418–419: Exploring the Messages in and Responses to Elder Dallin H. Oaks’s Recent General Conference Talk

During the recent October 2017 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of Twelve Apostles gave a talk titled, “The Plan and the Proclamation.” In it, he framed some of the current trends and laws of today’s society as coming from “the world,” while Latter-day Saints who are truly converted and actively seeking eternal life and exaltation are those who reject the world in favor of God’s plans for us. Key among the things that “the world” is embracing more and more and that Latter-day Saints should reject are “cohabitation without marriage, same-sex marriage, and the raising of children in such relationships.” In this battle with “the world,” Elder Oaks makes reference to the fact that throughout history many family members have understood God’s eternal plan differently, causing conflict. “Such conflict is always so. . . . But whatever the cause of conflict with those who do not understand or believe God’s plan, those who do understand are always commanded to choose the Lord’s way instead of the world’s way.” In short, if Latter-day Saints support same-sex marriage or in any way condone cohabitation outside marriage and raising children in such homes, it is God’s call to them to stand up for eternal values about family and marriage and God’s plan rather than acquiesce to individual or societal pressures.

In the second half of the talk, Elder Oaks shares background and assures Latter-day Saints of the “inspiration” and “revelatory process” at work throughout the writing and revising and releasing in 1995 of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” He then lifts its teachings up as having been “the basis of Church teaching and practice for the last 22 years and will continue so for the future.” He then urges all to “consider it such, teach it, live by it, and you will be blessed as you press forward toward eternal life.”

Elder Oaks’s talk and its clear stance pitting “converted” Latter-day Saints and those seeking eternal life against “the world” and those church members who have come to believe that the church should change its teachings and stance on same-sex marriage (including rejecting the November 2015 “Policy” that doesn’t allow children from same-sex parented homes access to ordinances until after they reach age 18 and speak out against their parents’ relationship) has caused quite a bit of consternation among many Mormons. Some have found the message of this talk “the final straw” in their ability to stay engaged with Mormonism in a meaningful way, while many others have felt depressed and deflated, recognizing that because of this talk it will be harder for them among family members who aren’t at the same place they are with regard to LGBTQIA issues or to sit in their wards as allies and those who are convinced that these marriages and families should be fully supported within the Church. They hope they might find peace in this time of turmoil, this “new normal” in the church that has and will for some time to come be affected by the stances and tone Elder Oaks took in this talk.

In this two-part episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon is joined by three wonderful and insightful active church members — Laura Root, John Gustav-Wrathall, and Richard Ostler — to discuss this talk and its messages and ramifications. How have they been personally affected by its contents and the interactions they’ve had with other Latter-day Saints since its delivery? How are they finding the strength and courage to remain firm in their personal convictions about these issues that differ from that of Elder Oaks and many in their close circles? What perspectives do they draw on that give them comfort and hope for eventual change within Mormonism on various issues related to same-sex relationships and gender identity? And much more!

Please listen and then share your experiences, questions, and comments in the designated section of the Mormon Matters podcast blog!
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Links: 

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Plan and the Proclamation,” October 2017 LDS General Conference address

Mormon and Gay, LDS Church’s official website sharing its teachings about lesbian, gay, and bi-sexuality, as well as featuring stories of gay Latter-day Saints

Family Acceptance Project, a website featuring the results of various studies and presentations of stories of family dynamics and how they affect the health and well-being of gay children

One result from the ongoing work of the Family Acceptance Project is a booklet created specifically for LDS families.
To order this booklet, click here

Laura Compton, “From Amici to ‘Ohana’: The Hawaiian Roots of the Family Proclamation,” 15 October 2015, article posted on Rational Faiths blog

Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Packer Talk Jibes with LDS Stance after Tweak,” Salt Lake Tribune, 25 October 2010 (shares details of the editing to Elder Packer’s talk between conference delivery and its publication several days later)

 

Comments

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19 comments for “418–419: Exploring the Messages in and Responses to Elder Dallin H. Oaks’s Recent General Conference Talk

  1. JeremiahA
    October 12, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    Why would anyone remain a member of the Mormon church when this institution no longer reflects their personal worldview? I understand the social aspects and the difficulty of leaving familiar surroundings…but is not the truth more important? I mean, why would someone wish to call themselves “Christian” when they do not view Jesus Christ as authoritative? Jesus of Nazareth was unambiguous concerning marriage being only between one man and one woman.

