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Asking the Question

Bear with me here.  This is going to be a bit of a tightrope to walk, and I don’t want you to freak out if I fall off somewhere in the middle. (I’ll most likely get into trouble near the end, which is when I jump off the deep end.) Just take a deep breath, keep your shirt on, and nobody will get hurt.

Ready? Oh Kay!

Mormon youths are all told the story of how the Word of Wisdom, the Mormon dietary code, came into being. It seems that every gathering of Mormon dudes included lots of tobackey, which cheesed off Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma. She had to scrub up the tobacco juice off the hardwood floors, and the place stank to high heaven. So she asked her husband to seek a revelation with regard to the Lord’s purposes for such a vile weed. The result has been canonized in Mormon scripture as Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants and is referred to by members as the Word of Wisdom.

One wonders how long it would have taken the Lord to reveal such a thing if Joseph hadn’t bothered to ask the question. (Perhaps we’d still be able to swig hard liquor before Sunday School if Emma had had a greater tolerance for tobacco stains.) Yet in multiple revelations, the same pattern holds. Joseph considers a scripture, a principle, or a specific problem before taking the matter to the Lord, and the result is a revelation that changes much of what went before.

This, incidentally, is what caused Joseph serious problems in the early days of the Church. When it was first formed, the Church was largely indistinguishable from most protestant churches. But subsequent revelations changed that. Oh, by the way, the Lord wants us to build a temple. By the way, there are three degrees of glory, not just a static heaven and hell. Guess what, folks? Time to consecrate all you have to Zion. And then there’s that little bit about plural marriage…

With each revelation, the church grew farther and farther away from the standard teachings of the time. And with each revelation, someone got angry, denounced Joseph as a fallen prophet, and a few even established their own churches to create, or recreate, the church as it was before Joseph’s latest nonsense ruined everything.

There are two lessons here. The first, which is easy enough to spot, is the idea that in order to receive revelation, we usually have to ask the question. But the second lesson, which is not as clear, is the idea that we probably shouldn’t bother the Lord if we’re not willing to accept what His answer will be.

In my opinion, that was the problem with extending all the blessings of the gospel to all people, regardless of race. I think the early prophets, like the vast majority of people in the 19th Century, didn’t even consider the possibility that blacks were equal to whites, so they didn’t even bother to ask the question. Especially in the case of Brigham Young, they accepted as binding the prevailing, mainstream position of the Protestant world, which was that blacks were the seed of Cain and therefore deserved to be slaves.

Latter-Day Saints have no such revelation that states such a thing, but nobody bothered to question it, so it stank up the church until 1978, when a revelation was received that finally put all people on equal footing and fulfilled the promise of the Book of Mormon that among “black and white…all are alike unto God.” (2 Nephi 26:33)

Of course, the question was asked prior to 1978, most notably by President David O. McKay, who, according to recent biographies, prayed heartily about this idea throughout his time as President of the Church, from 1950 until 1970.

Why did he get no answer? He asked the question, didn’t he?

Those same biographies also demonstrate that President McKay’s opinions about people of African descent were, once again, consistent with those of the generic Protestant world. He was very comfortable with segregation, and he still didn’t believe that interracial relationships were acceptable in the eyes of the Lord.

Consequently, I believe that, while he was willing to ask the question, he wasn’t quite willing to receive the answer.

(Be afraid. Now’s where we start to wander onto shaky ground.)

All this is preface to my central point: where is the revelation that helps us to understand homosexuality?

You can cite all the same Biblical scriptures everyone else does, but that gets silly, especially since they represent tenets of the Mosaic Law, which also bans shellfish and hot dogs. If you’re quoting from Leviticus to justify current church positions, you’re kinda forgetting that we no longer  stone people to death who shop on the Sabbath. Either the Law of Moses was fulfilled or it wasn’t. If it was, then those Old Testament prohibitions are no longer binding.

In the New Testament, we find little on the subject – mainly just oblique references in Romans Chapter One where Paul makes it clear that he doesn’t like dudes who “leave the natural use of the woman.” But Paul gives us no guidance – he neither tells us why people would do such a thing, or what should be done with them.

The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and all other modern revelations are completely silent on the issue.

As a result, the Church’s stand has mimicked the mainstream Christian world’s stand. We’ve moved from the idea that all homosexuals are voluntary perverts to a more tolerant dodge of the issue, where we firmly state that “we don’t know” why some people are incapable of finding the opposite sex attractive. We have progressed from contempt to a sort of detached pity for those who suffer from this temptation, and our shifting position comes precisely because we have had no direct guidance on this issue in this gospel dispensation.

So wouldn’t it be nice if someone asked the question?

I’m not sure if anyone has. And if they have, I’m doubly doubtful that those asking are willing to accept any and all answers.

I’m walking a fine line here. I’m not trying to attack specific leaders or criticize current policy. I’ve just had enough personal experience with fine people who happen to be gay that I feel like there’s more information on this subject than has currently been revealed, and I’d like to know what it is.

Isn’t it, at the very least, a question worth asking?

My Despisal of Science
Truth in Bad Poetry

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15 Comments

  1. Very thought provoking. Have you considered that it is currently being prayed about? With the talks by Pres. Packer and Elder Oaks recently it wouldn’t surprise me to find that Pres. Monson is spending a lot of time on his knees praying about this. The reason I think that is because he is a very compassionate man. Out of all the recent prophets, I think that is his one bright shining strength.
    I don’t think you are being critical of either the church or it’s leaders. I think you are asking a pertinent question and I am also very sure that that particular question is also being asked by those who should be asking.

  2. Moist Blog: All Gay, All the Time.

    Seriously though, doesn’t the act of homosexuality between consenting adults fall under the Biblical concept of Man’s Free Will? If there were anything wrong with it, wouldn’t it be God’s job to judge, rather than Man’s?

    Also, could someone send any current prophet a revelation detailing the dismal failures of prohibitions? Thanky.

    • Hey! There’s been no gay since my triumphant return on Monday! Although I’m pretty sure that Jon Huntsman is gay. You heard it here first. And last.

  3. Do you think it’s necessarily that McKay was unwilling to receive the answer? I’m asking for personal reasons as someone who has begged and pleaded for answers only to find none – and I ask myself daily why? Why is everyone else in the ward able to stand up on fast Sunday and affirm that they “know and believe” while I’m left lacking in those feelings (not from lack of dedicated prayer). Filled with hope – filled with a sincere and heartfelt desire to know – I feel like there must be something wrong with me to not have the same knowledge. I’m sure there are many reasons why the Lord may choose to withhold revelation – but it doesn’t make being patient any easier.

    Your post hit my heart – and I’m grateful for it.

    • Don’t have an answer for you, because your relationship with the Lord is between you and Him. Although I would suggest that you might consider the possibility of answers that have come unrecognized. I spent a lot of my adolescence waiting for thunderbolts and not getting them, only to discover very significant answers that came in much simpler, less dramatic ways. (I outline one such story in Monday’s blog.)

      I don’t know, but I’m glad this post was helpful to you in some way.

  4. Really good article… and *definitely* I support the idea that the question needs to be asked and dealt with. I also have many wonderful friends who are fine upstanding people, and are solely attracted to persons of same gender. BUT, consider: First Black (American) Catholic Priest, Father Augustus Tolten ordained April 24th, 1886. First Black Protestant Priest (Episcopal) Absalom Jones, ordained 1804. I’m certainly no historian, but I’m not sure this supports your logic that, ‘the church simply followed accepted wisdom of the day’. The Church appears to follow its own timelines. (Even your WoW example, the revelation was given as a recommendation, not a commandment…later became a commandment at some arbitrary period afterwards).

    • Correct. WoW wasn’t considered a commandment until Heber J. Grant. The pioneers brought sacks of coffee with them across the plains.

      Yes, the church follows its own timeline. I just think that, in the absence of direct revelation, church leaders are as susceptible to the conventional wisdom as anyone else. The ordinations you cite were certainly trailblazers, but surely you’re not suggesting that 19th Century America was an enlightened time for race relations.

  5. I am not Mormon, though I have deep respect for the LDS church. Like the LDS faith, I’m also in a tradition (the one based in Rome) that doesn’t simply believe “the Bible says it, that settles it” – there is room for continuing development in “understanding,” though Catholics don’t consider there to be room for additional revelation per se.

    If I read you right, it sounds as if you’re proposing that there might be room for the LDS church to receive an additional revelation that would take less of a dim view of homosexuality than Judeo-Christian religions typically have (which is a very dim view indeed).

    While I also have had dealings with many fine people who happen to be gay, I would be very suspicious of the motivations behind any religious organization that would reverse itself on the “gay issue.” Would such a reversal truly be based on seeking the truth regarding the design and purpose for human sexuality? Or would it simply be to avoid hurt feelings – to make people feel better about their inclinations? I also want people to feel great about themselves, but not at the expense of truth about God’s design for humanity.

    From this outsider’s perspective, such a reversal would lead me to conclude that the LDS church had begun following the culture, rather than leading (as in many ways it is now).

    • Very thoughtful reply, Ed. Please notice that I don’t call for a “reversal,” only for more information. Any change in the position of the church should come only from divine revelation, and whether that change is reflective of societal trends is essentially irrelevant. Should such a revelation come, the rest of the world will no doubt assign spurious motives to it, regardless of the content or the timing of said revelation.

      • Maybe I’m coming at this from too Catholic an angle, but I think even if it were a new revelation divinely revealed, I think it does matter WHEN it happens. Though there will always be people who scoff no matter what the LDS leadership says, there are some who may be neutral, who will decide that the Church must have buckled under pressure, and it seems to me it would be best not to give them reason to think so.

        To give an example from the Catholic world, there’s always the possibility that the Catholic Church might someday allow priests to marry. (Such a decision is a matter of “discipline,” not of “dogma” – thus it could change tomorrow if the Pope decided.) But there are those who suggest that the Church would be unlikely to make that decision in the midst of pressure from the culture. And I think there’s some wisdom there, personally. If the Catholic Church changes under pressure, it gives the impression that “see! If we just make enough noise, we can change church teaching – just like in a democracy.”

        • Both times in the modern era when the LDS Church has claimed revelation to change controversial teachings, they have been inundated with the kind of criticism you cite. In 1890, when Wilfred Woodruff issued the “manifesto” that ended polygamy in the mainstream Mormon church, he was facing the complete dissolution of the church via the Edmunds-Tucker Act. In 1978, when Spencer Kimball extended the priesthood to people of all races, he was criticized for caving to the civil rights movement.

          I submit that it would be impossible to receive a revelation that wouldn’t be viewed cynically by most of the population. And, given my thesis that revelation usually comes only after the question is asked, most of the population would likely be right to a degree – i.e. Spencer Kimball was likely asking the question at least partially because he’s facing pressure from civil rights groups.

          The Catholic Church is a bit different in that the Pope doesn’t really claim direct revelation a la Moses or Paul. Consequently, Catholics would be more likely to see a human root cause for a change in position than the Mormons would.

          • I used the word “likely” too much in that response.

  6. Does the Proclamation on the Family count? It doesn’t address homosexuality by name, but it is quite clear about the role of marriage and family in the Plan of Salvation. Also, I had a few questions about the Law of Moses argument. First off, didn’t a lot of what happened in the Bible occur pre-Moses? Didn’t the whole Sodom and Gomorrah situation happen during Abrahams time? Second, just because the Law of Moses was fulfilled it doesn’t seem that everything the Law condemned is now okay. Don’t the Ten Commandments still apply? I admit that my grasp on the Law of Moses and Biblical history is tenuous at best, so maybe I am missing something (which is actually quite probable given my lack of knowledge on the subject).

    • Kareen, much was made of the fact that President Packer’s talk last October was revised to soften references to homosexuality and bring them in line with current church policy. But perhaps even more interesting, at least to me, was the decision to strike President Packer’s statement that the Proclamation on the Family should be considered a revelation. That is not to downplay or dismiss the Proclamation, but it does place it into perspective as policy, not direct revelation.

      Sodom and Gomorrah certainly happened pre-Moses, but the story gives us no guidance as to how to deal with the subject of homosexuality. We’re also told in the Bible that pride was the catalyst for God’s wrath on that occasion:

      “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” – Ezekiel 16:49

      No mention of homosexuality.

      As for the Ten Commandments, they most certainly apply. Christ cites them directly in his discussion with the young ruler. Modern revelation reaffirms them on several occasions.

      The Law of Moses, however, took the Ten Commandments and codified them, outlining specific applications and punishments. None of those apply anymore. Under the higher law, we’re supposed to choose for ourselves what behavior is appropriate on the Sabbath Day, for instance. The higher law decreases the bureaucracy but increases our personal accountability. We’re just as responsible for keeping the Sabbath Day holy as they were, but we also bear the burden of using our own judgment to determine how to do it.

      Peter’s revelation in the Book of Acts where he is commanded to take the gospel to the Gentiles also wipes out a good deal of the ancient Mosaic prohibitions. Peter was called on to eat non-kosher foods, and he refused, citing the Mosaic Law. He received this answer:

      “And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” – Acts 10:15.

      This scripture is why you can eat shellfish and still get a temple recommend.

      Again, as I said to Ed, please understand what I’m saying here. I’m not calling for “reversal” or any specific policy. In my lifetime, the church has moved from the position that homosexuality is a completely voluntary perversion to an acknowledgment of the fact that we don’t know what causes homosexuality. Wouldn’t it be nice to know? If it is, indeed, inborn, is there a righteous purpose for it? Is there a righteous outlet for it? More information on the subject would definitely be helpful.

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