Many years ago I read Arundati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things. Set in Kerala, India and centering around a set of twins as children in 1969 and adults in 1993, the book explores the tragic consequences of the caste system and its “Love Laws.” Although the story begins in 1969, Roy informs readers that the story actually began thousands of years ago “in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much.”
The “Love Laws” influence the characters’ development and interactions in numerous ways. The twins are treated as “less than” because their Syrian Christian mother had married (and then divorced) a man of a different caste and religion. A vindictive, petty aunt had become embittered by her unrequited love of a Catholic priest many years previously (and her conversion to Catholicism in a misguided attempt to win his love). After the twins’ mother is caught and severely punished for an affair with an “untouchable”–the only truly loving relationship portrayed, but impermissible under the Love Laws because of the lover’s caste—she unwittingly sets off a chain of events that leads to the drowning of the twins’ cousin and the execution of the untouchable (falsely accused of murder).
The book’s title and the concept of “Love Laws” have stuck with me over the years. When I hear people describing limits on “who should be loved, and how, and how much,” I wonder if they are unwittingly confusing the God who is Love with a much lesser god—a God of Small Things.
The God of Small Things and his Love Laws played a starring role in Tuesday’s BYU devotional, during which Dallin Oaks spoke about BYU’s need to be “different” from the world: “Those who deviate from a majority are often made to feel like ignorant holdouts on subjects where everyone else is more enlightened. When higher education or the world in general call upon faculty to vary from gospel standards, do we ‘dare to be different’?”
As his primary example of the ways in which BYU has been “different” from the world, Oaks spoke at length about his efforts in the 1970’s to resist “extreme federal Title IX regulations.” Oaks, who was president of BYU at the time, stridently resisted Title IX regulations–testifying against them in Congress and then, when they passed, contesting their validity and claiming various exemptions for the University.(1)
After recounting this, Oaks asked “[w]here would BYU and other Church-related colleges and universities be today if BYU had not dared to resist the government’s 1974 proposal to significantly expand its control over private education?” Given that the federal government readily agreed that BYU was exempt from any challenged requirement, this question seems a bit overly dramatic. And, while Oaks did not address more recent Title IX investigations at BYU regarding its differential treatment of LGBTQ students, those were dismissed earlier this year.
In any event, it’s disappointing to me that BYU’s fight against civil rights laws (however valid that may have been) is the example Oaks chose to give about how BYU has been and must continue to be “different” from the world.(2) To make matters worse, he re-emphasized his oft-used theme that we must not love others too much: “The love of neighbor — however important — does not come ahead of love of God and obedience to His commandments. If we truly love God and serve Him as He has taught us, we will love our neighbor as God loves him or her and as He would have us love and serve them.”
This isn’t new coming from Oaks, who has often talked about the subordination of the “second” commandment to the “first” when addressing why we cannot support same-sex marriage. But its appearance and framing in these remarks raises two issues I’m interested in discussing.
First, is Oaks’ formulation of the Love Laws correct?
And second, even if it’s correct, is this really the most important and effective way that BYU (and by extension its faculty, students, and alums) can manifest its distinctive religious character?
Does the commandment to love God supersede or conflict with the commandment to love our neighbor?
Oaks regularly (but without ever really explaining why) makes two assumptions:
- Occasionally the commandment to love God will conflict with the commandment to love our neighbor, and
- In the event of a conflict, the commandment to love God must prevail at the expense of the commandment to love our neighbor.
I think both assumptions are wrong. They are contradicted by (a) the plain meaning of the relevant scriptural text, (b) explanatory material provided by Jesus regarding the meaning of the second commandment, and (c) the nature of Jesus himself.
(1) The scriptural text does not support Oaks’ position.
As a fellow lawyer, Oaks should know that the first place we look for an interpretation of a “law” (or, here, commandment) is the text itself.(3) The exchange is addressed specifically in each of the three synoptic gospels, so let’s first review those texts.
Matthew. In Matthew, Jesus answered in response to the question “which is the great commandment in the law”:
“That shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, That shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and all the prophets.”
Mark. Mark also contains an account of this exchange, but it differs slightly. When asked, “Which is the first commandment of all,” Jesus responds:
“The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”
Luke. The account in Luke is a somewhat different context because it is not the original account of Jesus describing these laws, but instead of another person doing so in response to Jesus’s question. However, it is still interpretively helpful and significant. In Luke’s account, Jesus is asked by a lawyer how to inherit eternal life. Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer, asking him, “What is written in the law? How readest thou?”
The lawyer answers, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.”
In response, Jesus affirmed “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”
The lawyer then asks Jesus “who is my neighbor,” which Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. But I’ll address that later.
Together, do those texts support the idea that the first commandment–to love God–is more important than the second? I don’t believe so. Oaks seems to rest his argument on Matthew’s language “This is the first and great commandment.” This isn’t compelling, though, for several reasons.
First, I find it important that the phrase “this is the first and great commandment” is only included in Matthew’s account. This doesn’t occur in any of the other accounts. In Mark, it simply lists the commandments as “first” and “second” in sequential order. In Luke, they are not even particularly distinguishable as separate. Although the statement in Luke came from a third person, Jesus did not correct him to make sure he understood that loving God was different from or more important than loving one’s neighbor; on the contrary, Jesus affirmed, “That hast answered right.” I would be reluctant to hang an entire textual interpretation of the meaning of what Jesus teaches are the most important commandments on one phrase occurring in only one of three accounts.
Second, even taking Matthew on its face as a definitive account, neither using the word “great” to describe the first commandment nor ordering it first means that it is superior to the second. As to “great”, Jesus uses the word “great”–not “greatest.” (OK again, I realize Jesus didn’t actually use the word “great” because he didn’t speak English, but if Oaks is going to rely on that I will start there.) Great is an adjective, not a superlative. Calling the first commandment great doesn’t mean that the second is less-great.
The order is not dispositive, either. Second in presentation does not mean second in importance. Second can be a neutral, sequential way of ordering multiple ideas. (I have used “second” or other methods of organization several times in this post, but I was generally not implying anything about the relative weight or importance of the second point compared to the first. Rather, I’m trying to be logical.) Indeed, listing the commandment to love God first here makes sense because it tracks the organization of the Ten Commandments, which would have been a reference point (the first five of which are commonly understood to relate to loving God, and the second five to loving one’s neighbor). I don’t want to get into a tangent there, but I don’t know that murder (the sixth-listed commandment) is worse than dishonoring parents or not keeping the Sabbath holy. YMMV.
Third, and most critically, Oaks’ interpretation completely ignores that in both Matthew and Mark, Jesus describes the second commandment as “like unto” the first. “Like unto it” could mean a number of things. It could mean equally important. It could also mean that the commandments are essentially saying the same thing: that loving our neighbors is not a commandment subordinate to or even separate from the first, but is in fact the means by which we love God and fulfill the first. This interpretation is consistent with other scriptures where Jesus taught that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Not only does this militate against the idea that the first commandment is more important than the second, but it also suggests that the first and second commandments should never actually come into conflict. If they do, you better take a really hard look at whether you might be wrong about one or the other.
