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Three Possible Routes?

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 26, 2013

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.



23 Comments »

  1. Spot on, Ardis.

    Comment by Jack — June 26, 2013 @ 9:52 pm

  2. Thanks for taking the time to offer a personal reflection on these important current events. As for me, to paraphrase Brigham Young badly, I’m prophet enough to know that I have ao idea where things will ultimately “land” on these issues. But I do think it’s fair to say that it’s–at best–perpendicular to historical and contemporaneous Church teachings to envision a future where the Church substantively changes its stance on same-sex marriage.

    Comment by David Y. — June 26, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

  3. With the decisions that our so called Supreme Court and our president are making lately, it scares me to death about the future of this country. I could’nt agree with you more.

    Comment by RoeH — June 27, 2013 @ 1:20 am

  4. While I don’t share my more conservative friends’ belief that gay marriage will inexorably lead to the downfall of society (more people want to get married? Okay, fine by me), I agree with your assessment of its future (non-) acceptance by the Church. Well put.

    Comment by Amy — June 27, 2013 @ 7:21 am

  5. I agree with your take on the Church’s future path. One other possibility not raised by either you or Petrey is that the church could decide that civil marriage has diverged so dramatically from the church’s view of marriage that it should uncoupled from temple sealings. Doing so would send the clear message that what the church is doing in the temple and what the government is doing outside of it are very different things. (It would also have the favorable side effects of standardizing practices worldwide–European governments have long since forced such an uncoupling–and allowing church members to celebrate civil marriages with non-templegoers.)

    Comment by Last Lemming — June 27, 2013 @ 7:36 am

  6. Last Lemming, I’ll probably blog on my views of the relation between civil marriage and temple sealing at another time. However, I’ll go on record here in vehement disagreement with you: The side effects of disconnecting marriage from sealing as you list them are not favorable ones, and the standard ‘nacle trope that the practice in Europe is the ideal and should be observed Church-wide betrays an ignorance of relevant historical issues.

    Then all I have to do is blog my views on the modesty tempest, and I will have alienated the entire Bloggernacle. That will be quite a coup.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2013 @ 7:56 am

  7. Good stuff, couldn’t agree more

    Comment by Steve — June 27, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  8. Ardis said:

    Then all I have to do is blog my views on the modesty tempest, and I will have alienated the entire Bloggernacle. That will be quite a coup.

    Yeah, and maybe add a new “Why I Like Bruce R. McConkie” series, and you’ll have achieved ultimate Bloggernacle infamy!

    Comment by David Y. — June 27, 2013 @ 10:12 am

  9. “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.” I think a married same-sex couple is not in the same position as someone struggling with WOW and such. We have disciplinary councils for people who fornicate/commit adultery. I would presume two same-sex people “married” under the laws of whatever state are having sexual relations, and that leaders would hold disciplinary councils on such. Haven’t heard of it happening yet, but that would seem to be a logical conclusion based on church teachings. It would be akin to living in a country that allowed plural marriage, and a member in fact being plurally married. Though legal, I think it would subject the member to discipline. I think the church will still expect anyone with homosexual feelings to be celibate. As a practical matter, I don’t foresee a big rush of same sex couples joining the church, anyway.

    Comment by IDIAT — June 27, 2013 @ 11:21 am

  10. We’ve come a long way from the Godbe/Harrison days when members felt insecure and threatened for sharing free honest opinion. There’s been progress and setbacks but by and large I’m encouraged by the direction we are heading as a people. Although I hold a strong opinion, I hope we (as a church) can continue to freely discuss such issues within a forum of respect and safety.

    Comment by P J DLM — June 27, 2013 @ 11:41 am

  11. IDIAT, while I don’t suppose Sanka drinkers would be tried for their fellowship, they would not be issued temple recommends if they were honest in interviews, and I’m aware of a heroin user being disciplined for his drug use (not for criminal acts associated with it), so I don’t see same-sex couples in a different class from WoW violators. But I think you’re otherwise right — the fact of a same-sex couple’s legal marriage would not override Church doctrine. And I agree that the whole issue, both here and in the post I respond to, is almost certainly an overwhelmingly academic discussion..

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 27, 2013 @ 11:44 am

  12. As ever, well reasoned and much appreciated, Ardis.

    Comment by Matt — June 27, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

  13. Good job, Ardis. I pretty much agree but don’t understand why you so strongly disagree with Last Lemming about the de-coupling of civil marriage and Temple sealing. I anxiously await your further development of this issue.

    (I’ll never forget being lectured along with a crowded room of other couples in the Utah County Courthouse (1980) by a woman clerk who explained that the marriage license we had just obtained did not mean were were married! So, no foolin’ around!)

    Comment by Grant — June 27, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

  14. Sorry, additional paranthetical: (The Utah Co. Clerk was only topped by our landlord who let us move in before we were married but also told us not to be foolin’ around. It made me so mad I would have, but my intended had more sense.)

    Back to same-sex marriage yet with additional whining: What I find hard to do is maintain a middle ground between the extremes on both sides. By trying to understand and look at the legal issues (and I admit some sympathy for the civil rights issues as I fully support the religious standard of my church and protections of the First Amendment) I seem to be accused by both sides of being on the other. Such is the curse of the passionate moderate.

    Comment by Grant — June 27, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

  15. Nice job as usual, Ardis. It’s nice to hear a sane voice in the Bloggernacle. :)

    Comment by lindberg — June 27, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

  16. I meant “move our stuff in before we got married”

    Maybe you should just delete all my comments so my wife never sees them . . . .

    Comment by Grant — June 27, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

  17. If only we passionate moderates weren’t so passionately moderate. We could have a Party and maybe feel less lonely. At least we could enjoy self-righteous indignation like the Libertarians. ;)

    Comment by SilverRain — June 28, 2013 @ 10:38 am

  18. It takes guts to state your opinion like you have. I agree with your well thought out rebuttal to the three scenarios or possible routes the Church could take. My opinion on same-sex marriage and temple worship goes along with yours. The couple would not be able to get a recommend based on the fact that they were in a sexual relationship while not married in the sight of God, and that they would be subject to church discipline for the same reasons.

    There is a difference between the Church having compassion for gay individuals and welcoming them into church membership and looking the other way when those individuals want the Church to embrace their marriage and allow them in the temple. I forsee the day when this issue will arise.

    Comment by Maurine — June 29, 2013 @ 12:01 am

  19. I need a thumbs up button button for #8. And for the original post, too.

    I appreciate the insight, and would only disagree with which of the outcomes is most likely–and that’s because there no ‘none of the above’ option.

    Unlike Ardis, I (wearing my tinfoil hat here) believe that within a relatively short timeframe (+-10 yrs) laws will change so that everyone who performs marriages (including bishops, temple sealers, etc.) must be willing to perform ALL marriages (including same-sex) or lose their state sanction. That will force the Church’s hand.

    So I’m looking forward to the “part II” referred to in comment 6.

    Comment by The Other Clark — July 1, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

  20. Nah. Despite all the fearmongering that has gone on about how same-sex marriage will bring about this kind of law — forcing the Church to throw open the temples to everyone, or to force bishops to marry on demand — I don’t buy it. As long as the First Amendment stands, no law can interfere with the Church’s right to determine who is qualified to enter its temples. Even if bishops were not similarly protected (and I think they are), a wedding performed by a bishop is only a civil wedding and confers no ecclesiastical blessing, and it would be no real loss to have bishops cease to perform those civil functions if necessary. The Church will never recognize or participate in same-sex marriage in any substantive sense.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 1, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

  21. The problem isn’t whether or not they’ll be allowed in temples, but whether or not they are willing to perform marriages. In other words, if a same-sex couple were to ask a sealer to perform their wedding, and he were to refuse, he could potentially have his state license to perform weddings revoked. Entry to the temple is not a necessary factor.

    There is precedent for this, since as a protected class, sexual orientation cannot be discriminated against when an individual offers services. It won’t necessarily happen, but it could.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 2, 2013 @ 9:03 am

  22. Sealers don’t perform weddings outside of temples. If they did offer their services to the public, that would be one thing. But nobody has a right to anyone’s services outside of the normal course of business — I could not demand that a restaurant chef prepare me a meal in the city park, or expect that a wedding caterer in Phoenix provide me catering services for a wedding in Tokyo — I couldn’t even ask a county judge to perform a wedding in the park when his only offer of that service is in his courtroom. This is just another overhyped scare that the sky is falling.

    It’s an odd position to have to defend the side of an issue like same-sex marriage that runs against my sympathies, but I try to be fair.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 2, 2013 @ 9:12 am

  23. I agree, Ardis, that it SHOULD be read that way. I just don’t think there is any guarantee that it will be. For the short run, sure, but the prevailing trend of opinion makes me much less sure about it than you are.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 2, 2013 @ 10:02 am

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