Might the LDS Church be okay with a more inclusive policy on gay Scouts and leaders?

Sketch of three Boy Scouts in an animated conversationA few days ago, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that it was considering changing its policy to allow local Scout-sponsoring organizations to make their own decisions on whether or not to ban gay Scouts and leaders from their troops. Wednesday, after pressure to delay the decision from several scouting organizations, most notably the Great Salt Lake Council in Utah, the BSA decided to delay the decision until its annual meeting in May 2013.

There has been speculation that much of the pressure on the BSA came from the LDS Church, but apparently, not so. In a news release issued Thursday, the church said that it had not yet taken a position on the proposed policy change, and denied that it had been involved in any effort to prevent such a change. It encouraged people “not to speculate about our position or to assume that individual Latter-day Saints inside or outside the Scouting movement speak for the Church.”

There is a good chance that the LDS Church’s eventual position on the BSA’s proposed change might surprise us. A few years ago, the LDS Church baffled many conservative Mormons by supporting two city ordinances in Salt Lake City that prohibited housing discrimination against gays and lesbians. And just Thursday, conservative Mormons had further reason to be baffled when it was reported that the LDS Church was quietly seeking to extend Salt Lake City’s anti-housing-discrimination protections statewide throughout Utah. I suspect that Mormon clergy overall tend to be more sympathetic toward LGBT issues than many of the rank-and-file. I think this is true of most churches. It is difficult to be overly judgmental and dismissive of people you actually know, who are in your flock and for whom you have a duty to love and serve. One might imagine that it was his prior service as a bishop and Stake president that influenced 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney to come out in opposition to the BSA’s ban on gay Scouts.

The BSA’s proposed policy change actually squares with current LDS policy on sexual orientation. Openly gay and lesbian Mormons are officially welcome within LDS congregations, even in leadership positions or as full-time missionaries, as long as they remain celibate. For example, Mitch Mayne, an openly gay Mormon, was called in 2011 to serve in an LDS bishopric in San Francisco. In the LDS Church, being a Scout leader is essentially a church leadership calling. There does not appear to be any official prohibition on the calling of celibate gay or lesbian Scout leaders in the LDS Church, or the participation of gay scouts.

If the LDS Church does not intend to discriminate against celibate gay or lesbian boys and leaders, then the current BSA policy is problematic. The current BSA policy is one of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” So gay Scouts and leaders can remain in the organization as long as they are closeted. But when the come out, they are expelled from Scouting regardless of whether or not they are celibate. Thus, while a Mormon Scouting troop might want to include a celibate, openly-gay boy as a member, the BSA would not currently allow that.

My sense is that the LDS Church wants to have complete control over whatever accommodation it decides to make on the issue of sexual orientation of Scouts and Scout leaders. In a previous post, I suggested that if the LDS Church were required not to discriminate against openly-gay Scouts and leaders, that the church might part ways with Scouting. However, I don’t think that is the case so long as the LDS Church can frame its own policy, so that celibacy, rather than closetedness, becomes the criterion for admission of gays and lesbians to the Scouting program.

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Mormonism and Ayn Rand

Art Deco design of an Ayn Rand postage stampObjectivist writer Ayn Rand has been in the news recently because in 2005, Romney VP pick Paul Ryan said that Rand was “[t]he reason I got involved in public service.” Although Ryan has recently tried to distance himself from Rand, by all indications, he was a Randite as late as 2009, when he argued that “Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism.” As far as I can tell, nobody knows whether or not Mitt Romney agrees with Rand’s “moral” view of capitalism, but it is worth considering whether there is any place for the ideas of Ayn Rand in the Mormon worldview. I don’t think there is.

In many ways, Ayn Rand’s views as a whole are incompatible not just with Mormonism, but with all religion, as she was an atheist who rejected all forms of religion and altruism. Her philosophy was self-centered: the only morality, in her view, was the promotion of heroic self interest. She earnestly embodied the philosophy expressed by Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street that “greed is good.”

