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Addressing Austism from an Emergency Personnel Perspective

ImageI just read a great article by a dad who works as an EMT for the Fire Department of New York. Last year, Avonte Oquendo, an Autistic boy of 14 from New York, disappeared from school. Just walked out the door, and has not been heard from since. What is so sad is that even if he is found, he wouldn’t be able to tell you what happened to him in the interim, because he is non-verbal. When a child on the spectrum disappears, the chances of harm to them are greater, due to their higher vulnerability.

I have two sons on the Autistic Spectrum, and this author has one too. If one of my boys went missing, I would want our Utah EMS people to be aware of the special needs of these kids, and consider them when putting together a search of this kind.  Not long ago, a boy also went missing in my valley. What brought it close to home for me was that this particular boy had the exact same name as my son, was the same age, and also has an ASD condition. Many of my friends and relatives mentioned that they had to double check to make sure it wasn’t my son being described in the news. Fortunately for the Utah family, their son was found safe and sound within 24 hours. Avonte and his family have yet to find relief. Please read this great intro article on ASD. The more of us who get educated on this, the better! Utah happens to have the largest ASD population in America. The chances that someone you know is suffering are high.

From the Officers Corner: Addressing Autism, by Lt. Richard Erdey

Published 11/26/13

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Response to “The dark side of homeschooling” by Katherine Stewart

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So I was lying down with my four-year-old tonight, and was singing one of my favorite children’s songs about Jesus, to help him go to sleep. I had also sung “Castle on a Cloud,” “Angel Lullaby,” and “Happy Family.” This is a simple routine we have followed through the years, with all five of our kids, from the time they were old enough to sleep in their own room. Sometimes when a child drifts off to sleep, I linger a few minutes longer on the bed, just to enjoy the beautiful fragrance of their sleeping head, and drink in the peaceful warmth of these increasingly rare moments with our kids.

As I lay there tonight, my mind wandered over the events of the day. I had read this disturbing article by a woman in the UK who clearly has no idea about what homeschooling actually looks like in the United States. I set it aside, and meant to let it fall deservingly by the wayside. However, in this reflective moment, having just sung about Jesus to my son, it dawned on me that I have a friend who may see this article, and believe the reality to be just as the author describes. From her point of view, perhaps I am “indoctrinating” my son, even grooming a future “culture warrior,” that might one day find himself on the opposing side of her son in some future culture war. I decided to draft a response.

Ms. Stewart: “The Christian home school subculture isn’t a children-first movement….Several decades ago, political activists on the religious right began to put together an “ideology machine”. Home schooling was a big part of the plan. The idea was to breed and “train up” an army of culture warriors. We now are faced with the consequences of their actions, some of which are quite disturbing.”

Wow, from the very first lines, I am shuddering at her premise. This is a huge straw man argument. I hope she is truly writing from an honest misconception. Firstly, homeschooling in the U.S. didn’t start out as any kind of political movement from the right or the left. It used to be the default mode of education here. The conservative Christian community latched on to homeschooling, primarily out of a desire to counter the creeping secular culture making its way into public schools.

Honestly, what parent do you know that decides to have a kid, just so they can mold a future culture warrior? It’s ludicrous! The TX homeschooling pioneers of the early1980’s were mainly concerned with the education of their children. At that time, the Texas Education Association outlawed homeschooling, and eventually arrested more than a hundred homeschooling parents who chose not to follow the new policy. You simply don’t take that kind of stand out of a desire to keep an “idealogy machine” going. They did it precisely because they loved their children, and wanted to educate them from within the paradigm of their religion. No good parent would be OK with someone else’s” indoctrination,” religious or secular. You can’t raise a kid without passing your values system on to them (i.e. indoctrination), human nature doesn’t allow for it.

Stewart: “According to the Department of Education, the home schooling student population doubled in between 1999 and 2007, to 1.5 million students, and there is reason to think the growth has continued. Though families opt to home school for many different reasons, a large part of the growth has come from Christian fundamentalist sects.”

“A large part” is quite vague. In reality, there are increasingly large numbers of secular homeschoolers, throughout the U.S., and the trend continues to grow. For example, take this 2012 article in USA Today.

Stewart: “When he was growing up in California, Ryan Lee Stollar was a stellar home schooling student. His oratory skills at got him invited to home schooling conferences around the country, where he debated public policy and spread the word about the “virtues” of an authentically Christian home school education.”

Ah, so it’s not homeschooling generally that she takes issue with, just this conservative Christian sub-group that seems to be overzealous about transmitting religious values to their kids. Glad we cleared that up. The man she quotes acknowledges that he was well educated in all academics by his parents, even exceptionally so. But he can’t seem to forgive them for also transmitting their religious views in the process. Now I am not an authority on this subculture. I don’t pretend to know how much abusive coercion is going on. But Stewart is painting the whole U.S. homeschooling community as possessing this fatal, “dark” flaw, which essentially amounts to parents who are transmitting their values to their kids. She neglects the vital point that all parents do it. Period. And by the way, school teachers do it too. You simply can’t function as a teacher without giving some inkling of your values system to your students.

Stewart: “’Too frequently’, Stollar says, ‘the consequences of putting ideology over children include anxiety, depression, distrust of authority, and issues around sexuality.’ This is evident from the testimonials that appear on Home schoolers Anonymous, the website that Stollar established, along with several partners.”

Now I don’t want to diminish the suffering of these grown-up homeschooled children. I’m not a Christian fundamentalist, I’m a Mormon. And I homeschool too. It’s not unique to one community. Some parents are excessively controlling. Lots of parents don’t know how to put their kids’ needs first, simply because of an inability to be unselfish. It goes far beyond cultural lines. What I take issue with here is that Ms. Stewart feels she needs to engage in fear-mongering over a subgroup of religious homeschoolers, painting the whole community with a broad, mistrustful brush.

“Many parents start off home schooling with the intention of inculcating their children in a mainstream form of Christianity.”

No, most parents start off homeschooling because the current public schools are damaging their kids in countless ways, physically, academically and emotionally. Yes religious homeschoolers still make up a sizeable portion of newbies, but that is decreasingly so as the movement expands. Here is a link to almost fifty blogs belonging to secular homeschoolers, a small sample from a growing population.

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Stewart: “The fundamentalist home schooling world also advocates an extraordinarily authoritarian view of the parental role. Corporal punishment is frequently encouraged. The effects are, again, often quite devastating. ‘People who experienced authoritarian parents tend to turn into adults with poor boundaries,’ writes one pseudonymous HA blogger. ‘It’s an extremely unsatisfying and unsustainable way to live.’”

Wow, another huge generalization. She is referring to a miniscule percentage of homeschoolers, making no distinction between these authoritarian Christians and the larger group of conservative Christians that choose to teach their own.  Again, I don’t wish to diminish the pain of those who grow up in abusive situations. She just makes it sound like there is a disproportionately large population of homeschoolers who are abusing their freedom. She needs hard data to be persuasive on this point.

Stewart: “In America, we often take for granted that parents have an absolute right to decide how their children will be educated, but this leads us to overlook the fact that children have rights, too, and that we as a modern society are obligated to make sure that they get an education. Families should be allowed to pursue sensible homeschooling options, but current arrangements have allowed some families to replace education with fundamentalist indoctrination.”

Um, she needs to define “education” more precisely. And a couple of problems: 1) since when did modern society EVER put the needs of kids before its own self-interest? no one loves or knows my kid better than I do. 2) This idea that the state, or the U.N., or the collective society is better equipped to educate my kid or to serve my kid’s “best interests” is repugnant, and fertilizes the seed bed of authoritarian regimes. I don’t know if Ms. Stewart has any children of her own. If she does, how would she like it if society’s idealogy du jour was Marxism, or Radical Islam? Would she still feel that such a society possesses the authority to decide which homeschooling options she were “allowed to pursue”? I think it’s noteworthy that she equates religion and idealogy here, which suggests she views conservative Christians as militant. Our founders worked hard to preserve the utmost freedom in the hands of individuals to pursue happiness, including the discretion to teach their kids whatever they please.

