If We’re Gonna Open Up, Let’s Really Open Up

In recent days, there has been much clamoring for the re-opening of America and it’s economy. Living where I do, I have to admit that I totally understand this sentiment. As I have documented previously, our little county in Arizona identified two cases of COVID-19 back in mid-March. Both of those cases have fully recovered. Since that time, not a single test for COVID-19 in our area has come back positive. NOT ONE!

Does anyone have any idea how difficult it is to stay committed to stay-at-home orders or true social distancing when not a single case of the dreaded disease everyone is hoping to avoid hasn’t shown up in your backyard for over a month? Of course some of you do, because you are probably experiencing something similar. And I get it, everyone just wants to get back to normal, get back to work, and get back to…being America.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, this yearning for normal has lead to some less than ideal arguments being floated into the grand marketplace of ideas. For instance, Indiana Republican House Representative, Trey Hollingsworth, suggested that the “lesser of two evils” is to let more Americans die rather than let our American way of life (our economy) die. He later walked back this comment to a certain degree, but he is not alone in his view that in order to save the greater good for a greater number of people, we probably need to re-open the nation, let everyone get back to work, and let the virus do its worst. Most people advocating this view tend to be younger than retirement age and free of underlying health concerns and therefore feel a little more at ease with their chances.

The tough part is, frankly I get it. My wife and I have both been extremely blessed to remain employed through this historic worldwide event. There are many who haven’t been as fortunate. But we can relate in the slightest of ways. My son is preparing to leave on a religious mission for two years. These missions are largely paid for by the missionaries themselves and their families. For the last year he has held a job that was providing money to pay for his mission. On March 20, that job went away. I would very much welcome the opportunity for him to go back to work. It would be a true financial benefit for our family if he could go back to work. So please believe me when I say I understand the allure of the idea now permeating a large portion of our culture, “The cure can’t be worse than the disease.”

It’s tough, though, when facts get in the way. Since January, we’ve been hearing the refrain that COVID-19 is nothing more than the flu, or that the number of those dying is not even reaching that of those killed by the flu each year. The truth is, the CDC reports that in the 2018-2019 flu season 34,200 Americans lost their lives to the flu. Admittedly, in previous years that number has been as high as 57,000. Yesterday, the United States experienced its highest 24-hour period of fatalities related to COVID-19 to date with a number of 4,951. Our total deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States now stands at 35,371 and we’re not even close to done.

Never fear though, numbers like those can be explained away easily in this age of social media which overflows with an endless supply of unverifiable information. The new arguments sprouting up all over Facebook and Twitter, perpetuated by those hell-bent on re-opening the country, are that the numbers being reported are inflated. I suppose it’s possible. There is absolutely no verifiable proof that this is true, but I suppose it’s possible.

But the main issue is that we can’t lose our American way of life, our liberties, our freedoms. That’s the only thing that matters here, am I correct? What we are doing nationwide with social distancing and stay-at-home orders is an overreaction that cannot stand for the mere argument of safety. Freedom comes with a cost. That’s just the way it is, right?

On September 11, 2001, America lost 2,977 people to terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists. As a result, all flights were grounded for a week, but then we got right back to normal. Except that when travelers returned to the airports, they were told to arrive two hours in advance in order to navigate new stringent security measures that had been put in place. The days of people walking their friends or family directly to an airport gate were over. Large trash cans were placed in airport security areas as thousands of bottles filled with personal hygiene products got thrown away due to new restrictions on the amount of liquid one could carry with them onto a plane. Weeks later, after another attempted terrorist plot failed, millions of Americans were forced to remove their shoes and belts every time they passed through airport security. What followed in the coming months were implementations of machines that would basically provide the TSA a very reliable view of what you looked like naked. It was a little off-putting, but…in the same of safety, right? All of these basic removals of privacy and loss of freedoms were accepted by the masses in the name of safety. Overreaction? I guess we’ll never know. We didn’t like it, but it was being done in the name of saving American lives.

What’s interesting is that if you fly out of an airport in Canada, you don’t go through all of that extensive security. Don’t get me wrong, you do go through security, but you don’t remove half your clothing and the process is much simpler and less invasive. Since 2001, Canada has not had a single significant terrorist attack related to airplanes originating in their country. So why do we keep up these ridiculous over-reactive practices at our airports?

We want to be safe! We want to feel safe and if that is the price we have to pay, personal liberty and privacy be damned.

Since 9-11, the number of individuals killed in airline related terrorism inside the United States is 0. The number of individuals killed in reported domestic terrorism incidents unrelated to air travel but associated with Islamic extremism in the last 18 years is 83. However, because of this threat to American lives, we currently have a travel ban in place for individuals from the following countries: Yemen, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.

Please understand that I understand that these nations are home to a significant number of people who want to do harm to Americans. However, these same people also want to do significant harm to citizens of their own countries. Refugees pouring out of Syria since 2011 due to a never ending civil war are doing so under the threat of death. The entire number of Americans killed in the US due to terrorism since September 10, 2001 is 3,060. The number of Syrians killed by Islamic extremists since 2011, ten years less than the American time frame, is over 400,000. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that between the number of Syrians who have fled their country after being displaced (had their houses and livelihood utterly obliterated) is approximately 5.6 million. An additional 6.6 million are displaced but still reside in Syria with no ability to escape. That is a total of 12.2 million people who are without homes and without hope due to Islamic extremism. Most of those people are Muslims.

I don’t know, looking at those figures it could be argued that being a Syrian is much more dangerous in the face of Islamic extremism than being an American. And that doesn’t even touch on the numbers of those affected in the other nations listed above.

In 2016, United States policy allowed for 110,000 refugees to be vetted and resettled within its borders. In 2020, the total number allowed, the ceiling, the most we will accept, is 18,000. Each year, the US generally takes in about half of the number allowed which means that the US could expect to see 9,000 refugee resettlements in 2020.

Why? Why would a nation that claims to be steeped in the traditions of Christianity turn its back on millions in need? Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we can’t take everyone and that the vetting process should be extensive, but 9,000 out of literally tens of millions?

States like Arizona and Utah have made clear to the federal government that they are more than willing and ready to accept refugees. Utah especially has had amazing success helping refugees displaced from middle eastern nations acclimate to a new home in the Rocky Mountains. They are begging for more. But due to US policy, there aren’t any more to send them.

Again, why? Because we’re afraid? Because we’re concerned that a terrorist might slip in among the innocent and kill us? Again, since 9-11, 83 people have been reported killed in the United States by Islamic extremism. By comparison, over 50 died when a wacko white guy broke out a window in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas and shot up a music festival.

Now follow me here. If not losing our American way of life is important enough to open back up our nation even though doing so could cost us thousands of actual American lives, wouldn’t it be just as important not lose our Christian identity and ideals by opening up our borders to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses that are fleeing certain death in their homelands? By the way, of those 83 people killed by domestic Islamic extremism, exactly zero were killed by refugees vetted and allowed into our country through the refugee resettlement programs. ZERO!

So, if we’re going to get all patriotic and self-righteous about our liberties and freedoms by demanding a reopening of our country despite scientific evidence that suggests it may not be the best idea to do so, then I think we should get equally serious about remembering who provided those liberties and freedoms to us in the first place. We need to really open this place up. It’s time to do what’s right for more of God’s children than we currently are, especially if we have decided that loss of American lives is no longer a barrier to protecting our American values and Way of Life.

When Did Civility Become the Dirtiest Word?

…there are times when the lack of civility in sports is embarrassing. How is it that normally kind and compassionate human beings can be so intolerant and filled with hatred toward an opposing team and its fans?…unfortunately we see today too often the same kind of attitude and behavior spill over into the public discourse of politics, ethnicity, and religion. – Dieter F. Uchtdorf

I remember the exact moment I heard those words the first time. I was sitting in a darkened chapel, watching the priesthood session of the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as I do every six months. When President Uchtdorf gave this particular talk, President Obama had been in office for just under two years and we were a month away from the mid-term elections. At the time, it was one of the most powerful and influential talks I had ever heard. To this day, it still is. I remember looking around and wondering if everyone around me felt as changed as I felt. I couldn’t sense any cosmic shift in the mood of the room and so I assumed that maybe my epiphany was mine and mine alone. My feelings only seemed to be confirmed as the election got even closer and the discourse, even among church members, continued to decline.

Now, many hot-button issues and one more general election later, I feel certain that the message given that night is one that has either been interpreted differently or altogether forgotten by many of my faith.

There are two things I will refer to specifically. There would be three, but I have addressed the ugliness over illegal immigration before and choose not to rehash that issue now.

The first thing that causes me a lot of heartburn is the vicious bile spewed constantly toward President Obama. I will be the first to admit that I disagree with the man on most issues. I believe in many instances, his economic policies are detrimental to the well-being of our nation.

But frankly, he is not the devil. He is a fellow child of our Heavenly Father who loves his two daughters, enjoys golf and has a passion for college basketball. Take politics out of the equation, and he sounds like a person I would very much enjoy getting to know. For my friends on the left who are nodding their heads vigorously, hold up a second. The same could easily be said of his predecessor.

Furthermore, I have to respect the man for his convictions. While I may disagree with many of them, I recognize in President Obama a belief that he is trying to do what is best for this country. For instance, I don’t agree with most of his healthcare bill, but at the end of the day, his goal is to provide coverage for more individuals. Is that really a terrible goal? He’s also trying to push preventative care and healthier living.  Advances in both of those areas would definitely bring down healthcare costs. I’m not a huge fan of forcing people to live a certain way, but the reality is, freedom comes with a price. And if you choose to live unhealthily, where does society’s responsibility end when it comes to footing the bill for your costs?

Now, I know many on the right would say, “Exactly. That is why we shouldn’t have Medicare or Medicaid. Either you can afford your healthcare or you can’t.” But come on. Are you really willing to be the one who stands there in the ER and say, “Well, tough luck there, buddy. We have the technology to save you, but your credit card is maxed out. I guess you should have made better choices. Soyonara, pal.” I would hope you are not. And if you are not, don’t be so quick to put that onus on someone else.

And so when the President comes at this issue from his point of view, I find it hard to vilify him for it. He is trying to solve a problem. I may think there are better solutions, and I can voraciously defend my views, but I have no business as a follower of Christ making the whole thing personal.

The second item I will address that gives me heartburn is the ugliness that has been brewing for years over same-sex marriage or marriage equality. And yes, there is a reason I use both monikers.

The older I get, the more I become convinced that we might be missing the point. History is full of examples where time and again, one part of society has a distinct advantage over another. What is interesting is how the majority segment of society then uses whatever weapons they may have in their arsenal to keep the minority in their place. But eventually, every majority gets their turn as the minority. It happens over and over again.

And so, I’ve started to believe that on an individual basis, we each will be judged on how well we lived up to God’s expectations of us. But I think there might also be a second part to that test. And that is, how did you treat those over whom you had an advantage?

So I hope I cause no one offense when I say that I care very little how the Supreme Court rules on the issue of marriage. Mainly because I don’t believe the issue is really about marriage at all. I believe it is about legitimacy.

I believe every human being wants legitimacy. As a Mormon I want legitimacy. Why else would I bristle every time a Christian of a different denomination says I don’t belong in their fraternity? Why should I care what they think? But I do. Because I am the minority in a Christian world and I am offended when I am told that my belief in Christ isn’t real…isn’t valid…isn’t legitimate.

I also believe gays and lesbians have the natural human desire to be seen as equal and fellow human beings. And it is impossible for them to feel they have that status if they are denied the ultimate expression of a committed relationship in our society. Frankly, I can see their point.

However, I believe this issue would be in a much different place today if society’s treatment of the LGBT community had been different stretching back decades ago. Not necessarily starting with, but specifically, the 1980s.

When the AIDS epidemic hit, if Christian people everywhere had opened their arms and their hearts to scared individuals who were facing a plague they didn’t understand; if they had put their arms around terrified people who were dying and ministered to them the way their Savior would have, and not ridiculed and cursed those afflicted by saying, “it’s what they deserve,” I believe the national discourse between mainstream Christianity and the LGBT community would be quite different today. And most of us in the Christianity camp would probably be happier with that. Because guess what. Little by little, Christians are getting their shot at being the minority. And come to find out, we don’t like having many of the same tactics used by our side in the past now being used against us. It’s not near as fun to be labled a “hater” as it was to make snide comments regarding “Adam and Steve.”

I’m sure many people will read this as my endorsement of gay marriage. It isn’t. But at the same time, I am not endorsing its opposition either. I do believe that the ideal situation, and the one God would prefer, is that each child enter a home with a loving father and mother. Basically, my beliefs adhere to the LDS Church’s Proclamation on the Family. But I am also aware of the fact that the ideal isn’t always reality. In fact, quite often it is not reality even in homes with a traditional mother and father.

I’ve heard the arguments bandied about that if gay marriage becomes the law of the land it will cheapen those with a traditional marriage and lead to the further destruction of society as we know it. Well…

1. Most Christian faiths don’t recognize my marriage in an LDS temple as anything special. To everyone not of the LDS faith, my marriage is no different than anybody else’s. But to me, I believe it has special significance. And if the state of Arizona were to someday not recognize my temple marriage as a legitimate ceremony, and we found ourselves in a situation like that in England where we needed to be married civilly before we could be married in the temple, it would not change my view of the importance of my marriage. Neither would a government law redefining one nation’s defnition of marriage.

2. Which vaunted society would we be destroying? The same one that once declared a black man as only 3/5 of a person? Or maybe the one that rounded up every Japanese American during WWII and put them in prison internment camps? Or maybe the one that still perpetuates a reservation system for the Native Americans that has done more to destroy a once proud people than any war that was ever waged against them? Letting two people of the same gender get married hardly rises to the level of any of these previous examples.

3. I cannot help but comment on the fact that I belong to a church with a tenuous position when it comes to this issue. I’ve heard arguments to the fact that the difference between gay marriage and the plural marriages practiced among the early saints is that each marriage within a plural marriage was performed between one man and one woman. Maybe so, but the fact remains that we once held a stance outside of the traditional marriage argument being waged today. And if you take into account our eternal view of things and the current practices allowed for a man whose wife has passed on,  you could make the argument that we still do. It is uncomfortable, but true.

Once again, I’m not trying to use these arguments to advocate for gay marriage or marriage equality. I know it probably sounds like I am, but I’m not. The truth is, I don’t care. In my view, the issue has become so toxic that there is no chance for winners, only losers. No matter which way the Supreme Court rules, the fighting will continue. And Christian families with children or siblings who are gay will still not have any idea how they are supposed to act or feel. People will continue to be hurt and relationships will continue to be lost. All because winning has become more important than caring.

There is an old saying, “Love the sinner, not the sin.” How I wish we could rewrite that phrase to say simply, “Love the sinner.” That way, there is no wiggle room to justify a lack of civility. We are all sinners and all in need of love from each other and from God. How different would our discourse (and our facebook news feeds) be if we could get to that point?