Ignoring the big Mormon question at gay pride parade

There was a gay pride march the other day in Utah and The Salt Lake City Tribune, in it’s basic report about the event, certainly didn’t shy away from publishing a provocative lede:

Before the drag queens in heels danced across Main Street, more than 300 members of the LDS Church left Utah Gay Pride Parade spectators in tears Sunday morning. One Mormon father turned to the crowd and thanked people for forgiving him.

The group, Mormons Building Bridges, said they wanted to send a message of love to the state’s LGBT community, a message they believe is compatible with their faith.

Emily Vandyke, 50, carried a sign with the words from an LDS children’s song: “I’ll walk with you, I’ll talk with you. That’s how I’ll show my love for you.”

Several blocks along the parade route, she embraced a tall woman weeping at the edge of the crowd who said, “Thank you.”

To understand this act of public witness, it was crucial that the story mention — at some point — what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually teaches on issues of sexual morality, and homosexuality in particular. The story does that quite clearly, although it is hard not to notice that the story includes zero input from any Mormon leaders when it comes time to defending those teachings.

Sadly, this is becoming quite normal in this brand of advocacy journalism, even when it appears in the news pages of a mainstream daily newspaper. Who needs to talk to both sides in a debate of this kind? Perhaps that kind of balanced journalism has become too old-fashioned.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not consider same-sex attraction a sin, but sexual relations are only acceptable within the marriage of a man and a woman.

Some parade viewers talked about how their homosexuality had caused them to leave the church. How they might have remained members if the LDS faith were more tolerant.

Carolyn Ball, a 48-year-old lesbian from West Jordan, said she was excommunicated in 2000. “I lost everything I loved because I came out,” she said.

And so forth and so on. The entire story is told through the voices of believers on one side of the story.

Like I said, that has become all too normal. What struck me in this story is that the Tribune team failed to ask the leaders of Mormons Building Bridges one totally essential question: Does their organization, in fact, reject or even actively oppose the teachings of their faith on issues of sexuality, marriage and family life? How do you write this story without covering that angle?

It is possible, of course, that members of Mormons Building Bridges still accept the church’s doctrines, but believe they have been poorly practiced. This organization could, in other words, not be pro-gay rights, but, to adopt language from the Cold War era, it might be anti-anti-gay rights.

There are a number of doctrinal possibilities here, none of which are addressed. It is also interesting to note that the exact same hole exists in the advance feature that the Tribune team produced about this event — click here to read that. The closest the story comes to asking this crucial question is this exchange with Erika Munson, the founder of Mormons Building Bridges:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that it is no sin to have same-sex attraction, but it condones sexual relations only within the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman. The Utah-based faith also helped pass California’s Proposition 8, which limited marriages in the Golden State to unions between only men and women.

“I felt that there must be people like me,” Munson said, “who are committed to the church, who believe in the gospel and want to live Jesus’ word, which is, ‘love one another.’ ”

Munson’s group is not affiliated with the LDS Church or any political party, and though it started just a few weeks ago, it’s been gaining steam through social media.

Does that crucial phrase — “who are committed to the church, who believe in the gospel” — include accepting the church’s moral teachings? Was that question never asked? It is also crucial to note that the advance story included no information about this event or movement drawn from Mormon authorities or even other local Mormons who have decided not to join Mormons Building Bridges — such as, perhaps, members or leaders from Munson’s own local stake, or congregation.

What we have here are two alleged news reports, as opposed to columns or editorials, build on commentary from one side of one of the hottest religious debates in the nation. These reports also omit a crucial question that would have helped flesh out the beliefs of the people at the heart of the story.

Why would the Tribune team fail to ask that crucial question or to print the answer if the question was asked?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Eric

    When I first read the advance story in the Tribune, the first question I had was whether this group was of the “love the sinner while hating the sin” variety or one that would like to see the church changes its views on sexual morality. Unfortunately, that question hasn’t been answered — or as far as I can tell, asked — in any of the news coverage that I’ve seen.

    I gather from reading the group’s Facebook page and other sources that MBB is specifically trying to avoid that question in its public face, and it has every right to do so. Even so, any journalist serious about his/her craft would ask the question — and if the spokesperson refuses to answer, to indicate that.

    I have to say I’m disappointed in the Tribune in this case. And the Deseret News didn’t do any better.

  • http://pastorbrendan.blogspot.com Brendan

    I came away from the story feeling the same way. Are these people trying to build the bridge without having to cross it themselves? Are they simply trying to love their neighbor while still holding traditional beliefs on marriage and homosexuality?

    I’m glad you pointed this out.

  • dalea

    Ffollowing the victory of Proposition 8 and the backlash that hit many LDS in California, the LDS leaders began overtures to the GL community to see if there could be some dialogue and common ground. This was reported in the GL press over the period 2009 to the present. One upshot of the talks was the LDS leadership supporting anti=discrimination laws for GL people, as in SLC last year. The following site talks about this a lot:


    Another outcome, was the finding that the LDS does not like calling GL relationships ‘marriage’, but can live with domestic partnerships. This is an excellent example of uncovered religious news, and shows how adversaries can work things out. An account from the San Jose Mecury News:


    One unremarked feature of the discussion is that according to the consensus of GL scholars, the church that produces the most Gay men is the LDS. Which tends to mean that GL issues are personal for a lot of LDS.

  • Ben

    I would assume some are for change and others are more of the attitude that they should show more love and support to gay Mormons. Some would be for gay marriage and others against it. This was the same thing I have encountered in my Mormon wards. We have a few out gay members. Some are dating the same sex and our ysa bishop seems to turn a blind eye to this and makes efforts to make them feel welcome. I just watched the podcast of Benji Schwimmer who was in one of my wards. He publicly came out recently. Gay members need more support and love.

  • Patrick

    The Tribune would not ask questions like if Building Bridges rejects the doctrine of the Church concerning families EVER.

    You do understand that Building Bridges is walking on a tightrope without a safety net ad far as there membership goes. If they come out and publicly denounce The Law of Chastity, the Family: A Proclamation to the World, or any of the leaderships position that marriage is between a man and a woman there membership is in immediate jeopardy.

    The LDS Church has no real problem with members disagreeing with each other or with doctrine/church leadership if that stays in house. You make statements to the press or publish a book, you are looking at excommunication unless you recant your statements immediately. …

  • Eric

    Patrick — I’m not sure that’s the case. There are plenty of LDS bloggers who have openly disagreed with the church’s positions (and Harry Reid disagreed with the church’s backing of Proposition 8) and haven’t faced discipline. But back to the topic of journalism, that brings up a question that should have been raised with the marchers: Whether individual marchers thought they were putting their church status in jeopardy or whether they thought otherwise, their responses would have made the story more interesting. But the “journalists” don’t seem to want to ask the obvious questions.

  • Eric

    Note to self: Leave a space between the numeral “8″ and a closing parenthesis.

  • dunce

    The Mormon church does believe in revelations which could be called “evolving”, caution danger ahead. God does not evolve, people do.

  • Doug

    It is in the nature of religious institutions that they define what is and what is not appropriate sexual behavior for its members and priesthood. For example, the Roman Catholic Church defines complete celibacy as the only appropriate sexual behavior for its priesthood. Attempts to bring any political pressure to bear on this perogative of churches is a violation of the separation of church and state. It is an attempt by the American pseudo-Left to create a group of established churches and thus bring about two categories of churches; established churches and unestablished churches. This is clearly unconstitutional.

  • Bryon

    I’m also a latter day saint. I noticed in this article the guy who wrote this called the church “Utah based faith”. Not all mormons followed Brigham Young to Utah or believed everything he said then and now. SO the Utah church might not be for same-sex relations but what about all the other mormon denominations that never followed the Utah mormons? Just so you know, I follow the Reorganized church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

  • Bot

    Over 90 percent of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests is same-sex, according to the New York Times. About 10 percent of Catholic priests are homosexual. That means homosexual priests’ abuse of children is 81 times more prevalent than heterosexual abuse. The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) would be wise to not call homosexuals to positions that involve children.

    Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Westchester County, New York, recognized authority on the problem of abuse of children by Catholic priests.