Thursday, January 29, 2015

LDS Leadership Calls for Right to Discriminate Under Guise of “Religious Freedom”

I am trying hard to disassociate from my old religion. It is really difficult for me to do, however, because the Mormon Church has taken such a spotlight role in the anti-LGBT movement. So here I am, with two identities I had no choice in which are in constant turmoil with each other. I was devoted to my religion for the first 25 years of my life. I was born into it. I am also gay, and always have been. I still feel the sense of responsibility for what Mormonism does in the world- after all, I brought people into the church. Its hard to move on when the organization that I once sacrificed for and believed in for so long has been so insistent on striping me of dignity. First, by trying to prevent me from the right to marry the person I love and be a legitimate, recognized and protected family under the law. And now, by trying to ensure anyone has the legal right to discriminate against me at any time and any place.

While moving across the country shields me from the daily onslaught of LDS rhetoric, it is an ineffective barrier when the Mormon Church makes national press. If you haven’t heard, I’ll sum up what high-ranking church leaders said in the "historic" press conference. Put simply, the LDS leadership offered a “concession” (in their eyes) wherein they would support legislation that protected LGBT people from being fired or evicted simply for being LGBT. There are many who think this is a big step forward and deserves praise and celebration. Really? How kind of the leaders, who claim to be representatives of Christ, to say gay people deserve to live and work without fear of being fired or evicted simply because they are gay. How gracious. How benevolent.

But, wait- there is one condition. You see… this was a “concession” they are willing to make *if* we stop bullying them and expand religious liberty so as to allow individual believers to discriminate against LGBT people in the public sphere if they feel it goes against their “strongly held religious beliefs.” The exact example Elder Holland gave is "a Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so.”

Now, don’t be fooled. Elder Holland uses the hot word “abortion” because it draws immediate reaction and emotion. It is a scare tactic much like those used by the Church during Prop 8. A 2011 study shows that only 14% of OB/GYNs will perform abortions even though 97% of them have been approached by patients who needed/wanted them. In other words, they are not being forced to provide abortion services, though one could argue that if an OB/GYN is, by definition, supposed to care for the health of female reproductive organs and manage childbirth complications and abortions are sometimes necessary to protect the life of the mother, perhaps a person who is unwilling to perform an abortion shouldn't be an OB/GYN. But thats another story. Read what Elder Holland said again:

“A Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so.”

This isn’t about forcing someone to perform abortions or artificial insemination. A catholic doctor, for example, does not have to offer birth control procedures if he/she doesn’t want to. Its about giving a physician who DOES already offer these services the right to deny those services to a certain group of people- in this case, gay people. Another way you know Elder Holland is manipulating your emotions with the word “abortion” is to ask yourself this:

If they are talking about LGBT rights, why throw in "abortion?" How many lesbians, do you think, mistakenly get pregnant and want an abortion?

It’s laughable really. I don’t think abortion clinics are seeing a whole lot of lesbians come through their door except in the case of danger to the life of the mother or terminal illness of the child. But if LDS leaders can connect "abortion" to the LGBT rights movement, they can manipulate you into grouping those two things together- once you start breaking what LDS leadership says- you’d be surprised how common this is.

There are legal words that will help explain exactly what LDS Leadership was talking about. They were speaking about two different things. The first is housing and workplace protections. The second in public accommodations. Let me define each one to make this easy to understand.

Housing and Workplace Protections

In the United States, we already have established that is it illegal to fire or evict someone due to their race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. These are protected classes. You notice that most of these things (except religion) are things we have no choice in. We are born that way. Our nation heavily protects religious freedom and that is why religion is included. It is also important to note that, not only is religion included, religious organizations, and their subsidies (like church schools or businesses owned by a church) are already EXEPMT from this law. Religions have the right to discriminate at their leisure within their organization. This is why Mormons can exclude people from their temples or why they can refuse to perform marriages for gay people (they could even refuse mixed-race marriages if they wanted), and kick people out of BYU for whatever reason they deem valid.

Many states have added, or are trying to add, sexual orientation and gender identity to that list (again, not things we choose). In Utah, they have tried for 7 years to add it and although most Utahns support adding those, the legislature has refused to even consider it and the LDS Church has failed to endorse a state-wide bill despite being asked every year by equality groups for support. On a national level, we have been trying to do the same with ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), however much of the right (not unlike LDS leadership) wants broad exemptions, not only for religious institutions, but for anyone that wants to claim exemption based on their beliefs which would, in effect, make the legislation only really applicable to non-religious people.

LDS leadership has come out to support this as long as we expand exemptions to these laws under the guise of “religious liberty."

Public Accommodations

"Within US law, public accommodations are generally defined as entities, both public and private, that are used by the public. Examples include retail stores, rental establishments and service establishments, as well as educational institutions, recreational facilities and service centers. Public accommodation must be handicap-accessible and must not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.” Again, religious institutions are exempt from following these anti-discrimination laws. There is already movement to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to this list as well.

But, what the LDS Church wants in exchange for workplace and housing protections is to expand the exemptions for public accommodation protections that would not only include religious institutions (which, again, are already exempt), but also anyone who is religious who wishes to be exempt from non-discrimination laws based on their “strongly held beliefs.”

So what does this mean? It means that any person with any job anywhere can deny service to gay people on the basis of their “strongly held religious beliefs.” Again, lets take the example Elder Holland gave… but lets simplify it and not use such scary words:
“A Latter-day Saint baker who objects to gay marriage, should not be forced against his or her conscience to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.” 
“A Latter-day Saint nurse who objects to gay parenting, should not be forced against his or her conscience to aid in delivering a lesbian’s child.”
But it doesn’t stop there. In the United States, we protect all religious beliefs equally, so if this call for the expansion of “religious liberty” WAS heard and legislation WAS passed, it would also mean:

“A member of the KKK (who cites the bible for justification of their bigotry) should not be forced against his or her conscience to serve a Jewish person food at a restaurant.” 
“A Jehovah’s Witness doctor who objects to blood transfusions, should not be forced against his or her conscience to recommend blood transfusions to patients.”

