Guest Post from Dialogue

We’re pleased that Taylor Petrey has written a short discussion of his recent Dialogue article, Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology to start a conversation here at BCC. We encourage you strongly (yea, with schoolmarmish scoldings and professorial pleadings) to read the full article before commenting. Taylor G. Petrey (ThD, MTS Harvard Divinity School) is Assistant Professor of Religion at Kalamazoo College, specializing in New Testament and Early Christianity. He also teaches in the Jewish Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality programs.

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I hope that this piece will contribute to three hitherto largely separate conversations. The broadest of these conversations is about what LDS theology is or should be. In this article, I offer an interpretation of Mormon doctrine using Mormon sources of authority, exploring the vagaries and grey areas within those doctrines. I do not pretend to offer a recommendation for what Mormon theology should be like, but to provide a glimpse at what it might be like. Ultimate authority, of course, rests with the leadership of the Church, and their adjudication between possible theological alternatives.

One of the primary questions LDS theology faces is whether it merely offers a philosophically sophisticated window dressing to what is spoken over the pulpit, or if it has its own voice, its own purpose, and its own rules. Is LDS theology a given set of truths to be vindicated through philosophical theology, or can it produce new ways of thinking with the resources provided to it, and expose problematic elements of past and present articulations of LDS thought? I hope to have shown the benefits for taking up a more robust and engaged understanding of LDS theology’s relationship to broader cultural critique.

In particular, I have tried to connect this larger discussion of theology with feminist theory and Mormon feminist theology. While broader feminist conversations over the last three decades have shown how opposition to same-sex relationships is often rooted in ideologies about sex and gender roles, LDS feminist voices have rarely connected their concerns with those outside of heterosexual norms. While I am sympathetic to the concerns that that may drive LDS feminists to separate from LDS gay and lesbian voices, I suggest in this analysis that LDS feminist concerns are inseparably braided with the discourse on same sex relations.

As a particular case to which these theoretical paradigms can be applied, I examine the ongoing critical evaluation of Church discourse and practice about the issue of “homosexuality” and other relational and identity categories outside modern LDS discursive and juridical norms. Besides providing numerous models within LDS texts and practices for thinking about the possibility of same-sex relationships, ultimately I suggest that we think less about the types of sex that people are having, and more about the types of relationships that people are building.

In order to reimagine the possibility of married same-sex relationships within Mormonism, one has to consider how such relationships might make sense within LDS theology. While other Christians may have to confront scripture or tradition alone, and can make hermeneutical decisions about these sources of authority, Latter-day Saints are also informed by a particular theology that has thus far constrained acceptance of same sex relationships. Working from within LDS theology, texts, and ritual, I attempt to offer a plausible theological account of how Latter-day Saints may be able to accommodate same sex relationships.

Comments

  1. Taylor Petrey says:

    I want to start off the discussion by thanking my gracious hosts here at BCC for sponsoring this discussion!

  2. Let me just plug in the popcorn maker here….. all set!

  3. Darn it, I was hoping to be productive this afternoon…

  4. Ok, BCC commenters, since I’m new here, impress me with your thoughtful and intelligent discussion.

  5. …apparently, nobody wants to read this morning.

  6. It’s a long article with lots of big words, Ben!

  7. Taylor Petrey says:

    Yes, I am taking the stunned silence as a good sign of my convincing argument! :)

  8. Setting aside the content of the article, which is interesting in its own right, I’m very interested in the vision that you are articulating in this post and which you exemplify in the article. We’ve all long discussed the existence of various schools of thought within Mormon authorized thought. You seem to be arguing that a possible role for LDS theologians is to articulate potential theological destinations for the church, while allowing the authorized leadership the right to actually determine the destination. This is a much more active and influential role than for LDS academics than we are used to.

    It seems to me that the article is ahead of its time because we aren’t culturally in a moment where this proposed new role is widely acceptable. Do you see a way to get from here to there? Otherwise, I fear that the difference between articulation of possibilities and advocacy of possibilities will be lost on most folk. Of course, advocacy seems like something that you are engaged in with the article, too. I wonder if that is merely a factor of where the culture is or if it is impossible to articulate without implied advocacy.

    As to the substance of the article, I think that it is fascinating to consider all the possibilities that the scriptures and that our own revelatory history open up to us. At the same time, it is a bit overwhelming. There are a host of possible afterlifes and pre-mortal existences articulated in the article; won’t most Mormons simply argue that this article demonstrates the need for revelatory direction? And, as an corrollary, since the revelatory direction to this point has not been open to legitimizing homosexual relations, doesn’t that demonstrate that the points brought up, while interesting, are unnecessary?

  9. Don’t think I’m a fast reader, folks. I got an advance copy.

  10. Following what John said: there are Mormon theologians. The question is whether the intent of their work is descriptive or prescriptive. If descriptive, is it really possible in the end to not unduly influence in some way the manner in which Mormon discourse proceeds? That, I would say, is not possible. But I still think it’s crucial to be as rigorously as possible *imaginatively* descriptive, showing possibilities and envisioning potential worlds. I think Taylor’s piece is a good example of this. Prescriptive theologizing, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be very productive in a church with such a hierarchical authoritative structure. It usually devolves into controversy and negative ramifications for the prescribers.

  11. I think in order to further this fascinating discussion on “descriptive” vs. “proscriptive” Mormon theology, Mormons must first admit there is such thing as Mormon theology. I think our preference for the term “doctrine” epitomizes the uphill battle we face.

  12. John @8, I think you raise some excellent points. The question of “authority” in the Church and its relationship to competing authorities, like scholars, or even the membership of the Church at large is not one that I think is fully resolved. Ultimately, I think that we should be wary of strict dichotomies between leaders and theologians, and see them as much more interdependent. The way that power operates socially is always multidirectional, even when it is crystalized in institutional forms. What I think that what people who are outside of the institutional forms of power can do is have conversations, ask questions, and interrogate the discourses, perhaps by pointing to the gaps in the theology and practices, and the possibilities. Ultimately, this is a dialogue within our community, one that includes leaders and non-leaders. So, it is not just that I think scholars have the role of pointing out possibilities and leaders then chose among those, but that leaders too can and will think of other possibilities, produce new ways of speaking about this issue, and lay out new options for scholars to follow as well. (Nor should we restrict the dialogue partners to scholars and leaders, but also activists, and other “regular” folks).

    I think that the issue of “advocacy” is one that we need to theorize a bit more. I think that past experience has taught us that traditional forms of democratic advocacy have not been particularly effective, and I actually try to avoid those mistakes in this piece. Sure, I admit to have preferences for what the Church might do, but I don’t think that “advocating” those (whatever we may mean by that) has been thought through all that well. Instead, I think that writing and thinking and hopefully showing new ways of thinking about things, giving people new tools and vocabularies to work through certain intellectual issues, and critiquing some ideas that I don’t think work, is the extent of the goals that I am advocating. But I do think that we desperately need to have more conversation about what constitutes advocacy, and the strategic implications of those different forms.

  13. Joshua A. says:

    I guess I’ll kick this off…

    “As I understand it, much of the theological objection to homosexual
    relationships lies in current LDS understandings of the
    afterlife and the kinds of relationships that will exist there.”

    Wrong, good sir. Completely and utterly wrong. The theological objection to homosexual relationships lies in the current LDS understanding that such a relationship constitutes a sin. More specifically, that the sexual component of a homosexual relationship constitutes an act of sin (no prohibitions on bromance [or sister-mance?], right?). Your mistaken premise appears on the third page of your very well-written article, but means that the rest is simply words into the wind. Indeed, the word “sin” does not appear in your article, and you do not trouble yourself to address this most fundamental of issues.

    Please don’t misunderstand–I’m not the “moral police.” I don’t really care who bangs whom (to use the vernacular). But in accepting the covenant of baptism, we do accept God’s definitions of sin as promulgated through the church which we believe to be guided by divine revelation. I don’t pretend to theological prowess and think that trying to rank sins and sinfulness is folly. To my modern, enlightened mind it makes sense that people might want to test their sexual compatibility prior to marriage. And when I travel to far corners of the world for work, why not enjoy the company of some of the lovely local ladies, especially with modern birth control and disease prevention? 14% of my week and 10% of my cash sometimes seem a bit much to set aside for God. And don’t get me started on the Word of Wisdom–I have no idea how good advice metastasized into binding law.

    In short, I don’t understand why God has decreed some things to be sin, but I do understand my obligation to accept and obey in spite of my own shortcomings. Maybe God’s law regarding the matter is indeed rooted in matters of inheritance and reproduction, and maybe pork was prohibited to the Hebrews because of health concerns. But the law is the law, and I don’t believe that the opposition to, for example, gay marriage is rooted in some deep-seated misgiving about the reproductive habits of the divine. It’s because the president of the Church, whom most LDS accept as an authoritative voice on God’s will, said to oppose it (the Prop 8 letter, if anyone has forgotten).

    (By the way, though, I do appreciate the quality of your thought on the matter.)

  14. Jacob@10,
    I like your formulation of the “imaginatively descriptive” as one way of thinking about what Mormon theologians outside of institutional authority may do. I think it points out the deficiencies of the descriptive/prescriptive binary, where prescription often masks itself as description, rhetorically closing off certain possibilities and pretending as if the describer has no agency in the production of the description.

  15. Joshua @ 13
    “The theological objection to homosexual relationships lies in the current LDS understanding that such a relationship constitutes a sin.”

    But this is a tautology-homosexual sex is a sin, therefore it is prohibited. I think that my understanding attempts to give some content to _why_ homosexual sin has been defined as a sin in LDS theology. I think that LDS thinking on this subject has been more thoughtful in attempting to explain why homosexuality is problematic than your explanation that it is simply God’s mysterious will. There are good reasons that LDS thought has not been able to accommodate same-sex relationships, and I attempt to articulate those as best I can.

  16. Joshua,
    Is it a sin like polygamy is a sin (except for when it isn’t) or like systematized institutional racism is a sin (except for when it isn’t) or like the Word of Wisdom is a sin (except for when it isn’t)? Even though something has been categorized as a sin, that category isn’t immutable. In the OT, disrespecting your parents was the sort of sin people got killed over; today, it is a punchline on every sit-com. Saying that “it is a sin” ends the discussion is short-sighted.

    More to the point of Taylor’s argument, what if God decided it wasn’t a sin? Things have changed; they will likely change again. Taylor is suggesting that, if this is in our future, here are ways to support it with existent scripture (to say nothing of forthcoming revelation). So, I don’t think the argument is as unfounded as you seem to.

    Taylor,
    While I understand and accept the multi-directional nature of influence between authorized revelator and surrounding voices, as a culture we also cling tightly to the notion of the solitary watchman on the tower, above influence and clear-eyedly guiding us to the future. Do you think it is possible to maintain that mythic understanding, while admitting alternate forms of influence and power? I really don’t, but I’m open to the possibility.

  17. Joshua A., I think the problem with your argument is that what Latter-day saints consider sin is not, and has rarely ever been, a fixed category defined by God. Polygamy being one example. Further you neglect how sin is grounded in LDS theology with a particular form of becoming. Entrance into the CK is not predicated in Mormonism on our being obedient to arbitrarily given divine laws but on the extent to which we have become like God (cf. Oaks). In this view, sin could be seen as those acts which retard that becoming. If, for example, Mormonism’s after-life could conceive of celestialized homosexual relationships then surely it would not necessarily be a sin to live in a homosexual relationship in this life. However, if the trajectory of celestial becoming only moves toward hetrosexuality (as it currently does) then the sinful nature of homosexual acts follows, in some ways, almost automatically and is therefore defined by ‘LDS understandings of the afterlife’. In short, Taylor is spot on, and it is you who are wrong, good sir.

  18. Joshua A. says:

    God’s will may indeed by mysterious (and maybe your paper illuminates the underpinning of God’s thought) , but I think that in this case there’s very little mystery as to why “LDS thought” rejects same-sex relationships. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, though–when you write of “LDS thinking” are you referring to the rank-and-file (as I believe) or to LDS theologian-types?

  19. Joshua A. says:

    Let me restate so my position is clear–the question to me is, “Why are LDS opposed to same-sex relationships?” The answer is that it is because it has been declared to be a sin (similarly, it’s hard to buy alcohol in Utah). I believe that among most Mormons sitting in church on Sunday it has little to do with reproductive angst.

  20. John @ 16
    “we also cling tightly to the notion of the solitary watchman on the tower, above influence and clear-eyedly guiding us to the future.”

    That is certainly the duty and role of the leadership of the church, but I am not sure that anyone thinks that they are (or can be) completely free from influence. I think that our theology and practice suggests that we are at our best when we work in groups, hence our soteriology of relationships rejects the humanistic valuation of the “individual.” But also our decision making in our councils at all levels of church polity suggests that we should listen to one another.

  21. I don’t know that descriptive versus prescriptive quite gets at what’s at work here. This is a conversation which is worth having, no matter how one feels personally about where we are or where we might be going as a church with regard to such matters. But it’s not happening because, well, orthodoxy rarely feels any kind of serious pressure to rationalize itself (for good reasons), and because right now this is a key issue for boundary maintenance in the LDS world. It’s extremely difficult to try to begin a serious conversation on the topic without positioning oneself somewhere along a fairly high-stakes polemical continuum.

    The anthropologists I work with here who have any degree of fluency in Mormonism tend to cut Mormons some slack for homosexuality-related issues for the same reason that they cut Catholics slack on the abortion question. They recognize that our approach to social policy is more or less grounded in a comprehensive cosmology or theological narrative in which heterosexuality figures quite prominently. But it’s our job, as Mormons (“natives”) to actually articulate what’s at stake here, to try ad define the precise terms that underlie our commitment to heteronormative ideals (and, therefore, the strong and unambiguous ties between our discourse on homosexuality and our discourse on gender roles).

    I think Taylor is trying to start this conversation in both an intellectually rigorous and systematic but also productive, careful, thoughtful manner. I don’t see the article or his general approach as prescriptive theology. I see it as an effort to a) explicitly articulate some key LDS doctrinal commitments that underlie our current discourse on sexuality—including homosexuality—in a manner that enables us to see the framework in which we are operating more clearly and with some critical distance, thereby also permitting us to see precisely how and where doctrinal imperatives do and do not support, require, or reinforce our current position; and b) as an exercise in extending the horizons of possibility for thinking about how the contours which define LDS theological commitments might lead to alternative practical and even liturgical approaches to marital, sexual, and soteriological relationships.

    One example from the article itself, I think, demonstrates this approach reasonably clearly. It makes a great deal of sense to view our commitment to heterosexuality as grounded in our model for exaltation (a married couple sealed for the eternities by the priesthood and perfected together by the power of Christ, having diligently attempted to live according to the obligations entailed by their sealing) along with our belief that sexual intimacy—primarily because procreative—can, under appropriate conditions, be the closest to a divine act in which we, as mortal persons, can participate. We link (appropriate) sexual relations to divinity (and divine relations), and we link marital relations (which are central to defining the appropriateness of sexual intimacy) to divinity as well (to our divine potential as future exalted beings). This naturally leads toward the notion that heterosexuality is essential to our ability to achieve the full measure of our own creation by actively participating in divine creative process.

    But as the article points out, there is a potential problem with the last logical leap: the fact that canonical LDS narratives of divine creation are not heterosexually procreative but, rather, homosocially creative in a more pragmatic, constructive, and cooperative sense. Acts of divine creation are never explicitly portrayed as related to the heterosexual coupling of exalted spouses (though such speculations were once quite common among influential Church leaders). The upshot is that perhaps our existing and longstanding doctrinal commitments do not, in fact, inexorably drive, determine, or necessitate our commitments to heterosexuality (and opposition to alternatives), or at least not in the way we tend to think they do.

  22. Joshua A., I do not think the three of us who respond to your comment mean to pile on. However, it occurs to me that we all understood your point and have offered various reasons for why your argument is problematic. In that vein, and to your most recent comment, I believe that most people in the pews on Sunday believe homosexuality is wrong because, primarily, they believe God is hetrosexual. More than that, they believe that God is necessarily hetrosexual. Thus because they see divinity as the goal, hetrosexuality is an essential part of that process.

  23. Joshua A. says:

    Aaron–
    “Arbitrarily given divine laws”? Seriously?

  24. John, #16: yes, another important theological river running through this piece: continuing revelation. Much to disagree on here concerning the nature of continuing revelation, but I think such a concept within Mormonism actually allows for quite radical changes and transformations within the faith, some of which John has detailed. In fact, CR points to a potential *need* for preparatory work to be done (thus a theoretical need for rigorous theological work to be done). Consider, for example, if such work had been done prior to major doctrinal and institutional changes in the church’s past. Many of us don’t realize the devastation that was wreaked among many members when polygamy and the priesthood ban was rescinded. We usually only hear heartwarming stories about how people wept with joy when the ban was lifted. My own grandfather, on the other hand, struggled mightily with the change and never fully accepted it. Theological work like the kind Taylor is doing here might very well play a prospective role in preparing a people for the sometimes revolutionary revelation coming through prophets. It must be done carefully, optimistically, and rigorously; but it must be done.

  25. #23, they may appear arbitrary to us, that is. Point taken.

  26. Brad @ 21, perfectly said!

  27. Joshua,
    I think we are talking past each other a bit, because I misunderstood your point. I think that, while it is true that most Mormons would say that they oppose homosexuality because “it is a sin,” that most Mormons also cite its obvious sinfulness as being apparently in the inability of a homosexual union to be able to produce children in mortality. Add to this our emphasis on the nuclear family and family-making in the eternities (whatever we think our afterlife will be, our best vision of it is as an extension of an ideal family life, including having children) and it is easy to see why many people (in addition to the “it is a sin” statement) find it hard to imagine an LGBT-inclusive afterlife. Taylor is describing potential approaches to take to the scriptures should the “it is a sin” status ever change.

  28. Joshua A. says:

    From Brad #21:
    “It makes a great deal of sense to view our commitment to heterosexuality as grounded in our model for exaltation”
    Agreed.
    From Aaron #22:
    “I believe that most people in the pews on Sunday believe homosexuality is wrong because, primarily, they believe God is hetrosexual.”
    Possible. I don’t believe that most Mormons engage the subject of God’s sexuality at any level. We clearly have differing perceptions, and maybe I am wrong. I would be interested to see any hard data on the issue. To whatever extent they do intellectually engage it, though, I agree that the heterosexuality of a “Heavenly Father” would be a given.
    Continuing to address Brad’s post, my experience is that Mormons in general engage only superficially the idea of what family life in the celestial kingdom will look like, with each envisioning him/herself with their spouse at the head of a nuclear+ family. I’ve never lived in a non-BYU Utah ward, though, so maybe they see things differently.

  29. “I would be interested to see any hard data on the issue.”

    I have no idea what this means.

  30. Joshua @ 28,
    The “hard data” that I use are statements by LDS scholars and authorities to substantiate my argument about why homosexual relationships are problematic for LDS thought.

  31. John C. #27–
    Good point. Nonetheless, as I poorly demonstrated, we consider many things to be sins which could lead to reproduction (pre-marital sex, adultery), and, of course, which have nothing to do with reproduction. Also, though, there a strong cultural bias against open homosexuality in much of the world (and certainly in our own cultural heritage) going back millenia. Do you think that the reproductive question might just be a front for someone who is at once a) uncomfortable with the idea, b) believes it to be doctrinally sinful, and c) does not want to appear to be homophobic or a “hater?”

  32. Just to add a bit to the back and forth with Joshua over the question of homosexual intimacy as a sin: it’s not merely a matter of most LDS folks believing that God considers homosexuality sinful and, therefore, it is a sin (though I doubt anyone would argue that Josh is wrong on this point). It’s a matter of a large percentage of LDS believing that homosexuality is a sin in a qualitatively different way than, say, drinking beer or piercing one’s eyebrow is a sin. There are any number of types of human behavior which are currently defined as sinful but which Church members could easily imagine changing as a result of revelation. But there are also types of sin which we couldn’t imagine changing. My experience talking with Mormons about homosexuality is that unlike, say, race-based prohibitions against tempe worship or plural marriage as a prerequisite for exaltation, the principle that homosexuality is a sin is not subject to revelatory change, is to built into the very fabric of the eternal order and the plan of salvation to be changeable. It’s not merely a matter of addressing why Church members consider homosexuality sinful but specifically why they tend to view it as intrinsically and inalterably sinful.

  33. I think there is some chicken-and-egging in your argument, Taylor. Does the Mormon theological objection to homosexual relationships grow out of our belief in eternal increase (which you discuss solely in terms of physical reproduction) as a feature of [exalted] afterlife) — or does the objection exist independently of, even existing prior to, any consideration of the afterlife? Is the theology like polygamy, which several people have mentioned? A lot of Mormons justified polygamy by an appeal to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but that appeal was a latecomer. We didn’t practice polygamy because Abraham did; we practiced polygamy because Joseph Smith said it had been commanded by God, and the appeal to Abraham was one of several attempts to understand why God would command it. If the theology of polygamy and objection to homosexual relationships are alike, then we object to homosexual relationships because of a belief that it is a violation of divine law; bringing in thoughts of the afterlife is an attempt to understand why such relationships are in violation, not the cause for the objection. And if so, finding a way around the afterlife argument doesn’t affect the underlying objection at all.

    You write, “As I understand it, much of the theological objection to homosexual relationships lies in …” That leaves room both for an incomplete understanding on your part, and the existence of some other objection (i.e., if reproduction is only “much” of the argument, other objections fill up the space between “much” and “all”). Without suggesting what other objections those might be (we’ve seen the pile-on on Joshua for his suggesting what one other objection might be), I’m prepared only to say that for my part, I do think other objections exist, beyond reproduction in the afterlife. I’m one who cannot reproduce in this life, and I fully agree with all your arguments as to why such an inability doesn’t begin to define the purpose of life, whether this or some afterlife.

    If this comment weren’t already so long, I’d explore some of what you write about temple-formed kinships, and the changes in the Woodruff era (which you characterize as mere “reforms” and discuss, as you do all your points, without reference to any divine participation). But I suppose I’ve said enough to drown me in hot water in this venue. Let the contempt for me and mine begin.

  34. Steve #29 and Taylor #30–
    What I mean is that we’re talking about what “most LDS” think or “much of the theological objection.” Does such data exist in the form of opinion polls, surveys, or something like that?
    As far as “theological objection,” as someone mentioned, we don’t really have theology in the LDS church. We have doctrine. Strictly speaking, any member’s opinion on the doctrine carries as much weight as any other’s (can you drink Coke and still go to the temple?). Nonetheless, some viewpoints do become influential–so the crux of the question is, have the viewpoints and statements by LDS scholars and authorities cited by Taylor become (as of yet) so influential that they inform the opinions of the membership of the church, or is the opposition to homosexuality still rooted in a flat, admittedly unsophisticated belief in its sinfulness? I argue that the letter read to every U.S. congregation over the pulpit in 2008 regarding Prop 8 was and continues to be vastly more influential among the LDS rank-and-file than an objection based on celestial reproductive potential.

  35. I think a key argument here is the untangling of historical theology and, well, theology. With polygamy, Word of Wisdom, and racism, we’ve had distance between the theological declarations and our current belief, and now we see it as a natural theological development. It seems that at each point of transition, there was a tough period where theology had to be reevaluated and reconstituted. That is a fundamental change, and I don’t know if that could have been authoritatively done without an ecclesiastical pronouncement (with, in some cases, a revelatory reason) that then catapulted the move. This implies, in my mind, a more pluralistic view of how theology works, with different possible avenues and strains that can be teased out. But it also goes against a dominant cultural idea that the Word of God is static and, when it develops, that development is in a linear progression.

  36. I hope we aren’t heading to a conclusion where a religious belief cannot be maintained unless the belief passes the rigor of academic and philosophical scrutiny performed by those educated by the world. I tend to disagree with the full article’s assertion that the Church’s characterization of homosexual acts as sinful must be defended (rather than simply repeated). Defended to whom? To the academics and philosophers of the world? To me, the Church’s leaders need to teach correct principles as best as they understand them, rather than feeling compelled to defend those principles in non-Church settings using non-Church standards. Just as we shouldn’t feel compelled to offer a description of the initial creation which meets scientific standards, we need not feel compelled to offer a justification of why homosexual acts are sinful that meets academic or philosophical standards.

  37. A lot of Mormons justified polygamy by an appeal to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but that appeal was a latecomer. We didn’t practice polygamy because Abraham did; we practiced polygamy because Joseph Smith said it had been commanded by God, and the appeal to Abraham was one of several attempts to understand why God would command it.

    I see your point, Ardis, and I know this is a minor thread-jack, but I don’t know if this is entirely the case. I think one could make the argument that much of the Mormon theology of polygamy came from trying to defend Abraham’s practice.

  38. Taylor Petry has written an interesting article that will be published in Dialogue. The title of the article is ‘Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology’, and seems to me to attempt to answer the question, ‘How would the theology of Mormonism have to change in order to seal and exalt homosexuals as homosexuals?’ Petry writes a good article that is well articulated and documented, but there is something about the whole approach that I find a bit disturbing. It took me a while to put my finger on the source of my discomfort, but I think I have finally done it. I believe the source of my discomfort is in the idea that what needs to happen is fundamental change to teachings/doctrines/beliefs/etc., in order for a group of people to be exalted as they are. This would be in contrast to the idea that in order to be exalted, we must all change through the application of faith and repentance to a point where we no longer desire to do evil, through the atonement of Christ. I suppose that if we were to follow Petry’s approach, we could simply develop a theology where all would be exalted regardless of what they did or believed.
    Now, if I can get over the objection to changing the theology (transgressing laws, changing ordinances, breaking covenants ..), I can superficially summarize the changes Petry suggests:
    – Remove the idea of a gendered reproduction between Heavenly Parents as an origin of spirit bodies.
    – View sealing as more of a general kinship rather than as organizing eternal traditional families.
    – Discard any notion of eternal, purposeful gender.
    I think Petry is right about the nature of the fundamental changes that would have to take place for Mormonism to seal and exalt homosexuals as homosexuals. Although to do this, it seems that he has removed any purpose to sexuality or gender. Perhaps I have not understood something, but it seems to me the resulting exaltation would not be gendered nor sexual – at least not in any purposeful way. Perhaps someone could enlighten me on that if I am wrong.
    In all of this, I think Petry is ignoring the possibilities already in place in Mormonism for the exaltation of all of God’s children regardless of the challenges they face. I still believe that it is possible for real change in the individual through the atonement of Christ. And even the immerging science of brain plasticity provides some possible methods and explanations of how this can happen. Additionally, there is the idea that the specific challenges we are discussing here are temporary, and will not exist in the after life.
    It is because of the idea of changing ourselves, through the gospel and the atonement (rather than changing the ordinances and theology), along with the idea of meaningful progress even after death, that I do not find Petry’s article persuasive – even though I admire the quality of his work.

  39. I also think that the issue of sin is the big hole in the article, and that the comparisons to polygamy, the Word of Wisdom, or the priesthood ban (made above, not by Taylor) are inexact and unenlightening. It’s a much different thing to go from regarding something condemned as a grievous sin, as all our modern prophets and the NT and OT treat homosexuality, to regarding it as compatible with out most sacred ordinances.

    You can find examples of that kind of change – think of Peter’s re-evaluation of Jewish dietary laws, “call not unclean,” and so on. But notice that the re-evaluation of Jewish law was only possible in the context of a new religious tradition. Is the article describing a Mormon post-heterosexual theology, or a post-Mormon post-heterosexual theology?

    In any case, for this kind of theological deliberation, one thing I wish more authors would address (and maybe Taylor would do so here) is: What would be the costs of a proposed theological innovation? What and whom would we have to abandon in order to consecrate homosexual relationships? What might the consequences be?

  40. Eric,

    You and I have gone back and forth on this before. I believe that Petrey’s point isn’t that things have to change, but rather that the assumptions that you (and many others make) are not as grounded as you may think they are, nor do they even necessary make /sense/. You can’t just point to words such as ‘gender,’ ‘spirit,’ and ‘kinship’ an call the case closed, when what those words mean are largely vacuous in application, or lack rational sense in their application altogether.

    We can talk about a kettle talking–just look at Disney cartoons: they do it all the time. However, as soon as we start to ask what it means for a kettle to talk, we come to see how much sense it lacks–where would the words actually come from? What does it mean for a kettle to talk?

