Like many gays in Salt Lake City and throughout the world, I went on a two-year Mormon mission. While in Buenos Aires, I learned about faith, religion and my place in both. Although I returned an agnostic pessimist, I do not discount my experiences as a soldier for Jesus Christ.
One experience in particular stands out. I was serving in a small town on the outskirts of the capital city. While there, I was a member of the bishopric for the local congregation. I could barely hold a conversation in Spanish, but I was required to help lead a group of 20 or so new members of the faith. There was one woman in particular, Sister Acevedo, who could cause problems for the local clergy. She never took anything for granted and every Sunday she had a new set of questions. One week she had to know why tithing was to be 10 percent of all her income. The next week she insisted that until she met the president of the church, she wouldn’t be able to assess his ability to lead.
Most other missionaries avoided the good sister with a wide berth. But she was kind and patient with my terrible accent and lacking vocabulary. But I still remember when she pulled me aside and asked when she would be allowed to hold the priesthood. Now, for those who don’t know, for Mormons the priesthood is literally the power of God and only men are allowed to use it. The tale goes that the first woman in the Garden of Eden, Eve, disobeyed God and ate the apple first. As a result she and all her female descendents are required to obey and follow men who have the ability to act with God’s priesthood.
I tried to explain the doctrine but my naiveté and lack of fluency in Spanish resulted in very fruitless discussions. Instead, Sister Acevedo took her concerns to the entire congregation and asked them to begin a letter campaign to the prophet demanding they be allowed access to the priesthood. She was immediately ostracized, laughed at and openly mocked by the other members. She couldn’t understand why women should be relegated to second-class and was even more shocked when she realized she would be laughed out of the church for believing the way she did.
The kind and ambitious woman was certainly not the first quasi-activist within the Mormon religion. And she wasn’t the first who failed miserably. Many of the Mormon Church’s beliefs and practices have been controversial. From polygamy to ingrained racism, some of the strangest and most offensive practices have been changed.
But the change has never been a result from a ground swelling within the faith — quite the contrary. The religious tenants only change when it becomes impossible to continue with the current paradigm. Blacks were allowed to receive the priesthood only in 1978 when the stance became so unpopular it was seen as archaic. Polygamy was officially abolished only after the state was unable to join the Union due to the practice.
There are many good members of the faith who are working to change the official stance of the church concerning gay issues. But I fear they will be no more successful than dear Sister Acevedo. History tells us it is so.
The Mormon Church faced enormous backlash from their stance on California’s Proposition 8. The financial donations from the members resulted in protests, documentaries, exposés and a huge setback for Mormon public relations. Church officials have since backed off of other similar marriage equality measures and appear to be trying to make grounds with the queer community, however small.
But the vitriol is still there. And Mormon officials recently filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court pleading the justices to rule against equality and against the rights of millions of Americans.
Until the Mormon Church’s vast bank account is damaged by their stance on gay issues, their attitude and actions will not change. The church is avoiding other marriage equality debates not because the leaders feel it’s the right thing to do, but because they saw how badly their participation tarnished their image.
I have many friends and family members who are Mormon, and I love them very dearly. But no matter how much they support me and my right to chose whom I want to marry, they will never change the minds of the 12 old, white men who believe they have a mandate from God.