This is a cross post. To visit where the post was originally published, click here.
By now, all of us have heard of the policy change by the LDS church. Reactions varied widely. I cannot explain exactly why I’m writing, but I can tell you what I hope for. I hope to look back on these days in 35 years or so and not shake my head. I hope that the members of the church can have more empathy toward each other and those outside of our church in the lgbtq community. I hope that the members critically examine what recently happened and its implications for the work of bringing the gospel to all of God’s children. And I hope the members see that God revealing ‘many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God’ will depend on us.
I wanted to convey a simple message: There isn’t really a good reason for policy change or the way the Church treats homosexuals for that matter. There are undoubtedly a lot of legal motivations for the change, but the policy change wouldn’t be necessary if the church had a place for homosexuals that allowed them the same blessings the rest of us enjoy in the first place.
I’m a member of the church and have been all my life. I served a mission, attend church regularly, and have a temple recommend. I’m also black and keenly aware of the less than perfect policies the church has had in its past – more on that later. Like most members of the church, I don’t believe being homosexual is sinful. However, I differ from most Mormons because I don’t believe homosexual acts are a sin. I will explain that later, too. I share this to make it clear that it’s possible to be a dissident in good standing and also that despite the policy change and how the church has marginalized homosexuals, I still have a testimony of the church and the gospel.
-The policy is for the protection of the children.
-Church leaders have taught that marriage is between a man and a woman.
-Church leaders have taught that acting on homosexuality is sin
-Church leaders have taught that homosexual marriage is apostasy.
-The Family Proclamation teaches that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
-The church leaders will not lead us astray.
-The bible doesn’t teach any other marriage but that between a man and a woman.
-In the few instances where homosexual acts are mentioned, it’s something negative.
Every reason I hear about why we (Mormons) treat homosexuals as we do stems from what the leaders have taught or what the scriptures supposedly say about homosexuality. Above is a list of common variants of these arguments. A closer look at these arguments will reveal that the way our church treats homosexuals needs to change.
The common support for the policy change is its analog to the policy for children of polygamous unions. To protect children from conflicting teachings at home and church (and likely to legally protect the Church), the Church will prevent children from polyamorous unions from joining the Church until they’re 18, move out, and disavow the practice. Many members heard Elder Christofferson of the Twelve use this analogy when explaining the policy change.
The analogy is logically flawed. The policy isn’t the same as it is for children of polygamous unions, because in countries where polygamy is legal, children can still be baptized, though every other stipulation remains in effect (Church Handbook, 16.3.9, 2010). Therefore, protecting children cannot be the whole reason for the new policy.
The biggest issue with requiring a child to disavow the practice of homosexuality is that the Church has no solution for homosexuals to lead a fulfilling life while living the current teachings of the Gospel. Here are a homosexual’s options according to the Church: 1. Remain celibate their entire life 2. Marry someone of the opposite sex and hope things work out (most of the time they don’t) 3. Leave the church and live your life. In no scenario does a gay person get to enjoy all the blessings of the gospel. The church no longer advocates conversion therapy (because it’s less than effective and dangerous) and neither the science nor scripture have found a cure for gay. As the saying goes, “If you have a problem with no solution, you don’t have a problem”.
I get it. We’re a church distinguished by a claim to modern day prophets, priesthood authority, and the same organization as Christ’s church. The men we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators are great men admired for their selfless service and unwavering commitment to teaching and living the principles of the Gospel. Personally, I don’t flinch at a ton of stuff they say because a lot of it resonates as true to me. Every April and October I look forward to General Conference, the Super Bowl of Mormonism, where I get to see them speak and reiterate gospel principles as they relate to us in our day. I’ll say again, they’re great and inspired men.
Inspired men are not perfect men, however, nor do they claim to be. We don’t talk about this aspect of our leadership a ton in church and we tend to forget it. As great as they are, they were not born into their leadership roles neither were they unaffected socially or culturally by their surroundings. They have and are entitled to opinions on different matters that will affect how they see the world and which will influence how they operate in their callings. When I was set apart as a missionary (the closest thing to an apostolic calling I and most other Mormon men will probably ever hold in this life) I wasn’t magically devoid of any bias, nor did I stop making mistakes. Why should we assume it’s not the same for the brethren?
Doctrine does not support the new policy regarding homosexuality. The scriptures are specific about what constitutes doctrine (D&C 26:2). Essentially, for anything to be doctrine it has to be submitted to the scrutiny of the brethren then put to the vote of the people of the Church. This is the law of common consent. This has only happened six times in the Church’s history, most recently in the 1978 revelation on blacks and the priesthood. The doctrine canonized by the law of common consent are the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and official declarations one and two. Nothing else is binding on the church. This doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to the brethren, but it does mean we don’t treat their words as the end-all be-all. Hugh B. Brown explained,
“With respect to people feeling that whatever the brethren say is gospel, this tends to undermine the proposition of freedom of speech and thought. As members of the church we are bound to sustain and support the brethren in the positions they occupy so long as their conduct entitles them to that. But we also have only to defend those doctrines of the church contained in the four standard works…Anything beyond that by anyone is his or her own opinion and not scripture. Although there are certain statements that whatever the brethren say becomes the word of God, this is a dangerous practice to apply to all leaders and all cases…”
This includes the words of the brethren in the official capacity of the Church and the family proclamation. No matter how much the brethren declare the wrongness of homosexual relationships from the pulpit, it’s not binding on the church until the people have voted on it. Until that time, we are not obligated to accept new policy for our membership in the church. It’s why members are not subject to church discipline for their beliefs.
