Can members support same-sex marriage and remain in good standing?

Taking a cue from Doctrine and Covenants 6:28, I thought I’d pull together and transcribe some of the recent discussions about whether or not members can support same-sex marriage and still remain in good standing.

And, if you need it, here is a temple-recommend, wallet-sized printable that you may want to laminate for easy reference:

walletsizedcard2

Now for the longer versions of the answer to the post title.

A TribTalk with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder D. Todd Christofferson by Jennifer Napier-Pearce, aired January 28.  Relevant part starts at minute 9.

Jennifer Napier-Pearce, in summarizing questions from listeners: Can members support same-sex marriage and still be members of good standing? Can someone march in a parade to support family members?

Elder Christofferson: “We have members, individual members in the Church with a variety of different opinions and beliefs and positions on these issues and other issues, reflect back on the Equal Rights Amendment years ago, this isn’t the first issue, in our view it doesn’t become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders, if that’s a deliberate and persistent effort, trying to get others to follow them, to draw others away, trying to pull people out of the church, or away from its teachings and doctrines. That’s very different for us, than someone who feels one way or another on a political stance or a particular action to support a group, Affirmation or any others that you named, these are things that there are fine lines here and there.”

***

An interview with KUTV news of Utah published March 14, 2015 by Daniel Woodruff with Elder D. Todd Christofferson. Relevant part starts at minute 4:30.

Daniel Woodruff: Can members of the church support gay marriage that the church teaches against?

Elder Christofferson: Well there is a diversity of opinion in that regard and that’s always been true on many subjects over the years, over the decades. And we don’t have qualms of that. We urge people, for example, to take part in the political process and we don’t tell them how to vote and who to vote for, but that they exercise their own good judgment and make their decisions. That’s obviously different for those who attack the church and hinder it’s work. But for anyone perusing their view of what ought to happen in a community, that’s what we want to see, frankly.

Daniel Woodruff:Would supporting gay marriage threaten someone’s membership in the church if they went out on facebook or twitter and actively advocated it?

Elder Christofferson: No, that’s not an organized effort to attack our effort or attack our functioning as a church.

Daniel Woodruff: So members can hold these beliefs even though they are different from what you preach for the pulpit.

Elder Christofferson: Yes, our approach in all of this is, as Joseph Smith said, is persuasion. He said you can’t use the priesthood or the authority of the church to dictate. You can’t compel you can’t coerce, it has to be gentleness, persuasion, love unfeigned as the words are in the scripture.

***

An interview with church spokesman Michael Purdy with RadioWest, aired March 16, 2015. Relevant part starts at minute 49.

Doug Fabrizio: Can members support same-sex marriage and still be members of good standing?

Michael Purdy: There is a diversity of view on any given topic when you have 15 million members of a faith living globally. So of course those differing views are accommodated. The problem you get into is what does that look like publicly. What form does that differing view take.

Doug Fabrizio: So if they go out and attack the church, for example, that could be a problem, but if they hold that position privately, they can have their own opinion related to same-sex marriage, say support in same sex marriage and still reamin members of good standing in the LDS Faith?

Michael Purdy: Right. Whenever you’ve heard the church talk about these issues, they’ve always recognized that people will have differing views and these can be difficult issues, they can be divisive, but to try to bridge that divisiveness and much as possible, understanding that that is the reality and then calling for the civility in the dialogue that surrounds that and when that happens there aren’t many problems.

***

Question and answer session at Brookings Institute panel on Gays, Mormons, and the Constitution held March 16, 2015. Relevant part starts about minute 43.

Stephen Short asked, in effect, considering the history of the church will the doctrine of marriage change anytime soon?

Michael Leavitt, former governor of Utah: “I’m not a spokesperson of the church, I’m not an officer of the church, I want to make that clear. I believe that the doctrine of the church is as it is and it will remain. It is between one man and one woman. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge this: there is a narrative about the church that I think is fundamentally wrong. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has fifteen million members. It has status in a 195 countries. It operates under governments that are communist, monarchies and democracies. It has members as diverse as Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch, both who can stand on the floor of the United States Senate and debate the opposite sides of this issue (gay marriage) and at the at the same moment both be considered very good practicing members in the church. What they have in common is a belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the commitments they have made.”

 

Comments

  1. Few bishoprics and stake presidencies would excommunicate a member if their only sin was being in favor of gay marriage. But there are many who would not renew a recommend, and none of these statements could be used to contradict such an action.

    I’d guess the majority of active members who support marriage equality stay silent at church for fear of repercussions, social and otherwise. I’m in that category.

  2. I think these quotes still leave a lot of room for action against members who use their public rights as citizens to lobby for same sex marriage. For example people who are part of Mormons for Marriage or who walk in gay pride parades identified as Mormons, seem like they could run crosswise to a local leader.

    The latest quote from Elder Christiansen me is the clearest statement that members have full rights of public expression on matters of politics. Part of coming to the public square to advocate for any policy is that you bring your whole self with you, including your religious affiliation. Heaven knows the church has been making noise for its right to speak out on public policy issues. It ought to make clear it respects that same right for its members. The ambiguity in the statements until recently, all the qualifiers leave ample room for soft forms of discipline by local leadership – removing callings, denying recommends etc. Hopefully that stops now.

  3. Elder Christofferson…sorry.

  4. With BYU’s accreditation just around the corner, it would be interesting to inquire how freely a faculty member or job applicant could express support or sympathy for gay marriage. Would an otherwise qualified and faithful LDS applicant for a faculty position be denied employment if s/he divulged privately, in an interview with an administrator or general authority, that s/he struggled with the Church’s advocacy for Prop. 8? Would a faculty member under consideration for tenure or advancement to full professor be denied on the basis of, say, clicking “like” or expressing congratulations to a gay friend who posted wedding photos?

    Or, more broadly, should a bishop who is experiencing a crisis of conscience about the Church’s stance on gay marriage step down from his post? Should a Sunday School teacher with similar feelings hide them or deny them when the subject comes up in class?

    I take comfort in the assurances of latitude, but I don’t know exactly where the boundary is between public articulation of personal feelings and vocal opposition to the Church as an organization. And I’m certain that bishops and stake presidents won’t be uniform in they way they draw those boundaries.

  5. martha my love says:

    I know this entry is specific about marriage equality but it’s hard not to reflect on April Young Bennett being ordered earlier this year to take down her writing in support of OW and resign from the organization or be refused a temple recommend. http://www.the-exponent.com/an-announcement-from-april-young-bennett/

    If people can’t advocate their own position of conscience about full participation for women can they reasonably trust being able to advocate for marriage equality?

  6. Thanks for this, Emily. Nice, tidy compilation.

  7. I had a former student ask me this exact question, Aaron. Thanks! All I told him was that the question doesn’t come up specifically and there’s no need to bring it up.

  8. This is my gospel. I wish I could guarantee that my local leaders could be trusted to follow it.

    “Elder Christofferson: Yes, our approach in all of this is, as Joseph Smith said, is persuasion. He said you can’t use the priesthood or the authority of the church to dictate. You can’t compel you can’t coerce, it has to be gentleness, persuasion, love unfeigned as the words are in the scripture.”

  9. Thank you for these sources EmJem. Over the past several years I have personally known several bishops who struggled to know whether members in their flocks who support SSM could remain in good standing. These good men asked for, but did not receive, specific guidance from higher ups. I believe this was because there was not yet a consensus among the FP and Q12. It now appears that there is a consensus and a concerted effort to publicize that consensus. It’s a good day.

    FWIW, here is my take on the current lines drawn by the church. A member can publicly support SSM (or any other public issue where the church takes a different stance) so long as that support is purely in the political sphere. A member cannot publicly support SSM (or any other policy) in a way which openly attacks the church. A grey area remains where a person’s public actions are not directed at the church, but may nonetheless cause embarrassment to, or confusion within, the church. Thus, a member can join “Coloradans for SSM.” A member cannot join “Coloradans against the bigoted Mormons.” But it remains an open questoin whether a member can join “Mormons for Marriage Equality” or whether a Bishop or RS President can openly support SSM.

  10. JOT asked whether a Bishop or sunday school instructor who supports SSM should step down. That’s a good question. An even more pressing question, IMO, is whether a youth can serve as a missionary if they support SSM, or at least serve effectively.

    In my experience, the first major dissonance experienced by our youth is not normally about historical issues, but social issues. Most of them do not particularly care about the stone in the hat, BOA translations, or when polygamy ended. But they do very much care about SSM – an issue of primary importance to their generation, and which directly affects people they know and love.

    Surveys show that in excess of 80% of American youth ages 18-29 support SSM. LDS youth may lag behind this number somewhat, but probably not much. If a significant number of members begin to openly express support for SSM, and many of our youth begin see that they took can openly support SSM, then mission presidents may have another huge headache to deal with beyond the recent surge in numbers and problems with i-Pad filters.

  11. So, the task, as Elder Christofferson said, is one of persuasion. If indeed 80% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 “support” redefining marriage (and that number rises to nearly 100% of the people who comment on BCC), then the task is a difficult one indeed.

  12. Mark B. The surveys demonstrate that american youth overwhelmingly and increasingly support SSM, not that they “support” it. I don’t understand the need for scare quotes there. They make no more sense than a member answering in a TR interview, “yes, I ‘sustain’ the leaders of the church.” (though, admittedly, it would be fun to see the bishopric member’s response)

    Elder Christofferson’s reference to persuasion is taken from D/C 121, which also lists these attributes: “long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned.” Knowing some of Elder Christofferson’s background on this subject (he has a dear brother who is gay, who resigned from the church and is committed to a long-term partner, and who actively participates in his LDS congregation), and seeing his example in conferences and interviews, I can say that Elder Christofferson is uniquely qualified to lead the church forward through these times.

  13. I have no idea the methodology employed in conducting those surveys, and I don’t know the depth of the support felt by anybody who responded to the surveys. I don’t know whether American youth (I’m tempted to use quotation marks around that word too, since you began by referring to people 18-29 years of age but keep calling them youth) have thought deeply (or at all) about how they responded to the survey, or how many are afraid that Steve Evans will call them bigoted if they don’t give the popular answer. And I’ve seen the American people join up in large numbers to support any number of damned fool propositions, which makes me reluctant to measure the rightness of any proposition by the numbers of people supporting it.

    And thanks for primer on Doctrine and Covenants 121. But your implication that those who disagree with your political position are lacking those attributes is odious.

  14. Mark B.,

    This will probably be my last comment to you in this thread as I don’t wish to side-track the discussion. To clarify, I never suggested that those who oppose SSM are lacking the attributes of D/C 121. Good heavens. Elder Christofferson opposes SSM, as do most of my local leadership and most of my immediate family. I can confidently say that all of these people abide by D/C 121’s principles at least as well as myself (on most days probably better). You, on the other hand, who knows? :)

    I used the 18-29 demographic because that is what the polls report on. We can quibble over whether a 29 year old is “youth,” but the church classifies them as young single adults (if unmarried), so I think I’m on solid ground. Regardless, we’re discussing missionaries, who are generally 18-22 years old. Clearly youth.

    Regarding the reliability of youth’s opinions, that really is beside the point. When our youth confront dissonance they will not be assuaged if told “oh, give it some time and your beliefs will change.” If we can trust an 18-year-old’s confidence in deciding to serve a mission, we have to also trust their confidence in other judgments they make. That is, unless their judgment is to listen to Steve Evans. I agree that no sensible youth should ever care what he thinks.

  15. This important quote should be included here as well:

    What does the LDS Church think of members who back same-sex marriage?

    “There hasn’t been any litmus test or standard imposed that you couldn’t support that if you want to support it,” Christofferson said, “if that’s your belief and you think it’s right.” Any Latter-day Saint can have a belief “on either side of this issue,” he said. “That’s not uncommon.” Problems arise only when a member makes “a public, sustained opposition to the church itself or the church leaders and tries to draw others after them,” he said, and that support swells into “advocacy.” — D. Todd Christofferson, Jan. 27, 2015

    http://www.sltrib.com/lifestyle/faith/2108746-155/we-all-can-be-more-civil

  16. Randy B. says:

    I’m not sure these quotes are much more helpful than Elder Clayton’s comments at the time of Prop 8. And those comments were not enough to dissuade my Bishop from threatening to take away my recommend and releasing me from my calling, even after he personally called Elder Clayton. Lots of people were in the same boat I was.

    I hope I’m wrong, but this strikes me as little more than posturing to help the church save face publicly while giving local leaders plenty of wiggle room to do precisely what the quoted statements assert the church would never do.

  17. John Mansfield says:

    I can imagine someone being released from a teaching or leadership position for any number of reasons that might cause the bishop to lose confidence in a person and prefer someone else to carry out the responsibility, but has support for any-sex marriage ever led to anyone’s home teaching assignments being taken away?

  18. Dave K.: In my first comment I said that the challenge the church faces is one of persuasion, not one of sitting back hoping that attitudes will change. And that task is ever more difficult in the face of the contrary onslaught of current public discourse. But that doesn’t mean that the mission should be abandoned.

    (Not to quibble onward, but suggesting that the “Young” in “Young Single Adults” means they are “Youth” _is_ odious!) :)

  19. He made it very clear that there is a distinction he sees between individual opinion and organized effort.

    Individual opinion = personal thought
    Organized effort = group action

  20. It should go without saying that there is a clear disconnect between what these high level leaders (and members, in Leavitt’s case) are saying and what actually happens in practice at the local level. Chances are, anyone living along the Wasatch Front who declares in Sunday School or RS/Priesthood that they’re in favor of civil gay marriage for non-LDS still risks a firestorm of hostility from other ward members and likely puts their temple recommend or chance for higher callings in jeopardy. If you really want to remain a member in good standing, your best chance is either to remain silent or pray for a change of heart so that your views line up with those of the majority.

  21. “It should go without saying …”

    Well, yes, the assertions that follow this introductory phrase SHOULD go without saying, because they simply are not so universal nor so harsh as you state. You write too much about “chance” when you should stick a little closer to fact.

  22. A couple more:

    “Regarding another question about whether church members could disagree with the faith’s opposition to legalizing same-sex unions and still remain in good standing, he said the answer “depends on what the disagreement is.”
    “”If it’s an apostasy situation, that would not be appropriate. If it’s something political, there is room for opinion here and there on either side.””
    (President Thomas S. Monson, quoted in Deseret News article covering his first press conference as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) http://www.deseretnews.com/article/695250131/Thomas-S-Monson-named-as-new-LDS-Church-president.html?pg=all

    “Latter-day Saints are free to disagree with their church on the issue without facing any sanction, said L. Whitney Clayton of the LDS Quorum of the Seventy. “We love them and bear them no ill will.”” http://www.sltrib.com/ci_10797630

  23. I’m trying hard not to be cynical, honestly. It’s difficult.

    Certainly, I’m glad the leadership is making this clear. Better late than never.

    But the whole episode disappoints me. Only now, when gay marriage is practically a fait accompli, is there consensus among the 15 that expressing one’s opinions about it will not jeopardize a temple recommend.

    How many people have either lost their recommends, been ostracized or pressured into silence in the meantime?

  24. Dave K. brings up a good point: “A grey area remains where a person’s public actions are not directed at the church, but may nonetheless cause embarrassment to, or confusion within, the church. Thus, a member can join Coloradans for SSM. A member cannot join Coloradans against the bigoted Mormons. But it remains an open questoin whether a member can join Mormons for Marriage Equality or whether a Bishop or RS President can openly support SSM.”

    Things get even more gray when discussing whether a member in good standing can support groups like “Mormons Building Bridges”. I know a lot of folks who consider MBB an apostate group and think all of its members should be exed. My mom has even received considerable pushback from her ward by starting a group called “Sit With Me Sunday”, which pairs gay LDS who have been inactive with a sympathetic member of their ward who they can attend Sunday services with. And there are many, many wards along the Wasatch Front where voicing any opinion that might even be considered slightly progressive would be social suicide.

  25. Ron I don’t think you have it right. If you look at the sentence structure itself, or you watch the video, the emphasis is on “to attack” not “organized effort.” Dave K gets it right–you can be in an organized effort in support of SSM (Coloradoans for SSM), but you can’t be in an organized effort to attack the church or its functioning (Coloradoans Against Bigoted Mormons).

    This is the same “deal” the right has always had. You can be part of “Arizonans for Breaking Up Immigrant Families by Deporting the Parents,” but you can’t be part of “The Mormon Church’s Bleeding-Heart Approach to Immigration Proves Its So-Called Prophets Are Actually Anti-Christs.”

    It’s not that complicated.

  26. “And there are many, many wards along the Wasatch Front where voicing any opinion that might even be considered slightly progressive would be social suicide.”

    This is a true statement, it pains me to observe. It makes me extremely sad that such is the nature of our discourse in those wards.

  27. fuddyduddy says:

    JOT:

    I can tell you from recent experience that BYU will nix faculty applicants based on SSM support.

    We had a well-qualified, temple-recommend-holding applicant for a faculty position a year or two ago. He was well known in our department. He told us he was applying. We looked for his application, but it didn’t show up.

    We inquired from the administration and were told that they would not be forwarding his application to us. Though they were mum on the details, we gathered it was because he had repeatedly expressed support for SSM on Facebook.

  28. Cynthia L,
    Your extreme crazy-left blinders are showing up. This is a side track, but I have never seen any main-stream right-wing organization advocate the breaking up of immigrant families through deportation. This is a left-wing strawman.
    Just fyi.. I live in an area and state that is more politically conservative than the Wasatch front and have ‘stricter’ immigrant laws. There have been no instances of this occurring and no advocacy of this locally in the past 8 years I have lived here. I have worked with the growing Hispanic branch in the area and would have heard of this long ago.

  29. I have a close personal friend who a few years ago was proposed to be an area authority. When he was interviewed by a GA for the position, he was asked if had any issues with the church. He said that he was very uncomfortable with the church’s push for prop 8, and the church’s stand on gay marriage. The GA interviewing him said, “No problem, you are not alone.” and he then became an area authority and is still one today.

  30. Steve,
    Your mother is the one who set up Sit With Me Sunday? Let me just say that that woman is a saint, and may end up saving more lives and souls than she may think.

    And to all, as a member who falls within the LGBT spectrum myself, I support the Church’s stance for marriage within our faith and also support the right of two consenting adults entering into commitments and legal contracts with each other. Good discussion here, and I’m truly hoping that with the recent ststatements and with continuing revelation, things can be made clear for our precious youth, our precious brothers and sisters who experience orientations, attractions and gender identities different from the norm.

  31. (psst…el oso, the org name was a joke…)

  32. Question: There are many good reasons, other than intimacy, for two older persons with same sex attraction to marry: Companionship in elder years, estate planning, medical directives, healthcare, taxes, property ownership, combining resources, etc. for example, a person may have raised an LDS family and then lost a spouse to death and doesn’t want to remarry heterosexually. Would the church excomminicare such an individual?