Friday, December 3, 2010

Reaping what you sow ... 2 years later

A lot has been written about recent changes to the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions prognosticating about the impact said changes have on gay Mormons. Organizations like HRC have claimed responsibility for the church instituting said changes because of their activism - which the church, of course, has denied.

Personally, I think people are reading too much into recent changes. The CHI is periodically updated to reflect policy tweaks and generally reflect changes that had previously been communicated via letters from the first presidency. (not all such letters are read over the pulpit - many are addressed directly to bishoprics and stake presidencies)

What I do believe is that the LDS church is finding itself in a very uncomfortable position where every word that is uttered from a pulpit - every word that is written - is meticulously examined and analyzed for possible impact to the GLBT community in general and gay Mormons in particular.

It didn’t always used to be this way.  It wasn’t that long ago when, except for a few disgruntled ex-Mormon’s, the LDS church was largely ignored by the GLBT community.  In fact, there was perhaps even a bit of cautious admiration due to the church’s position that God loves everyone – even the gay ones.  Something that raised the ire of other religious leaders – such as the esteemed Rev. Fred Phelps whose followers at the Westburo Baptist church protested the LDS church's tolerance towards homosexuals at President Hinkley’s funeral - since they want to believe that all fags have a one-way ticket straight to hell.

Then along came proposition 8 in California.  The LDS church believes that gay marriage poses a threat to the traditional family - a severe enough threat that it compelled the church to abandon it’s policy of political neutrality and rally the saints in California to campaign for the passage of proposition 8 denying gay couples of the right to marry.  Almost overnight the LDS church went from being largely ignored to public enemy number 1 to the GLBT community.

This wasn’t the first time that the LDS church got politically involved. 
  • 1980 – Although I don’t recall the details, there was some initiative on the California ballot concerning gay marriage.  I was living in California at the time and heeded the call from church leaders to go door to door.  I don’t actually remember if we were urging voters to vote for or against said initiative – but, I do recall being frustrated because many people I talked to assumed I was gay and was campaigning for the position opposite that of the LDS church.  (yet another testament of people seeing things in me that I refused to see in myself)
  • 1998 – The LDS church donated $500,000 to the Alaska Family Coalition to campaign for an amendment to the Alaska constitution banning gay marriages.
  • 1998 – The LDS church contributed to the “Save Traditional Marriage” campaign in Hawaii 
  •   2000- Proposition 22 in California “Protection of Marriage Act
But none of these had the same lasting effects as proposition 8 did in 2008.

I don’t claim to know what was different with Proposition 8 in California.  Perhaps it was the timing with the internet becoming more integral in our lives.  Perhaps it was the level of involvement with mormon’s contributing nearly half of the $39.9M raised to pass Prop 8.  Perhaps it’s because prop 8 was the most funded campaign on any state ballot.  Maybe its because of other campaigns such as “No H8” which keep prop 8 in our collective consciousness.  It could be some combination of all of these (plus other factors I haven’t thought of).

Whatever the cause, proposition 8 in California has had a major impact on the relationship the LDS church has with the GLBT community – indeed, american society at large.  Right or wrong, if you polled random people on the street with the simple question “does the Mormon church hate gay’s” – I expect, more than likely, many would answer “yes” - that certainly would be true if you polled the gay community.

The reality is - the LDS church doesn't hate gays - it just hates what gays do in the privacy of their bedrooms.  When discussions started among LDS church leaders regarding getting involved in the prop 8 campaign, I expect they probably assumed that there would be some opposition – but that it would eventually fizzle out as it has in the past.  I don’t think they were prepared for the onslaught of negative feelings towards the LDS church – both from within and without.  And, I imagine they are probably perplexed that such feelings continue to exist 2 years after the election showing little signs of abating.

The LDS church is very image conscious and objects whenever it is portrayed negatively.  So, this puts them into a very difficult position.  How can the LDS church repair it’s relationship with the GLBT community without coming across as softening on its stance towards homosexuality?  Essentially, the LDS church has painted itself into a corner with no idea how to get out of; and, it seems every thing they do gets them further embedded in the mire.

The answer, I believe, is that it can’t – it can’t change peoples attitudes towards the LDS church without major changes to it’s teachings about homosexuality.  I also believe that such changes will come – eventually; although, I don’t know if I’ll be alive to see it. I'm not suggesting that I think the LDS church will suddenly start sealing same sex couples in the temple.  But I think we will see increased tolerance towards people who happen to be attracted to those of their same gender - particularly those who embrace committed monogamous relationships.

In the meantime, the LDS church is reaping the bitter grains that it has sown. President Boyd K Packers talk in the October general conference suggests that (at least some) church leaders have yet to learn from past mistakes and are having to live with the consequences of their actions. The brouhaha over the changes to the CHI is just the latest volley of unwanted publicity – and it certainly won’t be the last.

So, hang on tight because I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


Kiley said...

I agree with your assessment of the situation. They have indeed painted themselves into a corner. You right, opinions regarding the church will not change until their teachings change. The sad thing is though, that no matter what they do at this point someone is going to be upset. If the teachings towards homosexuals suddenly change I think it could cause the faithful believers to wonder what is going on. If they keep with the heading that Packer's talk points them on then popular opinion is against them and they continue to hurt the members who are in the closet.

I suspect that any change that happens will have to happen really slowly so that the bleeding and loss is not so bad. The only way that quick changes will occur is if the change is forced by external pressures.

El Genio said...

I think the physical involvement of church members (time & effort, not just $$$) was much, much greater in the proposition 8 campaign than ever before. Combine that with the internet, and a more organized, vocal, and powerful opposition and you get the current backlash against the church.

I do disagree with your statement that the LDS church doesn't seem to hate gays. I know, I know, they say over and over again that they "love" us. Not only is there a huge amount of condescension in that love, but their actions speak far louder than their words, and those are actions are anything but loving.

MoHoHawaii said...

I was with you up until this:

The reality is - the LDS church doesn't hate gays - it just hates what gays do in the privacy of their bedrooms.

If it's really about coitus, then why isn't the Church pushing to criminalize sex acts between consenting adults? Instead, the Church wants to outlaw fidelity, mutual support and love by stripping gay people of civil protections that other couples enjoy.

The Church's involvement in Prop 8 wasn't about sex. Before and after Prop 8 people were free to have as much sex as they want. Prop 8 was about keeping gay people in the gutter where the Church (among others) had thrown them. The Church has no problem with gay people who are promiscuous, drunken, low-achieving ne'er-do-wells. These people make great examples of what not to do. It objects when gay people settle down, get mortgages and join the Rotary Club! Objecting to the social integration of people who want to live responsibly is one of sure signs of prejudice. The trope about the Church not hating gay people is nauseating. Let's not use the word hate. Let's say animus instead. The basis of prejudice is animus. And the LDS Church has it in spades for gay people.

I do agree with you that Prop. 8 is going to haunt the LDS Church for the foreseeable future. The issue is *not* going away.

Sean said...

Great thoughts. This just further ilustrates that (this will make me unpopular with the faithful)... the church is not "true."

Weston Krogstadt said...

I'm very glad the LDS church does not allow homosexuality, they are only following the example God has laid down for thousands of years.

Max Power said...

@Weston K: