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A Culture of Bullying

Timothy Kincaid

November 12th, 2008

Today at the El Coyote meeting I had the fortuity to sit at the table of someone who had at one time been the editor of a prominent national gay magazine. He told me a story which I find both believable and relevant.

Some years ago, this magazine sent two persons under cover to Evergreen, the Mormon ex-gay ministry. One had participated before and was thus vetted, the other was his friend.

At the conclusion of their efforts, the news magazine wrote up their experiences. And that’s when the Mormon legal team became engaged. My tablemate told me that there were two New York law firms that swung into action. They made it perfectly clear that the merits of the story were irrelevant; the church would bankrupt the magazine with legal fees.

I can say with certainty that my attitude about members – and especially leaders – of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has changed dramatically in the past six months. And not for the better.

I’ve not seen one individual – within or without the church – whose life has been made better because of the meddling of the Mormon Church’s leadership in the political arena.

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Joel
November 12th, 2008 | LINK

“At the conclusion of their efforts, the news magazine wrote up their experiences. And that’s when the Mormon legal team became engaged. My tablemate told me that there were two New York law firms that swung into action. They made it perfectly clear that the merits of the story were irrelevant; the church would bankrupt the magazine with legal fees.”
Huh… How is that even possible?
Sounds a bit far fetched imo.

Emily K
November 12th, 2008 | LINK

DID the mag go bankrupt?

Michael
November 12th, 2008 | LINK

Companies, and individuals quite often defeat their opponents by burying them in legal fees. Its not hard for a large entity with major funds to financially take out a smaller party (lets say a small gay magazine)by creating a case that would be far to expensive for the smaller party to afford. This is not far fetched at all, it is done all the time.

cd
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

Suing with a design to bankrupt rather than prevail in court is a technique first practiced by Scientology. Seems like the LDS learned quickly.

Aaron
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

So, wait. Wait. A journalist for a gay magazine infiltrated a Mormon group under false pretenses, then wrote a big expose. The LDS Church, feeling swindled, threatened to sue the publisher.

That’s a “culture of bullying”?

It’s bullying to involve lawyers in a potential libel case…but it’s not bullying to extort the owner of El Coyote into making an “ongoing contribution” to gay support groups, or to demand that she “stay home” from her own restaurant lest she offend gay diners with her religious beliefs?

In both cases, you’ve got angry, threatened groups (the LDS Church, the gay community) who want to send a message — “You can’t get away with being unfair” — and are looking for legal-but-ruthless ways to do it. If one’s bullying, they both are.

“I’ve not seen one individual — within or without the church — whose life has been made better because of the meddling of the Mormon Church’s leadership in the political arena.”

Mormon leadership sent thousands of volunteers into Katrina-ravaged areas while FEMA was still sputtering. When an earthquake rocked the Chinese province of Sichuan this summer, the church directed 600 volunteers to make emergency kits for victims. A couple months ago, they partnered with a French non-profit to construct a pipeline and provide clean water for Congolese villages.

These are political, humanitarian efforts that involve partnering with domestic and foreign governments. Generalizations are tempting, man, but the truth is, innumerable lives are better worldwide because of the Mormon church’s money and manpower.

Tavdy
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

Aaron, the situation with El Coyote isn’t quite the same.

LGBTAs boycotting the El Coyote are doing so because they don’t want their money to go towards organisations opposed to equal rights. LGBTAs are exercising their right to express their opinion; you’ll find it under ther Free Speech clause of the First Amendment since you’re presumably not familiar with the concept. El Coyote’s owner is not losing her first amendment rights however – she’s losing profits earned from customers whose trust she betrayed.

What the LDS church did to the magazine is significantly different. They threatened a lawsuit in a successful effort to prevent the magazine’s owners and staff from expressing their opinion, thereby denying them the first-amendment right of free speech. The LDS church has an equal right to express its opinion; it should not be granted the ability to deny others that same right – yet that is exactly what the LDS church did.

werdna
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

Aaron, the examples you cite are purely humanitarian efforts. They may involve interaction with political entities but they are not primarily political activities. They do not refute Timothy’s claim at all.