Forgive me, but as a culture warrior for the Left, it sounds to me like the author just doesn’t like those of us who homeschool, and also happen to lean Right. Homeschoolers don’t begin their journey seeking out ways to become a cog in an “idealogy machine”. And as I mentioned earlier, newbies increasingly are not associated with the offending Calvinist/Reconstructionist idealogy cited, which she has misrepresented as encompassing a much larger number of Christian homeschoolers than is accurate. By the end of our homeschooling journeys, we tend to be seasoned activists for educational freedom, because our way of life is threatened by those who think the way Ms. Stewart does. Warriors for educational freedom incidentally are comprised of people of all political stripes. However, based on the comments section of Stewart’s article, numerous Brits look down on the group, and don’t think we should have the right to teach our kids at all.

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Happy Meeting

Poaching Daisies has hit the bookstore shelves! Come get one before they are all gone! Here is my Amazon review. 

This taken at Eborn Books, on April 19, 2013: Downtown Salt Lake City, Utah.

And Happy Anniversary to Mick and Carole Warburton, who on this day celebrated 34 years of marriage!

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A few days ago Baby Blues and I had a chance to go and meet a great author, who also happens to be my former teacher! Carole Thayne Warburton was my 8th grade English teacher, who came to Pleasant Grove Junior High to teach Art and English to the bunch of us. I’m pretty sure we were a difficult class to work with. And of course ANY person who can shut themselves up with moody teens for eight hours a day is pretty dang amazing. But Mrs. Warburton encountered an exceptionally antsy group of kids in us. Thanks Carole for putting up with us! You did a great job, even though we never told you that. 🙂

Carole is a great writer! She left Pleasant Grove after only a year with us, and settled in Cache Valley. The night of this book signing I went home and read one of her earlier books, “Just Shy of Paradise” in one sitting. I loved that it was set in an area that was special to my father’s Jorgensen and Sorensen ancestors for a number of generations. Many of those I love are resting peacefully in the Hyrum Utah Cemetery. I can’t wait to get into Poaching Daisies, it promises to be another page turner!

And by the way, here’s a shout out to my dear friends in the H family, originally of San Jose! I was pleasantly surprised to see our good friend DH on this night, who happens to work at Eborn Books, a store I intend to bring my husband back to very soon. I love the H’s almost as much as I love my very own family. I was blessed with great mentors as a youth. G and RM were among the most influential to me.

Response to new LDS website on same-gender attraction

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The LDS church has just launched a new website, designed to open up a dialogue for greater support of the LGBT individuals in the church.

I don’t think the LDS church leadership is changing the core LDS doctrine about homosexuality.  But the emphasis on reaching out to the LGBT population is long overdue.  Mormons are compassionate people. The vast majority of LDS individuals, when presented with an opportunity to support and love a friend or fellow Mormon in distress, do so wholeheartedly.  One issue that comes to play here is that the stigma surrounding homosexuality has historically been such that those who are wired that way have not been comfortable sharing the fact.  Truly they have suffered in silence, fearing that coming out would cause others to reject or despise them.  This is a sad truth that needs to be amended as quickly as possible.

This fact is not new, it is just that LDS leadership has finally determined that the time has come to right this situation that plays out all too often.  It’s not that their level of compassion was unacceptable, given the level of awareness that prevailed before the SSM debate matured.  But the capacity for compassion has obviously increased, as it naturally does when one is faced with new information that challenges an old belief.  As the plight of LGBTs who dwell in our LDS circles has become better-understood, church leadership has taken notice.  I doubt that the actual number of LGBTs in the church is known even now, but there is recognition that it is perhaps much higher than was once thought.  But even if the number turned out to be smaller than believed, it is no less important to reach out now, with unconditional love.

It can be argued that there are some among our people (perhaps especially in places like Utah and Idaho) who live in a Mormon cultural bubble, rarely venturing out of their comfort zone.  To consider the plight of the LGBTs who dwell in LDS circles, there needs to be exposure to LGBTs.   In predominantly Mormon communities, unless someone has such a child of their own, it is unlikely that they will personally know anyone who is open about their LGBT status.  The need to consider how to reach out to those families who are raising these kids, or single LGBTs trying to live peacefully in the church, is simply not widely manifest in daily experience.   Ignorance is lamentable, but not grounds for condemnation.  The good news is that the dialogue is opening up, from Utah to the farthest reaches of church membership.

