Tuesday, July 17, 2018

BANG YOUR HEAD

A few months ago, at the most recent Mormon General Conference, a man named Garrit Gong was named an apostle of the church. This is significant if for no other reason than the fact that he is the first Mormon apostle to have skin darker than medium beige ("Now are we diverse?"). Along with this new title came the accolades of "prophet, seer, and revelator" (Tell me, again, about religious humility...). Well, as it turns out, during my tenure at BYU I had a few run-ins with Mr. Gong, which allows me to say unequivocally that he (despite his skin color) is without a doubt the most "white bread" church leader I have ever met. Even by Mormon standards, he is positively vanilla.

It is generally well known that to become an apostle in the modern Mormon church you have to undergo a thorough vetting process. The church is surprisingly savvy when it comes to public relations (with a few exceptions regarding civil liberties like race, sexism, homophobia. Ya know, small stuff.), and they have a history of selecting non-controversial figures as their leaders (at least since ultra-conservative President of the church Ezra Benson led them down the "civil rights for blacks leads to Communism" path). I guess having polygamous firebrands like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young as their founders will make an organization a bit self-conscious in the public arena today. And so, evidently, for several decades the church has made it a point to stock the shelves with leaders who have about as much life experience as Charlie Brown. And Mr. Gong makes Charlie Brown look like a Garbage Pail Kid.

First, I went to a Stake Conference where Mr. Gong was the presiding authority. From what I recall, he spent some time talking about his background, and shared some anecdotes which he thought the auditorium of a thousand or more young men and young women would find spiritually uplifting. All I found was an unshakable desire for a nap, which I quickly remedied once I returned home. This was around the time in my journey out of the church that I realized that I didn't much care for church meetings which were all filled with the same weak appeals to authority, fallacious arguments from ignorance, and unfalsifiable claims about the nature of the universe. So, maybe I wasn't in the proper head space to truly appreciate the greatness of this man. Fair enough.

Second, Mr. Gong decided to make the ward circuit and hold special meetings with all of the Elders Quorums in his stake. This is not unheard of, and many Mormons today would likely envy my being present for such an intimate, close-quarters discussion led by a newly appointed apostle (never let it be said that Mormons are impervious to hero worship). So what topic did this self-proclaimed man of god and future "Special Witness of Christ" (TM) chose to impart to a classroom of young adult men and future leaders of the church? He set up the projector to display a PowerPoint presentation he had prepared about the pros and cons of the World Wide Web.

Yup. This was the indispensable information he chose to share with us. He started out by sharing some statistics about the prevalence of porn use among young men in the church (I have no idea if his numbers were accurate, but that's not really the point). And he shared a few stories about people misusing the internet and falling away from the church (usually through porn). He then countered everything he just said by pointing to all the great things the internet can be used for, like family history research, preparing for Sunday School lessons and talks, etc. You know the drill.

Of course you know the drill. Everyone knows this particular drill. And that is exactly my point. Mr. Gong had nothing of substance to add to the conversation. Every person in that room could have just as easily given the same lesson and made the same "moderation in all things" argument we've all heard a thousand times. There was nothing revolutionary about what he said. Furthermore, I recall having a conversation with my roommates (some of whom are still active believing members of the church, so don't they feel sheepish) about how pointless and uninspired that whole lesson was. Seriously, we had a good laugh on the drive home.

So what am I getting at? This is the current state of affairs for god's "One True Church" on the earth. This is the great awakening which Mormons believe is taking place all over the planet as they baptize new members and strengthen their numbers. They are becoming less and less distinct from other Christian denominations because they desperately want to be taken seriously on the world stage. And soon enough (or maybe not soon enough) the things which make the Mormon church unique in any way will be white washed away and they will look just like everyone else. They will become a distinct denomination without a difference. And maybe then, one can hope, they will finally become truly obsolete.




