Islam v. Radical Islam: Of All People, Mormons Should Get It

Led by a controversial prophet.  Seen by their neighbors as antagonistic to traditional Western ideals.  Driven from one declared promised land to another, until finally accepting that the only hope for peace was to leave their country for a safer political climate.  Deprived of their property by a government that declared them not to be an actual religion.  Persecuted and arrested for their religious practices.  Embarrassed by “fundamentalists” who profess to be part of their faith but represent them in no form or fashion.

Such is the history of the Mormons.

I’ve been more than a little dismayed in recent days by comments I have seen from members of the Church in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris.  I get the outrage.  I share it.  I kind of wish that Mormons believed in a traditional concept of Hell so that we could dispatch ISIS there.  But what concerns me is when we paint with a broader brush and start to condemn Islam as a whole.  Mormons, of all people, should know better.

Mormons, like Muslims, have had more than their share of kooky cousins.  We have at least one violent incident in our history, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which we clearly were the aggressors and which we have spent more than a century trying to explain away or forget.  It was an aberration.  It doesn’t reflect our values.  But our critics bring it up relentlessly, and we are judged (rightly or wrongly) by what happened there.

We also have our “Fundamental LDS” apostates who skew outsiders’ views of both our morality and our fashion sense.  (Note to the polygamists:  “Homespun” is not the new black).  I don’t know about other Mormons, but I’m worn out from explaining to people that no matter what the FLDS call themselves, they aren’t part of our religion and don’t represent us.  But again, rightly or wrongly, they are part of the baggage that Mormonism carries with it, and they will influence society’s perception of us whether we like it or not.

Islam also has its baggage–writ large in the form of “fundamentalist Islamic terrorists.”  Unfortunately, their kooky cousins make up a larger and louder percentage of the faith than what Mormons have to deal with, but the result is the same:  Public perceptions are skewed by the dramatic actions of the few and not the values of the majority.

It might be easier for Islam if it had a central authority that could throw out the crazies.  It doesn’t.  The divisions within Islam are numerous, as they are with Christians.  Again, like Christians, there are some formal divisions within the faith, but then a widespread diversity of belief and practice among those declaring themselves members of the faith.  Again, Mormons should understand this, given the lengths to which we have to go in order to convince some people we are Christian.

To suggest that there is a monolithic “Islam” that we can easily dismiss as a religion of intolerance and hate is theologically sophomoric and intellectually lazy.  I’ve read a fair amount of the Quran (I can never remember where to put the apostrophe on that one), and despite my best efforts, I’ve never come across the “bomb the innocent” section.  Mind you, there are plenty of folks both within and outside Islam that insist it is there.  It’s a perspective thing, and not everyone’s perspective is the same.

Because of my work as an immigration lawyer, I’ve been blessed to represent people from a number of different backgrounds, including Muslims.  I’ve also been fortunate to be able to develop lasting friendships with Muslims.  I’ve seen their frustration with being associated with terrorists, and I have shared my frustration with peaceful Muslims not being louder in their denunciation of actions that they see as repugnant to Islam.  Fortunately, I think that is changing.  Muslim opposition to what happened in Paris has been, in my limited perspective, considerably more vocal than the response to 9-11.  Part of that may be that social media is giving such voices a safer platform on which to be heard.  Regardless, my personal experience tells me that such views are out there and that they are sincere.

Mormons of all people should be hesitant to judge all people of a faith based on the conduct of a segment of its professed adherents.  I’ve learned over the years that when someone hears that I am a Mormon, they may understand that to mean “magic underwear clad, gay hating, misogynist polygamist.”  None of that is right, but I at least understand how they got there.  And while I try to unload all of that baggage, I’m not inclined to weigh down people of other faiths with burdens they didn’t ask for.

We should be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the good people of Islam that we have so long asked for ourselves.



The Church Did Something You Don’t Agree With: Now What?

The recent uproar by some LDS members over the newly released policy on same-sex marriages is just the latest reminder to me that many of us have lost sight of some of the most basic principles of Mormonism.   By that I am not referring to the Church’s characterization of homosexual relations as sinful.  Instead, I am talking about the concepts of revelation, priesthood authority, and personal humility.