Fortunately for me, I grew up in the Bay Area.  And while I didn’t have numerous close friends of the LGBT stripe, I had such acquaintances in high school and college.  I can say that my own capacity for compassion has increased dramatically as I have spent time researching the SSM arguments on both sides. One epiphany came to me last year as I finished up a course on families in crisis.  In my textbook the authors submitted that LGBT families who seek mental health services are still not adequately supported.  More specifically, contemporary therapies still had not fully validated the LGBT families created and raising children.  In this sense, it was very obvious to me that for the sake of their innocent children, these families needed to be supported and strengthened. ( I still don’t agree that any child should be willfully deprived of a close association with both his biological parents.  This causes damage and unanswered questions that will likely follow him throughout his life, until he finds the answers.  But I’m digressing here. ) My point is that my own level of compassion has increased over the last few years because I have kept myself open to understanding the LGBT cause, and why they long for widespread cultural affirmation of their lifestyle.

While the LDS church is not any closer to solemnizing gay marriages in their temples, they are seeking to encircle the LGBT population more tightly with personal love and support that the church, and more especially individual members, can offer.  I had a gay man for a neighbor some time ago.  He recently died, and to my knowledge, never acted on his homosexual impulses.  He never married, but remained firmly in his LDS beliefs.  He was deeply loved and greatly respected in the congregation and neighborhood.  He was a gem of a man, and no one doubted that he had made great sacrifices to live his beliefs.  It was the great trial of his lifetime to do so.  I believe he went straight into the loving arms of Jesus Christ, the moment his spirit left his body.

Now for a short lesson on my LDS beliefs: God does allow for life-altering challenges to occur in each person’s life.  Every last person is severely tested. For me, that means mental illness and addictive tendencies, and children who have atypical wiring of the autistic stripe.  For my late neighbor and gay friend, it was his lot to find balance between his deeply-held LDS faith and his atypical orientation of the homosexual type. He is a gem of a person who suffered all of his life in a society that did not validate his truest identity.  For my sister, her trial is a body racked with various lifelong physical and mental ailments.  For another dear friend of mine, it is the lifelong battle to break the chain of abusive family processes.  God does not make mistakes, and loves each of His children unconditionally. I don’t have all the answers.

I don’t know why some of us have been compelled to live in a society that has mostly condemned them. I expect the Jewish among us may be best equipped to empathize. I believe we are placed in circumstances where we will grow in the way that we personally need to grow, in order to meet our respective life purposes.  I know a dear woman who has felt compelled by God to be a voice for mothers and their gay children. She has provided a place for their voices to be heard. I highly recommend her blog, and applaud her efforts. We are all fallen in our natures, and Christ has stepped in to take all of our pain and suffering on his shoulders.  I don’t feel that I am in a position to judge those of the LGBT stripe. I hope that if I had a friend who is still in the closet that s/he would be comfortable sharing their orientation with me. We each have impulses that we have to subdue in one way or another. We also have to learn to love ourselves exactly for who we are, without condition.

That journey toward the ideal continues beyond this earth life. I’m perfectly happy to allow for the great diversity among us. LDS doctrine positions itself among the Christian religions not as Universalist, but much closer to that view than most other denominations.  When we die, we will ALL eventually receive perfect, immortal bodies.  Those of us who do not know Christ in this life will have a chance to know him in the next.  Now before I completely veer off of the beaten track here, let me conclude by saying that I am happy to see the dialogue for supporting LGBTs opening up among the LDS faithful.  It is long overdue as I mentioned. I say better late than never!

Our Trip to Galveston Island

Michael and I took the kids down to see Grandma and Grandpa Smith in Texas for the Thanksgiving holiday.  While we were there, Mom Smith was kind enough to keep the kids while Michael and I stole away for a day to Galveston.  We’ve been to the Houston area many times, but had never spent much time away to explore the fun places in the surrounding country.  So this time we decided that Galveston would be on our list of places to see.

