Recent events have caused me to evaluate how I feel about certain current issues and how I would feel if these issues were to result in changes in the doctrine or practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The issues include ordaining women to the priesthood, and same-sex marriage.
In discussions on these issues it is common for those who hope to see the church ordain women and embrace same-sex marriage to point to future revelation. They seem to think that revelation is some wild card, that could turn the church inside-out, upside-down, and backwards at any moment. Examples of this phenomenon will usually include polygamy and the priesthood ban. I would like to express how I feel about these past changes, and why these examples are not very persuasive for me when considering the changes that they hope for.
The polygamy issue has precedence in scripture – much of the who’s who of the Old Testament practiced it. It seems to have it’s moments when it is allowed and prohibited. Jacob 2 gives the default condition of monogamy with the potential of polygamy if commanded. Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, it seems reasonable that the practice could have been commanded and then prohibited – all with a consistency to scripture. This past change I am at complete peace with, and it would seem to come down to whether or not you believe the revelatory claims of modern prophets. A belief fairly easy to come to given the scriptural precedence.
The priesthood ban is a bit more troubling, but it is not without its precedence as well. There have been large chunks of history where the gospel itself was not given to mankind. Gospel and priesthood access and blessings have been reserved for the chosen few before. Could it be that this ban was the result of widespread racism rather than revelation? I hope not, but I suppose it is a possibility. But again, initial restriction of the gospel and the priesthood, with eventual inclusion, seem consistent with scripture. So while I am troubled by the racist based explanations of the priesthood ban, I am at peace with this change – particularly given the official declaration of the removal of the ban.
For me, both of the above examples have their scriptural precedent, and their revelatory declarations. Is this consistent with the changes that some hope for with ordaining women and same-sex marriage? For me the answer is not-so-much.
This hoped for change has some things going for it. Women do make priesthood like covenants and actions in the temple. And while that is not quite the same thing as the more day-to-day church priesthood, it is something of a starting point. Yet the bulk of the scriptures certainly indicate a male-only priesthood – particularly D&C 107. For me this potential change would need to be accompanied by its own revelatory declaration with spiritual confirmation for me to be at peace with it. I would be greatly troubled if I felt such a change were the result of complaints and protests. Yet, there is enough precedent, particularly involving temple practice, that leaves the door open a crack.
This is one that is most difficult for me. While the Book of Mormon and the D&C appear to have little or nothing to say on this issue, the Bible has a few strong statements against homosexual behavior. And Mormon theology is saturated with purposeful gender and eternal ‘traditional’ families. Eternal marriage between a man and a woman being an ultimate salvific ordinance of the church. There seems no precedent here whatsoever. Such a change would strike right to the heart of Mormonism in my view, and I cannot see this happening at all.
In summary, I do not view revelation as some wild card that can change white to black so to speak. It seems that revelation builds onto previous revelations in a consistent progression. While I see ordaining women to the priesthood as something of a stretch, were revelatory claims to accompany such a change it would be something many members could accept. I do not see same-sex marriage the same way. Such a change would seem like such a fundamental contradiction, that it would be difficult to accept regardless of what public opinion and marriage law might become.