The awesome Circling the Wagons conference over the weekend has me thinking of this question again: How much more can the church reform as respects homosexuality? One can clearly point to reform in how it is talked about over the last 30+ years. The brethren no longer talk about it being purely a choice, or the result of bad parenting or caused by masturbation. There is much more talk about compassion toward LGBTQ persons.
Marlin Jensen makes an apology of sorts earlier in the year, the Bishop at Circling the Wagons conference who also apologizes and calls for straight members to repent. These all seem like good signs. But what are the outer limits of this?
My belief is that the church has already given everything away theologically that it can on this issue by the seeming acknowledgment that, yes, some people are born that way. The immediate redaction of Boyd K. Packer’s comments to the contrary in a recent General Conference are good evidence that this ground has been given up, as are Dalin Oaks comments from several years ago. But what further ground is there to give? Can it allow that same sex intimacy is not sinful in the face of the core doctrine that eternal progression and exaltation happens in male/female pairs? Can allow persons in sexually active gay relationships into the temples? Can it retract its statement that gender is an eternal characteristic? I think the answer is no. This is not like the racial priesthood ban which can be characterized as based mostly on speculation that calcified into doctrine and and can also be blamed on crazy Uncle Brigham. That wiggle room simply doesn’t exist here. The church that has branded itself as being about families cannot not redefine what a family is without abandoning its claim to revelation and authority, in my opinion.
Where it CAN make some progress, I believe, is in toning down its rhetoric and in attempting to make church a more welcoming place for LGBTQ people. But I strongly suspect that this will never go beyond a deeply rooted view that such people are afflicted in some sense with a burden which must simply be borne. Members can be taught to be less judgmental, to be friendlier. More explicit statements calling for compassion can be made that that can begin to cancel out many of the fallacious arguments that surrounded its support of Prop 8. But will this be enough? Isn’t that sort of like saying “Brother Jones we love you, and are so sorry that you bear the mark of Cain, but please by all means try to feel welcome here!” Ecclesiastical apartheid was never sine qua non of the church, but nuclear families are.
As I watch so many Mormons begin to “see the light” in terms of really feeling compassion for people who want to keep a foot in the church but at the same time no forego all of the very best things in life (marriage, love, children, etc.), I simply cannot grasp how the fruit of that compassion can ever be full incorporation into the church. So even when acceptance, compassion and love are maximized and judgment, fear and hate are eradicated, the message to LGBTQ people will be that God’s plan for them is celibacy. I would hope it would be otherwise, but I think this is a maze without an exit and I don’t think simply saying that past progress is good evidence that the church will fundamentally change what it is at some future date is a sufficient response to how this knot gets untied.
Where, I ask, is the theological wiggle room here?