Power and the New Class of Sinners

SunflowerButterflyLike most progressive Mormons engaging in the discussion about inclusion levels of the LGBTQIA community within the Church, I’ve argued in favor of love—that love is a behavior, that Christlike love practices empathy and inclusion. There is no concrete opposition to that, since love is an abstraction, so what I hear from “opposing” voices sounds a lot like, “We do love; we want to include” followed by a caveat. In truth, most orthodox, mainstream LDS are sincere in their desire to love and include, but they both justify and endorse policies of exclusion without hesitation. It’s a baffling dichotomy. But this weekend, at General Conference, the fog lifted for me. I’ve had it all wrong. This isn’t about a lack of love. It’s about power and submission. It’s about the corruption of ethics and ideals and how we’ve exchanged them for easily quantifiable “standards” that bind a subservient class to the will of its leadership. It’s about control.

The fog lifted during Elder Oaks’ Saturday morning General Conference talk, which may be one of the Quorum of the Twelve’s most divisive public addresses. I won’t discuss most of what he said (review “The Plan and the Proclamation” here), but will focus on one effect of the address.

Elder Oaks’ position on same-sex marriage is in line with the Church’s position. He probably had more to do with establishing that position than anyone else and seems more invested in promoting it than other apostles. However, his Saturday message is an audacious reversal of previous statements by General Authorities that have acknowledged faithful Mormons are safe to differ in their view. Instead, Elder Oaks creates a new class of sinners out of Mormons who support legal same-sex marriage.

He does this by beginning his talk with scripture passages and quotations from other church authorities that delineate between the righteous and unrighteous, those of God and of the world. In this way, he constructs a thought track designed to bring his audience to a point of agreement. This is a technique used by all great speakers, but it is, nonetheless, manipulative.

After capitalizing on the commonly held idea that evil opposes God, Elder Oaks lowers the ax by claiming “converted Latter-day Saints believe that the proclamation” demands alignment with his stance since supporting gay marriage equates to rejecting and fighting God. I won’t discuss his particulars about the proclamation today. However, I want my readers to notice that he divides faithful, practicing Latter-day Saints into either a converted group or an unconverted group, based not on their testimony of Christ nor of the restoration, but on their agreement with his view that same sex marriage is evil and an attack on families and the plan of salvation. He effectively makes sinners of practicing Latter-day Saints who value the rights of others, respect agency, and believe that God is greater than it sometimes seems Elder Oaks remembers. Because of the influence he wields as a senior apostle at the General Conference podium, the effect is potentially stunning.

Of course, he would likely assert that he said nothing of the sort, but meaning is found both in the words that are used and behind their organization. Interestingly, his organization dismisses grievances against him by labeling opposition as “of the world.” This is gas lighting.

The question is, why does he divide faithful saints?

There is one recurrent, historical reason for a leader to create enemies where none exist, or to pass laws and edicts that make good people into bad people—and that thing is power, either a thirst for it or a fear of losing it. It’s no secret that members, especially the young, are abandoning the formal church. Any institution that loses membership also loses power. The authority and influence of its leadership, then, are diminished in the eyes of the very world that Elder Oaks condemns. Historically, leaders create enemies to bind stalwarts to them and to encourage a sense of superiority in their people. That superiority, in turn, permits otherwise good people to look the other way as the leaders expel (or worse) the inferior among them. (Remember our own history.) No human being—no matter his calling—is immune to the seductions of power. If this were the case, we wouldn’t have the caution we receive in D&C 121:39. But we do have it. Sometimes sustaining a leader means calling him out.

On Saturday morning, Elder Oaks emphasized our need for standards, but he did not emphasize our need for integrity. One cannot advocate for integrity at the same time one calls on another to forsake it. This controversy is no longer limited to whether or not to include, or how to include, or under what conditions to include those who are Other in their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s now also about marginalizing those with the courage to do exactly what we’ve been taught—to stand, in spite of insults, for something good, namely for freedom, mental health, inclusion, and a myriad of other related values that should be prized in the church.

Whether intentionally or not, the highest leadership has been dividing us by creating rules and regulations—policies and standards—that exceed the message of the Savior and effectively compel us to judge one another. Because of their position, we seek their approval in much the same way they accuse some among us of seeking the approbation of the world. They cannot see that they are our world. Or perhaps they can, and they use that to maintain power.

