In light of the recent publicity surrouding the Buckley Jeppson case, I thought that some readers might be interested in this post from a couple of years ago. It goes, I think, to the question of the significance of the Canadian-sanctioned marriage of Jeppson and his partner. I am not offering this post as a theological gotcha to homosexual-rights activists. I am well-aware of the pain and difficulty caused by the current stance of the Church toward homosexuality. I would like to see a better resolution than the one that we currently have. However, it seems to me that any such alternative has to begin by taking the doctrines of the Restoration seriously.
What follows is a post on homosexuality. I am deeply sorry about this, because by and large I think that this is a very stale topic. Accordingly, I hope that any discussion that follows this post will focus on the particular questions that I pose, rather than spinning off into another SSM free for all.
Ignore politics. Ignore law. Ignore the social implications of same sex marriage. Letâ€™s ask the question of whether same sex marriage can be reconciled with LDS theology. Imagine, for example, that next conference the Prophet were to announce that the Church was dropping its opposition to same sex marriage and would begin solemnizing gay unions. What impact would this have on Mormon theology? Ignore the political and legal arguments and think about it in terms of our theology.
Affirmation, which is an un-sponsored group for gay Mormons and post-Mormons seems largely committed to the position that the Church should sanction gay unions. Their site has an essay by H. Wayne Schow that purports to provide a theological reconciliation of Mormon doctrine and gay unions. In my mind, Schowâ€™s essay completely misses the point.
Schow central purpose in the essay is to reconcile same sex unions with the scriptures. He does this in a couple of ways. First, he historicizes the scriptures, noting that we must necessarily acknowledge that they represent at least in part the norms and ideas of an ancient society and that hence we cannot take them literally. Writing in the same vein he argues that the scriptures themselves are contradictory on the issue of sexuality, contrasting Paulâ€™s pro-celibacy stance with the Genesis story. His second line of argument is to reduce the issue to one of ethics, claim that ethics are a matter of social consequences, and then argue that same sex unions are unlikely to have negative social consequences. Third, he makes the Christian move of exalting the â€œweightier matters of the lawâ€? — love and service — over the outward performances. One may affirm same sex unions without denigrating love and service, ergo same sex marriage is consistent with Christianity. Finally, he notes the Mormons believe in continuing revelation, which ought to allow them to accommodate changes in practice.
All of this is fine, as far as it goes. I do not have a problem with historicizing the scriptures at some level. I am not persuaded that same sex unions will cause the breakdown of society. I am in favor of the â€œweightier matters of the law.â€? My problem is that Schow has simply shown that same sex marriage is compatible with some version of liberal Christianity. He has not really — aside from the bromides about continuing revelation — interacted with Mormon theology.
It seems to me that any Mormon discussion of same-sex unions should quit mucking around with Sodom and Gomorrah, the Mosiac law, or the New Testament. The real issue is what does one do with sections 131 and 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. These are the sections that link the concept of exaltation with the concept of marriage. Here we learn that in order to reach the highest order of the celestial kingdom, a man or woman must be married, for without marriage there can be no â€œincrease.â€? It is here that we learn that marriage is the pathway to exaltation and glory,â€?which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of their seeds forever and ever.â€? (132:19) I take these passages to link marriage with exaltation and exaltation with divine fecundity. Furthermore, the fecundity seems to be explicitly tied to the fecundity of heterosexual union. These are the doctrines that Schow and others interested in offering a reconciliation of between Mormon doctrine and same sex unions must address. Otherwise, it seems that we are left with little more than liberal Protestantism with a thin veneer of Mormonism. Schow has arguments showing how an Episcopalians could support same sex unions. He has yet to really engage Mormonism.
Of course, there is one obvious response to the claim that I am making, but it is less compelling than it seems. That response is to point out that the passages that I quote from were originally given in the context of polygamy. The new and everlasting covenant of marriage meant plural marriage. Mormonism has abandoned plural marriage without necessarily rejecting the ideas of celestial marriage and exaltation, why couldnâ€™t it do the same thing with same sex unions? To put the argument in its strongest form, let us concede that plural marriage really has been renounced; it is not some hovering requirement held in abeyance to be reimposed in the hereafter. (As it happens this is also what I personally believe.) In my mind the problem for Mormon advocates of same-sex unions remains. The reason I donâ€™t think that the abandonment of plural marriage eases the row that theological advocates must hoe is that one can jettison the sexually asymmetric hyper-fecundity of plural marriage without necessarily jettisoning the idea of exaltation as (at least in necessary part) sexual fecundity.
Return to my hypothetical Prophetic announcement. What would be the theological significance of the unions thus solemnized? It seems to me that by virtue of the hermeneutic offered Schow we could sanction such unions as chaste. We could perhaps even sanction them as eternal — perhaps same sex couples would become ministering angels. The real question, however is whether they could be sanctioned as exalting. Until the would-be Mormon partisans of same sex unions can provide an answer to that question, it seems to me that their argument is tantamount to claim that Mormons must reject the uniqueness of their soteriology in order to accommodate same sex unions. Stripped of that soteriology, however, we might as well become Episcopalians.