The Perversity of Orthodoxy

I could have called this post “Same-sex marriage: The Belgian perspective,” but it includes more. “The perversity of orthodoxy” – that’s how one of the members in our Belgian ward identified the broader issues which triggered this post. He called me on Sunday afternoon, upset by a Sacrament meeting talk that same morning and in need to vent frustration. Perhaps “perversity” was too strong a word. Maybe “perfidy”? Probably too weighty a word, too. At least “the insensitivity of some who defend orthodoxy” or “the indelicacy of some church statements in the US in relation to the international church”? Difficult choice. I just wanted to convey the intensity of his reaction, hence the title of this post.

There had been two talks that morning, and the contrast was telling.


Sarah, around thirty, had given the first talk. A little nervous, soft-spoken, she had her talk all written out, the result of days, perhaps weeks, of toiling on it. Her topic was “How to find God.” It was her personal reflection on fifteen years of searching for God, not as an investigator, but as a member who had grown up in the church amidst people with certainties, people who can say that they just pray, get answers from God, and feel God’s daily presence in their lives. Since her teenage years, Sarah had wondered why she did not see, feel, and hear what others in the church claimed to experience. She felt caught in a net without an opening toward God. Why did God only look after the others? What did she do wrong? Sarah told us how well-meaning members answered her concerns: she had to try harder, her desires weren’t strong enough, she wasn’t sincere or not worthy enough.

Sarah kept struggling to obtain the certainties others seemed to have, but she did not get them. For several years she expanded her search into other philosophies and religions to see how people elsewhere tried to find God. A long journey ripened her insights. One day she read Deepak Chopra’s How to Know God. One of his suggestions is to look less for an external divine reality, but first at yourself. Start by looking in the mirror and search for your own deepest self. One way is to focus on yourself as one of God’s children. Sarah said:

If indeed I had a divine origin and was – both physically and spiritually – created in God’s image, then it would be logical that God was indirectly about me. I realized that I needed my own experiences, senses, and brain to “see” Him and get to know Him. It did not mean that I wanted to see God as a commentary on myself. But because I was the one seeking, God could only be seen and would let Himself be seen in a manner that had to be meaningful to me.

Sarah found that both Paul and Alma phrase this process with different imagery. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (13:11–12). Sure, Sarah said, we can understand this text as referring to the limitations of our earthly existence. But the mirror and the reflection can also point to self-reflection and self-insight. Whoever is searching for God, will sooner or later be confronted with oneself. So, why not make good use of what is in us to grow in understanding?

Sarah found the same in Alma – starting with the little seed into oneself: “… it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed … ” (32:28). But bringing it to full fruition, according to Alma, will take much care, diligence, and patience.

Sarah experienced this fragile understanding of her God-related self as a “tiny hole in the net” allowing her to catch a glimpse of God. “Not more than a glimpse, but I had never thought that I could let God – in a symbolic way – tell His story by looking at myself.” Sarah expressed gratitude for the process she passed through and for the discovery of alternative ways when immediate certainty is not available.

She left us these words “not only in my own name, but, I hope, also in the name of God.” Her unconditional sincerity had weighed every word.

Brother P.

The second talk was by brother P., the visiting stake high councilor. A man deeply dedicated to the Church, of GA stature and style, brother P. belongs to those people able to speak during any allotted time, and beyond, based on a few items noted on a tiny piece of paper.

For this talk, the notes on his paper must have been:

  • menacing world = great oppression
  • but 15 men, FP and Q12, all prophets, speak to us in GC
  • 1st GC theme: marriage = between man & woman
  • 2nd GC theme: religious freedom threatened
  • the 15 are unanimous = will of the Lord = follow them = certainty

Between a man and a woman

All went well for the first seven minutes of the talk. But a shiver rippled through quite a few in the audience when brother P. uttered that marriage is “between a man and a woman.” He said the words with enough emphasis that it was instantly understood as a judgment on homosexual couples in general, also outside of the church. One person, a former bishop, stood up and left the chapel. Others cringed, burying their head. A few turned to their iPad as a quiet sign of protest. I know the same happens in US wards, as blogs and Facebook discussions tell us weekly. But how to view it in the Belgian perspective?

First, same-sex marriage is a non-issue in Belgium: it has been legal since 2003 and is an accepted part of the social fabric (pertaining to only 2.5% of marriages). The law was never controversial and passed easily with sufficient support of members of the Christian wing. Politicians understood from the onset it would drain energy and funds to fight against a basically righteous cause, a cause vital for the emotional fulfillment and legal rights of LGBT couples, but as such a trivial issue, and which would win at the end. Same-sex marriage is also a non-issue for churches in Belgium because none is compelled to celebrate same-sex weddings. A reproof of same-sex marriage (or its perfidious euphemism that marriage is only between a man and a woman) is considered hurtful and stigmatizing, thus not done. Conversely, outsiders do not attack churches for maintaining their inequality stances, such as not wedding same-sex couples or restricting priesthood to men. In Belgium, a complex little country thriving on compromises and cooperation, tolerance and acceptance of diversity are political, ethical, and educational priorities. Churches are expected to contribute to this public peace, even as they can establish rules for their own flock. If brother P. still wanted to stir the pot, he could have toned it down by quietly stating that in our church marriage is between a man and a woman. But why be provocative and create ill-feelings over a non-issue? Everyone knows the church’s standpoint.

Second, most Mormons in Belgium are keenly aware that they form a tiny minority, frequently misrepresented in the media: cultish, insular, secretive, weird, polygamist, and racist. A media-fed perception ties the church to an extreme and intolerant American Christian right. Relentlessly church PR tries to change that image. So it does not help when a local church leader, in a sacrament meeting talk with investigators present, implicitly proclaims that the church is against the Belgian law of 2003 and that it wants gays and lesbians to be discriminated against, also outside the church. As a tiny minority the church needs protection and basic rights to function. How can it expect those rights if it wants to deny such rights to others?

Third, for heterosexuals, the perception of homosexuality can be very dissimilar. There are those who seem to directly focus on sex and its “unnatural” or “disgusting” nature. At the other end are those who personally know and (have learned to) appreciate gays and lesbians, as friends, colleagues, or family. In Belgium, nearly everyone belongs to the second category. No one with a bit of decency would ever utter a sentence that could be understood as demeaning towards LGBT. Moreover, as people get to know LGBT couples, some with children, respect increases for their efforts to form stable families. Of course, “the church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice.” Faithful Mormons will continue to accept that doctrine. But in talks and lessons in our wards in Belgium, it is needlessly offensive to repeat it – especially when done with an insistence that could be perceived as perverse in its attempt to hurt LGBT and their children.

In summary, the negative reaction of those listening to brother P.’s “a man and a woman” was not to reject the Church’s marital doctrine, but to express disapproval that the national consensus of respect for diversity was being breached, to convey apprehension that visitors might perceive Mormonism as prone to discrimination even of non-members, and to show empathy toward LGBT brothers and sisters who had to endure another sting.

Religious freedom

The second theme brother P. broached was religious freedom as being “under pressure.” He decried the “shrinking tolerance toward believers” and a “lack of respect for the faithful.” In this he simply echoed US church rhetoric, tied to specific situations in the United States. But what sense does this make for a non-American audience? The idea that a baker or a photographer should be allowed to deny service to a gay couple as a form of “religious freedom,” is simply unconceivable. In Belgium, not even Catholic universities, schools, or youth organizations would think of raising questions on sexual orientation or same-sex relationships when it comes to admission, employment, leadership, or services. No, the Belgian Catholic church did not change its stance on man-woman marriage, but tries to define it as non-confrontational, within a framework of inclusiveness for all, as Catholic bishop Johan Bonny said:

This relationship [between a man and a woman] will continue to retain its own particular sacramental character and liturgical form, but this particularity does not have to be exclusive nor does it have to close the door on a diversity of relationships whose inner qualities the church can acknowledge.

This wise, conciliatory approach not only reduces the risk of a painful and needless polarization within the church, but also discourages zealots to display infantile defiance in the public square as an expression of religious freedom.

There was a time, however, when the Belgian Catholic church had a different view on religious freedom and used it, for example, to deny service to Mormons. Catholics, indeed, had the God-mandated duty to stop heresy. Older Latter-day Saints in Belgium still remember the years when the Catholic church tried to obstruct Mormon inroads and Catholic priests told their parishioners not to rent to Mormon missionaries. From the 1960s on, however, heaven-sent secularization broke this religious power to discriminate. What brother P. was implying, at least in the eyes of some, was a return to the past – the right of a church to set its standards for everyone and the right of believers to display disapproval of other people’s lawful conduct.

In another perspective, matters of religious freedom have become very sensitive since the cult-scare of the last decades of the twentieth century – Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, the Solar Temple –, followed by 9/11 and Muslim radicalization. To claim preponderance of “laws of God” over local civil laws is now viewed with suspicion. The Belgian judiciary monitors sects and preachers that have a reputation of overstepping the mark in the name of their god. There is no problem when a religion requires of its own members peculiar, but harmless behavior. But matters change once a god is evoked who edicts universal decrees, treats outsiders as sinners, and threatens them with his wrath and foretold calamities. Even if only meant as Scriptural rhetoric, whether from the Bible or the Qur’an, it could be considered misuse of religious freedom when it entices adherents to antisocial behavior.

Unanimity and certainty

Finally, brother P. emphasized the unanimity of the fifteen men at the church helm, each of them a prophet receiving revelation, and the certainty and safety they provide when we just follow them. Certainly a church-sanctioned message. But the contrast with Sarah’s talk stood out. Sarah, in her own case, had experienced the inadequacy of imported certainties and of patronizing answers. She found growth in doubt, in searching, and in discovering a glimpse of God through herself. Brother P.’s tenet implied the inappropriateness of hesitation and the duty to follow the top. His was a straightforward talk to strengthen the stalwarts.

But for those on winding trails, wouldn’t it be comforting to know that even the Brethren may not always be unanimous? That they too may be looking in the mirror and like Paul only “know in part”? That some may have doubts about the strategies to deal with same-sex marriage? That some disagree on the exact status of the family proclamation and parts of its wording? There is no reason to think that the present differs from the past – over Adam-God, blood atonement, polygamy, the origin of man, the Great Apostasy, civil rights, or the priesthood ban. And it should not trouble us, on the contrary, to know that receiving revelation is often a searching process.

Those were some of the thoughts in the conversation with the brother who called me Sunday afternoon.

* I assume “Belgium” and “Belgian” can be replaced with the name of many other democratic countries in the world.


65 comments for “The Perversity of Orthodoxy

  1. I have a few questions that are not rhetorical, but questions where I find myself frequently caught between two communities with radically different worldviews.

    1. What connection, if any, do you see between the Belgian attitudes you describe and the poor prospects for both LDS conversion rates and religious adherence overall in those countries? Is it possible for the LDS church to grow in anything like its current doctrinal and cultural forms?

    2. How do you relate to those that see the LDS church as not one religion among many but a world-historical force that brings the word of God to the world including the prophecies in the Proclamation of the Family.

    “We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife…Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

    Can one really be both delicate, tolerant and culturally sensitive while also issuing warnings? I’m skeptical the two can easily coexist.

  2. Reading the post, I kept picturing Brother P as the Mayor in the movie ‘Chocolat’.

  3. Great reflections, Wilfried. I am afraid the result of the US Supreme Court decision here in the US will be to make any views not similar to your high councilman simply unwelcome in church. Despite earlier statements by apostles suggesting that tolerance and civility should be practiced, this gets pushed through the meat grinder of “religious freedom” and out pops intolerance and insularity. And it is going to get worse before it gets better.

  4. There’s inherently a tension between pluralism and advocating one position as better than others. The typical way to balance this is to express tolerance for other views but still advocate one view is best.

    While there may be a national consensus of respect for diversity, I suspect each nation has quite different things they respect as diverse. This is a problem (admittedly viewing from the outside) in Europe as you have this focus on diversity conflicting with groups who preach things that then conflict with basic European values. Conservative Islam is a great example. Is the treatment of women to be respected as diversity or to be condemned as misogyny? It’s easy to praise diversity when there’s no real serious conflict.

    The problem is that what is acceptable or not is itself a social norm. Further it’s a social norm that changes a fair bit. While it’s great to praise pluralism and diversity the reality is there are always limits on those. It’s just that polite society prefers not to discuss that underlying boundary that is of necessity opposed to diversity.

    To give an other example, in the US for the most part guns are acceptable. You’re not forced to buy a firearm and we accept a pluralism of views on the subject. I dare say that this would be completely unacceptable in most European countries who condemn those views the way conservative Americans condemn gay marriage. Now we can of course debate who is right, and typically liberal Americans and most Europeans will make utilitarian arguments for why public ownership of guns should be banned. But simultaneously they’d not make utilitarian arguments for other rights.

    Again, it’s what’s socially normative.

  5. I wonder if America is capable of the live-and-let-live mentality shown in Belgium. It seems to me we Americans are too crusading for that. We are an evangelizing nation both in our foreign policy and in our domestic politics. Is it any surprise a church founded here is the same way? This seems to be the call of all, whatever side of an issue they might be on: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

  6. Martin (1), you raise several core issues which would deserve thoughtful and elaborate answers. I’ll have to do it succinctly and without sufficient nuance.

    As to a possible connection “between the Belgian attitudes you describe and the poor prospects for both LDS conversion rates and religious adherence overall in those countries”: I assume you refer to attitudes of tolerance and respect for diversity. I don’t think these attitudes affect the openness to missionary work negatively. There is an overall high interest in religion and philosophies of “well-being” and “back to life essentials” (even if only one out of ten Belgians has this interest, we’re still speaking of more than one million people, and multiply it for other similar countries). There are plenty of books and discussions in the media on these topics. People convert to Buddhism, to evangelism, and others. Our main problem seems to be that missionary work is highly inefficient to reach potential converts (but that is another topic). Also, we must dare to admit that a church claiming that a 15-year old American farm boy saw God and heavenly messengers is not exactly the most evident story to be easily accepted. Conversion, indeed, will have to come from spiritual confirmation, but too few people are being reached to put it to the test.

    Next to conversion rates, there is also retention. Among Belgian members (and elsewhere), who share the attitudes of tolerance and diversity, we see a growing frustration when they read about the “obsession” of the church with LGBT, and especially how some conservative members defend their cause. We tend to lose those people over it, with as result that those of a more fundamentalist bent start setting the tone. That, IMO, is a worrisome development.

    As to the question: “How do you relate to those that see the LDS church as not one religion among many but a world-historical force that brings the word of God to the world including the prophecies in the Proclamation of the Family,” I’m not sure if your question implies an interpretation of my personal testimony, so let me refer to that here. So yes, I think I do relate well to others with a testimony of what the church represents. But it does not impede my attempts to analyze the challenges the church faces in countries like Belgium. The aim is constructive.

  7. Wilfried, I think a common problem is that people tend to preach what is important in their community without realizing persuasion requires thinking in the other person’s terms. (And getting a person to the point they can have a spiritual experience requires persuasion – persuasion we are rather poor at in more secular countries)

    Even basic things that are important to us such as a church being true, worrying about many doctrines (immersion vs. sprinkling) and so forth can be off putting to people for whom they aren’t important. That’s why LDS conversion tends to do best among those already somewhat Christian. We’re arguing on their grounds for why our form of Christianity is better. Move beyond that to secular or even Buddhist conditions and we do a horrible job.

    I’ve no idea what we should be doing. (It’s times like this I’m glad I’m not in leadership) And I suspect in a lot of Europe there’s intrinsically a tension between locals and Americans living there in terms of culture and what gets seen as important.

    I don’t think that means we can’t speak of things like marriage as important. But how we speak about it has to be translated out of the largely conservative protestant culture.

  8. Wilifried,

    That is helpful. I guess an example I would use are people who protest against the unethical treatment of animals. For some of those people eating animals is a grievous moral wrong. So, while being a meat eater, I don’t particularly care for being reviled for this behavior, it makes sense to me that people that see killing animals for food should be trying to shame me and adopt fairly extreme means to shake me out of my moral stupor.

    If one really thinks of same sex behavior (marriage or otherwise) as profoundly wrong then toleration can seem like disinterest. It may be the “least worst” form of politics and very appropriate behavior as a humble person, but it also can be avoiding being morally engaged.

    This is the tension that is often played upon for many events outside our own local environment. Am I being manipulated when I am shown images of shameful wrong doing in the world (say enslavement of children) or am I just appropriately minding my own business when I ignore that?

    Personally, I find a strong sense of engaged morality to be difficult to sustain ( I am my own slippery slope) given the complexity of the world and the number of different and conflicting worldviews. I appreciate your responses.

  9. Thank you for this post. It helps to read that others are noticing the same things I am. When SCOTUS announced their ruling last week I knew there would be a statement by the church, and I wasn’t surprised by it. However, it seems to have grown in the past week to not just a “reaffirming statement”, but a line drawn in the sand. Anyone who thinks otherwise cannot consider themselves to be following the prophet. Elder Christofferson’s comments not withstanding, the take-home message seems to be that if we support SSM we need to be very careful to keep it to ourselves. At least in my Utah stake.

    I have noticed an overall tightening of what is considered acceptable opinion or practice. The tent seems to be getting smaller and smaller. For example, our stake has been focusing on Sabbath day observance. When this first started I expected to hear about shopping, sports teams and the usual. Instead we were told by our bishopric during sacrament meeting that if we skip Sunday School we are covenant breakers and unfit to partake of the sacrament. I was stunned. Where was Elder Uchtdorf and his teaching that “there is yet a place for you here”? It was like telling someone if you can’t run a marathon you might as well not exercise at all. What a damaging attitude.

    Unfortunately, I am seeing more and more of this kind of thing expressed from the pulpit and in social media.

  10. Mortimer (2), since brother P. is at its core a very good man, he will, no doubt, also reach the final stage of the Mayor in Chocolat. Dream of joining in :)

    Dave (3), I share your concerns. Kind of alarming is that even some of our own Mormon young people, teenagers and young adults, get on the barricades in their blogs or Facebook pages, with “Christian” slogans of sorts. We have one LDS young adult now in Belgium (who spent a couple of years at BYU) who for the past few days has been fiercely defending the church’s rejection of same-sex marriage, but with some comments that are basically anti-gay hate speech. Her non-Mormon friends counter as vividly. One of these comments illustrates how much damage is being done to the church: “You mormons are f*ing idiots so narrow minded it’s making me sick! God loves all his children equally why can’t you just get it!” So much patient PR work goes down the drain by the “fervor” of some of our own members.

  11. “In summary, the negative reaction of those listening to brother P.’s “a man and a woman” was not to reject the Church’s marital doctrine, but to express disapproval that the national consensus of respect for diversity was being breached, to convey apprehension that visitors might perceive Mormonism as prone to discrimination even of non-members, and to show empathy toward LGBT brothers and sisters who had to endure another sting.”
    I disagree that it wan’t a rejection of the church’s marital doctrine. In light of what the church is asking to be read this Sunday, did Brother P. say anything that was out of line with church headquarters? I don’t think so. He could have just as easily been reading the Proclamation or out of Handbook 2. It sounds like in fact, some Belgian members do reject the church’s marital doctrine. If one can’t hear basic church doctrine being preached over the pulpit, where is it to be spoken?

  12. IDIAT (11), I’ll answer your comment before others, because I do not want a controversy on convictions or intentions. You are right: all what brother P. said is perfectly in line with church doctrine. No one is disputing that. The main point of this post is about the perspective of members of a tiny minority, such as Mormons in Belgium. These members support church doctrine on marriage as valid for themselves (no one is asking for same-sex marriage in the church), but many feel it is not appropriate to polarize outsiders needlessly against the church.

  13. Very thoughtful contributions, Clark (4 and 7). You are right to raise the issue of complexity: respect for diversity will somewhere meet its limits. I mentioned that the principles of tolerance and diversity are high priorities in Belgium, but almost daily we’re also confronted with its challenges, for example, halal slaughter of sheep versus norms of safety and of no-cruelty; wearing face-covering hijab versus ID control issues; state educational standards versus own curriculum in state-subsidized Jewish schools; jail or re-education for returned young Syria-jihadists; etc. Still, in all such cases the principles of dialogue, cooperation, and compromise remain valid as well. Polarization must constantly be defused. The “socially normative” you mention can also be negotiated with goodwill. But as you said so well: “persuasion requires thinking in the other person’s terms.”

  14. I’m a big proponent of dialog. I suspect problem here is that most Europeans don’t translate their values/speak into terms Americans, especially those from more conservative views, can understand. And, as I said, the opposite is most definitely true as well.

    All that said even if we could persuade there simply are a lot of conflicts of values that make Mormonism unattractive to secularists. Our basic history and even approach is very much at odds with Europe. Even getting tolerance is often asking a bit. Persuading people that we’re a movement they ought to take seriously goes beyond merely translating our ideas but the very lack of much common ground. Europe by and large is secular and to the degree religion matters it tends to matter more out of a historical or cultural sense. But we’re very much not a part of that history or culture.

    As I said, I’m very glad I’m not the one who has to come up with how to do missionary work in Europe or Asia. It seems an almost insurmountable problem.

  15. Neal Maxwell said, “True orthodoxy thus brings safety and felicity! Strange, isn’t it, even the very word orthodoxy has fallen into disfavor with some? As society gets more and more flaky, a few rush forward to warn shrilly against orthodoxy!”

  16. Rob (5), interesting! Comparing national “mentalities,” in our case between the U.S. and Belgium, brings us in a sensitive realm. Of course, we agree that we focus on a very partial, so-called “representative” segment of each population, but that, overall, Americans are internally as diverse as Belgians are. We too have “crusading” Belgians, as America has plenty of “live-and-let-live” characters. President Hinckley used to emphasize the fundamental similarities of people wherever they live.

    Having lived in the U.S. (that is, Utah) for some fifteen years, my quick generalization, which can illuminate items in the post, is:

    – American culture is pretty bipartite: winning versus losing, conservative versus liberal, pro-life versus pro-choice, two parties… It seems to foster radical standpoints where compromise is not the norm, as one needs “to win.” It makes church members easily accept and defend “absolutes”.

    – Belgian culture is prone to relativization: as citizens of a tiny, fragile country which for centuries has been ruled by “big powers” and used as their battle ground (Waterloo, Flanders Fields, Battle of the Bulge…), Belgians are used to adapt to circumstances, perhaps out of a historical “survival” mode. Moreover, their society is complex, with multiple parties, communities, languages, and interests, which requires a balancing act to blend in according to circumstances. Church members add another dimension to their identity, hence even more negotiation with their environment. I guess we need some pyscho-social research to understand the average mindset of a Belgian Mormon… :) But, all by all, these members are certainly to admire for “staying in.”

