Much has been written and said lately regarding the LDS church’s stance against gay marriage. Jeff Nielsen’s Op-ed piece published in the Salt Lake Tribune on June 4th (http://www.sltrib.com/search/ci_3896635) and his subsequent dismissal from BYU have left many people wondering what to think about these issues. Jeff is a good friend of mine and while
it hurt me to see him treated the way he was (http://www.heraldextra.com/content/view/184137), I also feel that some of this arguments were flawed as far as the LDS church’s stance against gay marriage is concerned. While I agree with some of his points, I believe others miss the mark and sidestep the real issues surrounding gay marriage and the LDS church. Knowing Jeff the way I do, I’m sure he’ll enjoy a bit of constructive criticism and view my comments in the positive
light in which they are intended.
The main problem that I have with Jeff’s article is that he almost entirely leaves God out of the picture. As far as the LDS church is concerned, this entire issue depends upon whether or not God condones homosexuality. All other arguments about homosexuality and the LDS church are superfluous. If it can be shown that God does not condone homosexuality, then the LDS church has a right, and perhaps even a responsibility, to reflect that view in their preaching and public
The question about whether or not God condones homosexuality is more complicated than it seems, especially when the LDS church is concerned. For Mormons there are at least two aspects of this question. The first is whether or not the accepted scriptures or “standard works” indicate that homosexuality is a sin. The second is whether or not the current church leadership has received any modern revelation from God declaring that homosexuality is a sin. For non-
Mormons this latter issue may be a moot point, but for faithful LDS it is one of the grand fundamental keys to their religion and cannot be disregarded.
Perhaps the best resource regarding scriptures about homosexuality may be the topical guide found in the LDS version of the scriptures. Under the heading “homosexuality” there are some scriptures, mostly from the Bible, that could clearly be interpreted to say that God disapproves of homosexuality. To complicate things even more, the LDS church firmly believes in continuous revelation. This opens a whole new door to the discussion of whether or not God disapproves of
homosexuality. The fact that the church has not published such a “thus saith the Lord” revelation or made a public statement stating that such a revelation has been received makes the issue that much cloudier. However, the mere fact that such a revelation could exist opens the door to possible justification of their position, at least within the hearts and minds of most members of the LDS church.
My purpose here is not to debate these specific scriptures or the existence of modern revelation. Rather my purpose is to show that there is some evidence in favor of the LDS church’s position on this subject and that most of the arguments against the church’s stance are irrelevant. For the LDS church, the entire topic revolves around what, if anything, God has said on this issue. If God said homosexuality is a sin, then that’s the position the church must hold. If God hasn’t made any such statements, then the position of the LDS church is very difficult to defend. With this is mind let’s take a closer look at some of Jeff Nielsen’s arguments. Here are some of Jeff’s comments followed by my responses to them.
1. “Currently the preponderance of scientific research strongly suggests that same-sex attraction is biologically based.”
As far as the LDS church is concerned, this is a moot point. For example, it is also possible that extraordinary heterosexual attraction is biologically based. Does this mean that such people should be allowed to commit fornication or adultery because they have stronger heterosexual tendencies than “normal” people? The church could never support such a position. Likewise, it is possible that some people have extraordinary sexual attractions toward children. Yet, the church should encourage such people to control these natural biological tendencies and do their best to conform to the word of God. It could be argued that a major facet of the gospel is to control the natural man and change to conform to God’s will, regardless of whatever personal weaknesses or challenges a person might have. If it can be shown that God views homosexuality as a sin, then any biological argument loses its strength. It is irrelevant to the church’s stance on the issue.
2. “Truly, God would be unjust if He were the creator of a biological process that produced such uncommon, yet perfectly natural results, and then condemned the innocent person to a life of guilt, while denying him or her the ordinary privileges and fulfillment of the deep longing in all of us for family and a committed, loving relationship.”
