For many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a central tenet of our religion came into focus when the leaders of the Church announced that children living with gay parents could not receive a name and a blessing as a baby and could not be baptized until they were of legal age and living out of the home. To many members and others interested in the LDS Church’s policies, this was a policy that was difficult for them to accept.
For those uncomfortable with or opposed to the policy, their feelings with the policy were compounded by the fact that the LDS Church teaches that it is led by prophets and apostles, or, in other words, men who are authorized and are supposed to speak and act for God. For many members, conflict ran deep as they tried to reconcile and understand their feelings on the policy and their feelings on being led by a prophet. Many were placed in the situation of feeling that they needed to let go of their deep feelings on the subject of homosexuality, or let go of their belief in a prophet of God.
From what I have seen, many honest and sincere people are working through these feelings. Some people have left the church, some are still trying to decide, and some are dealing with trying to find a way to understand all of their feelings on the subject. I don’t profess to have many answers on these deep questions and concerns for people, but will at least write down some thoughts on the subject.
As a member of the LDS, or Mormon, Church, a fundamental part of my belief (and I assume other member’s belief as well) in the Church and in God is tied to the fact that God’s Church is led by a prophet. To me, a living prophet is an essential aspect of a Church that is being actively led by God. To understand why, and to understand, perhaps, the Church’s doctrine and policies on homosexuality, it is necessary to explain the bigger picture of the LDS Church’s view on life and its purpose.
I fully believe in the teachings of the LDS Church that we all lived and existed as spirits prior to our life on this earth. Our spirits were all the children of a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. In their presence, we were blessed with love, protection, goodness, and opportunities to grow and progress. Our Heavenly Parents are beings of omnipotence and omniscience, and at some point in our pre-mortal existence we wanted to become as they were. We wanted to have what they have. We wanted to be like them. In other words, we recognized our potential as their children, and recognized how neat it would be to share, to some degree, in their omnipotence and omniscience.
Of course, many of us in our limited understanding would just want to be given what our Heavenly Parents had, without working for it. Our Heavenly Parents knew though that it was essential, if we were to be given any form of power or knowledge, that we learn to control ourselves, our passions, appetites, and temptations that would arise. If we never had to learn to master ourselves, we could never be trusted with always using the power, knowledge, or blessings in a good way. I know, for example, that if I had unlimited power in my current state, I would have used it quite wrong in my many moments of feeling anger or frustration at someone or something.
In the pre-mortal world, we could fully sense the presence of our Heavenly Parents. With them always watching over us, we would likely be inclined to always ‘choose’ good as we knew that they were right there. They knew, however, that we had to develop the ability to choose on our own and to resist temptation in order to receive everything that they had. Self-control and mastery is the only way we could be trusted with the depth of the power and knowledge that they possessed. However, self-control and mastery could not be fully developed in an environment where we constantly felt the presence of God. Rather, self-control and mastery could only be developed in an environment where we truly felt on our own.
Because of this need for us to develop the ability to control ourselves in a situation where we felt on our own and were subject to passions, appetites, and temptations, God created this world for us. In addition to creating this world, He made it so that we could not remember Him or our past world. This condition of forgetfulness made it so that we felt on our own, even though He is still fully watching over us. This condition of forgetfulness also made it so that, if we choose to do good, we would be developing ourselves to enable us to actually become someone that could qualify for the things of God. Essentially, our physical state on this earth fully enables us to learn who we are and the true extent of our personal weaknesses as we get to see how we respond to our passions, appetites, and temptations with the limited power and ability that God gave us here.
This condition of forgetfulness had to be tempered though in order for us to be able to know enough about God to know the things that we needed to do to become like God. In other words, there had to be a way for us to feel that we were on our own, but also a way for us to be led back to God. The method God chose for us, in our current state of existence, is to have a Prophet who is authorized to speak for God.
A Prophet enables us to learn and understand the necessary items that we need to develop and do in this life, while still allowing us to feel that we are removed from God. In other words, a Prophet delivers the balance necessary to provide us with our testing conditions here on this earth while still allowing a way for us to accomplish and pass our time of testing to see who we really are.
