Circling the Wagons: Ideological Conflict in the Gay Mormon Universe
Mormonism has problems with homosexuality.
Regardless of your position on homosexuality, you should be able to agree with this statement in one way or another…although the way that you agree with this statement may be different from the way that someone else agrees with this statement. For this post, I would like to interpret this statement broadly to mean that Mormonism doesn’t seem to have complete and fulfilling institutional answers for its LGBT members. As a result, a number of non-institutional groups have arisen — again, featuring a variety of different positions and opinions — to be the support groups that seem to be missing institutionally.
So, that’s why there are organizations such as North Star International, which describes its goal as to be “a place of community for Latter-day Saints dealing with issues surrounding homosexual attraction who desire to live in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrines and values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Compare this statement with that of Evergreen International, whose goal is more explicitly to “help people who want to diminish same-sex attractions and overcome homosexual behavior.” Contrast both of these with Affirmation, who “affirm that sexual orientation, identity, and expression are special gifts from God and that we are all children of loving Heavenly Parents, believe that our lives and relationships can be compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation, and that LGBT individuals are a special part of God’s Creation…[and] reject the concept that orientation and identity can be changed and believe that same sex relationships are entitled to the same recognition and blessings as heterosexual relationships.”
You have three different groups, each of which at the surface appears to target the same niche (LGBT Mormons), but each offers a different message and apparently believes its goal to call for its separate existence from the other organizations.
However, even though it seems that these groups are separate, distinct, and often anathema to one another, there are attempts to reach across the aisles and meet.
I was first struck by this idea from Kendall Wilcox’s Far Between project. The project asks: what does it mean to be homosexual and Mormon? But of course, Wilcox recognizes that there can’t be one answer to this, and so the project is a collection of…a lot…of interviews with people all over the map as far as beliefs about homosexuality. So, there are people who are in mixed-orientation marriages and happy with it, people who once were in mixed orientation marriages but who now are not, people who are celibate, people who are open to or who are in gay relationships. People who use the term “gay,” people who use the term “same-sex attracted,” Mormons, ex-Mormons, etc.
When I heard about Open Stories Foundation/John Dehlin’s Circling the Wagons project, I thought it would be something similar (although, most of the people officially involved in the Mormon Stories/Open Stories projects will probably tend to be liberal/progressive on LGBT issues). And so it seems that there are attempts to reach out to people with very different views, and as is usually the case when trying to create a “big tent,” this has caused ideological conflict.
Mitch Mayne, whose claim to fame is being an openly gay man who is secretary to an LDS bishopric, has now resigned from the Circling the Wagons Board of Directors and has a blog post detailing the reasons for his resignation. From that post:
The conference being held in Salt Lake City this November features speakers and messages that I, as an openly gay Mormon, cannot support. These include:
- Josh Weed, who is well known for his individual choice as a gay man to be married to a woman
- Steven Frei, President of North Star, an organization that positions LGBT Mormons as “struggling with same-sex attraction” and encourages them to change or suppress their orientationThe messages that will be delivered in this November’s “Circling the Wagons” are in direct conflict to everything my heart and spirit tell me about the nature of being a gay Mormon. North Star encourages LGBT Mormons to view themselves as broken and afflicted, while Mr. Weed’s message is routinely co-opted by many within our faith as the preferred path for LGBT Mormon youth, despite his insistence that it may not be the path for everyone.
Earlier in the post, Mayne describes the purpose of Circling the Wagons as being to offer “an alternate view for LGBT Mormons and their families who wish to allow gay Mormons to live their lives authentically as LGBT individuals.”
But that really gets into the nebulous questions: what does it mean for gay Mormons to live their lives authentically? In the first trailer for Far Between, Kendall Wilcox addresses how the multiple parts (the “LGBT” part and the “Mormon” part) conflict:
What does circling the wagons mean?
I think that I’ve blogged about this before, but I remember when I learned by my understanding of the word “expedient” was different from the secular sense. In Mormonism (especially LDS scriptures), expedience is a desirable trait. But in high school, on a SAT vocab test, I was supposed to match antonyms in word analogies, and I discovered that the right antonym to “expedient” was “moral.”
Indeed, the second definition for expedient points out that it describes things that are conducive to advantage or interest, as opposed to right.
Well, as I was writing this post, I had a similar experience. When I picture the idea of “circling the wagons,” I think of a group that is marginalized coming together for protection.
…but the flip side, which I had not considered, is the first part of this explanation:
If you circle the wagons, you stop communicating with people who don’t think the same way as you to avoid their ideas. It can also mean to bring everyone together to defend a group against an attack.
Anyway, how unexpectedly apt!
I don’t want to trivialize Mayne’s position, however. Going back to the first line of the article, we all know plenty of folks (and we might even be part of that group ourselves) who could restate Mormonism’s problem with homosexuality as being it causes horrific pain to LGBT people through its positions, doctrines, and actions. So, it is understandable that Mayne would want to work within the church to provide an alternate view so that gay Mormons aren’t harmed so much.
But…this is where I am a bit lost.
Mayne refuses to take part in the Circling the Wagons conference because of certain guest speakers who advocate, believe, or are in some way associated with positions and approaches that Mayne cannot in good consciousness abide. OK, that’s fine. It’s his prerogative to do that. But this raises another question: why would Mayne continue to participate in the church, an organization that officially and institutionally is led by people who advocate, believe, or are in some way associate with similar positions? Like, I don’t get that. If you look at the official leadership behind the Circling the Wagons conferences, that’s just going to be a different cast of characters, beliefs, and ideas than the official leadership of the church.