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God And Man In California

Amid the Sturm und Drang that followed the passage of Proposition 8, I went to see UCSB Professor Richard Hecht to ask him a question about the supporters of the measure: What, exactly, is the theological basis for the ferocity with which so many Christians fought to take away the right of gay people to marry each other?

Professor Hecht, who teaches in the university's Religious Studies department, seems the ideal person to answer the question. Erudite, gracious and unaffected, he is a scholarly historian of the world's religions, an author and a popular teacher. I wanted to talk with him about Prop. 8 because I wanted to understand better why the people who worked so hard to pass the initiative cared so passionately about whether homosexuals marry each other or not.

Full disclosure: I'm a straight, old white guy, married with children, with no personal stake in the issue of gay marriage one way or the other. Some people who wrote comments on the Indie web site about my political analysis of Prop. 8 accused me of having an "agenda" that is "anti-religion." In fact, I'm a Catholic who happens to be agnostic on the subject of gay weddings.

As for my personal political view, I voted against Prop. 8. I did so, not because of any great principle, but because, not to put too fine a point on it: What do I care whether gay people get married or not? The notion of raising millions of dollars and working feverishly to undo a state Supreme Court decision that appears reasonably based on constitutional principles of equal protection under the law just seemed kind of, well, silly to me, and a monumental waste of time, energy and money that could be much better spent in addressing any number of social ills.

That said, I didn't cover the Prop. 8 campaign. I was focused on reporting and writing about the presidential race and the Jackson-Strickland state senate contest, and paid little more than peripheral attention to what was happening with the initiative. I knew that it had never led in a single independent poll, so when it passed, like a lot of other people, I was surprised.

As a political reporter, I was also at that point puzzled by the apparent contradiction of millions of Californians knocking down an historic barrier by voting for an African-American as president in the same election in which they voted to roll back the civil rights of another minority group.

So when I bumped into Hecht in the parking lot the Friday after the election, I asked him to tell me about the doctrinal Christian roots of banning gay marriage. He was hurrying to an appointment and told me to drop by his office around lunchtime on Monday.

When I did, he began by explaining how extraordinary he found it that Catholics, evangelical Protestants and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints would cooperate and work together closely, given their considerable theological differences and historic enmities.
"It's fascinating because what they put together is a very, very unlikely coalition," he said.

Then he deconstructed how the three religious practices came to the position of opposing gay marriage.

The Catholic Church explicitly condemns homosexuality in canon law, Hecht noted, which finds its source in parts of Mosaic Law, as stated in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, which also addresses idolatry, incest and other matters. Specifically, he cited Leviticus 18:22: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." He also recalled that some Catholic "priests who took a position against Prop. 8 were removed from the pulpit" by the church hierarchy.

The key issue for evangelical Protestants, Hecht said, was different. In the "evangelical, mythical imagination," the relationship between Adam and Eve, as described in the Book of Genesis, is not only the first marriage but also "the first human institution directly mandated by God," he said.

"These people are living in a world where the Bible has complete authority," he added. "If you take this away, you are taking away the connection between man and God. They don't see that they are discriminating (against gays) because the state cannot overrule the direct, divine, institution of marriage."

For Hecht, Mormons represent the most intriguing aspect of the religious coalition that led the fight for Proposition 8. In his view, the major role played by Mormons seemed more a matter of politics than of religion.

He noted that Thomas Spencer Monson, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Prophet, assumed the church's chief leadership position only last February. This was at the same time when Mitt Romney was running as the first prominent presidential contender who was a Mormon.

As part of his candidacy, Romney delivered a much-publicized address on religion to evangelical Protestant leaders, a key constituency of the Republican Party, in which he sought to emphasize the common ground between Mormons and evangelicals. The speech fell flat, and not long after, Romney ran poorly in most of the GOP primaries in which he competed. Later, as many political observers were speculating that John McCain would select Romney as his running mate, McCain instead chose Sarah Palin.

"There was a cumulative effect Romney rejected by the evangelicals, Romney rejected by the public, Romney rejected for vice president," Hecht told me. "Here was a capable and decent man of their church who kept being disqualified."

