The Tithes That Unbind

For several decades now, the Mormon church, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), has been embroiled in controversy over its positions on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and, more recently, transgender rights. Despite some notable compromises on these issues, the LDS remains adamant in its refusal to bless “lifestyles” that deviate from the heterosexual norm. How long this resistance can be maintained is a pressing question. Utah, still dominated by the Mormon presence, is today one of the fastest growing states in the U.S., and its millions of newcomers are rapidly eating away at the Mormon majority. Additionally, the Beehive State is also home to a growing start-up and high-tech sector—located around the city of Lehi in the corridor between Salt Lake City and Provo known as “Silicon Slopes”—whose CEOs are often outspokenly libertarian on social issues.

Some of those CEOs are, in fact, Mormons, though their relationship with the LDS is often troubled. Some, like Jeff T. Green, CEO of The Trade Desk, have even left the church in protest. Green’s departure generated a good deal of publicity this past December, when in a letter addressed to the current LDS president, Russell Nelson, he voiced his concerns regarding the church’s record on LBGTQ rights. The letter was clearly intended to be made public and was almost immediately published by the Salt Lake Tribune; thereafter, it was given prominent coverage by all the U.S. newspapers of note. Green’s justification for resigning his LDS membership was that the Mormon church “has hindered global progress in women’s rights, civil rights, racial equality and LGBTQ+ rights.”

It should be noted that for over 10 years Green has not actually been a practicing Mormon, but he was raised in the church. According to The Washington Post in December of 2021, he now “spends his Sundays studying philanthropy” and has been especially interested in extending his philanthropical largess to the gay “community.” His official departure from the LDS coincided with a $600,000 donation to Equality Utah, the largest and most politically influential LGBTQ advocacy group in the state. Troy Williams, the group’s executive director, has characterized Green’s donation as “gay tithing.”

Half of Green’s tithe to Equality Utah is earmarked for student scholarships to aid the academic endeavors of LGBTQ students, especially those, as Green has stated, who wish to transfer out of Brigham Young University (BYU) to other, more gay-friendly institutions. BYU, of course, is a Mormon foundation and has been a flashpoint of controversy in recent years over its policies regarding LGBTQ students. In the 1970s and following, the university promoted “conversion therapy” and at times notoriously resorted to electroshock therapy—a practice that has since been abandoned—for students struggling with gay identity. Until recently, BYU’s student honor code forbade “not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” When the code was revised in 2020, specific references to homosexuality were dropped. What remains is the exhortation to “live a chaste and virtuous life, including abstaining from any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman.”

The inclusion of “marriage between a man and a woman” is probably intended to signal a refusal to recognize same-sex marriages—a position perfectly in keeping with BYU’s moral and religious heritage. Yet we know all too well that our gender equality zealots will accept nothing short of the complete capitulation of all our religious institutions. While LDS leaders insist that the revision makes no alteration in fundamental principles and that homosexual activity is still incompatible with Mormon beliefs, it is nevertheless apparent that BYU has formulated what might be termed a strategic retreat, and not for the first time.

In 2010, under increasing pressure from national LGBTQ activists, BYU began to allow groups identifying as homosexual to form and meet on campus, though prohibitions on actual practice of gay sexual relations remained. In 2011, a “homosexual advocacy” ban was elided from the honor code, allowing BYU students to become involved in off-campus political activism for gay causes. Despite such concessions, BYU has, to its credit, stood firm on the most important principle. To grant “temple privileges” to same-sex couples would be tantamount to abandoning the most essential moral tenant in the Mormon creed, which is profoundly natalist.

Yet external pressures continue to mount. In 2016, the BYU athletics program sought to join the Big 12 football conference. Under a storm of protest by LGBTQ activists, the Big 12 refused the BYU bid. In 2019, the Geological Society of America refused to continue posting BYU faculty job openings, citing the school’s unacceptable honor code. In addition, the rapid influx of non-Mormons into the state is a serious threat to the university’s resolve to maintain its traditional moral ground. In fact, according to The Washington Post article cited earlier, Salt Lake City has a larger per capita LGBTQ population than either NYC or LA. From 2016 to 2020, Salt Lake City had an openly gay mayor, and the city council now has an LGBTQ majority.

In view of such changes, Utah begins to resemble many other states as it slides toward the default secularity that regards Biblical moral principles as both alien and oppressive. To some extent, Republican Utahns and many LDS leaders have helped to enable this development by too eagerly embracing corporate power and influence. One might think that business interests moving into Utah, especially those along the Silicon Slopes, would recognize that few locales offer a workforce as well-educated and enculturated into a traditional American work ethic. Common sense would suggest that such newcomers might tread warily and avoid alienating native Utahns. Yet it has become increasingly evident to those who have eyes to see that institutions like the LDS, driven by transcendent moral and spiritual concerns, have little or no place in the corporate vision of the American future. We can be sure that “gay tithing” will become a very lucrative source of income, and thus of influence, for those who seek to transform the Beehive State and its premier university into a genderqueer mecca.

Image: An LGBT pride flag in front of the Salt Lake City Mormon temple (Pastelitodepapa / public doman via Wikimedia Commons, CC0 1.0)

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