Monday, March 25, 2013

Fingers Crossed

About a year ago, North Carolina voted to approve a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. When I read the news that day, my stomach dropped, and without meaning to, I said, out loud, "Oh no."

The kids asked me what happened and I explained it to them. We talk quite a lot about this in our family, so this wasn't a new topic for them, but it was breaking news about a specific state's vote on the issue.

See, over 4 years ago, the Prop 8 campaign in California already sickened me. And here it was, years later, and the news from North Carolina highlighted that with regard to civil rights, rather than progressing as a nation and as human beings, things were regressing.

I've always felt strongly about equal rights, even as a child. People sometimes say, "Why do you care? You're not gay." My response to that is, "I'm not black either, but I have always felt passionately against racism and have ached for people who have been on the receiving end of hatred and inequality."

Our whole family was upset by the news from North Carolina this past May. The kids went up to bed and within minutes, Thing 1 came downstairs with a hand-written letter, set it between me and Mark, and said, "I want to send this." She wrote the following letter completely on her own:



The next day, President Barack Obama went on television in support of gay marriage. We have felt immensely proud of our daughter for being so forward-thinking and expressing her support, even before the President himself did.

She has sent this letter out to several politicians, both locally and nationally. We have actively supported groups that fight for gay rights. We have seriously considered marching in Washington this week. We have distanced ourselves from groups and organizations that oppose civil rights for all.

I have a pin that says:
Mark got me a stylin' t-shirt that says, "Right Side of History." I will be wearing that t-shirt tomorrow as we watch the news and follow this issue. We hope hope hope the Supreme Court votes in a way that is fair and right - ensuring civil rights for all.

They felt justified, too.

Mark and I have felt frustrated these past many months, because we have not felt like we can post this letter openly on our family blog, because we know that it doesn't necessarily align with what many of our family and friends think, but we also recognize that our censorship is self-imposed.

Yes, many may not agree with us on this issue. We have not wanted to argue about it nor have we wanted to get into big political/religious discussions about this issue and our stand on it.

But whether or not people agree with us doesn't matter. What matters is that people's rights are being denied, history is about to change all that, and we want to be clear about what side we're on.

And what also matters is how immensely proud we are of our daughter and her immediate action on something she sees as so obviously unfair. If she has the guts to write and send a letter like that at age 12, I can have the guts to publicly post it on our blog at age 39.

I will, as always, not censor comments just because someone may disagree. People can say what they please. I do not, however, have a ton of time at the moment to get into big political/religious discussions. I will say, though, that there is more to come and I'll have more to say soon.

28 comments:

Dr. Mark said...

First of all, we have such incredible children. I can't read that letter without tearing up a little, every single time. I am so encouraged that we have children who already have such a well-developed sense of equality and compassion.

Secondly, all day I've been thinking about what I could say in anticipation of the next two days of Supreme Court cases, but I had a hard time distilling my thoughts down to a few concise statements that really conveyed how important this issue is. Excellent job on this post.

I guess that picture I found for you (the one with the terribly enlightened racists in Arkansas, 1957) sums up a lot of how I feel. We are at a crossroads as a country. We get the chance to determine which side of history we will be on. Back in the 50s and 60s those people fighting against civil rights felt so justified and enlightened, but history has proven them wrong. I can't think of a single rational, intelligent person who could argue that racism is an enlightened way to live.

I heard an evangelical pastor on the radio today say that when his children expressed utter disbelief over the possibility that racism EVER existed, he immediately realized that 25 years from now we will look back on this decade and realize that our hesitancy to endorse equal rights for ALL individuals was the wrong side of the issue. I couldn't agree more.

The issue of same-sex marriage has so many layers to it, so many viewpoints. I just think it just makes sense to lean toward equality and increased rights for all rather than limitations and restrictions on some.

Dave Johnson said...

