I am late on this bandwagon; most everyone else I know personally who owns a blog and is Mormon has touched on this. Surprisingly, because of what I’ve written about before on this blog, President Packer’s talk did not really upset me that much (my wife is of a different story). In fact, the only line that irked me within President Packer’s talk was his warning against what he described as “legislating immorality,” but more on that later.
President Packer’s talk didn’t surprise me. He didn’t really say anything that was essentially different than his views in the 1970s. If anything, President Packer is consistent. He didn’t cross the currently established line that the Church has drawn, namely, orientation is different action, and we will only talk about actions, not orientation. Unfortunate, then, that many people came to the conclusion that President Packer had conflated orientation to sin. I don’t believe that was his point, but I can see how that interpretation came to be, and all I can see is that language as our primary mode of information transfer (as much as I love it) is faulty, and miscommunication can occur.
The cynnical part of me wonders, though, if people just simply read into the talk what they wanted/expected to hear. Those hurt by Prop-8 took it as rebuke. Those who want to justify Prop-8 despite the rapidly evaporating reasons found their stick to beat people back into orthodoxy. In reality, President Packer tackled the issue of free will, especially associated with the decision to follow God and resist temptation. This is a core principle that President Packer and I will disagree with as well, but only because I believe free agency requires caveats in order to more clearly reflect our fallen world. But that’s a topic for another (series) of blog posts.
Either way, everyone will read into it what they want to, and with a subject that emotionally charged, it would be almost impossible not to.
My fundamental disagreement, however, came from President Packer’s statement that we as Saints should not “legislate immorality.” This, I am confident, President Packer did speak of in connection to Prop-8, and this is where President Packer and I fundamentally disagree on.
My stance when it comes to religion in the public sphere is thus – you may counsel on moral issues as vigorously as you want; indeed, this is your right. But the minute you organize your flock into a voting bloc, you will lose more than you will gain.
The stance on political neutrality is a long-standing tradition of modern-day Mormonism, one which we’ve only broken several times, specifically in polygamy, Prohibition, the Civil Rights Act (sort of), the ERA, abortion, and now, gay marriage. Oh, and Joseph Smith ran for president once. And I guess we have Senator/Apostle Smoot. But for the most part, we stay out of politics, and when we follow that policy, I’m tickled, really. We rarely promote a particular platform or candidate, and I’d like it to stay that way.
President Packer is not a lawyer, nor is he a political scientist. He’s a teacher by profession, and he’s served as an apostle for a very long time. I respect his counsel and his position in the Church. And so I feel I can safely disagree on this point without jeapordizing any kind of eternal salvation. We simply differ on religious-political theory, and so be it.
I’m of the opinion of Augustine – we are the City of God, not the City of Man, and we have no need to be part of the worldly process. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and what is God’s to God. I am also of the opinion that sometimes, we need to tolerate some kinds of sin, because trying to stamp out some kinds of sin will only introduce more numerous or more serious sins (see also: Prohibition). I am also of the opinion of Thomas Aquinas, who demonstrated that there is Divine Law and Human Law. Because we cannot stamp out all kinds of sin (in fear that we’ll introduce worse ones) with Human Law, the Church implements Divine Law. This law is seperate from the world’s laws. While the consequences are eternal, participation and recognition of Divine Law is voluntary. The Church cannot haul off people not of the Church because they disobeyed Divine Law. In fact, the Church shouldn’t, because then it interferes with the purpose of Human Law (preserve order, equality, and justice) and Divine Law (the exaltation of man). Sometimes, those two are incompatible.
Anyway, before I keep rambling (too late!), I will sumarize crudely by saying that I firmly believe that when an ecclesiastical organization steps in and tries to legislate law, it will fail. Why? It loses legitimacy as an aribter of spiritual, not earthly matters. We sully the Church, and we sully the law. And honestly, we kinda suck at it. Why? Because we have different goals (as mentioned above). So we will fundamentally disagree with what Human Law will sometimes allow, but because we have our sphere in the realm of morality, we can still stridently preach against it. Other wise, per President Packer’s words, if allowing gay marriage to occur is the equivalent of “legislating immorality,” we should also be vigorously legislating against the following legalized activities:
– Fornication of all forms
– Immodest dress
– Tobbacco use
– Tea drinking
– Coffee drinking
– Multiple pairs of earrings
Okay, the last five are kind of silly, but also I say it seriously (since that is the general stance the Church has on those five practices – the partaking somehow will cause the Spirit to flee, and thusly they are “immoral”). Could you imagine the Church working against these practices? And yet, this is the same justification we give for legalizing same-sex marriage, that somehow, it will degrade society. Well, here’s a thought experiment for you. Suppose the Church did manage to succeed in criminalizing all of these things. If you sleep with another woman besides your wife, you’re jailed. Every time you walk outside with your belly showing, you’re jailed. Whenever you’re found with two pairs of earrings, you’re fined.
Which country does this resemble the most?:
D. All of the above
Would you like to live in any of the countries in the previous question’s answers during it’s current political climate?
The very thing the Church absolutely loves about America (religious freedom) we undermine when we attempt to organize our congregations into voting blocs. Yes, I am aware that other churches do it all the time. But we don’t use crosses as adornments and we don’t pass a plate around for collections. We don’t have clergy that are paid and trained in divinical schools. Should we adopt these practices as well? Disclaimer: I wouldn’t mind. But I know that a lot of Mormons would loathe to be “like the other Christian churches.” Well, there ya go.
We should be standing up and saying, “These are our moral stances, but we feel that agency is so important – so important that God cast out 1/3 of the hosts of heaven because they wished to destroy the principle of agency – we will allow people to do what they will. But be warned there will be consequences, and we expect our members to live by standards x and y.” This is not a cowardly stance. This is a courageous stance, namely because very few large ecclesiastical organizations have that much faith in their members and in humanity. Most would rather control everyone and ensure that immorality never occur through legal means rather than through long-suffering, patience, loving preaching, and tolerating other peoples’ imperfections and mistakes, even downright rebellion. Much easier to force everyone with the power of the State into moral submission. Less back-talk, too.
Quick pop quiz for Mormons: Whose plan does that sound like?
I’ve heard the argument that we should be returning to Judeo-Christian values for our legal matters. Ha! When was the last time we did that? Ancient Israel. No, really. Israel has a basis for returning to Judaism for their legal roots. We don’t. Our entire legal system is based off of English common law (which was basically a bunch of nobles getting together and saying, “Sod the King! We’re gonna do our own thing!” and utilitarianism – Go Enlightenment!). Case in point: How come whenever you take a civics class, you’re required to learn about Rosseau, Voltaire, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and the Enlightenment, both vanilla flavor and Scottish, but not the Holy Bible?
And if you answer with “It’s a liberal plot,” then please conjure up some evidence. Until then, let me tell you about a particular Bible that Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers, wrote where he edited out all of the supernatural miracles, or maybe Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason (hint: he’s also the guy who wrote Common Sense! Not Glenn Beck, contrary to popular belief).
The minute we throw our hat into the political ring, we damage the moral ground on which we stand on. You know how it seems that everyone in America right now hates politicians because they are duplicitous and sketchy? Do we really need to have people feeling that way about our Church leaders, too?
The temptation to wield the power of the State to legislate on moral issues is incredible. But, as President Packer said, I do not believe God would create a Church which could not withstand that temptation. And I suppose this has something to do with gay marriage. So there you go. I talked about it. Yay. Now, let’s move onto more interesting things, like President Uchtdorf’s absolutely sublime talk of focusing on the basics! Yes!