Earlier, my co-blogger Elisa summarized the new statement of support from the LDS church for the Respect for Marriage Act.
What I appreciate about her analysis that I have not seen in every analysis of the statement is that she recognizes the ambiguity of what the statement actually means or implies for LDS institutional beliefs, policies and practices toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
But, in some other analyses, this is missing. And for good reason. You, like many other people, may have read the statement and may be wondering: “Andrew S — what are you talking about? What ambiguity? This statement is very clear.”
But be very careful about what you say next….what is the statement clear about?
…Is it that the LDS church now supports legal/civil recognition of same-sex marriage?
…Or is it that LDS views about same-sex marriage are unchanged (and will not change)?
Again, I think there is good reason for people to come to diametrically different interpretations of the statement — I think that the LDS church and newsroom employ intentional ambiguity or plausible deniability to craft statements that can be interpreted in mutually exclusive ways. They are creating the Schrodinger’s Cat of doctrinal interpretations. Further, I think that this is a tool of revelatory potential. I am not a prophet, seer, or revelator, so sorry for the clickbait, as I will not actually solve the mystery or collapse the superposition why the LDS church absolutely is [not] going to accept gay marriage. But I would like to discuss why it might make sense to acknowledge that “Schrodinger’s Cat”-esque statements like these are intentional and could be used to allow both possibilities to live simultaneously.
What are the stakes?
As mentioned, I am not a prophet, seer, or revelator. But in this post, let’s pretend. Suppose that you find yourself being one, but you’re also an administrator of an organization. In this position, what might be your priorities?
If we think of the church as a ship (suppose, “Old Ship Zion”), then steering the ship would be your priority. Maybe you think that the ship is already on the right course, but discerning and knowing through inspiration and divine guidance what is the right way the ship should go is of crucial importance, so that’s one thing. But — and perhaps just as important — are the secular or mundane operational, tactical, and logistical issues of how to steer the ship if course corrections are required. The larger the ship, the slower it turns, and so more planning is needed to set up a turn properly.
This analogy lets us acknowledge that even though we might want to think of prophecy as immediate, stunning, stark, and unbounded punctuations of the divine into daily life that can be decreed and implemented at a moment’s notice…that there are other models of envisioning revelation that suggest practical concerns may place bounds on revelation and prophecy.
When the adequate preparatory work isn’t done, then the same as with steering a ship, the results may either not be what you want or they may fail catastrophically. Comparing to religious organizations, big sweeping changes can results in schisms or other backlashes from certain members (such as those that occurred for the LDS church with the end of polygamy, or even those that occurred in Community of Christ [formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] with the granting of the priesthood to women.)
So, even if the changes are desired and good, there may be a desire to avoid alienating those who are the greatest proponents of the status quo.
What might you want to change?
Let’s say that you have dietary restrictions but the logic around what is and is not allowed in those dietary restrictions are fuzzy. Over time, some of the ship captains and some of the crew have come to believe that caffeine is absolutely forbidden under the dietary restrictions — and that this is obviously so. On the other hand, you have other leaders and members who think that caffeine is absolutely permitted under the dietary restrictions — and this is obviously so.
Many people won’t care that much, but in both camps are some people who feel so strongly about the issue that they would view people in the other camp as lacking in their faith.
Or let’s take another example and raise the stakes a little bit beyond caffeine. Let’s say you have made statements and policies about those of other races, including disallowing people of certain races to have positions within the ship/organizational structure. Let’s say that this has become institutionalized with a lot of speculation about why those policies existed. It’s to such an extent that even after the policy has been changed, people still have strong opinions about why the policy was in place, and now, there are mutually exclusive views. Some of the ship captains and crew have come to believe that the prior policy was divinely inspired so the policy change was such as well. Others of the crew believe that the policy was a mistake, and so its correction was to correct for the mistake.
Many people won’t care that much, but in both camps are some people who feel so strongly about the issue that they would view people in the other camp as lacking in their faith.
And now…let’s take a third example. Let’s say you have made statements and policies about the proper form and role of marriage in society, and now increasingly society is accepting other ideas about marriage. You know from your past that being out of step with society about marital structures is fraught, and you also know from the past that pivoting on views of family and marriage can have major consequences for the ship and its crew. (Some of the crew mutinied and they never came back!)
