Mormonism, Christianity and Queer Politics
Someone recently brought to my attention an atheist post about how “Jesus was not a queer ally,” how the writer “canâ€™t take LGBT-affirming Christianity seriously” and “why queer spaces must remain secular.” The post covers a lot of important nuances. Looking briefly at my past writings about the intersection between Mormonism and queerness, the someone (who I just met) thought that I might be a good person to critically respond to the above post.
Well, besides the fact that I don’t really feel I have much of a stake in the matter these days, my writings also tend to demonstrate that, indeed as a whole, queer spaces and queer politics do function best when they are secular (and not Christian).
Particularly when it comes to Mormonism. The nail in the coffin for me, looking back, is when in 2012 Mormons started marching in Pride parades and the vast majority of “progressive Mormons” were celebratory about the convergence. Two years later, the institution is as heteropatriarchal as ever, and the rhetoric of inclusion makes it just that much harder to work against the institution’s anti-gayness. It’s constantly an uphill battle with Mormons… they want to “love,” but they can’t support this or that because of their beliefs, including the very welcoming of same-sex couples into their church community.
While my personal sense is that Jesus himself was a “queer ally,” unlike the atheist blogger who thinks this is “absurdly generous,” either way I agree with the blogger that Jesus’ allyship is meaningless if the consequence of Christianity was a global spread of homophobia:
Itâ€™s not Jesusâ€™ fault Christians have twisted and ignored his words, one might argue. Itâ€™s entirely his fault. When your lifeâ€™s work is to broadcast your views, particularly if you mean to build a church on them, it falls to you to make them unmistakable â€“ and when people whose lifeâ€™s work is obeying you do just what you oppose, you may well be in the wrong job.
A counterclaim emerges in my mind that would argue that late-20th century “taming” of destructive LGBT behaviors (too much alcoholism, too much sex, too many STDs) is a result of a kind of infused religiosity (now gays have babies and marry, and stay in on Friday nights and play boardgames).
My own feeling is a sense of nostalgia for the radical queer politics of the 1960s that called for things like public sex and alternative family structures in relation to today’s tamed queers who are good consumers, good parents (in married coupledoms), and good Christians. It’s a similar kind of nostalgia for radical race-based organizers like Malcolm X who were unpalatable for most people at the time, but far more critical of the broken system as a whole. Instead, society upholds Martin Luther King’s notion of “love/inclusion,” even though 40 years after the Civil Rights Movement, racial violence remains. This is not a slight on MLK, just as I wouldn’t slight Jesus…it’s just that at some point, one has to step back and see how “love/inclusion” has actually played out: white flight from underfunded inner cities, the “war on drugs” and the prison-industrial complex.
Consider Apostle Dallin Oaks’ words regarding gay rights in the 1980s:
The public will see the debate as a question of tolerance of persons who are different, like other minorities. Perceiving the issue in those terms, the public will vote for tolerance. But if the legislative issue is posed in terms of whether the public has a right to exclude from certain kinds of employment persons who engage in (and will teach practices the majority wish to exclude for the good of society such as abnormal sexual practices that present demonstrable threats to youth, public health, and procreation), the gay rights proposal will lose. (â€œPrinciples to Govern Possible Public Statement on Legislation Affecting Rights of Homosexuals,â€ 1984)
With its top-down structure there’s no doubt in my mind that Mormon leaders will continue to manipulate “love/inclusion” to keep the central structure in tact.
Arguably still, gay-affirming, more democratic forms of Christianity (not Mormonism) are a powerful force in the US today, or else gay marriage would not have gotten as far as it has; that is to say, gay marriage was never a 100% secular vs 100% religious debate, but made legal and social headway only with religious allies at the forefront. But again, I agree with the atheist blogger that “secularization allows genuine plurality,” so that God might be at the center of some people’s queer politics, but probably shouldn’t be wed to queer politics as a general rule for everyone.