About This Blog

So often in conversations today there is a lack of reason. People disagree, talk around each other, and let passion or emotion take over. No headway, towards truth or mutual respect, is ever made. We should expect so much more of ourselves!

With this blog, I would like to enter the conversation – relating generally to religion, and specifically to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I hope to do so reasonably - or, in other words, rationally and logically.

There are two overarching purposes to this blog, namely apologetics and preaching.

Apologetics

In the thrilling movie “The Prestige,” a magician named Cutter describes audience psychology when observing a magic trick. He says,

“Now, you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because, of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”

I myself am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the LDS Church or Mormon Church.

Unfortunately, so much about the Church is misunderstood, and not all of these misunderstandings are innocent. Half-truths and falsehoods are intentionally perpetuated by critics (from within and without). What’s worse, all too often, we, like Cutter explains, are not really looking for the truth. We are much more content believing the “trick”.

To the Christians of his day, the apostle Peter admonished,

“Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

One purpose of this blog is to combat the misgivings about the LDS Church in mainstream culture, and to defend my beliefs where appropriate. It is my personal attempt to “give an answer” – or at least my version of an answer, for whatever it’s worth – to those who ask why I believe what I believe.

Preaching

The world is becoming a more spiritually dangerous place to live in.  Paul spoke of our day, when “some shall depart from the faith… speaking lies in hypocrisy” (see 1 Timothy 4:1-2) and “men (would) be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy… having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (see 2 Timothy 3:1-7).  An ancient American prophet prophesied of “a day when the power of God shall be denied… a day when there shall be great pollutions upon the face of the earth; there shall be murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceiving, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations” (see Mormon 8:28-31).

Another purpose of this blog is to, in some way, offer what strength I can to my fellow men in this day of tribulation. Whether you are LDS or not, hopefully you will consider what you read in the spirit in which it is intended, and remember that “he that is not against us is on our part” (see Mark 9:40). I very much want to be on your part in bolstering your faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World.

Leave with Greater Faith

May those that visit this blog see those two purposes, and leave with greater faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I invite you to visit mormon.org to learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While there, request a copy of the Book of Mormon. It is a book that, like the Bible, testifies of Jesus Christ. The teachings in that book will bring you closer to the Savior. It is also evidence that the things I say are true, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet who restored the Church of Jesus Christ in our day. Read it for yourself, and test its’ claims.

Also, feel free to check out my other genesis posts (in the bulleted list below) and the Core Beliefs section. They provide a general framework for this blog.

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A Harmful Address from General Conference

I like to explore the blogosphere after General Conference ends. I’m interested in the reactions that others have to the words of the Church leaders, men who I consider to be prophets, seers, and revelators. This helps me to think more critically about what I’ve heard, which in turn builds my testimony in what they’ve said.

One particular post caught my eye. A marriage and family therapist, and member of the LDS Church, wrote a post on the Saturday morning session of General Conference, dividing each speaker’s comments into (potentially) three sections:

  • Messages I Found to be Healthy and Uplifting
  • Messages I Found to be Needing of Further Nuance/Discussion
  • Messages I Found to be Harmful

The first two sections aren’t anything special – this blog, for example, is a place where I often add my own nuance and discussion (from my perspective, of course) to the words of prophets. That third section, though, piqued my interest, perhaps because it’s an idea that is so foreign to me – it’s a short walk from “harmful” to “dismissible,” and that concerns me ever so slightly.

In the interest of adding to the dialogue, I’d like to look at the “harmful” portions identified by this blogger in Jeffrey R. Holland’s address.

Advocacy and Agency

Love and tolerance. It came up in a recent conference session, and Elder Holland discussed it again here – what does it mean to “love one another”?

“At the zenith of His mortal ministry, Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” To make certain they understood exactly what kind of love that was, He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” and “whosoever … shall break one of [the] least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be … the least in the kingdom of heaven.” Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once)” (emphasis added).

The blogger had this to say:

This does not help us be inclusive in our congregations, families or friendships….  Advocates of causes are not usually advocating for “transgression.”  They have equal convictions to ours about their beliefs.  And our beliefs may differ.  But there is no call here to find the similarities with those we may disagree with – which from a systems perspective, is usually the most successful way to effect change anyway.”

I find her comment about inclusiveness informative. While it is certainly something for which we should strive, I’m not sure it has ever taken preeminence over other gospel objectives. The Savior himself said (and Elder Holland quoted in this address),

“I came not to [bring] peace, but a sword.”

His gospel would, as he explained elsewhere, pit family members against each other. This suggests to me (though certainly it merits more discussion than I give it here) that while we can strive for inclusiveness, it should not supplant other, more important, objectives.

I also found her comment about advocacy interesting. I may be misunderstanding her, but I think that what she meant to say was this:

Advocates of causes are not usually advocating for do not usually consider what they advocate for “transgression.”  They have equal convictions to ours about their beliefs.

What’s the problem here? Simply, “transgression” is black and white more often than we’d care to admit. That may be a naive way to look at things – and I’ll readily admit that there is much more gray in the world than we hear about in Sunday School – but is there not a definitive truth? An objective standard?

And if there is an objective, definitive standard, whether or not something is a “transgression” does not depend on the person doing the considering. Advocates may not consider their efforts to be in support of transgression, but their consideration is irrelevant.

(What’s more, many advocates come from biased positions from which they are likely less able to make a good judgement about the nature of their causes, particularly if they are at odds with Church leaders.)

Advocate for what you wish – I don’t have a problem with that, and that’s the very definition of agency – but don’t call good evil, and evil good. This may sooth your conscience about acting contrary to the words of modern prophets, but it’s wrong. And it drives me nuts. So please stop. You know better.

Prophets in the Land Again

The blogger continues,

“He makes an argument for the love of Christ to be tied to measures of righteousness.  Although there are aspects of this I believe in (“if you love me, follow me), here it can be used as a way of separating “us from them,” which is quite contrary to the Messianic teachings he so readily refers to.  He is implying that our current understanding and interpretation of gospel doctrine when it comes to the topics I mentioned above [social initiatives that the Church takes strong stances on] are the teachings Christ would have been championing in our day.  When in actuality the New Testament presents a pretty different narrative – of Christ being quite a revolutionary against the church leaders of His time, prioritizing love OVER measures of righteousness (i.e. advocating for a prostitute against the legal punishment of her day, breaking the Sabbath rules by healing and providing service to those in need, etc.).  If Holland’s argument would have been directed towards fighting against things like human trafficking and slavery, the devastation of chronic poverty, bullying, etc. – I would have been much more on board.  But I think we all got the gist of what types of “advocacy” within our current church culture he was referencing.”

First off, let me just say “THANK GOODNESS that someone FINALLY unlocked these secrets of the New Testament!” I mean, we’ve been wasting so much time with this whole modern-day-prophet thing. If I had only known that a correct analysis of the behaviors of Christ recorded in the New Testament would allow me to align my worldview with correct principles, I could have adjusted so much sooner! WWJD y’all! Who knew?

Okay, I jest.

But seriously, the entire premise of this paragraph (before even getting into content) is completely nonsensical. I would expect this kind of talk from a mainstream Christian, because for them the Bible is their authority. Creeds and dogmas and standards are all reverse-engineered from these 2,000-year-old pages, because they believed that with the close of the apostolic era revelation ceased.

