The Price of Mormon Culture Wars
The recent policy on the membership status of married gays and their children adopted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has sparked protests, petitions, vigils, and the a mass resignation of well over a thousand members. Despite the media coverage, there has been limited attention given to the larger strategy behind this specific policy.
The LDS Church appears to be committed to fighting an unwinnable and unnecessary culture war. This new policy will have a devastating impact on the lives of many families. While LDS public relations have attempted to suggest otherwise, those who are negatively affected by this policy are collateral damage in this new phase of an ongoing culture war.
The grand strategy of the LDS Church is to strengthen the institution of marriage. Marriage and family are key to LDS theology as Mormons believe not only that families can be together forever but also that eternal families are key to exaltation and eternal progression. While the goal to strengthen the institution of marriage is admirable, the strategy the LDS church has taken is not. The core of the strategy is to simply reject gay marriage. Instead of preaching to heterosexual couples on topics of commitment, love, fidelity, and honesty, the Church has instead focused on opposition. This type of negative campaign has significant consequences for the LGBT minority in the LDS church.
The strategy has primarily included attempts at influencing legislation. While most are familiar with the LDS Church's role in California's Proposition 8 referendum, the church's lobbying dates back to the early 1990's and the gay rights developments in Hawaii. From this a pattern has developed in LDS policy making. When efforts to exclude gay marriage from civil law fail, the church then takes it out on the rank and file of Church membership. "The Family: A proclamation to the world" in many ways can be seen as a response to the defeat in Hawaii. The Supreme Court's ruling that gay marriage is a constitutional right in America, marking a legal defeat. The LDS Church's new policy could be a response to that political loss.
The new LDS Church policy aims to end the debate within the Church on gay marriage. The policy designates Mormons in a same gender marriage as apostates and mandates a church disciplinary court. This sends a clear message to gay married Mormons that they have no official place in the LDS Church. By placing gay marriage in a select list of sins that warrant a Church disciplinary court, it also sends a message to other members that will have unintended consequences regarding how people treat and think about the LGBT community.
A second problematic aspect of this policy is it places the burden of this policy largely on the children of LGBT couples. Children who primarily live with parents in a same gender relationship are not able to be blessed, baptized, or ordained to the priesthood until they are the age of 18, have disavowed same gender marriage, and are no longer living with their parents. The direct consequence is that the child will be forced to make an unnecessary choice between a healthy relationship with his or her parents and the LDS church. While the policy is not technically asking the children to reject his or her parents, the child is required to reject the marriage of his or her parents in a draconian way by no longer living with them. This is an unfortunate development for a church that is supposed to facilitate the prophesy of Malachi which is to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers.
The indirect consequence of this policy will be worse. While the Church has made noticeable efforts to teach principles of love, tolerance, and respect towards the LGBT community, the new policy sends mixed messages. By excluding the children of gay marriage, some Mormons will react to such policies with practices including shunning, bullying, and judging. Some of this may be intentional but some will be unintentional as the exclusion is institutionalized and becomes structural. This will be particularly true in societies with a high percentage of Mormons. Life for LGBT youth in these societies can already be lonely. This new policy will only further isolate LGBT youth which can lead to destructive behavior.
The LDS Church will also suffer negative consequences. As the recent mass resignation event showed, anger and disappointment both outside and inside the church is significant. Past history can give us a glimpse of what future consequences might be. The LDS Church had a long standing ban against blacks that prevented them from receiving the priesthood and entering temples. Public opposition was fierce and the ban limited growth in places such as Brazil and Africa.
The comparison is perhaps not precise but the overall process will likely be similar regarding this Church policy towards LGBT members and their children. The LDS Church will face growing pressure in tolerant Western societies, including the United States. This will limit growth but more importantly will increase the number of young Mormons distancing themselves from the faith.
Leaders of the LDS Church will eventually ask for a revelation to reverse a misguided, uninspired policy. Until then, many will be paying a price for a culture war that no one should have to pay.