Monday, 6 July 2015

Missing more than Church in July


Sadly (but not surprisingly) the Supreme Court of the United States has forced gay marriage on the whole country.  Equally sad and unsurprising was that some members of the Church took it on themselves to attack the leadership of the Church over the letter from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve affirming the Church's stance that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.  Paul Malan posted his letter to his Bishop on his blog and it has been circulating on social media ever since.

Normally a member's difficulties with accepting Church doctrines would be a private matter between that member and their Bishop, but Malan has chosen to make this very pubic instead and I think it is fair ask why.  As far as I know Malan has not stated his motivation for going public with this but I don't think we can rule the possibility that he may be trying elevate his standing in the eyes of others by posing as the brave dissident, or an attempting to rally like minded Mormons into some kind of movement of dissent, or perhaps a bit of both.  It may be that it was just a matter of poor judgement and failing to recall that the Lord said: 
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.  Matt 18:15

Whatever the case, the letter is public, and so my reply must likewise be public for the good of those who may have been mislead by his words.  Below you will find the text of his letter, quoted in purple text, with my reply below in black.


Dear Bishop,
On July 2, 1964, The Civil Rights Act officially ended segregation and discrimination based on the color of our skin. The following spring, in General Conference, Ezra Taft Benson warned members about the dangers of going along with the “dangerous” civil rights movement:
“The Lord never promised there would not be traitors in the Church. We have the ignorant, the sleepy and the deceived who provide temptations and avenues of apostasy for the unwary and the unfaithful, but we have a prophet at our head and he has spoken.”
To his credit, Malan provides a source for his quote, let us look at it again with some context:

"For our day President David O. McKay has called communism the greatest threat to the Church - and it is certainly the greatest mortal thread this country has ever faced.  What are you doing to fight it?  Before I left for Europe I warned how the communists were using the Civil Rights movement to promote revolution and eventual take-over of this country.  When are you going to wake up?  What do you know about the dangerous Civil Rights agitation in Mississippi?  Do you fear the destruction of all vestiges of state government? "
"The Lord never promised there would not be traitors in the Church. We have the ignorant, the sleepy and the deceived who provide temptations and avenues of apostasy for the unwary and the unfaithful, but we have a prophet at our head and he has spoken." - Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Volume Three: By W. Cleon Skousen
I struggle to see how an intelligent person with normal reading comprehension skills can go over that and conclude that Elder Benson was opposed to civil rights.  He clearly was speaking about communism, and his fear that communist agents were piggybacking on the civil rights movement to undermine constitutional government. Elder Benson was known for his constant opposition to communism all his life.

Elder Benson was also not the only one with such concerns, there were many who believed as he did, and the head of the FBI testified before the House Ap­propriations subcommittee on Jan 29th 1964 that communists were using the civil rights movement to recruit young people to their cause and to spread their propaganda.

The only reasonable conclusion I can see is that this is a deliberate attempt to smear Elder Benson.  I hope I am wrong about that, but if not I would direct Malan to recall what the Lord said about attacking his chosen leaders:
Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.
D&C 121:15

There is also a very large dose of irony in Malan starting his letter like this, for he himself appears to be following the "avenues of apostasy" because of his devotion to what the media is telling him is a civil right.  We have a prophet at our head, and he has spoken, but Malan is turning his back and refusing to listen.

Benson’s warning against civil rights was a continuation of racist beliefs written decades earlier by the First Presidency, under George Albert Smith, who said that if a Mormon hoped for racial equality he had “lost sight of the revelations of the Lord.”

Before that, Joseph Fielding Smith taught that black people were “an inferior race” and that their curse would continue “while time endures” — a belief perhaps initiated by Brigham Young, who taught that God’s penalty for interracial relationships was “death on the spot. This will always be so.”
When our culture began to recognize the nonsense of racism, N. Eldon Tanner declared that there was “really nothing we can do to change” the Church’s position on “the Negro,” declaring it “the law of God.”

Thankfully, God’s laws may be unchanging, but our understanding of them is not. The Church recently approved an essay in which they “unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

Our prophets and apostles were simply wrong about God’s relationship with black people and the moral implications of marriage between races.

Here we have an example of a common misunderstanding about both the ban on ordaining blacks to the Priesthood, and also the statement made about it on lds.org.

The only doctrine regarding blacks was that they would not be permitted to hold the priesthood until some future time when the Lord gave the OK for it, which happened decades ago.  Brigham Young said the day would come when blacks would have all the blessings other members have.  This is a strange thing for somebody to say if they believed blacks were inherently unworthy of the priesthood.  It was also doctrine that in spite of that priesthood ban, the faithful black members would still make it to the Celestial Kingdom.  It was not a sin for a white to marry a black, but it was discourage since the decedents of the white spouse would be subject to the priesthood ban, and because such marriages faced additional stresses that often resulted in divorce. 

Back in Brigham Young's day other churches debated if blacks had a soul or not, if Christ's atonement covered their sins or not.  They segregated them into black churches (which endure to his day).  They supported slavery as biblical, and if a slave owner wanted to use his black female slave for sexual pleasure, well she was his property so they considered that OK.  You would have had a hard time finding a Mormon among those KKK members out lynching blacks.

No revelation was ever received as to why the ban existed.  Naturally people speculated using their own understanding of things.  Leaders of the Church speculated as well, and their opinions were influenced by what was commonly accepted as true in their day.  Today many of those speculations are rightfully seen as racist, but those opinions were not the doctrine of the Church so it is not valid to try and use them against the Church.

The statement the Church issued about blacks and priesthood renounces the racist speculation and opinions stated in the past about why the ban existed, but it does not repudiate the ban itself. The ban is not from man but from God and in the scriptures we can see it existed as far back as the time of Abraham. (Abr. 1:27). It was right to have the ban before the revelation came to end it, and it was right to end it when the revelation came. It is wrong to assume the ban indicated that Church doctrine declared blacks were inferior beings, just as the gospel being withheld from the Gentiles until after Christ's ascension did not mean that Gentile races were inferior.  

The snippets of quotes Malan gives (again without any context) portray men's opinions as if they were the doctrine of the Church.  It is Malan's understanding of what is and is not doctrine that is flawed here, which leads him to a wrong conclusion about the Church.

In the wake of this month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling, you have been asked by the First Presidency to read a statement reaffirming the Church’s position on gay marriage. Our leaders seem inclined to repeat the pattern established during the civil rights movement and assure us they are “powerless to change God’s unchanging laws.”

There is nothing new or surprising in the wording of the letter you’ve been asked to read, but, as with past statements on race, it perpetuates misunderstanding and reinforces the “otherness” of our gay brothers and sisters. As a father, I hope our church can become a welcoming, safe place for my children to learn from Christ’s loving example within the context of their Mormon heritage. This letter makes that connection less likely.

As a courtesy to me and my family, would you please let me know when you plan to read the letter you received? We are happy to worship elsewhere on July 5 or July 12 if you will let me know which date to miss.

You have consistently shown kindness and patience with me and my family, and I appreciate that. I hope you will discern my respect for you, even when we see things differently.

There is a logical fallacy known as 'the straw man'.  This is when somebody makes an argument by setting up a false and flawed presentation of the other side's position (a straw man) then goes and knocks it down to claim victory rather than address what the other side really is for.  In this case Malan (deliberately or not) sets up a straw man of a Church that went contrary to God's will in the past over a civil rights issue, and tries to use that as justification for ignoring the Church today on gay marriage. 

Human sexuality is a sacred thing.  The power of procreation is the most god-like power mankind has been granted and so abuses of that power are sins of a very serious nature.  Homosexual acts are one such abuse.  They are violations of the law of chastity and those who engage in them are subject to the same Church discipline as those who commit fornication or adultery.  Marriage is by God's decree a union between a man and woman. 

These are doctrines, and unlike the priesthood ban there is no prophecy saying that it will ever change.  It can not change as it is fundamental to the entire plan of salvation.  The scriptures condemn homosexual acts, and so do all the prophets and apostles who have every spoke about it, alive or dead.  The Church is clear that those who live by the gospel standards are able to receive all the blessings of the gospel, regardless of what temptations they have to wrestle with along the way, and we are to treat each other in love and kindness.

Malan has a choice, the same choice we all face.  He can either put his faith in the world's views, or exercise faith in the word of God as contained in the scriptures and spoken by living prophets and apostles.  He can't have it both ways any more and if he continues to follow the path he is on I expect he will find himself missing far more than a sacrament meeting or two.  Anybody who grew up in the Church likely heard many times that in the last days men would call good evil and evil good, that the ways of the world and ways of the Church would diverge more and more until all middle ground was lost.  These are those days.  

In my heart I feel this is a turning point in history.  A point where the differences between the world and the Church will test the devotion of all members more and more.  Some testimonies will be purified and strengthened by this.  I take no joy in knowing that some will go the other way and sift themselves out of the fold.

I encourage everybody to follow the prophet, not turn their back on them.  If the contents of the letter from the Church is hard to accept, go into 'investigator mode' and use study and prayer to seek confirmation from God that it is in harmony with His will.  Pray for the courage and strength to stand for what is right, and the wisdom to be able to do it in a loving and kind way, even when others are not kind in return.

For those of you who accept the doctrine of the Church but are troubled by opposition coming from other members, take note that an attack like this had to rely on taking things out of context and misrepreseting the doctrine and history of the Church to manufacture a justification for rebellion.  The Church is on solid doctrinal ground and we should not be afraid to stand up and defend the Church from attack.

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