Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's Hard to Accept an Olive Branch When It Still Feels Like a Dagger Is In Your Back

Tuesday night, spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Michael Otterson, managing director of Church Public Affairs, gave official support from the church for the passage of a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people in a Salt Lake City council meeting. The vast majority of responses have been about how wonderful it is to see the LDS church giving (some) support to LGBT people and how historic a move it is. While I accept the support and agree it is a step in the right direction--no matter how small--for the church towards treating LGBT people better, I only accept it grudgingly and somewhat cynically.

As I've read over the official statement made by Otterson to the City Council, I am left feeling it is something like a backhanded complement. With what I have heard through my contacts and acquaintances with 8: The Mormon Proposition, the LDS church seemed all too ready to brag about this great thing it is doing in giving support saying, "Watch what we are about to do. You will be pleased." I am left feeling this endorsement is more about the LDS church trying to save some face in the PR department than actually trying to "follow what Jesus Christ taught." This ordinance, though important, is a small thing: it is only applicable to Salt Lake City, the endorsement comes only after the ordinance was modified to include explicit exemptions for religious organizations, and comes in the wake of tremendous criticism for the LDS church's support of Proposition 8 in California and other similar legislation. This was a very safe issue for the LDS church to give its support to. By their own words the rights the ordinance covers are "common-sense rights that should be available to everyone." I would consider a person who thinks LGBT people should be homeless and unemployed a terrible monster, and those monsters do exist. One person commented on the Deseret News coverage, "Anything that promotes homosexuality in our community is wrong, including this ordinance. I'm sorry to hear it passed and sorry the church didn't take a stronger stand on the issue."

Even with giving support for basic social rights for LGBT people, the LDS church got in a few digs saying they can give their support because the ordinance "does not do violence to the institution of marriage." Many (including myself) are taking issue with the use of the word violence and the emotional effect it carries. I have much more I could say in criticism of this endorsement and how I see some responding to it. I find myself having to bite my tongue at the claims of "treating others with respect even when we disagree--in fact, especially when we disagree" and "Our language will always be respectful and acknowledge those who differ" as I think back on the history of the LDS church's commentary on, general rhetoric about, and treatment of LGBT people.

In the end I'll accept this olive branch, however small it may be. However, I am not ready to embrace the LDS church in love and support yet. I've found a few too many daggers in my back in the past.

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