Saturday, July 26, 2014

Don't fall victim to the "Too Syndrome"

“Sometimes we have what I call the Too Syndrome. We feel that there are some people we can’t really extend full acceptance to because they are too something--too old, too young, too liberal, too conservative, too rich, too poor, too educated, too uneducated, too rigid in religious observances, too lax. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, if the traveler who fell among thieves was like other Jews of his time, he felt that Samaritans were too ethnically impure to worship in the temple; I don’t think he felt that the wine and the oil poured on his wounds were too Samaritan, do you?”

-Chieko Okazaki, "Aloha," p. 98-99

Friday, July 18, 2014

"What absolutes do you believe in?"

Chieko Okazaki:

“[A] woman said that her sister-in-law once asked her, ‘What absolutes do you believe in?’ By which she meant, which principles do you think are true all the time? This woman thought for a long time, and finally answered:

Only one--
‘Charity never faileth.’
I’ve seen Truth hurt
Religions kill
And Laws protect the guilty
But even though I’ve seen love spit at
And warmth returned with ice
I’ve never seen true kindness backfire
In the giver’s soul.”

-Chieko Okazaki, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” pp. 49-50

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Asking Questions and Patiently Hoping for Changes

I'm grateful that Church spokeswoman Ally Isom (in her RadioWest interview with Doug Fabrizio) acknowledged there is room for healthy dialogue and even for questioning.  Naturally, most of the revelations Joseph Smith received were because members brought issues to his attention or he himself asked a question.  People help shape the content and context for prophetic inquiries. So in a very real sense, there’s always been trickle-up revelation.

But while listening to her on the interview, I was frustrated that spokeswoman Isom kept conflating a bishop in a disciplinary hearing with God--not to mention the audacity to suggest it is always the member's choice to stay in the Church rather than be excommunicated, and not acknowledging the reality is that it is the choice of one man in a position of "a little authority" (regardless of whether or not he is exercising unrighteous dominion) as to whether or not the accused remains in the Church.

Apparently there are too many literalistic Mormons who seem to conflate God and the prophet too. These folks seem to believe that if God wants change he will literally dictate it to the prophet, as though the prophet is a puppet, so they assume we mortals can just sit back and wait for divine direction.

But from my experience and also in history, I see that God expects for US to make the first move. WE humans decide to act or take a question before the Lord and THEN hope for divine direction.

I'm not crazy enough to think that in 1978 "God changed his mind about black people" or that humans pressure the Lord anymore than he pressures us (which is pretty much zilch). The only real power he has to effect change over us is through love, and there’s a lesson in that for us.  He doesn’t coerce, and nor should we.  I think the Lord waits patiently for us to figure things out on our own.  He had made it clear he “denieth none that come unto him, black or white, bond or free, male or female…all are alike unto God”. But WE didn't get part of that before 1978 until WE changed our perspective.

Historically it has taken us mortals (even our prophet leaders, since they’re not raised in a cultural vacuum) a long time to realize what God already desires for his children. With Paul and all the other prophets, we "see through a glass darkly." But God waits patiently and lovingly for us to correct our perspectives and figure out His will for ourselves. He even shows long-suffering to apostles who live so set in their ways and convinced of the rightness of their position (even though their position turned out to be wrong, and regardless of the "certainty" they spoke with that they knew or "know" Gods will.)

I personally think there's still part of that "all are alike" scripture (and no, he's not referring to biological/physical sameness) that the Church collectively isn't understanding right. Instead of believing Him and taking His word that "all" are alike unto God, in terms of who can or can't be ordained to the priesthood we continue to deny those who happened to be born female, and regardless of their spiritual strength, leadership talents, and the worthy desires of their hearts.

God has never declared that holding priesthood keys or offices was or is some divine gender role--we the people have projected antiquated gender roles onto God.

I think those of us who believe the ninth article of faith--that many great and important things are yet to be revealed--should be patient, but I don't think we need to be passive.  As President Kimball once wrote in a letter to his son Ed: "Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired. I think few people receive revelations while lounging on a couch."

