Is it OK to disagree?

If you’ve read my previous blog post, you’ll be quite aware about how open I am in my support of same-sex marriage. I’ve felt this way for a long time, but have only been very open about this with others in the last few months, and this has made me question why I kept this to myself for so long. We are a very correlated church – we all use the same manuals, have the same lessons and read the same church published magazine, and whilst this has the advantage of ensuring uniformity in teaching, it shouldn’t be allowed to be extended to uniformity of belief and opinion. The church is naturally conservative and so are it’s members, and being a liberal, I am aware of that and am completely accepting of it. I have no problem being in the minority. In fact, being a Mormon is all about being in the minority. A recent survey found that 23% of Mormons ‘Favour’ or ‘Strongly Favour’ same-sex marriage:

Gay marriage support amongst Mormons is lower than almost all other denominations, but much higher than I expected.

I was quite surprised it was this high, but also really pleased that there are a significant number of members who I side with on this issue, despite feeling like the only one at times. All too often though, the remaining 77% struggle to accept that some people can be fully active in the church, yet hold an opinion which is contrary to theirs. The key issue is how far we should legislate our own beliefs, something I am strongly against.

The recent General Conference highlighted another issue that comes close to the heart of this disagreement. Obedience. We are told time and time again as members to be obedient to the commandments. This can easily be extended to obedience to church authorities and leaders. There is an adage in the church that “when the leaders speak, the thinking has been done.” The actual full quote is even more demanding:

“When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.” – Improvement Era, June 1945. 

My problem with this is fairly rudimentary; how can anyone swallow this when there are clear mistakes that have been made in the past. A brief list would have to include the salamander letter, priesthood ban, post-1890 polygamy, failed business ventures using tithing money, blood atonement, Adam/God doctrine, 1982 worthiness letter, slavery support, fees for ordinances, denial of evolution and encouraging attempted cures for homosexuality. Plenty more things could have been included in this list, but the point is the same. A quick scan of church history shows a catalogue of errors and mistakes that have been made by Apostles and Prophets, some in matters of business, but others in matters of doctrine and policy. I’m not naive to think that ‘the church never changes’, but faith can be shaken when looking at this list.

I’ve reached the conclusion that LDS leaders have made errors in the past, they continue to make them today, and they will make many more in the future. They are good men, trying to do the best they can. Their life and world experiences are very different to mine, and maybe it would help in the future if the leadership of the church was more diverse than the current mould (old, white, conservative, American). I listen carefully to their advice, tally it with my own beliefs, opinions, feelings and views; and then accept what I believe to be true. They have more hits than misses, but for me, the biggest miss of this decade will be attempts to legislate against homosexuals rather than accepting that we can co-exist in families that are equal under the law, but different in physical form.

I heard a phrase once, I cannot recall where from, but it rings very true on this issue:

Catholics believe the Pope is infallible, but they don’t believe it.
Mormons believe the Prophet is not infallible, but they don’t believe it.

A response to arguments against same-sex marriage

Several weeks ago, a huge argument erupted on my Facebook page. When the government passed legislation to legalise same sex marriage, I posted a sarcastic status:

“Oh no! My marriage has been completely devalued because two people who love each other who happen to be the same gender can now get married”

It was lighthearted, but the central premise is still true. I could not understand how some church members could be so vehemently against it, when I took the opposite view.

Amongst the discussion some very strong opinions were expressed by a member of my ward, and this continued for days. We have since continued our discussion privately as I was not comfortable with some of his views being publicly viewable on my timeline. He posted me a link to an article by Elder Oaks from the October 2012 conference about the raising of children to back up his point (http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/protect-the-children?lang=eng).

My response went as follows:

I’ve read that article by Elder Oaks before, but read it again this evening. I agree with the sentiment and intentions of his talk wholeheartedly, with just a single reservation. There is an underlying theme in his talk that suggests that marriage is the perfect situation for a child, and that anything else is less than ideal. Whilst on the whole, this is true, there are far too many cases of children being born into homes of abusive marriages to simple hold up marriage as the ideal. Individual integrity, love, nurturing, time, care and education are amongst the key contributors to the well-being of a child, and whilst this may be more likely in a marriage, there is certainly no matrimonial monopoly on these virtues. Elder Oaks himself was raised by a widowed mother, and she seemingly did a superb job, as do the vast majority of other single parents. Single parenthood is not something that people aspire to, but something people deal with as part of a day to day struggle, and I think from my experience as a teacher that 90% of single parents do an incredible job, some even better than married couples.

As for same sex marriage, I cannot align myself with the position of church leaders on this issue. We have our beliefs and values regarding marriage, a belief that the relationship of husband and wife can stretch into eternity. 99.8% of the people in society do not hold these beliefs, and whilst it is important for the church to voice it’s opinion, I don’t believe in the assumed corollary that we should therefore legislate our beliefs.
Arguments against same sex marriage fall into one of several categories (each of which I think is fallacious):

1) The need to protect children.
2) The belief that traditional marriage will be ‘devalued’.
3) The belief that homosexual people will further their crusade to force religious institutions to do things against their will and beliefs.
4) The belief that homosexuality is wrong and should not be condoned.

None of these arguments hold water for me at all. Let me address them all individually.

1) As mentioned earlier, I believe that the most important values in the home of a child are based around love and nurture. This bears little correlation in real life to the legal status of parents. Even Elder Oaks in the article says that the future in this area is inconclusive. I would suggest that he is erring on the side of caution here and whilst refusing to suggest that it would be bad for children, he won’t admit that there is scope for it to do tremendous good.

2) Despite lots of discussion with other members, I fail to see how my marriage will be devalued by other loving couples who happen to be the same sex getting married.

3) I cannot conceive a situation where a homosexual couple try to force a religious institution to perform a marriage for them, and then attempt legal proceedings because they are denied. Religious freedom is guaranteed in the ECHR, and the government have put several ‘locks’ in place in the proposed legislation to ensure this does not happen. I am completely satisfied by this.

4) Regardless of our own personal feelings on the morality of homosexual behaviour, it is not our place to sit as judge and jury and decide on the moral validity of others. I have serious concerns over church policy in regard to this issue. In the last few years, the church has begun to admit what the scientists have been saying for years; that homosexuality is innate. There seems to be a paradox here that if God creates all men (and women!), then he has created some of his children with inborn sexual attraction to those of the same gender, yet the church teaches that acting on this attraction, which would seem totally natural to the person, is wrong and sinful. They are therefore expected to live a life of complete celibacy, which I believe could be more dangerous than condoning a committed same sex relationship. The scriptures are not that clear on the issue either (aside from Leviticus, which doesn’t sway me in the least), and this leads me to think that maybe this is another area of church policy that is a perpetuation of outdated attitudes such as the insistence of the church in the 1960s that those of African descent were cursed from being less valiant in the pre-existence and therefore should be segregated, denied the priesthood and restricted from inter-racial wedlock.

My final problem on this issue is the insistence of the church (especially in the USA) that members should join the political charge to quash legislation enacting same sex marriage. I deplored the situation in California when the First Presidency issued a letter to all congregations asking members to ‘give of their time and means’ to fight the legislation. I find it incongruous as a follower of Christ that my time and efforts are best placed in denying the right of loving couples to form a union and a family. I completely resent the fact that what is supposed to be the church bearing the saviour’s name solicited donations and volunteer hours for a cause not at the heart of the teachings of Christ.

I don’t expect you to agree with me, and I’m quite sure that some of my views are quite marginal in the church, but I feel very strongly on this issue. History has told us that the church doesn’t get policies and political positions right every time (in fact, it could be argued that they are more often wrong!). I believe that the church’s current position will be regretted in 30 years time (much the same as the 1960s racial policies).