When I first sat down to write this post, I intended it to address three questions prompted by Elder Callister's article in this month's Ensign:
First Question: Why was a talk given over a year ago to a limited audience (BYU-Idaho devotional) by a member of the presidency of the Seventy made a prominent article in a Church magazine that reaches members around the world?
Second Question: Why did the Ensign make several edits to the remarks Callister made at BYU-Idaho?
Third Question: Why are there so many conflicting signals coming out of Church headquarters about homosexuality? More specifically:
- why are general authorities making conflicting statements
- why are some remarks given top billing in the Ensign
- why is the Church resorting to websites to convey information about its position on homosexuality instead of using resources such as the Ensign, and
- why has nothing been said in general conference about these issues?
I decided to address the second question first, and it turns out that this is as far as I got in this post. I'm not sure if I'll tackle the first and third questions ...
Deciphering the Edits
Set out below is the actual text of Elder Callister’s article as printed in the Ensign. Words he spoke at BYU-Idaho but were omitted from the Ensign text are crossed through, whereas words added in the Ensign article are underlined.
This is engaging in intimate physical relationships with someone of the same gender.Some would have us believe that the Church’s stand against same-gender physical relationships is a temporary policy and not an eternal doctrine.
Such a belief would be at odds with the scriptures, with the words of modern prophets, and with the plan of salvation, all of which teach the necessity of eternal marriage between a man and a woman as a condition to exaltation. A samegender relationship is inconsistent with God’s eternal pattern that husbands and wives not only have children in mortality but also have eternal increase in their exalted condition.
Having said that,We recognize that everyone is a son or daughter of God and deserves to be treated as such. We all struggle with imperfections, some not of our choosing. But we also believe in an infinite Atonement that has the capacity in this life or the life to come to endow us with every power necessary to convert our weaknesses and imperfections into strengths. The Lord promised us, “For if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
If someone has same-gender tendencies then it is his or her duty toThose with samegender tendencies have a duty to (1) abstain from immoral relationships just as a single heterosexual must doand (2) do all within their power to avail themselves of the refining, perfecting powers of the Atonement. In the interim, however, those who have samegender tendencies but do not act on them are worthy to hold Church positions and receive a temple recommend.
I don’t want to play conspiracy theorist here, but it seems obvious that these edits were made for a reason.
Is any type of same-gender relationship immoral?
Whereas in Elder Callister’s talk, he made it clear that he was referring to intimate same-gender physical relationships, this is less clear in the Ensign version. He also made it clear in the last paragraph that he was saying that homosexuals must abstain from the same type of behavior that is forbidden to single heterosexuals. The omission of this phrase (“just as a single heterosexual must do”) from the Ensign version would appear to be tied to the same reason that the opening phrase was omitted – the editors wanted to give the impression that ANY type of same-gender relationship is considered immoral, whereas Elder Callister referred only to intimate physical relationships.
This gets to the point of what the Church does and does not consider immoral with respect to same-sex relationships. Using Elder Callister's original standard, same-sex dating would be appropriate. Hand-holding would be appropriate. Kissing would be appropriate. Feelings of love would be appropriate. Only intimate physical activity would be inappropriate. The Church tells its gay and lesbian members that they must be "chaste," but what does that mean, exactly, in a same-sex context?
It is also interesting to note that Elder Callister did not label as “immoral” same-gender relationships that were not intimate physical relationships. He merely states that they are “at odds with” and “inconsistent with God’s eternal pattern.”
“Having said that …”
Why was this simple clause omitted? It seems to me that its original use provided context for what he was about to say and gave it meaning. In the Ensign version, this context is removed. Why? To me, the omission of this phrase in the Ensign conveys a slightly less tolerant tone to a discussion of same-gender relationships.
“His or Her”
Why this edit? Call me far-fetched, but it is a fact that almost all the Church’s involvement with the issue of homosexuality has always focused on gay men. To this day, there is very little discussion – anywhere in the Mormon community – about lesbians. It’s as if the subject is too taboo, too revolting (in the eyes of the male hierarchy) to the whole Mormon concept of Womanhood to be acknowledged – at least to the same degree that male homosexuality is acknowledged. This change to Elder Callister’s remarks seems to be reflective of this general approach.