Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The 1/16/18 Press Conference and the Challenges that Today’s Church Faces—Part 1: LGBTQ Issues

Let me state at the outset that I support President Nelson, President Oaks, and President Eyring in their new callings as members of the First Presidency. But to say that I support them does not mean that I consider them perfect, infallible, or above criticism. Quite to the contrary. But when I take a critical stance, I do this in order to support them, that is, to help them in their callings. Because right now, it would appear to be the case that they need a great deal of help.

This morning, the new First Presidency of the Church met with members of the press in a live-streamed press conference (video above; the press conference begins at 1:53:01 of the video). After initial remarks from each member of the First Presidency, the First Presidency took questions from preselected members of the local, national, and international press. This is where some of the problems faced by this First Presidency, and by the Church at large, became most obvious.

The first question from the press came from Brady McCombs of the Associated Press (2:05:07 time mark). He asked Pres. Nelson how the latter planned to approach LGBT issues, which he called “a hot-button topic for many religions in recent years.”

Pres. Nelson responded that “we know that there are challenges with the commandments of God ….” President Oaks went on to state that “as leaders of the Church, we have the responsibility to teach love, and to teach the commandments.” Pres. Nelson noted that there is a balance between “Love and Law”; Pres. Oaks readily agreed, saying, “the Love of the Lord and the Law of the Lord.”

It is clear, then, that the First Presidency sees the matter of LGBT members, and the issue of same-sex relationships, as a matter of the Lord’s commandments and law, plain and simple. The problem with this approach is that it is actually not plain and simple at all. The position of the Gospel Law on same-sex relationships is much less clear than the First Presidency would seem to think.
  • The passages in the Old Testament condemning same-sex sexual relations are, in the LDS view, all part of the Mosaic Law that was done away with by Christ. They are of no more moral authority on Latter-day Saints today than the portions of the Mosaic Law that condemn wearing garments that combine two types of material, or that condemn unruly children to death by stoning.
  • The few passages in the epistles of Paul that are used to condemn same-sex relationships are more ambiguous in the original Greek than the King James Version would indicate. There is also the issue that, in his statements concerning acceptable behavior, Paul wrote a great deal that reflected only the customs of his time and setting, such as his declarations that women should not speak in church, and that women should not worship without covering their heads. The Church today pays not the slightest attention to either of these dicta. Regrettably, the Church has never articulated how it is that Church members are supposed to tell when Paul’s behavioral statements are binding, and when they are not. The issue here is defining the way in which we are to discern for ourselves; simply saying that “this is binding” and “that is not” is not enough at all.
  • It is particularly noteworthy that the Lord said absolutely nothing about same-sex relationships, either during his mortal ministry, or in his revelations to Joseph Smith.
  • The Proclamation on the Family, which does implicitly condemn same-sex marriage, is a committee document that is simply not scripture.

Given all this, the response of the new First Presidency leaves a great deal to be desired. We need the First Presidency to actually engage the issues that I have described above (each of which has been pointed out by many others), rather than simply reiterate former positions. This matter of actually engaging issues—rather than ducking them or trying to brush them away—came up several times during the press conference, as it so often has when the First Presidency addresses certain issues.

In Part 2: Diversity in Church Leadership, and Women in the Church

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Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and I discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here.)
Visit the page of “That Mormon Guy Mark” on Facebook.  

Mark Koltko-Rivera’s LDS bio.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Redefining ‘General Authority’ in the Church: “This Watershed Moment,” Part 2

The LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Utah.

As I have said in an earlier post, the recent policy change involving LDS Church members in same-sex marriages, and the status of their children, is a catastrophic disaster from the point of view of the pain that it is causing to the people involved. However, this policy change has also created a watershed moment for Mormonism, the implications of which I am exploring in this series of blog posts (see the Introduction). In this post of the series, I look at how the idea of “General Authority” in the Church might develop because of this watershed moment. First, we need to consider the policy change, and its implications for the meaning of “general authority” in the Church.

The Policy Change Is an Unmitigated Disaster

 Many members have wondered about the purpose of this policy change, which declares members in same-sex marriages as apostates, and bans the children of same-sex marriages both from being blessed in church as babies, and from being baptized until they are legal adults and “disavow” same-sex marriage. The official position, as expressed in a video interview with Elder D. Todd Christofferson, is that the policy change is meant to “protect” the children in same-sex marriages from being put in the position of being Church members while under the parental authority of apostates.

I have heard alternative explanations for the policy. One speculates that some leaders of the Church are increasingly uncomfortable with the large number of American Saints who support the idea of accepting homosexuality and legalizing same-sex marriage. (In a national survey reported in 2014, the Pew ResearchCenter found that 36% of Mormons stated that homosexuality should be supported by society. In a national survey reported in April of this year, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 27% of Mormons favored legalizing same-sex marriage. Of course, this was all in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in late June of this year, legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.) According to an alternative explanation, the policy is a move to reduce the number of people in the Church who are supportive of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I find this to be an interesting notion; certainly, the policy change will have that effect—although at an immense cost (see below). It is certainly possible that both the official and the alternative explanations are true: one operating on a conscious level, the other on an unconscious level.

Whatever the real rationale for the policy—stated or tacit, conscious or unconscious—one thing is absolutely clear. The policy change is a monumental failure on multiple fronts:
  •  Calls to suicide hotlines in Utah have spiked considerably since the policy change became known a week ago. One person working at such a hotline said that calls to her hotline doubled on the night that the policy change was discovered. (Unfortunately, I suspect that those who call such hotlines are only a fraction of people who seriously consider suicide.)
  • Many members of the Church have expressed anguish and pain over the policy change. While I am personally aware of dozens of families who have expressed this privately and in confidence, others have expressed their feelings publicly.
  •  Thousands of Latter-day Saints have investigated formally resigning their membership in the Church over the policy change. Some of these people have explained their reasons to the public. As of this writing, a “Mass Resignation from Mormonism Event” is planned for tomorrow, November 14, with a protest on Temple Square in Salt Lake City; the Facebook event page for this lists 1,200 people as planning to attend, and 2,200 people as “interested” (as of 9:15 a.m., Friday, November 13). (The Washington Post and Slate have reported this week on this forthcoming event.)
  • It has been observed that the policy change is confusing, and can have many extremely negative consequences for parents and children in many types of family, whether these consequences are intended or not.
  •  Little, if any, of these effects have been mitigated by the clarification issued by the First Presidency today (November 13).

When a policy change is made to “protect children,” resulting in those very children having suicidal thoughts—when a policy is made by a Church that values families so very highly, and yet which forces those children to “disavow” the marriage that raised them in order to partake of the saving ordinances of the gospel—when a policy causes such pain and anguish within families—when a policy, not even a doctrine, brings thousands of people to the point of resigning their membership in the Church—when a policy with so many extremely negative potential consequences is issued—one must conclude the following:
  1. The policy was very poorly thought out and framed.
  2. The policy itself is, in terms of its stated objectives, a failure.
  3. The policy could not be the product of people unerringly guided by the Spirit of God.

And all of this has consequences.

How Church Members Should Treat the General Authorities

What is the upshot of all this? It is simple to state, although enormous in its implications:
Church members should not treat the General Authorities as if they infallibly speak for God at all times and in all places (including formal General Conference addresses, other talks, articles, or policy statements).
This should be obvious. But in practice, this represents a sea change in the way that the Latter-day Saints look at their leadership.

It is nowhere in our scriptures. But the unwritten guideline that so many of the Saints seem to live by is something like the following:
“The General Authorities speak for the Lord—pretty much all the time, and most especially when speaking in their official capacity. If a General Authority says something from the pulpit in General Conference, in a Church-sponsored press conference, in an article printed in the Church magazines, or in some policy statement, we can all be assured that this is the Word of the Lord.”
And yet this is completely against what the first LDS prophet, Joseph Smith, believed. As he put it, in a journal entry of February 8, 1843:
This morning I … visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that “a prophet is always a prophet;” but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 278; Documentary History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 265; see the original page at the Joseph Smith Papers Project.)
 If this applies to the Prophet, then certainly it applies to all General Authorities. The location in which a General Authority stands when he makes a pronouncement—such as the pulpit in General Conference—makes no difference in the matter; the pulpit of the Conference Center is not some magical or enchanted place. One acts as a prophet when moved upon by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit’s seal of approval is not guaranteed by time or place of the utterance involved.

