Friday, May 16, 2008

Same-sex Marriage

After the recent firestorm of blogging that has hit the bloggernacle, in which I participated, there were some things unsaid that I felt I needed to work out in my mind. This was the only place that I had available to me that provided a format for references and easy accessibility.

The recent decision by my native state to officially overturned a voter approved initiative from eight years ago that stated Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. has left me with several conflicting feelings that need expression in the context of being a husband and father. There are two main issues here that on the surface, seem to be diametrically opposed, and upon further inspection, turn out to be finely linked and related. I wish to address these issues at least to the level of personal satisfaction, but it almost certainly won't be to everyone's.

This decision disturbs me on a couple of levels. First, my conservative view on marriage is offended by a vocal minority disrupting the institution that has existed since the dawn of time. I honestly and truly believe that society is worse off if same-sex marriage is allowed. It has nothing to do with the people themselves, but the lifestyle they choose to live. It's not private, no matter how much people protest the institution's innocuousness. Marriage matters, and marriage re-defined will change not only the dictionary, but all people living in their cities, states, and country.

The Proclamation on the Family states:
Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
Heavenly Father has organized the family in a certain way, with a mother and a father having specific gender roles that provide specific things to the raising of children. Changing the implementation of this divinely designed unit will lead to national calamity. Therefore, should we not fight to preserve the family unit, including heterosexual marriage with all the power we posses? I would argue that anyone who claims to believe the Proclamation to be a divinely inspired document would feel compelled to.

Elder Oaks, in an interview with the Church's Public Affairs dept. on the subject of gay marriage said:
This is much bigger than just a question of whether or not society should be more tolerant of the homosexual lifestyle. Over past years we have seen unrelenting pressure from advocates of that lifestyle to accept as normal what is not normal, and to characterize those who disagree as narrow-minded, bigoted and unreasonable. Such advocates are quick to demand freedom of speech and thought for themselves, but equally quick to criticize those with a different view and, if possible, to silence them by applying labels like “homophobic.” In at least one country where homosexual activists have won major concessions, we have even seen a church pastor threatened with prison for preaching from the pulpit that homosexual behavior is sinful. Given these trends, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must take a stand on doctrine and principle. This is more than a social issue — ultimately it may be a test of our most basic religious freedoms to teach what we know our Father in Heaven wants us to teach.
In addition to the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets, a more immediate effect on freedom to worship God is in jeopardy because of a slip in social morality. We should be aware of an respond to all attempts to undermine religious freedoms in our country including the increasing social acceptance of gay marriage.

To shift gears slightly, I wanted to address the issue of homosexuality itself. I want to make it clear that from a Church perspective, that same-gender attraction is not insurmountable, it is not acceptable, and it is not normal.

Those who have same-gender attraction are given direction from church leaders on how to handle their situation. First, from the same discussion with the Church's public affairs dept., we have a statement from Elder Wickman:
Same-gender attraction did not exist in the pre-earth life and neither will it exist in the next life.
Then from Elder Oaks on how same-sex attraction should be handled:
The distinction between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other hand, is very clear. It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression. The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not unique. Even the Savior was tempted.
He goes on to say that same-gender attraction should be treated in the same way all sin is treated. Avoid it. Don't entertain thoughts about it. Put yourself in a position of control over it and it won't be a problem. This is how to put off the natural man, which is an enemy to God. Changing laws to make behavior accepted is not the solution. Redefining marriage will not provide protection from eternal consequences.

Elder Oaks continues, speaking about the condition of marriage for people with same-gender attraction. It is only recommended for those "who have cleansed themselves of any transgression and who have shown their ability to deal with these feelings or inclinations and put them in the background, and feel a great attraction for a daughter of God and therefore desire to enter marriage and have children and enjoy the blessings of eternity — that’s a situation when marriage would be appropriate."

Some people claim that this position is not sensitive enough to a person's basic desire to have a family in this life and eternal companionship. They want equality in the eyes of the law so that they can have a hope of marriage in this life according to their currently oriented attractions. To this Elder Oaks replied:
The circumstance of being currently unable to marry, while tragic, is not unique.
He and Elder Wickman go on to discuss the situation of many people who, because of physical, mental, or other limitations, won't have a marriage opportunity in this life. However, the Atonement makes it possible for all people, who live worthily now, to have all blessings given to them.
If I can keep myself worthy here, if I can be true to gospel commandments, if I can keep covenants that I have made, the blessings of exaltation and eternal life that Heavenly Father holds out to all of His children apply to me. Every blessing — including eternal marriage — is and will be mine in due course.
From a church perspective, marriage is not guaranteed for all people during mortality. It is only guaranteed for people who keep certain commandments and covenants. Putting off same-gender attraction may not be easy, but it is required for eternal salvation and happiness in this life. From what Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman have said, there will be greater sorrow in yielding to the sin of homosexual behavior in this life than in abstaining from any kind of marriage now, and waiting for the eternal promises made possible through the Atonement.

The next more debated area of discussion is the legal aspect. Personally, my patriotic sensitivities are bruised by this heavy-handed decision. If the voters don't have ultimate say, then what freedoms are safe? How can a court legislate from the bench laws that the people don't want? It seems that Lincoln's dream that democratic government "of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" has already begun to die.

The courts were created as a check against the legislatures, not against the will of the people. I would go so far as to say that the people are a check against themselves and that no government entity should trump what the voters have already decided. Here we have the government (of California) unilaterally overturning the will of the voters. Since an amendment is the only legal recourse, I hope that they will be able to join the other 30+ states that have amended their constitutions to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

This decision also presents several legal questions as it related to polygamy, and other "non traditional" marriage states. Since the decision was aimed at the discriminatory language of Prop. 22, it sets a precedent for protecting other classes of citizens including people whose religious beliefs allow for polygamy. At least in California.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Parent-Child Equality

I have a ten-year-old son and an almost eight-year-old daughter that are deeply interested in everything I do. I've been told that this will change (at least in appearance) when they become teenagers, but for now, they want to be involved in everything and anything that I'm interested in. This means that if I'm watching a movie or TV show, playing a computer game, or puttering around in my woodshop, their eyes are on me and what I am doing.

The church advises us to keep a certain standard in what media we consume, explicitly forbidding pornography and "R" rated movies. Some LDS parents that I know have stated that some PG-13 movies are even too harsh to view with their families. While each family has to make that decision for themselves, we continued to watch some PG-13 movies (like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Harry Potter IV). However, we made a change to that policy recently that started with the Doc-Oc hospital scene in Spider-Man 2 and solidified into a hard ban on PG-13 movies just a few months ago.

About four or five years ago, my wife and I decided to make our family relationships a level playing field. That means that whatever standards we set for the kids, we live ourselves. So if I'm watching a movie with my wife, we don't shoo the kids out of the room. If I'm playing a video game that makes me feel uncomfortable playing in front of the kids, I don't tell them to find something else to do. If I'm surfing on the internet, they can feel free to hop on my lap and watch as I blog or email or chat. Sometimes, my daughter has pithy things to say about the things I write online. :D

So when the aforementioned scene in Spider-Man 2 popped onto the screen during the parental preview, my wife and I turned to each other and decided then and there that PG-13 movies were no good for our kids. More importantly, we realized that if they weren't any good for our kids, they probably weren't any good for us.

This is very important because it flies in the face of how I was raised. There was always a division between kids and adults. There was always things the adults did that the kids could not do. Now, I'm erasing part of that line by not doing things that my kids can't or shouldn't do themselves. It's not a self-righteous thing, it's an equality thing. I don't want to be a hypocrite, this seems like the right thing to do.

So where do you draw the line? Should there be things that adults watch but exclude the kids? Should there be different standards?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Divorces Down in US. A Good Thing?

According to a recent study, divorce rates are steadily falling in the United States since their peak in 1981. Experts cite a number of reasons for this, including:
  1. Cohabitation has increased ten times the rate in the 1960's.
  2. Marriage rate has declined thirty percent in the past twenty-five years.
  3. Couples that do marry wait five more years than they did in 1970.
  4. Marriage rates among the poor are even lower than current averages.
According to one of the experts, this all adds up to a bad situation and I wholeheartedly agree.

On the face, these statistics don't mean much, but if you combine them with real world situations, things get a lot more shocking. Extrapolating the US trend to the entire world yields an interesting outcome. The following facts illustrate this.
  1. There are more poor people in the world than any other class.
  2. Poor people choose to cohabitate rather than marry at greater rates that more affluent people.
  3. Poor people have children regardless of marital status.
  4. Financial problems in a marriage (much less a domestic partnership) are the leading cause of divorce.
  5. When two parents split up, it counts as a divorce to the kids, even if their parents weren't married.
  6. Divorce is the leading cause of juvenile delinquency.
Here's my summary of the above facts: Most of the people in the world are poor, are more readily prone to cohabitation, and are therefore threatening their children with juvenile delinquency. A declining divorce rate is not a good thing, which happens to be the point of the linked article.

This article is timely because of the wonderful address by Dallin H. Oaks in the most recent General Conference.

In it, he said:

We live in a world in which the whole concept of marriage is in peril and where divorce is commonplace.

The concept that society has a strong interest in preserving marriages for the common good as well as the good of the couple and their children has been replaced for many by the idea that marriage is only a private relationship between consenting adults, terminable at the will of either.1

...

The weakening of the concept that marriages are permanent and precious has far-reaching consequences. Influenced by their own parents' divorce or by popular notions that marriage is a ball and chain that prevents personal fulfillment, some young people shun marriage. Many who marry withhold full commitment, poised to flee at the first serious challenge.

The last line is especially poignant. "Many who marry withhold full commitment, poised to flee at the first serious challenge." This, to me sends a clear signal to everyone, especially latter-day saints, to increase commitment and to rise the serious challenges that are part of being married. If we cannot weather the storms of life with someone there to help us, then how much worse off we will be without them.

Then, Elder Oaks says this:

In contrast, modern prophets have warned that looking upon marriage "as a mere contract that may be entered into at pleasure . . . and severed at the first difficulty . . . is an evil meriting severe condemnation," especially where children are made to suffer.2

In ancient times and even under tribal laws in some countries where we now have members, men have power to divorce their wives for any trivial thing. Such unrighteous oppression of women was rejected by the Savior, who declared:

"Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

"And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (Matthew 19:8–9).

The kind of marriage required for exaltation—eternal in duration and godlike in quality—does not contemplate divorce. In the temples of the Lord, couples are married for all eternity. But some marriages do not progress toward that ideal. Because "of the hardness of [our] hearts," the Lord does not currently enforce the consequences of the celestial standard. He permits divorced persons to marry again without the stain of immorality specified in the higher law. Unless a divorced member has committed serious transgressions, he or she can become eligible for a temple recommend under the same worthiness standards that apply to other members.

Two things strike me with this. First, he directly challenges the notion of an undercommitted marriage. He quotes David O. McKay and calls this "an evil meriting severe condemnation." How much more strongly worded can one be?

The second thing is how Elder Oaks calls out the disparity in the treatment of women by some men. He says, "Such unrighteous oppression of women was rejected by the Savior..." and then quotes him. I don't think there is a higher level of authority on this (or any subject) than the Savior. One of the notions of the article is that one possible cause of a decrease in divorce is that gender roles are becoming less rigid. This may be true, but so, too, may an increase in income from having two working adults in the home.

If these last two statements are true, how does that coexist with the teachings of the church on the family unit? Specifically, about how the husband is primarily responsible for providing temporally and the wife is primarily responsible for nurturing children? When the church tells us that women shouldn't work (where possible) does that contribute to an increase in divorce?

