Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet

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.

11 thoughts on “Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet

  1. “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.”

    I think you hit the nail on the head. We all need these moments to prove to ourselves and our God whose will we are willing to follow. This announcement was not such a test for me but it was for others. But other issues have been hard for me. I pray that I can pass my own struggles and challenges.

  2. “For many, the question of how to deal with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is a particularly agonizing issue.”

    Daniel, as mortals we are imperfect, our understanding of the world around us is imperfect, and it’s often that misunderstanding that makes things more difficult than they would be if we could see things as they really are.

    Look at your statement above and consider the premises it contains. What if this is not a case of “us” and “them”, what if it is really a case of “we”?

    To put it a different way, does reality itself make this an agonizing issue, or does the way we think about others artificially cut them off (in our mind) from choices that reality offers them and thereby the issue is more agonizing for us than it has to be if we were able to see things as they really are?

  3. Given that this policy is practically identical to the policy for children of those engaged in polygamous relationships, I think we need to look at the track record of that policy before jumping to any conclusions. I have one experience with that policy.

    I know a polygamous family in which the parents decided that they did not want that lifestyle for their children, but there was a catch, the father definitely loved both of his wives and the two wives were biological sisters. So they left it to the next generation to change. They approached two LDS Bishops about their dilemma – the wives each owned their own home in different wards – and developed a plan based on church policy.

    The children would participate fully as they possibly could in church activities. Then at 18 they would be baptized and participate as full members. But the children had to disavow the practice of polygamy per church policy. Now you would think that in the world of the 1980’s, with all of the antagonism which occurs in young people’s lives, especially along the Wasatch Front where polygamous families are viewed with suspicion, and without the children enjoying the full blessings of the church, many of these children would be lost. But that was not the case. Every child -and there were 18 children total- in that polygamous family was baptized. Most of the boys served missions. But last I checked about five years ago, the parents are still not members of the church and they are still together. But fully active “normal” parents envy the track record of that family.

    I know that modern liberal sentiments align with the idea that everyone must be treated with absolute equality and that everyone’s path must be made as easy as possible. But the brethren know what they are doing. And yes, I believe they know how to save children’s souls better than secular theorists.

    Afterthought: Some of the children of this polygamous family assisted in caring for a close family member as she struggled in her elderly years. Even as teens they were models of Christian charity. Have I met teens with parents engaged in SSM? Yes. Where they good people? Yes. Do I worry about them carrying this extra challenge established by policy? No. It is simply a waste of time to wring one’s hands worrying about the “fairness” of it all. And I know it is our challenges which often save us. And if it counts for anything, I’ll be cheering these kids on every step of the way. I know that I’ll not be alone in that effort.

  4. It is a test but not of the type you think. This policy springs from the church’s fear of litigation and was prepare by their lawyers Kirton and McConkie as an attempt to sidestep potential alienation of affection law suits brought by disaffected parents whose kids were being taught in church their gay parent was evil. No one has ever claimed this was inspired and to simply make it a change to the handbook gives the brethren plausible deniability. If one of the 12 tells me it was a revelation from God I will believe them and accept it , But not only is there no such claim the real economic motivations are clear. There are only about 100,000 kids living part or full time with gay parents in the US. The highest percentage of gay parents living with children in a large metro area is SLC. 26%. Someone has made a calculation and concluded if we are willing to throw a few thousand children under the bus we may avoid millions in litigation expenses. It is as if someone had rewritten the Saviors injunction to read ” suffer the little children to come unto me unless their parents are gay or polygamists ” In that case special rules apply and if we lose a few thousand along the way they weren’t very important anyway

  5. If litigation were the only concern the church would not have initiated the policy in the first place. They would’ve given way like most other churches to the pressures of the World.

  6. I question Boo’s figures above, which do not sound right to me. And of course his claim for the Brethrens’ motivation is complete bunk and the ramblings of a typical questioning Mormon. As Pat points out, the safest way to avoid litigation would be for the Church to adopt other policies entirely. Instead, the Church is motivated by a desire to help lessen tensions and unfortunate misunderstandings between children and parents. Old Man shows above how the policy actually works: Boo shows above the lack of logic in the questioning Mormon position.

  7. Awesome comment by Old Man.

    Going back to my polygamous roots, the children of rogue apostle John W. Taylor suffered their share of trials. Their mothers were afraid to remarry lest they lose the chance to be reunited with John in eternity (a precedent that had been set by Joseph F. Smith’s marriage to Alice Kimball [Rich]). Thus the families lived in near-abject poverty. The brother of two of the wives refused to allow the boys to serve missions because of what their parents had done to flaunt the Manifesto (may have only been one boy actually impacted, as I recall, but still). The son of another wife was gunned down while walking home. At the trial/inquest, the officer who shot the boy was exonerated. Not sure if the phrase “dirty polyg” came up in that matter or not.

    Yet Taylor’s widows raised their children to love God and honor the Church that had excommunicated their father. I’m not sure of the “statistics,” but I think the vast majority of the children remained faithful. Those in the next generation who were not faithful were on their own path.

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