Those BYU Volunteers

Since McKay Coppins reported about the Romney campaign’s efforts to energize the South Carolina primaries with volunteers from out of state Mormon colleges, which has been linked by Profxm, I thought that a quick note to put the event into context might be in order.

Every campaign is trying to swell its volunteer force by bringing in people from out of state. When I was the co-director of the Obama campaign in Prince Georges Coutny, MD, for example, we depoyed over 3,000 volunteers to Virginia for the general election campaign in 2008 after helping out in various states during the primaries.

BYU and Bob Jones University are notorious for supplying volunteers to Republican campaigns across the nation. In part, their prominence may reflect Democratic paranoia but the real reason is obvious:

There arent that many places with a high concentration of conservative young people with disposable time to volunteer.

In this case, its an easy story to tell because the Mormon Mitt Romney receives help from Mormon college students. In reality, however, BYU volunteers routinely come in support of conservative gentile candidates in states like Virginia and California. Likewise, you can be sure that somewhere in Florida, there will be busloads of student volunteers from Bob Jones University supporting this or that candidate.

Since they won’t be Mormons campaigning for a Mormon, the media will be less sensitive to their appearance.

Criticism, Power, and Validation

If a subordinate gives you negative feedback, it often implies a bigger compliment. It means that people trust you because you conduct yourself with integrity. Otherwise, your subordinates wouldn’t dare to speak up.

Good for you.

Of course, I would rather be praised than criticized but when somebody over whom you have power is honest with you, you ought to feel good about yourself. It confirms that you are living the good life. Recognizing the humanity of your subordinates, you conduct yourself with discipline and consideration. You know that because somebody with less power was willing to risk your wrath and trusted that you would not take your anger out on them but would be willing to evaluate yourself fairly and reasonably.

Nobody is perfect. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. If you do good work and you are committed to the mission of your cause or company, you can afford occasional setbacks. When you realize that you don’t need to be perfect, it will make you better and stronger because now you can learn from your mistakes, gain new insights, and improve your performance.

That doesn’t mean that the subordinate is right. But he or she had a reason for the comment. I suspect that critics may not be entirely aware of their motives. Subordinates are not in a position to entirely appreciate your constraints.

How the criticism is valid is for you to figure out. When you do, the rewards are one more measure of wisdom and a little progress for yourself.

The Other Great Commandment: Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself

I found this open letter on Facebook. It is a courageous and inspiring effort to protect our gay children and neighbors in the BYU community. Since it is doubtful that the Daily Universe will publish it, I am taking the liberty to disseminate it on Main Street Plaza. It might be a good idea, if you share it on your own pages and blogs as well, not because you or I agree with it 100% but because it is a thoughtful contribution that deserves consideration.

A response to the hateful and deceiving articles in our Daily Universe against our homosexual brothers and sisters

We of the BYU community who are sympathetic to our homosexual brothers and sisters were extremely hurt by the ignorant articles in the Daily Universe comparing homosexuals to prostitutes and serial killers. Gay students are in every classroom, every ward, and every apartment complex at BYU and we want to reach out in love to help you better understand.

-Utah leads the nation in youth suicides and teen homelessness, a large number of which are gay youth. (Utah Suicide Stats Alarming, Salt Lake Tribune, 2007)

-Gay youth who are rejected by family or peers are 8 times more likely to commit suicide, 6 times as likely to be depressed, and 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs and engage in unsafe social behavior. (Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez. 2009. Pediatrics)

Attempts to “love the sinner and hate the sin” more often than not come across as rejection, hate, and hostility. The hostility directed toward anonymous populations instead spiritually wounds your brothers and sisters all around you. If you don’t think you know a gay person, you’re wrong. They just don’t trust you enough to tell you.

The attitude and environment at BYU represented by those articles creates and reopens wounds that the Son of God Himself died to heal. Gay members of the church struggle under the burden of self-loathing encouraged by a culture that inadvertently teaches that those attracted to the same sex are not worthy of God’s love. Only through much pain and the mercy of Jesus Christ are those wounds healed. And it is not your place to undo what He has done.

Some people believe that homosexuality is a sin, but what that have to do with love? The task of any religion is not to teach us who we’re entitled to hate, but who we’re required to love.

To our gay brothers and sisters at BYU you are not alone. We love you. There is a place for you, with us and with God.

For more information, see the Facebook group: ShameOnYou.

Respect versus Idolatry

When Republicans read the United States Constitution in the House of Representatives, they censored the embarrassing passages of the document, you know, the part about slavery and African American being 2/3s people in Article I, Section 2.

I am glad that people are ashamed of slavery. On the downside, the efforts to depict the Constitution as perfect strike me as idolatrous.

I admire the founding fathers because they were human beings with warts and flaws that achieved an extraordinary feat.

Covering up their errors is not doing them a favor. More importantly, the United States Constitution is not the tower of Babel. It was not supposed to reach into heaven but it was a pragmatic compromise to address existential challenges of the American people.

Therefore, the Constitution requires permanent adaptation to a changing environment and the changing needs of the American people. Furthermore, the Constitution can also be improved. It was not meant to be perfect and it is not perfect.

The genius of the founding fathers was, in part, that for all their passion, principles, and insights, they could compromise with each to address the problems of the day.

Slavery was part of that compromise. It was the price for consensus. As a result, millions of Americans suffered exploitation, torture, and deprivation. 500,000 Americans had to perish during the Civil War before slavery was formally terminated.

It’s disrespectful to those who suffered to pretend that their fate and their lives were not codified in the United States Constitution.

Tragedy is as much part of the United States Constitution as glory. Acknowledging that not only celebrates the inclusion of those who were once left out, women and African Americans, but it also renders those who opposed inclusion more humane because it helps us to appreciate their misguided but sincere notion of virtue.

Connected Mormonism

It has become a platitude among journalists to refer to Internet communities as echo chambers that induce confirmation bias. In the good old days, goes the reasoning, everybody had to watch the same three network news and we were all on the same page, at least, with regard to the facts.

I am sorry but the proponents of the echo chamber hypothesis suffer from nostalgia. One need only to remember the turmoil over civil rights, the riots and police brutality at the Democratic convention in Chicago, the assassinations of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy, and the culture wars to realize that Americans did not agree about the facts any more back then than today

For example, millions of Americans remained convinced that Martin Luther King was a communist, no matter how long they stared at Walter Cronkite.

In 1960, the bigots went crazy when John F. Kennedy became President without the Internet. In 2008, the bigots went crazy because Barack Obama became President with the Internet. And in 1932, the bigots lost it when Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President even though there was neither TV nor the Internet.

The media have little to do with it. The problem is rather that too many people in the United States have an authoritarian mindset and will not tolerate the loss of a democratic election. The sad reality is that they view their opponents as less than citizens and on occasion, i.e. the civil rights movement, as less than human. Those people are not susceptible to fact based arguments.

The echo chamber effect of the Internet is exaggerated as well. Internet Mormonism is a case in point.

It is true that a wide variety of Mormon communities have emerged on the Internet. From traditionalist heretics celebrating the Mormon temple cult to apologists rationalizing the faith, there are a wide variety of forums and message boards for Mormons of all flavors. There are Mormon mommies, Mormons who feel they were hurt by religion, Mormons who want to enjoy the community without subscribing to the dogma, Mormons who do not want to talk about politics and those who do. There are Mormons who want to protect each other from each other. There are smart Mormons and several flavors of feminist Mormons. Of course, there are edifying and uplifting Mormons. There is even a forum for Mormons who want to say, pardon me, F*ck.

The nice thing about the Internet is that all those people can now find each other. In part, that’s probably a function of space and numbers. There aren’t that many Mormons in the first place and if you want to have a discussion about the evil and virtue of the Mormon torture memo, you might be hard pressed to find people who are willing and capable to carry on an intelligent discussion about this and other topics in your local community.

That is especially true if you harbor any kind of doubt. There might be whispered assent in the hallway or the parking lot but Mormons quite effectively police each other face to face. The Internet connected not only rare Mormons but it allowed dissidents to remain anonymous and to form the Disaffected Mormon Underground.

For the first time since New Mormon History and Sunstone had been ostracized by Mormon authorities, dissenters found that they were not alone, that they enjoyed some protection from sanction, and that they could provide the benefits of community to each other.

Even though the brethren had initially succeeded in isolating Sunstone, the symposiums have now been rejuvenated by a generation of Internet Mormons whose theological outlook is more diverse than ever. I hear that there are even discussions whether this or that Mormon authority can be properly referred to as an SOB.

The one thing that Mormons have not been able to find on the Internet is echo chambers. No matter what your cause and outlook, other kind of Mormons would run in your forum and your blogs. They had to be warded off with sticks.

Had it merely been a matter of communications technology, the Internet would have produced the most diverse Mormon community imaginable. The preservation of unity actually required good old fashioned sanctions and prohibitions. Even so the Internet has produced the most diverse Brighamite communities ever.

As for the Disaffected Mormon Underground, that is being transformed by Facebook. Disaffected Mormons are increasingly out in the open. Most of us now post under our legal names and Mormons of all flavors are friending each. Despite occasional defriendings, I would say that Internet Mormons are self-confident and more connected than ever.


I deeply regret for driving my friends at By Common Consent into a corner. I relied solely on logic when I should have been kind. I also regret suspecting the wrong people of ending the discussion.

Making Your Opponent’s Case

If you have to ban somebody over religious differences, it is probably a good idea to wait until the debate about what constitutes a bad religion is over.

When you argue that religion provides a special path to the truth, you are not helping yourself by prohibiting your rhetorical opponent’s speech. You see, people who have a measure of truth can defend their position on the merit of the argument.

So when you shut them up with prohibitions, you demonstrate your ignorance more conclusively than any advocate ever could.
Continue reading “Making Your Opponent’s Case”

Happy Birthday, Deutschland!

On a sunny winter day of 1985 or 86, I was waiting in the entrance of the Nuremberg train station when an elderly gentlemen with an Austrian accent addressed me: “When I see how beautifully Nuremberg has been rebuild, I feel encouraged that one day our Germany will be united again too.”

That was an extraordinary thing to say in 1986, especially to a perfect stranger. Clearly, the gentleman had been a supporter of the Nazi regime and yet I couldn’t hold the sentiment against him. He was so sincere, full of awe, hope, and humility. Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Deutschland!”

Liberalism, Authoritarianism, and the Mormon Experience

Since Chris was lamenting the marginal role of liberty in Brighamite Mormonism, I might as well share some thoughts about Mormon authoritarianism.

There appear to be three hypotheses about the authoritarian nature of Brighamist Mormonism. First, an orthodox Mormon might say that authoritarianism is the organizational manifestation of Mormon theology. Since the prophet reveals the will of God, only the spawn of Satan would refuse to follow the leader.

Second, when I point out that our Church is even more authoritarian than Catholicism, which affords Catholics the rule of law and a vibrant civil society within their church, legacy Mormons on the bloggernacle argue that the Church is too young to develop a culture of tolerance and organizations and communities within Mormonism that would represent a variety of approaches to living the gospel. Continue reading “Liberalism, Authoritarianism, and the Mormon Experience”