Elder Nelson makes clear the LDS policy on same-sex attraction is the ‘will of the Lord’

The Salt Lake Tribune has a story on Elder Nelson’s talk to young adults Sunday night in which the senior apostle makes it as clear as can be that the Church’s policies are the will of the Lord.

The Mormon Newsroom has not reported on the talk yet, so my post will have to rely on the report from the Tribune, but here are some key paragraphs:

After same-sex marriage became legal in several countries, including the United States, the LDS Church’s top 15 leaders wrestled with what to do, weighed all the ramifications, fasted, prayed, met in the temple and sought God’s guidance on the issue.

Balancing their understanding of Mormon doctrine about the “plan of salvation,” which is built on male-female marriage, with compassion for children of same-sex couples, Russell M. Nelson, head of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said Sunday night, “we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise.”

Then President Thomas S. Monson, considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, declared “the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord.”

That led to the Utah-based faith’s new policy regarding same-sex Mormon couples — that they would be labeled “apostates” and that their children would not be allowed baptism and other LDS religious rites until they turn 18.

“Each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation,” Nelson, next in line for the Mormon presidency, told the faith’s young adults in the first official explanation of the hotly debated policy’s origins. “It was our privilege as apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson.”

Nelson explained that revelation from the Lord to his servants is a sacred process.

“The [three-member] First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together and share all the Lord has directed us to understand and to feel, individually and collectively,” he said. “And then, we watch the Lord move upon the president of the church to proclaim the Lord’s will.”

Elder Nelson also said that this is a time for choosing:

The safest course, Nelson advised, is to heed the words of Mormon leaders, particularly Monson.

“Prophets see ahead. They see the harrowing dangers the adversary has placed, or will yet place, in our path,” Nelson said. “Prophets also foresee the grand possibilities and privileges awaiting those who listen with the intent to obey.

” … You may not always understand every declaration of a living prophet,” he added. “But when you know a prophet is a prophet, you can approach the Lord in humility and faith and ask for your own witness about whatever his prophet has proclaimed.”

Nelson, who became president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles last year, warned his listeners to beware of those who might tear down their faith.

“The somber reality is that there are ‘servants of Satan’ embedded throughout society,” he said. “So be very careful about whose counsel you follow.”

In the end, the apostle reminded the young people that they were born for this time — with an important assignment: to usher in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

My thoughts: there are members who continue to doubt whether the Church has revelation from God on its policy toward same-sex attraction. Elder Nelson has made it clear that it is a time to choose. As for me and my house, we will follow the Lord and his prophets.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell made the following prophecy in 1978, which we are seeing fulfilled in our day:

Discipleship includes good citizenship; and in this connection, if you are careful students of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. The declarations are about principles, not people, and causes, not candidates. On occasions, at other levels in the Church, a few have not been so discreet, so wise, or so inspired.
But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21).

Source: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/neal-a-maxwell_meeting-challenges-today/

(h/t to Brian Duffin for this post).

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

37 thoughts on “Elder Nelson makes clear the LDS policy on same-sex attraction is the ‘will of the Lord’

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on this. I am always sad when the barbs come out and are directed toward the brethren when people disagree with them. The Lord has provided ways for us to gain a testimony about all things. Humility, prayer, a willingness to follow and accept the Lord’s will. As we submit our will to the Lord’s we will have a greater understanding and faith to follow. I encourage all people to follow the brethren in all things, even if you don’t understand why. The Lord will help you gain an understanding.

    And as a person with a gay sibling, the policy change that Elder Nelson addressed in his talk was a welcome clarification for me and my family. We’re having faith that our family member will choose the right and follow the brethren.

  2. Given many years in bishoprics, high council, etc., I’ve never had any doubt that the Brethren always sought out the mind and will of the Lord before proceeding forward. While the Lord asks us to make tough decisions, they are the right ones in the eternal sense.

  3. I’m not really sure why this ever even became an issue amonst members. The Proclamation sets it absolutely clear and no one debated it for decades until being gay became popular and somehow Salt Lake became one of the gay capitals in the USA aND fringe Mormons ca me oUT of the woodwork.

  4. The Salt Lake Tribune writers sometimes seem to prefer a harder edge in their reporting. Here is a little more context (as quoted in the Deseret News).

    “Filled with compassion for all, and especially for the children, we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter,” he said. “Ever mindful of God’s plan of salvation and of His hope for eternal life for each of His children, we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer and sought further direction and inspiration.”

    The talk by sister Nelson was excellent as well.

  5. “we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter”

    I like that phrasing. On first glance it might sound like, “we didn’t know what to do and struggled to find out.” But the “wrestling” was about understanding the Lord’s will, not figuring out what it was in the first place.

  6. The talk including his wife’s preceding talk was available on Sunday evening and I advise any who desire to hear it in full to seek it out. I followed the link on Facebook. It indeed confirmed that the apostles are led to confirm the Prophet by revelation to each of them and in company. It was not just addressed to the changes in the handbook but to all of the various policies and pronouncements that come from the first presidency and the apostles.
    There are inevitably some who whine that this was just another blow on already tender flesh, but it was in the context of a rich and wonderful address that had many things to recommend it. I found his references to the usefulness of following the Prophets counsel to learn Mandarin Chinese, and the consequences that happened from that action very interesting. He told the story of how he was asked to open the eastern bloc of what was then the USSR to the Gospel. In the process of waiting on official approval in various countries he was often set-up with attempts to catch him in accepting bribes or performing other acts that would bring disgrace to his calling.
    It was not a one note drumbeat of disdain for those who are feeling sensitive about their situations.

  7. I was surprised that anything was said. Though still on board with following the apostles, most members dislike the policy change. I don’t see how talking about the details of how it came about is going to help. For many. this comment will simply create doubt about the apostle’s revelatory process.

    The “we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter” does seem consistent with the tortured language of the policy. Prior to the clarification, the phrase “lives or has ever lived” was especially problematic. Post clarification, the entire section about obtaining permission from the 1st presidency seems nullified. Under what circumstances would a stake president need approval from the 1st presidency?

  8. I don’t know how milman knows that “most members dislike the policy change.” I don’t think that’s true. Many members regret the need for the policy change, however.

  9. Milman: “most members dislike the policy change,” you say. Care to cite anything other than your own confirmation bias?

    I certainly regret that its necessary, but that is quite a different thing altogether than disliking the policy.

  10. Considering that more than half of the members are outside of the United States, the likelihood that “most members dislike the policy change” is, uh, pretty close to zero.

    Many (and I would not even say “most”) members who tend to hang around Mormon blogs dislike the policy change, but many of them have also stopped going to church a long time ago. Others have legitimate questions and are trying to understand the policy change. Others, probably even a majority in the U.S., are not even aware of the policy change. And others have no problem with the policy change and are even thankful that the Lord inspired his prophets to clarify policy on this important issue.

  11. Geoff,

    You have entirely dismissed my comments because of the “most members” phrase. You certainly don’t have to agree with it.

    Your comment “pretty close to zero” implies to me that a great number of Latter-day saints outside the US are predominantly anti-gay. How do you come to that conclusion? Did we suddenly grow super big in northern Africa?
    -> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_by_country_or_territory

  12. Milman, it is not “anti-gay” to support the Church’s policy. In fact, in my opinion, it is “anti-gay” (meaning against the interests of people with same-sex attraction) to oppose the Church’s policy because from an eternal perspective it does no good to encourage people to continue behavior that puts at risk their eternal salvation. If you want to have true love and charity for your fellow man, you should encourage them to take steps to draw closer to God, not farther away.

    In any case, Milman, this is not the blog to have this debate. We support the Church here. I would encourage you to take your concerns to another blog. Thanks for understanding.

  13. One thing I find confusing is how many in the disaffected community have characterized this talk. I have seen it suggested that he has upgraded this from policy to revelation as if they are mutually exclusive. I don’t know if they intentionally confuse things for effect or if they truly don’t understand the difference between policy, doctrine, revelation, and scripture.

    For example, this is clearly a policy decision for how to deal with people who are breaking a specific commandment (doctrine) and the tricky situation facing their children who desire baptism. The fact that he states that the policy of mandatory disciplinary councils of same sex married couples and delaying the baptism of their children is the will of the Lord (i.e. Received through revelation) does not mean that this policy is an eternal truth that can’t be changed. It just means that it is a procedure that is wise to be implemented for this time. Policies can be received by revelation and changed by revelation. I don’t see how this talk has changed that.

  14. For many. this comment will simply create doubt about the apostle’s revelatory process.

    The “we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter” does seem consistent with the tortured language of the policy. Prior to the clarification, the phrase “lives or has ever lived” was especially problematic. Post clarification, the entire section about obtaining permission from the 1st presidency seems nullified. Under what circumstances would a stake president need approval from the 1st presidency?

    I do think that this presents a “teachable moment” for the Church in terms of how revelation can/ought to be received. Too many of us assume that “revelation” can come only in the form of a specific, immutable, eternal text which is transmitted verbatim, via the prophet, from God’s own lips. But it seems like very often, God reveals ideas or concepts to His prophets and leaves it to the prophets to use their own language in conveying those ideas to the Church membership. This expressive process is sometimes done imperfectly; resulting in unforeseen harm to some obscure subset of Church members or (more commonly) bastardization and exploitation by critics and libertines. As these problematic passages are identified it occasionally becomes appropriate to revise an extant policy, sermon, uncanonized revelation, or even–in extreme cases–scripture.

    Progressive Mormons often rail against legalism in the Church, even as they demand that the church operate according to something resembling a legal code–and an unalterable legal code, to boot. It is a curious phenomenon.

  15. JimD, yes.

    I had a lengthy discussion on social media with a person who simply could not understand that the Church reveals things in many different ways. Think about this: the vast majority of church members were not aware of the D&C for years until the revelations were given. It took years (and in many cases decades) for members to get written copies of these revelations. Spencer W. Kimball has famously said that there are thousands of revelations that have not been revealed to Church members, and many of these revelations are in the Church vaults and have not been revealed to the membership at all.

    So, in this case we have a handbook change that was discovered and spread far and wide by an apostate. And two months later we have a clear revelation from Elder Nelson that this is the will of the Lord. If you are a progressive legalist, you are in a bit of a logical bind. Church history shows that the revelatory process is not like the Supreme Court handing down decisions. It is and always has been a bit messy and unpredictable. And meanwhile, the prophets have clearly spoken. Progressives are running out of excuses.

  16. “Church history shows that the revelatory process is not like the Supreme Court handing down decisions. It is and always has been a bit messy and unpredictable.”

    Wait … are you suggesting Supreme Court decisions are not messy and unpredictable?

    I much appreciated Elder Nelson’s comments and this post.

  17. Definitely messy, and sometimes unpredictable, but the Supremes always announce when they will be making decisions on different cases (at least in modern times). I think a lot of legalistic progressives seem to be expecting the Church to act the same way. But of course if the Church did act this way they would condemn it in one way or another.

  18. Ah, that I could have lived in the days of Joseph Smith, for then was the will of God declared with unmistakeable clarity.

    Then did the people of God unite in support of God’s work with enthusiasm and conviction. Not an one of them strayed from their commitment.

    I know of several families where the policy update has caused individuals to reconsider their allegiance to baptismal or temple covenants. But when you fall from the mountain, it is rarely the mountain which moved, breaking the relationship.

    There are those who had focused on the compassion of the gospel and did not consider the doctrine in sufficient detail. For these, the realization that the mountain was not where the steps of their hearts had led was cataclysmic.

    We love even such. For some of us, this recent trial was no trial at all. But God tries those He loves.

    It is not lightly that I assert “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

  19. Alas, WordPress decided to strip out the indication that the first two paragraphs were sarcastic.

  20. My reaction was that Elder Nelson’s comments were received with no shock or surprise by all those of us who were already firm in the conviction that the Lord leads His Church.

  21. One aspect of this that participating church members have seen in many forms is that there are many cases of the blessings of the priesthood being withheld from worthy individuals by the church due to broader circumstances that require it. A few years after my mission, I was standing next to my first companion at a reunion as he spoke with a more recently returned missionary. “I hear you served in Rio Colorado.” “Yes, I opened the branch.” “Really? Well, I closed it.”

    You may have read about the recently created Vietnam Hanoi mission. The mission president is a relative, and I re-read his account of leaving Vietnam with eight other missionaries in April 1975, four weeks before the U.S. ambassador evacuated. They had three dozen at the time that they were preparing for baptism, but following the direction of their mission president in Hong Kong, they sadly abandoned them.

    You can probably think of similar cases you’ve encountered.

  22. Jeff Lindsay has a post on this topic, and includes someone’s thoughts that the Lord inspired/directed the Brethren in the matter in order to (at least in part) fend off future legal threats against the church in matters of temple sealings.


    Meg, the connection of this policy to temple sealings reminds me of the reasonings you used connecting polygamy to temple sealings.

    As is normal on Jeff’s blog, the antis and exmos came out in force to make mocking comments.

  23. We have our agency to choose, of course, but I would be very careful in dismissing the witness of a man one heartbeat from the Presidency of the Church.

  24. Today I watched a video about President Nelson in which he recounted a near-death experience when he was in a small plane wgen the engine caught on fire. As the plane spiraled downward he knew that he was going to his death and was not troubled. Of course he survived. I am so grateful for him and for the others who are apostles and prophets. I know that they speak with authority greater than any other earthly body.

  25. I liked Jeff’s post at Mormanity.

    I was recently reading the story of Joseph in Genesis. After having been despised by his brothers, thrown in a pit, sold into slavery, become imprisoned, Joseph was put in a place where he could become the governor of all Egypt. And as that Governor he was able to save unknown numbers of people in Egypt in the surrounding area, including all of the Hebrews then living.

