Ask any passionately traditional, observant adherent of a religious tradition why he or she is so loyal and obedient to the doctrines and practices of their faith and the answer you will probably get is: “Because God commanded it.”
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all identify specific individuals in history who informed the world of God’s commandments. But an intellectually honest review of all three monotheistic religions will quickly dispel any notion that every word as communicated in the Bible or Koran is taken literally by followers. The Bible commands or sanctions numerous practices and punishments that were never enforced or that were long ago abandoned.
No religious traditions can survive without their sacred texts be subjected to honest debate and when necessary, reinterpretation based on new information and changes in the human condition.
It’s probably fair to say that the capacity of a religion to evolve is indicative of the relevancy of its message. Words like “fanatic” and “extremist” are adjectives utilized in most faith-communities to describe people who insist on the most inappropriate, unrealistic and most finite understanding of religious lore. All religious traditions change over time either passively or by intent.
An overview of one of youngest religious faiths in the world today, the Church of Latter Day Saints, affirms the notion that religious dogma is changing based on times, circumstances and the will of the people. Not long ago, Mormons practiced polygamy. But when the predominantly Mormon community in Utah sought admission to the United States, a majority were amenable to discontinuing polygamy in exchange for acceptance. The notable irony of that decision is that Christianity subscribes to a Bible that sanctions polygamy. But Christianity like Judaism long ago repudiated polygamy.
During the first hundred years of the Church of Latter Day Saints, only white European people were eligible for the Priesthood. Now, all races are welcome.
It is certainly no secret that the Church of Latter Day Saints is opposed to the “normalization” of homosexuality. Being a practicing gay Mormon is grounds for expulsion from the Church. Second only to the Roman Catholic Church, no other religious community in America has devoted more time, money, and effort into fighting marriage equality legislation.
But even the Church of Latter Day Saints cannot stop the march of time or the dissemination of ideas and information that challenge religious doctrine. As the rest of society is coming to terms with the idea that LGBT people are not neurotic deviants who voluntarily choose their sexual orientation, more and more Mormons are challenging LDS Church teachings.
Brigham Young University (BYU) which was founded more than a century ago to promote the teachings of the LDS Church and to offer youth an exclusively Mormon milieu in which to pursue higher education, has never been tolerant of homosexuality. Just a couple of years ago, a BYU student might have been expelled for wanting to openly discuss with teachers and other students the nature of homosexuality. But less than a month ago, a new group composed of out-of-the-closet BYU students produced their own, “It Gets Better” video to offer hope to LGBT LDS teens living in dread of their sexual orientation. (Video below.)
Now, a number of LDS parents who obviously love their children too much to reject them because of their Church’s teachings have made their own video. It’s quite obvious that these parents are not only telling their children that they love and support them, but they are also telling their fellow Mormons and the leadership of their Church that like polygamy and the exclusion of non-white races from the Church, LDS doctrine on homosexuality must change as well.
In my faith, Judaism, there is beautiful allegory that teaches that every Jew in history past, present and future, stood at the foot of Mount Sinai when God gave Her laws to the Children of Israel. The utilitarian objective of this parable is that it guarantees Judaism’s capacity to survive: Each generation has the right to “hear” God’s Word utilizing the knowledge and circumstances that are unique to them.
When all is said and done, it is the people and not the prophets, clergy or most pious among us who have the final word in understanding and enacting God’s will. One LDS parent breathed life into this doctrine by suggesting to LGBT Mormons, “We need you to teach us how to love unconditionally.”
A MESSAGE FROM MORMON FAMILY AND FRIENDS
IT’S GETTING BETTER AT BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY
Five years ago, the LDS Church tried to get this movie about a closeted gay Mormon missionary banned from being shown in Salt Lake City.