(2) Jesus’ further explanation of the second commandment contradicts Oaks’ interpretation.
Not only does the plain language fail to support Oaks’ interpretation, but the best explanation we have of the meaning of the second commandment–the Parable of the Good Samaritan–actually supports the interpretation I’ve offered here. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ discussion with the lawyer, the lawyer (seeking to trap Jesus, perhaps even to trap him into saying that one commandment is more important than the other), asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In response, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Critical to understanding the meaning of that story is realizing that one reason that the Priest and the Levite “passed by on the other side” from the “half-dead” man on the road to Jericho is because touching the man could make them ritually unclean; “[o]n this reading, the priest could be seen as more concerned with the tenets of his religion than with the common humanity that he shared with the victim.”
In the parable, then, the priests faced a dilemma: do they show their obedience to God by following purity codes (they were not to have come into contact with death, hence they moved to the side of the road), or do they violate these purity codes to help a dying man? Does the injunction to love their neighbor supersede those religious purity codes?
Jesus resolves this dilemma clearly. The pure priest and the Levite are not the heroes of the story. The impure Samaritan who serves his neighbor is–and the lawyer is told to “go, and do thou likewise.”
(3) Oaks’ interpretation creates too small a god.
Finally, Oaks’ interpretation is simply not consistent with the Jesus that we read about in the scriptures. I’ve covered this topic (the clash between purity and compassion) elsewhere, but Jesus taught and practiced a politics of compassion in his parables, his teachings, and his own associations that went directly in the face of purity codes and laws.
Oaks’ interpretation is also inconsistent with the God that I know and love. I simply do not believe in a Heavenly Parent who would ask their children to hurt each other in order to honor the parent. If I had to choose between asking my children to love each other or asking one to harm the other in order to prove their love to me … well, I would consider myself a pretty terrible mom if I chose myself. God is not so petty and insecure that he would demand loyalty from some children at the expense of others.
This leads to my second question. (Second not in importance, but in logical order :-)). Is fighting for the right to discriminate really the most important and effective way that BYU (and by extension its faculty, students, and alums) can manifest its distinctive religious character?
I doubt Oaks and I will ever see eye-to-eye on the interpretation of this scripture, and I also recognize that he and others may sincerely believe that the way to “love” others is to teach them the true doctrine of heternormative temple sealings. He thinks he is being loving by teaching what he believes is the “true” doctrine of marriage. Even so, I think there have got to be better ways for BYU (and anyone associated institutionally or personally with the LDS Church) to manifest its distinctive religious character.
To be clear, I fully agree that a Christian university can and should have a distinctive character; I attended a Jesuit university as an undergraduate and loved its emphasis on the liberal arts, education, service, and the required theology classes. I also agree that as Christians we should distinguish ourselves “in happy ways” as we follow Jesus’ counsel to “let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify God.” And, to his credit, Oaks did tell a story about his brother-in-law treating another child with kindness (oddly ending the story with an update that the bullied child became an important executive, as if this somehow justified the kindness?(4)) and mentioned the need to minister to “marginalized groups.”
Unfortunately, other ways of being Christian seem to have taken a back seat to fighting for the freedom to discriminate. This is not particularly new; long ago, I stopped attending events for an association for LDS attorneys I used to participate in because every single event was about how it was our unique role and responsibility as LDS lawyers to fight
for religious freedom against gay marriage. Just a few weeks ago, I attended a BYU alumni event where the speaker, whose topic was how BYU’s identity / heritage as a religious institution should shape it, focused on criticizing “woke” culture, bemoaning Title IX protections for trans and nonbinary students, and encouraging us to continue to fight for religious freedom (including the freedom to be hateful).
These events are frustrating to me not so much for what the speakers say (although I could use a break from the culture wars), but for what the speakers do not say. I would actually love to engage in a conversation about what Christian students, professionals, lawyers, and universities should do differently than the rest of the world. How should we be using our time, talents, education, and other resources to live as Jesus lived? How are BYU students magnifying the University’s motto of entering to learn, going forth to serve? I actually did have many such discussions as a law student, but those pre-dated Prop 8. Since then, the focus seems to have shifted and landed squarely on our opposition to gay marriage as the defining characteristic of the LDS Church and its institutions.
We, and BYU, are the poorer for it.
Do I care if BYU seeks religious exemptions to Title IX? No, I get it. Do I care if some Church members work on religious freedom? No, I also get it, but I certainly wish they’d spent as much time on actual religious freedom issues (like persecution abroad)–and as Sam Brunson wrote, I think their focus here is going to come back to haunt them.
But what I really wish that they could actually meaningfully engage with what it means to be a Christian student, scholar, teacher, professional. That discussion seems much more valuable and meaningful to me than another explanation for why sometimes BYU has to be mean to people.
One of Jesus’s most distinguishing characteristics is the way in which he crossed purity boundaries in an inclusive table fellowship with the impure. BYU and Oaks are turning that on its head, attempting to distinguish themselves by the way in which they enforce purity boundaries–their version of “Love Laws,” a heteronormative caste system that forbids and punishes loving relationships between queer people no matter how pure the love or healthy the relationship. This isn’t Jesus of the God of Love; it’s the god of small things. That story didn’t end well, and I fear that this story won’t, either.
- Have you read the God of Small Things? I reread it sometime later, but it’s been years. I need to read it again now. There’s a controversial piece that I didn’t address here but that I think I finally understand. IYKYK.
- Why do you think Oaks addressed Title IX in a devotional?
- Do you agree that there could ever be a conflict between loving God and loving others? When and how? If you have any resources to interpreting the “two great commandments” please share. I couldn’t find much when I looked. (This surprised me, but I also didn’t have that much time to look.)
- If you were to give a speech to BYU students and faculty about how to be distinctive from the world, what would you focus on? What are some ways you’d like to see the University or other LDS institutions or people be “different” from the world based on their commitment to follow Christ?
- Specifically, in a notification of non-discrimination required by Title IX and in a letter to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Oaks (a) objected to the legality of Title IX as it pertained to private educational institutions, (b) stated that contrary provisions notwithstanding, the University would continue to make inquiries into such matters as pregnancy and terminations of pregnancy in order to enforce its moral code, (c) stated that the University would continue to enforce sex-differentiated dress and grooming standards as those “properly express God-given differences” between the sexes; (d) objected to any requirement to provide co-educational housing; (e) stated that private donors would continue to have the right to select recipients on the basis of sex; and (f) objected to funding requirements for athletics (a common objection).
- Addressing Title IX exemptions to students in a devotional is an odd choice. It’s not as though students have any say in whether or not BYU obtains those exemptions–one wonders what BYU students are to do with that information to become more Christlike in their everyday living. But isn’t the first time that a General Authority has given an “example” in a speech that addresses a controversial issue while pretending to be about something else; Nelson did the same thing a few years ago in a BYU devotional where he gave a speech that didn’t claim to be about the exclusion policy but, in fact, was. I also wonder whether BYU is bracing for future Title IX battles and trying to shore up its legal positions and public support.
- Of course, the scriptural text doesn’t mean that Jesus actually spoke those exact words, but for the moment we’ll assume that’s the case.
- Anyone else think this story was weirdly elitist?
Beautiful post. I worry as I witness caste systems develop and solidify in LDS culture. There are numerous examples of “haves” and “have-nots” in our culture. The Church respects certain groups more than others. I am not pointing solely at the groups marked out by the culture war raging in the U.S. and permeating the church (LGBTQ, Trump supporters, progressives, etc.) but by groups marked out by subjective church orthopraxy and orthodoxy. I think of singles, women, men not called to leadership positions, etc.
One can’t fail to discern fracture lines in even a priesthood meeting. Here’s one small example: In my ward, we have been discussing how High Priests are treated differently than older Elders. Even though many of the older Elders have far more experience than most of the High Priests, they are not accorded with the respect that High Priests are, especially if those High Priests have served in leadership callings. Expressions of egalitarianism and brotherhood are increasingly uncommon in my ward. Expressions of love usually come with condescension and no real appreciation for others.
I am afraid that Jesus’ admonition to “be one” and the Book of Mormon’s warnings on “ites” and social classes has fallen on deaf ears.
Thank you for this, I agree with you on all points. when hearing President Nelson or Oaks teach about the two great commandments being in conflict with each other, I have often thought, “Do I not understand what they are saying or are they really contradicting the teachings of Christ that seem clear in the scriptures?”
I do care (in a negative way) that BYU has sought and relies heavily on religious exemptions to Title IX. Because I think Title IX for the most part is in line with what Jesus would do or what a big God would encourage or what Love calls us to.
In addition, I follow Georgetown University in an aspirational sense for a religious institution. From a 2020 article about Title IX and federal regulations:
“As a religious institution, Georgetown qualifies for an exemption from Title IX due to faith-based objections. The new regulations allow religious institutions to be automatically exempt from some Title IX rules without having to submit a formal written request. Georgetown has historically refrained from using this exemption and will maintain this stance . . .”
This is not the only way I run contrary to President Oaks.
Boom! The Priest and the Levite put their love of God before the love and their fellowmen. The Samaritan did not.
Amazing. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so humbled and excited and amazed at the same time. Thank you, thank you for this reading, Elisa!
Brian, you just nailed it. I was trying to come up with the right words and you beat me to it. The Priest and Levite put their love of God before their love of their neighbor, just EXACTLY like Oaks is saying we should do. He wants more priests and levites and fewer Samaritans in the church. They valued purity laws as proof of their love of God, and to me, the purity laws are like 157th rather than first and second. When you look at, “in as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” So, consider how much God would appreciate a gift of a sheep, compared to how much he would appreciate saving his life. “I’ll just let you die, then put these pretty flowers on your grave to show how much I love you.”
To President Oaks regarding the word Love, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” -Inigo Montoya. But seriously though, I think that President Oaks actually has a different definition of the word love than I do. Because using my definition of the word love, what he says just doesn’t make sense.
I was going to try and refrain from bringing up Steve Young’s book again, but I just love how he describes it. “The law of love is: loving as God loves, seeking another’s healing, and expecting nothing in return.” I just don’t see President Oaks seeking for others healing. I think that he’s using his “loving actions” to try and affect people’s decisions, to control people/get something in return. And I just don’t think that he’s loving as God does (who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust). He’s 0 for 3. He must have a different definition of love, but I don’t think he goes into what it is. I also really don’t want President Oaks to give his definition of love, because I think that would skew what love is in the minds of many members.
I just don’t see how there can be a conflict between loving God and loving your neighbor. And my understanding of God is that if there was a conflict, he’d want us to err on the side of loving our neighbor.
To me, it’s always been one commandment: love God by loving your neighbor.
@old man, that’s so true re: all the many classification systems we have in Church (even the small one I mentioned where Oaks had to note that the person his bro-in-law had defended was now an executive).
@brian and anna, thank you! I didn’t have as much time to write this as I would have liked and it’s such a meaty topic, but I’m eager for others’ thoughts.
@aporetic1, I often think the same thing! The thing about Oaks is that he is smart and part of what I always see him do is parse things in a really legalistic way where he’s logical and has a tight argument but one lacking in compassion. But this argument is actually just, academically, not good. Total bizzarro proof-texting.
@roger hansen, that’s what I think too, and have heard many people say or comment to that effect, but in my admittedly very quick search I had a hard time finding any actual expositions of the text to that effect. But I’d love to see one if I missed something.
“ Is fighting for the right to discriminate really the most important and effective way that BYU (and by extension its faculty, students, and alums) can manifest its distinctive religious character? ”
No Sh*t & Amen! – as I strain my brain for good reasons to leave “BYU” on my resume! Oak & Co are creating serious and totally unnecessary problems for alums. He needs a different hobby horse.
I’m glad that there was a post on this talk because I have watched this talk several times, and it just kind of leaves me scratching my head. What message is Oaks really trying to convey with this talk?
This talk never mentions LGBTQ issues at all. Or race issues. Or the recent change requiring new hires at BYU to sign away their right to confidentiality from what they say to their bishops. In fact, this talk really doesn’t call out any particular controversial issue that BYU or the Church is facing today at all. If you were to just take the talk at face value, then you’d come away with the idea that the first half of the talk is about the merits of having religious colleges allowed to be different than the colleges of “The World”, and the second half of the talk is how BYU students individually should be brave enough to reject “The World”, follow God’s commandments, and be disciples of Christ. If you go and watch the talk, and you do your best to wipe from your mind all of the controversial issues facing BYU and the Church today, I think you’ll find a fairly uncontroversial, even boring, talk. Yes, allowing religious institutions to be different and free from government regulations (within reason) seems like a good idea. Yes, following the two great commandments is a great thing to try to do. Most people aren’t going to find any problems when speaking in generalities like this.
