By Michael Barker (originally published at RationalFaiths.com)
The other day my wife asked me to do some, um, manly things around the house.
First on the list was to tighten up the p-trap under the utility sink in the garage. I loosened up the p-trap, lined up the threads of the tightening nut, and hand tightened it. To make sure that things wouldn’t leak, I then grabbed my channel locks and gave it a final good tightening. I filled up the sink with water, pulled the plug so all the water would rush into the p-trap at the same time, and like magic – the p-trap didn’t leak.
Next, my wife asked me to change a light bulb. I brought in my toolbox, took a look around and decided to use the channel locks again. I mean, what the heck, they worked for the p-trap, right? I grabbed the light bulb, and it broke. Not my fault. Not the fault of the tool I was using of course.
I needed to hang some pictures. I brought in my toolbox, looked around. There were the allen wrenches; nope, wrong tool. There were the screwdrivers; nope wrong tool. There was the hammer; it would probably work. But there she was, my channel locks again.
I pulled out the channel locks, grabbed a picture-nail, and swung away. I missed the nail a lot. I made some marks and dents in the wall. No biggie though, those would all be covered with the picture anyway. I finally got the nail driven into the wall and hung the picture.
Mormons Driving Buggies?
Dr. Terryl Givens tells the story of when he was invited to New York City to deliver a paper at Bonneville Communications Conference. Dr. Givens’ task was to speak about how Mormons have been represented in the public sphere. At one point, Dr. Givens made the observation that in 1893, a kind of devil’s compromise had been reached between the LDS Church and the rest of America. The irony of what happened in Chicago in 1893 is that one day in September the Mormon Tabernacle Choir won the silver medal in the International Choral Competition. And then a few days later the LDS Church is barred from making a presentation about their theology and beliefs to the World Parliament of Religion.
So, the moral of that story is, “Mormons you are welcomed to sing and dance, but don’t ask us to take your theology seriously.” That is pretty much the compromise that has been in effect ever since.
We have long suffered what Dr. Givens calls “The Purgatory of the Amish.” Dr. Terryl Givens said:
“I call it Mormonism’s horse and buggy problem. Ask 100 Americans about Amish theology, and they will all freely admit that they only know the Amish people travel by horse and buggy.”1
Dr. Givens then proceeded to say that, this was the Church’s fault. At this conference in New York, were many employees of the LDS Church that worked in branding, advertising, etc. and they asked Dr. Givens what he meant by that. Dr. Givens answered that the media is obsessed with things like Kolob and magic underwear because we don’t give them anything more substantial to talk about.
I would add one more thing to Dr. Givens’ list – Mormons hate gay people.
In November of 2013, I listened to an interview with the Montgomery family. They told their story of having a gay son and brother, Jordon. Jordon (15 years old) also told his story. The third part of the conversation in the interview struck me, where Wendy (mom) and Tom (dad) spoke about the first time they went to Parents, Friends and Allies Unite With People who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (PLFAG) meeting:
Tom: We went to a PFLAG, which is the local Parenting, Friends of Lesbian and Gays, which is national and not a Church organization by any means. But, you know we went there and quite quickly they figured out that we were Mormons [chuckles] and that we were still active. And they were just stunned.
Wendy: They were a little cynical and skeptical of us at first
Tom: Oh, yeah. They gave us the uh… they were throwing all the right questions at us to really see what our commitment was to helping Jordan and to supporting other gay and lesbian people. And rightly so. It is interesting to note, to me, for all of our advocacy on “Yes on 8,” and anytime we talk to members of the Church and they are critical of homosexuality or gay people… and they are all,”Well, I’m just defending marriage.” For all of our pretense for defending marriage, I’ve yet to come across a gay person outside of the Church, or not related someway to the Church, who actually knows what we even mean when we say that.
They don’t know anything about temple marriage, eternal marriage, or any of those concepts. They just know that Mormons hate gay people. And our PFLAG experience afterwards, we actually got to express and say, “You know what? Yeah, we were involved with Prop 8 and we are really sorry we did it. But here is what Mormon theology is and why we are there.” And not one soul in the room knew any of that. And afterwards they were like, “Okay I can understand where you guys are coming from now.”
