It’s been quite a firestorm online since the news was leaked that a policy change around the children of same-sex couples was made this week. Here is the official video, an interview with Elder D. Todd Christofferson, that gives some context and explanation about the policy change. (You can also watch the video and read the transcript at this Mormon Newsroom link.)
The whole gamut of reactions has shown up on social media. There are some for whom this policy was a logical clarification of already-clear doctrine about marriage between a man and woman being central to God’s plan. There are many for whom the policy raised questions, especially as to why children of same-sex couples were so directly affected by this policy. There are some who are angry and some who feel deep hurt on behalf of those this policy will affect. And, of course, there are some who are misrepresenting and demonizing this policy — an unfortunate but not surprising response. (Stating the obvious, there will always be a range of responses to something so charged.)
For me, the surprise I felt lasted only minutes and my feelings quickly settled into a sense of gratitude for clarity in a complex and continually-changing political, cultural, and social landscape. The issue of same-sex marriage as it relates to my faith is something I have thought and pondered for a decade and a half, perhaps more than almost any other topic except perhaps doctrine relating directly to Mormon women.
I shared some initial reflections on my personal Facebook wall as to why this policy made sense to me, and as people engaged with me, it quickly became clear (although not surprising) that the range of emotions and reactions was broad and varied. I was grateful for people who would engage in conversation and share their thoughts, because I think we benefit when we seek to understand others and also feel safe to engage and be honest even when disagreeing.
I hope that we can all be sensitive to those around us and to that range of feelings that people are having right now. Our leaders have told us repeatedly that it’s okay to have questions. As Elder Christofferson noted yet again, it’s not okay to advocate against the leaders, but it’s okay to wrestle and, when necessary, even pound on the door of heaven for understanding, peace, perspective, and insight.
I fear that there is a misconception that people either completely agree with this policy or completely disagree. What I’m seeing is that a fair number of people are wrestling. There is a tension here that Elder Christofferson captures quite beautifully that can be hard to navigate: How do we reach out in love to all our brothers and sisters, while also unflinchingly upholding the now-all-the-more-clear divine mandates around the doctrine of marriage between a man and a woman, and the corollary to that doctrine, which is that sexual relations are only sanctioned by God when between a legally married husband and wife, man and woman? And how can you not feel a tug at your heart for the children who are and will be affected by all of this?
My husband and I had a chat with our nephew and his wife yesterday. (Incidentally, our nephew is the author of this post, which went wildly viral on Friday, a post that has incited a lot of vitriol online. How easy it can be to demonize someone you don’t know. Love needs to flow both ways. This can be hard not just for those who are affected by the policy, but for those who support it.)
I am sobered by the reality that for some, a change like this can feel like the last straw in a years-long wrestle around this issue. The thought that came to mind was that it can feel, for some, very Abraham-like. It can feel impossible, baffling.
I was reminded of this quote tonight, and am struck by how relevant it feels because of the perplexing nature of Abraham’s test (and because of the tender feelings of a loving parent that were involved in what he faced):
“I heard Joseph Smith say and I presume Brother Snow heard him also-in preaching to the Twelve in Nauvoo, that the Lord would get hold of their heart strings and wrench them, and that they would have to be tried as Abraham was tried. And Joseph said that if God had known any other way whereby he could have touched Abraham’s feelings more acutely and more keenly he would have done so. It was not only his parental feelings that were touched. There was something else besides. He had the promise that in him and in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed; that his seed should be multiplied as the stars of the heaven and as the sand upon the sea shore. He had looked forward through the vista of future ages and seen, by the spirit of revelation, myriads of his people rise up through whom God would convey intelligence, light and salvation to a world. But in being called upon to sacrifice his son it seemed as though all his prospects pertaining to posterity were come to naught. But he had faith in God, and he fulfilled the thing that was required of him. Yet we cannot conceive of anything that could be more trying and more perplexing than the position in which he was placed (Journal of Discourses 24:264).”
There is little someone like me who isn’t walking that path with this particular policy can say to take away that pain. It’s just there. But I do believe that we each have to walk our Mount Moriahs. I have felt tastes of such tormenting tensions in my life, and there have been times they have almost broken me — some quite recently, in fact. When you are backed against the wall of faith, it can feel like it may press life out of your soul.
But I have come to believe all the more as I have walked some of my own personal Moriahs that this is some of what we are here to experience — not because God is some sadistic being, but because there is no other way to truly come to trust Him unless you aren’t up against something impossible, unmanageable, beyond mortal reach and understanding. Paraphrasing Ezra Taft Benson, we all will find times when we are backed against the wall of faith.
If I may, let me take you back to the conversation yesterday. As the four of us sat and shared our thoughts, I envisioned those who may be feeling like Abraham might have felt — afraid, perplexed, pressed, baffled. I pictured Father Abraham walking up Mount Moriah, alone. What a walk that must have been! No one could walk that path for him. His choice to make that journey of faith was between him and his God. (Even President Gordon B. Hinckley, the quintessential optimist, described the road back to God as a lonely one, one requiring deep faith.)
And surely, if people had know what Abraham was going to do, many would have declared him insane at best and evil at worst.
But rather than being left with the image of a lonely Abraham, I am grateful for the insight my husband shared about this seemingly-impossible scriptural story. Yes, Abraham had to pass this test. Only he could decide if he would follow through with what God told him to do.
But he did not walk up Mount Moriah alone.
His son, Isaac, was there, walking beside him. As my husband reminded us, Isaac is a type for the Savior. He is the One who walks with each of us, the One who actually was sacrificed on our behalf. He is our ram in the thicket, the One who exemplifies both perfect love and taught the law that leads back to God. He is the One who can help us through our heartrending trials. He is the One who makes compensatory blessings possible — for example, to children who cannot be baptized for a time.
He is the answer to it all, whatever it may be.
We can (and I think we should) keep an open dialogue about all of these issues, and allow people to be where they are in their journey with it all. I firmly believe that those who seek insight and understanding from God will, in God’s way and time — line upon line — receive insight, help, comfort, and clarity.
But perhaps more than anything, I pray that especially those of us not in pain right now will prayerfully be ready to reach out to those who are struggling, ready when the Spirit prompts to testify that they do not walk their paths alone. God is there, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real. We can all come to know and feel and realize that as we walk our own journeys in spite of — and perhaps more particularly because of — our Mount Moriah experiences. Abraham would not have known the power of his own faith and the wonder of the angel and the ram had he not walked that lonely road in faith.
God bless those of you who may be walking such mountains now. Know that you are loved and cared for by many, most especially by God and His Son.