“Cannot Change”

This announcement from the newsroom (related to ENDA and a statement from Harry Reid that “the church is changing” [ftnt1]) contains this sentence: “As such, traditional marriage is a foundational doctrine and cannot change.”

I find the idea that a doctrine cannot change to be more than a little problematic. It seems to me that a commitment to continuing revelation requires one to accept, at least in the abstract, the idea that doctrine could in fact be changed in the future. (That said, I can’t imagine the church permitting gay marriage for church members. I’m just speaking theoretically here.)

And I’d think that a church that had first practiced traditional marriage (whatever that means–see here for a great exploration of how the church’s doctrine concerning traditional marriage has changed just in the last 40 years) and then adopted polygamy and then ceased practicing polygamy–all, presumably, at the behest of revelation–would not claim that the doctrine concerning marriage could not change via revelation.

That said, I think I understand the impetus for saying not only “the church’s position has not changed” but “the church’s position will not change” because I frequently hear in the bloggernacle–whether the topic is gay marriage or anything else the commenter does not like–the sentiment to “just wait” because in a generation, the doctrine/policy will have changed. I can see the appeal of this line of reasoning–it would be bizarre to think that nothing will change in a church that believes in continuing revelation and so it isn’t worth getting too bothered over–but I see the danger in it as well, as we begin to basically ignore doctrines that we don’t like while we wait for them to go away, instead of grappling with gaining a testimony of them instead. So maybe the “cannot change” language is an important signalling device–contra Elder Holland’s “one miracle at a time” comment when he was asked if women would one day be serving missions for two years instead of 18 months–that there are some changes that are not in the works and won’t be happening any time soon.

I suppose I also need to consider the possibility that President Monson has specifically received a revelation that the doctrine concerning gay marriage will never, ever change. I think that that is within the realm of possibility, although I can’t think of many precedents for that kind of a revelation. I would hope that if that were the case, we would hear it from him and not just from the newsroom.

[1] Reid’s statement, in context (at least, as reported in the two articles I found–I can’t find a complete transcript), appears to say that more members of the church are supporting “gay rights,” not that the Church as an institution is changing its doctrine on gay marriage, which makes the newsroom response seem a little off of the mark, especially given that the institutional Church has itself actually supported “gay rights” in some cases. (But I suppose the newsroom mitigated this criticism to some extent with its conditional statement: “If it is being suggested that the Church’s doctrine on this matter is changing, that is incorrect.”)



93 comments for ““Cannot Change”

  1. “Foundational Doctrine”, seems to be a relatively new term in LDS discourse. lds.org has few hits–mostly recent hits in the newsroom. For example, the newsroom says the location of the Garden of Eden is not a “foundational doctrine”. I wonder if this new term has roots in constitutional law or in non-Mormon Christian discourse.

  2. I see “cannot change” as essentially a rhetorical stance; as a predictive statement of the lack of policy development over time it’s simply not credible.

  3. Interesting. I have recently seen some discussion or debate on whether doctrines change.

    One thing is certain, eternal truths don’t change. I’m not sure doctrines change either, as they are closely founded on eternal truths, but I am sure that how we practice or implement those doctrines in the church changes as needed.

    One may consider how our implementation of many doctrines has changed to meet the needs of the Church. For example, baptism, the sacrament, prayer, celestial marriage, sacrifice, and more.

    If we were living within a celestial community, I think our worship would be significantly different, because we would participate in the fullness of an law, order or doctrine, and anything less would be found unacceptable to maintain membership in that community.

    Currently, I find most of how doctrines are implemented in the Church right now, fall more in the realm of Terrestial, perhaps mostly because we just aren’t ready as whole to live them at a Celestial level.

    How you may ask? The eternal truths of Exhaltation, with its apparent need for marriage, in a celestial state, would not accept anything less then a Temple Marriage. Yet currently, we accept less in this state.

    To accept a telestial state is not possible, as it is essentially the absolution / rejection of doctrine. Those that live only worthy of a telestial state, would be hard pressed to even be members of the Lord’s Church.

    Those that call for the Church to make changes, clearly miss the entire point of doctrine, eternal truths, and living the principles based on them.

  4. Could there come a day when the doctrine of baptism by immersion changes? Based on the continuing revelation theory, maybe. Or, it is the kind of doctrine that is tied to an eternal truth that won’t change. I see the posture of the church as saying there will be no eternal progression of same sex couples.

  5. Is the purported doctrine that any “doctrine could in fact be changed in the future” itself a doctrine that could be changed in the future?

  6. On the whole , the short statement is quite balanced. It distances the Church from Senator Reid’s statement, whatever it was (he doesn’t speak for the Church) but doesn’t criticize Reid. It implicitly recognizes that LDS politicians can and will take a variety of positions on such issues, and seems okay with this. It reiterates LDS support for traditional marriage (no surprise) while emphasizing that “all people should be treated with kindness and understanding.”

    Perhaps a phrase was left off the last sentence: “and cannot change … until it changes.” That is more consistent with LDS history (plural marriage) and doctrine (continuing but not continuous revelation).

  7. Disagree that polygamy is a good example of the doctrine of marriage changing, because that was fundamentally still the same relationship. The word choice reminds me of one of President Monson’s talks from the last 18 months or so. Fairly blunt for him, saying more or less the same thing.

  8. Fundamentally the same relationship? Besides the irony of the use of the word “fundamental”, plural marriage, according to the church, is fundamentally un-marriage because the definition of marriage is the union of one man and one women. That is of course to posit that the church believes that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, which is somewhat ambiguous – and ambiguity is apparently not an issue when it comes to the church’s confidence in the current definition of marriage because they are very certain that the doctrine and definition of marriage (or un-marriage) cannot change. Oh the tangled webs we weave……when we don’t just admit that our understanding of things CAN and SHOULD change.

  9. “One thing is certain, eternal truths don’t change.”

    As soon as you figure out what one of those are, give “The Brethren” (TM) in Salt Lake a call, because they haven’t quite figured out what any of those are yet.

