Folks watching 8:The Mormon Proposition for the first time this week have been coming up with questions and concerns about the movie’s claims. Here’s a little bit of fact checking and contextualization for those of you looking for it.
Satellite Broadcast Training
Reed Cowan begins this movie with clips from a satellite broadcast which originally aired October 8, 2008 from Salt Lake City to every stake center in California. He uses a (probably) surreptitious audio recording of the broadcast, so the audio is not great. It is accurate, however, and the text is subtitled for ease of viewing. A transcript of the whole meeting can be found here or here. The video for these clips is based on the short video clips once publicly available from the church’s website, www.lds.org and www.preservingmarriage.org. Since the officially available video clips did not include much of what Cowan used in his movie, he elected to use clips of the video, edited to obscure the details, as background for the audio quotes he wanted to include. The visual effect is a bit ominous.
“Secret” Documents and Hawaii
A good portion of the early part of the movie includes references to LDS Church documents received by Fred Karger. The documents are correspondence between Elder Loren C. Dunn and several other LDS General Authorities. Elder Dunn served in the LDS Area Presidency for the North America Northwest Area, which included California and Hawaii in the mid-1990s when the LDS Church involved itself in Hawaii’s same-sex marriage struggles. Church involvement in this campaign has been documented here and in The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power by historian D. Michael Quinn. Karger’s documents expand on what was already known and provide even more depth and details of the Church’s Public Affairs Committee actions. Documents cited in the movie include the documents here.
Mormon Financial Contributions
Karger suggests that individual Mormons donated 70% of the money contributed to the Protect Marriage coalition. [Other sites here and here don’t attribute quite that much to LDS donors, but neither do they say their information is complete or exhaustive. Karger hints that some of those he identified as being LDS were people who (a) contributed to Mormon Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and (b) sent in large sums of money to the Protect Marriage coalition after the First Presidency letter was read in Sacrament Meetings across California at the end of June, 2008. Notations about BYU attendance were also likely indications that donors were Mormon as well. And, in reality, Mormons are not particularly quiet about their religious affiliations online – they talk about wards and stakes and Relief Society and FHE and home teaching/visiting teaching and callings on a regular basis, so it’s not too hard to identify them.
Total donation information can be found at the California Secretary of State’s page, and Mormonsfor8.com includes a breakdown of donations by state, indicating that the majority of donations came from California residents.
There were special PO Boxes for receiving LDS donation forms to the Protect Marriage coalition. Forms from the general public were sent to P.O. Box 162657, Sacramento, CA and those from LDS members were sent to P.O. Box 819, Placentia, CA. Assessments were made for stakes, as had been done in Hawaii and previously in California during Prop 22. Individual members were contacted with suggested donations as was done in this blog post.
Certainly the Church knows how much its members gave, and if the media reports were way over the top and completely inaccurate, the Church could certainly provide correct numbers. Thus far, it has not.
Church Discipline and Excommunications
While it’s possible that one or two members may have been directly threatened with church discipline as strict as formal excommunication or loss of salvation when they were asked to donate, the vast majority of potential member donors did not receive overt, explicit pressure like that. Many were told that donations to support Proposition 8 should be given the same importance as tithing (which is necessary to pay in order for a member to be worthy to enter the temple). Many were told that supporting Proposition 8 was the same thing as supporting the prophet (implying that non-support of the initiative was the same as non-support of the prophet).
More than a few members were subject so some form of ecclesiastical pressure regarding their involvement (or lack thereof) in the campaign. Several had temple recommends revoked and others were unable to get renewed recommends. Others were released from callings within the church, and others were asked to stop speaking out against the proposition if they wanted to continue to serve in callings. Some members resigned from callings on their own, or turned down callings, citing their lack of support for the Church’s actions during the campaign.
There is no doubt that members were given a not-so-subtle message that supporting Proposition 8 was a righteous, obedient and holy thing they needed to do as good members of the Church. As ecclesiastical leaders hold the ability to judge whether their adherents are worthy of eternal salvation or not, those leaders must be very, very careful what they ask of their followers. When using this lever to move the Saints, Church leaders need not exert much effort at all before members are enthusiastically picking up the banner and moving forward with gusto.
National Organization for Marriage
Karger suggests that the National Organization for Marriage is a Mormon-instigated and/or controlled “front group” to fight SSM across the nation, much like Hawaii’s Future Today or Save Traditional Marriage-’98 were when they were created in Hawaii. Certainly, Matthew Holland is LDS and was one of the early founders of the group. It’s also no secret that Mormon author Orson Scott Card is now serving as Holland’s replacement on the NOM Board. The jury is still out on the details of Mormon involvement in NOM, but it’s clear that Proposition 8 would not have gotten onto California’s ballot without NOM’s involvement.
Electroshock Therapy at BYU
The film discusses electroshock therapy at BYU a couple of decades ago, and a more complete account may be found here.
Gay Suicides and Stuart Matis
Stuart Matis committed suicide at an LDS church building in Los Altos, California, in March 2000, just before Californians voted on Proposition 22, the predecessor to Prop 8. Information about his suicide has been discussed here and here.
In a couple more days, we’ll examine some more things like accounts about:
—Training members to be election volunteers walking precincts, supervising efforts in every ZIP code
—Political Tactics/fearmongering arguments/6 Consequences
—LDS Church official reporting of Non-monetary contributions and fines assessed
—Homelessness/Rejection of Gay Youth
—Quotes by church leaders about homosexuality cited in the film