King Noah’s Blues

Chicago-Blues-Festival-2013I could see them before I crossed Michigan Avenue into Grant Park. There were probably five of them, holding big yellow signs with blocky letters, Bible verses. It seemed out of place, fifty feet in front of the entrance to the Chicago Blues Festival,[fn1] but maybe I just didn’t understand the logic behind it. I don’t remember the verses the signs promoted, and the picketers seemed nice enough, holding signs but not harassing the passersby, passersby who, like me, basically ignored them. Maybe they’d picked out verses of scripture with special applicability to fans of the blues; then again, maybe these were just generic holy protest signs.

Closer to the entrance, east of the freelance blues guitarist playing outside the gate, was a street preacher I’d seen before. Dressed in his grey suit, holding a microphone connected to a little 25-watt guitar amp, the preacher usually stood a mile and a half further north, preaching at tourists and businesspeople on the Magnificent Mile stretch of Michigan Avenue. He was preaching an amplified message to the passing crowd, a message I didn’t catch for the podcast in my ears and the anticipation of electric blues in the park.

And the blues were spectacular. For the better part of two hours, I stood on the blocked-off Columbus Drive, listening to Eddie Shaw and the Wolfgang, along with some guests, pay tribute to Howlin’ Wolf. Saxophone, guitar (including a three-necked guitar!), bass, drums, Hammond B3. Surrounded by people, old enough to sit in lawn chairs and young enough to have green hair, black and white, drunk and slightly-less drunk.[fn2] A mother nursed her baby sitting on the curb. The evening was beautiful, cool enough that I didn’t burn up in my jeans, but warm enough that I didn’t need my fleece.

On the way out, the signs were gone and most of the not-in-the-festival bands were gone. But the preacher was still there. As I passed him, his words drifted past my headphones.

“You’re going to hell because you’re drinking alcohol.”


“You’re going to hell because you’re smoking.”


“You’re going to hell because you’re a ho-mo-se-xual.”

He emphasized every syllable of homosexual.


At home, I started to prepare for Sunday’s primary lesson. The Holy Ghost Helps Us Know the Truth. Central to the lesson is the story of Abinadi. And I recognized Abinadi’s preaching.

Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.

And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into abondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.

And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people.

And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.

Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.

And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God, I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictions; and thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me.

You’re going to hell because you’re drinking alcohol. You’re going to hell because you’re smoking. And you’re going to hell because you’re a ho-mo-se-xual.

[fn1] One of these days, if I ever get around to it, I’m going to write a why-Mormons-love-big-cities post. And near the top of my list will be festivals. Saturday morning, we went to see Justin Roberts at the Printers Row Lit Fest. Because of soccer and soccer and gymnastics, we unfortunately missed the delicious Ribfest, though we hit all three last year. And Saturday was only the beginning of Chicago summer festival circuit.

[fn2]Okay, and, of course, like me, the not-drunk.

50 comments for “King Noah’s Blues

  1. :sigh: And we wonder why kids bully other kids in school. They come by it quite honestly. They learn it in church and on street corners at blues festivals.

    On a lighter note, thanks for the little reminder of Chicago summers… :D

  2. Sadly, Cameron, teaching kids intolerance of those who are different from themselves seems to be what many churches do best, particularly those with a fundamentalist/literalist bent, like the Assembly of God, in which I was raised, and like, in many cases, LDS wards. Call it weird if you like (I agree that it *shouldn’t* be that way), but it’s actually pretty much par for the course in conservative religious groups.

  3. Ben, I’m not sure I follow you.

    But, fwiw, I’m not trying to say that Abinadi preached hate. Heck, I’m not saying the street preacher does. But I am interested in looking at our reactions to the preaching.

    The way the BoM is written, it encourages us to sympathize with Abinadi and to condemn Noah for not listening. But honestly, if you heard Abinadi’s rhetoric as you were walking into BluesFest, would you stop and listen? be pricked in your heart? Because, based on my various experiences with street preachers and protestors, I wouldn’t.

    In other words, along with the rhetorical comparison between Abinadi and the preacher is the comparison between me and Noah.

  4. And sure, the comparisons break down (I wanted to include something about how the preacher wouldn’t be taken in front of Mayor Emanuel with jaguars on either side, but it didn’t work aesthetically), but it also works remarkably well on many levels. To see Abinadi’s condemnation as materially different, I think you have to recognize him as a prophet, while refusing to recognize the preacher as a prophet. But Abinadi seems to be a prophet in the personally-called-of-God style of, e.g., Jeremiah (though you’d know better than me), rather than the institutionally-appointed prophet, like Nephi and the various Almas.

    I’ve never spoken to the preacher, but I suspect he would tell me, if I asked, that he was called of God to preach repentance to Chicago.

    So no, I don’t think the comparison was too facile or in bad form. But I’m interested in hearing why it struck you that way.

  5. you have to recognize him as a prophet

    I should clarify one last thing: I recognize Abinadi, ex post, as a prophet; that’s how the BoM sets him up, and, at some point after he’s taken in front of Noah, his face shines like Moses’ did, and it becomes clear that he’s on God’s errand.

    Ex ante, though, I’m not sure where the substantive difference lies. When he’s initially preaching in the street, though, he’s prophesying of the people’s destruction (kind of like the preacher did) and elaborating scripture (which I assume that the preacher would have done had I stood there listening), but there’s no indication that his contemporaries recognized him as a prophet. It could be that the BoM elides the details, but it could also be that he was just one of a bunch of crazy/offensive people who stood in the street talking.

  6. I’ll give you another one Sam, try Samuel the Lamanite. A one-day performance among a people who didn’t know him and never saw/heard from him again, called the city to repentence, gave signs to watch for (which were taken very seriously by even non-believers), but had no known “church” calling like your above named Alma’s. Nephi was running around somewhere as “the prophet” (President of the Church?) but no known connection between the two men.