BONUS MATERIAL:




Mr. Gong tackling the provocative topic of science-based morality in his usual mind-numbingly mundane tone:


Thursday, July 5, 2018

NOT PERFECT

I really want to enjoy the Fourth of July. I really do. I feel immense pride in and gratitude for the sacrifices others have made to allow me the freedoms I enjoy. I feel lucky to have been born into such comparative wealth to 99% of the rest of the world. I am grateful that despite the attempts of others to strip me of my right to believe according to my conscience, our secular government guarantees me the ability to say whatever I want against religion and theocratic zealots. But overt displays of patriotism just rub me the wrong way.

When I left religion many of the avenues of my patriotism went with it. I didn't realize this until I attended a local rodeo. The announcer ordered the crowd of five thousand or so to stand while he said a few words about how awesome the American flag is and what it represents. He then said a generic Christian prayer, and a guest performer sang the national anthem. In this moment I realized that my patriotism was different from that of the thousands of placating patrons surrounding me.

I have had a few more experiences similar to this incident at public events. Each time I have stood with the rest of the crowd and listened to the prayer or anthem or pledge of allegiance. And each time I pause to think if I really want to participate in the ritual.

I think what I don't like about American patriotism and causes me to second guess my own admiration for my country, is the proximity patriotism has with religious zeal. Many Americans mix the two and they make no bones about it. They often boast about it. They seem to think that their particular version of faith has an extra special relationship with the Founding Fathers or the Constitution. Sometimes they do this at the expense of those who believe differently than they do. And they do so without recognizing that a government which can discriminate against one set of beliefs, (like say, Islam or atheism) can just as easily discriminate against their own religion and for the same reasons. But since they are not the oppressed minority (and are, instead, the whining majority), they don't see the need for separation of church and state.

While I was attending Mormon-owned BYU, I took an American History class in which the professor Matthew Holland (son of prominent Mormon Apostle Jeffery Holland) explained how the separation of church and state is the only reason the Mormon church exists. Without it, the bigotry and hatred early Mormons suffered at the hands of more mainstream Protestants would have led to the federal government dismantling the religion with force. This made sense to me. But I noticed a few years later that some of my Mormon friends and family had become very vocal in their opposition to church-state separation. And I was blown away by it.

My theory is that these people have been listening to unhinged Right Wing sources like Fox News rather than tempered conservative voices like my history professor. And because of the current frenzied political climate they seem to be unable or unwilling to consider the irony in the fact that a Mormon sees no problem with churches and government being intertwined. That's like an African American suggesting that slavery might not be so bad.

It is this kind of blind fervor which causes patriotism to leave a foul taste in my mouth. The belief that god wrote the Constitution and inspired the Founding Fathers and has helped the US win every military conflict in our history (**cough, cough, Vietnam**) is fatuous and unsupported by any evidence. It is for this reason that the next time I am "invited" to stand and salute or recite some words or listen to some self-satisfying prayer, I might just sit it out. Not because I lack patriotism, but because I simply have the right to express it--or not express it--however I please. And what's more American than that?

To paraphrase Tim Minchin, "This is my country. It's not perfect, but it's mine."




BONUS MATERIAL:




Tim Minchin performing "Not Perfect."





Tuesday, June 19, 2018

MODERATE INTELLIGENCE

I recently had the unexpected pleasure of discussing Sam Harris (author of The End of Faith) with a Mormon. By "unexpected pleasure" I mean that although this individual disagrees with Sam Harris on several points, he was still open to the conversation and willing to consider other points of view. Two points of contention this person has with Sam Harris are his anti-theistic views of religion generally (which I totally understand from a believing Mormon's perspective) and Sam's seemingly disparaging views of Islam specifically.

On the first point, I recommended this person look up Christopher Hitchens and reconsider whether Sam Harris really is that hostile towards religion in comparison.

On the second point, well, it gets more complicated. On the one hand, I think that Sam Harris has some valid and pointed criticisms of Islam and has made a career speaking publicly about the potential, and in some cases demonstrable, harm which the religion's scriptures and preachments can produce.

