Monday, June 1, 2009

An ugly turn in Mormon coverage

Last week's Washington Post had an article talking about the campaign against gay marriage and the church's role in it.  Three eastern Web sites carried banner ads from gay marriage proponents saying, "The Mormons are coming!"

That a few papers refused to run it is to their credit.  Can you imagine any newspaper accepting an ad that said, "The Jews are coming?"  or "The gays are coming?"  or "The blacks are coming?"  

Why, then, accept an ad attacking Mormons with this language?

That these advertisements hearken to stereotypes of supposed Mormon militancy suggests a deeply rooted, bigoted attack, one thought out, in fact.  Indeed, opposition researchers are trying to craft the story of gay marriage as Mormons against gays -- not on the issue itself.  Largely, this is so because Mormons are seen as unpopular and growing more so.

But this isn't the only ugly turn this week.

The unmediated commentary on the Salt Lake Tribune's Web site about the attack on LDS apostle Russell M. Nelson during a robbery in Africa was startling to say the least.  Commentators mocked my religion in deeply personal and insulting ways.  That the Trib wasn't cheerleading is to its credit, but the quality of the conversation saddened me.  The Trib might look to its policy and forbid overt religious bigotry.

Lastly, there is a new argument about gay marriage:  Mormons were persecuted for their religious practices - notably polygamy.  Why are they persecuting now? The argument goes.

Three important reminders:

Mormon persecution began long before polygamy.  Recent research suggests that much of the persecution was about power.  (See Clark Johnson's work in BYU Studies about the Mormon redress petitions.)

When polygamy became the central rallying cry against Mormons -- when they began the practice, there were no laws prohibiting it, by the way -- and government came to prohibit the practice, Mormons did accommodate themselves to the law.   It wouldn't be hard for gay Americans to do the same.

Last, no one has ever shown that marriage was fundamentally about civil rights -- it includes societal and concerns about children as well.  (If the only value in marriage were civil rights, no state would ban first cousins from marrying, for example.)  Otherwise, Mormon polygamy never would have been outlawed in the first place.

So, as Mormons are cast as bad guys in the public discourse, remember, it is largely about power today as well, just as when we were cast as dangerous villains in the 19th century.

1 comment:

  1. Any publicity is good publicity. It's OK. Those who hate will hate anyway, some will investigate for themselves- let the truth speak for itself.
    The Salt Lake Trib is not, will not, nor was established to be the Mormon's friend. but actually to the contrary. They have very limited influence and do nothing but placate to an already decided audience.
    "The Mormon's are Coming"= Free advertising.