Kristine Haglund recently wrote a provocative article at Religion & Politics, in which she DOES NOT draw that conclusion. She boldly addresses a few of the incongruities of Mormon culture including weeping men, brotherhood, constructs of masculinity, and this elusive enigma of Churchball. It’s worth a read.
And she stirred up quite a response. I think that there are some themes of anti-patriarchy present in the article. Many of the responses I’ve read seem to be responding somewhat defensively to those elements of the author’s message. One reader in particular took issue with what he perceived as an out-of-context distortion of “an overwrought imagination.”
So, it’s my turn to weigh in on the matter. What do church ball, crying, and missions have to do with homophobia?I agree with Brother Campbell that there is nothing homosexual about serving God and his children or striving to develop Christ-like attributes. And developing a deep sense of love and brotherhood within the Priesthood does not equate to homophobia.
In response to Haglund’s main claim that men in the church have a paradoxical relationship with homosociality, I agree with her. As I read the article, I didn’t necessarily read into her article many of the paraphrased assumptions reported by Brother Campbell .
For me the key to understanding both perspectives lies in the fact that Mormon men don’t grow up in a vacuum. Especially in the last twenty years, young men are being raised in two worlds. In one, boys are expected to develop and value traits like charity, obedience, love, meekness, humility, chastity, and service; talents like piano and singing are elevated to forms of worship. Again, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with this.
However, in the other world of school and media, young men find traits like sexual experience, pride, individualism, competition, and materialism are valued as masculine. Not only that, but in many cases, the very qualities he is being taught in Church are labeled as “gay.” Showing them will subject him to ridicule and rejection. From music to sensitivity, he’s going to have to deal with the fact that outside of Church, these qualities make him less of a man.
This isn’t just a matter of living your religion by not drinking or smoking. Conflicts like this lie at the heart of issues of identity. Can a young man learn to identify himself as a son of God and see through the illusion of society’s false construction of masculinity?
If only it were that simple. While this larger macro-struggle is playing out between two cultures, little micro-conflicts are everywhere. In Church men are told to be humble and obedient, yet leaders and self-reliant. Meek, but bold in defending truth. In society, men are tough, independent, afraid of commitment, dumb, and insensitive. But women are looking for gentle, sensitive, intelligent, kind men. But again and again, we get the message that those traits are “gay.” An increasing number of men growing up in the Church are finding themselves stuck somewhere in the confusion.
Some feel natural in the role of priesthood holder, complete with sensitivity, compassion, creativity. They then struggle to identify as fully masculine in a culture that demeans and rejects them. The men in popular culture with whom they most readily identify are those depicted as “gay.”
Others grow up more or less fitting into society’s definition of masculinity. As they mature in the gospel, they find themselves uncomfortable with ideas of brotherly love, meekness, submission, sensitivity. They protect their sense of masculine identity with humor. They do have to make an effort to explain their behaviors as “not gay.”
This conflict was probably not as evident thirty or forty years ago. Homosexuality was seen as a relatively obscure sexual problem. That is why it is so easy to twist statements of Church leaders from that period. They weren’t addressing the cultural implications of “gay” on masculinity. But today, homosexuality has moved from being primarily a behavior to an identity. Keeping those two separate is a challenge.
Again, I think that there is nothing homosexual or homophobic about church basketball, scouting, brotherhood, crying, musical talent, or compassion. Those are normal, healthy, potentially divine parts of being a Son of God. The problem is that through the lens of modern culture, those qualities are distorted grotesquely. Though many young men will experience relatively little conflict in navigating these competing worldviews, many others will find themselves somewhat uneasy with their own sense of masculinity.
What can we do as parents, teachers, and leaders to help young men navigate this challenge?