This past Saturday and Sunday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its 179th Semi-Annual General Conference, at which Latter-day Saints (Mormons) gathered to hear sermons from their ecclesiastical leaders. At the afternoon session held on Sunday October 4, 2009, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered a 16-minute address that quickly became the talk of the 10-hour-long conference. The text of all General Conference addresses are available at the LDS church's web site. The text of Elder Holland's address can be found here. The church web site also makes the talks available in audio and video formats. After the jump, I embed the talk as it appears on YouTube, in two parts, and then provide my commentary on it. In sum, Elder Holland's talk is rife with lies and logical fallacies, and relies on emotional and psychological manipulation rather than rational argument to affect his audience.
The LDS church teaches that people like me, i.e., former members of the church, are destined to be miserable, and that we are in the clutches of Satan. We are as Judas--traitors who would kill Christ if we could. This sounds harsh, and indeed it is. It sounds like one of those old 19th-century teachings (like blood atonement) that the church has swept under the rug. But, alas, this is one of the old teachings that is still alive and kicking in the modern church. In the current manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, published at the direction of the First Presidency (and the only extra-scriptural material permitted to be used by Priesthood and Relief Society teachers in the church) is found lesson number 27, titled "Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy." From that lesson comes this quote, which is representative of the tenor and thrust of the entire lesson:
[A]postates after turning from the faith of Christ, unless they have speedily repented, have sooner or later fallen into the snares of the wicked one, and have been left destitute of the Spirit of God, to manifest their wickedness in the eyes of multitudes. From apostates the faithful have received the severest persecutions. Judas was rebuked and immediately betrayed his Lord into the hands of His enemies, because Satan entered into him.
There is a superior intelligence bestowed upon such as obey the Gospel with full purpose of heart, which, if sinned against, the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned. When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas-like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors. . . .
. . .
When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.
I believe that one reason why active Mormons often choose not to associate at all with former members of the church is that they actually believe that former members are possessed by Satan, as the above quote from Joseph Smith unequivocally states.
To my former ward brothers and sisters:
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, here we go again. I thought that my posting of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's "Tongue of Angels" talk a few months back when rumors were swirling about me in my former ward might have had some impact. I thought perhaps you, my Mormon friends, would "listen to a prophet's voice" even if you would not listen to mine. I thought maybe those of you who claim to follow Jesus Christ would stop engaging in gossip and rumor-mongering. I guess I was wrong. It saddens me to learn that a rumor concerning my personal life is being spread around in the ward where my son still attends Scouts and my daughter attends Activity Girls.
But what really saddens me is not so much that people would spread a lie about me but that the lie itself is considered scandalous in your Mormon culture. That's exactly what I think needs to change. You see, the rumor burning up the ward phone lines is that I left the church to take up with a gay lover!
I look forward to the day when a rumor like that will be about as salacious as a rumor that, say, I sometimes forget to floss, or that I don't make my bed every morning, or that I re-use my dryer sheets. That a rumor I am gay is considered so scurrilous by the members of my former ward is itself a commentary on today's Mormon culture: narrow-minded, bigoted, and homophobic. To his credit, one person from the ward (yes, only one) has risen above such pettiness, alerting me that the rumor was spreading. But what of the rest of you? You who hear something like that and, instead of sending me an email or picking up the phone to call me, call up someone else in the ward and ask "have you heard it? Is it true?" What do you have to say for yourself? You who call yourselves disciples of Jesus Christ. Are you not ashamed?
And what of you who started this rumor? Did you think it would hurt me? It hasn't. First, it is not true. Second, if it were true, I would not hide it as I think being gay is not something one need hide or apologize for. So, if I were gay, I'd be more than happy to let everyone know it. I'll go one step further. Not only am I not hurt by the suggestion, I am actually a little flattered. All the gay people I know are exceptional. I enjoy their association and value their friendship and admire their courage as they deal every day with bigots like you. I stand by them in their struggle for equal rights and the full acceptance in society. I'm not gay but I am honored to know that some people might think I am.
I know why you started this rumor. I have been torn about how much I should say about that. I don't want to hurt your wife and children, so I have decided, for their sake, to say nothing here to reveal your identity and motive. It was, however, monumentally stupid for you to start this rumor, knowing as you do that I really have nothing to lose by revealing your own secret.
