Sin and Transgression vs. Morality

Ray Culture, gay, grace, homosexuality 25 Comments

[NOTE: I must be a masochist. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE read the questions asked in this post and stick to those questions when you comment. I don’t want this to turn into the typical battle over homosexuality. I use that topic only because it is perhaps the best example of the overall issue right now.]

Homosexuality is a complicated topic – especially because so many people, particularly in religious discussions, over-simplify it. I want to focus narrowly today on what is “sin”, “transgression”, “moral” or “immoral” – or a combination thereof. I have heard enough “expert” opinion over the years that is contradictory to see the prior assumptions that form the basis of almost everything I have read. Therefore, I stopped reading most academic treatises on the subject quite a few years ago and, instead, focused on talking with and listening to gay people I admire and respect. I decided this was one of those “quit asking evangelicals to explain Mormonism” issues. [I should add that I attended college as part of the organization for off-campus students. I arrived as a married freshman, direct from my mission. I was the token married, conservative Mormon; many of my closest friends were homosexual.]

First, I draw a distinction between “sin” and “morality” – and it’s an important one for me. Sin is a religious word. To me, it means “acting in opposition to the will of God” or “anything that keeps someone from becoming like God.” That is a very different (much broader) definition than, “Breaking the commandments” – or some other similar construct. “Breaking the commandments” can be sin, but it also can be termed transgression (simply the violation of a law or standard). From that perspective, “sin” is absolute in its being tied to the will of God, but “transgression” (particularly in ignorance) can be a completely separate category that does not mean necessarily a rejection of God. I don’t believe one can sin in ignorance; that is transgression. Under that definition, “homosexuality” (the inclination) is NOT a sin or transgression, since its existence alone does not impact automatically one’s actions, but homosexual activity can be either sin or transgression – just as heterosexual activity can be either.

“Morality”, otoh, is not fundamentally a religious term – and that is a critical point. My favorite definition of morality is, “The standards commonly upheld in a society as being what the people in that society believe to be proper.” With this definition, polygamy is and always has been immoral in the United States – and Mormons who practiced it long ago (as well as others who practice it now) were guilty of immoral conduct. Those who practiced it in the 1800’s weren’t sinning; those who do so now are. Ironically, homosexual activity now is less “immoral” in our society than polygamy, since it is more accepted generally than polygamy – which means (again, using the “purest” of definitions) that a gay or lesbian member is living a more “moral” life in this age than my polygamous ancestors were in their day. According to official Church standards, that gay or lesbian member is “sinning” and my ancestors were not, but their actions are more in line with the accepted norms of our current society than my ancestors’ actions were with their social norms. Sometimes irony really is fascinating.

With that foundation in place:

Sexuality is a condition – a “natural” inclination that varies in strength greatly among people. Focusing on homosexuality, some people are born with strong homosexual attraction as their primary sexual attraction; some are born with a more ambiguous balance; some are born with a very weak homosexual attraction. Unfortunately, the label of “homosexuality” is often applied when, in reality, the primary urge is heterosexual or bisexual. Iow, society has tended to label anyone who exhibits even weak homosexual tendencies as homosexual – rather than categorize them by primacy of urge, if you will.

So, setting “morality” aside for a moment, this general idea (that most people can feel sexual / physical attraction to and sexual stimulation from both men and women and the real difference is in the power and exclusivity of the urge) leads to some fascinating theological questions – particularly those that deal with transgression versus sin. To address this adequately, I start with the 2nd Article of Faith:

“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”

I read this as saying that we are **punished** for those things we **choose** to do that keep us from becoming like God – those things that we **could** do differently but do anyway. I also read this as saying that we won’t be punished for those things that we didn’t choose as a result of the Fall – those natural man inclinations that we inherited simply as a result of our birth (of Adam’s transgression). Even if we never overcome them, simply as a result of having “confessed Christ as our Lord and Savior” in the pre-mortal world, we will be **rewarded** with the granting of a degree of glory – and that degree will be proportionate to how much we changed whatever we were able to change – how much we allowed God to change us, if that phraseology works better for anyone.

