Tuesday, April 29, 2008

La Mision Bolivia Cochabamba

I highly recommend you check out the recollections of former comrade in the Bolivian mission. It's really brought back a lot of memories from an important part of my life. If you've ever wondered what it was like to work as a missionary in the 2nd poorest country in all of the Americans (just behind Haiti) then give it a read. You might be horrified, but I doubt you'll be bored.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oh, What To Do

Hopefully my last post explains why I'm paying particular attention to FLDS abuse case in Eldorado, Texas. Although current LDS prophets comply with the anti-polygamy laws and excommunicate members who don't, they still believe in polygamy as a righteous doctrine and I always understood that as a member. Although I was raised LDS where polygamy isn't practiced in this life, polygamy was always part of my religious culture, heritage, and belief system.

I also understand what it is like to be raised as a member of a "peculiar people." The Mormons take a special pride in their peculiarities and believe that they are the mark of a distinct and righteous people that are inherently different and separate from non-believing Gentiles. This explains the strong emphasis on otherwise minor doctrines such as the Word of Wisdom which prohibits coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol. It's not that using such things are really that bad in the grand scheme of things, but they are somewhat unique and serve to separate the believers and the faithful from the non-believers and unfaithful. It is an easy to distinguish mark of belief. The same goes for other Mormon practices such as wearing garments and regularly attending all church meetings. Such things don't really serve to make the members better people, but it does mark them as different and belonging.

The other aspect of being "peculiar" is having a strong persecution complex. Mormons believe that the history of church persecution is strong evidence that Satan has mustered his forces to try to oppose the grand work of God. It's easy to see how any actions against the church are interpreted through the lens of persecution. This creates a blind spot among the faithful toward their own culpability in perhaps inviting the persecution on themselves. This is similar to how the U.S. wants to ignore actions it has taken that may have provoked attacks such as 9/11 and instead accept the simplistic explanation that it was extremist Muslims who hate our way of life.

So, what is the real problem among the FLDS and what should be done?

I see two issues:
  • They are raping girls who are too young to consent to marriage or sex.
  • They are neglecting minor children by expelling them from their families for minor religious infractions.
Both of these are crimes. Note that wearing pioneer dresses, having long hair in funky braids, having strange religious beliefs, living in isolation, not wearing makeup, and other cultural things are not. In my mind, neither is polygamy. The Mormon doctrine of polygamy seems much less harmful to families than adultery or other forms of marital infidelity. As long as it is a real marriage entered into by consenting adults, then I don't see why it should be a crime. But, again, that's not the issue. The Texas attorney general has hinted that bigamy laws may have been violated and that charges may be filed on that ground. But I'd rather see such laws be stricken from the books or left unenforced unless he also plans to crack down on similar laws such as adultery and sodomy laws.

I'm a strong believer in the rule of law, and one of the fundamental aspects of the rule of law in the principle of impartiality. Laws should apply to everyone and should be applied uniformly. We shouldn't have separate rules for rich and poor or based on race or based on gender or any other arbitrary distinctions. The state of Texas shouldn't get leeway to enforce laws against one small religious minority just because they are different.

In case you can't tell, I'm a little bit peeved at the media focus on superficial differences. It's the same mentality that led to (my considered opinion here) the mass murder of the Branch Davidians in Waco and the cold blooded murder at Ruby Ridge. The media coverage focused on the strangeness of the victims as if that is a justification for the government to selectively tyrannize those people.

Based on what I see, the wholesale removal of every child from the compound is excessive and unjustified and will deepen the feelings of persecution among the FLDS. No one has accused them of pedophilia. There is no reason to be removing girls that have not reached puberty, which is the age the FLDS appear to believe is marriageable age. There is no reason to remove boys, since the problem appears to be with the boys that have been cast out. Those that are still there are still being cared for.

I'm sympathetic of the difficulties in investigating the crimes. Investigating close societies like the FLDS has to be like investigating organized crime families. But, we still live in a free country where people deserve due process under the law.

So, what seems justified?

The DNA testing seems reasonable in order to prove paternity and establish that sex has occurred illegally between minor children and adults.

If anyone should be separated and removed and put into protective custody it should be adolescent girls.

Paternity and maternity should be established so that rape charges can be filed against the appropriate men.

The state should establish a consent decree from the FLDS getting them to agree to cease underage marriage and sex. I personally think that they should revoke the anti bigamy laws and require that all marriages be open to the public and that they be licensed by the state with both parties swearing consent. I think that this should apply to all religions including the LDS who exclude non-members from their temple marriages.