The rumor itself is interesting from a sociological standpoint, in what it says about Mormonism. I have been very open about my issues with the LDS church. I have chronicled my journey out of the church here on this blog for the last 2 1/2 years. I've posted about Mormon history, doctrine, and practice. I've identified 96 specific reforms I think the church ought to adopt. And I've talked about the value differences I have with Mormonism. I believe in freedom of thought and expression; the church does not. I believe in honesty and openness in teaching history; the church does not. I believe in the equality of the sexes; the church does not. I believe in racial equality; the church does not. I believe in science; the church does not (when it conflicts with dogma, which is often). And so on.
But many Mormons seem to have a very hard time believing that anyone could really leave the church because (a) it's simply not true and (b) personal integrity demands it. No, for many Mormons people leave the church only because (a) they want to sin or (b) they were offended. The rumor that I am gay fills a cognitive need for some true-believing Mormons--it provides them with a "reason" for my departure that they can understand. Brother Equality didn't leave the church because he discovered the truth about its doctrinal and historical claims, or because the church is lacking in ethical values. No, Brother Equality really left because he wanted to sin--with his gay lover! It's a much more satisfying reason for the devout believer. It requires no examination of the church, no self-reflection about the things one believes and the values one embraces. My departure can simply be attributed to my own personal weakness and moral failure. And to a believing Mormon, what epitomizes better a condition of personal moral depravity than homosexuality?
So, I understand the allure of the rumor, and I understand why it would be almost impossible for a believing Mormon to resist spreading it. But it's still disappointing to witness it. And it confirms to me, once again, that the decision I made to resign earlier this year was absolutely the right one. I am so glad to be free from the mindfuck that makes people think that way.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to be "politically neutral." It also claims that its members are free to vote according to their conscience and that there are no political tests for membership in the church. Indeed, the LDS church encourages its members to "study the issues and candidates carefully and prayerfully, and then to vote for and actively support those you believe will most nearly carry out your ideas of good government."
But now the LDS church is threatening to discipline a faithful member from Nebraska (Andrew Callahan, a high priest) for "conduct unbecoming a member" and for "apostasy." His crime? Disagreeing with church leaders on a political issue--Proposition 8 in California, which the church supports. Proposition 8 would take away the legal right that gays and lesbians currently enjoy under the California state constitution to marry. You can read more about Callahan (who posts online under the name Flat Lander) at the Further Light and Knowledge discussion board here.
Callahan helped start a web site called Signing for Something. The purpose of Signing for Something was to give Latter-day Saints who had followed the First Presidency's admonition to study the issues and engage in the political process to voice their opposition to Proposition 8 and encourage church leaders to reconsider using church resources in a state political campaign. The idea was to let church leaders know that a significant number of LDS church members do not support enshrining ignorance and bigotry into the state constitution but rather believe in equal protection under the law, individual liberty, and tolerance for those who may not share church members' religious beliefs.
With this site, Callahan joined a growing number of Latter-day Saints expressing their love and support for gay and lesbian Mormons. Another site shedding light on the challenges faced by being Mormon and gay is the Mormons for Marriage site. These sites, along with yet others such Understanding LDS Homosexuality show that a small but growing number of rank-and-file Mormons are willing not only to disagree with Mormon church leaders' homophobic statements and policies, but are willing to do so in a public manner. That's a significant thing. Disagreeing with the Brethren, though highly discouraged in Mormon circles, is generally not something that will result in church "discipline" (i.e, disfellowship or excommunication). But open, vocal opposition to the Brethren, even on a purely political issue, is perhaps the quickest way to get an "invitation" to a "court of love" in the LDS church. Absolute loyalty to the LDS church, evidenced by an uncritical, unblinking obedience to the male church hierarchy, is the highest value in Mormonism. Callahan is now running afoul of it, and will likely pay the price by being excommunicated. That Callahan has been threatened with church discipline for "conduct unbecoming a member" when all he was doing was getting involved in a political issue and exercising his conscience, is revealing of just how far LDS church leaders will go to ensure that their vision of perfect conformity and bland homogeneity is realized.
Update: since I first drafted this post, Callahan received word from his Stake President that no church court would be held "in his behalf" (the euphemisms in Mormonism are legion) until AFTER the election. This merely confirms that the whole matter is political. If his crimes were spiritual, why would the election timing affect their decision at all? The LDS church simply did not want the negative publicity that would swirl around Callahan's excommunication, should it occur before the election. Now the church can wait to cut him off and hope the public relations nightmare can be contained.
I've added on my left sidebar a number of links to what I consider the best web pages on the Book of Mormon. Several address the DNA/Lamanite issue. DNA studies have struck a death blow to the notion that the Book of Mormon is an actual history of the ancestors of the Native Americans who populated the Western Hemisphere when European explorers arrived.
