Private Morality, So Very Private That It May Not Extend Beyond Our Brains

Why do a self-governing people hire police to enforce the laws? There are some good reasons, and some that aren’t so laudable. The work of police takes time, so it’s good to hire someone to attend to it and let them develop competence at it. Also, some law enforcement tasks are dangerous and require both training to reduce the risks and physical courage that not all possess. But what about the neighbor downstairs with the loud party at two in the morning while I’m trying to sleep? Do I call the police and complain, or do I put on a robe and knock on his door? I’m not afraid he’s going to hurt me or vandalize my property; he’s a decent fellow. He won’t like me interrupting his fun, though; he may resent me for it. If I call the police and let them handle it, he won’t even be sure who to blame. It’s easier to direct this conflict towards anonymous authority rather than register with him that I personally want him to stop doing what he’s doing. It’s also cowardly.

A comment of mine at Times and Seasons received a measure of condemnation at By Common Consent. The comment was:

I do not recognize cohabitation as an acceptable alternative to marriage, but what sort of recognition do I personally confer or withhold? Well, when a co-worker invited me to a housewarming party at the house she and her boyfriend had moved into, I didn’t go because that’s not something I celebrate. Similarly, I decided I wouldn’t invite the cohabiting couple across the street into my house.

I accept the counsel of the First Presidency and Council of Twelve for “citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” I consider cohabitation to be a grave harm to those living in those households and normalization of cohabitation to be a grave harm to society. Marriage is a relationship between society and a couple, and cohabitation is either a counterfeit of that relationship or a rejection of it. I do not want cohabitation legitimized by society as an acceptable alternative to a marriage relationship. Since I don’t want society to accept cohabitation, I have responsibilities to personally not accept it. When the two situations mentioned in my Times and Seasons comment came up, I seriously thought them over and discussed them with my wife. They were uncomfortable positions to be in, but it seemed hypocritical to promote measures, laws even, “designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society” if I personally am unwilling to withhold my sanction of a cohabiting couple. John Crawford regards this decision as unequivocally hateful and ridiculous, no other interpretation possible. Well, as Dallin Oaks said in a similar context, “There are plenty of ideas out there in the world that work against the gospel plan. […] We can’t expect to be applauded every time we do something that we know is right.” I hope I did something that was right. I didn’t ignore the people in question or refuse to speak to them or shun them as individuals, but I did decide I would not socialize with their partnerships as I would with a married couple.

As it often does, this matter regarding marriage came up last week in connection with consideration of homosexuality. If homosexuality didn’t exist, then some other matter would have to take its place as a token of one’s stance on matters such as those addressed by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve in their Proclamation to the World regarding the family. Homosexuals themselves are in some ways almost irrelevant to the debate; every one of them could devote her full devotion to pushing for an end to a regard for gender within marriage, and it wouldn’t matter. No, that is a cause moved forward by heterosexuals. At the head of the movement are those like David Paterson, New York’s latest governor and head adulterer. They seek to end any capacity for society to disapprove their behavior. Supporting them in their cause are those who feel a desire to signal their cosmopolitan sophistication, transgressive edginess, or insouciant indifference, and the “useful idiots” who need to display their liberal solidarity and how very, very much they care. Oh, I really should love these people, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. I often find it difficult to do and fail to be a child of my Father in heaven. My failings notwithstanding, they are my enemies, they seek to harm me, and I’m not a bit cheerful about it. Unlike many others apparently, I was not married on Planet Krypton, and so puny Earth gravity does effect my family. I grew up in a neighborhood that currently ranks 4th on the Census Bureau’s list of communities with the highest percentage of opposite-sex unmarried-partner households. Too many of my cousins have fathered or born children outside of marriage. I don’t believe these choices are made in a vacuum; I believe the approval or reproach of society affects behavior that generates wellbeing or harm.

Now, for Mark Brown’s rejection of my comments touching homosexual marriage: First, such chastisement is more credible coming from Mark Brown than it would be coming from some. Over the past couple of years I have experienced several enjoyable interactions with “Mark IV.” When he may disagree with something I write, he unfailingly does so thoughtfully (considerately and “full of thought”). When his name shows up on a comment list, it is worthwhile to consider his words. I don’t know how prominently my words figured into motivating his rebuke at By Common Consent, but since his language was fairly all-encompassing on the point that all comments regarding homosexuality over the past couple of weeks are unwelcoming — “stomach-churning” even, and since I have written a few comments touching the matter since the California court ruling, then my words must be some of those he was rejecting. I believe a motive in his writing was a desire to promote fuller discipleship. Really, though, Mark’s essay did fall short of its own admonition: “Until we are prepared to keep both parts of that counsel, we probably ought to be careful about saying anything at all.” When Dallin Oaks or Gordon Hinckley addressed homosexuality, they left no question that they consider anything other than celibacy, or if feasible marriage to an opposite-sex spouse, to be sinful, harmful, and something that they oppose. When they spoke of honoring homosexuals, it was as individual humans and children of God, not as part of same-sex pairings.

At any rate, Mark Brown is right that those who struggle with homosexuality should be sustained by members of the Church, and those who fall into paths of sin should be sorrowed for, not hated. No doubt there will be some who would prefer that I keep my sorrow to myself, and feel that my stance that homosexual activity is sin that I do not sanction is more or less the same thing as being an accomplice to murder.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

27 thoughts on “Private Morality, So Very Private That It May Not Extend Beyond Our Brains

  1. John M, my first thought when reading Mark Brown’s post at BCC was, “wow, I wonder what he’s referring to?” Remember he said that many of those opposed to SSM were “hate rejecting the sinner.” That’s a pretty strong statement. He certainly couldn’t be referring to me — I don’t hate anybody.

    The only example I saw on the thread (and I didn’t read every comment, but I read most of them) was John M’s comment. I don’t see much “hatred of the sinner” there.

    So, I can only come to the conclusion that if you are opposed to gay marriage, you must be a “hater.” Thus, Church members encouraged to be tolerant and loving of everybody are anything but that. If you don’t agree with their opinions you are “hateful.” Unfortunately, this has long been the case in the Bloggernacle — tolerance is never accorded to conservatives or anybody who does not parrot the words of today’s Left.

    To say that I am disappointed that a person like Mark IV whom I respect would take such a pose is a huge understatement. I am, frankly, devastated. It’s been bothering me for more than a week. If a normally sane and apparently caring person like Mark IV could make such unsubstantiated claims — and allow people to trash John Mansfield without cause on a thread he sponsored — then is there ever any hope at all of understanding? Apparently not.

    I’ve spent the last week reminding myself that it is in the temple and in the chapel where such contention disappears. People who would hate me because of my political opinions — and there are a lot in the Bloggernacle, apparently — would most likely offer me love and support at Sacrament. I need to spend a lot more time there, because the vitriol put forth by Church members towards their own brethren is, frankly, quite depressing.

  2. “Since I don’t want society to accept cohabitation, I have responsibilities to personally not accept it.”

    I think this is the real heart of this debate. My experience is that most of the so-called bloggernacle agrees that homosexual unions and cohabitation are unfortunate approximations of the ideal of heterosexual unions. But the question you implicitly pose is where people here start to diverge: what exactly should we be doing personally “not to accept” these behaviors?

    And I personally don’t know the answer to that question for me, but I’m not sure I’d go as far as not inviting them into my home. Indeed, I think I’d stop well short of that. I’m not sure how I condone these behaviors by having a meal with the actors, for example.

    That said, ascribing personal animus as the cause of your decision, as was apparently done over at BCC, is reckless, to say the least.

  3. Regarding same-sex attraction: if someone staunchly upholds the teachings of the Lord’s prophets and apostles on this issue and even on same-sex marriage, how is he or she treated?

  4. Y’know, at one point Jews could not eat with Gentiles.

    I think whom one allows in one’s home says a lot.

    Social approbation, or lack thereof, was one element that persuaded people to continue on righteous paths. When we remove this element and openly accept every wanton sinner, society will begin to break down. How can we be holy who bear the vessels of the Lord if we cast approval of any sort on such acts?

    And think of the impact such an act has on children: if they know a couple may not be invited because their sinful ways, it impresses upon them the Lord’s commandments and standards.

  5. I wasn’t happy with John M’s comment in the thread, but also don’t believe he’s full of hate or anything. I believe that we can still be kind, and be a good neighbor to people we don’t agree with in any way. I asked this question in the thread, does John M screen his other houseguests to see if they use pornography, pay their tithing, support abortion or molest children? He treats these people different because they commit a “sin” that is visible to others. That’s it. What other sinners are you not inviting to your home?

    Just like I’d prefer people treat me as neighbors should even though I’m Mormon, I try to treat people as a neighbor should whether they’re gay, black or BYU fans.

    Y’know, at one point Jews could not eat with Gentiles.

    I think whom one allows in one’s home says a lot.

    Christ also ate with people when it wasn’t socially acceptable. I have to decide whether the Lord would have me scorn people that behave in a way I don’t agree with, or would he rather have me show them love? Are my children so weak in their faith that the sight of two men sitting next to each other (because lets face it, nobody will be able to tell they’re gay just by eating dinner with them)will destroy their testimony and *gasp* turn them gay? Will they suddenly decide the Word of Wisdom isn’t for them if a man I invite to my house excuses himself to go outside for a cigar?

    Hopefully I’ve raised them to have the strength to enter the world without becoming like everyone else.

  6. jimbob, the question I have is how do we go about not condoning those things that we don’t think should not condoned (whatever those things are)? If any have thoughts on that, they may be helpful for all of us. I worry about it effectively being no more than just saying in our heads “I don’t approve.”

    jjohnson, a distinction for me between cohabitation and many other bad behaviors is that marriage is a civil state, a relationship of a couple with the rest of society. It’s a public matter, so there is a role for fellow citizens to play in choosing how they will respond to a counterfeit or rejection of marriage.

  7. Honestly, when I first read the comment in question, the very first thought I had was, “Jesus was castigated for eating with publicans and sinners.” The next thought I had was, “Then I am going to burn in a special level of Hell for opening my home to my kids’ friends who have been kicked out of their homes by their biological parents – at least those who were breaking commandments I accept but they don’t understand in the same way I do.” My next thought was, “I better start handing out a sinner-identification questionnaire whenever I want to invite someone into my home.”

    The latter two show my natural sarcasm, but I literally cringed when I read the comment. I don’t mean to sound condescending or self-righteous, but my home is open to anyone whom I feel does not impose a tangible danger to my family. I just don’t see Jesus telling people to get lost (or stay out of the house where he is staying) because they aren’t living their lives like He thinks they should – and I simply can’t fathom how anyone would think he would do so. I honestly can’t understand it.

    Opposing cohabitation and gay marriage is one thing; closing your house doors to those who live together is quite another.

  8. Jjohnsen, the issue is not what you and your family believe about co-habiting and gay couples. You’re certainly welcome to believe and do what you want, and in my personal actions I’m pretty close to your philosophy. The issue is that John M was completely vilified for expressing his beliefs, and they were held up as examples of “hate.” So, at the end of the day somebody making his own private decisions is “hateful” unless he toes the new politically correct line. How dare he speak out expressing his beliefs! Can you see how this is basically fascism?

  9. Geoff, there are several issues, and I don’t mind jjohnsen addressing the one he has. I would like to hear a little more of what people think they should do, rather than just what they wouldn’t do.

    Ray, when I read “I just don’t see Jesus telling people to get lost,” my first thought is you need to broaden your scripture reading.