    Apparently God just told Samuel to go and do, so he did. Would/should we give similar heed to the words who don’t hold an ecclisiastical position? Do we ignore them at our own peril?

  7. Lorian,

    I don’t think anyone is taught to be a bully, but that you mistake taking priesthood responsibilities for bullying

    54 And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;

    55 And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.

    D&C 20:54-55

    Lots of times their IS bullying among church members, just like there is among all people, and I’d suspect in about the same ratios. I don’t think we’re much better or worse than others. But if you personally consider preaching repentence as bullying, or “see[ing] that all members do their duty” is bullying, then it is a behavior we SHOULDN’T be stopping and you’re call for less bullying is lost. Bullying should be condemned, doing our duty should be encouraged and taught how to do correctly.

  8. Jax, it’s no mistake on my part, I assure you. If someone comes to you, joins your church, and voluntarily subjects him/herself to your “teaching” or “correction,” then I agree that you have the right to teach or correct that person up until the point where s/he states that s/he no longer desires or feels need of your ministrations, whatever they may be.

    Going out into the highways and byways, telling people they are evil, bad, sinners, going to eternal punishment of whatever brand the preacher feels is most correct — and refusing to stop when asked — this is bullying. Going about one’s school or work and incessantly attempting to “convert” one’s fellow students or co-workers (and pretty much perpetually implying or openly stating that they are in some way morally or spiritually deficient if they fail to capitulate to your teaching and preaching — this is bullying.

    And, yeah, many people learn these behaviors in church.

    I think it’s fine to offer to share your religious beliefs with another person (except in designated safe spaces like school and work, where proselytization is grossly inappropriate). But refusal to take “no” for an answer is *never* appropriate. And standing in the street proclaiming your beliefs that your fellow human beings are, because of their sexual orientation or other characteristics, evil or sinful or goin’ ta hell or something else “less than” their fellow humans — bullying. This is bullying. Believe what you want. Teach it to those who volunteer to listen. But churches which teach their followers to not only attempt to force their message upon the unwilling, but also to victimize other groups of people in the process of that teaching, are teaching their members to bully others. And I say that as someone who was the product of that sort of training — who spent time judging others and preaching incessantly to the unwilling because I had been taught that it was my duty to do so — as well as one of its victims.

  9. Lorian is right, bullying is learned behavior. And there is no doubt that a spirit of bullying gays has emanated from the top-down in the LDS church. Here’s Boyd K. Packer in General Conference Priesthood Session, October 2, 1976, so popular of a talk it was reprinted in 1994.

    “It was intended that we use this power only with our partner in marriage. I repeat, very plainly, physical mischief with another man is forbidden. It is forbidden by the Lord.

    There are some men who entice young men to join them in these immoral acts. If you are ever approached to participate in anything like that, it is time to vigorously resist.

    While I was in a mission on one occasion, a missionary said he had something to confess. I was very worried because he just could not get himself to tell me what he had done.

    After patient encouragement he finally blurted out, “I hit my companion.”

    “Oh, is that all,” I said in great relief.

    “But I floored him,” he said.

    After learning a little more, my response was “Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way”

    I am not recommending that course to you, but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself.”

  10. Steve,

    I’m familiar with his To Young Men Only speech, and found no problem in it. Maybe I’m a bully, though I never hit anyone.


    Standing on a street telling people they have sinned is bullying? Guess that makes every missionary a bully, as well as Lehi, Nephi, the aforementioned Abinidi, Alma, Ammon, Aaron (and brothers), Alma the younger, Nephi, Nephi, Mormon, Moroni, Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, … and so on, with the finale being our Lord Jesus Christ who did this very thing and is the ultimate example for us.

    Yes, HE ate meals with and socialized with liars, thieves, harlots, etc. But HE did it explicitly to tell them they had sinned and need to repent – the thing you’re trying to pass off as a vice is what HE did and has asked almost all of His prophets to do. Sometimes it was not only not wanted socially but illegal as well. Christians aren’t called to simply preach to the choir, but to spread the message to everyone. If you really think your last paragraph is true, then the LDS church you are a part of is built upon the principle of bullying.

    I think about that list and would be happy to have my name listed amongst those men and have my deeds worthy of mention among them… even if that mean wearing a label from you as a bully.

  11. Jax, try this on for size: A white preacher stands on a street corner shouting to passersby that black people are an inferior species of human, and were made so by God. He shouts that white people who marry black people are going to hell.

    Is he a bully? If his son went to school and told mixed-race children that their parents were sinners and that black people were inferior to whites, would that child likely be disciplined by the administration as a bully?

  12. By the way, lest you labor under misinformation, I am not a Mormon. I come from extensive LDS extended family. I, myself, was raised in the Assembly of God church, which actually holds many ideas in common with Mormons when it comes to matters of sexuality, substance use, and other holiness/purity codes. I no longer belong to that church. I’m now a member of the United Church of Christ, which takes a significantly different view.

  13. Lorian, I think it’s exaggerating quite a bit to say it’s ‘par for the course’ in conservative religious groups, at least the LDS wards that I’ve been to over the last 30 years. Any time it happened in my young men’s group, it was condemened strongly by leaders and closely monitored and stopped. What’s more, President Monson and many apostles have explicitly called for tolerance, friendliness, and love, even as recently as making it the closing paragraph of April Conference two months ago!

  14. How on earth we got from BluesFest to bullying, I’ll never know. But, at risk of completely and totally derailing this:

    The preacher is not a bully. Or, at least, not qua preaching. (He may be a bully in his personal life for all I know, or he may be the nicest, most polite person in the world. I’ve never seen him except in his public performances.) That is, his preaching doesn’t fit the several definitions I looked at. Bullying requires, among other things, an imbalance of power, repetition, and aggression. I can guarantee that the preacher has no power over his audience. The vast, vast majority walk by, ignoring him. And he doesn’t make any move to engage or block people beyond telling them they’re going to hell.

    Is he a jerk? Almost certainly. But, while it’s probably fair to assume that most bullies are jerks, most jerks are probably not bullies.

