20 June 2010

Same Tune, Different Words

An announcement was recently circulated to all Mormon Church units in southeastern Idaho. Here's what it said:

We live in a time of increasing difficulty and temptation. The world is relentless in its efforts to ensnare Latter-day Saints. One particularly difficult trial faced by many members of the Church is being African-American which prevents them holding the priesthood, prevents them going to the temple and so restricts them to marriages that will last only for this life. This unwanted difficulty is increasingly common. While the percentage of individuals who are this way is small, nearly 10% of the country's population is African-American. The nature of this trial--the fact that their race alone prevents them from receiving the ordinances that are the only possible way to live with God again after this life--leads far too many of our members to become discouraged and abandon hope. Far too many fall away from the sweet peace that the Gospel can bring.

Recently, the Church has made an effort to explain its position with respect to African-Americans with a new level of compassion and understanding. A book called "Mormonism and the Negro - An explanation and defense of the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in regard to Negroes and others of Negroid Blood" was recently published and makes it clear that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recognize the need for us to reach out in love and understanding to those who experience being black. This helpful book makes it clear that we as Latter-day Saints should extend "brotherly Christian love to the Negro." However, this "does not and should not include intermarriage, for we would bring upon our children the curse of Cain, or rather, we would bring unto ourselves children from those spirits destined to be the seed of Cain." It also reminds us of the First Presidency's official statement confirming that "intermarriage of the Negro and White races" is a concept "most repugnant to most normal minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now."

In order to increase understanding and compassion for those who struggle with this burden, we have organized a fireside designed for all members of the Church: individuals who are African-American and Priesthood leaders, as well as every parent and friend in the Church. We invite your stake or ward to participate in this unique opportunity. Please make an effort to let every member know about this invaluable learning experience. This special fireside will include specific instruction for you as Priesthood leaders, for those who experience being black, and for friends and family. Presenters will include Priesthood leaders and sociological professionals. We are also honored to announce that John J. Stewart, author of Mormonism and the Negro, will be our feature speaker.

We've included a flier that could be posted in your buildings. We've also included an announcement to add to your bulletin for the next couple of weeks. Additionally, we encourage you to consider announcing this event from the pulpit. Perhaps you are aware of individuals who would benefit from this fireside; they would most-likely benefit from a special personal invitation for them to attend.

Thank you sincerely for your efforts in reaching out to those who struggle daily with this incredibly difficult and often misunderstood challenge. As we all strive to increase our understanding and compassion, we will be better able to offer the Christ-like love and support so desperately needed.

Okay, okay. You've probably caught on by now. This announcement wasn't about African-Americans, it was about those who "suffer from same gender attraction." I have changed fact points as necessary, but as I did with the Delbert Stapley letter a little while back, I've otherwise kept an original LDS Church document intact. Change all "African-American" references to "suffer from same gender attraction" references in the announcement above, and you'll have the 100% original authentic document that went to 63 LDS stakes in southeastern Idaho. (BTW, the original announcement touted Ty Mansfield, co-author of pro-LDS Church apologetic "In Quiet Desperation" as "feature [sic] speaker.")

I applaud the sponsors of this event for their efforts to reach out. I freely concede that they believe they are operating from what they believe is Christian love. It's certainly better than what many Christians have done to God's gay children in the name of faith.

But these LDS leaders in Idaho also need to know that their approach is patronizing, condescending, and perpetuates the very problems they claim to be trying to address. The underlying message and assumption is that gay people need this compassion and understanding because they are flawed, have this horrible burden to "struggle with," are in a separate category that requires special treatment, extra effort by Mormons to be nice to them, poor souls, because of this terrible thing that life or God or their own actions have imposed on them.

I for one reject this approach, and many others will too. Its advocates need to understand that it is just as offensive as good Christian racists were 50 years ago when they talked of treating The Negroes with kindness because they were a cursed, inferior race suffering with this unwanted burden so therefore God's favored white race had a Christian duty to reach out in "understanding and compassion"--as long as they kept their place and didn't get uppity about it. We'll be nice to you, but don't you go questioning why we treat you this way in the first place.

Idaho Mormon leaders need to understand that if any suffering results from being gay--or particularly being gay and Mormon--it's NOT an intrinsic inevitable result of the condition itself. It's solely a result of the very attitudes that prompt this announcement: a belief that being gay is bad, wrong, a mistake, a threat, and then treating gay people accordingly. Idaho LDS leaders have once again demonstrated that the Mormons have the cart before the horse. Take away the religiously based prejudice and all the "difficulties" Idaho's Mormon leaders are trying to treat with "compassion" would disappear.

Notice the reliance on First Presidency statements--just as anti-gay Mormons do today--and the actual First Presidency statement that interracial marriage has been "repugnant" to "most normal people" since the time of the ancient prophets. We hear the same thing from Mormons today about being gay: it's been "condemned" by prophets since ancient times, it's not "normal," that marriage has always been between a man and a woman throughout human history (arguably not true, but that's for another post), and so therefore we must continue our soft homophobia because that's the way it's always been done. Well guess what, folks, that's exactly what Mormons thought about African-Americans until one startling day in 1978. And if you really believe the 9th Article of Faith, you must concede that you or your kids or your grandkids are not safe from a similar startling reversal of what you thought were eternal principles about The Gay.

