Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us?

This article just floored me. Apparently, ProtectMarriage.com and National Organization for Marriage California are suing in federal court trying to keep their donor lists private. They say that these disclosure requirements are unconstitutional. I'm pretty sure this challenge has less that no chance of prevailing, but it shows a tendency in this whole fight that I found rather surprising—it seems that religious supporters of Prop 8, and Mormons in particular, don't have the stomach for being a peculiar people that they once may have done.

Being a peculiar people was an important part of my identity growing up. Mormons didn't drink, didn't smoke, paid tithing, etc. The "world" thought we were crazy because we did this, and that strengthened our resolve to do it. We were in the world but not of the world, and we expected that we would be persecuted for our beliefs when we were out in the world. The persecution meant that we were right. And wow, were we good at feeling persecuted.

Only, it turns out that persecution for these beliefs never materialized. No one seemed to care that I didn't drink in college; it meant they had a designated driver without ever putting anyone out. My college was ranked in the top 5 for most likely to forget God, and I felt peculiar, but not persecuted. I would say that most Mormons have the same experience. A person's private decisions usually don't stir up resentment among others. Mormons had been used to being viewed as a harmless oddity. That was about to change.

Proposition 8 changed being a peculiar people from getting weird looks to having protesters outside of temples. Suddenly, Church headquarters, which had previously been pleased with taking the lead on the Prop 8 fight, now said that they were a small part of a coalition (a hard claim to make considering that LDS donations were estimated at over 50% of the total yes on 8 donations). Three LDS members resigned from their jobs in fairly high-profile ways. Being a Mormon changed from weird people who don't drink to anti-gay bigots.

It's totally understandable that people don't want to be called bigots. If a person believes that her actions are motivated out of love, she may feel confused and hurt that people believe that her acts are motivated out of hate. However, this is something that I actually thought Mormons would have anticipated and even looked forward to. After all of these years of indifference by the world, here was a chance for persecution to purify and strengthen the Church like it did in the pioneer days.

Before someone flames me, let me be clear: I'm not suggesting that Mormons should gladly bear persecution without complaint. Modern Mormons found out something that their forbears knew too well: it sucks to be persecuted. As far as I'm concerned, no one should be subject to harassment for holding a particular opinion, and no one should have to grin and bear it—that isn't American. However, at the same time I feel that there is a lesson in this. A persecution complex is all about feeling superior and self-righteous. When a person takes everything as a slight, it's easy to feel persecuted. Plus, that person never has to go through any of the real anguish that actual persecution brings. It's easy and cheap, and unhealthy. How much better it is to not seek to be offended nor to interpret the actions of others as persecution. Only then can we find ourselves as neighbors and friends.

Which brings me to the point: There's a difference between having your life threatened or your property vandalized and being boycotted or protested for something you did. The former is illegal and should be dealt with via the justice system. The latter is what one should expect in politics. When a person injects herself into a public controversy, she has to bear the consequences of that action, be they praise or protest. Donating money is one thing a person can do to inject herself into a public controversy. There is only one place in politics where a person is promised privacy: the voting booth. Every other venue of the political arena, one's actions are subject to scrutiny and criticism. People in a democratic society should welcome that dialogue. If a person believes that her ideas are right, she should be able to convince others. In time, the best ideas will win, if we are willing to defend our ideas, and to listen to others.

UPDATE: Brad's comment reminded me that I didn't do a very good job of defining persecution. Let me demonstrate:

The two axes are private beliefs or a person's identity vs. Someone's public advocacy of a particular policy. The other axis is a legal act in reaction v. an illegal act in reaction. My definition of persecution is illegal behavior against a person in reaction to that person's personal beliefs or identity. I assume that some legal behavior may rise to the level of persecution (insults, ad hominem attacks), but I'm squishy on that point. If someone wants to convince me one way or another, they can try in the comments.


micah e. said...

I couldn't agree more.

But I also wonder if what's going on really even rises to the level of "persecution." I actually get a little annoyed by some of my LDS peers suggesting that what the church has experienced in recent months is similar to the persecution it experienced back in the day. Back in the day, we were targeted for believing something different. What's occurred recently just doesn't feel the same to me.

It doesn't feel like the LDS church is being targeted so much for its beliefs as it is for the way it chose to interject itself into the political system (as you mention in your post). Beliefs and behavior are very different things in my mind.

I don’t think it was unexpected that the LDS church came out against gay marriage. And I think people (pro and anti gay marriage) can/should/do respect the LDS church’s position as a value of a religious institution. But obviously with Proposition 8, the LDS church and its membership dedicated a substantial amount of resources to passing the measure, and THIS is what people are reacting to.

I say, feel free to protest outside of my temple or meeting house. Members of my church protested outside your city halls. Release the names of donors—(like you said) that's how things have been done long before Proposition 8. It's what you bargained for.

All this should, however, happen in a civil manner (people shouldn't go sending powdery substances around or posting prejudice comments about homosexuals on your blog).

Randy Row said...

...and the saying went forth, ZION IS FLED...

Brad Schmidt said...

I agree about the apparent hypocrisy of people wanting to "stand for something" one day but not pay the consequences the next. But I think you're wrong about the absence of anti-Mormon persecution. I have experienced it. No, I haven't been tarred and feathered as such, but it was more than nothing.

Nate W. said...

Brad, do you mean persecution before prop 8 or after?

I'mma update this to clarify what I mean--check out the original post.

Brad Schmidt said...

Prior-and unrelated-to. I appreciate the update. I wish I could say that your matrix eliminated all my experiences from the realm of persecution.

I think that the reaction to Mormon support for Prop 8 falls mostly in the political column, but not entirely... Hence the extremists who suggest boycotting Utah or businesses owned by, or employing, Mormons regardless of their individual stance on Prop 8.

As someone who really didn't care one way or the other how the Prop 8 thing turned out, I feel pretty unpopular with most everyone right now. But, to be perfectly honest, where I live, a conservative county in PA, I doubt the Prop 8 thing matters at all to my local friends/neighbors.

Charlie said...

Fantastic post and right on the money. Do you mind if I post a link to your blog?

Nate W. said...

Mind? I'd encourage you to do it. I love the attention.

I've been meaning to update my blogroll to include all of my friends blogs--I'll try to get that done sometime during the weekend.

Leigh Johnson said...

Good post. I found it very interesting.