Friday, November 7, 2008

A Bit Disturbed

This morning on CNN I saw coverage of the protests outside the LDS Church headquarters in L.A., and I have to admit I found them a bit disturbing.

It was not the fact of the protests in themselves that upset me. The LDS Church entered the political sphere in a big way, providing half the funding for the Prop 8 campaign, and ordering its members to work to promote Prop 8. If the Church acts as a political entity, then it needs to be prepared to be criticized as a political entity. People have a right to express themselves and have a right to protest actions by the Church that they feel are unjust.

I should add that I do not believe the Church has no right to enter the political sphere or to engage in political action. I do not adhere to the notion of "separate spheres" in which religion reigns supreme in supposedly pure realms of spirit and faith that have nothing to do with what goes on in the real world, while science and government reign supreme in purely material, physical realms that have nothing to do with faith. For me, religion encompasses the whole of life and has ethics as a central concern, which situates it squarely in the "real" world of human relations and politics. Politics and religion are and always have been and always will be inextricably enmeshed with one another. America has established a political order in which religious institutions receive no financial support, are not taxed, and receive no special legal considerations, and in which Americans are free to affiliate or not affiliate with religious institutions. That "wall of separation" between church and state has been an essential foundation of America's religious peace, and I support it without question. But I do not believe it is inappropriate for churches to weigh in on political issues.

I should add, the United Church of Christ (UCC) has expressed strong support for same-sex marriage, and urges its members to work politically for marriage equality. The spiritual streams that come together in the UCC -- the Congregational/Puritan, Christian/Disciples, and Evangelical and Reformed traditions -- are rich with political activism and involvement in America -- from the anti-slavery movement in the antebellum years, to the Social Gospel at the turn of the century, to their present involvement in movements for peace, social justice, and gay rights. They've gotten remarkably little news coverage for taking their recent stance in support of gay marriage. But if I don't complain about that, I have no right to complain about the LDS Church doing the opposite. As I said, of course, a church that wishes to dirty its hands in politics, must expect to pay a political price. That is as true of the UCC, which has been criticized by conservative groups for its pro-gay stance, as it is of the LDS Church, which must now endure criticism from liberal groups.

But there is a line we must not cross. Earlier this summer, a Unitarian Church in Tennessee became the target of a brutal shooting attack because of its pro-gay stance. What disturbs me about the anti-LDS protests, at least as I've seen them, is the anti-Mormon animus that seems to infuse many of them. I got a comment on another post in which someone anonymously used the epithet "cult" against the LDS Church. And the slogans I've seen on some of the signs attacking Mormon polygamy, describing Mormons as "filthy," and so on worries me. Beyond just being counterproductive, for me (and I'm sure for many Mormons) it raises the specter of a time when Mormons were mobbed, whipped, tarred and feathered, killed and exiled in the name of American "freedom."

I wish we wouldn't go there. Let the protesters stay focused on what this is really about: the right to marry, building a society in which all members have an equal stake, promoting love and commitment, and building and protecting real families. If we focus on the good we want, we will eventually achieve it. If we focus on negativity and hate, that may be what we get instead in the end.


Peter said...

I don't know. A reminder of that persecution may be exactly what Mormons need. Maybe it will help them realize the persecution they have heaped upon homosexuals. I don't know. The scriptures tell us to always keep the captivity of our fathers in our remembrance. I don't think Mormons have done that.

J G-W said...

It is an irony that a religious minority once persecuted for their unusual beliefs regarding marriage are now persecuting a sexual minority for their desire to practice marriage.

It is also disappointing that heterosexual blacks in California, only recently free from discriminatory marriage laws in the U.S., overwhelmingly cast their lot with a majority to take away the marriage rights of a minority.

Politics is full of such ironies. Maybe we only care about justice when it is denied us. Maybe the only reason I feel strongly about not singling Mormons out for hate is because right now I feel singled out for hate.

All the more reason for me to make efforts to always remember, to always stand for fairness even when I'm no longer deprived of it.

Scot said...

This has been on my mind a lot today because of the protest tonight. You expressed the hopes and fears I'm mulling over here perfectly. Thank you.

FoxyJ said...

I can honestly say that the news left me feeling a little shaken. I live in a liberal town in California and attend a liberal university. Should I worry about going to class on Monday and have someone attack me just because I'm a Mormon? I don't think anyone should have to worry about that.

I do think your comments are true about religion and politics. I just feel sad because I think these protests are just going to build bigger walls between the gay community and Mormons. Most Mormons I know already feel like "the world" is out to get them, and this will unfortunately just confirm that belief and harden their feelings towards those not of their faith. If you want to change peoples' hearts and minds, you don't do that by screaming insults at them.

MoHoHawaii said...

The Church is a religious organization and now also a political one. When I see an LDS Chapel I see a political rallying hall as well as a place of worship. People have every right to hold the Church accountable for its actions and to view it as at least partially a political machine.

