Mormons at the doorBottom Highlights, Politically Aware Thursday, January 29th, 2015
Commentary: Politically Aware
On Tuesday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, rang the bell at the house of equality with a press conference discussing the Church’s view on LGBT equality. Having read the transcript, I was left with the same question as when missionaries knock on my door: am I letting in a welcoming committee or a Trojan horse?
Most of the Mormons I have met personally would be welcome in my house and our community. Two of the first were colleagues in graduate school. They treated me no differently for being a gay liberal, never tried to convert me, and sometimes had a Sprite with the drinkers at Happy Hour. Both were raising families on a shoestring stipend, succeeding in part because of the Church’s assistance in obtaining jobs and/or childcare. In a world where few people know their neighbors, my friend had an endless supply of leftovers from dinners fellow Mormons brought until his wife recovered from childbirth. I often thought it was public relations malpractice that Americans knew more about polygamy and magic underwear than the camaraderie of the LDS community. (I don’t dismiss the damage done to some LGBT individuals by Church intolerance and reprogramming efforts, but I don’t consider them to be unique to Mormons.)
Proposition 8 made it clear that the LDS Church, as a whole, was an enemy of the LGBT community. It also made it harder to see the Mormons I knew as friends, given where their tithes were going. For those relationships, and for LGBT people with internal turmoil about connections to Mormon families and friends, I think the statements may allow some healing. As an attempt by the LDS Church to ingratiate itself with the LGBT community politically, however, I think it is a Trojan horse.
My first concern is in Elder Christofferson’s opening statements. Having admitted that the Church only holds press conferences every year or two for major announcements, he quickly says, “… it will be apparent that we are announcing no change in doctrine or Church teachings today.” If nothing is changing, what do we make of his “suggesting a way forward … that will be fair to everyone?” Spin.
Sister Neill Marriott gets most of the good lines. “… society recognized that [ridicule, persecution, and even violence against homosexuals] was simply wrong, and that such basic human rights as securing a job or a place to live should not depend on a person’s sexual orientation.” Sounds good. Most believers agree that “God is loving and merciful”, and I am always happy when right leaning religious leaders remind the “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” crowd that Jesus Christ “… reached out to those who had been marginalized even though He was criticized for doing so. Racial minorities, women, the elderly, people with physical or mental disabilities and those with unpopular occupations all found empathy from the Savior of mankind.”
Even as the good cop Sister Marriott has to remind us that “… sexual relations other than those between a man and woman who are married are contrary to the law of God.” So having expressed support for equality in hiring and housing, but underscored that nothing has really changed, Elder Dallin H. Oaks tells the LGBT community what the Church wants. “It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals.” But even if we were doing that, and agreed to stop, Oaks and the Church “call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches and other faith groups.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland lists the religious freedoms that need to be protected. He starts reasonably enough with the “right to teach their beliefs from the pulpit and the church classroom, share their views openly in the public square, select their own members, and minister to their members freely.” Fine, as long as he remembers the First Amendment protects not only that expression, but also my decision not to support their business ventures.
Then more devious things are put into the Trojan horse.
“The right to use church properties in accordance with their beliefs without second-guessing from government.” Translation: If we want to make money renting our auditorium to the public, we don’t have to do gay weddings.
“A family’s right to worship and conduct religious activities in the home as it sees fit …” Duh. “… and for parents to teach their children according to their own religious values.” See what they did there? No “in the home” in the second part. Translation: Keep your LGBT history and equality speak out of public schools.
“A Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced … to do so.” No translation needed. It gets better when “a neighborhood Catholic pharmacist, who declines to carry the ‘morning after’ pill … should likewise not be pressured into violating his or her conscience by bullying or boycotting.” I disagree with that one even before he implies that religious freedom now trumps my free speech and right to assemble.
Frankly, the LDS Church’s statement doesn’t read like a discerned increase in acceptance of the LGBT community. It is a naked attempt to garner positive attention by offering a truce. If you have doubts, note Sister Marriott’s statement that “society”, not the LDS Church, recognized persecution of LGBT people was wrong. Since nothing has changed, the Church can’t admit or apologize for any anti-LGBT activities. They are trying to cut their losses, and why not? Since their time limited victory on Proposition 8, pro-equality forces have successfully defended transparent donation records, staged effective boycotts, out-raised them on state initiatives, worrisomely questioned their non-profit status, and won almost every relevant court decision. If marriage equality is a fait accompli, they might as well try to get some religious protections with it.
They may get those protections, but it should be with Justice Kennedy’s assent, not that of our community. Even as terms of surrender, which would be more appropriate, we need not accept their proposal. To paraphrase Michael Corleone, “My final offer is this: nothing. Not even for your support of employment non-discrimination, which I would appreciate in a letter addressed to Speaker Boehner.”
To the extent that the statement emboldens LDS Church members to engage, we should accept their support, or even questions. As to the Church as a whole, the statement changes nothing. Their words, not mine. If they really understood the fight for LGBT rights, they wouldn’t ask us to trade some fundamental rights to hasten the acceptance of others. Under those terms, we shouldn’t bring them into the coalition. Especially when we’re winning.
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