Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, distorts loving relationships, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel….
The Handbook of Instructions, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
These words express God’s supposed “revelation” to the leadership of the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS), and reaffirmed in 1995 when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles entered the debate on the parameters of marriage by issuing “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” It stated in part,
“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His Children…”
If the Church’s position on same-sex attractions, expression, and marriage for same-sex couples were not clear enough, LDS President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer, referred to homosexuality throughout a sharply worded sermon as “wrong,” “wicked,” “impure,” “unnatural,” “immoral,” “against nature,” “evil,” and as a threat to civilization. Packer delivered his sermon to the more than 20,000 participants in the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City, and millions more watching on satellite television at the Church’s 180th Semiannual General Conference in October 2010.
At a recent press conference, Mormon leaders said they would back proposed anti-discrimination legislation for LGBT people in the areas of housing, employment, and public services if wide-ranging “religious exemptions” are written into the legislation. So, for example, a landlord could still refuse to rent an apartment, or an employer could refuse to hire, or a shop owner could deny service to a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans* person on the basis of their religious beliefs.
Mormon leaders said they would not change Church policy on its position on marriage for same-sex couples and the relationship of LGBT people within the denomination. They once said similar things about its policies on people of African heritage and the Church.
LDS president, Brigham Young, instituted dogma on February 13, 1849 emanating from “divine revelation” and continuing until as recently as 1978 forbidding ordination of black men from the ranks of LDS priesthood. In addition, this policy prohibited black men and women from participating in the temple Endowment and Sealings, which the Church demands as essential for the highest degree of salvation. The policy likewise restricted black people from attending or participating in temple marriages.
Young attributed this restriction to the sin of Cain, Adam and Eve’s eldest son, who killed his brother Abel: “What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro?,” stated Young in 1849 following declaration of his restrictive policy. “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.”
While making a speech to the Utah Territorial Legislature in 1852, Young further asserted: “Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain]…in him cannot hold the Priesthood, and if no other Prophet ever spoke it before, I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it.”
In another instance, Young continued: “You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind….Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. That was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin…that they should be the ‘servant of servants’; and they will be, until that curse is removed….”
Joseph Fielding Smith, Tenth Prophet and President of the LDS Church wrote in 1935 that, “Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness, he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures….” And in 1963 he asserted: “Such a change [in our policy] can come about only through divine revelation, and no one can predict when a divine revelation will occur.”
It seems that the Twelfth LDS Church president, Spencer W. Kimball, who served from 1973 to his death in 1985, was touched with such a “vision” and, therefore, reversed the ban, referring to it as “the long-promised day.”
We can ask today whether “revelation” or mere pragmatism was the determining factor in permitting black people full membership rights in the Church at a time of ongoing and heightened civil rights activities in the United States and an increase in LDS missionary recruiting efforts throughout the African continent. We can also ask whether “revelation” or mere pragmatism was the motivating consideration for abandoning its promotion of polygamous marriages at a time when the United States Congress demanded this as a condition for the admission of Utah as a state within the United States.
Yes, the LDS “revelation” on sexuality and gender expression and race has, indeed, hurt and damaged real people, as has its policies opposing the ordination of women and in keeping all women in a second class status well under that of men.
The Church’s resent statement on anti-discrimination legislation against LGBT hardly touches the surface to reverse its abusive statements and policies, and it is way too little and far too late.
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).