Two Degrees off Center: The S Word
“Two Degrees off Center” is a blog by Rich Keys about the personal struggles, issues, and topics that speak to the LDS/LGBT experience. Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, but will always approach things from a slightly different perspective.
by Rich Keys
While serving as Mr. Music on the piano in the Primary for many years, I noticed something amazing, a constant regardless of the ward or who was involved. Every time the instructor taught her lesson on repentance and asked the 3-year-olds in the front row, aka the Sunbeams, two key questions, the answers were always the same…
“How do you think Billy felt when he wouldn’t share his toys with his younger brother?”
“What should Billy say to his little brother?”
Their innocence, their desire to do good, their pure love of Christ and their fellow man… A child knows inherently when something is right and when it’s not. It seems to be in their DNA from day 1. When Mom or Dad asks them, “What do you say?” they instinctively say, “Sorry.” Every time-out, every family home evening lesson, every time they’re sent to their room like a dead man walking, every “teaching opportunity”… The end goal is always the same… go to the person you’ve offended and say “Sorry.” Even the steps of repentance taught by the church to us in Sunday School and seminary, on missions, and throughout our adult lives, whether involving 4 steps, or 5, or even 6, always include the word, “sorry.”
Every time we get on our knees and bow to God and ask his forgiveness for wrongs that weren’t right, we’re saying, “sorry,” whether we use that word or not, and if we’re only 5 years old and we’re not even capable of sinning, if we’re pure as the proverbial snow and have no inclination to do bad but to always to do good, we’re still taught to get on our knees when we don’t let our younger sibling play with our toys and say to God, “sorry,” and then go to the person and say the same thing. When we cross the line of baptism and the hormones kick in and the stakes get higher and more serious, we go to our bishop or branch president, close the door, and say, “Sorry.” And on and on throughout our lives here on earth.
But somewhere along the way, that DNA mutates into another variant, to use the current vernacular. Pride seeks out that innocent DNA, infects it, and we carry the pride virus the rest of our lives. We haven’t found a cure for it, so the best we can do is to treat it, get the initial shot, and then frequent booster shots when it comes back in so many different versions.
President Nelson has begun to address this problem in stronger, more specific statements and programs than ever before condemning racism and hateful speech and behavior, focusing on Christlike love, loving your fellow man, coming together, finding common ground, getting rid of the labels, and just learning to get along. Taken in a greater context, it seems to be the same lesson for everyone, whether in the church or throughout the world: Humble yourselves sufficiently and say, “Sorry.” So simple, even a Sunbeam in Primary can understand it.
So a recent headline hit my inbox and caught my attention, not by what the article said, but what it didn’t:
The article reported that over 370 religious leaders from across the world had signed a declaration asking for forgiveness for harm caused to the LGBTQIA+ community and to the end of criminalization of homosexuality and gay conversion therapy.
In effect, all these religious leaders around the world humbled themselves like a child and said “sorry” to the gay community.
I eagerly read the entire article word for word, anticipating the good news. Then I read it again, hoping I’d missed it. I searched for footnotes, addendums, and anywhere else it could be, but it wasn’t there. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its leaders were not among the 370 throughout the world to sign the declaration.
The declaration asks forgiveness from those “whose lives have been damaged and destroyed on the pretext of religious teaching.” It also calls for an end to criminalization on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, and for violence against LGBT people to be condemned; and it calls for all attempts to change, suppress, or erase a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression—commonly known as “conversion therapy”—to end, and for these harmful practices to be banned.
One of the leaders acknowledged there was “diversity in the faith communities about what should be done in terms of blessing or withholding blessing for LGBTQIA+ couples and LGBTQIA+ practice,” and there was an ongoing conversation about it. But everyone who signed the declaration “is committed, or say they’re committed, to standing against homophobia and standing against the oppression and marginalization of LGBTQIA+ people.”
I’m sure there was a lot of give and take and compromise and rewording before getting to the final draft. I can’t remember when 370 religious leaders ever came together on anything since the Nicene Creed in 325 A.D. In addition, the LDS Church is world-wide enough now to sit at the big people’s table and take part in something like this and has enough wisdom and Christlike clout to tweak its preferences in it—and it certainly has enough history with the gay community to be admitted to such a group, humbling itself like a child, and saying we were wrong.
…and there’s the heart of the problem with the Church towards the gays. The Church doesn’t practice what it preaches. It doesn’t say “sorry.”
Don’t take my word for it. Dallin H. Oaks, currently first counselor in the First Presidency and next in line to become church president, stated in an interview about gays and the Church when he was an apostle in 2015:
“I know that the history of the Church is not to seek apologies or to give them. We sometimes look back on issues and say ‘that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,’ but we look forward and not backward…. The church doesn’t seek apologies and we don’t give them.” He also stated “the word ‘apology’ doesn’t appear in LDS scriptures.”
Since then, I’ve never seen a retraction, correction, addendum, clarification, or deletion of it—and definitely no apology—from Oaks or his boss. It still seems to stand as is.
I have wrestled with the Spirit ever since I read this, trying to make sense of the apparent hypocrisy of such a position. Maybe it’s the infallibility of the “one and only true church” so it can’t admit to an Oops, or they’re the defenders of the true faith, or it’s a history of persecution and holding our ground, or any fear of change, or the church doesn’t want to upset its core hardliners, or maybe it just wishes we’d all go away.
But this same church also makes one of its core articles of faith the belief of personal revelation to every individual from God Himself, not through Mary or the prophet or any other intercessor… and the doctrine even gives its members a booster shot—the gift of the Holy Ghost—which allows the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to each of us—directly, constantly, as long as we’re trying to behave ourselves.
So I’m still trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together on this, but until it makes more sense or the church does a course correction, I’m left with the following:
First, when the Primary instructor asks what Billy should say to his younger brother when he didn’t share his toys with him, little Suzie in the front row is never going to say, “counterproductive.” She’ll always say “sorry.”
Second, even if the LDS Church is the true church, is it the right church?
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all posts in the Two Degrees off Center blog series.