As a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the doctrinal perspective on homosexuality is of particular interest to me. To be frank, I need more study on the matter to have any concrete opinion… but I think my current thinking on various doctrinal questions may be of interest to you. Whatever your interest, I am certain that _your_ opinion on the matter is of interest to _me_.
Isn’t This Resolved?
In a word: no. The scriptures have much to say on the subject, of course… but we have a rich history of setting-aside scriptures; modern prophets have spoken, but our current prophet has demurred… himself setting aside language of “abomination” and “sin next to murder” for a decidedly conciliatory tone. From where I stand (dripping in bias), I sense a sea change.
I don’t know what is coming… but something, I submit, is.
So let’s start with the LDS canon… what is said, what is not, and what have we misread?
The Sin of Sodom
Let’s tackle the big one first… what is the sin of Sodom (Genesis 19)? Read the story… no act is ever undertaken. A mob (I imagine them drunk) comes to Lot’s home to cause trouble. They make gross sexual advances against Lot’s (male) guests and his daughters… but nothing happens, so it’s difficult to really settle the matter. If something had happened, though… what would have been the crime? Homosexuality? Or would it have been rape? They’re not the same.
So what is the sin of Sodom spoken of with such venom in Isaiah and 2 Nephi? Joseph Smith said with no hesitation (and no citation, sadly, until I can find the source) that the sin of Sodom was rejecting the prophets. A reading of Isaiah (3) and 2 Nephi (13) suggests that the sin of Sodom was a wanton disregard for their fellow man… “grinding the face of the poor” (13:15) and pride and haughtiness (13:16-23) (see also Ezekiel 16:48). For an even bigger wrench, check out Joseph Smith’s interpolation, marked “Genesis 19:11″ in the JST.
Leviticus is a different matter, of course… it seldom minces words. But it’s not hard to set the quote in Leviticus aside, as we’ve already set so much of it aside already. Some argue that such a categorical assignation of Leviticus is justified by Christ’s declaration that all things are done away in him. But I find that argument lacks nuance.
The sodomites referred to in chapter 23 are “qadesh”, male sex workers whose trade is a part of their religious devotion. I’m not sure what to make of this reference… except that, once again, we are not talking about homosexuality, but something rather more complex.
Though Paul made several comments that allude to homosexuality (Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1, and Jude 1), the person whose words I most want to hear on the matter has nothing to say. Christ, as quoted by the authors of the New Testament, has nothing to say about homosexuality.
Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, & the Book of Doctrine & Covenants
The Book of Mormon is also silent on the matter — unless you hold to a traditional interpretation of “the sin of Sodom” — as are the other books of the restoration.
There have been many statements on homosexuality various general authorities… but in looking to our prophet, today, I see a marked difference in doctrine and tone. No longer is homosexuality an “abomination”, no longer are saints excommunicated for their attractions… even Elder Packer’s talk “To the One”, a mainstay of bishops of the last few decades, is noticeably missing from the modern church’s library.
The Proclamation on the Family
Before addressing what the Proclamation says, it should be noted that the Proclamation is not canon… it is a publication (special as it is) of the Church, not horribly dissimilar from a manual or instruction booklet. It was crafted by committee (several, some say), and holds no special place in our canon — though it has captured one in our hearts.
So… what does the Proclamation have to say on the matter? Nothing.
It has plenty to say on family, and its importance… and on chastity. But it says nothing about homosexuality. Indeed, the closest it comes to saying anything about homosexuality is to say that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose”. Gender… but not orientation.
Interesting, too, is the “powers of procreation” comment… which would leave the more legalistic among us to wonder whether gay sex is covered, as it is not in the least bit procreative. Though I would say such a stance is far-fetched, and probably not in-keeping with the spirit of the sentiment.
The Great Plan of Happiness
Families are central to the God’s plan for his children… and while I can think of many ways that earthly family life is a crucible, preparing us for the eternities… the exact nature of family life in the here-after is (at best) foggy.
We also know that temple marriage plays a vital role in setting the legal stage for inheriting the greatest glories of the Celestial Kingdom… but the playing field is littered with exceptions: the unlucky, the unwise, the unhealthy — all, it seems, have some degree of non-culpability, and are told that it will all be sorted-out in the here-after.
For me, then, as a homosexual, I wonder if those exceptions apply to me. I certainly hope so. And if they do, then I can certainly endure the portion of loneliness that any single person in the church must bear… no less and no more.
But why do I bring this up at all?
Well, it goes to an argument I’ve heard that says that since homosexuality doesn’t “fit” into God’s plan of eternal marriage, then it must be evil. But I would counter that my singleness is not categorically different from the singleness of so many of my brothers and sisters in the Church who are, likewise, outside the marriage mainstream.
It also goes to an sentiment that I hear from my gay and lesbian friends, which goes along the lines that its unjust to be denied sexual fulfillment… and that somehow such denial reeks of oppression. To them I say that I have no more claim to sexual fulfillment than the dear single sister on the back pew who shares in my oath to not have sex outside of marriage. If she can bear her cross with dignity, then so can I.
The Long View
So what do I make of the paucity of reliable commentary on homosexuality in the scriptures, and the recent shift in tone from the Brethren?
For me, I see a societal corollary to how the Holy Spirit works on an individual… a person exits the waters of baptism and takes upon themselves a life-long agreement to let the Lord work a mighty work on them through the promptings of the Spirit. The Spirit moves in and begins slowly remodeling our hearts. For the most part, it’s light and constant… but in the end, we are new people, with our agency intact.
At a societal level, the Church insinuates itself into the fabric of society, using the structures which already exist while it goes about its business of reforming society, one person at a time. It engages societal ills as questions and opportunities arise.
I see much of what the Church has said in years (and eons) past on homosexuality as the Church parroting larger social standards… but now that society is no longer holding to that standard, I see the Church struggling to formulate a response… an inspired rhetoric that can appropriately address the questions of the saints.
Until now, homosexuality was seen as lascivious… but today members of the church world-wide — and many, many Brethren — know homosexuals that are anything but. And we’re all wondering what the Lord would have us do. Today, more than ever, the Brethren are asking the Lord “whither the homosexual”. I, for one, am eager for the reply.
Please stay tuned for Part III, The Church Going Forward.