Christianity, Inc: A Pox on All Your Houses – By Ed Firmage

Several weeks ago on April 25, the LDS Church joined other religious bodies and leaders in signing the letter “to protect and preserve the institution of marriage between a man and a woman.” You may read the Church’s full statement on their website.

The letter below is the first in a series somehow to express, however imperfectly, my deep sorrow, my profound grief and my outrage at what has become a dreary litany of scriptural inconsistency from the church of my birth. The Bible is one of our fundamental documents in the birthing of human rights. My church for decades now has been at the forefront of their denial. We are, in effect, somewhere behind the little men with brooms and baskets, following the elephants, in the great parade of human rights, at least since the latter half of the 20th century. This breaks my heart. The prophetic voice has always spoken for peace and justice. The entire cosmos tilts toward the poor. Zion, as I understand it, is a city now and hereafter, where God and God’s children might mingle in communion of peace and justice. We came to our Great Basin home precisely to do this. We have lost our way. Like Dante, I feel that we are in a deep wood. Where is the light?

The recent death of my dear friend William Sloan Coffin Jr. reminds us that fidelity to human rights, peace and justice and deep spiritual belief are profoundly consistent.

The prophetic voice has always joined peace and justice. Shalom does not simply mean an absence of violence. Shalom unites non-violence and social justice. St. Paul says, “The fruit of the spirit is…peace.”(Gal. 5:22) The psalmist sings, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed.” (Ps.85:10) Shalom invites affirmative powerful non-violence and social justice. From Amos to Isaiah and Jeremiah to Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha and Mohammad, this has been so. For Mohandas K. Gandhi, the great Mahatma, wonderfully moved by the Sermon on the Mount, this self-defined Hindu, though excommunicated by his class for study in England, the central tenets of peace and nonviolence found particular expression: Ahimsa and Satyagraha. Ahimsa, a powerfully affirmative refusal to do violence, a warrior’s non-violence even though he possessed full power to crush and to kill. Gandhi’s non-violence was not for sissies. Satyagraha is truth — the knowledge of truth that sets one free. My friend and colleague, H.H. The Dalai Lama, in the same tradition, has always stood for truth and non-violence in the face of genocidal acts against him and his people, in Tibet, and now in exile in the Diaspora. For my friend, compassion contains the whole. In decades that have broken my heart, the Mormon Church has denied some of these fundamental rights, and done so in the name of Jesus Christ. I dissent.

Christianity, Incorporated: A Pox on All Your Housesby
Edwin Brown Firmage bio, website

Now, the Religious Right, the Republican Party at Prayer, want to foist upon the American people through the American Constitution a zealously narrow definition of “family.” Yes, the big, boisterous community always evolving and never, thank God, definable, confinable. Enter the new social Darwinists, the Christian Right.

The American family, says a gaggle of old men: Mormons, a few celibate Roman Catholic Bishops, and the Moral Majority, consists of one man, one woman, and whatever number of children may result from this union. That’s it. Nothing more. So much for single parents, divorced people, a family of celibate nuns or priests, gay and lesbian folk, and the polygamists. So much, it would seem, for Mormonism of the nineteenth century. Including my grandfathers (depending on how and whom you count), Joseph Smith and Brigham Young; and my grandmother, Zina Diantha Huntington Smith Young, married first to Joseph and at his death, Brigham. Are all of us, descendants of these pioneers of the American West, bastards? Says who?

How in the name of god dare they – these self-righteous self-appointed shepherds of the American Constitution. They would be better advised to keep these ideas carefully contained within the walls of their half-empty churches. The American Constitution is too important a document to be abused in this manner. Thomas and Martha Jefferson, and Sally Hemings, Abigail and John Adams, Dolly and James Madison, would not appreciate such lobbying by these clergymen of pious persuasion from the far right side of the wall between church and state. Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt would wonder at those who invoked piety in order to accomplish a savage denial, a shrinking of fundamental human rights.

