Give ’em heaven, Kate

The Thinker by Rodin

Religions are supposed to be about love and finding God. Sadly too many of them, if not most of them, are far more concerned about getting their believers to march in lockstep with them than embracing them in loving ways. The latest somber case in point is the excommunication of Kate Kelly, who believes that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (i.e. the Mormons) should ordain women and allow them to direct the church.

Naturally it was an all-male panel of senior bishops that decided on her excommunication. At least they were clear about her real sin: she was promoting her beliefs, which were okay as long as she didn’t actually express them. In his excommunications letter to Kelly, Bishop Mark Harrison wrote: “You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them while remaining in full fellowship in the church.” These merciful clerics though did open the possibility that she could rejoin the church, providing she repents long enough and consistently tows the line. In other words: shut up already, keep shutting up and keep telling people you were wrong.

Dogmatic religions tend to excommunicate people all the time. Pope Francis recently excommunicated the Italian Mafia. Thus it’s not particularly surprising that Kate Kelly also suffered this fate. Still, to those of us outside this faith, this decision sure smells. What crazy reasoning justifies this belief? Well, Jesus only chose male apostles, hence there must be something unworthy about having women as clerics because men, well, must know better! How condescending this is, particularly given the poor record of male clerics within institutions like the Catholic Church. If I were a Catholic, I would sure want my kid to have a female priest. I might feel safe leaving him or her alone with the priest in the sanctuary.

Kate Kelly is guilty of a number of “sins”. These include understanding the logical fallacy of this argument, understanding that no God worth worshipping would require such a silly restriction, understanding that women are equal in all ways with men and inferior in no ways, understanding that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and understanding that the Mormon Church, like all churches, is an institution made up of flawed human beings and thus can only aspire to be holy, but is not actually holy or flawless. A church is a human institution that aspires to bring people closer to God. Given its imperfect nature, it must from time to time review how it’s doing and see if it fits the current reality.

The reality of the 19th century when Mormonism was founded was that women did not have the right to vote or much else in the way of rights so it’s not surprising Mormon dogma echoed these beliefs. It found what it thought was a foundation from the Bible. These facts were also true when Jesus walked the planet. It was true in Abraham’s time when he had multiple wives and when losing your virginity before marriage would require that you be stoned to death. In two millenniums, we have come to understand that women are equal partners. Thus they have the inherent same rights as men to everything. Kate Kelly is guilty of knocking on the Mormon Church’s door and reminding them of this obvious fact. In short, Mormonism needs a little revising because it isn’t optimally serving the needs of its members, and some of its teachings are undercutting its essential message.

I wish Kate Kelly lived nearby so I could give her a hug. She could use a lot of hugs. I wish I could also get her to see that she is better off without Mormonism as it is currently practiced. Mormonism really needs a dose of Protestantism. It’s largely as cloistered and insular as the Catholic Church was prior to the Reformation. During the Reformation, of course, the dichotomy between the church’s teachings, its actual practices and the needs of its parishioners became too large to tolerate anymore. Protestants discovered that they had power greater than the Catholic Church. When enough people stand up and demand changes, new denominations emerge when existing religions won’t adapt. If enough Mormons stand up with Kate Kelly, and more importantly boycott the faith until its leaders see the light, the Mormon Church will see the error of its ways as well.

Yell like hell, Kate, but do in a loving way that shows your better nature and the truth of your position. Yell outside the gates of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. Yell outside their conclaves. Reach out to every liberal Mormon you can find, and there are plenty of them. Have the nerve to worship separately and call yourself with a new name, perhaps the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Show that you offer a better way. Network. Like Harvey Milk, it will be lonely for a while, but if your cause is just and your work sincere, you will in time triumph. And if the Mormon Church insists on totally denying reality, let it shrivel. It’s better off dead than to be so fundamentally wrong.

I believe that when enough people simply vote with their feet and leave the church that they will see the light. And you, the excommunicated, will be revealed as a woman who had the courage to put the church on a path that actually makes it more inclusive and a better institution.

Yell like hell, but realize that you are actually giving them heaven, and bringing them closer to God.

Civilized people practice and promote social justice

The Thinker by Rodin

According to Glenn Beck, “social justice” is a code word for communism and Nazism. He says if your church is concerned about social justice, you need to find a different church.