Since I believe in a pre-mortal existence, a testing period on this earth, and in our potential to truly become like God, prophets, to me, are a necessary piece of God’s plan. I feel, very strongly, that there is a Prophet on this earth, and that He does speak for God. Currently, this Prophet is Thomas S. Monson, the President of the LDS Church. And, I feel that He tells me the things that are necessary for me to do in order to become a person who could qualify to receive the things of God.
Recently though, the Church’s stand on homosexuality has come into the spotlight, and with the Church’s recent policy addressing children living with homosexual parents, many feel that the Prophet is misguided or not speaking for God. From the way I see things though, the Church’s position remains consistent with the rest of its teachings and practices.
Going back to our pre-mortal existence, one power of God, that is perhaps one of the most amazing to exercise, is the power to create. God can, and has, created worlds without number, and has created all of the amazing creatures on this earth, as well as creating you and I. As part of our testing experience on this earth, God gave us a portion of the creation power, and all of us, to some extent or another, experience the pulls of this power through the power of procreation, or sexuality. To be clear, we are all given other limited powers of creation through our creative abilities, but the power of procreation is a fundamental one running through all of us.
In my mind, the power of creation is one of the most fundamental aspects of God, which may be why the world views sexuality as a fundamental part of our existence on this earth. If the fundamental reason for us to be on this earth is to experience the powers of God, then sexuality (as a small representation of God’s power of creation) would be a fundamental part of our existence here as well. To be clear, I’m not professing that God creates through sexuality, I’m only saying that sexuality is the way that we experience, in a small way, a portion of the creative power of God.
However, the creation of life and the powers associated with life are serious matters. Life is a beautiful thing of infinite worth, but creating a life carries with it great responsibilities. It would not be right for you or I to create life after life solely to satisfy our own passions as those lives must then experience everything that is thrown at them, good or bad. In other words, the power of creation carries with it serious responsibility, and is not a power to just be used as we see fit at a given moment.
Because of that, God, as part of us learning to exercise self-control and become worthy to possess the creative power of God in the eternities, commands that we bridle our sexual passions and only express them in very limited scenarios. If we are to become like God and have a portion of His eternal creative power, we have to develop the ability to use that power in eternally appropriate ways. If we misuse the limited power we possess here, we will certainly misuse the full power possessed by God. If, however, we learn to bridle our passions here and resist even the most compelling desires, we are qualifying ourselves to possess what God possesses, as He knows that we will not misuse it, even under the most compelling or tempting of situations.
To that end, God instituted a law of chastity, commanding that sexual relations only occur between a man and a woman, under marriage covenant to remain with each other and raise the children of their own union. In the teachings of the LDS Church, God has no allowance for any other type of sexual expression, be it homosexual, adult/child, boyfriend/girlfriend, adultery, pornography, or even masturbation. God asks that despite whatever compelling desires we may have to the contrary, that we learn to bridle those passions and restrain our conduct.
By doing so, we develop an immensely strong character, one that is forming the power to resist the passions and temptations associated with Godhood. Christ was an amazing example of bridling passions because He had the full power to stop His suffering at any given time, to smite people to the earth, or to create whatever was necessary to make His life easy and comfortable. Yet, He restrained. He restrained from exercising His power in any way that would result in an inappropriate use of His amazing power and ability. In other words, Christ had developed full control of Himself, His passions, appetites, and powers, and He is simply asking us to do the same. We need full control of ourselves in order to become like God.
Many people I know struggle with the Church’s stance on homosexuality since they feel that people are born with homosexual attractions. To me though, even if homosexuality is ingrained in the DNA of some people, that is fully in line with our purpose on this earth. The Book of Mormon teaches us about the “natural man”, or our physical being that is subject to all types of lusts and passions. We are taught that we are here to “put off” the “natural man” and to become a Saint, or a being who is able to exercise full self-control and choose the good.
