He That is Not Against Us is For Us—One Mormon’s Perspective on Interfaith Work

Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.

And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us. (Luke 9:46-50.)

jesus-and-the-little-children-medium

Image from LDS.org

In a world fraught with polarization, violence, and distrust of that which is different from us, it is often tempting to focus on the Savior’s phrase “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30), rather than the saying “he that is not against us is for us.” This is very apparent in the field of religion and religious differences, where people argue about which religion is the greatest in the eyes of Deity and often resort to force to make their point. As such, we live in a world where religion causes violence as much as it creates peace. In the United States alone, we’ve seen shootings that targeted Christians, like the one in Oregon last year reportedly did; shootings by a Christian targeting an abortion clinic in Colorado; radicalized Muslims engaging in violent attacks from time to time; and so forth. On the global scene, we see the ongoing conflicts and attacks caused by the ISIS in the Middle East and elsewhere, tensions in Northern Ireland that crystalize over Anglican-Catholic conflicts, and Christian-Muslim conflicts that have exploded into in civil wars in a few African countries.

Divides caused by religion carry over in smaller, less violent ways as well. I remember as a child that I lived near a Catholic school. Since we lived so close, my Mom would take my sister and me over to their playground to play. One day, however, another child who was there wouldn’t play with me. When I asked him why he would not, he simply told me that it was because I was a Mormon and his mom told him that I was going hell. That’s not to say that I was any better as a child—in the fourth grade, when a Hispanic boy told me that he was Catholic, I told him that his religion was “the great and abominable church,” referring to a private interpretation I had heard of a vision in the Book of Mormon. He got very defensive and upset, telling me that his church wasn’t “the great boom-boom church” I was saying it was. While not in any way as serious or devastating as the religious conflicts mentioned above, these events from my childhood were still not very pleasant and reflect some of the same mentality that, when taken to an extreme, results in more serious problems.

All this being said, is it possible to reach across divides and gain a better understanding of people who we don’t see eye to eye with on religious and philosophical ideas? Can we do that because of our religion rather than doing it in spite of religious convictions? I believe we can. In my own life, I’ve come a long way since the fourth grade. I’m currently going to college at Utah State University in Logan, Utah and I’m involved in the USU Interfaith Student Association; I ring in an interfaith handbell choir operated by the Presbyterian Church in downtown Logan; I have friends, relatives, and associates from a variety of religious backgrounds (Christians, Muslims, Jews, and agnostics mostly); while still remaining a devoted and active Mormon. Through many of these groups I’ve had some great opportunities to experience firsthand what happens when people reach across the divide to build understanding and friendship rather than division and distrust. For this reason, the words of one of my religious leaders—Dieter F. Uchtdorf—resonate deeply with me:

The effort to throw off traditions of distrust and pettiness and truly see one another with new eyes—to see each other not as aliens or adversaries but as fellow travelers, brothers and sisters, and children of God—is one of the most challenging while at the same time most rewarding and ennobling experiences of our human existence. . . .

This conviction and resolve to overcome our lower instincts and truly love all mankind regardless of race, religion, political ideology, and socioeconomic circumstances is one of the grand objectives of our human existence.

It is the essence of pure religion.

It may not be an easy thing to do.

But it is worth doing, and we can do it.[1]

Dieter F. Uchtdorf Throw of distrust is rewarding Interfaith

To answer the question, “Can we be inspired by our religion to reach across the religious divides?” I would like take a look into my own religion—Mormonism—to discuss how I am inspired by my religion to engage in interfaith work. As a framework to my remarks, I’d like to refer to a statement by Eboo Patel—an influential leader of the interfaith movement in the United States—about what is necessary for someone to successfully become an interfaith leader: “You need three basic things to be an interfaith leader . . . vision, knowledge base and skill set—all towards the end of creating spaces where people from different faith backgrounds come together to build understanding and to cooperate.”[2]

  1. Vision

In explaining his statement, Eboo Patel said that the vision is “the idea that people from different religions ought to come together to build cooperation. That’s not to be taken for granted. A lot of people who believe in the clash of civilizations believe that different religious identities are inherently opposed to each other. So the first thing you need to be an interfaith leader is a framework that understanding and cooperation is possible.”[3]

Over the years, LDS Church leaders have indicated that they have caught this vision and want members of the Church to carry it out. I’ll highlight a few examples below.

