26 June 2008

Mormon woman appears on "30 Days." Hilarity does NOT ensue.

The timing was ironic, a little spooky even. Just last week I posted about one of my favorite TV shows, "30 Days," and imagined only briefly what a "Mormon" episode might look like and whether anyone would care. This Sunday, as has been reported elsewhere, the Church will formally announce the mobilization of its members to advocate for the passage of an amendment to the state constitution of California that would clearly define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. If I was really into conspiracy theories, I think this week's happenings would probably set me off.

This past Tuesday night, a Mormon woman appeared on "30 Days." The theme of the episode was same-sex or gay adoption. Our Mormon mother was assigned to live with a gay couple who were raising four children that they got from foster care. It was, in a word, awkward. Extremely awkward. When Morgan Spurlock, the show's creator and narrator, announced a few minutes into the show that this lady was "a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons," my wife audibly groaned. I thought about reaching for a big tub of popcorn and a cold root beer. Fireworks- like the Fourth of July come early!

The Good- Kati (this sister's name), to her credit, did not explicitly lay the responsibility for her beliefs about same-sex adoption on the Church. More importantly, she did not lay the responsibility for her stubbornness and lack of charity on the Church either. In fact, if it were not for Spurlock "outing" her (oh, the irony) as part of introducing the cast, it is likely that nobody would have known that she was Mormon. From what I saw, she could have been a member of any conservative Christian denomination. (First, consider the implications of that.) In one instance, she did tell the couple that she knew her beliefs were true because she had prayed about them and received an answer. In another scene, she attended the couple's gay-friendly church, and could be seen to be holding a standard Quad. However, while setting off our Mo-dar, either of these two things would have completely eluded any non-Mormon watchers. I was thankful that her affiliation was kept on the down-low, not only for my own peace of mind, but, as I will further explore below, because I am not sure that opposition to same-sex adoption can be considered a Church position or doctrine.

The Bad- Kati would feel right at home with the maxim "When the prophet speaks, the thinking is done." When asked to explain her opposition to same-sex adoption, she constantly fell back on the refrain of "I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman" or "I don't believe that two gay people should be raising children." It was obvious to both my wife and I that this is not a subject about which she had reflected very much prior to this experience. In part, this fits well with the goal of the show, which is to expose people to new experiences, new ways of life, and new thoughts. However, it could not help but trouble me to see her be incapable of marshalling any better argument for her opposition than "I believe it's not right." Exclusively moral-based arguments, especially those rooted in subjective spiritual experiences (and by subjective I mean individualized, not false), tend to be unconvincing to those who do not share those beliefs or have not had those same spiritual experiences. My concern is that I believed she treated a general dislike of homosexual activity in the Church as a blanket license to not think seriously about the relative merits of our public policies and moral judgments about activities involving homosexuals, but which are not intrinsically linked with their homosexuality.

The Ugly- Completely unrelated to any Mormon elements within the show, what really made my blood boil was the attitude and behavior of the biological relatives (mother, aunt, uncle, sister) of one of the boys that the gay couple had taken in from foster care. Yes, they are alive. No, they were not in jail. The whole clan had a (temporarily) nice backyard cookout at the gay couple's home, at which the family which had abandoned this child proceeded to berate Kati for her opposition to homosexual adoption, which would have deprived their little boy of a loving home. As my wife's mission companion used to say, "Hey kettle, you black!" I understand that some people, despite their mistakes and failures, have the momentary clarity to recognize that a child, while biologically theirs, might be better off being raised with just about anybody else. I applaud that foresight, but doubt that the voluntary abandonment of a child, even if wise, gives one much moral high ground from which to cast rocks at others.

