Posted by Mark Paredes
Many thanks to Menachem Wecker for an insightful post on Jewish-Mormon relations:
He blogs on religious art for the Huffington Post and Houston Chronicle websites, and knows a great deal about the LDS art tradition. Yasher koach, Menachem!
12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important
11.21.13 at 11:23 pm | While everyone knows that Jews can say who's a. . .
11.4.13 at 10:43 pm | Greater expectations need to be placed on Jews,. . .
10.18.13 at 11:26 pm | My friend Brian offers an eloquent explanation of. . .
10.13.13 at 11:28 pm | The title says it all
9.30.13 at 11:32 pm | The Santa Monica Daily Press missed the mark in. . .
9.9.12 at 9:30 pm | When it comes to the Book of Mormon, I'll stick. . . (64)
6.5.12 at 11:26 pm | Marlena Tanya Muchnick, a Jewish convert to. . . (46)
12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important (33)
July 21, 2010 | 4:12 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
In keeping with the temple theme of Tisha B’av week and with this blog’s primary purpose of clarifying misconceptions, I would like to respond to a statement made by the erudite Rabbi Elliot Dorff in his insightful book “The Jewish Approach to Repairing the World.” Rabbi Dorff recently spoke on Jewish ethics at a luncheon sponsored by a group of prominent LDS businessmen and attorneys, and I regard him as a priceless resource for the local interfaith community. I read two of his books during my vacation last week, and the single most interesting concept that I took away from this book was that Jews who convert to other faiths retain all of the responsibilities but none of the privileges of being Jews.
That said, the following sentence gave me pause: “...many [religious] traditions presume that only the elite will know the texts, and some (like the Mormons) even bar anyone but the elite from knowing the secrets of their religion.” With all due respect to Rabbi Dorff, two corrections are necessary. First, Mormons have a lay clergy, and like Jews they are commanded to study and master their sacred texts, which like the Talmud also go beyond the Hebrew Bible. We have scripture study programs for children, teenagers, college students and adults, and we are commanded to study our doctrines. An interesting experiment would be to compare an average lifelong Mormon’s knowledge of the Bible (both Testaments) and LDS scriptures to an average lifelong Orthodox Jew’s knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. A church without seminaries or professional clergy, and with five canonized books of scripture, depends on studious members to teach its doctrines. Sermons, Sunday School lessons, and prayers are all offered by people who spend their workdays as doctors, lawyers, teachers, farmers, and chimney sweeps.
The second point of clarification is that Mormon temple worship, which involve sacred (or “secret”) ceremonies, are not for “elites.” Every day people of all classes, incomes, and races worship in our temples. While non-members are not allowed into temples after they are dedicated, any member 12 years or older can enter them if she can attest that she is keeping the commandments of G-d. This she does in two interviews with ecclesiastical leaders, who ask her a well-known set of standardized questions (they cannot add or subtract questions from the list). Among the requirements are paying tithing, living a chaste life, refraining from alcohol and tobacco, honoring family commitments, and professing a belief in G-d. If she is keeping these commandments, she receives a “recommend” and can enter the temple. The only qualification she needs is not money, class, or a graduate degree, but righteous living. While living in Israel, I often visited the Druze communities on the Golan Heights. Their religion does restrict knowledge of “secrets” to an elite group of older men, who are not allowed to discuss their religion with non-initiated Druze, regardless of how pious they may be. This is certainly not the case with the LDS faith. If a scholar like Rabbi Dorff has the impression that we are an elitist faith, then we have a great deal of explaining to do.