On the other hand, Timothy, this very non-specific post is little more than gossip. If you won’t name the magazine, can’t cite specifics about the suit that was filed by these “New York law firms” (as if there’s something inherently wrong with hiring law firms from New York?), and don’t seem to even know the outcome of the suit (did it bankrupt the magazine or was it laughed out of court?), then what’s the point of this post?

knobandtube
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

Aaron,

I don’t believe “libel” was ever mentioned with regard to the Evergreen story until you brought it up. And I didn’t read anything to suggest the anyone was extorting contributions from El Coyote (and frankly it sounded more like a bribe to me).

And what about all those gay folks that went to help in Katrina? Just because we weren’t wearing rainbows doesn’t mean we weren’t there with every single organization that went to help.

You wouldn’t have an agenda would you Aaron?

Richard Rush
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

Aaron said:

“Mormon leadership sent thousands of volunteers into Katrina-ravaged areas while FEMA was still sputtering. When an earthquake rocked the Chinese province of Sichuan this summer, the church directed 600 volunteers to make emergency kits for victims. A couple months ago, they partnered with a French non-profit to construct a pipeline and provide clean water for Congolese villages.

“These are political, humanitarian efforts that involve partnering with domestic and foreign governments. Generalizations are tempting, man, but the truth is, innumerable lives are better worldwide because of the Mormon church’s money and manpower.”

I view these “humanitarian efforts” as primarily motivated by the church’s quest for power through exploiting an opportunity to gain new members. The strategy is to exploit people when they are most vulnerable, as people are most receptive to religion when they are suffering. While I think many or most of the people who work on these humanitarian operations may be motivated by helping others, the church authorities who put these operations in motion are more motivated by increasing their power.

I’m not singling out the LDS church in this regard, as it is common practice for many religions.

Samantha Davis
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

I think wearing a rainbow to help Katrina victims would be slightly insensitive what with the city being destroyed by a storm and everything.

Aaron: you need to appreciate the ethical difference between active and passive action. In the case of the LDS church versus the magazine the LDS church made an action to hurt the magazine and attempt to drive it out of business. The gay community, however, is refusing to help the restaurant unless the owner of the restaurant shows that she is supportive of the community.

Hurting and refusing to help are not ethically the same thing, even when their effects are the same.

AJD
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

As much as I support the protests, the Mormons are kind of an easy target. There should be just as much focus on right-wing evangelicals, too. They’ve done a lot more damage to the gay-rights cause than the Mormons have, in many ways.

Aaron
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

@ Richard Rush

You’re entitled to your cynicism, friend. If you look at a group of people working shoulder to shoulder to relieve suffering and you see only corporate maneuvering, what can I tell you? Enjoy those crap-colored glasses.

@ knobandtube

I do sort of have an agenda. I’m a Mormon who actively opposed Prop 8.

Throughout the campaign, I spoke to thoughtful Mormons on both sides of the issue. Anecdotally, of course, I encountered far more “Yes on 8″s than “No”s — people who more than anything responded to some version of the old quote that “What we allow, we encourage.” They were misguided, but thoroughly convinced that their actions would benefit their children and grandchildren.

After the vote, I woke up to a world where Mormons were demonized for their contribution to Prop 8, and the perfectly legitimate criticism of “Church and state should be separate” was replaced by the charge that Mormons, in general, are hate-mongering cult members with a “culture of bullying.”

I think that’s wrong, and it alienates two groups:

1) Mormons who stuck their necks out within their community to make the case that gay couples were just as deserving of marriage.
2) Mormons whose faith ultimately clouded their judgment, but were clearly sympathetic and swingable in the future. There were so many of these. So many.

Just from a strategy standpoint, persecuting a group of people who already have an outsize persecution complex won’t make that group give less time/money the next time around. They’ll give more. They see people outside their apolitical houses of worship with signs like, “You have 40 wives, I want one husband” — as inflammatory and specious to a 21st century Mormon as a sign reading “You have AIDS, you can’t have marriage” would be to a gay observer.

