Voices in My Head, Part III: The Church Going Forward

D Christian Harrison - September 15, 2005

These aren’t predictions, just musings.

Scenario One (of Many): The Well-trod Path

The Church continues to publicly embrace people struggling with SSA/SGA, while counselling members to be less judgmental — and condemning lascivious behavior across the board. The Church takes no position on the cause of homosexuality, but maintains a firm stand that behavior is a choice… and demands that its members refrain from any homosexual behavior. As gay marriage continues to gain beach heads in various states, the Church is forced to clarify language in manuals and in the temple ceremony… and to mount stronger and more numerous campaigns as municipalities, states, and (ultimately) the federal government wrestle with the issue.

The Church steps-up its long-running campaign to encourage members run for elected office… the natural result of which is a larger number of saints on governing bodies across the country; a windfall of financial and in-kind support for visible LDS candidates; and the advent of rhetorical campaigns from the Left against the Mormon caucus similar in tack and temerity to the campaign against the Religious Right.

As traditional values loose ground in the US, the Church begins work in other countries — most notably the second and third worlds — to construct a strong-hold of moral conservatism… encouraging members to run for office in their native lands, and using the Perpetual Education Fund to raise-up a new, and faithful generation of leadership, ready to step into places of power in the world’s nascent and adolescent democracies.

… and the schism between the Church and the world grows.

Scenario Two (of Many): Reconciliation

In response to years of discussion and pleading with the Lord, The Brethren receive revelation that leads to a broad shift in practice and policy similar in breadth and effect to the 1978 shift regarding blacks and the priesthood. As in the past, the media frames the shift in terms of public relations campaigns and calculated efforts by the Church to deflect criticism… worse, many members leave the Church.

The revelation laments the difficulties of gay and lesbian members in decades past and invites them into full fellowship in the church. It does not clarify the state of the homosexual in the life to come, maintaining the Church stance that the Lord will address most of these matters post-mortem. While affording gays and lesbians moral authority, the Church continues to teach that the preferred course is heterosexual in nature.

Youth are now discouraged from dating before they’re sixteen, and to date in casual, _heterosexual_ groups until after their missions or well into college… at which time young adults that today would be considered bisexual are encouraged to choose heterosexual relationships. Gay young adults are encouraged to adopt classic hetero dating norms in their courting, and to pair-up into committed relationships. Bishops are given leave to perform time-only ceremonies.

The Church, however, continues its battle against same-sex marriage… arguing that children (as is stated in the Proclamation on the Family, which has been canonized) have a right to a mother and a father, and that states must have the space in which to discriminate in favor of healthy hetero households.

In areas around the world where homosexuals are marginalized or worse, the church offers sanctuary, as members of the Church who’ve enjoyed the fruits of the Perpetual Education Fund ascend to positions of influence, make their countries safer for members — gay and straight.

In the US, more conservative gays drift to the church in small numbers… As they do, they find a safe place for their more conservative personal narratives. As gays become more accepted in American society, their survival-era politics change, and gay society experiences internal rifts not unlike second- and third- generation feminism… and religious homosexuals (from numerous faith communities) now find a safe place from which to comment on the excesses of the gay community at large — fueling a shift in religious rhetoric from anti-homosexual to anti-hedonistic…

… and the schism between the Church and the world grows.

Other scenarios exist, of course, but these should suffice.

Recommendations, Regardless

I’d like to take a few moments, now, to make two suggestions of how the Church might proceed, regardless of what the future holds.

Improved Rhetoric

The Church has to improve its approach to sex and sexuality. It’s no longer useful to couch our discussion of such weighty matters in colorful euphemisms which rely heavily on external social mores… the Church needs to answer “why” more forthrightly, and more often. Elder Holland’s speech back in the 80s (Symbols and Sacraments?) was ground-breaking in its candor, but it is largely alone in the LDS lexicon.

Priesthood Quorums

The protected realm of single-gender classes is an ideal space to experiment with the new rhetoric… but the real strength of our quorums is the nurturing and support that well-run quorums can offer their members — no matter their orientation… which leads me to my second suggestion: we _must_ strengthen our quorums. There are few things more helpful for gay latter-day saints wanting to remain active than the company of righteous, engaging, straight men… and for young men and boys sketching-out their sexuality, I can think of no better environment than a well-run quorum filled with faithful members.

Of course, the Church isn’t the only part of the equations.

I have a few things to say on the gay community going forward.

31 Comments »

  1. Silus,

    Regarding the “Improved Rhetoric” paragraph, what is the “Why” specifically you see the Church needing to answer? Why the Law of Chastity? Why fornications are a sin? Why homosexuality is banned? Which “Why?”, or do you mean all of them?

    Most of the general “Whys?” on sexual immorality would be answered by simple observation: STDs, HIV/AIDS, adultery & divorce rates, prostitution, sexual abuse, rape, abortion, etc. Violating the Law of Chastity has a whole host of very painful and very unpleasant practical consequences, independent of any ecclesiatical ones, hence the fundamental nature and purpose of the commandment.

    If you are looking for something more specific, please elaborate.

    I did a search for “holland symbol sacraments” at lds.org and turned up a zilch. Can anyone provide a link?

    Comment by Kurt — September 16, 2005 @ 6:48 am

  2. That’s because he wasn’t a GA at the time, Kurt; he was president of BYU. Try it here.

    Comment by Kim Siever — September 16, 2005 @ 7:59 am

  3. That talk was also given in General Conference (i.e. when he was a GA) with a few–very few–modifications.

    Comment by Noname — September 16, 2005 @ 9:19 am

  4. Good stuff. As I read it I kept thinking of the Johnny Cash song _Ring of Fire_.

    Love is a burning thing
    and it makes a firey ring
    bound by wild desire
    I fell in to a ring of fire…

    I fell in to a burning ring of fire
    I went down,down,down
    and the flames went higher.
    And it burns, burns, burns
    the ring of fire
    the ring of fire.

    The taste of love is sweet
    when hearts like our’s meet
    I fell for you like a child
    oh, but the fire went wild…

    I fell in to a burning ring of fire…

    Comment by Kurt — September 16, 2005 @ 9:26 am

  5. Yes, the talk was given when Elder Holland was President of BYU, I believe… sorry about not being clear on that front.

    As for the “why” comment… as a faith that is bound-up in the rational traditions of the Enlightenment, we have no problem with “why” as a valid question in a religious context. We bristle, in fact, at the quip “because God says so”, knowing that that isn’t the final answer, because God is fair, just, loving, and rational. We may not have the luxury of understanding the “why” _today_ but we know there’s an answer coming. In the mean time, we love to make the answers up as we go (hopefully distinguishing between revealed “why”s and our own).

    So we give ourselves permission to come up with all sorts of why’s for the Word of Wisdom and other perplexing issues in the church, but we don’t seem to have given ourselves permission to ask/answer that question on sex and sexuality… and our rhetoric is poorer for it, as it leaves many of our parents and authority figures at a loss to explain the basics of sex and sexuality doctrines to our children.

    I hope that clears up my point (if only a little), Kurt.

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 16, 2005 @ 12:59 pm

  6. Silus,

    This isn’t meant as a threadjack, but I think that in both scenarios you hope for too much from the PEF. At least as presently operated it isn’t going to accomplish what you hope for. I wrote about my frustrations with it earlier on Nine Moons.

    Comment by a random John — September 16, 2005 @ 5:38 pm

  7. ( ARJ: I understand that the PEF is not perfect, but these are forward-looking projects assuming improvements to the PEF. With improvement, I predict a substantial impact. )

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 16, 2005 @ 5:44 pm

  8. Wow.

    I can hear the (virtual) crickets chirping.

    The ‘nacle is dead on Fridays.

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 16, 2005 @ 6:23 pm

  9. I have come to understand how similar Silus and I approach the problem at hand. How to remain in the Church, follow the commandments, but still identify ourselves as gay though not really living a gay lifestyle per se, is our task of a lifetime. I am optimistic about the future of gay appropration in the Church.

    My father is very pro-gay-marriage, and he and I worked out a list of possible “baby steps” the Church could take towards full-fellowshipment of gay members:

    1. Approval of legalized same-sex marriage. This may not seem a babystep to some of you, but I think the Church leaders need to see and understand commitment levels of alternative couples *outside* the Church. Currently, there simply is no model for moral behavior (for gays) other than — it is immoral. But if the Church can see gay couples celebrating their 50th wedding anniversaries, it will have proof of commitment. I am continually surprised that our church and others wouldn’t be all for legalized same-sex marriage, for the simple fact that it gives same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, along with the same level of legal responsibilities. For anyone who wishes it, it seems to me a no-brainer to let them have it.

    2. Allow same-sex couples to attend Church without secret or shame, though not with full attendant blessings of the temple, etc. Allow them to teach Sunday School, to give blessings, serve on High Councils and other ward and stake functions. My father believes that gay people will come back to the Church in droves if given this opportunity, despite the lack of temple/eternal blessings.

    3. Allow teenagers and singles to date others of the same-sex, curtailing the date at actual sexual contact, just like the requirement of teenagers now. Gay people must date, fall in love, get engaged, and marry just like anybody else — the model is one of sexual restraint, of mind-over-body control, not disapproval of the person being dated because of their gender.

    4. Finally, the full blessings of the Priesthood and Atonement bestowed on worthy couples, all couples, including those that are the same gender. This might even include a Church organization (like the Church Social Services) set up to help gay couples adopt children through the Church — perhaps orphaned LDS children from countries in Asia and South America.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 16, 2005 @ 6:44 pm

  10. So, given your baby steps, D, what do you think of the scenarios I’ve outlined above?

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 16, 2005 @ 9:10 pm

  11. I think they’re good, Silus. One baby step that I didn’t mention is somewhat similar to yours: perhaps the first step in the line is for the Church to allow “gay” people, celibate, to be public about their celibacy and their orientation. What is Church for but support for our various problems? These blogs are about the first public forum, Church-wise, where I have felt free to be myself. Just recently, one of my priesthood leaders made it very clear that public knowledge of my… orientation… was not to be mentioned in the Church building. We have a long way to go, I guess.

    So, my first “babystep” would be to set up a new Quorum, perhaps called the Levites, or something, where those of us who are ministering angels could commune, and feel the warmth and sympathy of the ward/stake.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 16, 2005 @ 10:49 pm

  12. It’s hard, of course, without knowing all of the facts… but your not being able to mention that you’re gay in your own church is shocking.

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 17, 2005 @ 1:11 am

  13. I wish the baby steps D has described would be how it happens. Unfortunately I think it will be more similar to blacks getting the priesthood. The church will wait until the general public looks at them as horribly bigoted monsters, they will approach the Lord about it, and it will happen in one huge step.

    Comment by jjohnsen — September 17, 2005 @ 9:48 am

  14. You’re right, jj, and it happens approximately 15 years after the country.

    15 years after the main civil rights laws were passed, came the revelation (in 1978).

    I’m guessing that 15 years after same-sex marriages are passed in the country, the Church will publish a revelation about them.

    This is realistically, about 30 years from now.

    I’ll be 77.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 17, 2005 @ 10:09 am

  15. I don’t think this will ever happen.

    With the case of blacks and the church, the leadership were not personally affected (i.e. no family members and/or few close friends who were AFrican-American. However, there have been several GAs and up with gay family members who haven’t cared enough to effect change in these policies. Even Joseph F. Smith (patriarch) was banished to Hawaii and is rarely spoken of as an out gay man. The church is, and will continue to be, ashamed of members who don’t fit the mold–gay, single, divorced, etc.

    There are no straight single men in high leadership in the church. It will be decades after that happens that gay celibates will have any presence in the church either. The church uses the rationale about “setting an example” when asked about the absence of singles from high, visible callings. It certainly does not (right or wrong, but obviously wrong) want gay members to be looked on as any kind of example.

    The discrimination and disdain for homosexuals is rampant throughout the church. Even single heterosexuals sometimes face prejudice or are “looked down on” for not being “whole” as part of a couple.

    If the church were to accept gay couples to any degree, how would the church tell which couples were truly life-partnered and which were hookups? It will be at least 100 years before all 50 states accept gay marriage. If the church accepted gay partners, would it also accept singles who cohabitate for one reason or another but can’t get married? Couples who are separated from spouses but who live together out of necessity? Couples who can’t afford to marry (i.e. in other countries)? Where would it begin? Where would it end?

    The church does not care aobut individual happiness or health, but about collective (read: the church’s) imagine and prosperity. It has political, social and business reasons for keeping gays on the back burner.

    Lastly, the theology of the church (including a married god and the highest goal being “traditional” marriage and families) prevents the introduction of gay partnership/marriage as a viable family structure.

    Comment by Martha Ann — September 17, 2005 @ 10:49 am

  16. Martha, I’m not sure (from your tone) whether you think your post represents the Church in a good light, or a bad one.

    But one thing I surely disagree with: that it will be 100 years before the states approve of gay marriage. SSM is coming very fast, faster than I would have predicted even 5 years ago. As I previously stated, I think it will be completely behind us in 10 years, or so.

    Once SSM happens, this will be a cue for the Church to know what couples are actually couples, because they will be legalized as such, just like married couples today.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 17, 2005 @ 11:11 am

  17. “I don’t think this will ever happen.

    With the case of blacks and the church, the leadership were not personally affected (i.e. no family members and/or few close friends who were AFrican-American. However, there have been several GAs and up with gay family members who haven’t cared enough to effect change in these policies. Even Joseph F. Smith (patriarch) was banished to Hawaii and is rarely spoken of as an out gay man. The church is, and will continue to be, ashamed of members who don’t fit the mold–gay, single, divorced, etc.”

    I understand you think this will never happen, but don’t you think this is was many members believed about blacks getting the priesthood? Some members (and apostles according to David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism) thought there would never be a day that those of African descent would be given the priesthood. It was as unthinkable to them in that day, as homosexuals being accepted now. My wife’s grandparents are still upset about the 1978 revelation, and disowned a grandchild because she married a black man. The world changes and a changing church led by revelation can change along with it.

    Comment by jjohnsen — September 17, 2005 @ 11:32 am

  18. Ah, but there was precedence for blacks’ receiving the priesthood, even at the hand of Joseph Smith.

    There is no such precedence for gay acceptance, which is why if it ever happens, it will be further in the future than just a decade or two.

    Polygamy is acceptable in some countries outside of the US, yet polygamists who want to join the church in those areas must divorce their spouses first.

    Gay marriage is acceptable in Massachusetts, nad many other churches perform their weddings, embrace gay couples, and include gays in their services in highly visible ways.

    The LDS church wouldn’t allow women to speak or pray in General Conference until 25 years ago. I have little doubt that if a change is coming, it will be after all of us have bitten the collective dust.

    Comment by Martha Ann — September 17, 2005 @ 11:40 am

  19. I’m perhaps dreaming when I think it will happen sooner than that, but it’s a nice dream, so I’ll keep having it.

    :)

    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 17, 2005 @ 11:47 am

  20. “There is no such precedence for gay acceptance…”

    Unless you believe Michael Quinn:
    http://www.press.uillinois.edu/s01/quinn.html

    Comment by ed — September 17, 2005 @ 1:07 pm

  21. Comparing the SSM/Homosexuality issue to the BandP issue is a non sequitur, outside of the Church (i.e., homosexuality/SSM is a civil right) and in. Coming from a strictly Church perspective, the two things have nothing substantive in common at all. Three reasons why:

    1) One is completely involuntary (race) and one is a behavior (homosexuality). There is no evidence suggesting sexuality is completely involuntary, and even the most ardent advocates of the “gay gene” are forced to admit they have not produced clear and compelling evidence of a predictive gene. Presently available best evidence suggests the matter is biologically dependent upon prenatal maternal stress combined with social factors regarding feminine/masculine normative behavior. This is in clear contrast to heritable race. Race is not a behavior, sexuality is. There is no gay race.

    2) One has a clear and consistent Church position (homosexuality) and one does not (race). The history of the BandP in the early Church is muddy and problematic. That is not the case with SSM/homosexuality. Not in thousands of years of Judeao-Christian history and the hundred plus of years of LDS history has there been any question over the issue, until the past several years where liberal activists have pushed the issue, appealing to pop culture.

    3) Social traditions across thousands of years of human societies show plainly that while homosexuality has been practiced, there has never been a traditional institution of SSM. The institution of marriage has always been heterosexual. SSM is a modern novelty that seeks to simulate heterosexual tradition while divorcing the biology of reproduction from reality. While traditional views of race and socially normative behaviors with respect to race have varied significantly across generations and geography, the traditional views of marriage have been remarkably consistent over time and across all human cultures.

    The LDS Church will not ever endorse or condone SSM or homosexual behavior. People who hope it will do so in vain, and do not understand the Lord drives the Church, not men and their societies or politics. Seeking to explain the rejection of homosexuality and SSM in terms of subcultural or individual bias simply flies in the face of reality. The simple fact that hundreds of Christian sects have broadly banned the practice and never recognized SSM as even possible for thousands of years proves it is not a matter of subcultural or individual bias, as people above suggest, as all of them have treated it the same: rejection. Those Churches which are now endorsing/accepting/tolerating SSM and homosexuality are being torn apart.

    In the timelines suggested above by other commentators, it is much more likely we will see the denominations which embrace homosexuality/SSM have serious problems with respect to matters of Church polity, probably going into schism. This has already effectively started in the Anglican Church.

    It doesnt matter how fast or slow SSM is adopted in secular culture, it is pop culture that contradicts the Lord’s dictates for human society.

    Comment by Kurt — September 19, 2005 @ 7:49 am

  22. Kurt: while appreciate the effort, I’m confused by your assertion that “comparing the SSM/homosexuality issue to the [blacks & the priesthood] issue is a non sequitur”.

    Not because it is (necessarily) wrong, but because it implies that any such comparison was made — at least by me. What I did say was that (in some imagined future) an affirming revelation vis a vis gays and the Church was welcomed much like the 1978 proclamation was: by the press and outsiders as a pragmatic ploy by the Church to deflect criticism, and as an excuse to leave the Church by many within.

    But since you bring it up, I would like to make a few points…

    “One has a clear and consistent Church position (homosexuality) and one does not (race).”

    I would submit that, while trinitarian Christianity has a solid record on the matter (at least as far as I can tell), the modern Church has little or no history on the matter at all. From what I gather, starting after WWII, there were a few decades where the subject was discussed at all, and the rhetoric was strong and un-waveringly harsh. Then about a decade ago, the rhetoric began to soften. To a point where, today, bishops and Church leaders who actually deal with homosexuality within their congregations are of several opinions on the matter.

    Moreover, a solid tradition on any given issue is hardly an excuse to continue it. I’m certain that any reader can come up with dozens of examples — both within the realms of religious thought and without — on their own.

    Your third point continues a line of thought that I’ve heard elsewhere: that somehow being anti-SSM is _necessarily_ anti-homosexuality. Which is silly. I’m gay… and I don’t support the current SSM movement.

    And finally, I take umbrage at your insinuation that I “do not understand the Lord drives the Church”. I love this Church, I love the Lord, and I know that his prophet leads it… My path, here, is not one of revolution but of polite inquiry. I’m sorry that isn’t obvious.

    When I saw your post, I thought you were going to make a point that I’ve been thinking of for some time… namely, that within the Mormon gay and lesbian community, I’ve often heard references to the 1978 proclamation… but sadly, the rhetoric is always of a vein that suggests that these people (who should know better) think that the proclamation was a political, rather than prophetic move.

    I personally believe that it was wholly prophetic… and that until that point in time, the Church was un-prepared to welcome — let alone minister to — the enormous influx of converts that awaited us on the African continent. In fact, I believe that had the Church been introduced to Africa sooner, that there would have been “mormon” congregations across the continent with no shepherd at all to guide them, and no connection to Salt Lake to speak of… and that the fate of the early Church in the first millenia AD would have been the fate of the Church in Africa.

    But I digress.

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 19, 2005 @ 11:18 am

  23. Silus,

    Why do you oppose same-sex marriage?

    Comment by Chris Williams — September 19, 2005 @ 11:29 am

  24. Chris: to be honest, a response to that question would take a very long post, but here’s the rub: aside from the benefits specifically tied to child-rearing, the benefits/incentives attendant to marriage are available to individuals and couples via other means… where they are not available, society would benefit from an open discussion on the matter outside of the context of the SSM debate… as such, I can only conclude that SSM is about child-rearing. I believe that children (to paraphrase the proclamation) have a right to both a father and a mother, and I believe that SSM would undermine the state’s ability to discriminate in favor of healthy hetero households in determining the best course of action for the child.

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 19, 2005 @ 12:22 pm

  25. Silus,

    I was not solely responding to your comments, but to several comments made by yourself and others. The part you take umbrage at was more specifically aimed at Martha Ann’s comments than anything you posted.

    Comment by Kurt — September 19, 2005 @ 12:26 pm

  26. Is there no value in either gay couples’ (e.g. in Massachusetts) or straight couples’ being married for the sake of lifelong companionship and all the attendant social, psychological, spiritual, emotional and sexual blessings that spring therefrom?

    Comment by Donna — September 19, 2005 @ 12:33 pm

  27. Donna… the difficulty in discussing SSM is that “marriage” refers to both a commitment ceremony that is often associated with a particular faith, and the contract — which is the only matter that I address above.

    I think that there is a wealth of benefit from people pairing-off, but that’s not what the argument is about… it’s about the perks the state offers married couples to encourage the pairing-off in the first place, and to dissuade disollution of the pair-bond — all, obstensibly, for the benefit of the next generation (though we could be doing a lot more to improve the institution of marriage).

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 19, 2005 @ 3:42 pm

  28. I’m still confused:

    If you’re not in favor of SSM and you believe that all gays should be celibate/abstinent for life, what’s the issue? The Church is in agreement with you, you’re in agreement with them, and all is right with the world.

    Comment by Donna — September 19, 2005 @ 4:21 pm

  29. Hehe.

    Donna… I’m not in favor of SSM, you’re right. My understanding of current Church doctrine (and my commitment to abide by it) keeps me from pursuing any intimate relationships … my belief is that the Lord has more to say on the matter, and my hope is that it will afford me the space to pursue a committed relationship.

    In the mean time, I date… and work on my litany of other short-comings.

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 19, 2005 @ 4:38 pm

  30. Fair enough, Silus, but sinc eyou say you don’t believe in SSM, what you are hoping from the Church/God is a sudden acceptance of extramarital sex. This would mean that gay or straight, couples could have intimate relations without the benefit of marriage.

    Or are you only hoping that gays and lesbians would have some special classification that would allow non-marital sex?

    SSM would allow everyone the opportunity of marrying before having sex and/or starting families. The SSM couples I know of have been together for years, do not want to start families, and are delighted that (in the state that allows for SSM) they can legally commit to a partner. I see no harm there; just good all around.

    Questions:

    1. Could an already SSM couple be baptized into the LDS church? Would they have to get divorced and live apart?

    2. What would be the purpose (besides self-denial and “proving” oneself) of splitting up a family in this manner?

    3. If you consider SSM wrong, what kind of commitment would you expect the Church to honor (eventually)? Would it depend on the number of years together, depth of love, intensity of feeling, stabilty of partnership?

    Comment by Donna — September 19, 2005 @ 4:57 pm

  31. So, I finally understand where Silus and I part company. I think SSM is very important, because I think there needs to be a moral “model” for homosexuals, and I don’t see anything forthcoming except marriage/vows of fidelity. Otherwise, homosexuals will always be outside the bounds of morality.

    Also, I don’t really understand the “dating” thing. I have plenty of gay friends, in and out of the Church, that I might go on an outing with, to the theater or movies or something. I don’t think of these as dates, though. Dating to me implies, potential love interest. I try to stay away from potential love interest people, because I’m too tempted by them.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — September 19, 2005 @ 6:28 pm

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.