This is an hard saying; who can hear it?

Dear Elder Oaks,

I wanted to write you to thank you for the spirit of earnestness and sincerity you bring to your apostolic calling. I had the privilege of sitting in the Conference Center on October 6 when you gave your address, “No Other Gods“. I want you to know that I sustain you as an Apostle and a special witness of Jesus Christ, and that I have tremendous respect for that calling and what it entails. I know that you respect the seriousness and weight of your calling as well, and that this seriousness must be on your mind continually. I would like to share with you some thoughts that came to my mind as I listened to your address, in the hopes that perhaps the Spirit will help me better understand and accept your words; I find that sometimes the Spirit comes to me as I write out my thoughts, and while I don’t know if this note will ever come to your attention I know that by writing it I may come closer to a real understanding.

When you stated that “the question posed by the second commandment is “What is our ultimate priority?”” this resonated deeply within me. I know it is true that love of God and of our neighbor must be my ultimate priority if I have any hope of laying hold of salvation, and as you point out, if we love Him we must keep our commandments. For this reason I have a testimony of your statement that if we do not bring our “priorities in accord with this plan, we are in danger of serving other gods.” This is a very important premise in your address and I agree with it completely; still, I wish I understood better the plan. I wish I knew how to tell which parts of Heavenly Father’s plan for us are eternal and unchangeable, and which parts are subject to ongoing revelation and change. Perhaps there is no clean dividing line, but He has shown us time and time again that there is further light and knowledge to be received, even to the correction of long-held policies and traditions in His Church. Is there a way for us to tell where the future lies?

As a married man, sealed in the temple and with four children of my own, I can add my testimony to yours that marriage and family is part of God’s plan for me and that it is a sacred duty. My family is the most important thing in the world to me and the prospect of eternity together is in large measure what motivates me from day to day in my duties. I wish we knew more about our heavenly parents and how best to emulate them in their relationship with each other. I can only suppose that they must love each other with an abiding, eternal affection that transcends all. Again, when listening to your words the Spirit testified to me of their truth. I felt some pangs of worry as I thought of those who are not and will not be married in this life, those who do not and will not have children of their own to bear and raise. My wife and I struggled for some time with infertility, and language describing children as the purpose of existence caused us some pain. Frequently I would console my wife and wipe away tears as we felt that the greatest blessings of parenthood would be forever denied us. I wish you could have addressed some of your remarks to those millions of members who find themselves similarly on the other side of that fence; I don’t believe this detracts from the truth of your words, and you only have so much time to talk in Conference, but it would have been a soothing balm.

You then address your grief at “the sharply declining numbers of births and marriages in many Western countries whose historic cultures are Christian and Jewish.” I would assume that the Church doesn’t care about Western culture per se, except to the extent this is a barometer for ourselves. I don’t know why the numbers of births and marriages of Western countries in general would matter very much, unless it is the fear or knowledge that our own numbers of births and marriages in the Church are sharply declining as well. I assume this is why it is a matter of grief, though I do not have meaningful statistics about Church births and marriages to compare. But given the increasing numbers of members of the Church outside of Western countries, perhaps there is some counterbalance out there. I wish I better understood how to weigh the importance of bringing children into the world against the moral agency of every couple to make child-raising decisions on their own in accordance with their personal revelation. Because I know my own children are a blessing to me I would never want to forbid someone from having kids, but at the same time I would be loath to force a couple into having kids before they felt that they were ready and had the confirmation of the Spirit. What is the Church’s official teaching on the matter? I wish I knew, but sometimes it seems there are mixed messages out there.

As you rightly point out, sometimes “our beliefs compel us to some different choices and behaviors than” other faiths. I’d like to believe that for the most part, the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches a way of righteous living that all people can see is good and healthy. Clearly the Golden Rule is shared by many, for example. Those matters on which we have different choices and behaviors are few and far between, though they do stand as a shibboleth in some respects. I worry that we accentuate those different choices out of their league, focusing on them to the point of losing track of the more common (and most important) commandments. For example, we believe in not drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes; the Word of Wisdom is one of the hallmarks of our faith. But there is so much more! The atonement of Jesus Christ and the ability to draw near to Him through everyday choices of doing good and loving others, while seemingly banal compared to the Word of Wisdom, are still the most sweet and important parts of our religion. I understand that on some level these are all inseparable, but sometimes I wish we could more effectively draw on our commonalities with other faiths and better explain to others how some of those more unique practices figure into the larger picture. It might help our friends (and enemies) have a greater understanding and pave the way to better relations. We’ve done that a lot in times past, but in this world of sound bites and campaign slogans it’s seemed to me that messages of harmony can get lost in the noise.

I have a testimony of the importance of the law of chastity. I too worry about teenage births, children born into situations where they will not have the parents they need to survive, let alone succeed. I am unsure as to why you are distressed as to children born outside of marriage, however, versus the (perhaps more meaningful) statistic of children born where only one parent is known, or children in foster homes, or other situations that are more salient risk factors for the health, happiness and education of the child. My understanding is that marriage used to be a far more accurate shorthand trait for those risk factors to exist, but that this is no longer the case in most Western countries. Is there a reason why we in the Church should care about rates of secular marriage (unless again this is a barometer for our own rates)?

You state that “there are many political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and contrary to the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and childbearing.” I assume, given the rest of your paragraph, that you are speaking most particularly with respect to same-gender marriage, but some I have talked with expressed concern that you were speaking more broadly. Does the Church favor legislation with respect to other aspects of sexual morality besides same-gender marriage? Would the Church, for example, favor adultery legislation or laws that punished sexual relations outside of marriage with fines and/or imprisonment? These laws are generally no longer on the books in most states, but would the Church oppose the striking of those laws as it has opposed other legislative acts that are contrary to God’s laws? What is the Church’s stance with respect to current laws prohibiting polygamy? I am not asking these questions in order to doubt your testimony against same-gender marriage, but I would like to understand why we are drawing this particular line in the sand when others that are perhaps just as important do not seem to attract the same attention.

I was particularly interested by (and agree with) your testimony that “unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has identified as unchangeable.” One of the best things about our Church, what I love, is that we start with fundamental truths revealed by God and use those as the basis for our policies and programs. But I have noticed that we have changed our policies several times in the Church on various matters. I don’t need to cite these; I’m not trying to build an evidence file to oppose your words. But you do seem to imply that these policies are forever unchangeable, and I wonder if this is truly the case. I believe that our current policies are in place because of inspired leaders and I intend to obey those policies, but the bedrock of our Church is ongoing revelation and the certainty of your words seems (at least on the surface) to run contrary to that principle. Has God identified his standards against same-sex marriage, for example, as unchangeable? I know that I am under covenant to keep His commandments, and I agree wholeheartedly that “man’s laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral,” regardless of whether the immoral behavior is popular or not. I guess I am asking the same question I asked above: how do I know which parts of the plan cannot change? How can anyone know? I suppose this does not affect my present duty very much, but I’d like to better understand how it works.

Lastly you say, “In this determination we may be misunderstood, and we may incur accusations of bigotry, suffer discrimination, or have to withstand invasions of our free exercise of religion. If so, I think we should remember our first priority—to serve God—and, like our pioneer predecessors, push our personal handcarts forward with the same fortitude they exhibited.” This is the crux of it for me. If we oppose same-sex marriage because homosexual relations are a sin before God, and are vocal in this belief, we do more than incur accusations of bigotry – we are bigots. We are obstinately devoted to our belief that this group of people – in this case, active homosexuals – are sinful and what they want is wrong both for them and for society as a whole. I know my duty, and I know the law of God in this respect as it has been taught to me by faithful leaders. I intend to follow this divine law. But I don’t see how we can avoid the label of “intolerant” or “bigoted” when that’s what we are. We cannot have it both ways, we cannot serve God (in this case, we cannot be fervent advocates against same-sex marriage) and mammon (in this case, we cannot avoid public disapproval of our stance). This is hard. I don’t want to be intolerant and bigoted. I see those adjectives as being in opposition on some level with fundamental characteristics of being Christlike. I don’t want to be a moral coward as President Monson taught (and as you emphasized), but yes, I am afraid. I am afraid, not necessarily of the judgment of others or of losing friends (I am already a fairly off-putting fellow and have few friends as it is!), but I’m afraid of being wrong. I’m afraid that I will be an ardent attacker of same-sex marriage, then years from now when the legislative battle is completely lost (as it almost is today) that the Church will somehow modify its stance on the topic or reframe its perspective on homosexuality and I will have been wrong. I think of those who historically criticized equal rights for blacks on behalf of the Church only in 1978 to have been shown the error in their ways. I don’t believe that homosexuality and race are very comparable, but I provide that example to illustrate my fear.

Elder Oaks, if you’ve read this I would appreciate your guidance on this topic. You’re a great man, a great lawyer and an Apostle. I’m still a fairly young man and I don’t have a perfect knowledge of things. I wish I had the certainty that you show whenever I’ve listened to you speak. I am trying hard to be a good member of the Church and I want to serve God and my family and friends the best I can. Your talk, while grounded in premises I love and agree with, still scared me a fair deal and I’d like to better understand how to accept it fully.

Yours truly,

Steve Evans


  1. Christopher says:

    I don’t know whether Steve Evans has simply gotten better with age, or whether it just seems that way because he posts less frequently these days, but this was great from start to finish.

    Thanks, Steve.

  2. This. Exactly this. Thank you, Steve.

  3. John Harrison says:

    I too, wish to better understand. So well stated Steve.

  4. I am going to be far less diplomatic here and say that Elder Oaks obfuscated the very clear difference between doctrine and policy. Given his legal background, I have extreme difficulty believing that this was by accident.

    Frankly, what I heard in his talk was an incoherent reactionary old man rant, unworthy of an Apostle of the Lord–and, for that matter, an accomplished jurist.

  5. APM, I don’t think Elder Oaks is the type of person to either be incoherent or to rant. In the case of same-sex marriage in particular doctrine and policy are tough to sort out.

    Besides, rant or not – an apostle has spoken in General Conference, and it’s now up to us to figure out what to do with it. I don’t have it in me to take your view.

  6. Interesting. Forgive me too for what may be perceived as hard words. They are not meant to insult, and I hope you won’t take them that way.

    His talk was called “No Other Gods”? If God gave you an answer, and Elder Oaks’ words were contrary to that answer, whose revelation would you trust more? One from God, in a way that was clearly from Him, or one from Elder Oaks? Would you question it over and over, or default to the idea that Elder Oaks is His servant, more than you have a right to gain understanding? Of course, “God would never give you an answer that would contradict his servants,” correct? I’m increasingly concerned at the smoothness of the path towards idolatry, although there is no set proverbial golden calf.

    I hope you get the answers you need. I have no doubt someone “up above” hears you, regardless of which “above” you’re looking towards. :)

  7. Jen, I think you’re exactly right to point that out. But regardless, I do believe that God inspires our leaders and I know for sure that they devote more of their lives to serving Christ than I do…

  8. Ben Rogers says:

    “Help thou mine unbelief”? — Thanks for this, Steve.

  9. Steve, Apostles have gone off on extra-doctrinal rants at GC before. Consider Elder Packer a couple years ago, or Ezra Taft Benson’s frequent paranoid conspiracy ravings in the ’60s and ’70s.

    These are men, and often they listen to their egos before the Spirit. We need to remember that. It’s sad, but a necessary corrective to the deification of church leadership in which too many members engage. All we can do is pray for confirmation.

  10. APM, I don’t think Elder Oaks is as much of an outlier in his remarks as your comparisons suggest, but yes, he is a man and yes we should not deify our leaders. But I think you see where I’m coming from, too.

  11. I have enormous respect and admiration for Elder Oaks, and I revere him as an Apostle of God. Steve, I think you’ve put very well many of the thoughts that I have about his talk. But I would add the following:

    Is there or has there ever been any allegation of a revelation specifically addressing the morality or immorality of same-sex marriage and/or same-sex sexual relations? I have not been able to find any such allegation, but instead find only vague references to such things as “God’s decrees,” without any specific explanation of what decrees are being referenced or even any claim that God has ever made any specific, identifiable decree on the matter. The lawyer in me wants to ask Elder Oaks for a citation – not to an administratively authoritative statement on the matter by a church leader, but to a specific allegation of a detailed, identifiable revelation on the matter.

    Without such a citation – without pointing to a specific decree directly received from God that unambiguously and explicitly addresses the issue – I am left with the conclusion that his talk is a matter of his own interpretations, and not reference to alleged decrees of God directly addressing the matter. That doesn’t mean he’s necessarily wrong. But it makes me uncomfortable, particularly since I simply do not feel any spiritual confirmation of the truth of his assertions about opposition to same-sex marriage. I have sought prayerfully to have some guidance and I have faithfully worked to follow the Church leaders’ teachings, but I just don’t feel any divine confirmation that he or the Church are right on this issue. And without a spiritual confirmation, I can’t bring myself to agree or follow that particular teaching.

  12. Good thoughts. I wish I had more time to address your questions, but since they weren’t directed at me and I have no authority over the church, my thoughts would probably not be very meaningful to you in the first place.

    I will say this, that systems of morality are ultimately based on axioms of belief which cannot be proven within that system. Therefore, on man’s wisdom alone, determining which base axioms and thus which system of morality is ultimate the true one (conceding that there is a true one to be found) is impossible. It is therefore possible and I believe ultimately likely that two or more systems of morality will ultimately clash, and one party’s stance/ideology may be wrong in one system and right in the other, and vice versa for the other party. It may very well be that by following the counsel of the brethren, we may be bigots according to a secular system of ethics based on different axioms of belief than we accept as a Church. But that does not mean or make us bigots in God’s paradigm of morality, which as a believer in the restored Church and current LDS Church I believe is ultimately the true paradigm and system of morality we ought to abide by.

