Weathering the Storm: Same-sex Marriage, Handbook Changes, and Basic Doctrine

With so much being said about the recent policy additions to Handbook 1, my initial impression was to keep my thoughts to myself. It is easy to feel lost and frustrated in the sea of opinions; so many feelings and experiences translating into the wide variety of views that could only stem from a truly global and diverse church. In that sea of opinions, I’m not sure mine matters. And yet I feel compelled to defend truth and right as I see it, to be true to my conscience, just like so many others who have raised their voices. Thus, rather than just add my opinion to the fray, I’d like to share some of the simple truths that help me stay grounded during the whirlwind. I have read many valid questions and concerns, and I won't address each. Instead, here are the principles that inform my willingness to sustain the policy, along with a few sources for those truths. (PS, if you’re going to skip something, skip my thoughts and study the sources. It’s safer that way!)

1. Marriage Between a Man and a Woman

“Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God” and “Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal Plan.” The Family: A Proclamation to the World. This is the elephant in the room. If false, the Church has no ground to stand. If true, the question is then about how to teach, defend, and apply the doctrine. As the doctrinal foundation for Church policies concerning gay marriage, to believe otherwise makes those policies troublesome. I believe families are eternal and that marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental to God’s plan. The Church has boldly and repeatedly emphasized this basic tenant even in the face of quickly shifting common belief and sometimes aggressive opposition. But given the centrality of traditional family in Church doctrine, subsequent policies are not surprising. 

Essential Reading:

2. A Foundation of Apostles and Prophets

The Church of Christ is organized on a foundation of Prophets and Apostles called of God to declare truth, define right and wrong, and to protect and warn of the consequences of sin. This is another truth so fundamental to our theology and yet so often challenged in the modern age. Are the leaders of the Church simply good men doing their best to direct a complex organization, or are they actual representatives of Christ, called of God to declare His will to His Church by revelation? If I believe the former, everything they say is in question and up for debate. If I believe the latter, while I may seek my own confirmation of the truth of their teachings, I operate from the assumption that they teach truth. I realize they are fallible, but my experience with the leaders of the Church does not allow me to so easily subscribe fallacy to official Church doctrine and policies made and sustained in unity. Perhaps I am a poor judge of character, but I just cannot find the evil and hate ascribed by some. Nor can I find the ignorant, out of touch geriatrics seen by others. While I’ve often regretted ignoring their teachings, I cannot think of a single time I’ve ever been sorry for following the prophet.

For those who see the policy as an act of bigotry, anything short of embracing same-gender relationships will be insufficient. The Church has acted to make it very clear that these relationships are not in keeping with the marriage that God has ordained for the eternal destiny of his children. It looks to me like a clear line in the sand, and each of us get to decide which side to stand on. Let us never forget everyone is free to make that choice! But let us also respect the responsibility of prophets to warn of the consequences of our choices. I realize how devastating such stark demarcation can be, but the Lord rarely showed much fondness for walking down the middle of the moral road:

  • Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34-38)
  • I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. (Rev. 3:15)
  • He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt. 10:39)

Essential Reading:

3. God’s Love vs. God's Law

Tolerance is not the sine qua non of God’s plan. Most of the concerns about the Church’s stance on homosexual relationships are about tolerance, acceptance, and love. Each of these are virtues that we have been commanded to develop! But they are not independent and unchecked. Personally I cannot read the scriptures and believe that God’s favor is unconditionally given. The reality of right and wrong is fundamental to the plan of salvation. We trust we are blessed when we choose right and that we forfeit blessings when we choose wrong. Perhaps even more significant, we believe that the consequences of wrong choices are further evidence of God’s love. Modern society has developed an aversion to accountability and an affinity for acceptance, but Prophets ancient and modern have consistently warned against unconditional tolerance of sin.

On the topic of tolerance, Church membership has always been a privilege granted to those who are worthy and there have always been constraints regarding who may be a member of the Church. I realize the ease of saying this from my privileged vantage point. But it remains true. While the media has portrayed it as groundbreaking and extreme, the policy change isn’t a significant shift, it really formalizes what would've often been typical practice under prior policies. Prior to the change, members guilty of serious sin (such as homosexual relations) were subject to church discipline, and children of excommunicated or unrepentant parents openly committing serious sin were not baptized without regard. As Elder Christofferson pointed out, the same policy has been in place for decades for polygamist families for similar reasons. If love and tolerance are the concern, where is the outcry for the rights of polygamists and their children? Sometimes our tolerance is so uneven!

Essential Reading:

4. Christ Compensates

Wherever we fall in the broad spectrum of responses, this policy  marks a sad day in the History of the Church. I can’t imagine anyone with a heart at all being glad about it, much less the leaders of the Church or the Savior himself. And yet, I’m confident Christ is not wringing his hands in desperate concern, wondering what is happening to his Kingdom on Earth. Perhaps it is time for each of us to “be still and know that he is God." While it may lead to severe and heartbreaking disagreements amongst his children on earth, maybe the most fundamental truth to hold onto is the assurance that God looketh on the heart and that if we do our best with our knowledge, understanding, and experience, He will take care of us and we have no need to fear. As Elder Wirthlin so beautifully taught in October of 2008:

The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.
— Joseph B. Wirthlin, Sunday Will Come

Whether the loss of love, the loss of membership, the loss of family, friends, tolerance, understanding, or charity, Christ is the great Restorer. Without Christ, all is lost. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the Gospel, no matter where we find ourselves in the modern maelstrom.

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