This post was co-authored by Jake Abhau and Lori Burkman. After having many discussions on the current events and press conferences of late, we wanted to put our thoughts into an essay that describes the lack of clarity on so many things.
Where did we come from? Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going?
It’s the set of questions on which religious organizations claim to have divine insight. When comparing these varying answers, many religions agree on much but there are huge differences in the details. One could argue that the details are what can often help truth-seeking individuals have happy, fulfilled lives full of optimism; or miserable lives, full of self-loathsome ideas and thoughts. One of the most beautiful and hope-inspiring tenets of the LDS church is that it has a living prophet and ongoing revelation. Because of this, many believe it’s time that the Church offer some clarity to those of us who have yet to have clear answers to these questions.
Where did we come from?
The LDS faith teaches that families can be eternal. And since eternity is defined as having no beginning and no end, this suggests that our families have always been. As seen in the well-known LDS film, Saturday’s Warrior, we see a family whose pre-mortal existence is filled with joyous moments of family bliss before entering the earthly domain. While we recognize that Saturday’s Warrior isn’t a direct depiction of doctrine, many people can identify with this concept and it can bring joy and happiness to them while here on Earth.
Who are we?
The current President and Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, President Thomas S Monson said,
“The Apostle Paul told the Athenians on Mars’ Hill that we are “the offspring of God.” (Acts 17:29.) Since we know that our physical bodies are the offspring of our mortal parents, we must probe for the meaning of Paul’s statement. The Lord has declared that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man.” (D&C 88:15.) It is the spirit that is the offspring of God”
So for most of us, we know that who are now is who we were in the pre-existence and who we will be in the afterlife. The union of our bodies and our spirits was a perfect combination that gave us our earthly soul. We can feel confident that what we know about our spirits in our current state will stay with us, intact after we leave our bodies and return to Heavenly Father, who created our spirits.
But for those who are transgender, the question of “who are we?” pretty much stops at “a child of God” if limited to LDS doctrine. That is comforting indeed, but there is no known answer for why there is such disconnect between the spirit and body for those who are transgender. For homosexual and queer people, their earthly abilities to fulfill the established plan of happiness is deeply hindered. If all of us are children of God, why do so many souls not fit into His plan of happiness as currently revealed? To further understand, turning to the apostles and prophet would be the hope for answers; but unfortunately they can’t even tell us much about the true nature of orientation or eternal personal identity. When asked, Elder Oaks said the following:
“No, we do not accept the fact that conditions that prevent people from attaining their eternal destiny were born into them without any ability to control. That is contrary to the Plan of Salvation, and it is contrary to the justice and mercy of God…” So for some, who they are or their most pure hopes and dreams of love and companionship are contrary to the Plan of Salvation and it is in fact contrary to God’s justice that they were born that way? He continues by saying: “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 apparently, we are supposed to turn to scientific studies and research as to how and why people are born the way they are, rather than being able to have a prophet decisively tell us. This simply isn’t enough.
Why are we here?
Elder Boyd K Packer teaches us that,
“Romantic love is not only a part of life, but literally a dominating influence of it. It is deeply and significantly religious. There is no abundant life without it. Indeed, the highest degree of the celestial kingdom is unobtainable in the absence of it.”
This is a beautiful quote from Elder Packer; one that many people would agree with. For those of us who are cisgender heterosexuals–we are taught that a main purpose of this life is to get married and have a family. We know that the love that we feel for our spouse and children is eternal and that it teaches us about how God feels about each of us. It is so important, in fact, that we cannot reach the celestial kingdom without a mate to whom we are sealed. The majority of lessons to LDS youth are about how to become ready to marry in the temple and the overwhelming importance of finding a spouse and having a family. As adults, the focus shifts to raising our children, loving our spouse, and perfecting our union. The people we are, our inclinations and actions, our feelings and thought processes–these are all an intricate part of who we are and what we will take with us when we die. We know that the relationships we have in this life are everlasting and we will take them with us. For the majority of mormons, this truly is the most hope-inspiring aspect of God’s plan for us. It makes sense that this is called the plan of happiness. In short, we are here to continue the joy of the pre-earth life, participate in saving ordinances that will permit us to continue this joy into the next.
But what about for those who are not cisgender heterosexuals? For them, it would appear that the single purpose of life is to simply endure it. As we currently understand it, much of who they are and who they love; how they think and their feelings and thought processes are solely bound to this realm. The church labels homosexuality as “same sex attraction”… but for the majority of LGBTQ+ people, attraction is just a fragment of what makes up their orientation and who they are. It encompasses everything about how they approach life, the way they feel, the people they feel comfortable around, and the future they seek. Attraction is such a small, narrow word to explain the spectrum involved in love, relationships, perspective, needs, hopes, dreams, day to day goals, and a person’s way of life. There is no plan of happiness, no authentic life, no real defined purpose to this mortal realm if you are forced to deny who you are in hopes that after you die, you will get to be someone else. Someone that fits the prescribed mold.
