Have you ever listened to an entire talk on a subject wherein the subject was determinedly left unmentioned? I heard such a talk last Sunday night: Dallin H. Oaks’ CES devotional broadcast to single adults. The talk was titled “Truth and Tolerance,” but another, more intrepid Apostle might have named the same talk, “A Defense of the LDS Position on Gay Marriage.”
While never mentioning same-sex attraction, Elder Oaks gave several references that made it clear to the discerning listener what he had in mind. For example,
“We also know that evil exists, and that some things are simply, seriously, and everlastingly wrong.”
“It is well to worry about our moral foundation.”
“At the extreme level, evil acts that used to be localized and covered up like a boil, are now legalized and paraded like a banner.”
These statements were linked with such evil actions as theivery, lying, cheating, piercing of body parts, and revealing attire. But those with a background and knowledge of the Church’s stance on gay marriage and its involvement in Prop 8 in California could not help but recognize the subtext of this talk.
The speech proferred four guidelines for knowing when political involvement is appropriate on the part of Church members.
- First, when believers in Jesus Christ take their views of truth into the public square they must seek the inspiration of the Lord to be selective and wise in choosing which true principles they seek to promote by law or executive action. Generally, they should refrain from seeking laws or administrative action to facilitate beliefs that are distinctive to believers, such as the enforcement of acts of worship, even by implication. Believers can be less cautious in seeking government action that would serve principles broader than merely facilitating the practice of their beliefs, such as laws concerning public health, safety and morals.
- Second, when believers seek to promote their positions in the public square, their methods and their advocacy should always be tolerant of the opinions and positions of those who do not share their beliefs.
- Third, believers should not be deterred by the familiar charge that they are trying to legislate morality. Many areas of the law are based on Judeo/Christian morality and have been for centuries. Our civilization is based on morality and cannot exist without it.
- Fourth, believers should not shrink from seeking laws to maintain public conditions or policies that assist them in practicing the requirements of their faith where those conditions or policies are also favorable to the public health, safety or morals. For example, even though religious beliefs are behind many criminal laws and some family laws, such laws have a long-standing history of appropriateness in democratic societies. But where believers are in the majority they should always be sensitive to the views of the minority.
We might see this talk as a lawyerly trick of rhetoric, using code to make sure the faithful still get the “right” message while minimizing the PR hit and keeping a slippery grip on plausible deniability. But an equally credible approach is that he is simply following in the religious tradition of his predecessors. How many sections in the Doctrine and Covenants have subtexts, available only to the most allegiant members? And the Savior himself had this to say about his use of rhetoric:
Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. (Matthew 13)
What do you think about Dallin Oaks’ technique in teaching about political participation? Do you agree with me that he was indeed speaking of gay marriage? Was it an effective way to deliver his message? Do you think his young adult audience “had ears to hear?”