Friday, August 29, 2008

Draft of Sunstone Response

I was asked to respond to a Sunstone blog post, with both pieces intended to appear in the printed publication. Let me know if you have any suggestions for making this a stronger piece.

The Inevitability of Parting Ways with Babylon:
A Response to Matt Thurston

By Christopher Bigelow

Yes, civilizations naturally evolve, as do human organizations on a smaller scale, including the LDS Church. Matt Thurston, Levi Peterson, and Armand Mauss do a marvelous job of describing how this process occurs and how the LDS Church’s evolution is directly affected by its host civilization’s evolution.

All three gentlemen, however, seem to share a basic assumption that human civilization inevitably progresses in a positive direction. But what happens when civilization begins devolving, which has happened to every individual human society in the past and—now that we’re becoming one big worldwide civilization—could eventually happen on a global scale? Does Mormonism need to devolve along with human civilization in order to survive? And where does gay marriage fit into this equation?

When Mormons adopted the practice of polygamy, we were the ones who were hyper-evolving, not the host civilization, which continued to champion traditional heterosexual monogamy. In order to maintain that optimal tension of which Mauss speaks, the Mormons had to return to the marital status quo, at least in terms of earthly practice. And it’s a good thing we did, or we could never have enjoyed the growth and progress we did during the twentieth century.

When our host civilization underwent the civil rights movement and evolved in the morally correct direction of full racial equality, the LDS Church was the one left dragging its feet in the old racist status quo, but we eventually came around because it was the right thing to do, in harmony with the gospel. Oh, yes—and because the prophet received a revelation.

When our host civilization found itself considering the Equal Rights Amendment for women, the LDS Church sensed a threat to the family and held its ground and resisted in an unprecedentedly high-profile way. Now, some thirty years and millions of stressed-out women later, some feminists question whether women really can or should or even want to have it all. The LDS Church made the right choice, and fortunately the host civilization opted not to change the fabric of society in such a fundamental way.

Today, we find ourselves at another major evolutionary crossroads with gay marriage, and I agree with Thurston that it’s inevitable, regardless of what happens in California this fall. A mere thirty years after coming out of the closet, the gay movement has gained the upper hand on public relations, cultural acceptance, and political momentum. An ever-increasing number of citizens accept that some people are simply born “gay” and should be given full marriage rights, and a surprising number of Mormons accept it too.

But is this understanding correct? Is accepting gay marriage a positive evolution or a negative devolution for our civilization? The twentieth century saw plenty of moral devolution, and many laws changed to tolerate people’s personal liberties. But with gay marriage, now we’re not merely tolerating people’s right to live the gay lifestyle but actually embracing and celebrating that lifestyle by putting it up on a pedestal next to traditional heterosexual marriage. Should Mormons go along with this evolution for the sake of maintaining Mauss’s optimal tension, or is there a point at which Mormonism must keep its integrity rather than capitulate, even at the risk of losing its standing in the civilization?

I realize that there’s much more to same-sex attraction than the carnal desire to copulate with a member of one’s own sex. But the way I see it, the question boils down to whether same-sex copulation—and I’m going to go ahead and call it by its biblical name of sodomy—has any redeeming qualities in a gospel sense and could ever, if legitimized through being given marital status, be taken off the sin list. If it could be, then I agree with Thurston that the LDS Church will accept gay marriage—and probably sooner than later, given the degree of pressure our society will increasingly exert on those who display even the slightest hint of “homophobia” or discrimination against those who choose to live a gay lifestyle.

But what if society is wrong this time? What if gay marriage is, in reality, a tipping point in our civilization’s trend toward moral devolution? Same-sex attraction and sodomy have always been with us, but the public gay-identity movement is an unprecedented cultural development that’s scarcely thirty years old. As with most modern social revolutions, the seeds of the gay revolution were planted in the 1960s. Does the gay revolution have more in common with the sexual revolution or with the civil rights revolution? From any kind of responsible Mormon perspective, one of those revolutions was inarguably good and the other inarguably bad.

