Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Crescent 16th Ward which has quite inadvertently, and I am sure very innocently, given us all something Mormon related to write about in time for Halloween! If you haven’t heard, the flier at right circulated this week inviting folks to a Trunk-Or-Treat (but “please no masks or cross-gender dressing”) and highlighted Peggy Fletcher Stack in her story in the Salt Lake Tribune.
The local Bishop defended the flier as, he believed, accurately mirroring church policy. Indeed my personal experience, as well as the comments of many others I know, confirms that these two rules are the norm in most wards and stakes. For parties of course. Don’t think I have ever seen someone wear mask to church, well…can of worms, never mind. As for cross-dressing at church, that I am pretty sure I have seen.
In the multiple discussions I have read about this, the first line of defense, as ever, is that this is not in fact the policy or doctrine of the church. But what policy or doctrine is on any given topic in a church that does not have creeds is not always easy to detect. Of course, it is quiet clear on some things. On other things there is a complex analysis to be undertaken where several factors must be weighed. I list them here in order of importance with point values assigned. Basically the higher score you have the more likely it is you are looking at policy or doctrine:
25 – A written statement signed by the First Presidency and appended to the Doctrine and Covenants or sold in a handsome framed version at Deseret Book.
15 – Emanates from a burning bush, heavenly messenger or audible but invisible voice.
10 – Spoken in General Conference by the President of the Church.
10 – Written in the Ensign by the President of the Church or First Presidency.
10 – Is found in either Handbook of Instruction.
9 – Spoken in General Conference by an Apostle or non-President member of the First Presidency.
9 – Written in the Ensign by an Apostle.
8 – Spoken or written in some other church publication by a member of the First Presidency or Apostle.
8 – Is stated anywhere in correlated materials.
7 – Said by a General Authority in any setting.
1 – Said by a CES employee.
1 – Said at EFY.
1 – It makes logical sense.
HOWEVER, take away 10 points if said by Boyd K. Packer, Bruce R. McConkie, Mark E. Petersen, Ezra Taft Benson on the subject of communism or has not been mentioned in the last twenty years. For something that was redacted from scripture subtract 5 points, from any other publication subtract 3. If it makes no sense at all subtract 1.
No points are either added or subtracted for it either being common knowledge or no one ever having heard of it. If it is found in the Journal of Discourses, History of the Church, King Follet discourses, was said by Brigham Young or said by any apostle who was later excommunicated it is definitively not doctrine.
Let’s apply this test. Handbook 2 section 13.6.25 says that the church cannot sponsor an activity where masks are worn (except plays). Handbook 2 is a governing document of the church and as such clearly represents the minds of the Brethren (right?), but it is silent as to why masks are prohibited. So it comes from the top and one could easily begin to ask if they are not okay at church are they okay elsewhere? Does it make sense to take a chance when the will of God at least as to one setting has been laid out? But many people who are more liberally minded will simply say, meh, not going to pay attention to this. +10. This one looks like policy for sure.
As Brittny Goodsell Jones points out in her 2009 Sunstone piece on this topic,there is very little on cross-dressing except for the BYU Honor Code which at the time (but apparently not currently) stated:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU affirm that sexual relationships outside the covenant of marriage are inappropriate. Examples include but are not limited to the following: extra-marital relations, promiscuity or predatory behavior, aberrant behavior, solicitation of sex, homosexual conduct, and cross-dressing.”
Though no longer on BYU’s website, this statement still appears substantially in this form on the BYU Hawaii honor code website. So if you dig hard enough, you can find a statement from the Brethren on this topic, this time laying out very clearly that cross-dressing is inappropriate homosexual behavior but there is a lot of room to debate whether this would apply to a child’s Halloween costume. Clearly many, many people and local leaders have applied it as though it is a policy or doctrine. So 8 points for being in a publication made by the First Presidency (the chairman of the BYU Board of Trustees is the President of the Church, so I will go ahead and call the Honor Code that) but subtract three points for it being redacted. Of course, it isn’t fully redacted so we’ll split the difference and call it minus 1.5, for a score of 6.5 (or add one more point for it making sense, if you must). Much murkier as to whether we have a policy or doctrine here or something else.
There are other interesting angles here. The first is, if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Or if something is a doctrine or policy but no one follows it, what difference does it make what it is? The church used to actively teach against contraception and certain sexual practices within marriage. As the membership came to be in open rebellion the Church simply stopped talking about it (-10). I have read dozens of reports from the trunk-or-treats people attended last night (Saturday) and there were plenty of masks and cross-dressing (mostly kids dressing up as opposite gender cartoon characters) and no one was turned away, acted offended or said anything about it. This makes me think that whether it is policy, doctrine or local practice it is probably non-issue for members and local leaders alike.
But another angle, and I have to think is the reason Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote the piece, is that this practice is potentially offensive to LGBTQ persons and probably very few people in the church have had it occur to them that this might be the case. Offensive is probably too strong a word though, isn’t it? Maybe the problem with it is that it reminds people where the church stands on LGBTQ issues in general. While it is hard to imagine there are too many LGBTQ persons who are affected by this policy, it is easy to imagine them reading about the policy and saying “oh sheesh, not these people again.” It just pokes at them and reinforces a negative perception, and needlessly because it doesn’t look like there is anything at stake for the Church on this issue. My suspicion is that most LDS folks would be genuinely surprised to know it bothers anyone and that in reality it doesn’t bother anyone all that much. Maybe the upshot of this is that in a faith whether things are never officially taken back, they will just stop talking about it (-10).