  10. John, at least include the entire quote. It is obvious that “get lost” was meant figuratively for , “Get away from me you sinner. I won’t interact with you because you are sinning.” Please show me an instance where He refused to eat or interact socially with someone because that person was considered a sinner. If I am wrong, I am wrong.

    I don’t want this to turn into a fight. I was expressing my gut reaction to one comment – and I have expressed my agreement with other comments you have made at other times on other threads. My reaction was what it was to one comment, independent of my respect for your comments in general. I honestly did not mean it as a personal attack, and I apologize if it came across that way. I simply don’t understand it; I really don’t. So, enlighten me – and I don’t mean that sarcastically.

  11. Btw, John, just for context, I do not support gay marriage, and I believe strongly that all fornication (homosexual and heterosexual) is sinful. I also never once claimed that your comment constituted hate, and I never will.

    I understand your moral stance perfectly, I think; I just don’t understand the action – even though I also support your right to take it. Intellectually, I get it; spiritually, I don’t.

    Finally, just to be perfectly clear, I didn’t come here in response to your post. I came here because I really like the content of this blog. I just wanted to be totally honest about my reaction to your comment, since you used it as the springboard for the post. Without that particular comment, I would have been nodding and agreeing with pretty much the entire post.

  12. Ah, I’m being too flippant. Ray, like you, I was transcribing my first thought that popped into my head. Here’s the sort of scripture I was thinking of:

    And the righteous shall be gathered on my bright hand unto eternal life; and the wicked on my left hand will I be ashamed to own before the Father; Wherefore I will say unto them—Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And now, behold, I say unto you, never at any time have I declared from mine own mouth that they should return, for where I am they cannot come, for they have no power.

    Doctrine and Covenants 29:27-29

    Many of Jesus’ parables have an ending like this one’s:

    Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Matthew 21:8-13

  13. On the subject of SSM, in my opinion, I support extending marriage to same-sex couples, whether I think homosexual activity is sinful or not. When we encourage same-sex couples to instead merely cohabitate, or worse, extend to them an alternative to marriage in the form of civil unions or domestic partnerships, we are weakening marriage. When we extend full marriage to them we are holding up marriage to society as the ideal relationship model, and we discourage cohabitation.

    But that is not the real concern of this post. The question seems to be this: If we extend love, kindness, acceptance and tolerance to those who outwardly live a morality which conflicts with our gospel values, are we supporting and even encouraging the values that we disagree with?

    So I ask what would Jesus do? And I see him driving out the money changers on the one hand and defending the adulterer on the other. Is there a line upon which crossed anger and rage are appropriate? And does Jesus consider hypocrisy crossing that line, but adultery not? I don’t think there is a clear answer based on the actions of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels.

    At the same time, Jesus taught us that we should love our “enemy” and those who hurt us and treat us poorly. Hyperbole, or just good practical advice for dealing with our fellow men?

    Forgive me for thinking out loud.

    If it were me, I would extend the cohabiting couple every kindness, and take the Lord’s admonition to truly love them. I would start by looking for the good in them and loving them for what goodness I may find.

    Then I would vote my conscience in civic and political matters — perhaps get involved in community projects that encourage marriage, write letters to the newspaper, and those type of things.

  14. Steven B, I mostly agree with you, but I think His actions with the woman caught in adultery are key to this entire discussion. After Jesus told the men who were without sin to cast the first stone, he told the woman to go and sin no more. He didn’t say, “I will love you no matter what you do — go have fun.” He clearly identified her behavior as a sin and told her to do it no more.

    So, what does this mean for us? In terms of my personal actions, I extend love and personal acceptance to everybody, regardless of color, sexual orientation, co-habitation orientation, etc. I have home-taught all kinds of people, and my actions have been the same to all of them — please come back to Church, we all love you. I have many, many friends of all kinds of orientations, and I welcome them all into my home.