In my mind, our DNA is the “natural man” part of us all. I certainly believe that with enough research, science will discover that our DNA plays a part in homosexuality, in sexual attraction to children, in sexual attraction to animals, in people who aren’t satisfied unless they have multiple relations with multiple partners, in people who stutter, in people who are shy, in people who are easily offended, in people who are overly anxious or depressed, in obesity, in attraction to alcohol or drugs, and even in people who lust after power or money. In short, I believe we’ll find that DNA contributes to most things about us, be it good or bad.
Our DNA certainly places us in a position that goes against what God asks of us. All of us, I am certain, have DNA that entices us to do things outside of the bounds set by God. In my opinion, God allows this and allows our DNA to drive us, as we have to have something fundamental to push against in order to develop our true self. If we have no opposition at the fundamental level of what builds us, we will never exercise or improve the core of who we are. God wants us to have a solid foundation driving everything that we do, and the only way for us to create a solid foundation in our own selves is to have to fight against something pushing against that foundation, or, in other words, we have to fight against our DNA.
I can only imagine the level of self-control and sheer will necessary for a homosexual to decide to follow the teachings of the LDS Church, but I can only imagine how quickly the solid core and foundation will develop and build for that individual as they follow God’s laws. A person who has sexual tendencies, of any sort, embedded in their DNA and successfully resists those temptations, is qualifying to possess all that God possesses, as they are able to successfully resist some of the most fundamental drives we have as humans. King David fell as a result of his inability to control his passions and lusts, but others have risen as they put off the natural man, exercise control, and learn to bridle and control their own DNA or other temptations thrown at them.
While the above highlights a general overview of prophets and the law of chastity, I wanted to offer two main points in particular response to the Church’s recent policy related to children living with a homosexual couple. I admit that I don’t have all of the answers on this particular policy, but there are two that are prevalent in my mind.
First, people talk about how harsh the policy is against the children, how it will stigmatize them and leave them excluded. People ask, if the Church is about family, why the Church doesn’t reach out to help and embrace these children.
From what I can see, the Church does care, and cares deeply about families and children. The Church has always been respectful of a person’s exercise of authority. The Church follows the laws of the land it is in, and even keeps missionaries and church buildings out of countries that ban the LDS religion. The Church also respects the authority of a parent to make decisions for a child, as a child doesn’t have the right, under the laws of most lands, to make all of their decisions for themselves. To that end, parents can refuse to allow a child to be baptized, to receive priesthood blessings that may save the child’s life, or refuse or allow religion in any degree the parent desires. The Church fully respects the authority of the parents over their minor children.
In addition, the Church allows a person to decide what family means to that person. To a polygamous individual, it may mean multiple wives, to a gay person, it may mean a gay marriage. However, just because the Church respects an individual or nation’s authority to define family, this in no way means that an individual or nation gets the benefits of the Gospel when they make decisions contrary to the Church. In particular, the Church does not allow an individual’s authority over his/her family to act as authority to set or change Church teachings on a subject.
In a gay marriage with children, the children that may want to be involved with the Church are placed into a conflicting situation, and I don’t think that anyone denies that things may be conflicted for these children who associate with the LDS Church. This situation arises from two things 1. the Church’s teachings about family and the proper use of our procreative abilities, and 2. the physical reality of the relationship of the child’s parents.
From what I’ve seen, most people point the finger of blame at the Church for responding to this conflict with its recent policy, saying that the Church is the one creating the discord for the child. However, people often gloss over the other side of that coin, which is that the gay parents also created a situation for their child which automatically sets them apart from other members of the Church and from the Church teachings. I often wonder why we are so quick to blame the Church for conflict when we have chosen to live in a way that does not follow what the Church is and teaches. For example, if I drank alcohol, my life would be conflicted with the teachings of the Church, but I wouldn’t demand that the Church change or accept me for who I was, or that the Church find a way to make my child less embarrassed about his drunk father. I would know that I decided to go down a different path in my life, and I would either have to be ok with that, live with the perpetual conflict, or give up alcohol to rejoin with the Church.