Personally, I think that any correlation between dual incomes and a decrease in divorce is, at best a single generation indicator. The rising generation will have less access to their parents because they are both out of the house during the day. They will have been shunted off to nannies, grandparents, and day-care providers instead of reared in the home by their parents. This will not produce a generation of independent, morally upright adults, but will instill co-dependence on society, and place a greater burden on society to fix the resulting problems. There is a reason that the Lord designed our lives in families, with gender roles defined by the nature of each gender. If there was a better way, he would have already implemented it.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Modesty Lesson

For some families, the topic of modesty can be one of the most divisive issues they face. Modesty encompasses several key points of argument for youth (and teen-like children) including agency and one of the first things that youth often rebel against: Modest Dress and Appearance.

Recently, our Bishop directed the Relief Society President of our ward to discuss two topics in our fifth Sunday combined Priesthood/Relief Society meeting. One was pornography and the other was modesty. In her presentation on modesty, our Relief Society President read the above linked section on Dress and Appearance. This was old news for me and nothing would have changed at the Kenning household were it not for the next thing she discussed. I will quote the relevant part of the FtSoY pamphlet here.

"Immodest clothing includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire."


She asked, "How short is short?" The church doesn't say and rightly so! However, she said that in her house, they use the BYU honor code, which among other things, states, "Shorts must be knee length or longer."

That made me ponder how we were implementing this policy in our own household. I have a ten year old son and a soon-to-be eight year old daughter. Both of our children have had moments where their desire to wear a certain item of clothing has clashed with the FtSoY pamphlet's directive. Our daughter, however, has always pushed harder and more frequently, so setting a clear standard with her was a very important thing to me. The idea that shorts, skirts, and dresses would have be to the knee or longer was to me an easy, clearly definable, and self-policing policy.

It's too bad I didn't talk it over with my wife before I presented it to my family.

Oops.

Brethren. If there are any of you out there that do this, repent now. Believe me when I say that blanket applications of even the most righteous standards in a family without consulting with your wife is a very bad move. Chances are there's a better way to do it, because most of the time, it's your wife that ends up enforcing the rules.

Back to modesty... After my family recovered from my rigid stupidity, we were able to talk about the church's standards and work out a strategy to always live accordingly. One of the things we talked about was that children should cover their bodies as if they were wearing the temple garment already. This does two very important things: 1) It sets the standard early so that when it comes time to be endowed, there is less "shock" over the changes needed in apparel. 2) It teaches our children that there are clear lines that should never be crossed, and living the gospel has specific rewards.

In hindsight, I would have presented the new standards a little differently, but most importantly, I would have had the discussion with my wife first, before presenting it to the whole family. Suffice it to say modesty wasn't the only thing we learned about that night.

Welcome Post

There are many blogs in the blogosphere relating to the LDS church. They cover a wide range of topics from doctrinal discussions, to life as a Mormon housewife. Most blogs are general, seeking to cover a broad range of topics. In the ensuing discussions, most contributors seem to take a portion of the message and post on that one thing. This means that discussions can range from the mundane to the farcical. What I seek to do differently with this blog is to take those same discussions and focus them on how they apply to the solemn responsibilities that husbands and wives have to "love and care for each other and for their children".

It is my belief that there is no greater work that man or woman can do than to raise the next generation and that both men and women "will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations."

This will be more than a blog that gives seminary answers to this issue. By "seminary answers", I mean the basics (i.e. prayer, scripture study, attend church, pay tithing, etc.) If you need help doing these things, then talk with your Bishop. The church has much better mechanisms for accomplishing those goals than a blog could ever replace.

That doesn't mean you don't have a place here if you aren't perfect at anything on that list! Heck, I miss one or more of those from time to time. It's just that this isn't the place to seek help doing them -- it's for the next step(s) after the basics as they apply to families. Once you are comfortable with your ability to do those things (the milk), then you are ready for the meat. I hope that this blog will be a place where we can discuss things that are more meaty rather than milky. :)