An Open Letter to Dallin H. Oaks, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church
This morning I had the distinct and, uh, interesting privilege of reading the transcript of the talk you recently gave to the students at BYU-Idaho.
Let’s examine this a little closer, shall we? Come sit down here on this pew with me and let me tell you a thing or two.
Your talk is chock full of every kind of hole imaginable. I’d like to address a few key points; however, before I get started I would like to state for the record that I am openly gay. I am a Christian. I was raised in the LDS church but no longer consider myself affiliated with it. I have been with my partner for over seven years, and we were legally married in the state of California in 2008. I am happy. I am well-adjusted. I am a valuable member of society. Above all, I have a very close relationship with God. Having said all that, however, this letter is not about just me, so I’ll get to the point.
You speak of being persecuted and in danger of losing religious freedoms for supporting Prop 8?
To quote you: “An 1833 revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that the Lord established the United States Constitution by wise men whom he raised up for that very purpose. The Lord also declared that this constitution ‘should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh.’”
This is precisely what the LGBTQ community and its supporters have been trying to get across to the LDS church and the entire nation for quite some time. The constitution of the United States guarantees equal protections under the law for all people, and yet you openly complain about your religious freedom being infringed upon by people who oppose your support of a legislation that denies them said equal protections? Give me a break. This persecution complex that the LDS church has been fostering for almost two centuries is getting more than a little old. You want to talk about a people who have been genuinely persecuted throughout history for thousands of years? Brush up on your history of the Jewish faith, Elder Oaks. The Holocaust alone is reason enough to fully negate anything that the LDS church has had to endure since its inception. Your ‘persecution’ in comparison is pittance. Don’t misunderstand, I am not in any way marginalizing the worth of the people in your religion who have lost their lives defending their faith, but please put this into some modicum of perspective.
In this same vein, it was stated by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland at the last session of LDS General Conference that– and I’m paraphrasing here– the Book of Mormon is the most persecuted and picked-apart of any religious book in history. Really? Have you people heard of the Bible? Historians, theologians, kings, peasants, scientists, emperors, popes and religions have been picking that book apart for two thousand years. The Book of Mormon has been around for less than two hundred. The inference that the Book of Mormon has undergone more scrutiny than the Bible is egotistical and pretentious in every facet.
Quote: “Along with many other religious people, we affirm that God is the ultimate source of power and that, under Him, it is the peoples’ inherent right to decide their form of government.”
The constitution mandates a separation of church and state. This is something that most religious organizations, including the LDS church love to ignore. In the state of Utah, for example, the majority of the legislature is run by middle-aged white Mormon men whose legislative decisions are almost always rooted in the beliefs of the Mormon Church. If this is a separation of church and state, I’ll eat my own head and call it chocolate ice cream. In your talk, you quote the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It seems to me that you are only paying attention to the second half of that statement: “…prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Did you bother considering the first half, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”? For example: Larry H. Miller managed to pass a law in Utah some years back making it illegal to sell cars on Sunday. He didn’t want his employees to work on Sunday because of the LDS church’s teachings about keeping the Sabbath day holy, and therefore didn’t want any competition to be able to sell cars on that day either. The law was passed because again, who runs the legislature here in Utah? White. Heterosexual. Middle-Aged. Mormon. Men. Where is the church/state separation there?
Elder Oaks, no one is denying you the right to practice your religion. Neither the government, nor anyone in this nation is telling you that you can’t congregate in churches and temples whenever the mood strikes you. No one is standing in front of your churches and temples not allowing you to go in and worship. No one is stopping the presses on the Book of Mormon. No one is LEGISLATING against your right to believe what you want to believe. It’s when your religion infringes on rights that have nothing to do with God as far as the law is concerned, you’re damn right people are going to protest and make a lot of noise.
Quote: “Religious belief is obviously protected against government action. The practice of that belief must have some limits, as I suggested earlier. But unless the guarantee of free exercise of religion gives a religious actor greater protection against government prohibitions than are already guaranteed to all actors by other provisions of the constitution (like freedom of speech), what is the special value of religious freedom? Surely the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion was intended to grant more freedom to religious action than to other kinds of action. Treating actions based on religious belief the same as actions based on other systems of belief should not be enough to satisfy the special place of religion in the United States Constitution.”
So basically you are saying that religious organizations should have carte-blanche access to twist that amendment whatever way they see fit? If I start a religion, and my doctrine and dogma involve ritual human sacrifice and cannibalism, am I still protected under the law because it is part of my freedom of religious practice? You completely contradict yourself in this statement. You say that the practice of religious belief must have some limits, and yet in the same breath you say that actions based on religious beliefs should have more far-reaching privileges than those actions that are not? What reasoning warrants that kind of thinking? It makes absolutely no sense.
Quote: “Atheism has always been hostile to religion, such as in its arguments that freedom of or for religion should include freedom from religion. Atheism’s threat rises as its proponents grow in numbers and aggressiveness.”
So according to you, Atheists should not be allowed to voice their opposition to things they do not believe in? They are being too aggressive and you are feeling threatened? Have you bothered to pay any attention at all to the Evangelical Christian movement in this country and how much power and influence they wield? Politicians continually pander to the Christian Right because losing their support can mean losing an election altogether. You defend the LDS church’s position to vocally and actively support Proposition 8, but Atheists should remain silent about the position of religion dictating how this country is run just because the idea of that scares you? No matter which way you slice it, it doesn’t add up.
Quote: “As noted by John A. Howard of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, these voices ‘have developed great skills in demonizing those who disagree with them, turning their opponents into objects of fear, hatred and scorn.’”
This is precisely what the Mormon Church has done to any group of people who disagree with its principles; most notably in the state of Utah, where the LDS church is the dominant religion. Atheists, gays, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, unwed mothers…the list goes on and on and on. Why do you think so many children and families from other religions are so commonly ostracized in Utah communities that are predominantly Mormon? Because these people exhibit a difference in opinion or religion or ideology, Mormon parents frequently teach their children both in word and in action that these people are to be feared and judged because they drink, or smoke or swear or whatever else they do that differs from what the members of the LDS church believe. As humans, we are given the innate ability from birth to question everything. We are conditioned throughout childhood to accept what we are told at face value, because “that’s just the way it is”. In my experience, this is exceptionally common when these questions pertain to religion. Even a devout member of your church who questions what the prophet hands down as doctrine is looked down upon and encouraged to keep quiet and “have faith”. To me and so many others, this is not an acceptable answer. How can you expect anyone to have faith when information is so readily withheld?
Quote: “Such forces — atheists and others — would intimidate persons with religious-based points of view from influencing or making the laws of their state or nation.”
Here you go again, further blurring the now almost non-existent line between church and state. According to the United States Constitution, religion should have zero bearing on any laws that are passed in the United States. Throughout your entire talk, you quote the Constitution, but conveniently ignore the parts that contradict the bits and pieces you choose to use to your advantage.
Quote: “The Proposition 8 battle was not about civil rights, but about what equal rights demand and what religious rights protect.”
Whatever stance you choose to take about the word ‘marriage’ and its ‘definition’, the bottom line is every couple, gay or straight, should be allowed the same legal rights and benefits that come along with legal marriage. Since a majority of your diatribe is related to the United States Constitution, you should read the document a little more closely. The Prop 8 battle encompasses the fight for equal protection under the law for every single person in this country; not just heterosexual couples. Proposition 8 was introduced to deliberately deny certain people CIVIL RIGHTS. How can you say that it had nothing to do with these rights?
Quote: “The marriage union of a man and a woman has been the teaching of the Judeo-Christian scriptures and the core legal definition and practice of marriage in Western culture for thousands of years. Those who seek to change the foundation of marriage should not be allowed to pretend that those who defend the ancient order are trampling on civil rights.”
We keep coming back to this same issue Elder Oaks: the separation of church and state, or more appropriately the lack thereof. The Judeo-Christian scriptures or any other religious document should NOT be bleeding into the legislation of this country. This is largely why the First Amendment was added to the Constitution. The fact that a large group of people are working against you to keep scripture from governing the laws of the land is in no way infringing on your right to religious freedom. You can speak out in support of moral issues until your lips fall off- no one is denying you that. What we are denying you is your attempt to FORCE AND INTIMIDATE PEOPLE INTO PASSING LAWS THAT REQUIRE EVERYONE TO CONFORM TO YOUR DEFINITION OF JUDEO-CHRISTIAN MORALITY. Telling your members that they need to contribute every available amount of time and money to help this proposition pass is coercion. “Do this, or fear for your immortal soul.” “This is what God wants; the prophet said so.” Sounds like spiritual extortion tactics to me.
This great nation of ours was built by people who wanted change. They wanted freedom from religious oppression. It’s horribly ironic to me that this oppression is precisely what the LDS faith and other religions are trying to impose on everyone. The basis of the Constitution is this: if it ain’t working, change it. Since you seem to be so versed in the Constitution, re-read Article V. After all, this is what you and the rest of the Christian Right are trying to accomplish, isn’t it? Your goal is to amend the Constitution to legally define what marriage is based on your specific religious beliefs. You argue that one man and one woman has been the basis of the idea of marriage for thousands of years. History should also show you that the status quo can’t work forever or our society would crumble. The LDS church in particular should be very familiar with this concept, considering your rather colorful history. Change is what drives civilization forward. Progress, Elder Oaks. Progress.
Having said all that let me be perfectly clear here: I absolutely irrevocably do not believe the vandalization of churches and temples to be right or justified in any way. In fact, I think it’s beyond reprehensible. However, the people that chose to do this do not represent the LGBTQ community or its supporters; any more than a group of violent white-supremacists represent every Caucasian individual in the world. The fact that you choose to pigeonhole all of us who are opposed to Prop 8 as a group of vandals is disgusting and cowardly.
The majority of our community and its supporters are not trying to “intimidate” you or any other organization into silence or keep you from any religious practice you choose to participate in. What we are trying to do is get OUR voices and OUR opinions heard because for countless years, WE have been intimidated into silence and forced to remain in the shadows. We were taught to fear using our voices and demanding the rights, privileges and protections we are entitled to as citizens of this country. I’m here to tell you: that ship has sailed.
Take a look at the staggering statistics of people that have chosen to end their own lives because their church taught them that their feelings are evil and morally unclean. With all the electronic information at your fingertips, spend some time researching Stuart Matis, who committed suicide on the steps of his stake center in California because the LDS church supported a similar piece of legislation to Prop 8 a few years ago. How long do we pretend these people don’t exist? We not only fight for CIVIL RIGHTS for ourselves, but also in the name of those people like Stuart Matis who aren’t around anymore to join the battle because their religion told them they were less than human and their lives were cut tragically short as a result. I cannot be any more blunt that this on this topic: Your church has blood on its hands, and it’s time to acknowledge that, not gloss over it with a sliver-tongued press release you people are so notorious for spewing.
Take a look around you Elder Oaks. The walls continue to come down with every passing day. People are ending their silence. It’s crystal clear based on your talk that your church is in a panic about it. I will say most of the time historically speaking, your attempts at damage control have been notably impressive to the untrained eye and ear, but this time, it’s infinitely more transparent that these attempts aren’t holding as much water as they used to. Basic civil rights and human dignity aren’t things that can be pushed under the rug in the name of God no matter how many Harvard-educated public relations professionals you employ. No matter how much money and time you throw at legislation like Prop 8, I want to tell you in big block letters that will be easy for you to read and understand: WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED AGAIN. WE WILL NOT SLINK BACK INTO THE SHADOWS. WE WILL NO LONGER ALLOW OUR LAWMAKERS TO PASS LEGISLATION THAT INFRINGES ON BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.
This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in the March for Marriage Equality on Washington DC, and let me tell you…out of the tens of thousands of people there, NOT ONE PERSON was intimidated into being quiet. No one was deterred because religion continues to be the driving force behind the legislature in this country. We will continue to fight for our basic human rights as Americans. We will push forward raising our voices demanding not special, but EQUAL rights under the Constitution that you so dearly love. Feel free to exercise your religious freedom all you like. Despite your unfounded whining, no one is trying to deprive you of that in any way, shape or form.
Lastly, I want to say that I am appalled at your audacity to compare your so-called lack of religious freedom with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Your organization and the people in it are protected by the laws of the land. Your members are not forced to sit at the back of the bus, or drink from different fountains, or attend separate schools. Was it not your church who denied black people the Priesthood until the 1970s, not long after the Civil Rights law went into effect? Interesting timing to receive so-called “revelation” on that topic, wouldn’t you say? That is the really convenient aspect of a religion that in its own words is continuously receiving “revelation” from God. You are able to change your stance on any particular subject at any given time to coincide with socially acceptable themes when it suits you. Your alleged “struggle” for religious freedom has absolutely nothing to do with racial inequality or anything close to it. Shame on you Elder Oaks for actually having the nerve to make that comparison, and shame on the other leaders of your church. You wonder why your members are resigning in droves? It’s a direct result of crap like this that keeps coming out of your mouths.
Having been an active member in the LDS church for the first eighteen years of my life, I am well aware that the root of LDS doctrine is encompassed in a single word: Love. Instead of just preaching it, try living it for a change. Talk is cheap, my friend. Don’t try and backpedal and hide behind the fragments of the law that allows you to portray yourselves as persecuted martyrs when you are anything but. Take some time from your busy schedule and sit down with Dennis and Judy Shepard. Talk to them about their son Matthew, who was brutally tortured and murdered by men (one being a so-called ‘devout’ Mormon) because he was gay. He is as much a martyr for the Gay Rights movement as your ‘prophet’ Joseph Smith was to you. Try going back to the central theme of what your church claims to believe in. For a religion that is centered in the teachings of Jesus Christ, you seem to have forgotten what he actually stood for.
You ask us to respect your right to religious freedom? Respect our right to fight back and do our damnedest to pull this nation out from under the Puritanical thumb of religion.
Respect begets respect. Truth begets truth. Love conquers hate.