Thursday 30 September 2010

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.
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