Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"The Family" Part 2

"All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, The Family: A Proclamation to the World)"

These are some of the weirdest and most wonderful doctrines of Mormonism. We have a mother in heaven! Who else teaches this? We go so far beyond the typical, weak anthropomorphism religious people are so often criticized for. We don't claim a God who looks like us, we claim Gods who look like men AND women, who are literally our parents, and who want us to 'grow up' to be Gods like them. Far from disavowing this doctrine (despite some downplaying in the media), this is right at the beginning of the document defining our church's stand on the importance of family. We claim that gender isn't some accident of birth to be transcended after the resurrection, but important now, important in the future, and important in our pasts. There are all sorts of things that could be said to ridicule or condemn these teachings. They are in many ways more reminiscent of the Greek Gods we learn about in children's stories than like any contemporary concept of God. Alternatively, one can take the ideas seriously and possibly conclude that this is what you should expect Gods to be like if one is to take religion and evolution both seriously (Natural Gods, Existential Assumptions).

On top of these positive claims made in "The Family", there are a lot of cultural assumptions we make. So, to explain my Mormonism and why I could accept this part of "The Family" as scripture, I share another list of rhetorical and real questions highlighting what I see as omissions and implications that help "The Family" transcend our current culture and provide potential value for future generations:

  • Which aspects of us are in his image? We don't have his glory. What else is left out?
  • Is that image all there is to God's body? (Is God more than the image of our bodies?)
  • Is it implied that women are more in Mother's image?
  • Does image include sexual orientation? Really?
  • Are there only two eternal sexual orientations?
  • Do we really believe that every individual is created in God's image, or are individuals who are not clearly male or female not created in God's image? Created in a faulty image? Created in the image of a God we haven't seen (just like this proclamation implies women are)? If you have a clear answer to this, which scripture or president of the church or general proclamation did you get it from (seriously, please share. I will edit my post accordingly)?
  • Exactly how does gender relate to sexual orientation? 
  • Is gender is really an essential characteristic of EVERY person in mortality? I believe this, but if it's true, exactly how is it essential? For some is it essential in its brokenness, and not in its enduringness? Or are the essential parts of gender something not exactly like binary, male-female sexuality? 
  • What essential role does gender play in our eternal identity? For example, does it mean that if you are a righteous man you will get to be a benevolent heavenly father, beget children, and be worshipped in the worlds you make? If you are a righteous woman does it mean you will get to bear children for eternity and be protected from blasphemy by not being talked about much? If you are something else you will get to be happy in a subordinate role of some kind, or will you be fixed and then get to be a God or a mother? Are you sure this is what Mormon scripture and modern prophets teach?

Once again scripture, examined, not only allows for greater richness of interpretation than our cultural assumptions suggest, but requires we reexamine those assumptions to see if we really know they are from God.

I'm getting excited to see what future parts will make me ask myself. Comments are welcome to help me avoid errors in reasoning as I proceed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why I Can Support "The Family: A Proclamation to the World"; Part 1

I remember when the LDS Church published "The Family: A Proclamation to the World". It was inspiring. It was beautiful. It affirmed some of the grandest ideas in Mormonism. It was also the first time in my life I could remember the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles publishing such an official, doctrinal statement (I was three when the revelation on the priesthood was given). I wondered when it would be voted on by the church as canonized scripture. Since then, life experiences have changed me, and I've met people hurt by others who accept and enforce the surface meanings of this proclamation. I feel glad that it has not been accepted as binding, and hope that it won't be until our understanding as a church has changed and we can see it in new light. Still, I hesitated to reject outright the feelings of inspiration to do good and be better that I remembered. Further, I think I could vote yes if I were asked, today, to canonize this proclamation as part of LDS scripture.

I decided to study "The Family" again and see if I could still feel as I did that it is an inspired document. Over the course of a number of blog posts, I will share my current thoughts and feelings about "The Family." If you will be offended by reading of my continued belief in God and in modern prophets and continuing scripture, I'll take no offense at your skipping these posts. If you will be offended by my twisting conventional readings and accusing them of being nonsensical, unexamined, and unreasoned, I'll take no offense at your skipping these posts. If you want to hear my story of eternal families, God speaking to men, and all the ambiguities of unanswered questions that I live with and find beauty in, then read on. Argue with me. Agree with me. Tell me you think my thoughts are important or a waste of time. Explore what truth I may have found, and help me see more that I have missed.

Having set the stage, I'll jump in--quoting from the proclamation and sharing thoughts, rhetorical questions, and a few real questions.

"We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children."

I have many reasons to believe this statement. The God I worship values marriage. He has taught it to men and women through prophets through all history. Everyone I know who has lived in a supportive, committed family has found great personal benefits from it. Societies benefit from strong families. I aspire to maintaining the ideal of family to the blessing of all humanity. It makes sense to me that family is part of an eternal plan and that we are literally a part of God's family--He wants us to grow up to be parents like He is. It's wonderful to me. 

My next question is, how do I fulfill this destiny?  This leads to more detailed questions about what eternal family means. What do we really know of eternal families and how they are organized?
1. We have a father and a mother, brothers and sisters.
2. We know that all eternal families in the eternities of Gods are like this. Really? What's our evidence?
3. All eternal families are defined in the way of the modern family unit. Are we sure?
4. Sex and gestation in a mother is how spirit children are created. Wow! Where did that idea come from?

I guess we don't really know as much as we assume, so let's look at some specific relationships that we can identify more clearly:

5. Think about your relationship in your eternal family to your earthly wife or husband. . .
6. Think about the family relationship that resulted in the birth of our Savior. . . (really a bit disturbing if you reject the immaculate conception as Mormonism does)
7. Think about how you are related to your earthly parents and children. . .

It appears to me that the rules of family organization are pretty complex and not very clear when it comes to our eternal families. So exactly how does the earthly family unit play a role in our eternal destiny? It's difficult for me to maintain that it is through modeling how eternal families are organized in any strict sense.

Superficial readings unsurprisingly support current LDS cultural biases, but examination leaves many more questions than are answered. How do our earthly families improve our eternal destiny? What evidence do we really have that the most common earthly family structure is the ONLY family structure approved by God in heaven OR on earth? I believe marriage as we most often think of it is ordained of God, but the reason I could accept this paragraph as scripture is that it is not limited in possible understandings. Its authors affirmed a positive ideal. They did not condemn other family organizations, however they may have felt personally about "alternative lifestyles". That feels like scripture to me. God speaks to us within our culture and language, but leaves us with hints that much more is still to come when we are ready for it. What that more is, I don't honestly know (even if I make statements as if I do), but the God I love appears to once again have left the door open to ever more knowledge. He has affirmed truth without limiting it.

I've gotten ahead of myself with some of the questions and speculations, but we are following a thought process. We've learned a very little, and begun to ask questions and make hypotheses about more. We may have to revise them with more data as you follow me through this process, but spelling them out shows my preconceptions--an important step in true learning. We have to identify our prior "knowledge" in order to be able to unlearn any misconceptions we may have brought to the classroom. In my experience this is at least as hard a part of learning as acquiring the new knowledge. We'll have to see if future parts allow me to continue rationalizing my personal pre-judgements. . .

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Traditional, True Believing Mormon

I've begun to sympathize with others who feel unfairly judged by stereotypes. Admittedly, my persecution consists of nothing worse than exasperated disparagement of mine or my friends' intelligence or morality, and not any active harm, but it has had the benefit of making me a little more sensitive to stereotypes, at least. Along side this bit of added empathy, I want to embrace and reclaim the label that is sometimes used disparagingly to describe people who uncritically follow an obviously flawed religious narrative. I am a True Believing Mormon. I am a Traditional Mormon. So to the stereotyper of TBMs:

I'm not denying that the majority of Mormons never critically examine their faith narrative. If my understanding of James Fowler's findings in articulating his stages of faith is correct, then anyone who expects more than 40% of adults in any faith tradition to ever critically evaluate their narrative is not living in reality. What I take issue with is the implication that no one can critically and honestly examine their faith tradition and remain a true believer. Further, within Mormonism, some of us take to heart Joseph Smith's assertion that we must seek out all truth, whatever its source if we want to come out true Mormons. We take to heart the claim that no one can be saved in ignorance. We take to heart that the glory of God is intelligence. We believe the Gospel encompasses ALL truth, and that we should seek out ANYTHING that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy. If the search for ever more light and knowledge is not a core principle of Mormonism, then I probably shouldn't try to claim the label of True Believing. If it is part of Mormonism, then please stop using True Believing to describe people who you claim reject the search for truth. Find some other label. Call them whatever you want--it will show more about you than them--but please quit implying that true believers in truth cannot be true believers in Mormonism.

No, we don't have all truth, whatever a literalistic, narrow reading of some verse of scripture may say. Yes, we claim to know things that will probably be shown to be false. But seeking ever more truth is one of our teachings. However much, and however many, Latter-day Saints may rebel at giving up dearly held "truths" when they are proven false, you cannot be a Latter-day Saint and avoid the message that you have to learn more, that you have to find out for yourself, or that more will be revealed. You can't be a Latter-day Saint and not hear the message that God reveals things to others outside of the LDS church--scientists, great leaders, great humanitarians. However much we may at times try to keep uncomfortable changes under wraps by saying--"You got the wrong answer to your prayer," or "That is the philosophy of men," or "That person is a sinner, so you shouldn't listen to him," or "Homosexuals, Feminists, and Intellectuals are evil," or by limiting what gets discussed in our Sunday School meetings--our history is too well documented, and too many prophets have told us to go out and seek learning for these reactionary forces to ever win in the end. True Believing Mormons will hear the commands to learn, and the LDS church will continue to grow in goodness because of it. I'm a true believer in this. I embrace it. I think it's time I just ignore the stereotype and say, Yes, I'm a TBM. Yes, several generations into the culture, I'm a traditional Mormon. Then maybe, when you get to know me, you'll discover that your stereotype is about as true as any other--and limits your own understanding, just like any other.