The Standard Works—Why Not Use It?

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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.”[1]

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.”[2]

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.’”[3]  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.[4]  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?

 

[1] A transcript of the press conference can be found here: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/publicstatement-on-religious-freedom-and-nondiscrimination

[2] “Dating Versus Hanging Out,” Ensign June 2006.

[3] http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/interview-oaks-wickman-same-gender-attraction

[4] http://www.sltrib.com/lifestyle/faith/2122123-155/no-apology-really-mormons-question-apostle

 

love & hate by *_Abhi_* licensed under CC BY 2.0

10 Comments

  1. John Burlison's Gravatar John Burlison
    February 2, 2015    

    Benjamin, thank you for this analysis. It focuses on the real impediments to positive change with regard to LDS church policies that affect LGBT members.

  2. Patrick's Gravatar Patrick
    February 2, 2015    

    Ben, I agree with your analysis. However, I feel like the orthodox church and the SSM proponents within the church are, after a fashion, like ships passing in the night. Elder Oaks wouldn’t argue that we shouldn’t love LGBT people. (At least, I hope not 🙂 The orthodox church is struggling with reconciling what they consider to be a lifestyle of sin, and loving their neighbor. For example, from my father’s perspective (my sister lives with her girlfriend), having a gay child is rather more like having a financially irresponsible child. You love your child, and would never want them to be homeless, be, at the same time, how will they learn to be responsible? What better teacher is there than suffering? If we bail out our irresponsible child, and we not creating a moral hazard, encouraging them to continue their irresponsible lifestyle? The parallels are (mistakenly, IMO) drawn with having a LGBT child. Having an SO as a LGBT person is sin in God’s eyes, so if we support our loved ones in doing so, we are enabling their sin and separation from God. How can you love them and not enable their sin?

    In a like fashion, proponents of SSM in the church advocate for loving our LGBT brothers and sisters, but I have yet to hear anyone successfully reconcile the belief that homosexual acts are a sin with the need to love such a “sinner”. Jesus did preach love, but he also preached repentance. According to this view, LGBT people in relationships must repent, with no exceptions. I personally am not sure how you can really love someone if you think they are worthy of suffering and damnation. Is that the love that Jesus taught? I am not sure. However, as long as homosexual activity is considered sin, I am afraid that love will by necessity take a backseat.

    • February 4, 2015    

      Hi, Patrick. I suppose it’s all the easier for ships to pass in the night when so many passengers aboard those ships have their eyes closed. I agree that those who want to discriminate against the LGBT community will say—and many of them will actually believe—that love compels them to do so. It’s not easy to reach these people because, in my view, there is much about their working paradigms that needs adjustment. The compulsion to discriminate is tangled up in beliefs about church leaders invariably speaking for God, about what it means to sustain those church leaders, about the notion of obedience, about what it means to repent, etc. One has to be willing to lay one’s pride and cocksure-ness on the alter—yea, to sacrifice all that one possesses—and study these things out in one’s mind while sincerely striving to love one another (as commanded), to forgive everyone (as commanded), to judge not (as commanded), and so on. Scales cannot fall from one’s eyes when one is so confident there are no scales to be removed. I think the call to epistemic humility is abundant in the scriptures, but it is essentially taboo in LDS circles to treat certain things as open questions. Culturally speaking, there are problems aplenty.

  3. Scott S's Gravatar Scott S
    February 2, 2015    

    Benjamin it is great to see such good thoughts written so concisely. I have been troubled and felt even further distanced this week by these tiresome thoughts and suggestions. Thanks for the great Blogpost…

    • February 4, 2015    

      I appreciate the compliment, Scott. Thanks for reading.

  4. Bob D's Gravatar Bob D
    February 3, 2015    

    More double speak from another conservative religion. Why should the corporate interests of a religious organization be allowed to discriminate against GLBT persons in employment? How does the church propose to resolve direct conflicts between our rights as individuals as guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights and their interpretation of the Religious Freedom legislation and the free exercise clause? Isn’t this discrimination against GLBT employees/persons a limitation on commerce and potentially a violation of the Commerce Clause (though probably not by the Roberts Court).

    This appears to be an attempt to confuse the public as to where this religious organization stands on the issue of GLBT liberties. The standard of you can come home for the holidays with your partner but we don’t accept you and feel really awful about who you are reminds me of the “Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner” situations dealt with by many Gays back in the 1960’s and 70’s. But maybe that is a good thing, at least the LDS church is found a way into the 20th Century, or maybe this is smoke and mirrors to make up for how badly the public views the LDS church after the millions of dollars it has dumped into homophobic ballot measures such as Measure 8 in California and the Anti-Gay ballot initiatives in Oregon and California.

    Best to all of you who find a home in that religion.

    • February 4, 2015    

      Thanks for chiming in, Bob. I agree it is doublespeak. But I think they often aren’t aware they are speaking doublespeak. I know that seems unbelievable … but religion is all about believing the unbelievable, right? 😉

  5. Geoff - Aus's Gravatar Geoff - Aus
    February 3, 2015    

    I agree with you Benjamin. I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is based on Love. I think the problem the church has is that it is made up of the Gospel + programmes to help us live the gospel + a large dose of conservative American culture.

    The Gospel as you point out requires us to love all our fellow men, and women.

    The programmes are often counter productive, such as replacing “love your neighbour”, with home teaching, which still allows you to not love the rest of the world.

    The conservative culture is the real problem, for the church. It is often in direct opposition to the Gospel, such as the desire to discriminate against negroes, gay people, or whoever is not presently acceptable to conservatives.

    My hope for the church is that as the older (more conservative) of the 15 die off, we might have more progressive leaders who will reduce the influence of the conservative culture, and increase the Gospel of Christ.

    It would help if the succession for the presidency were reviewed so that the next president is chosen on merit, rather than the traditional age.

    • February 4, 2015    

      Interesting thoughts, Geoff. I too have hope that successive generations will be much more open-minded and accepting of a wider variety of lifestyles. It seems inevitable that the LDS Church will move in that direction (its current fervent protests notwithstanding), and yet in the meantime plenty of church members are forced to ask themselves if it is worth the wait.

      I’m curious, do you have any proposals for how the LDS Church might elect a president “on merit”? What would that look like?

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