Monday, July 12, 2010

8: The Proposition, The Film, The Church and The People

So much for the hiatus ending soon. But now, after FAR too long a break, I'm back to blogging. This long post will more than make up for the lack of writing the past few weeks.
A while back, I watched the film "8: The Mormon Proposition" with a group of close friends. This was when it was first released nation-wide. I guessed that it would stir up a lot of complicated emotions inside me. It did. The film is a bit clumsy and disjointed at times. It probably won't change many minds. But maybe it will. It will likely turn off a lot of people. But I'm not sure that matters in the long run.
The film is an imperfect packaging of a message that needs to be spoken and needs to be heard. For so long the voices of ignorance, hate and fear have been the loudest. Many church leaders and members have, sadly, added to that chorus. During the last 20 years or so, a lot of gay activists have done their own kind of shouting. Sometimes that's a good thing because anyone who stays too quiet for too long gets brushed aside. It's also a good thing to speak up and correct the inaccuracies, slander and fear-mongering, of which the various sides in the gay marriage debate have been guilty. 
I'm a mediator and peacemaker by nature. Yet I think there's a time for shouting too. The church has been bellowing for such a long time at those of us who are gay that some shouting back is in order. This post is my contribution to vociferously speaking out. I realize that shouting back out of emotion isn't going to immediately create trust or dialogue. But everyone deserves some time to vent. Speaking up with enough force so that people have to listen to the legitimacy of the feelings and the arguments is important. After that, we can have the discussion. The church needs to be called out on the things that it's done wrong. It's hard to be respectful when the church so often responds either with arrogance when it's "winning" or by playing the victim when it's "losing" -- although the win-lose dichotomy is ultimately false.
I will unequivocally state that we all have to be careful to not shout so long and so loudly that we descend into fighting words and/or actual violence. Violence does not bring justice, only retribution. Protesters should not be vandalizing church property. Church security should not be throwing to the ground and handcuffing anyone found kissing on church property. Nothing good will come from seeking vengeance for the horrific shock therapy program of the 1960s and 70s at BYU (which is somewhat awkwardly portrayed in the film), or for the dehumanizing spite from the mouths of so many convinced of the righteousness of their cause. We are a nation founded on the rule of law. Equal protection of those laws often comes slowly and at a price, but it does come. 
It seems to me that two significant things can come from this film: 1) It highlights some of the things that various leaders and members of the church have done and continue to do that is deeply hurtful and wrong toward gay people; and 2) It provides some catharsis for the filmmakers, many of whom are gay and grew up Mormon as well a large segment of the audience who are also gay and grew up Mormon--along with their families and friends. 
Since at least 1998, the church has been pouring money (and more importantly directing efforts, and imploring members to donate their time and talents) into groups whose sole purpose for existing is to enact anti-gay marriage laws. The film explains some of the church's involvement in Hawaii in the late 1990s. But it doesn't go into the church's role in supporting initiatives in Alaska around the same period and in other states over the intervening years. It glosses over the church's central role in the passage of Prop 22 in 2000, which led to the California Supreme Court decision in 2008 declaring that law to be in violation of the California constitution, which in turn led to Prop 8. The church's reaction to the court's decision is telling. From the church's website: 
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes that same-sex marriage can be an emotional and divisive issue.  However, the Church teaches that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is the basic unit of society. Yesterday’s California Supreme Court decision is unfortunate.” 
It is indeed unfortunate that the leadership of the church chose to throw its gay members and families and their friends under the bus through a single-minded focus on homosexuality as a political issue rather than a complex one that involves human beings, whose souls Mormon doctrine states to be of great value.
The following is a direct quote from a letter from the First Presidency which leaders in California were directed to read aloud in sacrament meetings on June 29, 2008. On that same day, I sat and listened to it be read from the pulpit in my ward in Vancouver, Washington. I know from friends that the letter was read in their wards in Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Arizona. I would not be surprised to learn it was read in other wards in other states. All these readings of the letter in sacrament meetings outside California could be violations of elections laws, and fly in the face of common decency. Of course, when church leaders wind up the emotions of members of the church, the top will go spinning. So how can it be shocking that local leaders would read this letter of their own accord in their local congregations. Thus said the First Presidency: 
"In March 2000 California voters overwhelmingly approved a state law providing that 'Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.' The California Supreme Court recently reversed this vote of the people. On November 4, 2008, Californians will vote on a proposed amendment to the California state constitution that will now restore the March 2000 definition of marriage approved by the voters.
