mormonsandgays.org — a Sign of Movement toward Dialogue?

The Church recently launched a site titled Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction (at the URL: www.mormonsandgays.org).

Here is a useful link that centralizes many responses to the new site.

John Gustav-Wrathall writes at D&S that “Now is the Time” for dialogue, because this new site demonstrates that

They do not want to censor the dialog.  They’ve made space for this by saying, in essence, ‘We don’t claim responsibility for nor do we necessarily agree with everything that is said here.’  They’re also telling the general membership and local leaders to, in essence, brace themselves to hear opinions that they are unaccustomed to, that they disagree with.  If Church leaders intended to fudge or suppress or censor dialog, they wouldn’t be saying things like that.

This appraisal strikes me as overly optimistic.  What the site actually says is, “Those who speak from the heart on this website do not necessarily represent in every word or detail the policies or positions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but all of them speak with authenticity because they reflect what has happened in their own lives and the experiences of those they love.”  And from there, the site represents only the experiences of those with “faithful” positions — the exact opposite of unsuppressed/uncensored discourse.

This raises a question of audience.  The “dialogue” Gustav-Wrathall is referring to is dialogue between straight and gay “faithful” members of the Church so that future gay members might feel comfortable enough to stay in the Church instead of leave it (provided they are okay not being allowed to “act on their attractions”).  I see no evidence of intended dialogue between Mormons and gays outside the Church (either non-Mormons, or gay Mormons living “unfaithfully”), which makes the URL misleading.  In fact, for the Church to now incorporate the word “gay” into its lexicon, make a site whose URL title is “Mormons and Gays,” but then have the site be so one-sided… well, it seems less a movement toward dialogue between the two named parties, and more the Church experimenting with how to best bring together the forces of heterosexism and technology:  “‘Gay’ is here to stay, so how can we shape it to mean what we want it to mean in the Church, and reach the most Mormons?”

Basically, with this site, I see two things going on:

(1) The emergent discourse of the 2000s, spearheaded by North Star and others, arguing that one can be “gay” and still a good church member (by not acting on their gayness), is the official policy for the 2010s.  The URL name makes this clear.  While many of us are wondering when the Church is going to change its policy to allow same-sex relationships, really the Church just left behind “change [orientation] therapy.”  (It was only about 30% left behind at the turn of the century.)

(2) The timing of this website launch shows that the Church is trying to bring under its wing the grassroots movement this summer, when Mormons marched in Pride parades.  In essence, the Church is saying, “Okay, Mormons Building Bridges…good job.  But make sure you remember who’s in charge and what your message should be.  Oh, and Mormons for Marriage Equality, we won’t say this to you directly, but you don’t represent the Church.”  I’ve recently written about how the movement this summer of Mormons in Pride showed a possible/probable extension of the Church’s heterosexism.  I see this new website as evidence that supports my thesis — particularly given how many people are heralding this site as an extension of their work this summer.  (Edit:  The Church Newsroom says the site took two years to make…so, clearly, the Church and its members are working in tandem on this matter.  I guess I just can’t help but be disappointed at how much it’s the same ol’ heterosexism in increasingly fancier forms.)

(OTOH, I wonder what actual positive policy changes we might see.  Will temple recommends be denied to those who shun their gay kids?)

25 thoughts on “mormonsandgays.org — a Sign of Movement toward Dialogue?

  1. Alan – a couple of thoughts.

    First of all, I agree that the stories presented on the new website were not very representative of the LGBT Mormon experience. I’d still send folks to the Far Between project, if that’s what they’re looking for.

    But you’re projecting motives on the Church leadership that it’s impossible for you really know. And even if the purpose of the new web site was to try to co-opt the kinds of grassroots dialog that are taking place in forums like MBB, CTW or Empathy First, what the Church actually published seems remarkably ill suited to the purposes of co-optation.

