Counterfeit Lifestyles: The real threat to family isn’t coming from the LGBT community

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In the Spring 2015 session of LDS General Conference, church leaders railed against “counterfeit and alternative lifestyles,” upholding marriage between a man and a woman as the one good recipe for raising a family.

This has led to backlash from individuals both inside and outside of the LGBT community and organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, who said that the comments were “disheartening and wrong, and remind us yet again that the journey to full inclusion for LGBT people — including our families and children — is not done.”

A Counterfeit Lifestyle?

But what exactly is a “counterfeit” family lifestyle? Counterfeit money is made to look like money and pass for legitimate cash. Yet it has no value and its introduction into the market can actually damage the monetary value of real money. So similarly, a counterfeit family lifestyle would be one that does more damage than good when weighed against the common parameters that designate a healthy family.

If that is the case though, then LGBT parenting fails to fit into the counterfeit category. Studies consistently show that LGBT parents raise their children just as well as straight parents. Even columns and studies that supposedly show the adverse effects of gay marriage or parenting can actually be seen as reasons why they are needed.

A real case of Fraud

So, if LGBT families aren’t counterfeit, what is? It may come as a shock to some conservative and religious people, but mixed-orientation marriages — and especially those who attempt to market them as a workable family unit — may be where the real cases of fraud lie.

Take, for instance, the TV show My Husband’s Not Gay. The show features mixed-orientation marriages that appear to be working. The husbands are supposedly attracted to men, yet making it work with straight women in an LDS marriage. Those in conservative and religious communities have been pointing to the show as proof that gay people can do fine in straight marriages.

However, the key thing missing from the show and much of the surrounding conversation is the fact that sexual orientation and sexuality are two different spectrums with very broad ranges and that these families featured are outliers — not the norm.

By the facts

In fact, the evidence suggests that mixed-orientation marriages are very likely to fail. Regardless of the study, the consensus is always this: Far more mixed-orientation marriages end in divorce and broken families than succeed.

Conversely, in addition to the fact that studies by and large continue to find no discernible difference between children raised by gay parents or straight parents, there appears to be no discernible difference in divorce rates either.

So while LDS leaders may call gay families “counterfeit” it doesn’t hold a lot of weight when looking at the numbers. And while the church hasn’t endorsed mixed-orientation marriages, they also haven’t discouraged them either. If the church truly wants to promote stable families and healthy upbringings for children they might do well to advocate for same-sex marriage and speak up on the possible danger mixed-orientation marriages can carry.

Misplaced blame? Gay marriage not culprit for divorce, child abandonment

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Recently, The Federalist featured a column from Heather Barwick about how the gay community is hurting children. Barwick should know. She was raised by two lesbian women. In her column she explains that her mom was always gay. Still, she ended up marrying a man (Barwick’s father) because “things were different then.” When Barwick was the tender age of 2 or 3, her mom split from her father and settled down with another woman — the environment that Barwick ultimately grew up in.

Barwick describes the pain of divorce and always longing for a father figure even into adulthood — recalling how her father wasn’t around after her parents split. She explains how this pain and her admittedly cozy upbringing ultimately led her to realize that families led by gay parents weren’t good for children.

The problem is, at no point in her article does she manage to connect the two and explain why. In fact, the article could serve as a case study for how gay marriage bans can ruin families and hurt children.

Stuck in the closet

Rather than having a mother who was able to be open about who she was and raise a child in a loving, non-divorced gay household, Barwick ended up with a mother who tried to fit the mold of a straight society that proclaimed she was an abomination.

It’s no surprise that her straight marriage eventually collapsed and Barwick suffered. What Barwick doesn’t seem to realize though is that this is not a failing of the gay community. This is a failing of a society that pushed people together who never should’ve been together and forced people to betray the very fiber of their being for as long as they could.

The real problem: Divorce and child abandonment

Barwick’s experience isn’t anything exclusive to the gay community. In fact, throughout her column, everything comes back to her parents’ divorce and growing up with someone who was not her father — what she is actually detailing are the kind of feelings thousands of kids who have gone through family divorce have written about.

Barwick cites no studies to back up her claims about needing both a man and woman in the house — and even her own experiences don’t make it clear such a thing is necessary. At no point does she lend any clarity as to why a man and woman were both needed in her household beyond the fact that she felt she was missing a father — again, a common issue for many children who’ve been through a divorce (even those who end up with step-parents).

The remedy: Gay marriage?

The truth is, embracing gay parenthood and gay marriage could possibly prevent the sort of unfortunate childhood Barwick seems to have had — preventing more broken marriages and households.

If we were to base things off of personal experiences, there are thousands of kids in broken homes and thousands of adults who had a difficult time growing up who could write Barwick’s exact same column with the headline “Dear Straight Community: Your Kids Are Hurting.”

That’s why social science and psychological studies are important — they paint a clearer picture than those of subjective experiences. And right now, while there are few studies on the topic, the ones out there indicate that gay households turn out kids about as well as straight ones.

Interestingly enough, Barwick’s column could be seen as a testament to that conclusion — and possibly even be an example of why we need gay marriage.

Family vs. the world (How buzzwords can kill thoughtfulness)

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Words are incredibly powerful. Even small nuances and phrases can unconsciously influence the way someone acts or thinks.

One of the recent refrains heard by religious establishments these days is some form or another of “Families are being threatened by the world.”

Us vs. Them

Without even realizing it, by using the phrase “the world” one sets themselves apart from everyone else – thereby absolving themselves of their own involvement in the world’s issues, while simultaneously propping up the idea that if everyone just did what they did it would fix everything.

This also reinforces the belief that it is unnecessary – and even counterproductive or dangerous – to let others live differently in the way that is best for them, to reach across the aisle, or to think outside the box to help tackle and solve the world’s problems.

Nevermind the fact that there are people the world over who have had families or relationships strained and complicated due to a religious dynamic (whether it be lack of religion, losing religion, or finding religion).

Family: Isn’t it about time?

That’s not to say that religions don’t have some great ideas about keeping families and community strong. Notions of togetherness such as family dinner, a day of rest from work and investing in family members are fantastic and necessary.

But even those are only good if they’re practiced, yet…

…too many people wait outside temple doors during a family member’s wedding simply because of a difference of belief.

…Sundays, a day of rest and family togetherness, are often one of the busiest days of the week – splitting up families for hours on end as they attend to different meetings and church duties. Weekdays are often a mad scramble between work/school and church activities and responsibilities with serious family time often getting pushed to the side or discarded.

…too many people have disowned or shamed family members who walk a less religious path for their own health – or have tried to coerce them into a religious way of life rather than loving them and encouraging them on the path that makes them happy.

…couples who would make great parents and want to start families, and could help alleviate the overcrowding in foster care and adoption systems, are unable to do so because they can’t legally marry or adopt children.

Us and Us

There are a lot of things that threaten families and we’re all to blame for the state of the world today. And while religion certainly holds some good ideas about how to run a family, it’s going to take a world full of different ideas, compassion and fearlessness to find solutions to the world’s problems. We can’t separate ourselves or close ourselves off in fear or prejudice.

Bullying, suicide and animalism: A matter of control

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We aren’t just animals anymore. We can reason and understand. And, usually, we are no longer a slave to our urges.

Yet, when it comes to bullying our animal roots gets used as an excuse. “Bullying happens, people need to stand up for themselves. They need to speak up and put their foot down. It’s how, we as animals, are.”

Animals and us

Except it’s not. Animals flee. Animals can be submissive and meek. Not all animals are fighters. And when an animal that isn’t fit to fight goes up against an animal that is, the result is usually getting maimed or killed. And no matter how much physical training someone partakes in, there will always be those at a disadvantage. And that’s not including those with emotional or mental “shortcomings.” And no matter how much therapy, or how many drugs, some people will never be the outgoing, aggressive, confident type.

And even if that weren’t the case, even if people could train to their peak performance, do away with all physical limitations and psyche themselves into being aggressive, animalistic human beings, why would we want that?

Thanks to technology and science, we no longer conform to a “survival of the fittest” mold. We are beyond it. So why would we confine ourselves to such a basic, outdated way of living?

Suicide machine

What’s truly heartbreaking, and what truly shows some people have no idea of the breadth of human makeup and complexity of the human brain, is when people blame a bullying victim for their own suicide, writing it off as a simple choice the victim had to make and one they made poorly. This is justified by admitting that they, too, have thought about killing themselves before.

Indeed, who hasn’t? But there is a gigantic leap from thinking to doing. Someone who actually tries to go through with the act is wired fundamentally different than those who merely think about it:

The … person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing.

The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

 Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be or you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains constant. the variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.

 It’s not desiring the fall; it’s the terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

— David Foster Wallace

Suicide is the ultimate engagement of the flight response. Someone who attempts suicide often isn’t thinking in any sort of rational context, they are running on instinct — the same instinct that makes you remove your hand from a hot stove without even thinking about it.

Levels of instinct

“Flight or fight” is one of the absolute basic instincts we as human beings have — and one of the hardest to overcome. At one extreme we have suicidal people and at the other extreme we have people who kill their tormentors. Neither of these are acceptable outcomes.