This stuff weakens the argument I made to my friends all along: that the “No on 8″ community is pro-equality, not anti-Mormon.

knobandtube
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

Well Aaron when you jump to the conclusion that “undercover journalism is libel” and a reportedly “voluntary contribution is extortion”, I have to ask myself what your agenda is. And I still don’t think I know.

When the Mormon Church focuses it’s money and energy on denying my civil rights, well then Yes, I am anti-Mormon Church. Just like I’m anti-those evangelical churches that want to limit my rights and anti-Catholic Church that thinks it knows better than me how I should live.

A person can practice their own faith but when they try to make it law of the land – I am against that institution and it’s followers. And if that makes people angry or hurt, they should have thought of that before they tried to mold me into their image. No thank you .

CLS
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

Mormonism has a lot of resources and will use them when they think they can get away with it. Cults often act in precisely this manner — very controling.

One point I have regularly made is that Mormon meddling in Prop 8 is exposing the church to public scrutiny. And of all the larger sects in the US Mormonism is the one that can least afford scrutiny. It has a checkered history, has demonstrably false origins and is very far outside mainstream Christianity (when Mormons say godly they mena they will become actual gods). They spend millions promoting a very specific image to the world, one that is much in conflict with the reality.

When people pay attention that PR image is shattered and that makes recruiting new members more difficult. Membership had stopped growing and in Utah they are losing their majority in county after county. So the image used for their recruiting efforts is very important to them. This was a major error for them. They figured that if the Catholics ran the campaing but Mormons funded it and staffed it that the Catholics would get all the blame. But people followed the money instead.

AJD
November 13th, 2008 | LINK

Aaron, you need to study libel law a little. A printed statement is only libelous if it satisfies the following six-part test:

1) publication — the statement was published
2) identification — the plaintiff is identifiable from the statement
3) defamation — the statement was defamatory
4) fault — the party being sued was clearly at fault
5) falsity — the claim is untrue
6) damages — the plaintiff incurred damages as a result of the statement

You’re confusing libel with invasion of privacy. However, because Evergreen was an organization offering a service to the public rather than a private individual, and because of the newsworthiness of its involvement with what therapists and researchers consider quackery, there is no way Evergreen could win an invasion-of-privacy case.

Bruce Garrett
November 14th, 2008 | LINK

Just from a strategy standpoint, persecuting a group of people who already have an outsize persecution complex won’t make that group give less time/money the next time around.

Can we ask them to at least be upfront about the fact that they’re doing it on behalf of their religion? Can we ask then to at least stop lying through their teeth as a way of winning votes? Or does having a persecution complex make it easy to throw your moral values overboard in the name of winning at any cost?

In light of how the Yes On 8 Campaign conducted itself, and the fact that nearly all of the money for it came from Mormons, hearing about what a wonderful group of people the Mormons are wears pretty thin. Good people don’t hate monger…and when you wave an image of homosexuals charging into classrooms to recruit children in people’s faces, let alone an image of homosexuals charging into churches to arrest priests, hatemongering is exactly what they did. They played on the base prejudices and fears of the voters to win this thing, and they did it without any compunction. That is the kind of thing that gets gay people killed, but that didn’t matter…they were on a mission from God. Fine. Let them wear what they did to people, whose only crime was falling in love and wanting to get married. Let them wear it.

If the anger gay people feel about proposition 8 and the campaign to get it writing into the California constitution is upsetting Mormons I for one am not sorry in the least. Nobody is campaigning to deny Mormons the right to marry. Nobody is campaigning to deny Mormons the right to raise children. Nobody is trying to prevent Mormon kids from getting a decent education. Gay people haven’t done anything to Mormons to deserve the relentless political gay bashing we’ve been getting from their church for over a decade now, if not longer, judging from the secret church memos that are only now coming to light. Can the Mormon church please get off our backs? Be nice if we could…you know…all just get along. But if not, can they at least acknowledge that other people might get a tad upset when they’re forcibly divorced by a church they don’t even belong to?

Aaron
November 14th, 2008 | LINK

“Good people don’t hate monger…and when you wave an image of homosexuals charging into classrooms to recruit children in people’s faces, let alone an image of homosexuals charging into churches to arrest priests, hatemongering is exactly what they did.”

Right. We just show Mormons charging into homes to rip up marriage licenses.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q28UwAyzUkE

“They played on the base prejudices and fears of the voters to win this thing, and they did it without any compunction.”

Let’s talk about base prejudices and fears:

“I Don’t Want 8 Wives Just 1 Husband”
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_4hfeiYr3Zq4/SRucoi5IAwI/AAAAAAAAEYY/W4sNHGT1YC0/s1600-h/3.jpg

“Mormon Love: Sacred?”
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_4hfeiYr3Zq4/SRaVtbKxCFI/AAAAAAAAEXA/_vamO2UBsaE/s1600-h/c.jpg

“You Have Two Wives, I Want One Husband”
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_4hfeiYr3Zq4/SRaUm02_A3I/AAAAAAAAEWI/Lt4AOUzyH-s/s1600-h/j.jpg

“Vile Mormons”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/malingering/3009947006/in/photostream/

Is this hatemongering too…or just righteous indignation?

Timothy Kincaid
November 14th, 2008 | LINK

Aaron,

Would you concede that considering the planning, funding, and implementation of the initiative was overwhelmingly Mormon, that the missionaries ripping up the license is at least a reasonably true alegory? As where the claims about “teaching gay marriage to children” was patently false.

As for the ignorant individuals who are expressing bigotry and fear towards your religion, I don’t think that is either wise or admirable. But they are individuals, not the leadership.

But it was Mormon leadership who attacked my family.

werdna
November 14th, 2008 | LINK

Timothy, I’m still wondering why you haven’t been more specific about the second hand story you relate in this post. If it’s a true story there should be no problem with naming the magazine. It would be helpful if there was link to the story about Evergreen if it’s online, or even an article about the lawsuit. Without those details this discussion is based largely on hearsay and people’s own prejudices.

I’m prepared to accept the claim that there’s a “culture of bullying” in the Mormon church, but you haven’t actually provided a credible example here.

Timothy Kincaid
November 14th, 2008 | LINK

werdna,

Because it is, as you noted, a repeated conversation. The magazine did not run the story, the current editor is probably unaware of the event, and there are no links.

This commentary is not to provide evidence of misdoing or to document an incident of bullying. It is to share how my impression of this particular religious organization has been dramatically impacted by the events surrounding Proposition 8 and also how growing evidence (though this particular instance is anecdotal and second hand) suggests that their actions in this campaign are not out of character or unrepresentative.

werdna
November 14th, 2008 | LINK

Ok, as long as we’re clear that this is an unsubstantiated rumor and nothing more.

I’m guess I’m just a little disappointed with your decision to propagate this story in this way. One of the things that I really like about this website is that the information is well-sourced and reliable, and that you guys make clear corrections when you’re wrong about something. Maybe you should come up with a new disclaimer for posts that relate unverified gossip so we don’t inadvertently pass them on as true.

I don’t mean that as a bitchy attack, I really think it’s important to make it explicit that this story should be regarded differently than the typical post here. You’ve got a great track record for reliability, I hate to think of people referring back to this post as evidence of the the malicious nature of the LDS leadership when there’s plenty of legitimate and verifiable evidence out there.

Timothy Kincaid
November 14th, 2008 | LINK

You make a point that it can’t be independantly verified at this time and perhaps that should have disqualified it from mention. I may at some point try and follow up, but if so I’ll probably pass it on to exgaywatch as it’s more their field.

If it’s any consolation, the person with whom I spoke was credible and the magazine is reputable – we’re not talking obscure or shady. Nor was it a “friend of a friend” story – he was the one who was told by the magazine’s legal counsel that they had to fold on the story or the Mormon Church would break them in legal costs.

Running with the commentary was a judgment call and I can accept that you think it was perhaps not my best one. You may be right.

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