Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Westboro Baptist Church

The Westboro Baptist Church picketed at my university today. Those are the "God hates fags" people, though what seems to set most Americans off about them is not their homophobia but the fact that they've taken lately to picketing funerals of soldiers with the message "God hates America."

In the afternoon, I attended a celebration of love and diversity being held at the same time as the picket as an effort, basically, to draw people away from the protest. The idea, in other words, was that people would attend this alternative event instead of trying to engage with the WBC picketers.

Despite the attempted distraction, there was a huge crowd surrounding the "cattle cage" that the police had set up for the picketers. I was standing at the periphery of the crowd, observing before joining the alternative event, when the three or four picketers showed up, entered their little fenced-off area, and silently held up their signs. Many of the young men in the crowd (perhaps women were doing this, too, but masculine voices dominated) started chanting "USA! USA!" in a hostile fashion. Eventually that was followed by chants of "Fuck this shit!" and "Suck my dick!" and various other heckling catcalls, some cleverer than others.

I have to say that I was more repelled—and unnerved—by the crowd's reaction than by the WBC's signs. The picketers just stood there silently, holding their signs, quite unperturbed (at least visibly) by all the animosity being hurled at them. It takes guts, I'll give them that. They are standing up for what they believe in the face of opposition that would make me shake if not back out.

There were quite a few signs being held up in the observing crowd supportive of LGBT people. However, I was left with the distinct impression that the lion's share of the crowd's anger toward WBC was born of offended patriotism. I say that based on the "USA! USA!" chant, along with the cheering that greeted motorcyclists and pickup truck drivers who kept driving by the scene waving American flags. In other words, the great sin of the WBC in the eyes of the surrounding mob (held back from committing violence by barriers and police officers), was not so much the WBC's strident conviction that God condemns homosexuality. WBC's great sin, rather—their heresy—was suggesting that God doesn't love America.

The LGBT student group that organized the alternative event, eager to establish that they did love America, brought out an American flag and asked us all to sing the national anthem. Not being a fan of obligatory religious practice or loyalty oaths, I silently declined to join that particular act of worship and praise.

Afterward, in the car on the way home, I felt unexpectedly drained by events.


I understand why the "God hates..." rhetoric is inflammatory. And I certainly think the WBC tack the wrong object onto that subject and predicate. But here are some endings for that sentence that I believe are true.

God hates homophobia.
God hates racism.
God hates sexism.
God hates sexual assault.
God hates child abuse.
God hates human trafficking.
God hates ethnic cleansing.
God hates violence.
God hates cruelty.
God hates torture.
God hates terrorism.
God hates suffering.
God hates callousness.
God hates greed.
God hates corruption.
God hates fraud.
God hates hypocrisy.
God hates exploitation.
God hates waste.
God hates pollution.
God hates injustice.
God hates inequality.
God hates the rich-poor gap.
God hates empires.
God hates tyranny.
God hates war.

God is love, yes. And I was careful to make all those sentences end with things, not people. But there are things God hates—deplores, is passionately opposed to—and teaches us to hate as well.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Prayer on the death of Muammar Gaddafi

I'm reblogging here something I wrote for the Mormon Worker. A few people have posted responses over there.


Heavenly Father and Mother–

I’m grateful that Gaddafi is no longer in power. I pray that this can be the beginning of a better life for Libyans. I pray for peace, and justice, and democracy in Libya. I pray for an end to the violence.

I’m not grateful that he’s dead. I’m sorry that he’s dead. I mean that in the sense that I take accountability for being complicit in his death. I spoke out in support of the war in Libya. And that makes me–I was about to say “in some small way,” but I take that back; minimizing my guilt is Your judgment to make, not mine. Let’s try this again: I spoke out in support of the war in Libya. And that means I share responsibility for the vigilante actions of the soldiers who killed him instead of bringing him to legal justice.

Gaddafi’s death should not have happened. I don’t know, really, what You would have regarded as the ideal way to end his regime. I know You hate tyrrany, so I assume You hated the violence of Gaddafi’s reign. I know You also hate war, though I operate on the assumption that You recognize it’s necessary at times. But I also know You would not have wanted things to end like this.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that I feel guilty about Gaddafi’s death because that’s the one that’s been publicized. But if I share responsibility for Gaddafi’s death, because of my support for the counteroffensive against his regime, then I also share responsibility for I-don’t-know-how-many deaths carried out by the rebel forces and their NATO allies, or for whatever other atrocities the rebels have committed on the way to power. I also share responsibility for whatever injustices the new regime commits from this point forward.