I’ve been on both sides of the bully equation. I’ve been a bully and I’ve been the bullied, desperate for escape. I know it’s possible to overcome bullying tendencies. I also know that it’s possible to overcome suicidal tendencies and that things get better. But what I’ve discovered is that it is a lot easier to control bullying tendencies than it is to control the basic flight or fight response.

We’re not animals anymore, but there are still some things our brains have convinced us we need to run from or fight. I hope that eventually one of those things will not be our fellow man.

Elder Ronald Poelman: LDS Church is a guide to enlightenment, not the end goal

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With the LDS Church’s General Conference this weekend, I wanted to take a minute to discuss one of the most illuminating General Conference talks I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Spoken by Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy, it covers the difference between the Gospel and the LDS Church, how tradition and cultural norms can be misconstrued as gospel principles, and the extreme importance of free agency and questioning. Even though it is from 1984, it resonates even more today.

Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. However, there is a distinction between them which is significant … Failure to distinguish between the two …. may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities with unrealistic and therefore failed expectations. This in turn may result in diminished benefits and blessings and, in extreme instances, even disaffections.

The Gospel and the LDS Church are two distinct things with two distinct purposes. Elder Poelman states that while the Gospel is an unchanging guide binding us to God, the Church is a delivery system meant to distribute the Gospel. However, misplaced priorities and understanding about the two can lead to devastating consequences: diminished blessings and even disaffection. What kind of misunderstandings? Well…

Traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles. … Those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. … It is important, therefore, to know the difference between eternal gospel principles which are unchanging, universally applicable and cultural norms which may vary with time and circumstance.

Cultural norms are not Gospel and the traditional way the Church has functioned does not necessarily mean that is the way it is meant to function in perpetuity. Indeed, it is not enough to simply obey church rules. They must be questioned.

Every church member has … the need and obligation to obtain (a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices) by exercising his free agency … Without such assurance, one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church. Indeed, it is not enough that we obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders.

An unhealthy focus on institutional requirements or cultural norms, especially without questioning and receiving a witness that such things are necessary, can become a burden for those in the church — as well as the church itself. Those who do pray and receive a witness that things should be done differently are also an integral part of the church.

When we understand the difference between the gospel and the Church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. Institutional discipline is replaced by self discipline. Supervision is replaced by righteous initiative and a sense of divine accountability.

As we question the Church and receive Gospel wisdom from Church leaders, institutional discipline is replaced by self discipline. The need to be supervised by the Church also wanes as our own sense of accountability to God and our fellow brethren here on Earth grows. Indeed:

As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become gospel centered.


See part 1 of Elder Poelman’s talk here and part 2 here.

Live and let live: Religion, atheism, and being caught in-between

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Religion has been a part of human life in some form or another for at least 4,000 years. It has provided support for communities, given people a common cause to group around, and been a source of charity and service.

Yet, for those who do not belong to a religion or believe in a God, it has often been a source of pain and suffering. And certainly there have been a number of atrocities committed in the name of God.

The discord between these two groups, I think, doesn’t just stem from a fundamental communication problem, but a fundamental difference in the way both are wired.

A brain hardwired for God

Even 4,000 years later, it’s true that religion continues to be beneficial to humanity. Charity, social support during times of crisis, and a sense of purpose are just a few of the ways religion enriches the lives of many today. There are even indications that humans are hardwired for religion.

So it’s understandable when religious people get angry when Atheists attack their convictions with statements like “Your church isn’t true” or “God is a lie” and retreat into their trenches, often destroying all hope for fruitful and progressive discussion.

But make no mistake, there are certainly things that need to be discussed. While people should be able to believe what they want I firmly believe they must square those beliefs with facts. And the fact of the matter is that religion has also contributed to some truly gut-wrenching things in our modern day: rape culture, suicides and homelessness (especially among gay youth), mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, and more.

The ways that religious denominations contribute to these and other pressing issues deserve criticism and discussion. And religious people need to understand that criticisms are not a personal attack, or even necessarily an attack on their church.

I’d be happy to see religion flourish more, but I want to see it happen while lessening the damage and hurt it unintentionally contributes to for both faithful and non-faithful people.

But while some of the problem is communication, the other problem is simply how differently we are wired — which never appears to be taken into account on either side.

While religious people may be hardwired for faith, non-believers are just as likely to be hardwired differently. Just as the idea that someone who attends church is an unintelligent sheep is grossly inaccurate, the idea that someone who doesn’t want to go to church is evil or amoral is flat-out wrong and can be incredibly damaging.

In religion, but not of religion

When I was young, church taught me about the golden rule, being thy brother’s keeper, turning the other cheek and judging not lest ye be judged. I feel that I learned some of my most cherished ideas about humanity and life from church.

But even when I was young, I felt oddly out of place in church settings. The older I got the more my anxiety in church settings grew. I felt constantly on guard — that I could not be myself. I was constantly wearing a mask and it was suffocating me. I began to drift away from the church. My family, many of my peers, and my church leaders were understandably upset by this development. After all, my very soul was at stake.

Church leaders handed me responsibility after responsibility, trying to give me a sense of purpose and place within the church. Unfortunately, these responsibilities only compounded the stress I already felt from church and, truthfully, pushed me farther away.

The more I stressed out, the more I found myself thinking, “Is this what God would really want from me? Isn’t church supposed to be a place of serenity and happiness rather than protocol, stress and anguish?”

My parents tried to prod me to attend services. When gentle pokes didn’t work, I was given ultimatums. When those just pushed me away further, they tried gifts and niceties.

The disapproval about my drifting from friends and family was palpable and created a vicious cycle. I could not be at peace in church — and it appeared I could not be at peace outside of church either. The stress of the paradox furthered the anxiety, depression, guilt and anger issues I had been experiencing in church for years. I had already been self-mutilating throughout the latter half of my high school years as a form of self-medication. Shortly after high school I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Up until this point I had tried to maintain some sort of church presence, even if it was a limited one, partly to placate my family and partly because I felt it was what I was supposed to do. However, I soon realized I could not live a double-life. I finally made it clear that I didn’t want or plan to continue attending church.

Immediately, there was an incredible weight lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t feel like I had to hide myself anymore. It was like finally breathing after spending 19+ years suffocating.

Technically, it was a great first step toward sobriety and a healthy life.

However, I still felt a lot of guilt over who I was because of my upbringing. It would be several more years before I’d begin to heal the remaining emotional scars with therapy and finally stop using alcohol and drugs, becoming truly okay with the person I am.

Live and let live

I know my family and friends always wanted what was best for me. The things they did came from a place of love, but ultimately also of ignorance about who I was. They were so worried about my soul that they didn’t understand the way they were damaging me.

I often wonder how differently my life would have been if I had been nurtured to be myself, simply be a good person, and make the most of whatever it is I do believe in. Would I have ever turned to drugs or alcohol? Would I be further along in my career?

Religion can be an incredible force for good and, I believe, even necessary for some people. But just as it may be hardwired into some people, I think there are others who are simply not wired for religion. I hope someday people on both sides will understand to “live and let live” and embrace those who live differently and have found their own way to truth, happiness and health.

The Religion Test: Homosexuality vs. environmentalism and charity

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There is a lot of talk these days about how homosexuality, transsexuality, gender roles, and the like are leading us on a road to ruin. Apocalyptic predictions are full of omens of increasing disasters — earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and famine.

And I can absolutely see all of that happening. But not for the reasons you may think.

Wailing and gnashing of teeth

It’s no secret that our society is in turmoil — fighting about who can marry who, women’s roles, etc. And it’s seriously holding us back. We’re putting so much energy, money, and time into these fronts when it could be used to help solve world hunger, cure cancer, clean up our own planet and propel us toward other planets. We are destroying ourselves with our preoccupation for the way others choose to live — suffocating our ability to question, learn and innovate.

It’s the 21st century and we’re still dabbling in medieval dogma. We’ve put men on the moon, but we can’t deal with two men in the bedroom. So yes, I can see how, if we don’t move past this, these things could absolutely cause the collapse of our society. But I think it will be because of the people who spent their time and energy oppressing others rather than working with them to tackle truly important issues. Issues like taking care of our people and planet.

Fracking and brimstone

Interestingly enough, there are several biblical passages that address the environment. Among them:

I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.

Jeremiah 2

The consequences of such defiling and careless regard are truly terrible:

The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.

Isaiah 24

It sounds dire, but it’s pretty much what scientists have been telling us will be the result if we don’t start getting serious about reducing pollution, cleaning up our environment, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and being wary of fracking and drilling.

Similarly, there are multiple passages about helping those in need.

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. … For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

Deuteronomy 15

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Ezekiel 16

Sodom is often cited as being destroyed because of homosexuality. Yet, this verse seems to indicate that it was destroyed because its people were rich yet cold-hearted, neglecting those around them who needed the most help.

Even from a non-religious standpoint, it’s clear to see how neglecting parts of our society could lead to a decline. A healthy society requires a healthy and contributing populace — not a populace trying to just scrape by.

The religion test

“Question after question I’m stumped. The paradox: Is God racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic? Or is God testing to see if I am?”

I’ve often wondered, if God is out there and if this life is a test, is religion part of the instruction manual, or part of the test?

Perhaps once we have increased our love for each other, once we have returned Earth to a pristine condition, once we have mastered a deeper understanding of the universe through science … perhaps that is when God will return. Because that is when we will truly be ready.

Even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, we’ll be in a much better place than we were before.