  10. It’s just weird to me that the Newsroom would make that claim. Mormon history in the mid-late 19th Century is almost centered around the fact that at least marriage praxis changed, twice, suggesting at least a different interpretation of marriage doctrine.

  11. Rob, it has been well-documented around the bloggernacle lately that the Newsroom and the Historian’s office are increasingly the most dominant sources of clear doctrinal stances on many issues. This is most likely a strategic maneuver aimed at appeasing both the conservative/traditionalist and the liberal/intellectual coalitions of the membership. Each agency is well-practiced in clarifying factual and political matters of the church in a way that avoids severely alienating either side of each debate. Maybe I’m seeing connections that don’t really exist, though.

  12. @ Aaron – 9. Plural marriage is a facet or a principle of Marriage, not the doctrine. That is borne out quite well in the Doctrine & Covenants and other prophetic writings. Hence I agree that using plural marriage to show a change in doctrine isn’t sound.

    @ Narrator – 10. Am I to assume that you think that the Brethren don’t know of any eternal truths? Perhaps I’ll share one with you, a place to begin: Gaining knowledge of eternal truths is essential to obtaining salvation. Of course – if you reject that as a eternal truth, I have nothing left to share, as others would also be rejected. We don’t have all the eternal truths, but we have many!

  13. #13 — That doesn’t help me have confidence that the Newsroom did its history before writing.

  14. There are principles and doctrines that are gospel and there is Conservative culture that comes wrapped around the church, and it changes.

    Since I’ve been a member we’ve had Racism, opposition to; birth control, inter racial marriage, inter cultural marriage, ERA, sex for other than procreation, and gay marriage. Most of these just died away as I believe the opposition to Gay marriage will. Probably when the older Apostles (the over 80s) are replaced.

    When you see inter racial couples together in church or the temple, and realise there were conference talks etc saying all the same things about them, now being said about gay marriage, you can be sure it will change as Harry Reid says.

  15. I think ultimately every person has the opportunity and responsibility to engage directly with God to feel out what is capital-T Truth.

    To me, marriage between a man and woman is one of those kinds of doctrines. I feel like prophets’ main purposes are centered around a few basic truths — the reality of God, the reality of the Atonement, and the reality of the plan of salvation (of which marriage is a central part). Not only do we have internal consistency among current prophets, but we have teaching about the reality and power of God, the need for a Savior, and the importance of marriage in God’s plan given through prophets across millennia.

    As such, I don’t think this statement about the doctrine of marriage never changing is made lightly.

  16. Geoff-A,

    Were there really conference talks saying “all the same things” about inter-racial marriage then? Did the leadership of the church, constantly, apostle after apostle, conference after conference, teach that interracial marriage was wrong and that as members we should not support it? Was there a Church Proclamation signed by the 1st Presidency and Apostles about how marriage between only one race was ordained of God and that those that didn’t comply would be judged? Did the leadership of the time teach that the church should be prepared to be misunderstood and possibly persecuted over the issue? Was engaging in a interracial relationship or marriage considered a violation of the law of chastity and/or grounds for church discipline? Did the church encourage its members to prevent, though legal and political means, the marriages of other races from ever occurring in or out of the church?

    If you look at the past few conferences, I think you will find that the “over 80’s”apostles aren’t the only one with this viewpoint on gay marriage.

  17. The two false analogies of polygamy and blacks & the priesthood are always trotted out as examples of “doctrine” changing, but those that do misunderstand what the doctrine was in the first place.

    In the case of polygamy, the doctrine has always been “My people are commanded to have only one wife, unless I command otherwise” (Jacob 2:30, not to mention the precedent of Biblical days).

    Those of African descent were always promised they would someday receive the priesthood, though it was unclear when and many speculated (including Bruce R. McConkie in his New Testament commentaries) — just as Christ was called to go only to the House of Israel, but the gospel had always been promised to the people of all nations. Later revelation to Peter directed him to take the gospel to the gentiles as well. Christ was not “racist” for restricting his message to the House of Israel when he ministered on earth, and taking the gospel to the gentiles was not a change of doctrine, but the fulfillment of it.

  18. Corrected post (link was missing):

    The two false analogies of polygamy and blacks & the priesthood are always trotted out as examples of “doctrine” changing, but those that do misunderstand what the doctrine was in the first place.

    In the case of polygamy, the doctrine has always been “My people are commanded to have only one wife, unless I command otherwise” (Jacob 2:30, not to mention the precedent of Biblical days).

    Those of African descent were always promised they would someday receive the priesthood, though it was unclear when and many speculated (including Bruce R. McConkie in his New Testament commentaries) — just as Christ was called to go only to the House of Israel, but the gospel had always been promised to the people of all nations. Later revelation to Peter directed him to take the gospel to the gentiles as well. Christ was not “racist” for restricting his message to the House of Israel when he ministered on earth, and taking the gospel to the gentiles was not a change of doctrine, but the fulfillment of it.

  19. The bottom line is that even if it changes some day, we are being asked to support the Proclamation to the World now.

    We can refuse, but we are naive if we believe there will be no lasting consequences for supporting hypothetical future leadership of the Church, rather than sustaining our living, breathing prophets, seers, and revelators.

    We have been told there will be consequences of persecution to support them, too. But I, for one, will choose mortal persecution over eternal consequence. Believing that one doesn’t have to wrestle internally simply because doctrine may change some day might help one sleep at night, but it certainly doesn’t help one develop the broken heart and contrite spirit necessary for redemption and exaltation.

  20. Shawn, the D&C and prophetic writings (thinking what Brigham Young said about monogamy) are not at all clear and consistent on plural marriage being simply a facet (not doctrine) of marriage. That is simply not accurate.

  21. “As such, traditional marriage is a foundational doctrine and cannot change.”

    Emma Smith agrees!

  22. Several years ago, the NewsRoom divided “doctrine” from “core doctrine” (now “foundational doctrine”). http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

    It is now clear that some doctrines will never change. God will never stop being our Father. Jesus will always be the Christ. These could never, ever change, else the Church would no longer have any foundation. Traditional marriage is now viewed as one of the foundational doctrines, and if that is the case, it will not change.

  23. The “14 Fundamentals In Following The Prophet” make clear that a Prophet is not bound by either the scriptural cannon or teachings of past prophets. This teaching is logically irreconcilable with the notion that some church teachings “cannot change.” And the practical reality is that all church leaders lose the ability to enforce their teachings when they die. That is why all teachings are subject to change. We can write something in stone, create super-majority repeal requirements, and have our will thrice-notorized. But future generations will do what they think best. At least they always have.

    Regarding plural marriage and the racial priesthood ban, the issue isn’t whether we believe (today) that those were “fundamental” doctrines. The issue is whether church leaders at the time taught that those doctrines would not change. They did teach that. Therefore, there is precedent that church leaders can be mistaken, even on things they say cannot change. As one example, look up the 1949 First President Statement on the Priesthood Ban. The Prophet taught that the ban could not be lifted until all non-cursed people had an opportunity to receive the priesthood first. Obviously, that doctrine changed.

    The biggest issue we face is not whether a doctrine is “fundamental.” It is what to do with the growing number of members who believe SSM is a good institution that should be supported. The fact that the newsroom felt it necessary to make a statement bears out this concern. How do we work with a beehive, a primary teacher, a young men’s president, or even a bishop who does not believe this “fundamental doctrine?” Can they hold a calling? Do they just skip over the topic when it comes up? The church’s struggle is no longer with civil marriage. We will have a hands full in the coming decades dealing with a growing membership who does not believe the church’s teaching against SSM. Long term, I see only two options – either experience bears out that SSM is harmful and the church is proved correct, or experience bears out that SSM is a blessing and the church finds a way to include married gays in the organization. The good news is that with 14 states adopting gay marriage (Hawaii will be 15) we will be awash in evidence sooner rather than later.

    And Cameron (8), I’m pretty sure if I took a second wife my current wife would consider that action a fundamental change to our relationship.

  24. For understandable institutional reasons, official statements are never going to say “we are now changing our doctrine” or bluntly admit to prior doctrinal changes. Instead, they say something like this: “No, we are not changing doctrine, we are just blah blah blah …” The explanation that follows is largely irrelevant, often incoherent on close examination. Something like Irenaeus (#20) claiming our doctrine doesn’t change: we believe in having one wife, except when we don’t.

  25. The tired old analogies to plural marriage and to the priesthood restriction, suggesting that Church approval of same-sex relationships is right around the corner, remind me of the Great Unconformity in Grand Canyon geology, where up to 1.2 billion years of geologic history disappear between adjacent layers of rock. Changing from polygamy to monogamy is like a great pre-historic sea laying down one layer of sediment on top of another, but changing marriage to include same-sex relationships requires bridging a billion years’ gap, eroding away not only the laws of biology that govern human reproduction, but also any connections between sex and procreation or between marriage and children.

    Those who see same-sex “marriage” as simply the next layer of sediment are putting the Tapeats Sandstone atop the Vishnu Basement Rocks and declaring that they haven’t just skipped 1.2 billion years. I’d be more inclined to treat such arguments seriously if those making them would acknowledge the great leap, and explain where those 1.2 billion years have gone.

  26. Anyone errs who looks to the past to understand this newsroom statement. This statement is important, maybe even crucially important, in preparing for the legal challenges ahead. I think it is an eminently prudent statement — the church is making a clear statement now so that judges in the future cannot say there is ambiguity in the religion’s principles.

  27. Has the Newsroom become the 16th brethren or TSM’s Aaron or should we regard it as we do an annomous “White House spokesman”?

  28. I totally agree with 19 and 27, that there is no direct line between marriage as always defined by the Church and Scriptures, and homosexual unions. The arguments for it are all politics and have never been argued religiously (except with horribly mistaken analogy). Those who think that only “80 year old” members of the LDS Leadership find no support for the abomination probably don’t go to church very often, or if they do keep relatively to themselves.

  29. Howard, one could say that about the Elder’s Journal and Times and Seasons, where revelations and teachings that have become Scripture were first declared to the membership. The LDS Church leadership has always used media to teach and proclaim gospel principles. There is nothing new here other than the “new media” of the Internet.

  30. Jettboy, thanks for the EJ and T&S reminder. With regard to your …no support for the abomination comment I think as we finally grow out of obsolete OT black & white enforcement thinking and more in the direction of Christ’s example of the adulteress in the temple “the abomination” will become less of an issue for church enforcement leaving the Bishop who is without sin to cast a stone. Of course this my require living through Elder Oak’s tenure to actually be realized.

  31. Cameron, Irenaeus, I think if 19th century church leaders had taught that Monogamy was ‘good’, but polygamy was ‘best’, you’d be on firmer ground. That’s not the case though. Brigham Young, Heber C Kimball, John Taylor and many others taught that monogamy was immoral and brought evil upon nations that practiced it. As an example, “The monogamic system laid the foundation for prostitution and the evils and diseases of the most revolting nature and character under which modern Christendom groans.” (Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, page 195)

    I agree that our current Church leaders are unlikely to change course on this topic. However, given that 19th century prophets and apostles so badly misjudged the will of the Lord on marriage, I have to assume at least the possibility that current leaders could also be in error with regards to some of their statements on homosexuality.

  32. “Those who think that only “80 year old” members of the LDS Leadership find no support for the abomination probably don’t go to church very often, or if they do keep relatively to themselves.”

    What I love about these discussions is that anyone who studies these issues and reaches a different conclusion, or whose life experience doesn’t comport with the church’s official stance – or who believes based on the church’s own changing precedence that this official stance may change over time as well – are automatically derided as inactives, silent objectors, or outliers.

  33. DavidR, give me a scriptural argument for homosexual relationships as acceptable by God and you might have an argument. At least Orson Pratt has the Statements of Paul to back up the sins of marriage, and the words of Jesus to back up one man and one woman marriages.