    Moreover, while I am absolutely certain that there are bullies in the Church—including, almost undoubtedly, some who have leadership callings—and that is unfortunate, I have a hard time seeing the Church causing or increasing members’ propensity toward bullying.

    And that’s reinforced by Steve’s comment. Where the best example of bullying you can think of comes from a 37-year-old talk that was reprinted 20 years ago, both publications predating significant policy and rhetorical shifts toward gays, well, that doesn’t really support a top-down institutional encouragement.

    Again, the Church’s treatment of gays (and women and others) is still problematic in many ways. But encouraging bullying? No.

  15. Lorian, I apologize for assuming you were LDS. I hope you can understand the assumption.

    Is the preacher a bully? No. As Sam said, he is definitely a jerk. But he also isn’t calling anyone to repentence in your situation is he. You can’t repent from your race, right? But people don’t repent unless they feel like they’ve done something wrong, and usually they don’t feel they’ve done anything wrong unless someone points it out to them. I know nobody likes making other people feel bad, but feeling bad about our actions is important. Thus the need for prophets/missionaries/preachers; to prick our consciences and remind us of God’s commandments and our commitments to him.

  16. All, I’d really prefer not to focus on the content of the preacher’s preaching. Suffice it to say, it’s problematic in a lot of ways. I didn’t mean for this thread to get off on a homophobia tangent—although homosexuality seems to be one of his big topics, it’s clearly not his only one (did you notice he told drinkers and smokers they’re going to hell, too?); I just tried to transcribe the three things I heard him mention as I passed. And the way he enunciated “homosexuality” just kind of stuck in my head. But I think we can all agree that bullying is bad, that some people are bullies, and that we shouldn’t be bullies (and, as a corollary, that we should stick up for the bullied).

    Just note that there is no way I did justice to the preacher, and I didn’t try to. In my 12+ years living in cities, I’ve developed the urbanite’s gift for mostly ignoring people on the street, whether they’re asking for something or offering it. For all I know, if I were to sit and listen to the preacher, I’d be more offended than this post suggests, or I’d be uplifted at the arc of his message. (I suspect it’s the first, but you never know.)

    Basically, though, I just wanted to see if anybody else was empathetic with King Noah (at least, until he arrests and burns Abinadi). I’m pretty sure that, other than standing up and preaching in a subway car, a jeremiad is the quickest and easiest way to alienate people and turn them off to your message; maybe they were a better fit in premodern days, but scriptural examples of jeremiads don’t seem to have been terribly successful as far as I’ve seen. (And note that, in the modern Church, we don’t hear them much, if at all, probably for good reason.)

  17. Lorian – I also apologize for the assumption. Please read my post in a kind voice.

  18. Sam, when I lived in New England and went on a few “whale watches”, I always wondered what would happen if I stood up and started reading from the Book of Mormon to the captive audience, since we were many miles from shore.

    Speaking of effective missionary work, I am curious about the purpose of the churchwide meeting coming up on June 23rd.

  19. Chet, I don’t know about New Englanders on boats, but I have been on subways and El trains (in New York and Chicago, respectively) when people got up to preach to the captive audience. What you generally get: a lot of people not looking up from their books/phones, a lot of grumbling and under-the-breath anti-religion comments, and the occasional loud heckling (though heckling was more common in New York than Chicago). I really can’t think of a less effective way to convince people you have something you want.

    (Recently in a talk, someone in my ward mentioned being on a train when the Mormon missionaries got up and started talking. And I cringed; the missionaries, while undoubtedly well-meaning, didn’t understand Chicago train culture, and likely made more enemies than friends. Okay, Chicagoans are generally nice, so not really enemies. But I’m sure they alienated the majority of people on the train whose headphones weren’t too loud to hear the missionaries.)

  20. Thank you, Cameron and Jax, but no apologies necessary. As my friend Derek, from fMh, recently told me, I’ve apparently learned to speak fairly fluent Mormon. ;)

    RE Jax #18 – The race comparison is valid. I said that the preacher was calling people to repentance for racial intermarriage, which is not an innate characteristic (whereas sexual orientation *is*). And the school bully was bullying interracial children because of their parents’ marriage (just as many children of same-sex parents are bullied due to their parents’ relationship). Those who publicly espouse and advocate for racist ideologies are clearly seen and readily defined as bullies — hatemongers, if you will — no matter how “reasoned” or “calm” or “rational” their presentation may be. A civilized demeanor in no way deters a modern, educated audience from recognizing and calling out racism.

    On the other hand, it remains commonly acceptable to many to use the same sorts of arguments and hatefulness towards gays. If the insults or abuse are either presented in a scholarly or quietly reasonable manner, or are couched in a presentation of a religious nature (street preacher, television preacher, door-to-door missionaries, speaker in church), the speaker is given credit for his “thoughtful opinion,” and few are willing to call him out for bullying behavior which would be roundly condemned if, presenting his views in the very same manner, he advocated racist ideals or antimiscegenation.

    It is no longer acceptable to the general public (though of course it is still legal under freedom of speech and religion, and so still occurs on occasion) for churches to preach that black people are inferior to whites, or that the races should be kept separate, or that people of different races should not marry or produce offspring. Such views are considered bigotry in the extreme, and those who hold them are called racist and intolerant and hateful. No one would have a problem with a street preacher who preached about these ideas at full voice for hours to everyone passing by being termed a “bully.” In fact, he’d likely be booed and shouted down (or perhaps even assaulted).

    But suggesting that a street preacher who goes on for hours about Ho-Mo-Sex-U-Als being sinners and damned might well be termed a bully? Controversial in the extreme, apparently.

    Yeah, I know he preached against other stuff – alcohol, cigarettes. How does that make his repeated public condemnation of gay people less bullying? He bullies other people, too? No, that doesn’t lessen it.

