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Oaks’ Role Designing LGBT Policy (Part 3 of 4)

In our next conversation with Dr. Taylor Petrey, we’ll talk about Elder Oaks’ pivotal role in outlining strategy for preventing acceptance, and some accommodation, of gay rights and gay marriage.  We’ll also talk about the internet rumor that the Family Proclamation was a result of the court case in Hawaii in the 1990s.

GT:  As we talk about kind of the history of gay rights and that sort of thing, can you address that issue? I’ve even heard the rumor that the Proclamation on the Family was not written by the apostles. It was written by the Kirton & McConkie law firm. Can you enlighten us on that? Is that a true story?

Taylor:  It may be. It may be, but the documents don’t fully support at least one iteration of that internet rumor. So let me sort of lay out the timeline a little bit, because I do think it’s important. I absolutely do think that the Proclamation on the Family is connected to what was going on in Hawaii and is connected to a broader set of conversations. So I do mention some of this in the book. But let me get into a little bit of the detail here.

Taylor:  So the church comes out with a proclamation. It’s an affirmation of a kind of theological vision, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and it’s an explicitly political document. At the end, the last paragraph says, “We appeal to citizens and judges, and we appeal to legislatures and leaders all throughout the world…” that this is the thing that you need to make sure that basically that same sex marriage doesn’t happen. Same sex marriage and homosexuality aren’t mentioned in the document. But it’s absolutely the implicit thing, because the church is deeply embedded in what’s going on in Hawaii. Did they need to do that for some sort of legal tricky reasons? I don’t think so. But it becomes a kind of clarion call, a kind of thing that unites the church membership and says, this is our political stance. And again, we have to read it as a political document.

The other part of the context that I think needs to be understood, is that there are a number of political documents that are coming out during this exact same time period, both before and after the LDS version of the Proclamation, that are making the exact same kinds of arguments. So, Phyllis Schlafly ran something called the Eagle Forum. She was still alive, at the time, in the 1990s. She passed away, I think, maybe five or so years ago. But she was running the Eagle Forum. Then there were other conservative groups, and they all got together, and they wrote a document in 1993, I want to say, maybe it was 1989. Again, my memory is fuzzy a little bit here, called The Family Manifesto. The Family Manifesto looks exactly like what the Proclamation on the Family does, except it’s longer. I think it’s five pages or so. It says, what are the obligations of husbands and wives to each other? What are the obligations of husbands and wives to their children? What are the basic scriptural values that inform these positions?

It took a little bit more aggressive stances on issues like spousal hierarchy than the LDS version does, but it does affirm their equal dignity.  Husband and wife have equal dignity before God, it says. So we still have some of that egalitarian and patriarchal tension even in a document like that. Then after that, there are other documents that look very similar to the LDS version of the Proclamation. So I also want to put the Proclamation in the context of all of these other political documents that the religious right is producing, that is sort of laying out an anti-feminist and anti-homosexuality agenda as a political thing. And again, [we should] understand the Proclamation as a political document, and to see it in conversation with all of those. Did Kirton & McConkie write it? I’ve heard that rumor, too. I don’t know. Probably they were consulted on it in some way, as many public documents are consulted with the legal teams, of course.  Every institution does that.

Elder Dallin Oaks has played a pivotal role in the Church’s LGBT policy.

Taylor:  There are a variety of qualifications that I’m sure that he has, but his legal expertise and his reputation outside of the church–he was a University of Chicago law professor. He had argued in front of the Supreme Court on a number of occasions. He had been on the Utah Supreme Court.  His resume is unparalleled, honestly. So he has lots of qualifications. But one of the first things that he does, at least as we can near as we can tell just based on the timeline of things, is issue what’s called a white paper, a memorandum, to his colleagues that has since leaked out. I’m not the first one to talk about it. Lots of people have talked about it, so I feel comfortable, the fact that it’s a public document now, even though it was not intended originally.  [It was] for private use. [I] need to talk about it as a historian. But it lays out a strategy of how the church is going to be dealing with gay rights going forward. He sees on the horizon that this is going to be the big issue. Feminism, they won. We won that. We beat ERA.

How are we going to then be really smart and strategic in opposing gay rights? Oaks had replaced Mark E. Peterson, and Mark E. Peterson was really quite conservative on gay rights issues. He was a big opponent of legalizing sodomy. So there were a bunch of anti-sodomy laws that were being repealed in the 1970s. Mark E. Peterson was out there saying, “No, no, no. We need to keep these and this is disgusting and…”  This is, again, “Our civilization is going to crumble if we legalize sodomy.”  Elder Oaks comes on and takes a totally different tack.  He says, “Listen, sodomy, we’re not going to get involved in this anymore. It’s going to be legal. These are consenting adults.”  Basically, he’s like, that’s not the issue. He says, even employment discrimination with certain exceptions, we’re not going to get involved in that. We’re not going to say that gay people can’t work anymore. He carves out some exceptions and says, maybe not in schools. We’re not going to allow them to work in schools, but we’re not going to get involved in this. Where we need to save our energy is for the coming battle on same sex marriage and he writes this in 1984, nine years before the Hawaii Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage. But he anticipates that this is going to be the thing. The reason why is because same sex marriage had been on the agenda in the 70s and 80s, among gay rights activists as well. So again, it wasn’t invented in the 1990s. It wasn’t invented in the 2000s. People were talking about this back in the 60s and 70s, and definitely in the 80s. Oaks sees. If we’re going to get involved in opposing gay rights, we need to maintain some credibility on this issue and save it for gay marriage. That’s the one thing that we really need to care about. Because if gay marriage is legalized, then it becomes socially normal to such an extent that we won’t be able to teach against it anymore. So he really anticipates exactly where we are today. You know, that…

GT:  Is it prophetic?

Taylor:  Probably. Yeah. He would say so, I’m sure.  He has all of the same arguments; arguments that he doesn’t seem to hold today anymore, but sort of. He warns about homosexual recruitment in this document.  I think his views have changed over time. I don’t want to say that what he said in 1984 is probably exactly what he thinks today. But he definitely seems to have thought a lot about this issue in anticipation of what is going to come and seems to be one of the most important figures in the church’s positions on homosexuality and same sex marriage, certainly since he became an apostle, and continues to this day to be one of the leading speakers on this topic.

Check out our conversation….

Elder Dallin Oaks has played a lead role in designing LGBT policy for the LDS Church since 1984.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Petrey!

434:  Feminism, Sexual Revolution & LDS Church

433:  LDS Leaders on Interracial Marriage

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Feminism, Sexual Revolution, & LDS Church (Part 2 of 4)

Phyllis Schlafly was an important figure in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment, and she convinced LDS leaders to oppose the amendment.  Dr. Taylor Petry will tell us more about how LDS messages have changed over the decades with regards to feminism and the sexual revolution.

Taylor: Phyllis Schlafly becomes the most famous anti-feminist during this time period. Schlafly is a Catholic, and she sees something that had been happening in the broader conservative religious world at the time, where there had been a backlash to the kinds of feminism that was arising.  But it hadn’t really been organized as a political movement. So she sees that evangelicals and Protestant fundamentalists and even Mormons, are opposing feminism. She says we need to unite all of these people into a single coalition that will be able to speak for our values. The big issue of the time period is the Equal Rights Amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment was hugely popular among Democrats and Republicans.

All the Republicans at the outset of it passing in Congress, were ecstatic about it, and then it needs to march through the states.  Immediately it’s passed by the first 32 states within the first year or something like that.  That’s when the opposition really gets going. When the Stop ERA movement that Phyllis Schlafly is organizing and pulling together–all the sort of anti-feminist groups into a political coalition and the Church gets involved.  [The Church] is specifically recruited by Phyllis Schlafly to get involved in this fight. [The Church] politically mobilizes, for the first time in decades at that point.  The Church had not really seen itself as having a political mission. Even during ERA, at the very beginning, if you asked church leaders in the first couple of years that the ERA was a public topic, in the early 70s–the ERA had been around since the 1920s. But it really kind of gets going in the early 70s. It was supposed to be the sort of follow-up to the civil rights amendments or civil rights movements of the 1960s.  So now it’s the feminists turn, so the Church gets recruited to do this and reverses itself because at first it was a no, this is a political issue. We don’t comment on political issues. We just care about moral issues, not political ones. But Phyllis Schlafly convinces the church that this is a moral issue, that it’s not just a political issue. So the Church decides to mobilize its membership in this political fight, and they start sending members to ERA conventions to shout down the leaders that are there, and to disrupt the meetings. The Church’s, nearly decade long, it lasted about eight years, fight against the Equal Rights Amendment until it was finally defeated in 1982, decisively. This was one of the major ways that the church gets involved in the anti-feminist movement.

We’ll also talk about changing attitudes with regards to birth control, and how feminism was tied to lesbians.  Were you aware that Schlafly changed Kimball’s mind on the Equal Rights Amendment?  Check out our conversation….

Phyllis Schlafly persuaded Pres Kimball to oppose ERA.
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Out of the Box Mormons (Part 4 of 6)

There has been a slowdown in growth for the LDS Church recently.  I asked Dr. Jana Riess what the Church can do to halt the slide, and I was a bit surprised at her answer.  Is there a problem with “out of the box” Mormons?

GT : Is there anything in your book that you think that leaders can use to keep people in?

Jana:  Yes, and no. {Chuckling} So that’s my wishy-washy answer. The Yes, part is yes, there are things. For example, backing away on LGBT issues can only help. It certainly would help if the church did a better job of incorporating more Millennials into things that they care about, rather than indexing genealogy or things that the church cares about, but that are not necessarily driving attendance for people in their 20’s. There are a lot of things like that.  We could have better architecture. I have a whole list of those things.

Jana:  But the no side, which I think is just as important, and I’m speaking here as a historian. When we look at the bigger picture of what’s going on in American religion, more generally, Mormons and ex-Mormons are so tunnel-focused on what the Church is, or is not doing, that is driving this problem that they miss the bigger picture that Mormonism is not an island. We have, throughout our history, been buffeted by the tides of whatever is going on in American religion. In the 1950s and 60s, when religion was thriving in the United States, we were also thriving. And in the 70s, and 80s, when conservative religions, in particular, were thriving the United States, we were thriving.  Now we’re in a period where everyone is suffering, we are also suffering. So in that context, particularly because we are less than 2% of the population, there’s not a lot we can do.

Mormonism is really good for nuclear families, but it can be a tough place for singles, divorced, LGBT, widowed, or other members who may not have the ideal Mormon family.  In our next conversation with Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll, we’ll talk about non-traditional families, and how we can make church culture better for others.

Jana: There is one area where I see church leaders really trying to change this outcome. And it’s in the hammering of marriage and having children. Recent talks by certain church leaders have emphasized this. And that’s not to say it hasn’t been an emphasis all along, but the stakes are much higher. We’re looking at a scenario where married church members, according to the church’s own leaked statistics, married church members in their 20s are twice as likely to be active, as single church members in their 20s of the same age. So, the Church says, “Well, let’s just get everybody married,” right? And the people who are most active in the church are the people who have children of school age and are in those programs right now. “Well, let’s get people to have children,” right?  And of course, that plays into the eternal message of the gospel, that marriage and children are part of your exaltation forever. So, it’s not like this is just a cynical, sociological move that we need to up our activity rates. They truly, I think, earnestly believe that this is also contributing to people’s eternal salvation, but they have got to be worried about marriage among Millennials as a whole in this nation. Millennials are delaying marriage Millennials are having fewer children or not having children at all. And in terms of religiosity that is a concern, not just for Mormons, but for all organized religions. Because those young parents are the mainstay. They are the bread and butter of religious activity and tithing and programs, the success of the programs. So that’s where you’re going to see them trying to change that narrative.

GT:  To be more friendly to singles, is that what you’re saying?

Jana:  No. I’m afraid not.

GT:  That’s too bad.

Jana:  To be telling singles, “Just get married already,” which seems to be the message that comes up again and again.

Do you agree?  Check out our conversation….

What can LDS Leaders do to encourage “out of the box” Mormons to stop leaving the Church?

Don’t miss out other conversations with Jana and Ben!

298: Comparing Mormons by Generations

297: Surprising Mormon Response

296: How to Randomly Sample Mormons