Despite the presence of anti-Christian elements within Rand’s philosophy, right-leaning Christians such as Paul Ryan and many others have overlooked Rand’s anti-altruism and strident atheism to embrace the “greed is good” part of her philosophy as a moral justification for capitalism. Undoubtedly, Mitt Romney is an altruist, as evidenced by his years of unpaid service in the LDS Church. I have no reason to think that Paul Ryan is not altruistic as well. But it is possible to be an altruist in specific circumstances yet also believe that as a general principle, the rational pursuit of individual gain and self interest is a form of morality.

Although Rand’s philosophy does not seem to have made a huge impact among Mormons, there are undoubtedly at least some Mormon Randians. Interestingly, it appears, based on partially-redacted data available on the LDS church website new.familysearch.org, that some of her fans have probably proxy baptized her into the Latter-day Saint faith. I suspect that some Mormons may be drawn to Randianism because a large fraction of Mormons happen to be conservative libertarians, and Rand provided a kind of “theology” for this corner of the political spectrum.

But it seems difficult to square Rand’s philosophy with Mormon scripture. The faith’s founding scripture, the Book of Mormon, frequently condemns those who “set their hearts upon their riches.” (Hel. 13:20). The book warns, “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.” (2 Nephi 9:30). The pursuit of wealth, and the class pride of the wealthy over the poor, are repeatedly cited as the reason for religious apostasy, environmental disaster, and military defeat. The book envisions an ideal, utopian state as one where “they had all things in common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor.” (4 Ne. 1:3). Nothing seems further from the anti-collectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, who wrote, “This miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before! I do not surrender my treasures, nor do I share them. The fortune of my spirit is not to be blown into coins of brass and flung to the winds as alms for the poor of spirit.” (Anthem).

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Jon Stewart: Mormon Mo’ Problems

Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart had a lengthy segment on Mitt Romney and how conservative evangelical attitudes about his Mormonism have suddenly been “born again” (my characterization) now that Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee. After noting that liberals, now, are taking issue with elements of his Mormonism, such as the fact that black men could not join the Latter-day Saint priesthood until 1978, Stewart ended the segment with the following point:

It’s not like Mitt Romney will pursue policies that are unfair to black people because he’s a Mormon. He’ll do that because he’s a Republican.

Whether or not one agrees with Stewart’s political sentiment, his underlying point is a serious one: Romney’s political policies, should he become president, are not going to be governed by the fact that he is Mormon. In the United States, there are Mormon Democrats, Mormon Republicans, Mormon libertarians, and Mormon anarchists. There are racist Mormons, Mormon civil rights activists, Mormon homophobes, LGBT Mormons, feminist Mormons, and patriarchal Mormons. For every doctrine such as the pre-1978 racial ban, there are Mormons both pro and con. Thus, we cannot look to decade’s old Mormon doctrinal embarrassments as a reliable indicator about what kind of president he would be.

That said, I don’t think anybody really knows what kind of president Romney would make. He was one kind of governor of Massachusetts, and quite another candidate during the Republican primaries in 2008 and 2012. As the centrist governor of Massachusetts, he was certainly to the left of the majority of U.S. Mormons. But did he have a change of heart in 2008 that turned him from a centrist into a doctrinaire conservative? Is there anything within Mormonism that would prompt such an about-face?

Generally speaking, pious Mormons often drift from conservative to liberal. Sometimes, it happens at college, when the Mormon become open to a different perspective from that taught by his or her conservative parents. Sometimes, it happens in conjunction with a crisis of faith, when Mormons come to believe that the LDS Church is not what they thought it was, after reading things on the internet. Sometimes Mormons who grew up in ultra-conservative Utah or Idaho move elsewhere and learn to see things differently. I have heard of rare cases in which liberal “cultural Mormons” turn conservative in conjunction with a return to a church-going state. But what would make an already-pious Mormon shift from a more liberal persuasion to a hard conservatism?

The fact that I can’t think of a mechanism for such a “conversion” to hard conservatism by a pious Mormon makes me wonder whether Romney is really as rightist as he now portrays himself to be. Or maybe, in Massachusetts, he was pretending to be moderate, while harboring a closet conservatism.