No Apology

“I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.” Hosea 5:15


It has nothing to do with the post, but I couldn’t resist this book cover.


Peggy Fletcher Stack summarized part of Elder Oaks’ statements in recent media interactions thusly:

“I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them,” Oaks said in an interview Tuesday. “We sometimes look back on issues and say, ‘Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,’ but we look forward and not backward.”

The church doesn’t “seek apologies,” he said, “and we don’t give them.”

I can understand why the Church does not demand apologies. Forced apologies typically have an insincere, hypocritical feel. These formal statements have the semblance contrition, but deny the humility thereof. We should care more about real contrition than politically expedient formal statements. Consider all the hollow words we’ve been given by misbehaving politicians and celebrities. Very rarely do we encounter a sincere apology in the public sphere, to the point that if an apology even comes close, it is newsworthy. We find the same falseness in our homes and classrooms. Think of the child forced to apologize; being compelled to say she is sorry does not generate remorse; instead she resents everyone involved: the person in power forcing her to apologize, the one she has wronged to whom she must apologize, and even herself for being in such a compromising position.

Elder Oaks is right. I don’t want the Church to seek or to issue that kind of an apology. I hope that if the Church does offer an apology, it is genuine and seeks to help reconcile the Church and the saints with our Heavenly Father. That kind of apology is in line with what we have been taught about the repentance process, although it is not clear how such a spiritually intimate matter could be properly conducted by an institution under public scrutiny.

But the justification Elder Oaks gave worries me. Again, from the Salt Lake Tribune piece:

The Mormon leader made the same point, only stronger, Thursday during a video chat on Trib Talk by insisting that the word “apology” doesn’t appear in LDS scriptures.

The word apology is not found in the scripture. This is true.

But we don’t believe that our church is limited to only what is within the scriptural canon. We have prophets and apostles with access to fresh revelation from God. For one of those leaders to say he is limited by the vocabulary of scripture seems to artificially limit his role as a prophet, seer and revelator. And even in a case such as this, where there appears to have been no new revelation, it is not necessary to only rely on the words found in the scriptures. To do so is to deny the bulk of modern revelation, the “inspiration and instruction” of General Conference talks that we are told to read and study. A quick search for “apology” in General Conference talks on gave two pages of results.

And our leaders use words that are not found in the scriptures all of the time. We have even imposed many of these words on the text by through the Topical Guide.

Some of these words, like modesty or pornography or petting (a weird euphemism that we just can’t let go of), we have incorporated into our topical guides with related concepts, all of which are acts of interpretation of the original text. Apology is certainly related to several concepts we do find in our Topical Guide and in the scriptures: pardon, confession, rebuke (would this be demanding an apology?), regret, repent, and forgiveness, to name but a few.

While I agree with Elder Oaks that demanding apologies or acceding to such demands is bad form for the Church, there are better reasons for such a policy than a lack of the word “apology” in scripture.

70 comments for “No Apology

  1. Rachel,

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that there are NO CIRCUMSTANCES, whatsoever, when the Church should apologize. Am I understanding you correctly?

    At another blog, I tried to delineate what various people seem to mean by “apology” – sometimes it seems confusing, since we’re talking about different things.

    1. Whether there are ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, whatsoever, when an apology is necessary.
    2. Whether the apology should be from “the Church” vs. having individual apostles/prophets apologize.
    3. Whether the apology should be made publicly vs. privately (to those wronged).
    4. With respect to LGBT, whether an apology is due for (i) the doctrine of chastity generally; (ii) the doctrine that homosexual conduct (i.e. sex) are a sin before God; (iii) supporting bans on same-sex marriage generally; (iv) actively working against same-sex marriage (e.g., Prop 8); (v) statements in the past that were un-Christlike with respect to gays and that made them feel demeaned.

    I take it that in response to #1, you say “No.” Of course, your position puzzles me. Is it because you think that the Church really cannot err? Or that even if it does err, it should never apologize? I will note that Oaks didn’t qualify his remarks about no apologizing by saying that the church doesn’t “accede to [demands to apologize,” in which case, as you say, the apology might not be sincere.

    But why can’t the leaders of an institution feel genuine remorse or regret for how they have treated an individual or group? And if so, why can’t they apologize? Note, I’m talking issues #1 – #3 here generally, leaving #4 aside for the moment. I will personally say that I’ve been very impressed with Pope Francis in the Catholic Church, and the sincere apology that he and the previous Pope issued to sexual abuse victims.

  2. It’s a strange argument to make, for sure. The concept of apologies is found in scripture, if not the actual word. The concept of apologizing when you’ve done something wrong is also all over our various Sunday school manuals.

    When arguing against women’s ordination, Oaks claimed the following:

    “But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.”

    There is no passage in all of scripture that decrees that only men should hold the priesthood – in fact there are several that would suggest they should. If he’s going to say now that if it’s not in the scriptures it’s not important, I don’t know how he can justify his position on women’s ordination.

  3. Correction – I meant to say: “There is no passage in all of scripture that decrees that only men should hold the priesthood – in fact there are several that would suggest that women hold it as well.”

  4. Thanks Rachel. I’ve thought a lot about this topic recently. On one hand, the scriptures are full of the principle of apology, if not the word itself. On the other hand, apologies themselves are not as important as a true change of heart – though I would still argue that a full change of heart cannot take place absent a full confession and apology.