In each of these scenarios, the question might be: How can you change this perception without upsetting someone? When there are actually two camps that believe mutually exclusive things?
Plausible deniability as revelatory tool
Based on the examples of how the LDS church and Newsroom have discussed clarifications regarding caffeine in the Word of Wisdom, as well as speculation about racial priesthood and temple bans, I think that the strategy is to release statements that can appeal to differing audiences without rocking the boat. These intentionally ambiguous statements offer plausible deniability that allows the different audiences to gravitate to certain words or sentences and privilege them over others.
This way, if you’re not keen to the strategy, then you walk away thinking that the statement clearly announced x, while someone else walks away thinking the statement clearly announced y.
So, when the church says that caffeine is not mentioned in the Word of Wisdom, one group walks away thinking, “This means caffeinated sodas are OK” while another group says, “Well, of course caffeine isn’t mentioned in the Word of Wisdom; the word wasn’t even popularly used when the Word of Wisdom was written, yet other prophets have told us that caffeinated sodas are to be interpreted as against the WoW.”
As long as the two sides don’t talk too much to each other about their mutually exclusive viewpoints, there’s no drama! Schism avoided.
This even works for some of the more “serious” issues. The church can condemn racism in all its forms, but announce that we “don’t know” why the priesthood ban originally occurred. Liberal/progressive members will read between the lines that the ban itself was an example of the racism that the church now repudiates, while conservative/traditional members will note that only other things are racist, but the ban itself was divinely inspired and the ways and thoughts of God are a mystery.
As long as the two sides don’t talk too much to each other about their mutually exclusive viewpoints, there’s no drama!
(Please note that when the Newsroom does release these intentionally ambiguous statements is usually when someone has said the quiet part out loud, and there is a backlash from the other side. So, for example, when Randy Bott makes a statement speaking too strongly about what the priesthood ban was implemented, then the church provides a statement that can be interpreted by progressives as denouncing the ban, and alternatively interpreted by conservatives as simply distancing away from speculation about reasons for the ban.)
The “avoid rocking the boat” use case already is good enough from a PR and internal organizational politics perspective, but I would propose that there is another role for plausible deniability — it allows changes to happen slowly…perhaps even imperceptibly!
Here’s how this works…
The problem is that different people believe diametrically opposed things. This is because, despite the effort of correlation, different people are taught different things growing up, or they grow up hearing different messages from various leaders, family, friends. Some people grew up learning “The Word of Wisdom bans any caffeine” and some simply did not. Even more, perhaps some leaders also personally and publicly preached within someone’s lifetime that one should eschew all caffeine, for example.
Yet institutionally, rather than the church explicitly saying or not saying “The Word of Wisdom bans caffeine,” official statements will just refer to the Word of Wisdom and hope that everyone will interpret that the same way. Leaders in the past may have explicitly said, “No caffeine,” but for a period of time, no one will mention caffeine. A new generation will grow up not being explicitly told caffeine is disallowed. Some may hear from family and friends that all caffeine is out, but others won’t.
After more years, enough people now have no feeling about whether caffeine is allowed or disallowed that you can then start explicitly stating the new viewpoint without risking a huge schism. You say “the Word of Wisdom does not mention caffeine” and then the traditionalists read in between the lines, “Sure it doesn’t, but those who know, know.” Everyone else understands that caffeine is OK.
An illustrative aside
Let’s take an aside to ask: does the LDS church explicitly ban oral sex within a marriage? Have you heard statements within your lifetime explicitly calling it out by name, and if so, when? Have you instead heard euphemisms that didn’t mention by name, but that you may have interpreted as such? If you read the following quote from the 2003 Eternal Marriage Student Manual, what do you think is being referred to as “misused intimacy” or “excesses and distortions” that could occur even in marriage?
Misused Physical IntimacyEternal Marriage Student Manual: Intimacy in Marriage. LDS Church. 2003. Retrieved November 16, 2022
President David O. McKay
“Let us instruct young people who come to us, first, young men throughout the Church, to know that a woman should be queen of her own body. The marriage covenant does not give the man the right to enslave her, or to abuse her, or to use her merely for the gratification of his passion. Your marriage ceremony does not give you that right” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1952, 86).