    And worse than this is the fact that such people (and churches) *teach* these ideas to others, and most particularly, to children, who are particularly prone to “sorting” people, and to picking on (bullying) those who are different in one way or another. Church lessons telling them about the “evils” of homosexuality merely give them permission for such behavior. It doesn’t matter how much the teacher says, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” It is the act of calling someone out as a “sinner” (for something which is not, incidentally, a sin) which gives permission to the child to single out such people for condemnation in the most effective way the child knows – bullying.

    Sam Brunson #17 –

    his preaching doesn’t fit the several definitions I looked at.Bullying requires, among other things, an imbalance of power, repetition, and aggression.

    Imbalance of power – This might be better understood under the term, “heterosexual privilege.” If you honestly believe there is no imbalance of power between a straight person and a gay person in our society (particularly when religious leadership is added to the mix), do you also believe there is no white privilege, no male privilege? I would suggest otherwise.
    Repetition – What are street preachers (and Sunday School Teachers, and those who repeatedly lecture from the pulpit about the sinfulness of homosexuals), if not repetitive?
    Aggression – Sam, condemnation of the “other” leads to aggression in no uncertain terms. Physical acts of aggression are not necessary for an action to be considered bullying. Aggression includes acts of intimidation and verbal harassment. People who stand on street corners and call gay people names are committing acts of intimidation and verbal harassment. Again, if they were saying the same things about black people or Jews or Scandinavian Lutherans (or Mormons, for that matter), I don’t think anyone would have a problem seeing their actions as hateful or harassing.

    If, for instance, this man took his soapbox and his loudspeaker and went down to the LDS Temple in Glenview, and stood outside hollering for hours about how the Mormons were sinful and deceived and blah-biddy-blah-blah (you know the spiel), I have no doubt that LDS folks would be (rightfully) outraged, and would have no problem whatsoever with terming him a “bully,” and calling him out for prejudice and harassment. But because it is gays who are his target…

  21. I’m definitely empathetic with him Sam! I wonder at times if at the judgment bar people (including myself) will say “I didn’t know about ______! No one ever told me.” and they’ll get the reply, “I had a man with a big sign next to the road that you passed every day. What do you mean no one told you?”

    I obviously know we have prophets that we know to listen to, but what about the Samuel the Lamanites with no “church” calling? Do we ignore them at our peril?

  22. Lorian,

    If you honestly believe there is no imbalance of power between a straight person and a gay person in our society (particularly when religious leadership is added to the mix)

    A couple things. First, as far as I can tell, there’s no religious leadership there. I’ve never seen the preacher mention a particular church, or a role he plays in that church. He seems to be a freelancer, just him and his amp against the world.

    Second, on the margins, certainly there’s a power imbalance between gays and straights. But here, I’m not talking about the margins, I’m not talking about the median—I’m talking about a specific person. On balance, I’d say that (at least in Chicago, in the neighborhoods he preaches in) he’s definitely on the out-of-power side of the equation compared to the people he preaches at. (If it weren’t a big city and a wealthy area, and if he weren’t so easy to ignore and pass, things may be different. You certainly can’t believe that every straight person is privileged over every gay person, etc. I’m not talking about abstract power dynamics, I’m talking real, concrete power dynamics. And it’s possible, if you passed him, that you’d disagree with me, but I suspect, seeing him, you wouldn’t be convinced that he’s in a position of power solely because he’s (presumably) straight.

    Also, did you catch the part about his not preaching against gays particularly? He preaches against everything. I’m only relating the particular snippet I heard.

    Like I said, dude’s a jerk. And he may be a bully for all I know, but he’s not in his role as street preacher. There, he’s just a jerk.

  23. If, for instance, this man took his soapbox and his loudspeaker and went down to the LDS Temple in Glenview, and stood outside hollering for hours about how the Mormons were sinful and deceived and blah-biddy-blah-blah

    Ever been to a General Conference or LDS pageant? They are there all the time, and I’ve seen them invited in constantly, but never heard them called bullies.

  24. Lorian, I should add that we may be talking past each other; I suspect you’re using an idiosyncratic definition (read “idiosyncratic” without any negative connotation—I’m a tax attorney, we we use idiosyncratic language all the time) of bullying, a definition much broader than what I’m using. Countering bullying is a huge thing right now—my daughter’s school is full of posters and discussions about not bullying—and I think it’s important, as we address the issue, to know exactly what we’re talking about. Not every time a kid is mean to another kid is it bullying. For example, a one-off horrible racist comment to a kid is horrible. It should be addressed firmly and stopped. But it is not, by itself, bullying, and calling it that either diminishes real bullying or causes us to overreact to not-bullying-meanness.

    Just because something is not bullying does not mean it is a good thing. I’m not trying to suggest that the preachers comments on homosexuality, alcohol, and cigarettes are good things. I’m just saying, under most standard definitions of bullying, they’re not bullying.

  25. Sam, I understand that he preaches against other things besides homosexuality. That doesn’t alleviate the issue, IMO, anymore than it alleviates the issue if a Neo-nazi leader speaks against homosexuals, as well as against Jews and black people.

    The fact is that this street preacher and his ilk *are* taken seriously by a lot of people. He’s very representative of just the sorts of preachers I grew up listening to in church every week. And his words have power and have an effect on people, especially as they are representative of words being spoken by fundamentalist and conservative preachers across the nation in fancy pulpits in megachurches and cobbled-together pulpits in storefront churches, and even makeshift pulpits on streetcorners. This is the kind of rhetoric which empowers bullies and tells them that they are doing God’s work when they bash the queer who they think looked at them funny in the bar — when they drag Matthew Shepard down to the local frozen cow pasture, beat the snot out of him, tie him to a fence post and leave him for dead.

    Do you honestly think that the antisemitic rhetoric circulated prior to and during WWII in the form of nasty little pamphlets (here in the USA, I mean) and hateful comments from certain politicians and public figures, didn’t create an atmosphere in which anti-Jewish bullying and hate crimes became more common?

