The Mormon Bishop Challenge: Marry a same-sex couple

Is there a religious equivalent to the term "civil disobedience"? As in, a term for defying one's church leaders when you find their edicts unjust or immoral? Something more warm-sounding than "heresy"?

Oh, well. For lack of a better term, I'd like to challenge a Mormon bishop to commit heresy.

Before I get to that, I'd like to talk about the Boy Scouts for a minute. I was very happy last month that the LDS Church decided not to sever its ties with the Boy Scouts of America over the issue of permitting troop sponsors to allow openly gay men to serve as Scoutmasters.

The church sponsors about 37% of all Scout troops in the country. Pulling out would have dealt the organization a crippling blow. And Scouting does a lot of good for boys, not the least of this being that it encourages them to geek out.

Yes, Scouting is all about geeking out. And geeking out, when you get down to it, is all about immersing yourself in a subject or activity and learning how it works. Taken as a whole, with all the different merit badges offered, this means that Scouting is really about learning how the world works.

Unfortunately, until very recently, Scouting implicitly taught that one way the world works is that gays are dangerous monsters who will somehow harm you by association. The fact that the organization has begun taking steps to change that message is wonderful. The fact that the LDS Church decided to stick with the Scouts even so is, at the very least, decent.

Because the way the world really works is that you will grow up to work alongside gay people in the office. You will live alongside gay people in your community. Yes, you will even worship alongside gay people at church. And you may even realize at some point that you, yourself, are a gay person. If you came of age in an organization that teaches you gay people must be shunned and feared, you are ill-equipped to live responsibly in the real world as a good citizen.

Scouting is at long last catching up to that fact.

I'll get to the bishops in another minute or so, I promise, but first I want to talk about lobbying churches for social change.

On one level, I truly do not understand why anyone would try. It has long been my point of view that, when you can't live with your church's teachings, you leave that church, and if you find that church's teachings harmful and morally repugnant enough, you try to encourage other unhappy people to leave that church too. That's an effort I spent several years of my life vocally engaged in, and which I still support.

Some churches are naturally more tolerant and progressive than others, and lobbying for change in how gay members are treated makes sense. But when it comes to behemoths like the LDS Church, which claims to have direct authority from God, it seems to me that efforts toward change from within are doomed. After all, if God said yesterday that homosexual behavior is a sin, and today he says that it is not, then all the power and authority it claims over its members is undermined—and the Mormon church wields a huge amount of power and authority over its members.

However, in the past couple of years it has begun to dawn on me why it's so important to agitate for change from within. Regardless of whether or not I think Mormonism is true, it is a the source of social attitudes for a significant number of people. If all the dissidents leave, then the church only consolidates its stranglehold on the people who stay. The only way to truly achieve broad change is to speak out, act boldly, and demand change from within. The more people's beliefs are challenged, the more they hear alternative voices speaking, the more ideas of tolerance and moderation spread. The culture within the church begins to soften.

We've already seen this start to happen, with the church essentially being forced to admit that simply being gay is not a sin. It's also worth pointing out that change has happened in the church many times in the past as a result of societal pressures, in everything from the practice of polygamy to the ordination of blacks to the removal of uncomfortable parts of the temple ceremonies.

Social and societal attitudes do matter within the Mormon church. They do bring about change, even if it's slow and small.

Which brings me to my challenge. I'd like to see brave gesture from a man who truly believes in tolerance that can demonstrate to the church that gay people are not to be feared. That gay people are welcome in church and in the community. That even if church doctrine doesn't fully embrace them, at least the kind, Christian people of the church can.

I don't expect to see same-sex couples getting married in Mormon temples any time soon. However, Mormon bishops can and do perform civil weddings in regular Mormon meetinghouses.

I would like to see a bishop stand up and become a hero for heresy—or let us call it "ceremonial disobedience" instead. I'd like to see this bishop become as much of a symbol for forward-looking tolerance and love as Kim Davis has become a symbol for reactionary retrenchment and hate.

The law does not compel churches to perform same-sex marriages. But it certainly now allows them to, if they want.

I want to see a Mormon bishop marry a same-sex couple in a Mormon church.

Maybe this has already happened. If so, I'd like to hear about it and publicize it.

If not, it needs to happen. What brave bishop will rise to the challenge? Who will stand up for what he knows deep-down is the right thing to do. The American thing to do. Who will show that Mormon church walls, rather than keeping the world out, are more suited to keeping hatred and division out instead?

Maybe it's Bishop Steve Smith of the Astoria Ward in Queens, New York, where I live. Maybe not. But maybe it should be. That would be cool.

Mormon same-sex couples—ask your bishop to marry you in a Mormon chapel. What can it hurt? And look how much it could help.

Bishops, find your hearts. Find some guts. Show us what you're made of.

I know you're out there, Bishop. We're all waiting to meet you.  

The Accidental Terrorist: Order Your Copy Now!

About the Book

What happens when an ambivalent young Mormon missionary is pushed to the limit in a challenge to prove his faith? Hint: the outcome is explosive. The Accidental Terrorist is the long-awaited memoir from Hugo and Nebula Award–nominated author William Shunn, based on his popular podcast. Available now from Sinister Regard!