The Church asks its gay members to water-down doctrine

The LDS gay community has had ideological ties with the evangelical gay community for many years. Both groups went through an “ex-gay” phase from the 1980s to the 2000s and now both groups are in a phase of “you can be gay, just don’t act on it” after the near simultaneous collapse of the Evergreen and Exodus models to “pray away the gay.”

One of the differences between Mormonism and evangelicalism, though, is there is some room in the latter now to be gay-affirming and to preach that without fear of punishment by a religious hierarchy. The question of whether people will listen or not is separate, of course.

One newbie on the stage is Matthew Vines whose gay-affirming book God and the Gay Christian is receiving some buzz. His arguments are what you’d expect… that the Bible is, in some fashion, contextual rather than for all-times-and-places. He argues the idea of “same-sex orientation” did not exist in the Bible, and before the 20th century, same-sex behavior was generally understood as sexual excess (adultery, pederasty, etc) — not the egalitarian type of today. Christianity (though not Mormonism) has an established tradition that affirms voluntary celibacy, but because of a recognition of gay people, this teaching has to be changed to require “mandatory celibacy.” This change in teaching speaks to a need to contextualize the Bible. From there, he goes on to argue that it’s probably more likely that committed gay relationships are affirmed by God (he runs through the usual scriptural passages).

His arguments aren’t “new” exactly, except they move and are received differently in today’s context of viral Youtube videos and same-sex marriage.

Anyway, there’s a point that Vines makes on a blog post, “Response to a Review: On Celibacy, Human Identity, and the Orientation/Behavior Distinction” that is quite applicable to the Mormon context, and made me think that the LDS Church is actually asking its gay members to water-down doctrine.

Vine writes:

Given the rank failure of the “ex-gay” approach, non-affirming Christians have sought to find a middle way, wherein they do not have to feel morally at fault for their persistent same-sex desires but can still regard any and every expression of those desires as sin.

Sympathetic as I am to that attempt at a middle ground, however, it cannot hold from a biblical perspective. The Bible simply does not allow us to consider ourselves blameless for internal temptations to sin, nor does it allow us to view unchanged sinful desires as a sign of a vibrant, faithful Christian life. In that respect, part of the reason non-affirming beliefs [are] livable is because [they are] watered down … in order to make them livable.

In the Mormon context same-sex desire is nowadays routinely denounced as “temptation” — “not sinful in and of itself.” Church leaders then say that there’s no need to centralize the temptation when thinking of one’s “eternal identity” as a “child of God.”

Vines responds to this paradigm:

One does not have to embrace the flawed view that our sexuality is the most important part of our human identity in order to see the profound harm caused to LGBT people by condemning all same-sex relationships as sin. A non-affirming perspective tarnish[es] the image of God in LGBT people, not because sex is necessary for their flourishing, but because hating and repenting of their every sexual desire is necessary if they are to live into the full implications of a non-affirming position.

Well, this argument makes sense to me, but I’m part of the choir. Generally, I think there are a great number of people in both the Mormon and evangelical communities who want to be convinced to be theologically gay-affirming so that they can collapse a growing dissonance in their hearts, but they fail to be able to resolve the “contextual” vs. “universal” dilemma for themselves. For evangelicals, it’s what charismatic leaders of a “moral majority” say is the unchanging Word of God. For Mormons, it’s sustaining Church leaders who claim access to continuing revelation. It all seems contextual to me.

Women’s Ordination and Gay Equality – How They’re Connected

I’ve made this case before, in most detail in my 2011 Dialogue article “Mormon and Queer at the Crossroads,” that women’s roles in the Church and gay equality in the Church are intimately connected. This is not just a conceptual connection…historically, the Church has treated the two issues as though they are connected. In 1993, Boyd Packer linked “gays, feminists and intellectuals” as evils the Church needed to be wary of.

