LDS Message for Pride 2011
This post was written by MoHoHawaii.
Timed for the annual gay pride celebrations, the LDS Church’s official magazine, the Ensign, has an anti-gay manifesto in its current issue.
The article is written by Elder Bruce D. Porter a General Authority who was formerly a political science professor at BYU. The article’s subject is political, not spiritual.
Placing political op-ed pieces in the Church’s educational materials is not a good idea. In fact, mixing politics with religion, in general, is a bad idea. It results in bad politics and bad religion.
Three things struck me when reading the piece. First, there’s the virulence of its anti-gay sentiment. The article contains no words of compassion, just condemnation and a call to political action against families the Church doesn’t approve of. Then there’s the cowardice. The article doesn’t mention gay people by name, and it doesn’t use the term homosexuality. It is written entirely using code words. And finally, the article repeatedly claims victim status for the Church. It evades all responsibility for the disaster that was Proposition 8.
You can read the essay for yourself, but I will respond to a few of the most egregious parts.
The first four paragraphs lay the foundation of a straw man argument. Porter presents as controversial the completely uncontroversial position that the family is an important social institution. (Can you see where this is going yet?) After this set up, Porter gets ready to attack his straw man:
[M]any of societys leaders and opinion-makers increasingly seem to have lost their bearings when it comes to understanding the vital importance of the family.
We live in a day … when good is called evil and evil good. Those who defend the traditional family … are mocked and ridiculed. On the other hand, those … who seek to redefine the very essence of what a family is, are praised and upheld as champions of tolerance. Truly, the world has turned upside down.
For the record, those of us who are on the receiving end of the Church’s political campaigns do not mock the Church. We disagree with the Church’s political actions, and we are harmed by the practical consequences of those actions. There’s a difference between disagreeing and mocking, even if the Church doesn’t see it.
As for the argument that proponents of marriage equality want to “redefine the very essence of what a family is,” one can also ask if President Kimball redefined “the very essence” of LDS priesthood in 1978. Extending the rights and benefits of marriage to a small minority of people has no effect on existing marriages, just as giving the LDS priesthood to blacks did not “redefine” the priesthood already held by others.
As usual, just exactly how same-sex marriage is an attack on the traditional family or on traditional marriage is not explained, it is merely taken for granted. For a thorough discussion of these issues, I would recommend to Elder Porter the transcript of the federal court case that overturned Prop. 8 in California. (Why was Elder Porter, an expert from BYU, not a witness at that trial?)
Next, Porter dismisses tolerance as a virtue while simultaneously accusing any who engage in debate over gay issues as intolerant:
Latter-day Saints are often accused of narrow-mindedness or lack of tolerance and compassion because of our belief in following precise standards of moral behavior as set forth by Gods prophets…. Until recently in our national history, tolerance referred to racial and religious non-discrimination. It meant civility in the political arena; in other words, respecting the right of others to express their views, even if we do not agree with them. It meant treating all people with decency and respect. Such tolerance is an important and vital part of our American heritage.
Today, however, the world is in danger of abandoning all sense of absolute right or wrong, all morality and virtue, replacing them with an all-encompassing tolerance that no longer means what it once meant. An extreme definition of tolerance is now widespread that implicitly or explicitly endorses the right of every person to choose their own morality, even their own truth, as though morality and truth were mere matters of personal preference. This extreme tolerance culminates in a refusal to recognize any fixed standards or draw moral distinctions of any kind. Few dare say no to the almighty self or suggest that some so-called lifestyles may be destructive, contrary to higher law, or simply wrong.
When tolerance is so inflated out of all proportions, it means the death of virtue, for the essence of morality is to draw clear distinctions between right and wrong. All virtue requires saying no firmly and courageously to all that is morally bankrupt.
I don’t know where to begin with this kind of twisted and self-serving statement. First of all, the Church is hardly in a position to bring up racial tolerance. Its racist policies were firmly in place within recent memory (I grew up with them), and it used virtually the same language in arguing against civil rights for blacks as it now uses for gay people! The argument, then as now, was (mis)framed in terms of morality and supporting families.
Now, as then, the Church seems unable to distinguish between what influence it should exert over civil laws and the influence it has over religious laws. Why isn’t Elder Porter railing against the evils of alcohol and coffee? Where’s the Church’s support for a referendum that would outlaw alcoholic beverages and Starbucks? And if religious views are so important to respect, where’s Elder Porter’s support of gay-affirming churches who want to bless gay unions?
