Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ether 9: Good Kings, Bad Kings, Sane Kings, or Mad Kings

The lengthy string of kings and crises in the Jaredite record continues.  


The Creative Juices are Not Flowing
Verse 3 provides a familiar scenario to even the most casual scriptorian.  King Omer is warned by God in his dream that he and his family need to pack up and leave for their own safety.  This is something we've seen before with Lehi way back in the beginning of the book and also—more famously—with Jesus's stepdad.

I guess I'm a little disappointed that God couldn't be more creative.  He did produce a universe out of nothing, after all, so creativity should be one of the ultimate divine characteristics.  Obviously, God is more than welcome to continue using methods that have worked for him in the past.  And obviously, the fact that plot devices have been reused doesn't prove anything about the origins of the Book of Mormon.  But I do think that recycling bits of stories from earlier scripture is exactly the kind of thing we should expect to see if some guy is making this up and trying to get people to think it's from the same source as the Bible.

And speaking of a lack of creativity, the king Jared is killed in this chapter in a tired fashion.  Why is it that so many ancient American monarchs get murdered while literally seated on a throne?


The Curelom Conundrum 
Why.

I fully realize that this point is easily among the least original issues I've brought up.  But it still demands an answer so I'm gonna bring it up anyway.  Elephants—that's problematic.  Maybe we can pretend that New World elephants are really mammoths or something.  Any way you look at it, it's a stretch.  But cureloms and cumoms?

The only reason I can think of for an animal in the Book of Mormon to have a nonsensical name in what is supposed to be an English translation is that these animals became extinct before European settlers arrived on this part of the globe, so there never was an English name for them.  But considering that these things were supposed to be particularly useful, probably domesticated, and quite populous, shouldn't there be a pretty blatant archaeological record of them?  Shouldn't American school children be learning about the beasts with three legs and prehensile snouts (or whatever the hell a curelom is) when they study the Native Americans and adobe huts and coup sticks and tumuluses and buffalo?

Maybe Joseph forgot for a moment that he was supposed to be writing a scriptural historical epic and he let a bit of fantasy sneak in.  If he hadn't caught himself and course corrected, maybe we would have seen Coriantumr of the Sky Elves go to battle against the Wizard Clan of Shiz at the end of Ether.


You Old Dog
Coriantum is anointed king in his father's stead.  Emer, his father, is so wonderful that he sees "the Son of Righteousness," which sounds really important but is only mentioned in passing.  Coriantum is described as following in Emer's footsteps, which should mean that he is also righteous. But when his wife dies, this king marries "a young maid" in his twilight years (a little wish fulfillment sneaking into Joseph's writing?).  To be fair, I guess that, depending on the nature of the relationship and the level of the young maid's maturity, this may not be technically wrong, but it's still kind of creepy.  I'd have been a lot more comfortable seeing Coriantum marry a girl a quarter of his age if he were depicted as wicked.  At least then it wouldn't be so easy to interpret this kind of nuptial union as totally normal and totally fine.

Oh, and Coriantum also lived to be one hundred forty-two years old.  I can't decide if that's more difficult to believe than the barges that brought his ancestors to America.


Creating a Problem, Selling the Solution
After society casts out the prophets, bad things happen—drought, famine, a bizarre prevalence of hyperintelligent venemous snakes.  Verse 35 sounds like a happy ending if you don't think about it too much:
And it came to pass that when they had humbled themselves sufficiently before the Lord he did send rain upon the face of the earth; and the people began to revive again, and there began to be fruit in the north countries, and in all the countries round about. And the Lord did show forth his power unto them in preserving them from famine.
Listen, if all God has to do is "send" rain to end the crisis, then he caused it. He allowed the drought to happen by permitting it to continue. The difference between one sunny day and a full-fledged famine is how long God waits to sprinkle some precipitation.

Verse 33 explicitly states that God is the one who sent the serpents that terrorized the people and sent their livestock stampeding off.  This whole thing is God's fault.  He did this.  He didn't "preserve" them from anything—he almost chose to destroy them. He used his unmatched power to coerce the people into behavior he approved of (I wonder how that affects their free agency) and only then did he decide to stop being a sadistic, power-tripping asshole.

This is unrighteous dominion.  This is manipulation.  This is not something a benevolent god would do.  This is not something that someone worthy of our worship would do.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ether 8: Our God is an Awful God

The endless stream of Jaredite names and kings continues, but at least in this chapter we start to get a little more detail.


