Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mormons Organize Mass Protests to Push Back Against Abuse of Their LGBT Family Members and Friends: What's Wrong with Catholics?

My two-week fast from blogging is nearing its close, and I'll now break silence again to share some questions with you. They've risen in my mind and heart in the past few days, as we watch at close hand what's happening in the Mormon community in Salt Lake City as a result of the recent disclosure that LDS church leaders now want to attack same-sex couples by punishing their children.

The retreat I've been on is in Salt Lake City. For some years now, Steve and I have taken a week or two before Thanksgiving as a retreat-vacation time in Salt Lake City. We're both high introverts who love books, and so we spend our fall vacation each year — this is incomprehensible to folks who don't feel their hearts race when library doors open before them — in the LDS library in Salt Lake City. This came to be essential retreat time for us when we were working at high-pressure academic administrative jobs under an extremely abusive sociopathic boss in the final years of my academic career.

I use the term "retreat" deliberately. For me, this vacation has come to be time to read, think, reorient — to write in my journal, watch the sun rise over the snow-covered mountains ringing the city, walk in the crystalline air, and do little else other than cook simple meals at our lodging, an activity I always find meditative.

This year, the retreat, with its strong focus on working on the manuscript we've been discussing here, has been interrupted by certain events that are perhaps well known to many readers of this blog. Or is the correct phrase, "has been even more focused"? Have the announcement of the new policy of the LDS church attacking same-sex couples through their children, and the fascinating reaction to this policy we're seeing close up here, focused my retreat questions even more?

I tend to think the latter. What Steve and I are seeing in sharp focus as outsiders to this intensely tribalistic, inward-turned culture is the double process of defensive reaction against those protesting the new church policy, and the strong pushback from members of the very same tribe determined to let Mormon leaders know they will not tolerate this act of cruel aggression towards their LGBT family members and friends. The day following the revelation of the new policy — this was last Friday, after the news broke on Thursday — the library was abuzz with groups of Mormon missionaries and elders talking about religion.

Father God. The end of the world. Visions and revelations. Angels. 

I've never heard such open religious discourse among members of the library staff in all the years we've been coming out to the LDS library. Not a word of it was about the new policy. But it was very clear to me that the buzz had everything in the world to do with that policy and the immediate negative reaction to it by many members of the Mormon community. 

Tribalistic religious people tend to think apocalypse, you see, when members of their own religious community push back against teachings and practices set into place by tribal leaders as the world changes all around their tightly drawn tribal boundaries. Tribalistic religious communities tend to react with strong defensiveness against members of their tribe who contest the attempt of tribal leaders to reinforce tribal boundary lines by placing vulnerable members of the tribe on the front line as cannon fodder in their battles against cultural shifts.

At the same time that all this was happening in the library, I noticed one or two staff members who appeared more solicitous than ever to be friendly to us, to make eye contact with us. Usually, the missionaries and elders staffing the library don't even make eye contact with us. We are, after all, Gentiles, and we're gay ones at that, double outsiders. Though there have been clumsy attempts of library staff to be friendlier to patrons in recent years — perhaps because at least one person in the world has complained persistently on feedback forms about the ugly homophobia some library staff members can exhibit — much of that friendliness is pretend friendliness. It's friendliness from a distance, the kind of friendliness those with access to the inner sanctum of the temple always demonstrate towards the Gentiles of the forecourt.

Those who seemed intent to make eye contact with us following the announcement of the new policy last week tended to be younger missionaries/elders. They also tended to be women of mature age. Many of the women staffing the LDS library have long struck me as far more compelling, in human terms, than the stuffed suits strutting around all over the place, hands in pockets, deluding themselves that they're the little lords of this little universe — and not those intelligent women, who clearly know more in their little fingers about many subjects than the stuffed suits know in their entire big bodies.

As many of you will also know, as all this has been brewing inside LDS governing circles and core LDS institutions like the LDS family history library, there have been protests. Those protests are being led not by non-Mormons, but by members of the LDS community outraged that the leaders of their church are attacking their family members and friends. There was a protest last weekend in Temple Square, on the heels of last Thursday's announcement of the new policy. Last Friday night, as we walked to a restaurant near Temple Square, we saw something we've never seen in Salt Lake before — two young men strolling alongside the square, holding hands.

And now this weekend, there's to be a mass demonstration in which 1,000 LDS church members have announced on a Facebook page organizing this event that they plan to gather in Temple Square City Creek Park near Temple Square* on Saturday and renounce their church membership in protest of the new policy. As Jon Green and David Badash have also reported, about 1,4000 people who cannot attend the protest are mailing in their resignations from the church separately. 

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, has made a public statement that she is resigning her membership in the LDS church because of the new policy. She states that she had hung on up to now, even as an out lesbian, but can no longer tolerate the abuse:

It was the gratuitously cruel and stigmatizing treatment of children that pushed me to disavow the church of my childhood. It is impossible for me to be a part of a religion that would attack its own members and punish them by denying their children involvement in the church. The move is as clever as it is draconian. Members seeking to live lives of integrity as openly LGBT people must not only leave the church, but also take their children with them. It requires a particular streak of evil genius to manufacture such a "Sophie's choice."

And so as I think about all that we're witnessing on this retreat, here's the question that rises in my mind and heart: what's wrong with Catholics? Catholics in the U.S. are every bit as tribalistic as Mormons. Due to their shared history of marginalization, both groups tend to get their backs up when non-tribe members push against them.

The Mormon protest is happening from within the Mormon community. This presents a different dynamic for tribal leaders to contend with: it forces them to listen to members of their own tribe who inform them that enough is enough. 

I do not see — have never seen — a similar intra-tribal pushback on behalf of LGBT people within the Catholic tribe. Here's how I put the point to my Facebook circle of friends today:

A question I'm mulling over: Mormon leaders issue a cruel policy attacking gay couples by way of their children, and Mormons — including faithful churchgoing ones — immediately get up in arms and tell their church leaders that this policy is intolerable. Thousands plan to leave the LDS church in a public act of protest against the cruelty of this policy.

The Catholic church has just held a synod, during which Catholic leaders equated LGBT people with Nazis and fascists, and spoke of LGBT people as a demonic threat that needs to be exorcised from the church. In the U.S. for some years now, one Catholic institution after another has fired LGBT employees. Gay folks have been removed from ministry in Catholic churches. Gay people have been denied communion at their mothers' funerals. The bishop of Miami has issued a statement saying he'll fire any employee of a Catholic institution who even talks sympathetically about same-sex marriage on social media.

Catholics don't get up in arms as Mormons do, while their family members and fellow Catholics who are LGBT are targeted, lied about, abused.

Why not, I wonder? What's wrong with Catholics?

* I'm being told the mass protest will be at City Creek Park, not in Temple Square. The Facebook page for the event says this, too.

The headscratcher illustration is from The Evening Ledger (Philadelphia, May 4, 1916), and was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Johnny Automatic of Open Clip Art Library.

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