The Prop 8 Overturn – A Personal Sigh of Relief

Disclaimer: I understand that this is a very controversial, emotional subject. I am a practicing, faithful Mormon. I love the Church, I love its teachings, I love the prophet. I have great respect for him as a person. However, I also have a firm belief that faithful dissent is possible within the government of the Church and so I offer my reasons of why I was never a fan of Prop 8, since the subject has once again come up in our society’s limelight. I offer these reasons because I believe that Prop 8 is more motivated by discrimination and misunderstanding of the plight of the gay community than a desire to follow God and His basic commandment to love one another. I am not trying to attack anyone, but only to lay out my doctrinal reasons of why I find something like Prop 8 troublesome. If you decide to post comments, keep them civil. Normally I am about freedom of speech at all costs, but if anyone begins to spew hateful vitrol or refuses to exercise even a modicum of charity in this difficult discussion, I will wield the Ban Hammer of Sensitivity without prejudice or discrimination. You have been warned. If you do not read this whole article carefully and then proceed to write comments that betray this ignorance, I will call you out. Possibly rudely, all depending on if I’ve had lunch yet or not.

A crowd of Prop 8 supporters.

A crowd of Prop 8 supporters.

Prop 8 has bothered me for a lot of reasons, and a lot of it is because I’m a Mormon.

And now that it’s overturned, a lot of old wounds that started to scar over and heal have been ripped open once more, gaping sores just waiting to be infected with hate and intolerance. But hopefully, we will have some patience when it comes to these issues. Personally for me, when news came out that it was overturned, I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m hoping that this will pound the final nail into the coffin and we’ll move on from this issue and leave it behind and just deal with the fact that gay people exist and kinda wanna, you know, have loving, monogamous, stable relationships, but I am probably being very idealistic.

I am not a fan of Prop 8. I think it’s done much more damage than any net good we could have gained from this endeavor. I think getting so heavily involved might have been a mistake on our part, such as our skipping around in Missouri in the 1800s, not sensitive to the local social customs and belief systems which eventually inflamed the paranoia and brought about the horrible tragedies and injustices in Missouri. But it’s not because the backlash scared me, or that my public education has “conditioned” me to be a liberal (as some people claim), or because I am not a faithful member who doesn’t believe that the prophet can speak for God, or not even because I have gay Mormon friends and know of the personal hell they sometimes go through because of our insensitive actions (though they all influence the turmoil I experience right now because of Prop 8).

I disagree with Prop 8 on some very fundamental doctrinal issues. And those are the hardest for me to reconcile.

Vocal dissent at a No on Prop 8 rally.

Vocal dissent at a No on Prop 8 rally.

1. Agency

I’ve written before why I’ve disagreed with Prop 8 on an agency level. Ironic, then, that people in the Church claim that gay people have agency and so they “chose” to be gay (people who say such silly comments do not understand the gay experience). Agency is one of the most fundamental principles of Mormon theology. We believe that we are agents to ourselves, that the atonement of Christ has freed us to choose good to our salvation, or to choose evil to our damnation. Our coming to earth would be nullified if God had already decided who was going to hell and heaven (we reject predestination), since he could have just decided that in the beginning, separated the goats from the sheep, and we would never have to go through the difficult experience known as life today.

Remember the story of Alma and Amulek in the Book of Mormon? They’ve just taught the rebellious city of Ammonihah the gospel, but the non-believers became so angry that they threw all of the scriptures into a giant bonfire. Then, forcing the imprisoned missionaries to watch, they begin to throw women and children who believed in Jesus into the fire as well. Amulek, the green one, cried out in understandable agony to his senior that they should stretch forth their hand and save the people from destruction and punish the wicked, for God surely has the power to. Alma replies that it’s not whether God can save the people being thrown into the fire. God allows horrible things to happen to good people because then those wicked people cannot have any defense in the Final Judgment. It’s like Minority Report – how solid is your accusation if you said they were going to be wicked but you stopped them last minute? But if they had already committed the crime, they have no defense. Thus it is with God who has an eternal perspective, as does Alma. The prophet tells his newly commissioned missionary that though those thrown into the fire suffer for a season, they are ultimately taken up to the presence of the Lord where they will know peace and happiness for eternity.

This is how important agency is to God – he only intervenes if there is some absolute importance in saving someone. The Book of Mormon is all about people who meet grisly deaths – Abinadi the prophet is burned at the stake without seeing a single convert in his entire mission. The titular prophet Mormon is forced to lead his wicked people to their own destruction in a war and is slaughtered along with the people who broke his heart so many times. God preserved Nephi while traveling to the promised land, but once that goal was established, it was open season on him – he was forced to flee along with anybody who would follow him and hide within the wilderness until they could defend themselves against their jealous, murderous brethren. God preserves our agency by allowing wicked people to do bad things.

Now, gay marriage will probably not do violence to the social institution of marriage. Television programs like the Bachelor and Bachelorette probably do more violence to the social notions of love and marriage more than two gay people in a monogamous, loving, stable relationship. Our obsession with celebrity marriage and divorces which parade in our supermarket checkout aisles do more violence to the social institution of marriage. Or what about divorce? Should we start banning divorce, which obviously destroys marriage relationships? Of course, most reasonable Mormons would say absolutely that’s ridiculous. But why? Because we instinctively understand a principle Augustine wrote (which Thomas Aquinas later re-emphasized in the Summa Theologicae): “human law cannot punish or prohibit every evil action, because in trying to eliminate evils it may also do away with many good things and the interest of the common good which is necessary for human society may be adversely affected.” Thus, Aquinas writes, there is a difference between divine law (religion) and human law (politics). If churches wish to bar homosexualities from certain services they provide, I suppose it’s in their perogative if they feel it is evil, but human law should take care in not trying to eliminate an evil and thus introduce a far greater evil. In this case, we may be trying to do away with the sin of homosexuality (if you so believe) but by fighting it with human law and not just divine law, we have opened up the Pandora’s Box of very deadly, dangerous sins – intolerance, anger, wrath, hate, fear, paranoia, and violence.