Hecht theorizes that the disappointment over Romney, when coupled with the desire to repair collateral damage to the church inflicted by the Texas and Warren Jeff polygamy scandals involving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, led Monson to calculate that taking an active role in the "sanctity of marriage" campaign in California could help the "outcast" Mormons build bridges to more mainstream faith communities and repair their image.

"The new prophet has to put his ship in order," he said. "I think he saw Prop. 8 as a battle where they could prove their loyalty to their (potential) allies, the evangelical Protestants, on the same issue. They saw this as an issue of, 'we have to prove our citizenship.'"

Hecht finds the Mormon focus on the "sanctity of marriage" somewhat paradoxical, given the church's history of God-sanctioned polygamy, as set forth in Section 132 of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants of the LDS; the section was later rescinded, and the church now officially supports monogamous marriage.

"Prop. 8 was a way to counter the public perception of one component of their historic theology," he said.

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Due to a spamming problem, we had to repost this article: Here are the original comments:


Posted by billclausen on November 13 at 5:56 p.m.

Mormons have been guilty of twisting the Bible around for their own purposes just as Episcopals, ELCA Lutherans, and other liberal churches have to suit their agendas.

Posted by hank on November 14 at 10:07 a.m.

Bill, libreralism, conservatism, progressivism, ALL twist writings, doctrine, whatever to further their cause.
We're all humans, we all do it to a degree or so. It is simply human nature.
Even when Karl Marx sought to eliminate religion by stating that "religion is the opiate of the masses" he invoked religion by twisting aspects of religion to further a Marxist agenda. Look what that got him: A failing model of government that collapsed before it even started.
We can blame religion for the passage of prop 8 all we want, until we're blue in the face, but that won't change the fact that a little over 1/2 of CA's people voted for it out of simple human nature.
Instead of focusing on the religious aspects behind the passage of prop 8, focus should be payed to the failures of the no on 8 side.
These failures include (& again I say it) the Honorable Gavin Newsom's taunt "It's gonna happen... Whether you like it or not!" which was WAY effective for the yes on 8 side.
This kind of thing WILL come up again on the ballot. The thing is how will voters remember the no on 8 side?
Here's a funny thing: They protested churches & temples for the passage of prop 8, but the protesters didn't DARE set foot in East L.A. or Watts to protest the fact that it was a minority pushed vote that passed prop 8.
As I've said before, religion is a WAY easy target or escapegoat. Sure, it played into this whole thing, but it comes down to the human component (regardless of religious denomination, sect or belief) & that's something that even God would probably tell you is as unpredictable as it gets :) henry


Posted by Jon Williams on November 14 at 1:34 p.m.

Thanks for the insight, Jerry.

I've thought of sponsoring a ballot initiative amending the state constitution to declare "nothing can be called a refrigerator that isn't large, white and heavy." Almond and avocado will be out, as will dorm-sized units that, despite the fact they keep food cold, are much smaller and lighter weight than Frigidaire ever imagined them to be.

Yes, anyone should be able to walk into Sears and ask for something in hunter green that will, by means of cooling, delay the spoilage of comestibles and drink. But by God don't call it a refrigerator!

Posted by Joan on November 14 at 6:08 p.m.

Well, I am fully in favor of restoring traditional marriage, and I do mean in the biblical sense. Those ancient Hebrews sure had wonderful marriages! A man could have several wives, concubines, and slaves then - fun! Wouldn't it be great to have a 16-year old concubine join my family? As soon as she got her driving license, she could drive my son around to sports practices, cook dinner for me, and fill in for me when I "have a headache." We're looking at a free nanny here who costs little more than room and board! I could focus on my career and leave all the home-making to mini-wife. The ancient Hebrews had it right until Jesus came and messed it up - telling women that divorces aren't valid and they shouldn't get remarried after their husbands die. Hmmm, I wonder why Jesus's actual words didn't make it into the wording of Prop 8? To really restore traditional marriage, we'd have to outlaw divorce, start allowing stonings of those "naughty" girls who didn't obey their men, especially sluts who get - gasp - remarried! Let's get biblical, folks! Gotta get back to the good old days :)

Posted by Jim on November 18 at 3:32 p.m.

