Recent and highly public events have focused attention on the prevalence of “folklore” — church members, sometimes in positions of authority, “freelancing” beyond church doctrine. Of course, there are a variety of complicated issues in trying to sort out doctrine from folklore, which l’affaire Bott cast into sharp relief. There have been recriminations and hurt feelings, and the community will likely be dealing with the fallout for some time to come.
But we do have a few silver linings. For instance, the church newsroom’s prompt and unequivocal condemnation of Bott’s statements likely means that highly-visible BYU professors will think twice before making inflammatory, sweeping, extra-doctrinal claims to the national media.
Yes, that’s BYU Professor Ralph Hancock, telling Newsweek and the Daily Beast that
Joanna’s position on gay marriage is irreconcilable with the church. Latter-day Saints are adaptable, and of course there is diversity within the Mormon Church, but it is hard to conceive of calling anything Mormon that relinquishes the importance of sexual difference and procreation in the big, eternal scheme of things. Joanna is unreservedly confident that all ethical and religious truth must be on the side of acceptance of homosexuality. I think that’s a nonstarter. I don’t want to sound harsh or cruel, because I want her to remain Mormon, but she must choose between being a gay-rights proponent and being a Mormon.
Of course, Ralph Hancock is neither Jesus nor Joanna’s ecclesiastical leader, and he therefore has no actual say on whether she is allowed to be a Mormon.
Professor Hancock’s speculations about eternal procreation and about church members who support gay rights, like Professor Bott’s speculations on race, are not without cost. Nate Oman recently examined how Bott’s comments could affect real members of the church. Hancock’s equally ill-advised speculations have similar potential effects on real people.
Hancock’s ruminations to Newsweek are particularly striking when juxtaposed with his recent comments supporting the church newsroom’s response to l’affaire Bott: “we do not know why the ban was instituted and that we should cease indulging our conjectures on the matter.”
Given the paucity of official church doctrine on the topic, we also “do not know” how God’s plan may eventually work for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. There are a few specific clear doctrines (the church is officially opposed to same-sex marriage at present), and everything else is so much speculation. In fact, some might argue that Professor Hancock should “cease indulging [his] conjectures” in statements to the national media about issues like the place of same-sex couples in the eternities or the acceptable Mormon-ness of gay-rights supporters.
But then, maybe Professor Hancock is just really enthusiastic about the newsroom’s new role — so enthusiastic that he’s already providing them with tomorrow’s folklore.