Zelophehad’s Daughters

Has the Church Become Too PR Savvy?

Posted by Kiskilili

Gone are the days when Brigham Young could extemporaneously spout polemic with impunity, and for the sake of the Church’s image, it’s a good thing much of that colorful rhetoric is now squirreled away in dusty tomes. The pendulum has swung a vast distance to the other side: President Hinckley’s tenure was widely heralded as the inauguration of an era of public relations savvy and sensitivity. Today Church leaders give their public statements measured consideration.

But is it possible to become so invested in the manipulability of public image that it erodes the integrity of one’s positions? After all, the goals of maintaining a positive image and taking what may be an unpopular stand are fundamentally at odds.

The Church doesn’t necessarily shy away from advocating particular positions viewed as consonant with its teachings, not all of which are going to earn admiration from its detractors, and regardless of whether I endorse all of its stances I applaud its courage in openly endorsing what it considers moral and appropriate. It seems, however, that the Church does sometimes shy away from accepting the public consequences of its positions, withdrawing behind a protective screen of vague statements laundered for media consumption (and thereby bleached of substance), or throwing up a fog of plausible deniability.

In its response to Proposition 8 protesters, the Church has issued a statement expressing dismay at recent protests held at LDS temples, wondering why it is being “singled out” and emphasizing the “democratic right in a free election” and individuals’ “sacrosanct” prerogative of “free expression” in “voting.”

On the one hand, I absolutely support the Church’s right to involve itself in political affairs in whatever way it sees fit. This is, indeed, a facet of the democratic process. (I’m not sure churches should be tax-exempt, but I’ll leave that issue aside for now.)

But I’m not convinced protesters are primarily attacking the Church’s right to express its views, although that may be one ancillary grievance of some. More significantly, the Church is, I believe, being targeted for its particular position–for the content of those views. This, too, is a part of the democratic process: protests, marches, sign-waving, boycotts. It strikes me as absurd to aver that “the Church and its sacred places of worship” should be insulated from political fallout. If you want to play in the sandbox, fine, but you have to expect to get dirty. If churches are too holy to be targeted for political demonstrations and expressions of displeasure, they need to be too holy to muck around in the political arena in the first place.

The Church was openly, publicly committed to the passage of Proposition 8. Why not stand up and accept responsibility for the role it played now?

55 Responses to “Has the Church Become Too PR Savvy?”

  1. 1.

    I hope it was worth the cost. That’s all I have to say about Proposition 8 and the church’s involvement in it.

  2. 2.

    Just so I can maintain my reputation as an obsessive feminist, I might as well point out that this same dynamic is, I believe, one of the engines driving the development of Chicken Patriarchy. In certain fora the Church advocates traditional patriarchy. Women’s subordination isn’t exactly smiled on by our host culture, and so in other contexts the Church maintains its commitment to gender equality. If you want to teach patriarchy, why not stand up for your beliefs and take the flak for it?

  3. 3.

    The LDS church has clearly become much more PR conscious, but since the death of Gordon Hinckley, the LDS church has become considerably less PR “savvy.” With actions like the Prop 8 crusade, Monson seems almost determined to make the LDS church an object of ridicule and disgust.

  4. 4.

    I believe the Church has become more PR savvy.

    I believe that this will eventually strengthen the Church. A raising of the bar for members and converts alike.

    And I absolutely disagree with the notion that protests weren’t targeted at the Church’s right to express its views — I continue to hear that from politicians and activists on any variety of issues where a church (ours or another) might express an opinion. There’s a growing national feeling that “one’s personal religious views shouldn’t interfere with government” and a growing movement to silence churches. Which is silly.

  5. 5.

    Queuno, I agree that people are saying it and it’s silly (that churches shouldn’t speak out). The reason I consider it an “ancillary” issue is that I doubt these same people would be appalled over church-and-state issues if the Church had supported gay marriage in California. So I consider this grievance secondary to the content of the Church’s position, which strikes me as the primary source of frustration. But because I think churches should be allowed to participate in the political arena, I’m not convinced they should be tax-exempt.

    Nick, I agree that the Church is making itself an object of ridicule in taking this position. Nevertheless its newsroom seems loath to accept the consequences, skirting the issue of the Church’s involvement rather like politicians. It’s shades of the ERA (though fortunately not that blatantly mendacious).

  6. 6.

    This reminds me an awful lot of when Sarah Palin said her First Amendment rights were being attacked when the media criticized some statements that she made. Free expression is a two-way street. And that two-way street includes the attempts of one side to get the other one to shut up, so long as they aren’t using the power of the state to do it. I’m not defending the protesters in L.A.; I think this isn’t a winning strategy. But the Church’s response here is disingenuous at best.

  7. 7.

    Exactly! You can’t cry foul over others’ free expression in the name of freedom of expression.

  8. 8.

    If churches are too holy to be targeted for political demonstrations and expressions of displeasure, they need to be too holy to muck around in the political arena in the first place.


    A related thought: Think temples and other “sacred places of worship” are improper political targets? What about people’s marriages? (18,000 of them, to be precise.)

  9. 9.

    Well, put, Kiskilili.

  10. 10.

    This is the first blog I’ve read on the subject that isn’t totally clouded with emotion – and it just makes sense.

    Totally agree with you.

    btw, found you in a Mormon blogring. Enjoyed the post!

  11. 11.

    Good post, k.

  12. 12.

    Nicely said.

  13. 13.

    I agree as well. The church acted as chief fundraiser for the Yes on Prop 8 effort. To act befuddled and confused by the way they are now being singled out seems ludicrous. What on earth did they expect?

  14. 14.

    Excellent comment Nick.

    I personally dislike the current use of the “Newsroom” to publish the thoughts of the first presidency while avoiding the permanence of direct counsel. Journalism is different from prophetic direction and the recent declarations (divine institution of marriage) confuse.

  15. 15.

    When my sister talks with me about vandalism, bricks through windows and physical assaults, that strikes me as more than just political speech on the anti-LDS side.

    Or is that something that is acceptable political speech as long as it is aimed at LDS in California? I assure you it has given her a great deal of thought and perspective on the No on 8 side of the debate.

  16. 16.

    Thanks for the comments! Stephen, just so that I’m clear: my post was about the Church’s statements and not about the actions of opponents. The Church has indicated it should not be targeted for the position it took. As long as we’re talking about whether it should be targeted in one way or another, I see absolutely no case to be made that it should be insulated from the political process now when it chose not to be insulated several months ago by getting involved with Proposition 8. Having said that, I consider violent actions of any kind or destruction of property absolutely reprehensible.

  17. 17.

    Kiskilili, a most excellent post. Could not agree more.

  18. 18.

    I’ve read the physical assaults going both ways. Don’t agree with it, but the worst example shouldn’t represent either group.

    The interesting thing here is that members were already discussing boycotting businesses who gave against Prop 8 before the vote. Don’t think for a second they wouldn’t have boycotted the movies of the stars who spoke out against it if it had lost. This is a natural part of the political process, and neither party should begrudge the other for taking part in it.

  19. 19.

    Well, I agree that the Church should be prepared to take some flak for its Prop 8 activities, but I disagree that “rolling around in the muck of the political arena” means that your places of worship should be targeted. It’s not Thomas S. Monson’s temple. It’s the House of the Lord, and Mormons of all political persuasions worship there, including those who opposed Prop 8 and the church’s involvement in it. There are other ways of expressing one’s displeasure. Holding demonstrations outside a place of worship is just distasteful and uncalled for. It’s like picketing a mosque after 9/11. What are these protesters trying to accomplish? What are they accomplishing besides making church members feel victimized?

  20. 20.

    Madhousewife, although I haven’t followed the news stories on this closely I suspect the motivation for targeting temples stems from a realization that the fight for Proposition 8 was orchestrated at the highest levels of the Church.

    This is, also, I believe, one reason the Church is being targeted especially. I’d love to have more sociological information about what factors led African Americans, for example, to support Proposition 8, but unlike Mormons, those factors did not include some official Herr Schwarz of an obligatory African American club sending out a strongly worded memo to all his constituents. Even within churches, African Americans are much more diffuse.

    The fact is that Mormonism is a very centralized religion–and this was no grassroots haphazard support for Prop 8–so it makes sense for organized protesters to target buildings as high up in the organizational chain as possible. Temples are just higher up, and thus both closer to the “command center” and more visible to it; temples are also the most visible structures to the surrounding area. (But my understanding of Friday’s SLC protest is that their specific target actually was, for perfectly comprehensible reasons, the Church Office Building.)

    In order to maintain a pluralistic society I think it makes sense to try to purge the public sphere of unfalsifiable metaphysical truth claims. So in the context of the Mormon Church, the temple may be the “House of the Lord.” But once we’re in the context of the political arena, the question of holiness flies out the window–what the temple is is the most visible edifice representing the Mormon faith. I think it makes perfect sense as a target for protests, and considering this campaign was engineered at the highest levels of the Church, I’d much prefer the protesters march around temples than that they start congregating around the homes of individual Mormons who contributed.

    If there’s a case to be made that religious buildings should be immune from protests, the case is that religious organizations maintaining those buildings should withdraw from political participation.

    What are they trying to accomplish? Vent their frustration? Draw attention to their cause and marginalize Mormon influence? It will certainly be interesting to see how it plays out.

  21. 21.

    Let me start by saying that I thought the demonstration outside the LDS temple was distasteful, but in truth, where else would they protest? Temples are by design highly visible _and_ symbols of our religion. And, I don’t think picketing a mosque is a fair comparison. Not every Islamic group claimed responsibility for those actions. It was a small specific group of terrorists, and I could be wrong, but it seems like we didn’t have really solid evidence on who was responsible, where in this case the church did not hide it’s involvement at all. You could take the stance that not all church members supported the Proposition, but the institution itself did, so it seems like the only recourse is to protest at the recognized center of the religion. I don’t necessarily support their methods, but I suspect they are only trying to convey the emotions that they themselves have been feeling recently. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be handed a marriage license and then have it taken away not long after.

  22. 22.

    I have to say, it’s absolutely essential that tax-exempt organizations (including churches) be permitted to engage in the political process (including lobbying legislators and citizens); otherwise, they would generally be unable to exist.

    As an example, is there any reason to prevent a dance organization from pushing arts funding, or a university from lobbying to avoid taxes on its endowment?

    As the law is currently written (and, as a normative matter, I would argue that the law is roughly correct), as long as an exempt org doesn’t put substantially all of its money/effort into lobbying, its tax-exempt status should remain. (If it were to use a substantial portion of its time or efforts lobbying, it arguable wouldn’t be engaged in an exempt endeavor.)

    That’s not to reply on the substance of the Church’s position, just to say that bad results would follow if an tax-exempt organization had to stay out of the political realm at risk of its exemption.

  23. 23.

    Also, people say that “the church” raised $22 million or whatever the figure is, but can those funds be technically characterized as church funds because they came from private donors? Who actually received those funds? Was it “the Mormon church” or the coalition, or the campaign?

  24. 24.

    Well, I’m not one for making laws against protesting outside a church or meetinghouse or temple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. I don’t want them picketing individual members’ houses, either, but that’s much easier to recognize as wrong. That’s obviously getting personal. The temple is a symbol, but it symbolizes more than the corporate church. Its symbolic value to individual members is greater than its symbolic value to the corporate church or the world at large, and when you stage your protest there, you are getting personal. I’d rather have my yard sign stolen or my car keyed, frankly.

    I agree that the church should hardly express surprise at being “singled out,” but they’re certainly entitled to express dismay. It’s clear that the church played a big part in getting Prop 8 passed. It’s also clear that Prop 8 wouldn’t have passed had it not been for all those other, less-organized people who voted for it. It’s easy to single out the LDS church and ignore the fact that the majority of California voters–slim majority though it is–just doesn’t favor your cause. Gay-rights advocates have bigger problems than the Mormons.

  25. 25.

    thank you for this post, kiskilili…
    and especially your comment #20.
    Because I am a little conflicted about how much of the protest is targeting the LDS church when I think the reason it passed was the African American vote (that helped give Obama the presidency). I have wondered if it was just more politically correct to target a conservative white institution as a scapegoat.
    Your comment helped clarify the difference in the LDS involvement vs the African American community involvement.
    thank you.

  26. 26.


    1) The issue is very personal for the people who’s marriages were taken away by prop 8. Bringing the anger, dismay, and pain caused by the passage of prop 8 to prop 8s supporters in a personal way is not only fair but necessary. If people are not willing for the effects of the actions to be brought back to them in a personal way, they should think twice before they act. No, I’m not a supporter of violence, but righteous anger should be heard.

    2) You write:
    “It’s easy to single out the LDS church and ignore the fact that the majority of California voters–slim majority though it is–just doesn’t favor your cause. ”

    As someone who was involved in prop 8 in a significant way I can tell you that this statement really misrepresents what happened. Polling done prior to prop 8 going on the ballot showed that California was evenly divided on the topic of gay marriage with about 7% undecided. All the efforts on both sides of prop 8 were targeted at moving that 7%, what we called the moveable middle.

    The numbers only swung in favor of Prop 8 after the fear based advertising of the pro 8 side hit the air. The point is that the idea that “the majority of people just don’t favor your cause” misses the mark. The prop 8 result was generated largely by advertising and a specific type of voter turn out, but should not be understood as representing as a commitment on the part of the moveable middle in one direction or another. That’s one of the things that makes prop 8 so odd, and why the Church’s denial of the politics of prop 8 seemed disingenuous. Both sides knew going in that this was a political battle in the truest sense.

    I guess that gets us back to the OP about the church being PR or media savvy. In terms of prop 8 the Church was and wasn’t. The language of the Church worked well for members and other conservative Christians but both secular and religious moderates and liberals saw the Church as refining a what was essentially a homophobic soft sell. In other words the Church was seen as developing a message that resonated with its core audience’s inherent unease regarding homosexuality but it did so in a way that avoided the language of overt bias. This is a methodology that goes back to Goldwater’s Southern Strategy.

    I should say though, that a good deal of the language used by the Church during prop 8 was not generated internally but rather came from the focus groups does by the yes on 8 organizers.

  27. 27.

    At one point Prop 8 was losing by 17 points here in California and we were thinking that even though we were going to lose, we needed to demonstrate to the world the importance of standing up for morality.

    I have had co-workers marvel at our courage and tenacity in taking such strong stand on the issue – and given me encouragement.

    There is huge discension in the Episcopal church because a lot of conservative members wished their church leaders would have supported Prop 8 instead of SSM.

  28. 28.

    I agree that some of what has happened is certainly distasteful, or worse. But, in theory, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gay rights activists’ making their attack on the Church feel personal. The whole point is that the Church’s attack on their marriages feels personal, feels maybe even like the violation of what to them had been a “sacred ceremony.”

    And I like Zenaida’s point–I think I would see the issue of picketing a mosque post-9/11 differently if members of al-Qaeda were known to congregate there, and there were no secular Muslim institutions in which they congregated as a group where picketers could more “appropriately” target them.

    It’s certainly true Mormonism doesn’t constitute the be-all and end-all of opposition to gay marriage, and I hope activitists recognize that the quarry they’re tracking is a good deal larger than the Mormon Church. At the same time, Mormons didn’t just vote “yes”–they also donated substantial amounts of time and money to swaying others’ opinions against gay marriage. In other words, it’s a fair guess that at least some of those outside the Church who voted “yes” were swayed by Mormon-made arguments. Again, Mormonism is a logical target.

    Thanks, G! Maybe I’m naive, but I really think blacks aren’t being singled out because where would you even go to single them out as a group? The category only exists as a social construct.

    Sam, as I know zilch about legal ins and outs I’d love to hear more of your argument if you’re amenable to it. My opinion on the issue is anything but set in stone! It sounds to me like what you’re saying is that the issue is circular: certain (non-profit) organizations need to be tax-exempt in order to lobby to maintain their tax-exemption (or procure additional government funds). The logical (and certainly generally reasonable) assumption is that such organizations lack the funds to stay afloat on their without some sort of government subsidy, but they themselves must have the freedom to be their own advocates with the government because who else would?

    All of this makes good sense to me, but the issues you cite involve organizations merely procuring additional funds for themselves. What about if that dance troupe wants to fight for stem-cell research or the legalization of marijuana? What if they can even claim the issue impinges on them directly–say, smoking pot is a necessary part of their inspiriation? Is the government that funded them then subsidizing one side of the debate?

  29. 29.

    And to add to that–let’s say the dance troupe is not spending the “bulk” of their time lobbying. All they’ve done is drummed up $22 million in donations from their members and thrown it at the marijuana cause. What’s to prevent the government from saying: If you have $22 million at your command to spend how you see fit in the political sphere (i.e., not on new tutus), you don’t technically need our subsidies to stay afloat?

    As I said, I have no idea what I’m talking about, so, by all means, show me where I’m mistaken.

  30. 30.

    Great post. I’m glad you worked in the Chicken Patriarchy.
    I was beginning to think I was alone in my obsessive feminism :)

  31. 31.

    Heh–maybe I should set a goal to work Chicken Patriarchy into every post. Actually, I already have a post in draft form in which I start out explaining why I support gay marriage and end up with Chicken Patriarchy.

  32. 32.

    I’m not really an exempt organizations person, but essentially, the tax law only prohibits tax-exempts from endorsing or opposing individual candidates. Outside of that, a tax-exempt organization can be as political as it wants, as long as the politics don’t constitute (IIRC) a “substantial” portion of its activities. That limitation makes sense to me: for an organization (other than a church) to get a tax exemption, it must provide certain information to the IRS that tells, among other things, its exempt purpose and how it is benefitting society. (I believe a church is tax-exempt by default.) If a substantial portion of its activities are politics, its primary purpose could arguably be seen as being political, not whatever its putative purpose is.

    I realize my examples deal with self-interest; in general, those seemed like realistic political battles for such organizations, and ones that should be fairly uncontroversial. But there is no prohibition on the dance company’s lobbying for marijuana rights or stem-cell research (and, in fact, I would be unsurprised to hear a dance company had done either). I’ve actually seen exempt dance companies make overtly anti-Bush statements (which is both protected speech and may be close to, if not over, the tax-exemption line, although I’m not sure). It’s well within the non-profit’s rights and, in my opinion, unquestionably so.

    If you know of a dance company that can raise $22 million, I want to see it. (Maybe Alvin Ailey or NYCB?) That said, provided the dance company is principally promoting dance, I don’t see why the ability to mobilize wealthy supporters (or lots of not-so-wealthy supporters) should jeopardize tax-exempt status, whether that money goes into the dance company or to an outside cause. The point of the exemption, IMHO, isn’t necessarily to subsidize an organization that couldn’t otherwise be viable; rather, we’re helping an organization that creates positive externalities to not have to give in to a profit motive–it’s almost a respite from capitalism (though, as I can tell every NPR fund-raising period, not from raising money) for certain organizations.

    Maybe a dance company isn’t the best example; think, then, about the Gates Foundation. I don’t know the ins and outs, except that it gives a ton of money to public health causes. I’m also pretty sure it lobbies governments (ours included) in order to get public funding that will have synergies with its giving, or that will encourage governments to educate their people about sanitation, or some such thing. This lobbying (assuming it happens) doesn’t directly benefit the Gates Foundation, but it does further the Foundation’s charitable objectives. Arguably the anti-gay-marriage lobbying furthers a charitable objective of the LDS, Catholic, and other churches. In that case, a fair argument could be made that money spent (albeit generally by individuals, not the churches themselves) is advancing the churches’ charitable endeavors.

    Note that I’m not arguing that this is a good or a bad argument; I am not a voter in California, and so did not have to confront the issue in any but the most abstract way. The tax-exempt status analysis is my preferred abstract way.

  33. 33.

    Thanks very much for the follow-up, Sam. Maybe Michael Flatley & co. could come up with $22 million? :)

    The point of the exemption, IMHO, isn’t necessarily to subsidize an organization that couldn’t otherwise be viable; rather, we’re helping an organization that creates positive externalities to not have to give in to a profit motive–it’s almost a respite from capitalism (though, as I can tell every NPR fund-raising period, not from raising money) for certain organizations.

    This makes a lot of sense to me. I’m not so much questioning the Church’s status under current tax law or suggesting change in a practical way as much as I am musing about hypotheticals and the rationale for current policies. It seems like when there’s a broad consensus as to what constitutes a “positive externality” then it’s easy to identify an organization as beneficial to society. But what do you do when the issue of whether those “externalities” are positive or not is exactly what’s in question, when there is no consensus as to whether the behavior of the organization is destructive or constructive to others? When an issue is put on the ballot the assumption is that agreement has not yet been reached as to whether the measure is appropriate. Granting an organization fighting for or against it special status seems to presuppose that whatever its stance is, it is in fact appropriate or beneficial, so in a way you’ve predisposed the electoral field. As I said, I’m willing to be convinced–I haven’t investigated this thoroughly–and I recognize the Church was well within its Constitutional rights. But I’m not entirely persuaded that, ideally, churches should remain tax exempt and still be vehemently engaged in political skirmishes.

  34. 34.

    I grant you your point. I frankly think that exempt status should be awarded on a generally content-neutral basis. That is, there are plenty who would question what good dance does, or religion or arts or nonprofit hospitals. But where a group has been granted tax-exempt status, I feel it is coercive and wrong to yank that status merely because the group espouses a popular or unpopular political viewpoint. You get to a different place where it is spending substantially all of its time and resources advocating that viewpoint–then it ceases to have its tax-exempt purposes. (And that should also be a content-neutral determination: if a dance organization were to dedicate substantially all of its assets lobbying against or on behalf of puppy dogs, it should probably cease to be tax-exempt.)

  35. 35.

    The idea that the Church was the chief fundraiser is a bit of a red herring, in that the church did not attempt to be the chief fund raiser, and I think the church would have been just as happy had it been equally yoked with it’s other constituents. Yes it was openly in support of the issue, which it has made no attempts to deny, but it is being attacked on the grounds that it was the most successful in it’s support.

  36. 36.

    Wow, I’m totally sorry that I’ve spelled your handle three different ways on this thread–my fingers may or may not connect to my brain.

    Thinking about my last response, I just wanted to add that I’m expressly avoiding talking directly about Prop. 8. That’s because of this: whatever rule were applied to the Church’s participation would have to be applied across the spectrum of tax-exempts.

    The Church’s involvement didn’t target any individual politician, so that’s not a reason to eliminate its tax exemption. Although to those in California and Utah it may appear that the Church expended substantially all of its time and assets on this, I seriously doubt that’s true. If not for the bloggernacle, I would never have heard about Prop. 8 or the Church’s involvement in New York. I would assume that fewer than half of the Church’s members live in CA. Even if all the Church did in CA was Prop. 8 stuff, at the exclusion of caring for the poor and preaching Christ resurrected, I still imagine it would be less than a substantial part of the Church’s activities.

    All that’s left, as far as I can see, is that the Church promoted an opinion that groups of people found objectionable and should therefore lose its tax exemption. Even if the government’s discriminating on the basis of viewpoint were consitutional (which it clearly isn’t), winning that war would seem a Pyhrric victory at best. If tax exemptions can be lost on the basis of viewpoint and speech, it will prevent some actors with legitimate opinions and unique viewpoints from participating in the public dialogue. That, in and of itself, would be a loss. In addition, if the precedent were set, how, in the future, would we determine what was “good” speech for nonprofits and what was “bad.”

    Maybe churches shouldn’t participate in the political discourse. I think, though, that such a conclusion is harmful (both to nonprofits and to the society that would lose their points of view), besides being unconsitutional.

  37. 37.

    I think you are correct to say that the church would have liked its partners in the coalition to have pulled their own weight. However, I don’t think saying that the church raised the majority of the money and did the lion’s share of the work is a red herring. It is simply a straightforward statement of fact.

    We stand out because we partnered up with lame people, that’s all. Let’s remember, at least half the people in that coalition didn’t make the tiniest objection 10 months ago when Rev. Keller told the world that a vote for Mitt was a vote for Satan. To paraphrase Pres. Hinckley, we knew who they were when we picked them up. We can’t complain about them now.

  38. 38.

    Mark Brown,

    That also is a red herring. At least half the people in the Mormon Church also did not make the tiniest objection over Rev. Keller’s remarks.

    Another issue is that the church is extremely centralized, unlike many other participating denominations. So it isn’t surprising that the church is singled out a s a big donor, because while cornerstone may be an evangelical church, it’s just one congregation.

    Finally, Mormons are weird/other, they believe in crazy stuff. Heck, we’re practically synonomous with Shakers, Scientologists, and Amish in many social circles. If you can draw attention to the fact that the people against your view are weird be constantly emphasizing them, it’s not really that terrible of a strategy. It’s certainly smarter than going after the Catholics.

  39. 39.


    I mispoke. The fact that the did not object issn’t really the problem. The real problem is that they agree with Rev. Keller, more or less.

    Isn’t a red herring something that is misleading? In what way is pointing out that we made the difference in prop 8 misleading? I don’t understand what is wrong with saying that.

    I think you are correct that many people see this a a chance to get in a few good whacks at the LDS. Some of those signs in the crowd in L.A. have standard anti slogans on them that we see every six months at general conference. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that some of the demonstrators are are so-called allies.

  40. 40.

    Mark, I don’t believe we made the difference in Prop 8. I think we tried like crazy to make the difference in prop 8, and I think we failed. I think a number of other factors made the difference, which I basically believe would have come to fruition despite our fincancial backing. I don’t think elections are won bsed on financial backing alone when it comes to social issues like this. I could be convined otherwise, but I am naive enough to believe people aren’t sheep and vote their conscience despite what commercials they see.

    Anyway, I am fine with being demonstrated against. I am fine with taking responsibility for wanting to be involved. I just think it isn’t true that the Church was the leading force behind the movement, nor do I think the Church was that influential in the success of said movement. I agree we shot all the bullets we could shoot, but I think we mostly missed.

  41. 41.

    Matt, I agree re: the $$$. However, I think the ground game made the difference, and Mormons have a gound game like nobody else. Fram a standing start, we can mobilize thousands of committed volunteers within a matter of days. The day before the LDS got involved, yes on 8 was poorly organized. THe day after we god involved, yes on 8 had an highly organized office in every little town in the state.

    However, you are correct that we disagree as to whether we see the LDS as difference makers.

  42. 42.

    No worries about the spelling, Sam. I think of my handle as a theme subject to numerous creative variations. :) I agree with you completely that if tax-exempt status were yanked from the Church it should be yanked across the board from all sorts of organizations that participate at least as much as the Church in political processes. And if it had been systematically denied in advance, then actors etc. would be free to express political opinions with impunity. I think you’re right that, whatever basis for tax-exempt status we formulate, the crux of the matter is determining which viewpoints are beneficial, which are harmful, and which are neutral. On issues like whether supporting gay marriage is beneficial or deleterious, society is obviously already divided, so it would be odd for the government to make a decree. But even on issues in which there is consensus, you could make an argument consensus isn’t enough–I might think churches benefit society in all sorts of ways, but I bet Richard Dawkins disagrees vehemently. So maybe one possibility would be to award tax-exempt status to more organizations, rather than taking it away from anyone–on the assumption that dialogue is healthy so it’s “good” for the government to subsidize multiple competing perspectives? I don’t really know.

  43. 43.

    KIskilili & Sam,

    The most relevant case regarding 501(c)3 status is the All Saints case. All Saints church here in Pasadena is the only religious organization in the US that has ever had an IRS investigation opened to determine if it violated its 501(c)3 status. The interesting this about that case is that it shows that the way the IRS has written the rules leaves a great deal up to interpretation. A Key phrase from the letter closing the investigation reads “Based on the existing record, the Church’s actions lead to the conclusion that the Church intervened in the 2004 Presidential election . . . ” It’s the idea of intervention that is so interesting, in this case the “intervention” consisted of a single sermon that was critical of both major party candidates. So your speculations may be broader than the actual issue. What the All Saints case might suggest is that the IRS is only looking for what can be interpreted as direct action, on the part of a 501(c)3 that is designed to impact the outcome of a specific race. Does the IRS look at local political action the same way it looks at national political action? maybe, maybe not. Does the IRS consider a ballot prop to be the same as the race for an elected office? I doubt it.

  44. 44.

    The conversation between me and Kiskilili has been more normative than descriptive. It is clear that, as the tax code is currently written, the Church can’t lose its tax exemption for participating in the Prop. 8 debate. Section 501(c)(3) prevents a tax-exempt from participating in or intervening in “(including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaing on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” Although I haven’t read the All Saints case, from your description, it’s pretty clear that they intervened in opposition to candidates. There is no similar prohibition on non-candidate political intervention.

    As to whether, as a broader matter, the Church should lose its tax exemption, I’m also in agreement with Kiskilili’s final point–I think that we should interpret 501(c)(3) broadly and allow more, rather than fewer, voices to present opinions from which we can choose.

  45. 45.

    It’s the House of the Lord, and Mormons of all political persuasions worship there, including those who opposed Prop 8 and the church’s involvement in it.

    Madhousewife, don’t be so sure. Many of those members who chose to make their opposition ‘public’ are facing TR confiscation or worse. So much for ‘no sanction.”

  46. 46.

    Great post! I think the Church’s reaction that they are surprised by the protests is somewhat disingenuous or naive. And, while I view temples to be very sacred, I understand the reason why they are being targeted as protest locations. Not only are they highly visible, but they are also at the heart at what Mormons believe about marriage–a definition that excludes those most hurt by Prop. 8. I do not, however, condone violence or destruction of property on either side of the debate.

  47. 47.

    Some of the reactions to this situation have reminded me of how, in recent years, the Church has replaced the term “free agency” with “moral agency.” The reasoning behind this shift, at least as I heard it explained, was that “free agency” was problematically being used to mean “agency without consequences.” With that in mind, I’ve been a bit confused by some of the complaints floating around that people have been losing their “free speech.” Does “free speech” entail the right to speak in the public sphere, and then be protected from anyone objecting to what you say or protesting in response? Which is not to say, of course, that some of the responses (vandalism, threats, harassment) aren’t way over the line. But surely free speech doesn’t mean saying what you want, and then objecting that it’s inappropriate or unfair for people to say things in response.

  48. 48.

    Actually, free speech is precisely that–free speech is sharing your thoughts. And when people object to your free speech, you are free to express annoyance that people have responded. You are also free to express pleasure that people have responded.

    So while people on this discussion seem to think it is stupid for the church to express surprised disappointment at the protests of others, the church is still free to express its surprised disappointment.

    But what did you expect the church to do? Express it’s ecstatic excitement at the protests? Say nothing? No, the church would not stand silently by with the violence and so on occurring.

    If you remember, some of the general authority messages in the last general conference talked about bearing up under persecution. Nothing less than prophetic. I remember listening to them and thinking, “Oh, they are talking about the flak Mormons are getting going into this election!” No. Now we see that they were talking (prophesying) about the flak Mormons would get coming OUT of the election.

    “The Church was openly, publicly committed to the passage of Proposition 8. Why not stand up and accept responsibility for the role it played now?”

    While we’re asking questions, we might as well also ask why the opposition to Proposition 8 can’t just accept the decision of majority that made a moral choice.

    I find this situation manifestly absurd (in an abstract sort of way). Is this a case of the winners picking on the losers? No. It is a case of the losers picking on the winners. And as winners, we have to just take it, otherwise we’ll be bullies. Time to practice some athletic turning-of-the-cheek…

  49. 49.

    Michaela, actually, I don’t think Lynnette was saying the Church shouldn’t express its dismay that people hurt by Prop 8 responded or that the Church doesn’t have the right. I think she was saying that it’s irrational for the Church to jump into a political campaign in a major way and expect that nobody affected by that action will say anything in response.

    While we’re asking questions, we might as well also ask why the opposition to Proposition 8 can’t just accept the decision of majority that made a moral choice.

    You really expect that people will give up a cause they believe in passionately, that personally affects them so greatly, because of a single hotly contested, narrowly lost election? Really? I find the response of people who protested in California to be completely unsurprising (although I think TrailerTrash made a good point that their response may not have been strategically wise).

    And as far as calling it a “moral” choice, I understand that you accept the Church’s framing of the issue as one of morality. I suspect you already know this, but there are other ways to frame the discussion. I find the approach based on rights much more compelling. As Lynnette put it so well in this post, “I decided that if I was going to err, I would rather err in the direction of a more inclusive society, one which seeks to give all its citizens equal opportunities.”

  50. 50.

    So while people on this discussion seem to think it is stupid for the church to express surprised disappointment at the protests of others, the church is still free to express its surprised disappointment.

    I certainly agree; as Ziff said, I didn’t mean to suggest that the Church doesn’t have the right to express its views. What I was responding to was the sentiment I kept encountering that the Prop 8 backlash somehow meant that the Church had lost its right of free speech, an assertion that didn’t make sense to me.

    But what did you expect the church to do? Express it’s ecstatic excitement at the protests? Say nothing? No, the church would not stand silently by with the violence and so on occurring.

    That’s a fair question. I think I would have had more respect for a response along the lines of, “we realize that this has been a painful situation for a lot of people, but it’s an issue where we felt strongly that we had to take a moral stand.” Instead, we got something more like “but we weren’t the only ones involved! why are you picking on us?”

    Just so I’m clear–I’m not saying that I’m okay with all the tactics used by the anti-8 crowd, some of which clearly cross the line and have been rightly denounced both by the Church and by gay rights groups. And, unlike a lot of those who share my political views on this matter, I’m actually a strong believer in the right of religion to be involved in the public sphere. But I agree with Kiskilili’s point in this post that if you make the choice to be involved in politics, you can’t then declare yourself immune as a political target. I also find it a bit disingenuous for an organization to put a lot of effort into pushing an initiative like this through, and then distancing themselves after the fact. I’m still flabbergasted when I read people saying things like, “but it wasn’t the Church, it was the members.”

  51. 51.

    While we’re asking questions, we might as well also ask why the opposition to Proposition 8 can’t just accept the decision of majority that made a moral choice.

    I hear this argument a lot, and I’d like to see its assumptions spelled out. To me it seems disingenuous to retreat into a focus on the process rather than the content of the law only after your position has been established. I believe people continue to fight for gay rights for the very reasons, logistically, that the Church continues to fight against them: in a democratic republic, they’re up for grabs. Quite simply, policy can still be changed. If something similar to prop 8 had been on the ballot in Massachusetts this last election and the Church asked you to fight for it, would you nevertheless decline to get involved on the grounds that it’s appropriate to “just accept the decision of the majority that made a moral choice”? The majority has spoken; if you were a resident here (I’m guess you’re not?) would you be silent forever after out of deference to the majority’s will? If not, your position strikes me as inconsistent and your argument opportunistic rather than morally grounded.

    I find this situation manifestly absurd (in an abstract sort of way).

    What specifically is it that you find absurd? That people think public opinion might still be swayed on the matter or that policy might change? I find it manifestly obvious.

    The point isn’t that the Church shouldn’t be allowed dismay and indignation at protesters. The point is that the if the Church is committed to its position it should stand up, unashamed, and accept responsibility for its actions.

  52. 52.

    A better counterfactual would be this: what if the vote had gone the other way in California? Would you just accept that the majority had made a moral decision and resolve never to fight against gay marriage in California again? If not, you might be able to imagine why those favoring gay marriage aren’t throwing in the towel either.

  53. 53.

    #52 – We’ve been on both sides of the majority vote in our history, and I think your last sentence is spot-on. We can’t ask for understanding of our perspectives and acceptance of our right to choose the law by majority vote when we win if we wouldn’t grant that in the case of a loss. We simply can’t hold others to a different standard than we are willing to live.

  54. 54.

    I haven’t read the entire thread, so sorry if this is repeating something, but I agree that the call to simply accept the majority decision is faulty, just as I don’t accept the argument that courts in California were wrong to overturn the original legislation against gay marriage. Our government doesn’t (and shouldn’t) operate purely on majority opinion. Courts are there to protect the rights of those in the minority. Segregation was ended in the courts, not in congress, and likely against the will of the majority.

  55. 55.

    [...] cannot deny, however, that Mormons have this incredible organizational structure that is just…politically useful. They mobilize efficiently and effectively and strike surgically. Just like [...]

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