The Church fully recognizes the situation the child is placed in, being torn between two fundamentally opposing views, teachings, and realities for the child. And, the Church, as always, defers to the parental authority of the parent to make decisions for the child. When, as in these situations, a gay parent decides to raise a child in a gay marriage, the parent has decided the life and reality he/she wants to provide to the child, and the Church respects that. The policy, in my mind, defers to the reality that the gay couple wants for their child.
Of course, the Church allows children of people who drink, smoke, or violate some other sexual conduct laws to be baptized, and people ask what separates these children from children in a homosexual relationship. To me, it is a matter of degree. All of us are imperfect, and if an imperfection of a parent prevented a child from being baptized, no one would be baptized until they were 18. Therefore, parents are allowed to have some degree of imperfections, and it is up to the Prophet to decide when our lifestyle choices affect our child in such fundamental ways that the child’s life at home is fundamentally at odds with the teachings of the Church, which situations would then dictate that the child must wait until they are 18 to be baptized, since a fundamental conflict requires additional age and maturity to resolve. While age 8 may be the age of accountability, it is not the age of wisdom, maturity for all decisions (very few would argue that an 8 year old is mature enough, for example, to consent to a sexual relationship, and even the Church teaches that though accountable, a child should wait until at least 16 to even go on a date), or an age at which the child is legally free to make his/her own decisions. Therefore, when an issue is present that creates such a fundamental conflict that requires wisdom, maturity, and freedom to fully resolve, the child must wait to be baptized until the time arises at which it is appropriate to make those decisions.
And, the Church has made decisions related to when a parent’s choices are fundamentally at odds with the Church’s teachings. Polygamy is one of these, and gay marriage is another. Both of these, due to the depth of differences reached with current Church teachings, become fundamentally at odds in an irreconcilable way. Since the parent’s lifestyles in these situations do bring the child into a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict with current Church teachings, the Church simply defers to the parents’ choices and respects the authority of the parent to make certain decisions for their child. From what I can see, as the Church does support the family and a parent’s authority to make decisions for their family, its policy follows its practices.
This is especially so because the Church, if it is speaking for God, cannot fabricate a false view of its teachings that are considered to be eternal in nature. It has to stand by the eternal truths it espouses. Certainly, Church policies and some teachings have evolved to address current situations in society, but certain fundamental, eternal type teachings remain consistent, especially the ones that affect our eternal life in such profound ways. The Church knows that its members, as compassionate humans, may attempt to ease the conflict for the children by softening or not teaching certain critical Church teachings on the nature of God and the family. Allowing children in this situation to be baptized brings many of the lay members of the Church into the conflict as well, as the Church member is then torn on how to teach and carry out Church teachings while maintaining compassion. Since the Church is run at most levels by lay members, the Church has to help its members also have ways to maintain the fundamental Church teachings.
Of course, members are placed into this situation anyways, especially when they have family members or friends who are homosexual. However, the conflict is significantly increased when the conflict is carried into the heart of Church proceedings. From what I can see, since homosexuality is so fundamentally at odds with the Church’s teachings on God and the family, the Church needs policies that balance the interests of everyone involved – the gay couple, the child, Church teachings, and Church members, as well as the law (discussed below) – especially as it relates to the choices of the parents as this is always where the Church defers. And, this isn’t a policy that keeps children out or heaven, it is one that defers baptism to a later point in time, to a time when the child is both accountable, wise, and mature enough to be able to make decisions related to a fundamental conflict present in the child’s life.
Second, as to the aspect of a Prophet foreseeing the future, I see that the current Church policy may help the Church maintain its religious freedom in the future. I don’t see many people talking about how the policy intertwines with current developments in the law, but I see it as being directly correlated to the changes in law spreading over the world.