Upon researching the possible places to stay in Galveston, a bed and breakfast was clearly the way to enjoy the history and old personality of this beautiful sea port.  Grace Manor, at 1702 Postoffice Street, turned out to be the perfect choice.

Grace Manor was built in 1905, soon after the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history had destroyed the seaside town of Galveston, TX

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Being that it was the weekend right before Thanksgiving, they had only one other couple staying there on that night.  According to the lovely woman who managed the B&B, when Hurricane Ike hit landfall on September 13, 2008, the whole island was hit hard. The historic district was no exception.  According to her account, Grace Manor had eight feet of water in the basement after the category 2 hurricane made landfall, and the entire yard was destroyed.  Fortunately the upper levels of the home were left undamaged.

It was such a beautiful old home, I had to take pictures of the rooms.  I was so interested in the history of the old place, and enjoyed the ambience so much.  I actually dreamed that night that I was living in Victorian times.  We chose to stay in the largest suite, the Island Palm Room.  It is beautiful, with a veranda off to the side.

The Veranda

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The View from the Veranda

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The Gorgeous Island Palm Bedroom and Bathroom with Original Clawfoot Tub

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 Michael Peeking out of Front Parlor

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Lovely Reading Room full of Magazines and History Books about Galveston

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Gorgeous Breakfast Room

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We were served a three course breakfast along with the other couple who was staying there.  We had such a great conversation that lasted two or three hours, long after the delicious breakfast foods were consumed.

Much commiserating about Mitt Romney’s recent loss of the presidential election, and just great conversation was had with a Houston native and her husband, who hails from London.

The Grand Old Opera House, built in 1894, Main Entrance and Stairway going up to the Lobby

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Inside the Auditorium, facing the Stage

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View from the Stage

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View from the Coveted Box Seats, Stage Left

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It was worth the $2 price to go on a self-guided tour! We explored all of the nooks and wonders of this beautiful old arts venue.  My pictures turned out poorly, but there are better ones on the site I linked in the title above.  We really enjoyed the freedom to just wander around and enjoy the spirit of the place.

This amazing sand sculpture, created on site by Tibetan monks in 1993, is still preserved in the lobby off the second floor.  It is a marvel to behold.

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Touring the Strand District of Galveston

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Lots of Personality.  This random trumpet, in front of one of the buildings just begged to be photographed.

On our way out of town, we stopped at the Sea Wall, also constructed soon after the deadly 1900 hurricane.

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Aren’t We Sweet???

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These huge blocks of stone were more colorful than they appear in this picture.  They reminded me of the granite countertops that many people have in their kitchens today.  I actually had an image in my mind of walking across piles of countertops, as we made our way to the sea.  Worth the stop.  I sometimes miss the beaches of Northern California where I grew up, and this little detour was a happy reminder of the good old days.

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Response to Derrick Shore opinion on Mormons and Mitt: The Myth About Separation of Church and State

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This opinion piece on Mormons and the Separation of Church and State was brought to my attention by a friend who had seen it online, and asked me to submit my thoughts on the matter.  All feedback is of course welcome.

DS: “But here’s why Mr. Romney’s religion is relevant: For Mormons, there really is no such thing as separation of church and state.”

Not true.  We firmly believe in the separation of church and state.  Mormons have a long history of respecting and upholding the laws of the land, and that includes laws created to keep the two entities separate.  That is why whenever new laws on any subject are drawn up or old ones modified, LDS church leadership complies, and encourages its people to do the same.  In fact it is written into church policy that we are to obey and uphold all of the laws of whichever nation we live in.

DS: “From as early as I can remember, I was taught in church that the framers of our Constitution were directly influenced by God to create a nation where Jesus Christ could come to Earth and his true gospel could be restored. Essentially, Mormons believe that the United States was chosen and created specifically by God as the Promised Land where Earth’s one true religion — Mormonism — could finally be discovered and then flourish.”

Mr. Shore is not a spokesman for the LDS church, as neither am I.  He can only reflect church teachings as he perceived them growing up. I don’t doubt the veracity of his account; I only caution that his statements can’t be taken to represent official positions of the church. We do hold a general belief that God inspired the American founders to conceive and arrange the magnificent principles that embody our Constitution.  And yes, my account is that we do believe God placed Joseph Smith not by accident in a place and time when conditions were right for the restoration (not a discovery, as Shore states) of Jesus Christ’s original gospel to begin and move forward.

