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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.