    As I said in my post… If you’ve been observing the dynamics on the ground in places like my ward and my stake here in Minnesota… We’ve got a situation where the majority of Mormons in the pews are uncomfortable with the Church’s current policies and doctrines in relation to homosexuality. What they observe in their LGBT friends and family doesn’t seem to jive with what they’re being told officially over the pulpit. They are looking for an excuse to reach out a hand of fellowship… And this web site gives more than ample excuse. And I am certain increasing numbers of LDS will take it…

    The end result is, the Church is not so much fostering a closed dialog as joining in a dialog that is already wide open. The statements in this web site will accelerate the process. I anticipate a geometric increase in dialog about this issue. And most of that dialog will be able to claim official sanction from the highest leaders of the Church.

    Something else to keep in mind is that the current wide-ranging, transformative dialog that’s taking place was made possible by the shift in approach that Church leaders made in August 2006 through a series of statements and publications. The rank and file of the Church took the signals that greater openness was OK, and ran with it — especially in the aftermath of Prop 8.

    Another thing to keep in mind… Even the most subtle shift in a positive direction has made it much easier for individuals like me to stay active in the Church. True, the vast majority of LGBT folks were leaving, but enough of us have been staying or coming back in recent years to have a tangible effect… Even a very small presence has had a powerful effect.

    Most of the folks I’ve observed who are really jaded about this are folks who haven’t been connected to the LDS Church for a long time. For those of us still sitting in the pews, this looks and feels revolutionary.

  2. The LDS church leadership is joining in this discussion, but their contribution is the same as my abusive parents’.

    When they were operating from a position of strength, they felt free to bully and terrorize and dismiss anyone who was hurt. Now they’ve realized that others aren’t stuck having to put up with that, so they’re suddenly the nicest people in the world. Except that they’re not going to apologize, acknowledge wrongdoing, or even acknowledge how any of this represents a shift in their attitude. They’re happy to take your money, in essence; just don’t do anything gay.

    What’s “revolutionary” about this is not what the LDS church is doing, but the fact that it’s doing anything at all. They need their LGB members — and their families — more than the other way around. They know it, and increasing numbers of LGB members and families know it. They can’t just keep dishing out crap when “the world” is so much more caring and affirming than they are, but they don’t really want to change. So they’re trying to be as superficially nice as possible while still refraining from kindness, and hoping LGB members will be okay with being officially accepted as second-class.

    I’m personally waiting for them to acknowledge that transgender persons exist. Besides getting us confused with gays.

  3. ” I guess I just can’t help but be disappointed at how much it’s the same ol’ heterosexism in increasingly fancier forms.”
    Amen. Strikes me as turd polishing. And what is revolutionary to this jaded person (and jadeite and nephrite are lovely) is not the turd, but the need to polish.

    And I wonder how much sense it makes to say–We love left handed people. (or would that be wrong handed attraction) The left handedness itself is not a sin, but acting on it is.

    I see that as neither sensitive or thoughtful.

  4. It’s sensitive and thoughtful compared to the alternative they’ve previously taken for granted: Depersonalizing LGB individuals, and making us out to be “worldly” freaks in some kind of horror show. The equivalent of violent criminals (which my brother compared me to for being trans). Creatures which are so terrifying they need to be shunned, excommunicated, cut out of wills, and never thought of or empathized with.

    The people in charge of that website still aren’t really empathizing, mind. Not with anyone outside of the new story they’re telling. Not with the LGB persons who’ve felt like they needed to kill themselves because of church, or the ones who left the LDS church. “Having same-sex attraction” is just this terrible, terrible burden, and we don’t know why it has to be that way but it has to, because God. And there’s obviously no alternative to this steaming turd of a second-class, unfulfilled lifestyle.

    But it’s such a shiny turd, isn’t it? Don’t you want it now that you’ve seen how shiny it is? Wait, come back, we need your moneys D:

  5. Honestly, I do see this as a step forward. The LDS church leadership may not have learned anything (except that they’re hemorrhaging money and members), but this is going to show more LDS church members what the real consequences of these teachings are. They’re going to realize what a heartbreaking tragedy this is, and not all of them are going to be satisfied that it has to be this way.

    I know I wasn’t.

  6. John…maybe we can talk about what exactly you see as “revolutionary.” I can see the movement from “it’s best not to speak of this unnecessarily” (which was the call in the 2007 pamphlet “God Loveth His Children”) to now “okay, let’s talk about this.” But like I said, it’s a call for faithful Mormons to talk to faithful Mormons. Talking about gayness itself is not revolutionary if the intended result is strengthen “love the sinner, not the sin.” It’s the difference between (a) repressing discourse and (b) proliferating it to control it. It’s the exact same thing…except the latter may be more insidious because it’s harder to argue against.

    I know there is an unevenness in terms of how various wards across the country feel about the overarching policy. Plenty of Mormons marched for marriage equality this summer. This unevenness is difficult to quantify, though…and the site shows that the Church will not acknowledge the unevenness. One can read the site as a repudiation of any position other than the official position, which is how I read it, given the name of the URL: “Mormons and Gays.”

  7. Does the site include any perspectives from Mormons who are in committed same-sex relationships and/or married to same-sex partners? Specifically, is J G-W (or someone similar) featured on the site to represent the faithful-and-same-sex-married option in the same way that Affirmation presents that option?

  8. This is starting to look like a pattern. SLC Pride let Mormons Building Bridges lead the parade, meanwhile on MBB’s own site posts advocating marriage equality are banned but posts promoting reparative therapy aren’t. Circling the Wagons invited the most prominent advocates of Mormon mixed-orientation-marriage, while at least one of them is also speaking at conferences about overcoming same-sex attraction. I had the table next to Affirmation at Sunstone, and saw that Affirmation publicly affirms staying faithful to the CoJCoL-dS as a valid option. In the opposite direction, natürlich, there’s not even any acknowledgement that a same-sex relationship is a possible option for a Mormon (let alone a healthy one).

    I’m kind of leaning towards Suzanne’s interpretation @3, that the most revolutionary part of this is that they figured out that the turd needs polishing.

    But what more can they do? The fact that the CoJCoL-dS is willing to take a hard line against homosexuality has been one of the organization’s selling points for a long time, and that has, frankly, affected the make up of who’s currently in and who’s now out of the church. Whichever middle-managers commissioned that site probably figured out that the church’s position on homosexuality is a big loser in the long run, but all of the work and resources they’ve put into the wrong side of the marriage equality issue make it very difficult for them now to change, even incrementally.

  9. @ Alan #8

    The site actually does include a number of individuals who don’t represent faithful perspectives, including a gay man who has left the Church and returned to his Native American Spirituality.

    While I’m not arguing that the website is anywhere near all-inclusive, it was definitely a surprise for me to see how far they did go, for an “official” site.

  10. @11 Wow, that is quite unexpected!

    Yet, perversely, I feel like it’s less threatening for them to present someone who left Mormonism for another spiritual path than for them to present someone who has a testimony of the CoJCoL-dS and who is praying for the day that his happy, healthy, same-sex marriage will be recognized by the church as the loving union it is.

    Forgive me for interpreting this in the most cynical manner possible, but those gay people who refuse to accept the church’s message that they’re broken the way they are (and who consequently refuse the lonely paths the church offers them) — I think the CoJCoL-dS would just as soon have those people simply leave.

  11. See also Johnny Townsend’s take:

    Yet some would say the important point is that the Church is asking its members to treat those suffering from same-sex attraction with love and dignity, surely a significant change.

    But that’s where another problem arises. We’re not “suffering” from same-sex attraction. We aren’t carrying the “burden” of same-sex attraction. Same-sex attraction isn’t our “cross to bear.”

    We’re gay.

    But the Church makes it clear that we’re welcome back at church, if we repent.

    Does President Monson feel he needs to repent of his relationship with his wife? No? Well, I don’t feel I need to repent of my relationship with my husband, either.

  12. One more hit-it-on-the-nose quote from Johnny:

    “Until the Church acknowledges that my marriage is the same as their marriage, not a weakness, not an addiction, not a moral failing, there can never be any honest dialogue. If Mormons cannot see this, it will be exceedingly difficult for there to be any meaningful discussion. We can see it perfectly. It’s not a difficult concept.”