    • Jeff S
      October 13, 2017 at 9:10 am

      JeremiahA, Where exactly was Jesus unambiguous concerning marriage? Was that right before or after “love they neighbor”?

      • JeremiahA
        October 14, 2017 at 4:13 am

        Well, Matthew 19:4-5 is one place where Jesus makes an argument for marriage being one man, one woman, one flesh, for one lifetime. And while He did command us to love our neighbors, I do not believe we can extrapolate this to mean that any union (same-sex, polygamous, etc.) is a marriage. Thank you for taking the time to reply.

    • Amy Harris
      October 13, 2017 at 9:26 am

      Did you listen to the podcast? If you listen, particularly to the last half of the second episode, you will hear beautiful answers to your question. In short, many of us feel a calling to be here. We are deeply convicted that this is where God wants us to be, doing the ministerial work we have been given to do.

      • JeremiahA
        October 14, 2017 at 4:40 am

        I do appreciate the great charitable works the Mormon church engages in and how Christ-like the members‘ attitude is toward those outside of their faith. I also appreciate the desire to reform the LDS church from within. That being said, would God want anyone to join and follow a group that does not hold to the standard that His word is inerrant? Or for a time practiced polygamy? Or for a time held that all races were not equal in Christ? I do not believe so, due to the eternal consequences, but I could be wrong. Thank you for your time.

        • David
          October 18, 2017 at 10:18 am

          And this place is where?

  2. Ryan
    October 13, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    I really enjoyed this panel, great job!

    I was really touched by the optimism of Papa Ostler and appreciated his wisdom of avoiding discussing the details of how his vision may be implemented by church leaders, which could create a wedge between his message and the hearts he wants to soften.

    I also liked Dan’s framing of Oaks’s talk as having the potential to be like some of the abandoned views of Ezra Taft Benson and Mark E. Peterson.

    We have “revelatory process” and “not a policy” language used here with the Proclamation by Oaks and we had Nelson referring to the “revealed to President Monson” for the November policy. But these statements don’t seem any more adamant than the comments by church leaders, including prophets seers and revelators, on the priesthood/temple ban. In the short term, it emboldens those who don’t want these anti-LGBTQ practices to change, but I am hopeful that time is on the side of the LGBTQ mormons.

    I am not sure what I should take from the following Oaks quote discussed by the panel: “Inevitably, 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. Every generation that has sought to follow God’s plan has had challenges. … But whatever the cause of conflict with those who do not understand or believe God’s plan, those who do understand are always commanded to choose the Lord’s way instead of the world’s way.” (emphasis added) I think people who would disconnect (using a Scientology word) from their LGBTQ family members would do so with or without this statement. And I think people who are looking for a way to embrace their LGBTQ family members will do so and not be troubled by this quote. I personally read this about differences in beliefs and related conflicts, not about disconnection, and I would hope that Oaks was not intending to encourage disconnection and hope it doesn’t encourage disconnection.

    For me, I took issue with the following “converted” passage: “Converted Latter-day Saints believe that the family proclamation, issued nearly a quarter century ago and now translated into scores of languages, is the Lord’s reemphasis of the gospel truths we need to sustain us through current challenges to the family.” It implies that those who find the Proclamation lacking are not converted and thus aligned with “the world”. I’m not a fan of this us/them stuff.

  3. Maddy
    October 14, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Great discussion! Much thanks to Dan, John, Laura and Richard.

    This discussion touches on some key issues I’ve had to deal with recently. Such as a recent encounter I had where I was trying to convey my belief about the importance of meeting people where they are, that each person has his/her own pathway and time frame and how we all can learn from each other. The individual I was talking to (stake leadership) launched into a strident rant that everything is very clear if we just read the scriptues, pray and listen to conference talks. (Papa Ostler, can we clone you)?

    On a side note. Where I live (a conservative area), there is a common belief (repeated in talk, lesson(s) or testimony) that the Proclamation came out of “nowhere”–like a bolt out of the sky from God to our leaders who had no idea they needed to write a Proclamation about the family. I think Oak’s talk serves to validate this belief for those (most everbody) people (here) who are unaware of the events unfolding in Hawaii at the time and confirms to them the Proclamation was direct revelation.

    I’m not as optimistic as some about seeing significant change in my lifetime (20-30 more years) in church culture and policies. I hope I’m surprised.

