10 May 2009

Where's The Beef?

Warning: I am in philosophical argument mode again. If you're looking for light fluff, go elsewhere. This thing reads like a legal brief.

If you're part of the handful of friends who still take time to read my drivel, I hope this post doesn't bore you. I don't want to sound like Johnny One Note. But the California Supreme Court's decision on Proposition 8 is due within the next few weeks, which in light of recent actions in Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, means that we can expect yet another round of major public attention on the issue of same-sex marriage. That means more attention on and by the Church regarding the issue. And for those who are hopelessly addicted to analysis and debate, like your humble correspondent, that means more puzzling and deliberation over how to harmonize what's heretofore seemed completely irreconcilable. So if you're tired of this topic, now's probably a good time to click elsewhere.

Lately I've been puzzling over the reasons for the Church's suddenly ferocious activity on this issue last year. If the Church doesn't oppose civil marriage between a man and a woman for time only when that marriage is purely a matter of civil law with no religious aspect or implications, why would it oppose exactly the same thing if the only difference were that both parties were the same gender? Obviously the gender difference is crucial for the Church. But why? Why does the Church obsess so much about the gender difference as allegedly essential to a marriage? On what does the Church's opposition to same-sex marriage rest? There are several possible sources.

First, because there's a doctrinal basis? That means we have to look to the Scriptures. But careful examination reveals that the answers are less cut & dried than most Mormons think. Other Christian sects are all over the map on this issue, and they all speak from the same Bible. Sound historical and theological scholarship from other Christian churches makes a compelling case that, despite popular opinion, the handful of Bible scriptures which touch on homosexuality do not condemn it as many modern Christians mistakenly believe. So the Bible by itself is no infallible guide.

What about the uniquely LDS canon? First of all, it says nothing--nothing--about homosexuality. And if there's a theological basis for the Church's insistence on opposite genders in marriage, it's Doc. & Cov. 132, which says that to achieve the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, a man and woman must enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage which then facilitates eternal progeny. But that Section also acknowledges that even within the Celestial Kingdom there are two other "degrees" for which eternal marriage is not a prerequisite, and it further acknowledges that the overwhelming majority of God's children will not end up in the Celestial Kingdom at all, whose highest degree is the only place where the temple marriage of a man and woman makes any difference (as far as we know now).

In addition, the 9th Article of Faith declares as a matter of doctrine that the LDS Church does not have the full picture on anything right now, so any Latter-day Saint who pronounces the 132nd Section as the ultimate definition of anything is contradicting him or herself. Accordingly, if our own scriptures affirm that our knowledge is incomplete and we expect more instruction from God on this and other things, and if most people are destined for other places where it won't matter whether they were married in the temple to someone of the opposite gender or not, then it is difficult to say that the LDS Scriptural canon prohibits same-sex marriage or justifies the Church's opposition to it on theological grounds. The best that could be said is that same-sex marriage may not be eternally "optimal" as far as we currently understand. But if civil marriages for time only won't be effective after this life anyway, why should the Church care what the genders in those civil marriages are?

This suggests that the Church's opposition rests more on socio-cultural grounds than on theology or revelation, more on a historical tradition of homophobia than revealed knowledge. But maybe the Church is blending the two. Which leads to the second possible explanation.

That second explanation is that it's essentially a missionary effort. The Church may be trying in good faith to make temple marriage as widely available as possible in order to maximize the top tier's population (to put it bluntly), and therefore believes it must fight anything that might detour otherwise available candidates from that goal.

While this may be well-intentioned, it betrays ignorance of the realities of sexual orientation. "Sexual" orientation in this context is probably a misnomer, because evidence is overwhelming that sex is only one part, and ultimately not the most important one, of any person's attraction. Overall orientation is a function of who one desires to be with emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically, as well as sexually. It's a question of who you feel that deepest desire for connection with on every level, of who makes your heart race and your breath short, of who your eyes instinctively go to when you or they enter a room. It's a matter of spirit to spirit, and to dismiss it simplistically as either a choice or nothing more than hormones gone slightly haywire is to betray profound ignorance. Unfortunately, most of the Church's history of dealing with this issue has been based on ignorance of this fact and of the growing body of scientific research that verifies it. But the point is that, with this understanding, there's really no point in trying to "maximize" the availability of temple marriage through essentially enforcing heterosexuality by banning same-sex marriage. Orientation is ineradicable. Some claim to change but all they really do is learn coping skills. Their desires remain the same. If this is the Church's motivation for opposing same-sex marriage, then it's going down a blind alley and its efforts will make no difference.