    As I read Joseph thanking God for His mercies in saving his family, even though through great trial on his personal behalf, I thought that perhaps we too could look at the things that have happened in our history and find ways to thank God for saving us, rather than whining about how things didn’t go as perfectly as we could’ve imagined in our fantasies.

    God knows the end from the beginning. He will do everything required to ensure that everyone who wishes can be saved at the end. At some day, I am confident that we will understand.

  26. Do I believe that church leaders can make mistakes? Yes. Some of the Brethren actually admit to being Ute fans, so anything is possible!

    Seriously… is a united, unanimous vote of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve remotely similar to personal opinion of a single individual? Not even close. Recall the individuals sitting in that council. Are such men apt to be swept along in a moment of zeal? Are they naïve regarding the state of affairs in the world today? Not hardly. The line has been drawn. Choose where you will stand.

  27. For what it’s worth, those LDS friends of mine who have publicly questioned the handbook changes on social media and the LDS church’s stance toward gay marriage every chance they get have been rather quiet about Elder Nelson’s remarks. I don’t know if this is because they’re pondering things over or think that coming out against the Church on Facebook over this would expose their true feeling and, at this moment, is more trouble than it’s worth. It is my hope that they’re sincerely pondering and praying over the issue and will choose the Lord’s side.

    Has anyone else noticed something similar?

  28. James, that is a good question. I have a lot of friends on social media who clearly support the Church and support the prophets in everything, and they have been consistent. I have other friends who, unfortunately, spend a lot of time criticizing the process of this revelation. They claim that they support the Church but spend all of their time picking at one thing or another that the Church did “wrong.” And I have another group of friends who have come up with the craziest, most elaborate conspiracy theories about how the Brethren are divided and that there is one group that wants to “modernize” and another group that wants to toe the line, etc, etc, and they spend a lot of time trying to find evidence that fits into this conspiracy theory. I will say that this policy change on same-sex attraction is definitely a test for many people, and I fear there will be some people who will fail the test.

  29. James –
    not in my experience. In fact, the more liberal LDS have inundated facebook with “a prophet is fallible sometimes” quotes from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young since Elder Nelson’s remarks, and are in fact quite aggressive in claiming the prophets and apostles are very, very wrong on this issue. It’s saddening, actually.

  30. I came across this blog while searching for President Nelson’s talk. I appreciate all of your thoughts relative to this issue. I would like to point out that the issue of same-sex unions or marriages is different than the issue of same-sex attraction.

    As a former bishop, I was privileged with working with several wonderful people who were struggling with same-sex attraction; and I can testify of the Savior’s unconditional love for them. They were committed to living the Gospel, and keeping all of the commandments; and none that I worked with made any argument that their attraction was justified by the Gospel. Most had been sexually abused; and I have the highest admiration for those who now live the Gospel fully. I continue to love all of them and their families with the pure love of Christ.

    It is interesting to read your opinions relative to revelation—–a subject I hold dear to my heart. If you are still theorizing as to how it operates, it generally means you have had little experience with it. I would suggest that instead of sharing your reasoning as to why you think the policy regarding those who are in same-sex unions and marriages should now be considered apostates, you should be sharing whether you have received a revelation that it is from the Savior. The scriptures are clear that we are to gain personal testimonies of the many doctrines of the Gospel, not merely rely on what you hear or read any member of the Church claims is true regardless of position.

    Elder James E. Talmadge has suggested that people can assess their understanding of the Gospel by categorizing each truth into (1) belief (intellectual assent); (2) faith (action based upon truth); (3) knowledge (testimony born by the Holy Ghost); and (4) wisdom (action based upon testimony). I believe it is very illuminating to use these four categories to assess our understanding of the numerous doctrines of the Gospel. And as it applies to the recent policy on same-sex unions and marriages: are we merely giving intellectual assent, because it is the easiest thing to do? Or have we been blessed by the gift of faith in believing it is true? Or have we paid the price and have received an absolute testimony from the Holy Ghost that this policy is the Savior’s will? Or having received the witness from the Holy Ghost, we are accepting and living in harmony with that testimony?

    It is a privilege to be a member of the Church; and to know that all doctrine is based on loving God, and loving our neighbors—all of them. The Savior cannot look upon our sins with any degree of allowance; but He will always love us unconditionally. We need to be like Him. I encourage you to gain testimonies of the doctrines and policies that our leaders (especially our Prophets) puts forward—-and then you will not just be parrots, you will be independent witnesses of the truth. May the Savior bless you in all your righteous endeavors, as you love and serve those around you.

    Again, thank you for sharing your views.

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