I’ve already posted about why the church in its insular little way can benefit from their opposition to Prop 8, but in the long term, this is a watershed for the church, and not in a good way.
A lot of you are too young to remember the fight over the ERA. Just as now, the church got heavily involved in the campaign to defeat the amendment. They did the same kind of scare tactics: equal rights for women would destroy traditional families and would result in the destruction of the nuclear family and in turn society.
Church members who disagreed with the church’s position were demonized and excommunicated. Reading Sonia Johnson’s speeches and columns from that time, they seem pretty tame. But Sonia Johnson is still held up in Mormon circles as a sort of whacked-out Satanic figure.
But the difference back then was that the wider society wasn’t quite ready for the ERA. People were, to put it bluntly, much more conservative socially back then, despite the sexual revolution. The Mormon church was solidly in the middle of the “moral majority.” As maligned as Falwell et al., were, they were genuine power brokers in the Republican party.
Today, the religious right is still deeply entrenched in the GOP, but it is no longer respectable in the wider culture, so there are no real counterparts to the Falwells and Schlaflys of the late 70s. Instead, there is the insular world of talk radio. But Rush and Hannity and Glenn Beck do not have the organizing power to make themselves much of a political force. The religious right was just powerful enough to scuttle Mitt Romney’s campaign, but it wasn’t strong enough to prevent McCain’s. The Mormons should have learned that their political allies are few and fickle.
Simply put, the wider culture has moved on, and I suspect that the wording of the ERA would be pretty uncontroversial today. Likewise, American culture has been moving slowly towards tolerance of gays and lesbians.
But the LDS church still thinks it’s back in the 70s. It continues to use the heavy-handed tactics of the seventies: the fear-mongering, the siege mentality, and the demonization of their opponents in and out of the church. They actually think that a shipment of Chinese yard signs will be enough to awaken the moral majority again.
Even if Prop 8 wins, the church loses in the long run. It has forever wedded itself to reactionary social politics. When missionaries knock on doors, not just in California, a lot of people will think, “Oh, these are the people who hate gays.” Likewise, the ubiquitous PSAs about “family, isn’t it about time?” will fall flat because people know what kinds of families they are talking about.
Also, a small minority of the church membership seems to be more than a little appalled at the church’s position and heavy-handed tactics. For a lot of people, questioning whether the church is out of step with reality might be the final impetus to get them to question everything about the church.
Civilization is passing Mormonism by, and someday, the church will see that, probably when it’s too late.