Kate is awesome and you guys are awesome. This is an issue that's close to my heart too because I watch friends - good, decent people - be treated like sub-humans by our government and many of our religious organizations. It's tough to have such a "liberal" stance on this because conservative friends and family may interpret it as a blanket condoning of every liberal talking point. But civil rights issues are so far beyond the scope of politics you can't even really look at them through that lens. The passion you guys have for this has made it easier for Christie and I to speak up against so many myths about gay couples, and in support of gay marriage.

Dave Johnson said...

Mark - unfortunately, I personally know people who justify racism due to things like the high crime rate among blacks, prison stats (which is a large part of the problem - don't get me started), etc. My thing is this - it wouldn't matter if 100% of black people are criminals and 100% of gay people wanted to destroy traditional marriage (I'm being ridiculous for the sake of the argument here...) - equality is STILL THE RIGHT THING. All other issues, be they religious or civil, can be dealt with individually by those respective organizations and the internal process designed for such. But as a species, equality is simply the right thing, and it requires ignoring whatever crazy set of numbers it's opposition throws out there, or whatever anecdotal examples either side presents. It's easy - it's one of the few things on this planet for which there is no gray area or reasonable argument against.

Michael said...

Awesome post! And I loved "Thing 1"'s letter. :) Could not agree with you more...

Jimmy said...

I admire that you and your family are concerned about equality and are willing to speak up about your beliefs.

And I appreciate the concern you show for your family and friends that might not agree with your perspective.

I find myself wanting to hear something official from my church leaders on this. I'll be honest and say I hope their perspective aligns with mine, but I want to be humble enough to accept that if might not.

Jimmy said...

I admire that you and your family are concerned about equality and are willing to speak up about your beliefs.

And I appreciate the concern you show for your family and friends that might not agree with your perspective.

I find myself wanting to hear something official from my church leaders on this. I'll be honest and say I hope their perspective aligns with mine, but I want to be humble enough to accept that if might not.

Dave Johnson said...

Jimmy - we've talked in these comments before and you seem like a really smart guy. You've obviously thought this issue through if you have an opinion on it. I'm curious why your church leaders opinions would sway that? What if they haven't thought this through very well? What if they have an experiential bias not grounded in objectivity?it's almost like you're saying that even though you're smart enough to figure this out for yourself, you're going to allow them to think for you. No disrespect, but I don't get it...

The Magic Violinist said...

I'm going to be posting my letter on my blog pretty soon.

Emily Foley said...

Dave--they don't think for us, and they don't make decisions or have official declarations based on their opinions or experiences. It's directly from God. The prophet has a direct line of revelation from God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (as do I). If they come out with an official stance, we are charged with praying about it and receiving our own answer. But faithful Mormons follow the Prophet, even if what he teaches is not popular.

I'm sure you know I disagree. I don't hate gay people...but you cannot change the definition of marriage to suit your needs. Marriage is between a man and a woman because that is how God instituted it. Homosexual people cannot have sex and create human life--heterosexual people can. Marriage is meant to create a family...to have children. I know and love gay people and I know this is a hard thing for them--for everybody involved--but I am not a bigot for standing firm in my belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. You can call me one if you want, but it won't sway me. I know I'm right. :)

Emily Foley said...

Also, to Jimmy, I think the Church has been pretty clear. Their official stance is that marriage is between a man and a woman. I think their intense involvement in Prop 8 in California is proof of that, along with this: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-website-same-sex-attraction

Emily Foley said...

last comment--and to Dave: Are all of your opinions non-experientially biased, and fully grounded in objectivity? I'd be fascinated to meet you in person if that's the case! :) But you obviously don't know a ton about the LDS Church. They don't make decisions without thinking them through and praying intently, for years if necessary. Evidenced by the 1978 allowance of black people receiving the priesthood. Joseph Smith had a maid named Jane Manning, a black woman who desperately wanted to go to the temple. He prayed about it. Brigham Young prayed about it. Every prophet right up to Spencer W. Kimball prayed about it. They don't make decisions on what's popular--the make decisions based on God's will. From your comments I don't take you to be a religious man so you can take what I say and leave it...but I just wanted you to know. We're not sheep being lead blindly. We're sheep following the True Shepherd, Jesus Christ, in doing His will on earth so we can live with Him again in heaven.

