Sunday, June 22, 2008


This past week California joined Massachusetts in legalizing same-sex marriage. Two weeks ago the governor of New York ordered all stage agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and nations. So it is that in the past week legally recognized same-sex marriages have become a reality in three of the most populated states in the U.S. At the same time this week, new scientific findings were released by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden on differences in the size and structure of the human brain in heterosexual and homosexual subjects. The findings offer yet more medical evidence that sexual orientation is not the product of personal choice or social influences but is an inborn biological trait, as immutable as height, gender or race.

Eventually all religions that have taken a stand against homosexuality and same-sex marriage will have to address the issues raised by these developments in law and science. In response to these events, this week’s Gospel Doctrine Lesson will address the Reform Mormon view on the meaning and purpose of marriage.

During the last half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century, Utah Mormons found themselves, politically and socially, in the same situation that activists for same-sex marriage now find themselves: attacked for being “anti-family,” for being enemies to “traditional marriage,” and for being a threat to everything from Christianity to Western civilization itself. (Given its own history, it is ironic—to say the very least—that the LDS Church is one of U.S.’s most vocal and active agitators against same-sex marriage. Days after the California Supreme Court’s decision, it was the state of Utah that officially petitioned California, asking that no such marriages be performed until after an amendment to the state’s constitution—overturning the court’s decision—could be voted upon in the upcoming election.)

Almost from its inception, Mormonism diverged from popular and traditional views on marriage. In 1831, at a time when most white racism against Native Americans was nearly universal, Joseph Smith encouraged Mormons to form “matrimonial alliances” with the Indians of the American mid-west. By the mid-1830’s, Mormons were being accused of practicing polygamy. In the early 1840’s as the strict sexual mores of the Victorian Age were being embraced by Americans, Mormons were publishing religious tracts denouncing “monkish” attitudes toward human sexuality and teaching as a theological principle that sex was essential to human joy and happiness. In the early 1850’s, Mormons in the Territory of Utah instituted the most liberal divorce laws in the United States. (It would take the rest of the nation more than a century to catch up with the pioneer Mormon practice of no-fault divorce.)

With this history in mind, we will explore the Reform Mormon concept of marriage.

"It is not good that man be alone, for we are not alone." (Eloheim speaking to Jehovah in the pre-1970 LDS Endowment ceremony)

As Christianity was the official religion of Europe for over a thousand years, it makes perfect sense that the ideas of most Westerners regarding marriage descend from the Biblical creation myths. Mormonism itself evolved from 19th century American popular religion which was rooted in the Biblical traditions.

Biblical fundamentalists, Evangelicals and LDS Mormons currently argue that reproduction and the rearing of children is the main purpose of marriage. Yet none of these groups discouraged marriage among infertile or elderly heterosexual couples, or among young, fertile heterosexual couples who chose not to have children. They argue that because these couples could biologically reproduce if they were fertile, younger or disposed toward parenting, they should be allowed—even encouraged—to marry.

The idea that reproduction is the main purpose of marriage (indeed, of sex itself) comes from a literal reading the first creation myth—the Israelite creation myth found in he first chapter of Genesis.

According to the Israelite creation myth, God (Elohiem) creates the heavens and earth in six days. On the sixth day, after creating all forms of sea-life and animal life on earth, God last of all creates a nameless man and woman in his image. (Nowhere does the Israelite myth explain how God creates man and woman; there is no mention of creating them out of the dust of the earth.) God blesses the man and woman, commanding them to “be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth,” and to exercise dominion over all forms of life on earth. (See Genesis 1:26-31)

But a completely different creation myth—this one the product of another culture altogether, the Judean culture of southern Israel—begins in chapter 2, verse 4 and continues through chapter 4 of Genesis. Strangely enough, Evangelicals, fundamentalists and the LDS usually quote (or misquote) the Judean myth—and blend elements of it with elements of the Israelite myth, the end result being that they distort what the Judean myth actually says.

The differences between the Israelite and Judean creation myths is striking—and once the differences have been noticed, one may be astounded that so many Evangelicals, Christian fundamentalists and LDS Mormons remain ignorant of that fact that the opening chapters of Genesis actually contain two different and contradictory stories.

The Judean creation myth is filled with details—familiar to most Christians, Jews and Mormons—that are not found in the Israelite creation myth. Among these important details is that the Judean myth gives actual names to all the characters. In the Judean myth the God who forms the earth has a personal name: Yahweh—which has traditionally been translated into English as “the LORD God.” Also the man and woman—who are nameless in the Israelite creation myth—are here given the names of Adam and Eve.

Also striking—and most important—is the plot of the story told: Yahweh makes the heaven and the earth, but no time frame is given for this. Nowhere is a period of seven days—or of seven time periods of any duration—given.

Rather than creating man and woman last and at the same time (as does the God of the Israelite myth), Yahweh makes the man—Adam—first before making any other form of life. After forming Adam from the dust of the earth, Yahweh breathes the breath of life into his nostrils so that Adam becomes a living soul and the very first life form on the planet earth. In contrast to the order even of events in the Israelite myth, Yahweh causes all plant life to grow out of the ground, and plants “a garden eastward in Eden” after the appearance of man on earth (See Genesis 2:4-15) (It should also be pointed out that the Garden of Eden plays no part whatsoever in the Israelite creation myth.)

