Mitch Mayne and the Church’s PR machine
I wanted to get my two cents in on this topic, including the way the topic is being handled. Thanks to chanson for bringing together the links.
A quick summary: Last month, Mitch Mayne, an openly gay man in a San Fransisco ward was called to be ward executive secretary, a position in the bishopric. I’m assuming he sits up in the front where everyone in the ward can see him and think to themselves, “Wow, an openly gay man is sitting up there. How new.” …Or, being in San Fran, they probably don’t think much about it, and don’t reduce him to being an “openly gay man.”
- Joanna Brooks’ commentary from Religion Dispatches: “[N]ews of Maynes calling is having an impact, revealing continuing divisions among Mormons and questions about evolving Mormon views on homosexuality.”
- Terry Mattingly’s commentary from GetReligion.org: “Evolving? Says Who?” “Back that statement up with some on-the-record quotations from people in positions of LDS authority. Where are the crucial names and titles that make these claims matter? In other words, where is the journalistic infrastructure? Is this article news or opinion?
- Lyman Kirkland’s commentary from the LDS Newsroom: “Look for names, titles and clear statements of attribution …It’s important for the public to distinguish between fact, opinion and personal advocacy.”
There a couple things I’d note in this snowballed commentary. The first is that Mattingly and Kirkland in all their talk about attribution fail to include Brooks’ name whatsoever. For Mattingly, this is unacceptable because he quotes her extensively and goes on and on about journalistic integrity. Kirkland follows suit: he cites Mattingly by name, and refers to him thereafter as GetReligion but fails to ever refer to Brooks by her name, calling her always Religion Dispatches.
(Mr. Kirkland, since you’ve visited and commented here before, I would ask that you step back and recognize this problem — although I’m assuming your intention, whether conscious or subconscious, is try to compartmentalize Brooks’ voice and influence as a Mormon commentator, which you will fail in doing.)
The second thing I’d note is that Mattingly and Kirkland’s arguments against Brooks actually fail to address what she’s saying (and fail to recognize her audience). There is absolutely no doubt that the Church’s policy on homosexuality is “evolving,” if you stand back and look at it. As Connell O’Donovan, a gay Mormon historian, writes:
Has the LDS churchs stance changed or evolved over the years? Absolutely. Even radically. 35 years ago, Anita Bryant, the beauty queen and fruit-juice peddler turned anti-Gay activist, stormed across the US with her Save Our Children Crusade, revoking Gay peoples equal rights to employment and housing virtually wherever she went.
On July 9, 1977, Apostle Mark E. Petersen wrote an editorial in the Church News, praising her actions in revoking such Gay rights and claimed, every right-thinking person will sustain Miss Bryant, a prayerful, upright citizen, for her stand against Gay rights to housing and employment. Pres. Barbara B. Smith of the Relief Society presented Bryant with a commendation for her anti-Gay rights crusade on July 11. Then in November 1977, LDS president Spencer W. Kimball also commended Anita Bryant and told newspaper reporters that Bryant was doing a great service to the nation.
Now we have LDS leaders advocating for equal rights in housing and employment right there in Utah, as reported in the Deseret News of November 13, 2009! And the Gay rights laws and ordinances have passed because of LDS support for them. This 180 degree turn clearly shows that the LDS church has changed its position and has moved from an extremely condemnatory and punitive stance to one of compassion and mercy – a stance its leaders should have had all along.
There is the “attribution” that Mattingly and Kirkland are looking for.
There is indeed an arc of change that you can find church leaders commenting upon, saying things like, “we used to treat the gay issue this way, and now we treat it this way.” You used to be called into a disciplinary council for “coming out,” and now apparently “being out” is not necessarily an offense. I’m yet to be convinced that it’s not an offense Church-wide, given how Church leaders have written things like “It is not helpful to flaunt homosexual tendencies or make them the subject of unnecessary observation or discussion” (God Loveth His Children, 2007). Passages like that point to why Mayne’s appointment is being “heralded” as a “change in policy.”
Brooks is right to point out that Mormons have divisions in their thoughts about homosexuality. Some Mormons don’t even think same-sex relationships are sinful at all, and are even to be celebrated. The LDS PR machine needs to recognize the fact that policy (what the Quorum has to unanimously agree upon in SLC) and the beliefs of the membership (which are huge and varied across the country and world) simply do not always match up to a huge degree. Reporting on this is fact. “Fact” is not always what comes out of the mouths of church leaders.