This weekend, a key Mormon leader reiterated the LDS Church’s stand against same-sex marriage—even while stressing that members must practice charity for those on the opposite side.
“We should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention,” said Dallin H. Oaks, an LDS apostle who is also a scholar of constitutional law. “Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable.”
The Saturday afternoon talk pitted same-sex marriage as one of several examples of “sinful behavior” that the apostle said characterize an ongoing contest between good and evil.
Like the Savior, his followers are sometimes confronted by sinful behavior. And today, when they hold out for right and wrong as they understand it, they are sometimes called bigots or fanatics. Many worldly values and practices pose such challenges to Latter-day Saints. Prominent among these today is the strong tide that is legalizing same-sex marriage in many states and provinces in the United States and Canada and many other countries in the world.
Despite his strong words against same-sex marriage, he also noted that the Church will not always get its way on civil issues—which was interesting timing, since his Saturday talk preceded by less than 48 hours this morning’s Supreme Court nondecision on same-sex marriage.
In a nutshell, SCOTUS has rejected appeals from five states, including Utah, that asked the Court to prevent same-sex marriage nationwide. The Court made it clear today that it will not be intervening at this time, causing clerks in Utah and elsewhere to resume issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
So how will Mormons react to the news?
I hope we will rise to the occasion. Elder Oaks said that some matters “may simply need to be endured if legalized by what a Book of Mormon prophet called ‘the voice of the people.’”
“When our positions do not prevail,” he went on, “we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries.”
There is much that’s good about this talk, which emphasizes the need for humility in our dealings with others. It asks us to banish “hateful communications,” cease bullying those who are different, and follow Jesus’ example in all things.
But it’s not a talk about acceptance; Elder Oaks was discussing tolerance, and that’s not at all the same. Toward the end, for example, this became clear when he touched upon the difficulty of living with non-believing family members, including spouses of other faiths (my own situation).
It was revealing how he chose to address this circumstance. He told a story of a Mormon woman who married a non-Mormon man. Her husband attended church meetings with her for twelve years, but did not join until she followed Elder Oaks’s counsel and redoubled her efforts to be loving toward him.
And then: presto, converto!
It’s ironic that a talk about how Mormons should be more civil to those who are different closes with a story about those differences being magically erased when the person who was regarded as being in error simply decided to stop being different and become Mormon instead.
All better now – not because we learned to be more respectful of difference, but because someone else conformed to our religious standards.
Do we not have stories of relationships that endure in the midst of deep difference? Or even stories where we were in the wrong, and had to change after we’d fooled ourselves into thinking our bigotry was actually righteousness?
If we don’t have those stories yet, we’re going to need them. Because if we are to take seriously the excellent counsel about living among those who feel differently than we do about politics and religion, there have to be happy endings that don’t require others to simply become like us.
And that’s true whether we’re talking about religion, sexual orientation, or anything else.