Monday, May 30, 2011

Preparing the Way for Change

The other day, I was having a discussion with a new straight friend, Darren.   He is an active Mormon, a husband and father, who within the past year has discovered that two of his closest friends in the world, other members of the Church whom he has known for years, are gay. 

Darren did not turn away from these men.  He couldn’t.  He knew them too well, had shared too many important experiences in his life with them, knew that they were not any different after coming out to him than they had been before doing so.  He accepted them for who they are.  Then, in the months that followed the coming out of these two close friends, Darren and his wife discovered that other men and women in their circle of extended family and friends are gay – and Mormon.

These developments prompted Darren to start educating himself, trying to understand what these and other men had been going through and continue to go through as they try to reconcile two dual but competing identities, i.e., that of being Mormon and gay.  I had to hand it to Darren:  he opened up his mind and heart in ways that many, if not most, Mormon men would not do or would not have done in like circumstances.  It became clear, as I talked with him, that he had given the whole subject of homosexuality in the Church a lot of thought.

That is why I was so profoundly struck by some of the comments Darren made.  As we talked about where the Church is – both as an institution and as a people –with respect to acceptance of homosexuality, we agreed that the doctrine has changed during the past 30 years.  Furthermore, we share an opinion that it will continue to change. 

It was then that he made some statements that I found particularly thought-provoking, all the more so because they were made by a straight, practicing Mormon.  “I don’t believe,” he said, “that the Lord will give more revelation on this subject until we as a people are prepared to receive it.  Look at the Israelites, for example:  they weren’t prepared to enter the promised land until they had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.”

“In the same vein,” he continued, “look at the revelation on the blacks and the priesthood.  We as a church wouldn’t have been prepared in the 1950’s for what President Kimball presented in 1978.  We as a society had to pass through the civil rights era; people’s hearts and minds had to be softened, challenged and shaken.  Furthermore, consensus had to be established among the brethren and the governing councils of the Church that the time had come to move forward.  Even in 1978, it was difficult for a lot of people to accept the revelation on priesthood, but it likely couldn’t have happened before that.”  (Remember Joseph Smith’s famous phrase about members flying to “pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions”?)

There are a lot of members of the Church who would like to believe that societal attitudes, opinions and beliefs, as well as developments in civil law, don’t play any part in the development of doctrine, let alone the receipt of “revelation.”  All one has to do, however, is look at the events that led to the Manifesto to see that such beliefs are naïve. 

On the other hand, there are many faithful members of the Church who don’t have any problem at all in accepting that it is only natural for human events, decisions and attitudes to affect the course and direction of the Church – which, after all, is made up of humans.

“We as a people were not prepared in the 1950’s to accept the 1978 revelation,” Darren continued.  “Similarly, I think we as a church are not prepared – yet – to accept further light and knowledge on the subject of homosexuality.”

Does this mean we simply sit back and say, “The Lord has already spoken on this subject:  he did so in Moses’ time when he called a man lying with another man an ‘abomination’”?  No.  To do so would make us guilty of the same sin as Elder Bruce R. McConkie when he assumed and assured the Church that the Lord had said all he was going to say on the subject of the priesthood being extended to the blacks.  (He later admitted:  “I was wrong.”)

Does this mean members of the Church are justified in simply sitting back and saying, “Well, I’m not going to change how I feel about homosexuality, gay marriage and gay rights.  After all, the Lord called such things an abomination in the Bible.  He’s going to have to hit me over the head with a baseball bat to get me to change how I feel about it.”  No.

What it means, I think, is that – even in the Church – we can help create the future.  As an increasing number of families in the Church discover that they have gay sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews, we can choose to move forward.

We can move forward in demanding equal civil rights for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or identity. 

We can move forward in denouncing and eliminating bullying and “gay bashing,” fed as it is by homophobia and heterosexism. 

We can move forward in denouncing bigotry, discrimination and demagoguery, wherever it is found. 

We can move forward in loving and accepting our gay brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and friends.  We can move forward in efforts to educate and create bridges of understanding.

And we can remove ourselves from the ideological and doctrinal chutes that we allow ourselves to be placed in and move forward in affirming and embracing what the Church proclaims:  that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

I believe that in doing these things, we can help prepare the way for and facilitate doctrinal change.  But even if that change doesn’t ultimately come, we will have moved forward with social change, helping to create a more just, tolerant, enlightened, loving and Christ-like society – an effort that would be worthy of approbation:  

“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”

- D&C 58:27


  1. I recognized all of this a long time ago and, am sad to say, have also concluded it will be many, many years before the general LDS membership is ready for any change. One need only read comments to Deseret News articles by self-identified Mormons to realize that far too many of them are about as ready to accept and legitimize homosexuality as South Carolina was to give up slavery in 1860.

    That's why (and you know this) most of us are voting with our feet, unwilling to sacrifice our lives and our happiness because somebody else is too stubborn or proud to learn something new.

  2. I obviously understand and appreciate where you're coming from, Rob. I also agree with your observations, although the South Carolina analogy may be a little extreme. :)

    I certainly understand "voting with your feet." I am ambivalent toward the church right now, but conversations such as the one I describe give me some degree of hope - not that who I am will be "legitimized" by the Church, but that the rising generation of gay men will come of age in a slightly more enlightened and accepting church than we did.

  3. I appreciate your friend thinking deeply on the subject. However, I find this line of thinking:
    “In the same vein,” he continued, “look at the revelation on the blacks and the priesthood. We as a church wouldn’t have been prepared in the 1950’s for what President Kimball presented in 1978. We as a society had to pass through the civil rights era; people’s hearts and minds had to be softened, challenged and shaken. Furthermore, consensus had to be established among the brethren and the governing councils of the Church that the time had come to move forward. Even in 1978, it was difficult for a lot of people to accept the revelation on priesthood, but it likely couldn’t have happened before that.” somewhat contradictory.

    The Mormon image of God is a being of total justice and mercy. What your friend is saying is that the God he believes in allowed an evil, vile dark spot on HIS church because He was afraid of the reaction. So God's will is dictated by the failings of those He chose to lead His church? It defies Mormon logic. Right is right, wrong is wrong? Black and white? God is not really in control of his own church but rather He is limited by the bigotries of the leadership?

    Like I said, I appreciate your friend's deep thoughts on the subject, but far too often this line of thought is used to excuse poor behavior rather than explain it.

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  6. Good to be Free, I must disagree with you. The way I read the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, as well as through the history of the latter-day church, seem to indicate that the Church of Christ continues to evolve over the generations. And the scriptures say that God teaches line upon line and precept upon precept. We aren't ready for all of His knowledge yet, so He reveals it bit by bit, not all at once. Yes, right is right and wrong is wrong, but God doesn't give it to us all at once. And yes, I do believe that He allows "dark spots" on His church. God gives us our agency and allows us to do with it as we will. The scriptures are full of violent and horrific acts that hopefully we would never commit in these days, and yet God allowed it to happen in His church back then.

  7. Right on! So let's move forward!

  8. It's interesting that your friend used that analogy to describe the church's current position. When I came out to my mom, she also said that she viewed the current situation to be similar to Moses' wandering 40 years in the desert because the church and mainly older leaders could not accept it.

    Isn't it interesting when multiple people come to similar conclusions? Thanks for sharing this.

  9. Strong points, Rob and Invictus. I agree with both of you and Darren.

  10. I have often wondered about polygamy and why when it came time for UT to be admitted into the Union or thus legitimizing and formalizing UT as a state therefore creating a need to change the practice of polygamy. Which many people did not understand then and to this day don't understand it. Up to that point the Church pretty much did as it pleased.

    It is also interesting for me to contemplate on why the Book of Mormon is silent and says NOTHING about homosexuality. Makes me wonder if some of the pages that Joseph Smith lost back in his day could very well contain much needed direction or insight on the subject, that the people could never have allowed to come about back then. I'd like to think we are more "open" today as a Church and society but can see that on the issue of homosexuality the brethren are very slow to move and act on. One only need look at the Family Proclamation a somewhat recent statement put forth as doctrine to see gays are excluded. I have had many discussions with my strait friends who like to use the Family Proclamation as a club against homosexuality.

    I'm grateful to be alive today. I want to be a force in this world towards tolerance and compassion to those who's paths are different than the main stream.

  11. @SGTBF - I take your points. My post was not intended to be apologist or to provide excuses for the leadership of the church.

    One of the subpoints I was trying to make is that, even if one believes the church to be what it claims to be, it is still a human organization; divine will and inspiration is filtered through humans and is colored by prejudices.

    It is precisely because of this, and because humans (including President Monson) cannot possibly know the full mind and will of God on anything, that I believe there is ample room for elements of the general membership of the Church to make a difference, i.e., to do the kinds of things I mentioned in my post.

    Of course, many gay Mormons may choose, as Rob put it, to vote with their feet. But even if they leave the Church, many of these people will still be part of the Mormon world: their families are Mormon, their friends and associates are Mormon.

    Just as Darren's friends (neither of whom are "active" in the Church) influenced him, his wife and others in their circle of friends and family, we (as gay Mormons) can influence for good those in our circle and beyond (which I'm sure you have already done).

    And that is the basic point of my post: that I believe we can make a difference for good, regardless of what the "brethren" do or say.