President Spencer W. Kimball
“If it is unnatural, you just don’t do it. That is all, and all the family life should be kept clean and worthy and on a very high plane. There are some people who have said that behind the bedroom doors anything goes. That is not true and the Lord would not condone it” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 312).
“We urge, with Peter, ‘… Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.’ (1 Pet. 2:11.) No indecent exposure or pornography or other aberrations to defile the mind and spirit. No fondling of bodies, one’s own or that of others, and no sex between persons except in proper marriage relationships. This is positively prohibited by our Creator in all places, at all times, and we reaffirm it. Even in marriage there can be some excesses and distortions. No amount of rationalization to the contrary can satisfy a disappointed Father in heaven” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1974, 8–9; or Ensign, May 1974, 7).
You can do similar for whether or not the church disapproves of contraception, and so on…
Will the church forever disallow same-sex marriage, or will they eventually allow it? At this point, we are extremely early in the plausible deniability lifecycle, as it were. There are too many messages that too many people know where same-sex marriage has explicitly been called out as unacceptable.
And yet there are also the seeds of ambiguity, or at least of phrasings that allow for the possibility of reinterpretation later on. I saw a Twitter thread the other day where someone insisted that the LDS church was not against same-sex marriage and that if a LGBT person was legally and lawfully married, that would be supported by the church. I didn’t agree with them, but I respected that they felt there was enough ambiguity to believe that.
I have seen people even take nothing less than The Family: A Proclamation to the World — so easy to point out that it seems to uncompromisingly be a hardline stance for traditional marriage — and point out that just because the proclamation says that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God,” that does not exclude any other marriage from also being ordained of God.
As for me, I don’t see this as particularly likely. When I read the statements, they seem to be hopelessly exclusivist. And therefore, that causes me to interpret the new announcement from the LDS church as clearly making a difference between what is suffered from a public perspective vs what is preached from the pulpit.
…and yet. I recognize that until someone told me that “unnatural” “misused physical intimacy” was supposed to include oral sex, I had no idea that was it. I didn’t grow up making that connection and no one was making it explicitly. Which means it’s possible for the same thing to happen elsewhere.
So, what do you think? Am I just grabbing at straws or do you think there could be something intentional happening? Do you agree with the examples presented? Have you found anything in your own personal life where you realized that you and another member believed diametrically different things and both thought your perspectives were obviously supported by the church?
In the 80’s, I attended a regional conference at the then Ricks College. Boyd K. Packer was the GA speaking, and he specifically said that oral sex in a marriage was wrong. That was the first inkling of dissonance I felt with the church.
Personally, I think “this is the Hill which they will choose to die on”……..And, the sooner we all accept that – and move away from them – the more peace we may discover. To hope otherwise, is madness.
I guess maybe expecting the church to use trustworthy relationship skills could be expecting something that doesn’t make sense for an institution with different camps of concerns and commitment. I can argue what I would like but the leaders of the church are responsible for leading the whole church, and have to make decisions to that end.
My bet is on never accepting same-sex marriage. The percentage of the human population who is LGBTQ is relatively small. In terms of numbers they are huge, no doubt. But in terms of percentage very small. The church is hedging its bets that a fair number of its members will look at same-sex marriage as at best morally wrong and at worst a lesser form of marriage that doesn’t square with the church, much like priesthood-holding doesn’t square with women.
Andrew, I don’t think you’re grasping at straws. I think you’re correct in your account of how ambiguity gets discovered in the Church’s statements and then serves as a vehicle for change in the accepted interpretation of teachings and practices.
However, I doubt that Church leaders are intentionally keeping their options open on same-sex marriage. It’s more likely that the Church is trying to follow a two-track policy on LGBTQ issues. On one track, they express tolerance of cultural differences outside the Church. Their rhetoric has been trending in that direction for years now. The “Mormons and Gays” website was a good early example of this. The new statement supporting the Respect for Marriage Act is the latest example. Supporting RFMA is a dramatic step, because it reverses the high-profile and expensive policy of opposing legal gay marriage, but it is consistent with a long-term trend toward greater tolerance.
