As Mormons we pride ourselves on being led by a prophet. We believe we are in a privileged position to know the will of God. This is also stated in our scripture: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith).
We also believe that God has given us The Book of Mormon to help navigate these perilous last days with even more specific direction contained in the Doctrine & Covenants. So it is curious that with all of this access to the mind of God, and the promise of forewarning and prophetic instruction, our modern scriptures are silent on same sex marriage, or indeed homosexuality in general. There simply are no passages in The Book of Mormon, no revelations on the matter from Joseph Smith, or any subsequent president of the Church.
Sure there are some obscure verses in the Bible which seem to relate to homosexuality, but since they are only mentioned by Paul in the New Testament, and in the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, it is a perfect example of the kind of confusion that The Book of Mormon might clear up. Compare the zero verses about homosexuality to such evils as infant baptism, that The Book of Mormon devotes 22 verses to denouncing in Moroni chapter eight, or the 27 verses in Jacob chapters two and three where God (in the first person) decries the abomination of polygamy as exceeding that of pride.
If same sex marriage is the downfall of civilization in the last days (as we are led to believe from recent conference addresses), then modern revelation has prepared us poorly.
That is not to say that we do not have any opinions from our leaders:
Homosexuality became a topical issue in the United States during the 1950’s and 60’s. Apostle Spencer W. Kimball lamented in ‘The Miracle of Forgiveness’ (1969):
“In some countries the act per se is not even illegal. This ‘liberalizing’ process is reflected in the United States by communities of homosexuals in our larger cities who demand acceptance of their deviate beliefs and practices as ‘normal,’ who sponsor demonstrations and draw up petitions to this end, who are formally organized, and who even print their own perverted journals. All this is done in the open, to the detriment alike of impressionable minds, susceptible urges, and our national decency.” p. 78
Elder Kimball spoke strongly against homosexuality in his book with such statements as:
“Homosexuality is an ugly sin, repugnant to those who find no temptation in it” (p. 78). “Sin in sex practices tends to have a ‘snowballing’ effect…Thus it is that through the ages, perhaps as an extension of homosexual practices, men and women have sunk even to seeking sexual satisfactions with animals”(p. 78). “After consideration of the evil aspects, the ugliness and prevalence of the evil of homosexuality, the glorious thing to remember is that it is curable and forgivable”(p. 78).
As Elder Kimball subsequently went on to become President of the Church ‘The Miracle of Forgiveness’ became a reference guide for many members, and its passages became the foundation for his and other Apostles’ talks.
As President of the church he continued to express his opinion about Homosexuality. In General Conference October 1980 he stated:
The unholy transgression of homosexuality is either rapidly growing or tolerance is giving it wider publicity… The Lord condemns and forbids this practice with a vigor equal to his condemnation of adultery and other such sex acts. And the Church will excommunicate as readily any unrepentant addict… The fact that some governments and some churches and numerous corrupted individuals have tried to reduce such behavior from criminal offense to personal privilege does not change the nature nor the seriousness of the practice. Good men, wise men, God-fearing men everywhere still denounce the practice as being unworthy of sons and daughters of God; and Christ’s church denounces it and condemns it so long as men and women have bodies which Can be defiled.
In April 1984 President Kimball called Dallin H. Oaks, a prominent high court judge to be an Apostle. One of Elder Oaks’ first jobs in the quorum was to give a legal brief to the brethren on ‘Legislation Affecting Rights of Homosexuals’ (August 1984).
The document is worth a read in its entirety but here are some highlights:
1) Elder Oaks’ opinion (echoing President Kimball) – that homosexual relations are wholly deviant & homosexual marriage is deviant to patriarchal family.
2) His advice – that the church should vigorously oppose homosexual marriage.
3) His caution – that there is an irony in the church pursuing one woman and one man marriages as we fought against that in 1878 at the supreme court with polygamy.
This brief was subsequently used as the direction the Church would take. In the absence of revelation on the matter it became the position and pseudo doctrine of the church. Setting the stage for our more recent battles against same sex marriage.
The church’s new war was not without its setbacks. When working against same sex marriage in Hawaii (March, 1995) and in collaboration with Christian-Right groups, the church’s ability to define marriage as one man and one woman was challenged because of the declaration on marriage from the Doctrine and Covenants, section 132 was the practice of polygamy. In response, the brethren released a public policy statement, ‘The Proclamation on the Family’ (September, 1995). This became the default position on marriage for the modern church. It cannot be understated that this document has since been elevated as ‘divine’ despite the fact it was never designated as a revelation, and not formally adopted or canonized by communal vote.
Proposition 8 in California (2008) was a hard fought battle, which divided the community and had significant backlash for the church. Members were rallied across the American West to assist in the fight, and though initially they had success, it was short lived. Again this was done as a directive and absent of any revelation.
Ultimately the US Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage (July 2015). But instead of asking if this might be not be the will of God, and as a Church we might have it wrong – the church has since retrenched with further policy. In November 2015 the Brethren labeled Same Sex Marriage, a form of apostasy, requiring church discipline, and excluded children of same gender relationships from all ordinances (Handbook 1). This was done just weeks after a General Conference when this change could have been easily presented and voted upon. It also seemed to exclude the voices of the woman general auxiliary presidencies, who we were assured would be consulted and have voice on significant matters especially those affecting families. Neither revelation nor inspiration was given as justification. Most concerning, President Monson is himself absent from this directive; he did not address this policy change and has never spoken to the issue of homosexuality in all of his tenure as prophet.
And if we look at this new policy closely, not only is it not aligned with scripture, it is in direct contradiction to our existing modern revelation about coming unto Christ. D&C 20:70 requires that members bless their children. D&C 68:25-27 states that it is a commandment that all children of members should be baptized at 8 years old. Can we really negate this responsibility by seeking to excommunicate the parents? What do we do with 2 Nephi 26:33 that “all are alike unto God… he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him”?
We have a lot of explaining to do!
So is it possible that leaders’ opinion have influenced church policy and led the church on a course contrary to the revealed will of God?
We certainly have examples in our history:
Brigham Young in response to societal pressure stopped ordaining black men to the priesthood. His opinion became policy, and that policy became the position of the church for the next 130 years. This ‘doctrine’ treated black members as second class citizens (contrary to scripture) denying them access to the temple and celestial marriage. Subsequent presidents of the church promulgated the same hurtful practice. It took a revelation to reverse it (1978) ironically lead by President Kimball. According to the Race and the Priesthood Essay on lds.org we now disavow those past teachings and affirm that ‘God is no respecter of persons’.
In reconciling changes in church position Bruce R. McConkie, in a 1981 letter to LDS theologian Eugene England stated: “Nonetheless, as Joseph Smith so pointedly taught, a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such. Prophets are men and they make mistakes. Sometimes they err in doctrine. This is one of the reasons the Lord has given us the Standard Works. They become the standards and rules that govern where doctrine and philosophy are concerned. If this were not so, we would believe one thing when one man was president of the Church and another thing in the days of his successors. Truth is eternal and does not vary. Sometimes even wise and good men fall short in the accurate presentation of what is truth. Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are not endorsed and approved by the Lord…Wise people anchor their doctrine on the Standard Works.”
Likewise in 1857 Brigham Young taught fiery rhetoric over the pulpit that the territory was in imminent threat of being invaded by US troops. Saints were counseled to preserve their supplies and restrict trade with wagon trains travelling through to California. Brigham’s opinion became wartime policy, led to tension in Southern Utah and the eventual massacre of 120 innocent men women and children (Mountain Meadows) at the hands of Stake Presidents, Bishops and faithful saints. In speaking at the 150 year anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, (11th of September 2007) President Eyring said “The gospel of Jesus Christ that we espouse, abhors the cold-blooded killing of men, women, and children. Indeed, it advocates peace and forgiveness. What was done long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct”
The Mountain Meadows tragedy happened because everyone thought someone else was being led by God, when in fact most people were being led by fear or simply submitted out of loyalty. If President Young had simply got a revelation that the hostility would be resolved peacefully, as it was the following year, this atrocity would never have happened. But more important, if the members had evaluated their behavior against the teachings of Jesus Christ and pushed back against their leaders it could also not have happened.
“All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures. If we want to measure truth, we should measure it by the four standard works, regardless of who writes it. If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man’s own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true. This is the standard by which we measure all truth” (“Using the Scriptures in Our Church Assignments,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1969, 13).
Are we also now being led by fear or loyalty? Is our current practice the result of personal opinions which have become policy, that have entrenched the church in an un-Christlike, un-winnable position?
How many millions of dollars has been spent on this protracted legal battle, only for it to come to naught? How many hours and how many resources have been misdirected from our core Christian mandate of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and succouring the poor? And how many thousands of young LDS lives have been lost to suicide and homelessness? – All the while insisting homosexuality and same sex marriage is the worst thing imaginable, without a single modern scriptural reference.
If God is silent on Same Sex Marriage, why aren’t we? – Our ‘speculation’ on this matter is hurting innocent people and simply needs to stop! Likewise this new policy against children being deprived of ordinances is abhorrent and in direct contradiction to our revelations and it needs to be rescinded. And most importantly there are greater injustices in the world than people who want to legitimise their commitment to each other. Sure we need to be addressing those.
If we truly believe that Christ is at the head of this Church it is time to teach obedience to Him, and if anyone else….even someone you trust, asks you to feel that another human being is less than, or treat them as unworthy of His love or His invitation…. its ok to challenge that.
This is what being a disciple of Christ is all about!