Monday, September 27, 2010

On Prop 8 and apologies

A recent post on Mormon Matters by John Dehlin reported a 3rd hand account of Elder Marlin Jensen's "apology" for Prop 8 pain in a closed meeting in the Oakland, CA stake. The crux of the message was an email of an account of someone who attended this stake event. Here is an excerpt of the main message of the email:
[A]fter everybody got up, and told of the suffering that Prop 8 had caused – the division, heartache, anger, frustration and pain – and when the last guy who spoke told him that the Mormon church owed the gay community an apology, he [Elder Jensen] stood and said, “To the [extent that] it’s within my power to apologize, I want to tell you that I am sorry. I am very sorry.” People were audibly weeping. Paul sobbed. I put my arm around him. It was very, very powerful. It felt very healing.
I freely admit that initial response to the story was one of incredulity, followed by wariness. A 3rd-hand account? I rank that up with a faith-promoting rumor. And unlike the title of the Mormon Matters post and John D's Facebook status, it didn't sound like Jensen was apologizing for Prop 8 at all, merely that some people were hurt by the Church's role in it.

Its like an abusive spouse saying, "I'm sorry you are hurt." That isn't ownership for one's role in the pain; its avoiding taking blame and indirectly blaming the abused.

So, I wasn't too surprised when Carol Lynn Pearon's first-hand account of the meeting did not quite match up with John's hopeful summary of the event. Reading through Jensen's remarks, c/o Pearson, the following stood out to me:
I have heard the calls for change in our church’s policy on this subject [homosexuality]... I don’t think the evolution of our policies will go as far as many would like. Rather I think the evolution will be one of better understanding. I believe our concept of marriage is part of the bedrock of our doctrine and will not change. I believe our policy will continue to be that gay members of the Church must remain celibate. However, I want you to know that as a result of being with you this morning, my aversion to homophobia has grown. I know that many very good people have been deeply hurt, and I know that the Lord expects better of us.
This is a far cry from the Church "apologizing" for Prop 8. This is a recognition of hurt, a statement that Church policies and doctrines remain as they are, and a statement of an "increased aversion" to hate. A statement of an aversion to hatred is not the same as taking ownership of one's role in spreading hate!

The Church's role in the same-sex marriage debate is not one that came about hesitantly or abruptly. Internal letters and emails within the Church have shown that Prop 8 merely represents one battle in a long-planned, highly structured campaign in the war against "Traditional Marriage". Campaign "strategery" is present in the literature as early as the 1970s, during the Church's fight against the ERA. Any thoughts that the Church might "apologize" for its casualties such a long-standing public fight are pipe dreams.

That said, what the Church CAN do is to be more open with its campaign. Much of the way that the Church acted during Prop 8 was in secret. Secret calls to individuals to donate 5-figure sums to the cause. Secret meetings with the First Presidency organizing ward and stake teams, so that it did not appear that Mormons were "running" the show. Lies in monetary contribution values. Manipulation of workers' hours so that the Church could maintain its tax-exempt status. (For a citation to these claims, I recommend that readers check out the audio for Laura Compton and Joseph West's excellent talks at the Sunstone Symposium 2010, specifically "Mobilizing the Saints: Behind-the-scenes Strategies on Same-Sex Marriage" and "Responses to the Documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition".

Holly Welker published a great post in the Huffington Post today where she discusses this sort of desired "transparency". When pressed on FB as to her rationale for writing this piece, she states:
I wrote this piece at John's explicit request that I hold the church's feet to the fire, which is admittedly what I am trying to do. He sent me a link to the Mormon Matters blog post and asked me to write something for the HuffPo. I was happy to oblige.

I am not trying to " validate my perspective that the Mormon church as somehow more broad or liberal than it actually is." I think the church is incredibly narrow. When I posted a link to the story on my own page, I included this passage at the beginning of the comment: "absence of malice is not a high enough standard for judging or excusing the actions of men who claim to be singularly empowered and authorized to lead God's one and only true church on earth. If these men want others to forgive or excuse the harm they do in the world because they acted 'without malice,' then they need to stop claiming that their actions are guided by divine inspiration that enables them to know God's will, and start admitting that what guides their actions instead is their own biases, prejudices, ignorance and fear."

That is what I would really like to see happen here: that these men admit what so many of us already know: that the campaign against gay marriage has nothing to do with a righteous attempt to follow and enforce god's will, but is instead plain old nasty homophobia.
The key point I would like to stress here is that Holly wrote the HuffPo piece at the request of John. Many Mormons from the conservative end have given John a lot of grief for trying to "change" the Church, or force the Church's hand. The same criticism has been leveled against Tresa Edmunds and her work with Mormon feminism via LDS WAVE. On the opposite side are people like myself, who feel that the efforts are futile.

Personally, I am mentally and emotionally exhausted with the Church's policies. However, I profoundly respect people like John and Tresa, who are able to stay and try to enact change. Each of the people mentioned in this post - John, Holly, Carol Lynn, Tresa - has developed a strong public status within both Mormon and Mormon-cognizant communities. As a result, their words have weight. Within the LDS community, their tactics scare some and frustrate others. For my part, I do respect their efforts and understand their motives and techniques, even when I disagree with them.


Lisa said...

I will freely admit that I, too, thought "huh. Where did Mormon Matters get this?"

But i was just so happy to read about any high leader making any sort of concession or apology that I didn't care.

I am also very tired.

Oh well.

Thanks for this great post, MC. Do appreciate it.

ECS said...

Great post, Kate.

Reese Dixon said...

Thanks so much for including me in that company Kate. I can't tell you how a appreciate the support.