That leaves me with a specific question:

How deeply ingrained are the urges associated with sin, transgression and morality for each person? In considering this question, consider personally any inclination that seems to plague you individually – one that seems like it simply won’t go away no matter how hard you try – one that makes you stumble and fall with some degree of regularity. How is your recurring, seemingly unconquerable weakness different for you than homosexuality is for others?

I can’t answer those questions on the individual level, but I am convinced that there are many people whose inclinations and urges are so deeply ingrained and powerful that to require them to suppress those inclinations literally is to ask of them the impossible. I am fine with maintaining the belief in certain activity as sin, but how do the distinctions discussed here affect our view of the Atonement?

Fwiw, I can picture various ways to handle the implications of homosexuality and gay marriage in our society within the Church – compromises with “morality” that would not compromise necessarily our concepts of “sin” or “transgression”. After all, every one of us are still sinners while we attend church and the temple, and many of us are struggling with inherited characteristics that we probably won’t be able to overcome fully in this life. The specific manifestation of our personal continuing struggles might vary in relation to the morals of each age and culture in which we live, but we are united – at the most basic level – by our shared struggles with our own unique weaknesses.

Comments

comments

Comments 25

  1. “I stopped reading most academic treatises on the subject quite a few years ago and, instead, focused on talking with and listening to gay people I admire and respect.”

    After reading all this I realize that I do owe you an apology -one for wasting too much of my time on you!

    It wouldn’t surprise me if you end up walking in a gay-pride parade soon, but then again I don’t care if you do or not, just wouldn’t surprise me.(u can delete this after reading it, off course)

    (and my name isn’t carlos, u have a final and only clue in this message!!!!)

  2. My one and only personal comment:

    You used the name Carlos on previous messages you posted here, so I will call you that until I get a real name. I don’t care for games, so I will ignore the “clue” I assure you I understood. That simply is childish.

    Carlos, I have said over and over and over again that I accept completely the Church’s stance that homosexual activity falls in the category of sin and transgression. I said that in this very post. I believe that. Fully. I also have said that I do not support gay marriage. I believe those unions should be civil unions – not marriage. I still read some academic treatises on the topic – just not “most”. To suggest that I will end up walking in a gay-pride parade is ludicrous.

    This post is about understanding sin, transgression and morality. Again, I used homosexuality as the example because it gets stereotyped and over-simplified so often and because it is such a good example of the difficulty of understanding actions on an individual level.

    If this is a waste of your time, so be it. Don’t bother commenting on posts that are a waste of your time. That is your agency, so if you continue to comment you can’t blame anyone but yourself for the wasted time.

    Back to the topic. To everyone:

    We have debated homosexuality ad infinitum in other threads. This is not the place for that, and I ask again that this not turn into that. This is about the much broader issue of how we define and deal with sin, transgression and morality in our own lives – regardless of the specific manifestation of it within ourselves. Please limit your comments to that defined topic.

  3. Ray,

    I know that you really want to make this about the broader topic of sin, transgression and morality, but by even mentioning homosexuality, you’ve ensured that it will be lost. Most of us simply aren’t mature enough for that. I’ll try to stay on point, even though it won’t be easy.

    I think I touched on this not too long ago, however, when I was talking about the desires of the heart. I said then (I’m going to self-paraphrase) that I believe that we are judged by what we desire and do not do as much as what we desire and then act upon, contrary to what many people seem to believe.

    I think the common perception–reinforced by well-meaning church leaders–is that we are judged by the thoughts we have and if we have ‘bad thoughts’ then we are condemned for them. Thus those who are homosexual are often stuck with this idea that because they have the attraction that it is a sin. After all it is a desire of their heart, right? I firmly, strongly, and most heartily disagree. I can only say that the only thing that makes sense to me is that the strongest indication of a true desire to serve God and a love for Him is to have those sort of base desires on the surface and then to act against them anyway. To continually fight against the surface. THAT is what it means to have a pure heart. Because at the ‘heart’ of it you are trying to do what is right, even if you continually fail.

