"Learn of me ... and ye shall find rest unto your souls." - Matthew 11: 29

LDS Press Conference – a Swing and a Miss

On January 27, 2015, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a press conference that some news groups saw as a new move for the Church in policy regarding our engagment with the LGBT community. However, those in the know quickly realized, as Elder D. Todd Christofferson stated, that this was merely a restatement of current policy. The real question for members should be, is this stance doctrinal and does it really reflect what we are honestly trying to do? 

The idea of reaching out in a Christlike effort to the LGBT community, of course sounds wonderful. The Master, the Prince of Peace, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, would love to see an olive leaf given to those outside our community and beliefs. After all, we are all brothers and sister as both children of God and members of the human race.

Sister Neill Marriott’s beautiful statement answering the unasked question of what the Savior would do was perfectly correct.

His heart reaches out to all of His children equally and He expects us to treat each other with love and fairness. There’s ample evidence in the life of Jesus Christ to demonstrate that He stood firm for living the laws of God, yet reached out to those who had been marginalized even though He was criticized for doing so. Racial minorities, women, the elderly, people with physical or mental disabilities, and those with unpopular occupations all found empathy from the Savior of mankind. – Sister Neill Marriott

With that spirit in mind, let us now address Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ list containing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ principles:

  1. We claim for everyone the God-given and Constitutional right to live their faith according to the dictates of their own conscience, without harming the health or safety of others.
  2. We acknowledge that the same freedom of conscience must apply to men and women everywhere to follow the religious faith of their choice, or none at all if they so choose.
  3. We believe laws ought to be framed to achieve a balance in protecting the freedoms of all people while respecting those with differing values.
  4. We reject persecution and retaliation of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief, economic circumstances or differences in gender or sexual orientation.

This list is is perfectly sound and reasonable. Unfortunately, his examples do not fall into this list.

Example 1:

“In the state of California, two-dozen Christian student groups have been denied recognition because they require their own leaders to share their Christian beliefs. The university system is forcing these groups to compromise their religious conscience if they want recognition for their clubs” – Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Seeing that BYU forces all students to attend LDS religion classes, regardless of faith, and pushes many bands on students that have nothing to do with modesty or religion, it is hard to follow that the Church would make an issue about another school enforcing their rules. If students that wish to grow a beard need to leave BYU, then students wanting to start a school club at this California school should also follow the rules or attend another university. They are starting a club, not a church.

Example 2:

“Recently in one of America’s largest cities, government lawyers subpoenaed the sermons and notes of pastors who opposed parts of a new law on religious grounds. These pastors faced not only intimidation, but also criminal prosecution for insisting that a new gay rights ordinance should be put to a vote of the people.” – Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Elder Oaks is completely correct with this perfect example. This church should give up their 501(c)(3) status and talk politics all they want. They could become a 501(c)(4) and still not pay taxes. The question becomes a matter of how they want to stay tax exempt and still obey their conscience. How the tax laws work in this mystery city and state is unknown, but federally things get complicated once churches enter politics. The action by this preacher may not be legal as churches “may not attempt to influence legislation” and stay tax free under 501(c)(3) rules and regulations.

Example 3:

“Several years ago, an Olympic gold-medal gymnast—a Latter-day Saint, as it happened—had been selected to lead the American delegation to the Olympic Games. He was pressured to resign as the symbolic head of the team because gay rights advocates protested that he had supported Proposition 8 in California. Ironically, he was denied the same freedom of conscience that commentators demanded for the gay athletes he would symbolically represent.” – Elder Dallin H. Oaks

This is an odd example, likely the strangest. This Latter-day Saint gymnast was able to support stopping the freedom of people to live their lives, legally, per their conscience. However, another group of people were faulted for doing the same thing. Really, both are in the wrong here. If another church wants to allow same-sex marriage, shouldn’t the law recognize their religious right as well? But this athlete did not support religious freedom. Why are only those against the athlete faulted? Did he repent and apologize for his attempt at oppression? We do not know.

Example 4:

“More recently, the head of a large American corporation was forced to resign from his position in a similar well-publicized backlash to his personal beliefs.”  – Elder Dallin H. Oaks

This example is too vague to address. We don’t know what those beliefs are of how this was actually handled. It is simply to hard say if this was right or wrong. But it is clearly a very bad example.

After Elder Oaks, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave his take, including the following list of religious rights.

  1. …”we refer to the constitutionally guaranteed right of religious communities to function according to the dictates of their faith. This includes their right to teach their beliefs from the pulpit and in church classrooms, share their views openly in the public square, select their own leaders, and minister to their members freely.”
  2. “…the right to use church properties in accordance with their beliefs without second-guessing from government… [in] such matters as employment, honor code standards, and accreditation at church schools.”
  3. “…a family’s right to worship and conduct religious activities in the home as it sees fit, and for parents to teach their children according to their religious values—recognizing that when children are old enough they will choose their own path.
  4. “…individual people of faith must maintain their constitutional rights. This would include
    1. “living in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs”
    2. “choosing their profession or employment or serving in public office without intimidation, coercion or retaliation from another group”

All of these seem very wise and reasonable. The problem, once again, comes in the examples.

The first example is “a Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so, especially when others are readily available to perform that function.” While preforming a life saving abortion may be a personal exception, should it be? What if there is no other doctor available? In addition, how far does this go? What other parts of the doctor’s Hippocratic oath might one ignore for religious reasons? It should also be noted that while abortion is against LDS Church policy, our doctrine does not support the policy.

In his next example, Elder Hollands mentions “a neighborhood Catholic pharmacist, who declines to carry the “morning after” pill when large pharmacy chains readily offer that item, should likewise not be pressured into violating his or her conscience by bullying or boycotting.” It is interesting that Elder Holland did not use a Catholic doctor not preforming an abortion as an example, seeing that a woman in Ireland died in 2012 due to the practice being illegal. Rather than save her life, she was told that Ireland “is a Catholic country.”

The pharmacy example is more complex than it appears. While in a free market system, of course any store should be able to sell what they want and not sell that they don’t want, the idea that consumers should be forced to shop there when it doesn’t carry what they need just doesn’t hold water. Of course, no one should be bullied. Yet a boycott is the consumer’s choice. We should always to be free to shop where we like and boycott shops that do not sell what we need and support. If the big chain stores carry more goods because they have no soul, then consumers can shop there for the same reasons, or simply for convenience. Stating there should be no boycotts is like saying that all those shopping at Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A to show their support for these companies’ stances on health care and marriage right respectively should also be condemned. That’s not how a free market works.

The worst part of this exercise was that after the fact, the LDS Newsroom went on to post an article that proved the Church had no interest in protecting LGBT rights at all. While the Church’s fourth principle states that “We reject persecution and retaliation of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief, economic circumstances or differences in gender or sexual orientation” the first Newsroom example states that a Baptist-affiliated organization, not a Baptist church, should not have to hire a homosexual.Right off the bat, their examples go to the idea that it should be okay to refrain from hiring someone based on sexual orientation.

While this may seem a bit hypocritical, this is a faith based, mission/outreach type of organization. It’s not like the Church is talking about a real money making business, like a restaurant, not hiring a homosexual. Maybe this is just a poor example.

Except that the second example is of a restaurant owner that was sued for firing a lesbian as her lifestyle (which is none of their business) went against the owner’s religious views. This is clear discrimination and the Church’s Newsroom states that this is “probably the most striking illustration of what effect a sexual orientation law can have on such a business.” There is no mention of the effects being fired for being a lesbian will have on this woman’s future as a cook.

The third example spoke of a health club, likely a business but clearly not a church, that “was ordered by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1985 to stop hiring only employees who shared their religious beliefs.” This is clear discrimination, as this is not a church. if it truly is a club that only allows Evangelical Christian, no Mormons, Catholics, other Christians or members of other faiths, then this shouldn’t be illegal. In fact, the LDS Newsroom wisely mentions the Boy Scouts as an example where this could become a problem with government involvement in clubs. The Church is correct here on the Boy Scout issue. Like the KKK, they are a bigoted organization – not a business – and thus should not be regulated like a business. If this health club is truly a club, it should have the same freedoms.

On the housing side, there are the same problems. The first housing example talks about Jewish school housing. If the school allowed a same-sex couple in, then they should house them. If they want those living in the housing to follow school rules, they should only allow students to live in them. The example is too vague to tell what category this couple fell into.

The second example talks of a woman that put a home for rent then refuses to rent it out. This is like offering to sell sandwiches but refusing to sell to anyone that doesn’t fit your religious world views. If she wanted to skirt the law, she should not have put it on the market and waited for her god to send her someone that fits into their world view.

Conclusion

The four principles the church has put together are both sound and Christlike. Jesus didn’t feed just the heterosexuals the loaves and fishes (Mark 6), He feed all that were there. He let the sinner wash his feet (Luke 7). Likewise, we should help feed all by hiring all that are willing to work, even the sinners.

However, the examples given are to make us fear Mormons and other Christians persecution, not to help the LGBT community. As Christians we are to be mocked and oppressed for His sake (Luke 6: 22).

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” – Paul (2 Corinthians 4: 8-10)

We are not to oppress others but to lift them up and serve as an example of He whom we follow. This fruit the Church leaders are now offering us is neither wholesome nor delightful and must be cast from the tree before the tree is destroyed. Rather than showing these the LDS Newsroom should be giving us the loving examples of Christians hiring people in the LGBT community. Where are the examples of the joy and love of all of us working together? Seeing that they do not exist, it is clear the Church is hardening its heart and not following the Lord or the principles it presented in the press conference.

  • Daniel Ortner

    You misinterpret the examples in a variety of ways. For instance with the example of Christian club in universities, you ignore the difference between private and public schools. Allowing a private religious school to limit membership on religious grounds is consistent with religious freedom, using the power of the state to force a christian club to accept non Christian membership is not. The difference is that the first amendment is intended as a restraint on the exercise of government power. Much of what you right simply fails to note that distinction and therefore is deeply flawed.

    Your distinction between a business and other orgnaization is also deeply flawed. The supreme court decision upholding the right of the boy scouts to exclude gay members was not predicated on the fact that the organization was a non profit, but that it was an expressive association which could be a for profit. The recent Hobby Lobby decision likewise shows that a for profit can have religious freedom rights which deserve protection. Many individuals start businesses because they belief those businesses are ways to glory and worship god. Church history is full of businesses started at the direction of the leadership of the church which was for the owners profit but also for the benefit of the church.

    Finally, neither the existing civil rights act nor any other federal legislation currently mandates anti-discrimination protection on basis of sexual orientation. We as a society get to collectively determine whether to draw the line. We may decide that some areas where discrimination is unacceptable on the basis of race due to the history of.racism is more acceptable on the basis of orientation. The church is calling for a debate on the exact contours of the law. We may not agree on where that line goes, but the place where that line is drawn is in our hands not predetermined by what the civil rights act or any other law did.

    • The constitution protects religions, private schools are still businesses and I could care less about the BSA, they have nothing to do with religion. We, as a Church, shouldn’t be supporting them. Let the BSA worry about the BSA. I agree that we need legislation to protect all minorities. I disagree with the idea that the Church currently endorses, that religion should allow people doing business with other people to let their prejudices harm others.

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