The Church asks its gay members to water-down doctrine

The LDS gay community has had ideological ties with the evangelical gay community for many years. Both groups went through an “ex-gay” phase from the 1980s to the 2000s and now both groups are in a phase of “you can be gay, just don’t act on it” after the near simultaneous collapse of the Evergreen and Exodus models to “pray away the gay.”

One of the differences between Mormonism and evangelicalism, though, is there is some room in the latter now to be gay-affirming and to preach that without fear of punishment by a religious hierarchy. The question of whether people will listen or not is separate, of course.

One newbie on the stage is Matthew Vines whose gay-affirming book God and the Gay Christian is receiving some buzz. His arguments are what you’d expect… that the Bible is, in some fashion, contextual rather than for all-times-and-places. He argues the idea of “same-sex orientation” did not exist in the Bible, and before the 20th century, same-sex behavior was generally understood as sexual excess (adultery, pederasty, etc) — not the egalitarian type of today. Christianity (though not Mormonism) has an established tradition that affirms voluntary celibacy, but because of a recognition of gay people, this teaching has to be changed to require “mandatory celibacy.” This change in teaching speaks to a need to contextualize the Bible. From there, he goes on to argue that it’s probably more likely that committed gay relationships are affirmed by God (he runs through the usual scriptural passages).

His arguments aren’t “new” exactly, except they move and are received differently in today’s context of viral Youtube videos and same-sex marriage.

Anyway, there’s a point that Vines makes on a blog post, “Response to a Review: On Celibacy, Human Identity, and the Orientation/Behavior Distinction” that is quite applicable to the Mormon context, and made me think that the LDS Church is actually asking its gay members to water-down doctrine.

Vine writes:

Given the rank failure of the “ex-gay” approach, non-affirming Christians have sought to find a middle way, wherein they do not have to feel morally at fault for their persistent same-sex desires but can still regard any and every expression of those desires as sin.

Sympathetic as I am to that attempt at a middle ground, however, it cannot hold from a biblical perspective. The Bible simply does not allow us to consider ourselves blameless for internal temptations to sin, nor does it allow us to view unchanged sinful desires as a sign of a vibrant, faithful Christian life. In that respect, part of the reason non-affirming beliefs [are] livable is because [they are] watered down … in order to make them livable.

In the Mormon context same-sex desire is nowadays routinely denounced as “temptation” — “not sinful in and of itself.” Church leaders then say that there’s no need to centralize the temptation when thinking of one’s “eternal identity” as a “child of God.”

Vines responds to this paradigm:

One does not have to embrace the flawed view that our sexuality is the most important part of our human identity in order to see the profound harm caused to LGBT people by condemning all same-sex relationships as sin. A non-affirming perspective tarnish[es] the image of God in LGBT people, not because sex is necessary for their flourishing, but because hating and repenting of their every sexual desire is necessary if they are to live into the full implications of a non-affirming position.

Well, this argument makes sense to me, but I’m part of the choir. Generally, I think there are a great number of people in both the Mormon and evangelical communities who want to be convinced to be theologically gay-affirming so that they can collapse a growing dissonance in their hearts, but they fail to be able to resolve the “contextual” vs. “universal” dilemma for themselves. For evangelicals, it’s what charismatic leaders of a “moral majority” say is the unchanging Word of God. For Mormons, it’s sustaining Church leaders who claim access to continuing revelation. It all seems contextual to me.

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2 Responses

  1. This sums up why I couldn’t take the gay, but still Mormon route for very long:

    “hating and repenting of their every sexual desire is necessary if they are to live into the full implications of a non-affirming position.”

    Once I stopped internally beating myself up I couldn’t do what Mansfield and others do and formulate my own little religion inside my own head where God still loved me, but basically ignored me. I think that’s why you get such a depressing view of homosexuality when you visit North Star. They are all worshiping a “tarnished” version of God.

    I think religion is very contextual in and of itself which is why they are so late at understanding and adapting to progressive contexts that become the status quo.

    Homosexuality as we now define it is a modern contextual phenomenon, don’t you think? I would never have dared “come out” in any other time period. There were always men attracted to men and several of them intimately meeting up on the sly, I’m sure. But that becoming a feasible coupling is brand new to human history.

    I’ll grant that pairing that with a bronze age tribe’s mutterings is difficult.

  2. Alan says:

    Hi, thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I agree it’s pretty depressing to talk about homosexuality while (a) forbidding same-sex relationships, and (b) acting like same-sex desire is a quasi-sin that God has a special place in His heart for.

    Homosexuality as we now define it is a modern contextual phenomenon, don’t you think? […] becoming a feasible coupling is brand new to human history.

    This is where I don’t really agree with Vines. Places like Japan and India had same-sex coupling before the 19th century and the influence of European sexology that said it was “wrong” or “sick” or “backwards,” etc. But Christian (Euro-American) history doesn’t really “see” places like Japan or India. Certainly a worldwide discussion about same-sex marriage is a new phenomenon — the conversation enabled by the internet.

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