It's about diplomacy.

Here (and on Facebook) I last posted about how we need to be careful in response to the tenuous passage of Prop. 8 not to scapegoat the Mormons.  I was thinking about how Mormon temples have selectively been protested, there are websites that identify Mormon donors, and other websites with names like “Mormons Stole Our Rights.”  Some have pointed out to me that such efforts are, technically, factual, and not only that, warranted, given the exorbitant amount of resources poured into marriage discrimination by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  I agree with both points.  But as valid as it is to express our anger, we need to make sure our response is not more harmful than helpful in the process.

Our ultimate goal is to change enough hearts and minds on the issue of same-sex marriage such that equal civil rights may forever be secured for LGBT people.  While there are some genuine ‘haters’ on the other side, I am convinced that there are also many good people just across the line who will, if persuaded, help us permanently settle this question next time it goes up (in California, at least).  I am also convinced that if our response is instead perceived by most people across that line as a disproportionate attack, then our progress will actually be impeded by further division.

Let’s look to the historical example of emerging gay rights within the United Church of Christ.  In 1985, the General Synod, somewhat of a ‘governing body’ for the UCC, became Open and Affirming, which was a suggestion from the top that churches open their employment, volunteer and membership ranks to welcome LGBT people into full, equal participation.  Today, there are approximately 5,518 UCC congregations, of which, approximately 657 are Open and Affirming.  So even though the official standing from our top body of governence asked 20 years ago that all churches become Open and Affirming, approximately 88% are not.  This is because the General Synod’s resolutions are not binding.  There are two ways to look at this.

My impatient, inner-tyrant notes that even among our liberal UCC, many churches are not LGBT inclusive, and that is inexcusable.  From my theological standpoint, those churches should all become Open and Affirming, and they should do it today – because it’s the good, Godly, and right thing to do.  HOWEVER – if at any point this became a binding resolution, back then or even today, we would have lost countless congregations.  And here’s the really important point: there are churches that are Open and Affirming today that would have left the denomination had they been forced to adopt LGBT inclusivity back in 1985.  So though it’s taking a while, the non-binding nature of the UCC’s resolutions has actually created the space for changed hearts and minds on the issue – without fostering unnecessary division in the process.

Let me hasten to acknowledge that this is radically different from what we are looking at in California today.  However, the underlying principle is the same: it is through open (though often forceful) dialogue, rather than divisive tactics that shut down communication, that we are able to bring about change.

That is why I think we need to be careful not to primarily scapegoat just one group of people (Mormons) in our response to Prop. 8.  Even though I believe that all of the outrage directed towards the Mormon church is morally justified, I worry that a too-narrow attack on the Mormon church will cost us the support of many moderate Mormons (and others) who could be our allies next time around.

Check out this undeniably moving account on the aftermath of Prop. 8’s passage, as experienced by Vanessa, a Mormon woman who voted “Yes” while acknowledging the troubling reality of the human cost of denying marriage.  She is precisely the sort of person who I believe will ultimately change her position once she fully assumes her moral obligation to this human reality.  At the least, her post helps illustrate that Mormons who supported Prop. 8 are not a monolithic voting bloc that should categorically be cut off or dismissed.

We who oppose marraige discrimination must ask ourselves: what sort of diplomacy is needed in order to change the hearts and minds of people like Vanessa?  And are our present efforts helping or hindering this cause?

3 Responses to “It's about diplomacy.”

  1. Jesurgislac Says:

    These are two – or three – separate issues, Tom.

    First: That the LDS Church stepped over the line separating church and state and got its congregations in California to campaign and donate. This is unambiguous, and unambiguously wrong, and if the LDS Church get a penalty slapped on them by the IRS they will have merited it.

    Second: that many religious people, organizations, and churches, opposed civil marriage for same-sex couples on the grounds that their religion does not hold with gay marriage. To them one can say “Yes, you have a right to believe what you like: but the principle that civil rights are for everyone and can’t be taken away from minorities by majority vote, ought not to be infringed.” Or, more specifically: “Your religious belief may be that ‘gays can’t get married’. That ought not to affect the right of a same-sex couple to have a legally valid civil marriage, any more than any other religious belief would be allowed to affect any other civil marriage.”

    Third: That many churches and religious organizations remain unaccepting of LGBT people. But this, while I don’t mean to downplay its importance to LGBT people of faith, is not a civil right. A church does have the right to exclude from full membership any one they please. And while I am an atheist, I do hope for wider acceptance of LGBT people in their faith communities, as I see the pain that is caused by refusal, that wish for acceptance can’t be allowed to compromise the struggle for equal civil rights.

  2. Tom Ryberg Says:


    First, I apologize for not being able to give your comments the attention they deserve. This is one of two worst weeks in the world for blogging, so I’m sorry for being sparse.

    Second, I agree with all three of your points. My big issue in the aftermath of the passage of (the unconstitutional?) Prop. 8 is with the scapegoating. I strongly believe that every ‘yes’ voter is responsible for the attempted removal of civil rights for LGBT people. Mormons, though their financial influence was far greater, only accounted for 5% of the ‘yes’ vote. Yet, the visible response on our end was directed to the Mormons almost exclusively: protests outside of temples, websites revealing Mormon donors to Prop. 8, all kinds of stuff that allows them to claim “victim” while obscuring the very real suffering that this vote has and will continue to inflict on LGBT people.

    As a result of the scapegoat strategy, not only are many Mormon folks pissed and/or in full-victim mode – some of which is warranted, where there has been violence, vandalism or harassment – but now there is traction for crap like this, that we must now spend resources addressing. Back on defense!

    As for me, I am done worrying about the feelings of those who would oppress LGBT people. They are on the wrong side of history, and this ‘reverse persecution’ thing that always comes out on the issue of LGBT inclusion is tiresome. Mostly, I just feel sad. I’m holding out hope that the lawsuits prevail, particularly the one about how marriage is a fundamental right and can’t be taken away by a simple majority.


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