The Sexism Continues
Yes, we've all heard that there are only three female Book of Mormon characters with names.  But the problem isn't just about the way the narrative is skewed to heavily favor the involvement of men—it's also about the way women are depicted when they're important enough to be part of the story.  

So here's the situation:  the king Omer is overthrown by his son, Jared, who imprisons him and uses him as a puppet ruler.  Omer's other children don't like this, so they go to war against Jared, defeat him in battle, and only spare his life when he agrees to return the kingdom to Omer.  This is when the "exceedingly fair" daughter of Jared hatches a plan to get him back on the throne.  Knowing full well how hot she is, she dances for Akish, who's one of Omer's buddies, and gets him so riled up that he wants to marry her.  Jared's price to approve the wedding?  Bring me Omer's head.

No, really.  Literally.  This is what Jared says in verse 12:  "I will give her unto you, if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king."  This results in Akish setting up a secret combination (and we all know how bad those things are) so that he and his friends can conspire to murder the king.

So it's safe to say that Jared's daughter is a central figure in the events that unfold in this chapter.  Nevertheless, despite being the originator of a pretty plot-important intrigue, she isn't named.  The men around her all proudly bear monikers preserved into the modern era, but she does not.


And this also continues a slight pattern in the Book of Mormon.  This woman's strength appears to lie primarily in her sex appeal and her ability to manipulate men with it, and it's not the first time this has happened in a book that's almost entirely barren of the female presence.  Remember the harlot Isabel who led away Corianton?  Remember the way the priests of Noah went nuts when they saw those Lamanite daughters dancing?  It's the sex appeal.

But for Abish and arguably Sariah, we'd learn from the Book of Mormon that women are uniformly weak, uninteresting, and only powerful or remarkable in rare intervals due solely to the fact that men like the way they look.


An Un-Level Playing Field
Moroni's narration brings up an odd point when he starts to speak directly to present-day Gentiles (verse 23):
Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
Oh, that's nice.  The Book of Mormon will be revealed to us so that we can read this stuff, avoid suffering, and escape eternal destruction.

But where was this sentiment a few chapters ago when God was choosing to withhold the gospel from the Earth?  How is it wisdom to let humanity blunder around in the dark for a millennium or two and then brag about how great it is to suddenly offer to illuminate the way for them?  I mean, if God is specifically showing these scriptures to us in order to help us avoid the sword of justice, doesn't it logically follow that he doesn't actually care if all those other people who lived during the great apostasy avoid the sword of justice?  


Thou Shalt Not Kill
I'm not going through this chapter in order, because this last verse I'm going to address is way too juicy to stick in the middle.  I had to save the best for last (verse 19):
For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man.
The Lord worketh not in secret combinations?  So...when Joseph became a Freemason and then quickly designed Mormon temple ceremonies to closely mirror that organization, including all the ritual secrecy...that wasn't from the Lord?  Even though the highest levels of leadership of his church have no public transcripts, no available financial statements, and hardly any accountability as they amass wealth, buy up properties, and run businesses to—dare I say it—get gain, that's not how the Lord works?

But honestly, that's not even my biggest problem with this verse.  It's that this verse also emphatically states that God has forbidden the shedding of blood in all things.  God damn, Joseph, did you even read the book you wrote?  Because that's one hell of a continuity error.  Let's go back to the beginning, to Nephi 4:10-13:
And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him. 
And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property. 
And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; 
Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

It's pretty safe to say that this took place after the "beginning of man," which means that Ether, a prophet of God, also happens to be a filthy liar.  God specifically told Nephi to shed blood.  He engineered the situation to deliver Laban into Nephi's hands so that he could kill him.  He didn't strike Laban dead like Uzzah or get him conveniently trampled like Korihor.  He arranged for one of his servants to chop his head off.

God is clearly not the same yesterday, today, and forever.  But he certainly is fond of insisting that he is.

And besides, if God is so vehemently opposed to bloodshed, why are his scriptures so littered with violence?  Look at all the faithful Mormons who have shed blood—Nephi, Ammon, Captain Moroni, and the Stripling Warriors on to Joseph Smith (defending himself at Carthage Jail) and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Didn't somebody once famously say something about knowing them by their fruits?  The fruits of this god seem to include a history of violence.

Thankfully, I wouldn't say that there's anything particularly violent about the current LDS church.  But I don't think it's accurate to say that Mormonism worships a god who has forbidden bloodshed since the beginning of man.  But that's exactly what this chapter of the Book of Mormon teaches.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Ether 7: More of the Same

Joseph is losing his narrative steam at this point, summarizing the history and genealogy of his Jaredite creations with such brevity that none of this winds up mattering.

At least when we got to spend multiple chapters with his characters we could divine the didactic purposes of their fictional existences.  But here, this is just a list of names and places and cursory conflict summaries.  I count around half a dozen usurpations and/or rebellions in this chapter, and there are a few peaceful exchanges of power as well.  We learn nothing because we can hardly catch a breath to even remember any of these rulers' names, let alone glean any insightful gospel applications that their piety (or lack thereof, depending on the case) may have on our lives.  


At least something remotely interesting takes place at the end of the chapter—the king Shule interferes to protect the prophets from being mocked and reviled.  Apparently the same god who protected Nephi, Abinadi (for a time), both Almas, the sons of Mosiah, the Stripling Warriors, and the other Nephi isn't able to shield his messengers from a little teasing and a little opposition.  It's that oh-so-dreaded monarch who has to step in and make things right.

Which is a little disappointing, I think, and kind of contradicts some of the central themes of the whole Book of Mormon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ether 6: The Incredible Journey

In the format of so many sacrament meeting talks, I'm going to begin by defining the subject I'm about to discuss.  This post is called The Incredible Journey not only because it's a fun little reference to a Disney movie from my youth but also because it's about a journey which aligns perfectly with Google's first definition of the word incredible:  impossible to believe.

And let's examine why this journey is so impossible to believe.


Problem 1:  Everyone Should Have Died
Verse 4 explains that these eight Jaredite barges were packed with enough food "that thereby they might subsist upon the water, and also food for their flocks and herds, and whatsoever beast or animal or fowl that they should carry with them...."

This is an insane amount of food.  These eight ships are basically miniature versions of Noah's ark, and the quantities of food required to sustain all the people and all the animals for a 344-day voyage is staggering.  But it's not the food that bothers me.

It's the water.

Since apparently we should make sure that each person has a minimum of one gallon of water to last a three-day period, this means that, for a 344-day journey, each person would have needed roughly 115 gallons on board.  115 gallons would take up a little bit more than 15 cubic feet of valuable barge space. Multiply that by whatever number of people were traveling (according to Ether chapter 2, it was Jared, his brother, their families, and their friends' families, which could be 20 people or 2000 people, considering that later in the chapter it sure sounds like these guys have bucketloads of children), and you start to run out of room in those ships pretty quickly.  The whole barge would basically need to be a giant water reservoir.  And that's not accounting for the "flocks," which, logically, would vastly outnumber the humans and would need plenty of water of their own.

Now, if this journey had actually taken place and God was really as intelligent and all-knowing as he's supposed to be, then maybe he would have taught the Jaredites how to get water from the ocean and make it safe to drink.  Think of the field day apologists would have if Ether predicted some kind of effective desalination technique long before non-Jaredite societies could figure it out.  That would have been a great thing to include here that could help validate the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon and lend a bit of credence to this most ridiculous part of the narrative while remaining relevant to the story at hand.

But no.  There's no way they would have had room for all the animals and all the food and all the water to last for so long on the open ocean.  Everyone should have died.


Problem 2:  Everyone Should Have Died
Verses six and seven destroy my attempt to give this story the benefit of the doubt.  A few chapters earlier, I admitted that, even though critics like to call these boats "Jaredite submarines," we hadn't yet approached any evidence, other than their weird design, to indicate that they actually submerged.  So much for that:
And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind. 
And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters.
Okay.  So it looks like not only did these barges go underwater, but it they went wayyyy underwater, and they did it a lot.

I don't know what else these guys could have made their boats from if not wood, but this would have had to be an engineering marvel even by modern standards for anyone to have survived.  For a wooden submarine to remain perfectly airtight for almost a year and to survive repeated exposure to deep undersea pressure?  Whether from drowning or from being crushed in a wooden box, everyone should have died.


Problem 3:  Everyone Should Have Died
Since so much of these life-threatening problems are made so much worse by the sheer amount of time the Jaredites spent sailing, I think it's fair to list the duration as another reason why everyone should have died.  The duration, again, was 344 days, which could not have been stated any more clearly than it is in verse 11.  But it really shouldn't have taken that long.  Look at verse 5:
And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind.
"There should be a furious wind blow" is terrible wording.  I can't tell if it's a grammar error or just remarkably poor phrasing, but it's definitely not right.  But that's not the important thing here.  With the actual events of that verse still in mind, let's review verse 8 as well:
And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind.
Okay, so an all-powerful God made sure that the winds and waves propelled the Jaredites toward the promised land without stopping.  So why the devil did it take nearly a year?  A journey from Yemen around southern Africa to the eastern coast of Mexico should be in the neighborhood of 11,500 miles.  Admittedly, we don't know specifically where the Jaredites landed, but it does seem that their territory and the later Nephite territories would overlap a bit.  Many LDS like to think that Book of Mormon events took place in North America, but some think it's more reasonable to assume Central or South America, so Mexico seems like a reasonable compromise.

But I'm getting sidetracked.  In this theoretical journey from the Arabian peninsula to Central America, a 344-day time frame would put the daily travel distance at around 35 miles.  That's little better than walking speed.  You'd think explicit divine intervention and manipulation of the waves and winds and currents would have beaten out walking speed by a considerable margin.  There is no reason why, with God in the mix, the Jaredites should have been crammed into their (probably) wooden sardine cans for almost a year.

And just maybe, if God had been miraculous enough and managed to shave their travel time down significantly (and also avoided sending them deep below the surface of the ocean) it wouldn't have been quite so unbelievable that everyone didn't die.


Problem 4:  Everyone Should Have Died
Okay, actually, this one has nothing to do with the sea voyage and nothing to do with death, either, but I had to keep the pattern going.

So once everybody gets to the promised land and starts their new lives, they decide they need some kind of government in place.  And, surprise surprise, monarchy seems to be the most prevalent suggestion.  And then we get this lovely exchange (verses 22-24):
And it came to pass that the people desired of them that they should anoint one of their sons to be a king over them. 
And now behold, this was grievous unto them. And the brother of Jared said unto them: Surely this thing leadeth into captivity. 
But Jared said unto his brother: Suffer them that they may have a king. And therefore he said unto them: Choose ye out from among our sons a king, even whom ye will.
Jared sure makes an eloquent argument deftly refuting his brother's concerns for a monarchy.  That's what you like to see, a prophet—one with so much faith that he could see the body of God himself—being so under-confident that he can only raise one feeble objection when his brother decides upon a system of government that this whole book of scripture cautions against.  Real balls there, Mahonri.  Way to stand up for what you believe in.

Seriously, that's all he says.  He says, "Hey, maybe this is a bad idea," and his brother says, "Naw, we're gonna do it," and then he just sits by and watches while they go ahead and set up a monarchy that, unsurprisingly, will lead to corruption and conflict and war.

So maybe, following the brother of Jared's pattern, the modern prophets of the church actually do make prophecies and impart essential information—they're just so meek and quiet about it that nobody notices and that's why society is in the toilet.

Makes perfect sense.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Cutting the Mic and Cutting through the Noise

I'm sure you've heard about the incident with the girl coming out as gay in Fast and Testimony meeting and getting her microphone shut off.  Even if you haven't been paying close attention, you may have heard about it—I've had a few friends who have never been affiliated with Mormonism in any way text me to ask me if I knew anything about it.

Obviously, it's not a great situation.  I feel terrible for Savannah, who publicly bared her soul only to be shut down and ignominiously ushered off-stage.  I feel kind of bad for the leaders involved as well.  For the presiding authority, unless he's a complete jerk, that was probably a really difficult decision to make.  I don't think he handled it well, but acting in his capacity as a church authority, he had to make a quick judgment call, and those are the exact kinds of decisions that tend to be made most poorly.  And then the member of the bishopric who had to get up immediately afterward and try to gently smooth things over with some vague platitudes that didn't directly condone the girl's speech...well, I wouldn't have wanted his job either.  I kind of wish the presiding authority (who was a member of the stake presidency, I believe) would have had the guts to at least deliver the follow-up himself instead of making somebody else do it.  But whatever.

The worst part about this whole thing, to me, is the way some faithful Mormons are reacting to it.  People posting Facebook screenshots has made the Ex-Mormon subreddit the most depressing it's been in a long time.  But the faithful response I'd like to focus on here is from my least favorite Mormon blog this side of Greg Trimble's:  The Happiness Seekers.

Their post on this subject includes the following unpleasant insights:
[A group of anti-Mormons] immediately began pushing the video to news outlets, and trying to control the narrative in the process.
The video has been used to completely mischaracterize what we believe as Latter-day Saints.
Okay, first of all, the church should not have any credibility whatsoever if it chooses to accuse someone of trying to control a narrative.   The way it has tried to control the narratives surrounding the translation of the Book of Mormon, the murder of Joseph Smith, the practice of polygamy, and the pre-1978 policy of racism kind of make this, at best, a pot-and-kettle situation.  To be fair, this accusation doesn't actually come from the church itself, but it does seem to be coming from someone who has repeatedly supported church-controlled narratives.

