Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Blind obedience

Our stake has initiated a program where, without going into the nitty-gritty details,  we are to talk to every member in our ward to gather information about their their ancestors in their 5-generation pedigree.  Basically, we're getting the number who've had their temple work done from each ward member.  In a 5 generation pedigree chart, there are 30 direct line ancestors (not including children); so, we're asking for a number between 0 and 30 from each ward member which we'll enter into a spreadsheet and turn it into the stake in January

Now, I have to admit I was a bit annoyed when I first learned of this "request" from the stake.  The reality is that most of the people whose number is 30 (meaning all of their ancestors have had their temple work done) probably haven't lifted a finger personally to do any actual genealogy research - since their family has likely been in the church for generations and Aunt Matilda did it all.  By comparison, those of us who are first generation Mormon's - who have actually had to go out and do real research to find our ancestors, but haven't yet completed 5 generations resulting in a number less than 30 - will look like slackers.

But, trying to be the obedient son - and being the only member of the High Priest group leadership who has any actual family history experience, I tried to put my personal feelings aside and spent considerable time looking at this over the past week reviewing to figure out how we can help ward members derive the information the stake has asked for.  The more I looked at it the more I became convinced that whoever thought of this at the stake just hadn't thought it through.  While possible, it's not intuitively obvious how to derive the requested information on; plus, we were essentially going to go through a lot of work talking to all of the members to collect a useless data point.  When all is said and done, the only useful purpose of this data will be to show the stake that we were an "obedient" ward who did their bidding.

As I thought about it more, I came up with, what I thought, was a better idea.  I identified some alternative data points that were easy to derive from - and that would actually be useful to us in assessing where we needed to assist ward members in their family history and temple work. I discussed this with my wife (who has much more family history experience than I have) and she agreed that my idea had merit.  I was actually starting to feel some of the passion I once had for family history.

So, I drew up a proposal for my alternative and presented it to other members of the High Priest group leadership on Sunday - and I was shot down!  I was told that wasn't what the stake asked us to do.  When I countered with "do we want to fulfill the letter of the law of the spirit of the law?" - I was told that we needed to fulfill the letter of the law and do exactly what the stake asked of us.  It felt like a sucker punch to the stomach - and any passion I was beginning to feel quickly dissipated.  Now, this seems like a trivial thing - but I was angry when I left church on Sunday.  I was angry that my ideas were dismissed so readily because I wasn't towing the party line.  The frustrating thing is that it's possible the bishop and/or the stake president might have even liked my ideas - but we'll never know because they never made it past the first rung on the leadership ladder.

Today I'm OK.  I feel that I had a brief moment where I tried to actually think for myself - but I'm over it now.  Well ... the reality is that I just don't care anymore - Any passion I was beginning to feel is gone - and it just isn't worth fighting over. So, I'm just going to roll over (or maybe "bend over" would be a better metaphor) and do what is asked of us.

But, at the risk of sounding childish, I've decided that I personally will not participate - I will be the obedient son and do whatever I can to assist the HP Group Leader in collecting this information from ward members, but I will not be providing the stake with the information they asked for about my ancestors.  Since I created the spreadsheet that we will use to collect the information, I simply removed my name from the list of ward members.  That way, if anyone does happen to scan the list to see who hasn't yet provided the information requested - my name won't stand out, since it won't be there; and, my own little private rebellion won't reflect negatively on the ward.  And, in the off chance that someone does notice and asks about it - I'll just shrug my shoulders and say I have privacy concerns.  Which is not really the case - I just have no idea what they intend to do with the data and, therefore, have no inclination to share.

As I said, this is really a trivial thing - but I think what bothers me the most is that it drives home the notion that we are supposed to just blindly follow whatever our leaders ask of us.  If we're told to jump than our only response should be "how high?"  We can't question or even suggest better ways - I guess, because, if there were a better way then God would surely have "revealed" it to the stake leaders; so, our own ideas are obviously satanic in origin if they don't mesh 100% with those from the church hierarchy.  There is no opportunity for synergy to build upon the ideas of church leaders to come up with the better solution; and, the result is mediocrity, of which this is a perfect example - a collection of spreadsheets from each ward in the stake containing useless data.  And at such an enormous waste of time and energy which could have easily been channeled to collect data that would have been useful in assessing and promoting family history and temple work in the ward.

But, this being my gay blog - this post isn't really about family history.  It's about coming up with the best solutions to address the problems facing the LDS church.  Certainly, how to deal with gay members of the church is a problem for which the LDS church leadership is not prepared - evidenced by the dismal retention rate of gay members in the LDS church.  The straight membership can console themselves that we're simply being led astray by the adversary - but seriously, 99% of us can't keep a lid on our attractions to the same gender?  It's insulting to suggest that being gay equates to being weak!

I have to believe the answers are out there - answers which could be found with the help of people like those of us in the Mormon queerosphere.  But our culture doesn't allow for a bottoms-up approach - everything has to come from the top down.

Now, to be fair, there are islands of hope - a bishop here, a stake president there - local church leaders who seems to 'get it' and who demonstrate genuine interest in helping gay members.  But, for every island of hope - there are islands of despair, such as the bishop that TGD blogged about who counseled a family member who is having thoughts of suicide that "its best to follow through the suicide than to give into men."

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that I believe change will come - eventually.  I still believe that; but, my recent experiences have demonstrated to me that change will not come from within.  Good gay members of the church - who are an excellent source of ideas for how to best address the gay contingent in the church - will have little to no effect in changing the hearts and minds of the church leadership as a whole.  To even consider such smacks right in the face of our doctrine of priesthood leadership - because those of us in the trenches do not hold the "keys" to receive inspiration for anything other than ourselves and our families.  To even suggest that we might have the answers for the church as a whole is a sure indication that we are in league with the devil - the father of all lies who seeks the deceive the righteous.

I believe change will come - but it will have to come from outside of the church.  As society increasingly accepts homosexuality, the LDS church will increasingly come across as petty and vindictive towards that segment of society; and, this will force LDS church leadership to reconsider how to best address homosexuality in the church.

Some commentators to my previous blog post took issue with my statement that "the LDS church does not hate gays - they only hate what gays do in the privacy of their bedrooms." - countering that the actions of the LDS church speak louder than their words.  I understand what they are saying - but I still hold to my opinion.  The LDS church does not "hate" us - they "fear" us.  I believe actions by the LDS church to oppose anything 'gay' - such as proposition 8, or BKP's comments in general conference - are out of fear rather than hate.  And fear can make people irrational in their words and their actions.

Hate is such as strong word - and I believe church leaders have a genuine concern for the salvation of our souls; but, the very idea of two men or two women in a loving relationship smacks right in the face of our doctrine of the eternal family - and that scares the hell out of them.  It scares them enough that to even suggest that such loving same sex relationships could be acceptable to God is blasphemy.

Well ... maybe, just maybe, all it really means is that perhaps we don't understand the doctrine of eternal families as well as we think we do.

In the meantime, I've lost hope that I personally will be able to do anything that might make a difference in the lives of my family - my MoHo family.

And I find myself wondering - how did we get from teaching correct principals and letting the saints govern themselves to blind obedience and damn the consequences?


Neal said...

OK, maybe this is just me but I would have taken my idea right over my pea-brained HP quorum leader's head straight to the Bishop. I guess I'm stubborn. Or something...

And I agree with you that the Church does not "hate' gay people. I do think there are some "old guard" leaders still in power that definitely have prejudices and screwed up ideas, but not hate. People are people, no matter what their calling might be.

Abelard Enigma said...

I would have taken my idea right over my pea-brained HP quorum leader's head straight to the Bishop.

There was a time when I would have done just that. More than once have I incurred the ire of stake auxiliary leaders and did what I thought was right.

But, I just don't care anymore - the incredulous reaction from my fellow brethren that I would even suggest doing something different has taken the wind out of my sails; and, I have zero inclination to pursue this any further.

Neal said...

One other thing - sorry I didn't get this all in one post.

You said:
"Good gay members of the church - who are an excellent source of ideas for how to best address the gay contingent in the church - will have little to no effect in changing the hearts and minds of the church leadership as a whole. To even consider such smacks right in the face of our doctrine of priesthood leadership - because those of us in the trenches do not hold the "keys" to receive inspiration for anything other than ourselves and our families. To even suggest that we might have the answers for the church as a whole is a sure indication that we are in league with the devil - the father of all lies who seeks the deceive the righteous."

I don't agree with this statement at all. I think we DO have an affect on the leadership of the Cuhurch, and I know for a fact that I have personally had a hand in educating several Bishops to think correctly about homosexuality and the members of the Church who experience it. I think this "grass-roots" kind of leadership education is far more effective than a passage in the CHI, because the leaders are dealing with someone fact to face. Its real, its personal, and it can't be easily dismissed. This subject is being talked about more than most people realize in all kinds of leadership training meetings being conducted by GAs that are taking place across the country. They had it in our Stake already, and the comments made were ones you would be happy with. Of course, for us MoHos none of this is happening fast enough, but it is happening.

Scott N said...

The LDS church does not "hate" us - they "fear" us.

I think it's more accurate to say that if (the LDS Church) can't comprehend us.

The current "doctrine" of the Plan of Salvation simply does not allow the church to admit or acknowledge that homosexuality exists, except perhaps as a "flaw" akin to Down's Syndrome or some such.

That's why you get people like Packer asking "why would God do that?". As offensive as it was, I believe that he was sincere in his question. He simply cannot comprehend that God would create (or allow to be born) individuals who are inherently incompatible with the current man-woman-centric understanding of the Plan.

For people like Packer, who are doggedly set in subscribing to that version of the Plan, homosexuality has to be a flaw or fluke or aberration.

To accept that things are otherwise--that gay people simply are, and that homosexuality is natural and normal among a small percentage of the population--is to admit that we don't have all the answers, and that (even worse!) we've actually had it wrong all this time. The church as a whole (and especially its leaders, who are, by virtue of their age, generally less flexible than we might wish) isn't ready to face that reality yet.

Eventually, as you say, external forces (and to some extent internal, though I tend to disagree with Neal that the internal forces have much influence) will become too great, and the church will be forced to reexamine its doctrine and make adjustments that will allow gay people full access to exaltation, much as it was forced to change its understanding of skin color as the civil rights movement gained momentum.

Hopefully it will happen sooner than later.

Brett said...

Regarding the data collection in your stake... I hate when my local stake or ward starts acting like a business rather than a church.

I'm a statistician (by degree and previously by profession) so I LOVE data. But, I think it is reprehensible when ecclesiastical leaders use their power/authority to (essentially) demand that data be collected.

I was once asked, via stake edict, to collect information about my home teaching families regarding their food storage and debt levels. I emailed my EQ pres and told him that I did not believe it was within my role as a home teacher to collect such information and report it up the chain of command. He's a good guy and never pressed the issue.

As for the LDS position on homosexuality - I don't think it will change until they realize that membership numbers are declining due to their incoherent "doctrine" on the matter which not only contradicts our scripture and foundational beliefs but tears families apart.

The LDS Corporation is acting exactly like a corporation. If we were still a church with the Joseph Smith version of a prophet at our head, then we would have worked at getting a revelation on the matter rather than our current caveat of "we don't understand the cause..."

I am open to the idea that Pres Monson and previous prophets have been praying for a revelation and have just not received it. But, I am continually disheartened that the most frequent statements on homosexuality seem to be coming from the LDS Corp's PR department rather than the prophet himself. Honestly, why was Otterson responding to the HRC petition? Shouldn't Pres Monson have been the ideal person to stand up and decry hate & bullying?

So, if the revelation doesn't come first, then someday LDS Corp will realize that the future survival of "the church" depends on not just tolerance and acceptance but LOVE of all God's children.

Beck said...

I'm sorry but I'm still of the opinion that the church believes in "counseling" with each other. When some edict from on high comes down the chain of command and I think it's stupid, I don't hesitate to voice my opinion and say that it is stupid. And if I have what I feel might be a better idea, then I voice my opinion. In my current calling I've done that several times and sometimes I get shot down, but most of the time I don't.

I'm sorry you were shot down to the point that the passion was sucked right out of you. That's a shame.

We can't let blind obedience be the name of the game. It only happens when we let it happen. I know it may be too late for this time, but I hope that you will feel the umph to have your passion rise to the top again and let your voice be heard.

Rob said...

Abe, this was so thought provoking that I ended up writing my own post as a sort of Chapter II to your thoughts, it's here:

And FWIW, I think Scott's comments are right on the money too.

Ned said...

Abe, What's to stop you from emailing, or if you prefer, snail mailing your suggestion directly to the stake? Use snail mail if you want to do in anonymously. Wouldn't it be satisfying if the word came down from the stake that they'd made an adjustment to their requirements, and that adjustment was your idea?

I also agree with Beck, that we as members shape the game depending on how we play it.

One of the ways we're all engaged in this game is by blogging. Never before have mere members (or cultural Mormons, for that matter) been able to express their opinions so easily to each other and to strangers all over the world. Don't underestimate your individual power and our collective power as a group to foster change.

As evidence of this change, I point to David Baker's incredible profile.

The church is changing, not fast enough for some of us, but changing nonetheless.

The question is: What can you do to nurture this change? How about aggregating all the Moho blogs. Great idea. Such a good one that you've already done it. :D Thank you!

How about getting bloggers to reflect on a monthly topic? Again, done. Thank you, Abe.

I have little doubt that you will continue to do more. Most of us will. We are not just here to make a difference, we are here because we already have made a difference.

The Captain said...

So do you go to church and fulfill callings and try to build your marriage just biding your time for when the Church says homosexuality is okay? I haven't spent much time on you blog so forgive me if you've explained that somewhere else already.

It just seems that you're pretty bitter about a few things and that you go through the motions waiting for something, some sort of change in the Church rather than in yourself. However, you know that eternal doctrines don't change. The family is the central unit in the plan of God and that will not change.

I cannot say that I understand very much of what you deal with on a daily basis so forgive me for calling it a "temptation" if you prefer another word. But same-gender attraction does not equate to being weak in the same way all of our other struggles with the commandments do not equate with being weak. The Savior was in all points tempted and He overcame, that's strength not weakness. Each time you and I are tempted to do something contrary to God's teachings, not go to church, get angry, be immoral, drink, you name it, and do not act on it, that shows strength. Of course Jesus Christ was perfect and never gave in and we are not and do sin. But we all have weaknesses that we need to overcome; that's the purpose of life, to put off the natural man and be perfected in Christ.

This is an interesting blog. I commend you for sustaining your marriage and holding true to you your beliefs that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church even though you are dealing with something that is still not culturally PC to discuss and deal with openly.


Steve said...

If this had been in my HP Group, the leader of which is a fairly competent genealogist and the retired executive of a nationwide organization in which people skills were critical -- you would not have been shot down. So I think you should put this in the category of the gospel is perfect but the members most definitely are not, and just roll with it. It's like one time many years ago when I suggested that the Church should put the first four words of the name in larger type than the rest (which after all was not even mentioned in the first several years of its existence). And what's more important -- Christ or the "Latter-day Saint" part? The latter gets people all distracted about millenialism, who are the Saints and that type of thing. My thought was totally rejected, not to say ridiculed. I didn't let it bother me -- but I was amused to see the Church come out about ten or 15 years later, doing exactly what I had suggested. Sometimes you might just be ahead of the curve.