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?
- 8 November 2008