A couple of points:
1. For a group that is so quick to accuse others of "hate", I have seldom been around a group that outwardly expresses more hate than the "No on 8" crowd. Why all the name calling? Reasonable people can have a debate without calling each other names. I have yet to discuss the issue with a single "No on 8" supporter, who did not resort to name calling. I have many gay friends, I am not intolerant, I am not a bigot and I don't hate anyone. We just disagree. Can I explain why? Apparently not.

  1. The bible is clear about homosexuality. The behavior is forbidden. The person is loved, the behavior is condemned. Christ fulfilled the law of Moses, so don't try to relate it to not eating shellfish, etc and picking and choosing what Christians believe. Those who try to explain that the scriptures do not mean what they explicitly say, are rationalizing. It is not a phobia, it is an opinion.

  2. A civil right is not granted for a "behavior". There is enough scientific data now to make a convincing argument that homosexuality is a behavior and a person is not "born that way". How else do you explain the tens of thousands who have been "cured" of homosexuality and are living in happy heterosexual relationships. Same sex attraction is certainly present in humans in a very small percentage of the population. Acting on that attraction is a choice. It is not equivalent to skin color or gender. An obvious point of disagreement among reasonable people. But the gay lobby has been very effective in limiting the argument to civil rights, when in fact, the argument is a non-starter for many. And if a person disagrees, they are likened to the bigots of the fifties who discriminated against blacks.

  3. Professor Hecht obviously knows little about Mormon theology or doctrine. Monson, as the leader of the Church, opposed Prop. 8 for purely theological reasons. Go to the Church web site and read the "Proclamation on the Family". The Mormons are the faith in America that is the least concerned with mainstreaming. Also, as a faith, they do what they perceive God has told them to do through a Prophet. Hmm, sounds familiar, name any Old Testament Prophet. Mormons equate their Prophet with any Old Testament Prophet. So, the prophet says its time for polygamy. They do it. Then he says, its time to stop polygamy. They stop. Whatever God commands is right at the time. Agree or disagree, that is the Mormon faith. So, to say that Mormon focus on the "sanctity of marriage" is somewhat paradoxical, given the church's history of God-sanctioned polygamy, is just wrong.

4. Agree or disagree with the Mormons, it is wrong to target them for protest. Protest will never change the theology of the Mormons. It will, however, draw like minded people to them. They are reporting a large increases in missionary contacts since the protests began.

Posted by smef on November 21 at 6:57 p.m.

Anyone who believes in a magic man in the sky who makes it all happens and watches over the "chosen" or the "saved" is, by definition a fool. As I understand "the rapture" all those who believe in Jesus will go away, leaving the rest of us behind. I call that a win-win.
The anger the yes on 8 folks engender comes from this: Having a majority vote to discriminate against a group of people is the principle behind the Nuremberg laws that made Jews wear yellow stars of David and made homosexuals wear pink triangles and made gypsies and communists and "mental defectives" and anyone else the Nazis didn't like eligible for slave labor camps and summary execution. This is why those of us who believe in equality get a bit angry when these christers say "we can disagree, but be nice." When it comes to someone saying a certain group of people is less than human, I don't play nice.
The moron who believes there is plenty of scientific evidence proving that homosexuality is a choice must be using the same "scientists" who are pushing alternatives to evolution. That is not science. As the late Senator Moynahan said, "Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts."
It's also classic religious tactics to try to blame the colored people, or any group the christers can label as "the Other." It sure worked for Hitler.
If if follows the state constitution, the California Supreme Court will overturn Prop 8, because taking away a group of people's rights, granted them under the equal protection clause of that constitution would be a revision, and you need more than a majority vote of the people to revise the state constitution. I have no doubt these religious fascists will keep pushing their agenda, while they keep abusing and divorcing their wives, molesting their children and hating anyone who doesn't bow down to their religious nonsense.
They should just stay home and pray for the rapture.

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