No, I don’t mean Boy Scouts. While I find the Boy Scout Law to be honorable on its face, in my own experience the actual methods employed to teach those character traits are one-size-fits-all and narrow.
Instead, my title refers to the literary character Scout, Harper Lee’s six year old narrator of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Scout is a six year old girl channeling a wise older woman.
As a young closeted gay teen thoroughly entrenched in Mormonism at the time that I read the book, I found many of the messages and themes of the book to be refreshing and valuable…much more so than shooting baskets in an LDS cultural hall gym ever was (what usually ended up happening during our Wednesday night YM scouting activities). I just wished I’d listened to those messages at the time for they would have guided my life into a more solid foundation than the one I did follow.
So here are a few Scout lessons and what they mean to a gay former Mormon and father of four who grew up and followed LDS teachings until his late 30’s. Note: Not all of the quotes are actually spoken by the character Scout, but as the narrator she is choosing which messages to relay.
“There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
If I were to distinguish my child rearing philosophy from that of my ex-wife I think that would be it. I am trying to raise children who will contribute to the world as productive and interesting adults. She’s preoccupied with making sure that at 19 they will qualify for a temple recommend (which means the Celestial Kingdom by extension). Nothing’s really “wrong” with her approach, but in my opinion it has a narrow focus and is highly obsessed with sexual issues and random rules. The focus is to submit and to reduce actual individual moral development and freedom.
“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
I guess I could jump into a full rant on Proposition 8 and why the LDS church is wrong for supporting it. I could recycle the oft-repeated reasons why they are entitled to an opinion, but not entitled to impose it on others… but I won’t. While my time in Boy Scouts was highlighted by learning to respect and submit to authority, the above quote certainly displays a higher morality. Sure, it can’t be codified into a nice, neat list of dos and don’ts but it is far better advice than found in any pamphlet.
How surprising to learn that my conscience actually works independent of the LDS faith and that it’s far more reliable and magnificent than what I was told it could be without a list of “standards.” What I found on my way out was that I respected the right of my LDS family to HAVE an opinion, even though I honestly don’t respect the actual opinion, but in return I was not even given the respect to even HAVE an opinion if it varied from theirs.
“I think I’ll be a clown when I get grown,” said Dill. “Yes, sir, a clown…. There ain’t one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I’m gonna join the circus and laugh my head off.” “You got it backwards, Dill,” said Jem. “Clowns are sad, it’s folks that laugh at them.” “Well, I’m gonna be a new kind of clown. I’m gonna stand in the middle of the ring and laugh at the folks.”
I remember back in the late 70’s when a gay teenage boy a few years older than me came out in our extremely conservative ward. The ripple effect, the rumors, and the shame on the family was horrific. I remember hearing the word “gay” for the first time then and knowing inside that it also referred to ME. But I realized even more that it was a bad, bad thing for the ridicule and disgust it elicited. The impact that that had on me was significant enough to latch that closet door tight for 25 years thus unwittingly drawing a wife and 4 children into closet with me. I wish I’d had the courage to be the clown in the middle laughing outwards.
Life became clear, peaceful and fun once I learned to just accept myself and impact my surroundings, rather than allow my surroundings to determine my self-identity.
“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
No chosen people, no elect, no worthy or unworthy, no clean or unclean, no saved or unsaved, no exalted or cast out… just people trying to do the best with what they started with.
“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.”
I just had a friendly online exchange with an old friend regarding the recent US House reading of the US Constitution. My initial statement was intended to be just a joke. I said, “The current House says their plan is to stick to a strict interpretation of the original Constitution. So I hope you didn’t like voting, women and non-whites…”
It was taken a little bit too seriously and this friend began relating how inspired the document is, how important the amendments are and how it’s so wonderful that it’s open to interpretation. In other words, she was arguing how our current constitution is neither “strict” nor “original” which was my original point. Using those adjectives were just a publicity stunt because neither are applicable to a correct reading of the Constitution today. Take out the adjectives and you’ll learn a lot of what’s underneath propaganda, sales and proselytizing. More people are bamboozled and taken advantage of because they believe in the adjectives more than the nouns.
“When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness’ sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ’em.”
I have a typical divorced father custody schedule with my children…every other weekend and holidays. Almost every time the kids come over, it takes only an hour or two before the sex and body questions begin to spew out of their prepubescent minds. It’s like the questions are bottled up inside them during their stay with their LDS Mom and waiting until they know they can get a straight answer. Our talks are serious but without the weight of shame and guilt. I don’t know if their questions are evaded at Mom’s, or if it’s just implied that certain questions are off-limits and can only be worded a certain way to remain “clean,” but I’m fairly certain that straight talk helps them more and is what they are looking for.
“Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand.”
Replace the word “Negro” with the word, “gay” or “homosexual” and you have a similar case study of the most common reaction to homosexuality that I’ve experienced among the LDS faithful. A few years after divorcing, coming out and having my first gay relationship, my daughter turned 8 and was baptized in another state. I was tortured over whether to go or not. I no longer believed in it or even considered it a good thing, but I have been determined to not speak negatively to the kids and to be there at all of their important moments. So, I went and brought my partner who also had a relationship with my children. You would have thought we were black men trying to eat at a white restaurant in Alabama in the 50’s.
The funny thing is that in considering whether to attend or not I actually thought to myself, “What would Jesus do?” It wasn’t difficult to conclude that he’d not only welcome the undesirables but he’s also break bread with them afterward. I also knew that baptism involved committing to obey the commandments and honor thy father is one of them last time I checked. My daughter and other children certainly didn’t get that message from the other Latter-day Saints attending the baptism that day. I’m still trying to figure out which commandment instructs, “Thou shalt leer at and disregard the homo.” Actually I think the next quote from the book does explain it:
“You are too young to understand it … but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of–oh, of your father.”
I especially love the visual display found here of the people God killed in the Bible compare to the number of individuals killed by Satan. His followers are indeed godlike in many respects. I certainly don’t think that all faith is dangerous, but there is clearly great danger in the certainty of the claim that the voice of God speaks directly to any human with greater clarity or authority than the next guy.
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Gays are OK to entertain us with beautiful music, movies, plays, clothing and hair, but it certainly isn’t OK to regard them as human with any other aspect of their lives, is it?
My moral compass tells me that when something or someone does no harm to self or others, then I likewise do no harm to them. Rather, I sit back, enjoy, enrich and encourage.