July 19, 2010 | 10:42 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
With the fast for Tisha B’av set to begin right now, I join the worldwide Jewish community in mourning the destruction of the First and Second Temples on the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. A Mormon’s concern for Israelite temples should not be surprising to anyone familiar with our temple-based religion. While Mormons and non-Mormons worship on Sundays in the LDS chapels that dot the earth, it is in the 133 dedicated temples that the most holy ordinances are performed, all centered around the eternal Abrahamic covenant. In the early 19th century Mormons were forced to abandon two temples (those at Nauvoo, IL and Kirtland, OH) in the face of severe persecution, and losing all of our temples today would be nothing short of catastrophic for Latter-day Saints. A Reform rabbi touring Salt Lake City observed that Mormons seemed far more interested in ancient Israelite temples than contemporary Jews. Indeed, it is undoubtedly easier for Mormons to identify with temple worship than it is for Jews to make sense of the rites and rituals of Leviticus.
Although I understand the irrelevance of temples to the lives of modern-day Jews and realize that Tisha B’av is an anachronism for almost all of them, I hope that at least some members of the tribe are disturbed by the flippant, sacrilegious tone of Jonathan Zasloff’s essay in the Tisha B’av edition of the Jewish Journal. His thesis? “The destruction of the Temple was one of the best things ever to happen to the Jewish people.” Professor Zasloff reasons that the survival of the Temple “would have meant the destruction of the Jewish religion,” since temple-based worship involved a “priestly cult” and “a lot of dead, bleeding animals.” In his mind, we should spend this evening celebrating the birth of rabbinic Judaism—Talmud, Rashi, Maimonides et al. While there is no question that rabbinic Judaism is one of the greatest intellectual achievements in history and has enriched the world with its wisdom and traditions, it is hard to think of a mindset that is more directly at odds with the Mormon view of kadusha (holiness) than the author’s. For us, true Israelite worship involves temples.
During a lecture I gave to a group of rabbinical students, one woman observed that the Jewish way of discovering truth in scripture involved chevruta, or study with a partner. She wanted to know how Mormons determined scriptural truths. I responded by politely challenging her claim about chevruta. After all, didn’t the classical Jewish way of learning G-d’s truths involve sending a prophet to a holy place to commune with the Almighty, then having him return to the people and declare what he had learned? Chevruta is absent from the Hebrew Bible, and the student admitted that this is a rabbinic practice. Is partner study more authentically Jewish than the calling of Moses and the giving of the Torah and other scriptures through prophets? That’s not for me to say. However, I can say that the many Jewish themes in Mormon theology almost always involve ancient Israelite practices. When the Second Temple was destroyed, along with it went the priesthood (the power to act in G-d’s name), prophets, temples, and the divine power associated with them. In a country where many if not most Jews are atheists or agnostics, where most Jews marry outside their faith, where a majority of Jews support same-sex marriage (condemned by Jewish law), where Jews are to be found in the leadership of most anti-Israel and/or anti-Zionist groups, and where a majority of non-Orthodox young Jews profess no special attachment to Israel, it strains credulity to believe, as Professor Zasloff aserts, that temple worship was less Torah-centered than its rabbinic successor. The ancient Israelites wept and mourned because they realized what they had lost. Judah ha-Nasi only decided to compile the Mishnah(part of the Talmud) when he realized that the Temple would not be rebuilt (which Zasloff acknowledges in the essay). Something tells me they weren’t just lamenting a pile of dead animals.
A female rabbi’s informal way of using a sacred temple prayer once left me and my Mormon date speechless. During a Friday evening service at which I spoke, she asked the congregation to stand and perform “the high priest’s prayer” together. Everyone slowly raised and lowered their hands several times while repeating a prayer that she had written. Mormon readers will understand why my friend and I chose to keep our arms at our sides. After the service, I found a diplomatic way to ask her why she had invited everyone to participate in a prayer that had been reserved for the High Priest of Israel in ancient times. She smiled and answered that it was “fun,” especially for the kids. Whatever one may think of the ancient temple prayers, it’s hard to justify using them as a form of entertainment for congregants.
If I had to reduce the essence of the Hebrew Bible to one verse, it would be Isaiah 55:8 - “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” May we all use this occasion to remember the ways in which G-d, through rites and rituals whose ultimate meanings were known unto Him, blessed His ancient covenant people in truly miraculous ways.
