About Corazon

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Excommunication: A Purifying Fire

"When you complain, you make yourself a victim.  Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it.  All else is madness." -Eckhart Tolle

This past week, I have watched as many of my Facebook friends (mostly Mormon) have expressed their feelings on the Kate Kelly/John Dehlin excommunication saga.  For those who are not familiar with these names let me offer you a very brief introduction. Kate Kelly is the founder of Ordain Women: a group that is dedicated to bringing about gender equality by seeking ordination to the priesthood. John Dehin is the creator of numerous websites (most notably Mormon Stories) that are dedicated to discussing some of the more difficult aspects of Mormon history.

To make a very long story short, both Kelly and Dehlin have come under fire as of late, even being issued letters of warning from their local church leaders that included the possibility of excommunication.  For Kate Kelly, the threat became a reality as she was excommunicated from the Mormon church early yesterday morning.

Excommunication is nothing new to Mormonism or to the whole of Christianity.  Jesus himself even prescribed the appropriate situation in which to remove a fellow Christian from among the masses. In Matthew 18: 15-20 we read:
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
The bolded text above has been used by many a Christian sect to justify the practice of excommunication.  In other Bible translations, the word heathen is translated as gentile. In other words, he/she who will not heed the counsel of the church is to be cut off from that church.

What I find most interesting about this particular Bible passage is the fact that it is sandwiched between two other important teachings that Jesus emphasized regarding forgiveness.  In verses 12-14 Jesus references the 99 and 1 sheep and the commandment to go to the one lost sheep.  In verses 21-23 Jesus tells Peter that we are commanded to forgive "seventy times seven."  In short, the guidelines for excommunication are neatly placed between Jesus' admonition to succor the one wayward sheep and his commandment to forgive as often as needed.  Coincidence?  I think not.

As far as Kate Kelly's excommunication is concerned, I know that feelings on both sides of the isle are quite tender.  Kelly has had a great deal of support for her cause and many of her supporters see this action as an insult not only to Kelly, but to them as well.  The following video clip from Kate Kelly's rally illustrates just how intense feelings have become over this issue:


It isn't my place or my intent to weigh in on whether or not Mormon women deserve to have the priesthood. Besides, what I have to say on the matter isn't going to change anyone's opinion. Instead, what I do hope will happen from all of this is people on both sides will come to a better understanding of how excommunication can be a great equalizing force for good.

First, let me say that I support the right of the Mormon Church (or any church for that matter) to implement disciplinary standards as they see fit.  It is their right to do so.  And to those who believe that Jesus' love would prevent him from ever excommunicating anyone, I simply say remember the Bible verses mentioned above, along with other verses such as:
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell (Matt. 5: 29-30).
Jesus wasn't some hippie who accepted the beliefs, behaviors and ideas of everyone.  Instead he was a revolutionary who believed in unconditional love and preached repentance.

Regardless of what we may think, excommunication is, in many cases, an act of love.  It releases a person from further liability and condemnation.  I realize that this interpretation of excommunication may come off offensive to some so let me explain:

When I was on my mission (in Antofagasta, Chile) I met a bishop who unfortunately lost his wife in an accident.  It was a tragic event for his family and it completely rocked their world.  In an effort to ease his burdens, the church immediately released him from his calling.  He was very grateful for that.  As he later told me, there was no way he could meet up to those responsibilities any longer.

And so it is with excommunication (at least in some instances).  The person has had a life-changing event in which he/she needs to be released from their responsibilities as a Christian.  They cannot live up to those responsibilities any longer and as a result, excommunication is a tool that can help them in the long run.

I am fully aware of the fact that this is easy for me to say.  After all, I have never been a part of, nor have I witnessed a church disciplinary proceeding.  I also recognize that my above description doesn't apply to all cases either. As hard as it may be to admit, there are good and bad cases of excommunication in all faiths, but in the end I believe they almost always lead to positive things.

Just this past week, Pope Francis (my favorite Pope ever) excommunicated members of the Italian Mafia for their lengthy and extensive history in committing a variety of crimes.  I think most of us would applaud Pope Francis for this brave and bold move.  But nearly 500 years ago, another pope made the terrible decision to excommunicate a young radical named Martin Luther, who opposed a number of teachings of the Catholic Church.  And though most everyone would agree that the decision to excommunicate Luther was the wrong one, I also think that a great deal of good came from it.  After all, Luther's excommunication became a galvanizing force for many of his followers and helped to pave the way for the Protestant Reformation.

