God has spoken

Today I have came across an article, presumably by someone claiming to be a member of the Church, that makes the argument that God has never spoken on the subject of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

I don’t seek these things out – I’m usually just browsing other blogs that I do like to read when I come across things like this. As it happens this article is hosted on the blog of an academic who is likewise a member, but who rejects the Church’s core beliefs and has prominent and publicly campaigned for their change. Following my general policy, I will not provide a link here to either this article or blog here, but I feel the argument itself must be addressed. This argument is based on the idea that modern revelation (including the Book of Mormon) do not address either homosexuality or same-sex marriage directly, and therefore God hasn’t said anything.

This latter claim is very wrong.

Modern revelation (at least the canonical material – the article tries to rule out both the Family Proclamation and anything said by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) indeed doesn’t address this subject directly. But that should hardly be surprising, since the Gospel encompasses so much more, and for most of us our sins, which would damn us just as surely, lie in other areas (one would think they would appreciate this sense of perspective). The only reason leaders have been and have had to have been more vocal on this issue recently is precisely because of the societal and legal pressure to deny God’s law in this area. Our personal sins, in any area, tend not to be a major threat to the Church as a whole. When people, both outside and inside the Church, do not believe that God has given commandments and campaign to change the Church’s teachings on this issue or any other issue, then the salvation of thousands is threatened. Modern scripture has plenty to say about that. But in any case it is true that our current canonical modern revelation does not comment directly on the specific issues of homosexuality or same-sex marriage.

But that’s partly because they don’t need to. The article tries to quote the ninth article of faith, but in ignoring its first clause the author wrests the scriptures: “We believe all that God has revealed”. One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon itself is to confirm the truth of biblical teachings:

For behold, this is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.

(Mormon 7:9)

Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.

(2 Nephi 3:12)

Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old;

(Doctrine and Covenants 20:11)

Since said modern revelation points to the Bible, one can’t simply choose to ignore it, as the article does (a big mistake). The article tries to claim that the only comments in the Bible on these subjects are those of Paul and in Deuteronomy. Firstly, these comments – for thousands of years – have not been considered to be remotely confusing on this topic. Moreover, not only does Paul mention the issue several times (in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6), but Deuteronomy is not the sole other reference (that the author missed Leviticus’s rather famous verse on this topic indicates at the very least profound carelessness). But most importantly, Christ himself addressed the topic of marriage, including notably in the following passage:

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

(Matthew 19:4-6, quoting Genesis 2:23-24)

Sure Christ is using this reasoning to condemn divorce, as some commentators attempt to protest. It should surely be no surprise he’s not a fan of that either. But it is his reasons for such a condemnation that should attract our attention here: he bases this upon a divine commandment for marriage, one rooted in the fact that God “at the beginning made them male and female”, that marriage was the union of these two opposites, and such unions were intended to be permanent.

God most surely has spoken about lots of things, and will speak about many more. However, one can only conclude that God is silent upon this topic if one ignores “all that God has revealed”.

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On “hurting”

I hadn’t planned to return to this topic so soon, and I don’t plan to do so at any length.

Concerning the amendments to the Church handbook of instructions that I discuss more here, I see quite a few comments talking about how the policies mean they are “hurting”.

Most of these people saying this don’t seem to be directly affected by the policy, but anyway:

We should always be prepared to feel compassion. I struggle with this, as I am an imperfect human being, but Christ is our master, and he showed and taught us what we should do.

Mention is sometimes made of suicide and suicidal thoughts. I sympathise – I personally know very well what that feels like. If anyone genuinely felt that way, and thought that perhaps I could help, I would want them to get in contact with me.

Some people, however, seem intent on using such feelings – or the feelings of others – as an argument for why the policy should be changed. “Change this policy” this line demands, “or you are hurting these people and some may harm themselves!”

Forgive me for being blunt (though Christ also said we should speak truth): in a marriage there’s a term for when people attempt to control the actions of others through threats of self-harm or suicide. It’s called emotional abuse.

Unbelief, and membership in the Church of Christ

I haven’t updated this blog in a fair while, as I’ve been striving to finish writing up my thesis. And the next post I was going to do was going to be a speculative post involving spiders. That’s still going to happen at some stage (and people who speak to me in real life have likely heard at least some of it). But then something else came up that has sadly caught my attention.