Latter-day Saints are different. We don’t believe that the Church is based on the Bible.

(This is about to get hardcore – credit for the idea goes to Ross Baron, by the way.)

Our Church is not based on the Bible. Our Church is based on what the Bible is based on – revelation, through prophets. Joseph didn’t call 12 apostles because Jesus had 12 apostles. We don’t support the ideas in The Family proclamation because of some random verses in the New and Old Testaments. We don’t trace our practice of proxy baptisms to Paul’s off-hand reference to it in Corinthians. All of these things are born of revelation, through prophets.

Following this idea through, if something that a prophet says conflicts with my idea of what the Savior would do (even an idea built on Biblical stories and concepts), I’m going to accept that maybe I’m missing something about the Savior and side with the prophet.

But the blogger does have a point. The Savior was absolutely a revolutionary, but not exactly in the way she implies. The Savior revolted most strongly against the legalism of his day, the “measures of righteousness,” but not righteousness itself, something obscured in her examples. The Savior did advocate against the legal punishment for prostitution of his day in this case, but also admonished the woman to sin no more. The Savior did heal and eat on the Sabbath, but he was breaking the legal restrictions put up by the religious leaders, not the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy (a commandment he himself gave originally). There is nothing in the Savior’s action or ‘activism’ to suggest that he ever prioritized “social justice” over keeping the commandments.

What if we don’t know the answer? What if we’re confused? What if there’s disagreement?

That’s why we have prophets.

Not Popular

Elder Holland suggested that prophets aren’t popular. Unfortunately, it feels like they have a growing up-popularity even within the Church.

What do you think about his talk?

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Cherry Blossom Faith

It’s beautiful in Washington state right now. Just last weekend, my family and I visited the Quad at the University of Washington, where the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. The winters here are cold and dark – in December, the sun doesn’t rise until 8am and sets as early as 4:30pm – so it’s refreshing to see color and vibrancy return as we meander into spring.

That beauty was offset by some difficult news. I say difficult, because while it doesn’t really affect me directly now, it’s indicative of a culture shift that will impact me in a big way, sooner or later.

Ousted

Mozilla (the company behind the popular browser Firefox) announced on its blog that Brendan Eich is stepping down as Mozilla CEO. I won’t pretend to know everything about this situation, and it may very well be that it’s more complicated than any “outsider” knows, but it looks fair to say that this resignation had its roots in the uproar over Eich’s contributions to the Prop 8 campaign in 2008.

The blog post above reeks of hypocrisy, as it extols the virtues of free speech while simultaneously citing a very specific kind of free speech as justification for the departure. Business Insider’s Jim Edward said:

At the heart of the move is a fundamental contradiction: Eich’s foes disapproved of Eich’s intolerance for LGBT people. But in the end they could not tolerate Eich’s opinions, which for years he kept private and, by all accounts, did not bring into the workplace.”

Implications

As I look at this story, I wonder what it means for me as a devout Latter-day Saint that ascribes to theological pillars like those contained in The Family: A Proclamation to the World (now almost 20 years old, by the way).

For me, my fundamental religious convictions are as negotiable as your skin color or your gender or your sexual orientation. You may suggest, innocently or not, that I could change if I wanted – “It’s just a belief” – and to a degree that’s true.  As they say, “If, in the last few years, you haven’t discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead.” We all should be constantly learning and evolving when it comes to forming ideas and opinions.

And yet, when looking at someone’s fundamental convictions, it’s unreasonable to expect them to change as easily as one might change their clothes. Jesus is the Christ. Joseph Smith was His prophet. The Book of Mormon is everything it purports to be. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s church, and is led by modern prophets. Those things aren’t open to negotiation – “It’s true, isn’t it? Then what else matters?”

(I can’t change, even if I tried – even if I wanted to.)

So what happens when people finally decide that my beliefs are unacceptable? What happens when we can decide that any person’s beliefs are unacceptable, and then dole out punishment? I get that we can’t shake our Puritan heritage to the point that the slutty girl dying in horror movies is still a reliable trope, but this isn’t fiction. Society is demanding blood from those it sees as sinning against it, and Society’s bible is terrible subjective.

Bottom line? It’s gonna get hard for folks like me. Really hard. And that’s a little scary.

Sacrifice

Alma taught us that faith is like a seed. We plant the seed in our hearts, and then we can see for ourselves the effects that follow, the kind of growth that takes place.

But Alma cautions us against merely spectating. He says,

“But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.

“Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof” (Alma 32:38-39).

Alma doesn’t suggest that the scorching sun is conditional. It actually sounds like the opposite – ‘The sun’s coming, so prepare!” In the Savior’s parable, the rain falls on everyone’s house, regardless of who is wise or foolish.

But that rain and sun are also nourishing and strengthening to a seed that is cared for. That rain and sun are essential, in fact, if the seed is to grow into a fruit bearing tree.

I think about this in relation to something Joseph Smith said – “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” Perhaps hard times are coming, but when they come, I have faith that I’ll be better for having experienced them.

(It’s a good thing I’ve gotten used to half-baked premises and vitriolic rhetoric from my Evangelical Christian friends – love you guys!)

Blossoms

That might sound disheartening. I don’t look forward to strained (or lost) relationships and increased animosity all around me, or the defamation of a position that I find far from ‘bigoted’.

But in the end, that’s just sun and rain. After every winter comes a springtime, and the tree grown from that tiny seed of faith, in the light of those hard times, can produce fruit and flower every bit as beautiful as my local cherry blossoms. That kind of fruit is sweet above all that is sweet – eternal life, the greatest gift.

General Conference is this weekend. There will be a lot going on. You even have some misguided Latter-day Saints continuing their practice of shanghai-ing spiritual events for publicity.

Because that’s how the Church works. Goobers.

But you will also have good things going on. There will be leaders, men who talk to God, that will tell us those things that will lift us up, and give us answers. I’m going in to this General Conference with questions, about these and other subjects, and I’m confident – I know – that I’ll come out with answers. I know the same can happen for you.

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Polygamy, Priesthood, and Prop 8 – a FAQ

This is where the alliteration stops. I promise.

To return to my Mormonism/Same-Sex Marriage hub, go here.

An Understandable Connection

Many people have (understandably) drawn a connection between the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and past positions on priesthood or polygamy (that alliteration wasn’t even on purpose). In essence, they’re saying this:

The Mormon Church used to practice polygamy, and now it doesn’t. The Mormon Church used to restrict priesthood ordination among blacks, and now it doesn’t. The Mormon Church is currently opposed to same-sex marriage – someday, it won’t be.

Could this be the case? I can’t say for sure. Still, I’m fairly confident that the Mormon Church’s position on same-sex marriage, for better or worse, will not be changing. This FAQ is meant to explain why.

Of course, these are my own answers. I’ve yet to hold any position of import in the Church, so take them for what they’re worth, and please excuse any error in them. I don’t presume, and never have, to speak for the Church.

Q: Don’t Mormons practice polygamy?

A: They did. This is what the Church writes:

“In accordance with a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage—the marriage of one man to two or more women—was instituted among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s. Thereafter, for more than half a century, plural marriage was practiced by some Latter-day Saints.”

Polygamy was ended in 1890 (that’s about 125 years ago). Wilford Woodruff, who was then the President of the Church, wrote about his revelation in a statement called the Manifesto. Anyone currently practicing polygamy is not permitted to become or remain a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Q: Why did Mormons practice polygamy?

A: In short, we don’t know.

There are only a handful of scriptures that mention polygamy. Jacob, an early Nephite prophet, mentioned it while teaching about chastity. He said,

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to practice polygamy); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things (and practice monogamy)” (Jacob 2:30; see whole chapter).

In this verse, and similarly in Doctrine and Covenants 132:63, polygamy is identified as a method to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed”.

Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is Biblical and righteous when it is sanctioned by the Lord. It may have been practiced by Joseph Smith as part of the “restoration of all things” (he never fathered any children by any of his plural wives).

Other reasons have been suggested, but anything else is speculation. The Church writes:

“Plural marriage did result in the birth of large numbers of children within faithful Latter-day Saint homes. It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in other ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it; per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished as economically disadvantaged women married into more financially stable households; and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population. Plural marriage also helped create and strengthen a sense of cohesion and group identification among Latter-day Saints. Church members came to see themselves as a “peculiar people,” covenant-bound to carry out the commands of God despite outside opposition, willing to endure ostracism for their principles.”

For more on this question, see FairMormon’s answer here.

Q: Isn’t polygamy breaking the commandments?

A: Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy was not contrary to the commandments when it was directed by the Lord. In fact, all men and women were required to obtain the approval of Church leaders before entering a plural marriage.

Q: Why did polygamy end? The timing of Woodruff’s “revelation” is pretty convenient.

A: It’s not difficult to see that Latter-day Saints were willing to follow what they believed to be a divine commandment regardless of the cost. Convenience would have dictated abandoning polygamy much, much earlier. Church leaders did not end the practice until there was literally no other course of action that would prevent dissolution of the Church.

Woodruff later wrote the following about why polygamy ended:

The Lord has told me to ask the Latter-day Saints a question, and He also told me that if they would listen to what I said to them and answer the question put to them, by the Spirit and power of God, they would all answer alike, and they would all believe alike with regard to this matter.

“The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursueto continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?

“The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice…. I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write….

“I leave this with you, for you to contemplate and consider. The Lord is at work with us.”

We may not always understand why the Lord does things, but it’s not difficult to argue that he is often pragmatic, and the dissolution of his church would certainly have been contrary to his will. In that respect, the timing of the revelation was not only convenient, but essential.

Also, the Church writes:

“By 1890… Mormon society had developed a strong, loyal core of members, mostly made up of emigrants from Europe and the Eastern United States. But the demographic makeup of the worldwide Church membership had begun to change. Beginning in the 1890s converts outside the United States were asked to build up the Church in their homelands rather than move to Utah. In subsequent decades, Latter-day Saints migrated away from the Great Basin to pursue new opportunities. Plural marriage had never been encouraged outside of concentrated populations of Latter-day Saints. Especially in these newly formed congregations outside of Utah, monogamous families became central to religious worship and learning. As the Church grew and spread beyond the American West, the monogamous nuclear family was well suited to an increasingly mobile and dispersed membership.”

What hear from that excerpt is that, perhaps, plural marriage had met its purpose.

Q: What about blacks? They were kept from holding the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances until the 1970′s.

A: During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a number of blacks, including Elijah Abel, were ordained to the priesthood. After Joseph’s death, Church leaders stopped ordaining blacks. No official explanation was given for this practice, and later Church leaders believed that a revelation was needed to alter it. They received this revelation in 1978.

Divinely sanctioned discrimination is not without precedent in Biblical history. We don’t know why it was practiced by the Church in modern times (past speculations have been absolutely disavowed by the Church).

Throughout all of Church history, many blacks were baptized and remained faithful. I’m white myself, so it may be worth seeking out accounts of active, black Latter-day Saints and seeing what they have to say about their faith.

For more on this subject, see this article by the Church or my post about the “Bott-gate” fiasco.

Q: This “revelation” seems awfully convenient, too.

A: It might. Yet much as was the case with polygamy, convenience would have dictated that this change happen much sooner – perhaps as much as 20 years or more sooner – than it did.

Q: So you have no idea why your Church practiced polygamy, and you have no idea why your Church discriminated against blacks. What’s the deal?

A: The deal is that sometimes we’re expected to have faith. We are often not told explicitly why we need to obey one commandment or another. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said,

“It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people [have] put reasons to [commandments] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong.”

We have seen examples of this in relation to both polygamy and the Church’s dealings with blacks. Sometimes, we just don’t know why the Lord does things.

Q: That’s a cop out, and you’re describing blind obedience. That’s one reason why people think Mormons are a cult.

A: And people are free to think what they want, but there’s quite a difference between blind obedience and faithful obedience. The former is passive, but the latter is quite active.

N. Eldon Tanner said,

“We do not suggest blind obedience, but obedience by faith in those things which may not be fully understood by man’s limited comprehension, but which in the infinite wisdom of God are for man’s benefit and blessing.”

Even though we may not comprehend everything behind the Lord’s commandments, we can still have faith in Jesus Christ and his servants. We gain this faith by actively studying out the issues and praying that God will confirm what we’ve learned and decided.

Brigham Young said,

“I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided, and directed by one man. …Our enemies hate the fact of our being led by one man. Thousands of times my soul has been lifted to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, to make that verily true in every sense of the word, that we may be led by the man Jesus Christ, through Joseph Smith the Prophet. You may inquire how we are to know that we are so led. I refer you to the exhortation you have heard so frequently from me. Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived, it is because you deceive yourselves.You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind, and there is no calling of God to man on earth but what brings with it the evidences of its authenticity….

“What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”

Q: What’s so wrong about expecting the Church to change it’s mind on homosexuality and same-sex marriage? We just talked about how the Church did it before with polygamy and blacks.

A: It may happen. With the changes in 1890 and 1978, there’s certainly precedent. One Latter-day Saint, writing about this same question, argued that change was possible and said,

“For those readers who might argue that it was the Lord that dictated the LDS Church’s positions — pro and con — on polygamy and equal rights for blacks, I argue that they allow themselves to dwell on the possibility that the Lord may also intervene on behalf of gay marriage as well.”

I can’t disagree, and this is why I gave my brief disclaimer early on. The Lord, through his prophet, may absolutely change the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and homosexuality.

Q: But you’re not sold on that idea.

A: No, I’m not. I think that, at best, our understanding of the principles behind polygamy and the priesthood ban are vague. Additionally, neither was related to sinful behavior. With homosexuality, it’s different. The principles behind that position are not only well understood, but central doctrines to Latter-day Saints and core to the Plan of Salvation. Let me explain.

Look at polygamy, for example. It was never practiced widely in the Church, nor do Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is essential to salvation. Additionally, even today it’s not recognized as a “mistake” by modern Latter-day Saints; it’s culturally and socially abhorrent to us, as it was to those in the early days of the church, but we believe it was a divine principle initiated by revelation and discontinued by revelation. The purposes for that initiation or discontinuation are unclear, but Latter-day Saints do not believe that its legitimate practice was ever contrary to the commandments.

