My alma mater, Brigham Young University, has received a lot bad press and criticism over its treatment of gay students and faculty over a number of years. So, it surprised me when a friend sent me a link to a ranting attack on BYU from “Standard of Liberty,” a “Christ-centered educational foundation which exists to raise awareness of radical sexual movements overrunning America’s Christian-moral-cultural life and to inspire the public will, families, and individuals to counteract these trends.”
I should note that the “standard of liberty” refers to a Book of Mormon episode wherein a righteously indignant Captain Moroni raises “the title of liberty” to rally the people around defending righteousness:
And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.
And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land …
And he did raise the standard of liberty in whatsoever place he did enter, and gained whatsoever force he could in all his march towards the land of Gideon. (Book of Mormon, Alma 46:12-13; 62:4)
The authors of the article are Stephen and Janice Graham, who apparently maintain the website. Why are these righteous standard-bearers upset with BYU? They tell us that they have “have tried to refrain from reporting anything too negative about BYU or any other Church-affiliated organization or business.” But apparently, BYU has crossed a line:
If you think BYU upholds traditional family values, think again. Certain department heads, professors, guest lecturers, and students have become a law unto themselves, regularly preaching all manner of progressivism including socialism, radical feminism, anti-Americanism, revisionist history, outdated Darwinism, and popular homosexualism, and continue to be supported, employed, and welcomed.
There is much to comment on here, but there have always been “progressives” at BYU. And when I was in school back in the late 80s and early 90s, we studied Marxism, feminism, Darwinism, and other such heresies regularly. A university is supposed to welcome a diversity of viewpoints and disciplines, and BYU does that while simultaneously upholding a religious mission and promoting its values, which, not surprisingly, are what most people would consider “traditional family values.”
If such teachings have been commonplace at BYU for years, why are they suddenly condemning “The Lord’s University”?
The issue of homosexuality is a prime example. Incredible and exasperating as it is, we must face the fact that our beloved and trusted BYU has made concessions, step by step, for homosexuality as an alternative sexual identity to be accepted and respected. This is reflected in the change BYU made to its Honor Code in 2007 (with input from gay activist students) which approved the accepting of openly gay instructors and students. Individuals acting out, however, is still prohibited, although the definition of acting out is open to interpretation, rationalization, and can easily be covered in secrecy. Even though the honor code still prohibits the advocating of homosexuality, advocating homosexuality is definitely happening. Of course all these problems are born of the compromising and soul-killing inconsistency of allowing homosexuality in principle but not in practice.
In summary, they want the university to condemn homosexual behavior (“acting out”) and reject those who have homosexual desires as inherently evil. BYU is right to recognize that there are gay students and faculty members who are willing to conform to the university’ honor code and refrain from acting on their desires. That the university understands this reality is a positive sign. I have seen church leaders and members deal with their LGBT brothers and sisters with respect, compassion, and even acceptance. It cannot be easy to be a gay Mormon, and I am grateful that there are so many good people who can get beyond dogma and deal with people as individuals.
In recent years, the LDS church has consistently taught that it is not sinful to have homosexual desires; it only becomes sinful when those desires are acted upon. Again, this puts tremendous pressure on gay members to remain lifelong celibates, which to me sounds miserable. But this isn’t enough for the “Standard of Liberty” folks. What the church calls policy they call “the compromising and soul-killing inconsistency of allowing homosexuality in principle but not in practice.”
I could go through their laundry list of complaints about the “intrusion of the lawless traveling gay advocacy group[s]” and a BYU-sponsored group “Understanding Same-Gender Attraction,” which they hyperbolically say is “really about affirming out-of-bounds sexual lust.” But the problem with these people is that they have set themselves up as a righteous corrective to the moral decline of BYU and, by extension, its sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is, of course, dangerous ground for an otherwise faithful Mormon to occupy.
In the LDS church, revelation and inspiration flow in one direction: from the leadership downward to those under their “stewardship.” President Boyd K. Packer has said, “You must decide now which way you face.” He said that even well-intentioned church members may “be turned about without realizing that it has happened…. Unwittingly we may turn about and face the wrong way. Then the channels of revelation are reversed.” He went on to say
There is the need now to be united with everyone facing the same way. Then the sunlight of truth, coming over our shoulders, will mark the path ahead. If we perchance turn the wrong way, we will shade our eyes from that light and we will fail in our ministries.
The Grahams and their fellows have clearly turned about and have begun challenging the leadership of the church. I have seen this all through my years in the LDS church: Members get upset when the church doesn’t support their pet belief, so they become convinced that the church is wrong for having compromised or abandoned their position. A good example of this is the proliferation of polygamous offshoots of the LDS church when polygyny was officially abandoned between 1890 and 1904. I’ve also known people who became convinced that the church was in apostasy because it did not publicly support Birch Society politics (I knew two men who stashed automatic weapons at Temple Square because they were convinced that President Benson was being silenced by evil and conspiring men).
But such people are no different from liberal dissenters from the church. There is little difference between saying that the church is wrong in not accepting homosexuality and saying that the church is wrong for being too accepting of homosexuality. Both reflect the belief that the church member knows better than his or her church. And if you know anything about Mormonism, you understand that such a belief is rightly considered the “spirit of apostasy” within the church.
The LDS church is in a difficult position regarding LGBT members. In Mormonism, one must be married in a heterosexual union that is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise to attain exaltation and godhood. Thus, there is no place in LDS theology for homosexuality. But the church understands that same-gender attraction is a part of many members’ lives, and it cannot be ignored or wished away. If anything, BYU ought to be applauded for making changes that recognize the reality of gay members’ lives. Faithful members who are upset that the church isn’t sticking to their rigidly held beliefs ought to take some time to think through their position.
On a personal note, I cannot imagine being as cold-hearted as the Grahams. Where I see people struggling to make their way through difficult circumstances, they see only deviance and debauchery. While the church rightly distinguishes between thought and action, they insist that “homosexuality should still be officially, courageously, and correctly shown as sinful and harmful in both thought and deed in every ward, stake, and Church-owned or endorsed group, business, or education entity.” I don’t know what has motivated their obsessive intolerance of homosexuality, but I sincerely hope they have no gay children.
If nothing else, they aren’t any different from me in preferring their own judgment over the church’s teachings. But, unlike them, I acknowledge my apostasy.