The Church prepared its campaign against gay marriage at the time of the Equal Rights Amendment because it understood the developing logic of civil rights. The Church’s position against the ratification of the ERA included concern that the amendment would encourage a “blurring” of gender roles as well as forcing “states…to legally recognize and protect [same-sex] marriages” because “if the law must be as undiscriminating concerning sex as it is toward race, [then]…laws outlawing wedlock between members of the same sex would be as invalid as laws forbidding miscegenation.” This is a direct quote from the 1980 Church pamphlet “The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Moral Issue.”

Thus, LDS women who voted against the ERA could do so knowing they were voting against the “evil” of homosexuality that “blurred” gender roles. This idea of keeping “men” and “women” distinct (and not blurred) and that this distinction is what makes Mormonism beautiful, unique and true is what the Church has used to pit gay rights against women’s rights for the last few decades. It has done a good job of it, in my opinion, because here we are almost 40 years later and the discussions among activists and their opponents seem similar to the 1990s…as if precious knowledges are constantly being quashed by the system, and activists have to expend most of their energy just keeping the knowledges alive, much less altering the system.

Sometimes Mormon feminist discussions keep the gay/feminist connection at the forefront (this Exponent II issue is a good example), but I notice that a lot of the times, discussions become dominated by two competing views: (1) “Eve is already equal to Adam as she walks alongside him, so the Church is fine” versus (2) “Eve is not equal to Adam as she walks alongside him, so the Church needs to change.” This is a debate between heterosexist feminisms that assume an Eve wants to walk alongside an Adam, and strangely, that in some fundamental way, all Eves are similar and all Adams are similar. The Church would have you believe that if an Eve dares to walk alongside another woman, that the woman would also be named “Eve,” as opposed to having a entirely different name, personality, individuality. The argument against “blurring the genders” also requires the genders to be static. I find it ridiculous how people argue that Ordain Women wants to “blur the genders” when the Church is the biggest perpetrator of muddying gender to make everything the same. (Btw, the Eve walking next to another woman, or by herself, or however is certainly not on equal footing as the Eve walking next to Adam.)

Ordination in the Church is a unique issue because [nearly] every boy is ordained, and no girl is, so if girls were also ordained, then everyone would be ordained, which wouldn’t work. But given the current set-up, it’s hard for me to not see the priesthood as entirely about a maintenance of heteropatriarchy, funneling people down certain life paths. I find curious this Apr 5th tweet from Joanna Brooks:

ordination isnt my issue but i believe women should be involved in decision making on all issues at all levels of the church.

The Quorum of 12 is a “level”– how can a woman be an apostle without being ordained? I scratch my head at Brooks. Perhaps the problem is that women’s ordination would give the Church a heart attack from an organizational standpoint, so a piecemeal strategy is not exactly preferred, but is the only option. (This is what the Church says when it calls Ordain Women “unhelpful.”) At the same time, given the way the priesthood works, one wonders about the Eve who doesn’t want to marry an Adam. Without a change to the gendering of the priesthood, gay equality is also rendered a distant dream.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: The Gay Agenda Edition!!!

I am so glad to be living in the Internet age!! There is so much fun stuff that happens today that just wasn’t even possible before the Internet. Case in point, a Mormon lady posted about the gay agenda in the Disney movie Frozen — and the whole Internet blossomed with responses!!!

The main themes were the absurdity of finding gay themes in this movie, when one can just as easily find other themes, not to mention other motives on the part of the original poster. And if found, the gay agenda isn’t so bad (see this poem).

Personally, I think it’s clear that stories have messages and reasonable to want to analyze the messages in the films your children watch. I’m much happier having my kids see stories that teach that it’s OK to be different (including being gay) rather than watching stories about how it’s totally cool for the good guys to make fun of the kids who are different (i.e. the geeks and freaks deserve it, lol — they need to conform, or be ashamed if they can’t). Really, the film answers a real need in terms of female representation, but maybe we grown-ups don’t even want to watch that film or the Lego movie (I do!! but that’s me).

Then the original poster came back with the retort that haters gonna hate. Much like Mormons gotta morm.

We have some more updates on the people vs. a certain real-estate corporation, specifically how relevant is it that the contributions are voluntary. If only the modern prophets could perform BoM-style miracles! In other church-watch, academic study of Mormonism is still a bit dangerous.

Then there was a major theme about sexism in the CoJCoLd-S, how girls are taught early to please — remember girls, you are what you wear. A new Ensign article sparked discussions of the problems with modesty and holding women responsible for the actions of those they may tempt:

Because I read the Ensign. And it wasn’t even the ‘rape culture’ endorsing line of “most women get the men they dressed for” article that’s pissing off so many women, and rightly so, because hello, women are raped in military uniforms and corsets and petticoats and the burka and when they’re still young enough for their clothes to be purchased in the little kids section, and sooner or later you have to stop saying ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘she was asking for it by dressing that way’ and admit that you’re excusing your own behavior and the behavior of a whole bunch of other people where we would justifiably put down a dog if he demonstrated that level of aggression.

(And the church’s sex shaming on the other side of the equation is also pretty questionable.)

The disparity in punishment for sex-related sins is enough to make you want to leave in disgust for this alone, yet I wouldn’t be too harsh on those who have reason to stay and work on the problems.

And stuff in the outside world seems to mirror the issues we’re dealing with in Mormondom…

Now for theology and philosophy!!

Is God’s love unconditional?? Here’s one I used to ponder: “So, since Mormons are such a small drop in the bucket of the world population and much of the work that will be done during the Millenium is temple work, why bother now?” Getting information straight from God — and finding it’s not quite right (to say the least) — is still a problem (if you’re aware of it). Alex found some what not to do lessons for laywers in the BoM, and Chris found an American holiday in there!! I like Steve Bloor’s explanation of the difference between Humanism and Atheism. Jen collected faith-affirming pep quotes that stave off cognitive dissonance — cause you don’t want scientists challenging your faith about where the Sun’s light comes from.

Did you ever wonder about the intersection of President’s Day and Black History Month?

To close with some fun, Elder Young is on his way back, Roger Hansen found some joy from simple things, Mormon X is famous, the BunYon reports on paternity pants, Brandon had an amazing voyage, Knotty is stepping out in red, and hawkgrrl drew some conclusions from her weekly polls!!

Happy reading!!

Three Gay Mormon Organizations Become Two

Three gay Mormon organizations are now two, as of January 1st, 2014. North Star has absorbed Evergreen International.

Here is a brief history to contextualize this absorption:

The first gay Mormon organization, Affirmation, was founded in 1977. It was “against” the Church in that, back in the 1970s, one could not both identify as “gay” and “Mormon” without landing in a disciplinary council. Moreover, Affirmation is against the Church today is that it affirms same-sex relationships. So, while Affirmation is celebrating the civil same-sex marriages currently taking place in Utah, the Church and North Star/Evergreen are not particularly happy about them.

The second gay Mormon organization, Evergreen International, was founded in 1989. It came into existence around the time that the Quorum of the Twelve was introducing the phrase “same-sex attraction” to the Church at large. The initial intention for “same-sex attraction” was that it was to be regarded as a non-significant factor (a “temptation”) in one’s life, but many latched onto the concept for identity purposes. As late as 2006, in contradiction to the existence of Evergreen, Apostle Dallin Oaks stated: “If you are trying to live with and maintain ascendancy over same-gender attractions, the best way to do that is to have groups that define their members in terms other than same-gender attractions.” However, the Church a couple years later officially considered “same-sex attraction” a “core characteristic” of a person’s identity. Over the years, Evergreen saw a few talks by high-level leaders, which gave the organization validity.

However, throughout the 1990s and even into the 2000s, Evergreen was in the business of “change therapy” — that one could overcome one’s attractions and essentially become “straight.” By the late-2000s, this idea fell into disfavor even among the most conservative. I would say that in the LDS context, change therapy finally died when influential LDS therapist and NARTH ex-president Dean Byrd died in 2012. (In fact, the NARTH website itself appears to have expired, so I’m wondering if the organization is finished? Edit: Nevermind, here it is. *sigh*)

Evergreen International has thus seen a similar end as the evangelical Exodus International did last year. Too much of a history of “change therapy” to continue with validity. And I’ve also been informed that the organization simply ran out of money.

Meanwhile, North Star came onto the LDS scene in 2006. The basic mantra of the organization is that one can be “same-sex attracted, but not act on it.” This is the current position of the Church, which no longer bothers folks who identify as “gay.” In fact, the more Mormons there are who identify as “gay,” but still uphold the Church’s teachings, the better position the Church thinks it’ll have in pluralist America. I wouldn’t doubt if North Star sees a talk by a high-ranking leader to give it a rubber stamp of approval.

In a current conversation about the merging on the Mormons Building Bridges Facebook page, I found this exchange useful:

If North Star was formed because its founders felt that Evergreen International was too shame-based, then why merge with it?

Ty Mansfield (newly-elected president of North Star):

We’re not “merging” with Evergreen. Per the wording of the announcement, North Star will “absorb certain resources and assets of Evergreen International, and…those resources will operate under the name and direction of North Star International.” It’s more of an acquisition than a merger, and in the agreement we have full freedom to use or not use anything we wish in that acquisition.

When Affirmation decided to take a more faith-friendly stance under current leadership and move closer to the center, but Evergreen could never have done that because we already occupied the more moderate space they would have moved into. There was no place for them to go but into us, so that’s what they did, and Evergreen as an organization will cease to exist, while certain assets we choose to preserve will be maintained with us. Evergreen had baggage and their approach wasn’t always perfect, but they had their virtues and did a lot of good as well. The same could be said for any organization, including Affirmation, CtW [Circling the Wagons], or MBB [Mormons Building Bridges].

Heh, so my suspicions have been correct that Affirmation has recently moved toward the “center” (with its parternship with Mormons Building Bridges, etc.)…

Where is the “left-leaning” gay Mormon to go?

Anyway, generally-speaking, as I noted in a lecture I gave at a gay Mormon conference last year, the Church’s position on gayness has the following history:

1970s: “Marry early, and the sin will go away.”

1980s: “As it turns out, marriage is probably not a cure for the sin.”

1990s: “You have ‘same-sex attraction,’ which isn’t sinful, but the behaviors are.”

2000s: “‘Same-sex attraction’ may be a core characteristic, but don’t call yourself ‘gay.'”

2010s: “All right. ‘Gay’ is fine. But don’t act on it!”

Ah, such a slow, tedious process.

No longer invisible: Latter-Gay Saints

They try to convince gay people that it’s in their best interests to be straight. In fact, they try to convince them that they’re already straight. (from “Ockham’s Razor”)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a gay problem. Specifically, the church has a plan for how to build eternal families — with non-negotiably gender-specific roles — and gay people are the fly in the eternal ointment. If only they could be convinced that they’re not gay — that there’s no such thing as being gay! — and that they can make a straight family work if only they’re faithful enough. Or, failing that, they should just stay single until they’re cured in the afterlife. Then the Plan of Salvation will go back to fitting everyone!

The trouble is that these are real people with real lives that the CoJCoL-dS is performing this experiment on.

One way to combat invisibility is to tell your stories. That’s what 25 authors have come together to do in the anthology Latter-Gay Saints, edited by Gerald S. Argetsinger (with Jeff Laver and Johnny Townsend). The stories are all fiction, but they paint a vibrant and true-to-life portrait of the gay Mormon experience. Naturally, the stories cover topics like missions and mixed-orientation marriage, AIDS and suicide. Some of the most disturbing scenes involve private worthiness interviews in which a priesthood leader probably sincerely believes he’s being helpful through intimate and emotionally invasive counseling sessions where the gay person — by definition — cannot be “worthy.”