Which, then, we ask, is the greater sin?

God feels that agency is A Very Important Thing. So much so, that if we take the example of Alma and Amulek, even if the gay population were to round up all the Mormons and toss them into a fire, he wouldn’t intervene unless things got really dire – and I think we can all admit we’re not to that point.

The problem with a church with polygamist history saying marriage is between one man and one woman.

The problem with a church with polygamist history saying marriage is between one man and one woman.

2. Polygamy

I am not a fan of polygamy; I agree with President Hinckley when he said in an interview with Larry King that it was not doctrinal. However, many people in the Church still believe polygamy was mandated by God and a true principle and this, then, brings out the true logic pretzel we’re forced to twist into if we want to support Prop 8.

Polygamy nearly destroyed the Church. The Federal Government was all up in our grill to the point that they actually sent a battalion of the U.S. Army to invade if we proved to be terrible people (fortunately, we avoided an all out war). We stuck to our guns, but soon things became horribly intolerable – the government started seizing all of our temples and assets and forcing most of the Church leadership into the underground. John Taylor, the third prophet, was in exile for two and a half years. Imagine then, if for five General Conferences the prophet didn’t speak from the pulpit because we had no idea where he was. That was how much of a disarray this situation sent the Church into.

Eventually, Wilford Woodruff issues the official declaration rescinding polygamy but this takes actually multiple official declarations because so many people were so used to practicing it and for the Church officials to tell the government that we don’t practice polygamy anymore but then tell everyone to practice celestial marriage (wink wink) that it took several decades (almost an entire generation) for the clean break between the LDS church, which no longer practices polygamy and the FLDS church, which does.

Many members today still believe that polygamy is a true principle and that we will someday come back to that practice (I don’t believe we will and if we do, I’m out!) and if that’s true then Prop 8 doesn’t allow for that to happen. To me, this destroys any real logical consistency we have in supporting Prop 8. It just doesn’t make sense.

Policing a Prop 8 rally.

Policing a Prop 8 rally.

3. We don’t really care about any other marriage except our own

Do you remember that super long scripture that might or might not have been a scripture mastery verse?

And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity,…are of no efficacy, virtue, or in force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.

Doctrine and Covenants 132:7

This is why if you don’t get married in the temple, it’s not for time and eternity. It’s just until death do us part (and most Protestant Christians don’t like the idea of eternal marriage anyway). So, we would teach, that while marriage is nice, unless it’s done in the temple, it’s not eternal. It’s null and void once we die.

So why do we care about gay people getting married again?

I think it’s safe to say that knowing a gay person will only probably better you. I know that my intolerance of homosexuality dropped dramatically after I found out one of my close church member friends was secretly gay. Suddenly, I started seeing them as a human and my capacity for charity swelled. I consider my life enriched by my friendship with this person. I know many Mormons who would also attest to this fact – knowing gay people can only enrich your life, never destroy it. If that person happens to hurt you in some way, it’s not related to his or her sexual orientation but personality instead.

If we decide to go after gay marriage, why do we not care about Protestant marriages, or Catholic marriages? In our religious zealotry, are they not also sham weddings, mockeries of the true order of marriage revealed to us by God? But we wouldn’t even dream about it! Why? Because, well, let’s be honest. They’re not gay.

The idea that the government would also force the Church to marry gay people in the temple is absolute garbage. Absolute garbage. If this was true, they would have forced us to marry non-members in the temple, too. This hasn’t happened yet, and it probably never will. As much as people hate this sentiment, religious freedom has never been more alive and vibrant in America than today. How do I know this? Because a mob hasn’t broken into my house, burned it down, and raped my wife. This used to happen to us. It doesn’t today.

If we don’t care that Catholics and Protestants or Hindus or Buddhists or what have you conduct marriages without the priesthood of God, then why do we care if gays get married, too? According to our belief, it’s not like God will honor those marriages in the next life. So why do we care of what happens here? Allow them the agency to do what they wish, and God will sort it out in the end. If you think they’re doing something wrong, then by all means, attempt to teach them what’s right. But remember that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42). Otherwise, amen to that man’s priesthood. And you know, Prop 8 doesn’t really fit (in my opinion) any of those traits. It kinda looks like compulsion to me.

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

4. Sodom and Gomorrah was about injustice, not homosexuality, and we’re committing their sins

This is perhaps the biggest beef I have. There’s something about Sodom and Gomorrah that sparks the dark side of human imagination. Perhaps it’s the lurid allusion to homosexuality (sodomy, after all, comes from Sodom). Or maybe it’s the frightening shock that God would nuke two of the biggest cities on the plain off the face of the planet. Who knows. Either way, the common traditional Christian view on Sodom and Gomorrah is that their sin was homosexuality, but this actually probably isn’t the case.

We now go to Jewish folklore, and since the Jews (or more accurately, the Hebrews) were the first to pen this story, they probably are closest to the actual record.

Did you know that Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin is not homosexuality, but brutal injustice? It’s true. This was the surprise that awaited me when I perused through my first book of folklore, A Treasury of Jewish Folklore compiled by Ausubel. The sins of Sodom was not salacious homosexuality, but “the genius of evil” and “diabolical cleverness.” For example, one story, A Sodom Trick (p. 366) details how a rich man comes to Sodom and stays with one of the inhabitants. The wicked man asks him to store a fragrant flagon of oil with the rich man’s treasures because he is afraid someone will steal it. The rich man unwittingly agrees in exchange of the Sodomite’s “hospitality.” Later that night, the Sodomite follows the scent of oil to where the rich man’s treasures were hidden, and takes off with all of them.