However, this was Oaks speaking, and it’s hard to take a talk this from someone with his background and history of speeches simply at face value. Oaks provided very limited specifics in how he felt Church schools should be different from schools of “The World”. Other than saying that BYU should teach “eternal truths” in addition to secular knowledge (and always let eternal truths win over secular knowledge–I guess that means ignoring the bad past track record BYU has in that area with age of the earth, evolution, causes of homosexuality, etc.?), the only example I heard him give is that BYU, unlike schools of “The World”, should have separate male/female dormitories. I don’t think that the idea of having separate male/female dorms is terribly controversial right now, so I don’t think Oaks had a hard time convincing his audience that having BYU be different from “The World” is a bad thing. Oaks further asked his audience to just trust that the decisions about BYU coming from Holland, Clark, and Holland are all inspired, so there’s seemingly no need to challenge or question the direction BYU is going. It’s just so easy to be a BYU student when you have such inspired leaders–you just don’t have to do any thinking for yourself. Thank goodness BYU’s status as a religious institution has saved us from dorms with boys on one floor and girls on another. Decisions like those come from your inspired leaders. Oaks doesn’t specifically mention any hot topics, but just rest assured that your BYU leaders are doing the right thing when it comes to these unmentionables (like LGBTQ issues, race issues, ecclesiastical endorsement changes, etc.)
The main specific example that Oaks gave about how BYU students could individually be better than “The World” is his bullying story. A junior high kid had the pieces of his checkers or chess game knocked on the ground by the school bully, and Oaks’ brother-in-law helped pick up the pieces. While I agree that bullying is bad, and being nice to someone experiencing bullying is the right thing to do, is this really something that “The World” wouldn’t endorse as well? It seems like I’ve seen countless news articles published about how to prevent bullying as well as anti-bullying campaigns launched in public schools across the country. It seems like “The World” (after all, doesn’t the Church think that the mainstream media and the public school system are part of “The World”?) would agree wholeheartedly that the bullying in the story was bad and that the person who helped the bullied kid was in the right–it seems like the Church isn’t really different from “The World” when it comes to its thoughts on bullying in junior high schools. Yes, I’m sure that Oaks intends “The World” to be interpreted by his listeners to be the bully or the classmates that didn’t help the bullied student, but still, he’s supposed to be speaking to college students here. Couldn’t we come up with an example more appropriate for college students?
Oaks emphasized that BYU students should try to be different from “The World”. Other than the bullying example, Oaks really didn’t provide any specific examples of how BYU students individually should be different from “The World” other than saying they should follow the two Great Commandments. Taken at face value, that seems great–leave it up to the students to figure out how to live their lives as disciples of Christ. But again, this is Oaks speaking, so one can’t help but imagine that what he really is saying is that the world has it all wrong when it comes to LGBTQ issues, race issues, women’s issues, etc. I think that what Oaks is saying is the he knows that a lot of BYU students would personally like to see these people treated better by the Church but since the “First Great Commandment” overrides the “Second Great Commandment”, that’s just not entirely possible. “The World” has it all wrong by wanting to give greater equality to LGBTQ people, women, and non-whites–they are just “loving their neighbor” far too much, when they really should be “loving God” more by discriminating more against these groups of people (at least within the Church and BYU if “The World” will no longer let us discriminate outside of our religion). Remember, Oaks is the guy who gave the talk where he encouraged parents of adult gay children to not be seen in public with them or allow them to stay very long with them in their homes.
In the original video of the talk posted on BYU’s website (the current version is here: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/dallin-h-oaks/going-forward-in-the-second-century/), Oaks showed a very old snippet from Candid Camera to demonstrate how BYU students need to differ from “The World”. Here is a link to that video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrTk6DsEJ2Q. The video may simply have been cut due to copyright concerns? The video shows an unsuspecting target entering an elevator. Immediately after entering the elevator, a series of actors enter the elevator and face the rear of the elevator (away from the door). Eventually, the unsuspecting target usually turns around to face the rear of the elevator as well. Oaks’ point was to say that frequently most people (i.e., “The World”) were facing the wrong way in the elevator because their viewpoint was in conflict with God’s laws. He encouraged BYU students not to conform as the people in the video did but rather to be brave by following God’s commandments (don’t face the back of the elevator like “The World”). At face value, that all seems like great advice. There are times when it seems like society does things that aren’t right and that do conflict with Christ’s teachings. In those cases, it is right to choose to not conform with the views of society and face the front of the elevator. However, this is Oaks speaking, so it is hard for me not to think that Oaks’ point is that society (“The World”) is doing the wrong thing when it comes to LGBTQ, women, and race issues–“The World” is facing the back of the elevator. Only the Church is facing the front of the elevator by continuing its discrimination against LGBTQ, women, and non-white people. Oaks doesn’t seem to be able to conceive of a world where only members of the Church are facing the back of the elevator, and the rest of “The World” is facing the front. Let’s take a trip back in time to 1977. In that year (and all years prior to that since Brigham denied blacks these privileges after his arrival in Utah), was it “The World” or “The Church” that was facing the wrong direction in the elevator with regards to the ability of blacks to participate in the temple and hold the priesthood? Given the 1977 experience, how are we to trust that the Church is facing the right direction in the elevator when it comes to LGBTQ, womens, and (still!) race issues today? It sure feels to me like it is, if fact, The Church and Oaks himself that are facing the wrong direction in the elevator on some of these issues.
I really appreciate Elisa’s discussion of whether the first great commandment is supposed to override the second great commandment. I have wondered about this interpretation ever since Oaks proclaimed that this was the case in his earlier talks. It also was never apparent to me that the command to love God was ever meant to supersede the command to love others (and, they are in fact supposed to be complementary commandments), and it is nice to have more support for that position provided by Elisa’s discussion. It would be interesting to see if Bible scholars (people who know far more about the language and history of the Bible than Oaks) have picked this apart some more–it seems like whether Commandment #1 is greater than Commandment #2 is obvious issue that would have been discussed at length over the many centuries of Christian history (or is it only Oaks and Nelson that have managed to make this a big deal?). I also have never heard Oaks justify his interpretation that Great Commandment #1 overrides Great Commandment #2, and the justification from the Bible seems pretty week as Elisa noted.
I personally didn’t really read too much into Oaks using his Title 9 efforts as the example he used in support of freedom of religion at private colleges. He was pretty careful to say that he supported the general idea of equal treatment for men and women and that his point was to show the Church’s efforts to maintain their independence. Yes, the example wasn’t the best choice given who he is, the past statements he’s made concerning gender and sexuality, and the current hot topics that the church is facing, but maybe he couldn’t think of a better example to use? (And, yes, since he was so vague about specifics in the rest of his talk, it is strange that he chose to use this specific example here. It seems like just leaving this example out wouldn’t have changed his talk much.) That said, this is Oaks speaking, so maybe he does see a fight coming between BYU and Title 9 in the future and is preparing BYU for that in advance?
@mountainclimber I appreciate the detail about the talk you’ve provided here. You’re so right about the elevator analogy. I don’t know why he and Clark Gilbert (who also uses the analogy) are so hung up on it. It’s honestly a stupid analogy.
Guess what else looks dumb? Continuing to face the wrong direction for years after other people have figured it out. And thinking you’re the smarter for it.
You’re also right about bullying. The world isn’t really pro-bullying so this isn’t exactly cutting new ground.
I think this talk hit me especially hard because I have a child attending BYU right now. My child was top of their class, super high test scores, tons of awards and extracurriculars. My child could have gone pretty much anywhere to college (and, yes, the acceptance letters were in hand), but they chose to go to BYU because that’s where they wanted to be. My child’s best friend in high school is gay. The friend was also top grades, perfect ACT, student body president, extracurriculars, awards, etc. This friend attended church meetings and activities, graduated from seminary, everything, the works. This friend is super outgoing, friendly–literally everyone loves this kid. This friend also really, really wanted to go to BYU. My child and my child’s gay friend dreamed of going off to BYU together. This friend actually filled out (at least, in part) the BYU application. However, in the end, my child’s friend decided they just couldn’t go to BYU. This friend wanted to date in college (as they had in high school), and they knew that this was just too risky at BYU. I totally think that my child’s friend made the right decision given the situation for gay students at BYU right now. There is a good chance that this friend would have been expelled from BYU, or if not expelled, just been miserable trying to hide their dating behavior (this friend follows the “law of chastity” just like their straight church friends, so it’s likely that they wouldn’t have been sexually active until they get married, which when it happens will certainly be a gay marriage, and I guess certain excommunication from the Church if they are still active) My child’s friend is now at one of the top Ivy League colleges and doing great there.
What a loss for BYU! BYU is missing out on so much by not having this gay kid on their campus. And, in the long run, what a long-term loss for the Church! This kid is exactly the kind of person you want to have in leadership positions in your ward–they are a friend to everybody around them. Is this what Oaks means when he says that BYU needs to be different? Does Oaks mean that BYU needs to be different in a way that they make it impossible/intolerable for bright, kind, charitable young gay kids to attend their “unique” institution? Is preventing great gay kids from attending BYU what Oaks means when he says that Great Commandment #1 must always trump Great Commandment #2? I do, in fact, believe that is, at least in part, what Oaks means by this. Tell me again, Mr. Oaks, how forcing this great gay kid away from BYU shows that BYU isn’t the one facing the wrong way in the elevator? What a shame!
I don’t worship a God that’s a bully. The God I worship has no problems with me choosing love every time. Also, God isn’t here. So my view is that the only way I can truly show God I love him is by loving my neighbor. Or what Roger Hansen said. It’s sometimes an unpopular opinion in Sunday School.
How can BYU students stand apart? In a world full of online contention, choose not to engage or choose to listen and to understand. In our current cancel culture, balance consequences with forgiveness. In a world of indulgence, choose to share. In a world of cliques, choose to be inclusive. My two cents.
To steal Elisa’s own MO here, let’s examine the fruit of loving our neighbor. The Good Samaritan shows us the consequences. In a culture full of priests and Pharisees, thank you for the reminder to be a Samaritan.
mountainclimber mentioning the “conformity experiment” from candid camera and that Pres. Oaks may have used this in his talk and some follow up regarding the priesthood and temple ban triggered an interesting thought train in my head. Let me see if I can recreate it.
First note. Looking at the conformity experiment, one key thing is that it is obvious to everyone which side is the “front” of the elevator. In using this to explain about choosing to conform or not conform, Pres. Oaks seems to also assume that it will be obvious to everyone in the Church what is right and true and what is not.
To me, the thing that the priesthood and temple ban shows me is that we in the church are not always very good at knowing which side is the front of the elevator. The Race and the Priesthood essay spills a lot of ink explaining how it wouldn’t be unusual for the 19th century Saints to be racist because essentially all of the US was racist. Southern Protestants were using the Bible to defend chattel slavery. Northerners didn’t like slavery, but many still considered other races inferior. After reading Reeves’s “Religion of a Different Color” it seemed like 19th century US society was swimming racism. Why did the 19th century saints have such a hard time knowing which side of the elevator was the front? They seemed more than willing to conform to “The World” around them.
Which, if that was all there was to it, probably wouldn’t bother me as much. But, in the mid 20th century, US society starts to see that it is facing the back of the elevator and starts to turn around. But the church stubbornly continues facing the back of the elevator, unwilling to conform until 1978 (or would it be 2013 when it finally disavowed all of the justifications given for denying a race of people priesthood and temple blessings?).
One of the problems we sometimes have when we invoke “us vs. the world” thinking is that non-conformity becomes a virtue in and of itself. Right or wrong no longer matter, as long as we are different from the world. Personally, I think right and wrong, truth and error are what really matter. If everybody is facing the back of the elevator, and I seem to be the only one who can tell which way is front, I hope I have the courage to stick with what I believe to be true. However, if everyone else is facing the front of the elevator, I hope I would have the courage to also face the front of the elevator. Choose the right, but have the discernment to be able to tell when the world is right and when the world is wrong.
Handy. We have to love people the way God tells us – and by the way – Oaks is God’s oracle.
And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;
Here in Moses 7, loving one another and loving God are nicely linked together. As if we need yet another scripture pointing out the obvious. Come on, this is Christianity 101.
@MrShorty Right. The way Oaks presented the elevator analogy seems to assume that we can always just assume that whatever the Church is teaching at any given time is the right way to face in the elevator. If anyone thinks differently than the Church that automatically defines them as a member of “The World” and such opposition means that it is they that are facing the back of the elevator. It doesn’t take very long studying Church history to come to the conclusion that it is, indeed, the Church that is often the one facing the wrong way in the elevator. Unfortunately, this kind of church history is careful avoided, or at best, tiptoed around in correlated church lessons.
I had a hard time finding any actual expositions of the text to that effect.
How about Matthew 25:40 (admittedly a couple of chapters later)–“…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
@lastlemming yes, that scripture IMO confirms the interpretation. I meant people analyzing the verses directly or providing an analysis overall in an article. I wanted a shortcut and not to have to write my own explanation :-).
Instead of continuing to be distinct from the world due to our backwards treatment of LGBTQ, women, and non-white people, one alternative way BYU/The Church could be more unique in the world is in the amount of funds and manpower they put forward to work on some of the humanity’s most vexing problems: vaccines, hunger, climate change, education, etc. I’m thinking about something along the lines of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which currently has an endowment of about 53 billion dollars. Hmm, I wonder where the Church could find that kind of money (cough, cough, Ensign Peak, cough, c0ugh)?
Through this Foundation (perhaps it could be named “The Mormons Don’t Hate Gays Anymore So We Decided We Actually Want to Help the World Now Foundation” since we’re so fond of long names, and we want to make sure “The World” knows that we are now treating gay members with the respect they deserve, so they’ll quit bugging us about that), the Church could fund research and on-the-ground efforts to implement solutions discovered through this research. Perhaps instead of serving proselyting missions, some of our young people (and retirees) could choose to serve service missions to help implement these solutions around the globe (manning vaccine clinics, implementing education programs, etc.). Perhaps even mid-career sabbaticals could be funded by the church for mid-career people (and their families) to perform service through the foundation if they so desired. BYU could be used as a research hub for the Church’s foundation. Many BYU students, working with professors on research to help solve the world’s problems, would become infected with the desire to serve others, and they themselves would choose to do research to better the world, or create or work in organizations doing this type of work. Instead of being noted by outsiders for its discriminatory practices towards marginalized groups like LGBTQ, women, and non-whites (leadership would finally realize that we were facing the back of the elevator on these issues all along and finally turn around and face the front of the elevator like the rest of “The World”), the Church could be distinct in the world for being the religion with the highest per member spending and/or highest volunteer hours donated towards philanthropic efforts.