I can only hope that in another 50 years, future generations of Mormons will look back on this announcement from Idaho Mormon leaders with the same incredulity and shame that today's Mormons look at "Mormonism and the Negro." Because it really is the same tune, just different words.


Joned Rahadian said...

Okay. I've read ur rebuttal about the issue. So what do you suggest them to do (or say)?


Romulus said...

I'm nervous because of who they have invited to speak. "Mental health professionals" is a quite vague term, and they really can say anything and be believed since they are "professionals." If they are aligned with accepted sociological and psychological standards, they will say that you can't change your orientation. I hope that they say that.

And with Ty Mansfield. I like the guy. We've hung out several times. But he's recently married and quite a known figure among gay Mormondom. The official church position is that they don't know why people are gay, but they don't need to get married to "cure" and "get over" it. I'm afraid that even if they say that, they will be like, BUT look at the love and joy that Ty has!

While the organizers may have good intentions, I don't think that a healthy message will perpetuate.

Bravone said...

Rob, I respectfully must call you out on this one. I'm afraid you don't have all the facts, and hope once you understand a bit better, you will retract some of what you said.

First this fireside is the direct result of a gay LDS friend and my efforts. We planned the entire program, including the announcements, fliers, speakers - everything. After we planned the program, I took it to my stake president who took it to the three area authorities involved to obtain permission to hold it in the stake center by the temple and to announce it in all the wards of the 60 stakes.

This is not an effort by leaders in any way to control the agenda or send a message that we are second class citizens or need fixed.

If you find fault with the program, blame me, not the church. Hopefully you know me well enough to know that I do not condemn homosexuals or consider those who choose to live a life with a homosexual partner to be an abomination.

I am gay myself, have a gay brother, several gay family members, and tons of gay friends.

The purpose of the fireside is to educate leaders and family about the challenges gay members of the church face. It is to offer hope to those who are gay and want to maintain a close connection with the church.

We have a small support group here with about 2/3 BYUI students. It is very apparent that bishops and stake presidents lack understanding in helping gay members of their congregations. In this fireside, there will be breakout sessions for priesthood leaders, friends and family, gay men, and gay women. In each of these sessions, a priesthood leader will speak for 20 minutes and so will a mental health professional. Then we will have a 20 minute Q&A with those two and 2 or 3 of us who are gay. I will be on the panel in the priesthood leader group. It is a bit daunting to know that all of Eastern Idaho will then have the possibility to know that I, who work and live amongst them, am gay. It is somewhat of a risk on my part, but is worth it if one young man or woman is helped to know that they aren't broken, don't need fixed, and are loved and accepted by their church leaders.

After the breakout sessions, we will come together again, with Ty as the keynote speaker. We chose Ty, not because he is recently married and we are trying to use him as an example that if gay members hold fast to the church, they will be blessed with a spouse, but because he is a good man who truly understands the issues we face and is a good example of one who is doing his best to live faithfully as a gay member of the church.

Again, this fireside is solely the result of two gay men, my friend and me, who want to help church leaders understand our needs, and how they can best support us. I personally witnessed the heartbreak my family caused in my brother's life because we did not understand this issues he faced. This program will hopefully spare some from the shame and heartbreak he felt because of ignorance on the part of my family. It is also an opportunity to help those who are gay understand that they are loved, wanted and needed in the church, and that there is hope, that life is worth living, and that happiness can be found within the church.

I believe that those of us who have first hand knowledge of the difficulties gay Mormons face have the responsibility to do our part to soften hearts and open minds of fellow members. This is our attempt to do just that.

If you want to cast stones, throw them directly at me. I stand exposed and ready to receive them.

Bravone aka Steven Frei

Draek said...

Everything they do is based in fear. Fear is not based in love. Fear is a lack of love.

Christ spoke a message of love. Many Mormons do not understand this message (they just strongly think they do). As long as they believe that you can "Love the sinner, Hate the sin" they will fail to really understand what love means. It's really easy to love the people who you have formed within your circle. It is much more difficult to love someone who is far away from your understanding. That's the true test of mankind. We are meant to carry each other's burdens as if they were our own. Mormons separate themselves from the burdens of the world. Thats why they cannot assist the others in an authentic manner.

Thats just the way I see it.

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

Agreed. The language "professionals" is highly suspect. Professional instruction might include an aspect of spirituality (for instance, my university had non-denominational spirituality of social work and psychology of spirituality courses). That said, I don't think give much credence to psychologists handing out "pray away the gay" prescriptions. It simply goes against the basic tenets of psychology, which suggests a far more biological connection than most would like to admit. For that reason, this comparison is spot-on, Rob.

MoHoHawaii said...