I assume this means that Beck will now be leaving the Mormon Church because, hate to break it to you Glenn, Mormons such as you claim to be are all over this social justice thing. There is, for example, in the Book of Mormon this little excerpt from King Benjamin’s sermon:

And now… for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)

Early Mormon communities in particular were little socialist institutions to the extreme. They saw it as a matter of survival to ensure that every member of their community thrived. It seemed to work out pretty well, given the phenomenal growth of Mormonism in a tough climate. Even today, the Mormon Church is engaged in all sorts of social justice actions. For example, most Mormon temples practice social justice by helping fellow church members who are struggling and require assistance. Then there is the LDS Humanitarian Fund, which has donated over half a billion dollars toward disaster relief alone. Mormons are busy redistributing wealth and relieving suffering all over the place, not to mention building all sorts of fabulous temples.

It takes a simple Google search to find numerous references to social justice in the Bible. If you like the Old Testament, consider Jeremiah, 22:3:

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

In the New Testament, we have Luke 10:30-37, among many other passages:

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.

Beck would do much better to admit the obvious: he is about as Christian as Attila the Hun. Granted, he has plenty of company. For those of us on the left, it has been obvious that many of the right suffer from a schizoid personality. Most claim to be Christian, but their actions are hardly Christ-like.

The truth is that Beck is far closer to being a Nazi than those of us who believe in social justice. Nazism was a far right philosophy, and it is hard to find anyone much further to the right than Beck. Nazis were racists, and Beck sure sounds like one. He believes President Obama is a black racist and has “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” despite the minor problem that there is no evidence to support him, he grew up principally with his white mother in a white community and the majority of his staff, including his chief of staff, is white. Beck is certainly anti-communist, which was also one of the essential underpinnings of Nazism. (This makes it more curious that he could equate both Nazism and communism with social justice.) He is also vehemently opposed to economic and political liberalism, two other hallmarks of Nazism.

Speaking of communism, one can make a case that Christianity is philosophically very close to Communism. In fact, it’s hard to read the New Testament and not see the similarity. Christianity is far more than communism, of course, because it is a religion. However, if you strip away the religious aspect of Christianity and watch it in practice with a clinician’s eye, it’s all about redistributing wealth. If we were all perfect Christians, we would naturally redistribute our wealth to help the suffering of those around us so that no one was richer or poorer than another, which sounds just like communism. So since Beck is a Mormon, and Mormons are Christians, isn’t he essentially a communist?

Beck has not resolved the conflict between his purported Christianity and his extreme self-reliant orthodoxy. What makes Beck unique is that until now no right wing commentator with any appreciable audience has openly exposed this dichotomy. In the quest to be the most controversial talk show host on TV and radio, Beck has opened a Pandora’s Box. Now the dichotomy of right wing Christians is exposed in a very public, in your face way. He is challenging Christians to leave their churches, at which social justice is almost certainly a primarily underpinning. Many right wing Christians, particularly the prominent ones, now have to defend their Christianity, as Beck has given them no way out. It’s either social justice or social Darwinism. Since he clearly does not believe in social justice, he should be man enough to acknowledge the truth: he is not a Christian. You have told the world what is obvious: you do not want our institutions at any level to remediate the suffering of those down the economic or social latter.

As for the rest of us churchgoers (not to mention all sorts of other faith communities, and even many secular people), we are quite comfortable with the whole social justice thing. This is because compassion is at the heart of who we are, not meanness. With a few exceptions, all but a handful of churches actively engage in social justice, and for many it’s their primary mission. As the Rev. Peter Morales, the new president of the Unitarian Universalist Association put it very succinctly recently :

Religion is much more about what we love than about what we think.

Exactly. The foundation of love is compassion. The moment the circle of your love extends outside your immediate family, you are tipping the scales of social Darwinism, which is social justice. When you have compassion, you learn to see and want to mitigate the suffering of the less fortunate. You know that the virtue of self-reliance is not the answer to everything. Instead you understand that circumstance, connections, genetics and sometimes even your race frame your level of suffering. Because many of us were in these situations, and others compassionately helped us, we are moved to relieve the suffering of others. In other words, if you have any love in your heart at all for your fellow man, you must necessarily practice social justice.

I have some compassion for you too, Brother Beck, even though I confess it is hard to find in your particular case because I find your view of the world harmful and unhealthy. Right now, you are too busy earning your millions by enflaming our suspicions and our hatreds. However, should you ever be brought low, it will be people like me practicing social justice who will do our best to find you some food and a safe place to sleep. Moreover, because our nation is so large and I cannot reach out and help all three hundred million people at once, I certainly will be asking my government to practice social justice for all its citizens as well. I want to live in a civilized nation, not the mean and Darwinian one you obviously promote.