After reading the stream of thoughts on Mormon Enigma’s post on kissing, I started to formulate a comment, but quickly realized there was more I wanted to say than was going to fit there. This is another one of those concepts to which I’ve given considerable thought, and I need a little more space than the comments section allows. I’m going to repeat some thoughts here I shared in an earlier post on my personal blog: Comments on the BYU Honor Code Clarification. I began writing this with the intent of posting it there, but then decided to present it to a wider audience.
When Soulforce came to BYU in March and held a rally at Kiwanis Park in Provo, a gay man who is an active member of the Church, and who affirms homosexual relationships, gave a speech. He did make a couple really good and important points, but by and large I disagreed with what he said—particularly the foundational premise upon which he spoke. It was clear to me that I have a fundamentally different understanding of the gospel and plan of salvation than he does. He continually twisted and mis-contextualized scripture to fit his own ideology. The textual criticism term for this is “eisegesis”—the process of interpreting a text by reading into it one’s own ideas—as compared with “exegesis,” which is the process of interpreting a text in the context of the time, place, and purpose in which it was written. The sad thing is that he’s fallen into the same tragic error as others who misuse some biblical verses in their personal approaches to condemning homosexuality. I couldn’t help but feel his expectations of change in the Church are naive, futile, and neither spiritually nor doctrinally sound.
As is probably universally understood by now, BYU posted a revised Honor Code clarification statement on regarding homosexual behavior and advocacy two or three months ago. Part of the revised statement reads as follows:
The Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior or advocacy of homosexual behavior are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings. Advocacy includes seeking to influence others to engage in homosexual behavior or promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable.
I state this as a form of intro for my remarks because BYU Honor Code policies are intended to be founded upon Church doctrines. One of those stated doctrines is the “law” of chastity. “Laws,” generally, are formed around “principles.” My understanding is that God often gives laws or commandments without fully explaining the principles behind them, but that He also intends for us to seek to understand and internalize the core principles of the gospel and of eternal progression—having them written upon the fleshly tables of the heart—and have them be the eternal ideals upon which we guide our mortal lives.
There is an important gospel principle here that I think a lot of people who “promot[e] homosexual relations as being morally acceptable” miss—particularly those who decry BYU or the Church as having a double standard for allowing heterosexuals to kiss and hold hands and not homosexuals.
For example, take the Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons commentary on the following statement by President Hinckley, as quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 13, 1997:
Now, we have gays in the church. Good people. We take no action against such people?provided they don’t become involved in transgression, sexual transgression. If they do, we do with them exactly what we’d do with heterosexuals who transgress. We have a very strong moral teaching concerning abstinence before marriage and total fidelity following marriage. And, regardless of whether they’re heterosexuals or otherwise, if they step over that line there are certain sanctions, certain penalties that are imposed.
The Standard is not what’s acceptable behavior, and when, for two people who feel affection for one another, or who think they are in love, regardless of the nature of the individuals’ gender. This is where the individual who spoke at the Kawanis Park rally was way off. The Standard, as far as Latter-day Saint doctrines go, is the eternal nature of sexuality, the duality of gender, and the joining of that duality for eternal purposes. I don’t fully understand the principle behind the importance of that duality, but I do believe it is important or those whom the Lord has called would not feel so strongly impressed to stress it again and again.
If we believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being the Lord’s vehicle to preach its restored fullness, then we need to understand the fundamental premise underlying the Church’s position on homosexuality. In a conference address, President Hinckley stated:
In His grand design, when God first created man, He created a duality of the sexes. The ennobling expression of that duality is found in marriage. One individual is complementary to the other. As Paul stated, “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11).
There is no other arrangement that meets the divine purposes of the Almighty. Man and woman are His creations. Their duality is His design. Their complementary relationships and functions are fundamental to His purposes. One is incomplete without the other.
In an official statement by President Hinckley and his counselors in the First Presidency, Presidents Thomas S. Monson and James E. Faust, they wrote:
We of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reach out with understanding and respect for individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. We realize there may be great loneliness in their lives but there must also be recognition of what is right before the Lord.
As a doctrinal principle, based on sacred scripture, we affirm that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. The powers of procreation are to be exercised only between a man and a woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
Any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, undermine the divinely created institution of the family. The Church accordingly favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship.
