Mormon opposition to gay marriage will never change, says apostle Oaks, citing ‘statement of eternal truth’

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jeff Dixon and his children l-r Cassie, 11, Ella, 9, and McKay, 7, from American Fork marked their first time attendance at the Saturday morning session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 187th Semiannual General Conference, September 28, 2017 in Salt Lake City.

The LDS Church’s opposition to gay marriage is not born of a current legal or political position, a high-ranking Mormon apostle said Saturday. It’s a divine decree that will stand forever.

That firm stance may increasingly put Latter-day Saints at odds with family and friends in the U.S. and abroad, Dallin H. Oaks conceded, and pose an inner conflict for members.

“We must try to balance the competing demands of following the gospel law in our personal lives and teachings,” he said, “even as we seek to show love for all.”

Oaks’ speech came during the Saturday morning session of the 187th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thousands filled the cavernous Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more watched the proceedings via satellite in LDS chapels or streamed on the internet in many nations.

Absent was a significant figure: church President Thomas S. Monson.

The ailing 90-year-old Monson missed some sessions in April, but this time, church officials confirmed, the man considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” by millions of devout Mormons will not attend any sessions of the twice-yearly gathering, which started a week ago with a women’s session.

It is the first time that has happened during Monson’s nearly 10-year tenure as leader of the global religion.

Another top official, apostle Robert D. Hales, was also absent Saturday. Hales, 85, has been hospitalized for several days and will be unable to attend the fall conference.

President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the faith’s governing First Presidency, conducted the Saturday morning session and announced that Monson was viewing the proceedings from his nearby home.

It was during that session that Oaks laid out the church’s views on marriage and family.

The faith’s 1995 document, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” set the Utah-based church apart, the apostle said, from some “current laws, practices and advocacy of the world in which we live,” specifically mentioning “cohabitation without marriage, same-sex marriage and the raising of children involved in such relationships.”

Among other statements, that proclamation declared that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God” and that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose.”

The document also calls for the nearly 16 million-member church to promote official “measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

Based on those views, the Mormon church opposed all efforts to make gay marriage legal until the U.S. Supreme Court supported it as the law of the land in 2015.

The apostle, a former Utah Supreme Court justice and second in the line of succession to lead the LDS Church, conceded that “the actions of those who try to follow God’s plan of salvation can cause misunderstanding or even conflict with family members or friends who do not believe its principles.”

“Such conflict is always so,” he added. “ … But whatever the cause of conflict with those who do not understand or believe God’s plan, those who do are always commanded to choose the Lord’s way instead of the world’s way.”

Oaks lamented the “rapid and increasing public acceptance of cohabitation without marriage and same-sex marriage.” He also bemoaned the rising number of young people who are born to parents who are not legally married, pointing to the proclamation statement that children “are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.”

The apostle defended LDS anti-gay marriage activism, acknowledging that “corresponding media advocacy, education and even occupational requirements pose difficult challenges for Latter-day Saints.”

Those who do not believe in Mormon teachings about heaven and righteous living, Oaks noted, “consider this family proclamation as just a statement of policy that should be changed.”

Latter-day Saints, however, see it as “a statement of eternal truth, the will of the Lord for his children. It has been the basis of church teaching and practice for the last 22 years and will continue so for the future.”

The proclamation was created by the church’s all-male Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, then tweaked and approved by the First Presidency in a “revelatory process,” he said, “Language was proposed, reviewed and revised. Prayerfully we continually pleaded with the Lord for his inspiration on what we should say and how we should say it.”

Even so, the proclamation has not been canonized in Mormon scripture.

When the late apostle Boyd K. Packer referred to the document in a 2010 conference address, stating that it “qualifies according to scriptural definition as a revelation,” that description later was deleted in the online edition of his talk.

The final version of Packer’s talk simply called the proclamation “a guide that members of the church would do well to read and to follow.”

Yet, Oaks insisted, it continues to — and forever will — represent Mormon views on the family.

Other speeches Saturday discussed repentance, the importance of each contribution in local congregations, and the value of Mormonism’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon. Rather than the more traditional term for deity, Heavenly Father, several speakers referred to Heavenly Parents, reflecting Mormon belief in a Heavenly Mother.

Apostle Gary L. Stevenson used the recent eclipse as a metaphor for seeing through “gospel glasses.”

“In the same manner that the very small moon can block the magnificent sun, extinguishing its light and warmth,” Stevenson said, “a spiritual eclipse can occur when we allow minor and troublesome obstructions — those we face in our daily lives — to get so close that they block out the magnitude, brightness and warmth of the light of Jesus Christ and his gospel. “

In a sermon about humility, apostle Quentin L. Cook reiterated the church’s view that all humans are equal before God.

“His doctrine is clear,” said Cook, quoting the Book of Mormon, which declares “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female.”

Anyone who “claims superiority ... because of characteristics like race, sex, nationality, language or economic circumstances,” he said, “is morally wrong and does not understand the Lord’s true purpose for all of our father’s children.”

Fellow apostle Jeffrey R. Holland warned listeners about beating themselves up due to misunderstanding Jesus’ command to be perfect — “even as your Father ... in heaven is perfect.”

“I believe in his perfection, and I know we are his spiritual sons and daughters with divine potential to become as he is,” the apostle said. “I also know that as children of God we should not demean and vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become.”

No, Holland said emphatically. “With a willingness to repent and a desire for increased righteousness in our hearts, I would hope we could pursue personal improvement in a way that doesn’t include getting ulcers or anorexia, feeling depressed or demolishing our self-esteem.”

Jesus did not intend his statement about perfection to be “a verbal hammer for battering us about our shortcomings,” he said. “No, I believe he intended it to be a tribute to who and what God the Eternal Father is and what we can achieve with him in eternity.”

Mortals may not be able to demonstrate perfection the Father and Son have achieved, Holland said, “but it is not too much for them to ask that we be more God-like in little things, that we speak and act, love and forgive, repent and improve at least at [a] level of perfection which it is clearly within our ability to do.”

Followers of Jesus should “strive for steady improvement,” he said, “without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call ‘toxic perfectionism.’”

“Every one of us aspires to a more Christlike life than we often succeed in living,” he pointed out. “If we admit that honestly and are trying to improve, we are not hypocrites; we are human.”

If believers persevere, Holland counseled, then “somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete, which is the New Testament meaning of perfection.”

Bonnie Oscarson, general president of the Young Women organization for girls between ages 12 and 17, praised LDS volunteers providing aid to those who have been devastated by recent hurricanes and earthquakes.

But Oscarson urged her listeners to look for opportunities to serve in their local congregations, neighborhoods and communities as well.

“What good does it do to save the world if we neglect the needs of those closest to us and those whom we love the most? How much value is there in fixing the world if the people around us are falling apart and we don’t notice?” she asked. “Heavenly Father may have placed those who need us closest to us, knowing that we are best suited to meet their needs.”

Believers should not attend church services for what they might get, she said, but for what they can give.

“I can guarantee that there will always be someone at every church meeting you attend who is lonely, who is going through challenges and needs a friend, or who feels like he or she doesn’t belong,” said Oscarson, Saturday’s only female speaker. “You have something important to contribute to every meeting or activity, and the Lord desires for you to look around at your peers and then minister as he would.”