Does the Church's opposition to SSM, as expressed in their recent letter to CA congregations, demand that we oppose same-sex adoption with equal vigor? This is far from obvious and to my knowledge, such a position has never been expressed clearly in any official Church publication, including a First Presidency letter. (I am open to being proven wrong on this point though. Same-sex adoption is clearly illegal in the state of Utah.) Indeed, I think there are strong arguments why same-sex adoption is deserving of our support and admiration, regardless of what we think about SSM or homosexuality in general. The foster care system is a mess, in spite of the best efforts of well-meaning social workers and generous families. There are simply not enough willing permanent home providers among the straight population to take in all the kids that might need it. Also, gay families (yes I said it), because they are generally not first-choice adoptive parents, don't get the "cream of the crop" and end up taking more kids with disabilities, and other "un-adoptables." And thus, we open up the opportunity to adopt to same-sex couples. Further, far from simply being a kind of "last resort," gay parents have not proven to be demonstrably less capable of raising well-adjusted functioning children to adulthood in our society. It does not have a long enough history and the data are still out there. If they are able to do so, it may be even more laudable given the general opposition they face from the rest of us despite their best efforts.


  1. Wow, I can't believe I missed this, thanks!

  2. I cannot support same-sex adoption. Every child deserves a mother and a father. If you believe that women are as important and vital to society as men, then what message are you sending to the child raised by two men? That a mother (and hence a woman in the house) is not necessary. It's a sad thing when, through death or divorce, a child must grow up without one of its parents. That's when the community around needs to step up and help. It's a worse thing, in my mind, to deliberately deprive a child of that guidance. Study after study has proven that children do better with a father in the home. Studies have also shown that a good predictor of whether or not a woman will have a healthy, happy marriage herself is if her relationship with her father is a good one.

    I know gay parents do their best to be good parents but there's a fundamental lack in their homes and "better than nothing" is not a good enough reason to allow same-sex adoption.

  3. I have to take some exception with Proud Daughter of Eve's comment, and not just because I'm married to the author of this post. The issue here isn't whether or not a child would be better off in a home with a mother and a father, because I think that most members of the church (and probably the majority of society still) feel pretty strongly about how wonderful ... and ideal ... that would be.

    But since "ideal" is the keyword here, and this world is a far, far place from ideal, is it better for a child to grow up in the foster care system, being bounced from home to home where they have no stability, no permanent relationships, and often suffer from crippling emotional and physical harm, than to grow up without either a mother (in the home of a gay male couple) or a father (in the home of a lesbian couple) when given the opportunity to experience some of the love and stability other children take for granted?

    The issue is just not as easy, or as clear-cut, as we would like to imagine. Having grown up largely in a home where my mom was single and raised five kids (my dad left her when I was 9), should she have given me up for adoption or to the foster care system because she didn't have a traditional mom/dad home to offer me, with the hope that some other nice family would come along who did?

    This is what our friend Kati, and many others among our numbers as members of the church, don't get. We want to see the traditional "mom and pop" family as the direct alternative to gay family adoption, and it almost never is available at any rate to most of these children.

  4. PDoE,

    You said:
    "Every child deserves a mother and a father."

    What does this mean exactly? Are we talking about roles or biology? Why can't two gays or lesbians modify their roles to conform to the standard mother/father dichotomy that you seem to support? Or does every family need one penis and a pair of breasts? I don't equate the two. I also don't want to imply anything about the effeminateness or "butchness" of gays or lesbians. But we can't discount the possibility that gays and lesbians can fulfill all of the parental roles of providing, nuturing, educating even though they are of the same sex.

    As to your suggestion that growing up with two men teaches that women aren't necessary, that is a bit of a stretch. For one thing, you could have a lesbian couple. For another, I don't believe that most gay men are gay because they are anti-woman and it is very likely that children growing up in a gay home will be exposed to appropriate role models of the opposite sex, even if one is not living in their home, through extended social networks (the same way this happens for kids who grow up with single parents). But the more important point is that whatever growing up with gay/lesbian parents teaches you about the importance of the opposite sex, growing up in foster care teaches you that YOU are not important.

