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Mormon Prop 8 Apology: A Lesson for Minnesota’s Catholic Bishops

As the Minnesota bishops prepare for their determined campaign to prevent marriage equality in their state, they would do well to reflect on the experience of the Mormons in California over Prop 8. As is well known, the Mormons, like the institutional Catholic Church, were among the mainstay of the opposition to equality, donating substantial sums in cash and in kind to funding support for the ballot initiative.

Since the vote, there have been numerous indications that the Mormon leaders have begun to recognize the hurt their actions have caused to their own members. (I would be surprised if the Mormons were to make the same mistake again). In the clearest demonstration yet of this change of heart, a senior member of the Church  has apologised to lesbian and gay Mormons of California. In a move that Joanna Brooks at Religion Dispatches correctly describes as historic, the leader of the church in California invited Elder Marlin K Jensen to a meeting to hear the stories of pain and suffering the Church had caused to gay and lesbian Mormons, not just by the support for Prop 8, but by its entire approach to homosexuals and their place in the Church. At the conclusion of this testimony  – Elder Jensen apologized.

On the morning of Sunday, September 19, about ninety members of the Oakland, California stake (diocese) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met with Elder Marlin K. Jensen, the Church’s historian and a prominent member of the General Authorities, the ranking hierarchy of Mormon leaders.

Stake President Dean Criddle had invited Jensen to the special meeting, advising him that many Mormon families in the area continued to feel hurt by the Church’s deep involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign. He hoped that Elder Jensen would be willing to hear their stories. Elder Jensen agreed.

During the one-hour meeting, thirteen gay and straight Mormons came to the microphone. Many expressed their love for the faith, as well as the profound pain caused by LDS Church actions towards gays and lesbians. Gay Mormons recalled years of prayer and fasting, attempted heterosexual marriages promising to “cure” them, and Church-prescribed aversion therapy. Gay and straight Mormons spoke of how their families and neighborhoods had been divided by the Yes on 8 campaign. And some expressed their anger over the Church’s leading role in a political campaign that gave California and the Mormon community a “license to hate” homosexuals.

There was sobbing. There were tears. Elder Jensen also shed tears as he listened and took notes to share with other General Authorities back in Salt Lake City. At the conclusion of the hour, he apologized for the pain he was witnessing.

According to attendee Carol Lynn Pearson, a Mormon author and long-time advocate of LGBT concerns, Elder Jensen said, “To the full extent of my capacity, I say that I am sorry . . . I know that many very good people have been deeply hurt, and I know that the Lord expects better of us.”

-Religion Dispatches

Many Catholics could also tell of the pain that the Church has caused, to themselves personally, or to family members. Until the Church finally sets up formal structures to listen to us, we have an obligation to find our own ways to tell our stories, on-line, in print, or in letters to bishops. Polls have consistently shown that as a group, a majority of Catholics by a large margin support legal recognition for same sex unions, and (by a narrow majority) even support full marriage equality. Last year’s efforts to overturn marriage rights in Maine demonstrated the divisive effect of Bishop ill-judged intervention. Sooner or later, the celibate American bishops will be forced to recognize what so many Catholics with real-life experience of sexuality already know, and the Protestant churches are facing.

  • the traditional assumptions that Scripture is “clearly” opposed to homosexual relationships is misguided. The evidence is at best inconclusive, but more likely has been misinterpreted, as modern Scripture scholars have been showing for the past thirty years;
  • Sexual expression is not solely geared to procreation, but also serves to strengthen the love between two people;
  • equal legal protection for all such couples strengthens family life;
  • there is social value in two people publicly making a lifelong commitment to love and support each other;
  • and the clear Gospel imperative to justice and inclusion for all also applies to same-sex couples.

A small handful of Catholic bishops are already recognizing this in public, many more are facing it in private.  Sooner or later, the Catholic Church as a whole will have to do as the Mormons of Oakland have now done, and apologize for the pain it  has caused.

In the eyes of the Lord, there is no rich or poor, slave or free, male or female – nor gay or straight.


15 Responses

  1. To think that we Catholics have less integrity than the Mormons. They apologized for a hateful ideology that occurred relatively recent in the past. How long did it take us to apologize to Galileo, the Jews, …? Don’t hold your breath, folks!

  2. Terence,

    I had the opportunity to listen to the DVD recently released. Although I thought it strayed into the political realm more than it should have, I didn’t discern anything hateful in the message.

    One of the laments on the DVD was that civil marriage has ceased to be an institution that offers protection and security for children. I think that argument has substantial merit. The other criticism, less pronounced, was that civil marriage doesn’t require a real commitment.

    Civil marriage, at least in Minnesota, is simply a contract between two adults. There is nothing about commitment. There is nothing about love. There is nothing about offering children the benefit of having a mother and father united in their common concern. It is all about the adults.

    It seems to me that there is a great opportunity in places like Minnesota for gays and straights to make the case for a revival of the core values in a Christian marriage. Specifically, it is difficult to deny that the codification of a “civil union” adds nothing to the Christian ideal of marriage. If we are going to add a civil union that functions along Christian principles, it would seem to me that we could and should add a civil contract that is genuinely committed, i.e. is for a lifetime. I see no legal impediment to making this civil union open to all adults, including gays and lesbians.

    And, I see no reason why society couldn’t and shouldn’t try to encourage marriages in which the mother and the father are working towards the children’s benefit.

    • David, I have obviously not had the opportunity you have had to see the DVD, so I value your first-hand reporting. I am depending on press reports, and I know how easily these can be selective and misleading.

      I agree that “Civil marriage …, is simply a contract between two adults. ” If that was the sole concern of the bishops, campaigning against civil marriage impartially, I would have no issue with that. But that is not the case. My objection is their double standard. There has not been any church objection to civil marriage as a legal contract – until proposals arose to extend the possibility of extending those contracts to same sex couples on an equal basis. If the press least correct on the core issue, that the DVD’s are proposing that voters reject civil marriage for gay couples, are they also proposing to remove that right for heterosexual couples – on the grounds that “civil marriage has ceased to be an institution that offers protection and security for children”.

      If not, then the motivation is clearly discriminatory – which is fundamentally against both the Gospels and expressed Church teaching.

    • Terence,

      I don’t think it is so much that the message is misleading, it is the fact that the archbishop is proposing a “political solution”. To that extent, the message goes beyond bishop’s area of competence.

      But, a review of the DVD makes it clear that the intent is not to hurt or harm homosexuals. In fact, the message is quite clearly not about the “sinfulness” of homosexual acts. The focus is upon what is happening to the institution of marriage.

      On one hand, we could say, “Who really cares?”. Does it really matter that the institution of marriage is being opened up to a broader classification of people? Does it really matter that the institution of civil marriage has been reduced to its lowest possible demoninator with sacramental marriage – namely an agreement between the parties? Does it matter if there are not sexual boundaries to the marriage contract? Does it matter if there are more than two people involved? Does it matter that if the parties are related? For legal marriage the answer is clearly, “No.”. There is no reason for it to matter. A contract is just that – a contract.

      On the other hand, we know that these things, while perhaps not legally important, do have personal and communal significance. Love is important; commitment is important. Children are important. In sickness and in health, for richer for poorer till death do us part is the core of the whole contract, not some piece of paper carrying the government’s mark of approval.

      I think the bishop was trying to point this out. Personally, I think he got it wrong in stating how to handle these important human relationships. Then again, the whole push for marriage equality seems to stress the wrong values. Trying to establish that lifelong committed relationships of part of God’s plan can’t be done by pushing gay marriage without stressing the commitment and love that is so desperately missing from today’s legal marriages.

      • David, I have not seen the DVD and cannot comment on that further. However, I think you do an injustice to the drive for gay marriage or civil unions. My reading of all the activists who are pushing for it is precisely because it is to find a way to make a permanent and public commitment. That was certainly my experience with the UK civil partnership, as it was with all my friends who have done it. It is also a major theme in the writing of Andrew Sullivan – indeed of all the writers I know.

        You cannot strengthen the commitment of heterosexual couples by simply denying the possibility to gay couples.

      • Terence,

        That wasn’t what I was driving at.

        Today’s civil marriage is NOT a permanent, and often not a public, commitment.

        I don’t have any doubt that gay marriage enthusiasts see it as a way to announce their commitment to the world. Unfortunately, the present day civil contract is a contract that can be broken “without fault”.

        I would be interested in seeing an effort by the gay community to help heterosexuals and homosexuals differentiate between marriages of convenience and marriages of convenance. By doing so, the gay community could offer the heterosexual community something that it has been lacking for many years – a civil marriage that is about loving committed relationships, rather than simply government sanctioned contracts.

      • “But, a review of the DVD makes it clear that the intent is not to hurt or harm homosexuals.”

        David, I remember so vividly how absolutely convinced we white Southerners who resisted integration were, during the Civil Rights struggle, that we weren’t intent on hurting anyone. We were, after all, only Christians, hoping to see social change handled with order and Christian decency.

        And so we produced our pamphlets and articles arguing for order and decency, and full of disinformation issued in the name of Christ, confident that we weren’t contributing to harm in any way. How could we Christians have had anything to do with the social forces that caused someone to bomb churches in Alabama, killing little girls? Or to set firehoses and dogs on peaceful protesters?

        I now think we were spectacularly wrong. The real measure of whether good Christian people are doing harm to others through their disinformation campaigns is not in what those good Christian people say. It’s in the effects of their behavior on others.

        Ask the millions of gay folks around the world–many of them Catholics–whether the stands taken by the Catholic church about gay and lesbian people are harming those who are gay, and you may get a different answer than when you ask this question of your fellow Knights of Columbus. You in the Knights of Columbus believe you are doing a Christian thing spending millions to attack the rights of a targeted minority.

        That minority may have a quite different assessment of your “Christian” behavior.

        P.S. Most gay folks I know prefer to be called gay rather than being called homosexual. The latter is a clinical term imposed on us by the psychiatric community from the turn of the 19th-20th century, which is now commonly used by those who continue to want to reduce the experience of being gay to sexuality. One other thing I learned from the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s is that it’s important to listen to what those being defined by certain names and terms prefer to be called, when they have the right to determine their own name. Language shapes consciousness. Those who keep calling us homosexual despite our insistence that we be called gay are often allied to groups intent on inflicting real pain on gay and lesbian people.

      • Bill,

        I don’t think the DVD has hateful messages in it. The problem that I have with it is that it advocates a political solution.

        Not only does the Church not have competence to suggest political solutions, but there are all kinds of unintended consequences of doing so. One of the consequences is the one that you point out. However, the fact that people will read what they want into the teachings is not a reason to blame the Church. Nevertheless, I think the Church has a special duty to discipline those who try to use the Church’s teachings to further a hateful message or result.

        Is an apology by the Church to the gay and lesbian community something to consider? I think so. Is the Church trying to hurt that community? I don’t think so. Is it harming the community? Once again, I don’t think so. But, there is certainly a lot of hurt that resulted from people doing or saying things which they contend is based upon Church teaching. To that extent, the Church has to apologize.

        At the same time, the gay community has to be willing to accept the apology for what it is and to be willing to move forward together. The issue of the sanctity of marriage is an important political and spiritual issue. It seems to me that the Church and (most of) the gay community are in agreement that loving committed relationships are a strength of society and a natural human desire.

        Gay civil marriage will eventually succeed. What remains to be seen is whether the majority of people will adopt the law’s definition of marriage as being a legal contract.

        • David, I’m sorry that you fail once again to see the obvious point that whether these videos are hateful and hurtful depends on whom you ask — their targets or their producers/disseminators.

          And, of course, as a member and leader of the Knights of Columbus who lives in Minnesota, you’re right in the thick of the process of funding and disseminating this venture. And so how could you be expected to see your own actions, your own collusion, for what it is — collusion in a venture premised on hate of a targeted minority, designed to use and hurt that minority?

          I pray that God will open your eyes.

          P.S. John Shore on the gay teen suicide rate and the Christian condemnation of gays:

          We can say we’re only trying to follow God. We can say that we personally would never do anything to hurt a gay person. We can say that we love the sinner, but hate their sin. We can say anything.