So ask yourself: Is this the world I want to live in? One in which next to every register there is a sign that details who will not be served? Didn’t we already create a society like that once? When did it become prudent that we make sure we don’t offer service to anyone who doesn't live a life we believe is acceptable to God? Surely, the LDS Church has never come out and said that LDS servers at restaurants shouldn’t have to do their job and serve alcohol to customers because it goes against their beliefs to drink. And LDS Bishops can marry non-LDS heterosexual couples, even if they are drug addicts or alcoholics or have a child out of wedlock or engaged in any number of “immoral” activities. Why is it that LDS leaders insist on protecting the right to discriminate ONLY against those “sinful" LGBT people?

If you sell cakes- the process is the same. You make the cake. You decorate the cake. You sell the cake. How is selling a cake to a gay couple go against your “deeply held beliefs” any more than selling and serving a beer to someone who drinks? It is offensive to me that my old church is continuing to try and place roadblocks in my life. That they would like a world in which a doctor could deny me healthcare services. A world in which a baker can refuse to sell a cake to “those gays.”

In the LDS Church people throw around the phrase, "you can leave the church, but you can’t leave the church alone.” My experience has been, “you can leave the church, but the church won’t leave you alone.” How dare the white heterosexual male LDS leadership claim they are the victims. How dare they call the very people they have been trying so hard to prevent from obtaining equal status in our society “bullies.” I have not seen one suicide of a Mormon person because "those gays" just made living so unbearable for them, they couldn’t stand it any longer. I have not heard of one Mormon shaking and crying and praying at night, unable to think of anything but death because “those gays” are getting closer to obtaining full equality. There has not been one single piece of legislation proposed to prevent Mormons from marrying the person they love or from raising children.

Them the victims and us the bullies?? Not tolerating intolerance is not the same as intolerance itself. I will not bow down and thank LDS leadership for allowing me to work and live without fear of being fired or evicted while they try to ensure I can be denied access to public accommodations because, for some reason, treating me like a regular equal human being goes against their “deeply held religious beliefs.” Since when did everyone around you need to accept and follow your beliefs in order for you to treat them fairly. I must have forgotten the rest of that scripture- “Love thy neighbor as thyself. Unless they're a faggot. In that case, feel free to deny them service and send them on their way to find someone who isn’t rightfully offended by their very existence.”

I don’t expect an apology for all the wrongs the LDS Leadership have committed against the LGBT community. After all, Elder Oaks said it himself:

"I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them," Oaks said in an interview. "We sometimes look back on issues and say, 'Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,' but we look forward and not backward.”

Thats fine. Don’t apologize and don’t atone. But if LDS leadership doesn’t stop meddling in my ability to be treated like an equal citizen- I will not back down. I will fight until they allow me to live my life in peace and stop trying to exert power over my existence. I will fight until they are reminded that they have no authority over me any longer. One day they will wish they had never used God to justify their bigotry.

In the meantime, I ask my LDS family and friends to consider how they can sustain and support those men as they ask for the legalization of the systematic discrimination of LGBT people. It is wrong.

Lastly, lets consider Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan. After all, these men claim to represent Christ. A man lay beaten and robbed by the side of the road. The priest (representing the law) and the Levite (representing the prophets) cross the road and refuse service or help to the man. By their laws and decrees- he was probably unworthy, unclean, or otherwise underserving of their help. But the Samaritan, (representing Christ) took compassion on the man and helped him despite those things. Why are LDS leaders raising their voices to protect and defend the right of the priest and the Levite to deny service to the injured man, whom they may despise, instead of teaching Christ’s message to be the good Samaritan and show compassion, even if it involves a person you might deem "unclean?" Why do they seek exemption for followers of Christ from anti-discrimination laws when Christ himself taught the opposite message? They do not speak for the God I see in scripture. They do speak, however, an awful lot like the Pharisees and religious leaders that Christ himself criticized in his day.



  1. Jonathan: Your reflections are not only well thought, but brillianty talked. You are right. I hope many people will understand and go against bigotry.

  2. There is so much zeal like lightning from the sky in this. You parallel certain American legislative ideas to the 1960's, which are rooted back to the 1800's. I've written you before that this has happened with church leadership all the way back to the 1500's. And, as you highlighted in closing, were present in Jesus day and in Moses day. Five hundred years time since the biggest theological debate in history. 2015 Years since the days of our Lord. Different patterns but the same theme. Sections of the church get so caught up in the dogma, in the doctrine, in the rules and the law, that they forget (or don't yet know) what Grace is (Matthew 23.) They like a lamb have gone astray off onto some false fire. (which Oaks acknowledged.)

    What we see when we zoom out, it isn't the Elder Holland's of "the LDS church" that are remembered or have lasting legacies. It's the Luthers, Lincoln's, Dr. Kings, Jonathan Adamson's of the world (yes world, not church) that change lives here and now today. That is what Christ meant in stopping for the Samaritan. It is done by your hands, and your feet, and well, by your words which aren't just fluffy ideas but calls to real, deliberate actions. The priest passes the Samaritan by (Luke 10:31 Amazing that Christ deliberately tells us this.) The church isn't going to do it, but God sure uses you.

    The collective voice of Love may be drowned out, but the truth always comes screaming back louder and bolder when the pendulum swings. It's gonna swing. It's going to run down like water, and like a smashing mighty stream. Patience is the hardest discipline to an expectant people.