A couple of days ago, I wrote about how various speakers at the recent Circling the Wagons Conference in Salt Lake City encouraged LGBT members of the LDS Church and their allies to stay in the Church and to work for change from the “ground up.” I then discussed one major obstacle to such change, i.e., that the Mormon Church has a theocratic, rather than a democratic polity.
Some of the comments to that post were of a type I would have expected, particularly this one:
“A 'ground-up approach' would indicate that God's Church is a sorta democracy. We do not get to vote, in the Church, on what is right or wrong. It's God's KINGDOM not his DEMOCRACY. HE makes the decisions and lets us in on it through his Prophet.”
This comment points out another major obstacle to change within the Church, viz., the attitudes, prejudices, and ignorance of other members of the Church.
For example, in the comment I just quoted, the author obviously believes that Christ “tells” President Monson what to do, or in his/her words, the prophet “lets us in on” what Christ’s decisions are with respect to the running of the Church.
With due respect, this is an uninformed and naïve view. Anyone who knows anything about how the Church is run is aware that major decisions are made by consensus among the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency. For example, even President Kimball couldn’t just say, “We’re going to allow blacks to hold the priesthood.” That change had to go through years of tortuous negotiations, back and forth among various of the Brethren, waiting for certain of the apostles to either die or change their mind.
And would this person really believe that God himself told President Monson to wade into the Proposition 8 fiasco in California? Probably.
Of course, there is bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance throughout society. I think, however, that there are (at least) two major differences between general society (as well as other Christian denominations) and the LDS Church when it comes to LGBTQ issues.
The first is that many members of the Church typically either (i) don’t do their own thinking but simply parrot what they think the Brethren have said on these issues and/or (ii) cloak their own prejudices and bigotry with the mantle of the “prophets” – in both cases appealing to a “higher truth” that trumps any other viewpoint.
There are, for example, many otherwise well-meaning and wonderful members of the Church who simply accept what Spencer W. Kimball wrote and preached 40 years ago and haven’t tuned in to the more nuanced doctrinal positions that the Church has taken in more recent years to issues involving homosexuality. These people might be open to learning and thinking differently if appropriate information was to be provided to them.
On the other hand, there are those members of the Church who stridently and militantly go forth to do combat against the godless hordes of homosexuals who are part of Satan’s great plan to destroy any decency or morality in society. These persons revel in what President Kimball wrote. They delight in using words like “abomination” and “disgusting” and phrases like “sin against nature.” They cloak their own personal bigotry, prejudice and ignorance in the mantel of past prophets and then use misinterpreted biblical passages and “prophetic utterances” as clubs against those who are the targets of their righteous indignation.
Again, there is bigotry, ignorance and prejudice with respect to LGBT issues throughout society. But the appeal to prophetic authority, to the TRUTH, makes these all the much more difficult to combat within the membership of the LDS Church, particularly when – as it sometimes happens – the persons holding such views are in positions of authority.
Which brings me to the second major difference between society in general (or other Christian denominations) and the LDS Church when it comes to LGBTQ issues, viz., the constant threat of Church discipline for those who express views on these issues that are deemed to be “not in harmony” with those of the Brethren (or the stake president). This discipline can range from withholding a temple recommend, to disfellowshipment, to excommunication.
And what makes it doubly sinister is that the application of this discipline varies from ward to ward, from stake to stake, depending on a variety of factors. For example, I have a very good friend who is relatively active in the LDS Church, is openly gay and lives in a more “progressive” area of Salt Lake City. He believes in the Church, believes in the Restoration and believes that the Brethren, albeit human and flawed, are called of God to lead and guide the Lord’s Church.
Nevertheless, this man was recently told by his bishop, in the course of a conversation about the Church’s stance toward homosexuality, that if he (my friend) lived in another stake, he would likely be called before a disciplinary council (i.e., put on trial by his local Church leaders) – not because of immoral conduct, but because of what he has said publicly about the Church and homosexuality.
I know of others here in the Salt Lake City area, not gay themselves but allies of their LGBT brothers and sisters, who live in different stakes who have had the privilege of attending the temple taken away because these members have refused to stop publicly advocating for gay marriage or otherwise supporting gay rights.
One hears other stories, such as the gay man who was disfellowshipped for stating over the pulpit at a fast and testimony meeting that he is gay. At the same time, one reads accounts of others coming out in fast and testimony meetings in other parts of the country, and there are no adverse consequences.
These are formidable obstacles to change within the LDS Church, community and culture. They may in some cases be insurmountable. But for those who care enough to seek to effect change, it would appear that the very best tools they can use to combat ignorance and prejudice are (i) correct information (e.g., the latest scholarship about the true meaning of biblical passages that purport to condemn homosexuality; what they Brethren have really said and are saying about homosexuality; what science has to say about sexual orientation; what sociologists have to say about same-gender parents; etc), and (ii) (referencing Carol Lynn Pearson's talk at the Circling the Wagons Conference about the hero’s journey) the elixir that gay Mormons and their friends, family members and allies bring back to the tribe from their hero’s journey, which in my view consists of tolerance, enlightenment and authentic love.