Friday, July 30, 2010

"It Makes Me Hate the Church Even More"

Those were the words that came across the lips of our 18-year-old foster son after we watched 8: The Mormon Proposition together on DVD last night.  There were parts of that documentary that made both of us cry.  Sometimes Glen got so angry, we had to stop the video and discuss it together.  During and after the film, he would look at me with a kind of desperation and ask, "How can you want to have anything to do with a church like that?"

The film did not, oddly, make me angry.  I expected to be indignant after watching it, but I wasn't.  Not even a little bit.  It did bring me back to a moment in time, in the immediate aftermath of Prop 8's passage on November 4, 2008, when I was feeling not only angry but very much in pain.  I found my own personal resolution to those feelings in prayer.  And the peace that I found and the affirmations I received through the Spirit have sustained me from then until the present.  I think I have lots of things to contribute to discussions about Proposition 8, but fortunately anger isn't one of them.

I also remembered a conversation I had with my dad about Proposition 8.  It was so very simple.  My dad asked me how I was holding up.  I told him I wasn't afraid and I wasn't angry, and I knew that everything would eventually work out.  And Dad said simply, "They just don't understand."  No tears, no anger, no fretting.  Just trust in God and in the right.  That is what carries us forward.

I woke up this morning thinking more about the film, and about my response to it.  Among other things:

The LDS Church is not a monolith.  Mormons do stress obedience, faith and sacrifice, and that does make them effective at organizing collective action.  Those are virtues we appreciate when the LDS Church is working for us -- like when it helped clean up the aftermath of the flooding in North Dakota and Minnesota a couple years back.  But Mormons don't all think alike.  They are not all unthinking or unfeeling.  They are not incapable of reason or kindness or generosity.  Quite the opposite.

The documentary's goal was not to reach or persuade faithful LDS.  It was to mobilize political opposition, to solidify commitment among those who are already persuaded that Prop 8 (and the Church) are wrong.  And the documentary's primary tactic was fanning the flames of self-righteous anger.

But faithful Mormons didn't liquidate their kids' college funds or their own retirement accounts because of what they're against.  They did it because of what they're for.  Because they really believe that faith and family are against the wall here.

Getting angry at the Church doesn't make me hopeful.  It doesn't inspire me to action.  And it doesn't help me talk to my loved ones and friends in the Church in a way that will help them to do the one thing they actually need to do: see me and my family in a different light.  It does the opposite of all those things.

What does make me hopeful, and inspire me, and help me talk to my friends is waking up each morning to a good-morning kiss in my husband's arms (coming up on 18 years this August!).  It is my memory of the ways he was there for me when I struggled with depression after grad school.  It is the thrill I felt when we finally found his birth certificate, and when I saw him hugging his father for the first time, and when we set off on our great adventure last summer.  It is the excitement (and nervousness! and joy! and longing!) I feel for our son as we contemplate his coming years in college, and all the hard (and good!) lessons he will learn.  It is the hugs he gives me as he tells me he's afraid for how things will work out, and I can assure him we'll be there.

It is the belief that we can win this without having to vanquish our foes; that the best way to win is to work toward the creation of a community where we understand and care for one another across our differences, where we stand united in the belief that our differences actually make us stronger and richer and better, where we learn from and teach one another the best ways forward.

Last night, I shared some these convictions with my son.  I gave him a hug, and I told him, "Your dad is working on this."  And he told me he knew, and he was proud.  That will help keep me going as well.


Beck said...

"Getting angry at the Church doesn't make me hopeful. And it doesn't inspire me to action"...

Your perspective here is amazing! Your example of love, and continuing in love is even more amazing!

J G-W said...

Beck - I know from experience that indulging in anger about something like this only causes me to continue to wallow in hopelessness and self-pity. And then scapegoating... "If it weren't for those damn Mormons, everything in my life would be hunky dory..." And "Those people are so evil... I HATE them!" That doesn't really get you in the mood to actually talk to people and build the kind of bridges we NEED more than ever now...

So I think it's self-knowledge as much as anything else. I've learned from the past what the negativity does to me.

But I admit, it's also grace, and faith. There was a moment where the Spirit told me: you need to let go your anger! And I needed to just trust that that was the thing to do, even though I wasn't feeling it. But even making the slightest effort to soften my heart, the Spirit helped me with the rest... Gave me insight and assurance to strengthen me in my resolve to respond with hope and love, rather than the other way...

Reuben said...

John, your peaceful approach really is inspiring. I agree entirely that anger will not help anybody in this situation.

You're right that not all Mormons think alike - but I can't help but feel that the church's actions during Prop 8 persuaded many members to adopt personal opinions that were overall less loving and accepting than they would have been had the church remained silent. This, of course, was certainly not the Church's intent.

I have a close friend living in California who supported the Church's efforts and donated both time and money. It seemed so out of character for him to be involved in the Prop 8 campaign. It didn't seem to mesh with everything else I knew about who he was. I asked him why he was so involved - he seemed like the last person I would have expected. His response was a shoulder shrug as he said, "I don't know, I just have faith that the Church knows more about this than I do."

J G-W said...

Well, if that's the case, then again... We will win. When people have a full understanding of the harm they are doing, they will reevaluate.

The most compelling part of the documentary, I thought, was the portrayal of the loving relationship between Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones. And Tyler's relationship with his mother. That spoke so powerfully to what this is really about. I think that a documentary like this could have the power to blow people's socks off if it were more of that. They should have interviewed other couples as well, told their stories.

One of the great moments in the documentary, for me, was when Tyler and Spencer and others spoke about how marriage completely transformed their relationship, what a profound, positive influence it was on their lives to actually get married.

My experience was similar -- both when Göran and I had our extralegal ceremony in Minneapolis in 1995, and then when we had our legal ceremony (and got the certificate that now hangs on our bedroom wall) in California in 2008. Before we got married in 1995, I thought, "Oh, it's just a symbol. It doesn't really add anything to our relationship that we don't already have from the love we share."

I was astounded how wrong I was. But I only fully recognized the power of it after I had experienced it. Marriage makes a difference.

That's what we need to talk about. We need to tell our stories and tell how this has changed our lives for the better.

MoHoHawaii said...

This played out similarly when my boyfriend Tobi watched 8. He said, "I hate Mormons. I don't want to go to [your sister's] for Christmas this year. I wouldn't feel like they wanted us there, and I couldn't keep quiet. I would start a discussion and ask [relative 1] and [relative 2] why they did this."


For myself, the movie didn't stir me to anger. I was pretty much aware of all of the facts before I saw it. The movie made me sad, if anything. The Church's involvement in Prop. 8 was a huge mistake. I agree with Reuben's observation that the Church's Prop. 8 involvement made many rank-and-file Mormons more anti-gay than before. It certainly caused great division within families.

I tried to explain to Tobi why I still try to keep good relations with my siblings, even though there is a pro-gay and anti-gay dividing line the size of a freeway through the middle of the family.

Rob said...

My kids want to see 8 but haven't yet. I anticipate similar reactions from them and similar discussions amongst us afterward.

I agree with what MoHoHawaii said and my family situation is similar to his. But my sibling relationships still have to be rebuilt. That will be an adventure in itself because almost all of them strongly supported Prop 8.

J G-W said...

I think there was recognition in the Church that the Prop 8 campaign had the effect of heightening anti-gay animosity. The animus escalated when the gay community started to target the Church in protests... A lot of Church folks then felt justified in their anti-gay bigotry when it was reciprocated with anti-Mormon protests and rhetoric.

My concern about 8 is that it will potentially have the same impact on non-Mormon and ex-Mormon gay folks as the Church's campaign had on straight Mormons. People won't see the all-important nuances, and they'll just feel justified in anger, hatred, and in distancing themselves from people on the opposite side of the political divide.

I think there's a way we can do this that will both comfort the afflicted and help organize us politically, and reach out and persuade our Mormon family and friends.

Joe Conflict said...

I wasn't angry either. Disappointed perhaps, but not really angry. I think I anticipated most of what I saw. I wasn't impressed with some of the "sound effects" or theatric methods employed. Frankly the story was strong enough to sell itself.