DS: “One doesn’t need to look far to learn more about this version of American history. On the Mormon website DesertBook.com (a Mormon Literature bookstore), there are dozens of books about American history — one of which cites “evidence of God’s hand throughout the unique history of the United States.”

There is nothing alarming about the belief by Mormons and other religions that God has a hand in the affairs of men. The Pilgrims and Founders were God-fearing people who recorded their convictions that God was involved in their respective journeys toward a tyranny-free life. I’m thankful to have an ancestor who came across the ocean on the Mayflower.  Thankful to have been born American, where all of my ancestors have found the freedom to worship according to the dictates of their consciences. That God cares and makes a difference in our collective and individual pilgrimages permeates our oral traditions.  I don’t know why this belief set should play strongly into whom anyone votes for in November.

DS:”The sometimes-blurry lines between the LDS church and politics can be illustrated by the 2008 passage of Proposition 8 in California, which amended the state’s constitution to ban gay marriage. The First Presidency of the church issued a written statement asking members to do all they could “to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman.”

There have been rare occasions when LDS church leadership has overtly encouraged members to move a political agenda forward. The four examples I can name: 1890 Manifesto, 1960’s ERA, 1978 Priesthood for Blacks, and 2008 SSM. 2008 would have been the ideal time for this type of collusion to occur between Romney and church leadership. But it didn’t, according to my knowledge. It’s one thing for a Romney-friendly PAC to donate to Prop. 8. It is quite another for a future President Romney to suddenly veer away from his duty to the American people and modify his actions to be in lockstep with the straw man [of an LDS President who tries to dictate to Romney that he needs to take some specific action as POTUS]. It won’t happen. It didn’t when he was Governor Romney, it doesn’t for Speaker Harry Reid, nor does it happen for my representative in Congress [LDS Democrat Jim Matheson whom I helped to elect], or for the numerous other people’s representatives that occupy DC offices and also subscribe to the LDS faith.

Does that mean that we don’t do what we can as Mormons to move forward those of our fold who are running for office? No. We do. Yeah Samake was a presidential candidate in Mali this year, who also happens to be LDS in a Muslim country. He was winning too, before a military coup disrupted the process. We were all cheering for him to succeed, because we wanted them to have a great leader, which he’s shown himself to be among his people. He knows what they need, and has real solutions. Some of our people have contributed money to his campaign. I’d bet that his supporters even come from both LDS Democrats and Republicans. But I think that’s a far cry from asserting undue influence, or colluding to achieve an inappropriate end. But the point is, where is the evidence to validate this fear that a Romney presidency would be beholden to LDS leadership?

DS: “Top Mormon officials also held a special, emergency satellite broadcast from Salt Lake City in which they warned, “You are a mighty army. You’ll be responsible for holding true to the doctrines of the Church.”

I honestly don’t recall any such broadcast. He may be rewriting the facts in his own mind here.  Or possibly he’s mistaking one of the church’s regularly held leadership or general conference broadcasts as being emergency and/or only focused on Prop.8 in nature.

DS: “When LDS church leaders issue directives like this, their members listen and immediately mobilize. …Despite a rather murky money trail, an estimated 50 percent of the money raised for Prop 8 came from Mormons, and a vast majority of door-to-door volunteers (an estimated 85 percent) were Mormon. A Mitt Romney PAC reportedly donated $10,000 to support the measure.”

As I mentioned earlier, this type of overt political statement by church leadership is rare.  I make no apologies on behalf of my friends in California who took up the cause.  I would likely have been among them had I still been a resident there at the time.  They are well within their prerogative to become active in any political cause they choose.  I want to make one fact very clear at this point, and that is that when the President of the church issues this kind of a statement, encouraging members to get involved, it is not a mandate.  No one’s agency or salvation was at stake here.  No one who chose to ignore the statement was punished by their leaders for conscientiously objecting.  Even the members who launched the Prop.8 blacklist website, used by opponents to punish contributors to Prop.8, were NOT punished by church leadership in any way, as far as I know.  And yet they did cause measurable harm to those people by encouraging retribution in the way they organized and published the data.