By the end of his life, the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805-1844) indicated that he wanted to engage in positive, interfaith-like ways with other Christian denominations. He taught that “friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism”[4]—a significant statement, given that he only used the term “fundamental principle of Mormonism” to describe two other things—a belief in Jesus the Christ’s resurrection, and the search for truth. He also made it clear that this friendship was meant to extend to people of many different faiths. For example, in July of 1843, he taught that:

The inquiry is frequently made of me, “Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?” In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles of “Mormonism” is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.

We believe in the Great Elohim who sits enthroned in yonder heavens. So do the Presbyterians. If a skillful mechanic, in taking a welding heat, uses borax, alum, etc., and succeeds in welding together iron or steel more perfectly than any other mechanic, is he not deserving of praise? And if by the principles of truth I succeed in uniting men of all denominations in the bonds of love, shall I not have attained a good object?

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which he revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst.[5]

Joseph Smith Drink into one Love Interfaith

With the goal of “uniting men of all denominations in the bonds of love,” Joseph Smith was suggesting that Mormonism could not only participate, but also become leaders in interfaith work. His belief that “Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst” is a core idea behind such interfaith efforts, though it is extended beyond the circle of Christianity to all of the world’s religions in today’s global world.

We also see in the Prophet’s statement above an expanded view of the church or kingdom of God on earth that encourages greater cooperation between people of various faiths. He stated that “we could all drink into one principle of love.” The only place in our scriptures that uses the phrase “drink into one” is Paul’s discussion of the “body of Christ”:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12–13.)

If Joseph Smith was intending to make a passing reference to Paul’s epistle, he may have been suggesting that Christian churches, uniting together in love, could be viewed collectively as the body of Christ—often understood to be the Church of Christ. This wasn’t a suggestion that all Christian churches should lose all denominational distinctions and blend into one institution—for example, the Prophet maintained that Mormonism had priesthood authority and truths that other Christian denominations did not have. Instead, it seems to be a suggestion that disciples of Christ inside or outside of any individual religion could be considered a part of Christ’s larger following or church.

More recent LDS Church leaders have continued to call upon Church members to practice respect and love with people from different faith traditions. The current president of the Church—Thomas S. Monson—said that “We have a responsibility . . . to work cooperatively with other churches and organizations. My objective there is . . . that we eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute it or the strength of people working together.”[6]

Thomas S. Monson Interfaith

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008)—one of the longest serving and most-beloved presidents of the Church in recent decades—declared in his inaugural address as president of the Church that:

I plead with our people everywhere to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies. We must not be partisans of any doctrine of ethnic superiority. We live in a world of diversity. We can and must be respectful toward those with whose teachings we may not agree. We must be willing to defend the rights of others who may become the victims of bigotry.[7]

Gordon B. Hinckley Diversity Interfaith

Many other examples could be given, but these three church leaders give a good sample of what LDS Church members are taught about the vision of interfaith work.

2. Knowledge Base

Eboo Patel had the following to say about having a knowledge base:

The second thing you need is a knowledge base. You need to have an appreciative understanding of other traditions. You need to be able to identify shared values across traditions. How does Islam speak to mercy? How does Christianity speak to mercy? How do Jews speak to mercy? You can do the same with hospitality or service or compassion. These are what the Interfaith Youth Core calls shared values.

Part of a knowledge base, for a religious person at least, is what we call a theology of interfaith cooperation. You ought to be able to tell somebody in your own faith why you, as a Christian or as a Muslim or as a Jew, engage in interfaith cooperation.

You also need to know the history of interfaith cooperation. You hear people say all the time, “Well, Muslims and Jews are fighting now because they’ve always fought,” and that’s just false. But if you don’t know about the history of cooperation between Muslims and Jews, in Andalucía or the Ottoman Empire, then that lie of Muslims and Jews always fighting stands.[8]

LDS Church members have been encouraged to gain an appreciative knowledge of other religions from a very early time. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that if the “Presbyterians [have] any truth embrace that. [Same for the] Baptist. Methodist &c. get all the good in the world. [and you will] come out a pure Mormon.”[9] President Brigham Young likewise told a son who asked if it was okay to attend a Protestant Christian service while he was living in the eastern United States that, “With regard to your attending Protestant Episcopal service, I have no objection whatever. On the contrary, I would like to have you attend, and see what they can teach you about God and Godliness more than you have already been taught.”[10]

Brigham Young Attend Episcopal Interfaith Meme

We are also taught to respect the good found in other religions and their teachings. In 1978, the First Presidency—the highest quorum of Church leadership—issued a statement that affirmed that “the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.” They went on to say that, “Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.”[11] President Brigham Young likewise taught that:

So far as mortality is concerned, millions of the inhabitants of the earth live according to the best light they have—according to the best knowledge they possess. I have told you frequently that they will receive according to their works; and all, who live according to the best principles in their possession, or that they can understand, will receive peace, glory, comfort, joy and a crown that will be far beyond what they are anticipating. They will not be lost.[12]

Brigham Young All who follow their religions receive glory Interfaith

Inspired by these ideas, I have been making the effort to spend at least part of my devotional study time each day learning about other religions. I’ve been alternating reading books that talk about the other religion (basics of belief and practice, etc.) and books that people in that religion would study in their devotional studies (the Qur’an, the words of the current Dalai Lama, etc.). It has been a fascinating, enlightening, and enjoyable journey to learn what they believe, what is similar to my own beliefs, and what is different. I have gained greater respect for many of those religions, particularly ones that I knew little about beforehand, such as the Sikh religion and Buddhism. I have also gained a deeper appreciation of aspects of my own religion that are viewed from a different light or emphasized differently in these other religions.

In addition, my wife and I have decided to celebrate one holiday from a different religion each year, and to take time to learn about the religion that celebrates that holiday as we do so. This is not done for the sake of cultural appropriation, but for the sake of gaining a greater understanding and appreciation of different religions. In addition, as part of the discussion, we intend to bring up our own, Mormon theology of interfaith cooperation. It is our hope that as we have children and raise them with this tradition, they will gain a knowledge base that lends itself to an appreciative understanding of other traditions, a knowledge of shared values across traditions, an understanding of our own theology of interfaith cooperation, and that they will learn a bit of history that will help them to participate in interfaith cooperation in their own lives.

3. Skill Set

Eboo Patel went on to state that: “The third thing you need is a skill set. Are you able to tell your story of interfaith enrichment compellingly? Are you able to speak with people from different religions in a way that they can trust you? Are you able to organize activities that bring them together?” [13]

Admittedly, developing the skill set necessary to engage in interfaith cooperation has been, at times, a slow process for the LDS Church as a whole. Our commitment to missionary work has often take priority at the expense of meaningful interfaith outreach, and a siege mentality developed during the traumatic experiences that Mormons underwent in the United States during the mid-19th Century that still influences Mormon culture to this day. In addition, even when Church leadership has been working on interfaith outreach, the individual practicing Mormon may not catch on to the vision.

That being said, great stride have been and are being made by the LDS Church. The general authorities running the Church lead the way—President Henry B. Eyring, Elder L. Tom Perry, and Bishop Gérald Caussé attended an interfaith Vatican Summit on the family in November 2014; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has received the Torch of Liberty Award from the Anti-Defamation League for work in improving understanding between Christians and Jews; and Elder Quentin L. Cook has spoken occasionally of his friendship with prominent Jew by the name of Robert Abrams to cite a few examples. More recently, the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Elder L. Whitney Clayton participated in the opening ceremonies and later on, Temple Square hosted an interfaith musical performance that featured such diverse groups as Native Americans, Muslims, Jews, Quakers, Sikhs, and many other religious traditions. On a less official level, Mormons participated in the Parliament as local volunteers, and several workshops on Mormon topics were held over the course of the conference. I personally had the chance to attend the Parliament as a volunteer and while I was there, I was told by a Sikh girl from Southern California that she was very impressed with Mormons in her area because so many of them made the effort to be involved in interfaith activities.[14] Many other examples of Mormons being involved in interfaith activism might be given as well.

