Mormon Church Now Open to Some

Mormon ChurchA couple of weeks ago, I read in The Guardian, Mormon Church Addresses Past Racism. It is about how the leaders of the church explained why it forbade blacks from the clergy for 126 years until 1978. According to the document, “The church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavour or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else… Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” When I read that, I thought, “Good for them!”

But the thought didn’t stay long. For one thing, their explanation isn’t that great. It was all a kind of funny mix-up. You know, like an episode of Three’s Company where that wacky Brigham Young is influenced by the racial divide in the country. Some people say blacks are humans and others say they’re property. Who could say? It was just a silly historical oddity that the Mormons went along with segregation and slavery crowd!

Brigham YoungIt’s worse than that. Blacks might be able to be clergy now, but women can’t. In the 35 years since the church leaders had a revelation about blacks, God has revealed nothing about women. The ban on women in the clergy has been longer than the ban on blacks. When the Mormon leaders recently explained why the church had been so wrong about black Mormons for so long, BYU writer Margaret Blair Young called it a miracle. So I guess women like her will just have to keep waiting for another miracle that will affect them directly. I doubt seriously that I will be alive when that miracle occurs.

Of course, the active war on the gay community continues in the Mormon Church. As you’ve probably heard, the Utah high court found that the ban against same sex marriage was unconstitutional. The (mostly Mormon) conservatives in Utah have been going crazy. Understandably, the television news has been covering it. That included lots of yucky video of girls kissing girls and boys kissing boys. This caused the Mormon-owned Salt Lake City station KSL-TV to call a ban on showing such footage in their stories. After all, there are Mormons watching! What would they think?!

So 35 years after the Mormons were already extremely late on the whole Civil Rights bandwagon, they finally got around to blaming church father Brigham Young for that whole racist mix-up. I’m not impressed. Like most Churches, the Mormons use their holy writings to justify their continued intolerance. And I suppose that roughly five decades after even the most unreasonable person could justify such bigotry, the church’s mea culpa is welcome. But they have very, very far to go. And again, like most churches, they will constantly be behind the arc of history as it (hopefully) bends toward justice.

Wordy Sarah Vowell

Sarah VowellOn this day in 1571, the great Johannes Kepler was born. He is perhaps the greatest theoretical astronomer of all time. He’s the guy who made Copernicus’ idea work. It was fine to put the sun in the center of the solar system. But the truth was that it still didn’t work to predict the orbits of the planets. That’s because the planets don’t orbit in circles. Working with Tycho Brahe’s data, Kepler was able to show that the planets orbited in ellipses. And that made all the difference. Later, Newton figured out why that was and today we are able to send spacecraft to all the planets!

What a day for scientists! The great biologist Louis Pasteur was born in 1822. I’m sure you know about pasteurization: the process of heating and then cooling food to greatly limit the number of pathogens that are in it. You may well be alive today because of it. But Pasteur did much more than that. He discovered the principles of vaccination and microbial fermentation. He was a brilliant man, or as Michele Bachmann refers to him, “The Antichrist!”

The great actor and singer Marlene Dietrich was born in 1901. You could tell she was something special even in her early silent films. And that continued all through her career. I still mostly associate her with Touch of Evil. But there’s also this song:

Let me say something about not being grateful. This applies to a lot of actors who I actually like, but today, we’re going to talk about Gerard Depardieu. So he didn’t like paying taxes to the country that made him a star. Boo hoo! I hope he ends up in jail in Russia. I might be inclined to apologize for him if I thought he actually had any talent, but I’ve never seen the appeal of the man. He’s 65 today, so hopefully we will see him in no more films and will just die quietly in Russia.

Other birthdays: one of the most important aeronautical engineers ever, George Cayley (1773); actor Sydney Greenstreet (1879); one of my very favorite poets Charles Olson (1910); creepy sex researcher William Masters (1915); and useless journalist Cokie Roberts (70).

The day, however, belongs to the writer Sarah Vowell who is 44 today. She always has an interesting take on whatever she writes about. Basically, she writes history that is so personal that it reads more like personal essay. It is always fun to read. You should really listen to her live performance essay about “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” If you don’t know her work, it will give you a good idea of why she is on my long and ever lengthening list of crushes.

Happy birthday Sarah Vowell!