    Similarly, we can talk about spirits being engendered, and even envision it–after all Disney cartoons to it all the time. But we are still left with the questions of what it means for a spirit to have gender. Does a boy spirit has a penis? What is a penis? Do spirits have DNA? Then what is DNA then? How do we apply biological notions to non-biological objects? What does it mean for a spirit to be sexed/gendered in a way other than simply saying it is?

  41. Ardis, I have no idea why you think your comment would gather contempt. You overestimate us!

  42. “But I suppose I’ve said enough to drown me in hot water in this venue. Let the contempt for me and mine begin.”

    Ardis, I don’t understand this part of your comment? What does this refer to?

  43. Sorry this is a bit of a threadjack, but Joshua, this isn’t correct: “…the letter read to every U.S. congregation over the pulpit in 2008 regarding Prop 8….” The letter was only read (or only *supposed* to be read) in all congregations in California, not the whole US. I did hear scattered reports of the letter being read elsewhere, but the letter wasn’t addressed to their wards so those cases seem to be outlier take-it-upon-myself kind of cases.

  44. There are few people that I love more than Taylor and Ardis. I think there can surely be loving disagreement on these things. This style of argument, I think, is likely to lead many to find things that they both agree and disagree with.

    I also do not think this fit within the proscriptive vs. descriptive mold. In many ways, Taylor’s work is very descriptive in that it is describing the roots of these concepts which we so often call truth or doctrine.

  45. Jonathan L. Gal says:

    Taylor Petry, and his following, are hopelessly lost and heading in the wrong direction. Heavenly Father does not want us to go “Towards a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology” and neither does the majority of the LDS population.

    If Taylor Petry, and his following, want to go in the direction of a “Post-Heterosexual Theology”, then they should create their own theological brand, their own scriptures, and their own church … from scratch. The LDS Church has been built up, proudly, over many generations with a lot of hard work by both men and women, who made great sacrifices to bring the church to where it is, today. To suggest, or even just theorize, that the considerable resources built up over the generations by the church should be re-directed to support homosexuality is an insult to the millions of hardworking family oriented people in the church, who made and continue to make great sacrifices for the Church and for the future generations of its members, not to mention Joseph Smith himself, and other who gave their very lives for the Church.

    Given the state of the Michigan economy, where Mr. Petry concocts these distorted ideas, and its over-dependence on the Federal Government, the rest of the U.S. might also be perfectly happy to give them their own nation in Michigan, so that we do not have to continue bailing out that economy, which has been laid waste by liberalism, both economic and social.

    I have pointedly asked Taylor Petry about his federal funding several times, and I do not yet have an answer. As a U.S. citizen, I believe I have a right to know how many federal dollars are going to support his heretical PR campaign. Between his overpriced Harvard Divinity degree and his ongoing work as a professor in the economically stagnant state of Michigan, I am certain that the number of federal dollars behind this so called “thought experiment” is quite high, indeed.

    I am a firm believer in the Bill of Rights and in Free Agency. I do not challenge Taylor’s right to a free press and free speech, or his right to theological free agency; but I do take issue with his attempt to theologically legitimize homosexuality in my Church and also with the fact that this effort is being funded with federal dollars. It is no coincidence that this kind of thought is eminating from the State of Michigan, which has produced one of the worst economic track records of all the States during the past 5 years. Theological liberalism and economic liberalism go hand in hand; and they are both equally misguided.

    Start your own Church, if this is the direction you want to go!

  46. I apologize in advance for not living up to the intellect and respect that has, thus far, dominated the thread.

    “The Lord penetrates the body of Adam and creates Eve.”

    Now there’s a provocative word choice. And probably one that would prevent the average member with from even considering the good points made in the article.

  47. I assume that Ardis, like others, feels that BCC and/or other blogs tend to condemn for not being sufficiently progressive. Anything less than cheerleading or enthusiastic agreement is therefore the equivalent of telling folks to get to the back of the bus.

  48. Do you agree that’s a valid observation Ben? This has me scratching my head.

  49. To focus on one aspect of the article, it does point up how underdefined the LDS doctrine of the Preexistence (now “premortal life”) is. The concept of a gendered premortal life only makes sense by analogy to our present gendered mortal life. But then if in physical life there are intersexed or intergendered persons, as President Kimball concedes in the quote noted at footnote 68, we should also expect intergendered persons in the Preexistence as well.

    I suspect the more one tries to define aspects of the Preexistence, the more problems arise. The simpler view would be that in premortal life all spirits are ungendered, then take on a specific sex/gender during prenatal development. On occasion, development does not go as planned, resulting in intersexed persons, just as there are a wide variety of physical disorders that arise during prenatal development. And this seems in harmony with certain LDS explanations quoted in the article that gender identity is formed during childhood (and the suggestion that parents can somehow screw up the process). But that approach appears to be foreclosed by the Proclamation’s insistence that premortal spirits are gendered.

  50. I vote #45 as WCotW, and prime candidate for poe’s law.

  51. It’s the sense that there is something absolutely and essentially Mormon about considering homosexuality a sin (demonstrated in some comments here and particularly in Gary’s, but also I think widely held among Church members generally), as opposed to the mere fact of its being considered sinful, that is the object of Taylor’s analysis. It’s not a matter of accounting for why church members view homosexual relations as sinful; it’s a master of accounting for why church members would consider “post-heterosexual” theology to be “post-mormon” theology, for why I have had conversations with literally dozens of extremely committed, orthodox church members who have told me quite unequivocally that if the Church announced that gay and lesbian couples could be sealed in temples, they would consider that a sign that the Church had gone into full blown Apostasy.

  52. Gary L,
    As the purveyor of those analogies, I feel confident saying the shift in the modern church’s treatment of polygamous marriages is exactly analogous to the kind of shift you are describing. So, there is that.

  53. Dear Taylor,

    Can I be part of your following?

    Sincerely,
    Chris H.

  54. What’s so impressive about Taylor’s analysis here is its ability not only to describe where comments like number 45 come from, but to actually summon them into existence.

  55. Thanks all for the comments! I am just returning from lunch and would like to address in broad strokes some of the main points, and hope that others will pick up and continue discussion of other points.

    First, I want to reiterate a point I try to make in the article that I think bears repeating here, that we should stop thinking of “homosexuality” as an act/disposition that is defined by “sex,” but that instead we should think of the full range of homosexual relationships where the types of sex that one has are but one aspect of that relationship, including things like making a home, sharing finances, raising children, socializing with friends and family, caring for one another during the hardships of health and age or accident, sharing cultural experiences, etc. Relationships are much more full bodied than “sex” and we mistake what is at stake here for those who are affected by this reductionistic assumption about “homosexuality.”

    Ardis, I think you raise an interesting point, if I understand it, that perhaps the theological reasons I address for excluding homosexual relationships are really just secondary justifications for a sort of divine “natural law.” I don’t address the natural law argument in my piece, at least not directly, because I don’t see a lot of appeals to natural law in Mormon thought that aren’t code for “natural reproduction.” I admit that there may be other reasons that exist, or that will exist, for opposing homosexual relationships that I haven’t covered and I think that further evaluation of those arguments should happen. I have tried to address those that I personally find the most important and potentially persuasive. (on a side note, I think that Abraham was pretty integral to the argument of D&C 132).

    Eric and Gary, I address you together because you both see (or appear to see) major theological “costs” to my approach. I have tried to show that there aren’t so many costs, and that Mormon theology actually survives largely in tact through this exercise. Certainly, if there are any costs, I see them as strongly outweighed by their benefits.

  56. I just want to say that I feel this article is to this issue what Lester Bush’s 1973 Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine was to that topic. Powerful, extremely important, and essential reading.

  57. Ardis,
    So far as I can tell, there was nothing contemptible your comment. You raise good points. I do think (with my limited understanding) that Joseph prayed about polygamy in the context of desiring a “restoration of all things” so Abraham may not have been solely a post-hoc justification, but I bow to your superior historical knowledge if I too am placing carts before horses in that belief.

    As to articulations beyond concerns with reproduction (in this life or the next), I am interested in hearing them. My anecdotal experience consists of solely encountering references to reproduction as an explanation for the wrongness of homosexuality. That and general ickiness, which most people don’t vocalize publicly anymore. So I would be interested in hearing objections outside of those two.

  58. #49

    There is absolutely no need to go that direction. Just because something exists in mortal life, we do not have to assume it existed (or will exist) in the pre-existence (or post-mortal life). I have an Autistic son. I have not a single shred of belief he was autistic before he was born and will continue to be autistic after. Now I completely get that homosexuals (and those urging what they see as a more tolerant acceptance of homosexuals) do not want to view their mortal condition in the same way that most saints view mental and/or physical handicaps. They don’t see themselves as broken or less. But that doesn’t mean they are right (doesn’t mean the Church is right, either).

    So let me ask you these question and see if you can see why you correctly pointing out that the doctrine of the pre-existence is not well defined don’t carry much weight. If a young child was born without functioning arms thanks to a developmental issue, would you argue that person had no arms in pre-mortal spirit? Or that they will have no arms after the resurrection? Because I don’t think the average member would say yes to either of those questions.

  59. #43–
    Can’t make any claim to certain knowledge here, but it was read in my ward in Hawaii and was read as being addressed to us. Indeed, at least in the media, one of the sticking points was that the Church rallied its membership across the country, not just in Cali (there used to be a website detailing donations from individuals). Maybe that’s why I assumed that it was a nationwide thing. At any rate, as the Church doesn’t take “political” positions, it clearly addressed this issue as being a “moral” one, that is, a matter of sin and righteousness.

    As a matter of a thought experiment, what if President Monson announces tomorrow revelation that homosexuality is *not* a sin? Does anyone think that cultural internia and reproductive angst would continue to power an environment opposed to homosexual relationships in the church?

    Brad, anecdote only, but my mom was on her mission in Houston, TX, when the revelation on the priesthood to all worthy males was announced. She told me that an entire ward in her stake just left. Done. And, of course, there are still the polygamous offshoots that did not accept the Manifesto. So I don’t doubt that it could happen again.

  60. So does ji’s comment 36 win the award for being first to note that the essay’s author is a product of the “world” and for also deftly alluding to “philosophies of men mingled with…” I was hoping for the trifecta to be complete with a L(ooking)B(eyond)(the)M(ark) reference because LBMing somebody or someone goes hand in hand with “world” talk and “philosophy” slamming. But perhaps the soft rejection of science in favor of “initial creation” makes up for it.

  61. “But then if in physical life there are intersexed or intergendered persons, as President Kimball concedes in the quote noted at footnote 68, we should also expect intergendered persons in the Preexistence as well. ”

    I think that’s non-sequitor, due to our theology of the Fall.

  62. Folks,
    This isn’t my blog and it isn’t my thread and I’m tired of the BCC hates non-progressives arguments that I’ve had thousands of over the years. I think that argument is crap, but perception trumps reality (both ways) in that debate and I just don’t care anymore. So, while it isn’t my place, may I suggest that it is a threadjack that isn’t appropriate to this topic and we can all just move on? If you like, I’ll start a facebook thread and you all can tell me about how I’m keeping your opinions down over there or some such.

  63. #47, but the back of the bus is where the cool kids sit! Ben, I don’t get it.

  64. “I also think that the issue of sin is the big hole in the article”

    FTW?

  65. Steve,

    In 2011, the cool kids don’t even ride the bus.

    Anyways, I prefer to push in front of the bus rather than have them sit anywhere on it.

  66. Chris, how on earth did you get out of the mod queue??!?

  67. I will not name names. Anyways, I am playing nice. No bad words.

  68. David T @ 56,
    A sincere thank you! That is as high a compliment as I know.

  69. You know, when I read this post earlier today, I would not have expected the Michigan economy to figure into this discussion. How wrong I was.

  70. Interesting issues. Made most interesting by the fact that the church has, indeed, evolved with culture. Which fact complicates–I think–any outright dismissal of an article like Taylor’s. But it is really difficult for Mormons (me) to equate blacks receiving the priesthood to homosexual marriages receiving church endorsement. The general unease around restricting a whole race of people from church blessings was, I think, divinely inspired. So might be the unease around a blanket endorsement of any and all sexual lifestyles.

  71. Lon (#58), I believe we are thinking alike. I would not explain developmental disabilities by reference to premortal disabilities. In similar fashion, I am suggesting it is in some ways problematic to explain mortal sex/gender by resort to premortal sex/gender. But if you are going to link mortal and premortal sex/gender as the Proclamation does, then what you are doing is extending mortal sex and gender categories back into the Preexistence. And if you are going to do that, then some would say it follows that the explanation for intersexed bodies or intergendered identities (which are sex/gender categories) is that there were intersexed spirits and intergendered spirits.

    What doesn’t quite make sense is to say that spirits were essentially sexed and gendered, but that that complications to binary sex and gender are purely developmental in this life.

  72. @rd, “any and all sexual lifestyles” =/= loving, monogamous gay relationships. (raise children together, buy a house together, tenderly clean up the other’s chin spiddle after their stroke in their declining years, etc). Which isn’t to say I necessarily disagree with your overall point. I was just a little taken aback by that word choice, which seemed a pretty flip way of describing the relationships of some gay couples I know.

  73. Lon @ 58,
    “So let me ask you these question and see if you can see why you correctly pointing out that the doctrine of the pre-existence is not well defined don’t carry much weight.”

    I think that your example of arms is one thing, but when we are talking about something like sexual desires and functions, we are talking about something totally different. The morphology of the body is not what is at stake in the appeal to premortal gender.

    rd @ 70
    “a blanket endorsement of any and all sexual lifestyles.”

    I’m not sure that this the implication of my argument, and I try to head it off in the article. Again, I am interested in relationships, not “sex” or “lifestyle,” whatever may be meant by those terms.

  74. “What doesn’t quite make sense is to say that spirits were essentially sexed and gendered, but that that complications to binary sex and gender are purely developmental in this life.”

    And I am saying that this sentence makes perfect sense _to me_. And I think to a vast majority of the Church and it’s leadership.

  75. Makes sense to me as well, Lon. And I tend to see things as complicated.

  76. BTW, I ought to add that I totally understand that it is a pretty simple mental shift to see that sentence as making little sense and accepting the various gendered/orientation combinations existed before and will continue to exist. And that simple little shift would have major theological implications.