Another implication of this response is that a gay person of honesty and integrity who is not already married is probably going to conclude that they are not capable of the honest commitment that a temple marriage requires. In which case, why punish them for their integrity by insisting--even if they are not LDS!--that for some future purpose which the Church itself can't even define, they must deny themselves any of the rich fulfillment of sexual intimacy with a married partner, the sort of fulfillment which every apostle of the LDS Church obviously recognizes as essential for themselves? We don't insist that non-LDS heterosexual persons who don't meet temple standards stay celibate and unmarried. Why do it for gay people, especially those who are honest about their orientation? Caught like mice in a maze with no exit by such mandates by the LDS and other churches, is it any wonder so many gay guys particularly resort to drink and drugs and promiscuity? What else is left to them?

Third, "the prophet said so and he will never lead us astray." Many in the Church interpret letters from the First Presidency as essentially canonical. For them, "when the prophet speaks the thinking has been done" even though past presidents of the Church have specifically stated that this popular attitude in the Church is wrong. Furthermore, the First Presidency's letter requesting support for Proposition 8 was stated in the form of a request. It was not mandated or made a matter of faith or doctrine. No canonized scripture was cited in support to illustrate why the Church may have had no choice. L. Whitney Clayton of the Seventy, one of the Church's spokesmen during the Proposition 8 campaign, stated publicly that Church members were free to disagree with the First Presidency's request to support Proposition 8 without fear of repercussion.

If opposition to same-sex marriage were a matter of doctrine, then open support for it would constitute apostasy and Mormons could lose their membership for it. While that actually has been threatened in a handful of cases by zealous local leaders, most LDS opponents of Proposition 8 have been treated as Whitney Clayton said. Bear in mind that I am not talking about individual faith or obedience here; my inquiry is limited to the bases for the Church's opposition to same-sex marriage. And the First Presidency's letter really didn't give much justification.

Rather than being a sudden and unexpected revelation, many members of the Church probably don't know that the Church's opposition to Proposition 8 was simply the latest step in a well-orchestrated and nearly 2 decades old plan by the Church to oppose civil unions and same-sex marriage throughout the United States, one germinated long ago by senior Church leadership at a time when they apparently clung to the idea that orientation was either a choice or could be changed. The Church has now backed off that position and grudgingly acknowledged that orientation is a "core characteristic" but still hedges its bets by saying this characteristic "may" not be changeable "in this life" for "some". But with God apparently choosing not to speak yet on the matter, the Church finds itself in an ever-more delicate dance trying to reconcile its theology with the increasing body of evidence about orientation that simply cannot be harmonized with that theology. Ultimately one of them will have to give way. That is also probably why the First Presidency's letter was not couched in terms of official doctrine. I believe it's also because, as with Pres. Hinckley, the current First Presidency simply doesn't know the answers and so they are defaulting back to familiar territory but, recognizing the implications of the 9th Article of Faith and their own lack of revealed knowledge, recognized that they couldn't make compliance a doctrinal requirement. They are smart men walking an increasingly fine line. What else could they do?

Fourth possibility: same-sex marriage legitimizes homosexual sex, which God (that, is, the Scriptures) says is wrong. But the Scriptures also condemn heterosexual divorce, adultery, and fornication much more frequently and vigorously than they do gay sex, yet countless "good Christians" the world over make common allowance for divorce and don't condemn the institution of marriage because many of its adherents don't keep their covenants. As noted above, there is compelling historical and theological scholarship from other Christian churches which concludes that the few Bible scriptures which touch on homosexuality do not condemn it as many modern Christians mistakenly believe. If the popular and mistaken interpretations of those scriptures are actually the foundation for the LDS Church's opposition to Proposition 8, then Mormons should be free to reach their own conclusions about it. Oh, wait, that's exactly what Whitney Clayton of the 70 said we were free to do.

The question here is whether gay sex is inherently wrong solely because it is between two people of the same gender. If non-marital sex is condemned far more frequently and severely in the Scriptures than gay sex, then it is reasonable to conclude that it's not the genders that make the difference but rather it's the lack of the marriage covenant. Sex is a wonderful and special and intimate thing with profound repercussions for the partners far beyond the physical buzz. It should be respected and cherished. Marriage places safeguards around its expression that are wise and good. If marriage covenants are in place and both spouses do their best to honor them, then the protections for sexual expression are the same regardless of whether the genders of the spouses are the same or different. In which case, why would the genders matter?

So to sum up. The scriptural basis for the Church's opposition to same-sex marriage is questionable at best. If its opposition is socio-cultural then it has no more claim on inspiration for its position than any other conservative political organization. If it's a matter of following a modern prophet's mandate, well, there was no mandate to follow; the First Presidency expressed its support for Prop 8 and urged members to do likewise, but left everyone free to make their own choices and did not make this choice a matter of doctrine. If it's a matter of opposing gay sex as "inherently" wrong, well, the Scriptures are just as open to the interpretation that it is the lack of a marriage covenant that makes sex wrong, regardless of genders.

What's left?


Cadence said...

in light of recent actions in Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire...
and Maine !!!

Grant Haws said...

You highlight well the main issue to me...the Church's position is constantly changing and I have a hard time discerning what is scriptural, what is revelation, and what is just a couple of old guys afraid of gays.

El Genio said...

From my point of view option #2 seems to be where the church is at. As I've said before elsewhere, one of the things that hurts the most about this whole mess is that the church never expected to win.

Ned said...

Well articulated, Alan. Great job. You put this together with some of the writings of Scott and Sarah, David, Carol Lynn and others, and you've got the possibility of a powerful online publication for all the new Kindles that are out there! But we'd better do it in print, too, for the Brethren. :)

Some thoughts did come to mind when you asked this:
"...is it any wonder so many gay guys particularly resort to drink and drugs and promiscuity? What else is left to them?"

Plenty of other challenges, I'd say. Among them low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness and self loathing, lack of confidence, inability to form bonding relationships with either sex, fear of intimacy, fear of same-sex touch, self-imposed isolation, chronic low grade depression (dysthymia), major depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors...just to name a few that I've personally experienced. :(

AmbiguouS One said...

Agree with some points, disagree with others.

But no Utah Mormon is going to read it and not be offended: suggesting that it was not doctrine, to them, IS apostasy. Also, pointing out that other Christian churches' interpretations of the Bible do not condemn homosexuality as clearly as everyone else thinks will not sway them either because "there is only one TRUE church: ours!"

But it was still a great post.

Ned said...

Hey watch who you are calling a Utah Mormon! Might more than one or two of your Moho friends. ;) I know, you know and you that I know, but even so, just had to chime in.

Grégoire said...

'If the Church doesn't oppose civil marriage between a man and a woman for time only when that marriage is purely a matter of civil law with no religious aspect or implications, why would it oppose exactly the same thing if the only difference were that both parties were the same gender?'

Bingo! This is exactly what I've been asking for several months.

Not only is the archetype of temporal marriage not opposed, it is devalued in normative Mormon culture and treated as only worthy of consideration when an eternal marriage is impossible.

In cases like this (same-sex coupling) where there is no option of temple marriage, the logical position would be to treat such cases as commensurate with two young teenagers who are incapable of their endowments due to age.

When kids were fucking one another in St. George, they were marched down to the Washington County Courthouse (or, if they were lucky, to the wedding shack in Las Vegas, 40 minutes away) where they were forced to tie the knot.

Somehow, the church has reversed its position. They *want* gays and lesbians to fuck each other exclusive of the bounds of wedlock, with no recourse of a faithful partner for infidelity on the part of the other, etc. The 'families are forever' church has effectively divorced tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people in California, Washington, Oregon and other jurisdictions where it has meddled in the social fabric according to its own exclusive interpretation of ethics.

How do you spell hypocrisy?

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

Bravo! Thoroughly enjoyed your very articulate reasoning.