And this article in no way explains how the video has been used to "completely mischaracterize" Mormon beliefs.  It just keeps insisting that it definitely has been.  The articles I've read have generally stuck to reporting on the incident and the aftermath rather than editorializing or condemning.  The CNN article linked in this blog post quotes the bishop of the ward several times, so it's not like it's skewed toward only one side of story.

The LDS Church remains one of the few major churches that publicly opposes the view that same-gender attraction is a sin or a choice.
Perhaps, but the use of the word "remains" implies that this was constantly the case—at least in recent history.  The infamous To Young Men Only pamphlet, penned by Apostle Boyd K. Packer, has this to say:
There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it.  They are just "that way" and can only yield to those desires.  That is a malicious and destructive lie.  While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil.  No one is locked into that kind of life.  From our premortal life we were directed into a physical body.  There is no mismatching of bodies and spirits.  Boys are to become men—masculine, manly men—ultimately to become husbands and fathers.  No one is predestined to a perverted use of these powers.
The pamphlet goes on to refer to those engaging in homosexuality as "[having] been drawn into wicked practices."  So if they aren't born that way and are merely practicing wickedness...that makes it a choice, right?  A bad choice?

Packer originally spoke these words in 1976, but the pamphlet was given to me as a teenager, by my bishop, fifteen years ago.  When I stopped attending church in 2008, I was still under the impression that the official LDS position was that homosexuality is a choice.  These changes in church stances have come about recently, and I think that undermines any claim of moral high ground here.   If God's church were really so enlightened, it would have been enlightened a long time ago.  True inspiration would be, at the very least, ahead of the curve.

For years, the Church has been a fierce proponent of granting LGBT individuals protection from discrimination in housing or the workplace.
...and that's the same problem.  "Years" only means 24 months at most.  How many years is it?  The link used to support this claim is from January 2015.  So that's...less than three years ago.  Got anything better?  Because if the church has only been this magnanimous toward the LGBT community for three years, that's hardly a shining endorsement of its progressive thinking and open-minded policies.  And let's not forget how hard the church fought against gay marriage—gay civil marriage, of course.  Even though the United States government allows plenty of things that Mormons don't approve of (alcohol, tobacco, coffee, pornography, R-rated movies, miniskirts, etc.) for some reason it was a big deal to make sure that this one thing—something that cut to the very core of people's identities in a way nothing else I listed could have—couldn't be legalized.

The Church’s approach was heralded for achieving a balance between religious liberty and LGBT protections that satisfied all parties.
Um...if you actually read the article, it sure sounds like there were notable people from all parties who were not satisfied:
Some who oppose it claim the bill does not adequately protect people’s religious freedoms. Others argue it’s too short-sighted, applying only to state anti-discrimination laws.
“It contains a lot of provisions that are unique to the legal climate of Utah that would not translate elsewhere,” the progressive lobby ThinkProgress reported. “Given the ubiquitous presence of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) in Utah, it may be the best bill that could pass there — and is thus better than no protections.”
However, it does appear that the bill passed overwhelmingly.  So it seems to have been a legislative success even if it didn't necessarily satisfy all parties.

You see, we are a sacrificing people. 
Regardless of the deep feelings of sexual attraction that all of our members feel, we are taught to abstain from:
  • Pornography
  • Masturbation
  • Sex before marriage
  • Sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman
Wow.  That is so not the same thing.  If you're a straight Mormon and you feel the urge to have sex, at least you can do that eventually, once you're married.  If you're a Mormon who's not straight, you'll never be able to experience it the way you want to.  You can, of course, get married to someone you aren't physically attracted to and have sex that way, but...I'm sure that's really not the same.  It's easy to preach about sacrifice when your version of sacrifice is postponement more than deprivation.

But [losing membership in the church] of course does not preclude [those in same-sex relationships] from participating in our meetings with us—where true Latter-day Saints will treat them with nothing but love and respect.
I really hate to be that guy, but...No True Scotsman, anyone?  Look, regardless of whether true Latter-day Saints will treat LGBT people with love and respect, a strong stigma against them still exists in Mormon culture.  And it's foolish to deny that, whether or not bigoted Mormons are justified in their beliefs, their attitudes are rooted in Mormon doctrine.  The church may have made some concessions in recent years to keep it from becoming insurmountably entrenched in homophobia, but it still has a long way to go until most LGBT people will feel as comfortable in the pews as the straight cisgender people do.