On the other track, Church leaders intend to be unbending in policies that diminish and exclude LGBTQ people inside the Church. We see this in action most dramatically at the BYUs, where administrators are working to eliminate a fifth column of LGBTQ sympathizers. (Break out the muskets!)
I read the statement on RFMA as stating both tracks of the policy: tolerance for difference outside the Church, but not inside the Church.
Right now, Church leaders seem to think that this two-track policy can work. In principle, they could be right; it should be possible for believers to hold themselves to a different standard than the standard they expect of outsiders. However, I doubt that this particular two-track policy can work in practice, because the standard expected of Church members is flawed. The policy of intolerance toward LGBTQ people within the Church requires Church members to be loving and bigoted at the same time. In other words, Church members must convince themselves that treating LGBTQ people as an inferior caste is an expression of love. I believe that this idea is not sustainable.
(Of course, this idea is sustainable if one is committed to living a clear lie. I’m still enough of an optimist to believe that in the long run, members of the Church will be more committed to love than to bigotry. Therefore, I hope and believe that this idea is not sustainable.)
Finally, I come back around to the question of ambiguity in the Church’s statements. The ambiguity is certainly there! I don’t think there’s a secret plan to ease the Church into accepting gay marriage. But, since I’m an optimist, I hope that this ambiguity will eventually play a salutary role as the Church gropes through darkness on the way to more love.
Loursat, the two-track approach, in which there is one standard for members and another for outsiders, will work for policies such as the Word of Wisdom because Latter-day Saints do not believe that people who drink coffee are intrinsically evil, and because coffee–unlike romantic love, companionship, marriage, and children–is not generally seen as a fundamental human need. I think you’re right that the Church’s current position on same-sex marriage is unsustainable in the long run.
John W, it probably depends on how much this issue impinges on the Church’s ability to proselytize outsiders and hold on to the rising generation. For instance, it would be completely legal for the Church to continue the priesthood/temple ban to this day, given the deference shown to religious freedom in the U.S., but would in 2022, would you belong to a church that openly discriminated against Black people in God’s name? (It’s a question that I ask myself, as someone who has been a very active, believing Latter-day Saint for my entire life, including my years growing up before 1978.) Perhaps the Church won’t ever accept same-sex marriage, but in that case our future will be similar to Christian Scientists (with a lot more money in the bank).
Fascinating. I agree with Loursat and Raymond that the ambiguity you discuss will result in a two-track approach for a time, but I think that will disarm the opposition and criticism and relieve the pressure to extend temple sealings to gay couples. Perhaps to avoid more criticisms about its prejudices, the Church doesn’t talk as much about the importance of temple marriage. There are Church lessons on the topic, but maybe not as much said in General Conference. After all, Oaks didn’t speak about gay marriage in the October conference for the first time in …. I dunno, years.
Picture 25 years from now. A generation has grown up with gay marriage being legal all over the nation, while temple marriages are still confined to straight couples.
Meanwhile, when youth raised by TBM families identify as gay, they’re now basically expected to act like straight kids, just with same-sex dating partners. No sex before marriage. Fine someone you love. Marry them civilly and be monogamous. The Church trains the LGBTQ community to act like straight Christian couples. The Church doesn’t call ‘courts of love’ for Church members who get married to a same sex partner. Maybe married gays still can’t hold certain callings, but they can pay tithing and be the building cleaning coordinator. Now there are “righteous” gays in monogamous marriages. The promiscuous apostate gays are condemned more for their multiple partners and failure to marry than they are for being gay. The LGBTQ-Mormon community fractures into those who are willing to act like straight Christians (chastity and fidelity), and those who don’t want to be monogamous. The only LGBTQ in the Church were raised in the Church; I doubt there will be LGBTQ converts.
Then in 25 years, with the next generation, the Church announces a change in the “policy” about what couples can be sealed in the temple.
The church will eventually fully endorse LGBT+ but it will be many decades, I’m thinking two or three generations. By then the church will find itself on the brink of becoming a comically irrelevant Christian curiosity.
The fact that it takes attorneys (or physicists) to parse doctrine would make dear Jesus roll in His grave if he had one. Who knew that in addition to his infamous cat that Schrödinger would have a marriage doctrine.