    And I would to think more about how this pre-mortal issue is looked at in light of other ‘problem areas’. Do we think people were black/white/etc. in the pre-mortal existence? I think most do think we’ll take race with use in the post-mortal realms bit I’m not sure I agree.

  77. Lon and Ben @74-75,
    So, perhaps you can put something more on the table here. What do you think premortal gender means in terms of desires, practices, roles, bodies, etc, and why does this preclude homosexual relationships? What does this mean for intersexed and transgendered persons? Do we adopt the model that they are somehow failed persons because they do not exhibit their most essential gendered identity?

  78. Nick Literski says:

    Ardis @ #33:
    A lot of Mormons justified polygamy by an appeal to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but that appeal was a latecomer. We didn’t practice polygamy because Abraham did; we practiced polygamy because Joseph Smith said it had been commanded by God, and the appeal to Abraham was one of several attempts to understand why God would command it.

    Ardis, doesn’t the text of Joseph’s revelation on this subject specifically state that it was given in response to his question on how deity justified the ancient Patriarchs’ practice of plural marriage? How can the appeal to A/I/J be a “latecomer,” when the doctrine came specifically as a result of seeking revelation regarding their practices?

    Brad @ #51:
    I have had conversations with literally dozens of extremely committed, orthodox church members who have told me quite unequivocally that if the Church announced that gay and lesbian couples could be sealed in temples, they would consider that a sign that the Church had gone into full blown Apostasy.”

    Brad, prior to 1978 there were “extremely committed orthodox [LDS] church members” who said the same thing regarding priesthood ordination for men of African descent. I understand that the day that change was announced, a full page ad in the Salt Lake Tribune declared the formation of a new church, on the basis that Kimball’s announcement was “a sign that the [LDS] church had gone into full blown apostacy.”

  79. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 56 I agree with you, David T. Petrey’s article is very important and ahead of its time. I’ve been thinking along these lines for some time and hoping somebody would articulate the fact that Mormon theology is uniquely situated to adapt to increased knowledge about the nature of homosexuality.

  80. “for why I have had conversations with literally dozens of extremely committed, orthodox church members who have told me quite unequivocally that if the Church announced that gay and lesbian couples could be sealed in temples, they would consider that a sign that the Church had gone into full blown Apostasy.”

    This is pretty much how I see it as well. I don’t see any analogy to 1978 whatsoever on this issue. I would also consider a post heterosexual sexual theology to be in apostasy as well. After all our Heavenly Parents are in a heterosexual relationship and in the same state that we would be in in the top level of the CK.

    Brad’s comment is spot on in 51. Carry on.

  81. Oh, for crying out loud. This is a threadjack, and there isn’t room enough — or desire enough — to go into it any deeper.

    Of course Abraham’s example played a role in our practice of polygamy — it very likely was the sole motivator for Joseph’s asking about the issue in the first place. What I said was that we didn’t practice polygamy because Abraham did — we didn’t adopt Abraham’s blood sacrifice, or many of his other practices simply because Abraham did them, did we? — we practiced polygamy because Joseph taught that God had so instructed him. It was the modern revelation, not the ancient practice, that was the proximate cause of our own marriage patterns. When, then, Mormons tried to explain and justify the practice to non-believers who did not accept the authority of revelation to Joseph Smith, some Mormons turned to the Bible again for justification. Justification by appeal to the Bible without endorsement of modern revelation was the latecomer.

    I apologize for the threadjack, Taylor, which I did not start, and I will not participate in any continuance of it.

  82. Mike,

    There is not room theologically. See HF plus HM equals spirit children. repeat cycle with sealed top level of CK married couples. The hetersexual nature of our Heavenly Parents relationship makes this whole conversation outside the bounds of Mormonism.

  83. Nick Literski says:

    Thanks, Ardis, for your explanation. I understand better where you were coming from now, and you definitely have a good point.

  84. bbell, have you read Taylor’s article? If not, please go and do so before further comment.

  85. Taylor, my two bits on your article: it’s a thought experiment, and as such gets us thinking about big topics in interesting ways. For that, it’s very worthwhile. I do think that we are a long, long ways from your thought experiment ever becoming reality, but that’s not the point here.

  86. The assumption of a heterosexual relationship…let alone a heavenly “mother” and “father” is the product of our heterosexual ideology. We do not get our heterosexual ideology from heaven, we impose it on heaven.

  87. “What do you think premortal gender means in terms of desires, practices, roles, bodies, etc, and why does this preclude homosexual relationships? What does this mean for intersexed and transgendered persons? Do we adopt the model that they are somehow failed persons because they do not exhibit their most essential gendered identity?”

    I’m going to start at the end and work my way backward. I strongly reject that implied proposed dichotomy (though I understand why you put it forth). The two choices are not that they are ‘failed persons’ or are (implied) ‘complete persons’. We are ALL failed and failures. You and I. My autistic son and a gay man. Just each in different ways with different challenges. So yes, we have to adopt the model that homosexuals are failed persons because we all are. This is the doctrine of the Fall – we are all fallen. This doesn’t make me better than them… or them better than I. And we all (should be) striving to becoming complete either in this life or (more likely) in the next. Complete here being defined as ‘as close to the roles God has outlined for us as is possible’. Again, we are not going to get there in this life.

    To the first part, a binary pre-mortal essential gender has to preclude (morally acceptable) homosexual relationships because otherwise gender has no essential binary meaning. In other words, if we make the mental shift you have described (and I do see it as a possibility), then there is NO difference in any way between men and women in any lasting, eternal sense. If a male-male couple can and does obtain every single celestial blessing and responsibility as a female-female couple does or a male-female does, then there is nothing male about being male and nothing female about female. Again, I can certainly set myself in that mind set and see a whole slew of different theological consequences. But it doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t match my personal experiences or answers to prayers. And it goes against thousands of years of history in almost every culture I am aware of. It feels much more like natural law. We have been taught by Church leaders at many points in the history of the scriptures that there is binary pre-mortal essential gender. So we cannot have morally acceptable homosexual relationship and at the same time accept that there is something different about being a male than there is about being a female.

  88. “We do not get our heterosexual ideology from heaven, we impose it on heaven.”

    Chris, obviously those who advocate heterosexuality as a doctrinal point will disagree with your assessment. I disagree with your assessment as well, since the Church today clearly advocates heterosexuality and does so via proclamations, talks, etc. that our leaders state have come from revelation on the topic. As such they cannot be so easily dismissed.

  89. #87: “We have been taught by Church leaders at many points in the history of the scriptures that there is binary pre-mortal essential gender”

    Lon, I’d appreciate it if you could indicate what scriptures you’re referring to here.

  90. Fascinating article, Taylor – and fascintating discussion, everyone. There’s a lot to digest, and I don’t have anything to new add – but I did want to say how much i appreciate a chance to think deeply about this general topic.

    I do believe, as Mike said in #79, that Mormon theology is uniquely capable of articulating some really interesting possibilities, but I also believe very few members (relatively speaking) care enough about issues of sexuality in a way that propels them to consider our theology as Taylor has done. Correct or incorrect, I really like reading the thoughts of someone who has considered possibilities (legitimate, reasoned possibilities) so deeply and thoughtfully.

  91. Steve,

    I read the article. Its interesting but fatally flawed in how it tries to either explain away LDS practices or add to them in a way that would require a pretty serious paradigm shift that would involve all kinds of problems. The end of your 88 is where I end up with my “Post Mormon” comments.

    Its been a while since I have commented here. I feel like we repeat a lot of same arguments and counter arguments :)

  92. it's a series of tubes says:

    What doesn’t quite make sense is to say that spirits were essentially sexed and gendered, but that that complications to binary sex and gender are purely developmental in this life.

    Makes perfect sense to me.
    /signed/ Someone who has spent two decades participating in research studies related to hereditary disease and human development due to his immediate family and extended family history, and passionately studying the topic as part of his desire to better underwhy he has lost and will continue to lose so many family members.

  93. it's a series of tubes says:

    eh, “understand why”

  94. “After all our Heavenly Parents are in a heterosexual relationship and in the same state that we would be in in the top level of the CK.”

    bbell, please point me to ONE canonical, scriptural reference that states spiritual children are created through sexual reproduction. I don’t beleive that (in fact, it’s ludicrous and applaing to me – and even more so to many women I know). It’s obvious to me that spirit children might be created in more ways than just gestational pregnancy initiated by sexual intercourse – and that possibility alone (which we are approaching – and actually have passed – in this mortal life) is enough or me to be open to “further light and knowledge” about the nature of our eternal lives.

    It’s really important in a discussion like this to deconstruct our extra-scriptural assumptions from our canonized scriptures – as Taylor does in his article.

  95. #91, the entire point of Taylor’s article is to articulate what those problems would be and explore them. Yes, there would be a paradigm shift involved, yes that would be difficult, but the point is to spell those issues out and discuss them, rather than just close the topic entirely because the present authority isn’t there.

  96. bbell, the piece does not try to explain away LDS practices or add to them. If it did, I wouldn’t have published it. It is a speculative theological essay trying to work through some very complicated and somewhat murky aspects of doctrine.

  97. I think the invocation of Heavenly Parents is an important corollary for this discussion, but perhaps not for the reasons given above. The very fact that we believe in a Heavenly Father is an exercise of using reason and common sense to expand our understanding of the scripture. (i.e., that to believe God without a spouse would “make reason stare.”) The idea of a Heavenly Mother is outside of our scriptural canon and official “doctrine” (unless one counts General Conference addresses or statements from Prophets and Apostles–but that would open up a whole batch of questions about former statements that aren’t currently accepted by the Church, a discussion for another thread), yet most Mormons, including myself, strongly believe in a Heavenly Mother. This belief, I think, validates the possibility of practicing what Taylor calls for in the OP: that we can, outside of institutional and canonical frameworks, explore theological possibilities amongst “the vagaries and grey areas” of our doctrine.

    But, that begs the question: can we use these logical extensions as defense for, as Jacob outlined above, a “prescriptive theology?” I’m not sure we can use our speculative beliefs of Heavenly Mother and spirit birth as a foundational defense against, well, the speculative belief of eternal homosexuality.

  98. bbell,
    I think that you are wrong about the membership in your #80. I think that, if President Monson got a revelation next week saying that gay temple sealings are authorized, we’d start doing it. I also think that, if President Monson got a revelation saying that being gay was sinful, we’d start treat gay folk more like sinners than we do now. YMMV

  99. #88 ” the Church today clearly advocates heterosexuality and does so via proclamations, talks, etc. that our leaders state have come from revelation on the topic.”

    What revelation(s)?

  100. “But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him?” (2 Chronicles 18:6)

  101. Lon @87

    “We are ALL failed and failures. You and I. My autistic son and a gay man.”

    Lon, I know that you already pointed to the problem here in your earlier comment, but this notion of disabled persons and non-heterosexual persons as bearing the evidence of the Fall is an idea that I think we should question. First, the status of gayness is not figured as a fall from a neutral idea of a human which no one can attain, but a fall from a heterosexual human which many people attain just fine. It makes “gayness” the symbol of the fall, not the consequence of it. To shift the weight of the fall on a particular group (the disabled, women, a particular race, “homosexuals,” etc) has a long history in Christian theology, and it is one that is evident of particular relationships of social power. It is a manifestation of what “they” do as the evidence for the fall, and I am not sure that you claim to lump yourself into that same pot means that it has the same implications for how you live your life as it does on others who are affected more seriously by this categorization.

    “then there is NO difference in any way between men and women in any lasting, eternal sense.”

    Are there differences that you think are particularly important that must continue? Is it just reproduction, or are there other differences between men and women that we must have? What is so important about differences? (I do attempt to engage this argument in the conclusion of my article, for the sake of reference).

  102. Steve and Chris H.:
    Doesn’t the frequently remarked upon dearth of discourse regarding Heavenly Mother have some part to play here? I think this might go towards what Chris is getting at. Particularly in recent history, we are told virtually nothing about Heavenly Mother, yet most Mormons will *assume* that she must be present because we are told that only married couples get to go to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. In that sense, we impose a heterosexual family structure on heaven by implication, without anything specific being declared about it by official sources. The same can be said for those members of the Church that believe that Jesus was married. I do as well, but not because I have heard a definitive prophetic declaration or other proof of it. I assume it because that’s what I am told about the nature of those who will inherit the highest celestial glory.

    Furthermore, presuming the speculations of Joseph Smith and other Church leaders regarding the plurality of Gods and how they came to be is correct (and I do), however little we are told about our own Heavenly Mother, we are told even less about that which is being done is other worlds. Our own official doctrine only concerns itself with the affairs of the sphere of the universe that pertains to our God and our Father. Who is to say what other types of relationships exist in the administration of spheres other than our own? Our lack of knowledge about the affairs of even this sphere ought to make us all (including myself in that) very humble about affirmatively declaring one structure for the heavens. I think Taylor’s piece is an important contribution towards imagining the possibilities.

  103. #99, no specific D&C reference, but rather the general notion that general conference addresses, proclamations, etc are the subject of prayer and revelation (lower case). I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a single general authority who thinks the Proclamation on the Family wasn’t subject to such processes.

  104. Ben P (97) beats me to it because I’m too verbose…

  105. #103, but when President Packer made the audacious claim in GenConf that it was, in fact, revelation–that line was removed in the printed version!

  106. #105, just so, though I think Pres. Packer was seen as trying to canonize. I wouldn’t take the revision of his remarks as a signal of abandonment of the Proclamation or a belief in how it came to pass.

  107. Here is something that is laugh-out-loud funny.

    People who believe in viviparous spirit birth think that Petrey’s article is too speculative and out of the mainstream.

  108. Wow, wow I enjoyed this article–troubling, interesting, thought-provoking, troubling. Oh, and troubling. And I mean troubling in the best way possible. I had Bradshaw for Biology at BYU, and one day I was struck by the idea that faith means being able to pursue any question. Taylor has faithfully and bravely pursued this question. Wow. And I find that when that is done, it is “troubling” in the best way–it shows where my faith is sometimes based on a sandy foundation. It is a great thought experiment, one to which I know I will return again and again. It is also a model of how to faithfully and bravely pursue a difficult question. Though I seriously question at least one of Kristine’s editorial decisions (inside joke, sorry), articles like this seem to be exactly what Dialogue is about.