Unfortunately, that probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon because leadership believes that the church’s mission is to preach the gospel to the world, including telling them how the gays are so bad while spending untold millions “helping” the dead instead of the living. One can always dream, though.
Thanks Elisa for another great post. I guess for me DHO’s talk is just another example of why I left the LDS church. I think there are many wonderful church members trying very hard to live the two great commandments, but when the top leaders are actively teaching the opposite of what Jesus taught and trying to lead those good people astray, I just don’t want to be part of that. I am glad that some are willing to stay in and courageously speak truth to power, but for me, I would rather attend a church where the female pastors really seem to understand God’s word and teach ways to do good within our community. Not having the cognitive dissonance between what I read in the NT and what is taught and modeled in church makes for better Sundays.
I add an extra thumbs up to Brian and Anna. That’s a great lesson to pull from the Good Samaritan, Elisa, I’ve never heard it worded quite like that before and that’s going to stick with me.
We’re using different definitions of “love” as aporetc1 points out. In my view, love includes accepting someone as they are. Oaks has a more conditional view of love; he’ll love without acceptance but hope you’ll change. “God wants me to manipulate and patronize you so that you’ll see that I’m right.”
On the LGBTQ issues — acceptance means acceptance. I understand Oaks&Co believe that gay love is a sin, and so by condemning gay love, they’re actually helping the gay person. But there are so many of us who DON’T believe gay love is a sin. I’m sure Oaks believes he’s in step with God’s will. But I’ve prayed about this issue with a much different set of life experiences, and I genuinely disagree with him.
Just 2 days ago KUTV news (one of the news stations in Salt Lake City) ran an article about the serious lack of affordable housing for the poor in Utah along the Wasatch Mountains (the mountain chain that runs from the northern border with Idaho and down to south central Utah. Even though it has been conclusively proven that getting the poor and homeless people off of the streets and into decent housing is often the first step for them to get the help they need in order for them to improve their lives and have the prospect of holding down a job to support themselves and their families if they have them. The state department head over the entity that deals with the poor and homeless recently asked the Utah State Legislature for 132 million dollars to pay for building new apartment complexes or renovating existing buildings as affordable housing for the poor. Our stingy (and mostly Mormon legislature) gave them a measly 50 million dollars instead. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity for the church to step in and donate money to build affordable housing along with drug treatment, mental health services and medical/dental facilities on site or close by for the poor. From someone I know who worked at the church office building for quite a while the reason that money from the church is not forthcoming is the strongly held belief that the church would be wasting their money on people who have only themselves to blame for their own misfortunes. And yet the church had absolutely no no qualms about building a 3+ billion dollar high end shopping mall (my friends, family and I refer to it as “The Temple of Mammon) across the street from Temple Square. However, donating money to help poor and indigent people is a project that they aren’t interested in at all. A cousin of mine and her husband served as non proselytizing welfare missionaries in the inner city area of SLC, and she said that getting any money from the church to assist them in helping the poor was such a hassle and that some bishops who lived in that area and whom the missionaries had to work with were actively opposed to “throwing good money after bad”. Not only that but anyone applying for financial help who were inactive or weren’t members of the church(all people who lived in the mission boundaries were eligible to receive financial assistance) had to agree to receive the entire set of missionary lessons before a bishop would even consider helping them. This whole shabby treatment of our poor and homeless brothers and sisters makes me sick to my stomach.
If Oaks et al were serious about helping BYU students to become “unique” in a positive way they could start by requiring individual students, BYU student groups and wards to participate in regular service projects as part of their graduation requirements. Some colleges and universities already have such a graduation requirement. The service that would be performed should also have no strings attached to it in any way. The idea of forcing inactive people and nonmembers to take the missionary lessons in order to receive help is just wrong on so many levels. Jesus never ever refused to help the people who came to Him in desperate need of His help or predicated His ability to help and bless them on the condition that they listen to x number of His sermons before He would deign to heal/help them. As there are already a lot of bad feelings towards BYU students in Provo due to their often total lack of consideration and respect of the feelings, rights and needs of the citizens of Provo acts of service for and with other citizens would go a long way in healing the breach while blessing many lives. Students regularly performing acts of service in our town without broadcasting their good deeds (absolutely NO yellow or blue Mormon Helping Hands vests during the acts of service!) would go a long way towards improving the often tense and negative feelings that presently exist between town and gown.
Just to add more content to what Wayfaring Stranger is saying, this ProPublica article details how the state has basically pushed those in need toward the church, which many times requires hearing missionary lessons and even getting baptized in order to get help.
How does one love God? y loving one’s neighbor.. Matthew 25: 31–46.
Thank you Elisa. IMO, this is one of the most critically important church controversies we now face, and it isn’t receiving enough attention.
The theology Nelson and Oaks offer by attempting to bifurcate the doctrine of love is, simply put, dangerous in its implications. Nelson and Oaks may find what I’ll call the doctrine of bifurcation expedient now as a practical wedge to continue their campaign of hostility toward the LGBTQ+ community, but it will come back to haunt the church. This idea provides a justification to withhold love to whatever class of people our church may find to be unwanted or not to our liking. His lack of specificity gives his listeners room to interpret this however they may. I’ll assert his promoting this idea of conditional love is an act of moral irresponsibility and a perversion of one of the most established and preeminent doctrines found in Christianity.
Your argument, Elisa, is so incredibly well crafted; it’s sound and valid. I have copied your OP and sent it to many family members and friends. The idea of loving your neighbor, unqualified, as an expression of loving God is not only a New Testament teaching (the parable of the Good Samaritan is so powerful in making your argument), but also an Old Testament teaching. The doctrine is found in Leviticus.
Your book recommendation, The God of Small Things, is on my reading list now. Thank you for the summary. The book’s thesis beautifully speaks to your argument, and also reminds me why its so important as a church we embrace the commandment to seek out the best books. Being inspired by great works and learning broadly is perhaps the most effective antidote to see Oaks’ talk for what it really is.
I agree with Janey – but here is another way to look at the entire LGBTQ issue: so what if being LGBTQ is a sin? So what? Do we treat “sinners” differently? Love them less? Read the New Testament again. The Savior went out of His way – over and over again to mingle with, bless, and love “Sinners”. And as we read it again and again, it turns out most of those “sinners” He was condemned for blessing – were not sinners at all. They were simply people who lived differently than the Orthodoxy of the day. AND, it turns out the Orthodoxy were the real sinners! That is what the Savior taught. It has been accurately described what is going on with Oaks and even RMN – they are NOT teaching the Saviors doctrine. Funny how much we can learn from a 2000 year old book that we claim as a church to believe.
