Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Homosexual Relationships Sactioned By The Church: Could It Ever Happen?
In thinking about the recent race issues that been discussed anew since Professor Bott of BYU gave his interview with the Washington Post (discussed here), I have been pondering how the revelations regarding the lifting of the Priesthood ban against blacks relates to homosexual issues in the LDS Church.
The other day I was reading a blog that seemed to be splitting hairs about the terms "racist" and "prejudiced" and how they apply to the Church and its past. Frankly, the author's thesis annoyed me.
Basically what I got from the essay was that when people say the LDS Church has a racist past (especially if those people are white and liberal), they are wrong.
The author says, "There is no doubt the Church, except in rare instances, prohibited men of African descent, from holding the Priesthood and restricted Blacks from Temple Ordinances until June 1978. There is no clear cut doctrinal reason why this ban was upheld for so long and the outgrown of it was vile explanations by some in Church Leadership and so-called scholars as to the reason. But, did it rise to the level of racism as some might claim by today’s standard?
"I suppose it depends of how you define racism."
I'm sorry, but isn't prohibiting a group of people based on their race from partaking in something that the rest of the membership is entitled to partake of the very definition of racism?
Then he says, "...The Church, by the very nature that it allowed an idea of Black race inferiority to be perpetuated within it...did rise to the level of racism. But, that alone, does not qualify to make the Church a racist Church, like, let’s say, White Southern Baptists."
Say what?! Disregarding the author's own bigoted statement, true or not, toward white Southern Baptists, if the LDS Church's policies rose to the level of racism, how does that make them not racist?
He continues: "The LDS Church did not restrict anyone from joining the Church because of their race. Some joined in spite of the ban."
"...Compared to other Churches, organizations and parts of the country, the LDS Church and its members, as a whole (There are always exceptions), were not actively advocating or performing acts of violence against Blacks. There were not fiery, racist talks advocating separatism given in General Conference after the 1800s. While there were some prejudicial actions excluding Blacks from some facilities in Utah, it did not rise to the level that you saw in the South, for example.
"By today’s standards, all of this might be considered racist, but when measured against the times when it happened, it was normal, albeit repugnant to us today."
So because the Church wasn't violent towards black or because their rhetoric was not supposedly as blatant, that somehow excuses them from being racist? I agree with the author's statements that "when measured against the times when it happened, it was normal." I'm not saying the LDS Church's Priesthood ban wasn't a product of its time or that the same racist attitudes that were present in the Church weren't present elsewhere in the country. I'm not saying those weren't normal and accepted attitudes of the time; I'm saying that that does not make them any less racist.
I guess my point is why is it so hard for people to just admit the Church has a racist past? Rather than defending it, why not just say, "Yeah, it happened. Yeah, it was present. We're sorry, and we've moved forward."? Why is that so hard? Why must we split hairs? Why can't we just own it and say, "Yes, it was part of our history, but we do not condone racism now, and hopefully none of our members are still hanging on to racist notions, and if they still are, they need to repent."?
The author's last statement is, "Especially, because it is not true today and was not really true in the past. I know that many of us want the Church to have been better than the other organizations at that time and the fact that maybe the ban was rooted in prejudice is troubling given the divine guidance we claim. But, we must keep the entire history in the perspective of the time in which it occurred."
I agree, we must keep the reasons for the ban in perspective based on the times. But regardless of the times or how much the Church has evolved as far as race issues are concerned does not negate the fact that the ban by its very nature was a racist policy.
I speculate that the reason people are unwilling to own that and instead try to excuse or defend it is probably found in the author's sentence: "...many of us want the Church to have been better than the other organizations at that time and the fact that maybe the ban was rooted in prejudice is troubling given the divine guidance we claim." We want to believe that divine revelation would have caused us to be more progressive on this issue. After all, 1978 is a pretty late date to have a "turn around" compared to where the civil rights movement was in other institutions at that time. We don't want to believe that a divinely guided church would be so far behind the times on that particular issue, and so we just excuse it with "Well, it was just God's will, and he made the change when it was supposed to happen." And that may very well be true. I don't dispute it because frankly, I don't know; but it does lead me into my thoughts on homosexual issues in the LDS Church.
In August of 1949 the First Presidency of the LDS Church issued the following statement:
"The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: 'Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.'
"President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: 'The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.'
"The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.
"The First Presidency
"George Albert Smith, N Eldon Tanner, David O McKay"
In its recent statement disputing Professor Bott's statements, the Church said, "For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding."
