If you are reading this post, I am overcome by temptation—the temptation to add a few words to a conversation that has dominated Mormon discourse lately.
These culture wars are nothing new of course, and Mormons’ place in them is precarious. Southern evangelicals on the right and homosexuals on the left—just two examples—both consider Mormons wrong-headed and dangerous. Members of both groups probably wish for our extinction. The former group will gladly take our money and manpower to fight certain battles. But I haven’t noticed many evangelicals rushing to our defense.
Some of them probably even enjoy watching us take the heat for Proposition 8. To the latter group, we are hateful, bigoted scum. And, generally speaking, Mormons are convenient punching bags for so many reasons.
Still, Mormons can live and thrive flanked by cultural adversaries on all sides as long as cultural disagreements play out through meaningful discourse and fair political processes. This is what has been so troubling about the past week or so: it seems that both of these—productive discourse and democracy—are threatened by the shameful, cowardly attacks on Mormons related to the passage of Proposition 8.
First, the level of discourse has been extremely poor. For obvious reasons, homosexuals attempt to equate themselves with blacks fighting an epic battle for civil rights. You either agree with them completely or you are a hateful bigot. End of discussion. Begin the mobilization of shame.
And the commitment to democracy displayed by some has been chilling. I am not talking about simple disappointment. Or filing lawsuits or pledging to try again. I am talking about violence, intimidation, vandalism, false biological terrorism, forced resignations, boycotts of small businesses, interference with worship, hacking Mormon websites to replace benign content with gay porn, slanderous advertisements depicting Mormon missionaries as home invaders, and so on. This is bullying, and it is vile. It is an attempt to scare Mormons silent—to prevent us from participating in the political process.
I have been proud of the rhetoric of Mormon general authorities concerning this topic. The pleas for people to take a moral stand—but to show love and respect. And the statements of non-opposition to domestic partnership laws. And so on. While the church’s basic moral teaching on the subject has not changed, we have witnessed in the space of a few years a dramatic liberalization in the church’s treatment of homosexuals.
I did not personally get involved in the Proposition 8 campaign. Now I feel compelled to demonstrate that the events of the past week or so have not shamed or silenced me. On the contrary, I am probably more likely to get involved the next time around. My sense is that many other Mormons feel the same way.
The public image of Mormonism has been battered in the past year or so. Journalists repeatedly raised Mitt Romney’s Mormonism simply to invoke fear and shame. The treatment of Mormonism in these one-note stories was audaciously uninformed, stereotyped, and generally negligent. Mike Huckabee did his best to stir up anti-Mormon bigotry in the Republican primaries. Atheist demagogues and glib entertainer-types (from Richard Dawkins to Tobias from Arrested Development to Bill Maher) have taken all kinds of cheapshots at Mormonism and religion in general. And the polygamy raid in Texas churned up even more confusion and distrust. And now Proposition 8.
Increased marginalization will be the product of all this. Or perhaps the degree of marginalization is the same, but now it has been brought out into the light. Perhaps we always had few friends and many adversaries. Perhaps people always held us in contempt—but have only recently become comfortable expressing contempt in public.
Will these events impact the viability of Mormon Art and artists? Just as some people want to silence the political voice of Mormons, will people do what they can to silence Mormon stories and images? Mormon-themed work was already a tough sale in non-Mormon journals and markets. Is it reasonable to assume that the situation is getting worse? To assume that a vast majority of the people who control literary journals, publishing houses, theatres, galleries, and the like—now also consider us hateful, bigoted scum?
I am not all that holy. But I try to moderate my tendency to fear, hate, and be angry. I try to understand what charity means in a given situation and to approximate it in my behavior. This situation is testing me. It is hard to answer bullying with kindness and love. But I am resolved to try.
This situation also presents a creative test: how can Mormon artists contribute to the discourse? How can they break through all the polarizing and reductive rhetoric? How can Mormon artists create something timeless that captures our whipsaw experience of this tumultuous time? Can we imagine some work of art that is compelling to outsiders that insists—contrary to our critics—on our humanity?