Or what about the illustrative story called “Charity in Sodom” (p. 367) where the people of Sodom practiced charity in a horribly cruel way? Whenever a poor stranger would come into town and ask for alms, they would give him a gold piece with the name of the giver engraved on the coin. But there was a rule that no stranger could buy food and so in time, he would die of hunger and they would come to the corpse and take back their gold pieces. In another illustrative example, “A Very Ancient Law”, Rabbi Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, chasties the town when they try to pass a “new” law that would propose that poor Jews living outside the city of Vilna should not be allowed to come into the city to collect alms. ” ‘Do you call that a new law?’ asked Rabbi Elijah scornfully. ‘Why that law was introduced more than five thousand years ago in Sodom and Gomorrah!’ ” (p. 80).

Not a single story is about homosexuality. In fact, after reading several tomes of Jewish folklore, I have yet to come across a story tying the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah to homosexuality. However, every single story detailed how the cities of the plain demonstrated great lengths of inhumane cruelty to their fellowmen – especially the poor and downtrodden – and, here the “diabolical cleverness” and “genius of evil” comes in, often their cruelty they try to disguise as charity.

Isn’t that what we’re doing right now? Utah recently finally passed a law that allowed gay people the protection of property. Before, you could kick a gay person out of their own apartment which they signed a contract with you simply because they were gay. Could you imagine the fear they might have lived in? Finally, a law was passed that prevented this which Utahns took as controversial (it shouldn’t have!) and it’s a sad day when that kind of late legislation is considered “a victory” for gay rights. A lot of members I knew acted like this was some sort of concession, as if we were doing the gay community a favor by saying, “Okay, fine. We won’t kick you out of your homes simply because you’re gay.” This is not charity – this is inhuman treatment wherein when we finally stop beating and torturing them, we say, look how nice we are that we stopped. This is a sickening attitude, and it’s exactly what Sodom and Gommorah would have done.

We do not show gay people any charity by implying that they cannot love as we do, that they cannot have monogamous, stable, loving relationships. We don’t show them any charity or respect when we deny them the same concepts, rights, benefits, and blessings that all straight people have. Instead, we act like Sodom and Gommorah, pretending to hand out charity, but in reality, we demonstrate real cruelty and injustice to a percentage of the population who have been downtrodden, beaten, and had their faces ground upon (as Isaiah would put it). These people need the brilliant light of the gospel of Jesus more than ever, and what do we do? We belittle them and tell them they are subhuman, that we are protecting them from themselves, when in reality, if we were to be perfect and not sin ever to gain the benefits of marriage, no one would be married because are we not all sinners in the sight of God?

This is not good PR.

Abraham meets Melchizedek.

Abraham meets Melchizedek.

To close this point, I share one last Jewish folktale called “God Protects the Heathen Too” (p. 456). The great patriarch Abraham was known for his generosity and hospitality (he’s famous for it), and so it’s no surprise that in this story, he sees an old tired man afar off and runs to him, inviting him into his tent. He fed him a great feast, gave him his fill of cold water to drink, and then begin to teach the man the gospel.

However, this man was pretty intent on his heathen ways and politely declined any of Abraham’s missionary work. And so in anger, he promptly drove him out of his tent for not accepting the gospel.

Later that night, God visits Abraham and teaches him this final lesson:

Then spoke God: “Have you considered what you have done? Reflect for one moment: Here am I, the God of all Creation – and yet have I endured the unbelief of this old man for so many years. I clothed and fed him and supplied all his needs. But when he came to you for just one night you dispensed with all duties of hospitality and compassion and drove him into the wilderness!”

Then Abraham fell upon his face and prayed to God that He forgive him his sin.

“I will not forgive you,” said God, “unless you first ask forgiveness from the heathen to whom you have done evil!” (p.457)

In turn, Abraham runs out into the desert, finds the old man, falls at his feet and, weeping, begged for his forgiveness. The old man, moved by Abraham’s pleas, forgave him, and the two were reconciled. Later, God appears and tells Abraham, “Because you have done what is righteous in My eyes I will never forget My covenant with your posterity. When they sin I will punish them, but never will I sever My covenant with them!”

Abraham’s hospitality, charity, and lesson applies to the gay community as well. It’s a wise lesson in love and forgiveness we should all learn. I do not doubt that in the next life, we may seek out the gay community we have hurt, and, falling to their feet, weeping, will beg for their forgiveness.

The prophet Isaiah receives inspiration.

The prophet Isaiah receives inspiration.

5. Sometimes, the prophet doesn’t speak for God but for himself

This is the hardest thing for me to talk about, not because it destroys testimonies (I don’t believe it should) but because people are so violently against this concept. But hear me out.

Sometimes the prophet doesn’t speak for God but for himself. After all, God brought us to earth so we can learn to be more like Him, and sometimes that requires us to do things on our own. If you studied under the best mathematician in the world so that you can become the best as well, it would do you no service for her to hover over you and give you hints to every math problem. When you start struggling with a specifically difficult one and turn to her for help, she may just say, “No, you need to figure this out on your own. It will make you a better mathematician.”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, for example, taught:

“[A person might have] a strong desire to be led by the Spirit of the Lord but…unwisely extends that desire to the point of wanting to be led in all things. A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don’t receive it.”

