An Open Letter to Councillor Terry Kelly

May_2006_May2006 025Dear Mr. Kelly,

Considering your recent comments about Mormons (whom you describe as “morons” and “buffoons”), I thought you might be interested in a recent visit I made to Martin’s Cove, Wyoming. The Cowboy State may not seem to have much in common with Paisley, but the vicissitudes of history can surprise us. I hope a brief glimpse of a tragic tale might temper your feelings about the Mormon faith.

Late in the summer of 1856, a group of around 500 Mormons left Iowa bound for Utah. By October they had reached central Wyoming, too late to avoid the onset of the harsh Wyoming winter. With heavy snow making it impossible to continue on to Salt Lake City, this little company of Mormons sought refuge in Martin’s Cove. Here are the words of one of this unfortunate band:

We found a small ravine since named Martin’s Ravine. Here we made our camp in a clump of willows that grew close together. We settled down as we could not go on farther. We must wait for help or death must come to us. Few of us cared which. In the morning to add to our suffering a heavy snow had fallen upon us. We had camped in a circle so we did not know which way to go or from which we had come. Here we were lost, starving, and buried in two feet of snow. Three days we lived through this…In the morning there were thirteen dead and two more died during the day. While we were preparing to go on, the dead were gathered and placed in one large grave.

I recently visited Martin’s Cove. Had you been there 150 years ago you would have recognised their accents — Scottish, Mancunian, West Country — as the party were largely emigrants from the British Isles. The woman who wrote this terrible account was from Manchester. To the east of Martin’s Cove, another pioneer company also faced disaster. One of their number, James Kirkwood, was from Glasgow. He carried his crippled brother to the camp. When the two finally arrived, James collapsed and died from exposure and over-exertion.

What, beyond the cruel Plains’ winter, caused this disaster? Historians note that these British Mormons left Liverpool (and consequently Iowa) too late to avoid the onset of winter. But there is something more central to this tragedy that should give us pause. These British Mormons earnestly desired a sanctuary to practice their beliefs — a promised land — but their people had continually been forced west. In Missouri, the governor ordered the Mormons to leave or face “extermination”; in Illinois, their prophet was gunned-down, their promised land shattered. The hatred of a few, and the ambivalence of the many, who, dare I say it, thought the Mormons members of a “buffoonish” religion, conspired to bring about a tragic episode of ethnic cleansing. And so the Mormons fled the United States, finding refuge in the Rocky Mountains. But first they had to cross the Plains.

And so it was that in 1856, in Martin’s Cove, many British Mormons faced starvation and death. Many did not survive the snows.

I am a Mormon and, like you, I am a Briton. I do not share some of the conservative social views of my co-religionists, and you are right that the Mormons — like many people of faith — have at times visited their own prejudices on others. History requires us, however, to learn from the mistakes of the past, and your comments do injustice to the sincere faith of a sad group of our compatriots who suffered, cold and alone, at Martin’s Cove.


  1. Seth R. says:

    To hear some in the bloggernacle talk, you’d think guys like this only served in Utah local government.

  2. Well done Ronan. Thank you.

  3. Although you posted this yesterday, I read it today, Memorial Day. What a great Memorial Day tribute for all Latter-day Saints, whehther descended from this group of handcart pioneers or not.

  4. Costanza says:

    You gave me pause to remember my own Scottish great-great grandfather, James Steele, who starved to death at Bitter Creek 150 years ago. Thanks.

  5. Kelly’s remark’s are horrible. In light of our record regarding civil rights, we mustn’t be surprised, however, when others feel threatened by us. It is unfortunate that we continue to scapegoat vulnerable minorities.

  6. Thank you, Ronan. This is, indeed, a fine memorial.

  7. Btw, Seth, what is this quixotic target in the nacle that you frequently aim to derail, regardless of the topic.

    …and Hellmut, you attack Dan Brown’s book for appealing to fear and hate of anti catholicism, without qualification, then come sully a solemn tribute to our dead by pointing the finger at us? Nice.

  8. Well said. Despite your old-school anti-Mormon vitriol, Mr. Kelly, I have big love for you!

    I enjoy soaking up these handcart stories as the sesquicentennial approaches. I live in Iowa City, so anything handcart related is all the rage here. President Hinckley and direct descendent Paul Willie will speak; there’s a full-day academic symposium; live music–you name it. It all makes this lurker humbly proud. Maybe now more city folks will understand the name of one of our major streets: Mormon Trek Blvd.

  9. Appreciated the article. Mr. Kelly’s remarks were out of order, and I am grateful for those who will say so. So many people have suffered because of the miss-placed and off-color words of the few. Words spark feelings, which then ignite the flames of vile acts that take generations to extinguish. Thank you to those who strive to put out such hate from this world.

  10. I don’t know what you are talking about, J. There is no analogy between Dan Brown’s exploitation of anti-Catholic stereotypes and demanding that human rights apply consistently to in- and outsiders.

  11. Hellmut old squire,

    For sure, Mormons have at times inflicted their prejudices on others. I concede Mr. Kelly that much. But the Mormon migration was largely a forced one, and as such, Martin’s Cove represents to some degree the fate of a hated people. Such hatred can never be excused, and Mr. Kelly’s remarks — whilst not hatred — were out of order.

    The problem is that he (and many others) think that Mormons are the American Other. We watched a clip of Lee Groberg’s new PBS documentary on the 1856 handcart disaster. Mr. Kelly and many others would be amazed to hear the British voiceovers. History can enlighten us, I feel, on all sides.

