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Recall Jerry Brown? And Yet Another Mormon Hit Piece

Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:02 am, June 15th 2009     —    4 Comments »

The LATimes:

California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown once again refused to defend Proposition 8′s ban on same-sex marriage Friday, telling a federal judge that it violated the U.S. Constitution and should be struck down.

Brown made his arguments in response to a federal lawsuit against the state by two gay couples who contend the initiative violates federal due process and equal protection guarantees.

You know, there is politics and there is duty.  Brown’s politics may oppose Prop 8, but it is the law of the land – as affirmed by the California Supreme Court – and he has sworn to uphold and defend that law.  It is his duty as an elected official in the state of California to put forth an argument in defense of the law.  Just as it was Mitt Romney’s duty to provide for same-sex marriage as the governor of Massachusetts, even when he found it personally to his disfavor.  Romney’s stance contributed heavily to the distrust that cost him the Republican presidential nomination last time around.

Jerry Brown has failed in his duty as the Attorney General of California.

And speaking of duties, journalists have them too – but that fact appears to have slipped by David Van Biema at Time Magazine.  The latest issue features a story on Prop 8 called “The Storm Over Mormons.“  Prop 8 is a huge issue with national implications, but more it comes from a huge state with a huge diversity of view.  There are three criticisms to be leveled at this piece.

First of all, it is “Bay Area-centric.”  Ever person quoted, every source cited, every anecdote recounted is from the San Francisco bay area.  That is a little like describing Manhattan just from the view as one emerges from the Lincoln Tunnel.  Demographically, California is dominated by two huge urban areas – the Bay and Southern California.  Politically, Southern California is bifucated by the LA-Orange County line.  South of that line is some of the most reliably conservative territory in the United States, north of it is liberal, though not nearly as liberal as the Bay area.  Outside of those urban areas of the state, save for extraordinary natural splendor, is much like the rest of the nation, predominantly conservative.  Finally, the Bay area has the highest percentage of gay population of any area in the United States.

One cannot possibly do justice to the issue of Prop 8 or Mormons relative to it by just considering the Bay area.  The proposition was overwhelmingly defeated in the area, yet it won statewide.

Secondly, the piece barely mentions general religious activity on Prop 8, thus tacitly justifying the disproportionate attention on Mormons in the wake of the passage.  The Mormon role in the passage of Prop 8 was huge, that cannot be denied, but it was far from a solo effort.  Lowell has the data below.  Mormons also suffered a disproportionate amount of the backlash in the wake of the propositions passage.  This piece attempts, by its focus, and subtly in its discussion, to justify that disproportionate focus by the anti-8 crowd.  There are two things going on here.  One, it is never a good idea to commit bigotry when you are arguing against bigotry.  (See Jeremiah Wright last week)  The anti-8 forces have suffered because of they did precisely that.  They are trying to regroup and justify their actions by establishing a new narrative.  Also, Mormons were then, and remain, the “soft underbelly” of the religiously motivated conservative movement.  The average Christian remains suspicious of them.  It is to the political advantage of the liberal troops to “carve them out of the herd.”  They just have to be less obvious and aggressive about it (Ala the Huckster)

Finally I find this passage most interesting:

The second politically controversial Mormon teaching is the belief in a living, breathing Prophet — in Salt Lake City. Prophets have even more authority than Popes do in Catholicism; among other things, they are able to add to Scripture. Because they make key decisions with their apostles, the model is oligarchic rather than absolute, but it still vests extraordinary influence in Monson, his two counselors and his apostles, who transmit orders downward through the Salt Lake City — based general authorities, regional stake presidents and local pastors called bishops.

That paragraph dear friends, to this creedal Christian eye, is the “cult” charge delivered with a velvet glove.  It levels, quickly, calmly and apparently reasonably all the things that make a creedal Christian “suspicious,” as described in the paragraph above.  It is not, as I understand things, an inaccurate description, but as a paragraph it seems consciously designed to push all the right buttons.

The real problem is the difference between belief and practice.  That paragraph paints the picture of the “mind-numbed robot.”  To his credit, Van Biema does try to soften that charge in the subsequent paragraphs, but the “bell has rung” as they say – particularly with an audience that already hears echoes of the last time the bell rang.  But more importantly, I’ve met a lot of Mormons in the last few years, and find none of them to be in the “brain-washed” category that defines the typical “cult.”

Let’s face it – the typical Catholic believes they eat the actual flesh of Christ every Sunday – doesn’t that make them cannibals?  Of course not!  And so the office of the president (Prophet) of the CJCLDS does not de facto make that church as cultic as it sounds in the paragraph quoted.

Taken together, this piece seems solely designed to present a picture of the inevitability of the removal of the Prop 8 language from the California Constitution and to  justify the disproportionate outrage that has been aimed at Mormons.  It’s a lot of things, but its not unbiased journalism.

Lowell adds:  It appears to me that Van Biema attempted to be fair, but there is a problem with proportion.  To read the piece, one would think that Mormons single-handedly got Prop 8 passed.  No one who has spent even a little time learning about that election believes that.

I will concede that Pro 8 would not have passed without Mormon grass-roots and fund-raising support.  To use political science terminology, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a potent force in elections in those rare cases when it gets involved, because the Church is both vertically-organized (i.e., central command and control, so to speak) and geographically distributed throughout California (i.e., because the Church’s congregations are based on geography, it has organized units of members everywhere).  As such, the Church is a perfect political grass-roots organization when it wants to be, and its members are relatively affluent.

But, but, but . . . even with all that firepower there is no way Mormons could have carried the Prop 8 fight alone.  Catholics and Evangelicals (including African-American churches) were the other two pieces of the Protect Marriage coalition.  Without their involvement, Mormon help would have meant nothing.  Long before the Mormons got involved in late June 2008, Catholic-supported groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Knights of Columbus paid for and collected the 1,000,000 signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot to begin with.  Without that expensive and organization-intensive effort, there would have been no Prop 8 election.  I personally watched Evangelical church members pick up and distribute tens of thousands of yard signs.  I watched Evangelical contributions pour in.  It’s simply ridiculous to credit only the Mormons with Prop 8′s success, and it’s insulting to the others whose sacrificed so much in the Yes on 8 effort.

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