I pay close attention to the Church and its leadership.  I take careful note of what is said, and by whom.  The closer you listen, the clearer the Church’s methods and means become.  They really don’t take a great deal of effort to conceal things.

The Church is quite important to me.  It deserves my careful study.  Therefore I do not mind giving it the attention which it requires to understand what the Church is doing to cope with the various pressures, trends, and difficulties it encounters daily.

The Church’s study of public opinion is so careful, so well done, and so frequently updated, that in his October, 2006 General Conference talk, Elder Jeffrey Holland made the following observation:

“Not often but over the years some sources have suggested that the Brethren are out of touch in their declarations, that they don’t know the issues, that some of their policies and practices are out-of-date, not relevant to our times. As the least of those who have been sustained by you to witness the guidance of this Church firsthand, I say with all the fervor of my soul that never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth.”

This statement was based upon the Church’s on-going public relations survey taking, opinion polling, and focus group studies.  When I attended a valley wide leadership meeting, at which Elder Russell Ballard spoke, he mentioned that from the Church Office Building he had watched focus group discussions the day before which came in by video feeds from Chicago, Seattle, and several other cities (whose locations I do not recall).

When the Church changed its position and supported the same-sex attraction ordinance in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago, the Church’s spokesman made the following public announcement of the Church’s reasons for the change: 
“There are going to be gay advocates who don’t think we’ve gone nearly far enough, and people very conservative who think we’ve gone too far; the vast majority of people are between those polar extremes and we think that’s going to resonate with people on the basis of fair-mindedness.” 

This is the language of opinion polling.  The words “going to resonate with people on the basis of fair-mindedness” are the words of social sciences.  The decision was not a “revelation” but a change in position based upon the polling which showed the position change could be safely made.  The Salt Lake Tribune made the following report on January 30, 2010:
“When Salt Lake City embraced anti-discrimination ordinances for gay and transgender residents last fall — snagging a landmark endorsement by the LDS Church and widespread support from city officials — more shifted than public policy. Public opinion — throughout Utah — jumped, too. Support for some gay rights, short of marriage, climbed 11 percentage points across the state from a year ago, according to a new Salt Lake Tribune poll, and shot up by 10 percent among Mormons. Two-thirds of Utahns (67 percent) favor employment protections and safeguards for same-sex couples such as hospital visitation and inheritance rights, up from 56 percent in January 2009, when pollsters asked the same question. (This year’s survey of 625 frequent Utah voters has an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points; last year’s was 4.5 percent.) Opposition dropped, overall, from 40 percent to 23 percent. Among LDS respondents, it plummeted from 48 percent to 28 percent. ‘This isn’t a gradual change of attitudes. This is a fairly dramatic jump,’ says Matthew Burbank, chairman of the University of Utah’s political science department. ‘Clearly, the fact that the LDS Church was officially endorsing this position had an impact on people.’ A similar number of respondents, 66 percent, also say they support expanding Salt Lake City’s anti-discrimination policy — the first of its kind in Utah and already mimicked in Salt Lake County—throughout the state.”

6 thoughts on “Slippery

  1. Mr. Snuffer:

    First, let me introduce myself. My name is Elijah Lawrence, I’m a 3L at the “classless” law school to the north, and I’m trying to be like Jesus. I don’t intend to practice law when I graduate but I have a deep respect for good attorneys.

    I was introduced to your writings by my uncle, Brian Black. I’ve read The Second Comforter, and am reading Beloved Enos, and both have triggered new thoughts for me, so I consider them to be good.

    I have a couple questions regarding your assessment of the churches support for ordinances providing employment, housing, and other rights to gays. I understand you are busy and I don’t want to further take you away from your family and work, so if time doesn’t allow it please don’t feel inclined to respond.

    Question 1: Why do you feel the church has changed its position by supporting this recent ordinance? I actually had an institute teacher say the same thing to me two weeks ago. I have yet to read any statement by the church opposing legislation which allows gays housing, employment, and other rights. My understanding was that the church was and is opposed to gay marriage, but beyond that nothing was ever articulated by the church. I know many members interpreted that to mean granting any rights to gays was in conflict with the church’s position, but I think that was based on a misunderstanding by church members. Is there a particular statement from the church opposing legislation affording such rights to gays?
    I agree with you that any state that passes such legislation is tacitly acknowledging sexual orientation as a protected class, which makes it difficult to then argue that prohibiting gay marriage is constitutional.

    Question 2: If (maybe when is the more realistic word given the current trends around the nation) the Supreme Court ends up ruling that laws restricting marriage to only a man and women violate the Equal Protection clause, why do you think the church will be required to perform sealings for homosexuals? My humble understanding (and it is humble – I’m a lowly 3L) of constitutional law is that such a ruling by the Supreme Court would merely force state actors to perform civil marriages to any who requested one. The church would still be free to restrict entrance into the temple to those worthy according to church standards, and limit the sealing ordinance to heterosexual unions. Isn’t it the case that even if the church had not lifted the ban on the priesthood and continued to deny the priesthood to blacks that it would be in the church’s legal prerogative to do so? Again, my knowledge of constitutional law is limited, and I’m excited to see you engaging these issues.

    All the best, and thank you for Beloved Enos–it is my “escape” from my law textbooks. =)


  2. Although I don’t like the idea personally of ever endorsing using government coercion (force) to make landlords give housing to whoever applies, I have to say that I would find it impressive IF the Church made this decision because they believed it was the right thing to do in spite of and in the face of possible future consequences. They (the leaders of the Church) are so careful about whatever they do, I find it impossible to believe that they haven’t already considered the consequences you’ve pointed out. Do you think it’s possible that rather than trying to please the greater masses of public opinion, they are trying to do what they believe is right and true? Granted, Elder Ballard’s statement doesn’t sound that way, but their decision doesn’t make sense to me unless they are attempting to do the right thing. I would find it refreshing to see the Church just do the right thing and not make this a strategic move in the never ending game of chess with Babylon.

  3. Gia Đình Vĩnh Cửu:

    Your uncle baptized me. Therefore you must hold him to account for all the mischief which has followed in the wake of that ordinance. He is one of my dearest friends.

    I taught Institute to the UofU law students for two years. It was a great experience. I still have some of those former students contact me from time to time.

    As to Q1: The Church told us why they changed their position to support legislation. I quoted the statement in the post. They believe it will “resonate on the basis of fundamental fairness” and will only be opposed by those on either end of the spectrum. Significantly, the Church did NOT say this was a matter of either inspiration or revelation. It was a change in policy to the extent that the Church had never supported such legislation before. Done for the reasons they explained. If they want to amend or supplement the explanation, they can obviously do so and then I will respect that additional statement. But in the absence of a further explanation, they said why they did it and I accept their explanation. The Church had been quite clear their opposition was as to marriage. Their silence on other “rights” was something which would not allow someone to read into, or out of the silence any meaning other than the Church opposed same-sex marriage. I don’t impute motive when there is no basis to do so. But it was a change to support the ordinance, and the meaning which can be read into it is the meaning the Church itself gave for the change.

    Q2: I do not think coming successes by the homosexual community in the Courts will necessarily extend to Temple sealings (at least not at first). But if the Church retains the ability to perform civil marriages, then in my view the progression of the argument will result at some point in the Church not being permitted to use that authority discriminatorily. So LDS Bishops will be permitted (read that required once the Courts have finished ruling on the various claims of discrimination) to perform civil marriages/unions for homosexual unions. The challenge for the litigators seeking to use the law to change social norms, once the door is opened, is merely to put the legal issue to be decided by the Court in the right way so as to compel compliance.

  4. Brother Snuffer:

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you on one point. First, I agree completely that it isn’t clear whether the church received inspiration or revelation regarding its support of housing and employment rights for homosexuals.

    My point of contention with your statement is in your characterization of what the church has done as a change in its position. Maybe I’m trying to be to charitable to the church, but I find nothing incongruous in the church condemning same-sex marriage and at the same time promoting legislation affording gays employment and housing rights. I actually had this debate with some of my buddies in law school back when prop 8 was being promoted. I reasoned that Utah’s legislature could afford housing and employment and similar rights to gays and still condemn same-sex marriage, because all the church has ever said is that it is against gay marriage.

    The interesting/tricky issue for opponents of same-sex marriage, as you mentioned, is that by affording some rights to homosexuals the church and legislatures around the nation are tacitly if not explicitly acknowledging sexual orientation as a protected class. This will make it difficult to later argue that sexual orientation is not a protected class and that marriage can be denied homosexual couples without offending the equal protection clause.



  5. Leading by opinion polls and focus groups is what politicians and corporations do. I signed up for a church that leads by inspiration and intelligence from the Spirit.

    The Church didn’t simply encourage California members to vote on Prop 8 to deny marriage rights to gays, but actively encouraged them to give money and be vocal activists. It seems to me that the Church’s quick turnabout really left those people hung out to dry after putting themselves on the line. If the members there put their necks on the line, could the leadership not do the same?

    I agree with Elijah: the gay movement will not stop at equal housing and employment rights. They will want it all, and the church giving way certainly looked like it caved. The gay activists will be back, you’ll see, and once same-sex marriages are legal everywhere, temple marriage will be in their sights.

    The homosexual issue is a direct attack on the moral foundation of Christianity. It’s ripped apart other churches and they’ll see to it that it rips ours apart.

    But I suppose that will be the subject of another focus group.

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