And what of the racial discrimination? President David O. McKay, in 1954, said,

“There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes (sic) are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”

Why was the policy in place? We’ve already discussed that we don’t know. The same President McKay said that, while blacks were children of our Heavenly Father, they

“were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”

Whether we know the reasons or not, it remains that while the ban was practiced, it was not founded in any doctrine.

The Church’s position on same-sex marriage is borne of much more fundamental doctrines that will not change.

Many of those doctrines are found within The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It reads,

WE, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that 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.

ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

IN THE PREMORTAL REALM, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

WE DECLARE the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

THE FAMILY is ordained of God. 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.Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. 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.

A number of the fundamental doctrines covered in this proclamation include the eternal nature of families, the rights of children to a home with mothers and fathers, and the eternal nature of gender. These principles, which are not subject to change, are not the product of an individual church leader’s musings or theorizing. This proclamation represents the testimony of the unified body of men that lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as such, commands a much greater influence over gospel cannon than “that one thing Bruce R. McConkie said that one time” or “that sermon Brigham Young gave way back when”.

Additionally, the law of chastity is applied to everyone, not just homosexuals. True, homosexual Latter-day Saints are expected to be celibate, but so are single heterosexual Latter-day Saints who don’t marry, whether it’s because they are just plain goofy or it’s because they have some physical or mental handicap that prevents it.

This is an unimaginably difficult circumstance for those who feel same-gender attraction, and I will never fully understand that plight. Perhaps Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ words apply here. When asked if he could describe this enormously complex question in a couple of basic principles, he said,

“God loves all of His children. He has provided a plan for His children to enjoy the choicest blessings that He has to offer in eternity. Those choicest blessings are associated with marriage between a man and a woman by appropriate priesthood authority to bring together a family unit for creation and happiness in this life and in the life to come.

“We urge persons with same-gender attractions to control those and to refrain from acting upon them, which is a sin, just as we urge persons with heterosexual attractions to refrain from acting upon them until they have the opportunity for a marriage recognized by God as well as by the law of the land. That is the way to happiness and eternal life. God has given us no commandment that He will not give us the strength and power to observe. That is the Plan of Salvation for His children, and it is our duty to proclaim that plan, to teach its truth, and to praise God for the mission of His Son Jesus Christ. It is Christ’s atonement that makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins and His resurrection that gives us the assurance of immortality and the life to come. It is that life to come that orients our views in mortality and reinforces our determination to live the laws of God so that we can qualify for His blessings in immortality.”

For more on this complex issue, see Mormons and Gays and the Interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman on Same-Gender Attraction.

This is meant to be an updated version of this post here.

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The Five Things Mormons Won’t Tell You About Same-Sex Marriage

So, I have a confession to make. The title of this post is completely misleading. It will talk a fair amount about Mormonism, and a fair amount about so-called same-sex marriage, but I’m not planning to reveal five things, or ten things, or any specific number of things that Mormons won’t tell you (as if there were any to begin with – usually, you can’t get a Mormon to shut up!).

Rather, this post is meant to act as a hub. I’ve written about Mormonism and same-sex marriage from time to time, and the recent ruling in Mormon Land (read: Utah) made me think that this might be a good time to organize. Till now, my posts have been largely reactionary and haphazard. My goal now is to fix that to some degree.

That being said, a more accurate title to this post might be something like The Theological Discussion Regarding Same-Sex Marriage. This title, though, is not nearly as enticing, so I played a little trick. I’m sorry. Blame xkcd.

This is what humanity has turned into – doesn’t it just make you want to cry?

But why theological discussion?

This is a complex issue, with sociological, political, economic, and other impacts. Those kinds of issues will only be touched on in a peripheral manner. I’m most interested in the religious principles surrounding same-sex marriage, particularly those connected to the LDS Church. Still, even given that focus, there is much to talk about.

Below, find links to posts I’ve written and updated. (While this is in work – and hopefully it will not be perpetually “in work” like some of my other projects – use tags like “Homosexuality” to explore other posts related to this topic.)

  • Polygamy, Priesthood, and Prop 8 – a FAQ: The Church used to practice polygamy, and now it doesn’t. The Church used to ban blacks from holding the priesthood, and now it doesn’t. The Church currently opposes same-sex marriage. Someday it won’t… right?
Posted in Apologetics, Preaching | Tagged , | 1 Comment

“I am the True Vine”

You might have heard that a young Latter-day Saint was barred from missionary service for his views on homosexuality and so-called same-sex marriage.

There are two things you can be fairly confident of at this point. The first is that there is almost certainly more to the story. The second is that, of course, I have something to say about it.

I found this to be a longer post than most of mine (which says something in itself). Because of that, here’s an abstract of sorts that gives the “Reader’s Digest” version of what’s below.

    • Jesus commanded those who minister in his name to abide in him as a branch abides in the vine. Apart from him, he teaches, we can do nothing. One way we can stay connected to Jesus, the True Vine, is to stand with those to whom this admonition was originally given – the prophets and apostles.
    • Bruce R. McConkie similarly taught that missionaries, who themselves are representatives of Jesus Christ, are called to say and do what the Savior himself would say and do were he personally ministering in their stead.
    • The writer who originally shared this young man’s story claims that he was barred from missionary service for believing that LGBT individuals are equal before God and deserve the same treatment as anyone else. Ironically, this is precisely the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet while Latter-day Saints believe that LGBT individuals are equal before God and deserve to be treated with love, respect, and dignity, they likewise believe that “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.”
    • From the interview given by this young man, it is clear that he had no intention of teaching those elements of the gospel that conflicted with his particular worldview. What’s more, this attitude betrays a misunderstanding of one of the core tenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, namely that the Church is led by a group of men who guide it by divine revelation, as they are inspired by Jesus Christ. In other words, What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken… whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same (see Doctrine and Covenants 1:38). Bearing those two things in mind, it is no surprise that this young man’s priesthood leaders might have found him unqualified for missionary service, and also unprepared to make temple covenants.
    • This may seem to some like a gross overreaction, and yet the way in which we preach the gospel is appropriately taken very seriously. The fullness of the gospel is the only way that mankind can “gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come” (see Introduction, Book of Mormon), and to corrupt that gospel with personal whims and opinions is a serious offense indeed.
    • For more on these subjects, see What Makes Me Mormon or My Thoughts on Today’s Supreme Court Review.

If that short abstract isn’t enough for you, then, by all means, continue reading!

The True Vine

In the last hours of the Savior’s life, he gathered with his apostles to deliver what turned out to be some of the final instructions that he would give them during his mortal ministry. Some of that instruction, found in the beginning of John 15, focuses on the manner in which the Savior expected his apostles, those who he had chosen and ordained (see John 15:16), to minister. The lessons that he taught in this chapter apply not only to those in apostolic roles, but to each of us called to minister in his name. Jesus taught,

“I am the true vine…. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing….

“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”

The Savior was very clear about a minister’s role – those who go forth in his name are to abide in him, as a branch abides in a vine. Those who separate themselves from the True Vine can do nothing. In reference to this concept – that we are nothing apart from the True Vine – President John Taylor said,

“As a (Latter-day Saint) you say, ‘I think I understand my duty, and I am doing very well.’ That may be so. You see the little twig: it is green; it flourishes and is the very picture of life….

“But could the tree live without it? Yes, it could. It need not boast itself and get uplifted and say, ‘How green I am! and how I flourish!….’ But could you do without the root? No….

“Just so with this people. When they are doing their part – when they are magnifying their calling, living their religion, and walking in obedience to the Spirit of the Lord, they have a portion of his Spirit given to them to profit withal. And while they are humble, faithful, diligent  and observe the laws and commandments of God, they stand in their proper position on the tree: they are flourishing….”

One important way to stay connected to the True Vine, and a way that is especially pertinent to this discussion, is shared by Elder Bruce R. McConkie. He says,

Now it is not possible, in my judgment, for people in the world to accept Christ and come to salvation, unless at one and the same time they accept the prophets whom Christ has sent and receive the administration of holy ordinances under their hands.

“Christ and his prophets are one. We could not believe in Christ if there were not prophets to declare Christ and his saving truths unto us. The Apostle Paul reasoned on this subject, and he said: ‘ . .. how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?’ (Romans 10:14-15).

“Except for Christ, there would be no salvation. Except for the prophets of God, sent in the various ages of the earth’s history, the testimony of Christ would not be borne, the message of salvation would not be taught, and there would be no legal administrators who could perform the ordinances of salvation for men, that is, perform them so they will be binding on earth and sealed eternally in the heavens.

“So it is that the Lord has sent prophets. No one would suppose that he could believe in Christ and reject Peter, James, and John. The Lord and his prophets go hand in hand. Christ said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman’; then he said to his Apostles, ‘Ye are the branches.’ (John 15: 1, 5.) The branches and the vine are connected. He taught also that if the branches were torn away from him, they would wither and die and be cast into the fire. If people in the world would pick the fruit of eternal life off the branches, they have to accept the prophets, for the branches are the prophets.”

In order to stay rooted to the True Vine, we must also stay connected to those to who testify of him, those to whom he originally admonished to abide in him as the True Vine.

My Missionary Commission

When I was a missionary, there were a number of recitations we’d do as part of our morning study. Along with Doctrine and Covenants 4 and the Hawaii Honolulu Mission Motto, we recited a piece by Elder McConkie entitled “My Missionary Commission”. It goes like this:

“I am called of God. My authority is above that of kings of the earth. 

“By revelation I have been selected as a personal representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is my master and He has chosen me to represent Him – to stand in His place, to say and do what He Himself would say and do if He personally were ministering to the very people to whom He has sent me. My voice is His voice, and my acts are His acts; my doctrine is His doctrine. 

“My commission is to do what He wants done; to say what He wants said; to be a living modern witness in word and in deed of the divinity of his great and marvelous Latter-day work. How great is my calling!

Did you notice the themes it has in common with the Savior’s teachings from John 15? When we minister in the Savior’s name, we are his representative, and we act in his stead as he would act were he personally ministering to those we serve.

A Costly Position

You may be asking, why this discussion? That’s a good question.

Just last week, the following was posted on Religion Dispatches by Joanna Brooks:

“Emmett C. is a twenty-year-old community college student in the Pacific Northwest.  Last year, he applied to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religious obligation he had long prepared for and looked forward to fulfilling. But in the course of preparing his missionary application, Emmett came out to his local LDS Church leaders—not as a gay man, but as a straight Mormon who believes that LGBT people are equal in the sight of God and should treated the same as straight members of the LDS Church. And on these grounds, he was told that he would not be permitted to serve.”

Joanna Brooks, the “Mormon-Lite” Latter-day Saint that drives me all kinds of insane, then proceeds to interview Emmett about the travesty that was his priesthood leader’s decision to bar him from missionary service. From this first paragraph, you can (hopefully) start to see that something sketchy is going on. It’s this disingenuous position that keeps me from taking Brooks’ interview, and the subsequent inferences made, at all seriously.

As an early example of the misrepresentations in the interview, let’s look at the last phrases above. Brooks writes that it was on the grounds that Emmett “believes that LGBT people are equal in the sight of God and should be treated the same as straight members of the LDS Church” that he was excluded from missionary service.

Ha.

Did you know that the LDS Church actually teaches the same thing? Latter-day Saints absolutely and unequivocally believe that all are equal before God (see 2 Nephi 26:33 for example). Additionally, we believe (and teach) that LGBT people deserve the same love and respect due to everyone as a child of our Heavenly Father (see Mormons and Gays).

So where’s the disconnect?

The disconnect, cunningly left out by Brooks and hidden by some fancy use of equivocation, is that while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints extends the same love and respect towards LGBT people, it does not endorse so-called same-sex marriage. The Church stands firmly by the doctrine discussed in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, including that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and central to his Plan of Salvation.

This is a position with which Emmett and Brooks disagree, despite the fact that they are both active Latter-day Saints. That is likely actually very material to why Emmett is having troubles becoming a missionary. I suggest (as well as I can tell from the incomplete view that Emmett and Brooks provide) that the disconnect lies somewhere with Emmett separating himself from the True Vine, and suggesting that he would not say and do what the Savior would say and do, but rather what he himself deems to be appropriate. As lay members of the Church, there is greater latitude for this; as a missionary, a minister, there is not.

The Q&A – Some Examples

It may be profitable to point out additional elements of the interview that illustrate how Emmett and Brooks may be drifting from the True Vine. Remember, the point is not to judge Emmett, or even Brooks. I’m not at all interested in that. Yet they have made the assertion that the Church is “disciplining” Emmett for stepping out of line, so to speak, when all he’s really interested in is love, peace, and puppy dogs. In my view, that assertion is ripe for some discussion.

For example, Emmett speaks of how he initially “came out” an interview with his bishop. He was concerned about finding himself in a teaching situation, and being unable to endorse the Church’s position. He asked,

“What if it came up in a missionary lesson and if I couldn’t speak out for what I consider a human rights issue?”

He continued,

“I spoke to the Stake President a week later. I shared my concerns and told him about my family background—how it had changed my views, my perspective on gay marriage. At this point, he wanted me to be more specific about my beliefs. It became clear that mine was more than a political belief in marriage equality—we are allowed to have our own political views in the Church. It was actually doctrinal, because I believe that gays should be allowed to get married in the Mormon temple.

In both of these selections, Emmett emphasizes how he was concerned that he’d give priority to a personal position that conflicted with the teachings of the Church he’d be representing as a missionary. This was not even a new concern for him; it’s just that he’d never been asked such direct questions before.

It’s one of the last questions and answers that I think is most telling, though. Brooks asks,

“So even though in all other respects, you are pretty much in agreement with Church doctrine, at the conclusion of your interview, the Stake President informed you that you would not be able to serve a mission.”

Emmett answered,

“Yes, his conclusion was that I would not be able to serve. I would have to fast and pray until I realized that I was wrong and had to change my beliefs in order to support the Church leadership in their decisions. He also said that he wouldn’t allow me to have a temple recommend if I kept these beliefs, which struck me even harder than being denied a mission. That meant my priesthood—which I honor—my hope of marrying in the temple. This really brought home the reality of my situation as someone who believes that gays are equal but can’t be open about it.”

There’s a lot in those two quotations.

First, regarding Brooks’ assertion that he was “pretty much in agreement… in all other respects,” I have to say that the respect he’s not in agreement with is a pretty big issue.

It takes the cake.

It’s the issue.

I’ve heard it said that some will say to us, “I could accept your Church if not for Joseph Smith.” They like the family centered teachings, they like the service, they like the values – it’s just all that nonsense about angles and gold plates and visions that screws all that up. In effect, that’s exactly what Emmett is saying – “I like the missions, the hymns, the scriptures – but the whole deal with the prophets teaching about how same-sex marriage is sinful? I can’t accept that.”

Yet by not accepting that, you might as well throw it all out, as Latter-day Saints sustain the president of the Church, his counselors, and the apostles, as individuals who lead this Church by divine revelation.

Second, Emmett talks about his stake president’s counsel as if it were abhorrent. Fast and pray to modify my beliefs? How dare that be asked of me!

I’ll admit, on the surface, this request does seem strange. God allows agency, does he not? And yet our agency is limited in that we can’t alter reality – 2+2 will never equal 5, no matter how much I want it to. I’m free to choose, because of my agency, whether or not to alight myself to that mathematical reality, but I’m not free to alter it.

The principles effecting the Church’s position are on homosexuality are eternal principles. They will not be changing.

So what good does fasting and praying do anyway? Brigham Young had this to say:

“I am… afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”

Third, regarding being denied a temple recommend, Emmett’s comment is misleading (he may misunderstand himself, and the mistake could be innocent). Temple recommends normally accompany temple marriage or missionary service. Since Emmett wasn’t doing either, there was no longer a need for a temple recommend. Whether this is a temporary or permanent condition depends on whether or not Emmett’s leaders find him worthy of a temple recommend when the time comes.

The last comments we’ll look at are from the second to last question Brooks asks and Emmett’s response. Brooks says,

“You’re facing what gay Mormons face every day.”

Emmett answers,

“That’s what my gay brother said. I don’t see myself as being able to comfort him at all. What gays have had to go through in the Church—it’s far greater than what I’ve faced. But my brother says I am looking into a window onto what he has experienced.”

I don’t quite know what to say to that, except that Emmett, Brooks, and others like them are facing what every Latter-day Saint faces every day. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but “the natural man is an enemy to God” (see Mosiah 3:19). Because of that, there are qualities in all of us at odds with what the gospel teaches. We are all facing admonition change and repent.

Some of us are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some of us are addicted to pornography. Some of us have interpersonal issues that hold us down. We are all facing the choice of whether we will leave behind our sins, as King Lamoni’s father did (see Alma 22:18), or if we will cling to personal positions and behaviors that conflict with the gospel. That is not unique to homosexuals or those who support same-sex marriage.

Why So Serious?

Even if all of this is the case, why is it enough to bar Emmett from missionary service? It’s  not that big a deal, right?

A mission is not a right, not some entitlement earned by checking the box of Church activity through one’s teenage years. Though Emmett speaks of a mission as “the next step on the ladder,” it’s not a youthful rite of passage for every young man that comes of age.

What’s more, preaching the gospel – the gospel as preached by the prophets and apostles - is important. Of those who preached a different gospel than the one preached by he and his peers, Paul said to “let him be accursed” (see Galatians 1:8).

Why accursed? That seems a little intense.

One reason might be that this gospel is the only thing that can solve the ills of society. Ezra Taft Benson taught,

“We are commanded by God to take this gospel to all the world. That is the cause that must unite us today. Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction. Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family.”

Preach My Gospel, the Church’s missionary guide, continues,

“You are called to represent Jesus Christ in helping people become clean from their sins. You do this by inviting them to come unto Jesus Christ and become converted to His restored gospel. To come to the Savior they must have faith in Him unto repentance— making the necessary changes to bring their life into agreement with His teachings. You can help people develop such faith by teaching them the restored gospel by the Spirit and inviting them to commit to live according to its teachings. Keeping this commitment prepares them for the covenants of baptism and confirmation and the precious gift of the Holy Ghost. They are to put off the “natural man” and become a Saint “through the atonement of Christ the Lord.”

How can we represent Jesus Christ if we do not teach his gospel as revealed by his servants? What’s more, how can we testify of the healing power of repentance if we ourselves are unwilling to come unto the Savior and change ourselves?

I hope that Emmett is able to find peace in the gospel. I hope that he can serve as a missionary. There is not a day that goes by where I am not positively impacted by my own missionary service. 

Yet regardless of the tone of Brooks’ article, it’s likely that whether or not he serves as a missionary is entirely up to Emmett.

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Looking Forward to Mormon Change

In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court case, many people are (understandably) drawing a connection between the Mormon Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and past positions on blacks or polygamy. In doing so, they suggest that a change on gay-marriage is coming in the future.

Now, I’m not the prophet of the Church, so I can’t say what will happen for sure. Still, I’m fairly confident that this position, for better or worse, will not be changing. This FAQ may explain why, and I’m hoping this format makes the issues easier to grapple with.

As a side note, these are my own answers, so I would ask that you excuse any error in them. I don’t presume, and never have, to speak for the Church.

Q: When did Mormons practice polygamy?

A: Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy early in their history. We don’t know exactly when it began, except that it was likely sometime between 1830 and 1840. It ended with Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto in 1890. Anyone currently practicing polygamy is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Q: Why did Mormons practice polygamy?

A: There are only a couple scriptures that mention polygamy. Jacob, an early Nephite prophet, mentioned it while teaching about chastity. He said,

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to practice polygamy); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things (and practice monogamy)” (Jacob 2:30; see whole chapter).

In this verse, and similarly in Doctrine and Covenants 132:63, polygamy is identified as a method to “raise up seed”. We’re never explicitly given reasons beyond that.

Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is biblical and righteous when it is sanctioned by the Lord. It may have been practiced by Joseph Smith as part of the “restoration of all things” (he never fathered any children by any of his plural wives).

Other reasons have been suggested, but anything else is speculation. For more on this question, see here.

Q: Isn’t polygamy breaking the commandments?

A: Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is the exception, and monogamy is the rule, but that polygamy is not contrary to the commandments when it is directed by the Lord. There has never been, in the Church, anything like “self-nominated” polygamy – it was always at the direction of the president of the Church.

We believe this position to be biblical. A more in depth answer won’t be provided within this short FAQ.

Q: Why did polygamy end? The timing of Woodruff’s “revelation” is pretty convenient.

A: It’s not difficult to see that Latter-day Saints were willing to follow what they believed to be a divine commandment regardless of the cost. Convenience would have dictated abandoning polygamy much, much earlier. Church leaders did not end the practice until there was literally no other course of action that would prevent dissolution of the Church.

Woodruff later wrote the following about why polygamy ended:

“The Lord has told me to ask the Latter-day Saints a question, and He also told me that if they would listen to what I said to them and answer the question put to them, by the Spirit and power of God, they would all answer alike, and they would all believe alike with regard to this matter.

“The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?

“The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice…. I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write….

“I leave this with you, for you to contemplate and consider. The Lord is at work with us.”

We may not always understand why the Lord does things, but it’s not difficult to argue that he is often pragmatic, and the dissolution of his church would certainly have been contrary to his will. In that respect, the timing of the revelation was not only convenient, but essential.

Q: What about blacks? They were kept from holding the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances until the 1970′s.

A: During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a number of blacks were ordained to the priesthood. Early in Church history, Church leaders stopped ordaining blacks. No official explanation was given for this practice, and later Church leaders believed that a revelation was needed to alter it. They received this revelation in 1978.

