Teachings of Presidents of the Church—Ezra Taft Benson
Chapter 14: Marriage and Family—Ordained of God
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints views the family as the most important organization in time and all eternity. The Church teaches that everything should center in and around the family. It stresses that the preservation of family life in time and eternity takes precedence above all other interests.” (p. 182)
“There can be no satisfactory substitute for the home. Its foundation is as ancient as the world. Its mission has been God-ordained.” (p. 182)
“In the record of that first marriage recorded in Genesis the Lord makes four significant pronouncements: first, that it is not good for man to be alone; second, that woman was created to be a helpmeet for man; third, that they twain should be one flesh; and fourth, that man should leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife. (See Genesis 2:18, 24)” (p. 183)
The above-stated remarks include wide-sweeping comments regarding the family (everything, no satisfactory substitute, etc.). Such comments can be very discouraging to LGBT members, families, and allies. However, one can take heart from Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ statement:
“As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.’ In what I have just said, I am simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon these principles by governing yourself.” (Dallin H. Oaks, CES Broadcast—The Dedication of a Lifetime; see also Ensign, June 2006)
While the definition of a family may seem rather rigid in the Church’s image (father, mother, and children), the reality is much different. Typically, the average ward has only about 30% of the families on record that fit that profile. There are so many singles, divorced, single mother with children, divorced with children, widow/widower, etc., which are different from the model standard. You may wish to check with your ward clerk for an approximate percentage of ward families that are actually married father and mother, sealed in temple, with children, all of whom are members or children of record.
Such a statistic may bring the matter close to home in class discussions, but, as always, any comment should be used as guided by the Spirit and not to create a win-lose situation.
Chapter 15: The Sacred Callings of Fathers and Mothers
While there may not be any specific statements in this lesson that may cause concern in LGBT matters, the entire outline of the lesson is based on the duties and responsibilities of fathers and mothers. As this is the doctrine of the church at this time, this is to be expected and should not cause undue grief to LGBT members, families, and allies. It may be much easier to approach this lesson in such a context than to feel entirely overwhelmed.
However, the biographical section of President Benson, as well as his teachings, paint an idealistic image which may be difficult for any member to attain, even President Benson. For many years, the Church has seen a spike in counseling visits by members to LDS Family Services following April and October conference, because members have been overwhelmed in attaining everything expected of them. The chapter does not give a day-by-day picture of problems which befall all families in the church. For example, President Benson’s own grandson was excommunicated from the church. This is just one example of the many lessons we came to earth to learn by sad experience (D&C 121:41). Such lessons apply to individuals, families, and the Church.
Chapter 17: Keeping the Law of Chastity
“The Church has no double standard of morality. The moral code of heaven for both men and women is complete chastity before marriage and full fidelity after marriage.” (p. 219)
“In the category of crimes, only murder and denying the Holy Ghost come ahead of illicit sexual relations, which we call fornication when it involves an unmarried person, or the graver sin of adultery when it involves one who is married.” (p. 220)
“Unchastity is the most damning of all evils….” (p. 220)
“God’s law is irrevocable.” (p. 221)
“You are not only responsible before God for your acts but also for controlling your thoughts. So live that you would not blush with shame if your thoughts and acts could be flashed on a screen in your church.” (p. 222)
“There is no temptation placed before you which you cannot shun. Do not allow yourself to get in positions where it is easy to fall. Listen to the promptings of the Spirit. If you are engaged in things where you do not feel you can pray and ask the Lord’s blessings on what you are doing, then you are engaged in the wrong kind of activity.” (p. 223)
“A reason for virtue—which includes personal chastity, clean thoughts and practices, and integrity—is that we must have the Spirit and the power of God in our lives to do God’s work. Without that power and influence we are no better off than individuals in other organizations.” (p. 227)
The statement regarding the Church having no double standard for morality is entirely compatible with LGBT members who chose to live the standard of chastity. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley elaborated on this in the context of LGBT status in the Church. He said:
“Now, we have gays in the church. Good people. We take no action against such people—provided they don’t become involved in transgression, sexual transgression. If they do, we do with them exactly what we’d do with heterosexuals who transgress. We have a very strong moral teaching concerning abstinence before marriage and total fidelity following marriage. And, regardless of whether they’re heterosexuals or otherwise, if they step over that line there are certain sanctions, certain penalties that are imposed.”—President Gordon B. Hinckley, Musings of the Main Mormon, San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1997
These statements give consistency between gay and straight standards. Therefore, handholding, hugging, kissing, dancing, and any other activity condoned between a single man and woman should be equally accepted between two men or two women. Of course, cultural bias often follows rather than leads, and “chastity” may cover many more gay behaviors than straight ones in the minds of some individuals, but the position of the Church is consistent, based on these statements by presidents of the Church.
