Talking about Mormonism and homosexuality is kind of like smoking at a gas station: Everyone knows it’s a bad idea, but there is always some knucklehead willing to do it. Tonight, I’m the knucklehead.
Before we wade into the specific issues that are likely to explode in my face, I think it is fair to ask a question: What is the role of a church in a community? More specifically, should a church strive to reflect the prevailing values of the community, making itself as inclusive and inoffensive as possible, or should a church define what it believes to be morally right and then work to encourage its followers and society as a whole to conform to this standard?
This isn’t a new question. Moses and Aaron took different sides of the debate when leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Aaron leaned towards pacifying the people, even if it meant compromising his standards, in part because he placed a premium on keeping people unified through accommodation. The result was a very popular golden calf. Moses, on the other hand, set religious and civil laws literally in stone, and he expected his people to follow them. He believed that his job was to lift people to a higher standard, not just get them across the desert. Moses didn’t always do so well in the polls.
Modern Christianity, in my view, is divided between the Aaron-types and the Moses-types. If you’re an Aaron kind of guy (or gal), then you probably will never agree with the LDS Church’s position on homosexuality…or its position on virtually anything else.
Here’s the upshot: The LDS Church is opposed to homosexual relationships. The Church teaches that homosexual activity is morally unacceptable. But the Church doesn’t single out homosexuality for any particular condemnation. The Church teaches that a whole host of things are morally wrong: Adultery, sex before marriage, pornography, immodest dress, gambling, profanity, violence….it’s really quite a list. For crying out loud, we don’t even drink coffee. The Church’s position on all of these issues is essentially the same: We believe that society is best served when it brings itself in harmony with God’s commandments, as opposed to demanding that God realign His expectations to fit our preferences.
I can feel the eyes rolling already, and I get it. Our society currently ranks tolerance and accommodation very high in the pantheon of virtues. That being the case, any church that has clearly defined expectations of behavior is going to be seen as backwards, judgmental, or dangerous. A fair number of Christians, including Catholics and evangelicals, find themselves sharing the same boat with the Mormons when it comes to traditional values.
Do Mormons recognize that we are out of sync and unpopular on these issues? Sure. But we’re a Moses kind of church, and aren’t inclined to apologize for it. We believe that the road to salvation is defined by faith in Christ and conformity with His commandments. We believe in traditional moral values. We believe that sexual relationships are something sacred, a divine gift by which we share in the unique creative power of God, and we believe that such power only should be used within the bounds that God has defined. Those beliefs dictate certain positions on a host of issues dealing with human sexuality.
That said, the position of the LDS Church on homosexuality is a unique lightening rod, and not without reason.
One reason is political. As proponents of GLBT rights have been more successful in garnering public support for their agenda, they have gained not only political momentum, but also increased media coverage and sympathy. This puts more scrutiny on everyone who has an opinion on issues related to the movement and sharpens the debate. As a result, the LDS Church’s position on Proposition 8 in California generated incredible media attention (and criticism) because it highlighted a difference of opinion. Everybody stops to look at a fight. On the other hand, the Church’s support of an Salt Lake City statute prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation led to far less fanfare. People like to stir up controversy, and the result is that folks on both sides of the issue get louder and more caustic in their comments. It is unbecoming of all of us.
Another reason is social or scientific. Debate rages as to whether a person’s sexual orientation is a matter of choice, genetic determination, or some mixture of the two. That raises the question of whether any church is “right” in opposing conduct that might be motivated by genetics. My personal view is that what sets humankind apart from the animals is our agency, our ability to choose our behavior despite what our “natural” inclinations might be. I’m certain, for instance, that I have a genetic disposition to certain bad behaviors. But I also believe that I have the ability to choose how to respond to those inclinations. I think the LDS Church recognizes that there may be some in-born proclivities towards some matters of sexuality, and that is reflected in its position that homosexual feelings or inclinations will not affect a person’s position in the Church, although homosexual acts do. By the same token, my tendency towards anger isn’t going to keep me out of the temple, but smacking my bishop upside the head is another matter.
A third reason has to do with unfortunate things said by individual members of the Church. I’ve said it in several posts before, and I’m sure I will say it several times in the future: There is no intelligence test when you join the LDS Church. We have our fair share of people who say foolish, uninformed, or stupid things. I know that on this issue specifically feelings have been hurt and people have been wounded because of things said by some LDS people. That isn’t right, but it isn’t fair to attribute those statements to the Church as a whole. No church should be defined by the comments of its nuttiest members.
The Church’s position is that we should treat all people with a Christlike love. No member of the Church should go out of their way to criticize, belittle or insult anyone who doesn’t live the standards of the gospel–because, in reality, none of us do. I don’t hate couples who live together outside of marriage, although I don’t think it’s a good moral choice. I don’t hate people who gamble, view pornography, drink alcohol, or engage in homosexual activity. But I will teach what I believe to be right, and I will try my best to live up to those standards.
If you disagree with that, it’s fine by me. There are plenty of churches that approach things differently, and they’ll even let you have coffee.