Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

Joanna Brooks’ fine essay
on Elder Marlin Jensen’s apology for…well, we’ll get to that…at a
meeting of 90 members of the Oakland, CA stake (diocese) points to
ongoing uncertainty about the role of the LDS Church in public life
these days. Jensen’s a lovely guy (I’ve had dinner with him a couple of
times), and that very rare bird: a Mormon General Authority who says
he’s a Democrat. That he should go to Oakland to hear firsthand the
distress of gay and pro-gay rights Saints is at once no surprise and
something remarkable under the Mormon sun, given the extraordinary
lengths Salt Lake went to mobilize its California troops on behalf of
Proposition 8 in 2008. What gives?

Exactly what Jensen apologized for is not entirely clear. Brooks quotes
one attendee who reported his words as follows: “To the full extent of
my capacity, I say that I am sorry . . . I know
that many very good people have been deeply hurt, and I know that the
Lord expects better of us.” Certainly, Jensen wasn’t apologizing for the
church’s stance on same-sex marriage–his capacity doesn’t extend that
far. But to say that God expects better of “us”–the Mormon people? the
LDS leadership?–suggests that he was doing more than a perfunctory
“sorry to have offended you.” Whether or not, as Brooks hypothesizes,
the church may be shifting its ground a bit on the issue, Jensen’s
appearance suggests a clear recognition that its Prop. 8 campaign was
not a good thing.

Since February 2008, when Thomas Monson assumed the presidency of the
church after the death of Gordon Hinckley, maladroitness has pretty much
been the norm for Mormonism in the public square. Besides Prop. 8, Mitt
Romney’s presidential run, the senatorial fortunes of Harry Reid and
Bob Bennett, the Glenn Beck phenomenon, anti-immigrant legislation–all
these have presented the church with challenges it has not seemed to
know how to handle. Hinckley was a master religious politician; Monson,
not so much–and indeed, barely a public presence at all.

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