Posts like this one are the reason I read W&T. I am a particularly linear thinker, and not very talented with ‘out of the box’ ideas. That lack of talent has sometimes caused me to miss important connections like the ones pointed out in the OP about the Levite and Priest failing to love the fallen neighbor because of a desire to honor God.
Thank you Elisa for your generosity towards DHO when you wrote
“and I also recognize that he and others may sincerely believe that the way to “love” others is to teach them the true doctrine of heternormative temple sealings. He thinks he is being loving by teaching what he believes is the “true” doctrine of marriage.”
I do not agree with DHO’s position. I am much more inclined to agree with the point of view you’ve presented in the OP. But your graciousness towards DHO’s motivations are a welcome site in a time where many will quickly jump to demonize the position of the ‘other side’ (sometimes even on W&T unfortunately).
I really do not like how most LDS and probably most Christians read and interpret the parable of the good Samaritan. I think many believe that if they see someone hungry or naked or beaten, and they feed or clothe or nurture them, then they’ve been a good Samaritan. But many forget the nature of the relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews at that time. If you really want to be a good Samaritan, then you must feed, clothe, and nurture (with real love) a Democrat (if you are a Republican), or a Republican (if you are a Democrat), or an LGBTQ+ (if you are Evangelical) or an Evangelical (if you are LGBTQ+), etc, etc.
I have taught many Sunday School classes where I have tried to make that point. But unfortunately, the cultural indoctrination of this lesson is very hard to overcome, and there isn’t really a lot of incentive in our society to love each other.
We are all very good at loving our brothers. But even the Publicans were good at that (Matt 5:46). Not very many are good at loving their neighbors.
My seminary and institute teachers taught me that Jesus spoke in parables to hide his true meaning from those who are not yet ready for a higher law. Teaching this way, according to my professors, was to protect the hearer from being judged against a standard they are not yet ready to follow. Part of me thinks that Oaks not understanding the parable of the good Samaritan is God shielding him from a higher law, one his legalistic brain can’t yet comprehend.
I wonder what kind of mental gymnastics will be required 40 years in the future, when the church wants to insist that it has never been homophobic. ‘Speaking as a man ‘ perhaps?
I think this is a bigger problem than we realize at present. In order to avoid being kind and loving to LGBTQ people, Oaks is contradicting Christ Himself to literally redefine what love is. Messing with the core teachings of Jesus is not likely to turn out well.
Outstanding post, Elisa. It’s depressing to me that Oaks and company are so bad at reading scriptures. I can get that they have a hard time with any developments in the world in the last few decades, since everything can feel like it’s rushing and changing so fast when you’re aging. Heck, I feel like that some times even as someone decades junior to Oaks. But the scriptures? That should be right in their wheelhouse. And yet he can’t even get that right, and instead carefully misreads the two great commandments as an excuse to be cruel to people he doesn’t like.
@Big Sky & 10ac, I agree this is such an important issue. Maybe I will write about this in more detail soon, but what had been a 10-year slow-burn faith crisis / transition became a nuclear meltdown when I realized that RMN and Oaks are wrong about the very nature of God’s love. I simply cannot sustain them as prophets when they are making a mistake as fundamental and monumental as that. And if there’s a theme in my posts here on W&T, it’s that.
@Wayfaring & Jareds Brother – when I moved to Utah 6 years ago, we had “solved” the homeless problem. (I don’t know how it was done, but Utah was in fact a model state for addressing this problem.). That seems to have come undone over the last several years. And in the meantime, I’ve seen the Church and the legislature coopted by extremism.
@Bodensmate and the others who have commented that this is an enlightening read on the Good Samaritan, you should know that I didn’t figure that out on my own, either. It is really hard to get outside the reading of the NT that we’ve been given (indoctrinated with) during a lifetime of Church attendance and study. We see what the Correlation Committee wants us to see. It was a book about Jesus by Marcus Borg (the one I talk about here https://wheatandtares.org/2022/03/24/reckless-love-purity-vs-compassion-part-1/) that clued me into this.
@Elisa — I’m very sad to hear of your faith “nuclear meltdown”. That sounds very rough. I’m “lucky” in the sense that I figured out fairly early on (it started in high school but certainly by my BYU days) that the Church’s narrative was not even close to 100% accurate. This includes the idea that our “prophets, seers, and revelators” can’t ever “lead the church astray”. My feeling is that if God is directing this church in any way, then he is often doing it in spite of the false teachings and flawed actions of our church leaders rather than directly through them. In any case, because I transitioned so early in life, I think was able to avoid a crisis.
Over time, I, like you, also have come to the conclusion that the purpose of the gospel and the purpose of our lives is to try to learn to love each other better. If there really is a Judgment Day that will come, then I leave that all to God in some afterlife that we know very little about. What we as humans are to strive for today is love, not judgment.
I’ve stayed in the Church over all of these years in spite of lousy teachings coming from top leaders at times. I’ve stayed in the Church because I still love many of its teachings and many of the people. One thing that’s helped me stay is outlets like this blog. I’ve read this blog for years, but never participated until now (this post pushed me over the edge for some reason). It’s so refreshing to come on hear and read honest, well thought out ideas about faith and the church without having to worry if someone is looking over my shoulder.
Back in my BYU days, The Student Review was my outlet. For those who don’t know, The Student Review was a small, weekly (I think?) newspaper published by BYU students in the 80s and 90s (not sure exact dates). It touched on a lot of church topics, but some articles that were published were thought provoking and could be critical of the church. The paper was pushed off campus at some point by BYU (you could literally pick it up at boxes one step off of campus) due to it’s sometimes “controversial” content (it’s been a long time, but I think it was generally tamer than W&T, so it wasn’t too wild), but I don’t think BYU ever punished any of the student authors (at least not while I was there). In any case, I remember always being excited to pick up a copy of The Student Review when it came out each week. It was my one outlet where I knew that some author was going to speak honestly about some church topic that was verboten in church (and would certainly never see the light of day in the Daily Universe).
The W&T blog has helped me much like The Student Review did way back in my BYU days. I really appreciate this post as well as many of the other posts you’ve written. If only I could think and write as well as you do! I hope your faith meltdown won’t totally drive you away from participation at the ward level since I hope someday to find a safe friend like you in my ward. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, so for now, I will stick to W&T and the rest of the blogosphere for my release from church insanity. Thanks again, and please keep your posts coming!
@mountainclimber479, I’m so delighted to have prompted a comment from a longtime lurker! I welcome lurkers but the comments are what makes this site golden IMO.