          But let’s not insult ourselves and anyone listening to us by saying that we don’t understand the relationship between the gay teen suicide rate, and the common, absolute Christian condemnation of gays.

          The truth, after all, is supposed to set us free.

        • David, let me pick up where I agree with you, and welcome your assertions. First, I am pleased that you agree that it is a problem that the church is proposing a political solution. There can indeed be unintended consequences – and one of these is a divided church, and conceivably a loss of credibility if people start to look too closely at double standards being applied.
          I agree that the Church should consider an apology, as some bishops are starting to say publicly.
          I accept that the Church has not intended to hurt – but here I agree with Bill, that the test is not the intention, but the result.
          I also accept that the gay community should be willing to accept such an apology and “move on” – if and when it is offered. Until then, it is a purely hypothetical question.
          I agree that the gay community as a whole and the Church agree that loving committed relationships are a strength of society – except that the Church will not recognise that this also applies to same sex relationships.

          Where I disagree is with your assertion that the Church has not done any actual harm to gay people, except in misguided presentations or misinterpretations of teaching. As Bill has pointed out, the test here is the experience of the people directly affected who have been hurt. From my own experience, from that of others I have spoken to, and of many that I have read, I know positively that there are countless people who have been deeply hurt and even damaged, even to the point of suicide, by the official teaching and practice of the Church: not simply by misguided misrepresentation or misunderstanding, but by fully accurate presentations of the teaching. I know you will argue that this is not intended to be hurtful, and even that it is not hurtful – but I can assure you that seen from the perspective of those on the receiving end of the teaching, it is most certainly both hurtful and damaging – and this is why an apology is required – and will come in time.

          But even before we get to an apology for the hurt and damage of current teaching, there is a bigger apology due. In recent years, there have been apologies for the historical injustices done by the church for the violence done against many different groups – anti-Semitism against the Jews, the Crusades against Islam, the persecution of the Templars, and the heretics burned by the Inquisition. One group for which there has never been an apology is the “sodomites” and alleged sodomites also burned by the Inquisition, often on the flimsiest of evidence – at least several thousand of them, and probably many more.

        • Terence,

          Before I address your statements directly, let me make suggest this premise as a basis for my statements: The Church, in her essence, has not committed any evils, nor is she capable of doing so. However, many people have, in her name, committed evil. Further, it is the duty of those who claim to be her guardians to denounce those who have done and spoken evil using her name.

          It has never been the position of the Church, nor can it ever be the position of the Church that she may visit evil upon anyone in word or deed. Judgment is God’s.

          That said, it is we who have to apologize to us. All of us are part “we” and part “us”.

          • David, I confess I cannot conceive the value or the meaning of talking about “the Church” without talking about the people in it. However, I welcome your statement that “it is the duty of those who claim to be her guardians to denounce those who have done and spoken evil using her name.”

          • Terence,

            The “value” in talking about the Church without talking about the people is to make sure that we remember that the Church is a single spiritual body. None of us, including me, can distance ourselves from our individual obligation to apologize for the harm that Church officials have caused.

            As an example, I had nothing to do with the abuse which was visited upon children by clerics. Nevertheless, I believe it to be my duty to assist in the apology to those harmed.

        • Terence,

          Sorry for the break in thought.

          I haven’t seen much of a fully accurate presentation of the Church’s teaching, either inside or outside of the Church. I have seen some commentators, such as Andrew Sullivan, who have either intentionally or unintentionally given the teaching a one-sided dimension.

          The intentional one-sidedness can be excused as an effort to advance a personal belief, or even a political agenda. The unintentional one-sideness can be excused as a natural inability to recognize our own biases.

          Inside the Church, it seems to me that there has been an undue focus on the sexuality aspect without a sufficient reflection upon what even the Catechism labels as a real and genuine affection.

          In time, I think Catholic theology on sexuality will develop. Most likely it won’t develop along the lines of “anything goes” sexuality which has gained popularity. I think it will develop much as the “unitive” aspect of heterosexual sex within a relationship has developed.

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