The characters in the stories are fleshed-out people whose lives included homosexuality and Mormonism — they’re not just stand-ins in a morality tale of the intersection of these two central topics. A couple of the most outrageous ones hardly touched on Mormonism at all, like Dirk Vanden’s visionary “Gay Messiah” or Ron Oliver’s “Nestle’s Revenge” — which started out wild and exploded from there! Bernard Cooper’s “Hunters and Gatherers” roped a bunch of unsuspecting gay folks into a Mormon-style fun activity (with a poignant edge of keeping up appearances, Mormon-style), and for further fun, Donna Banta threw in a gay Mormon murder mystery! I’d like to discuss them all, but I don’t want to turn this into a tl;dr. People who have read it are invited to please add your own remarks in the comments!

One weakness that disappointed me a bit was how few lesbian stories were included. The introduction repeatedly refers to “gay and lesbian” stories, but the anthology includes only one story where the main character is a gay woman, leaving the lesbian Mormon experience as invisible as ever. Perhaps we’ll hear more from the ladies in the next volume…?

Overall it’s great collection; an enjoyable, edifying, thought-provoking read. Pick up a copy if you’re a fan of gay Mormons or simply of interesting stories!

Because They Couldn’t Very Well Say “Sorry We Insisted You Waste All that Time and Money”

As pretty much everyone already knows, today the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and ruled that the private sponsors of Proposition 8 in California didn’t have the legal right to step in and appeal the ruling by a federal court that Prop 8 was unconstitutional when the state of California declined to do so.

From what I understand, this means that gay marriage will probably soon be legal again in California, and that gay couples in the states that recognize gay marriage can soon get federal benefits, including (I assume? I hope?) green card status in marriages where one spouse is not a citizen. (The immigration thing really upsets me.  I know the tax thing is a drag, but at least you can still live with your chosen partner if you’re both US citizens.)

It only took the church an hour or two to issue a statement lamenting the court’s actions:

“By ruling that supporters of Proposition 8 lacked standing to bring this case to court, the Supreme Court has highlighted troubling questions about how our democratic and judicial system operates. Many Californians will wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong when their government will not defend or protect a popular vote that reflects the views of a majority of their citizens.

“In addition, the effect of the ruling is to raise further complex jurisdictional issues that will need to be resolved.

“Regardless of the court decision, the Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children. Notably, the court decision does not change the definition of marriage in nearly three-fourths of the states.”

I saw people on Facebook reacting with surprise at the snark in the statement.  Personally, I think snark is a step up for an institution that has regularly condemned people as evil and tools of the devil and destined for everlasting punishment.  Way to go, LDS church!  You’re ever so slightly less nasty now!

So that’s the official response.  I can’t help wondering, though, about the response from people like Pam and Rick Patterson, the Folsom, CA couple of modest means who in 2008 for emptied their savings account so they could donate $50,000 to the Yes on Prop 8 campaign.  What are they thinking now?

I posed that question on Facebook.  Several people suggested that the most financially generous Prop 8 supporters are hardened in their resolve that they did the right thing, that they feel persecuted for righteousness’ sake and closer to celestial glory.

And maybe they do, because they need to justify their enormous sacrifice.  It’s hard to admit something so costly and destructive was an easily avoidable mistake.

But I’m willing to give it time.  I know people who donated to earlier fights (the one in Hawaii, for instance) who now feel shame and rage at the church. It was one thing after the defeat of the ERA–the church won that fight–but they have lost this one, and spectacularly. I think a lot of people who donated will quietly concede the matter, and having seen their money and time so wasted, will be much more reluctant to fund the next battle.

As for “supporters of traditional marriage” who didn’t write checks, just made plenty of homophobic statements in public forums, I bet a lot of them will just shrug and say as little as possible now.

And I will add that it delights me to see people who claim to have the gift of prophecy so screwed over by their own bad choices.



End of Exodus International: what does it mean?

The closure of Exodus International is good news. Unfortunately it’s not the end of “reparative therapy.”

If we remember, reparative therapy these days is not really about attempting to change one’s sexual orientation. That is what it was up through the 1990s.

