<em>“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”</em>
—The 2nd of Joseph Smith’s “Articles of Faith” regarding the LDS religion.
As I have stated on many occasions, I do not believe any future book that would document the history of world religions in the 20th Century would be valid if a chapter in that tome was not dedicated to the public relations mastery exuded by Gordon B. Hinckley, the deceased President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Even before his ascension to the presidency of the LDS Church in 1995, Hinckley had been the de facto leader of the Mormon Church due to the grave illnesses of his three predecessors. Hinckley was a subtle, yet driving force for the elimination of isolationism Mormons had embraced within the realm of organized Christianity since its inception. Hinckley moved the LDS Church away from the stereotype the world had of Mormons as a quirky Utah sect tattooed with the stigma of polygamy into being admired as a steadfast stalwart of traditional family values.
The mantra shifted from “We are the One True Church” towards the much more amiable “Hey! We are Christians just like you!”
At the time of Hinckley’s calling to the presidency, the Internet was exploding. Hinckley knew this was going to be a dominant influence, and he moved fast to control the messages and themes regarding how the Web would view Mormons. Doctrinal integrity took second place to social standing. Architecturally stunning temples were built. Membership spiked. And the propaganda machine that showed an impossibly happy Mormon family making cupcakes for the neighborhood picnic trumped any intellectuals who wished to stay focused on the LDS Church’s sordid history and contradictory dogma.
This was the simple genius of Gordon B. Hinckley. But, like all mortals, Hinckley died. And the LDS Church has been on a strange trajectory since his passing in 2008.
Since Hinckley’s death, the political landscape has changed considerably regarding social issues. Most prominent among these issues has been the rights of homosexuals in the United States. It is now legal in every state for gay people to marry…and the Mormon Church does not like it.
While many conservative religious institutions have voiced dissent against the “legitimizing of the gay lifestyle,” it is the Mormon Church that seems to bear the brunt of the criticism. Is this fair? Partially. When a church tries to use its monetary capital and political influence to effect laws, it usually has to take the gut-punches that inevitably come to the losers.
In the arena of public relations, the Mormon Church has looked bad on this subject in recent years. Yet, with the long shadow of Gordon B. Hinckley still cast over All Things Mormon, the LDS Church has sought to soften the blow they absorbed. The LDS Church has endorsed the passing of laws aimed against anti-discrimination in housing. When LDS Church leaders speak on the subject, they now use language meant to encourage the traditional definition of marriage rather than disparage homeosexuality. They state that they recognize the laws of countries while wishing to maintain their own doctrinal purity. They have espoused a mantra of “fairness to all.” The issue would never be dormant, but it would not be a lightning rod for criticism. Then came November 5th, 2015.
It was on November 5th that changes in the LDS Handbook on Instructions, which explains in detail how certain subjects should be dealt with regarding the practices of the Mormon Church, were announced to the world. Theses changes, which detail how local leaders should deal with children who live in a household with homosexual parents, has caused a huge and justifiable outcry of castigation.
The short list of the changes are:
<ul><li>Infants from same-sex couples may not receive baby blessings.</li><li>Children living in a home with same-sex parents cannot be baptized when they turn eight years old.</li><li>At the age of 18, the child of same-sex parents must disavow homosexuality and move out of the parents’ home if they wish to be baptized.</li><li>If a child of same-sex parents wished to serve an LDS mission, approval must be granted by higher members of the Mormon Church authority.</li></ul>
Shameful. Inane. Incorrigible. Ignorant. Abhorrent.
Every effort that the Mormon Church made to come off as being benevolent contrarians—as opposed to being outwardly homophobic—rings hollow in the wake of these feckless edicts. These changes are futile because only a paltry amount of children raised by homosexual couples would actually be encouraged to attend church and be fellowshipped into Mormonism by their gay, outcasted parents.
The Mormon Church could have “back roomed” this matter. They could have politely and discretely asked local bishops and authorities to send all cases on this subject up the ladder to be handled quietly. Oh, that would not remove the pungent cloud of disdain the Mormon Church feels towards homosexuals; but it would have stopped this current public relations belt-whipping the Mormon Church is receiving…and richly deserves.
I can only surmise that these announced changes were somehow a shot across the bow of liberal lawmakers and/or members of the media. If this is false, then who exactly does the LDS Church want to impress with this ideological tempest?
Conservative Mormons would run into a raging fire if instructed by their leaders. Those investigating membership in the LDS Church who abhor homosexuality would have joined years ago if they wanted a church that was a harbinger for homophobia. Christians who have a more tolerant view of homosexuals could not possibly view this in a good light. And those Mormons who are halfway out the door regarding LDS practices were handed the empowerment necessary to break away clean.
It just doesn’t make any sense. Why do it? I think I have the answer. It has nothing to do with today, but two decades from now.
As a theory—and it is only a theory—I believe the LDS Church is trying to prevent many of the problems that existed for them regarding black men being denied the Mormon Priesthood that arose after the victories of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.
Allow me to add a fast historical comparison.
In the 1870’s, Reconstruction in the former Confederacy was repealed. The southern states then enacted what we now refer to as “Jim Crow” laws. These laws, such as literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather clauses disenfranchised blacks in the South from voting and holding political offices. Jim Crow emboldened the practice of segregation which would only be torn apart by the effectiveness of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.
When the Mormon Church held firm to its racist theology that God had commanded black men be ineligible to hold the priesthood during this era, mounting political pressure was placed on the LDS Church. In 1978, the ban was removed.
In 2015, the leaders of the LDS Church are looking 10 to 20 years down the road. I theorize that by purging children from the membership rolls who would grow up with positive, loving experiences from being raised in same-sex households, the hierarchy of the Mormon Church is attempting to disenfranchise those with a liberal outlook towards homosexuality. To be blunt, this is a quasi-purge, a cleansing, and ideological purification of the flock.
And, if the United States government in future years would threaten the LDS Church’s tax-exempt status over this issue, then another manifesto would remove the edicts, just like in 1978. If the U.S Government does not intervene, then the new rules help deter problems the Mormon Church wishes would evaporate into thin air.
The growing block of Mormons who refuse to disavow their gay children or demonize homosexuality is profound. Nearly everyone, even in Utah, has a gay friend or relative. The Mormon Church knows full well that members are more reluctant each day that goes by to shun these loved ones. They know children growing up in loving households by gay parents are not going to turn their backs on those who raised them.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is congealed to the wrong side of history. There is a difference between holding to unpopular beliefs regarding the will of God for the sake of religious integrity and being short-sighted, ignorant and obsolete. On November 5th, the Mormons may have crossed that line with few chances of turning back. The harsh reality is that the Mormon Church does not have Gordon B. Hinckley around to fix their problems anymore.