There is good to be found in all organizations. God is powerful enough to use all of them for good.

Do I currently have much desire to spend my life and resources on the LDS church--no. But I still love many people in it, and spent the morning weeding an LDS neighbor's flower beds, and putting in perennials for them.

alan said...

[F]aithful Mormons didn't liquidate their kids' college funds or their own retirement accounts because of what they're against. They did it because of what they're for. Because they really believe that faith and family are against the wall here.

If Prop 8 heightened anti-gay animosity in the Church, then it is conceivable that many "faithful" folks donated a lot of money for what they were "against" as much as what they're "for." I think drawing lines between what some Mormons did out of "animosity" and what others did out of "fear" or out of "concern" is to draw false lines. Heterosexism comes in many different flavors, but it's all wrong.

Malcolm X's tactics were just as important to the civil rights movement as MLK's, mostly because Malcolm X represented a particular portion of the black community whose feelings weren't expressed through MLK's peaceable, bridge-building language. A lot of gay folks want nothing to do with Mormons as a result of Prop 8; the documentary is not only to "mobilize political opposition" but is a also an expression of anger that was already present.

The passing of the SLC nondiscrimination ordinances is often cited as the fruits of a peaceful conversation between the queer community and Mormon leadership. But didn't the SLC queer community have no choice but to engage with Mormons because of the power the Church holds? Where Mormons and gays do not live near one another, it does not seem reasonable to expect gay people to engage peacefully or to "grasp onto nuances" with an organization they feel is taking away their rights. What are the "all-important nuances" of which you speak?

J G-W said...

OK, here's an important nuance, for starters.

American Protestantism is highly individualistic. It celebrates a culture of rugged individualism. Mormonism has always been been highly collectivistic. The hallmarks of Mormon masculinity are obedience and submission to authority. So Mormons have always distinguished between personal feeling and public action -- in a way that other Protestant culture Americans never have and never will.

In American Protestant culture, your public actions -- your voting patterns, your public speaking, your public behavior -- should always reflect personal belief and preference. If it does not, you are not being authentic. Not so much in Mormon culture. In Mormon culture, you set aside personal beliefs in order to be obedient.

So folks coming from a Protestant culture -- like my husband and my son -- will assume that Mormons in supporting Prop 8 are driven by personal animus. That they "hate gays." Some Mormons do, of course! And the documentary got tons of mileage out of quoting Gayle Ruzicka and Chris Buttars. So someone like my son or my spouse comes away with the impression that any effort to build bridges to any faithful Mormon is hopeless.

Just one "for instance."

alan said...

Are you saying that people know of Mormons as collectivist, and so they perceive them as all thinking the same unless shown otherwise?

Couldn't it rather be the case that the average viewer sees a culture where anti-gay animus thrives and dissenters are quiet out of "duty" as also problematic?

I don't think individualistic people are averse to the concept of duty and silencing oneself for the common good or for the effect of a better future. They just see this behavior as misplaced in certain instances, e.g, a church hierarchy where being quiet out of "duty" makes change happen at a snail's pace.

J G-W said...

Alan - This is more a matter of me observing actual reactions to the documentary, making people (my son and spouse) feel more averse to Mormons. That, I think, is simply not helpful.

I'm not suggesting that we need to step back from activism in support of same-sex marriage... In fact the opposite. I've never stopped talking about the benefits of same-sex marriage and/or the harm caused by discrimination. I think we can do that in a way, however, that doesn't create unnecessary barriers or foster misunderstanding.

I felt the film did have the impact of distorting Mormonism. Yes, obedience is important, but so is discerning truth for oneself. You don't come away from the film with a sense that Mormons are real people with more complex motives, or that there could be any common ground with them... There's a much more an "either they're for us or they're against us" kind of mentality driving the narrative of the film. I objected to that mentality when I heard it coming from George W. Bush after 911, and I object to it now coming from folks who want something I too desperately want: fully legal same-sex marriage.

Gay LDS Actor said...

I like your points-of-view on this issue, J G-W, and agree with much of what you have said.