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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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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