Hypotheticals and Our Christian Duty

A quick hypothetical. (For those of you who didn’t attend law school, a law school hypothetical is a carefully constructed situation meant to tease out the implications of a rule or a law. The hypothetical itself isn’t meant to convey any truth value. What I mean is, please don’t argue for or against my hypothetical: it’s the consequences I’m interest in.)

Let’s imagine that it has been established that homosexual behavior (however you want to define that) is sinful. What do we, as members of the church and the ward, do when an LGBTQ individual comes to church? And what if it’s clear that that individual is participating in homosexual behavior (again, whatever we want to define that as)?

Confession: as best as I can tell, this is a pretty easy hypothetical; it seems to me it only allows for one answer: we welcome, love, and serve that individual. The scriptures are replete with admonitions to love and serve our neighbors. And there’s no way to define “neighbors” that doesn’t include the LGBTQ community.

Which brings me to a second (non-hypothetical) question: why do we so often fail at this basic Christian duty? Because we do fail at it, frequently.

I’m sure there are lots of reasons, actually, but one struck me as I read this piece by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons. You should read the whole thing, but in high-level summary, he calls out the media for buying into a narrative that puts religious commitment in opposition to LGBTQ identity.

I suspect that’s a narrative that we largely buy into. We’re suspicious of our LGBTQ neighbors because we believe for some reason that their sexual orientation is incompatible with religious belief, so, if they’re coming, there must be some suspicious reason for that.

That’s absolutely wrong, though. (Or, in the lingo of the day, it’s “fake news.”) As Graves-Fitzsimmons explains, a”vibrant and growing religious and queer community exits.” While members of that community has no obligation to choose Mormonism as their religious home, we do have an obligation to welcome them. Are they sinners? Like the rest of us, yes. Irrespective of whether homosexual behavior is sinful, the LGBTQ community isn’t any different from the non-LGBTQ community in that regard—we all sin. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t need Jesus and the Atonement. After all, as He said, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.”

It’s our duty to become like Christ; for me, I hope that someday someone will ask me, “Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?” Because that strikes me as the best way to know that I actually have followed His example.

[And n.b.: again, I’m not arguing that homosexual behavior, however you define it, is or is not sinful, or that it’s different in kind from, e.g., drinking coffee or not paying tithing. I hope we can be as welcoming to those who sin in other ways as I hope we can with the LGBTQ community and whatever sins they may bring to the table. But we’re particularly bad, I think, with the LGBTQ community, so that strikes me as a good place to start on our journey toward being Christlike.]

Comments

  1. Sam, as a thought experiment (and as a fellow member of the bar) I have posed this same hypothetical to others in the past and when they struggle with it, I ask them to make the following modification; “Let’s imagine that it has been established that adultery (a different sexual behavior) is sinful. How would you feel about sharing a pew on Sunday with an adulterer, even one who is a recidivist?”

    Most of the time church members express no compunction about welcoming the adulterer with open arms. But they don’t always conclude that they are obligated to accord the same consideration towards a member of the gay community. Or, if they do, it isn’t with the same level of enthusiasm or commitment.

    Thanks for the highlighting the Graves-Fitzimmons piece. I look forward to reading it. Perhaps one of the reasons the media has bought into the narrative that puts religious commitment in opposition to LGBTQ identity is that so many of those who profess to be religious ostracize gay individuals from their houses of worship.

  2. Thanks, FarSide!

  3. Basic civility, we got that down.

    A person needs to feel welcome and equal, but anything other than being welcome and equal is going to fail.

  4. Hope Wiltfong says:

    Thank you. So basic, and yet so many of us still miss it. We are not the ones who are supposed to do the judging.

  5. From my experience, Mormons are pretty good at welcoming sinners in our pews, so long as we and the sinner can acknowledge (even implicitly) the sin. Come to church smelling of alcohol and cigarette smoke, and we will welcome you with open arms because there is an implicit understanding of the sin. That person must be coming to church because they want to get better and as they embrace the church they will give up their mutually acknowledged sins. And even if they are imperfect in giving up those sins, at least we all understand and agree upon the sinful behavior. But what makes your hypothetical difficult for many, I think, is that the sinning homosexual is likely to reject the notion that his or her behavior is sinful. This makes many Mormons uncomfortable. They feel that being too welcoming will somehow be a tacit agreement with the sinner’s rejection of the notion that homosexual behavior is sinful. I’m not sure how we help others get past that.

  6. Todd, that’s entirely plausible. If that’s the case, though, we’re doing love-thy-neighbor wrong; the commandment to love our neighbors isn’t instrumental—that is, it’s not conditioned on their repenting and conforming to some set of values. It’s to love our neighbors, full stop.

    So if you’re right, we need to do a better job explaining and understanding the Second Great Commandment.

  7. Mex Davis says:

    First of all how do we know if they are sinners, gay or other wise? It’s not like we have visitors fill out a questionnaire before they enter the building. So, I think we welcome everyone and let those that deal with worthiness deal with it. Like stated, we’re all sinners so maybe we shouldn’t welcome ourselves.

  8. An excellent post, and thought-provoking.

    Here’s a similar but slightly different hypothetical:

    Opposite-sex couple moves into the ward with their children, ages 7 and 10. Both parents are members of the church, on the records. They live together as a family and are outwardly affectionate to an average degree. They are not married, and decline to discuss their sex life with church leaders, but make clear that they have no intention of ever getting married.

    What do we, as members of the church and the ward, do? What does the institutional church do?

  9. Sam – I agree with you. But I think many would respond that condoning sin is not a loving response, particularly when the sin is egregious (as some have described homosexual behavior). Salvation requires repentance, which requires an understanding of the nature of our sins. So, if we welcome sinners without some sort of implicit understanding of the sin, then we are effectively condoning sinful behavior rather than encouraging the sort of repentance that leads to salvation. Thus, loving someone sometimes requires explicit rejection of their behavior, even if that may make them feel unwelcome (after all, that’s the idea many of us have of heaven; our sins keep us out because we won’t feel welcome there in our sinful state).

    BTW – I don’t agree with this. I find that all sorts of bad behavior can be justified as a form of love. But I think that’s the sort of love that has been modeled to us from the top down, particularly when it comes to the question of homosexuality. So yes, I agree that we have to do better at explaining and understanding the Second Great Commandment. I think we have a lot of work to do in that regard.

  10. The thing is that the LDS church formally labeled homosexuals as apostates. The sin in question isn’t sexual sin – it’s apostasy. While I don’t see it that way, if the average church goer thinks the person next to them is proactively destroying their religion, the label “apostate” almost gives them permission to shun.

  11. Does this welcoming include editing lessons and sermons not to mention that homosexual behavior is a sin?

  12. If I recall correctly, Nathaniel Givens posted something awhile back at T&S that addresses why this hypothetical is difficult for many members. The whole need not a physician, but what about those that don’t acknowledge or don’t believe that they are sick? It is offensive to many LGBTQ to suggest that their behavior and/or how they see themselves is sin and that is a major point of difference. The reason you are even posing your hypothetical is because the status of homosexual behavior as sin is contested in the minds of some.

    We don’t bar the doors, we don’t give them the Forrest Gump on the bus treatment. We can offer them service, we can give them home/visiting teachers, etc. But in the mean time, like an unmarried heterosexual couple, they are limited in what they can do and we are limited in how much we can involve them.

  13. Toad, Read the policy again. It did not label homosexuals apostates. It included only same-sex married folks in the definition of “apostate” “for purposes of” mandatory disciplinary councils without specifying dictating the result of such councils. Same-sex cohabitation without same-sex marriage is not included in that special purpose definition of “apostacy.”

  14. It seems that not only should we be loving and welcoming, but also that we should not assume our LGBTQ neighbors who are attending are engaging in homosexual behavior. Your hypothetical assumes that it’s clear they are, so maybe I’m arguing against your hypothetical, but it seems central to your questions. Because it seems that the church is asking us not to assume any behavior–the leadership doesn’t in regards to worthiness issues. Likewise we shouldn’t judge that a recidivist adulterer that attends has suspicious motives either. Until he starts advocating open marriages, or the queer attendee starts advocating for same-sex marriage in their sacrament meeting talks or later in the day in their classes, the welcome they receive should be judgment free. This gets to your second question as to why we fail to be loving and welcoming. Members have an aversion to apostates, which they see as the logical conclusion of where the lifestyle will lead, to same-sex marriage.

  15. “So, if we welcome sinners without some sort of implicit understanding of the sin, then we are effectively condoning sinful behavior rather than encouraging the sort of repentance that leads to salvation.”

    I know you said that you don’t agree with the above, but it does point out what I think is one of the underlying issues: people are scared to be open to gay members because they are afraid that their actions with be interpreted (by who knows who?) as condoning sin. Two issues with that:

    First, look to the example of Jesus. While he didn’t flinch to call out sin in those who held positions of political or cultural power, he didn’t let fear of being misinterpreted as condoning sin stop him from doing the things that led people to think he was condoning sin–eating with tax collectors and prostitutes, etc. With the woman in adultery, he didn’t even acknowledge that she had sinned in front of the crowd, but waited until they were all gone to do that in a private conversation with her. He didn’t make a big show about not condoning sin, either, for example, by saying loudly “I want anyone listening to understanding that I’m not condoning this woman’s sinful lifestyle choices” before extending mercy and welcome to her. So while we stand against sin, I don’t think this fear of being misunderstood to condone sin is something we should let motivate our actions. “Love thy neighbor” is a commandment. “Make sure that while loving your neighbor, nobody could possibly misunderstand you as approving your neighbor’s sin” is not.

    Second, as a practical matter, come on. Does anyone really think that the church’s position that gay sex is a sin is in question? Does anything really think that welcoming gay members in love would be reasonably understood as overruling the church’s very clear statements on that issue? Please.

  16. sgnm – your new hypotheticals are interesting.
    1st – what do ward members do? if they are Christ-like members they should treat this couple as any other couple in my opinion.
    2nd – what does the institutional church do? The new handbook requires the bishop or stake to hold a disciplinary council. The bishop can choose to ignore it (which I think probably happens often outside of the Utah / Idaho / AZ corridor), or they can hold a disciplinary council the result of which can be anything from nothing to excommunication. The 7 year old probably can’t be baptized.

  17. I think the biggest difficulty in this thought experiment is in how we think about people who have been (or who we believe should be) excommunicated. We’re really bad at this, no matter what the perceived sin. Sure, we can take a little smoking, swearing, or drinking, but they really aren’t in the same league.

    When the Church has rules as to what is unacceptable, it’s really hard for the members to be more accepting.

  18. Toad. Again you mischaracterize the Handbook 1 (6.7.2). It does not require a disciplinary council in the case of sgnm’s hypothetical. It says that one “may be necessary”. This is in significant contrast to 6.7.3 setting out cases where one is “mandatory.”

  19. My daughter and her wife are perfect examples. It is not my job to preach repentance. It is my job to show love and support. A stake leader once shared with me this is the only way to share the Savior’s love.

  20. JR – as much as I hold out hope in the “loopholes” of the policies toward LGBT, more often than not the result is excommunication. We even have Trans members excommunicated for transitioning (which is not necessarily “elective”) then their spouses threatened with excommunication for not divorcing and continuing to live with them.

    I’m glad there are loopholes in the policies. I just wish they were being used more, or at all.

  21. I would not characterize them as “loopholes.” I think they are intentional (which is not the same as thinking their intention is appropriate). I suspect you are right that excommunication is the result more often than not, but it is in part the rampant toad-like mischaracterizations of the policy that contribute to that.

  22. We seem to be losing some older traditions that have allowed for people on the fringes of the church to be accepted as part of the Mormon community. The concept of “jack Mormons” is one such tradition, and it’s one that I almost never hear about anymore. These traditions have their severe limitations, to be sure, but they also have great advantages. It is very sad to lose traditions that help us to accept others, even in limited ways.

    I suspect that when Mormonism was isolated in the Rocky Mountain region, it was both convenient and necessary to find ways to include a wide range of people in the community even if they weren’t believing or observant Mormons. Now that Mormons are no longer isolated, the need for boundary maintenance has become much greater. To preserve a strong sense of our separateness (which we confuse with righteousness), we choose to push people away instead of finding ways to include them, as we might have in the past. The people we are most likely to push away are those we fear.

    As is so often the case, I think part of the cure for this is a more frequent discussion of love as the key to the life of a believer. I would also like to hear explicit discussion of issues around boundary maintenance. We talk a lot about preserving our distinctiveness as Mormons, but we never talk about the problems that this creates for inviting others into our community.

  23. Reactions:

    1. The question is overbroad, incorrectly generalizing the “we.” In fact there is quite a variety in how “we” treat LGBTQ persons at Church. There’s a growing community of outspoken advocates and allies in the pews on Sunday. There is a too small number of LGBTQ persons among the “we” by any identifier you care to name. And there is an often quiet group of close-in loyal members who have a good friend or a brother or a nephew who’s gay, who just don’t fit your stereotype of “fail at it frequently” because they know better.

    2. The fail at it stuff, when it happens, *feels* like treating LGBTQ persons individually or as a married couple as a disease vector. Like it’s catching somehow. That needs to change.

    Theory:

    My general theory is that standard Mormon cosmology doesn’t have a place for LGBTQ persons, and denial is sometimes easier than growth. Some of us find it easier to pretend that LGBTQ persons don’t exist or aren’t real, than to do the work necessary to upgrade our understanding of creation. And if one finds comfort in denial, then a real genuine gay person in the next seat over is a problem.

  24. Sam, I’m completely sympathetic with your message and personally agree, but this post is a textbook example of why “liberals” often can’t communicate rational points to “conservatives.” It assumes away the context in favor of an abstraction, when context is really important.

  25. Interesting empirical note in regards to LGBT religiosity: some evidence (although somewhat dated) suggests that gay men are actually more religious than straight men : Sherkat, Darren E. “Sexuality and religious commitment in the United States: An empirical examination.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41, no. 2 (2002): 313-323.

  26. jaxjensen says:

    We should love… and keep all the commandments. Another of those commandments is also to preach repentance (D&C 6, D&C 11, Mosiah 25) and seeing that there be no iniquity among us (D&C 20:54- a specific priesthood responsibility, Moroni 6:7 – church in general).

    What do we do when a LBGTQ member shows up? Well when they walk in the door I have no way of knowing if they are LBGTQ or not… so a loving welcome and acceptance is priority. Once it is “clear that that individual is participating in homosexual behavior” then a loving call to repentance is required. Not sure how that would be made “clear” to me outside of the person telling me “I’m an active homosexual.”

    The “no iniquity among us” doesn’t mean drive the person away, but would be much preferred to have the person stop the iniquity. That is true of all iniquity and not just sexual ones. If the person leaves because they don’t think repentance is necessary (as mentioned already) then that is on them. I allow all men to worship as they please, and if it please them to leave, then that’s fine.

  27. “a loving call to repentance is required”
    As a sinner myself, thank you for showing me the exit.

  28. Yeah, Jax, I’m not convinced that it’s my right or responsibility to call others to repentance. Rather, I’m responsible for repenting of my sins and for loving those around me.

    Does a bishop/stake president/area authority face additional responsibilities? Sure, though those additional responsibilities don’t abrogate their Christian charge to love their neighbors as themselves (which, it strikes me, means to love them even if we know their sins, given that I know my own sins very well).

    Part of our charge in loving our neighbor, I believe, is to love her with her sins, not in spite of her sins. And part of our charge is to actually engage with those who sin, whether that sin is lack of tithepaying or having sex outside of marriage or (perish the thought) (no, seriously, I can’t stand the smell of smoke) smoking.

    I’m afraid that, to the extent we encourage people to the exit through our lack of love and compassion, we fail the second-most-important test we have in this life.

  29. Mark Clark says:

    Thanks for the link. There are many Christian denominations that do not consider homosexual relationships within the bonds of matrimony sinful. But alas, Mormonism is clearly not one of those denominations. The teachings of the LDS leaders treat LGBTQs as lessers and Mormon culture is rife with homophobia. I applaud Mormon believers who aren’t homophobic and try to combat a deeply homophobic culture. However, these believers have to 1) recognize that blatant homophobia not just among the members but also the leaders and 2) recognize that any treatment of same-sex romantic relationships as inherently inferior to opposite-sex romantic relationships IS homophobic. You can’t say that marriage is only between one man and one woman and not be a homophobe (or a hypocrite if you’re a believing Mormon, since Joseph Smith and Brigham Young clearly did not practice “traditional” marriage). Too many times, I see believers who are sympathetic towards the LGBTQ community failing to recognize those two issues and this does not help the cause.

  30. Mark Clark. Your implied definitions of “homophobe” and “hypocrite” are not the only ones in common use. Your assumption that believing Mormons also believe that JS’ and BY’s marital arrangements were divinely sanctioned is also incorrect. Other than your resulting judgmentalism, it also seems to me that much of Mormon culture remains homophobic (by some definitions). Good luck trying to change that with negative judgments rather than persuasion.

  31. Sam,

    The conflict we have is that every teacher within a ward (home teachers, SS, Primary, YM, RS, Priesthood, YW) is commissioned to teach the laws of the Gospel. Gospel teaching is an act of calling all of us collectively to repentance. The law of chastity as taught in the Church makes it quite clear that sexuality and sexual behavior must be kept within the bounds the Lord has set and that SSM is an act of apostasy. I don’t agitate for or expect the current situation to change. But those are the paradigms we are working under.

  32. “…we welcome, love, and serve that individual” by calling them to repentance.

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/04/the-voice-of-warning?lang=eng

  33. Old Man, how many lessons in the church say, Don’t do gay stuff? I mean, I haven’t taught every lesson in the church, but between primary, youth Sunday School, adult Sunday School, and priesthood, I’ve seen roughly, um, zero. Which means that if you’re talking about the LGBTQ community and condemning what they’ve done, you’re freelancing.

    And there’s a difference between an injunction to repent, said broadly to members of the ward, and singling out someone to tell them to repent.

    There’s also a difference between loving your neighbor and being a self-righteous and judgmental jerk. And that difference strikes me as abundantly important, and one that even the least of us can master. So sure, call your ward to repentance.[fn1] But do it in a way that invites and shows love. If you’re doing it to condemn or offend, you’re doing it wrong.[fn2]

    [fn] Actually, don’t.

    [fn2] See, e.g. Jonah.

  34. And Wilhelm, I did several “Ctrl-Fs” for what you quoted, and “we welcome, love, and serve that individual” is not in the talk you linked to, unless my computer is seriously freaking out. It does, however, say,

    This is not to say that we should bang on our neighbor’s door or stand in the public square shouting, “Repent!” Truly, when you think about it, we have in the restored gospel what people, deep down, really want. So the warning voice is generally not only civil, but in the Psalmist’s phrase, it is a “joyful noise.”

    So it seems like Elder Christoffereson isn’t telling us that we should go up to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters at church and tell them they’re sinning and need to repent; rather, we should make their experience joyful enough that they want to repent of whatever sins they engage in.

    Again, though, it’s not up to us to figure out what their sins are or tell them what their sins are. We need to figure out what our sins are, repent of those, and love our neighbors. Again, full stop.

  35. Michael H says:

    “Old Man, how many lessons in the church say, Don’t do gay stuff? I mean, I haven’t taught every lesson in the church, but between primary, youth Sunday School, adult Sunday School, and priesthood, I’ve seen roughly, um, zero. Which means that if you’re talking about the LGBTQ community and condemning what they’ve done, you’re freelancing.”

    Huh?

  36. @Sam Brunson. The source of the quote is the OP.

  37. And yes, calling sinners to repentance can take many forms.

  38. @Mark Clark

    “There are many rapidly declining Christian denominations that do not consider homosexual relationships within the bonds of matrimony sinful.”

    Fixed that for you.

  39. Mark Clark says:

    JR, change occurs by persuading others to increase the social penalty against those who display homophobia. This has already occurred. Homophobic slurs used to be commonly used in US society, but now are strongly frowned upon. Mormon LGBTQ allies need to stop letting homophobia slide and allowing cultural exception. If you are true allies, as Sam Brunson claims to be, and again I am commending him for it, you need the courage to take a bit stronger stance against blatant displays of homophobia. And I’m sorry, but criticism of same-sex marriage is a display of homophobia that needs to be spoken out against. We cannot continue to treat the LDS church and Mormon culture with kid gloves and allow them a pass over this issue. We cannot treat them as if they have overcome homophobia because they frown on beating up gays now and no longer push them into “reparative” therapy and undesired marriages to the opposite sex. That’s not enough. LGBTQ Mormons suffer because LDS leaders and members still will not accept same-sex marriage. Add to that, they’re light years away from accepting sex changes.

    “Some definitions of homophobia….” ALL widely accepted definitions of homophobia include unacceptance of same-sex marriage as a manifestation of homophobia. This is not an issue that you can conveniently skirt around in order to declare the LDS church and its members as somehow not homophobic or Mormon teachings as not homophobic. Any definition of homophobia that would exclude unacceptance of same-sex marriage is a distortion of the term as it is commonly used and recognized. Homophobia is hardwired into LDS doctrine and teachings.

  40. “Homophobia is hardwired into LDS doctrine and teachings.”

    For the sake of the church I hope so. The hermeneutic of gay suspicion is simply too high a price to pay for homophilia.

    http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=18-07-021-f

  41. In the church we are so obsessed with sex. (Yes, I know, I too did read the article and the comments, and I didn’t have to.) I can’t help thinking it’s prurience on our part to make any judgment about other people’s private sexual behavior, whether the Bishop’s or a visitor’s. Surely there are other elements to a person’s life and personality that are worth noticing and building friendship around.

  42. With me and a good many other individuals change has occurred through acquaintance and friendship and relationship to gays and through study, but not through increasing social penalties. That is not to say that increasing social penalties has not also motivated change in some and solidified resistance to change in others. I am unimpressed with the rhetoric and the implicit claims to omniscience of both Mark Clark and the touchstonemag article.

  43. I’ve been doing this (i.e., blogging) long enough that nothing should surprise me, but I still find it shocking how many people seem to want to find some kind of exception to the commandment “love thy neighbor,” some way to escape that with whatever group.

    There’s not an exception. And there’s only one commandment that trumps it.

    And that stands whether your neighbor is straight or gay. In fact, it stands whether your neighbor loves or hates you. It stands whether your neighbor sins and repents or sins and doesn’t repent (because again, we all sin).

    So Wilhelm, if you hope homophobia is hardwired into the church, good for you, I guess? but that’s deeply un-Christian and un-Mormon, because it deeply violates the Second Great Commandment. I disagree that it’s anywhere central to church teachings, but I agree that it is too present today, and it’s something we need to collectively repent of. Because again, Jesus didn’t provide any exceptions to His command to love our neighbors, or any asterisks on His definition of “neighbor.”

  44. I have no problem with the idea of a call to repentance, but again, as you look to the examples of Jesus and the prophets in the scriptures, overt calls to repentance come mostly to those in positions of political and cultural power. To those that lack such power, the gospel is a welcome, not a rebuke.

    Let’s take it as a given, as Sam does in the OP, that gay sex is sinful and is something that needs to be repented of. If someone doesn’t accept that, and therefore won’t repent, and if our goal is to encourage repentance, and if that person is actually ignorant of the church’s teachings on that point, then setting out our position that it is sin might make sense. But if that person already knows that, then continuing to hammer on it won’t change minds, it will only lead to digging in. If your goal is to feel good about yourself, then sure, go ahead and pile on. But if your goal is to actually encourage repentance, then continuing to hammer on the fact that the church teaches that gay sex is sinful is not going to work.

    Instead, if your goal is to convince someone that disagrees with the church’s teachings to accept those teachings, you’re going to need to soften that person toward the church and persuade them to accept that the church has the moral authority to speak on the issue. Moral authority is not the same as institutional authority. We have institutional authority (priesthood) but we have lost a lot of moral authority with the LGBT community. This is basic section 121 stuff. I think it’s clear that we as a community have “reproved” our gay brothers and sisters. Now how about that “increase of love,” lest [they] esteem [us] to be [their] enemy”?

    In other words, Sam is right that the gospel calls us to love and welcome those we think are sinners no less than those we think are saints. But with section 121 the restoration goes even further and makes it especially urgent to show even more love to those we think are sinners.

  45. I suspect that Wilhelm was responding to Mark Clark’s expansive definition of “homophobia,” which is essentially equivalent to “any suggestion that homosexual acts are sinful is homophobic.”

    If that’s the definition that the gay community and its allies have adopted, it’s little wonder that Latter-day Saints who accept the church’s teachings on sexual morality have a hard time knowing how to welcome members of that community into their fellowship.

  46. Mark B,

    it’s little wonder that Latter-day Saints who accept the church’s teachings on sexual morality have a hard time knowing how to welcome members of that community into their fellowship.

    Um, no. We’ve been commanded to love even those who hate us; certainly we can figure out how to love those who believe, rightly or wrongly, that we hate them. If not, we definitely don’t deserve to call ourselves disciples of Christ.

  47. Put another way: the Second Great Commandment doesn’t say it’s the LGBTQ community’s obligation to make themselves lovable to us; it puts the obligation us to love them (and everybody else) whether or not we consider them easily lovable.

  48. John Mansfield says:

    Are there any other identifiable groups that we should be concerned about loving? Or is this all another round of flying the homophilia flag to chastise homophobes who won’t bend the knee?

  49. John Mansfield says:

    Are there any other identifiable groups that we should be concerned about loving? Or is this all another round of flying the homophilia flag to chastise homophobes who won’t salute it?

  50. Yes we should love our neighbors “full stop” as you say. But you ignore the reality of how this would play out. Anyone who engages in sexual sins repeatedly (and if it is known) will always be on the margin of a Mormon ward. They can’t have a most callings, they might even lose their membership. We can love them and serve them but I have a feeling that isn’t enough in the minds of many.

  51. John, reread the OP, and you tell me: are there any other groups we need to love unconditionally?

  52. And ABM, how would it play out if we loved those who engage in sin (whether it be sexual sin or not—I don’t see how sexual sin is different from other sin) unconditionally? I can only imagine we’d be a more Christlike people and a more Zion community.

  53. John Mansfield says:

    Sam, you asked me to tell you: In all those paragraphs on loving members of the LGBTQ community or those who participate in homosexual behaviors, your post, in a note at the end, parenthetically brings up drinking coffee and not paying tithing. So, no, the OP isn’t about the general charge to love neighbors. There is no other group that reading the post brings to mind. Bringing such groups to mind (heroin-dealing elders, for instance) and the love we should give them was not the intent. Unless I overlooked others, the only comment that responded in that direction to the OP was the one by Loursat about jack Mormons.

  54. John, you’re playing dumb. Which is fine—I’m obligated to love you anyway. Yes, the post is about loving our LGBTQ neighbors, a group (if you’ve read the comments) that some of us do our darnedest to find an excuse for not loving.

    Try, for example, these two sentences from the OP: “The scriptures are replete with admonitions to love and serve our neighbors. And there’s no way to define “neighbors” that doesn’t include the LGBTQ community.”

    Yes, you could say, Sam only said love the LGBTQ community. But that would demand an effortful misreading.

    But in case you choose to be that dense, let me put this as plainly as possible: as Christians, we are obligated to love our neighbor. Our neighbor includes everybody. And that “everybody” includes, inter alia the LGBTQ community, and you can’t read scriptures in a way that excludes them.

  55. The post certainly brought to my mind the need for us to love and welcome all kinds of people. I thought it was obvious. I also think that John Mansfield is playing dumb, along with all the other people in this thread who are determined to justify their bigotry or their fear of loving people who are not like them.

    The church is not a safe place to be for people who want to use its walls to keep other kinds of sinners out. For such people the church becomes a prison and a mark of their own condemnation.

  56. I believe the gospel is to teach us to think through hypotheticals like this, and come to a proper view, with an eye single to the glory of God. When we do…we realize the topic or sin is irrelevant, but how we act and what we say.

    As the OP stated: “Irrespective of whether homosexual behavior is sinful, the LGBTQ community isn’t any different from the non-LGBTQ community in that regard—we all sin. ”

    Or…as Pres Uchtdorf taught: “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”

    Perhaps church leaders have a stewardship to handle certain affairs in the church based on their judgment of worthiness, but for the membership of the church…we are all equally welcome to be in the congregation together. The problem is if we view others as if they are different from us, or we assume their needs.

    Do we rush out of our way to find the youth with pink hair and ear rings and bend over backwards to tell them they are welcome…and ignore the other youth who are in white shirts and ties and passing the sacrament or attending their YW activities each week? Why? Why are we scanning and judging to decide who to go love and who to try to show we love them so we feel better about ourselves? It is actually simpler if we just love everyone and catch ourselves if we find we are judging.

    The beauty of the gospel is that it isn’t just about rules. We don’t just get a list of sins and which are more terrible than others, and how we rank. But…that we learn to become more christ-like in focusing on ourselves and how we need to act, and all sins are sins. How we treat others or view others reveals more about us than it does on some rules or laws that we believe in.

    That may be a boring or plain vanilla answer, but I just don’t view the LGBT issue any different than anything else in the church. We’re a church of love, not a church of fear.

  57. Thanks, Loursat and Heber13.

  58. N. Bailey says:

    Sam,

    Where I live there is a shelter that actively seeks to incorporate innovative and proven best management practices to help folks get back to a self sustaining life. The complexity of successfully establishing and running a human staffed endeavor that creates beneficial outcomes for people who have gone through many substantial traumas, is hard to put into a few lines of a reply.

    There are 2 basic campuses at this shelter. One campus addresses basic needs of food, shelter and cot to sleep or rest on, all are welcome with minimal check in requirements. At this campus you are free to come and go as you please and stay in the air conditioned dining hall or watch television in the back recreation room. Vision, Dental, and Medical services are all available to people who come to this campus.

    There is a more restricted campus that requires key card entry and underling commitments of those who wish to reside there. Sobriety, meeting with advocates, and employment are goals to be working toward and eventual integration back to “normal” life is the aim, not only of this campus but those who choose to make it their home for a time. Many additional resources are available to those who choose to make commitments required of this campus, above the physical basic needs that are meet to all who come to both.

    Love and concern are equally felt by administrators for those who come to either campus of the shelter. All have experienced trauma that has affected an arrival on either campus.

    There are many corollaries to the work of helping people return to a “normal” life and the work of helping people look for an “eternal” life.

    I would caution you not to call into question the love of anyone who recognizes the need for restrictions, barriers and commitments in the work of helping people.

  59. Two big things, N. Bailey. First, I’d caution you not to caution me. It’s tremendously rude and presumptuous.

    And second, I fail to see your point. I’ve explicitly avoided addressing what church leadership (which would correspond to your administrators) should do; I certainly have my ideas, but that’s not what I’m trying to get at in this post.

    What I am interested in is how we—in your example, the residents of the shelters—should act. We, as fellow sinners trying to become whole, aren’t the ones determining which shelter others go into. It’s not our right or our responsibility. It is our responsibility to love and welcome everybody who joins us in our spiritual shelter.

    I mean, unless you’re assuming that somehow being straight makes us administrators, while being gay makes LGBTQ individuals residents. But there’s no possible way you could mean that. So I’m left being puzzled by your point.

  60. N. Bailey says:

    Sorry you took my caution to be rude and presumptuous, not the intent, but if you can’t take a caution from a well intended brother, good luck loving everyone.

    Seemed to me in your zeal to protect LGBT brothers and sisters you were dismissing other “shelter residents” who are recognizing the need for barriers. Some folks are misplacing the commitment to chastity as requirement to enter the church doors, this is not the case and you are right to point that out.

    I taught as cross dressing young adult male while I was a missionary and he came to church a few times, so I understand what you are trying to discuss here- try being an elder that brings an investigator in full drag to church.

    We had good conversations (pre family proclamation) about the importance of gender and its purposes in our earth journey ultimately it was too much of a course change for him to make the decision to be baptized and all that would bring, but they were spirit filled and good discussions.

    So to respond to your question on how we as “residents of the shelter” should act, my vote is to be elders willing to bring investigators in drag to church.

    We should endeavor to live the commandments out of love for one who has ransomed us all. We should act with concern and care for each other, believing that what we have is of value to anyone everyone can come to our feast.

  61. N. Bailey says:

    The investigator was in drag, not me. Think I would have been sent home for that ;-) poorly written…. apologies

  62. Thanks for expanding, N. Bailey. I’m still at a loss, though, on how showing love and welcome for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters dismisses anybody else’s needs. There’s no zero sum game between the needs of one group within the church and the needs of another. Frankly, if we create barriers that serve to exclude the poor, the oppressed, the weary, or any other group from our fellowship, not only do we fail to build Zion, but we show our unwillingness to follow the commandments.

    I’m not sure where this zero sum mentality comes from, honestly, but it seems way too present, and we need to get rid of it. Again, like you said, we, as members and disciples, are not supposed to create a threshold that sinners aren’t allowed to cross. Partly, that’s because we wouldn’t be able to cross it either, given that the only sinless person has been Jesus. But also, it’s because His example and commandments require us to love and embrace our neighbors, and we don’t get an out from that commandment just because they sin.

    We can use all the energy we want to figure out a loophole so that “love thy neighbor” doesn’t mean the LGBTQ community, or smokers, or people who stand on the left side of the escalator, or Republicans, or Democrats, or Californians, or whomever. But that energy is both wasted and, ultimately, counterproductive to our souls.

  63. “Which brings me to a second (non-hypothetical) question: why do we so often fail at this basic Christian duty? Because we do fail at it, frequently.”

    Sam,

    A previous comment tried to tease out what exactly you mean by this. In what ways do we fail at this basic Christian duty? Do we kick people out? Do we not greet them? Do we not serve them? Do we not invite them to activities? Do we not mourn with them? What exactly are you referring to? And what percentage of “we” are you talking about?

    In my experience, gay people don’t feel welcome at our church because a large percentage of us don’t support gay marriage, and do support our leaders despite their policies that exclude gay members from the full benefits of the faith. If you want to say that taking those stances isn’t showing Christian love, then I won’t argue against you. But if that’s what you mean, then be clear about it. Because the reasons a lot of us are in step with church leadership on gay issues are much more complex than a lot of us hating the gay person in the pew next to us.

  64. I have read the article and the comments. And I am really intrigued by Bailey’s example and find it closer to what the church looks like or at least strives to be. I use “strive” because we are not always good at following the teachings of Christ perfectly. In principle and in for the most part in fact we welcome people into what Bailey called the “shelter”, the outer part of the shelter. Treating people’s basic needs, helping them only as far as they want to be helped or are willing to be helped. The people in management of the shelter love these people they really do. They must, it is too hard and heat-breaking not to love the people, all the people. It is well known by the people in management that many of the people coming in will only come in for a short time, get a quick meal, get out of the snow, and get a new pair of glasses. But there regular life calls them back and they are gone, for now. They may come back regularly or never again.
    Other stay, they really want to change themselves and their situation. The “shelter” can help with those people, a more intensive help is given and things are required of the people, rules to be observed, tasked that need to be done. Management knows that these things will help those people reach their goals to reach that “normal life”. Again management loves these people just as much as they love the people in the other part of the “shelter”. They maybe more familiar with these ones, having had more face time with them and have a stronger bond, but both groups are loved. The overall goal of the shelter is not to provide food and shelter, medical care and a bed at night. The overall goal is to get people back to a “normal life”.
    The thing to remember is that the “management” is the same people coming thought the door. They may be further along the way to a “normal life” but they still live in the shelter. They are not perfect, but they may understand things better than those just coming off the street.
    Sam:
    I don’t see the zero sum mentality in Bailey analogy.
    I don’t see a lot of loop holing either. The commandment is to “love they neighbor as thyself”. “…As thyself” is important think.
    What I see most in the church is we see lots of people come through the door; many don’t stay or come and go over and over. We don’t have much interaction with them, so we don’t have as much attachment. Those we see most in the “shelter” are those we see working for a “normal life”, we have more interaction with and have as a result more attachment. And we know that is not the perfect way, but we are not perfect, but we try. With some doing better than others.

  65. Scott, I’ve already responded to where I think N. Bailey’s analogy breaks down. I don’t have much to add except this: to the extent you see yourself and people who agree with you as “management” who have the right and ability to police who else enters the door, I find that deeply troubling and wrong. If we go with the analogy, then you and I—like those who enter and stay, and those who enter and leave—are merely the residents. We have neither the authority nor the right to make others feel unwelcome.

  66. N. Bailey says:

    Sam, the initial caution was to not question the love of anyone who recognizes the need for restrictions, barriers and commitments. I think the love you are asking for has no restrictions barriers or commitments as a quality, and I agree with that completely. But understanding the usefulness of barriers, commitments and restrictions does not mean that you are not in possession of that type of love.

    That type of love is critical and basic to Zion, but Zion has barriers, commitments and restrictions. The barriers are essentially self filters, no one has to man the gates and check the card, you choose to go through them for Zion.

    If someone thinks they need to do the filtering or card checking they are misplacing the source of their salvation, (it doesn’t come from the law but from God) but it does not mean that the barrier or law should be removed or that anyone should convince themselves that it isn’t even there.

    I have a difficult time understanding the complexity surrounding the nature of homosexuality, I am myself not a homosexual, so I am not in a condition to really comprehend. I can see and understand how a homosexual relationship can create loving conditions required for a good life, but I can not see how a homosexual relationship can create life itself.

    Just because I see that as a barrier to eternal life doesn’t mean I am incapable of a love that has no barriers or conditions.

  67. Chadwick says:

    It seems we are constantly having to balance mercy with law in the Church these days. I decided years ago to always err on the side of mercy. I’ll leave the law to the lawyers and the High Council.

    I often hear it said at church that one reason people leave the church is because they want to sin (let it be said I disagree with this assertion). Yet President Uchtdorf reminds us that Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for Saints. Yet despite this catchy phrase, if the Church is a hospital for sinners, its the most hostile hospital I’ve ever frequented. The inmates are running the asylum.

    This big tent Mormon has your back on this one, Sam.

  68. Sam asks how we treat LGBTQ people at church. A first answer is that we are no more welcoming to LGBTQ people than we are to anyone else. Kevin Barney wrote a post at BCC two months ago (find it here) about ways we can improve our worship services to make them welcoming to outsiders. Kevin’s post is positive and hopeful, but the implication is that we are doing badly. And, in fact, we are doing very badly. Our Sunday meetings are not designed to reach out; they are designed almost exclusively to address the congregation as insiders.

    To put it rudely, we live in a bubble, and we are unaware of how closely our meetings resemble Rameumptom.

    I don’t see the intolerant comments in this thread as primarily a product of bigotry. Instead, I think I’m reading the knee-jerk reactions of people who experience church meetings largely as a celebration of how special it is to be separate and peculiar. I say this as one who is guilty. I know this instinctive reaction because I share it, and it has taken a long, painful time for me to recognize it in myself.

    A first step toward welcoming LGBTQ people would be to do better in welcoming anyone who is not already one of us. Non-Mormons who come to our church are there because they are already conscious of their sins. They are there seeking help in their humility. It seems to me a great sin when we do not embrace people in whom the Spirit is already doing marvelous work.

  69. Well thanks for twisting my words around and putting it in the darkest light you could think of Sam. I was shooting for the “we are all in this together, working to get to the same place” kind of thing. And you have me “and people who agree with” me, standing at the door of the “shelter” throwing people out as fast as I can. Nice job making me the villain, your law professor would be proud.
    From my experience, most people would have the church and the gospel conform to their life style and not the other way around. It is God that sets the criteria for entry, not me. As for mercy, I’m all for it.

  70. Loursat, you know I almost always agree and here I do again, in a big picture sense.

    Closer to home, however, I find on the one hand Wards and Branches that get it right. Or at least a lot better than Rameumptoms. It sometimes looks like the difference is small, not much more than a few thoughtful caring people giving others “permission” to love without fear. So I have hope.

    On the other hand, a number of the comments here and the external reality that they reflect is that in its current incarnation the Mormon church is hostile to LGBTQ people and issues in particular, and many of us feel called to choose sides. If you’re totally with the Church, there’s a fair chance that you will end up acting or speaking or even thinking in anti-gay ways. If you are openly supportive and welcoming of LGBTQ persons, you are likely to be or at least feel ostracized in this early 21st century manifestation of the church.

  71. Sam, regarding your second question: Why do we so often fail at this basic Christian duty? As has already been stated, a lot depends on what exactly you mean when you say “we so often fail”, but if you simply mean many of us tend to be less welcoming in this situation than we are in the face of other sins, then I agree with you that there are lots of reasons, but let me add one I didn’t notice mentioned before: awkwardness.

    I remember as a missionary how much more nerve-racking it was to teach an investigator about the lifestyle-changing commandments (word of wisdom, chastity, tithing) than it was to teach about church history or the plan of salvation. When you’re teaching those commandments, you aren’t just asking them to believe something. You aren’t just asking them to do something that will cause minor inconvenience. You are asking them to make a dramatic and likely difficult change. I think it’s unfortunately natural to feel awkward and to shy away from challenges like that. I know I’m inclined to.

    Let me suggest a different analogy to the situation you presented: Imagine a polygamous trio, a man and his two wives, start attending church. Should the ward be welcoming of them? Of course. But while we’re smiling and shaking their hands and hugging them and sitting next to them at church, we know what’s coming if they choose to fully embrace the gospel, don’t we? We know the dramatic and difficult change that awaits them if they keep moving forward, don’t we? I think we do, and I think we’re at times too scared to walk that path besides them and help them on their way.

    We belong to a church full of sinners after all. This is just one of many things we need to learn to be better at.