Two years ago, Kyle M wrote a post at By Common Consent predicting (if not prophesying) that if Mormonism cemented anti-gay views as doctrine, it would eventually be labeled as a hate group and its brand forever tarnished to the rest of the world.
Just this past week, this post has resurfaced on both the mormon and exmormon subreddits, still relevant as ever. In addition is a new post at By Common Consent where blogger Ronan provided four vignettes of LGBT people in his life who have influenced his decision to move away from the LDS church to Anglicanism.
And — you couldn’t have missed this one, as it’s been picked up on increasingly bigger and more national news sources: a video of a 12-year-old girl named Savannah bearing testimony of her future as an out lesbian in the church whose microphone was cut off.
I’m not done yet. There’s also the two-part series from Jana Riess’s blog Flunking Sainthood Married, Mormon, and Gay, sharing Nick and Spencer’s story of conjoining their testimony of Mormonism with their relationship for one another.
What do these stories have in common? The one thing I see in all these stories is a failure to accept where Mormonism currently is in respect to homosexuality and its sexual ethics. Hearing one sad story after another worries me not simply because it keeps happening, but because there was no reason to believe things would be any different.
I’ll start with Nick and Spencer’s journey in the Flunking Sainthood series. This guest post is by Kristin Lowe, but Jana provides an intro for her thoughts. What caught my eye was a particular line Jana wrote:
I’m…grateful that [Nick and Spencer] are still hanging in there with the Mormon people, and haven’t given up. And I’m grateful that even though their future is uncertain as members of the Church, many Mormons have welcomed them with open arms, both in their Hawaii ward and their new ward in Washington DC.
I infer that one of the reasons Jana chooses to offer her space to amplify Nick and Spencer’s story is from the continued hope that they will “hang in there” with the Mormon people, and perhaps in hope that Mormons will continue to welcome them, despite what the institution does.
But what does it mean for an out gay Mormons in relationship to be welcome in a community? What is the best gay Mormons can look forward to in the cruel game of priesthood roulette?
At best, in Nick and Spencer’s accepting Hawaii ward, this is what they had:
When they got married in Hawaii, they lost the privileges of full membership in the church, and they were forced to accept painful restrictions—no partaking of the sacrament on Sundays, no callings in their ward, no temple attendance, and no wearing of sacred garments.
The series does not remark upon their ultimate status in the church, leaving the disciplinary court upon their arrival to Washington D.C. — with potential excommunication for apostasy — implied but not confirmed.
But what strikes me is that none of this is new. None of this is unexpected. The church’s November 2015 policy enshrining same-sex relationships as apostasy is just the codification of trends that the church has embraced for a long time. And even in an accepting ward, that means no callings, no temple attendance, no wearing of sacred garments. Why the surprise?
The 12-year-old girl Savannah bore her testimony that her sexuality is not a mistake and that she knows God wants her to have all the same things that straight Mormons enshrine theologically as highest values — marriage, family, children — with a woman. That her microphone was cut off and she was asked to sit down seems so shocking to so many but, yet again…what is unexpected about a church leader wanting to prevent false doctrine from being taught in a fast and testimony meeting?
Ronan’s post at BCC offers a bit more insight into why people seem so resistant to recognize what is actually going on. As Ronan writes regarding his wife’s disclosure that her brother (now Ronan’s brother-in-law)…emphasis added:
I am no font of tolerance and charity . . . I just didn’t care. Plenty of other Mormons don’t either but she had this idea from somewhere, I suppose. Perhaps it was from some of the people in our branch whose virulent homophobia was on display in Sunday school? And where did that come from? At the time, I would have absolved the church. Bigots are everywhere, I thought. It’s not the church’s fault.
And that’s how the story goes, for person after person, until after four stories, Ronan realizes:
…And so anyway, here was my sad conclusion, made with absolutely no satisfaction at all: it was not random bigotry but a systemic moral failure all along.
It seems so easy from our liberal progressive viewpoint to say that love is love and love looks a certain way and anything else is hatred and bigotry. And as a liberal progressive guy, I am not going to absolve the LDS church (and many other conservative churches) of the impacts of what it preaches and does.
But I want to provide a note of caution to liberal progressive folks in conservative religions everywhere: not only is the thing you call homophobia systemic, but many of your co-religionists do not and will not see it as a moral failure.
I’ll take the first post I mentioned in this blog, and then contrast it with the stories of my conservative religious friends — stories that you too may have heard but not particularly appreciated.
Kyle M wrote two years ago that if Mormonism did not change its anti-gay views, the church would be labeled as a hate group, and
…[a]s that happens, our members will not be able to run major corporations. They will not be welcome in artistic circles. They will not be able to win political office. They will not be able to play in popular rock bands. Think anyone will play BYU in sports? Football contracts get broken all the time, and every school that backs out of playing BYU will win PR points for doing so.
I see Kyle’s post as being the photonegative of Jana’s post. Jana’s post writes in hope of a positive future — if only we could keep doing good things well! But Kyle’s post writes in fear of a negative future — we must change our current path, or else.
But the thing I don’t see acknowledged is that this same narrative gets told a very different way from “the other side”.
Martyrs in an intolerant society
My conservative religious friends (and yours too, probably) see some of the same things — they see themselves vilified for their religious beliefs. They see it becoming more and more popular to use one’s position on homosexuality or, heck, even one’s position on the exclusivity of Christianity, as a litmus test for employment fitness.
…but these religious folks do not see that as justification to compromise on religious values. To the contrary, they see it as evidence of liberal progressive intolerance and hypocrisy, and seek payback — and this payback has come in the form of support of political figures like Donald Trump who, even if they lack theological bona fides at least aren’t further marginalizing traditional Christian theology.
That is the message I keep hearing and reading — for as bad as we liberal progressives think folks like Trump are, the conservative Christian friends see anti-discrimination statutes and lawsuits and campaigns and callouts and shaming as being just as bad, and they have voted to roll it back.
This is not to say that things cannot change. This is not to say that the LDS theology cannot change. That Mormonism cannot have a revelation. But when we dismiss conservative sexual ethics as mere individual homophobia, we miss that these theologies and ethics have a scaffolding in centuries and millennia of Christian tradition and theology — the Christian tradition’s grand definitions for marriage, telos for human sexuality, and so on. In other words, conservative religious traditions have reasons for opposing homosexuality, even if those reasons no longer appeal or never appealed to you.
To the extent that these doctrines can and do change, we should at least ponder — as our conservative friends fear — that these changes are a compromise or departure from steady theological foundations, rather than a reinforcement of the most integral parts of those foundations.
For Mormonism in particular, we should reflect on whether the religion’s embodied divinity with literal divine sexual dimorphism will help or hinder efforts to develop Mormon sexual ethics that are LGBT-friendly.