This is not the first time that followers of God have been given instructions with which they are not comfortable and which, by their own reasoning, seemed absolutely wrong.  Abraham was instructed to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Nephi was commanded to slay Laban.  One ancient prophet was commanded to marry a prostitute.  Peter was given instructions about the cleanliness of foods (and people) that went against all he ever had been taught.  Hearing something from the Lord that doesn’t fit nicely within your own ideas, ethics, or political opinion is nothing new.  The question is, how do you deal with it?

For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are supposed to believe both in revelation that guides the Church and personal revelation that can confirm revealed truth.  Unfortunately, too many members of the Church would prefer to hang a suggestion box on the door of the temple.  They campaign for changes to doctrines, policies or practices with which they don’t agree, confusing the gospel with a glee club.  We do not believe in a “bottom up” gospel in which the Church bases its doctrines upon opinion polls.  Much of Christianity operates that way, and as a result countless churches have backed away from traditional Christian expectations that no longer comport with the behavior of their members.  Very few Christian churches place conditions on membership.  You can do what you want and still represent yourself as a member.

The LDS Church just doesn’t operate that way.  Yes, changes have been made in our practices, but those come on the Lord’s time and initiative.  Perhaps the two most visible changes relate to polygamy and the ordination of black men to the priesthood.  Had those changes been responses to a desire to be more popular, mainstream or modern, they would have been made years or decades before they were.  But the Church does not hold synods, councils or committee meetings whereby the general membership dictates changes to doctrine.  If you have a testimony of the restored gospel, that should carry with it a testimony that the Church should not operate as churches that do not recognize or hold priesthood authority.

When we are baptized, we are interviewed to ensure that our beliefs are consistent with (in our parlance, we have a “testimony” of) the basic tenets of the Church.  When we are interviewed for a temple recommend, we confirm that our beliefs and conduct are consistent with what the Church teaches.  At all stages of our discipleship, we are held accountable to adjust our lives to the teachings of the Savior through His authorized representatives.  We are fundamentally misdirected if we believe that the Church is supposed to conform itself to fit our personal beliefs, expectations or preferences.  The Church never has been a “come as you are and stay as you were” organization.  We are all about striving for something more, to become one with our Father in Heaven and Christ, our Savior.  We should strive to think as They think and act as They would act.  We strive for perfection as the Lord defines it.  We don’t set that standard for ourselves.

Because of that, it is inevitable that there will be collisions between how we would do things if we were in charge and how the current priesthood authorities do things.  Some of these will be minor fender benders; others might be five car pileups.  What are we to do in those moments?

The pattern is set out for us in the scriptures:  We obey and humbly seek confirmation of the source of the instructions we are given.  Usually, it is only after we have shown a willingness to patiently obey that we receive personal confirmation from the Spirit.  In other words, we receive the witness only after the trial of our faith.  Abraham went where he was told to go.  Only then did he find the ram in the thicket.

Stated bluntly, we have two choices when a Church policy is announced that doesn’t fit with our personal opinions.  We can get up on our high horse or get down on our knees.  We can be divas or disciples.  It is remarkable to me, and very disappointing, that a change to the handbook can be announced on a Thursday, and by Saturday some people are resigning from the Church.  In my view this reflects what my bishop recently referred to as the “drama of Babylon.”  We are more interested in feeling and expressing outrage at “Church leaders” than we are in reserving judgment and seeking harmony with the Lord, whose church this is.

The only way we can avoid being rubbed the wrong way by a doctrine or policy is if our thoughts and desires were perfectly aligned with the Lord’s.  None of us is there, no matter how much we think we are.  Therefore, we have to seek to respond with a broken heart and contrite spirit, being willing to accept the possibility that the Lord’s thoughts are higher than ours, and that through patient prayer we can harmonize ourselves with the Master.  He does not expect blind obedience.  As with the eleven apostles following the resurrection, and the thousands of Nephites upon His visit to the Americas, He invites us to see Him, come to Him, and touch Him:  To verify for ourselves the reality of what we have been taught.  But as dangerous as blind obedience can be, blind disobedience is more poisonous to our souls.

Slow down.  Calm down.  And kneel down.

Panicking Over Policies–Does the LDS Church Hate Children of Gay Marriages?

I only have a few minutes to write today (actually, I don’t even have those), so this is going to be a fairly quick and knee-jerk reaction to the policy issued yesterday by the LDS Church.

In case you missed it, the Church revised the Handbook of Instructions to address same-sex marriage.  It included same-sex marriages under the definition of “apostasy,” which just means that if a member enters into a same-sex marriage it requires a disciplinary counsel.  The same is true for polygamous marriages.  The policy also provides, however, that children of same-sex couples are not eligible to receive a “name and a blessing,” and they cannot be baptized before reaching majority without First Presidency approval.