Religious freedom jurisprudence is complex and is not always homogeneous, meaning that certain cases were decided in a way that appears to depart from the ongoing evolution of the law, and while I recognize that some cases provide arguments against the following, I do not address them as I am more focused on the general trend that has been gaining steam for quite some time.
Religious freedom is a right set forth in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. For a time, courts were quite protective of this right, and required the government to show a fairly compelling justification to abridge a person’s religious beliefs. However, in 1990, the US Supreme Court departed quite radically from this requirement in the case of Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), where the Supreme Court said, in essence, that the government was free to abridge a person’s religion if it were through a law that applied equally to everyone and was not meant to target a specific religion or practice, unless the person could show that the law so substantially burdened or affected their religious beliefs. This showing of substantial burden to a religious belief is an extremely high hurdle to overcome, and it has rarely been done.
In response to this, Congress passed a statute offering more protection to religious freedom to help bring religious freedom protection to the pre-Smith era. Therefore, most of the religious freedom protection that exists right now is under a Federal statute, as opposed to the US Constitution. As an example, Hobby Lobby won its religious freedom challenge against Obamacare under this statute.
However, the Federal statute can be revoked at any time, as soon as it is no longer popular to protect a person’s religion, or one little exception to the current law can be passed excluding matters on homosexuality from the religious protections offered by the statute. If that happens, a religion would be required to revert to the Smith Supreme Court precedent where the religion’s freedom would only be protected if the religion could show a substantial burden to its religion.
Essentially, the Supreme Court precedent is not favorable to religions, and a church would need a way to show that certain laws, such as non-discrimination laws, substantially impair or burden their religious freedom. In addition, since the current religious protection is statutory, it is possible that the Supreme Court may determine that a constitutional right to gay marriage trumps a Federal statute (as the Constitution is the supreme law of the land), even if the Federal statute is never revoked by Congress. Either of these situations would lead to the loss of most religious freedom protection currently in existence in this country.
Because of these two very real possibilities resulting in the loss of Federal statutory protection for religions, religions have to find a way to articulate, show, and have evidence for what types of things would substantially burden their religion, as loss of the statute would cause the religious freedom questions to be decided under the Smith rational requiring a substantial impact shown to the religion. From what I can see, for a religion to meet the high hurdle required by the Supreme Court of showing substantial burden, religions have to live or die by the principles they claim are substantial, meaning that they have to rigidly hold to them or else the Supreme Court will not believe that one other variation from these principles (if the religion does not faithfully adhere to its teachings) will substantially impact or burden the religion.
So, in evaluating what might constitute a substantial impact on a religion, it is instructive to look to two different religious groups, the Amish and the Catholics. Both of these religions provide insight into two different ways of carrying out their religion, and both are often involved in religious freedom challenges.
The Amish are a group of people who live or die by their principles. You can see, just from observing them, that they truly adhere to and practice what they preach, and that any deviation from their practices would substantially affect their life and religion due to how much of our society they have chosen to live without. Because of that, the Amish are quite successful at prevailing in freedom of religion challenges and have successfully been ruled exempt from numerous laws that other religions are bound by, including compulsory education for children laws, some social security requirements, etc. The Amish are so often protected by courts that Congress often doesn’t even attempt to regulate them, as was the case with Obamacare where the Amish enjoyed a statutory exemption from being required to obtain health insurance.
On the other hand, the Catholic Church has many Catholics of varying degree of devotion, and the Catholic charity side assists numerous individuals not of the Catholic faith. Catholics are great examples of providing charity and assisting those in need, but their religious teachings provide limits as to the extent of the services they can provide. So, when Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, Catholic charities in the area that provided adoption services could not, under their religious tenets, place a child with two gay parents, even if such parents were legally married.
For these and other Catholic charities, they were required by law in these states to make a decision – either go against their religion, or stop providing adoption services. Basically, the Courts did not accept that, in the adoption context, the Catholics would be substantially burdened by adopting to a gay couple because Catholics adopted to other people that might violate the Catholic religion. Mormons would be an example as Mormons are not considered to be living in accordance with Catholic teaching, but a Mormon couple may be able to adopt a child. Therefore, since the Catholics reach out to many not of their faith, the courts are not as willing to find a substantial burden to the religion by requiring them to reach out to one more person not following the Catholic faith.