  12. An update: Mr. Kelly’s comments have been forwarded to the police and the Standards Commission.

  13. I completely agree with you, Ronan. Kelly’s words are despicable. I am less sure that we should blame outsiders for the disaster of the handcart pioneers. I am pretty sure that it’s more pleasant to be a Mormon in Paisley than a “gentile” in Provo (what a horrible word to refer to our neighbors).

    The Golden Rule applies. So does the parable of the eye. Otherwise it’s not about human rights but about tribal privilege.

    Especially this week, where our leaders are again instigating a movement, which scapegoats a marginalized group for society’s ills, we better realize that such behavior compromises the ability of Mormons around the world to invoke human rights on our own behalf.

    Scapegoating, of course, has a venerable tradition in Mormon history. Everything is the fault of nefarious outsiders. Therefore we don’t consider how intolerant, threatening and dangerous our own behavior is.

    First it was Blacks. That’s no longer fashionable. Therefore we have to move on to gays. One needs to wonder what’s the matter with us that we require scapegoats perpetually.

    Kelly is just one bloke who is out of control. Our lack of respect for the rights of others is systemic. If we really aspire to be an international rather than a regional church then we better address these issues. Otherwise our brothers and sisters living abroad will reap a measure of what we seed.

    For starters, if we want respect then we have to pass up opportunities to blame and exploit others.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    The comment bar at the right has for comment 12:

    Justin: Kelly

    which seems like at allusion to that great work of American cinema (glamorizing successive American Idol contestants), “From Justin to Kelly.”

  15. Hellmut,

    Kudos for being a German who knows how to use “bloke.” As I said to Mr. Kelly, I don’t share the “conservative” views some Mormons have, but remember, orthodox Jews, Catholics and Muslims also oppose gay marriage. A denigration of their faith would be out of order; I was simply sad that Mr. Kelly believed Mormons are fair game. We’re not. No-one is. I agree with you when you say we must also take care of the beams in our own eyes. We’re pretty good about that on this blog, I think.

  16. Steve EM says:

    Great post. Fascinating. When I lived in Newcastle, which seemed to be half Scot, half Geordie, The Scots were generally so much nicer than the blunt rude Limeys, particularly the stuck-up southern ones. This dork proves there’s always the exception. I will say, virtually everyone in Newcastle seemed to have little tolerance for poofs, so this guy is probably an odd ball all the way around.

  17. By Common Consent is a great place to hang out.

    You know, Ronan, I like that bit about the Old Squire. It emphasizes my conservative orientation. Conservative in the sense of Edmund Burke and the Comte de Tocqueville, that is.

    The point is not to validate Kelly but to remember that other human beings have rights too, especially after Sunday’s announcement. If we want to enjoy rights when we are in the minority, such as the freedom of religion, then we better insist that our own don’t infringe on the rights of others.

    As human rights are indivisible we cannot have it both ways.

  18. Seth R. says:

    J. Stapely wrote:

    “Btw, Seth, what is this quixotic target in the nacle that you frequently aim to derail, regardless of the topic.”

    He he. Nice.

    Guilty as charged I guess.

  19. Here’s a motion before the Scottish Parliament (S2M-4281) (as proof that it’s not just Mr. Kelly who has a complaint against BYU):

    S2M-4281 Patrick Harvie: Discrimination at Brigham Young

    That the Parliament notes the value of internship programmes for MSPs, for students and for academic institutions; is concerned about a number of institutions in the United States of America, such as Brigham Young University which has been accused of undermining academic freedom and which openly discriminates against gay, lesbian and bisexual students as part of its compulsory “honour code”; notes that students are expelled from Brigham Young University on grounds of their sexual orientation and that some of these students have subsequently committed suicide; is committed to working for the prevention of discrimination and notes that the Scotland Act 1998 refers to discrimination on grounds of sex, marital status, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, language, social origin and other personal attributes, including beliefs or opinions, such as religious beliefs and political opinions; considers that members should not discriminate against potential interns on any of these grounds and should expect similar standards from the institutions which run internship programmes; regrets that Brigham Young University’s “honour code” is not compatible with equal opportunities and human rights, and urges members to offer their internship places to institutions which have a more enlightened attitude.

    Supported by: Rosie Kane, Mark Ballard, Carolyn Leckie, Mr Mark Ruskell, Chris Ballance, Jackie Baillie, Frances Curran, Eleanor Scott, Cathy Peattie, Trish Godman, Shiona Baird, Dr Jean Turner, Robin Harper, Nora Radcliffe

  20. Whoa! This surprises me. While clearly there is no cultural (and doctrinal really) place for the LGBT community in Mormonism, the honor code doesn’t keep them out, does it? Just no one can have sex etc if you’re not married right? Gay or straight?

    I liked my BYU experience, has it made me delusional? Were LGBTs getting kicked out all the time because of the honor code and I just didn’t know it?

  21. Amri: I think that your understanding of the honor code at BYU is correct. There is a problem of figuring out what constitutes “sexual conduct” in that there is conduct that were it engaged in by a heterosexual couple — eg kissing — would be unobjectionable, but when engaged in by a homosexual couple can be grounds for discipline.

  22. The Scottish proposition comes with one major problem: they are calling for a withdrawal of BYU’s internship places at the Scottish parliament, thus participating in their own form of discrimination.

  23. Ronan: I think that it also suffers from a failure to acknowledge that there might be reasons that non-governmental institutions could legitimately discriminate that would nevertheless be illegitimate government to use. It would be entirely inappropriate for the government to discriminate on the basis of religion, but I take it that it is entirely appropriate for religious institutions to do so. Homosexual conduct is a contested case, but it is not as though the advocates of a universal non-discrimination norm can appeal to some sort of self-evident truth.

  24. Indeed. The problem is that the UK has no concept of a religious university like BYU.

  25. The comment bar at the right has for comment 12:

    Justin: Kelly

    which seems like at allusion to that great work of American cinema (glamorizing successive American Idol contestants), “From Justin to Kelly.”

    Underrated flick, in my opinion.

    Speaking of “From Justin to Kelly,” I wrote Mr. Kelly a polite note several days ago requesting a copy of his original statement on the Mormons, but he has not responded.

    Mr. Kelly now states on his website that “abusive and aggressive emails from Mormons all over the world have been sent to me. Having dealt with them I can say that whatever else these people are they are not what I would call Christians. Either my web is an international best seller or it’s an orchestrated campaign of abuse and harassment by the Mormons, you decide for yourselves.”

  26. “If we want to enjoy rights when we are in the minority, such as the freedom of religion, then we better insist that our own don’t infringe on the rights of others.

    As human rights are indivisible we cannot have it both ways.”

    Hellmut: The problem with this argument is that it assumes all of the heavy intellectual lifting about what is or is not a right has already been done. As it happens, rights are contestable and people have deep seated disagreements about what should count as a right and what shouldn’t. That being the case, appeals to the indivisible nature of human rights don’t seem to get us much of anywhere. Of course, this is one of the reasons that some political philosophers — including those with impeccable leftie credentials like Jeremy Waldron — are suspicious of rights talk to begin with.

  27. rleonard says:


    Is it safe to say that BYU type completely independent from government funding/coercion etc are missing in the UK?

    BYU discriminates against openly gay students… Americans yawn (except for soulforce) and think of the first amendment

    If private UK university actually implemented this policy the police would be called? In other words there are less rights in the UK?

    What would happen if GBH went to a conference in London and roundly condemned homosexuality as a sin? Would the UK police possibly detain and interview him?

    Is a police state opposed to freedom of speech slowly developing in the UK?

  28. Jonathan M. says:

    I too,had drafted a letter to Cllr Kelly warning him to expect a barrage of emails of the ‘you’re going straight to hell’ kind from ill-informed Mormons, and therefore sought to redress the balance with a reasoned critique of his own ill-informed prejudice (which I may not send: I’m currently in a ‘what’s the point’ mood). But I think your own response was an excellent one. Thank you for that.

  29. Jonathan M. says:

    On the issue of human rights, it is of course true to say that the debate is not over. Declarations such as that passed by the UN provide a framework of value in outlining fundamental principles: one of the difficulties remains in assessing where and to what extent one’s supposedly inalienable rights intrude on those of another. For my part, I would defend Cllr Kelly in his right to express his opinions, just as I support the right of our missionaries to continue their efforts whether in Paisley or anywhere else.

  30. Jonathan M. says:

    I should have added that I support the right of elected members of the Scottish Parliament to choose whom they wish to fill internships!!!

  31. georgeD says:

    The most offensive thing about this (to a very conservative Mormon) is that someone would report this to the police or a standards commission. Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.

  32. With the SSM thread going on, I missed these comments.

    rl and george, Kelly will not be prosecuted and it was silly to have reported him to the police and the Standards Commission (a political move by one of his opponents). Labour have had all kinds of plans to introduce anti-discrimination legislation but you will be glad to know that our strong Parliamentary democracy has scuppered them thus far. They’re trying again, though…

    I can well imagine the letters he received. He and I had a civil email exchange and he offered encouragment to the “liberal wing of the Mormon Church”!! Still, what he said was in poor taste and I thought a gentle reminder of that was in order. Of course, that’s his right.

  33. Jonathan M. says:

    I agree entirely, Ronan (and not simply because you are British)! Kelly’s remarks were silly and inaccurate to say the least, but he’s entitled to utter them, as you say.

    His probable reason for doing so may lie in the apparent use of interns from BYU by the Tories, Lib Dems,and the SNP.

    I wonder how Julian Bell or Terry Rooney feel about all this?

  34. Daniel Peterson says:

    Hellmut: “our leaders are again instigating a movement, which scapegoats a marginalized group for society’s ills”

    I don’t see any such “scapegoating.”

    Hellmut: “Scapegoating, of course, has a venerable tradition in Mormon history. Everything is the fault of nefarious outsiders.”

    You’re painting with rather a broad brush there. Everything?

    Hellmut: “First it was Blacks. That’s no longer fashionable. Therefore we have to move on to gays. One needs to wonder what’s the matter with us that we require scapegoats perpetually.”

    I honestly have no clue as to how you’re using the term “scapegoating.” If you mean it in the ordinary sense, your statement appears to me to be utterly untrue.

    Hellmut: “Our lack of respect for the rights of others is systemic.”

    Again, a gross exaggeration, if not an outright falsehood.

  35. Steve Evans says:

    Daniel, it feels extraordinarily good to be on your side. Phew!

  36. Dan, this discussion with HL won’t go anywhere. He’s pretty convinced of these things.

  37. Daniel Peterson says:

    I imagine you’re right. But I’m still puzzled by his use of the term “scapegoating.” As I understand it, “scapegoating” involves blaming someone or some group that is wholly or at least partially guiltless (or, alternatively, that is not solely responsible) for some problem, extrinsic to that person or group, which that person or group is supposed to have caused. The term goes back to the ancient Hebrew practice of placing the sins of the people upon a goat and driving it into the desert.

    In the matter of blacks and gays, though, I don’t see the Church blaming them for any extrinsic problem caused by them. Put very crudely but (I think) with sufficient accuracy for this discussion, the Church’s “objections” have historically directly involved something about blacks and gays that is intrinsic specifically to THEM, as blacks and gays.

    I’m not arguing the merits or the specific character of those “objections,” but questioning the notion of “scapegoating” and, more broadly, the supposed Mormon “need” of a “scapegoat.” The Nazis scapegoated the Jews. But Mormons don’t seem to have scapegoated blacks, and I don’t see any Mormon rhetoric today that appears to “scapegoat” gays.