Thus, we know God wants us to exercise our agency. What if we made a mistake? That’s to be expected, and God provided His Son to perform the Atonement. Thus, we can exercise our discernment and grow in wisdom and experience without fearing of making just one mistake that will damn us to hell for all eternity. As long as we look to Christ, we can stumble through this life, making mistakes as we go, and continue to learn and grow without living in darkness forever.

So sometimes prophets go out on a limb. They exercise their spirit of discernment and their faculties of reasoning and say things – even teach things – that turn out to be very, very wrong. The most famous and contemporary example is Bruce R. McConkie, who as an apostle, spoke passionately that the priesthood ban on Africans would never be lifted. Ever.

But it was. And in response, the great apostle said:

There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world…. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more…. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.

What faith and humility!

This isn’t the only time it’s happened, though. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young postulated that the lost ten tribes could be on the moon. Brigham Young taught that Adam was God (which McConkie later denounced vehemently as heresy), and everyone just nodded until after his death when people quietly swept that doctrine under the carpet. Another prophet (whose name alludes me at the time) suggested that a space voyage to the moon would never happen before the Second Coming because this earth was all that mattered to our salvation. Examples a plenty!

Does this mean that they’re not prophets? Absolutely not. Sometimes we teach the doctrines of the Church in binary – Church good, other churches not as good. Coffee bad. Prayer good. Prophets true, other religions’ prophets not true. But life isn’t in black and white – it’s in shades of grey. Lots of grey. And maybe even colors. It’s complex, it’s multifaceted, and we have no idea what new truth God may be preparing for us. We believe that God has yet to reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God, so why do we always insist that we have all the truth? We obviously don’t. Joseph Smith didn’t, Brigham Young didn’t, and Bruce R. McConkie didn’t. So what hubris we demonstrate by implying we know everything?

Sometimes prophets make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes even get institutionalized. But remember the first point, agency? It’s important to God. Really important. I know the Official Declaration in the Doctrine and Covenants has Wilford Woodruff saying that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray,” so how can prophets be wrong? Simple. I believe this declaration is pretty flexible when it comes to human error. Should a prophet deliberately try to bring the Church down from the inside out and acts with that intent, God will remove him from his place. But if a prophet really believes in something to be true and teaches it to be true even when it might not be true, God will allow mistakes to happen because of agency. Brigham Young didn’t teach Adam-God theory to destroy the Church – he really believed it. But eventually, as Bruce R. McConkie says, we gain more light and knowledge than our forefathers and we put it to use.

Love will prevail.

Love will prevail.

When the news of the Prop 8 overturn first came to light, a friend of mine who is a faithful member of the Church mentioned to me he felt a little betrayed. But his reasoning surprised me. For this friend, after the letter about Prop 8 and an additional broadcast, the Church leadership didn’t mention a lot. No real mention in General Conference. No articles about it in the Ensign. But members made sacrifices with often horrific results because they felt it was important to do what the prophet says. But there was little support from the higher ups and he felt a little miffed because the rank-and-file members were left hung out to dry.

I believe Prop 8 was more of a political issue rather than a doctrinal one. This doesn’t mean I think the Church will reverse its stance on homosexuality anytime soon. But I don’t feel that this move was inspired by God. I think that the Church threw their hat into the political ring based on conservative family values along with other denominations of Christianity and didn’t expect the virulent reaction from the rest of the nation. I believe that the prophets got together and discussed this situation they found themselves in (offered by the Catholic Church to help support a very controversial proposition in California) and exercised their agency, discernment, and wisdom to try and find a way to hold true to their family principles. I think that perhaps the action they later took might not have been the best solution, but I am also imperfect. Either way, it appears to me we’ve quietly backed away and hopefully, this episode will fade from the cultural zeitgeist. But the damage is done. Families have been torn apart, people have lost their faith, and others like me were forced to reconsider theological concepts and restructure their world view and their view of the Church. Prop 8 marked the beginning of a wild ride where I began to radically reconsider everything I believed and what roles they played in my life. My faith has taken a beating, but I feel I am more faithful and believing than ever.

Of course, nobody talks about the prophet being wrong because it opens up this can of worms: how do we know when the prophet is speaking for God?

Well, this is why they counsel us to constantly pray for help and revelation that what the prophet is saying is true. We do not shift all decision making, agency exercising, situation discerning and experience building moments to the prophet. We should not give up our ability to use our faculties of reasoning simply because we believe God has sent us a prophet. As Hugh Nibley pointed out:

“Come, let us reason together,” He invites the children of Israel. Accordingly Abraham and Ezra both dared, humbly and apologetically, but still stubbornly, to protest what they considered, in the light of their limited understanding, unkind treatment of some of God’s children. They just could not see why the Lord did or allowed certain things….

God did not hold it against these men that they questioned Him, but loved them for it: it was because they were the friends of men, even at what they thought was the terrible risk of offending Him, that they became friends of God. The Lord was not above discussing matters with the brother of Jared, who protested that there was a serious defect in the vessels constructed according to the prescribed design…

Plain humility is reverence and respect in the presence of the lowest, not the highest, of God’s creatures….

A discussion with God is not a case of agreeing or disagreeing with Him – who is in a position to do that? – but of understanding Him. What Abraham and Ezra and Enoch asked was, “Why?” Socrates showed that teaching is a dialogue, a discussion. As long as the learner is in the dark he should protest and argue and question, for that is the best way to bring problems into focus, while the teacher patiently and cheerfully explains, delighted that his pupil has enough interest and understanding to raise questions – the more passionate, the more promising. There is a place for discussion and participation in the government of the kingdom; it is men who love absolute monarchies.