Taking leave from their breathless presumptuousness let me join them, however briefly, with a godly blast of my own. How dare they take the name of the Lord their God in vain! These villains. I don’t think God gives a tinker’s damn if I say “hell” or “shit” when I hit my thumb with a hammer. But I know the Lord God is offended when we use his name to hurt, or badly injure his little ones, his lambs, his little lambs. Have these old men no shame? Have they no sense of the holy? Truly, these men, these old men, corporately take the name of the Lord their God in vain.

Sexuality and gender are holy mysteries. Just how we become human; how we gradually assume the image of God; upon what graduated plane do we tend more toward the male or the female and still call God father, mother…all this is holy ground. This whole ground ripples with the holiness of the Lord. We feel God’s spirit wafting through the land and the water of our soul. Just what is sexuality? Gender? God’s image? We take off our shoes. The last (meaning worst) thought we might have would be of the brittleness of the Law. The Law, at best, is a schoolmaster.

But in sexuality, gender, family, the Imago Dei; in such areas we move far beyond the capacity of Law to effect change or enforce a status quo. Here, and way before these outer reaches of spirituality, the Law reveals its impotence. If we push the law into such places, we come to understand just why St. Matthew quotes Jesus as hyphenating “lawyers and hypocrites!” (Cf., Matt. 23, and Alma 10:17) and just why “the hearse horse snickered as he drew the lawyer away.”

It is not in the interest of society: civil or religious, to outlaw or to marginalize the very people we see as most tenderly needing our help. The nineteenth century witnessed the outlawry and the excommunication from civil society of my people, the Mormons. Both polygamy and theocracy (each more than evident in the strident statement at issue) were the reasons given by the mobs that burnt our homes, murdered our people, torched our temples, and chased us into what was then Mexico, when we left Nauvoo, Illinois, in the mid-1840’s.

We thought we were through, finally, with the U. S. of A. (It seems that wars of territorial aggression just don’t accomplish firm borders, do they? Viva! Viva!) So, we settled the Great Basin, now most of the West: Utah, Nevada, Idaho, parts of Colorado and California, New Mexico, Texas, and a few Border States. But polygamy continues. So, it would seem, does theocracy. Marginalization and criminalization do not help society integrate or become whole — quite the opposite. The Mormons, then the skunk at the garden party, made major portions of the civil liberties law of the United States Constitution, much to their consternation. Now, it would appear, we begin again. But we’ve changed sides. Now, we join the bad guys and beat up on those who most need and deserve our protection and fellowship.

Robert Conquest, the great historian of the former Soviet Union, once said that if one wanted to predict the next strategic move of the Soviet Union in the then Cold War, one should simply assume that the Soviet government had been captured by a cabal of its worst enemies.1 Legions of psychiatrists, lawyers, clergy, and married folk trying to stay in that precarious state can all say amen. Oh, just to discern self-interest. Don’t take my time with charitable thinking for the other guy. Wise self-interest is at least a good starting point.

The good old boys missed this one. Still, I love them and, I hope, they still love me. The peace of Christ be with us all as we stumble, struggle, fall and rise again. Sometimes, as Thomas Merton noted, we take one step forward, and then two back, rather than the reverse. But we get there anyway. Since we were headed in the wrong direction in the first place. God be with us all, everyone.

Edwin Brown Firmage bio, website
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S. A.

1 Robert Conquest (Soviet Union (1988), Stalin’s purges (1968) and The Great Terror (1930), the great historian of the former Soviet Union, once described how he so perfectly assessed the next strategic moves of the Soviet Union, at the apex of its power. He said that he simply assessed before each major decision, what the decision would be as if the Soviet government had suddenly been seized in coup d’etat by a cabal of its most virulent enemies. As legions of priests, lawyers, and psychiatrists have always known, discovering one’s own self-interest is never easy.

