The meaning of the gay dating fiasco at BYU

BYU students and others protesting at church headquarters on March 6, 2020.

In February, news media reported that BYU had dropped its blanket prohibition on homosexual behavior and would no longer discipline students for same-sex dating, hand-holding or kissing. USA Today ran the headline “BYU removes ‘homosexual behavior’ ban from honor code, reflecting Mormon church stance”, suggesting that the church’s doctrine had itself softened.

Two weeks later, the change in BYU policy would be reversed, and it would become clear that the church never had any intention of allowing gay dating at its schools. But the narrative had already taken on a life of its own. It culminated, on March 6, in an unprecedented protest at church headquarters by a group of dissenting BYU students and supporters.

The skirmish over gay dating crystallized tensions that had been building up at BYU and other church institutions for years. A faction of dissenting progressives, hostile to church teachings on sex and marriage and heterodox on core doctrine, has quietly formed within the North American church over the last few decades. Unable to acquire formal, ecclesiastical authority in the church, this faction has operated by gaining influence in non-ecclesiastical church institutions and shaping conversations about the church in online spaces and news media.

It is worth examining the events of the gay dating fiasco at BYU, which make for an illustration of these tactics and give insight into inevitable future conflicts.

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Same-sex marriage: Some chasms are unbridgeable

There’s a post by Michael Austin over at By Common Consent on the subject of same-sex marriage, the thesis of which is the heterodox but increasingly fashionable idea that the church should not discipline members who have legally married someone of the same sex.

I’ll briefly disagree before getting to the deeper issue. Michael argues that this change would not require any alteration in theology, and maybe not in fundamental doctrine either. The “line” of Latter-day Saint sexual ethics, he says, is drawn, or at least has historically often been drawn, by the phrase “legally and lawfully wedded”. Thus, a change in secular law (US law?) is a change in Mormon religious teaching. But while the phrase he refers to is part of our body of revelation, so are hundreds of instances where prophets and apostles have gone to the trouble of teaching explicitly that marriage is between a man and a woman and, of course, that sexual contact is only permissible within marriage. Let’s take them at their word, if only out of respect for their time. Continue reading