For instance, the infamous 9/11 hijacking was committed by the truest of believers, as was the murder of Danish cartoonists and filmmakers, the fatwa on the head of Salman Rushdie for the crime of writing a fictional book, the fatwa on Ayaan Hirsi Ali for leaving the religion and speaking out against chopping off the clitoris of baby girls, the countless and ongoing atrocities committed by ISIS against homosexuals and infidels, the murderous riots which stemmed from an inflammatory video daring to depict the Prophet Muhammad (one of which resulted in the Benghazi kerfuffle), and many other instances of faithful Muslims who take their religion and its texts literally.

The trouble with Sam's view, or rather the perception of Sam's view which I would argue he hasn't done enough to correct, is that these many examples of extremism are not representative of the religion as a whole, in much the same way that not all Christians are responsible for the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Ku Klux Klan, the Holocaust, bombings of abortion clinics or the murder of abortion doctors. To confound the matter, many misunderstand Sam Harris' criticisms of the beliefs and tenets of Islam as bigotry against Muslim people (see video below).

In a way, and I am hardly the first to make this point, the Muslim world is currently undergoing a series of growing pains similar to Christianity during the Dark Ages. Hopefully more moderate Muslims will win out, as with Christians, but only time will tell. And I think this is Sam's overall point in criticizing Islam. It's not that Islam necessarily results in terrorism. But rather that it's teachings can be interpreted in such a way that terrorism is a result. A Christian example would be how Hitler exploited traditional Christian beliefs and prejudices about the Jews being responsible for the death of Jesus to build his Nazi army.

Likewise, the Bible supports some terrible things as well, such as the subjugation of women, the genocide of various middle eastern tribes, the stoning of homosexuals, apostates, disobedient children, those who work on the Sabbath, those who eat shellfish and those who wear mixed fabrics. If any Christian or Jewish sect followed the Bible literally and enforced these rules--which believers often defend as morally necessary for the time and people of the Bible--we in civilized society would have a moral obligation to stamp it out. Fortunately, however, most Christians and Jews don't take their holy books that seriously.

So when Sam Harris calls Islam "the mother load of bad ideas" understand that he means this in a context in which Muslims take their religion seriously and literally, and that the only real criticism a moderate believer can level against a scriptural literalist is a lack of nuance which all too often is based on an irreconcilable cognitive dissonance in the mind of the moderate. In other words, the reason a moderate is not a literalist is often because taking scripture literally--like when the Bible tells you what is an acceptable consequence for a disobedient slave--conflicts with a person's inner morality. Both are arguing from a position of faith and a presumption of scriptural authority, rather than reason and evidence. Therefore, how can one side claim the other is wrong in any absolute sense?

It seems to me that the best way for Muslims and Christians and Jews to assimilate into a cooperative multicultural society may well be for the growing moderates to cherry pick their respective religious texts and disregard the unpleasant bits. We may in fact depend on this apparent hypocrisy. The trouble seems to come from believing in the inerrancy of scripture. As much as I would like to see religion become a thing of the past, I must admit that a world of self-serving cherry-picking moderates is preferable to a world of valiant idealistic literalists.

And in an effort for transparency, I have been guilty of making sweeping generalizations about Muslims in the past of the sort Sam Harris is often accused, and have even written posts on this blog which today make me cringe. I have considered taking the posts down, but I feel they are an important part of my journey away from religion, as painful as they may be to me now.



BONUS MATERIAL:



Sam Harris calling Islam "the mother load of bad ideas" and Ben Affleck losing his mind:


Monday, June 18, 2018

MULTI-LEVEL MORMONING

Outside of every Mormon church building is a sign which states "Visitors Welcome." Only a couple of times in my years as a Mormon have I ever seen anyone take up this offer. Each time the visitors were swarmed by smiling faces eager to set up a meeting with the local missionaries so that the visitors could promptly be baptized (why else would god "inspire" them to walk through the door?). Never have I seen this tactic of flurried interest result in a new Mormon.