This statement assumes a lot. Basically it is the age old argument concerning the problem of evil, which, while formidable, applies no more to the issue of homosexuality than it does to any other injustice in life. Those who have faith in God must deal with this issue all the time. If Christians can deal with this issue in other areas of life, then they should be able to deal with it in this case too. Hence, this serves as a poor reason for the LDS church to abandon its position on homosexuality. In fact, if anything LDS doctrine deals with the problem of evil better and more coherently than most other western religions. Even if God is the creator of biological processes that provide advantages to some and disadvantages to others (whether physical, mental, or moral), the LDS church still has no choice but to be true to what they honestly feel God has said
regarding what is sin and what is not, regardless of these biological differences.
3. “Even if the scientific evidence does not yet establish this beyond reasonable doubt, it seems that virtuous moderation and loving kindness require us to exercise caution before making constitutionally binding discrimination against a whole class of people based only on fear and superstition.”
Again, if this “discrimination” was “based only on fear and superstition” then this would be a good argument. The fact that it is based on what the church feels is the word of God makes this point null and void. Rather than assuming that the LDS church is acting merely because of fear and superstition, it would have been better to challenge why the church feels this is the will of God. This is the real issue. If it could be demonstrated that God could care less about homosexuality, then the argument of fear and superstition would be worth pursuing.
4. “It is not enough to claim that we should oppose gay marriage because historically it has never been recognized. This is the fallacy of appealing to tradition, which was also used to fight against civil rights and equal treatment of women.”
This is an excellent point, but again has little to do with the real issue regarding the LDS church’s stance on gay marriage. If the LDS church is opposing gay marriage simply because of historical tradition, then yes it is wrong. However, I doubt you’ll find any such statement from the church.
5. “…to say that gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage and the family without giving any reasons why is the fallacy of appealing to fear.”
I believe this is an excellent point. While it may be argued that gay marriage could have a detrimental effect on traditional marriage, it is reasonable to assume that this effect would be no worse than other lifestyles that challenge traditional marriage. For example, it seems reasonable to assume that a couple living together out of wedlock would have about the same effect on traditional marriage as a gay couple who get married. Yet, few people would argue in favor of a constitutional amendment banning people from living together. In addition, while some still try to support the idea that gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage, there seems to be very little evidence that it will have any affect at all on traditional marriage. It would be problematic for the LDS church to take this stance as the only support for their campaign against gay
marriage. Yet, it appears to be something they believe.
6. “Ultimately, any appeal to religious authority to create law is misplaced. Our Founding Fathers were inspired by their study of history to separate constitutional authority from religious belief, recognizing as they did the potential for tyranny in unchecked religious influence. In our pluralistic democracy, attempting to restrict an individual’s rights and
privileges based upon a religious claim is a dangerous rejection of our Founding Fathers’ wise insight, and it should be unacceptable to all Americans.”
This is where the LDS church meets its biggest challenge in its fight against gay marriage. As much as this statement bothers some people, the fact is, if homosexuality is wrong it is only wrong because God said so, not because of some inherent evil in and of itself. There is no evidence that gay marriage would impose upon the rights of others any more than any other lifestyle currently protected by the constitution. Even if God himself visited each of the leaders of the church and expressly told them to fight against gay marriage, we still have the constitution to deal with. If we stand by the constitution, in word and in spirit, then gay marriage should be protected under its wings along with any other lifestyle that doesn’t infringe upon the rights of other citizens. From strictly a political viewpoint, gay marriage should have already been
legalized and I believe the LDS church will find that the constitution itself will be its most formidable opponent in its struggle against gay marriage. The mere fact that an amendment to the constitution is being sought should raise some serious concerns in the hearts and minds of most lawmakers. Indeed, they will not with good conscience be able to create an amendment banning gay marriage for it goes against the very heart of the constitution. If it could be shown that, apart from religious beliefs, gay marriage would infringe upon the rights of others or would harm society in some obvious way, then an amendment would not be necessary. The constitution would automatically prohibit gay marriage on the grounds of injustice and protection of freedoms. The fact that no such argument exists will make it difficult, if not impossible, to justify an amendment banning gay marriage. If an amendment is created, it will be contrary to everything the constitution and our form of government stands for. This is the real stumbling block to the LDS church’s position on gay marriage, regardless of the motives behind that position.
