Archive for the ‘religious politics’ Category

Jeffery Nielsen Courageously Takes Another Public Stand

July 3, 2008

Jeffrey Nielsen, professor at Westminster College and UVSC who fired from BYU after writing an editorial questioning the LDS Church’s support of the federal marriage amendment, has again been taking a very public stand as the issue resurfaces. He recently released “An Open Letter to California Mormons.”

I am a member of the Mormon Church, a married heterosexual, and a supporter of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. I am asking you to pause and give sincere thought to the letter from our religious leaders you have heard read, or will soon hear read, over our church pulpits asking you to get involved and oppose marriage equality in California. Please think deeply about this, not only as a member of a particular church, but also as a citizen of a democracy.

To press for an amendment to a civil constitution that would legalize discrimination against an entire class of people is no small matter, but of the greatest significance. When the argument, no matter how well intentioned, is based solely upon a religious proclamation; then, I believe, it is a serious contradiction of the wisdom of our founding fathers. It also does tremendous damage to the great progress in civil rights we’ve made in our country respecting the equal dignity of each person and towards a more certain legal equality for all citizens.

You should also know, not all faithful Mormons agree with our religious leaders’ encroachment into political matters. In fact, a growing number of active Mormons, who have gay friends and family members, are coming to the conclusion that our current leaders are as mistaken in promoting discrimination against gays and lesbians as was the Mormon hierarchy in the 60’s when they opposed equal rights for people of color, and our Mormon leaders in the 70’s when they opposed full legal equality for women.

Of course, religious authorities of any denomination possess the right, and may claim the legitimacy, to set the theology and policy for their religious community. When they; however, attempt to interject religious doctrine into the public spaces of a diverse democracy without reasonable justification, then members, especially faithful members, of that religious organization have the civic responsibility to express public disapproval of such dangerous and undemocratic behavior.

No one is asking that you condone a behavior that might violate your religious faith, but we need to allow everyone the freedom to live their life as they see fit, so long as it does not physically harm another person. After all, religious values must be something an individual freely chooses, not something forced upon him or her by the state. We should never allow our constitutions, whether state or federal, to become weapons in a crusade to impose a particular religious value system upon a pluralistic democracy. Today it might be a particular religious value that we affirm, but tomorrow it might be a religious system, which would seek to legislate against our own sincere beliefs. So now is the time to take a stand and keep separate civil and religious authority.

I do not believe that people choose their sexual orientation any more than they choose their skin color or gender. So to discriminate and deny them equal protection and equal opportunity under civil law because of these natural traits; especially in this case, sexual orientation, is grossly unfair and should be rejected outright in a compassionate and just democracy. If anyone could give me a single reasonable argument against marriage equality in our civil society, which doesn’t make fallacious appeals to tradition, misplaced appeals to religious authority, or make some ridiculous claim about nonhuman animals, then I would like to hear it. So far, no one has been able to present me with even a single justifiable reason.

You should know that like you, family and marriage are very important to me. As I have become acquainted with gay and lesbian couples, I have been touched by their goodness, sincerity, and commitment. I am persuaded that allowing marriage equality would, in fact, strengthen the institutions of family and marriage in our country. Perhaps it might even make all of us a little more considerate and responsible as both marriage partners and parents. I can only hope that the citizens of California, and my fellow Mormons, will possess the wisdom and moral decency to reject the call to discriminate against our gay and lesbian coworkers, friends, neighbors, church members, and family.


Listen to his very thought-provoking interview on KCPW

Romney Hides His Light from the World

December 24, 2007

Yesterday at work, a co-worker informed me that Mitt Romney had denied modern revelation to the press. I was skeptical, but later found that she was right.

