Friday, July 22, 2011

A Plea to Evangelicals: Please define who is "Christian"

Can someone, anyone, please tell me how Evangelicals define "Christian"? I always considered myself Christian - someone who believes that Christ is their Savior and Redeemer - but I keep coming across people (mainly Evangelicals) who refuse to let me be called by that name. I have no interest in being confused with Evangelicals (yes, I am Mormon), I just want to get on the same page so that we can stop arguing about such a pitiful thing and move onto less important things like, being Christ-like!

After reading many posts trailing the stories on Mitt Romney and his presidential bid, I have seen Evangelicals try to explain why they refuse Mormons the right to be called Christian, but none have ever really defined "Christian". 2012Frank is a good example of an Evangelical attempt to explain why I am not Christian after reading this Washington Post story:
In the same article, leroyad tries to define "Christian"by: 
Are Mormons Christians? They certainly think so. At the same time, it's indisputable that Mormons believe things about Jesus that no other Christian church does -- starting with the belief that he visited ancient America after his resurrection.[True] The church's official Web site quotes one LDS leader as saying, " We do believe things about Jesus that other Christians do not believe, but that is because we know, through revelation, things about Jesus that others do not know." [True]
So if I call myself a Jew, but believe things that no other Jews do -- like, for example, that the Messiah has come, and his name was Jesus, and he was the divine son of God -- am I Jewish? [Nice try 2012Frank, but your analysis doesn't hold water. Problem is: yes, there are different "branches" of Judeaism. Obviously they are each different because they believe unique things. And, yes, the same thing exists in Christianity - different groups that have broken off from the main "branch" (Catholicism) and formed their own "branch" of Christianity because they believe a little bit differently than the main group. But the one or two defining thing are still the same. It sounds like, 2012Frank, that you are trying to apply the term describing a term generalizing a religion to your particular and distinct sect within that religion.]

The key litmus test for whether a religion is Christian concerns whether or not it includes "grace" in the sense that both Roman Catholics and Protestants use it. Mormons use that term but employ it to mean something else. By my experience, few LDS members understand their own faith's theology. [Not sure where the definition of "grace" came in to defining one as "Christian" or not (no council held to define it that way, that I know of), but I think you might be hinting that we differ in how we believe that salvation through Jesus Christ will be granted]
  Webster's Dictionary defines "Christian" as simply: 
one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ gives a much more complex definition, but very clear, nonetheless:

Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament. "Christian" derives from the Greek word Christ, a translation of the Hebrew term Messiah.
Central to the Christian faith is love or Agape. Christians also believe Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, the Son of God, and the savior of mankind from their sins. Most Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity ("tri-unity"), a description of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which retains the monotheistic belief of Christianity's Abrahamic heritage through an ineffable confluence. This includes the vast majority of the churches in Christianity. A minority of Christian churches are Nontrinitarians.
The term "Christian" is also used adjectivally to describe anything associated with Christianity, or in a proverbial sense "all that is noble, and good, and Christ-like." It is also used as a label to identify people who associate with the cultural aspects of Christianity, irrespective of personal religious beliefs or practices.
Every other dictionary I look in, the definitions are more or less the same, or somewhere in between the two mentioned above. So, please show me (or find a dictionary that defines it differently) how I, as a Mormon, do not fall into the definition of "Christian". Perhaps I do not understand my own theology, as leroyad suggests. What I tend to find, as leroyad eludes to, is that every other person of another "Christian" faith somehow knows more about my religion and my faith than I or any other Mormon does. So, here is a list of my core beliefs, please correct me if my  theology is out of line with the "true" Mormon beliefs:
  1. I believe in God the Father, in his Son - Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. Yes, we are one of the Nontrinitarians who believe that they are three seperate, and distinct beings. There is ample evidence from the New and Old Testaments to understandibly justify this belief, but obviously I am a minority for having this belief. However, Mormons are not the only "Christians" to hold this belief. I believe the Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer, that he died on the cross for you and me.
  2. I believe in a living Prophet, who is called of God to be his mouthpiece and to direct His church on earth. The concept of a living prophet is different than most Christian churches. Most Christian churches claim that the need for prophets ended when Jesus Christ died. How silly does that sound? There were prophets from the beginning of time, down to Christ, and then Peter headed the church afterwards. Then... nothing! Interestingly, we have scriptures (written by prophets and historians) from the beginning of time down to Christ, and then the Apostles, and then... nothing! If God is really unchangeable, fair, and loves us, would he not provide a prophet to tell us of the things we should do?
  3. I beleive in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. If it teaches of Christ and testifies of him, and tells us to be like him, what is the problem? Could there possibly have been other people who looked forward to the coming of the Savior other that those in Jerusalem? Wouldn't God love them as he did the Jews? Why is it so strange that he would love more people than just those in Jerusalem, enough to teach them and them to write down what was told them just like the Prophets in Jerusalem; and then that record be brought to light? It is no different that today, how there are so many culures and countries, all who believe in Christ, and willing testify of it in writing to the world. If i believe in a book that testifies of Jesus Christ, does that disqualify me from being "Christian"?
Yes, there are many other beliefs within the Mormon church that seem strange and different. But everything else is based on the aforementioned beliefs. Some of the "beliefs" thrown around all over the internet tend to be mostly half-truths, designed to get the "shock-effect" out of tits readers. Some are not even doctrinal, at all. Instead, they are more of a theoretical hypothesis (ie. mormons getting their own world, etc.). But, I will concede to the notion that we are brainwashed. We are totally brainwashed to believe that if we try to emulate our lives like that of Jesus Christ and repent of our sins, then through the grace of God, we can be saved in the Kingdom of Heaven.

