An Unfortunate Attack

September 13, 2011 | 56 comments
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Media sources including the LDS Newsroom have recently engaged in or supported an unfortunate attack on LDS writer Joanna Brooks. Brooks, a professor at San Diego State University, wrote at Religion Dispatches last month about Mitch Mayne:

In LDS communities, where lay congregational leaders have positions analogous to those of priests, pastors, and rabbis, news of Mayne’s calling is having an impact, revealing continuing divisions among Mormons and questions about evolving Mormon views on homosexuality.

There is, in fact, no consensus Mormon view on homosexuality. While most Mormons view homosexual sexual activity as a sin, Church leaders have expressed divergent perspectives on LGBT issues, ranging from condemnatory and derisive to ameliorative and compassionate.

In response, non-LDS blogger Terry Mattingly at Get Religion wrote a snarky and condescending post accusing Brooks of bad journalism:

You know that whole asking-questions thing that journalists are supposed to do as part of their work?

You know, that thing where the journalist tries to ask the obvious, logical questions and then prints what people — especially people whose training and experience yield on-the-record, authoritative information — have to say that is relevant to the story?

This process is especially important when dealing with issues that push people’s buttons and cause conflict in large, symbolic, even controversial groups. When these conflicts exist, it’s especially crucial to talk to people on both sides — on the record.

Religion Dispatches ran a story last weekend that demonstrates what happens when this process breaks down or, worse, is ignored.

Mattingly went on to attack Brooks’ statement about evolving views on homosexuality, and compared her unfavorably with Peggy Fletcher Stack. Of course, veteran reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack makes lots of us look bad in comparison. And Mattingly’s piece made some good points (citation and clarity are always helpful); however, it did so with over-the-top and condescending language.

Then Mattingly’s post was cited favorably, first by Lyman Kirkland at the LDS Newsroom and then by Joseph Walker at the Deseret News. (The LDS links were somewhat surprising, given the provocative photograph Mattingly used to illustrate his post.) In the DesNews article, Brooks was described as “a writer,” with no mention of her name or the fact that she is a lifelong church member. The LDS Newsroom article didn’t mention Brooks at all, referring simply to “a blog post in a publication called Religion Dispatches.” (The Newsroom also linked to Mattingly’s post only, not to Brooks’).

Should the LDS Newsroom be endorsing a snarky attack on Joanna Brooks for her claim that LDS views on homosexuality are evolving? I don’t believe it should. As I document extensively in a companion post, it is absolutely true that the past several decades have seen major changes in LDS statements on homosexuality. In fact, these changes have led other reporters to similar conclusions. As the companion post notes, religion reporter Rebecca Rosen Lum wrote an Oakland Tribune article in 2007, titled “Mormon Church Changes Stance on Homosexuality,” focusing on recent changes:

The Mormon church has quietly moved further from defining homosexuality as evil and the result of faulty parenting. An unheralded new church publication, “God Loveth His Children,” says gay feelings are neither learned nor chosen, and it counsels against rejecting a gay child. Seemingly aimed at young people, the statement gently counsels individuals who feel attraction to and love for same-gender people to trust in God’s plan and not act upon the transitory desires of mortal life — a period of “probation during which we face a variety of temptations and challenges.” It repeatedly warns against feelings of guilt: “Attractions alone do not make you unworthy. If you avoid immoral thoughts and actions, you have not transgressed even if you feel such an attraction.” It also says: “The Lord’s command to ‘forgive all men’ includes the requirement to forgive yourself.”

Spokesmen for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would not say what led the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency — the two highest governing bodies of the Church — to publish the pamphlet at the end of July. “I dont know either,” said Jan Shipps, a scholar and historian specializing in Mormons. But its placement on the church’s Web site makes clear “that it would have to have been approved by the general authorities of the LDS Church.”

Those close to the Mormon Church say the publication is neither the result of a religious revelation nor a policy change. “This represents a continuation of a direction they began going in several years ago,” said Terry [sic] Givens, the author of four books on Mormonism and a religion professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia. A 1974 church pamphlet excoriated homosexuality as evil and castigated parents of gays for having raised their children poorly. By 1992, a new teaching suggested that biological factors could be at work.

Now, I do have some disagreements with Brooks’ particular use of language in her post. In particular, I believe that she uses imprecise language in a way that conflates rhetorical shift with doctrinal shift. I don’t think that she was sufficiently clear that church leaders have not changed on the basic doctrinal stance that homosexual acts are considered a sin. However, religion is not doctrine alone; it is the lived experience of church members. And it’s clear that the lived experience of LGBT people in the church has changed significantly as official church language has mellowed.

