Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples, part 6: Prophetic Authority

Part six of the continuing series... click for part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

The belief in modern revelation is one of the distinctive features of the Church. Members of the Church sustain the leaders of the Church as prophets, seers, and revelators and look to them to declare the word of God for our time. Doctrine and Covenants 68:4 proclaims that the words of the prophets, “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost[,] shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” Clearly, the current leadership of the Church has decided that homosexual activity is sinful. However, to claim that this is the end of the story would be to ignore the dynamics of revelation within the Church.

The scriptures claim that God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever . . . ,” (1 Ne. 10:18) and that he does not “vary from that which he hath said.” (Alma 7:20) However, the Church makes changes constantly, from mundane policy changes like changing the length of missions, to dramatic changes in doctrine like the manifesto banning plural marriage and the extension of the priesthood to all men regardless of race. While these changes may seem to conflict with the scriptures quoted above, it can be explained by the fact that revelation, even the revelation given to Church leaders, is limited by certain principles.

The first principle is that revelation is a human-mediated process. While the Church is led by prophets, it does not follow that all words and actions of the Church and its leaders are therefore from the Lord. It is commonly understood in the Church that the leadership of the Church receives constant revelation and guidance regarding the everyday affairs of the Church. But if we take at face value the idea that revelation guides the Church on a daily basis, it becomes easy to infer that the Church is exactly the way that God would have it be in every detail; bureaucratic inertia, political compromise, and the personal passions of individuals are assumed to have divine stamp of approval. This is not the case. Church leaders are fallible and have their own priorities and prejudices. Brigham Young said that the brethren “are all liable to err . . . and many may think that a man in my standing ought to be perfect; no such thing.”1 While it results in an imperfect expression of his will, the Lord accepts such imperfections and shortcomings. Thus, it is possible for Church policy to be based not the unadulterated word of the Lord but rather on the understandings, prejudices, and preferences of human leaders.

Secondly, revelation must be understood as the expression of the will of a perfect God to imperfect people. The process of revelation is described in the scriptures as occurring “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little . . . .” (2 Ne. 28:30) The logic of gradualism is described in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.” (D&C 50:40) Those not prepared to receive and live a higher law will not be given the law and therefore will escape the condemnation that would come with it.

Finally, revelation is a process that is, as a rule, initiated by humans. The model for receiving revelation is to search, ponder, and pray for confirmation. God will not give knowledge that a person has not asked for, and that knowledge will not be given without study on the individual’s part. The Doctrine and Covenants explains that “you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask [God] if it be right . . . .” (D&C 9:8) This requirement provides a barrier to an individual, or for that matter, the Church, receiving the will of God. If there is no concerted effort to ask and resolve a question, God will not provide an answer.

These limitations provide space for the possibility of change for the status of homosexuality in the Church. The 1978 lifting of the priesthood ban is a good example of the change of a doctrine said to be eternal. While the position of the Church in its early years seemed to be ambiguous on the question of slavery and ordination of black members to the priesthood, by the tenure of Brigham Young, the practice of denying the priesthood to blacks was established. Young spoke to the subject in 1852: “[A]ny man having one drop of the seed of [Cain] . . . in him cannot hold the priesthood and if no other [p]rophet ever spake it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it . . . .”2 Young also declared miscegenation to be an offense worthy of death, declaring that “if the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”3

Doctrinal explanations were constructed to explain President Young’s teaching. Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt, among others, proffered the hypothesis that those of African blood were less valiant in the pre-earth life, choosing to fight for neither God nor the devil in the war in heaven. Scripture was also employed to justify the doctrine. Mormons borrowed the biblical scriptures employed to justify the ownership of slaves to justify their doctrine. Restoration scripture was used to extend this doctrine as well.

The attitudes of the Church reflected the attitudes of the wider society, which viewed blacks as inferior. While there was a difference of opinion within the Church, Oliver Cowdery’s statements against abolition are illustrative of the attitude of many at the time: “Let the blacks of the south be free, and our community is overrun with paupers, and a reckless mass of human beings, uncultivated, untaught and unaccustomed to provide for themselves for the necessaries of life—endangering the chastity of every female who might by chance be found in our streets . . . .”4 The practices of the Church in supporting segregation, denying accommodations to blacks in Church-owned hotels, and LDS hospital’s maintenance of an all-white blood bank are further evidence of Mormons taking on the attitudes of the wider population.