It’ll be interesting to see how marriage–in general–is faring two or three generations from now. If fewer and fewer people are getting married in the first place then the church will have an even bigger challenge on its hands.
Andrew, I agree with your thoughts.
I have one recent example where another member and I had diametrically opposing thoughts on an issue which we both thought were supported by the Church. In the last 12 months in SS, and I don’t even remember what the lesson was on, but an older woman (who often expresses very conservative views) raised her hand to express how she felt her family was blessed for her following the prophet’s counsel to stay home with her family and not pursue a career. She went on to testify that she felt like all women should stay home with their families if at all possible. I used to hear messages like this all the time growing up, but I don’t hear it too frequently any longer.
I wasn’t terribly surprised to hear her share her feelings about women’s roles, but what I did find very surprising was her explanation for why Church leaders stopped telling women that their role was to stay at home. I had just assumed that Church leaders stopped telling women to stay home because they were getting a lot of pushback from women in the Church, they looked at the stats and could pretty easily see that they were fighting a losing battle, and realized that they didn’t really have instructions from God on this issue in the first place. However, this women’s understanding was that Church leaders stopped talking about working women because the Church members had become too wicked, and Church leaders knew that the members wouldn’t listen to them even when they preached God’s true will on this issue, so God told them to stop teaching it. Even though it’s pretty obvious, this women’s explanation had not even occurred to me. She and I had completely different views on whether women should have careers and had taken the silence of Church leaders on this issue to mean very different things. In any case, this is an example of where Church leaders seem to have made a conscious effort to loosen up on something and then just stopped talking about that thing. The resulting silence created an environment where more and more people over time assumed that women having careers was fine because the old messages started to fade, but the older and more conservative members clung to the old teachings under the assumption that the Church was becoming more evil and couldn’t handle “the higher law”.
One thing I wonder about is whether this model of changing teachings that you describe only works well if there is no “quantum leap” required to eventually switch to the new state. Examples of this include the Church’s loosening up on birth control, caffeine, working women, etc. In these cases, the Church just stayed as silent as it possibly could while more and more people gradually started to use birth control, drink caffeine, or have a career (for women). Only when someone says the quiet part out loud does the Church grudgingly and very carefully make a statement that hopefully is acceptable to both sides of an issue, as it allows attitudes to slowly continue to change.
Some examples of where a quantum leap is required to switch to the new state include the banning of polygamous marriages, the ending of the priesthood/temple ban, and sadly, accepting gay marriages. It seems to me like the Church can try to slowly prepare its members for a quantum leap, lead them right up to the edge, so the chasm that must be jumped is as narrow as possible, but in the end, a big jump is still required to complete the change. Unfortunately, some members just aren’t going to be willing to make that jump and will forever remain on the other side of the chasm.
Consider gay marriage. The Church has already done quite a bit to help its members become more accepting of gay people, for example:
1. The Church no longer teaches that being gay is a choice.
2. The Church no longer supports conversion therapy.
3. The Church teaches members to love and be kind to gay people.
4. The Church supports equal rights for gay people, which now even extends to civil gay marriage for non-members.
The Church could take even more steps to gradually become more accepting of gay people and lead them closer and closer to the edge of the chasm that must be crossed to accept gay marriage in the Church, but at some point it seems it’s going to require membership to take a big jump. The Church could deemphasize its teachings against gay marriage, but that doesn’t really help change the situation when Church policy is to excommunicate all gay members who get married–those teachings are necessary to support the ban. Perhaps the way the Church could narrow the chasm the most is to get to the point where it is teaching that while God doesn’t allow gay marriage, we don’t understand why that is the case. It could stop stating/quoting a lot of the older doctrines and statements that are currently used to support the gay marriage ban (appeasing people on both both sides of the issue), so we’re just left with a situation where we have the ban, but we don’t know why we have the ban. This is how many members explained (and still do explain) the changes on race in 1978–we don’t know why God didn’t want blacks to have the priesthood or participate in the temple, He just did, and now we’re so happy He changed His mind. If Church leaders can lead the Church membership to a point where the reason gay people can’t be married is completely unknown, then perhaps the jump to accepting gay marriages wouldn’t be as far, but it would still be significant.
