History recalls 1838 as the year of the Mormon War in Missouri. Will 2008 be the year of the Mormon War in California?
To gain some added insight into the mess in California right now, I called a person I really respect and admire who also happens to be gay and a former Mormon. I trust and value his opinion on many matters, though we differ strongly on matters of faith. He’s an independent thinker who doesn’t simply accept what any community or group says, but nevertheless is fairly conservative politically and is remarkably tolerant and sometimes even supportive of Latter-day Saints, in spite of having left the Church.
His thoughts surprised me. “I’m very upset with the Mormons. The Church is waging war in California.” War? That caught me off guard. He felt that the Church – I guess that’s “we” – have stepped over the line in pushing for the Proposition. He felt we have put our tax-exempt status at risk.
He explained that he does not believe in marriage – but feels that if people want to be married, let them. He doesn’t care too much about the issues of Prop. 8 per se, but is upset at the Church playing such a significant role. And the word he choose to describe the situation was “war.” While I disagree with his interpretation of the actions and aims of the Church, I respect the pain and agitation he feels. It gave me pause.
In the 1838 War, there was blame on both sides, and both sides could say the other side started it (though religious bigotry and hate against the Mormons clearly played a critical role). As the minority in the State, of course, the Mormons lost and were driven out of Missouri, with an insane extermination order nipping at their heels. War in California? Some speak of a culture war being waged across the United States. Will this be the first of additional battles where the Mormons take incredible heat for their stand on moral issues? Will there be dramatic consequences, far more dramatic than a few buildings vandalized? Stay tuned. Even when the judges in California contrive a way to strike down Proposition 8, it may not bring “peace in our time.”
Of course, the Prop. 8 case is hardly analogous to the 1838 War. For one thing, I don’t expect Mormons to be forcibly driven out of California or anyplace else in the US. Conflict with the Federal government could one day be much more worrisome. Our stance on moral issues today may end up being more like a repeat of the 1870s, where the Church’s former pro-polygamy position (so shocking to the serial adulterers in Congress of that era) was used as justification to disenfranchise it and seize its assets. Our position and efforts to preserve the sanctity of marriage in this day puts us at odds with some important social currents (same-sex marriage, abortion, pre-marital sex and cohabitation, gender roles, etc.). Though many share our views on these matters, our proactive and well-organized efforts, coupled with our “oddball” minority status, make us an ideal target for blame. Marching against Hispanics, blacks, Catholics, Baptists, and even the American Plumbers Union won’t play well, but there’s little risk in going after the Mormons.
While this whole thing may blow over, at least this time, it is possible that we will face increasing trouble in the future – not so much from angry mobs as from Federal agents from the IRS or maybe even the Justice Department using RICO statutes or other tools. If so, the consequences could be serious if good people of other faiths don’t stand up for us. Will there be pressure for a Third Manifesto that addresses same-sex marriage? Will the only safe route be to exercise our First Amendment right to simply shut up on social and moral issues? May our religious freedom be preserved here and in other lands where, sadly, it is increasingly at risk.
Personally, I believe that the Church and its members have every right to take stands on moral issues and when they are the subject of legal action or proposed legal changes, to exert influence. Our opponents have the same right. If they had won in California, Latter-day Saints would not be holding angry protect marches gay rights organizations or holding angry protect marches in front of churches on the other side. Those who demand tolerance should also afford it to those who disagree. That said, I think we need to understand how painful this issue is for some of our brothers and sisters, and how personally this affects them. These are very difficult times.