Tom Hanks, the Mormons, and Prop 8

Tom Hanks, the Mormons, and Prop 8  

By Bill McKeever 

Actor Tom Hanks angered many in the LDS community when he accused Mormons who helped fund the passage of Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California, of being “un-American.” In his controversial comment, Hanks said: 

“There are a lot of people who feel that is un-American, and I am one of them. I do not like to see any discrimination codified on any piece of paper, any of the 50 states in America, but here's what happens now. A little bit of light can be shed, and people can see who's responsible, and that can motivate the next go around of our self correcting Constitution, and hopefully we can move forward instead of backwards. So let's have faith in not only the American, but Californian, constitutional process.” 

Fox News contacted me the morning the story broke, asking for my thoughts: 

“Bill McKeever, a rep for the Mormonism Research Ministry, added, ‘Personally, I find it un-American to tell people that they shouldn’t vote their conscience. Hanks said he doesn’t “like to see any discrimination codified on any piece of paper.” Considering that just about every law discriminates in some form or another, makes this comment ridiculous. Hanks’ comment shows that he very much believes in discriminating against people with whom he disagrees. I may not agree with Mormon theology, but I certainly defend their right to express their opinion.’” 

A few days later, Mr. Hanks offered an apology for his comment. In a follow-up piece, Fox News reported: 

“’Last week, I labeled members of the Mormon church who supported California's Proposition 8 as 'un-American,’ the actor said in a statement through his publicist. ‘I believe Proposition 8 is counter to the promise of our Constitution; it is codified discrimination. But everyone has a right to vote their conscience; nothing could be more American,’ the statement continues. ‘To say members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who contributed to Proposition 8 are “un-American” creates more division when the time calls for respectful disagreement. No one should use “un- American” lightly or in haste. I did. I should not have.’” 

Let me say that I was very impressed with Mr. Hanks for making such a gracious retraction and I agree that respectful disagreement is absolutely necessary when it comes to this and other issues. Apparently not everyone shares that view. Within minutes after my comment was posted I received a response from a not-too-happy homosexual supporter of Mr. Hanks. 

“What a jerk, McKeever must be. I've worked in pictures for 30 years. Tom's one of the nicest, brightest, most decent guys in town. And that's a town without pity, or a lot of nice guys. And here's Bill McKeever, a guy I never heard of, telling the world HE thinks Tom Hanks is unAmerican for having an opinion Bill doesn't like.” 

The above portion of the email is the only part I can quote since there are about 30 expletives describing me and what he assumed was my “Mormon” faith (Obviously a person who doesn’t read very closely since I made it clear in the article that I do not agree with Mormon theology).  

It is important to note that my criticism was aimed at what I felt was a bad argument made by Mr. Hanks, not his character. He misapplied the word “un-American,” not me. Mr. Hanks’ later concession shows that he recognized that he misspoke. As far as I am concerned, case closed. Mr. Hanks, with his apology, has displayed integrity not often seen in our society and for that I am both pleased and impressed and I thank him for it. Let me also say that I have admired Mr. Hanks for his contribution to the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C. and for what he has done for veterans. What I have heard about him causes me to agree that he probably is a nice, bright, and decent guy (something perhaps the above writer could learn from him considering the content of his email to me).  

Comments from Mormons about my published response were certainly mixed. One of the first emails I received was from a Mormon I have only met via email. He said: 

“The McKeever quote in the news on Tom Hanks' ridiculous comments about the Mormon Church reminded me how honorable you are in your pursuit of truth.” 

Some Mormons, however, were surprised by my statement. On the MormonApologetics blog site a writer named Night Stalker stated: 

“In the Fox News story on the subject, who should come out in defense of the Mormons but … Bill McKeever?!... So why is it that an anti-Mormon defends the Mormons better than the Mormons themselves?... I am scratching my head over this one.” 