  13. Jennifer S. says:

    You can not hide your arrogance and condescension by claiming you want to understand. You are making several false assumptions, too many to even address here. Your reasoning is twisted and counter intuitive. “Why are you distressed as to children born outside of marriage vs. the more meaningful children born where only one parent is known.” Born outside of marriage would encompass where only one parent is known! If you were truly interested in understanding, you would counsel with leaders who in the least could straighten out some of your more glaring faulty assumptions.

  14. Peter Yates says:

    Steve, thank you. I personally would always be available to stand by you, if you were ever seeking to increase your friend numbers.

  15. I’ll be honest that I need t go back and review Elder Oak’s talk but your comments and questions bring a few thoughts to mind. I don’t understand why you question Elder Oak’s concern for Western society. We live in a culture that places the individual above every other consideration (I.e he can do whatever he wants as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of anyone else). The gospel is built around caring, not coercion, and part of caring is speaking out against what is wrong. I can’t write as eloquently but Elder Bruce Hafen has explained in a few different places the importance of belonging and communities. If God truly is Father to all, I can imagine that He would want His Apostles to concern themselves with individuals whose names aren’t on a ward list. That would include humanitarian efforts and speaking out against sin. Having said that, I do think the question of child bearing is particularly sensitive for some of the reasons you’ve explored. Are there couples who unrighteously choose to not have children? Are there righteous people who are never able to have children despite desperately wanting them? Did The Lord command Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth and in turn command us likewise? I believe the Apostles are to set forth the Lord’s standard and we are responsible to figure some things out for ourselves, as you seem to be doing. Finally, the analogy of priesthood for Blacks and same sex marriage has obviously been around for a while but the comparison isn’t really fitting and approval of same sex marriage would require a complete restructuring of our fundamental doctrines (not policies); while the 1978 revelation did not. Perhaps I’m naive in thinking that way but I do believe the activism we’re seeing within the church on this is really just beginning. It will be interesting to see its impact over the next few decades.

  16. I too , as the mother of a gay son, have wondered about all this. I love my son dearly, and was a bit ’embarrassed’ when he came out to his parents while in college. Because of my own weaknesses in establishing a Gospel centered home, and marrying a non-member 49 years ago, only our oldest child was baptized, and she was closer to age 9 before she finally asked her Dad for permission. Possibly because of my failure to defend my faith with all my mind, might, heart and strength, she now declares herself to be an atheist.

    On the fertility/infertility issue, I long to have more grandchildren. 4 is hardly enough, when others my age have 40! Before my marriage to a fine Christian man, I asked my sweet Mom how she felt about me taking birth control pills, since we still had a few years of post graduate education ahead of us, and really couldn’t afford those costs as well as the costs involved in having and raising children. Mom ‘s answer was that she felt I was very lucky. When she and my Dad were married, pharmaceutical birth control had not even been invented! My advice to infertile couples would be to adopt. If my gay son were to establish a civil union, and adopt children, of course I would love them unconditionally. That’s what grandmas do, right?

    I have come to understand that homosexuality is a nature, not a nurture type of phenomenon. In other words, a certain percent of all God’s children are going prefer same sex alliances rather than opposite sex relationships. Choice does matter, and we are counseled to remain chaste before marriage, and the Church advises ALL members to remain chaste before marriage, or civil union, or what ever the legal commitment is called. I have no problem with that inspired doctrine.

  17. I have a longstanding relationship of respect with Elder Oaks. I can think of two times in recent memory when a Church leader persuaded me away from a criticism I held about Church practice. In one instance, I listened to a talk that led me to rethink my frustration at cultural pressure placed on priesthood holders who administer the sacrament to wear white shirts. In the other case, reading an older Conference address caused me to reconsider my position on LDS prayer language for English speakers. In particular I was critical of the universal practice of using archaic pronouns—“thee” and “thou”—to address Heavenly Father because doing so introduced a formality and distance into the relationship between speaker and addressee. In both cases, it was Elder Oaks who persuaded me to change my position.

    Which is to say from my perspective, when he’s trying to persuade, Elder Oaks is capable of being persuasive. When he’s trying.

  18. Thanks Peter.

  19. Wally Bob says:

    Often, what is considered intolerant and bigoted by one contestant is considered stalwart and dependable by the other.

  20. Steedr, some good thoughts there. Thanks. The Western civilization bit is worth chewing on, if only because I think you’re right about individual rights and freedoms but I don’t believe the key to preserving those is a high birth rate.

    With respect to 1978, the doctrine / policy distinction is important but I’d bet you a dollar that the apostles in the 60s thought it was doctrine…

  21. Wally Bob, just so. But that doesn’t solve my fears, you see, because sometimes what is considered stalwart today by a contestant is considered tomorrow to be intolerant by the same contestant. That’s the problem.

  22. An ideal answer, in principle, might be to read “Beware of Pride” by President Benson.

  23. Kaphor, I have that talk glued into my scriptures, I kid you not! I don’t think it solves everything but President Benson definitely laid out some sound principles. I think you’re right that pride plays a role for me, no matter how much I tell myself otherwise. What aspect of the talk in particular were you referring to?

  24. I wouldn’t say Oaks obfuscated anything between policy and doctrine, but that’s mainly because I don’t think the distinction really exists. It’s just how we roll in a church without creeds or theology. But I like this post.

  25. “These are men, and often they listen to their egos before the Spirit. We need to remember that.” That’s a bit arrogant, no? Vox populi vox dei?

  26. Ben, I agree. But no need to scuffle over it. I bet the real debate with that remark is the use of “often” instead “sometimes” or “possibly”. YMMV but the point of not deifying our leaders is valid.

  27. Dang, Steve. I really miss you!

  28. My grandparents joined the church in the late 1950s, and my grandmother almost left the church in the early 1970s. As a nice Catholic girl, who had married a nice Jewish boy, in Glendale, California, she did not know very many *negros* even in the 1970s. Still, in General Conference, and especially Stake Conference, the words she heard out of her leaders mouths, regarding those of African descent, not only were denied confirmation of the Spirit, but led her to a strong belief that what they were saying was ugly, hateful, and not something she could support. After discussions with her bishop, she decided to wait until after her sons got home from their missions to Japan, before making the choice to leave the church.

    During my entire life, my grandmother taught us, over and over, that we could know “the truth of all things,” by praying and asking. She would remind us when each prophet and apostle was called, that we needed to pray for confirmation of their callings, and she encouraged us not only to pray about callings we would accept ourselves, but about the callings of others in our ward. As a teenager, her emphasis was not surprising, since she had been telling all of us this message for our entire life.

    It was not until I was in my 20s, that I thought to ask my grandmother if she had ever had confirmation withheld, when she asked the Lord to tell her if a calling, talk, or revelation was true. I had my first experience of hearing a talk that seemed wrong, and the more I prayed about it, the more sure I was that it was not true, or at least not *truth.*

    That was the first time that my grandmother told any of her grandchildren, about the dark time in her church membership, leading up to the 1978 revelation. She did not go to Stake Conference for several years, and she read the talks, rather than listening to them on the radio. She was not timid, but she also disliked arguments, and went out of her way to avoid them. So, she had left many activities, firesides, and ward meetings; choosing to leave instead or argue. She then told me the level of joy she felt when the 1978 revelation was made. Within a year, 2 negro families were in their ward, and my grandmother made sure to sit next to them in RS, and sacrament meeting, (much to the discomfort of my grandfather, who took a year or two before he was comfortable.)

    Our conversation, about my inability to receive confirmation of something that many people saw as wonderful, was deeply troubling to me. She waited a year to ask me what I was struggling with. During the conversation that followed, she told me that she too, was still looking for a confirmation to that revelation as well. More than 15 years later, I still don’t have that confirmation.

  29. Wally Bob says:

    Steve, and I think that changeover is appropriate as long as the change is due to revelation and not agitation. A couple of questions to be asked might be ” Was Pres. Kimball “bigoted” before June of 1978? How much did he and the other Brethren promote priesthood for the blacks before then?” Some said it would never happen and several acknowledged it would – in God’s timeframe. How many of the General leadership left the Church because of the 1978 revelation saying it was evidence of a fallen prophet?
    Have we heard of any of the Church leadership promoting same gender marriage? Ever? The pattern given for marriage in Genesis 2, was repeated by Jesus in Matthew 19, and Paul in Ephesians 5; and in our day in The Family: A Proclamation. I see no scriptural support for same gender marriage. It seems that instead of “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” today is being replaced by “What man wants to join together, let not God (or His servants) keep asunder.”

  30. The official position of the Church, stated before the 1978 revelation, did not use the term “doctrine” to describe the teaching that those of black African descent were ineligible for priesthood/temple blessings. But “doctrine” means a “teaching” that comes directly from God, and that cannot be changed by humans (without God’s direction), then it qualified as doctrine. The statement was in error on historical points, and inconsistent with the Church’s current statements on the history of the ban. Here is the key language from the 1969 statement of the FP and 12 restating the Church’s then position:

    “From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith [this is no longer taught by the Church] and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.

    Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, “The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God….

    “Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man’s mortal existence, extending back to man’s pre-existent state.”

    President McKay has also said, “Sometime in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood.” [It is no longer taught as official teaching that the ban began before Brigham Young, much less that the ban dates to the pre-existence.]

    Until God reveals His will in this matter, to him whom we sustain as a prophet, we are bound by that same will. Priesthood, when it is conferred on any man comes as a blessing from God, not of men.”

  31. “There are many political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and contrary to the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and childbearing.”

    Citing political and social pressures as the main reasons for low birth rates and the increase in median age for marriage misses what has easily become the biggest threat to families: economic pressures. Were there any other single males trying to get married in the 2005 time frame while living in a major metropolitan area? Did you watch the price of even the smallest starter home escalate way beyond anything you could ever afford? Was the only seemingly reasonable answer to take out more loans for graduate school in hopes you might be able to secure better employment? Were any of you able to afford even the most basic health care so you could even think of having a baby? And assuming you could afford to have a few, did anyone else watch the price of their children’s four year public university tuition double within less than ten years?

    For as sharp as other people claim Elder Oaks to be, I’m astounded that economics didn’t even deserve a mention. There were plenty of us who longed to have families and found that ideal way beyond our means. Blaming the Folsom Street Fair is ridiculous.

  32. One more key paragraph that might sound familiar:

    “Were we the leaders of an enterprise created by ourselves and operated only according to our own earthly wisdom, it would be a simple thing to act according to popular will. But we believe that this work is directed by God and that the conferring of the priesthood must await His revelation. To do otherwise would be to deny the very premise on which the Church is established.”

    BTW, I have no trouble with the statements that a Church doctrine is “unchangeable” if it is implicitly qualified “unchangeable by humans.” I don’t have a problem with interpreting the current structure of male ordained priesthood and governance as directed by God. But I personally am less comfortable with stating that God could not change the structure at some point.

    Before 1978 many or most of us prayed (1) for a change in the race/lineage ban or (2) for an understanding of it or (3) for patience to persevere in a church with a practice that seemed inconsistent with its own teachings. It seems like the same prayers are appropriate today with respect to practices that may seem to us to be inconsistent with the greatest commandments of God.

  33. Steve,
    You are a Mormon who wants to do the Mormon thing and take his Mormon leaders seriously. Your post very ably captures that wish. Question: you say you will obey — would you man the phone banks for a new Prop 8?

  34. I guess I’m much more willing than you to say that sometimes our leaders are just wrong. That doesn’t make them bad people, just fallible. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Elder Oaks and I sustain him, but I know that doesn’t mean he’s always right. And I think he would agree with that.

  35. Prop 8 will not likely happen again. What is asked now where I live is that we try to help preserve religious freedom. For example, contact representatives and ask that they include exemptions for clergy and private religious institutions when it comes to same-sex marriage legislation.

  36. The doctrine and policy thing confused me as well partly because I feel like they should be different things, but also because, regardless of their differences, they both clearly change. Polygamy was obviously a doctrine at one point, given in a revelation to the prophet (JS) and canonized. But 150 years later, another prophet (GBH) specifically said it wasn’t doctrine. And the policies that have changed are too numerous to mention.

    So I’ve basically come to the conclusion that absolutely everything about this church is as changeable as any other church or organization, but we wait for confirmation from God (and sometimes men, who aren’t always ready to move as quickly as God – i. e., priesthood ban).

    I think Elder Oaks’s statement was confusing to me because of the way he phrased it, but he couldn’t really have meant to make it sound like we don’t change policy or doctrine, could he? Because he must be even more aware than I am of how many times we have. However, the awareness of changing doctrine is not universal among church members, so I wish his phrasing had been more clear that we simply wait upon The Lord to make such changes. Because it has the potential to reinforce many members’ incorrect belief that what we teach and do now is what we’ve always taught and done and what we *will* always teach and do, which could set a lot of people up for a crisis of faith when changes do occur, which they inevitably will.

  37. Also, I too wished he had been a little more sensitive to the fact that while God may wish for each of us to have the opportunity to marry and bear children, many of us will never have one or both of those opportunities in this life, something that I think God accepts fully. I get that church leaders want to speak about and emphasize marriage and family, but when they do so to the exclusion of all other possibilities, their talks become very marginalizing and painful for those of us who would long for such an opportunity but who have been denied it. It makes me feel like I just clearly don’t fit in and would be better off leaving rather than drag the numbers down. Fortunately I’m remembering President Uchtdorf’s words that there is room for me here. I hope his voice alone can continue to drown out the other refrains.

  38. Carl Youngblood says:

    “But regardless, I do believe that God inspires our leaders and I know for sure that they devote more of their lives to serving Christ than I do…”

    Steve, you may be right, but you might also be engaging in a mild form of idolatry here. How do you know that you devote less time to serving Christ than the apostles? It may very well be that some apostles, supposedly in the service of Christ, are serving idolatrous conceptions of what God wants rather than what he/she actually wants. It may be that a simple man or woman who deals justly with his or her fellows is closer to god than those who sit in these high positions. We just don’t know. But in general, I think our culture encourages too high of a level of reverence for the leadership that causes people to start having unrealistic notions of what our leaders do and what they are like, and also causes us to live far beneath our privileges as children of God. I think the organization of heaven is much more flat than we realize, and that those who are closest to God often don’t fit neatly into earthly hierarchies.

  39. Wheatwoman says:

    Elder Oaks talk didn’t surprise me – I would expect him to say the things he did. I have a really hard time imagining President Monson or President Uchtdorf saying what he said, let alone how he said it. But, what hurts me is the jockeying that is taking place right now among members who loved what he said, members who feel discouraged, and everyone in between. I know when someone is telling me something out of deep love for me. I can feel it in the words they use. Didn’t feel it.

  40. I agree with Carl. It is a pernicious idea to suggest that somehow a Mormon authority is closer to God by virtue of their authority alone. What their authority gives them is, well, authority — when they teach the will of God it has the authority to be binding on the church (truth “whether by by own voice or by the voice of my servants” is truth). You don’t have that authority but you do have the same potential access to God

  41. Bravo! Very well done!

  42. Carl, that’s very interesting and I need to think about it a little. In my specific case, I know that they spend more of their lives serving Christ than I do because I don’t do very much at all. Not a difficult standard to meet.

  43. Besides, I’m no Denver Snuffer.

  44. Ronan, to answer your question: I don’t know. I pray no one asks.

  45. But you say, “I know my duty, and I know the law of God in this respect as it has been taught to me by faithful leaders. I intend to follow this divine law.”

    How do you intend to follow “this divine law” (wrt the homosexuality issue)?

    Knowing you as I do, I found your confident obedience surprising!

  46. DavidH: I’m not sure if there was a typo in your first comment, but to correct the factual record – yes, the church did teach prior to 1978 that the racial priesthood ban was a “doctrine.” A 1949 First President Letter begins:

    “The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. …”

    This letter has been previously discussed on this blog (

    Now, were there church leaders who nonetheless believed the restriction was not doctrine? Sure, for example Hugh B. Brown. And did later statements stop using the word “doctrine”? Yes, for example the 1969 Statement you quote. But the church did at many points teach that the ban was doctrine. It’s a part of history that we all get to wrestle with.

  47. Ronan, I appreciate you putting the screws to me a little on this point because I think it’s important. By following the law I intend to abide by the law of chastity. The content of that law is fairly well known. I don’t know much beyond that, but my personal policy is to try to do what our leaders ask us to do. Right now thankfully nobody has asked me to become an anti-homosexuality activist. If the time comes that someone asks me to man the phone lines or to make a donation, I’ll make it the object of prayer and do what I feel I must. It’s hard to respond to hypothetical situations since so much depends upon what the Spirit directs in the moment.

  48. So, your obedience is not certain! Also, your heterosexuality was only slightly in doubt.

  49. Steve,

    Thank you for this post. I too have been struggling with the church’s teaching on same-sex relationships in general, and with Elder Oaks’ discourse specifically. I believe many others in the church, including local and general leaders, are also wrestling with the issue. Your approach is honest and helpful.

    I am a much younger lawyer and church member than Elder Oaks. As such, I can’t offer you any help with the questions you pose to him. But I can offer you what I have found to be the greatest help to me – namely, personal experience. Yes, church teachings are a necessity. Faith could not begin without a teaching or example from someone we trust. But teachings alone will never provide complete happiness.

    We were put on this earth to learn through experience. So go get some. Visit a gay pride parade. Invite a gay family over for dinner. Talk with gay members of the church – those who remain celibate, those who are not, and those who are in committed relationships which they consider binding even if the church does not. Do whatever you can to see with your eyes and hear with your ears the real results of homosexual actions. Then you can make a valid judgment, take that judgment to God in prayer, and be confident in your position. While the process is underway, it’s ok to sincerely admit that you do not have a testimony one way or the other.

  50. The church is often a haven for our biases; tribal “us vs them” (the world), backs until 1978, gays, women as less than, sinners, other religions. This offers great comfort and justification to our natural man ways but it comes at the expense of actually being more Christlike. It is a seductive reading of the gospel.

    We often tend to paint ourselves as the righteous underdog both historically and currently and we tend to relish in the drama that creates. As such the very conservative among us tend to identify and ally with the “us vs. them” idea that western society is hated and persecuted for their “freedom” (not for their wealth and power and it’s intrusive global use, btw) which may be part of the western child birth concern or is some other cultural-centrism behind this worry? This is all mitigated of course by the catch all concept of love the sinner hate the sin, but in practice this often falls short.

    Obfuscation is a good description I think. The binomial of good vs evil keeps church related discussion pretty black and white which truncates and polarizes the informative and bridging nuance right out of the discussion! Add conflation and clarity is easily lost. As a result we often end up pharisaically elevating the letter of the law above the nuance of the beatitudes or the overriding principal of loving one another.

    I truly believe the brethren are inspired but since inspiration is far more man than God it allows these personal biases to creep in, as a result I greatly prefer revelation but today it is quite rare, I wish that were not the case.

  51. Howard, I can’t say that I agree with you.

  52. One more thing. I would be very surprised if the church requested that the general membership participate in another Prop 8. The approach being taken currently in Hawaii’s ballot measure is for members to vote their conscience – either pro or con – and to support the freedom of religion regardless of their views on SSM. And desipte prior ambiguity, it now seems that members who support civil SSM will not be denied callings or temple recommends on that basis alone.

    The more difficult question remains how members can function in teaching callings if they disagree with the church’s teachings on SSM. When the issue arises in a class setting, do they just state the church’s position and move on? That’s a tough one.

  53. The one thing that always annoys me about these talks is that there’s a “god” that is worshiped by many in the church – namely the church itself. Elder Oaks speaks of how this is a family centered church. I argue that it is that in name only. It is a church centered church. The focus is on meeting the needs of the church, on doing your calling, on dedicating your time and energy to the ward, not on building your family. We talk about the family and how we should do all we need to to build our family, but then our practice is to focus more time on the church and church service.

  54. Chris Kimball says:

    Regarding the OP, just a small editorial comment. I assume and believe that the courtesy and respect (“You’re a great man, a great lawyer and an Apostle.”) is 100% sincere and genuine. But it comes across as over-the-top to the point that I as a reader stop to ask whether it is sarcasm. If I were writing to Elder Oaks (and I have in the past) I would tone it down.

    Regarding Elder Oaks’ talk, one perspective to offer. The Church operates in a complex multi-jurisdictional worldwide legal and political environment. There is a constant church-state dialogue. The lines and rules are different, but it might be fair to generalize that in most states and countries, most of the time, there is a significant amount of respect for and leeway for churches and religious organizations, but not unlimited. Everywhere there is a line where the state says “no you can’t” or “yes you must”. Where that line falls is a matter of ongoing discussion engaged on multiple levels. I view Elder Oaks’ talk as largely/primarily/mostly an entry in that discussion.

    Recognize that the LDS Church has some weaknesses in the church-state dialogue. The small amount of settled and well-explicated doctrine hurts. Changes over time hurts. Past responses to political pressure hurts. Not to say these things are wrong or were mistaken, but just that they are unhelpful facts in a church-state debate. Arguing for the Church, you’d like to use “never” and “always” and “impossible” and “God has spoken” and “settled”.

    For the most part I reserve my opinion as to substance or effectiveness, but there is a “saying it’s so doesn’t make it so” line that runs through my mind. However, in an interesting way for purposes of a church-state debate having an Apostle say it in General Conference may make it so.

  55. Chris, sorry to have triggered your skepticism meter. I mean every word.

  56. Thank you for this. I wanted to just mention too that birth rates are actually dropping faster in the developing world than in the developed world. The decline is almost universally seen as a major reason for rapidly improving mortality rates, improved life expectancy for the children who are born, and better standards of living. Check out this interactive graph which shows global mortality rates since the 1800s:$majorMode=chart$is;shi=t;ly=2003;lb=f;il=t;fs=11;al=30;stl=t;st=t;nsl=t;se=t$wst;tts=C$ts;sp=5.59290322580644;ti=2010$zpv;v=0$inc_x;mmid=XCOORDS;iid=phAwcNAVuyj1jiMAkmq1iMg;by=ind$inc_y;mmid=YCOORDS;iid=phAwcNAVuyj0TAlJeCEzcGQ;by=ind$inc_s;uniValue=8.21;iid=phAwcNAVuyj0XOoBL_n5tAQ;by=ind$inc_c;uniValue=255;gid=CATID0;by=grp$map_x;scale=log;dataMin=194;dataMax=96846$map_y;scale=lin;dataMin=0.836;dataMax=9.2$map

  57. Ron Madson says:

    Steve, I appreciate your thoughts and willingness to share your “challenging” some of Elder Oaks’ statements in GC. However, leaving aside the substance of your post, I am particularly intrigued by the process in which you have chosen to communicate with Elder Oaks. Here are some of my questions: Did you also send this letter directly to Elder Oaks? If so then why was it also made public for all to read? Do you expect that Elder Oaks will read your blog post along with all the comments that follow? Are you aware if “they” (church leaders at the highest level) read By Common Consent and other blogs and/or have others read these posts and report back with a summary? Is there any precedence for GAs to respond with comments to such a post publicly? And if Elder Oaks does respond would you be willing to share his response—assuming he does not instruct you keep it in confidence?

    I am fascinated by the affect that social media must be having on the manner in which us members are communicating with church leaders and how they communicate back to us—in contrast to my experience twenty years ago in seeking to communicate directly rather than through social media.

  58. Ron, first off I expressly am not challenging Elder Oaks. It’s not my place to do so and I don’t have any desire to do so.

    I admit the format of my letter is weird. I posted it partly because I’m a narcissist and partly because it was a talk worth discussing and I wanted to frame that discussion in a particular way.

    I’m not aware of whether church leaders at the highest level follow this site. I doubt it, but I would certainly welcome it. I’m not aware of any general authority ever addressing a blog post. If I receive a reply that I’m permitted to share publicly, I expect I would do so.

    It is an interesting time and while I don’t expect a reply it would certainly be welcome and would be an impressive indicator of how the Church has adopted social media.

  59. Andrew, thanks for providing that information. It’s extremely interesting and I wonder how that will shape Church demographics.

  60. Steve, I’m glad you resisted Ronan’s efforts to box you in on a hypothetical that has an almost zero percent chance of happening again. I obediently donated my time and treasure to CA’s prop 8. As with Zion’s Camp, polygamy, the United Order, and other wacky and not-so-wacky times from our past, we gave it our best shot. The Church’s limited involvement this year in Hawaii is, I believe, a harbinger of things to come: No more door-to-door campaigns or requests for contributions. With Pope Francis as inspiration and Presidents Monson, Eyring and Uchtdorf leading the way, the Church will not change its view of the man-woman-children marriage ideal, the Church will emphasize the core ideals of the gospel (the Atonement, Forgiveness, Repentance, Love, Service, Eternal Families), the Church will double-down on teaching and conversion instead of campaigning against legal arrangements that do not measure up to those ideals, and the Church will do all it can to protect its religious freedom to believe and act differently than society in many respects.

  61. it's a series of tubes says:

    Here’s a question for the better historically versed than I: in various of the official statements regarding priesthood restrictions, there is language along the lines of “not yet” or “not now”. Can anyone point me to an LDS statement, official or quasi-official, with respect to SSM that includes similar language?

  62. European Saint says:

    Two quotes come to mind as I read this thread.
    The first is from Frances Lee Menlove’s “The Challenge of Honesty,” published in Dialogue in 1966: “To the extent that the Mormon assumes the values and goals of secular society, to the extent that the radical and revolutionary gospel of Christ becomes indistinguishable from current social norms, Christianity becomes largely irrelevant and this irrelevance tends to dissipate the impetus for self-examination and to blur the issues relating to it. What I am pointing to is the fact that in some crucial areas, Mormons have ceased to remain in a state of tension with secular society. When living the gospel becomes synonymous with social progress or mental health, when the amassing of wealth or power becomes an acceptable goal, when the church as a group becomes irrelevant as a force for peace and human brotherhood, then the individual’s need to examine his own commitments to God and the church and the society in which he lives loses much of its urgency. If there are no real discrepancies or conflicts in these commitments, then there is no real need for agonizing self-examination.”
    The second is from Elder Lance Wickman, general counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an emeritus general authority of the church: “Secular thinkers and advocacy groups now seek to portray (traditional) beliefs as little more than ignorant bigotry that must be denounced and banished from public settings and confined to purely private places. In other words, a new closet is being constructed for those with traditional religious values on sexuality.”

  63. Marriage used to be the norm. It is now not the norm. Having children used to be the norm. It is now not the norm.
    As someone who was raising my children surrounded by people who were not married, not having children, not in nuclear families I tell you that it is not a good thing. It is not a good thing that our family of mom, dad and four kids was so rare that to my children we were the alternate lifestyle.
    When you raise your kids in that kind of environment, you realize how will they find someone to marry if no one they know thinks marriage is a worhty goal? How will they decide to have kids if everyone they know doesn’t want kids?
    Sure, there are always success stories. There is always somebody who is raised in a horrible home environment with poor schools and yet manages to graduate from college and be successful in a career. But that is the person who beats the odds. The odds are that without support from parents and without a good school a child won’t place importance on education and won’t work at it.
    I don’t want my kids to have to “beat the odd” to have a family because a nuclear family is so rare in their neighborhood that it requires superhuman effort, intense drive, and a lot of luck to accomplish.

  64. Bro. Jones says:

    The beauty of Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk is its paradoxical proof that Church leaders can be wrong. He outright stated that Church leaders make mistakes. If his assertion was correct, then there it stands: Church leaders make mistakes. If he was wrong in his assertion, and our leaders are in all things inspired and correct–then he, as a member of the First Presidency, uttered an incorrect statement, thereby proving that Church leaders can make mistakes.

    With that in mind, we should all continue to pray about teachings from Church leaders and, using the Spirit, make the most use of them in our lives as the Lord would have it. In that spirit, I heartily commend Steve for this piece.

  65. EuroSaint, two very good and a propos quotes. Thanks.

  66. European Saint says:

    Thank you, Steve. I read far more than I post, but I couldn’t resist today.

  67. Love you Steve — thanks for this post honestly and humbly sharing your reaction to the talk. It can be a risky thing to do in our current culture, I realize, particularly where some within the Church are already using quotes from several of the most recent conference talks not in the spirit of love and unity but as a political bludgeon or for sound bites whose usefulness is reduced to their value in supporting their particular prior political commitments.

    Past personal discussions with you leave me no doubt about your faithfulness, your commitment to God and his commandments, and your loyalty to the Church and its General Authorities, and I read your letter in light of this understanding.

    As to the substance of the letter, it might be worth noting that there is an important distinction between (1) questions that arise naturally as a result of hearing this talk that relate to Church members taking a political position on gay marriage as a civil right, and (2) Church members trying to argue that homosexual sexual intimacy is moral. The most curious thing about Elder Oaks’ talk for me was that he seemed to frame his talk in a posture of defensiveness against the latter, seeming to imply that Church members (or broader society even) are making the affirmative argument that homosexual sexual intimacy is not immoral after all. It is true that some in broader society are indeed arguing that, though I personally have seen very, very few Church members making such an argument.

    But my observation is that even in society, a broader, civil-rights based argument has gained traction. Under this view, even if a particular individual (or group of individuals, even if they form a legislative majority) thinks that homosexual sexual intercourse is immoral as a religious belief, this sincerely held religious belief should not become the basis for denying other individuals a civil right (here, gay marriage for homosexual couples who wish to make this commitment to each other and form a stable home) in our civil society which honors each individual’s inalienable right to freedom of conscience. It is this civil-rights based argument that I have observed giving some active, faithful Church members pause–not a desire to see the Church change its position on the morality of homosexual sexual intercourse or even a belief that homosexual sexual intercourse is not immoral. From my observation, Church members with such concerns are persuaded by this political, civil-rights based argument, an argument so consistent with our founding ideals in the United States guaranteeing the inalienable individual rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; but though they are persuaded by this fundamental understanding of our polity, they approach the issue without arguing or believing that homosexual sexual intercourse is not immoral in God’s eyes. In short, they believe that homosexual sexual intercourse is against God’s will but they do not see that it necessarily follows that people who do not believe this should be denied a civil right that is available to others in society. As a result, they are reluctant to be on the side of the argument denying marriage to others in our society who do not share a conviction that homosexual sexual intercourse is immoral. (These same faithful Latter-day Saints are likely also opposed to criminal punishments for adultery or fornication, not because they do not think these activities are sinful but rather out of a genuine commitment to our founding principles as incorporated into our actual doctrine through Doctrine and Covenants 134:9-10.)

    Your letter hints at this distinction, particularly where you point out the fear or anxiety that is motivating your letter. I read you not as saying that you are worried that the Church will possibly at a future time reverse course and teach that homosexual sexual intimacy is not immoral. (I am worried that this is ambiguous in the letter and that many will read you as saying this.) Rather, I interpret your anxiety to refer to the political argument; you note that advocating against gay marriage in the name of our religious beliefs against homosexual sexual intercourse does indeed place us on the intolerant and/or bigoted side of the argument in the political arena. Implicit in this observation is the unstated premise that such a stance places us on that side of the argument because we are co-participants in a robustly secular (meaning that the institutional separation of Church and state is guaranteed), intentionally pluralistic civil society in which ideally the power of the state is not enlisted in advancing the aims of any particular sectarian requirement.

    If I understand you correctly, you are anxious about this because of the worry that although the Church (through e.g. Elder Oaks’ talk) is currently saying that Church members must oppose gay marriage in the political arena or secular society because homosexual sexual intercourse is against God’s will, once all jurisdictions allow it, the Church will then focus its efforts simply on the salient underlying point, completely divorced from this particular political fight. That underlying moral and doctrinal teaching is that no matter what is legal, Church members are admonished to submit to God’s will, which, on this question, without further light and knowledge (which Elder Oaks said or at least strongly implied in his talk was not possible on this issue) is that homosexual sexual intercourse is a sin. To be sure, Elder Oaks made this underlying point very clear in his talk. But your anxiety seems to stem from the next step which was that, in spite of this clear underlying teaching, Church members also must oppose as a political matter the ability of gay people who do not share our beliefs from committing to each other in marriage, a position which does indeed locate us within a particular partisan camp in our political landscape rather than allowing us to exist above and independent of the contours of the secular Cultural Wars. You seem to be asking why complying the fundamental underlying teaching is not sufficient, and that members are required at the present moment to take what amounts to the intolerant and/or bigoted position from a political perspective in our pluralistic society when it seems likely that once this political fight is over, the underlying teaching about obeying God’s will regardless of what is legal is what will remain in force for each of us.

    Am I correct that this distinction is an important clarification to your letter and in my interpretation of the source of your anxiety relating to this?

  68. John, you’re correct. My letter didn’t get too deep into the distinction but you’re right that my anxiety is with respect to the political battle, not the moral/doctrinal principles.

  69. EuroSaint, I honestly wonder, though, if the truth is the same as the values and goals of secular society, what then? For example, the truth is that black members should be able to have the priesthood, and should be treated as equals to the rest of humanity. Was secular society wrong in pushing for that to become the status quo? Obviously not, so how should members respond when the church was obviously behind on that truth? How does Christianity keep from becoming largely irrelevant when it is behind on these types of issues? I think that’s they beauty of this post, is that it is really unclear to those of us who think seriously about the issues discussed by Elder Oaks as to whether the church again is behind on issues such as SSM. How does Christianity (and therefore, the Church) not lose all relevance if that indeed turns out to be the case?

  70. John, thank you for that comment.

    My own concerns also are within the political arena, particularly since, philosophically, my ancestors were the equivalent of gay marriage advocates of the late 1800’s. They fought to the bitter end to be able to marry whomever they wanted to marry, outside the sexual norms of their day. Given my own ancestral history, I have to ask if I am on their side, philosophically, or in the camp that fought them – and, while I do not like that for which they fought, I honor them for fighting as they did.

    Politically, I have a very hard time aligning myself against my own forefathers/mothers.

  71. European Saint says:

    And why, Shawn H, do you and “those of [you] who think seriously about the issues discussed by Elder Oaks” (I’m not sure I was invited into that mix) presume that the church is behind on issues such as SSM? What exactly is the link to the blacks and the priesthood issue? This alleged link is not now (nor has it ever) been clear to me, although said link seems a given to so many who post comments here and elsewhere. I agree with you that progress can — and has — at times been realized via adopting a more liberal stance; at other times, progress can be realized by adhering more closely to a conservative stance (are we not collectively a rough stone rolling, fumbling towards ecstasy — with God’s help via the prophets and our own revelation?). Progress definitely doesn’t go one way, indefinitely, in my view (and to what fixed point? do you know? will you state it?). I appreciate 1978 to an incredible degree, and Lester Bush’s work in Dialogue in 1973, etc., but when 1978 becomes the rule instead of the exception in our minds, I believe our worldview suffers from this distortion.

  72. Steve and John F, thank you for articulating this much more clearly than I have been able to. We are taught to be kind and compassionate to the sinner, and yet the underlying message does seem to be at odds with that regarding SSM. I take comfort that the church, regardless of statements like those in Elder Oaks’ talk, did use its considerable political clout promoting city ordinances in Salt Lake City that outlawed discrimination in housing on the basis of gender identity or sexual preference.

  73. “European Saint”, I am sure Shawn will answer, and my input is not to be interpreted as “siding” with him or her on any particular issue, but my sense is that the “link” is not a substantive one but rather a procedural one or one focused on process. Take a look at DavidH’s and Dave K.’s comments above on this point about “doctrine” vs. “policy” and how the official stance on that changed over time, with specific reference to the 1949 and then 1969 First Presidency Statements linked in their comments.

  74. European Saint says:

    Thank you, “john f.”

  75. EuroSaint, and john f: You most were certainly invited into the mix of those that think about these issues. I presume you do. I don’t “presume”, though, that the church is behind on that particular issue, nor do I believe that progress is a toward a known point (though I do believe progress = more truth and light and in that sense it IS unidirectional). It was an example, just as 1978 was an example, of a very difficult issue. In 1978, the church was clearly behind (progressive) secular society in regards to how black should be treated. That put the church at a disadvantage, in that the church’s message was ignored by many because the church’s treatment of black members was such as stumbling block. In other words, to use your first quote, the church lost relevance because it differentiated itself from secular society in a way that ended up being on the wrong side of truth, as revealed in 1978. As for SSM, my last sentence, and question (which I’m still interested in), is if we DO have another 1978 in regards to SSM, or any other difficult issue (e.g. ordination of women to the priesthood), how does the church retain relevance if these changes occur?

    That’s why I loved this post. It really nails the crux of the matter down for me. How can we, as individuals with intelligence, listen to apostles, knowing they err as we all do, and know what path to take? If our personal revelation doesn’t confirm the truth of what is said, what is the appropriate response? I don’t have answers for anyone but myself, so I won’t offer any. I simply was trying to engage with what you had added to the discussion

  76. European Saint says:

    Shawn H: Thank you for the very reasonable response. I, too, shall ponder on these things.

  77. What I would like Elder Oaks to help me understand is this:

    Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban for being a girl who espoused female education. She survived and is now in England where she continues to criticise the barbarism of the Taliban. In response the Taliban recently stated the following:

    “Anyone who campaigns against our religion . . . like she is doing with her secular ideology, is our enemy and so we will target her again, and again.”

    Now, I do not mean to suggest that Christian critics of “secular ideology” are akin to the Taliban but rather I would simply point out that what places like western Pakistan need is *more* secular ideology. Ironically, the freedom of Mormonism to preach its message also depends on the freedom from religion that secularism guarantees. Mormon missionaries would only ever be able to work in Pakistan if the power of theocracy were to be broken.

    Thus, I am left wondering, as might Kant, what I would “will to become a universal law”? I think I will take secularism, both for my own religious benefit and for Malala’s.

    Is this wrong? (And I agree with John Fowles that the sinfulness of homosexuality is not the issue.)

  78. “YMMV but the point of not deifying our leaders is valid.” Certainly. When I teach, I tend to make a bit of a soapbox out of the topic whenever appropriate, emphasizing historical changes, diachronic and synchronic diversity of thought at the highest levels of the Church, uncomfortable bits of history which suggest humanity, talks on the subject that should be known better (like this one by McConkie, and so on.

    But I am also highly suspicious of what appear to be facile judgments about the inspiration of this or that policy or doctrine because they don’t line up with progressive thought. Individual judgments of LDS members often seem to fall so annoyingly neatly in line with their other politics (i.e. “liberal/progressives” bearing testimony of the non-inspiration of Oaks, “conservatives” doing the same with the LDS statements on immigration), that it’s hard to take seriously any claim to personal revelation on the topic. Given such competing claims, I tend to assign vastly more weight to an Apostle, regardless of any personal discomfort. Or at least, I feel that is the more appropriate course of action.

  79. Ben, I agree.

  80. European Saint says:

    Ben: I agree as well.
    RJH: “Ironically, the freedom of Mormonism to preach its message also depends on the freedom from religion that secularism guarantees.” When and where have you seen this theory in practice? To me, the great secular ideologies of the 20th centuries simply replaced God-focused religion with a twisted form of (secular) religion that was much, much darker and far more oppressive.

  81. “When and where have you seen this theory in practice?”

    Everywhere in the world, throughout history, at one point or another.

  82. Ron Madson says:

    Steve, you indicated that it is “not your place to challenge” Elder Oaks and I assume by that anyone in authority over you ecclesiastically. To each his own approach.

    I have over the years relished the writings of Yoder/Hauerwas/Tolstoy and others of those types and marvel at Pope Francis’ statements/actions that the relationships in his church should be horizontal rather than vertical. I have also recently visited a new Mennonite branch in Orem Utah and visited with their pastor. I like their approach to authority. It just feels right. Maybe it is aging or just a different perspective as to what I perceive emulating Jesus involves, but I find giving deference to the least and being their voice and advocate while “challenging” those that suppose authority when it seeks to put down/judge the least feels right. Jesus challenged authority and was very “off putting” to them when they judged the least and gave voice/deference to those not in power. I suspect he invited us to do the same if need be.

    And when I read that God is “no respecter of persons” I think it means that deference is not given to office, chief seats, or any asserted vertical authority. I know that my approach is considered by many as antithetical/heretical to our gentile version/hierarchal structure of the “restoration”–(see Daymon Smith’s brilliant new works/Cultural History of Book of Mormon for reference) which is more corporate/hierarchal than what I perceive He defined His kingdom should and will be.

    Elder Packer taught us we need to know which way we are facing. He assumes that he is “voicing” the Lord’s will from top down— I simply see it being voiced in the opposite direction.

  83. Ron Madson says:

    I should qualify that last statement to say: “He assumes that he is “voicing” the Lord’s will from the top down and that may often be the case—but I believe it is also often voiced from the opposite direction.”

  84. What? It is the secular, liberal state that prevents the oppression of religious minorities. Mormonism survives because of this. (Secular in this sense does not mean illiberal regimes. That belongs to another category.)

  85. E Oaks’ talk was indeed full of “hard sayings”. I had not considered how difficult the talk must have been for the infertile or those who struggle to have biological children for years before being successful. Thank you for articulating that. I had my own burdensome thoughts and feelings when listening to the talk as a gay latter-day saint.

    I am a firm believer in the Law of Chastity, however, it is of great concern to me that SSM is considered to be a grave threat to the family. It seems to be used as a hobgoblin in current LDS discourse. Even though I am a celibate gay man, I have my own thoughts and feelings about how we should handle SSM, which I will keep to myself. I, however, would like to hear just exactly how SSM is a threat to our marriages and our children’s marriages. Is all of the current hullabaloo really only about religious freedom? I’m not convinced.

    My biggest concern is that while we harp on SSM in our discourse and public policy, we are backed into a corner where “the gays” are “other”. As long as they are “other” we are not inclined to feel compassion. To try to understand the challenges of their lives and the corners they’ve been backed into. In particular, if we see them as “other” we will not be inclined to ask for further light and knowledge on the phenomenon of SSA—we will simply accept the traditional axioms that it’s fruits are unholy. I just don’t think we know that. The Church has recently conceded that feelings of same sex attraction are a “complex reality” for some people. I think that we have to follow the theological implications of that and dig deeper. Ask for further light and knowledge. Because until we do, they will always be “other”. And we will slowly kill the “other” who is quietly dying away within the body of Christ..

    E Oaks was a pioneer in starting this discussion with his article back in 1995. Oh how I wish that he would use his influence to follow those theological implications wherever they lead and ask the hard questions about the reality of same sex attraction in many people’s lives.

  86. Ben, I agree as well. Do you see Steve’s post as doing anything but that?

  87. “How can we, as individuals with intelligence, listen to apostles, knowing they err as we all do, and know what path to take? If our personal revelation doesn’t confirm the truth of what is said, what is the appropriate response?”

    Shawn H, these are the questions I really wonder about and struggle with. It doesn’t seem fair or possible to expect fallible mortal men to get things right every time. But then who do you believe? What do you believe? GAs have frequently counseled us that after something is said, we should first seek confirmation by the Spirit (though they have perhaps at least as often counseled us to just obey), but if you don’t get the confirmation, things get a little hazy. Nobody in general conference really talks about what to do in that situation. And if you don’t get confirmation and so don’t follow that particular piece of counsel, does that mean you aren’t “sustaining” them? How much room is there for independent thought or actions? And how accountable are we if we follow what turns out to be bad counsel because we didn’t get confirmation one way or the other? It confuses me. I generally feel the safest and best thing for me is to follow my own conscience and the impressions of the Spirit that I personally receive. But then what is the point of apostles? It is just to encourage and strengthen? That might be enough, but is it reality? I honestly don’t know.

  88. …just exactly how SSM is a threat to our marriages…? It’s a very good question. If it isn’t driven by conservative political philosophy, bias or homophobia why can’t the church just call gay sex a sin and be done with it? In shear numbers potential gay marriages are a drop in the bucket compared to cohabitation and out of wed lock births. If marriage is good for society why is it bad for gays?

  89. MOQT: I, like you, “generally feel the safest and best thing for me is to follow my own conscience and the impressions of the Spirit that I personally receive”. I was always struck as a missionary at the disconnect between what we told investigators to do before baptism and what we told them after baptism. Before, the focus is exclusively on personal revelation. We ask them to pray to receive a testimony of the BoM, the first vision, and the church. Once they’re baptized, though, there’s a lot of focus on following the prophet’s counsel, on listening to their local leaders. In many ways it felt like a bait and switch to me. I understand that if everyone just relied on exclusively on personal revelation, it would be chaos, but the alternative is spiritually deadening, and not what we’re supposed to do either. That balance, at a personal as well as organizational level, is hard to find.

  90. When and where have you seen this theory in practice? To me, the great secular ideologies of the 20th centuries simply replaced God-focused religion with a twisted form of (secular) religion that was much, much darker and far more oppressive.

    “European Saint”, I think I am beginning to see part of the source behind your campaign against certain characteristics inherent in liberal democracy and individual rights. You seem to equate modern “secular” democratic, rights-based society with the totalitarian dictatorships of the twentieth century (though this is certainly a strained comparison in my opinion given that those societies did not protect individual rights). This seems to be based on the appearance of the word “secular,” and the link seems to be that the totalitarian dictatorships for the most part sidelined religion in favor of a particular theory rooted in scientism as a guiding principle. I would join Ronan in expressing bewilderment of your equation of the two.

    As to our Republic and the other republican or parliamentary democracies in developed countries, Mormons are among the primary beneficiaries of the intentional pluralism that the secularity of such societies guarantees. This means understanding ourselves as part of the community in such countries, as co-participants in the society, enjoying its protections and avoiding becoming an obstacle to others’ “pursuit of happiness.” Particularly in the United States, Mormons are among the primary beneficiaries of our governmental framework and enlightened heritage incorporating fundamental inalienable rights including freedom of conscience explicitly into that framework. That is what Ronan and I mean by “secular” in these discussions — it refers to the intended secularity of the state on religious issues and other moral questions (which are informed by religious beliefs). The founders believed in an objective morality — in a standard that exists outside and “above” human beings — but I would argue that they did not intend to tie such an objective morality into a particular sectarian notion of its expression (though certain Founders such as Adams certainly had strong sectarian religious faith and viewed their input into the process as directly informed by that faith). Rather, they believed, as influenced by the English and Scottish Enlightenments, by both Locke and Smith (and all the rest), that each individual had access to such objective morality by virtue of being human, sentient beings with an inherent dignity.

    A further question raised by Elder Oaks’ talk, though not included in Steve’s letter, might be whether Elder Oaks is requiring us to challenge our commitment to be co-participants in this enlightened framework characterized by the secularity of the state on religious questions. There is an implicit lamentation, for example, that adultery and fornication are no longer punished by the criminal law in many or most US jurisdictions, a reference that formed part of the observation about the decline in public morality in broader society. Where does Elder Oaks’ talk leave us in relation to our commitment to our foundational principles incorporating a reverence for our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, chief among those the individual right to freedom of conscience (a freedom that works both ways — both allowing Mormons to believe that homosexual sexual intercourse is immoral and allowing nonbelievers to believe that it is not immoral — and allowing perhaps others to believe that though it is indeed immoral and sin in God’s eyes, such a religious belief should not be the basis for preventing others who do not share this belief from pursuing happiness by exercising a civil right).

  91. John F: I was expanding on my previous comment, which was in response to a comment I quoted.

    JStone: “I had not considered how difficult the talk must have been for the infertile”

    Not by choice, we are childless after 14 years. Oaks’ remarks (which I haven’t reviewed since conference) didn’t bother me because I didn’t take them to be applicable to or critical of our situation.

  92. Ben, then you have done well.

  93. “If marriage is good for society why is it bad for gays?” The thing about marriage is that it’s supposed to be about commitment and fidelity, sexual, emotional, and otherwise. Certainly, heterosexuals have pioneered ways to violate those ideals, and the consequences have not been good.

    This article written by a gay man explains some of the PR.

    “In the fight for marriage rights, gay activists have (smartly) put forward couples who embody a familiar form of unity….[but] not all gay unions are built on the straight model, particularly when it comes to the issue of monogamy. The Gay Couples Study out of San Francisco State University—which, in following over 500 gay couples over many years is the largest on-going study of its kind—has found that about half of all couples have sex with someone other than their partner, with their partner knowing.”

    I am extremely uncomfortable with further cultural legitimation of sex without commitment. It’s bad for individuals, whatever the orientation, and it’s harmful to society as a whole.

  94. Ben S,
    Your weak apology here isn’t up to the quality of most of your well thought out comments. Not all hetero unions are built on the straight model either. Half of all married man and a quarter of all married women admit to having an affair while married. I know several committed faithful gay marriages, in fact I know of none that aren’t. If a lack of faithfulness is the issue, gay women should probably have priority over most hetero couples.

  95. Howard, did you read the piece? It’s not about affairs; it’s about defining marriage in such a way that sexual fidelity is not presumed to be part of the package, and sex outside of marriage is acceptable.
    I think marriage (including fidelity) is better than alternatives and better for society as a whole. I think uncommitted sex, regardless of who is engaging in it, is bad for society.

  96. Ben, I agree with your last paragraph, but might the fact that marriage hasn’t been an option (and long-term commitment hasn’t been encouraged as legitimate) weigh heavily into the stats? If any union, sexual or not, is forbidden, can people be blamed for not creating long-term unions?

  97. My wife and I both voted as we were instructed by the Church in 2008 on Arizona’s version of Proposition 8. (A week or so before the election, there was a satellite broadcast where President Packer made it pretty clear it was our duty to vote that way.)

    A wile later, my wife told me that she had a terrible feeling about the issue after leaving the voting booth, and that she would never ever vote against same sex marriage, even if asked by the Prophet himself in person. My wife is pretty much an “iron rod” Mormon. I was surprised to hear her sentiment.

    Later she explained that her feeling was affected in part for her love of her RM cousin who has lived in a committed monogamous relationship with his male partner for many years. She felt like the Church’s opposition to his having a committed monogamous partner was harmful to him, and she did not want him harmed.

    I too have family and close friends who are in committed long term same sex partnerships, some of whom are married. I cannot see them as the “other.” I cannot see their relationships as undermining mine. To my knowledge, none of those relationships or marriages are “open marriages.” If some of them are, they do not undermine my love of my wife and children and commitment any more than do open marriages among heterosexuals, or than do “plural marriages” or unions.

    If the Church as an institution or some or all of its leaders want to communicate to these individuals that their relationships are evil and pernicious, the Church may do so. But I don’t feel like they are, and I do not believe my obligation as a member of the Church is to transmit that message to such friends and loved ones or to anyone else. My obligation, as a disciple of Jesus, is to love and support without judgment.

  98. wreddyornot says:

    I have very much enjoyed reading this post and the comments. It is very timely and its issues speak to many of my own questions and concerns.

    I think I recognize in Steve’s post his genuine attempt to be faithful and respectful while at the same time wanting answers from Elder Oaks. (Since conference, I’ve at times facetiously thought, over against what others in conference said, that it’d make more sense if the apostle’s middle initial was J. But I’m trying to repent now.)

    I remember making perhaps my first comment on BCC back in 2007 (in the post entitled “Elder Nelson doesn’t believe in evolution”). I was new to commenting, intimidated. I still am and I don’t often. I lacked adequate deference and sensitivity then, even as perhaps I do now, at least in Steve’s estimation then. He was a moderator and threatened to ban me for using the word “disingenuous” even though I’d used it with “seems”.

    I hope these discussions do reach up the hierarchy so our leaders understand our concerns and address them.

    Anyway, thanks, everyone, but especially Steve, for these fine thoughts which have stimulated such a fine discussion.

  99. From Ben S’ article: But not all gay unions are built on the straight model, particularly when it comes to the issue of monogamy….about half of all couples have sex with someone other than their partner, with their partner knowing. Is it the honesty you’re objecting to here Ben? Because that’s about the rate for hetero affairs as well but most of them are lying about it!

    It may come as a surprise to you but in general the male sex drive exceeds the female. Put two (gay) men together and you get more sex than hetero couples are typically having but put two (gay) women together and you get less. (Big surprise)

  100. It’s not the honesty, Howard, though that is its own problem.
    Having sex with anyone other than the one you’re committed to undermines that commitment, and anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves.

    The dishonesty in heterosexual affairs indicates that there is still some social stigma and shame involved, it’s not accepted. I very much do not want to see that kind of sexuality become the norm. I want the ideal of marriage to remain that you have sex only with your spouse.

  101. Howard and Ben, please take a break.

  102. As a gay man who has returned to the Mormon faith after ten years away, I have come to realize that my relationship with the church is not vertical (i.e. it has authority over me) but rather horizontal. I am a child of God and the church is a creation of God, so we are siblings in a way. I don’t do everything my siblings tell me to, but I do consider their words carefully and take them under advisement.

    For me, apostle is a calling just like nursery leader is a calling. Apostles and nursery leaders and everyone else get things wrong. Steve, you say you worry about following Elder Oaks’ teaching about homosexuality but then turning out to be “wrong” when the church changes its position. That is the danger of trusting in the arm of flesh.

    How can we avoid being wrong about important issues? My solution is to take all of the teachings and ideas of church leaders and everyone else I come across into account, study it out in my mind, and have a conversation with God about it. If God’s answer conflicts with the church’s, I have no hesitation in following God. Obviously.

    I personally know that God is 100% okay with gay people as a beautiful part of creation. I have a testimony that women are the equals of men in every respect and that sharing institutional power with them is necessary to the eternal development of both women and men. I also know that the most important principle is love, something I find lacking in Elder Oaks’ thinking.

  103. Why in the world would Steve publicly post this letter? Let’s not pretend that he’s writing to Elder Oaks so much as responding to him by way a public argumentation. .Indeed, I don’t think that Elder Oaks is even the intended audience of this letter so much as those readers who he hopes to persuade to write similar letters.

  104. Jeff, I’ve explained part of my reasons already. I’m not engaging in argument; if you think otherwise you have misread me quite badly. I don’t want to persuade people to write letters at all, and frankly I’m confused as to how you got that impression – it’s certainly not from anything I’ve ever written. I’m no activist.

  105. “Citing political and social pressures as the main reasons for low birth rates and the increase in median age for marriage misses what has easily become the biggest threat to families: ” seat belt laws.

  106. Caffeine Drinker says:

    In Arizona, in 2008, we had our own version of Prop 8, complete with letters read in Sacrament meeting telling us to vote against gay marriage.

    Like John F. says, I didn’t like imposing my Mormon views on non-Mormons, so I didn’t vote as the Church told me.

    I believe in the separation of church and state.

  107. Love this. Thanks so much

  108. Steve,

    Granted, I was interpolating a bit from your actions. It’s not so much what you wrote, as it is that you posted it in a public forum rather than privately sending it to him. That’s why I had a few suspicions regarding the motivation behind your using this public venue.

  109. Sorry Jeff but you’re mistaken.

  110. Okay, I guess I still don’t see the reason for publicizing a letter to Elder Oaks rather than simply writing a normal post apart from a letter to him.

  111. I already addressed that question. First, because I’m a narcissist, and second because I felt that this letter would help frame productive discussion of the talk (which it has done thus far).

    BTW, just because I’ve posted this online doesn’t mean I haven’t also submitted this directly as well…

  112. Jeff, there is also the difficulty that it is extremely difficult to communicate with a General Authority these days. Standard procedure, if I understand correctly, is for such letters to get sent back to the sender’s stake president to be addressed at that level without the intended recipient even seeing it. Perhaps, though it is ironic, Steve thought that an open letter on a blog would have a better chance of actually being seen by the intended recipient than a personal letter addressed straight to him. But it looks like Steve might also have sent the private letter containing the same content as well. It will be interesting to see whether it will get bounced back to his stake president or not.

  113. I know, Steve. I’m not accusing you of lying or any such thing.

    I just think that posting a letter to a general authority of this nature, might not be appropriate. I know you do not phrase your letter as an argument against Elder Oaks, but it does provide many reasons for why somebody (you in this case) might not believe him. But such reason-giving just is an argument against him regardless of how politely and humbly it is packaged.

  114. Jeff, I obviously disagree with you on the appropriateness issue!

    If you construe my letter as an argument I guess that’s your prerogative, but you’re seeing ninjas in every shadow. I suggest you relax and take my letter at face value.

  115. I think that taking what the letter says and what the letter does at face value are two very different things. That’s the problem that’s eating at me.

  116. You are overthinking things, which is something I rarely accuse a BCC commenter of doing but there you go.

  117. Hahaha! Well, I guess I can’t argue with that. Anyways, just something to think about. Cheers!

  118. Johnf,

    Everything you say is the exact reason why I think posting letters like this online might be inappropriate. The appropriate audience, apparently, is the stake president. Not Elder Oaks, and certainly not the bloggernacle. If we have problems with conference talks, a way has clearly been provided for us to deal with that. Posting open letters to Apostle’s in public forums is not that way.

  119. The last time I spoke with Elder Oaks, Jeff, he said he feels like he is called to a “ministry of letters,” and that he enjoys it. I think he expects letters like this.

  120. Jeff, that actually doesn’t make sense. The intended audience of this letter is Elder Oaks according to Steve. He didn’t write this letter to his stake president. The fact that standard procedure bumps physical letters back to the sender’s stake president is surely a consideration but cannot mean that when someone writes a letter to a General Authority, they are really intending the audience to be their own stake president.

  121. Oh, I have no problem with Steve writing letters to the brethren. I know that the last part of my last comment suggested otherwise, but what I was getting at is that if your letters get passed down to a stake president, then that’s probably the appropriate place for that letter.

    My main worry was about posting open letters to the brethren online. That just doesn’t strike me as being entirely appropriate.

  122. Jeff, fair enough. I think you’ve expressed your point a few times now. Let’s move on.

  123. Sounds good.

  124. As I understood his talk, Elder Oaks was trying to frame his arguments on the assumption that he was talking about issues of morality. He was at least partly unsuccessful, since Steve rebuts his arguments as if they were merely social issues. To use a crude example, the question of whether sexual activity (heterosexual or homosexual) outside of marriage is a beautiful thing to be appreciated or a dangerous temptation to be avoided depends on whether you frame it as a moral question or a question of social equality. The Church is losing the argument as much because its moral authority is dismissed, losing its ability to define its terms, as it is for any other reason.

  125. Huh?

  126. David H., I had a very similar experience to your wife when I voted against gay marriage in Arizona. I don’t know if it was simply guilt for voting against my conscience or a spiritual reprimand, but I very much regret allowing Elder Packer to decide my vote for me. I love our Church, but I agree with EdwardJ. I need to follow God.

  127. Today a BLACK President nominated a WOMAN, Janet Yellen, to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve. If confirmed (99.9%), she will be the first woman in American history to hold this position.

    The world moves forward, with us or without. Yes, Pres. Oaks, strong stable families are essential – but when your argument is deconstructed it’s really amazing how many people are excluded. However, career women CAN have strong stable families; homosexual men and women CAN have strong stable families; mixed-race pairings (gay or straight) CAN have strong stable families; single people with or without children CAN have strong stable families.

    Wouldn’t it be more prudent, effective and loving to develop a more reality-based approach to ….. reality? Isn’t that where the good work, the essential work, the Savior’s work, then be done?

  128. …develop a more reality-based approach to ….. reality? Lol!

  129. Okay Steve, when you state that we are bigots because we believe active homosexuals are sinful, that is only true if you do not accept the assumption that who you have sex with is a moral issue. If it is a moral issue, then the Church is right to continue to oppose extra-marital sex in General Conference, even though, as you point out, the legislative battle is over. If it is only a social issue, then we really are bigots who should stay out of everyone’s bedroom.

    I’m just saying that the Church has lost the ability to define its terms, and that is one reason it is losing the argument. I could have been more clear.

  130. “Everything you say is the exact reason why I think posting letters like this online might be inappropriate. The appropriate audience, apparently, is the stake president. Not Elder Oaks, and certainly not the bloggernacle. If we have problems with conference talks, a way has clearly been provided for us to deal with that. Posting open letters to Apostle’s in public forums is not that way.”

    Jeff G., keeping things in-system is frequently counterproductive, as our Catholic cousins, to their horror, discovered a few years ago. True, there are many (many) layers to Steve’s approach, but the world’s a complex place – and, as Pope Francis said, “Here we enter into the mystery of the human being.”

  131. CS Eric, in the comments Steve clarified that his bigot reference was solely with respect to the question of political involvement in the civil rights queston of gay marriage in our civil society and not with regard to believing that homosexual sexual intercourse is immoral.

  132. MikeInWeHo says:

    Thanks for coming back to BCC lately, Steve. It feels like the end of a famine.

    Do you think Elder Oaks sees the handwriting on the wall and is focused on trying to carve out a space where a rejection of homosexual relationships can be maintained long-term? I realize it’s pointless (but fun!) to speculate. I am reminded of a quote from conservative blogger Erick Erickson along the lines of “I don’t want my son to live in a society where it is no longer acceptable to disapprove of homosexual behavior.”

  133. I’m going to ask a sincere, non-rhetorical question and would love to hear the thoughts of the bright folks here.

    What we’re discussing is of such import and has such an impact on our fellow man’s spiritual journey, why are our leaders not asking God for direction?

    Joseph Smith, when faced with complex or difficult questions, simply asked God. When wondering which church to join, he asked God. Baptisms for the dead mentioned in the NT? Asked God. Seemingly three degrees to heaven? Asks God. Should men of God be spitting tobacco all over the place? Asks God. You get the idea.

    In each situation he he received a revelation from God, recorded it, and presented it to the body of the church, who by common consent voted it scripture and binding upon the members.

    We sustain these men as revelators. Where’s the revelation? This isn’t trivial stuff and I’d prefer we got God’s direct input rather than groping around in the dark with the happiness and spiritual well-being of our brothers and sisters at stake. To make these types of critical decisions without direct, public input from God is folly. Of all Christian faiths, we should be leading the charge in whatever direction God commands, holding aloft something we declare to be His official word.

    Why are we not doing this? We seem no different than any other religion on this issue – all equally ignorant of God’s actual desires.

  134. Cody, that is based on an assumption that the top leadership isn’t asking for guidance, is it not? I’m assuming, since you asked, that you don’t have any more solid a basis for that assumption than I would.

    Also, even Joseph didn’t receive immediate revelation every time he asked a question. There is no indication anywhere in our scriptural canon that the Lord said, “Ask, and it shall be given immediately, every time.”

    Honestly, I think we err too often on the side of not studying something thoroughly prior to taking a question to the Lord – certainly far more often than we fail to take something to the Lord at all. To twist a recent thread here at BCC, what has been assumed and not researched thoroughly often has not been asked properly. I’m not saying that is the case with regard to the apostles, since I have no idea about that realm, but I absolutely am saying it is the case with the general membership – including myself, to a degree.

  135. “(Since conference, I’ve at times facetiously thought, over against what others in conference said, that it’d make more sense if the apostle’s middle initial was J. But I’m trying to repent now.)”

    Doesn’t the H work almost as well?

  136. I think Cody is exactly right, in a sense. We don’t get revelation now the way Joseph got it. He received revelation in gushes, with the directly quoted word of God the Father himself, speaking in his own voice, or the voice of Christ. That happened seemingly all the time with Joseph. And since then, we get almost nothing like that ever. All of which goes to show, not that the prophets today are not inspired or are not receiving revelation, becaiuse I truly believe they are; but rather it shows that there just isn’t another prophet like Joseph.

  137. Perhaps it shows that accounts of revelation tend to sanitize the work of revelation.

    And that we are no better at hearing, accepting, or understanding the revealed word of God to us than any other dispensation.

  138. That’s truth for sure, SR.

  139. I don’t mind that current prophets don’t have revelation come gushing into their minds all at once (so far as I know), like Joseph did. What I do mind is that they don’t identify the end result of whatever their process is as revelation. There is no “thus saith the Lord.”

    And there may not actually be revelatory a process at all. In 1991, when talking about prayer to Heavenly Mother, President Hinckley said he had searched the scriptures and the words of the prophets and found no example of prayer to Her, so he recommended against it.

    With all due respect to Pres. Hinckley (of very happy memory), I can research as well as he can. He is supposed to be a REVELATOR. He’s supposed to go to God and get answers. Why do we need apostles otherwise? Our current PSRs play it safe; they never say whether something is revelation or just the result of bad Mexican food the night before. At least Joseph put himself on the line.

  140. Kevin Rex says:

    Quote from Elder Dallin H. Oaks, August 18, 2021, who recently turned 89 years old just a few days prior, speaking from the recently dedicated Gordon B. Hinckley Media, Communications, and Cinematography Building at BYU-Hawaii, USA, to a worldwide gathering of seminary and institute teachers for the annual CES Religious Educators Symposium. “Forget everything I have said, or what Elder Russell M. Nelson or Elder Quentin L. Cook or Elder Neil L. Andersen said in October 2013, or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation [referring to the recent revelations on genderless-ness in the after-life, same-gender marriage, and priesthood ordination of women]. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.”

    And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. If Elder McConkie can admit he was wrong, then perhaps, Elder Oaks can, too, someday, somewhere.

  141. Just as a note, I’m not sure Joseph Smith did ever receive the directly quoted word of God. He actually went back and edited the revelations he received (as well the scriptures he translated), in some cases substantially. Based on this, I think he probably received revelation more or less as we all do, as impressions with varying levels of distinctness, which he then put into his own words, as anyone giving a healing blessing or a patriarchal blessing would do. I think his edits were attempts to refine the impressions he’d received after he’d had a little time to think about them, which suggests to me that he wasn’t receiving an actual stream of words – just thoughts, feelings, etc.

    But I will grant you that we certainly don’t seem to have very much written revelation with “thus saith the Lord” included. I’m not entirely sure why that is. Granted, much of the needed revelation to get the church up and running was already given to Joseph, but there certainly seems to be a whole host of unanswered questions in our day that could benefit from a little more revelation. I assume the brethren are asking a lot of these questions, but I don’t understand why they’re either not getting clear answers or not sharing them with the church as a whole. Maybe there are other considerations. Maybe we’d be less likely to believe that sort of revelation? I don’t know, but there hasn’t been a new canonized revelation in my entire lifetime, which does strike me as at least a departure from the norm for a church founded on such things. Maybe this is the new normal.

  142. Nate Oman says:

    Steve: Are you honestly confused as to whether Church doctrine requires forcing people to have children? I get that people feel pain and face difficulties around having children, but fear for ecclesiastical coercion to have children doesn’t strike me as a live issue. It’s kinda weird to frame discomfort with pronatalist rhetoric in terms of force and coercion.

  143. Nate, I’m not worried about physical compulsion.

  144. By the way, I’m not interested in comments that exist purely to criticize either other participants on the thread or Elder Oaks. I’ll delete such. It’s been an engaging discussion thus far and I’d ask commenters to refrain from rudeness or calling the righteousness (or self-righteousness) of others into question.

  145. In line with my earlier comment, I’m intrigued by this quote from Hugh B. Brown’s “Profile of a Prophet,” in which he discusses the need for continue revelation with a friend:

    [Hugh B. Brown said,] “Perhaps God does not speak to man anymore because He cannot. He has lost the power.”

    He [the friend] said, “Of course that would be blasphemous.”

    “Well, then, if you don’t accept that, perhaps He doesn’t speak to men because He doesn’t love us anymore and He is no longer interested in the affairs of men.”

    “No,” he said, “God loves all men, and He is no respecter of persons.”

    “Well, then, if He could speak, and if He loves us, then the only other possible answer, as I see it, is that we don’t need Him. We have made such rapid strides in science and we are so well educated that we don’t need God anymore.”

    And then he said—and his voice trembled as he thought of impending war—“Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now. Perhaps you can tell me why He doesn’t speak.”

    My answer was: “He does speak, He has spoken; but men need faith to hear Him.”

    So if our apostles are asking the questions but not receiving a clear revelation for the church on the subject, then perhaps the church as a whole needs more faith to hear him. But the tricky part is that we as a church don’t agree on what that looks like. Some will argue it means faith to accept whatever the apostles say. Some will argue it means we need to ask new questions and be willing to accept a new answer. Some will say we need to ponder more and do more ourselves to study it out before we ask. And there are probably a lot of other views and in-betweens as well. So if we disagree on what it means, how do we have faith to hear Him as a church? What do we need to do as a group to receive a group revelation? I don’t have any answers. Just genuine questions here.

  146. I don’t think our obvious need for God’s word today, as emotionally comforting as Hugh B. Brown’s story is, can be offered as compelling evidence of the existence of continuing revelation. D&C 138, OD 1 & 2 are clear evidence of revelation since Joseph but they are few and far between and when one considers “SWK’s experience with revelation“ (.pdf) it becomes apparent the the tea leaf reading we tend to do regarding GC talks must be more related to inspiration which is far more man than God than revelation.

  147. People keep referencing Denver Snuffer. Who is he? I know that he was recently excommunicated, but don’t know anything else about him. I bought one of his books, The Second Comforter, as it was recommended by a friend, but I have not read it yet? Is he someone to be wary of, or what?

  148. Glenn Thigpen says:

    What I am hearing is that Elder Oaks is inspired …… until he says something that you disagree with. Why is it bigoted to say that sin is sin?


  149. I think the question of revelation has full bearing on Steve’s question of whether this is doctrine or policy. If we follow Joseph’s example and get God’s policy (AKA doctrine), write it down as such, publish it, and have the membership vote on it so as to make it binding, we wouldn’t have a question. We’d also have something incredibly useful to offer the world.

    Absent such a process (which D&C mandates is the process for scripture that is binding upon members), I figure this is all human policy and thus subject to error and reversal. The leaders of the Church can call it whatever they want, and it might even be inspired, but until they follow the steps outlined in D&C, there is doubt and we are left where we sit today, which is really no different than any other religion wrestling with the issue.

  150. Ron Madson says:

    Whoever says that dissent to those above us whether church/secular/family etc. is DISLOYAL probably should read King Lear and then return and report as to whether it was Goneril, Regan OR Cordelia that was truly loyal.

    Cody leads us into a highly relevant issue, i.e., what is or is not binding doctrine/revelation. Members (heck sentient adult beings for that matter) should naturally vet statements made by their leaders. By “voice and common consent” (see title of this blog for reference and implicit endorsement) is the order of the church “in all things.”

    Take something as significant as marriage issues. The original DC 101 revelation was that it was the law of God/church that marriage should be one man and one wife. It was proposed, discussed and endorsed by “voice and common consent’ of the members of our church. It remained in D&C for another forty years until President Brigham decided to delete it from the D&C without the voice and common consent and put in Section 132 (I believe in 1876?). So what was a secret at first and then unveiled and taught form the pulpit later in Utah in its full glory, now polygamy was the supposed law/doctrine of God and we had the “follow the prophet/leaders” right or wrong cult then as we do now. So that is what can and does happen when we do not vet/review/discuss/test/etc. pronouncement of human beings whether they have office or not. We should have fully tested/argued/discussed/vetted polygamy —it should not have been done in darkness for “save it be plain” it is not of God.

    What Steve is doing here is what any intelligent, caring and sincere member should be doing, ie, testing these statements out. Why here? Why not–I would respond. What better place to vet it then to simply give it to your SP who, based on my experience, will dutifully file it away –or the next person in the chain of command will bury it and it will never really be wrestled with.

    I consider Steve’s post and having it wrestled with here as an act of loyalty.

  151. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’ve been thinking a bit about persuasion. It’s listed among things like kindness, meekness as necessary to valid Priesthood leadership. What does it mean to persuade? It would be easy to contrast persuasion with simply be dictated to. I certainly make the distinction along these lines. If you’re being dictated to, you’re not being persuaded. But, perhaps there is more to it. What might ‘persuasion unfeigned’ look like?

  152. Christian Cardall says:

    “…our policies are determined by the truths God has identified as unchangeable.” It seems to me that the leaders believe that the Church’s policies against homosexual relations and same-sex marriage are determined by what they regard as the following unchangeable truth: that according to D&C 132, God is a literally procreating God, and that such literal “continuation of the seeds” essentially defines his exaltation and godhood.

    How do those who would like to see Church approval of same-sex marriage interpret the “continuation of seeds” that defines exaltation and godhood? Should same-sex attraction be regarded as a purely mortal (if admittedly biological) condition that will be undone in the resurrection? If so, is there perhaps space for the Church to sanction same-sex marriages for time only? Or would that be regarded as unacceptably “separate and unequal”? If so, would attempts to make theological space for same-sex attraction as an eternal characteristic, and allow for the possibility of eternal same-sex marriage, be possible at all without effectively jettisoning D&C 132—and thereby founder by throwing out what was the revelatory basis for the notion of eternal marriage in the first place?

  153. Apostles and prophets have been wrong before about things. Some Apostles stated clearly that blacks would NEVER be able to receive the priesthood. Look how accurate that turned out. Apostles also said many horrendously racist things about inter-racial marriage. For me personally, it’s not hard to realize that the prophets and apostles who speak negatively about gays are simply wrong. That’s it. You might consider that. They are as wrong about gays today as they were wrong about blacks (and inter-racial marriage) before 1978. They aren’t perfect, so don’t blame them for being wrong. But just consider that they are in this case and move on. I am 99% sure that the prophet will eventually receive a revelation from God about gays similar to how Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation from God about blacks.

  154. Kimball, I don’t know where you’re getting your 99% figure from but it seems a bit ridiculous to me. Yes, revelation has overturned policy in our past but there’s no assurance this will happen here. I believe that our leaders are entitled to a presumption of being correct, one that is confirmed by experience and by the Holy Ghost. The minute we in the peanut gallery get to presume our leaders are wrong is when I’d like to get off this train; why stick with Mormonism if we do not have inspired leadership?

    Of course it’s problematic here because what Elder Oaks has said raises questions and is unpopular. But I still believe he has the benefit of the doubt.

  155. Chris Kimball says:

    For what it’s worth, Kimball is not me. Nor would I say “simply wrong” or “99% sure” except about things like the sun rising in the west or the east.
    Many have commented to the point that there have been changes over time, including changes in matters that were once described (by some) as unchangeable. I am fairly confident that there will be changes in the future. But no particular confidence with respect to any particular issue. By observation, I have some sympathy for the argument (that others have made) that change in the church tends toward changes in society and legal norms with a significant time lag, But even if there is something to that argument, there is nothing like a one-to-one correlation.
    I would suggest that anyone seeking change temper hopes and expectations by a long time horizon. Not months or years, but generations. For any change anyone advocates, I would start with “I don’t know what will happen, but whatever change occurs it is not likely to be in my lifetime”. Perhaps one could call that a soft version of “benefit of the doubt” or “presumption of being correct”.

  156. Growing up as a teenager in the 80’s, i loved Paul H Dunn. I even sang in the choir at the MTC just so I could have a front row seat at the devotional he spoke at. When i came home from germany however, he was gone. For the longest time I didn’t hear anything about it. Then suddenly we find out that his stories were “embellished”. All those wonderful stories he’d shared from the pulpit at conference that seemed to good to be true, actually weren’t. Do men sometimes stand at that pulpit and say things to facilitate their own ego, and advancement ? of course not, I’m sure that never happens, every word, sigh, pause and prompter flub comes strait from the divine.

  157. Steve K. that’s both a bit of a misrepresentation of what happened with Elder Dunn and a very poor analogy to Elder Oaks. Your implication that Elder Oaks spoke to facilitate his own ego and advancement is repugnant. You don’t need to resort to ugly and illogical comparisons and comments to make the banal point that our leaders are human beings.

  158. I guess I just don’t see the, assuming it will take generations as a stance that can honestly be held. My grandmother believed that the ban was wrong, and she wasn’t willing to stay and watch her grandchildren be brought up in a church that hurt so many people, based on skin color. She saw over 100 people, in 15 families, leave her ward between 1970 and 1978. I was who 2 in 1978, if the ban was still in effect, she would have left on my 5th birthday. That was her limit. She wasn’t willing to teach me, as I prepared for baptism, what the 6 and 7 year-olds were supposed to be taught, when she resigned that Primary calling in 1970. I respect those 100 people who left, some of whom came back after 1978, and some didn’t, for standing up for their own personal revelation.

    There are some things that I can put on a generational timeline, but others that I cannot in good conscience teach. So far, I have found ways to work around teaching hatred, and to use the words of Christ, to respond to it when others have taught it. I can see though, that there may be an uptick in rhetoric, that could put me in that situation, in the future.

    I am grateful for my grandmother’s courage as a new grandmother, and then in sharing her experiences with me, 20 years later. When personal revelation that has been clear to me, I have followed her example in staying as long as I can, but I also understand those who have left to protect their LGBT children and grandchildren.

  159. This post was amazing because every word was sincere. Thank you!

  160. So, Steve, I’m curious about what you said about not presuming our leaders are wrong. I think I would agree that that shouldn’t be our starting point and shouldn’t be generalized across the board. But what about on a more individual, case-by-case basis? Would you say there’s a difference between presuming they’re all wrong to begin with as opposed to acknowledging that one or another of them may be wrong about something at times? Such as when one of them says something that isn’t confirmed by experience and the Holy Ghost. Because when that happens, I do, in all honesty, presume they are wrong in some way – that it’s merely their opinion, that it doesn’t apply across the board, etc. But that doesn’t seem to me to be a bad thing, just the natural result of not getting a confirmation. Don’t we have to be able acknowledge that when it happens, at least to ourselves? Not to say that I think we should say unkind things or condemn them. But doesn’t there seem to be a place for acknowledging their mistakes as we would with anyone else? I don’t know how else to reconcile the discrepancy in my mind when personal revelation and the words of an apostle don’t jive (or when the words of two apostles don’t jive with each other.) I hope this makes sense, though my question may be far from what you were actually talking about. My apologies in advance if I misunderstood you.

    (My quest to figure out the role of apostles vs. personal revelation may be a lost cause, but I’m hoping if I ask enough people, someone much smarter than me will eventually say something that really resonates and clear up all my confusion, leaving me in eternal bliss.)

  161. MOQT, excellent questions. Let me know when you have the answers. But I will say that when I hear something from an apostle that I don’t like or understand, I don’t presumptively reject it. You probably don’t either but that’s a starting point anyways.

  162. That makes sense, Steve, and I do agree. I try to pray and think about things I don’t like or understand before I make any personal decisions. I will certainly let you know if I find any better answers, but you probably shouldn’t hold your breath on that actually happening.

  163. Whoever says that dissent to those above us whether church/secular/family etc. is DISLOYAL probably should read King Lear and then return and report as to whether it was Goneril, Regan OR Cordelia that was truly loyal.

    Interesting comparison, Ron. Thanks.

  164. “All of which goes to show, not that the prophets today are not inspired or are not receiving revelation… but rather it shows that there just isn’t another prophet like Joseph.”

    That sounds an awful lot like what people told Joseph Smith about spiritual gifts and the voice of God. “Those days are since past.” While this view does seem to explain a glaring different between now and the mid 1800s, I think it’s also highly problematic in other ways.

  165. Tervor, it also describes very well the totality of our scriptural canon. I think sometimes we trivialize the extraordinary, and the resulting unrealistic expectations can be devastating for many who never experience what they assume they could experience if only they tried harder / exercised more faith.

    Unrealistic expectations often are the harshest taskmasters.

    The following is a different application of the same principle:

    “Over-Valuing Knowledge at the Expense of Faith”

  166. to juliathepoet, as I personally recall conversations about staying and leaving by and among LGBT friends and family in the 1990s, as much as 20 years ago, “generations” seems appropriate.

  167. Ron Madson says:

    A good friend wrote this today in another thread that I think captures our gentile need to have vertical allegiance to “leaders”:
    “We want leaders for the same reason we want a Heavenly Father: Fear of judging with our own judgment and being wrong. This is very Protestant-the religion of the enlightenment which confuses being right with being righteous. Being right is an earth bound concept, being righteous is about moral one upmanship. The gospel however is about being holy , which has to do with being filled with a grace-born love of others and self. This love does not hanker for domination of others or to be dominated by leaders but longs for equality and compassion.”

    So when we hear a leader say things that we intuitively believe is not compassionate nor just to the least we can and should challenge what is said out of love for the dominated/oppressed and we should not, imo, have to apology for doing so. I feel no need to give deference to office. The only priesthood I recognize is virtue, compassion, persuasion and love unfeigned.

  168. “The only priesthood I recognize is virtue, compassion, persuasion and love unfeigned.”

    Love this, Ron.

  169. Kevin Rex says:

    Dear Ron Madson, Thank you so much for those words. As one who only recently came out as gay to my wife of 28 years, and having been through a literal hell this past couple of months, I feel your words are the very heart of truth of the matter we’ve been discussing here. Thank you.

  170. it's a series of tubes says:

    The gospel however is about being holy

    Indeed; and walking the line between (i) cultivating (and earnestly seeking, per Moroni 7:41) a grace-born love of others and self, and (ii) recognizing that moral absolutes regarding do in fact exist (i.e., there is such a thing as “sin” in the eyes of God and his laws) and that we must conform thereto, is a tricky road, indeed. Being holy necessitates both, not either one at the expense of the other.

  171. Ron, I can’t say that I fully agree with you, although I understand the sentiment.

  172. I just happened upon this site through a Facebook link. I have read the open letter, and many of the comments. It is all a little puzzling to me. I heard Elder Oaks’ talk and it made perfect sense to me. It seems like there is a lot of ivory tower intellecturalizing and straining at gnats going on with the letter and the comments. Frankly, I don’t get what all of your points are.

  173. Pennie, fair enough.

  174. Not really clear what merits a moderation of the following as it directly addresses the self-identified main issue of the post and provides a clear answer to it in a non-inflammatory way.

    You feel that Elder Oaks is a bigot, and you would be one too if you agreed with him. ” If we oppose same-sex marriage because homosexual relations are a sin before God, and are vocal in this belief, we do more than incur accusations of bigotry – we are bigots”

    Bigot means that you treat someone with hatred and contempt. Being opposed to certain kinds of behavior does not mean you treat or view someone with hatred and contempt.

    You correctly identify this bigoted issue as the crux for you. And I see it as such as well, and since you have so completely misunderstood this point and adopted the political posturing of the gay marriage debate at large (opponents must by definition be bigots, according to others and apparently you), it’s no wonder so much else in your piece here falls very short.

    God has a plan for us, which is to come to this earth, experience life in a fall state, and progress to become like him through the atonement of his son. The spirit helps us on this path in knowing the mind of God and becoming more like him.

    So much of what is written here is either short sighted in that it does not recognize or understand God’s will for us and our ultimate destiny as his children; or it at least passively refuses to condemn behavior which severs our connection with the spirit again thwarting our progress to become more like our Father in Heaven.

    Ultimately, I’m absolutely certain everyone of God’s children will gain key experiences in this mortal condition which will hopefully enable eternal progress. We are all here, taking part in the Plan of Salvation and should all do our best in as many positive “objectives” (service, sacrifice, love, virtue, etc) of that plan as possible.

    But the end goal is eternal marriage, eternal family, eternal lives. That’s the primary purpose of the church, so why should it preach any different ideal? The church is not a vehicle for political and social acceptance that some wish it would be. It’s a vehicle for eternal salvation.

    In our out of the church, you and I know many people will be good and do good in a variety of ways and fall short in many others. It’s a shame that more and more the things of God are being conflated with government and the behavior of society at large. To the extent that society, through political posturing, is pushing this issue upon us, we most certainly should choose God.

    The best way to do that as Latter-day Saints is receiving and harkening to the council of the Lord’s servants.

  175. Bigot: (n.) One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.

  176. I’m not going to get into the discussion about whether or not we are bigots.

    I really enjoyed this post and the comments that followed. I think dialogue amongst the membership over the issues discussed by Elder Oaks is very important.

    I wasn’t sure how to take his talk while I was listening to it. If I’m to be honest, I should probably admit I haven’t completely digested it even now.

    I wouldn’t say I felt an over abundance of the Spirit in the moment, but it definitely got me thinking. That leads to asking questions, which is really the first step to ascertaining the truth.

    If nothing else, this talk has people talking. That’s never a bad thing. These issues aren’t going away anytime soon.

  177. NRB: I agree that we don’t need to ascertain whether we are bigots necessarily. I just wanted to point out that the dictionary definition I got when I googled it was not the same definition DonQ referenced.

  178. If we oppose same-sex marriage because homosexual relations are a sin before God, and are vocal in this belief, we do more than incur accusations of bigotry – we are bigots. We are obstinately devoted to our belief that this group of people – in this case, active homosexuals – are sinful and what they want is wrong both for them and for society as a whole. I know my duty, and I know the law of God in this respect as it has been taught to me by faithful leaders. I intend to follow this divine law. But I don’t see how we can avoid the label of “intolerant” or “bigoted” when that’s what we are.

    Steve, first off I thought your post was great. But this part stands out to me. I think there’s a pretty large distinction between being a bigot and being intolerant, and I think it’s exactly that distinction that Elder Oaks is trying to address.

    To me, a simple definition of bigotry is intolerance combined with hatred. No one here, especially Elder Oaks, is encouraging demonstrating hatred against anyone who opposes our beliefs. Obviously that would go contrary to the doctrine of Christ.

    I don’t see anything wrong with intolerance. God is intolerant. The commandments are intolerant. The priesthood is intolerant. All intolerant in their different ways. We can’t expect to live in an imperfect world and at the same time not have conflict in belief. There will always be groups and people and beliefs that are at odds with God’s teachings. I don’t worry myself with being labeled as intolerant.

    The world seems to be shifting more and more toward intolerance and bigotry being one and the same. But they’re not. God expects us to be intolerant toward sin. He does not, however, expect us to be bigots. If we truly follow Christ and follow the example the church is actively putting out there (ie, it would be unfair for others to label us as bigots. It’s a purely pejorative term thrown out there by opponents of the church who wish to label the church as hateful and spiteful when, in actuality, we’re just trying to practice our religion according to the dictates of our own individual conscience.

    I don’t remember who it was, but another speaker in conference referenced the pioneers and how they were persecuted for their beliefs. The saints in our day have not heretofore been exposed to that kind of treatment by the “outside” world. But, he said, the day is soon coming where we will have to withstand the same.

    In all things, I go with one of my favorite mission mottos: I would rather offend man than offend God.

    And so, my default mode is, and always will be, to follow the prophet.

  179. Good comment Jay.

  180. Thank you, Jay. I agree. And once again, how one ACTS, and the CHOICES we make in this mortal existence will determine our final destination in the Eternities. CTR. I am not a bigot, but I am intolerant towards those who disparage me and/or my religion. I can forgive, as Christ taught, but I will NOT forget to the point of ever trusting those people who have recently hurt me ever again. Forward, ever forward …….

  181. Uh, I agree with Jay.

  182. I enjoyed your perspective Jay. My constant struggle is to also follow Christ’s lead in believing that His call is for all sinners. I am a sinner, doing my best every day to do better, but I am a fallen women. I have never had a day that I felt like I was so Christlike that day, that I should be stepping into Christ’s shoes, even to slip them on.

    Christ chose men, who were obvious sinners, and who completely fell into categories, (in that time period) and most members at LDS church, would not recognize as “priesthood holders,” never mind Apostles.

    So I struggle with the fact that Christ, Mother and Father love me enough, despite my imperfections and ways I fall short. There are sometimes that I willfully don’t follow things that some people consider commandments because I am prompted not too, but there are times that I just plain sin. Acknowledging that in myself, it is hard for me to say, “You sin differently than me, so I am going to treat you like you are a sinner, not good enough to interact with me and my children. I know that you are not worthy because you have made a decision I consider to be a more important sin, than the sins I commit.” I just don’t find anything in Christ’s words or actions, that convinces me that I have the right to refuse to love (and treat them as equals) my brothers and sisters, whatever their sexual orientation. I need to ask for forgiveness everyday of my life, and in focusing on the beam in my eye, I try to extend the love for my straight and LGBT friends and family members.

  183. I think we try so hard not to be of the world that we forget to be fully in the world – and I think that tendency plays a large role in this sort of issue for many members.

    Or, as my oldest daughter said after her first visit to the temple, “Dad, we try so hard to build the kingdom of God that we forget to establish Zion.”

  184. Ron Madson says:

    Interesting to see how we are all wired differently. My “default” position is to follow the truth/light/conscience wherever it leads me—as best as I can. And if I were to place it on some person it would have to be and only could be, as Nephi said, found in the words/example of Jesus of Nazareth. In my opinion, a maturing faith moves increasingly towards eliminating all gatekeepers/filters/mediators between us and direct revelation. And real leaders would encourage that we look to the only source and have no filters. If I were in charge I would begin with banning “Follow the Prophet” song in primary. It would be a start towards moving away from what I consider a personality cult/idolatry that gentiles can’t help indulging in.

    And the word “Prophet”? A word separated by thousands of years. I no longer conflate it with office, It might intersect with office but seldom does historically. The real prophets (not just presiding high priest) most often come from outside the institutional priesthood of their day (Jeremiah–outcast/excommunicated priest; Lehi, Amos-shepherd; Isaiah, Abinadi, Samuel Lamanite, John Baptist and even Jesus and then boy Joseph to name a few).

    So yes, follow the gift of prophecy, seering and revealing as confirmed by the Holy Spirit—whatever the source—I just do not assume that it follows office—although those in office if they are wise will assimilate it from wherever it comes—as we all should.

    I do listen carefully to conference and truth and light is often shared but in my opinion it appears during my lifetime it seems we have been watching to see when “they” the leaders would catch up with the spiritual advances that generally arise from the bottom up—particularly in the area, for example, like that of Civil Rights when MLK was in my generation a prophet while our leaders were still in bigoted darkness. I think a generation or two from now we will find that they were behind as they were in the race issue with “revelation” as to bigotry regarding gender and feminist issues. Institutions are slow and resist “revelation” and assume that their institutional “voice” is the “voice” of God. Not a real great record on that account

    We will see

  185. I thought that the article was underwritten with sarcasm, but it seems I was wrong. It is therefore a great articulation of the doubts and questions one has whilst navigating such thorny issues.

    I too would like absolute clarity and an answer to each and every question raised. It seems to me though that, in the final analysis, most people are committed to a particular view, and no amount of reason or revelation is likely to change that. I consider it probable that if Elder Oaks had been even more explicit and couched his words with ‘thus saith the Lord’ (with permission of President Monson etc), that anyone wedded to a contrary view would still find a way to pick holes and doubt.

    2 Nephi 28:14 sums up the present state of the world and its views, and those of many otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints. We are finding justification in our own minds for changing laws and values that my heart tells me we will come to rue. Whether same-sex marriage, widespread infidelity and promiscuity, or adultery, we are on the decline. Although, I for one, welcome the change of approach toward those struggling with SSA, our voice should be one of love, with encouragement to pursue the difficult path, not to give in and abandon the fight: Don’t we live forever? Aren’t sacrifices here of our desires and passions what life is all about? I think many (me included) speak as though we are believers in the hereafter, but live, speak and act as if this life is all…by their fruits ye shall know them

  186. Not only that, JJL, but we have D&C 58 to consider. The Lord expects his faithful servants not to sit around waiting for the “thus saith the Lord” moments, and instead, react as Nephi did when a prophet came calling: I will go and do.

    I had a discussion with some during conference about this concept, and the rejection of “blind faith.” This person said he was tired of living on “blind faith. But is that not precisely what the Lord expects from us at times? Count the number of examples where someone in the scriptures is given a commandment, with little understanding or immediate guidance of how to fulfill it. Those lacking faith wilt under the pressure. The faithful endure, and eventually have the way lit before them as they step out into the darkness.

    I worry we’re living in a day where men (and women) in the church itself are very busy building up stumbling blocks for themselves (2 Nephi 26:20) that make it so easy for us to justify our own personal interpretation of things, helping us to feel more comfortable in our earthly surroundings while still clinging on to some semblance of being true disciples of Christ.

    The Lord shows us the pattern of obedience, of prophets and of revelation in the scriptures. We don’t get to just make it up as we go.

    Another point that I didn’t get to make earlier, that I think is salient. What do we risk by following the prophets with exactness? I don’t see a non-worldly downside to following the pre-1978 counsel of the brethren. Were there probably members of the church who found following that counsel a test of faith? For sure. Did Nephi find it to be a test of his faith when he was instructed to kill Laban? For sure. But we should expect tests of our faith, not be worried that our faith is wrong when they come along. Remember that this life is one long, complicated test of our faith and willingness to obey.

    There is, however, great danger in not following the counsel of the prophets, and becoming a light unto ourselves rather than looking to the modern day oracles the Lord has specifically set up for us. Personal revelation is important, no doubt. But the more we come to rely on our own personal interpretation of the scriptures and the words of the prophets, the more we start to emulate the world and its approach to seeking out light and truth.

  187. questioning says:


    I agree.

    Elder Oaks similarly addressed this in his Church Educational System devotional address delivered on September 11, 2011. For the full text in English, go to

  188. Thanks everybody for your thoughts and comments.  I think this discussion has raised some excellent questions and ideas and I’m grateful for them.  As you can probably tell I’m still sorting through a lot of these issues but it is encouraging to me to see that we can have a variety of views and approaches and still be kind and respectful to each other.  Thanks for bearing with me.

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