I generally stick to history and avoid contemporary arguments, especially political ones. This post is an anomaly that I hope I don’t learn to regret.
A great many of my blogging and Facebook friends are at odds with me over every aspect of the gay rights/gay marriage issue – not that we argue gay issues (they do; I don’t join in), but because I very much believe they are dead wrong in their insistence/assumption/wishful thinking that the Church must or will change its doctrine on marriage and sexual morality, and embrace same-sex unions within the Church’s definition of marriage. I don’t argue with them about it, though; I don’t make sarcastic remarks or label them as stupid or apostate or whatever else you might (incorrectly) assume I think about them when I declare my opposition to their views on the future of the Church. I hope they’ll return the favor.
We have differing views of the Church’s future, and that’s all that’s under consideration in this post.
Taylor Petrey has a post up at Peculiar People (a Patheos blog) flexing his prognosticative muscle with regard to the aftermath of today’s Supreme Court decision:
“There are three possible routes the Church may take,” he says, “in this new situation of the age of same-sex marriage.” As he envisions them, those are:
1. “We may see same-sex marriage become a politicized issue similar to abortion rights.”
That’s true enough. The Church opposes abortion “for personal or social convenience,” while allowing limited exceptions. The Church does not oppose abortion in the sense of waging political campaigns or attempting to impose its will on anyone not within its spiritual jurisdiction. If same sex marriage does become the political litmus test that abortion has become, it’s not likely to be because the Church takes any public part beyond reiterating its own position if asked or when the Church finds it desirable to remind the world of its position. Advocates of same-sex marriage have sworn time and time again that state recognition of same-sex marriage will not lead to legal requirements that Mormon bishops perform such weddings, or to forcing any change in the Church’s standards for temple admission. As long as that is true, and as long as same-sex marriage proponents haven’t been lying, the politicization of the issue will not affect the Church in any substantive way, anymore than our general disapproval of abortion has affected us in any material way.
2. “We may see the church’s continued opposition to same-sex marriage reduce its appeal in North America, Europe, and other regions, while increasing its appeal in more conservative and traditional societies.”
Okay, and so — ? The Church also opposes alcohol, and tobacco, and extramarital sexual relations, and pornography, and “strongly discourages” human sterilization, sperm donation, surrogate motherhood, and any number of other things. The Church is often in opposition to things that are legal but (in our view) are not moral. If this “reduces the appeal” of the Church to those who cannot abide by its standards, that’s a far easier “problem” to live with than the consequences of increasing market appeal by relaxing commandments and standards.
The phrase “opposition to same-sex marriage” is not defined. From clues throughout the post, it would seem that Taylor sees “opposition” as political activism to repeal same-sex marriage, or other vocal and public steps to change public policy. I’m at least as visionary as Taylor, and I don’t see that in the Church’s future. I do see continued “opposition” in the sense that the Church will continue to teach its members that same-sex marriage is not condoned within the Church, and that married same-sex couples may retain their membership but not hold leadership positions or temple recommends, any more than someone who may be in serious breach of the Word of Wisdom or any other threshold standard can have those privileges.
Taylor writes that the Church’s maintaining its insistence on heterosexual marriage may “accelerate the shift to a non-US based church.” He apparently sees that as a negative consequence, because he presents it in parallel with “reducing the Church’s appeal” and “threat to membership” and “difficulty in reconciling faith.” But why a shift to “the global south” should be perceived as a negative is puzzling. What’s wrong with the people of the global south entering the fold in increasing numbers to become a larger proportion of Church membership? Many are called but few are chosen.
3. “The church may move to various degrees of accommodation of same-sex marriages.” This is theoretically true – if you’re spelling out a comprehensive list of possible responses to same-sex marriage, then “changing” is a necessary theoretical counter to “staying the same.”
This seems to be the theoretical possibility Taylor favors; he links to his earlier creative invention of a theology that embraces same-sex unions while still vaguely resembling Mormonism. But why does he see the Church “approving bishops to perform” same-sex marriages? He makes no attempt, at least in this post, to provide any rationale for expecting, or speculating on justification for, such a thing – inventing a theology that would allow it is a far different matter from explaining why the Church would turn to that theology.
The history of the racially-based priesthood restriction is not mentioned here, but is sometimes invoked in the Bloggernacle justify some potential shift in Mormon doctrinal attitudes and practices in relation to homosexuality. I’ve never understood that – it’s a very faulty analogy. Throughout the century-plus of the priesthood restriction, from Brigham Young’s day on to our own (if you fit within the “our” of those old enough to recall the early 1970s), Church teaching always was that priesthood would someday be extended to blacks. Almost nobody expected day to come so soon. Very many people would have been happier had it come far earlier. Too many people gave unwarranted statements on when the day would come (the Millennium, after Abel’s posterity had received their exaltation, or any other unimaginably distant day). But the expectation and the teaching always was that sometime that day would come.
There is no such history applicable to same-sex marriage. No scripture supports it (absent Taylor’s private interpretation of scripture); no prophet has taught the expectation of acceptance of same-sex marriage; and as far as I am aware, nobody even speculated on the possibility of such an alteration before the same-sex marriage movement took off in recent years. It simply is not on the historical radar.
Taylor lays out the three roads he sees as the only possibilities for the Church’s future: One is external to the Church. Two is likewise not really a road at all; it’s a potential consequence rather than a choice for the Church to make. Three is not a serious possibility for the Church – the Church will continue to teach its views of marriage to Church members and possible converts; it will not/need not/cannot alter its practices in any way that sanctions same-sex marriage for its members, including authorizing bishops to perform such marriages. That the Church would do so is wishful thinking on any proponent’s part, not an honest recognition of the Church’s teachings.
A more likely, more logical, more Mormon expectation of the Church’s future is that there will be no alteration of doctrine or policy or teaching that recognizes same-sex marriage within the religious sphere. Church teachings on homosexuality may evolve in the sense that we may better understand and accept new knowledge on the origins of homosexuality, and recognize that orientation and marriage and sex are not identical, and other contextual questions. But there will be no substantive change in practice. The Church might alter its phrase “legally and lawfully wedded” to some formula that disqualifies same-sex marriages; that phrase has already been altered in our history, with the “legally and lawfully wedded” adopted to disqualify polygamous marriages. It’s the principle, not a legalistic, Pharisaical reliance on the wording, that matters. The principle will not change.
I’m not a philosopher. I’m not a politician. I haven’t made gay rights/same-sex marriage the focus of any great study. It would be easy enough for Taylor, or anybody else, to spin this post in circles and rip me to shreds. You’re welcome to do that, for whatever satisfaction it gives you, as long as you adhere strictly to Keepa’s comment policy:
This is a blog for believing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or those who are sensitive to believers and their faith: Commenters may not disparage Church leaders (past or present), or advocate ideas contrary to Church teachings, or write with sarcasm, insult, or otherwise, with the intent – or even the unwitting effect, for the disingenuous – to intimidate or ridicule or otherwise make regular commenters uncomfortable. I am the court of last appeal on judging whether or not any comment is in violation of blog policy. That’s just the way it is.
And remember, I’m not arguing anything for or against gay rights or same-sex marriage. I’m only commenting on my expectations for the Church’s future, provoked by disagreement with Taylor Petrey’s possibilities.