I am a lifelong Mormon, a native Californian, and a descendent of Mormon pioneers. Like many other Mormons, I am anguished by my Church’s endorsement of Proposition 8, a ballot initiative which would eliminate civil rights to marry now accorded to gay and lesbian people in California.
I am anguished for what this campaign would do in abolishing rights and protections now belonging to fellow California citizens. But I am also anguished by the consequences of this campaign for Mormon families and wards throughout California. Since June, I have felt the profound effects of the “Yes on 8” campaign in our church meetings. In my own ward, it has dominated the content of our Sacrament Meetings and auxiliary meetings, as well as our hallway conversations. What does it mean that we are being asked to give and are giving ourselves so zealously to this campaign?
I have wondered how the “Yes on 8” campaign connects with the core principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ—love the Lord with all thy heart, love thy neighbor as thyself. I have wondered how it relates to the first principles and ordinances of the gospel: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and laying on the hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost? Does it contribute to any of the three missions of the Church: to proclaim the gospel, to perfect the saints, or to redeem the dead? I understand that according to Mormon doctrine temple marriage is an ordinance necessary to exaltation. Still, I do not understand how the elimination of civil marriage rights for gays and lesbians in the state of California will do anything to bring more souls to Christ.
Instead, I have seen many negative consequences to Mormon spirituality from the “Yes on 8” campaign. The “Yes on 8” campaign has fueled a spirit of fear and misinformation in our California wards and beyond. For example, many bishops and other Mormons have circulated the document “Six Consequences if Proposition 8 fails,” which alleges that Mormon churches will be sued or legally penalized for opposing or refusing to perform gay marriages and that schools will be compelled to teach same-sex marriage to young children. Mormon legal experts affiliated with Brigham Young University have studied these claims and found them “misleading and untrue” (http://mormonsformarriage.com/?p=35). If the “glory of god is intelligence” (D&C 93: 36), misinformation and rumor-mongering must chase the Spirit from our churches.
I have also witnessed how the “Yes on 8” campaign has unleashed and authorized broader expressions of anti-gay sentiment by Mormons, sentiments not in keeping with church teachings. The Church has come a long way in its treatment of homosexuality from the time our prophet Spencer W. Kimball described it as a base perversion in The Miracle of Forgiveness. But most members have not absorbed recent Church teachings that recognize same-sex attraction as an authentic form of sexual inclination that requires compassionate consideration and strict personal management. Just as many of us continue to hold unexamined, undoctrinal, prejudicial, archaic beliefs about African-Americans and the priesthood (false notions about the lineage of Cain, or “fencesitters” in the war in heaven which have no basis in gospel doctrine), we also continue to hold unexamined, damaging, prejudicial, archaic beliefs about homosexuality. From what I have seen, this campaign has become an opportunity for Mormons to feel triumphal in our antipathy towards gays and lesbians. In my own ward, my bishop started using the ward e-mail list to send several daily messages pertaining not to Proposition 8 but encouraging members to get involved in other campaigns in our area to oppose gay civil rights. Is it really the intention of the Church to systematically oppose the civil rights of gays and lesbians? Since the beginning of the “Yes on 8” campaign, I wonder how many of us have spoken uncarefully and uncompassionately about gay people, without knowing regard to recent Church teachings on homosexuality which ask us to have compassion for those inclined to same-sex attraction?
It is my observation that the zealousness of the “Yes on 8” campaign has unleashed a spirit of pride and political opportunism in our congregations. The “Yes on 8” campaign asks us to eliminate the current legal rights of thousands of actual families in California. Even though we have described the initiative as a “protection” for heterosexual marriage, the actual language and impact of the law (considered strictly and soberly) have nothing to do with strengthening heterosexual families. Instead, Proposition 8 eliminates the legal protections of marriage for same-sex couple families. Through our Mormon doctrinal lenses, we may not see gay families as families that will survive into the eternities. But to gay spouses, children, and other relatives, gay families are vital families. If we are to act with honesty and integrity, we must take sober responsibility for the fact that “Yes on 8” eliminates the rights of actually existing families. The “Yes on 8” campaign, strictly and honestly considered, is a mission of destruction. We must consider carefully what it means to undertake a mission of destruction in the name of God. In the Old Testament, Jonah asked God to destroy the city of Nineveh, and God gently rebuffed him, reminding him that even Nineveh was beloved (Jonah 4:11). The scriptures caution repeatedly that when we engage on spiritual errands, and especially those that bring judgment against our neighbors, we are at great risk of indulging our own self-righteousness and spiritual pride. We must do so with a great spirit of repentance, caution, and humility. And yet nothing in the spirit of the “Yes on 8” campaign as I have witnessed it obliges us to undertake this kind of repentant self searching. I have seen instead a sense of accomplishment, triumphalism, and pride in the reach of our financial and worldly power. I have not seen the humility and godly sorrow God expected of Jonah. Our God is also the God of gay and lesbian people; they are as beloved of him as we are. Their needs and sorrows are as real and meaningful to God as our obedience to the directions of our prophet.
I believe the “Yes on 8” campaign has distracted us from addressing our own internal matters of morality. The Savior plainly tells us to seek the “beam” in our own eye before we seek out the “mote” in our brother’s (Matthew 7:3). Does the zealousness with which we undertake the “Yes on 8” campaign lead our attention away from our own spiritual lives and attending to our own failings? We all know that there are serious problems of morality within Mormon communities too, including sexual abuse of children in Mormon settings and knowing negligence by Church leaders that has caused the Church to payout millions and millions of tithing dollars in legal settlements. Even with increased direction from our leaders, patterns of sexual abuse continue in Mormon communities (http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_10548248). Have we cleared the “beams” from our own eyes?
I know that the “Yes on 8” campaign has created deep divisions within Mormon families. As Mormons, we are obligated to search ourselves, to ask if our relationships with our family members are loving and appropriate. Do we reject or deny our family members because they are gay? Is the zealousness of the “Yes on 8” campaign an outlet for our own feelings of shame, revulsion, disappointment, and failure in having gay children or family members? Some of the leading Mormon figures with the California Mormon “Yes on 8” campaign have gay children. Does God want us to sacrifice our relationships with gay children and relatives in order to serve Him? God led Abraham to Mount Horeb to teach him that child-sacrifice, a common practice among pagan peoples, was no longer warranted. It was no longer acceptable to Him. Henceforth, only God would sacrifice His son, Jesus Christ, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, after that great and atoning sacrifice, the only sacrifice we are asked to commanded to offer is that of a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:20). Do we sacrifice our gay children to impress God?
I know that the zealousness of the “Yes on 8” campaign has brought created an intolerable atmosphere in many wards and stakes for thousands of gay Mormons, their relatives, and friends. What is our obligation to care for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters? Has the zealousness of the Yes on 8 campaign brought a spirit into our wards and families which makes it impossible for our gay brothers and sisters to find a loving refuge in their own church? I believe it has.
The “Yes on 8” campaign has directed more than $7.7 million dollars (so far) from Mormon donors to a narrow political campaign. Much of this money was raised after the Church reviewed its tithing records and identified wealthy Mormons to recruit even larger donations from, using special conference calls with Church elders. Why are tithing records being utilized this way? What does this reveal about the way the wealth of individual members has played a growing role in church leadership decisions? How many lives could this money save through the Church’s Humanitarian General Fund? How many educations could this money pay for through the Church’s Perpetual Education Fund? Why does our concept of morality focus so zealously on gender and sexuality at the cost of efforts to end death by disease or starvation, proclaim peace, relieve the debtor, or show stewardship for God’s creation?
Finally, the “Yes on 8” campaign allies us with openly anti-Mormon churches, while alienating us further from other people of faith. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “Jim Garlow, pastor of the evangelical Protestant Skyline Church near San Diego and a leading supporter of Proposition 8, said, ‘I would not, in all candor, have been meeting them or talking with them had it not been for’ the marriage campaign.” Why are we attracted to the same divisive political battles that have been the hallmark of the Christian Right, when the churches of the Christian Right have long expressed their disdain and enmity for our beliefs?
Mormons are a religious minority trying to maintain our faith in a rapidly changing secular world. Our pioneer ancestors were killed and chased by mobs from the United States in part because their plural marriages were deemed unacceptable by the society they lived in. Why do we now turn with such zealousness to eliminate the marriage rights of other minorities?
I present these thoughts only because I believe that a record must be made of how our actions as a Mormon community are affecting not only the lives of gays and lesbians but also the spiritual lives of our wards and families here in California.
Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”