The Will of the Lord

Many Latter-day Saints I know have struggled with the recent “policy change” that labels same-sex couples “apostates” and bars their children from baptism. It strikes them, as it does me, as deliberately splitting families and punishing children for the actions of their parents. Brigham Young used to say something to the effect that good doctrine tastes good, but this policy is about as appetizing as a hair omelet.

Most Mormons I know who have been troubled by the policy have said that it’s just a policy, not doctrine, so they don’t feel obligated to agree with it. Policies are the decisions of organizations, and they are subject to change; doctrine reflects the revealed word of God and, at least in theory, doesn’t change. The three-hour block of meetings on Sunday is policy; the saving ordinance of the sacrament is doctrine. The white-shirt-tie-and-nametag missionary ensemble is church policy; Christ’s injunction to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” is doctrine.

For a lot of Mormons, it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with a church policy, even publicly. When I was a young boy, most of the Latter-day Saints I knew in Southern California disagreed with the church’s policy against ordaining men of African descent to the priesthood. It was a policy, they said, and it would change. And of course it did. Yes, some church leaders said it was revealed doctrine, but there was no revelation on the matter that anyone could point to.

I think a lot of people feel the same way about this new anti-gay policy: it’s just a decision of men, and it will change, so church members do not feel obligated to support it. One sign of its temporary nature is that, within a week, the church changed a significant aspect of the policy: originally, a child would be excluded from baptism if he or she is “child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship.” The church later changed this to exclude only children who are currently living with a same-sex couple as their primary residence. Of course, that opens a number of other issues, but I digress.

In short, a policy subject to almost-immediate revision is not set in stone, and does not have the authority of revelation.

Then, this past Sunday, President Russell Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the church changed everything by equating the policy with revelation. Speaking at BYU-Hawaii, President Nelson spoke about how individuals can learn the mind and will of the Lord through study, fasting, and prayer. He compared the individual quest for answers to the process by which the Lord makes His will known to church leaders:

We sustain 15 men who are ordained as prophets, seers, and revelators. When a thorny problem arises–and they only seem to get thornier each day–these 15 men wrestle with the issue, trying to see all the ramifications of various courses of action, and they diligently seek to hear the voice of the Lord. After fasting, praying, studying, pondering, and counseling with my brethren about weighty matters, it is not unusual for me to be awakened during the night with further impressions about issues with which we are concerned. And my brethren have the same experience. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together and share all the Lord has directed us to understand and to feel individually and collectively, and then we watch the Lord move upon the president of the church to proclaim the Lord’s will.

This prophetic process was followed in 2012 with the change in minimum age for missionaries, and again with the recent additions to the church’s handbook consequent to the legalization of same-sex marriage in some countries. Filled with compassion for all, and especially for the children, we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter. Ever mindful of God’s plan of salvation and of His hope for eternal life for each of His children, we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer, and sought further direction and inspiration, and then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson. Revelation from the Lord to His servants is a sacred process. So is your privilege of receiving personal revelation. My dear brothers and sisters, you have as much access to the mind and will of the Lord, for your own life, as we apostles do for His church. Just as the Lord requires us to seek and ponder, fast and pray, study and wrestle with difficult questions, He requires you to do the same as you seek answers to your own questions.

President Nelson leaves little room for disagreement here: according to him, this new policy was given by revelation and represents the mind and will of the Lord.

Nelson

My initial response was a little snarky in that I said I could see two possible explanations:

  1. God is a muddleheaded douchebag.
  2. These guys don’t know the mind and will of the Lord.

Snark aside, for believing Latter-day Saints, I think President Nelson has drawn a distinct line: either you sustain the policy as the revealed will of the Lord, or you don’t. There’s no middle ground, no excusing it as a matter of policy.

For the record, I am sure these men “wrestled” with this issue, and I want to believe they had the best of intentions. In the end, however, this policy is hurtful and wrong, and anything but compassionate.

Looking back at my life as a believing Mormon, I probably would have accepted President Nelson’s words at face value, put my personal feelings aside, and sustained this policy as the revealed will of the Lord. I suspect a lot of people I know are doing just that. Heaven knows I forced myself to believe, say, and do things I thought were wrong–just  because I believed the church was right, no matter what.

But I also think it would have gnawed at my conscience, despite my best efforts to fall in line. President Monson has often quoted Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to illustrate that one cannot say one thing when your heart says something else:

It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray; and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was, and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. … I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. … It was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, … but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.

In context, however, Twain is writing about the conflict between one’s conscience and what others tell you is right. In this passage, Huck isn’t praying about giving up a vice or sin; rather, he is wrestling over whether he should turn in the runaway slave, Jim. Society, the law, religion–all of these tell him that slavery is right, and helping a slave escape is wrong, but his heart tells him otherwise.

