The Proclamation on the Family: A Closer Look

I recently had a conversation with someone who had missed an LDS Woman’s Conference back in 1995, but she ended up at a reception later that evening with Marjorie Hinckley, wife of then-LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

“Did I miss anything at conference today?” she asked.

“Oh, no – same old, same old,” Sister Hinckley replied.

Yet that was the conference in which the Church presented the Proclamation on the Family, which has become near-canonized scripture and the bedrock of much of the opposition to greater acceptance of LGBT+ individuals in the Church. To hear many speak of it now, it’s the equivalent of the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai, but at the time, it wasn’t enough to merit a shrug of the shoulders from the prophet’s wife on the very day it was announced.

There is much consternation about whether or not the Proclamation should be treated as a revelation, and whether or not that distinction matters. In practical terms, the Proclamation was the product of lengthy discussion and committee processes, unlike the vast majority of the revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, which Joseph dictated as the came, often in front of others. He would occasionally edit them after the fact, but they were generally received in toto, which is quite different from how the Proclamation came to be.

That’s not to preclude the possibility of inspiration and spiritual guidance in the creation of the Proclamation, but rather to say that if you’re thinking it was delivered out of whole cloth from heaven in the same way that most of the canonized revelations were received, you’re incorrect. In his recent talk on the Proclamation, Elder Oaks – now President Oaks – described how he “went to work” to craft a document that would effectively state the Church’s position, and that it required lengthy revision and considerable effort.

“Subjects were identified and discussed by members of the Quorum of the Twelve for nearly a year,” he said. “Language was proposed, reviewed, and revised. Prayerfully we continually pleaded with the Lord for His inspiration on what we should say and how we should say it.”

That’s not the case, with, say, Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is considerably longer, more intricate, and substantive than the Proclamation, yet it was written in a single sitting with no major revision afterward.

The issue of whether or not the Proclamation constitutes a revelation was the source of considerable controversy back in 2010, when President Boyd K. Packer gave a controversial talk where he insisted, contrary to the Church’s position, that nobody was born gay.

From Peggy Fletcher Stack at the Salt Lake Tribune:

Perhaps the most controversial paragraph in Packer’s text that he read Sunday said, “Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father.”

Now the word “temptations” has replaced “tendencies” and the question about God’s motives has been removed entirely.

But there was another revision to his talk, too. Again from the Tribune:

In his original talk, Packer said the church’s 1995 statement, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” “qualifies according to scriptural definition as a revelation.” That descriptive phrase has now been omitted, leaving the proclamation simply described as “a guide that members of the church would do well to read and to follow.”

Make of that what you will, but it’s pretty significant that the Church felt it important enough to correct the President of the Quorum of the Twelve on this subject. I think this incident suggests that it’s probably a mistake to say that the Proclamation is, indeed, a revelation on par with scripture.

But okay, fine. Whatever it is, it matters enough for Elder Oaks to say that it “has been the basis of Church teaching and practice for the last 22 years and will continue so for the future.” And as such, the Proclamation is constantly held up as an insurmountable obstacle against greater inclusion of LGBT+ individuals in the Church.

But is it?

In reality, much of the opposition to LGBT+ issues attributed to the Proclamation comes largely by way of inference and is not actually present in the text of the document itself. Homosexuality, for instance, is not mentioned at all, nor is same-sex marriage. The Proclamation begins by announcing “that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God,” which is a statement that ought to be unobjectionable to everyone. At no point does it say marriage between two men or two women is condemned of God. Most people, including those who wrote the document, draw that conclusion, but the explicit condemnation is simply not there.

Gender identity does get a mention, as gender itself is described as “an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose,” which is something gay individuals seldom dispute. A gay man, for instance, is still a man, and his gender is not in question. True, this phrase may pose problems for transgender people, although they could argue that they’re attempting to align with an eternal gender that is inconsistent with their biological one. In any case, a gay married couple is not likely to be confused about their gender, and the Proclamation’s reference to same presents no obstacle to acceptance of their union.

Perhaps the strongest language in the Proclamation that would condemn LGBT+ sexual expression is the sentence that declares that “God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.” Except the euphemism employed here – “powers of procreation” – provides an interpretation that would not necessarily bar intimate relations between gay married couples.

Spencer W. Kimball once wrote that “[w]e know of no directive from the Lord that proper sexual experience between husbands and wives need be limited totally to the procreation of children.” In a gay marriage, procreation is biologically impossible. One could then credibly argue that gay or lesbian individuals who are intimate with their spouses are therefore not exercising “powers of procreation,” and that this phrase in the Proclamation simply warns against conceiving children out of wedlock.

There are several other phrases consistent with the ones above, such as: “Marriage between man and woman is essential to [God’s] eternal plan.” Yes, absolutely it is. Were same-sex marriage to replace or cancel out marriage between a man and a woman, that would be a serious problem. But that isn’t happening, nor is it going to happen. Surely celebrating and sustaining traditional marriage does not require condemnation of nontraditional marriages.

“Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” Yes. This, as I’ve written many times before, is the one compelling secular argument against same-sex marriage – that, all things being equal, the best environment for raising children is with a married mother and a father. But all things are never equal, and the Proclamation allows for that reality when, after outlining the ideal, it then concedes that “[d]isability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”

What qualifies as “other circumstances?” Why can’t the non-hetero sexual orientation of the parents fit into that category?

Speaking of individual adaptation, I’ve spent the weekend on my Facebook newsfeed discussing the latest post from Josh Weed, who was the subject of one of my previous blog posts when, five years ago, he announced that he was a gay man happily married to a woman in what he described as “Club Unicorn,” a fantasy world where gay people can pretend to be straight and live happily ever after.

In a heartbreaking post, Josh Weed announces that he and his wife are divorcing, and that he has come to the conclusion that “unicorns don’t actually exist. The idea of our marriage as successful and healthy, we have finally realized, is just that: mythical. Impossible. Not real.”

I really think every Mormon ought to read his post. He was held up for so many years as the ideal of how to reconcile homosexuality with Mormonism that the reality of his struggle and the ultimate collapse of the “mixed orientation marriage” model needs to get as much attention as his initial announcement did.

He discusses the fact that he and his wife are trying to figure out an individual adaptation that would allow them both to participate in the raising of their children – they want to purchase a “homestead” that would allow them to live near each other on a large property that would also allow them each to find new partners. (Personally, I think that’s a very problematic solution, but that’s another discussion.) They both want to stay active in the Church and be present in their children’s lives, so more power to them as they try to adapt to imperfect, non-ideal circumstances.

The bottom line is that our fellowship with our LGBT+ members is woefully inadequate at present, and we ought to be looking for ways to be more inclusive. How we do that is another lengthy discussion, but we should stop hiding behind the Family Proclamation or using it as an excuse to ignore and cast aside our brothers and sisters in need.

Some more “Last Jedi” thoughts

Enough time has passed that I’ve allowed my “Last Jedi” experience to simmer and given me some added perspective on the whole thing.

Spoilers ahead, obviously.

I’ve mentioned My Esteemed Colleague many times on this site, and given that he’s probably the biggest Star Wars geek I know, I texted him not long after I had seen the movie.

“Have you seen the Last Jedi yet?” I asked.

“I won’t be seeing it,” he texted back.

His reasoning was that Star Wars is the chronicle of Anakin Skywalker, and he didn’t want to ruin that story by polluting it with these new movies that essentially undo everything that happened up until “Return of the Jedi” by pulling a new Empire out of the ether and just hitting the reset button.

At the time, I thought his reaction was rather extreme, but as I’ve thought about it, I realized that I have absolutely no desire to Episode IX, and for similar reasons. What more is there to see? What mysteries await? None to speak of. Last Jedi has not only wiped away all progress made in the Original Trilogy; it has also wiped away any characters I care about. Han and Luke are dead, and Leia is going to die offscreen between movies, so all that’s left are these ciphers who have already demonstrated what their ultimate fate is going to be.

Is there any question as to who is going to prevail in the final confrontation between Rey and Kylo Ren? Is there anyone who gives a rip about what will happen to Poe or Finn? Are we really supposed to be invested in some weak love triangle between Rey, Finn, and Rose? Honestly, who cares?

Ironically, the final shot of “Last Jedi” is the appropriate way to end this particular story. A lonely kid in a horse stable wields the power of the Force as he looks to the stars in support of the Resistance. It’s a promise that Empire 2.0 won’t last, and that the grass roots efforts of billions will eventually triumph. Do we really need to see a “1-2-3-Kick” movie where that happens in entirely predictable ways?

But it’s not just that. It’s that what we actually did learn in Last Jedi didn’t defy expectations so much as spit on them.

What, you expected Rey’s parentage to be significant, mainly because of the multiple cues in “The Force Awakens” suggesting that it was? Well, ha ha on you – it isn’t. You thought it was necessary to explain how an ancient, heretofore unseen Sith Lord could have built a bigger, better Empire out of nowhere when he wasn’t even mentioned in the Original Trilogy, and when his existence was explicitly ruled out by the “Rule of Two” established in the prequels? Well, guess what, stupid – you’ll never know who Snoke was. Just shut up and watch our endless casino planet subplot that goes absolutely nowhere.

It’s not that it’s a bad movie so much as that it’s a contemptuous one.

You get this sense right away the minute you see Luke toss the lightsaber over his shoulder. I laughed right along with everybody else, but it’s an almost spiteful gesture. Think of how much emphasis “The Force Awakens” put on that lightsaber. It fell into Maz’s hands and then called to Rey, triggering a vision that included Obi-Wan Kenobi saying “Rey, these are your first steps.” So the saber is kind of significant, no?

“Where did you get that?” Han asks.

“A story for another time,” Maz answers.

Except no. Ha ha! It’s a story that will never be told, and you’re a chump for thinking it matters. It goes over the shoulder along with everything else.

Rian Johnson and his defenders act as if the dismissal of these story threads is some kind of act of genius, which piles insult on injury. It’s cruel to yank an audience around like that, and it’s not surprising that so many audience members weren’t willing to applaud their own abuse.

Including me. I’m not going to vow not to see Episode IX, but I’m not making any real effort to see it. At the very least, don’t expect me to be first in line on opening weekend.

The Road Not Taken: Poetry’s Greatest Prank

This post is inspired by a Facebook flame war – one in which I did not participate, so the object of this discussion won’t know I’m talking about him. The subject of the war is unimportant. What matters is that it concluded when a particularly sanctimonious dude tried to salvage his decimated argument by quoting Robert Frost. In an attempt to justify reliance on his own facts, he insisted that his unconventional position was a result of his being brave enough to carve out a unique path.

“Two roads diverged in a wood,” he quoted, “and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

So there.

I can understand the appeal, certainly. It’s short, pithy, and eminently meme-able.

He is not the first to employ Frost to virtue signal his bold, rugged individualism, nor will he be the last. It’s always ironic to see rugged individualists rigidly conforming to the same poetic justification for their uniqueness, but that’s not the point. The point is that just about everyone who reads this poem gets it hopelessly, miserably wrong, and those lines are quoted to mean precisely the opposite of what Frost intended them to mean.

People often refer to this poem as “The Road Less Traveled,” but that is not the poem’s title, because there isn’t a road less traveled in the verse. It’s actually called “The Road Not Taken,” and, when the narrator arrives at the place where two roads diverge, he observes that both roads were essentially indistinguishable.

The first two stanzas:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

So which one is the road less traveled? One was “just as fair” as the other. He says that “perhaps” one had the better claim because it was grassier, but, really, both were “really about the same” in terms of how much they had been worn down by travelers. In the first line of the next stanza, he says that “both that morning equally lay,” again emphasizing that there was nothing significant to differentiate one from the other.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

The focus here is not on which road is better, but rather on the fact that the narrator will never know, because it’s unlikely they will ever come back to travel the other path.

Then there’s the final stanza that has the money quote. Most people only quote the final three lines to illustrate their indomitable spirit. But it’s the first two lines that frame the verse in its proper setting.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I think it’s the sigh that’s most telling here. Why would he sigh if choosing “the road less traveled” made him a hero? The narrator is not announcing his triumph; he’s rather lamenting the self-delusion he knows he’s going to be peddling in “ages and ages hence.”

In the time and place where he has to make a decision, he doesn’t know if the road he picks is better or worse. He doesn’t even know which one is truly less traveled – both roads “equally lay” and had been “worn… about the same.” But when called upon to justify his choice, he knows he will reframe the memory to make one of the equal roads a road “less traveled by” and insist that his choice “made all the difference,” even though he actually has no idea whether or not that’s true.

This isn’t a paean to individuality; it’s a verse of sardonic mockery aimed at those who misread it. Keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to pull this out as your social media signature.