Saturday, December 13, 2008

Where there's a right there's a left

It's amazing that I have put myself through reading so many blog posts and like on the whole Prop 8 issue. It's even more amazing how disappointingly polarizing and absolutist most of the articles and comments really are.

One thing that strikes me throughout is how much like George W. Bush some of the gay activists really are in their absolutism. In the sad case of Margie Christoffersen, for instance, most of the rhetoric from the Left focuses on how she really hates gays, in spite of significant evidence to the contrary, and deserves to suffer for the rest of her life because of a $100 donation to the Yes on 8 campaign. How is this any different from Bush's "you're either with us or against us" and "Axis of Evil" absolutism?

The gay marriage debate should have been a great opportunity for an intelligent discussion about the differences between constitutional rights and other kinds of rights, the meaning of marriage in society, and the respective roles of the judiciary and voter initiative processes. I blame both campaigns for abandoning civility and ignoring these core issues in the quest for the least common denominator. But I am especially disappointed in the activists who have nothing more intelligent to offer than advocating the personal destruction of people who simply disagree with them on one nuance of this particularly thorny issue. These people occupy the same mindspace for me as George W. Bush - blabbering fools who need to take a basic civics class before being allowed anywhere near the nuclear launch codes.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Best of Bloggernacle vol. 2

As a wannabe biblical scholar (I must of missed another one of my callings in life), I really enjoy posts on biblical criticism. I especially want to point out these two from FPR, another one on the Documentary Hypothesis, and this part of a series on biblical criticism in general.

And then there is Kevin Barney's series on the Magi. Awesome!

And I read Advent Day 1 and the spirited comments that followed over at FMH on the same day my wife and I had a small argument about how much religious guilt we should feel over Christmas. The comments were perfect at contextualizing our discussion. I tend to come on the side of certainly celebrating Christ's birth at Christmas, but let's just do away with any guilt or angst about whether we are sufficiently Christ-like on that day to have celebrated it properly.

Heresy of the Week No. 1

Nobody showed up to teach gospel doctrine. Everyone chatted among themselves for a few minutes and then a priesthood leader stood up to ask if anyone was prepared to teach. A good brother raised his hand and said he would do it on the fly - everyone was relieved.

He quickly made clear that he would teach a prepared lesson on Alma 32 even though the text for the week was somewhere in Mormon. Fair enough.

Halfway through the lesson he started on a long story repeated from an EFY he attended some 20-odd years ago (fertile ground for a heresy of the week, I might add). The originally storyteller was a missionary in Denmark where, apparently, a significant part of his mission was spent going around by train to present a play called "It Could Happen to You" in the various branches. The story was supposed to be about how the missionary had a sore throat but, through an act of faithful prayer, had his voice restored in time to reprise the key role in the play. OK so far?

Our ad-hoc teacher went on to describe what the play was all about, though. It was the sordid tale of a member of the church, the father of a family, who went down a really bad road of drinking alcohol and skipping church a couple of times. While driving to a forbidden NFL game in a drunken stupor one Sunday, he caused a car accident, died, and went to the spirit prison. He patiently waited many years for the rest of his family to die, which they eventually all did together in another convenient car accident, and plaintively asked the angel assigned to him when he could be reunited with them. The angel told him to sit down because he had to talk about that with him (never a good sign). Because he had made some very poor choices in his life, his wife and children had "been assigned" to another worthy priesthood holder. He would never see them again. At this pithy moment the curtain closes and the audience returns home with renewed dedication to living more perfect lives.

So, I ask, is the idea that the wife and children of an unworthy LDS father are simply reassigned to a worthy priesthood holder in the afterlife doctrine? Or heresy?

Never mind for now the troubling chattel-like passivity of the phrase "been assigned." And I am fully aware that pinning down LDS doctrine is more of an art than a science. So, which is it?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Last Word on Prop 8

What a mess. I just wanted to point out Nate Oman's post over at T&S, which gets it about right in my book. I said a few similar things much more crudely a few posts down.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Best of the Bloggernacle vol. 1

Great posts from the past week:

Conversion Happens at the Darndest Times. Tracy M at BCC. I love narratives where the mundane course of life is suddenly interrupted by the ethereal. Almost had me in tears in the middle of my law office. Had to stop reading.

Proposition 8. Jonathan Green at T&S. One of the more insightful Prop 8 posts out there.

PBR #9. Steve Evans at BCC. One of the funniest ones yet.

12 Questions for the LDS Newsroom. Dave Banack at T&S. T&S scores a great scoop, but the answers seemed a little...muddled?

Why I support Prop 8

Quite simply, the judges got it wrong.

In exercising all sorts of legal jujitsu to conclude that there is a fundamental, constitutional right to homosexual marriage, the majority's 127 page opinion can be summarized as follows:

Existing constitutional right to marriage + Social acceptance of homosexual relationships = Constitutional right to homosexual marriage.

The problem with this is that new rights shouldn't be discovered in the Constitution by judges just because society accepts certain arrangements at certain points in time, unless society's approval has been expressed through the legislative or voter initiative process. In contrast, the California legislature enacted a liberal domestic partnership law but purposely stopped short of calling such arrangements "marriage." Similarly, in 2000, the voters of California (although a minority of Californians) approved a ballot initiative defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. Right or wrong, the legislative and voter initiative processes in California have both rebuffed expanding the definition of marriage to include homosexual unions.

In fact, the controlling law in California states that fundamental, constitutional rights are those "which are, objectively, deeply rooted in this [society's] history and tradition [and] implicit in the concept of ordered liberty such that neither liberty not justice could exist if it were sacrificed." (Washington v. Glucksburg (1997) 521 U.S. 702, 720-721, as cited approvingly in various California cases).

There are no grounds to assert that a right to homosexual marriage has been deeply rooted in our society's history and traditions.

This is established much more eloquently in Justice Baxter's dissenting opinion in the In re Marriage cases, which can be read here, starting on page 128:

In re Marriage

Unfortunately, the majority's imprimatur on this decision has mainstreamed the idea that the gay marriage debate is about constitutional rights (although even the plaintiff's briefs were too afraid to go as far as asking for a new right, the majority went ahead and did this for them). Once this happened, the No on 8 campaign obtained a sort of faux-moral high ground by gaining the ability to label traditional marriage advocates as haters who want to take away fundamental rights. This is all symptomatic of the fact that we haven't developed a good way talk about what rights we as a society deem to be fundamental as a separate issue from whether rights are being taken away or not.

Uninformed No on 8 partisans will misunderstand what I am saying here, so the following paragraph is for them:

It may very well be that the time has come to expand the definition of marriage to include homosexual unions. But, if that is to happen, it needs to happen by the people of California expressing their opinion on this subject through the legislative process. To date, the people of California have actually rejected the idea. Circumventing this process by having the courts suddenly find that your cause has actually been a fundamental right all along does lasting damage to the constitution and democratic process. And claiming that the newly invented right to homosexual marriage is actually an ancient and fundamental right, and then using this as a brush to paint all Prop 8 supporters as haters and bigots, is beyond the pale.

If you don't believe me, Barack Obama pretty much said the same thing in his now famous 2001 radio interview where he explained where civil rights advocates went wrong in relying on the litigation process to broaden the definition of rights.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Redistribution of Wealth

Bryce Hammond's post here:

Wealth Redistribution

is off-target enough that I wanted to link it and add a few comments here. Since I think he shut down comments on his blog, feel free to continue the conversation here.

A few points-

1. Obama's now famous 2001 interview clearly shows that, as a constitutional law professor, he is critiquing the civil rights movement for relying too much on litigation and the court system in pursuit of civil rights, rather than building consensus through the legislative process. He gives the example that civil rights leaders were never able to get the distributive justice they wanted through the courts, and points out that the legislative process is the more appropriate way to do something like that. This is the overwhelmingly conservative position to take.

2. All six of the countries ranked above the U.S. in the most recent UN standard of living survey have more socialist policies than the U.S. (Sweden, Norway, etc.) So the argument that socialism is doomed to fail no matter what seems untenable without some kind of metric or substantiation.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Prop 8 and the Decline of Civic Education

Although the Church's recent Prop 8 broadcast had a positive tone and effectively leveraged the Church's religious arguments for Prop 8, there was still something unsettling about the whole thing. In making purely theological arguments on one hand, and only the most dubious civil arguments on the other, the Church didn't make any attempt to explain how or why our private, religious morals should also be the law of the land.

The Church's theological position on marriage is very clear. Although ancient and modern scripture may be ambivalent on the subject, the recent Proclamation on the Family and Church Newsroom releases draw an unequivocal line in the sand on the issue of same sex marriage. I have no problem at all with this theological position and applaud the Church's efforts to stress this to its members. A lot of time on the broadcast was spent reiterating the fact that marriage between a man and a woman was ordained of God. OK.

The problem I have is the way that is increasingly seen by members of our Church and other religious people as an automatic argument as to why that value should be reflected in the civil law. I'm not saying that our religious teachings shouldn't be reflected in civil law, just that we need to think about and understand the difference between theological and civic values and have good reasons why some religious positions make good civil law while others don't. The broadcast offered nothing along these lines.

I fear that this blurring of the lines between civil and religious authorities is part of a larger decline in civic education in our society and, perhaps, especially within the Church. For example, the whole line of attack on the judiciary that is a centerpiece of this campaign (and other right-wing campaigns for the past several years) is based on a complete misunderstanding of our civic institutions. The fact that this line of attack can be used to reliably rouse the religious right indicates a profound lack of knowledge of the role of the judiciary and, perhaps, a lack of respect for the foundational documents of our country.

A particularly cringe-worthy moment in the broadcast was during the video clip of the group of young people organizing a Prop 8 meeting, when one of them said it didn't feel very American to have judges overturn the majority vote of the people. Do I need to respond here that overturning the majority will when constitutional rights are involved is one of the most profound reasons for why we even have a judiciary? (Never mind that the video included the canard that 61% of the population of California voted against same sex marriage in 2001). That in a healthy republic, we would expect judges to overturn ballot initiatives fairly frequently? That our founding fathers were distrustful enough of majoritarian outcomes to design a republican system to temper them?

Overall, the lack of any language or framework with which to describe how we translate religious values into civil laws, together with the lack of respect for our most basic civic institutions, makes me wonder whether there is something wrong with the state of civil education ("social studies" or whatever you want to call it) manifesting itself during this campaign.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Prop 8 and Suspended Corporations

What follows below is a rather boring post about the significance of a corporation being in a suspended status. Rather than research the group behind any further, though, I will simply provide a link to Justin McLachlan's blog, which features excellent reporting on the subject.

As a lawyer who frequently deals with charitable organizations, I thought I would check into the organization collecting donations and otherwise managing the Yes on 8 Campaign. So far, I have been extremely dissapointed with what I have found. For full disclosure, I have donated to the " - Yes on 8" organization and have organized precinct walking and other activites in my ward.

First things first - donors to the Yes on 8 campaign are asked to make their checks out to "". "" is not a regular kind of legal entity in California, although it may be a registered election committee of some sort (I haven't checked this). I am unfamiliar with election laws and do not know what the legal status of such a committee would be.

A clue to the organization behind is in the campaign materials themselves, which state that in a project of California Renewal.

California Renewal is a recognized corporation in California, and is a registered with the California Attorney General's Office as a charitable organization. California Renewal is also recognized as a public charity and is listed on IRS publication 78 as a tax-exempt organization. (However, contributions to are not tax deductible because that is a political election activity.)

