Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On Religious Freedom and Empathy

To be very honest, the first Saturday session of the 184th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a bit difficult for me. But I still felt the Spirit. And the more I thought about it, the more I was realized that people on both sides of the argument about same-sex marriage are hurting.

I don't think people in the country at large are changing their minds about same-sex marriage because of a decline in moral values. If anything, the move to extend marital rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples actually signifies an increase in morality. I think people are changing their minds about same-sex marriage because they recognize the rightness of holding same-sex couples to the same standards as everyone else, and giving them the same protections as everyone else. End of story.

But at the same time, I can see how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- governed by the principle of revelation -- needs to hold to the doctrines of marriage that we currently have. And I can see how it would be increasingly difficult for people to defend those doctrines in a culture that increasingly sees marriage equality as a matter of simple justice. I know from personal experience that there is a tendency on the marriage equality side of the debate to judge people who disagree with them as bigots. And I can see how, from the viewpoint of the Church, it will be no fun to have society at large seeing them -- once again, as with the priesthood/race issue in the 1960s and 70s -- as a bigoted church. I know from personal experience that Mormons -- regardless of their personal views on same-sex marriage -- will be judged as bigoted just for their willingness to be members of a church judged as bigoted. I believe that is wrong, because I believe that the Church simply cannot -- as much as they humanly would like to -- change a doctrine for reasons of social unpopularity or inconvenience. The Church must be governed by the principle of revelation or not at all. And I think leaders of the Church would be remiss in their duties if they didn't encourage people to be true to their faith and be willing to defend the principle of revelation that governs the Church, even when it forces them into some uncomfortable situations. I have always defended and will continue to defend that principle even when people confront me with the inconvenient question, "How can you as a self-respecting gay man want to have anything to do with that church?"

Fortunately, our country has this thing called the 1st Amendment that keeps church and state separate and that protects religious freedom. So our country -- more than any other in the world -- should be able to create a social compromise that will allow churches to practice and believe in marriage as their doctrines teach and still treat gay and lesbian couples with equity in the society at large.

There were many talks in conference about empathy. And even Elder Neil L. Andersen's talk -- the only talk that explicitly invoked the marriage controversy -- also explicitly condemned bigotry on the part of Church members. When Elder Andersen said that "everyone independent of his or her decisions or beliefs deserves our kindness and consideration, and
when he quoted Joseph Smith, reminding listeners to “beware of self-righteousness,” and when he strongly stated that there was “no place for ridicule, bullying or bigotry” in the Church, he was essentially acknowledging that this is a problem on both sides of this debate. That's a huge thing IMHO.

I came away from conference with such a great sense of relief. I felt such a surge of love and gratitude in my heart. I thought, I have a responsibility to be honest and true to myself. To tell my story with love. And Church leaders have now told their members that they have a duty to listen to me and try to understand me with empathy. And I have a responsibility to love without condition and to practice empathy with others.

If I follow those principles, all of which were so beautifully taught at conference, we will find a very, very good way forward. I just know it.


GeckoMan said...

The statement from Elder Anderson's talk that struck me, which I just went back to find was this: "While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not."

Now some might regard this as a closed door, but I see it as the key. I believe the First Presidency and Q12 are acting on the doctrine and policies that have been in place for some time, and feel they would be in error to act otherwise, unless the Lord himself were to redefine the standard of marriage. Evidently no revelation has been received and they are left defending an ever increasingly unpopular position.

When will the Lord redefine marriage? Some say when the church is ready to go along with it, and that obviously isn't the case at the moment! Some say he already has, because of personal revelations they have received for their own lives. I don't know why the conflict exists, why the Lord just doesn't get it over with and make His will known. But it seems we are stuck in a mess in the LDS Church until such a revelation is received. It is painful for all of us, on both sides of the issue.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Hey Geckoman! Nice to see you on my blog again! I owe you a phone call...

I agree there's distress over this issue and contradictory experience and data. But I think getting through this is actually a very important test for us as a Church. Maybe God wants to see just how we will treat each other without having clear, compelling answers, before he gives us more guidance. Also, D&C section 9!!

Beck said...

The key to revelation is to "ask and it shall be given". When the blacks and the priesthood issue came to a head, the prophet was in a position to "ask and receive" new revelation to change direction in order to move forward the work of a truly global church.

I'm not sure that the prophet today is in such a position "to ask", and as such, the status quo remains. The prophet, however, is ever present in emphasizing kindness and compassion in every address he delivers, allowing others to more directly address the marriage equality issue. I don't recall Pres. Monson ever addressing this issue straight on... it's always other apostles or general authorities.

Elder McKonkie was forthright in speaking out against the blacks and the priesthood UNTIL Pres. Kimball finally spoke otherwise.

Elders Oaks, Bednar, Anderson, and others will continue to speak out against UNTIL such time as the Prophet is willing to ASK and RECEIVE.

I just don't see Pres. Monson being willing to do so at this time.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Beck! It's like a family reunion!

In relation to the issue of blacks and the priesthood, we know that David O. McKay was definitely seeking a revelation and didn't get one... Much to his sorrow. So this depends on the Lord too, I think.

But I think you're actually right, that we as a Church need to be in a place to ask.

Anonymous said...

If President Monson hasn't said anything explicit historically about homosexuality in his talks, he either 1) is thinking about it, or has questions about the gay predicament that (at least theoretically) leave room for possible revelation, or 2) he strongly believes the Lord only wants opposite-sex marriage and doesn't plan to change position on that, but simply doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings since he's the highest ranking member, and wants to emphasize everything that is good, not upsetting or controversial in the Church.