Mormon Trolls, Gorgons and Orcs, and Being Tired of Good People

Currently the most posted story in my Facebook feed is this excellent NY Times op-ed from Ta-Nehisi Coates, entitled “The Good, Racist People.”  Coates uses the recent frisking of Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker as an opportunity to analyze the racism of “good” people:

In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.”

The same principle applies to homophobia.  There are “good” people who argue that their homophobia isn’t really bigotry because they’re not actually afraid of gay people, plus their reasons for wanting to prevent gay people from marrying aren’t anything objectionable–they’re deeply held religious beliefs!  Besides, these good people know and are polite to gay people when forced to interact with them.  They manage to have entire conversations where they never once tell a gay person that they think she’s both symptom and cause of our society’s moral decay and destined for hell.  These people are too good to deserve a label reserved for bad people–you know, bigots.  Plus, they’re right.  God told them they’re right.  That means they’re automatically not bigots, because what they’re expressing is not a human prejudice–it’s god’s will!

The same principle applies to sexism and misogyny.  There are “good” people who argue that their misogyny isn’t really bigotry because they don’t actually hate women–they are a woman, or they married one, or they’re related to a bunch!  They just have deeply held religious beliefs that tell them that women are, by divine decree, ordained to hold a somehow subordinate-but-equal status to men in every human social group from the nuclear family to the local church congregation to God’s supposedly world-wide organization for caring for his children’s needs on earth.  They just have deeply held religious beliefs that entitle them to tell women what they are allowed to do with their bodies and how they must dress, what types of goals they are allowed to have.  These people are too good to deserve a label reserved for bad people–you know, bigots.  Plus, they’re right.  God told them they’re right.  That means they’re automatically not bigots, because what they’re expressing is not a human prejudice–it’s god’s will!

Here’s the thing: If you try to deny another group of people rights you claim for yourself–the right to buy a sandwich without getting frisked, the right to marry another consenting adult, the right to preside–then you’re a bigot, and you deserve to be called one.  You  might have a great sense of humor and many people, me included, might have laughed at your jokes.  You might be admired for the generosity you show your family and respected for your intelligence, by all sorts of people, including me.  But just as you deserve to be recognized for the way you have chosen to develop the traits of humor, generosity and intelligence, you deserve to be recognized for the way you have chosen to the develop the trait of bigotry.

Obviously, I’m discussing current defenses of Mormon homophobia and misogyny.  Obviously, not all Mormons are bigots.  Obviously, some Mormons are.  For some Mormons, it is their faith–their belief in the universal availability of God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice–that makes them oppose bigotry in all its forms, even and especially within the church.  For some Mormons, it is their faith–their belief in racist doctrines from the church’s past, their trust in homophobic beliefs and political agendas of current leaders, their reliance on well-entrenched but still unjustified gender assumptions–that makes them bigots who defend the church’s continued bigotry.

South Pacific, the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, had an agenda.  In particular, it tackled racism.  There’s a song called “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” that goes

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Bigoted Mormon adults pass their bigotry on their children, very, very early.  Consider this guest post at the Cultural Hall from Marie Brian, the amazing Cotton Floozy:

My daughter is nine years old. ‘Why haven’t you been baptized?’ the kids asked her. ‘Don’t you know that you will go to hell unless you get baptized?’

And so now my daughter goes to church with her grandparents. She is doing better now that she fits in — now that they won’t tease her for being different.

Sister Floozy concludes with some pretty sound advice:

I didn’t stop going to church because of the whole murky history thing. I stopped going because I felt that the church stopped teaching the Doctrine of Love…

As long as we teach that feminism, gayness, and intellectualism is a sin, I cannot be a part of such an institution. As long as we condone exclusivity over inclusivity, I cannot raise my hand in sustaining. As long as we teach our children that being gay is bad and only church-approved socially-constructed ideas of a perfect family are good, I cannot send my daughter to church without stressing the eff out….

If the church would make its buildings reverberate with tolerance, acceptance, and love, they wouldn’t have to worry about the members who are leaving the church in droves. They would keep the members, because people would instinctively love to attend, to bask in the warmth of a Jesus-like atmosphere, to share the pews with anyone and everyone — those pants-wearing ladies, the gay couples, and the transsexual children of God. That is the kind of church I want. Maybe, this is wishful thinking. I hope not.

If the church would make its buildings reverberate with tolerance, “good” Mormons wouldn’t have to defend themselves against the charge that they are bigots, because they very likely wouldn’t be bigots.

And before anyone gets all “Yeah, well, you’re being bigoted against bigots!” on this post, let me use Coates’ example to point out that there’s a big difference between saying, “You treated my friend like a criminal when he tried to patronize your business, so I’m not going to patronize it anymore” and saying, “Hey, you’re trying to shop while black!  I don’t trust you!”  Let me use Marie’s example to point out that there’s a big difference between saying, “You’re pretty much a mean jerk who says awful things about people I love when we hang out, so I don’t want to hang out with you anymore” and saying, “I don’t approve of how you spend your Sundays, so I’m going to be mean to you during the week.”

Removing yourself from someone’s company and explaining why you don’t want to keep that company is not the same thing as treating someone badly when you are forced to interact.  Allowing people to do their own thing and doing your own thing away from them is not the same thing as trying to deny someone the right to do their own thing because you don’t think they deserve a right you claim so readily.

And those two essays explain, in case you wondered, why so many people conclude that they are “tired of good people, that [they've] had all the good people [they] could take.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 Comments

  1. 1
    chanson says:

    If the church would make its buildings reverberate with tolerance, acceptance, and love, they wouldn’t have to worry about the members who are leaving the church in droves. They would keep the members, because people would instinctively love to attend, to bask in the warmth of a Jesus-like atmosphere, to share the pews with anyone and everyone — those pants-wearing ladies, the gay couples, and the transsexual children of God.

    To play devil’s advocate (since Seth somehow missed this post), I’d say that a lot of Mormons argue that the tolerant, liberal churches are losing members faster than the strict, rigid churches.

    After all, having the church to justify their beliefs about women, gays, and intellectuals is a selling point for some people. Most of the people who want the CoJCoL-dS to be a place of tolerance, acceptance, and love have been leaving since the Proposition 8 era. If they shift gears now, they risk to lose the core of members who like arbitrary authoritarian restrictions.

       1 likes

  2. 2
    Suzanne Neilsen says:

    I met a person here in California investigating the church around 1974 and one thing he really liked was it’s position on black people.(and he’s now long left the church. Why, I do not know.)
    I knew of several active life long members(good people), not happy with a certain event in 1978. but these pillars of the ward stayed active
    But then the foundation of arbitrary authoritarian restrictions stayed in place and they could continue placing their loyalty in that edifice..

       0 likes

  3. 3
    Holly says:

    To play devil’s advocate (since Seth somehow missed this post), I’d say that a lot of Mormons argue that the tolerant, liberal churches are losing members faster than the strict, rigid churches.

    Few churches are losing members faster than the CoJCoLDS.

    But if that argument is right, maybe it’s part of the way religion is proving its irrelevance and dying out. Those who are more developed and advanced realize they don’t need it or don’t need much of it; it’s only the truly intellectually and emotionally immature who need it, and they need it in its most concentrated, restrictive, oppressive forms, because they can’t tolerate other people or challenging ideas, so their church can’t be able to either.

       0 likes

  4. 4
    Holly says:

    There’s also the fact that, regardless of how other churches feel about the members they’re losing and the members they’re retaining, the LDS church apparently isn’t happy about the quality of each. I’ve heard from people in a position to have heard it first hand of GA’s complaining that things like Prop 8 drove away many of the best and brightest in the church, and that they’re left “with a gene pool that too closely resembles Glenn Beck.” The GAs even had a photo of Glenn Beck to prove just how horrible this outcome was.

       0 likes

  5. 5
    Holly says:

    And check this SL Trib story out: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/politics/55974230-90/uchtdorf-faith-immigration-church.html.csp

    “[President Obama] just said in this value process we need to stand together and make sure the United States is still a place where people can come and, once they come, feel not at fear. And do it, of course, in a lawful way,” Uchtdorf told The Salt Lake Tribune in a brief interview as he left the White House. “He was talking about his principles and what he said was totally in line with our values.”

