Figuring Out What God Thinks

Aaron Brown has an interesting post (re-cycled from the ldslaw list) on whether or not we can draw inferences about God’s political priorities from institutional church involvement. Although Aaron is (needlessly in my opinion) coy in his post, the bottom line is that he thinks that the disjunction between Church political priorities and what was really important has been so wide that we shouldn’t draw inferences about God’s preferences from Church statements. (See Aaron’s comments here)

It strikes me that the this “problem” comes up when there is a disjunction between what people believe to be correct and what they would infer to be correct based on some interpretation of God speaking with the prophet. (Notice, I intentionally left the particular method vague.)

Of course, one move — and I think it is the one that people most often make — is to divy up what is inspired from what is not inspired based on their pre-existing views of what is or is not a good idea. For example, “liberal Mormons” (whatever that means) just know that God isn’t REALLY against gay marriage and that the Church’s stance is just the result of a bunch of personal biases on the part of GAs because they don’t think that gay marriage is REALLY wrong. Conservatives might say that the statements on the MX missile weren’t REALLY inspired but were just President Kimball’s “personal” belief because they just knew that the MX was a good idea. This approach, however, reduces the role of the prophecy and institutional revelation to that of simply confirming and strengthening pre-existing biases. Surely, that isn’t what it is supposed to be about.

There are a couple of possible responses to this quandry.

First, you could simply discount ALL political positions taken by the Church. The problem with this approach is two fold. On one hand, you will have a difficult time figuring out what counts as a “political” position and what doesn’t count as a “political” position. Drawing this line, of course, will be infected with the problem of circularity I outline above. The other problem is that it seems odd to say that God would be completely uninterested about ALL political issues, or at least so uninterested as to not tell the prophet anything about it.

Second, you could simply write off the idea of prophecy and institutional authority all together. One could still have some sort of nostalgic or poetic connection to Mormonism, in this case, but you would have to give up on what seem like pretty core doctrines and beliefs. Aside from being spiritually sad, it seems to eliminate all of the interesting questions.

Third, you could come up with some criteria for assigning authority to various statements that is independent of your pre-existing beliefs. The advantage of this approach is that it continues to let prophets fufill the prophetic role of challenging our pre-existing beliefs and calling us to repentence from a position of authority.

The problem, of course, is that formulating the third option is very, very difficult, which is why most of these discussions simply fall into the vacuous, circular pattern.

61 comments for “Figuring Out What God Thinks

  1. ed
    March 25, 2004 at 5:33 pm

    I think there are some really basic issues about the idea of “prophecy and institutional authority.” Most posters on this board would probably agree that the bretheren, in leading the church, sometimes do things based on their own judgement, and not on prophecy or revelation from God.

    But how do we know that ANYTHING they do comes from revelation? I can’t recall the church leaders themselves ever identifying any particular policy as coming from direct prophecy or revelation, with the exception of the 1978 change on blacks getting the priesthood. (Are there other examples?) Many mormons seem to believe that EVERY policy comes from revelation, and the bretheren seem happy to let them go on believing that. But they rarely if ever claim it themselves.

    I think President Hinckley’s general conference address on loyalty is relevant. He says (paraphrasing) that we should follow church leaders out of loyalty and out of faith that they are trying to follow the guidance of the spirit and that they wouldn’t do anything to try to hurt us. In other words, pretty much the same reason we should follow our bishop or our elder’s quorum president. He has also said in media interviews that we don’t really need any new revelations.

  2. Aaron Brown
    March 25, 2004 at 5:39 pm


    As usual, your analysis is right on target. I’ll have more to say later…

    Aaron B

  3. March 25, 2004 at 5:43 pm

    I think that sometimes God’s hand can be seen only in hindsight with a larger scope of history. However even there things can be complex. Look at the blacks and the priesthood issue which parallels a lot of this. Even those very uncomfortable with the doctrine often consider it inspired.

    BTW – wasn’t the MX missile Benson and not Kimball?

  4. Kristine
    March 25, 2004 at 5:46 pm

    But Nate, doesn’t at least some of the circularity derive from the fact that we also believe in personal revelation? If members are entitled, as we’re frequently told, to personal confirmation of the prophet’s words and actions, isn’t there some inherent appeal, if not to the preconceptions of the member, at least to his moral and spiritual intuition?

  5. March 25, 2004 at 5:51 pm

    Kristine: I think that you are right, although there may be some circularity in how we identify personal revelation. Actually the anarchic possibilities of personal revelation (and how Mormonisms deals with them) are really fun.

    Another post. For now it is back to my statutory rape trial. (Which is why I am posting so much today.)

  6. March 25, 2004 at 5:53 pm

    I should clarify that the it is “my” trial in the sense that I am working on it. I am not the defendant…. ;->

  7. March 25, 2004 at 6:44 pm


    None of your alternatives are particularly appealing. I just don’t think there is a defensible way to invoke God or revelation in public discourse on public policy issues. I wrote at length earlier and linked to Aaron’s post.

    My impression is this will become more of an issue in the near future as politics, social issues, and religion become increasingly blurred together. It could be ERA II (in terms of LDS leaders “encouraging” members in fairly specific terms to do their civic duty).

  8. March 25, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    Dave: What about private discourse? What about private reflection? Are you arguing not only for rhetorical but also personal abstention from religious reasoning?

  9. Gary Cooper
    March 25, 2004 at 7:00 pm


    Great, great post. This is probably THE most difficult subject, ultimately, for members of the church who really try to think deeply about the “why’s and wherefore’s” of the Gospel, as opposed to those who simply blindly follow. I especially appreciate the very objective, and non-judgemental way in which you’ve analyzed this.

    I had not been a member of the church very long when President Hinckley came out with the statement on the MX missle basing plan. I actually welcomed the statement, even though I was at the time and still am quite a “right-winger”, because I actually thought Reagan’s MX plan was a bad idea from a practical viewpoint. It wsas only after I actually read the statement that I realized the prophet was actually making a pretty profound statement about America’s “trusting in the arm of flesh” instead of God, and the need to repent. At first this troubled me, but that was the catalyst I needed personally to really think through my own views as to WHY I supported certain policies on national defense. What I supported didn’t change, but I came away with a wiser understanding of what really needed to be done to “save” my country.

    I’ll another anecdote, then come to my own conclusion on this matter. Years ago, Marion G. Romney gave a really profound talk (I can’t remember the name of it, and I’m pretty sure it was Romney, though it might have been N. Eldon Tanner) in which he related a very personal story in which he found himself at odds with the public statement of a prophet. At the time, he was a member of the Canadian parliament, and was working very anxiously and publicly to create a Canadian style social security system, patterned after FDR’s. Right at that time, President Heber J. Grant came out publicly AGAINST the new Social Security system in the U.S. (Interestingly, this infuriated many members of the church, but everything President Grant warned about on this subject has come true.) President Romney in the talk stated that as soon as he heard what President Grant said, “I knew what I had to do.” He then spent all night praying, and commenced a fast. He stated that he wasn’t asking God if what President Grant had said was true, because he already had a testimony that President Grant was a prophet. Rather, he spent all night asking God to show him how he, Marion G. Romney, had been wrong, and to show him what he must know in order to adequately and publicly reverse his previous public position and defend the position of the prophet. Of course this public reversal cost him politically, and it wasn’t long after that when he was called as an apostle.