Namely the recent reaction to the Church’s amendments to the Handbook of Instructions concerning same-sex marriage.

I’m not really going to discuss the actual policy itself, other than the section on children is an extension of the policy applied to polygamous families, and that entering into a same sex marriage isn’t just being classed as apostasy, it is apostasy: it is, after all, a public act in opposition to the Church’s teachings, not just the result of a yielding to temptation. Further context can be found here on the actual policy itself.

It is the reaction to all this that gets my attention. It follows the reaction to several other things over the years on social media (such as the Church’s efforts to support marriage, the “Ordain Women” movement and the excommunications of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin). I have become aware – who couldn’t? – that there’s at least a portion of Church membership who stand vocally opposed to the Church’s policies, and often teachings. This has struck very close to home, as I have seen friends and continue to see friends go astray in these things. People who were once my brothers and sisters in the gospel have abandoned the Church because of these things. I am not a diplomatic man, and I hold no ecclesiastical position of any major consequence. But if there are members, ersatz members and ex-members who feel free to comment in such a way as to lead my friends astray, then I believe I at least have the right to reply.

The real problem

Now this is not so directed as those Church members who otherwise agree with the Church’s teachings but felt some concern at the announced policies. There are other, better, things that they can read which hopefully address their concerns. But my observation is that those most concerned at this, and certainly those who are most vocal, not only differ with the announced policy, but some if not all of the Church’s teachings on sexuality and the family. Indeed I struggle to think of a single blog article or facebook comment I’ve seen whizzing by in the past week that was critical of handbook changes which was by someone who didn’t also – explicitly or implicitly – object to the Church’s fundamental teachings in this area in the first place. So some comments about policy vs doctrine are misguided – while the exact nature of a policy like this may well take different forms, the Church’s fundamental opposition to same-sex marriage as contrary to the Lord’s commands isn’t new. That wasn’t going to change just because US law changed.

I have been struck, for a number of years, by a line from Alma 12:

Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption
(Alma 12:32, my emphasis)

This is quite a common pattern. When I was a full-time missionary, we taught people about the law of chastity after we had taught them about the plan of salvation and eternal families. We taught about fasting and tithing after we taught about sacrifice. Many of God’s commandments may be confusing to us mortals when we’re working from our own presuppositions about the universe – but they make fundamental sense when we understand and believe in God and His plan. The Church’s teachings on the nature of the family, the law of chastity and human sexuality make perfect sense when we know that He is, that Christ is our Saviour, that He revealed Himself to prophets who recorded it in scripture, and that He has established His Church in these latter days which He continues to lead to which He has given His power and authority. Likewise the administration of priesthood ordinances is not a mere social event, but the exercise of that power and authority that requires preconditions, including faith.

Now many of those writing these various posts, comments etc have certainly been in the Church long enough to learn all this. They’ve been taught it. “Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?” If they are now having trouble accepting the Church’s teachings on family and sexuality, then what is the problem?

I speak bluntly. The problem is unbelief.

Unbelief

Now they may believe something, for example, that God exists. But it is impossible to believe that God exists, that He has revealed commandments in His scriptures and to His modern prophets, and that by His power Man and Woman may be knit together for eternity, and that obedience to this covenant is the path to exaltation, to believe all of that and yet believe that somehow God and His prophets have it wrong and that violating those commandments and barring oneself from what is required to gain exaltation must be morally acceptable. Somewhere there is a lack of belief.

Some of those who’ve commented have been quite open about this too – one I happened to read claiming that the individual had been a ‘practicing Mormon’ for decades, but never a ‘believing Mormon’.

This attitude baffles me. I find it incredible, yet I do know people who hold to this – who do not believe all the teachings of the Church, but who continue to claim a “Mormon” identity. What’s more is that some of these voices increasingly campaign that this *should* be the case, that the Church should give up any ambition for its members to believe, that it’s possible to be, say an atheist or agnostic and a Mormon (I would not have believed this had I not read it myself), and that the Church should be ‘inclusive’ of those who feel ethnically ‘Mormon’, but reject (loudly) the teachings of the Church.

I shall return to the last point later. On the former, it is certainly the case that those who are experiencing doubt and unbelief have been urged (as within the last few years by Elder Uchtdorf) to remain within the Church. It’s also the case that doubt and unbelief are not always the result of sin. But some have misconstrued this into thinking unbelief is an acceptable, or even a desirable state, and that one can be “faithful” and comfortable in the Church while remaining in a state of unbelief. This is not true.

For unbelief is a sin.

I’m aware that statement may cause hackles to rise. But sometimes things must be put as plainly and bluntly as possible. There are sins of the intellect. And I am not seeking to rise up as a great accuser here, for we are all sinners. I have my sins as does any man, and all of us need to repent. I’ve even recently struggled with unbelief: not as to the existence of God or the truth of His Church or anything like that, but in believing certain promises God has extended to me. I’ve struggled with some of that, and have had to strive to believe. I certainly lay no claims to perfection. Every one of us does things that are wrong, and need to change and repent. For us to do that, of course, we need to realise where we have erred, so that we might call upon God and that He might correct us. The reason people struggling with unbelief are encouraged to remain within the Church is – as it is for the rest of us and most of our sins – the Church is the best place to do that.

And far from being content in our unbelief, it is one of those things in which we sin and in which we need to repent. Christ “upbraided” his disciples for “their unbelief” (Mark 16:14), and taught elsewhere that “he that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18). We likewise learn “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and are warned to “take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). In the Book of Mormon we find Nephi mourning because of “the unbelief […] of men” (2 Nephi 32:7), and are told directly by Christ (as reported by Moroni) to “come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief” (Ether 4:13). Finally in modern revelation we see Edward Partridge being warned that “if he repent not of his sins, which are unbelief and blindness of heart, let him take heed lest he fall” (D&C 58:15) and the Church as a whole taught that “your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received— Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation” (D&C 84:54-55). While faith and belief may not come easily, we are commanded to “doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36), and instructed to “exercise a particle of faith”, and to not cast out the word “by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord” (Alma 32:27-28). Unbelief is a sin, but with God’s grace we can choose differently, by “experimenting” on his word, by yielding to the influence of His spirit and by remembering our previous experiences.

For several years now I have been struck by how important it is to remember our spiritual experiences and those miracles we witness. While there’s some – like the aforementioned article writer – who may have never have believed, others did at some stage. And for at least some of them, including some of my friends, that belief was not just a vain hope, but founded on actual experiences. I wonder what they make or even remember of those now, and there’s some friends I wish I could just shake: “Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember what it was like? What you felt and saw?” How I wish I could help them remember, for it is actual experience with the Divine that answers all questions and doubts.

The exclusivity of “inclusivity”

There is one final point I wish to briefly address, namely this concept that because of one’s ancestry and upbringing in the culture, one can continue to be a “Mormon” while rejecting the practice and especially the belief, and even that they should be permitted access to the Temple and so forth in spite of public disbelief. I have to admit this argument gets me angry to some degree, although I doubt that many who advance it see the implications of it.

Converts must believe to be baptized. To unite themselves with the Church, they must have faith and practice the first principle of the Gospel. And before they are baptized, they are asked about what they believe to ensure they meet the requirements for baptism. To become a “Mormon”, they must have and exercise their faith.

What is being implicitly proposed, then, ends up being a two-tier system. Converts must have faith to become members of the Church and enjoy its spiritual blessings. But those of a particular ancestry and upbringing need no faith to accrue the same benefits. I can only imagine what the Apostle Paul would make of this argument. As for me, all I can think is to paraphrase the words of John the Baptist: “Think not to say within yourselves that we have Brigham Young, or Lorenzo Snow or whomever to be our father, for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Brigham Young”.

Truth and lies

A few months ago I found myself reflecting on the importance of truth. I had been wondering why I found it difficult when people espoused certain concepts with the claim that these things were “helpful”. I find myself almost instinctively pulling away from such things, but I wondered why I did it, and if I was wrong.

After some pondering, I realised what I found objectionable was the idea that I should accept something because it was helpful, without knowing if it was true, and on a personal level found I had to reexamine myself for those ideas I had come to accept that were unhelpful, and also untrue. Because truth matters, on a cosmic and a personal level.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that God is described as “the spirit of truth” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:23-26), nor that the Brother of Jared’s great statement of faith that permitted him to be redeemed from the fall and enter the presence of God was “Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie” (Ether 3:12, my emphasis). In contrast, one of Satan’s preeminent titles after his fall is “the father of all lies”, who aims to “deceive” men (Moses 4:4). We are especially directed to avoid lying about other people (Exodus 20:16), but there is a broader principle at stake: To the extent that we tell and believe truth, we become closer to Our Father in Heaven and Our Saviour. And the extent to which we either tell or believe lies places us closer to the Adversary. And this will be especially important in the times to come, for one attribute of those who are prepared for the Second Coming is that they “have not been deceived” (D&C 45:57).

Truth in the public square

Which takes me to a related topic. Namely the social and legal changes that have been happening in the West concerning marriage, family and identity.

It goes without saying that I oppose these changes. I believe, and the scriptures teach, that these developments are founded on a mistaken idea of human identity, and on what will promote human happiness. They furthermore lead people away from the plan of salvation that God has set. For those who do not know this yet, I invite them to read the words of ancient and modern prophets, and prayerfully seek truth. I believe these will have eternal consequences for individuals and families, and consequences upon the nations involved, as stated in The Family: A Proclamation to the World: “Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets”.

I am furthermore concerned at the wider implications of these developments, upon family stability, in education, in employment and ultimately for freedom of conscience, which has already come under attack. For those Church members who are complacent or supportive of these developments, I invite them to think about what has happened and what will increasingly happen to those who oppose these developments in public.

But there is another aspect of many of these developments that I have found increasingly concerning. And this is what is happening to truths in the public sphere, even self-evident truths that one can recognise regardless of one’s opinions. Regardless of one’s opinions of same-sex “marriage”, said couples cannot have children by themselves. Children attached to such couples are not the children of both, and said children do not have two fathers or two mothers; the truth is that said children have in many cases been deprived of a mother or father respectively (in some cases under very sad circumstances). In such cases we are deliberately creating broken families, and then asserting that everyone involved, including the children themselves, deny the existence of one of their parents. Likewise, regardless of one’s opinion of the efficacy of “sex-reassignment” surgery, someone such as Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner was not “always a woman”, as advocates are arguing (never mind the fact that he actually remains anatomically male!). He was born a man, he fathered children; to support such a rewriting of history, or the rewriting of birth certificates, is not only to deprive children of a father, it is to tell an untruth. Likewise the idea that the US Constitution contained a right to same-sex “marriage” that was somehow undetected for 228 years until found merely by application of the law is manifest nonsense. And so on, along with the notion that the judgement of nine black-robed priests somehow represents a triumph for “democracy”, or the simple intellectual incoherence that goes with believing that sex isn’t innate, but sexual orientation is, and that there is no mental difference between men and women, unless we’re talking about a transsexual man.

This is all bad enough, but is worse for the degree that such untruths are becoming enforced through state recognition, state education and social pressure. Believing untruths is dangerous enough, but saying untruths when we know them to be untrue can be even more so. In 1984, doublethink is the phenomena by which – partly through state action, but partly through the desire to fit in – people knowingly espouse untruths and hold mutually contradictory ideas. Hence the Ministries of Peace, in charge of war, or the Ministry of Truth, with responsibility for propaganda and lies. According to the book, the logical culmination of this would be the insistence that 2+2=5. And this is what we are seeing: the assertion that children have two fathers, the claim that a man and father has always been a woman, or that contractual sexual relationship between partners of any sex constitutes a marriage. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

This knowing acceptance of lies forms a powerful lever of social conditioning by which people can be persuaded of the rightness of actions they know are wrong. It is a way by which people’s moral compasses can be wrenched into untrue forms, so that they lose the capacity to recognise truth and become mental captives. Yet this is not being forged for us by a vicious police state with an all-powerful intelligence apparatus. We have forged these chains for ourselves, so that the saying of truths can be rendered unacceptable and intolerable, and people’s livelihoods ruined, with little state action at all, but the mere noise of the mob. While state action may follow (and the signs aren’t good), and may intensify, we are making ourselves mental slaves entirely by our own hands.

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
(Isaiah 5:20)

And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.
(Moses 7:26)

Edit: And in a related issue to this post, it seems the calls for the imposition of taxes on churches and so on haven’t even waited a few days to start. Considering the claims that Same-sex marriage would have zero consequences upon religious freedom or anything else that I heard as recently as (literally) yesterday, I can’t help but regard this as part of the “We have ALWAYS been at War with Eurasia” “We have ALWAYS been at war with Eastasia” mindset I was talking about.