Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Mormon's Lament: Church Is On the Wrong Side of History Again With Proposition 8

(Read in Oct. 27 Huffington Post blogs update)

by Joe Vogel:

In late 2002, as President George W. Bush began building his case for preemptive war in Iraq, a remarkable thing happened. In contrast to the general timidity of American churches in response to the conflict in Vietnam, leaders of faith were speaking out. Observed the Reverend Jim Wallis at the time:

Opposition to war with Iraq has come from a wide spectrum of the churches - Roman Catholic, Protestant denominations, Evangelical, Pentecostal, black churches, Orthodox. All of the statements, letters, and resolutions from church leaders and bodies take the threat posed by Saddam Hussein seriously, but they refuse war as the best response.

Importantly, these church leaders are not making their decision based on whether or not they approve of President George W. Bush - some do and some don't. Rather, they are doing so on the basis of Christian theology and moral teaching.


One notable exception to this dissent: the Mormon Church.

The LDS Church's cautious official response to the war (one of the most consequential decisions in recent American history) and near-unconditional subsequent support for the Bush Administration (in 2005, Dick Cheney was awarded an honorary doctorate and invited as the commencement speaker at BYU, the Church's flagship institution), raise important questions about the Church's involvement in political affairs, particularly when an issue has moral/ethical implications. When should it speak out? When should it stay neutral? And how does it treat its members with minority views?

Nearly six years and thousands of lost lives since the war began, Mormon authorities still haven't weighed in on Iraq, Abu Ghraib, or Guantanomo Bay. Neither have they directed semi-annual Conference addresses to the genocide in Sudan, human rights violations caused by multi-national corporations, or climate change that could have devastating effects on future generations. Instead, in the past few months they have decided to take action on a "moral issue" of a different sort: denying gay couples the constitutional right to get married in California.

In support of California's Proposition 8, the Mormon Church has gone into political overdrive. Under the direction of Church leaders' admonition over the pulpit, they have formed a formidable grassroots machine, providing boots on the ground, making phone calls, writing letters, forwarding emails, while donating an astounding $19 million to the cause.

"What we're about is the work of the Lord, and He will bless you for your involvement," apostle M. Russell Ballard proclaimed in a broadcast to church buildings in California, Utah, Hawaii and Idaho.

This stand, sadly, follows a disturbing trend of being on the wrong side of history on issues of social justice and equality for the LDS Church.

For nearly 150 years, the Mormon Church stubbornly held to a racist policy that refused all members of African descent the privilege of entering temples or receiving the Priesthood. Even as slavery, segregation, and Jim Crowe receded into the American past, the Mormon Church still treated its own black members as second-class citizens. The practice was justified as the plan of God. Apostles and prophets, the highest authorities in the Church, rationalized the continued discrimination by pointing to the "curse of Cain" and disobedience in the pre-existence. Other leaders said they simply didn't know but were sure God had some mysterious reason for keeping the full blessings of the Gospel from black people. Only a rare few leaders, including apostle Hugh B. Brown (and many more grassroots members), spoke out on behalf of civil rights. So the infamous ban lived on until 1978.

Along with polygamy, this blatant institutional racism is perhaps the most regrettable scar in Mormon history. Though progress has been made, race remains a taboo subject to this day for most Mormons, shrouded in shame and myth. It hasn't helped that the Church still hasn't publicly acknowledged or apologized for its racist past.

Yet sadly this is not the only example of the Mormon Church attempting to stifle progress and equality. In the 1970s the Church went to great efforts to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment for women. Much like Proposition 8, they argued that it undermined the traditional structure of the family. Church leaders called it "a moral issue with many disturbing ramifications for women and for the family as individual members and as a whole." President Spencer W. Kimball said it "would strike at the family, humankind's basic institution."

Sound familiar?

So here we are, in 2008, and now the threat is gay people who are already gay, who love each other and in many cases live together, and want to get married. How does this hurt the average Mormon family?

If the concern really was the practical welfare of the family, perhaps the Church could instead invest its vast resources into making healthcare universal and affordable, expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act, cracking down on child predators, and improving the quality of our educational system. All of these issues have a direct impact on my family and millions of others.

You hear of marriages ruined all the time because of abuse, neglect, or stress over finances. But I have personally never heard of a divorce caused by another gay couple getting married.