    Antigay rhetoric, whether it comes from the KKK, a street preacher, a politician or political organization, or a popular Christian church, creates an atmosphere of hostility towards gays in which it becomes more acceptable in the minds of many people to commit acts of hatred and even violence against gays. And gay kids in schools have always been favorite targets for bullies, who often receive the message in church that gays are bad, and can therefore assume that their actions towards their gay fellow-students are justifiable.

  26. Also, I did see your earlier post that this piece was not intended to elicit a discussion of homophobia. But it’s not clear to me what the message of the OP was. All I get from it is how cool the summer scene is in Chicago (no dispute there), but how casual is the religiously-based hatred still rampant in this country. Sorry if that was not your intent, but that’s what screamed out to me in big flashing letters.

  27. Lorain, fair enough. The main thrust was a comparison between preaching styles of this preacher and the preaching style of Abinadi, a Book of Mormon prophet. (Also, a chance to brag about the coolness of Chicago summers, of course.) But without familiarity with that part of the Book of Mormon, my point would be a lot tougher to catch.

  28. I have a much harder time taking the word “bullying” seriously when my own child was terrorized by her teachers for using the word “gay” to describe behavior she saw. Even by the teacher’s admission it wasn’t in a bullying sense, either.

    I’ve worked hard to de-stigmatize that word for her, it is frustrating to have all that work vanished in one instant of overcompensation. And it’s ironic that the school’s anti-bullying policy was used to bully my daughter, and create an environment where she is now afraid to interact normally with kids who are gay. Did I mention she’s only six?

    We use the word so often, I think we’ve lost the real meaning of it. Which sucks, because it makes it a whole lot harder to address when it really happens.

    People being ignorant and mean isn’t bullying. Neither is sharing (or hollering) opinions, even if they are distasteful ones. Just like abuse or domestic violence, it is the environment that changes idiocy to bullying. I don’t think an idiotic street preacher is bullying, UNLESS he is getting in someone’s face, somehow preventing them from getting away, or getting help, or putting himself in a place where people can’t just walk away.

    But to the real point:

    To me, the only difference between Abinadi and the street preacher is the presence of the Spirit. I don’t think Abinadi was sent back into the city to convert people on the street, any more than the street meetings we had as missionaries was really to convert people. Conversion doesn’t happen from those things. Ever. It doesn’t even happen from any tactic or practice. It can’t. Conversion happens afterwards, if someone’s heart is pricked by the Spirit, if their curiosity is aroused. (Alma is a perfect example of that. Inviting the Spirit is a two-way street.) Conversion doesn’t even happen at baptism. It’s a lifelong task.

    If we cultivate a relationship with God, whatever church we are in or beliefs we subscribe to, we will be able to hear His voice when it calls. Sometimes and for some people, that is street preaching. For others, it’s volunteer work, or silly mockery, or living next to the right person. There is no “right way,” or ROI to sharing the gospel.

    If we try to analyze what “works” in bringing people to Christ, we are becoming distracted by peripherals. Nothing “works” except the Spirit, which can be invited but not forced. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a business model.

  29. Jax,
    I’m not really concerned about missing the message of the street preacher; his message is not consonant with scripture, the prophet, or the Church. I definitely believe that non-Church people and institutions can give us important messages that could be central to our lives and salvation.

    Interestingly enough, the BoM doesn’t mention the Spirit with regard to Abinadi. The only spiritual manifestation we see is that his face glows, associating him with Moses. And, in fact, his one convert—Alma—believes, the BoM tells us, not because he felt the Spirit (the text doesn’t mention the Spirit), but because he recognized the wickedness of Noah that Abinadi had been preaching. That doesn’t mean the Spirit wasn’t present, but it wasn’t emphasized as a factor in Alma’s conversion.

    Ultimately, I agree with you that the Spirit (+ our familiarity with truth, such that we can recognize it when it’s spoken) is the principal way we can differentiate Truth from not-Truth; there seem, however, to be other ways, too.

    Oh, and thanks—that’s the direction of the discussion I was hoping for!

  30. Splitting hairs Sam, but I would clarify that the Spirit confirms all truth, even plain logical reasoning a la Alma, for the sole reason that it is truth. I’d say wherever truth is thought, shared, spoken, etc., the Spirit is there in some measure.

    Also, with our understanding of hell, all who commit the sins referred to by the preacher will in fact go to hell, just as members and non-members are in the hell of their individual sinful habits, until they give them away to know the Lord. This hell is the unquenchable fire mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Not the fire of arbitrary torture from God, but the fire of unquenchable curious lust, of unsatisfiable addiction. Thus, the preacher is right, even if his approach is ineffective.

  31. SilverRain, I’m sorry your daughter felt traumatized, but the fact is, if she is using the word “gay” as a pejorative, she *is* engaged in a behavior that is defined as bullying, whether it was intentional on her part or not. And if she learned that behavior at home, no matter how thoughtless or unintentional it was for the people from whom she learned it, it needs to stop. I’m extremely glad the school stepped in and put a stop to it; though if they did so in a way that felt over-the-top to you, I wish they had done it with a little more gentleness, particularly in view of your daughter’s age.

    Using terminology like “that’s so gay” when what one really means is “that’s so stupid,” or “that’s so ugly,” is bullying. If you could hear it from the perspective of a gay person, you might begin to understand why. The fact that you don’t consider it mean or bullying is merely an expression of your own privilege.

    There were lots of people when I was growing up who used the word “n*****” as a casual term of reference for things or people of whom they disapproved. They didn’t even think about it. It was just part of their vocabulary. They didn’t say it because they wanted to make black people or black kids at school feel bad about themselves. But there is no doubt that this was the net effect. Today, that’s the *last* word you would hear used at school as a pejorative (which has nothing to do with whether black people use it with one another in a group identification/reclaimed sense).

