Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When One's Personal Views Hurts the Feelings of a Friend

Yesterday, I received a strange email message from a friend of mine I've known for 12 years. It was a like a punch in the gut. Here's what she said:

"obviously i have always known you had issues with the lds church, but your comments are rude, disrespectful, and innaccurate. your opinions are not facts, something you would do well to remember, even as you criticize everyone and everything else."

She did not reference anything that I had written that she was responding to. I can only assume that she somehow saw a lengthy dialogue I had on the Community of Christ's Facebook page. I responded to her, reiterating that I value her friendship and respect who she is and her beliefs. I love my Mormon friends because our bond transcends religious differences. The friends I had made with the Mormon BYU students during our Washington Seminar experience came about because of personal compatibility, similar political views, similar life experiences, and a love of traveling and knowledge. These qualities are enough to foster a deep friendship that can survive any differences regarding how we view spirituality and religious ideas. I really thought she understood this.

There is much that I admire and envy about Mormons. I love their values. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I've had Mormon friends since elementary school. Not only do our churches share the same history for the first 14 years of the movement, but our values are similar. This was especially true when I had more in common with Mormon Missionaries in Italy than I did with my fellow sailors.

Because I respect and cherish my Mormon friends, I have never told them what I think of their church as an organization or what I think of their church leadership. I don't see a point to that. It's their church and their culture, not mine. If they can live and function in such a church, then it's not my concern or interest. I'm not interested in converting people to the church I belong or to persuade my friends to leave the church of their family and upbringing. I respect my friends and the life experiences and associations that helped make them who they are. When I visit my Mormon friends, I love attending their ward with them on Sundays.

But, if a Mormon friend decides to "dig around" and see what I wrote online somewhere and are shocked when I express my honest opinions about the LDS Church and its leadership, then I'm not responsible if they are "offended." They searched for it and let's not forget, these are comments that I had made among members of my faith community. If my Mormon friends shared their honest views about the Community of Christ on some LDS Church webboard, that's their business. I don't make a point to search out what my friends might say about my church, because it doesn't matter to me. I understand that one's church affiliation is personal. I value my friends for who they are. Just because I don't like the controlling nature of their church and its conservative, corporate culture and views does not mean that I don't like my friends. They are much stronger people than I am, though, because I could not stand to be in the small minority having to keep my opinions quiet just to "get along" with fellow church members.

I suspect that my friend did take my comments too personally, and I feel bad for her. I did tell her, though, that if she doesn't want to be friends with me any more, she could de-friend me and she will never hear from me again. So far, she has not done that. As for what she wrote, I do not "have issues" with the LDS Church. It has no power or relevance in my life and I don't believe LDS doctrines to be true (except for the "eternal progression" view, which fits in well with my beliefs on evolution and reincarnation). Also, there are a lot of ex-Mormon groups out there where people feel the same way. I've attended a few ex-Mormon meetings this year and their views regarding the controlling nature of the LDS Church matches my views from what I've read and observed. For many members, this might not bother them, but for others, it represents a problem. In my personal life experience, I grew up in a church that promotes "free will" / agency above all else and no one in church leadership or Priesthood have ever told me how to live my life or ask intrusive questions about my personal life and habits, yet this is constantly done in the LDS Church, particularly during a Bishop's interview so that a member can get a "Temple Recommend" card that allows them access into the LDS Temples in cities around the world. In contrast, the Community of Christ owns two temples (in Kirtland OH and Independence MO) and not only can members go inside without a special authorization card, but so can non-member visitors. It is in keeping with my church's views on inclusion and reaching out to people, rather than making an exclusive club that divides people into "worthy" and "unworthy."