The theme of Mormons-as-victims continues:
Curiously enough, this new modern tolerance is often a one-way street. Those who practice it expect everyone to tolerate them in anything they say or do, but show no tolerance themselves toward those who express differing viewpoints or defend traditional morality. Indeed, their intolerance is often most barbed toward those of religious conviction.
In other words, Porter thinks the right of free expression is stifled by open political debate. Porter confuses the right of free expression with an (imagined) right to say whatever one wants without having others who disagree get their chance to present their own arguments. But, apparently, the opinions of others (including those actually harmed by the Church’s political actions) don’t matter. According the Porter, the Church knows better than the people whose lives it seeks to disrupt:
By defending the traditional family [i.e., legislating against families the Church doesn’t approve of], Latter-day Saints bless all people whether others recognize it now or not.
Excuse me for not extending my thanks as I watch my partner lose his right to live in the same country as me due to the Church’s efforts to “bless” my life whether I recognize it or not. Please, spare yourselves the effort! The Church is accruing some pretty bad karma with its effort to ‘bless’ people like me by attacking the one thing in our lives we care most about: our families.
In the middle of all the politics, Elder Porter does bring up one religious point. However, it’s the heretical idea that has recently been introduced by LDS leaders to the effect that God’s love is conditional.
Gods love is sometimes described as unconditional…. But while Gods love is all-encompassing, His blessings are highly conditional, including the very blessing of being able to feel and experience His love.
[This is an example of bad religion, and it’s not coincidental that it is linked to unjust politics.]
Finally, it’s back to politics for the wrap-up, with a call to political action:
The Church is a small institution compared with the world at large. Nevertheless, the Latter-day Saints as a people should not underestimate the power of our example, nor our capacity to persuade public opinion, reverse negative trends, or invite seeking souls to enter the gate and walk the Lords chosen way. We ought to give our best efforts, in cooperation with like-minded persons and institutions, to defend the family and raise a voice of warning and of invitation to the world. The Lord expects us to do this, and in doing so to ignore the mocking and scorn of those in the great and spacious building, where is housed the pride of the world.
The sense of persecution is just breathtaking, and in case you missed it, the call to “give our best efforts” means to donate money, and to do this “in cooperation with like-minded persons and institutions” means to give money to groups like the National Organization for Marriage, a political organization that was created by the Church to get Prop. 8 on the ballot in California. (Elder Holland’s son Matthew was a member of the original board of directors.)
But there’s more:
May we as members of the Church rise up and assume our divinely appointed role as a light to the nations. May we sacrifice and labor to rear a generation strong enough to resist the siren songs of popular culture, a generation filled with the Holy Ghost so that they may discern the difference between good and evil, between legitimate tolerance and moral surrender.
Many younger LDS people are not okay with this message. It is not “popular culture” that makes young Mormons sensitive to the plight of their gay peers; it is an emerging sense of justice. I know many devout members of the Church who are heartbroken over the harmful ideas that Elder Porter repeats here. Many members are ashamed of what their Church is doing, and rightly so.
Elder Porter, please know that demeaning someone else’s family does not strengthen your own.
I thought things were changing with these folks. Apparently, they are not. Is the Church warming up for the fight in Minnesota in 2012?
There is a silver lining here. It’s clear that Elder Porter’s op-ed sermon is very defensive. He knows that the Church’s position is unpopular with many members of the Church and that its involvement in Prop. 8 was a PR disaster. The subtext of the article is a sense of panic that the Church is losing this one.
I think it’s interesting how Mormons are the ones “defending traditional marriage.” When their religion was founded, they openly flouted the Christian prohibition on multiple wives.
It’s very rich hearing about how gays are ruining marriage from a Church that was conceived in adultery.
“For the record, those of us who are on the receiving end of the Churchs political campaigns do not mock the Church.”
I have a hard time comprehending how anyone familiar with the DAMU could write that sentence with a straight face.
Ever hang out on Queerty on… I don’t know… just about any article where the LDS Church is a topic of discussion?
Or just about any of the forums that Chino mentioned, for that matter.
MoHoHawaii — We’d be more than happy to give you your own individual author account! 😀
This is one of the points I find most dishonest in their framing of the debate. The anti-gay-marriage crowd claims the mantle of being “pro-family” while doing absolutely nothing to help families. Actually, less than nothing since what they’re doing is actively harming a subset of families.
See also Roger Hansen’s discussion of the article.
This is so good, I’ve gotten permission to x-post at Daily Kos: Mormon Pride 2011: LDS church calls for political action against nontraditional families
Interesting how the article isn’t about “parenthood,” per se, but about “righteous parenthood.”
I read Porter’s piece to be about more than homosexuality, actually. Certainly, when he talks about “the changing definition of tolerance,” he’s talking about gay rights, but he spends just as much time on “selfishness” caused by “popular culture.” Just like in 1995, I see this as an attack/critique on the feminist movement among other things (including a somewhat reasonable attack on uber-commercialism). I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, from Porter’s perspective, “homosexuality” is just one example of the “selfishness” of today; a concerted response, I think, would also have to be about more than homosexuality, too, or it almost feeds into the machine.
On a macro level, certainly, the machine is kaput; the Church’s logic is losing. But if the subtext is indeed “panic,” as MohoHawaii suggests, then well, we all know how an animal fights when it’s in a corner. How many of us want more scratches and bites?
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!!! When are those people who are ‘protecting the sanctity of marriage’ going to get honest enough to seriously campaign to outlaw divorce??? (Oh wait, they need to get that third or fourth temple marriage dissolved first…) THEN outlawing divorce can become popular… …just sayin’…..
I am constantly amazed by those people who buy into the bulk of Mormon doctrine but continue to attempt to tweak those bits that offend them. It’s all one big doctrine and you either accept it or see it for the rubbish it is. It’s like a Jewish kid complaining he can’t join the Hitler Youth! If you dissenters believe as you do, why not just get out of the whole mess? Just walk away! The Mormon authorities are not going to change their pitch. Once they admit part of it is wrong they admit it isn’t infallible and the whole mess begins to unravel. If you want to belong to a group of like-minded individuals there are other organizations you can join. If you truly believe you will eventually become a god running your own universe so long as you observe a bunch of rituals maybe you should look at the bigger picture and just do as you are told. After all, what is a few years of happiness in a same-sex union compared to eternity being a God? I think most of the dissenters view the LDS church as more of a friendly lodge or social club and don’t want to lose contact with family and friends. They don’t really believe the theology. Maybe they believe that they SHOULD believe it. Folks, spend an evening thinking this through instead of an evening praying and maybe you will simplify your lives to your advantage.
There is an LDS apologetic response to this post here.
#12 Thanks for the link to the apologetic response – very interesting. I strongly disagree with many of the points the (apologetic) author made. I’m not sure why anyone would need to mention what Elder Porter’s specialization was at BYU. I think if you (or anyone) was writing a biography or introducing someone at a conference – that would be one thing.
I think that the response is putting the biological case for being gay front and center.
I have additional points but will add them as I’ve considered it further.
Apparently, the author of that response, Timothy Berman, doesn’t limit himself to apologetics. Check out his At the Ocean: A Short Erotica. Steamy!
Also, just a heads up, Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board is also picking at MoHoHawaii’s post. That seems to be the thread that prompted Brother Berman (aka SeattleGhostWriter) to write up his response.
As far as I can tell, most of that MD&D crew are as unhinged as the weirdos over at S.P.A.M. (Society for the Prevention of Anti-Mormonism). Not sure it’s worth anyone’s time to seriously engage these chuckleheads, but I gotta say, Berman’s got a knack for soft porn.
Speaking of chuckleheads, did anyone at BCC ever fish chanson’s second comment out of moderation? I’ve got $20 says that thread will hit 50 comments without anyone over there acknowledging comment #3. Any takers?
Edit: Now I remember where I first saw Berman’s name. It was in a KSL news report that quoted him talking about the fire that destroyed a Seattle ward building:
In fact, KSL ran with that as the standout quote for the article. Is it any wonder the Mormons have taken over Broadway? What a bunch of drama queens.
I attempted to read Berman’s piece and got as far as this:
That is the dumbest argument I have ever read. It looks like this guy’s objective is to put up a wall of text so high and dense that no one will read the whole thing — hence no one will assess the relative merits of the two cases — and instead simply see two sides disputing. It would be interesting if he’d put one of those “Anyone who reads this to end, please mention the word ‘pineapple’ in your comment” requests somewhere in the second-to-last paragraph.
Hey, S.P.A.M. is onboard now, too! Check it out.
Good grief. Some day, the LDS church will count an active membership in the single digits, and there will still be several dozen Mormon apologist sites pumping out this bilge.
Actually, I liked this comment from the MD&D discussion:
Chino, is there any particular reason you are suddenly going extremely ad hominem on this article?
Is this just an excuse not to deal with the content?
Which Chanson, I didn’t think it was that bad – whether you agree with it or not.
Seth — OK, so you dispute my overall impression. However, let’s start by the one argument I cited. Berman claims, in essence, “You say it’s about homosexuality, but then you admit that he never said the words ‘gay’ or ‘homosexuality’! — Zing, contradiction!” Are you saying that that’s a reasonable/defensible argument?
It’s a fairly crude construct.
But it did remind me that the LDS Church is in kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If the article mentions homosexuality, it’s “singling gay people out.” But if it doesn’t mention homosexuality, then it’s an “anti-gay paean” that’s being sneaky and dishonest to boot.
Hey Seth – Probably b/c the author’s name rang several bells. Here’s another one: this purveyor of soft porn tried to shut down the Mormon Discussions board when it began discussing his proclivities. http://thefoyer.org/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=12857
Is it really worthwhile to engage folks who aren’t serious about having a discussion? Who prefer to delete/ban dissenting views and inconvenient truths? Unless/until guys like Berman and sites like BCC demonstrate a commitment to basic rules of engagement, they deserve no more than scorn.
Chino, Berman didn’t shut down MDB. The ISP shut down MDB. Berman was as surprised as anyone that the whole thing got pulled. All he complained about was some copyrighted pictures.
Personally, I thought that the ISP’s actions were a bit extreme.
Not that I’m crying about Shades little cesspool being pulled, mind you.
But all this doesn’t change the fact that your observations about Berman personally are irrelevant to this discussion.
You’re probably right, Seth R., and I’ll give it a rest. That I can’t find the energy or patience to engage Berman’s mess of deliberate obfuscation is no excuse.
For the record, I summarized what went down with SeattleSmutWriter over at MDB, here. Since he issued his DMCA to a site that was only linking to the images, not hosting them, you can still see the images in the Google caches that I linked to in that thread.
Yeah, he really gave a damn about copyright.
Also, calling MDB a “cesspool” is lame.
I’ve always been conscious about my personal hippness.
That’s why I became a obsessive blogger on religion.
And to summarize that link…
“No we’re not a ‘cesspool’, and you made my pet bunny cry.”
No were not a cesspool, and you made my pet bunny cry.
But this is awesome. Berman just became a Redditor with his launch of r/mormonapologetics. From one of timothyrberman’s introductory comments over there:
P.S. Sorry, Seth R., but I didn’t go looking for this, it just popped up over at Reddit in the past few hours. Anyways, I figure it’s both timely and topical at this point in the thread.
@21 I just re-read the quote I cited at @15. This is not about the CoJCoL-dS getting in trouble whether they talk about homosexuality or not. (Indeed, they’d be doing themselves a favor if they stopped talking about it.) The point is, he’s claiming that you can’t make oblique references (that everybody gets) without stating directly what you’re talking about. That’s absurd. And I agree with Chino that it’s an indication that his arguments don’t merit serious consideration.
Poor guy is wondering why he’s not taken seriously by folks here @ MSP. If he thinks homosexuality is not even indirectly mentioned, then he has a reading comprehension problem. Homosexuality is in there. And because it’s in there, Mhh’s response is warranted. The only question is whether focusing on homosexuality is appropriate. I’d say, why not? Just as it would be appropriate to focus on other aspects of Porter’s piece.
Part of me wonders how much behavior like this guy’s is a result of people actually wanting to learn more, to learn truths about an issue difficult for their church — if that’s what exists behind their haughtiness. The other part of me knows that people’s rationality is actually not geared for truth, but is geared for winning arguments. The only hope is to hopefully educate a person while arguing with them, but who has the patience for that? It’s not like he’s doing the Church any favors with his amateurish arguments.
Looking at the apologist response, it’s true that religions and religious leaders will make comments about politics and social issues. I know of a Catholic church that prayed each mass that Bill, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore would become Roman Catholics (and then vote against birth control and abortion). Of course religions have the right to their own opinions and expressing those opinions. But as they express their opinions, people have a right to respond in disagreement. I disagree that the article about the family is not political, and that the leadership of the LDS church has the right to define my spirituality or morality. The LDS leadership assumes they speak for everyone in defining spirituality, but they do not. Most Mormons would reject the Pope’s spiritual pronouncements out of hand (for example). And the LDS church leadership criticizes the actions and policies of other religions all the time. Are they willing to subject themselves to the same criticism (as the response requests of the original posters?). What about religions that do not believe society is full of moral decay, religions who respect human rights and the legal rights of families?
I think that the apologist author should consider protesting with the Westboro Baptist church, whom I believe agrees with his stance.
Here’s a great (satirical) summary of Elder Porter’s article, brought to you by Abbotsville Ward Gossip. Funny, and accurate.
MoHoHawaii, thanks for the shout out! — Also thanks to Elder Porter. (sigh)