At this point the only living things on earth are the plants and one lone man. Yahweh declares, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

The phrase “an help meet for him” is usually misquoted as “a helpmate for him.” However the word “helpmate: and the phrase “an help meet for him” have two very different meanings. “Helpmate” means simply spouse. But “an help meet for him” means “a helper worthy of, or equal to him.”

What happens next in the Judean myth is surprisingly. In order to make “a helper worthy of, and equal to” Adam, Yahweh forms every fowl of the air and every beast of the field out of the ground. Yahweh then brings these potential helpers “worthy of and equal to Adam” to Adam so that he (Adam) can give them names. (See Genesis 2:18-20)

Birds and the beasts are Yahweh’s first attempt to make for Adam a “helper worthy of and equal to him?”

For the millions of people who have misinterpreted Genesis by using the word “helpmate” (spouse), this bit of the Judean myth could be troubling to say the least. If Yahweh’s intention was to make a sexual partner (a “helpmate,” a spouse) for Adam, why did He form birds and “the beasts of the fields?” What are we to make of this portion of the story—and of Yahweh’s apparent ignorance of the biological difference between a human male and say an eagle or a horse? (If one wanted to be facetious and outrage fundamentalists one could suggest that Yahweh first intended Adam to choose a bird or a beast as his sexual partner—that the Lord original intent was that bestiality be the sexual norm for humans. To suggest such a thing, however, one must accept the fundamentalist’s mistranslation of “help meet” as “helpmate.”)

Back to the second chapter of Genesis: Adam names all the birds and beast but alas, among all these newly formed life forms “there was not found a help meet for him.” (Genesis 2: 20) In other words, Adam became acquainted with the animals of earth, but impressive as many of these species were, he found that none of them were equal to him.

So next Yahweh causes a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, take from his side a rib and from that forms a woman—Eve. When Adam is introduced to Eve, he recognizes her as “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23) Adam recognizes that Eve is like him; that they share a common biological nature.

What happens next? Does Yahweh command Adam and Eve to reproduce and multiply?
One would assume so if one listens to Evangelicals, Fundamentalist and LDS Mormons tell the story.

But this is not the case at all. In fact, reproduction is not mentioned until the fourth chapter of Genesis—after Adam and Eve eat the fruit of Knowledge, leave the Garden of Eden and are living on their own in the outside world.

Instead the next two verses of the Judean myth sum up the entire meaning of the story:

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave into his wife; and they shall be one flesh. And they were naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:23)

The central idea being explored in the myth is not reproduction but companionship, the union of two humans and intimacy.

There is a social stereotype (surely offensive to cat and animal lovers) of “the cat lover.” This stereotype would be the woman or man who has never known romantic love—who, in fact, has no close friends or relations, and lives alone in an apartment full of cats. Most people assume that a person who does not share his or he life intimately with another human, but instead builds a life around relationships with pets is someone to be pitied.

Why is this?

Because most people realize that as loveable and as affectionate as an animal may be, such a relationship is in no way comparable to an intimate, loving relationship with another human being.

Mormon scripture declares “the glory of God is intelligence.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:36)

Human intelligence is of high order than animal intelligence. It is because of the nature of human intelligence, that we humans can even conceive of abstractions such as “love,” “hate,” “alone,” “together,” “me,” and “you.” These abstractions—universal to all human beings regardless of time, location, nationality, race or creed—form the foundation of all human relationships.

Regardless of the intelligence of other species, there is no evidence whatsoever than any other known life form on earth can consciously hold these abstractions in mind, act upon them, communicate them and react emotionally to them in the way as do humans. The affection of a pet for its owner is of a different nature than the love of one human for another because the intelligence of a pet is of a different nature than the intelligence of a human being.

Other species mate, reproduce, nurture their young, then leave their offspring to fend for themselves—before moving on to repeat the cycle again and again until their bodies age past the point of being able to reproduce.

But this is not the case with human beings.

We approach relationships (or run from them) with a keen sense of ourselves and of others as intelligent individuals. We are constantly observing and judging one another—not just on the basis of fertility or strength, but on the basis of higher abstractions such as kindness, cruelty, goodness, evil, justice and injustice. To borrow the symbolism of Genesis, these concepts—which only a highly intelligent life form can fully process—are the ground and the dust from which our emotions are formed. Among these emotions are those emotions related to sexual arousal. Art historian Camille Paglia has written that “sex is where nature and civilization intersect.” Regardless of how “animalistic” one might label a particular sexual act, sex for humans will always have a profoundly psychological and emotional dimension—and therefore a spiritual and ethical dimension—that transcends the reproductive role that sex plays in other species.

“…intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence…” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:40) can

When Adam is introduced to Eve in the Judean myth, he recognizes her as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. But a much deeper recognition seems inherent in this poetry.

Adam recognizes that here is another being who shares his level of intelligence. Here is another being who perceives him using the same processes through which he perceives her. Here is another being whose mind and emotions function in the same way; another being with whom he can communicate; another human being he known, and by whom he can be known. “Bone of my bone…flesh of my flesh…intelligence cleaving to intelligence.”

To reduce human sexuality and marriage to mere reproduction is to equate human nature with that of a barnyard’s four footed inhabitants; it is to debase marriage by equating it with the breeding practices of the stockyard.

And yet in the name of “protecting the sanctity and dignity of traditional marriage,” this is, in effects, what Evangelicals, fundamentalists and LDS Mormons do.

Consider again the last two verses of Genesis, chapter two: leaving one’s parents and uniting with another human being—this is the essence of marriage.

It is not good that a person be alone. A person needs to have a “help meet” for him or her. That means that each of us needs another being who, by nature, can experience life as we experience it, think as we think, feel the same type of emotions that we feel; another human being who can communicate to us what they think and feel; someone with whom we can communicate; someone with whom we can share the experience of living life on earth as an intelligent being.

Affection, closeness, nurturance, sexual arousal, physical pleasure—these are ends in and of themselves. Part of what makes us human is that by out nature we are able to conceive of arousal and pleasure and physical intimacy as separate ideas in and of themselves. Our nature as beings who exist in the image of God—who is also an intelligent being (see Abraham 3:18-19)—is revealed in our sexual nature.

The essence of marriage is companionship. In fact, marriage IS companionship of the most intimate nature.

Consider this: when do most people consider a marriage to be over?

One spouse may commit adultery, yet so long as the couple continues to live together we consider the marriage—though flawed—to be intact. One spouse may physically or emotionally abuse the other; we may consider the marriage dysfunctional, but so long as the couple continues on together, we still consider them married. The sex life of a couple may die, but so long as the couple are there for one another as companions, they are considered married.

Now consider this: a couple has had a fulfilling sex life; they have been faithful to one another; they share a common philosophy or faith; they may have children whom they love and nurture. But should one spouse dissert the other, should one leave and cease all communication; should one spouse simply not “be there” for the other when that spouse is facing illness or tragedy—should any of these situations exist, then despite their past history, despite the children they share, despite the blessing their union may have received from either church or state—most people would view the marriage as over.

Companionship, having “a help meet” for oneself—such is the essence of marriage. A commitment and covenant to such a relationship is the basis of marriage. Reform Mormons believe that marriage is a New and Everlasting Covenant between consenting adults; that because there is something eternal in the nature of human intelligence, the marriage and family relationship can extend onward beyond this mortal life; that the Holy Spirit of Promise—present when two individuals willingly and loving enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage—will seal that union for time and eternity.

Concerning eternity, Mormon scripture states:

“..the same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.” (Doctrine & Covenants 130: 2)

The love of one spouse for another—regardless of gender—will continue because this kind of love is the product of human intelligence, and intelligence is an eternal attribute. Intelligence is the glory of God.

Reform Mormons believe that through marriage and family relationships, individuals may cultivate those virtues that are associated with God. The knowledge that we gain through out most intimate relationships with other humans is the knowledge that will ultimately exalt us and enable us to see things as God sees them. By fully immersing ourselves in these aspects of our humanity we become like the God in whose image we exist.

LDS and FLDS Mormons teach that marriage is essential for Godhood, but their theology is quite different from that of Reform Mormons. LDS and FLDS theology teaches that spirits are sexually begotten by a God and Goddess, and that the right to such divine reproduction will only be granted to those who are married for eternity. In other words, Godhood consists of being able to sexually reproduce in the next life.

What is surprising is the fact that this doctrine is taught nowhere in Mormon scripture; nor did Joseph Smith—Mormonism’s founder—ever teach this doctrine. In fact, Mormon scripture and Joseph Smith himself (in his famous King Follett Discourse) taught a theology on the nature of the human spirit that completely undermines such a doctrine.

(An earlier Gospel Doctrine lesson explores the history of this popular LDS and FLDS doctrine—showing how it was developed by Orson Pratt, after Joseph Smith’s death, as a theological justification for polygamy. To read this lesson, click on to our archives for the date of 10/17/04)

The LDS or FLDS homosexual who believes this theology can only get into heaven by prostituting his or herself. Such a person may go through a marriage ceremony, may have children, may cohabitate with a person of the opposite sex and give his or her self over to that person sexually—but the joy of experiencing mutual sexual attraction, of letting down one’s guard and communicating openly and honestly, of being secure that one is loved and desired for who one is; of desiring, wanting and valuing one’s spouse for who he or she is—these things which are essential to a truly happy marriage, these things they will never know.

The message of Reform Mormonism is that marriage should be available to all not because marriage is “the foundation of society,” but because the need for intimate companionship, the need for over-coming loneliness, to need to find “a help worthy of and equal to one’s self” is the essence of what it means to be human.

Do you have comments or insights on the subject being discussed here? Email them to us at: Emails posted here may be edited for grammar or length.