    I think the studies you are looking at are completely inapposite to my point, since the "children do better with a father in the home" is primarily in reference to one-parent homes, and gay couples are decidedly two-parent homes. Girls growing up with two gay men have two fathers to have good relationships with. For girls that grow up in lesbian homes, that of course is another story. But on that point, I think judgment should be withheld. The jury is still out on a lot of these issues and I am guessing that we'll see a lot more data rolling in in the coming years as more studies are done. Gay/lesbian parents are hard to study because of their scarcity and (probably) an unwillingness to submit to sometimes skeptical scrutiny.

    I would never rely on "better than nothing" as an exclusive argument in favor of same-sex adoption. Its an insult to those who you concede are "do[ing] their best" to say they are only marginally better than a broken foster care system.

  5. I am not homosexual but I support same sex marriage and gay adoption. The denial of marital and child rearing rights is really a denial of HUMAN rights. At the end of the day we are all people and as people we deserve to be treated the same as everyone else no matter our race, nationality, sexuality or religious beliefs.

    This show really disturbed me and not just because of Kati's unwillingness to change her opinion regarding gay adoption. She is right when she says that it is her opinion and she is entitled to it.

    However, the major problem with having an opinion is the point when one takes action because of that opinion. I feel that when she said she would vote against gay adoption because she thought it was wrong (because god said so and really no other reason), I feel as though she would be voting against another person's humanity and their right to lead a happy life.

    I see in Kati's attitude the same attitude that caused the Inquisition and the Holocaust. Another person is being devalued based on nothing more than a feeling. No scientific evidence that homosexuals are inferior humans. No psychological evidence that children raised in same sex homes are worse off. She prayed to god and god told her it was wrong. I don't get it.

    I pray to god and god tells me to treat everyone as equal, to love others and be kind. I've never been told to treat people differently based on some arbitrary characteristic such as skin color or sexual preference. I guess this is the point when I should reveal that I'm not a Christian nor do I particularly care for any of the Abrahamic religions.

    I might not agree with her religion but I would fight to the death in any war to protect her right to believe and celebrate in whatever religion she chose simply because she is a fellow human being and deserves to believe whatever helps her sleep at night.

    I did not see that same empathy in Kati. I felt that she valued her ideals over the humanity of these two men and like those two men, I cried at the end of the show at the sadness of it all.

    These children need loving homes. She kept going on and on about a child needing to be in a home with a Mom and a Dad. Seriously? The divorce rate in this country is over 60%. There are a lot of children being raised in a single parent home. So are these single moms and dads bad parents for not jumping the broom again? And are children really better off being with abusive heterosexual parents than loving homosexual parents? She never answered that question all the times it was presented to her. Never.

    Anyway, I'm sorry my replay is so long. This show just really upset me.

  6. I am a huge fan of this show and I happened to miss this episode (recorded on DVR). It replays right after and I caught it about halfway into it. As I was watching Katie, there was something oddly familiar about her. Her demeanor if you will. Her inability to open her mind to see other views. As a former Mormon whose parents and some siblings are still in the church, I pegged her as LDS and my DVR confirmed it.
    She simply showed her intolerance to other walks of life as do 95% of LDS members. Sad really.

  7. Justin and I love to watch 30 Days and I was intrigued by the previews for this episode. But once Kati said that she was a member of the Church, I couldn't watch the show anymore. Justin even turned off the television since it made me so upset.

    I wish I could assure viewers of the show that not all Mormons feel the same way that Kati does. (Even though a lot of us probably agree with her wholeheartedly.) Count me in as a Mormon who supports gay parents adopting children and who supports same-sex marriage too.

  8. Sounds like quite an awkward episode.

    On another tangent.... I hadn't heard of the Church's mobilization of its Californian members until I read this post. I'm wondering how that will go over. Part of me suspects that, even among the Mormons, there's been at least some shift in attitude toward gay marriage since Proposition 22. I wouldn't be surprised if Church members' reaction to the mobilization is less enthusiastic than in 2000 (but I could be wrong).

    In any case, I wish people would stop making such a hooplah about how the CA Supreme Court overturned a voter initiative, of all things. It's called "judicial review," people.

    [End of tangent.]

  9. Steve and Caroline,

    Yes awkward doesn't even begin to describe how this episode made me feel.

    I don't know what Church members' reaction was to Prop 22 in 2000, since I was barely a member then and did not quite have a sense of the larger Church outside my singles ward. With the advent of the Bloggernacle since then, I think it has become much easier for members living in different areas of the country (or the world) to communicate with one another and, if need be, mobilize on behalf of some cause. I have heard rumblings around some parts of that series of tubes we call the Internet that gays, both Mormon and non-Mormon, as well as some Mormon allies and sympathizers will be organizing some kind of protest tomorrow. One idea I have seen floated around is to have one such person express their displeasure during testimony meeting or to get up a walk out while the letter is being read (in an obvious sort of way). Since the letter is not being read outside California (at least I assume it is not), I won't be able to witness firsthand what goes down. Steve, maybe you could find out a little bit about this from family and let us know what (if anything) happens?

  10. I'll have to talk to my parents and see what, if anything, happened on Sunday. My mom emailed me and merely said that my dad had to attend a training broadcast in which members of the Twelve indicated that, although members were to support the amendment to the state constitution, they weren't supposed to sound like they were "against gays."

  11. Support amendment against gay marriage, not "supposed to sound like they were 'against gays'?" Not sure I know how to do that and I am sure that Kati doesn't either. I don't think we do nuance well as a people. We'll see how this goes.

  12. You seem to assume that because one only has a moral reason for opposing same sex marriage and gay adoption that they have not given the issue much thought. Some things will only have a moral justification.

    Someone who sincerely believes in a religion, no matter what religion it may be, will believe that beliefs others hold are wrong. Their reasoning many times can be and will be nothing more than the fact that they know for themselves that what they believe is right.

    People seem to believe that tolerance means to accept what others believe as right. A person can be open minded and listen to another's point of view and still disagree with it, but heaven forbid it be on "gasp" moral grounds. The word tolerance actually originally related to the amount of poison a person could ingest before it killed them.

    Every child deserves a "mother and a father." You imply that a mother is nothing more than a cook and cleaner with her "roles" and that a father is nothing more than a breadwinner. How sexist is that? You're argument against the mother and father is that gay couples can conform to these "traditional roles." Even the Supreme Court has recognized that there are innate physiological differences between male and female and I would add that there are more differences than that. If you have read the Proclamation on the Family you would understand that - or did you "think" through that and come to a different conclusion?

    Comparing the raising of a child in a gay couple home as opposed to a single mother or father home makes no sense. A mother or father raising a family on their own is not immoral. That is the difference. A foster home or a single parent home is more ideal than a gay couple for the very fact that the child is not exposed to the immorality of a gay lifestyle.

    I can try to point to "studies" to defend my opinions, but in the end my opinions are based on my own moral belief system. To say that a person who follows the prophet doesn't "think" is assuming that one can only follow the prophet if they haven't thought through the issue on their own - and that anyone who does "think" will only come to the conclusion that gay marriage and gay adoption are acceptable.

    The idea that educated, thoughtful people can only come to one conclusion is what caused the holocaust. Ridiculing a person because of their moral beliefs sounds a lot like what the Nazis did to the Jews.

    When you say that a Mormon needs to have a better explanation than simply a spiritual confirmation to explain our beliefs to the world, it makes me wonder why you believe the Book of Mormon is true. How did you teach about the Book of Mormon on your mission? Did you point to the pyramids scattered through South America as the reason to believe in it? Someone can poke holes in the logic of the Book of Mormon, of Joseph Smith, of the Church in general and in the end it is supposed to be that way. That's why we have to have a little something called faith. The Lord's commandments won't always have a physical manifestation of why they are the right way to live. The weightier matters of the law are the spirtual ones.

    In addition, I am really annoyed by your use of the title of Elder Oaks' talk and wonder if you have actually read it by the conclusions you come to. Wait, let me guess...you "thought" through that one too. Elder Oaks would probably strongly disagree with you on this and I'd rather be on his side than yours. That is something I have "thought" about long and hard.

  13. Anonymous,

    First things first: your comment is very close to being deleted. As I stated in my comments policy, personal criticism (your clear tone of disdain for me and my way of thinking) is not welcome here. As an anonymous commenter, you bear a higher burden to prove that your comment belongs here. If you decide to come back, tone it down or at least stop hiding behind your anonymity.

    Now to the substance of your comments: the use of Weightier Matters as the title of my blog is totally intentional. I addressed the meaning of that title and my choice to use it in one of the first posts on this blog. Unlike you, I recognize that those are originally Jesus' words, not Elder Oaks'. As a matter of fact, I do disagree with Elder Oaks on the significance of those words (I have read the talk multiple times), and you are welcome to take his side. I am not sure that I want you on mine.

    Contrary to your assertion, I think that reasonable people can disagree on these issues. Last General Conference (were you watching?), Elder Wirthlin, whose physical health in my opinion seems to be inversely correlated to the quality of his talks, said that it is an "erroneous belief that all members of the Church should...be alike." (See I can quote General Authorities too!) Whatever else I have said about SSM or same-sex adoption, I have never claimed that these decisions were easy. They require intense reflection. My criticism of Kati (and implicitly, others like her) is not the fact that they came to a certain conclusion that I disagree with, but that they seemed to have expended no effort in getting there. Being a member of the Church is not an invitation to cease all meaningful ethical reasoning because the Prophets and Apostles will decide it all for me. Does this sound familiar: "We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox as we are that you shall have thoughts." (Hugh B. Brown, BYU Forum) I have never covenanted to abdicate my conscience to anyone. Heavenly Father's plan was specifically designed not to take away my agency; I don't think it is part of his plan to rob me of it on the back end either.

    On the issue of my supposed sexism, my purpose in posing the question of gender roles was not to assert that they exist, but to probe more deeply into what we mean when we say that kids need a mother and a father. What exactly is the content of those roles? Is it simply a biological fact? (If so, what of those who cannot have children?) Is it a matter of the relative roles of nuturing, educating, and providing that they perform? (If so, in what way is this tied to gender?) I'm not a big fan of gender essentialism. I have read the Proclamation on the Family, but again, just because gender essentialist language is there does not mean that I am reflexively obligated to accept it. Besides, an acknowledgment that there are some innate differences between men and women does not get us very far here. Recent science is discovering that there are biological differences between the brains of gay men and straight men very early in life, so that tends to throw a kink into essentialist arguments.

    I will not address your Holocaust argument except to say that reducing the cause of the Holocaust down to a disagreement about moral beliefs is absurd. It is much more difficult than that, and I mourn that public schooling has taught you no better. The reductio ad Hitler argument will get you nowhere fast, buddy.

    At no point in my post did I directly attack the validity of purely moral or spiritual justifications. However, my spiritual knowledge is just that...mine. It is not a solid ground for dialogue in a pluralistic society. Just because I know it to be true obligates no one else to follow me, whether that is the truth of the Book of Mormon or any other issue of faith. It is necessarily exercised on an individual level and, in my opinion, should not lightly be made the justification for wide-ranging public policies. But as that is just my opinion, based on sincere reflection, you will almost surely (and rightly) remain unconvinced and go on thinking as you already do, which is your prerogative.

    As to the relative merits of living in a foster home, with a single parent, or with a same-sex couple, I suggest that we ask the opinion of the kids in foster care. While you are not likely to see it this way, I think that while the intentions of foster parents are noble and good, the inability of our system to provide stable and permanent homes and families for abandoned children is an immorality worse than exposure to homosexuality.

  14. I agree that not all foster homes and adoptive parents are ideal and many are far from it, but to include the "gay experience" within foster homes and adoptions just might lower the "ideal" standard even more.

    The answer might be that more "traditional" homes open up their front doors and take in our hungry children.

    I want to be clear that I am believe that a sexual relationship between and man and man or a women and a women is a social and spiritual death to mankind and future civilizations. If the prophet's word is not enough, history confirms.

    We can justify tolerance to the point that all men are children of God and we are at our best when we love all men regardless of who they say they are or what they do. We work and hope for their well being and progression but we sorrow for their disobedience to God's laws and pray for their redemption.

    We must press forward to improve the quality of this earthly existence, (edited movies for example)even if, in the end, evil prevails. Despite it's popularity, God still calls it by it's name, "Evil".

    I, for one, would prefer to see America's children overcome foster care, which most do, than take the risk that more and more of the next generation's "families" have twisted and perverted understanding of the eternal laws of God and have to be adopted or surrogated.

  15. Hey Adam, I'm not nearly as elequent or educated as many who read and comment on this post, but here goes :-)

    I watched this episode with Joann and was biting my nails the whole time dreading this poor woman would make a fool of herself and give the world further cause to scrutinize our faith. It was brutally clear that she was unprepared for such a life experience.

    I am compelled to believe in a God that is all loving and accepting of ALL of his children. While we who salute to the flag of Christianity believe homosexuality to be wrong for US. Who are we to dictate whether Gay men and Women are "evil" because they believe whole wholehearted what they are doing is the right and sometimes ONLY choice for them?What if God as they understand him/her/it. Loves them and is OK with they way they are.

    I have several Gay friends who were raised in the church all of whom have resorted to drugs, alcohol and suicide, due to the pressures of our faith and it's stance on homosexuality. Many in our faith treat Homosexuals as if they were broken human beings, Sexual deviants or 2nd class citizens. Just because i'm not attracted to the Same Sex and don't believe my conception of God honors homosexual relationships, doesn't give me the right to impose on the happiness of others, including whether homosexuals should be able to have the blessing of raising children.

    My parents have often told me that the greatest joy in life is having children. Why rob Same Sex couples of this happiness after years of personal torment. God knows us all to our depths, why not let him take care of our fellow men and women and be the judge of whether we followed the dictates of our conscience and if your conscience is telling you that you need to exercise your will and impose on the happiness and free will of others, better check to see who's delivering the message.

  16. Just ran across your blog, and I just wanted to say thank you for being willing to express your views. As a gay man who left the Church over Prop 8, all I can say is hopefully there are more people like you in the future of the Church.

    1. Hi d-train there are lots of us .... I only recently found out that the church took a stance on prop 8 and am trying to reconcile it with what I know the gospel to teach !!! This is a subject of hours of discussion in my family at the moment and much research ! I have the same wish as you !

  17. My father hit my mother and I when I was a child. I would have loved to have a family like those two dads are providing. How anyone can make such ignorant generalizations about families as that woman did is beyond me.

    Some religious people are quick to criticise what they call the moral relativism of the non-religious, which I find ironic. She is just plain and simply wrong in her views on adoption. Her behavior was unkind, un-Christian, and uncharitable.

  18. Ya, it's a pretty good episode. It's amazing how close minded and bigoted the mormon is.

  19. Wow I watched that program but never realized that she was LDS....how sad as I was so disappointed in her total lack of Christian love!

    What happened to following the admonitions of Paul! Not living in the USA I didn't pay much attention to Prop 8 until recently! But something that has made me a strong advocate for gay adoption is Aids orphans! In Africa the gay community has done so much in fighting for free anti-retroviral drugs for orphans, they provide homes for these poor little darlings who did nothing to deserve living with this disease and not only provide them with the healthcare they need but with the love, family and caring they require to endure it! If there is anything Virtuous,lovely or of good report or praiseworthy we seek after these things " I believe providing children with a loving home falls into those things we should be seeking after irrespective of your sexual preference !
    We are taught over and over to "judge not" - how is the intolerance she showed Christian but their providing for someone in need and loving them isn't acceptable before the Lord. by their works ye shall know them....!

    I like you do not agree with her and hope the world realizes that not all LDS are as mind numbingly bigoted or self righteous!