Some may quote D&C 1:38 or 21:5 to pretty much say that what the prophet says as the prophet is what the Lord would say if he were here. Joseph Fielding Smith quoted the latter verse and clarified with ‘And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture…’ (D&C 68:4 emphasis added).
We hear all the time, especially at times like this, that prophet and the church leaders will never lead the Church astray. Most people interpret this to mean that the Church leaders, when in the official capacity of the church, will never say anything contrary to the mind and will of God. History proves this sentiment false. For one thing, the prophets, modern or ancient, have never claimed infallibility. If they did, I wouldn’t be a member right now. Some prophets even address their imperfection. Also, remember when blacks were denied the priesthood? Remember the things said by George Q. Cannon, Mark E. Petersen, Bruce R. McConkie, and Brigham Young from the pulpit with regard to ’the negro’? The words they said about black folk were taught as doctrine, but have since been disavowed by the church and members are not to repeat them. Elder McConkie even goes as far to say,
‘Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world…. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more…. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.’
Brothers and Sisters, is it not plausible that we could come across a similar scenario today? Is it not plausible that the Lord will reveal more concerning the place of homosexuals within his church and the plan of salvation?
Fortunately, there is an alternative interpretation of ‘the prophets will never lead us astray’ that allows for human error. Brigham Young explained,
“…if God should suffer Joseph Smith to lead the people astray, it would be because they ought to be led astray. …it would be because they deserved it…”
To further explain how the saints could ‘deserve’ to be led astray (and also explain how we knew when the brethren were ‘moved upon’ by the holy ghost), he goes on,
“…if we should get out of the way and lead this people to destruction, what a pity it would be! How can you know whether we lead you correctly or not? Can you know by any other power than that of the Holy Ghost? I have uniformly exhorted the people to obtain this living witness each for themselves; then no man on earth can lead them astray.”
Personal revelation is the key and there’s nothing wrong with questioning or asking for confirmation of those things which come from the prophets. One of the earliest stories in the Book of Mormon seems to echo this sentiment when Nephi asks the Lord for the same vision that his father and the prophet Lehi received. Laman and Lemuel struggle with the vision because they don’t think to ‘inquire of the Lord’. It is essential that we seek personal revelation after we thoroughly examine significant teachings then, Hugh B. Brown explains, “one’s logical deductions may be confirmed by the spirit of revelation to his or her spirit, because real conversion must come from within.”
If you are able to accept that leaders are fallible and what they say isn’t binding on the Church, you must rely on scripture. Scripture is binding according to the law of common consent, but I don’t believe it condemns homosexuality. If we were to go into greater depth of what is written in the scriptures concerning the matter, we’d focus a great deal on societal context. However, it may suffice to address one simple issue in explaining why the bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality. The Oxford Classical Dictionary explains,
“No Greek or Latin word corresponds to the modern term ‘homosexuality,’ and ancient Mediterranean society did not in practice treat homosexuality as a socially operating category of personal or public life. Sexual relations between persons of the same sex certainly did occur (they are widely attested in ancient sources), but they were not systematically distinguished or conceptualized as such, much less were they thought to represent a single, homogeneous phenomenon in contradistinction to sexual relations between persons of different sexes. … The application of ‘homosexuality’ (and ‘heterosexuality’) in a substantive or normative sense to sexual expression in classical antiquity is not advised.”
In short, when the Bible was written, homosexuality wasn’t a thing; no one lived or identified as homosexual. Therefore the Bible does not and cannot address homosexuality, let alone do so within the context of loving, committed, same-gender relationships.
We got nothing, brothers and sisters. To ostracize and marginalize homosexuals is doctrinally and, dare I say, morally indefensible. What the brethren say isn’t necessarily doctrine, they are capable of making mistakes, and the Bible is incapable of addressing homosexuality within the context of loving committed relationships. While I still believe the restored gospel is here and I sustain my leaders, I can’t make sense of this new policy mentally or spiritually.
What are we going to do about it?
As yet, there’s no precedent that I’m aware of where people fight something of this magnitude. However, the general protocol for opposing the higher ups is talking to your stake president. There are also many ways to respectfully protest this change outlined here. I sincerely believe that if change is to come, it will come down to the members, for God won’t reveal to us that which we’re not ready for. Perhaps, if a significant number of members speak up and speak out in the spirit of the 2nd great commandment, the Lord may yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.