Get Religion’s overall project is to correct errors made by ignorant journalists. This is certainly a worthy goal. There are many ill-informed journalists who mischaracterize religious views out of ignorance or bias.

However, Joanna Brooks is not one of them. She is a lifelong Mormon, a BYU graduate, a scholar academic whose academic work examines religion in public life. She writes two different weekly columns on Mormon issues and also contributes to a popular podcast on Mormonism. She has broken important news stories (such as recent Handbook changes on LGBT issues). She speaks at multiple conferences each year on Mormon topics, and sits on the Board of a major Mormon studies publication. Her work on Mormonism and politics has appeared in the Washington Post; Politico just named her one of “50 politicos to watch” based on her columns about Mormonism and politics. And ironically (given Mattingly’s unflattering comparison), Brooks is regularly cited by Peggy Fletcher Stack as an expert on Mormon issues.

Joanna Brooks is not an ignorant or misguided reporter. She is a scholar with real expertise in Mormon topics. The imprecision in her post was unfortunate. However, that imprecision merited a nudge or a gentle correction. Instead, Mattingly greeted her with unwarranted mockery and sarcasm. And then, oddly, the church appeared to endorse the mocking tone of Mattingly’s post. I hope that this was simply an oversight.

56 Responses to An Unfortunate Attack

  1. Matt W. on September 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    The Blog on the LDS Newsroom is not the Church. Neither is an opinion piece in the Desert News. Anyway, Joanna Brooks is a Scholar with real expertise in mormon topics. She is also an activist with an agenda. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but I am saying that there is a reason for imprecision other than ignorance.

  2. Julie M. Smith on September 13, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you for this post. I am very concerned about the role that the Newsroom is playing here–there is simply no way to justify the position that the Church hasn’t changed its stance on some matters related to homosexuality. Their support of a snarky post is also deeply disturbing, especially given the fine work they did about a year ago urging civility in public discourse. There have been several other Newsroom posts that I felt went _way_ beyond what the GAs are teaching, and I am disturbed about this.

    As a side note, I do think we need a neologism. “Openly gay” means to most people that the person is sexually active or would be given the opportunity. That doesn’t seem to be term we want here, where what we mean is “open about homosexual orientation but committed to chastity.” I wonder if somewhere along the Brooks->Get Religion->Newsroom line, the use of that term caused some confusion.

  3. Mike on September 13, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Kaimi,

    I partly agree and partly disagree. I follow both Joanna Brooks’s column and Get Religion and know both blogs quite well. The fact is that Brooks’s column in question did not live up to the journalistic standards that GR attempts to promote. However, as was stated by multiple people in comments on TMatt’s GR post, Brooks is not a trained reporter (she is an academic), and RD is not a typical news outlet but rather it mixes news, commentary, and a “progressive” (it’s self-described label) perspective. So TMatt’s mistake is holding RD to a standard that RD itself does not claim to uphold. Yes, RD wants good and accurate writing, but GR wants a type of journalistic balance that is not RD’s main priority.

    But I agree that the newsroom should have just left it alone.

  4. Ben S on September 13, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I don’t think the Newsroom was nearly as misleading as presented here, but it depends on how you read it and understand terms like policy and doctrine. If you read “openly gay” (as Julie points out) and “leadership position,” it sounds like a partnered gay man is in the Bishopric, and that would certainly be a major shift in policy and doctrine. In those terms, there certainly hasn’t been any.

    On the other hand, as Kaimi documents, there have been some important shifts from the top, just not the one he and Joanna beat the drum for, or the one the Newsroom seems to address.

  5. the narrator on September 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    “She has broken important news stories (such as recent Handbook changes on LGBT issues).”

    What? I don’t get credit for breaking the news to the news breaker (and doing the dirty work of compiling the critical edition)?

    ;)

  6. Rameumptom on September 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Thanks for the post, Kaimi. I don’t see the problem with Joanna’s article, because it basically explains all sides of the homosexual issue. It does not attack anyone for their attitudes. It does demonstrate the struggles the Church is having on finding is place regarding the issue. That Mitch Mayne was not excommunicated for having a monogamous gay relationship, and then asked a year later to be an executive secretary, shows that the Church treated the issue at perhaps the same level as other sexual sins. In the past, he would quickly have been excommunicated, and his return to baptism may have required many years of abstinence, or even to renounce his homosexuality.

    That we are now getting to a point where sexual sin is treated as sexual sin, is a good thing; and that we do not condemn a person for their attractions (whether inborn or not). As for whether the Church should ever wholly accept monogamous homosexual relationships: I’ll leave that up to God and his prophets to decide.

  7. Dave on September 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Nice comments, Kaimi — I found the Get Religion and Newsroom responses a little puzzling. If you are trying to legitimize LDS diversity (isn’t this what the whole “I am a Mormon” campaign is about???), then you should be celebrating Joanna Brooks. So perhaps omitting Joanna’s name from the Newsroom piece is an attempt to criticize just the suggestion that LDS policy on homosexuality is changing while avoiding criticizing Joanna personally.

    Of course, one still has to explain why the Newsroom would deny that LDS policy on homosexuality is changing. Perhaps this is one of the strange LDS episodes where the leadership wants change to occur but, at the same time, doesn’t want anyone to talk about change occurring. But then the last thing you want to do is publicly proclaim that change is not occurring, as it invites public responses pointing out that the policy is, in fact, changing. Very strange.

  8. RickH on September 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    It seems like all the Sunday School lessons and comments about God not being “changeable” are colliding with the lessons and comments about continuing revelation.

    When there’s an actual revelation (as in 1978), it’s phrased very unambiguously as such. But we still have the tendency to try to ignore all of the contrary teaching prior to that revelation. So now, 23 years later, you have to look pretty hard in the current Church materials to find mentions of “fence-sitters in the war in heaven”. Of course, a 30-second Google search will turn up more than enough.

    Policy changes seem to have more of a tendency to be shoved in the general direction of the memory hole, unfortunately.

  9. Aaron B on September 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    “Perhaps this is one of the strange LDS episodes where the leadership wants change to occur but, at the same time, doesn’t want anyone to talk about change occurring.”

    Is this really “strange,” or just standard procedure?

    Look, whether we’re talking about homosexuality or any other “doctrinal” topic under the sun, large swathes of LDS people buy into the stupid idea that our “doctrines” don’t change, which is patently asinine, and their desire to believe this — notwithstanding LDS belief in modern revelation — forces them to perform all sorts of intellectual gymnastics in order to ignore the obvious. I strongly suspect that LDS Church leaders feel the need to cater to this misperception, since it’s so commonplace, and so many bread-and-butter churchmembers will throw a tizzy if they have to confront reality.

  10. Kaimi Wenger on September 13, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Matt (1),

    You’re right that there is more than one way to be incorrect. And you’re also right that activists need to be careful to distinguish between descriptive and normative claims. I don’t think that Joanna was deliberately blurring the line here, but you’re right that this is an issue about which anyone writing on a controversial topic should be aware.

    Julie (2),

    I’ve also noticed that the Newsroom has been active. In general, I like the idea of an active Newsroom. I think it allows for more engagement on timely topics. But the downside is that greater activity creates more possibilities for missteps. I don’t think that anyone was acting maliciously here, but I do think the recent post was a misstep and that the Newsroom has been inconsistent at times (although they’ve also produced some excellent posts). And yes, I think it’s quite possible that the confusion about “openly gay” contributed.

    Mike (3) writes,

    TMatt’s mistake is holding RD to a standard that RD itself does not claim to uphold. Yes, RD wants good and accurate writing, but GR wants a type of journalistic balance that is not RD’s main priority.

    This is a very good summary.

    Ben (4),

    Yep – the Newsroom piece seems to have missed what Joanna was saying, and so was refuting a point that she didn’t assert.

    Loyd (5),

    The first rule of your contributions is that we don’t talk about your contributions.

    Rameumpton (6),

    “That we are now getting to a point where sexual sin is treated as sexual sin, is a good thing; and that we do not condemn a person for their attractions (whether inborn or not).”

    Yep. The church is moving in this direction, and it’s a good shift.

    Dave (7),

    You’re right that there’s an odd disconnect. We celebrate Joanna’s Mormonness elsewhere — for instance, at the Mormon Scholars Testify website: http://mormonscholarstestify.org/702/joanna-brooks .

    And you (and RickH, and Aaron) are correct to note that the church seems to have a complicated relationship with change.

    Change happens. Do we admit it? Sometimes.

  11. H.Bob on September 13, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I’ll probably be pilloried for this, but can you really call yourself a BYU graduate if you–very publicly–gave your diploma back in protest over a faculty dismissal?

  12. Martin on September 13, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Kaimi, I certainly don’t think the LDS newsroom should endorse snark. I think they’re trying to appreciative of “fact checking”, without doing fact checking themselves.

    However, Joanna often says things in ways that can easily be misinterpreted, and some might think she’s doing it on purpose. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, I was listening to Joanna Brooks on Talk of the Nation, and she said “The church is evolving in some ways as well, while most Mormons do maintain a view that homosexual activity in itself is sinful, there are also signs towards greater reconciliation, understanding, and growth in the way we handle gay issues as they relate to our LGBT brothers and sisters. An openly gay Mormon man, for example, was just called to a leadership position in a congregation in San Francisco, and for progressives like me, that’s a really wonderful and hopeful sign.” (note, my transcript matches the audio better than the official version).

    There’s nothing inaccurate in what Joanna said, but listeners could easily get the impression that the church’s stand on homosexual sex was equivocal and that it had sanctioned a practicing homosexual lay minister, and those impressions would be incorrect. Joanna clearly has personal agendas (both to help mainstream society accept Mormons and to integrate progressives better into the church), but I doubt she had any intention to misinform. But her choice of words and emphasis might tempt a more conservative member to see the worst in her.

  13. KLC on September 13, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    And I thought this was going to be about Norbert’s Hamlet post on BCC…

  14. SNeilsen on September 13, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    Martin
    What is a practicing homosexual? When do they get off the practice team and on to the playing team? What skill level do you need?

    I doubt you have any intention to misinform, but your choice of words and emphasis might tempt gay members to see the worst.

  15. Chino Blanco on September 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    My favorite GetReligion gem is this piece from Terry Mattingly’s co-blogger, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, from the previous September: The missing Mormon murder

    In it, Mollie wonders out loud why the senseless murder of an LDS bishop by a mentally ill former Mormon was *not* being sensationalized by the press with a Prop. 8 backlash/anti-Muslim-meets-anti-Mormon-bigotry storyline.

    GetReligion has got its own agenda(s) beyond its self-proclaimed journo watchdog mission statement and the Newsroom calls institutional LDS political neutrality into question when it picks sides between the GetReligion and Relgion Dispatches blogs.

  16. DifferentLight on September 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    I think the newsroom has ever right to correct error propagated by the media. The did not attack her, just corrected her.

  17. Chino Blanco on September 13, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    Yes, the Newsroom has every right to correct errors. Where in that Newsroom post did Lyman Kirkland actually clarify anything about LDS policy? As far as I can tell, he simply posted a lecture on attribution that (wait…for…the…facepalm) failed to mention Brooks by name or link to her post.

    I think Terry gets mentioned by name because he’s a guy, like Lyman. Anyway, when I tweeted Kirkland to suggest that he follow his own advice and include a link to JB’s piece in his Newsroom post, he responded by blocking his @lkirk account from my tweets.

    So, I’ll pose the question here that I was kinda hoping to get answered elsewhere: Did anybody at Newsroom bother to contact Joanna Brooks before Cap’n leKirk’s post went up?

  18. Steven B on September 14, 2011 at 12:51 am

    I completely agree with Dave. Well said.

  19. Mayan Elephant on September 14, 2011 at 1:11 am

    Nice work Kaimi, on this and the other piece, with its many “a-t-t-r-i-b-u-t-i-o-n-s.”

    The LDS link you have ends with this “There is a lot of interest in the Church and a lot being written about it. It’s important for the public to distinguish between fact, opinion and personal advocacy.”

    Ironically, I could not agree more with that.

    I have no doubt that many mormons are coping with the church’s position on homosexuality differently. That said, Joanna Brooks gave a poor opinion, or journalist report, or whatever you call it, when she said the leadership has changed. and you, Kaimi, make a similar mistake by brushing over Prop 8, with only a single reference to it in your second to last paragraph, and 32nd footnote. Both of you are ignoring this key position that the leadership made regarding homosexuality.

    Has the church gone back on their position with prop 8? nope.

    Many members may be changing their views on homosexuality. But, the church has not changed its standards or its position on the personal rights of homosexuals. The church doesn’t have to change. The Church and its leaders can do and be whatever they want. It is aggravating when people like Joanna pretend they are something other than what they are. Monson and his men sponsored a massive campaign against homosexual marriage and rights. They spread horrible rumors that gay marriage was a scourge. They have not changed their views in any meaningful way.

    When Joanna writes that things are changing among the leaders, she is acting as an advocate for her own position and justifying her own affiliation with a church that is NOT what she is describing.

    I know you think this is just an unfortunate blip in an otherwise good piece. I think it is much more than that. I think that a group of unorthodox or self-proclaimed mormons are talking about a few little changes, including a word change here and there, and pretending that all this talk is making the leaders change. It is not.

    A real change would be for these same progressive and enlightened folks to ask for real change out of salt lake city, and to report those opinions and instructions accurately. Your report was the closest I have seen so far, but you are still looking for something that really is not there yet. For now, whil the leaders are not changing, there is a lot of pretending the change has already happened which makes it okay to feel good about being mormon.

  20. Geoff - A on September 14, 2011 at 7:54 am

    The leaders of the Church do not admit it when they make a mistake, they just start talking differently. Even the 1978 revelation talks about “giving the p’hood to all worty males”. It doesn’t say anything about changing a previous policy of not giving the p’hood to Negroes. When women get the priesthood it will just be “given to all worthy members” not to women.

    So there can be subtle changes that will be difficult to recognise, and it may take a while even for all GAs to catch on.

    So Mayan 19 don’t expect to get a direct answer, even if you could ask a direct question.

  21. Chino Blanco on September 14, 2011 at 8:45 am

    “And yet it moves.” — Galileo Galilei (misattributed)

  22. Zack on September 14, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    I’m really sick of the Church public affairs department overstepping its bounds (and sick of leaders allowing/encouraging it to do so). The Church PR office should not become involved in issues of doctrine. Announce MoTab events, temple dedications, charitable work. When asked, clarify any political stances (or explain why your political stance is not actually a political stance when you want to sidestep). But don’t let the Church trot out Michael Otterson when an apostle should be the one making a statement. And don’t go out of your way to attack a blog post, even if it’s much worse than the one written by Brooks.

  23. Scott Armstrong on September 14, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Yes, Dave (7). The church seems like it really wants to celebrate diversity and fashion itself as a big tent, but the response to Joanna Brooks is a great example of this pesky tendency to reach out and try to correlate everyone.

    Church PR trying to attack and embarrass an active member for writing a blog post meant to highlight what many construe as positive changes within that church? It’s a pretty weird thing to engage in.

    As an active member who supports gay rights, I think if anything she’s giving the church too much credit.

    BTW, I’m the executive secretary in my ward, and I’m relatively positive If I were gay I’d do the job just as well.

  24. manaen on September 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Protesting an unfortunate, snarky attack upon a person who’s blogging career is based upon unfortunate, snarky attacks upon the Church.

  25. Chris H. on September 14, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    “But don’t let the Church trot out Michael Otterson when an apostle should be the one making a statement.”

    I vote that Otterson be made an apostle. I love that guy.

  26. Michael on September 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    RE: #22

    Amen Zack, amen! Doctrinal pronouncements should be coming directly from the Brethren. We are not a corporation and should not act as such (oops!, maybe we are just a big corporation and that is why we hide behind the newsroom for clarification of doctrine).

    As concerns the use of the term “openly gay”, I, as a celibate gay man, was initially confused as to why someone would automatically assume the word meant sexually active. But as I pondered upon it, I realized that many people have a difficult time acknowledging gay as an orientation and always equate the word with sexual activities. What else would they call a man or woman who came out of the closet and was not ashamed of their orientation? “Openly gay” means one publicly acknowledges their orientation and does not attempt to hide it or feel shame because of it. “Sexually active” gay means just what it says. Would they think the same way if someone was “openly straight” and immediately assume the person was fornicating?

    By the way, I have been a gospel doctrine teacher, a counselor in the Elders Quorum, a Temple volunteer AND a family history center director all within the past five years as an openly gay Latter-day Saint. How come no one has written national articles and issued press releases about me?

  27. Chino Blanco on September 14, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Personally, I think the LDS church is beyond salvaging. I don’t even think it’s a church. At this point, it’s little more than a coordinated PR effort designed to distract attention away from where all the money is going. That’s why the LDS Newsroom responds in such petty and vindictive fashion to folks like Joanna. They have no interest in pastoral care. Joanna doesn’t get treated like a member of the flock. Instead, she’s targeted for humiliation. It’s what corporations do to their critics.

  28. Kaimi Wenger on September 14, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    That’s certainly energetic rhetoric, Chino, but I don’t think it’s actually a sustainable argument.

    The current level of involvement by the church PR department is a relatively new development. There’s nothing on this scale even a few years back. Was the church newsroom making statements on the internet in 2000?

    So the church has turned from a religious organization into “a coordinated PR effort designed to distract attention away from where all the money is” in the past ten years?

    What the heck was it before then? An uncoordinated effort and no one worried where all of the money went?

  29. Brad Kramer on September 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Anyone who thinks Joanna has made a blogging career out of attacking the Church needs to learn how to read.

  30. Kaimi Wenger on September 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Agreed, Brad. And in fact church critics are often very upset with Joanna. For instancee, she took a lot of flak from vocal church critics over her “Five Myths about Mormonism” article in the WaPo.

  31. Chino Blanco on September 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Yeah, Kaimi, to tell the truth, I had a great time growing up Mormon. And I don’t remember having to navigate all this crap. We were too busy with stake dances and welfare farms and MIA and basketball and Boy Scouts and all the rest. But I don’t think it’s coming back. And it’s not my fault. All we needed to do was keep up with what was happening outside our little world and we could’ve kept it going. But that’s not what happened, is it? We handed over responsibility for the programs to dimwits. And I’m done debating their performance. 24 hours of hate on blogs that I know are staffed by decent human beings. At the end of the day, we never quite figured out how to self-regulate, did we? How to keep all the good stuff and welcome the emerging culture? No va.

  32. Neal on September 14, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    I’ve blogged about this before, but there is a distinct difference between policy and doctrine. Doctrine is, well DOCTRINE – revealed truth if you will. Policy is how doctrine is interpreted and applied to various issues and situations and times. Doctrine doesn’t change very often. Policy changes constantly. I think its important to understand that the Church has not changed ANY doctrine, but they are certainly changing policy.

    Lots of good comments here, folks. Chris H – I agree. Otterson is awesome.

  33. Chino Blanco on September 14, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Hiring policies, too? If those were changed, how would you know? As far as I can tell, you wouldn’t. Your own church is as big a mystery to you as it is to the rest of us.

  34. Neal on September 14, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Hiring policies? Not sure how that relates. Lay clergy.

    All the doctrinal related polcies are in the General Handbook of Instructions, Volumes 1 and 2. You can find bootleg copies all over the internet, if your interested.

  35. Brad Kramer on September 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    The fact that availability entails bootlegs doesn’t exactly refute chino’s point. And the Church employs tens of thousands of hired and fired individuals.

  36. Neal on September 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Since this thread is not about hiring policies of the Church, I don’t see a need. It has about as much relevance to my Church experience as the hiring policies of Apple. We ARE talking about doctrinal policies, which are available in 2 books. Volume 1 of the General Handbook is for Bishops, Stake Presidents, etc. and is officially distributed just to them (although in this age of instant information it seems futile to assume you’re limiting access). Volume 2 is for the other callings in the Church, and is freely available for download from the Church web site (or bootleg sources). As with anything, you can be as informed or uninformed as you want to be on the issues. I certainly don’t think there’s a “mystery” here, if one cares to look. Or ask.

  37. Chino Blanco on September 14, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    At this point, I’d rather be a door that closes so that another might open. A few summers ago I was back home and digging through old copies of the Student Review that I’d had delivered to my postal box in New York after leaving BYU. The crazy thing is that nearly everybody on that twenty-year-old masthead has somehow managed to clutter my current life with their brilliance. Joanna was the publisher. I don’t know her from Adam (or Eve, for that matter), but I’m tired of seeing folks like that kicked around for sport.

  38. Chris H. on September 14, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    I just noticed that Joanna is also chair of the English department. Where does she get the time to do it all!?!?

  39. Lorian on September 14, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    On the subject of “openly gay,” I would consider myself “openly gay” whether or not I had a wife or was in the market to find one. Gay is not “who I sleep with.” It is who I am. If I joined a monastery tomorrow, I would still be gay. I would be a celibate lesbian, but I’d be no less a lesbian. And I’d never be anything but “open” about it, because I’m not ashamed to be the person God made me to be — a woman whose primary emotional and physical attractions and attachments are to other women.

    I see no problem with Joann using “openly gay” as a descriptor for Mitch Mayne. It’s how he describes himself, despite the fact that he has, for the present, opted to remain without a partner for the sake of holding his calling.

  40. Craig on September 14, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    After reading both the Newsroom post and the Deseret News Article, I seriously wondered whether either had actually read Brooks original post. What do you think Kaimi?

    It seemed possible, perhaps probable, that the Newsroom had just read Mattingly’s post and perhaps Walker had just read the Newsroom Post.

    I confess to being surprised when I first read Brook’s post. When she says “news of Mayne’s calling is having an impact, revealing continuing divisions among Mormons and questions about evolving Mormon views on homosexuality” my first impression was that she was suggesting that official doctrine regarding sinfulness of sexual activity outside of marriage was changing. Insofar as she was suggesting that ideas regarding whether same sex attraction is inborn or acquired is changing among Mormons – both the brethren and rank and file Mormons – she is of course accurate. But the distinction is not apt to be one readily perceived by outsiders.

    I am sure that to both Mayne’s bishop and stake president the distinction is of paramount importance. But I am unsure whether the average Utah Mormon perceives the distinction.

  41. Tachyon Feathertail on September 15, 2011 at 11:14 am

    I think the reason why the LDS church’s PR efforts have stepped up significantly in the last 10 years is as a belated reaction to the Internet. For every person who talks about the harm done to them by the church, there need to be more (and better-looking) people who say that they’re making it up, because the ninety and nine are doing just fine.

    Whether this is the way Jesus would have handled accounts of spiritual abuse — or whether the proportion is really that small — are questions that modern public relations are not equipped to address. Perhaps that is why the PR message is the loudest, while my dad hasn’t heard of God Loveth His Children and didn’t believe it was possible to be gay and LDS at all.

  42. Hellmut on September 15, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Perhaps, Kaimipono Wenger’s best essay yet: analytically rigorous, tight, and incisive.

  43. Hellmut on September 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    I may be wrong but I suspect that the PR folks are not mentioning Juanita Brooks by name because they don’t want to drive traffic to her blog.

  44. clark on September 15, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Gay is not “who I sleep with.” It is who I am.

    The problem is a rhetorical one. That’s fine if it’s how you use the word. But in the general populace the word simply isn’t used that way. If one writes in a fashion to a general audience and one is using words or phrases that mean different things to significant portions of the populace then one has written poorly.

    I don’t think we should limit how people use their words. But if one is, as Joanna apparently was, writing to a general audience then these jargon issues are very significant. Perhaps Joanna is simply so used to only talking with people who use the terms as you do that she doesn’t realize there was even potentially a problem. However those with a different rhetorical context will simply read what she wrote very different from which she may have intended.

  45. Mayan Elephant on September 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Michael Otterson would much prefer to be in hisd position of leadership and responsibility with quantifiable and meaningful influence for the church, rather than be an apostle.

    Otterson is a spinmeister. That is his job and he does it well.

  46. Mayan Elephant on September 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Hellmut, ‘Juanita’ Brooks? C’mon man. don’t make it so easy. it is Joanna.

  47. Mayan Elephant on September 15, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    The original post, its companion post and many of these comments all seem to follow a general theme and pattern. It is that the leaders of the church defend a core, albeit insane, doctrine or position and the members slowly migrate to something else. Ultimately, the leaders find their bearings based on how policies are implemented and how public pressure leads them. examples are polygamy and racist discrimination.

    Chino makes a great point. I would agree with him. I too had a great time growing up mormon. with a single mother, the church and the local ward were a great benefit to me. there were some negative aspects to that ward and the tight community too, but for the most part it was beneficial to be there, in the ward, with those families.

    It could and should still be good to grow up mormon, but it is not practical or reasonable to do so. the fact that Joanna Brooks’ column even exists, and that she has to distinguish herself as some unorthodox or progressive mormon should cause people to wonder what in the hell has happened to the leaders of that church. they have completely lost their bearings by failing to adapt. They have turned the church into something it was not meant to be – a wedge between family members, a wedge between generations, and a wedge between neighbors. Prop 8 purposefully drew a line in the sand between members, neighbors, voters and families. that is not adapting, that is being a beneficiary of strategic hate.

    Relative to the rest of the world, the church has not improved its policy or its doctrine. It has done the opposite, it has made it worse on a relative basis. When we grew up mormon, we didnt think about the rights of other people, including blacks and gays. Homosexuality was not a key public concern then. There were homosexuals obviously, but we werent talking about it.

    As Kaimi points out, there were instructions and pamphlets and the Miracle of Forgiveness. But it wasnt on the big plate, it was more of a side dish to everything else. Today it is. It is part of local, state and national elections. it is part of corporate and municipal policies. it is part of HIIPA rights. it is all around us. and the church went backwards, not forwards, in that process. the church dug in its heels and asked the members to take a public position on behalf of the church. that is not progress. and raising kids in that environment where there is so much judgment was not an option for me and for many others.

    it really resonates to when i read what chino says. it was a great childhood, and had all the potential to continue to be that for a long time, but they gave up and got greedy, they refused to adapt or change even when doing so was helpful to real people.

  48. Adam W. on September 15, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Ms Brooks has been wonderful to me and my wife, and I appreciate her courage in writing openly about what she views. Although I personally may not see everything exactly the way she does, I can still respect it. The LDS church i was raised in believes in questioning what we see and hear until we are given the understanding. Our LDS culture may try to influence us and tell us we should blindly believe, but that is no where in the doctrine of the Church.
    The LDS Church was founded by, and is continued to be run by imperfect people, just like its members. The challenge is not to blindly follow, the challenge is to do what God has asked, and then ask him if you should do it until you are convinced through a personal testimony it is true.

  49. chanson on September 16, 2011 at 1:59 am

    For instancee, she took a lot of flak from vocal church critics over her “Five Myths about Mormonism” article in the WaPo.

    Kaimi, what happened to all that fab attribution you were championing earlier? Since I see no names here, and since my piece was constructive criticism (not flak), I will simply assume you’re not talking about me. :)

  50. Alan on September 16, 2011 at 4:04 am

    Kaimi @ 10:

    I don’t think that anyone was acting maliciously here.

    Kirkland has been in the Newsroom and circling the internet long enough that he knows there are progressive Mormons — including Mormons who do not think homosexual intimacy is a sin. All the evidence here points to Kirkland singling out Brooks, if not “maliciously” than with violent nonchalance — by which I mean, just doing correlation work for the Church, he’s in the business of silencing others (just read his posts endorsing how the FLDS don’t get to claim the word “Mormon.”)

    Kaimi in post:

    I believe that she uses imprecise language in a way that conflates rhetorical shift with doctrinal shift. I don’t think that she was sufficiently clear that church leaders have not changed on the basic doctrinal stance that homosexual acts are considered a sin.

    I think there is evidence they are changing. Sin goes hand-in-hand with repentance, but I see no evidence of Mayne’s bishop requiring repentance from Mayne for that long-term same-sex relationship that ended a mere year ago. I see even less evidence of Mayne thinking he needs to repent. So, even if the “sin” is on the books, there’s a recognition that it’s not enforceable as “sin” in cases where a celibate gay wants to be Mormon but does not see homosexual intimacy (including his own past) as sinful.

    Or even in the case of straight members. I know of a Mormon woman who writes male-male erotic romance for a living and her bishop basically told her, “Well, let’s agree to disagree.” Funny way of responding to “sin,” don’t you think?

  51. Mayan Elephant on September 16, 2011 at 4:34 am

    kaimi, i think you did an amazing job. your research and footnotes are thorough. i wish you would address the core hatred and concentrated acts that were directed by monson regarding prop 8 and similar ballot issues.

  52. Lorian on September 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Clark #44 – I would propose that the problem is not semantical, but one of the general public viewing LGBT people as being solely defined by what they do in bed. When I think about a heterosexual person, I don’t think of them having sex. I don’t define them by their sex acts or by their sexual partner. I think of them as multidimensional people with families, jobs, homes, lives. If more people would follow this methodology with regards to GLBT people, there’d likely be a good deal less misunderstanding of who GLBT people really are.

  53. Mike H. on September 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    The LDS church i was raised in believes in questioning what we see and hear until we are given the understanding.

    How do you think the Word of Wisdom came about?

    Sometimes, policy is passed as doctrine. I think of how Carol Lynn Pearson was told by Spencer W. Kimball go ahead, & to marry Gerald Pearson, that his gay feeling would go away “if she was sufficiently feminine”. This was in the first of 5 videos of an interview with her at FMH.

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=6207

    Yet, years after that, I read that heterosexual marriage is not a suitable “therapy” for SSA.

  54. Bill of Wasilla on September 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Kaimi – I just dropped into Times and Seasons after a fairly long absence. Many comments popped into mind as I read this and the companion article, but I will not bother with them.

    I just want to congratulate you on the work, thought and scholarship you have put into these two articles. Pretty impressive.

    Well… one comment. I have not been active in the Church for a good 30 years now. There are many reasons behind this, but one is certainly that the oppressive views of the church regarding sexuality in all its forms made my younger days miserable, even though I technically stayed in the bounds except for the “lust/adultery in the heart issue.”

    I am nearing my senior years now, and the intensity of those oppressive views on sex in general, not just homosexuality, as they were laid upon me continue to manifest themselves.

    In your writings, you caused me to realize something in a way that I had not before. Because I have not attended church in all this time and have minimal association with Mormon people in social situations, my mind still thinks of those oppressive views as being how it is today.

    You have shown me that it is otherwise. The Church is evolving.

    Too late for my wasted youth, but interesting.

    Thank you.

  55. walt on September 21, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Are you people in good standing with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?

  56. babyboomer on September 21, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    @ Walt, Please go to number 2 of the comment guidelines. This will clarify who participates in this blog.

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