    However, if anybody asks me (and very, very occasionally it does happen) what I think they should do in terms of their personal relationships, I support celibacy until marriage and monogamy and I oppose acting on same-sex attractions. In terms of what I teach my children, first it is to love everybody and then second to avoid people who may have bad influences on them. Of course, I am teaching celibacy — we’ll see if my kids follow my guidance — I certainly hope so, but I will love them no matter what.

  15. Geoff, I agree entirely. Especially, it does make sense that we recognize bad influences upon our children from other kids.

    But the question still remains, if we extend love, kindness, acceptance and tolerance to those who outwardly live a morality which conflicts with our gospel values, are we supporting and even encouraging the values that we disagree with?

    Or put another way, is it appropriate, as adults to shun those who live a different moral code than we?

  16. You know, Geoff mentioned the common practice among parents to sometimes limit what friends their young children can associate with. And there is certainly a good rationale behind doing that.

    But it brings to mind the exhortation to ancient Israel to remain separate from her gentile neighbors, lest she assimilate their unholy practices. If the law of Moses was a schoolmaster to Christ, and Jesus deliberately ate with and associated with sinners, perhaps he taught us the higher law.

  17. You’re right! I’m going to insist that my 12-year-old go hang out with the crack addicts and child prostitutes in Miami all the time! I mean, she’s being like Jesus, right?

    Common sense is definitely the best cure for Bloggernacle political correctness sometimes.

  18. Steven B, sorry if that comment comes off too harsh. You seem like a nice guy. This is a case when the written word is very different than the spoken word (if we were talking, you’d probably take it differently than how it appears written). But my point is that you need to be very careful how far you carry the argument about with whom we should associate. Should we help “the least of these?” Definitely, and we probably don’t do it enough. But I’m not exposing my kids to any unnecessary risks in the meantime. I have taken them on many, many service projects, but I’m not taking them to the drug projects, if you know what I mean.

  19. It may have not been obvious, but the point I was trying to make is that ancient Israel can be compared to children, still vulnerable and requiring stricter rules. Hence, the “schoolmaster” reference. When we are grown, it may be that we should live a higher law.

  20. John,

    I thought your comments that Mark B went ballistic over seemed pretty mainstream LDS in my exp. What is different is that many of the folks in the bloggernacle are in a state of rebellion or revulsion or embar. at mainstream LDS cultural practices/teachings and often disagree with the bretheren on issues like SSM. I hear political/sex conversations all the time with my LDS peers that would make folks in the bloggernaccle outraged

  21. Very interesting posts; I agree with all of you. I think a key point worth considering is that the Bible/scripture is limited to only the examples contained therein. Since we cannot have Jesus physically present with us to guide us and influence our conduct, we have to rely on the Spirit. The Spirit tells me that each of us might act differently depending on the particular situation. The various moral lessons of the Bible cited above seem a bit contradictory, don’t they? I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think there is always a “right” answer. Maybe this is just an oversimplification…

  22. John,

    This post might be the only thing on which I’ve ever disagreed with you–I say “might” because I’m still thinking about it.

    I home taught a family a few years back in which the mother and father were not married. They had been living together for fourteen years and had two children together. We were on pretty good terms after a couple of years of casual visits. The father and I talked a lot about cars and guy stuff–he even did some work on my car as a favor. And then one day out of the blue he called me on the phone and asked if I “married people.” I said, “no, but the bishop can perform marriages.” So we arranged things and had a nice little wedding ceremony in their living room. It was wonderful.

    How do I square that experience with your post? I understand the impulse to do all possible in upholding the ideal standard for marriage and family. But, in this particular case, had I not gone into their home and been on casual friendly terms with them, I don’t think marriage would have entered the picture for them–or perhaps not as soon as did at any rate.

  23. That last comment almost comes across as if I’m the one getting married. Ha! I meant the couple that I was home teaching–in case anyone was wondering.

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