She might find my views to be "inaccurate", but I beg to differ. I'm interested in objective reality, not putting one's church in the best possible light and ignoring the controversial aspects just because it makes one's church look bad. As I learned from ex-Mormons, at this year's LDS General Conference in April, one of the biggest messages was reaching out to members who have left the LDS Church. Apparently, the LDS Church is facing a substantial exodus of members due to the LDS Church's financial involvement in "Prop. 8" (Prop H8) in California in 2008 (the gay marriage ban) and not doing enough to stop the suicides of gay Mormons. The gay issue has become so big that I was shocked to learn that BYU amended its honour code to allow students who "suffer from Same Sex Attraction" to remain at BYU (so long as they maintain the part of the honour code that requires sexual abstinence in all unmarried students). When I was at BYU, students could be expelled if they openly declared their homosexuality / same-sex attraction.

I am posting below the portion of the dialogue that is relevant to the controversy so you can see what I wrote in a discussion / debate with a fellow Community of Christ church member named John (who has "Restorationist" leanings, meaning that he is part of the more conservative faction within the Community of Christ). It was actually surprising that he was so defensive of Mitt Romney and the LDS Church because Restorationists tend to be very anti-Mormon.

Me: Also, despite Romney's denials, the LDS Church leadership would control Romney and have far greater influence on American policy like no other religion in the history of our republic. Seeing firsthand the totalitarian way the LDS ran BYU, I say, "hell no!"

John: I hope Romney wins and does all the things that Nicholas fears. That way, Nicholas will see the error of his thinking. I wonder how long it will take him to admit his error in comparing Romney to Bush? Will he ever get over his perception of totalitarian Mormons? Maybe, maybe not, but Romney has a political record that you can view, and it is not influenced by his membership in the LDS church. I defy Nicholas to show where in Romney's political career, he has been influenced by LDS leadership. It is not a credible statement, and it is fear mongering. By the way Jeff Moor, I apologize, on behalf of the group, for allowing Nicholas to call you a redneck, but we do not have an active moderator in this group, so name calling, unfortunately, occurs. A more polite, logical, and reasonable response would be to ask you where you are from, and your position on gay marriage, since that is the topic of the post.

Me: John, when someone misspells words into the idioms that rednecks are known to use ("fer" instead of "for", "yer" instead of "your", etc.), it gives the impression that you're not all that intelligent and if you want to make an intelligent argument, the spelling of words makes it that much more difficult to take your views seriously. That's not meant to be insulting...just a point of fact.

When I was at BYU, there were several professors who spoke about the "White Horse Prophecy" and many Mormons see the Romney presidency as the possible fulfilment of this prophecy. Romney may have been a more moderate governor, but he was governor in the most liberal state in the country. To win the skeptical evangelical vote, he has to pander to their wishes. Each Republican president has moved the country further to the right and Romney will make us all miss the moderation of the Bush presidency.

No worries, though. I think Romney will lose.

BaurakAle Ahman Ben Tsiyon:I agree with Nicholas on the Romney LDS control thing...

John: ‎Nicholas do you think the White Horse Prophesy is fair game, in the debates that are scheduled this fall? Can you name any Mormon/LDS aurthority who thinks Romney is the possible fullfillment of this prophesy?

Me: Not during a debate, but fair game for the media to run stories in newspapers and for pundits to discuss.

The LDS leadership aren't open and honest about what they really believe. I remember Gordon B. Hinckley telling Larry King in the late 1990s that the LDS does not teach that men will become gods of their own world someday. That was an outright lie, because it was constantly taught at BYU.

Krista: The LDS are a lot like a secret society. They have temple rituals / beliefs which they keep secret.

John: So your statement that "many Mormons see the Romney presidency as the possible fullfillment of this prophesy" is conjecture?

Nicholas: White Horse Prophecy was taught at BYU and many Mormons I know and knew at BYU believe it is true.

John: ‎Krista, I have never heard anyone say what Nicholas is stating, so I assume he is making it up, stirring the pot, so to speak, also known as rumor mongering.

Me: John, did you go to BYU? If you haven't, then you don't know anything about Mormons.

Krista: ‎John, What are you referring to? The Larry King thing?

Me: Krista, apparently, I struck a nerve with John and now he's coming after me the same way he went after Terri and Pat when they didn't agree with his views. Whatever.

John: LOL, my whole family converted to LDS back in 1983, and then got out a few years later, except for my brother, who is an elder, and now his 2 son's are also in the LDS priesthood. How much you know about the LDS is not the issue here, it is more about Nicholas denigrating others that he does not care for. From Wikipedia article that you linked: US presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he considers the White Horse Prophecy to be a matter of "speculation and discussion by [LDS] church members" and "not official [LDS] church doctrine."[5]

John: Nicholas, I am not asking you or anyone else to agree with my views. My views are my own, as are yours. But you like to attribute statements without giving references, so that, sir, is fear mongering, rumor spreading, and desperate. I rather enjoy this conversation, so no harm done to my nervous system.

Me: I don't have a problem with Mormons...but when it comes to power and their tendency to abuse it, then it is a problem, especially since we have freedom of religion in this country. I don't believe Romney will go against the wishes of his prophet.

John, I've never heard you speak out against the fear mongering among conservatives regarding Obama's race, religion, birth place. I think you're showing your bias. I'm hardly engaging in fear mongering. Romney is a Temple-worthy Mormon who obeys his prophet. Obama is not a Kenyan-born Muslim terrorist.

John: What about Harry Reid, or other Mormons in power at the federal level?
Nicholas, can you cite a specific time that Romney "obeyed his prophet"? I have never heard anyone use that argument against Romney. You seem to be making the same argument that JFK had to deal with back in 1960, anti catholics tried to defeat JFK by suggesting that electing JFK would be handing power to the pope. As to fear mongering, I speak out against it all the time, especially on Community of Christ discussion pages, as we all know, fear comes from ignorance. We have nothing to fear, when we put our trust in the Lord. We do not have to fear Romney, or any other politician. It is your fear that I have been addressing in this mornings discussion. Of course I do not fear President Obama, and I would never suggest that President Obama is obeying the Reverend Wright.

Krista: I have concerns with anyone in a leadership role who will do what those above him in his church tell him for fear of losing a temple recommend or simply for reasons of theology. With Romney there's the case of telling the girl whose life was in danger from her pregnancy that she should not have an abortion, and then there's the case of him telling a pregnant single mother that the church wanted her to give the child up for adoption and when she refused told her

‘Well, this is what the church wants you to do, and if you don’t, then you could be excommunicated for failing to follow the leadership of the church,’"

What would Romney do if the leadership of the church told him to do something and that he'd be excommunicated if he did not?

Oh, Romney's "I do not recall" defense has been used for both of those incidents, as well as the bullying incident in boarding school. Interesting that.

Me: John, I'm not a fan of Harry Reid, either. I think he's a bit wimpy and weak. I don't have a problem with Mormons in public office, but they need to be clear about where they stand and would they obey the prophet if going against the beliefs or goals of the LDS Church could lead to excommunication or disfellowship.

As for Kennedy, he stated in a speech that he was an American and respected the separation of Church and State. Also, I don't think the Catholic Church is as totalitarian as the LDS Church. When I lived in Italy, the most Catholic of countries, I was stunned to learn that most Italians viewed the Pope as a well meaning grandfather that they ignored. Meaning, most Italian Catholics don't abide by the Catholic view of not using birth control. American Catholics don't seem to be obedient to the Pope, so the Pope is more symbolic than anything.

Based on what I learned at BYU, I simply do not trust the LDS Church when it comes to our government. And based on Romney's pattern of behaviour going back to high school, I just don't see this guy having a moral core. He will do whatever to advance his career and his religion.

This doesn't mean that I base my views on "fear" because I'm not a fearful person. I believe America is destined to become an authoritarian theocratic police state and each Republican president seems to move us closer in that direction. I'll do what I can to prevent that from happening, but if it does happen, it will take courageous people to speak out and fight for democracy.