In essence, the Catholic Church is punished by the courts for its compassion. Because it reaches out to others not of its faith, it is losing some ground related to its religious freedom. Other individuals are also losing in the realm of gay marriage. Photographers, bakers, and caterers cannot refuse to provide services at a gay wedding because they provide services to other people. Their choice is the same as the Catholic Church – either go against your religious beliefs or stop providing the services. Since a baker will bake a cake for a non-Christian, the Court doesn’t seem to find any substantial burden to the baker by asking the baker to provide services for one more person that doesn’t follow the baker’s moral compass. I entirely imagine that the result would be far different though for a gay couple trying to compel an Amish baker to bake a cake for a gay wedding.
The track record of religious freedom versus gay marriage is not a good one in this country. Religious freedom pretty much loses in court as gay marriage becomes considered a ‘fundamental right’. Therefore, any religion has to be considering quite extensively how, in light of the recent developments in the law, it will be able to preserve its religious freedom to continue following its teachings and practices as it relates to marriage and family.
One historical item of interest and precedent in considering how to respond to a new ‘fundamental right’ is the LDS Church’s response to the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) when abortion was held to be a ‘fundamental right’. By 1974, just one year after the 1973 decision, the LDS Church had a new policy on being involved in providing health care and hospital services. The LDS Church decided to leave the hospital realm altogether. Intermountain Healthcare was a non-profit created to continue providing the services previously provided by the LDS Church through multiple hospitals, and by 1975 the Church had transferred its fifteen hospitals to the non-profit.
Fast forward to today. The health care industry currently has some Federal statutory protections against providing abortions, but many places are trying to require that each health facility provide abortion services. Currently, so long as a Catholic hospital refers abortions to another provider they generally do not have to perform abortions, but the support for such could change at any time. Further, items such as the morning after pill, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, stem cell research, and other matters greatly complicate the morality of things in the health industry.
To me, the Church, through a prophet, could foresee where the health industry was headed in light of the new ‘fundamental right’ to abortion. Due to the direction the law was going, the Church stepped out of health care. I’m certain that many people could have been further helped had the Church remained in health care, but I’m also certain the Prophet knew what was necessary to keep the Church in line with its morality in relation to the new ‘fundamental right’ of abortion and its ripple effects on the rest of the health care/morality debate that would flow from it.
From what I can see, now that gay marriage is a ‘fundamental right’, the Church has to take some action to protect itself from the further evolution of the law. While many criticize the policy as being too harsh, the recent policy’s claimed ‘harshness’ may be what convinces the Supreme Court that the LDS Church does live or die by its practices in relation to homosexuality, even to the point where the LDS Church is willing to suffer intense backlash and criticism to maintain its teachings.
Of course, I certainly do not know how the law will shake out, but God’s Prophet can know these things, and God’s Prophet can be inspired about the crafting of policies that have to balance the interests of the Church, its members, gay parents, children with gay parents, and the evolution of the law. I certainly do not envy the burden of finding a way to balance all of these interests, but I see the Church’s policy as a policy that does just that, especially in light of the current and real threat to the Church’s religious freedom.
In sum, I fully believe in a Prophet. I see the current Church policy as one that has to attempt to reconcile many competing views and interests, and one that has to take into consideration the current evolution of the law. If it were up to me, I probably would have done things differently, but that is also why I am not the Prophet. God knows the depths reached, the ripples created, and the future events impacted by this policy, and He inspires His Prophet to properly navigate current and future conditions. I would invite anyone working to reconcile feelings on this subject to turn to God, being honest about all of the competing interests that have to be reconciled at this time, and I believe that God will answer your honest inquires. We just have to remember that we are here to develop the capacity to become like God, and it is only through mastering our self by following God's Prophet that we can accomplish that goal.