Scriptures and Theology
Separating the Church and the Gospel
by Russell Lane, General Coordinator Emeritus
Source: Affinity, September 1997, pp. 1-2, Reprinted from May
In his address at the LDS General Conference in October 1984, Elder
Ronald Poelman of the First Quorum of Seventy delineated the differences
between the institutional church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Although
he was later forced to retract and rewrite his classic discourse,1 those
who heard it or read it in its original form in Sunstone Magazine
know he said:
Both the Gospel of Jesus Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. However, there is a distinction between them which is significant and it is very important that this distinction be understood. Of equal importance is understanding the essential relationship between the two and to comprehend their
proper relationship may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities with unrealistic and therefore failed expectations. This in turn may result in diminished benefits and blessings and, in extreme cases, disaffection.
Those of us who have felt discouragement in being misunderstood or wrongly judged
by the institutional church can take comfort in knowing that one's standing
within the institution is not nearly as important as our personally
realized standing with the Lord. Because we are ostracized by the Church,
all too often LDS lesbians & gays "throw out the baby with the bath
water"--that is, many throw out the truths of the Gospel and the principles
which they know to be good and right, with that which they have come
to realize is wrong in the Church. The results are sad. Often they are
as miserable without the Gospel while accepting their sexuality, as
they were accepting the institutional church and denying their sexuality.
Neither extreme works, and over the years I have seen very few of either
extreme who are happy. Those who are happy have found the balance,
as they know that their sexuality is a part of their spirituality and
visa versa. Each is a manifestation of love--of giving and receiving.
* * *
" The conformity we require should
be according to God's standards. The orthodoxy upon which we
insist must be founded in fundamental principles and eternal
law, including free agency and the diving uniqueness of the
—Elder Ronald Poelman
Sometimes traditions, customs social practices and personal preferences
of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage,
be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies. Occasionally such
traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as
eternal gospel principles. (My note: The practice of excommunicating
gays, like denying the priesthood to blacks, is one example.) Under
such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards
may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. In fact,
the eternal principles of the Gospel and the divinely inspired Church
do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural
* * *
The conformity we require should be according to God's standards. The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles and eternal law, including free agency and the diving uniqueness of the individual. It is important therefore to know the difference between eternal Gospel principles which are unchanging, universally applicable and cultural norms which may vary with time and circumstance.
The source of this perspective is found in the scriptures, and may appear to be presented in a rather unorganized and untidy format. The Lord could have presented the Gospel to us in a manual, systematically organized by subject, perhaps using examples and illustration. However, the eternal principles and
divine laws of God are revealed to us through accounts of individual lives in a variety of circumstances and conditions.
* * *
Every Church member has not only the opportunity, right, and privilege
to receive a personal witness regarding Gospel principles and Church
practices, but has the need and obligation to obtain such assurance.
One may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear
to be simple institutional requirements of the Church. (My
note: Including gay members as to the veracity of Church policy, as
well as divine sanction of their relationships.)
Indeed, it is not enough that we obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders. In response to study, prayer and by influence of the Holy Spirit, we may seek and obtain an individual and personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired. Then we can give enlightened, enthusiastic obedience, utilizing the Church through which to give allegiance, time, talent and other resources without reluctance or resentment.
When we understand the difference between the Gospel and the Church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. Institutional discipline is replaced by self-discipline. Supervision is replaced by a righteous initiate and a sense of divine accountability."
(Note: the asterisks (***) indicate paragraphs between. Quoted from
Sunstone Vol. 10:1 [Jan 1985], p. 45)
Even though the General Authorities of the Church often seem cold and
indifferent to us, I hope that each of you will continue to live the
true principles of the Gospel. As well, evaluate and follow inspired
counsel that Church leaders may give. We also should continue to support
local dialogue and understanding, and not discard them. Because of them,
some things have changed. Church spies no longer infiltrate
our organization nor attempt to disrupt our meetings. Shock treatments
are no longer sanctioned by the Church. And I occasionally hear from
Affirmation members relating how their bishops will not seek church
court action if they remain within committed, monogamous relationships.
Even more, church leaders are not pushing their homosexual members into
heterosexual marriages. Nevertheless, let's focus on our support and
strengthen Affirmation. Only we can meet the needs of the hundreds
of thousands of gay and lesbian Mormons in the world with love, understanding
and education. Remember as you serve and give of yourself in Affirmation,
you will reap the reward of happiness in knowing that by serving your
fellow beings you are serving God. (Mosiah 2:17 & Matthew 25:40).
With best wishes,
1. For more information on how Elder Poelman was forced by the Church
to rewrite and retape his talk, see the following: Fletcher, Peggy,
"Poelman Revises Conference Speech," Sunstone 10:1 (January
1985), pp. 44-45; Wagner, Rodd G., "Elder's Address Rewritten from Conference
Version," Salt Lake Tribune, 16 November 1984, p. B1, B4; Elder
Poelman Revises, Retapes Conference Talk, Deseret News, 17
November 1984, p. B5; Anderson, Lavina Fielding, "The LDS Intellectual
Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology," Dialogue:
A Journal of Mormon Thought, 26:1 (Spring 1993), p. 23.