A Letter From Salt Lake City

The Mormon Newsroom has posted a letter from the First Presidency to area and local leaders. This is unusual: generally letters from the First Presidency are read to members over the pulpit in sacrament meeting, where you hear it once (if you’re lucky) but do not get access to the written text for study or review. And the first line of the letter makes it quite clear what prompted the letter: “Enclosed is a statement by the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in response to the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States.” [See Obergefell v. Hodges opinions.] The attached statement is to be read to the membership on Sunday (but not in sacrament meeting). The letter anticipates some discussion following the reading of the statement.

The eight-paragraph statement restates the Church’s position against gay marriage and in favor of “marriage between a man and a woman,” religious freedom, God’s moral law, and treating all people “with kindness and civility.” There are lots of general statements using general terms that could mean different things to different readers — the kind of bloated, unfocused bureaucratic writing that would drive your English teacher nuts. There is nothing in the statement that directly addresses the problem of a local leader initiating formal or informal disciplinary action against members who express views about gay marriage that the bishop finds objectionable.

That omission is disappointing, given earlier public statements suggesting that sort of thing wouldn’t happen (even though it is happening). In a Salt Lake Tribune story from March 2015, Elder Christofferson is asked whether LDS members can express public support for same-sex marriage “without the threat of losing their church membership or temple privileges.” He is quoted as responding:

We have individual members in the church with a variety of different opinions, beliefs and positions on these issues and other issues. … In our view, it doesn’t really become a problem unless someone is out attacking the church and its leaders — if that’s a deliberate and persistent effort and trying to get others to follow them, trying to draw others away, trying to pull people, if you will, out of the church or away from its teachings and doctrines.

The closest the new statement comes to addressing that question is this short paragraph:

The Church insists on its leaders’ and members’ right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality free from retaliation or retribution. The Church is also entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members.

I think the first sentence is claiming a right for members to make public statements against gay marriage without retaliation from the government, employers, or individuals who disagree. I think the second sentence is reserving the right of the Church to retaliate (through formal or informal church discipline) against members who make public statements in favor of gay marriage. If that Orwellian twist is not what the statement is intended to convey about your “right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality,” someone should clarify the statement.

Apart from “restat[ing] and reaffirm[ing] the doctrinal foundation of Church teachings on morality, marriage, and the family” and apparently inviting polarizing discussions (if not outright arguments) on the subject of gay marriage in wards across the country in the special meeting where the letter and statement will be presented, is there anything in particular the statement is intended to accomplish? What specifically does it ask us to do or not do? I found only two specific directives. (1) “Church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the Church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions, or other activities associated with same-sex marriages.” And: (2) “The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility — even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same-sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully.”

Now, about those discussions. A Q&A script is included with the materials sent to local leaders. The most interesting response is to the question, “What if I have reservations of my own regarding the Church’s position on this subject?” The short response is a direct quote from Handbook 2, section 21.1.24, as follows (ellipses in original):

Members who … have doctrinal questions should make a diligent effort, including earnest prayer and scripture study, to find solutions and answers themselves. Church members are encouraged to seek guidance from the Holy Ghost to help them in their personal lives and in family and Church responsibilities.

If members still need help, they should counsel first with their bishop. If necessary, he may refer them to the stake president. … Stake presidents who need clarification about doctrinal or other Church matters may write in behalf of their members to the First Presidency.

And here is a legal question indirectly raised by the letter. What if a Mormon bishop, despite directives to contrary, decides to perform a same-sex wedding? Given that ecclesiastical officials have power delegated by the state to perform marriages, and given that same-sex marriages are now (or shortly will be) recognized as legal by all states, I believe the marriage would be recognized as valid by the state. The careful wording in the statement on this particular point suggests LDS leaders are aware of this possibility: “Church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex.” Will not, not cannot. Let’s hope senior leaders do not overreact when such an event comes to pass.

Let me wind up by emphasizing the positive aspects of the statement: it has been published so all members can read and ponder the counsel given. It reminds members to “treat all people with kindness and civility.” We should not need such a reminder, but it will be helpful to keep in mind over the coming weeks.

95 comments for “A Letter From Salt Lake City

  1. “I think the second sentence is reserving the right of the Church to retaliate (through formal or informal church discipline) against members who make public statements in favor of gay marriage. If that Orwellian twist is not what the statement is intended to convey about your “right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality,” someone should clarify the statement.”

    I did not read it that way. I read it as simply saying that even though gay marriage is now legal, the Church still reserves the right to take disciplinary action against gay members that choose to marry their partners. I read it as an attempt to cut off the argument that since the law of chastity only outlaws sex with somebody to whom you are not “legally and lawfully wedded,” married gay members are not breaking the law of chastity.

    But it is ambiguous.

  2. All I know is that people are going to be riled up about this. I don’t think my Rexburg experience will be pretty. I think there is nothing new here and it’s totally unnecessary, especially since they already issued a press release. I think the Newsroom only posted the letter after it was obvious it was leaked. Oh, the Internet; so much you can’t control these days.

    I support the decision in the name of pluralism and agency; like alcohol etc., I don’t need to legislate my beliefs on others; and I can still reserve the ability to believe in our doctrine.

  3. Kristine literally word for word echoes my sentiments. I’ve been asked to substitute as the primary pianist this Sunday and feel the utmost relief that I can now avoid what would presumably have been the most frustrating third hour discussion of my life.

  4. I wince in raising this, but will “other activities associated with SSM” be interpreted to include funerals for lds persons who chose a SSM life, or their family members? I know that there are painful instances of wards refusing to allow a funeral b/c of “worthiness” issues, which is to me so preposterous. If we had churchyard cemeteries would we also ban burials on church ground? Since we only have buildings for services, that’s the only power tool in play. I see massive heartbreak ahead…

  5. This letter from the First Presidency very much resembles a petulant child who’s just been sent to her/his room without dinner. How about giving members (on both sides of the issue) time to cool off and do some introspection instead of fanning the flames? There’s no way this ‘discussion’ will bring people together in my ward; it will only drive them further apart.

  6. @Kristine, I think this is all interesting precisely because it is unnecessary in some senses but not others. My own feeling recently has been one of frustration that the church has wasted much good will fighting ssm, but these new actions by the church serve as a wake-up call to me. Based on this, I have to conclude that the First Presidency does not (completely) regret the Prop 8 battle etc and that they really do believe that passively sitting by as ssm becomes socially and legally acceptable is not an option for them (us). Of all the issues they could be addressing, they are choosing to be vocal about this right now. They could have chosen to back down and they aren’t. They are just as aware as you or I about past debacles like the racial priesthood/temple ban and I’m sure just as desirous to avoid a repeat of anything like that. So I feel like I need to work to understand why this is so important and, yes, get in line. If I believe the prophets are inspired, I need to figure out why they’re doing this. Luckily they’re telling me in no uncertain terms… So no, the letter isn’t necessary in the sense that everyone already knows the church opposes gay marriage, but maybe it is necessary to convince fence sitting members like me that this issue really is important from an eternal perspective and that I really do need to choose whether I’m going to follow the prophet or not.

    So for those hoping for the church change their (our) position or for momentum to grow in favor of accepting ssm within the body of the church, I am now exhibit #1 in dashing those dreams.

  7. Given that letters.lds.org already exists, it sure would be nice for letters to actually appear there to all members once they are supposed to have been read to all congregations.

  8. J.a.t, I’ve never heard of a funeral service in a Church building being refused due to worthiness issues for the family or the deceased. That seems so far out there that if I encountered it I would push hard against the Bishop and the Stake President to ask themselves on what basis would they even consider such a decision. It falls so far outside of the covenants we make to mourn with those who mourn.

    And Dave, I’m not sure what you would consider overreaction but the mantle of authority is something taken extremely seriously by Church leadership. By my read, any leader of the Church (Bishop, Stake President, I’m not sure that more senior leaders have the same authority until you reach the Fifteen and all set apart temple sealers) who took it upon themselves to use their ecclesiastical authority to perform a same sex marriage would find themselves in a disciplinary council very quickly. What would you expect them to do? I don’t think this will be a problem to worry about for many more years though. The Church in the US is likely moving toward a complete separation of Church and State concerning marriage where inevitably the Church is going to get out of the legally binding (i.e. civil) marriage business entirely as it has in most European countries.

  9. Owen, one possible reason why the Fifteen feel it is necessary to express this so quickly is that over the last year there has been a fairly strong thread of thinking I’ve seen expressed by many clearly faithful but leftward leaning Mormons that once same sex marriage becomes the law of the land then the Church must adopt it. Their reasoning is that we define living the law of chastity as only having relations with your legally and lawfully wedded spouse. These letters are resetting that expectation to be clear that legally and lawfully only applies to heterosexual marriages as far as the law of chastity is concerned.

  10. Alain, only bishops and stake presidents are authorized to perform civil marriages outside the temple. And I think you’re right in your estimate of the likely consequences of a bishop’s performing a same-sex wedding.

    But maybe Dave’s feared overreaction was a firing squad at dawn. And I would agree–that would be an overreaction.

  11. It is important to note that this letter is virtually identical to the one that was circulated in January 2014 following the Utah court’s decision allowing same sex marriage. There is one new paragraph about family being the best setting for God’s plan of happiness to thrive and one new sentence about how the Church has advocated for the rights of same-sex couples. Everything else is word for word from the 2014 letter.

    I think the General Authorities are informally receiving many questions from faithful members who have followed their lead in opposing same sex marriage and are now frustrated and threatened by this big loss in the Supreme Court—no one likes to be on a losing team and after a big loss there are always questions for the coach about the future of the team. However, the immediate aftermath of a loss is usually not the time to make or announce big changes. So the expedient thing was to simply reissue a prior statement, which is what they did.

    I think the main message to the mainstream member of reissuing the 2014 letter is “Don’t freak out. The Church will be fine. We’re not going to be forced to change our doctrines because of the Supreme Court’s decision”. Compared to the inflammatory anti-gay marriage and anti-Supreme Court rhetoric in some Mormon internet circles and wards, this letter is very measured and calm.

    I don’t think the intent of the letter is to pull those members who are sympathetic towards gay marriage back towards “true doctrine”, but rather to calm and reassure the conservative and moderate members who have invested in being anti-gay marriage and now may be (subconsciously) concerned about whether that was a wise investment.

    I think yesterday’s announcement of a contribution by the Church to the Utah Pride Center is a well timed counterpart message to gay-sympathetic members intended to send a calming message: “Don’t freak out. We’re not making any new decisions now and we’re not slacking off on our attempts to find a way forward for the Church on same-sex issues, consistent with our doctrines.”

  12. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Reaction versus overreaction. How the Church responded to the Book of Mormon musical was perfect: take out a few ads in programs, invite people to read the book as well as see the play, and not get angry. How the Church initially responded to Ordain Women was pretty good: politely decline requests for admission to the priesthood session, be nice, not get angry. Overrreaction was when they started exing people, generating lots of bad publicity and unleashing the Mormon hate mailers.

    Quietly releasing a bishop who performs a same-sex marriage would be an expected reaction. Rushing to a disciplinary council and exing the guy would be overreaction, producing lots of bad publicity.

  13. MJP (#11), I wish they had put your three sentences right at the top of the letter as an executive summary: “Don’t freak out. The Church will be fine. We’re not going to be forced to change out doctrines because of the Supreme Court decision.”

  14. I think whether an “exing” would be quiet or bad PR would depend on the person involved, not the church. If the person goes to the press, which the church can’t control, it could be bad PR. I don’t think the churhc is going to put out press releases naming a bishop that’s been exed for performing a SSM.

    I’d like them to make the correct disciplinary decision without regard to the PR involved. If it doesn’t rise to to an excommunicable offense, then don’t Ex them for that reason, not because you want to avoid answering questions from the press. If it is excommunicable, then ex them and deal with it.

  15. From Owen at #6: “but maybe it is necessary to convince fence sitting members like me that this issue really is important from an eternal perspective and that I really do need to choose whether I’m going to follow the prophet or not.”

    I’m conflicted by this comment. While I actually thought some of the same this morning (that is, what am I missing that this is such a big deal), I still am unclear what it means to follow the prophet on this one. If follow the prophet means taking a stand by posting controversial topics on social media (which seems to be quite common), count me out. My social media account consists largely of me and my kids hanging out at Disneyland. If following the prophet means not engaging in ssm now that it’s legal, count me in. What exactly does it mean to follow the prophet in terms of supporting traditional marriage?

    I had not previously considered MJP’s perspective, but I like it a lot.

  16. Chadwick (15) – good point. However, I think the leadership would say that posting about controversial subjects — in a “kind and loving and respectful tone” — actually is what you need to do to follow the prophet on this one. If there’s an articulate article put out by the church or someone else that explains why church family doctrine is best, I think the leadership wants you to share that article on FB. Same way the leadership wants me to give my neighbor a BoM (even though I never have and probably never will).

    The other way I figure we’re supposed to follow here is with our future voting decisions. Leadership will want us to vote for politicians and measures that preserve the so-called “religious freedom” that we’re all afraid of losing. So, don’t vote for candidates who would appoint judges/agency administrators/etc. who would act to weaken religious liberties.

  17. In the SL Trib article on the letter and statement, Church spokesman Eric Hawkins is quoted as stating that the letter and other materials are “intended to be used to guide a discussion.” It appears they actually *want* a discussion to take place. I’m thinking the tenor and focus of the resulting discussions will vary dramatically from ward to ward. Could be a train wreck.

  18. it’s a grey area about Bishops et al performing gay weddings. We have a lady in our ward who is a license marriage person? and so she isn’t a Bishop but would she be subject to discipline? The Government is the one who gave the Bishop his legal authority to perform marriages anyways but they wouldn’t . normally do that if the guy wasn’t called to be the Bishop so it goes both ways. Why does the Church think they can tell the government who can or can’t marry people when the Church didn’t issue the license? I can see the Church stripping Bishops and others from the whole marriage business

  19. In most states, in order for a religious leader to perform a marriage ceremony on behalf of the state, he or she must present evidence that he or she has been given authority by that religion’s leaders to in fact be able to perform weddings. It’s a pretty loose standard in most areas, which is why people can get an internet divinity degree and head down to their local clerk’s office and get permission to perform marriages. Bishops are given a letter when they’re called, and that letter is usually enough to be able to get registered with the local authority to perform marriages. I don’t know what kind of disciplinary action a bishop might face if he willingly performs an SSM ceremony. As a technical matter, he is only supposed to use the words of the ceremony that is set out in Handbook 1. He obviously would be going against church leaders if he did a SSM, plus he would be violating the express words of the ceremony set forth in Handbook 1.

  20. The “legally and lawfully wed” language was adopted in the early 20th century to clarify that the Church no longer condoned plural marriage (please don’t bore us all with the trite reminder that a man can be sealed to more than one woman; that is irrelevant — sex with any but the currently legal wife would be adultery. Or necrophilia … maybe the claim isn’t so boring after all). That is also why General Authorities don’t do weddings outside the temple — that rule was adopted at the same time and for the same purpose, to avoid rumors of secret sealings, or to alert members that rogue apostles did not have the authority to perform secret plural marriages.

    Anyone who would rely on the “legally and lawfully wed” language to claim that a same-sex marriage was not a violation of the law of chastity is as ignorant of history as he is of doctrine.

  21. Whizzbang, wouldn’t you think it would be like with abortion, where even paying for one for somebody else is a no-no? And that likewise performing a SSM, even if you aren’t in a leadership position, would be grounds for discipline. The reasoning being that you are helping lead others down a wrong path?

  22. MJP (#11) . . .
    Good point . . . they are reassuring the conservative members at a time of loss that the members’ financial, personal, and emotional investments against SSM were important and continue to be upheld by the leadership.

    I think the church might be entering Kubler-Ross’ “dialogue and bargaining” stage of grief! We see the church engaging in the following ways (signs of dialogue and bargaining).

    1) reaching out to others (sending a mass letter)
    2) trying to tell their own story. (Granted, they acknowledge only their own perspective, but it’s a start.)
    3) struggling to find meaning for what has happened (in providing reassurance to the conservative supporters by framing the loss in their terms.)

    I admit that there’s some vacillating between dialogue and denial. I don’t think the institution will allow leadership to show signs of depression in public (a decisively non-leader-like emotion, PR will never allow it), but we have and can see signs of shock and denial, anger, and now some inklings of dialogue/bargaining. We may (in another 20-30 years) see acceptance. That might come more slowly than hoped for, because the institution cannot allow itself to be depressed or detached in public (even though it might need to go through that stage of grief). Likewise, the members cannot grieve the ‘death’ of a concept that was endorsed by an infallible leadership, and will likely remain in denial. I wonder if the leadership is trying to delicately frame the situation to lead the members through bargaining (struggling to find meaning for what has happened) and to a new level of acceptance (new options, new plans in place), without admitting or grieving the “death” of the concept or spending too much time in anger (with the associated embarrassment, shame, and un-Christ-like reactions).

    With enough time and a new generation, people might forget the details and the story . . . allowing the stalwart anti-SSM saints to happily die out- having fought the ‘good’ fight while the church gently slips into acceptance and new modes. (Ta-da! No one had to admit anything or truly sludge through all the stages! You are welcome!) The only problems might be that darn internet contraption and those pesky independent LDS historians, which can both be written-off as buzzing dissonance in the background.

  23. Thanks for the comment, Ardis (#20).

    I’m not sure the issue is so straightforward. Statutory language stands largely on its own. One can’t appeal to legislative history or the intentions of the drafters or general historical context to modify clear and straightforward statutory language to mean something else than what that clear language says. Nor can one appeal to secret or hidden meanings to change the meaning of clear language. And “legally and lawfully wedded” is clear and unambiguous.

    I know that while new plural marriages were effectively discontinued by about 1910 (the official ones, anyway) many LDS polygamists continued to, uh, do the marriage thing with those plural wives until death, women to whom they were not legally wedded. That was after the “legally and lawfully wedded” language was adopted. So some sexual relations outside the bounds of “legally and lawfully wedded” are not apparently a violation of the law of chastity in the eyes of the Church.

    Now with gay marriage, there are some who are now legally and lawfully wedded but whose intra-marital sexual relations would, in the eyes of the Church, be a violation of the law of chastity. So there are some sexual relations within the bounds of “legally and lawfully wedded” that *are* a violation of the law of chastity in the eyes of the Church.

    So the wording of the law of chastity no longer corresponds with what is applied as the law of chastity. They should either change the words to agree with how the law of chastity is applied, or change how the law is applied within the Church to agree with the words.

  24. “Anyone who would rely on the “legally and lawfully wed” language to claim that a same-sex marriage was not a violation of the law of chastity is as ignorant of history as he is of doctrine.”

    I agree with you, Ardis (#20). But when has ignorance stopped anybody? And it’s simpler for the church to just say generally that we reserve the right to enforce our standards of chastity than to get into a detailed historical discussion.

    Dave (#23), I’m not convinced that the canons of statutory construction apply so rigidly to church standards—especially given that we are so prone in the church to euphemism instead of plainness when speaking of sexual morality. And I also disagree, for the reasons you point out in your comment, that “legally and lawfully wedded” is really clear and unambiguous in this context, where past practice under that law seems to have diverged from the supposedly clear meaning of “legally and lawfully wedded.”

    Now, yes, it would be nice if the words used in the temple covenant of chastity were unambiguous, and maybe it is the case that a revision would clarify things. But I don’t think that means that there is really a serious argument that the church’s law of chastity as it currently stands would bless sex within same-sex marriages.

  25. Apart from “restat[ing] and reaffirm[ing] the doctrinal foundation of Church teachings on morality, marriage, and the family” and apparently inviting polarizing discussions (if not outright arguments) on the subject of gay marriage in wards across the country in the special meeting where the letter and statement will be presented, is there anything in particular the statement is intended to accomplish?

    You just said it. The idea is to invite a polarizing discussion across nearly every ward and branch across the US and Canada in which the anti-gay marriage crowd will dominate, express their frustration at gay marriage sympathists, and make the church environment increasingly less comfortable for questioners and doubters about the church’s gay marriage stance. It also puts the local leaders in a position in which they will feel obligated to push the issue of gay marriage among their congregations, where they may have been reluctant to do so before. The letter has been made public so that members will hold local leaders accountable over this if they fail to comply.

    The LDS church leaders are worried over potential agitation for change from within the church on the issue of gay rights. They’re hoping to separate the wheat from the tares before the tares infect more of the wheat with their support or apathy towards gay marriage. Since they can’t just come out and tell people to leave themselves, and since they can’t just tell members how to think politically, their strategy is to give local Iron Rod members throughout the US and Canada a platform to decry the Liahona members over the issue of gay marriage with the hope that the former will pressure the latter to keep quiet, change their views, or leave.

  26. It’s just a bit peculiar that you seem to think that a bishop going off the rails and violating his covenants and claiming to perform an ordinance by virtue of the priesthood which the church has not and will not recognize should be treated the same as a couple of smart aleck comedians’ send-up of Church doctrine and practice.

    And the church doesn’t wish for a “ban” on same-sex marriage. It simply does not recognize that such unions are marriages.

  27. “And the church doesn’t wish for a “ban” on same-sex marriage. It simply does not recognize that such unions are marriages.” (#26)

    Mark B., where have you been the last 20 years? Outside of polygamy and the WOW, the issue for which the church is best known today is its effort to “ban” same-sex marriage.

  28. Mark B, isn’t insistence that unions of same-gender couples not be recognized as marriages the same thing seeking a ban on same-sex marriage? I don’t see the difference.

  29. It’s obviously too subtle a point for you, Dave K. Sorry. I should have stuck to your comparison of Trey Parker and Matt Stone to your local neighborhood Mormon bishop.

  30. Mark B. – “And the church doesn’t wish for a “ban” on same-sex marriage. It simply does not recognize that such unions are marriages.”

    Actually, the church simply wants the government to not recognize such unions as marriages and enforce Mormon marital doctrine by rule of law. I think the term “ban” works here.

  31. Or, you could argue that a “ban” on same-sex marriage would work the same way as the 19th century ban on polygamy; i.e. incarcerate those participating in a strictly religious ceremony and threaten to confiscate the property of the officiant’s denomination. Nothing the Church has supported would do that.

  32. So Jay, just to be clear, I don’t have to post any controversial topics on social media until you give your neighbor a Book or Mormon, right? =)

    From my perspective, the “in a kind and loving and respectful tone” is nearly impossible on the internet. Tone is hard enough in person.

    As for me and my house, we’ll stick to Disneyland pics.

    But really, what does it mean to toe the line with respect to the Church’s position on ssm? Is it good enough if I just don’t personally indulge?

  33. The word “ban” simply means prohibition by law. The punishment to which law enforcers subject violators of the said law may vary. But the punishment shouldn’t have to meet a certain criteria in order for the prohibition to be considered a ban. In the case of polygamy, violators of the ban were dealt harsher punishment than those who violated the ban on gay marriage.

  34. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Remember, kindness and civility are the themes for the day.

    Chadwick (#32), yeah that’s kind of why I put in the paragraph asking, “What specifically does it ask us to do or not do?” I think members could walk out of the special meeting on Sunday saying to themselves anything from “I’m on God’s team! No SSM!” to “Whatever” to “They just don’t get it.” It doesn’t make much difference at this point, short of personally entering into a gay marriage. I think they will figure this out pretty quickly: a member can attend a gay marriage, go to the reception, post photos to Facebook congratulating the friend or family member involved — and nothing will happen, except for getting hate mail from Mormons who ignore the kindness and civility directive.

  35. Dave (23) I’ll lay good odds the phrasing for the law of chastity will be changed now. It’ll probably take time. Plus there’s lots of resources that’ll need updating.

    Kristine (2) I tend to you agree with you that this will end up being treated similarly to how Mormons treat alcohol. There really wasn’t much of an uproar in my ward. Honestly I think there was only one oblique reference to it in Priesthood that I can recall. However clearly Mormons aren’t going to allow people to bring vodka to ward potlucks and that’s probably the best way to think how the SSM will evolve.

    To be fair though there are places where the alcohol analogy breaks down. I tend to think of most of the Word of Wisdom as something asked of us but not intrinsically sinful (even though it’s not hard to find Mormons who find it so). With chastity it seems like we’re dealing with something more than merely a separation like wearing garments or refraining from alcohol. On the other hand I think most Mormons in areas where couples living together is common accept that while it’s wrong, it’s kind of accepted and judge people (to the degree they judge) more in terms of other behavior. If anything a married person who drinks irresponsibly is judged much harsher than an unmarried couple with kids who is good to each other. I suspect that as a practical matter that will develop here as well.

    That said of course the larger political issues will be different, just as they are with things like pornography, gambling, alcohol and drugs and so forth. Those are all fairly common yet still rejected vigorously in terms of more political/philosophical thinking by the church in aggregate.

    Dave (27) I think his point is no one cares if people have private marriage ceremonies so long as they aren’t required to be accepted by society in general. This was why many of us said long ago that people should be pushing the state to get out of the marriage business entirely, tie child custody issues to cohabitation and biology rather than marriage, and just let marriage be a private matter people can accept or reject.

  36. Conceptually. the root of this is that the church is reminding people that neither a person’s sexual preference nor legal understanding affect the moral law that sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman. This seems pretty simple.

    The challenge is what it means to not be disrespectful of a person who has a strong personal commitment to a sin and a sin that is seen as both a threat to current society and God’s eternal plan. This is particularly true in our current society. What does one do where “sin talk” directed toward others is seen by those others as disrespectful? One can be respectful according to one’s own lights but usually that doesn’t count as respect these days.

    That, to me, is a key element to this statement. It is an attempt to establish respectful “sin-talk”. It will be interesting to see if the norms for respect become as contested as the norms for sexual behavior.

  37. The challenge is what it means to not be disrespectful of a person who has a strong personal commitment to a sin and a sin that is seen as both a threat to current society and God’s eternal plan.

    Martin James, aren’t all sins a threat to society and God’s eternal plan?

  38. The challenge is what it means to not be disrespectful of a person who has a strong personal commitment to a sin

    That is the challenge. Especially since we are called upon to preach repentence. Its awfully hard to preach repentence if you aren’t allowed to tell anyone that what they are doing is a sin and in need of repenting. So here’s the question… If the Lord calls something an “abomination”, is it okay for us to use the same terminology that he does?

    I’m not sure I can picture a discussion about baptism wherein an Apostle would tell a Priest that his baptizing of an infant is an abomination to the Lord. Do we try to sugar coat it so that we’re respectful yet still pointing out a “gross error” and “solemn mockery” toward God (Moroni 8)

    What terms of condemnation are acceptable when talking about SSM/Homosexuality?

  39. Comment 39 contains the tone and language that I would imagine we will be hearing frequently from members making comments in a large number of chapels throughout the US and Canada during the next two Sundays.

  40. This whole thing strikes me as the Church joining in with the other right-wing christian churches in their creation of a LGTB devil. Given the small percentage of people who are LGTB and the smaller percentage who are LGTB and will marry, why is it such a big deal? How many who comment here actually know someone who wants to marry their same-sex partner? However, it does give the churches something to condemn and something to rally the faithful, but is it really all that important when one considers all the other issues of which the churches can focus? Couldn’t the Church find some other group to treat as the other?

  41. “What terms of condemnation are acceptable when talking about SSM/Homosexuality?” I know of someone who comes from a conservative, active LDS family and very recently came out of the closet and announced he was no longer active in the church. What long term strategy is more effective if your goal is to eventually play a part in welcoming him back to church activity?
    1. Tell him every chance you get about how important traditional marriage and The Proclamation are; or,
    2. Tell him you love and respect him and ask when he’s next in town so you can invite him to dinner.
    I’m really hoping the answer here is obvious…

  42. “Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds.” – Jeffrey R Holland

  43. In December 1969 the First Presidency issued a message about the Rights of the Negro, which said in part “Matters of faith, conscience, and theology are not within the preview of the civil law”

    From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.

    Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, “The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God….

    “Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man’s mortal existence, extending back to man’s pre-existent state.”


    Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

    There are a number of similarities, between this message and the present one. We are above the civil law, We are doing this because God wants it done this way, and we are right and no other position can be considered.

    It held for 8 years last time. I hope it doesn’t take that long this time.

    D&C 1:37-38:

    Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.

    What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

    If the voice of the servants keep passing away, perhaps they are not the voice of the lord, just their culture?

    How can they continue to get it wrong and not accept some responsibility? Racism, opposition to birth control, opposition to inter racial marriage, opposition to gays and gay marriage particularly, and also support for patriarchy.

    If we can separate the Gospel, from the conservative culture of many of the leaders: I see the problem as the leaders not being able to tell the difference between their culture and Gods will/culture. If it is a variation from love your fellow man that might be a sign.

    What are ways that questions might be asked on Sunday, what questions? Could the record above be raised?

  44. I can literally think of . . . no one who thinks that Supreme Court changing the law should change the laws/doctrines of the church. Do I think there are a tiny percentage of mormons advocating for it? a little bit bigger percentage hoping that in 50 years it won’t be a big deal? yeah.

    But guess what, left-leaning mormons have brains and understand things aren’t changing. We *don’t* need this letter to understand that. This is merely retrenchment.

  45. Kristine A – I agree that this is “merely retrenchment.” What I don’t understand (and I think no one here understands) is, what’s the point of that retrenchment. Is this really just to draw a line? Wasn’t that line drawn a long time ago? I totally don’t get it.

    Chadwick – I can safely promise you that you will be posting nothing but Disneyland for the foreseeable future.

  46. I think the letter serves a useful purpose, and that it is focused on the future — not mere retrenchment.

    The letter makes it clear that all persons are welcome in our sacrament meetings, provided only that they respect our standards of conduct. It also provides needed clarity to local leaders that church officers and facilities will not be used for same sex marriages and related activities. And it reminds us that changes in civil law don’t change God’s laws. All of this is a timely message for Latter-day Saints in the U.S.A.

    I have concerns about the third-hour meetings, and no doubt some of them across the country will be rocky. But sometimes fathers need to have a conversation with their children, and some of the fathers will be inartful and some of the children will be obstinate, but that’s normal. We bear with it and do the best we can. I feel a desire to sustain and support my bishop as he conducts the meeting, even though I’m not sure how he will do it.

    I tend to wish that the letter was only for U.S.A. wards and branches, as these are the only ones affected by the Supreme Court’s decision. The Saints in the Netherlands should have gotten the same message back in 2005 or whenever that country legalized same sex marriage.

  47. How can you call it “retrenchment”? The standards of the church haven’t changed. We’re not returning to some previous standard of sexual morality after a period of laxity.

    And, AuntM, the principles relating to marriage are not simply “Mormon marital doctrine.” If they are, please explain this line from the State Department’s website about immigration from the People’s Republic of China: “Same-sex marriage is not recognized in China.” Or if you think the Chinese are just bad Commies, how about Japan? Article 24 of Japan’s Constitution states that “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.”

  48. When learning it’s best to see what “it” looks like, right? Doesn’t this
    Simply give each Bishop an opportunity for the ward to have a discussion about
    A contentious subject while demonstrating and insisting that the conversation be
    Loving and respectful? You may say that we shouldn’t need the reminder. Well why
    Are we reminded re prayer scripture study etc? Maybe there will be some train wrecks.
    Better to find out now so that those wards can better deal with it now rather than latter?
    Here in the city of brotherly love I don’t think my ward is going to have a train wreck.
    I suspect the focus will be on how to best respect and love each other, whether
    There is a political or other type of disagreement.

  49. Put more finely, the letter itself will likely trigger a retrenchment in Mormon culture; meaning, it will embolden the Iron Rods against middle-pathers by giving them a space to speak out. And it marks a different direction for the LDS church leaders. Now they are showing decreased tolerance for middle pathers, stressing obedience and demonizing doubt more.

  50. Since this is the language from First Presidency’s letter and attachments that is addressed specifically to those who “have reservations” about the Church’s position, I suspect that this is what Brad L thinks is “demonizing”:

    Members who . . . have doctrinal questions should make a diligent effort, including earnest
    prayer and scripture study, to find solutions and answers themselves. Church members are
    encouraged to seek guidance from the Holy Ghost to help them in their personal lives and in
    family and Church responsibilities.

    Would that we were all beset by such demons all the days of our lives.

  51. Good point. So sin-talk in public of any kind for you!

    Um, sure Martin James. That must be exactly what I was saying. Personally I’m thinking that realizing what sin is, this ‘talking to’ we’re all going to have will be a great opportunity to remember that we are all sinners (Rom 3:23), that we shouldn’t offend (1 Cor 8:13), perhaps we should focus on the beam in our own eyes instead of mote in the ‘others’ (Luke 6:42) and have a good discussion about who our neighbors are (Luke 10:36).

  52. I was just told by my father who is a bishop in Texas that the direction he has received from his stake president, who said that he received it from the area authority seventy, was that a homosexual in a same sex marriage can say yes to the law of chastity question in the temple recommend interview and that he as the bishop must accept that answer. He said the the definition as currently set forth in the directions is “couple” not man and woman.

    Now I don’t know if my father was perhaps high when I spoke to him, or perhaps deeply mistaken. There’s now a glimmer of hope though that maybe this won’t turn out as terrible as I feared.

  53. Anon (#53) that sounds kind of fishy. A bishop should not have to rely on verbal hearsay to figure out how to implement or interpret written directives from Salt Lake. The written directives should be clear and not subject to arbitrary re-statement or re-interpretation by this or that Area Authority or Stake President. Such ad hoc rewriting is much more likely to take a harder line than the original directives. No doubt feedback in coming days will reveal the full spectrum of “spin” that various local leaders put on the Letter and Statement.

  54. Dave, I agree that it sounds fishy. I was only taking it as evidence that perhaps there is resistance at higher levels than I initially thought towards taking a hard line stance. So basically, while this letter says nothing new and I agree that it has a bit of an Orwellian feel to it, that maybe we’ll get something a bit clearer and better than this a bit later after the initial knee-jerk response.

  55. Thus far I’ve had several conversations with my neighbors and fellow ward members about the Supreme Court’s SSM decision. My own view is that the Supreme Court reached the right outcome and that there are reasonable minds on both sides.

    When I speak to someone about same sex marriage it is never my intention to persuade them to change their views. My only goal is to show them that there are reasonable people who disagree with them. That is all. There are reasonable, good people who differ on this particular topic.

    I don’t view church as a good place for me to discuss same-sex marriage or express my views. When someone says, “God is on my side and God is not on your side” there isn’t much to discuss. It’s time to give that person a pat on the shoulder and talk about the weather.

    Personally, I don’t plan on attending the third-hour letter reading.

  56. The Bishop read the letter during RS, but did not offer time for discussion. But last week in RS our lesson was on the Proclamation on the Family and there was significant discussion of the SCOTUS decision and the Church’s initial statement at that time.

  57. In our ward in Texas, the bishop excused the Primary children and their teachers after the closing prayer of sacrament meeting. He then read the letter. There was no discussion. He said if members had questions, they could make an appointment to meet with him. He also said that this approach was discussed in ward council (meaning there was input from female leaders, I guess). I’m pretty sure the bishop wanted to avoid an emotional discussion of this issue in church such as one often experiences on social media.

    By the way, am I the only one who reads the counsel from the Council of the 15 not to treat same-sex couples “disrespectfully” as guidance for the LDS baker of wedding cakes? It seems to me it would be disrespectful to a same-sex couple to refuse to bake a wedding cake for them.

  58. The tragedy in all of this that should be glaringly obvious is that judging by how little empathy conservative members receive from their liberal counterparts, the church stands to be judged much more harshly than we can realize from those who don’t know us as our brothers and sisters in the gospel do.

    If my “friends” who hopefully know some of my heart respond the way of some commenters I wonder what a generation of two of non-members who view us as intolerant bigots will do! The fruit of this decision will most certainly affect us and our children.

  59. I had to take my 2 year old home from nursery early so I didn’t get to attend Priesthood and see how it went.

  60. Doesn’t seem disrespectful on its face to decline an offer to bake a cake, do photography, etc for a SSM marriage. Most of us have learned to respectfully decline opportunities, yes? A refusal could be disrespectful for sure, depending on attitude/tone/body language, etc. But I don’t think that simply declining is inherently disrespectful.

  61. LDS,

    Right on. For some folks, the call by our leaders to be tolerant of those of other persuasions means an open day on those who are perceived to be intolerant.

  62. “Doesn’t seem disrespectful on its face to decline an offer to bake a cake, do photography, etc for a SSM marriage.”

    No, not at all. If a business or some other individual offered to bake a cake for a same-sex couple getting married, and the couple declines, I don’t think it would be disrespectful of the couple at all.

  63. The offense makers have cleverly found their target niche in baked goods – something that appears trivial at first glance but is really directly participating in the creative process and planning of the event.

  64. Sincere question:

    I’ve had a difficult time getting excited about religious freedom when discussing same-sex marriage. However, I like to think I’m open to persuasion.

    Can someone identify how the LDS people’s *exercise* of religion is threatened by same-sex marriage?

    (I know LDS bakers and photographers and I can easily imagine an LDS person maintaining his or her Christian convictions while serving others who live differently.)

  65. Josh, you can answer this question yourself. What happened when non-discrimination/civil union protections were enacted without complementary religious freedom protections? Is that not when the lawsuits and predatory ‘gotcha’ began?

  66. I’m not sure that works since most civil union laws didn’t give the same rights/benefits that marriage did. So for instance in some cases hospital visitation and control was lost to parents.

    While I may be wrong (I’ve honestly not followed this issue closely) I don’t believe a full throated national civil union laws ever came close to being passed.

  67. I probably didn’t phrase my question very well. My bad. I’ll try again.

    I understand that according to LDS doctrine gay sex is a sin. I also understand that it is very, very, very important to the LDS church that the law of the land forbids homosexuals from marrying. I have been mostly coherent for the last 20 years.

    It is now legal for homosexuals to marry.

    My understanding of Mormonism is that we wake up every day and participate in a pluralistic society with minimal friction: LDS accountants do taxes for naughty businesses; LDS lawyers advocate for naughty clients; LDS businesses sell naughty things; LDS owned servers host naughty bytes; LDS lenders charge excessive interest. Within the next 24 hours it is possible that each of the 10 commandments will be broken in a Marriot Hotel room somewhere in the world. The LDS people actively participate in the 21st century. (As they should I suppose.)

    Why does the legality of same-sex marriage cause a unique threat to how an LDS person *exercises* his or her faith?

    Again, I am open to persuasion. It is possible that the next comment I write in this discussion is “Holy moly, same-sex marriage is a threat to a sincere LDS belief.”

  68. Josh;

    Here is a sincere answer.

    First off, LDS accountants, lawyers, etc. may or may not service customers whose morals are suspect. I have turned down requests for services for those reasons. Also, I lend money to various people/groups and I find the characterization of charging excessive interest a bit bizarre. That being said, following are specific answers to what I believe is possible or likely to happen given the Court decision:

    1- Continued deductibility of tithing and other contributions. I fully expect the Church to lose 501c3 status as a result of the Court decision. Within a week of the ruling their were major media outlets proposing such. While we can certainly continue to pay tithes and offerings, there will be substantially greater burdens on the members.

    2- Lack of Church resources to run programs based upon the loss of tax status as mentioned above.

    3- Loss of ability to access the Boy Scout program as a young mens resource. Scout chief executive Gates has already signaled a change in the scout program effective this fall. While religious organizations have been granted an exemption by the scouts, I suspect only a full disassociation will pass legal muster now that the court has ruled.

    4- Additional burdens on members trying to gain employment in certain professions and in school admissions. For example, I know that CWRU medical school had an unofficial policy of not admitting Christians, as they believed they lacked the necessary compassion to be physicians. Of course this was unofficial. Now I believe it will likely become routine to legally deny LDS access to such schools, as well as to deny employment to state social service and related agencies.

    5- Denial to the LDS community of potential judgeships. Currently California bars anyone associated with the Boy Scouts from serving as a state judge, so I am not sure how a Mormon would be allowed to serve as judge there now. The court ruling makes a blanket prohibition more likely.

    6- Potential jailing and fines for any Bishop who refuses to marry a same sex couple. The city of Coeur d’Alene has already announced that they will aggressively pursue any pastor who denies to perform such weddings, so we will see how this plays out pretty soon. I see the letter from the Brethren as an effort to provide cover for such eventuality.

    7- Potential impact on LDS social services. I suspect that Church social service programs will be shut down unless compliance with the court ruling is adhered to.

    These are just a few off the top of my head to get discussion started. I am comfortable that all of the above are at least possible based upon the comments of the government attorney arguing the case, as well as media reports on what is already happening. Bear in mind that I oppose the court ruling not so much because of how it will influence the Church, and not at all because of a threat to my personal testimony, but more on how it will impact our country as a whole. The whole argument that opposition is based on how “my marriage” is affected was always a straw man argument.

  69. Jeff,

    That sounds quite ominous … and completely foreign to my understanding of U.S. culture and law. I’m not even sure where to start.

    I doubt bishops will be required to marry anyone. Bishops can refuse to marry people who drink iced tea.

    Ah hell, this is probably my fault.

    How about this? Can you think of any real LDS person in a real-world situation who has had his or her religious beliefs threatened by same-sex marriage?

    I mean, do you know anyone–other than the citizens Coeur d’Alene, Idaho–who are being curtailed by the state in the exercise of their religious beliefs?

  70. Josh, (71) I think the concern is that initially it’ll apply to religiously owned institutions like colleges. Then the assumption is that tax exemptions will be removed from those that won’t marry people of a protected class. However the argument for it is a slippery slope argument which I admit seems a bit dubious. The main reason it’s not completely discountable is because people when DOMA passed said this would never happen. So even people apt to be skeptical of slippery slope fallacies are thinking twice. I still think it rather unlikely myself. If the state can dictate to religions who they accept then there is no religious freedom. I can’t imagine even those radically reinterpreting the 1st amendment would go that far.

    Jeff (70) while I think tax exemption for religious oriented institutions that aren’t the religion themselves are likely to face severe pressures. This would especially be colleges but perhaps also charity organizations. That’ll take a while though and there will be a fight over it. Right now I think most favor SSM because it seemed like religion was the one acting as a bully. If the state starts attacking religion then people will perceive the state as the bully. Likewise while we’re becoming more secular or at least less concerned with religion there still are a lot of religious people. I can’t see churches losing tax exempt status without all non-profits losing it.

    Given the number of veto points in our constitution even a minority could stop most laws attempting to do this. And there’s really no constitutional move to say churches must be taxed that I can see. (At least I’ve never seen an argument put forth)

    The bigger concern for religions and charities tied to religion is public pressure as people take SSM as decided and acceptable. Fighting against public opinion may well hurt opportunities in other areas.

  71. People that drink iced tea are not a protected class. Sexual Orientation increasingly is. I think that people are concerned for the following reasons:

    1) Homosexuality/Sexual Orientation is in the process of being made a protected class by federal and state governments. This could create a clash with church owned or affiliated institutions.

    2) Many of the actors involved are not sympathetic to religious claims or beliefs. It hasn’t been two weeks since the Supreme Court ruling and many activists have already said that they want to see churches marginalized or tax exempt status taken away. They might not have the ability to do so now, but that might not always be true.

    3) Individual employment: There have been cases already where someone holding a position against gay marriage has lead to loss of business or employment. I don’t talk politics at work anyway, but the absolute last thing I would express an opinion against on the job would be gay marriage. I would likely be disciplined or fired. Hostile work environment and all…

    4) Lastly, religious belief is no longer seen as a legitimate point of view in policy debates. Churches and religious people have lost a lot of influence because of this. This is concerning to alot of people. Not only is their opinion invalid in the conversation to start with, but the other side often loathes them and wants to see them further marginalized.

    Obviously, a lot of this hasn’t happened yet and it is easy to dismiss this as a slippery slope. But the slippery slope is exactly how progressivism works. It would take you just a minute to google all of the opinion and thought pieces from the last week out there on what the “next step” is in the march towards progress. For conservative/traditional marriage supporters, the future is unknown but almost all of the possibilities thrown around out there are hostile to them and the organizations they support.

  72. The city of Coeur d’Alene has already announced that they will aggressively pursue any pastor who denies to perform such weddings

    There were two pastors in Coeur d’Alene who were running a for profit wedding chapel who were forced by the courts to marry a same-sex couple. In order to qualify for the “religious corporations” exemption, they would have had to be operating the chapel for primarily or exclusively religious purposes. The city of Coeur d’Alene is not pursuing any pastor who denies to perform same-sex weddings.

  73. Brad L, I’m glad someone looked up what actually happened in Coeur d’Alene. I didn’t bother. I should have done a wee bit of research. Thank you.

    Clark, I don’t know enough about the tax-exemption process to have an opinion on it. My guess is that the First Amendment would prohibit the government from removing tax exempt status once it has been granted–if removal is based solely on the organization’s sincere beliefs. That seems like the very purpose of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Nor do I see the U.S. as that hostile towards religion. I freely admit that I could completely misunderstand the political climate of the country. I’ve lived in Idaho for 10 years. Maybe the IRS could revoke BYU or the church’s tax exemption, someday????

    ABM, I’m sympathetic to your “individual employment” argument (obviously not state action, but still a concern). Historically it has been homosexuals who have suffered employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation. I’m opposed to that. I’m also certainly opposed to employment discrimination based on religious or political views. I agree with you on that one.

  74. I believe Canada has had SSM for quite a while. Anyone know the Church’s experience with it there?

  75. ABM (73), when you mention how there is a rising tide against religious beliefs, you’re excluding those that accept same-sex marriage as a moral act. In the Episcopalian Church, for instance, it is the commonly held religious belief that God approves of same-sex marriages and that it is in fact immoral to oppose them. I can’t imagine that Episcopalians have any reason to fear the changing cultural landscape.

  76. I am not really sure what your point is Brad L. Yes there are denominations that approve of SSM, like the Episcopalians. But their church is bleeding membership at an incredible rate. It is not as if their support of SSM is gaining them converts from more conservative churches nor does it appear that there are large groups of non-religious SSM supporters joining their ranks. In many ways the changing cultural landschape will continue to hit churches like theirs hardest.

  77. Josh, tax exempt status isn’t tied to those things and is due to a conscious policy of making all non-profits not pay taxes. On the other hand there was an important court case in 1970, Walz vs. Tax Commission of the City of New York, that does seem to support the exemption although it doesn’t appear to go as far as saying it’s a constitutional right. It was more saying that an exemption given by the state was constitutional. (I’m no lawyer though)

    The reason to fear colleges more is that most colleges depend upon aspects of government funding that typically have more strings attached. The big one that’s been controversial of late is Title IX. I suspect congress will revise Title IX over the next few years but it could easily remove a lot of government funding making it difficult to continue.

  78. ABM, you write, “people are concerned [with the recent SCOTUS ruling, I presume]” for a number of reasons, which include potential limits on the expression and practice of religious belief (reason 1: “this could create a clash with church owned or affiliated institutions,” reason 2: “Many of the actors involved are not sympathetic to religious claims or beliefs,” reason 4: religious belief is no longer seen as a legitimate point of view in policy debates”). My point is that if your religious belief is that SSM is legit and that SCOTUS’ recent ruling is in tandem with God’s will, then your stated reasons of concern simply don’t apply. You would have no reason to fear that the institutions that are owned by or affiliated with your institution would face legal action for discriminating against gays. You would have no reason to worry that “many of the actors involved,” provided these actors are involved in the gay rights movement, would not be sympathetic to your religious belief that SSM is God’s will. And you would have no reason to be frustrated that you could not appeal to religious belief as a reason to discriminate against gays in policy debates.

    The point is that the idea of SSM being God’s will can be just as much of a religious belief as the idea that SSM is not God’s will. So you hinting that the recent SCOTUS ruling is leading down a slippery slope that is against people’s religious beliefs is a moot point. This is not true if your religious belief is that SSM is God’s will. As for the Episcopalian church losing members and the changing cultural landscape negatively affecting churches (especially their church), this is beyond the point. The fact is that there are churches like the Episcopalian church whose religious beliefs include the idea that the legalization of SSM reflects God’s will.

  79. Brad L.
    Perhaps, I am an idiot, but I don’t see how your point is contrary to anything I wrote. Yes, there are some churches that accept SSM and yes, they might not face the same challenges, but that doesn’t discount the fact that the majority of churches (including the one this blog talks about) will have to tackle these issues because of their religious belief that SSM is sin.

  80. ABM, the way you used the term “religious belief” in comment 73 makes it seem as if such a term applies only to those who are against the legalization of SSM.

    In comment 78, you suggest that it is not a big deal that Episcopalians hold SSM as a religious belief since they are supposedly in rapid decline. Look at it this way. 60 percent of Americans are in favor gay marriage and over 90 percent of Americans believe in God. It seems right to say that all those who believe in God or a higher power have religious beliefs. So the majority of Americans see the legalization of same-sex marriage as either part of their religious beliefs (i.e., God’s will is for there to be SSM) or consistent with their religious beliefs (I’m not going against God’s will by supporting SSM). I might say that a fair number of active LDS folks find the legalization of SSM to be consistent with their religious beliefs. Polling data from last summer indicate that only 88 percent of “very active” Mormons in Utah are against gay marriage, and that 40 percent of “somewhat active” Mormons favor, as well as 48 percent of “non-active” Mormons.

  81. Should read: “…that 40 percent of “somewhat active” Mormons and 48 percent of “non-active” Mormons are in favor of SSM.” I’ll add that those who will have to “tackle these issues because of their religious belief that SSM is sin” are a growing minority.

  82. Brad (83) I think that occurs partially due to generational changes (people born since the 80’s tend to assume SSM is fine) as well as the rise of the None who often have vague beliefs in God but not a lot of religious commitment in terms of commitment to organized religion or traditional religious ideas. Among more liberal mainline religion it’s much more acceptable of course. But those faiths are losing members at a very high rate.

    So I think we’re seeing a transition not necessarily towards secularism (although that is rising) but to the abandonment of traditional religion.

  83. Clark,

    You’re right. The Walz case does not apply. Walz just says that tax-exempt status is not forbidden by the Constitution. It does not say that tax-exempt status is required by the Constitution.

    The case we need to look at is Bob Jones *UNIVERSITY* v. U.S. The IRS revoked tax exemption status by saying the educational institution was not a “charity” for purposes of 501(c)(3) because the school refused to admit interracially married blacks. If anyone else is as clueless about me as to tax-exempt status, Bob Jones University v. U.S. is a great place to start:


    The first thing worth noting is that this is a case against an educational institution, not a church. As far as I know, there are no cases of the IRS trying to remove a church’s tax-exempt status. (Maybe the KKK? Maybe Westboro Baptist Church? I really don’t know. Maybe hate group churches don’t enjoy tax-exempt status?)

    The LDS Church has discriminated against women (60% of the congregation?) for decades without losing tax-exempt status. Why would the LDS Church lose tax-exempt status for discriminating against homosexuals (maybe 2% of the congregation)?

    I think it is complete nonsense to suggest the LDS Church will lose tax-exempt status based on SSM.

    Clark, you make a great point about BYU though. Based on Bob Jones University v. U.S., I think it is perfectly reasonable to argue that SSM may someday lead to revocation of tax-exempt status for BYU. Possibly. I’m persuaded that there’s a religious-freedom issue there. That seems like a reasonable concern.

  84. Brad L,

    I agree with what Clark says. There is probably a lot of overlap among the portion of the population that believes in God, with no attachment to organized religion AND approves of SSM as part of their religious beliefs.

    I think the original point I was trying to make regarding religious belief is that, on the whole, we no longer accept religious reasoning as acceptable in public debates. Whether that belief is “SSM is good” or “SSM is bad”, if it comes from a religious source, we can’t use our line of thinking legitimately anymore to influence laws and culture. Am I making any sense?

  85. Yes I agree with Clark’s points. Traditional religious beliefs are being edged out by new cultural trends that favor equal rights for gays.

  86. Regarding polling indicating approval of same sex marriage, I am skeptical. I think we are at the point in this country that if someone calls you one the phone asking if you approve, one is going to be very cautious about saying no. I would be interested in knowing the percentage that refuse to answer. I suspect the vast majority of refusals would be in opposition.

    Josh – do you not think the Oregon baker case poses a religious freedom issue?

  87. Jeff (89)

    The Oregon-baker case poses a religious-freedom issue. Yes. :-)

    Would you like to frame the issue or would you like me to frame the issue?

  88. Brad I’m not sure edged out is the right term. There’s a big demographic shift going on but it seems unlike what happened in Europe. What’s happening more is that people loosely tied to Churches appear to just no longer identifying. According to most studies a lot of the shift is due to breaks with right wing politics although some is just lack of social ties. However those who are committed to religion (i.e. attend regularly) are only dropping slightly and they are maintaining their views for the most part. The big question of course is what the next generation that’s in K12 right now will do religiously and politically.

    No one knows for sure. Some think we’re seeing a shift as happened in Europe, albeit developing much more slowly. Others think that we’re moving to a new balance point with acceptance of some social changes but little change in others. Some (myself included) think that while there is a small shift most of the shift is just a shift in naming rather than behavior. We’ll see over the next 10 – 20 years I guess.

    My guess is that social conservatives will just accept SSM, political parties will establish new balance points with perhaps gays being welcomed more into the GOP fold, but that other than that there won’t be major social changes. And frankly, gays were mostly accepted a decade or two ago. While a major legal shift, in practical social terms this really isn’t that big a shift. The shift started accelerating in the 90’s and this is just the evidence that the shift has happened.

  89. Jeff,

    I appreciate the example of the Oregon bakers. It’s concrete. It involves real people with a real issue. I think two people with differing viewpoints could discuss the issue and both people could walk away from the discussion with greater insight about the world.

    It would surprise me if the case involved an LDS couple who refused to make a cake for a homosexual wedding. Why is that the case? Why is it that I would be surprised if an LDS business refused to cater to a homosexual wedding? I can’t quite put my finger on it. Let me see if writing out some of my thoughts helps clarify my thinking.

    LDS people, as a general rule, abide by the law of the land. At least in the Oregon case, the couple was accused of violating the state’s anti-discrimination statute. “Businesses can’t discriminate based on a person’s age, sex, religion, disability, race, … or sexual orientation.” (I paraphrase.) The case was brought by a government agency. As a general rule, LDS people abide by the law. Certainly LDS leaders encourage members to abide by the law. The letter quoted in this post suggests we follow the law. I suppose one reason I’d be surprised to see LDS bakers in a similar position is that we’re more law abiding.

    I think it would violate the LDS faith to refuse to serve the homosexual couple. LDS people, as a general rule, are deeply interested in serving others, regardless of differences. It has been my experience that the LDS people, with a few exceptions, are exceptionally accommodating on a personal level. I could spend hours telling stories of LDS people I’ve known who love and serve unconditionally–even when they probably shouldn’t. I could literally drive down my country road and go house by house giving examples of people who are definitely opposed to homosexual marriage who would bend over backwards to serve a person who was openly homosexual. Seriously, if you asked the folks in my ward to bake a cake for homosexual wedding–for free!–you’d have 10 volunteers. I don’t exaggerate. It is a central tenet of LDS belief to serve others, regardless of philosophical or political differences. That’s my experience.

    LDS people, for better or worse, distinguish between how they make a living and their religious life. (See thriving LDS community in Las Vegas). As I stated above in #69, LDS people have adjusted well to the 21st century, at least the economics of the 21st century. I don’t see many central LDS teachings about not getting involved economically with lawful but nonetheless “sinful” activities.

    For these reasons it would surprise me if an LDS owned bakery refused to bake a cake for a homosexual couple.

  90. Josh;

    The Oregon baker case is instructive on many levels.

    The owners were not LDS. My understanding is that they had previously provided services to the couple in question as well as other gays. They made a distinction about what they felt was participation in the marriage ceremony. I suspect, and I think many LDS would concur, that such a ceremony would essentially be mocking God, and therefore not something they would be comfortable participating in. For that reason I disagree with your conclusion that it would “violate the LDS faith” to not participate. Of course I agree with you about the service mentality of LDS people. The level of service we provide is largely incomprehensible to most of the world. The big rub comes when dealing with the gay community. Do we, or do we not believe that homosexual acts (not desires) separate us from God? I think our teachings are pretty clear on that. The question then becomes; how do we best serve our gay brothers and sisters? If you grant me my belief then I think you should also grant me that to celebrate the Court ruling would be doing a disservice to them. I can only presume that my LDS brothers and sisters that do celebrate the ruling reject the Church teaching on these matters. In short, we can believe that others are wrong, but to ascribe any ill will is not appropriate here.

    Regarding the violation of law, it is interesting to note that at the time service was refused the Oregon Constitution defined marriage as one man and one woman.

    You note that the case was brought by a government agency. The agency was coordinating with a gay rights group (Basic Rights Oregon) throughout the process. This coordination is going to be a big part of their appeal.

    Also interesting is the amount of the award. I think any impartial observer would agree that pain and suffering of $135,000 for having to go someplace else to get a cake is ridiculous. The clear message is: Do not mess with us or we will ruin you. My biggest disappointment throughout the last couple of weeks has been the response by the gay advocates almost universally supporting the award. I do not know how anyone can consider it justice to ruin people financially for taking such a position. Add to that the successful bullying of the internet campaign to raise money for the bakers and the motives become clear. I have heard justification such as: It is only one business, so it is not really a big deal. Of course every business in Oregon has been put on notice – do not mess with us as we have the power of the state behind us if we want to ruin you.

    The bottom line on the differences of opinion on the Court ruling issues rests largely with one assumption. That is, what was the goal of the gay movement? If you believe it was a sincere desire to acquire the right to marry, and that was all, then you are probably comfortable with the court decision. If you do not believe that marriage was the goal, then you have big concerns.

Comments are closed.