Rather on the QT last week, the LDS Church launched “mormonsandgays.org”, a head-scratcher of a Web site that makes one wonder, unavoidably, if “mormonsandaccountants.org” will be coming to the Internet next month. Or “mormonsandstampcollectors.org”.
It is almost impossible to explain just how weird this site is, even for a Mormon like myself, since the explanation would require the exegesis of arcane Mormon idioms—Mordioms, if you will—including “celestial marriage,” “temple covenants,” “priesthood keys,” “cureloms and cumoms,”and a long list of other abstruse terms that will put you to sleep before clarifying anything. The Mormon attitude toward same-sex relationships has been borrowed from traditional Christianity, but has been shaped by a unique understanding of the significance of the marriage relationship to eternity.
Leave the recondite aside, for the moment. The objective of the new Web site seems to be to assert in warm tones that gay people can be Mormons. In a collection of video vignettes that comprise the site’s content, church officials and various Mormons, whose status as gay members of the church is left ambiguous, insist that openly gay people can participate fully in the LDS church, can act as lay ministers in their local congregations, and can join LDS temple rites—as long as they don’t do anything gay.
Actually, this constitutes a big step forward for the LDS church, whose response to homosexuality until very recently has been the theological equivalent of “ick.” If nothing else, the site does remind Mormons themselves that the cosmos is full of things they don’t understand, haven’t accounted for, and cannot simply dismiss.
The looming problem, though, the problem that the site does not acknowledge but, perhaps, foresees, is the nationwide legalization of gay marriage. Maybe not this year. Maybe not next year. But even George Will has recently conceded that the opposition to gay marriage is dying. Literally.
The LDS church will then confront a problem, insofar as its position against acting gay comes from an equivalence argument. Extramarital sex, says Mormon doctrine in traditionally Christian terms, is wrong. We cannot, says the church, condone heterosexual adultery. We can’t, therefore, condone homosexual adultery, either. And since there is no gay marriage, all gay sex is adultery. Or fornication. I can never keep those straight.
While regarding its own, temple marriages as the authentic, divinely sanctioned institution, the LDS church has, nevertheless, treated civil marriage as an acceptable substitute with respect to day-to-day operations in the real world. Mormon official Dallin Oaks says on the new site, “the doctrine of the church, that sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married, has not changed and is not changing,” and the marriage to which he is referring is not restricted to the special category solemnized in LDS temples, but includes regular ol’ marriage pronounced by a Catholic priest or Baptist pastor, or a judge, or Captain Stubing.
Although not in an eternal relationship, the heterosexual couple who marry in a 30-second ceremony at the Tunnel of Love Drive-Through Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas can sleep in the same bed on Saturday night and go unselfconsciously to LDS church on Sunday morning because the LDS church has always recognized legal marriages, even while it thinks of them as accommodations.
The earnest hand-wringing of mormonsandgays.org signals an LDS anxiety that the church will soon have to confront whether the quickie wedding of a woefully distracted man and woman who barely remember each other’s full name, conducted over the rumble of a 1987 Buick by a Nevada-licensed justice-of-the-peace that satisfies all legal requirements is theologically closer to Mormon temple marriage than a wedding of two men in a long-term, committed, mutually-supportive relationship, in a cathedral, conducted by a seminary graduate and ordained minister with an additional master’s in family counseling, behind whom choirs reverently invoke the name of god, and that also satisfies all legal requirements. (Of course, the question might also concern the wedding of two distracted men in the Vegas drive-through, but I’m trying to draw a contrast.)
The LDS church’s new Web site does constitute some progress. Mormon people are so inclined to accept authoritative statements that the official message of the site is bound to work against the miserable fracturing of families and friendships that too many gay people encounter in their moves to find themselves. But the site’s equivocation over “being gay” and “acting gay” does not resolve enough of the discord between the church and the gay people it has alienated.
David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.” Follow him on Twitter at @fatsodoctor.
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