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Non-LDS Christianity doesn’t value marriage as much as Mormonism

May 11, 2012

With Obama’s recent announcement that he supports same-sex marriage (see John’s positive thoughts on that from a perspective of encouraging public discussion), and North Carolina’s passage of Amendment 1, constitutionally enshrining a ban on gay marriage for that state, I’ve seen much discussion on Facebook and elsewhere about gay marriage, homosexuality in general, and the Christian position about it. The Barna Group’s David Kinnaman has written several books on the perceptions of Christians, and while You Lost Me isn’t brand new, it and other studies are receiving new attention in light of received events regarding gay marriage. Rachel Evans’ position on Christianity’s political efforts against gay marriage is easily summarized:

My generation is tired of the culture wars. 

We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for.

And when it comes to homosexuality, we no longer think in the black-at-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And Amendment One hurts like hell.

Regardless of whether you identify most with Side A or Side B, (or with one of the many variations within those two broad categories), it should be clear that amendments like these needlessly offend gays and lesbians, damage the reputation of Christians, and further alienate young adults—both Christians and non-Christian—from the Church.

I think the LDS church still reels from the PR backlash from Proposition 8. But the question for Christian denominations, LDS or otherwise, is whether such political backlash will cause these denominations to look again at their theological commitments. (The question as to whether they will stick to their theological commitments, but change their political strategies — after all, just because one believes homosexuality is a sin doesn’t mean one has to campaign against gay marriage — is another good question…but a different one, nonetheless.)

I have written before that I believe that the LDS church’s own theology puts gay and lesbian members in an impossible spot. I have refrained from concluding that the theological issues will cause the church’s position to change, because I didn’t know what would happen. However, recent conversations push me to think that Mormonism may be more likely to shift toward accepting gay relationships in some way, shape, or fashion, than non-LDS Christianity. Let me tell the story of this “evolution” of my thoughts…

On Facebook, my dear blogging-friend-who-is-on-blogging-sabbatical Jon Adams shared a link to another friend’s Facebook note. (Hopefully, this note will be public enough that you can read it.)

I found a lot of the argument to be a non-starter, quite frankly. Especially with lines like this:

What is urgently needed is for God’s voice to speak into the chaos, and to calm the storm that threatens to sink us. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. If a hungry man eats bread but does not listen to the words of God, he is not better off. It does not matter if one side wins through political muscling and gets their own way; if we are not listening to God it profits nothing. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they that build labor in vain. Unless the Lord guard the city, they that guard watch in vain. ” (Psalm 127:1) Are both sides willing to humble themselves before God and before each other so they can listen to the voice that matters? If not, how can mere political victory be real victory? The objective for both sides needs to be to hear from God and obey His voice, rather than merely to get their own way. Truth, not preference, must be our desire.

It just felt like so much question-begging (and his later post on biblical exegesis to determine that yes, the Bible is against homosexuality, seemed to be much the same.) I guess agnostic atheists or those yet unconvinced of the Bible are chopped meat.

But anyway, the part that struck me most was his final paragraph, which read most like the sales pitch:

A word to homosexuals: Even though, to God, the pro-homosexual cause is sinful and should not be fought, there is hope and salvation for you in Jesus Christ. You do not need to find your identity in homosexuality; indeed you will not find it there. Discover your true identity as one who is created in God’s image, who, though fallen by sin, is loved and redeemed by your Father in heaven. You do not need to throw your life away because you are a homosexual: you have a glorious hope and a future in Jesus Christ! God loves you so much! We can rejoice together in the truth that the Lord God Almighty loves us sinners and has done an amazing work of reconciliation through His Son at the cross. We can have peace knowing our sins are forgiven. We can have joy knowing that we have eternal life forever. And there is abundant life to be lived with God right now, lived in His amazing grace, as well as eternal life in the hereafter! All this is the free gift of the Father to you through Christ. This is definitely good news! Good news for all men, including homosexuals. You can receive this new life today. If you are still uncertain, ask questions and investigate the things I have written about. Read the words of Jesus and find out about this amazing salvation through God’s grace. You will be surprised at what you find.

Even though I feel that it is pretty easy to point out the conundrum for Mormons, I didn’t know how to address Eli’s points. In Mormonism, you (Same-Sex-Attracted Peter Priesthood or Molly Mormon) take this paragraph from Eli and then you realize you will live without companionship in a religion that emphasizes companionship and marriage. You will live celibate in a religion that has no institutionalized role for celibacy. You have failed in a pretty big way, and the hope you have is that things will be better in the next life. This puts a big damper on the “abundant life to be lived with God right now, lived in His amazing grace” that Eli speaks of.

…But does the Mormon response work for Eli’s framework too?

Companionship isn’t the ideal!

In several conversations between Mormons and Evangelicals, I have heard — but not fully understood the implications of — the difference in beliefs on families and marriage in the afterlife. For Mormons, it’s a huge theological plus that families can be together forever, and that marriages are eternal. It’s like, Mormons think to themselves, “We have solved this long-standing gap in Christian theology!”

But the Evangelical response isn’t to say, “Oh rats, you got us.” It’s to downplay marriage and companionship, or at least, to downplay it with respect to the relationship with God. What Mormons decry as a boring afterlife of being angels singing praises to God’s name forever…evangelicals praise and idealize. Eli’s talk of the glorious hope and future in Jesus Christ, of the new and abundant life, sounds similar to what I’ve heard before in these conversations.

As I mentioned, I never fully understood why there is such a difference. Coming from the Mormon perspective, I don’t find what the Evangelicals are “selling” as attractive.

…Reading Eli’s posts has given me the epiphany, though. It goes back to what Paul had written in 1 Corinthians 7:

7 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

and

32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs —how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong[b] and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married.37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.[c]

This. Is. Big. It’s just an incredibly DIFFERENT foundation: it is better for people NOT to marry, not to have sex, BUT marriage is a better alternative than “burning with passion.”

Contrast with what I had concluded from my article about what every faithful SSA Mormon must know:

When we speak of chastity, the end goal of chastity is not celibacy. It is always a faithful, chaste marriage with children. (And without going too far in the mechanics, I hope that the “children” part implies that sex is going on there.)

So, the lifelong expectancy of celibacy cannot be taken lightly in the Mormon tradition. Celibacy may be more desirable in the Mormon tradition than sexual sin, but celibacy is not ideal.

Completely flipped. Let’s take the latter scriptures that I quoted: why is being unmarried preferable? Because an unmarried man or woman can focus on pleasing the Lord. (This reminded me of Eli’s comments on “the abundant life to be lived with God right now.”) A married man or woman will focus on pleasing his/her wife/husband, and thus his interests are divided. Marriage is good (to avoid sexual immorality and burning with passion), but you know what’s even better? Celibacy.

What does it mean for non-LDS Christianity?

As I mentioned before, I believe that Mormonism has more room to shift on homosexuality than does non-LDS Christianity (and stay tuned for my piece in the future on Orthodox Christianity’s position here, because Things Get Real[er] there…). That doesn’t mean that I think Mormonism will change tomorrow, or that everything will be sunshine in one simple revelation. However, in comparing the two, I see that Mormonism has the theological pressures to make people go ‘hmm’ on homosexuality. At some point, as people soberly consider the importance of companionship within Mormonism, suggestions to stay single and celibate for people who could otherwise find companions will seem grossly unfair.

In contrast, Non-LDS Christianity still can bunker down with beliefs that celibacy and singleness might not be a bad thing, and in fact, might be a preferable state.

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11 Comments
  1. To say all non-Mormon churches don’t value marriage as much as the Mormon church….is that really what you mean to say? Because you seem to focus in more on Evangelicals rather than other Christian groups. The Eastern Orthodox church values marriage immensely and has a very firm stance that has lasted 2000 years and is unlikely to change. I saw you mentioned you will post on the Orthodox Church’s stance. I’m very curious what you mean by things get real(er) there. I’ll have to stay tuned!

  2. rebelsprite,

    Yeah, the Eastern Orthodox church has a particular hardcore, quite well-thought position that I’ll have to address separately. I see little possibility for change there.

    In fact, I probably could/should have named this post “*Protestant* Christianity or *Evangelical* Christianity doesn’t value…” because of a few crucial differences between how Orthodoxy, and to a lesser extent Catholicism, see marriage and monasticism vs. how Protestant traditions see these things.

  3. hawkgrrrl permalink

    Great post, Andrew. I actually quite agree with you. The path to acceptance for gay marriage is through the same requirements for heterosexual marriage: chastity before marriage and full fidelity after (with heavy duty repentance for mistakes). That still is a pretty exclusive club, as high a bar for homosexuals as it is for heterosexuals. Today the unfairness is that the bar is higher for homosexuals (full celibacy in this life, re-orientation in the life to come?).

  4. hawkgrrrl,

    quite right.

  5. For a long time I have felt that the Mormon Church could evolve on this issue more quickly and more satisfactorily than traditional Christianity, both for the reason you’ve described here, but also because Mormonism has a fundamentally different authority paradigm that allows for evolution.

    If your concept of Christianity is that its beliefs and practices are based on a static text that cannot be added to or amplified through continuing revelation, the best you can do is argue about the proper interpretation of texts. Ultimately, in that paradigm, you can’t get the kind of ultimate resolution of a problem that is possible when you allow for direct, modern-day revelation from God.

    The Mormon emphasis on marriage as the vehicle through which humans achieve exaltation gives us a much more powerful motive to wrestle with this issue, no question about it.

  6. John,

    Another great point with modern-day revelation.

  7. Beasil permalink

    I may be missing a point; kind of sleep-deprived. It seems to me that the LDS church’s obsession with the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and general refusal to change its ultraconservative views and practices except when cowering to government regulation will mean that the LDS Church will oppose marriage equality -longer- than many other presently anti-gay Christian denominations. I mean, allowing the seed of Ham to have the priesthood was one thing, but distinct gender roles are very important in the Mormon worldview. If I remember correctly, single and celibate Mormons get a much higher degree of glory than practicing and unrepentant homosexuals.

  8. Beasil,

    The way I see it, the LDS church is well aware of the PR impact of many of the things that it does…I think that Proposition 8 had some greatly unanticipated backlash…and they should be aware of the demographics behind gay marriage support in the future.

    However, I think that more importantly, the church will become aware of the impacts of dissonance (I know that “cognitive dissonance” is a loaded term…but I think there will increasingly be something like that) of its position with respect to its own theology…

    I think that there is more room for change here because no matter what the ultraconservative views are, Mormonism simply doesn’t have a theology of celibacy. And no matter what the views are, Mormonism isn’t as tied to any doctrine as other churches are…what John G-W said earlier in the discussion is critical: it’s not a matter of having to look back at the tradition or at scriptures and then try to find a different interpretation of them…rather, it’s a matter of developing the new revelation for it. And I think that the doctrine as it is currently established already has enough to say about the importance of relationships and companionship (and it doesn’t really value celibacy in the same way at all) so that it’ll be easier to develop revelation that provides a different view for committed gay relationships.

    I’m not saying that such a thing will happen soon. I’m not saying that it’ll happen fast enough to be relevant (in other words, in comparison to the acceptance from secular society or liberal denominations? The church and other churches will be moving as slow as molasses) But what I am saying is that I don’t think the other anti-gay Christian denominations have the same commitments to relationships and companionship as the church does…so there is no dissonance from asking people to be celibate, because hey, that’s something that’s right out of the New Testament.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Community of Christ Drafts Statement on Sexual Ethics | Wheat and Tares
  2. Orthodox Christianity and Marriage « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  3. What the 15-million statistic of Mormon church membership really means | Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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