The church’s recent statement on the Supreme Court decision was notable for its lack of judgement, with no attempt to exercise political influence. Gone were the phrases “we hope,” “we were disappointed,” “we encourage.” Replacing it was a respectful acknowledgement of the authority of the courts, and an appeal to the free expression of our own religious beliefs.
Respectful coexistence is possible with those with differing values. As far as the civil law is concerned, the courts have spoken.
“Those Who Don’t Share Our Covenant Obligations”
Elder Oak’s General Conference address was timely, setting a new tone for the post-crusade era of SSM. Particularly noteworthy was his use of the phrase “those who do not share our beliefs, values and covenant obligations.” Rather than judging Gentiles by our own beliefs, Elder Oaks implies that they cannot be judged by our same laws as they are not under the same covenant.
Now that the political war has been lost, the LDS church is looking at the future. Will SSM be imposed upon religions? Will our own religious freedoms be compromised? Elder Oaks offers Gentiles a truce. We will respect the freedom of Gentiles to believe in or practice SSM, and they must respect our freedom not to practice it:
“We should love all people and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communication on controversial topics should not be contentious…In doing so we ask that others be not offended by our religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion.”
However, it will be difficult for the Gentile conquerors to grant the LDS church the freedom of expression it had so vociferously refused others. How can we, who refused to grant homosexuals the free exercise of their beliefs regarding SSM, now expect them to grant us ours? The fallout from the political war is huge and will not be easily overcome. Not only has the LDS church fostered a fanatical and ultra-conservative reputation among liberals, it has lost thousands of its own youth who have been unable to reconcile their own experiences with homosexuals with the church’s political crusade against it.
“Put again thy sword unto its place, for all those who take the sword shall perish by the sword.”
When the church launched its attack on SSM marriage with Proposition 8, from the leadership’s perspective it might have seemed like a simple, ecumenical gesture. We were merely assisting other religious faiths in protecting values we all shared, and which were universally self-evident. However the local membership did not see it this way. Weened on stories of extreme pioneer sacrifices, members saw this as a call to arms in the great apocalyptic showdown. Gays were an evil which threatened the very foundation of society. Local leadership marshaled the full power of the faith of the church in an extraordinary political operation. How thrilling it was to be called into battle by a prophet of God, under a righteous banner, and crusade against a growing tide of wickedness.
But like crusaders of the past, modern LDS anti-SSM crusaders lost sight of the true mission of the church. Jesus stated, “my kingdom is not of this world, if my kingdom were of this world then my servants fight.” And although this has not been a war of bloodshed, the war of words has nevertheless resulted in many spiritual casualties. Not only has the LDS church fostered a fanatical and ultra-conservative reputation among liberals, it has lost thousands of its own youth who have been unable to reconcile their own experiences with homosexuals with the church’s political crusade against it.
Healing will take time. It will take a paradigm shift among members. We must learn that defending the rights of others to practice and believe as they see fit is the best way to protect our own rights. Continuing to attack others beliefs and seek to limit their freedom of expression is the surest way to compromise our own rights.
Above all, Mormons must learn to embrace Elder Oak’s paradigm that Gentiles do not share our same covenant obligations, nor are they under the same laws and responsibilities. They are invited to join and make covenants, but they are under no obligation to do so. We cannot judge them by our standards. This new attitude, celebrating freedom of belief and expression, non-judgement, and love, may eventually help us restore our reputation as defenders of freedom and lovers of humanity.
A Higher Way, Not a Universal Way
Both conservative and liberal members have been guilty of universalizing LDS Law. Conservative members have crusaded to impose LDS standards of marriage and morality upon Gentiles. Liberal members have crusaded to impose Gentile standards of marriage and morality on the church. Both need to stop. The LDS way is a divinely appointed “peculiar” way. We are the “leaven,” not the loaf, as Elder Oaks describes us in his recent address. We have a different mission, a different law, and different level of light and knowledge. Ours is a higher way, not a universal way. Our kingdom is not of this world.
Almost all religious wars have been a result of universalizing belief. Catholics burned Protestants at the stake not because they hated Protestants, but because Protestantism was an evil that threatened all of humanity. Protestants beheaded Catholics for the same reason. ISIS does the same. But the reality is that God loves all of His children, and works with all of them according to their various beliefs and their degree of light and knowledge.
The LDS church must not embrace SSM in its temples, but it must not refuse the right of others to practice it. We must cultivate our differences respectfully. Having differences is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.
- Is the crusade against SSM officially over?
- Is the LDS Covenant a Higher Law, or a Universal Law?
- Can liberals end their crusade to change LDS doctrine regarding homosexuality, if conservatives can end their crusade to impose their standards on Gentiles?