What Words Can’t Define

Mormons, like most Christian’s, in pursuit of greater spiritual understanding, pursue Christ’s words in scripture. Who’s words, on any given subject, are more authoritative than those of the Savior himself? Even more notable are subjects on which Christ never spoke directly, like homosexuality. Why would Christ never speak on a subject that impacts the lives of millions of God’s children worldwide?

In the LDS Church, faithful Mormon’s look to the Proclamation on the Family to establish an undeviating standard for all. In connecting the Proclamation to Christ’s words, we can look to Matthew 19:5-6 where Christ says, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

This seems very clear. Christ has reiterated the standard that all should be married (traditionally). But is establishing a standard the same as issuing a commandment that is universal to all? Christ continues on the subject of marriage (Matthew 19:8-9), “He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”

There are a few very important points to draw from Christ’s words that are relevant today:
1) Moses (the living prophet at the time) established different laws and policies regarding marriage than what was established in the beginning.
2) At least on two points today, we do not follow Christ’s statements regarding marriage fully. People are allowed to divorce for reasons other than fornication and women are allowed to marry again even if they have been divorced.
So our modern interpretation of marriage and scripture has changed over time even as it has been applied and understood by prophets and apostles in the past.

What is very intriguing is that Christ was not done talking about marriage and relationships.

First qualifier, “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.” This seems to indicate that what is to follow is not for everyone.

“For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.”

Final qualifier, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” (Matthew 19:11-12)

Wow. That might seem like a bizarre statement out of left field given the context. Wasn’t Christ just speaking about marriage? And what is a eunuch? And why is he talking about it at this point in the conversation? And why does Christ seem to point out that this section will only selectively apply? Perhaps he is indicating that only a certain number of people will understand what he is saying much like a parable.

Christ could have just as easily said, “I just mentioned an exception to marriage regarding divorce, but there is one more subject that is really so complex that there just aren’t words to define it.” How do you explain a concept so complex in its many facets that the current language doesn’t even have words for it?

So Christ begins and ends with a qualifier that in essence says, “What I am saying now is not for everyone. Some of you will understand what I am saying. I am talking about the standard I just gave you that all should marry (traditionally). What I am saying is there are those to whom that standard of marriage does not apply (At least not in the same way.)”

Granted, this is my interpretation. After doing some research, I found that the Hebrew word that originally conveyed the concept of what we today refer to as “homosexual” is the word ‫סריס‬ (saris), commonly translated “eunuch”. In Christ’s time, a eunuch was a man who cannot or will not have sex with a woman. Sometimes a eunuch is a man who also (by the modern definition of the term) may have been castrated.

In modern language, this could easily be someone who is gay. Or any letter of LGBTQ. In this context, Christ is saying that He knows that some people are born gay (“so born from their mother’s womb”), some become so through horrible life experience (I think castration would apply here) and others will pursue celibacy for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. The only word in the vocabulary of the day that Christ could use to describe someone who is gay was eunuch. But regardless of the means of how one became a eunuch, Christ is making a second exception to the standard he just defined (using the only words he had available to him).

His opening qualifier was, “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.” I believe it applied to the standard of marriage that immediately preceded those verses and applied to the people whom he defined (as best he could in the language of His day.) Some may view this as a convenient excuse to not live up to the Proclamation on the Family or other Church standards. However, this would not apply to heterosexual people. This is also not an excuse to endorse the stereotypes of the ‘gay lifestyle.’ What you could say is, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” Otherwise, it doesn’t apply to you.

So, what else can we learn about how gay people were treated in the early Church? We can look to Acts 8. In this chapter, Philip is specifically directed to share the gospel with a foreign eunuch. Not only does he share the gospel, but he also baptizes the eunuch. There is no qualification regarding whether the eunuch was born gay, was castrated or had chosen celibacy. The only qualification given was, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest (be baptized). And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” Acts 8:37

Clearly eunuchs were allowed to be baptized and become members of the Church in New Testament times. However, there is no way any form of eunuch can fulfill the roles as defined in the Proclamation on the Family, or have a traditional marriage. Yet, the first principles and ordinances of the gospel still apply in full force and are fully available to them. Christ said as much using the only words He could.

Today, we are still struggling with concepts and ideas for which words can’t define. Many are more comfortable with the terms gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, etc…. Specifically in the LDS Church there are many who find the term ‘same-sex attracted’ more comfortable. Much of the difference lies in what those words mean to different people. To some, if they accept the labels included in LGBT, they feel like they are also accepting all of the negatives assigned to the stereotype of the ‘gay lifestyle’ which includes sleeping around, fornication, deviant behavior, drugs, alcohol and basically everything bad and evil in life. To others, accepting the term ‘same-sex attraction’ reduces their life experience of being gay to just its sexual component. It is also frequently used to indicate something a person is suffering from or struggling with (ie….’You are suffering from same-sex attraction.) Same-sex attraction is also viewed as a transient state or phase from which someone can recover or change.