For the record, I realize that I am totally speculating here, but I believe that the Church will eventually accept gay marriage within the Church. I agree that the percentage of gay people is relatively small, so the Church could just shrug them off. However, the percentage of members who have close gay family and/or friends is very, very high. These people are very hurt and upset that their gay friends and family members have no place in the Church. The overwhelming acceptance of gay marriage among today’s Mormon youth as well as the inevitable increase of pressure from outside the Church is a formula that is just going to continue to create a lot of migraines for the Q15. I think that with enough pressure and continued turnover in the Q15, Church leaders will choose to not die on this hill and will eventually see the light. The closer that Church leaders can get the main body of Church members to the edge of the chasm now, the easier the jump will be to make.
On the question of whether Church leaders have spoken explicitly about oral sex in my lifetime, the First Presidency issued a letter to local Church leaders in 1982 explicitly stating, “The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure, or unholy practice.” (https://imgur.com/a/ME6ST). I don’t think there’s a lot of ambiguity in that statement?
It is a very interesting thought process proposed here. I think the church does tend to put out ambiguous statements and people read their own beliefs into those statements. Perhaps that ambiguity leaves opportunities for change down the road. More opportunity than staying silent? I don’t know.
As to the question of intent, I’m a bit more skeptical. Actually a lot more skeptical. When we attribute “intent” to an organization like the church, we’re talking as if the church has a mind of its own, a hive mind if you will, but in reality we are suggesting a substantial number of individuals within the organizational leadership have that intent, people with enough seniority or power to influence the behavior of the organization.
Now we have seen what a number of conservative leaders at the very top think about gay marriage and other topics. Not only have we heard in their official talks and such, but they have also been recorded in private meetings that the church will never accept get marriage. I don’t see any reason not to believe them.
There are probably some leaders and bureaucrats who want something changed. Something small or something big, it doesn’t matter a whole lot. The fact is, they have very little to power to change anything until they are at the very top. Even the Q12 have minimal ability to make change outside of making a carefully worded talk.
With that in mind, I suspect that ambiguity in public statements, if it exists, probably is a reflection of some state of the metaphorical hivemind, and not an actual intentional plan to leave open the possibility for change. Well, some few individuals may be wanting a change, and introduce ambiguous wording for that reason.
And with all that said, I didn’t find the statement on the RFMA ambiguous at all. It said two things, namely that the church position on gay marriage is unchanged, and that any laws should have religious exemptions. Although I’m a progressive member, I’m pretty jaded and cynical but the church moving in the direction I think it should go.
I agree with Rockwell. I think a lot of what in retrospect appears to be some meticulously planned path that Church leaders have plotted to gently guide the Church from point A to point B is often really just the natural result of Church leaders making statements/decisions that they feel are needed in the short term. In general, Church leaders would like to avoid controversy and remain silent when possible. When they feel that they can’t remain silent, they will make a statement that makes their point but also acknowledges the validity of other viewpoints to the extent that they can. Because of the attempts to appease everyone as much as they can in order to reduce conflict in the Church, many of their statements end up being quite ambiguous and are open to multiple interpretations. Fortunately for the Church, these types of statements naturally allow the Church to progress slowly as Andrew discussed in the OP. While the transition ends up looking to be well-planned and executed, and maybe there are occasions where the Church really is able to pull this off, I think a lot of time it isn’t really planned at all.
John W, I think I can tell from your comment which generation you belong to. But things have changed in society so rapidly that I will not be surprised by any changes the Church makes in this area or a few others over time. For instance, before the Church accepts same-sex marriage, I predict women will be allowed to hold the priesthood. There are just no good arguments against it, except tradition, and that’s not a very good argument.
John W: I agree with your assessment of how Church leaders view LGBT people as a separate group. The shift from the Church’s website from mormonsandgays to mormonandgays speaks volumes!