And the same can be said of my own faith.  During its early years, Mormon leaders excommunicated dozens of members who opposed the doctrine of polygamy.  Some of those members were later reinstated following the 1890 manifesto that officially abolished polygamy in the church.  There are even better examples in recent years.  In 1942, a young 17-year-old German by the name of Helmuth Hübener was excommunicated for opposing the ideas of one Adolf Hitler.  Hübener was later reinstated as a member, but only after being put to death for opposing Nazi tyranny.  He never lived to see his reinstatement.  And then there's the case of Douglas Wallace and Byron Merchant, who were excommunicated in 1976 and 1977 respectively for opposing the church's ban on Blacks not being able to receive the priesthood.  It was only a year later that the priesthood ban on Black members was to be lifted for good.

So how does all of this apply to Kate Kelly?  To be honest I have no clue.  Maybe the day will come when Kelly will be hailed as a hero for having stood upon her principles.  Maybe those responsible will one day eat their words and feel remorse for the role they played in her excommunication.  Or maybe the day will come when Ordain Women simply loses support and those involved come to regret their involvement.  If so, hopefully they will be reconciled to the church and be welcomed back into the fold. Either way, I do believe that Kate Kelly's excommunication has the potential to bring about a great deal of good.

Regardless of how this all plays out, I hope that we will all be able to glean some important lessons from this week's events.  Here are a few lessons that come to mind for me personally:
1.) There are no winners here. Kelly's excommunication does not vindicate anyone. It is a sad day. Even if you disagree with her and her movement we should all agree that our job is to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who need comfort (Mosiah 18: 9).
2.) Jesus really was all about love, but that doesn't mean he was about accepting everyone and everything.  There's enough in that statement to keep us humbly pondering for guidance for the rest of our lives.
3.) Excommunication really can be a good thing, so long as the individual or institution is humble enough to admit that change is necessary.
4.) Even though Jesus prescribed the manner in which to excommunicate, he sandwiched that teaching in between his commandments to care for the one lost sheep and to forgive as often as is necessary.  
In conclusion, I can think of no better way to help us all come to terms with these difficult discussions than to appeal to the Serenity Prayer, which next the the Lord's Prayer and the Jesus Prayer is my all-time favorite prayer.  It's wisdom is endless:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,The courage to change the things I can,And the wisdom to know the difference."
Amen, and Amen.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mormonism: The Third Most Hated Religion in America???

In a recent post on her website, Mormon author and blogger Jana Reiss references research conducted by Sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, who reveal data in their book, American Grace regarding which religions are the most disliked in American society.  To almost nobody's surprise, Islam tops the list, followed (surprisingly) by Buddhism, while Mormonism took home the bronze medal.

To be honest, I believe that what this research reveals (for the most part) is the fact that Americans are, by and large, astoundingly ignorant when it comes to the topic of religion.  Our hatred for Islam, for example, is chiefly driven by misguided prejudice and extreme paranoia.  And Buddhism!?!  I fail to see how anyone could esteem that religious group as one of the more "undesirable" sects to have around.

Again, I believe that this survey illustrates the fact that Americans are completely illiterate when it comes to religion.  In a recent article in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof notes recent data that I believe supports my general thesis. He writes:
Secular Americans are largely ignorant about religion, but, in surveys, religious Americans turn out to be scarcely more knowledgeable.
“Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion,” Stephen Prothero noted in his book, “Religious Literacy.” “Atheists may be as rare in America as Jesus-loving politicians are in Europe, but here faith is almost entirely devoid of content. One of the most religious countries on earth is also a nation of religious illiterates.” 
Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they believe that the Bible holds the answer to all or most of life’s basic questions. Yet only one-third know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and 10 percent think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. 
Many Americans know even less about other faiths, from Islam to Hinduism. Several days after 9/11, a vigilante shot and killed an Indian-American Sikh because of the assumption that a turban must mean a Muslim: Ignorance and murderous bigotry joined in one. 
All this goes to the larger question of the relevance of the humanities. Literature, philosophy and the arts have come to be seen as effete and irrelevant, but if we want to understand the world around us and think deeply about it, it helps to have exposure to Shakespeare and Kant, Mozart and Confucius — and, yes, Jesus, Moses and the Prophet Muhammad.
As for the extreme disdain that many Americans have towards my own faith (Mormonism), I believe this data reveals at least part of the answer but not all.

Throughout most of its history, Mormonism has been a recipient of bigotry and persecution on the part of the American populace.  Everything from the Haun's Mill Massacre, the murder of Joseph Smith and the eventual expulsion to Western territories in its early years, to more recent events like the Reed Smoot hearings and even questions about Mitt Romney's possible church allegiances during his presidential bids, Mormonism has had the proverbial target on its back for some time now.  And though these (and many other) events demonstrate just how deep anti-Mormon sentiment can go, I believe there is another mitigating factor that explains why Mormons are one of the most disliked religions in America.

In short, it's OUR fault...and by our fault I mean us Mormons.