Last year, even Exodus attempted to distance itself from groups like NARTH who still advocate that you can “fix” the brain to not be gay. Nowadays, reparative therapy means “overcoming homosexual behavior, and taking control over one’s attractions.” Basically, Exodus had ruined its brand-name as a result of its earlier vision, causing a lot of pain in promising orientation change, and could never recover from that while this “new” paradigm emerged. The paradigm of “gay is okay, just don’t act on it” is still upheld by many organizations. So, don’t read too much into the end of Exodus. Just look to to see reparative therapy alive and well.

In the evangelical world, as NARTH puts in response to Exodus’s closure:

Most of the local Exodus affiliated ministries had started to reorganize into a new organization that began about a year ago, Restored Hope Network.

I just noticed that Evergreen International (the LDS version of Exodus) has a brand new URL:

Click here for a rundown on the 3 main LDS gay orgs: Evergreen, North Star and Affirmation.

Meanwhile, SCOTUS should be issuing its ruling on same-sex marriage mostly likely next Monday or Thursday. Most are predicting a limited ruling (i.e., one that does not apply to the whole country).

Real or pretend change? LDS Inc. on gay scouts…

If you haven’t heard, the LDS Church issued a statement on the policy change the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is considering that would allow gay scouts – but no gay scout masters.  The statement is a masterpiece of subtlety and nuance – it says everything without saying anything.

Of note, the words “gay” and “homosexual” don’t appear in the statement.

A lot has been made about this statement as it seems laudatory of the change.  But the statement never clearly comes out and says, “Yep, we are fully on board with gay scouts.”  Instead it says things like, “[we] are satisfied that BSA has made a thoughtful, good-faith effort to address issues that, as they have said, remain ‘among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today.'” And, “We are grateful to BSA for their careful consideration of these issues.”  In other words, the statement says that the Church is happy with the BSA’s efforts to consider these issues.  That’s all the statement clearly states.

However, it insinuates that the Church is in favor of the change, and that is how most media outlets have interpreted the statement, despite the fact that the statement never explicitly says that it is in support of allowing gay scouts.

So, what’s going on here?  It seems like at least two things were influential in the wording of this statement.

First, the LDS Church can’t openly say that it welcomes gay scouts because it would offend the many homophobic members, like Boyd Packer.  By welcoming gay scouts, that would be tantamount to endorsing gay scouts, and they can’t do that without pissing off potentially thousands of their conservative, bigoted members.  So, the statement insinuates support without stating support.

Second, the BSA policy change reflects an interesting perspective on homosexuality that I think LDS Inc. supports.  Gay scouts are okay, because they are young and, hopefully, can be taught that being gay is wrong.  They’ll grow out of it, so they can tolerate gay scouts.  Plus, they are unlikely to be having gay sex, which is what homophobe Packer seems to really have an issue with.  But gay scoutmasters – well, they can’t be tolerated.  Why?  Because that would suggest that the religion endorses homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle rather than a sinful desire that needs to be overcome.  Thus, the BSA policy change actually already aligns with LDS Inc.’s views towards homosexuals: identifying as having “same-sex attraction” is fine; it’s the same as saying I’m addicted to alcohol or porn.  But actually embracing your homosexual orientation and living as a homosexual is wrong, because that undermines the idea that homosexuality is sinful (just like saying “I occasionally watch porn and feel no guilt over it” or “I drink alcohol socially and am a responsible adult” both illustrate that sin is socially constructed).

So, young gays are okay.  But old gays are a threat to the Mormon sacred canopy under which acting gay is sinful.  This isn’t change on the part of the Church; this is insinuating being progressive without actually being progressive.

The Social Psychology of Mormon Heteropatriarchy

Sometimes my own life corresponds to the current news cycle.  There’s been a spat of conversations regarding how GOP in Congress are slowing coming out in support of gay marriage because they have gay children themselves.  But then Mormon congresspeople are holding out with the idea:  “Of course I love my gay child, but I also don’t support gay marriage.”  And then the media analyzes whether this is possible.

I very much agree with the following stance on the matter (taken from the opinion piece linked above):

The sappy media stories paint the Salmons as a loving family where even “differences” over gay marriage can’t come between them. The congressman is being enabled, allowed to comfortably advocate against equal rights for his child and everyone like him while claiming to love him. Young Matt can’t allow that to stand, for his own well-being. And the rest of us, too, can’t allow it to stand if we’re truly intent on attaining full civil rights for LGBT people.

The only difference I have with this opinion is that it’s not so much about “equal civil rights” as it is about “equality” generally.  This is why, for example, I don’t pat on the back Mormon Building Bridges for doing advocacy work for the LGBT community on civil rights.  They say gay Mormons need to be “loved” and LGBTs could use equal civil rights, but they refuse to recognize equality (namely, that same-sex intimacy is not a sin, and that the Church should move to reflect that).  The message of equality, particularly as the country moves toward secular gay marriage, has to remain clear in order to penetrate into religious communities who are finding ways to maintain heterosexism in a pluralistic society.

The reason I say this corresponds with my own life is because I recently pestered my own LDS mother through texting to see where she’s at after many years of having a gay son and loving him.  I’m not sure why we did this on Easter, but I think she was willing to take the conversation to its limits because (a) it was Easter, and (b) texting rather than speaking allows more thought between each point.  The bounds of our conversation were helpful for me to better understand the social psychology of why it’s hard for the Church to move forward.  Perhaps our conversation will be useful/interesting to others, too.

Mom:  Recommended reading:  Equal partnership…page 19.  April 2013.  Ensign.

Me:  You know, Valerie Hudson (a co-author of that article) has very problematic ideas about gay people.  After an article came out in Dialogue about how to possibly make more room for gay people in the Church (rather than insist on lifelong celibacy), she wrote a response on how same-sex marriage will lead to killing off women because humans will decide women aren’t needed as equals and babies will grow from test tubes.  She seems to forgot that most people aren’t gay and that lesbians exist.  Sorry, but it’s hard for me to read anything about men and women as “equals” when if they truly were, then same-sex marriage would be no problem.  Instead what I see is how the language of equality is used to perpetuate hetero/sexism.

Mom:   Okay, so the two issues (subservient females and homosexuality) are the same issue?  They can’t be viewed separately?  With regards to the hypothesis of not needing females, from my professional standpoint it would be the exact opposite…fetuses need biochemicals for gestation and actually for months after birth, so I see no need for men.  Or a need for very few of them.  I wanted to discuss the one issue independently of the other…hopefully we can.

Me:  Well, they are interlinked.  The reason the Church campaigned against same-sex marriage is not because same-sex marriage goes against the idea of men and women as equals in marriage, but because of how it reveals that men and women ~aren’t~ equals in the Church with the whole “sharing the priesthood” business.

Mom:  You are aware that women do have situations where they are ordained, but that is a side note.  They don’t need to be…the article presents why…neither gender is subservient to the other.  They have different roles.  Men and women are not the same, or you would be fine with being bisexual.

Me:  Men and women are indeed different on average — but not so different that gays must be excluded or women disallowed from administering the faith.  Maybe you’ll understand when you’re older.  :p

Mom:  So, you subscribe to the theory that all women become homosexual after menopause?

Me:  No…I didn’t know there was such a theory.  I was suggesting that maybe after years of us talking about this, you might be more open to thinking about how your Church could be better.  You don’t think it’s perfect, do you?

Mom: Women, at least in the LDS Church, do more administration of faith than men.  I wish I could recall the talk I heard recently which brought to light the strength of women in the Church, which is just as strong if not stronger than men.  After pondering that talk — if one is an active member of the Church — where you can see it in action…women are actually in control.  We just let you men think you are.  … [regarding perfect Church]:  No, members are mortal, but the Gospel itself is.  Any faction of society is imperfect, there was only one perfect man and it is His resurrection we recognize this day.

