29 October 2015

39 questions for the World Congress of Families

What exactly is it about same-sex marriage that threatens a straight marriage? How specifically does your gay neighbor’s marriage negatively impact your straight neighbor’s marriage? Won’t allowing gay people to marry increase the stability of society overall? Are loving gay relationships really more threatening to the stability of families than war, economic inequality, lack of educational opportunity, and environmental degradation? Is acceptance of gay relationships harming American society more than crime, unemployment, racism, public health crises, growing economic disparity, or worsening political gridlock? Can you cite any data that show a direct link between acceptance of same-sex marriage and heterosexual couples losing interest in marriage or having children? If gay marriage leads to the unraveling of society, why are European nations that have embraced marriage equality still prospering?

What exactly is a “traditional” or “natural” family? Which tradition is it based on? Is it a one male-one female marriage, or a male-female-female-…-female marriage traditionally present in some religious societies? Are traditional societies that accepted homosexuality in their culture wrong? What empirical evidence do you have that gay and lesbian couples are, on average, worse parents than straight parents? Can you cite any major peer-reviewed studies that support your position that haven’t been discredited by the scientific community? Is it more important for children to have two parents that fulfill specific gender roles or to have two loving parents (regardless of gender) that bring important personality differences to a family? Are families led by a single parent or by grandparents less than ideal too?

If marriage is principally for raising children, should older individuals or those who can’t have children be allowed to marry? Should a heterosexual couple that isn’t interested in having children be permitted to marry? Should a marriage just be dissolved once all the children of the family have moved out of the household to live independent lives? Don’t gay and lesbian marriages strengthen communities when they adopt children that heterosexual parents chose not to raise? To reduce foster care and strengthen communities, shouldn’t governments promote adoption of children by all qualified couples, including gay couples? How are the children of gay parents affected when their parents aren’t allowed to marry or their parent’s relationships are attacked?

What data do you have to show that LGBT people are not born exactly as they say they are? If sexual orientation is a conscious choice, why do virtually all gay conversion therapies fail to turn people straight? Would you, as a straight person, choose to be gay for a week just to prove to us that sexuality is chosen? If there is no genetic basis for sexuality at all, why are identical twins of gay men much more likely to be gay themselves? If one or more biological factors ultimately cause homosexuality, is it just or ethical to discriminate against an entire community for something that is innate?

Do you believe that religious freedom means freedom for all, including non-Christians and non-believers? Do you want freedom to practice your religion in your own homes or communities, or the special privilege of having your beliefs encoded in law? If your conferences aim to strengthen families, why do speakers spend so much time demonizing LGBT individuals and their families? Why are LGBT “activists” viewed as the enemy of the family? Why do your conferences and events include speakers that sometimes have very homophobic views? Why do attendees and speakers at your events work to help foreign governments pass harmful anti-LGBT legislation? Why does the WCF oppose hate crime legislation? Shouldn’t a just and free society protect fellow LGBT citizens from harassment or discrimination even if others don’t agree with them?

Are you willing to sit with LGBT people and open your minds to their stories? Will you listen to proponents of gay rights without labeling them “sexual deviants” or pedophiles? Will you accept empirical research about sexual orientation and gay parenting even if it contradicts your belief system? Do you have any LGBT people in your immediate or extended families? Do you treat them and speak to them in a way than lets them know how fabulous and valuable they are?

25 October 2015

The World Congress of Families

This week the World Congress of Families (WCF) convenes its 9th international conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is the first time the organization, founded about 20 years ago, has had a conference in the United States. Scheduled speakers and attendees at the event include the governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, and one of the senior apostles of the LDS Church, M. Russell Ballard. Affiliates of BYU and BYU-Idaho are also scheduled to speak at various points in the conference. The event is hosted by the Sutherland Institute, a conservative Utah-based organization.

The mission of the WCF is to “provide … sound scholarship and effective strategies to affirm and defend the natural family”. The “natural family” is a nuclear family comprised of a married man and woman. Unfortunately through their actions, agenda and associations, the WCF has made it fairly clear that LGBT individuals and families are not just viewed as non-ideal in this worldview, but as the enemy. Here are some important considerations when weighing whether the World Congress of Families and its affiliates really work towards the benefit of all families:

- The WCF has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

- In 2009, the United Nations prepared a statement urging that homosexuality should be decriminalized (homosexual acts are illegal in many countries). The WCF opposed this measure.

- WCF’s past partners include the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, both anti-LGBT organizations.

- The WCF openly admits to opposing hate-crime legislation and to laws that ban reparative therapy even while it tries to defend its self as not hateful.

- The WCF calls those who oppose their narrow definitions of family and human sexuality, “sexual radicals”.