I'd like to quote Carol Lynn Pearson (her book, No More Goodbyes, is the fireside they need to have). Carol Lynn was asked during the campaign for Proposition 22 (an anti-gay voter initiative) what her opinion was by a member of the church who was assigned to canvass her neighborhood and who stopped her as she was coming home from running an errand. She recalls the incident:

"Well," I put down my two gallons of low-fat milk on the pavement. "My feelings." I took a moment to breathe a time or two and watch a squirrel dart by. "This is the deal, Brother Sutton." I looked at him evenly. "Marriage. It's not that the Brethren don't want gay men to get married. It's just that they want them to marry me. And they want them to marry my daughter. And that's not okay with me. It should not be okay with any of us. I know you're just doing your job here, but tonight as you go to bed I would like you to lie there for a while and think-- would you like one of your daughters to marry one of our sweet, young, gay men, fresh off his mission and anxious to do the 'right' thing?"

I like Carol Lynn's point of view. The young gay men are as innocent and sincere in their desire to do the right thing as they can be. The young women have all of the innocent and sincere aspirations that young girls who want to marry carry with them. It is up to us, older and with more experience in these things, to alert the young people to the danger. Instead, LDS Church leaders are entirely silent on the issue (at their best) and actively encourage gay men to marry women (at their worst). Having newly married Ty Mansfield on the podium as the featured speaker sends a powerful message. It doesn't matter what he says (and I can guarantee you that he will *not* warn against mixed-orientation marriage).

I get Bravone's point of view. Bishops are so unfamiliar with the issue that they are giving horrible advice. It's good to at least introduce them slowly (milk before meat!). I won't argue with that. You can't persuade unless you are on speaking terms. I'm just concerned about all of the collateral damage in the hundreds and hundreds of lives that will occur along the way as bishops and young people attend this fireside and get a burning in their bosom about the feasibility of marital bliss when there are grotesquely mismatched sexual orientations.

(P.S. Rob, your blog has pop-up spam. :-<)

Evan said...

I've talked with Steve Frei about this, and I will stand up with him and say this is a HUGE step forward and is something that is desperately needed throughout the nation. If my family lived in Idaho, I would love to have them go to this event.

I am also friends with Ty Mansfield and very much respect him as a person and the work he has done. I am very happy that he was selected to speak.

Sean said...

I commented about this on GayLDSActor's page. Be the event brought about by Steven or the 1st presidency just the language used in describing the event continues to perpetuate the church's myth that "there's something wrong with gay people."

It's just like in Harry Potter and not using Voldemorts name. Fear of a name (be it gay, homosexual) only increases fear of the thing itself, as Hermione very wisely put it.

While I think the desire to educate other members and give hope to gay youth is admirable, playing in to the leadership's hands by using their marginalizing linguistic devises only promotes that fear of "The Gay."

For all those who want to make a difference in the church remember this is a patriarchal corporation. It is a trickle down change. If you want real change you must start with changing the ideals of the leadership first and the members will follow. Not the other way around. All you will do by working your way up is create schisms, confusion, and ultimately more heartbreak when other young gay Mormon boys think that following in Ty Mansfield's footsteps is the right thing to do because it aligns with the church's already in place theology and agenda.

Until people and leadership can start using the terminology (and not the "afflicted attraction" terminology) with out fear that they are going to catch the gay disease and be excommunicated, this is just wishful thinking and political masturbation.

Beck said...

I would like to applaud Bravone for trying to do something, anything to increase the dialog and to improve understanding within the church. He seems to have done this on his own accord with great personal risk on the line. I say give him the benefit of the doubt and wait and see the fruits of his efforts before slamming the door in his face.

Original Mohomie said...

Some of the key language in the announcement really rubbed me the wrong way, too.

That said, I'm very glad this fireside is taking place and consider it somewhat of a miracle that it's even happening. The crowd is very different in southeastern Idaho than in California or even in Salt Lake. We're talking something like Provo but with even less exposure to people from a wide variety of ethnic, political, or ideological backgrounds (it's a sparsely populated, quite homogeneous area, despite being a fairly well-educated area with occasional fairly tight-knit, quiet gay circles). So there really is a learning curve for them, and it's tricky to navigate that or gauge what language choices or messages might actually push people away.

Still, I think it's a precious opportunity to send constructive messages and knock down the need to paint the issue in somber, woeful tones and to truly help people "find joy in the journey" rather than getting all wrapped up in whether or not they'll be married next year and have 10 babies, or be "fixed" by therapy, or whatever.

Knowing Ty, he will be sensitive in his message, and it will be relevant to the theme of finding joy in the journey rather than caught up in those supposed checklist markers of "success" LDS people seem to love to be fixated on (e.g. marriage to someone of the opposite sex).

Yes, there will be an unspoken implication just having him as the keynote speaker: "if you get married, you too will be whole and will be respected by others", but I know that's not intended, definitely not by Ty. I'm not even sure it's his job to speak to that possible interpretation. It might be nice to at least mention that everyone's path is different, and marriage may not be some people's goal or purpose, but if the message of the fireside is delivered effectively as finding joy in the journey, then that whole thing should almost be irrelevant to those who actually attend and hear the message.

I'm reserving judgment until Sunday evening.