A tale of how Mormon leaders came to a papal prayer service in NYC

On April 18, 2008, I attended Pope Benedict XVI’s prayer service in New York City with more than 250 Christian leaders from just about every Christian tradition around.

I didn’t know, and I don’t remember reading anywhere, that two leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were there. In the second row.

There is a extremely interesting tale of the “behind the scenes” decision-making process that led to the seating of two Mormon leaders in the summer edition of Ecumenical Trends, published by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in Garrison. It was written by Father James Massa, head of ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Here’s the thing: Mormons consider themselves to be Christians. But the Catholic Church — and most mainstream Christian denominations — disagree.

For one thing, Mormons do not accept the Trinity. They believe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be three Gods who are “one in purpose,” but NOT one God in three persons.

So when the LDS church asked to be included in a papal event, the question facing Massa was: Which one?

Should he include them in the prayer service for Christians or a second meeting with representatives of non-Christian religions?

What a religious quandary!

Massa writes that the LDS leadership has been much more visible in recent years, working with other faiths on social and cultural issues. And Catholics and Mormons have a lot in common when it comes to issues of public morality, he notes.

The Bishops Conference asked the Vatican for advice, but was told that they were in a “better position than the Holy See to make the decision,” Massa writes.

He also writes:

*****

One member of my staff wisely counseled that I speak with the offices of key Orthodox and Evangelical leaders who might register the most discomfort knowing that they would be participating in the April 18 prayer service with Mormons. Such are the ironies of today’s ecumenical engagements: Officers for Catholic Bishops calling Orthodox hierarchs and Evangelical megapastors to make sure they have no strong objections to Mormons being invited to a prayer service with the Pope! The answer came back: “Yes, they can come. But don’t make them too prominent!”

*****

And so two members of the Quorum of the Twelve — the second-highest leadership body in the LDS church — were invited to the ecumenical prayer service for Christians.

Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder M. Russell Ballard sat in the second row at St. Joseph’s Church.

Massa concludes his engaging piece (Ecumenical Trends is not on-line, so you can’t read it) with this:

*****

Heaven may yet hold surprises even greater than was evident back in April 2008, when the Bishop of Rome called an assembly of Christians to prayer with the words: “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all”; and two Mormon elders, representing the first world religion to have arisen since Islam, responded: “And also with you.”

Gay marriage debate buzzing behind the scenes

Will a gay marriage vote actually take place in the topsy-turvy NYS Senate?

Gov. Paterson now says he’ll force senators to vote before they break for summer. He said yesterday that he’s calling the Senate into a special session after the nuttiness of recent weeks.

In a related story, Ossining’s Maggie Gallagher (that’s her), a leading foe of gay marriage in NYS, is being accused of running a front organization for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Gallagher is president of the National Organization for Marriage, which is spending big money on advertising and lobbying to defeat gay marriage in the NYS Senate. The group is also threatening to mount primaries against GOP senators who vote for gay marriage.

But as my colleague Keith Eddings reports, the California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating complaints that Gallagher’s group is a “front” for the Mormon church, which of course helped organize support for California’s Proposition 8. The investigation has to do with whether the church failed to report millions of dollars in “nonmonetary contributions” to Gallagher’s group.

Gallagher (who is Catholic) says her group is independent of any religious denomination: “It’s not true. I founded NOM. I’d be happy to work with Mormons, but NOM was not started at the suggestion of Salt Lake.”

Eddings notes that Kim Farah, an oft-quoted spokeswoman for the LDS, did not respond to a question about whether the Mormon church has been working to stop gay marriage in New York and elsewhere.

Studying the Mormon role in the marriage debate

We’ve heard about the strong role that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had in promoting California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between man and woman (and not man and man or woman and woman).

Now the Wash Post writes that gay marriage advocates around the country are studying the Mormon Church’s involvement — both out of respect for the church’s commitment and to defeat the church down the road.

The article notes:

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Mormon officials have tried to stay out of the controversy that followed the California vote, when the church’s prominent role in the marriage fight became clear. A spokeswoman in Salt Lake City declined to say whether the church is involved in debates going on in states such as New Jersey and New York, except to say that leaders remain intent on preserving the “divine institution” of marriage between man and woman. The faith holds that traditional marriage “transcends this world” and is necessary for “the fullness of joy in the next life.”

*****

By the way, the Rev. Joe Agne, pastor of Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains, is being honored as “Person of the Year” by the Westchester County LGBT Advisory Board.

Agne recently invited the Loft, Westchester’s main gay and lesbian community center/advocacy group, to move its HQ to Memorial United’s church building.

Can gay marriage just be ‘civil?’

On Saturday, I worked a regular weekend shift. 11-7.

I show up and get an assignment.

This time around, my assignment was to cover a demonstration outside White Plains City Hall. It was a demonstration against Proposition D, the measure in California that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and that passed on election day.

There were about 70 people on the steps of city hall — gay men, lesbians, the relatives of gay people, and a few other straight supporters of civil marriage for same-sex couples.

Two things struck me:

1. I know Westchester is a liberal place, but I would have expected to hear some support for the demonstrators and some protest against them or their position. For the 75 minutes I was there, this wasn’t the case.

Instead, a steady stream of drivers passing by (slowly on traffic-heavy) Main Street honked their horns in support of the gay-marriage cause. I’m talking one car after another. Many people shouted their approval and others shook their fists in solidarity.

I did not hear or see one single protest or word of disagreement. Not one.

This isn’t to say that many people who drove or walked by aren’t opposed to same-sex marriage. But no one was so put off by the idea that they had to stop and explain their position — or even yell something from their car.

I would never, ever have expected such a one-sided public referendum on the demonstration.

2. The demonstrators were very focused on the role of religious groups in helping to promote Proposition D. The word has, of course, spread that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints campaigned actively for the measure, contributing a great deal of cash.

On Friday, Mormons leaders — apparently taken back by criticism from the gay community — put out a statement calling for “civility in pubic discourse.” It said:

People of faith have a democratic right to express their views in the public square without fear of reprisal. Efforts to force citizens out of public discussion should be deplored by people of goodwill everywhere.

The argument made by demonstrators Saturday (including a Unitarian minister) is that they are asking for civil marriage, not marriages blessed by religion. Gay couples can have civil marriages, they said, without the Catholic Church, the Mormon church or anyone else following suit.

Of course, religious groups would disagree on the point that the civil and religious connotations of marriage are separate and distinct. Civil recognition of gay marriage, they say, changes the social understanding of what marriage is and will change expectations for what religious groups do and say.

I think I’ll write about this for my second column on Saturday.

For my research, please consider answering this:

<script type=”text/javascript” language=”javascript” src=”http://static.polldaddy.com/p/1115227.js”></script><noscript> <a href =”http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/1115227/” >Do you support civil marriage for same-sex couples?</a> <br/> <span style=”font-size:9px;”> (<a href =”http://www.polldaddy.com”> polls</a>)</span></noscript> <br><script type=”text/javascript” language=”javascript” src=”http://static.polldaddy.com/p/1115240.js”></script><noscript> <a href =”http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/1115240/” >Do you believe that civil marriage for same-sex couples would put pressure on religious denominations to also marry gay couples?</a> <br/> <span style=”font-size:9px;”> (<a href =”http://www.polldaddy.com”> polls</a>)</span></noscript>

Mormon leadership postpones meeting with gays

One religious group that we don’t see having many public rifts over homosexuality is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Apparently, some higher-ups in the church leadership were to meet with gay Mormons next month, but the meeting has been called off.

The official explanation, the Chicago Tribune reports, is that one of the church leaders tabbed to participate has been reassigned. But David Melson, assistant executive director of Affirmation, an organization of gay and lesbian Mormons, believes that the real reason for the postponement is the debate over gay marriage in California.

The church is urging its 750,000 members in the Golden State to support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that’s on the November ballot.

“The church is playing hardball right now,” Melson tells the Trib. “And a meeting with us would be inconsistent with that position.”