    Uchtdorf’s comments and his involvement in the meeting are the strongest indications yet that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is sympathetic to a reform effort that many Mormon politicians, including all of Utah’s members of Congress, have so far rejected. Utah’s two Senate and four House members have rejected efforts that they believe offer illegal immigrants amnesty.

    Not quite designed to appeal to “members who like arbitrary authoritarian restrictions.”

       0 likes

  6. 6
    chanson says:

    Not quite designed to appeal to “members who like arbitrary authoritarian restrictions.”

    Yeah, but people are willing to forgive Uchtdorf because he’s so dreamy. ;)

       1 likes

  7. 7
    Holly says:

    Yeah, but people are willing to forgive Uchtdorf because he’s so dreamy.

    Let that be a lesson to the church: they need more dreamy GAs, because they can more easily be forgiven by the hardliners, and they’re also what Marie asked for in her post:

    More Uchtdorf. Less Packer (who looks more and more like a Sith Lord as the years go by.)

    I mean, who does want to obey a Sith lord when you can follow dreamy Deiter? :-)

       0 likes

  8. 8
    chanson says:

    That’s why the pope retired, isn’t it?

       1 likes

  9. 9
    Holly says:

    good point, since catholic leaders dress much more like Sith lords than LDS leaders do. In fact, when just for curiosity’s sake I used google images to find pictures of Sith lords, the pope was very close to the top of the page.

       0 likes

  10. 10
    aerin says:

    Few churches are losing members faster than the CoJCoLDS.

    But do we really know that? It’s my understanding that there are no independent reputable numbers about the membership in the CoJCoLDS church; nor are there verifiable numbers about how many members have left.

    Now, I would accept that the Pew study shows fewer members in the US in 2010 than in 2000, compared with other faiths. That would be even more telling because of the population growth from 2000 – 2010. But officially from Salt Lake City, there are only the numbers published during General Conference (I believe it’s the elusive 14 million number).

    Finally, I think it’s important to note that people CAN change, and just because someone is a racist at one point doesn’t mean they will be a racist their entire lives (same with homophobia). I think that diminishes the true experience of many people, and the capacity for change.

    Change is a process, of course, and just because there is a black president doesn’t mean that racial discrimination is over (in the U.S. and throughout the world). If there were no capacity for change and to adopt new attitudes and behaviors, the human race would be doomed.

    So it’s important (I believe) to work with some people to examine their own attitudes and biases. A person may not think a particular attitude or behavior is racist or homophobic, but it may be.

       0 likes

  11. 11
    ff42 says:

    “Obviously, not all Mormons are bigots.”

    If one voluntarily gives a great amount of time and money (and a promise to give one’s life if necessary) for the building up of an bigoted organization, how can one avoid the label of bigot?

    How can one that does “I attend KKK rallies, participate in their meetings, sometimes providing leadership and give them money” not be thought of a a bigot?

       0 likes

  12. 12
    Holly says:

    ff42 @11:

    If one voluntarily gives a great amount of time and money (and a promise to give one’s life if necessary) for the building up of an bigoted organization, how can one avoid the label of bigot?

    that’s a good point, and frankly one I agree with. But I was trying to be nice and give sincere Mormons the benefit of the doubt. As Aerin points out @10, some people can and do change, given enough time.

       0 likes

  13. 13
    Holly says:

    p.s. I will also add that I think there’s considerable difference between the LDS church and the KKK. The KKK has racism and bigotry as its raison d’etre; all its goals are racist. If it gave up the racism, there would be nothing left. The LDS church has goals that are not bigoted (maybe not that many, certainly not as many as it should, but SOME); if it gave up the bigotry, there would still be something left. Some people argue that what would be left are the best parts. I don’t think it’s worth the struggle to separate out the horrid bits from the good bits, but I understand the people who do,and if they want to fight that fight, I’ll wish them well.

       2 likes

  14. 14
    chanson says:

    @13, exactly, same here.

       0 likes

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