First, let me explain the title. I ran across a recent article at The Atlantic, “A Ukrainian Victory Is the Only Acceptable Endgame.” Go ahead, read the article. Now it’s not exactly clear how to get from point A (where we are) to point B (a Ukrainian victory, defined as the Russian troops leave Ukraine and Ukraine retains its own elected or appointed government and officials). It will likely require more aid from the West and providing Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons systems (airplanes and missiles, for example, not just Stingers and Javelins). It will likely make Vladimir Putin very upset and rather desperate. But the point of the article is, as emphasized in the title, that any other outcome to the present conflict is simply UNacceptable.
We can’t just let Putin defeat the Ukrainians, appoint a thug to run Ukraine supported by armed force, then bring (some of) the troops home. Alternatively, we can’t just let Putin reduce the entire country to rubble and likely kill its existing leaders (as a warning to any other country near Russia not to become a viable if not perfect democracy under more or less functioning rule of law), then leave. I understand that Americans do not *want* to get more involved in a land war in Eastern Europe. President Biden certainly doesn’t. But sometimes circumstances present political leaders with ugly choices. In this case (following the article; some may disagree) the least ugly choice and the only acceptable choice, the inevitable choice, is to do whatever is necessary to secure a Ukrainian victory as defined above, then help rebuild the country. Kennedy stared down the Russians (plus conducted skillful diplomacy) in 1962. Biden will stare down the Russians (plus conduct skillful diplomacy) in 2022.
Now let’s pivot to a couple of LDS scenarios, one historical and one contemporaneous. The Antebellum United States was not a very hospitable place for African Americans. The Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment were promising 19th-century first steps in securing equal citizenship for African Americans. A century later, Truman’s integration of the armed services, Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Loving v. Virginia, and affirmative action programs made additional steps toward that goal. Today, as I write these words, we see the beneficial social outcome of that difficult and long-delayed process. Ketanji Brown Jackson, a federal judge but also an African American woman, has been nominated to sit on the US Supreme Court, and today is facing additional questioning from members of the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate. A century ago, in many parts of the country, African Americans couldn’t even get a seat on a jury or bring an action in court, much less become appointed or elected judges at any level. Progress is possible.
As the US government moved to bring African Americans into full citizenship in the United States during the fifties and sixties, the LDS Church balked and delayed. I won’t relate the details, but plainly the LDS leadership faced some ugly choices. They wanted to defend LDS racial doctrines, not repeal them. They were conservative in the sense of not wanting to change doctrine or tradition. They didn’t want to look like they just caved in to public pressure. And let’s be honest, deep down some or most of them really believed all that racial folklore the Church has now repudiated. But to some Mormons at the time and to most of us now in retrospect, it was clear that there was only one acceptable endgame for the Church. At some point, African Americans, and all Africans, and for that matter all humans whatever their racial heritage, were going to be granted equal citizenship in the Church. It was just a matter of time. And it did happen, formally in 1978 and effectively only in the last decade or so as the leadership finally took steps to combat racial prejudice within LDS culture and the general membership. We do not have a Black apostle yet (the parallel to a Black Supreme Court Justice and we’ve already had a Black US President) but sooner or later we will. It could happen next year and very few LDS would object. Progress is possible.
That was the historical example. Now for the thorny contemporaneous example, tougher because we’re in the middle of it rather than looking back with the benefit of hindsight. Will LGBT persons ever gain full citizenship within the LDS Church? That is, publicly acknowledged full citizenship. There are, I assume, many closeted LGBT within the Church who are granted full rights of membership. There has been some movement in the official LDS position, such that a person is not automatically exed simply for acknowledging their own homosexuality, as long as it stops there. That’s where we’re at, point A. What I think is the inevitable endpoint, point B, is equal and open citizenship in the Church for any of those presently excluded. Equal citizenship in the Church for all of them is the only acceptable endgame. The LDS leadership face some ugly choices to get there, but as with the priesthood and temple issue for those of African descent, they’ll get there sooner or later. Progress is possible. I’d like to think it is inevitable.
Now let me throw in a couple of caveats. First, this isn’t really my issue. There are plenty of LDS advocates who publish articles and posts on this topic. There are those who organize actions and publicize the plight of the marginalized. That’s just not my thing. But just as leaders, political and otherwise, don’t generally ask for the tough issues that get thrown at them and force some sort of decision or action, likewise we as rank and file members don’t get to choose the issues that, in our time or our generation, trickle down to us at the local level, our day-to-day level. It’s not just a leadership issue, it is everyone’s issue. My sense is that the LGBT issue facing the LDS Church (as it faces other institutions in society) simply will not go away, and the logic of history and jurisprudence and morality is that the endgame is inevitable. One of those endgame points is that equal citizenship in the LDS Church for LGBT members is inevitable. It is the only acceptable outcome. Progress is possible.
Second caveat. Education is possible. I’ve read Greg Prince’s book Gay Rights and the Mormon Church: Intended Actions, Unintended Consequences (Univ. of Utah Press, 2019). When a new bishop was called in my ward, I gave him my copy, telling him “you’ll need this.” I’ve read half of Taylor Petrey’s Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism (UNC Press, 2020) and I promise I’ll read the other half before too long. There’s an LDS scripture that says the glory of God is intelligence, but too often leadership and the general membership seem to think that willful ignorance is the path to follow. Publishing and discussion and education on this topic are important. It is an established fact that Pres. Kimball’s reading of Lester Bush’s 1973 Dialogue article giving a detailed and accurate historical account of LDS racial doctrine changed history by getting Kimball to think differently about the priesthood and temple ban. Education matters. So reading and talking and publishing and even arguing over the LDS LGBT issue is part of getting from point A to point B. Point B: Equal citizenship in the LDS Church for our LGBT members is the only acceptable endgame.
Sorry, that was an aside, not a caveat. Here’s my second caveat: Some of you may think giving women the LDS priesthood is a more pressing current issue. Maybe, I dunno. It seems like the vast majority of LGBT Saints are unhappy with their situation vis-a-vis the Church, while at the same time remaining or at least wanting to remain within the Church and in good standing. It is a very difficult position to maintain for very long. I suspect most of them are praying for positive change. On the other hand, most LDS women are not yearning for the LDS priesthood and aren’t, on the whole, unhappy with their role in the Church and aren’t praying for positive change. So my sense is the LGBT issue is more pressing for the Church. It’s the issue they can’t keep dodging for very long. Maybe you see it differently. Maybe at some level it’s the same issue and the same fight.
I don’t know what else to say. I’m not quoting any scriptures, although “all are alike unto God” comes to mind. I’m not providing any detailed philosophical or scientific or moral arguments. I just think that, as the Church was unable to continue a second-tier citizenship regime for African American Saints after the US civil rights movement, so the Church will be unable to continue a second-tier citizenship (or un-citizenship) regime for LGBT Saints for too long. As an African American who fought the civil rights fight once said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.