“We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. "
What happened to the 12th Article of Faith? "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." Last time I looked in the dictionary, a magistrate is a kind of judge. I presume church leaders would go on record to say that Latter-day Saints should sustain the decision of a judge, even if said Latter-day Saint might disagree with the decision. The First Presidency's apparent disdain for court decisions with which it does not agree is very troubling. Courts throughout the country reverse the "vote of the people" all of the time because the "vote of the people" violates the constitution. That is one of the jobs of the courts. That's why we have three branches of government. It's elementary school civics. Court rulings are part of the law. Oh, and there's that nasty little part about the church violating California election laws. I don't care that the fine was in the thousands of dollars. When you have an army of lawyers carefully looking at every aspect of your involvement in a political cause, it's hard to believe that it was just an oversight.
The initiative process in California is, without question, a legal way to change the law. The proponents of Prop 8 skillfully used that process. But are we to allow every issue of importance to be subject to the voters? As a matter of political theory as applied in California, I suppose we could. Does it make sense to do so? That is an unsettled question. But I know this: One of the foundational purposes of the judiciary is to moderate the passions of the political sphere. Otherwise, why not just put the constitution itself up for a popular vote every few years? Some countries do. But that doesn't seem very American. For the church to preach that we should sustain our government out of one side of its mouth and then out of the other infer that the voice of California Voters is superior to the judgment of duly elected, yes elected, judges of the California Supreme court, is disingenuous and hypocritical.
The brethren also pitted family members and friends against each other, requiring members of the church to choose to follow a “request” by the First Presidency or follow their conscience if they were opposed to Prop 8. When you make a covenant to consecrate yourself, your time, your talents and everything the Lord has given you to the church, and the highest church authorities are “asking” you to support a state constitutional amendment, it's pretty easy to understand that supporting Prop 8 is essentially a commandment. As a direct consequence, most of those who follow the brethren are going to look with contempt upon those who feel compelled to follow their conscience with which they have been endowed by their Creator. The brethren know this. In Mormon culture, obedience trumps love. In the case of the church’s stance on homosexuality and Prop 8 in particular, another thing is true: fear trumps reason and sound thinking.
The church website, whose content is presumably vetted by the stewards of the church, states, in its now less-prominent section (post-Prop 8) on “Same-Gender Attraction”: 
"When marriage is undermined by gender confusion and by distortions of its God-given meaning, the rising generation of children and youth will find it increasingly difficult to develop their natural identity as a man or a woman. Some will find it more difficult to engage in wholesome courtships, form stable marriages, and raise yet another generation imbued with moral strength and purpose."
No support whatsoever is given for these declaratory and conclusory statements. If any of the rising generation is attracted to someone of the opposite gender, how precisely will legal recognition of relationships between people of the same gender confuse them? Expansion of the definition of marriage will somehow change the natural attractions they feel? It's also worth pointing out here that a person's gender identity does not determine that person's sexual orientation. And please, don't cite to Boyd Packer's statements about the rules versus the exceptions. We're talking about human relationships, not percentages of what is perceived by some people to be normal or abnormal. And what exactly will gay marriage do to make courtship, stable marriages and child rearing more difficult? Perhaps the church could look to the lack of "moral strength and purpose" in the large number of marriages between straight people that are built upon notions of tradition rather than love and commitment. When they've figured out how to strengthen the love between people who they see as following their "natural identity," then they can come talk to me about why the love between two gay people is less worthy, less legitimate and lacking in moral strength and purpose.
The shock value of talking like this may turn some people off. But it can serve as a necessary release valve. When the steam subsides, we can see more clearly. Having all of that heat gone can allow the cooler heads and the better angels of our nature to move to the next step of dialogue. A measure of discomfort can eventually lead to important insight and personal discovery.
We're in a period of transition. There's still a lot of heat and steam building up. But if we can find ways to vent it, whether it's through movies or blogging or whatever, even when the emotions are raw and people may view what is said with distrust and dismissiveness, and the speaker isn't as articulate as they could be, we get closer to the time when the core of the message of fairness, equity, and our common humanity will be seen and understood. But it's messy and it takes time.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I'm hoping to watch 8 soon. Thanks for your insights. We had the 2008 letter read over the pulpit in PA, so it wouldn't surprise me if it was read in all US congregations, although we did not have any additional pressure to contribute, thank goodness.