    To me, I have always found this story inspiring. I also find it frightening. I have touched on this in threads I have written in other posts here at T&S, but I have moved away from the position I used to believe, that whatever comes from the mouth of the prophet is revelation, and hence always right, and towards a much more uncomfortable position. That is, that there are occasions when God not only permits his prophets to speak entirely on their own on occasion, but that God actually allows prophets to some times say things, on their own, that are actually INCORRECT, but He still requires us to obey that word–simply to test our faith.

    Lest I be thought a heretic, I believe I am on fairly strong ground on this, with even Bruce R. McConkie once stating a similar position (he quoted the scripture from the New Testament, “there must needs be heresies amongst you, that they which are approved of God might be made manifest,” in this context.) I would go even further, and suggest that it is even possible that God might state things, through His prophets, which would be for us, the general membership of the church, every bit as much of a trial as was God’s commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Take a look at these examples, and ask yourselves if these things “made sense” from our limited understandings of the Gospel:

    1. God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (that is, to kill the son of the covenant, whose death would make numerous promises from God fail to come pass, by stabbing him with knife, cutting his throat and draining his blood, then dismembering him and cooking him on the altar, which is what ws done with sacrifices);

    2. God commands Moses to raise up a brazen serpent for the Israelites to look upon and be healed (which would have been an act of idolatry and magic, and the serpent was the very symbol and name of Satan);

    3. Christ tells a crowd of thousands that, to be saved, they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, and sasy this without explaining what He means;

    4. Polygamy;

    5. the whole “Adam-God” mess;

    6. the denial of priesthood to Blacks;

    Get the picture? I believe that when God says he demands the sacrifice of all things, He means just that, and for many of us, the greatest sacrifice may be Reason itself: will we follow God, by following His prophet, even when it makes no sense? Even when the prophet’s words contradict our own understanding of facts, even of our very understanding of moral right and wrong? For me, I’ve just decided that God may have His prophets say things and do things that I really don’t like or agree with in the future, and that no matter what, I will follow the prophet, because as Peter said, “Lord, where else shall we go? For thou has the words of Eternal Life.”

  10. March 25, 2004 at 7:04 pm

    Just a quick side note somewhat relevant. The private vs. public dichotomy breaks down quite regularly. There are lots of terms that have multiple meanings or are loaded terms conveying a lot more than their literal sense.

    In the 19th century Brigham Young was a master of this using a lot of temple or masonic language for those familiar. Nibley does the same thing.

    In political speech this happens a lot with some innocuous terms carrying more meaning with some groups.

    I think there are many ways Mormons can have public discourse that will have a significant stronger weight for other Mormons than for regular people. Not all Mormons do this in their political speech. But I think it is quite possible.

  11. Wendy
    March 25, 2004 at 7:42 pm

    Gary: Requiring obedience in nonsense? That is no God to be proud to worship. If you think polygamy was Joseph and/or Brigham’s personal whim but God decided to require obedience to it anyway in order to test people’s faith, then he is a creep, given the misery polygamy caused and continues to cause people. Imagine that, in response to the prophet’s command, your wife married another guy and slept with him every other night for the next 20 years, then God stepped in and said “by the way, that prophet wasn’t speaking for me — not sure where that whole idea came from, quite frankly — but since he’s the prophet, I wanted you to obey him anyway, to test your faith in me, and good job — you passed!” Those are some major headgames! It would be as though, rather than stopping Abraham when God did, God let Abraham hack Isaac up a little first. Sure, he passed the test of loyalty, but some major damage has been done, and he’s got to wonder a little if his loyalty was perhaps misplaced.

    Also, many people apparently prayed to receive a personal confirmation of the doctrine of polygamy before going ahead with it. Will God give someone a good feeling about an “INCORRECT” doctrine?

  12. Gary Cooper
    March 25, 2004 at 8:00 pm


    The points you make are exactly the very points I have asked myself. I have, for example, tried to think about what must have gone through Abraham’s mind on the trip with Isaac to Mount Moriah. Did he wrestle with God in prayer? Was he angry? What went through the minds of the men asked to give their wives to be sealed to Joseph Smith? I think you may have missed my point a little, in that I was going further in stating that the examples I gave may have NOT been a case of God permitting prophets to “make mistakes”, but that it is possible God actually commands things, through His prophets, that He knows won’t make sense to us, and that He may have no intention of explaining them (at least in mortality). I suspect that God ultimately does not want us to follow Him because we agree with Him, or because the Gospel “just makes sense”, but rather we must follow Him, at times, SIMPLY BECAUSE HE IS GOD.

    I don’t like the seeming implications of this, and it may be that there are things here we aren’t seeing which would make it all “make sense”, but must we obey ONLY when it “makes sense”? The issues you bring up with polygamy could just as easily be asked by Abraham when God told him to sacrifice Isaac–did it make sense? Was it “right”? Was it “consistent”? Abraham’s own father had offered him for sacrifice–how dare God tell him now to do the same thing with Isaac? How could the prophecies be fulfilled? Wasn’t human sacrifice wrong?

    My point is that I don’t have the answers–I just know that the God of Mormonism is the only true God, and I’ll never have the things I truly want in eternity (my wife, my children, etc.) without Him, so I, like Peter and the Apostles after Christ’s “eat my flesh” discourse, have no choice but to follow Him, no matter what. Now, granted, it isn’t very often that the choice is this stark, but I have to prepare myself for the day that it will be, because the Scriptures and Church History give examples of members the God forced to make these kinds of choices. I admit, it isn’t easy dealing with these thoughts, but not dealing with them at all doesn’t seem wise.

  13. Adam Greenwood
    March 25, 2004 at 9:04 pm

    I’m inclined to agree with Gary Cooper. Obedience is a virtue all its own. It has its own characteristic feel and goodness to those who practice it. The essence of that virtue is to submit one’s own will to another, quintessentially to God, without any reason other than that it is commanded. I fear that God will give us the opportunity, if we persist long enough in obedience, to perfect the virtue, just as he does with the others.

  14. March 25, 2004 at 9:15 pm


    Sure I think personal reflection or religious conviction can influence one’s private thinking, but you need a more public, accessible, shared rationale in public discourse.

    A non-controversial example: One might oppose MX missle sites in Utah because the necessary infrastructure poses a threat to fragile desert ecosystems (a “public reason”). Or one might oppose MX missle sites in Utah because inspired LDS leaders counseled members that putting the MX system in Utah is a bad idea (a “private reason”).

    Now if this person is given the opportunity to write an editorial in a local newspaper about the MX missle plan, I submit that regardless of which reason is motivating their position, they should articulate public reasons for opposing the MX missle plan. That’s not being disingenuous or dishonest, that’s simply offering objective, accessible reasons to support one’s views. The kind that other people can accept as a basis for supporting your view, or can object to on objective grounds rather than on personal ones.

    Charitably, one can assume that if there were no public reasons to support an idea, it’s quite likely a person would strongly question their own private reasoning. So the two are linked in a general way. Public reasoning is the style of discourse appropriate for public discussion.

    Nor do I think that banishes moral discourse. One can say in the public reasoning vein, “We humans have a moral responsibility to avoid harming animals whenever possible.” But I would not be inclined to offer “God granted dominion over the animals to Adam, therefore we his descendants should honor that charge by avoiding harm to animals whenever possible.” I guess the difference is the first formulation invites anyone who has that general orientation to support the statement, whereas the second seems to make acceptance of Genesis and a specific interpretation of God’s grant of dominion a prerequisite to support the position. It invites a dispute about God or Adam or dominion rather than advancing the discussion of harming animals or not.

    I’m using those terms private and public reason generally, even loosely. No doubt there are theorists who use those or similar terms more carefully.

  15. March 25, 2004 at 9:39 pm

    I’m with Wendy. I have a hard time believing that God would ever hold me accountable for not heeding a principle I knew to be incorrect even if my leader (local or otherwise) spouted it as if it were revelation. This is almost a moot point most of the time, given that our leaders are so cautious in pronouncing revelations, but occasionally, especially in newly developing wards or branches, a leader will exercise unrighteous dominion. I would never follow a leader I felt was trying to sway members to do wrong. Saying that we would – just to be cosmetically obedient – seems ludicrous. A better word might be cultish.

  16. March 25, 2004 at 9:50 pm

    In response to Wendy’s comment:

    I think you’re right to point out that blind obedience can sometimes be a crazy thing. I agree with those that pointed out when Jesus first came on the scene, he asked his apostles to do some pretty crazy things — how are we to evaluate their actions?

    I can’t justify all of church history, including polygamy. I’m not sure anyone really can, at least to a level that would satisfy you or any serious skeptic. I do take some level of comfort, though, that the people obeying that law at the time wrestled with these same questions, on a deeper and more important level than you or I, and yet they still obeyed. Were they crazy to do so? How were they able to believe in a principle, and suffer for it, when we can’t get our minds around it with a hundred years’ worth of isolation?

    In a sense, we are litigating a situation that is now moot, and in which we have no standing. That’s not much comfort, but if you wanted comfort you’d be posting at the _other_ board.

  17. Gary Lee
    March 25, 2004 at 9:54 pm

    I am new here, and enjoy reading all of your comments. This topic is of particular interest to me.

    References have been made to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. However, I don’t think that this analogy gets us very far. Abraham received a commandment from God. I don’t know how God communicated this commandment to Abraham, but apparently it came directly from God. It did not come through a fallible intermediary. And it was perfectly obvious to Abraham that this is what God wanted him to do. If Pres. Hinckley told me to sacrifice my son in like manner, there would be considerable doubt in my mind as to whether this was indeed what God wanted. (Actually, there would be no doubt at all–I would conclude that he was off his rocker.) I don’t believe that God would want me to kill my son merely to prove my faith, all the while being convinced that the counsel I had received to do so did not represent God’s will. He wants me to prove my faith by doing his will, or what I truly believe to be his will, and not by obeying counsel which I believe is mistaken and even morally objectionable. Surey it is obedience to correct principles, and not obedience per se, that is the test of our faith.

    Of course, I have used an extreme example, and the way in which we deal with many political issues is often much less clear. If we take seriously the Church’s teaching that prophets and apostles are not infallible, then we are forced to confront a whole host of difficult issues. Perhaps that is what was intended.

    Incidentally, it was probably Pres. Tanner, and not Pres. Romney, who gave the talk referred to by Gary. Pres. Tanner was Canadian, and was at one time a member of the Alberta legislature.

  18. Adam Greenwood
    March 25, 2004 at 10:02 pm

    All you have come up with is a prudential argument: if I want to convince people who don’t share my religious beliefs, fine, sure, I’m going to have to find some common ground and work from there if i want to succeed. There’s no reason why I can’t argue directly from my religious belief, it just means its less likely to succeed.

    Given that its merely prudential, my private religious beliefs could and should still affect my political beliefs. If God dislikes the MX missile, of course I’m against it too, even if it seems like a dandy idea to me otherwise. Naturally the fact that I’ve arrived at a conclusion for religious reasons might incline me to credit the public arguments more than I might otherwise.

  19. March 25, 2004 at 10:02 pm

    There are a couple of points that could be made about revelation and prophets that haven’t necessarily been addressed. First, who do we believe the prophet is? What is his role? What has always been the role of a prophet? Dave, can you effectively argue that Noah should have stayed out of the public debate about appropriate behavior? Since Adam (first man, not Mr. Greenwood), God has called prophets to speak to the world. They can speak to any subject and in any context in which God commands. To suggest that the prophet ought to stay out of public policy discussions is to suggest that God ought not to speak in certain arenas, that His sphere of interest and influence should be limited. This view fails to consider who God is—the Father of every human being on the planet. His spokesman can and should (you will note President Hinckley has spoken a lot recently about his concern that he isn’t doing as much as needs to be done to further the Lord’s work) do all in his power to put the world in a better place for the spreading of the gospel message.

    All of which leads me to the whole concept of revelation. What is revelation? It is God’s making known to us TRUTH. The Holy Ghost reveals truth–things as they were, are and will be. Thus, if the Prophet speaks revealed truth, the only personal revelation we will be entitled to is the knowledge that what the Prophet has said is true. Often we also have that same truth itself revealed to us, if our hearts are right. God will not (cannot) reveal two competing truths. Indeed only one will be the truth, the other will be error. Thus, one who claims revelation which runs counter the Prophet’s message is either in error or the prophet is. Those who want to claim greater light and knowledge than the Prophet are welcome to do so, but they must be aware of the implications of such a belief.

    Furthermore, when a message comes from the Prophet we can generally check it against prior scriptural pronouncements and the words of prior prophets. Going back to the same-sex marriage issue, is there any doubt what the doctrinal principle regarding marriage is? Has the church ever waivered on its views of sexual morality or marriage? Even polygamy involved the union of man and woman. The church has spoken against the public decline of societal sexual mores for years. Thus, can anyone truly be surprised that the Church would come out against same sex marriage, which strikes at the heart of God’s plan. Such a position is wholly consistent with the Lord’s prior statements and positions and is consistent with gospel doctrine. Besides, on this matter we don’t have just the prophet acting alone. The entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are united on this matter, which they have prayed about and feel is inspired of the Lord. I just don’t understand how anyone can claim any allegiance to the Church while rejecting those who lead it. So many scriptures make clear that the Lord will do nothing save he reveals it to His prophets. Whether from the mouth of the Lord or His servants, it is the same. That is a principle of the gospel. We can’t just pick and choose those things we like and those we don’t. It doesn’t work that way. Either God is GOD, and this is His church, and President Hinckley is His prophet or they are not.

