Winter 2009, Vol. 11, No. 3

Quick Links:

Spiritual Politics blog

Articles in this issue:

Table of Contents

From the Editor:
How to Pray

The Mormon Proposition

No Saints Need Apply

Picturing Palin's Faith

Bishops at Bay

Downplaying Religion
in Mumbai

What is Lashkar?

The Beat Goes On

Riverside's Black-White Divide

Scandalous Days
in the OCA


New books

The Mormon Proposition
Doe Daughtrey

On May 15, the California Supreme Court overturned Proposition 22, the ballot initiative that in 2000 banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State. On June 2, Proposition 8 qualified for the November 4 California ballot, and religious groups rallied around what they hoped would be the definitive constitutional end to gay marriage. And although Catholic bishops and evangelical groups were active in the effort, public attention focused on the involvement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Mormons.

The Mormon effort drew wide attention after Peggy Fletcher Stack, the Salt Lake Tribune’s longtime religion reporter, revealed in a June 24 article that the church had slated a pro-Proposition 8 letter to be read from California pulpits on June 30. Seeking to preserve “the sacred institution of marriage” as articulated by Mormon doctrine, the church would instruct its members to “do all you can” by donating “means and time” for the proposition’s passage, Stack reported.

Mormon political activism on hot-button social issues is hardly unprecedented. In 1978, for example, the LDS church helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment by asking church members to oppose it. While the church often stays out of the fray—as in the case of assisted suicide—it has actively opposed gay marriage from the beginning.

In 1998, it played a key role (and, according to Stack, spent $1.1 million) in defeating gay marriage initiatives in Hawaii and Alaska. The church went on to mobilize its California members on behalf of Proposition 22, and offered public support to the failed federal marriage amendment in 2006. 

Although other religious bodies donated time and money to the Proposition 8 campaign, it was the LDS church’s seemingly effortless and lightning-quick ability to mobilize its members that caught the public eye. Catholics make a practice of ignoring their bishops, and evangelicals are a disparate flock, but Mormons believe that the head of their church is a prophet of God—and tend to act accordingly.

The biggest story had to do with Mormon financial backing, especially what came from out of state. “One thing I learned as a Mormon was that preaching costs money,” Bruce Bastian, former Mormon, gay Utah resident, and co-founder of WordPerfect, told the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Wildermuth July 28. “The Mormons will raise a lot of money to support Proposition 8 in November.” (Bastian himself donated $1 million to the other side.)

On September 17 and 18, Rosemary Winters of the Salt Lake Tribune called attention to, a website dedicated to tracking Mormon contributions to the pro-Prop 8 website listed on the LDS Church’s website to facilitate its members’ participation.

“If we could identify every Mormon, I think that probably 85 to 90 percent of the donors would be Mormon,” said website proprietor Nadine Hansen, a 61-year-old, semi-retired lawyer (and non-practicing Mormon) from Cedar City, Utah. (In a subsequent story, Hansen told the AP’s Eric Gorski that she had used campaign records, “tips from site visitors and church members,” and search engines to track down LDS donors.)

On September 20, Mark Schoofs of the Wall Street Journal reported that, in an August conference call, church leaders solicited $25,000 donations from 40 to 60 California Mormons, an amount likely based on their tithing receipts. LDS officials maintained a separate post-office box to handle members’ donations, which were tallied and sent to the campaign. As of mid-September, the Protect Marriage Coalition’s own figures indicated that Mormon donations would likely exceed 40 percent of total contributions to the initiative.

Scrutiny of Mormon activities increased in October, after the LDS church expanded its efforts through a special broadcast targeted at Brigham Young University students and “Californians living in Utah.” On October 8, Peggy Fletcher Stack reported that church leaders called for “30 members from each California congregation to donate four hours a week to the campaign.”

Institutional support for those efforts included the church website, with materials for “young married couples and single Latter-day Saints to use the Internet, text messaging, blogging and other forms of computer technology to help pass the initiative.” By mid-October, virtually all reporting on Proposition 8 financing referred to the impact of Mormon money.