Wendy: “It became a real missionary experience because there were thirty people in that room that were thinking very negatively about Mormons, which was deserved after Prop 8. There are people across the whole country that, they don’t even know what the doctrine of the LDS Church is, but they sure know how we feel about gay people. There are these people; they are gay. We walk into this room, and they have been hurt by members of my church because of Prop 8. And we felt, I was nervous frankly going, I felt we were walking into the lion’s den. Once they knew we were Mormon, I knew we would be attacked. And to their credit, we weren’t attacked but were asked hard questions.
They said, “So, did you participate in Prop 8?” And I said, “Yes.” And they said, “I bet you donated to it too.” And I said, “Well, we donated our time. We didn’t have money at the time to donate to the campaign.” And they said, “Well, do you pay your tithing?” And we said, “Yes.” They said, “Well, you donated to it then.” And I said, “Yeah.” And at that point I got emotional, which is common for me. I started crying a little bit, and I said, “I’m sorry.” I said, “I am so sorry for any pain that I have caused you directly or indirectly.” I said, “I just didn’t know.” And I think my tears maybe softened them, or they saw we were serious and that we were genuine and that we were trying to find a way to make this work inside our church. But we loved our son completely. And it was amazing because people who were very negative towards us at first, have become some of our biggest defenders….So it’s been a real cool, sort of reverse-missionary experience, where this group of people now have a lot of respect for the Mormon religion. That, if we could just have more experiences like that, as members of the Church we could undo some of the negativity that Prop 8 caused.2
Our “Curse of the Amish,” is that Mormons hate gay people. What can we do to shake ourselves of this curse? Tom and Wendy’s story seems to contain the answer.
Let’s See What I Have in Here
According to a June 2013 Pew Forum study, the public perceives Mormons and Muslims as being equally hostile towards gays, and the public sees Mormons as being more hostile towards gays compared to Catholics and Evangelical Christians.
It seems like we have found our hammer, but not any other tools.
The institutional concern with same-sex marriage seems to be a concern of middle-class white America. It reminds me of an essay I read recently by BYU professor, Richard Johnson:
“Every semester several students in my social problems course at BYU propose that the extent or seriousness of certain social problems represents a sign that the world is about to end and the Millennium is near. …they see the traditional and highly publicized problems of crime, violence, drug abuse, and sexual deviance as the primary (or only) indicators of sin and evil…they perceive America as now experiencing unprecedented levels of crime, violence, drug abuse, and sexual deviance.
“Several aspects of this line of thought strike me as rather narrow-minded. First, it seems rather narrow and presumptuous for Americans to evaluate the condition of the entire human race and the fate of the planet on the basis of their perceptions of America’s social problems and moral climate…the criteria used to judge the “badness” of American society (sex, drugs, crime, and violence) seem narrow. I cannot remember a single student, for example, who has based a conclusion about “the evil that is rampant in society” on observations about poverty, homelessness, or income inequality, to name a few possible alternative measures…there seems to be a narrow view as to where and when social problems or “evil” have existed throughout time and space. The parochial view that ”everything must be worse here and now” seems to have been adopted by yet another generation of Americans…
“…It seems to me that if we are serious about contemplating the moral state of contemporary American society, we might gain valuable insight by broadening the measure of morality beyond the traditional sins (crime, sex, drugs, violence) to include such variables as poverty, homelessness, and socioeconomic inequality”4
Lots of hammers, but don’t we have some other tools in there?
The prominent view of our relationship to our Heavenly Parents is what theologians call a “materialistic view.” Mortality is a reflection of the afterlife. With that, we see our Heavenly Parents as literally our Heavenly Parents. They have corporeal bodies. We have their DNA in us. From that materialistic view, we then extrapolate that the “continuation of seed,” as mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants Section 132:19, is that a husband and a wife(ves) will continue to have children in the afterlife. Our spirit children will also possess our spiritual DNA.5
However, nowhere in Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 are the “benefits [of a continuation of seed] ever specifically explained.”6
The prominent and contemporary view of “continuation of seed,” however, is not the only view the Church has held. We have some other tools in that toolbox.