    Please, if you, as you say, your family casually uses the word “gay” in any sense other than as a respectful term of reference for someone who has a sexual orientation other than heterosexual, or as a word to mean “very happy or celebratory,” take your daughter’s experience as a lesson for the family. People who misuse words like “n*****” have come to understand that it is insulting and racist, and typically will at least avoid saying it in front of their young children, who can’t be expected to understand that language their parents use at home will not necessarily be acceptable at school. People who use expressions like “that’s so gay” at home need to accept responsibility when their children say it at school. It is becoming increasingly clear what a terribly hurtful effect it has on gay students and how they are treated, and schools which are attempting to reduce bullying are working hard to stop the use of “gay” as an insult or negative descriptor.

    If you’re still not clear on why saying, “That’s so gay!” is hurtful and wrong, please check out this video:


  32. Lorian—She wasn’t using it as an insult. As I said, I’ve worked hard to make it clear to her that the word “gay” is not a pejorative. She saw two other girls kissing on the playground, and said they were gay. Not mocking, not deriding, not even in their hearing: merely identifying behavior. If she isn’t allowed to identify behavior with the (politically correct, commonly-used,) right term without being frightened for her safety by her teachers while at school, then there is a problem, and it isn’t hers. Comparing it to the n-word is hardly accurate, not when movements are titled with that word, the news uses that word almost exclusively, and the only other alternative is a five-syllable word which she probably couldn’t even pronounce without coaching.

    I haven’t used the term much at all, only when she asked me what it meant. I believe her stepmom has a friend who is gay, which is why she asked me. As far as I know, that is the only context she has ever heard it used in. Again, she is six years old.

    Though I can guarantee she now associates that word with something strange and frightening—and negative. Which makes me furious. It’s not her trauma that concerns me (she’ll get over that) as much as the long-term consequences for her very first public social experience with “gay” being so negative. It is impossible to stop bullying by bullying. A lesson that would be well-learned by many of the most vocal political activists.

    Now, being as this is not the topic at hand (something which has been pointed out many times) I’m done discussing it here and now.

    Again, on the topic at hand:
    Sam—what are the other ways? I’d be curious to explore them. It seems to me that without the Spirit, it is impossible to discern truth. Abinadi’s account didn’t need to expressly state that the Spirit was there, though the Spirit was expressly described in Mosiah 18, which accounts of the conversion of Alma.

  33. SilverRain, I don’t know all of the circumstances surrounding your daughter and her usage of the term gay (was she trying to call attention to the two girls she saw kissing and calling them gay repeatedly?). But this idea that your daughter was “bullied” or “traumatized” by the school administration all in the name of “political correctness” seems to be a bit of an exaggeration. But I digress.

    One major difference between Abinadi and the street-preacher is that Abinadi was calling out political authorities on their hypocrisy and threatening to expose it, or claiming that he had already exposed it, to the public. It was enough to persuade Alma to reject Noah and seek a new path of living. Noah then sought to punish Abinadi for having the gall to publicly denounce them by burning him alive, hoping that this would serve as a lesson for others lest they dare do what Abinadi did. The street preacher was simply trying to engage lowly citizens and put them to shame for drinking, smoking, and being gay.

    The thing is both Abinadi and the street preacher could have argued that they had the Spirit of God with them. And I generally believe that the question of the presence of the Spirit is really too subjective. I don’t even really know what exactly the Spirit is supposed to be or what evidence we could point to of its presence among an assembly of people or within a single individual or lack thereof. If the Spirit manifests all truth and if it can be accepted that the LDS church leadership have the Spirit with them when they speak, how come they disagree on several issues (i.e. Spencer W. Kimball, Brigham Young and the Adam-God theory)?

  34. Using terminology like “that’s so gay” when what one really means is “that’s so stupid,” or “that’s so ugly,” is bullying. If you could hear it from the perspective of a gay person, you might begin to understand why. The fact that you don’t consider it mean or bullying is merely an expression of your own privilege

    What an offense to stupid and ugly people! Can’t you see through their eyes how hurtful this would be? The fact that you use these terms and don’t see it as bullying is an expression of your privilege.

  35. Wow, Jax. You go around calling people “stupid” and “ugly”? Not cool, dude. I can see why you might be having difficulty with the definition of “bullying.”

  36. Lorian, I don’t normally call anyone stupid or ugly or gay. Don’t be so obtuse or I’ll have to reconsider!

  37. Sorry, SilverRain – I read your statement that, “We use the word so often, I think we’ve lost the real meaning of it,” to mean that you and your family use the word “gay” often. I understand now that you were referring to the word, “bullying.” I disagree, however, that it is overused. It has been drastically *underused* and given far too little attention to the point where gay youth suicides have become epidemic, and many children, both gay and straight, have experienced treatment at the hands of peers which has made their lives unbearable and left them scarred long into their adulthood.

    Since I was not on the playground when your daughter said what she said I certainly cannot make any definitive assessment of what the situation was, what her comment sounded like to those around her, or the appropriateness of the level of response it received. But I’d far rather see the school err on the side of taking care of kids who have historically been terribly abused in our system. I’d like it if the way they addressed the issue was appropriate to the age of the child in question and accommodated her explanation of her actions. The administrators I’ve dealt with in my children’s schools have handled such situations appropriately, and I’d hope that yours would, too.

    Regarding the comparison to the “n-word,” it is quite accurate. The fact that there are legitimate uses for the word, “gay,” does not negate the fact that, when used as a term of insult, it is terribly hurtful and offensive. I’d suggest to you that calling other kids on the playground “gay” because she sees them expressing affection to one another IS inappropriate, and that the teacher was right to call it out and stop your daughter and other children from so casually labeling one another. I would never presume that two six year old girls giving each other a kiss made them “gay” — I actually find it kind of shocking that your daughter did. I understand that it was probably done from ignorance and in innocence, but so are many inappropriate things that children say and do. That doesn’t mean that the school does not have an obligation to teach kids not to say and do those inappropriate things, and to attempt to mitigate the harm that they cause when they do them.