    (Straight as I am, I see it too. My marriage is happy and fulfilling, hence it is the same as yours.)

  13. This is why I suggest this “new” site is just “the same ol’ heterosexism in increasingly fancier forms.” The exact same logic was present in Dallin Oaks’ Ensign article in 1995 — but now, 17 years later, instead of being in a printed magazine, it’s on a website with embedded video. The only thing that’s different is that the Church seems to accept the term “gay.” But how much do you want to bet that they only use that term to entice people…and when you actually sit down with a bishop, there’s the same logic of “‘gay’ is just a worldly identity; you need to focus on your eternal identity — there is no ‘gay’ in Heaven.”

    This is the stuff that is between the lines on the site, and it’s between the lines where the dialogue would need to happen. The Church, of course, is not willing have that dialogue and will continue to engage in a kind of psychological manipulation of its own membership to try to stay on top of this matter — which is why, I suspect, this site took 2 years to make.

  14. My guess is the site exists so members can feel good about being cruel.
    Feeling down about being perceived as not nice. No problem,–love one another. Very pretty.
    But there’s nothing pretty or nice about requiring suffering.

  15. @16: Well, this is where my inner Buddhist would kick in and say, there’s nothing wrong with understanding life as a kind of suffering. The problem is when you locate certain kinds of suffering completely to the “universe” instead of their rightful place: in this case, cultural heteropatriarchy. The Church says, “We can’t change this because of doctrine,” which is another way of saying, “The universe is structured this way.” They refuse to see it as a power structure issue. OF COURSE the Quorum of the 12 knows this is about maintenance of the Church’s power structure — a divide of men and women’s roles. That’s why this is so insidious.

    When they finally get down to praying for “revelation” on this matter, how surprised will they be when Heavenly Mother answers the prayer?

  16. This latest installation in the Mormon PR offensive is nothing more than that–pure PR and an attempt to gain control of a conversation that they have lost control of. The Mormon Church has proven itself over years of vile diatribe against homosexuals and overt purely political activity designed to demean, marginalize and remove equal protection under the law for homosexual citizens. The only concern of the so called Mormon Church is bad PR–years of gay suicides won’t budge them, but polishing up the only thing it cares about–its PR profile–is what motivates this ridiculous, hollow, self serving website. You can put whipped cream on manure but that doesn’t make it dessert.

  17. Well, Don, I would like to think the Church has lost control over the conversation, but it’s hard to tell. During the summer, I had hopes that Mormons for Marriage Equality would garner enough media attention that the Church would have to address it. Ultimately, I think the Utah-centric nature of national reporting on Mormonism prevented that from happening, so that MBB’s neutral message of “love” carried the day. When all is said and done, we have this website that shows absolutely no room for the position of M4ME. It takes MBB’s message and reminds everyone about the “sin” factor (since MBB would not have been able to march with that aspect of the Mormon message, although I’ve argued it was there implicitly). Anyway, it’s hard to tell how uneven the everyday Mormon position is currently.

  18. Weelll, I don’t think any sort of dialogue was intended.
    I will now engage in confirmation bias and say,–See. Loyal church members will say all sorts of nasty things to gay folks, then point to the website to show their benevolence to those suffering with ssa.

  19. Alan
    They may be surprised at more than Heavenly Mother answering their prayers.
    And those those sealed to multiple women, if reports of what goes on in harems is right, then those sexually fluid wives will find themselves in a situation that increases female bonding.
    (My attempt at a one sentence Mormon Lesbian Theology. Next year will be a one sentence Feminist Mormon Lesbian theology.)

  20. I was so annoyed by the Mormonsandgays website that I misspelled my own name. Anyhow, I think the angle on ‘the Church’ wanting to preserve the power structure/gender roles is worth talking about, as I think it is at the core here, but I am too tired and annoyed–just wanted to call out BS on the website for now, and oh yeah, Merry Christmas.

  21. Web site aside, the CHI still has the old stated source that same sex attraction is wrong/evil. This is the church at its best putting out two distinctly opposite statements, but, then saying how much everyone is welcome and we are all one big happy family.

    I think the launch is just an out and out lie.

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