  109. If we are going to say that I was a spirit-boy/male in my premortal ‘life’ what do we do with questions about the premortal state, such as:

    -Did I possess a spirit penis?
    -Did I possess X and Y chromosomes?
    -Was I a spirit breadwinner or spirit homemaker for my family?
    -Did I wear pants or a skirt?
    -Did I have facial hair?
    -Did I play football or ladies lacrosse?
    -Was I attracted to women with spirit breasts?
    -Was my spirit conceived with spirit sperm or biological sperm?
    -If biological sperm, what sense does it have for a gross (what you and I call matter) material to create spirit matter?
    -If spirit, did that spirit sperm contain spirit DNA?
    -Was the sperm from my mortal/biological father guided to ensure that my premortal gender matched up with my mortal sex?
    -Did I prefer video gaming or scrap booking?
    -Did I play with cars/trucks or dolls?
    -What did I even ‘look’ like?
    -Did I sing soprano or bass?
    -In other words, if it makes sense for me to be gendered what does that even mean?

  110. Despite all the intellectual rigor of this article and the ensuing comments, I find my heart responding even more than my brain. Thank you, Taylor, for this exquisite moment of hope.

  111. Thanks Shawn and Paula!

  112. I’m going to try not to fall into the same trap that many fell into trying to explain the priesthood ban – speculating and creating folk doctrine. At that point, I (and any who do so) are on thin ice and very likely to fall. I get why you want to maneuver me out there. Whatever answers I proposed open avenues for contradiction and argument. But the doctrine of the Church has never been decided by argument but by revelation. [Recognizing that argument absolutely does precede asking God what the answers are in many cases. See the situation Joseph Smith began the restoration in. Or the years leading up to the ending of the priesthood ban.] The answer to almost every one of the questions proposed in #109 is “I don’t know”. I would also follow up with, “Why does it matter in your daily life and/or spiritual development what the answer is?” If you are a believing member of the Church, you know what you need to be doing to improve.

    All I am saying is that I cannot see a way for the following two doctrines to survive next two each other: [ A ] pre-existing gender (w/ roles & consequences) & [ B ] morally acceptable (potentially eternal) homosexual relationships. I can intellectually step to either side of that doctrinal fence and imagine how that choice affects doctrine, culture, & policy. But my experience tells me [ A ] is the true doctrine. That experience is my study of history, reading the scriptures, my gut feeling, answer to prayers, & following the prophet. Not saying I AM right. I could be wrong. But I have to act based on what I feel is true. Nor do I object to anyone else acting based upon what they feel is true. [AoF 11] When those feelings contradict AND when those disagreeing directions would alter communities/organizations we both believe in, then there will be conflict. On this particular issue, I think that a vast majority of members and leaders of the Church would agree with my assessment of which doctrine is true. YMMV. It may well be true that some day, the prophet asks the Lord which side He is on with regards to this issue and get a different answer than the one currently being put forth by the Church. But there would be a lot of other consequences to the Church (female priesthood, strong de-emphasis on nuclear [biological] family, etc.). I get that many people would vastly prefer the Church we would have if [ A ] was abandoned and [ B ] was embraced. I am not certainly how I would react should Pres. Monson announce such a doctrinal change. It would put two elements of my testimony in conflict and I would have to resolve that someone.

    One of the consequences of this is that it is NOT simply adding (or adjusting) a new policy (as the priesthood ban was). This change would require abandoning a doctrine that has been part of the Church since it’s inception (or for a very long time). Again, to compare to the priesthood ban, we have evidence that Joseph Smith ordained black men. Any evidence he sealed homosexual couples? There is all kinds of evidence for different scriptural restrictions on who holds the priesthood. And evidence for a couple of different kinds of family structures (monogamous and polygamous) but I cannot find much (any?) evidence for homosexual. Addressing the two in the paper, God’s creation of Adam and the immaculate conception, I do think that is an interesting thought experiment. But in both cases, I am ultimately unmoved. God had already created Adam and His Son via the same (heterosexual – though NOT _necessarily_ biologically similar to mortal reproduction) means He had created all the rest of us. You are talking about a third type of creation (maybe even a fourth) that still are not described in any way as having been homosexual. Mary did not lay with another woman to conceive. Nor was God described as having any kid of sexual relationship to create Adam’s body.

    I’m sympathetic to the idea. I carry my own un-orthodox doctrines. Some of which actually do have bearing on this topic. But I am loathe to share them as I don’t think it’s my place to argue for changing the Church and/or it’s doctrine.

  113. “Any evidence he sealed homosexual couples?”

    Of course not. But there is neither any evidence that he condoned the iPad, denounced internet pornography, or encouraged blood drives.

  114. Lon @ 12,
    I just want to say that I appreciate your constructive engagement with this issue.

    “Why does it matter in your daily life and/or spiritual development what the answer is?”

    Well, I think it matters because you are saying that this doctrine is the reason that homosexual relationships cannot exist in the church. If that is so, I think that this teaching affects the daily life and eternal life of lots of folks.

    I am not entirely convinced that your A and B are in any conflict whatsoever. Why would they be?

    “Any evidence he sealed homosexual couples?”

    I think you were looking in the section on reproduction for the Adam and virgin birth examples, and I agree that those don’t answer your question. I treat this issue in the section on “Sealing as Kinship” to show that the ways that sealings were practiced in the 19th c. provides some models for thinking about same-sex relationships. But ultimately, I think that we are not bound by history, and that revelation is not bound by history either. We do lots and lots of things that JS and BY never imagined, including (especially?) the ways that sealings are practiced today.

  115. #113 (could be read as rather snarky–not sure that is what you want)

  116. Shawn, I’m pretty sure the Narrator wants to be snarky.

  117. Ben’s right. Narrator, that’s enough of that.

  118. Ben. To the contrary, I’m snarky to the bone and am trying to not be snarky. I’m just not good at it.

    Snarkness on my potential snarkiness aside, my point is that we cannot point to Joseph and say that something is correct or not depending on whether or not Joseph participated or taught it–especially when that thing was not a part of Joseph’s cultural discourse.

    But even if SSM was a part of Joseph discourse and it would have made sense for him to consider it, why is Joseph held as an infallible arbiter of what is divine and carnal? Why are we not capable of extending the same possibilities of fallibility–and even gross fallibility–to Joseph that we are willing (or eager) to extend to Brigham Young and others sustained as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators.

    In other words, what if the priesthood ban initiated with Joseph Smith? Would we then smile upon it and elevate it to the absolute God’s will?

  119. Friends, I am thankful for the discussion thus far! Unfortunately, I have to attend to that common Mormon male duty-helping with a move for the next few hours. Please continue the discussion, and I will be back later this evening.

  120. Hoo boy, lots to respond to. I am working on a response on the doctrine of the Fall as it relates to the disabled and the different but it is going slow (while I am at work). Let me just address a couple of quick things.

    What Joseph would have thought about blood drives isn’t knowable. There were no such thing in his time. There were homosexual relationships then (right?). He could have commented. But on to the greater point, I don’t want to elevate Joseph as the ‘infallible arbiter’. I was simply using him as a particularly good example since the priesthood ban has been used as a analog. I would just extend it out. There is evidence of the priesthood being limited to a specific group of people at many times. Different groups of peoples at different time. But there is no evidence of homosexual sealing relationships ever. (Right? Feel free to bring up examples.) I will agree the Sealing as Kinship is an interesting section. I just feel that it’s a big jump from sealing as same-sex-relationship (which is still related to heterosexual couple/polygamous sealing, correct?) to sealing same-sex-SEXUAL-relationship.

    Finally, my question “what do these questions matter?” was directly pointed at the very trivial (in my opinion) questions in comment #109. Why does “Did I play football or ladies lacrosse?” in the pre-mortal existence matter in any way to this mortal life? Answering those questions in any way is only going down the folk doctrine route and have no impact on how you treat your wife…. or your gay brother. As far as I see it. The issue of whether same-sex sexual relationships can/should be supported by the Church is a big issue and one worthy of being discussed. I think this is a pretty good discussion. I’ve tried my best to explain why I don’t think morally acceptable homosexual relationships AND binary, essential gender are compatible. I’m gonna have to think of a better way to explain the contradiction.

  121. Taylor, I am SO glad that moving furniture is a divinely-appointed duty of the masculine gender!

  122. As I read the article, integrating same sex relationships into sacred theology requires the effective elimination of the concept of gender and gender difference from said theology. This is evident first in the suggestion that one component of this process of integration needs to involve conferring the melchesidek priesthood on women, second in its effort to make it seem as if the church does not take the PoF’s eternal gender statement seriously, and third its strong reliance on Butler’s arguments about performativity constituting identity. I find this deeply problematic as it fundamentally assaults the idea that we have an eternal and divine character and identity which has fundamental sources deeper than socially constructed temporal practices and the impulses of the natural man.

    More significantly, though, the paper’s reliance on Butler’s performativity arguments renders it circular if not incoherent. Butler’s normative arguments for embracing alternate identities, after all, require that these identities are essentially aesthetic choices–that the alternatives are, from a normative perspective, equally desirable–and one should essentially do whatever feels best to oneself. It is only given this foundation of normative equivalence that her arguments about performativity constituting identity can lead to a conclusion that individuals should feel free to act in counter-normative ways. Otherwise, if gender identity is purely permformative, there can be no sound argument against individuals being encouraged to perform in ways consistent with their socially assigned (or, for us, divinely assigned) identity. {To illustrate: if gender is purely the product of performance and politics, why should not someone who believes themselves to be trans-sexual be encouraged to act in ways consistent with their physical sexuality? Only by arguing that there is value in expressing one’s feelings, to the exclusion of other possible values, do Butlerian arguments get to the destination Bulter desires them to reach.} But, as Petry himself notes, there is significant doctrinal basis for gender being an enternal characteristic of our identity, even if we aren’t always able to say exactly what that means. Accordingly,Petry has two alternatives. (1) He can start from a radically different place from Butler: for us, gender is not mere performance; there is some normative desirability in acting in ways consistent with our divine gender. But if he takes this position, relying on Butler’s performativity/constitution arguments is problematic, and many of his arguments about the relative insignificance of gender characteristics fall away. (2) He can accept her normative foundation; this, however, makes his argument circular, for, only by starting from an assumption that eternal gender should not matter can he reach a conclusion that it should not matter.

  123. Huh. This whole thread has been much less of a Trainwreck than I imagined it would be. I wish I could observe an alternate universe wherein the OP shared it’s title with Taylor’s article. Ah well.

    Fascinating paper and subsequent discussion. I’m very glad we’re hosting this.

  124. Lon (112 and 120),

    Perhaps you could begin by explaining what you mean when you say binary, essential gender. You might think the questions in 109 are trivial or not meant to be serious, but if gender is going to be the 300 pound gorilla of this discussion, I think we ought to be able to describe what we mean when we say it, in some detail.

    With regard to your A and B, what do you mean when you say roles and consequences of pre-existing gender? This isn’t meant as a gotcha question, I honestly have no idea what you mean. I’m prodding you on this because I think you are trying to make that 300 pound gorilla do more work that it is built for.

    But there would be a lot of other consequences to the Church (female priesthood, strong de-emphasis on nuclear [biological] family, etc.). I get that many people would vastly prefer the Church we would have if [ A ] was abandoned and [ B ] was embraced.

    Huh. I don’t understand what you mean here, either. The church got along fine for 160 years without emphasizing the nuclear family the way we do now. That is a fairly recent development. And I think the brethren could conclude tomorrow that women should be ordained without reference to homosexuality at all. Don’t you?

  125. #121

    “There were homosexual relationships then (right?).” Yes and no. The types of homosexual relationships that existed at that time were very different (in practice and acceptance) than they are today. More to the point, the question of SSM did not exist then.

    “Why does “Did I play football or ladies lacrosse?” in the pre-mortal existence matter in any way to this mortal life?”

    It matters because that is how we talk about gender. What sense does ‘gender’ have stripped of all conceptions of masculinity and femininity, and lacking the biological context for which our notions of gender even arise. What you are left with is a vacuous and non-sensical (lacking sense) notion of genderness that serves no purpose and is the confused result of mistaking a term that arose out of a cultural context as if the term meant anything stripped of that context.

    It is akin to me saying that I am currently sitting on a dog. Does it have fur? Is it a mammal? Does it chase cats? Does it bark? Is it distantly related to wolves? Will it play fetch? Does it have good hearing?

    Those questions don’t matter. What is important is that the thing I am sitting on possesses dogness, and that I claim it is a dog.

  126. I guess my last comment was actually for #120. I have a comment in moderation that is giving me skewed comment numbering.

  127. I noticed an online discussion the other day among students at BYU about how a child raised by a same-sex couple is not necessarily in a bad position, since gay parents can be good parents, too. For these students, the “sin” is in the background, and the “family” is in the foreground. From an anthropological perspective, “sin” that is treated in such a way that the person is excluded from participation in a group (as opposed to simply being reprimanded) is an instance of a behavior that threatens the “whole” in some fashion. At some point, it may be the case that the homosexual “sin” officially stops being treated as a special category of sin in the Church, that homosexual intimacy stops being perceived as such a terrible threat and gay families are perceived as affirming Mormon theology more than threatening to it. In such an environment, questions about the theology of “gender” will arise organically. (And like Taylor, I think these questions arise alongside concerns about inequality between women and men.)

    I can understand why some here think Taylor’s article is premature, or simply wrong-minded. For one, it assumes that the Church will fail to carve out for itself a geographical, legal and social landscape where its way of viewing “gender” can be comfortably maintained such that substantial theological (and historical) work can be avoided or postponed. Dallin Oaks, for example, in calling for “religious rights” in the public sphere, is obviously attempting to influence external factors before, or without, looking inward. But my own sense is that ordaining women and affirming same-sex relationships is on the Mormon horizon for both external and internal reasons. I think Taylor’s article is important in helping to articulate what that future might look like.

  128. There’s another good piece in this issue of Dialogue that treats some of the questions alan raises: https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Dialogue_V44N04_148.pdf

  129. A brief comment in the place of a much longer (too-long-for-a-comment) response I’m working on:

    Taylor, this is wonderful, exemplary work. I’ve got quibbles—and they aren’t minor—but this is excellent work.

  130. Lon @ 120,
    I think that you bring up some of the points that need to be hashed out or clarified.

    “There were homosexual relationships then (right?). He could have commented.”

    Actually, no. The category of “homosexual” doesn’t show up until later in the 19th century, first in Germany, and then spreading to the US after that. Of course, there were likely clandestine couples, but the analogy to modern devices is somewhat apt. If the category doesn’t exist, there is nothing for Joseph Smith to comment on. He might have considered certain sexual acts between people of the same sex, but the idea of relationships as we know them today was not something in the conceptual universe of the early 19th century American frontier.

    “I just feel that it’s a big jump from sealing as same-sex-relationship ([1]which is still related to heterosexual couple/polygamous sealing, correct?) [2] to sealing same-sex-SEXUAL-relationship.”

    On #1, no, that is not exactly correct. The “adoption” sealings (if these can even be distinguished at all from other types of sealings for Joseph Smith) were not based on a notion of heterosexual couples, but of establishing new kinds of kinship relationships not dependent on the gender or sexual relationship between those being sealed. On #2, this is indeed true, so far as the evidence suggests, but I do not think that it is an insuperable hurdle. First, we have all agreed that precise historical precedents are not necessary here. If that were so, then Woodruff’s temple reforms would be illegitimate. Instead, we can work from analogy or perhaps model of these earlier relationships to relativize our own presuppositions about sealings. Second, I don’t think that the sexual relationship is the primary or defining marker of the sealing, and we misrecongize it if we assume that the sexual relationship takes priority in the definition of what a relationship is. Our “heterosexual” sealings are not sanctified because of what kinds of sex the couples have, but because of the relationship. Sex is simply one dimension of the sealed relationship, not its essence.

  131. TMD @ 122,
    “effective elimination of the concept of gender and gender difference from said theology”

    I think that we need to be more careful on this point. Certainly, the implication of my argument requires that we think of *some* differences as no longer theologically important, such as the relative “masculinity” and “femininity” of males and females. But other “gender differences,” may not be affected at all, and in fact my vision might even lead. That said, you seem to suggest that this is a problem simply because it means that “gender” (though you leave it undefined) isn’t eternal anymore (an assessment of my argument that I go to great lengths to counter in my article). But let us take your argument seriously here for a moment and let me ask: so what?

    “the paper’s reliance on Butler’s performativity arguments renders it circular if not incoherent.”

    I think that you need to flesh out this argument a bit more, particularly because I think that you are misreading Butler if you think she is arguing that gender “identities are essentially aesthetic choices.” Her analysis of agency is much more robust that your caricature of the implications of her arguments implies. But to the point, I think that the analysis of gender as performative is in tension with the way that the notion of “eternal gender” has been put to use, and I don’t think that these arguments can withstand the critique that Butler (and others) make of notions of fixed, immutable gender “identities.” It is in that light that I attempt to rethink what we might mean by “eternal gender,” so perhaps the contradiction you are seeing is really just the problem that I am trying to solve?

  132. Thanks alan @127! I think the question of what the church *will* do, or the various ways that it might navigate the waters of what it *won’t* do are very interesting. there are far better observers that me on these matters, and I don’t really have an predictions. I will just have to wait and see! But to the extent that my little essay here can be a part of that conversation, I will be pleased.

  133. joespencer @129, I literally can’t wait!

  134. Taylor,

    If we use Elder Packer’s 3 act play analogy (an interesting analogy, and one in someways consonant with Balthazar’s ‘theo drama’), we, in the second act, are given little information about our full, truest identity. We know we made it to the second act. Beyond that, all we know of our earlier identity is our gender–because revelation tells us that our gender is eternal. While the implications of that for our understanding our true selves are many and varied and may be different for different individuals, our gender is our first clue in the mystery of who we were and thus, in part, who we really are. Any doctrine that would tend to take that clue away would rob a person of that sole clue, that sole starting place, making them more truly lost.

    It is possibly that I misunderstand Butler, but I would hardly be the first, and given her writing, it would be her fault.

    All that said, it is certainly the case that Butler’s analysis of gender as performative is in tension with any notion of an eternal gender. I’m not sure why you believe that I’m underestimating the agency in her account: in suggesting that she essentially argues that gender is an aesthetic choice, I’m suggesting that she believes that gender is entirely the product of agency.

    More to the core of things, the contention that gender is performative can only be right if gender is only performative. If there is something else in gender–be it biological, spiritual, both, or something else–then the performance has a real origin beyond individual agency and aesthetics, and is not subservient to them. Indeed, the performance can be, at least in some sense, inauthentic or wrong, and recognizably so. For these reasons, any analysis of gender based on her arguments is founded on a very weak base, and by assumption incorporates the argument that gender lacks a more fundamental element. I would point out that any empirical social scientist would say that the mere fact that some practices differ across cultures is simply not evidence that there is nothing more fundamental underlaying a phenomena like gender.

  135. Taylor, I really do think that, at the most fundamental level, the biggest hurdle is the belief that there will be “sexual” activity (as opposed to “intimacy”) in the hereafter. Remove that belief and much of this discussion changes in a very basic way. If the creation of spirit children doesn’t include sexual activity, and if sexual attractions (not physical attractions) don’t continue on past mortal death . . .

    Those who can’t wrap their minds around Taylor’s work: Two hundred years ago (even half of that), it seemed self-evident that the creation of human life had to include sexual activity. That’s not the case anymore. Now, it’s patently obvious to most people that human life could be created without ever having sexual activity be part of the process. Therefore, I have no problem with reconsidering what it might mean to create spirit children – which means I have no problem considering reasons why mortal sexual orientation might be much less irreconcilable with the Plan of Salvation than we have supposed with the limited light and knowledge we historically have possessed.

    I’m not saying I believe there will be homosexual people in the Celestial Kingdom. I’m just saying I’m open to the idea that there won’t be ANY sexual people in the Celestial Kingdom – that we all will be physical beings but not sexual beings in the way we understand it now.

  136. “It is possibly that I misunderstand Butler, but I would hardly be the first, and given her writing, it would be her fault. ”

    I happen to appreciate Butler, but that was well played. +1

  137. TMD @ 134,

    ” in suggesting that she essentially argues that gender is an aesthetic choice, I’m suggesting that she believes that gender is entirely the product of agency.”

    Yes, and this is the part where you are misreading her (and me), and is I think producing a tension between her thought and my arguments about understanding LDS concepts of gender within the framework she offers more than might be warranted here. I think that you are attributing to her (and me) arguments about gender that we are not actually making.

  138. Care to explain how I am wrong?

  139. “…the contention that gender is performative can only be right if gender is only performative.”

    Wrong.

    “…any analysis of gender based on her arguments is founded on a very weak base, and by assumption incorporates the argument that gender lacks a more fundamental element.”

    No, any analysis of gender based on your all-or-nothing reading of her arguments is founded on a weak base. And any analysis of gender and its performative elements, regardless of how it positions gender-performativity alongside any other more fundamental elements—and even one which acknowledges performative elements but dramatically departs from Butler’s own arguments—would be intellectually and academically irresponsible if it didn’t formally cite Butler’s work. There is a world of difference between citing Butler and treating her arguments as incontrovertibly axiomatic. That difference is nicely on display in Taylor’s article, actually.

  140. TMD,
    I think that what I am suggesting is that “gender,” whether is refers to “sex,” “identity,” or “roles” is a theologically problematic category for us, not to mention the ways that fixed notions of gender fail to analytically describe real experiences. I’m not sure that we can deploy this category to make the living of certain lives impossible and then retreat behind “what we don’t know” to fend off the problems that our categories have. I think that the critiques of fixed, binary categories of gender something that we have to take very seriously, especially the charge that the prohibition of homosexuality is not the result of binary gender division, but the presupposition that makes such a division possible. I suggest in my conclusion that we might need to stop thinking about gender as categories which define (and confine) individuals. I don’t think that this means that “gender” stops existing or mattering, nor that people no longer experience their gender as fundamental to their identity, just that it might no longer be used to make certain kinds of lives unlivable. Gender would still make a difference in the way we live our lives and experience the world, just not a difference in what kinds of eternal relationships may be formed.

  141. Brad:

    (1) While many would agree that some aspects of gender may be in some sense performed, for Butler gender is fully constituted by performance. Everything else is irrelevant. The problem with this is that if there really is a real gender that is shaping some of those performances, then those performances can be inauthentic. But this authenticity would cause a contradiction for Butler because she argues that authenticity is determined by desire; she describes her project as an effort to liberate people to authentically express their desires.
    (2) Taylor doesn’t just cite Butler; he uses her as support at 124 when he quotes her: “As Judith Butler explains, ‘There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performmatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results.’”

  142. Even if Butler argues that gender is fully and solely performative, your statement “the contention that gender is performative can only be right if gender is only performative” does not hold (despite putatively holding for Butler). There are unquestionably performative elements to gender, and the evidence for culturally dependent, performatively constituted gender enormously outweighs the evidence for natural, cross-culturally and humanly universal elements (even though the latter do appear to also exist). And the fact that Taylor clarified Butler’s position in his paper in no way indicates that his analysis treats her arguments as axiomatic or that his analysis is subject to dismissal on the grounds that gender isn’t purely and absolutely performative.

  143. Taylor:

    I wonder where the ‘natural man,’ or, indeed, ‘the deceiver’ fits into your analysis. You argue that there is a tension between believing that gender is inherent and identifying a need to teach gender roles. I am not sure that I agree that this tension exists: the experience of the natural man’s desires can be confusing, and would it not be entirely consistent with what we know of the deceiver for that spirit to attempt to confuse individuals about the nature of their fundamental identity? In such a context, is it not the responsibility of those who receive revelation to act against this kind of confusion?

    It seems to me that in accepting the critiques of gender made by Butler and others (referenced in your conclusion and above) you are implicitly accepting the argument that desires are reflections of authentic selves. In such a framework, the experienced desires of the natural man seem to be made normative, regardless of revelation. This seems to me to be directly contrary to the nature of revealed religion.

  144. TMD, here’s a rule of thumb: if you have to portray someone’s arguments in the most stretched, radical, exaggerated, absolutist terms possible in order to critique (and dismiss) them, you’re probably not engaged in a very thoughtful or fair reading of the arguments in question.

  145. TMD, if you are using “the natural man” argument, are you saying homosexual attractions are “natural man” while heterosexual attractions somehow aren’t “natural man” – that one group is “deceived” into acting “naturally” while the other group that also acts “naturally” is not being “deceived” into their actions?

    There are some areas where we still hold to an obvious double standard, and that might be one of the most fundamental. (Fwiw: http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2011/11/homosexuality-and-most-basic-double.html)

    One of the things I like most about Taylor’s work is that it simply asks such questions and examines our theology to see if there are possible ways to look at such cultural assumptions and disconnect them from the culture that produces them – to examine them independent of the cultural assumptions and see how they might fit differently into only our theology.

    Honestly, I have no idea what eternity will be like in regard to sexuality, but I appreciate the effort to separate what might be strictly cultural from that which we accept as fundamentally theological – and Mormonism, perhaps more than any other theological construct in existence has, I believe, incredible potential to offer unique perspectives on very serious issues like this.

  146. TMD,
    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that 1) gender (will you please, please, please define what you think this refers to already!!!) is inherent, 2) nature (with the help of Satan) works against this inherent gender to confuse it, and 3) our job is to fight nature (and Satan) to perform our inherent gender. Is that what you are saying?

    I think that the quick answer to your question is that my argument is not about the relationship between desires and nature. I don’t think that appeals to nature or the natural are sources for ethical guidance (and neither does Butler). What I am interested in, and what I think our theology bears out, is a notion of relationships as being a place of salvation. I think that our categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality (or desire for that matter) fail to account for the full dimensions of relationships, and we have an impoverished view of relationships when we reduce them to something like “sexual orientation.” I am not saved because my sexual desires are pointed in a particular direction, but because I create a divine disposition through the relationships I develop with my spouse, family members, and others. To adopt the traditional language, the “natural man” that we are overcoming should not be conceived of in terms of sexual desires (especially not a selective parsing of them), but of the kind of person who is not capable of forming divine relationships. Being submissive, humble, patient, full of love, etc (Mos 3:19) are impoverished virtues if they are only thought of in terms of sexual desires.

  147. Brad: The nature of scholarly argument is to move directly to the very core of an argument’s assumptions (not its caveats or conclusions) and test them with full force. Anything less is mere appreciation or motivation

    Ray: Revelation tells us that heterosexual attraction can also lead one astray, in a wide variety of different ways. The natural man, regardless of his composition, is an enemy to God.

  148. Just a quick side comment, which I hope doesn’t detract from the more complex threads of argument going on here, but: as Taylor points out, we, in the Church, teach the performance of gender all the time. Indeed, much of our “gender performance pedagogy” seems to arise directly from angst about misalignment between gender and sexual orientation. In fact, in the past and even presently some of our not-uncommon rhetoric about the performance of gender even seems to suggest that the teaching of the performance of gender can mitigate or even remedy misalignment between gender and sexual orientation, by force of will (i.e., agency). In other words, it seems to me that such gender performance pedagogy within the Church resonates with Butler–the difference being that whereas Butler’s gender performance expresses inner individual desire, our teaching boys to start fires and girls to bake cookies arises from a collective religious desire (one that sometimes seeks to counteract a supposedly misguided individual desire on the part of a “gender-confused” person).

  149. “I think that our categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality (or desire for that matter) fail to account for the full dimensions of relationships, and we have an impoverished view of relationships when we reduce them to something like “sexual orientation.” I am not saved because my sexual desires are pointed in a particular direction, but because I create a divine disposition through the relationships I develop with my spouse, family members, and others. To adopt the traditional language, the “natural man” that we are overcoming should not be conceived of in terms of sexual desires (especially not a selective parsing of them), but of the kind of person who is not capable of forming divine relationships. Being submissive, humble, patient, full of love, etc (Mos 3:19) are impoverished virtues if they are only thought of in terms of sexual desires.”

    excellent

  150. Well done Taylor, well done. I fully agree that Mormon theology can accommodate same sex as well as mixed sex couples.

  151. “Revelation tells us that heterosexual attraction can also lead one astray, in a wide variety of different ways. The natural man, regardless of his composition, is an enemy to God.”

    and I believe the Gospel of Mormonism and its theology has the breadth and depth and power to allow constructs within which homosexual attraction (and, perhaps, even activity – certainly, at the very least, the same type of activity in which non-married heterosexual members can engage without risk of judgment) won’t be assumed to lead one astray in and of itself.

  152. Re:148

    “our not-uncommon rhetoric about the performance of gender even seems to suggest that the teaching of the performance of gender can mitigate or even remedy misalignment between gender and sexual orientation, by force of will………..”

    This has not worked out so well in Zion, from what I hear.

  153. Very, very fascinating argument, though I’ll be frank, its challenges to my notions of church doctrine are not exceptionally comfortable for me. I can only say that, though almost all of the arguments I’ve read appear quite well-reasoned, Lon’s seem to me to be the most compatible with my own understanding of sex/gender and the church’s teachings on marriage and its eternal nature. As an aside, this doctrine, sitting, as it does, in a position that is arguably second only to the Savior and His Atonement in its centrality to the plan of salvation, would be a drastic one to alter. I suppose earlier changes to plural marriage doctrine could have been similarly categorized, though.

    Anyway, one thought has been recurring for me throughout my reading of the article and its subsequent discussion: how does this discussion’s very existence fit into a theological history where, as I’ve been made to understand, the development of cultural acceptance of homosexual relationships presaged imminent destruction of said culture? Sodom/Gomorrah and the people of Noah’s time come to mind first. I guess this question has nothing to do with the functional merits of any argument presented so far; more just an attempt to step back and get a broader view of things. I’m sure arguments could be posited as to the “licentious” nature of homosexuality versus a more loving, stable version, though my understanding of the phenomenon has always been painted in broader brushstrokes than that. Not to mention the conspicuous correlation in our day and age with an actual rise in unabashed licentiousness in the public view.

    I’ll also add (and surely be refuted in short order) that my limited understanding of evolutionary biology and psychology make a strong case for a very biological basis of both sex and gender, though, like most things in nature, the extremes of the normal distribution would contain any number of exceptions to general observable trends. Maybe you’ve already acknowledged this, but I reject the sociological idea of gender as purely a construct of culture, given evidence from cultures around the world (evidence which I don’t pretend to be able to cite, though I’d like to think my memory serves me well enough that I can be fairly confident in its existence). I’ve actually got this nagging feeling that I’ve already been disproved here and I just didn’t catch it as I skipped over some of the later posts, so forgive me if that’s the case. Reading 150 posts in one night isn’t very easy.

    As a short and only marginally interesting post-script, the aforementioned limited knowledge of evolutionary psychology actually comes from an honors seminar on evolutionary psychology I took a couple years ago at BYU. It was supposed to be a pilot of sorts, but I don’t know what the eventual fate of the course was. It made me feel pretty progressive, though.

    Finally, you know you’re dealing with some intellectual heavyweights when you feel compelled to use a thesaurus in composing a reply. ;)

  154. Steve,
    The great sin of Sodom wasn’t homosexuality, it was how they treated strangers (attempting to rape strangers is bad). Not that this has altered modern interpretation of the Sodom and Gomorrah incident, but in context, rape is incidental, not the focus. I’m also not aware of any Noachic association with homosexuality (there is some LDS evidence that the worship of Abel had replaced the worship of Christ, though). So the public acceptance of homosexuality doesn’t appear to have been the biblical precursor of doom we might otherwise assume it is.

    I hate evolutionary psychology, personally, which makes my ability to engage with it limited. I’m sure others will refute or support that argument as appropriate.

  155. “The nature of scholarly argument is to move directly to the very core of an argument’s assumptions (not its caveats or conclusions) and test them with full force. Anything less is mere appreciation or motivation.”

    I agree, but merely stating “your analysis appeals to scholar X and scholar X is wrong, therefore your analysis is rubbish,” followed by distorted and exaggerated descriptions of what you think Taylor is arguing falls well short of that standard.

    Taylor’s actual analysis and its potential utility for thinking through the theological and practical issues under consideration are no less speculative than current LDS orthodoxies surrounding eternal gender and sex, and they in no way hinge or depend on the absolute, pure, and irreduciby performative nature of gender.

  156. One more thought:

    Leviticus 18:22 “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”

    There will, certainly, be lots of counterarguments to this, but to preemptively respond to any assertions that Leviticus is not really relevant, the particular placement of this scripture is interesting. Verse 21 forbids burning children and profaning the name of God, and verse 23 deals with bestiality. These guidelines, I would hope, are very much still in force today and are not in danger of being called into question any time soon. Just another something to think about.

  157. Steve: throughout the scriptures, the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, and the mistreatment of the latter by the former, is a far more consistent and unambiguous marker of societal corruption that homosexuality.

  158. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE: 156,

    Scriptural arguments against homosexuality drawn from Pauline texts are much stronger in an LDS context than those drawn from the holiness code of Leviticus. As you point out, much of it is still relevant (e.g.: burning kids). However, many other things that the code forbids are thought to be a-ok in current LDS practice (e.g.: sex during a woman’s period).

    In practice, though, LDS people are just as content to pick and choose what we consider relevant from Paul as we are from OT sources, so neither represents an insuperable barrier to the kinds of theological possibilities the Brother Petrey’s paper explores.

  159. “this doctrine, sitting, as it does, in a position that is arguably second only to the Savior and His Atonement in its centrality to the plan of salvation,”

    Steve, can you see how that is an assumption that is not based in actual canonized scripture?

    I’m not saying that you are wrong, especially since you said “arguably” – but with that disclaimer, there are probably 100 or more things that we could throw out there as “arguably second only to the Savior and His Atonement in its centrality to the plan of salvation”.

  160. I’ve been thinking about the question of sexual difference and gender since this conversation last night. (I don’t have a lot of time to blog this weekend). I thought maybe a quick question and answer might help clarify my argument?

    What is the argument about gender you are making in the third section? I am trying to suggest that a theory of a stable, eternal “gender” is a really problematic idea, and that it is not a compelling category for justifying the exclusion of non-heterosexual relationships. I think that the arguments against homosexual relationships are often tied to arguments about the subordination of women, and we should be aware of that link.

    Are you saying that gender is irrelevant, or that there are no differences between men, women, and the otherwise sexed? I am saying that whatever the differences may or may not be, we might consider that gender differences are irrelevant for certain things, like teaching, praying, serving, and even the kinds of eternal relationships that people may form. If there are “biological” differences, these differences only come to mean anything in culture. The question should focus on what difference we think gender differences make, not whether or not differences exist. To say that there are differences is different from saying that certain differences should exist. I think that we too quickly and uncritically move from the former to the latter, making normative arguments about what we think gender differences ought to be, while we claim to be just saying what gender differences are.

    Eternal gender is important to contemporary Mormon thought. Are you saying we should get rid of it? No, not at all. I am suggesting that we rethink the uses to which this teaching gets put. I am also suggesting that we don’t need to think of this claim in gender essentialist terms, that there is some inherent, fundamental, pre discursive, pre cultural gendered self, and that one’s gender is somehow the key to one’s subjectivity. This doesn’t mean that gender doesn’t exist, or that gender differences are epiphenomenal, only that “gender” should not function as a norm for excluding those who fail to meet it. We might instead think of gendered subjectivities manifesting differently across our eternal(ly social) existences, rather than confined to contemporary binary divisions of hierarchical acts, desires, roles, and identities. Further, I think that we need to think about the reasons that we think of gendered subjectivity as so foundation, and why we ignore other kinds of subjectivities.

  161. Back though I don’t know I have a lot more to say. I’ll try. I get that many are frustrated by my (and the Church’s) failure to adequately explain WHAT is essential about gender. I have not. They have not. They show no willingness/desire/ability to do so. While I do have my own theories, they are just that… theories. I feel it would be weird to jack a discussion about theoretical changes to the perspectives on the doctrine by tossing out competing theoretical changes. But the Church has said there IS something essential about gender. And the theoretical paradigm shift Talyor eloquently outlines would require a fundamental change to a prior existing accepted doctrine. I guess if you just wash your hands of the Proclamation on the Family and the words of the modern prophets/apostles, you can say that this is just all modern culture. But it seems to me your counter-argument is that the modern culture of embracing homosexual relationships as co-equal with heterosexual relationships is just replacing one cultural interpretation with another one. I really don’t know if I can explain where I sit more clearly than this. Now let me try to explain why that means that heterosexuality is required.

    At there bare minimum, essential means critical. And since D&C 132:19 is pretty clear on this – a man and a woman must be sealed in the temple by authority and have that sealing approved by the Holy Spirit in order to enter the highest exaltation – a man cannot enter alone, neither can a woman. Something about the combination of the two is required. As you’ve said Taylor, their sexual relationship is most certainly NOT all that is required. But to say that it isn’t important at all IS where you are dropping this doctrine. At least as I see it. And if a sexual relationship between two men (or two women) can meet the same requirement as D&C 132:19 between a man and a woman, then there is nothing critical about male or female. That isn’t to say that under this interpretation there are necessarily no differences between male and female. Just that those difference are unimportant (to the ultimate question of salvation). Or they are not essential to our eternal salvation and identity. I guess another way to look at it would be to say, how would you feel about a non-sexual relationship between a man and a woman as being exalted? I ask this because it seems that your calls to the same gender kinship sealings in earlier Church history are laying those as a groundwork for adding a potential sexual component to those general kinds of relationships as replacements for traditional (and spelled out in D&C) heterosexual relationships. That feels wrong to me. I understand those kinship sealings were performed – still are, in a way, I know more than one child adopted into a new family through sealing ordinance. But I have no sense that those kinships sealings were ever given the same exalting power as the heterosexual sealings were. I could very well be wrong on this point.

  162. Steve,

    Reliance on Leviticus is fraught with all sorts of problems. While it’s true that some of these rules remain in force, a large number don’t (as numerous commenters have pointed out in various online forums — prohibitions on shellfish, instructions about slavery, wacky menstrual regulations, and so forth). And even if we want to enforce Leviticus’s rules against male homosexual behavior, nothing in the text of Leviticus prohibits lesbian relationships.

  163. “I guess if you just wash your hands of the Proclamation on the Family and the words of the modern prophets/apostles”

    Lon, fwiw, my own frustration is that I don’t think anyone is doing what you mention above. I know I don’t, and I don’t see Taylor doing that in what he’s written.

    When you start from that assumption (that those who are open to examining Mormon theology in this way are, in practical terms, faithless apostates who reject apostles and prophets), it pretty much guarantees no productive discussion is going to occur.

  164. Notknowingbeforehand says:

    “If reproduction as we know it now offers a model for heavenly reproduction so as to exclude homosexual re- lationships by definition, then must we imagine that male gods deposit sperm in the bodies of female gods (who menstruate monthly when they are not pregnant), that the pregnant female god gestates spirit embryos for nine months and then gives birth to spirit bodies? “. Further, a menstruating (ie bleeding) female god would be at odds with a celestial body quickened by spirit and not blood.

  165. Then I would love to hear someone (anyone) reconcile the following statements… “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” and what Taylor has spelled out. Or the second and fourth paragraphs of the PotF. How is Taylor NOT positing an alternative theology that would absolutely require abandonment of those doctrines and positions? Which could happen. This is a Church of continuing revelation. I am fine with examining what could happen if things change. Or looking at what would have to change in order for a certain policy to be accepted/altered. But to then say you need NOT abandon those previous doctrines in the process? That your considered new policy is perfectly in line with ‘established doctrine’ when it is clearly NOT in line with the PotF? That has to be calling the PotF not established doctrine. And I believe it is. And I really, really think most members and leaders are on the same page as I. Doesn’t make me or them right. But it does mean that as the average member of the Church sees the situation, something fairly substantial and foundational would have to shift. Not an easy thing. Or something Mormonism is *currently* situation to do. It could. It would not be easy. It would not be cost-free.

  166. Lon, the PotF is not doctrine. Questioning our leaders is not washing our hands of the words of modern prophets- it’s our responsibility as thinking and agency-holding individuals. Were we to not examine our positions on things, we would be abdication our responsibility to learn and progress. How else can we learn to be like god without testing and discerning? It’s necessary.

    Accusing scholars and theologians of being apostate for approaching things differently than someone else is a strawman and utterly useless in any sort of intelligent discourse.

  167. Lon, actually the burden is on you to demonstrate that anything in Taylor’s analysis contravenes the notion of heterosexual marriage being divinely ordained and figuring centrally into the plan of salvation. You’re already reading into the proclamation what isn’t actually there, namely the claim that acknowledging and even making place for alternative family models somehow diminishes or cheapens the divinity or centrality of the dominant model.

  168. “Lon, the PotF is not doctrine.”

    Tracy, I think it probably is doctrine by almost any reasonable standard of establishing what constitutes “doctrine”, though it is not canon.

  169. We have apparently entered a land where I do not understand what words mean. Sorry about that. I thought Taylor was proposing a way in which homosexual relationship could be afforded the same place in the plan of salvation that heterosexual relationships currently hold and that there is nothing intrinsic to Mormon doctrine that prevents such a thing. Pointing out that I (and a vast majority of members/leaders) do see something intrinsic to Mormon doctrine (as we see it) that prevents such a thing is trying to draw clarity into the discussion. Instead, I am accused of being wrong and of calling Taylor an apostate.

    I have nothing more useful to add. I will continue to read since this has been interesting. But I just have no idea what words I am allowed to use without hurting anyone’s feelings. And I really do not want to do that.

  170. Lon,

    “Then I would love to hear someone (anyone) reconcile the following statements… “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” and what Taylor has spelled out.”

    I am not Taylor, but one way of reading this statement in the PoF in light of Taylor’s paper might be this: stating that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God does not necessarily exclude other forms of marriage. What is at stake here I suppose is whether a variety of different forms of family – and the stable committed relationships that they are intended to facilitate – could potentially be central to the Creator’s plan. I do not read Taylor as suggesting that this must be the case, nor that *all* types of relationship are central to that plan, but rather that statements such as the one you quote do not exclude the possibility that *some* forms of relationship, which bear all the marks of what Latter-day Saints currently value in marriages between a man and a woman (such as, for example, fidelity, reciprocity and trust), are also central to the Creator’s plan.

  171. Tracy: I think that it is possible to be apostate in how one approaches Mormon theology and does scholarship. The fact that one is a scholar and one is engaging in scholarship does not somehow insulate one’s actions from evaluation on religious grounds. I emphatically DO NOT believe that Taylor is an apostate, but that is an assessment of Taylor rather than of scholarship.

  172. I think that Taylor would agree that it would require change. I think he would also suggest that the kind of change that it would require is consistent with the overarching themes of the gospel.

    Extension of the Priesthood outside of the tribe of Levi and literal descendants of Aaron required a change to church doctrine. But that change was consistent with the underlying purpose of Priesthood and with the overarching themes of the gospel. The same happened with African-Americans. (And perhaps someday will happen with women.)

  173. Of course it’s possible, Nate- but I don’t think that being the default position or assumption is helpful. And I know that’s not what you were saying. But that’s what I was feebly attempting to say.

    Kristine, I hedged on if I should use “doctrine” or “canon”- shoulda picked door #2.

  174. So, I really like the way that Taylor deconstructs the Adam creation story and shows that this account doesn’t do all of the work that people sometimes impose on it. But the recasting of the creation account also worries me. It seems to me that the Genesis account, coming from the era that it does, reflects ideas about gender superiority more than anything else. After all, this was the same era as Aristotle, who famously believed that men’s semen provided the whole soul for procreation while women were inferior creatures who simply provided the matter to allow a person to grow. (This has been rightly mocked by feminist critics as the “flower pot” theory of procreation.) Similar ideas crop up in various Bible accounts about men’s seed. And so, given ideas on gender superiority, of course the men do all of the creating in the Genesis account.

    It’s true that one benefit of such a toxic patriarchal tradition is that sometimes these accounts can be repackaged to combat some problems in current LDS culture or doctrine, as Taylor does adroitly. Still, I’m not sure how much I want to embrace the Genesis account of all-male creation, with its troubling gender implications. I don’t think it’s a net gain if we undercut heterosexism while bolstering sexism. And I’m not sure that the Genesis account’s potential anti-heterosexist messages can be entirely separated from its strongly sexist implications.

    However, I really do like Taylor’s use of jujitsu to retell the Genesis account in an original and perceptive way.

  175. “Then I would love to hear someone (anyone) reconcile the following statements… ‘marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children'”

    OK, as simply as I can – which means there will be stuff left out that would help greatly (but still will produce a very long comment):

    1) “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.”

    The form of marriage that God “ordains” is heterosexual. “Ordain”, in a religious sense, means: “to invest with ministerial or sacerdotal functions; confer holy orders upon; consecrate.” Therefore, God a) reserves heterosexual marriage for ministers; b) designates heterosexual marriage as “sacred”; c) chooses heterosexual marriage exclusively for “holy orders” (like sealings); and/or d) consecrates heterosexual marriage.

    2) “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children”

    Parents and children are the core of the Plan of Salvation. Ain’t much else there. (and the full impact of that statement for parents with homosexual children can be deep and profound)

    Given those two statements, I see a bunch of possibilities for the eternities AND the present that could include homosexual members (even those in earthly relationships of various kinds) within our theology and community that wouldn’t lessen the validity of either of the statements. Just a couple that deal with eternity and the Celestial Kingdom:

    1) “Ministering angels” in the Celestial Kingdom is a uniquely Mormon concept. They could be all people who, for whatever reason, might be unable / want to participate in a heterosexual union eternally. That could be asexual people, homosexual people, heterosexual people who simply don’t want to be married eternally, etc. but still are good, sincere, loving, Christlike people who are “celestial” in nature. Their “ministering” might take all kinds of forms, including assisting in the creation of worlds and even the creation of spirit children – if that creation isn’t accomplished through a process of sexual activity.

    2) In that same direction, perhaps “creation” of everything except children is much more of a communal, collaborative, laboratory model than an individual model. That certainly fits well into Joseph’s vision of communal sealing, and having homosexual people be part of that type of creative process wouldn’t require any substantive doctrinal change whatsoever.

    There are many other possibilities, and what I’ve written above is pure speculation and not anything I’d advocate or try to convince others to believe, but it’s indicative of the many, many ways thinking about these things from a uniquely Mormon perspective can be enlightening and, I believe, actually faith-promoting. It absolutely does NOT constitute rejecting current doctrine and our apostles and prophets.

  176. I agree with Ray.

    First, there is no necessary exclusion in the idea that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.”

    After all, what else was ordained of God? Levites. And after a while, non-Levites too. The same could apply here.

    And second, even if same-sex relationships aren’t “ordained,” it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a role.

    After all, in today’s church men are ordained and women aren’t. And we tend to agree that this difference doesn’t keep women from having an important eternal role. Even if they aren’t ordained.

  177. This has proven a great dialogue thus far. I also think Taylor’s arguments do much to advance the ball. I’ve praised the strengths of his article at length on a Fb thread, but I think citing them would mostly be repetitive here. Thus, I will just note my only complaint- and it’s a minor one.

    “The theological and theoretical work that may serve as a basis for reimagining the practices of the Church with respect to homosexual relationships has yet to begin with any seriousness.”

    I imagine Taylor performed a fair amount of research in preparing his 92-footnote article. However, I think his statement may not give due credit to the work of others in this area, such as Robert Rees, Gary Watts, Devan Hite, myself, Duane Jennings, Wayne Schow, Bill Bradshaw, Clay Essig, and many others. [To speak only for myself, I would reference “Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student’s Perspective” (http://www.scribd.com/doc/44716106/Homosexuality-a-Straight-BYU-Student-27s-Perspective-Draft-2h) and the Sunstone presentation, “Why Mormonism Can Abide Gay Marriage” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1jDUcBKml0)%5D. Though these authors don’t use as many big words and lack either a ThD or MTS, they make many of the same arguments Petrey posits, and articulate additional, _serious_ theological and theoretical substance besides. Some of these authors’ works came out over two decades ago, and some in the very periodical he publishes in. Perhaps Mr. Petrey exaggerates the characterization of his article as seminal in this space of imagining homosexual relationship-friendly Church practices?

  178. Taylor, Based on what you’ve read in this long thread of reactions to your essay, what would you say are the greatest challenges facing members in approaching the possibility of a post-heterosexual Mormon theology? Are they what you originally imagined they’d be? Anything new that surprises you?

  179. To Lon and other who share his view: I may be missing something, but I don’t read “Marriage between a Man and a Woman is ordained of God.” To mean “All other types of relationships are unacceptable to God.” Or even to mean “Marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is NOT ordained of God.” How does reading that God approves of one type of marriage necessitate a belief that he disapproves of all others? Or, in other words, why does affirmation of one thing become automatically a rejection of something else?

  180. Gary @177,
    I have been reflecting on this question today, and I am glad you asked! I will say that probably the most surprising thing to me has not been the reasons for people resisting the article, but actually how open people have been to it! My graduate adviser used to say it is easy to get published, but much harder to get read. I am honored to have been read, and to have been taken seriously, by so many bright and engaged people.

  181. I have struggled with the way we in the church treat our brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction. It is like a moving ache within me. It hurts me that there are parts of my life that I feel I cannot share fully with other members (like my friendships with homosexual couples) and non-member friends (like the kind, tender-hearted members we have).

    However, I felt some hope in this article. I got the same feeling from reading this article that I did when I read “The Last Temptation of Christ” in the Harold B. Lee Library. I felt that there were new thoughts to be had. Not that my thoughts were focused entirely on the material and believing each word as truth, but rather that concepts that came out of it could be related and linked to so many other topics and other facets of my life.

    I am grateful for this article. Not because I agree with every point (I certainly do not) it makes but because it exists. Because as a church and society we are strong enough and secure enough in our maturity as a faith to have a discussion–to allow for a great variety of opinion and discourse amongst family.

    Thank you Taylor and thank you to those of you with enough manners to discuss these things with civility.

  182. trubeliever says:

    As a gay man who became aware of my gender non conformity in kindergarten and figured out I was gay in first grade and regularly worshipping with the LDS for some time I’m surprised by what I read here. My friends at my ward and every missionary I’ve worked with have not had any concern regarding my sexuality. They are aware I believe it is dangerous to tell gay kids they can never love or share a life with someone. I’m out. I’ve discussed the social issues regarding the death of my aunt who was a partnered gay woman of 35 years. In my opinion all my ward is waiting for is the o.k. from the church on this. Perhaps that is what I am waiting for also. We are a relatively small minority. I could never be pure in a mixed gender relationship and I don’t believe heavenly father has any plans for me to have sex with a female after judgment/resurrection. I do believe this equates with civil equality issues of the past but more importantly the morality of the body of believers within the church who are responsible for the lives of their gay or transgendered children. There is real moral gravity to the issue but that does not equate to any significant change to doctrine or theology. The church will survive this just fine and more importantly lives will be saved.

  183. It took me a couple of hours to read the article and this long thread of comments. Interesting presentation and discussion.

    Here’s my reaction for what it’s worth. I’m not sure the point we should be considering is whether gender matters or is eternal. I think it’s pretty obvious that gender matters– if it didn’t then gay Mormons would just marry members of the opposite sex and those marriages would do as well as any others, or similarly, it would easy for straight people to successfully marry members of the same sex. Clearly, this is not the case. When it comes to the formation of durable pair bonds, gender matters. A lot. We shouldn’t be arguing for the elimination or negation of gender.

    It’s also easy to imagine that gender identity persists in the hereafter. We are told that there will be a continuity of personality and identity between our mortal and post-mortal selves. Again, given how deeply rooted gender identity and sexual orientation seem to be in people, this doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to accept theologically. Eternal life where we are not “ourselves” is something other than eternal life.

    I guess my question on the theological issue is how eternal the concept of patriarchy might be. (Using Wikipedia’s definition, in patriarchy “the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization.”) In other words, it’s not so much that gender exists and is important to relationships, it’s whether gender disqualifies a person from participation in all aspects of society, including marriage and church leadership. This is a much, much bigger issue than just how we treat gay people. It’s also interesting to note that there is a strict correlation across cultures in how women and homosexuals are treated. Compare, for example, Holland versus Saudi Arabia. In strongly patriarchal cultures like Saudi Arabia women are excluded from public life, and homosexuals are put to death. Holland opens its society to participation by women in every way and sees families headed by same-sex spouses as equal to other families. Does the society of the Celestial Kingdom more resemble Holland or Saudi Arabia? The knob to turn is the degree of patriarchy. There is an ongoing conversation in Mormon culture on this topic. It is one of Mormonism’s central tensions right now.

    I’m glad that this kind of discussion is being held in this forum. This gay Mormon appreciates the sincerity and desire for justice that is evident here.

  184. Or, to shorten my overly long comment– the central theological question isn’t whether gender is eternal, it’s whether eternity is led by the male gender.

  185. As promised. :)

  186. Jonathan S. Gal writes: Heavenly Father does not want us to go “Towards a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology” and neither does the majority of the LDS population.

    Citation needed. Thanks in advance.

  187. “Citation needed. Thanks in advance.”

    Seriously? That’s another “Wow”-inducer.

  188. The article was well written and researched, but a jagged pill to swallow none the less. I am by no means a theologian so I don’t expect to discuss and defend my own position so eloquently. I can; however, state that I do not agree with your position no matter how well presented as far as the philosophies of men go. I am also not waiting for the change to come. I recognize there are problems in our church (it is full of people after all). I am Caucasian and my wife is Native American and we have both experienced the fruit of racism in the church (from our union), so I appreciate the need for better treatment of people in general. Perhaps your paper is late for gay Mormons, but I cannot embrace the theology of a gay god and priesthood. Yes, I know,… my filters, my biases and my culture. There are already those who’d re-make the Church of Jesus Christ into something else, but I joined His church, not yours or any mans’ or womans’ church, straight or gay. I have spoken directly and apologize if it reads terse, I mean no ill feeling.

  189. RDD, I think Taylor has been careful throughout to say that he is not trying to “re-make the Church of Jesus Christ into something else.” Indeed, he has repeatedly affirmed the need for revelatory church governance and the decidedly secondary role of theologians and academics.

  190. 46.Capozaino Says:
    “The Lord penetrates the body of Adam and creates Eve.”

    Now there’s a provocative word choice. And probably one that would prevent the average member with from even considering the good points made in the article.

    Yeah, right?
    I had other word choices but decided to edit them out. (several times)

  191. 189.Kristine Says:
    December 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm
    … I think Taylor has been careful throughout to say that he is not trying to “re-make the Church of Jesus Christ into something else.” Indeed, he has repeatedly affirmed the need for revelatory church governance and the decidedly secondary role of theologians and academics.

    The path suggested would neccessarily alter what has already been revealed. Indeed the whole premis suggests that revelation is not enough because it doesn’t reflect the views of at least some theologians, academics and gays. To give any authority to theologins or academics to steer the church would ultimately commendere the church from Christ. Of course, this is my opinion as is my belief that the thought that Adam and Jesus Christ are products of gay relationships is profane. Embrace it if you will, I shall not.

  192. Steve Evans says:

    Wait, you’re not going to embrace your own opinion? Now I’m just confused. Also, you’re a terrible speller. Also, weird.

  193. Latter-day Guy says:

    Of course, this is my opinion as is my belief that the thought that Adam and Jesus Christ are products of gay relationships is profane.

    Reading comprehension FAIL.

  194. #191 – Speechless – and that’s an accomplishment.

  195. trubeliever says:

    Taylor would like us to have a conversation. I’ve been reading revelations books one and two from the Joseph Smith Paper (available online). Joseph Speaks clearly about our post mortal path. This is what interests me. He does not speak of gays at all when it comes to judgment.

  196. I appreciate the compilation of references and explanations of concepts. My opinion is that such strenuous attempts go beyond the mark. Assuming the “mark” is that what is needed to impact change. If in the civil war the northerns were told the war was to free the slaves (which was not the case when the war started), that some day they would have a black president in the white house, they would likely have been taken aback and dropped their guns. Had Lincoln used the arguement that the war would allow Obama to be president, would have never worked. I prefer discussion and actual work to be at what change is possible at this time in this place. Forgive me for not giving direct response to the well written paper.

    Since the LDS church has accepts homosexual feelings but not homosexual sex acts AND it accepts heterosexual couples who are celibate, it should be a small step to accept celibate homosexual married couples. That is the everyone’s ultimate goal, but it is yet another step in the right direction.

    Currently the LDS church temple recommend interview question reads something to the effect “have you only had sexual relations with someone you are legally and lawfully marriaged to”, not it does not specify gender/sex/etc. One could argue in states where gay marriage is legal and if a gay couple said they were celibate, they should be able to go to the temple!

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