Joseph Smith taught:
“The Spirit of Man is not a created being; it existed from Eternity & will exist to eternity. Anything created cannot be Eternal.”7 And, “God never did have the power to create the spirit of man at all.”8
Doctrine and Covenants Section 93:29 states:
“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can it be.”
The Book of Abraham states:
“If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after; for they are gnaloaum, or eternal” (Abraham 3:18)
These statements by Joseph Smith, and the Book of Abraham seem to imply an endless population of uncreated spirits who are not the offspring of God. Instead, they are mentored by our Heavenly Parents to progress to divinity as Their “children.”
“In this view, the order of Heaven is not strictly familial. Instead, priesthood sealings of mortal parents and children form a chain that, as they are exalted, establishes their divine positions in the celestial Kingdom.”9 Independent researcher, Jonathan Stapley has said, that the “viviparous spirit birth is a wildly popular folk belief.” Stapley goes on to say, “Regarding a ‘continuation of the seeds,’ I think Joseph Smith is talking about retaining kingship, as opposed to being separate and single.”10 In other words, “continuation of the seeds, is the ability for mortal parents to continue to relate to and preside over their earthly children in eternity.”11
Samuel Brown, author of In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death explains “Human pre-existence dovetailed nicely for Smith with the eternal nature of matter, a doctrine he worked on in parallel…Smith was solving problems both human and cosmic in scope when he extended preexistence from Christ to all humanity.”12 Brown goes on to explain that Heaven is devoid of Heavenly Parents who bear spirit offspring to create a heavenly pedigree. Instead, a priesthood heaven family is formed on earth as mortal friendships and relationship are welded permanently in place by priesthood ordinances to form a “Cosmic Chain of Belonging.”13 Brown states, “To Smith, in a way he never entirely worked out, the family of divinities had no end.”14
What’s the point? We have within our Mormon toolbox, scripture that would allow a huge paradigm shift of what it means to be “sealed” and what “continuation of seed means.”
Let’s See What Else We Can Find
It is true that the above interpretations would be a radical change in our theology, but we have other tools. Gays and Mormons dot org, is a huge step for such conservative Church as ours. True, it is not far enough for many progressive Mormons, but we must step back and see what this is telling the majority of the Church. The majority of the Church is conservative.
A recent article in the Huffington Post by Benjamin Knoll “suggests that the proportion of “active” Mormons who also would either sympathize or identify as a “progressive” Mormon is probably somewhere in the ballpark of 10%.”15 That means that for 90% of the Church, Gays and Mormons dot org is a huge paradigm shift.
Just think of how radical the following statement from Mormons and Gays dot org is for 90% of our church members:
No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction. Each experience is different. Latter-day Saints recognize the enormous complexity of this matter. We simply don’t have all the answers. Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness.
It’s a radical statement, in case you weren’t sure.
I was recently reminded of the problem of gay-teen suicide when Jerilyn Hassell Pool quoted Samy Galvez, president of Understanding Same Gender Attraction at BYU (go like them on Facebook). He said,
Ninety-five percent of what we’ve talked about today is marriage equality. You all are completely ignoring the fact that a huge percentage of Mormon kids are killing themselves because they are gay.16
Isn’t that where the problem really is?
Elder Oaks stated the following in 2012 “Young people struggling with any exceptional condition, including same-gender attraction, are particularly vulnerable and need loving understanding—not bullying or ostracism.”
That is the message that needs to be heard.
Our Tool Box
Isn’t it time we put down the hammer with which we have been beating our gay brothers and sisters? Some are being beaten to death. I think we are all clear on where the Church stands with regards to gay marriage. Do we really need to hear it again and again? Couldn’t we pick up those other tools in our Mormon toolbox?
