LDS Actions Against Marriage Equality
LDS Rhetoric on Homosexuality
Against Proposition 8
Lavina Fielding Anderson
by Lavina Fielding Anderson
Originally published in By Common Consent, the newsletter of the Mormon Alliance in July of 2008. Posted with the author's permission.
A few days ago, my husband and I received a formal invitation from two friends in California who are getting married. We get a lot of wedding announcements and invitations at this time of year, but this time, as Paul noted, "It's the first time I've been invited to a gay wedding." We looked at each other and simultaneously grinned from ear to ear. It was about time.
As I wrote out a check to Equality California, one of Pat and Ben's requests in lieu of gifts (exquisitely tactful, they also included a non-political non-profit option), I couldn't stop smiling. In fact, I haven't been able to stop smiling every time I've thought of Pat and Ben, feeling their happiness a time zone away, and feeling delighted of them and for them, proud of their decision to take this next step in what has already been a relationship of impressive stability and achievement. Do I feel that my marriage is under attack? That this marriage is going to be bad for children? That God is enraged with this expression of love, mutual commitment, and responsible sharing?
But I haven't smiled about too much else. The Church's enlistment of California's Mormons behind Proposition 8, "the Limit on Marriage Amendment," has created mixed feelings in me--none of them good. I'm disgusted at the stupidity, weary that the Church is once again picking up a gun and taking dead aim at its own foot, angry on behalf of all the fine people I know who happen to be gay and who are once again being told that Jesus doesn't want them for a sunbeam.
| "I'm disgusted at the stupidity, weary that the Church is once again picking up a gun and taking dead aim at its own foot, angry on behalf of all the fine people I know who happen to be gay and who are once again being told that Jesus doesn't want them for a sunbeam.”
I've liked it that the Church seemed to be paying some attention to what I consider to be the true business of a religion: providing humanitarian service, sending out missionaries with the message that Jesus loves us and wants us to love each other, sponsoring the Perpetual Education Fund to make a permanent difference in the economic lives of young Saints and their families. Those are good things. Those are things I'm proud of. I'm not proud that the Church wants its members to assure the passage of Proposition 8.
The Church's stand was very predictable. In fact, more than ten years ago, Michael Quinn predicted in "The LDS Church's Campaign Against the Equal Rights Amendment" (Journal of Mormon History, Fall 1994), that the Church, having tested its political clout under the direction of Gordon B. Hinckley, then an apostle, would not resist turning it on new targets. He even predicted that a main target would be gay rights. Church activism during the Hinckley administration took exactly that route. Apparently the Monson administration sees no reason not to continue it--either from honest conviction or from the fact that the momentum has reached an inescapable level.
But the presidency of Thomas S. Monson, based on the official record so far, is a strange mishmash--the usual ceremonial appearances at meetings and temple dedications, and an odd over-the-pulpit letter ordering congregations to stop using visual aids in sacrament meeting and, even stranger, for speakers to stop having listeners open their scriptures and follow along. It's a tempting prospect to try and reconstruct the events, reports, logic, and official deliberations that produced these micromanagements of congregational life. What problem are they trying to solve that is as dangerous as these instructions?
But the comic opera came to an end with the First Presidency's letter of June 29, read in California congregations and enlisting members' support for Proposition 8, a proposed amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman: "Local Church leaders will provide information about how you may become involved in this important cause. We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage."
No doubt many Latter-day Saints, already prepped eight years ago by campaigning, placarding, and contributing money against Proposition 22, a definition of marriage as opposite-sex only, will reach for their checkbooks. But those who have gay relatives and friends in committed, long-term relationships, will hesitate, trying to understand why extending public, legal recognition to same-sex unions constitutes an attack on "the sacred institution of marriage."
| "Those who have gay relatives and friends in committed, long-term relationships, will hesitate, trying to understand why extending public, legal recognition to same-sex unions constitutes an attack on ‘the sacred institution of marriage.’”
Robert A. Rees, former editor of Dialogue and former bishop of a ward with a large number of gay members, wrote an op-ed piece published in the Salt Lake Tribune July 13, 2008, recommending in its title: "Church Should Let People 'Govern Themselves.'" He begins by quoting the infrequently cited 1907 First Presidency statement: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints holds to the doctrine of the separation of church and state; the non interference of church authority in political matters; and the absolute freedom and independence of the individual in the performance of his political duties. If at any time there has been conduct at variance with this doctrine, it has been in violation of the well settled principles and policy of the Church." It is true that this policy was squeezed out of the First Presidency by the pressure cooker of the hearings conducted in Washington, D.C., for three and a half grueling years on whether Apostle-Senator Reed Smoot should retain his seat, but still, there it is on the record.
Reese calls the Church's instructions to members to support the California constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages "a dilemma for many California Latter day Saints who are committed to the church but who are not in agreement with the amendment." He continues: "While some members see the letter as a test of their willingness to 'follow the brethren,' others feel that it is their civic and moral duty to vote against an amendment which they see as violating the central democratic principles of non discrimination and equal civil rights."
| "While some members see the letter as a test of their willingness to 'follow the brethren,' others feel that it is their civic and moral duty to vote against an amendment which they see as violating the central democratic principles of non discrimination and equal civil rights."
