Recently, Mormon Newsroom released a video as the first part in a series of how to navigate those tricky conversations about the Church’s involvement with gay rights. In their words, the purpose of the series is to instruct “members how to navigate the landmine-laced terrain of the sensitive social and religious issues of the day.”
What they don’t say is that the Church laid those landmines themselves.
As part of this new “Fairness for All” re-brand that was born after the Supreme Court ruled that LGBT people have a constitutional right to marriage, the Church is trying to rewrite their history. In the video, a stereotypical angry atheist proceeds to call a faithful persecuted saint a “bigot” in a classroom debate, arguing that the Church is trying to make its doctrine binding on all of society. Our faithful Mormon heatedly responds that part of democracy is that churches, like other groups, also get to play a role in democracy. The debate continues, the spirit of contention arrives, and everyone leaves class bitter.
After the debate, she speaks with her bishop, who says some legitimately great things like letting people having the space to live their lives how they want and standing up for what you believe in. It ends with the faithful Saint apologizing to her atheist classmate and discovering that they have common ground – she thinks gay people shouldn’t be discriminated against for things like housing and having a job just because they are gay, just like she thinks doctors shouldn’t have to perform an abortion if they are morally opposed it. The atheist sees her point of view, and they become friends. The video basically gives some talking points in defense of religion in the public sphere.
To be clear, I believe 100% that religious people should be able to practice their religion. Doesn’t mean I like it, doesn’t mean I think it is beneficial to society, and it doesn’t mean I don’t think they should be accountable for what they do. I certainly believe that every belief system, secular or religious, is fair game for criticism. But more relevantly, I have never advocated or claimed that religious people can’t get married (except for when “God” commands young girls and older men to join in polygamous relationships, but I think the Church has finally come around on that issue).
Which is why although the video has its merits, it still fails to address the one glaring issue which is the entire reason this video exists in the first place: The Church did try to tell people who were not members how to live their lives. In actuality, the Church did not advocate for “fairness for all” until it lost its argument that marriage was only between men and women.
Just look at end of the video, when the faithful saint says that the Church is accepting because she thinks gay people shouldn’t be kicked out of their houses or lose their job for being gay. While it is true the Church did lobby leaders in Utah to give gay people anti-discrimination protection, I have a hard time giving them kudos just for deciding to treat human beings like human beings. It isn’t a pioneering accomplishment to legalize basic decency when they helped create an environment so toxic that we needed this law in the first place.
Can you see why it is hard for people to take claims of religious discrimination seriously when you are making a “compromise” by not kicking gay people out of their homes?
This is why I can’t take Elder Christofferson’s remarks that religious freedom is “under fire” seriously. Are gay people calling for the end of religious marriages? Are gay people kicking religious people out of their homes? Just because we aren’t teaching creationism, Book of Mormon-based history of the Americas, or Book of Abraham theories on how the sun gets its light in schools, doesn’t mean that religion is being persecuted.
You cannot say that the Church doesn’t try to tell other people how to live their lives when it tells its membership to vote for measures that do exactly that. If the Church’s policy truly was live and let live, explain to me why Utah won’t let Walmart sell wine? Or why the Church feels the need to lobby on issues it has no scientific expertise on such as medical marijuana?
If this “Fairness for All” messaging is as heartfelt as they claim it is, why didn’t it happen before gay marriage won, or when LGBT people were being fired and kicked out of their homes over their sexuality, but only after the Church lost the battle against marriage equality? It certainly was not at the heart of the issue when fighting gay marriage in Hawaii, or petitioning members to fight gay marriage in California. It certainly isn’t the message of the Family Proclamation. It is an indisputable fact that the Church wanted to subject gay people to what their doctrine of marriage was.
The Church is trying to tell us that it just wants everyone to be treated equal. While I agree with the sentiment, the Church isn’t trying to make peace, it is trying to cover its own arse. They are losing members, especially the next generation, over the hypocrisy and ungodliness of their own policies. Missionary work is failing in the developed world. Just like with polygamy and the priesthood, God is forced once again to pivot in order to make the gospel more palatable for members and investigators. Honestly, compare the tone of this video with this article on LDS.org and try to tell me God hasn’t softened up on gay people over the decades.
In the end, “Fairness for All”, like every covenant in Mormonism, is an empty promise that demands everything of you but gives nothing you didn’t already deserve in return. The audacity at such a blatant attempt to rewrite history is mind-blowing, but completely unsurprising. If the Church truly wants to make a good faith effort at “Fairness for All” and defend itself from what it perceives as religious discrimination, perhaps it can first offer an apology for what it did hypocritically to LGBT people in its all-too-recent past.