We recognize that same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States and some other countries and that people have the right, if they choose, to enter into those, and we understand that. But that is not a right that exists in the Church. That’s the clarification.
With the Supreme Court’s decision in the United States, there was a need for a distinction to be made between what may be legal and what may be the law of the Church and the law of the Lord
Elder D. Todd Christopherson, November 6, 2015
This is not the first time the church organization has made a distinction concerning the law of the land versus the law of the Lord concerning marriage.
However, the first time this distinction was made it was between what was illegal and what was the law of the church and the law of the Lord.
Of all the points of Doctrine I discussed in my last blog post, only marriage intersects into law. But it is more complicated than that. In actuality it is the PRACTICE of marriage that intersects into law.
In 1879 when the Supreme Court upheld the Morrill Anti–Bigamy Act in Reynolds v. United States, the chief justice wrote, “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices.” Source
So what happened the last time the Federal Government was at odds with the law of the Church and the law of God?
Digging in our heels is an understatement.
Federal government= polygamy is illegal according to the law of the land. Church organization= polygamy is legal according to the law of God.
1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act
1874 Poland Act
1882 Edmunds Act
1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act
1890 Official declaration 1
Even then it took until 1904 for the second manifesto by Joseph F. Smith to affirm that “we are really serious about this!”
“Inasmuch as there are numerous reports in circulation that plural marriages have been entered into, contrary to the official declaration of President Woodruff of September 24, 1890, commonly called the manifesto, which was issued by President Woodruff, and adopted by the Church at its general conference, October 6, 1890, which forbade any marriages violative of the law of the land, I, Joseph F. Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hereby affirm and declare that no such marriages have been solemnized with the sanction, consent, or knowledge of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And I hereby announce that all such marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage, he will be deemed in transgression against the Church, and will be liable to be dealt with according to the rules and regulations thereof and excommunicated therefrom.”
The leaders of the day had so deeply dug their heels in that the temples were almost seized by the government, the members in entirety were almost disenfranchised, and newly elected Reed Smoot was almost prevented from being seated as a United States Senator from Utah.
Even in 1904, plural marriage was so deeply ingrained in the doctrine of the church that two apostles resigned from the Quorum of the Twelve in opposition to this bright line drawn by President Joseph F. Smith. Can you imagine the impact on the church today if two apostles resigned from the Quorum of the Twelve in opposition of the Policy?
In 1909, Francis M. Lyman chaired a church committee to investigate plural marriages that occurred after the second manifesto to thoroughly stamp out the practice once and for all.
The “Strengthening the Church Committee” may strike fear into the hearts of members today as they discuss church issues and doctrine in a public forum, but my goodness. The plural marriage committee was investigating and ensuring the removal of members who practiced marriage in a way that they were taught and understood for years as big “D” unchanging Doctrine.
“Why all the fuss and fight to give up polygamy?” Gen X and Millennials say… “It’s sooooooo gross!” they say…
In fact a full 86% of Mormons today think that polygamy is immoral.
And because of this modern view, it is easy to forget just how essential and revered polygamy was to the early saints.
The Precedent of Digging Our Heels In:
“If plural marriage be divine, as the Latter-day Saints say it is, no power on earth can suppress it, unless you crush and destroy the entire people.”
– George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, v. 20, p. 276
KUTV: Could there be a time when the LDS Church would change its position on gay marriage?
D. Todd Christopherson: Nope.
I was going to just use Christopherson’s quote to illustrate an example of modern day heel digging, but Sunday the granddaddy of heel digging occurred. In a fireside address at BYU-Hawaii, President Russell M. Nelson discussed the origins of the Policy.
“The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together and share all the Lord has directed us to understand and to feel, individually and collectively, and then, we watch the Lord move upon the president of the church to proclaim the Lord’s will.”
Now we know. The President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has now told us that the Policy is “the will of the Lord.”
Since we are all members of the church in 2016 and not 2116, we have to deal with the ramifications of what this means in today’s church.
Is this a case where we ninety and nine are letting our “ones” go? Go into the wilderness where they are hungry and cold?
As they sit there alone, they will be found. Found by others. Some of those “others” will minister to them and care for them and take them in. Still, some who find them will harm them and prey upon them…and they will perish.
Can you hear that?
That is the cry from the wilderness of your gay sons and daughters you are turning out. If you wait long enough those cries will fall silent.
For a season.
Only to be perpetually refreshed in waves as our gay grandchildren and great grandchildren are turned out in kind.
You can stamp out polygamy because it is a taught religious sexual practice. But you will always have gay sons and daughters born into your families.
You cannot stamp out the gay.
Thank you Peter Jackson for this permission. And…. Fade in….
The Supreme Court was clear that while the federal government cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. This was a hard lesson learned over a period of sixty years. Source
But it was a lesson learned. Polygamy was so effectively scrubbed from our collective Mormon fiber that today 86% of Mormons consider polygamy morally wrong.
Stop and think about that fantastic “about face”.
But are we really learning from history? We see from our history with polygamy that policy can change.
But in the time gap between policy and change there is great pain.
We are seeing bright lines being drawn around belief and opinion in preparation to keep the federal government out.
This is why gay married couples are immediately branded apostate. Doing so demonstrates the belief or opinion of the church that legally married gay couples are apostate. Our legally married same sex members of the church are being offered up as tribute to show the world that “We really believe this about marriage.”
Have you met your same sex married Mormons? If you haven’t, you should. They are about as nice and normal as can be. They feel hunted right now. Their children are marked. They are sad. They are angry.
In the practice of marriage, the hunted has now become the hunter.
Christopherson was not kidding when he said, “The situation with polygamist families, for example, and same-sex marriage couples and families really has a parallel.”
What will the 2016 parallel body be to the 1909 church committee created to investigate plural marriages and ensure excommunication of those involved in such practices?
It flies in the face of pastoral care that we should jettison our gay members and their children in such a fashion. Why are we driving them out to the protection of the constitution and not protecting them under our own wings as a hen gathereth her chickens?
Perhaps this is not really fully about gay people? Perhaps this is a fight much older than gay marriage. We do have a scarred past with governmental intrusion. We were forcibly driven a thousand miles by wagon and handcart. We almost lost the temples of the church over the last war on marriage. This is about keeping the government out. Hence the bright lines being drawn and policies created and copious opinions carefully set in print. It is the concerted effort to shine a bright light on the separation between what belief and opinion is vs. what practice is.
The church does not want to go to places where the practice of not practicing gay marriage catches the attention of the government.
Think about that.
Beautifully articulated, and tragic how history seems to be repeating itself. I know that church teachings about gay marriage are sometimes compared to the priesthood ban, but this analogy with polygamy seems like a more apt comparison. In both cases church leaders have repeatedly proclaimed a big-D Doctrinal position with the force of revelation, and it seems that they will fight to the death to oppose gay marriage the same way they fought to the death to uphold plural marriage. I’m afraid change will be nothing if not glacial.
Thank you, Nathan, for sharing, it really helps you to stop and think about the Church’s big “D”s. It makes me wonder if/when it comes to the point where the government steps in about not allowing same-sex marriages in the temples, if the doctrine about same-sex marriage will change, like it did when the government stepped in regarding polygamy.