Mormon letter

Ash Wednesday, 2000

President Gordon Bitner Hinckley
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
47 East South Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84150

Dear Gordon:

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the penitential season of Lent and focus, more than any other day of the year, on our sins, the sins of the Church, and the sins of society. What a fitting coincidence that this day should come immediately following the tragic vote of the people of California to uphold the Limit on Marriage Initiative, our Proposition 22.

Like you, I have international responsibility in my church’s ministry. I travel frequently representing the Ecumenical Catholic Church. Many people envy me for being a native of the great state of California. Today I am ashamed of my state and am not sure I would call it “great.” I was shocked and profoundly disappointed that 61% of our supposedly enlightened populace would have voted in favor of this hateful initiative.

I am further ashamed as a Christian. Our denomination (which is not the same as the larger Roman Catholic Church) has vigorously opposed Proposition 22, as have many of the mainline Protestant denominations. Nonetheless, the public perception has been that the Church was the prime sponsor. This is why I am writing to you, dear brother.

The perception has been that the LDS church was the primary source of the “Protect Marriage” signs that blossomed all over our state like poisonous mushrooms, looking innocent but containing a deadly venom. There is no logic to the premise that marriage can be protected by limiting it to heterosexual couples. Therefore, these signs had the emotional impact of telling gay people, including many of my own flock, that their neighbors abhorred them.

Even if the people with these signs had a noble intent, causing people to feel rejected was a sin. Proposition 22 was one of the ugliest chapters in the history of the modern Church. Our job as chief pastors is to spread the Gospel. Supporting Proposition 22 did just the opposite. It told people they were not fully loved by God.

I find it especially odd, and even hypocritical, that the LDS church would have taken such an active role in this issue. I remember in high school history class learning about the persecution of the Mormons because of polygamy. I remember even then feeling how terribly un-American and un-Christian that persecution was. Whether or not you, I, or the contemporary LDS church accepts polygamy is not the issue. Brigham Young and his people clearly did, and the government should never have interfered with their practice of their religion.

You must know that many Christian churches are coming to the realization that God’s grace flows equally well in same-sex couples as in different-sex couples. The issue is working its way through the church courts of several major denominations. It is not the government’s place to determine the validity of sacraments, and it is wrong for the people of California to have voted in this restriction. I know that eventually America will realize that legally recognizing same-sex marriage is actually the true pro-family position. Many Christians of many denominations continue to work toward that goal.

Marriage is continuing to evolve, as it always has throughout history. There is nothing new about same-sex marriage; it was known in ancient and medieval times. Furthermore, today’s common perception of a “traditional marriage” would hardly be recognized even two or three hundred years ago, when marriage was virtually never based upon love, but upon families establishing business alliances or stronger households. It is never constructive for us as leaders of God’s people to hold back the wisdom of God’s hand as our society grows, becomes more tolerant, and celebrates its diversity. On the other hand, we should always be there ready to extend the hand of love in the Name of God.

That is what evangelism is all about.

And so, Brother Gordon, I pray that you will become enlightened and lead your people forward on this issue. This recent battle of truth has been lost in California, but it is just one small struggle. Justice and equality will keep demanding our society to change until the day comes when all loving couples will be able to celebrate their love and have it recognized in the community as a good and blessed thing. God already does bless them. Now it is time for the Church to bless them and for their neighbors to celebrate them as well. That is what “family values” are all about. Your people view you as a prophet, and I ask you to truly pray about this issue. Ask God to enlighten you so that you can enlighten many. God will then show you that He has blessed the world with gay people throughout history. God will show you that Ruth & Naomi and David & Jonathan were vibrant biblical examples of love. God will show you that there are many loving gay couples in your own denomination aching and longing for the loving acceptance of their church. God will show you how gay marriages have been blessings to the Kingdom and the world, even when unrecognized let alone celebrated. And finally, God will show you that the Church is called to champion truth, justice, and equality for all in the eyes of the state.

I am sorry the LDS church took the mistaken stand that it did. But I do believe that God’s Love conquers all and forgives mistakes. The issue did not go away on March 7 in California. Like a spring flower striving to break through the desert ground, truth and justice will finally prevail. All marriages, both same-sex and different-sex, will ultimately be recognized in our free society. The Church is called to be a beacon of Truth. Please join us on the right side of this struggle.

I would be happy to discuss this important issue and assist you as you work for greater understanding. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience.

Grace and Peace,

The Most Rev. Mark S. Shirilau, Ph.D.
Archbishop and Primate
The Ecumenical Catholic Church