12 June 2009

Reply To Casey, Chapter One

Thanks to all for your responses to my friend Casey. He is an honorable, faithful man of integrity who sincerely tries to do what's right and to follow the Savior's example of humility and charity. I appreciate the reasoned tone of everyone's discussion and comments to him.

Casey and I have gone the rounds on this issue several times. But he made three particularly salient points in his recent comments which I want to address for this wider audience. I'll take them one at a time in successive posts.

First is his point that he does "not believe homosexuality (without unchaste actions) is by nature evil, wicked or naughty."

I don't either. But for a long time this is precisely what the Church taught, and it excommunicated otherwise faithful members just for being this way regardless of whether they'd actually indulged in "unchaste actions" or not. In short, the Church used to teach as doctrine something that was wrong, and on that basis kicked out members who otherwise wanted to stay. Since then there has been no "thus saith the Lord" type revelation about this issue, and the Church's position has fluctuated significantly but it still remains extremely hostile to homosexuality.

So if it is not evil or wicked to be gay, then what constitutes "unchaste actions" for this purpose? The law of chastity as taught in the temple is that it is wrong to have sexual relations with anyone other than one's husband or wife to whom one is legally and lawfully married. Since only heterosexual couples are admitted into the temple, naturally this definition would conform to their relationship, so it's not ultimately dispositive as a full description of the law of chastity. My understanding of the law of chastity has always been simply "no sex outside marriage." Until recently, marriage was impossible for gay people so gay sex was ipso facto "unchaste" by this definition.

But now gay couples can marry in a growing number of places. If we nevertheless insist that faithfully monogamous married gay couples are still being "unchaste" in their sexual relations with each other even after they are "legally and lawfully wed," then we have created a new definition of chastity that has never been used before, one that is not only marriage-based but gender-based. It would essentially be "no sexual relations outside the marriage of a man and a woman, or ever between two people of the same gender under any circumstances."

This would be unprecedented. Some might say "of course it's unprecedented, gay marriage is unprecedented too, and we have never had to consider this issue before." That may be correct, but it begs the question. Just what does unchastity consist of? Is sex between two people of the same gender ipso facto unchaste even when they are in fact legally and lawfully married?

The Church would need a scriptural basis to say that, so in order to answer this question we find ourselves right back at the issue of whether the Bible condemns homosexuality per se. No statement I have ever seen by an LDS leader that condemns homosexuality or gay sex rests on anything but a Biblical basis, since the uniquely LDS scriptural canon says nothing about it. Many statements by past LDS leaders about homosexuality have since been shown to be flat-out wrong (e.g. "there is no such thing as homosexuality, only homosexual behavior" and "it can be changed"). And as has been amply demonstrated before, solid Biblical scholarship makes good arguments for the proposition that those few verses popularly believed to condemn homosexuality as sinful do not in fact mean that at all.

We must also consider the wealth of Biblical denunciations of adultery and heterosexual fornication, which far outweigh the scriptural attention given to homosexuality. If proportion is any indication, then God appears to care much more about heterosexual sin and breaches of marriage covenants than He does about homosexuality.

I conclude from all this that unchastity is most defensibly defined as breach of a marital covenant of sexual faithfulness, or indulgence in sex without a marital covenant, and has nothing to do with the genders of the parties involved. In which case, if two men or women are legally and lawfully wedded civilly, with no interest in complying with LDS temple standards, why should the Church care if they marry or not? And what specifically within LDS doctrine prohibits the Church from recognizing those marriages as valid? Nothing that I can see. Given the alternatives for gay people if marriage is off-limits to them, why would the Church not want to make the stabilizing, pacifying, medically and economically beneficial status of marriage as widely available as possible?

The 12th Article of Faith says the Church believes in "honoring and sustaining the law", and in the 1930's and 1940's Church members were counseled to do so in support and defense of their various countries' governments, even though the Church knew that would mean Saints fighting and killing each other in battle. So the Church would set a new and dangerous precedent if it now stated that it would discipline for "unchastity" any Mormons who entered an otherwise legal civil marriage with a same-sex spouse. The message would be that the Church now believes in the 12th Article of Faith only selectively, and that it is willing to restrict and revoke the membership privileges of those who enter an otherwise completely legal marriage of which the Church disapproves on purely religious grounds. The Church would essentially be forcing some of its members to choose between preserving their church membership and availing themselves of a legal privilege and benefit otherwise open to them.