So, even 2,000 years later, among professionals and laymen alike, we are still struggling to define the experience of being gay. In the Church we are still struggling to find an inclusive place for them. Because those who “cannot receive these sayings,” are left demanding that everyone else live the one standard they understand.

We have received a mandate from our Church leaders:
“But what is changing–and what NEEDS TO CHANGE (emphasis added)–is how Church members respond…when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere.” Elder Cook

In his most recent conference address, Elder Anderson said, “Everyone, independent of his or her decisions and beliefs, deserves our kindness and consideration. The Savior taught us to love not only our friends but also those who disagree with us-and even those who repudiate us. He said: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? … And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? The Prophet Joseph Smith warned us to “beware of self-righteousness” and to enlarge our hearts toward all men and women until we feel “to take them upon our shoulders.” In the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no place for ridicule, bullying, or bigotry.”

The Church needs to change. I do not say this as a demand or with any requirement that the Church change the Law of Chastity or the Proclamation on the Family. But what we understand today and what the Lord can communicate to us today regarding homosexuality is changing. Our ability to understand and the words that we can use to define God’s will is rapidly evolving today. Today, we can ask the questions of God that could never be asked before and receive answers in language and ideas that we can understand. God has not changed, but we have.

Some look at the gospel in very narrow ways and theorize that we can only be saved in the fixed, defined ways that we know. But Jesus concluded his talk in Matthew 19:26 by saying, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” Righteous gay men, lesbian women, and every other color of LGBT people exist. If your concepts of homosexuality only include what would be stereotypical of the ‘gay lifestyle’ or ‘prison culture,’ then I would invite you to learn who your LGBT brothers and sisters really are. It’s almost as if, “All men cannot receive this saying… except he who is willing to receive it.”

In the past three years, I have met some extraordinary LGBT people, some of whom I would consider spiritual giants. The complexity and diversity of their lives is beyond what I can understand and comprehend. In many ways , it mirrors the complexity and diversity common to all people. But the value of their souls and their ability to live righteous lives truly equals any I have found among the heterosexual majority.

In my wife’s most recent interview with our Stake President, he said to her, “Your testimony strengthens me, because I don’t have answers for you.” This is a progression from a place where he was more confident that he and the Church had those answers. To his credit, over the past few years he has honestly sought out every resource in the Church to help us.

Are we now humble enough to allow the Lord to teach us using the words and concepts that now exist to fully express his will for his LGBT children? Because until we are willing to acknowledge that the wisdom we have today is insufficient, and are willing to learn, we will not be able to ask the Lord the right questions.

Tom has also written:

A Difference of Opinion (July 2014) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/a-difference-of-opinion/
Shame and Affirmation (June 2014) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/shame-and-affirmation/
Cool Tolerance (March 2013) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/cool-tolerance/
It’s Complex (August 2013) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/its-complex/
Christmas Cards (January 2014) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/christmas-cards/
What the Heck is Traditional Marriage? (July 2013) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/what-the-heck-is-traditional-marriage/
Defending Marriage (May 2013) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/defending-marriage/
Why Does the Lord Allow His Covenant People to Err? (April 2013) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/why-does-the-lord-allow-his-covenant-people-to-err/
The Catalyst (January 2013) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/the-catalyst/
The Victoria Theater (June 2013) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/the-victoria-theater/
Of Pain and the Journey (September 2013) – http://nomorestranger.wpengine.com/of-pain-and-the-journey/
I See the Image of Christ in My Gay Son, Lord (August 2012) – http://mitchmayne.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-fathers-poem-to-his-gay-son-from.html

7 comments for “What Words Can’t Define

  1. David T. Reid
    August 31, 2014 at 8:23 am

    I know in my heart that I shall stand before my Lord and be held accountable to those higher heights as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. Many labels throughout my life have been brutally tagged to my bosom and they alone have placed heavy burdens upon my shoulders. Yet, the yoke I carry, the Lord has been here to help me; and nonetheless, when the Lord wasn’t able to carry it then our Heavenly Father lovingly stepped in. They understand the stigma that surrounds me and the labels that soil my skin because of my brothers and sisters who love me not, but find their hearts are tainted and eyes blind unto the truth. That like them, I am a Child of God.

  2. Andrew
    August 31, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    I think Tom’s analysis here regarding Christ’s teaching about “eunuchs” is fascinating. The God I believe in would not (and does not) leave his LGBT sons and daughters spiritually stranded, although people through the ages have done their best to isolate them from both God and society. It is touching to read these passages in a light which shows that God did not leave them stranded at all, but both acknowledged their unique identities and allowed for their full acceptance into the fold of God AS THEY WERE. Thanks Tom for your thoughtful analysis and insight.

  3. Becky Coombs
    August 31, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Once again, Thomas, WOW! NAIL ON THE HEAD! THANK YOU!!

  4. John Novak
    August 31, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I would like to thank you for that article. I have been struggling with my identity as a active LDS member. I am gay, having been attracted to the same sex for over 30 years. I tried to “cure” myself by getting married to a woman. 14 1/2 years later our temple marriage went down in flames, not even related to my “secret”. Being newly single, I was finally able to sit down and sort out who I was. I spent many hours at the Gilbert temple doing ordinances, with the biggest question on my mind was “Do I even belong in the church as a gay member?” My question was answered when I was approached by a temple worker who called my by name and asked me if I loved the savior. I answered of course I do. He smiled and said that he had a message for me. I asked what it was. He said “I feel inspired to tell you that your savior knows you and loves you.” I got tears in my eyes and hugged him. Even with that experience, I still wondered if I had a place in the church. I talked with guys who were same gender attracted and they told me they would be married again (to a female). That left me with the feeling that SGA/SSA folks are in a temporary state of homosexuality but will become straight again. That isn’t going to work for me. I also met other gay LDS members who were inactive, partially active or active but not following the WOW. That is not going to work either. I have 2 callings in our little branch, one of them being a Stake level calling. I was thinking that I was going to have to asked to be released from those callings and end my church membership because I didn’t have a place.
    After reading your article, I now know that I have a place in the church. I could feel the love in your article. Thank you for sharing that message. John Novak

  5. Spencer Stevens
    September 1, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    The definition of marriage, according to the passage in Matthew ch. 19, was not tied to what Christ said about Moses. He mentioned the law of Moses in relation to divorce. Marriage in the Church has never been anything but heterosexual, and it never will change. It is not the Church that needs to change; it is the pride of individuals that needs to change- or disappear, rather. The essential doctrine of the Church that exaltation is directly tied to men and women being married derives from a perfect example our Heavenly Father set for us. Christ never specifically mentioned homosexuality, but He most definitely condemned behavior that is associated with it. Sexual misconduct and sensuality are condemned by Christ throughout the Old and New Testament, as well as the other canonized scriptures. Furthermore, what the prophets and apostles have said in the Spirit is scripture and the will of God (D&C 68:5-6). What they say is what He would say if He were here. It does not matter if Paul was primarily the one to condemn it. If one servant of the Lord condemns unrighteousness in the Spirit, I will take his voice over the voices of millions or billions of other individuals, because truth does not rest in the existence of man, regardless of how many men believe what they believe. It is independent of man’s existence (D&C 93), and is absolute. The Church does not need to change its doctrine- unfaithful members who dispute and disregard the prophets in their own man-made wisdom need to repent and humble themselves before God. Simply put.

    • Thomas Montgomery
      September 1, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      Spencer, thanks for engaging this topic. In relation to Matthew 19 regarding marriage, Christ brings up two topics – divorce and eunuchs. Christ never specifically mentioned homosexuality, because the word did not exist at the time he lived. Also, Christ never condemned homosexuality and the only behavior that is associated with homosexuality is heterosexuality, so I am not sure what you are getting at there. Lust and sexual misconduct are condemned in the Old and New Testament, although there are no distinctions made regarding orientation, because the concept of sexual orientation did not exist either. I am sure Christ new about it, but there were not words to express it. However, gay or straight, both are capable of every form of sexual misconduct and both are capable of monogamy.

      I would definitely not agree with your assertion that anything one servant of the Lord declares righteous or condemns unrighteous is the final word regarding any subject. The number of examples in scripture and in modern Church history are too numerous to list here. As discussed in this article, the Lord can only convey to a prophet or apostle ideas that they can understand and using words in their language. Today we have a much greater capacity to understand our Heavenly Father’s will regarding his LGBT children.

      Regarding change: But what is changing–and what NEEDS TO CHANGE (emphasis added)–is how Church members respond…when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere (Elder Cook). In the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no place for ridicule, bullying, or bigotry (Elder Anderson). Perhaps if we put as much thought and effort into finding inclusive ways to approach LGBT members of the Church, we will gain a greater understanding of our Heavenly Father’s will for them.

    • Andrew Bingham
      September 2, 2014 at 10:56 am

      We must not mistake a call to empathy and a request for change as pride; we must recognize that every meaningful advance in spiritual, social, and scientific progress has come from those that challenged the prevailing spiritual, scientific, and social “absolutes” of their time. Many, if not most of those that challenged the “absolute” were deemed heretics, apostates, and radicals.

      It is the essence of humility to recognize not only that there may be absolute truths, but that man’s understanding of them is partial; that though God’s law may be eternal, man’s understanding of that law is limited and subject to radical change; that Prophets and even ordinary people may speak with God in various ways, but that our own understanding of what God says is patently limited by our humanity; that even when a man’s understanding of God becomes relatively greater than those of his brothers and sisters, his ability to express in human language the eternal and infinite is limited by the crude mechanics of a finite language.

      It is the essence of humility to put a loving and eternal God first, and to realize that all the law and prophets hang from that one absolute—and that ALL other finite things—scriptures, churches, and prophetic utterances included—are subject to change. It is the essence of humility to question and even challenge any doctrine or policy that seeks to establish a God which creates a plan for some of his children, but not all. It is the essence of humility to recognize that our own culture and zealous interpretation of the “absolute” may blind our ability to love, empathize, and find greater light and knowledge regarding God’s plan for our LGBT brothers and sisters; in this, we must repent.

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