Dear 100 Hour Board,
I know people who were disappointed in the Elder Oaks talk from General Conference that heavily emphasized the Family Proclamation. They were disappointed that it so directly condemned gay marriage, and that it did not address understanding and loving treatment of our LGBT+ church members. Some said that it would encourage some members to be hateful towards LGBT+ members, others said that it was canonizing the Family Proclamation, which they stated is not doctrine. It came at a time that I think many may have hoped that the church would preach a more progressive stance on the issue. What are your thoughts? I'd like to hear from many writers on this one.
- Thoughtful and Unsure
Here's a link to the talk for those who would like to review it. It did come across to me as a forceful restatement of the Proclamation on a few points in particular. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing. My thoughts (which are not doctrine and may be incorrect, since I do not represent the Church):
They were disappointed that it so directly condemned gay marriage, and that it did not address understanding and loving treatment of our LGBT+ church members. Some said that it would encourage some members to be hateful towards LGBT+ members
I can understand how this talk could disappoint someone who was hoping for one particular emphasis on this issue (the need for love and for charity in the way we view and interact with our LGBT+ brothers and sisters), since Elder Oaks was apparently guided to address a different emphasis on the issue (morality and chastity as explained in the Proclamation). I can also understand (though I don't personally agree with) that it would be disappointing to those who think the Church's view regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality should or will change. It makes sense for a marginalized group that has experienced (and continues to experience) significant harassment and suffering caused by others to be wary of groups that oppose some of their closely-held views, especially where many of their aggressors seek to justify actions by saying that the victim's choices or beliefs are unacceptable.
In this particular case, let's be clear about this: the Gospel does not condone hatefulness towards our brothers and sisters. People who arrive at the final judgment after having acted uncharitably or evilly towards their fellow men will not get a free pass by using an excuse like "Yeah, but the Prophet/apostle/my bishop/whoever said that what they did is bad and so that means I didn't have to love them or treat them as children of God."
Many of those who have spent time working with kids have probably said something along the lines of "You worry about you. Let me worry about him/her. I am the parent/teacher/whatever." This is, I think, somewhat applicable with moral issues as well. There are certain of us who have stewardships that give us some right to set expectations for others or discipline them in a particular manner. A bishop has a stewardship that may lead to church disciplinary actions, a visiting teaching district supervisor may ask for a report on whether you fulfilled your visiting teaching duties, a parent can impose consequences on a disobedient child, etc. God, of course, is the ultimate steward of all of us, and is our parent as well as party to covenants we make, and He therefore has rights to give or withhold inheritance according to those covenants pursuant to our compliance or non-compliance with them. However, random people do not have a stewardship that involves meting out final judgment or temporal punishment (outside of like, law enforcement stuff and that kind of thing) on other random people for moral transgressions. That is not a thing. So, God is absolutely allowed to lay out what the acceptable standards of behavior are for you and me, and we're held to those when we covenant to keep them. However, it's up to Him (or His authorized servants) and not others who see us disobey to enforce the consequences He has set.
Having clarified that it is not okay for people to be hateful towards LGBT+ individuals, is it fair to criticize Elder Oaks' talk as likely to encourage such action? Opinions may vary regarding the effect of specific language; if you are interested in a specific response to any of his particular remarks, please feel free to submit the quote that concerns you in a separate question. However, I'm confident he chooses his words carefully (he's a former Utah Supreme Court Justice) and doesn't try to write in a way that would allow people to use his words to justify hatred or unChristlike action.
Others said that it was canonizing the Family Proclamation...
I personally seriously doubt that Elder Oaks perceived himself as "canonizing" the Proclamation, because to my knowledge there's nothing in the Church that would give one individual apostle the authority to canonize anything. As I understand it, the most recently 'canonized' material is Official Declaration 2, which you will note appears in your copy of the printed Doctrine and Covenants (unless you've got a pre-1978 copy, I guess.) The declaration as published in the Doctrine and Covenants contains not only the letter from the First Presidency addressed "To all general and local priesthood officers..." regarding availability of the Priesthood to all worthy men, it also includes a description of the process through which it was adopted/approved, which involved the following process:
1. President Kimball received the revelation.
2. President Kimball "presented it to his counselors, who accepted it and approved it."
3. Quorum of the Twelve approved it.
4. "all other General Authorities" approved it.
5. N. Eldon Tanner (one of President Kimball's counselors) reviewed the process and read the letter regarding the revelation in general conference and "proposed that we as a constituent assembly accept this revelation as the word and will of the Lord." The assembly voted to do so.
I don't know for certain that this process is exactly how any future 'canonization' would take place, but I do find it instructive. Although the family proclamation has clearly been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, I am not aware that it has been formally proposed for approval to "all other General Authorities," and it has not been proposed to be accepted by the Church through a vote in general conference.
To those who worry that Elder Oaks was unilaterally "canonizing" the Proclamation, I would therefore propose that Elder Oaks knows about Official Declaration 2 and the process it went through, and even if a process to canonize the Proclamation were to vary somewhat from that one, it seems to me that he is very unlikely to either attempt unilateral canonization or to consider himself capable of doing so. While hearing something affirmed over the pulpit at conference may tend to establish it as credible, true, or likely doctrinal, it does not, to my understanding, "canonize" it.
..., which they stated is not doctrine
I initially had this phrase with the one above, but then as I thought about it, I realized that canonization is a separate issue from doctrinal status. Without going specifically into whether any particular statement from the Family Proclamation is or isn't "doctrine," I do want to establish that not every statement that is doctrinal has to be canonical. I think a fairly clear example of this can be drawn from looking at a document very similar in form and history to the Proclamation: specifically, The Living Christ (also a relatively brief, manifesto-type document signed by the First Presidency and the Twelve, but not formally 'canonized' to my understanding through a formal process like the one described above).
Here are a few examples of statements from The Living Christ:
"We declare in words of solemnity that His priesthood and His Church have been restored upon the earth..."
"We testify that He will someday return to earth."
"Each of us will stand to be judged of Him according to our works and the desires of our hearts."
None of those statements appear, to my knowledge, in exactly those formulae in the standard works, but it is abundantly clear to me that all of them would be considered to be doctrine nonetheless. So, I think it's fair to say that non-canonized is not the same thing as non-doctrinal.
I was talking to an acquaintance about this issue and he pointed out that it's important for us to think about our personal heuristic for determining likely doctrinality. There's a spectrum of statements where on one end we have published, clearly canonized scripture, and on the other end we have things that your aunt heard some guy in his ward say about what a general authority said at a mission conference. Exactly where the different "steps" or gradations are on that hierarchy are and exactly when we can be "pretty sure" versus "positive" that something is/isn't doctrine may not be objectively determinable, but it is worth thinking about. For example, according to the way my friend evaluates it, a document like the Family Proclamation (which has been approved by the First Presidency AND the Quorum of the Twelve, all of whom together are presumably pretty unlikely to be wrong) is close to the top.
It came at a time that I think many may have hoped that the church would preach a more progressive stance on the issue.
This relates to the above issue about whether the Proclamation is in all aspects "doctrinal" or not, regardless of being non-canonized. I don't have a ton to add here: most of what I could provide wouldn't be likely to convince those who view the issue differently than I do. It is true that the prophets can and do receive continuing revelation for the Church, and it is true that in the past revelations have changed certain aspects of Church policy or procedure significantly and in ways that many "conservative" members wouldn't have expected (or wanted). That being the case, I can understand the argument that gay marriage/homosexuality is an area where the Church's stance will change. I don't personally think this is likely. I do think that we have a responsibility to love all men, regardless of whether we agree with them.
What are your thoughts?
Our Responsibilities: I think we do all have a responsibility to love others. I also think that our Prophet and Apostles have made that clear and that anyone who fails to do so when they know they have that responsibility probably needs to repent. Further, I think that the Holy Ghost, which every baptized member has the right (and responsibility) to consult, would make it additionally clear to any Church member that hateful action, mistreatment, and failure to love one another as we have been commanded to do is an unjustified sin. I'm confident that there are individual Church members who have failed to listen to one or both of these sets of guidance (personal inspiration and prophetic instruction), but their failures do not impact the truthfulness of the Gospel.
What we hear in conference: I think that the prophets and apostles seek guidance from Heavenly Father regarding what the Church needs to hear at conference as well as at other times that we're instructed (in the Ensign, through the release of Church statements and other resources, etc.) I don't know exactly why Elder Oaks felt he needed to speak on this particular aspect of the broader topic of "Sexuality and the Church," but when conference happens only semiannually, he would not have given this talk if it was not important for us to hear. That does not mean that other related principles like loving those with whom we disagree are not also crucial to our becoming perfect. We have been taught about those things and, I believe, will continue to be taught about those things. And what truths we have been taught, we are responsible to live.
As of the time that I write this answer, Anne, Certainly hasn't finished her answer, but she has a lot of thoughts up there, so I already have an idea that I may be reiterating some of the same thoughts that she has. However, I still wanted to share my thoughts when I read this question, so I'll do so, but without as much detail or analysis as Anne.
The first thing I wanted to talk about is what constitutes doctrine. This isn't necessarily an easy question to answer, and it certainly can't be reduced to being equivalent to the canonized body of scripture. Anne, Certainly has written in her draft about having a personal frame of reference for what is doctrine and what isn't. That's probably fine; you don't necessarily have to agree with me in every way about what is doctrine and what isn't. However, I would argue that any frame of reference that judges The Family: A Proclamation to the World as non-doctrinal is a frame of reference that needs careful evaluation as to whether it is centered on the restored gospel of Christ. I say this because it assumes that an ordained apostle of the Lord — sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator by the Church — could teach a non-doctrinal principle as if it were doctrine. This essentially means that prophets and apostles don't actually receive revelation for the church, that they're just men whose interpretation of the scriptures you're free to agree or disagree with at your whim.
My personal frame of reference (which I feel like I mostly always had, but was spelled out more clearly for me in Brother Sweat's Foundations of the Restoration class) is that the following four sources of information (in order of importance) can be used to determine what is doctrine:
- Harmonized scriptural canon
- United voice of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve
- Cumulative teachings of General Authorities/Officers
- Current, correlated publications of the Church
I like this frame of reference because it gives due respect to continuing revelation and the holy calling of the General Authorities of the Church, while simultaneously recognizing their fallibility. Because of this frame of reference, I don't consider anything that has ever been in said in General Conference or written by a prophet or apostle to be doctrine, but I also don't just immediately reject something just because it doesn't fit my current worldview.
This brings me to the next point I wanted to make, which was a discussion of "hop[ing] that the church would preach a more progressive stance on the issue." You weren't explicit in the meaning behind that phrase, but I'll infer that you meant that many people are waiting for the Church to stop denying the validity of same-sex marriage, because they are. Many of these people see the Church's opposition to same-sex marriage as equivalent to denying priesthood ordination to African Americans prior to Official Declaration 2: an outdated policy based on tradition that will eventually be reversed once Church leadership gets with the times. However, there is a major difference between the two. Extending the priesthood to all worthy males did not fundamentally change how the priesthood works, it only expanded its availability. In contrast, validating same-sex marriage would turn the doctrine of eternal families — one of the core beliefs of the Church — on its head. In a way, I wish there was a way to reconcile those ideas; I wish we knew with more certainty what LGBTQ people will be like in the spirit world and resurrection. Maybe some day we will know more, and with that added knowledge we will have a better understanding of God's plan for His children. But, to the best of our current understanding, there is no way to accept that same-sex marriage is consistent with God's law of marriage.
I understand where LGBTQ people are coming from. I get that it doesn't really help them to remind them once again of the things they already knew quite well. I can even relate just a little bit with the feelings some of them have described, the feeling of being told over and over again what to do better despite feeling that you're doing the best you can. I'm sorry that those feelings have to exist for so many people. However, I don't think those words were aimed at them. Rather, I think Elder Oaks was speaking to those people who profess that same-sex marriage will some day be legitimized by the Church and that same-sex couples will some day be able to be sealed in the temple. Elder Oaks' intent, as far as I can tell, was to reaffirm that The Family: A Proclamation to the World represented the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve's best understanding of the doctrine of the family, independent of any social movements at the time, and that that understanding has not changed since then. Elder Oaks and other apostles have said on more than one occasion that they did not foresee themselves how important The Family would be during the next two decades, but that they felt inspired to write it. I also believe that Elder Oaks gave the talk that he felt inspired to give. I don't think that means it was the best talk anyone could have heard, but I also don't think he meant to be cruel to anyone in any way.
Finally, I wanted to address some sentiments that I have seen/heard some express, that the Church is sending mixed messages about its support of LGBTQ people. For example, when the Church came out in support of the LOVELOUD festival, some said it contradicted or rang hollow because of the Church's ongoing opposition to same-sex marriage. Additionally, the Church has strongly supported legislation that protects LGBTQ people's right to equal housing and employment opportunities while continuing to insist that legislation on same-sex marriage could restrict its religious freedom. To those who see these policies as conflicting or contradictory, I would like to remind you that loving someone doesn't mean telling them to do whatever they want. Yes, we should love everyone, especially those who have been and continue to be marginalized, but loving people also means trying to help them have the best life they can. It may seem presumptuous from a secular viewpoint, but one of the basic precepts of the restored gospel is that God speaks to His prophets, and God knows what's best for His people.
I hope that we can all find a way to bring more empathy into our hearts and love others regardless of the choices they make or the problems they have.
I look to General Conference to get the word of the Lord. The Family Proclamation is not going to be changed, it may not be canonical scripture, but I think it states Heavenly Father's position on gender and family. I personally don't believe that is going to be changing.
At the same time, it has got to be hard for a Church leader to get up and talk about such a hot topic such as Elder Oaks' talk. Just because Elder Oaks did not mention anything about loving LGBTQ members, doesn't mean that the Church doesn't want us to do that. From my perspective, it is clear that LGBTQ members are happily welcomed in the Church, and at the exact same time sex is to be had only between a married man and woman.
I don't pretend to understand LGBTQ individuals or the group as a whole because I have never had those attractions or feelings. I can only imagine how hard it is to hear leaders of the Church preach a message that does not sound inclusive, but I would not hesitate for a second to say that Elder Oaks believes that all LGBTQ people are welcomed in the Church.
I hope that helps!
-Sunday Night Banter
I asked this question a while ago, and I've had a lot time to think about it. I don't have a lot to add to what other writers have said, but I wanted to add a couple things. I did have trouble with the fact that the talk was given at conference, but I was really looking for a talk a lot like the one Elder Ballard recently gave at a BYU address. I think that with sensitive topics like this it's hard to get all of the appropriate messages all at once. I think that what Elder Oaks said was absolutely true, but for many like myself it was hard to hear on its own without all the other sides of the story. I mostly wanted to hear something like what Elder Ballard said in his speech.
"I want anyone who is a member of the Church, who is gay or lesbian, to know I believe you have a place in the kingdom and recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in the Lord’s Church, but you do. We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord."
Keep it real,