Elder Oaks gave a talk titled The Plan and the Proclamation in last weekend’s General Conference. He testified of the truthfulness of the teachings in the document and gave history of how it was created, implying it was a revelatory process. He also used the opportunity to “weaponize” the Proclamation to denounce gay marriage. This caused pain and angst in the Mormon community, where many people have close friends or family that are gay that are harmed by this kind of talk.
Elder Oaks spoke of how the Proclamation came about.
The inspiration identifying the need for a proclamation on the family came to the leadership of the Church over 23 years ago. It was a surprise to some who thought the doctrinal truths about marriage and the family were well understood without restatement. Nevertheless, we felt the confirmation and we went to work. Subjects were identified and discussed by members of the Quorum of the Twelve for nearly a year. Language was proposed, reviewed, and revised. Prayerfully we continually pleaded with the Lord for His inspiration on what we should say and how we should say it. We all learned “line upon line, precept upon precept,” as the Lord has promised (D&C 98:12). During this revelatory process, a proposed text was presented to the First Presidency, who oversee and promulgate Church teachings and doctrine. After the Presidency made further changes, the proclamation on the family was announced by the President of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley.
Compare this to an alternate explanation for the Proclamation came about in a blog post at Rational Faiths.
This explanation is that the Church was involved with the fight against gay marriage in Hawaii starting around 1993, and at some point it became apparent they needed a document such as the Proclamation to use in the legal process. According to some, the Church’s legal firm Kirton McConkie had a primary role in this project and was heavily involved with the editing and word choice in the document.
The case was again appealed to Hawaii’s Supreme Court and this time, on April 14, 1997, the LDS Church filed an amicus brief. In this brief, the Church cited the Proclamation on the Family as evidence of the centrality of tradition marriage in Mormon doctrine and practice for the first time. One of the requirements for filing an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief is that the petitioner submitting the brief must present to the court valid reasons why the court should allow the petitioner, who is not a party to the case, to be heard on the matter. Conveniently, the Proclamation ties all of the major family-related policies and teachings together in one place, making it easy to include as an exhibit in a legal brief.
Which of these is right? Or could they both be right?
I’m fine with calling the Proclamation a revelation. I’m also totally fine if the Church used its legal firm to edit some of the language or even produce a draft. I use Blake Ostler’s definition of revelation: “the synthesis of the creativity of man responding to divine persuasion.” I can see the divine persuasion something like:
“Marriage is really important. Family is really important. I want this church to be a model of taking marriage seriously and putting family first.”
I see that following that divine persuasion, the brethren putting their heads together and maybe even use their legal firm to come up with language they feel they can publish to the world to represent that inspiration. I can see the result being something like the Proclamation. Prophets take revelation from God and they produce scripture and teachings, but we know there’s a lot of variance and opportunity for fallibility/error in how it comes from God and out to the world. Brigham Young said
I wouldn’t be surprised if the prophet should translate the Bible 40,000 times over, and yet it should be different in some places every time.
Using the Proclamation as a Weapon against LGBT Community
I love the Proclamation. There is a lot of backlash against it right now. And that’s part of why Elder Oaks gave the talk. But I don’t think the backlash should be against the Proclamation itself. It should be against how the Proclamation is used as a weapon against the LGBT community.
The biggest problem is that people are reading more into the Proclamation than is really there. The Proclamation states that gender is essential but is silent on the possibility for change in gender. The Proclamation endorses marriage between a man and woman but does not specifically state anything about gay marriage. The Proclamation makes a very bold statement about the ideal environment for child rearing.
Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.
Rather than “entitled”, saying this is “an ideal environment for child rearing” would be more precise. There is death. There is divorce. There is infidelity within marriage. There is sex outside marriage. There is adoption. All these are exceptions to this standard which I would say better is a goal or ideal, rather than an entitlement. It doesn’t make sense that this should be used to bash gay marriage when there are so many other, more common exceptions to this declaration.
We don’t typically use the Proclamation as a weapon to rail on divorced people or even infidelity within marriage. I see the Proclamation as a much stronger anti-divorce document than an anti-gay or anti-transgender document.
Elevating the status of the Proclamation would not be a problem if we as members and leaders used the actual text of the Proclamation without reading more into it or attempting to use it as a weapon against the LGBT community.
I love the Proclamation for what I see it as. We are a people that are committed to marriage. When I think of the importance of marriage, protesting gay marriage doesn’t cross my mind. I think of the scene in the Disney film Up that shows the beautiful marriage of this old man remembering his life with his departed wife. We learn how to love through marriage. I think of my marriage counselor’s comparison of two people that enter marriage like two imperfect, rough stones in a creek that bump against each other for 10,000 years until they become perfectly smooth. I think of our doctrine of the Fall. Adam’s first important choice was to choose family over God. What a powerful teaching. I think of the goofy South Park episode with the big Mormon family doing Family Home Evening and doing things together as family. We take commitment to family seriously. This is beautiful. I would welcome the Proclamation to the canon. But I would take a stand fiercely against anyone attempting to use it as a weapon against the LGBT community.
My faith crisis and reconstruction period started about ten years ago. When the Proclamation first came out, and for at least the first 10 years after that, I had no idea the Proclamation had anything to do with LGBT issues or gay marriage. I had taught the Proclamation in lessons to youth and sat through numerous talks and lessons on the subject without it crossing my mind. To me and to the people close to me, mostly oblivious to the plight of the LGBT community, the Proclamation was actually about family. Thousands of LDS families have the Proclamation framed and displayed in their home as a reminder of the importance of their own marriage and family. Nothing at all related to the LGBT community. This is how we should use the Proclamation.
New Developments in the LDS World with Gay Marriage
I highly recommend reading or watching the presentation Greg Prince recently made at the University of Utah. He first outlines modern scientific though on homosexuality, and how that has changed through the years, but that now it’s nearly universally accepted that homosexuality is established at birth. For example, a significant percentage of the likelihood for homosexuality in males is the birth-order effect. The second son of the same mother has a 33% higher chance to be homosexual. Each son thereafter, the probability is increased 33% again, such at the seventh son has 17% chance of being gay. With Mormon families having large families, this may explain why this seems to be impacting our community so much. It’s interesting to note, Tom Christofferson, Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s gay brother, is the fifth son in his family.
Dr. Prince then outlines the history of LDS Church teachings on homosexuality. He makes a pretty clear case that the Church’s views have been in line with societal understanding and have changed dramatically through time.
being gay is a choice, it’s deviant, it’s impossible to be gay, and anyone having same sex attraction can change their attraction to opposite sex, claiming to be homosexual is grounds for excommunication.
The earliest church-written guide for ecclesiastical leaders, published in 1973, chided “professionaly trained people” who differed among themselves in their opinions regarding the cause of homosexuality, whereas “the gospel makes the issue clear. Homosexuality…is learned behavior (not inborn).”
From Boyd K. Packer in 1976:
There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it. They are just ‘that way’ and can only yield to those desires. That is a malicious and destructive lie. While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil. No one is locked into that kind of life.
Acknowledge homosexual as a class of being. No longer suggest changing your orientation. Encourage celibacy but not to marry heterosexually.
In 2012, the Church launched website www.mormonsandgays.org that stated “individuals do not choose to have such attractions.”
Dr. Prince concludes his presentation lauding the Church for generally being very progressive compared to other religions, when it comes to “being on the right side of science”. He expresses optimism for change in the future for LDS Church for a clarification of the Law of Chastity to allow for homosexual relations within gay marriage.
This presentation followed a lot of the same facts and logic as Bryce Cook’s recent article.
Another great resource that has come out recently is a document created by Richard Ostler, titled Helping LDS Leaders Understand Recent Perspectives on LGB Issues.
A phrase I have adopted and use regularly:
The Church is not a monolith.
It’s very frustrating sometimes to identify where the Church stands on an issue or to see the trend on an issue, because “The Church” is difficult to identify. There are many anecdotes of when apostles haven’t agreed on an issue. There appears to be quite a variety of perspectives on LGBT issues among church leaders.
In a 2010 conference talk, Boyd K. Packer said:
Some suppose that they were born preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father.
But when the talk was published, the first sentence was edited and the rest was removed completely.
In a 2015 conference talk, Jeffrey R. Holland expressed what seemed to be a relatively progressive view of homosexuality. He told the story of a gay young man who returned early from a mission and left the church. After some time he came back to the church and he and his mother found peace, despite there being no change in his sexual orientation.
And, I must say, this son’s sexual orientation did not somehow miraculously change—no one assumed it would.
Especially with the phrase “no one assumed it would”, Elder Holland is expressing a worldview that homosexuality is a state of being and does not change with prayer and repentance.
In Aug of this year, addressing the youth in a multi-stake conference, Elder Oaks said:
One thing that distresses me is to see people classify themselves, often as early as age 12, as being lesbian or bisexual or homosexual. That is a self-defeating characterization, because it changes the way people relate to you. It inhibits your growth, and it stands in contrast to saying to a circle of people that love you and will understand, “I’m troubled by same gender attraction”. That’s a very different thing than classifying yourself as a lesbian or homosexual or bisexual. And to speak to people that love you and need to be aware of temptation you feel. That isn’t just temptation related to gender but could be temptation to steal things–there is such a condition–and some people have a much greater temptation to use tobacco or alcohol or to try drugs or whatever and there are names for all that but don’t limit yourself. Because I know for example I have letters in my file from people who classified themselves once as homosexual and after a lot of life experiences, they cease to have those feelings. They repented of some transgressions along the way, married, and had children. Now I’m not suggesting that’s the end result of every kind of temptation, but I’m just saying whatever the temptations are don’t classify yourself. It inhibits your freedom to go the direction the lord helps you to go when you’ve had more life experiences.
This seems to imply a worldview that doesn’t completely share some of the change the Church has shown officially on the Church’s website.
Further insight into this possible conflict within the Q12 and First Presidency is seen in Elder Oaks’ comment in the Plan and Proclamation talk this last weekend.
In 1995 a President of the Church and 14 other Apostles of the Lord issued these important doctrinal statements. As one of only seven of those Apostles still living, I feel obliged to share what led to the family proclamation for the information of all who consider it.
It seems the intended audience for this comment may not be the general body of the Church but actually the junior apostles and other church leaders that may not share his perspective.
Reason for Hope
There’s a lot of pain on this issue, but I think there is reason for hope. This exchange at the end of a podcast from Mormon Land, October 2017 General Conference Wrap-Up, between two Progressive Mormons, Steve Evans of By Common Consent and Darius Gray of Genesis Group.
SE: Like Brother Gray, I think the wonderful thing about the church is that change is always around the corner.
DG: And we have new light and knowledge. A paper was presented within the last week by Dr. Gregory Prince that speaks to not only the genetics but the epigenetics, the markers, the receptors, that are found in the human body and that is solid science. And as that becomes known and further reviewed and given its appropriate weight and place it might lend itself to bringing about change. God is charge. The brethren are listening, they’re caring. They’re doing what they can. And they hurt as much as we all hurt and it’s sad that we all don’t recognize that.
SE: This is one of the issues that people especially young people would point to the leadership and say that they’re out of touch. And I think this is one where those people would be probably be incorrect. I don’t think the brethren are out of touch on this issue. my experience is that the people leading this church are very aware of the impact of what is being preached from the pulpit and that they are wrestling and trying to be as good and as true to what they believe as they can be.
DG: An example. Affirmation is approved by the church. It is an independent group but it receives support from the church….I think there is, as you say Steve, more support, more kindness, more hurt felt by the senior brethren than people might realize.
In conclusion, Elder Christofferson said it’s OK for a member of the Church to disagree with the brethren on gay marriage as long as we are not openly campaigning against them. I sustain and support the brethren. I rarely disagree with them publicly, but this is a time I think it’s important to state my position.