The SL Trib ignited a noisy debate with its story published on Monday, Fallout from debate over gays leads musician to leave LDS Church." The story concerns a musician with the LDS Orchestra at Temple Square who, in June 2006, wrote a letter to the SL Trib voicing public support for Jeffrey Nielsen, a part-time philosophy instructor at BYU who had himself published a letter in the SL Trib in support of same-gender marriage only days earlier. As a result of the letter (reproduced in full in the Trib article), the musician was suspended from the orchestra, then spent 18 months in what can only be described as an informal disciplinary process with his local LDS leaders. He resigned his membership in the LDS Church in December 2007.
It's a messy story with no winners. For more background, read the linked SL Trib story, the publicly posted LDS response, a post at M&A, a post at Mormon Matters, and a detailed discussion at the FAIR Blog. I'm going to make short comments on the role of each player in this unfortunate affair.
The musician. Any LDS adult who thinks they can publish a letter or article accusing LDS leaders of "intellectual tyranny" and think there won't be any consequences is simply naive. This is doubly the case for anyone who is employed by the LDS Church or who occupies a similar position of trust (e.g., a bishop or other local leader, a CES volunteer, or a member of the Choir or the Orchestra), as was the case here. And if you're going to write a controversial letter, at least get your facts straight: He attributes the cancellation of Nielsen's contract, which was an action apparently taken solely by the BYU Philosophy Department, to LDS leaders; and he claimed a crisis of conscience over being requested to write letters to his political representatives in support of the proposed marriage amendment, when in fact the request did not specify any position, merely that Latter-day Saints write to their representatives and express their own opinion on the issue.
On the other hand, it's not like he ran to the press with his story. When called in to talk with his local leaders, he apparently spent 18 months trying to work things out. That's what members of the Church are encouraged to do when there is this sort of problem, counsel with local leaders.
The local leaders. What's a local leader supposed to do when they get a communication from the Orchestra director saying, in essence, the Office of the First Presidency told us to refer this problem to you to take care of (see attached letter to the SL Trib)? Is any bishop going to review the facts and conclude that the musician could hold whatever private opinions he liked as long as he made no further public statements? Or that if he published a mushy retraction he could exit the informal discipline process and go play with the Orchestra again? By any measure, the local leaders were put in a difficult position.
Furthermore, according to the LDS Newsroom statement, what was under review by local leaders was not the public statements of the musician in the letter to the SL Trib, it was his private beliefs: "For more than a year and a half, Mr. Danzig counseled with his local bishop and stake president regarding same gender marriage and other Church doctrines. Unfortunately he was not able to reconcile his personal beliefs with the doctrine Church leaders are charged to maintain by divine mandate." This runs counter to the general view that as long as one's public statements do not criticize LDS leaders or the Church, one's private views are not a basis for disciplinary action. If it was his public statements rather than his private beliefs that were the problem, the Newsroom statement should be corrected.
The Salt Lake Tribune. When the story was first posted, the headline read, "LDS Church disciplines musician." The headline was changed only after the Newroom statement giving the LDS.org side of the story, including the following pointed rebuttal: "In December 2007, Mr. Danzig voluntarily withdrew his membership in the Church by his own formal written request. He was not officially disciplined by the Church as the Tribune article indicated." If you're a newspaper, get your facts straight, especially if you are the Trib writing about the Church.
On the other hand, note how the Newsroom statement says the musician was "not officially disciplined." That's because he was obviously undergoing informal discipline -- counseling with local leaders to try and resolve what they see as a disciplinary issue.
LDS doctrine. The SL Trib story links to a detailed account posted by the musician and his wife. In it, the musician claims that his bishop insisted that he agree with the assertion that "[h]omosexual orientation was not innate and that it was reversible," which position was attributed to a 1995 talk by Elder Oaks. The Newsroom statement lends partial support to this claim by the musician by stating that it was a question of the musician's personal beliefs that was troubling local leaders, although it does not identify what those beliefs were.
But here are statements made by Elder Oaks in an interview posted at the LDS Newsroom in 2006: "Perhaps there is an inclination or susceptibility to such [homosexual] feelings that is a reality for some and not a reality for others." And, when asked about the nature or nurture question: "The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions — whether nature or nurture — those are things the Church doesn’t have a position on."
So the Church in 2008 does not have a position on the scientific question of whether homosexuality is innate ("nature"), acquired ("nurture"), or chosen. If it is not an LDS position, I don't see how it could be required as a condition of full fellowship of a member of the Church undergoing informal discipline. But like I said, I sympathize with local leaders who are thrown a messy issue like this -- one that turns primarily on doctrine and policy -- and are expected to resolve it. If the Church can correlate Sunday School lessons and magazines in the name of doctrinal consistency and uniformity, there ought to be a way to "correlate" doctrinal issues that come before local leaders in a disciplinary setting.
Conclusion. So what can we learn from these events? If you're LDS, don't publish letters calling LDS leaders "ecclesiastical tyrants" unless you are ready to leave the Church (and want to do so with a flourish rather than quietly). Local leaders don't necessarily have all the tools they need when dealing with allegations of personal apostasy. The Church seems to have adopted a new policy of making public statements about a resignation/excommunication case when required to set the record straight. And if you work for a newspaper, get the facts right before you hit the publish button.