The president of the church gave a devotional at BYU on Tuesday and sparked some outrage in typical Nelson style. It was a relatively short address, but it was packed with objectionable material. Nelson is a man who really needs no introduction (although his public appearances do seem prone to lengthy, fawning introductions), so I'll just dive right into things with the first statement I found troubling:
You are of the House of Israel and you have been sent here to help gather God's elect.
Why are we sent to gather just the elect? Why would God, whose work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, only want to gather a specific type of person in the latter days? I thought the first part of the mission of the church was to proclaim the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. We wouldn't want to foster any kind of elitism in the membership by implying that our missionary efforts bring in only the best, would we?
Truth is truth. Some things are simply true. The arbiter of truth is God. Not your favorite social media news feed, not Google, and certainly not those who are disaffected from the church.
Okay, that's fair if we start with the assumption that the Mormon God is real. But Santa Claus is theoretically the arbiter of naughtiness and niceness, too, so....
And, honestly, the overwhelming majority of people don't consider their social media news feed as an arbiter of anything, and I think it's spectacularly condescending of a prophet to imply such. Perhaps Google has a slightly better reputation for truth. But lumping apostates in with these two ridiculous examples and adding a modifier that identifies them as the most ridiculous example of all is unfair, manipulative, and dishonest. Yeah, disaffected members are not the arbiters of truth. But neither is Russell Nelson. So just because he says God is the highest authority on truth doesn't mean the god he pretends to represent is real enough to have any power to shape, defend, impose, or represent truth.
Because the Father and the Son love us with infinite, perfect love and because they know we cannot see everything they see, they have given us laws that will guide and protect us. There is a strong connection between God's love and his laws.
Infinite, perfect love. Nelson has stated in the past that, "While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional." What I'd like to know is how something can be both infinite and conditional. If it's infinite it encompasses everything, and if it's conditional, it excludes certain circumstances, which means it's not actually infinite. And, honestly, if a love is dependent on whether its recipient behaves in a certain way, I don't see how that love is perfect, either.
Nelson is also going to spend a few minutes trying to tie God's love and God's laws together as closely as possible, making it sound like the laws are a manifestation of his love. Which is weird, considering that when Nelson was announced as the new prophet, he answered a reporter's question about the church's dealings with LGBT members by explaining that "we've got the love and the law in balance here," to which Oaks exuberantly replied, "Yeah, the love of the Lord and the law of the Lord!" Why do we need to balance two things against each other if there's such a strong connection between them? Why do we make them sound like two opposing forces if one is an extension of the other?
And why does the prophet of God keep babbling about love like he's just making shit up whenever a fun new concept occurs to him?
Divine law is incontrovertible!
Saying it over and over again doesn't make it true. (Ironically, I'm pretty sure I've expressed that sentiment over and over again.) But it's especially untrue to assert something like this when the strategy concerning divine law is to change the laws and then insist afterward that the laws had always been policies. You can say just about anything is incontrovertible when you're changing the definitions of the crucial words involved.
You know what else is incontrovertible? The accuracy of this blog. But if you find something here that's factually incorrect, I'll just reinterpret what I said to define "accuracy" as "sincerity," therefore my original statement that the accuracy of this blog is incontrovertible is still correct. Magic! I'm now infallible!
Divine laws are God's gifts to his children. Just as our family's laws kept our children safe as they grew to adulthood. Just as divine laws governing the heart and the flight of airplanes keep you safe on the operating table or while traveling. Abiding by God's laws will keep you safe as you progress toward eventual exaltation.
The law of gravity can kill you, and not because you're breaking it. The metaphor that laws are there for protection doesn't hold up. At all.
We are physically unable to violate natural laws. I can't make an airplane fly without lift. I can't keep myself from falling back down when I jump. What humans have done is discover workarounds and develop ways to fly that utilize other natural laws and forces. It's not as though anyone can fly by breaking the law of gravity. Gravity is still exerting itself on the airplane, but the designers of that airplane have come up with methods to counteract the existing and unbreakable law of gravity.
Contrast that with God's laws. These are very easily broken. When you have premarital sex, it's not like flying—well...I mean, it can be, but I mean it's not like flying in the sense of this metaphor. You aren't finding ways to work within the laws to achieve the desired goal. You're just breaking the law.
Now, an argument can easily be made that the law of chastity is designed to protect us, but that doesn't carry over to the other side of the metaphor. Is Nelson seriously suggesting that God put the laws governing the cardiovascular system and gravity in place to protect us from our hearts not beating and to protect us from drifting off into space? That's not protection, those are just common sense requirements for him to allow his children's physical bodies to maintain life. Without those laws in place, nobody without a heartbeat is going to live long enough to float out of the atmosphere anyway.
The more you really try to parse it out, Nelson's comparison between these two types of laws, which he tries to assert are essentially of the same type, makes less and less and less sense. Sure, though, it sounds fine if you try not to think about it.
Sometimes we as leaders of the church are criticized for holding firm to the laws of God, defending the Savior's doctrine, and resisting the social pressures of our day. But our commission as ordained apostles is to go into all of the world to preach the gospel unto every creature. That means we are commanded to teach truth. In doing so, sometimes we are accused of being uncaring as we teach the Father's requirements for exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom. But wouldn't it be far more uncaring of us not to tell the truth? Not to teach what God has revealed? It is precisely because we do care about all of God's children that we proclaim his truth. We may not always tell people what they want to hear. Prophets are rarely popular. But we will always teach the truth.
Metric fucktons to unpack, here.
First thing I want to hone in on is resisting social pressures of the day. Some examples of that would be polygamy and the priesthood ban. Both of those changes were things that the church resisted vigorously before eventually caving to outside pressure. Both of those were things on which the church was far behind the historical curve. Both of those are things that the church now claims to abhor. So yes, please tell us more about how the prophets held firm in defending the racist and misogynistic doctrines of the Savior.
Next, if their commission as apostles is to preach the gospel to every creature, why do they spend so much time speaking to audiences that are already LDS? Why are the speeches before other institutions like the NAACP the outliers in their speaking tours? Why aren't they preaching on the streets, appearing on talk shows, visiting remote areas of the world without Mormon populations, and taking frequent and lengthy interviews with international news media?
And, Nelson, you're accused of being uncaring because, even as you teach some awful things, you have no sense of empathy in the methods you employ to teach them. If you're going to oppress, marginalize, and vilify classes of people whom you believe do not follow the covenant path, you can at least be gentle about it. But you have your bulldogs Oaks and Holland blustering at the pulpit every general conference and you take steps that you quite clearly don't need to take—which becomes apparent when you repeal them after only a few short years. You didn't need to be an asshole about it, you chose to be an asshole about it, and now you're extending the assholery by refusing to admit fault or to apologize for it. Even ignoring the unkindness of the doctrine you propagate, you went about "defending" and "teaching" it in ways that were unkind and unnecessary.
Would it be far more caring not to tell the truth? Well, it could be, but let's not pretend you ever entertained that as an option. And even if you're telling the truth, there are nicer ways to go about delivering the bad news that someone's on the road to hell for their gayness. You were a doctor, for Christ's sake, have you never heard of a bedside manner? Yours is shit. You're basically kneeling at the beds of people you've decided without medical evidence have some horrible terminal illness and then expecting them to maintain full faith in your role as their doctor when you keep changing your mind about if you're going to treat them and how much effort you're going to put into the treatment. Are you really surprised that some people are looking for another doctor?
Let's consider the definition of marriage. In recent years, many countries including the United States have legalized same-sex marriage. As members of the church, we respect the laws of the land and abide by them, including civil marriage. The truth is, however, that in the beginning...in the beginning...marriage was ordained by God, and to this day it is defined by him as being between a man and a woman. God has not changed his definition of marriage. God has also not changed his law of chastity.
First of all, thank you for agreeing to abide by a law that doesn't actually affect you. Legalizing same-sex marriage is not the kind of law that you have to obey as a citizen or as an organization. It's not like a speed limit. You aren't capable of committing an infraction against a law that says state and local governments can't deny couples the right to marry based on sexual orientation. So your noble reminder that we abide by the laws is meaningless. I don't issue warrants without probable cause, either, but you don't see me bragging about how committed I am to abiding by the Fourth Amendment.
And Nelson goes into astronomical levels of hypocrisy here when he starts talking about the definition of marriage. "A man and a woman" clearly states both genders involved in his ideal marriage as singular. As in, one of each. So we're pretending that in the Bible and in the early days of the Restoration, God wasn't in favor of the definition of a marriage as "a man and several women" and "a man and several women, some of whom are already married to other men." We're also pretending that the man giving this speech is not married for eternity to two women—he's not civilly married to both of them, of course, but he's still living within a celestial definition of marriage that is between a man and two women. And his claim that God hasn't changed his definition of marriage is clearly absurd.
And I'm not sure we can claim that God hasn't changed his definition of chastity, either. Doctrine and Covenants 132 indicates that a man can take several wives without committing adultery. The church today is pretty clear that having sex with anyone other than a singular wife constitutes adultery.
Though we of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cannot change the laws of God, we do have the charge to build up the church and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations. Thus, we can adjust policy when the Lord directs us to do so.
Oh, okay. So that means that policies are directed by the Lord too. Which means we can throw out the idea that it was Brigham Young's fault that we discriminated against black people for more than a hundred years. Because policies can only be changed when the Lord directs the leaders to do so. Which means that, since the church was not founded with the priesthood ban in place, at some point the Lord must have directed Brigham Young to make an "adjustment."
It also means that, decades from now, when the church is trying to claim that the homophobic and transphobic policies that caused them so much trouble way back in the 2010s were instituted by imperfect human leaders, we can all point to this and remind the church that God's prophet assured us the policies were put in place at the Lord's behest.
Consider the policy announced in November 2015 related to the advisability of baptism for children of LGBT parents. Our concern then—and one which we discussed at length and prayed about fervently over a long period of time—was to find a way to reduce friction between gay or lesbian parents and their children. Because parents are the primary exemplars for their children, we did not want to put young children in the position of having to choose between beliefs and behaviors that they learned at home and what they were taught at church. We wanted to facilitate harmony in the home and avoid pitting children and parents against each other. Thus, in 2015, the policy was made to assist children and their parents in this circumstance, namely that children being raised by LGBT parents would not automatically be eligible for baptism at age 8. Exceptions to this policy would require First Presidency approval.
Okay, well, I hate to upstage the mouthpiece of the Lord, here, but the best way to reduce friction between gay or lesbian parents and their children is to stop teaching that there's something fundamentally wrong with the parents and that their sexual characteristics need to be corrected or suppressed for them to be worthy of God's kingdom. I mean, it's kind of an obvious solution.
And I don't understand how denying the children baptism actually would avoid putting them in the position of being taught different things at church than at home. There is no primary class for children who are older than 8 but have not been baptized in which the students are taught only the things that jive with what they hear from their parents. So all we'd really have is unbaptized children attending the same Sunday School classes they would have attended prior to the policy adjustment, hearing the same exact lessons they would have heard prior to the policy adjustment, and experiencing the same contrast between ecclesiastical teachings and parental teachings as they would have prior to the policy adjustment. Only they're not baptized. Which—considering how church culture works and how brainwashed children can react impolitely to differences they can identify but not properly understand—probably served not to reduce friction in the home, but to impose a social stigma on these children even though they have done absolutely nothing to deserve such a conspicuous contrast with the other children at church.
Which means either the apostles made a really stupid decision, or the motive being put forth by Nelson was not the real motive.
Oh—and one last thing before I move on to the next quote: Nelson is hoping his listeners don't know what the words "automatically" and "exception" mean. He says that the original policy meant that certain children weren't automatically eligible for baptism. When a child of heterosexual parents nears the age of eight, the bishop begins the process of preparing them for baptism, no questions asked—institutionally speaking, this happens automatically because there are no barriers to it. When a child of LGBT parents nears the age of eight, nobody is supposed to begin the process of preparing them for baptism—institutionally speaking, this is not automatic because it requires First Presidency approval to get the ball rolling. So when he talks about exceptions to the policy, he's not talking about exceptions. Because the requirement of First Presidency approval is built into the policy itself. A true exception would be if a child of gay parents were able to start baptism interviews with the bishop without requiring any external approvals. If it requires First Presidency approval, it's not automatic. Maybe that's nitpicking, but I don't want him to get away with claiming that he made any exceptions. Because he didn't. He transferred the power to permit these situations expressly to himself and his two sidekicks, which is more about preserving his right to gatekeep than it is about the concepts of leniency or exceptions.
The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have continued to seek the Lord's guidance and to plead with him in behalf of his children who were affected by the 2015 policy. We knew that this policy created concern and confusion for some and heartache for others. That grieved us. Whenever the sons and daughters of God weep for whatever reason, we weep. So our supplications to the Lord continued. We also took note of LGBT parents who sought permission from the First Presidency for their children to be baptized. In nearly every case where the LGBT parents agreed to teach their children about and be supportive of the covenant of baptism, the exception request was granted. As a result of our continued supplication, we recently felt directed to adjust the policy such that the baptism of children of LGBT parents may be authorized by bishops without First Presidency approval if the custodial parents requested the baptism and understand that a child will be taught about sacred covenants to be made at baptism.
The arrogance is astounding as Nelson tries to position himself as having greater moral credibility than God. Nelson and his friends, it seems, were valiantly pleading with an intractable Heavenly Father on behalf of the people who were affected—not hurt, offended, marginalized, victimized, targeted, or distressed, but affected—by the policy. In much the same disgusting way as the lifting of the priesthood ban was described as the result of "[pleading] long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren," Nelson makes it sound like he really really wanted to be be nice to the homosexuals but God just wouldn't let him. Don't make Nelson out to be the bad guy, it was God's fault it took so long to fix this.
And the unctuously magnanimous claim that the First Presidency was liberal in its granting of approvals admits that these approvals were not granted in every case. In fact, he specifies that it was granted in nearly every case in which certain other conditions were met. So, overall, who knows whether the actual approvals were 90% or 10%? He clearly states this as an indication that he was generous in allowing these children to be baptized, but he leaves a lot of room in his statement to see how it's possible that he was not generous at all.
I'm also a little concerned by his use of "custodial parents." It sounds like this could refer to a situation in which, for example, a child's father is married to a man and the child's mother has also a man. If the mother and the child's step-father have custody of the child, they would need to be the ones who request the baptism. I completely understand that custody arrangements and step-child situations can be extremely complicated, but it seems wildly unfair to give the power to request a baptism wholly to the "custodial parents." What if the biological father is—understandably—against the baptism? What does the church do in cases in which there is shared custody? And why in the hell did they think a one-size-fits-all policy requiring First Presidency approval for any deviation was practical?
Finally, we also clarified that homosexual immorality will be treated in eyes of the church in the same manner as heterosexual immorality.
Wow, that's so great. We're treating homosexuality the same as heterosexuality. Took us long enough. Of course, what he means is that being in a gay marriage isn't considered apostasy anymore. Which is basically bragging about no longer being a total asshole about it. And, importantly, what it also means is that homosexual immorality will be treated in the eyes of the church in the same manner as heterosexual immorality in matters of formal discipline. Homosexual intimacy of any kind is still a sin and heterosexual intimacy is only a sin if it takes place outside of a marriage. The church will continue to teach this and Nelson only means that they're not going to kick you out anymore if you're a woman married to a woman. That doesn't mean your bishop isn't going to repeatedly counsel you to change your sexual orientation—which is something he'd never bother a straight couple about.
So Nelson's statement is framed to imply equality, but there's really nothing of the kind going on here. It's just slightly less inequality.
Though it may not have looked this way to some, the 2015 and 2019 policy adjustments on this matter were both motivated by love. The love of our Heavenly Father for his children, and the love of the brethren for those whom we serve. Because we feel the depth of God's love for his children, we care deeply about every child of God, regardless of age, personal circumstances, gender, sexual orientation or other unique challenges.
Saying it over and over again doesn't make it true. (Why does that sound familiar?)
I wonder if Nelson understands why it didn't look to some like the policy changes were motivated by love. He doesn't really seem to give the sense that he realizes that this was harmful even to people whose lives it didn't address. He doesn't give any indication that he realizes it made a broader statement about how the church views the LGBT community regardless of the individual lives it "affected." He doesn't acknowledge that it may have hurt people who were not directly impacted by it. What he does acknowledge, however, is the depth of love he feels for everyone.
You got a funny way of showin' it, Russell. Actions do speak louder than words. It's very easy to claim that you love everyone, but it's clearly more difficult for you to behave in a way that demonstrates the love you insist that you have.
It interests me how often this policy and its reversal have been mentioned by leaders recently. To me, this is an indication that the response to it has been so overwhelmingly negative that even the apostles have started to believe that ignoring it is not a viable tactic. What's disappointing is that they still believe that sticking to their guns when they broach the subject is a viable tactic. Rather than admitting that, as imperfect men, the leaders have made a mistake that has hurt people, Nelson goes the authoritarian route, links his actions inextricably to God's will, and tries to deflect any criticism toward the unassailable character of our Heavenly Father. I think that will prove to be a losing strategy, but I suppose they're mitigating a bit of the possible damage to their membership strength by forgoing their usual approaches of hoping no one will notice it or hoping everyone will forget about it.
I'm sure Nelson will grace us all with more self-aggrandizing authoritarianism and more gilded bigotry during general conference in a few weeks, but for now, these words of witlessness are the latest declarations from the Lord's appointed prophet. This, apparently, is the best God can do.