A week or so ago some state had some vote about marriage, or so I have heard. It was discussed ad nauseum in the bloggernaccle, if I remember correctly. In all honesty, as a mostly libertarian, I couldn’t have cared less about the whole thing, especially since I no longer live in said state. What I did find interesting was the whole discussion in the ‘nacle and in church, which I think revealed something very important about us Mormons: our fundamental anxieties.
Different types of Chrisitians have different types of anxieties. In fact, different theological structures in each type of Christianity make certain types of anxiety possible and others impossible. Put simply, what you believe defines what worries you. A Catholic might feel very anxious about whether they are in a state of mortal sin or grace. This is not going to trouble the died-in-the-wool Calvinist who has fundamental anxieties about whether they are one of the elect or not. I don’t know too many Mormons who have these types of anxieties. That’s simply because we don’t have those categories in quite the same way as those other denominations do. We may talk about election, but we don’t talk about it in the same way that Calvinists talk about ELECTION. When F.F. Bruce, an evangelical Christian, wrote his life of Paul, he subtitled it “Apostle of the Heart Set Free,” which says a lot about what kinds of anxieties evangelicals feel. That no Mormon would ever subtitle any book “Apostle of the Heart Set Free” says that we don’t share those anxieties.
So what did the whole proposition and ensuing discussion reveal about our fundamental anxieties?
First, we Mormons are terribly anxious about what it means to follow church leadership. When I was in California in October I tried to discuss the proposition with a person at church who I am good friends with. This person explained that he had donated some money to the cause and had gone door to door, but was drawing the line at holding a sign on a street corner, though church leadership had asked him to do this. He felt he had done sufficient and had answered the call. I told him that I thought he had done enough, and that I wouldn’t worry about it one way or the other, because the legal reasons the church was giving for supporting the proposition seemed rather far fetched. I intended this as a way of agreeing with him. However, this person got angry with me for questioning the leadership and its reasons for action. I thought about pointing out that if he really felt that way, then to be consistent he better get his butt out to that street corner to show his support. However, I just laughed and changed the subject. I realized that you don’t argue with yourself unless there is some fundamental anxiety driving you to do that.
I also saw this on the ‘nacle. Time after time I saw people twisting themselves into pretzels in an attempt to support the amendment without really supporting it. Or to not support the amendment while really supporting it. Quite silly because you have to pull the lever for one or the other, you can’t pull the lever marked “both.” In most cases the arguments given were variations on attempting to divorce support for church leadership from support for the proposition. That they were intertwined for Mormons is undeniable. That no other group saw this type of intertwinement is also undeniable. This caused Mormons a lot of anxiety, anxiety that no other denomination was capable of feeling.
Second, we Mormons are terribly anxious about our church membership. Some Mormons were terribly anxious that they would be disciplined if they did not publicly support the proposition. Others took the opportunity to resign their membership because they saw it as being tied to the proposition. Others took pride in the group effort, “We Mormons put it over the top!” I can hear them saying. The commonality for all of this emotion is due to the unique anxiety we Mormons feel due to having our names on a roll somewhere in Salt Lake City. Of course just having the name on the roll doesn’t say much, it’s all about what that recorded name means. For some it was positive, for others negative, for others just worrisome (neither positive nor negative). I know of no members of any other denomination that would have that type of anxiety. No Catholic or Baptist saw the proposition as being tied to their denomination, though they also supported the proposition.
Third, we Mormons are very anxious about our relationship with the rest of the world. Many people in the ‘nacle are anxious that this could be a repeat of the 70’s, just substituting gays for blacks. For others it was a time to show that “We’re different” and channel the anxiety of assimilation to worldly ways into obedience in the political sphere. Lurking behind a lot of discussion was the whole polygamy issue, “How can we be against marriage redefinition when we tried to redefine it in the 19th century?” And, whenever you bring up polygamy, you bring up Mormons’ relation to the rest of the world. To what extent will others tolerate our morality? To what extent should we tolerate theirs? To what degree can we form coalitions with other believers? And even if we can form coalitions, should we?
Mormons were able to outshine every other group with fundraising and participation because so many fundamental anxieties were involved; it was a perfect storm of sorts. These fundamental anxieties define us and drive us as a group. Fundamental anxieties in my opinion are one of the engines that drive people to do extraordinary things. They lead to new churches and start wars. And, they also pass ballot measures in California, or so I’ve heard.
GROUND RULE: No discussion of the merits or demerits of that proposition are allowed. I will ruthlessly delete any post arguing for or against the proposition (it’s over anyway, deal with it or celebrate it, your choice).