Divinely sanctioned discrimination is not without precedent in biblical history. We don’t know why it was practiced by the Church in modern times. Further, it’s common to find accounts of members, prior to the Church lifting the ban, expecting it on the horizon. Of course there were racist Mormons, too, but many believed intently that the discrimination was going to end – it just hadn’t ended yet.

Many blacks were baptized and remained faithful throughout all of Church history.

I’m white myself, so it may be worth seeking out accounts of active, black Latter-day Saints and seeing what they have to say about their faith.

For more on this subject, see my post about the “Bott-gate” fiasco.

Q: This “revelation” seems awfully convenient, too.

A: It might. Yet much as was the case with polygamy, convenience would have dictated that this change happen much sooner – perhaps as much as 20 years or more sooner – than it did.

Q: So you have no idea why your Church practiced polygamy, and you have no idea why your Church discriminated against blacks. What’s the deal?

A: The deal is that sometimes we’re expected to have faith. We are often not told explicitly why we need to obey one commandment or another. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said,

“It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people [have] put reasons to [commandments] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong.”

We have seen examples of this in relation to both polygamy and the Church’s dealings with blacks. Sometimes, we just don’t know why the Lord does things.

Q: That’s a cop out, and you’re describing blind obedience. That’s one reason why people think Mormons are a cult.

A: And people are free to think what they want, but there’s quite a difference between blind obedience and faithful obedience. The former is passive, but the latter is quite active.

N. Eldon Tanner said,

“We do not suggest blind obedience, but obedience by faith in those things which may not be fully understood by man’s limited comprehension, but which in the infinite wisdom of God are for man’s benefit and blessing.”

Even though we may not comprehend everything behind the Lord’s commandments, we can still have faith in Jesus Christ and his servants. We gain this faith by actively studying out the issues and praying that God will confirm what we’ve learned and decided.

Brigham Young said,

“I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided, and directed by one man. …Our enemies hate the fact of our being led by one man. Thousands of times my soul has been lifted to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, to make that verily true in every sense of the word, that we may be led by the man Jesus Christ, through Joseph Smith the Prophet. You may inquire how we are to know that we are so led. I refer you to the exhortation you have heard so frequently from me. Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived, it is because you deceive yourselves. You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind, and there is no calling of God to man on earth but what brings with it the evidences of its authenticity….

“What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”

Q: What’s so wrong about expecting the Church to change it’s mind on homosexuality and same-sex marriage? We just talked about how the Church did it before with polygamy and blacks.

A: It may happen. With the changes in 1890 and 1978, there’s certainly precedent. One Latter-day Saint, writing about this same question, argued that change was possible and said,

“For those readers who might argue that it was the Lord that dictated the LDS Church’s positions — pro and con — on polygamy and equal rights for blacks, I argue that they allow themselves to dwell on the possibility that the Lord may also intervene on behalf of gay marriage as well.”

I can’t disagree, and this is why I gave my brief disclaimer early on. The Lord, through his prophet, may absolutely change the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. If that happens, I doubt that we’ll know any more about the reasons why than we know now about the reasons behind changes with polygamy and priesthood discrimination.

Q: But you’re not sold on that idea.

A: No, I’m not. I think that, at best, our understanding of the principles behind polygamy and the priesthood ban is vague. Additionally, neither was related to sinful behavior. With homosexuality, it’s different. The principles behind that position are not only well understood, but central doctrines to Latter-day Saints and core to the Plan of Salvation. Let me explain.

Look at polygamy, for example. It was never practiced widely in the Church, nor do Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is essential to salvation. Additionally, even today it’s not recognized as a “mistake” by modern Latter-day Saints; it’s culturally and socially abhorrent to us, as it was to those in the early days of the church, but we believe it was a divine principle initiated by revelation and discontinued by revelation. The purposes for that initiation or discontinuation are unclear, but Latter-day Saints do not believe that its legitimate practice was ever contrary to the commandments.

And what of the racial discrimination? President David O. McKay, in 1954, said,

“There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes (sic) are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”

Why was the policy in place? We’ve already discussed that we don’t know. The same President McKay said that, while blacks were children of our Heavenly Father, they

“were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”

Whether we know the reasons or not, it remains that while the ban was practiced, it was not founded in any doctrine.

The Church’s position on same-sex marriage is borne of much more fundamental doctrines that will not change.

Many of those doctrines are found within The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It reads,

WE, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that 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.

ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

IN THE PREMORTAL REALM, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

WE DECLARE the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

THE FAMILY is ordained of God. 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. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. 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.

A number of the fundamental doctrines covered in this proclamation include the eternal nature of families, the rights of children to a home with mothers and fathers, and the eternal nature of gender. These principles, which are not subject to change, are not the product of an individual church leader’s musings or theorizing. This proclamation represents the testimony of the unified body of men that lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as such, commands a much greater influence over gospel cannon than “that one thing Bruce R. McConkie said that one time” or “that sermon Brigham Young gave way back when”.

Additionally, the law of chastity is applied to everyone, not just homosexuals. True, homosexual Latter-day Saints are expected to be celibate, but so are single heterosexual Latter-day Saints who don’t marry, whether it’s because they are just plain goofy or it’s because they have some physical or mental handicap that prevents it.

This is an unimaginably difficult circumstance for those who feel same-gender attraction, and I will never fully understand that plight. Perhaps Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ words apply here. When asked if he could describe this enormously complex question in a couple of basic principles, he said,

“God loves all of His children. He has provided a plan for His children to enjoy the choicest blessings that He has to offer in eternity. Those choicest blessings are associated with marriage between a man and a woman by appropriate priesthood authority to bring together a family unit for creation and happiness in this life and in the life to come.

“We urge persons with same-gender attractions to control those and to refrain from acting upon them, which is a sin, just as we urge persons with heterosexual attractions to refrain from acting upon them until they have the opportunity for a marriage recognized by God as well as by the law of the land. That is the way to happiness and eternal life. God has given us no commandment that He will not give us the strength and power to observe. That is the Plan of Salvation for His children, and it is our duty to proclaim that plan, to teach its truth, and to praise God for the mission of His Son Jesus Christ. It is Christ’s atonement that makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins and His resurrection that gives us the assurance of immortality and the life to come. It is that life to come that orients our views in mortality and reinforces our determination to live the laws of God so that we can qualify for His blessings in immortality.”

For more on this complex issue, see Mormons and Gays and the Interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman on Same-Gender Attraction.

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My Thoughts on Today’s Supreme Court Review

Yesterday, you might not have known what was on the Supreme Court’s docket for today.

Today, you know.

You know because you probably have a Facebook account (1 billion of us do, as of October 2012) and your news feed was likely filled up by activists and constitutional “experts” on both sides of the argument, all commenting on news coming out of the Supreme Court.

My Anecdotal Observations of Fellow Latter-day Saints

I’ve written before on the subject of so-called same sex marriage, but I feel like I can contribute to the conversation in one way tonight. I’d like to talk about some of my observations of the LDS community. Certainly I don’t have a good view of all Latter-day Saints, so my observations will be little more than anecdotal. Still, that doesn’t make them invalid. I, at least, think that they’ll be worth considering.

A Diverse Body with An Important Foundation 

We Latter-day Saints are a fairly diverse group of people. You might not think it, getting pop culture hints from “The Book of Mormon” musical and Big Love, but Latter-day Saints are a 14 million member strong group who live all over the earth and have varied levels of activity and belief, and a wide range of personalities, opinions, and mannerisms.

I’ve mused before about what, among such a diverse group of individuals, unites us, and you can read that post for those thoughts. Since then, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke in General Conference about “Being a More Christian Christian”. His criteria for what it means to be Christian (and I think “Christian” here is interchangeable with “Mormon” or “Latter-day Saint”, as will be clear in a moment) is also a fine study about what should be the same among Latter-day Saints. A Latter-day Saint is:

    • Someone who follows the gospel pattern of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end (paragraphs 2 – 4).
    • Someone who believes that God has followed a pattern of calling prophets to teach His children, and that this pattern has continued in our day with Joseph Smith and his successors (paragraph 5).
    • Someone who believes in the Godhead as taught in the scriptures and by modern prophets. This belief regarding the nature of God is at odds with Trinitarian theology (paragraph 6).

There is quite a bit in there that mainstream Christianity would find objectionable, but that should suggest to us that when Elder Hales asks, “With these doctrines as the foundations of our faith, can there be any doubt or disputation that we (Latter-day Saints) are Christian?”, he’s not comparing Latter-day Saints to modern, mainstream, creedal Christianity as much as he’s comparing Latter-day Saints to biblical Christianity.

But that’s a talk for another day and another post.

The point is that Elder Hales highlights a belief in the principle of prophets and a testimony that the leaders of the Mormon Church are the modern-day equivalents of  Peter, Moses, or Paul. That’s not an idle statement to make or believe in. Paul wrote to new church members of his day,

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Distance from Modern Prophets

Whether or not you’re familiar with the LDS position on the issue of so-called same-sex marriage, consider these posts from some of my Latter-day Saint Facebook friends:

“Hopefully today is the first step towards increasing equality in our nation.”

“Real equality would be government that is not in charge of marriage.”

“taking agency away from a group of people is what satan (sic) wants…..”

And many of them posted graphics, like these:

Posts like these really confuse me. They confuse me because, for example, the leadership of our Church said just today:

Today the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments regarding the definition of marriage in this country.

We firmly support the divinely appointed definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman because it is the single most important institution for strengthening children, families, and society.

We hope the court will agree, and we look forward to the decision on this important matter.

That’s not even the least of all they’ve said, but it suffices for this post. It’s not difficult for the sincere student to learn more about the LDS position (try here, at Mormons and Gays, which then links to other legitimate sources at the bottom of the page). This position is in direct conflict with many of the sentiments and graphics above.

Something seems off….

A Story with a Moral – Faithful Obedience

I’m reminded of the story of Martin Harris and the lost 116 pages. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, here is a refresher.

Joseph Smith began translating the Book of Mormon plates in the late 1820s. He had a scant education, and enlisted the help of Martin Harris, a local of Palmyra, New York, to act as scribe. Harris’ help was invaluable – not only was Harris a respected member of the community, but he also gave significant resources to help finance the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon.

By the middle of 1828, Joseph had dictated 116 pages to Harris. Unfortunately, Harris’ relationship with his wife was tenuous at the time. Additionally, she was suspicious of Joseph, and opposed to the resources her husband was devoting to Joseph’s cause. Harris asked Joseph if he could take the manuscript home to show his wife. He thought this would help encourage her support and help heal some of their strained relationship.

Joseph asked the Lord if Harris could take the manuscript. The Lord refused. Still, Harris pressured Joseph to ask a second time. Again, the Lord refused. Harris pressured Joseph once more, and the Lord agreed to let him take the manuscript as long as he showed it to only a few specified family members.

Tragically, Harris lost the 116 pages of the manuscript. They were never recovered, and Joseph was commanded not to re-translate those pages (the thieves who had stolen them had changed the words so that, were Joseph to re-translate, the two versions would not agree – see Doctrine and Covenants 10).

The Lord, with his omniscient foresight, had prepared for this loss. He told Nephi, one of the primary authors of the Book of Mormon, to make two sets of records covering the same time period.

And the reason for making two sets of records? Nephi didn’t have a clue. He tells us,

“Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.

“But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men” (see 1 Nephi 9).

Mormon, who almost 1,000 years later would be inspired to include Nephi’s record in concert with his abridgment, would write,

“And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (see Words of Mormon 1:3-7).

Joseph continued to translate, but from this additional record instead of the material he’d previously translated. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said,

“We got back more than we lost. And it was known from the beginning that it would be so.”

For more on that story, you can also read my post, “God’s Divine Backup Plan”.

Some Principles to Follow

Often when we hear this story, we focus on Martin Harris and Joseph Smith. There’s nothing wrong with this – there’s an important lesson to be learned from them. But I’d like to focus on two different individuals. I’d like to focus on Nephi and Mormon, and particularly Nephi.

Nephi, as we saw, was commanded to make a second record detailing the same period he’d just covered. Keep in mind that this is an age before copy-and-paste, before xerox, before the printing press. Nephi was making records on metal plates while traveling as a nomad through uninhabited Arabia and (likely) South America. That would have been extremely arduous and tedious. Yet he did it.

Nephi did this, all without (as far as we know) ever knowing why. He never received any indication of what the Lord’s “wise purpose” was, what fruit would be born from his laborious seed planting. Not even Mormon, who spent his life protecting and abridging these records, ever knew the end from the beginning in regards to these records. Yet they obeyed. And because they obeyed, we have the Book of Mormon today, complete with the powerful testimony of early Nephite prophets.

What’s the connection for Latter-day Saints to same-sex marriage?

In 1995, then president Gordon B. Hinckley presented “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”. It highlighted the vital family values that our Church stands for, and called for members and citizens to support measures aimed at upholding the traditional family unit. This proclamation reads, in part,

“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that 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….

“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.

When Prop 8 was prepared as a ballot measure, the First Presidency, led by current president Thomas S. Monson, sent a letter to California congregations. It encouraged Latter-day Saints to do all that they could to support the measure. It read,

“Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families:

“In March 2000 California voters overwhelmingly approved a state law providing that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The California Supreme Court recently reversed this vote of the people. On November 4, 2008, Californians will vote on a proposed amendment to the California state constitution that will now restore the March 2000 definition of marriage approved by the voters.

“The Church’s teachings and position on this moral issue are unequivocal. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children. Children are entitled to be born within this bond of marriage.

“A broad-based coalition of churches and other organizations placed the proposed amendment on the ballot. The Church will participate with this coalition in seeking its passage. Local Church leaders will provide information about how you may become involved in this important cause.

We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.

Regardless of the other issues at work here – and make no mistake, this is a highly complex and controversial issue – the Church leaders have been very clear about what is expected of faithful Latter-day Saints. After that, the decision is ours to decide which way we face.

The choice is, of course, ours to make. But let’s make no mistake about what’s happening when we follow personal whims, lean on political correctness, or disregard prophetic counsel. Perhaps President Brigham Young said it best:

“You cannot destroy the appointment of a prophet of God, but you can cut the thread that binds you to the prophet of God, and sink yourselves to hell.”

Stand with the prophets, even if you don’t understand why. You may never understand – we learn that much from Nephi and Mormon – but you can have faith that the Lord knows what he’s doing.

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