“And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” Matthew 24:11
I’ve been strangely fascinated with the media’s “Gorgasms” over the death of beloved Mormon leader, Gordon B. Hinckley. The Salt Lake Tribune simply couldn’t find enough ink to cover their gushing. And I’ve been equally fascinated at how Mormons themselves have been mourning their loss. I’ve been trying to figure out why, exactly, this man was so popular among the Saints. I grew up Mormon, so I know something of the cult of personality that rises with church leaders. But as impartial as I’ve tried to be, I just have never actually heard Hinckley say anything remotely prophetic. I mean, at least Joseph Smith produced whole books of scripture that he claimed to translate or reveal. The best Hinckley could write were little self-help books titled, Stand a Little Taller and Way to Be!: Nine Ways to be Happy and Make Something of Your Life. Not exactly the Book of Revelations.
And if you thumb through the pages you’ll note he never really says anything of substance. Compared to Hinckley, Tony Robbins could be considered a great philosopher. If anything, Gordon dumbed it down for the Saints. Remember when he went on Larry King and said that Mormons don’t believe or teach that they can become gods? He also told King that polygamy was not doctrinal. When asked about gays, he said he didn’t know what caused it or how to fix it. Of course that wouldn’t stop him from aggressively working to restrict our civil liberties. As a spiritual teacher, the best Hinckley could offer were banal platitudes and vapid calls for obedience. And the Saints ate it all up and asked for more.
What was the appeal of the old guy? I think it comes down to an internalized sense of Mormonphobia. I think deep down inside, Mormons know their religion is kinda whacky. They know Joseph made up the First Vision. They know the Book of Mormon is not a history of ancient America. They know polygamy is creepy, and deep down inside they’re embarrassed by it all. This was made clear in a recent Deseret News article written by Tad Walsh. He wrote:
“Mormons are regular people, President Gordon B. Hinckley said during a 1995 interview on 60 Minutes that thrilled American church members who longed for their neighbors to see them as normal. The moment he told Mike Wallace ‘We are not a weird people’ was his high-profile zenith.”
Wow. Going on Larry King was the “zenith” of Gordon’s career? Anna Nicole Smith has been on Larry King, too. What does that say? It’s become clear to me that Gordon is beloved by the Saints, not because he was prophetic in word, but more so because he was able to spin the public face of Mormonism to ease the anxieties of the insecure Latter-Day Saints. He offered a cover for Mormon shame. The queer parallels are fascinating. Hinckley is to Mormons as Ellen is to gays. He’s funny, agreeable, and just gosh darn likeable. The mainstream gay movement is also currently struggling with a similar identity crisis. We want people to know we’re not weird. We want people to know that we’re not all sex perverts and deviants. We want to someday run for president, too. I felt a strange simpatico with the Saints as I read Walsh’s article. Mormons and queers could learn a lot from each other.
Not the least being what a Freudian analysis can reveal about one’s institutional character. In another salutary Deseret News article, writer Jerry Johnston wrote about Hinckley’s legendary walking cane. One doesn’t need a degree in queer theory to see the obvious phallic imagery on display. Johnston wrote:
“Of all the photographs of President Gordon B. Hinckley, my favorite is the one where he is ‘knighting’ President Henry B. Eyring with his cane. The gesture is playful, affectionate and — like so many things the man did — it contains a lesson. In the hands of President Hinckley, a cane was never a crutch. It was a tool. He took an emblem of weakness — a ‘walking stick’ — and transformed it into an emblem of power. But then, prophets have been doing that for eons. And when the apostles and prophets preached to the multitudes, they hoisted those staves for visibility. The photograph brings to mind the 23rd Psalm and the line: ‘Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me’…”
Hmmm. That is, like, so gay. But what do you expect from a church that is headquartered in a giant concrete penis? Ah, patriarchy.
Gordon B. Hinckley was no prophet. He just played one on TV. He was, however, a magnificent CEO. Mitt Romney-caliber, really. Hinckley’s legacy has been brutally devastating for minorities. He successfully fought against the Equal Rights Amendment, funded millions into political campaigns to restrict civil liberties for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, and oversaw the excommunication of scholars who wrote books and articles contrary to official church history and doctrine. And worse, he did it with a smile and with a feigned paternal sense of condescending love. My heart always breaks when I see Mormon kids struggling with their gay identity. Mormonism and the prophets who lead it are quite simply not worth the angst many of us carry. Mormon prophets are “blind guides” who “copy the forms of godliness but deny the power thereof.” Of course, these false prophets represent the divine narcissist Jehovah, who I believe to be a false god anyway, so go figure. At least Joseph Smith was a prophetic city builder who wanted to create the New Jerusalem – a literal utopian city with its own economy, militia and theocratic government. Now that was a man with ambition and vision. In contrast, Gordon B. Hinckley approved his great and marvelous plans for the City Creek shopping mall. I think that just about sums up his legacy.
Troy produces RadioActive on KRCL 90.9 FM. He blogs at queergnosis.com.