He referred to the Church's 2002 position under Proposition 22, "which was vigorously supported by church funds and by individual contributions. It was divisive for many congregations, especially in instances in which some members felt coerced by leaders and other members to support an initiative they found morally objectionable."
Rees then reaches the core of his argument:
What seemed most objectionable to some members in 2002, and what some find so in the recent letter, is not the encouragement to be politically engaged in important issues, but rather the suggestion that they should vote in a particular way. It has been a principle for more than a century that "The Church does not engage in politics; its members belong to the political parties of their own pleasure. . . .They are not asked, much less required, to vote this way or that" (President Joseph F. Smith, 1903).
Rees concludes by quoting Joseph Smith's famous dictum of teaching his people "correct principles" and letting them "govern themselves."
While the First Presidency may intend its letter to adhere to the spirit of this statement, there is little doubt that many, perhaps the majority, of members will interpret it as a mandate.
The dilemma for members who have allegiances as both church members and citizens is that when there is a conflict between the two, they cannot satisfy both. In such instances they must feel free to make moral choices based on their best judgment without fear of censure, reprisal or retribution.
I subscribe to this Mormon proverb and raise the crucial questions that I think it demands. Is opposite-gender marriage, in fact, a "correct principle" or the only "correct principle"? Assuming that it is, has the Church really "taught" this correct principle or has it simply announced, ordered, commanded, instructed, mandated, and even badgered and threatened? From my perspective, the answer is no. "Because I said so" is the language of impatience and incompetence, not the language of persuasion or reason, and definitely not the language of discussion that could lead to a meeting of the minds or even a civil agreement to disagree.
| "I subscribe to this Mormon proverb and raise the crucial questions that I think it demands. Is opposite-gender marriage, in fact, a "correct principle" or the only "correct principle"? Assuming that it is, has the Church really "taught" this correct principle or has it simply announced, ordered, commanded, instructed, mandated, and even badgered and threatened? ”
Rees may have been responding to the Daily Universe, Brigham Young University's student newspaper, which published an editorial, "Follow the Prophet: Church Statement against Gay Marriage," on July 8, 2008, and which quoted Joseph Smith's proverb on the other side. Instead of dealing with the merits of the positions for or against gay marriage, the editorial focuses exclusively on "outspoken antagonists of the Church position," especially those who "claim to be 'active Mormons' and disagree with the Prophet's counsel."
The editorial, displaying a certain shakiness on pronoun agreement but none on its orthodoxy, then excludes opponents as "active" based on the following logic:
Regardless of their rationale for disagreeing, any "active Mormon" sustains President Thomas S. Monson as the prophet, seer, revelator and mouth piece of God. "Active Mormons" raise their right hand during General Conference and sustain him and the other 14 apostles as the leaders of God's church on the earth today. In sustaining, they are not voting for them or agreeing with their position, they are promising to support and listen to them. Consequently, "active Mormons" know that when the prophet speaks, the debate is over. No matter how diligently someone reads their scriptures, attends church or pays a full tithe, unless they [sic] sustain President Monson, his counselors and the other 12 apostles, they are not "active Mormons."
The editorial then claims that the First Presidency letter is not preempting thought or the exercise of agency: "It's asking them [Church members] to stand up for what is central to their core doctrine--that man and woman are inherently and divinely matched for one another" and repeats, "They called followers to defend a critical point of doctrine: the divinely ordained role of men and women within the family."
Rather optimistically, it continued: "The brethren never said that any member of the Church who voted against the amendment would be excommunicated or disfellowshipped. No record will be kept of how each Latter day Saint votes and no member will be held accountable for how they [sic] vote." This statement is, in fact, naive in light of the pressures toward conformity already being applied that will certainly intensify before November. There may even be a dim recognition of this dynamic in the editorial's statement: "No seminary graduate or gospel doctrine teacher can recite a story in any of the standard works where contradicting the Prophet turned out to be a good idea. This is not the hill to die on, this not the battle to lose faith over." Although the definition of "good idea" is left vague, almost certainly it does not refer to the well-being of the individual who dares contradict the prophet. It is generally true that the Church has always been more willing to expend official energy swatting the messenger than appraising the message.
| "It is generally true that the Church has always been more willing to expend official energy swatting the messenger than appraising the message.”
Perhaps the most naive statement is the editorial's affirmation, "This is not an issue the Church stance will evolve on; this is a fundamental part of Latter day Saint doctrine endorsed by the Quorum of the Twelve, the First Presidency and the Prophet himself." In fact, although the seminary graduate almost certainly did not learn enough Church history in seminary to provide examples, the Church's policy positions, even "revealed" positions, has evolved repeatedly. But why so slowly? Why over so many dead bodies and crushed hopes?
The editorial concludes, ungrammatically but hopefully: "Every person has their [sic] agency, and all are counseled to use it wisely after evaluating both the secular and spiritual." In point of fact, the First Presidency letter nowhere counsels, advises, or even allows the option of evaluation, prayerful consideration, or drawing information from any source except the letter. The fact that the editorial-writer could so blithely write into that letter something the First Presidency deliberately left out is, on the whole, quite a cheerful sign.