The LDS’s Mild Shift On Homosexuality

Around election time, on Hit Coffee I pondered whether Romney’s loss would have any effect on the LDS Church:

[A] change of trajectory somewhere along the line does seem possible. The Romney loss could play a roll in it, but I think being on what will be the losing side of the gay marriage issue will be a bigger one. To be clear, I don’t think the LDS Church will ever formally or informally endorse same-sex marriage. Civil unions and such yes, but marriage never. But I think their experiences with Proposition 8 and the backlash they faced may have jarred them a little (it sure as heck would have jarred me). Not just that they were publicly reviled, but it was the conspicuousness with which they were targeted. It’s not that they don’t like attention – they clearly do – but they have always seemed at least a little wary of being seen as backwards. It’s actually a bit difficult to describe, but many southern evangelicals seem to revel in being the big, bad guy to their opponents. Mormons maintain their distinctness, to be sure, but perhaps because of a history of having been on the wrong side of public backlashes, they are reluctant to be too different.

The LDS Chuch does seem to be shifting its views on homosexuality just a bit:

Among the videos on the site is one featuring the Mormon apostle Dallin H. Oaks, titled “What Needs to Change.” Oaks says that “what needs to change is to help our own members and families understand how to deal with same-gender attraction.” While that sentence doesn’t quite parse grammatically, the message seems to be: Don’t throw your children out of the house because they’re gay. Do teach them, though, not to have gay sex. The “doctrine of the church, that sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married,” Oaks says, “has not changed and is not changing.”

Those who pay attention to verb tenses may notice that Oaks does not say that Mormon doctrine will not change. On one level, this is simply good Mormonism: The LDS Church believes in continual revelation through a living prophet, so no apostle can declare with certainty that something will never change. And the new website, which is hardly a celebration of gay pride, is also a savvy bit of public relations: Brad Kramer, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan who studies contemporary Mormonism (and who is Mormon himself), called the site “an example of the curious space where PR and doctrinal shift intersect and subtly cooperate.”

To be sure, this is a very subtle shift. But it’s not in isolation. In 2010, two years after having getting a lot of negative attention due to their role in Proposition 8, they came out in favor of a ban on anti-gay discrimination in Salt Lake County and came out strongly against anti-gay persecution in schools.

Like I said, I don’t think the church will ever support gay marriage. Nor will they ever be okay with homosexuality. But I think they are at least somewhat subject to peer pressure. And we’re seeing that now.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


    • Glad to hear it. I’m hoping it is generally viewed this way. A glass one-quarter full rather than three-quarters empty. At the least, I want this to stand in contrast to other religious conservative groups who oppose anti-bullying statutes if it might protect gays.

  1. This may be about as far as they really can go until there is significant advancement of younger people into the ranks of significant tithers a living prophet is shown a new revelation.

    • Member-tithing itself likely isn’t the issue (they’re really stringent on that), but active membership rolls might be. But the age thing matters. I remember when the chief counsel of my former employer was fired for being gay. The response among the brethren was heavily influenced by age. Combine that with SLC’s robust gay community (in addition to fear-of-backwardness and past persecution, I think exposure to real live gays may also play a role) and I think over time more change becomes possible.

  2. The rising acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships poses a huge dilemma for the LDS Church. The Church’s core doctrines are intertwined with traditional family relationships: Mormons believe that “Families Can Be Together Forever” (a title of one of their most cherished hymns) through Mormon rites and divine grace. Creating and maintaining these familial relationships is held as the primary religious duty of Mormons during their earthly sojourn. Mormons believe that they cannot be fully exalted in the hereafter if they are not sealed together for “all eternity” and have children “Born in the Covenant”. Their cosmology reflects this as well: Mormons believe that Earth was created by Heavenly Father, an exalted former mortal who created our human spirits by procreating with his wives after a righteous mortal existence.

    The Church simply can’t go very far in accepting non-heterosexuals without treading on its own central beliefs and modes of organization. Young Mormons are much more likely to have gay friends and have relatively tolerant views of them as people than their elders, but they’re not much more likely to support gay sex or gay marriage. As Will mentions, the Church has made laudable progress on its stance in this area (Church leaders used to openly advocate violence against gays), but it’ll take a seismic shift for them to go much further.

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