As a historian I'm fascinated by these issues and look for background, context, and reasons—cause and effect—which impact the how and the why things happened the way they did.  Those lessons have much to teach us in the present and the future.

Ironically, another change occurred in 1978--the prohibition (yes, there was a prohibition) on/of women praying in Sacrament meetings. The "Brethren" explained that the policy (set in 1967) "had no scriptural basis and should be abandoned." I believe that there are still gender prohibitions without any scriptural or doctrinal basis that should likewise be abandoned.

And for the record, it wasn't until April of 2013 that a woman first prayed in General Conference. Of course, if you think change comes to passive puppets without any effort on our part, then you probably believe that Ordain Women had nothing to do with that (even though faithful feminists had been seeking after that very thing for years), and also that last October just happened to be a good time to begin televising the General Priesthood Session of Conference (which really should be called the General Men's Session, since women also exercise priesthood power and authority*.)

*Elder Oaks's recent conference talk explained that women already excercise priesthood power and authority, but do not currently hold priesthood offices or keys. He didn't provide a reason, footnote, or citation as to why this is the case--just an assumption that the historical patriarchal pattern is divinely decreed. (Historically we also know that some prophets and apostles also had assumed the racial priesthood ban that ended in 1978 had originated with God, yet the Church's recent "Race and the Priesthood" essay correctly places the ban's origins with Brigham Young in the context of the racism of that day and age.) Elder Oaks did acknowledge, however, that in the temple women perform priesthood ordinances and exercise the priesthood keys of the temple president, though he did not explain why women are banned from performing ordinances outside the temple or why they cannot excercise priesthood keys outside the temple, such as by serving on a stake high council under the direction of or by virtue of the keys of the stake president.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Where There Is Charity and Love, God Is There

One of the highlights of my time singing in the BYU Concert Choir was singing this version of Ubi Caritas. This video doesn't quite capture the interpretation we gave it that was so profound to me, but the sound is still good. Most importantly, it's a profound message:

Latin Text
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

English Translation
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Love of Christ has gathered us into one.

Let us rejoice in Him and be glad.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love one.

Where charity and love are, God is there. 
At the same time, therefore, are gathered into one: 
Lest we be divided in mind, let us beware. 
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease. 
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.
Where charity and love are, God is there. 
At the same time we see that with the saints also, 
Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good, Unto the 
World without end. Amen.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Speaking Words of Wisdom

From Margaret Blair Young's post: "Here I Stand. God Help Me, I Can Do No Other.":

When I spoke to a friend recently who is questioning his faith and no longer feels comfortable at church or in the temple, I suggested that he find his own sacred grove and nurture spiritual feelings while the faith issues work themselves out. This person finds spiritual comfort through music, which can lead to spiritual awakening. Songs ranging from “Lead Kindly Light” to “O Happy Day!” can touch us with a sense of the divine and help us seek truth without the burden and pollutant of anger. The statement, “I have been deceived!” is full of anger. If it becomes the starting premise for a spiritual journey, the journey will end in a tempest of rage. There are always other angry people to support angry statements, and those who phrase their fury cleverly are often rewarded by words like “courageous” and “unflinching.” There will always be angry communities. Even if we feel anger is justified, I would urge all of us to ponder the words of Desmond Tutu: “Each act of forgiveness, whether small or great, moves us closer to wholeness.” Consider that statement with the Savior’s poignant question: “Wilt thou be made whole?”

The statements, “I have been loved!” or “I have been forgiven!” lead away from anger, and tend to come in private, reflective, redemptive moments.

I, Margaret Blair Young, have been loved by parents who were faithful to each other and to their beliefs. I have been loved and protected by God. My testimony is not founded in objective fact—which might exist in mathematics but is rare in religion—but in joy and love, which are the fruits of the Spirit. Such feelings let me know that I’m in tune with the divine. As I continue on my spiritual journey, I do see miracle after miracle, which I would not see (and perhaps would not receive) were I whirling in the winds of anger. Anger always confuses perspective and direction and becomes its own tempestuous support—the hurricane under the large and spacious building...

As I have grown and now find myself in my 60th year, revelatory instruction has urged me to flee from argument, to hold out my arms to those who are hurting, to prove my love before I prove my point. I have not always succeeded, but I know that I have been so instructed ...

As to the question of the day—that gender question—I predict, under no authority whatsoever, that we will see significant change and growth over the next twenty years. It will be slow, and those who will be a part of it must be patient and humble. I predict that we will see the ordination of women—but not in the way OW has framed it. I suspect that women will be ordained to a female order of the priesthood, and will be ordained—put into order–to carry out specific assignments. For me, the Divine Feminine is ORDAINED to nurture. This idea is something I have grown into. As a young person, I was antagonistic, argumentative, ready to debate just about anything. At least that’s how I appeared. Actually, I was deeply insecure but had a good vocabulary and used it as my shield. As I have grown and now find myself in my 60th year, revelatory instruction has urged me to flee from argument, to hold out my arms to those who are hurting, to prove my love before I prove my point. I have not always succeeded, but I know that I have been so instructed. I have dealt with difficult circumstances as a mother, but have felt supported in all of my trials—not just so that I could feel comforted, but so that I could comfort my children and bear them up.

The best image I have ever seen of the Divine Feminine is in the film Tree of Life. That woman, that grieving, graced, and graceful mother is the quintessence of how I view the Divine Feminine. I hope she is what I am becoming...

I believe in Heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and Mother; in Jesus Christ who is my exemplar, and in the Holy Ghost, whose peacemaking and consolation I have felt in my most difficult moments. I believe in the divine nature of all human beings, and honor all honest spiritual quests.

I believe in the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its essential points through Joseph Smith, flawed though he was. I believe that he did not fully understand his own prophetic gift, but that God was nonetheless able to work through him. I seek to hold to the core of that restored gospel and not to tarry in the cluttered suburbs.

I believe in visions and revelation. Though I have not had visions, I have many friends who have. I have had revelations which continue. I have had more miracles than I can count, and many which I likely didn’t recognize at the time.

I believe in the power of faith, which works by love, and in love, which casts out fear.

I believe in eternal progression, that “second chances” go beyond this life, that we continue to learn and to grow, and that our potential is infinite, even godly. I believe this “eternal progression” applies to the Church as well. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ will, in the eternities, include all who choose to come unto Him regardless of what denomination they chose earlier. I know of no other Christian religion which holds such an expansive view of human and spiritual possibilities. We aren’t talking about equality but about glory.

I believe in the vision of Eve not as the cursed but as the courageous one who understood that we must pass through sorrow in order to grow. I think of Eve as figurative and symbolic of all women who listen not only to their husbands but to the word of the Lord, sometimes mediating between the two voices (which may be at odds) and thus helping to direct the companioned life.

I believe in the power of faith catalyzed by love as inherent in what we call the priesthood of God, though I do not pretend to understand the fullness of that priesthood.

I believe in the restorative power of the temple, though I recognize that it is not restorative for all. It is my sacred grove, where I leave the world for a time, where I become consciously still and so can feel the presence of the divine. I wear my temple garments with joy, and see them as the emblem of my own priesthood strength.

I believe in the power of church structure, that wards shepherded by imperfect men and women (I see both the bishop and the Relief Society president as shepherds) can provide community, aid, and instruction for all who seek a moral compass and friends to journey with. I would change many things about the manuals, the music, and the length of meetings, but I believe in the intrinsic value of the structures.

I believe in family as the basic church unit, and in our ability to learn the most essential lessons as children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters as we simply try to get along with one another.

I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is dynamic, that we are YOUNG, and currently experiencing a growth spurt which is at times ugly and sometimes embarrassing. We have pimples, and we are thinning out. Our coordination can be awkward, and we can say impetuous and thoughtless things. Nevertheless, we are growing into something magnificent. If we knew all of the stories from around the world of those who have joined the LDS community, we would be in awe of our fellow members and amazed by our privilege to associate with them.

I believe that the men and women who dedicate themselves to serving the Lord within the LDS structure are almost all sincere and are often inspired—more often than many suspect. They weary themselves to spread the good news of the gospel or to tend those who join the Mormon community wherever it may be, and they do it with little or no compensation. I cherish the volunteer aspect of the Church, and the fact that everyone is asked to do something to keep the community alive and loving. We fail sometimes. But if each does all that they can in the spirit of love, we arise again and move forward.

I believe that as I seek to identify everything “praiseworthy and of good report” within the Church, I will find it. I believe that when I find something less than praiseworthy, I should talk about it, but in the spirit of community and respect, not as gossip or with antagonism. I seek to focus on the lovely.

I proclaim my faith in this gospel. Here I stand as a committed member who will not be moved from this place. God help me, I can do no other.

- See more at:

Keep Calm and Carry On, Carry On, Carry On!

Carry on!

Posted by  on Jul 8, 2014 in Blog |


Joy and Sorrow

By Kate Kelly

Like so many of you, I have been moving forward these past two weeks with a heaviness in my heart. I have been focusing on positive self-care. I have made it a point to spend time with family, go on many bike rides, and surround myself with true and stalwart friends. Amid the sadness and pain I have experienced, I’ve been reminding myself of the beauty and magic of life, and all that is wonderful on this earth. There is so much to be joyful and hopeful about. I have experienced what many who experience grief do: sorrow and loss, but also rebirth and a new-found wonder.

Let me be perfectly clear: what happened to me was wrong. It was abusive. It was unfair. It was unacceptable.

But, my reaction is mine to choose. I choose to move forward with grace in the face of brutality, unkindness and the sometimes hideous reaction of human beings to someone else’s tragedy.

I choose joy. I choose passion. I choose the delicious freedom of authenticity.

Points of clarification

There have been so, so many of you who have been with me on this journey. So many of you are fighting online battles in my defense, with those who are reticent to exercise compassion. To you I want to offer some additional information that may help clarify events.

I did not choose to “go public” with my church discipline:

I requested that information about my disciplinary process be kept in strict confidentiality. On May 6 I received an email from my Stake President, Scott Wheatley, that said, “because you have carried your campaign for ordination far beyond the boundaries of our Stake, and have previously told the media and the public that you are a member in good standing, it may be necessary at some point in the future to correct the public record regarding your standing in the Church. For these reasons, I cannot agree to the request in your email for absolute confidentiality.”

Hence, I felt I only had control of how the information about me was conveyed, and the power to tell my story myself, not whether or not it would be made public.

The Bishop who excommunicated me, Mark Harrison, did not initiate the disciplinary process against me or give me any direct council:

December 12, 2013 I met with President Wheatley at his request. President Wheatley emailed me before the meeting and said, “I would like to discuss your efforts regarding Ordain Women and hope to have Bishop Harrison join us.” [emphasis added] Bishop Harrison accepted his invitation to attended the meeting, but did not conduct or chime in much at all. The meeting was conducted by President Wheatley and he largely dominated the conversation. I blogged about the meeting here in December. My take-away from that meeting was that I was not at risk for discipline.

May 5, 2014 was the only other meeting I had with my leaders regarding Ordain Women. I was shocked when President Wheatley requested the May 5th meeting, I told him that I was in the process of moving out of state, as I mentioned to him in December, and was no longer able to meet with him. President Wheatley insisted I meet with him in an email saying he could meet, “anytime, day or night.” He also requested a “move restriction” be placed on my records in order to convey to me I had no choice but to meet with them, despite the move. I was stunned at the sudden urgency of a meeting as I was literally on my way out the door. However, I met with him, under duress, during that stressful time of selling all of my belongings and packing up my apartment, hoping to get the newly placed “move restriction” taken off so I could move on in peace.

Bishop Harrison did not attend the May 5th meeting. President Wheatley specifically said in the May 5th meeting he had no intention of convening a council in absentia. He made no indication that formal discipline was eminent.

There was no additional follow-up from Bishop Harrison regarding either of those meetings in person, over the phone, via email or otherwise until I received the notice that he was convening a disciplinary council on June 8, weeks after I had moved out of his ward.

In fact, just days before our move my husband and I saw Bishop Harrison and his wife at a ward member’s home. He wished us luck on our journey to Kenya and bid us farewell. There was no mention of any pending meeting, disciplinary or otherwise by him. My impression was that we left on good terms and would not hear from him again. He had never reached out to me directly before, despite several emails I sent him requesting he come to me for information on Ordain Women if he was ever troubled by my involvement. 

Aside from quietly attending the December meeting President Wheatley convened, Bishop Harrison never came to me to engage in any conversation about Ordain Women with me directly.

I am not encouraging people to leave the church:

I encourage everyone to find a safe space where they can be their authentic selves and live with integrity. If you feel emotionally capable of staying in the church, I encourage you to stay. However, as active members of the church who see problems with gender inequality, I encourage you to continue to raise questions about women in the church. People of conscience should raise their voices. If you stay, speak up.

It’s not too late.

I am appealing the decision to excommunicate me and it is not too late for the leaders involved to do the right thing. In a recent talk Elder Holland said, “however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made … It is never too late…”

In fact, it’s not too late for the church to do the right thing for Margaret and Lavina and all of the others who have been harshly punished for speaking out in favor of equality in the church. Just as the church teaches individual church members to correct past mistakes, the institution can also rectify old wrongs and heal old wounds. The Church has shown some signs that it is willing to make amends and correct errors of the past.

In fact, it wasn’t even too late for Helmuth Hübener, a young Mormon of extraordinary courage who was summarily executed for standing up to the third Reich in Nazi Germany. Ten days after his arrest by the Gestapo, Helmuth was excommunicated by his local church leaders in absentia. He spoke of his excommunication as more painful than his wrongful conviction by the Nazis. The day he was to be executed, Helmuth wrote in a letter to a fellow branch member: “I know that God lives and He will be the Just Judge in this matter… I look forward to seeing you in a better world!” However, even in Helmuth’s case it was not too late for the Church to do the right thing. After the war was over, he was posthumously reinstated in the LDS Church and had his ordinances restored. His records now indicate he was excommunicated “by mistake.”

One of the most beautiful and comforting things I learned as a young Mormon girl is that repentance is real. We can always forgive, forget and move on from past error or pain. In my personal case, and in the cases of so many others, it is not “everlastingly too late.” I have two levels of appeal, which I intend to pursue. One to President Wheatley, my initial accuser. If unsuccessful, I will appeal to the First Presidency of the Church, as is my right.

Regardless of the outcome of my appeal, my heart will go on beating and I will move forward, confident that I did the right thing. I spoke the truth, with love. I acted with integrity, as I was taught in Young Women. I stood together with my sisters.

We have the choice to let fear of punishment silence us. Let’s choose the courage of our pioneer foremothers over fear. Let’s choose to step into the light and speak boldly instead of hiding in the shadows. Let’s choose to speak up now, instead of accepting a deferred dream for our daughters.

I do not know what the future holds for me, but can assure you of one thing going forward: firm as the mountains around us, Ordain Women will carry on!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Perfect people don’t need a Savior

“Well, my dear sisters [and brothers], the gospel is the good news that can free us from guilt. We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything- absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family.

"But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer- how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.

"Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)

"He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years.

"He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that. He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief."

-Chieko N. Okazki, Lighten Up

"We should be the most intellectually alive and curious people on earth"

“When it comes to ideas, I’ve always enjoyed Wilson Mizner’s credo. He said, ‘I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education.' It’s crucially important to be able to turn a different idea around, examining it three-dimensionally, in the context of your own intellectual field and values system, cataloging the differences and noting the points of contrast, but without bringing them into conflict until the process is complete. Reasonable, healthy, needed change cannot occur if we aren’t willing to go through this process. If we hurry through the process, we may end up junking a very valuable idea without seeing its merit; or we may prematurely decide that our own system is flawed and throw out parts of it that we may later discover were not only the bath water but the baby as well. I sometimes think that we Mormons, because we belong to the true church, sometimes are very dismissive of anything we don’t remember hearing in seminary or Sunday School class. That’s wrong. We should be the most intellectually alive and curious people on earth.”

-Chieko Okazaki, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," pp. 57-58

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What exactly have we learned by "sad experience"?

Sincere question/concern without the patience of working on the right "tone":

What is the right way to respectfully approach our leaders if we have a disagreement or misunderstanding or questions/concerns that seem not to have any good answers? What if we have the audacity to suggest they might have done something "wrong"?

Sure, tone matters, but what we normally get is just a lot of “never criticize!” talk, and this in spite of the fact that "we have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." D&C 121:39.

One woman can be excommunicated because one bishopric says she should be. Period. There is no due process. There is no impartial committee with women included that can make the final disciplinary decision after a bishop makes a recommendation. There is no requirement of unanimity of the bishopric either. Even on the stake level (where any disciplinary case involving a man holding the high priesthood are held) an excommunication cannot be vetoed by any number of the high council--the stake president can unilaterally make the decision himself.

Speaking of the High Council, is there any reason why women cannot serve on that council? If priesthood is required, why can't women serve under the direction of the keys of the stake president-just as the men on the High Council do-and similar to how women perform temple ordinances under the direction of the temple president's keys?

The sad truth is that a bishop can change from taking a pastoral approach to a disciplinary approach in the blink of an eye. And his decision will be upheld worldwide in the church. One church member serving in that one calling represents the entire Church since his decision of excommunication is like a currency that is accepted worldwide.

Technically there is an appeals process but I don't know of any case where an excommunication has been overturned by the First Presidency. It seems as though it is simply assumed that the local leaders who are closest to the situation know best. That is a scary prospect if excommunication is used in cases where true repentance is not even an issue.

Let me be clear: excommunication is and can be a proper part of the repentance process in serious cases (for example, murder or incest come to mind), and I know several people who have commented to me that their excommunication was necessary and they are now members in good standing. So I'm not arguing against excommunication, but when you lump in "conduct unbecoming of a church member" this can include a wide range of interpretation such as a difference of opinion or disagreeing with a church leader in public. Nobody in their right mind should agree that those examples deserve the same consequences.

Ideally Seers would see that excommunication is not the answer in cases where deep and serious sin has not occurred. There are many other lesser consequences that could be more appropriate. In Kate Kelly's case, whatever "crime" was committed (and I know that is debatable, since "conduct unbecoming of church members" is subjective in the extreme and there is no impartial jury, and some people are not as lucky as others in the unfortunate reality of ecclesiastical roulette) in my view the crime does not even come close to matching the punishment.

No one single person can ever know all the details, but from all the details that have been made known/public, I think that excommunication was wrong for Kate Kelly. Even if she deliberately tried (and I don't believe she did) to embarrass the church or church leaders or (heaven forbid) disobey them (since apparently some members see that as the most important "commandment", not to say anything of obeying one's own conscience and/or obeying principles over persons) it still would not be the right solution. It does more harm to the Church, whether we define the Church as an institution or as the people who make up the body of Christ.

In my mind, if I had more faith or trust or hope in church leaders always doing the right thing (ie: if I ignored D&C 121:39), the excommunication should have never taken place, even if she still lived in the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical leaders that made the decision (which she didn't) or at least it would have been overturned by leaders higher up in the hierarchy.

Alas, it seems that local actions are most always sustained in order to show the unanimity of the Good ol' Boys Club priesthood leadership.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Shifting Faith Paradigms of a Mormon Academic

If you know me well, or perhaps if you read about my own shifting faith paradigms/personal faith journey, you might understand why I feel a kinship to Armand Mauss after reading the following excerpts. They come from the beginning and the end of chapter 3 in Mauss's memoir: "Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic". Buy the book–seriously! By way of introduction, I'll quote Richard Bushman from the forward:

As with all intellectuals, Mauss had his private battles to fight as well. His greatest early struggle was with "the social construction of reality," the notion that was sweeping the scholarly world at the time of his intellectual formation in graduate school. The words "social construction" mean that each society puts together it's own version of reality rather than finding a fixed and unchangeable reality out there somewhere. Independent reality may exist with God, and be known by faith, but humans have no direct access to it via reason and science. Every truth we know comes through a human mind embedded in a society of some kind. We have to accept the principle that every conception of reality is contingent on the conditions in the society where that conception originates. One can imagine the impact of this realization on a young Mormon scholar who had been raised on belief in absolute truth. One of the most intriguing passages in the memoir is the account of how Mauss coped with this crisis.

With five years' bishopric service behind me, I ventured back into the secular academic world to resume my graduate studies in 1962. I was, of course, expecting to be exposed to new intellectual territory, especially since I was switching my disciplinary focus from history to sociology for the doctorate. I did not, however, expect to be confronted with an entirely new ontology and epistemology. As my intellectual development continued, the sociological concept that truth or reality is socially constructed turned out to offer a greater challenge to my religious faith than anything else I was to encounter in my entire academic career. Gradually came to terms with that challenge, however, and eventually became quite comfortable with the "social constructionist" way of understanding reality.

My upbringing as a Mormon, as well as my intellectual training under the Jesuits at Sophia University, had equipped me with an absolutist or essentialist ontology. I recognized, of course, that there could be a variety of understandings and interpretations of reality derived from different cultures, religions, and life circumstances. Yet, among all of these, or perhaps outside of them, there would be a single ontology – an absolute reality as defined by God or as given in nature or both. The search for truth was a matter of applying the empiricism, the logic, and the epistemology, well known since the ancient Greeks, to get beyond all these differing conceptions to the real truth, or the true reality, in the universe. I have observed that most people, at least in the Euro–American world, grow up with similar epistemological and ontological assumptions and rarely have reason to question them.

I am not sure exactly when my doubts about these assumptions began, but it was sometime after I returned to sustained doctoral study in sociology in the 1960s. I recall no sudden epiphany or "breakthrough," no sense that I was leaving behind one entire intellectual paradigm for a different one. My intellectual transitions always seem to have been gradual and evolutionary. I simply became increasingly aware of the need to reconsider and revise earlier assumptions in light of new ideas to which I had been exposed...

[Different works and readings eventually helped show] how different visions of reality emerge from different social circumstances and...these works made clear the processes by which different cultures and interest groups construct the ideas, facts, "plausibility structures" that come to be "taken for granted" by their respective members – a process defined as the "sociology of knowledge" in academia. The major implication here is that any notion of "absolute" truth or reality, of the kind promulgated by the Judeo-Christian traditions, might ultimately exist in the mind of God, or in some other great cosmological sense, but if so, we as human beings have no access to it through any field of science.

Therefore, if we embrace any reality as "objective," existing independently of human invention, of the kind claimed in religions like Catholicism or Mormonism, then we do so on faith, as a matter of choice. Operationally speaking, the only reality we "know" is that which has been constructed by our families and passed along to us as part of our cultural heritage. In this way of looking at reality, it is easy to see how different claims to truth are embraced as ontological realities, not only in religion but also in science, in politics, and in many other fields of human knowledge. Where religion was concerned, at least in my case, it became increasingly obvious that if I were to continue as an active believer in the LDS faith, it would be mainly a matter of choosing to embrace a certain construction of reality, not the result of a meticulous process of testing and proving incontrovertible claims about the supernatural...

My reflections on this predicament [that embracing a social constructionist epistemology (that reality or truth is socially constructed within each contending society) is more relativistic than and challenges the traditional Christian and Mormon absolutist conceptions of reality/epistemology], however, led me not away from faith but rather toward a realization that in order to engage in a community of discourse, whether ethnic, religious, political, or any other kind, I would first have to understand that community's epistemology and ontology. My understanding, then, would depend on interpreting its discourse and behavior through the lens of its own shared conceptions of reality, rather than through my own or other lenses that I might bring to the examination. The same would be true, of course, for understanding the discourse and behavior in my own religious community. I had already learned to understand LDS reality as an insider and had taken that for granted. My new understanding, however, did not require me to abandon my religious community, ontology, or epistemology, but only to embrace them as a matter of choice, rather than as the only valid way of seeing reality.

Such a recognition seemed to accord also with a theological conception of faith as an active personal choice, rather than as a passive acceptance of a religious tradition. A social constructionist understanding of reality, furthermore, leaves one free also to reject any secular definition as the only true understanding of reality, since no particular epistemology can claim privileged status in the eyes of God or nature–or (still less) in Academia. Any epistemology has validity only within its own community of discourse. My "Mormon passport," then, was as valid as any other as I traveled through the various communities of discourse that I encountered. This line of reasoning, one might say, further relativizes the relativity of the social scientist's construction of reality. The scholar thus remains free to embrace the epistemology and ontology of a religious believer for ordering his or her own life and world, while at the same time being entirely free to venture into other epistemological worlds to understand other peoples with their respective discourse and behavior.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"Renegade Acts of Radical Acceptance"

Lon Young is a former colleague of mine, but more importantly he has become dear friend. He began five years of service as a Mormon bishop in Utah right around the time my family and I moved to Texas. I'm grateful he started a blog because he's a very gifted writer with a giant and inclusive heart. When he has shared his thoughts, whether with me personally or publicly, I often find myself surprised at how like-minded we are, and I have been moved by his words on many occasions. Unlike him, however, I have no plans to move my family to India for a year to volunteer in a leprosy colony. The following words are excerpted from his post "Circles of Inclusion: A letter to my community from the leprosy colonies."

It was not the gods who did this–they did not command us to kick each other out of the church; they did not whisper that TRUTH was such a fragile thing it needed protection from IDEAS; they did not inspire us to pick up stones and hurl them at one another; they surely did not teach us that moral influence and power should be maintained by virtue of priesthood office, nor by exercising control, dominion, or compulsion, nor by contracting out the dirty work to modern-day hirelings, the PR Department.

Sadly, it seems to me that the hand of inclusion and acceptance we’d been extended by a few apostolic leaders seems to have been withdrawn. Now it’s all jabs and sucker-punches.

BUT I ALSO HEAR REPORTS OF KINDNESS, of inclusion, of individual ministries where institutional ones have failed. I rally when I hear these reports. They tell me that pockets of fresh air are possible where two or more are truly gathered in His name–a kind of rescue breathing where words of acceptance and inclusion resuscitate the dead and dying.

To those who have been excommunicated from the body of believers, whether formally (institutional punishment) or informally (social punishment), my heart aches for you. I’ve been working among the leprosy-affected here in India enough to witness how dehumanizing it is to be shunned, marginalized, even banished from a community. I’ve also come to understand the fear and ignorance lurking under the surface of such behavior. But you are not unclean for questioning injustice. You are not filthy for calling foul. You are not untouchable for challenging the status quo.

Every time someone, in fear, draws a circle that excludes you from the Mormon community, please know there are others of us drawing circles wide enough to take you in. And as your brothers and sisters, we will continue our commitment to inclusion, through renegade acts of radical acceptance, until we find ourselves—all of us–circumscribed into one great whole.