Something kept rattling through my head this week, as I considered the statements by the Church simultaneously in support of LBGTQ anti-discrimination legislation, while insisting on a religious exemption. At first, I thought, here is real progress. But then, with the Trib Talk session, I learned that the church doesn’t apologize, nor does the word “apology” appear in the LDS scriptures. In particular, I kept wondering why the two apostles talking to these points were Elders Oaks and Christofferson. Then I thought, oh wait, there is an important reason, maybe several, as to why these two.
These two apostles are extraordinarily gifted and credentialed lawyers. Oaks was acting Dean if the Univ of Chicago Law School and Utah Supreme Court Justice. Christofferson clerked for Judge Sirica during the Watergate hearings. While these two certainly are able speakers and deeply committed to mormonism as apostles, their standing in the legal field is unparalleled. If they had continued professionally, either of them could have been easily appointed to the Supreme Court.
In August 1984, just 4 months after being appointed an Apostle, Oaks wrote a legal opinion to LDS leadership about how to manage the church’s public statements and strategy amid the battle for gay rights. In it, we find the exact playbook of the LDS church on this issue for the past 30 years: the key themes of the 1995 Proclamation on the Family, the basis of the 1998 strategy in Hawaii, and of course Prop 8. What is even more amazing, is that we find the exact positioning taken this past week on LBGTQ legislation, that the church should be supportive of LBGTQ anti-discrimination on some things, but absolutely reserve the right for a religious exception. It’s all there… August 7, 1984.
The term “apology” has an interesting legal dimension. One, the actual usage of the term in greek and at the time of the KJV translation was that of “defending beliefs by making an excuse for them”. Two, Oaks is correct that the term “apology” never appears in scripture, but this is a legalistic distinction; he knows that “repentance” carries the same meaning as our modern use of “apology”, and is skirting the issue on a technicality — a common legal tactic. Three, lawyers seldom recommend to their clients to apologize before the verdict: an apology is an admission of guilt, and in American constitutional law, the defendant never is forced into self incrimination.
I have to say that I was stunned by Elder Oaks statement that the Church doesn’t apologize. Humility, compassion, and repentance are what we expect from holy men. Although the Catholic church has yet to undo their resistance to change on LBGTQ and women’s ordination issues, at least Pope Francis speaks a much better story to the public. But here’s the thing: since neither church is actually at point of changing their doctrines or practices regarding LBGTQ and women, the reality is that Oaks and Christofferson are completely honest about the agenda: the church has not moved from the strategy articulated by Oaks in 1984, and has nothing for which it needs to legally apologize.
Yet I am still stunned, but I realize that my feeling stunned is really more like when I walk out of a cave into bright sunlight. It’s painful to lose my illusory shadow world that the church was capable of introspection and inspired change and that I could walk peacefully along the Middle-Way.
The sunlight shows that the Salt Lake Church is a mighty fortress in the midst of a war on the world. Its foundations are granite: solid and immovable. Its storehouse is plentiful and full, capable of a long, protracted battle. Its bulwarks are strong and high. As I stand in “City Creek” Potemkin village outside its ramparts, looking north, I can see the white tower, the staid offices of the fifteen white men who serve as guardians of orthodoxy, and then just to the left is the Church’s armory for this war, with the words “Kirton McConkie” emblazoned upon its ramparts.