(Previously published at The Gay-Atheist.)
Last year supporters of anti-gay bigotry managed their highest-profile victory to date, the passage of a ballot initiative in California, Proposition 8, that banned the state from recognizing any further marriages of same-sex couples. But the California anti-gay movement didn’t do it alone. It had a lot of help from folks a couple of states over. Much of the pro-Prop 8 advertising that flooded California’s media in the days and weeks leading up to election day was bought and paid for by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — the Mormons — headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The backlash over their involvement in the passing of Prop 8 has caused some right-thinking Mormons to leave the church, or at least stop attending services. The church itself has responded to criticism by largely digging in its heels. Last month a gay couple was arrested after security guards observed them kissing in a church-owned park in Salt Lake City. Today, in Salt Lake City and in cities all across the country, gay couples and straight supporters took part in “kiss-ins” to protest the treatment of homosexuals by the LDS church, and other anti-gay groups.
Gay folks aren’t the first American out-group the Mormons have had a problem with. The history of Mormonism is filled with bigotry, even more than American history in general. Which is strange, given how persecuted they themselves have been for much of their existence. But maybe not. That’s just human nature. We eagerly declare and celebrate our own martyrdom, and ignore how many martyrs we ourselves have made for the other guys. Before it was so stridently anti-gay, the Mormon church was also anti-black. So anti-black that it actually had that particular bigotry inscribed in its scriptures. The Book of Mormon, the half-plagiarized holy book written by the church’s con artist founder Joseph Smith, teaches that modern blacks are descended from the Lamanites, a race cursed with dark skin for rebelling against God. After Smith was murdered by an angry mob in 1844, his successor, Brigham Young, taught that dark skin was the Biblical mark of Cain. Either way, dark skin was viewed as the result of sinful behavior, and a sign of low character. (Incidentally, this is touched on in an excellent article at The Root, which also rips Glenn Beck a new asshole, so you definitely ought to check that one out.)
But here’s the thing about Mormonism that makes it a little different. Its doctrines are just as stupid and based just as purely on fiction and myth as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and whatever other religion you’d like to name, but it also has a built-in correction device. When Joseph Smith would take things too far, or talk himself into a corner somehow, he would extricate himself by announcing that God had given to him a new revelation. The founders and early prophets of most other religions did this all the time, too, but they have the advantage of having lived thousands of years ago, mostly beyond the reach of history, so their bullshit has acquired this sheen of remote plausibility that allows believers to accept it. The Mormons, never seeing much use for plausibility in the first place, have continued to use the idea of the new revelation to tweak and refine their church teachings whenever necessary.
For instance, in 1890, when the church was threatened with complete destruction by the U.S. government over its sanctioning of polygamy, church president Wilford Woodruff reported he had received a vision from Jesus Christ telling him that the church should immediately cease all plural marriages.
That Jesus, right? He comes through in the clutch . . .
Something very similar happened in 1978, when the Mormon leadership officially abandoned its anti-black teachings and announced that blacks could now become full members of the church, and be eligible for ordainment to the priesthood and all those other sweet Mormon privileges. Yes, 1978. It took the Mormons until 1978 to officially abandon their bigoted position against blacks. Though something tells me that if their racism had threatened their tax exemption, the new revelation would have come along a lot sooner. Because as we all know, if you really want to piss off Jesus, hit him in the wallet.
With this self-correction device in place and still in use, it seems to me a good time for another self-revelation about gays and same-sex marriage. Christianity’s holy books were written thousands of years ago and are, we are told by fundamentalists, complete and final and perfect. That’s why I generally admire gay Christians a lot more than bigoted straight ones. They can’t just get in there and rewrite what the Bible says — they have to try really hard to make their viciously homophobic religion into something just and humane. But Mormons don’t have that problem. They can just have Jesus change his mind! Maybe this time they should help themselves out, end this controversy right now in the best way possible and just announce that they’ve received a new revelation telling them to stop fighting against gay folks having the same basic rights and privileges as heterosexual citizens of the United States, and to welcome their gay fellow Mormons into the fold as brothers and sisters.
It should happen, and it could, whenever the folks in charge of concocting the new revelations want it to. I doubt it will, though, at least not any time soon, even with all the fuss rightly raised about the church’s anti-gay bigotry. In this issue, as with their racist views of blacks, the Mormons seem sadly content to remain decades behind the times. It’s just a shame they feel the need to ruin things for everyone else at the same time.