Chances are, as you’ve read this, the thought has flashed through your mind that I better be careful, or that I’m going to get myself in trouble. Your thought validates my point. The exclusion controversy we face in the LDS church is not about whether or not we love. I love. I encourage love. I love my leaders, and I love the people sitting with me in the pews. I love the people who have left. But devout Mormons never contradict authority, even though those in power sometimes contradict one another. If we do, we risk our good standing, be that in the eyes of our peers or the institution. That is the fall from grace that should trouble us all. ~~

“I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent–if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression… This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence or any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. … We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it.” — Hugh B. Brown


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21 thoughts on “Power and the New Class of Sinners

  1. Right on! This sort of “converted/not-converted” divisiveness based on external behavior – falling in line with a political document or you must not really be converted – is so dangerous to us ever becoming of one heart. It instructs us to shut others out of our hearts, which is pride: it puts a love of policy before love of people. Thank you for your post!


  2. Lisa

    Seriously. What happened to following Jesus, Love God & Love Your Neighbor, don’t judge others. They are acutely afraid of losing their power, and have no idea how much they have already lost.


  3. Reb A L

    And another woman. And another woman. And…. Uh huh. Yeah.Claiming that it has been this way for thousands of years just makes us look incredibly silly.


  4. I appreciate Elder Hugh B Brown very much. I heard him speak live at BYU and met him at an important time in my life. He treated questioning students with great respect and encouragement. Interestingly, he is quoted in one of his biographies as saying he did not recall anyone speaking of “likened unto murder” types of arguments against abortion in Council of the 12 circles–the main concern expressed in formulating LDS policy about abortion was concern that members would get casual and use abortion as a form of birth control. I think it is vital that we allow ourselves to soften some of the harsher admonitions and pray for how we, individually, can be faithful in loving and forgiving ways. I believe it was President Brown who as a Church leader in Canada called men to Elders Quorum presidencies who were still smoking, and encouraged them to invite “smokers” back to Church and made them feel welcome while they struggled with their habits. Wow!!


  5. Fawn

    It seems like Oaks is more attached to a political position more than revelation. Joseph was sealed to men and women many times over to help them secure salvation, obviously without the intent to produce posterity every time, so why can’t ANY two be sealed? Is not that like completing the connecting chain to Joseph? Isn’t monogamy and commitment better than silently dwindling in a lifetime of loneliness? And, if God really does want hetero-only marriages in the next life, why can’t we just serve the needs of loving couples now and let God take care of the rest later, like we say about so many other tangled issues?


  6. Vanessa

    I agree with most of your article, however, I disagree with the declaration, “But devout Mormons never contradict authority…” Perhaps you were trying to say that sentiment is what Elder Oaks is intimating. One of the things I appreciate most about this church is that we are encouraged to find out the truth/validity of everything for ourselves. Each principle and revelation should be studied out and deliberated on by each individual. The final quote by Elder Brown highlights this. Does Elder Oaks talk go against this? I would agree that it does seem to draw a line in the sand. However, in completing the quote I started above, you recognize that this is not new, “…even though those in power sometimes contradict one another.” There is dissent and disagreement even among the 15 and that seems to go back to the beginning of the restoration. People have always wanted to say, well if x is true, then the whole thing is true; or if y is false then it all falls apart, but that kind of all or nothing reasoning is generally only applicable in math. What makes this life challenging is that it *isn’t* a matter of all or nothing. We must consider, gauge, reflect, decide, act, reevaluate, adjust, and try again. We do not believe that ‘inspired’ is a synonym for ‘infallible.’ Receiving inspiration (or even revelation) doesn’t make us immune to pride, fear, selfishness, or vanity. But, with a willingness to examine oneself and moments of clarity, it can address and seek to correct those things. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and willingness to take the time to share.


    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Vanessa. Ideally, you are correct. My experience, however, is that, should someone do as you say and thoughtfully, prayerfully seek an answer from God about something (as we are, indeed, encouraged to do), and receive an answer that contradicts the approved answer, that person’s sincerity is suspect. As a church culture, we draw near until what Brown says with our lips, but our hearts are far from it. I whole-heartedly agree with Brown’s statement, but I don’t think most orthodox LDS live by it. What has happened is that an apostle speaks something and the orthodox assume that, if they do pray, the answer will return in line with those in authority. The result is less prayer, less personal revelation, and less of an individual relationship with Christ, all because faith is placed in the authority ahead of God. On controversial issues, the testimony I usually hear applied is a testimony of the call of the authority, not a testimony of his stance.

      Thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. James Lloyd

    Even if you have a testimony of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon, all the Joseph Smith said, but do not publically agree the the current or past “prophets” you will be in trouble. They do not care about anything except loyalty.


  8. Thanks, Lisa. It seems that Elder Oaks is intent on making “obedience” the first principle of the gospel. One has the sense that he feels the war against same-sex marriage is his most important legacy and is concerned about how that legacy will be seen fifty years from now. By excommunicating those who enter into such marriages, and marginalizing their children, he hopes the rank-and-file Mormons will never have to mix with them because, if they do, they might conclude that such families are every bit as valid as opposite sex families. And he further strengthens his legacy by driving a wedge between “obedient” members and those who question the wisdom and morality of his position. They become marginalized and many simply leave. Those who remain, for the most part, continue to revere him.


  9. Wynn Sparks

    It has been a while since I have read your blog but this was very insightful and spot on as the British would say. It is Trumpian for Oaks, and his fellow leaders, to invoke the phrase “traditional marriage” when attempting to justify their reactionary and prejudicial views. I challenge anyone to read In Sacred Loneliness and tell me what is traditional about those marital practices. It is what is known in our contemporary society as alternative facts. Then, some of these same leaders go on to say that this standard will never change. Really? How very considerate of these leaders to limit deity with their small mindedness. So much for the much ballyhooed tenet of continued revelation.


  10. David Walker

    Lisa – an interesting article. Thank you. Yet it reflects a misunderstanding of the prophetic voice in the Church. The role of a prophet and apostle is not only to expound on the unbounded love of Christ but also on the consequences of our own personal decisions and the collective decisions of the societies in which we live, For example, on the subject of same sex marriage, which Elder Oaks eloquently addressed, it is entirely impossible for a Church leader to talk about Christ’s love for those who have same-sex attraction without also describing the consequences to society (and the Church) if same sex marriage becomes the societal norm.

    In my own country, we are in the midst of a divisive debate over same sex marriage. Clearly, as shown by the often violent and abusive reactions to their opponents by LGBT lobbyists, should it be approved here there will be significant consequences for religious freedom, the teaching of sexuality in high schools, the capacity of traditionally-oriented parents to instill in their children a love of the natural family, and the right of a child to the influence of both a mother and a father.

    Ironically, given their actions during our debate, the LGBT community emphasizes that all this is about is the need for them to receive equal treatment under the law, to not suffer abuse and bullying. These are noble sentiments, However, they ignore the consequences of such a massive change as same sex marriage. For a fuller exposition on what happens when SSM is accepted by a society, see this article: https://www.spectator.com.au/2017/09/whats-changed-in-britain-since-same-sex-marriage/.

    Ultimately, I predict that faith leaders will be required by law to marry same sex couples, even if it is against their own personal views or the doctrines of their churches. So, for Elder Oaks to speak with a sure sound of the trumpet, without equivocation, merely reflects the work of prophets over thousands of years. Those faiths which have ceased to speak with such a clear sound are dwindling, losing adherents and falling into the miasma of the society around them. Those that are speaking with clarity and doctrinal purity are those that are growing, vibrant and strong,


      1. David Walker

        Thanks for your response, Lisa. In that case, are you willing to put up with the kinds of consequences, such as extreme gender ideology indoctrination in schools, that will result as society implements the full spectrum of changes associated with same sex marriage? Again, look at the link I shared above.

        The Church is not willing to accept those societal changes, nor can it accept them within its own institution.

        I am presently in the United Kingdom and have been so for the last 12 months. Here, the amount of confusion among teens over their sexual identity is alarming. As schools teach young people (including elementary-grade children) that gender is entirely fluid and they can choose whatever gender they want, and also engage them explicitly in how to sexually express themselves, the results are tragic to behold.

        The hypersexualization of children from early childhood will eventually bring our society undone, something the prophets are warning you and me about. It’s not just about the love and acceptance of the LGBT+ community. It’s about consequences.


    1. Happy Hubby


      Oaks sounds to me like the leaders of the church talking about blacks a few decades ago.

      I respect that you can have a different opinion. I ask that you respect mine as well.

      And I would say that I would be cautious about equating the church growing = the true church. The largest and fastest growing religious affiliation is the Nones (spiritual, but not affiliated with any organized religion). The next time the famous Pew survey does their 10 year polling it is likely to show the US Mormon population decreasing and the Nones continuing to grow at a fast rate. And Europe is even farther down that path with a reported 800 wards closing there.


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