Mormon News, January 26–30

LDS CHURCH CALLS FOR DETENTE WITH GAYS

In a rare and unexpected press conference, the LDS Church this week called for legislation to protect LGBT people against discrimination and to simultaneously protect the church against reprisals from gays. Statements were read by apostles Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland, and D. Todd Christofferson and by Sister Neill Marriott of the church’s Young Women’s presidency. Presenting the church as a sometimes victim of gay retaliation, Elder Oaks said that “when religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser. Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender.”

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The next day in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Elder Oaks was asked if the LDS Church would ever apologize for its past actions against homosexuals. “We don’t seek apologies, and we don’t give them,” he said. “We look forward and not backward.” The word “apology” does not appear in the scriptures, he afterward elaborated. These statements sparked a flurry of online discussion about how former LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley encouraged members to apologize often and how LDS bishops ask members about past sins.

When interviewed by NPR, Oaks continued the theme of persecution, saying that Mormons were the “victims of intimidation and retaliation and boycotts in California. Many [church members] lost jobs or were publicly intimidated and boycotted against … and we’re pleading that that not be repeated.” In an interview with KSL Radio, he clarified that the church does not think “there should be an absolute nondiscrimination (provision) in housing that would not let a widow, say, who rents out a room in her home, make some individual choices on the basis of her conscience, so if you have nondiscrimination as a value that overrides everything else, that’s not good.” He criticized an op-ed essay by New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal who had written that what the church wants “is legal permission to use their religion as an excuse to discriminate.”

“When I [read] that I can tell you my reaction,” Oaks said. “I thought, well that illustrates how much we need to have people educated about the principles we are teaching of fairness and balance, because that’s a very unbalanced statement.… I’d be ashamed to make that kind of a statement, and I’m sorry that a responsible voice in the New York Times made it.… People who do not believe in God have a very hard time seeing the merit of the free exercise of religion, and they often make fun of it. They downgrade it.”

It was not only at the New York Times that people voiced reservations about Elder Oaks’s logic. Daniel Embree, who attended Brigham Young University as a gay student, pointed out that the call for religious exemptions allows the school to continue to discriminate against LGBT people in housing. It’s a double standard, he wrote. Church members don’t want to be discriminated against “but retain the right to do so themselves.”

CHURCH ASKS MEMBERS ABOUT GARMENTS

The church is famously known as a top-down organization, so when it recently solicited advice and input from members about the size, shape, fit, style, and fabric of the temple garment, it was a surprise. The garment is a piece of clothing members receive when they attend the temple, which outsiders have ridiculed as “magic underwear.” In October the church posted video of the garment and temple robes and explained their meaning. According to Peggy Fletcher Stack at the Salt Lake Tribune, Mormon women in particular have responded to the opportunity to provide input since the garment can sometimes be difficult to wear with other underclothing.

MITT ROMNEY ANNOUNCES HIS CHOICE

Mitt Romney, whose 2012 candidacy for president of the United States ushered in the so-called “Mormon Moment,” tantalized reporters and political watchers for the past three weeks by strongly hinting he would run again. Friday, however, he announced he would not run and would make way for younger and less experienced (seen as a jab at Jeb Bush) candidates. Mormon historian Ben Park wondered on Twitter who would be more disappointed: conservative Latter-day Saints anxious for a Mormon President or academic Mormons anxious to be interviewed and quoted throughout the national media again?

 At Signature Books

Signature Books’ marketing director Tom Kimball and editor Devery Anderson will be attending Sunstone West in San Diego this weekend. The emphasis of the conference will be on the church’s website essays posted over the past year (www.lds.org/topics), especially those on polygamy, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Abraham. George D. Smith, president and publisher of Signature Books, will be the keynote speaker on Nauvoo polygamy, the subject of his award-winning book.

—News update by John Hatch, acquisitions editor