  38. Without having direct access of any sort to Hellmut’s mind, I can only guess about his meanings with respect to the scapegoating idea. But I think it is perhaps possible to see current church rhetoric about gays and lesbians as involving some actual scapegoating. Our discourse routinely links these individuals with the decline, in a variety of senses, of the essentially heterosexual family unit. Without going once more into the question of whether gays and lesbians in fact share responsibility for that decline, I would assert that most reasonable people will quickly agree that gays and lesbians cannot possibly have sole responsibility for a decline that’s been underway, throughout the developed world, since the mid-1950s (long before the rights movement for gays and lesbians began to get any traction) and even in highly conservative countries (where gays and lesbians still have few if any rights).

    To the extent that people sometimes start using language about threats to the family as simply code for gays and lesbians, then, there is perhaps genuine scapegoating at work. I can’t quite think of a parallel way in which Mormon racialist theology could have been seen as scapegoating, though. Perhaps Hellmut would care to help out on this point?

  39. Daniel Peterson says:

    That may be what Hellmut has in mind, but, if so, it’s awfully subtle for an unsubtle thinker like me.

    I don’t think I’ve heard many Mormons, let alone many official Church spokesmen, “using language about threats to the family as simply code for gays and lesbians.”

  40. DP, I don’t want to argue about the prevalence of such rhetoric in any case; judging whether or not a particular statement falls in that category will inevitably require a great deal of subjectivity and probably won’t be enlightening. My point was simply that the term “scapegoating” isn’t necessarily misapplied with respect to gays and lesbians; some actors on the American political stage are certainly doing it, and I’d be surprised if no Mormons followed suit.

  41. My guess is that HL’s reference is to the September Six, as incredible as that sounds.

  42. Steve Evans says:

    DP: “I don’t think I’ve heard many Mormons, let alone many official Church spokesmen, “using language about threats to the family as simply code for gays and lesbians.”

    You need to hang out more at T&S and M*.

  43. Daniel Peterson says:

    I’m sure that some Mormon somewhere is doing it. Some Mormon somewhere is probably doing just about anything one can conceive.

    Hellmut seems to be presenting his “scapegoating” notion, however, as the dominant if not sole key to understanding the Church’s stand on homosexual acts and gay marriage — and, even more remarkably, as a fundamental and continuing characteristic of Mormon history and culture.

    That seems to me patently false.

  44. Daniel Peterson says:

    The notion that, in order to find out what Mormons really believe and how they behave, and to understand their dominant ethos, an active, communicant Mormon who lives in Utah and teaches at BYU needs to spend more time in the blogosphere strikes me as . . . well, implausible. I should think that actual human relationships with flesh and blood people in non-virtual reality might offer some reliable clues.

  45. Daniel, don’t stretch a single remark to fill a volume. You said that you hadn’t heard many mormons make the association between threats on the family and gays/lesbians. I suggested that if you were so inclined, you could find many such mormons in the blogosphere. I’m sure that you, as an active, communicant, etc. Mormon, would be also able with some sleuthing to find flesh-and-blood people who also make the association.

  46. “scapegoating…” as a fundamental and continuing characteristic of Mormon history and culture. That seems to me patently false.

    I’m inclined to agree with that statement. We have a rather long history of blaming ourselves for things like the Missouri genocide, every single drought in the Great Basin, our children’s decisions not to serve missions or to marry outside the community, and so forth. And there’s no such thing as self-scapegoating.

    However, DP, drawing on your personal social network and life experience to decide how Mormons really believe and behave is, well, bonkers. Granted, drawing on online comments by faithful folks like us to generalize to the whole church is also bonkers. But do you really think the people you happen to know are representative of Provo, of Utah County, of Utah, of the US church, of the global church? If you do, I hate to break it to you: it just ain’t so.

  47. “The notion that, in order to find out what Mormons really believe and how they behave…”

    Daniel, you’re arguing with the Batman guy again. Mind you, you’re right, but that’s like shooting… wait, never mind.

    Regardless, you and Steve are perfectly correct that one can find Mormons doing or believing just about anything, given that there are millions of them.

    ANd yes, HL’s contention was far broader than “somebody”. He specifically said “our leaders” were instigating a movement to scapegoat…

  48. Steve Evans says:

    I can’t say this often enough, or with enough vigor: shut up, Frank.

  49. I think “scapegoat” is the wrong word. But I agree with RT that when Mormons talk in general terms about “moral decay” they have homosexuals at least partially in mind.

  50. Daniel Peterson says:

    “DP, drawing on your personal social network and life experience to decide how Mormons really believe and behave is, well, bonkers.”

    I couldn’t possibly disagree more strongly. If a lifetime of experience with Latter-day Saints on every inhabited continent and across North America, coupled with more than two decades of residence in the Mormon heartland and employment at the Church’s university (where, among other things, I’ve taught hundreds and hundreds of Mormon students from every state and several foreign countries) and service in various stakes and wards, fortified by decades of preoccupation with Mormon studies and Mormon history, hasn’t given me a fairly good sense of “how Mormons really believe and behave,” then I’m at a loss to imagine what possibly COULD convey such a sense.

    “But do you really think the people you happen to know are representative of Provo, of Utah County, of Utah, of the US church, of the global church? If you do, I hate to break it to you: it just ain’t so.”

    How did you yourself acquire the superior grasp of Mormon belief and behavior that allows you to dismiss my sense of it as inaccurate?

    I feel quite comfortable sticking with my impression of Mormon attitudes and opinions on this issue (and others) unless and until I’m presented with actual evidence to the contrary. But that has not yet occurred.