    That is how I feel. I have doubts that assail me, but I want to believe. I have all sorts of base, low, and even reprehensible thoughts and desires, but I try to act out my life in a godly manner so that I can show my Heavenly Father that I truly wish to serve him despite these things that I cannot seem to get rid of. When am I happiest? When I am working so hard in the service of God that I forget that there are these other things.

    So sin, to me, is when we give in, consciously, to those base desires, and ignore the pure desires. It is truly about intent. When we do something that appears good to the world, but is done for selfish and base reasons, then the Lord will not account it as righteousness unto us. If you save a drowning child only because you know it will make you famous, and otherwise you would have let the child drown, the Lord will likely not account it any great deed. However if you risk yourself greatly to save that child, with no thought for the reward, then the Lord will count it a great righteousness. Likewise, in Nephi’s case in slaying Laban: the thought was not to kill a man with vengeance and anger, but only to serve God. Granted the case is still tricky, and there is no way I would accept that as evidence in a modern murder investigation, but that has no reflection on whether or not God accounts it as a sin.

    Transgression is very simply the violation of God’s commands, as you stated. Unfortunately this is tricky, because you have to ask which set. If you ask me if I am guilty of transgressions, I have to answer yes. But that is not the same as sin. There are days where I transgress but do not sin, but the reverse is never true. I won’t get into why.

    Morality is trickier, and I’ll leave it to others.

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    Thank you, Benjamin. That is the type of thoughtful, mature response for which I am hoping.

    I agree that sin is a subset of transgression. We can’t sin without transgressing, and the central qualifiers of sin are understanding and intent.

  5. I like the definition of sin in the Book of Common Prayer, September 1979 addition.

    Q: What is sin?
    A: Sin is seeking our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people and with all creation.

    Q: How does sin have power over us?
    A: Sin has power over us because we lose our liberty when our relationship with God is distorted.

    Our actions for good or ill have an effect on all around us and our freedom or agency, God’s greatest gift to us, can be lost in the process. It’s something we need to be mindful of.

  6. Ray,

    Interesting ideas. Under your definition of morality, how would you define the term “moral relativism”?

  7. I have found that getting too tied up in thinking “this is a sin” and “that is immoral” can in and of itself become a huge waste of time (not to mention the source of gobs of the spirit of contention), and for the issues that I struggle with personally, start a cycle of shame and guilt and hiding that might well be as destructive as the supposed consequences of the ‘sin’ itself.

    I have instead found it more useful to consider those things instead as distractions from the thing I would rather have, the long-term goal. It robs them of their power to induce guilt and shame, and allows the exercise of choice when considering alternatives to be made at least somewhat more rationally and less emotionally.

    (One might observe that it introduces a whole new problem of what are correct goals, but let’s table that for the moment.)

    Taking the offered example of homosexuality – I find that this is one of those points of cognitive dissonance for me with the Church. To react to those who are gay with revulsion and exclusion from my faith is completely at odds with my experience of many kind and wonderful gay friends and family who have enriched my life – I can’t imagine that the world would be improved for their absence. One such individual (who is extended family in a complicated sort of way) is an priest in a flavor of Greek Orthodox Church – and has at least contributed to my own spiritual development. I can’t bring myself to imagine that they’re going to be cut off from Heaven because of the chemistry that works for them.

    If I instead characterize them as ‘distracted’ from a particular goal or life lesson (if you’ll allow me to posit that being married to someone of the opposite sex and having children with them is one of the experiences that HF wants us to have), then all I can feel is compassion, knowing how badly I too am distracted by so many things from those activities which would further my spiritual development. There are ‘distractions’ that I despair of every being free of. Yet, as I’ve posted elsewhere, I believe that the struggle with those distractions and the willingness to continue through that process is the prize – not the conformity to the standard or the reaching of the goal.

    Recast “we are punished” as “we live with the results of (good or bad)” for those things we choose to do that keep us from becoming like God.

    To make it personal, I find myself routinely in struggle with the law of chastity – not so much in its key points but in the details. Knowing how I struggle with lust myself, I could not condemn someone for feeling the same intensity of attraction for someone of the same sex that I do for the opposite sex. But I know that the more I feed that impulse, the more energy I take away from the intimate relationship with my wife. So each time it is a choice – not to be ‘bad’ or ‘good’, but to invest my energy in what really matters to me. Some days I do better than others with this goal.