I think that the should investigate whether the FLDS in Texas are casting out minor boys and prosecute the church and families for neglect if they find such cases.

Other than that, I think they should leave them alone to live their culture according to their own conscience as long as they comply with the law no matter how strange it may seem to us. Heaven knows our ways probably seem more strange and objectionable to them than theirs do to us.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Who Are the Real Mormons?

The Mormons have been in the news recently, much to their dismay. Why? Polygamy again. Try as they will, the Mormons just can't seem to shake their inextricable association with polygamy. Throughout my life, whenever people heard I was Mormon they would ask about polygamy. My responses would range from puzzled to irritated. I was raised Mormon and knew nothing about it. Polygamy was something from the past and I wished people would just forget about it.

Mormons, of course, know that the church practiced polygamy up until 1890. The revelation commanding polygamy, Doctrine and Covenants section 132, is still a very important one in the church since it also reveals the principle of eternal marriage which remains a central tenet of the church. So, while most Mormons are still comfortable with polygamy as an acceptable, theoretical, eternal practice, they are secretly and sometimes openly relieved that the church abandoned the principle long ago and that they don't have to live it in this life. But, they do understand that in the eternities men will have multiple wives. The men have no problem with this, but many women, my wife included, have no desire to share their husbands in this life or the next one.

Every time Mormon polygamists make the headlines, the mainstream Mormon church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sends out press releases reminding the media that there is no such thing as Mormon fundamentalists or polygamous Mormons and that any Mormons caught practicing polygamy are excommunicated and therefore no longer Mormon. For example, the following new release claims:
Elder Cook said it is very confusing to the public when some media use “Mormon” to describe the Texas-based polygamous group that is currently under investigation for possible incidents of child abuse. He reiterated that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with over 13 million members worldwide, is not connected in any way to sects that practice polygamy.
I'm sure Elder Cook wishes this were true, unfortunately it isn't. What is confusing to the media and the public at large is why Elder Cook thinks that a group that follows Joseph Smith, believes in all of the Mormon scriptures and doctrines, and follows the church's 19th century prophets shouldn't be called Mormons. It's not at all clear why the LDS church should get to define who is and isn't Mormon any more than why evangelical Christians should get to decide who is and isn't Christian.

What is also confusing is his claim that the LDS don't practice polygamy. For example, Elder Dallin Oaks, an apostle in the church, is a practicing polygamist and has been open about it. His practice is in compliance with the law because his first wife is dead, but Mormons believe that marriages are eternal and he believes he is still married to his first wife as well as his second wife that he married a year after his first wife's death and looks forward to an eternal life with at least two wives, possibly more if God smiles on him and gives him even more wives in the afterlife.

The church officially stopped practicing polygamy in 1890, but continued to secretly perform polygamous marriages until 1906 when they were caught and had to issue a 2nd Manifesto discontinuing polygamy again. But they never renounced the doctrine of polygamy and the reality is that they simply reformed the practice from a temporal practice to an eternal practice in order to comply with the law.

So, when the Mormon church claims to no longer practice polygamy it is at best a half truth, which is also known in some circles as a lie. When Elder Cook states that the church is "connected in any way to sects that practice polygamy" he is clearly lying because one of his fellow apostles is a polygamist by the church's own definitions.

Now, about those Fundamentalist Mormons or FLDS that the church would prefer that the media not refer to as Mormons. Where did they come from? Well, prior to 1890 the Mormon prophets repeatedly said that polygamy was an eternal principle and that the practice would never be discontinued and that if it ever was then the church would be in apostasy. So, when the church stopped practicing polygamy some members believed that it was evidence that the leadership had apostatized and fallen and so they formed their own offshoots that continued the doctrines and practices originated by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

It's a little difficult to see how the FLDS are not Mormon. They believe in Joseph Smith, they Book of Mormon, and all of the teachings of the pre-1890 church. They follow the doctrines of the founding prophets of the church and refused to follow fallen leaders into apostasy after the LDS rejected polygamy. In fact, I think that they have a better doctrinal case of being the real Mormons. If they seem bizarre to the apostate, mainstream Mormon church then it is just an indication of how far the LDS church has fallen from what it was prior to its 1890 general apostasy.

