Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wik Wikholm Reviews "8: The Mormon Proposition": Must-See Viewing about Role of Religious Groups in Attacking Gay Rights

I meant a day or so ago to mention Wik Wikholm's fine 1 April review of the documentary "8: The Mormon Proposition" at the glbtq website, and then forgot to do so.  A lazy Sunday evening is the perfect time for me to take note of this review before it slips away from my notice.  For anyone following the role of religion in the battles over gay rights in the U.S., this sounds like a must-see film.

Wikholm minces no words about what he thinks the documentary demonstrates: here's his opening statement,

The documentary film 8: The Mormon Proposition indicts the Mormon Church as the puppet master that orchestrated, funded, and deliberately concealed its role in what appeared to be a successful grassroots Evangelical and Roman Catholic campaign for Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that ended same-sex marriage in California when it passed on November 4, 2008.

The film frames its analysis, Wikholm notes, with an interview with Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who says that success with ballot initiatives like prop 8 in California demands money, volunteers, and a message that resonates.  The LDS church provided all three to take away the right of civil marriage for gay citizens of California, Kendell thinks.

Activist Fred Karger has succeeded in obtaining a set of internal Mormon church documents which show that the LDS church is aware that its image is an impediment in the public square, and for that reason, it allied itself secretly with conservative evangelical Christians and powerful Catholic anti-gay groups in California, supplying the bulk of the money and volunteers for the prop 8 campaign behind the scenes, while permitting the other two groups to appear to be spearheading the drive to repeal gay marriage as a grassroots initiative.

The documentary suggests that, having found this approach so successful, the LDS church is now strategizing with the largely Catholic National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to apply a similar formula--behind-the-scenes money and manpower, as NOM takes a high-profile public role with Mormon support hidden in the background--in states other than California, including Maine and Maryland.  As he notes,

The film suggests that the Mormon Church is engaged in what amounts to money laundering by concealing its funding of non-tax-exempt PACs like NOM so that the church's own tax-exempt status as a non-political religious organization is protected.

NOM, of course, persistently refuses to reveal its funders, even when federal and state laws demand such transparency, and it mounts legal battles repeatedly to keep its funding sources secret.  In the view of the documentary, the Mormon church has a strong interest in colluding with Catholic groups like NOM (and with the Catholic bishops) in attacking gay marriage because Mormon theology teaches that God, Heavenly Father, once had a human body and became a god when he died, and then married many spirit wives, populating the earth.

As Wikholm notes, "According to church doctrine, good Mormons will become gods when they die and populate their own planets just as their heavenly father did."  Hence the abhorrence of same-sex relationships and of gay people, since the theology of the LDS church is heavily invested in maintenance of traditional gender roles and in a model of family and procreativity that stresses the obligation to marry heterosexually and have children.  And though what Catholics and evangelicals call "traditional" marriage is miles and miles apart from this theological understanding, the shared hostility of some religious adherents in these religious traditions to gay and lesbian people leads them to make common cause with a religious group whose understanding of marriage (and of God) is strongly at variance with traditional Christian notions.

This sounds to me like a necessary film to watch, for those interested in the role that religious groups and (some) people of faith are playing in the American political context today to block gay rights and attack same-sex marriage.  And as I notice Wik Wikholm's review, I'd like to put in a plug for the outstanding glbtq website, which is one of the best online scholarly resources around for information about gay and lesbian people, lives, and issues.

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