I found it very ironic to hear the report of this incident the very day on which I was preparing my Gospel Doctrine lesson on Revelations 1-3. Revelations 1 talks about the Church being a candlestick for the Christ and the Gospel, and Revelations 2 includes a rebuke for a Church which has wandered from their “first love” (ie, Christ). The implication of the lesson is that we, the members, should stand tall in representing the Gospel, and not allow worldly pursuits to dissuade us from representing Christ and his Gospel at all times, in all places, and in all things. Yes, many outside of our faith question—even scorn—some of the fundamental doctrines of our faith. And one of those doctrines is the concept of modern revelation and priesthood authority. Romney could have honestly and plainly answered the root question by stating “As President, I would answer only to the Constitution and the public of the United States.” Instead, his flippant answer dodged the question entirely and turned his back on one of the crucial principles of our faith.

I have no problem with the idea that a presidential candidate does not believe in the restored priesthood and modern revelation. Such theological points have no part in the political debate (whether or not a candidate considers him/herself answerable to a particular ecclesiastical body in their role as public servant is relevant to the political discussion). What I do have a problem with is a person, such as Romney, who claims to have a firm conviction of my faith, but who chooses not to acknowledge the principles of that faith when it is not politically expedient to do so.

Some will rationalize this lack of political and religious courage. They might claim he was only making a joke, and that he technically left himself an “out” with his “perhaps some others” clause. Such weaseling is hardly a prime example of standing for something. By making a joke and refusing to give a straight, truthful answer to the question, Romney did not hold his light high, but chose to hide it under a bushel. He makes a mockery of the already questionable speech he gave only days ago.

Others might protest that Romney was only doing what he has to do to be a viable candidate for a nation in which Mormons are not, as Ken Jennings recently noted, as mainstreamed as we might have thought. Romney is toeing the line to placate the Evangelical right. How can this justify his public religious waffling? I do not deny that embracing the doctrines of the Gospel may well be a hindrance in the world to achieving certain worldly goals, such as the Presidency. If that is the price of being either hot or cold, that is the price the Lord expects us to pay.

Don’t discriminate against Mormons—Save it for the Muslims!

November 28, 2007

Romney apparently doesn’t mind putting the shoe on the other foot.

U.S. Muslims are charging Mitt Romney with hypocrisy for refusing to consider appointing an Islamic believer to his Cabinet if he is elected president.

At a fundraiser earlier this month in Las Vegas, Pakistani financier Mansoor Ijaz asked Romney whether he would “consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his Cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that ‘jihadism’ is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today.”

According to an opinion piece Ijaz wrote in The Christian Science Monitor, Romney replied, “…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage of] our population, I cannot see that a Cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.”

Now U.S. Muslim leaders have called for a meeting with Romney, and commentators are pointing out out how often Romney claims religious discrimination against him due to his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Muslims claim up to 7 million members of their faith in the U.S. compared with 5.5 million members claimed by the LDS Church…

…Many Muslims already had a problem with Romney, said Ibrahim Hooper, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C. He cited Romney’s 2005 proposal to wiretap U.S. mosques and his Iowa campaign ad entitled “Jihad,” which seems to “legitimize claims by terrorists that they are fighting on behalf of Islam” (“Romney rules out appointing Muslim to cabinet, draws Islamic ire,” Salt Lake Tribune).

Oh, the irony abounds.

I have to hand it to Romney. To be a member of a faith which never hesitates to recall the prejudice and persecution we’ve historically experienced and still pander to the prejudices of the Right like this takes…something.

Keep Religion out of the Election!

May 15, 2007

I am already sick and tired of people using religion as a cudgel in the 2008 election.

First Reverend Al Sharpton smugly talks about people who “really believe in God” defeating Mitt Romney.

Then evangelical Christian leader Bill Keller warns that “If you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for Satan!” and “Romney getting elected president will ultimately lead millions of souls to the eternal flames of hell!” (thanks to JM Bell for the notice)

This is ludicrous. I wonder if Mo Udall (another proud liberal) and Mitt’s daddy had to face the same divisive religion baiting? The tenor of religion in politics seems to have gotten much more shrill in the past decade or so.

(then again, Kennedy had to give a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to reassure fears about a papist puppet president. Maybe things haven’t changed so much after all…)

Now I’m no fan of Romney. In fact, lets look at the flip side. Are the many within the LDS community who are enthusiastically embracing Romney simply because he is Mormon acting any better? Isn’t that pretty much the same thing in reverse that Sharpton and Keller have done: exclude others based on sectarian affiliation?

Religion shouldn’t be a factor in the presidential election (or any other election, for that matter). We are a secular nation guided by principles which include the separation of Church and State. I could care less whether that candidate is Mormon, conventional Christian, Catholic, Unitarian, Deist, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Shinto, Muslim, Shaman, Wiccan, or Atheist! Really the only things that matter are a candidate’s understanding of the law, their understanding of and belief in the principles upon which this nation was founded, and integrity (and yes, atheists can have just as much integrity and morality as religious folk!).

This is why I so appreciate religious organizations such as the Network of Spiritual Progressives, associations promoting moral and causes among people of all beliefs and faiths—including those who claim no faith but are willing to work for noble causes hand-in-hand with people of faith. That is how the U.S. should work.

I hope all interested parties will stop using religion divisively, and will concentrate instead on what these individuals and platforms represent for the entire nation.

It’s Just a Joke

April 27, 2007

John McCain has recently caught a bit of flack in the media for both a blatantly staged photo op in Baghdad which he claimed was evidence of improvement in Iraq—one in which he had the advantage of a heavily armed military escort—and for cavalierly joking about bombing Iran at a campaign stop in South Carolina. When questioned about the indignation over his joke, McCain insisted “lighten up, get a life.” It was, after all, just a joke.

Should people let their feathers get ruffled by statements which are “just a joke”? My first inclination is to dismiss McCain’s foolish singing. I’m a smart-alec myself. Sometimes we say things to get a reaction. Why make a big deal about some throw-away statement tossed out there in a moment of levity. What’s the harm?

When I was a youth, I was often admonished in the Church that we need to watch what we say, that our words mean something. Leaders from the General Authorities of the Church down to bishops and youth leaders would warn us specifically to avoid inappropriate or off-color jokes and stories. There is harm in jests. Typically my elders would interpret that to refer to sexual content or swearing. But are those really the some total of inappropriate content? Is that all the Lord cares about in our conversation?

Tony Campolo, Evangelical minister, was noted in The Progressive to have made an interesting observation.

First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.

Well said. There is so many things more inappropriate than the words damn, shit and hell. And I tend to suspect that the Lord finds many topics of conversation as offensive as crude sexual references or stories.

I know of more than one active, decent LDS member who has told racist jokes. At each occasion, I was shocked and dismayed. None of them has given any other evidence of racial bigotry, and I have little reason to think that they would act anywhere nearly as crudely as their jokes suggest. But can there be any reason to think that our Father is fine with jokes in which the punchline revolves around murder? If He is saddened when we objectify his daughters in jokes of a sexual nature, how hurt must he be when he hears those who claim to follow him referring in a quip to the killing of his children?

One of the reasons our leaders give us not to talk frivolously about sex is that so we are not desensitized to the true beauty and intimacy of sex. I can hardly believe he is any less concerned about our desensitization to the pain, suffering, and death of his children. According to LDS theology, the one sin greater than adultery is murder. Whether talking about the casual killing of blacks, or the casual bombing of thousands of people in a foreign nation, I doubt such jokes are any less objectionable than those about sex or swearing. Even if we have no real intent or desire to commit such crimes, the subject is not one to be treated lightly by a moral people, one trying to follow the Prince of Peace and Love.

Had McCain been joking about bombing Canada or Norway, the joke might have been taken differently. But the reality is that who or what you joke about matters. I can personally attest to the fact that jokes about adultery become considerably less humorous when someone close to you has been hurt by adultery. Jokes about capricious military carnage are doubtless likewise less funny when other nations in the region have found themselves subject to rather capricious military operations, and when the jokester has been supportive of the military actions of a president who has accused the nation in question of being a member of an “Axis of Evil.”

As a leader of our nation, and one seeking no less than the highest leadership office in the most influential nation on earth, McCain must recognize that his words mean something, even words spoken in jest (as should all of us seeking to become closer to Christ—or even just more compassionate with our fellow human beings). McCain’s verbal blunder isn’t the worst thing he could have done. It wouldn’t be a determining factor in my vote, and I don’t believe it is worth making a big deal over. But his rationalization of the joke is more disappointing, and should give us all the opportunity to think about what we treat lightly.

Gayle Ruzicka’s Crusade Against Gardasil

April 17, 2007

I started this before my unintentional hiatus, when the bill itself was still a hot topic. I decided to complete it, as I think it is still relevant, both for the specific topic, and for the way it relates to the way we deal with other issues, like sex ed.

A new vaccine has been creating quite a stir on the political scene in a number of states around the nation, including Utah. Merck boasts that Gardasil can protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a leading cause of cervical cancer. Excited by the promise of this medication, a number of politicians around the nation have sought to promote the use of this vaccine, producing bills sponsoring anything from mandatory vaccinations to education and subsidization. in the recently ended session of the 57th Utah Legislature, district 46 Representative Karen Morgan sponsored HB 358, a bill which would originally have provided one-million dollars for the Utah Health Department to “establish a program to educate citizens about the risks of cervical cancer and prevention of cervical cancer and to begin an immunization program.” The bill was vehemently opposed by conservative legislators and leaders. In the end, the bill was passed, but as the neutered HB 358S02, in which the immunization campaign was removed, the education campaign was twisted to promote the conservative agenda, and the funding was gutted.

Fortunately John Huntsman Sr. has the compassion and integrity to have recently pledged to fully fund Morgan’s program.

What is it that so perturbed the Right about this vaccine? Gayle Ruzicka of the Eagle Forum was one of the most vocal opponents of Morgan’s bill, and is a good example. She expressed a number of concerns, among them skepticism of the safety of the vaccine and the conflict of interest in Merck helping to sponsor such legislation. These doubts certainly sound reasonable. I think it wise to be cautious about the sorts of promises and assurances made by corporate giants. Merck is, after all, the same corporation which gave us the Viox fiasco. All evidence I’ve seen suggests that while we cannot know for certain what the long-term impacts will be, Gardasil has been thoroughly tested. But I’m willing to explore the issue further. Additionally, I don’t like the idea of a corporation seeking to manipulate legislation in order to essentially guarantee themselves subsidized profits or marketing—especially for a multi-national corporation with revenues in the billions. Ruzicka’s apprehensions seem worth exploring.

But then there is the issue which destroys every shred of Ruzicka’s credibility.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said mandating the vaccine is going too far. She also said that it’s not right to vaccinate children against bad behavior.

“Anytime you tell young people a vaccine is going to save them, you are sending the wrong message. Nothing is foolproof,” she said.

“The only thing we know that will guard against sexually transmitted disease is abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage. We cannot keep vaccinating our children against bad behavior. We need to teach them and trust them.” (Ogden Standard Examiner, “Many promote cervical cancer vaccine; others warn against it“)

In other words, Ruzicka doesn’t want girls to be vaccinated against this STD for fear that it would encourage promiscuity.

(we’ll put aside the fact that Ruzicka was less than honest in implying that Morgan’s intent was mandatory vaccinations, when HB 358 was only to education the public about the vaccine and make it available to everyone)

The issue is saving lives, and conservative leaders insist on making it an issue of sexual morality.

