BY COMMON CONSENT
VOLUME 10, NO. 1 March 2004
Tiptoe through the Tulips . . .
Since President Hinckley decided to devote a significant portion of his Christmas message to describing how Jesus, as Jehovah of the Old Testament, did not hesitate to hold his "withering hand" over Sodom and Gomorrah, and since Deseret Book's CEO Sheri Dew has described how the image of two gay men (one of them Mormon, although she probably didn't know that) marrying and rearing their twin daughters made her sick (some question about whether it was her heart or her stomach that was afflicted; both have been quoted), and since Olympic champion Mitt Romney in his new role as Massachusetts governor is skating on the thin ice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision, can we expect statements on this topic to surface at general conference this weekend?
We shall see.
And those who see, meaning those who actually watch the sessions and take notes, will be especially welcome at the semi-annual conference critique sponsored by the Mormon Alliance in our usual meeting place--Room L-133 of Salt Lake City's popular new library--and at our usual time--Monday, April 5, 6:30-8:30 p.m. This room is on the first floor, just north of the children's library and west of the main stairwell.
Also, as traditional, Janice Allred will chair the discussion of topics, trends, and interpretations and give us her ever-popular classification of numbers of talks in the categories of doctrine, Christian living, and organizational behavior.
Tragedy of All Tragedies
I firmly believe that the greatest tragedy in the human condition is for an adult man or woman to be passionately engaged in doing the work of Satan while believing himself or herself to be doing the work of God.
This was the exact condition of the young Muslim fanatics who flew hijacked jets, loaded with fuel and passengers, into the World Trade Center towers, all to please their God and to assure their exalted position in the world to come.
This is the same condition when religious leaders find themselves, without a clue, on the wrong side of moral issues. Evil is compounded and magnified here when these leaders deceive millions who pathetically rely upon external authority for their own opinions and truth claims. What our apostles and prophets and holy priests and ministers have done to black people over the years is a moral crime of the deepest dye. What the "good" people are presently doing to persecute and prosecute gay people is no less a crime--as if being gay is not a sufficient challenge without dealing with the hate and bigotry of "righteous" people, so bent on doing Satan's work and calling it the assured work of God!
Why is this a tragedy? Because it is the ultimate self deception. It is to have lost one's own dignity without knowing what one has lost. To do evil in the name of "God," the "Good," and the "Holy" is the ultimate human absurdity. How many millions of humans, over time, have been trapped in the condition of reverence and adoration for their own illusions, believing these evils to be the policy, doctrine, and will of God?
Ultimate tragedy? Yes indeed!
The Temple as Scandal
Part 2 in a four-part series of reflections on the temple
Paul James Toscano
To illustrate how a Christian interpretation of the temple can affect us, let me discuss a symbol that appears in the temple ceremony: the temple garment. There are a lot of funny and also very serious stories that circulate about the garment. My first inkling of the garment came to me while I was investigating the Church in 1961 in West Covina, California. My parents were very opposed to my joining the Church for reasons that have become more persuasive to me in light of--er--later events.
My mother thought I had been brainwashed. (This is what all mothers secretly think has happened to their teenage sons, though most mothers do not usually speak this suspicion aloud.) In trying to dissuade me from joining the Church, my mother enlisted the services of one of my high school guidance counselors, whose name ironically was Mr. Monson. He called me in to tell me that I ought to stay away from Mormonism because it was a religious cult, and he had proof of this because he knew for a fact that Mormons wear strange underwear punched through with holes representing where Joseph Smith had been shot. Why, he asked, would I want to join such a religion?
Little did he realize what kind of a person he was dealing with. Even at the age of seventeen, I knew that if a religion was going to do you any good it had to be goofy. If it wasn't goofy--if it didn't deal in elves, or bleeding statues, or people who come back from the dead--then it wasn't worth anything. It was just another business. And if I have any lingering complaints about the Mormon Church, it is that it wants to be too corporate, too business-like, too respectable. I told Mr. Monson that I wasn't looking for a respectable religion and that sacred bullet holes were just what I was after thank you very much.
My next encounter with the garment happened about five years later, in 1965, just before I was to be endowed. I was visiting with some friends in Pocatello, Idaho, where the garment is taken very seriously. After dinner, my friend's parents and I got into a discussion about the temple since I had just received my first temple recommend and was on the eve of my own endowment. I wanted them to tell me all about it. But they were fairly secretive. The issue of the garment came up, and I expressed some scorn at the idea that some people believed that, if an endowed person caught fire, the garment would protect all the bodily parts covered by the garment, but not the exposed parts. If that were true, I said, the garment should come with a hat and a mask. I laughed.
As I did, I happened to catch the expression on the face of my friend's mother, and I knew at that moment (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that this is what she believed. The thought caught me mid-guffaw, and I choked. This was the right thing to do because it diverted attention away from the spiritual to the physical.
When I recuperated, I was told by this woman, in a voice that I would later come to associate with women in the Primary organization, that, yes indeed, that story about the fire and the garment was true and I had better realize, since I was going to be endowed, that I should not make light of sacred things. I have since tried to make light only of silly things. But I still sometimes get these confused.
What is the garment, then? A cultic cloth full of sacred holes? A flak jacket? A magic suit? Or what? Actually the idea about the sacred bullet holes comes closest to my current view.
I think of the garment as the first layer of the robes of the priesthood. As such, it represents the skin of the animal slain in the similitude of Jesus Christ. The garment represents Christ's sacrifice, which we accept as our own. For this reason the garment is adorned with the openings that represent Christ's wounds.
When we take upon ourselves the garment, as a gift to protect us, we are actually taking upon ourselves the grace of God vouchsafed to us through the crucifixion of Jesus. The garment then is the mantle of his charity, the cloak of his righteous that covers the filthy rags of our self-righteousness. It is his image or "countenance" that is placed upon us. It represents the exchange Christ offers us: As we give Christ our sins, he gives us his glory.
If one views that temple ceremony in legalistic and elitist terms, one will not interpret the garment in this way. The garment will mean purity if we keep the laws and commandments or it will mean a super suit given to us because of our wonderfulness and chosenness. But if we see the garment as a symbol of Christ's sacrifice for us, our legalistic or magical view of the garment will perhaps change. We will see the garment in a new and blinding light. It is in this way that our later more mature views, often resulting from hard experience, can cause us to change our minds about the past and the meaning of our past religious experience; and such a changed view can then affect us in the present and the future.
Thinking of Jay...
Lavina Fielding Anderson
When Jay Bell died December 18, 2003, a bright light in my life winked out. Even though he'd had health problems, most of them were related to his near-blindness, and the violence of being hit in the crosswalk near his apartment by a left-turning car at night added shock to the loss.
It was a comfort to gather with friends and family for his service at Mountain View Mortuary and Cemetery where his half-brother told us about Jay's three-month premature birth, which no doubt contributed to his visual problems. Everyone who spoke, including Brent Pace, David Knowlton, and his cousin Norma P. Ashton ("The things he had to face and face down in a single day to get up, keep a job, go to the library!"), paid tribute to his cheerful courage, an undramatic form of valiance that drew people to him and kept them close.
It was even more of a comfort to be among his circle of friends at a party-cum-wake-cum-potluck where friends shared memories, poignant and hilarious, of Jay's wit, generosity, insatiable record-keeping, and everyday gallantry. "For being nearly blind," commented Ben Williams, "he was really a visionary."
One of the projects to which Jay devoted much time and endless, patient, resourceful research was a gigantic project to document official LDS Church statements on same-sex attraction. He and I swapped material frequently, and he kept expanding the project even as it moved toward publication in the (long-awaited--sigh--very long-awaited) fifth volume of the Case Reports. Difficult as it is to say, Jay will not be expanding that project any more and it will actually make publication easier. The Mormon Alliance thanks Jay for his unremitting efforts, as well as Jon Schild, who with the love and patience of a friend, has been doing proofreading on the enormous project.
Perhaps my most comforting memory is sitting in the chapel before the funeral began and looking up toward the mountain, beautifully framed by the window. It had snowed hard the night before and even that morning. The fir branches were bowed and drooping under their heavy load. But the sun had come out while I'd driven up the canyon, and the glittering snow was blindingly white.
As I watched, the new warmth loosened the snow. Load after load cascaded down from the topmost branches, dislodging the snow on lower branches. The branches sprang up, freed from the weight. I thought of Jay's burden of blindness, a weight about which he never complained but had a dozen jokes, and I could hear him laughing.
The Mormon Alliance was incorporated on July 4, 1992. Its purposes are to identify and document ecclesiastical/spiritual abuse, to promote healing and closure for its survivors, to build more sensitive leadership, to empower LDS members to participate with more authenticity in Mormonism, and to foster a healthier religious community.
By Common Consent is the quarterly newsletter of the Mormon Alliance. Comments, articles, and items for inclusion are welcome, if they are submitted thirty days before the mailing deadlines, which are the last weeks of December, March, July, and September. Please send all correspondence about articles and subscriptions to Mormon Alliance, 1519 Roberta Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84115.
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