Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Mormon Kuiper Belt

The Kuiper Belt, in case you're not aware, is a mysterious region of space just beyond the last planets in our solar system. Think of Pluto, and you're thinking Kuiper Belt. Cold, distant, mysterious, and little understood. Scientists really aren't sure what's in it, but they know there's lots of it, whatever it is. Its a region of space looking for an identity. Take poor 'ole Pluto for instance. At first, you're called a planet, albeit a tiny one. Then scientists decide maybe you're not. So then you're a planetoid, or maybe a giant asteroid, and then - finally - you're dubbed a 'Dwarf Planet'. I suppose you could say Pluto is now the red-headed stepchild of the solar system. And with that new designation, Pluto is largely ignored. Yes, there is a probe on its way there to do some studies, but that probe was launched well before Pluto came 'out' as a Dwarf Planet. Now, all the science shows about the solar system stop talking when they get to the part about Neptune. Pluto has been dropped from the charts and the text books. Its just officially part of that nebulous Kuiper Belt.

Being a single, gay Mormon trying to remain faithful to Church teachings is a lot like being in the Kuiper Belt. When I was younger, I was considered someone in a regular orbit around the Gospel sun. There were lots of singles activities, I was very active in the social scene, tried dating women, and there was nothing 'eccentric' about me. As I got older and was still single, it got harder for people to define where I fit in. The possibilities seemed to narrow. I felt a little more distant. Things got a little colder. People had a hard time understanding why I hadn't gotten married (and at that time, so did I). My 'orbit' was degrading. By the time I had aged enough to be in the 'older singles' group, things had really started to chill. I was lectured by parents, friends and leaders to 'get back on track'.  Frustrated friends tried setting me up on blind dates, and when those relationships sputtered, there was open disappointment in me. There were times when folks actually berated me and got hostile because I was still single. I remember on one occasion I was in the Temple, and a Ward member decided it was time to remind me of my status and openly chewed me out me right there in the hallway. Sheesh!

Since I've fully accepted my homosexuality (finally!) and come out to my Church leaders, I can't say things have gotten worse or better. The one positive takeaway is that they don't push me to date or berate me for being single. On the negative side, there seems to be even more confusion about where I fit in. Now you've got a single member who really can't benefit from what the Church considers singles programs - all of which are designed to ultimately get you hitched and back in that 'regular orbit'. Eventually I came to the point where I couldn't stomach attending the dances and singles conferences, and stopped participating in the Singles Program completely. That was a healthy decision.

I think the Church is largely at a loss as to what to do with people like me, or anyone that doesn't fit the hetero-normative model that sits at the very center of Mormon culture and doctrine. People like Ty Mansfield or Josh Weed get a lot of press, and are immediately held up as proof and hope that people can 'change their orbits' and come back into the light. I am really thrilled for these folks, and have nothing but good things to say about them. But the reality is that, for most of us MoHos, that doesn't happen. We either fly out of orbit altogether to the galaxies beyond, or remain here in our eccentric orbits as curious, frozen objects in the Mormon Kuiper Belt.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Policy vs Doctrine

From the standpoint of the Church, in general, doctrine is a truth or a belief. Policy is how that belief is interpreted and put into practice.

There are instances, however, when policy can have nothing to do with doctrine - its just policy. And sometimes policy can be bad. Consider the following:

Not too long ago I participated in a post on a private discussion group that brought up an unusually sensitive subject. In a conversation that really started as something else, mention was made of the Church practice of "marking" your membership record if you have been guilty of any homosexual transgressions. I was aware that this had happened in the past because of a friend of mine. He was disfellowshipped because of homosexual activities, and through his Bishop was told that his membership record had been marked. His Bishop told him he could never have a calling that involved young people. This guy is married and has 5 kids!! And his transgression was with an adult his age - not a child. I thought that was odd at the time, and thought he must have had a very unkind or uninformed Bishop to mark his record like that.

So, I mentioned this incident in the discussion thread, and someone immediately challenged it. Well, I'm not the sort to let that kind of thing go unanswered, so I looked this subject up in the General Handbook, and this is what I found:

General Handbook of Instructions, Book 1 (the new one)

6.13.4 Records with Annotations

   In areas authorized by the First Presidency, an annotation may be placed on the record of a member whose conduct has threatened the well being of other persons or of the Church.

    Church headquarters will automatically annotate a person's membership record in any of the following situations:

1.) ....the person was disciplined for incest, sexual offense against or serious physical abuse of a child, plural marriage, an elective transexual operation, repeated homosexual activities (by adults), preadory conduct, or embezzelment of Church funds or property.

This immediately set off some red flags for me. First, this smacks of profiling. Why are homosexual activities being specifically singled out here and lumped in with the other, mostly CRIMINAL activities? It also disturbed me that my friend who was disfellowshipped really could not be considered a repeat offender. It was a brief encounter with another man and that was the end of it. Yet his record had been marked (or annotated, as the Church calls it), and the annotation specifically mentioned something regarding youth.

Then the question was raised as to what an annotated record actually looked like, and one individual who has evidently worked with these membership records said the annotation reads :   "No callings whatsoever with children." This includes YM, YW, Sunday School, Primary and Scouts.

So there it was -  if you are gay and have an adult homosexual relationship of any kind, you are essentially being profiled as a danger to children. The only way to get this removed from your record is for the First Presidency of the Church to remove the annotation. Practically speaking, you are marked for life. Does this remind you of the Scarlet Letter?!

And I cannot begin to describe to you the anguish, anger, disbelief and frustration that went up in that discussion group when the whole policy, with all its implications, was revealed. It was devastating. Heartbreaking. Disturbing. Think of the implications this has for a young adult in the Church who transgresses - to be forever banned from certain types of callings and activities. And even more disturbing - to perhaps never even be told that your record had been so annotated. Its automatic.

The final question the group raised, and one that no one could really answer was "Why?". One person theorized it was because of the Church ties to Boy Scouts, who are very specific about gay people having involvement in that program. Another person said it was because of an incident that happened in Oregon where the Church got sued(?) No one had a solid answer.

So, being the die-hard that I am, I decided this issue needed to be addressed directly by a General Authority. As luck would have it, an Apostle was going to be speaking in an upcoming Stake Conference, and I happened to know this man personally. I shot a letter to my Stake President and asked if he would inquire about this policy for me when he met with the Apostle. He agreed to bring it up, and indeed had a 15 minute discussion on the topic. Bottom line - the Apostle said that policy was in place to protect the Church from situations like those that made headlines with Catholic Priests abusing children. In other words, gay people are indeed being 'profiled'. He did mention that they are considering some sort of committee that would review the petitions of those who want the annotation removed and thus shift that burden from the First Presidency.

And that's supposed to make me feel better about all this??? Since that original discussion, I've talked to and heard from a number of gay members who have recieved the 'life sentence' on their Church records. For all of them, its been hurtful and disturbing. For some, its been a deal breaker. This is a toxic policy and needs to be changed immediately before more testimonies are destroyed.

Pathological Prudishness

The Salt Lake Tribune posted an article pointing out that the ENSIGN magazine recently published a heavily Photoshopped version of Carl Bloch's 'The Ressurection". They removed the wings of the angels and altered their clothing to be 'temple appropriate' (those bare shoulders are SO enticing, aren't they?) See the photos below of the original compared to the altered version. This is pathological, folks. Sick. Disgusting. In the poorest of taste.

If they feel compelled to do this, then they need to alter all of Arnold Friberg's Book of Mormon illustrations that show bare-chested, muscle bound warriors and prophets. Those pictures are practically gay porn!