Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Olive branch or PR stunt?

I have to confess to some skepticism when news of the impending "historical announcement" first started floating around the queerosphere yesterday. So, I was mildly surprised when it actually occurred. It must be big news as a blurb was even included in our local Texas newspaper (we don't get much Mormon news in these parts).

I also have to confess to a great amount of skepticism as I read the news reports and the official announcement - a stupor of thought if you will. Something just doesn't smell right about all of this. Here are some of the thoughts that have been floating around my head the last 12 hours (in no particular order)
  • Why is supporting non-discrimination so historical in the first place? As followers of Jesus Christ - shouldn't that be part of our very nature?
  • "The church supports these ordinances ... because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage" - does this bother anyone else? PR departments do not speak indiscriminately - every word they utter has been carefully thought out beforehand. To settle on the word "violence" suggests that this whole affair is distasteful and deemed a necessary evil.
  • "Participants in the secret meetings ..." - huh?!? Does this mean that Utah law does not require open meetings in matters of public policy and interest? Secret meetings and the unanimous vote suggests a carefully crafted collusion - which is illegal between commercial businesses.
  • Why now? And the timing - soon after the trailer for "8: A Mormon Proposition"- seems more than coincidental.
If you want my personal opinion - which I'm sure you do if you've read this far on my blog - I don't think this is an olive branch to the LGBT community. I think this is a PR stunt aimed at the straight members of the LDS church. Another way of saying "see, we don't hate gays - we just hate what they do."

I previously blogged about my thoughts that all is not well in Zion - and this just strengthens my feelings. I think the aftermath of proposition 8 has affected the LDS church more they they will ever admit to. I think there is a growing consensus that the church may have stepped over the line when it became actively involved in pushing the passage of proposition 8 in California. I think they've seen this in increased letters requesting membership removal and falling activity rates, baptism rates, etc. And, I think they see the forthcoming documentary "8: A Mormon Proposition" as just stirring up the pot even more. I see this move as a preemptive strike to help the straight membership feel better about other church policies and activities aimed at opposing the GLBT community; and, it gives them ammunition to use when criticism against the church increases - which it will undoubtedly will when "8: A Mormon Proposition" is released.

Maybe I"m wrong - and I sincerely hope I am - but I just don't think this portends to a new kinder and gentler approach.


MoHoHawaii said...

The rumor is that the Church was pressured to do this by Mitt Romney whose 2012 presidential aspirations are being hurt by the perception that his church mistreats gays.

Max Power said...

I couldn't agree more, Abe. This is a complete PR stunt. From what I've read in the Salt Lake Tribune, people were expecting that the measure would have passed through the city council anyway. But, now that the church gave their approval, they can show the members how benevolent they were in granting these rights to the gays. It just gives them more fodder for claiming they love gays but will still forbid them to marry. It is hollow at best.

I will be excited to see what Buttars has to say about it, though.

Chester said...

The housing and employment ordinance is a bargaining chip the church has been willing to let go of for a long time. Why the wait? Did they really need the secret meetings with LGBT leaders in Salt Lake to concede these fundamental rights to gay people?

PR. If I weren't afraid of being kicked out my apartment, something I have seen first hand here in Utah County, then I'd be inclined to say, "No thank you, this is insulting."

Beck said...

I would like to think that this "step up to the table" of the Church is one that will shut down the spewings of Buttars and his kind, and of my neighbor down the street. There are MANY within the Church who have looked at these "anti-discrimination" legislative efforts as a slippery slope and have taken a mean and vicious stance BECAUSE the Church hasn't stood up to the table to shut such statements and beliefs down. These folks do it in full belief that the Brethren are fully behind their actions.

I would hope that this has slammed the door in the face of such actions. I would hope that this gives others, like me, a bit more of amunition to use against such actions from overzealous neighbors, by standing with the Church.

Though it may smack of PR and "too little too late", I see it personally as something to build from in helping others to see the hate and venom in their views.

Anonymous said...

I agree with and support Beck's sentiments.But, I, too, was very disturbed with the use of "no violence to marriage"in the wording. I did not see the need for "violence".

Grant Haws said...

To me it seems like a PR stunt and only that. And it all feels too contrived to be sincere. The Church is expecting applause for what it should have done years ago. I know that some gay people are applauding it and saying that even if it is a baby step, at least it is a step...but to me I have a hard time cheering for the Church when it is only doing it what it needs to LOOK Christ-like.

Max Power said...

Additionally, look at who made the statement. Someone from the first presidency? Q12? 70? Any low level general authority? Official church spokesperson? A resounding "NO" on all counts.

Who is this Otterson guy? A complete nobody in the hierarchy of the church. He's a hired PR guy. He carries no weight. So, you know what kind of impact this is going to have on the hard-core members - zip.

drakames said...

It kind of reminds me of "they draw near with their mouths but have removed their hearts far from me."

I'm still trying to decide what I think about it.

Beck said...