I think I would have forced myself to accept and sustain the policy, but I would have known it was wrong. I’ve felt this way before. The summer before I left on my mission, I worked for a time as a janitor at a dialysis center (this was 1983). I got to know several of the patients fairly well, as they came in regularly. One African-American man I met was what I would call a religious seeker. He told me he was looking for the true church on earth, the kingdom of God, where he knew he was supposed to be. He asked me about Mormonism and what I believed. Then, of course, he asked about the priesthood restrictions that had been rescinded only 5 years earlier. He asked me to explain why, and I couldn’t. No answer I could come up with was adequate. A friend had recently returned from a mission to Jamaica and had said the granting of the priesthood was gradual: first only to the Israelites, then (as of the New Testament) to the Gentiles, and finally to black men. It didn’t sound right to me, especially since the New Testament made it abundantly clear that no one was “unclean” any longer and unworthy of the blessings of the gospel. I did my best to justify a policy I had never agreed with, but it was no use. He knew, and I knew, that it had been wrong.

This morning I am thinking of all those in the church who want to sustain the leaders of the church but recognize that this policy is wrong and harmful. I would imagine there will be some wrestling, fasting, praying, and studying. And that’s a good thing. I’m glad I don’t have to wrestle with this at all.

Advertisements

27 Responses to The Will of the Lord

  1. malkie says:

    Excellent analysis, as always, Runtu.

    This morning I am thinking of all those in the church who completely sustain the leaders of the church regardless of whether this policy is wrong and harmful. I suspect that there are many of them, and that they are not conflicted at all because the right thing to do, always, is to follow the prophet.

    You say: “The church later changed this to exclude only children who are currently living with a same-sex couple as their primary residence. Of course, that opens a number of other issues, but I digress.” Future post topic?

  2. yaanufs says:

    It sounds to me like the LDS church leaders are doubling down on their bigotry. It looks like we are back in the 1960’s and 70’s, when they did the same thing with respect to the priesthood ban for blacks.

  3. cl2 says:

    Though I am long out, I do struggle with this “revelation” since my children have a gay father. My daughter is TBM. At least she isn’t younger than 8, but how will this affect her in her life? I have plenty of other reasons for being angry and hurt by this, but I won’t go into them here. I’m choosing not to post anything on fb this time around. I thought of posting this. I may do it later if you give me permission. Thanks for writing this. It has helped me.

  4. I’ve heard rumors that Nelson alone or with one other person pushed this policy through by having Monson signing it without the normal discussion that accompanies these decisions. Perhaps, now afraid of the ill-conceived policy being reversed by his peers or successors, he is attempting to insulate the change by wrapping it as doctrine. I have not heard of any other Mormon apostles calling it revelation.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a “clarification” of Nelson’s remarks in the near future blaming others for misinterpreting the remarks, and emphasizing that the policy is only a policy.

  5. malkie says:

    I read Pres Nelson’s remarks as coming not from the current Pres of the Q12, but as coming from the man who will likely be the next prophet. The cynic in me (usually dominant 🙂 ) sees this as a move to get this awkward topic out of the way before the death of Pres Monson.

  6. CAB says:

    I suffer from no illusions concerning those “best of intentions.”

  7. shematwater says:

    While this was well written, it does not take into account a number of things that are affected by the issue.
    For instance, the damage that can be done to the church if the policy was not in place. I realize that everyone here believes there is nothing wrong with being gay, but the scriptures and the church have always condemned the practice. One cannot have as doctrine that the practice is inherently wrong and then allow people to practice it without facing consequences. It would cause chaos.
    Also, for those who believe that God does condemn this practice to allow it would be to spit in the face of God, and thus bring condemnation unto the church.

    As to the splitting of families, allowing the children to be baptized has a far greater potential of harming families than this policy. How do you think a child will be affected when they attend a church that openly condemns their parent’s chosen lifestyle. The psychological damage such a situation can cause has a high probability of causing tensions in families and dividing the children from the parents, something the church wishes to avoid.
    The only other way to avoid this is to ignore the clear condemnation of homosexual relations that is contained in the doctrine, which takes us back to the first point.

    Simply put, there was no other course the church could take an maintain the doctrine that it has held since the days of Adam.

    • runtu says:

      Well, I’m glad you’ve worked it out to your satisfaction.