As mentioned above, blogger Jana Reiss references a study by Sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, which reveals that Mormons are the third most disliked religion in America.  In addition to this finding, the study also revealed what members of each faith thought about their own respective religions.  To their surprise, Mormons came out on top:
Mormons ranked highest in “in-group attachment,” a finding the researchers felt was surprising, especially since three of the other groups that made the top five–Jews, Catholics, and Black Protestants–have their bonds cemented by a shared ethnicity. About 85% of Mormons say they feel a great warmth toward their own tribe. 
In short, Mormons really, really think highly of themselves.

So what do we make of a study that finds Mormons as one of the most hated religions in America, while at the same time emerging as the religion that loves itself the most?  I believe Jana Reiss (a devout Mormon herself) provides the best answer possible:
It would help if we stopped regarding ourselves as the finest people on the planet. We ought to take a long, hard look at the fact that we voted our own group tops in this research. It’s one thing to be proud of our religious group and its teachings, but it’s another thing entirely to communicate, as many Mormons seem to, that we feel we have a monopoly on religious truth and strong families. A dose of humility is in order here.
I couldn't agree more.  I for one have grown tired of the old Mormon rhetoric which suggests that we alone are the guardians of all that is right and good in the world.  We Mormons pride ourselves on our own delusions of grandeur.  We prove more than willing to dismiss or belittle the beliefs of others by clothing ourselves in the blanket of pious superiority.  Only our families are eternal, only our baptism counts, and only our priesthood heals.

Don't get me wrong here, I love my faith and I am proud of it.  In my estimation, Mormonism is an awesome life choice and it has brought me a tremendous amount of happiness.  With that being said, I must also admit that I have seen how we as a faith tend to ignore reality on too many occasions.  We prefer the "hear no evil, see no evil" mantra as a way to reassure ourselves that "all is well in Zion."  After all, the "church is perfect" isn't it!?!

Sorry, but it isn't that simple.  We as members of the Mormon faith need to quit seeing ourselves as a people who are separate and apart from the evils of the world, or as having some sort of preferred status in the eyes of God.  We would do well to remember the words of Christ, who reminded the Jews that God could raise up seed unto Abraham from mere stones (Matt. 3: 9). Instead of standing tall on our personal or communal "Rameumptoms" and thanking God for giving us "more truth," "more love," or "more righteousness" like the Zoramites of old (Book of Mormon reference for those not of my faith), perhaps we should first follow the advise of Will Rogers, who reminds us to "never miss a great opportunity to shut up."

***On a side note, have any of my fellow Mormons ever wondered why the Zoramite/Rameumtom story is in the Book of Mormon to begin with?  Maybe it was meant for us?***

In addition, there is another reason that we as a faith need to be willing to not think so highly of ourselves and return to earth.  Too often, members of the LDS faith suffer from the tremendous burden of having to "be perfect."  We succumb to the false portrayals of what a "good Mormon" is supposed to look like, act like, feel like, etc.  As a result, we become far too critical of ourselves and of others.  We use the excuse of "righteous rebuking" to justify gossip and other forms of trash talk.  In so doing, we make life VERY hard on anyone who doesn't fit the Mormon mold.  It's no wonder why Utah leads the nation in the use of anti-depressants.

And shame on us!  It's time that we as a faith recognize the FACT that not everyone is content in Zion.  Popcorn doesn't pop on everyone's apricot tree, some families are not so glad when daddy comes home, there are some houses where love is not spoken there and some people find it too hard to turn their "frowny face" into a smile.  And newsflash: IT'S NOT ALWAYS THEIR FAULT!!!  Try as they might, they cannot pray away, fast away or obey away all the pain.

There has been many a member who has done a great deal of harm with the best of intentions.  We may proudly sing of families being together forever but ignore the fact that some in our respective wards struggle with part member families or "wayward" children.  We may give thanks to God during our testimony meetings for our awesome spouses or for heavenly healings granted to sick loved ones, while at the same time ignoring the single mother/father in the audience or the widow whose husband didn't receive divine intervention.  Like it or not, maybe there are some instances when it is better for us to guard our tongues than to sing God's praises.

I don't mean to be too critical here.  Mormonism is an AWESOME faith!  I love it.  In my estimation, we do more for one another than virtually any other faith.  We care for one another, we pray for one another, we fast for one another, we serve one another, we bond with one another. But do we only do these things for those who "fit the mold?"  Unfortunately, I think that sometimes the answer to this question is: yes.  Mormonism is awesome when you are one of the 99 sheep, but it's not so awesome when you're the lone black sheep.  It is my hope that we as a faith can be less critical of one another, more accepting of those not of our faith (along with their beliefs) and more willing to show Christ-like humility as opposed to ecclesiastical arrogance.  When we learn this lesson, I think you will see us give up that unwanted bronze medal for most disliked faith in America.

Some awards just aren't worth having on your wall.