The church, which has long sought to be seen as part of America's mainstream, joins with other religious organizations to back California's ban on gay marriage. But now it has become a political target.
In June, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made a fateful decision. They called on California Mormons to donate their time and money to the campaign for Proposition 8, which would overturn a state Supreme Court ruling that permitted gay marriage.
That push helped the initiative win narrow passage on election day. And it has made the Mormon Church, which for years has striven to be seen as part of the American mainstream, a political target.
Protesters have massed outside Mormon temples nationwide. For every donation to a fund to overturn Proposition 8, a postcard is sent to the president of the Mormon Church. Supporters of gay marriage have proposed a boycott of Utah businesses, and someone burned a Book of Mormon outside a temple near Denver.
"It's disconcerting to Latter-day Saints that Mormonism is still the religious tradition that everybody loves to hate," said Melissa Proctor, who teaches at Harvard Divinity School.
As an indication of how seriously the Mormon leadership takes the recent criticism, the council that runs the church -- the First Presidency -- released a statement Friday decrying what it portrayed as a campaign not just against Mormons but all religious people who voted their conscience.
"People of faith have been intimidated for simply exercising their democratic rights," the statement said. "These are not actions that are worthy of the democratic ideals of our nation. The end of a free and fair election should not be the beginning of a hostile response in America."
Jim Key, a spokesman for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, said barbs by gay marriage activists were directed at church leadership, not individual Mormons.
"We're making a statement that no one's religious beliefs should be used to deny fundamental rights to others," he said.
Proposition 8 opponents estimate that members of the Mormon Church gave more than $20 million to the effort to pass the measure.
For years, church leaders have tried to blunt the assertion that Mormonism is somehow out of the political and cultural mainstream. The backlash over gay marriage carries risks and rewards toward that goal.
To support Proposition 8, the Mormon Church entered into a coalition with other religious organizations, including evangelical groups that have tended to view Mormons warily. It was a Catholic bishop, Mormon officials said, who requested the Mormon Church bring its members into the fight. Now those groups are rallying behind the embattled church.
"Being against gay marriage puts the church right in the mainstream of American religious behavior," said Quin Monson, a political science professor at Brigham Young University.
But the outrage directed toward the church could hurt its efforts to expand.
"The backlash is going on all over the country," said Jan Shipps, a prominent scholar of modern Mormonism who is an emeritus professor at Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis. "There are people who had a lot of respect for the Mormons who now say, 'Well, they're just like the Christian right.' "
That's ironic, Shipps said, given that the Mormon Church has a more tolerant stance on homosexuality than some evangelical groups. The church has pointedly declined to state that homosexuality is a choice. And it has cautioned against programs that purport to "cure" same-sex attraction, even though Mormon theology holds that marriage is a divine relationship between men and women that continues into the afterlife.
Some have suggested that Mormons might have been eager to cement partnerships with other churches, especially because evangelical voters were particularly distrustful of Romney's faith.
But Otterson dismissed that possibility. "That kind of thinking would never even factor into the thinking of church leadership," he said. "The church couldn't remain silent on a pivotal issue like this."
Monday, November 17, 2008
Mormons feeling heat from Prop 8
Excerpts from a Los Angeles Times time article "Mormon Church feels the heat over Proposition 8" by Nicholas Riccardi