A support organization for gay and transgender Mormons, former Mormons and their loved ones is protesting a recent news release from the LDS Church which criticizes the media — including gay television writers — for portraying the church unfairly. Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons says that the church is doing the very same thing to gay and transgender Americans.
In a March 9 news release, the LDS Church criticized the HBO series _Big Love_. The controversial show, now in its third season, depicts a fundamentalist Mormon polygamist family living in Utah. While creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer have previously stated that show is not about Mormons, the church stated that “more and more Mormon themes are now being woven into the show and that the characters are often unsympathetic figures who come across as narrow and self-righteous.”
Both Scheffer and Olsen are openly gay.
In particular, the church criticized the depiction of what the writers “understand to be sacred temple ceremonies” in an upcoming episode. In a TV Guide interview, Olsen and Scheffer said the March 15 episode would show an endowment ceremony. To portray it accurately, the two said they researched extensively and consulted an ex-Mormon who was familiar with the ceremony.
Temple ceremonies such as this are not open to non-Mormons, and only Mormons in good standing may enter LDS temples.
In response to the episode’s announcement, Mormons threatened to cancel their subscriptions to AOL, which is owned by HBO’s parent company Time Warner. The church itself said it was not calling for a boycott.
The statement also mentioned other controversial portrayals of Mormons in the media, including comedy show South Park’s episode “All About the Mormons” and September Dawn, a movie about the Mountain Meadows Massacre that many criticized for being inaccurate. It also touched upon protests of the church in the wake of Proposition 8, a successful ballot measure which re-banned gay marriage in California.
The LDS Church received national media attention for its outspoken support of Proposition 8, and its followers raised over $22 million for campaigns working to pass the measure.
“In recent months, some gay activists have barraged the media with accusations about ‘hateful’ attitudes of Latter-day Saints in supporting Proposition 8 in California, which maintained the traditional definition of marriage,” the statement read, noting that activists had even held a protest march around church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
“Again, the Church has refused to be goaded into a Mormons versus gays battle and has simply stated its position in tones that are reasonable and respectful. Meanwhile, missionary work and Church members in California remain as robust and vibrant as ever, and support for the Church has come from many unexpected quarters — including some former critics and other churches.”
Affirmation’s leaders challenged the church on these words.
“Mormon leaders need to understand that their center stage role in the anti-gay campaign in California contributes to Mormons being stereotyped as, using their words, “unsympathetic figures who come across as narrow and self-righteous,” which they so sincerely want to avoid,” said David Melson, Affirmation’s Executive Director.
Agreeing that the depiction of the endowment ceremony “is in very bad taste,” Melson nonetheless said the incident could help LDS leaders understand “the feelings of many of its gay members.”
“People mock LDS customs, beliefs, and culture because they do not know Mormons nor understand the depth of Mormon faith. … Similarly, LDS leaders demean gay men and women because they do not know gay people (to their knowledge) and they do not understand the biology and culture of being gay,” he said. “Of course, gay people experience the harm of job, housing and marital discrimination and are resentful about Mormon misconceptions. Gay Mormons, in particular, see the harm done to families as parents reject their children—and gay Mormons are either kicked out or leave their faith home.”
Melson also challenged the church on its statement that it had remained “reasonable and respectful” during the Proposition 8 campaign.
“What is ‘reasonable and respectful’ about passing laws that impose religious beliefs on all people, regardless of their own personal beliefs, or using intimidation and half-truths to do so?” he said.
He also criticized the church for its silence during the 2009 legislative session, when gay rights group Equality Utah attempted to pass bills aimed at securing basic rights for gay and transgender Utahns.
“LDS leaders regularly state that they have nothing against gay people having civil rights like job protection, housing protection and freedom from violence but when recent legislation providing these rights came to the Utah legislature, the church, which holds vast political influence in Utah, maintained a public silence, and no legislation passed.”