    “Daniel, don’t stretch a single remark to fill a volume.”

    Shouldn’t the same caution (at a bare minimum) be extended to anybody who generalizes from vague anecdotal evidence and a few reputed internet posts to a vast and distinctly counterintuitive generalization about Mormon culture and history?

    “I can’t say this often enough, or with enough vigor: shut up, Frank.”

    Why was Frank’s comment deserving of that response? So much for open discussion, I guess.

    “I think ‘scapegoat’ is the wrong word. But I agree with RT that when Mormons talk in general terms about ‘moral decay’ they have homosexuals at least partially in mind.”

    That’s certainly true. But it’s a very different matter than what Hellmut was suggesting. (I’m trying to take into account the fact that, so far as I know, English may not be Hellmut’s native language. Still, I don’t think it’s merely a matter of inapt word choice.)

  51. See, DP, you’re generalizing from what statisticians call a “sample of convenience.” With a sample of convenience, the sample size is irrelevant–unless there’s some kind of outside evidence that the sample corresponds with the population, the default assumption always has to be that there’s no correspondence whatsoever. The Mormons you know are definitely different from all the others in at least one respect: they know you and all the others don’t. That one variable is almost certainly systematically related to a bunch of others. Generalizing from your sample of acquaintances is thus an act of sheer, blind luck.

    Now, I can’t personally do any better. In order to actually make meaningful statements about the norms or prevalence of certain beliefs and behaviors among the Latter-day Saints at the grass-roots level, we’d need a random-sample survey. Some people get that for a few questions and for US Mormons using national-survey data, but for the most part we’re all in a state of near-total ignorance about what “mainstream Mormons” actually do, think, believe, say, and so forth.

    But the point here is, I don’t need to know what Mormons actually are like in order to have a high degree of distrust in generalizations from your personal experience. All I need is some basic ideas about scientific sampling design. Your sampling rule just doesn’t pass muster; generalizing from it is, as I said, bonkers. But not to fret; we all do crazy things all the time.

  52. Aaron Brown says:

    Hey, I still want Dan Peterson to guestpost here, so stop driving him away, folks.

    Aaron B

  53. Sorry, I’m really not aware of any Mormon use of the phrase “threats to the family” as a euphemism for gay marriage or for the whole GLBT crowd in general. As far as I can tell, most Mormons are fairly comfortable in denouncing gay marriage directly at this point, with no need for a euphemism. RT, maybe people in the Bay Area are just a little more delicate when it comes to vocabulary.

    When I hear “threats to the family” in general LDS discourse, the reference seems to be to secular culture as a whole: declining standards in television and movies; the practice of young hetero couples in living together and only getting married several years later; pretty much the whole sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll package.

  54. “I think “scapegoat” is the wrong word. But I agree with RT that when Mormons talk in general terms about “moral decay” they have homosexuals at least partially in mind.”

    I think that partially is rather key though. If homosexuality acceptance is seen as wrong then clearly acceptance of homosexuality has to be seen as moral decay. Just as the acceptability of easy divorce, pornography and a lot else would be so seen. So I guess I don’t see this as scapegoating. I don’t think anyone but the most simple minded and extremist would argue that homosexuality is even the main cause of problems.

  55. “I don’t think anyone but the most simple minded and extremist would argue that homosexuality is even the main cause of problems.”

    The stake president of the stake just north of us in fact said this last Sunday.

  56. Daniel Peterson says:

    The notion that I, a rather observant fellow, have lived as a Latter-day Saint in various states of the Union and on four of the six inhabited continents (and worshipped with Latter-day Saints on the other two continents), that I have been intensely involved in the study of Mormonism for decades, that I have lived and worked among Latter-day Saints in the heartland of the Latter-day Saints, while essentially having failed to encounter or notice a very striking principal feature of Mormon belief, behavior, and (it is claimed) official Mormon discourse — a supposed passion for scapegoating first blacks and then gays — strikes me as so improbable as to be virtually impossible.

    I don’t require random-sample survey data to support the very strong picture that I have and that is based upon decades of interactions with Latter-day Saints around the world and decades of reading on Latter-day Saint topics. But I would require such data to OVERTURN the picture I have developed over that long period. And it would take a considerable amount of such data, too, since the claim that has been made here is so powerfully counterintuitive.

  57. Of course, that doesn’t say anything about the prevalence of different vocabularies. That’s a harder thing to decide–and arguing from our personal experience isn’t terribly enlightening. Perhaps this is extremely rare; I have no evidence to the contrary. All I’m arguing here is that Hellmut’s statement about scapegoating gays and lesbians has a coherent meaning.

    Parenthetically, scapegoating of gays, lesbians, and other marginalized groups is an important strand in American political discourse more generally. Remember this infamous incident?

  58. Daniel Peterson says:

    ““I don’t think anyone but the most simple minded and extremist would argue that homosexuality is even the main cause of problems.”

    The stake president of the stake just north of us in fact said this last Sunday.

    He claimed that homosexuality is the main cause of society’s problems?

    I would love to see a full verified text of his remarks.

  59. Daniel Peterson says:

    I agree that Hellmut’s statement is coherent.

    Its coherence permits me to declare it false. If it were incoherent, I could not know one way or the other.

  60. DP, you’re WAY off topic in comment #56. The remark about generalizing from personal experience was in response to your comment #44, in which you claimed the ability to comprehend Mormon beliefs, behaviors, and ethos in general on the basis of your personal experience. No topic was specified; you made a universal assertion. Now dragging in irrelevant material about one specific issue is an irrelevant defense. It’s sheer polemics, not rational debate.

  61. #59, right, let me note that I should have said “coherent and arguably plausible.” The argument about whether the statement is true or not can’t really be easily resolved–we’d need extensive content analysis. But I can understand how a reasonable person might have believed Hellmut’s claim about scapegoating gays and lesbians.

    I can’t currently see a way that a reasonable person might believe his statements about scapegoating as a recurring pattern in Mormon history; I’d love for Hellmut to offer some additional argument in favor of that claim.

  62. #58, come on, it’s not remotely that important.

  63. Daniel Peterson says:

    In #44, I was responding specifically to the particular claim in #42. A claim has been made here about a purportedly widespread, even characteristic and official, Mormon attitude and behavior. I deny its existence as anything more than minority/marginal. I was precisely on topic.

    If you intend to rule my reasoning out of court as mere “polemics” and “not rational,” you’ll need to demonstrate that with argument and analysis rather than resorting to dismissive name-calling.

    I do, however, insist on my irrational and polemical view that a lifetime of experience in various Mormon congretations and circles qualifies one — not merely me — to have a sense of Mormon behavior and belief that, if mistaken, requires superior evidence to overturn.

  64. Daniel Peterson says:

    “#58, come on, it’s not remotely that important.”

    Granted. And I suspect that it’s not quite accurate, either.

  65. “…lifetime of experience in various Mormon congretations and circles qualifies one…”

    don’t we all have one of those, technically speaking? I’m jesting a bit, but your point is an interesting one, because you’re indirectly making a case that past a certain point, one can speak authoritatively about Mormons from a basis of personal experience. What is that point, do you think? Clearly, you’ve satisfied the criteria, at least from your own perspective — at what point would you acknowledge the same from another churchmember? What’s the minimum experience level, in your view?

  66. Randy B. says:

    I’m no better than any of you at reading Hellmut’s mind, but perhaps when it comes to matters of racial scapegoating, he is thinking of the reaction of some, such as Elder (and later President) Benson, to the Civil Rights Movement.

  67. Daniel Peterson says:

    I have no rule. I simply think that any reasonably conscious active member of the Church with relatively extended and extensive experience in a few different locales and lacking a distorting ideology or psychological defect, is going to have a pretty good sense of typical Mormon attitudes, behaviors, and opinions — a sense that an outsider social scientist, armed with however many random surveys and data sets she may have, will have a hard time rivaling.

  68. Thanks Dan.

  69. RT,

    You assert that a lifetime of sampling should be treated as completley unrelated to the distribution of the underlying population, owing to selection. Although this is certainly mathematically possible, there is no particular reason to think that Dan’s encounters are so horribly selected that they fail at estimating basic Mormon attitudes and beliefs. As he has pointed out, Dan has known many Mormons in many different circumstances, thus he is not sampling off of just a few, highly selected individuals. It may not nail it down, but it probably is not a bad starting guess of mainstream Mormons. Certainly it is not a bad guess in this case, since HL’s claim is so over the top.

    Steve, calm down. You don’t need to tell people to shut up just because they disagree with you and you don’t like them.

  70. Elisabeth says:

    Frank – I don’t necessarily disagree with you, and I haven’t had enough interaction with you to form an opinion of you either way, but you should listen to Steve.

  71. Just to be clear, what exactly is it that Steve said that you feel I should listen to?

  72. Daniel Peterson says:

    Perhaps you should listen to his order to shut up?

  73. Elisabeth says:

    #72 – Daniel Peterson speaks much wisdom on this matter.

  74. Daniel Peterson says:

    So that’s TWO votes for Frank to shut up?

    Some folks seem to have a very strange sense of what “discussion” entails.

    Who else here ought to be silenced?

  75. Aaron Brown says:

    How about them Mariners?

    Aaron B

  76. Aaron Brown says:

    Frank, I vote for you to keep talking. Which makes it 2-1. (Except I actually carry waaaaaay more weight around here than Steve and Elizabeth, so you haven’t really yet been handed your hat).

    Aaron B

  77. Elisabeth says:

    Mr. Peterson, Frank, Steve, RT., et. al., this “discussion” has degenerated into a childish exercise of oneupmanship. I suggest we change the subject, or find a more productive and civil way to engage the discussants.

  78. Daniel Peterson says:

    I don’t see any “oneupmanship” or any “childishness,” though I’ve seen a few specimens of name-calling.

    There are real issues here. Calling people “childish” and/or “irrational,” or telling them to “shut up,” doesn’t address those issues, but other posts here have addressed them.

  79. Thanks Aaron :)

  80. Elisabeth says:

    LOL – don’t you guys have anything better to do than to pick fights? Apparently, I don’t either. Sigh.

  81. Daniel Peterson says:

    I’m just an interloper here, with no real experience on this blog except in this thread and in the one that first attracted my attention (where I was faulted for my supposed hostility toward scholarship on the scriptures), so I don’t think that I have a vote. But I can think of no legitimate reason why Frank or his viewpoint should be silenced.

  82. Daniel Peterson says:

    LOL – don’t you guys have anything better to do than to pick fights?

    I’ve been trying to discuss an issue. I’ve called nobody a name and I’ve told nobody to shut up.

  83. In my own experiences of 50 years as a Latter-day in many different states (but few foreign countries), I have heard on several occasions (not just on the bloggernacle) that all historians know that the fall of prior civiliations was on account of acceptance of homosexuality, and a collapse of civilation, inevitably, is where same sex marriage will lead. And many of those LDS friends draw out as further evidence the increase in divorce rate and decrease in birth and marriage rates as evidence of the harm of same sex marriage and acceptance (like decriminalization) of homosexuality.

    A couple of years ago, a prominent member of the Church gave a speech in which she compared failure to oppose same sex marriage to the failure of many to oppose Hitler before WWII.

    I do not know if blaming the collapse of prior civilizations (or the increase in hetersexual divorces) on homosexual behavior (or the possibility of same sex marriage) is scapegoating or not. It does seem like a remarkable claim.

    I am glad to hear that such claims have not been made in parts of the LDS culture region where I have not lived for some period of time.

  84. Daniel Peterson says:

    Interesting report, DavidH.

    Has your experience of such opinions been sufficiently broad and consistent over time that you would be comfortable characterizing those views as dominant in the Church generally?

  85. Elisabeth says:

    Mr. Peterson – I heard you speak once in real life a few years ago and remember vaguely that I enjoyed your talk. But your blogging style is a bit too combative for my tastes. You came out swinging in #34, with talk of “falsehoods” and “gross exaggerations”. This kind of language is more likely to start a fight instead of to start a civil discussion. Hellmut was not attacking you personally. I don’t understand why you reacted so negatively to his comment.

  86. Daniel Peterson says:

    And I didn’t attack HELLMUT personally, either. I didn’t tell him to “shut up.” I didn’t call him “childish” or “irrational.”

    I responded to his CLAIM, which I regard as grossly exaggerated, if not flatly false.

    Perhaps I misjudged this site. I thought it was a place for discussion and debate. Maybe, though, the preferred style here is personal attack. (While I seem to be catching flak for bluntly contesting Hellmut’s assertions, labeling others “childish” and “irrational” and ordering them to be silent appears to be acceptable.) If so, I apologize and will happily withdraw.

  87. Elisabeth, read Hellmut’s comment about Church leaders instigating scapegoating of Blacks and gays for society’s ills and tell me if you think it is a gross exaggeration or false.


    That’s what is so weird, bcc is usually a pretty civil place.

  88. I’d like to apologize to the extent I’m responsible for any of the mean-spirited or rude comments here. There are lots of times I’ve told Frank, in one way or another, to shut up. When I do so, I am not telling Frank to close his mouth forever on all topics; by and large he is an intelligent guy that can make thoughtful points, and I have no problem with any of the substantive points he’s made on this thread. Indeed, I lack the academic background to address the substance of Frank’s comments on this thread. Rather, I was offended by the joking insults in some of his comments. I should not have responded to them as I did.

    This thread, like the site in general over the last day or two, has taken a very aggressive and at times confrontational tack. I regret this immensely. While sometimes it’s fun to knock ideas around and have an intellectual tussle, confrontation (contention?) like this
    between members of the Church quickly gets ugly. I consider it to be in opposition to how I personally conceive of the gospel in action. For my role in that, I’m sorry.

    and Dan, as a side note — the preferred style here is not personal attack, the present thread to the contrary. I’m sorry you got that impression. You must understand that we are not professionals here. We often lack the ability to cleanly and consistently delineate between a person and the assertions he or she makes. Thus a blunt style can often be mistaken for an attack.

  89. The discussion here has really taken a nosedive into nastiness. Contention is never helpful and it’s abounding here. Please let’s all be nice – stop the spitefulness and just be civil!

    I love BCC, but not when it’s like this!

  90. Sorry – must have been typing at the same time as Steve!

  91. Elisabeth says:

    Okay, last comment. Just so we’re clear, Mr. Peterson, I was not calling YOU childish, just as you were not attacking Hellmut personally for his expressing his opinion.

  92. Daniel Peterson says:

    Here is some of the language that I garnered from Hellmut’s posts, above: Mormons “exploit others” and “scapegoat vulnerable minorities,” Mormon behavior is “intolerant, threatening and dangerous,” and Mormon leaders “are again [!] instigating a movement [that] scapegoats a marginalized group for society’s ills.”

    That all strikes me as not only harsh but false and unjust. Even so, I defend Hellmut’s right to say it and I choose to respond to him at the level of evidence and analysis (rather than, say, calling him names). However, just as Hellmut is within his rights to advance his opinions, others are within their rights, should they so choose, to challenge his opinions.

    Clarity of thought and rigor of logic — two of my favored goals, if only rarely among my actual achievements — can sometimes come across as harsh and rather merciless. That’s unfortunate. But vague sloppiness and poor reasoning seem to me even worse alternatives.

  93. Daniel Peterson says:

    The discussion here has really taken a nosedive into nastiness. Contention is never helpful and it’s abounding here. Please let’s all be nice – stop the spitefulness and just be civil!
    I heartily agree.

  94. Aaron Brown says:

    “The discussion here has really taken a nosedive into nastiness.”

    Seriously, am I just from a different planet than everybody else? I don’t think the discussion in this thread has been particularly nasty. A bit heated and confrontational at times, but so what? A bit bitchy here and there? Sure. Big deal.

    I think maybe I’ll post something advocating gay, polygamous temple marriage, compulsory abortion, and Sudanese genocide, so that folks can have something to actually get nasty about. :)

    Aaron B

  95. Daniel Peterson says:

    Oddly, I agree with Aaron, too. I don’t see vigorous disagreement as intrinsically bad or necessarily nasty. But when name-calling creeps in, serious discussion is derailed and, temporarily at least, brought to a halt.

  96. Thanks Steve.

    Aaron, I’d largely agree with you. When things get labeled “nasty”, then some people immediately reinterpret the whole discussion as having been nasty, which it hasn’t been. It has, with a few exceptions, just been a very typical back and forth.

  97. The vibe has been bad on this thread today – contentious, argumentative and just mean at times. You can disagree with each other and debate without any of the above.

    Aaron – your tolerance must just be much higher than mine ;)

  98. Elisabeth says:

    Where the heck is Hellmut, anyway? He started this whole thing. :)

  99. I just spoke to him on the phone about the world cup, but maybe he’s not been checking!!

  100. Hellmut has been trying to post all day but our filters have gone wonky and prevented him. I understand that we will try to remedy this somehow.

  101. Daniel Peterson says:

    Auf wiedersehen.

    I enjoy rigorous discussions, but don’t want to impose them where such discussions offend and are not welcomed.

  102. If you’re referring to my #89 comment Daniel – you originally agreed with it, and my comments weren’t pointed at you – they were a blanket statement. Sorry if you misinterpreted!

  103. Aaron Brown says:

    “Aaron – your tolerance must just be much higher than mine”

    Evidently. But then, I am known the world over for my tolerance. And for my humility. And for my dashing good looks. Such is my lot. :)

    Aaron B

  104. I have been trying to post but somehow the text wouldn’t stick. Anyways, for those who would like to engage the issue of scapegoating and the Mormon experience, I posted a reply at Beyond Ourselves.

    That way, we don’t need to jack this tread any longer.

  105. Hooray, it finally worked! :)

  106. In trying to find Mr. Kelly’s website, I googled [“terry kelly” scotland], and found that he had been once suspended from the Council for six weeks for approaching a member of the public in a “threatening and intimidating manner” and once censured for referring to SNP Councillors as “village idiots” and “workshy incompetents.” It seems likely that Mr. Kelly suffers from an ailment I heard about on NPR this morning, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, and that he will yet have many occasions to remove his foot from his mouth.

  107. And I did find his official website, complete with photo, although I don’t see where he would have posted his remarks, nor where he has retracted them. Perhaps I have yet to stumble upon the site in question. He certainly doesn’t look very happy…

  108. #24 That’s true, Nate. But I don’t think it’s really the issue.

    At a minimum, we should extend the courtesy that we expect of others. Surely, you will agree that Mormons in Utah ought to treat their gentile neighbors as well as they would expect to be treated if they moved to Paisley. Too often, however, we do not reciprocate because we do not consider “gentiles” our equals.

    In that case, the disagreement is not about what constitutes a right but who is a full human being.

    When I lived as a Mormon in Germany there were some unpleasant episodes over religion. Most of the time, however, it did not matter. In terms of acceptance, it would have been a lot worse to grow up a “gentile” in Utah.

  109. I have an intermittent explosive disorder. I wonder what medication I should be on.

    Elisabeth, times like this, I just say, “go fight and be men.” But then there are the times I’m the one fighting, then I say I’m right.

  110. Mr. Kelly has posted another update here.

  111. Gods be thanked! We’re back to talking about Terry Kelly! Can’t resist this bit of quote-massaging though:

    Aaron: I [advocate] gay, polygamous temple marriage, compulsory abortion, and Sudanese genocide.

    Dan: I agree with Aaron

  112. Adam Greenwood says:

    I agree with Dan and Aaron. I also think that gay, polygamous marriages, abortion, and Sudanese genocide should be illegal (mostly). I try to avoid confusing my views on morality with my views on law.

  113. HL, you simply don’t know what you’re talking about re Mormons and non-Mormons in Utah.

  114. What kind of alternate universe is this thread?

    Dan Peterson vigorously and intelligently disagrees with Helmut; RT condescendingly tries to put Dan in his place with a misplaced appeal to statistical rigor; Dan Peterson vigorously and intellegently disagrees with RT; RT condescendingly chastises DP by mischaracterizing what DP said; Dan Peterson vigorously and intelligently disagrees with RT; Frank McIntyre comes to DP’s defense and Steve Evans tries to assert his dominance in his playground by telling him to shut up; Elisabeth and Rebecca now join in and try to paint it all as childish with a broad and facile brush; Dan Peterson vigorously and intelligently disagrees with such a puerile mischaracterization.

    DP is essentially called the villain by several BCC uberlords for daring to engage the original witless statements in intelligent and reasoned discussion, meanwhile their own comments are anything but.

    Dan Peterson is a breath of fresh air every time he shows up in the bloggernacle. He is witty, intelligent, educated, urbane and willing to call people on their shoddy thinking. He ought to be welcomed with open arms in places where these qualities are supposedly admired. Instead he is chased off. Well done BCC.

  115. KLC,

    I agree that this has not been BCC’s finest hour all round. Still, comments are notoriously scrappy and prone to melting down for stupid reasons, often complete misunderstandings. We’ll try harder.

  116. KLC, did you stop reading at comment 87?

  117. I read the whole thing Steve. The reason I didn’t include the apologies is the end result. DP was essentially shunned and ended up leaving because he is intelligent, willing to vigorously engage shoddy thinking and wickedly funny, all qualities that the bloggernacle covets and tries to emulate yet only rarely achieves.

    This seems to happen every time he shows up. I think it’s because philsophically he is committed to a more conservative POV than many in the bloggernacle, and because he is better than most of you at your own game. Neither seems to be acceptable in a place that endlessley pontificates about acceptance and tolerance.

  118. KLC, you could be right. I hope you’re not. I certainly don’t see myself as playing the same game as Dan. In any event, you’re right that we pontificate plenty but can do a lot more to be bona fide. It’s clear that you’re a DP fan — fortunately there are the FAIR boards for you to find him at.


  1. […] Some people I know talk about how the prospect of becoming a father has softened them, chastened them and made them anew. Many of you have no doubt witnessed this change in me already. Joking aside, I do see a new life coming for me, and I’m not sure what it means. But I’m looking forward to it. […]

  2. […] Recent postings by Lou Midgley and Dan Peterson in the bloggernacle are benign examples of what I mean. If you want the full banana….check out the FAIR Message Boards. Blech. Yuck. I almost feel dirty linking to that post. […]

%d bloggers like this: