Preparing the Way for Change

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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 couldnt. 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 dont 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 werent 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 wouldnt have been prepared in the 1950s for what President Kimball presented in 1978. We as a society had to pass through the civil rights era; peoples 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 couldnt have happened before that. (Remember Joseph Smiths 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, dont 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 nave.

On the other hand, there are many faithful members of the Church who dont 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 1950s 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 Mormons should 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 them 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, Im 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. Hes 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 people 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, Mormons, individually and as a people, can choose to move forward.

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

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

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

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

And they can remove ourselves from the ideological and doctrinal chutes that they allow themselves 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.

In doing these things, Mormons can help prepare the way for and facilitate doctrinal change. But even if that change doesnt come, they will have moved forward with social change, helping to create a more just, tolerant, enlightened, loving and (indeed) Christ-like society.

Invictus Pilgrim blogs at invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com.

15 thoughts on “Preparing the Way for Change

  1. You’re correct. The LDS church and most especially its people are 30+ years behind the rest of society in their capability of choosing the right. And that begs the question as to why Mormons are so much more unable and so much less prepared to live in a socially just world? This read to me like a scathing condemnation of Mormons.

    What you’ve presented here is something that sounds lulling and motivational for an edgy Gospel Doctrine class. But to someone already living with and among people who don’t wait for leaders to nod the OK that they can be fair, just and forward-thinking this only sounds like a parental justification of why 16 year old Suzie can’t stay out past midnight on Friday night….because she’s not ready.

    But why? Why are Mormons least capable and least ready to choose the right for their fellow man? Why are Mormons sophomoric in their ability to live in an adult world?

    Even within the context of Mormonism, change comes because leaders wrestle with the question. If you look at the history of the 1978 revelation then you realize the the leadership had been discussing it for a decade at least (that’s still 20 years late but better) Is there any indication that LDS leaders are wrestling with the gay question, praying about it perhaps? Or are the self-satisfied that they already know the answer?

  2. I take all your points. This was not intended to be and should not be interpreted as an apologist post.

    And that begs the question as to why Mormons are so much more unable and so much less prepared to live in a socially just world?

    Recognizing that we are dealing here in generalizations – because there are many forward-thinking, free-thinking, even liberal (more or less) active members of the Church – I think there are obviously several reasons why Mormons are so less able/prepared to live in a socially just world. One of those, I think, stems from the “the world is ripening in wickness” mentality that views everything through (whatever is the opposite of “rose”-) colored glasses, which engenders suspicion, wariness and (to call a spade a spade) bigotry.

    The purpose of this post is not to justify the type of behavior you describe in your second paragraph – which I acknowledge is all too prevalent – but to try to contribute to a conversation with the increasing number of Mormons who are being confronted with “the gay issue” because someone they know and love has come out to them. I think these situations present an opportunity for outreach and education.

    I also agree with what you wrote in your last paragraph, which was implied if not overtly stated in my post, i.e., that there is discussion, disagreement and disharmony among “the Brethren.” There unquestionably was with respect to the “black issue”, and I think there is regarding the “gay issue.” Anecdotal evidence of personal dealings with various apostles indicates that some are more forward-thinking on this issue than is, e.g., Elder Packer. And I do believe that some are more engaged in the “wrestling” than are others.

    But, of course, all of this in no way excuses the leadership for their actions over the past 50 years. Again, this is not an apologist post, but an invitation to ponder a “bottom-up” approach to change within the Church, rather than a “top-down” approach. I believe that in this Internet age, such change is more possible than ever before, albeit perhaps not probable.

  3. My mom used to say that too — that the priesthood ban lasted so long because the white people of the church weren’t ready to accept black people as equals.

    But DadsPrimalScream makes a good point. What is the purpose in having leaders (supposedly on a direct line with God) if they need to be dragged along (however slowly) by popular opinion in order to do the right thing…? What kind of moral leadership is that?

  4. Yes, I understand the generalizations, but I guess I was speaking from the perspective of someone more liberal and wondering if you can see what I see, why in the world would you want to stick around and hang out with those folks? Darren’s explanation of the church members’ readiness strikes at the very core of the paradox… racism or homophobia has never been the problem so it has NOTHING to do with the readiness of the people. The problem is the inability and unwillingness to act or do anything without first being given the “revelation” or the OK from the leadership. Very few Mormons, even family members of gay folks today can overtly contradict leadership, so to say that it needs to come from the bottom up is counter to church history, church policy and doctrine. Is it possible? Perhaps but my guess is that a top down approach where they slowly, carefully change policy and doctrine first and subtly give the thumbs up to members to treat homosexuals as human beings will happen first. Like I said, most Mormons I know aren’t innately homophobic. They are only homophobic insofar as they feel like that’s what’s expected of them. Their problem is that they are unthinking and lack the courage to contradict their leaders… the very thing you are expecting to change. They are obedient followers, not social leaders.

  5. What Chanson said. If the LDS Church were indeed led by an all-knowing being, we’d expect it to be miles ahead of the collective thinking of its members. Instead, it has to poke along incrementally, changing only when its members do. What’s the difference between a church that only changes in line with the prevailing thinking of humans, and a church made up by humans?

    And if it’s not ahead of the moral curve of society, then what is it good for? “How were we supposed to know that discrimination against gay people was wrong? We were only being led by a god!”

  6. And this is certainly not the only issue where LDS leaders are way behind the curve. It would be great if they truly were inspired, but I’d be thrilled simply to see a little imagination and creative thinking on issues like environmental stewardship and climate change.

  7. Again, I agree with many of the points that have been made. I have posted before on my blog about the shifting tides of doctrine when it comes to homosexuality and what that says about inspiration and revelation. President Packer’s talk last October destroyed my belief in “thus saith the Lord,” and not just because I found his comments distasteful; I KNEW him to be wrong.

    While I have issues with the leadership of the church and I am frankly ambivalent toward the church and the “gospel” right now, I don’t necessarily agree with all that Daniel has said. Again, there is precedent in the Church, beginning with Joseph Smith, to having to work with the membership to “lead them along.” Probably the most jarring example in reverse of this sort of thing was the Manifesto, and it took years and many excommunications to bring plural marriage to an end in the mainstream church. Of course, the Manifesto also led to the establishment of “offshoots” which are still with us today.

    racism or homophobia has never been the problem so it has NOTHING to do with the readiness of the people.

    Dad, while I agree with your observations about many members wanting to be told what to think and do, I don’t agree with the above quoted statement. Though I didn’t live in Utah in my youth, I have heard plenty of stories about the racism that existed here prior to 1978. It wasn’t pretty. The official doctrine of the Church led to the belief that negroes were not as good as white people.

    And there is PLENTY of homophobia and heterosexism in the church today; as evidence of this, all one has to do is read some of the comments that were left on the various “Support President Packer” sites that sprang up after last October’s general conference. I specifically recall reading, e.g., one commenter who wrote that if the Church ever accepted gay marriage, he would know the Church isn’t true and he would leave it.

    Obviously, if President Monson were to announce tomorrow that he had received a revelation that same-sex marriage is acceptable to the Lord, it would rock the Church and cut to the very heart of Mormon theology. This just ain’t gonna happen.

    However – and this is the point I wanted to make – if efforts continue among ordinary members to promote tolerance, education and understanding (just as the efforts of Sunstone forums, Mormon Stories, etc., attempt to promote tolerance, education and understanding over other issues) concerning homosexuality, I think good can come from this and, ultimately lead to change in the church.

    In this regard, I am reminded of a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago when I came out to my boss. He comes from a distinguished Mormon family, but is not active in the church. Among other things, he commented that he believed the church would be forced to change as more and more families discover that someone they know and love is gay. “It may not come in our lifetimes,” he said, “but I believe it will come.”

    I agree. And regardless of my own personal “relationship” with the Church (and beliefs concerning it), I am a part of the Mormon culture and world and I would like to try to do what I can to contribute to that change – not for my benefit, but for the benefit of the next generation of gay and lesbian Mormons.

  8. Invictus — So, in a nutshell, the leadership can’t suddenly allow gay marriage because there would be a schism.

    I agree that that’s the bind the leaders are in right now. But the corporation writes all of the lesson manuals, and they change some of the messages subtly every year. If the manuals really were inspired (by communication with an omniscient God), then they could already have been preparing people to accept gay people as equals for the past twenty or thirty years, and the members would be ready by now.

  9. @8 – Again, my post is not an apology for the leadership of the church, nor does it take any position on whether or not, or to what degree, the brethren are inspired. That is not the point of my post, and to focus on this issue detracts from the thrust of the post, which is that there is much that I believe can be done to change attitudes and beliefs in the Mormon world – regardless of what the brethren say or do.

  10. OK, OK. I agree that the members are preparing the way for change (just like in ’78), and the brethren aren’t inspired, but let’s hope the members succeed in dragging them along. 😉

  11. ‘We as a people were not prepared in the 1950s 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.’

    An interesting opinion, but by no means an excuse. Posts by straight Mormons on samesex marriage and homosexuality in general are a dime-a-dozen. I haven’t approached the matter on my blog yet because I want, to the best of my ability, to make it stand out as meaningful. The most disheartening part about the Priesthood Ban was that it didn’t end until outside social pressures started bearing heavily upon the Church. Why must it always come to that with Mormonism? I suppose because dissent is only allowed from outside of the Church, not within. The PR conscious Mormon hierarchy will always listen to what critics on the outside have to say, but they are utterly deaf to what those who bear the label ‘Mormon’ have to say. Scratch that, they unduly punish those from within who have, often with charity, expressed criticism. Have sorta expressed the matter here: http://failmo.blogspot.com/2011/05/revelation-and-philosophy.html . However, the post was more about anti-Socialist rhetoric coming from the pulpit during the Cold-war than relating to gay rights. I’m sure some of it is applicable nonetheless.

  12. I suppose because dissent is only allowed from outside of the Church, not within.

    That’s a very good explanation of why the Church appears to “lag.” I like this part of your post:

    I acknowledge a General Authority’s right to receive revelation for the governance of his stewardship, but I do not acknowledge his right to receive binding revelation for the people within that stewardship. All “revelation” that I didn’t receive personally is merely another man’s philosophy. This is the only wise approach, and I don’t think revelation should ever be given didactically.

    You’re one of those “Liahona” types. =)

    I wonder if Liahonas always have a hard time in the Church, or if there are periods in the Church’s history where the membership/leadership is not so “Iron Rod”-like.

  13. We as a people were not prepared in the 1950s 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.
    This kind of argument is such a great example of the concept of “privilege.” To the people who make such arguments, it’s an unquestioned assumption that everybody else (including God, FFS) should just wait around until “we” (white, straight, “normal” people) are ready for “them” to have the same rights we already enjoy. The idea that a truly fair God might decide to dump the racists and heterosexists in favor of the people they oppress simply never occurs to them.

  14. Outside pressure does push the leadership to change. Two examples: 1st, Utah would not achieve statehood without stopping polygamy & 2nd, the church would lose it’s non-profit status if discrimination against blacks continued. I also believe Pres.Kimball struggled spiritually for many years before the time had come to receive blacks into the Priesthood.

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