The Saints have put such an emphasis on “following the Brethren” that, as a group, we sometimes seem to act as if we are obligated to follow the Brethren without any thought. This is not what President Joseph Fielding Smith taught when he wrote the following:
It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, p. 203)

In this connection, it is noteworthy that even certain First Presidency statements have been later repudiated by the Church, essentially implying that such earlier statements were uninspired writing. Perhaps the best example of this is the August 17, 1949 statement of the First Presidency, stating that not giving the priesthood to men of African descent was “not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord.” (See also this article on the website of the BYU Religious Studies Center, which quotes this statement.) This official statement, in essence, reiterated a private letter of this First Presidency to a member who had questioned the Church’s teaching on this matter. Of course, this entire position was repudiated, without referencing this First Presidency statement, in the recent Gospel Topics essay on the Church’s website, titled “Race and the Priesthood.”

So, given all of this, how should the Saints treat the General Authorities and what they say? I suggest that the attitude to take should be something like the following:
“The General Authorities are special servants of the Lord. They have special priesthood keys regarding certain ordinances, and setting apart Church officers. Their experience means that their thoughts have special weight as we consider matters of faith and practice. As the scriptures state, as is the case with all those ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and sent out into the world, when it comes to the General Authorities, whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation (D&C 68:4).
“That said, the General Authorities’s official statements are not necessarily the Word of God. Knowing whether a General Authority is speaking or writing by the Spirit in a given instance is a matter of discernment, and prayer: it is not a given that something said in General Conference, or written in an article or presented as a statement, is the Word of God. When something that one or more General Authorities say or write violates one’s conscience, in good faith we should make that clear to the General Authorities involved.”
Of course, this raises another issue as well.

How the General Authorities Should Treat the Saints

Perhaps it is just me, but it seems that in recent years we have heard a number of statements made from the pulpit in General Conference that suggest that General Authorities either do not need feedback from the general membership of the Church, or even that they are positively obliged to ignore such feedback.

Certainly, the debacle created by the recent policy change suggests that the General Authorities could indeed benefit from considering the specific views and feelings of the general Church membership. Let me put it this way: When regular rank-and-file faithful-as-all-get-out members of the Church raise questions to me—I, who have no special administrative responsibility in the Church—questions, I say, about basic doctrinal issues that seem to conflict with this policy, this suggests to me that the Brethren who framed this policy could have benefited by consulting with some families.

Herewith, some suggestions for how General Authorities should treat the Saints:
  1. Realize that, as a group, the Saints are intimidated about bringing concerns to the Brethren. This is because, in some eyes, raising concerns smacks of not being sufficiently “supportive” of the Brethren. This has created a situation where, like it or not, the Brethren actually do live in a kind of “bubble” where they are somewhat insulated, especially from the concerns of Saints who are somewhat marginalized.
  2. Read your own mail. Some have said that all concerns expressed in writing to a General Authority are simply bounced back to that individual’s stake or local leadership. This is a huge mistake. The General Authorities cannot claim to be in touch with what is going on in the lives of the membership of the Church if they confine themselves to contacts with people around the time of stake conferences and so forth. If they are getting so much mail that it seems inconvenient to have to deal with it all—well, that should tell them something about the urgency of the issues being addressed in those letters. If the Church has the resources to finance the City Creek Mall in Salt Lake City, which will cost $3 billion in total, then certainly it has the resources to hire more staff to help the General Authorities with their mail.
  3. No, the Church is not a democracy, and in that sense the General Authorities are not the “representatives” of the Church membership. However, the Church is not a corporation, either: it is a Kingdom, and the GAs are certainly supposed to be the eyes and ears of the King in serving His people, and it is hard to do that without actually listening to them. In this case, that means going the extra mile and take the initiative to pierce the reticence that most Saints have to bring up concerns to the Church leadership.

