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