Mountain Climber, I also loved the Student Review and couldn’t wait for the next issue. It too was my lifeline when I moved back to Provo in the late 80’s. (I had vowed on my graduation day from BYU that hell would freeze over before I ever returned to Provo, and then some years later I married a BYU faculty member!) W and T is my spiritual home too. It’s so frustrating and difficult to be a member of a church that seems to have seriously lost its way and that doesn’t resemble the church that I grew up in and loved. Coming here is the lifeline that gives me the courage to stay in the church. I bless a former adult music student of mine who put me onto this blog. My baby brother who lives outside the Zion Curtain loves this blog too. Thanks Elisa and everyone else for making this a safe place for those of us who don’t fit into the church as it now is and who actually believe that God wants us to use the brains He blessed us with. The glory of God truly is intelligence.
Honestly, I’m just exhausted with Oaks: his Voice, his Visage, his Self-Righteousness/Self Absorption and his Condescension…..I’ll just be glad when he’s “crossed over”……to whatever…..I do my best these days – to simply ignore him in every way.
@Elisa: “…what had been a 10-year slow-burn faith crisis / transition became a nuclear meltdown when I realized that RMN and Oaks are wrong about the very nature of God’s love. I simply cannot sustain them as prophets when they are making a mistake as fundamental and monumental as that. And if there’s a theme in my posts here on W&T, it’s that.”
Thank you for the honest disclosure. I can add this is also my experience now and looking back a decade. I’m hanging by a thread and I’m tired of trying to cope with the whiplash I experience every time I listen to Nelson/Oaks. Holland’s talk to BYU faculty and staff, that was a backbreaker for me as well.
In the 1993 film, Shadowlands, a biopic of CS Lewis’ life, one of Jack’s students observes in a poignant scene, “We read to know we’re not alone.” W&T has become quite a haven for me in that regard. I know well written blogs take extraordinary effort and time. I deeply appreciate your thoughts so thank you, along with the others, for being willing to write and publish here.
@mountainclimber479 The Student Review was a hallmark of BYU college life during that time. I was there in the late 80’s. Its mix of serious articles and irreverent humor was a sanity saver indeed. What a great publication and a good time to be at BYU.
Abou Ben Adhem
BY LEIGH HUNT
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
I find this statement from Oaks interesting: “Those who deviate from a majority are often made to feel like ignorant holdouts on subjects where everyone else is more enlightened.” Is it just pride, then, plain and simple, that causes him to dig in his heels on this issue? He doesn’t like being made to feel less enlightened so he thumbs his nose at it all. Does he know, deep down, that society’s acceptance of LGBTQ people is based in good-faith reasoning that he can’t actually refute?
This issue once again highlights the church’s lack of a good framework for determining right and wrong. In “the world,” that which causes suffering is bad and that which alleviates it is good. Not so in the church. In the church, right and wrong is determined by God’s will as revealed to his prophets. The problem is, of course, that revelation has proven itself to be far from fool-proof and today’s church leaders don’t even pretend to receive it, opting instead to codify arbitrary cultural norms of church generations past. As a result, what is deemed good by the church often causes suffering and whatever alleviates that suffering is likewise maligned. Then when leaders are forced to acknowledge the suffering they’ve caused, they obfuscate with weird platitudes about the dangers of loving our neighbor too much.
I think the Savior made it clear to Saul, Acts 10, that persecuting the saints was persecuting the Savior and God! We cannot love God while persecuting our LGBTQ IA+ brothers and sisters!
Suicide is a huge problem with our LGBTQ youth. It is the leading cause of death with our 10 to 24 year old members of the church! Like Saul the Church must stop persecuting these saints to death! Loving them is Loving God!
@bj, great example. Another good example from Acts is when Peter was told in a revelation: “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
I share others’ fond memories of the Student Review, and I even had a poem published in it when I was a student (maybe as a sophomore? which would have been literally the only achievement of that academic year in which I struggled to even get to class!) I also participated in the anti-Aryan Nations protest in Ogden that the Student Review organized. Good times. As I recall, lots of the former Student Review folks later became the original bloggernacle folks.
Just a few thoughts that give me pause on this topic.
1) I hesitate to want to litigate against an Apostle. He doesn’t have to present logic that passes an earthly, legal threshold. Gods laws are to be spiritually discerned. From 1COR 2: 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
God does not have to keep man’s laws or appeal to man’s logic.
2). I have always had the following verses from Matthew in the back of my mind as I think about following Gods laws. He doesn’t promise peace in our homes or peace in our relationships.
While we are commanded to love God and love our neighbors, He is clear that if there is any conflict, He commands us to love Him.
Open to thoughts on other ways to interpret this. My feeling is that we find ourselves trying to create God in our images. I have a lot of prayers waiting on the shelf for answers. I don’t have many answers.
From Matthew 10
34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
I don’t know if the sensation of hanging by a thread is more common these days than it used to be, but I can’t help hoping that your thread is strong, and will sustain you for a while longer. Early in 2023 BCC Press will publish a book about surviving on the edge. Watch for it around March, 2023.
@toad I just noticed all your downvotes. I assumed you were joking and loved your comment. If I’m right I think a lot of people misunderstood it so I hereby defend your honor.
@elisa thank you. I was reminded the hard way that it’s difficult to accurately communicate tone online, especially if you’re in a hurry. Not a big fan of DHO these days. I’m impressed that you noticed and took the time to respond.
@toad I totally lol’d at your comment. Only later did I realize many thought you were serious.
@DC, I don’t know why your comment just showed up. My response:
(1) I clearly don’t share the same deference that you do to Oaks, but we are just not operating from the same set of assumptions on that one. That said, if Oaks is going to quote the words of Jesus from the New Testament to support his position, what is wrong with looking at those scriptures and concluding that Oaks is misinterpreting them? Whether God follows logic is beside the point. My point is that Oaks’ scriptural interpretation is wrong. If he wants to base his teachings on the revelation he’s received from God as an apostle, fine. But if he’s going to claim that Jesus supports his teachings, I’m going to look at what Jesus actually said and I do not have to accept Oaks’ scriptural interpretation that runs counter to the text itself and the explanatory material.
(2) As for the scriptures you’ve cited, I know many interpret those verses as you do. This is a topic that could be a whole post and I don’t have time at the moment to address in full, but in sum I would say that I disagree that those scriptures mean that God would give us rules that would require us to treat our family poorly. Rather, I think those scriptures mean that sometimes following God’s rules means we may be treated poorly by our families & communities because we are going against the prevailing culture of the time and challenging the social norms they’ve created identities and power around. This would actually suggest that the division is being cause not because parents should discriminate against queer kids because God wants them to, but that parents will be upset when people finally start following God and STOP discriminating against queer kids because it’s counter to their culture.
This post (pasted below) describes well how the context of the scriptures you quote demonstrate that Jesus was not saying he was sending his disciples out with swords. Rather, he was warning them that if they followed him, *other people* would wield swords against them.
Elisa, I missed this when it was posted. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!