David Rodeback's Blog

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Friday, January 24, 2014
Rights and Rights and Right and the Right: Part Three

If the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it. If it does, let's take a little walk out back, after I tell you about my possible man-crush.

This discussion began with  some theory two posts ago. Today's offering is a continuation of yesterday's practical discussion. If anything here puzzles you or troubles you, please consult one or both of the previous posts.

I may have a man crush on American Fork Police Chief Lance Call.

In my experience he is intelligent, articulate, sensible, kind, and not the least bit naive. He is practically unflappable. He is a gifted leader and administrator. If all law enforcement officers were like him, or at least working to become like him, the libertarians and the leftists would have a lot less about which to complain.

I've had several opportunities to work with him over the past several years, and I've watched him at work on other occasions, when I've had the chance. For all that, I have seen him visibly angry exactly once, and thereby hangs a tale.

Litter and Hate Speech

A few years ago there was a city council hearing, then a scheduled vote in the regular meeting, on proposed ordinances to prohibit discrimation in employment and housing in American Fork on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The ordinances were carefully modeled after those the LDS Church endorsed in Salt Lake City, with some reasonable modifications to suit a much smaller city. I was one of many who spoke at the hearing; I spoke in favor of the ordinances.

Opponents won the day. When one of three supporters on the five-person city council backed down, the items were tabled, rather than being put to a vote where they would be defeated. I stayed in the meeting for another item or two on the agenda, after most of the crowd had left the meeting. Finally, I went downstairs and left the building. Outside City Hall I ran into Chief Call, who had been escorting known proponents of the measures from the building to their cars, because he and they had some concerns for their personal safety in the lingering crowd.

Then he showed me what had angered him most. It was a full-page flier with a short verse from Leviticus in large print, suggesting that gays should be killed. Someone had left it on every windshield in the area. Of course, it was anonymous, because some zealots think they can stand up righteously for their views behind a cloak of invisibility. They think that hate speech and even littering are justified, if they promote strongly-held moral views. I'm right, and God's on my side, so all is permitted, you see.

If that last sentence doesn't make your skin crawl, I have grievously overestimated my readers. But back to our story.

The Chief had picked up some of the litter himself, while on escort duty.

It Was a Mormon

What is not generally known, I think, is that the Bible verse the flier quoted was not from the King James Version, or from the American Standard or Revised Standard or Good News Bible. It was from what we Mormons call the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), where the wording of that verse is subtly different and distinctive. The JST is not a translation in the typical sense, but is Joseph Smith's prophetic revision and slight expansion of the King James text. (Whether Joseph had the right to tinker with scripture in that manner depends on whether he was a divinely-called prophet or a blasphemous fraud, which topic is well beyond the scope of this discussion, but I vote with my study . . .)

Like some other Mormons, I routinely use the JST to illuminate my study of the King James Bible. Hardly any non-Mormon uses it.

So the hateful, anonymous litterbug was almost certainly a Mormon and was a more careful student of scripture than some. Yet this Mormon bigot is not well-informed in doctrinal terms. I can tell this by the advocacy of a statute from the Law of Moses, which Mormons and other Christians generally believe to have been fulfilled and superseded by a higher, less bloody law. In other words, whether the quoted verse is scripture or not, in a Christian view it's been irrelevant for about 2000 years.

Generally Speaking

If anyone cares enough what I think to wonder why I feel compelled to defend and extend the rights of people whose lifestyle I believe offends God in one respect, this story begins to illustrate it. The zealots who share my belief in a particular moral principle seem perfectly willing to use un-Christian and un-American means to advance their cause through politics and the force of law -- not to mention, in my story, outright verbal thuggery.

When they do that, I am compelled to oppose them and defend their victims on the basis of my own Christian and American principles -- and humane principles.

I was summoned recently by e-mail, Facebook, snail mail, and robocall to "urgent" meetings and rallies "in defense of traditional marriage." For some reason folks can't even identify the issue correctly. No one is attempting to ban traditional marriage. Calling the present movement a defense of traditional marriage is like claiming that Wendy's introduction of a vanilla frosty -- disparaged by some as "not a real frosty" -- somehow limits one's right to enjoy the traditional chocolate frosty. They didn't remove the chocolate one from the menu.

I couldn't go to any of the meetings, and I wouldn't have gone anyway. I simply read reports of them and talked to people who attended. To be sure, what is at stake is infinitely more consequential than a frozen dessert. But when people savagely quote the Old Testament on anonymous fliers, toss the word secession around at political meetings, speak of government as the primary means of safeguarding a nation's morality, or willfully blur the line between political rally and religious revival -- for some reason, especially when they do it in the name of something that vaguely resembles my own religion -- I am moved to be elsewhere. 

Harming Your Own Cause

My zealot friends -- and some of you are genuine and treasured friends, in far more than the Facebook sense -- we've arrived at the woodshed. Did I mention we were headed to the woodshed? Let's have a little woodshed intervention, but with words instead of actual sticks.

As valid as your religious convictions may be, you have damaged your own cause by approaching gay marriage, immigration, and numerous other current and recent issues as if the purpose of civil law were to incorporate and enforce your particular set of religious beliefs, and as if your church's doctrine required a given stance on a given political issue.

It's not just that you have misspent time, energy, and money which might have advanced your cause on other fronts. You have done actual harm. By acting as if the force of law were a legitimate tool to impose moral principles which are no longer the subject of general agreement in our society, you have discredited people who support the same causes through more appropriate and more credible means.

It gets worse. By your untempered words, your zeal to couch public political debates in sectarian religious language, and your willingness to use the force of law where you shouldn't, you have pushed many people who agree with you in some principles to the other side in practice. Now we actively oppose you, or at least feel compelled to disassociate ourselves from you and your message and to defend those whom you attack, for the continuing defense of our principles.

You think you are defending our freedom -- even defending society itself from the gathering wrath of God. You could and should be among freedom's ablest defenders. Instead, you are writing American freedom's death sentence, by disregarding others' freedom, by discrediting by association freedom's other defenders in our politics, and by disdaining and disparaging our institutions and processes every bit as much as the left does, because you don't happen to like some of the present results.

On good days you are compromising civilization itself, if that is what's at stake, by concentrating your energies on fighting the right battles on the wrong fronts, with the wrong weapons. On bad days, with all the zeal of people who know they're right, you are fighting on the wrong side.

The best thing you could do for your cause is to take a very thoughtful sabbatical, and come back tomorrow or next week or next year -- just as soon as you are willing to value and defend others' freedom as much as your own, whether you agree with them or not, and just as soon as you can acknowledge that not all of your -- or our -- moral principles can wisely become or remain the governing principles of a pluralistic, free society.

In the next and final posts of this series, we're finally ready to take up the topic of same-sex marriage itself.

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