If that disqualifies me from being "Christian", then let me know, because I wouldn't want to be confused with someone who doesn't believe that.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Constitution... Can it stand the test of time?

There have been a few articles written recently regarding the controversial topic of gay marriage. I have often kept my feeling somewhere in the middle on this topic - knowing my religious stance on the topic, but also knowing of the need to be tolerant and understanding of how others believe. But with many gays filing lawsuits for discrimination of this or that against religious institutions, it is bound to come to a head really soon. So, over the past few days I have looked deeply at my own feelings and tried to make sense of it all.

Although superficially the topic is gay marriage, it is really just one of many gay issues taking aim at a much deeper issue. I had always thought that the battle was just about conservatives and religious groups trying to prevent gay marriage because it philosophically went against their belief. I am conservative-leaning and have often leaned that way, but with a sense of compassion for the issues that gay couples face and knowing that the constitution was established in order to protect the rights of all and to provide those rights equally to all (even those who believe differently)- because, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"

The deeper issue will test and strain the constitution to it's limits because society would attempt to pit two apparent rights against each other, causing one to win, and the other to be less relevant. If one right given in the constitution is made less relevant, then any right can more easily be made less relevant. But, should any guaranteed right really be more or less relevant than another? The easy answer is "no", but life doesn't generally give easy answers. Or, perhaps, maybe we just tend to make easy answers more difficult than they should be!

So, back to topic at hand: which two rights are at battle with each other? Well, it is the above concept of: all men are created equal (from the Declaration of Independence - not technically constitutional, but a consensual god-given and "unalienable" right) versus the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Bill of Rights- "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Unequal privileges due to unequal contributions
Homosexuals want to enjoy the same, equal "privileges" that heterosexuals enjoy - marriage to the one they love and the legal privileges and incentives that come with that. But that poses the question of, "Why does the government give privileges and incentives to those who are married? From a government standpoint, why not just take those incentives away and make everyone equal, whether married or not? Why even get married? Marriage anymore, is nothing more than a mere piece of paper that says you are legally eligible for those incentives. Of course, if you live with someone long enough, you can get most of those incentives anyways. If you get married and end up not liking each other, then you have a messy and expensive divorce. Most people prefer to "fly with the wind" and "pick-up and go when they want". "If you love someone, why do you need a piece of legal paper to say so," they rationalize.