  20. Adam Greenwood
    March 25, 2004 at 10:10 pm

    What’s left of obedience in your definition of it? You call obedience just to obey ‘cosmetic obedience’ but I think the real cosmetic obedience is using obedience as a label we sometimes give to doing the right thing, and nothing more. Christ did not say, ‘Nonetheless, if the exigencies of salvation require my sacrifice, I will do it to make the plan work,’ he said, ‘Not my will, but Thine, be done.’

    ‘A man must stand by his master, once he has sworn his word.’ That duty to a master can include obedience to his subordinates.

    If we could fully rely on our own judgment there would be no dilemma. We could safely ignore the prophets when they spoke on political questions if they said something we disapproved of. Unfortunately, knowing their fallibility, we know ours more.

  21. March 25, 2004 at 10:16 pm


    It’s obviously a black-and-white issue for you, and you have a great deal of certainty in your comments, as you did in the discussions regarding women’s roles. But again, I’d just point out that perhaps you wouldn’t be so completely assured were the church considering getting involved in politics you didn’t agree with.

    Say, for example, that a couple of church leaders came out and gave speeches at a press club function or something, in favor of a comprehensive socialized medicine system (I don’t know how you feel about that issue, but let’s say, arguendo, you’re against). Would you be so gung-ho? Or would you do a little head-scratching, pondering and praying?

    It may be that the confidence you’re exuding would apply come hell or high water. I’m just suggesting that for some, it’s not as easy; not because of a lack of faith, but from a genuine desire to increase their faith.

  22. March 25, 2004 at 10:32 pm

    Steve, I don’t hide my conservative views, so you correctly identified an issue that would likely cause me to need to exert greater faith than on other issues. But I have to say that many of my views have been and are formulated by gospel doctrine, including the teachings of modern prophets. I pointed out above (or maybe at the other site) that I find the Church’s stance on SSM consistent with doctrinal pronouncements from other prophets and the scriptures. Thus, I believe that my position on SSM and on many other issues is consistent with gospel truth, not the other way around. I do believe, however, that we are led by prophets and apostles who can and will reveal things that run counter to our personal belief systems. It then behooves us to pray to confirm the truth.

  23. Heretic
    March 25, 2004 at 11:25 pm

    If we talk about strict obedience to God simply because God wields so much power over our existence, can we then begin to discuss what is the proper response to tyranny? At what command does rebellion against God become admirable? Should we continue to applaud Abraham’s obedience to the command to take a knife to Isaac or view it as a great human failure? Are we here to gain experience and enhance our eternal progression or are we here to prove our talent at cowering before eternally insurmountable superior force? As we continue our own progression, at what point will God reward our obedience to the precepts of righteousness over our obedience to His commands which seem at odds with those precepts? Of course since God gets to define righteousness, we never find ourselves in that position. Not until we are told to kill all the Canaanites or to give Joseph our pretty wife. What do we do then? At what point would we prefer to be a pillar of salt?

  24. March 25, 2004 at 11:37 pm

    Adam – My point was that we should receive personal confirmation that the directives we are following are truly from the Lord. Now, I honestly don’t think that we need to pray about every little thing. We should, as someone else mentioned, recognize that if we have a testimony of the gospel that our leaders are inspired to guide us as the Lord would if He were in their place. But occasionally a leader (usually at a local level) is completely misguided and exercises unrighteous dominion. (Although rare it does happen; a leader gets up at the pulpit and advocates that members of the ward vote a certain way on a local proposition. Such political expressions in Church are completely inappropriate in my opinion and an example of unrighteous dominion.) In those rare cases, we should seek the Lord’s guidance. Further, we should make sure that our obedience is not blind but educated (in the spiritual and worldly sense). We should try to understand the principles behind our devotion. Doing this will strengthen our testimonies and preserve our integrity.

  25. Gary Cooper
    March 26, 2004 at 2:31 am

    Just now had a chance to get back on line, and I see all the new comments. All very enlightening, and this discussion has, for me, been very helpful.

    Brayden, you make a good point, in agreeing with Wendy, but I should probably clarify that I was really referring to obedience to God by following the President of the Church specifically. Perhaps I am wrong for making this distinction, but I tend to be a little more likely to question what comes from a bishop or or even an apostle, than I am to question President Hinckley. Even so, I can say that I do believe even Pres. Hinckley has the right to offer an opinion.

    Perhaps a recent example might help clarify what I am saying. A recent post here at T&S mentioned Elder Russell Nelson’s article on God’s love being “conditional”. When I first that article, my first thought was, “I simply cannot agree with him, the way he has phrased this.” My second thought was, “Boy, the anti-Mormons will have a field day with this!”. Later, upon reflection, I could see that much of the problem in his talk is the limitation on human language, especially English, to convey spiritual concepts. I could see what he was getting at, and I would have phrased it diferently, but the big problem is that he was really talking about two differnt kinds of love, but English only has one word for any kind of love.

    Was I out of line? I don’t think so, and my understanding of what constitutes “doctrine” in the Church informs me that I had every right to feel the way I did. But would I have been in the right if I proceeded to openly attack Elder Nelson for what he said, and to imply that he was lacking in intelligence and that he shouldn’t be an apostle? No.

    Second example: Recently, the Ensign did an interview with President Hinckley. Now, one thing I’ve noticed about our current prophet, is that unlike every Church president since David O. McKay (who made it a personal policy to avoid any giving anything that was his mere opinion in public), Pres. Hinckley is not bashful about staing his own mind, even if it is just opinion. In the Ensign interview, he stated that he never spanked his children, and didn’t beleive in it. Now, I had no doubt that he was simply repsonding to the question with an opinion, and I never felt that his statement meant I have been wrong to spank my own children. But, if Pres. Hinckley got up in general conference and said, “Brothers and sisters, don’t spank your children,” then I would never spank my children again until directed otherwise. Is that blind obedience? No, its just a recognition that there are certain forums and ways in which the prophet communicates to us that we can always, at least in the present day, count on him to only speak doctrine.

    Now let’s put this back into the real context of what this post started off with. If the President of the Church makes an official statement, calling for the saints to engage in a particular form of action (or abstain from that action), I think there can be no question that our obligation as baptized members goes beyond simply abstaining from public criticism if we disagree, and even beyond meekly obeying just because we’re supposed to. I think we are obligated to do what president Tanner did in my earlier example (thanks Gary Lee for correcting me on my identification)–that is, if it the statement from the prophet contradicts our own views, then we must go to the Lord and ask Him to clarify this for us SO WE CAN DEFEND THE WORD OF THE PROPHET TO OTHERS, and do so in terms that others outside the church can understand.

    Adam and others have correctly pointed out that when the Prophet speaks on an issue of public policy (and I believe we’d better get used to the idea of God speaking more and more through His prophet on such things), then we have an obligation, especially those of us who are educated and articulate and able to reason and speak to the world in its own language, to defend that statement, using more reasons than simply, “My prophet told me too.” If truth encompasses all areas of life, then there must be logical reasons for a prophet’s public pronouncement, and those reasons ought to be accessible and ought to be conveyable to others.

    Yet, even so, individually we must obey God, by obeying His prophet, even if the understanding of “why” has not come yet.

    I hope this clarifies the points I made earlier.

  26. Grasshopper
    March 26, 2004 at 8:06 am

    I may have posted this quote before, but it’s worth posting again. George Q. Cannon expresses a view that I strongly agree with (emphasis in ALL CAPS mine):

    It is the design of the Lord to develop within every man and woman the principle of knowledge, that all may know for themselves. HE HAS POURED OUT HIS HOLY SPIRIT UPON ALL OF US, AND NOT UPON PRESIDENT YOUNG [OR HINCKLEY] NOR UPON BRO. JOSEPH ALONE. The Lord designs that the principle of knowledge shall be developed in every heart, that all may stand before Him in the dignity of their manhood, doing understandingly what He requires of them, NOT DEPENDING UPON NOR BEING BLINDLY LED BY THEIR PRIESTS OR LEADERS, as is the universal custom and one of the most fruitful sources of evil to the people on the face of the earth. God intends to break down this order of things, and to develop in the bosom of every human being who will be obedient to the gospel and the principles of truth and righteousness, that knowledge which will enable them to perform understandingly all the labors and duties he requires of them.

    If we, in our experience, have not yet proved the truth of the words of the prophet – “Cursed is he that trusteth in man, or maketh flesh his arm” – probably we will do if we live long enough. There is a curse attending every man and woman who does this. If we will watch the operations of the gospel of Jesus Christ among us, we will see that it has a tendency to develop knowledge in the bosoms of all, and it is the design of Providence that it should be so. We must all learn to depend upon God and upon Him alone. WHY, THE VERY MAN UPON WHOM WE THINK WE CAN RELY WITH UNBOUNDED CONFIDENCE, AND TRUST WITH ALL WE POSSESS, may disappoint us sometimes, but trust in God and He never fails. We can go before Him at all times, and upon all occasions, and pour out our souls and desires before Him, and we feel that we lean upon a rock that will not fail, and upon a friend that will not desert us in the day of trial. He is omnipotent, and in Him only can we trust under all circumstances, therefore we perceive why the prophet has said – “Cursed is he that trusteth in man, or maketh flesh his arm.”

    God, our Heavenly Father, designs that all who will observe truth and righteousness should possess wisdom and understanding for themselves, and He is bringing us through circumstances that will develop within us that portion of the Godhead or Deity which we have received from Him, that we may become worthy of our high and glorious parentage. This being His design respecting us, we should seek by every means in our power to aid Him in carrying it out, until the whole people are enlightened by His Spirit, and act understandingly and in concert in carrying out His designs. In other systems the design is to keep the people down in ignorance and darkness respecting the principles that are taught them, to keep the knowledge in the hands of a select few, upon whom the people are forced to depend, but this is not the genius of the Kingdom of God. The spirit of the church of God is that manifested by Moses when, in answer to Joshua, who wished him to reprove some who were prophesying, he said – “No; but I would to God that all were prophets.” That is the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    The genius of the kingdom with which we are associated is to disseminate knowledge through all the ranks of the people, and TO MAKE EVERY MANY A PROPHET AND EVERY WOMAN A PROPHETESS, that they may understand the plans and purposes of God. For this purpose the gospel has been sent to us, and the humblest may obtain its spirit and testimony, and the weakest of the weak may obtain a knowledge respecting the purposes of God. This is the difference between the church and kingdom of God and the creeds and institutions of men. The idea that prevails in the world concerning us is that we are hoodwinked and led blindly by our leaders; but the contrary to this is the case, for it is the wish of every man who comprehends this work that the people should all understand it. The bishops and teachers, if they have the right spirit, wish their wards to understand the principles of the gospel and the requirements of heaven as they understand them, and so it is through all grades of the priesthood and through all the ramifications of the church of God. If we take this course continually we will become a great and mighty people before the Lord. If we do anything let us do it understandingly. If we hear any principle taught from the stand that we do not understand let us seek to comprehend it by the Spirit of God. If it be not of God we have the privilege of knowing it. WE ARE NOT REQUIRED TO RECEIVE FOR DOCTRINE EVERYTHING THAT WE HEAR. We may say – “I do not know whether this is true or not, I will not fight it, neither will I endorse it, but I will seek knowledge from God, for that is my privilege, and I will never rest satisfied until I have obtained the light I require.” If you hear a doctrine that does not agree with your feelings, or that you do not believe, take this course; do not reject nor endorse hastily, without knowing or understanding. By taking this course you will develop the principle that God designs we should possess, and we will thus become a wise and understanding people, for we will be based on the Rock of Revelation.

    May this be the case with you, my brethren and sisters, until you are brought back into the presence of God, to dwell at His right hand eternally, is my prayer for Christ’s sake. Amen.

    (JD 12:45-48, George Q. Cannon, April 21, 1867)

  27. March 26, 2004 at 10:01 am

    I think Gary hits the nail on the head when he says this:

    “Now let’s put this back into the real context of what this post started off with. If the President of the Church makes an official statement, calling for the saints to engage in a particular form of action (or abstain from that action), I think there can be no question that our obligation as baptized members goes beyond simply abstaining from public criticism if we disagree, and even beyond meekly obeying just because we’re supposed to. I think we are obligated to do what president Tanner did in my earlier example (thanks Gary Lee for correcting me on my identification)–that is, if it the statement from the prophet contradicts our own views, then we must go to the Lord and ask Him to clarify this for us SO WE CAN DEFEND THE WORD OF THE PROPHET TO OTHERS, and do so in terms that others outside the church can understand.”

    We do have an obligation to support and sustain the Prophet. I was talking to a friend who is presently in law school. He said that there didn’t seem to be very many good secular arguments against same-sex marriage. I told him I didn’t really understand how he could say that, and mentioned several arguments that favor preserving traditional marriage. What struck me is that he took, on faith, all of the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, including the strained reading and interpretation of state and the Federal Constitutions. It didn’t seem he had even bothered to take a critical view of the positions posited by SSM proponents.

    That is what I do not understand. If you don’t think there are good arguments to support what the prophet has told us about opposing SSM, then go find some. Search, ponder and pray. Do as President Romney did. Don’t take the philosophies of men on faith. We should view critically such philosophies, while giving the benefit of the doubt to the words of the prophet, not the other way around.

  28. Kristine
    March 26, 2004 at 10:15 am

    Brent, as has been pointed out, it was N. Eldon Tanner, not President Romney. Quit speechifying and pay attention to the discussion at hand.

  29. greenfrog
    March 26, 2004 at 10:18 am

    Yet, even so, individually we must obey God, by obeying His prophet, even if the understanding of “why” has not come yet.

    Do you think that there is an exception to this statement, one that would allow us to accept the guidance of the Spirit of God under any circumstances, even in contravention of instruction by the prophet?

  30. greenfrog
    March 26, 2004 at 10:19 am

    Yet, even so, individually we must obey God, by obeying His prophet, even if the understanding of “why” has not come yet.

    Do you think that there is an exception to this statement, one that would allow us to accept the guidance of the Spirit of God under any circumstances, even in contravention of instruction by the prophet?

  31. March 26, 2004 at 11:35 am

    Sorry, I should have stated that it was Tanner. We should do as Tanner did. My bad. Sorry to divert the discussion.

  32. March 26, 2004 at 11:38 am

    Greenfrog, how can one be so sure that the Spirit of God is telling him or her to contravene the instruction of the prophet? How many apostates have claimed just that? What rules, if any, do we have to rely upon to test our own beliefs or supposed “personal revelation” that my run counter to such instruction? At what point does someone become a law unto themselves?

  33. March 26, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    Brent: If you do that again, I think that Kristine may send you to time out… ;->

  34. March 26, 2004 at 1:50 pm


    I don’t think saying “that’s merely a prudential argument” really does justice to the goal of public discourse, which is intended to create social enlightenment, further mutual communication, and settle thorny policy questions through discussion (sometimes heated) rather than conflict (sometimes violent). So arguing for your right to boldly assert private revelation (either to your or your ecclesiastical leaders) as public justification for the views you advocate is largely inconsistent with the whole model of public discourse in democratic society because pushing private reasoning publicly creates division. You are thinking like a theocrat, not a democrat.

    Furthermore, there’s a sort of reverse prudential posture that reliance on public reasoning is designed to foreclose. The reverse argument is that some people hold out private revelation as justification for a view that is, in fact, based on public reasoning or even self-interest. Such improper assertion of private revelation can be merely misguided (sincere but incorrect) or possibly fraudulent (the one making the claim either ought to know better or is simply misleading listeners or allowing them to maintain a false notion about the basis of the speaker’s views). This happens all the time in the Church. It’s a problem you need to address before you can dismiss my advocacy of reliance on public reasoning as “merely prudential.” Prudence trumps naivete.

    I think most of the God talk in public discourse is either misguided or fraudulent, which is why I prefer it be avoided. Before you give a knee-jerk objection to that statement, go listen to Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson for an hour or two.

  35. lyle
    March 26, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    as several have noted, the marriage amendment issue is rapidly shaping up into ERA II, i.e. where the LDS Church asks all of its members to support the amendment. In New Jersey, members have recently been asked to get involved to fight that state’s recognition of gay marriage/civil unions. I guess we are all hoping that Conference will solve this? Regardless…Nate/All…please publish a detailed lawyer-like book on your option #3.

  36. Gary Cooper
    March 26, 2004 at 2:40 pm


    Thanks for that great, great quote from George Q. Cannon. That sums up exactly what I have always felt was the proper course of action to take when the prophet says something we don’t understand or agree with. Just one thing I would add: Often, the revelation we need from God to help us understand a doctrine or statement or policy does not come until AFTER we have stepped forward to obey it. The classic example is the way, as missionaries, we teach the Word of Wisdom to investigators that smoke or drink, etc.; we tell them to live the commandment and they will see the truthfulness of it. So, let’s say that the prophet tells us to oppose homosexual marriage, and to support political/legal efforts to enshrine marriage as strictly between a man and a woman, and let’s say we don’t understand this or even disagree with it. We take the “N. Eldon Tanner course of action” and pray about it, promising the Lord that we will sustain the prophet, but asking for guidance and counsel so that we can understand the “why” behind this. In this prayer we lay out for Lord all of our reasons for questioning the policy. What results would we expect?

    1) The “Spirit” tells us the prophet is wrong, and we must lead the Church back to the Light (okay, wrong spirit!)

    2) The Spirit doesn’t explain anything, but He gives us the calm assurance that it is right to follow the Prophet’s statement

    3. We get absolutely nothing, no “yea” and no “nay”, but no stupor of thought either.

    Now, to me, it seems obvious that whether we get 2 or 3, or course of action would still be the same–we should do what the prophet has asked us to do, and continue praying for light and knowledge with the hope that this understanding would come.

    In this respect, I see nothing wrong with a person who has trouble with the prophet’s statement going to a site like T&S, where they can speak freely, and bringing forth their strong reasons why they are troubled, because I could see how reasoning with other members could help gain understanding. Likewise, I could understand if such a person maybe even refrained from speaking openly in favor of the prophet’s statement (even President Tanner took time to fast and pray) and openly acting until they got some kind of confirmation. Certainly that would be preferable than a member openly working AGAINST the church’s policy, actively doing the opposite of what the prophet has said. (Anybody seen any “Heavenly Mother Supports E.R.A.” banners on E-bay lately?)

    In any case, I believe all of us have the perfect right to go to God and ask “why?”, but I don’t think we should be passive while we wait for an answer. In this respect, I appreciate the comments some have made here at T&S discussing why they can’t understand the church’s stand on homosexual marriage (for example), because to me, these folks are actively seeking to understand. It would only get out of hand, I think, if folks started casting aspersions on the character of church leaders, or implying the Church is in a state of apostasy, etc.

  37. Kristine
    March 26, 2004 at 2:52 pm

    Gary, I don’t think your #3 works. “Absolutely nothing” is not enough for me to go on, especially when I’m being asked to support a position which, based on my best instincts and moral reasoning, I find repugnant. It seems to me that you dismiss the possibility that the church’s position is wrong far too easily. Why couldn’t God tell a member that that is the case, but that he/she should be patient. I know many people who felt that this had happened to them in the late 60s/early 70s over the church’s position on blacks and the priesthood. Don’t we have to regard it as possible that in fact the church is wrong, and 10 or 20 or 50 years from now the position will change? That is, shouldn’t we behave as if personal revelation is a REAL possibility, and not just a one-dimensional activity that can only serve to confirm what the prophet has said? I think I’m asking the converse of Brent’s questions–yes, there’s a danger of taking one’s own ideas as revelation, but isn’t there a concomittant danger of taking the prophet’s (human) ideas as revelation, too?

    btw, Brent, sorry for the snarkout this morning–I sent myself to timeout for a while and am feeling appropriately penitent.

  38. lyle
    March 26, 2004 at 3:03 pm

    Gary, great comment, re: “Often, the revelation we need from God to help us understand a doctrine or statement or policy does not come until AFTER we have stepped forward to obey it.”

    Sounds vaguely like Pres. Packer’s “The Candle of the Lord” talk. And for humor…is the source of my comments asking people to “Turn to the Darkside . . . vote Republican.” ;)

  39. March 26, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    Now, Kristine, don’t head down the path that Steve Evans took. One apology leads to another, and another, and then another. However, I am sure he wouldn’t mind you taking over his role as the resident penitent poster. (BTW, I just thought you were being funny.)

    You raise an interesting point. You said that “based on [your] best instincts and moral reasoning, I find repugnant” the Church’s position on same-sex marriage. Guess what, my best instincts and moral reasoning lead me to conclude that the Church is taking the correct position, and I whole-heartedly support the position. What happens then when my best instincts and moral reasoning (and the best instincts and moral reasoning of most church members and most of society) are 180 degrees different then yours? Someone has to be wrong. Either the Prophet, Apostles and vast majority of church members are right, or a small minority of individuals are right, but both cannot be right at the same time. Either your or my best instincts and moral reasoning are wrong because we are arriving at two mutually exclusive positions.

    As to the substance of the issue, I just don’t see how one can come down in support of same-sex marriage when so much of our doctrine runs counter to such a thing–from the law of chastity to our view of the requirements for exaltation, there is no room for a practicing, unrepentant homosexual in our doctrine. Similarly, practicing and unrepentant fornicators, adulterers and the like cannot merit the full benefits of the atonement. Therefore, why support legislation that pushes people further into a lifestyle that takes them further from God? How can supporting immorality be a moral position?

  40. March 26, 2004 at 3:39 pm

    Let me clarify my statement that “there is no room for a practicing, unrepentant homosexual in our doctrine”. I meant by that statement, that such persons cannot qualify for baptism, the temple, temple marriage, etc. Nor can they receive the full blessings of the Atonement. We do, of course, believe in tolerance, love and treating all with respect. Those are important doctrinal principles and must be exemplified toward all. However, blessings come only from obedience, and absent adherence to the law of chastity, certain blessings will not be available.

  41. March 26, 2004 at 3:46 pm


    Perhaps there is a link between being liberal and being willing to apologize? A certain humility?

    Nah. Take me — liberal, humble, but NO APOLOGIES EVER.

    I’ve also got to disagree with you regarding your “someone has to be wrong” post. Someone only has to be wrong if you take an absolutist, exclusionary position. I don’t think the Church works that way, despite your portrayal. I also don’t think that you’re speaking for “the best instincts and moral reasoning of most church members and most of society.” That’s a pretty pretentious claim, one that most church leaders wouldn’t take, let alone bloggernackers.

  42. lyle
    March 26, 2004 at 3:48 pm

    Brent: “Someone has to be wrong”?

    Why? I’m not convinced of this. I can’t count the # of times I’ve seen people arguing…talking past each other…and both are making valid, true and/or right points. Of course, I’m just a screwball dialectician seeking for a synthesis leading up to all truth being one whole?

  43. lyle
    March 26, 2004 at 3:58 pm


    once again…a shining example; even if i was writing while he was posting…slow on the draw again…

  44. Kristine
    March 26, 2004 at 4:00 pm

    lyle, Steve, it feels a little weird for me to be saying “no, be more black and white,” but I actually think Brent’s right. One of us has to be wrong. I think just about everyone in the church, including here, would say it’s me. It scares me to death to feel and think the way I do about this issue, but 15 years of trying to figure it out, incl. a fair bit of prayer and fasting haven’t led me to the same conclusion as the prophet. I heartily wish it were not so.

  45. March 26, 2004 at 4:14 pm

    Hrm. Well, take the wind out of my sails, Kristine!

    OK — YOU may be wrong, then. But that’s only because, again, you have taken a position that you obviously strongly believe in, and it’s that personal devotion/inflexibility that makes the situation black and white. Those of us that feel a little more detached have the pleasure of considering the spectrum.

  46. Gary Cooper
    March 26, 2004 at 4:24 pm


    okay, I suppose many people here will shoot me for asking this, and since I am relatively new to T&S, maybe you addressed this in an earlier post, but here goes: Let’s turn this thing around. WHY DO YOU THINK, AS A LATTER-DAY SAINT, THAT HOMOSEXUALS SHOULD BE PERMITTED TO MARRY? What good, short-term or long-term, would come from this? In a related question, Will there be homosexual marriage in the celestial kingdom? Not to be obnoxious, but it just appears to me that those who agree with the Church’s position here at T&S are always in the position of defending. So, let’s turn this around (and if this has already been done, just direct me to the post where that’s appeared here), please tell us why Latter-day Saints should step forward and tell society to let homosexuals marry, and how this may work out after the resurrection. (I’m getting ready to withstand the bombardment I suspect will soon come my way…)

  47. Chris R
    March 26, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    Could it be that the prophet, who holds the keys to the church does not hold the keys to our hearts. I think that we each possess what we need to reach perfection, and to rejoin our Heavenly Father. The prophet is, for me, the leader of the church, a special witness to God, and sets an example for us to follow in this era.

    But, while the prophet, the apostles, and the leadership of the church are set apart, that does not make them distinct from the rest of us. Individually we strive for perfection, and we are judged upon our own actions and beliefs, not for the failings of others.

    To me, we follow the prophet because of the positive example he sets in his life, and accept his leadership of the church. We understand that he has a strong and unique testimony, but even as we accept that he is staying true to his heart, his testimony is his own, and not ours. We have a duty to develop our own testimony, not to adopt his. We are counseled to liken the scriptures onto ourselfs, because that is the only true way to live the gospel.

    We are obedient to the prophet because we choose to, and because the prophet’s example is one we desire to emulate, not because we must. We dont live through the prophet, but we live our lives on our own terms, and receive revelation when we are ready. We progress in our own time, and each of us has a differnt path to reach perfection. Because we do not progress at the same rate, we hold the keys to our own salvation, and only through Jesus, will we reap the full benefits of the atonement.

  48. lyle
    March 26, 2004 at 4:34 pm

    *cheesy, yet inspiring church musik starts playing…*

    ‘your not alone [Gary]’ ;)

  49. March 26, 2004 at 4:34 pm

    Steve, I am curious what you view as the spectrum of possibilities, when both sides are claiming divine approval of mutually exlcusive positions.

    Also, I know I was being somewhat pretentious in my claim about the Church and society, but polls bear out my claim. A clear majority oppose same-sex marriage and special rights based on sexual orientation generally. Religious persons are even more apt to oppose such things. The more conservative or “fundamentalist” the religion, the more opposed still. As you undoubtedly are aware, we Latter-day Saints tend to be somewhat conservative, and thus, it is not unreasonable to claim that “most” Latter-day Saints support a ban on same-sex marriage.

  50. March 26, 2004 at 4:44 pm

    “when both sides are claiming divine approval of mutually exlcusive positions” [sic].

    Again, the exclusivity you’re talking about is stemming from your ardor of belief, not in my mind any real exclusivity. I see a spectrum of possibilities because (as is clear from this board and _other_boards) reasonable, intelligent LDS people can and do differ on how they interpret the Church’s stance on this matter. Or at least they did, until Kristine folded like a house of cards!

    What are those possibilities? well, besides either your view being right or Kristine’s being right, there’s the possibility that neither of you are right and that God is only beginning to reveal to us the real nature of human relationships, or the possibility that both of you are right — you, because of “justice”, and Kristine because of mercy. There are lots of options out there, Brent. I’m surprised that more people don’t see them.

  51. Kristine
    March 26, 2004 at 4:46 pm

    Gary, you’ve said above that people who disagree with the prophet’s position should be silent. I can’t quite manage silence, but I think I’ll refrain from posting a lengthy or impassioned defense of a position contrary to that of the church.

    If you really want a defense of the position, you might try Peter Gomes’ _The Good Book_, Andrew Sullivan’s _Virtually Normal_, Schow and Raynes’ _Peculiar People_, David Brooks’ recent NYT editorial…

    fyi, I don’t think anybody here has ever defended the idea that Latter-day Saints should be advocates of gay marriage. A few have suggested that a constitutional amendment isn’t a good idea or that there are few really sound legal arguments against gay marriage. I think I’m an outlier, here as elsewhere.

  52. Kristine
    March 26, 2004 at 4:50 pm

    Brent, just to be clear: I am adamantly NOT claiming divine approval for my position. I’m saying only that I have not received, despite my best efforts, divine confirmation of the church’s position.

  53. Aaron Brown
    March 26, 2004 at 4:54 pm

    Quick point:

    Gary — your post conflates (1) the issue of whether same-sex marriage, as an ordinance, is compatible with LDS doctrine, and (2) the issue of whether and to what extent LDS must support civil laws that reflect their doctrinal understandings. These are separate questions, and given how HUGE the topic is, that’s all I’ll say about it for the moment…

    Aaron B

  54. March 26, 2004 at 5:02 pm

    Kristine, I don’t think you claimed divine approval for your position. I was commenting on the the position of the Church and and those who might claim revelation contrary to the Church’s position.

    Steve, you are discussing possibilities that aren’t part of the equation. The Church’s position is clear. President Hinckley has clearly opted for the defend marriage/oppose same-sex marriage position, so it is he, not I that have introduced an exclusive stance on this. One really cannot say that there are multiple ways of interpreting the Church’s position because it is pretty well-defined. I have first-hand knowledge of the Church’s involvement in working to pass a defense of marriage act here in Ohio. As for the reasonableness of the various possibilities, I guess it all depends on what you accept as the basic principles upon which to begin your analysis. If certain principles are true (e.g. law of chastity, celestial marriage necessary for exaltation, role of prophets as spokesmen for God, etc.) then the more the “possibilities” deviate from such principles, the less reasonable they become.

  55. March 26, 2004 at 7:33 pm

    I don’t think Kristine is an outlier or a lone voice. It’s just that most LDS on her end of the spectrum don’t get heard.

    I don’t think Steve is incorrect in suggesting there are various ways to understand what the present LDS position is. Just read the comments on the thread you’ll see plenty of variety.

    I do think Brent is incorrect in asserting “the Church’s position is clear.” I didn’t see a link to an official release posted at prefaced by “Thus saith the Lord.” I don’t see a link to a statement spelling out a new program. How is a leader’s decision to oppose same-sex marriage any different from a leader’s decision to vote Republican? In a case like California (with which I have personal experience, Brent) or Ohio appparently, where the Church chooses to draft members into what is essentially a sponsored political campaign, there is absolutely nothing expressly spelled out about whether you, as a church member, are required to participate, strongly urged to participate, merely requested to participate, etc. It’s all done under the table, with no way to get meaningful answers to inquiries about relevant details.

    Those who discern a clear directive are free to follow it. They are not alone in that view and I don’t question their decision to follow what they discern to be the guidance of the leader of the Church. But that sense of clarity certainly doesn’t have any particular relevance for the rest of us. We get to make up our own mind (and that actually is a clear directive in the Church).

  56. Gary Cooper
    March 26, 2004 at 7:47 pm

    Well, it appears that the “bombardment” I expected was one of soft, fluffy pillows (though throw with some force), rather than 155mm howitzer shells, for which I am grateful.

    Brent, you are correct that, in theory there are possibilities in between the two “extremes” posed here, but I don’t think there are very many of them, and most that I can visualize seem nothing more than variations of the two, especially of Kristine’s position. Maybe I’m just being obtuse, but that’s how it appears to me.

    Kristine, nice riposte, as it didn’t occur to me that, in effect, I was challenging you to do the same thing I had just stated earlier one should not do. Sorry, I really wasn’t trying to “dig a pit for my neighbor”. I am quite aware of the varoius arguments for “gay marriage”. I was just interested in hearing, from an LDS point of view, what an LDS pro view might be. Perhaps I should have re-phrased, and instead have asked, “Kristine, what are some of the concerns you have about the Church’s position?” This might be a more non-threatening way to put it, and you could then respond in a way that would not seem heretical.

    But, in any case, it was a question asked half out of emotion, so yes, Aaron Brown, I realize that the two questions I asked are quite different from each other.

  57. greenfrog
    March 26, 2004 at 8:30 pm

    It seems to me an interesting exercise in speculative theology to think of how the Church might accomodate gay relationships into its theology, were it divinely directed to do so.

  58. Adam Greenwood
    March 29, 2004 at 3:50 pm

    1. Kristine’s opinion is an outlier position.

    2. Dave,
    Your defense doesn’t go the distance. You say that making arguments that appeal to many people is more than prudential; I actually have an obligation to try and be inclusively use public arguments so that no one feels left out of the eventual decision. I can accept that as an obligation, although I would treat it as a broader one of magnanimity in victory, but I would hardly accept it as the primary obligation. Many other competing obligations compete for attention.
    Second, your quest is artificial. Unless you’re saying that no decision can be made without an absolute consensus, you’re allowing disagreement. I don’t see why disagreements about first principles, or about the sources of first principles, are in a category different from disagreements about important facts or the nature of economic action, or anything at all. People care about all these and are divided by all of them.
    Finally, your quest is presumptuous. It assumes that there are, in fact, arguments that are standard, called public arguments. If I don’t make them, people will feel justifiably aggrieved by my appeal to religion. On the other hand, when they use Godless arguments that strike me as deeply devilish and immoral, my own sense of alienation means nothing. In other words, you haven’t explained why a certain class of arguments are acceptable as public arguments but a certain other class are unacceptable as private arguments.
    Since I don’t see any good way of distinguishing them, and do not feel that the only thing our religion requires of us politically is that we not aggrieve the infidel, I again reiterate that the sorts of (true) arguments one makes are just a matter of tactics to get to 51%.

  59. March 29, 2004 at 10:26 pm


    This has been a noisy thread–took me a minute to figure out where this started. Your discussion is so pleasantly coherent.

    I guess the reason I object to the “outlier” label for Kristine’s comments is because that’s generally a codeword for “so outlandish it doesn’t need to be considered as a serious argument.” I’ll grant it’s a minority view but I would rather it be considered than be dismissed.

    I think we’ve churned the public vs. private idea enough. But if Mormons say, “I support X because it was revealed to the Prophet,” and Catholics say, “I support Y because that is what the Pope advocates,” and Muslims say, “Thus says the Imam: Z,” well what is left of public discourse? It needs to be more than just a discordant chorus of dogmatic private views; there needs to be at least some sense of public reason (public, objective grounds supporting one’s position) for the debate to go forward. The best way to thus support public discourse is by discouraging parochial private arguments. But there’s nothing wrong with holding those views.

  60. March 30, 2004 at 10:25 am


    Whether you or I are correct in our belief as to the clarity of the Church’s position depends on what we view as constituting the “Church’s position”. I do not believe there needs to be a link on with a statement “Thus saith the Lord” in order for the Church to hold an official position. It is sufficient for me that President Hinckley and the remainder of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have adopted a position for THAT position to be the Church’s position. That the Church has taken and continues to direct the taking of specific action on this also indicates an organizational position on the matter, even if members are not “required” to be actively involved. One cannot argue that they have not be encouraged to get involved and to take a pro traditional marriage position.

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