Heretic Today, Prophet Tomorrow?
Religious History is replete with heretics or dissenters who, years later, look like prophets.?Ç¬ Think Galileo against the Roman Catholic Church on the subject of heliocentrism; think Orson Pratt against Brigham Young on the subject of Adam-God; think Juanita Brooks against both church leaders and fellow members on the subject of Mountain Meadows Massacre.?Ç¬ I have my own modest portfolio of unorthodox or heretical beliefs.?Ç¬ I think most people do.?Ç¬ Some I keep to myself, some I share with a few trusted friends.?Ç¬ Some seem trivial, others feel quite urgent.?Ç¬ I wonder sometimes what to do about my urgent beliefs: remain silent, or speak out??Ç¬ I also sometimes wonder if any of my heretical beliefs will look prophetic through the lens of tomorrow.?Ç¬ What got me thinking about this?
For those of you who have a life, you might not have noticed that the “Bloggernacle's” collective heart rate was recently set aflutter by a candid interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Lance B. Wickman, a member of the Seventy, on the subject of Same Sex Attraction (SSA).?Ç¬ Two of the Bloggernacle's tent pole institutions, Millennial Star and By Common Consent, eagerly tackled the subject and logged a whopping 445 and 221 comments respectively.?Ç¬ Like Ether at the end of the final Jaredite battle, I 'go forth' (Ether 15:33) onto the now silent battlefield to wade through the carnage…
(Pause for dramatic effect.)
Before you exclaim, 'Not another Gay-Marriage Blog Post!' and click the 'Back' button on your Internet browser, let me state forthwith that I'm not interested re-hashing the various arguments for and against Same Sex Marriage; instead, I'm interested in using the debate as a backdrop to: 1.) muse about the capricious way time sometimes reverses the perceived correctness of our opinions; and 2.) wonder what can be done when our personal beliefs are at odds with religious institutional beliefs.
To put the rest of this Blog Post in perspective, I need to state my beliefs relative to same-sex attraction: ?Ç¬I believe?Ç¬same-sex attraction?Ç¬to be a natural and perfectly acceptable phenomenon.?Ç¬ As such, I see no valid theological (or secular) argument that could keep us from recognizing same-sex relationships in our temples for time and/or eternity.?Ç¬ You can quote scripture, the Proclamation, or prophetic revelation until you are blue in the face — that was not a challenge! — in my opinion, the only thing holding us back is human prejudice (no matter how well-intentioned) and limited understanding, not God's laws.?Ç¬ I arrived at these beliefs the same way I arrive at all of my beliefs?¢Ç¨Äù via the time-honored 'study, ponder, pray' process; as well as interacting with others, experiencing life, etc.
Given my beliefs, it shouldn't be a surprise that some of the comments made by Elders Oaks and Wickman?Ç¬reminded me somewhat of comments made by Church leaders in the past that we now tend to distance ourselves from.
For example, in a speech given at BYU in 1954, Apostle Mark E. Petersen said,
A Chinese, born in China with a dark skin, and with all the handicaps of that race seems to have little opportunity. ?Ç¬But think of the mercy of God to Chinese people who are willing to accept the gospel. ?Ç¬In spite of whatever they might have done in the pre-existence to justify being born over there as Chinamen, if they now, in this life accept the gospel and live it the rest of their lives they can have the Priesthood, go to the temple and receive endowments and sealings, and that means they can have exaltation. Isn’t the mercy of God marvelous??Ç¬ Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood… in spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. ?Ç¬If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. ?Ç¬He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.
Today, distance and policy changes make it safe for Latter-day Saints to say that Elder Petersen 'spoke with limited light and knowledge', or that he was 'misinformed, a product of his time, subject to the prejudices of his day.'?Ç¬ You might even get away with saying Elder Petersen was 'flat out wrong' were the quote to come up in Sunday School or Priesthood/Relief Society and scarcely elicit a raised eyebrow from your ward's staunchest Iron Rod.
But in 1954, were you to say any of the above remarks about Elder Petersen's comments you would have been branded a malcontent or murmurer at best, a heretic or apostate at worst.?Ç¬ Such epithets were directed at Lowell Bennion and Stirling McMurrin (among others), both of whom spoke out against the Priesthood Ban and faced the real possibility of lost employment and/or lost church membership as a result.?Ç¬ Today, like Galileo, Orson Pratt, or Juanita Brooks, many see Lowell Bennion and Stirling McMurrin as comparatively enlightened, ahead of their time, if not martyrs for the cause.?Ç¬ Heretics yesterday, prophets today.?Ç¬ (Note: If it isn’t obvious, I'm using the term 'prophet' not to draw comparisons to, or depreciate the official Church role or office; but in the ordinary definitional sense, as one who foresees the future, or one who is ahead of his time in terms of spiritual and moral insight.)
So I wonder, what will the interview with Elders Oaks and Wickman look like to future generations??Ç¬ While their remarks are softer than Elder Petersen's remarks, I wonder if the following remarks by Elder Wickman will one day seem a little na?É¬Øve or?Ç¬simplistic:
The good news for somebody who is struggling with same-gender attraction is this: 1) It is that ?¢Ç¨ÀúI'm not stuck with it forever.' It's just now?¢Ç¨¬¶ 2) If I can keep myself worthy here, if I can be true to gospel commandments, if I can keep covenants that I have made, the blessings of exaltation and eternal life that Heavenly Father holds out to all of His children apply to me. Every blessing ?¢Ç¨Äù including eternal marriage ?¢Ç¨Äù is and will be mine in due course.
When Elder Wickman states that 'same-gender attraction did not exist in the pre-earth life', will his assertion one day seem speculative in the same way that Elder Petersen's comments about the pre-earth life of Chinese and Blacks now appear today?
When Elder Oaks compares 'homosexual feelings' to the temptation to steal, drink alcohol, or grow angry, or when he compares homosexual identity to being a Texan, a U.S. Marine, a red head, or a basketball player, will these analogies seem insensitive or ill informed?
Despite our conflicting opinions on this issue, I respect Elders Oaks and Wickman, and the late Elder Petersen, and recognize that they have done more in the service of God and/or their fellow man than I have done, or am likely to do, in my lifetime.?Ç¬ Furthermore, I recognize that their remarks were delivered with the best intentions, and that they likely feel as passionate and sure of the correctness of their opinion as I do of mine.?Ç¬ Finally, I recognize that I am not qualified to receive revelation on behalf of the Church.
But I can receive so-called 'personal revelation'…?Ç¬ and this is MY church too, right?
So this gets me to the crux of my question: I disagree with Elders Oaks and Wickman (and by extension, the Church), at least on this one particular issue?¢Ç¨¬¶ how does a faithful Latter-day Saint dissent and not be branded a heretic, or worse, an apostate?
What does one do when personal beliefs contradict Church doctrine, policy, or revelation??Ç¬ Ignore personal revelation and put your faith in the leaders of the Church??Ç¬ Quietly abstain with regards to the issue in question, keep your opinion to yourself, and openly support the Church in all other endeavors??Ç¬ Grouse to friends and family members and occasionally pop off in Elder Quorum??Ç¬ Write an editorial for the Salt Lake Tribune?