Changing attitudes about race inside and outside of Mormon society, as well as the practical difficulties of maintaining the priesthood ban, led to its ultimate demise in 1978. While the Church initially resisted movement toward racial integration, legal and social developments within the United States put pressure on the Church to review its position and support black civil rights, while preserving the priesthood ban. President Hugh B. Brown called for the Church to extend at least the Aaronic Priesthood to black members in 1965, and in 1969 called for the end of the ban altogether. But this was not to be at the time, and Joseph Fielding Smith, successor to President McKay, reaffirmed the status of the ban.

Meanwhile, the civil rights movement found an effective way to put pressure on the Church: its university. BYU athletic teams were met with protests when they competed at other schools, and some schools severed ties with BYU entirely. The pressure put on the Church and its members regarding the priesthood ban resulted in what Mauss called a “siege mentality”; resulting in Utah members taking precautions against the “expected black onslaught,” an increase in racist remarks and race hostility within the Church, and the circulation of rumors of black mobs attacking cars with Utah license plates.

While this pressure was significant, it is more likely that the heartache of injustice was not nearly as influential towards the lifting of the priesthood ban as the headaches of administration it caused. The priesthood ban became a quandary for proselyting efforts in Latin America, where miscegenation had caused the intermingling of African blood throughout much of the population. Men were ordained to the priesthood, only to have their privileges “suspended” because of suspicion regarding their ancestry. By 1978, there were 41,000 saints and a temple in the works in Brazil, the most racially diverse and intermixed of the countries of Latin America. In reviewing this, Mauss asserts that “[i]t seems unbelievable that a decision would deliberately have been made to build a temple in the most racially mixed country in the continent without a concomitant realization . . . that the priesthood ban would have to be ended.”

President Spencer W. Kimball, it seems, understood very well the implications of that decision. While he had been a faithful supporter of the Church’s position on the priesthood ban as a member of the Twelve, his ascension to the presidency of the Church made him feel a “direct, personal responsibility to discover the Lord’s will” regarding blacks and the priesthood. President Kimball described the process of receiving an answer: “Day after day, and especially on Saturdays and Sundays when there were no organizations [sessions] in the temple, I went there where I could be alone . . . . I was very humble . . . . I was searching for this . . . . I wanted to be sure . . . . I had a great deal to fight . . . myself, largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life until my death and fight for it and defend it as it was.”5 Kimball encouraged the other apostles to search over the question themselves, wanting unanimous support from the brethren. Finally, the Church announced the change on September 30, 1978, where it was given to the general membership to sustain.

This episode in the Church’s history is instructive to the possibilities regarding the Church’s handling of the question of homosexuality. While Church leaders have asserted the eternal nature of commandments against homosexual conduct, those same assertions were made regarding interracial marriage and priesthood ordination by Brigham Young. While change in the Church is sometimes a slow and agonizing process, it can be done if there is a concerted effort to learn God’s will, and if the Church is ready for the change.

  2. Lester E. Bush, Jr., Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: A
    Historical Overview
    , DIALOGUE: A JOURNAL OF MORMON THOUGHT, Spring 1973, at 25.
  3. Id. at 26.
  4. Id. at 15.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pure, unadulterated awesome

Especially like the choice of song:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday music post: Philosophy

I have no idea how I've gone this long without posting this:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eppur si muove

Last week, I made reference to Big Love's portrayal of portions of the LDS temple ceremony. After talking with some readers and friends about the post, I determined that there was a larger issue that it would be productive to discuss. While members of a faith consider their rites sacred, what about people who don't share that feeling? This question is by no means unique to the Big Love controversy. Muslims were outraged at the negative portrayal of Muhammad in a Danish political cartoon. Catholics were upset over PZ Myers' threats to subject communion wafers to "heinous cracker abuse." All of these episodes involve behavior considered blasphemous by members of a religious community perpetrated by non-believers. That raises the question of what level of deference an outsider to a religion owes to the members of a religion with respect to their sacred rites.

At the outset, I want to make it clear that this is not a legal question. In the United States, people are free to blaspheme with impunity because of the First Amendment. Rather, I am asking this question as a person committed to a pluralist society. I believe in a society where people are free to believe according to the dictates of their own consciences. This ideal cannot be enforced only by law; even bigots have First Amendment rights. We have an ethical and social obligation to promote religious tolerance and pluralism by our interaction with each other. There are certain standards of respect that we have an obligation to uphold because we are decent people that are committed to a just and free society.

However, there is a countervailing proposition: we cannot allow respect for other people's beliefs to stifle honest religious discussion and debate. Religious pluralism gives people the "right to be wrong," but it does not mean that everyone must be treated as though they are right. Pluralism is not relativism. In a pluralist society, the statement, "the Eucharist is just a cracker," is not out of bounds anymore than the statement, "the Eucharist is the body of Christ." Turning a critical eye to the practices and truth claims of a religion is a vital part of the pluralist project. Pluralism exists in the zone between religious bigotry and unquestioning deference to religious dogmas.

The rule that I have come up with is good faith. Non-believers owe a duty to believers to represent the beliefs and rites of the religion accurately and honestly, without resorting to logical fallacies or equivocation, and to act without fraud or deceit. This allows observers to make up their minds for themselves about the claims of the religion. The religion is not being slandered, and the restriction does not slide into moral relativism.

Notice that I did not talk about the motive of the person portraying the religious rites. This is because it is frankly irrelevant. Before you object, ask yourself this: would Mormons have been OK with the portrayal of the temple ceremony if it was done in a widely televised documentary for educational purposes? Would Scientologists have been OK with the information presented in the South Park episode if it were presented in a less mocking way? Would Catholics be OK with scientists driving nails through the Host if they were doing it to show that contrary to legend, the Host does not bleed when pierced? Or is it the case that blasphemy is blasphemy, regardless of the motive of the blasphemer?

I'm interested to know what you think. Is there a better place to draw the line? I'd love to hear from my readers regarding this. I will say, however, in formulating your rule, you keep in mind the Flying Spaghetti Monster rule: Any rule you propose insulating Christianity or any other major religion from criticism must also apply to Pastafarians. If you can't do that, you aren't proposing a pluralist rule.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Aware of all internet traditions, vol. 2: Time Cube

You haven't seen this before? Seriously? Check it out—It's not every day you get to read something written by the world's wisest human.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples, part 5: Exploring the Possibilities

The widow’s problem is just one illustration of how little the Church claims to know about the architecture of the celestial society. The incongruence of current monogamous marriage practices with the plural marriages of the 19th century, not to mention Joseph Smith’s short-lived introduction of polyandry in Nauvoo, suggest that the plan of salvation as we understand it is too vague to conclusively foreclose the accommodation of homosexuality by the Church.

In fact, there is even an argument to be made in favor of eternal same-sex couples. While the assumption is that homosexuality is a temporary condition, this seems to contradict the LDS belief that “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there . . . ,” (D&C 130:2) and “that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” (Alma 34:34) The doctrine of eternal intelligence posits that there is a part of each of us that has always existed, an essential personality that is co-eternal with even God. The idea that homosexuality is a temporary affliction of the body rather than a part of the essence of personality conflicts with the experience of many gays and lesbians. It also fundamentally denies part of Mormon theology—that sexual desire is not a vice, but rather an eternal part of God’s plan. LDS scholar Wayne Schow explains:

Sexuality . . . is more than just the power of procreation . . . . [O]ur sexuality is self-expressive, a dynamic assertion of personal identity; it is a “fingerprint” of personal force . . . . More than simple gratification of all of our physical senses, sexual union can unify body, mind, and spirit . . . . To ignore this aspect of sexuality is to give up a rich and integrative dimension of personal wholeness. A life without sexual realization is not a complete life, however good it otherwise may be.1

This question ultimately cannot be resolved in this life, but if homosexuality is part of eternal personality, then speculating about the will of God for these children in the eternities would be appropriate.

The basic objection to having two men or two women as an eternal coupling was the lack of fecundity that such a coupling would imply—how would such a pairing be able to produce worlds without number? The flaw in this argument lies with its central assumption—that spirit children are created sexually. There is no reason to believe this case beyond conventional wisdom, and thinking of the implications of the argument reveals the absurdity of applying traditional notions of mortal reproduction to the production of spirits. A woman would have to be pregnant constantly in order create the spirits necessary to populate planets. The process sounds more akin to a colony of bees than an equal partnership between husband and wife. The absurdity of this position is also shown by taking it to its logical extreme, as Joseph Fielding Smith did. Based on his understanding of eternal increase, he deduced that those assigned to less than the highest degree of glory would be resurrected without genitalia.

But the argument’s assumptions can be revealed one level further—there is no reason to believe that spirit production occurs at all. While some statements by general authorities suggest this to be the case, there is support for the idea that spirits are co-eternal with God, implying that the process of becoming spirit children of our heavenly parents did not require spiritual birth but rather adoption. This could be done as easily by a same-sex pair as by an opposite-sex couple, nullifying the logic of restricting eternal marriage to opposite-sex couples. This model has powerful support with the sealing doctrine, which teaches that families are not created by blood but rather by priesthood authority. (D&C 132:7)

The sealing of same-sex couples would not be unprecedented, either. While the current conception of the sealing ordinance is limited to monogamous marriage and sealing parents to children, earlier sealings included polygamous marriages, sealing to prominent Mormon families, and friendship sealings. If the Church were to recognize same-sex orientation as a part of eternal identity rather than a temporal affliction, these earlier sealing practices would allow for the introduction of new uses of the sealing power.

Another argument that can be raised against eternal same-sex marriage is the complementary nature of man and woman. The Proclamation on the Family states that “[g]ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” However, the document does not explain the reasoning behind this statement, and so we are left with little guidance to discover just what it is about gender that is essential (beyond the biological arguments above), and even less to say that both a man and a woman are essential for an eternal marriage. We must be careful not to extend the logic of current marriage relationships into the eternities. Marriage as we know it, and the gender roles that go along with it, has more rooting in the Industrial Revolution than in the eternities. To hold up this version of the marriage relationship as the ideal form of marriage ignores history and remakes God in our image.

In conclusion, the argument against same-sex relationships from the standpoint of the Plan of Salvation can only be valid if there is something within a temporal homosexual relationship that would block an eternal opposite-sex marriage. The only explanation for this is if there were something inherently disordered and sinful with any homosexual relationship, even a committed, legally sanctioned, faithful, and monogamous relationship. While most faiths would depend on the word of scripture or natural law to determine sinfulness, the LDS faith relies on the word of living prophets to declare the will of God to its adherents. I will deal with that argument in the next post.

  1. Wayne Schow, Sexual Morality Revisited, DIALOGUE, Fall 2004, at 114, 121.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Total Pwnage

I previously talked about Dinesh D'Souza's horrible America-hating book. I was unaware until recently that he got the drubbing he so richly deserved:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday music post: William Tell Overture

In honor of last week's Salt Lake Men's Choir performance:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Strauss v. Horton, part V: Odyssey edition

O fly the dreadful sight! expand thy sails,
Ply the strong oar, and catch the nimble gales;
Here Scylla bellows from the dire abodes,
Tremendous pest, abhorr'd by man and gods!
Hideous her voice, and with less terrors roar
The whelps of lions in the midnight hour.
Twelve feet, deform'd and foul, the fiend dispreads;
Six horrid necks she rears, and six terrific heads;
Her jaws grin dreadful with three rows of teeth;
Jaggy they stand, the gaping den of death;
Her parts obscene the raging billows hide;
Her bosom terribly o'erlooks the tide.
When stung with hunger she embroils the flood,
The sea-dog and the dolphin are her food;
She makes the huge leviathan her prey,
And all the monsters of the watery way;
The swiftest racer of the azure plain
Here fills her sails, and spreads her oars in vain;
Fell Scylla rises, in her fury roars,
At once six mouths expands, at once six men devours.

Close by, a rock of less enormous height
Breaks the wild waves, and forms a dangerous strait;
Full on its crown a fig's green branches rise,
And shoot a leafy forest to the skies;
Beneath, Charybdis holds her boisterous reign
'Midst roaring whirlpools, and absorbs the main;
Thrice in her gulfs the boiling seas subside,
Thrice in dire thunders she refunds the tide.
Oh, if thy vessel plough the direful waves,
When seas retreating roar within her caves,
Ye perish all! though he who rules the main
Lends his strong aid, his aid he lends in vain.
Ah, shun the horrid gulf! by Scylla fly.
'Tis better six to lose, than all to die.'

—The Odyssey, Book XII

OK, I've watched the oral argument, and it would appear as though the California Supreme Court's decision will come down to one fundamental question: is there a principled distinction between Proposition 8 and an amendment that would overturn suspect class status? While the media tend to simplify court decision into winners and losers, appellate opinions are about creating doctrine for lower courts to follow. Therefore, the court has to look beyond the parties in this case to the potential implications that the rule they lay down will have on future cases. The court is stuck between Scylla and Charybdis in this case; no solution will be clean or without bad consequences. Either the court overturns the will of the people and sacrifice judicial capital by being (rightly?) perceived as unelected tyrants, or they open the door to stripping equal protection out of the California Constitution altogether. At this point, the court just has to take a long look at what option is the least bad.

I have mentioned previously that protecting suspect classes from discrimination is a fundamental structure of a republican form of government. This differs from fundamental rights analysis because restrictions on fundamental rights, at least in theory, applies to everyone. The inherent protection of someone's self-interest does not apply when the majority can target a minority group for differential treatment. Heightened scrutiny is needed to make sure that minorities are not denied access to the political process. Now, whether you agree that sexual orientation should be a suspect class or not, current California law says that it is. If 50%+1 voters can overturn suspect class status, the thing that is meant to provide extra protections to historically politically disfavored minority groups, then the entire concept of suspect class status is illusory.

This is relevant because while declaring Proposition 8 valid would not strike down suspect class status in and of itself, it would be hard, given the court's analysis in the Marriage Cases to draw a doctrinal distinction between Proposition 8 a proposition that would overturn suspect class status entirely. The court said in the Marriage Cases that sexual orientation is a suspect class and that marriage is a fundamental right. A rule saying that an initiative amendment can remove a fundamental right from a suspect class, but cannot remove suspect class entirely would be protection in form but without substance, and it is difficult to imagine that the court could maintain any honest distinction.

On the other hand, the whole purpose of the structure of the California Constitution is that it was meant to be responsive to the will of the people. The constitution was set up during a time when railroads and other large corporations ruled state politics; the initiative process was meant to counterbalance against corporate and elite control of government. Also, given the countermajoritarian nature of the judiciary, it must tread lightly when overturning legislative acts. This goes doubly for direct initiatives and triply when those initiatives claim to alter the constitution that the court is interpreting. Even if one has a cynical view of the intentions of the court, it must still use its judicial capital wisely to ensure that it retains moral authority, the currency by which its decisions are enforced by the other branches.

So what is the Court to do? I can see only one way out, a way the court alluded to earlier: read Proposition 8 and the equal protection clause together, and declare civil marriage unconstitutional. The court allowed for this in the Marriage Cases by saying that the constitution would be satisfied "by extending to the previously excluded class the treatment or benefit that the statute affords to the included class, or alternatively . . . by withholding the benefit equally from both the previously included class and the excluded class." Proposition 8 says that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," but does not mandate that a legal union between a man and woman must be marriage. Therefore, the court could read the case and Prop 8 consistently by declaring that there is no such thing as civil marriage in California. I previously only thought of this solution as a clever way of teaching people a lesson about careful drafting, but I think in this case it is a viable solution. The court allows the amendment to stand by interpreting it as removing a possible remedy rather than as discriminating against a suspect class. The Court avoids overturning the amendment while simultaneously avoiding setting a precedent that would destroy equal protection jurisprudence. No one will really be happy at the outcome, but it might be the least bad solution.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This will haunt your dreams...

Click here, but don't say I didn't warn you.

More sexy people here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples, part 4: Chastity and Eternal Marriage

Part four of the continuing series... click for part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Another argument against homosexual relationships is based on the principle of chastity. A pamphlet produced by the Church, True to the Faith, explains the law of chastity thusly: "You must not have any sexual relations before you are legally married. When you are married, you must be completely faithful to your husband or wife."

The principle is construed into an argument against same-sex marriage like so: Sex outside of marriage is immoral, and marriage is only between a man and a woman, so homosexual sex is against the law of chastity. However, the argument is circular; homosexual sex is immoral because marriage is between a man and a woman, and marriage is between a man and a woman because same-sex relations are immoral.

One can argue that chastity encompasses more than just a prohibition on extramarital sexual relations, but homosexual relations of any sort. However, the authority supporting this conclusion is not found within the law of chastity itself, but rather from the doctrine of eternal marriage.

The Latter-day Saint view of chastity is based on the idea that sexual activity is a dimension of the power of God given to humans, and so misuse of this power is blasphemy. The basis for this idea is the belief in eternal marriage. Doctrine and Covenants section 132 explains: "[I]f a man marry a wife by my word . . . , it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection . . . and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths . . . . Then shall they be gods . . . , and the angels are subject unto them."

The doctrine of eternal marriage is a dilemma for gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints. As Armand Mauss explains, "Marriage between the sexes, and the expectation of procreation here and hereafter, seem to lie at the very foundation of the doctrinal complex called the 'Plan of Salvation.'"1 There are three options for a gay or lesbian saint, none of which conforms to the ideal standard laid out in LDS doctrine: choose to marry a person of the opposite sex, choose to stay celibate, or enter into a relationship with a same-sex partner. I will look at these options in turn.

Until recently, the option favored by the Church was for gay and lesbian saints to sublimate their natural urges and marry someone of the opposite sex. The logic of this position was based on the idea that there was no such thing as inborn or ingrained homosexuality. President Spencer W. Kimball was an advocate of this practice, encouraging homosexuals to "force [themselves] to return to normal pursuits and interests and actions and friendships with the opposite sex."2 This position was reinforced by the idea that sexual gratification was base and therefore not essential to a good marriage and the belief that only through marriage can men and women achieve eternal life.

This approach has been less than successful, however. A high percentage of mixed-orientation relationships fail, with disastrous consequences for both partners and the children involved. The homosexual partner in these relationships finds that the homosexual urges that the marriage was supposed to "cure" do not go away, and so that partner falls into despair. This despair often leads to risky and self-destructive behaviors like unsafe extramarital sexual practices, drug use, and even attempted suicide. Meanwhile, the straight partner is disappointed by the gay partner’s lack of desire for sexual intimacy, and worries that this condition is somehow his or her fault for not being attractive enough. Because of the lack of success in mixed-orientation marriages, they are no longer promoted as a general rule. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated the Church’s policy: "Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices . . . ."3

The new preferred policy among Church leaders for dealing with homosexuals is celibacy. President Hinckley’s comments illustrate this new approach:

Our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church. It is expected, however, that they follow the same God-given rules of conduct that apply to everyone else, whether single or married.4

This approach certainly has support from the early Christian tradition, which viewed sexual urges as another bodily desire to be overcome, and championed celibacy as a way of becoming closer to God. However, this tradition does not square with LDS doctrine regarding celibacy. Early Church revelations are hostile and dismissive of celibacy as a "holy" choice: "[W]hoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man. Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation . . . ." (D&C 49:15-17). Bruce R. McConkie reiterates the traditional LDS view, saying that "[m]any who practice celibacy do so out of an excessive religious devotion . . . . In reality they are forsaking some of the most important purposes of their creation for a man-made, uninspired system . . . . [T]he principle of not marrying is not the doctrine of the Church . . . ."5

Marriage is viewed not only as a necessary stamp on a saint’s passport required for entry into the Celestial Kingdom, it also is viewed as a key to happiness and spiritual progression in this life. The General Handbook of Instructions states that "[m]arried couples also should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife." Therefore, while current LDS doctrine allows for the hope of marriage in the next life in exigent circumstances, those who are not married in this life forfeit the extra happiness and spiritual growth that such a relationship can give in this life.

Single saints are also at a disadvantage within the Church community. The fact that there is no tradition of celibacy in the Church creates the implicit perception among other members of the congregation of single saints' spiritual deficiency. The unmarried Latter-day Saints (especially those beyond college-age years) often feel like they exist in a doctrinal limbo, and going to meetings becomes progressively harder as these saints are treated with pity or suspicion, or perhaps both. They are constantly asked "why aren’t you dating anyone" by well meaning saints hoping to show support, yet who serve as an unneeded reminder of something painful to many.

Hostility toward celibacy as an alternative lifestyle, along with the belief that a just God will allow us opportunities that we were denied in this life and that things will work themselves out in the eternities creates doctrinal space for same-sex marriage as a viable alternative to celibacy in this life. The Church’s policy toward widows is instructive. A woman, past her childbearing years, whose husband has died is not required nor encouraged to remain celibate for the rest of her life. She may remarry, and this is counted as a good thing even though the marriage itself is for this life only and not an eternal marriage. The church encourages this behavior because it holds that marriage, even for this life, even without the chance of offspring, is still good.

The same logic could extend to same-sex couples. Even though the union is not procreative, and even though the union is not eternal, it would still be a chance for the persons involved to enter into a mutually strengthening relationship where there is a unique opportunity to feel love and happiness. If it is true that homosexuality is a condition that will only exist in this life and that there is an opportunity for an opposite-sex marriage in the hereafter, then there is no eternal difference between a temporal same-sex marriage and celibacy. There would be a temporal difference, but it seems to be a positive difference rather than a negative difference.

  1. Armand Mauss, On “Defense of Marriage”: A Reply to Quinn, DIALOGUE, Fall 2000, at 53, 57.
  3. Gordon B. Hinckley, Reverence and Morality, ENSIGN, May 1987, at 47.
  4. Gordon B. Hinckley, Why We Do Some of the Things We Do, ENSIGN, Nov. 1999, at 52.
  5. BRUCE R. MCCONKIE, MORMON DOCTRINE 119–20 (2d ed., 1966).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back to blogging

After a week's break and a very successful choir concert, I'm back in the saddle again. I hope you didn't miss me too badly.

So, The latest hubbub around these parts is Big Love's decision to include part of the LDS Temple endowment ceremony on yesterday's episode. Mind you, no one had seen the episode, but that didn't stop the outrage from flowing thick and fast. I was skeptical that this would really end up being that big of a deal—when Big Love has portrayed anything about Mormonism it has been fairly accurate and not with a tone of mockery.

Having watched the episode last night, my reaction is . . . meh. It probably wasn't necessary. I understand that the producers wanted to portray her emotions and what she was giving up by being excommunicated. And I did think it was tasteful, although the disembowelment thing was kind of silly and the filter that was on the camera turned the green into a strange shade of teal. They did do a great job of allowing the viewer to feel Barb's feeling about the "presence of the Lord" during the scene. But overall, it did kind of seem salacious. It kind of felt shoe-horned into the plot.

More importantly, the goofs were distracting—Barb wasn't going to "take out her endowment," she did that a long time ago. She was going through the endowment. The temple worker wouldn't have kicked them out unless the temple was closing. And whose temple recommend did she use? We aren't talking about a guest pass at Gold's Gym. Those kinds of things annoyed me. Maybe my priorities are skewed, but if you're going to go through all the trouble of putting together a temple scene and tweaking the LDS, at least get the details right.

UPDATE: Having talked to some friends, I think it would be productive to discuss the question of what the line of propriety is for an outside observer to a faith tradition to discuss or display that faith tradition's sacred rites, images, etc. Look for that post next Thursday.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quick Announcement and a challenge

Still taking the week off, but if any of you are in the Salt Lake City area on Saturday, consider coming to the following concert:

What: Salt Lake Men's Choir Concert
When: Saturday, March 14, 2009, at 7:30 pm
Where: Rowland Hall St. Mark's Middle School, 970 East 800 South, Salt Lake City
Price: $15

And while I'm at it, a challenge for all my lawyer friends who are interested in the Prop 8 case: can you craft a rule that would affirm Prop 8 while at the same time striking down as a revision an initiative that would overturn the designation of a suspect class? Give it your best shot in the comments. I'll use your ideas in next week's post on Prop 8.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Gone fishin'

So, I've been super busy this last week and I haven't had enough time to sit down and write for a while. So, many apologies, but I'm taking the week off of blogging. I promise I'll be back next week for my thoughts on the Prop 8 cases and further musings on same-sex marriage and the LDS church. Til then...

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday music post: Go or go ahead

Just a beautiful and soulful song. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Watch this space

I'll post my thoughts on Strauss v. Horton as soon as the oral argument is done. Until then...

UPDATE: I can't get the feed to stream. I'll have to watch it later when there's more bandwidth.

Strauss v. Horton update: Oral Argument tomorrow

Oral Argument in the Prop 8 cases will be held tomorrow at 9:00 to 12:00 (PST) tomorrow. For viewing options, see this link. I will have a full report on the case next Tuesday. Until then, review my previous posts on Strauss v. Horton here, here, here, and here. I talk more about the constitutional questions involved here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples, part 3: The Scriptures

Part three of the continuing series... click for part 1 and part 2.

Another basis for asserting that homosexual relationships are condemned by God is an appeal to scriptural authority. While there are no explicit mentions of homosexuality in the Restoration era scripture, Mormons often borrow the argument made by other Christians that homosexuality is condemned in the Mosaic Law in Leviticus, condemned by implication in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and forbidden by Paul in his letters to the Romans and Corinthians. I will examine these scriptures one at a time, and attempt to show why these passages are a shaky foundation for the doctrine against homosexuality.

Mosaic law

The most explicit condemnation of homosexuality is Leviticus 18:22: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” At first glance, the passage seems clear—any sort of homosexual conduct is disallowed. And that interpretation would be correct, if we still followed the Law of Moses. The law has been fulfilled, however, by the coming of Christ, and the Mosaic Law is only binding if it reflects the purposes of the Higher Law. So, to determine whether the directive in Leviticus 18:22 is binding, we must examine the purpose of the prohibition.

Leviticus chapters 17–26 is referred to by scholars as the holiness code, and it is generally understood to contain injunctions given to avoid the pagan rituals of the Canaanites. The heading of his particular section acknowledges this:

After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God. (Lev. 18:3-4)

Furthermore, the particular language used in the original Hebrew also suggests that the prohibition against homosexual relations is of ritual, rather than moral, importance. The word abomination is translated from the Hebrew to’eba, ritual impurity, which is contrasted with zimah, wickedness (used in the condemnation of adultery).1

This makes sense when looking at the particular rituals of the Canaanites. Ritual prostitution of both the homosexual and heterosexual variety was part of Canaanite worship, along with eating goats boiled in their mother’s milk, incestuous relationships, and dedicating children to Molech. In fact, the text itself refers to the things listed as the “customs” of the people in the land before the Israelites. (Lev. 18:30)

Thus, there is a real possibility that the injunction in Leviticus was meant to keep Israelites pure from pagan rituals. As such, it is not a compelling statement of the general doctrine of the gospel, especially since the Mosaic Law has been transcended by the Higher Law.

Sodom and Gomorrah

The Genesis account of Sodom and Gomorrah has also classically been cited as authority for God’s disapproval of homosexuality. The account tells of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who was a resident of Sodom. One night, holy men came to his house. The account proceeds as follows:

[T]he men of Sodom, compassed the house . . . . And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. (Genesis 19:4-8)

Lot, his guests, and his family escaped the men of Sodom, and God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of the wickedness of their inhabitants.

This story has a long history of being associated with homosexual conduct. Blackstone, in the Commentaries, referred to homosexual conduct as “a crime not fit to be named” and reasoned that it was a crime against God because of “the destruction of two cities by fire from heaven.”2 In fact, homosexual conduct has come to be known as “sodomy,” after the name of this story.

But does a careful reading of the text support such a conclusion? The men in Sodom were not asking to “know” Lot’s guests as part of a committed relationship, or even a consensual one. Rather, the relationship requested was one of attacker and victim. The most obvious reading of this text is that God is displeased with rape, be it of men or women. Reading the story of Sodom as an anti-homosexual morality tale is akin to reading a story about the rape of a woman as a prohibition against heterosexual sex.

The Bible itself does not support the conclusion that Sodom’s sin was homosexuality. Ezekiel explicitly lists the reasons why Sodom was destroyed: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49) This interpretation of the sin of Sodom echoes the conclusion of many scholars who understand the sin of Sodom to be a lack of caring for strangers in their gates. The primacy of hospitality in desert cultures is represented by Lot’s willingness to sacrifice his daughters to protect his guests. Like the previous passage, the story of Sodom does not conclusively prove God’s displeasure with homosexual conduct.

Paul’s Letters

Paul’s letters to the Romans and Corinthians are also employed as evidence of God’s displeasure with homosexuals. Paul, in a passage condemning bringing lawsuits between believers to the secular authorities, condemns fraud and wrongdoing, declaring that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God[.] Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

Other translations of the Bible replace the word “effeminate” with “male prostitute,” and the annotations of the LDS versions of the New Testament suggests the translation of “catamite,” a boy kept as a lover by men of high social standing. The listing of one of these terms along with the other likely refers to the passive and active partners in a pederastic relationship. Much like the previous passages, condemnation of prostitution and child exploitation is hardly a conclusive condemnation of any homosexual relationship.

Also relevant is Paul’s understanding of homosexuality. Paul speaks of idolaters in Romans, stating that because humans did not acknowledge God,

God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. (Rom. 1:26-27)

Paul’s viewpoint, therefore, is that homosexuality is a consequence of idolatry. This is consistent with the Jewish worldview represented in the Old Testament. Burning with lust, a male body would work as well as a female body to satisfy carnal desires. The person Paul is condemning is not one who is primarily attracted to the other sex, but rather is overwhelmed in lust. Paul’s characterization of homosexuality bears little resemblance to the same-sex relationships that seek legitimacy today.

Also, as Latter-day Saints and believers in continuing revelation, ancient scripture is not the final word in doctrinal authority. The canon is open; practices, policies, and even our understanding of doctrine change as our understanding deepens and God reveals his will more fully to us. The point of having living prophets is to understand God’s will in the context of today’s society. Scriptural authority, therefore, is problematic basis from which to argue that homosexuality is incompatible with the gospel.

  1. See Phyllis A. Bird, The Bible in Christian Ethical Deliberation Concerning Homosexuality: Old Testament Contributions, in HOMOSEXUALITY, SCIENCE, AND THE “PLAIN SENSE” OF SCRIPTURE 142, 150 (David L. Balch, ed. 2000).
  2. WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, 4 Commentaries *215–16.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Aware of all internet traditions, continued...

Just in case you don't feel like working today, here's a list of 99 things you should have already seen on the Internet. I can't believe they missed this one: