Civility

I watched Elder Oaks’ Saturday afternoon remarks with great interest; being somewhat familiar with talks he has given over the last few years, I anticipated that he would address the issue of same-sex marriage, as he has done in the past. And while same-sex marriage was one of the subtexts that ran throughout his address, Elder Oaks’ topic was instead on the challenge of loving others and living with differences. He focused on a key question: why is it so difficult to have Christlike love for one another? He addressed that question and by so doing, offered counsel that was heartily welcome if not new.

The central point of Elder Oaks’ remarks is that differences of opinion and belief are a fact of life; we do not practice monastic isolation as a people [1] and our task of leavening the earth requires us to live amongst people who will not have the same values or beliefs as ours. And yet, Christ has issued the injunction against contention and has commanded us to love one another. In short, there’s no point complaining that we’re all different; let’s get to the task at hand and figure out how to show bona fide love for each other. This, Oaks posits, is one of the greatest challenges we will face as disciples of Christ. I’d like to look at what he says, make one huge detour, then come back to what he says.

Elder Oaks lays out what has been a common refrain in his remarks for the last several years: Latter-day Saints should not alter their beliefs to suit popular opinion. It is clear to Elder Oaks that the Church will always be at odds with society, saying:

The gospel of Jesus Christ and the covenants we have made inevitably cast us as combatants in the eternal contest between truth and error. There is no middle ground in that contest.

The next portion of his talk is devoted to the most obvious illustrations of this position, that of the Church’s fight against same-sex marriage and other “worldly values and practices”. He laments that followers of Christ are mischaracterized and pilloried for their stances against such things:

today when they hold out for right and wrong as they understand it, they are sometimes called “bigots” or “fanatics.”

Thus, the detour I mentioned above. As I have questioned earlier, perhaps this labeling is a matter of perspective, and those who fight against same-sex marriage may not be able to avoid this sort of label — possibly because it may be accurate. Taking a position against same-sex marriage and homosexual activity for religious reasons will be consistently viewed as bigoted and fanatical by some who think that you are wrong. This should come as no surprise, nor should it be cause for taking offense. If sexuality is central to human nature, and you reject (or view as sinful) the sexuality of homosexuals, I am not sure how you could avoid being viewed as bigoted by some.

This is not Elder Oaks’ point, however, nor is his point to reiterate his conviction against such practices. His point is this:

On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. In doing so, we ask that others not be offended by our sincere religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion. We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).

When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries. In any event, we should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.

This is remarkable and should be applauded as a reasonable way to approach matters of public discourse. Some will no doubt take the last paragraph to be a concession speech, offered as a too-late effort to regain goodwill from a public alienated by the scorched earth strategies of Prop 8 and other efforts. If that is the perspective to be rebutted, I am not sure what sort of evidence would suffice in that regard. The battle was not yet then over. Elder Oaks gave his talk two days before the Supreme Court denied certiorari to the same-sex marriage cases, essentially handing ultimate defeat to the Church and those who opposed same-sex marriage. I initially hailed Oaks’ remarks prophetic in this regard — I would guess that like most conservatives, Elder Oaks would have assumed that there would be 4 justices to grant cert, and the denial of the petitions were a great surprise to both sides. But if they were prophetic words, they were in no event novel. I would point out that at least since 2006, this has been the public mantra of the Church in all matters regarding same-sex marriage, not just in light of defeats but also during moments of victory. A couple of examples:

In 2006, after starting a coalition in favor of a pro-marriage constitutional amendment:

Because national campaigns on moral, social or political issues often become divisive, the Church urges those who participate in public debate — including its own members — to be respectful of each other. While disagreements on matters of principle may be deeply held, an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect is most conducive to the strength of a democratic society.

In 2008, after Proposition 8 passed:

We call upon those who have honest disagreements on this issue to urge restraint upon the extreme actions of a few that are further polarizing our communities and urge them to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility towards each other.

Whether or not all these statements are simply lip service is a matter open to debate, but the consistency of the message cannot really be questioned. Still, a good question to ask, if only to explain to non-members, is: why should we take at face value the Church’s calls for civility? Can you be civil while still rejecting same-sex marriage and homosexual activity? In other words, if someone you consider a bigot tells you he wants to be civil and that he loves you, can you ever believe him? These are questions that the Church must look to answer in the post-same-sex-marriage world. I am not entirely convinced that we have adequate answers to these questions.

Regardless of whether you want to question Elder Oaks’ bona fides, isn’t it better for someone to be civil than not-civil? Isn’t it better for the Church to teach tolerance and love than to teach their opposites? I recognize that to many who oppose the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage, Elder Oaks’ statements are hypocritical at best — but they are also the best statements that could be made at this time [2]. The Church needs to guide its membership through a world that has rejected its primary thrust in the culture wars over the last decade. If we are to not only survive as a religion but also leaven the earth with Christ’s teachings, an approach like Elder Oaks’ is the only realistic course of action available. I’d argue that those sorts of statements on rejecting persecution of all kinds and loving each other are precisely the sort of discourse we want to encourage. Elder Oaks is correct when he says that Jesus Christ’s commandments “includes loving our neighbors of different cultures and beliefs as He has loved us.” His call for brotherly love is consistent with being a disciple of Christ.

Ultimately, the proof will be in our actions. Will we make actual attempts to love each other? Or will we adopt the monastic approach that Elder Oaks has said is contrary to Christ’s injunction to leaven the whole earth? Time will tell, but there are reasons to be optimistic: we are the Church of Jesus Christ and we have the gift of the Holy Ghost. Surely God will guide us as we forge ahead in our efforts to love even our enemies as Christ loved us.

[3]

—————————–
[1] at least, not since statehood.
[2] unless there were to be a complete reversal in the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, which isn’t going to happen.
[3] I promised in the beginning that I’d come back from the detour, but I never did. Elder Oaks went on to cite a few examples of where LDS intolerance needs to stop, though, and even though an endnote is short shrift I’d like to applaud each of his examples: LDS families who forbid their kids from playing with non-members; bullying and insults among our youth; and the current language of politics. His statement that “the most important setting to forgo contention and practice respect for differences is in our homes and family relationships” is worth embroidering. I hope this means that teens will find more acceptance and love in their homes. We don’t need more homeless teens.

Comments

  1. It has been nice to see Elder Oaks’ position on homosexuality evolve over the past few years. I agree with your statements about labeling being unavoidable when you take a bigoted stance, but I found his talk refreshing. I’m reblogging.

  2. Reblogged this on LDS & Liberal and commented:
    “I hope this means that teens will find more acceptance and love in their homes. We don’t need more homeless [or suicidal] teens.

  3. Thanks Marianne.

  4. Thomas Parkin says:

    “The gospel of Jesus Christ and the covenants we have made inevitably cast us as combatants in the eternal contest between truth and error. There is no middle ground in that contest.”

    Sorry for this early hijack of a great discussion starter, Steve. I’ve been wondering about this statement ever since I read it yesterday. Where are we with degrees of glory if we can’t admit that there is middle ground. Why this need to polarize everything?

  5. “Time will tell, but there are reasons to be optimistic”

    I suspect this is going to be a long process…here’s hoping it doesn’t continue to distract from the actual culture war we’re faced with. It’s the one Elder Holland described.

  6. Thomas, I suppose that’s because degrees of glory are a matter of God judging a myriad of souls, and not a matter of choosing to follow a divine injunction or not. The latter is presented as a binary choice (follow the prophet or not). Apples and oranges, I’d say, but yeah a threadjack I guess.

  7. Kyle: BINGO

  8. As someone who agrees with Elder Oaks and the church on same-sex marriage, I guess I don’t see the change or shift in position or tone that you do. His talk seemed consistent to me to what he has said in the past, except I think he could see that there was no longer any chance of prevailing in this case. As you pointed out, the church has always called for civility and has always called for loving your neighbor. To do otherwise would be breaking THE great commandment.

    As to your question about whether or not we can avoid being called bigots… well, I am sure that we cannot avoid the title given today’s climate. But I would argue that it is inaccurate. Going forward, the church’s position on homosexuality will essentially be the same as many other things that are widely accepted in our culture but not by the church: “You can do it, but it is not for us and we ask for the space to not participate.” I don’t think that is asking for too much or putting some great burden on those we meet in the public square.

  9. ABM, I didn’t say there was a change or shift in tone. In fact, a lot of my post is devoted to showing precisely the opposite. Re: “we’re not bigots,” that’s a matter largely in the eye of the beholder, as again I spent a fair amount of space explaining.

  10. Steve,

    Regarding Oaks in particular you mentioned that some might take the talk as part concession speech or a late offering of goodwill or that previous tactics were “scorched earth” and that this would be hard to disprove. I took that as you or others (could) see Elder Oaks as softening in his stance. One of the other comments above already mentioned how his views have “evolved”. I am just not sure that he has.

  11. Ah, ok. I still think it’s hard to disprove, but that doesn’t mean it’s truly a concession speech. I don’t see him as altering his overall stance very much at all.

  12. Thomas Parkin says:

    “I suppose that’s because degrees of glory are a matter of God judging a myriad of souls, and not a matter of choosing to follow a divine injunction or not. ”

    Sounds like a distinction without a difference. Is it not possible to follow a divine injunction part way? Say, only on Sundays. In fact, it seems to me that all our following of divine injunctions is done part way. Anyway, I’ll bug out so y’all can talk about the other.

  13. Thanks TP.

  14. It’s interesting that in calling for greater civility, Elder Oaks chose the polarizing term “adversaries,” instead of repeating the phrase “those with whom we disagree.” This type of emotionally-fraught labeling is probably not the best way to raise the level of civility.

    That said, what else could be say on the topic generally? He saw the writing on the wall.

  15. Sarah, probably not the least fraught of terms. But not inaccurate given the litigation…

  16. On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious.

    I wondered about this concerning the recent OW bruhaha. Where was the attempt by the Church to be courteous, full of concern, and trying not to be contentious. Hmmm.

    If Elder Oaks has been trying, consistently, to be loving toward his critics, what happened in the Prop 8 fiasco did not exhibit anything of the sort. There were lots of formal and informal disfellowshipments, shunning, even excommunications, over this.