- The Sutherland Institute which is sponsoring WCF’s conference in Utah this year, is opposed to same-sex marriage, same-sex civil unions, and recognition of LGBT people as a protected legal class. They also directly reject the idea that anyone is born gay.

- One of the plenary sessions of this year’s conference includes “The Future After the SCOTUS Decision”, a short series of talks that are quite unlikely to heap much praise on this landmark decision for equality in America.

- Another conference speaker is Professor Mark Regnerus, the author of a high-profile, but discredited, study that claimed to show the superiority of opposite sex parenting over same-sex parenting.

- Past WCF event speakers and organizers include Scott Lively, a rabid anti-gay activist who was intimately tied to the development of Uganda’s recent notorious anti-LGBT legislation that, in its original form, proscribed the death penalty or life imprisonment for homosexual acts. Lively previously claimed that “homosexuals created the Nazi party”.

Unfortunately, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has fairly strong links to the World Congress of Families. In addition to Elder Ballard’s planned keynote address during the opening day of the conference this year, there are other connections between the Mormon Church and this organization:

- Elder Dallin H. Oaks, another senior apostle in the Church, is an honorary member of the WFC board of directors.

-  LDS Apostles have apparently already spoken at past conferences of the organization.

- The renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir will be performing at the 2015 conference.

Of course every organization or individual has the right to peacefully advocate for their positions, but in the public sphere there is no free pass from the scrutiny of fact. While some WCF work probably does help some families, the organization’s activities and motives are suspect, and Latter-day Saints should seriously ask why their Church is affiliated with this organization. To the WFC and its supporters: If your “defense” of the family involves explicitly or implicitly tearing down other families, perhaps you are going about it all wrong?

Links to other perspectives:

- 3 Sept 2015 Salt Lake Tribune op-ed by a leader in Mormons Building Bridges, questioning whether the WCF really embodies Utah values.
- Inclusive Families Conference 2015 – held this weekend in SLC.

- A defense of WCF in the LDS Church-owned Deseret News.

04 October 2015

Why we leave

This weekend was general conference weekend for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I would still agree with many thoughts expressed in recent conference sessions on topics such as service and forgiveness, I no longer believe many of the foundational doctrines of the church. In an effort to promote faith in the church and retain membership, sometimes leaders and members tend to simplify the reasons some decide to separate from Mormonism. This is an open letter to give some collective voice to why some Saints leave the fold.

Dear leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Most of us do not leave the Church because we are offended or because leaving is easy.

We leave because we have diligently read the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures and found anachronisms; miracles that are difficult to believe; and conflicts with western hemisphere archaeology, modern anthropology, and DNA studies of Native American populations.

We leave because we value reason and find over time that our deeper inquiry into Mormon history and doctrine culminates in an irreconcilable conflict between the Mormon worldview and what we learn of the universe from rational inquiry.

We leave because we find that the typical church narrative about Joseph Smith is inaccurate and incomplete. We struggle upon learning that there are multiple accounts of the First Vision, that Joseph took over 30 wives when some were still teenagers or married to other men, and that the Book of Mormon “translation” was closer to methods used in 19th century treasure-seeking than one might expect in an inspired scholarly translation.

We leave because we are women, or men who believe that women can do anything a man can do, and yet find that in the church women have few substantive leadership roles; that they can never preside over a man in the modern church; and that there are numerous inequalities between how men and women are treated in the faith.

We leave because we are LGBT and after long and intense struggles to reconcile our internal truths with Mormon doctrine, we find that the Church has no fulfilling or empowering place for us in its doctrine. We remember the years of harmful rhetoric, condescension or misinformation at the hands of the church and ultimately conclude that a much healthier existence is waiting for us outside the church’s narrow understanding of sexuality and family.

We leave because we have long hoped for a church that more fully embraces a diversity of political viewpoints, but find instead that the institution has been more focused on using its social and political capital to obstruct civil justice for all Americans as it did with Proposition 8 in California.

We leave because despite our respect for many wonderful people in the faith, we are not comfortable with recent church priorities such as its obsession with modesty and pornography, the negative rhetoric about LGBT families, its efforts to excommunicate those who openly challenge church doctrine or practice, and its investment in billion dollar real estate enterprises. We cannot understand the lack of transparency in church finances or instances when church leaders have misled others. We ask why we hear more from Mormon leadership about tithing or temple attendance than about great societal problems such as poverty, economic and political corruption, or environmental destruction.

We leave because despite the great challenges this brings to us or our families, we find greater peace of conscience outside the religion. We respect your choice to stay, but we hope that in bolstering your own faith, you will not misunderstand or trivialize our motives for leaving.