There are also two sites I want to call out for special attention to anyone interested in engaging in an in-depth look at significant issues relating to the question of Book of Mormon historicity from an archaeological and anthropological standpoint. The first is the site called The Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica. The second is a blog associated with that site. It is impossible to read through the wealth of information on these sites without coming away with a transformed view of the Book of Mormon. Anyone in or out of the LDS church with an interest in the Book of Mormon ought to pull up a chair, pop some popcorn, and set aside some hours for a little self-education.
BTW, if any of my readers have suggestions for other sites on the Book of Mormon, please do not hesitate to suggest them in the comments or drop me an email at equalitytime at gmail dot com. Thanks.
Every once in a while, I stumble on a web site or blog that has information on Mormonism presented in a unique way, or which contains information not commonly found elsewhere. For those looking for just such a site, I recommend clicking right here. It's a site by a former LDS missionary who has recently become disillusioned with the faith (sound familiar?). His latest post is on the racist doctrines of the LDS church (which have never been repudiated; only swept under the rug). Since tomorrow is Juneteenth, and this month is the 30th anniversary of the "policy change" declaration through which God decided He was no longer racist, it seems an appropriate time to send readers of Equality Time over there.
As readers of Equality Time know, I resigned my membership in February of this year. The bishop in the ward in which I reside and the stake president here in Plano, Texas are friends of mine and handled my resignation with speed and courtesy, which I appreciate. In meeting with the bishop and stake president after tendering my resignation, I told the stake president (who had only been set apart a week or two earlier) that while my resignation may be the first he processes, it certainly would not be the last.
Well, my words were prophetic. Sure enough, a friend of mine (Lunar Quaker, who occasionally posts here and around the Disaffected Mormon Underground) residing in a different ward in the Plano Stake, last week sent his resignation letter to his bishop. Unfortunately, his bishop handled things quite differently from the way mine did. I can't believe that this represents a change in policy or direction from the good man who is stake president here. I sincerely hope that it is not the policy of the Plano Stake to have bishops or other ecclesiastical leaders harass people who want to resign their membership and have their names removed from the church records. I hope that the stake president, if he finds out about the way my friend was treated, will do the right thing and counsel with and chastise LQ's bishop for his belligerent, unChristlike actions. LQ's story, in his own words, after the jump.
I originally posted this back on May 28, 2006. But in honor of the subject being "called" as a new "apostle" today in the LDS church, I thought I'd resurrect it and post it anew. I wonder if the opinions he expressed in the article will now take on additional heft among the members? Are words spoken prior to one's call given apostolic authori-tay?
If Jesus were to walk into an LDS church meeting today, how would He be received? If the latest article in a church magazine on the subject of dress and grooming is any indication, Jesus very likely would be asked to leave. Why? Well, let’s start with hair: in all the pictures I have seen of Jesus, He has long hair. And, typically, He is shown wearing open-toed shoes. According to an LDS church General Authority, such things are offensive to God.
The Salt Lake Tribune published this morning in its online edition an article about Peter and Mary Danzig, the LDS couple harassed out of the church because of Peter's letter to the editor supporting BYU Professor Jeff Nielsen's opinion piece criticizing the LDS church's political stance on gay marriage. I blogged about this here and here.
The Tribune was kind enough to link here to Equality Time and to the full story written by Peter himself. So, to all Salt Lake Tribune readers, welcome! I hope you enjoy my blog. Feel free to comment.
Yesterday I met with two friends of mine from the LDS church. One is the newly installed Stake President in Plano. The other is Bishop over the area in which I reside, with whom I served as Executive Secretary. We met at the church for about an hour to discuss the logistics of handling my recent resignation as well as to talk about what my thoughts and feelings are regarding church contact with my wife and children who remain on the membership rolls of the LDS church.
Both men I consider friends and both expressed warm feelings of love and friendship toward me, despite feeling a certain sadness about my decision (I told them I understood why, from their perspective, they might be sad, but I also explained why I think such feelings are misplaced). I extended words of appreciation to them for how they have treated my family, and for their continuing friendship. It was a productive meeting and while I don't care to go into all the details of what we discussed, I do want to say that I think these men exemplify what is good about Mormonism. I think they are setting a good example for how heretics or apostates can and should be treated: with dignity, respect, and true love. We left with positive feelings toward each other. They allowed me to express some of my thoughts and frustrations with church culture; I allowed them to express their testimonies without criticism. We disagreed agreeably. I am sometimes accused of only looking for or talking about the negative things I see in the LDS church. So I thought I would take this opportunity to tip my hat to these two fine men. I hope that members of the ward and stake over which they preside will follow their example.