Moral Tyranny

by Johnny Townsend

Elder Boyd K. Packer, as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, said back in the April 2013 conference what many of us had long understood and what is still true today. For Mormons, it is a sin to be tolerant. Packer describes tolerance of “legalized immorality,” clearly referring to same-sex marriage, as both a “vice” and a “trap.”

Mormons have given millions upon millions of dollars to fight equality for gays and lesbians, and are still working hard behind the scenes in the National Organization for Marriage and other groups to promote fear and hatred. But while these things might seem bad at first to the sensitive observer, they’re really done out of love. And even more importantly, they’re done out of righteousness.

A central Mormon teaching is that in the beginning, God was presented with two plans, one by his son Jesus, who said, “People will make mistakes, but I’ll go down and atone for them.” Another son said, “I’ll go down and force them to do right so there will be no mistakes.” God chose the first plan, the second son rebelled and was cast out as Satan, and the rest is history.

I find it intriguing that Mormons, and fundamentalists in general, seem more willing to emulate Satan’s example when making laws of the land for all people of all faiths. We’ll make them obey our superior spiritual laws whether they like it or not. The reasoning, of course, is rather convoluted. As righteous people, we have the right to make laws for everyone because we are, after all, superior and right. And we know we’re right because our religion says so. And we know our religion is right because God said so. And we know God said so because I can feel it inside. And I know that feeling is right even though other people claim to feel the same thing because I’m me and I know what I feel and I know it must be more real than what those other people feel because I’m not them and I can’t feel what they’re feeling. And if all these other people would only live the way I’m telling them to, they’d feel it, too. They won’t live that way unless I make them, so I’ll make them do it, for their own good, because I really care about them. And if by some chance they still don’t feel the way they are supposed to and obey all the spiritual rules of my church, then we should kick them out of our society and maybe even put them in jail.

Forcing people to comply not only goes against Jesus’ example, but it also contradicts other basic Mormon principles, that only a gift freely given is really a gift, and whatever negative thoughts we feel in our heart are in fact who we truly are, regardless of what positive acts we might perform. So if we force a gay teen to pretend he is heterosexual, we have in no way saved his soul, and we have certainly damaged ours in the process.

Religious fundamentalists use “freedom of religion” to force their views, and then they use that freedom as a shield against debate, yet all the while crossing over that line between the separation of church and state themselves. But religious freedom is guaranteed so that we can have control over our own religious lives, not so we can control the moral choices of others.

If Mormons don’t want to perform same-sex marriages, they don’t have to. They have that right. But they think they also have the right to tell an Anglican priest that he can’t perform one. They think they have the right to tell a Reform rabbi that she can’t do it, either. The same for the atheist Justice of the Peace. Mormons think they have the right to tell all people that they must shape their lives according to Mormon rules. They insist that anyone who doesn’t agree with their religious views be required by law to act as if they did. The same attitude prevails in their fight against legalizing marijuana in Utah. It prevails in punishing women for reporting rape. It prevails in virtually every aspect of life because Mormons feel that “free agency” really means their agency to make someone else’s decisions.

This is not morality. It is theocracy and tyranny. And while Mormons may be afraid of tolerance, I believe there is a lot more to fear from tyranny. What Mormons don’t understand is that there are a great many other fundamentalists out there who believe that their ideas should rule the land. Lots of other people want the power to compel everyone to live according to their own religious beliefs. When those beliefs collide, as they surely will, whose belief wins out then? The one with the most followers? Mormons will be crying out at that point how unfair it is to let these other groups make rules Mormons must obey.

The only way out of this trap is to practice tolerance, and let people make up their own minds about what is or isn’t right for them. But as long as Mormon leaders preach that tolerance is a sin, this makes both political process and equality under the law very difficult ideas for the Mormon people.

Yet this attitude of intolerance can’t only be blamed on the leaders. Followers must make the choice to follow as well. They can’t pass off their actions and blame them on others. Some have commented on the moral pain Mormons must feel, being taught to hate but actually feeling the urge to love. I don’t feel much sympathy for them, however. The dissonance they experience is easily resolved. Choose to love. Think for yourself. Stop following hateful doctrine.

Use the free agency that God gave you and do the right thing. There’s a reason Heavenly Father didn’t choose Satan’s plan. Mormons believe they chose the right plan in the Pre-Existence. If Earth life is our ultimate, final test, we are certainly capable of doing it now when it matters most.