Dave Johnson said...

Emily - I surely don't want to vilify or name-call anyone who stands by what they believe. That is an honorable thing in most cases.

I also agree with most of what you said about the biological purpose of marriage - homosexuals cannot procreate. It should be pointed out though that marriage is not *soley* about procreation - if that were the case, man and woman would marry only for that purpose. But they marry for myriad reasons, procreation being only one of those. Believe it or not - I even agree with the fact (FACT) that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, and abhorrent in the eyes of God. The scripture clearly teaches this both through direct instruction and the cultural context of those passages. Those who use as a their defense, "Well, the Bible also says not to plow your fields on blah blah," or "Jesus never taught on homosexuality," are fooling themselves. The Bible is clear on this point, and it's an issue that is applicable all the way to 2013, unlike some of the ticky laws in the Old Testament intended exclusively for priests of Israel (the ones that are usually trotted out as "proof" that the Bible is outdated). For true students of the Bible, there is no question - homosexuality is condemned as a sin. Period.

Dave Johnson said...

I think where we part ways is here: While we both agree that everyone should be free to stand by their beliefs, and we agree on the Bible's teaching, we disagree on how those beliefs and that teaching applies when it meets opposition from people who do not believe the same thing. In my 20+ years as a student of the Bible, I have yet failed to find a single instance in the New Testament that encourages, commands, or even hints that the Church should enforce those beliefs on other citizens. The Israelites were asked to do so for very specific reasons that simply don't apply to New Testament believers.

Christians are in a tough spot in the U.S. today because they find themselves living in a country that was founded on many things, including the ten commandments, and yet the founding fathers were careful and explicit that we should not allow Church law to override the Constitution. They were students of history and knew how destructive it is to mix Church and state - even if they themselves held the beliefs of that Church dear. A brief study of Rome, Persia, Germany, and Japan illustrates the dangers of mixing Church and state, and oddly, the Church is always the group that ends up suffering the most, legally, physically, and economically.

Dave Johnson said...
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Dave Johnson said...

So I'm left with the conviction that believers should stand up for their beliefs, and their voices should be heard equally among the others. But they should also understand that what they are demanding is that everyone follow their rules. And the Constitution, as well as dozens of writings by the founders, implicitly state that no Church or belief system is allowed to demand that. I don't think the founders ever forsaw it happening, but that has allowed us to come to a point where the Constitution and many of our revered religious texts (Muslim and Christian alike) simply don't agree. Gay marriage is definitely one of those things.

My thoughts on redefining marriage: it gets redefined all the time. It was redefined when Abraham took 2 wives. It was redefined when fathers stopped trading their daughters as would-be-brides for a pair of goats. The LDS even changed their definition of it in 1852 when Elder Orson Pratt - at the request of Brigham Young (a prophet, I might add), defended plural marriage to the Republican party. In fact, the disagreement between the U.S. government and the Mormon church on this matter caused such cultural unrest that it played a significant part in the Utah War of 1857-58. In 1890, church president William Woodruff *again* redefined marriage by terminating the practice of polygamy. It seems that the real issue here is that the Church feels that marriage should be redefined by no one *except themselves* - and ironically, they've done it when it was culturally appropriate to do so. Kind of like the situation we're in right now, with a cultural movement in favor of gay rights. No disrespect, but of all the organizations to contest redefining marriage, the LDS should be at the back of the line. I do in fact know quite a bit about the Mormon church - at least their history - and when it comes to redefining marriage, they are very much the pot calling the kettle black.

To answer your last question - I fully admit that I am not objective. On the other hand I don't purport to speak for God himself, who according to scripture and the Book of Mormon *is in fact* objective about everything, all the time. You've pretty much made my argument for me in your example. If it's wrong to ban blacks from the priesthood - did God change his mind in 1978? If God is objective, then surely it was the Church, led by the words of the prophets, who changed their mind. Why? Because they were in the middle of a groundswell Civil Rights movement and it was culturally appropriate to relinquish their outdated views of black people, just as the rest of the nation was doing at the time. We can flower that up if you like, but it simply means that they had been wrong. And wrong for a long time. So my question is this: if they were wrong about blacks receiving the priesthood and wrong about plural marriage - despite having a "direct line of revelation from God" (as you say) - then who's to say they aren't also wrong about gay marriage, and will recant that teaching in 50 years? This is the very reason I asked Jimmy what I did - if you know they've been on the wrong side in the past, why do you trust them now? Either they're infallible or not. The line of prophets in the LDS Church have not been, and that's a fact that can be clearly documented with historical data.

The Magic Violinist said...

I can see where you're coming from, Emily, but if marriage and family should only be between a man and a woman, what about people who adopt? Are they doing a bad thing? One of my best friends is adopted. Doesn't she deserve a family, too?

Jimmy said...

Dave--I think your question is a fair one and I take it as a genuine interest as opposed to an attack.

As you mentioned, we (Mormons) do consider the President of the LDS church to be a Prophet of God and I've embraced that belief for the past 27 years. So that's the foundation of my previous comment.

The question then becomes more of a personal one for me regarding my definition of faith. How can I say I have faith if the minute one of His represenatives endorses a belief or principle I question or don't completely agree with, I reject it? What kind of faith is that?

I think many active LDS members struggle with the issue of Blacks and the priesthood. I often wonder why the Church took so long to allow Blacks to hold the Priesthood. I don't understand the timing. I wish that decision where ahead of its time rather then what seems to be in response to the Civil Rights movement.

Again, for me, it becomes a matter of faith. If I understood it completely, it would be knowledge, not faith. And as far as I can understand from my study of the scriptures, we are to exercise faith in this life, and our faith will be tried and tested.

Sincerely, I thank you for asking. Helps me to really think about why I see things the way I do.

Dave Johnson said...

I get what you're saying, but it just seems like a great deal of logical gymnastics to get past the cognitive dissonance. A thinking person like yourself knows that the Church was so, so, so far behind and even un-Biblical in its decisions about blacks in the priesthood for a very long time. That was a mistake, plain and simple - and there's nothing to do but lay that at the feet of prophets who were so late in doing the right thing (because believers aren't going to blame that on God, and Biblically, you can't). So it follows that if they were so wrong, and so late about that, then we can't on the other hand assert that they always hear God correctly or make worthy decisions. Both can't be true.

I struggled with faith for 30-something years, so I really do get where you're coming from. There's a point where you feel you just have to say "I don't understand it" and cling to what you do understand. However, the word "faith" as Paul uses it in Hebrews (and elsewhere in the NT) is not, as often taught, a "blind," faith. The Greek word is "pisteuo" and means "faith leaning in the direction of evidence." So even by the Bible's own definition, no one is asking us to have faith in something that has proven itself to fail. So knowledge and experience are part and parcel of faith, as Paul (and John, and James) taught it.

In this case, I have to wonder why things that are so obviously wrong (racism, pedophilia, incest, etc.) were condoned in the 1800's in the Mormon Church by prophets for so long, then condemned later (mostly by Brigham Young). Is this an oversight on God's part, or on the part of the leaders themselves? I don't see how a thinking person can simply write these huge issues off as a matter of not understanding or having faith. It tells me that something is drastically *wrong* - either with God, the leaders, or my understanding of how those leaders make the decisions they do.

Dave Johnson said...

My point is this: it seems like you would start to suspect something fishy when looking at the history of landmark decisions made by the LDS. There is a pattern of holding on to a position (no black priesthood, plural marriage, underage marriage, etc.) for a very long time, then declaring that either God has changed his mind or they have heard differently. It's awfully convenient, and we would be suspicious of any normal person who did something bad, told us God made them, then recant it years later. Something doesn't add up.

Take the line of logic a step further: I know the policy of the LDS is for the leaders to make a decision and tell the rest of the church to "pray and let God speak to you." We both know this is code for, "pray until you agree with us, because you're wrong and you need God to tell you so." I'm oversimplifying for the sake of the argument. Now, let's take a ridiculous example: tomorrow, your leaders decide that all Mormons should begin to practice cannibalism. You know this is horrible, wrong, unbiblical, etc. But by faith, you believe that these guys have a direct line to God. Where does that leave you? I'm being somewhat facetious here, but the principal still holds. It's easy to follow the leader when it comes to gay rights because it requires no direct action on your part - it's largely a philosophical issue for most of us. But if you had to sit down to fried John Doe and potatoes at your dinner table tomorrow night, what would you do? At what point do you acknowledge that maybe the prophets are way off, don't really hear from God, or simply make decisions based on societal pressure, as they did with plural marriage and black priests?

The bottom line is that some things aren't a matter of faith - some things are about what is right or wrong. Define that Biblically if you want. I'm not saying gay marriage is clear cut for Christians due to the Biblical condemnation of the lifestyle. But I am saying that I've seen many people use faith as a cop-out for standing up for something they should have, or at least thinking more openly about it, and the cognitive dissonance is extremely unhealthy, spiritually and psychologically.

Rich said...

I think gay is a little weird, but I think that every one should be able to do what they want, weither is a man and a woman, man and a man, or woman and a woman. I hope they say yes to gay, because thats what some people want to do, some, not all. (Most of the time, I dont have anything to say about this stuff, but this is diffrent...) And most of my family is aginst gay, because its not in the book. I beleave in God, but i also dont beleave in God. I beleave that he is watching over us, and will try to protect us, but he isn't doning that good of a job right now, but I do not beleave that he will protect us from every thing.(Because he dosnt) I beleave that what we call luck, is God. I know some of you don't beleave in god, but I partly do, and partly don't. And as for Kate's letter, I think thats awesome. :D

Rich said...

Well god hasnt been doing a good job. :/

LMW said...

Jimmy is inside my head. I understand where he is coming from completely, because his comment reflects mine pretty much down to the letter. Emily, I wish you hadn't brought up black people and the priesthood to make your point, because it's my faith that makes me stay despite that issue. My husband was taking the discussion a few years ago, but that's the issue that he couldn't get past. He feels that 1978 was way too long for that policy to change and "God knew what he was doing" means nothing to somebody who is not converted to the gospel. I also wish you hadn't mentioned the church involvement with Prop 8 to make your point either, because it's unsettling to nonmember family members of mine that the church who promotes staying out of politics would use church funds (presumably thithes or offerings) for the cause. That's why my nonmember brother-in-law wouldn't contribute to my broter's mission. He said that he'd send care packages, but would not give money to our church, since he couldn't trust where it was going anymore.

Emily Foley said...

Sorry but not sorry, LMW. :) those are facts that we can't change. I understand though that those are hard things to understand for some people.

To Dave, I don't believe God changed his mind. He always wanted everybody to have the priesthood. It was a matter of timing and everybody else being ready and willing to accept His will. I think. Heh.

Kate--of course kids who are adopted deserve a family. They deserve a MOM and a DAD. I can't take my faith In The LDS church out of my argument so you might not agree with me because you might not believe what i do. but the proclamation to the world on the family specifically states that men and women are inherently different and endowed with different gifts that children need in their home. Today in General Conference Elder Bednar spoke about the importance of chastity and the importance of having a mom and a dad. When it becomes available it's worth a read or listen by anybody wondering about the Mormon view on homosexuality and gay marriage at lds.org. He said "the means by which mortal life is created is divinely appointed. The first commandment God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. The commandment to 'multiply and replenish the earth' remains in force today. Thus marriage between a man and a woman is the authorized channel through which premortal spirits enter mortality. The power of procreation is spiritually significant." That's why I believe what I do.