Note: The conglomeration of maps on the above website is an iteration of the original data and website, which listed donors on a spreadsheet together with zip codes and monetary amounts.  It is unclear whether or not the subsequent website was authored or contributed to by LDS members.  In any case, it took the dirty work of violating privacy to astonishing heights.  I found my old neighborhood on the map and was able to identify a number of friends who contributed, by their location on the map.

DS: “Members of the Mormon church … also donate incredible amounts of time and additional money (in the form of monthly offerings, or for special emergencies like Prop 8) to further the agenda of the church and remain obedient to God.

Shore is dealing in half-truths here.  Yes we do expend incredible amounts of time and sometimes money to further the growth of the church.  Monthly offerings to the local congregation are used to help the poor or needy members of the local community.  This offering, as well as the ten percent tithe, are not forced on anyone.  A member has to initiate the donation of money to the church on their own, and seek out a local leader to give it to.  (One exception, as noted by my brother in the comments section is that active members are visited once a month to collect fast offerings, but they are not mandatory.  Any amount donated is kept private from the collectors).  No offering plate is passed around in Sunday meetings, or other church gatherings.  The church does not utilize tithes and fast offerings to support political agendas. Period.  There is no line item option on the donation slip specified: “political donations.” Further, no one’s salvation is at stake when an LDS member chooses non-involvement in politics, whether encouraged by church leadership or not.  I hope my thoughts on this are excessively clear.  Keep in mind that I offer here my interpretation of LDS policy and culture, not pretending to be an official church spokesperson.

DS: “If members break this vow to steadfastly follow God’s teachings, they risk losing eternal salvation, in which they believe they will live with their (non-plural) families forever in paradise.”

Ibid.

DS: “Mormons believe that their leader is a modern-day prophet who speaks directly to God — and that’s why their stance on many issues or practices seems to evolve or change abruptly. In 1890 the prophet instructed members to immediately end the practice of polygamy (which Congress had outlawed in 1862 but which church members continued to practice for decades).

I’m digressing from the point here, but Shore’s statements are misleading, and they demonstrate a lack of understanding of the time period immediately preceding the 1890 Manifesto.  There is also irony in the Mormon connection with the SSM debate that begs to be noted.  Utah wasn’t admitted to the union until 1896.  It follows that the polygamous church could not fully be subject to acts of Congress until they were legitimate citizens of the U.S. But most glaring here, is the political climate during this era Shore doesn’t consider.  He glibly paints a picture of the 1890 Manifesto issued by church leaders as a sudden or arbitrary directive, and the response by members as adopted suddenly and blindly. The decades of non-compliance he refers to were in actuality the extent of time it took to quell the bitter culture war that was playing out, to determine the fate of polygamy.  On one side were Mormons, trying to attain statehood without forsaking polygamy, as Congress demanded.  On the other side were non-LDS and hostile territory officials who enforced anti-polygamy policies ruthlessly and with approval of Congress.  (For a history lesson on this subject, see here.)

The script should be familiar to SSM activists.  A culture war in which one group perceives itself as persecuted by mainstream America, who only wants to be left alone to live their family life as they choose. In the 21st Century, when the re-definers of marriage win the war, it will pave the way for polygamists to take up their cause with confidence.  They need only to establish that they should be included in the new and expanded definition.  Only now, the LDS church agrees with the DOMA legislation passed by Congress to prevent SSM, and hope to see the traditional definition written into the Constitution.  We’re now two decades into this culture war, and I’d not be surprised to see it span another two before it is completely resolved.

DS: “Then, in 1978, fifteen years after racial integration was mandated by the federal government, God revealed to Mormon leaders that African-Americans could finally enter into Mormon temples and hold the full privileges of membership.

Yes, and I wonder that this should be a point of criticism.  It was the one time out of four that secularists can point to, when the LDS church overtly promoted a viewpoint, which primarily seems an effort to reject the status quo of bigotry.

