It’s not just the LDS Church that has had a difficult time dealing with gay rights. The Christian right is struggling with the issue as well. Dr. Greg Prince serves on the Board of Directors for a Methodist seminary near Washington, D.C.
Greg: The Methodists have a heap of trouble on this. In February of this year, they had what is termed a Called General Conference. They normally have general conferences once every four years. But they can have a special conference, and they did it for one issue, and that was LGBTQ. There were really three elements that they were considering during this conference. One is how do we deal with religious talk about gays? Do we brand them as apostates? Do we brand them as sinners? The second was, will we allow the ordination of gay clergy, and the third was, will we allow the performing of gay marriages?
The Conservatives prevailed, and that was primarily because of Africa. Forty-five percent of the delegates to the conference were from Africa, and that vote which was strongly homophobic, combined with the delegates from the American South prevailed, and it put the Methodist Church in a more homophobic stance than they had been prior to the conference. The other alternative that was put forward and voted down, was called the One Church proposal, and that was written primarily by the head of our Board of Governors. So, he was front and center in the debate, and he and other delegates from Wesley were just devastated with the outcome. It puts them in a much more difficult position, organizationally, than the LDS Church right now, because there’s a very real possibility of permanent schism, that the United Methodist Church might not wind up being very united anymore. They’re trying to work out some kind of a compromise that can avoid that, and when I went to the board meeting earlier this week, Tom looked at me and he said, “I never thought I’d see the day when the Methodists would make the Mormons look progressive.”
We discussed how the Christian Right deals with gay rights, and specifically discuss what happened in the Prop 8 battle in California.
GT: Okay, so, by November, the church with a coalition of the Catholic Church and some other organizations–now, one of the things that I found interesting last night was you said that that the Mormon Church combined with the Catholic Church and some evangelical organizations for some sort of a front organization, and then you said that they all said, “Well, we’re behind you,” but they weren’t.
Greg: This went back to 2000, and it was reminiscent of Lucy and the football.
Greg: I won’t lift up the football this time. And every time Charlie Brown fell for it, and every time she lifted up the football and he wound up on his back. So in 2000, the other churches said, “We’re in this together,” but the LDS Church wound up carrying all the water. In 2008, they said, “No, this time, we’re really in this together,” and the LDS Church wound up carrying most of the water. Because the money was given to a front organization, it’s very difficult to figure out how large a role church members played in financing Prop 8. The best estimates are at least 50% of the $40 million, that the Yes on 8 Movement collected came from Latter-day Saints. It could have been substantially more than 50%, but we know that much just from reverse engineering because the donors’ contributions were registered with the California Secretary of State, and a group of innovative church members looked at that list and started disseminating it to their network throughout the state, and identifying church members and then tabulating the amount of money collectively that hadn’t been given by them.
When the Nov 2015 policy was announced, many LDS Church members were hurt to learn that children of gay parents couldn’t be baptized, and gay couples were considered in apostasy. Fast forward to April 2019 and the policy was reversed, causing joy among some church members, and pain from other dues to the quick nature of the change. Still others were outraged at the reversal. Some church members may have felt a bit of revelatory whiplash at the sudden changes. Dr. Greg Prince will talk more about the pain caused by the Policy and its reversal.
GT: I know, some people made an interesting observation last night at your book signing, that there was not a single mention of that [in General Conference]. Why do you think that was?
Greg: I think that’s because they had good input from Public Affairs, that if you’re going to announce something like that, which is not real cheery news for the institution, because you’re erasing something that people thought was permanent, when you called it a revelation three years earlier. The way to do it, essentially, is what the government does when it has bad news, you announce it after five o’clock on a Friday afternoon, so that by Monday, people have pretty much moved on. By announcing it a couple days before General Conference, and then not mentioning it, it became non-news. I think that was a good move on their part.