  4. Peter B
    October 14, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    I really appreciated this discussion and the other perspectives being offered on Oaks’ talk in the bloggernacle, from Infants on Thrones’ superlative satirical analysis in their General Conference episode to Bill Reel’s passionate Mormon Discussions episode ‘282: Elder Oaks, Common Consent, And Un-Canonized Doctrine’. I was horrified by the talk and it helps a lot to see other people appreciating the challenge it presents to the Church and discussing it intelligently.

    I’m starting to see a very worrying Game of thrones type strategy at work. As your discussion touched on, it appears to be a decisive power-grab by Elder Oaks to entrench the Packerite uncompromising ‘command and control’ and homophobic mindset in the Church for the foreseeable future while the opposition to that worldview is handicapped and hesitating to be more assertive while the prophet is unable to function. Uchtdorf was much more cautious this Conference than his usual more direct language, such as describing a ‘mountain of sediment’ of pharisaical ideas, expectations and programs burying the flower of the gospel in the Church in his ‘It works wonderfully’ talk in 2015. The mountain just had a few more layers added to it before our eyes.

    Oaks did not hesitate. He went straight for the jugular, unilaterally declaring the Proclamation to be revelation and doctrinal in no uncertain terms. In your discussion you said that his wording of ‘revelatory process’ was milder than Nelson’s unilateral declaration that the November Policy was a ‘revelation’ but I completely disagree – there is no difference really in meaning between those two phrases and you did not seem to make the connection with all the additional language Oaks piled on to make it not just a revelation, but the most important and authoritative possible kind of revelation. He repeatedly insisted that the Proclamation is now a core defining principle of Mormonism – he twice said that ‘converted Latter-Day Saints’ must see it as such, and also anyone intending to be exalted must make it fundamental to their beliefs and lives and choices. How can you possibly say that is less than declaring it to be a full, canonised revelation? He has declared it essential to exaltation!

    Both Nelson and Oaks, our next two prophets, have completely ignored the scriptural procedures for declaring something to be a revelation or canonical so I feel well within my rights to completely ignore them until they do, but they are wreaking havoc. The last time anything in the Church was sustained as revelation by the First Presidency, Quorum of Twelve Apostles, First Quorum of Seventy and then the entire membership for a ‘common consent’ sustaining vote was in 1978, a year before I was baptised as an 8 year old. Nothing since. Our prophets seers and revelators are offering us pretty thin gruel these days, and only a lawyer could describe a year of subcommittee meetings as a way to receive a super-significant revelation from God.

    So what has become clear is that our next two prophets, should 93 year old Nelson survive long enough, have decided that our Church is now an absolute monarchy and they are its kings. after disempowering the membership from the common consent rights they have entrenched this state of affairs and new balance of power, along with a few other GA’s, mentally with a repeated message that ‘loyal opposition to the prophetic voice’ as Oaks called it i.e. being loyal to the Church and Jesus and the Restoration but disagreeing with anything they personally teach, is not even conceptually possible any more in the Church – Oaks was clear about that in his ‘Opposition in all things’ talk. They have taken a homophobic policy each to unilaterally declare to be canonical revelation, and completely ignored the scriptural procedures for establishing binding doctrine in the Church. I was expecting a reactionary conservative backlash to all the recent developments in more honest history and moderating of the hostile rhetoric towards non-Mormons and LGBTQ people, but this is a breathtaking and decisive move on their part. I don’t think it will ultimately work or last, but they have both ensured that it is impossible now to compromise in any way on their absolutist position without tearing the Church apart at the very top by daring to do and say things none of the more moderate and nuanced Apostles have dared to. Ballsey. I would be fascinated to know what the rest of the Q15, who I really doubt were consulted, think of all this.

    And apart from the un-Christlike hostility, the thing that will be the undoing of this power-grab is that Oaks lied to spin his interpretation of the Proclamation and its history so obviously that it is too easy to make his talk a laughing stock. He told the story as if it was a prophecy way ahead of its time and took people by surprise as being even necessary, when we know it was created in direct response to gay marriage legislation around the world and specifically the deliberations of the Hawaii Supreme Court, which he didn’t mention at all. He jumped around inconsistently between worldly legal and traditional positions on marriage being their authoritative defining characteristics, and God’s will in opposition to the world being the true source of authority. You can’t have it both ways. He proclaimed marriage of ‘a man and a woman’ i.e. hereosexual monogamy to be the standard for marriage for 2000 years, completely ignoring Mormon polygamy even though, like me, he is a temple polygamist and…er…history. Who, where in what countries have spent the last 2000 years insisting on monogamy? Did he consider Africa and the Islamic world? Asia? The Mayans? Why pick just 2000 years if it is an eternal principle? Does he even know that Brigham Young and others stood at the General Conference pulpit proclaiming that monogamy was the weakness that brought about the collapse of the Roman Empire during those last 2000 years? He declared our ordinances to be ‘unchanging’ when every single one of them have changed in some way, sometimes radically, since Joseph Smith introduced them. I am very confused that a trained lawyer would make so many basic logical errors. Is he somehow revelling that he can now get away with things he never could in the court room since no opposition to what he says is allowed?

    And most comically and strangely of all he insisted that God only approves of marriages authorised ‘legally and lawfully’, completely negating nearly all the historic marriages of Mormon polygamists from Joseph Smith onwards which were mostly not at all legal or lawful in the countries they were solemnised in, as Bill Reel pointed out. What a shambles. And what a fascinating turn of events. Depressing, but it is going to set the fox among the chickens and I’m fascinated to see how it plays out, while devastated for our LGBTQ members and their families and friends, and everyone in the Church with compassion for the marginalised and lost sheep. Shunning is back big time. He has reverted to his 2006 statement that it is OK for family members of gay people to insist that they don’t stay in their homes or be seen with them in public.

  5. October 15, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Great discussion as always.

    While I’m glad that all of you have experiences that keep y’all grounded in your testimonies and in your knowledge about yourselves, I just would continue to point out that this is not going to be true for everyone else. In the 2nd part, it seems like the remaining panelists just conceded that that’s something that develops over time — there are no shortcuts to building that sort of confidence or independence. I think that’s fair to say; I mean, it’s better to point out that there aren’t any shortcuts than to try to suggest steps that inevitably won’t work for everyone, but it does mean there’s not really anything to really discuss. If you have it, you’ll be motivated to stay and work it through. If you don’t have it, then you either will just struggle in frustration, or you will leave for your own sake.

  6. UTManMI
    October 16, 2017 at 7:13 am

    I’m often curious to know who President Uchtdorf thinks his audience is:

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/10/three-sisters?lang=eng

    *****

    In the year I was born, the world was immersed in a terrible war that brought agonizing grief and consuming sorrow to the world. This war was caused by my own nation—by a group of people who identified certain other groups as evil and encouraged hatred toward them.

    They silenced those they did not like. They shamed and demonized them. They considered them inferior—even less than human. Once you degrade a group of people, you are more likely to justify words and acts of violence against them.

    I shudder when I think about what happened in 20th-century Germany.

    When someone opposes or disagrees with us, it’s tempting to assume that there must be something wrong with them. And from there it’s a small step to attach the worst of motives to their words and actions.

    Of course, we must always stand for what is right, and there are times when we must raise our voices for that cause. However, when we do so with anger or hate in our hearts—when we lash out at others to hurt, shame, or silence them—chances are we are not doing so in righteousness.

    What did the Savior teach?

    “I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

    “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.”

    This is the Savior’s way. It is the first step in breaking down the barriers that create so much anger, hatred, division, and violence in the world.

    “Yes,” you might say, “I would be willing to love my enemies—if only they were willing to do the same.”

    But that doesn’t really matter, does it? We are responsible for our own discipleship, and it has little—if anything—to do with the way others treat us. We obviously hope that they will be understanding and charitable in return, but our love for them is independent of their feelings toward us.

    Perhaps our effort to love our enemies will soften their hearts and influence them for good. Perhaps it will not. But that does not change our commitment to follow Jesus Christ.

    So, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we will love our enemies.

    We will overcome anger or hate.

    We will fill our hearts with love for all of God’s children.

    We will reach out to bless others and minister to them—even those who might “despitefully use [us] and persecute [us].”5

  7. Former Bishop
    October 17, 2017 at 10:30 am

    Dan and All……thank you for all you do. Thank you for taking this talk on. You are beautiful people. The question though I have for you is this: What evidence do we have that the most senior leaders of our church truly desire and want our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the pews and fully engaged with us. As a recently released Bishop who had 10-12 LGBTQ members of my ward (to many of them I was the only person to whom they had come out to including their own families) I don’t see any invitations or broad encouragements. And,I could argue we see a lot of evidence to the contrary. Frankly, I think they likely are very threatened of the thought of a lot of Tom Christophersen’s and partner and many others integrating and thus “normalizing” this lifestyle. I think this normalizing is a huge threat because we all know that while we can study the science about LGBTQ realities, the most compelling basis for enlightenment is exposure to the almost universal beauty and goodness of these people. I know there are many SPs and Bishops and RSs and many more than do all they can but I don’t see they they want them.

    I found myself a little disenchanted in the conversationt that you all seemed to miss the huge “elephant in the room”. That, I don’t think Elder Oaks wants them with us unless they do a “Tom Christophersen” and leave their partner, which we all know is emotionally destructive and unhealthy (Tom almost admits this as he references his loneliness and longing now as a 55 year old privileged brother of an apostle). I know you both see this but it seemed like such an authentic injustice not to discuss this seeming reality. I think the policy is designed to do exactly what it is doing–keep almost all of them out. As we say in the organizational design world–every organization is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting. It seems to me that the most senior leaders are not only creating systems and processes to purge but also in private counsel we know senior GA’s teach that the church is not healthy for almost all LGBTQ people. I strongly feel that we should all continue the efforts like Papa O but in this conversation I feel we are missing the core when we do not acknowledge the intent behind policies. Policies always support a strategy and intent.

    • October 17, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      Former Bishop,

      I think one thing that is so interesting about the panel in this episode is that it points out that there still very much are different perspectives on how to approach LGBT folks in the church.

      As you note, for Tom Christofferson to be rebaptized, he left his partner.

      However, I’m intrigued that Laura (from this conversation) is married to her wife and yet has had no disciplinary action taken against her.

      And I’m also intrigued that even for John (from this conversation), who is married to his husband, that while yes, he is excommunicated, at a pastoral level, he is still able to participate in his ward to the extent permitted.

      So while I don’t disagree that there are factions within church leadership that would like to stigmatize and push away those in same-sex relationships, and I also don’t disagree that they are generally successful in most cases, I would note as well that it’s still possible to live and interact against that stigma.

      Is that path for everyone? I don’t think so. But I think that what Laura and John and Tom do by continuing to practice their faiths with other members is that they continue to humanize LGBTQ people in a variety of ways. I don’t think every LGBTQ person is called to do this from within the Mormon church, but I think it’s valuable to recognize those who are doing it.

      • Former Bishop
        October 17, 2017 at 4:02 pm

        Andrew……beautifully said and I completely agree and admire people like Laura and John and Tom who are finding a way to make this work. I also think they are demonstrating so wonderfully the importance of developing and following their “inner authority as inspired by the spirit of the holy ghost. I also find it quite amazing that the policy to “excommunicate” is very clear yet few leaders are actually doing this. Seems fascinating and while heartening, it also seems to be quite a validation that this policy, if implemented, does not feel consistent with Christ-like love in really any form. I think we also have some anecdotal evidence that the Q15 are far from united other than their unification to the outside world. I think Dan and others could do many inspiring and amazing podcasts on how local Bishops and SPs and other leaders are making things work despite the policy. I know I had some of my most amazing experiences as a Bishop doing just this including my time on the Suicide Ward with a transgender member. That said, this podcast was about Elder Oaks and the declarations and revelations he is making to the church just as Elder Nelson has done this same as he “went nuclear” on the policy declaring it to be the mind and will of God as spoken by His prophet and First Presidency and the Q12. While I applaud and am inspired by the myriads of people that are kindly defying this policy, I still believe we are amiss if we do not acknowledge this is still in place and for every person like Laura and John and Tom I believe there are 100 others who still believe these men speak for God and thus must live with the consequences each day. This is not acceptable in my view. Thank you for your insight Andrew S.

  8. David
    October 18, 2017 at 10:26 am

    How do we get this podcast to reach Elder Oaks?

    A thought crossed my mind, why not have Gay people be subject to a similar standing of the church as black people did?
    Not very attractive option isn’t it, but at least until we can have the theology developed (revealed) then we can make proper space for LGBT people in the temple.

    We need new doctrine & theology to accommodate LGBT people.

  9. Dan
    October 24, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Does anyone know which Elder Oaks talk was referenced, when he spoke about teaching in general terms? It was talked about early in the episode. I’d like to listen to it.

  10. TimmyTim
    October 25, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Kudos to whoever came up with the title for this episode!

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