7. “As for the statement by church leaders that God has ordained marriage to be a union between a man and a woman, I find it quite troubling. It sidesteps the role of polygamy in past and future church teachings. It seems to me that if church leaders at one point in time, not very long ago, told members that the union of one man with several women was important for eternal salvation, but now leads them to believe that God only recognizes the union of one man to one woman, then some explanation is required.”
This is an excellent point. However, it still doesn’t hit the core of the issue. From strictly a logical and political perspective, the argument against gay marriage is exactly the same as the argument against plural marriage. In fact, if gay marriage is legalized it will likely serve as a forerunner to legalizing plural marriage. Politically speaking, they are two peas in the same pod.
If the LDS church has a solid position on this point it will be the same appeal to Godly authority that we’ve been speaking of. For example, Joseph Smith once said, “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.”1 Joseph Smith even used this argument on occasion to convert people to the principle of plural marriage. If God commanded the leaders of the LDS church to fight against gay marriage, then that is what they should do, regardless of any past or future associations with plural marriage. If He did not, then they may appeal to the authority of the scriptures, which seem to accept one but reject the other. It is only after these two avenues are exhausted that the LDS church can be accused of any misplaced views on the subject. Whether or not such requirements from God concerning plural marriage have actually been given is probably a matter of personal belief that people both in and out of the church will deal with in various ways.
8. “God is not the author of incoherence or injustice, but we humans often are.”
Now we’re back to the problem of evil and assuming too much. Just as most people don’t know what has been revealed to LDS church leaders and what has not, I doubt that very many people are familiar with what God has authored and what he has not authored in the way of incoherency or injustice. From purely a religious standpoint, the issue of homosexuality is no more incoherent than many other aspects of the world in which we live. For whatever reason, God seems to like keeping us in the dark regarding many issues. Homosexuality and gay marriage just happens to be one of many such issues.
9. “We in the LDS Church must be more honest about our history, including the past and future practice of polygamy in our official doctrine. This will be difficult, for it will reveal that we have been less than truthful in our public relations, and it will show our inconsistency with current statements opposing gay marriage.”
As already mentioned, from both a political and logical standpoint, both gay marriage and plural marriage appear to be two peas in a pod. For all intents and purposes they are the same argument. From purely a political point of view, if one is legalized then the other should be as well. This reality probably bothers most people in the United States, not just the LDS church. However, the fact that the LDS church has a few skeletons in its closet separates it little from any other
institution on earth, religious or otherwise. The real question from a religious standpoint deals with what is a skeleton and what is not. Was plural marriage commanded by God or not? Is homosexuality condoned by God or not? What evidence do we have for such claims? This is where the crux of the issue lies. This is where the LDS church must draw its line. What do they honestly believe God wants them to do regarding these issues? If they are trying their best to live up to this question to the best of their ability, then they are likely justified. If the LDS church is not living up to this question, if this is not their main focus regarding all of these issues, then they must be careful of becoming subject to some of the criticisms raised by Jeff’s Op-ed piece.
In the end, the LDS church must do what is feels God wants it to do and the government must do what the constitution tells it to do. This probably means that in spite of the church’s best efforts, gay marriage will eventually be legalized. It is not too unrealistic to suppose that 50 years from now this country will be talking about gay marriage in the same way that we now talk about equal rights and women’s suffrage. They are all basically the same argument. Perhaps God, in his anger and frustration, will take matters into his own hands and sweep the earth clean long before then. The scriptures certainly seem to support such a view. But until then both the government and the church have no choice but to do their best to uphold the rules by which they claim to live. For the church this is the word of God. For the government it is the constitution.
Unfortunately, those two seem to be in opposite corners regarding the issue of gay marriage.
1 Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.256