What Is To Be Done?

So what can the rank-and-file member do to promote this approach to the relationship between the General Authorities and the Saints? I suggest the following steps:
  • We can familiarize ourselves with the issue, the “Brand X” approach that so many Saints take towards the General Authorities, versus the improved approach that is recommended above.
  • We can familiarize ourselves with the sources quoted in this post, specifically in relation to (1) the limitations of authority that are indicated in Joseph Smith’s and Joseph Fielding Smith’s statements above, and (2) the documents related to the former priesthood ban, quoted above, which indicate that even First Presidency statements are not utterly sacrosanct.
  • We can respectfully request that the General Authorities make clear the limitations on their own authority, in General Conference, from the pulpit. This needs to be clear, it needs to be specific, and not just a vague “hey, we’re just people, too” sort of thing. Perhaps it would be appropriate to suggest something like the approach that I mention above, in relation to how the Saints might better relate to the General Authorities.
  • While we’re at it, we can respectfully request that the General Authorities do more from their end to help fix the relationship that they have with the general Church membership, perhaps along the lines of what I have suggested above.


The recent policy change is a fiasco. But fiascos can be useful if they spark people to make changes in how they interact with one another, including in institutions. We can and should take steps to make clear that we want a better-defined relationship between the Saints and the General Authorities, along the lines that I have suggested above.

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Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and I discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here.)

Visit the Facebook page of “That Mormon Guy Mark.”
Visit Mark Koltko-Rivera’s website.
Mark Koltko-Rivera’s LDS bio.

[The photo of the LDS Church Office Building was taken by Ricardo630 on 1 July 2013, and appears here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.]

Copyright 2015 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

This Watershed Moment for Mormonism: An Introduction [Series Part 1]

As everyone who would read this blog knows by now, it was recently discovered that a change had been made to the Church’s administrative guide, Handbook, Part 1, which declared that members in same-sex marriages were to be considered apostates, and that banned children of members in same-sex marriages from being blessed as babies, or baptized without First Presidency clearance, and only after such a child “specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage”—effectively stating that they do not support the same-sex marriage of their parent (who may well have raised the child).

This much is well-known, not just among Church members, but well beyond the boundaries of the Church, as national media have taken up this story. Also becoming increasingly well-known is the immense pain that this policy change is causing even now, not even a full week after the change became known. People have decried the pain this is causing to themselves, and to their children. Suicide attempts in Utah have spiked. People—formerly faithful members, including straight family members affected by this change—are leaving the Church over this policy change; one account puts the number who are submitting resignations of their Church membership at over one thousand.

What I do not think is as widely recognized is the degree to which this is a watershed moment for the Church. Things will never be the same in the Church after this moment; the only question is, in what direction will the Church go?

What is a watershed? Geologically, it is a place on a land mass that separates the rivers and streams that flow in one direction (say, east) from those that flow in another direction (say, west). Metaphorically, a watershed moment is an event that changes the direction of a movement, even a war. The Kennedy assassination was a watershed moment in American history; never afterward could one feel that ‘everything is under control.’ The development of the Salk and Sabin vaccines were watershed moments in the fight to eradicate polio.

People rarely realize that, although watershed moments create change, the nature of that change is up in the air in the early part of the watershed moment. Things can work out in several different ways. And that is the situation in the Church today: we will not come out of this as the very same organization, the very same people, as we were when we entered it. But in what way will we and the Church be different? That all depends.

Below, I list several ways in which the Church could be different—if we make it so.
This is thus the index post of a brief series of blog posts that I will be issuing over the next few days, regarding ways in which the Church could develop in positive directions because of the turmoil caused by the policy change. I see these changes as potentially including the following: 
  • A redefining of the nature of ‘General Authority’ in the Church.
  • Increased transparency in the Church.
  • A refocusing on the central Gospel message.
  •  A destigmatization of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

I shall conclude the series with a post on how members of the Church can nurture these sorts of outcomes.
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Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and I discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here.)

Visit the page of “That Mormon Guy Mark” on Facebook

Visit Mark Koltko-Rivera’s website
Mark Koltko-Rivera’s LDS bio

Copyright 2015 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Recent LDS Policy Change Regarding Members in Same-Sex Marriages, and Their Children

Okay. It's time. I've had all weekend to think about this, and I have concluded that in order to try to live a life of integrity, I need to say something about an issue that weighs heavily on my heart.
Many of you are aware that last Thursday word got out that there had been a change to the leadership protocol ("Handbook, Part 1") that is used to guide local and regional leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--that is, my church. There are two major aspects to this change:
  • Church members in same-sex marriages are now defined as being in a state of apostasy (which usually results in excommunication).
  • The child of a parent or parents in a same-sex marriage may not be blessed in church as an infant; nor may this child be baptized, receive the priesthood, or apply to serve as a missionary, until the child reaches the age of 18, lives apart from said parent(s), and disavows the notion of same-sex marriage.
The policy change has been defended on the grounds that it protects the children of parents in same-sex marriages from being in the untenable position of Church members under the parental authority of parents who have been defined as apostates.
Frankly, I could not possibly care less about the official justifications.
I have read a great deal over the last few days of the pain that this policy change is causing in the lives of Latter-day Saints, pain that serves no godly purpose. That is what matters to me. In being confronted with all this pain, I have had come to mind repeatedly the principle of the English common law: "Silence is assent." I will not assent to this--so I will not be silent.
In pondering these issues, I have come to understand that the Church's policy on homosexuality and same-sex marriage is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of its own scriptures. The same thing happened with the policy of restricting the priesthood from people of African lineage, a policy that remained in effect until 1978--when (1) the leadership finally understood that they had misconstrued the LDS scriptures on this matter for well over a century, and (2) the president of the Church asked for revelation concerning the matter.
Consequently, yesterday I started writing a book on this matter. I hope to have it finished by the end of the month, or certainly by the end of the year. It is one of my two major projects during this period (the other being earning a living).
In this book, I plan to to make the following things clear:
  1. There is nothing in the New Testament Gospels, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Pearl of Great Price (that is, the major part of LDS scripture) that condemns homosexuality or same-sex marriage. Jesus simply did not state anything about this, in ancient or modern times.
  2. The condemnation of homosexuality in the Hebrew Bible is, for Mormons, all under the umbrella of the Mosaic Law, which the LDS consider to have been fulfilled in Christ, and which the LDS do not consider binding today.
  3. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul condemned some aspects of homosexuality. It should be noted that Paul wrote several things that reflected the customs of his time--like saying that women should not speak in church. If homosexuality were really an issue for the Lord, the LDS would expect to hear it in terms of direct, explicit divine revelation received by the likes of several prophets recognized by the LDS, such as Enoch, Peter, Nephi, or Joseph Smith--none of whom had anything to say directly about this topic.
  4. The LDS people need a "thus saith the Lord"-type of revelation on this subject. We need the president of the Church to ask for explicit, in-the-Lord's-voice guidance on this matter. We need the leadership to understand that, when that revelation comes, it may well reverse a half-century and more of LDS policy on this matter, including prior statements of the First Presidency (as happened with the priesthood revelation of 1978).
This is what is in my heart now. I realize that my position on these issues may cost me the friendship of some of you who read this. That will sadden me. But I cannot be quiet about something that causes so much pain to so many people--half a million to a million Latter-day Saints, and now their children, as well.
Should any of you feel moved to do so, I would appreciate your prayers.
- - - - - - -
Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.
I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.
I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here.)
Visit the page of “That Mormon Guy Mark” on Facebook.
Visit Mark Koltko-Rivera’s website.
Mark Koltko-Rivera’s LDS bio.
Copyright 2015 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The First Vision of Joseph Smith--and Its Various Versions

Joseph Smith's First Vision, 1913, artist unknown, stained glass window

In Mormon folklore, today is the 195th anniversary of Joseph Smith experiencing what the Latter-day Saints know as the First Vision, the occasion when Joseph Smith received a visitation of the Father and the Son in response to Joseph’s first vocal prayer. (In reality, no one knows the precise date of the First Vision; Joseph Smith merely stated that it occurred “early in the spring” of 1820.)

The First Vision is crucial to the Latter-day Saint faith for several reasons:
  • It is the foundation of the claim that God commissioned the LDS Church because other Christian churches were not commissioned by the Lord, or had departed from His ways.
  • It is the foundation for the LDS sense of the Godhead as being composed of three separate Personages, rather than the three-in-one Persons of traditional Christianity.
  • It is the foundation for the LDS claim that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.

If the First Vision happened, in the way that Joseph Smith said it did, then the LDS Church is what it says it is: the Restored Church of the living God. If the First Vision did not happen—that is, if it were a fabrication, or some kind of hallucination or delusion, of Joseph Smith’s—then the LDS Church is an extremely well-meaning sham.

The stakes are high with the First Vision.

All the more important it is, then, to deal with the claims that some have made, to the effect that the existence of different versions of the First Vision, each differing from the others in certain details, suggests that Joseph Smith essentially made up the First Vision out of whole cloth.

I have studied this matter for some time, consulting such sources as Joseph Smith’s own writings, not only in the LDS Standard Works but in other collections, including some not published by the LDS Church at all. I have also studied the works of historians, such as Richard Bushman’s excellent, readable, and comprehensive biography, Joseph Smith—Rough Stone Rolling. And this is what I have concluded.

I simply do not see a problem here at all.

Sure, Joseph Smith states in one account that he met one Personage, and in another that he met two such Personages. Angels work into some accounts, and not others. As I have come to understand it, these are not mutually contradictory accounts, but simply reflect a different emphasis in what Joseph Smith wished to convey at different times.

It is important to understand, as Dr. Bushman points out, that the First Vision was not “the First Vision” to Joseph Smith: it was a deeply personal experience, the meaning of which changed for him as he matured. At first, what impressed him most was the forgiveness of his sins by Jesus. Later, as he came to bear the burdens of Church leadership, he came to put less emphasis on the meaning of the vision for his personal life, and more on what it meant for the Church and its message to the world.

Is this not a very human thing? In my own life, I have come to understand the significance of different events—struggles, successes, relationships, even the meaning of an entire marriage—differently, as I have matured and gained perspective. One should not expect this to be any different for Joseph Smith, who emphasized repeatedly that he was a man, and a prophet only when acting as such. If anything, to me, this maturing perspective argues for the reality of the First Vision, and the truth of Joseph Smith’s narratives thereof.

I would invite readers to peruse the different versions of the First Vision for themselves. There are links to them within an essay published on the Church’s website.

Of course, all that this blog entry does is deal with an objection to the First Vision. The real issue is, did it really happen? And for that, I suggest that readers do what Joseph Smith did, and what I did myself to learn of the truth of this experience: seek personal revelation through prayer.


Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and I discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here.)
Visit the page of “That Mormon Guy Mark” on Facebook.  

Mark Koltko-Rivera’s LDS bio.

[The photo of the 1913 stained glass window, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” artist unknown, was obtained from the official LDS website. Being a reproduction of an artwork over a century old, it is in the public domain.]

Copyright 2015 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why This Straight Mormon Supports Marriage Equality

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I support marriage equality. That is, I support the passing of laws throughout the United States (really, throughout the world) that give same-sex couples the same right to marry as opposite-sex couples, and with the same benefits before the law.

As it happens, I am heterosexual; I don’t have a horse in this race, as it were. I have held this position for a long time. I have said nothing about it publicly because the Church supports the idea that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and on occasion leaders in the Church (local and otherwise) have taken the position that to differ publicly with the Church on issues like this is itself an offense that merits either an official review of one’s membership status or a withholding of a temple recommend. I have felt very uncomfortable keeping quiet about this important social issue, especially for this reason.

However, the Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune published a story in which Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated unequivocally that expressions in support of marriage equality on social media do not endanger one’s standing in the Church, as long as such expressions do not attack the Church or support organizations that do.

Wow. So much could be said about this statement and its ramifications—but all that is for another time.

Here and now, I will explain why it is that I support marriage equality.

Marriage Is a Civil Right

Marriage is a civil right. It is just that simple.

Sure, as a Latter-day Saint, I believe that God the Father instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. This is a scriptural belief based on writings in the Bible and the Pearl of Great Price, among the LDS scriptures, and also on the LDS temple ceremonies. I am not questioning any of this here.

But when we talk about marriage equality, we are not talking about divinely performed marriages. We are talking about marriages recognized by the civil authority, by the state, utterly independently of any religious authority. This makes marriage a matter of civil rights, not religious doctrine.

On civil grounds, there is no reason to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. There is no compelling interest that the state has to ban same-sex marriages.

“Oh, but the state should strengthen families!” some have said. I believe that completely—which is why I believe the state should permit people of all sexual orientations to marry and form families, rather than forcing some people to remain single by banning same-sex marriage.

Here are some blunt truths that need to be stated, perhaps repeatedly:
  • Same-sex marriages do not weaken opposite-sex marriages. (How could it be otherwise? How could someone else’s marriage make my marriage weaker?)
  • There is no legal justification for confining marriage to people who might conceive children. (I am 58 years old. Any woman I am likely to be involved with in the future will be beyond childbearing years. Should we be barred from marrying because we cannot conceive children? Of course not.)
  • Legalizing same-sex marriages doesn’t mean “anything goes”; same-sex marriages would have the same rights, responsibilities, and restrictions as opposite-sex marriages. (So, no, this is not a step in the direction of people marrying their pet ostriches, or pedophilia, or any of the other nonsense that some opponents of same-sex marriage have put forth as being ‘the next step’ beyond marriage equality.)

Marriage Equality, Mormon Doctrine, and the Law

“But what about the Church’s position?” some might say. “Even though you are free to state your opinion, aren’t you taking a stance against the Church’s position?”

No, not really. The core of the Church’s position is that marriage should be between a man and a woman. It is the Church’s prerogative to take this position—as a doctrinal statement. Let marriage be between a man and a woman, within the Church. The Church has every right to define what marriages it will recognize or not, for religious purposes. None of this has to have an impact on the law, which must apply to all people, including those not of the LDS faith.

I will leave it for another time to consider the issue, should the Church attempt to influence legislation on this matter? Because that is part of a much larger issue, one with a long history to take into account to do it justice.

On the matter of marriage equality, I have made my position clear. I do not attack the Church, nor do I support organizations that do. But I do hope that my taking this position will provoke reflection on the part of other Latter-day Saints.

Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, and I discuss another important issue in my book, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God (both available here).

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[The photo of the rainbow flag was taken by Benson Kua, and appears here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.]

Copyright 2015 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Denver Post Article Highlights Shift from "Mormon Moment" to Saints' Century

The Denver Post website posted today an article by religion editor Electa Draper, "LDS scholars: 'Mormon moment' could expand into cultural shift." (It will probably appear in today's or, more likely, tomorrow's print edition.) The article is based to a large extent on a detailed interview that Ms. Draper conducted with me in November; it also reproduces a diagram from my recent book, The Rise of the Mormons: Latter-day Saint Growth in the 21st Century (available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon; and in paperback from Barnes & Noble online).

This is no mere puff-piece. Ms. Draper also presents material from interviews and statements of other people, including the president of American Atheists.

All in all, this is a fine reading experience. Enjoy.

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Readers are welcome to comment on this post, below.

I invite you to become a “follower” of this blog through the box in the upper-right-hand corner of this page, to be informed of future posts.

I discuss the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ in my book, The Rise of the Mormons, published by Seventh Street Books. (Described here, available here.)

Mark Koltko-Rivera on Twitter: @MarkKoltkoRiver .

The “Mark Koltko-Rivera, Writer” page on Facebook: