Thursday, June 25, 2009

A New Effort to Reconcile the Church and Gays

There is a new effort gaining some notoriety on the interwebs to soften the church's stance on gays and reconcile the two groups. The website is called People are asked to read and sign their name to a petition which will be delivered to church leaders on November 4, the anniversary of the Prop 8 vote.

As always, I went to the comment section of the story by the Salt Lake Tribune to get an idea of what people are thinking, as there is really no better representative group of the general population than the comment section of an online paper (picking up the sarcasm?).

The gist of the comments from members of the church opposed to this effort is that the prophet has spoken through revelation, the doctrine of families and sexuality is set and eternal, and no amount of public protest can change that fact. The gist of the comments who support the site is who are Mormons to decide morality for everyone else and deny rights to citizens born homosexual? As is often the case, both sides are partly right and both sides are partly wrong.

The petition and website are inaccurate in several ways, and the reactions to them are also inaccurate. The petition reads, in part:
This means scrupulously acknowledging such practices as “reorientation”-- reparative, revulsion, and shock-therapies; such teachings as homosexuality being an evil perversion, a condition that is chosen and changeable and one that can be overcome through fasting, prayer, sacrifice and heterosexual marriage; and using scriptures that are taken out of context, mistranslated or that are highly selective to condemn homosexuality.
As far as I can tell, the church did away with most of this years ago and now, even before Prop 8, emphasizes that it is not safe or effective to try to change the person. The current teaching, as far as I understand it, is that if a person is gay they can still be temple worthy by simply living the law of chastity. I say simply, but, of course, it must be agonizingly difficult. This is why Elder Marvin Jensen of the Seventy and Church Historian has said on several occasions that the church weeps with those good members going through this supremely difficult trial.

I am not aware of the church using scriptures "taken out of context, mistranslated or that are highly selective to condemn homosexuality." There are scriptures in the Bible that condemn homosexuality and take a very harsh view of it, but I don't believe I've seen the church cite these scriptures, as is the practice of many born-agains, to bolster its argument. Instead, the church relies on modern revelation, specifically The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

So far, I think we're good. This is where the common ground can be found. I do not think it would be a repudiation of our teachings on morality and the family to recognize that homosexuality is not a choice, that gays should be afforded basic rights, and even that gays should be allowed to be married under our civil laws. As a church we do not oppose many marriages that would run contrary to our views of it, such as shotgun Vegas weddings, for instance. We can stand by our belief that marriage is sacred and that eternal life is available only to those who are sealed in the temple under priesthood authority while at the same time allowing civil marriages that fall outside of our beliefs. The two are not mutually exclusive. This may not be ideal, but we live in a big, complex world and we can't control every variable or person or practice that runs contrary to our beliefs.

Where the problem comes is where the church is asked to repudiate "such teachings as homosexuality being an evil perversion." "Evil perversion" seems harsh, lets just call it sin. No matter the semantics, though, this will not change. First, it is not the homosexuality that is a sin, but homosexual actions, which is not a small difference. In any case, changing the church's teachings here would be reversing a prophetic pronouncement and one of the most basic doctrinal tenets of the church: the sanctity of the heterosexual marriage.

Not only is it theologically untenable, it is not necessary. As I stated above, there is no reason why we can't hold on dearly to our beliefs but still allow gay marriage amendments and votes to go forward without our opposition. Allowing gays to marry will not cheapen my marriage, or any other temple marriage that has ever been performed, nor will it negate or lessen the prophetic and doctrinal truth that we espouse. We can still use our influence through our missionary program and our examples and discussions with our neighbors, but going the political route is more harmful than beneficial. The church won't, and shouldn't, reverse its teachings about marriage, but it can, and should, take a different approach in public statements and treatment of non-Mormon gays. These are very different things that should not be confused and completely intertwined.

Finally, the site makes a big deal about suicide rates among gays, especially young gays. This is, of course, tragic and we should be doing everything we can to avoid this substantial problem. But to lay the blame at the feet of the church is wrong. I will admit that there has been some pretty harsh rhetoric coming out of the members of the church, and I can only guess how painful and disorienting that must be for young people who are struggling to understand their sexuality and trying to reconcile the fact that they are otherwise good kids who feel like they are being demonized for feelings they can't control. Bottle all of this up internally with no outlet, and you have a recipe for disaster.

But the church has always stressed love and sympathy and tolerance of the person. Many members can't separate the condemnation of the sin and the person, and I admit that it is very hard. When church teaches that homosexuality is a sin, but that the person is to be loved and respected, many members use this as a basis for over-the-top rhetoric against the sin and the person. The fault is not with the church, but with the individual that misinterprets. The church, I believe, can and should stress this point more clearly and often for those that don't understand.

It looks to me like this is a good faith effort to bring the two sides together, but there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between doctrine and public policy. For the church and its faithful members, requiring that it reverse its prophetic pronouncement and no longer consider homosexual acts sins is a non-starter. But members of the church can begin separate the politics from the doctrine and reach out with more understanding and tolerance.


Doug said...

Jason, I appreciate your thoughtful comments about a difficult social issue. I approach this issue with some ambivalence. I know that marriage between a woman and man is sacred. I believe, as the Church teaches, that homosexual actions are sinful. It has taken me some time to recognize that homosexuality is not a choice.

With that said, I think that gays should be afforded basic rights, and that gays should be allowed to be married under our civil laws. I do not see these arrangements as a threat to traditional marriage. Last night, referencing the Mark Sanford drama, Rachel Maddow wisely stated that he would now "no longer be be a culture warrior for the religious right inveighing against monogamous gay people somehow destroying the sanctity of marriage." There are many more dangerous threats to traditional heterosexual marriage than gay civil marriage (eg., infidelity, pornography, physical and mental abuse, etc.).

The Church has said, "protecting marriage between a man and a woman does not affect Church members’ Christian obligations of love, kindness and humanity toward all people." We need to ask ourselves whether we’ve really approached this issue with the utmost “respect for others,” which is important for a group of people who often feel disrespected by the world and even fellow Christians.

Have we, as individuals, taken the time to see things—as best we can—from the perspective of those we oppose, in order to have as much “understanding” as we possibly can, or have we quickly dismissed or condemned them? Have we managed to treat those we disagree with–and even those who persecute and hate us–with “civility,” or do we hold to the “eye-for-an-eye” philosophy?

Laurel Nelson said...

That's a very interesting and thought provoking post. I find it interesting, and it does bring up things that I knew, but hadn't been thinking of. I don't live in CA or UT, but I do live in a very red state (AK) and Anchorage is in the throes of a big uproar over whether or not to add "sexual orientation" to the list of things you can't discriminate against a person for. Wow.

Matthew said...

A very interesting article this week, at the conclusion of proposition 8 many members of the LGBT community have been left asking why and who was responsible for the injustice of November 4th. It may be too painful to the knowledge at this time that the majority of Californians displayed the type of bigotry that we as American citizens thought was just about out of our country’s system. With the election of president this last fall many Americans were thinking that we as a country might finally be overcoming the biases that were so apparent in prior generations proposition 8 was hurtful not just because gays and lesbians were denied their right to marry but because America was just not quite there yet. Now their efforts to try to bring the two groups together in reference to I must say that I sympathize with their attempts to link together two groups however I mostly agree with the author of this blog in the that are too many inaccuracies to really be successful.
It looks to be at this time that one must examine the Constitution of the United States in understanding this problem. is proposing that the Mormon Church stops circulating its literature and recalls conference talks that have been degrading to the gay and lesbian community. Is this for the gay and lesbian community to decide or is it for the church community to decide these confusions were definitely the matter of debate as our founding fathers were examining the Constitution of the United States and that the First Amendment of the Constitution. The first amendment of the constitution reads

Matthew said...

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’

The United States Constitution gives citizens the basic freedoms of speech and the same way Martin Luther tacked on the doctrines of changes he wished about for the Catholic Church the LG BT community holds that same right to make the request from the Church of Jesus Christ of latter he saith. However the First Amendment protects the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to worship and hold whatever beliefs they want and the bad church is safe here in the United States for doing so. I think these negative stereotypes of Mormon doctrine believing in reparative therapy is only harmful for this cause of trying to reunite the two groups together in the worst thing you could do to make peace with the LDS Church is to insult its doctor and for those editors of LBS I would strongly urge them to do more thorough research before trying to be the peacemaker.
I support these efforts because it could do a number of things first they can motivate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to make a change in a spiritual way; needed change within the church community also it may bring awareness to more latter-day Saints regarding the issue however under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints has every right to believe what it wants to believe and that no group should be able to infringe upon it and ask it to change its beliefs.

Matthew said...

Do I think the Church of Jesus Christ of the saints was wrong in its efforts to sway the outcome of a controversial issue in California last fall? Yes I do for a number of reasons one I believe that it is a basic civil right for a person to build a marriage whoever they wish so long as both members of the marrying party are coherent adults second I believe that the political campaigns against gay marriage like this merely isolate the LDS people even further and leave LDS children and citizens open to anti-Mormon sentiment that the overall church leadership does not experience and third it harms our society by putting two law abiding groups of citizens against each other. I do however believe that there are other parties to blame besides the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints the truth of the matter is the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints is not the most homophobic group in the United States and that there are plenty other radical right wing groups that possess more imminent danger and LGBT community then do the Mormons it is just been brought to the LGBT community's attention that the group capable of influencing the most and raising the most money is most definitely the LDS Church. I find no coincidence at all that the Christian right and the social elites of our country find amusement in watching a somewhat primitive Christian religion (Mormons) and a minority group (LGBT) battling it out on national news in a way it's kind of what they want both groups are a threat one group because they are getting more and more powerful as the years progressed and another because they demand civil liberties. As a Mormon I see nothing in the Constitution of the United States of America that should keep any member of the LGBT community from being able to enter into a marriage with anyone of their choice. As a Mormon I cannot see any real way aside from a conspiracy theory or fear tactic that keep me from being able to worship as I wish because of gay marriage. Although I think the LGBT community may be grossly misinformed about Mormon doctrine they certainly have no reason to doubt what they have read in anti Mormon literature now. I urge both members of these communities to try to reach positive stances that they may coexist in order to get along in the United States of America. This does not mean that I wish to see a compromise, rather I would like to see both groups getting what they want without getting in each other's way the only people in the United States that should be left having to choose are homosexual members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for them both groups should be committed to a relationship peace.


Andrew said...

Well-said, it hits on some of the things that made me uncomfortable about signing that petition. Misrepresentation is a big issue to me, and I think both sides should realize that it's going on. It's a common issue in mediation; the temptation to dishonestly demonize the opposition. I think that getting over the "enemy image" both sides have of each other is the first step toward actual reconciliation and living together in peace.

brent said...

The Prop 8 campaign was a total disaster for the church. I'm a practicing mormon, ideologically conservative, and I'm for gay marraige. I know I'm not the only conservative that feels this way on this issue.

The idiocy of the church's past practices towards homosexuals can and should be a part of the debate. The problem for mormons is that bringing light to the cruelness of the reorientation programs brings the entire church doctrine on homosexuality into question. ie - If this part of the doctrine is guided by revelation now - then wasn't the reorientation program also guided by revelation. Does God guide the doctrine but not the past implementation of the doctrine?

Mormon liberals are in a tough spot on this one - you can't blame it on insipid "Mormon Culture" because of the ample endorsement of the anti-homosexual program by living prophets.

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