9 a.m.: Indiana, Latter-Day Saint meeting house
A little before 9 a.m. this past Sunday, my family and I pulled into a meeting house of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in rural Indiana. I was raised Mormon, but left the LDS Church about 15 years ago. My wife is still LDS and my children attend both the LDS Church with her and the Unitarian Church with me on alternating Sundays.
This Sunday, my 16-year-old son was giving a talk on the freedom of choice, what Mormons call “agency.” The irony of the topic was not lost on me, as just two days earlier, the Supreme Court of the United States had legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Latter-Day Saint Sunday worship services consist of talks given by lay members of the congregation on topics assigned by the local church leadership several weeks in advance, so the irony was purely coincidental … as was the topic assigned to the second speaker, who followed my son. We’ll call her Sister “Chapel.” (Mormons refer to each other as “Brother” and “Sister.”
Sister Chapel’s talk was on the topic of “religious freedom.” She spoke in broad terms about what she perceived as the encroachments on religious liberties in recent years. In the same breath, she condemned those who had called for a boycott of a certain fast food franchise a few years ago in response the owner’s opposition to gay marriage, at the same time she praised counter-protestors who had shown their support by eating at the restaurant. It was clear that she took these events very personally, though how exactly she was affected was not clear to me. At the end of her talk, she broke down in tears saying, “I think another liberty was lost yesterday,” referring to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling.
I admit, I had difficulty remaining seated through Sister Chapel’s talk. As someone who was once LDS, I can recall what it was like to feel like your way of life is under assault by the forces of modernity. At the same time, as someone who is now Pagan and Unitarian and has LGBT friends, I see the irony of someone characterizing the right of LGBTs to marry as a “loss” of religious liberty. During the talk, it occurred to me that, while Sister Chapel was right to be vigilant about the freedom of worship, what she seemed to be missing was the question of power and privilege. Sister Chapel was apparently blind to the power and privilege she had as a white, Christian, heterosexual in contemporary American culture — power privilege which is not shared by many others, including LGBTs — and that is why she could see herself as a victim in this situation.
10:30 a.m.: en route from Indiana to Chicago
After the LDS worship service, my wife and I and our two teenage children hopped in the car and drove across the border and into Chicago for the Chicago Pride Parade. This was our first Pride Parade and I was excited to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling with my family.
On the way, we talked about the ways that Sister Chapel had been both right and wrong. We talked about her perception of being persecuted for her beliefs and contrasted that with the very real persecution which LGBTs experience. My 16-year-old son expressed dismay at how she had implicitly associated the victory of the right to marry to the beheading of Christians by ISIS, both of which she saw as attacks on her religious liberty. My wife pointed out rightly that Sister Chapel’s opinions are not representative of all Mormons, and that some Mormons have even become LGBT activists in recent years.
12:00 p.m.: Chicago, Pride Parade
There were lots of flamboyantly dressed parade-goers and some of the entries were definitely NSFW (not safe for work). But there were also a lot of people dressed in everyday clothes, carrying signs like “I’m a professor, and I’m out.”, “I’m Dr. Mark, and I’m out.”, “I love my gay son.” and “I love my gay dad.” I was particularly impressed by the huge entry by Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches which stretched farther than I could see and included dozens of churches including Unitarians. I also cheered the giant inflatable Jesus, which was accompanied by signs like “Jesus: Loving LGBTs since 1 A.D.” and “God loves me the way God made me.”
My kids cheered and clapped and laughed, and we all had a great time. My 13-year-old daughter turned to me at one point and said, “One day I will tell my kids that I remember when gays and lesbians won the right to be married.” I glowed. It was one of those moments when I really felt like a good parent.
10:00 p.m.: back in Indiana
When we came home, I tucked my son into bed before he headed off to scout camp the next day, and I thought about the scouts who marched in the parade, alongside a sign that read, “A Scout is Equal.” (As of May of this year, the Boy Scouts of America president indicated that the national organization will end its exclusion of openly gay adults by October 2015.)
I also thought about the Mormon congregation back in their ideological bunker. At first I though I would have liked to bring them all to the parade. But then I thought about how they would have been appalled and offended by some of the more outrageous displays in the parade. They would have taken it as evidence of the “perverseness” of LGBTs generally, and only further convinced them of the the “righteousness” of their insularity.
I wondered how it would be possible to ever bridge that gulf. But then I overheard my wife on the phone. She was talking to a friend from church. She was saying how she felt that LGBTs have the right to respect and dignity too, how they deserve to have equal protection under the law, and how their children deserve to have married parents. It sounded like my wife’s friend was agreeing. And hope dawned in me again.