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A Project of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. Washington University in St. M ormon men play a lot of basketball.
It begins with a prayer. But it rapidly devolves into intense physical combat, punctuated by thrown elbows, hard picks, and accusations of all manner of wickedness on the part of the opposing team.
Afterward, everyone shakes hands or exchanges an awkward, sweaty half-hug. Then everyone scurries home to mow lawns, change diapers, and ferry kids to soccer games. Mormon men also cry a lot. As a practicing Mormon, I can count on seeing at least one man cry each Sunday service. They cry standing at the pulpit, speaking of their wives and children, and of Jesus. They cry when they describe their friendships with the men they do volunteer church work and play basketball with.
Neither basketball nor crying is unique to Mormon culture. Yet what is noteworthy is the intensity and frequency of these two ritual acts among Mormon men. A look at this fraught masculinity may offer a glimpse into what drives the LDS Church, and Mormon politicians like Mitt Romney, to insist on the defense of traditional gender roles in the family. The unique contours of Mormon masculinity can also help answer the question: Why are many Mormons so vehemently opposed to gay marriage and any other overt expression of homosexuality?
By the time Mormon boys are 12, they have more official authority than their mothers. At that age, most boys are ordained to the Mormon priesthood and can begin to administer communion. When they turn 16, they are authorized to perform baptisms. There are no parallel opportunities for girls. Even there, where women are nominally in charge, they must obtain priesthood approval for all decisions related to staffing of the organization, budget, and curriculum. In practice, though, this patriarchal power is exercised quite gently. Boys are taught to treat women with respect.
Mormon men frequently talk about each other in overtly emotional ways. The very maleness that bestows Looking for a mormon man power and privilege is also frequently characterized as spiritually dangerous. We pray for you. Be strong and of good courage. You are truly royal spirit daughters of Almighty God. You are princesses, destined to become queens. Yet men are often bluntly castigated over the same pulpit for using pornography, abusing women and children, and otherwise failing, as the late Mormon Church President Gordon B. These lessons begin with the Book of Mormon itself.
They learn that the natural tendencies of maleness must be subjugated to religious principle.
This performance is taught most intensively during the two years of missionary service that devout Mormon men undertake, most often beginning at age Two-by-two, Mormon men knock on doors or pass out church pamphlets and Books of Mormon on street corners. During their mission, they are instructed never to be apart from the companion. Discuss any challenges that may be keeping your companionship from working in unity or from being obedient.
In this context of profound homo-social bonding, they learn that masculinity is both a privilege and a danger. It is something to be controlled and sublimated to religious ideals of gentleness that are, in many other contexts, coded feminine. Homosexuality is, in this model, simply a failure to behave in appropriately masculine ways. Mormon rhetoric betrays this sense that homosexuality is a confusion about gender, rather than an orientation of desire.
The Proclamation on the Familythe document most cited in Mormon objections to gay marriage, never actually mentions homosexuality. It is perhaps unsurprising that Mormon patriarchs—as well as Mormon men running for high elected office—wobble from their carefully constructed equilibrium when buffeted by the cultural winds of feminism and the gay rights movement.
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