Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On Religious Freedom and Empathy

To be very honest, the first Saturday session of the 184th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a bit difficult for me. But I still felt the Spirit. And the more I thought about it, the more I was realized that people on both sides of the argument about same-sex marriage are hurting.

I don't think people in the country at large are changing their minds about same-sex marriage because of a decline in moral values. If anything, the move to extend marital rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples actually signifies an increase in morality. I think people are changing their minds about same-sex marriage because they recognize the rightness of holding same-sex couples to the same standards as everyone else, and giving them the same protections as everyone else. End of story.

But at the same time, I can see how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- governed by the principle of revelation -- needs to hold to the doctrines of marriage that we currently have. And I can see how it would be increasingly difficult for people to defend those doctrines in a culture that increasingly sees marriage equality as a matter of simple justice. I know from personal experience that there is a tendency on the marriage equality side of the debate to judge people who disagree with them as bigots. And I can see how, from the viewpoint of the Church, it will be no fun to have society at large seeing them -- once again, as with the priesthood/race issue in the 1960s and 70s -- as a bigoted church. I know from personal experience that Mormons -- regardless of their personal views on same-sex marriage -- will be judged as bigoted just for their willingness to be members of a church judged as bigoted. I believe that is wrong, because I believe that the Church simply cannot -- as much as they humanly would like to -- change a doctrine for reasons of social unpopularity or inconvenience. The Church must be governed by the principle of revelation or not at all. And I think leaders of the Church would be remiss in their duties if they didn't encourage people to be true to their faith and be willing to defend the principle of revelation that governs the Church, even when it forces them into some uncomfortable situations. I have always defended and will continue to defend that principle even when people confront me with the inconvenient question, "How can you as a self-respecting gay man want to have anything to do with that church?"

Fortunately, our country has this thing called the 1st Amendment that keeps church and state separate and that protects religious freedom. So our country -- more than any other in the world -- should be able to create a social compromise that will allow churches to practice and believe in marriage as their doctrines teach and still treat gay and lesbian couples with equity in the society at large.

There were many talks in conference about empathy. And even Elder Neil L. Andersen's talk -- the only talk that explicitly invoked the marriage controversy -- also explicitly condemned bigotry on the part of Church members. When Elder Andersen said that "everyone independent of his or her decisions or beliefs deserves our kindness and consideration, and
when he quoted Joseph Smith, reminding listeners to “beware of self-righteousness,” and when he strongly stated that there was “no place for ridicule, bullying or bigotry” in the Church, he was essentially acknowledging that this is a problem on both sides of this debate. That's a huge thing IMHO.

I came away from conference with such a great sense of relief. I felt such a surge of love and gratitude in my heart. I thought, I have a responsibility to be honest and true to myself. To tell my story with love. And Church leaders have now told their members that they have a duty to listen to me and try to understand me with empathy. And I have a responsibility to love without condition and to practice empathy with others.

If I follow those principles, all of which were so beautifully taught at conference, we will find a very, very good way forward. I just know it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Dalai Lama On Same Sex Marriage

I find the Dalai Lama's response to Larry King's question very interesting.

What matters to him is that a person follow his or her conscience. If you have a particular faith, he says, you need to follow the teachings of that faith. But if you can in good conscience enter into a same-sex relationship, if it is practical, and if it brings satisfaction, then it is fine.

He calls it "a personal matter." But this is different from saying "anything goes." To say that a person must follow his or her conscience puts the responsibility back on the individual. If we really feel that a same-sex relationship is the right thing for us, but we refrain because we fear what other people will think of us, we are harming ourselves. If, on the other hand, we really feel a same-sex relationship is wrong, we are harming ourselves if our choices divorce us from the moral framework in which we feel we need to live our lives.

The Dalai Lama is also clear that bullying or abusing others because of their relationship choices is unequivocally wrong. If gay and lesbian people must remain in the closet or are not permitted to enter into relationships with one another because of legal or social persecution, this becomes a "human rights issue."