Moral Courage

By Joe Chevrier (written on 10-11-13)

I’ve been debating about adding my own voice to the many on both sides who have discussed Elder Oaks’ talk. I’ve enjoyed the many discussions that it has generated this past week whether online or IRL, public or private. I think that’s part of the beauty of General Conference: we gather to listen and learn, ponder and discuss, and return to our lives with food for thought — which in turn we use as the basis for further discussion and introspection. It’s a wonderful cultural phenomenon that is incredibly powerful for Mormonism. I find that Oaks’ words, if nothing else, have sparked a great deal of introspection and reevaluation, something we all need more of.

I’m moved by Oaks’ own directive that though I may be misunderstood, incur accusations, or suffer discrimination I should not let such challenges discourage me from doing what I feel is morally paramount.

And since it is also National Coming Out Day, it feels only right to come out of my own ‘closet’ on the thoughts that Elder Oaks has shared:

The Ten Commandments are fundamental to my beliefs as well, especially when considering Christ’s succinct ‘summation’ of them in Matt 22:37-40. Accordingly, I believe that a person’s race, gender, sexuality, and legal status are of little consequence to a loving and kind Heavenly Father. And as Oaks states, cultural, social, political, and economic motives can and do most certainly create ‘other gods’ and subvert our focus on what is, as Tillich would say, of “ultimate concern” in this mortal experience.

In reading Oaks’ words, I can’t help but wonder if we have made the same mistake in Mormonism today.

In many areas, we are an incredible force for good: community service, disaster aid, family history, the Perpetual Education Fund, and many, many other humanitarian services that can be found throughout our church.

And yet, historically, too often we have found ourselves on the wrong side of many critical issues. To quote Uchtdorf, “frank[ly], there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.”

From many areas of our history we have ample examples of profound failures: the Kirtland Safety Society, polygamy, the priesthood ban, etc. all demonstrate how susceptible mankind can be (no matter how inspired an individual or group of individuals might strive to be).

Obviously, not everything we believe God has commanded us to do bears the fruit we had hoped for. Sometimes even, we are supposed to fail — whether for our own good or for another’s — and grow from our failure, trusting that it will work out in the end.

That, at least, is my faith. Whether I’m deluding myself in my beliefs or not, I am certain that this life is not meaningless and that to not learn from my mistakes and failures would be a gross oversight in any moral value set.

I believe we should learn from our mistakes and I believe we are capable of overcoming any ‘other gods’ that prohibit us from being at the forefront of love and kindness to ALL mankind. And so I stand conflicted at the conclusion of Elder Oaks’ talk:

“Our understanding of God’s plan and His doctrine gives us an eternal perspective that does not allow us to condone such behaviors or to find justification in the laws that permit them. And, unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has identified as unchangeable.”

I am conflicted because I am afraid that we are too proud of our own claims to “understanding God’s plan,” that we assume our moral extrapolations of what we *do* understand justify our actions against our fellowman (especially towards those who do not reflect our assumptions about the ‘eternal family’), and that we would rather congratulate ourselves for our willingness to “die manfully” on the moral high ground of The Family: A Proclamation than see the reality of what denying same-sex couples legal recognition is actually doing to the potential of the world’s families.

Are we so afraid of gay marriage that we would let that fear become an “other god?”

Are we too afraid of leaving behind the “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality as a rationalization for our moral imperative?

Like any other organization I belong to, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints constantly changes its policies and practices. I am a member of this specific organization precisely because I see it striving towards better alignment with universal, eternal principles.

I hope one day we will have the moral courage to welcome same-sex marriages without reservation or fear into our faith — with all the wonderful blessings it entails. I hope we find the strength to live up to Oaks’ call to overcome cultural, social, and political traditions that prevent us from being foremost in embracing our LGBT brothers and sisters with love and acceptance.