In January 2014, Allen Oyler, a local lay leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church), received an award from the city of Beaverton, Oregon, for his message of love and compassion regarding same-sex relationships. Some may be surprised that a Mormon leader is speaking out for gay rights, but the truth is that this shouldn’t be a surprise, regardless of your faith.
The Church of Jesus Christ promotes doctrine on the family that states that marriage is meant to be eternal and is between a man and a woman. Any sexual relationships outside of a heterosexual marriage are considered sinful, but feeling attraction to someone of the same sex is not itself a sin.
This doctrine on marriage, family, and sexuality has led many to believe that Mormons are anti-gay and even discriminatory to gays and lesbians. The truth is that Mormons believe that all men and women are children of a loving Heavenly Father and that regardless of sexual orientation, we should treat those around us with love and kindness. Oyler makes it a priority to teach those church members he oversees about the importance of Christ-like love when it comes to interacting with the gay community and that no life choice is an excuse for ostracizing family members.
Marriage and Family Are Central to God’s Plan for His Children
There’s no denying that for Mormons, the nature of the family is eternal and unchanging. In 1995, The Church of Jesus Christ published “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” a statement that affirms the definition of marriage–between a man and woman–as well as the importance of bearing children and the potential for eternal families. The beginning of the statement first asserts our identity as children of God:
All human beings–male and female–are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
Because of this unchanging doctrine, The Church of Jesus Christ opposes same-sex marriage; the Church does not, however, condone prejudice or discrimination against gays or lesbians. In fact, The Church of Jesus Christ supports gay rights that campaign for other legal rights and privileges.
When it comes to the possibility of legalizing same-sex marriage, The Church of Jesus Christ is also concerned about the affect such decisions will have on religious freedom. In a news release published in 2008, the Church stated, “Where same-sex marriage becomes a recognized civil right, it inevitably conflicts with the rights of believers, and religious freedom is diminished.”
In the same statement, the Church emphasized,
As Church members strive to protect marriage between a man and a woman, they should show respect, civility, and kindness toward others who have different points of view. . . . Church members are to treat all people with love and humanity. They may express genuine love and kindness toward a gay or lesbian family member, friend, or other person without condoning any redefinition of marriage.
Because the family is so central to Mormon doctrine, Oyler instructed that “the family unit is the most important thing, and under no circumstances should [Mormons] find themselves ostracizing or disrespecting members of their family.” Oyler continued on to say that if Mormons would cultivate more open expression of their unconditional love toward gay family members that the struggles many gays face–like depression and suicidal tendencies–would greatly diminish.
Because family is so central to God’s plan for His children, Christ-like love is just as central. It must be difficult for parents to witness a child making decisions that are not in line with what they taught or agree with, but the crux of Mormon doctrine is rooted in love. That love shouldn’t alter based on another’s decisions.
No One But God Is Qualified to Judge
At the heart of this sensitive issue, we must all remember that only God is qualified to judge His children. Yes, Mormons will continue to support heterosexual marriage, and Mormon doctrine will continue to emphasize that none of us is qualified to judge another.
In the New Testament, Christ issues two commandments:
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 neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)
Yes, according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, homosexual relationships are sinful, yet even with that knowledge, we are in no position to assign blame or guilt to any of our fellow brothers and sisters. We do ourselves harm whenever our efforts to campaign morally or politically conflict with our duty to express Christ-like love. Oyler emphasizes the second great commandment to his fellow church members and tries to remind them of their responsibilities to be like Christ.
The Church of Jesus Christ heads up a website aimed at fostering discussion on same-sex relationships and marriage, MormonsAndGays.org. The site seeks to cultivate understanding on all sides of this emotionally charged issue; content includes interviews of gay Church members and also words from general leaders about the importance of treating all children of God with love and kindness.
Fostering Understanding and Genuine Love
Mormons are currently in a position where they could accomplish much good through love and understanding. Oyler understands this and has spent time and energy teaching the Mormons in His region about the crucial importance of unconditional and Christ-like love. The family is the most important social structure we have, and Oyler rightfully explained that while it is important to express what we believe, we should never let that damage our own relationships with family members. Gays and lesbians who choose to be a part of The Church of Jesus Christ need love and acceptance rather than discrimination.
Oyler’s efforts to soften Mormons’ approach to gay struggles and especially the way Mormons may deal with gay family members will have not only an important impact on his local community, but also on the greater Mormon community nationwide.