There has, of course, been much discourse on the bloggernacle about Proposition 8 in California and the Church’s involvement in it. Leaving aside the various arguments on the merits of gay marriage itself, the merits of the arguments on both sides of Prop 8, and the merits of the Church’s involvement in passing Prop 8, I was struck by a different thought today:
It may well be that God inspired Pres. Monson to take this approach to put all of us within the Church in a difficult position.
I am struck as I read through the ‘nacle at the number of posts that in one way or another express the thought, “Why can’t we be more like other churches and/or society at large?” This shows up in any number of ways, but I see it time and again. Often it’s a fervent wish that we would do away with one or more Church practices, doctrines, or historical events (missionary program, tithing, Word of Wisdom, garments, temple recommends/restrictions, the First Vision, priesthood restoration, the endowment, all-male priesthood, lay ministry, succession in the Church presidency, etc.). It certainly has shown up in the discussions on Prop 8, where the most recent post I read today used the word “fiasco” to describe the Church’s (successful) effort to support Prop 8.
My own reading of both Church and scriptural history suggests that the Lord often requires of His people practices and beliefs that prevent easy assimilation into the surrounding culture. And assimilation is what a lot of us would like. We’d like to fit in, to not have people look at us funny, to not have to explain about gold plates and special underwear. We’d like people to admire us unreservedly for being Latter-day Saints and to welcome us into their embrace, whether secular or ecumenical.
Ain’t gonna happen, at least not in my opinion. In fact, the way I read the scriptures, the gap is going to widen, not shrink. And we really are going to have to decide where our loyalties lie, regardless of our opinions about the merits of Prop 8 and/or gay marriage in general.
Of course, I find it funny and ironic that some of the same ‘naclites who complain about the Church doing this or that for “PR purposes” are now complaining about what a “PR disaster” the Church’s support for Prop 8 is. Examine again the educational level and professional accomplishments of those who comprise the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Do you really think these people weren’t clearly aware of just what would happen with the Church throwing such active support behind Prop 8? What they did, they did with the full knowledge and expectation of what the backlash would likely be, both short term and long term. After all, the Church had already been through this thirty years ago with the Equal Rights Amendment; President Monson and Elders Packer and Perry were in the Twelve back then as well, while several other Apostles (Ballard, Wirthlin, Scott, Hales) were General Authorities as well. That opposition was a constant news item and source of controversy not for days or weeks, but for months and years.
For that matter, those exact same individuals were likewise present for and involved in the Church’s decision to change its policy regarding blacks and the priesthood; I’d strongly recommend reading Edward Kimball’s 80-page article on that decision in the latest issue of BYU Studies (vol 47, no. 2).
And yet the Church took its activist stand for Prop 8 anyway. I think that actually argues for this being an inspired decision, because a purely rational one — from the sense of acceptance by society at large — would be at most to issue a simple disapproval.
In short, while any of us can (and clearly many do) disagree with the Church’s actions in this matter, I think it’s foolish and contrary to the facts to claim that Church leadership went into this decision out of fear, bigotry, and/or short-sightedness. I suspect it required very careful deliberation, discussion, and prayer — not to mention serious legal and political advice — and that they made the decision with eyes wide open as to the almost-certain backlash.
The real question is, how do we deal with our own feelings, particularly those who disagree with the Church’s actions? Even if we believe the decision to be a mistake, if our decision is to publicly criticize and excoriate the Church and its leadership, then what mercy and treatment do we expect from Christ (or, for that matter, from Church leaders and members) for our own follies, mistakes, and weaknesses? As I wrote back in 1994:
What is critical in this process [i.e., dealing with what we see as errors by Church leaders] is that it should be done with the same confidentiality, sensitivity, understanding, patience and forgiveness — in short, the same Christ-like behavior — with which we would desire our own imperfections and errors to be handled. The Savior taught that “if they brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother.” (Matt 18:15) The Savior goes on to say that if that brings no results, we should inform the Church — which I would interpret as meaning the appropriate divinely-appointed stewards, not our circle of friends, the members of our ward, or the readership of Sunstone and Dialogue [not to mention the entire Internet]. We would probably be outraged, and rightly so, if we found that a church member — much less a church leader — was publicly criticizing our performance in our church duties; we’d even be upset over private criticism, if it was shared with those not involved in the situation. Yet all too often, we feel little compunction — and, worse yet, a great deal of self-righteous satisfaction — about doing the same, whether privately, over the net, in print, or even over the pulpit or lectern.
Given the above, the idea of a “community response” [by Latter-day Saints] to the statements, decisions and actions of church leaders is as appalling and inappropriate as would be a “community response” — complete with private discussion and correspondence, newspaper ads, public lectures and published articles [and again, blog postings] — as to how well any one of us is carrying out his or her stewardships within the Church and within his or her family. It ignores the dignity of the individual, and commandments toward charity, tolerance and forgiveness, and the channels which the Lord set up to deal with these issues. I suspect the Lord will not justify us in such a course, and that — whatever the errors of those we criticize — upon us will remain the greater condemnation.
As always, your mileage may vary. ..bruce..