Posted by Mark Paredes
"By ruling that supporters of Proposition 8 lacked standing to bring this case to court, the Supreme Court has highlighted troubling questions about how our democratic and judicial system operates. Many Californians will wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong when their government will not defend or protect a popular vote that reflects the views of a majority of their citizens. In addition, the effect of the ruling is to raise further complex jurisdictional issues that will need to be resolved. Regardless of the court decision, the Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children. Notably, the court decision does not change the definition of marriage in nearly three-fourths of the states." -- Official statement of the LDS Church on the recent Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage
It’s almost impossible to be a Mormon blogger and not weigh in on last week’s Supreme Court rulings on DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act) and Proposition 8. After all, my church is a prominent foe of same-sex marriage, a position that I continue to support for religious reasons. That said, I do not believe that there is a convincing set of entirely secular arguments that can be made against gay marriage. Given these convictions, I support the majority ruling in DOMA and have mixed feelings about the Prop 8 case.
I don’t think that states should legalize gay marriage, but if they do, I don’t see why it makes sense to tell a lesbian resident of Massachusetts that she is married if she stays in Boston, but becomes single again if she joins the Army. I also don’t think that other states should have to recognize her marriage, but as a conservative I reject the idea that it’s the federal government’s business to favor certain legal marriages over others. If a gay man is legally married and serves in the military or delivers my mail, the government should treat his marriage the same as traditional ones when it comes to tax, retirement, and other benefits.
There is simply no secular case to be made in 2013 for the federal government – which does not issue marriage licenses -- to treat gay marriages differently from traditional ones. Mormons who care about this issue will note that the LDS Church’s brief statement on the rulings (see above), though generally critical, did not mention the part of DOMA that was struck down by the Court.
The same cannot be said of the Prop 8 ruling, which was made even more painful by the presence of Justices Roberts and Scalia in the majority. I am disturbed that the Court allowed our state’s governor and attorney general to thumb their noses at the clearly expressed will of millions of California voters, and find it difficult to understand why a gay federal judge in a partnered relationship failed to recuse himself from the case. However, proper procedure was followed in the case: we lost at the district court level, then a three-member panel of federal judges from the 9th Circuit ruled against us, and finally Roberts and Scalia stabbed us in the back by disqualifying the plaintiffs. Our side received a fair hearing, at least by the last two panels, and we lost.
Faithful Mormons ultimately look to prophets, not Supreme Court Justices, for guidance on moral issues, and our opposition to gay marriage does not depend on well-crafted judicial opinions or legal arguments. However, as citizens of this country we depend on the courts to rule fairly and equitably on issues of consequence. The Supreme Court was correct to strike down part of DOMA, but I do wish that it had not allowed California state officials to shirk their duty vis-à-vis Prop 8. Gay marriage is legal once again in California, though I suspect that most decent people on the pro-gay marriage side are less than pleased at the means used to achieve the end in this case.
12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important
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12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important (745)
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11.21.13 at 11:23 pm | While everyone knows that Jews can say who's a. . . (43)
June 26, 2013 | 7:58 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Current policy states that applicants who are married to or in committed relationships with non-Jews will not be considered for acceptance to this program. – “Admission Requirements” page for the Rabbinical School at Hebrew Union College
If you want to become a rabbi, marry a Jew. That is the clear message – an unobjectionable message, one would think -- that Hebrew Union College sends to its prospective and current rabbinical students. If someone wants to apply to HUC’s rabbinical school, he has to be either single or partnered with a Jew. This policy seems a no-brainer to this interested outsider, since a rule requiring a future rabbi’s partner to be Jewish communicates the same message that a rule requiring a future rabbi to be Jewish does: Being Jewish is important.
Given that only 12% of Mormons marry outside the faith, more than one Jewish commentator (including, most recently, Naomi Schaefer Riley) has suggested that Jews look to see whether there is something Mormons are doing to promote intrafaith marriage that can be imitated or adapted by Jews.