The problem is that dishonorable political campaigns such as the one recently waged by the Church do not appeal to our better natures. The Church appealed to prejudice, fear and homophobia to get its way politically. This stirred a backlash that has elements of religous intolerance. While no one condones a hate-filled backlash (I personally think it's immoral as well as politically ill advised), its existence should surprise no one. You can't throw mud without getting some on yourself. I wish I had more sympathy right now, but I'm having a hard time seeing the Church as the victim. Everyone loses in this kind of fight.

I hope that those who believe in marriage equality will step back and retain their dignity. Just because the Church chose to debase itself with dishonorable tactics doesn't mean that we have to.

J G-W said...

FoxyJ - Even though many of the people reading this blog weren't even born yet when the Mormon Church gave up its ban on black priesthood holders, the priesthood ban is one of the first things that invariably comes up in any conversation I have with liberal friends about the Church. Most supporters of women's equality or students of women's history haven't forgotten the Church's role in defeating the ERA in the '70s either.

This campaign won't likely be forgotten for generations. Or till the second coming of Jesus, whichever comes first. So... Just add it to the long list of reasons your non-Mormon friends and co-workers think you're retarded for being a Mormon.

Beck said...

The backlash should be expected. It shouldn't be a surprise. I only fear it will continue.

This is more than "disturbing". But, the disturbing part isn't only in that the Church is being singled out unfairly or that the debate is sinking into name calling and protests at temples. But, it is in the fact that I feel ashamed of MY Church and MY culture. Now, that's disturbing for it leads me to wonder where such shame will lead me.

It takes faith to see beyond this moment...

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii and Beck - I confess, when I see the rage in the protester's faces, and when I hear the rage in their voices, I understand that they are justifiably angry about the despicable tactics used by the "Yes on 8" folks.

I was talking to a conservative Republican co-worker about Prop 8. When I told him that the strategy that finally won traction was a series of adds claiming that the failure of Prop 8 would mean kids would be forced to learn about homosexuality in schools, he just rolled his eyes, and said, "Ooooh." That was not a good "oh."

Whether the Church played a direct or indirect role in deploying such tactics, the Church will now forever be associated with a campaign that reasonable observers see as dishonest and as appealing to people's worst impulses. Frankly, I think if the Prop 8 campaign had focused on the real reasons for trying to ban same-sex marriage -- namely religious doctrine -- it undoubtedly would have lost big time.

MoHoHawaii said...

Frankly, I think if the Prop 8 campaign had focused on the real reasons for trying to ban same-sex marriage -- namely religious doctrine -- it undoubtedly would have lost big time.

I conjectured what a such a campaign might have looked like in this post.

The way I see it is this: the Church cooly examined its options and determined that telling the truth would not achieve its achieve its political objective. Its leaders, Packer, Russell and others, then made a conscious choice to take the low road.

If the Church is willing to lie about this, what else is it lying about? I can see why this shakes people's faith. Heck, it shakes my faith in the good intentions and sincerity of this organization. What has been exposed is a real lack of integrity. You just can't sugarcoat this one.

It's not my purpose here to rag on the Church. The Church is what it is. It helped form the person I am today. It is deeply entwined in the lives of many of my family members, and I know it feeds you spiritually. But it has sinned.

FoxyJ said...

Do we really know how much say the church hierarchy had in the ad campaigns? At least from here on the ground it appears that some other churches formed a coalition, asked the church to join, and then the church asked for local members to give their support. The advertisements all carried the stamp of the "Protect Marriage" campaign committee, not the LDS church. Not that that resolves them from culpability in any way. I do know that one of the Seventy, Whitney Clayton, has talked about his involvement here in California, but I wasn't aware of any of the apostles coming down and getting involved. I'm not sure if Elder Clayton was actually on the committee or if he came in an advisory capacity. I actually think it's much harder to get your actual message across when you're part of a large committee made up of various voices. Unless no one objected because they totally agreed with everything that was said. Do you know anything about this?

Eleanor's Papa said...

I don't like to be unpleasant, but apologists like John and his gracious commentators shouldn't be surprised that they have something to apologize for on behalf of the Church.

I agree that it's appropriate (if sad and ironic) for the LDS Church to become involved in what it considers to be moral matters, although of course, as with the former whites-only priesthood doctrine, I happen to personally believe that the Church's current position is inconsistent with the Gospel and is on the wrong side of history.

But as I struggle with my own anger and disappointment this week I recognize that the shame and outrage I feel is primarily a result of the manner of the campaign -- the dishonest and evil statements about gay families and individuals. "Lying for the Lord" is a chronic problem with your people. It's hard to characterize an institution with such practices as anything anything but evil, and its gay and gay-friendly apologists as anything but the contemproary equivalent of jews for Hitler.

J G-W said...

foxyj - I suspect you are right about the nature of the Church's involvement in the campaign. However, I'm not aware of any statements made by Church leaders or efforts made by the Church membership to distance themselves in any way from the deceitful assertions or the low ball tactics of the campaign. In fact, I've read a couple of blog comments elsewhere describing how church members were actually defending or just shrugging off some of the terrible tactics.

However, that is human nature, not an evil plot. People tend to wink at the foibles of those who agree with them or are allied with them, while magnifying the faults of those they view as political opponents.