I believe - if studies have not already proven, they would prove - that a family raised by a loving, heterosexual couple, legally married and committed for life, provide the optimum learning environment for a child to grow up in. There is no other kind of relationship that you can come up with to try and replicate it that will be more, or even as successful as this environment could offer. Nothing could provide the balance of a husband and a wife, male and female characteristics, committed to each other, and committed to the children they bear - their own creation - to raise them to be productive, successful, giving, and law-abiding citizens. This is not ground-breaking news, but has been known since the foundation of this country. That is why incentives are given to this form of relationship - good, productive, law-abiding citizens benefit the nation while the opposite are a drag and a detriment to the peace and stability of the nation. This is not to say that other forms of family cannot do a good job. Just that they cannot do as good of a job, nor are they as likely to do a "good" job. If you give equal incentives for a less-than-equal contribution to society, well, it just sounds like a raw deal to me.

The Emotion and Confusion
To get a good perspective of how confusing this debate is, you must read this NPR Story on both sides of the battle, followed by the LDS perspective of the Proposition 8 battle.  In another NPR story on the same web page, it gives some examples of lawsuits across the nation dealing with this topic. They are as follows:

Adoption services: Catholic Charities in Massachusetts refused to place children with same-sex couples as required by Massachusetts law. After a legislative struggle — during which the Senate president said he could not support a bill "condoning discrimination" — Catholic Charities pulled out of the adoption business in 2006. (The Massachusetts law should be deemed unconstitutional
Housing: In New York City, Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a school under Orthodox Jewish auspices, banned same-sex couples from its married dormitory. New York does not recognize same-sex marriage, but in 2001, the state's highest court ruled Yeshiva violated New York City's ban on sexual orientation discrimination. Yeshiva now allows all couples in the dorm.
Parochial schools: California Lutheran High School, a Protestant school in Wildomar, holds that homosexuality is a sin. After the school suspended two girls who were allegedly in a lesbian relationship, the girls' parents sued, saying the school was violating the state's civil rights act protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination. The case is before a state judge.
Medical services: A Christian gynecologist at North Coast Women's Care Medical Group in Vista, Calif., refused to give his patient in vitro fertilization treatment because she is in a lesbian relationship, and he claimed that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. (The doctor referred the patient to his partner, who agreed to do the treatment.) The woman sued under the state's civil rights act. The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in May 2008, and legal experts believe that the woman's right to medical treatment will trump the doctor's religious beliefs. One justice suggested that the doctors take up a different line of business.
Psychological services: A mental health counselor at North Mississippi Health Services refused therapy for a woman who wanted help in improving her lesbian relationship. The counselor said doing so would violate her religious beliefs. The counselor was fired. In March 2001, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sided with the employer, ruling that the employee's religious beliefs could not be accommodated without causing undue hardship to the company.
Civil servants: A clerk in Vermont refused to perform a civil union ceremony after the state legalized them. In 2001, in a decision that side-stepped the religious liberties issue, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that he did not need to perform the ceremony because there were other civil servants who would. However, the court did indicate that religious beliefs do not allow employees to discriminate against same-sex couples.
Adoption services: A same-sex couple in California applied to Adoption Profiles, an Internet service in Arizona that matches adoptive parents with newborns. The couple's application was denied based on the religious beliefs of the company's owners. The couple sued in federal district court in San Francisco. The two sides settled after the adoption company said it will no longer do business in California.
Wedding services: A same sex couple in Albuquerque asked a photographer, Elaine Huguenin, to shoot their commitment ceremony. The photographer declined, saying her Christian beliefs prevented her from sanctioning same-sex unions. The couple sued, and the New Mexico Human Rights Commission found the photographer guilty of discrimination. It ordered her to pay the lesbian couple's legal fees ($6,600). The photographer is appealing.
Wedding facilities: Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of New Jersey, a Methodist organization, refused to rent its boardwalk pavilion to a lesbian couple for their civil union ceremony. The couple filed a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. The division ruled that the boardwalk property was open for public use, therefore the Methodist group could not discriminate against gay couples using it. In the interim, the state's Department of Environmental Protection revoked a portion of the association's tax benefits. The case is ongoing.
Youth groups: The city of Berkeley, Calif., requested that the Sea Scouts (affiliated with the Boy Scouts) formally agree to not discriminate against gay men in exchange for free use of berths in the city's marina. The Sea Scouts sued, claiming this violated their beliefs and First Amendment right to the freedom to associate with other like-minded people. In 2006, the California Supreme Court ruled against the youth group. In San Diego, the Boy Scouts lost access to the city-owned aquatic center for the same reason. While these cases do not directly involve same-sex unions, they presage future conflicts about whether religiously oriented or parachurch organizations may prohibit, for example, gay couples from teaching at summer camp. In June 2008, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the California Supreme Court to review the Boy Scouts' leases. Meanwhile, the mayor's office in Philadelphia revoked the Boy Scouts' $1-a-year lease for a city building.
The Constitutional Analysis
Here is why these lawsuits are all bogus:

