This is an open letter to my fellow Mormons explaining why you can still be a "good Mormon" and oppose Prop 8.
My fellow Kossacks, may this letter help you understand that Prop 8 is controversial even within the Mormon church, and if you have Mormon friends, feel free to share this with them.
As background, I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), who lives in the heart of "Happy Valley" Utah.
Dear Fellow Mormons,
As you know, our LDS church has taken a political stand and has been actively campaigning in California in support of Proposition 8. There are two fundamental flaws with the Church's involvement in this political campaign. First, this contradicts the Church's stated position on "Political Neutrality." Second, Prop 8 is itself fundamentally flawed.
The Church maintains a policy, consistent with its doctrine, of political neutrality.
The Church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics.
This applies in all of the many nations in which it is established.
The Church does not:
* Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.
* Allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.
This is doctrine from God, and for a good purpose. It is the Church's role to provide morality, but not to impose by force that morality on the people, be they Mormon or otherwise. This is the doctrine of agency. Men are free that they might choose. It is fine for the Church to issue its statement on morality and doctrine, as it did with "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." That is a statement to the world, and an invitation to come to that which the Church has to offer. It is the doctrine of the church to then remain politically neutral.
A good example of this is the Church's stance on abortion.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life. Therefore, the Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience, and counsels its members not to submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions.
The Church allows for possible exceptions for its members when:
• Pregnancy results from rape or incest, or
• A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy, or
• A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.
The Church teaches its members that even these rare exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons involved have consulted with their local church leaders and feel through personal prayer that their decision is correct.
The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.
Surely, abortion is an important issue for a Church. Yet, there it is, after stating that the Church opposes elective Abortion, it provides the statement of political neutrality.
So why is political neutrality such an important doctrine? It can best be explained by the 11th Article of Faith.
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
Here in the Lord explains the necessity of political neutrality and the importance of not imposing the Church's morality on others through political processes.
According to Mormon doctrine, the Church could only be restored to the Earth in an environment of political tolerance and religious freedom. Mormon doctrine states that the Constitution of the United States of America was given by God.
And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood. D&C 101:80
And of course, the first line of the First Amendment of the Constitution is:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
Hopefully, this has made clear that the doctrine of "Political Neutrality" is not just a suggestion. It is fundamental doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, given by the Lord himself.
By entering into a political campaign, the church breaks its own doctrine of political neutrality, and actively seeks to break down the separation of church and state. The hypocrisy is great given the history of the church being persecuted for it's own marriage oddities (so say it politely). But it is also extremely dangerous for the church. We as Mormons are still very much in the minority. If the separation of church and state is broken down, there is nothing to prevent a larger church with a greater majority passing laws to remove our rights and our privilege to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of our own consciences.
I have expressed this concern to my fellow Mormons in happy valley, and so I will now address some of the rebuttals they have made...
- "This doesn't violate the doctrine of political neutrality because it is a single issue and not a party's platform."
This is a hair so fine I'm not sure it can be split. Abortion is an issue, see above. If you need to split this hair, you've missed the whole point of the doctrine.
- "But if Prop 8 fails, events may occur, that may cause other events to occur, that may take away my freedom of religion."
It amazes me that the campaign for 8 somehow implies that if it doesn't pass then our freedom of religion is at risk. No, it is not, it is still protected under the Constitution, see Amendment 1. Same sex marriage is legal in Canada, and Mormon families seem to be just fine there, with churches, temples, and good relationships with their neighbors.
- "But the Church isn't actively campaigning, they are just asking the members to get involved."
Sorry, but simply not true. The Church has made a direct political contribution to the campaign for Prop 8. Further more, the Church is pouring resources into the campaign in the form of time of paid Church leaders, BYU resources, official Church website for the campaign, and resources from the pulpit. To say the Church has simply issued a statement and is only encouraging its members is false. It is an actual, active political campaign.
I think the Church realizes that the doctrine of political neutrality and separation of church and state is on shaky ground here. This can be seen in the way the campaign has been carried out. An honest campaign would state the issue as it is. That is, the Church is taking a moral stand, that homosexuality is wrong, and thus, same sex marriage is immoral. The proper stand, from a religious point of view, is that we feel the California state law is immoral, and as a Church we seek to impose our morality on the state, independent of whether you ascribe to our church or not.
Yet, this has not been the approach of the proponents of Prop 8, or the church. Instead it is an attack by feigning a defensive position. "Our religious freedom is at risk if this doesn't pass." It is a backward logic to avoid the imposition of morality argument. If the Church really feels this is such an important political issue as to require a political campaign, why not make a church-wide statement on it?
The first weekend of October, one month prior to election day, the Church held its world-wide General Conference in Salt Lake City, with each of the leading officers of the Church speaking to the Church as a whole. Yet, there was not a single talk on Prop 8. That's right, not formal statement to the Church with regard to the political issue. The leaders chose not to own this political issue on a church-wide scale, even though they claim the consequences will have church-wide impact.
In fact, the church has gone to great lengths to make this seem like it is strictly a "California" issue. When they spoke on the issue at BYU, they invited "students from California to attend." When the First Presidency issued a letter to be read in church, it was only in California. Only "California residents" are allowed to make calls "For 8" at the BYU call center in Utah.
I think the church wanted to express it's support for Prop 8, but when it became clear that it was becoming the major source carrying water and money for it, they've been "uncomfortable" with the consequences.
So, even if the Church had remained politically neutral, and issued a statement and nothing more, should we as Mormons support Prop 8? Not necessarily. As Mormon's we believe in the sanctity of marriage, and we believe in marriage between the sexes, not within the sexes. And this is fine for a religious definition. However, we should not impose this definition of a religious belief on others, that violates the 11th Article of Faith. Our religion says to let others live according to the dictates of their own conscience. If that includes allowing them to marry with the blessing of their religion, conscience, and law, then great, even for same sex couples. Our religion respects that, and so should we.
Lastly, for the technical flaws in Prop 8. Even if you believe it is right for the Church to impose its morality on others, Prop 8 is fatally flawed. If Prop 8 passes, the next question to follow in the courts is the very definition of "a man" and "a woman." Should be obvious, right? Well, not exactly. What criteria are we going to use for the definition of "man" and "woman."
Genotypic. We could set a genotypic standard. A man is XY, and woman is XX. All applicants for a marriage license must submit to a karyotype. Ok, we can possibly even agree to add XO and XXX to women, and XXY and XYY to men. Getting more complicated, but still problematic. What about "androgen insensitivity?" These are individuals with XY genotype who are "perfectly women" with all external female body-parts. Try explaining to her why she can't marry her husband.
Phenotypic. "If you look like a man, you're a man. If you look like a woman, you're a woman." What about hermaphrodites, partial and complete? Those born with ambiguous genitalia have their "gender" determined for them by a parent or doctor, even if that is never how they felt or saw themselves. Who decides who they can marry? Also, who's checking? Is there going to be a "genitalia" check when applying for a license? Also, does this mean that a transsexual man-woman can then marry a man, but two men cannot marry?
Gender. The cultural or societal aspect of being male or female. Who decides this. Is it simply a declaration of gender. "I feel male, therefore I claim a male gender," independent of my chromosomes or body parts? Thus, if the State Supreme Court of California interprets the State Constitution in Gender, than it can be sufficient for a same sex couple to determine which is the gender male and which the gender female and get married.
You will argue that these are exceptions. It is true that these situations are the minority, but they exist, and we all must be accounted for under the law. Remember, the worth of souls is great, even if they have unusual circumstances. Now, in religion, there are ways to make room for these situations. As it is with abortion, there are exceptions and guidance in how to deal with them, bringing together the person, church leaders, and health professionals to help that person choose that which is best for the individual. The problem is, "the law" does not provide for exceptions. The law is the law. The law must protect the rights of all, and allow each to practice religion according to their dictates and morality.
So yes, you as an active Mormon can feel good about opposing Prop 8.
A Concerned Utah Mormon
P.S. Fellow Kossacks, as you can see, there are Mormons that oppose Prop 8. Some famously so. Mormons from Utah have poured money into Prop 8, but there are also Mormons, even from here in Happy Valley, contributing money to oppose it.