Last Tuesday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a press conference to discuss nondiscrimination and “religious freedom.” Reactions to the press conference have taken the Internet by storm, with many viewers interpreting the Church’s message as follows: “We adamantly defend the right of all persons to receive equal opportunity to housing, employment, and other services. We also adamantly defend our right as a religious institution to discriminate against people in regard to these very same services.”
Such an interpretation isn’t beyond reason. Elder Dallin H. Oaks told reporters, “We call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by … protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants and transportation.” Moments later, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said that the “religious rights” coveted by the Church include “the right to use church properties in accordance with their beliefs without second-guessing from government,” noting that such a right would extend specifically to matters of employment: “church-owned businesses or entities … must have the same latitude in employment standards and practices as the church itself.”
Coincidentally, the Church’s press conference was held on the same day I went to see The Imitation Game. Nominated for numerous Academy Awards, including Best Motion Picture of 2014, The Imitation Game tells the true-life story of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who broke Nazi Germany’s seemingly impenetrable Enigma code and thereby helped bring World War II to a close. It is estimated that the war ended at least two years earlier than it would have without Turing’s help, and that Turing is therefore responsible for saving upwards of 14 million lives.
Like those who worked alongside Turing at Britain’s Bletchley Park, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in the business of saving lives. Spiritual lives, but lives nonetheless. That’s the idea, anyway. Ironically, Turing would not be allowed to work for the LDS Church. You see, Turing was a homosexual. Thus, in the spirit of religious freedom, Turing would have been prohibited from joining the fight to save spiritual lives. Apparently, it is better that one man should perish than that he should be saved by a homosexual. Or maybe it’s just that, from the Church’s perspective, a practicing homosexual isn’t even capable of saving spiritual lives. And why not? Good question. I can only assume that church officials would say it’s because homosexual behavior makes a person “unworthy.” Implication: if you’re homosexual, you aren’t worthy of saving lives. Implication: if you are homosexual, you don’t deserve to save lives. Implication: if you are homosexual, you are so morally reprehensible, God would rather you just butt out than try to help other people. Your help is both worthless and unwanted.
I imagine if you asked your average, believing, active Latter-day Saint to explain the Church’s line of reasoning, you’d get a spiel about standards. It might go something like this: “We love these people. We love our LGBT family members, neighbors, and friends. But we have standards. We are not going to compromise our standards just to be nice or make people happy.”
Translation: “There are rules. Love is no excuse for bending those rules. Rules are rules, and they take precedence.”
I’m reminded of something Jesus once said: “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). Lest we forget, Jesus made it crystal clear that rules are always secondary to love (see Matt. 22:36–40). In fact, God-given commandments exist only as expressions of what perfect love would naturally compel us to do:
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom. 13:8–10)
This isn’t to say that every rule known to humankind—or even those written in the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions—is fit for all occasions. As the scripture quoted above tells us, the only true and genuine standard is love—each and every time. The standard of love is one that cannot be compromised without provoking God’s disapproval. And it is precisely because the commandment to love is itself to be held inviolable that situations can and do arise in which all of the other “rules” must be broken. Any other standards or rules remain ever subject to revision in light of one’s immediate circumstances. Even Elder Oaks has taught that rules need not be followed without exception:
“As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules…. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.”
It is a bit surprising to hear such a thing from Elder Oaks, I admit. He normally comes across as rather gung-ho about following the rules—perhaps even fearful of being too friendly to those who don’t fit the Mormon mold. Some of you will recall when Elder Oaks was asked in an interview what LDS parents should do if, hypothetically, their gay son wanted to bring his partner home for the holidays. Elder Oaks said that in “most circumstances” the appropriate response would be: “Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.” He then conceded that in some exceptional circumstances, a visit from your gay son and his partner might be permissible—provided you include the following caveat with your invitation: “Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your ‘partnership.’” This seems a clear-cut case of a man who puts a cart heavy-laden with “standards” before the horse of love. I’m not saying that love never pulls us in directions we hate to go. I love my son, and this makes it difficult for me to subject him to painful immunization shots or to deny him a third brownie at the church potluck. However, my love for him is also the reason I push forward with immunizations and brownie restrictions in an effort to preserve his good health. I don’t see how love could, would, or should compel me to withhold common courtesy from my son or to treat him like an outcast because of whom he loves. Probably because love doesn’t compel such things. Mystery solved.
I recognize that LDS Church leaders were not asking for the religious freedom to do absolutely anything. They readily admitted that religious freedom should be curtailed whenever that freedom threatens to harm others. As Elder Holland explained, “Of course such rights should never be exercised in ways that jeopardize public health or personal safety.” Elder Oaks said something quite similar. But what is the kind of harm these men have in mind? I can only assume it is of a very immediate and physical type. Surely harm is done whenever a homosexual is fired or overlooked for promotion or employment due to sexual orientation. Surely harm is done whenever parents tell their gay child, “Don’t expect us to introduce you to our friends or take you out in public.” It is as if church leaders expect homosexuals to react to such vitriol by skipping away and chanting merrily, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but shaming and shunning can never hurt me!” Oh sure, shaming and shunning might lead a person to commit suicide—something that happens with appalling frequency—but maybe that’s just the natural consequence of being a homosexual (i.e. unworthy, i.e. undeserving, i.e. morally reprehensible). If this is the way the LDS Church sees it, then no wonder its leaders are so confident apologies are unnecessary. Bully for them! (Quite literally!)
I have yet to see a defense of religious-based discrimination that can’t be cashed out in terms of holding to one’s standards. Wherever these standards are claimed to originate, they don’t reflect the standard set by Jesus Christ, the one whose name is vainly taken in defense of such bigotry.
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2–3)
Love is a standard that works. Why do we refuse to use it with the LGBT community?
 A transcript of the press conference can be found here: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/publicstatement-on-religious-freedom-and-nondiscrimination