The other day I came across an article on the website Mormon Matters by an author known on site as “johndehlin“. The article was entitled “Elder Marlin Jensen Apologizes for Proposition 8”. I’d link to it for you, but since then it has been removed because “virtually everyone” found it to be “totally objectionable” (there is now an “Undo” in it’s place).
Basically, the author was an idiot.
That may sound like a strong accusation, but I consider “idiot” generous. The author was cunning and deceptive, “wresting” the words of a General Authority of the Church to fit his own self-righteous opinions (see 2 Peter 3:16 and Doctrine and Covenants 10:63).
I feel strongly about this. Let me explain why.
Oh, the Insanity
Why did I have such a problem with the article? There are three reasons.
Disunity in Church Leadership?
First, the title of the article is intentionally misleading. It infers that Elder Jensen is apologizing for Prop. 8, or in other words, for the LDS Church’s involvement in supporting and passing the proposition. This inference carries with it the claim that a General Authority of the Church would speak out publicly against the Prophet and Apostles that lead the Church, and that there is discord in Church leadership.
Certainly Church leaders disagree on occasion. While this is a mostly conservative church, there are many political liberals. In the past, one has even become a counselor in the First Presidency. What’s more, I can guarantee that the group of 15 men that I sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators, who come from such diverse backgrounds, do not agree on everything regardless of political preference. And the hundreds of men who serve in the quorums of the Seventy come from even more diverse backgrounds and countries throughout the world. This does not lead Church leaders to backbite publicly or lobby in order to garner support for their views. The Church is led by Jesus Christ, and when decisions are made, leaders sustain those decisions.
Second, the author used an obscure quote from an obscure stake conference that was little more than a sentence long. It quoted Elder Jensen as saying, “As far as it is within my power to do so, I apologize.” There was nothing more referencing what he was talking about other than the title of the article, so this quote reinforced the inference that Elder Jensen was acting contrary to Church leadership and apologizing for their involvement in Proposition 8.
Evidence this important should never be so obscure. It should be well documented (that’s why we have General Conference) and multi-sourced (talks from multiple Church leaders, wide support in the scriptures, etc).
Biased, Unathoritative Sources?
Third, the remainder of the article was a forwarded e-mail or letter written by a (random) member that attended these meetings. She had some fringe opinions of her own, and expressed her gratitude that at least some members of the leadership in the Church were admitting their error.
Perhaps the author of the article realized that his quote from Elder Jensen was obscure after all. He might have thought that citing a lay church member with obvious bias would add strength to his position…. Unfortunately, it was just further perpetuation of the lie that started with the misleading article title.
What Elder Jensen Meant
Elder Jensen was not, in case there is any confusion, apologizing for the LDS doctrine of the family or the LDS support of Prop. 8. For a much better description of what went on at that stake conference, see the document here by Carol Lynn Pearson. It seems that Pearson may have biases of her own based on personal experience, but her account is much more balanced.
Elder Jensen had attended a meeting for members of the Church in the area who “continued to feel wounded in the aftermath of the Proposition 8 campaign.” Many of those in attendance were those who, perhaps like Pearson, had personal experience with homosexuality within their families. The involvement of the Church brought this issue very close to home, and the meeting gave them a chance to vent.
Pearson comments that after members at the meeting had been given a chance to speak,
“[Elder Jensen] said he had heard very clearly the pain that had been expressed and that “to the full extent of my capacity I say that I am sorry.””
But he also told them that the position of the Church will not change. Personally, I don’t see how anyone could expect the Church position to change. The Family: A Proclamation to the World makes the doctrine clear, as do the words of many Church leaders. Life may be difficult for those with homosexual tendencies, or for those related to those with homosexual tendencies, but the Plan is not going to change, and the commandments are as applicable to them as they are to those faced with alcoholic tendencies, or those addicted to drugs or pornography, or those pre-disposed to violence, hatred, or ignorance.
But the wonderful message of the gospel is that the atonement is also just as applicable! Homosexuality may be something that some people have to live with, but the peace of God surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and the power of the atonement reaches everyone.
I hope that you’re not missing my meaning.
I’m not out to get those who don’t fit some Utah cookie-cutter view of Mormonism (I’m from California, by the way, and I don’t really fit the Utah cookie-cutter, either). I’m all about sharing opinions, even (and perhaps especially) fringe opinions. I have some of my own, and I believe that sharing and discussing leads to greater universal understanding and edification. It’s so important to be able to ask questions.
But offering dishonest or manufactured information, intentionally misleading others, is wrong. If you can’t back up your position logically and truthfully, then perhaps you need to spend a little more time thinking about it. And if you don’t have time to think about or study your position, perhaps you’re best left out of the discussion. In the words of W.K. Clifford,
“But,” says one, “I am a busy man; I have no time for the long course of study which would be necessary to make me in any degree a competent judge of certain questions, or even able to understand the nature of the arguments.” Then he should have no time to believe (“The Ethics of Belief,” found here).
Follow the Prophet
There will always be doctrines within the Church that will conflict with the personal opinion of someone, somewhere. As the Church grows to include a variety of peoples and cultures, many will find that they have opinions or traditions that conflict with gospel principles.
Elder Holland, in one of my favorite General Conference addresses, addressed the thinking that the Church leaders are out of touch with society. He’s had a stellar career both inside and outside of the Church, which is something to keep in mind as he references his personal and professional life. He said,
“Some sources have suggested that the Brethren are out of touch in their declarations, that they don’t know the issues, that some of their policies and practices are out-of-date, not relevant to our times.
“As the least of those who have been sustained by you to witness the guidance of this Church firsthand, I say with all the fervor of my soul that never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth. I bear personal witness of how thoroughly good they are, of how hard they work, and how humbly they live. It is no trivial matter for this Church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it” (Prophets in the Land Again).
I don’t have a gay brother or sister. I’ve had very few gay friends. But if I did, it would not change my desire to faithfully follow the prophet. I sustain the Prophet and the Apostles as men who lead this Church through the inspiration of Jesus Christ. It is his church, not theirs, and God will never permit any of them to lead the Church astray – “it’s not in the program” (See Official Declaration 1). When they announce a position that I find contrary to my own, I hope to have the strength to follow them and live in greater accordance with the Savior’s gospel.
May we not, as members of the Church, mentally stone the current prophets while polishing the sepulchers of past prophets.
For further reading on this, another great article in addition to Jeffrey R. Holland’s address mentioned above is one written by Ezra Taft Benson called “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.”