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Elder L. Whitney Clayton at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

There have also been efforts to tell a story of interfaith enrichment in compelling ways.  Many of the Church leaders—Jeffrey R. Holland,[15] Quentin L. Cook,[16] L. Tom Perry,[17] and Dieter F. Uchtdorf[18] being notable examples—have given address to Latter-day Saints and others that speak of their experiences in interfaith enrichment and encourage everyone else to have similar experiences. In addition, the Ensign—the official magazine of the Church for adult Mormons—has published articles from time to time that speak of interfaith enrichment and outline ways that Mormons can develop the skills that Eboo Patel listed as being necessary, most notably an article called “Becoming Better Saints through Interfaith Involvement” in December 2013.[19]

In my own life, I have not had a lot of experience in leading interfaith movements—I’ve mostly been a follower who tries to stay involved where I can. Still, I have taken the time to learn and practice skills in talking to people with different beliefs in ways that do not cause discomfort or to make them feel like I have alternative agendas from simply gaining understanding. I have found that most people are happy to talk about their own beliefs and to build bridges of friendship and understanding and that learning about other religions does not undermine my own beliefs as a Mormon. Developing that skill set further is something that will take time and effort on my part, as it does for anyone else.

 

Conclusion

My hope is that what I have written, simple though it might be, is an example of how one religion—Mormonism—has teachings and beliefs that lend themselves to interfaith cooperation. I know that my religion is not alone in having a theology of interfaith cooperation—my experiences have taken place with Christians of many denominations, as well as individuals from many other religions. It is very possible to reach across divides and gain a better understanding of people who we don’t see eye to eye with on religious and philosophical ideas because of our religion rather than in spite of religious convictions. It is also very necessary to do so if we are to have hope for a better future in a fractured world. As we do so, we can join with Jesus of Nazareth in saying: “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:50.)

Joseph Smith_Father

[1] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Fellow Travelers, Brothers and Sisters, Children of God,” John A. Widtsoe Symposium, University of Southern California, 24 April 2015. https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/fellow-travelers-brothers-and-sisters-children-of-god?lang=eng

[2] Eboo Patel, “Look to young people for leadership in interfaith cooperation,” Faith & Leadership 10/10/2011, https://www.faithandleadership.com/qa/eboo-patel-look-young-people-for-leadership-interfaith-cooperation. Accessed 4/1/2016.

[3] Patel, “Look to young people.”

[4] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4714-4719). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[5] Joseph Smith Jr. and Joseph Fielding Smith (ed.), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 313-314. Compare with sermon, 9 July 1843 in Ehat and Cook, Words, 229.

[6] Thomas, S. Monson, in “The Mormon Ethic of Civility,” Oct. 16, 2009, mormonnewsroom.org

[7] Gordon B. Hinckley, “This Work is the Work of the Master,” CR, April 1995.

[8] Patel, “Look to young people.”

[9] Joseph Smith Diary report of Joseph Smith sermon, 9 July 1843, and Joseph Smith Diary report of Joseph Smith sermon 23 July 1843, in Ehat and Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, Kindle Locations 4599-4600 and 4718-4719.

[10] Brigham Young to Willard Young, 25 July 1871. Cited in Leonard J. Arrington, “Willard Young: The Prophet’s Son at West Point,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, V.4, No. 4 (Winter 1969), 42.

[11] Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, Marion G. Romney, Statement of the First Presidency Regarding God’s Love for All Mankind, February 15, 1978.

[12] Brigham Young, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 287.

[13] Patel, “Look to young people.”

[14] For more examples of Mormon interfaith involvement see the Mormon Newsroom article on Interfaith Relations found at http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/interfaith.

[15] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Standing Together in the Cause of Christ,” Ensign August 2012. https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/08/standing-together-for-the-cause-of-christ?lang=eng

[16] Quentin L. Cook, “Partnering with our Friends from Other Faiths,” August 9, 2010. http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Partnering-with-Our-Friends-from-Other-Faiths

[17] L. Tom Perry, “Why Marriage and Family Matter—Everywhere in the World,” CR April 2015. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/why-marriage-and-family-matter-everywhere-in-the-world?lang=eng

[18] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Fellow Travelers, Brothers and Sisters, Children of God,” John A. Widtsoe Symposium, University of Southern California, 24 April 2015. https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/fellow-travelers-brothers-and-sisters-children-of-god?lang=eng

[19] Betsy VanDenBerghe, “Becoming Better Saints through Interfaith Involvement,” Ensign December 2013. https://www.lds.org/ensign/2013/12/becoming-better-saints-through-interfaith-involvement?lang=eng

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 14: Marriage and Family—Ordained of God

Like many of the more recent prophets and apostles, Ezra Taft Benson felt it was important to preserve and build up the traditional family structure and loving, healthy environments in the home. This focus shines through in a whole section of the manual, where five chapters in a row related to themes that touch this basic concept. Chapter 14 is the second chapter of this set, focusing on the importance of the traditional family. The actual timing of when these lessons will be taught is interesting, particularly for those living in the United States, given the recent Supreme Court decision regarding homosexual marriage (more on that later).

In this chapter, the life section describes some of how Ezra Taft Benson and his wife ran their family and his feelings about family. Section one focuses on the centrality of the family in society and in the Church. Section two contains advice two married couples on how to maintain a successful marriage. Section three describes ways in which happy and healthy homes can be maintained in the Gospel. Section four focuses on how to raise righteous children in the Gospel. Section five is a shorter section talking about how families can be eternal.

Ezra Taft Benson with his family. Image courtesy LDS.org

Ezra Taft Benson with his family.
Image courtesy LDS.org

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

“Love at Home” (Hymns 294)

“Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth” (Hymns 298)

“Families Can Be Together Forever” (Hymns 300)

“In Our Lovely Deseret” (Hymns 307)

Videos

“Come Follow Me: Marriage and Family” video collection

Object Lessons

  • Take two packages of powdered punch mix, some sugar and some water. Mix both packages of punch with water, one with sugar (following the directions) and one without sugar. First, serve the punch without the sugar to some of the class or quorum. The group should be allowed to describe the taste, which is usually bitter and sour. Then, serve the punch that was made with sugar. While the students are drinking this punch, liken the punch without sugar to a marriage in which both partners are not following the directions that the Lord has given us for marriage. If we do not do all we can to make our marriage a happy one, it can be a very bitter and sour experience. However, if we follow the directions and add that little bit of sugar, the marriage will be much more enjoyable.
  • Hold up a donut and compare it to earthly marriage: sweet and delicious but built around a big hole: “til death do us part.” Tell the sisters or brothers, “‘Do-nut’ settle for a marriage that won’t last into the eternities.” Pass around cinnamon rolls, comparing those to eternal marriage without a hole.[1]

Further Reading

The Divine Institution of Marriage

Julie B. Beck: Teaching the Doctrine of the Family

Eugene England: On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage

Bruce D. Porter: Defending the Family in a Troubled World

L. Tom Perry: Why Marriage and Family Matter—Everywhere in the World

L. Tom Perry: Traditions of Light and Testimony

D. Todd Christofferson: Why Marriage, Why Family

Quotes

David O. McKay

David O.  and Emma Ray McKay

David O. McKay: No other success can compensate for failure in the home.[2]

A child has the right to feel that in his home he has a place of refuge, a place of protection from the dangers and evils of the outside world. Family unity and integrity are necessary to supply this need.[3]

I should like to urge continued courtship, and apply this to grown people. Too many couples have come to the altar of marriage looking upon the marriage ceremony as the end of courtship instead of the beginning of an eternal courtship. Let us not forget that during the burdens of home life—and they come—that tender words of appreciation, courteous acts are even more appreciated than during those sweet days and months of courtship. It is after the ceremony and during the trials that daily arise in the home that a word of ‘thank you,’ or ‘pardon me,’ ‘if you please,’ on the part of husband or wife contributes to that love which brought you to the altar. It is well to keep in mind that love can be starved to death as literally as the body that receives no sustenance. Love feeds upon kindness and courtesy.[4]

Happiness is the end, really, of our existence. That happiness comes most effectively through service to our fellow men.[5]

Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee: I have frequently counseled, and I repeat it to you again, to all of you here: “The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes.” We must never forget that.[6]

Again and again has been repeated the statement that the home is the basis of a righteous life. With new and badly needed emphasis on the ‘how,’ we must not lose sight of the ‘why’ we are so engaged. The priesthood programs operate in support of the home; the auxiliary programs render valuable assistance. Wise regional leadership can help us to do our share in attaining God’s overarching purpose, ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’ (Moses 1:39.) Both the revelations of God and the learning of men tell us how crucial the home is in shaping the individual’s total life experience. You must have been impressed that running through all that has been said in this conference has been the urgency of impressing the importance of better teaching and greater parental responsibility in the home. Much of what we do organizationally, then, is scaffolding, as we seek to build the individual, and we must not mistake the scaffolding for the soul.[7]

Howard W. Hunter

Howard W.  and Inis Egan Hunter

Howard W. Hunter: You should express regularly to your wife and children your reverence and respect for her. Indeed, one of the greatest things a father can do for his children is to love their mother.[8]

President Russel M. Nelson

President Russel M. and Wendy Watson  Nelson

Russel M. Nelson: This life is the time to prepare for salvation and exaltation.  In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.[9]

Individual progression is fostered in the family, which is “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”  The home is to be God’s laboratory of love and service. There a husband is to love his wife, a wife is to love her husband, and parents and children are to love one another.

Throughout the world, the family is increasingly under attack. If families fail, many of our political, economic, and social systems will also fail. And if families fail, their glorious eternal potential cannot be realized.

Our Heavenly Father wants husbands and wives to be faithful to each other and to esteem and treat their children as an heritage from the Lord.  In such a family we study the scriptures and pray together. And we fix our focus on the temple. There we receive the highest blessings that God has in store for His faithful children. [10]

L. Tom Perry

L. Tom and Virginia C. Perry

L. Tom Perry: The Church . . . is the scaffolding with which we build eternal families. . . .

The Church as scaffolding is perhaps best represented by a statement the Prophet Joseph Smith made about his role as the leader of the Church. He said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” Eternal principles are the scaffolding the Church provides. These eternal principles are embedded in the doctrines of the kingdom of God and are reflected in His eternal plan of happiness. We meet as members of the Church to teach and learn from each other the principles of righteousness and to receive saving ordinances so the scaffolding is steady and stable as we build our eternal families.

Notice that the Church is not meant to do the work of parents; rather, it guides the work of parents. The Church offers an eternal form. As builders of eternal families, we are reassured by promises that if we build according to this eternal form, our efforts can provide the safety and protection we seek for those we love most.[11]

Make the honoring of family traditions—holiday traditions, birthday traditions, Sunday traditions, dinnertime traditions—and the development of new ones a priority throughout your lives. Honor them, write them down, and make certain you follow them. Studies show that the reason young people join gangs is for the tradition and ritual of belonging to something larger than self. That is what a family should be. Be certain you are creating a rich environment in which your family can look forward to special times of the year when traditions hold you together as a great eternal family unit.

Understand that this is neither a simple nor an easy solution. Just as Rome was not built in a day, neither are family traditions. Family traditions can offer basic and lasting support, but there’s a lot that must be built around them. Perhaps family traditions work only when they create a role for every member of the family and when there is united effort to build them. This means family members need to spend time together and learn how to work together. When it comes to families, there is no such thing as quality time without a certain quantity of time.[12]

LDS Church Administration Building

LDS Church Administration Building

Official Church Website: No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction. Each experience is different. Latter-day Saints recognize the enormous complexity of this matter. We simply don’t have all the answers. Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness. We must not judge anyone for the feelings they experience. Members of the Church who have same-sex attractions, but don’t act on them, can continue to enjoy full fellowship in the church, which includes holding the priesthood, carrying out callings, and attending the temple. Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex. Same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but yielding to it is. However, through repentance Jesus Christ will offer forgiveness.

A Deeper Look

As mentioned at the start of this post, a recent Supreme Court decision in the United States cleared the way for gay marriages everywhere in the country. Since most of the individuals who visit this blog are from the United States, it is likely that this will be a subject of some importance to those reading this post. Due to the timing of this lesson, it is highly likely that the subject of homosexuality will either come up in class, be a subtext to the discussion though never mentioned directly, or be on people’s minds while they talk about families. Homosexuality is a very complicated and sensitive subject that could cause hurt feelings, heated discussions, and a loss of the Spirit in a class setting if discussed improperly. This is particularly true since homosexuality is a relatively common but little-understood experience and there is likely either individuals who experience homosexual attraction or individuals who have someone close to them who experiences homosexual attraction in the classroom.

Supreme Court

Regardless of whatever stances members hold, it is important to maintain what Joseph Smith called “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism”: friendship. The Church is an opportunity to develop and practice principles of friendship and love (which Christ himself said was the second great commandment) with individuals who have both similarities and differences from ourselves. We need to make sure that everyone feels welcomed and loved at Church. On the other hand, we do have to make a stand for what we believe. As an instructor, in order to navigate this issue and guide class discussions appropriately, it is helpful to fully understand and be able to quote the official Church stances on the issues at hand.

There are a number of web pages and a website that the Church has set up to deal with the issue. Probably the four most important ones to look at are as follows:

Gospel Topic: Same-Sex Attraction

Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction

The Divine Institution of Marriage

First Presidency Letter, 29 June 2015

It is also important to understand that Church stances on specific parts of the issues at hand have shifted from time to time as more information has been revealed and accepted, and that high-ranking Church leaders may hold and express opinions that are their own and not the official stance of the Church at the present time. Thus, if previous leaders such as President Spencer W. Kimball, President Boyd K. Packer, or others describe homosexuality as a disease possibly brought on by parental failure, masturbation or satanic influences and curable by special treatments or heterosexual marriage and current Church official sources state contrary, it is the current stance that should be used to represent the Church and its beliefs, not the former. We do believe in supporting the living prophet, not just venerating dead ones, after all. That is why it is important to be read up on current Church literature on the subject. As a matter of understanding on the issues cited above, the Church website for “gays and Mormons” does declare itself to be representative of the official stance for the Church and states that: “No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction. . . . Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness. We must not judge anyone for the feelings they experience. . . . Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex.”

There are three big questions that I see that should be highlighted in a discussion on homosexuality:

  • Is homosexual orientation a sin?
  • Where does the Church draw the line on homosexual relationships and why?
  • How are Church members to treat people that are openly gay or supportive of gays?

I don’t have time to go into great detail on each question, so a paragraph or two each will have to do. Those who want more detail should explore the sites listed above.

First, is homosexual orientation a sin? A point to first be made is that the Church differentiates between homosexual orientation and homosexual sexual activity and that the former is not a sin, but the latter is: “The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.”[13] This position—that same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is—is reiterated consistently in all current Church resources that touch on the subject, from “For the Strength of Youth” to the sources linked above.

The root cause of same-sex attraction is a more dicey issue in Church discourse, historically. The root concern comes from the question: If God wants people to not carry out homosexual sex, why does same-sex attraction exist? It’s really a bit of a theodicy problem for Mormon theology—the question of why if God is perfect in attributes and all-powerful do things that are either contrary to his will or harmful to humans physically, emotionally, or spiritually exist. In the past, some Church leaders have indeed held that same-sex attraction was not anything based in the innate biology of an individual (since that would implicate God to one degree or another) but rather stemming out of poor choices of either the individual who experiences same-sex attraction or her/his parents. Currently, the Church has backed off from harsh positions of this sort and holds that the origin of same-sex attraction not a choice, but is complex, not well understood, and that we simply do not know why it exists. As such, it encourages Church members to not judge or condemn those who do experience same-sex attraction. The Church’s website Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction has the most in-depth look at this question.

Turning to the second question: Where does the Church draw the line on homosexuality? Essentially, the Church holds to the idea that sexual intimacy is meant to only occur in marriage and that marriage was only meant to occur between a man and a woman (or in certain time periods, between a man and women). While Church leaders have indicated that sexual intimacy is an expression of love between two individuals and it satisfies a physical need, it is something to be tightly regulated to ensure that children will be able to be born and grow in a healthy, stable environment:

Marriage is far more than a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations. Rather, marriage is a vital institution for rearing children and teaching them to become responsible adults. Throughout the ages, governments of all types have recognized marriage as essential in preserving social stability and perpetuating life. Regardless of whether marriages were performed as a religious rite or a civil ceremony, in almost every culture marriage has been protected and endorsed by governments primarily to preserve and foster the institution most central to rearing children and teaching them the moral values that undergird civilization.

It is true that some couples who marry will not have children, either by choice or because of infertility. The special status granted marriage is nevertheless closely linked to the inherent powers and responsibilities of procreation and to the innate differences between the genders. By contrast, same-sex marriage is an institution no longer linked to gender—to the biological realities and complementary natures of male and female. Its effect is to decouple marriage from its central role in creating life, nurturing time-honored values, and fostering family bonds across generations.[14]

As such, the Church holds that:

While maintaining that feelings and inclinations toward the same sex are not inherently sinful, engaging in homosexual behavior is in conflict with the “doctrinal principle, based on sacred scripture … that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”

Because the Church believes that the sacred powers of procreation are “to be exercised only between a man and a woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife … any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, undermine the divinely created institution of the family.” Accordingly, the Church favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.[15]

This concern for preserving traditional family for the sake of children extends to worries over how societal acceptance of homosexuality will affect the strength of traditional families. The “The Divine Institution of Marriage” document is the resource that is probably the clearest on this particular area of concern.

While the Church has maintained a strong position against homosexual marriage, when it comes to the question of how Church members are supposed to treat people that are openly homosexual or supportive of homosexual marriage and relationships, it is striving to be as compassionate as it can be while (figuratively) sticking to its guns. As stated in the recent First Presidency letter issued to Latter-day Saints to counsel them after the Supreme Court ruling:

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.[16]

Again, as stated elsewhere:

Jesus Christ commanded us to love our neighbors. Whether sinner or saint, rich or poor, stranger or friend, everyone in God’s small world is our neighbor, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Latter-day Saints believe that our true commitment to Christian teachings is revealed by how we respond to this commandment. This love is tested every day of our lives. We may know individuals with same-sex attraction in our workplaces, congregations and town halls. As people with hopes, fears and aspirations like everyone else, these neighbors deserve our love. But we can’t truly love the neighbors next door if we don’t love the neighbors under our own roof. Family members with same-sex attraction need our love and understanding. God loves all his children alike, much more than any of us can comprehend, and expects us to follow.[17]

So, in final summary, the Church holds that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on those desires is, though repentance and redemption is always available through the Atonement. Sex is to only occur in marriage and marriage is only to occur between a man and a woman in order to create healthy and stable children. Regardless of what other individuals choose to practice in regard to homosexuality, however, they deserve to be treated with love and compassion. Hopefully some of these resources will be useful as the topic comes up in Church in upcoming weeks. Happy teaching!

Ezra Taft Benson and his wife, Flora

Ezra Taft Benson and his wife, Flora

Disclaimer: I have tried to summarize the Church’s position on a few questions relative to homosexuality, however something must be understood: This blog is not an official Church site and does not necessarily represent the Church’s position entirely accurately. The resources I have linked to this blog do, however, represent the Church’s official position as of July 2015.

[1] Boice, Trina (2014-11-09). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (Kindle Locations 1362-1364). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] David O. McKay: Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 154.

[3] McKay, Teachings, 43.

[4] McKay, Teachings, 149.

[5] McKay, Teachings, 182.

[6] The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 280.

[7] Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 107

[8] Howard W. Hunter, “Being a Righteous Husband and Father, ” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 50.

[9] Russell M. Nelson, “Salvation and Exaltation,” CR, April 2008, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/salvation-and-exaltation?lang=eng

[10] Russell M. Nelson, “Salvation and Exaltation,” CR, April 2008, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/salvation-and-exaltation?lang=eng

[11] L. Tom Perry, “Traditions of Light and Testimony,” Ensign, December 2012, https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/12/the-tradition-of-light-and-testimony?lang=eng

[12] Perry, “Traditions.”

[13] http://mormonsandgays.org/, accessed 17 July 2015

[14] “The Divine Institution of Marriage,” Mormon Newsroom, accessed 17 July 2015, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/the-divine-institution-of-marriage

[15] “Same-Gender Attraction,” LDS.org, Gospel Topics, accessed 17 July 2015, https://www.lds.org/topics/same-gender-attraction?lang=eng

[16] http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/top-church-leaders-counsel-members-after-supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-decision

[17] http://mormonsandgays.org/ accessed 17 July 2015