    Bullying behaviors start young, and when a child engages in them, they generally do so out of ignorance, because they learned it from watching others or hearing others say things. I’m so glad that schools are educating kids about what bullying is, and teaching kids not to do it.

  38. Jax, if you’re suggesting that *I* said it was appropriate to call others stupid or ugly, please review my comments. Otherwise, please review your own.

  39. And threatening to call me “stupid” or “ugly” or “gay” if I don’t capitulate to your assessment is hardly appropriate behavior, either.

  40. Steve—No. From what I gather, she made a declaration out of surprise at seeing two girls kissing. As I said, she had no reason to think it was a bad word at the time. There is a history with this teacher, which is why “bully” applies. My daughter is a DV survivor, and was triggered by this teacher’s extreme, angry response. She was trembling and incoherent. It is not an exaggeration to say she was terrorized. I am not prone to exaggeration except ironically. I only brought it up to corroborate Sam’s comment above:
    “For example, a one-off horrible racist comment to a kid is horrible. It should be addressed firmly and stopped. But it is not, by itself, bullying, and calling it that either diminishes real bullying or causes us to overreact to not-bullying-meanness.”

    I believe she should have been calmly informed that the use of that word to label others is inappropriate, unfortunately the cultural over-sensitization to bullying continued her bullying by her teacher, just as Sam warned about. Getting up on a soapbox and preaching hateful things isn’t bullying. Getting together a group of friends and cornering someone, or being in a position of authority and terrifying people is.

    In the case of street preachers, it can only be called bullying under the types of circumstances where one is made to feel afraid for one’s safety. And now that part of the conversation with YOU is over for me. I’m really trying hard to support the main topic here, because I think it’s a good one!

    The Spirit is subjective, not objective. That’s the whole point. However, one cannot determine if another person is influenced by the Spirit. It’s a two-way street. The preacher may have invited the Spirit before preaching, but unless others feel it, the influence of the Spirit cannot be present. D&C 50 addresses this point beautifully. If I feel the Spirit and am being filled with joy and edified, the Spirit of Truth is present. Others can tap into that or not, according to their sensitivity. But if a preacher is preaching by logic, or scriptural knowledge, or any other method, it is not of God, and will not be testified to by the Spirit, no matter how factual it is.

    It’s a hard thing to explain, because it isn’t logical. But it is why people are sometimes commanded not to speak, or why they teach lesser truths: the Spirit of Truth cannot be present because people are not receptive. I have experienced that many times. It doesn’t matter how true the words I speak are, if those who are hearing it do not have the Spirit. There are many things I have learned by the Spirit that I have been stopped from sharing, or which I have been guided to teach in a lesser form. It is how I can often know whether or not someone claiming to be teaching by the Spirit truly is or isn’t. Even if they are sharing a real Spiritual experience, it isn’t always true to be shared.

    In short, the very influence of the Spirit is dependent upon being felt by both teacher and hearer. Without both teacher and receiver, the influence of the Spirit is not present, and if the teacher is attuned to the Spirit, s/he will feel it and will be stopped from speaking. If you have once experienced it, there is no mistaking it.

  41. SilverRain:

    I believe she should have been calmly informed that the use of that word to label others is inappropriate

    Agree completely.

    Getting up on a soapbox and preaching hateful things isn’t bullying.

    Disagree entirely. If he had been saying racist things or antisemitic things from that soapbox, there would be no question that his behavior would be roundly condemned as inappropriate and bullying.

  42. Lorian, the phrase

    Using terminology like “that’s so gay” when what one really means is “that’s so stupid,” or “that’s so ugly,” is bullying

    makes it sound like you condone the use of “that’s so stupid” or “that’s so stupid” in the place of “that’s so gay”. You didn’t expressely say that you used those terms, but your sentence suggested that you thought that those terms were acceptable replacements.

    My point was to point out how ironic it would be to suggest “that’s so stupid” is okay but “that’s so gay” isn’t okay. They mean the same thing!!!!!!!!!!! almost all words have more than one meaning

    “that’s so gay”
    “that’s so lame”
    “that’s so stupid”
    “that’s so ugly”
    “that’s so dumb”

    Gay, lame, stupid, ugly, dumb… all have meanings related to specific characteristics from sexual orientation, to intelligence, to physical ability. But because words often mean more than one thing, each of those phrases also basically mean, “I don’t like that.” I haven’t ever met anyone who doesn’t use some variation of those phrases that couldn’t also be seen as an insult to someone overly sensitive (overly sensitive is one definition of “obtuse” FYI).

    We communicate with words. Using a commonly used phrase (that is gay) that is known to convey a message totally unrelated to sexual orientation, is perfectly acceptable EXCEPT to people who are obtuse.

    Since I was not on the playground when your daughter said what she said I certainly cannot make any definitive assessment of what the situation was, what her comment sounded like to those around her, or the appropriateness of the level of response it received.

    Bullying SHOULD NOT be defined by how a person perceives a word or phrase, but by the intent of the speaker!!! In my Army Basic Training we were quite diverse in race, nationality, age, etc. One day our Senior Drill Sergeant came in and talked to us about use of money earned during our training. He used this phrase, “you need to learn to be more niggardly than you were in High School” – meaning we needed to be more frugal and not lavishly spend all of it right away. Well, three of our black soldiers got all uptight and REALLY angry that he would use the “N” word. Their perception was that he was being racist and derogatory. In truth he was dispensing good non-racial advice. Their ignorance led to their misperception. Experience almost tells me this is almost always the case. Letting our culture tip-toe around the sensitivities of the least educated around us would be disastrous. There was nothing wrong with my drill sergeant’s statement, no matter how his “comment sounded”.

  43. Jax:

    makes it sound like you condone the use of “that’s so stupid” or “that’s so stupid” in the place of “that’s so gay”. You didn’t expressely say that you used those terms, but your sentence suggested that you thought that those terms were acceptable replacements.

    Since I never said it was okay to call a *person* “stupid” or “ugly,” there is no reason for you to make this assumption. It is entirely possible to refer to a table as being “ugly” or to a frustrating situation as being “stupid” without calling any person stupid or ugly. But if one says, “This situation is so gay!” or “That table is so gay!” one has insulted gay people by using the term in a derogatory manner.

    Gay, lame, stupid, ugly, dumb… all have meanings related to specific characteristics from sexual orientation, to intelligence, to physical ability. But because words often mean more than one thing, each of those phrases also basically mean, “I don’t like that.” I haven’t ever met anyone who doesn’t use some variation of those phrases that couldn’t also be seen as an insult to someone overly sensitive .

    “Stupid” and “ugly” are not terms for which there is a legitimate use when applied to people. That is why I specifically chose those terms. They can be applied to an object or situation without implying an insulting comparison to any specific group of people.

    (overly sensitive is one definition of “obtuse” FYI)

    Yep. I’m aware of that. Thanks for throwing in definitions, but for future reference, there’s no need.

    Bullying SHOULD NOT be defined by how a person perceives a word or phrase, but by the intent of the speaker!!!

    I agree. But phrases which are commonly used for bullying purposes need careful scrutiny and need, wherever possible, to be eliminated from the standard usage in contexts where they are typically seen as or intended to be insulting. “Moron” is an excellent example.

    But my original calling-out of bullying was for the street preacher yelling at people that they were going to hell for being homosexual. It’s bullying. Any other religious, ethnic or racial term substituted for “homosexual” would have been considered bullying and inappropriate.

    Sam Brunson, you have made it clear that your original intent in the OP was not to call out homophobia, but rather to examine a comparison between a prophet from the Book of Mormon vs. this modern street preacher. I would just like to point out why it is so very difficult for me to ignore the apparently more controversial aspects of your post.

    Imagine a blog post where the writer described a scene down by the seashore at sunset one beautiful afternoon. He writes about seagulls swooping and children playing in the sand. He describes a gathering of people who happen to be throwing handfuls of garbage and epithets at a colony of lepers who live there at the beach. He describes an incident from a religious book in which a group of people were by the seashore one afternoon, maligning a bunch of lepers and driving them out of the town, and then enjoyed a picnic near the water.

    When someone with leprosy makes a comment on the thread to the effect that, “Wow, it’s easy to see where people get the idea that its okay to throw stuff at lepers!” the OP says, “Well, okay, I see where you might draw that conclusion, but my real intent was to talk about groups of people who visit the seashore at sunset.”

    I find the homophobic content of the scene you described in your OP extremely compelling (obviously), and I find the idea of ignoring or excusing it, and treating it as merely colorful background to the real topic…rather shocking, frankly.

  44. Okay, I think everyone has had his and her say on bullying. That conversation is repeating itself, spiraling downward, and played out. I don’t want to threaten to moderate comments, mostly because I have real life obligations to deal with, but let’s end the bullying conversation.

    To summarize: some people bully other people, that’s bad and should be appropriately dealt with, and there is a certain amount of disagreement about the breadth of the definition.

    I’m enjoying the recognizing truth in preaching thread, and will try to come back to it when I have a little more time, but, in the meantime, please carry on.

  45. Interesting points SilverRain. I was actually thinking about the same scriptures as a basis for being able to recognize that someone else feels the Spirit:

    “Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”

    Anything that edifies is true. Anything true the Spirit testifies to those with open hearts. I can, in fact, tell when others feel the Spirit. It is evident in their countenance, as Alma said. In a weird way, the presence of the Spirit in the countenance of others describes them having the Lord’s face upon their countenance.
    Such an effect is likely identical to the way Abinadi’s countenance ‘shone’ with the Holy Ghost as he spoke the truth in plainness and simplicity to Noah’s court.

    Also Silver, I would disagree that it isn’t logical. I would say that it is logical, it just varies in subtlety depending on our level of accountability and worthiness.

  46. Yes, after re-reading it today, I was a bit muddled. I think that those participating in a Spiritual experience—ie. one who has the Spirit with them—can sense if the influence of the Spirit is present, but I think it is impossible for someone who is not with the Spirit to sense it.

    In the end, everything is subjective. People who insist on the objectivity of all truth are kind of deluding themselves. I don’t find “logic” any more useful than intuition. They are both just tools, and both have their limitations. Ways to experience the Spirit aren’t logical in the sense that they aren’t repeatable, controllable, or mathematical. You can’t say A + B = Spirit. You can say A + B may result in the Spirit, but you can’t guarantee perfect results all the time for everyone. Maybe they would be more logical and predictable if I had all information, but not being God I don’t have any real ability to tell someone else what they did wrong or right that caused them to feel the Spirit. That is ultimately between them and God.

  47. I think it’s important to be very careful about using an emotional or physical reaction/response as the basis for deciding whether something someone else is saying is “true.” We have emotional and physical reactions to all kinds of things. People are “edified” by a well-delivered speech, whether or not the speaker was speaking the truth in any demonstrable sense. Some speakers are more charismatic, more inspiring than others. This does not necessarily mean that they speak the truth, or that the less-inspiring speaker is lying or deceived.

    Charles Manson was an incredibly charismatic person, by accounts of his followers. His words inspired dozens of people to follow him as a messiah-like figure and to act on his every whim. I’m sure many of them felt a burning in their bosom when he spoke. I’m sure many were edified by his descriptions of what the world should look like. I’m also sure he was dead wrong.

    I think I’d rather go with the idea that we can know truth by its fruits. Jesus said that a good tree bears good fruit. Good ideas result in good things happening. Paul says that the fruits of the spirit are “Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, humility, faith, and moderation.” Seems like a pretty fair yardstick. Do the things the speaker is promoting lead to love? To joy? To peace? Are they moderate? Do they exhibit patience and gentleness? Invoke goodness and humility? I’m not sure that the street preacher’s words invoke any of those concepts for me.

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