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A Tipping Point for Progressive Mormons on Gay Issues? at Wheat & Tares

June 7, 2012

Several articles about last weekend’s Pride event in Salt Lake City have rumbled me from my unofficial blogging sabbatical. While I want to be optimistic that progressive members of the church can start to change perception about LDS attitudes toward gays and lesbians — and maybe even lead to some church policy changes — I am guarded as well. It could just be a vocal minority. So, in my latest post at Wheat & Tares, I consider whether we could be approaching a tipping point for the Mormon pro-gay movement.

Mormons Building Bridges

First, an aside about these companion posts…

If you’ve noticed, I generally like to write companion posts here for articles at Wheat and Tares. In these posts, I don’t just repost the entire article and say, “but please comment over there” — although I may extensively quote the original article, and my intention is certainly to get y’all to read and comment on my Wheat and Tares posts.

What I like to do with these companion articles is to discuss supplemental topics that I thought would derail the focus of the original post. Or answer with follow-up to something that was mentioned in the discussion or as a result of writing the post. And of course, I like to talk about the process of writing the blog. It’s like a behind-the-scenes documentary, I think.

I feel pretty happy with this post…It might not seem like much, and you may not even notice, but I tried a few things with the design of the post. Even though I customized much of Wheat & Tares’ theme’s CSS (with the help of jmb, since I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to coding, although CSS itself generally doesn’t break stuff), I’ve felt a bit constrained. I don’t know if this is just because I’m not creative enough to see the solution, because I’m not trained enough in page design basics to know how to accomplish what looks good, or because the internet medium simply has different challenges than traditional desktop publishing. I wanted with this post to create something more than a “blog post” with this article…like something more likely to be seen in an online magazine or whatever.

My original thought was to have the opening line of the piece be in small-caps, but then I realized that with our sans-serif font for article body text, that would look pretty terrible. So, instead, I looked to just a simple drop-cap with the first few words bolded. That’s what I stuck with.

Images have always challenged me online. They just don’t seem to fit in articles, very well. (I will say that I like how we have informally mandated the use of at least one image per article — just so that there’s an image that shows up with every article on the front page of W&T.) I’m still trying to look for better examples of how to include pictures, but for this post, I tried to resolve things by using big images that would stretch the entire column of the “body” of the article.

I understand many of y’all don’t even care about that, so I apologize (NOT!) for blathering on about that, but I just wanted to point out that articles like this are about more than just the writing…it’s a comprehensive product to me, and I want to invest in all aspects here.

That being said, getting back to the writing…I do regret that I wrote it so late (I had to go to bed and edit it in the morning because I was just too tired to keep up with it when I was writing it), but the post was circulating for a lot longer. Even though I can physically write the post in a short period of time, I find it pretty difficult to just write…I prepare a lot beforehand with what I read (and normally, finding a topic that intrigues me is completely accidental…hence my irregularity in posting). The topics I feel best about are the ones that trigger off chain reactions of associations between disparate topics for me.

Now, to the supplementary thoughts…

The Tipping Point post is just one such post. As I was thinking about the idea of a vocal minority (because, unfortunately, I believe that progressive Mormons promoting or participating in this event or others like it are still very much a minority), I was trying to think of what it is that makes an idea surge into public consciousness. People talk about “critical mass” or “tipping points,” but I was trying to think of something I had read that articulated when these tipping points happen.

I was able to rediscover a MetaFilter post about a Rensselaer Polytechnic study about the ability for committed minorities to convince less-committed majorities once their numbers reach 10% of the larger population. I thought…could that be what’s happening with the church? Even with a smaller percentage of progressive Mormons, maybe the church can change from the inside if those progressive members are committed?

However, there is a bit of a problem here…the RPI study’s conditions are particular. Even though its conclusions apply to populations of all sizes, to networks of any kind, and communication of any medium, the particular constants that must exist for this to work are 1) that the minority must be committed and inflexible and 2) that the majority must be flexible and open-minded.

So, although it’s easy to see how a minority gay population (and their straight friends and family) can cause a tipping point with a majority that is pretty flexible on this point, we must recall that historically, the church has lagged on tipping in favor of full theological equality to black folks (as contrasted with the time it took for the general population to get on board with black civil rights), and it lags on gender equality.

One possibility is that even if progressive Mormons are committed and unwavering, the conservative majority of the active church and leadership is just as committed — which changes the equation somewhat.

…a second possibility is that even if the majority of church members aren’t committed, neither are the progressive members…I don’t mean to say that progressive members aren’t committed to progressive politics, just that they may not be as committed to the church.

So, what we see differently in recent times is that even if these liberal, uncorrelated, or unorthodox members of the church negotiate their membership in and relationship with the church differently from orthodox members…they still assert their membership and their legitimacy within the church.

John G-W writes about the trials ahead for the faithful, active Mormon Pride participants, though:

…Before you march, however, I feel a couple of disclaimers are in order. It’s only fair to let you know, so you can count the cost ahead of time and decide whether this is really what you want to do.

First of all, in doing this you may experience alienation from some of your friends and family in the Church. Some of your brothers and sisters in faith won’t understand what you’re doing. They may accuse you of succumbing to the world, or of being disobedient, or of lacking faith.

Second of all, you may not be well received by everyone in the LGBT community. Many, many of course will be very grateful for your presence. But at least some will be skeptical, and may doubt your motives. Some might even accuse you of participating in a cheap political ploy to help the candidacy of a certain Mormon presidential candidate — whether or not you plan to vote for that candidate!

Lots of people will, ironically, accuse you of bigotry, at the same time that others, ironically, will accuse you of being insufficiently zealous for your religion. So at times it will feel as if you just can’t win, and you’ll wonder why you even tried to do anything that might make a difference at all.

So, if that sounds like something you can’t deal with, you may want to think twice about marching.

But, you also need to understand… Doing the right thing is never easy. In fact, often the more right a thing is, the more painful the consequences for doing it…

But who knows? Maybe we’re at a tipping point.

  1. Seth R. permalink

    I don’t know…

    I tried being a “moderate” in “the middle” on this issue for several years and just got screamed at by gay activists online. Kind of soured me on the movement, to be honest.

    The more and more I learned about the issue, the less and less supportive of the “gay agenda” I became.

  2. Seth? Moderate? I can’t imagine it.

  3. But on a more serious note, I also can’t blame you. It’s kinda the same thing with new atheists. It’s like, yeah, they are out there and vocal and whatnot…but even I can see how it’s annoying and harmful to its own cause.

  4. Seth R. permalink

    On an tangential side note.

    I find it interesting that the local news coverage (specifically, the Salt Lake Tribune coverage) only featured photos of nice looking, conservatively dressed Mormon marchers, and skipped the pictures of guys marching in speedos holding signs saying “God has gay sex.”

    You can find those pictures on the Facebook page of the march organizers.

    Can’t imagine why the local media didn’t want that as a part of their narrative.

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