I started off this message feeling repentant, but now I’m actually feeling rather angry at You for putting us in situations where we have to make these impossible choices, while You sit up there and judge us and cry over our failures.

I don’t want to end on that note. I pray that somehow what has happened can lead to good for Libyans. I pray for all those who are suffering, whatever “side” they’re on.

In Christ's name, amen.


As a follow-up to the above, let me add this: I favored intervention in Libya because I felt the U.S. ought to support the Arab Spring and because the action, unlike in Iraq, was a defensive, not "preemptive," measure and had international support. I'm not sure how an intervention that began as an effort to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone and ceasefire ended up becoming NATO-backed support for a civil war. I also still can't explain in a non-cynical way why there was a political will to intervene militarily in support of rebels against Gaddafi's regime, while there is apparently no will to intervene militarily on behalf of protesters in Syria, or Yemen, or in Darfur.

The bottom line is that I feel used by my government. I'm also humiliated to realize how uninformed I am about rigorous thinking on non-violence. I don't know enough to be entitled to an opinion about how the situation in Libya, or any of the places I've mentioned above, could have been handled in a different way that might have minimized violence and avoided civil war.

What I do feel opinionated about is this: I want to live in a society where articulate, pragmatic voices for non-violence are more prominent in the media and in government. When I've heard proposals for a "Department of Peace" in the past, I've smiled at them as admirable but utopian wishing. I'm prepared now to seriously advocate the creation of some version of such an entity.


I pray for Libya.
I pray for Syria.
I pray for the Arab Spring generally.
I pray for the Occupy Wall Street movement and the similar movements it has inspired.
I pray for a better government, which means I pray for an electorate inspired by a spirit of wisdom.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

10/9/91 - Entered the MTC

Today is the 20th anniversary of my entering the Missionary Training Center. Since there are now approaching 20 MTCs, including one in Santo Domingo, I should specify that I attended the MTC in Provo.

Being historically minded, I'm intrigued to realize that I am the first person in my family to enter the MTC. My father served a mission in 1969-71, if I'm not mistaken about those dates. That means he probably attended the LTM (Language Training Mission), which would have been recently established at BYU. The MTC I attended—the big complex west of BYU, across the street from the Provo Temple, didn't start operating until 1978.

I see the Provo MTC has a website now. That shouldn't surprise me, but I wasn't expecting it.

I've been poking around a little online for info about the Santo Domingo MTC. The Deseret News has a photo. I believe it's located adjacent to the Santo Domingo temple, which I've never seen.

According to the folks at Cumorah.com, Dominicans now account for half of the missionary force in the Dominican Republic. When I served, 1991-1993, they were about a third of the missionary force in my mission. I never had a Dominican companion, though I shared apartments with a couple. They had a reputation among the Americans for being difficult—for having sullen or arrogant attitudes—which based on my own observations, I would be inclined to chalk up to:
  • Resentment over how often the Americans excluded them by speaking English around them (even though we weren't supposed to).

  • Resentment over the way the mission was dominated by foreigners and generations-long church members who thought they knew best. (As the child of converts, I experienced a similar kind of marginalization in the States.)

  • In at least one case I know of, a sense of dismay over the American missionaries' First-World lifestyle and expectations. The Dominican elder I'm thinking of resented the way missionaries spent what to him were exorbitant sums of money on recreation; he was trying to save money for attending the temple after his mission.
When I served, the Santo Domingo MTC didn't exist, nor did the temple. Dominican missionaries were supposed to go to Guatemala to be endowed and trained. Partway through my mission, the office began having difficulties obtaining visas to send new missionaries to Guatemala, so we had missionaries serving who were unendowed. That was a very problematic symbol of the American-Dominican differential.

Another symbolic status differential that I'm glad was later removed is that at zone conferences the mission president would give his closing "pep talk" in English on the premise that this was the first language of the majority of missionaries, and he wanted to be sure even the American greenies would benefit. This meant the Dominican missionaries received simultaneous translation from someone sitting behind or beside them. Eventually the mission president shifted to Spanish, which I'm glad of: however defensible his intentions, privileging English had the effect of converting Dominican missionaries into a second-class minority in their own country—and, no less, in an institution where all missionaries were supposed to know or be learning Spanish.