Dave Johnson said...

Emily - I REALLY hope you know I mean all this in a kind spirit, I don't want to come off like some snarky non-believer who's just being hyper-critical or picking on you - I'm really trying to follow the line of thinking, which is why I engage in these conversations.

That said - this still doesn't make sense to me. On the one hand you've said that these men have a "direct line from God," and on the other you're saying it took them nearly 200 years to be able to accept his will about blacks in the priesthood. These two things directly contradict each other. Or are you saying the prophets knew this was God's will but the "other people" (I assume the Church, the world at large, etc.) were not? I would imagine God and the prophets shouldn't be very concerned with what is popular or whether or not people are ready - if something is right, it's right whether or not anyone is ready, and no matter what time it is. Why would God or the prophets need to wait for anyone else's okay? Aren't they the authority here?

Your second paragraph (addressed to Kate) doesn't really respond to the larger issue. There's no question what the Bible and the Mormon Church teach about homosexuality, marriage, etc. - it's laid out pretty clearly. But the *larger* issue is that we are citizens of a Republic that values the belief systems (or lack thereof) of all its people. That means that the beliefs of the Mormon Church, Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. should have no bearing whatsoever on government policy. Marriage is certified and made law by that Republic (the states in this case) - the Church only performs weddings - but married couples still require a license from the state, no matter their religion. And we grant those licenses every day to people who scoff at the Biblical tenets of marriage. Children out of wedlock, pre-marital sex, living together, multiple partners, and so on. We don't restrict marriage because of these things - why is homosexuality special?

What if the shoe was on the other foot? What if the majority of the country were Tibetan Monk and believed everyone should be celibate? This contradicts the Biblical mandate to be fruitful and multiply, but what if their belief system were being forced on the rest of us? It seems to me that trying to force a Biblical definition of marriage on everyone else, regardless of their personal beliefs, is the same thing as Jews trying to force everyone to eat kosher, or Muslims trying to force everyone to pray to Mecca three times a day. Don't get me wrong - marriage is GREAT, and I believe that the Biblical "way" is ideal for many reasons. But I don't want anyone else's beliefs pushed on me by law, so I don't want to do it to anyone else.

musingsfromnevillesnavel said...

*dies from the awesome* Tell Kate that she's very cool.

I definitely understand the self-imposed censorship. It's like... I think my parents support gay rights, but the reason I'm not totally sure is that it's just not really something we talk about.

LMW said...

I'll also add that I have a sister who is gay and I refuse to believe that she doesn't have the same rights as me. I know for a fact that she didn't choose this way of life; she's tried many times to fight it/to even deny it. So I have to believe that God has a greater plan and understanding than I do. I know he wouldn't want me to condemn her for something she didn't choose for herself-that's what I do know.

Dr. Mark said...

LMW, I'm so glad you feel comfortable commenting here. From what I can tell, there are a lot of people in your shoes, who have homosexual family members and close friends, who love them so much that they want them to have the same rights and opportunities as anyone else in this world. This is why public opinion is changing so rapidly--we no longer see the issue as a "we-them" type of thing. It is now an issue we have to consider from a more unified front. Reconciling this complete love for a sister with such divisive doctrines and practices has got to be so difficult.

Boquinha said...

I just want to add that I don't think people who haven't gone through it have any idea just how grueling it is to suffer from cognitive dissonance when your heart and mind tells you something that conflicts with something that's been important and valued for so many years. Eventually one has to choose to live an authentic life - making choices that are congruent with your own soul, your own heart, your own mind. It's not easy, but that's where peace enters in. And anyone who thinks that you're casually just throwing away something that has meant A LOT to you for so many years has no idea. None.