With two fully developed, diametrically opposed cultures and ideologies tearing same-sex-attracted people in two, I can see where it would be a terrible time to be a Mormon who’s subject to same-sex attraction, far worse than it would have been fifty years ago, when the gay lifestyle was still illicit and underground. So I’m glad the LDS Church has made progress in understanding and accepting people with same-sex attraction, and I hope to see more progress made, especially in the area of helping families avoid shunning their members who choose to live the gay lifestyle, even if the church can no longer administer them the sacrament.

As a Mormon who believes in the prophecies regarding the last days, however, it’s very difficult for me to see how the gay movement is an evolutionary step in the right direction for our civilization, either morally or biologically. I personally feel disturbed that so many Mormons, in their eagerness to be politically correct and to show well-meaning compassion to troubled same-sex-attracted Mormons, are so quick to overlook the spiritual dangers of the act of same-sex sodomy. How could same-gender copulation possibly fit into the Mormon plan of salvation, logically or otherwise?

If the LDS Church had not extended full equality to blacks in 1978, I cannot imagine where the church would be today. If the church resists gay marriage, as I think it must if it wants to retain its integrity, it’s going to be as bad or worse for us than if we had resisted civil rights. But the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, and neither can his church. We have no choice but to hold the line against legitimizing sodomy through gay marriage. The LDS Church has already bent over backward as far as it possibly can by keeping mum as sodomy laws have been repealed and gay couples have been given civil rights. To keep staying mum as our civilization crosses this new line with gay marriage would equate with voluntarily surrendering our religious liberty to continue defining sodomy as a sin.

If you believe in Mormon prophecies, we’re in the latter days, if not the last days. It’s prophesied that the world will become progressively wickeder, not less so. As things get worse, the righteous will eventually need to separate themselves from the wicked, in order to preserve their liberties and their religious rights, if not their very lives. At this point in the world’s history, does a major new evolutionary step like gay marriage really seem like a good idea that’s likely to bear good fruit?

In 1890 and even in 1978, Mormonism still had plenty of work to do on a worldwide scale to preach the gospel, so we needed good PR. Having enjoyed a remarkable climax of unprecedented, mostly positive PR during the past ten years or so, Mormonism is now entering the last stretch when it comes to sharing the gospel worldwide—so maybe we don’t need Babylon’s approval so much anymore. I predict that as Mormonism comes under increasing disapproval in North America and Europe due to our stand on gay issues, we’ll see the LDS Church shift more resources away from these areas and into the areas that still need much missionary work, such as China and India. This shifting process has already begun, and I believe we’ll see it accelerate.

Mormons like me clearly see that gay marriage represents moral devolution, and I believe it’s one of the key latter-day devolutions that will eventually lead to the Mormon people withdrawing from Babylon. In the nineteenth century, we espoused a principle that the civilization could not abide, and civilization eventually pressured us into abandoning it. The twentieth century was the eye of the storm, during which we maintained Mauss’s optimal tension. In the twenty-first century, civilization is espousing a principle that Mormonism cannot abide, and this civilization will pressure us to accept it with every bit as much force as they used to get us to abandon polygamy. But instead of driving us to comply like we did to get statehood, it will instead make us dig our heels in deeper and ultimately contribute to a parting of the ways with our host civilization.

8 comments:

David T. said...

Love it, man, and I wouldn't know where to even expand on it without making it unnecessarily bloated and redundant.

Just one thought...

"wickeder"??

Anonymous said...

Wow, Chris. I hadn't planned to write again here, but I had to raise my voice and say that I think this piece is excellent.

This is exactly the kind of writing I had hoped you would do on this topic. It's persuasive, compelling, and written with some graciousness and understanding towards opposing viewpoints.

I had been sad that you were needlessly alienating yourself from wonderful people who might have benefited from your viewpoint if only it were made with greater humility and meekness.

I have a strong peacemaker instinct that I think some of your recent communications have offended.

As Eugene England learned from Elder Marion Hanks: "one must not only be right but also effective." I had felt recently that you were so concentrated on defending and asserting the rightness of your argument that you didn't care much about how you might make them with the maximum effectiveness (especially in taking care to honor precious human relationships).

I was sad to see the disconnect that apparently took place between you and John Dehlin because I know each of you personally and I know that you are both quality people who simply have a different opinion on this issue. That is no reason to break relationship and condemn one another.

I find it so unfortunate when people hunker down defending their point of view when with a little graciousness and focused effort to stay connected and in dialogue.

I sense that spirit of willingness to dialogue in this piece. Sure it will still offend many. But you've made your core argument convincingly and in a way that I think can respect and understand, even if they don't agree.

If I can deign to give you any advice it is that you remember how important it is to be effective as well as right. And that you cultivate your peacemaker instincts and try and stay in loving and gracious connection with people even when you might be tempted to just boldly make your point and let the chips fall where they may.

Again, very well done, Chris.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Sorry, Chris. As I read my post again, I see that I used the word "deign" wrong. I did not mean that if I could deign to give you advice, but rather if you could deign to receive advice from one as lowly as I. Take it or leave it for what it's worth.

JennVan said...

I thought it was a good article as well. I'm interested in the fact that you pull apart the sodomy thing from the rest of the relationship. I read some of the comments on the Tribune post you made and there was a lot of upset about that. I think it reminds people of what the nature of the relationship truly is that they don't want to think about and it gets them upset.
I'm with David T on the wickeder thing. The editor in me made that distracting for me.

Scott said...

Very good article, Chris.

There is one aspect of the gay marriage issue that tends to stick in my craw. It seems many people today view gay marriage as a loving relationship between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. Children seem to be an afterthought. Yet historically, the primary purpose of traditional marriage has been to establish the optimal conditions for nurturing children. Optimal meaning being raised by a man and a woman -- two people who contribute different yet complementary aspects to the development of their children. This can't be done in a gay situation. I'm not personally against gay couples adopting children (I'd rather see neglected/abandoned children be adopted into gay homes as opposed to being orphaned or aborted) but the kids will ultimately be at a disadvantage socially. It only works now because a very small minority of kids are raised by gay parents, but you can imagine the fallout if gay marriage became the norm. It only works as an aberration because the level of social dysfunction is relatively low. Next to the spiritual and doctrinal reasons I think this is a very compelling argument against gay marriage.

robert said...

Nobody can really define the various "behaviors" found in same sex relationships as they are as varied as those found in heterosexual relationships. People who are uninformed on the intimacy between same gender couples wrongly equate same sex relationships with sodomy. Why do people assume that same sex relationships involve sodomy? Because it is what they were taught as children. How much do straight people really know about gay relationships? Do you want me to ask each of you in a heterosexual relationship to define your behaviors in the bedroom to me so that I can examine them for myself and decide whether they are sinful or not? I did not think so. You are doing nothing more than caricaturising gay relationships based on ancient Greek perspectives. I suggest you actually get to know some gay people before you make such generalizations and equate our civil right to marry with some later days premonition. There are plenty in the LDS church. Unfortunately, most are in closet . I wonder why?

robert said...

You might also wish to look at this statement: "Does the gay revolution have more in common with the sexual revolution or with the civil rights revolution? From any kind of responsible Mormon perspective, one of those revolutions was inarguably good and the other inarguably bad."

I'm not certain many women would consider the sexual revolution as "inarguably bad" unless your intention is to keep them "barefoot and pregnant".

robert said...

Our morality has evolved on a secular basis without the assistance, in fact, ( even opposed by religion).the abolishment of slavery, womens rights and now gay rights have and are evolving without religion. While one can cherry pick a scripture in support of abolishing slavery, another scripture will contradict it. If there is one thing sadly lacking in the works of the Christian church at large, it is a selfless dedication to alleviate pain and suffering in the world. All one must do is donate to a television ministry or pay a required tithing to a local church to recognize that the works of the Church are as institutions of social and cultural hegemony. Most are neither deeply charitable, nor particularly modest. They depend greatly on the small amounts and large amounts of money citizens pay to "belong" to the organization in order to continue their operations. Does anyone bother to ask: What is the "vision" of this very large non-profit corporate organization? Is it acceptable to any Church to replace individual tithing by donating the same amounts of money directly to those in need. It is not, because how else could Churches build their worship centers and adorn them with the artifice of sanctuary. I tend to find very few redeeming qualities in organized religion other than a socialized sense of belonging which is tied to an accepted groupthink mythology.