Throughout civilized records of Homo sapiens, the ability to identify “true north” has involved searching the night sky for guiding stars. By having a pole star in the north and in the south, mariner and footman alike have navigated safely across earth and sea, charted voyages and discovery, and tracked the migration of herds for sustenance and survival. Aligning with the pole stars was centrally important in sacred architecture of the ancient and middle worlds of history, and informed the choices for where and how to build temples to the gods.
As a matter of course, the selection of which star is looked upon for steady guidance has changed throughout time. In ancient Egypt about 5,000 years ago, the star Thuban–part of the constellation “Draco” (or “Dragon”)–was used to align the pyramids to “true north.” You see, the earth itself has a natural wobble that requires the signifier of true north to change. It’s not that “north” (a terrestrial coordinate that only makes sense relative to this planet itself) has changed: it’s that the earth and its alignment with the greater cosmos shifts periodically and predictably. Thus, to stay aligned with the greater cosmos, the signifier used by humans to designate “true north” must, necessarily, change with the shift of the planet.
For years, a Mormon organization called North Star has been asserting itself as the keeper of “true north” when it comes to faithful Mormon responses to a homosexual or bisexual identity and orientation. The leaders of the organization have been heavily involved in promoting and facilitating gay conversion therapy as the premier solution for the “afflictions” of same-sex attraction. (You can watch North Star leaders recruit men for the People Can Change retreat weekend called Journey Into Manhood here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MDIpEAkQ3M#action=share )
The chairman and another member of the board of directors at the time of the Ferguson v. JONAH lawsuit even went so far as to volunteer themselves as witnesses for the defense of bizarre weekends in the woods aimed at changing sexuality. (The cross-examination transcript of Jeff Bennion is recommended reading to see the North Star chairman caught lying under oath in a court of law [Ref PDF page 222 of the Equality Case Files transcript for day 8 of the Ferguson v. JONAH trial]: http://files.eqcf.org/cases/ferguson-v-jonah-trial-day-8-unofficial-transcript/ )
Finally, under the influence of a combination of circumstances, North Star is realizing that the earth has shifted, and that they must select a new pole star to guide their organization and their principles. A substantial change in leadership, just announced today, indicates a deliberate effort from the organization to jettison (at least publicly) their long-standing ties with recruitment for reparative and conversion therapy coaches and retreats.
Continuing with the metaphorical theme between spirituality and astronomy, a canonized LDS text known as The Book of Abraham contains several interesting depictions of hieroglyphic astronomical symbols. The American fascination with Egyptian mystery and the occult reached a rolling boil in the mid 19th-century when Napolean’s armies excavated burial sites of the ancients. The frenzy of Egyptological curiosity reached the United States, and affected–like many communities–the early Mormons, who purchased several Egyptian oddities and artifacts from a French antiquities vendor named Michael Chandler. The relics obtained by the early Mormon community contained pictoragraphs that Joseph Smith claimed to translate through gifts of spiritual second sight. His proffered translation of the Egyptian artifacts comprises the current LDS book of scripture known as the Pearl of Great Price.
On the largest of the Egyptian images contained in the Pearl of Great Price, Figure 1 as seen in the center of the image depicts what appears to be a hand extended outward and holding a plumbline. We know that plumblines were used by ancient civilizations in the determination of planetary alignment and estimation of geometric angles in astronomy. To me, the symbol is a reminder that at the very center–the very heart of things–is a constant need to attend to the alignment of self with surroundings, for the ultimate goal of orienting the self to the greater outside whole. And–in terms of the personal spiritual quest–it is an alignment that no one else can do for you.
It’s intrinsically arrogant to hold oneself out as the global North Star, and requires substantial hubris to assert a limited set of life decisions as universally binding and superior for a human life…especially when the decisions most heavily advocated are anti-empirical to numerous markers of health and wellness, and socially irresponsible.
It is troubling that the “true north” of North Star LDS continues to be advocacy for mixed-orientation marriage. Disastrous, predictable tragedies of mixed-orientation marriage and their attendant outcomes of poor quality of life are the wrong ideals to enshrine as the most reliable star in the sky. While the organization is doing a service to the greater LDS community by divesting themselves of ties to reparative and conversion therapy groups, it still has a long way to grow before it can justify its claims as a guiding beacon for personal navigation.
Whether it’s to protect themselves and their LDS church affiliations from unnecessary humiliation as conversion therapy is exposed to public scrutiny, or whether it represents an authentic shift in principles and philosophy, I am hopeful that the current leadership purge at North Star represents steps in the right direction.