    (As an aside, someone of my acquaintances commented that without the Church involvement in prop 8, it probably would have lost, thus no suite, no Judge Walker, etc. It may be that the Church actually hastened the arrival of SS marriage by quite a bit. This may have been God’s will all along. Someone needed to do it!)

  17. Fine, using “adversaries” may be useful or appropriate in litigation. Not so much for counseling a lay audience who mostly connects the term with Satan and his minions.

  18. RW, it’s pretty clear that Elder Oaks (and many others) do not see the injunction against contention as one that would prohibit church disciplinary action.

  19. Sarah: tru.

  20. The problem with the church’s argument against gay marriage is that they had no reasons that would move a rational non-believer. In the public sphere, simply saying “that’s my belief and that’s that” isn’t sufficient. The church doesn’t need to defend its beliefs unless those beliefs are essential to the public policy they are espousing.

    It’s about time church leadership recognized they lost this battle. If there is a war between truth and error, the church has encampments on both sides.

  21. Steve: Church courts are, of course, courts of Love. No problem here.

  22. Guys, like I said in the OP, cynical views of all of this stuff are easy to come by, but they’re not very practical. Better to try and take Elder Oaks at face value and actually carry forward the hope that we can be better and kinder people. I don’t see much of a point in grinding away at the stuff we know will just disappoint us and drive us crazy. I’m happy the SSM suits are over and I’m ready (and curious) to see what the Church becomes now. Hopefully it will become as Elder Oaks is describing and will focus on matters like what Elder Holland has spoken about. It’s a very interesting time.

  23. MikeInWeHo says:

    Steve,
    What do you make of the section of his talk where he mentions those in a “cohabitation relationship” ?? How do you escape the inference that married gay couples are not welcome in the homes of the devout? He asserts that the Christlike approach is “forgoing actions that facilitate or seem to condone what we know to be wrong.” Facilitate? Seem to condone? How can we not interpret this as an injunction against having a married gay child home for the holidays, for example? This has been a theme of his for a long time, and I am sure it has caused much suffering in some families.

    Elder Oaks knows that the legal battle is over, and this conference talk seems like damage control. If he wouldn’t invite a married gay child into his home and feels comfortable labeling gays his “adversaries,” can he lay any claim to civility in 2014?

    Elder Oaks as advocate of “tolerance and love” toward homosexuals? The thought makes reason stare. If you believe that, McDonald’s has some healthy food to sell you.

    http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/food/food_quality/nutrition_choices/food_to_feel_goodabout.html

  24. I would like a diet cheeseburger.

  25. Geoff - Aus says:

    Like you, I thought Elder Oaks was softer/less strident, than he has been previously. If this is the result of gay marriage being legal in Utah then it is a plus for all of us.

    The church has gone through a series of these defeats. Since I have been a member, we have accepted as bad even though Elder Oaks predecessors, claimed it as Gods will, and the unchangeable doctrine, Racism, opposition to inter racial marriage, and an offshoot inter cultural marriage,(my wife a white citizen of UK was counselled by her Bishop not to marry me because I was a white Australian), opposition to the use of birth control (an attack on the family), some council about heterosexual bedroom activities, and now this.

    We have a number of inter racial marriages in our ward and they come to the temple. It may be that Elder Oaks and his seniors in the Apostleship will have to be removed before it happens but I see no reason we won’t have gay temple marriages in a few years.

    But then with the ability of hindsight I always saw these issues as more to do with the culture/politics of the leaders. Not the Gospel.

    If we can quickly accept this, we may be a more acceptable package for the Gospel of Christ to be wrapped in. Just got to complete the sexism package, and we could go to all the world not just the conservatives. We have not yet legalised gay marriage in Australia, I hope we will go quietly when the debate comes.

  26. Because of context (same-sex marriage, Elder Oaks’ prior statements and well known positions, Christianist arguments about church and state) I heard and read the central point of this talk in the pivot from “dedicated spaces” where there is no compromise to “public” where there is allowance for different points of view. That distinction allows for a multicultural society, sidesteps the trap of state religion (“Christianizing”), sets a workable foundation for civility, and responds to charges of bigotry. On bigotry charges, “I won’t agree that you’re right, but I won’t stop you” won’t be good enough for some, but may be as far as the Church can or should ever go.
    I thought it an excellent and important talk in the church/state realm. I’m concerned that home and family seem to be among the “dedicated spaces” where there is no compromise, and yet maybe not (as Elder Oaks moves to examples). There’s additional development and nuance needed, in my opinion. I’m putting this in the “more work to be done” category, choosing not to let this one talk be the last word on family relations.

  27. Steve,

    I’ve been thinking about some of your posts over the years: ““I think you are an ignorant spammer troll. That’s what I think. Go to hell.” Or, more recently, “Thanks to all the nutsos and jerkfaces that make the Bloggernacle go round.”

    Thank you so much for your insights on civility!

  28. Mike, not sure what to say except that having a gay child home for the holidays is probably precisely what Elder Oaks would encourage. Or at least, I would hope he now would.

  29. West Boy, indeed. I’ve been thinking about some of your comments with the same feelings.

    I recognize that Elder Oaks is decrying behavior that I’ve engaged in. I’m glad you were able to cast the first stone.

  30. My problem with this talk is that it completely avoids the elephant in the room. Elder Oaks talks about civility, and how “Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious.” The problem is not that civility is undesirable – it is precisely that civility is not the necessary element required for a functional “public discourse”. The one element truly necessary for a functional democratic system is a willingness to compromise. In fact, while civility is often required for compromise to occur, there have been many instances in history where compromise occurs in spite of the lack of civility (the Civil Rights fight in the US, for example). I personally would prefer compromise in a political system to civility.

    This lack of willingness to compromise is why the church is singularly unsuccessful when it enters the public discourse. Nobody likes to hear “you’re wrong, we’re right” over and over again. We tune out that approach, and we call it childish. But that’s precisely the church’s approach. No rational arguments are given as to why a particular course of action is bad for civil society. The church just argues “because it’s wrong”. That may work in the religious sphere, but it is ignored completely (as it should be, simply because there is no room for compromise) in public discourse.

    I’m disappointed that Elder Oaks didn’t go all the way with his talk. He had a great opportunity to educate the members about what it truly means to be in the world but not of it. He could have helped the membership understand that if they want to change society, they have to engage society (which, as the OP mentions is not what many members are doing. They’re becoming monks). Most importantly, he could have explained the necessary differences between the religious sphere, where compromise is unacceptable, and the public sphere, where it’s necessary. Even if he doesn’t have any clear answers on how to reconcile the two worlds, by ignoring this issue, he encourages the conflating of the two worlds that the church and its members have been pursuing for a long time. As we all know, conflating those two worlds is a dangerous endeavor.

  31. Steve – This is huge. Recognition of sin is the first step of repentance. I’m glad I was able to help out. There’s also the issue of hypocrisy, but let’s just focus on one thing at a time.

  32. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still gonna ban you.

  33. Shawn, you have a good point. Elder Oaks didn’t seem to believe that compromise was possible on this issue. He could be right and is certainly smarter and wiser and more in tune with the Spirit than I am. But there do seem to be obvious paths to compromise, and indeed we are on one of those paths now whether we like it or not.

  34. Anti-gay is by definition bigotry. The LDS position confuses this by mitigating it as God’s commanded position (making God by definition a bigot and making God’s bigotry okay) and packaging it as religion. This is an appeal to authority and it makes it possible be anti-gay without being a bigot, rather one is just a believer while simultaneously providing (almost) socially acceptable cover for those who truly hold bigoted views whether examined or naive. Calling for civility is certainly welcome but the undertones of this position are in tension with Jesus’ ministry who while highlighting his gospel was silent with regard to gays. So I think the LDS position is more Old Testament than New and while a call for civility is a step in the right direction, embracing Christ’s teachings has the power to erase these underlying tensions.

  35. Silfo, your point of departure – that opposing SSM for example makes you a bigot by definition – is something I address in the post and it’s something I’ve addressed previously as well. There is no easy way to approach the matter. I do think that pointing to Jesus is relatively unhelpful when it comes to matters of homosexuality, because he was silent on the issue (but Paul was not). Regardless, I agree that embracing Christ’s teachings is the only solution.

  36. What I really liked about Oaks’ talk is that he recognizes and addresses the key problem with the church’s scorched earth policy: that the rank & file have followed the church’s cues and been pretty uncivil to those who disagree with them. The Deseret News is filled with examples of this. Of course, this is also like Winston Churchill’s much-criticized deferential letter to Emperor Hirohito which he defended saying, “When you have to kill a man, civility costs nothing.”

    On the whole, though, what I like about E. Oaks is that I see him working out his thoughts. He wants to participate in the public sphere, and he knows the rules of engagement in that sphere. I disagree with him about this issue, but I still find him articulate and unemotional which I appreciate. His argument, IMO, lacks justification and fails to convince, but that’s how we got where we are.

  37. To understand Oaks talk it is necessary to understand that it was directed to an unusual extent to the believing membership of the church. He is doing what a leader who has suffered defeat ought to do which is prepare his people for the inevitable and show them how it can be accommodated while preserving the distinct identity of the group. Cf. Emperor Hirohito’s speech accepting the Potsdam Declaration.

    It will of course be disappointing and even seen as cynical by outsiders, especially those who want complete capitulation. Oaks isn’t speaking to those people.

  38. I think Thomas and Shawn have something here. It’s difficult to be civil when a disagreement is cast in terms of combat and “no middle ground”. Either you are in complete agreement (and compliance) with my point of view or you are wrong, wrong, wrong. That’s not a good basis for a reasonable discussion of an issue. We can’t just politely say, “You, my good sir, are going to hell.”
    One of the beginning steps in civility is to recognize that other parties may have different views on a subject, and that those views are valid for them. The language of no middle ground not only impedes compromise, but deters a consideration of ideas not yet examined. When we interact with other people, inside and outside the church, we have to respect the experiences and thought processes that led them to their stance on an issue. Otherwise, we are just talking past each other.
    Even in our “private space” within the church, there are many areas of disagreement. How many times have we sat in a lesson where class members argued about the proper way to pay tithing, keep the Sabbath, or follow the word of wisdom? What works for me may not work for you, and we need to be civil about that. More importantly, what works for you might work for me, even if I currently disagree. All or nothing language discourages this.

  39. It’s completely possible to feel that someone is in the wrong and still be civil. Why do you need to feel that someone else’s views are “valid for them”? The word civility means politeness and courtesy, it has nothing to do with agreement.

  40. I appreciate your comment Steve, I agree there is no easy approach. I do find it interesting that we seem to take kind of a cafeteria approach to Paul who apparently saw marriage (which we highly revere) as the necessary but least evil choice. The path is not completely clear but Jesus’ silence suggested to me that homosexuality wasn’t as important to him as it seems to be to Elders Packer and Oaks so I wonder what’s to be lost by following his example?

  41. Silfo, that’s one explanation for Jesus’ silence. Another is that Jesus might have seen homosexuality as obviously a sin and not worth mentioning. Still another explanation could be that we don’t know much about Jesus and we have basically very little on record from him.

  42. I’m with Mark on this one, I think. The issue for me is what I’d call the intent of discourse. Religious language, especially that used by the leaders of most churches, ours included, is, by its very nature, designed to encourage and promote the idea that anything that could remotely be termed a moral choice is an either/or proposition. Either your for Christ or against Him, either you obey the prophets or you don’t, that sort of thing. Public discourse, though it’s often full of vitriol, especially in the political arena, does at least ideally require civility, reasonable compromise, mutual understanding, etc. in order to accomplish whatever the task at hand is.

    Adding to Mark’s observation about the language of no middle ground deterring a consideration of ideas not yet examined, I’d further suggest that the language of no middle ground not only deters a consideration of ideas but also, by its very nature, is driven by fear rather than by the desire to understand. If you make the wrong moral choice, you may go to hell, be excommunicated, not be with the rest of your family in the celestial kingdom, etc. That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but it’s pretty clear that the church’s (and conservative Christianity’s) rhetoric about gay marriage, for example is not based on logic, the desire for civil discourse, etc., but rather on the claim that gay marriage is a “threat” to straight marriage; one of the most absurdly illogical arguments I’ve ever heard, BTW. So while I very much applaud Elder Oak’s call for civility, it’s also, I think, only a first step to really thinking more inclusively and complexly about issues, people, etc. Not to sound all 1960s, but if we actually spent more time honoring each individual’s personhood instead of seeing everything as a moral battleground, we’d make a lot more progress not only in the public sphere, but also inside the walls of our church.

  43. You’re right we don’t know the reason for his silence but homosexuality also failed to be mentioned in the ten commandments so taken together it causes me to wonder about it’s relative gospel importance.

  44. Let me use an example on a different topic about the difference between civility and agreement. I agree with Hugh Nibley that the scriptures are abundantly clear that we are not to seek after riches for ourselves. There is only one justification given in the scriptures to seek after them given only once in Jacob 2 which is to give those riches away. Other people disagree with me and think that they should seek after riches and that god wants people to seek after success and riches. I can be civil and even friends with people who I disagree with on this issue (as I am and do have friends like this) but I do not have to believe that their decision to seek after riches is “valid for them”, as I think the scriptures are abundantly clear that it is not.

    Let me just say that I do not want to get into an argument about riches or SSM. I’m just making a statement on what it means to be civil and how agreement or even “finding a middle ground” is not in any way necessary in order to be friendly or civil with people. I can be friends with people even if I disagree with their choices. One thing that’s clear is that Jesus was all or nothing on several topics and I don’t think that got in the way of him loving people.

  45. To the degree that civil discourse equals something like rational discourse, it will be difficult for many people to see how the church’s publicly stated opposition to SSM and SS sexual/intimate relationships can be understood as civil. That is to say, since the Church prohibits any form, or really display, of sexual intimacy to non-hetero peoples, and since it denies the legitimacy of marriage to them as well, the only contracted relationship that the church views as a legitimate venue for sexual intimacy, many will see the Church as demanding celibacy of all non-heteros and that is simply not a rational demand to most people and probably not civil either. It will be understandable that many will just disregard the Church’s voice in these matters, while some will respond in turn with discourse less than civil.

  46. Ahjeez, I think that’s right.

  47. MikeInWeHo says:

    “…… having a gay child home for the holidays is probably precisely what Elder Oaks would encourage.” That’s wishful thinking, Steve.

    I share christiankimballs’ concern that the expansion of no-compromise “dedicated spaces” to include home and family will lead to less civility, not more. There’s nothing in this talk to indicate he has moved away from the guidance he gave not long ago in an interview with Elder Wickman.

    When asked how parents should respond to a gay child who asks: “Can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for holidays?” he responds: “I can imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, ‘Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.’ Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that would make that the likely answer….I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your ‘partnership.'” Sure he throws in a nod to personal inspiration and individual circumstances, but he couldn’t have been any clearer as to what devout families should do.

    If he is substantially changing his view of how LDS families should treat their gay children, he’s not saying it in this talk. I don’t think it will even do much to improve how LDS families treat their gay neighbors. If civility means only “I concede you’ve won the legal battle and won’t rhetorically abuse you in public anymore,” well, that’s rather thin gruel.

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/interview-oaks-wickman-same-gender-attraction

  48. MikeInWeHo is right to bring up Oaks’ previous statements regarding how parents might respond to gay children who want to bring their partner with them for visits. That was bad counsel then and Oaks would do well to revisit it.

    On the subject of how LDS families treat their gay neighbors, the example I am closest to involves my sister who organized for and gave money to the yes on Prop 8 campaign. This hasn’t prevented her from having a good personal relationship with her gay neighbors. They exchange gifts and her neighbors frequently interact with my sister’s children. I’m sure there are examples where relationships are less harmonious despite fundamental disagreements, but as we have seen in other discussions this week, painting religious people with too broad a brush tends to obscure lived reality.

  49. Mike, that is a painful interview. I can’t speak for Elder Oaks, but in my view his new talk gives hope that this is no longer what he would say. The counsel of showing love to each other, and that the family is the primary place to show that love, leads me to conclude that bringing a gay child home for the holidays would be a no-brainer.

    More to the point: it’s a no-brainer for me and my family, in any event. PS Mike, when ARE you coming over our way?

  50. This is a tangent, Steve; but based on some of the responses here (not yours) it would be interesting to see the results of a BCC readership poll as follows:

    Sexual intercourse between persons of the same gender are always wrong.

    Agree or disagree?

  51. “We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs.”

    Is it possible to be a “good listener” if you have already made up your mind that you are right and the other guy is wrong? When you believe you have the truth and that your interlocutor, at best, has only a portion thereof?

  52. Jim, I’d choose disagree if only because of the grammar of your poll question.

  53. I will agree that saying “gender” when you mean “sex” is always wrong.

  54. to FarSide: and which side of the discussion do you think has the corner on believing that it is right and the other side wrong?

  55. Steve, I throw myself at your feet for grammatical mercy. :)

    Mark B, “Sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex” just seemed a little awkward-sounding.

  56. In answer to your question, Mark B: The one that is convinced that God is on their side, which, quite conceivably, could be both.

  57. I think this was a good talk, but the counsel to “show loving-kindness and still be firm in the truth by forgoing actions that facilitate or seem to condone what we know to be wrong” [emphasis added] leaves much to individual interpretation. People who are inclined to think that letting your child and their “cohabiting” partner stay in your house for Christmas seems to condone sin will continue to limit their hospitality toward such family members, and there’s no indication that Elder Oaks would disagree with that. But maybe that’s another talk. At any rate, “be civil and loving” is counsel that will need to be repeated frequently and with increasingly stronger and more specific language before it is taken the right amount of seriously.

  58. MikeInWeHo says:

    Thanks for the invite Steve, but you know I never cheat on Scott B.

  59. TK is on to something. It is very difficult to have a civil discourse on a public policy matter when the two sides refuse to speak the same language. The only arguments that even begin to make sense to a non-believer are:

    1. Traditiooooon! Basically a conservative (in the true sense of the word) argument that we should do things the way we’ve been doing them because we know the outcome. Various slippery slope arguments fall into this category as well.

    2. Democracy! The idea that we should be ok with gay marriage bans if the majority of the voters want them, regardless of their rationale for wanting them.

    But for the most part the two sides spoke past each other. The Church probably had to. Variations of “God said so!” don’t go a long ways towards creating fertile ground for civility.

    If we are indeed at a turning point in terms of the role of the family in society as some fear, then it wouldn’t it make sense at this point to give up on the losing battle against legalized marriage equality and instead focus on the responsibilities of marriage for all? Strengthen everyone’s marriage and therefore strengthen society? Excluding married gay children from our homes wouldn’t seem to do that. Refusing to celebrate certain unions accomplishes what?

    Right now (but especially in the long term) we need to go beyond being civil and good losers in this political battle, but I’m not sure how the Church will navigate that.

  60. I’m with you, MikeInWeHo. This gruel. That talk was horrible, and it’s still horrible, and I worry there was a not-so-suble margin left around the edges of this talk where people can find room to be entirely justified in continuing to treat gay family members as pariahs.

    As far as what happens when you expose your children to gay marriage? My kids have never known anything else in our family, and they believe their uncles are fantastic and love them unconditionally. Uncle Michael has a husband, Jesse. Uncle Todd’s husband is Uncle Mark- we’ve treated these marriages no differently than any other, and I’m happy to say my kids simply don’t get the furor other people make. Jeffrey rolls his eyes and shakes his head when people at church start talking about it- mostly because even he, at 13, can recognize ignorance.

  61. I think that E Oakses cries for civility are a very difficult pill to swallow for gay people, who have been deeply harmed and mistreated by the Church and its approach to their lived experiences for decades now. I hope that we as a community can provide restitution to those harmed along with our requests for civility.

  62. MikeInWeHo says:

    Thanks, Tracy. I don’t think his permission to exclude gay couples from the LDS home is on the margins of this talk at all. (And surely a gay couple would be, by his definition, his moral “adversaries” in a “cohabitation relationship.”) This is a great big loophole right in the center of his call for civility and love toward those who see things differently.

    Steve, this is why I don’t understand your hope that Elder Oaks would give different council today than what he gave in the old interview. Why would we imagine that Elder Oaks would back off from his visceral opposition to homosexual relationships just because SSM has been imposed on Utah? If anything, wouldn’t that lead him to retool his rhetoric and double down? Maybe you interpret “seem to condone” differently than I do when reading this talk.

    Besides, we all know what’s coming next: More talks about the need for laws to preserve religious freedom by permitting businesses to discriminate against married gay couples.

  63. Mike, we should sit down and talk about it together. I don’t think Elder Oaks is doubling down.

  64. I can bear the cross of being labeled a bigot. But what makes it almost unbearable at times is when folks of my own faith give me that label. Truly, there are many religions in this church.

  65. I don’t think Elder Oaks is doubling down, but he hasn’t repudiated anything he’s said before either. It’s too early to know if this talk means what we think it means (whatever we think it means).

  66. MikeInWeHo says:

    Anytime, Steve! I didn’t mean to get into a debate with you here about how to interpret this talk. Or maybe I’m just a bit nostalgic for the old times here at BCC…..

  67. Rebecca I think you’ve nailed it there. Too soon.

  68. “Thanks for the invite Steve, but you know I never cheat on Scott B.”

    …says the man who has never–NEVER–come to Irvine to break bread with me.

  69. wreddyornot says:

    As an active male member who openly supports gay marriage and the ordaining of females and who doesn’t shrink from admitting so, no matter the venue, I’m looking forward to civility, especially at Church. However, I intend to keep breathing (i.e. I won’t hold my breath). Question: Is admitting what I have here civil?

  70. Geoff - Aus says:

    As an active male member who only questions the assertions of those who oppose gay marriage, and supports ordination for all worthy members of the church I too will be surprised, and very pleased if civility is forthcoming. I may even feel welcome and included.

  71. Steve, on certain topics, like this one, I witness you being so nice and thoughtful to others. I guess it’s a good thing, but I enjoy it best when you are snarky. Please don’t ever stop. You are a hilarious moderator!

    Compliments aside, back to the topic. I think perfect faith casts out all love. Doubt, self-doubt especially, is a leaven that enables true charity and compassion for those we disagree with. It enables me to search all things and strengthen my hope for certain things.

    Faith leads to hope leads to hate. The ontological construction of faith allows us to define things outside of the Good, and calls us to arms against them. Lest faith prove untrue. The silent shadow of doubt here destroys. Faith fights it without looking into it.

    Doubt leads to understanding leads to love. Ontological differentiation collapses and there but for the grace of God we go. Judgement of one, since it lacks ontological distinction, implicates the whole, and we must therefore withhold our judgment until our understanding is perfect. Actions become prudent rather than perfect, and we are pushed to err on the side of mercy, since the final verdict is still out there.

    … maybe.

  72. MikeInWeHo says:

    Very interesting, Jacob. I found your statement “perfect faith casts out all love” a bit jarring. I guess it depends on how we define the word faith. Do you mean “Perfect conviction casts out all love” ?? I could certainly agree with that.

    Those who express absolute conviction of belief and display an inability to question ideas they hold dear are usually the ones who so often judge others so harshly.

  73. I am not sure how casting out love is consistent with faith in Jesus Christ.

    I have observed that some of the folks who are a bit extreme and zealotish in following church teachings (e.g. no internet in their home) are not able to serve as bishop or RS president because of having to deal with all kinds of folks in a respectful way (a bishop serves everyone in his geographic area whether or not they are members of our church).

    But it would seem that the more we become like Christ, the more love we have. But then, I am a simple soul who would never use ontological in a sentence, so maybe I don’t understand.

  74. Mike, I think it was meant to be jarring. In my own mixed-up corner of the universe, if someone loves me because I am a child of God, or because the cup of their faith and love for God has spilled over and they find themselves loving all of His creation… I think I’ll pass. That love is often fickle, and is wedded more to a philosophical construct of me than it is to me.

    That love is purer which loves me based on the mere experience of me, allowing room for the interpretation of said experience to flow with time, thought, and additional experience. The ever-uncertain discernment of what I am or might be, the acceptance of the unsearchable Other-ness of me and my experiences….

    When I realize I can’t reduce others to a set of finalized constructs and interpretations, whom as Other I cannot fully subsume their essence within my own thoughts, it is much easier for me to respect and not circumscribe the existence of that Other. I can still make judgments, but their scope is more limited, as simply a part of the endless dialogue and interaction I might have with that Other. That respect, interaction, and understanding which ever grows out of it, to me requires doubt. A willingness to be wrong and to be changed; a vulnerability, without which, respectful dialogue is never genuine.

    If your faith is an a Being, infinitely, eternally Other than you, ever surprising you, interacting with you and changing you, that’s not the faith I was speaking to in my previous comment. There is a different kind of faith, which seeks certainty, finality, and judgment, a set of facts which are true rather than a relationship constituting endless interaction and growth, and it is that faith which is diametrically opposed to love.

  75. I read this some time ago. Maybe Elder Oaks did too. It was written by a BYU prof. when Oaks was serving as the University President. I knew this talk seemed familiar to me. Enjoy.
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1975/07/the-night-before-he-died?lang=eng

  76. “We don’t need more homeless teens.”
    Now there’s a one-liner that you could make a sermon out of. Especially considering the saddening number of LGBT teens in Utah who are homeless and have either attempted suicide or had suicidal ideations because of members of their Church, or even their own families, rejecting them and casting them out of their homes. This certainly NEEDS to stop.

    A related story on a site that has a lot of info on how to combat this issue: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/family-videos

  77. John Harrison said:
    “If we are indeed at a turning point in terms of the role of the family in society as some fear, then it wouldn’t it make sense at this point to give up on the losing battle against legalized marriage equality and instead focus on the responsibilities of marriage for all? Strengthen everyone’s marriage and therefore strengthen society? Excluding married gay children from our homes wouldn’t seem to do that. Refusing to celebrate certain unions accomplishes what?”

    My thoughts exactly. Also, @Steve Evans, I really loved your analysis of the talk. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us all on the Bloggernacle :)

  78. Aw shucks!

  79. Jacob H. (10/9 4:26 pm) just nailed it (imo). He said it much more beautifully than what I’ve been trying to articulate in my head since first reading the OP.

    The trouble I’m running into, trying to follow this, is the civility spoken of seems so surface level shallow. “Be polite. Be courteous.” – Well, I can do that on the outside, while on the inside my soul is whispering “You’re wrong, I’m right. You’re a sinner, I’m a saint.” – but I will smile and nod and speak softly, assured of my own civility – aren’t I so noble? This doesn’t seem like true civility at all. It’s pretense and feels like thinly veiled self-righteousness.

    To view ourselves as “leavening the earth” – that very self-regard seems to impede any kind of real humility and listening to others’ stories. To me it is nigh impossible to love someone purely if I am simultaneously thinking of myself as ‘a bringer of truth’, or right, or superior, or not sinning, etc. My eyes are shut and my ears are closed if I approach another human being with this mindset. Maybe I’m wrong about the impossibility of it, but at the very least I find it extremely, extremely difficult.

    The talk finished with a non-member husband who eventually joined the church and became a Bishop. To me this just highlights the very problem I’m speaking of. It seems to be a message of: “in-the-back-of-my-mind-you-will-eventually-agree-with-me-and-come-around-to-my-way-of-seeing-things-because-I-am-right”. I just can’t see how we get to true & deep love and respect and honoring of our neighbors, (most especially our differences!) with that caveat (i.e. eventually you’ll see the light as I have).

    Which is why I think one of Jacob H.’s responses is exactly what we need in any discussion about civility- a willingness to be wrong, to be changed by the other – to not think we’re doing God a favor by standing in certainty, finality, and judgment. Jacob H. wrote: “That respect, interaction, and understanding which ever grows out of it, to me requires doubt. A willingness to be wrong and to be changed; a vulnerability, without which, respectful dialogue is never genuine.”

  80. Listening without changing one’s mind is not only possible but necessary. I don’t imagine I’ll ever change my mind about abortion…but listening has led me to lean towards feminists for life – a fabulous group that encourages practical solutions for single mothers-cheaper daycare (options on college campuses and workplaces), support of breastfeeding mother’s in the work place and on college campuses, better financial solutions for working mothers…

    listening can change HOW you help and relate to another person–even how you oppose them in a certain issue.

    If we don’t sound rational in our opposition, is there no room for faith as a foundation? We are talking about love and marriage. Some people in favor of gay marriage argue with their own personal stories and struggles…clearly not a scientific approach…but necessary. How are the personal stories and concerns of those who support traditional marriage less?

    I have always associated bigotry with hatred…perhaps that is inaccurate but it seems to lump people together rather broadly. With the pro-life example, it would lump in feminists for life with those picketing abortion clinics. I feel similar things are done with both sides of the gay marriage discussion. Clearly not all gay people are promiscuous hedonists. Clearly not all pro traditional marriage people are bullying and violent against gays. What does the word bigot mean if it is applied to Elder Oaks as well as the raving bully? If we do not distinguish between the fanatics and the reasonable (even the reasonable on the other side)-how do we discuss anything? How do we relate to each other at all? Can we only work with someone who perfectly agrees with us?

    We have to be able to work together, interact with each other and talk with each other reasonably. For me part of that is not boycotting every darn thing that comes down the pipe-so they are against or for something, unless their business is directly related…get over it. We are all complex individuals. We are adults.

  81. Ryan Mullen says:

    I’ve been mulling over this post for a week now, and finally crystallized how I will apply Elder Oaks counsel: “we can show loving-kindness and still be firm in the truth by forgoing actions that facilitate or seem to condone what we know to be wrong.”

    Elder Oaks leads an organization that keenly feels responsibility to take a clear moral stance. I do not. Very few people care about my opinion on any topic, and even for those few my opinion carries no moral weight. Therefore, while he (may) have responsibility to condone or not certain behaviors, I have none. I If someone directly asks my opinion, I can give my recommendation. Otherwise, I am free to be nice and be inclusive without worrying if my actions condone anything.