We have met the enemy and he is us. In a religion which teaches us to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers, in which we at least theoretically bear one another’s burdens, and in which we share some communal responsibility for one another’s well-being, I wonder how much responsibility we bear for one another’s transgressions? This question brings us to the matter at hand.
There is low-hanging fruit, and then there is Senator Chris Buttars. The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that this Utah state senator claims that he wouldn’t have said the things he did if he had realized that he wasn’t talking to fellow church members. Among other things, the senator said that gay people are “mean buggers”, “combinations of abominations”, and that they constitute ”probably the greatest threat to America”. When he was confronted with his own words, Buttars backpedaled and blamed the problem on the interviewer and cameraman. They were wearing BYU shirts and talking about their missions, so how was he supposed to know that his words were going to be published? He claims that he was deceived, and that he assumed the conversation was just entre nous.
Although your experience might be different, the fact remains that this man thinks it is acceptable for Mormons to talk like this among themselves. My own experience tells me that he is correct. I have heard, and continue to hear, gay people denigrated and slandered now and then in LDS gatherings. We are collectively embarrassed when Chris Buttars or Rex Rammell makes headline news. We are quick to write them off as anomalies and certainly not representative of us as a people. And we don’t want to be associated with their knuckledragging Neanderthalism when it comes to the disrespectful way they speak of or treat their fellow citizens who are gay or female.
Some uncomfortable questions arise. How did these men grow to adulthood in the church and never catch on that they are out-of-order? Why do we continue to tolerate these views among us? Is there something about us which produces these views? Why are tens of thousands of our fellow members willing to overlook these gross offenses and vote for these men anyway? What could we do to more effectively marginalize people who hold these views?
Here is a thought experiment. Which of the following statements is the most offensive and would cause the biggest firestorm in the bloggernacle:
- Gay people are mean. They are an abomination and the biggest present threat to America.
- It is disgraceful that the state of Utah still has no laws preventing employment or housing discrimination against homosexuals. Utah’s gay citizens can be fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartments without cause and without recourse to law. All Mormons should be deeply ashamed of that fact.
I think we would likely find people deeply divided on which statement best reflects reality. And that is why we are embarrassed when a prominent person says dumb things — it reflects on us, because we are willing to put up with retrograde attitudes and statements. Part of what defines us is what we are willing to tolerate. It is worth asking ourselves why we react so strongly when somebody says something we perceive is doctrinally incorrect, but are willing to stand idly to the side when somebody is engaging in hate speech.
I don’t know what to do about it besides resolve that I won’t sit silently and listen to gay jokes or racial jokes any more. If I fear the awkwardness that would come about if I walked away during a joke, I deserve to be right down there in the mud with Br. Buttars.