    In trying to understand Elder Oaks’ remark, I ran across another controversial comment of his, this one from 2007. In an interview for the PBS documentary The Mormons, Oaks said “… it’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true, because it diminishes their effectiveness as a servant of the Lord. One can work to correct them by some other means, but don’t go about saying that they misbehaved when they were a youngster or whatever.”

    Now, there’s some irony here. The word “criticize” is not found in the LDS scriptures. But more revealing to me is the reason given by Elder Oaks. He was not saying that there is no value in criticism. Rather, he was making a judgment call. Oaks believes that there is more value in having effective leaders than whatever value comes from an environment where criticism is allowed.

    I think the same principle underlies Elder Oaks’ recent remarks regarding apologies. It’s not that apologies do not have value, but that they risk diminishing members’ trust in their leaders, and Oaks values effective leaders more than whatever value comes through apology.

    From the full context of the quote, it is clear that Oaks believes the church has made some missteps regarding its approach to LGBT issues. Perhaps he’s referring to involvement in Prop 8. At a minimum, I think he’s referring to prior practices where the church taught that SSA itself is a sin and instructed LGBT members to enter a heterosexual marriage as a means to cure themselves. But regardless of the specific mistakes made, Oaks believes it is more important to protect the moral authority of our church leaders than to offer a balm of apology to those injured by the leaders’ mistakes. Another way of characterizing this would be to say that Oaks values obedience more than love.

    With this explanation in mind, I will say that I disagree with Elder Oaks’ judgment. In my experience, the leaders who I love the most and who I choose to follow are those who apologize and allow criticism. Such leaders include my parents, my wife, and by and large my local LDS leadership. I’ve been very blessed. I don’t condemn Elder Oaks’ view; it has some appeal, and he certainly has the keys to preside in his sphere at this time. But I’m encouraged that not all leaders in his sphere share his judgment. I’ve listened to apologies from Elders Faust, Uchtdorf, and Jensen, just to name a few.

  5. Elder Oaks recent statements were unfortunate and clearly wrong. I believe they came from the false assumption that he and the church he represents is always speaking and acting for God. God never apologizes and therefore he and the church won’t. However, this is clearly not the case given Elder Uchtdorf’s admissions a few years ago in conference and from the actual actions and statements of the church leaders and the church itself in the past.

    P.R. dictates that one never apologizes publicly but this is a church that demands that its patrons apologize for wrongs and excommunicates those who don’t in certain circumstances. Is this now the church of P.R.? Or is it a church that truly supports repentance? If it truly supports repentance, and it realizes that it has made mistakes through its leaders in the past, maybe it should come down off the mountain and back away from the no apologies statement?

    Should Elder Oaks apologize for the no apologies statement?

  6. Fantastic comment, Dave K. I appreciate the additional context about Elder Oaks.

    Blake, although I spent the bulk of the opening post trying to defend Elder Oaks’ position, I do briefly describe the type of apology that I would like to see the Church issue. But if our leaders cannot come to common consent on a statement of truly felt remorse and contrition, I would rather they remain silent than go through the motions. The question of institutional error, particularly in one that is balancing the responsibility of receiving and acting on revelation with the expectations of its congregants and public scrutiny, is a fraught issue for us. While I think that error is a certainty in any endeavor in which humans are involved (even when there is a component of divine guidance, and even when they are acting in the best possible faith), many members of the Church do not think it possible for the Church or its leaders to err. For them, as you point out, there would never even be a need for an apology.

  7. I really liked David K’s comment. Here it is in equation form:

    Benefit of increasing members’ faith and obedience from a non-apology stance -minus- harm to LGBT members and allies and church’s PR image from no apologies >is greater than> Benefit to LGBT members and allies and church’s PR image from an apology -minus- harm to members’ faith and obedience when leaders apologize.

    I think Oaks overestimates the benefit to faith and obedience from a non-apology and doesn’t consider that the apology may actually increase faith and obedience for many members. Also, this type of cost-benefit calculus is deeply troubling for a church that teaches “do what is right let the consequence follow.”

  8. Rachel, you raise important points about the constraints imposed on an organization’s ability to effectively apologize due to size, the need for consensus among senior leaders, and the difficulty in maintaining a clear message. I read Elder Oaks’ remarks to apply to the senior leadership of a 15-million member church. I do not think he is saying that local leaders cannot apologize for local wrongs if they feel it appropriate. And I would be astounded if Elder Oaks has never personally apologized for anything in his life. I’m sure he has.

    I’ll give an example of an effective and appropriate apology I received just yesterday from a stake youth leader. The leader had emailed out to ward leaders a flyer for a youth dance. The flyer erroneous said the dance would be Feb. 28; in reality, the dance is Feb. 21. When the stake leader realized the mistake, she emailed out a corrected flyer and apologized for the inconvenience caused by the error. In the grand scheme of things this is very small potatoes. But I appreciate the apology. Some people will have to change schedules because of the error. The act of saying “my bad; I’m sorry” helps to sooth the hurt feelings that happen with great frequency in the church, and help to ensure that members have continued trust that stake leaders care about them.

    Can apologies ever be expected from the church as a whole? I believe the answer is yes. Not for every little thing. But there are times when we royally screw up and these times demand an accounting. I’ll give one example. In 1949 and 1951 the First Presidency issued statements declaring as church doctrine the teachings that blacks were cursed because of Cain’s sin and that blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence. Last year, the church renounced these teachings in a somewhat anonymous and unsigned essay. I think that’s highly insufficient. If the FP made a mistake, the FP needs to fix that mistake.

    This is where I disagree with Elder Oaks. While the church can’t address every wrong, it should address those that it can. Yes, some members may lose some faith in leaders in the short term. But that’s the cost of making mistakes, not the cost of dealing with them. Failing to deal with a mistake only compounds the problem and leads to more serious consequences when the day of reckoning comes.

    In this analysis, it is imperative to remember the story of the Hidden Wedge that has been delivered by President Monson, President Hinckley and many other leaders. The moral of the story is that best time to remove a wedge is when it is found. Yes, there may be some chipping and scarring done to get the wedge out, but that is much preferred to letting the tree continue to grow around the wedge and ultimately cause the loss of a large branch or even the entire tree. I worry that with the church’s big mistakes, Elder Oaks’ instruction that we “move forward and not look back” (my paraphrase) means that some day in the future a storm will come through, we’ll be awoken by a large *crack* in the backyard, and remorsefully we will remember “the wedge!”

  9. I think you missed the real issue.

    I don’t believe in apologies for the same reason you don’t, but as Oaks attempts (in fine lawyerly fashion) to justify the refusal to apologize, he inadvertently reveals that the church also has no sincere regret or compassion for the pain they’ve caused:

    “We sometimes look back on issues and say, ‘Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve…’”

    What a coldblooded, self-centered mindset to have!

    The church will not give out (insincere) apologies because they have no sincere contrition to offer over the pain they’ve caused with their whopping mistakes. All they care about is that it was “counterproductive” to their goals.

  10. Rachel,

    What better way for the leaders to disabuse naive members who think the Church and its leaders can’t err (or haven’t) than by issuing an apology for past ones!

    David K’s wonderful comment about Elder Oaks past statements didn’t make me feel less uncomfortable. It raises a question that doesn’t seem to be asked too much by faithful members: Where in the scriptures does it talk about having “faith” in our leaders and putting our “trust” in them? I can’t find it in the Bible. I can’t find it in the Book of Mormon. In those documents, prophets like Nephi tell us to NOT put faith and trust in the flesh – but to focus it exclusively in the Christ. Undoubtedly we should pay careful attention to Prophets, and seek guidance from the Holy Ghost about whether they’re counsel is inspired. Our faith, love, and trust, however, should be in Christ.

    Moreover, when in David K’s quote Elder Oaks says “One can work to correct them by some other means,” I am puzzled by HOW. How do we correct them when we can’t talk about their errors, we can’t criticize them, we have almost no personal contact with them, our “votes” to sustain leaders are always 100% in favor, etc.? Even if you were to write a letter to the apostles, chances are that your letter would get forwarded to your Stake President and you’d receive a friendly call from him in short order.

    If we have church leaders for life, what mechanism can possibly keep them in check it dissent and criticism are not allowed? One might answer: God. Yet I believe God sometimes lets us stumble about to see whether, through our agency, we finally land on the right choices. Since church leaders are not infallible, they too need to be corrected at times, and I believe church members have a role to play in providing feedback to them.

    This idea that church leaders are too high-and-mighty to do things we plebians do–like apologize–is absurd. As Christ taught, “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 23:10-12.

  11. Dave K-

    I really liked your analysis and extra context (especially in comment #4).

    I’m still undecided on the notion of whether or not organizations should ever apologize.

    But there was one thing I disagreed with:

    Oaks believes it is more important to protect the moral authority of our church leaders than to offer a balm of apology to those injured by the leaders’ mistakes. Another way of characterizing this would be to say that Oaks values obedience more than love.

    I don’t think that’s a fair characterization. The Church’s moral authority is an important means of protecting the members, and so protecting that authority can be an expression of sincere love for the members. There isn’t necessarily an obedience-vs-love dichotomy here.

  12. This whole argument about “apology” was never supposed to happen! Elder Oaks wasn’t thinking fast enough to anticipate the fallout. Rather, he was improvising extemporaneously on the nature of apology as it relates to an organization like the church. But if he’d had time to stop and think about it, he’d have ducked the question entirely rather than try to offer a speculative explanation. This is one of the reasons the church doesn’t do press conferences!

    But at least it gives us a chance to further speculate on the nature of apologies. I’m not sure what I personally think about them. An apology might be seen to weaken the church’s role as advocate to God, rather than advocate to the world. “My kingdom is not of this world.” They have bigger fish to fry.

  13. Blake (#10), D&C 21 counsels the church to give heed to the words of Joseph as he receives them from God. Most every member I know believes that this instruction applies equally to our current leaders because they hold the keys given to Joseph.

    Nathaniel (#11), I was not trying to create an obedience-love dichotomy. I’m quite confident Elder Oaks believes in both. What I was proposing was a hierarchy where one value trumps another when the two conflict. As to the phrase “moral authority,” I wish I had an edit button because changed it to something like “inerrancy” (but even that’s not exactly right). I am trying to be charitable to Elder Oaks and so I choose to believe that he is sincerely acting in the best interests of the members rather than simply shielding church leaders from accountability (although I’m also confident that he cares deeply about leaders and has been witness to the harm the comes through excessive and incorrect criticism against them). However, despite his good will, I still take a different view as to what is best for the membership. If our leaders really can make serious mistakes – for instance, if they can teach incorrect doctrine such as the curse of Cain – then the membership needs to be allowed to wrestle with that reality. As individuals, and as a church, we need to grow up. I believe that such a wrestle will enhance, not detract, from the church’s moral authority. But that’s just my limited reasoning.

  14. its just such a bad look for the church. to say you don’t apologize? you have a limited time and message and thats the one you want to get out?

  15. I am not really sure that the scope of Oak’s comment goes beyond simply referring to the empty PR practice of organizations and public figures standing up and offer a carefully worded apology to the media that in reality doesn’t accompany any real change of heart or repentance.

    To me it seems that from Oak’s perspective, real apologies and repentence come at the individual level. He has in times past referred to his role as a “general authority” which means that he teaches “general principles” and it is up to local leaders and members to use the spirit to interpret. If there are apologies to be made, he probably expects that individuals who offended individuals are the ones who should apologize.

  16. That’s how I primarily took it ABM although I also think there’s a danger in that what people want apologies for may not be what you’re willing to apologize for. Consider Prop-8. What people were offended about in that matter and what Pres. Monson and Elder Oaks think they did wrong probably don’t have a lot of overlap. There’s a real danger when you get into the PR of apologies that it makes things worse, not better.

    All that said I don’t think the way Elder Oaks phrased it was helpful and I’m sure he wishes he’d put it a different way.

  17. I don’t think there is a need to apologize for gospel doctrines. However, there is much pain that is caused by misinterpretations, ignorance, etc. that a sincere apology would mend and give peace. In my experience in the church, I have found that LDS people, generally, don’t offer apologies. That has caused me and my family much pain.

    As others have noted, I think that Elder Oaks could have re-phrased what he said more compassionately. No, apology isn’t in the scriptures, but repentance is, and giving an apology is one way to repent. Although I agree with ABM (second para), I think that when Elder Oaks says there is no need for apologies, the general LDS population takes that as license not to apologize when the need arises…

  18. jude49,
    I would be hesitant to think that what Elder Oaks says would be used by members to avoid apologizing. Let’s be real and admit that this line of his will be thought of and repeated about a million times more frequently online and in the bloggernacle than it will be by the general membership, most of whom probably are still unaware of it.

    Not to excuse rude members, but I think it is the general tendency of all people everywhere to not offer apologies, not just mormons.

  19. Being raised by goodly parents, I was taught to feel sorrow, make amends and apologize when I was wrong. This is hardly a strange concept.

  20. I believe people should offer apologies for their own transgressions against others.

    That said, a child need not apologize for a parent’s actions. A new bishop need not apologize for the previous bishop’s actions. A president of the church need not apologize for the actions of a previous president.

    And even so, I’m not convinced that “the church” has committed any transgressions against gays. Church leaders have taught doctrine and principles, and offered advice, in good faith.

  21. ji @ 22:

    I agree with you on the general principle of not needing to apologize for the actions of others, but I think the examples that you give are not analogous to the Church as an institution. There is more or less a “clean break” between the tenures of bishops, so apologizing for a previous bishop doesn’t make a whole lot of sense—it would be like a presidential administration apologizing for the previous one. On the other hand, the FP and Q12 make decisions based on consensus and unanimity, and they are only replaced one at a time. There is a continuity there that makes it difficult to differentiate individual personalities from the identity of the institution as a whole, and an understandable reticence to disavow and make a clean break from past statements and policies. Because the Church as an institution has a separate and continuing identity separate and distinct from any of its leaders, it is appropriate to make apologies as an institution rather than as individuals.

    One more item—you mentioned that you weren’t convinced that the Church had committed transgressions against LGBT people and noted that Church leaders had taught doctrine and principles and offered advice “in good faith.” Does that mean you believe that because Church leaders acted in good faith, then no transgression has occurred? Because last time I checked, a person’s good intent did not cancel out someone’s need to repent of something that they did wrong (If I am reading you incorrectly, I apologize). At any rate, ZD has put together a good post on a lot of the defamatory and hurtful statements that the Church has made over the years with respect to this issue:

  22. To my dismay, this discussion of apologizing seems to becoming more and more legalistic. “An apology from XYZ is only needed if…A, B, and C requirements are met…” type stuff.

    What happened to being in the “fold of God,” being “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;” being “willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” even while “stand[ing] as witnesses of God at all times and in all things?” (Mosiah 18)

    We live in a world where people are suffering and need precisely what Alma preached – regardless of whether the cause of that suffering lies with us, with a “past Bishop” or a “past Prophet.”

    Whether you call it “apologizing,” “empathizing,” or something else – we CAN express our current sorrow, regret, and empathy to our brothers and sisters whose hearts are broken, if only because their hearts ARE broken, no matter the reason. It does no harm to anyone to both genuinely feel and say, “I am so sorry for the pain that you are going through.”

    Have our hearts become so hardened that we are beyond such feeling?

  23. Adam, that’s partially why I give Oaks a bit of a break. Hinkley was a master at dealing with the media and he did that sort of thing most of his life. While Oaks is better than some others, being political really isn’t his skill set. Don’t get me wrong, Oaks is one of my favorite GAs and a surprising number of my favorite talks come from him. But this sort of thing just isn’t his strong suite. Comparing him with Hinkley for whom this was a strong suite just shows how difficult speaking like this is.

    Knowing how horrible a job I’d do under similar conditions it’s really difficult for me to get too upset. The question is, given the way how everything is now the political and how any slight misspeak becomes magnified and small details given huge analysis, does that mean they should say more or less?

    I suspect what we’ll find, perhaps precisely because of these places he didn’t speak well that we’ll find GAs less willing to speak like this and take questions. That’s kind of sad. Given me the way GAs spoke decades ago. Maybe they did make lots of mistakes at times but there was a refreshing openness to it. Yet often many people who say they want openness are the very people apt to critique the words the way politicians have their words critiqued. Leading to the opposite of openness. Can’t have it both ways.

    Heck, if I were ever called to be a GA I’d be terrified to speak. I’d say I was Moses and that someone better find an Aaron PDQ. Fortunately that’ll never happen given the huge trail of things said on the internet on far too many topics. (Many of which I’m quite willing to disown, but that’s just not an option anymore for public officials)

  24. Teaching doctrine and calling people to repentance will always be seen as “defamatory and hurtful” by some. Jesus never apologized to the Pharisees and scribes for his “defamatory and hurtful” words, and He didn’t apologize to the woman taken in adultery for telling her to sin no more (implying her adultery was a sin), and so forth. I just don’t see that the church has committed transgressions against gays.

  25. LDS activist John Dehlin to face church disciplinary council
    By Tad WalchJanuary 15th, 2015 @ 6:24

    SALT LAKE CITY — Mormon critic John Dehlin issued a press release Thursday saying he will face a church disciplinary council on Jan. 25 for his “alleged apostasy.”

    Dehlin, who runs a website called Mormon Stories, also released three letters sent to him by his local LDS Church leader, North Logan Utah Stake President Bryan King.

    “The stake presidency is considering formal disciplinary action in your behalf,” said the latest letter, dated Jan. 8 and apparently hand-delivered on Wednesday, “including the possibility of disfellowshipment or excommunication, because of apostasy.”

    The letters reveal that King placed Dehlin on informal church probation during the summer and asked for his absolute commitment to four steps.

    King said he had concluded that Dehlin “must publicly renounce and APOLOGIZE [caps mine] for the false concepts you have widely expressed regarding God, Jesus Christ, the Atonement, the restoration of the Gospel and the Book of Mormon; cease providing a public forum for any person who is critical of church doctrine; stop promoting groups or organizations that espouse doctrines contrary to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; resign your status as an ordained minister of another faith.”

  26. Clark Goble,

    You make very good points. Oaks is not a media savvy guy. We don’t need to pick apart what he said like this was the State of the Union address. And for that matter, maybe we should stop picking that apart as well…

  27. David K., “Another way of characterizing this would be to say that Oaks values obedience more than love.”

    I think this is a false dichotomy. I believe that Elder Oaks probably values love above all else. And as such, his his call to obedience would only be an expression of concern *because* of love rather than in spite of it — much like a parent demanding that a child not run out into the street. Yes there is an explicit call to obedience but it is born of love.

  28. Part of the problem is that while the calls to obedience are so obviously apparent, the gestures of love are not. Who knows what is secretly going on in Oaks’ heart (and who are we to judge that)? Yet the poor child whose austere father only issues outward demands (even while secretly loving the child) will grow up not feeling loved, not thinking he is loved, by his distant father. For love to exist, it must be manifest in ways that extend beyond mere demands for obedience. Our Father in Heaven is not a distant father

    Christ asks us to follow the commandments – this is true – but he also blesses us in ways that we can feel in our own lives. He calls us to visibly love each other, to serve each other, to bless each other – just as he has visibly done these things for us.

    As Joseph Smith revealed, the Priesthood itself must be maintained by love “unfeigned,” “kindness,” and while “reproving betimes with sharpness,” then “SHOWING FORTH afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.”

    I disagree with many aspects of the LGBT movement, yet I believe that a problem with LGBT and church relations is that the LGBT’s only feel the “reproved” part of the equation, rather than the visible “increase in love” which is supposed to follow. Not surprisingly, many of them esteem the Church as their enemy.

    How then do we provide an “increase in love” to the LGBTs, even while maintaining God’s standards? By putting God’s standards into practice! Being “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;” being “willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” is as much of a commandment as any other. Why do we resist these commandments so passionately? Why don’t the calls for obedience include obedience to these commandments? Should we not rectify the infidelity of our hearts as we call for others to rectify the infidelity of their bodies?

  29. All the more, Blake, when the Church requires LGBT members to endure what for many will prove unendurable, lifetime celibacy.

  30. P:
    The Church requires celibacy of all of those not joined in a heterosexual marriage. I did it for 20 years, through my twenties and into my thirties. I am as red-blooded as any man. My wife did the same. Am I to suppose that LGBT persons endure more in maintaining their celibacy than my wife and I did?

  31. Can’t answer for p, but you had the potential and hope for a relationship, Old Man, so no, your situation is not comparable.

  32. Old Man, are the Brethren really going to consign an entire and large sub-group of Saints to lifetime celibacy? Is this realistic or do-able? Answer: No, and the Brethren know it’s not. So many things discussed on this blog are already KNOWN & these discussions small exercises. To claim that this is “doctrine” mere weeks after admitting that Joseph Smith was likely sleeping with the wives of other men absolutely floors me. Was THAT doctrine?

  33. P: Singles are a much larger sub-group than gays and no, I doubt the standards are changing any time soon. You really believe that sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage will be condoned by church leaders? Don’t hold your breath.

  34. Also, a decent percentage of heterosexual Mormons aren’t celibate before marriage. They repent, confess to their bishops, do some penance, and move on. Not comparable.

  35. It is comparable. God asks us to be celibate unless we are married.Both gay and straight sometimes do not live up to that standard. For that there is repentance.

    This life is not about sex. The gospel is not about sex. The gospel is about Christ redeeming us from ourselves and our sins. While a straight single man and a gay single man might have varying levels of hopefullness of an intimate relationship within the bounds of the gospel in this life, that is really a distraction to the bigger issue. That both have equal claim on the atonement and both should have hope for eternal life.

    Not to be dissmissive or unsympathetic, but there are many, many worse injustices in this world that I struggle with over asking someone to be celibate over the course of their lives.

  36. @p #35 – I’m right there with you on your question about how Joseph sleeping with other women was ok. How does that work with the ‘our doctrine is constant’ claim?

    This article in the Deseret News today says …

    “Some even suppose that those standards will someday change. That is simply not true,” he said. “The law of chastity has applied since the very beginning, when the Lord commanded a man to leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and to none else.”

    Clearly the ‘and none else’ part clearly hasn’t always applied.

  37. Interesting… allusion to Joseph’s plural marriages and his private and largely unknown sex life as a justification for sexual activity. Even historians acknowledge that the evidence is pretty sparse when it comes to relationships some are referring to as “polyandry,” so sparse that they are all over the map when interpreting the evidence (I’ve read Quinn, Compton, Hales and others). Yet several of you (WI_Member and P.) claim to know what was going on. P. also claims that the Church has admitted that “Joseph Smith was likely sleeping with the wives of other men .” No, it did not. Nor would anyone make such a claim who has actually read the essays posted on

    The law of chastity builds people and promotes self-respect. A great many single people and gays live it. I know married people who have to remain celibate for years because their spouse is suffering from a medical condition. Life is not about sex. Love is not about sex. It is about exercising self-restraint, building relationships that last the eternities and having compassion for our fellow human beings. I cannot in good faith claim to practice compassion while telling others to violate a law from which I have been so abundantly blessed. And I don’t think celibacy is too high of a price to pay for the blessings we have all been promised.

  38. @Old Man – ok, let’s leave Joseph out of it. How about Brigham? I’m pretty sure no one is going to dispute his marriages and offspring. How does this not violate the ‘and to none else’ part of the unchanging law of chastity referred to by Elder Christofferson?

  39. “And I don’t think celibacy is too high of a price to pay for the blessings we have all been promised.”

    It’s easier to expect others to make such sacrifices, especially when we don’t have to.

    Sex is an important (but not the most important) part of a fulfilling life. Pretending it isn’t doesn’t help.

    The law of chastity is very simple – have sexual relations only with your spouse. As a gay rights advocate, I believe in the law of chastity.

  40. Following the teachings of the current apostles, we need not apologize or love unconditionally.

  41. Old Man I will say this to you: There’s right, there’s wrong and then there’s reality. The reality in this case is that lifetime celibacy isn’t reasonable, do-able for most, or humane. What’s also reality is that the Brethren understand by drawing this hard line they will drive most homosexuals out of the church (

    As for Joseph Smith’s sexuality I will refer you to an excellent piece in this very blog by one Allison Moore Smith to wit: “But how does that notion [that Joseph’s marriages were non-sexual] play out with, say, Brigham Young (who, for the record, also had three or more polyandrous marriages) and his 55 wives and 56 children? Polygamy was good for Joseph because he was (supposedly) sexually faithful [to Emma] and it was good for Brigham because he wasn’t?”

    In other words, BS. So again the question: Is polyandry doctrinal? Much hinges on the answer.

  42. Old Man: “Am I to suppose that LGBT persons endure more in maintaining their celibacy than my wife and I did?”

    Yes. About 60 years more, by your own account. And years without hope feel a lot longer.

  43. I think there is no way to find common ground between those who believe that a romantic, sexual relationship is the path to self-actualization, and those who find other things more important than that in life in which to ground their identity. There is no point in trying.

    The trials of this life are many, some far worse than celibacy (which has historically been seen as the epitome of spirituality.) Teaching a set of beliefs and principle…”asking” someone to do something…is not onerous. They are always free to reject those teachings and choose a different way. That rejection doesn’t mean that the preacher should be forced or shamed into no longer preaching.

    It is clear that many believe they are more in tune with God’s will for the preaching of the gospel than the apostles. But what is to be done about it? At least a few have been richly blessed by the teachings some find so terrible. Is it impossible to live and let live?

  44. “celibacy (which has historically been seen as the epitome of spirituality.)”

    Except by Mormons who have believed and taught that celibacy is a distortion, and that, in fact, romantic sexual relationships are central to God’s plan. We really can’t have it both ways, I don’t think.

  45. I’m pretty sure that “romance” in human relationships, as “romance” is generally construed today, is about as historical as the notion of the “traditional family” as that is construed today.

    Celibacy is not natural. But those of us who are celibate because the alternative violates God’s laws as we understand them can make that more than deprivation, just as fasting from food can be made more than deprivation.

    I’m moved slightly by the reminder that LGBT celibacy is different from mine because if they follow Church teachings they face “years without hope.” But only slightly … because there comes a point in the lives of single straight Saints when the likelihood of a loving relationship becomes so remote that it might as well be defined as “years without hope.” Love and partnership isn’t going to happen for many of us at any point in mortality, no matter what our orientation.

  46. I think there are significant differences between chastity and celibacy. I think if we are going to ask LGBT folks to be celibate, we need to have serious, honest discourse about what that means and be open to finding spiritual strength in it. As SilverRain points out, we would hardly be the first to do so, and as Kristine points out, it would be a serious shift for us. But to ask people to be celibate while offering none of the spiritually empowering support structure around it is cruel.

    I speak as one who was married at the age of 19 so have experienced essentially no real struggles firsthand. But I have thought a lot about what will happen if one of my children is gay and chooses to stay in the church. I have a lot of thoughts about the council I would give them, foremost being that if they are to choose celibacy, they should also choose something BIG to cleave to instead of a partner and family. Something world changing and life encompassing, in the way my family is to me. Something that they will be free to embrace and risk for in a way that someone with a partner and children is not free to do. Loving the orphans. Feeding the children. Brokering peace. Beating cancer. Empowering the disenfranchised. There is, of course, a model for this in many other traditions.

    I feel that it it would help so much if we had something real, something substantial and amazing, to offer and with which to challenge people of whom we would demand celibacy.

  47. Ardis, true, but I was trying to find adjectives to specify a particular kind of relationship, not to describe a particular type of romance. I have a healthy disdain for the modern concept of romance.

    Kristine, no one can have it two ways. From an LDS viewpoint which holds sex as an important part of a procreative plan, same-sex sexual relationships are wrong BECAUSE sexuality is important. From a broader religious viewpoint, which is what I was speaking to, celibacy has been typically seen as a consecration similar to what Ardis described regarding fasting. Only from an even broader viewpoint, where sexuality is not only A route, but the primary route to self-actualization and definition, is asking someone to be celibate a particularly onerous request.

    Which is my point: people are free to choose their viewpoints. Some would just like to keep some people from acting according to those viewpoints in order to feel justified in acting on other viewpoints. That is a losing battle, True acceptance will never be bought by forcing people to act against their conscience, no matter how wrong you think their conscience is.

    The support structure you mention, ginaathompson, is one that would greatly benefit many more people than just those who are gay. No one has a fully satisfying sexual life for their entire adulthood. There are so many factors. We would do well to remember that there is much, much more to the gospel than procreation. We do already have that in the gospel, but we have failed to try to understand it.

  48. Here is a another way hetero celibacy differs from LGBT celibacy in the LDS sphere: two gay men can’t very well show up to church holding hands, give playfully chaste kisses during sacrament meeting, and take a romantic walk around Temple Square posing for pictures with the temple in the background while they embrace and kiss. All of that is 100% OK and even encouraged for hetero people who are nevertheless celibate, because such behavior signals progress toward building greater emotional and physical intimacy in preparation for marriage.

    Likewise at the a singles’ FHE event the celibate LGBT can’t engage in harmless banter about who s/he is dating/kissing/talking about marriage with. Any degree of attraction or developing emotional intimacy with a person is one more step toward sin of an abhorrent sort rather than blessed and celestial matrimony. Even to fantasize chastely about being with and marrying that special someone in your life is not only sinful, but utterly and eternally in vain. And of course, for the thousands of LGBT who have served missions or passed through an MTC, their celibacy was worlds apart from their hetero counterparts. Group showers, shared rooms, constant, unrelenting, and deeply intimate contact with the gender to which one is attracted simply cannot be compared with the celibacy of a hetero person in those circumstances.

    I ache for hetero people who are celibate not by choice but by circumstance. But I ache more and in a way that is devastating for LGBT LDS people who are celibate. They must kill their sexual drives, but they also must kill their hope. Forever.

  49. Last sentence, ahjeez, re: “forever” is significant, because underpinning the entire LDS argument in favor of lifetime homosexual celibacy is the rather fantastic idea that all this is going to be somehow fixed with the Atonement, that the heretofore same-sex attracted will be utterly transformed into sexually-healthy, spiritually-whole heterosexuals. I can’t help but think this will occur at the same time loathsome, dark-skinned peoples will become white and delightsome. These are notions that, taken seriously and absorbed into a life-view, will crush your soul, notions that lead to stricken, impoverished and, frequently, abbreviated lives. Twice, now, Dallin Oaks has discussed homosexuality in the context of disability, “including disfigurements, or mental or physical incapacities.” (Oaks/Wickman). What an incredible burden to place upon a young man or a young woman. No Apology, indeed. No clue, either. Dangerous and irresponsible. We’ve seen and still see the tragic results.

  50. P. (#45),

    It is nice the you listen to Dehlin and ponder the words of Alison More Smith (neither of whom I believe qualify as historians or theologians, nor do they represent the LDS Church), but have you actually read the essays on which you pretended to know(#35)? If we are going to have a discussion on “polyandry” we need a starting point, and those essays are as good as any.

    ahjeez (#53), no one “kills” their biological drives (I guess meds or surgery would do it, but I am not going there.) But we are all asked to control them. And regardless of the enormity of a burden, regardless of the sacrifice, we preach that hope ultimately lies in Christ through the resurrection. Anyone who has hung around this planet for any length of time knows that life is not even close to fair. Nor would I suggest that any of us have the right to change God’s rules to engineer what we think will be a better system. . A few on here are not going to like it, but at this point in time LGBT people are called to make an enormous sacrifice. But they are not required to kill their hope forever.

  51. Old Man gets it right. We all have challenges and the only hope for any of our challenges is through the atonement. That is the only thing we ultimately hold out hope for.

  52. Correct me if I’m wrong, Old Man, but did not Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner sign a statement stating & affirming that in 1842 Brigham Young sealed her to Joseph Smith for “time and all eternity”? Eleven of Joseph’s wives were already married. Simply from the standpoint of “Avoid[ing] even the very appearance of evil” this was a colossal mistake. A historian you mentioned in #41 above, Todd Compton, who has written the definitive book on JS wives, easily reached the conclusion that Joseph had sexual relations in polyandrous marriages. Brigham young inherited both Mary Elizabeth and Zina Diantha Huntington upon Joseph’s death. Your approach to these questions and to the matter of homosexual celibacy is clerical and unproductive.

  53. #55 – I’ll go where you won’t. Medications CAN effectively suppress the sex drive by shutting off the pathway that leads to the production of the sex hormones. No one ever mentions this as a viable alternative to committing fornication/adultery–yet they should! Plenty of people live with health conditions that require lifelong medications (think type 1 diabetes, mental health disorders). Perhaps the challenge of living in celibacy could be re-framed in this context as something entirely achievable with the proper medications.

  54. Inspired thinking #58, a dose of medroxyprogesterone acetate served with the sacrament to all singles. Problem solved.

  55. Blake, I can’t tell whether you are serious or engaging some very black humor. If you are serious, I don’t know how to respond to what you suggest.

    Old Man and ABM, if ever you have LGBT children, I wish you luck in trying to square your theological positions with your children’s life horizons. Holding out the carrot of eschatological cleansing of all gayness, should they live a life worthy of such reward, might work for some people, for most I think it won’t. I find your demand of celibacy (physical and emotional) on others to be callous and irrational, but I can only speak for myself.

    It will be something of a historical oddity if Catholicism abandons celibacy from its priestly class while Mormonism creates a celibate class but with none of the cache, advantages, and opportunities once afforded our counterparts.

  56. Also, if Mormons in the hereafter follow the lead of Joseph and Brigham in their marital practices, there will probably be a lot more same-sex couples in eternity if only for the reason of supply and demand. Think on that for a minute.

  57. Ahjeez – We’re talking about taking pills that reduce sex drive, nothing barbaric – a little “Vitamin V” for your Virginity or Virtue, if you will. Although I’m sure “p” was being tongue in cheek, I think singles who have a problem with chastity might be well-served by exploring this idea. At least it’s an option offered by modern science. I’d do it myself if I were single. It’d be preferable to have the strength to not need any “vitamin” supplements, of course, but I’m suggesting this to people in despair about having unsatisfied sexual desire.

    Far out? Maybe. Or maybe not. Here are a few passages spoken by Jesus to think about:

    Matthew 19:12: “12. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”

    Matthew 18:8: “8. Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”

    Matthew 5:27-30: “27. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

  58. ahjeez,

    Asking for people to obey God’s commands, is not callous nor irrational. Assume for one moment, that there is a God and that he has given the law of chastity as it pertains to sex. If that were the case, would you not do what you could to support and encourage those around you, gay or otherwise, to live that law?

    And let’s say that there is a Savior and He promises peace and joy as you come unto Him. Wouldn’t you encourage and teach others to do whatever they needed to in order to come close to that Savior?

    The struggle the church, and believers, have now is that the wider culture has dropped these assumptions in favor of the idea that religious sacrifice is nonsense.

  59. It wasn’t that long ago, ABM, that the Wider Culture disapproved of OUR very own Mormon three-ring love circus. Most Americans harbored this quaint Victorian notion that polygamy was barbaric. Saints were imprisoned. Manifestos were issued. Really quite a mess.

  60. P,

    Yep, it would not surprise me if a similar path lie before the church on this issue as well.

  61. ABM are you purposefully missing the point here? I sincerely hope so – and BTW polygamy IS barbaric unless (and ironically) it includes polyandry (what’s good for the goose is good for the & etc.)

    Blake, the distance from polyandry to chemical castration is so vast as to make the head spin. We’re not even talking about the same church! I hope my Catholic friends don’t get wind of this or I’ll lose the clear & convenient advantage I’ve enjoyed for years

  62. Blake: “Should we not rectify the infidelity of our hearts as we call for others to rectify the infidelity of their bodies?”

    Sure. And I hope that we’re all willing to recognize our own particular infidelity. Otherwise, there’s no rational way of bearing one another’s burden.

  63. ” It does no harm to anyone to both genuinely feel and say, “I am so sorry for the pain that you are going through.”

    I think there is a difference between apology and empathy. I think the Church has repeatedly sought to show empathy. I sense that Elder Oaks is responding to those who demand that the Church apologize in whole-cloth ways for things that are causing individuals pain. I agree with whoever said above that trying to engage in that kind of cycle can make things worse, not better.

  64. P,

    If “chemical castration” had existed in the 1800s, and people hadn’t been as skiddish about the thought as they apparently are currently, perhaps we wouldn’t have had a problem with polygamy or polyandry in the first place!


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