  34. Jettboy, I haven’t thoroughly scoured the scriptures looking for homosexual prohibitions but the most popular could be alternately read to be anal sex prohibitions and not necessarily homosexual prohibitions which could have made sense from a health standpoint because an e coli infection would have been no small problem during Biblical times. Do you know of scripture that cannot be read this way but is clearly anti homosexual?

  35. Jettboy, I’m not saying Orson Pratt taught monogamy was a wicked institution, I’m saying all the church leaders did. Here’s a sample of President Young and President Taylor:

    “The one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people.” (John Taylor, Millennial Star, Vol. 15, p. 227)

    “… this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious.” (Brigham Young Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 128)

    I’d be very happy to provide more if you’d like, but if you think i’m unfairly representing their views, try to find instances where they argue the converse. Again, if prophets can be so completely mistaken on marriage in the 19th century, why must I assume their statements are free from error in the 21st?

  36. Jettboy, the issue isn’t that the bible doesn’t discuss homosexual behavior, it’s that the bible also discusses not eating pork, women speaking in church, and planting two kinds of seeds in a field. Furthermore, the New Testament patently rejects divorce and remarriage, but we seem to have made accomodations for this “abomination” in the church and our doctrine.

  37. I disagree strongly with commenters here who dismiss the end of polygamy as having no bearing on whether the LDS definition of marriage can be changed. We now know, for certain, that President Woodruff told his closest confidantes that the church would never cease the practice of polygamy under any circumstances, and he did this less than three weeks before he issued Official Declaration 1. It is beyond pretentious of us, not to mention stupid, to place limits on what God can do.

  38. While not making any predictions as to the future, I do take comfort in the fact that the church survived the effects of changing it’s doctrine regarding plural marriages. Let’s never forget the very real cost to members (big and small) the change entailed. Two apostles were excommunicated. Wives and children were cut off from their support. While a modern change to include SSM in the church would pose significant challenges, I doubt it would pose anything close to the existential crises we experienced a hundred years ago.

    Oddly, the biggest reason I can think of why we are better prepared for change today is a little-loved church program called correlation.

  39. “It is beyond pretentious of us, not to mention stupid, to place limits on what God can do”

    What is it when we make assumptions about what God must and will obviously do?

  40. 1) Doctrinal and policy changes have occurred in the church’s past. I don’t see how there can be any denial of that.

    2) I don’t know whether the LDS church will change its policy regarding gays in the future. It’s all speculative. However, there is undoubtedly a growing impetus behind change and I think we can safely say that that impetus will continue to grow. Look at it this way. If we assume that just two percent of the human population is gay (a likely low estimate) and that the active Mormon population is 5 million, that means that one hundred thousand active LDS are gay even as we speak. Not all of them are out of the closet, but an increasing number of them will likely come out in the future. With social networking they will have a space to find people like them and feel more comfortable with their identities.

    The thing is, is that there is a loophole that gays can exploit within the LDS church. They can technically have a romantic non-sexual relationship with a person of the same gender without breaking any LDS church commandments, just like straights do. Imagine if an increasing number of active gays do that and are supported by an increasing number of members, if not local wards and branches. Imagine if the majority of the core membership in the Mormon belt comes to support gay marriage not only legally, but religiously. Imagine if many general authorities voiced their support as well.

    I really do believe that the LDS church could very well change its policy on this at some point in the future, but probably quite distant future.

  41. 1. First, the statement says that it “cannot change”; it does not say that it “will never change.” The unspoken qualifier is that the position cannot change unless God commands otherwise–just as the pre-1851 official position only permitting one man/one woman could not change (unless God commanded otherwise) and the pre-1890 position that plural marriage was an eternal principle that would not be repealed in teaching or practice could not change (unless God commanded otherwise).

    2. Joseph Smith said: “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said, “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted–by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire…. ”

    3. Elder Oaks has said: “As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.”

    4. President Packer has taught: “‘We will take care of the rule first, and then we will see to the exceptions.'[This] advice is good for Relief Society and priesthood and for families. When you state a rule and include the exception in the same sentence, the exception is accepted first.”

    5. I do not see permitting same sex relationships–where the partner would be incapable of having a relationship with an opposite sex–as redefining marriage. One man/one woman continues to be the “foundational doctrine” which does not change; there simply is an exception in 1-3% of cases. (Just as plural marriage was a very limited exception to the foundational doctrine of one man and one woman.)

  42. I love the phrase “Cannot Change”! Marriage only between a man and a woman is an eternal law just as do not steal and do not murder.
    The law of marriage between a man and a woman stated by Jesus in Mathew and Mark;
    “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

    Interesting that next the apostles ask Jesus about those who
    “can’t” marry because of castration or biology. He says
    “there are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the cause of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever can receive it let him receive it.”

    Immediately after teaching the law of marriage, Matthew writes that he blessed the children and said, ““Let the children come to me and do not forbid them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”

    I really believe that the Proclamation on the Family expresses the pure meaning of Jesus’ law of marriage and is a blessing to men women and children that cannot change.

  43. As others have said, if in the past others had also not said that doctrines would not change – only later to see them change – present declarations would be taken more seriously right? Not that I think gay marriage will be sanctioned by the LDS Church in my lifetime – if ever, but the floodgates were opened long ago. You can’t reverse history.

  44. Dave- I think the Jesus law of marriage follows the pattern you describe. The man/woman marriage law and then the exception to man/woman marriage- be chaste for the Kingdom of God.

  45. As a church we are way, way too worried about what goes on in other people’s bedrooms! And how they dress! And the evil thoughts they may be having! How did this culture become so sexually repressed?

  46. My guess is that most of us take the doctrine of continuing revelation as an exception to the doctrine of continuing revelation. Should we?

    My guess is that the answer basically recapitulates the debates about what eternal progression means.

  47. #36 – 2 Samuel 1:26
    King James Version
    I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.

  48. Marcia (46), don’t you find it a bit ironic that you passage of scripture you provided (“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”) also forbids divorce, and the LDS church tolerants divorce, even cancellations of temple marriages? Would you argue, then, that marriage without divorce is also an “eternal law”?

  49. Marcia, I agree that there may be an exception along the lines you describe–while marriage is foundational and blessed, singleness may also be a blessed state as an exception to marriage. I do not know why there cannot be other exceptions, allowing, say, two eunuchs to form a lifetime partnership “after the pattern” of marriage, which would also satisfy the counsel that it is “not good for [a hu]man to be alone.” Why would that undermine traditional marriage? And if two eunuchs, why not two people of the same sex forming a partnership “after the pattern” of marriage? I have trouble seeing why that is a bad thing. As a legal/moral matter, as far as I can tell, the Church no longer opposes civil unions or domestic partnerships (at least that is what it said while supporting Proposition 8). Whether civil unions or domestic partnerships should be called “marriage” or not is a different question. I think the Church’s position may be close to Obama’s in 2008–supporting (or not opposing) extending full rights to same sex couples, but not calling it marriage. I personally think that Obama’s evolution on the issue was dictated by public opinion more than just his personal thinking. While public opinion does have an influence on Church leaders, I think if there is a future change, it will only be because our leaders (and the membership at large) are inspired to believe that the change is right–that it is the right thing to do. I do not know whether that might happen in my lifetime, or will ever happen. But in the meantime I am grateful that as leaders and as a people Latter-day Saint are becoming more supportive and a safer place (not that we may not have a long way to go).

  50. Dave H. I guess Jesus feels that the individual/kingdom will blessed eternally being celibate.
    Jesus addresses your point in Matthew and Mark. “Why therefore did Moses command to give a writing of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Moses, confronting the callousness of your heart, let you divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” But I say to you, “Whoever divorces his wife apart from adultery and will take another, commits adultery, and whoever will take her who is divorced commits adultery.
    I can feel Jesus’ frustration with man’s hard hardheartedness. Moses had a disobedient group to lead.
    Recently, I bought a pack of cigarettes for a guy who is in rehab. His cigarettes are helping him be clean from hard drugs. I know smoking breaks a higher law. He is releasing the chain of addiction one by one. He wishes he never touched drugs. Many people are living the Highest Laws; Love God mightily and love your neighbor (including your spouse.) Some can’t live the higher marriage law because of addiction,adultery,abuse,selfishness etc. The Lord is so clear on this teaching. We have to change to live the Higher Law. He does not change what is true and ideal.

  51. OK, Marcia, so what you’re saying is that those who have gotten a divorce, for any reason other than adultery, and remarry should be considered an adulterer and not living the law of chastity, much as the LDS church would regard a smoker to be not living in accordance with the Word of Wisdom, correct? So, should I alert the bishopric of my brother, who married in the temple once, got a divorce three years later citing irreconcilable differences, and then married a different woman in the temple later, and demand that they strip him of his temple recommend because he is technically, according to Jesus’ words, an adulterer? Incidentally, this is the cultural trend in many countries. In Iran, it is highly discouraged for a woman to remarry, even if her husband died, for it seen as a form of disloyalty. Are the Iranians living a higher moral law than LDS people? Maybe you’re right and we do have to change to live the Higher Law of no divorce and remarriage, for I can’t see that Jesus ever changed that.

  52. Two minor points.

    1. I don’t think anyone knows what the word “eternal” means. We have intuitive concepts about time, but we know the intuitive concept has limitations.

    Since we don’t know what eternal means we don’t know what “eternal truths” means either.

    2. There is also not a clear way to determine whether someone is male or female. There are some biological correlates but there are also blended cases and a continuum of characteristics in what we concei ve of as maleness and femaleness.

    Furthermore, we don’t know if God was intending a biological or social model of what a male or a female is. So even if we say marriage between male and females is an eternal truth, we aren’t sure what ‘male” and “female” mean in an “eternal” way. This will get increasingly more challenging as genetic technology gets more powerful. We could have people with characteristics of both current genders or children from more than 2 parents. Not recognizing the potentialities before commenting on what the future will bring, seems shortsighted.

  53. There is one unassailable fact that many LDS refuse to acknowledge: What has been taught as doctrine from the pulpit has changed countless times over the Church’s 180+ years existence. If you doubt this for a moment, you would be well served to read Professor Harrell’s excellent book, “This is My Doctrine.” There is hardly a gospel principle that has not undergone revision and, in some instances, total abandonment. This is not only true in these latter days but can also be traced throughout the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon.

    Perhaps there are religious doctrines that are eternal and unchanging. But what our understanding of those doctrine is incomplete and imperfect, and changes over time, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Admitting that the glass we see through is darker than we originally anticipated is an admission of humility and will reduce the risk that we will need to make an embarrassing about face in the future.

    I am much more inclined to follow a leader who says: “Listen, this is our current understanding based on the light and knowledge we have today,” than I am someone who says “This is how it is and how it always will be.” In the latter situation, the leader is less likely to modify his position in the face of new evidence or circumstances because the foundation of his original stance was his pride.

  54. Might it be that the belief “whatever the church teaches now is the timeless and eternal truth which will never change” is exactly what the Lord wants us to believe at any given time? That way we won’t have members who are too smart for their own good and hedging their bets like we see all over the ‘nacle.

  55. Jeff G, part of the problem the Church confronts today is the fact that it has over promised and under delivered—it has often spoken with absolute conviction and certainty on certain matters only to find it necessary to reverse course at a later time. Those who relied, often to their detriment, on the earlier pronouncements subsequently feel betrayed when the old policy is replaced with a new one; consequently, they, are going to be more skeptical about future edicts from the pulpit. And the Church only compounds the problem when it engages in institutional amnesia—pretending that today’s eternal truth is the same as yesterday’s.

    If the Church acknowledges that it is simply doing the best it can given the imperfect understanding of those at the helm, I believe many the skeptics (such as myself) are more likely to accept and support their decisions. Moreover, this approach will make it much easier for everyone to adapt to future policy changes that will inevitably come.

  56. EFF,

    I do not accept that. From one perspective, the problem is that we do not know or understand how to harmonize or the reason for different policies at different times. This does not necessarily compromise members’ commitment to the cause. From your perspective, however, the problem is that church leaders aren’t being completely honest about their lack of competence. This clearly does compromise members’ commitment to the cause. Your attempt to replace the question of members’ commitment with a question about “adaptability”, a trait which would have naturally followed from a strong commitment. You are trying to substitute members’ faith in the church and the prophets with a faith in certain positions and policies, whereas this latter faith would have naturally followed from the former.

  57. Jeff G, the problem for many in the church is that it is difficult to exhibit a strong commitment towards certain positions and policies when you feel as if the rug has been pulled from beneath you in the past. Steve Evans, over at By Common Consent, in a recent post on Elder Oaks’ conference talk on marriage, articulated this dilemma eloquently:

    “I don’t want to be a moral coward as President Monson taught…, but yes, I am afraid. I am afraid, not necessarily of the judgment of others or of losing friends…, but I’m afraid of being wrong. I’m afraid that I will be an ardent attacker of same-sex marriage, then years from now when the legislative battle is completely lost (as it almost is today) that the Church will somehow modify its stance on the topic or reframe its perspective on homosexuality and I will have been wrong. I think of those who historically criticized equal rights for blacks on behalf of the Church only in 1978 to have been shown the error in their ways. I don’t believe that homosexuality and race are very comparable, but I provide that example to illustrate my fear.”

    For my part, I will always be far more committed to a leader who is honest with me about his limitations and who admits his mistakes—something the church has rarely done. Further, my awareness of the fallibility of church leaders necessarily forces me to carefully examine their policies before I embrace them. Though I respect them immensely and believe they are trying to do their best, I won’t sacrifice my agency on the altar of unquestioning acceptance of their teachings.

  58. EFF,

    I don’t necessarily want to argue against you on this point, so much as try to nail your position down a bit, if nobody minds the partial threadjack that is.

    I see you as embracing the following positions:

    1) There is a distinction between priesthood leaders and the positions which they take.
    2) If two positions contradict each other, then at least one of them is false.
    3) Inasmuch as a priesthood leader takes a false position, they are not (in that specific context) a true prophet.
    4) Inasmuch as a priesthood leader is not (in that specific context) a true prophet, we owe no allegiance to them.
    5) The truth of a prophet is determined by the truth of the positions that they hold, rather than the other way around.
    6) Accordingly, our allegiance is to prophetic/true positions rather than the prophets themselves.

    Would you disagree with any of these?

  59. Jeff G,

    There is no prophecy involved unless there has been a revelation, that I am not aware of, saying we should oppose gay marriage.

    The proclamation says “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God” Some of us assume there is code there, but it does not say civil gay marriage is a problem, or that gay marriage may also be ordained of God. The church does not claim the proclamation (or any proclamation) is revelation. Revelations are Declarations.

    When people and leaders are opposing gay marriage they are expressing their culture. It has nothing to do with the Gospel, or revelation, or foundational doctrine.

  60. “When people and leaders are opposing gay marriage they are expressing their culture. It has nothing to do with the Gospel, or revelation, or foundational doctrine.”

    This is a concise viewpoint and I’m glad to see you state it so succinctly. You are completely wrong in it of course, but lacking light from on high because you have willfully disregarded the light coming from God through his servants you have been denied further light on this issue. Groping about in blindness you come to the conclusion that a false culture is the reason for the prophets being in error on this issue — not realizing all along you have adopted the false consciousness of your culture.

    You understand the lesser gospel, the gospel of repentance, but you clearly do not understand its reason. Repentance unto what purpose. I don’t think it’s commonly understood and even when people can mimic the “right answers” unless they’ve received it by revelation, those answers do not belong to them yet until God gives it personally through the Holy Spirit.

    This may sound like a screed, but rather I see it as a great tragedy. All I hope is that you can humble yourself, not to my words, but the words of the Lord servants. It’s not about me vs. you or ideologies or who has gone wrong in the past. You will not live your life in error if you look to God and study his words as given by his authorized servants. Seek to find unity in them, rather than discord.

    I have full confidence in our Father that if you approach the gospel from that perspective and live and act in faith as the Savior would whatever issues or concerns you have will be answered in the Lord’s time for you. You will not find peace or happiness as long as you continue to pit one servant against another seeking to place yourself on the “right” side of any particular issue.

  61. Chris, I sincerely plead with you, that no matter what else should happen, you never, ever, ever read LDS history. That way you can finish your life believing the absurd myth that our doctrines never change and that the teachings of our apostles and prophets are uninfluenced by the culture from which they come. Best wishes.

  62. I hate being wrong, but I’m no longer afraid of it.

    I don’t consider it wrong to support our current leaders, even if the policy changes in the future. I don’t find it embarrassing to fight for what I believe, disregarding the censure of others. I don’t find it embarrassing to be against popular opinion when I have gained a testimony of the Lord’s will.

    We western-philosophy-steeped people are so fixated on the end result, we fail to see the value in the journey. It will drive you crazy, trying to gamble on what the future holds. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Focus on what the Lord wants you to do today, and you may need to change someday, but you will never need to be ashamed.

  63. SilverRain, Chris, Jeff G

    The Lord obviously wants us to think for ourselves more now than in the past, that is why knowledge of the way the universe works has increased and why leaders struggle to keep up.

    The Lord in the Latter Days has no need for simpletons. The days of playing follow-the-leader are over.

  64. Joseph was a great prophet and his ministry was a modern demonstration of the level of spiritual leadership that is possible. He confidently spoke the “thus saith the Lord” prophecy that restored the church, the priesthood and more and his words can be measured an weighed because they eventually became the D&C. Brigham gathered the saints like a modern Moses.

    What great things have happened since and how widely spaced have they been? What revelation has been added to the canon since that was not culturally triggered? When we compare can it reasonably be argued that today’s spiritual leadership more than mediocre? Is group inspiration anything close to “thus saith the Lord” revelation? Is it reasonable to believe that younger missionaries is the most important thing God has to say to the world in 2013? How do “prophets, seers and revelators” magnifying their callings if they do not reveal?

    Should we support our leaders? Yes. But we and they need to realize that much, much more is possible and available if we just seek it. Currently we are weakly wandering in the wilderness, reacting to the culture around us rather than proactivly building the Kingdom of God! Group inspiration resulting in administrative changes is being held up as modern “revelation” and thus saith the Lord revelation has not been heard in a very long time.

  65. “The Lord in the Latter Days has no need for simpletons. The days of playing follow-the-leader are over.”

    So only simpletons listen to the prophet’s words today? To be the best disciples of Christ, we are to free ourselves of the backwards priesthood structure that He set up?

  66. Alright, someone give me a history lesson on how a marriage ceremony would take place for an LDS couple where it is the man’s 2nd/3rd/etc marriage? Now I grew up next door to a polygamist, and two more in the neighborhood, and a dozen or so within a good 3-wood driver or two. So I KNOW that this describes their marriages today. Was it a different arrangement in the 19th century?

    Why do I ask? Because plural marriage seems to convey the direct meaning of the terms… multiple marriages, not just one massive polyamorous group that is married to each other.

    So man marries first wife is a marriage between one man and one woman.
    Man marries second wife – their is no marriage between the wives or any formal uniting them as a “unit” is there? That would mean that it is still one man marrying one woman, and he has multiple marriages. And on and on and on with marriage between one man and one woman.

    So unless the ceremony/arrangement of plural marriages is different today than it was in the early church I would argue quite strongly that the church has always defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

  67. Jax,
    Wouldn’t that interpretation allow for polyandry as well? Then adding DavidH’s up thread exceptions it seems like every couple that wants to could be married.

  68. Michael P,

    “So only simpletons listen to the prophet’s words today?”

    Not at all. Its the idea that what the prophets say provide simple, easy to follow answers. Take Elder Eyring on marriage. He said we’re unique but love the lord and love your neighbor.

    In a universe with billions of galaxies and billions of stars and where only .25% of the population is nominally LDS, thinking that we know very much about eternal truths is just way too simple.

  69. I meant to say loving one’s neighbor is exceedingly complicated. SO following the prophets is not simple. The prophets are obviously struggling with how to make sense of a complicated past and a complicated future. I believe that is for a reason. To help us have a much more broad and complicated worldview. What if our neighbors are dogs, aliens, or new genetic variants. What did loving our neighbors mean when there were multiple Homo species on the earth?

    I believe that ignoring all the complicated facts that we know about the universe and about the past and just thinking about the here and now is an insult to God and a rejection of the truths he has brought forth. That’s the simpleton perspective I’m talking about.

  70. Howard, It would include Polyandry as well, but having not read the other 75 posts I don’t know what “exceptions” you’re referring to. In both polygamy and polyandry the marriage is only between 2 people, man and woman… not between the 2 wives, nor among the 2 men… and would therefore have consistency in defining marriage as between man and woman.

    question: Does the church honor/allow polygamy in members in countries where it is legal? So if a legally married polygamist family wanted to get baptized, would the church require divorce from the plural wives?

  71. Point of fact (9) plural marriage is made up of marriages between one man and one woman. The marriages are indiviually binding between one man and one woman. It is not one marriage between one man and several women. It is several separate marriages.

    There seems to be something ‘fundamental’ about a marriage requiring two people of the opposite sex. This is what is being emphasised here. There is nothing in this statement to suggest that the practice or non-practice of plural marriage in the past is an indicator of change regarding same sex marriage. Fans of SSM will no doubt have much wishful thinking, but what is ‘fundamental’ here really does appear to be the opposite sex requirement for marriage.

  72. I used to believe in God–until I learned He didn’t favor SSM. But then I learned that Darwin doesn’t favor SSM either so now I believe in God again.

    Deep Thoughts by Jack

  73. Mtnmarty. You haven’t seemed to learn one important lesson from the past. What you just said was said by the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Enlightenment Era…pretty much every era.

    I find the truths of the Gospel very simple, though not necessarily easy to follow. I guess that makes me a simpleton. But if so, I’m glad of it.

  74. SilverRain,

    The difference is that God hadn’t revealed nearly as much about the universe to the Greeks, Romans and Enlightenment thinkers.

    Surely, Lucretius made as many truthful statements as St. Augustine.

    Were not Bacon and Diderot great prophets? After all, we’re all now atheists about almost all Gods that have been worshiped or feared in the past. At a minimum they simplified the choices. Thoth or Thor, anyone?

    If one wants to live a simple gospel, I’m all for it, great idea. If one wants to take a simple gospel and make predictions about the future, then its very unlikely that the conclusions will be very good.

    Its one thing to live one’s understanding of an eternal truth, its a completely different thing to make conclusions about what may happen in the future based on one’s understanding of an eternal truth. The track record is abysmal. Nobody is very good at predicting the future.

    There seem to be a few principal choices about all we are learning about the universe.

    1. One can believe that it is an illusion and not really knowledge at all.
    2. One can believe it is true but not very useful or relevant.
    3. One can believe that it is true and part of God’s creation to be understood.
    4. One can believe that its true and it shows there is no God.

    For the sake of simplicity, let’s throw out 4, we’re primarily mormons after all. Let’s throw out 1 because we’re mormons after all, we believe in a unity of truth and we’re not afraid of any knowledge.

    That leaves 2 and 3 as the primary options. What relevance for our lives the vastness of the universe and the smallness of the particles of nature? What are we and what relation do we have with the laws of the universe?

    There is no question our technology has given far more ability to experience the universe. Life has become bigger and smaller. We know more.

    I’m arguing that this explosion of experience and knowledge is obviously a gift of God, not a distraction put upon us by humans and Satan.

    Our traditional beliefs are inadequate to understanding morality in a universal context. We know much more about the past than other generations did. Our creation myths don’t say much about our moral relation to former homo species.

    Can one put the name of a Neanderthal up for a temple baptism? What about Lucy? I’m not being silly, I’m taking life and the past seriously. We all just put on blinders about this stuff. Again that’s fine for one’s own life. But if you want to make arguments and predictions and recommendations to others, you need one heck of a lot more in the toolkit.

    Where do the scriptures say that a Homo Sapien is a man and the only man?

  75. Jeff G,

    Do you believe the vastly expanded education in the world is all just so we can listen to a few leaders better and not a blessing of all of us to think own thoughts and expand the collective scope of human knowledge individual by individual?

    We’re in the midst of an education miracle with revelations sure to come in every type and form.

  76. Jax 77: Yes. In nations where polygamy is legal, a polygamous man must divorce all but one wife to be baptized. As far as I know, he is still required to support all of them.

  77. Julie: I’ll tell you why I think the phrase “cannot change” is appropriate in this case, and it has to do with the nature of sex itself. We are told that the Lord had condemned fornication and adultery as highly sinful practices. Yet, when the exact same act is performed within the bonds of marriage it is glorious. Why? For LDS, we are taught that this is the means approved by God to bring His spirit children into mortality, or the second estate, hopefully on their way to immortality and Eternal Life. It is a unique juxtaposition of the same activity. Thus, marriage between a man and a women “is ordained of God”.

    Same-sex marriage, by definition, will never rise to this level, because this act of sex will not produce children. Homosexual acts, in and of themselves, will not provide bodies for God’s spirit children and will, therefore, remain in the same category of acts like adultery and fornication. This is all self-evident; and since the “act” itself will not change, I cannot see how the Church would ever support same-sex marriage, thereby saying that there is an appropriate place for homosexual sex.

  78. DaveR
    The charge of ignorance can just as easily be returned with an assessment of a lack of faith. I don’t insist all questions or issues be fully settled or logically squared. Presumably you feel church authorities are ignorant of history as well? No, but they have greater faith because they are meek and lowly of heart when it comes to complex issues in the past or present. On those who are so puffed up in pride who insist all answers be according to their satisfaction have issues. So, interestingly enough, it wouldn’t be I who should stop reading church history. I don’t have issue there because it’s not I who have to make judgements on others to maintain a bit of faith.

    You can label me in ignorant, prideful, or self-righteous. Doesnt matter to me. All I’d like is for people to look to the teachings of the Brethren here and now and seek a spiritual witness for yourself.

  79. Larry_CO,

    What percentage of sexual acts between married males and females produce children?

    Is sex with when a woman is pregnant like adultery or fornication? Sex with a post-menopausal woman? Sex using birth control? Sex that doesn’t lead to the exchange of gametes?

    Is it like adultery or fornication to have egg’s harvested and fertilized in vitro? If cloning becomes more practical is that liek adultery and fornication? How do we know that there are not multiple spirit children waiting to receive bodies into a genetically similar body?


    The spiritual witness I have received from the teachings of the Brethren is that all men are my Brethren and that humility requires facing the immensity of God’s creation and our small place in it.

  80. Larryco_ #85

    Same-sex marriage, by definition, will never rise to this level, because this act of sex will not produce children. Homosexual acts, in and of themselves, will not provide bodies for God’s spirit children and will, therefore, remain in the same category of acts like adultery and fornication. This is all self-evident; and since the “act” itself will not change, I cannot see how the Church would ever support same-sex marriage, thereby saying that there is an appropriate place for homosexual sex.

    Mtnmarty already beat me to this one, but I just want to say that, were this the case, persons who were past childbearing age or who had been surgically sterilized, or who for other reasons were verifiably infertile (born with no ovaries or testicles, for instance), would be ineligible for temple sealing, or for religious acknowledgement of their marriage at all. If it truly takes an act of sex involving a penis, a vagina, the existence of both ova and sperm within the sex act, and a fertile uterus capable of accepting implantation for a “marriage” to be valid in the eyes of God, then there are a heck of a lot of people getting married, both civilly and by religious ordinance, who do not fill what you claim to be God’s criteria for a true marriage.

  81. If it truly takes an act of sex involving a penis, a vagina, the existence of both ova and sperm within the sex act, and a fertile uterus capable of accepting implantation for a “marriage” to be valid in the eyes of God…

    No, those aren’t the qualifications as you well know. But it does require a man and a woman, as you ought to know as well.

  82. 34 (DaveR) – Fair point, but the problem with the skeptical approach is that one can ascribe their personal sympathies to any pet issue and apply their skepticism carte blanche in anticipation of the day when all one’s biases and opinions will be validated (would this make me a capital P prophet?). I don’t think this is a healthy path. I find it much more fruitful to give leaders the benefit of the doubt on such things. Even if the church hypothetically changed stance on one’s pet issue, it is likely the individual would just move on to another issue.

  83. 84 source for your information please. I am confused. Have information that states just the opposite. would like to research this more fully. Can you help?

  84. Perhaps this official statement, surely approved by some general authorities, is in part derived from recent general conference statements of equal finality by Brother Tommy:

    “Although the world has changed, the laws of God remain constant. They have not changed; they will not change.”

    Given the Proclamation on the Family and constant reemphasis by apostles during general conference (I feel a bit sorry for them having to be so long-suffering), how much more of a confirmation do we need? Some things are variable within compliance with eternal law, and some are not. It seems to me this is one of the least likely things that would change within the church as ”many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” are revealed in the near future.

  85. It’s an interesting conundrum–believing in continuing revelation and thus the possibility that doctrine will change at some point in the future, and at the same time trying to support the prophet and stand by the current doctrine. I suppose that’s where personal revelation comes in, guiding us to do whatever God’s will is for us right now.

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