Yesterday, an appeals court upheld Judge Walker’s decision declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional. This has caused both disappointment and celebration, depending on what side of the line you find yourself. My Facebook wall, perhaps like yours, was filled with a lot of both.
One Facebook friend of mine wrote,
“This is a very bad day for religious fanatics who want to legislate their hate.”
Another, himself a member of the LDS Church, wrote,
“We as a people are witnessing a terrible obesity rate, devastating unemployment, a never-before-seen national deficit, low education scores and somehow we are worried about dictating who can and cannot get married via Prop 8? Unless you are Jesus or Muhammad, don’t worry about it. Live and let live, or move to North Korea.”
I find such comments disappointing. This is not such a simple issue, and these straw man arguments leave far too much out. What’s more, this damning and demeaning rhetoric deliberately muddies the waters of understanding (“fanatics”? “North Korea”? “Hate”? Please). I would expect more of those who find “ignorance” so appalling.
I have thought carefully about this issue. Through this process, I myself have felt anxiety, angst, and discouragement from within; and I have encountered hate, prejudice, and aggression in practically every social circle to which I belong from without.
I have not come to a decision lightly, nor have I blindly followed the whims of my Church or political party. Despite what some may think, this was for me a cognitively active process. I have written on the subject, and I’ve even read the court decisions (who among you can say the same?).
What are the ultimate principles behind my decision?
Prophets on the Watchtower
In the song “I Believe” from the musical “The Book of Mormon”, Elder Price sings,
“And I believe that the current president of the Church, Thomas Monson, speaks directly to God.”
One of the purposes of the song was to present beliefs of the LDS Church that are outlandish. Yet this belief is absolutely central to the Church and its’ teachings. There are few principles more important, and more unique, than the belief that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by a man who speaks directly with God.
Why is this so important?
The Lord tells the parable,
“A certain nobleman had a spot of land, very choice; and he said unto his servants: Go ye unto my vineyard, even upon this very choice piece of land, and plant twelve olive trees;
“And set watchmen round about them, and build a tower, that one may overlook the land round about, to be a watchman upon the tower, that mine olive trees may not be broken down when the enemy shall come to spoil and take upon themselves the fruit of my vineyard….
“And behold, the watchman upon the tower would have seen the enemy while he was yet afar off; and then ye could have made ready and kept the enemy from breaking down the hedge thereof, and saved my vineyard from the hands of the destroyer” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:44-45, 54).
You can watch a four minute video, “Watchman on the Tower”, below.
A story from Nephite history illustrates this principle. During a time when they were engaged in war with the Lamanites, the Nephite commander ordered that Nephite cities be fortified (Alma 50:1-6; see also Alma 53:3-4). In order to fortify their cities, they:
- Dug heaps of earth
- Built timbers on the ridges of earth
- Built pickets on the timbers
- Built towers to overlook the pickets
- Put men in the towers
Those in the towers were able to see far into the horizon, warn their comrades in the event of an oncoming attack, and then direct the response to that attack. The rest of the men could then ready themselves for an enemy strike.
Do you have trouble seeing what is wrong with same-sex marriage? Perhaps. But, then again, you’re not in the tower. You’re in a ditch. Of course you can’t see the same things that the man in the tower can see.
What is it about the prophet that gives him vision? Why is he so special? Why can’t we each be our own “watchman”?
I’ve written about this subject in my post “Of Paradigms and Prophets”, and I suggest you read that in its’ entirety. Briefly, though, it is impossible to keep from, consciously or unconsciously, filtering out truth from reality around us. We each create paradigms – simplified and incomplete versions of reality that we use like maps – in order to help us process information faster and navigate our world better.
How can we know that some truth we’ve excluded is not an essential part of our paradigm map? In short, we can’t. That’s why a prophet is so important. He can teach us which elements we need in our paradigms, and which elements we don’t.
Why is the prophet the best source for this “map check”? It’s not because he inherently knows more than anyone else. He is imperfect, just like the rest of us. And yet he “talks directly to God”, and God (the only being who’s paradigm is equal with reality) teaches him what to, in turn, teach us.
Prophetic Council on the Family and Prop 8
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.”
Because “I believe that the current president of the Church, Thomas Monson, speaks directly to God,” I follow his divinely inspired direction. I make this active choice based on my faith in this principle.
In my Facebook friend’s own words, I believe Jesus has worried about this, and he has directed his prophet to teach his Church what to do about it.
The “Hikers” on the Path to the Tree of Life
Not all Latter-day Saints agree with this position. Those that don’t, like my friend above, remind me of the vision of the Tree of Life.
An account of this vision is found in 1 Nephi 8. In the vision, countless men and women are making their way on the straight and narrow path towards the Tree of Life. We learn that the Tree is a representation of the love of God, and our journey along the path is a representation of our journey through life.
Though the goal of most travelers is the Tree of Life, there are a number of “hindrances” make their journey difficult. One of these obstacles is a dense mist that makes it impossible to see the path. This mist is a representation of the temptations of the devil. In order to find their way, travelers need hold fast to an iron rod which follows the path. This iron rod is a representation of the word of God.
Another of these obstacles is a great and spacious building. It is across a river, and overlooks the path on which the hikers travel. This building, a representation of the wisdom and pride of the world, is filled with people pointing at and mocking those on the path.
If you read the entire account (which I hope you do), you eventually find four types hikers. I’d like to focus on just two.
The first group of hikers follows the path. They cling to the iron rod to avoid losing their way in the mists of darkness, and eventually come to the Tree and partake of the fruit. It feels their souls with joy, and is sweet above all that is sweet.
The second group of hikers is similar to the first. They also cling to the iron rod, and they also come to the Tree and partake of the fruit. Yet after the have partaken of the fruit, they feel ashamed. The taunts of those in the great and spacious building make them feel embarrassed, and they eventually leave the Tree. Some join those in the building, and others drown in the river as they attempt to cross it on their way to the building.
What is the difference between the first group and the second group? They both persevere through their journey, they both taste the fruit, and they both hear the taunts of those mocking from the great and spacious building. Yet the members of the first group give no heed to the taunts.
Latter-day Saints who disregard the teachings of the president and other leaders of the Church are like the second group of hikers. Though they have personally tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Life, they lose focus and give heed to the wisdom of the world. Even if they make it to the great and spacious building, the end of that hindrance is clear – it falls, and great is the fall thereof.
Latter-day Saints and Proposition 8
Even though the principle of prophetic leadership is paramount in the rationale behind my choice, it is not the only factor. Instead of assaulting us as “religious fanatics,” become informed. It seems an appropriate duty of those who decry ignorance to not remain in ignorance themselves.
Keep in mind, becoming informed does not mean that you must agree with everything you learn. Still, it is important that you at least understand, whether or not you agree.
I’ve made it easier by providing hyperlinks below to resources you can use to lift yourselves out of ignorance. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, the author of many articles below, is especially suited to comment, as he has spent most of his life as an attorney, jurist, and legal professor.
Why not write on, or summarize this myself? First, it won’t stick unless you pay some price to learn the material. I’m not going to spoon feed you. And second, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “I got the impression that far more, and more talented, authors were already engaged in such controversial matters.” Elder Oaks, for example, is one of those more talented authors, and I commend his comments to you.
- Same-Gender Attraction – An interview with Church leaders Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman on same-gender attraction
- Elder Oaks at BYU-Idaho – A speech given to students at BYU-I about the importance of religious freedom, and how Latter-day Saints should act in regard to Prop 8.
- Elder Oaks at Chapman University School of Law – A speech given at Chapman University about how essential religious freedom is to our nation (you can watch a video of his address below)
Official Church Statements