One thing that church leaders do to promote temple marriages, the Mormon ideal, is to call men to lead congregations as bishops (= rabbis) who have been married in an LDS temple. I have never met a bishop who was not a partner in what we call an eternal marriage. When bishops discuss the importance of marrying in the temple with teenagers or young single adults, they have instant credibility because they have shown by example how important it is to them. I’m trying to imagine how a similar presentation on temple marriage would be received if it were made by a bishop who was married to a non-Mormon.
You could make the case (as a Reform rabbi does) that Mormons who have married outside the faith might view a bishop who is married to a non-Mormon as more approachable. However, since most Mormons I know in this situation would give anything to have their spouses convert and then be sealed to them in a temple marriage, I think it helps to have someone to guide them during that process (if and when it happens) who has already done what they would like to do.
Another message that is transmitted by a bishop who is married in a temple is that it’s important to be a Mormon. There are wonderful people of all faiths (and none), and there are good Mormons who have married outside the faith. However, a bishop who has married his wife in an LDS temple shows his congregants by his actions how necessary it was for him to marry someone who could be “sealed” to him in a Mormon temple. Had he chosen to marry, say, a nice Jewish girl instead, it would then become a difficult case for him to make that being a Mormon is very important. In addition, it is important, especially for young Mormons, to see that the leader of their congregation could have dated and married a wonderful Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or Buddhist girl, but chose not to.
By way of contrast, it is difficult to find a compelling reason – besides making his mother happy -- for a man who is Reform to limit his wife search to Jewish women, as long as the prospective spouse agrees to raise their children as Jews. After all, the Reform movement accepts patrilineal as well as matrilineal descent, so a child doesn’t need to have a Jewish mother in order to be considered a Jew. Religious practices that might turn off a Gentile spouse, like keeping a kosher home, are not normally a problem for Reform Jews, who can usually find a level of observance (and an accommodating synagogue) that is comfortable for them. As long as the children are raised as Jews, I’m unaware of any Jewish religious teaching that says that Jews who are married to non-Jews are entitled to fewer blessings in this life or in the olam ha-ba.
As someone who fervently believes that there should be more, not fewer, Jews in this world, I hope and pray that HUC retains its policy. It’s not too much to ask that someone who aspires to be a spiritual leader in the Reform Jewish community, one that is struggling to deal with a high intermarriage rate, should show his commitment to Judaism by marrying/partnering within the tribe.
June 15, 2013 | 12:57 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. – Micah 7:18-19
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds. – Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-11
I’ll be speaking in church this Sunday, which will be a Father’s Day with a special meaning for me and my lovely pregnant wife. The prospect of becoming a father in three months, after years of wondering whether life had fatherhood in store for me, has focused my mind on the things that really count.
After meeting with several congregants who have come to me for help with various problems, I am more convinced than ever that giving and receiving forgiveness is essential for all of us. This is especially true when close family members are involved. Life is hard enough when we are surrounded with family and friends who can support us, encourage us, and comfort us when necessary. It becomes unimaginably difficult when no one has got your back. Of course, reconciliation with those who have loved – and hurt – us the most is never easy, though it can be a life-changing process.
For Mormons, it is necessary for us to forgive everyone – whether or not they ask for our forgiveness -- and to seek forgiveness from those we have harmed before seeking God’s forgiveness. In this we differ somewhat from rabbinic concepts of forgiveness, which I have always found fascinating.
Like LDS Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism does embrace the concept of teshuva, or repentance, which involves elements that are familiar to Mormons: recognition of sin, confession of sin, restitution (where possible), feeling remorse for sin, and abandonment of sin. However, rabbis teach that God can only forgive sins that we commit against Him; He cannot forgive those that we commit against other people. In order for people to forgive each other, the offender has to seek the forgiveness of the person he has wronged. If the latter sees that the offender is truly sorry and has taken steps to correct the wrong done, then he is obligated to allow the offender to ask for and receive his forgiveness. However, if the person who is offended does not feel that the offender is serious about his repentance, he is under no obligation to forgive him.