  17. Julia (9) , thank you for your comment. Church history seems to have always been an oscillation between retrenchment and assimilation, to put it in Armand Mauss’ terms. It seems that with the same-sex marriage issue, we’re more back in “retrenchment mode,” in spite of reassuring signals in a previous decade. But the oscillation is also a function of GA personalities, the one more prone to assimilation, the other more prone to retrenchment. Also that variety is found throughout church history. Bottom line? Patience. I’m confident extremes will correct themselves.

  18. News just came out that the Church has donated to the Utah Pride Center, so we can appreciate that as a much-needed demonstration of “love one another”.

  19. Wilfried, I’m back from my chocolate binge ; ) Regarding #17, I hope you are correct in predicting that the extremes will correct themselves. I think the system has been perfecting safeguards to protect against course-correcting change. That being said, I’ll happily borrow some of your hope.

  20. Just a few years ago (at the end of WWII) society (in the USA) supported the teachings found in the Ten Commandments. Those who opposed the Ten Commandments were considered unwise, hostile, even dangerous.

    Over the decades since, society has gradually moved to where we are today. Before long, it is possible that society will move to the exact opposite position it held at the end of WWII. Society would hten see those who follow the Ten Commandments as unwise, hostile, even dangerous.

    The Book of Mormon portrays a time among the Nephites when the laws were corrupt.

    For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted. Helaman 5:2

    The thought expressed in this verse “ripening for destruction” is going to be a topic we may be hearing from church leaders sooner than we think.

    Imagine a time to come when the apostles and prophets warn society using language like Samuel the Lamanite

    12 Yea, wo unto this great city of [New York] for behold, it is because of those who are righteous that it is saved; yea, wo unto this great city, for I perceive, saith the Lord, that there are many, yea, even the more part of this great city, that will harden their hearts against me, saith the Lord.

    13 But blessed are they who will repent, for them will I spare. But behold, if it were not for the righteous who are in this great city, behold, I would cause that fire should come down out of heaven and destroy it.
    Helaman 13:12-13.

    How many members of the church would turn their back on the apostles and prophets if they are inspired to warn the nations of the earth in this manner?

  21. Great post, Wilfried. I suspect that Brother P is concerned with 1) a rising trend of acceptance of gay marriage and gay rights in Mormon culture and 2) if not full on acceptance, tolerance of a society that promotes gay rights and apathy towards the idea of gay marriage constituting the threat that the FP/Q12 have been suggesting that it is. I imagine that he is partly concerned that members will maintain the same attitudes in the face of any sort of emergence of activism for gay rights on the part of members within the LDS church and that they will either jump on board or do little to edge out activism/agitation if and when it appears. He wants to stir the pot and embolden the conservatives and reactionaries within the church to speak out against the sympathists and force the issue on fence-sitters and the otherwise apathetic. I sense a retrenchment in the LDS church on the issue of gay marriage coming on. And Brother P is not the only one attempting to steer Mormondom towards this trend. The recent letter sent by the FP to all the bishoprics in the US and Canada calling on them to hold a special meeting to discuss gay marriage with the adults and youth seems to be an indication that LDS leaders are doing whatever they can to stop the tide of gay marriage acceptance in Mormondom.

  22. “But for those on winding trails, wouldn’t it be comforting to know that even the Brethren may not always be unanimous?”

    General Patton said it best: “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

  23. Jared,
    I think that they will preach “wo unto this great city of [Salt Lake]…” before mentioning a city far away. There are plenty of non-church goers who need to hear the word. I also speak of those who you might see in the pews on Sunday but serving mammon when they leave.

    To one of the key points raised above, I do not think that a person who knows not God is ready for the stock message of the missionaries. Even Moroni phrases his promise to a believer.
    Another draw in the US is the sense of community at an LDS church. I have also seen that the low emphasis on donations and the lay clergy are some draws. This may be a draw in some European countries, and not much of an issue in others.

  24. That they too may be looking in the mirror and like Paul only “know in part”?

    While I realize it’s not a good strategy to go on and on about past sins, it probably also wouldn’t hurt if some of the bretheren mentioned that they have at least had thorns in their sides like Paul did. They’ll mention that they’re imperfect, but then tend to forget about talking about how they’ve personally dealt with it.

  25. Members of the church vary between those obedient (usually conservative) members whose personal thinking/politics is in line with the older Apostles, and those whose personal view is not so conservative. I am of the latter, and wonder if the teaching on gay marriage is any different from the teaching of racism, opposition to birth control, inter racial marriage, etc. and will quietly fade away as the present very conservative older Apostles are replaced.

    I personally would like the next President to be chosen by the Lord instead of tradition. If you think he already is, ask yourself who will be President if Pres Monson dies today. If it is BKP where was the Lord in that decision? If the Lord wants a vibrant church that might expand in the whole earth (even Belgium) , who might he choose?

    I think the Church would have much more appeal if it could be the Gospel of Jesus Christ without the conservative culture (at present opposition to gay marriage) , coming along as part of the package. It would also help to have Apostles who are in the prime of life (younger than 80), and with a broader view of the world than those raised in conservative America 60 years ago, when so much was worse(racism, place of women, treatment of gays etc).

  26. Here’s how a Canadian Evangelical minister approaches the same question:

    It seems reasonable and sensitive to me. Probably because, like Belgium, they have so much more experience under their belts. And (I hope I’m wrong here) a little more concern for the people they wish to reach.

    The MTC spends so much time and effort preparing missionaries to speak to people in the languages they understand. I wish someone would explain to the church leaders there are more to that than just vocabulary and syntax.

  27. Thor (15), thanks for the reference to Elder Maxwell. Again, and I assume it will need repetition, this post is not about questioning orthodoxy, but about the way it is sometimes presented or expanded. I was aware of the risk of misunderstanding the title of the post. Therefore the introduction and the alternatives – “the insensitivity of some who defend orthodoxy” or “the indelicacy of some church statements in the US in relation to the international church.”

    Trevor (18), nice to mention the church donation to the Utah Pride Center. Much good can be done from all sides if we just want to cooperate.

    Jared (20), thanks for reminding us that society is ripening for destruction. Meanwhile the vilest destruction is coming from those who pretend to do it the name of God (ISIS). In the rest of the world, surveys show constant improvements over the years : less crime, less poverty, less war, less discrimination, more health, more education, more happiness. Many challenges still remain, but also our church is working to better the world in order to avoid the foretold calamities.

  28. Brad (21), your comment brings us back to one of the issues in the post: what does the preaching against same-sex marriage really wants to achieve? Your analysis suggests that the issue is becoming some kind of litmus test on obedience, forcing further polarization between conservatives and gay-sympathists and compelling members to openly choose sides. The church plan “to hold a special meeting to discuss gay marriage with the adults and youth” in every US and Canadian ward could point to such a strategy. Will dissenters be listed? If the discussion is only meant as clarification, the result will probably still be further polarization.

    At present, the plan for such ward discussions does not (yet) seem to extend to the rest of the world. That would indeed constitute a huge move. The world is now roughly divided in gay-supporting countries (scores of democratic and developed nations) and gay-reproving countries (Russia, China, and most African and Muslim nations). In a post on same-sex marriage and the international church, I wrote that the Church’s firm stand against homosexual behavior

    may increase malaise and tensions among members in gay-supporting countries. Depending on local circumstances and individuals, it can make the more charitable and more lenient members finally disengage, thus leaving the remnant local Mormon group even more intransigent. Conversely, what will be the effect of such intransigence in gay-reproving countries like Uganda or Nigeria? Where will dutiful church members and zealous local leaders draw the line? For example, in the case of a child abuser, “Church officials follow state law regarding when and how to report an act of child abuse to public authorities.” In stringent anti-gay countries, with punitive laws, will church officials feel or be obliged to report a gay or lesbian adult who confessed homosexual behavior, and thus contribute to sending him or her to jail for years? Will they assist in tearing children away from their LGBT parents?

    I think the church bears a huge responsibility in such cases. If one sees to what kind of shrewd gay-bashing the present situation is leading to among zealous US conservatives, we may expect much worse among zealous members in gay-reproving countries.

  29. If I were to paraphrase the message I got from this post I would phrase it like this, “Saints in Belguim would prefer that the doctrines of the church not be preached from the pulpit if they conflict with Belguim societal norms.” or as this, “Belgian Saints don’t think that their personal religious beliefs or doctrines should affect their public/social behaviors and would prefer that they are kept separate.”

  30. FarSide (22), thanks for the expressive thought!

    el oso (23) , your welcome remarks pertain to missionary work and receptivity. Our research indicates that Belgian converts are most often people who had a previous belief (mostly Catholic) and lost it over the years. They are drawn to the church by an appeal to rekindle faith in a new environment. So yes, most come to the church with some previous religious experience. But we have converts from atheism too, at least in their own parlance: “I didn’t believe in God (anymore), but then…” As to political tendencies, converts lean usually left and center-left as that increases the willingness to change to a better outlook. Right-wingers tend to hold on to tradition. And yes, you are right, the sense of community is a draw, as in the US. So do other things you mention.

    Alas, also quite a few obstacles hamper conversion and retention:

  31. Very interesting Wilfried. I think you’re quite right in your comment 16 that the relatively polarized nature of American (and American Mormon) culture has a lot to do with the tension on this and other issues. One thing that hit me more than ever this summer in Europe was that governments there tend to be coalition governments, because no single party has more than 50% of the vote, and that this isn’t necessarily seen as a bad thing. Sure, this can be seen as a weakness, as it slows down already slow democracy even more (although the American two-party system is pretty good at this too), but I realize more than ever that many Europeans see a coalition-system as a strength. It requires compromise, and to them compromise is almost inherently good, rather than, to Americans (and Mormons) tinged with bad. Moreover, the alignment of parties can vary from election to election, so that you might have, at times, even a left-right coalition. The point is, this doesn’t just matter in politics, but reflects wider cultural values: compromise is not a dirty word there, you learn to get along. Here, drawing lines in the sand, standing up for your beliefs and not compromising, are the (often noisy) background….

  32. jader3rd (24), indeed, the post at the end brought up a few questions as to how the top functions. Delicate topic, but over the years GA’s themselves and history books have allowed us some views behind the curtain. The Joseph Smith Papers project is also telling as to how revelation and leadership function. Greg Prince’s McKay biography gives a detailed look inside. I personally find it comforting and testimony-building to see how the Lord requires the leaders to struggle for answers. Hence the impression that also the same-sex marriage issue hides some internal divisions at the top. We can assume that with a weak President Monson, some senior apostles have more impact now than usual. The PR policy to show a monolithic and strong leadership, without any hesitation or flaws, reminds a little of the media theater in communist regimes. Many members probably prefer human leaders with imperfections, but, as you said, it would be welcome if we could also hear from them “how they’ve personally dealt with it.”

  33. Geoff (25), interesting thoughts about age and culture in top church leadership. There is little doubt that background and personality play a role in the respective emphasis on topics. Church history reveals it abundantly. On the topic of same-sex marriage and religious freedom, Elder Oaks has probably been the most vocal and persistent. It would be telling to have a survey of occurrences of “between a man and a woman” and of “same-sex” and other related words in all GC talks since Prop 8. Ziff at Zelophehad’s Daughters?

    I’m not sure younger age among the Fifteen means less conservative and vice-versa. President Hinckley proved the contrary, as well as recent talks by junior apostles. Direct revelation aside, the selection process of the Twelve does not precisely reduce conservatism. Compare with the Catholic Church where the appointment of conservative versus more liberal cardinals depends on the decision of the Pope only, and thus on his profile. The repartition of cardinals then weighs on the election of the next Pope, but senior cardinals have had many more years to secure a following before the conclave. Similarly, in our church it seems senior apostles, who I understand speak first in council meetings, probably weigh heavily on decisions. Crushing responsibility where openness to the Spirit should be the guiding force, rather than background and personality. But can they always be separated?

  34. We recently had a general authority visit for Stake Conference. He said that the themes of the last general conference were clear. I started to have that sinking feeling as I prepared to hear something about marriage and freedom, etc. He then stated the two over-riding themes of the last conference were: 1. Sabbath Day Observance, and 2. Self Reliance. He gave one presentation each (Saturday and Sunday) on each of these two topics. I was pleased and edified.

  35. marthamylove (26), what an insightful post to link to! I think it is very helpful that we hear from experienced non-Mormon priests and ministers how they view the issues and try to depolarize tensions. It does not mean to plead for Mormon same-sex marriage, but for a charitable and open approach where same-sex couples, whether members or not, do not feel stigmatized by church rhetoric. Catholic bishop Bonny, to whom I referred in the post, said in the same vein, as steps to reconciliation and solutions:

    In his or her life, everyone has to deal with relationships, friendship, family, and children’s education. We should not deny that dealing with these issues within the church has brought injuries and traumas. Too many people were excluded for a long time . . . Personally, I find that in the church more space must be given to acknowledge the actual quality of gay and lesbian couples; and such a form of shared-life should meet the same criteria as found in an ecclesiastical marriage. . . . We have to acknowledge that such criteria can be found in a diversity of relationships and one needs to search for various models to give form to those relationships . . . We need to seek a formal recognition of the kind of relationship that exists between many gay and lesbian couples.

    Later in his interview, Bonny stressed the need for further reflection and the danger of getting wrapped up in a complex ideological discussion. He proceeds from serious reflection on practical pastoral realities.

  36. Nuts
    The church is in a real bind right now, so it seems to me; a “damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t” type situation.

    I used to be critical of the church because if is often so deeply connected with political and legal issues. Not that the Church should have changed its stance on its doctrines or teachings, such as the LBGT, but for me, as a European, to have churches mingle in the affairs of the state brings back deep historical trauma’s of Churches running Politics. It was, after all, this abuse of power that caused the Rebellion we call Reformation. Our experience in Europe is that a church cannot win a war in the political arena on any issue. It is lose-lose.

    But now that I am getting to understand more about American history and sociology, it is starting to dawn on me that America is different from Europe: one cannot seperate Church and State in the US.; they are tied in an unravling knot, inspite of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. All churches mingle in politics, and politis tries to get the votes of the churches. Churches are political platforms. Church and State use and abuse each other.

    For us, Europeans, who have gone through a long process of seperating Church and State, the whole Gay-Marriage issue is a done deal, because for us, marriage, is a civil matter. Marriages are legalized by the State, and sanctioned (or not) by the Church. This is what secularization is about. it is freedom of religion because the state cannot mingle in its affairs. And the Religions do not mingle in the affairs of the state anymore. Religions can have their own opinion, despite the law, and perform, as they please, their own marriage ceremonies outside the law. They do not need a Justice of the Peace to tell them what to do, and the Justice of the Peace does not tell the churches what to do or believe. Both Church and State play their role, but independent of the other. If society wants gay marriages, and democracy wills it so, so be it. That is the legality of things, and not necessarily the morality of it. In many countries in Europe religions can disagree all they want, but they do not protest the law of the land or the will of the people.

    I would hope that in the USA we do not need the wars, rebellions and revolutions, we had in Europe to free ourselves from the seemingly untiable knot.
    In any case I now understand better that it is too much to ask that the LDS church in the USA retreats from fighting civil and judicial matters, as doing this is deeply engrained in American culture. And for the American culture to change on the short run would be very difficult indeed, especially if its people and churches teach that Americans are a chosen race. But alas.

