Monday, October 31, 2011

New Wards

Anyone ever been in a new ward? I don't mean a new ward for you--I mean a newly created ward.

In Cincinnati, we moved into a ward that had only been around for six months or so. The stake had taken a tiny downtown branch, combined it with the Cincinnati ward, and then split the Cincinnati ward into two wards--the Cincinnati ward and the Norwood ward. Sacrament meeting attendance varied from about 100 (when we first moved in) to about 60-65 (when we moved out). The change was mostly due to move-outs, very few move-ins, and a handful of deaths (something like 20% of the men in the ward--6 individuals--died while we were there, some older but some quite young). It was nice being in a small ward. It was a new ward, but most of the members came from the old ward and knew each other quite well, the exception being those from the inner city branch. I started working with a less active family that had belonged to the branch and discovered the father of the family had been in the branch presidency at one point--something not a single soul at ward council was aware of until I told them (in fact, they didn't even know who the family was). But for the most part the new ward was simply part of the old.

Yesterday, our stake in Shelley, Idaho had a meeting where they announced ward boundary changes. We live on a street that's full of 4-plexes on the north side of Shelley. The whole street is pretty new--five years old or so. The whole street belonged to one ward. Now, that ward has lost the entire street of apartments, and half of us in the apartments have gone to another already-existing ward, and half of us have gone into an entirely new ward. The neighbors right across the street will now be attending a different ward, and we'll be attending the brand new one. The new ward is new in a way that the Norwood ward was not--it appears that it was created from sliced off pieces of several different wards. We'll all be strangers to the majority of the ward. We'll see how that works out. We're definitely happy we're being sent to the new ward instead of being added on to an old ward.

Any experiences with being in a newly-created ward?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

LDS actors

What's up with the fact that so few active members of the LDS church are successful actors?

The list of less active or former members is pretty extensive: Amy Adams (star of Enchanted and the new Muppets movie, among others), Aaron Eckhart (an RM, and important roles in quite a few movies including Two Face in the last Batman movie), Katherine Heigl (Grey's Anatomy plus a bunch of mediocre movies), Mireille Enos (star of The Killing, a fantastic AMC TV show), and Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and star of The Dollhouse).

There's not a single active LDS actor who can compare with any of the above actors. And I believe the experience of Kirby Heyborne (The Singles Ward, the R.M., The Best Two Years, Saints and Soldiers) is one reason why.

As a struggling actor, Heyborne takes the jobs he can get. He can't afford to be picky. So when Miller Lite offered him a chance to make some money (so he could support his family) by playing a small role in a beer commercial, Heyborne accepted. The reaction in much of the LDS community? Outrage. Even BYU refused to allow Heyborne, a temple recommend holder who, besides being an actor, is also a musician, the chance to play music at BYU because of the commercial.

Meanwhile, I know Mormons who work for casinos (especially in Las Vegas). I know of Mormons who sell alcohol and tobacco (the owners of a chain of grocery stores in small town Idaho, for example). And, most interesting, just a few miles north of Shelley, where I'm currently living, is a Budweiser plant. Shelley is about 15 minutes south of Idaho Falls, and the Budweiser plant is right in between Idaho Falls and Shelley. And Shelley is 82% LDS (I think the actual numbers are probably even higher). So how does this Budweiser plant operate? Who runs it? Who grows the barley that is processed into beer at the plant? That's right. Mormons. Who cares? No one. Mormons are creating the raw ingredients, processing them into beer, and then selling the beer, and yet no one blinks an eye. And yet Heyborne is attacked pretty ferociously for being in a commercial. Like the farmers and factory workers, he's just trying to make a living and support his family. Unlike them, he gets attacked for it.

Back to the subject at hand: why are so many LDS actors inactive? No doubt some of it has to do with the nature of the film industry. But I think the larger problem is this--we as Mormons are too judgmental, too quick to attack LDS actors for acting in what we view as questionable roles. Maybe if we took a different approach we could hold on to actors with LDS backgrounds.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Elder Oaks on Religious Freedom and Politics

Elder Oaks (who, unlike say President Faust or President Uchtdorf, is clearly a Republican) was interviewed a little while ago by Hugh Hewitt. A few things stood out.

1. A caller (probably LDS) asked, "Is there a line that’s drawn between morality and politics, for example, having political views, the left and the right, you have two public figures like Glenn Beck and Harry Reid who are diametrically opposed to one another. Is there a line that has to be drawn for Mormons in politics?"

Notice carefully how Elder Oaks responds. "We have, as prominent Mormons, Mitt Romney and Harry Reid. They are obviously at opposite ends of a political spectrum. We’re proud that our religious causes such, or brings forth such capable men. And we’re also grateful for the demonstration that the church does not dictate a particular political philosophy, but it trains people, with greater or lesser degrees of success, to be moral and responsible people, and to function wherever their conscience takes them on the political spectrum."

First, Elder Oaks totally ignores the mention of Glenn Beck. Second, he calls Harry Reid a capable man. I'll let you draw your own conclusions on why he totally ignored the mention of Glenn Beck, but I'm glad he did--Mitt Romney makes a much better comparison to Harry Reid.

2. Elder Oaks also discuss a Supreme Court case that greatly eroded religious freedoms, Employment Division v. Smith. I've talked about that decision before. Elder Oaks admits confusion as to why the author of that decision, Justice Scalia, a man Elder Oaks usually agrees with politically, made such a boneheaded decision. (They don't mention the fact that all of the other conservatives on the Supreme Court agreed with Scalia, and that the only dissenters were three of the four liberals). I really wish they would have discussed this issue more, but to do so would've required attacking conservatives on the Supreme Court, so I understand why they didn't. This was, after all, a conservative radio show.

Elder Oak's money quote: "And in Employment Division v. Smith, the United States Supreme Court dragged religion out of the sanctuary, and said you’re in effect, you don’t have any more free speech rights than people generally. You don’t have the right to override state laws any more than any other person does. And it just deemphasized religion very significantly."

My questions for Elder Oaks: Why do you think the conservatives on the Supreme Court deemphasized religion so significantly? Why did the three dissenting liberals do a better job of defending religion than the conservatives? I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have an answer to that. My thoughts are that it might have to do with the total lack of religious diversity in the Supreme Court (9 Justices, and every single one is either Catholic or Jewish). With enough political power, you don't have to worry so much about your person religion practices being protected--and Catholics and Jews certainly have a lot of political power in the U.S. I have to admit, however, that I, like Elder Oaks, am at a total loss for why the conservatives on the Supreme Court attacked religious freedoms to the extent they did.

Any ideas?

Meanwhile, I'll join with Elder Oaks, and I will continue to hold that decision up as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in recent history.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


A recent New York Times article profiles Mitt Romney's LDS leadership side in Boston. He was a bishop and stake president there, and, as is to be expected, people had both positive and negative things to say about his time spent volunteering for the church in leadership positions. Overall the article is more positive than negative, and it's clearly written (or edited) by someone very familiar with the church.

One of the quotes in the article that caught my eye was this (from Sister Dushku, who I believe is currently the Relief Society President of the stake, and whose daughter all Joss Whedon fans should know).

“Mitt is the type who liked to be called Bishop Romney or President Romney."

While I'm fine with calling bishops and stake presidents by their title, I'm not sure how I'd feel being in their position and being called by a title. (Just one of many reasons I hope I'm never bishop or stake president...)

I currently teach 11-year-old boys, but in my last ward I was in a leadership position, and was occasionally called "President." I was okay if the stake presidency called me "president," but I strongly disliked it when members of my ward did. It seemed to create a false barrier between me and them. I wanted to be friends with those in the ward, and calling me "president" may have lent me some undeserved authority but it did not help my goal of becoming closer to those I was responsible for.

And notice how the scriptures always refer to spiritual leaders by their first name, generally without any kind of title...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Anti-Mormonism at the Values Voter Summit

There's been a lot of talk in the national media these past couple of days about some anti-Mormon discourse at the Values Voter Summit. The Values Voter Summit is a conservative event that is supposed to focus on--big surprise--values. Specifically, conservative values. Almost all of the Republican candidates for president showed up and spoke, including Romney, Perry, Cain, Bachmann, Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum. In other words, it's pretty much guaranteed that the person who will run against Obama participated in this event.

Now most of the media focus on the Values Voter Summit has been on the guy who introduced Rick Perry to the crowd--a guy who told the crowd they should vote for a real Christian and later stated multiple times that Mormonism is a cult. Unfortunately, the media hasn't been paying as much attention to a much more dangerous speaker--a guy by the name of Bryan Fischer. Remember, both of these guys shared the stage with the Republican candidates. They aren't some KKK dudes protesting on the fringes--they're invited speakers at a mainstream Republican event.

I'll let you go elsewhere to find out about Rick Perry's friend, Mr. Cult. The more dangerous man is Bryan Fischer. Romney's team realized a few days before the Summit that Mr. Fischer, an official at the American Family Association, who was scheduled to speak after Romney, might be a problem. Romney, to his credit, even mentioned a "poisonous" speaker he would speak after he did. I wish Romney would have refused to come unless Fischer was uninvited, but his mention in his speech was better than nothing.

Mr. Fischer has stated that non-Christians do not have First Amendment (ie--religious freedom) rights, and that Mormons aren't Christian (and also aren't entitled to the same religious freedoms under the First Amendment).

Imagine, for a minute, the consequences if Fischer's delusion was true. No freedom of religion (or at least limited freedom of religion) for minority religions, while mainstream Christian religions (or at least those who Fischer believes are mainstream) have complete freedom of religion. The thought terrifies me. I don't like to use the term un-American--I think the term is over-used--but in this case it clearly applies. Even if we ignore the fact that many of the founders were not traditional Christian, the very language of the First Amendment does not discriminate between different religions. All religions are to be treated equally--none favored, none disfavored.

Even worse than Fischer's un-American beliefs about the First Amendment is the fact that he was invited to speak at the same event and on the same stage as Romney, Perry, and the rest of the Republican presidential candidates. In what sick, demented world is that okay? Someone who has such a corrupt understanding of the First Amendment, and the other Republicans have him out in the open, center stage, voicing his opinion? He should be uninvited, out on the fringes with the KKK. The Republican party does itself no favors when it shares a stage with such a man.

Republicans who belong to minority religions (Mormons, Muslims, etc.) need to realize that not only does much of their party believe they belong to a cult, but also that some in their party--mainstream enough to be invited to speak at a big conservative summit like this one--believe that minority religions aren't entitled to the same rights as mainstream Christianity. It's an uncomfortable reality, but it's one we need to be aware of.