    Robert A. Heinlein (whose writing has, perhaps too much, influenced much of my personal philosophy) wrote I think in _Time_Enough_For_Love_ or _The_Notebooks_of_Lazarus_Long_ – can’t remember which – “The only sin lies in hurting other people unnecessarily. Hurting yourself isn’t sinful, just stupid.”

    Folks, I’ve been stupid – plenty. Hurting other people – lots of that too(as observed, there are times when it simply can’t be avoided). If there’s something to call sin and steer away from, that’s as good a definition as I’ve ever heard. I’d sooner walk in a gay pride parade then join the chorus of voices condemning homosexuals as immoral and sinful; but it’s more likely you’ll find me in another part of town because I don’t really identify with either extreme, or like crowds all that much.

    You may proceed to start a flame-war jumping off on the notion that being homosexual is thus stupid (as it falls under hurting yourself by way of depriving yourself of the above mentioned family experience.) I won’t go there. To throw a monkey wrench in that notion – the other half of the gay priest mentioned above is my step-sister-in-law’s father (told you it was complicated) – who was married to a woman and had several children, lived straight a lot of years – before getting divorced and getting into his current relationship. He sure as heck wasn’t deprived of the family experience. What do you do with that piece of data? Maybe he’s getting something extra that I’m missing out on. (Thanks, I’ll pass).

    Ah, ambiguity and paradox. Gotta love ’em.

  8. #6 – as a redundancy? *grin*

    Seriously, as much as it appears that I am advocating moral relativism, I don’t like the term or what it connotes for most people who use it. I believe “morals” really do differ from one culture and time to another, but within the group who defines them morals are not relative. Often, they are so embedded within that group’s religion that it is difficult – if not impossible – to differentiate the “moral” from the “religious”. In those terms, morality isn’t “relative” at all. In practical terms, morality only is relative from the historical macro-view. To say it a little differently, if Mormon morality differs from the morality of our American society at large, I don’t believe that we can cast off our own “Mormon morality” as “relative”. I think we can recognize the dis-congruence (and even allow for conflicting moralities among co-existent groups), but I don’t think we should abandon the morality that makes us unique and peculiar.

    My reason for addressing this topic in this way is that Mormons occupy a fascinating position within it. We differentiate between sin and transgression – while many don’t; we articulate multiple kingdoms of glory, whose attainment is tied in a way to the distinctions I discussed here – and no other Christians do; we have been on both sides of the “morality line” in this country – acting immorally by the standard of our greater American community at one time but being staunch defenders of American morality a few decades later – and now on the cusp of being positioned against the “new morality” that is emerging.

    That is very unique and worthy of contemplation, imo.

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    #7 – In very practical terms, I agree that our “rewards” and “punishments” are determined within what we become. Iow, we will be our own reward or punishment.

  10. Ray,

    I don’t know if you caught this little point in your debate between “sin” and “transgression” but reread the article of faith:

    “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”

    So was what Adam did a “sin” if transgressions are not always sins?

    Note more importantly that Adam’s transgression was punishable, even if he did so in ignorance or not, even if it considered a sin or not. He was still punished for his “transgression.”

    I can’t answer those questions on the individual level, but I am convinced that there are many people whose inclinations and urges are so deeply ingrained and powerful that to require them to suppress those inclinations literally is to ask of them the impossible. I am fine with maintaining the belief in certain activity as sin, but how do the distinctions discussed here affect our view of the Atonement?

    What I understand from 33 years of experience in this life now, is that inclinations are hardened into habits and normalities the more they are pursued and nourished. They become more powerful and hardened through time and use. This, of course, varies among each individual, just how powerful those feelings naturally are, and how easy/hard it is to overcome, bridle and contain them. I am truly addicted to Dr. Pepper. I get nasty headaches if I go without caffeine for one day. I’m working to get off caffeine, but the damage is already done, and it is harder now than it would have been before.

    In the case of homosexuality, I am getting the feeling that the real reason behind the church’s efforts to not legitimize and legalize sexuality between members of the same sex is that that will undermine the sinful nature of the act; it will make it harder to claim that act as a sin. Society has rejected the stoning of individuals for the crimes they commit even though that was one of the original forms of punishment for that sin, for some very minor things too, according to the Old Testament. As society has rejected those forms of punishments, the religions turned too, removing those forms of punishment from their systems. Nowadays, even in our church, a man can go out and have sexual relations with a woman and he’ll get disfellowshipped at best, excommunicated at worst.

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    Excellent points, Dan. I have thought of that, and all I can do is return to the eternal view of the consequence of sin and transgression.

    When we do either, we have to accept the “natural consequences” of doing so – the headaches of your Dr. Pepper addiction. In the case of Adam and Eve, they had to “fall” as a result of their choice. (Btw, seeing the Garden Narrative as figurative opens all kinds of additional possibilities for this discussion.) This is a “punishment” in a very real way, but when viewed in terms of the Mormon big picture it loses much of that punishment perspective.

    Btw, there also are things that are neither sin nor transgression that still should be avoided – like a Dr. Pepper addiction. I know of no command to abstain from it, only a general statement making me believe one must be very careful in its consumption not to become addicted. Partaking to an extent that creates an addiction might be termed transgression by some – and I certainly agree that giving up a degree of agency draws us away from God in a very real way, but I see that as more of not living a principle (which, ironically, is what I see as the foundation of laws and commandments).

    Iow, if we lived the principles fully, we wouldn’t need the commandments and laws.

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    “In the case of homosexuality, I am getting the feeling that the real reason behind the church’s efforts to not legitimize and legalize sexuality between members of the same sex is that that will undermine the sinful nature of the act; it will make it harder to claim that act as a sin.”

    Dan, that is perhaps the best, most concise explanation I think I have read in all of the recent discussion about that topic. We can see how that already has happened extensively with extra-marital sex (and even extra-marital parenthood) within the heterosexual community, so I am a hesitant to think that gay marriage will make an already abysmal situation worse, but I do support the concept as you stated it – if you change “sexuality” to “sexual activity”.

    I think this is indicative of the overall issue I am trying to address – the difficulty of articulating at any given time what is sinful or “merely” a transgression within the context of the existing morality within a culture. This is particularly difficult when what constitutes sin or transgression in one era or culture is considered righteous in another – like polygamy within Mormonism. If even “sin” can change periodically, what is left to us is to examine each category in our own day and age and follow our own leaders, always within the dictates of our own conscience.

    It’s not an easy effort, but I believe it is necessary to make that effort.

  13. Homosexuality, affection and sexual activity between persons of the same gender are not immoral. And they are not sinful.

    The only sin associated with homosexuality is bigotry.

    Although they lie to themselves in their hearts, bigots don’t love the sinner and hate the sin. Bigots are the sinners. Bigotry is not transgression of some Levitical precept like avoiding shellfish, it is a direct violation of the second great commandment of the new covenant: love thy neighbor as thyself.

    Bigotry is a mortal sin because it drives the Spirit from your tabernacle. The Spirit cannot enter the hardened heart. As the bigot rejects his neighbor, so too he rejects Jesus Christ.

    I’m sorry that I’m not going to read through 350+ comments of debate with folks who are trying to justify their bigotry. I will instead hope that those revelling in their hate will come to reject their sinful condition, return to Christ’s path, and invite the Spirit back into their presence.

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    John, I agree completely that condemnation of others is the greater sin – and I also abhor the statement, “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” It is used way too often as a cover for hating the sinner – and also to classify those who transgress **in an unacceptable way to the one making the judgment** as sinners.

    There is a ton of hypocrisy inherent in people who can’t live fully the morals of their own group condemning others for not understanding and living one particular aspect of those same morals.

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  16. Sorry for the long post.

    “How deeply ingrained are the urges associated with sin, transgression and morality for each person?”

    I think that morality is learned through implicit environmental observation and explicit indoctrinal education, mostly while in our youth. Just as the Proverb says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”, I think morality becomes deeply ingrained into our psyche, and colors our worldview for the rest of our lives. Over time, many of us expand our experience and learn to think outside the morality we were taught as children, but we still constantly confront it and can never quite be rid of it (I’m not saying we necessarily *should* be rid of it). Many don’t realize that morality operates on the learned behavior plane, and therefore have a hard time separating morality from “sin” because these same individuals often have strong religious backgrounds as well. I suspect that morality is what caused people of previous generations to unquestioningly (for the most part) perpetuate racist, misogynist, etc. attitudes without malice or evil intent. Similarly, in regard to homosexuals, I think the learned morality against homosexuality is one that will take time to change.

    At the same time, I think that certain responses to stimuli are innate, and therefore have a way of becoming unconsciously ingrained into public morality. For example, Michael Pollan, in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, posits that humans have evolved (lets not get off track here!) an aversion to decaying foods with an inborn “disgust” response that prevents them from consuming food sources that could potentially kill them. This disgust response has some universality to it, but taking a look at the wide variety of different cuisines from different racial and ethnic groups worldwide as evidence, the disgust response is not universal for all types of food. I think that sexuality may work the same way in varying levels for various people. The majority of people have a strong aversion, even “disgust” response to images or thoughts of homosexual acts, particularly between members of their own gender. I think this aversion has its place in natural selection, influencing most people to be sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex and therefore ensure the survival of the species through reproduction. Since the majority exhibit this aversion, it finds place in the public morality of most cultures quite readily. That’s not to say that those people born without this aversion, (or the opposite, an aversion for members of the opposite sex) aren’t human or have a psychological or physiological problems; they simply find themselves outside the cadre of acceptable (public) moral behavior. These innate responses are deeply ingrained, and hard (impossible?) to change.

    So I think a combination of innate attraction or aversion to stimuli, combined with learned behavior informing our own concept of morality all have a hand in how deeply ingrained the urges associated with sin. Additionally, sinning over and over again can have an ingraining effect as well.

    “How is your recurring, seemingly unconquerable weakness different for you than homosexuality is for others?”

    My recurring weakness is seeking pornography and masturbation as an outlet for stress and the pressures of conformity in my rather structured life. (don’t worry, my wife and bishop both know about it and we’re working on it.) I think I have a strong natural sexual drive, and I also have a history of indulgence that has made resisting the urge to view pornography difficult. Additionally, my moral training taught me that pornography and masturbation were terribly wrong, embarassing, and shameful. I don’t think my experience with my recurring weakness is terribly different than those with homosexual urges, however. In fact, as addictions go, I’m not sure how my experience is terribly different (or worse) than those who struggle with addiction to food (and there are a lot of people, and a lot of LDS people, who struggle with this). I guess that because pornography is labelled as “immoral” and food isn’t, therein lies the difference. But God calls gluttony in all its manifestations “sin”. Then is there an hierarchy of sin? I know that the scriptures say that sexual sin is second unto murder, but I wonder how much of that is public morality speaking, and how much of that is God making a list of sins from greatest to least (I got my money on the public morality). Either way, any sin is going to keep you from god.

    At the same time, I can’t say either food or pornography can be equated to homosexual urges and behavior. Although too much food is a problem, we need food to survive. Similarly, although overindulgence in sexual thoughts and acts is a problem, sexual expression is at core of human activity, and even if I don’t look at pornography, I can satisfy those urges with my wife in “moral” ways. Homosexuals, on the other hand, struggle with innate urges that defy public morality and possibly God’s will, and are offered no means of recourse in this life. Its not like a 24-hour fast, after which we can eat again; its not like having to patient oneself until the next sexual encounter with one’s spouse a few days or maybe weeks later. This is a lifetime of denial of one of the most basic human needs: to love and be loved, and to express that love in physically intimate ways. Herein lies the problem, for me: I know how strong my urges for physical and emotional intimacy with my spouse, and assuming that some, maybe most homosexuals have similar urges as well, how is the expression of theirs a sin, but not mine? I don’t know the answer to this.

  17. I found SteveS’ comment insightful. The Church’s official position is that only homosexual acts are sinful. Often times, however, homosexuality in general (which is more of a passive condition, like heterosexuality) gets labeled as a sin which condemns people as sinful merely for existing – regardless of their actions. This can be and has been a dangerous stance to take as the consequences often lead to suicide for the one trying to live a righteous life, yet finds him/herself to be gay.

    But we are also taught that our thoughts of our hearts will condemn us. What happens when our attitudes (seemingly) contradict God’s plan – even though we have not expressly broken a commandment? As a faithful member of the Church, I have a desire to follow the council of the prophets, but as a gay man, I have no real desire to marry a woman. Is my not wanting to enter into a marital relationship sinful even though it has been called the “duty” and “responsibility” of every worthy Priesthood holder? If sin is “seeking our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people and with all creation”, then I guess it does…assuming it is the will of God that I marry in this life. But is there such a thing as an exception?

    In a fireside, Dallin H. Oaks explained “As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.” That places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of gay Mormons and to be honest, I find it sometimes terrifying. Am I an exception? What if I’m wrong?

    To be honest, I don’t know the answer.

    Gay Mormons do exist and it can be difficult for us to deal with all the negativity that gets thrown around from outside and inside the Church. We need never apologize for doctrine, but we do need to be aware that our attitudes can make the life of the person sitting next to us at church much more difficult (or much more manageable).

  18. Sin separates us from God. Violation of halakha — faith community holiness standards — is an abomination that separates us from our community. Levitical homosexual violations are called an abomination. (Admittedly a scary-sounding word, and admittedly faith communities have sometimes enforced their holiness standards by violence.) Yet though Paul affirmed anti-homosexuality standards, and was pretty anti-egalitarian on gender roles still did not elevate violations to the status of sin from status of holiness violation. Paul’s were still an affirmation of halakha that would continue (or not).

    Christians are called into communities of faith, so we shouldn’t just dismiss the value of community halakha standards if we wish to abide in a given community. But it is also fair to keep in mind that the imposition of a Roman state Catholic faith did impose some uniformity of “halakha” that formerly was a bit more flexible in the early church, depending on whether the community were formerly strict Jewish, Hellenized Jewish or Gentile. Since the Reformation some mature variety has grown back within the universal Body of Christ, even if its unfortunate companion has also frequently been immature fracture.

    While the apostles in their time did work for unity in belief they still acknowledged variety in some practices and holiness standards. It is fair to split the differences between sins/trangressions and holiness violations. It is also wise to keep in mind as Christianity has matured and exported to other times, places and cultures that “halakha” has exported the least and core gospel affirmations and sin prohibitions have exported the best. Look at where we’ve come in gender roles, treatment of racial differences, dissolution of slavery, including many others. Just because many of these former prohibitions, divisions or affirmations were loaded with doctrinaire and transgressional language in their time does not change that they were matters of community holiness.

    That LDS and many conservative Christian congregations yet treat homosexuality, regardless of modality, as a sin and do not discern the difference of holiness violations is a gross misapplication of power and perspective, in my opinion. Yet I respect their right to bar homosexual practice on matters of community faith standards. Nonetheless hierarchies of man cannot and have not stopped the historical tide that holiness standards abide, adapt or disappear within communities for a time as culturally needed, and core gospel principles endure.

  19. Re: My favorite definition of morality is, “The standards commonly upheld in a society as being what the people in that society believe to be proper.

    The trouble here is that what people believe to be proper and what they tolerate in silence for the sake of political correctness are two different things. The youth of a society then get the message that the silence = tacit approval and the values of a generation can be lost. Not to mention external forces at work.

    Look at yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on the use of capital punishment for the crime of child rape. In the decision that it was unconstitutional, one of the arguments was:

    “Evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society counsel us to be most hesitant before interpreting the Eighth Amendment to allow the extension of the death penalty, a hesitation that has special force where no life was taken in the commission of the crime.”

    I would argue that evolving standards of decency do not necessarily mark the progress of a maturing society. In fact, judicial courts overturning voter approved legislation signals the refusal to recognize the standards of decency of the people.

  20. Back for just a couple of minutes. Again, thank you everyone for your thoughts and how you have articulated them. Reading the comments has been a joy – and very thought-provoking.

    I only have time for one comment, so I apologize to everyone else, but my BFAM gets the nod right now:

    JfQ, I wondered if you would phrase it in terms of holiness standards and am very happy you did. I really like that wording, as I see it as a powerful concept. The WofW is a perfect example of this, imo. Although I believe in and support the idea of avoiding addictions that enrich already rich, conspiring men and maximizing our ability to exercise our agency without giving undue control to others, I see it very much in the arena of “morality” and “community holiness standard” – not **inherently** in the arena of sin and transgression. I believe we place those more generic things into our own sin/transgression box (and I have no problem at all with doing that), but we too often fail to realize what we have done and try to apply those unique community indicators to all others outside our own holiness community. This elevates these standards to perceived “universal sin” when enough other holiness communities agree with us to make us believe it simply is sin, no doubt, no question.

    I would like to continue, but I’m out of time. Back tonight late. You know, all these church meetings.

  21. #20 – I was writing my comment and missed yours. Excellent point – and rarely considered. I make no secret of my rejection of the idea that morals only evolve in a progressively rising line. I believe firmly that morals can and do slide or descend regularly.

    Now I really am out of time.

  22. Pastor Justin Anderson of the Praxis Church in Tempe, AZ presented a sermon on sin which is insightful:

    Anderson’s sermon on this Sunday was based entirely on 1 John, 1: 5-10 and sin. He warned his congregation repeatedly that this was a difficult sermon. First he explained that sin is anything that falls short of God’s glory. Ego is sin. Keeping secrets from a spouse is a sin. Not doing your fair share at work is a sin. Then he explained God’s hatred of sin. The people in their pews became very quiet. They looked up at Anderson when he quoted Psalms 11:5:

    The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur, a scorching wind will be their lot.

    Anderson talked about how he felt when he read that passage.

    “God’s soul hates me? But I’m a pastor!”

    Pastor Anderson is a 29 year-old Pastor of a young congregation that has quadrupled in size in the past 18 months. There are no women pastors at Praxis. There are no openly gay pastors, either. Anderson believes the Bible dictates these policies.

    “If scripture is the inspired word of God, then we must follow it,” he said. “Otherwise, it becomes fables and not the word of God. We can’t do that.” “The only way to improve your life is for Christ to be a part of it,” Anderson said. “If all you preach is better ways to live your life, they have Oprah for that.”

  23. Interesting discution. This is always something I struggled to understand. LDS Transgression and Morality are unique IMO to Mormonism in many ways. I don’t know of other faiths, but Im sure there are some, that have additional sins for members – mostly thinking of Baptism and the Temple ceremonies. Once you have taken out those ordinances there are more ways to transgress (Word of Wisdom, Garments, Tithing etc – specific member only commandments). With other mainstream Christian churches I do not see that, it seems that most believe a sin is a sin no matter whom you are or what you religion you align yourself with. In addition I believe its a unique SLC LDS belief that the mentally handicapped are incapable of sin.

    I consider myself a Buddhist now, and the view of “sin” is completely different than the western worlds. In fact it took me several years to really understand it (I should note here I realize my form of Buddhism is not speaking for all Buddhist because there are many divisions there too.) Basically the way I understand all actions have an equal or opposite reaction and there is no real moral value placed on them, however its outcome is what is important. The main goal of Buddhism is to stop all suffering and the only way to do that is to stop attachment, so in a way the attachment to something or some outcome your hoping for is the “sin.” (Which could be argued as similar to LDS teaching in trying to detach yourself from this world to Heavenly Father – only with out the religious stigma that is common in the west).

  24. Just this week, I was thinking about how interesting it is that polygamy is so taboo but homosexuality is being more and more accepted in America and the world in general. To me, if people want to accept homosexual sin, why not also polygamous living? Not that I condone either, as they are both at the moment against God’s commandments. But you know what I mean.

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