Six Theological Challenges in Mormonism Brought Forth by Issues Related to Human Sexuality

December 19, 2010    By: Matt W. @ 11:32 pm   Category: Theology

This is not intended to be a position piece, but as I have had a couple conversations regarding LDS theology and Human Sexuality in the past 24 hours, I thought it would be best to articulate what I see as some of the theological issues that are repeatedly coming up. I am also trying to link to either good sources I am aware of that relate to these issues, or at least more fully articulate the issues.

1. The Problem of Determinism- If a human being can be determined in something as fundamental to human behavior as sexual preference, how free are they really? One could argue that if we are not really free, then we are not really accountable. This argument is used in Mormonism and Many Legal communities to deny accountability for infractions do to lack of willful intent. Perhaps the best theological path here is to accept a concept of limited free will, as articulated by Geoff J here.

2. The Problem of Evil- Why would a loving God allow something so fundamental to life to be so fundamentally off as sexual preference. This is the question that was excised from Boyd K. Packer’s talk. This is, of course, the most challenging question in all of Christendom. An excellent articulation by Rosalynde Welch of the issue in this specific context is here and I do my best to give my theodicy of the problem here.

3. The Problem of Sentimentality- How much of romantic love is merely chemistry and biology playing out within us, rather than the profound experience our society has set it up to be. Must sexual preference override all other forms of relational compatibility? This question is tightly related to the problem of determinism above, and I have attempted to articulate it in the past here.

4. The Problem of Scriptural infallibility- The New Testament has numerous scriptures involving homosexuality as a non-allowed sin. Wikipedia has a very complete list. This is above and beyond the more blatant statements in the Old Testament. Of course, the New Testament also calls women the weaker vessel, and says they should not speak in church. Thus appeals to the authority of scripture alone truly do need prophetic clarification.

5. The Problem of Doctrinal Non-clarity- With pseudo-doctrinal teachings of our eternal existence and purpose ranging from eternal sexual procreation to the necessity of a male and female to create a whole deified person, there is much confusion on what our sexuality infers upon our eternal existence. Add to this non-clarified doctrines regarding Heavenly Mother, viviparous spirit birth, and questions around what Joseph meant in terms of our spirits being Eternal, and we are left with a wide range of possible theological world views to pick from. I find myself most in line with Jonathon Stapley on these issues while perhaps taking a more apologetic view in regards to Heavenly Mother.

6. The Problem of Prophetic Fallibility- Perhaps the greatest challenge in the modern LDS worldview that has been high lighted in terms of the church’s doctrine regarding human sexuality is that it has and does change. Up until the 1980s Birth Control was incredibly frowned upon, and then there was a major shift, with one statement from Gordon B. Hinckley. Polygamy ended with a prophetic proclamation, institutionalized racism like wise. These massive doctrinal statements make it more difficult for church members to solidly anchor themselves to any single teaching of the church, leaving them to reason out for themselves with mixed results what is best. The Narrator best articulated this issue for an article for the SMPT journal Element, which can be read here. I am told there will responses to this article in another issue of Element, but I am not aware if they have been published.

So there you have it, these are the issues I could think of which come into play when discussing the theology of the LDS position in regards to homosexuality. I am not aware how deeply these issues impact the reasoning for the LDS position, but they undeniably have all come up as a consequence to it.

Are there other issues that you think are coming up at a theological level? Are there other posts you’d recommend on these theological issues?

25 Comments »

  1. Those are excellent points. It is amazing how much of our perceived understanding of life and humanity is based on unsupported assumptions…

    Comment by Dan — December 20, 2010 @ 7:12 am

  2. Briefly, the issue of genetic determinism with regard to our instinctual preferences and that of causal determinism with regard to free choice are completely unrelated. One can believe either one without accepting the other.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 20, 2010 @ 8:02 am

  3. Jeff G, while I can happily agree with that on an intellectual level, perception is reality. By this I mean the people I have talked to feel out of control.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 20, 2010 @ 8:18 am

  4. That’s fine, but you should know that you are sliding into a rather compatibilist sense of the word freewill. According to compatibilists, whether something is free or not doesn’t have to do with whether or not the causal chain holds up or not, but with whether the causal chain runs through genetic or cultural, subconscious or conscious paths.

    While I don’t want to threadjack, I did want to cleanly block off Geoff’s whole freewill discussion that you linked to.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 20, 2010 @ 8:48 am

  5. Jeff- I’m a light weight when it comes to these sorts of discussions, so I’ll be the first to admit that you are way over my head with that one. Maybe Geoff or Jacob or Clark can show up and discuss, but I’m afraid all you’ll get from me are some blank stares.

    All I am trying to say is that it can be intellectually jarring to realize that our feelings and/or behaviors are less in our control than we’d like to believe. So why should we feel guilt for things that are beyond our control? That said, what I like about Geoff’s approach in the previous post and from my very limited understanding, is that it sets up a space between ourselves and our feelings and behaviors, and thus allows for us to be masters of eternal selves without being beholden to the limits of our physical self. I do realize that this does not exclude the possibility that this eternal self is still causally determined, as that is ultimately out of the scope of the issue I am trying to uncover, albeit it may be that I am simply not digging deep enough.

    Never feel like you are thread jacking one of my posts, I value your thoughts and opinions and you are always welcome to share them here.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 20, 2010 @ 9:25 am

  6. In regards to the first couple of points, not only is free will/determinism involved here, but also the idea of being ‘born again’ or having a mighty change of heart.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 20, 2010 @ 10:28 am

  7. I don’t quite understand (1) since it seems that one could argue this about any biological instinct. But just because we might not be free in one area I don’t see how it says anything about freedom in general. I can’t fly because of my biological limits whereas a bird can. This says nothing about free will.

    Comment by Clark — December 20, 2010 @ 11:42 am

  8. Matt (just reading the comments) I agree that realizing our feelings and so forth aren’t under our control can be jarring. That’s because our folk intuitions more or less deny there is a brain but require thinking be something else. (This is one reason why I think our intuitions are useless in these discussions, btw)

    However the existence of mental illness or the effects of drugs upon reasoning and feeling is more than enough to lead to this sort of questioning. I think Mormonism has great answers here but people tend to want to keep their folk intuitions as they are comforting.

    In any case I think the point you raise is a great reason to disbelieve that our feelings or beliefs about when we are free are trustworthy in the least.

    Comment by Clark — December 20, 2010 @ 11:47 am

  9. Eric: That is an excellent point. I think too often members assert that if a person with homosexually believe enough, endured enough, God will change them etc.

    Clark (7) I never said these were exclusive to the issue of human sexuality, just that they are brought up in conjunction to it. I agree with you regarding our folk intuitions, but the issue is that once we go beyond our intuitions regarding self, it becomes difficult to have anything to anchor our understanding of anything at all.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 20, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  10. Matt,

    Jeff is absolutely correct. The determinism/indeterminism debate is categorically separate from this discussion.

    Regarding homosexuality — to me the biggest issue is measurement. We have no way of measuring “gayness” so arguments over homosexuality are always murky at best.

    What I mean about measuring homosexuality is there is no binary gay/straight line that separates humans. Rather, attractions seems to be on a continuum. Let’s say the continuum is a scale of 0-100. At 0 a person has no same-sex attraction at all, at 100 a person has no opposite attraction, and at 50 a person has equal levels of same sex attraction and opposite attraction. But we have no way of making that measurement. Further, even if we did we have no reason to assume that people stay at the same place on the scale from year to year, day to day, or even moment to moment. With such an unmeasurable and moving target, debates over gayness are inevitably going to be messy.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 20, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

  11. Geoff- I completely agree. The problem is compounded by studies which show same sex aversion is also biologically caused (but not totally biologically caused, the same as same sex attraction). So a person can have 0% same sex attraction and 100% opposite sex aversion, or the opposite, or anything in between.

    But I think that is more of a biological issue, than a theological one. I think the theological issue is underpinned by #1 above, though I apparently inadequately explained it. To put it in it’s most crass terms, I do not think it is helpful to say things like “Well, have you tried not being gay?”

    Comment by Matt W. — December 20, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

  12. Well we separate the biological issues from the spiritual issues by assuming we are spirits who have united with these biological bodies. I discussed that idea at more length in this “Avatar” post.

    With the dualism assumption one wouldn’t say “have you tried not being gay”. Rather one would say “have you tried abstaining from having gay sex”?

    Of course the wrongness (or not) of gay sex in the eyes of God is a separate debate.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 20, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

  13. I know this is going to sound crazy so bear with me. Some say homosexuals were once the opposite sex in a previous life and still haven’t adjusted to the new sex. This obviously only works if there are multiple mortal probations, etc.

    If you want to read that viewpoint go to http://freeread.com and search the archives.

    Comment by Rio — December 20, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

  14. Rio — Something like that requires way too many untenable assumptions. An much easier assumption is just to assume that all of our physical appetites in this life — including sexual appetites — arise exclusively from our physical bodies here. Trying to claim physical appetites here are carried over from pre-mortal lives doesn’t make any sense on lots of levels.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 20, 2010 @ 11:47 pm

  15. Good post. I will make the conversation much more personal by emphasizing item #2 – As a gay man trying to live the law of celibacy and growing old & lonely in an LDS culture that does not have a place for such as I (having abandoned my Irish Catholic roots after gaining a certainty of the Restored Gospel), I only have one question that I would like answered by the prophet; namely, Why do I have this orientation which I have not chosen if it prevents me from the greatest objective of the Restored Gospel which is being sealed to an eternal companion to whom I fully love in a romantic and complete sense? Where does it fit into the Fullness of the Gospel?

    Is it that complicated a question to ask? Given that homosexual desire has been a constant since the days of Adam and Eve, it must have been addressed previously by the Lord somewhere.

    Comment by Michael — December 21, 2010 @ 10:04 am

  16. Michael: Is it that complicated a question to ask?

    It isn’t at all complicated to ask God. Unfortunately God has always reserved the right to answer “no comment” at times. If not we would have answers to basically all of our deep theological and metaphysical questions by now.

    Also, you don’t need a prophet to ask those questions of God for you. You are as much a child of God as any prophet has ever been. See here.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 21, 2010 @ 10:18 am

  17. Rio, your theory confuses homosexuality with gender dysmorphia. Being a gay man has nothing to do with gender identity. Being a gay man does not mean that I “feel like a woman,” or “want to be a woman,” or “wish I was born a woman,” or any such thing. I’m quite happy with my parts and my testosterone-flooded brain. I just happen to be attracted physically, emotionally, and romantically to those who have the same parts and testosterone-flooded brains.

    Are there gay men and lesbians who in addition happen to be transgendered? Yes, just as there are straight men and women who happen to be transgendered. Sexual orientation and gender identity are two very different, distinct concepts.

    Comment by Nick Literski — December 21, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  18. Michael: that is a very god way to put the problem of evil here, and I think it also shows how the problem of sentimentality colludes with the problem of evil and makes the issue even more difficult.

    Rio, I find that perspective untenable.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 21, 2010 @ 10:40 am

  19. Michael – does your question differ from that of a person who is not able to find a wife(or husband) in this life? or from that of a mentally handicapped person? Or from that of a person who is unable to procreate?

    Yes and no. Yes it’s different in some respects, just as each of us have different paths to walk on our personal plan of salvation. And no, it’s not different in principle – in that each of the above questions have some life-experience factor that prevents them from realizing the “fullness” of their creation.

    But then again, don’t we all lack many things which prevent us from experiencing the fullness of our creation? See D&C section 93 and get back to me.

    I can’t answer your question for you. I can answer my own question, based on my own personality and struggles in life though. “All these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good, if thou art faithful” (D&C 122)

    We could go through more scriptures, but you’d gain so much more by digging through the D&C on your own and discovering the answers.

    You’ll find that we were intelligences before this life. And that each of us had reached a different level of intelligence (ie. not “smart”) before this world and each will be at a different level after this life.

    To me this means that God knows exactly what my spirit needed in order to progress to receive his fullness as promised in DC93. I’d also suggest he knows what you needed as well as the baby who died in infancy as well as the soldier who died in terrible conditions.

    None of this means God smiles on the terrible acts committed upon us, or that the awful struggles we go through are happy moments. But that the life experiences we have in the midst of overcoming or even struggling in these adversities will serve our ultimate good. One day, we may truly realize the importance of the phrase for each of us – “your eyes have not yet been opened.” God bless!

    Comment by ceric — December 21, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

  20. Excellent list.

    I might add one more to issue to the list: the “Meta Issue.” That is, few Church leaders, general or local, seem to even be aware of the existence of the issues you list. I doubt there are many who have thought about them at all. If they have, I can’t tell from anything they do or say.

    This becomes important when they issue policies and pronouncements that have a big impact on individual lives, based on foundations that may be more shaky than they realize.

    Comment by wondering — December 21, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

  21. Nick, shouldn’t you be finishing you book? Just kidding, but seriously, get moving, I am chomping at the bit.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 21, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

  22. My theory is not mine. I read it on J.J. Dewey’s site freeread.com.

    http://www.freeread.com/archives/2147.html

    This was the first time I’ve read something regarding homosexuality that was new so I thought it was interesting.

    I don’t search for truth solely based on whether assumptions are hard or easy. Many truths have very difficult assumptions behind them.

    Comment by Rio — December 22, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

  23. Rio, actually Akzam’s razor argues just the opposite. Many truths have very simple and uncomplicated “assumptions” behind them.

    Comment by Michael — December 22, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  24. Michael, did you mean the Prisoner of Azkaban’s Razor?

    Comment by BHodges — January 3, 2011 @ 8:01 am

  25. BHodges, don’t be such a Dementor.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 3, 2011 @ 8:14 am

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