Since I’ve got my doctorate over with I’ve been cleaning out my file cabinets. One of the files I found is marked “Mormonism.” It’s been untouched for about a decade and contains all sorts of stuff I’ve collected over the years, from the time I was LDS, to the time I was Baptist and arguing against the LDS, through my whole religious journey. I see I’ve a file on every religion I’ve held, in fact, and some I never have :-).
A portion of the stuff would do little but frustrate any member of that particular faith, and I learned long ago arguing religion is futile, no matter your opponent’s faith or your faith or lack thereof.
I did, however, find a couple things I had photocopied from the U of U rare book collection that felt salient to the issues of gay LDS when I reread them. I actually went to the rare book collection to see for myself and make sure they were true and not just anti-LDS propaganda, but they were there.
The first is from the writings of President Brigham Young, in the Journal of Discourse (1860):
"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. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race - that they should be the "servant of servants;" and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof."
Does that remind anyone else how gays and lesbians were talked about in the recent past, just before the new reconciliatory tone? Also, note how the Abolitionists cannot help it, just as, say, Affirmation’s meeting with the church cannot change doctrine.
The other one I found relevant was from The Juvenile Instructor, which was “designed expressly for the education and elevation of the young.” It was a sort of the 19th century magazine for LDS children and teens.
"From this [A PoGP quote] it is very clear that the mark that was set upon the descendants of Cain was a skin of blackness, and there can be no doubt that this was the mark that Cain himself received; in fact, it has been noticed in our day that men who have lost the Spirit of the Lord, and from whom His blessings have been withdrawn, have turned dark to such an extent as to excite the comments of all who have known them. "
I found this particularly interesting. It’s sort of the reverse of the idea that faith and obedience, and the supernatural can change a person’s sexual orientation in this life or the next, with skin color being the matter of choice. LDS teens were being warned about changing their skin color a century before they were warned about their sexual orientation :).
Skin color, back then, wasn’t due to the evolutionary balance between the diminished Vitamin D production when away from the equator, or the protection from cancer-causing rays by skin pigment. It was a supernatural mark/curse placed on people for the sins of their long dead forbearers, something for which they had to pay in this world in sacrifice. “The Abolitionists cannot help it,” just as gay activists cannot change the doctrine of God, so why not just grin and bear it, right? Today, in this mode of thought, attraction to men is the curse requiring a sacrifice, a burden that comes to us in the natural man from the sins of Adam, one that works contrary to some supernatural fertility belief (only if you’re a man; if you’re a woman then that same attraction to men is a great blessing :-)).
I know by experience that some of the greatest comforts are found in certainty, in the unchanging word of God and the assurances of what will come by following the associated commandments and covenants. They offer a plan and purpose, and that’s important stuff. I get that it can be offensive to say such does change in time. But it shouldn’t always be regarded as a bad thing; the change is often for the better. The Old Testament refined and civilized its pagan predecessors, just as the OT command to murder rebellious children and women who weren’t virgins at their marriage was replaced by the Golden Rule in the New Testament.
In fact, without the pleasure of the unchanging Word in mind, it can appear a bit odd that faiths with such strong histories of refinement have members that believe they are in the generation finally at the end of such change. Still, I’m sure in 1000 BC most in this same string of religion thought God’s doctrine, say, regarding the ownership of slaves would never change.
In this way, though, I see the LDS church as one of the more robust modern religious organizations. There is a centralized authority, like in Catholicism, to provide control and legitimacy, but this authority has the flexibility of liberal Protestantism. With a living prophet, it can change what’s set in stone, and has changed. Better yet, it may do so with nearer the authority, tradition, and comfort most other sorts of Christians only find in the old age of the words solidified in their King James Bible. Does that make sense?
The trick with such change is always to phrase it such that it seems to not have been a change at all, or that it was always in the master plan to change once x happened. There may be resistance, but time and time again has shown such change is possible, and if you want reformation in your church is seems key to find a way to accomplish such phrasing, in addition to making the moral argument. In fact, thinking of all the now dead faiths over our history, change really is necessary for a religion to survive, for its own good, and I have to think such change has most always been to more closely approximate what is actual good.
I just wish, for those hurting now, that these long archs of history didn't have to be measured in generations.