Neil J. Young shared an interesting history of politics and equal rights within the LDS (Mormon) Church on The Opinion Pages of The New York Times. In short, I didn’t realize Mormon leaders had taken such an active role in fighting against equality for women; many of the quotes Young shared were surprising and appalling. The purpose of this post is to add to what Young shared.
Young made a great comparison of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the current movement for equal rights for the LGBTQ community. He highlighted the experiences of Sonia Johnson working from within the Church in a grassroots effort to gain support of the ERA. Likewise, groups like Mormons Building Bridges and Mormons for Marriage Equality are making grassroots efforts to either invite LGBTQ members of the Church back to church (Mormons Building Bridges) or push for full equality (Mormons for Marriage Equality).
Something Young didn’t highlight as well are the illusions the Church creates for members of the Church. The illusions are that you are free to think what you want on socio-political issues and vote how you want to vote on those issues. Regarding the ERA, the Church stated:
Is favoring the ERA grounds for excommunication?
No. Contrary to news reports, Church membership has neither been threatened nor denied because of agreement with the proposed amendment. However, there is a fundamental difference between speaking in favor of the ERA on the basis of its merits on the one hand, and, on the other, ridiculing the Church and its leaders and trying to harm the institution and frustrate its work.
So exactly what does that last sentence mean? Anything they want it to mean. As Young pointed out, Johnson was excommunicate not because she supported the ERA but because she was “not in harmony with church doctrine concerning the nature of God in the manner in which He directs His church on earth”. I’ll point out the contradiction: the Church believed her support of the ERA was in opposition to the way God directs the LDS Church (women can’t receive revelation and no one should receive revelation contrary to the revelation of the Prophet). In other words, she supported the ERA because of her own personal conviction, which contrasted revelation the Prophet had received, and thus she was trying to harm the Church through her support of the ERA.
So, the Church does a wonderful job of creating the illusion that members are free to think what they want on political issues and vote how they want. After all, they’re not going to discipline you for not agreeing on political issues. They’re going to discipline you for trying to frustrate the work of the Church. The two things are very different (but not really).
Another point Young didn’t highlight is the fact that Church leaders understand the social consequences for people who speak out against them. If you speak up about opposing Church leaders on political issues, you’ve just committed social suicide. You’ll be ridiculed and stigmatized. You’ll lose the trust and good will of those in your congregations. And maybe this is why the Church is being less heavy handed when it comes to opposition of the their efforts to stomp out marriage equality: they don’t have to do the disciplining because other members of the Church will do it for them.
Young pointed to this example from Johnson. Members in her local congregation said the following:
“If you are really serious about being a Mormon you will sustain the Prophet… So far as I am concerned – you are not a ‘Mormon.’”
“If we don’t want to follow the prophet, what are we in the church for? We’d better get out.”
Few things are worse than not being considered a Mormon among your Mormon peers. Well, being called an apostate is probably worse. In Mormon theology, apostates are not only just not Mormon, they’re also an enemies to God. They didn’t even make it onto the list Five Kinds of Mormons.
Mormon Sonia Johsnon chained herself to an LDS temple to show her support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Image from NY Times.
Here are things being said by Mormons who support marriage inequality to Mormons who support marriage equality:
“…you do not espouse God principles, stop pretending you do. You are choosing to look the other way of what is said and who established marriage and why.”
“homosexuality is a sin and we have definetely never been told to endorse sin…..just a thought!”
“This debate is a waste of time for LDS folks. You either sustain the First Presidency 100%, or you don’t. If you do, and if your opinions and beliefs aren’t in perfect alignment with theirs, then you need to do whatever it takes to sustain President Monson. We’ve always been told that in the last days, it will be VERY difficult and unpopular to stand strong as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints. Wake up!”
“The voice of popular opinion means nothing in matters of Christian ideals. All the inhabitants of Sodom and Gommorrha shared beliefs in the same wicked things and what happened to them? They were ALL destroyed.”
“[Jesus] would not approve of gay MARRIAGE and deep down, you[‘d] know that if you are an endowed member of the church.”
“If you truly feel that strongly that gay people should be married, I implore you to write the first presidency that the proclamation is wrong. Either you believe it or you don’t.”
I could go on, but I’m getting tired of reading this stuff. So, for the Church, what happened with the ERA in the past is similar to what’s happening with the gay rights now. The Church seems to be backing off members who disagree on political issues, probably because they understand members of the Church will keep other members of the Church in line. Arguably, this makes the Church look better — they don’t have to excommunicate as many people.
Mormons in Washington DC marched in Capital Pride to show support for marriage equality.
Another way this makes the Church look better is they don’t have to instruct members to fight against marriage equality; they now know this is the expectation. And thus is the birth of grassroots efforts to stomp out rights for the LGBTQ community. For instance, in Maryland, Mormons are gathering signatures to put marriage rights up for a vote (just like Mormons did in California with Proposition 8).
It will be interesting to see how future Mormons look back at this point in their history. Current Mormons don’t seem to care much about the Church’s history with the ERA. At least they don’t appear to get all hyped up about it. Will it be the same with marriage equality? Will they view it as a win for Jesus? Will the prophesies of orthodox Mormons be correct, namely that the Prophet is operating with divine wisdom and foresees things we normal mortals can’t see? Or will it go down in their history as another mark of shame? Share your thoughts.