Six months ago, just before the October 2003 General Conference, I e-mailed the following statement to several friends of mine:
“I predict at least one complete sermon addressing nothing but the necessity of defending ‘traditional marriage,’ with possibly multiple others touching on such topics as ‘legalizing morality,’ treating people with same-sex attraction with sympathyand so forth. Furthermore, I’ll go out on a limb and make a further, more dubious, prediction: someone, or several someones, will either implicitly or explicitly link the final passage in the Proclamation on the Family (‘We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society’) to the current effort to pass a federal marriage amendment, thereby making it essentially official church policy to actively oppose any efforts to block the passage of that amendment. And that means that supporting or endorsing efforts to legalize same-sex unions will, again, be essentially against the official order of the church, and perhaps (depending on one’s local leaders) will result in church discipline.”
My predictions turned out to be almost completely wrong. The entire weekend went by without a single speaker so much as saying the word “homosexuality,” much less “same-sex marriage.” I suppose I could argue that Elder’s Packer’s sermon on during the Saturday morning session, with the buzzwords “choice,” “diversity” and “tolerance,” and with the line about marriage being the foundation of civilization, fulfilled my first prediction that there would be at least one sermon entirely on the marriage debate. But frankly, that would be stretching it; as obvious as it may have been what Elder Packer was referring about, he didn’t actually talk about it at all.
As general conference rolls around again, it is interesting to ask why my predictions were so incorrect, and whether any of those explanations will continue to hold in light of the last six months.
Here are some possible explanations I came up with:
A) The Brethren are completely united in their opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriages, and consider it an issue of terrible importance. However, given the church’s very public involvement with “defense of marriage” initiatives in California, Hawaii, Texas and elsewhere, it simply didn’t occur to them that this is an issue that needs to be directly elaborated upon–and given the large number of members involved in “traditional marriage” campaigns, it didn’t appear to them that the membership needs to be aroused anyway. In other words, it wasn’t mentioned with any specificity because they didn’t see any particular need.
B) The Brethren are completely united in their opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriages, but aren’t completely united on hows and whys of that opposition–whether a constitutional amendment is a good idea, whether the Proclamation is binding scripture or “just” prophetic counsel, whether same-sex marriage should be addressed separately from the question of homosexuality generally, etc. Hence, given the lack of strategic unanimity, the church’s usual institutional reluctance to commit itself too strongly to political matters trumped their concerns, and so the issue passed without explicit comment.
C) The Brethren aren’t completely united in their opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriages. Maybe some of the Brethren, thinking back to the days of polygamy, are loathe to make the issue of homosexuality too much a matter of federal law; maybe some of them are theologically uncomfortable with the “natural marriage” language used by many others involved in this struggle; maybe some of them wonder if, assuming that therapy and repentance are not going to be successful in turning every single person with same-sex attraction issues into a “normal” Latter-day Saint, the banning of gay marriage-type arrangements is really either helpful or productive. In any case, as we all know, if there’s any dissension at all in the leading quorums, even if it’s just one person, the church leadership will sit on the issue.
D) The Brethren may or may not be completely united in their opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage, but in practice don’t actually care about it that much, or at least are not united in their caring. Maybe people like you and me, dear reader of T&S–all us folks searching websites, reading the newspapers, arguing with friends, following court cases and generally living in a kind of political-theological hothouse–have unfortunately convinced ourselves that the same-sex marriage debate is a cultural Ragnorak, a huge battle for the fate of civilization. Perhaps the Brethren (or at least some of them) simply don’t see that; perhaps they’re keeping their eyes on numerous trends (divorce, abuse, pornography, media irresponsibility, lack of civility, adultery, dishonesty, Word of Wisdom issues, etc.), and the same-sex marriage debate is just one more thing to them. This possibility seemed very persuasive to me once I thought some more about President Hinckley’s concluding sermon on Sunday afternoon, which featured his usual humble advice (be nice, go the extra mile, etc.). It occurred to me that, perhaps, the same-sex marriage debate–with all the high stakes so many have invested in it: i.e., the whole edifice of society, the foundation of righteousness, etc.–could potentially become a kind of gospel hobby. On the basis of last conference, President Hinckley seemed a lot more interested in what’s on our TV, what’s coming out of our mouths, what’s in our hearts, what’s happening in our neighborhoods, then what’s happening in courtrooms and Congress.
I conclude this post by saying that…actually, I find myself prepared to make the exact same predictions all over again. The last six months has seen the Federal Marriage Amendment received explicit and high-profile coverage from numerous LDS sources, the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage recognition by the high court of Massachusetts, etc., etc. As persuasive an explanation as 4) appeared to me at the time, and still appears to me, I suppose I’m still firmly planted in the culture-war hothouse; I still get fixated on public controversies, and I still find it hard to believe that everyone else isn’t either. I should make it clear–if the church leadership really does do this weekend as I predicted they would six months ago, I’ll be ambivalent: I basically oppose the legal recognition of same-sex marriages, but am uncomfortable with both the language employed by those whose share my position and the strategies by which they wish to turn that language into law. But part of me–perhaps an unworthily contentious part–still fully expects it to happen nonetheless.
*Or, “Obligatory Semi-Weekly Times & Seasons Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage Post, #16”