Again, when the Kiwanis rally speaker suggested that homosexuality is merely another morally and spiritually legitimate (eternally speaking) form of love’s expression, which is the foundational premise of the gospel, I suggest that this idea is naïve, incomplete, and spiritually dangerous (eternally speaking). Don’t get me wrong; I believe absolutely that love is central to the gospel of Christ. It must be remembered however that any text—or principle—can take on additional, or different, meaning given the larger context. When it comes to sexuality, the fundamental premise of the gospel is what President Hinckley and the Proclamation on the Family have stated regarding our eternal potential within the Plan of Salvation and the centrality of opposite-sex relationships in our ultimately reaching that potential. Mormon cosmology, if accepted, is unique and must transform our understanding of, and approach to, love’s expression.
So, with that said, is kissing okay? I agree with Mormon Enigma that it depends on the intent. We live in a largely homophobic culture that seems irrationally averse to any same-sex affection that might be perceived as gay. Hence, the required three *I’m-not-gay* back-pats in the male-male hug. On the opposite side of that is the irrational homosexual paradigm in which any form of same-sex intimacy is automatically perceived as ?gay.? Hence, the insistence by some that David and Jonathon, and even Jesus and John the Beloved, were gay because they felt deep love for one another. I suggest that any “gay” person who can’t grasp the concept of rich same-sex affection, love, and intimacy without it being romantic or sexual in nature is as immature in their understanding of love and human connection as their “straight” counterparts.
When the Honor Code released its revised clarification statement on homosexual behavior, there was some [in my mind, irrational] speculation that any form of expressed same-sex affection was going to be subject to Honor Code investigation. Perhaps I’m overly optimistic about the maturity level of the BYU student body—or the general Church membership, to generalize this—but I don’t see that as being a problem. I think the principles involved are pretty clear. When the statement proscribes “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings,” it’s referring to just that—not expressions of same-sex affection, but those expressions that are more than platonic in nature. Those expressions which are inherently romantic or sexual in nature. To me, it’s clear that they are speaking to those who think they can have a same-sex boy/girlfriend and hold hands and kiss on campus (or anywhere for that matter) and think they’re not 1) breaking the Honor Code or 2) acting contrarily to the measure of our creation simply because they’re not having sex. Same-sex romantic relationships—given Church teaching regarding the centrality of opposite-sex relationships in the plan of salvation—simply don’t work either, and are in violation of both Church and gospel ideals.
So, again, is kissing okay? It depends. The question is intent. I’ve kissed a man—on the lips, even—when there was absolutely zero romantic feeling or sexual charge involved. But there was genuine affection. I would to it again, given appropriate context and mutual understanding. I don’t believe that type of affection in any way violates gospel strictures (though it may violate cultural strictures) on romantic or sexual expression. I’ve held hands with a guy in the same context. I’ve also kissed and held hands in contexts which were very much romantic in nature, and they were two very different experiences—giving rise and expression to very different feelings and emotions.
I agree with Kengo Biddles (see Comment #5) that we’re probably not culturally equipped—or culturally mature enough—for that level of affection, though I’m sure there are a great many individuals within our culture who are. So, what do we do with that? Do we fly in the face of social norm? I can really only speak for myself when I say I’m willing to do that, but with limits. I’m not willing to be held hostage to a cultural system I don’t necessarily believe in or feel is emotionally healthy, but to arrogantly flaunt my own beliefs before others who I know are going to be uncomfortable doesn’t seem very humble or Christ-like, either. I think it requires sensitivity and spiritual maturity, and that’s something that each individual has to work out for him- or herself.
With that said, I do believe there are some contexts in which the behavior standards are, or should be, the same. When it comes to confession of sexual transgression, I don’t think the lines crossed before confession is necessary are different, whether the sexual transgression is heterosexual or homosexual. If there has been any sexual contact, including what is often referred to as “petting,” confession to the proper priesthood authority is required in the repentance process.
At the same time, the line of transgression which requires Priesthood assistance in the repentance process is not the line which requires personal repentance. Any time our thoughts (i.e. entertaining immoral fantasy or lust) or behavior are out of harmony with the divine nature God desires us to be converted to, we need to change. Does a heterosexual boy who wants a hot NCMO just to get some play—even if there are no “lines” crossed—need to repent? Absolutely. That behavior seems to be to be entirely out of harmony with principles of chastity and purity of heart. Does that process require confession to a Bishop? My understanding is that it doesn’t.
I worked as an EFY counselor during summers in college, and often the question of youth was, “How far can I go before I have to see the Bishop?” Something about this always struck me as odd. Rephrase: “How *bad* can I be and still be *good*?” Perhaps the problem is not so much *behavior* as it is *heart*.
The phrase “those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” comes to mind.