I made the following remarks at a dinner celebrating Dialogue’s fortieth anniversary, held in Salt Lake City on September 22, 2006.
I consider it one of the signal honors of my life to serve as editor of this distinguished journal. I undertook the task knowing it would be a great challenge. I had no notion of doing more that leaving its tradition intact when I am through with my designated five years of service. That remains my ambition. I hope I have met the challenge so far. I recognize how completely dependent I am on others. I am deeply grateful for the indispensable contribution of my fellow workers on the editorial and production teams and for the support and encouragement of the members of Dialogue’s board of directors. Clearly, I am a part of a cooperative effort. My purpose is to be guided by collective rather than my private values. For one thing, I am appointed by Dialogue’s board of directors. Once a year, they exclude me from a half hour session of a board meeting to discuss my performance. For another thing, not only do I depend enormously on my subordinate editors and production workers but also on the expert reviewers who voluntarily referee submissions. Finally, all of us, the board of directors, the editorial team, our expert reviewers, and I myself try hard to judge what our readers value. Dialogue has a constituency. I judge that Dialogue’s subscribers share many of my personal biases–but by no means all of them. The goal is to appeal to a variety of interests, both liberal and conservative, without offending deeply felt taboos. In an attempt to achieve this balance, I have assumed a caution and conservatism as editor quite unlike what I will call the brash, friendly irreverence I often display in my essays and speeches.
A part of Dialogue’s tradition includes the hope that the journal does some good in the Mormon world, a hope that Dialogue contributes to, rather than detracts from, Mormonism. It is easy enough to cite Dialogue articles that have been on the cutting edge of Mormon studies. What is more difficult is ascertaining whether those articles or any others have worked to make the persons who call themselves Mormons more civilized or tolerant or thoughtful.
With that caveat in mind, I will cite an essay from Dialogue which I believe will influence Mormonism for the good. The essay, appearing in the fall 2005 issue, is titled “Getting Out/Staying In: One Mormon Straight/Gay Marriage,” which may be viewed by visiting the Past Issue Selections on the Dialogue website. It is actually an extended essay consisting of four short essays. Ben Christensen, the author of the first and the last essays is in many ways a typical young Mormon man: he is fully active in the Church, he has served a mission, he has married in the temple, and he loves his wife and their children deeply. However, as he also declares, he is gay, as he disclosed to Jessie, his wife-to-be, before they became formally engaged. He has known for years of his same-sex attraction, has prayed, counseled with church leaders, done every possible thing to eradicate this attraction. He has not acted upon his homosexual attraction, nor does he intend to. But he is tired of hiding it, tired of pretending to be heterosexual when he isn’t. On the one hand, he argues that “people who happen to be attracted to their own gender shouldn’t be made to feel any worse than people who happen to be attracted to the opposite gender” (125). On the other hand, he resents being called politically incorrect for venturing into “what is usually considered the exclusive territory of straight men–to marry a woman and have a family…” (127).
The case against gay/straight marriages is presented in two subsequent essays by Ron Schow, a professor at Idaho State University, and Marybeth Raynes, a well-known Salt Lake therapist. Both speak respectfully of Ben and Jessie and wish them well, granting that they have some chance of success, yet declaring that on the whole, gay/straight marriages are doomed to failure. Schow emphasizes that persons who are bi-sexual rather than entirely gay have the greatest chance of succeeding in marriage and also in reparative therapy. Both Schow and Raynes decry the practice by some local church leaders of counseling gay persons to marry as a cure for homosexuality.
Wherein might this extended essay, “Getting Out/Staying In: One Mormon Straight/Gay Marriage,” be influential beyond the usual readership of the journal?
In early August of 2006, the Salt Lake Tribune published a feature article in its weekly religion section about Ben and Jessie and their family (“Mixed-orientation LDS couples count on commitment, work and love to beat the odds”). According to the article, which was authored by Peggy Fletcher Stack, Ben and Jessie remain optimistic about the success of an admittedly difficult relationship. Before marrying, they “talked a lot about it. They prayed about it. They both felt it was what God wanted them to do. Now Ben and Jessie have two children, 3-year-old Sophie and 2-month-old Timothy. They have shared their experiences with other Mormon mixed-orientation couples who have established a community in cyberspace. In the past year, Web logs dealing with their issues have proliferated. The conversations are wide-ranging, poignant and often eloquent.” The Tribune article goes on to discuss the challenges confronting gay/straight marriages, citing statements both for and against. It is worth noting that several color photographs accompany the Tribune article, showing Ben and Jessie and their children in happy–and very typical–domestic scenes.
Wherein does this concern Dialogue? The Tribune article cites the extended Dialogue article in some detail. I suspect that it was the Dialogue article that first called Ben and Jessie to Peggy Stack Fletcher’s attention in the first place. Dialogue’s fundamental intent, to present both sides of important Mormon issues, has been amplified enormously by the Tribune article. Readers by the tens of thousands have been made aware of the promises and perils of a Mormon gay/straight marriage. Neither the Tribune article nor the Dialogue article take a stand on the issue. Rather, they inform readers and leave readers to make their own judgment.
Having said that, I will add a personal judgment about the value to setting forth an issue in such a way that partisans on either side consider the case for the opposite side as it is made by its proponents. Understanding adversaries from their own declaration tends to liberalize. It may not convert anyone from the position she or he originally held. But at least it is likely to increase that person’s respect for those who believe otherwise. It will help us accept those with whom we disagree as our friends and neighbors. It will, in short, make us more tolerant, more magnanimous, more civilized.