I’ve taken a few days without writing (much) on the new policy changes regarding same-sex marriage and children raised in same-sex households. First, because I wanted to wait for an official church statement before offering supposition (and then was just too busy afterward). Second, because I know that many people are hurting as a result of the changes, and I don’t want to add to their pain in any way.
My heart goes out to my friends who are suffering and in pain. I empathize. I know that it is your deep love for God and for others which leads you to question these changes. It doesn’t seem right to you that children should be “punished” for the conduct of their parents. I understand your concerns because had this policy come out a few years ago, I would have shared them.
Since I have read about the policy, I have been reflecting on a thought which others have also expressed in profound and moving ways. This policy represents an Abrahamic test for so many because it involves a tension between God’s sense of justice and mercy and our own. I believe that in order to develop a mature faith sufficient to exalt and sanctify, we all must face such an Abrahamic test, where we must choose between the things that we personally believe and hold dear, and the will of God.
For many, the question of how to deal with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is a particularly agonizing issue. There is real tension between our ideals of love and charity, and the fact that God cannot condone sin in any way. Those two eternal laws are both very real and difficult to reconcile. Ultimately, we believe that God is both a God of mercy and justice. And these inexorable demands are in direct opposition at times.
Some of the hardest challenges we can face is when we personally desire justice when mercy is God’s will, or vice versa. I want to describe a couple of examples of this tension to illustrate how this is a prevalent challenge, both in the scriptures and in our day.
One asked to forgive a person who committed a grievous wrong fits into the first category of one seeking justice but asked to seek mercy. To draw out a more politicized example, I think the Church’s stance on immigration has served as such a test for some members who would due to their political views be inclined to much more aggressively treat those who are breaking immigration laws.
On the other hand, those with gay friends, or those who have friends or family facing excommunication will often fall into the other category of longing for mercy when justice is necessary and proper. In our society, I believe that tensions falling into this latter category occur with increasing frequency, because our society so highly values fairness, compassion, and equality at the expense of justice. And these types of tests are particularly excruciating, because we typically like to think about and put emphasis on the saving and forgiving sides of our Father in Heaven.
Abraham’s test to some degree also falls into this category. Because God gives us life, it is just for him to demand it back in return. Yet, Abraham rightly felt that this demand conflicted with God’s divine plan of mercy and a father’s eternal love. But he proceeded according to God’s sense of justice and mercy and received an eternal reward. Nephi too was faced with a similar test when commanded to kill Laban in fulfillment of divine justice, despite his personal sense of mercy. I would like to suggest that their sense of discomfort was an essential part of the test. Their discomfort was rooted in their understanding of Gospel values and is highly praiseworthy. Yet, their decision to follow the will of God was even more praiseworthy.
Given that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the way that God reconciled justice and mercy, it is not surprising that this central tension is also seen in how individuals respond to the atonement. I’ve known quite a few who have rejected the need of an atonement because of a belief that they are good enough and therefore do not need it. Others reject it because it is hard for them to understand how God could allow his son to suffer in such a way and see it as unjust. Yet others accept the atonement in theory, but feel personally unworthy as if their mistakes are outside of the reach of mercy. All of these rejections of the Atonement stem from a disconnect between our sense of justice and mercy and God’s sense of justice and mercy. As we draw closer to Jesus Christ, and apply his Atonement in our lives, I believe that our sense of justice and mercy can become more closely aligned with God’s rather than the world’s.
I see this new policy as yet another example of God’s sense of the proper balance between justice and mercy differing from modern sentiment and our own sense of the proper balance. Thus, this policy represents an agonizing test for many.
For me, the new policy represents an effort to balance between justice and mercy that is different from what I would have intellectually thought ideal. If I were crafting my own ideal policy, it would lean far more heavily on mercy. But I have faith that those Prophets, Seers, and Revelators who crafted the policy were privy to greater divine insight into how God wants us to balance those two central tensions. Listening to their words, and especially to Elder Christofferson’s powerful plea for compassion and love, I sense that they are keenly aware of this tension and seeking to follow God’s will rather than their own. And knowing that God’s will is higher than my own, I put my trust and faith in those who I have sustained. And I firmly believe that if we trust and rely on God’s sense of justice and mercy, he promises us that we will be eternally rewarded.