“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”
Welcome to Civil Nations, a blog that explores religious, cultural, and political intersections within Mormonism and engagement between Mormons and other faith traditions. I teach religion at an LDS institute of religion and philosophy, Mormon studies, and interreligious understanding at a public university. Finally, I am the Custodian of the Mormon Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy (FRD). I am committed to civil dialogue at every turn regardless of how complex or emotionally charged the issues may be. So, let the discussion begin!
I’ve been asked the following question many times but what follows is the most recent. I ended my world religions lecture on Catholicism and the class dispersed. That is all but one recently returned missionary. He waited for the others to leave and then hesitantly approached me. “Could I speak to you in private?” he asked. “More private than this?” I replied. “Yes.” So I escorted him down the hall to a an empty faculty lounge. With the door securely closed he cautiously told me that he had been invited to his friend’s same-sex marriage ceremony and earnestly inquired: “Should I go?”
To many this may appear to be the extent of the depth of his question–and in many corners of Mormon culture the question to attend, or not to attend a same-sex wedding or reception is a sufficiently charged proposition. However, I have learned that a much more pressing question usually lingers beneath the surface. So, I asked a follow up question: “If no-one was looking over your shoulder, and you were assured that you could follow the feelings in your heart without repercussion, would you go?” “Yes” he quickly replied. “O.K., then what is your hesitation?” He then went to that deeper and generally silent place and asked the question that maintained greater weight in his mind. “Well, there is that part of the Temple recommend interview that asks, ‘Do you follow or sympathize with any individual or group whose teachings are contrary to those held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?’ Wouldn’t I be violating the spirit of that question if I support my friend by attending her wedding? Wouldn’t I giving my approval to a union that is contrary to the doctrines of the Church?” I said, “I don’t think so.” At that point he asked me to explain. So I did. Here is the crux of my answer.
Not all decisions and relationships are governed by hard and fast definitions of Church doctrines and teachings. It is more complex and nuanced than that. In fact, there are times when doctrine and teachings intersect requiring a decision between the two. Take the commands to avoid the very appearance of evil and another commandment to love one another and do unto others as you would have done to you. For example, it is not acceptable within the doctrines of the Church for me to break the Word of Wisdom. But I am also commanded to love one another which, in this case, usually means to maintain close relationships between family and friends that do not obey the Word of Wisdom so long as I do not compromise my standing before God in the process. Similarly, it is wrong for me to break the Law of Chastity but it is not wrong for me to associate with friends or family that do. Perhaps a stronger intersection between Church standards and broken commandments would be abortion that is carried out but not under conditions that include the health of the mother, the unborn child’s clear inability to survive outside the womb, or pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. I know women that have had an abortion and men that have encouraged and/or funded an abortion but I am not complicit in this choice because I associate with them, neither am I forbidden to form friendships and foster love for persons that have committed or funded this act.