Me: Well, it sounds to me like you’re okay with me being “outside” the Church.

Mom: Why are you so focused on the LDS when there are so many other faiths, some of which were so anti-gay they would lynch?

Me:  Cuz my mother is LDS, I was raised LDS, I dated an LDS guy, and it’s what I focused on in school.  Though I do want to branch into other things, for now it’s easier to write what I know.  The Church is an interesting case study for things like gender/sexuality, but also American studies generally.  Anyhow, if I do delve into other faiths, it will be more accepting ones.

Mom:  Well, it’s not just a gay thing [being on the “outside”].  The same happens to a variety of people…youth, gay, hetero, and yet the flipside is many join as others leave.  Father gave us free agency, and it will all work out in the end.  As we get older and reflect on life and society, our passions change.  We mellow out and learn to “be.”  I understand the passion for a cause, I have one, but there is a big picture.  Let your passion be part of that.  It almost seems like a stressor that consumes you.  Put more passion into love.

Me:  It’s not a stressor, but are you willing to say my relationship with [my partner] is not a “sin”?  If you can’t say that, then maybe you can understand why I focus on this with you.  Behind all the niceties, my own mother believes I’m “using my agency” to sin.  It’s a sad place for a son to be.

Mom:  This is what I meant about it being a stressor.  I don’t stress about it.  I am not a judge.  I have no right to be such.  You say I think it’s a sin…I never said or thought such a thing.  I don’t stress…and talk openly and freely about it…

Me:  I think you do have a right to judge whether or not it’s a sin, and would appreciate you definitively saying it’s NOT a sin.

Mom: I actually do not have the right, as per church teachings.

Me:  Really?  The Church teaches that it is a sin, so you seem comfortable enough not saying that.  The thing is, you may be comfortable on the fence as a ‘non-judger,’ but the cumulative effect of that is maintaining that it’s a sin.  I suppose that’s better than saying “I have no right to judge your sin as worse than mine,” but still, it’s kinda disappointing.

Mom: Ah, I have an answer.  What you are doing now…shacking up.  That’s a sin, which is why I encourage you to get married.

Me:  Did you hear about that young man who was denied the opportunity to go on a mission because he said he couldn’t teach that gay relationships are sinful?  Thank goodness you aren’t required to state your belief one way or another.   …[Regarding marriage]:  Oh, so if I get married to [my partner], then you would say I’m not living in sin?  Or are you saying that I’m living in sin now, and if we marry you still couldn’t judge as per church policy?  I’m onto you…

Mom:  Alan, this is pissing me off.  I have been supporting and loving all along, yet you constantly attack.  I choose not to stress about this, yet you continually push me to stress about it.  I am the most accepting and supporting advocate you have, yet you do this to me.  Perhaps you value my opinion above all others.  You think I’m allowing myself to be “acted upon,” because when I share something with you that doesn’t validate you, you turn it into an attack on me?  Why?

Me:  Why did you share that article with me when you know it excludes me?

Mom: It had to do with heterosexual couples.  Male/female relationships with equality, which is something you have had interest in.  Not all published work about relationships has a homosexual element.  Particularly those focusing on male/female relationships.

Me:  Well, I’d ask you think about how narratives of women/men complementing each other are inherently exclusionary of lesbians/gays.  I understand you sent it with regard to feminism, but like I said, they’re interlinked.  Also, I get that you’re trying to be an advocate, but until you budge on the “sin” question, you aren’t ~there~ yet.

Mom: Let me ask you this.  Are you and [your partner] not complements and equals in your relationship?  I often have to explain that homosexuality is more than about sex…and that individuals of all orientations have real loving relationships.  My companion is my best friend.  I hope you and [your partner] have that.

And then the conversation just kinda died there… as these issues are emotionally draining…

So, thoughts?  Although I’m thankful for my mother’s love and acceptance, I also see her position as the kind that perpetuates the institutional heteropatriarachy of the Church… but in some ways, also not.


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.”