But they have a real math problem in trying to treat LGBTQ members as a separate group, and that problem is that God keeps sending LGBTQ people into cishetero Mormon families, and society no longer demands that they remain in the closet (or worse, dead) or socially ostracized. Queer people are no longer invisible in society; they now have the freedoms only straight people enjoyed in the past. When the Church treats them as an abberation or something to be merely tolerated or who can’t live full lives or gain the same types of eternal rewards offered to others, the Church doesn’t just lost the LGBTQ individuals; they ultimately lose all who love them. And that’s a growing population of cishetero people, not a shrinking group. They are going to work themselves out of the religion biz err long.
This is only exacerbated by the counsel of leaders like Bednar and Andersen who are obsessed with fecundity. The more children one has, the more likely the family will have an LGBTQ child and will eventually leave the Church.
Tom: I agree with your comments re: Women holding the Priesthood. My question has been been – and will most likely continue to be – is their anything more worthless than holding a “Priesthood” which is impotent and meaningless; aside from holding a leadership position? As people discover what’s real and what is not….they will shy away from taking on anY additional task or assignment which doesn’t add measurable value to their lives. What an interesting time to be alive!
I find these thoughts very compelling and worth thinking about. Very well written, thank you.
On the other hand, I feel like it’s just a longer way of saying “It’s all made up and none of this matters.”
But I’m thinking that about a lot of things these days…
The church didn’t have to make the statement in support of gay marriage in society.
Certainly a change since prop 8.
Here we just voted out a conservative government that had a choice in its last week of sitting, between a bill on an integrity commision, and one on religious liberty, and choose the latter. They wanted to allow church schools to discriminate against gay teachers and students. They failed. So in Australia BYU could not discriminate.
The atmosphere/culture of the right in America is so much more extreme than in the rest of the first world. The church leadership are of this culture.
But I believe once Oaks dies discrimination against women and gays will no longer be sustainable, unless in 2024 there is a lurch back to the right in American culture/politics.
An alternative would be do allow women to give healing blessings again and run an independent Relief Society. Then we’d be caught up with the 19th century.
You make an interesting point regarding priesthood. I was engaged in a conversation with LDS men and some are coming to the conclusion that men who are not “leadership material” are consistently devalued in the Church. Men are not ordained high priests after long years of service like they were in the past..Older men remain elders. Yet their sons are being ordained high priests at age 20 to serve in singles wards’ bishoprics. (Note: Having 20-something year-old women being interviewed by hormonal young single males may cause some future problems… but what do I know.) It is bad how women are treated. Now they are treating non-leader men in a similar fashion. Expect a decline among middle-aged males in the next decade.
Geoff-Aus: Bear in mind that the Church’s statement on Respect for Marriage was AFTER 4 Utah (and 1 Idaho) congresspersons had already voted for it. Their statement was before the two Utah senators voted (Romney for, Lee against), but it was several months after the House voted, which made me wonder if they were trying to convince Lee (it didn’t work) or just following the House Representatives’ lead.
@Andrew S., I like the way you frame the issue and think it is a productive thought exercise. If we accept the premise that the church is primarily the work of men pressing themselves to get matters of God right, this analysis works. My entire life I have believed the work of the church is the imperfect work of imperfect men doing their best to discover God’s will. This is a different premise than believing they are less dynamic instruments who simply serve as a conduit to bring God’s order into our lives and into the world through straight forward pronouncements, for which they take little personal responsibility. The former seems more consistent with the challenges of morality and with the facts of our own history (if I’m being generous) and the later seems too arrested and unsupported by the facts of history for me to take seriously.
If I am right, then much of our forward progress (and backsliding) comes from resolving the tension between doctrinal and theological thesis and antithesis over time, as a small number of heteronormative, white American males compete for influence and tenure to shape the church’s future. There are several analogs from history that, while not perfect correlatives, provide insight into dramatic changes the church has undertaken either as a matter of reasoned survival or as a display of the exercise of individual power.