GT: So, I know a lot of people, I know that I was very happy with the announcement. But I know a lot of people have been just as upset, and I think the main reason why is because there was no apology. I know Elder Oaks is often quoted as, “The church doesn’t apologize.” Do you think it would have been a Public Relations win if the church had said we know there’s been some damage done here, or do you agree with Elder Oaks, “The church just doesn’t apologize.”
Greg: No, I don’t agree with that. I think they should apologize on multiple things, and it would have been a P.R. win, if they had said humbly, “We apologize for the damage that this has done,” because demonstrably it did a lot of damage. Families were ripped apart. I think there’s good evidence that more than a few people took their lives over this, and you can’t undo that by reversing the policy. That’s the real residual damage of this thing. It’s not like okay, we went there, now we’ve come back, now let’s go on and life goes on as it did before, but it doesn’t. You step in something and you step out of it, but you still got it in your shoes, and that’s where we are? How do you undo that kind of damage? It also creates a dilemma that may even affect the orthodox church member more than the progressive church member, and that is, “Wait a minute, you told us this was revelation, and now three years later, you’re saying it’s back to where we were?” That creates a real dilemma.
GT: I have actually seen some orthodox members say, “I think the church is now in apostasy.”
Greg: Yes. It’s an unforced error, but, nonetheless, it’s something that they’re going to have to deal with, and it has repercussions because it affects the whole brand of revelation. If people thought that something being called revelation conferred permanence to it, now it becomes much more relative, and it has a ripple effect beyond that particular revelation. It calls into a question other [revelations] and say, “Well, how unchangeable is the rest of it?” In my mind, changeability is bedrock for Mormonism, but it’s something that makes most church members really nervous. They will embrace the concept of continuing revelation, but they’re really hesitant to accept change. It’s a paradox.
What are some of the legal, science, and social reasons the LDS Church may have removed the Policy of Exclusion? Greg Prince answers these questions.
GT: I know in our last interview, one of the things that, what’s the word? The people that disagreed with you the most, I guess we’ll put it that way. Previously, we had talked, and I know it came up again last night, where you had said that it was a straw man, where people think that the government will now force gay marriages. You’d given an example, has a rabbi ever been forced to marry a Jew and Gentile and things like that? So, I know there are still some people, if you look at my comments, I have a few people from lawyers that say that your argument is a straw man.
Greg: I base my argument on two bits of data. One is that when the Hawaii decision was handed down, that invalidated the law, the Hawaii Supreme Court made it explicit, that under no circumstances would the LDS Church or any church be required by the state to perform any kind of marriage, that the authority to perform marriages resided in the state. It could be given to churches, and give them the privilege of performing marriages that would be legal, but there was no obligation that extended with that privilege. In other words, the state could not say, “Here’s how you have to do it. Here’s who you have to perform ceremonies for.” It was made explicit in that. The other data point is lengthy conversations with Bill Eskridge, who is a professor of law at Yale, is considered the top legal expert in the country on LGBTQ law.
And on the science front….
Greg: Decades ago, researchers started looking at twins to see if that gave them clues as to the cause of homosexuality. If it were strictly genetic, then identical twins would always be the same. If one were gay, the other would be gay, if one were straight, the other would be straight. Fraternal twins, because they don’t share the same genetic makeup would be expected to be different, like maybe not concordant at all. It turned out that it was a mixture of the two, that with identical twins, the concordance would be in the neighborhood of 50 to 60%–one twin is gay, then it would be likely that the other also would be gay, but not essential. Whereas with fraternal twins, it was maybe around 20%. So what that really said, although we didn’t realize the ramifications of it at that time was, genetics is part of it, but there’s something else that’s part of it, and we didn’t know what to call that yet. Eventually, that came to be known as epigenetics, which are factors that work on how the genes function, but they’re not the genes themselves.
We also talk about the recent policy change that allows Americans to get married civilly one day and sealed later without a one-year wait. Do you think this new marriage policy was a way to avoid court problems with same-sex marriage, or is the Church simply righting a bad policy? What are your thoughts regarding gays in the Church?