      • vikingz2000 says:

        As a person who no longer has any affinity for ‘the Church’, I was put off by this so-called ‘policy’, and I read a lot of responses about it that seemed to clearly demonstrate I was justified to feel the why I did. Since then, though, the dust has settled a little more and I *think* I can see the LDS church’s point of view as being valid *for them*. Hence, I agree with Shematwater’s opinion.

        Clearly, the LDS church has the right to define what it is, what it stands for, who it is for and against, who can join and not join, etc., etc.. The LDS church, unlike some other churches, is not *its members*; is not ‘we the people’, even as a majority voice. There used to be some notion of ‘common consent’ in the LDS church, but that has just become a ‘rubber stamp’ hanger-on from yesteryear, which is now enacted during the church’s General Conference twice a year as an inane formality only. In reality, it absolutely has no power to effectuate any change, or do anything else. The LDS church *today* has morphed into what it is, plain and simple — an entity unto itself. Hence, you either like it or lump it, and they (the powers that be at most any level) have complete liberty to do whatever the heck they want, and if you don’t like it, then they’ll gladly point you to the door (and I really mean ‘gladly’ despite their outward, feigning concern for a person’s salvation and overall well-being).

        For some reason, they ‘say’ they care about everyone and want to reactivate their inactive members, etc., but in reality they don’t give a hoot or a holler about the so-called (in their eyes) prodigals, the wayward, the these and the those ‘other’ types of people, and especially the ‘queer’ ones. In essence, they only care about who they want to care about, i.e., principally those who sustain them (keep them in power), agree with them, send money their way, give free service, etc..

        So, you may sardonically think Shematwater has “worked it out to [his] satisfaction’ in the sense that he’s off on the wrong track somehow by not being on the same page as you, but I too think the LDS church felt that it was on a slippery slope with regard to its doctrine against homosexuality (although to think that it goes all the way back “since the days of Adam” is a stretch!), and so enough is enough, and they, as ‘watchmen on the tower’, felt that there was no other recourse but to take a staunch stand against everything homosexual and let the chips fall were they may.

        Also, let’s be fair and clear here. A LOT of people everywhere in the world do not approve of homosexuality, and not just staunch ‘follow the prophet’ Mormons. My wife and I don’t think it’s a good thing, although as authentic heterosexuals we are open to the fact that we can’t get inside the head of an authentic homosexual—we are totally unable to identify with the way they feel and think with regard to SSA. And I an sure they are not capable of feeling what we feel as heterosexuals. It’s just as foreign to us as it is foreign to them respectively. But do we think they should be discriminated against and especially their non-gay children? No, but I can understand where the Mormon church is coming from, or at least for right now.

        Sorry for the long entry.

  8. yaanufs says:

    But shematwater and vikingz2000, the doctrine (since it is now more than a simple policy) is a problem because it isn’t about the church not wishing practicing homosexuals in its ranks, it is a problem because it specifically goes after the children of those folks.
    The church is happy to cause rifts and problems in other families where there may be parents who are not Mormon, allowing children to be baptised and hear all about how their family is not an “eternal family” because of the parents choices, etc. The church is all for that kind of family tension, it doesn’t care about protecting the harmony of the family or the child in those situations.
    But suddenly it claims it cares about the harmony of LBGT families – yeah right!

    • runtu says:

      Exactly. I have tried to give the church the benefit of the doubt on this, but I can’t. As you say, it’s understandable that they don’t want gays in the church, but going after kids and splitting up families is unacceptable.

    • vikingz2000 says:

      “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” – Jesus

      “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” – Jesus

      However, it seems the Mormon church makes no distinction between adults (for which, as far as I am concern, the above quotes of Jesus exclusively pertain to) and children. For the Mormon church, spiritual or ecclesiastic infanticide and childhood homicide is justifiable.

      • runtu says:

        Honestly, I have no problem with the church excluding sexually active gays and lesbians. That’s always been church doctrine. What bothers me about this policy is that it targets children for the actions of their parents. I know active LDS members whose ex-spouses are gay and living with someone of the same sex. These active LDS members take their kids to church, but according to the policy, the kids can’t get baptized unless they never live with their gay parent or they turn 18 and denounce the relationship. In the meantime, these kids will still go to church, but they’ll be the ones who aren’t baptized, and of course, kids are really kind to those who are different.

        It’s just a bad policy. I understand the reasons for it, but as I said, the decision seems to have been made that any damage done to families is worth it so the church can maintain a firm line on same-sex marriage.

    • vikingz2000 says:

      Totally in agreement, yes, it’s absolutely about “suffer the little children to come unto me”, and other affirmations by the Christ about the sanctity of children—far more than any concern or sanctity of what consenting adults want to do with their appendages and orifices. But the Mormon church isn’t ‘conventionally’ Christian; it’s *Mormon*!

      “Yeah, sure, I’m a ‘Christian’, but I *always* refer to myself as being a Mormon first and foremost.” – Normal Norman, the Mormon doorman

      “I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam… Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet.” (History of the Church, 6:408–409” – Joseph Smith Jr.

      And so Norman affirm, “Joseph Smith is a ‘dead’ prophet so it doesn’t matter as much what he or any other dead prophet said; we follow the *living* prophet(s).”

    • shematwater says:

      No child under the legal age of consent can be baptized without the express permission of their parents. That has always been the policy of the church, and always will be. I believe it is also true that no woman can be baptized without the permission of her husband.
      These policies are in place to preserve the family, which is the foundation of society. You can ridicule the church all you want, but the new policy is the best middle ground they could have achieved. Making anything different would tip the scales to either do greater harm to the family or do greater harm to the gospel.
      Honestly, in everything that has been said here I don’t see much consideration for the future effects of what is being advocated.

      • John says:

        Those original policies you cited should’ve been sufficient to deal with this issue. The new policies now create an inequality in the church. Now, some children can be baptized whose parents are okay with it. And some children can’t be baptized even if their parents are okay with it. They have singled out the sin of “same-sex marriage” as being a particular kind of sin distinct from other sins. It is now considered more egregious than forcible rape, because same-sex marriage now makes a disciplinary council mandatory, whereas child abuse and rape are on a list of sins for which a disciplinary council MAY be called according to the Priesthood leaders’ discretion.

      • Jewelfox says:

        You’re assuming that the parents won’t consent to the child being baptized. It seems like if that were always the case, this policy would be redundant.

        There are a lot of stories in the Ensign and New Era about how tragic it is that, say, the Catholic parent in a mixed-faith marriage (or divorce) won’t let their child be baptized, or tells them that if they go on a mission they can never come back. Somehow I don’t think that we’ll see too many stories like that with this policy, because the goal seems to be to make sure that church members never have contact with kids of icky gay marriages.

        It’s easy to hold such a hypocritical view (“suffer the children” / exclude the children) when nobody calls you on it.

      • shematwater says:

        Jewel

        The goal is to avoid those stories, and nothing else. That is my point. The policy lessens the chance of dividing a family.

        John

        You should read more about church policy before you misrepresent it. This is taken from the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manuel, Enrichment I (https://www.lds.org/manual/doctrine-and-covenants-student-manual/enrichments/enrichment-i-judges-in-israel-watching-over-the-church?lang=eng).

        “When are disciplinary councils convened?
        Disciplinary councils may be necessary for members who commit serious sins. These include adultery, fornication, abortion, homosexual relations, incest, child molesting, cruelty to family members, assault, stealing, fraud, abandoning one’s family, and other serious sins.

        In certain cases, a disciplinary council is mandatory. These include:
        1. Murder, incest, and child abuse.
        2. Apostasy (such as repeatedly opposing the Church in public).
        3. Serious sins while holding a prominent position in the Church.
        4. Transgressors who are predators.
        5. Individuals who demonstrate a pattern of serious transgression.
        6. Serious transgressions that are widely known.

        It is not necessary to convene a disciplinary council when members are totally inactive in the Church unless they are influencing others toward apostasy or they submit a written request for excommunication. Unless an apostate sect is involved, a disciplinary council should not be convened for a member who attends another church. (See Relief Society Courses of Study, 1978–79, p. 41.)

        So, yes, rape and child abuse mandate disciplinary counsels. Same-Sex marriage has not been elevated above them, but has been placed as equally egregious.

      • runtu says:

        If the goal is to avoid these situations, the process for children of “apostates” ought to be the same. It is not.

      • shematwater says:

        The difference is the very public nature of this issue. Most apostates aren’t going to give permission for their children to be baptized, and those who do are generally not vocal or in the public eye regarding it.
        You are again only looking at this from one side of the issue. The church must consider how any issue or policy will affect the church itself, as well as how it will affect individuals. The policy is the best way to protect both.
        The policy makes it very clear that there is no bending on this issue, no negotiations. It prevents confusion and prevents people trying to weasel their way through loopholes. However, at the same time it is striving to reduce the stress and friction within families to lessen the risk of dividing and breaking up families.

  9. I really resonated with this:
    “Looking back at my life as a believing Mormon, I probably would have accepted President Nelson’s words at face value, put my personal feelings aside, and sustained this policy as the revealed will of the Lord. I suspect a lot of people I know are doing just that. Heaven knows I forced myself to believe, say, and do things I thought were wrong–just because I believed the church was right, no matter what.”

    Thanks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: