The Tree of Life, the Great and Spacious Building, and Suicides

I had a follow up thought to Geoff’s post about recent LGBTQ suicides that I thought should have its own post.

Last week in Sunday School, I taught a lesson on Lehi’s dream. Since then, I’ve been reflecting on the symbols of the dream and their meaning for members of the Church. And I believe the dream reveals a fallacy in the argument that the Church’s teachings cause gay suicides.

If we think about Lehi’s dream, there are four groups. One goes straight to the great and spacious building, one looks for the tree but quickly wanders off, one reaches the tree but falls away because of the mocking from those in the building, and one group remains at the tree and continually enjoys the fruit.

What I noticed as I’ve been thinking about this dream is that while a great multitude of those “feeling” their way straight to the building eventually get there, none of those who started on the path towards the tree (or those who get to the tree) but wander off to try to go the building ever actually get there. They are all simply described as wandering off and lost.
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When the Temple Helps: Manaus Temple Caravan

There hasn’t been a post in the When the Temple Helps series in a while, and I felt impressed to share this video when I saw it today. It is a beautiful story about the Saints in Manaus, Brazil, who had to travel over 3,000 miles to go to the Sao Paulo temple. As one who served in a place that is about as far from the temple as possible, I could relate to the faith and perseverance of these saints.

About that claim of suicides by LDS teens with same-sex attraction

You may have heard the claim that there have been at least 32 suicides by LDS teens with same-sex attraction since the Church made the now well-known changes in the handbook.

I’d like to make a few comments about that claim.

First, and this should be obvious but it still bears repeating: every suicide is a tragedy, for the person and for the person’s family. I agree with the Church spokesman who said that every soul is precious to God and the loss of life to suicide is heartbreaking.

But second, the people who are trumpeting the claims are well-established critics of the Church who are reporting from people they claim have talked to them privately. No independent confirmation of these numbers has taken place. You, dear reader, can choose to believe what you want, but based on my life’s experience, I simply don’t believe that these people are telling the truth. Given the ghoulish way that they are glorying in their claims (which in their minds confirm their opinion that the Church is bad, bad, BAD), is it beyond the pale to believe that they have simply made things up? I think not.

None other than the Salt Lake Tribune, always anxious to find ways to criticize the Church, went looking for information to corroborate the claim of “32 suicides.” But, in a strange twist, actual journalism took place at the Tribune, and they were forced to report that there is no evidence of that many of suicides:

Trouble is, the number far exceeds the suicide figures collected by the Utah Department of Health.

Preliminary figures for November and December show 10 suicides in the Beehive State for people ages 14 to 20, with two more cases “undetermined.”

In fact, the department reports, the overall number of Utah deaths for that age group in those months was 25, including the 10 suicides and two “undetermined” cases, along with 11 in accidents, one by natural causes and one homicide.

“We monitor the numbers [of youth suicides] very closely. We review them every month,” says Teresa Brechlin, who works in the department’s violence- and injury-prevention program. “If we had seen such a huge spike, we would have been investigating it.”

Had there been any mention of the LDS Church’s policy on gays, her department “would have noted that,” Brechlin adds. “We have not seen that at all.”

But third, the people involved ignore the obvious reality that suicide is a complex psychological problem that simply cannot be attributed to one cause in a person’s life. It might be instructive to read this post.

Do you realize that by no research or academic standard would a simple causal factor be seen as responsible for any given suicide – even those that appear to have an obvious instigator (see below). That may be the one thing that everyone in the suicide literature actually agrees on: taking a life is an inherently complex matter (even when it seems simple).

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Preserving Institutional Religious Freedom (Part 1)

Recently, the ABA announced that it was reviewing a formal complaint against BYU Law School from the FreeBYU group. The group is highly critical of BYU’s policies regarding LGBTQ individuals, and also BYU’s policy of excluding students who have been excommunicated and stopped participating in the Church.

There are two arguments in particular that I have heard made recently that I wish to respond to and refute.

The first is the notion that it is BYU’s policy that results in religious discrimination because it forbids students from freely exercising their faith. The second is the notion that since accreditation (as well as Federal student aid which I have heard some invoke as well) is not a right, punishing BYU for its policies does not violate religious freedom. Continue reading

Lehi’s Dream and the Parable of the Sower

I love Lehi’s dream. It is one of my favorite portions of scripture, because of how the themes and images in the dream are applicable in so many different circumstances. Lehi interprets the vision in a wholly familial way, while focusing on his own children and their needs. Nephi receives an interpretation of the dream that instead places against the vast backdrop of human history. This is a rich and multifaceted account that deserves serious study.

One of my favorite observations about Lehi’s dream is how well it parallels or syncs up with the Savior’s parable of the sower. Just as there were four types of soil in the parable, there are likewise four groups and they are closely parallel. This is a chart I made for my Sunday School class in order to illustrate the comparison. I’ve seen different pairings between the groups in other sources, but this is the pairing that I believe is best.  (Reversing the thorns and stony places would also make sense but I prefer this arrangement for reasons that I describe below). Continue reading