Then, on October 23, Stack reported that the LDS Church had “released” those who had been “called” by the church to help secure passage of the initiative. Utah County Democratic Party head Richard Davis implied that church efforts might be backfiring. “If a caller says, ‘Hi, I’m calling from Heber City, Utah,’ that might be a turn-off to a California voter,” Davis said. 

Indeed, before Election Day, there were picket lines at northern California LDS church buildings. And after Prop 8 passed, angry opponents made the church their prime target. Gay-rights advocates gathered outside LDS temples across the country and called for a boycott on Utah tourism. Envelopes containing white powder arrived at LDS temples in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

On November 15, designated as a day of protest against the LDS church nationwide, Mormon churches and seminary (religious education) buildings were vandalized and copies of the Book of Mormon burned. LDS church members Scott Eckern, a Sacramento artistic theater director, and Richard Raddon, a Los Angeles Film Festival director, resigned their positions after their donations were made public. An official complaint was filed with California’s fair-elections commission charging that the LDS Church had broken election laws by failing to report “significant contributions,” such as “commercials, out-of-state phone banks and a Web site sponsored by the church.”

Even as it condemned the protests, the church cautioned members to treat those who disagree with “love and kindness.” Saints were asked to be honest, respectful, and civil regarding each other’s decisions on their chosen level of involvement.

The mainstream press, which prior to the election had steered clear of expressing an opinion on Mormon involvement in the initiative, was generally critical of the anti-Mormon protests. A November 18 editorial in the Spokane Spokesman-Review took protesters to task for their derogatory signs and blanket condemnation of Mormons simply for supporting the initiative. On November 23, San Francisco Chronicle editorial page editor John Diaz attacked “the ugly backlash over Proposition 8.”

The widely viewed (via YouTube) anti-Proposition 8 video depicting two Mormon missionaries “invading” the home of two married lesbians provoked a distressed op-ed from religious liberty advocate Charles Haynes, who asserted that there were no winners in this “ugly debate.” Excoriating the video in the Los Angeles Times, National Review editor Jonah Goldberg imagined comparable videos aimed at Jews and Muslims. Mormons, he claimed, were “vulnerable” victims and “easy targets” for liberal critics.

On the other side, Gabriel Winant of the Chicago Sun-Times argued that the large amount of money generated by Mormon activism did justify the protests outside the LDS temples. Acknowledging that the LDS church no longer practices plural marriage, Winant quoted one protestor as firmly insisting (in reference to the church’s “own controversial history of nontraditional marriage”), “It’s the pot calling the kettle black.”

If more intense than usual, such contention over the LDS church’s role was hardly new. What set the Proposition 8 campaign apart from earlier exercises of Mormon political muscle was dissent within the ranks of the faithful. For no sooner did the church call for members’ support than some Mormons in California and other states began writing letters to editors and developing pro-gay marriage websites and blogs challenging its involvement.

On July 6, Rebecca Rosen Lum of the Oakland Tribune noted how things had changed since Proposition 22 in 2000: “Some Mormons are rejecting their prophet’s call to campaign for a ban on same-sex marriage in California, suggesting the church leadership’s sway over the issue of homosexuality may be weakening.”

The most high-profile LDS opponent of Proposition 8 was Barbara Young, wife of former NFL 49ers quarterback Steve Young. Throughout his career in professional football, Young used his fame to promote the LDS church, and the church in turn held him up to young Mormon men as an example.

On October 31, the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Wildermuth took note in his blog of “No on 8” signs in the Youngs’ yard and quoted Barbara Young as saying, “We believe ALL families matter and we do not believe in discrimination, therefore, our family will vote against Prop. 8.”

According to Wildermuth, Young quickly qualified her husband’s involvement, telling the anti-Proposition 8 organization Equality California that evening, “I am very passionate about this issue and Steve is completely supportive of me and my work for equality. We both love our Church and are grateful that our Church encourages us to vote our conscience. Steve prefers not to get involved politically on any issue no matter what the cause and therefore makes no endorsement.”

Barbara Young’s citation of her church’s encouragement to “vote our conscience” was, in this context, highly significant. In a tradition that has historically placed a very high value on following church teaching, it pointed to the other Mormon question of national significance during the 2008 election cycle: the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney.

As a candidate, Romney faced two main religion-related problems: Mormon theological distinctiveness and the Mormon culture of obedience, which raised the question of Romney’s subjection to the authority of the LDS church. And like John F. Kennedy before him, Romney was ultimately compelled to give a speech claiming political independence from his church.

For its part, the LDS church responded to the situation by issuing a statement on December 6, 2007, intended to clarify its institutional involvement in politics. The statement reiterated the church’s commitment to political neutrality, denied it had officially supported Romney’s candidacy, declared it would play no role in a “Mormon” presidency, and asserted respect for political diversity and “differences of opinion in partisan political matters” among its members.

The statement did not go unnoticed among the Saints. For example, in a February 2008 discussion of Romney’s “faith speech” on the By Common Consent blog, one contributor quipped that it was now obligatory to take church authority with a grain of salt: “If he’s ‘a true Mormon,’ wouldn’t he believe it when leaders promise not to require him to pay any attention to what they…say?”

The sense was that Romney’s candidacy had legitimated dissent within the church. Thus, in a private email conversation on the day he withdrew from the race, a group of LDS women commented on the impact of Romney’s candidacy on their participation in gender-based activism, with one expressing the fear that now “the scrutiny will be off Mormons, perhaps making those who [dissented] a bit more vulnerable to church discipline.” Countered another: “As long as the church is under a national/international microscope because of Romney, they won’t even acknowledge our existence.”

It’s a safe guess that the church would not have pulled out all the stops for Proposition 8 had Romney been the Republican nominee. Yet inside the church, members did not forget the new opening for individual conscience.

In an article by Tom Quinn in the October 29 New Statesman, Robert Bennion, a California LDS bishop with a gay brother, discussed his ambivalence about participating in the initiative, saying he refused to “allow any campaigning during church time or on church property.” After the election, Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe commented on the “unusual level of disagreement in the ordinarily harmonious Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” caused by “the church’s outspoken support for Proposition 8.”

Mormons asserting LDS identity through their opposition to Proposition 8 created such websites as,, and

 These presented dissenting viewpoints that drew on LDS sacred texts and statements from church leaders in an effort to show that Proposition 8 violated Mormon ideals and was contrary to scripture.

Not that this was an easy position to take publicly. On August 23, Laura Compton, co-creator of, told Jennifer Dobner of the San Francisco Chronicle, “If you think you are the only person in your [church community] that feels that way and the rhetoric is really loud, it’s painful.”

Millie Watts, a Salt Lake City LDS mother with two gay children mobilized other Mormon mothers with gay children in support of gay marriage. Reporting November 2 on a rally of theirs that drew 600, the Salt Lake Tribune’s Rosemary Winters described the sense of “disappointment and betrayal” they felt over LDS Church support of Proposition 8.

Among the church’s most strident critics was Andrew Callaghan of Hastings, Nebraska, founder of the website Callaghan attracted attention in late September when Jeniffer Berry of KHAS-TV reported that he had been threatened with church discipline because of the website.

In a comprehensive review of Mormon dissent on Proposition 8 that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune October 24, Peggy Fletcher Stack quoted one former California bishop as saying, “It will take considerable humility, charity and forgiveness to heal the wounds caused by this initiative.” High-level church leader L. Whitney Clayton told her that Mormons who disagree with the church would not face sanctions. In the past, Mormons who publicly opposed the church have routinely been excommunicated or disfellowshipped.

On November 6, Carrie A. Moore of the church-owned Deseret News quoted Elder L. Whitney Clayton, the leader of the church’s Proposition 8 initiative, as saying that local leaders would handle dissenters on a case-by-case basis.

As for Andrew Callaghan, his original church court was indefinitely postponed by church authorities until after the election. Though now provides space for disenchanted Mormons to post their letters of resignation from the church, as of early January, there were no reports of action taken by the LDS church against him or other Mormon opponents of Proposition 8. 


Hit Counter