Yet instead of focusing on issues that can really help nourish our families we obsess over a word. A word we refuse to share. A word that has never been perfectly fixed. There was a time, after all, when inter-racial marriage was just as taboo and illegal as gay marriage. Marriage has been many things, but the common ideal has been and should continue to be a relationship built on love and commitment.

So to my fellow Mormons: I ask you to please re-consider. Take the time you would spend fighting this errant cause with your family. Go to a movie. Take a drive together. Watch the World Series.

Maybe you don't completely understand homosexuality. Maybe you think it's a sin. But shouldn't we leave that to God and allow others to be who they are and make their own choices? As followers of Christ, isn't it always better to err on the side of compassion and love?

Martin Luther King once lamented in his famous letter from Birmingham Jail:

So often the contemporary Church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church's silent---and often even vocal---sanction of things as they are.


In case after case when the moral chips have been on the table, I have hoped for my Church what Dr. King prayed for in his time: that "the Church as a whole will meet the challenge of [the] decisive hour." But sadly, so often on the issues of peace, equality and social justice, it has failed, whether by silence or misguided support.

With Proposition 8 it is time to stand for justice, not discrimination. It is time to stand for equality. It is time to be on the right side of history. Regardless of race, gender, or sexuality human beings are human beings and deserve to be treated as such. Today I voice my public support in favor of treating my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as equals, and ask my fellow Mormons to do the same.

UPDATE: To clarify, I commend all the good, charitable work the LDS Church does and have written about it in the past. The purpose of this article is specifically on the Church's response to political issues with moral implications.

UPDATE 2: To those publishing hateful words in the comments towards Mormons, I ask you to re-consider. I'm with MLK: we should strive for moral ends by moral means. Healthy criticism is fine. Hate and intolerance perpetuates hate and intolerance whether it is directed at gays or Mormons.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Of Cats and Cash



How the GOP is Anti-America

From MSNBC's Keith Olbermann:
Divisive politics is anti-American
GOP ticket's willingness to say anything to win ultimately damages America


Oct. 20, 2008 on MSNBC.com


I have frequently insisted I would never turn the platform of the Special Comment into a regular feature. But as these last two weeks of this extraordinary, and extraordinarily disturbing, presidential campaign project out in front of us, I fear I may have to temporarily amend that presumption.

I hope it will be otherwise, but I suspect this will be the first of nightly pieces, most shorter than this until further notice. And thus a Special Comment tonight about the last five days of the divisive, ugly, paranoid bleatings of this Presidential race, culminating in the sliming of Colin Powell for his endorsement of Sen. Obama.

There was once a very prominent sportswriter named Dick Young whose work, with ever-increasing frequency, became peppered with references to "my America."

"I can't believe this is happening in My America;" "We do not tolerate these people in My America;" "This man does not belong in my America." His America gradually revealed itself.

Insular. Isolationist. Backwards-looking. Mindlessly flag-waving. Racist. No second chances. A million rules, but only for the other guy. Dick Young died in 1987, but he has been re-born in the presidential campaign as it has unfolded since last Thursday night.

In that time, Gov. Sarah Palin, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, McCain spokesperson Nancy Pfotenhauer, and Rush Limbaugh, have revealed that there is a measurable portion of this country that is not interested in that which the vast majority view as democracy or equality or opportunity. They want only control and they want the rest of us, symbolically, perhaps physically out.

Gov. Palin:

"We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington D.C.," you told a fund-raiser in North Carolina last Thursday, to kick off this orgy of condescending elitism.

"We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation."

Governor, your prejudice is overwhelming. It is not just "pockets" of this country that are "pro-America" Governor. America is "pro-America. "And the "Real America" of yours, Governor, is where people at your rallies shout threats of violence, against other Americans, and you say nothing about them or to them.

What you are seeing is not patriotism, Governor. What has surrounded you since your nomination, has been the echoing shout of mob rule. Indeed, that shout has echoed to Minnesota, where the next day an unstable Congresswoman named Michele Bachmann added to the ugly cry.

"I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America, or anti-America. I think people would love to see an expose' like that."

For nearly two years, Ms. Bachmann, who made her first political bones by keeping the movie "Aladdin" from being shown at a Minnesota Charter School because she thought it promoted paganism and witchcraft, has had a seat in the government of this nation, a seat from which she has spewed the most implausible, hateful, narrow-minded garbage imaginable.

Well, Congresswoman, you have gotten that "expose'" you wanted, have you not? Though not perhaps in the way you imagined.

Since giving voice to your remarkable delusion that there are members of Congress who are "anti-America," and the extraordinary tap-dance of sleaze and innuendo about Sen. Obama which followed, the challenger for your house Seat, Elwyn Tinklenberg, has been inundated by donations – $7,000 in the three days after you spoke.

Because the America you perceive, Congresswoman with its goblins and ghosts and vast unseen hordes of traitors and fellow travelers and Senators who won't ban "Aladdin" exists only in your head, and in the heads of the others who must rationalize the failures in their own lives and of their own policies as somebody else's fault as a conspiracy to deny them an America of exclusionism and religious orthodoxy and prejudice, about which they must accuse, and murmur, and shout threats, and cleave the nation into pro-America and anti-America."

And back it comes to the McCain campaign. And Sen. McCain's talking head, Ms. Pfotenhauer, who on this very network Saturday, and seemingly without the slightest idea that dismissive prejudice dripped from every word, analyzed the race in Virginia.

"I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia," she said. "But the rest of the state, ‘real Virginia,' if you will, I think will be very responsive to Sen. McCain's message."

Again, a toxic message. The parts of the country that agree with Nancy Pfotenhauer are real; the others, not. Ms. Pfotenhauer, why not go the distance on this one? It was Sen. McCain's own brother who called that part of Virginia nearest Washington "communist country."

Cut to the chase, Madam. No matter the intended comic hyperbole of Joe McCain. This is the point—isn't it? Leave out the real meaning of "Communism," Madam, Joe McCain reduced it to a buzz-word; it has no more true definition right now than does "Socialism," or the phrase "a man who sees America like you and I see America."

It's about us and them. The pro and the anti. Never mind, Madam, that the bi-secting of this country you would happily inspire, means taking a tiny crack in a dam and not repairing it but burrowing into it.

It is not enough that Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama might differ. One must be real and the other false. One must be pro-America and the other anti. Go back and, as your boss Rick Davis said today, "re-think," Mr. McCain's insistence not to drag the sorry bones of Jeremiah Wright into this campaign. And whatever you do, Ms. Pfotenhauer, allow no one enough time to think about the widening crack in the dam.

And now all of this comes together to attack Colin Powell. "Secretary Powell says his endorsement is not about race," writes Rush Limbaugh, the grand wizard of this school of reactionary non-thought.

"OK, fine. I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I'll let you know what I come up with." It is not conceivable that Powell might reject McCain for the politics of hate and character assassination, or just for policy.

In the closed, sweaty world of the blind allegiances of Limbaugh, one of "us" who endorses one of "them," must be doing so for some other blind allegiance, like the color of skin.

The answer to this primordial muck, must be addressed to one man only. Sen. McCain, where are you? I disagree with you on virtually every major point of policy and practice. And yet I do not think you "anti-America." I would not hesitate to join you in time of crisis in defense of this country. Fortunately you did not echo this chorus of base hatred. But neither have you repudiated it.

What is "pro-America", Senator? Is it pro-America to call a man a racist because he endorses a different candidate? Senator, you have based your campaign on many premises, but the foremost (and the most nearly admirable) of all of them, have been the pitches about "reaching across the aisle," and putting, as your ubiquitous banners reed, "country first."

So when Colin Powell endorses your opponent, you say nothing as your supporters and proxies paint him in this "Anti-America" frame and place him in Gov. Palin's un-real America. Sen. McCain, did not Gen. Powell just "reach across the aisle?" Did he not, in his own mind at least, "put country first?" Is it not your responsibility, Senator, to, if not applaud, then at least quiet those in your half of our fractured political equation?

Is it not your responsibility, Senator, to say "enough" to Republican smears without end? Is it not your responsibility, Senator, to insist that, win or lose, you will not be party to a campaign that devolves into hatred and prejudice and divisiveness? And Sen. McCain, if it is not your responsibility, whose is it?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Memories

These, to remember what I hope will be the most-memorable election in my time:




And this, because all my life I've had this same basic feeling towards algebra!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Having Lived with a Plethora of Pussycats...

...I can believe all of this!



Waaaaahahahahahaha!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

McCain's Big Lie Campaign Against Alaska Repubs...er, Democrats, er...

As read in The Nation -- John McCain has a problem.

His running-mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, is the subject of a legitimate bipartisan inquiry into charges that she abused her authority to fire a respected lawman who would not do her personal bidding.

The charges are so serious that they could lead to her impeachment and removal as governor -- a development that would not reflect well on the Republican presidential candidate's decision to try and put Palin in line for the presidency.

What's a McCain to do?

On the eve of the first and only vice presidential debate, McCain has authorized a smear campaign designed to foster the fantasy that the inquiry into Palin's alleged wrongdoing is just partisan politics.

The campaign is based on lies, lies about the people involved in the inquiry and about Palin's relationship to it.

Those lies are contained in a new advertisement from the McCain campaign titled, "Alaska's Political Circus."

Here's the script:

ANNCR: In Alaska. The circus has come to town.

When Gov. Sarah Palin dismissed Walter Monegan over insubordination regarding his budget, blogger conspiracy theories started to fly and an investigation ensued.

Meet Sen. Hollis French. An Obama supporter.

He moved the investigation deadline to the middle of the presidential campaign, saying it could lead to an October surprise.

Meet Sen. Kim Elton. An Obama donor who continues to ignore the calls of his own committee members to reconsider whether the investigation is legitimate.

And then there's Steve Branchflower. Appointed as a QUOTE independent investigator by Elton. Branchflower and French were recently exposed for colluding on the issuing of subpoenas.

So why are they even investigating Gov. Palin? Conspiracy theorists say it's because Monegan was dismissed because he wouldn't fire Trooper Michael Wooten.

Even after Wooten was cited for tasering his 10-year-old stepson.

Secrecy, collusion, and October surprises. It's nothing more than a three-ring circus emceed by Obama partisans.

What the McCain campaign ad fails to note is that the inquiry into Palin's activities was initiated by Alaska Republicans.

It has been supported all along by Alaska Republicans.

The investigation continue to this day because Alaska Republicans believe the allegations against Palin are serious enough to warrant the expenditure of $100,000 to organize the investigation, the hiring of an independent prosecutor to conduct it and the abuse they have experienced from the McCain campaign to pursue it.

Let's be clear about the facts:

Palin did not say she fired Monegan, a former Anchorage police chief who served as state Public Safety Commissioner and who has been hailed by the state's most conservative commentators as the state's top lawman, for "insubordination." That word only came into the discussion after the McCain campaign flew a former Bush-Cheney administration federal prosecutor from New York to Anchorage with instructions to derail the investigation.

Republicans, not Democrats, and certainly not Obama backers, control the Alaska legislature.

It was a former Republican legislator and statewide candidate, Andrew Halcro, who began pressing for the investigation.

It was Alaska's Republican-controlled Legislative Council that authorized the investigation and appointed Hollis French to manage it. French did not move the deadline to conflict with the election campaign, he actually moved it away from the election so that the report on Palin's wrongdoing would not be released on the eve of the November 4 national vote. He did that to try and avoid partisan conflicts.

It was Alaska's Republican-controlled Legislative Council that approved the hiring of Steve Branchflower, a universally respected retired prosecutor who has no partisan affiliation.

It was Alaska's Republican-controlled Legislative Council that authorized continuation of the inquiry after the McCain campaign flew a noted Bush-Cheney administration fixer -- a veteran of the Florida recount fight -- into the state to try and prevent completion of an investigation that McCain aides feared would expose Palin as an abusive and irresponsible official.

It was a Republican-controlled state Senate Judiciary Committee that began issuing subpoenas in the case.

It was a Republican governor who welcomed the legislative inquiry and promised full cooperation with Hollis Smith, Steve Branchflower and everyone else involved with the investigation.

Her name was Sarah Palin and she said, "Hold me accountable."

It appears now that she was lying.

Palin's lie, while distressing, cannot compare with those contained in the McCain campaign's latest ad.

The ad is a shameful, big-lie assault on the truth.

And it is authorized by John McCain, a man who once claimed to practice "straight talk."