What we see with the FLDS are the practical results of the "revelation" of Joseph Smith and its implementation by Brigham Young. Polygamy means that there will be a shortage of brides. The result is strong competition among the males for the most desirable girls. This drives the marriages to occur at younger and younger ages in order to lock up the marriages. The logical extreme for the group is similar to other societies where girls are married as soon as they go through puberty and reach child bearing age. Since the primary objective of marriage is children and raising up a righteous generation for God, it is not unexpected that these girls will start having children and become mothers at an early age. This is their highest calling. This is the case even in the mainstream LDS church where women are discouraged from working outside the home and are encouraged to be stay at home mothers. The main difference is that without polygamy, they don't have the same pressure to marry at very young ages.

The other implication that is not currently getting the press it deserves is the implications of polygamy for the males within the FLDS community. If each righteous male has to have 3 wives in order to be saved, then that means that 2 out of 3 males will be unwed. So what do you do? Well, you cull the herd. You need to go through a process that selects the most righteous 1/3 and you get rid of the rest. In fact the FLDS do exactly that and have cast out thousands of young boys to wander homeless. After being raised in their isolated communities with little education and a profound distrust for non-members they are cast out into a world that they are unprepared to live in. The end result is a culture that systematically produces a stream of homeless boys with severe emotional and social problems.

So, the LDS have deal with the FLDS making the new for continuing on with doctrines that the LDS itself practiced until 1890/1906. And it doesn't like it. Somehow I feel no sympathy for them and hope that many, many more articles are written showing how the two are inextricably linked by their history and doctrines.

Where Have You Been?

I've kind of gone AWOL lately. Part of it is that life has been busy, but that is usually the case for me. The real reason is that I kind of crashed and burned after my last marathon of the season, the Austin Marathon on February 17. I think I'll leave the details for a separate post.

On the running front I hadn't really recovered from the Houston Marathon on January 6 when the Austin marathon rolled around. I was back to running, but the my endurance and speed never came back. I felt good going in to the race, but my plan was to run a conservative pace and see how things went. I planned on running about 9:45 pace, which is normally a pretty comfortable pace for me in training. But this is what my pace and average heart rate looked like during the race:

Mile 1: 10:11, 157 bpm
Mile 2: 10:23, 161 bpm
Mile 3: 10:06, 165 bpm
Mile 4: 9:13, 163 bpm
Mile 5: 9:27, 164 bpm
Mile 6: 9:46, 165 bpm
Mile 7: 9:52, 161 bpm
Mile 8: 10:24, 163 bpm
Mile 9: 10:10, 162 bpm
Mile 10: 10:27, 162 bpm
Mile 11: 10:39, 159 bpm
Mile 12: 10:59, 160 bpm
Mile 13: 10:48, 159 bpm
Mile 14: 11:26, 154 bpm

The first two miles were uphill so I wasn't too worried at the outset, but as thing flattened out in mile 3 and went down hill in miles 4 and 5 I began to sense trouble. Miles 5 and 6 were flat and it was a struggle to even get to 9:46 pace and I knew I had to slow down to even hope to finish. But it was all down hill from there. When I hit the hills in mile ten my body quickly disintegrated and by the halfway point I hurt so badly that it was all I could do to shuffle along. When the five hour pace group passed me I decided to drop out because if I was able to finish at all it was going to take five and a half or six hours and it simply wasn't worth it to me. I'd already finished a marathon this season and finished others so just finishing wasn't a big deal for me. My body clearly wasn't recovered or ready and I walked. I stopped at the side of the road and got out my cell phone and called my wife to have her pick me up at Northcross mall. I actually continued to walk past mile 17 where I met my wife and went home.

I really didn't feel bad about it. I'd started the season injured back in September and had rehabilitated enough to run within a couple of minutes of my PR at Houston. Austin was simply a lesson learned that my 43 year old body needed at least a couple of months to recover from a marathon before I could do another. I'd done it the previous year when I ran Dallas at the beginning of December and then had a good race at Austin in February.

I really didn't start running semi-regularly again until the end of March. I ran the Capitol 10k and the Bun Run 5k, but I wasn't in shape for them and ran them just for fun. In fact, while I'm entered in all my normal spring races I don't have any goals for them because I'm focused on recovering from marathon season and just building up a good mileage and endurance base with a focus on weight loss. In other words, I'm in my off season and running for pleasure.

I've already entered next year's Houston marathon and the lottery for the New York Marathon. That means, with this year's lesson learned, that I have no intention of running the Austin Marathon next year. The big goal, however is to get down to 205 pounds. Harumph. Like I've never had that goal before.