Further Reading:
Edwin B. Firmage, “Seeing the Stranger as Enemy,” [also known as “Let My Children Go] Dialogue: Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 30, No. 4, 27–41 (1997). See also Speech from Utah capitol steps – March 2, 1996

Edwin B. Firmage, , “Why Did the Watchdogs Never Bark?,” in God and Country: Politics of Utah (Jeffrey E. Sells, ed. with a foreword by Harold J. Berman, Signature Books 2005).

Copyright 2006. Reprintable with permission

  1. #1 by Christiana on May 11, 2006 - 8:06 pm

    Thank you Dr. Firmage. You give me hope for my church. We LOVE YOU!

    • #2 by Hardtaill on March 31, 2013 - 12:29 pm

      It’s too bad that a simple reading of the Scriptures has everyone up in arms over homosexual marriage.

      When God says it’s wrong, you would do yourself a favor to believe Him.

  2. #3 by Alma on May 11, 2006 - 8:11 pm

    Ditto. I’m rolling in my celestial grave. Go Ed!

  3. #4 by Ed Firmage on May 11, 2006 - 11:38 pm

    Hey!!!!!!!That Ed Firmage is some dude!!!!!!!!! Ed Firmage

  4. #5 by Matthew on May 12, 2006 - 3:03 pm

    I think it would be easier to deal with outward, mean-spirited bigotry than well dressed dismissal delivered in loving terms from a man whose office copy of the Bible is worn and tattered.

    I spoke today with long time friend and colleague about this issue. This man is someone whose life revolves around the LDS Church and his family. As his junior by age, and his senior by management, we have spent countless hours over the years debating life, religion, and politics.

    This is a man I would trust with my life. He is one of the most loving, sincere, gentle creatures I have ever met. Despite the fact that the differences in our fundamental beliefs could not be greater, our relationship has endured. I love talking with him. Maybe he just tolerates me because I am a principle of his employer, but I doubt it.

    I gave him a heads ups about Ed’s letter yesterday so that he would be prepared to discuss it today. He reminded me, that he and Ed are related through Joseph Feielding Smith.

    After we took care of business today, I asked him what he though about the letter. I was disappointed and sadden by his response. His first response was Ed is out in left field. I took that personally, because I agree with Ed. His other response was, “anyone with any sense knows a family requires a man and awoman.” I said what about all the single moms out there pointing to the customer service department. He said, “The Church has spoken about that.”

    I have a testimony that I believe is by its essence, a more powerful testimony than a testimony of one’s faith is the truth of a church or book. It is my testimony that we are all God’s children, and love is the greatest virtue and right, and that all love should be celebrated equally.

    Now, if you find yourself saying “yeah but, it’s the sex part that…”, visualize for moment, Gail Ruzika having sex with her husband or visualize your own grandparents or parents having sex.

    It is also my testimony, that if you do that, you are a pervert. The very idea that any of God’s children should be legislating sex between consenting adults is evil, perverted, and an abomination. I too know the scriptures, and I would question any person who says they are sure God is OK with that.

  5. #6 by Yeshayáhu on May 13, 2006 - 9:50 am

    I helped write the Book of Mo and, I can tell you, it is not true.

    It is not even a good story, for the most part; excepting, however, the Book of Isaiah which is, unfortunately, too difficult for anyone to read and understand.

  6. #7 by Nephi on May 13, 2006 - 1:00 pm

    The part about using the Lord’s name in vain is interesting, as is the general aborance by Mormons of folks using cuss words. In fact, I ponder with heavy heart at times the difference (if a difference there be) between me saying “pass me the fuckin’ hammer” and my Mormon colleagues saying “pass me the flippin’ hammer.” Verily, I say, if, in fact, God is counting the number of times we mortals employ cuss words in our daily prose or thought, I think He probably includes the term “flip” in making His calculations. My Mormon colleagues may well have a lot of explaining to do when that gilded horn starts to blowing!

  7. #8 by law prof on May 15, 2006 - 7:10 am

    “How in the name of god dare they – these self-righteous self-appointed shepherds of the American Constitution.”

    After all, they should know the position of “self-righteous self-appointed shpeherds of the American Constitution” is fully occupied by law professors. Particularlly those of the faux-prophetic persuasion.

  8. #9 by God's little brother Ted on May 15, 2006 - 2:33 pm

    I think many people misinterpret using the Lord’s name in vain. I don’t think it actually means saying “god-damnit”, I think it means using his name in vain like the Republicans do, like many using God’s name help a cause that has nothing toi do with God.

    Just a thought.

  9. #10 by Nephi on May 15, 2006 - 3:33 pm

    GLBT, I like the way you think!

  10. #11 by A Gentile in the Chosen Land on May 15, 2006 - 10:51 pm

    There are two organizations I believe should not be able to voice their political opinions:

    1. Military Personnel.
    2. Organized Religions.

  11. #12 by Nate Oman on May 16, 2006 - 6:26 am

    Gentile: Alas, the free speech clause of the First Amendment seems to have foreclosed your dreams of selective speech suppression.

  12. #13 by A GENTILE IN THE CHOSEN LAND on May 16, 2006 - 7:40 pm

    No selective speech, just a little separation of church and state. An Unique Concept.

    Churchs don’t like Government in their affairs, I don’t think Organized Religion Groups should be involved in Politics. Now, I am not saying a Religous Person cannot be political and express his/her view. But, it bothers me when an organized religion comes out with “political views” and endorsing candidates. They are tax exempt for a reason. Just like it is critical we keep government out of religion, it is very critical we keep religion out of government.

    Believe it or not, You give up some civil liberties, when you join the Military.
    Active Miitary Personel are not allowed to express political views while in uniform. This is critical, because We as a Country cannot have a military questioning the Commander in Chief. Its Called the “Standards of Conduct”.

    That is why I have had hard time seeing letters to the Editor, supporting the war effort with military rank signed. They are not allowed to have an “opinion” but to do a mission. Whether they agree or not.

    We as the Civilian Populace are the Check and balances of the military and the Commander n Chief (CNC). It is up to us, if we believe the CNC is out of control, sending troops in harms way, to rise up, question and dissent. Not the Military Person. The Soldier loses his right to Free Speech.

    This is something we as a Civilian Populace have failed at.
    Part of the Reason is, Rove’s machine comprised a plan putting out if you are against the war you are against the Military. They Put out Soldiers “expressing” their support and everyone felt if they said something against the war then they were against the military or UnAmerican. They are still doing it. But we as the Populace are finally realizing the Best thing for our military is Demaning answers and a plan to get them home

  13. #14 by Derek Staffanson on June 10, 2006 - 2:37 pm

    Very good essay. As a very active Mormon myself, I’ve been deeply troubled by the policy decision of my church in promoting the Marriage Amendment. This is an issue to which I’ve given a great deal of thought and study over the past few years, and I simply cannot bring myself to support their decision. I ended up making a full declaration of my concerns on my own blog, many of which mirror those you express in this piece. I’m glad to have more within my community willing to speak out on this issue.

    I look forward to following your future writings.

  14. #15 by Ed Firmage on December 21, 2006 - 10:20 pm

    Thanks, Derek, health problems keep me from quick responses to your reactiions, but I try to respond to groups of good points and queries. I hope our paths cross. You sound like a nice and reflective and honest person. Ed Firmage

  15. #16 by Kevin on September 1, 2010 - 6:02 pm

    How can an intelligent man like Ed Firmage believe in the alien in the sky – the manmade supernatural tautological chief in charge of nature?

    modern religion is a riff on Christian mythology, which is a riff on Greek mythology, which is a riff on Egyption mythology, which is a riff on…basic human fear of the unknown.

    Secularism and Humanism are worthy of our efforts. But mythology – i.e. belief in religion and god is, at best, entertaining…trust in false mythology is destructive to both humans and our planet.

    Get over yourself, preachers. For something useful, see http://www.SecularHumanism.org

  16. #17 by Del Usual on September 2, 2010 - 10:29 am

    Or at least try to hold the attitude of Erasmus, the christian humanist.

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