President Benson’s statement that “only murder and the denying of the Holy Ghost come ahead of illicit sexual relations,” appears on the same page as, “Unchastity is the most damning of all evils….” Since murder and the denying of the Holy Ghost are also evils, and they come ahead of illicit sexual relations, there appears at first glance a contradiction. However, the statements are taken from different events and talks, which shows the importance of understanding the context of any statements regarding chastity, morality, or any other such topic.
While God’s law is irrevocable, we are the only Church that is “true and living,” (D&C 1:30), and we believe God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God,” (Article of Faith 9). There are many great and important “things” that have changed over the years. These may have been held back until the world was ready, or the church was ready, or we had learned other lessons first out of necessity, or other reason based on the wisdom of the Lord. For example, LGBT members see many parallels with Blacks who experienced social, cultural, and doctrinal stigma within and without the Church prior to 1978. In addition, previous Church presidents have made the following statements regarding monogamy:
“Since the founding of the Roman Empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious.”—Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 128
“…the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people.”—John Taylor, Millennial Star, Vol. 15, p. 227
Despite these statements and others by prophets and presidents of the Church, the Church issued The Manifesto in 1890 and eventually subjected those who entered into polygamy to excommunication.
In a Church which teaches that the Lord may reveal His will at any time, all members should be cautious in using absolutes and extremes such as “never-changing,” “irrevocable,” etc.
The last three quotes regarding thoughts and temptation can be especially troublesome to LGBT members who may struggle not only with moral temptation in general, but also the added weight of sexual orientation. In a world where we all fall short of the mark and need to repent repeatedly, it is doubtful that any member, even the holiest mortal of all, would welcome his private thoughts and acts displayed at church for all to see.
All members, gay and straight, should learn the current, accurate, and official positions of the Church regarding sexual orientation at mormonsandgays.org. Merely referring people to the site is not enough. Detailed training at the site and a desire to understand through the Spirit will help tear down walls, build bridges, and seek to edify until all have come to a unity of the faith.
Chapter 18: Beware of Pride
“In the scriptures, there is no such thing as righteous pride—it is always considered a sin. Therefore, no matter how the world uses the term, we must understand how God uses the term so we can understand the language of holy writ and profit thereby.” (p. 232)
“Think of the many who are less active members of the Church because they were offended and their pride will not allow them to forgive or fully sup at the Lord’s table.” (p. 237)
“We can choose to humble ourselves by conquering enmity toward our brothers and sisters, esteeming them as ourselves, and lifting them as high or higher than we are.” (p. 238)
Pride has always been seen as one of the greatest sins, because it leads to so many other sins. The Book of Mormon is replete with examples of sins committed by those whose downward trail began with pride. However, this word has gotten such a “bum rap” in the church that any connotation has almost become taboo. Hence, President Dieter Uchtdorf gave a classic general conference talk (Pride and the Priesthood, Ensign, 11/2012, p.55) to help members understand not all pride is considered sinful. Such a development may be another example of the importance of context, as well as semantics and how the meaning of words change and evolve over time.
The statement regarding less active members whose pride would not allow them to forgive others should be balanced by the intentional or unintentional message from the sender. Many LGBT members and their families have experienced such offensive comments or behavior by others that have led them to be less active, in heart if not in deed. Ideally, offended members should take the initiative to reconcile the matter (D&C 42:88) but if they feel too shamed or offended to do so, humility and love for one’s fellow man should cause the active member to take the initiative to resolve the matter with love tenfold. Many of us can recall a time when we held a grudge but finally went to the offending party with a desire to leave everything behind, and felt the weight of the grudge taken from ourselves as the two of us reconciled in love. Waiting for the other person to take the first step is simply another form of pride that has no place in heaven, the church, or one’s heart.
The final quote regarding humbling ourselves by lifting others up to our level may also be pride in sheep’s clothing. We should be humble enough to consider that, all things considered, we may have need to be lifted up to the level of the other, that we can learn something valuable from the other person by being more teachable and less judgmental.