MAX POWER: From what I understand, Otterson stated that he was the "official spokesperson" for the Church at the meeting. He came on KSL Radio this morning and reiterated his role as "official spokesperson". I would think that the position as "official spokesperson" WILL have impact on the membership at large... or am I grasping for a lifeline of hope here?

Max Power said...

On Otterson is referred to as "managing director of Church Public Affairs" not as an official church spokesperson.

He introduced himself:
"My name is Michael Otterson, and I am here tonight officially representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".

There isn't a definite, believable credential offered by the church here. The statement should have been given by a recognized church spokesperson, not be an unknown. It carries very little weight this way.

Scott said...

I would hope that this has slammed the door in the face of such actions.

I would have hoped so too...

But judging from some of the comments on the Deseret News article, prejudice is still alive and well in the hearts of many members.

There are comments (from people professing to be active members of the church) expressing "disappointment" in the church and its leaders, stating that they have made a mistake, that they are "wolves in sheep's clothing", etc.

I can only imagine the chaos that would result if the church were to actually make any meaningful changes in its policies. The bigots would be leaving the church in droves.

playasinmar said...

Enigma, try not to panic about the secret meetings. The church is a non-governmental agency. So are the gay rights groups. They can have as many secret meetings as they like.

As for the city council vote: Yes, passage was a forgone conclusion. The church didn't have to attend, but it did.

I'm going to classify this under PR Stunt. If the church backs the reintroduction of the Common Ground Initiative, only then is it an olive branch/Christian goodness/worthwhile.

Abelard Enigma said...

The church is a non-governmental agency. So are the gay rights groups. They can have as many secret meetings as they like.

I agree - but the unanimous vote plus one of the council members "a former bishop and stake president offered an impassioned plea for the ordinance" suggests that there were also secret meetings between church officials and city council members - which would clearly violate any open meetings legislation. Maybe I'm reading too much into this - but as I stated at the beginning, this just isn't passing the smell test.

I sincerely hope, as Beck states, that some good will come of this. But, for now, it just seems like too little and too late. Why weren't we reaching out to the gay community during the prop 8 brouhaha? Why does such an action come only after intense scrutiny and criticism of the LDS church?

And, as Scott pointed out - some of the comments on the Deseret News article are downright scary. Why is it if we question the actions of our church leaders then we're apostates - but if someone else criticizes church leaders for being too lenient on gays then they're just being opinionated?

Sean said...

I agree Abe. This whole thing is fishey. The church never grabs a spotlight, makes a fanfare, and calls attention to itself in the media unless they intend to use it for some other purpose. With out any doubt in my mind they are up to something and it is not about LGBT rights or acceptance. They will not contradict doctrine so soon in the game.

I also read the comments on the Deseret News. While I'm very out of the church I was offended for other members of the church that don't agree with those rather nasty comments. Clearly there are a lot of questionable people running around the membership.

Quinn said...

Two points:
Who said it was a historical announcement, the church or others?

A lot of moho's wanted some sort of olive branch from the church, and now that's its been offered, some seem to bit the hand offering it? That puzzles me.

Maybe someone can help me understand that?!

Max Power said...

1 - I don't know

2 - Because it was cold and disingenuous - it was not presented by anyone of importance in church leadership. They are only conceding because this does "no violence" to marriage? I wouldn't call my reaction to this statement as biting the hand that feeds me as much as I would call it biting the hand that slaps me.

Quinn said...

Ok. Would it have been better to have the church say nothing at all about the law?

Rarely does the church leadership make public announcements, public matters almost always go through the the Public Affairs office.

Abelard Enigma said...

1. According to this "several highly placed people featured in the upcoming documentary film 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION were contacted by well-placed people inside the Mormon Church in anticipation of an 'historic statement against discrimination' to be made by the Church." Now, whether that is a reliable source is a different discussion.

2. I would like to see an olive branch offered that isn't tainted with what they hate about gays. What they did was akin to giving food to a starving person while telling them they're ugly.

Quinn said...

Well simply by reading the headline and first sentence this "article" is biased and has an agenda, so like you said their reliability is in question.

I see your point, and with using the word violence I do agree it was not ideal. However the whole statement reads a bit more like giving food to the poor while also saying, we still disagree with your drinking that beer next to you.

But I still see your point.

Silus Grok said...

Swap "secret" with "private" and suddenly it doesn't sound so ominous. Private entities have private meetings with government officials all the time. Just because it's private, doesn't mean it's cloak and dagger.

Also, the Council was planning on just discussing the ordinance, but moved to vote on it last night because they were moved by the testimonies heard. I was there … it was incredibly touching.

If this were a PR stunt, it would be one of the costliest I've seen, as the statement — which they've proudly posted on the church's new site — will be quoted back to them ad nauseum if they choose to stray from their stance.

To me, it was a chance for the Church to delineate their support for their gay members — stopping short of marriage. It's a reasonable position.

Does every story have to have a boogey man?


Silus Grok said...

… "applause for what it should have done years ago". Please. The Church moves slowly … glacially even. It's part of its nature. We all know that. It's forward movement, and I'm happy for it. And considering where the Church was — hell, where society was — 20 years ago, it's a friggin' miracle.

Silus Grok said...

Also, Michael Otterson is a known Church spokesman.

Max Power said...

"Michael Otterson is a known Church spokesman"

Do you have evidence of that? Maybe I've just missed him, but I browse the Salt Lake Tribune 3-4 times per week each time reading a handful of articles, and I have never seen his name pop up in any of the LDS articles I've read. It's always Scott Trotter or that lady (whose name eludes me at the moment) who are quoted. I've never seen him presented as an official church spokesman.

Beck said...

Sheesh is right!

If the Church had said nothing, many here would be disgruntled and lining up to complain about how the Church never comes through. Now that they do (even if it is at a glacial pace) many continue to be disgruntled and lining up to complain that it wasn't enough or it was disingenuous or whatever.

I choose to see it as taking a stand. It was timely and it did affect the vote. I hold judgment waiting to see what will happen at this upcoming legislative session, but I can't help but see this as a "on the record" stance that can be remembered and referred to in the future.

Why not see it for the good that it is?

As for Sutherland Institute speaking out this afternoon against the Church accusing the Brethren of joining the slippery slope, I can't help but thing of Abelard's question: Why wouldn't the Sutherland Institute members now be considered apostate?

For the Sutherland Institute (and similar ilk) to take a stand against the Church statement just makes me smile! This is getting good!

Beck said...

BTW, when LDS.ORG places the article front and center of its web page stating "Church supports nondiscrimination ordinance" and quotes Otterson - I don't know how more official it needs to be.

El Genio said...

Half of me would like to say nothing more than "thank you" and leave it at that. In all honesty, any statement that doesn't make me feel like I'm mentally ill or akin to some racist member of the KKK is a welcome change. At the same time, people without the restored gospel have much more Christlike attitudes, so I expect even more of the church.

The biggest problem I have with this is that it only applies to Salt Lake residents. Where was the church when these exact same rights were up for vote for all Utahns?

For the record, I don't want an olive branch from the church. I want the church to respect the religious freedoms they are so vehemently concerned about. To quote someone else, I want the church to get the hell out of the anti-gay marriage business, and back into the helping hurricane victims business.

Grant Haws said...

It's not about being official or's about motives. The motives of this are sketchy at best, and from my experience, I'm not willing to give the Church the benefit of the doubt.

To me this was a small concession to get all of us gays to shut up...If you, as a homosexual, are considering this as an olive branch, you must have very low expectations.

Max Power said...


My point was not clearly stated in my first comment about Otterson, and has since derailed. What I was getting at is the fact that this is a HUGE issue and deserves a whole lot more authority than a joe-schmoe spokesperson to have a true impact on the membership.

I grew up in Utah County. I know how those people think. Unless it comes from a popular G.A., they aren't going to give it much weight.

I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt I am.

Anonymous said...

I see the word "violence" as directed toward conservatives, to reinforce definitional boundaries, to move people beyond the "slippery slope" argument. That slippery slope spawns a lot of hatred toward gays, which I am sure GA's are interested in curbing.

Personally, I think this is a huge development in the sense that the Church is acknowledging gay people as such (in the public sphere), which other conservative religions still refuse to do. This is mature, given that LDS doctrine is pinned on everyone being essentially heterosexual. If you don't believe that doctrine, then yes, this can come off as insignificant and all about PR.

But they didn't use a GA because of the balancing act of this issue (social vs doctrinal); GAs have to be absolute. It's a cautious approach to tend to the flock in light of social change. Why be pessimistic?

J G-W said...

Getting crotchety in your old age?

I agree with Silas. Regardless of what anybody may think about the motivations (and of course, that's the problem with analyzing motivations -- it always involves a certain amount of vain speculation), the Church can't really step back from this. Which means, yes, this is definite progress. It is an effort to help gay people in a way that is harmonious with the current constraints of official doctrine.

Silus Grok said...

Psst … hey, Beck … thought I'd check out your blog. But it's invitation-only. My e-mail is in my profile … 

* puppy dog eyes *

I am Landmark said...

Abe --

This link leads to a "flyer" that was faxed to accounts in the Salt Lake area. (The flyer claims 80K faxes but....)

Apparently, it's NOT okay to disagree with the Church leaders when you're gay, but it's okay if you're conservative and do it only because you realize the Church HAD to make this statement, but didn't really expect members to accept it or follow it.

robert said...

One word comes to my mind for the Church endorsement...patronizing.

Silus Grok said...

Patronizing? Really? They're a major City organization with a membership that easily comprises a plurality of the citizens of the City — members who, by and large, look it for some level of guidance on touchstone issues. So offering its opinion — when everyone is wondering what the hell they're thinking — is now PATRONIZING? Good heavens.