Having grown up in a Mormon community largely defined by its sense of being persecuted and misunderstood, primarily around the issue of marriage, it is painful to watch the inability of Mormons to get the irony of their anti-marriage positions.
For my theory on why Mormons, of all people, cling to the narrowest definitions of traditional marriage click here.
Mainstream Christians are quick to label Mormons weirdos for their polygamous past. Mormons are deeply weird, its true, but Bible believers calling polygamists strange makes no sense as all proper marriages in the Bible are polygamous, and the book never once mentions monogamy. Every Christian who proclaims the Bible as justification for their own belief that marriage is between one man and one woman has not read the book, as that concept is not in there.
King Solomon, a wise, temple-building man, with a busy home life. (Russian patchwork by Elena Rogacheva, http://patchwork.ucoz.ru)
Because true biblical marriages are polygamous, their stories sound weird too. Wise King Solom had 700 wives and 300 concubines. So much for monogamy. More modern men could keep their marital vows if they had 3+ different women to service for each day of the year. David, on the other hand, not only slew the giant, but he also founded the unified kingdom of Israel and put its capital in Jerusalem. David also had many wives and concubines, along with a very special first love in his buddy Jonathon. (see the full version of the David story here).
Concubines are a fascinating part of a godly biblical marriage, not much mentioned by evangelicals, Mormons, Catholics, or Republicans. Concubines were women you owned, because in true biblical marriage and families the man owns his women, both wives and daughters, as property. Concubines lived in the household and the man can have sex with them without giving them the status of marriage. So in a good biblical marriage, you can sleep with the help. I’ve also heard concubines described as in-house whores, but that seems overly harsh. I think if we are going to define marriage by the Bible we have to bring back concubines. And eunuchs. Because God likes lots of concubines and nice cadre of eunuchs in a man’s household. Picture that the next time you hear an evangelical Christianist say he’s for biblical marriage.
As an example of how slippery the definition of marriage can be in the Bible, look no farther than the founding patriarch of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition, the prophet Abraham. It was his biblically-sanctioned sleeping with the help that created the whole Jewish/Muslim split we see today.
Abraham could not have a child by his wife Sarah, so Sarah gave Abraham her ladies servant, Hagar to sleep with. Abraham and Hagar had a son Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, a crucial title in matters of inheritance. But then Sarah conceived, and had a son Isaac, so Isaac was the first son of Abraham’s official wife. The question of who inherited Abraham’s legacy plays out to this day because the Jews (and therefore Christianity) are descended from Isaac, while Muhammad (and therefore Islam) was the descendant of Ishmael. Middle Eastern politics is a family feud still playing out across the millennia, originating in the funky definitions of marriage right there in the Bible.
The idea that biblical fundamentalists call Mormons weird because of polygamy is nonsense. Polygamy is the biblical concept and monogamy the secular one. It’s always a shame that the wiring of the conservative brain doesn’t get irony.
There’s a lovely design blog I visit occassionally called chrisglass.com, and I happened to hit it today and found this nice post about the Mormons. As a gay man, Chris made the effort to visit the Mormon Temple Square as a follow up to the horrors the Mormons unleashed with their support of Prop 8 here in California.
Rather than anger, his conclusion is beautiful:
I love music of all sorts, and very much appreciate choral arrangements.
I also love architecture, and Temple Square is filled with magnificent examples of thought, design and construction.
Walking inside the square I was greeted by friendly folks around every turn. Upon entering the Tabernacle the sound from the choir was glorious. It was as if each section sang with one voice.
It was beautiful.
I hope one day this church can see the beauty in me.
No group in America suffers more from entrenched bigotry than African Americans. So why, of all groups, have the African American churches dug in their heels against the civil rights of LGBT people? Shayne Lee tackles the question on CNN.com, “Why black church culture rejects homosexuality.” Lee offers the most elemental answer, because the Bible says so:
…many black Christians pride themselves on a plain reading of Scripture, making it virtually impossible to foster an inclusive embrace or acceptance of homosexuality. As long as African-American Christians adhere to biblical mandates as authoritative prescriptions from God, they won’t be easily dissuaded from rejecting same-sex lifestyles as viable alternatives to heterosexual norms.
The irony is that white Americans used that same Bible to bolster their moral certainty that slavery was just. (There is not one negative word about slavery in the Bible, and countless scriptures on how to do it right. Questioning the morality of one man owning another never occurred to the book’s authors.)
African American churches are now doing to gay rights exactly what was done to them on race rights—using the Bible to justify their existing prejudice. But why? Why would the good people of these celebratory churches decide prejudice is the answer? We all know answer, for as W.H. Auden wrote:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
I know this dynamic from my own Mormon heritage. Mormons are the most mocked group in the country for their weirdo marriages, so to defend themselves against the relentless taunting, they transformed themselves into the staunchest possible defenders of traditional marriage. “See! You can’t pick on me anymore, because I’ll prove I am way more zealous about this than you!!”
Mormon Temple in the dark of its reflecting pool
Mormons are by far the most anti-gay people in the country, and they put their political focus on traditional marriage, the very issue they are taunted for. The black community is stereotyped as hyper-sexual, receiving white culture’s repressed sexual projections (Black men want to steal our white women! Their women dance like Jezebel! The evils of Jazz!), and they respond with some of the most sex-phobic churches. The CNN article refers to Princeton religious scholar Wallace Best’s comment that “maturity and honesty about sexuality is dangerously low in a great many black church communities.” It goes without saying the same is true in Mormon churches as well, if we are talking anything beyond procreative sex which, shockingly, many Americans engage in.
Gay people have qualities that the black churches and the Mormons (and the Catholics, and the evangelicals, and everyone else) could gain from. But whether we bring gifts or not, we deserve the same human rights as every other American citizens. For the black churches to see this, they will have to work through their own issues about sex, sexuality, sexual projections, and the like. For the Mormons to see this they will have to work through their own issues about marriage, sex, non-standard relationships, and their polygamous history.
Neither of these groups gets the irony of their current positions, but they can change. They can come to see that being once oppressed does not grant you the right to become the oppressor. In fact, this might be just the place for them to practice a little of that Christian empathy we hear so much about.
Their is an odd innocence to the Mormons. While this can be dangerous in politics it also frees them up to be fun in truly old fashioned ways. There are benefits to not getting irony.
With that in mind I present for your entertainment some charming young Mormon guys channeling Esther Williams, of all people. Fabulous. And thanks guys, you certainly lift my spirit.