Where are we going?
Again, a very complicated situation but to paint it in a broad stroke, we all have the potential to live with God, our eternal families, and create worlds without number for all eternity. We’ll presumably do this with the families whose relationships we have been cultivating from the pre-mortal existence, in this life, and on to our post mortal eternity.
If you are a lost soul seeking truth and understanding, answers to these types of questions can have great impact. They can even be life saving to some and give a sense of belonging to a community of like-minded souls.
But what about those who don’t fit into this box? Right now the only plan given is to deny yourself love and companionship, not believe that who you currently are will be the same after you die, and that you are simply to endure in celibacy until the end–but surely God has more in store for all of his children than that?
Seeking continuing revelation
During last week’s LDS press conference citing the importance for religious liberty and freedom, Elder Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles showed that he understood the need for further understanding. He stated,
“As we humbly seek greater understanding, we should be sensitive to the pain and isolation they (the SSA and LGBTQ+ community) sometimes feel.”
This shows plain and simple that the LDS Church does not claim to know the answers to these questions in their entirety and are seeking greater understanding. As we listened to this statement, many were filled with hope that one day, there would be a revelation to definitively reveal God’s full plan for LGBTQ+ people. Perhaps it could be revealed that the creation of souls does not require a combination of male and female and that that is solely necessary for the creation of earthly bodies; not eternal souls. In eternity, the requirement might be the combination of two exalted minds to organize intelligences into new souls and is not gender-specific. Perhaps our previous knowledge was limited because we were projecting what we know about earthly procreation into a spiritual realm and as such fell short of the full picture. No matter what the new revelation would entail, it is time that those who were made gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or anything under the “queer” spectrum be given a clear path defining how the Plan of Happiness is defined for them and what their eternity will hold.
But just minutes later, Elder Christofferson made a different sort of definitive statement.
“Some even suppose that those standards will someday change. That is simply not true… The law of chastity has applied since the very beginning, when the Lord commanded a man to leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and to none else. Our doctrine, not just belief but doctrine, that sexual relations are only appropriate and lawful in the Lord’s eyes between man and woman legally and lawfully married is unchanged and will never change.”
This is a bold statement from someone in the highest of positions in the LDS church. Concerning the church’s history of evolving doctrines and new truths, isn’t it reasonable to ask for some clarification on this? Is Elder Christofferson speaking as a prophet, a mouthpiece for God, or a man with opinions on a subject where his knowledge and understanding are limited at best? As we know from the race and the priesthood and temple ban, prophets have said comparable comments in the past about the unchanging nature of doctrine but it did, indeed, change.
In September of 2013, there was a private meeting with Elder Christofferson where he made a statement that conflicts with the ultimatum cited above. This was part of a forum of LGBTQ+ people and allies who were seeking insight from the Lord. It was relayed to Eder Christofferson that many stated that they had prayed and received crystal clear confirmation that their same sex relationships and unions pleased God, were indeed God’s plan for them, and they were to move forward in these relationships with God’s blessing. Elder Christofferson’s response, in short, was: “Personal revelation trumps church doctrine every time”. While we understand that the church is a church of order, there are are countless examples in the scriptures to support this principle.
Joseph Smith affirms this notion,
“The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.” History of the Church, 4:425
Also he said in 1842: That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.”God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added. So with Solomon: first he asked wisdom, and God gave it him, and with it every desire of his heart, even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of heaven only in part, but which in reality were right because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation.”
Official History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.134-136,
What are the people whom Elder Christofferson told to believe in their personal revelation supposed to think now that this same apostle said that these laws will never change? Christofferson lists no exceptions when speaking in public, but privately he made it very clear to seek individual confirmation from the Lord and trust in the answer. He knows all too well that thousands, if not millions of people have received spiritual confirmation about who they are and what God would have them do, but this week he closing the door on the chance for further light or knowledge that might conflict with what the church now supports. He states there is need for further understanding while at the same time stating that none will ever come.
The LDS church believes in ongoing revelation. What has currently been revealed is beyond insufficient for so, so many of God’s children. People whom God has told what He wants for them, but in following and acting on their spiritual confirmations from the Lord, they are shunned, rejected, and can have no place of honor or equality in the LDS church. Without further revelation, there can be no peace. These conflicting messages and incomplete doctrines have hurt too many for too long. Luckily, the world is showing more and more daily that it is ready for new revelation. We hope and pray that one day, it will come. Until then, we can take faith knowing that an apostle stated “Personal revelation trumps church doctrine every time” and know that we can follow what is in our hearts.