It's my sincere hope that members of the Church who did feel uncomfortable with some of the tactics used in the campaign will find ways to speak gently with others about it.

Individual Church members did play a role in the fear- and rumor-mongering... That's been well documented. Again, human nature accounts for that, no evil plots needed to explain. If the Church hierarchy played a direct role in actually engineering some of the lies and misinformation that were used to promote the proposition, I hope, as Mohohawaii has suggested elsewhere, that light will be shed on that role.

e's papa - !

I don't see myself or any commenters here as apologists for bad behavior. If anything, we're discussing bad behavior pretty frankly for what it is. (Which includes trying not to make overdrawn comparisons to the Holocaust...)

Eleanor's Papa said...

I admit that it was a bit unkind of me to leap so quickly to Godwin's Law, but just because the analogy is harsh and/or overused doesn't mean that it's not illuminating.

I was punning on "apologist" -- the technical term for defenders of the faith happens to be linked linguistically to the word for seeking forgiveness. I am completely persuaded by the evidence that the church institutionally, its members individually, its culture of obedience, and its role in the Prop 8 campaign mean that Mormons have a huge amount of responsibility for inflicting harm on gay families. And that the most recent campaign took the Church's longstanding role in denying gay people's existence and extinguishing their legal rights to a whole new level.

So let me try another thought experiment/analogy. What if in 1967 the LDS Church not only excluded blacks from the sacrament of eternal marriage (as it indeed was free to do and did until 1978), but also organized a constitutional amendment overturning Loving v Virginia? What if the Mormon Church and Mormons provided a majority of the resources to pay for a dishonest and racist campaign to pass the amendment barring them from civil marriage? What would we say about the Church? What would we say about African-American Mormons and their families who enabled in any way such an effort? What would a moral response be to the effort to write religious prejudice into civil law?

Knight of Nothing said...

I found a couple of interesting links today on this subject.

1) Steve Young, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, graduate of BYU, and grandson of Brigham Young, together with his wife, came out *against* Proposition 8.

2) - in spite of its inflammatory name, this site is actually quite measured in its tone, while still strongly condemning the LDS church for its involvement in lobbying for Prop 8.

J G-W said...

e's papa - Your second analogy was far better, thanks.

I guess my counter question is: What do you think ultimately motivated Church leaders to question and eventually overturn the ban on ordination of African Americans (and the denial of temple blessings and temple marriage to African Americans)?

Was it the vehemence of protests against the racism of the LDS community? I doubt it... By 1978 those protests had receded without changing the policy. I've also read the argument that political pressure was exerted as a result of a foreign policy embarrassment involving Brazil. Maybe.

But if you read the wording of Declaration No. 2 itself, the first presidency explained their own motivations as follows: "witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren."

Sometimes, the best way to help soften and change minds and hearts is through loving, gentle, faithful engagement.

KoN: Thanks for the great links. There have been a number of LDS groups and individuals who organized on-line and elsewhere against Prop 8. I have extended family in California who have raised money, knocked on doors, and did everything in their power to defeat Prop 8 (and who worked against the 2000 anti-marriage proposition that was overturned by the California Supreme Court earlier this year). Many of those individuals and families will continue to work in their wards and stakes and quietly seek to engage their leaders to reconsider the Church's position.

J G-W said...

KoN - I took a longer look at the second link, and I can't say I agree with their main argument (for reasons I actually discuss in some depth in the body of this post)... The logical case they are trying to make here is that although religious groups are allowed to participate financially in the political process, the Mormon Church should be singled out to be stripped of it's tax exemption because they organized more effectively or gave more money than other groups.

Unless a law is passed, limiting how much a religious group is allowed to spend on a political campaign, that seems arbitrary and unconstitutional to me...

I know elsewhere you've argued that all religious groups should be denied tax exempt status. As you know, I don't agree. But I would agree to that before I agreed that one particular religious group (that is particularly disliked?) should be singled out to be denied its tax exemption.

Also, I hope Mormons who support equal marriage rights for same-sex couples won't resign en masse!!! I hope people of faith and good conscience in general will patiently work with their communities of faith, will engage, and discuss the issues with their co-religionists!

This site links to another site, Mormons for Marriage. I like their approach much better...

Knight of Nothing said...

I agree that the wheels kind of come off of the argument posited by I just wanted to share because it was relevent to your post: the site pretty deliberately and carefully expresses a sympathetic view of the LDS Church, and as you pointed out, it links to Mormons for Marriage.

As far as the tax status of all religions, yes - I think that the LDS involvement in Proposition 8 is a very clear transgression of the separation clause, and on its face it supports my argument.

J G-W said...

Sam - I assume you've been following the news, and saw that following the protests at the Mormon temples in L.A. and Salt Lake, there have been subsequent protests at other churches, including this one.

Apparently gay activists are holding Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA responsible for propagating some of the most damaging lies about Prop 8.

I am relieved to see that Mormons are not being singled out. Personally, though, I think protesting individual churches may be counterproductive. I think what would be better is if pro-marriage equality rallies were held at government buildings, or at churches that are supportive of gay rights.

At least protests are being reported as "boisterous but peaceful."