According to LDS teachings, God can choose whether to forgive us. He is omniscient, knows our thoughts and desires, and can render a perfectly just judgment of our actions here on earth. Since we are not omniscient and cannot judge another person’s intentions and thoughts with certainty, we are obligated to give him the benefit of the doubt by granting him our forgiveness. Even if people do not seek our forgiveness, we are obligated to grant it. There is nothing in our scriptures that requires us to forgive immediately, but forgive we must. Needless to say, Sunday School lessons on this topic are among the most interesting ones in the church.
In contrast to rabbinic tradition, our prophets teach that God is able to forgive sins that we commit against Him and against other people. In practice, when a Mormon offends another person, the two concepts are combined: he must seek her forgiveness before seeking God’s.
In my experience, people who are quick to forgive are usually the most pious and devoted members of their faith communities. As I prepare my Father’s Day sermon in my capacity as the “father of the ward [congregation],” I can’t help but think that increasing our capacity to forgive each other would be especially pleasing to our common Father.
Happy Father’s Day to all men who are worthy of the title.
June 8, 2013 | 8:04 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
When Jews share their religious beliefs with others, they don’t automatically assume that they are familiar with Judaism, and usually do a beautiful job of expressing their thoughts using secular terms that can be understood by all. However, well-meaning Mormons who discuss their beliefs with Jews often sound like they’re writing or speaking to other Mormons, not to non-Christians. Many a Jewish acquaintance or reader has contacted me after hearing a Mormon explain a religious principle using language that didn’t resonate with him or her. In my experience, this often happens when Mormons use Jewish instead of Christian terms to describe their beliefs and practices.
I recently came across an essay penned by a Mormon that referred to the LDS sacrament as our “kiddush.” According to Mormon doctrine, bread and water (the sacrament) are blessed and passed to congregants during a special weekly meeting to remind them of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Those who eat the bread and drink the water take upon themselves the name of Christ and promise to always remember Him and keep His commandments. Needless to say, these concepts are very far from the minds of Jews who recite kiddush on Shabbat or Yom Tov. The best way to convey to Jews what the sacrament means to Mormons is to explain – plainly and simply – its symbolism and sacredness. There is no need here to seek a Jewish counterpart, because there isn’t one.
For many years I have avoided referring to Jesus as the “Messiah” during religious discussions with Jews. The difference between their concept of a messiah and ours is so great that no single word (or title) can bridge the gap. Like other Christians, Mormons believe that Jesus was the Son of God who led a perfect life, founded a church, and atoned for our sins on a cross outside of Jerusalem. This belief is the cornerstone of our faith. It goes without saying that contemporary Jews completely reject this idea of a messiah, so it is neither fair nor accurate to imply that Jews and Christians share the same messianic definition.
In order to avoid confusion, it is sometimes also necessary to avoid using specifically Mormon terms to describe our practices. The most obvious – and controversial -- example is our “baptism for the dead” temple ceremony. Given their history of forced conversions to Christianity and persecution by Christians, Jews’ strong aversion to the word “baptism” is understandable (anyone ever heard of Jews objecting to proxy temple marriages for the dead?). We can explain the significance of these ceremonies to Jews until we’re blue in the face, but in the end no self-respecting Jew would consent to have his ancestors “baptized” by Christians, no matter what explanation they are given. I prefer to use the term “proxy immersions” with Jews, and have found that it is both a more accurate description and less off-putting to them.
So long as they don’t feel that they are being targeted for conversion, Jews are generally willing to listen to their Mormon friends and neighbors share their beliefs. When this is done in an atmosphere of respect, great things can happen. The main purpose of this blog is to facilitate mutual understanding between the Jewish and LDS communities, and finding out how to talk to each other about that which we hold most dear is the foundation of this dialogue. Shabbat shalom.
May 25, 2013 | 12:28 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Following my recent ordination as a Mormon bishop, many Jewish friends have written to ask me what my new responsibilities are. Although I’ve only been at it for a month, I’ll do my best to outline my duties for my readers.
Like rabbis, LDS bishops are chosen to be leaders of congregations. Unlike rabbis, bishops don’t apply for the job. Instead, they are chosen by the regional leader (stake president) and are expected to serve without pay until they are released. In addition, because Mormons are generally expected to attend the nearest congregation, the authority of a bishop is restricted to a defined geographical area. In my case, the borders of my ward (congregation) in Los Angeles are Fairfax Avenue on the west, Western Avenue on the east, Beverly Boulevard on the north, and Slauson Avenue on the south.
Unlike rabbis, bishops usually have no formal training in theology, homiletics, psychology, etc. We come from all walks of life, and are expected to study and apply the rules and principles contained in church handbooks and manuals. Since we serve in a hierarchical church, we also meet regularly with our regional leaders to receive counsel and direction.
In addition to tithing, Mormons fast once a month and donate offerings to the church to help the poor. Bishops are authorized to draw on these funds (fast offerings) to help needy members who request assistance, including financial help and food orders. The purpose of this help is to assist the recipients to become self-sufficient, so it has to be doled out sparingly and judiciously. I pray a lot before meeting with needy members, and hope to use these resources to change people’s lives for the better.
One rewarding task for bishops and our counselors (assistants) is calling people to serve in various positions in the ward. We have a lay ministry, and every active member is supposed to be given at least one “calling” to carry out. It’s gratifying to see people willingly accept these volunteer positions and attempt to serve their fellow congregants.
Thankfully, bishops rarely have to give sermons. Every week members take turns delivering talks, and I have assigned a counselor to assign talks throughout the year.
Bishops are asked to dedicate a lot of their time to the youth of the church, which is a responsibility that weighs greatly on me. It’s not easy to be a teen in Los Angeles today, and we need to provide them all of the spiritual guidance and support that they can get. In our case there is strength in numbers: Our ward runs a combined youth program with Spanish and Korean wards, so our kids can learn from their leaders as well.
Needless to say, I have already developed a greater appreciation for congregational rabbis. I look forward to consulting with them in the coming weeks and months on challenges that both of our communities face.
May 4, 2013 | 12:17 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
I read with great interest Naomi Schaefer Riley’s recent Forward article, in which she contrasts the low LDS interfaith marriage rate and the relatively high Jewish rate while proffering areas for emulation to her Jewish readers. I believe there are two main reasons why Mormons tend to marry other Mormons, only one of which is mentioned by the author.
The first is our newly-expanded missionary program, which sends tens of thousands of young men and women all over the world to study and spread their faith. As Ms. Riley notes, returned missionaries generally maintain high levels of activity in the church. My wife and I were both sent to foreign countries, where we had to learn a new language and culture, study the doctrines of our faith, and preach to others during the prime of our lives. Given the level of desire and commitment involved, it’s not surprising that most former missionaries choose to continue their church service upon their return.
Jews have the Birthright program, but a 10-day stay in Israel designed to reinforce feelings of Jewish peoplehood and identity is hardly comparable to two years of intense missionary work. It would be unrealistic to expect them to achieve the same results in religious retention.
Although the Forward article was very interesting and insightful, the omission of temple marriage was glaring. The crowning ordinance of our faith is eternal marriage in the Abrahamic covenant, which can only be performed in our temples. In addition, only faithful Mormons can participate in this ceremony, which binds couples together for eternity. Mormons are taught from childhood not to settle for less than a temple marriage, and most active members don’t.
As I see it, there are two obstacles to lowering the intermarriage rate for non-Orthodox Jews. One is the claim, which I still struggle to comprehend, that atheism and agnosticism are perfectly acceptable expressions of Jewishness. If they are, then there is not a compelling reason to find a marriage partner who is a member of a particular religious faith.
The second obstacle has to do with Jews’ reluctance to seek to convert non-Jews. Let’s take me as an example. If I were dating a non-Orthodox Jewish woman and agreed to raise our children as Jews, why should she decline my marriage proposal? I’ve lived in Israel, speak Hebrew, love Jews and the Jewish community, and blog for a Jewish website. As long as our kids would be raised as Jews, what difference should it make to her what my religious views are since Jews don’t seek to change others’ beliefs? Mormons can’t have a temple marriage without another Mormon. Non-Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, can live a fulfilling Jewish life with a non-Jewish spouse.
Of course, it’s difficult to compare even the hand-wringing by both communities when their members marry outside the faith. When a Mormon marries a Lutheran, there may be deep disappointment that a temple marriage will not take place. However, there is no concept of a people that is being diminished by this marriage choice.
Ms. Riley has opened up an interesting discussion, one I hope will be held in many cities across the country between Jews and Mormons. The truth is that if non-Orthodox American Jews want to lessen their intermarriage rate without becoming Orthodox, the best thing they can do is to make their faith a proselytizing one. I have no doubt that the results would be astonishing.
April 21, 2013 | 10:49 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
After speaking with a prominent Orthodox rabbi in Montreal a few years ago, I had the distinct impression that great things were going to happen on the Jewish-Mormon front in that beautiful city. One of the stake presidents (regional leaders) is Eric Jarvis, a psychiatrist at Jewish General Hospital, and he and his wife Catherine have engaged the Jewish community in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding that is truly inspiring.
Last weekend President Jarvis’s stake hosted a Yom Hashoah commemoration on behalf of the Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Montreal. The stake president’s presentation was followed by one made by a female rabbi, who declared herself “a member of the LGBT community and a friend of the Roma.” Unsurprisingly, the Canadian Jewish press focused on President Jarvis’s reiteration of the church’s ban on performing temple ordinances for Holocaust victims unless they were direct descendants of living Mormons. Regular readers know that I have a self-imposed ban on blogging about this manufactured controversy, but I think that it was appropriate for President Jarvis to address the issue in that setting.
Here is a link to the article in The Canadian Jewish News, the largest Jewish newspaper in the country. Yasher koach, Eric and Catherine.
April 14, 2013 | 11:26 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Today I was ordained a Mormon bishop, the equivalent of a volunteer pulpit rabbi. I was as surprised as anyone when the call was extended to me, but I accepted knowing that I would have the support of my lovely wife and our diverse, dynamic Koreatown congregation.
Although a bishop’s position is a volunteer one, you don’t sign up to become a bishop. Instead, regional leaders prayerfully identify a married man whom they feel God has called to lead a congregation and submit his name to the First Presidency, the top three leaders of the church in Salt Lake City. After receiving approval from the First Presidency, the regional leader (stake president) conducts interviews with the prospective bishop and his wife, and then calls the man to serve as bishop. Most bishops serve for about five years.
A former bishop told me this week that this calling is where “the rubber meets the road” in the church. My main responsibilities will include working with youth, helping people who are in need of material assistance, presiding at meetings, preparing members to go to the temple, reviewing numerous reports, and overseeing the congregation’s spiritual life. I will attempt to do all of this while holding down a regular job, blogging for the Jewish Journal, and spending quality time with my pregnant wife. It’s no wonder that bishops frequently ask their congregants to pray for them.
One new responsibility that intrigues me is that of being a “judge in Israel.” If members have committed serious sins and/or are in need of spiritual counseling, they will come to me for help with repenting and reconciling themselves to God.
I look forward to this challenging yet rewarding calling, which will allow me to serve a large congregation in a very meaningful way. If possible, I will look for ways to collaborate with the local Jewish community on tikkun olam and other projects. I thank my readers in advance for their support and prayers during this exciting time of service and sacrifice.