July 13, 2010 | 12:33 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Montréal at the invitation of the local LDS community. Local Mormon leaders are very interested in building bridges of friendship to other faith communities, and I was asked to speak on LDS-Jewish relations before an audience of several hundred Mormons and Jews. I was followed by the charismatic, eloquent Rabbi Schachar Orenstein, who greatly impressed the Mormons in attendance with his sincerity and wit. The highlight of the evening for me was the singing of “Hine Ma Tov” by Rabbi Orenstein, who was quickly joined in a spontaneous duet by LDS Montréal Temple President Dr. David Galbraith, a renowned scholar who studied at the Hebrew University and lived in Israel for two decades. Janice Arnold of the Canadian Jewish News was kind enough to cover the event:
It is always interesting to see how others view your outreach efforts: while I only spent around 5 minutes out of 60 discussing the proxy immersions issue, it featured prominently in the paper’s coverage. While I am neither a senior official nor a spokesman for the Church, I do appreciate the positive tone of the article and hope that it will lead to similar events across Canada.
July 3, 2010 | 8:06 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
This month Los Angeles will host the 30th annual conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. For five days amateur and professional Jewish genealogists will explore ways to help themselves and others research their family histories. Recent years have witnessed a marked increase in the number of Jews interested in genealogy, and I know from personal experience that many knowledgeable consultants are ready and willing to help any Jew who wishes to begin researching her family tree. When she does so, she will almost certainly tap into the unparalleled resources of the LDS Church, which has over 4,000 family history centers available around the world to help patrons access the vast genealogical records stored by the Church.
In this city the Church enjoys an excellent working relationship with the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles, the host organization for the conference. In addition, we are proud to have consulted with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance on its remarkable genealogy exhibit, “Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves,” which happens to feature Mormon athlete Steve Young. Our regional Family History Center is open to the public and offers free courses on Jewish genealogy (it is scheduled to reopen in the fall). While the Church’s prominence in the genealogical field is acknowledged, the doctrine behind our passion for family trees is less well-known and is tied to Elijah. This famous prophecy by Malachi is found in all five books of Mormon scripture: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5-6). For Mormons, the return of Elijah anticipated at every Passover seder is not merely a quaint Jewish belief – it is a reality. We believe that in 1836, following the first dedication of a temple in modern times, Elijah appeared to the Church’s top two leaders and conferred upon them the “sealing” power, which allows designated priesthood holders to “seal” generations of families together forever using the same authority with which Elijah sealed the heavens for 3 ½ years. Fathers (and mothers) can be sealed to children, and children can be sealed to their parents, both living and dead. We view this as fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy of the generational turning of the hearts.
In order to be “sealed” to their direct ancestors, Mormons obviously have to find out who they were. The result is the Church’s extensive genealogy program. It cannot be emphasized enough how important family history research is to Mormons: one of the Church’s four missions is to perform temple work for our dead, and we do not believe that we can be saved without them. Researching their ancestors is as much of a religious obligation for Mormons as circumcising a newborn son is for an observant Jew. The blessings of modern technology allow us to share our expertise and databases with anyone who finds them useful, which has the added benefit of turning Mormons’ hearts to others and theirs to us, at least when they need help tracking down a family line.
June 30, 2010 | 12:17 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Israeli Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem likes to think outside the box. While serving as Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles, he initiated outreach to the region’s Latino and Christian communities, including the Mormon Church. When he hired me as his press attaché, Yuval told me to behave myself or he’d have to report me to Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, with whom he met every year. During his diplomatic service in Los Angeles, three Mormons were hired as consulate employees or interns, a Mormon conducted the bilingual Yom Hazikaron memorial service for the Israeli community at Yuval’s request, and a Mormon emceed LA’s Israel Festival for the first time. A timely e-mail I received this week shows that the ambassador’s admiration for Mormons (which is certainly mutual) has led to the hiring of more Latter-day Saints to serve on his staff, this time as representatives of Israel in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji.
Greg Scott and his Australian wife, Tara, were living in Hawaii when she expressed her desire to move back to her homeland. They heard through the Mormon grapevine of an opening at the Israeli Embassy, and Ambassador Rotem and Greg hit it off immediately during the interview. Yuval hired Greg to work as his chief of staff and asked Tara to serve as his personal assistant. Having a non-Israeli husband and wife working in the same embassy had apparently never been done before, but anyone who knows Yuval is not surprised that he was able to make it happen.
For Israel’s 60th anniversary celebration, the ambassador asked Tara to be the face of the embassy and emcee a high-profile event at Parliament House with the Prime Minister, members of Parliament, and leaders from the Jewish communities in Australia. Last year Greg accompanied Yuval to Israel and assisted him in hosting an official Australian delegation headed by current Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Greg’s impression of the visit? “I sat in on meetings with President Shimon Peres, Tzipi Livni, and other cabinet ministers. It was an unbelievable experience and Israel was simply a beautiful place to visit.” In keeping with Mormon custom, Tara has left the embassy in order to raise her new baby. Greg continues to serve the Jewish state proudly, and Mormons continue to be proud of him and Tara for representing us with distinction.
In Los Angeles alone, I know of Mormons who are working or have worked for the Israeli Consulate General, ARMDI, ORT, a leading Reform synagogue, The Jewish Federation, and an ultra-Orthodox school. There are undoubtedly more. Clearly, if Mormons are interested in reaching out to other faiths in order to build relationships of trust, the Jewish community reaches back in a big way, be it in California or Canberra.
June 24, 2010 | 1:24 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
As I prepare to deliver pro-Jewish speeches in two eastern cities this weekend, I realized how fortunate I am to have such capable, caring colleagues on the LDS Church’s regional Jewish Relations Committee, which I advise. When I was the director of the committee, I called a young couple to serve with us. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce them on this blog.
Rachel Payne is a classical soprano and actress who studied voice at the Manhattan School of Music (which she likes to point out is across the street from the Jewish Theological Seminary). She has been involved with music since the age of 7 and currently sings in the choir of a major synagogue in Los Angeles. Here, in her own words, is why she enjoys working with the Jewish community:
“My involvement with Jews and Israel began at an early age. My parents went to the Holy Land without me when I was four years old and I was livid. I had been told so many Bible stories and seen the film The Ten Commandments so many times, and I wanted to go. When my parents returned, one of the gifts they bought for the family was a Hanukkah menorah. I remember that my mother took the time to light the candles and tell us about the tradition surrounding the holiday’s importance.
“I have always had a love and an interest in the traditions and the culture of the Jewish people as well as the landscape and history of Israel. So a unique and exciting destination for my honeymoon seemed appropriate. I married a man with a similar interest in the Jews and Israel, and not long after that trip we began serving in the Jewish community as liaisons between the Jewish and LDS people. I often find that it is through music that I have been able to make friendships, as my training is in classical music, and reading and singing in Hebrew is similar to the singing I do in Romance languages. I love the Jewish people, as I feel there is a forthrightness in the culture that allows for understanding and growth.”
The lucky man who shared this Israeli honeymoon experience with her is John Daniel (J.D.) Payne, a Yalie who is a screenwriter. It’s not hard to see what Rachel saw in him:
“I have had a life-long respect and admiration for the Jews and the special place they hold in the eye of the Lord as his covenant people. My respect evolved from theological to personal when, while living in Rome, I developed a relationship with an extremely well-educated Jew who became a friend and mentor. He told me I did not yet understand The Book of Mormon, the scriptural keystone of my faith, because, in his words, ‘I had not yet learned to think like a Jew.’ That remark set me on the path of learning I have now been on for roughly a decade.
“I was fortunate to marry a woman whose love for and interest in Jews matched my own. We honeymooned in Israel, which was, for more than one reason, a life-changing event. Standing at the Kotel on a wintry shabbat evening, I was deeply moved by what I saw. Here were Jews from around the world, all of different levels of observancy, celebrating their faith in a land that is theirs—not just spiritually, but politically as well. I had a deep conviction burned into my heart in that moment of how important it is to protect and preserve this, a place Judah can rightfully call home.
