Perspective on “The Lord’s Standard of Morality”
“So many things are happening within the Church and LDS culture that indicate a broadening understanding of the variety of sexual orientations and a more civil approach to addressing it.”
by Trevor Cook
This month’s Ensign (March 2014) carried a partial reprint of a Brigham Young University-Idaho devotional address by Elder Tad R. Callister titled “The Lord’s Standard of Morality .” When I read it, I was shocked at the apparent distance of the non-heterosexual Latter-day Saint’s experience from the thoughts or understanding of even as high a church leader as this member of the Presidency of the Seventy.
Elder Callister’s brief section headed as “Same-Gender Relationships” centers on a prescription: “Those with same-gender tendencies have a duty (1) to abstain from immoral relationships and (2) do all within their power to avail themselves of the refining, perfecting powers of the Atonement.”
With no other context, the phrase “same-gender tendencies” could reasonably be interpreted as tendencies one holds in common with others of his or her same gender. Here, it can only be understood as referring to sexuality because of an earlier paragraph’s mention of “same-gender relationship[s]” being inconsistent with “God’s eternal pattern” and the culturally LDS association of the phrase “same-gender” with homosexuality. Such vague and imprecise phrasing rhetorically denies the significance of real and valued feelings of gays, lesbians, and others. Within this discursive framework, genuine feelings of love, affection, and goodwill do not spring from a natural physical orientation toward or even an “attraction” for those of the same-sex; rather, they are the illusions of a “tendency” that results not in real relationships but some sort of inherently different and morally reprehensible “same-gender relationship.” Elder Callister thus rhetorically deliberately dismisses the actual feelings and experience of his professed audience.
But, what is wrong with the counsel “(1) to abstain from immoral relationships and (2) do all within [your] power to avail [yourselves] of the refining, perfecting powers of the Atonement”? On the surface, nothing. Indeed, is this not what all disciples of Christ should be striving to do? The problem, again, stems from the statement’s discursive and cultural context.
The mainstream Church culture embodied in the official Ensign magazine idealizes the heterosexual pairing as key to earthly and eternal happiness in a way that implies that full earthly happiness is virtually out of reach for those who cannot meet that standard for whatever reason–be they gay, divorced, or otherwise unattached. Elder Callister condemns “same gender relationship[s]” as “inconsistent with God’s eternal pattern…” and then warns those with “same-gender tendencies” to “abstain from immoral relationships,” conforming to the cultural precedent of denying those on the high side of the Kinsey scale (those mostly or exclusively romantically attracted to those of the same sex) a “righteous” opportunity for full earthly happiness. The failure–as always–to provide a constructive alternative to those in this dilemma beyond simply rejecting their natural ability to participate in wholesome and meaningful (but “sinful”) relationships belies a likely lack of genuine empathy on the part of the speaker.
The implicit logic behind the exhortation that those “with same-gender tendencies… do all within their power to avail themselves of the refining, perfecting powers of the Atonement” is even more pernicious. According to the common understanding of the Plan of Salvation, all people sin, and everyone should avail themselves of these atoning powers. However, a “duty” unique to “those with same-gender tendencies” implies special sinfulness inherent in this population. Their duty is to be “refined” and “perfected” in this area, despite their “worthiness” to hold Church positions and receive temple recommends when they do not act on their “tendencies.” This counsel, following the previous paragraph’s assertion that “…[the] Atonement has the capacity in this life or the life to come to… convert our weaknesses and imperfections into strengths,” plainly connotes an idea of changeability of sexual orientation prevalent in the cultural tradition of the Church.
Elder Callister’s observation of the changing power of the Atonement coming into effect “in this life or the life to come” as well as his pointed designation of an “interim” between when temple recommend “worthy” members begin to “avail themselves” of atoning power and when they are finally “refined” and “perfected” feels to me like yet another denial of any opportunity for real earthly happiness, again with no constructive advice for handling the situation other than to wait it out.
So many things are happening within the Church and LDS culture that indicate a broadening understanding of the variety of sexual orientations and a more civil approach to addressing it: the grassroots formation of organizations like Mormons Building Bridges , the launch of the Church’s official website mormonsandgays.org, increasing fellowship of LGBT members and investigators in many localities, and increasing participation of openly LGBT individuals and couples in the Church, among others. Elder Callister’s published address is a sad reminder of the tradition of misunderstanding and deliberate self-distancing from the non-heterosexual experience that has prevailed among modern Church leadership and that the new understanding seems to be slowly displacing.
Thank you, Trevor, for this well written article. I want to first say that, despite the plainess of his speech, nothing in Elder Callister’s talk seemed to be contrary to the gospel plan. I disagree that much of society is changing. I think ALL of society is changing at ALL times. The gospel, however, does not.
The increasingly used adage “it isn’t a sin to be homosexual, it is a sin to act upon it” held true in the days of Adam. It holds true today. I would imagine, unless God makes a new decree, it will hold true throughout all time and eternity. While I am a heterosexual, married father of 3, I am also a recovering addict. The various objects of my addictions don’t necessarily matter, save you undestand that my tendency to fall into addiction has been a part of me since before I can remember. “Who I am” is someone who can never, left to my own devices, avoid taking what is pleasureable to an unhealthy excess. If it is pleasureable, thrilling, or releasing, I allow it to quickly ensnare me and control me. Being an addict does not result from a lack of self control. An “addict” is simply written into my very being.
I’ve never been denied any of the blessings of full fellowship in the church because I was an addict. I’ve only run into trouble and had my membership jeopardized when I acted upon my addictions. Today, I do not act upon my addictions (at least, not the inherently unhealthy ones… I still love exercise and movies) but I’m never free of being an addict. As I said, it is written into who I am. It is a cross I bear and I imagie I’ll bear it to the end of my mortality.
I just want to say that I firmly support you and the members of Affirmation. Ultimately, our goals are all the same. We want exaltation. We want happiness, in this life if possible.. but ultimately in the life to come. I hope Heavenly Father will bless you and I both with a portion of His spirit and guide us on our journeys.
Your brother in Christ,
I’d like to echo what was said by Olin regarding the addiction angle of dealing with the gay issue. Sexual orientation isn’t an addiction, nor is it anything like one. Sexual addiction is an addiction, porn addiction is an addiction. Both can be part of the homosexual experience just as they can be part of the heterosexual experience, but they are not an inherent part of homosexuality.
So addressing Nathan’s beautifully empathetic comment directly, regarding the portion of the spirit to guide us; thank you, Nathan. 🙂 That’s literally my prayer for all of mankind, and especially for my queer brothers and sisters who are constantly being told they are not accepted by God because of who they are.
I want to declare it here that I have been told by the Spirit of God, consistently and clearly, that homosexuality is misunderstood by religion. The road to exaltation is fraught with danger, including for homosexuals, but our gay identities are not part of the problem. When the body of Christ is ready for the light and understanding that places homosexuality in it’s proper context, only then will the Lord reveal his great mystery.
My desire is not to change the doctrine of the church, nor to agitate for a change of doctrine from within the church. My desire is to change the hearts of those who profess to love the Savior, by asking each of you to open your hearts and minds to the possibility that a change is coming.
Prepare yourselves for it so that the efforts of the church that are currently focused on fighting equality can be used elsewhere. So that families will stop rejecting their LGBT children. So that those who are homosexual can continue building their relationship with deity without being distracted by self-acceptance due to sexual orientation.
When LGBT individuals, who may not stand on the same sturdy ground of testimony that I currently stand on, feel rejected by God, after all of their efforts to change, and when they see the church fumbling to advise and an inability to offer a cure, only able to offer rejection, they lose that most precious gift from God, hope. Remove hope from your life Nathan and where does that leave you? Where does that leave any of us?
I want to declare that it isn’t possible to repent of being gay because being gay isn’t a sin. God is not seeking for us to reorient our sexual orientation. There’s a reason the church hasn’t any idea how to handle this issue yet. God is seeking that we repair our relationships with him, and continue on the path of discipleship within the context of our orientations. He will show the way if we will let go of all our other attachments and cling only to him.
For a more in depth look at biblical interpretations regarding homosexuality, look up Matthew Vines. If you love the Lord, you should love the truth, even if it’s not what you expected. Look him up.
I would like to comment on Nathan’s comment to Trevor’s article. It wasn’t clear to me if Nathan was implying that a homosexual orientation was like an addiction that, while a natural part of one, needs to be resisted and dealt with as unhealthy. I have heard that argument advanced before. My opinion on that matter is that sexual orientation is fundamentally different than a chemical or behavioral addiction. While it is possible to act in compulsive or addictive ways in sexual matters, the fundamental attraction to one or the other gender is not something that can be “let go off” in the way one can avoid something that cause them to be compulsive. I can live a healthy, faithful life in a same sex relationship, but I cannot be happy or healthy suppressing my desire to have that relationship, nor by being in a relationship with an opposite gender person for whom I feel no attraction. Nathan’s remarks were well written and did not directly state that homosexuality should be treated as an addiction, but I came away with that feeling. I hope I am just being overly sensitive.