It seems to me that the most recent statement by the Church contradicts the 1949 statement somewhat. In that case, does that mean that doctrine or revelation changes?
When the Priesthood ban was revoked, Bruce R. McConkie made the following statement in August of 1978 (nearly 29 years to the day of the 1949 statement):
"There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, 'You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?' And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.
"We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.
"It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them."
McConkie, the same man who basically admits that his own statements in the 1966 edition of Mormon Doctrine where he says "Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty." is wrong and that statements such as those by Joseph Fielding Smith in Doctrines of Salvation ("There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantage. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.... There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits.") or other antiquated statements by Brigham Young or Mark E, Petersen or George Q. Cannon are wrong. And why? Because they "spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world." Because "We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more."
If this is so; if something can be considered doctrine one year, and then 30 years later, we're told to disregard everything said about it because new light has revealed more on the subject that we didn't understand, what is stop the Lord from revealing more about the subject of homosexuality to the leaders of the Church.
In talking about the reversal of the Priesthood ban, McConkie says, "...it was a revelation of such tremendous significance and import; one which would reverse the whole direction of the Church, procedurally and administratively; one which would affect the living and the dead; one which would affect the total relationship that we have with the world; one, I say, of such significance that the Lord wanted independent witnesses who could bear record that the thing had happened."
"There has been a tremendous feeling of gratitude and thanksgiving in the hearts of members of the Church everywhere, with isolated exceptions. There are individuals who are out of harmony on this and on plural marriage and on other doctrines, but for all general purposes there has been universal acceptance; and everyone who has been in tune with the Spirit has known that the Lord spoke, and that his mind and his purposes are being manifest to the course the Church is pursuing."
If the Lord were to suddenly come out and reveal to the leadership of the Church a change in policy or doctrine regarding homosexuality, a change that would certainly "reverse the whole direction of the Church, procedurally and administratively," how would members react? Would there be "a tremendous feeling of gratitude and thanksgiving in the hearts of members of the Church everywhere, with isolated exceptions" or would there be a full-out rebellion?
I've heard people say, "Well, doctrine never changes. The Priesthood ban was a policy change, not a doctrinal change." Was it? I think if you read the 1949 First Presidency statement or read in Mormon Doctrine, which although admittedly, the Church has distanced itself from and disavowed somewhat, by its very title and author, would indicate that the ban was considered doctrine at one time. The same thoughts can be found in Doctrines of Salvation, which, again, by its very title and author, would surely have been considered doctrine at one time, even if it may not be now.
"Well," some might argue," "McConkie's own words about dismissing and forgetting what he and others have said about this issue shows that it was never taken to be doctrine; that based on current revelation, they were wrong in their thoughts and views on the Priesthood ban."
So I ask what's to stop Heavenly Father from giving a revelation negating everything Church leaders have previously said about homosexuality. I'm not saying it will happen, and it seems to me that marriage between a man and a woman has been such a bedrock doctrine in the Church for quite some time that if a revelation did suddenly come out declaring that homosexual relations were now recognized and blessed by the Church and by God, it would surely cause a lot of problems for the Church as far as credibility is concerned. But it also seems to me that it wasn't so relatively long ago that marriage between a man and a woman and a woman was also a practiced doctrine, and although it still seems to be a recognized doctrine in the afterlife, the fact of the matter is if you were to practice it today in mortality, you would be excommunicated; and I daresay if the Church were to suddenly declare that people should practice it, there would be a lot of rebellion.
I guess my point is that this is an ever evolving church. It's easy to dismiss our history with regard to issues such a polygamy and blacks holding the Priesthood. It's easy to say that doctrine never changes, that the Church always stays the same, but the fact is the Church has evolved from where it once was as far as these issues are concerned, and while it may be hard for some to imagine, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the Church may evolve in its views toward homosexuality. History has shown that it already has. Yes, it may not accept homosexual relations as being in line with the commandments, but even in my own lifetime the Church's rhetoric and attitudes toward the issue of homosexuality have softened with the times.
It's easy to say, "Well, the Church would never change its policies towards gay people." It's easy to say that societal pressures didn't have any play in the revelations concerning the revoking of the Priesthood ban or the declaration that polygamy no longer be practiced. But is it true? Could God ever give a revelation changing the direction of the Church with regard to the homosexuality issue? Based on the Church's own history, is it really completely beyond the realm of possibility that the Church could ever do a turn-around regarding gay people and their relationships? Many would say yes. I say, "Never say never." Generations from now, only our history will tell us for sure.