Recently, I was observing an online conversation about marriage and society’s redefinition of it via same-sex marriage. In almost every conversation like this with members of the church, it’s inevitable that someone who leans toward supporting same-sex marriage will say they feel that there is room for varying interpretations of the doctrine. Some may even suggest a possibility of a change in the actual doctrine on marriage to one day include same-sex couples. Others say they feel that there will one day be a change in the Lord’s temple ordinances to allow for same-sex couples, citing the 9th Article of Faith[i] (while neglecting the 13th)[ii]. This line of thinking is usually paired with questions such as, “But what about blacks and the priesthood? And what about polygamy? These things changed, why wouldn’t it be possible that marriage in the church could change to include same-sex couples?” These are pretty frequent questions that are being asked, especially by the rising generation. However, some confusion comes partly because these are the same points that disaffected or ex-members say to misdirect the conversation away from core doctrines and standards. However, it’s been my experience that one of the quickest ways to cut through this confusion is to recognize that any discussion on same-sex marriage and LGBT issues are incomplete (and at an impasse) without the use and understanding of one word.
The absolutely critical word? Chastity.
The Law of Chastity
Our prophets and apostles will never revoke or “tweak” the law of chastity to accommodate worldly forms of sexual relationships. In fact, Elder Wirthlin taught us that “a distinctive characteristic of the gospel is the adherence to the Lord’s law of chastity. … Remember, the Lord has never revoked the law of chastity.”[iii] Elder Bednar summed it up even more definitively when he declared, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a single, undeviating standard of sexual morality: intimate relations are proper only between a man and a woman in the marriage relationship prescribed in God’s plan.”
A single, undeviating standard of sexual morality.
This is why conversations about same-sex marriage and LGBT issues are incomplete without centering them around law of chastity and the plan of salvation. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently taught, “Latter-day Saints who understand God’s plan of salvation have a unique worldview that helps them see the reason for God’s commandments, the unchangeable nature of His required ordinances, and the fundamental role of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Why is all of this important? When the law of chastity is understood and true doctrine is applied, God’s laws and the order of heaven make more sense. In fact, the Church Handbook of Instructions, via The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gives us even more clarification:
The Lord’s law of chastity is abstinence from sexual relations outside of lawful marriage and fidelity within marriage. Sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. Adultery, fornication, homosexual or lesbian relations, and every other unholy, unnatural, or impure practice are sinful. …Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel. [iv]
The law of chastity is at the heart of the matter in discussions surrounding same-sex marriage and LGBT issues, partly because of the false equivalents some individuals might provide in this context. A key difference from polygamy and the priesthood restriction is that those two practices were always promised and prophesied to end. That’s why the latter is referred to as the “long-promised day.” As a fellow blogger explained:
It has become a kind of folklore for heretical members of the church to prop up and justify their agitation for change and rejection of prophetic authority. …The argument is simply made by referring to it like this: “Just like the Brethren were wrong about the priesthood ban, they are wrong about homosexuality, and will eventually change and disavow the previous doctrines.” …
There is no “long-promised day” prophesied by latter-day prophets and presidents that preceded us to which one might appeal for same-sex marriage. Neither are there historical examples of Joseph Smith approving of or sanctioning homosexual relationships in the way that there are of extending the priesthood to black members.
For these reasons, lifting the priesthood ban is not really comparable and cannot be legitimately cited as a good precedent for new changes through agitation and public pressure by liberal members of the church. (For the full post, click here.)
While policies and procedures of the Church are refined by continuing revelation and inspiration, doctrines will never change, including the law of chastity. There has never been nor will there be a doctrinal change to include anything other than the male-female marital relationships. Why? Anything outside of this divine pattern and decree “violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel.”[v]
So, please be wary of those who teach or persuade others to believe there could be changes to the doctrine of the law of chastity, the plan of salvation and temple ordinances to allow for the acceptance of same-sex relationships and marriage in the church. As Elder Ballard recently stated in the October 2017 General Conference, “Brothers and sisters, keep the doctrine of Christ pure and never be deceived by those who tamper with the doctrine.”
The Order of Heaven
In the temple, we’re taught the order of heaven and the Lord’s pattern for marriage and the law of chastity. Elder Neil A. Anderson taught that in the temple, “You will see patterns of life, of marriage, of children; patterns of righteousness.”[vi]
When we’re asked, “Why are we here on the earth?” we often hear the answer, “To gain a body.” While this is true, we’re here for something more. The purpose of this life is to create a family—a family patterned after the example of our Heavenly Parents and our first parents, Adam and Eve. “We came to earth to prepare to have an eternal family”[vii], “We become co-creators with God in having family and posterity”[viii], and “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”[ix] In other words, the very purpose of our life is to be a part of and have the opportunity to create a family.
When a husband and wife are sealed together in the temple, it marks the beginning of a brand new family—the sealing of two unique people. They are creating a new family that has never before existed in the history of the world. In this very moment, the temple shows us the order of heaven. The order of heaven is the eternal family and the children this union brings—children created by a man and a woman. In temples, we’re shown the highest and holiest form of marriage, and they are sanctified through the bounds of the law of chastity.
Divine Love and Chastity
Divine love is found in covenants and commandments. Virtue and righteousness are essential to true and lasting love, as taught by Elder John A. Widtsoe: “The full and essential nature of love we may not understand, but there are tests by which it may be recognized. Love is always founded in truth. … any other violation of the moral law, are proof of love’s absence.”[x] This is a quote worth re-reading and unpacking!
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s classic talk on divine love within marriage teaches that chastity is the hallmark of true love:
Human intimacy, that sacred, physical union ordained of God for a married couple, deals with a symbol that demands special sanctity. Such an act of love between a man and a woman is–or certainly was ordained to be–a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything. …
As delicate as it is to mention in such a setting, I nevertheless trust your maturity to understand that physiologically we are created as men and women to fit together in such a union. In this ultimate physical expression of one man and one woman they are as nearly and as literally “one” as two separate physical bodies can ever be. It is in that act of ultimate physical intimacy we most nearly fulfill the commandment of the Lord given to Adam and Eve, living symbols for all married couples, when he invited them to cleave unto one another only, and thus become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Obviously, such a commandment to these two, the first husband and wife of the human family, has unlimited implications–social, cultural, and religious as well as physical–but that is exactly my point. As all couples come to that moment of bonding in mortality, it is to be just such a complete union. …No, we cannot do that until we are truly one–united, bound, linked, tied, welded, sealed, married.[xi]
Elder Holland’s powerful discourse outlines the one word that’s missing in the world’s new view of marriage: chastity. It’s my hope that in future discussions about same-sex marriage and LGBT issues with our friends and family that the law of chastity is at the heart of it. Because the doctrine of marriage and the family are at the heart of the plan of salvation and the purpose of life.
*For further reading, please check out Elder Bednar’s conference talk titled “We Believe in Being Chaste“; it’s a must-read for understanding the doctrinal significance of the law of chastity.
[i] “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
[ii] “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
[xi] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments”, 12 January, 1988 BYU Devotional
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