  37. Jax (30), I appreciate your willingness to read the post, but your tentative paraphrase and generalization does not seem based on an objective reading of the post. Again, I’ll keep repeating it, Belgian members do not deviate from doctrine and do not request same-sex marriage in the church. They do not separate their personal religious beliefs from their public behavior. But quite a few of them, also realizing they are a tiny and vulnerable minority, do not want to be needlessly provocative or hurtful toward their host society.

    Allow me to stress that Latter-day Saints in Belgium, as in all parts of the international church, sacrifice a lot for their membership and radiate it openly and with dignity. Moreover, the costs of their membership are usually much higher than in the U.S. A charitable and informed approach recognizes those characteristics. I recommend reading this article by Armand Mauss.

    Thank you again, Jax.

  38. Wilfried, I appreciate their sacrifice as such a small minority in Belgium. I was reacting more to the behavior you reported from them… turning to Ipads, walking out entirely… because of a talk that is common church doctrine and you say IS in line with their beliefs. That tells me they are uncomfortable hearing doctrines preached that conflict with the norms/practices in Belgium. They could have been engaged and attentive to the talk and still present themselves in the same manner as always to non-LDS people.

    I’m not questioning their faith or level of belief, I guess I’m questioning their manners.

  39. Jax makes my point. If a GA, or member of the FP/Q12 had walked to the pulpit and given the same talk as Brother P, would they have behaved the same way? You make it sound as if there were a bunch of non-members in the congregation, that somehow members were uncomfortable or embarrassed by the church’s teachings. At least, that’s the way it came across to me. I can’t fathom walking out of sacrament meeting or tuning out simply because a speaker is teaching the doctrines of the church. In my estimation, those who left or tuned out did so not because they don’t want to rock the boat with their neighbors, but because they do in fact disagree with the church’s position on SSM. I live in an area of the USA where Latter-day Saints are definitely a minority (as in, less than one half of 1% of the local population). Yet, I can’t think of any “faithful” members who, hearing the kind of talk by Brother P, would have walked out. Since when do we consider teaching the same things a missionary should be teaching “provocative” or hurtful?

  40. Hans Noot (37) For us, Europeans, who have gone through a long process of seperating Church and State, the whole Gay-Marriage issue is a done deal, because for us, marriage, is a civil matter. Marriages are legalized by the State, and sanctioned (or not) by the Church.

    Very well put. That gets to the core of the issue and why this must confuse and perhaps anger those not up on American politics and history. Really while there always was freedom of religion in the US – much more than Europe until recently – there simultaneously was also the presumption of dominance by protestants. When there was a conflict (such as with Mormons in the late 19th century) the state tended to impose protestant conceptions. The freedom of religion thus was much more in practice freedom among sects of mainstream protestantism with a lesser recognition of Catholicism. Non-Christian religions got little respect and unusual Christian sects even less.

    Effectively this is part of that shaking out. The protestant majority could have easily resolved things in a manner more like Europe by making a greater divide between marriage as religious and civil unions. They didn’t want to because they felt they were winning. (Thus the Defense of Marriage Act under Clinton) Then things shifted suddenly – partially by the US becoming more secular. So there’s this painful conflict that occurs because there’s no splitting between religion/secular.

  41. One can believe in our church doctrine wholeheartedly without believing we should project our doctrine onto others.That is what makes *me* uncomfortable with our current rhetoric . . . not that it’s our doctrine, but that we are trying to hold others to it. I see that it is similar to laws on alcohol consumption, etc.

  42. John M. Barry, in his outstanding biography of Roger Williams (“Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul”) made the following pertinent observation about the religious world in which Williams found himself:

    “Conformity is a function of the desire for certainty; the greater or lesser that desire, the greater or lesser the demand for conformity. This was the age both believing in and seeking certainty, certainty of everything from the infallibility of Scripture to one’s place in God’s plan. The very sense of society as a body, with each person in a fixed and place and performing a fixed task, reflected that view, …”

    Sound familiar?

    Williams had no qualms about living with doubt and uncertainty. Indeed, his life’s motto was: “I desire not to sleep in securitie and dreame of a Nest which no hand can reach.”

    Williams’ attitude did not endear him to his ecclesiastical leaders. From personal experience, I understand all too well why.

  43. One can believe in our church doctrine wholeheartedly without believing we should project our doctrine onto others.

    I agree. I have no desire to impose our church doctrine on others. I just want to live it myself as I understand it (and that may change over time in different particulars) and to invite others to willingly choose to join us, or not.

    But yes, every citizen in our democratic republic is free to let his or her faith beliefs influence his or her public policy actions. Any notion that a citizen’s vote is invalid and hateful and should not be counted because it is influenced by his or her faith beliefs is a perverse notion — yet this notion is taken seriously among some factions in our society. So yes, a citizen who is a Latter-day Saint should be welcome in the public square with his or her advocacy on alcohol consumption laws — in that public square, he or she should act as a citizen and not as a spokesman for the Church, and others in the square may accept or reject that position on that public policy matter. But it is fine with me if one locality’s citizens vote to adopt an ordinance on alcohol consumption that differs from the ordinance of another locality.

  44. Craig (32), indeed, semantic connotation is tricky, as the word “compromise” indicates. For Mormons, to “compromise” your standards is evil. And in the U.S. the deadlock on many political issues seems mainly due to the intransigence to negotiate and compromise. In Europe, compromise usually means victory and cooperation. On the topic on hand, same-sex marriage, the point is not to compromise Mormon standards, but to concede that non-Mormons have a right to their standards. Difficult to get that idea across when words have such different meanings and the perspectives are so different.

    Stephen (35), thanks for reporting that experience with a visiting GA who did not identify the “overriding GC themes” as same-sex marriage and religious freedom. Subtle! It shows that some GA’s try to refocus on the core of the gospel, rather than on marginal matters.

    Hans (37), your view on history and religious-political developments certainly helps to better understand the broader background. Thanks!

    Clark (41), thanks also for adding your insightful commentary. It’s ironic that Mormonism finally got in line with the protestant majority, after its own fight for peculiar marital rights in the nineteenth century.

  45. Jax (39) and IDIAT (40), I understand your viewpoint. You are right from the perspective taken and I apologize for the impression given. But I hope you will be willing to look at it from another perspective too. Our exchange is, I believe, important to reduce misunderstandings. Let me use a comparison: Ahmed and his local imam.

    Many Belgian cities have a minority Muslim population, somewhat larger than the Mormons, but in a comparable situation: we both have our religious rules, strict adherence to doctrine, and obedience to our leaders. We preach on the same topics: the evil of the world, marital fidelity, modesty, Scripture study, spiritual and physical health, etc. We both proclaim that our religion is destined to fill the earth and that all nations will finally bow to our truth – a message which is not exactly sympathetic or reassuring to outsiders.

    As Muslim communities grow larger in some city area’s, some “true blood” Muslims (yes, TBM’s :) expect their environment to conform to their norms. Thus, in an area with many Muslims, all women should at least wear a headscarf, and shops should carry only halal food. Some TBM’s even hope to impose these rules, and more, through elected representatives in city councils. There have been incidents with young Muslims calling European women “whores” on the street and there have been pressures on shopkeepers.

    Moderate Muslims consider these developments very harmful. They want to peacefully coexist with their non-Muslim neighbors. They reject any talk or action that will reinforce the idea that Islam is a fanatical religion trying to impose its laws on others. Imagine the discussions between TBMs and moderates… In each discussion, the latter are easily on the losing side because Allah is with the TBMs.

    Ahmed belongs to the moderate group. His local imam is TBM. Yes, Ahmed supports all Islamic doctrine and follows all the rules. He is and remains a convinced Muslim. But when the imam, in his last sermon, again preached that all women had to cover their head in public, with enough emphasis that it was instantly understood as a rule for women in general, and as a public reprimand of moderate Muslims, Ahmed stood up and left the mosque – in an understandable surge of discouragement. Better than to interfere during the sermon. Others buried their head to show disagreement. It’s the least they felt they could do to distance themselves from the extreme implications.

    Western society expects more efforts from such moderate Muslims to stop radicalization. But it requires courage from a moderate Muslim to show it. Ahmed did, but will pay the price as he will be judged by other Muslims as “being uncomfortable hearing doctrines that conflict with the norms/practices in Belgium” or “being embarrassed by the prophet’s teachings.” He may even be considered takfir – an apostate.

    As a Mormon I think I should be on Ahmed’s side.

  46. Kristine A errs in supposing that support for limiting marriage to a particular type of relationship between a man and a woman is simply a matter of religious doctrine. Maybe the problem has been that many of the proponents of the cause have used arguments based on religion, or maybe it’s that some of the loudest–or those who get their pictures on the front pages of the papers–are those who claim that God will strike us all down if we permit this great evil, etc., etc. There is little hope for understanding if we simply spend our time beating up on the worst, or least defensible, parts of the other side’s arguments.

  47. Kristine A (42), indeed, projecting one’s religious doctrines onto others is a potential source of tension and conflict. One reason for that mentality seems to be the style of religious education when the difference between universal values, such as basic human rights, is put on par with specific religious rules, such as the Word of Wisdom or Sabbath observance. Then “drinking coffee and tea” or “going to a movie on Sunday” or “wearing a dress with uncovered shoulders” can become equal to “stealing” or worse. Just ask Mormon children or teenagers to list a series of commandments in order of importance. I guess some have their moral compass pretty confused. We did the same to homosexuality and it may take decades to correct.

    FarSide (43), thanks for referring to John M. Barry about Roger Williams. It triggers several considerations in its application to the church. The emphasis on conformity and certainly permeates much of the lessons and talks we hear. It is natural to religion, but carries risks when the faithful are afraid to express doubt, as if sinful, and when culture-bound rules are presented as eternal principles. When the dust will settle and history can look back calmly, how will the Mormon obsessive “certainty” over the evil of same-sex marriage be assessed?

    ji (44), thanks for expanding on Kristine’s contribution. I agree in part with the democratic principle: adherents of a religion can let their beliefs weigh in public policy actions. You mention alcohol consumption laws. Different voting can lead to different ordinances according to locality. But you will probably agree that on certain issues, when they pertain to human rights, democracy has its limits, and higher principles trump popular vote. Much of the drama we’ve seen over the past years had to do with overstepping those boundaries.

  48. Re IDIAT in #40. I’m an American and I have tuned out talks from GA and others on this subject. I do not disagree with the churchslashlord’s position. But I just don’t see the need to talk about it all the time. I mean, heaven forbid we talk about how to more like Christ, how to better understand and appreciate the atonement, or how to improve our scripture reading, prayers, and communication with the Holy Ghost in our church meetings. Instead we talk poorly about people that aren’t even at church. How is this line of communication valuable to my eternal welfare? It’s a serious question.

  49. But you will probably agree that on certain issues, when they pertain to human rights, democracy has its limits, and higher principles trump popular vote.

    No. This means the people’s will is valid only if it conforms to “higher principles.” Right or wrong, the majority has to prevail through whatever process the majority has agreed to follow. If not the majority, then who? The king? The elite? In the matter of same sex marriage, where state or national legislatures proclaimed it legal, it should be law of the land. And in locations where state or national legislatures proclaimed it illegal, it should be illegal. Individuals should vote and act according to their consciences, and civil societies will reward or punish whom they will, and God will punish or reward whom He will — these are separate matters. In our civil societies, minorities are dependent on the favor of the majorities — this has always been true. I hope majorities will always be kind-hearted to minorities.

  50. JI, not sure where you live, but the United States at least is a Republic in order to avoid this very tyranny of the majority that can happen in democracy. Likewise there are lots of veto points making it hard for the majority to get their way. Finally we have a constitution that trumps all other laws. We can change the constitution but it is extremely difficult to do. While we may or may not agree with particular constitutional decisions, I think most Americans ultimately agree it’s wise having the supreme court trump democratically passed laws by appeal to these higher principle embodied in the constitution.

  51. Wilfred (46), it seems to me that most Americans are fine with that sort of thing in orthodox Jewish communities. I think Islam gets treated differently by some primarily out of ignorance but also due to how conservative muslims act relative to moderate ones. I think a lot of Mormons are quite comfortable with that in the world but not of the world thinkings. Although of course we think it important to critique cultures ethically. We don’t want there to be ethical relativism. (And of course the opposite should happen to)

    Kristine (42) I am somewhat sympathetic to that view. The problem is figuring out what is an ethical demand and thus applicable to all and what isn’t. So I think it’s more complicated than you make out.

    Some try and thread this needle by contrasting doctrine with ethics via some public grounding like Utilitarian. But I don’t think that ultimately works either. For instance I think adultery is a public harm. I think it a horrendous act. But I think it should be legal even though I consider it far, far, worse than many acts that are illegal. Why do I think selling heroin should be illegal even though I think adultery is worse? These are complicated things to work out. Regardless of what conclusions we end up with I think we’ll always fall prey to the criticism of projecting doctrine on others.

  52. “It’s ironic that Mormonism finally got in line with the protestant majority, after its own fight for peculiar marital rights in the nineteenth century.”

    The truth cuts its own path. If that means it runs parallel with protestantism for a couple of “farsees” then so be it.

    It is ironic, nonetheless.

  53. Chadwick (50), I couldn’t agree more. We do not object to some teachings and doctrine, but the focus on certain topics in talks and messages may become obsessive and can make us lose sight of essentials.

    ji (51), I understand your point, certainly if viewed from within the U.S. where one can hope that “majorities will always be kind-hearted to minorities” and not allow discrimination when it pertains to basic principles and human rights. Also, as Clark (52) points out, the U.S. has a mechanism to ensure that protection.

    But what about other countries? Would you agree that “democracy”, such as in Nigeria or Uganda, can uphold a law that sends people to jail, or worse, for homosexuality? Or some Muslim countries where “democracy” subjects women to severe limitations? One could multiply the examples, also including countries that vote “democratically” to forbid or impede missionary work (that is the real issue of “religious freedom”, not the baker or florist who etc.).

    It is one of the challenges of our posts that most readers view matters from the US perspective, which is understandable. Thanks to T&S for allowing people like Walter and me to try to broaden the view :)

  54. Yes, Nigeria can uphold a law that sends homosexuals to jail. And Canada can uphold a law that requires all bakers to bake cakes for homosexual wedding celebrations. Right or wrong is irrelevant. They’re sovereign countries — that’s what sovereign means. Other than the citizens in those countries, who can overturn those laws?

  55. Wilfried (45), “For Mormons, to “compromise” your standards is evil. And in the U.S. the deadlock on many political issues seems mainly due to the intransigence to negotiate and compromise. In Europe, compromise usually means victory and cooperation.”

    You’re talking about two different definitions of compromise. Ethically, religion aside, to compromise your standards is a bad thing. Learning something that changes your standards is not having them compromised. Anywhere (not just smarter Europe), reaching an agreement by compromise is considered a victory, evidenced by the recent bill endorsed by the Church for non-discrimination laws in Utah.

    I don’t even want to touch the colonialist rescuer ethics you seem to espouse that has been the rationale for almost every war in the last half of the 20th century.

  56. ji (56), thanks for highlighting the principle, i.e., the sovereignty of countries and the fact that only citizens of such countries can set or overturn their laws. I agree. At the same time, it is then also important that citizens can be freely informed on the various sides of issues and can freely vote. In the debate on same-sex marriage, to limit it to the topic of the post, it’s remarkable to see how differently the issue has been presented, debated, and assessed in some countries. I refer to my post on same-sex marriage in the international context . It may take time, and perhaps revolution, for some sovereign countries to reach the level where citizens are allowed to speak freely and vote accordingly.

    Frank (57), yes, there are various definitions of the word “compromise.” That’s what I tried to convey in the sentences preceding and following the one you cite. Indeed, words have different connotations, even in the same country according to the context. Agreed, I should have included more nuances when comparing Europe and the U.S. The problem of connotation can also be multiplied when we communicate from different languages and cultures. English is my third language, so it’s not always easy to correctly embody a concept in the best form in a quickly written comment.

    So, no, I don’t espouse “colonialist rescuer ethics.” By the way, that’s how some people view Mormon missionary work. Definitions are indeed a question of context and perspective.

  57. “There was a time, however, when the Belgian Catholic church had a different view on religious freedom and used it, for example, to deny service to Mormons. Catholics, indeed, had the God-mandated duty to stop heresy. Older Latter-day Saints in Belgium still remember the years when the Catholic church tried to obstruct Mormon inroads and Catholic priests told their parishioners not to rent to Mormon missionaries. From the 1960s on, however, heaven-sent secularization broke this religious power to discriminate. What brother P. was implying, at least in the eyes of some, was a return to the past – the right of a church to set its standards for everyone and the right of believers to display disapproval of other people’s lawful conduct.”

    This is such an extremely important point. Why do we act as though we are not aware of this? Why do we not give gratitude to God, day in and day out, for the secularity of the state that makes religious freedom possible and which protects us, as Mormons, from the legislative intentions of religious majorities against us?

  58. Martin James, don’t you think it’s possible to believe that “we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets” without having to believe that gay marriage — an issue pertaining to equality of civil rights that is only relevant to 2% of the population and that prioritizes the strength of the monogamous, committed marital institution, the benefit of children, and stable families and homes — contributes to this “disintegration of the family”?

    Doesn’t the Book of Mormon instead identify where this societal disintegration comes from without mentioning a single word about homosexuality or gay marriage? The downfall of various societies depicted in the Book of Mormon are linked to massive income inequality, division into strong and exclusive and discriminatory social classes, the poor’s lack of access to chances for learning, and priestcraft.

  59. john f (59), about religious freedom, thanks for drawing attention to that paragraph. It’s indeed a vital element in the whole discussion on aspects of religious freedom.

    When a church claims its “religious right” to limit outsiders in their lawful conduct, or even in their human rights, the image of religion as a threatening power is reinforced. It is not surprising that many people distrust religion, meaning, in fact, conservative institutional religion, because of its historical trail of discrimination and oppression.

    In countries where a church has the backing of the state (or where the church has power over the state), we see the consequences, for example in some East-European countries. Mormon missionary work is still greatly hampered by national orthodox churches that foster legislation against foreign “cults.” Our church has always enjoyed the most freedom to preach and worship in fully secularized democratic nations, meaning those nations requiring a strict separation of church and state. That’s why I spoke, tongue-in-cheek, of heaven-sent secularization when the power of the Catholic church over Belgian society was finally broken (and we owe that to the socialist and liberal parties).

    About the word “secular”: again, as mentioned before, terms have different connotations according to the context. In the U.S. “secularism” is often understood as a world “without God.” When church leaders decry “secularization” and “secularism” as the enemy, many members in other countries don’t really understand why the church would be against it. A democratic secular society gives the assurance of religious freedom.

  60. Trond (60), spot on to question what can cause the “disintegration of the family.” Indeed, certainly not the 2 or 3% of loving LGBT couples who commit to a stable marital relation.

    And yes, the Scriptures, the Book of Mormon in particular, identify what can cause the breakdown of a society. Analyses confirm: poverty, social injustice, lack of education, and broken homes. Add to it current wars and atrocity based on devious religious convictions.

    It remains incomprehensible that some people assert that LGBT marriages will lead to societal disintegration and are willing to turn the matter into a burning crusade — based on comparable devious religious convictions. While such marriages do not affect them in the slightest way and actually reinforce the concept of family.

  61. It’s unfortunate that so many in the congregation preferred the Orthodoxy of Perversity over fundamental church doctrine.

  62. I find it saddening on a site that purports to be for faithful latter-day saints, that there seems to be a lack of faith in the church on the part of many bloggers and commenters. The attitude of “sigh, I wish the church was more in line with society and would just get with the picture” is way more prevalent here than it should be among a community of believers. I understand that the proportions of doubters are over-represented in places like this, in part because some feel uncomfortable sharing their views with fellow members in real life situations, and in part because true believers are more likely to spend a spare 20 minutes reviewing conference than searching for internet blogs. Nonetheless, it is sad to think that church members are ungrateful for a high councilor message on Sunday that supports church teachings and clarifies that God’s will is not automatically in line with whatever we decide in our societies to do. If God’s will, and the preaching of it, is mean to be just a mirror of our latest social preferences and enlightenments then it’s not God’s will at all- it’s ours. Elder Holland gave a good talk covering this concept- The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship in Apr 2014.

    We do ourselves a disservice when we view the church as primarily a social community or extended family of friends who meet for mutual support. While this is an important aspect of the church, the church’s existence isn’t necessary if it’s a social community or extended family. The church is justified philosophically when and only when it is seen as something unique from God, a tangible manifestation (however imperfect) of His will for His children that differs substantively from any other organization. If we claim that the church’s teachings are relevant and applicable only to its members, and not the will of God for people generally, then we might as well claim that God only cares about members (of course patently false).

    The OP lists “the right of believers to display disapproval of other people’s lawful conduct” as a relic of the past, something bad that society has thankfully grown out of. Is God likewise bereft of the right to display disapproval of people’s conduct? If everything a country’s law approves of is automatically approved by God, doesn’t that put the country above God? The whole point of religious teaching is to explain how God would have us conduct ourselves, and if it’s not different from what society already does than it isn’t needed. Thus, religion is inherently going to disapprove of some societal conduct and teach alternate conduct and the beliefs that back it- that’s what religion is for.

    Hopefully this lengthy rant is at least somewhat clear- OP’s message is wrong to suggest that it’s harmful and antiproductive to express or give voice to church teachings that are at odds with social zeitgeist. The way in which we present the gospel message is important, and of course should be done as wisely and lovingly as possible, but if propriety and political correctness are be valued above the gospel itself then you might as well not have the gospel. The points of difference between revealed teaching in the church and general consensus in society at large are precisely what make the gospel from God and not from man.

  63. In response to sfw (63) and Sasha (64), I appreciate their support of church teachings. This post, however, did not question church doctrine. As the post says in the Belgian context:

    The negative reaction of those listening to brother P.’s “a man and a woman” was not to reject the Church’s marital doctrine, but to express disapproval that the national consensus of respect for diversity was being breached, to convey apprehension that visitors might perceive Mormonism as prone to discrimination even of non-members, and to show empathy toward LGBT brothers and sisters who had to endure another sting.

    It’s always easy to twist what is being said, as if this post attacks church doctrine or calls to be “in line with society”. Such polarization makes a discussion quite difficult and tends to draw a sharp line between “good members” and other equally good members who just want to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of doubters and of non-members. Such polarization has often been a main problem in strict religions.

    If one substitutes “latter-day saints” and “church members” by “Muslims” in Sasha’s comment, “church” and “gospel” by “Islam,” and “God” by “Allah,” one would read the exact kind of text one reads in blogs of fundamental Muslims who can’t understand how good fellow Muslims would plead for respect and diversity in order to live in peace with their Christian, Jewish, LGBT or whoever neighbors.

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