Theological Thorns and Same-Sex Marriage
Last November, revisions to Church Handbook of Instructions 1 included policies of ordinance exclusion to minors who reside with same-sex parents and of mandatory disciplinary council (essentially mandatory excommunication, I believe) for Church members in same-sex marriages. These policies have brought three theological problems to the fore in my mind: the universality of exaltation, the personhood of God, and the centrality of patriarchy. While these are not new problems, examining the policies has, for me, given them a new urgency.
This is not the first time people have been categorically denied ordinances in the LDS Church, but these new policies, and the assertion that they come by prophetic revelation, have deeply shaken many of us. They have made me seriously reconsider LDS soteriology, or doctrine of salvation. LDS soteriology holds that virtually all people will be delivered from sin and death through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, but this is often subsumed in a focus on the uniquely LDS doctrine of exaltation. The fact that the Gospel Principles lesson manual has a chapter on exaltation, but not one on salvation, belies the reality that soteriology for Latter-day Saints is really about exaltation. Is exaltation universally available, and therefore possible for any given soul?
Gospel Principles defines exaltation as to “live in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom of heaven…with our Heavenly Father in eternal families.”  This resource lists five ordinances required to qualify for exaltation: baptism, confirmation, priesthood ordination, endowment, and marriage. The marriage requirement, as currently constituted, categorically excludes some individuals from exaltation: those who find themselves outside the cis-gendered, heterosexual majority, who do not enter into opposite sex, opposite orientation marriages.
God is the author of creation, and creation is diverse beyond comprehension. As Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso so beautifully put it, “Since human beings are created in the image of God and no one looks like another, it is required to look in the faces of all people to catch a glimpse of the vastness of the divine.” Human beings are diverse not just in physical appearance, talents, and interests, but also in their sexuality. How could it be that a God who authored the amazing variety found in humanity also created a system of exaltation that categorically excludes a portion of humanity?
LDS soteriology only works if eternity consists only of cis-gendered, heterosexual souls. Since I have not seen the afterlife, I must concede the possibility that the spectrum of human sexuality will be collapsed down to two types: hetero-oriented female and hetero-oriented male. But that would be at odds with other canonized thought, specifically an idea from Alma chapter 34: “that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” In context this verse is talking about repentance, but given Alma’s concern with the state of the whole soul  and Christ’s distillation of all the commandments to love of God and neighbor, I think it would make reason stare to assume that sexual love is disconnected from the rest of our souls, and will not continue into the eternal world (at least not for some of us). Simply put, LDS soteriology is not internally consistent when it asserts that exaltation is available to all, and at the same time limits exaltation based on sexuality.
My second concern is with the personhood of God. LDS doctrine holds that God has personhood – God is not without body form and function, and that humans are literally, and in detail, created in the image of God, male and female. LDS doctrine also affirms the existence of a “universal Father and Mother,” who presumably are married, and that gender is eternal. Most radically, LDS soteriology culminates with humans becoming gods. How can LGBT individuals aspire to godhood that is founded on immutable gender and heterosexual marriage? Again, since I haven’t seen the afterlife, I concede the possibility that God created souls that are meant only to be saved, not exalted. But this is not a God I want to believe in. I believe, as Rabbi Sasso does, that God’s nature transcends and exceeds the creation that flowed from it. In other words, there must be much more to the personhood of the LDS universal Father and Mother than we currently know, or think we know.
The third theological problem stems from the characterization of God as the supreme patriarch. In LDS theology, men preside in the church and in the home. Perhaps God the Father presides over God the Mother as well. While I absolutely reject that idea, I can find no statement in modern revelation to contradict it, and many to implicitly support it. And it is a fine fit for a traditional understanding of heterosexual marriage. But what if a marriage is between two women or two men? Who presides with two men? Does anyone preside with two women? Why is presiding even necessary? I suspect a reason the Church is so invested in opposing same-sex marriage is that it is so powerfully subversive to patriarchy. Boyd K. Packer’s famous assertion in 1993 that three “dangers” to the Church are “the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement, and … the so-called scholars or intellectuals” was almost spot-on. They are not threats to Christ’s gospel of redemption through His infinite atonement. But they absolutely are threats to patriarchy.
It is impossible for male presiding to exist in same-sex marriage, likewise if same-sex marriages were blessed by the Church, male presiding would be undermined. In an interview about women’s rights, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg remarked on how gay rights and women’s rights are linked: “It’s a facet of the gay rights movement that people don’t think about enough. Why suddenly marriage equality? Because it wasn’t until 1981 that the court struck down Louisiana’s ‘head and master rule,’ that the husband was head and master of the house. Marriage was a relationship between the dominant, breadwinning husband and the subordinate, child-rearing wife. What lesbian or gay man would want that?” Similarly, writing patriarchy out of the theology and practice of the Church is essential for women’s equality, and would also make same-sex marriage a theological possibility within the Church.
The policies published in Handboook 1 last November made the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage painfully clear. So desperately do at least some of our leaders want to prevent the boundaries of the Church from being expanded to include marriages of LGBT members, that they are willing to ban innocent children from ordinances that make them part of their ward families, set them on the path of discipleship, and give the life-changing gift of the Holy Ghost. It grieves me that my ecclesiastical leaders think these children should bear the costs of boundary maintenance. Equally grievous to me is the implicit message that defending patriarchy is of chief importance. I realize that seismic doctrinal shifts would be needed to allow for exaltation of individuals irrespective of marriage and to replace patriarchy with equality, but I think we as a Church must face how problematic our current doctrine of exaltation is. We must adopt more humility by acknowledging the many unknowns about the nature of God, and we must gather the courage to shake off the patriarchy we inherited from our forebears in favor of the equality of all before God.
 Bailey, S.P. (2015, November 6) Mormon Church to exclude children of same sex couples from getting blessed and baptized until they are 18. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/11/05/mormon-church-to-exclude-children-of-same-sex-couples-from-getting-blessed-and-baptized-until-they-are-18/  Stack, P.F. (2016, January 10) Mormon gay policy is ‘will of the Lord’ through his prophet, senior apostle says. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.sltrib.com/home/3391057-155/lds-gay-policy-came-from-god  2 Nephi 2:4-7 “And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free…Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.”  Doctrine and Covenants 132:16-17 specifies marriage between a woman and man by the “Holy Spirit of Promise” as a requirement for exaltation, with those who do not enter into this marriage destined to be ministering angels. Those who do marry are “worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.” Whereas those who don’t “cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.”  Gospel Principles. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-47-exaltation?lang=eng Chapter 47, “Exaltation,” lists the ordinances required for exaltation as 1) We must be baptized. 2) We must receive the laying on of hands to be confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 3) Brethren must receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and magnify their callings in the priesthood. 4) We must receive the temple endowment. 5) We must be married for eternity, either in this life or in the next.  Sasso, S.E. (2007) God’s Echo: Exploring Scripture with Midrash. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press.  Alma 34:34  Alma 5  Matthew 22:37-40 (KJV) “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  D&C 130:2 “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” Moses 6:9 “In the image of his own body, male and female, created he them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created and became living souls in the land upon the footstool of God.”  “Mother in Heaven,” Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/topics/mother-in-heaven?lang=eng  “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&_r=1  “Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council,” by Elder Boyd K. Packer, May 18, 1993. Retrieved from http://www.zionsbest.com/face.html  Galanes, P. (2015, November 14). Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem on the Unending Battle for Women’s Rights. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/fashion/ruth-bader-ginsburg-and-gloria-steinem-on-the-unending-fight-for-womens-rights.html?_r=0