What if Mormons ceased their anti-gay marriage political agenda?
I found Ms Jack’s recent question intriguing, mostly because I think it points to a possible future of Mormon discourse on the question of homosexuality. Ms Jack asked:
Say that we have a Latter-day Saint who agrees with the churchs stance that homosexual relationships are wrong and never wants to see homosexual marriages offered in the temples. However, she is politically in favor of LGBT rights (including the right to the term “marriage”) and she treats her LGBT friends no differently than she treats anyone else. She might sometimes try to dissuade people from engaging in homosexual relationships because of her religious beliefs, but she recognizes that the only power she has in the matter is gentle persuasion.
Is this person a bigot?
In other words, what if the “core” of Mormon beliefs — that of “eternal gender” in which males and females must wed for salvation — is left intact, as well as the idea that homosexuality is “sinful?” The idea of a Mormon supporting same-sex marriage, but still thinking “homosexuality is sinful” strikes me as paradoxical, but for the sake of the discussion, consider a Church that isn’t public about its stance against same-sex marriage (rather simply “affirms” internally its position of marriage between a man and a woman and homosexuality as sinful), and as a result of this stance, many Mormons fall comfortably into a paradoxical position in which the internals and externals of their culture have a kind of dissonance. Indeed, this is already the case for Mormons in Canada, where same-sex marriage is legal.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Church experienced this dissonance. The cultural situation would be much like the 1970s on the question of black male ordination. Many Mormons were highly supportive of the civil rights movement, but when the Church was subject to boycotting due to its position on black male ordination, these same Mormons were annoyed. “Why is the world getting involved in the Church’s internal affairs?” This sentiment is representative of what some label “the Mormon persecution complex” that finds its roots in the ousting of Mormons to the West and the US government’s forceful end to polygamy. The Church often brings this past up vaguely as if it were a minor historical trauma. The “trauma” manifests when Mormon beliefs are effectively changed by outside influence faster than the culture might change on its own, overlaying a kind of fragility into Mormon historiography. The truth is, though, that it is a two-way street. Mormons are interested in the outside world as citizens and for proselytizing reasons. Mormon leaders know the culture must deal with the consequences of being a participant in the public arena because the public must “deal with” the consequences of Mormon participation.
The Church actually already engages in the paradoxical behavior Ms Jack is describing. In November of 2009, it came out in favor of nondiscrimination in housing and employment. The Church justified the stance by saying that gay people have a right to anti-bullying; I can picture church leaders imaging a poor kid “struggling with same-gender attraction” who is also mistreated in society. No doubt these leaders also know that when gays want housing, they’re often getting a place together as couples — which more conservative Mormons felt demonstrates a “slippery slope” for the Church. The Church has effectively “supported” homosexual behavior outside its borders, these more conservative Mormons declare, making the job of maintaining homosexuality as sinful harder. “Marriage will die by a thousand cuts,” the Sutherland Institute warned.
To answer Ms. Jack’s question, though, as to whether the person she describes above would still be a “bigot,” I would say they are indeed homophobic. They are unable to view homosexuality in a light that does not strike a kind of fear about the core of their beliefs. They are unable to see how homosexuality remains sinful in their culture only because without this belief, their beliefs about “eternal gender roles” would have to be altered in order to make space for same-sex relationships in the Church. Homophobia is not just a fear of same-sex attracted people. It’s an aversion to homosexuality in practice. The Mormon who supports LGBT civil rights and the word “marriage” for same-sex couples, but subjects her LGBT friends to “gentle persuasions” that homosexuality is sinful is paradoxically homophobic.
Consider this passage from a 2009 Ensign article about a sister trying to “love” her sister without “condoning her lifestyle”:
While I may never know in mortality how to love Leigh in a way that has power to change her involvement in same-sex relationships, I can learn to love her without condoning her lifestyle, and I can reach out to her in a way that she needs. After all, it is the Saviors role, not mine, to heal her.
The homophobia here lies in the notion that Leigh needs “healing” or that there could be a utopian “love” strong enough to change Leigh’s actions.
