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A Response to Dave’s Mormon Inquiry on Mormonism as a Symbol

June 4, 2009
Ex 1 of someone who is overconfident and hurting the cause as a result

Ex of how you can be overconfident in a belief in the "constant march of progressivism"

I should stop entering such infuriating conversations, but I’m a glutton for punishment. My latest escapade? Dave’s Mormon Inquiry’s article on Mormonism as a symbol whose meaning is changing.

Dave talks about what Prop 8 could possibly mean for Mormons in the future…as he points out, the “mainstream press” believes that Mormonism as a symbol or brand will be tarnished and destroyed as a result of Proposition 8. First, we were simply “kooky polygamists,” but we worked our way up to being known as “good hard-working family people who live cleanly but are annoying when it comes to missionary work” (which, to be honest, is a great step up)…but could it be that public consciousness changes? Could it be that Mormons could see a backlash and be known as “a fringe religious group that wants to press draconian social views on nonmembers”?

I agree with lots of Dave’s points. This last proposed symbol has a lot of faults. For example, it depends on Mormons being seen as a fringe religious group…however, I don’t think people think of Mormons as such a fringe group anymore. And what Dave ultimately disagrees with is the media’s bias in considering Mormons’ social views “draconian.” As he writes:

The media really like to run with the narrative that same-sex marriage is inevitable. They have repeated it incessantly. But is it true?Is it true? If you are reporting facts, that question makes sense. If you are just broadcasting opinions, it doesn’t. The “same-sex marriage is inevitable” claim, as a factual assertion, is obviously false, yet the media, as noted in the Get Religion piece, likes to “run with the narrative.” Don’t let facts interfere with the preferred narrative.

He’s got a lot of good things in here. The media (and a lot of gay rights activists) do like to promote gay marriage as if it’s a done deal. So, they try to label Mormons’ actions as draconian, as if the whole of society has already agreed that.

The problem is…it just ain’t so. Now, I will not comment on the “same-sex marriage is inevitable” claim (Dave thinks it’s “obviously false”…other people think it’ll happen in just a few years…others think it’ll happen in quite farther out, but eventually. Personally, I’m agnostic on the timeline or on the possibility. I can’t fix myself to be so optimistic. Like with all of the claims that “religion is dying” or “God is dead” in America, I think each claim underestimates a pervading [and sometimes sickening] vitality and persistence of faith in this nation)…but I will say this…it is completely inimical and stupid to the gay rights cause to act as if it’s a done deal. Even if gay marriage is inevitable…in actuality, people need to act like it’s a tough fight that could barely be won. Gay rights activists need to stop resting on their laurels and need to get with the program.

The fact is that it wasn’t just Mormons opposing gay marriage. Prop 8 had support from many religious groups…and in fact, most Americans ARE religious. We have to deal with this demographic issue and not try to marginalize traditional, Biblical socially conservative values as things that are in their final death throes. YES, we see the Republican Party having some problems…YES we see people becoming disillusioned and “unaffiliated,” but we cannot rest easy as if everything will solve itself in time with a endless progression of progressive politics.

That being said…Dave’s commenters…are just so infuriating. I get this a lot though on many sites…it’s why I can’t stay at certain ex-mormon, mormon, atheist, or other kinds of sites, because even though I like what some of the writers have to say, the readers have some of the most uninformed, ignorant comments that enrage me.

The thing I want to address today is the black relation to Prop 8. People look at stats that show that blacks voted overwhelmingly for prop 8 as if this puts Mormons off the hook, and they look at quotations and sentiments from popular black speakers who denounce the comparison between the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement. But then these people take all of these things at facebook and just say ridiculous things.

First of all, these people want to drum up racial tensions. “Why focus on Mormons? Look at…the blacks.” This has an implication that there is something about being black that brings the disagreement. And then because there is something about being black that brings the disagreement, we can use this as an appeal to authority about civil rights and gay rights.

In actuality, I think there’s a lurking variable that many people simply are unaware of. Instead, I want to say that the reason people focus on Mormons is because of religion. In some ways, they are opposed to a religious group acting this way. So, what can we find out from black people?

Black people tend to be more religious. It produces a rather weird cultural effect in fact…while you can find blacks voting rather Democratically…you can also find that on certain social issues, they have rather conservative religious positions. So, if the data suggest it (and I’m not even looking at the vote data), it really is no wonder blacks voted for Prop 8. It’s not because they are black. It’s because conservative, religious people voted overwhelmingly for Prop 8 and blacks tend to be conservatively religious.

Not only that, but the black church pervades DEEP into black dialogue about civil rights. If you will recall history…the various doctors in the civil rights movements, they were doctors of theology or philosophy. They were reverends. Etc., So, when you equate your civil rights plight to a religious struggle (and the same book you use to do this condemns homosexuality), then is it any question that you’ll try to explain how the two issues are different? This doesn’t make civil rights and gay rights objectively and truly different — rather the social connotations associated with each are worlds apart and people IGNORE this. There were interesting differences in what each side of the table was saying in the Obama/Reverend Wright controversies…because that also got at the social role of the black church.

I think Mormons should be kinda ashamed of themselves though. Not for standing up for values, necessarily (even if I disagree). Because while I agree with Dave and others that they were *not* the only religious groups in this fight…I think Mormons should not get comfortable with this fact. The precedent they have set is for a majority to coalesce and assert majoritarian values against a minority group. But what Mormons should not forget is that the same thing can happen against them. Mormons should realize that even though they seemed to have Evangelical and Catholic allies in the fight against gay marriage, that doesn’t mean all of these groups are theological pals. Even while certain groups accepted Mormon aid against gay marriage, they wouldn’t let Mormons join the organizations because they believed Mormons weren’t “real” Christians!!!

So what happens when religious groups decide to coalesce for “democracy” and “the voice of the majority” and Mormonism is in its scopes? Perhaps Mormons will cry out for minority rights protected constitutionally. But this is exactly the Prop 8 issue — the majority sidestepped constitution and judicial checks and balances by amending the constitution to gut those rights as they pertained to gays to have the word “marriage.” “Separate, but equal,” was decided to be an OK thing after all in the case of civil unions vs. marriage. It’s a dangerous precedent to set.

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5 Comments
  1. I agree with this post! Thanks Andrew.

    I still just find it shocking with all the laws against miscegenation that were still on the books until 1967 here in the U.S. I personally find the miscegenation laws and the laws banning gay marriage very similar.

  2. “it really is no wonder blacks voted for Prop 8. It’s not because they are black. It’s because conservative, religious people voted overwhelmingly for Prop 8 and blacks tend to be conservatively religious.

    You nailed it! I think that Mormons aren’t trying to make this a race issue, but they are trying to point out other groups with the same opinion on Prop 8. It would be better to point out that Catholics and Evangelicals were for Prop 8, rather than blacks. In statistics, race would be called a “confounder”. As you said, it’s not that blacks are for or against Prop 8, it’s that black voters are religious, and religious voters were for Prop 8.

  3. re aerin:

    I understand the shock…and sometimes, it makes me kinda hopeless. If we could get as far as 1967 with anti-miscegenation laws, and I mean, we still have people who think that way…it’s just that it’s politically incorrect for people to express their feelings (if they have those feelings)…so I mean, with that, it makes me think we are way far away for marriage equality.

    re MH:

    I agree that if they want to point out other groups, then they should point out Catholics and Evangelicals…but I know why they don’t…because one of the criticism people already have is of people using their religion to push laws onto everyone…so publicizing the alliance with Evangelical groups for traditional marriage, for example, wouldn’t sidestep that criticism. What gets me mad is that people do not consider confounders at all! So I mean, there are a lot of issues that people zoom straight to blaming on race.

  4. I agree with the bulk of your post. I think the reason the black vote gets thrown into the mix is that Prop 8 would have passed if fewer religious people had gone to the polls. Obama’s race (presumably) resulted in a bump in black voter turn-out. Since most of these blacks were against 8, race could be said to have indirectly contributed to the defeat. Not the point Mormons are trying to make, though–they still didn’t oppose 8 because of race, obviously. Just ironic.

  5. But here’s is what I’m saying.

    If fewer religious people would’ve turned out to the polls, then you have to account that of that subset, black people are religious.

    So, let’s phrase it in a different way: “Prop 8 would *not* have passed if fewer people *were/are* religious.” (or rather, conservatively religious).

    ^I believe the above is true, because in this case, statistically, a bump in black turnout wouldn’t matter, because there is nothing about being black that makes you vote against gay marriage. When you control for religiosity, amazingly, all of these “overwhelming” majorities disappear.

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