11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.
Alma 41: 10-11.
On my personal blog, I have written several articles about the relative speed at which I feel different Christian traditions will come to change their views on committed homosexual relationships, if not on gay marriage itself. My evaluations are based on a number of factors, such as the tradition’s valuation of relationships in the first place (as opposed to the tradition’s evaluation of celibacy), and whether the tradition has institutionalized roles for its celibate members to fulfill. I feel that the Orthodox Christian community’s stringent and “radical” (heterosexual) monogamy makes it the least likely to budge on the permissibility of gay relationships. Similarly, I got from evaluating an evangelical Christian’s comments (and comparing it with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7) that marriage may not even be the ideal from that tradition.
These two positions starkly contrast with what I think is critical to know about the Mormon tradition on relationships and families, however. To summarize:
Mormonism doesn’t really have a theological telos of celibacy. 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. A fully lived life of celibacy is not fully lived at all. It is a design flaw.
With the divine centrality of families in Mormon theology and doctrine, celibacy is never the ideal. That is why the church counsels at nearly every General Conference that young men must not defer marriage. Young couples must not defer having children. The teachings of the church expect that members marry and have children.
So, the ideal goal of chastity is appropriate, divinely sanctioned sexual relationships within marriage. Celibacy is at best a compromise, but it’s a compromise that means an individual has not performed a central task of mortality. To be sure, it’s a “compromise” for many people…a single, celibate straight individual is in the same boat here. Even a married, childless couple is in the same boat.
However, just from this alone, the church faces a problem that over time, members may increasingly see the unfairness — from a Mormon perspective — of any members being required to choose to remain companionless in life. It is that dissonance that members feel that will cause so many to pray for some sort of revelation on gay issues.
However, I think that there is another idea embedded in Mormonism that will cause the tide to turn even more. And that is the idea that wickedness never was happiness.
I was reading an article the other day entitled, “Same-sex marriage makes a lot of sense.” The author is a Christian minister who decidedly believes that same-sex marriage is not okay, so why would he say that it makes a lot of sense? In the article, he explains how popular modern-day attitudes (that he would argue are unbiblical) cannot convincingly provide objection to gay marriage. As he writes:
Both sides trade Bible verses, while often sharing an unbiblical—secularized—theological framework at a deeper level. If God exists for our happiness and self-fulfillment, validating our sovereign right to choose our identity, then opposition to same-sex marriage (or abortion) is just irrational prejudice.
Given the broader worldview that many Americans (including Christians) embrace—or at least assume, same-sex marriage is a right to which anyone is legally entitled. After all, traditional marriages in our society are largely treated as contractual rather than covenantal, means of mutual self-fulfillment more than serving a larger purpose ordained by God. The state of the traditional family is so precarious that one wonders how same-sex marriage can appreciably deprave it.
Same-sex marriage makes sense if you assume that the individual is the center of the universe, that God—if he exists—is there to make us happy, and that our choices are not grounded in a nature created by God but in arbitrary self-construction. To the extent that this sort of “moralistic-therapeutic-deism” prevails in our churches, can we expect the world to think any differently? If we treat God as a product we sell to consumers for their self-improvement programs and make personal choice the trigger of salvation itself, then it may come as a big surprise (even contradiction) to the world when we tell them that truth (the way things are) trumps feelings and personal choice (what we want to make things to be).
And here is why he believes that the worldview described above (which is adopted by many Americans) cannot object to gay marriage:
Conservatives often appeal to self-fulfillment: gays are unhappy. They don’t realize their own potential to mate with the right gender and produce pleasant families like the rest of us. To be sure, there are other arguments, like referring to the decline of civilizations that accommodated homosexuality. However, this is just to extend the pragmatic-and-therapeutic-usefulness presupposition of individual autonomy to a social scale.
On this common ground, same-sex marriage is a no-brainer. Some people are happier and more fulfilled in committed same-sex relationships. There’s no use trying to refute other people’s emotional expressions of their own subjective states of consciousness.
…How would someone who believes that sin is unhappiness and salvation is having “your best life now” make a good argument against same-sex marriage? There is simply no way of defending traditional marriage within the narrative logic that apparently most Christians—much less non-Christians—presuppose regardless of their position on this issue.
Check out that last paragraph again. How would someone who believes that sin is unhappiness and salvation is having “your best life now” make a good argument against same-sex marriage?
Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness. Indeed. The biggest part that the writer points out here is that these kinds of frameworks will become unpersuasive because you simply can’t refute other people’s emotional experiences. It simply will not work to say, “You’re not really happy…you only think you are.”
This writer speaks out against this mindset because he is thoroughly convinced that it is a perversion of true Christian thinking on the issue. If people were taught the right way to think about sin, the right way to think about marriage as a covenantal relationship, and the right way to think about our lives, then they would have a cogent argument against gay marriage.
But what about Mormons who wish to oppose gay marriage? The problem for Mormons is that much of what he says — even though he says it in a negative way — pretty much fits Mormon theology. What does God have to say about our happiness and self-fulfillment, validating our right to choose? Well, what does 2 Nephi: 2 have to say?
24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
So, the questions for today are simple…let’s hope we can have a constructive discussion…
- For those of you who oppose or reject gay marriage or gay relationships, how do you think the church will continue to oppose these things with respect to its own approach on what sin is, and on the value of relationships?
- For those of you who support or accept gay marriage or gay relationships, do you think that there is any possibility that the church could change on these issues? If so, what do you think will be the factors that push the church? (For example, how would the revelation be framed?)