This is OK so far. However, the first warning sign is that California Renewal is currently suspended by the California Secretary of State. This means that it is not allowed to do business as an entity in California. The status can be checked at any time by searching for California Renewal at the Secretary of State's website.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two reasons why a corporation may be suspended in California: 1) failure to pay the annual state franchise tax; or 2) failure to file the biennual Statement of Information listing the current directors of the corporation. The annual franchise tax is $600 and the Statement of Information is only one page long. In other words, there is no excuse for continuing in a suspended status, unless you are truly an inactive organization and don't care about receiving a stream of notices from the Franchise Tax Board and Secretary of State.

I have formed and dissolved many corporations in California, both for profit and non-profit. I know from experience that having a suspended status is a serious hinderance to doing business and that it is technically illegal to hold yourself out as an organization while under suspension (although as a matter of enforcement, the state is understaffed in this area and real harm would have to be shown for there to be any consequence to doing business while under suspension).

I also know from experience that a suspension can be cleared within a matter of days by making the appropriate filing (1 page) or paying the franchise tax to the state. Literally, the Secretary of State's website is updated within days of the reason for suspension being removed. With that in mind, California Renewal has been suspended for at least the last 3 months prior to the date of this post, which is when I first checked its status.

I also know that having a suspended status would be a serious embarrassment to my non-profit clients and I work hard to avoid them being in this position. If any of my clients were to be suspended, I would immediately take steps to remediate the situation.

So why hasn't California Renewal fixed this - especially now that they are collecting millions of dollars, a significant percentage of which come from members of the church?

This is getting a little long, but I wanted to give some background on the legal standing of the organizations behind the Yes on 8 campaign and highlight why the ongoing suspension is so difficult to understand. In subsequent posts, I will discuss more serious problems with the management of the Yes on 8 campaign but, in the meantime, here is a preview:

The Orange County Register reports that the California Family Council, the sister organization with many of the same board members as California Renewal, spent 75% of the donations it received on salaries for its board members, and only 25% on program activities, from 2004-2006.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

We Don't Know

I recently attended a funeral at an Episcopalian Church. During the homily, the priest said something like the following:

"We don't know where Bob is now, since that is a mystery to us. We can only have faith that he will enter into the Lord's rest and have repose with all of the saints."

The candid way in which uncertainty about the afterlife was admitted was somehow refreshing. I can't imagine our leaders saying "we don't know..." over the pulpit about much of anything. So I started wondering why this is and can think of a few possible reasons:

1. One of the key points of the Restoration is that truth has been restored in its fullness in the latter days. Admitting any uncertainty in doctrinal matters may be seen as undermining this core premise of the Restoration.

2. The clergy at mainline churches generally have extensive formal training and practice their calling on a full-time basis. Perhaps that makes them more secure in admitting ambiguity in doctrine (i.e since many of the laypersons can't really challenge them theologically). LDS leaders are put into their callings without much formal training, so admitting uncertainty in doctrinal matters may undermine their authority a little too much.

3. It is acceptable in our church (though I don't think in others) for leaders to suggest that personal revelation is the appropriate sphere for more speculative doctrines. It is probably easier for a leader to suggest that members pray about something themselves rather than admitting that they aren't sure about an issue.

Any others?

(Another post might address the interesting reasons why the public face of some mainline churches (let's say Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and some Lutherans and Methodists) seems to offer a message that is extremely light on doctrinal content.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Marriage Update

I am expecting specific plans to come out sometime soon on how our ward/stake is going to implement formal support for the marriage proposal. So far, I've only heard that Elder Ballard is spearheading the effort and that California Stake Presidents are involved in conference calls.

My opinion on this whole matter lines up very well with Seth's here.

Kaimi (another Calfornia lawyer) has a good write-up here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

15 Minutes

I only caught the last 15 minutes of Gospel Doctrine today, but still made it in time for a couple of interesting discussions. For the record, interesting discussions are the exception rather than the rule in my ward. The text seemed to be Alma 13 or thereabouts.

First, the teacher suddenly asked whether we were supposed to "question" our leaders. I don't think this query was well-framed, but the answer was likely to be more interesting than simply "pray" or "read the scriptures". A sister I've never seen before raised her hand first - we are always supposed to question our leaders because they are just people and can easily lead us astray while holding on to their positions. A bishopric member's hand immediately shot up - our leaders are called for a reason and there is a hierarchy in place that should be consulted when somebody privately doesn't agree with a leader (i.e. ask the Stake President, etc.) Somehow this devolved into a discussion of the old chestnut about how "sustaining" our leaders actually means to actively help them. I suppose that's true enough, but this definition seems to be a convenient workaround to avoid discussing the uncomfortable step where we actually get to choose and publicly manifest whether we will assent to their leadership.

Second, the teacher entertained a long discussion of how we have complete free agency even though God already knows how things will turn out. Well, He has foreordained certain people to enact his plan but, in case they don't step up to the plate, He has back-up people in place. But He has complete foreknowledge of this anyway. At any rate, we can all agree that foreordination is a superior concept to predestination, which we definitely don't believe in. It occurs to me that a whole body of convoluted explanations have sprung up to reconcile some version of free will with the foreknowledge of God.

The good thing is that nobody had to bother with terms like "determinism" or "libertarian free will" to leave Gospel Doctrine feeling that all is right with the universe.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Sign of Peace

In liturgical traditions, the Rite of Peace or Sign of Peace is performed just before the Eucharist (I have only experienced the Catholic and Episcopalian versions, so don't know how far this reaches into non-liturgical churches). The ostensible purpose is to bring a spirit of fellowship into the meeting before that fellowship is perfected in the Eucharist. In both of the versions I have experienced, after a short exhortation the celebrant asks the congregation to give a Sign of Peace, and basically you go in a circle and shake hands with everyone around you while saying "Peace be with you" or whatever you want.

There is a lot of talk in the bloggernacle about the relative merits of members loudly visiting with each other in the chapel before sacrament meeting begins and after it ends. I tend to come on the side of being for it because of the spirit of fellowship it can bring into the meeting.

But what about the people sitting in front of, behind and on either side who we don't chat with before the meeting? I perceive that we are in a different stage of life or socio-eceonomic class, I have reason to believe we wouldn't get along very well, or I am naturally shy, etc. What if there was a chance to offer a Sign of Peace to everyone around regardless of my own little cliques?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Marriage Amendment

In a few days I, as a member of the church in California, will be officially asked to actively support a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

My feelings on this subject are complex. I think there are good arguments on both sides. On balance, though, I think that my idea of good public policy on this issue lines up with my private morals enough to compel me to vote for the marriage amendment. I would really prefer a solution that involves the state disengaging from the concept of marriage, at least while the U.S. birthrate remains relatively high. I don't really want to discuss these arguments directly here.

I do want to highlight a number of concerns about the church taking official action to endorse the amendment. Most of these concerns relate to what I describe as negative externalities, or costs that are not taken into account, in officially asking the members to take action. I can also think of negative externalities of the church not taking official action but, since it is endorsing the amendment, here is a partial list of side-effects. These are generally culled from comments I've heard in GD over the past couple of weeks:

-The state is increasingly seen in church settings as the proper arbiter and enforcer of the morality of private, personal relationships. The problem with this is illustrated by asking why we don't seem to mind that a whole host of immoral behaviors, some which may be more destructive of traditional marriages than same-sex marriage, remain legal;

-The church's endorsement of this amendment is too easily conflated with a blanket endorsement of other conservative or republican-affiliated issues on which the church actually remains neutral (i.e. the smugness level with which certain far right political hotbuttons (i.e. anti-U.N., anti-global warming) are brought up in church increases);

-Since "the brethren have spoken," some members may have less of an interest or motivation in learning about the underlying legal and civic issues going into the proposed amendment, even though we are taught to educate ourselves about important political issues;

-Support for this amendment, and particularly the wording of the letter, is easily confused with the misleading "activist judge" rhetoric that already infects our national discourse;

-Support for this amendment seems to blur the important distinction between private morality and good public policy; and

-Official support for the amendment has already given ill-informed journalists and the like a springboard to publicly rehash the church's own spotty history with the whole concept of marriage.

Certainly I don't think that any or all of these reasons are necessarily sufficient to indicate that the church should not officially endorse the amendment. I trust that there are a great many positive things that could come from the church's involvement in this cause.

But personally, I can't help but feel a little unsettled when the church chooses to cast its pearls into the compromised and decidedly secular political pigpen.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Great Shrine

Bishop Noda lowered his voice as the dishes were cleared one evening in his modest home - he had something important to tell us.

"Have you both been to the great shrine of Izumo?"

Indeed, we both had. He was referring to Izumo Taisha located in the next town over, reputedly the oldest extant Shinto shrine in Japan and the chief tourist attraction in this forgotten corner of the country. I had previously served in the town hosting the shrine and had been there several times.

"You know that inside the shrine are various secret symbols of the deity that few people have ever seen?"

Did I ever. Discovering the contents of the Holy of Holies of Shinto shrines had become a significant diversion for me as a missionary. Occasionally, I had some success at finding smaller roadside shrines with their doors left open, and one time I made my companion press through a crowd with me at a shrine festival to get the best possible view of the head priest heading into the Holy of Holies. Later, I studied Shinto obsessively and learned that the object standing in for the deity in most Shinto shrines was usually an old bronze mirror or, less often, and old sword or curved jade bead.

And I don't call it the Holy of Holies for nothing - similarities between the layout and function of Shinto shrines and the temple, specifically the ancient Hebrew tabernacle and temple, are striking and had a lot of currency among members and missionaries as a shadow of proof that the Japanese people were literally one of the ten lost tribes. (It only helps that anthropologists and linguists still can't offer much in the way of an explanation for the origin of the Japanese race or language.) A member of the 82nd generation of the Senge family, in an unbroken line, serves as the high priest of Izumo Taisha and only enters the Holy of Holies once or twice a year during certain festivals. And apparently, no one else ever does.

A tantalizing possibility appears in the writings of Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish-Greek-American who lived in this town in the 1880s and wrote extensively of what he saw. His slice-of-life portraits of painted geisha jostling with two-sworded samurai as they clickety-clack over curved wooden bridges, sculpted gardens and temples illuminated by rows of paper lanterns, and ghostly spirits rocking the foundations of the town's medieval castle illustrate the possibility that this was once a fully realized foreign world, before the successive waves of globalization took their toll. Hearn wrote a letter to the then-serving high priest of Izumo Taisha and, in return, received an invitation to visit its Holy of Holies. He described this experience in Chapter 8 of his most famous compilation, "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan," where he noted that he was the first (and undoubtedly last) foreigner to ever be granted such a privilege. Ultimately, it appears that the image of the main deity was further enclosed in a shrine within the shrine which was not opened for him, but he still came fairly close.

"I once heard that the high priest of that shrine gave a talk and let a secret slip about the contents of the shrine...."

My curiosity was piqued.

"The priest said that one of the objects representing the deity is a stone with a Hebrew character inscribed on it. It was said to have been carried from a distant land where the Japanese race came from and enshrined here in Izumo by the clan that settled here. They researched lots of different writing systems and concluded that the character was definitely Hebrew."

And then it all made sense. It may or may not be the case that one of the oldest and largest shrines in Japan really contains an ancient and secret Hebrew inscription. More likely, it meant that the great shrine tangibly connected Bishop Noda and those he served in his small ward to something greater - the Gathering of Israel, the lost Ten Tribes. Who was I to tell him anything different?