Most Mormons seem to have no idea why anyone outside of the church would have no interest in their religion. Mormons believe they have found the one true church with exclusive rights to truth and lasting happiness in this life and the next. Think of it like a pyramid scheme or Multi-Level Marketing company, which happen to do quite well in Utah (after all, why would your bishop's wife lie?). A person who buys into the rhetoric and truly believes the claims that their product has legitimate value and can improve everyone's life will have a similarly difficult time understanding why some people, such as myself, don't care how essential oils helped cure you of your chronic halitosis.

The MLM concept that each employee is a "CEO" of their own business is not unlike the Mormon concept that "every member is a missionary." Furthermore, just as MLM's require their "CEO's" to buy large quantities of product, the Mormon church holds individual member's salvation and eternal families at ransom for 10% of gross (can you really put a price tag on eternal happiness?).

Some Mormons, however, are less credulous. Well, in certain regards, anyway. For instance, once while engaged in an argument on social media wherein I called out the blatant homophobic policies of the Mormon church (shortly after the church announced that homosexuals are apostates and that children of homosexuals in a loving consensual gay marriage could not join the church without reaching the age of eighteen and publicly denouncing the sinful lifestyle of their homosexual parents), a believing Mormon plainly stated that they could not understand why any homosexual would actually choose to be a member of the church. To which I responded: "The Mormon church has made it clear that it is not a welcome place for homosexuals, and it is up to members to decide whether or not that is a good thing." Not long after my comment, this person unfriended me.

In a less dramatic conversation, a family member told me they couldn't understand why someone who wasn't a member of the church would willingly live in Provo, Utah (where BYU is located). At the time I didn't respond, in part due to the fact that this person had no idea that their comment applied to myself. But I think it is quite telling that even believing Mormons recognize that their religion isn't very tolerant or welcoming of outsiders (I can only imagine what it must have been like in Missouri 150 years ago...), which makes their missionary efforts and welcome signs outside their assembly halls seem unnecessary and ironic.

What does it say about Mormonsim if the one place in the world where their church has true power and influence--Provo, Utah--makes non-Mormons feel oppressed or unwelcome? What does it say about a church which claims to be "family centric" if a large minority of the population (up to 10%) and their families are excluded from "the one true church" simply because of who they are? What does it say about the church's leadership when believing members of their church bring attention to the injustices and harm caused by the church's policies and the leaders respond by excommunicating the whistle blowers?

You can tell a lot about an ideology by the way they treat heretics and apostates.

Friday, June 15, 2018

BABY STEPPED IN BULLCRAP

Every so often I hear believers swoon over some religious leader who said something that wasn't completely terrible. Congratulations to them for managing to scrounge up at least a modicum of human decency. Can I stop holding my breath now?

Perhaps these baby steps are a good sign. But don't expect me to ignore their long history of abuses for which they have yet to atone.

Probably the most blatant example of this two-faced ingratiation is Pope Francis. On the one hand, he pays the most swell-sounding lip service to progressive Catholics on topics like, say, gay rights. But on the other hand, if you know anything about actual Catholic doctrine, you can hardly say that the Pope is a friend of the LGBT community. Case in point: a few weeks ago social media was all a flutter over an anecdote of a gay man who had a one-on-one conversation with Francis, wherein the self-proclaimed infallible Holy See said of the man's homosexuality and abuse he suffered at the hands of a Catholic priest, "You know Juan Carlos, that does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say."

So there you have it. The Pope, and by extension the Catholic church as a whole, is now totally squared on the LGBT issue. Except that he isn't. If he was actually interested in righting wrongs against LGBT people he would actually change church policy to be more inclusive--which is something that the Pope could do! But he doesn't seem interested in that. Which means that he isn't really interested in making amends or ending abuse.

Some people have argued that Pope Francis is laying the ground work for more impactful change in future generations. Bullcrap. Did Moses lay inter-generational ground work to prepare the Israelites for the Ten Commandments? No, he destroyed the golden calf and made them wander in the desert for forty years. Did Jesus ease the Pharisees into the higher law? No, he raided the money changers in the temple and called local church leadership a bunch of greedy hypocrites. Did Pope Benedict simply fulfill John Paul's end game by abandoning the atrocious centuries-old doctrine of Limbo? No! That's not how a top down theocracy works! God tells the Pope, the Pope tells the church, the church accepts it as dogma. And according to the church's dogma, once the Pope makes something official, anyone who disagrees--including politically motivated Cardinals--is in the wrong. That's how infallibility works.

