Just this week, my friend Jana Riess wrote an article regarding an attack made on Elder Oaks because of his statements on same-sex marriage. Jana notes that many liberals were disappointed in his strong stance against it in General Conference, but that the vicious letter from a returned missionary was not called for. Elder Oaks response was also published, wherein he asks the man to see his local leader for guidance on repenting (ostensibly for his belligerence towards an apostle).
Wading through the hundreds of comments, I noted that many defended this angry man, expecting Elder Oaks to apologize, “turn the other cheek”, etc.
Lost in the shouting there is one key concept taught by Jesus. No, it is not “turn the other cheek”, as Jesus also determined the destruction of those who crucified him with a Desolation of Abomination – truly a mixed signal if ever one was given!
Whether we talk about SSM, women and priesthood, or a variety of other issues, the concept of the gospel is to prepare us for exaltation. Life is not for us to enjoy the pleasures and blisses that are occasionally proffered us. Instead, it is a military academy or a monastery, where we learn to be like Christ by following his path of self-denial.
Jesus fasted 40 days and nights, prior to beginning his ministry. He ended that ministry suffering through torture, beatings, humiliations, and crucifixion. What was his call to us? Take up our crosses and follow Him.
In his day, he condemned the proud and greedy rich, the money changers, religious types that exalted themselves, hypocrites, and those who followed some rules but not the most important ones (straining at gnats and swallowing camels). Not everyone who said “Lord, Lord” would be recognized as his followers, but those that did His will. Whether Pharisees 2 millennia ago or today’s intellegentsia that believe they know more than God (and clearly can philosophize better than God’s followers), they are not considered true followers.
When the young rich man came to Christ, confident in knowing he had kept the Ten Commandments and other laws given by Moses, Jesus focused on the one thing he still lacked: sell everything and take up his cross in following Jesus. It wasn’t an issue of the man arguing that he had done many good things, but that there was still something left to accomplish before the man was “perfect” or “complete”. So it was for anyone who shouted “Lord, Lord” and exclaimed they had cast out demons or done some great work. Only in doing the Lord’s will, were they accepted of him.
So, how does that fit in today? We are called of God not only to live the 10 Commandments, but to live the Word of Wisdom, the Law of Chastity, to be a witness of Christ in all times and places, and to willing to sacrifice all things for Christ and his kingdom here on earth.
There are no easy exceptions given. In fact, ever since Adam was cast out of Eden, God has had a tendency to test his people with the things they cherish. Abraham was called to sacrifice Isaac. Israel had to give up the fleshpots of Egypt and dwell in exile for 40 years. Mary was chastised by others for her pre-marriage pregnancy. Joseph had impoverished followers build temples and cities and go to all parts of the world on missions. Early Saints had to deal with the new law of polygamy*, while later saints had to deal with the end of that law.
I work helping many with drug and alcohol addictions. I see how difficult it is for them to abstain from something that has become a part of their nature. I see the painful path they are on. Yet, the Church calls on them to overcome the addiction and return back to the path of exaltation.
Each of these commands of God is a trial for the person having to go through it. Yet it becomes the Refiner’s Fire that purifies and sanctifies.
When Elder Oaks or another Church leader calls upon us to change our path, whether it is same-sex behavior or any other sexual behavior not authorized, a sacrifice is being requested of the person. Yes, it is hard and painful. But the path to exaltation is one that requires us to carry a cross. Sadly, there will be many like the rich young man, who will not want to give up the one special desire they have, and will walk away.
Gladly, in the gospel we find there always is repentance and salvation. Jesus is always ready to accept us into some level of salvation. But apostles are not focused on just any kind of salvation, but in exaltation. They show the path to full salvation requires carrying crosses. It is the path our Savior took himself.
And yet, Jesus promises that as we take up our cross, it becomes a yoke that he equally shares with us. He does make the load lighter, even though the load remains for us to carry.
This is the big picture. This is why Elder Oaks will stand firm on issues like SSA, traditional marriage, and other sexual issues. It isn’t because he is a hater, or trying to get young people to commit suicide. Why then? Because he is showing us the path of exaltation as the Lord has revealed it to his prophet and apostles at this time.
* When Brigham Young first heard about polygamy, he left Joseph’s presence and saw a funeral procession passing by. He remarked he wished he could switch places with the dead man.