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Proposition 8, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Joel

Is it really so that Mormons brought us Proposition 8, that 2008 California referendum that banned gay marriage, and that Jehovah's Witnesses overturned? Really? Well.....no, it's not really so. But there is something to it.

Mormons didn't originate that campaign to change the state's constitution. A group called Pro Marriage was responsible. Mormons did, however, rally in a big way to ram it through. “We’ve spoken out on other issues, we’ve spoken out on abortion, we’ve spoken out on those other kinds of things,” said Michael R. Otterson, the managing director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons are formally called, in Salt Lake City. “But we don’t get involved to the degree we did on this."

Just like politicians before election day, or Jehovah's Witnesses....bless their hearts....any old time, Mormons canvassed California to stoke Proposition 8 support and get those recruits to the polls. 80-90% of all Proposition 8 “foot soldiers” were Mormons, says the New York Times. Their efforts succeeded. Proposition 8 carried 52% of the state's voters; thus gay marriage was banned in the California.

But on Aug 4th, 2010,  U.S. District Court judge Vaughn Walker overturned the ban, asserting it violated the state's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Jehovah's Witnesses, who within their congregations, also oppose gay relationships, had nothing to do with that, did they? Well, no, they didn't.

But on the other hand, they did. At least a little.

On page 116 of the judge's lengthy judicial opinion is cited West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette. That's the 67 year old Supreme Court ruling stating that the children of Jehovah's Witnesses could not be compelled to salute the flag. It reversed another Court decision, made just three years earlier in the height of wartime fever (1940), which stated they could. Didn't I write about those two cases here?

That rare reversal was the strongest support cited by Justice Walker to establish that the rights of a minority cannot be negated by the majority, no matter how numerous the latter might be. Justice Jackson, who wrote the prevailing opinion of  West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, noted that the "very purpose" of the Bill of Rights was to protect some issues from politics and "place them beyond the reach of majorities." In present day 2010, Justice Walker applied that reasoning to gay marriage. "That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant," he wrote.

Now, it was Joel Engardio, director of Knocking, a 2006 PBS documentary about Jehovah's Witnesses, who first noted the JW connection in Proposition 8's demise. This prompted another blogger, who, as may be discerned from his narrative, has little use for Witnesses, to opine:

The reference by Judge Walker to West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette will have the Watchtower Society scratching their heads. “How did we help those wicked sons and daughters of Sodom and Gomorrah?” they will be asking themselves.

To which I replied: “No they will not.”

Well....... “It was never the intention of the intolerant Witness religion to grant any freedom of expression outside their own narrow view,” he asserts.

“Nor was it their intention to restrict any other group from benefiting from legal precedent they’ve established,” I replied.

Unlike many groups that stand for something, Jehovah’s Witnesses views on homosexuality, or anything else, are theirs alone. They apply them to themselves. They don’t attempt to force them upon general society...say...by writing those views into law, or even resorting to violence. They are respectful of those holding opposing views. To be sure, JWs don't keep those views to themselves. Their door-to-door visits rank right up there with death and taxes as one of the constants of everyday life. But the exercise of free speech is as far as they go, and in today's world, many groups feel sanctioned to go well beyond that. Mr. Engardio has stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses provide an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully. Frankly, I am much impressed that he can be so objective, since, as our aforementioned blogger points out, JW beliefs conflict with his own sexual orientation: Mr Engardio is gay. Most people take a position on various issues based solely on their own immediate benefit. He doesn't.

Roam online, and you'll find countless gay websites that absolutely loathe JWs. I've never found any that praise them. Jehovah's Witnesses, after all, make no accommodation for gay relationships within their congregations. How can they? They're a Bible organization and they don't assume the authority to change scriptures. I don’t think they harp on it. I even think they’re sympathetic to those claiming a different sexual orientation, but they are bound to represent scripture, or else change their mandate entirely. It does make it challenging for anyone gay within their ranks....no question about it. Don't they have to do what swimmers do caught in a rip tide? You don't swim against it; you can't, in any conceivably short time, will yourself or even pray yourself straight. You don't swim with the tide, buying into prevailing propaganda that holds ones sexuality is irrevocable and ought be a source of pride. You have to swim parallel to the current, maybe for a long long time, maybe for the duration of this system, with faith that the influence of God's spirit and congregation will, over  time, serve to readjust sexuality. No, it doesn't seem quite fair, does it? That's why I have the greatest respect for anyone following that course, and none whatsoever for Westboro-church types who rail against homosexuals. They've never fought battles the like of which they would have others fight.

But my mention of Joel Engardio prompted a minor skirmish as to his motives. “What could be more transparent about Engardio’s benefit,” shot back my opponent, “he is promoting himself and his film.” Is he?…..well, maybe. But why make such a film in the first place, one that runs directly counter to his immediate interests? Why not use his data and background to make a film bashing Jehovah’s Witnesses? God knows it would find a larger audience than one praising them. To which my adversary  (I'm not sure he's really an adversary, for I've stomped around his blog and there's much I like about him....he advocates for the disabled, for instance, so we overlap somewhat. And how can one not like a guy who appreciates Bob Dylan?) acknowledged: “Engardio is definitely an advocate for freedom of speech and the Jehovah’s Witness court record on winning those rights in the United States is strong.”

It is indeed. Jehovah's Witnesses have tried 50+ cases before the Supreme Court, most notably in the 1940's and 1950's, but as recently as 2002. Aside from the government itself, no group has litigated more often before the Court, and their legal victories have clarified the Bill of Rights for all citizens.  Said U.S Supreme Court Associate Justice Harlan Fiske Stone: "I think the Jehovah's Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties." (the same can be said in several other countries)

Advocacy groups of all stripes benefit greatly from the groundwork JWs have prepared. Rather than acknowledge any debt, however, they generally join popular clamor in ridicule or even opposition to the Witnesses. Even Rochester's beloved City Magazine piled on, prompting this rebuke from our own Tom Weedsandsheat.

It's a curious fact ...let us acknowledge it...that the most well-known apologist today for Jehovah's Witnesses is an openly gay man. Who would have thought it? Regularly, you'll find Joel Engardio's writings in mainstream publications such as USA Today and the Washington Post. In many ways, he explains Jehovah's Witnesses better than the Witnesses do themselves, at least from a certain vantage point and to a certain audience. Here he writes about Proposition 8. Here about Russia's persecution of JWs. Here even on Michael Jackson. Here he explains JWs for Beliefnet.com.   

Not to suggest that everything he writes is about Jehovah's Witnesses. By no means. Check out his own page on the ACLU blog:

Jehovah's Witnesses don't have a lot of friends among the well-connected, and they make no effort to court them. They aren't political. They neither buy politicians nor grow their own. Nobody politically connected owes them anything. Besides, they preach that human efforts of self-government are divinely disapproved, destined to failure, and slated for replacement by God. (see Dan 2:44) How's that for a recipe to ingratiate yourselves with today's elite? Mr. Engardio's one of the few who will speak up for them. He's certainly in a unique position to do it, knowing both worlds well.

Joel Engardio states that he was raised a Witness, but left early on, breaking his mother's heart. He broke it again, he adds, when he later confessed he was gay. But sexuality was not the cause of his departure. Rather, he writes, he didn't want to wait for God to set matters straight. He thought he could set them straight now, as a journalist. He explains it all here. He worked his way through the ranks, and by the time I first heard of Knocking, his name was well-known among NPR newspeople.

For the most part, whenever we receive media coverage, we get slammed. Journalists, by and large, come from a different planet. They seldom get their heads around where we're coming from, so they're quick to buy into stereotypes. Knocking was the first fair shake I've ever seen from the media. It won a few awards. Said Anderson Cooper of CNN: "Riveting and illuminating. KNOCKING takes us inside the world of Jehovah's Witnesses in a way that is utterly surprising and moving.”

As to Mr. Engardio's motives, who knows? Maybe, as a journalist, he values JW contributions to Constitutional law enough to override individual concerns about sexuality. Maybe he wants to do his Mama proud. Maybe he simply wants to strike a blow for what's true, without regard for how it works for him personally. We don't have to know everything. His motives are his. Moreover, the 'fat lady' hasn't sung yet. Maybe he'll be like that guy who hauled Jeremiah out of the muck and so made out just fine when the Babylonians stomped in. (Jer 38:7-13) I haven't a clue. But I'll tell you one thing. He writes about us both accurately and respectfully. I do appreciate that.

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[Edit: Joel himself emailed me shortly after the post appeared, to say "......thanks for writing your blog about Prop 8 and me. It was a good read. I wouldn't call myself an "apologist" for JWs (plenty of doctrines I don't agree with), but I certainly value our Constitutional rights to speak, believe and live as we see fit."

I called him an apologist after seeing him described that way on the web. Plainly he doesn't view himself that way, notwithstanding that he's posted plenty of good material about us.]

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More Supreme Court history here and here.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


 


 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Love, Marriage, and Soulmates

When I became a JW in the 1970's, I would tell people divorce was unheard of among us; it simply never happened. It wasn't true.
 
But it was almost true. Divorce was rare enough that a new person might think it was true, and I did. Back then, there might be a couple dozen divorces within the entire circuit, and that would be cumulative, not per annum. Not anymore. Nobody today has the slightest difficulty listing any number of divorced persons. In fact, someone even tried to tell me that, here in the West, divorces are slightly more frequent among JWs than the general population. I don't think that's true, just based upon what I see. But it might be true if one considers that huge swaths of people just don't bother with marriage anymore; they simply cohabit. Thus, should they break up, it does nothing to “harm the stats.”
 