The reasoning just doesn’t make sense. Seatbelts and airbags do not encourage people to drive more recklessly. On the other hand, knowing the dangers of smoking hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of people from beginning the habit over the past few decades. Likewise, The risk of pregnancy has been around for as long as man has existed, and various venereal diseases have presumably been around almost as long, yet people have engaged in extra-marital sex virtually from the dawn of time. It is important to try to educate people on the risks we face for our decisions, but fear of the potential consequences seems a less than effective deterrent. Nor does it show much respect for the intelligence and character of our children if we feel we need to rely on fear to keep them on the straight and narrow.

The simple truth is that some young adults are going to have sex. Good and righteous parenting—unlike fear—will likely reduce the odds, but it is no guarantee. We’ve plenty of scriptural examples of good and righteous parents whose children fell into grievous sin (Lehi, both Almas, most of Jacob/Israel’s sons). Is the slim chance that fear will keep our daughters chaste worth the risk to their health and lives should they stray? I find the prospect ghastly.

Ruzicka seems to forget that women aren’t always truly in charge of their bodies. There were 920 reported rapes in Utah in 2005. Do they deserve to risk the disease for the sin of being victims? What about the women who may not actually be physically assaulted, but are coerced into sexual activity? Or the woman who is unaware that her husband is unfaithful, and is about to pass on the virus caught elsewhere?

I agree with Ruzicka that sexual intimacy is something which should be reserved for the bonds of marriage. Nor would I make this vaccine mandatory. But I deplore the interference in legislation in an impotent effort to further that agenda, and find it intolerable that so many conservatives would put that agenda above saving lives.

Pro-Choice, not Anti-Life

April 8, 2007

While I was MIA, a reader made a comment about my essay on the pro-life movement. While he agreed with me that the the pro-life movement didn’t address the full scope of life, he asked “do you honestly feel justified in supporting the opposite stance simply because there are those who haven’t reached that [a more complete] level of understanding?” This question brings up an issue which deserves to be addressed.

Many on the Right—members of the conservative noise machine such as Limbaugh, Hannity, and Coulter, members of the conservative Christian movement such as Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed, and members of Utah’s own conservative camp such as LaVar Christensen—have worked fervently to con the public into believing that liberals or the pro-life movement are the “opposite” of the pro-life movement. This is a blatant lie. There is no “Anti-Life” movement. Nancy Pelosi, herself mother of five and grandmother of six, does not promote abortion. Nor does Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Edward Kennedy, Howard Dean, or any other prominent Democrat. Same goes for Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, Al Franken, or any other prominent liberal apologist. The “zero-population” abortion advocates meant to scare us in Saturday’s Warriors are nowhere to be seen on the political landscape. No public figure on the left or in the pro-choice movement endeavors to increase the abortion rate in the U.S.

The majority of those in the pro-choice movement believe pregnancy is a very grave matter, and abortion something to be considered only with great trepidation. We talk about making abortion “rare.” We dislike the arguments of the few who talk casually about “abortions of convenience” as much as do those on the Right. But we recognize that abortion isn’t the overly simplistic, black-and-white issue which conservatives like to portray. This isn’t an ideal world, and we recognize—as does the LDS Church—that there are circumstances in which abortion is a valid, if tragic, option. We understand that the best methods by which to make abortion rare are not political fiat, fear, or harsh punative measures. We wonder why the Right seems to have learned nothing from the progressive temperance movement and the Eighteenth Amendment. The pro-choice movement may oppose the pro-life camp, but don’t let yourself be fooled into confusing “opposed” with “opposite.”

And the answer to the basic question is yes, absolutely. The perspectives of the leaders and advocates of the pro-life movement from whom I hear are so incomplete, so myopic, so pharisiacal, and so destructive, that I do indeed feel justified in supporting the opposing side.

So the Shooter was Muslim

February 16, 2007

So what? What does that have to do with anything?

I’m not surprised that Michael Savage, perhaps the most vile and hateful voice in the media I’ve ever heard, would try to make the connection between our recent tragedy and terrorism. Savage has relished religious warmongering and hate-baiting over the past few years. But I am rather disappointed to hear people within our community and faith giving vent to such ignorance.

Anytime the media reports on an LDS person involved in some crime, I hear fellow Mormons grumbling about the media making note of the criminal’s faith. After all, their religion has nothing to do with their crimes.

But some of these same people are complaining that the media hasn’t been loud enough in broadcasting the faith of Talovic.

So much for the Golden Rule.

Other thoughts on elements of the public response to the shootings:

Real Support for the Sanctity of Life

February 11, 2007

This year, with a new federal supreme court more conservative than any in recent decades, the Utah legislature is considering House Bill 235, a bill intended to force a challenge to Roe vs. Wade. The bill seems to have sparked a renewed debate between those referring to themselves as “pro-choice,” and those who call themselves “pro-life.”

I personally find the term “pro-life” a bit misleading. The prefix “pro” means “in favor of, supportive of.” While the nominally pro-life side may zealously defend the sanctity of life at one stage (the pre-natal stage), they often seem strangely indifferent to life once that life has left the womb.

To be supportive of life means much more than to merely outlaw abortion and advocate retributive penalties on those who undergo or perform abortions. Some religious leaders, most notably Catholic theologians, have come up with what they call the Consistent Life Ethic, or “Seamless Garment of Life.” This philosophy shows a broader perspective which better suits the definition of the word “pro-life.”

Pro-life shouldn’t simply be about forcing expectant mothers to carry their babies to term, but rather about ensuring they have the medical, financial, and emotional support which will help reduce the feelings of desperation and isolation which lead many women to seek abortions.

Pro-life means not merely fighting to provide every child the opportunity to draw breath outside the womb, but fighting just as diligently to provide them the food, shelter, clothing, and health care needed to maintain that life with some measure of dignity until its natural end.

Pro-life means working to provide every individual has access to a quality education and economic opportunities, so that they can find meaning in life and become contributing members of society.

Pro-life means promoting a penal system focused on rehabilitation and healing rather than punishment. How can one claim to be pro-life when they support the use of death by the state as a means of punishment and crime prevention, risking irrevocable tragedy when innocents are mistakenly convicted and executed and robbing the rightfully convicted of the opportunity of repentance and restitution to society?

Pro-life means promoting peace over war, actively and persistently pursuing alternatives to the violent taking of life in conflict resolution. Efforts to establish a U.S. Department of Peace show a creative and consistent commitment to life.

Pro-life means establishing a system by which we can provide the comfort and temporal support we owe our elders as they approach the end of their natural lives.

I’d be more inclined to support the efforts of self-described pro-life advocates if they seemed more genuinely interested in “the sanctity of life,” and less interested in punishing those who have sinned.

The Christian Coalition Misses the Boat Again

December 8, 2006

I am always thrilled to see other Christians who recognize the wide range of their responsibilities to their fellow man—and I’m likewise saddened to see how often those people are thwarted by their own Christian brethren.

The Christian Coalition has been a force in U.S. politics for over twenty years, making a crusade out of such issues as abortion and homosexuality. But for the second time in just over a year, the once-powerful organization has had a change in leadership. On November 29, it was reported that Reverend Joel Hunter would resign from his post.

One of the primary reasons for the Hunter’s departure was that he had proposed that the Coalition broaden its agenda. He was eager add poverty, the eradication of AIDS, and global warming to the list of interests the organization could address. Many within the group were wary of such issues, and some state chapters had even cited Hunter’s efforts as a reason for breaking away from the Coalition.

Rev. Hunter put his interest very succinctly.

My position is, unless we are caring as much for the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb, we’re not carrying out the full message of Jesus.

I’m thrilled that such a prominent Christian leader as Reverend Hunter gets the message of Christ. And I’m dismayed that so many who take the name of Christ seem to miss the big picture it presents.