by Troy Williams
My new piece is up on Salon today.
With their religion front and center, progressive Latter-day Saints are becoming bolder about speaking out
Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has the nation talking about Mormonism. You can’t scan a newsfeed without being bombarded by several stories of gay Mormons, black Mormons, doubting Mormons, ex-Mormons – you name it. There are Mormons available in every genre imaginable. Not surprisingly, what perks the interest — and at times incredulity — of outside observers is the persistence of liberal and progressive Latter-day Saints.
Mormons are everywhere, but what may be less obvious is the extent to which this so-called Mormon Moment is actually exposing the internal stresses and fractures that have long existed within the faith. In November, Romney’s campaign may determine the direction of our nation, but it has already launched the battle for the soul of Mormonism in the early 21st century.
For more than five decades, Elder Boyd K. Packer has been an intimidating presence within the leadership of the Church. As president of the senior Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, his deep, gravel voice and hardline commitment to 1950s social conventions has been a divisive force within Mormon congregations – separating, as it were, the goats from the sheep. Or perhaps more aptly, the liberals from the conservatives.
In 1993, Packer pronounced what he saw as the three great threats to the Latter-day Saints: “The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.” He darkly cautioned that some members might “become their advocates — sympathize with their complaints against the Church, and perhaps even soften the commandments to comfort them.”
Packer’s bark was quickly followed by his bite. He subsequently oversaw the high-profile excommunication of six members whom he considered the very embodiment of such danger.
Flash forward nearly two decades into the Mormon Moment 2012. Packer’s Google Alerts must only inflame his horror: “Gay Mormons Challenge the Church,” “The Rise of the Mormon Feminist Housewife,” “Mormons Who Love Obama.”
Lo, the end is nigh.