On Sunday evening, President and Sister Oaks delivered a worldwide devotional addressed to LDS young adults and older youth. A write-up with quotations from the address is found at the Newsroom, along with a video box to view the entire presentation. I’m not going to dive in the deep end, just splash around a bit with a couple of ongoing issues. For a fuller discussion of these topics, go read an earlier W&T post by hawkgrrrl, “Binary Gender Theology in a Non-Binary World.” Really, go read it — it discusses details I won’t get into. But that’s a great title, and it still applies. As evident from Sunday’s presentation, Pres. Oaks is still struggling to make a non-binary world fit into LDS binary gender theology.

First, an aside. Let me point out one challenge the LDS Church faces in formulating and stating a policy for these various issues and for modifying that policy as circumstances change. While there are Mormon denominations that have split off from the main body of the LDS Church, it’s still the case that most Mormons are LDS Mormons and the church structure is hierarchical and correlated. That’s a real contrast to church governance in more decentralized Protestant churches. Imagine, if you would, a greeter at the door of a large megachurch, responding to various questions visitors pose. Yes, sir, there is a Black evangelical church, two miles down Main Street. To another: Of course gay Christians are welcome here, but if you want a church that offers a focused gay ministry, try the Rainbow Church over on Hillside Avenue. Insert various other responses of your choosing. I’ll bet an experienced evangelical greeter could even point out an evangelical church for recovering Mormons.

For the most part, those options don’t exist in the LDS Church. If you are Black or gay or a recovering Mormon, your city or town likely doesn’t offer an LDS congregation that specializes in your particular circumstances or faith challenges. If you are lucky enough to find such a congregation (there are a few, I’ve heard) the doctrine doesn’t change, just the packaging. So when LDS leaders formulate policy on new issues, they really do need a one-size fits all policy or doctrine. That’s a big challenge. You can stretch a policy or doctrine here and bend it a little there, but it just won’t stretch far enough to comfortably fit the increasing diversity (along so many axes) of 21st century Western society. They can’t keep everyone happy all the time. The best they can do (even if you grant they are sincerely trying) is to keep some of the people happy most of the time.

End of aside. Now let’s look at what Pres. Oaks said on Sunday night. Quotes from the article are in block quotes, with direct quotes of Pres. Oaks in quotation marks in the quote box. Underlining added.

“Whatever our own variations in the diversity of our Father in Heaven’s creations, He loves all of us, and His perfect plan of happiness has a place for all,” President Oaks said. “We show our love for Him by keeping His commandments, including love for His children.”

That’s the first step forward, trying to walk back a bit earlier remarks by Oaks that left most listeners thinking there is serious tension between the two great commandments “love God” and “love your neighbor.”

President Oaks urged his audience to live the commandments of love and law “in a more complete way. Anyone who does not treat individuals who face gender identity challenges with love and dignity is not aligned with the teachings of the first and second great commandments.” 

That’s the second step forward. I would think that at this point in the presentation, about halfway through, those young LDS listeners who don’t think they fit into LDS binary gender theology are feeling okay about the direction of the message here. Woudn’t it be nice if every LDS were treated with “love and dignity,” especially those who have not generally been treated that way in the past? Then came this:

“And on the subject of our duty to love our neighbor, we need to remember that God has commanded us to love even those who do not keep all the commandments.

Something’s a little off in that admonition. First, at some point in his remarks, Pres. Oaks noted the verse in Genesis that said God created us “male and female,” then turned that into a commandment. As if there were an eleventh commandment on those stone tablets that read Thou shalt be male or thou shalt be female, but nothing in between. So when he says “even those who do not keep all the commandments,” in the context of this talk that seems to be pointing at anyone who doesn’t identify as plain and unadulterated male or female. He seems to be saying they’re not just struggling with gender identity or some other sexuality issue, they are disobedient commandment breakers.

If he had said, “especially those who do not keep all the commandments,” that would sound better. That would be giving all the rest of us a heightened duty to treat those outside the standard gender boxes with love and dignity. The burden would be on us. Instead, his actual remarks seem to shift the burden to those darned commandment breakers who for some reason won’t choose to conform to LDS gender and sexuality norms and categories. If only they would get with the program … but in the meantime love them. What do you call that? Condescending love? Judgmental love? Love feigned?

To those who experience same-sex attraction, President Oaks taught that God loves each of His creations and has a place for everyone in the divine plan of happiness.

That sentence sort of cuts both ways. Claiming there is “a place for everyone in the divine plan of happiness” sounds more inclusive that the usual LDS sketch of the afterlife. A cynical listener might add some details: Yes, your place is to be a chaste ministering angel to all those eternally procreating couples over there. Don’t complain, at least you’re not going to the Bad Place.

There is not a complete transcript (yet?) and I don’t have time to go through the video sentence by sentence. There was another step back in his remarks toward the very end of the presentation. Maybe I will find it later and put it in the comments. I’ll close with an odd thought that came to me while writing this post.

Generally, children and teens develop their moral sense in terms of simple contrasts: good and bad, right and wrong. Grey areas and nuance generally come later, sometimes well past young adulthood. But on gender and sexuality issues in the LDS Church, there’s a strange inversion. The younger LDS cohort is comfortable with a lot of diversity and a wide range of identities. There is a spectrum and a lot of adjoining grey areas. It’s the older LDS cohort, including the senior leadership, that wants it simple and binary. In some ways, LDS youth are thinking like adults and LDS leaders are thinking like children.

So let’s ponderize this.

  • If you saw the devotional live or if you went the extra mile and listened to the video recording, what jumped out at you? On the whole, was it encouraging or discouraging?
  • Based on just the short Newsroom article or the quotes in the OP, same question. Is this encouraging or discouraging? Is there movement or are they digging in their heels?
  • Can LDS leaders who still struggle to talk confidently and coherently about something as straightforward as single parenthood or divorce ever come to grips with the emerging spectrum of gender and sexual identities?
  • Do you agree that the strong hierarchical organization and correlated program of the Church narrows the options that leaders face for policy formulation? And of course the Internet makes it harder than ever to give different messages to different LDS audiences.