Several years ago, I worked a part-time job that put me shoulder to shoulder with lots of young people. They'd ask how long I'd been married and do a doubletake when I told them. Products of divorce, separation, and single-parent families, they'd never come across someone married so long. Can you really expect that they're going to commit themselves to a model they've never seen work? So they simply live together when the time comes. Those who formalize their relationship into marriage may have lived together so long that their relationship is like an old comfortable shoe, unlikely to pinch.

But long-married folks among us know how marriage is. It's built on love and loyalty. You find just that right person to start with.... personalities that click, common interests, goals and so forth, and then you add in shared experiences, lots of communication, and deliberate acts of kindness expressed towards each other. You put time and effort into it. It's like sewing, really. Hundreds of tiny stitches, adding more all the time, to bind the garment ever tighter as one. It's all very fine. It builds over years and years.

And then one day someone comes along out of the blue, someone with whom you've done none of these things, and immediately narrows the gap by half simply by being themselves! What's with that? A “soulmate”? A “treacherous heart?” Or a bit of both?  Let's face it – people today love the idea of soulmates. 

Mrs. Sheepandgoats and I have talked through these things before. We have a good marriage. We don't have a perfect marriage. Are there any of those? We mesh as one on some things. We're quite unlike on others. We've worked through issues, like, really, any other lasting couple I know of.

That's why it irked me a little when I stumbled across that film Before Sunset, though at the same time I liked it a lot because it dealt intelligently with the attraction of soulmates.  It doesn't use the actual word, probably so as not to be assigned the category of “new age babble,” but it sure does explore the concept. It's a talky movie, full of persuasive, unforced, seemingly spontaneous dialogue, most of it filmed in long 6 or 7 minute takes while the two characters, man and woman, are strolling the streets of Paris. These two have reunited after a too-brief chance encounter ten years ago. It seemed, back then, that they were made for each other. They felt that instinctive attraction. They meant to develop and continue the relationship, but alas, circumstances yanked them apart and they did not reconnect until now – ten years later. In the meantime, they've both built lives, taken responsibilities, one of them is married with child.

What I like is that the soulmate notion is explored so well...we feel as they that developing awareness that they've both passed on that one person...each other...with whom they were meant to be. Moreover, the film develops so gradually you don't for a moment find it contrived. Ever so gradually it unfolds that this married fellow isn't happy with how his life has turned out, nor the woman with hers. His marriage is like a prison, he at long last confesses; he's married to a wonderful person, mind you, no one says otherwise, but just the wrong person. And when we learn why the he wrote his best-selling book in the first place....for that's the opening of the film: he's on a book tour promoting it.....you should think Slumdog Millionaire. He wrote the book about her, the only way he could think of to find her again! It's emotionally moving, I admit. That's what I like.

What I don't like is how conventional marriage suffers in comparison. Don't you have to cultivate a marriage? If this guy's marriage is a “prison,” isn't it through this own neglect? He's surely cultivated his career with due diligence, as we are made well aware. Would that he put the same effort into his marriage. But you know how it is with folks today. Relationships must be “pure heart,” no effort required. Thus, we have that stupid 1970 film Love Story, with it's silly “Love means never having to say you're sorry.” Any effort implies that perhaps the relationship is phony to begin with, and is not “meant to be.”
 
Though, having said that, if I recall correctly, this Before Sunset fellow married so as to be a responsible father to the child he had conceived. That's not the best foundation upon which to build, is it? Doesn't it serve to remind that you ought to go conceiving after the stable relationship is established, not before? I tell you, it makes me grateful to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses, a faith which has “held the line” regarding marriage over the past century, while most everyone else has learned to accommodate a new morality....to be satisfied with, not necessarily marriage, but merely a “caring relationship.” Okay, okay, so JWs show the strains of withstanding the new anti-marriage environment. We've even adapted to the times, and in the last few decades have listed a few scenarios....essentially, when you're married to someone who's just plain no good....under which separation is understandable. I mean, there are people with whom you just can't do much. Still, the JW stance is a far cry from most groups, who have thrown the marriage model overboard altogether, and how many of us might not have fared well were it not for that strong framework? For marriage, as practiced in most quarters today, is not thought to be a permanent bond, but simply a manifestation of hopeful intentions. You see your lawyer beforehand to draw up the pre-nups in case it doesn't work out.
 
However, back to the movie, and, of course, "true love" wins out at the end.....doesn't it always with new-age people?....this fellow reunites with his soulmate, presumably leaving his wonderful wife (and child) behind to fend for themselves.... responsibly, of course, with financial support and so forth. And, glory of glories, now that the very cosmos are aligned, doubtless the dumped wife (and child) are now freed to be reunited with their own soulmates! So it's a win-win-(win).
 
Now, what to make over all this?
 
With several billion men and women on the planet....you're not going to meet too many of them before marrying one for yourself, are you? So, after marriage, it would seem there's no way you're not going to run across someone, sooner or later, who appears more compatible than your own spouse! But if you've cultivated, sewn, and built upon your own marriage, shouldn't you be able to withstand a soulmate “assault?” Especially if you put some distance between yourselves. Whereas if you've cultivated, sewn, and built upon every other aspect of your life, while allowing the marriage to become a weed patch, it's likely doomed to extinction. Or you come to regard it as “a prison,” which isn't much better. Build on the marriage, however, and it becomes a great source of happiness, stability, loyalty, and love, even if you scratch your head sometimes over a “what if” soulmate scenario.
 
Besides, I 'm not so sure about “soulmates,” anyway. In the mid 1980's author Richard Bach brought soulmates to the masses. He was already well-known...a somewhat spacey character who authored Jonathan Livingston Seagull. His book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for years, and spawned a movie scored by Neil Diamond. But then he went off on a well-publicized quest to find the "perfect match," the "one and only" for whom he was "meant to be!" He found her! He married her! His one true soulmate! His disciples swooned with joy and ecstasy! He spun a few books off the experience. He became THE soulmate guru. Years of natural bliss ensued. And then......don't you know....he divorced her! His soulmate!!! They say he received death threats from fans, who felt betrayed and who perhaps began to look apprehensively at their own soulmates. Read up on it here and here, if you like.
 
So it's intriguing, that notion of soulmates, but I hesitate to put too much stock into it.
 
Nonetheless, let's pursue this a bit. Wouldn't it also be the case that atheism, which is all the rage today, increases the appeal of the “soulmate?” I mean, if this life is truly all there is, then time's running short. You don't want to waste your remaining decades with the “wrong” person, and if you should happen to meet that “right” person....well.....better change horses now while there's yet time. And since, just playing the odds, you're always going to meet someone more “right” than the one you have now, just where does it end? Aren't you apt, if you really follow soulmate propaganda, to merely end up with a lifetime of failed relationships?

But with a healthy belief in God, one can take the long-range view. Doesn't the Bible even instruct that this life is not the real life, anyway....that the “real life” doesn't commence until 1000 years into the new system of God's kingdom rule over earth? So I don't know why we can't be patient, and learn to enjoy the trip. It seems sure to be a good destination in store, since God “is opening his hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” (Ps 145:16)
 
It's an alluring anomaly, that of soulmates. I think we lose a lot of marriages to it. Not all. Doubtless much divorce is just good ol sleaze and lust, today's world plastering illicit sex all over the place, so that people come to think of nothing else. Thus, we Watchtower readers are always hearing about trading one's relationship with God for “a few moments of pleasure.” But with the ever-increasing awareness of ones own emotional well-being that pop culture insists we all must cultivate, one begins to wonder about marriage itself. I mean, it doesn't, as practiced today, really take into account “soulmates,” does it? And yet soulmates would appear to be a good thing. Or is it all just Richard Bachian new-age drivel?
 
Being 1000 years removed from perfection, it's a little hard to tell. (Rev 20:1-6) We're an awfully self-indulgent people right now, living in an world that insists upon satisfying immediate desires. A “god of their belly” world, where people mind only “things on the earth.” Says Paul:
 
For there are many, I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping, who are walking as the enemies of the torture stake of the Christ, and their finish is destruction, and their god is their belly, and their glory consists in their shame, and they have their minds upon things on the earth.     Phil 3:18-19
 
Perhaps it will be that, upon continual cultivation of one's own marriage over time, our spouse, whoever they are, becomes our full blown soulmate. Or, for all I know, marriage itself may turn out to be primarily a provision to get us through our time of imperfection....an arrangement tailor-made for this system, necessary for now, an acceptable way to interact with the opposite sex and provide a framework for raising the next generation, but due to become obsolete 1000 years into the new system, when the originally intended condition of humankind has been realized. Or maybe not. Dunno. It's a 'wait and see.' But we'd do a lot of changing in 1000 years, even without the burden of human imperfection removed. What might we do when it is removed?
 
You can almost read the possibility in the current wedding vows: “for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.” While that might imply permanence, doesn't it also allow for the possibility that “God's marital arrangement” might one day, 1000 years from now, change? You must admit, it is one way to resolve that perplexing question of why resurrected ones are said not to marry.
 
But I haven't the foggiest. No one knows. We don't get it all, in this system of things, nor do we even know what the “all” is. But we do know that, regarding God, he is “opening his hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” And really, that ought to suffice.

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Tom Irregardless and Me  No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)