Can some one claim religious freedom to kill women who wear too short of skirts? Yes, as long as they do not act by taking away the rights of others. They can believe what they want, but when they take a life, they've gone too far because it takes away the rights of others. No rights are being denied. Last I checked, there is no right to adopt, no right to wed at whatever location you want, no right to have the photographer of your choice photograph your wedding, and so on. No rights have been violated. The constitutions says that, "..all men are created equal" and that we have a right to "the pursuit of Happiness."  It does not guarantee happiness nor that we should be treated equally.

Although no rights are being denied in the above lawsuits, do religions who teach against homosexuality infringe upon the rights of homosexuals? Does anyone have a right to worship where they are not welcome? Do anti-discrimination laws even apply to religion?
I believe that anti-discrimination laws cannot be applied to religious institutions under any circumstances. By the government getting involved in setting the rules of affiliation, they, in essence, have established a state religion by defining the rules of membership. If that were to happen, it would do so with blatant disregard for the first amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." If government can establish rules for membership, what is to stop them from also regulating any other aspect of religion in the name of "equal rights"? Maybe then, the government could step in and ensure equal access into heaven! 

When equal access becomes more important than freedom of religion, then every other right guaranteed in the constitution will also be at the mercy of equality... and the constitution will be left insignificant and "nice, but not relevant to our day".

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On the Topic of Taxes

So, I wouldn't necessarily call myself a business expert or anything. I worked in retail and sales for about 15 years. But I get pretty aggravated when politicians talk about taxes / tax breaks for businesses. In general, they demonize big businesses for making so much money and then try to convince the American people that taking tax breaks away from these greedy businesses will take some of their profit away and humble them a little so that they won't be so greedy, apparently hoping that will drive prices down for consumers. HUH?? Does that even make sense?

Business Economics 101 for Congress:

1. People go in to business to make money - the more, the merrier! It's all about the new american retirement plan - the quicker you can make enough money through a business venture, the quicker you can retire! Is it greed? Of course! Greed is what spurns ingenuity. Ingenuity is why America is the world leader. Take away greed and you are left with hard working and caring people, who have no incentive to dare to dream.

2. Most businesses have figured that it will take a certain percent above their cost in order to break even. If you are dumb enough to think that businesses don't figure taxes are a cost to the business, then you might be a congressman. Let's take Big Oil as a hypothetical example: If it hypothetically costs Big Oil $50 to produce a barrel of Oil, and they hypothetically figure that their mark-up should be somewhere around 50% in order to make a profit (figuring in salaries and putting money aside for future oil spill clean-ups, etc.), they will hypothetically aim to sell each barrel of oil for around $75. Now, basic "Supply and Demand" principles kick-in. If the demand for oil goes up, so does the price, and they will usually try to produce more oil - due to greed. When demand goes down, they usually cut production because they cannot afford to pay people to take their oil (ie. when prices are lower than costs). Therefore, if we were to take a tax-break away from Big Oil because they made more money than we felt they should have made, then the cost to produce a barrel of oil will increase - let's say to $60 / barrel. Now, if Big Oil still wanted to make their 50% hypothetical profit, the new target price for a barrel of oil would hypothetically be $90. If they were OK making $25 / barrel, they could still set their target price at $85 / barrel. Either way, Big Oil is going to make their profit. And guess what, the government hits the win-win jackpot! More money from Big Oil, AND more money from us - because the tax paid to Uncle Sam on $4.00 / gallon of gasoline is a lot more than that on $3.50 / gallon of gasoline.

So, congress, you cannot punish a business for making too much money. A tax on them is really a tax on the people who buy the product. Please don't try to tell me that you want to tax Big Oil or any other business because they make too much money. What you are really saying is you want to tax me because Big Oil sold a product people wanted, and they sold a lot of it!

INCREASED TAXES ON BUSINESSES = INCREASED COST TO THE CONSUMER (increased costs, by the way, are not generally a good thing in a recession - FYI!)

Let's put Income Limits on Washington

In case you haven't ever heard this one before: There seems to be a disconnect  between Washington and taxpayers!

I keep hearing that Pres. Obama along with other politicians across the country seem to believe the only way to cover our all costs is to raise taxes. I must admit that, I too was caught up in the rhetoric and thought it would be good to come to a compromise on this issue; We could cut costs and raise taxes a little - which should solve the problem without too much pain!

Recently, though, after hearing Pres. Obama rip on republicans for refusing to compromise on raising taxes and then tell how he felt that the only way to balance the budget was to raise taxes on the greedy and the wealthy, and that he would only be taking away tax breaks on those evil corporate jet owners, I felt to repent of my feeling of compromise.

I thought to myself: "Do any of these guys in DC have any clue of what it means to 'budget' in tough times? Have any of these guys ever really even been through tough times? Do any of these guys really know what it is like to be burdened with, not  a choice of what to eat, but rather whether they could afford to even eat that day. Most of these guys have probably never had a hand-me-down, nor have they ever had to decide between Wendy's or McDonald's dollar menu for a date because that was all they could afford. Most have never been without health insurance because it was a luxury they couldn't afford, and most have never had to shop at second-hand stores for school clothes or any clothes. In fact, I would be willing to bet that most of these guys have never had to really budget when times where really tough (some may have never had to budget at all!). The few who lived through the Great Depression were likely kids at the time and never had to face those budgeting decisions themselves, but rather it was their parents who did.

Why, then, do we put these people in these positions and expect them to be able to make the tough decisions that need to be made in this tough economy? Perhaps we should put people in charge who are experienced at balancing budgets when times were really tough. Perhaps we should set an income limit on congress so that we can get people in there who really know how to savor every dollar they get. perhaps that income level should be less than $100,000, or even $75,000 or $50,000 or less! These are the people that are more likely to know how to budget.

Perhaps the disconnect between Washington and taxpayers is the idea of what is really needed and what is  really nice. If I was used to living on an income of $100,000 a year, and that income dropped to $80,000 per year, I am sure I could tighten my belt and find a few places to cut expenses without a huge sacrifice. But, let's say the economy went really sour and that income dropped to $50,000. What would I ever do?What options do I have? I could try to find another job - higher paying, of course. But the economy is very poor and there are no jobs to be had. You could also demand that your boss pay you more or you'll leave. I'm sure he'd show you the door in this economy! Or you could try to tighten the belt even more. For example, you have a boat and ATV payment, two car payments, a house, a timeshare and four credit card payments. you already cut back your clothing allowance and have begun looking for bargains rather than paying full price for the clothes when they first hit the rack. You only eat out 3 nights a week instead of four or five and you cut your lunch budget from $25/day to $20. You felt you had made real sacrifices when you took the hit from $100,000 to $80,000. However, $50,000? that is just not possible! perhaps we could compromise with the boss! you'll stay working if he pays you $65,000 and you will give up the boat, the ATV, and the time share. That is the only way to pay for our expenses!
Yes, the boss would likely laugh in your face as he showed you the door. You could, however, realize that the economy is tough for all, and everyone is going to have to sacrifice until the economy recovers. You might never be able to eat out, and you might even have to shop the discount rack at Kohl's now. you might have to sell the Mercedes and the BMW and get some used car that will get you to work and back. You also might have to give up the boat, the time share and the ATV, as you work to really pay off the credit cards. you may even have to downsize the house payment. But, trust me. It is possible to live on $50,000 per year.

If our economy is really hurting, shouldn't Washington learn to live with what they have? Is it right for them to go and demand more money from their boss (the taxpayers) so that they can maintain their standard of living in boats, ATV's, timeshares, big homes, eating out, and shopping the "just in" clothing racks?

That doesn't fly in the real world, and it shouldn't fly in Washington.

Perhaps the next time President Obama talks about cutting tax breaks for those evil corporate jets, he might offer as a leader to get rid of his two corporate airliners and fleet of helicopters which could likely save several trillion over the next decade when figuring in fuel and manpower. I might respect his offer a little more if he is willing to share in the sacrifice.