That second part has struck a sore part with many members, including many of my friends.  I’m not going to discount how troubled some people are by that (I lost my mind over “ponderize” merchandise, so I won’t be throwing rocks from my glass porch), nor am I going to suggest that people just thoughtlessly “follow the priesthood” and accept something they don’t like.

I would, however, at least try to soften the blow.

Let’s be honest:  The Church is between a rock and a hard place on this issue.  The Church’s stance generally about the LGBT community has softened considerably over the years, and the Church has even been active in supporting gay rights under many circumstances.  But at the same time, doctrine is doctrine, and the Church’s position is that homosexual activity is wrong and same-sex marriages are not approved of God.  Having those two positions (both of which I support) results in a pretty tricky balancing act on the policy high wire.  What do you do when parents who reject core doctrines of the gospel still want their children to be treated like every other child associated with the Church?  One the one hand, you want to be decent, fair and loving to people.  On the other, the Church needs to able to maintain the integrity of its doctrines and institutions.  (By the way, the “name” portion of the ordinance just means you are listed on the records of the Church.  We don’t refuse to recognize the names of kids who aren’t members of the Church or anything goofy like that).

There are no easy answers, and no solution is going to be acceptable to everyone.  The “name and a blessing” thing is relatively easy.  That ordinance is performed for “children of record,” babies who are born to LDS families.  It is a way to make them officially part of the Church even though they won’t officially be members until they are eight years old and are baptized.  If the Church doesn’t recognize the marriage (and the marriage would result in the excommunication of the parents) then the child is not a child of record.  My understanding is that this is how it would be handled if it were a child of a polygamous marriage as well.  Similarly, if a man and a woman are married but both are excommunicated for some reason, their children born after that time would not be “children of record” and would not receive a  name and a blessing.  (It isn’t unusual when parents are less active in the Church, divorced, or one parent is excommunicated that a child will receive a name and a blessing, but in all of those cases at least one of the parents is a member of the Church).

If I’m getting any of this wrong, somebody tell me.  It’s been a while since I’ve been in a leadership position, and I happily haven’t cracked open the handbook in ages.

Baptism is a little different, because children can be baptized into the Church, even if their parents aren’t members.  But we hold our noses when we do it.  There are plenty of reasons for that.  We want to be sure that the child is making an independent decision, that she understands that nature of what she is doing, and that she actually has a testimony of the gospel.   Where the parents are living in a manner that openly defies the doctrines and practices of the Church, it is extremely difficult to make sure that is the case.  I’ve been told by my nephew, who dealt with this issue on his mission in Utah, that the policy for baptizing children of polygamous marriages is handled pretty much the same way that the new policy addresses children of same-sex marriages.  There will be an avenue allowing for it, but the Church wants to be sure that everyone is on board, knows what they are doing, and the child isn’t being baptized into a unworkable situation.

The changes to the handbook will be and are being treated by the general media as an attack on children of same-sex couples.  I get that, but I think members of the Church have to be careful about getting caught up in reading it the same way.  It’s ironic that the Church typically is criticized (unfairly) for trying to trick people into baptism, the idea being that we will do anything to get somebody into the waters, and now we are being chided for being careful about the circumstances under which someone is baptized.  Again, there is no way the Church can deal with this issue without loud squawking from a lot of people.

I understand the reaction that some are having to the policy, but our reactions don’t need to be overreactions.  This is the first time the Church has had to deal with this issue, because this is the first time that gay marriages have been legally recognized.  There is bound to be some revision of the policy as the Church learns through experience what works, what doesn’t, and how best to manage the balancing act.

There is always “something” in the Church that we can find to upset us.  I’ve been annoyed, offended, and riled up more times than I can count.  But I am always brought back to the sixth chapter of John, in which many of the disciples had become offended at Christ’s teachings and had abandoned Him.  He turned to His twelve and asked if they also intended to leave.  Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life.  And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”  (John 6:66-69).  Indeed, where else would I go?  It is in the restored gospel of Christ that I have found meaning in my life and my relationship with God, peace in my mind, and comfort in my tribulations.  It is the greatest of understatements to say that the Lord and His servants have earned my patience, and I will not go looking somewhere else when hurt occurs.