I’m not saying I have more light and knowledge than the prophet does. That would be horribly arrogant for me. What I am saying is that this kind of stuff doesn’t add up. I have questions, I don’t understand, I’m in the dark. It doesn’t make sense to me within the theological framework I have discovered for myself and believe to be true. And until someone convinces me otherwise, I will wait patiently until the Lord reveals to me what is actually going on. Until then, I do not offer up these arguments as rebellion against the Church or the prophet, but as points of discussion so that we may ascertain the truth. As the Lord tells us often, let us reason together and figure out just what this mess is all about.

Anger at a Prop 8 rally.

Anger at a Prop 8 rally.

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13 Comments

Filed under life stories, politico, religion, wordsmithing

13 responses to “The Prop 8 Overturn – A Personal Sigh of Relief

  1. David

    Very well written. Very well argued. I agree with a lot of it. I was very confused when the Church spoke out against Prop 8, because I had been taught all growing up that the Church did not involve itself with political affairs, and the I was reading statements encouraging members to support this proposition. For me, it came down to your points 1 and 3, I am against Prop 8 because it goes against agency and in the end, is really unnecessary. Are people afraid of gays now getting married, because that will somehow destroy the world? I just don’t get it, because, without the priesthood that marriage is really just an agreement, a piece of paper, just like a Catholic or Protestant marriage.
    But the Church’s released statement about this overturning, I feel, was well written and sums up the Church’s position.

    http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/news-releases-stories/church-statement-on-proposition-8-ruling

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regrets today’s decision. California voters have twice been given the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage in their state and both times have determined that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. We agree. Marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of society. …we urge people on all sides of this issue to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different opinion.”

    The Church states its position, but encourages “mutual respect and civility”.

    I just hope we can all find some more “mutual respect and civility toward those with a different opinion”, no matter what that would be. Sure, we can still have our opinions, as I do, and we can share them, as Ted has done, but in a civilized, grown-up manner, without name-calling and ad hominem attacks.

    • Ted

      Thanks.

      Also, just as a minor correction, the Church spoke up for Prop 8, not against. I know, it’s super confusing. Just to be clear,

      Yes for Prop 8 = no gay marriage
      No for prop 8 = yes gay marriage

      It’s all opposites down in California!

      And yes, I think the Church’s released statement is measured and reasonable. I hope we as members can demonstrate that same kind of attitude towards this subject.

  2. Carlyle

    Very good insights Ted, it reflects a lot of what my wife and myself feel toward this subject. It really has caused a lot of us to reexamine the way we look at our religion as a whole. For me it has made me realize how different I am from my fellow members in my opinions and views of doctrine. Thanks for the supportive article.

  3. I was for proposition 8, even though I don’t live in California. I think the “no on 8” side has/ had a lot of good arguments for it.

    However.

    I think, Ted, you are too quick to dismiss our church’s involvement as some weird personal vendetta of President Monson’s. The church actually HAS discussed this in general conference and the ensign. This isn’t new doctrine.

    Here is a conference talk given by President Hinckley in 1999, eleven years ago.
    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=ff1b6a4430c0c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    Are you proposing that President Hinckley, as well, was misguided in this matter? Disagreeing with what the prophet says isn’t enough to dismiss his counsel as “personal opinion.”

    Let’s look at this from an eternal perspective. Part of our mission on the earth is to do Temple work, right? “Lest the whole earth be wasted at his coming?” In the case of homosexual families, to whom are the children sealed? Gender is an eternal principle, and children require one male and one female parent. So are children sealed to their biological mother/ egg donor? The belief that children will be sealed to their homosexual parents flies in the face of everything the church stands for.

    • Ted

      I din’t mean to characterize the Prop 8 thing as a “weird vendetta”. I don’t think the Church is really out to “get” the gays, as a lot of Prop 8 opponents say. What I mean is that Prop 8 (in my opinion) was more of a political maneuver by the Church and wasn’t like, say, God coming down from yonder heavens to tell President Monson, “Dude, you totally need to support this.” I think they came together as a deliberative body and made a decision and that’s that. Did it cause harm? Yes, I think it has caused a lot of harm. Was it intentional? Knowing what I know about the people who lead our Church, I think they were probably mortified at the reactions to Prop 8. I do not think they meant to cause so much of a ruckus or so much pain and suffering about it.

      Also, as far as the Church talking about Prop 8, I did not mean to say the Church has never talked about homosexuality. I meant to say they’ve been relatively quiet about Prop 8 specifically. Actually, I don’t even know if the assertion of them not talking about Prop 8 in the Ensign or General Conference is true; I was simply relaying how a friend of mine felt. But as far as my incredibly faulty memory says, I don’t really remember any General Conference talk or Ensign article about Prop 8. But I could be completely wrong in this matter. If there was, I’d be interested in seeing it.

      And I don’t mean to criticize the church’s stance on homosexuality. I agree that in a sealing sense, homosexuality causes all kinds of logistical kinks and problems. However, even when it comes to heterosexual biological families, sealing gets messy when it comes to divorce and so forth. I don’t really want to get into detail but if you want me to, I will in another comment.

      When I say I’m not a fan of Prop 8, I mean I’m not a fan of Prop 8 – the legal proposition. I don’t like it politically, philosophically, legally, nor do I like it morally. While temple work is our mission on earth, it’s also our mission even after the Second Coming of Christ. We have backup provisions to fill in the gaps when it comes to the sealing network we’re creating as a Family of God, and I figured we’d just use those when this whole mess we call earth life gets sorted out. Certainly, I can’t see a homosexual, married couple somehow getting approval to go to the temple to get sealed to their adopted children anytime soon. I just don’t see it. So I’m not entirely sure that’s a relevant concern. Besides, what happens when a faithful Mormon couple adopts some kids from Malaysia? Should the Malaysian children be sealed to the Mormon couple or to the original biological mother? If to the Mormon couple, isn’t that kind of like stealing children? Will they be reunited with their original Malaysian biological mother or will they stay sealed to the Mormon couple? You don’t have to use homosexuality as a factor to complicate eternal marriage and families.