Also, John, Obama gave a speech on race and religion in which he criticized Rev. Wright and eventually he severed ties with Wright when Wright kept making controversial statements. I do not see Romney having the strength of courage to publicly criticize his prophet or sever ties. The LDS Church does control its members through tithing and Temple recommends. This goes beyond anything that the Catholic Church or any Evangelical Christian church does.

John: Nicholas, do you think paying tithing is bad? If Romney pays tithing, isn't that a positive? How can you turn paying tithing into a negative? We should all want to give generously, even sacrificially, and if you do so, the Lord has promised a multiplicity of blessings. Obviously, the LDS have been blessed financially for keeping a strict accounting/tithing. Can you say the same?

Me: John, I love how you twist things. You ought to be a politician...or Satan.

I never said that tithing is bad. Just that it was used as a controlling device in the LDS Church. My larger point is that Romney doesn't have the guts to speak against his church leaders so when people vote for him in November, they are also voting for the First Presidency of the LDS Church. No thanks.

Here's Mormonism in a nutshell: To become a god of your own world with multiple goddess wives, you have to make it to Celestial Glory, which requires that you be a Temple-worthy Mormon all of your life and a Priesthood holder. You cannot get into the Temple without paying your tithing. The Mormons found a perfect way to get people to pay the strict 10%, no matter one's level of income.

If a person makes below the rate of poverty, 10% is money not going to basic living needs like food, housing, utilities, transportation to work. If a person is wealthy like Romney or have enough to put into regular savings account and retirement accounts, 10% is not a big deal.

Tithings should not be tied to anything, such as Temple recommend / afterlife exaltation; or to financial blessings in the future. It should be promoted for what it is: a means to help the church pay its bills.

As for Romney, I don't support him because he's a Republican. If there was a liberal Mormon Democrat who was running for president and I liked his or her personality, life experience, and goals, I'd vote for that person. When I was on BYU's Washington Seminar program, I had the chance to meet and become friends with Mormons who are liberal Democrats and who don't believe everything the LDS Church and prophets teach them. That's what I look for: independence from your chosen clergy, not obedience under threat of execommunication or denial of afterlife benefits. Obama passed the test when he separated himself from his controversial pastor. Romney has not taken that test, nor will he. He's a good Mormon boy: obedient to his prophet, just as he's told to be all his life.

John: ‎Nicholas, Every church has tithing/contribution suggestions, and every church could be criticized, based on your criteria. You have explained what you don't like about the LDS tithing system, and criticize it all you want, but it is still voluntary, and most LDS I know give joyfully, as they see the good works being done all around them by fellow LDS. You don't like the LDS tithing system, fine, but the early church practiced a much more strict tithing meathod called consecration Many LDS testify that tithing has been the greatest blessing in their life, and in the lives around them.

Me: Of course tithing paying Mormons are going to say that, when their entire salvation system depends on it! If people love giving a strict 10% of their income to church, why isn't this phenomenon more common? Why do liberal churches have a harder time getting tithing from members? Its because there is no tie to a beneficial afterlife or avoidance of a hellish one!


Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

As always, this post is fascinating.To me, it illustrates the ways in which many of us cling our religious beliefs even when they seem glaringly wrong.

Romney is an idiot, who doesn't know what he believes about anything - and that doesn't seem to have anything at all to do with his religion, just his personality.

Sansego said...

Actually, I think Romney is a typical politician who keeps his true views private so as to ruffle as few feathers as possible in his quest / ambition to be the first Mormon president. Since he is a Temple-worthy Mormon who had served as a bishop before, which means that he judged the worthiness of every person in his ward and either granted them a Temple Recommend card or denied them. When it comes down to it, he will do whatever his prophet tells him to do.

The LDS Church leadership knows that they have views that most Americans have never even heard about, and if this were to become public knowledge, it would affect their entire missionary program and hurt Romney's chances of becoming president. People who laugh at the silliness of Scientology beliefs should really look into Mormon beliefs. There are interesting similarities.