I am amazed sometimes where I find references to articles I have written for Michael Aaron over the past seven years. I just found an article on Wikipedia that referenced a piece I wrote for him in 2004. There is, in the world of historians, a special niche for those who love Utah history but there’s even a smaller cubbyhole for those who record Utah’s gay history. Other than Connell O’Donovan and Michael Quinn, both now living in California, I know of no others writing this stuff besides me. Whereas young people are living in the now, and there’s so few older folks who remember or care about the gay past, perhaps there’s not a need for a larger consortium. As more and more younger people see themselves less of a “folk,” the relevancy of a history of that people becomes less and less, I fear.
My friend Kyle Foote told me I could make my column more relevant to a younger audience by tying the past to current events. However, since I cannot keep pace with current events anymore, and have stopped thinking of myself as a contemporary man since the mid-2000s, I find that prospect daunting. Nevertheless he suggested I write about a remark I made during dinner conversation with an indomitable spirited hero of mine, Charles Lynn Frost.
We were pondering (code for gossiping and being catty) the future relationship of the LDS Church to the gay community and whether gays would ever be allowed to be sealed in LDS religious ceremonies. Frost was doubtful due to the basic theological premise that salvation is only reserved for heterosexuals. While agreeing that would be a lofty hurdle, I really didn’t see it as a lasting obstacle for LDS folk.
LDS theology is, if anything, highly flexible and plastic to the conditions of the times. LDS folks give lip service to the glorious pioneers and the prophets of the past but as probably one of the most pragmatic churches on earth, it will not let essential dogma of yesteryear impede the expediency of today. Time eventually will bury the homophobia of today’s ecclesiastical authorities as it did its racist ones. Today’s church is still ruled by men whose worldview essentially was formed in the 1950s when homosexuality was synonymous with perversion and subversion. Simply put, queers were un-American.
I suggested to my dinner companions that ending the 50-year war that the LDS Church has been waging against homosexuals could end as simply as issuing a new political and public relation revelation akin to the 1978 Blacks and the priesthood shocker. Unless you were a member of the LDS Church prior to that year, one would hardly know how racist the views of its church members were, beliefs they claimed were supported by scripture. That’s all in the dustbin of history now and LDS apologists have been scrubbing church records clean of racism ever since.
As a historian a truism is that history will repeat itself because human nature is slow to evolve. I truly believe that LDS youth of today will sweep away homophobia when they are the authorities in the same manner as did Spencer ‘Spin’ Kimball. How many years will this take? Twenty? Thirty? Maybe fewer. I am no prophet. But it will happen.
Charles listened patiently, then countered with a perceived flaw in my argument, “Ah! But Ben, the highest degree of glory is still predicated on heterosexuality whether white, black, or mixed.”
“That is true. True for the moment but it has not always been true, and might not be in the future,” I countered.
In the LDS Church’s 19th century past, men were sealed to men in what was then known as the Law of Adoption. Brigham Young even stated that there will be a future time “when men would be sealed to men in the priesthood in a more solemn ordinance than that by which women were sealed to men, and in a room over that in which women were sealed to man.”
Granted the original sealing of men to men was a way for a man to gain one-up-man-ship in the Celestial Kingdom. The original thought behind the Law of Adoption was that a man’s heavenly kingdom would be expanded by having underlings sealed to him. Brigham Young had himself sealed to Joseph Smith as well as 38 young men, only a few less than the women he had sealed to him I might add. But still think of the possibilities!
Since the LDS have already laid the theological basis that a person’s celestial glory could be advanced by adoption as well as by procreation, it would not take a giant leap of faith to seal men to men in a loving relationship.
A bigger hurdle, it would seem to me, is sealing women to women. In LDS theology, as currently constituted, the priesthood is the authority that binds relationships for all eternity. This is not an issue in the Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nor in the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ. The RCJC branch of Mormonism was founded in 1985 as an outreach to gay men and women and other disfranchised people who did not fit or were rejected by the mainstream LDS Church.
Michael Quinn makes the case that the LDS Church gave women the priesthood as early as 1843 when presiding patriarch Hyrum Smith blessed Leonora Cannon Taylor. “You shall be blesst [sic] with your portion of the Priesthood which belongeth to you, that you may be set apart for your Anointing and your induement [endowment].”
However we all know that Brigham Young queered the deal for Utah women after that. In 1984 the RLSD Church ended its ban on women holding priesthood. The following year Pamela Calkins, a Sister Missionary of the LDS Church, converted to the RCJC and was ordained an Elder within the LDS Melchisedec Order of the Priesthood. In 1986 Elder Calkins and three other Lesbians of the RCJC formed a polygamous union without the need of a man since they all held various forms of the priesthood.
In 1982 the RLDS Church began to reconcile with gay people and welcomed them into the church. However, while allowing gays to hold the priesthood they required them to be celibate. This policy has been an ongoing debate within that church. In 2007, the church published “the call to uphold the inestimable worth of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities in Community of Christ congregations.”
If history is any indicator, like water smoothing stone, so will the constant progressive by gentle pressure of the gay Civil Rights movement change the attitudes of LDS people toward gay members of their own families and to gay people in general. This I do believe because most LDS people ultimately love their families over their church’s outdated and hurtful dogmas.