This same principle applies to the Mormon church and their "prophet" as well. A handful of lower-tier leaders have made efforts to soften the church's stance on LGBT issues (while others have hardened it), and progressive Mormons sing their praises. But in terms of actually policy, there is no place for homosexuals in the church. At least none which the mental health community would call healthy. And the fact that this is just the latest example of the church being decades behind the times shows how very fallible their theocratic system is.

Every year Provo hosts a giant patriotic circle-jerk for the Fourth of July. The night before the big day they kick off the event with an informal parade where everyday folk drive cars and motorcycles up and down State Street making all kinds of noise for hundreds of cheering pedestrians lining the sidewalk. The next morning, along the same street and in much the same fashion, is a formal Freedom Festival parade. The evening is filled with fireworks and music and dancing at the Stadium of Fire, which  conveniently rakes in a boatload of money for Mormon-owned BYU.

Last year the Freedom Festival brought controversy to the event when it came to light that every single LGBT advocacy group which had petitioned for a float in the parade was denied. This year, the mayor signed a statement that the festival would not discriminate against any group on the basis of sexual orientation. And the very next day, the festival denied all of the same LGBT groups participation in the parade on the basis that they were not "patriotic." Which, of course, raises the question of how the festival can in turn allow a group of 150+ Mormon missionaries to march in the parade...

In response, several LGBT supporters began making plans for a protest during the parade, which is similarly allowed during the Salt Lake Pride Parade, only from the other direction (what's more patriotic than a protest?).

Well, in a rare display of public outcry--at least for Utah County--LGBT advocates seem to have won the day. The festival organizers have agreed to allow LGBT groups in the parade so long as they abide by certain patriotic stipulations, including wearing red, white and blue colored clothes and waving American flags, etc. Interestingly, for the first time, the Mormon missionary mob will not be participating in the parade, but will instead be volunteers helping run the festivities. My guess is that this is intended to allow missionaries to rub elbows with patrons more freely. Clever, I guess.

My favorite part of the whole debacle, and the most reassuring sign that Utah is capable of baby steps even if the Mormon church isn't, is that Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie threatened to pull taxpayer funding for the event ($113,000) if the organizers continued to discriminate against LGBT groups, and had this to say: "I also know bulls--- when I see it. I didn’t think somebody would be stupid enough to do what they did."

Perhaps Mr. Ivie is new to Utah...

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

LUKEWARM REASONING

One of the blackest marks on the Mormon church's sordid history has been its racist policies against people of color (see what I did there?). Until 1978 the church banned black men from holding the priesthood, which was tantamount to making them second-class members (not unlike women in the church today). This is fairly well known and is even referenced in the popular Broadway play "The Book of Mormon." But this was only one part of the policy.

A lesser known, but arguably much more impactful and sinister part of the policy, was that black men and women were not allowed entrance into Mormon temples. This meant that black people could not go through the endowment ceremony or get married in the temple, which Mormons believe are necessary rites to be allowed into the highest, most glorious parts of heaven. Effectively, black people could not go to the best version of the afterlife.

The argument which the church gave for this policy for well over a hundred years was that before the Earth was created, there was a war in heaven in which all people had to choose to support either Jesus or Satan. One third of these spirit children chose to support Satan and were cast out of heaven, and cursed to be demons on Earth to tempt humans into sinning. Eventually Satan and his minions will be cast to "Outer Darkness" which is basically annihilation. This will also be the fate of heretics and apostates who go through the temple ceremonies and then leave the church (there is some debate here among believers, so I may or may not qualify).

Another third of the spirit children chose to follow Jesus and made it to Earth in, let's say, preferential conditions. Specifically--and this is where the racism starts in Mormonism--these righteous and obedient spirits were granted white bodies and were thus allowed to go through the Mormon temples and earn their way to heaven.

The middle third of spirit children were somewhat on the fence about the whole thing. Eventually, they sided with Jesus, but were "lukewarm" in their resolve. As a result of their wishy washy passiveness in the pre-mortal life, they were "cursed" with the mark of Cain, which is a skin of blackness. This genetic line is said to have been preserved through the Great Flood through one of Noah's sons, Ham, who married a Canaanite woman.

Let me said it again, for over a hundred years Mormon church leaders taught that the reason black men couldn't hold the priesthood and black people couldn't go through the temple endowment and were therefore not allowed into heaven was because they were less valiant in the War in Heaven before they were born.

So, why bring this up? After all, it's been forty years since the church changed this policy and allowed black people full membership (well, for the men at least). What's the big deal?

Well, it turns out that the church is celebrating the 1978 policy change this month! They are actually drawing attention to it themselves. And as part of the celebration for not being racist anymore, the highest leaders in the church recently met with representatives from the NAACP. When this occurred last month, a prankster faked an apology from the church on a website meant to look like the official Mormon Newsroom website, and caused quite a stir. (The Infants on Thrones podcast did an extensive episode on the whole debacle which can be heard here.)

Part of the reason so many Mormons--especially those of color--are up in arms about this hoax is that it revealed their deep desire for an unqualified apology from the church. One such Mormon, Zandra Vranes, responded quite vehemently that the prankster was not a friend of black people, and they were like someone telling a rape victim that their rapist (i.e. the church) offered a heartfelt apology for the crime. The victim would feel vindicated and one step closer to healing, only to find out that the apology wasn't genuine. This would put the victim in an emotional roller coaster.

On the one hand, I feel sorry for Zandra. As she pointed out, the prankster probably didn't consider the negative effect his hoax would have on faithful black Mormons. On the other hand, I feel like her anger is misplaced. The emotional wound she is experiencing is a result of the century of racism in the church she defends. The man who faked the apology didn't hurt her. The church did. And she admits that she didn't realize how much she wanted or needed to hear an apology from the church until the fake one came out. This has apparently caused her to wrestle with the church's racism all over again in a very public way. So, say what you will about the callousness the prankster may have exhibited, but now people are talking about an issue which has hurt a lot of people and the church has tried to minimize. Hopefully some believers will be forced to confront their faith in a bold way and make it out of the church's clutches, possibly even Zandra. I would consider that a win.

In similar news, there is a new apologetic response to the Mormon church's racism. LDS Living published an article declaring that the church was racist for over a hundred years and its leaders defended that racism based on a simple misunderstanding of a word. You see, the word "black" has multiple meanings, one of which is "gloomy, dejected, or spiritual darkness, and has nothing to do with skin tone." The author offers a similar argument for the word "curse" to show that a "curse of blackness" (a common phrase in Mormon scripture) has nothing to do with skin color. By extension, when the Book of Mormon says that god "cursed" the wicked Lamanites with a "skin of blackness"' so they would not be "enticing" to the righteous Nephites, thus keeping the Nephite line "white and delightsome" (which was the common understanding of those scriptures for over a hundred years), it has nothing to do with the color of their skin! Isn't that swell? So, the church wasn't racist for over a century. The church's leaders were racist for over a century. See the difference? Never mind that god allegedly dictated the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith word for word and could have easily just used a clearer word like "gloomy, dejected, or spiritual darkness" instead of "black," or that Mormon leaders have said from the beginning that god would not let the prophet lead the church astray even if it means taking him out. No! Forget all of that, and just take us at our word that god allowed countless black people to live without the blessings of the priesthood and the temple ordinances, and without the prospect of going to heaven because racist church leaders didn't realize that the word "black" has multiple meanings.

You know, there is another word in scripture which has a common second meaning: "risen." So the next time you read about Jesus' resurrection, and they say "He is risen" don't just assume the centuries old conventional understanding that Jesus literally came back to life after being crucified. No! That's just silly! Instead--like the article suggests--use the second meaning of the word and understand that Jesus' doughy, leavened body has expanded to twice its normal size and is now ready to be put into a preheated oven.

Your move, apologists.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

COGNITIVE DYSENTERY

I don't normally listen to the Rational Faiths Podcast, which purports to "Keep Mormonism Weird." They unabashedly defend religion and Mormonism, often in a condescending way (at least for unbelievers; maybe believers find it refreshing and "edgy," but I wouldn't know). I guess they loosely qualify as religious apologists, which, let's be honest, is a pretty easy bar to clear. Perhaps deep down I'm a masochist, but today I took the bait and listened to an entire episode, thus reaffirming my previous distaste in the format.

The episode which piqued my interest was "Ask a Mormon Lesbian With Laura Root (episode 12; 225)." I had some idea the direction Ms. Root might take the conversation, and I wasn't wrong. LGBT people who (voluntarily) choose to stay within the Mormon religion, including Ms. Root, tend to follow one line of reasoning: they claim to know Mormonism is the one true church as evidenced by exclusively divine feelings, and they struggle to reconcile their aforementioned feelings with the church's harsh stance on LGBT people within the theology (as Ms. Root puts it, there is currently no place within Mormonism for LGBT people and the church is an unwelcoming place for gay people--this may be the only point on which we agree).

The bulk of the show was dedicated to a question from a listener who was looking for ways to support LGBT people in the church. In particular the listener didn't know how they should approach situations in Sunday school or other classroom settings when someone says something homophobic in a lesson or cites the church's Proclamation on the Family, which contains some strong words against gay marriage.

Ms. Root and her guest (a straight Mormon man with gay relatives who has reconsidered his position on LGBT Mormons) defended the Proclamation on the Family, but also advised listeners to plant seeds in support of gay marriage. Try to figure that one out.

Furthermore, Ms. Root tackled the elephant in the room of why a gay person should stay in the church. Her response: To support the gay children who will inevitably be born in to bigoted, homophobic Mormon homes. Admirable. Perhaps even worthwhile to a certain degree. I can't make that decision for anyone else, but I will say that while this approach may give some LGBT youths a soft landing pad within the church, ultimately I think it will do more harm than good.

As I noted above, Ms. Root said herself that there is no place within the church's theology for LGBT people. The center of Mormon doctrine revolves around the traditional family unit, including the hierarchy in heaven. Without major changes in core doctrines LGBT people really have no chance of making it into the highest degrees of glory in Mormon heaven, which is all about one man having polygamous wives and innumerable children. For gay people, it just doesn't work.

One alternate theory is that faithful gay people will be made straight in heaven, but this sits about as well for many gay people as the idea of a straight person contemplating becoming gay. Not to mention the sexual orientation of a person is pretty central to the core of who they are as a person. Changing that would fundamentally change the individual, so in what sense would they go to heaven?

Ms. Root's advice, while laudable, is shortsighted. The core of the issue is the doctrine, not the conservative homophobic ideals of yesteryear which pervade the church's culture. The only way for the church to consider changing their doctrine--and this has been found true many times over the church's history--is through their pocketbooks (like when they denounced polygamy (twice!) because the Federal government threatened to seize millions of dollars in church assets, including their temples).

Maybe this means the church gets sued for discrimination (which is why the church is so vocal about Utah legislation including provisions for the church to be allowed to discriminate). Maybe this means that other universities boycott sporting events with BYU (this very likely played a roll in the church's decision to allow black men to hold the priesthood in 1978). Maybe this means that every person who finds the church's position on homosexuality to be reprehensible leaves the church in droves, thus hemorrhaging their annual tithes and offerings. Maybe it should be all three, plus a few I didn't think of.

I understand the urge to stick around and make things better from the inside, but this approach has never yielded anything from the church aside from consolation prizes (like when parents complained about worthiness interviews of children, and the church "allowed" parents to sit in on the interviews--a right which they already had as parents.). The only worthwhile advice anyone should be telling a young gay person in the Mormon church is to get the hell out before they become another gay Mormon statistic.