      Like Aquinas, I would say if you want to prohibit homosexuality as a spiritual law, that’s kewl in my book. Spiritual law is supposed to be lofty and idealistic. But when you start trying to ban things with human law, you need to become very careful, as when push comes to shove and theory hits practice, all kinds of bugs that we had not thought about will start to come out and we may end up doing more harm than good.

  4. I don’t think you read the talk by president Hinckley that I linked.

    I hasten to add that we deal only with those legislative matters which are of a strictly moral nature or which directly affect the welfare of the Church. We have opposed gambling and liquor and will continue to do so. We regard it as not only our right but our duty to oppose those forces which we feel undermine the moral fiber of society. Much of our effort, a very great deal of it, is in association with others whose interests are similar. We have worked with Jewish groups, Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, and those of no particular religious affiliation, in coalitions formed to advocate positions on vital moral issues. Such is currently the case in California, where Latter-day Saints are working as part of a coalition to safeguard traditional marriage from forces in our society which are attempting to redefine that sacred institution. God-sanctioned marriage between a man and a woman has been the basis of civilization for thousands of years. There is no justification to redefine what marriage is. Such is not our right, and those who try will find themselves answerable to God.

    Some portray legalization of so-called same-sex marriage as a civil right. This is not a matter of civil rights; it is a matter of morality. Others question our constitutional right as a church to raise our voice on an issue that is of critical importance to the future of the family. We believe that defending this sacred institution by working to preserve traditional marriage lies clearly within our religious and constitutional prerogatives. Indeed, we are compelled by our doctrine to speak out.

    while this isn’t about “proposition 8” specifically, it covers why we got involved, and why it was necessary.

    My problem with your post, Ted, is that underneath all your rhetoric you are basically saying, “The First Presidency made a mistake because Prop 8 proved so wildly unpopular.” The fact is, you don’t know that President Monson didn’t receive divine instruction on this matter, you can only guess. Besides which, I don’t think The Church will ever win any popularity contests. Sometimes doing what is right steps on people’s toes, but that doesn’t mean we should stay quiet so as not to make waves.

    As for divorce and temple sealings: I’m married to a child of divorced parents. I am well aware of the situational ethics. However, my husband was still born to a man and a woman, and they were/ are legally recognized as his parents. That’s pretty cut-and-dried. What happens when a child’s legal parents are two men? How is that supposed to work? As for adoption, the church has published many an article about that in the Ensign.

    Not only that, but redefining the nature of marriage undermines the concept of gender itself. I can’t imagine that anything good could come of that.

    • Ted

      I admit I skimmed it and I apologize for that. That was clearly my mistake. Also, I’m typing this at night where I’m kind of tired, so this may come out jumbled and garbled. If you feel I’m not answering your questions, I’m probably not being intentionally evasive – most likely it’s a case of chronic absent-mindedness.

      I’m not quite sure where you’re getting the “it’s a mistake because it’s wildly unpopular” vibe. I’ve tried to explain the doctrinal issues I have with getting politically involved. I, too, don’t believe the Church will start winning any popularity contests anytime soon, but that doesn’t give you the excuse to step on toes when you might not have had to. And you’re right in that I have no absolute idea whether the direction to go into the whole Prop 8 thing was from God or not (I admit as much). What I’m saying is that growing up in a Church atmosphere where political neutrality was the norm (even, sometimes, a sacred standard), standing in my position as someone who has several gay friends (some even in the Church), and holding more questions than answers about how doctrinally sound the problem is, I am reluctant to attach the big stamp of Godly approval on it for me personally (especially since I’ve not felt much spiritual confirmation about the subject in favor of it). I understand speaking out against it, teaching against it, warning the world against it, and what have you, but when you start to step into the realm of the political, you have to be careful. Philosophers and theologians alike (some even from our Church) have spilled much ink about mingling politics with religion. It seems to poison both. I guess when it comes to our political neutrality, I like it very much because it prevents all kinds of shenanigans (on both sides) and keeps things clean. Render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, and render unto God’s what is God’s.

      It’s not popularity I’m concerned about; the Church has done unpopular things that I’m proud of the Church for standing up to. What I’m concerned about are the consequences when we begin to dabble in these kinds of things politically. And I’m not talking about consequences of public opinion – I’m talking about consequences to members within our own Church. I know a lot of people who are very distraught and distressed. Many feel they have to pick between the Church or their family. Others (like me) don’t feel like such a harsh measure as legislation was the right way to solve or fight this “problem” and feel marginalized from the Church we love because of this opinion. There are some in the Church who feel that this whole proposition just doesn’t feel doctrinally right, and they have a hard time conceiving why they should stand behind Prop 8, and the answer they get is an unconvincing “Just follow the prophet; you’ll see.” We’re hurting a lot of our own members in some pretty nasty ways. And I would hope we as a Church wouldn’t say, “Well, they’re just weak and lack faith.” Joseph Smith would give the shirt off his back if someone said he’d leave the Church if he didn’t, simply because if they can just stay in the Church a little bit longer, maybe they will feel the goodness of Christ strengthen them to the point where they might need such crutches (and I’m not sure if feeling empathy for the pain we’ve caused in people with this proposition is a “crutch”). I’m with Aquinas and Constantine on this one – if you try to stamp out all evil with legislation, you will end up only with horrible abuses by the state/church. God told us that the tares and the wheat will grow together because if you try to rip out the tares, you’ll only rip out the wheat as well. I can understand that the Church feels that sometimes it needs to jump into the ring on super-important issues, and if it feels that homosexuality is one of those issues, well, not much I can say to dissuade otherwise. But I think we’re going to end up ripping out an awful lot of wheat while trying to rip out the tares, and it’s going to be painful for a lot of people.