Those of us for whom gay rights and equality are important, we must be patient as other members and our leaders are rummaging through the toolbox. For some, change isn’t fast enough. To those I say, remember that large institutions are naturally conservative and naturally move slowly. For some, it is too fast. To those I would say that deep within the Mormon ethos is the idea of ongoing revelation. And by definition, revelation explicitly means change.
A while back, my wife and I watched an episode of Downton Abby in which Lord Grantham was thrown a surprise birthday party by his niece, Rose. To Lord Grantham’s (and everyone else’s) surprise, Rose had arranged a Jazz band from London to come and play at Downton. While dancing with Isobel Crowley, Thomas Barrow says: “It’s a bit wild. Jazz at Downton Abbey.” Isobel Crowley replies, “I think it’s lovely. You see, Tom, things can happen at Downton that no one imagined even a few years ago. Take heart from that before you throw in the towel.”
I pray that for those who don’t see change occurring fast enough within our large conservative church, please have patience. Make your voice heard with love. Don’t throw in the towel. Patience as the conservative membership and its leaders rediscover the other tools in our Mormon toolbox.
2Gay Mormon Stories, episode 63, part 3, 55 seconds
3 Here is a snipett from the subtitle, “Religion” which can be found at:http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a-survey-of-lgbt-americans/
“Religion is a difficult terrain for many LGBT adults. Lopsided majorities describe the Muslim religion (84%), the Mormon Church (83%), the Catholic Church (79%) and evangelical churches (73%) as unfriendly toward people who are LGBT. They have more mixed views of the Jewish religion and mainline Protestant churches, with fewer than half of LGBT adults describing those religions as unfriendly, one-in-ten describing each of them as friendly and the rest saying they are neutral.”
In Chapter Six of the same survey, the following can be found under the subtitle, “Feeling Unwelcome in Religious Communities”:
“Many LBGT adults see major religious institutions as unfriendly toward them. And as shown in Chapter 2 on social acceptance, about three-in-ten LGBT adults (29%) say they personally have been made to feel unwelcome in a church or religious organization.”
More than eight-in-ten LGBT adults surveyed say the Muslim religion (84%) is unfriendly to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, while less than 1% say the Muslim religion is friendly and 13% consider it neutral. Perceptions of the Mormon Church are similar, with 83% of LGBT respondents saying the Mormon Church is unfriendly toward them. About eight-in-ten (79%) consider the Catholic Church unfriendly, and 73% say the same about evangelical churches. By comparison, the Jewish religion and non-evangelical (mainline) Protestant churches are seen as less hostile, although many more LGBT adults consider these institutions to be unfriendly than friendly toward them. Roughly half of the LGBT adults surveyed say the Jewish religion (47%) is unfriendly toward the LGBT population, just one-in-ten say the Jewish religion is friendly, and about four-in-ten (41%) say it is neutral. Perceptions of non-evangelical Protestant churches are similar; 44% of LGBT adults say these churches are unfriendly, 10% say they are friendly, and 43% say they are neutral.
4To read the rest of Dr. Johnson’s essay, go to: http://jimbabwe.com/khl/Library_Johnson1.htm
5Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 110. See also, “Marriage,” Bible Dictionary, Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979, 729; The Family: A Proclamation to the World, 1; Gospel Principles, 275, 277; Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 257 (these references come from B. Hales). The problem of course is that the Church’s recent statement entitled, Becoming Like God, turns all of this on its head and is quite problematic:https://www.lds.org/topics/becoming-like-god?lang=eng
6Brian Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy – Volume 3: Theology, page 113.
7Ehat and Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, page 9
8Ibid, page 60
9Hales, page 114
10Hales, page 114. Quoting Jonathan Stapley’s email to Brian Hales.
11Hales, page 114
12Samuel Morris Brown, In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death, pages 250-251. Found in Hales, page 115
13Hales, page 115
14Brown, “The Earthly Mormon Chain of Belonging,” 30, see also Brown, In Heaven as It Is on Earthy, page 273. Found in Hales, page 115