Tuesday, June 13, 2017

When Heroing Hurts

The stories we love the most have a hero or heroine, or better yet, a hero and a heroine.  And its even better if the two of them fall in love.  When I read a book or watch a movie I want noble heroes and happy endings.

But at times when I watch a great hero story, underneath my excitement and joy over good triumphing there is something darker - something that smacks of envy, jealousy, discontent. Why?  Because deep down, I wish that hero was me. Something in me longs for that rush of self-satisfaction, the pleasure of "feeling good about me", to know, or at least believe, I came through, I matter, I made a difference, I am valuable and therefore worthy of acceptance, approval, love. But the operative word is always "I." And therein lies the potential relational toxicity.

Is it wrong to come through, or to want to come through? I don't think so. We were created to be in relationships, to love, help, encourage, protect, care, save even. But why do we want to do it? And what happens if we don't succeed? Those two questions, related to motive and outcome, make all the difference.

If my primary motivation for entering into another's story is so I can feel good about me, so I can get a hit of the 'hero' drug to calm or dispel my own fear of feeling inadequate, worthless, or insignificant, my 'heroing' has hurt.  Instead of being curious and caring I've pried. Instead of being open and invitational I've demanded more details. Instead of listening to a hurting or confused heart, I've rushed to dispense my wisdom and insight. And at the end of it all, instead of being humbled by my own inadequacy in the face of another's deep pain, tragedy or chaos, I've felt proud of how much they shared and how much I was there for them. Or, if it didn't go well from my perspective, if I failed in my heroing, I've felt bummed, frustrated and empty.  Tragically, regardless of the outcome, if my motive was me I remained oblivious to how much damage I did and how much I likely hindered the true work of the Holy Spirit.

I have a reminder on my desk, a small, three-sided piece of engraved marble that I've looked at numerous times while writing this. On one side it has black felt so it doesn't scratch my desk. On a second side it has Colossians 3:17, "Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus." On the third side it has this from Mother Teresa:
"We can do no great things; only small things with great love."
I bought it years ago when I recognized my penchant for wanting to do great things so I could feel good about me.  The Holy Spirit used it to prick my ego bubble and remind me that my job is to love and point people to Jesus as the true Hero of everyone's story.

But man, that selfish desire to be the hero runs deep in me, a dragon that has to be slain over and over again. Gratefully, Jesus has instilled an even deeper desire in my new heart, a desire to embrace my own inadequacy as the necessary starting point for loving well, and to cultivate a mindset that trusts that God is Hero enough, both for me and anyone He brings my way.

Friday, June 09, 2017

3 Reasons Why Mormon Racism Won’t Go Away

Nearly 40 years after the LDS Church officially removed religious restrictions for its members of African ancestry, Black Mormons are still hearing the N-word—from fellow “temple worthy” Mormons.  
A recent Salt Lake Tribune article by Peggy Fletcher Stack highlighted this and other racial issues within the Mormon Church. These problems persist despite pronouncements from leaders and the publication of an official essay on Race available on the church website. 

The troubling question is “Why”?

I think there are three reasons that go to the heart of what’s wrong with Mormon religion today.
  1. Mormon leaders have never truly repented of the bigotry and racism endemic to their own religious system.
  2. Mormon leaders have never disavowed their canonized Scriptures used to support and defend their racist policies and practices.
  3. Mormon leaders are more committed to the growth of the organization than they are to the truth of Jesus Christ that can truly transform lives.
1. Mormon leaders have not repented.  To this date, neither the LDS First Presidency nor the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have ever confessed the bigotry and racism practiced and justified in the name of God for what it was and is — an evil, sinful, wrongful, maligning and denigrating treatment of people made in the image of God.  And there is no way that the statements made by LDS leaders right up to the time the ban was lifted can be construed as anything other than rank racism.  Read the statements by Brigham Young and later LDS leaders for yourself.  Repentance involves confessing and acknowledging the wrong that has been done, taking responsibility for it and turning and going in the opposite direction because you own the fact that your previous direction was wrong, hurtful and unjustifiable. 

Not only have LDS leaders been silent when it comes to owning and repenting of their sin, they have attempted to dodge and minimize the seriousness of their religiously institutionalized racism by justifying it or attempting to deny there was any true corporate racism happening. They have resorted to cherry-picking random historical facts (like Joseph Smith ordaining Elijah Abel) as if that somehow offsets or allows them to now dismiss decades of racist teachings and practices.  
As long as LDS leaders at the highest level continue to justify or minimize the racism of previous leaders and the organization as a whole, their members will continue to feel justified in their racism.

2. Mormon Scripture still supports racism.  One of the primary reasons prior LDS leaders would not remove the ban, was because they said they could not remove the ban.  The curse on Blacks as pertaining to the priesthood and the dark skin of other races was God’s doing and was recorded in their Scriptures.  See for example: Racism in the Book of Mormon, and Blacks and the Book of MosesThese Scriptures are still accepted and endorsed as the foundational sources for Mormon religious belief and practice.  Until these sources are disavowed, pronounced false and erroneous, and removed from the Mormon canon, LDS people will find justification for their own racism in them.  Why should they not - they are ‘scripture.’  

Interesting side note:  If LDS leaders actually believed their own Scriptures contained the express will of God, they would not have felt a need to lift the priesthood restriction.  They would, to this day, continue to hold to what was taught previously, not caring one whit about public sentiment - valuing more what they understood to be revelation from God than the opinions of men.  The fact is, LDS leaders have repeatedly changed core doctrines when these became unpopular and threatened the growth or well-being of the organization.  Which brings us to the third reason racism in the LDS Church won’t go away.

3. Mormon leaders value growth and promotion of the organization over Truth.  The facts surrounding the lifting of the ban via a press release in June of 1978 indicate the driving force and primary motivation for removing the race restrictions was a desire for growth and greater world-wide expansion. LDS growth in Brazil was greatly hampered by the ban, and it was going to get worse with the opening of a Mormon temple in Sāo Paulo where most of the members who worked on the temple would not be allowed in it.  The rituals necessary for eternal life would be only available to those completely free of Black blood.

For similar reasons, LDS work in Africa was nearly non-existent prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban. Since that time Africa has become one of the fastest-growing Mormon regions in the world.  Meanwhile, in the USA, until it was removed, the priesthood restriction on blacks was a growing social blight for the LDS church, hampering its proselytizing and tarnishing its image. The priesthood restriction on blacks had become a social and demographic liability to what LDS leaders valued most - numeric growth and a good public image.

The commitment on the part of LDS leaders to growth rather than truth has become increasingly obvious over time as LDS leaders have dodged issues like racism, Joseph Smith’s 30+ adulterous relationships, the fraudulent nature of the Book of Abraham, and the multiple, oft-conflicting versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.  Rather than openly acknowledging and admitting the problems they instead have chosen to go with carefully crafted statements, limited admissions (of what can no longer be denied), and blame-shifting. Their actions resemble far more the damage-control maneuverings of shifty politicians than the transparent, straightforward proclamation of truth that characterizes true prophets.

In so doing, they send a clear message to their members about what Mormons should value most - protecting the image of the organization and its leaders at all costs, even at the cost of truth itself.  This in turn creates a religious culture of deception and an increase in unethical behavior. When such behavior is justified for the growth and good of the organization, it is but a small step to then mislead and manipulate the membership as a whole for the greater corporate good.  Thus, when commitment to truth at all costs is sacrificed to organizational expediency, the caring, loving treatment of “brothers” and “sisters,” those who are fellow members of the group, takes a backseat to the pursuit of personal or corporate agendas, or a person’s own biases and prejudices.  This guarantees the perpetuation of issues like racism rather than their eradication.

Some Hope for Change?
It is encouraging, however to see that some LDS people are recognizing these issues.  Stack, in her article quotes Bryndis Roberts, a black Mormon as saying: 
The church's ‘race problem’ is ‘much larger and runs much deeper than most of us would like to admit’ and the source is found ‘in its teachings, its actions and its inactions.’
The question is, will LDS leaders come to the same conclusion? In order for Mormon racism to truly become a thing of the past, and LDS people to experience internal spiritual transformation, LDS leaders will need to embrace truth and Jesus’ kingdom values over corporate values. Then they will need to take appropriate, repentant and redemptive action no matter what the cost.  After all, what does it profit a General Authority to gain the whole corporation and lose his soul?