These are the kinds of signals by which American Mormons unthinkingly advertise their privileged status in the church—and in the world more generally. (It's a hell of a lot easier for an American to travel wherever they want than for a Dominican.)

I think there was one Dominican AP (assistant to the mission president) the whole time I served.

My mission (Santo Domingo East) is currently led, the church newsroom tells me, by a Puerto Rican, Heriberto Hernandez.

I'm floored to discover that in 2010, my mission was combined with the Puerto Rico San Juan East Mission, essentially bringing that part of Puerto Rico under my mission's jurisdiction. Not much must have been happening in Puerto Rico. That's ironic since immediately after the lifting of the priesthood ban in 1978, missionary work in the Dominican Republic began under the auspices of Puerto Rico.

UPDATE: I realized after writing this that the merger of the Dominican and Puerto Rican missions reduces the likelihood that the missions will be led by a Dominican in the future, since the mission president needs to be able to travel to both countries. It's easier for a Puerto Rican to travel to the DR than for a Dominican to travel to Puerto Rico. :(

Enough. I need to wrap this up.


Heavenly Father—

I'm grateful for the experience of my mission,
for the way it immersed me in a different society and culture,
for the way it brought me into close contact with poverty,
for the way it opened my eyes and softened my heart to forms of suffering, discrimination, and exploitation.

I'm grateful for the people who allowed me to enter their lives while I was in their country.
I hope I brought them something worthwhile.
During this two-year meditation on my mission experience,
show me what else you would like me to do by way of serving individuals in the Dominican Republic,
whether that's people I already know or people I don't.

In Christ's name, amen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Contemplative prayer - October

This evening I led a first-Friday contemplative prayer service. The readings and prayers are pasted below. I've used the readings before, at a similar service, but the intercessions are new, based on language and themes from the readings.



O God, my God,
you are the One I seek.
My soul thirsts for you;
my body longs for you
as in a dry, weary land
where there is no water.

Your love is better than life;
therefore my lips will speak your praise.
I will bless you as long as I live.
I will lift up my hands in your name.
You fill my soul as with a banquet;
my mouth praises you with joy.

On my bed, I remember you—
through sleepless nights, my thoughts turn to you—
for you have been my help;
you shelter me beneath your wing.
My soul clings to you.
With your mighty hand, you bear me up.


ACTS 2:42-47

Those who believed
devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
God performed many wonders and signs in the community,
which filled them all with awe.

Living together, they had all things in common.
They sold their property and goods
and distributed the proceeds to all,
according to their needs.

Every day, they spent time in the Temple
and broke bread at home.
They ate with glad and generous hearts,
praising God and winning the goodwill of all around them.
And the Lord added to their numbers daily.


MARK 6:34-44

When Jesus reached shore,
there was a large crowd waiting for him.
Moved with compassion, he began to teach them.

When it grew late, his disciples said to him,
“Send the people away to the villages
so they can buy themselves something to eat.”

But Jesus said, “Feed them yourselves.”

They replied, “Where are we supposed to get enough money
to buy bread for all these people?”

He said, “See how many loaves you have.”

They came back and told him, “Five loaves, and two fish.”

Then he told them to have all the people sit down in groups on the grass.
Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish.
He looked up to heaven,
blessed and broke the loaves,
and gave them to his disciples to set before the people.
He also divided up the two fish to share among them.

Everyone ate their fill.
There were enough leftover pieces of bread and fish to fill twelve baskets.
Over five thousand people were fed from that meal.



Jesus Christ, you are the One we long for.
You are the bread we share.
You are the water that quenches our thirst.

We pray for all who hunger for your love.
May they be filled.

We pray for all who are in want—
who lack food, water, or shelter,
employment, education, or health care,
comfort, safety, freedom, or hope.
Bear them up with your hand; shelter them under your wing.

We offer you our energy, our abilities, our possessions.
Show us how you would have us use our gifts for the benefit of others.

We pray for all your church.
Give us grace to live in fellowship with all whom you are drawing to yourself,
including those whom we would prefer went away.

We thank you for all the ways you have nourished and sustained us.
We praise you for your love.