Sunday, December 21, 2008

Prop 8 and a Warning From Our Past

“Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana, American philosopher

Recent political events have focused considerable negative attention on the LDS church, designating Mormons as the primary opponents to same-sex marriage initiatives across the country. Battle lines were drawn in California’s ballot initiative, Proposition 8, restricting the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman, effectively eliminating the right to same-sex marriage.

Due to the church’s stand for traditional marriage in that contest, it has since come under attack by the gay and lesbian community. Since the election, rancorous protests and demonstrations have singled out Mormons. Some of our temples and chapels have been defaced, individual Latter-day Saints have been accosted and the church has been demonized in the media by elements of the secular progressive movement.

Because we are in the forefront of the struggle to prohibit same-sex marriages, the gay community has used that as a rallying point against Mormons, declaring us bigoted and “unfair.” Political pressures are likely to escalate as the gay movement in the country continues to gather allies and strength in its push to achieve legitimacy and legal status.

Reflecting upon these recent events, Latter-day Saints would be well advised to recall another time, in the early days of the church, when such political opposition caused us great harm.

Look at our Nauvoo period. From the outset, the Saints had been well received by Illinois residents. Politicians, especially, were eager to court the Mormon vote, as they have been in our recent history.

The new city soon experienced exceptional growth as the highly successful missionary work in England sent converts by the boatload to the small Illinois settlement. The influx of converts overwhelmed the burgeoning frontier city. Joseph Smith and the Brethren were hard put to find room for all of them. Nauvoo eventually became more populous than Chicago.

Exceptional growth has also been a hallmark of the modern church since the early 1960s when Pres. David O McKay articulated the “every member a missionary” program. Since then, our numbers have grown dramatically from just over 1 million in 1961 to over 13 million or more today.

In 1992, a book entitled The American Religion by Harold Bloom, a literary and religion critic, examined Mormonism’s rapid growth. He wrote:

The nation will not always be only two percent Mormon. The Saints outlive the rest of us, have more children than all but a few American groups, and convert on a grand scale, both here and abroad. I do not know what figures they project for their increase, in the next generation, but my own guess is that by the year 2020 (when I will not be here), they could well form at least ten percent of our population, and probably rather more than that. Their future is immense … Salt Lake City may yet become the religious capital of the United States. (The American Religion, p.113.)

As Nauvoo, the beautiful city by the Mississippi, grew, so did tensions between the Saints and their neighbors. History repeated itself. Every time the Prophet and his people established roots — New York, Kirtland, Jackson County and now Nauvoo — they were ultimately despised and rejected by their neighbors.

Of course, every Mormon knows the tragedy at the heart of this story. The tide turned once again. The eventual outcome was the expulsion of the Saints from Illinois.

Could we experience a similar outcome today?

As with the Nauvoo Saints, today’s church has more political influence in the nation than its burgeoning membership would seem to indicate. Bloom recognized that reality. “Mormon financial and political power is exerted in Washington to a degree far beyond what one would expect from one voter in fifty.”

Our current political and financial power, brought to bear in the Prop 8 battle, is partly responsible for our present predicament. By affirming our belief in traditional marriage and putting our financial and political clout behind that doctrinal stance, we’ve once again made ourselves a target.

Like our predecessors in Nauvoo, remarkable growth coupled with our unique doctrinal views has thrust us into the political spotlight. Doctrinal issues certainly played a part in the Mormon expulsion from Nauvoo and would likely have a role in any future clash between Mormons and our neighbors. (An ironic correspondence: The doctrinal flashpoint in the Nauvoo period was polygamy; today, it is the sanctity of traditional marriage.)

Already other rival religious groups in America have labeled Mormonism a “cult,” thus downgrading our status in the eyes of their membership such that persecution of Mormons and our religion becomes more acceptable — even a sacred duty. Thus, Mormons are beneath contempt.

Thus far, sectarian abuse is only verbal and intellectual, but it could easily escalate. Add the in-your-face tactics of the gay community, which is infamous for its confrontational methods, and you have a volatile combination.

Today’s activist factions have taken lessons from the anti-war protestors and civil rights demonstrators of the 1960s and 70s. They’ve carefully observed the success the environmental extremists have had using the courts, beginning in the 1980s. Today’s gay rights activists employ all those lessons learned.

They will not go away, they will persist. The trend is already gaining momentum, in spite of noble opposition. In due time, Americans will be cowed and coerced by these tactics, if history is any indicator. Thus, the time will certainly come when same sex marriage will be given legal status in one state after another, until it becomes accepted nationwide.

What then? Those who oppose them will be branded as bigots and homophobes for wanting to deny civil rights to a segment of the populace. The tide will have turned. Once again, the Saints will see an emboldened movement rise up against us, empowered by law and the crushing authority of the state. It will then be forced upon us, and we will certainly be made to suffer, as did our forebears.

There will certainly be dissentions within the church. Out of fear of persecution, personal harm and reprisals for their beliefs, many will deny the faith. Those who stand firm will see themselves disenfranchised.

This eventuality has menacing implications and stunning echoes of the Nauvoo tragedy. Religious intolerance in that instance went hand-in-hand with political and social intolerance. Indeed, our stance today could consolidate otherwise disparate elements of American society to create an unholy alliance that would then present a united front against us.

Such a confrontation would take the shape and form it took in the Nauvoo period, pitting the church against other American institutions, the Mormons against their fellow Americans.

According to the statements in his book, Bloom believes “the twenty-first century will mark a full-scale return to the wars of religion.” Of course, that is what happened first in Jackson County and then in Nauvoo — a war of religion that cost Mormons dearly.

There are those who might say that such a thing could not happen in a time when such obvious prejudice and bigotry are nearly nonexistent, that the law cannot be perverted as it was over a century ago on the American frontier. But those who so believe ignore the lessons of history, and are thus doomed to repeat its mistakes.

This is the heart of the issue at hand. Today’s members could find themselves faced with a similar predicament to that of the early Saints in Nauvoo. The commonalities between the Nauvoo experience and the present are too significant to be ignored.

© Anthony E. Larson, 2008

11 comments:

Dave said...

Anthony,

I agree with most everything you wrote, but tend to disagree with the sentiment that we might be made to suffer the same persecution that the early pioneers suffered.

First, people of other faiths have joined the LDS church in its opposition to gay marriage neo-terrorism. Second, as you write, the church is a considerable world-wide force to be reckoned with, both politically through its lay membership and monetarily. Third, according to revelation the gospel will continue to grow and fill the earth at a fast pace. No unhallowed hand will stop the work from progressing now.

I agree that gay marriage will eventually win the day in the political and legal arenas as the inhabitants of the earth continue to ripen in iniquity as we move closer to the Second Coming.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Great analysis. I believe, unlike Dave, that it actually will get worse than the Nauvoo period. The idea that the gospel will "continue to grow and fill the earth" is based upon a false interpretation of Daniel's vision. But that is a different story. The salient point is that, at some point, prior to the Second Coming, the Church will be in bondage, relatively similar to the Egyptian bondage. (See D&C 103:15-18) This would be a very likely scenario for that bondage to become a fact.

Kip

Carlton Gosnell said...

I will try not to sound too funny but in the book “The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the Galaxy” The Monsters were out to crush all the humans. They cited that our skins were too dry we only had two arms and two eyes and we were ugly. That was reason enough to eradicate the humans. Looking at the impending depression and forecasted High unemployment rates approaching and the stupid bio-fuel policies and damage to Iowa cropland and other agricultural calamities around the world Lack of food will become widespread. I feel that the Prop 8 battle will be one reason among many reasons to persecute the Saints when people begin to go hungry and they start to look at the LDS people who prepared ahead of time with a one year supply of food envy and hunger will come to the forefront. Hungry people will use any excuse to eat.

Carlton Gosnell

Greg said...

I concur with Kip's comments above. We know that at some point the Church will be in bondage. However, Orson Pratt did make mention the end result of that bondage that gives me great hope - see Redemption of Zion. Thank you for pointing to your post!

Abelard Enigma said...

An interesting post. I agree that the events that have been set into motion are not going away in the foreseeable future - although, I'm not sure I'm on board that things are going to become quite as dire as some seem to think.

The reality is that this is a different time. In our modern era, we get all freaked out over a little bit of tainted peanut butter - back in the Nauvoo era, tainted food was probably one of the least of their worries. I cannot fathom mobs showing up at my doorstep with pitchforks and shotguns to run me out of town. However, I think the persecution of the saints will increase - but it will come more in political and economic form rather than physical violence as it was in the past.

We tend to glamorize past persecution - depicting the early saints as innocent victims who were just minding their own business when a mob showed up. But, as I understand early Church history, the saints themselves were not totally innocent; and, some of the persecution they brought upon themselves. Some historians suggest there were illegal and fraudulent banking practices, counterfeiting of money as well as political and economic issues involved as well.

If we're going to look at history, I think we need to look back even further. The Book of Mormon is replete with stories of the Lord allowing his people to be persecuted because of their iniquity - until they humble themselves.

Mormonism is as much of a culture as it is a religion. As a religion, we preach tolerance and acceptance towards those who experience same gender attraction - drawing a distinction between attraction and behavior. however, as a culture, we are extremely homophobic. For example, one of the unintended consequences of proposition 8 is that it has empowered some LDS members to ramp up their homophobic rhetoric - blaming the GLBT community for a host of societal ills.

Personally, while I don't agree with some of the actions of isolated members of the GLBT community - I do understand their anger. And, in some ways, I feel they are justified. And, like the saints of old, I believe we will end up paying dearly for our arrogance.

Derek said...

I am amused that equal rights for Gays is construed to contribute to the "earth continue to ripen in iniquity as we move closer to the second coming."

Let's substitute any of a number of past "religious" beliefs that have been held by different people throughout time as leading to the downfall of civilization.

This discrimination will come to haunt many Mormons because of the embarrassment that it will bring at some future time.

Much like the pure racism which was the foundation for many of the early Mormon beliefs about "blacks" caused embarrassment. At some point in the future, the ridiculous statements about the downfall of civilization that will occur because Gays are allowed to marry will once again be looked at with some level of embarrassment.

I look forward with satisfaction when Gays are allowed the full civil rights that I enjoy as a heterosexual, married man. I anticipate that after they are allowed to marry a person of their choosing, that adults will also be allowed to practice polygamy without the threat of breaking the law.

What happens to the LDS belief of plural marriage, when in fact it is no longer illegal to practice plural marriage? I anticipate that finally the LDS church will have to deal with its past beliefs that while not currently practiced are still deeply embedded in the doctrines and scriptures of the LDS church.

All of this makes for some interesting future events.

oils freak said...

Maybe we will not be forced to leave our communities under pitchforks and guns; but we will be sure forced to leave if they pass this law that will enable homosexuals to indocrinate our children in schools. I will not have my son in a school under the teachings of a homosexual person. Teachers have a strong influence in our children and can indeed compete with home religious education.
I am not homofobic, but will not tolerate this type of indocrination to my child. I will have to move if things get more weird here in CA, and that will be very difficult because I love the state and it would be hard to leave my friends and family. And, I believe, things will get worse in order to fulfill the prophecies, and we may have to find a city where we can be relatively save from this evil influences. We can not forget the scriptures that condemn this practice. Yes, we have had flaws within our church, but the hand of the Lord is ever present and guiding us through our prophets. They will tell us where to go in case of need.
Light to all.

Abelard Enigma said...

I will not have my son in a school under the teachings of a homosexual person.

I teach early morning seminary to the high school students in my ward - and I am a homosexual.

Just because a person is a homosexual doesn't mean they are indoctrinating your children with their evil ways. Chances are, your children have already had a homosexual teacher - they just kept quiet about it. Simply being open and honest about your significant other is NOT indoctrination.

Paul said...

<< I believe, unlike Dave, that it actually will get worse than the Nauvoo period. The idea that the gospel will "continue to grow and fill the earth" is based upon a false interpretation of Daniel's vision. But that is a different story. The salient point is that, at some point, prior to the Second Coming, the Church will be in bondage, relatively similar to the Egyptian bondage. (See D&C 103:15-18) This would be a very likely scenario for that bondage to become a fact. >> -- Kip

I have reviewed the scriptures in and around D&C 103:15-22, and I do not believe the Lord is referring to some future event beyond our time. In fact, I believe the Lord was talking about Brigham Young and the horrific journey to Utah.

The LDS church may encounter significan political persecution on any number of issues in the future, but the church may not be alone in their suffering if this were to happen.

If religious hatred were to spread against the LDS church to the degree which occurred during the Nauvoo time frame, then a great deal must happen between now and then for it to come to pass. So it would be wise for the LDS to pay attention to current events to make sure they can see it coming from a long way off in case the winds of hatred start to blow in that direction.


Paul

Steve said...

If we were to review how the Church and the Saints handled the persecution regarding plural marriage/radical doctrines (Adam-God, blood atonement, adoption, etc)/refusal to give the priesthood to a certain race, I think the logical end of all of this is that we would reject our ban on homosexual marriage. It is much easier to capitulate the 2nd time.

Adam said...

"Maybe we will not be forced to leave our communities under pitchforks and guns; but we will be sure forced to leave if they pass this law that will enable homosexuals to indocrinate our children in schools."

This did not happen when civil rights were past, so why would it happen with gays? I think the better historical analogy would be the "church and blacks" issue rather then the Nauvoo period.

This essay makes for great fiction, but it is a stretch as an acturate narative of the future.Thrity to fifty years ago it was communism and now it is gays. I think I have read all of this before. I guess we need a scapegoat to validate our religion not the teaching of Jesus Christ.