I honestly don’t know why my defense of free speech for those who are LDS comes as a shock to anyone. For over three decades I have defended a Mormon’s right to believe whatever they wish, as well as the right to declare their beliefs publicly. Mormons are fellow American citizens who should be allowed the same freedom to practice their faith and speak their mind as anyone else. I can only conclude that such surprise is borne out of the fact that many Mormons who share this view of me, like the angry man I quote above, really don’t listen closely to what I’ve actually said. This is one reason why I have strongly urged Mormons to lose the urge to label people who disagree as “anti-Mormon.” Many Mormons obviously can’t separate ideological criticism from personal animosity. 

Two posts that carried a similar theme read: 

“Odd, but I suppose politics is thicker than religion... Tom Hanks is just being a Hollyweird pundit, as for wild Bill perhaps he sees the dangerous game of calling someone un-American just because you disagree with them politically can cut both ways. What would silence us LDS in our political opinions may also encroach on the Anti-Mormon rants he enjoys. Free speech applies to all even if Tom Hanks does not think so. I think the official Church statement bears that out” (Lightbearer). 

“Common causes can make strange, momentary bed fellows and allies. The guy probably has a bone to pick with Hollywood as well like many ministries do” (Koakaipo). 

I’m not real sure why the need to characterize me as “wild.” Such a word fails to accurately describe my writing style or my personal lifestyle. The word rant is also out of place since I also try hard to make my case with sound arguments, without the use of “seething rage” as that word implies.  

I concede that I am rarely ever impressed with comments from celebrities who think they must be listened to merely because sound comes out of their mouths. As for common causes, let me again state that anyone who knows me knows that I am a staunch defender of the First Amendment. Free speech for all people is incredibly important to me, even if I disagree with the speaker. I agree whole-heartedly with Oliver Wendell Holmes who said we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe (Abrams vs. The United States). 

Included in the MormonApologetics blog discussion was this comment I assume was made by a Mormon woman (hoops22) who wrote: 

“This is odd. Everyone knows Bill McKeever is a hate-filled bigot. I would have thought he would support anyone critical of mormons.” 

Referring to the comment that I just have a bone to pick with Hollywood, she went on to write: “yeah, that's got to be it. There's no way such an evil person like McKeever would support mormons in any way. So it must be his ulterior motive - what could it be? Any speculation?”

Actually, not all agree with these pejorative labels. In fact, Mormons have often defended my disagreements with Mormonism because it is clear that I am neither hate-filled nor bigoted. What is unfortunate about hoops22’s comment is that, to my knowledge, I have never met her (or to my knowledge, any of these people), yet she has no problem disparaging my character in a public forum. If I had made such an unsubstantiated accusation against a Mormon, I am sure I would be vilified, and rightfully so. If I have indeed treated her or any Mormon in a hate-filled or evil manner, I think it behooves them to speak to me about the matter (and allow me the opportunity to either offer an explanation and/or apology) or retract what is at a minimum, nothing more than gossip.  

Without such evidence it becomes apparent that hoops22 (and other Mormons who have made similar accusations) has borne false witness, a sin even by Mormons standards. Mormonism correctly teaches that repentance involves an effort to makes things right to the best of your ability. That being the case, if hoops22 allows her pride to get the best of her, she will not attempt to retract her obvious lie either publicly or to me privately, and in turn, qualify as being unrepentant. If she fails to do so, and the faith she so ardently defends turns out to actually be true, she will be held responsible.  

“Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:32-33). 

“Without repentance there can be no forgiveness, and without forgiveness all the blessings of eternity hang in jeopardy” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.83). 

“Another prerequisite or condition to repentance is to know that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see 1 Ne. 10:21; 1 Ne. 15:34; Alma 7:21; Alma 40:26; and Hel. 8:25). You can hide sins from your bishop, you can hide them from your parents and friends, but if you continue and die with unresolved sins, you are unclean and no unclean thing can dwell with God. There are no exceptions” (Jay E. Jensen, “The Message: Do You Know How to Repent?” New Era, November 1999, p.7).

If hoops22 does retract her libelous comment, I will make note of it in this article. Following her remark was an unexpected statement from BYU Professor Daniel C. Peterson:  

“I just sent the following to Bill McKeever at his Mormonism Research Ministry site: Dear Mr. McKeever: Although we obviously disagree deeply on doctrinal matters, I wanted to write and thank you for your defense of the right of Mormons to weigh in on Proposition 8, and your repudiation of the idea that doing so was somehow ‘un-American.’ That was a classy thing to do. With best wishes, Dan Peterson - I have little doubt that Mr. McKeever's politics likely put him on the side of Proposition 8 anyway, but, still, I think it appropriate to express appreciation to him for overcoming his intense dislike of Mormonism in order to do the right thing on this point.” 

Dr. Peterson certainly did not have to make such a statement, but it is appreciated just the same. However, this comment was quickly offset by the following: 

“IMO, America would be better off with more Americans like Tom Hanks, and fewer like Bill McKeever” (Jaybear). 

“I have to disagree with Hanks on this, but I'd rather Forrest Gump had my back over Bill McKeever any day. Unfortunately, some of our political bedfellows are not ones of our choosing” (Aquilifer). 

Naturally I think more emotion than thought went into these remarks. Based on my religious convictions, I tend to think I would watch the back of Mormons much more so than Mr. Hanks. I believe I have a duty to God to live out my convictions and that includes being just and merciful – even to those with whom I disagree. My fear of God hopefully outweighs the temptation to resort to pragmatism. That Mormons should trust me less simply because I disagree with Mormonism strikes me as not only one-dimensional, but extremely immature.   

Conclusion

As I’ve stated before, I don’t doubt that Mr. Hanks has some credible qualities, but this does not overlook the fact that he is fighting for a cause that is supported by many people who want nothing more than to stamp out every Mormon’s person’s right to disagree with them. They want to crush any and all verbal opposition by a legislative process. I have no idea whether or not Mr. Hanks personally agrees with this, but many of those whose lifestyle he defends certainly do. Will Hanks put his reputation on the line and publicly repudiate such attempts and champion the cause of Mormons to be able to vocalize their convictions? I have, and I always will. 

In his blog titled, “The Same Sex marriage movement and the Dangers of Denunciation,” Carson Holloway noted: 

“One of the most troubling aspects of the same-sex marriage movement is the rhetorical strategy it so frequently employs: denunciation of its opponents. The most vocal and prominent advocates of same-sex marriage seem to prefer condemning those who disagree as bigots to refuting the arguments for preserving marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Moreover, this tendency is found not just among partisan activists, where one might expect it even while lamenting it, but even among the voices of the most venerable institutions.” 

Holloway goes on to say: 

“It is understandable that a political movement and its journalistic cheerleaders would be tempted to resort to denunciation. In the first place, it often works. Without refuting one’s opponents, it makes them and their positions seem disreputable. It thus demoralizes them, energizes one’s supporters, and may sway those without strong convictions or who pay little attention to politics. In the second place, it is fun. After all, one never feels more righteous than when issuing condemnations of the wicked—even and perhaps especially when their wickedness consists only in disagreeing with one on a matter of importance.” 

Mormons like those I mention above really need to spend some time in serious reflection, for when they equate disagreement with bigotry they expose the fact that they are really no different than homosexuals who do the same. Spend a few hours on Mormon blog sites and it becomes apparent that many Mormons share the same philosophy as Fred Karger and his “Californians Against Hate” organization. He, too, erroneously equates disagreement with hatred.  

When accused by Karger and other angry supporters of same-sex marriage, Mormons quickly countered by insisting that their support for a traditional definition of marriage was not at all motivated by hate, but rather by a very different worldview. Mormons felt put off because their pleas to be heard fell on deaf ears. When ignored they felt marginalized. Yet, far too few Mormons fail to listen to Christians such as myself who continue to insist that we have nothing but profound love and concern for the Mormon people. Still, we are portrayed as evil and bigoted just as Mormons were portrayed after the passage of Prop 8. How is our defense against such ugly ad-hominem any different from that used by Mormons against their homosexual detractors?  

I have no illusions that most of the Mormons who like to call names rather than offer sound rebuttals will ever change their minds; though I do hope that some will pause long enough to evaluate the inconsistency. Should that happen, perhaps then they can play a meaningful part in the conversation.