Hello… first post here. I’ve been reading for yonks. Very interesting. I’m not mormon. Never was. Grew up atheist. Trying to be concise. 😉 And I think I’ve been banned from Feminist Mormon Housewives (because I am very much a feminist and made made my observations about the patriarchal power structures of the LDS org very clear in my postings with no sugar coating (butt kissing), oops).
I don’t really have a lot to add to Alan’s post… except that I agree. Condoning implies that something is ‘not right’ or ‘needs fixing’ but ‘I’ll look they other way… ‘ kind of like I will take out the trash and smile like it’s no big deal but really I find it disgusting.
I love and accept my gay friends and family members as I do my not gay friends and family members. Who they’re boinking, or not, is just that… and is not an issue what so ever.
I appreciate the thoughtful and civil post.
I just wanted to note, as I said on the other thread, that I’m in the middle of finals and probably won’t have time to offer a response or engage in the discussion here until they are over.
You can all look for me to re-appear sometime next weekend.
The question about whether a person like this is a “bigot” or not is more about how strong you want the term “bigot” to be. The definition of the term is subjective enough to allow for wide and narrow interpretations. I like to keep that term strong, so I probably wouldn’t use it for the person described. It is a pointy word on the receiving end regardless, so I think it’s best to keep it relatively narrow.
Now I think that there is both fake and sincere love that can come from TBMs towards gays. The quote from the Ensign could be motivated by smug self-righteousness or it could be very sincere. The actions of these members will demonstrate better how sensitive they really are. The problem is that lovey-dovey language like that is frequently used in an insensitive, passive-aggressive manner. You could say things like that and be a bigot. Or you could say things like that and act accordingly.
I don’t see a paradox in the position of Mrs Jack’s hypothetical Mormon. In fact, I think gay marriage is more the exception than the rule. Mormons believe adultery is sinful, but do not see it as a subject for legislation. Mormons standards on divorce are different than “the world’s”, but there is no effort to change laws accordingly. Mormonism is pro-life, but the church is politically lukewarm on the issue compared to many others. What makes it impossible for a Mormon to take a less politically activist approach to gay marriage?
Furthermore, Mormonism stands in opposition to all kinds of religious ordinances and practices in other churches. In spite of opposition to the ERA and gay rights, I know of no real effort even to persuade other churches not to ordain female, gay, and lesbian priests, let alone to limit such ordinations by law. I hope the church would oppose such an attempt in support of the principle of religious freedom, even if it thought the practice sinful. Currently, the church gives no weight at all to infringement of the freedom of other churches to perform same-sex marriages, but couldn’t a Mormon positively support legalization as a matter of religious freedom?
As to Mrs Jack’s question, I’m not sure how much sense it makes to debate exactly where the line between bigotry and non-bigotry lies. It is a term of invective, not science. We can all see there is an important difference between her hypothetical Mormon and today’s church. Her hypothetical Mormon’s beliefs could be legitimately criticized, but the sort of large-scale political opposition the church currently faces would be pointless and unsustainable if its position moved to hers.
“Bigot” stings now because Mormons and others who purport to speak for Christ on this subject are being called bigots by people who not only think they are bigots, but think they are far over the line and are frequently impelled to say so. The private religious belief Mrs Jack described would not attract the same disapproval, and I suspect few would bother to think about which side of bigotry it fell on.
However, there is another dimension to this. Mrs Jack’s Mormon probably exists today, affiliated with a church that conspicuously acts from a very different position. There is a parallel with President Obama’s former membership in Rev. Wright’s church. Obama at first said certain of Rev. Wright’s views were not his, but eventually concluded that he needed to go further than that and resigned his membership. Leaving aside the merits of Obama’s decision, I don’t think there is anything incomprehensible about his rationale. Membership in an organization speaks for itself, and an individual’s own beliefs are perceived by others in light of the affiliation. Mrs Jack’s Mormon in today’s LDS church is in a different position than she would be in if the church’s views were closer to her own.
I think the most apt parallel in this case would be how the divorce laws evolved.
I was recently chatting with a historian who was researching illegitimacy in the Victorian Era. The most interesting point was how many couples were cohabiting (without the benefit of marriage) simply because one partner could not obtain a divorce from a disastrous first marriage. The legal debate was framed in very much the same way: the Biblical prohibition on divorce vs. the practical reality on the ground for a lot of people.
Today, divorce is still on the (religious) books as sinful — and some religions are still trying to roll back the divorce laws to make them more punitive. But it’s my impression that the average Christian (even the average devout Christian) doesn’t have a problem accepting a divorced person in full friendship, even if that person is flagrantly living with a new spouse! When talking to a divorced-and-remarried person, most Christians aren’t sitting there stressing over whether befriending that person condones a sinful lifestyle (or whether they could show the person love so utopian as to make them denounce their sinful new marriage, etc.).
If Mormons were to get to that stage with gay people, then they wouldn’t have mainstream voices calling them “homophobes” — even if the doctrine against solemnizing gay marriages in the temple remains in vigor.
Perhaps the political conversation would get quieter if the Church as a whole emulated Ms Jack’s hypothetical Mormon. But what about the realm of the family where parents’ private beliefs are passed down to their children? I’m trying to imagine Ms Jack’s hypothetical Mormon as a mother who “gently persuades” her child not to enter a same-sex relationship. There are already books to this effect: See Encouraging Heterosexuality: Helping Children Develop a Traditional Sexual Orientation by Dean Byrd & Company. As Carson says @3, you will find a kind of passive-aggressiveness in these texts, because children who cannot conform are expected to conform as much as possible, because if they do not, then the “private beliefs” underpinning these texts lose validity and legitimacy. I doubt the Church is interested in letting “homosexuality as sinful” and “eternal gender roles” disappear as a result of parents being passive with their children.
Thus, since compulsive heterosexuality would still exist in a church culture inhabited by Ms Jack’s hypothetical Mormon, I can see reason why pressure would still be placed upon the Church to change.
If the same person supported rights to interracial marriage, but held personal views against it and tried to politely persuade people against it, would we even hesitate to call her a bigot?
Of course she’s a bigot. Perhaps we should be a little less concerned about hurting bigots’ feelings by labeling them appropriately and turn our attention to the closeted gay children that they are tormenting, literally, to death.
Val — You have a point. Did you see Pride in Utah post about Christian parents dismissing a study showing factors of LGBT youth mental health?
Perhaps the whole “bigotry” thing is something of a smokescreen, a diversion from real productive engagement on both sides. If Mormons ceased their anti-gay marriage political agenda the world might not immediately shift on its axis, but it would still be helpful. And if everyone could get beyond the petty labeling that would be more helpful yet.
Bigotry (to misquote the odious Sutherland Institute) will die by a thousand cuts.
Exactly. No one is perfect. I don’t consider myself a racist even though I have caught myself in a racist mindset.
Instead of labeling people, we should focus on our actions so that we can change our behavior.
In our culture, everyone has been socialized in a racist and homophobic environment. We cannot change that but we can strive for greater enlightenment and change our behavior.
If you look at it that way then there is only a difference of degree between people like us and a believing Mormon who contributed to Prop 8. The person who worries about Mormon autonomy and is pro-civil rights would be in the middle.
We are all the same. Everyone of us is susceptible to becoming an abuser and everyone of us holds attitudes that are unkind and unjust.
If we focus on discriminatory behavior instead of calling people racists, homophobes, and bigots, we will not only be less self-righteous but we will make it easier for ourselves and others to change.
Alan @6: As I said, Mrs Jack’s hypothetical Mormon is not immune to criticism, and I agree with you that the church would still face pressure to change. It is constantly under pressure to change in other respects (exhibit A: “I don’t know that we teach that”). My point, stated a little differently, was that sexual orientation might fade into the general background (as perceived by the hypersensitive “persecuted” mindset) at some point short of full equality for gay members.
I don’t know Mrs Jack very well as an internet presence, and you may have a better sense than I of exactly what she meant. I tried to imagine her Mormon using a couple of analogies. One is the Jews I know who would never eat pork or shellfish, but don’t seem to care at all if I do so in front of them when we are together at a restaurant. Of course, the sacrifice demanded (or “gently encouraged”) from gay and lesbian Mormons is not comparable to observance of Jewish dietary laws. There is the nature of the sacrifice itself, and there is also no sense in which the LDS community is doing something together as part of their religious identity. It is a special “burden” for the “afflicted” which they are not encouraged to regard with dignity as a sign of a special relationship with God.
My other reference point is a Christian woman who once explained her views to me something like this: I am (she said) required by my understanding of the Bible to regard homosexual sex as a sin. But all I really know about it is that I am as much a sinner as anyone else, gay or straight. Christ came to save sinners. He can save me, He can save a practicing homosexual, He can save anyone who has faith in him. During His lifetime He was a friend to the worst of sinners, and his only real anger was for those who thought themselves more righteous than they. None of us can live without sin. It is not for me to judge a Christian gay couple who have decided that turning away from their love for each other would be a greater sin than continuing their sexual relationship. It is not for me to judge a promiscuous gay drug-using atheist who might be the Lord’s next dinner companion if He were alive today. Hate the sin, love the sinner? I believe Jesus taught us to love others. I do not believe he taught us to hate anyone’s sins but our own.
I thought she was impressive. Her beliefs were passionate, obviously not consistent with Mormonism, and some might say not consistent with a correct understanding of Christianity. I have tried to think of Mrs Jack’s hypothetical Mormon as the nearest imaginable Mormon approximation. I admit the result may be more interesting as a thought experiment than a reflection of what is possible in reality, or for that matter, what Mrs Jack intended.
I’m inclined to agree. In places where people no longer have to come out of an oppressive closet (or stay in one), sexual orientation fades into the background in relation to other defining traits. However, Mormonism actually goes out of its way to maintain this closet, to funnel people in a particular direction. I actually see a little more fine-tuning of this funnel before anything resembling equality comes along.
I appreciate the allegory of Jesus dining with the worst “sinner” on the block. But as I’m sure you know, Christian “judgment” is not just about ill-will versus no ill-will directed toward others, it’s about the framing of sin altogether. There are gnostic Christian gospels that depict Jesus speaking much like the Buddha on the matter of sin. Consider this passage from Mary 4:25-27:
My understanding of the Bible follows this reasoning: homosexuality is called a “sin” for reasons unique to the context in which it was written as “sin,” similar to the unique context of the call not to eat pork or shellfish. Not until people view sin this way do I think Christian judgment will be where it needs to be.
Alan, I’m with you on the direction Mormonism is moving, or not moving. Leaving Mrs Jack’s hypothetical aside for a moment, I think recent changes are can be accounted for by the desire to address the concerns of straight members and outsiders who find older stances hard to accept. There may well be genuine new concern for gay members, but I don’t think any official statements yet compel that conclusion.
Getting back to Mrs Jack’s point, let’s say that I’ve just heard my first Mormon testimony, and many more follow over the years. What would Mormons think of this progression of thought: (1) There is no such thing as a Mormon “testimony”. So-called “Mormons” are just lying. (2) OK, it’s possible a few of them are sincerely deluded rather than liars. With today’s lie-detection technology, the science is inconclusive. (3) It appears that some of them really are sincere. They are nevertheless a threat to my family. They are religiously intolerant, sending their activists (called “missionaries” in a mockery of the true Christian concept) around to shove their claptrap down our throats. What they *should* do is to avoid acting on their beliefs. (4) Apparently some Mormons will not get over their testimonies during this life. Perhaps the best policy is to treat them decently, and let them call themselves “Christians” and proselytize if that is what they want. If anyone asks, I will warn them away from Mormonism, using gentle persuasion. It is still contrary to God’s will.
Can anyone deny that (1)-(3) parallel the church’s attitudes to gay and lesbian people’s testimony of their own experience, with (3) being the present situation? And can there be any doubt that Mormons would regard attitudes (1)-(3) as anti-Mormon? Now suppose after years of this someone says, hey, Badger’s come a long way, now he’s at attitude (4). Is he still an anti-Mormon?
As Hellmut said, we have all been steeped in a social environment that conceals this sort of parallel. Only once have I heard any Mormon say anything to indicate recognition of the utter disregard the church has shown and continues to show for what gay people have to say about their own experience. It’s more than just disagreement. For example, suppose a faithful Mormon man makes “pro-gay” remarks in church, and reveals that his adult son is gay and living with a man he loves. Does his gay son make the man (a) more credible, or (b) less credible to his Mormon audience? I think we all know that for some hearers, the answer will be very decidedly (b). What are the implications of that? Continuing the role reversal exercise, it’s as if I said “Mormons aren’t so bad. I know many of them personally.” and someone responded, “Well, I’m not going to take the word of someone who hangs out with Mormons.”
I’ve often heard it asked whether it is possible for someone to believe homosexuality is a sin, but not be considered homophobic, usually with a subtext of “I should be able to believe what I do without being accused of bigotry”. The woman I mentioned may have been proof it is possible. She absolutely rejected the notion that there was any special category of sin. Gay people having gay sex were sinning, but that was no concern of hers. She was continually sinning, too, and always would be. She had no interest in trotting out her particular sins to boast that they were not as bad as someone else’s. Sin was universal; it was faith in Christ that mattered. I don’t know what she would have said to the noncanonical gospel passage you quoted, but it was clear she had a different view of sin than most Christians, knew it, and was not distressed by it.
For the record: attitudes (1)-(4) above are hypothetical. None of them represent my view at any time in my life.
I have read an argument before where sexual behavior is paralled to religious beliefs. The religious person often takes their religiosity to feel natural rather than socialized after a life of belonging to a particular religious group. Thus, one might make the declaration you do, that attitude (4) demonstrates having “come a long way” within a particular worldview.
But then often the argument gets flipped on its head: since the religious person doesn’t get to assert their faith as “natural” in the public arena, why do sexual deviants get to? Why don’t sexual deviants also subscribe to seeing themselves as socialized?
This line of questioning doesn’t get to the crux of the matter. The crux is that what is “natural” and what is “social” can flip at any moment depending one’s belief system. Naturalness tends to be placeholder for “what is right,” what is good,” and socialization tends to be placeholder for “what is potentially wrong.” The woman you describe who is extraordinarily tolerant of sin, but who does not think beyond black and white categories that define sin, is, to me, hardly impressive. She might be humble, but no amount of humility can replace thinking critically.
Antihomophobic behavior isn’t just about treating people nice. It’s about fighting heterosexism.
If I didn’t make it clear, my intent was not to praise getting to (4) as “coming a long way”, but to say that such praise rings hollow. Sure, (4) is preferable to (3). But against a background of solid animosity, giving every appearance of incremental window dressing to maintain respectability, and no recognition of past mistakes, my anti-Mormon-bigot alter ego would not be entitled to the benefit of the doubt. There would not be any doubt to benefit from, given the history.
I’m probably more sympathetic than you to comparisons between religious belief and sexual orientation. However, I was not comparing Mormonism to Homosexuality as a minority status. I was pointing out that Mormonism has not even seemed able to recognize its inability to treat gay people as trustworthy, or even noteworthy, witnesses to their own experience, and the point of the role reversal was to illustrate just how objectionable the attitude is by placing it in a context where it does not benefit from the pervasive unexamined acceptance that homophobia has enjoyed. The continuing insistence by many Mormons that they bear no ill will toward gay people and are being persecuted merely for taking a pro-family stand shows how unable they are to understand the nature of the church’s history on this issue.
About the woman I described, I think you’re right that I’ve oversold her a little bit as an example. I don’t know that she was free of homophobia, and given that internalized homophobia is an issue for gay people themselves, it seems rather unlikely. But I do believe her religion provided no support for it. There was more to it than humility. Her view of what was a sin and what wasn’t was apparently black and white as you say. But her view of sin itself was not. For her, the law was not an end in itself but as Paul said, a schoolmaster. I’m getting a little beyond what I feel I know for sure, but she seemed prepared to accept a gay relationship as a felix culpa for the sake of love, somewhat as Mormons see the eating of the forbidden fruit. I don’t think she thought the Bible’s enumerated sins were just arbitrary gotchas, but the purpose of it all was to teach us the need for a Savior. All sins were condemned alike under the law, and abstinence from gay sex or any other particular sin was not the point. Christ had defeated sin, and there were no limits to his power to save. I said she sounded like a universalist, and she said, yes, probably so. Faith in Christ is the means of salvation, but his grace is not subordinate to our understanding. We cannot presume to say there is anyone he will not save. She saw no reason to believe the necessary faith could not be attained after death, if that was his will. Definitely a heterodox outlook.
Maybe you had to be there. Maybe even if you had been there you would not have been convinced. But it worked for me.
Hmm…that’s interesting. I think I see what you mean now. Mormons consider the fall of Adam and Eve to have been a “good evil,” because it set the story in motion. It speaks to the beginnings of human agency and whatnot. Similarly, gays just sort of represent our humanness, “flawed as it is.”
I can understand how the woman got from point A to point B, theologically-speaking. Still, I find her point-of-view to engage in a convenient smudging of history where gay people are still victimized. Not long ago all sodomy and other non-reproductive sexuality was considered a sin regardless of gender, but now the rule only applies to gay people. I’m curious how she would explain the change. The truth is, people don’t explain the change, because they don’t think about it as part of the in-crowd. They just flow with history. It’s kinda like in 1976 when blacks were granted ordination and Mormons collectively sighed in relief, except for those people on the margins who were like, “WTF?” Indeed, sin is framed by the writers of “faithful” history and their interpretation of holy texts. It’s not framed by the holy texts themselves.
This is why I consider the gnostic gospel I quoted above as not just some non-canonical text, but as actually very insightful into how power and discourse function in the world. It’s no wonder it’s the Gospel of Mary, a woman living in a man’s world, who was likely gnosticized because she is a woman. Ah, yes, Mormonism could use an infusion of feminist theology.
Placing arbitrary superiority to one attribute over another, whether it be ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socioeconomic status, is bigotry. To believe that heterosexual relationships are more holy/moral/virtuous/natural than LGBT relationships is bigoted. Bigotry is bigotry whether it comes in the form of actions or beliefs. You don’t need to act on it to be bigoted.
bigotry is defined this way on dictionary.com:
noun, plural -ries.
1. stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.
2. the actions, beliefs, prejudices, etc., of a bigot.
The Mormon who promotes gay-friendly legislation nationally on behalf of her gay friends but retains for herself the belief that being gay is sinful does not fall into this category as far as I can tell.
However; he who tells her she must drop her religion or she’s a bigot seems to fit the description more. Sorry.
Guest2, I don’t think anyone here was saying that the hypothetical Mormon in question should drop her religion. But the person would certainly be paradoxical: (1) treating her LGBT friends no differently than she treats anyone else, and (2) trying to dissuade people from engaging in homosexual relationships because of her religious beliefs. To me, if this were a logical proof, it would fall flat because (2) renders (1) false.
No, I do not think Ms. Jack’s Mormon is necessarily a bigot. As a retired civil rights attorney, the nature of this question has long had more than a mere hypothetical impact upon my personal and professional life, so, for what it’s worth . . .
In my view, it is not always disingenuous to advocate inconsistent roles for religious faiths, on the one hand, and governmental institutions on the other. In the Prop 8 controversy, this would translate into supporting the absolute right and soveriegnty of churches to lay out moral and cultural criteria for solemnizing marriages within the jurisdictions of their own faiths – whether such ceremonies are carried out in synagogues, LDS temples or some other ecclesiastical venue.
However, I have always opposed the efforts of religious coalitions to enlist governmental intervention as a means to rectify what they view as a dangerous cultural deficit, but which “deficit” in no way impairs such coalitions’ freedom to worship and practice as they see fit. History has shown this gambit to be particularly disturbing where the target group is one that most people have little personal or cultural identification with. Such groups typically have little political sway and as such, are easier to attack than more mainstream factions. As many have observed, it is no small irony that the LDS church was itself nearly extinguished by the very same social dynamic only a century ago.
So, I would posit that if we truly purport to be the “land of the free”, we must give more than mere lip service to the idea of minimalist governmental intervention – particularly when it comes to personal freedoms. In my book, this necessarily translates into resisting the urge to codify our religious and moral beliefs into federal and state legalese.