DS: “Mormons can’t anticipate when these kinds of revelations from God may come, but they live as righteously as possible in order to be ready to adapt to commands from their leaders.”

I beg to differ.  In the cases of the Manifesto, ERA, and SSM, they had all been issues watched closely by church members and leaders alike, in the decades preceding the action.  They were each debated at crossroads in church policy, which needed to be adjusted for in terms of doctrine.  We do try to live righteously, but our motive ISN’T “in order to be ready to adapt to commands from [our] leaders.”  Among my motives personally, is to serve God and promote happiness in my family life.  But to be clear, I don’t anticipate that any instructions from church leadership are likely to be objectionable to me.

DS: “Let me be clear: I’m a firm believer in freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the freedom to support the policies and candidates one chooses. I also believe that it’s not only OK to question authority (whether it be teachers, religious leaders, or politicians) but an essential part of human development and the journey to becoming a better-informed citizen.”

I’m pleased to find a point on which we can both agree. 🙂

DS: “In the case of Mr. Romney, the political agenda of the Mormon church (of which he is a devout, lifetime member) potentially carries significant political implications — and that’s why it needs to be more openly discussed. This kind of political discourse should be at the heart of true democracy. Yet somehow the political landscape in the U.S. has fostered an environment where asking tough or uncomfortable questions is the equivalent of using “gotcha” tactics or is considered just plain unpatriotic. I disagree.”

I’m all for informed, even pointed discussion.  When it’s supported by credible sources and absent of ad hominem attacks, passionate discourse is among the best of American traditions.  The problem in 21st Century America is not that people won’t talk about issues as they understand them.  They’ve just lost the art of doing so with respect and civility.  Worse, most of our people have shrugged off their civic duty, instead deferring to those who would gain most by loudly advocating for a particular position/ideology/agenda.  Give me enlightened discussion by the rank and file citizens.  With the primary goal of understanding one’s opponent, a desire to preserve the freedoms long-enjoyed but disappearing, we’d be on our way to a better nation.

DS: “If Mitt Romney is elected president, what happens the next time top officials in the Mormon church instruct members to take a specific political stance because it is God’s will? Because Mormons are expected to put God before everything else, this puts Mr. Romney in a tricky position that might jeopardize his eternal salvation. As the leader of our nation, who would he put first: God or the American people?

See my earlier response, on straw man collusion.  Additionally, who says that putting “God before everything else” translates for Romney into being a rubber stamp for the LDS church? Founding fathers such as George Washington put God before everything else too, and it served the people.  They took seriously the belief that God wanted them to do right by the people.  Romney takes his promises seriously.  He is bound by honor to uphold the oath he swears before the American people.  That may seem an antiquated concept to most Americans today, but to devout Mormons it still applies. No one who arrives at that juncture in history does so by being a rubber stamp.  He’s fought tooth and nail to win the campaign.  He’s not about to stupidly  throw that back in people’s faces.

DS: “Mr. Romney has said repeatedly that his religion would not get in the way of his presidential responsibilities, but the simple fact is that his presidential responsibilities would get in the way of his religion.

I respectfully submit that you are mistaken.  There is no evidence to support the idea that Romney has ever leveraged his government authority to write church policies or positions into law. No reason for that to suddenly change.  Further efforts to incite fear in Americans of a Romney presidency are misguided, without foundation.

For another LDS perspective on the separation of church and state, see Ezra Taft Benson’s “The Proper Role of Government.”  He authored this article in the 1960’s, when he was an apostle of the church.  Incidentally, he also served as a member of Dwight Eisenhower’s cabinet.  He later became President of the LDS church, in 1985 after the death of Spencer W. Kimball.

A Call to Leadership

A crossroads in my homeschooling journey occurred in 2006.  Here is what happened, when I attended a homeschool leadership conference in Waxahachie, Texas.  I have long since left Texas, and returned to Utah where my husband’s workplace keeps him.  But I have never lost the vision that we need more statesmen and stateswomen in America right now, who are willing to stand up and make their voice heard.  We have all been passively giving away our freedom to the government for many decades now.  It’s time to turn that around, and get educated on how to influence the process.  Don’t be afraid!  Our country will be better when more of us stand up and get involved.