In the Church’s Newsroom statement a couple of weeks ago where they expressed dismay at the BSA’s vote to start allowing gay scout leaders, there was the following puzzling line:
[T]he admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church
I’m trying to figure out which Church doctrines are being referred to here. I’m not even concerned with the virtually impossible task of nailing down exactly what subset of prophetic statements, scriptures, talks, teachings, manuals, or whatever constitute Church doctrine. Even casting a wide net and using a broad definition of what qualifies as doctrine, I’m having a hard time figuring out what Church teachings forbid having gay scout leaders.
Interestingly, as Lynnette pointed out to me, there’s actually a statement, also on the Newsroom site, that says that celibate gay people could be called to do anything in the Church other than callings that would require them to be married. This is from the Public Affairs interview with Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman in 2006:
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: President Hinckley has said that if people are faithful, they can essentially go forward as anyone else in the Church and have full fellowship. What does that really mean? Does it mean missionary service? Does it mean that someone can go to the temple, at least for those sacraments that don’t involve marriage? Does it really mean that someone with same-gender attraction so long as they’re faithful, has every opportunity to participate, to be called to service, to do all those kinds of things that anyone else can?
ELDER OAKS: President Hinckley has helped us on that subject with a clear statement that answers all questions of that nature. He said, “We love them (referring to people who have same-sex attractions) as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church.”
To me that means that a person with these inclinations, where they’re kept under control, or, if yielded to are appropriately repented of, is eligible to do anything in the Church that can be done by any member of the Church who is single. Occasionally, there’s an office, like the office of bishop, where a person must be married. But that’s rather the exception in the Church. Every teaching position, every missionary position can be held by single people.
I realize that’s just one statement, though, and if there were a clear doctrine forbidding gay scout leaders, it would hardly be unprecedented for it to simply be ignored.
Here are some possibilities I came up with when trying to think of doctrines that would forbid having openly gay scout leaders.
Eternal marriage. As we’ve been reminded numerous times, the Church believes in eternal marriage between a man and a woman only, and wants secular laws to reflect this pattern as well. This is the issue related to homosexuality that the Church has made the most noise about recently. But I’m having a hard time drawing any connection to scouting or scout leaders. I don’t think there’s any requirement that scout leaders be married, so if we can have straight single scout leaders, why not single gay scout leaders?
Don’t be a stumbling block. Maybe it’s not wrong in itself to have a gay scout leader, but if we did, we would disturb lots of parents of scouts who haven’t moved beyond thinking that gay people are all pedophiles, so it’s best that we just avoid it. This might be seen as consistent with Paul’s counsel in Romans 14:
13 Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died.
I’m not really persuaded by this argument, though, because even though this is in our scriptures, I don’t see that it’s really taught as a doctrine of the Church. Certainly Church leaders all the way up to the GA level see little problem with letting their political views or their anti-intellectualism be a stumbling block to people like me. It just doesn’t seem like something we take all that seriously, or even consider at all, really.
The unwritten order of things. In a discussion of the role of the Newsroom at BCC, dclorenzen made a really interesting comment:
The church . . . moves from situation to situation like every other political organisation, drawing on a tradition of behavior but not pulled forward by any particular principle. The Unwritten Order of Things is the only order of things.
This actually makes a lot of sense to me. dclorenzen’s comment reminds me of a post of Lynnette’s from a few years ago where she discusses the possibility that doctrine is like grammar, that there aren’t preexisting organizing principles so much as that a sense of what is doctrinal or not arises from participating in the community and seeing how teachings are expressed and used. It’s sad to say, but even though I don’t see any prior Church teaching that would forbid gay scout leaders, it does seem very much like something that the Church would do. In terms of Lynnette’s post or dclorenzen’s comment, it seems like it fits the doctrine or fits the unwritten order of things. There have been a few recent hopeful moves, but in general, the Church’s stance on gay people seems to be to oppose and put down gay people in all times and in all things and in all places, and I think banning gay scout leaders fits perfectly with this general approach.
This is a new statement of doctrine. No scriptures or prophetic teachings are cited here because this is brand new doctrine, being made before our very eyes! I’m not totally convinced of this, but I think it kind of follows from the unwritten order/doctrine as grammar approach. The Newsroom statement may not be the last word on doctrine (but what LDS teaching is?) but it’s a big word, a weighty word, on where the Church stands. Michael Otterson reminds us that the PA department is closely guided by GAs and they don’t freelance. Maybe this means it’s now through the PA department that we get new doctrine. And the new doctrine says: no gay scout leaders.
Really though, I have no idea what to think about this statement. What doctrines do you think are being referred to?
In case you haven’t read them already, here are some other takes on the Newsroom statement that I appreciated. RJH at BCC posed many pointed questions about the statement (including the one I consider here). Nate Oman at T&S explained why the Church might not be satisfied with the BSA’s assurance that we could still choose our own scout leaders. Thunderchicken at fMh asked why we should be opposed to gay scout leaders in the first place.