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 new.familysearch.org 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 new.familysearch.org; 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 new.familysearch.org - 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?
A lot has been written about recent changes to the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions prognosticating about the impact said changes have on gay Mormons. Organizations like HRC have claimed responsibility for the church instituting said changes because of their activism - which the church, of course, has denied.
Personally, I think people are reading too much into recent changes. The CHI is periodically updated to reflect policy tweaks and generally reflect changes that had previously been communicated via letters from the first presidency. (not all such letters are read over the pulpit - many are addressed directly to bishoprics and stake presidencies)
What I do believe is that the LDS church is finding itself in a very uncomfortable position where every word that is uttered from a pulpit - every word that is written - is meticulously examined and analyzed for possible impact to the GLBT community in general and gay Mormons in particular.
It didn’t always used to be this way. It wasn’t that long ago when, except for a few disgruntled ex-Mormon’s, the LDS church was largely ignored by the GLBT community. In fact, there was perhaps even a bit of cautious admiration due to the church’s position that God loves everyone – even the gay ones. Something that raised the ire of other religious leaders – such as the esteemed Rev. Fred Phelps whose followers at the Westburo Baptist church protested the LDS church's tolerance towards homosexuals at President Hinkley’s funeral - since they want to believe that all fags have a one-way ticket straight to hell.
Then along came proposition 8 in California. The LDS church believes that gay marriage poses a threat to the traditional family - a severe enough threat that it compelled the church to abandon it’s policy of political neutrality and rally the saints in California to campaign for the passage of proposition 8 denying gay couples of the right to marry. Almost overnight the LDS church went from being largely ignored to public enemy number 1 to the GLBT community.
This wasn’t the first time that the LDS church got politically involved.
1980 – Although I don’t recall the details, there was some initiative on the California ballot concerning gay marriage. I was living in California at the time and heeded the call from church leaders to go door to door. I don’t actually remember if we were urging voters to vote for or against said initiative – but, I do recall being frustrated because many people I talked to assumed I was gay and was campaigning for the position opposite that of the LDS church. (yet another testament of people seeing things in me that I refused to see in myself)
1998 – The LDS church donated $500,000 to the Alaska Family Coalition to campaign for an amendment to the Alaska constitution banning gay marriages.
1998 – The LDS church contributed to the “Save Traditional Marriage” campaign in Hawaii
2000- Proposition 22 in California “Protection of Marriage Act
But none of these had the same lasting effects as proposition 8 did in 2008.
I don’t claim to know what was different with Proposition 8 in California. Perhaps it was the timing with the internet becoming more integral in our lives. Perhaps it was the level of involvement with mormon’s contributing nearly half of the $39.9M raised to pass Prop 8. Perhaps it’s because prop 8 was the most funded campaign on any state ballot. Maybe its because of other campaigns such as “No H8” which keep prop 8 in our collective consciousness. It could be some combination of all of these (plus other factors I haven’t thought of).
Whatever the cause, proposition 8 in California has had a major impact on the relationship the LDS church has with the GLBT community – indeed, american society at large. Right or wrong, if you polled random people on the street with the simple question “does the Mormon church hate gay’s” – I expect, more than likely, many would answer “yes” - that certainly would be true if you polled the gay community.
The reality is - the LDS church doesn't hate gays - it just hates what gays do in the privacy of their bedrooms. When discussions started among LDS church leaders regarding getting involved in the prop 8 campaign, I expect they probably assumed that there would be some opposition – but that it would eventually fizzle out as it has in the past. I don’t think they were prepared for the onslaught of negative feelings towards the LDS church – both from within and without. And, I imagine they are probably perplexed that such feelings continue to exist 2 years after the election showing little signs of abating.
The LDS church is very image conscious and objects whenever it is portrayed negatively. So, this puts them into a very difficult position. How can the LDS church repair it’s relationship with the GLBT community without coming across as softening on its stance towards homosexuality? Essentially, the LDS church has painted itself into a corner with no idea how to get out of; and, it seems every thing they do gets them further embedded in the mire.
The answer, I believe, is that it can’t – it can’t change peoples attitudes towards the LDS church without major changes to it’s teachings about homosexuality. I also believe that such changes will come – eventually; although, I don’t know if I’ll be alive to see it. I'm not suggesting that I think the LDS church will suddenly start sealing same sex couples in the temple. But I think we will see increased tolerance towards people who happen to be attracted to those of their same gender - particularly those who embrace committed monogamous relationships.
In the meantime, the LDS church is reaping the bitter grains that it has sown. President Boyd K Packers talk in the October general conference suggests that (at least some) church leaders have yet to learn from past mistakes and are having to live with the consequences of their actions. The brouhaha over the changes to the CHI is just the latest volley of unwanted publicity – and it certainly won’t be the last.
So, hang on tight because I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride.