Losing the Culture War

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

The last couple of decades in the Church has been fraught with cultural battles over the role of homosexuals and transgender people and their full participation. This has been linked to careful and dedicated gender binary doctrines the Church has established, particularly since the [1]1960s. Past trends need not predict future results, but one can easily see how the issue of homosexuality will dominate church policy in the foreseeable future. Letting go of the Mormon binary and sexual binary seem to go together. However, there are many binaries, some are political as well, such as the current social justice binary that discounts any effort from any organization that will not fight against heteronormativity or become an active [2]ally with the political goals of LGBTQ.


Watching the church battle with gay rights feels like you are going back in time and watching similar battles decades ago with race. One may sense the similarities in how the political processes are comparable, and some of them do, but it seems harder to observe the differences outright for most of history. For example, [3]homosexuality in the 19th century was a “wink and nod” system that was quietly allowed in some quarters while carrying capital punishment in the open. Much of this had to do with the nature of love and marriage itself, being a primarily economic system. Thus, to have children, and have free labor to manage farms, men had to marry women and have children. Modern love wasn’t part of the equation. Most people were in bargained marriages before the 20th century anyway, so a bargained marriage that included a quotient of mismatched sexuality probably wasn’t all that different from the marriage where economic interests put two people together of the opposite gender that simply weren’t attracted to each other. It’s only when romantic love became an achievable commodity that it seems homosexuality became an issue, in terms of rights.


There have always been homosexuals. They simply didn’t marry, or they married for convenience. They formed bosom companionships and other relationships that carried an air of respectability in public, but only because they kept their sexuality private. In terms of Mormonism, D Michael Quinn takes his aim in understanding homosexuality in an earlier time in his book, [4]Same Sex Dynamics in 19th Century Mormonism.

Quinn interprets same-gender bosom buddy behavior in terms of it being an indication of what happened behind closed doors, but it’s all conjecture, and maybe some wishful thinking on the part of Quinn, who himself is gay. Very little is said about homosexuality outright by early LDS leaders. The clearest is the charge of “buggery” upon [5]John C Bennett by the Church in relation to a scene that was discovered between Bennett and Colonel Frank Higbee. "Buggery" was a colloquial term for anal sex usually with someone of the same gender, but this was also a rider offense in companion with his other sexually predatory offenses committed by Bennett, almost an afterthought in his prosecutions. There is no real condemnation of the practice in Mormon scripture. In fact, Joseph Smith once opined that the idea of [6]Sodom being rejected by God had more to do with them rejecting the prophets than homosexual behavior or moral impurity, as the term was used then. Later, [7]Parley P Pratt update the Sodom sin to homosexuality but [8]Brigham Young left any justice against someone committing homosexual practices to the purvey of the courts. The responses were typical of the era, and probably somewhat muted.


Today, in an era where love is the heaviest quotient in a world with first world problems, and sexual openness is part of expression, the gay equation was bound to have its day in the sun. Unlike race and gender issues, which appear to be traditional doctrine expositions, the fight against gay rights by the Church seems linked to its rooted doctrine of forever families and gender eternalism, which became a big marketing tools in the 1970’s as a response to the 1960’s counter-culture experiments, and appealed to the American majority. [9]David O. McKay is credited for this focus on the family with his emphasis on things like Family Home Evening. While these things were doctrine at least as far back as Wilford Woodruff, the same camaraderie that aligned the Church with anti-counter-culture movements in the 1970’s put in in the same line of fire that would plague them a couple of decades later with its fight against gay rights.


Homosexuality was increasingly targeted in the early 1980’s and 1990’s with statements over the pulpit at general conference condemning homosexuality particularly by [10]Boyd K. Packer. This was expected as homosexual rights issues were coming into their own, particularly with the election of Bill Clinton and his removal of the ban on gays in the military. Boyd Packer and Dallin Oaks would trade off in lobbing barbs in condemning homosexuality as a perversion, updating the earlier discussions of the practice by Spencer Kimball in the [11]Miracle of Forgiveness. The Church was not alone in this fight. They possibly got seduced by the cultural warfare of the [12]Religious Right in the 1980’s and 1990’s, a fight which subsumed not only the LDS Church, but most of mainstream Christianity and social organizations like the Boy Scouts of America. In tying abortion, homosexuality, feminism, and other cultural battles, this was a fight for the cultural soul of America, and for votes at the ballot boxes. Churches were recruited to do this battle on behalf of the politicians. They took the bait.


This isn’t to say there weren’t legitimate concerns. Homosexual politics has its own binary, and cultural wars in the last century are playing a very long game they have been winning. They don’t seem to be satisfied with recent gains, like a [13]national right to marriage in 2015. They keep pushing the envelope to include [14]LGBTQ as a protected class, which in many ways, seems to vindicate the oft-maligned slippery-slope arguments against cultural change and would pit itself against religious rights and vindicate the worries brought up by social conservatives decades ago. But the fact that the Church got sucked into the fight has proved tragic as it had attempted to double down in a war it probably should never have waged in the first place.


The Church, while verbally opposing gay rights, finally got into the political fray with its opposition to and promotion of a constitutional ban on [15]gay marriage in Hawaii in 1995. The Church’s involvement was successful and set the stage for the later [16]Proposition 8 fight in California in 2008. Many believe that the Hawaii fight was the impetus for the controversial and quasi-scriptural [17]Proclamation on the Family, released in 1997. This policy document further entrenched the Church in the battle lines against feminism, homosexual rights, transsexual rights, and other cultural milieus of the day. People were encouraged to hang it in their homes and read it in Family Home Evenings. For families with gay children, it began to drive a deep wedge the set up the foundation for the Internet wars and social media battles in the 2010’s and the rise of a serious post-Mormon movement, perhaps the impetus for groups like Mormon Stories Podcast. At the height of the Church’s power play to combat gay rights in America, Proposition 8 proved to be the turning point. Members in California were gently coerced into holding rallies, raising money, canvasing doors, and politicking for the amendment, which barely passed. [18]However, the political stain created an eventual backlash led many other LDS members out the back door. It was the fulcrum for the turning point in America to supporting gay marriage and gay rights in general. When Barack Obama came into office in 2008, he tepidly supported gay marriage bans. By 2012, some of the state bans that had been put in place were starting to be repealed. By the end of his term, [19]gay marriage was a constitutional right in America, courtesy of the Federal court arguing against Utah’s law, right in the heart of Mormon country.


The marriage battle was lost.


As far as it's personal ministry to gays, for several decades, the Church was keeping up with trends in gay conversion therapy, first by performing shock treatment therapy in the [21]1970’s to “cure” homosexuality in gay men. Then they threw their support behind [22]Evergreen International to provide psychologists and a support group to do the same. That organization merged with [23]North Star, which helped to develop the LDS website www.mormonsandgays.com, a support site with stories of faithful LDS homosexuals trying to live the gospel. Going forward, the Church has shown mixed results as it continues to liberalize on one hand, and clamp down on the other.

In 2013, the [20]Boy Scouts of America ended its decades’ long discrimination of gay boys who were “known or avowed” homosexuals. The Church supported this position, which was one of the first signs of LDS movements to liberalize its own view of homosexuality. Prior to this position, being gay was merely a sexual act. One could not BE gay in LDS Mormonism, as per the term “gay.” This policy change and support verified that the LDS Church was open to people who identified as being gay if they didn’t act upon it sexually. The Church has also supported ending [24]housing discrimination against homosexuals. Some believe these are merely olive branches meant to take the harsh spotlight off the Church’s insistence in supporting gay marriage bans, or . . . as it has evolved, into the battle for the religious right of association. However, the Church has been known to cross the isle on other social issues, such as its support of immigration rights. Its conservatism is not monolithic.


On the other hand, the Church was disgruntled when the [25]Boy Scouts of America lifted its ban in homosexual leaders in 2015, grumbling in a [26]hastily written newsroom piece over that summer (during the time the LDS leaders were vacationing) about the policy change concerns and how the Church wasn’t properly consulted. That hasty outburst was [27]tempered the next month when the Church reaffirmed its temporary relationship with the BSA. Later that year they took an unprecedented step in [28]banning the baptism of the children of openly gay couples. That firestorm was lit due to leaks from the Church Handbook. It was a public relations disaster due to 1) it was released in a secret handbook most people knew nothing about and 2) it was not doctrinal with respect to baptism in Mormon scripture. It’s curious to note that the Church played this hand before with the children of [29]polygamists who were excommunicated in the mid-20th Century. The impetus seems to be a paranoid trojan horse worried about the bogeyman of membership infiltration by simple absorption. That act alone resulted in [30]thousands resigning in 2016 as well as provided the catalyst for dozens of suicides. The policy is not in line with the Doctrine of Jesus Christ as outlined in the [31]Book of Mormon, whether you are a child of gay parents or polygamists.

37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

As well, the notoriety of the secret handbook system is likewise totally against the foundational doctrines of the LDS Church as written in the [32]Doctrine and Covenants, which command open discussion and voting on beliefs and policies through common consent. Fortunately, in [33]In 2020, both the policy put forth in 2015 has been at least verbally repealed and the handbook is now being published publicly for all to read. They have also softened the requirement for the baptism of polygamist children.


Today the internet is dripping with gay rights supporters and sympathizers who speak openly against the LDS Church and its policies toward gays. The Church is probably feeling a bit embattled. One may think the battle for gay rights has been won due to the marriage rulings and the issues surrounding gay marriage would quietly disappear. However, the way the battle has shifted would prove otherwise. Instead of people fighting to preserve an institution against a ceremony of love, which was difficult in the end to maintain, the battle lines seem to be moving into issues of defining hate speech, discrimination lawsuits against embattled Christian businesses, and trolling on social media to corporate and [34]government banning of tweets, posts, and videos that rationally explain the Christian position on marriage and/or homosexuality, all under the guise of the speech being “unsafe.” As was mentioned earlier, the calls of the slippery slope are appearing to be somewhat vindicated.


As part of coming to terms with the Church’s approach, one should recognize the tactics by the other side as somewhat disingenuous at its foundation. Without disparaging individual homosexuals and their desire for social acceptance and rights, in many ways they were and are being used as pawns by social engineers themselves for issues that don’t relate to gay rights. The original battle for gay rights was lit by the counter-culture apostles of the [35]Frankfurt school who invented the ideas of Critical Theory and cultural revolution beginning in the 1950’s. These ideas were cooked up by Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci and social engineer Herbert Marcuse through separate but related efforts. These men were Marxists who witnessed the failures of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and failures of communism taking root in the West. [36]They saw that Religion and family were two social constructs that needed to be removed before people could trust the State. Their system was meant to slowly destabilize both structures over time. By the 1960’s their philosophies had infiltrated the universities and were beginning to impact younger generations in the larger cities. At the base of these tactics included minimizing the need for a two-parent family with a mother and a father and maximizing the need for sexual liberation, attaching sexuality and sexual expression to the idea of liberality and freedom. This included [37]homosexuality. Now, the patriarchal systems and Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle that was promoted in the mid 20th century was a bit a sham itself and fraught with all sorts of problems. There were and are reasons to challenge the Victorian sense of what defines a family and the dominance of the patriarchal system. However, this was not the motivation for the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory. They knew that their tactics would have a profound impact on the family, not because they saw a normative need to change the family structure and loosen its definition. They saw it as weakening family and religious social systems, so people would begin relying more upon the State as the primary social contract for society.


By the 1970’s this push for normalcy broke into the open first with the [38]Stonewall riots, which represented a watershed moment for homosexuals to demand legal rights to simply be left to live their lifestyle without threats of intimidation by police. This was a justifiable push against jail and intimidation through laws that prohibited homosexuality. On the other hand, there was a political push to declassify homosexuality as a psychological disorder and removing it from the [39]DSM II and subsequent DSM manuals produced by the American Psychological Association (APA). This happened due to protests and political pressure and not because of any science backing up that move. Now the science that included it in the first place may have been tenuous, but instead of a deliberate and methodical process to remove any mis-classification, it was done hastily due to reactions over protests and politicking. By 1974 the change was complete. Since homosexuality was now considered normal psychologically, it could be seen as a place where discrimination existed, not just in terms of police harassment, which again, was an unjustifiable abuse, but in terms of normalizing everything else culturally. Thus began the decades-long shift to normalize it into the DNA of America.


Or course, in the 1970's most homosexuals would cringe at the idea of being normalized. For most, [40]marriage was considered an institution they did not wish to entertain. There was a sense early on that promiscuity among homosexual communities was tolerated and perhaps even encouraged. This changed by the 1990’s when more people started coming out of the closet, but instead of migrating to libertine homosexual enclaves in San Francisco and New York City, they wished to stay in the heartland and have the same sorts of dreams and goals as their parents, siblings, and friends. This included monogamy and marriage. This new movement had nothing to do with the counterculture pushes of the 1960’s and 1970’s or the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory. This had grown past and beyond that. Come to find out, some people who are sexually liberal often over time tend to drift toward monogamy eventually, and people who are gay want to also [41]live normal lives and raise kids with white picket fences. Of course, others have changed the nature of marriage into an institution [42]accepting of polyamory and open relationships and certain groups are back to using the gay marriage battles to eliminate marriage. Critical theory then comes full circle.


Original success with gay rights has pushed the political liberators to go after religious institutions as payback and to destabilize their protections under the [43]first amendment under the guise of hate speech and public health over suicidality. Many constitutional scholars are now saying that in the battle of religious liberty versus sexual liberty, sexual liberty must necessarily win. The dangers of suicide, of course, are amplified as a reason for much of this shift in the name of public health. [44]Suicide is growing in all sectors of society among the young, primarily related to smartphone and gaming addictions, and there is a decidedly frightening trend of teens who think of suicide as a first choice instead of a last one. Homosexual issues only compound the underlying problem. They aren’t typically the primary cause. But it is useful to limit rights in the sight of cultural warriors. Of course, if religious institutions hadn’t gotten into battle with cultural warriors in the first place and [45]tied their 501c-3 status to doctrines that institutionalized hetero-normativity, there would be no battle to fight today. In many ways, this was a setup that religious organizations walked into and there’s no going back unless they formally disassociate themselves from their earlier stances, which would then put them at odds with their line membership, who they whipped up for decades in support of this cultural war in the name of Jesus. They are in a no-win situation.


The battle has also shifted into gender identity and dysphoria, a completely different problem to say the least, but one that has politically married itself to the gay rights agenda. [46]Transsexuals in the Church are treated the same way blacks were treated before the priesthood ban was lifted. They can be baptized, but they have no priesthood or temple rights if they chose to publicly identify and dress as the gender opposite of their birth sex. Transsexual politics have launched into hyperspace, compared to the fights relating to gay marriage, and they’re primarily focused on [47]child/parent rights. Child health is being used as a hammer to force rights for children, for example, that wish to modify their sex at very young ages. The science is dubious but the politics is hyperventilating. Will the Church wander into this minefield?


Like the polygamy fight of a century ago, the Church seems to be drawn into this cultural war with LGBTQ advocates. The irony of the role reversal is inescapable. The inevitable conclusion is that like the LDS property absconded in 1890, a similar threat to its 501c-3 status could loom soon. If that isn’t successful, it may be [48]

Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons and his annual rock concerts in Utah held to pressure the Church to amend its policies. The Church has 15 plus million members, but Reynold’s band is followed by 50 million people worldwide and is arguably the biggest rock band in the world. Other groups include the [49]Momma Dragons, a group of politically active Mormon mothers who either have gay children or are allies with gay youth. The pressure to change will continue to mount legally, culturally, and internally. Will the LDS Church abandon its doctrine as it relates to gay marriage? Will homosexuals be allowed to marry in the temple and have temple rites? Will the doubling-down be reversed through a revelation similar to the one ending black participation in 1978? While all this is speculation, it’s unlikely the modern Church has the stomach to go down fighting. To protect the brand and image and wider mission of the Church, they will most likely acquiesce. The [50]polygamy fights in the late 1800’s show us this from past experience. The question then behooves any true gospel believer whether this is the correct decision or not? Some may hail it as progress. Others may see it as an abomination. But that is binary thinking. This is best done in looking at what SHOULD have happened in the first place and the possible options going forward.


  1. The Conservative Position - The Church was correct to have fought against gay marriage, and it should continue to fight against it because it is an abomination and should stake even its own existence on this fight

  2. The Moderate Position - The Church was correct to have fought against gay marriage, but like with the fight against polygamy, once all avenues are exhausted, the Lord will provide a way for the Church to negotiate to allow gay members to participate more in order to protect the mission of the Church.

  3. The Progressive Position - The Church was wrong to have fought against gay marriage. It should have supported gay marriage from the beginning, being ahead of history, and showed courage in inviting these people into the fold to fully participate. They should likewise lobby as allies through social justice efforts, for government rights for all homosexuals, people of other races, nationalities, genders, etc.

  4. The Libertarian Position - The Church was wrong to have fought against gay marriage because that’s not the purpose of the Church. The purpose of the Church is to preach Christ and repentance and help people make covenants. That’s it. They should have been neutral on the political battles of the last several decades and allowed for people to support or not support such efforts based on their own consciences.

In the move to leave binary thinking, principle four seems to advocate for the gospel of Christ best. The first principle is a no-win setup, and the second solution compromises organizational integrity, the same as fights for and against polygamy and priesthood bans have done. Number three has too many landmines and aligns the Church institutions with forces that may not have its best interest at heart, along with political machinations that have too many compromises that have moved into attempts to silence speech, thought, and religious belief. Number four seems to have been the wisest approach. In line with Christ, who “rendered unto Caesar,” and sidestepped most cultural political wars of his day, they ought to have consider the same.


If one were to be the kind of Mormon and Christian and disciple of Christ that they were raised to be, doctrine and dogma notwithstanding, they would love all people, regardless of sexual orientation or any gender dysphoria, and invite participation at all levels and let God sort of the differences. In many respects, the LGBTQ cohort as individuals represent the lepers of our day due to many on the Religious Right who act like Pharisees and treat them that way. Will we accept them into our homes, our chapels, our ordinance rooms and sacrament tables? Can we allow a “willingness to believe and repent” to be the definition of worthiness? This is regardless of whether we consider their condition a “sin” or not. That’s ultimately between them and the Lord. If we invite them to the Lord’s table, perhaps in their relationship with Him, He will work it out, just as He works out the sins we must deal with in our own relationships with Him.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_LGBT_Mormon_history_in_the_20th_century [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straight_ally [3] https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/09/but-were-they-gay-the-mystery-of-same-sex-love-in-the-19th-century/262117/ [4] https://www.amazon.com/Same-Sex-Dynamics-among-Nineteenth-Century-Americans/dp/0252069587 [5] https://www.qsaltlake.com/news/2014/08/21/sodomy-city-joseph/ [6] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 2011, p 78-87; History of the Church, Vol 5 p 257 [7] Pratt, Parley (10 April 1853). "Heirship and Priesthood" [8] Stewart, Chuck (16 December 2014). Proud Heritage: People, Issues, and Documents of the LGBT Experience [9] https://www.heraldextra.com/special-section/lds/fall2013/the-lds-church-in-the-1960s-focusing-on-the-family/article_6a73d8ac-2600-11e3-8568-0019bb2963f4.html [10] https://www.mormonsocialscience.org/2008/01/04/richley-crapo-chronology-of-mormon-lds-involvement-in-same-sex-marriage-politics/comment-page-1/ [11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Miracle_of_Forgiveness [12] https://www.npr.org/2018/01/06/575964167/evangelicals-and-mormons-are-political-allies-but-theological-rivals [13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obergefell_v._Hodges [14] https://www.hrc.org/resources/the-equality-act [15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Family:_A_Proclamation_to_the_World [16] https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/same-sex-marriage-and-proposition-8 [17] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng [18] https://www.qsaltlake.com/news/2008/12/01/mormons-resigning-membership-after-prop-8/ [19] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obergefell_v._Hodges [20] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/20/us/boy-scouts-move-to-lift-ban-on-gay-members.html [21] https://abcnews.go.com/Health/mormon-gay-cures-reparative-therapies-shock-today/story?id=13240700 [22] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evergreen_International [23] https://www.northstarlds.org/ [24] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/us/politics/utah-passes-antidiscrimination-bill-backed-by-mormon-leaders.html [25] https://www.washingtonpost.com/ [26] https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/church-re-evaluating-scouting-program [27] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/27/us/mormon-church-to-keep-ties-with-boy-scouts-despite-concern-over-gay-leaders.html [28] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/14/us/mormons-set-to-quit-church-over-policy-on-gay-couples-and-their-children.html [29] https://bycommonconsent.com/2015/10/11/polygamy-and-baptism-policy/ [30] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/19/utah-lawyer-thousands-mormons-leave-lds-church-gay-marriage [31] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/3-ne/11?lang=eng [32] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/26.2?lang=eng [33] https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/mormon-church-handbook-online-transgender-excommunication-jesus-christ-latter-day-saints [34] https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/05/california-sexual-orientation-bill-would-censor-religious-viewpoints/ [35] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory [36] Marcusean Critical Theory, Human Sexuality, and The "Epistemic Crisis" in the Church, 2017 Anthony Costello [37] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queer_theory [38] https://www.history.com/topics/gay-rights/the-stonewall-riots [39] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_DSM [40] https://slate.com/human-interest/2017/04/same-sex-marriage-was-a-radical-idea-in-the-1970s.html [41] https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/conservative-case-for-gay-marriage/ [42] https://www.thedailybeast.com/gay-open-marriages-need-to-come-out-of-the-closet [43] https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-08-09/getting-rid-of-white-supremacy?gclid=CjwKCAjwv4_1BRAhEiwAtMDLsrC68U9qgXaRRvWU4zfPcM3vNRttmK34rj9t8y0F7kReJ2Ny8dB9dBoCjP4QAvD_BwE [44] https://time.com/5550803/depression-suicide-rates-youth/ [45] https://www.cnsnews.com/commentary/hans-bader/progressive-base-sees-religious-freedom-hate-speech [46] https://www.advocate.com/religion/2020/2/19/mormon-church-formalizes-punishments-trans-members [47] https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/bitter-texas-custody-battle-fuels-political-public-debate-about-trans-n1071966 [48] https://loveloudfest.com/ [49] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mama_Dragons [50] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1890_Manifesto

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