*Example one: The two manifestos ending the practice of polygamy. If we go back in time we see church leaders and members of influence adopting a fluid (and questionable) set of personal and institutional ethics after the first manifesto, with many “lying for Jesus” while continuing to practice polygamy with the church’s quiet blessing. When the federal government became an existential threat to the church, we see Manifesto II issued, the “seriously, this time it is for real, stop the practice.” Can you imagine a doctrinal and behavioral shift so radical to the core of Mormon belief that two members of the Quorum of the Twelve resigned in opposition to the prophetic revelation? Can you imagine if the church announced tomorrow that it was granting gay members the right to be married in the temple for time and eternity? And then watch as Elder Holland and Elder Bednar (just throwing mud at the wall) fight against it and ultimately resign from the quorum three years from now? The lessons of history give the ideas in your OP credence and signal possibly no doctrinal change is unthinkable or impossible.
*Example two: Obviously the 1978 revelation fits here, as does the problem of Ezra Taft Benson’s radical conservatism. While the church has worked hard to soft play and revise the history around black member priesthood and temple rite exclusions, often referring to it as “policy,” instead of doctrine, I think it’s safe to say that for orthodox members in the 1950’s through the 1970’s it was an immutable truth. If I recall some of Matthew Harris’ history on this topic correctly, Mark E. Peterson was so dug in so deeply in opposition that they sent him away when the quorum voted to extend priesthood blessings to all worthy male members. And history bears out, federal government pressure and societal pressure at large were primary catalysts for the change. For the Mormon church to remain viable, the revelation had to come. The 1978 revelation was much more highly nuanced and played out for at least 25 years behind closed doors before the day came when the change was codified as official revelation.
*Example three: This is a softer example, but an important one, IMO. BYU has swung back and forth over the years on the continuum of being more progressive and theologically scholarly in its approach to religious education to being more insular, closed-minded and devotional (the current status). Karl Maeser is often credited as one of the founding fathers of the university, when more credit needs to be given to Benjamin Cluff, who built the foundation of BYU, enabling it to become what it is today. Cluff, really a towering figure in the history of the BYU, fell out of favor for being too intellectual and wanting to adopt the discipline of theology as taught at Chicago (if I have my history right). It was the orthodox J. Ruben Clark who brought the hammer down sending religious education and BYU back and to its current form we see today, marked more by devotional teaching and didactic orthodoxy. Cluff and those he sent abroad to be educated at places like Chicago, Berkeley, Stanford and Michigan, were disbanded and Cluff more or less written out of BYU’s history. Clark wielded extraordinary power as a member of the first presidency and shaped the religious education we have today probably more than any other single figure. Certainly he had others who endorsed his actions, but these times in history it is hard to determine what was driven by reasoning seeking revelation, and what came about through sheer fiat from a strong and domineering senior leader.
My point is the church has shown it can be breathtakingly pliable while under the threat to survive, even when there are likely men in senior positions who are willing to crash the ship on the rocks. And sometimes maybe the most senior authorities simply get their way. How can we tell the difference? Certainly, power is concentrated in the hands of a few, and while they remain in their callings, we are likely to see doctrinal and policy positions that acknowledge Schrodingers Katt if those in power are more rooted in reason.
And, frankly, sometimes I can’t believe we have to engaged in exercises like this. Will the church ever embrace more open dialogue with its members? It seems to me there would be more to gain if they were honest and said look this is a really difficult problem and we are doing our best. We appreciate member input made in good faith. What is so threatening about that?
“The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure, or unholy practice. If a person is engaged in a practice which troubles him enough to ask about it, he should discontinue it.”
– First Presidency, letter addressed to local church leaders, copy located in BYU Library Special Collections
I remember the letter; in the now-defunct Priesthood if I recall correctly. Followed about 6 months later by instructions to bishops that they were not to inquire regarding intimate relations of the marital chamber.
extensive discussion of First Presidency January 1982 and October 1982 letters to bishops, branch presidents, etc.
Interesting that NBC (https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/out-news/percentage-lgbtq-adults-us-doubled-decade-gallup-finds-rcna16556) quotes that 7.1% of adults in the US identify as LGBTQ. We talk about proportions of the population but that is orders of magnitude larger than the proportion of church members. We’re already a rounding error with 1.7% of the adult US population (it’s old and likely lower now, but: https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2009/07/24/a-portrait-of-mormons-in-the-us/). Don’t even get started on the rest of the world.
My point is these aren’t the conversations that God wants us to have. They don’t relieve suffering or help our planet or build stronger families. And that’s the saddest point of all. What a waste of time, money and effort.