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.