by science, reason, and my personal observations and experiences.

Equality, this is great writing again. Your values are admirable. It's difficult sometimes to face the facts and admit that it appears that the church does not jive with the most basic values we hold.

This is a great post, Equality. It seems to be fashionable for members who are aware of many of the historical and factual problems with the Church to say that they prefer to think of the Church as being "good" rather than "true." As you articulately show here, though, the Church's goodness is at least as suspect as its trueness.

My problems with the Church began as concerns with its goodness long before I was fully aware of historical issues. And I'm an educated white straight male returned missionary. I can only imagine how I would be turned off if I were, say, a woman or gay!

Yet the church conflates goodness and trueness to such a degree that the indoctrinated member does not see any difference between them.

Eric buddy,

The truth is not in you.

Who's tending hell when you are here blogging?

Hey President [ed: Mahonri], don't you have your own stake of Zion to look after? You're out of your jurisdiction buddy.

Where do these people get off calling the dark lord "Eric"? And don't they know that blogging the subject of Mormonism _is_ hell? Though I understand the confusion that must arise when ones concept of hell comes from the Bible.

mahonri (stake president [ed:_____]),

humor is not in you.

who is killing senators while you are commenting on hell's blogs?

http://www.activeboard.com/forum.spark?forumID=92298&p=3&topicID=10808995

Holy hell...they're either killing senators or asking for hand-jobs from undercover policewomen. Don't these guys know that anonymity only works for the devil's minions?

I've edited a couple of the recent comments to remove reference to Mahonri's real name. I've stated before that I would only delete spam and would only edit highly offensive language or comments that do not respect the anonymity of those who post under pseudonyms and have not exrpessed a willingness to have their real names divulged. I am not sure of the person who posted as Mahonri is the the person the commenters were identifying as a stake president in Arizona. Even if it is, and he has himself been guilty in the past of revealing the names of those who wished to remain anonymous, I'm still not comfortable revealing his identity here. Thanks.

Based on the email address he offered, it was the stake president in Arizona. He is on the B-Board gloating about his incredibly cutting knockout blow he gave your blog.

Well, I'll let him gloat. I thought his wisecrack was pretty funny. Besides, the B-board banned me after just two posts, so I can't really fight him over there anyway. I think he may hold a grudge against me for the way I went after him when he tried to post at NOM a couple weeks ago.

Let's suppose that the Church did change its position on homosexuality. Would that put it on a slippery slope? For example, the day after the Church announces that homosexuals can marry each other and have temple recommends, I might begin acting on my attraction to nubile young women to whom I am not married. My wife might generously allow me to indulge in satisfying my urges. Furthermore, I might allow her to engage in similar behavior. If the Church calls our behavior sinful, we can argue that there is a genetic, biological basis for having the desires that we do and that we did not choose to feel this way. Science backs our claim that humans are naturally inclined to seek multiple sexual partners. Having yielded to science regarding homosexual behavior, would the Church be hypocritical not to yield to science in the area of having multiple sexual partners?

Don't forget the natural inclination for farm animals. The slippery-slope is such an asinine argument.

jake, that was so funny. so damn funny. slippery slope? are you kidding me? why dont we come up with some better names than that, because the slippery slope argument is too stupid to merit further debate, its been exhausted. why dont we try the 'snowball in hell' argument? or how about these arguments - man walks into a bar, knock knock, tree falls in a forest, coin lands on its edge, dog shit in your dessert, already chewed gum, lost keys, sasquatch is satan, and finally, perhaps the most relevant argument, the emporer has no clothes.

But here's the real problem...Jake's comment reveals his basic assumption: that homosexuality is all about sexual appetite and drive. IOW, that those poor people have simply failed to crucify the natural man ... that they've essentially succumbed that animal magnetism that threatens the salvation of saintly men each time the nubile pass within gaze.

Jake,

Welcome! hank you for commenting at Equality Time. I hope you enjoy my blog.

When I read your comment, it was almost as if I had been transported back in time. I could almost envision Orson Pratt making the argument you make circa 1870. Yes, I suppose at some level, the Church's prior practices and attitudes toward sexual mores might be restored to a certain degree. Is this something you would look forward to, Jake?

Jake ~ you wrote, "For example, the day after the Church announces that homosexuals can marry each other and have temple recommends, I might begin acting on my attraction to nubile young women to whom I am not married."

You are comparing a committed married couple to a lecherous old horndog who wants to boink women other than his wife. No comparison whatsoever.

Your argument is just as strange as if you had said, "The day after a man and woman marry each other and have temple recommends, I might begin acting on my attraction to nubile young women to whom I am not married."

Your words DO give us a glimpse into your possible fantasies, however.

Interesting stuff.

Jake, you seem to overlook that the church already sanctions your heterosexual urges, by sanctioning your marriage to a woman. So you already have exactly what some gay couples are asking for. I haven't heard anybody advocate for gay polygamy thus far, so your analogy breaks down when it comes to seeking church sanction for people having multiple partners. Those nubile young women do sound interesting, however; would you care to elaborate?

Randy,

thats it. you nailed it. if the CHURCH changes its position on morality, then those that base ALL their behavior on what the church declares will be completely powerless. after all, morality (real morality, not the co opted mormon use of morality where morality=sexuality), for the faithful mormon, is not a personal decision or conviction of what is right or equitable, its a personal decision to obey and believe a few men. i sympathize with jake. if his only conviction is what a mormon man said is right, and that mormon man changes his mind or is proven to be out of touch, jake probably will be on a slope of some kind. sounds to me like he is already harboring some inner hope for a slip down that slope.

oh, and one more thing jake, if you decide to act on that attraction, you should do so with fear, cuz some of those young women may not appreciate it and you could find yourself in jail or in an emergency room.

Hello, Your site is great. Regards, Valintino Guxxi

Great post Equality. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I understand those concerns that have nothing to do with the historical inaccuracies or the whitewash version of church history. I don't think that there is a good solution for the church, other than re-inventing itself as an organization where people are treated equally regardless of their color, creed, or sexual orientation. This sounds like a progressive idea, one that couldn't possibly work in a rigid hierarchy like mormonism. However, the Reorganized Church has done it, and they've been able to stay in business. I would dare say that they have improved their client base, errr, membership. If the LDS church made drastic changes, you may lose a few guilt-mongers and fear-mongers such as Mahonri, but it would be for the greater good of the membership. I don't know that the church has any leaders left with enough spunk or leadership skills to actually pull it off. And thus we see that the Mahonris of the church will continue to judge and belittle others in the pride of their hearts. Its sad, but true. Thanks again for your inspirational thoughts Equality.

-DV

Great post, E. I, too, didn't feel the need to leave the church based on the false truth-claims alone. Once I decided it wasn't The One True Church, I still had to evaluate whether or not it was good, and good for me.

The church failed on that count, too.

Thanks, fta! A compliment from you means a lot to me. I love your blog (even if I don't comment there frequently). Keep up the good work.

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