“After returning from home, my wife quickly became involved in working to further the ties between organized Latter-day Saint and Jewish communities in Los Angeles. We have served actively in the Jewish community, she (a professional opera singer) as a singer in several Jewish choirs, and I as a speaker for the Anti-Defamation League. We have organized meetings between rabbis and our own leaders; sent rabbis to Salt Lake City to learn about how Mormons go about engaging in tikkun olam; brought rabbis to our congregations to teach our people more about Judaism; held celebrations of LDS- Jewish friendship at both the Israeli consulate and Jewish Federation… and the list goes on. It brings me great happiness that, by those who know us in the Jewish Community, we are viewed not with suspicion, but as brothers. Fostering that perception and helping it to continue to spread is one of my life’s works.”
June 22, 2010 | 1:07 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
No one is, or ever could be, excluded from the circle of God’s love or the extended arms of His Church, for we are all His beloved sons and daughters. As President Hinckley said: “Our hearts reach out to those who struggle with feelings of affinity for the same gender. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and sisters”—God Loveth His Children, official LDS Church pamphlet
“The attitude of our tradition and of Reform Judaism toward homosexuals is clear… Judaism places great emphasis on family, children and the future, which is assured by a family… we canot accommodate the relationship of two homosexuals as a ‘marriage’ within the context of Judaism, for none of the elements of qiddushin (sanctification) normally associated with marriage can be invoked for this relationship. A rabbi cannot, therefore, participate in the ‘marriage’ of two homosexuals.”—Responsum, Central Conference of American Rabbis, October 1985
“Those who advocate homosexual marriage have not, in the opinion of our majority, met their burden of proof. That is, their arguments do not succeed in overcoming the opposition to this practice found in both the Jewish and the Western traditions…While we Reform Jews have departed from traditional practice in many areas, we continue to ‘abhor’ virtually all of the sexual prohibitions listed in Leviticus 18 and 20 as destructive of the Jewish conception of a life of holiness and morality…[To sanctify a same-sex marriage] would be a revolutionary step, one which would sunder us from all Jewish tradition, including our own, down to the most recent times.”—Responsum, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1996
I went to see the movie “8:The Mormon Proposition” on opening night in West Hollywood, a gay enclave in Los Angeles. Most of the 50 or so moviegoers were same-sex couples, and I was curious to observe their reactions to the anti-Mormon film. I didn’t have long to wait. The documentary’s opening scenes featured two young ex-Mormon men describing their courtship and eventual wedding in San Francisco on the first day that gays could legally marry in California. As they described their joy at finally being able to marry the person they loved after years of rejection, alienation, and heartache, the sounds of sniffles and muffled sobs filled the theater. Clearly their story had hit a nerve with the people around me, who undoubtedly had their own stories of rejection to share. This poignant moment alone was well worth the ticket price. I was also touched by the last part of the film, which examined the miserable lives of some gay teens in Utah. Unfortunately, the disingenuous “cry for an open dialogue” that appears on the film’s posters is likely to go unheeded by Mormons, who will understandably take offense at the film’s biased and dishonest portrayal of LDS beliefs and attitudes towards gays.
Full disclosure: if you had asked me before the Prop 8 campaign which issues I cared most about, gay marriage would not have made my top 50 list. Come to think of it, it still wouldn’t. A person’s sexual preference has always been irrelevant to me and, I suspect, to most Mormons as well. Like all Mormons I know, I oppose discrimination against gays in education, housing, and employment. I also support the designation of gays as a protected group for the purposes of hate crimes legislation (another Mormon who did was former U.S. Senator Gordon Smith, who co-sponsored a hate crimes inclusion bill for gays with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy). When the President of the LDS Church, a man whom I regard as a modern Moses, asked Church members in California to contribute their time and means to the Prop 8 campaign, I dutifully made a contribution, emceed a town hall meeting on Prop 8, arranged a few interfaith meetings, discussed our theology with a journalist at the request of a local Mormon leader, and generally gave little thought to gay marriage until Election Day, when I went online from South Africa to view the national and statewide results. It wasn’t until gay activists stormed the Mormon Temple in Los Angeles a few days later that the issue became a front burner one for me.
Now for full disclosure of LDS beliefs on homosexuality. [Note to “8” producers: if you’re going to belittle our beliefs, at least make sure that you accurately state them. Given all of the ex-Mormons involved in your project, I have to conclude that your distortion of our theology was deliberate]. Like many faiths, including Judaism, the LDS Church does not take a position on the cause(s) of sexual orientation. Mormons are free to believe that homosexuality is innate, a choice, a predisposition, or all three. Based on my discussions with gays, I firmly believe that in almost all cases they are either born with same-sex attraction or develop it at a very early age. I’ve found that people who believe otherwise usually have had few if any meaningful interactions with gays. I’d be willing to bet serious money that most Mormons in California agree with me.
In addition, Mormons do not believe that having homosexual feelings is sinful, so long as there is no accompanying sexual expression of those feelings (the identical restriction is placed on unmarried straights). Gays who remain chaste can and do serve in callings in the Church, worship in our temples, teach Sunday School, and enrich the lives of their fellow members. You won’t get this from the film, but unlike some other conservative Christians, Mormons are not in the business of condemning others to hell or pronouncing God’s judgments upon them. God alone will judge us, and we leave it up to Him to determine the final disposition of a soul. Finally, I am unaware of a religious belief system that is so diametrically opposed to homophobia. We believe that everyone who has been or will be born on earth is literally a spirit child of God, our brother or sister. We believe that we all lived together with God before this life, fought on the side of good against evil in the War in Heaven, and chose to come to earth. Needless to say, these fundamental beliefs leave absolutely no room for hatred of others, regardless of their race, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or religion. A Mormon bigot should be an oxymoron, and Mormons who hate gays are hypocrites. Am I denying that there are Mormon homophobes? Of course not. Any organization of 14 million members is bound to have self-righteous bigots in its ranks, and we do have our share. However, it is deceitful to attempt to portray these people as representing the majority of straight Mormons, who regard gays as their spiritual siblings.
One major flaw in the film is the lack of context for the LDS Church’s long-standing opposition to gay marriage and promotion of gay relationships. To hear the anti-Prop 8 folks talk, the Mormon Church seems to be obsessed with gays. In fact, the Church opposes all sexual expression outside of male-female marriage, including pornography, adultery, fornication, and homosexual relationships, all of which it considers to be serious sins. Most of these practices do not have public advocates. There is no American Association of Adulterers, for example. [If there were, you can bet that the Church would oppose its efforts to promote infidelity]. However, there is an organized gay lobby, and while the Church has consistently opposed gay marriage, it has not opposed gays’ efforts to secure employment, housing, or educational rights (as a church that truly hated gays would have done). It might surprise some readers to learn that modern Mormon scriptures (The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price), which strongly denounce sexual immorality, do not mention homosexuality by name. While I have heard plenty of sermons advocating chastity, I have yet to hear one that singles out sexually active gays. Truth be told, the sexual sin that is denounced in stronger terms than any other also has an organized lobby, albeit one with a lower profile: pornography is harshly condemned by LDS leaders, and anti-pornography groups always count Mormons among their ranks.
The desire of gays to marry makes perfect sense. On a certain level I’m envious of those who have found a life partner, something I have yet to do. It also makes sense that gays would regard marriage as a civil right, which explains their outrage over the Prop 8 vote. If I thought that millions of Californians were actively conspiring to deny civil rights to their fellow citizens, I’d be marching in the streets as well. That said, I cannot empathize with the bigots in the gay community who attempt to portray people of faith who oppose gay marriage as homophobic haters. This is nonsense. As the above quotes show, even the leading rabbis of the Reform movement (the most liberal of Judaism’s three major movements) were opposed to performing Jewish same-sex wedding ceremonies until 2000, when they stopped citing Jewish law and tradition in their responsa on the subject, appealing instead to a sense of “justice,” “human dignity” and civil rights. During the Prop 8 public debate, every Orthodox rabbi who publicly cited Jewish law was criticized by a Reform counterpart who used entirely secular arguments. Were major Reform rabbis who opposed Jewish sanctification of gay marriages until this decade all a bunch of homophobes? Are Orthodox Jews seething with hatred against gays because they insist on following the dictates of Jewish law and tradition? How exactly does violating the Torah’s sexual prohibitions enhance human dignity? Is there an example in the Hebrew Bible or Talmud to support this? People whose deeply-held religious beliefs are incompatible with gay marriage deserve better than to be tagged with puerile labels by people holding a different point of view.
Far from encouraging dialogue, the documentary left me with a feeling of frustration and sadness. Unfortunately, this is an issue on which the two sides will never begin to agree. In the aftermath of Prop 8, a gay pastor and I set up a meeting of gay religious leaders and their LDS counterparts to see whether we could start a dialogue. The Mormons were unprepared for the raw emotion on display, and the meeting quickly fell apart. The low point came when an impassioned gay rabbi threw his marriage certificate down on the table and invited the Mormons to tear it up, then invoked his parents’ suffering in a concentration camp in an ill-considered effort to justify his marriage to another man. We were all speechless. While the LDS leaders tried to emphasize their warm feelings towards gays, all the people across the table wanted to discuss was the violation of their “civil rights.” They even tried to bring up the “separation of church and state” red herring. As we pointed out, no Mormon congregation in the state had done nearly as much to promote our cause as gay churches and synagogues had done to promote theirs. Unless they wanted to disenfranchise Mormons, Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Muslims, and other Prop 8 supporters, they should admit that we have as much right as they do to promote our values and to vote accordingly. While tax-exempt religious organizations are not allowed to sponsor political candidates, they can certainly encourage their members to support initiatives that enshrine their values into law. The church/state separation principle has to do with government endorsement or prohibition of religion, not with the right of churches to support moral causes.
That the LDS Church was singled out for scrutiny by election officials responding to a targeted complaint doesn’t bother me in the least. After all, if we’re willing to raise tens of millions of dollars for a cause, we should be willing to take the heat from our opponents when they lose. If we fund the commercials, even indirectly, then we’re responsible for their content. However, the threats to Mormons’ jobs and “outing” of their Prop 8 contributions are less justifiable. I was the target of such efforts, and am pleased to report that Jews from several movements defended me when bigots tried to get me fired. Most of my defenders disagreed with me on gay marriage, but they were first and foremost opposed to intolerance.
I have a final thought. Mormons would do well to make an extra effort to combat anti-gay bigotry in our community. It is intolerable to think that a “good” Mormon parent would disown his child because of her sexual orientation, regardless of whether she is chaste. It is also wrong for a Mormon to condemn gays as people or to regard them as anything less than God’s children created in His image. One of the questions that is asked of members who wish to enter our temples is the following: “Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?” How can a parent who disowns his child for being gay qualify for a temple recommend? We all have things we can work on in our lives, and we do not have to condone people’s lifestyles in order to make them feel welcome at our services and activities. Jesus Christ loved everyone, and we have an obligation to do so as well. I long for the day when a Mormon’s anti-gay feelings will be seen as a severe character defect instead of a slight eccentricity. I know that members of my stake (= diocese) are actively looking for service projects that they can perform with local gay organizations, and we hope to identify one or two ASAP. We don’t have to agree on gay marriage in order to work together to improve the world. While it’s relatively easy to splice together anti-Mormon clips and lash out at the Church, the real work of promoting dialogue is a lot harder—and ultimately more rewarding. I am optimistic that there are members of the gay community who are as committed to promoting understanding as “8”‘s producers are to undermining it.