      Also, you probably know already that I remain unconvinced that gender could be considered eternal (but it may be a vocabulary thing – in sociology, gender is the social framework you construct as far as your role in society related to your sexuality, which is your, ahem, physical components; so by definition gender is incredibly subjective and fluid from person to person. When most people say gender, they often mean the term sexuality, which is why I get confused because I find the differentiation very useful). And even when it comes to your sexuality, sometimes there are grey areas (see also: hermaphrodites). From gender to sexuality, we have ample evidence that sometimes, the line between what is male and what is female can start to blur very badly, and that suggests to me that we need to make sure what we consider to be “eternal” is truly, really eternal and not just imperfect, mortal biology.

      As for sealings and children adopted by gay couples, I assume that we will just fix it in the Millennium – just like the plight of children who just never got sealed period because their parents never came in contact with the Church. My parents are first generation Mormons, which means I have entire genealogical lines who have never had any sealing done period. A child of a gay couple’s lack of sealing is no more problematic than the lack of sealing in my ancestral lines. And who do we seal them to? Well, obviously we’ve established that sealings can be fluid from “parent” to “parent” through the case of adoption, and so, again, in my mind, is there really a “problem”? I don’t mean to be glib about it, but to me, there plight of the adopted child of gay parents is no different than the plight of my ancestors – no chance for sealing in this mortal life, so we’ll get it fixed in the next life. When you say it’s a Really Big Problem, I guess I get a little bit miffed because I feel like you’re saying my ancestors are a Really Big Problem for just being born in a “bad” time period. Going through life without the sealing blessings is sub-optimal, but also the case for probably close to 95% of all human beings. I guess I just trust God has a way of fixing such sub-optimal states in the next life.

      • I can see that we’re never going to agree on this, but I hope we can still be friends, anyway.

        In your desire to reconcile Church doctrine with your own philosophy, you have overlooked most of the modern revelation on this matter from the last two decades, particularly the Proclamation on the family.

        http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=1aba862384d20110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=e1fa5f74db46c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

        Key quotes:
        marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

        Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. [see?]

        Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.

        Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

        We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

        There is a measure of “it’ll all work out in the Millennium,” of course, but I don’t believe we are meant to rely solely on that. In the last two years, the Church has published about ten articles on adoption in the Ensign, and why it is important for people in this life to have the benefit of a mother and a father, meaning a male and female parent.

        I guess I have a hard time understanding how you can still feel the way you do about Proposition 8 and consider the Proclamation an inspired document.

  5. E-rock

    With her second post, Beth hits the nail square on the head.

  6. Ted

    I am positive that we can still be friends, despite differences. :p

    I am not saying that the Church is wrong to emphasize traditional family values. I’m not arguing that they are wrong. I’m not saying that the Church should throw up their hands and say, “Well, we lost. Might as well just abandon the whole ‘Family. Isn’t it about time?’ motto.” I think more than ever the Church should stand up and say, “Hey, the world is going to hell in a handbasket and it starts in the family. Parents need to love each other and love their children. Marriage is important and should be taken seriously. Childrearing is an important social work and we need to take this seriously as well. Learn to communicate. Learn to love each other. Learn to incorporate the Lord into your family life.”

    Gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage and family, but remember that people thought the same thing with polygamy. However, eternal principles are eternal principles, and just as much gay marriage is a threat, so is child abuse, lack of discipline in the home, irresponsibility with children, abortion, divorce, infidelity, etc. Some of these threats I perceive as more of a threat to traditional family values than gay marriage (such as infidelity or divorce). However, we don’t support legislation that criminalize infidelity or divorce (as much as some members want to). Why? Because we say it’s impractical. I perceive the same problem with prohibiting gay marriage in the long run. It’s simply impractical. But then again, trying to prohibit and criminalize all but the most serious of offenses is downright impossible sometimes.

    My concerns with Prop 8 does not rest on the idea of family values but more on moral agency. I guess you can characterize me as a big believer in the Winthrop “City on a hill” concept, Augustine’s “City of God” concept, and the oft quoted Joseph Smith quip “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” Real righteousness is achieved through loving persuasion and living a good example. In this way, we can bring others to Christ without compromising someone else’s agency. We should believe in the power of the gospel to change lives through the Spirit, not compulsion. And as Augustine wrote, we belong to the city of God, which is not the city of the world. When we attempt to use the power of the world to enforce the city of God, we tend to run into problems. Add in the very distinctly Mormon idea of moral agency, and it compounds the complications of using the power of the state to enforce morality.

    But you are right that the “God will sort it out in the end” thinking can only take us so far. We can’t achieve some kind of outer-worldly detachment from the world. We live in the world, and thus we have a duty to the world (I’ve just finished re-watching season 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender so I think I might end up quoting it somewhat). But when we participate in the world, we sometimes need to learn how other people react to what we do. I guess to me, I see the whole Prop 8 thing as a net-loss for family values. We get smeared (unfortunately) as bigoted, superstitious, hateful, even hypocritical. People are less willing to listen to our good news, and in this way, we lose the most effective channel we have in reaching out to people – preaching and living by example (or what Aquinas would call divine law). To me, living the gospel and explaining how it helps us with our families (even when our families are less than perfect) will persuade people more to listen to our message than using compulsory state means.

    I suppose this falls into the whole “we want to be popular” category of thinking if you so please, but it’s less about me wanting people to like the Church (and by extension, me) but more that if the Church remains unpopular, we have a hard time reaching out to others. As Paul said, we have to be all things to all people when reaching out to others in the world. For example, Clement and Origen coached the gospel in terms of Hellenistic philosophy in order to reach Hellenistic populations (this was immensely unpopular with some of the current Christians at the time, but it also helped Christianity grow immensely – it’s worth noting that both Origen and Clement doggedly argued that they refused to compromise on the basic principles of Christianity because it would, of course, defeat the entire purpose, right?). And as Christianity moved into other countries, a lot of the great missionaries learned to coach the gospel in terms of Hinduism and Confucianism. They, too, were criticized by others within the Church for compromise (and sometimes, to tell the truth, there were. For example, Catholic missionaries in China were criticized for tolerating – of all things – polygamy, which had the okay from Confucian thought. Other Catholic missionaries were criticized for tolerating the caste system in India; granted, if they tried to teach against it, they met with bitterly little success). As we move into the more “politically correct”, post-modern era of the world, I believe we need to learn to coach the gospel in their vocabulary and on their playing field.

    (As an interesting aside, this concept is an incredibly hot-button topic in Protestant Christianity right now – the Emergent Church Movement is an evangelical Christianity movement that embraces post-modernism as a way to stay relevant to newer generations. The older generations resent this change in Christianity; in my opinion, both the traditional churches and the new Emergent Church are necessary for keeping people in a state of worshiping God – our attitudes and positions in life are fluid and ever-changing; multiple ways to access the power of God in our lives reduces those periods where we feel alienated from God and the Church. This is my main argument against what I consider the highly artificial and stifling atmospheres of our singles wards, but that’s another blog post.)

    Of course, you may disagree. There are generally two basic schools of thought when it comes to any proselyting religion. The one I belong to is the “We need to understand them in order to teach them” camp. My life experiences have led me to where I am now. The other is the “Truth is truth and they need to learn it or we compromise our message” camp. Both have great points and a lot of merit. And, I believe, both need each other to keep each other on track. I guess my life experiences have directed me to where I am now. I believe that your counter-arguments provide relevant discourse in determining the best way to go. Echo chambers only breed excess and distortion of perceived reality. I think we both stand relatively close on family issues – perhaps our real disagreements come from how we propagate those values.

    Gosh, I ramble. How did I start discussing the Emergent Church? Monkey feathers.

  7. Colby Johnson

    There are several things that have been going through my mind as I have followed this post (its changes) and the subsequent response and think that there has been made some valid points made on both sides.

    I am grateful for how you reminded us of the principle of agency saying, “Agency is one of the most fundamental principles of Mormon theology,” and I will add, it is fundamental to God’s great plan. Through my personal battle of ignorance, I have come to learn that this is absolutely true and is repeatedly taught in the scriptures. God will not compromise the agency of His children; however, Satan will.

    To support a point you made in the article as well as in the most recent response to Beth, Elder Christofferson taught, “The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline… As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that “gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior. . . .
    “Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.” (http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1117-34,00.html).

    We cannot expect government to legislate every point of our lives and to enforce morality upon the heads of all, nor should one be dependent on the government to gage what is moral conduct.

    I do not believe the Church’s stance and support of the Prop 8 issue was in any way designed to deprive the agency of others (It will probably serve useful to point out the distinction of the Church’s stance and the member’s execution). Prop 8 makes no attempt to deprive any individual the right to live a homosexual life style; it is not legislating the moral facet of this issue. It is attempting to govern the legal definition of a family with all of the legal ramifications intimately associated with it (i.e. the right to adopt a child, etc.).

    Referring back to your excellent example of Alma and Amulek watching the saints burn, The church by no means is calling down the powers of God to intervene in the lives of the Californian homosexuals and stop them from choosing to live their immoral lifestyle; rather, the Church is supporting the formal, legal definition of the family seeking to prevent ramifications such as children being adopted by homosexuals. (I do agree by the way, that the Church will most likely not be forced to marry Gays in our temples).

    As I pondered over these things, my heart was called to the Family Proclamation, but even further than that I went to President Hinckley’s address in the General Relief Society Meeting in Sept of 1995 were the Proclamation was originally presented and I prayfully studied the Proclamation and the context under which it was brought forward. I have felt the reassured and know without a doubt that the Family Proclamation is the absolute word of God to us in the last days and I feel that the Church’s stance is a fulfillment of the call set forward in this inspired document (although I admit the individual execution of the members may have not been the best). I conclude with these thoughts from President Hinckley’s address:

    “There are those who would have us believe in the validity of what they choose to call same-sex marriage. Our hearts reach out to those who struggle with feelings of affinity for the same gender. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and our sisters. However, we cannot condone immoral practices on your part any more than we can condone immoral practices on the part of others.
    “With so much of sophistry that is passed off as truth, with so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn. In furtherance of this we of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles now issue a proclamation to the Church and to the world as a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history. I now take the opportunity of reading to you this proclamation:…
    Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
    “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=69ac6e9ce9b1c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    Colby Johnson
    http://asimpletestimony.wordpress.com/

  8. Laurel

    Very well written. I agree with a lot of it. The only sticking point I can see in this whole thing is that if gays were allowed to marry civilly, then the church by extension would have to recognize the legality of them – since they had been recognized by the law of the land, and we believe in honoring, upholding and sustaining the law – plus we recognize civil marriages performed outside the temple. This is the sticking point, because if the church has to recognize the validity of those marriages, then they also would have to be okay with the fact that those gay people were acting on their homosexual desires, which is the one thing that the church says they can’t do if they want to stay in the church right? That’s the feeling I get based on what has been said on the topic before by church leaders. And of course the church can’t allow people to practice homosexuality, which we regard as a sin, so ergo, they can’t support gay marriage.

    However, your arguments are otherwise very well written.

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