What you may not have noticed in the video is that no one heckled that girl.
I did notice.

But that might not make a whole lot of difference.  Because even though heckling from the audience would have been horrible, she was still humiliated—by the ranking authority in the whole building, no less.  And even though he could have been a lot more rude about it, I think the act of switching off the microphone and then insisting that she sit down when she was in the middle of an incredibly personal testimony was still unbelievably insensitive whether he agreed with what she was saying or not.  She wasn't invoking Our Dark Lord Below, she wasn't threatening to kill anyone, she wasn't even saying that the church wasn't true—she was professing a belief in God, a belief in herself, and preaching a lot of love.

But heckling would have been truly surprising.  I attended twenty years of sacrament meetings and I never once saw anybody get heckled.  That's just not what the culture is in the church.  Some churches involve a lot of audience participation, but in Mormondom, when someone's speaking from the podium, everybody else shuts up.

And I've also never seen someone get their microphone shut off, either.  There was a guy in my ward when I was a kid who used to get up most Fast and Testimony meetings and say some pretty off-the-wall things.  He once talked about how his dead mother appeared to him in a vision and made a prophecy to him that he felt it was important for him to share with the ward.  Another guy once bore his testimony about the gospel parallels in The Matrix.  But as non-kosher as Fast and Testimony meetings got sometimes, I never saw anyone's mic switched off and I never saw anyone directed to sit down before finishing a speech.

So, yeah, unsurprisingly, she wasn't heckled.  But that still doesn't make any part of this right.  If you ask me, even though the surface outrage here may be about the church's stance on homosexuality, it's about more than that.  It's about how the church treats people in its desperate, monomaniacal crusade to protect those beliefs from contrary opinions.  It's about free speech.  It's about an Orwellian intervention.

The video also doesn’t show that the Bishop reached out to the family after the meeting and made sure they knew that they were loved and welcome in our Church.
Um...actually, the link doesn't show that either.  Here's what that CNN article actually says:
"This incident has created some tender emotions, first and foremost for a brave young girl," said [Bishop] Law in his emailed statement to CNN. "As a congregation, we continue to reach out, and do all that we can to make sure she knows that we love her and her family."
As a congregation.  Sure, that doesn't mean that the bishop didn't personally reach out as well, but he doesn't explicitly state that he lifted a finger.  But if you're going to accuse anti-Mormons of trying to control the narrative, you may want to make sure you're not guilty of it too before, you know, casting stones.


What I think is conspicuously absent from this blog post is any expression of compassion toward the girl herself.  The CNN article mentions that, after leaving the podium, Savannah was "distraught and crying," but Happiness Seekers doesn't address that at all.  There's no mention that, even if she was unjustified in speaking it still took a massive amount of courage.  Even though she's the subject of the article, she's never even mentioned by name, and the embarrassment and disappointment she suffered isn't so much as acknowledged.  It's all righteous indignation and a need to set the record straight on the church's behalf.

And that's a big part of the problem, I think.  When it becomes about protecting the institution instead of protecting the people within it, that should be a red flag about the institution itself.  If we're more concerned about how our beliefs are portrayed to the world than we are about expressing our beliefs, I don't think we're focusing on the right things.  When we're more interested in insulating an organization's public image than in trying to determine why certain problems arise within that organization, we're disregarding the suffering of who knows how many people.  Mormonism has a big problem with homosexuality right now.  And instead of taking a close look at where it's coming from and what to do about it, too many members of the church are worried about how they are being misrepresented instead about how others are being mistreated.

In closing, maybe we can all take a page out of Savannah's notebook:
I believe that God wants us to treat each other with kindness, even if people are different. Especially if they are different.  Christ showed us this.  I believe that we should just love.
I have no belief in God or Christ, but I love this sentiment.  How absurd is it that saying something like that publicly can cause such a backlash, especially among people who actually agree with every word in paragraphs like that?

I believe that we should just love too.  Even if it means letting someone say something we don't like.  Because ultimately the person matters far more than the speech does.  We can disagree all we like once it's over, but to quash someone's expression before she can even finish, especially when so much of what she's saying revolves around the concept of Christlike love?  That's not kindness.

But, in my eyes, that's exactly the atmosphere that the church fosters.  It's a flexible, conditional definition of kindness that won't appear in any dictionary.