Some may say the Church already does this by reserving the right to restrict church and temple participation of those who disobey the Word of Wisdom. Drinking alcohol is legal for adults, yet Mormons who do so may find their access to the temple blocked and their membership privileges restricted. While this comparison may be superficially appealing, there are enough differences to make it inapposite.

Drinking alcohol is a purely voluntary and, for most, recreational activity which, if taken to excess, can cause serious injury and even death. Furthermore, for much of the Church's history it was not a bar to temple attendance; it only became so by popular vote of the Church membership without any apparent divine directive. Joseph Smith drank wine all his life. In short, drinking alcohol is not an intrinsically "immoral" thing.

Marriage, by contrast, is widely acknowledged and understood as a life achievement to which virtually everyone aspires, one with verified benefits to mental and physical health and longevity, a legal status with thousands of special privileges, a condition widely spoken of as "the bedrock of society." The consequences of marital infidelity can be devastating not only to the spouses but to innocent third parties like children. There is no question that the Bible condemns extra-marital sex as inherently immoral, as "unchaste."

It is one thing for the Church to restrict or suspend the Church membership and priviliges of those who choose to use alcohol, a potentially destructive artificial substance which clouds judgment and can injure or kill but which, by itself, is morally neutral. It is quite another to insert itself into secular political processes to try to impose laws on everyone regardless of religious belief which would prevent an entire group of people, most of whom are not LDS and have no interest in becoming LDS, from accessing all of the demonstrated benefits of marriage solely because of a personal characteristic which those people did not choose.

It's been conceded that homosexuality is not "by nature evil, wicked, or naughty." Neither, I would posit, is heterosexuality. According to Church standards, heterosexual sex is not only all right but positively encouraged within a legal marriage. To say that the same rule does not apply to homosexual sex within a legal marriage is to say that the attraction and desire is benign and not problematic, but carrying it out would be. In short, gay sex is always wrong no matter what. If that is so, then once again we find ourselves right back to asking what is the doctrinal basis for that position. We must look to the Scriptures, and so round and round and round we go, as already noted above.

Bottom line: Given the paucity of scriptural references about homosexuality as opposed to the mountain of condemnations about heterosexual marital unfaithfulness, it makes no sense to say heterosexual marriage legitimizes the sexual activity of its spouses if we can't say the same thing about same-sex spouses. The Church can't pick and choose which laws it will respect; its own doctrine requires it to respect all of them. Of course it has the freedom to set its own rules for membership even if those rules vary from legal privileges and benefits which its members might otherwise enjoy. But by disciplining any members who enter legal same-sex marriages, the Church would reinforce the box which it's already built around its gay members: it relentlessly pushes everyone else to marry yet will urge its gay members not to for vague theological reasons and will punish them if they marry a same-sex partner for exactly the same reasons a heterosexual member marries, namely, the love, companionship, fulfillment, happiness and security in life that everyone presumably wants. It's no wonder there is a steady stream of gay Mormons leaving the Church.

In my next post I'll address Casey's second point: "I don't think God would create some of his children incapable of obtaining all that He wants to give us . . . I do, however, think that homosexuality might have the potential to prevent someone from obtaining their full inheritance."

5 comments:

Casey said...

On the issue of chastity between married men, I am not going to weigh in. Simply put, I don't know, and I am very happy leaving this to a much wiser Judge.

I thought most of your points, Alan, were very sound, but I'd have to differ with you on this one: "The Church would need a scriptural basis to say that..."

I don't think the Church needs a scriptural basis to do anything. Much of what was revealed to Joseph Smith has no biblical foundation at all... or, it was once there but has since been lost... or, there is some short, obscure passage that we can loosely point to as a week attempt to back up major LDS doctrine, but which in reality can be easily interrupted to mean any one of a dozen meanings.

If we were to require "an appeal to the bible" on all things, we'd really be in a mess.

Alan said...

@Casey:

You're correct, we don't "require an appeal to the Bible" on all things. We sustain 15 men as prophets, seers and revelators, and they then preach, teach, expound, exhort, and invite all to come to Christ. The presumption is that they will receive inspiration as necessary to do that.

However, that doesn't mean that everything they say or do is always inspired or revelatory or doctrinal. They've said so themselves. I'm not saying we have to "appeal to the Bible" for everything. But on this matter of crucial importance for the eternal destiny of huge numbers of God's children, I submit there must be a scriptural basis for the Church to tell them that the price of their eternal destiny is to make a level of personal sacrifice that the Church demands of no other group, and indeed, in all other circumstances actively preaches against. There is certainly a scriptural basis for the law of chastity as it applies to heterosexual couples.

General authorities from Joseph Smith's time to the present have been clear: the doctrine of the Church is found in the standard works. That's it. Everything else is secondary and not binding. If new revelation is to be canonical, there's a process for making it so. And to date, that hasn't happened with anything I know of that is clearly and unambiguously authoritative about this issue.

Casey said...

Alan, tell me if I am reading you wrong:

If the church were to issue a statement saying married men who have sex are still chaste, you would accept it prima facie. But if they were to issue a statement saying chastity could not and never would include married men, then you would reject it due to lack of a scriptural basis.

Please forgive me, but it seems to me that you are playing favorites with statements in your favor. If you like it, no scriptural basis needed. If you don't, they better be able to back it up.

Help me understand.

Alan said...

Thanks Casey for holding my feet to the fire!

You described my position as "if the church were to issue a statement saying married men who have sex are still chaste, I would accept it prima facie, but if they said chastity could not and never would include married men, then I would reject it due to lack of a scriptural basis." You said this seemed like I was "playing favorites with statements in [my] favor" and asked me to elaborate.

I understand the logic of your statements and think there is an additional factor which makes all the difference.

As far as I can see, nothing in the scriptures right now justifies a definitive statement that two men who have sex after being legally and lawfully wedded to each other are still being unchaste, regardless of the legal marriage. As I've said before, nothing in the LDS canon addresses this, and Biblical references are vague and debatable at best. I'm speaking only of legally wedded spouses here, mind. And I won't bore you with a rehash of why I think it's the presence or absence of the marital covenant that is the deciding factor, not the gender of the parties involved.

So if the Church "were to issue a statement saying that [those two men married to each other] are still chaste" after such a marriage then of course, I would accept it prima facie because it would be in line with what I have always understood the law of chastity to be, and what the Encylopedia of Mormonism even defines it as, namely, no sex outside marriage and sexual faithfulness within marriage. It would also be in line with the 12th Article of Faith's doctrine about obeying, honoring and sustaining the law. In short, such a statement would need no additional scriptural basis. This isn't "favoritism" it's just the logical end of what's already there in the canon which leads to this result.

OTOH, if the Church issued a statement that "chastity could not and never would include" sex between two men even if they are legally and lawfully wedded to each other, then I would see that as departing from what the scriptures now say. As I've said before, it would also add the gender factor to the law of chastity where it's never been before. In that respect therefore, I believe this position would require a scriptural basis, a new one, because it doesn't have one now. That's the difference.

There's another implication of the Church going that route which I'm sure would give Salt Lake significant pause. It would put the Church on record for the first time as saying that as a matter of policy, and despite its doctrinal obligation of "obeying, honoring and sustaining the law," it was going to disregard and ignore a legal relationship which otherwise operates with the full force of law and legitimacy. This would be a very dangerous precedent for the Church to set. It would essentially be telling the world that the Church now picks and chooses which laws it wants to honor and which it will ignore. It would tell all current and prospective gay members that they would have to choose between civil marriage and the Church. But the Church doesn't force part-member families to do this now. And the Book of Mormon says that the Savior "denies none who come to Him". How could the Church in consistency and good conscience do otherwise?

I hope that makes the distinction clearer. Please continue to do your best to poke holes in my arguments!

Casey said...
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