For the second week, LDS wards and branches in the USA and Canada were presented with the Letter over the signature of the First Presidency, the Statement over the title of the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the unsigned background material in Q&A form accompanying the Letter. These have all been officially published at the Mormon Newsroom. Social media continues to report a variety of reactions at the local level: some bishops simply read the Statement with no discussion, others conducted a Q&A comment period with considerable discussion. Reported comments (when permitted) following the reading of the Statement range from expressions of love and support for gays to jokes and laughter to complete silence. In a post last week, I examined the text of the Letter and Statement in detail. This week, let’s talk a little more broadly about how it has been received and what it means. If not a turning point, this at least appears to be a rather dramatic moment for the Church. What lies ahead?
1. Same-Sex Marriage: A Proclamation to the World. I haven’t seen anyone point out how similar the Statement is to the Proclamation on the Family. Same tone and style. Like the 1995 document, the Statement responded to political events and the Church’s involvement in the same-sex marriage fight. Like the 1995 document, the Statement was issued in name of the Council of the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles, although in the 1995 document that entity had not been fully defined (identified there as “The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”). The Statement might just as well be titled Same-Sex Marriage: A Proclamation to the World.
2. Another Non-Revelation. Recall that the Proclamation on the Family was once referred to in General Conference as “qualif[ying] according to the definition as a revelation.” That reference was quietly edited in the printed edition to describe the Proclamation on the Family as “a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and follow.” The Statement is another non-revelation.
3. Lots of Work Left to Do. The broad language used in the Statement means LDS leaders are going to spend the next few years explaining what they really meant in the Statement. The wide variation in social media reports of how LDS bishops have presented the Statement to their congregations shows how poorly the Statement actually communicated whatever it was trying to say. In addition, the Statement said nothing about whether bishops should continue to direct informal and even formal discipline against Mormons who make public statements supporting gay marriage or refrain from doing so. This practically guarantees additional tension and adverse publicity for the next few years. On a deeper level, there is some theological work to do, giving a fuller explanation of the place of gays and same-sex marriage in the Church, both at the ward level and in our theology. The bottom line is that the Statement raises as many questions as it answers. Lots of work left to do.
4. What the Future Holds. “Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom: Two Roads Ahead,” a presentation from the recent BYU conference on religious freedom by Alexander Dushku, an experienced LDS litigator, was published at Meridian Magazine. Dushku suggests that ongoing opposition to same-sex marriage will either remain a socially acceptable position to take, as has been the case with opposition to abortion in the wake of Roe v. Wade, or it will become broadly unacceptable in public discourse, as has been the case with opposition to civil rights for African-Americans in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia. This is a very helpful context for considering how things will play out in the next ten or fifteen years.
Dushku and, I imagine, most Mormons are hoping for the former, and the Statement suggests that LDS leaders intend to maintain a public campaign against same-sex marriage. The bad news is that opposing same-sex marriage for gays is a lot more like opposing civil rights for African-Americans than it is opposing abortion rights for women. Following Dushku’s scenario sketched above (not his conclusion in which he, too, hopes for continued socially acceptable opposition to same-sex marriage), it is pretty clear that opposing same-sex marriage will, in the near future, become about as acceptable in the public square or in public conversation as opposing African-Americans being educated, hired, housed, or married on the same basis and on the same terms as any other American. It took one generation for the Church to issue the 1978 revelation and another generation to fully process that revelation and issue the essay “Race and Priesthood.” So I think we still have two generations to go. I expect an Official Declaration 3 in about 2030 reiterating that all are alike unto God, even gays and lesbians and all the rest, then an essay in about 2050 repudiating all the gay folklore that members and leaders have been busy producing over the last half-century. Until then, stay in the boat.
So how did “the reading of the Statement” go in your ward or branch? What do you think the future holds? Please keep your observations and comments civil.