Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Old Morality

I admit it freely - I am a cultural laggard. When you ask me to name a current pop icon in any venue, I am stumped for an answer. My idea of cutting edge entertainment these days is Michael Buble, and he's a throwback to Frank Sinatra.

I watch a lot of old movies these days with my dear wife. TCM is our very favorite cable channel. That's Turner Classic Movies for the uninitiated. During the Christmas holidays we watched sappy, emotionally-charged melodramas on the Hallmark Channel, so predictable it felt like a cookie-cutter script factory was hard at work behind the scenes. Because I now own one, I was stunned to observe how many of the heroes in those movies also drove the Toyota Prius. So maybe at least in that one respect I can qualify as an "early adopter" of a cutting edge technology. But to give you some idea of the real me, the last movie we saw in a theater was "Saving Mr. Banks". I'm not ashamed to admit I shed tears watching Emma Thompson's portrayal of the stiff upper lipped Englishwoman, P.L. Travers (she was really Australian), who brought the character of Mary Poppins to life in her books. So cutting edge, right?

I offer this background to illustrate why I am dragging my feet on same-sex marriage initiatives that will be wending their way through the courts for as far as the eye can see into the future. I have tried to make clear in previous posts to this page that I am intimately familiar with the personal struggles of people with same-sex attractions. Though I am not a pop culture progressive liberal-minded individual, I am also not a homophobic bigot either. I have empathy for those who are confused by this issue.

My purpose today is to state the stark contrasts I see in the way the debate keeps playing out - legal activists pitted against (sometimes) self-righteous moralists. While those who would lobby for legal rights in the courts have made their arguments based primarily upon an "equal rights" and "equal protection" Constitutional platform, and that sounds perfectly legitimate in many minds, what has gone missing and is completely obscured is the inefficiency of the legal system to rule in matters with a moral component as religiously charged as homosexuality. Those who take the moral side, arguing that homosexuality is sin, fail to recognize the legal courts and the courts of public opinion have never been the place for making the moral argument stick. Morality is something quite separate and apart from legal machinations, and we would do well to keep them distinctly separate.

When I was a boy I remember a weak argument I always made with my Mother. I would say, citing some cool new thing "everyone" was doing, "But Mom, everybody's got one, or is doing it, or is going to it, or is (fill in the blank)." To which she would invariably respond, "David, just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it right." Ah, the indispensable wisdom of Mom.

America is now on the precipice of slipping off its perch as a moral beacon for the world. Some would argue America never was moral and never should be judged on that basis. Very well, have it your way if you wish. However, our early Founders spoke about the need for Americans to remain a moral people, because only a moral people could stand a chance of self-governance. They set an admirable, though not flawless, example for us to follow. At their core, however, these were remarkable men who acknowledged the right to freedom was granted by an all-wise Providence who was the Lawgiver. I have written extensively in many past blog posts about them. Moral agency was enthroned in the founding documents as the means through which freedom won in such a bloody enterprise as the Revolutionary War could be maintained. It was from God we gleaned our rights as free men, they told us, and from no other source. They argued freedom could not be obtained in any other way and from any other fountainhead.

Fast forward to 2014. God's laws have never changed. Policies, practices, procedures and politics have changed. Many of the practices of the past, while legal, were never moral. Slavery is one. Alcohol is another. Nazism and Adolf Hitler flourished in Germany before World War II in an environment legally permitting their existence. Cigarettes are legal, but all of these stand on weak ground when making a moral judgment. Apartheid in South Africa was legal until Nelson Mandela challenged the law with a more well-defined moral argument. Walter Williams correctly observed, "Legality, alone, cannot be the talisman of moral people." He also argues that private immorality (homosexuality) cannot suddenly somehow become moral just because it is openly practiced collectively and gains widespread acceptance. None of those facts change the underlying core reality it is morally wrong. Does the fact that marijuana has been declared legal in some states change smoking it into a moral activity merely because the courts have ruled it is legal and people now line up at a retail outlet to purchase it instead of in some back alley? Does same sex marriage, permitted in some states as legal, now alter the moral requirement of God?

Indeed, all those things are always in transition. Just because Obamacare is the law of the land today, is it morally defensible to fund it with the most massive theft of personal wealth ever attempted by economic redistribution? I hope Richard Lugar (former Republican Senator from Indiana) is right. The fundamental moral principles upon which America was founded are anchored in the bedrock principle of moral agency - the freedom to make moral judgments for the benefit of individuals and the whole society.

The moral law of sexual purity before and during marriage remains valid. The Church cannot condone immorality in any form it takes. Because we are all sinners and come short of the mark, Christ's atonement cleanses those who purify themselves in His perfection. (Moroni 10:32-33). The leaders of the Church, while sympathetic to the struggles of those with same-sex attraction, are not empowered nor authorized to alter the moral law upon which the plan of salvation rests, and in The Family: A Proclamation to the World (1995), they made the eternal law explicit and understandable. Gender differences are foreordained and were in place in our pre-existent unembodied spirits, just as they are in our mortal bodies now, and will be in our disembodied spirits awaiting our resurrected bodies hereafter. Neither can the leaders of the Church give a free pass to this supposed "protected class" of sinners over that imaginary "unprotected class." We are all sinners. All are subject to the principle of repentance. None is exempt. No One. So plain is that straight-forward declaration, it would seem, no one reading it could possibly misunderstand. The gospel of Jesus Christ is true.

But the debate rages on, even among those in the Church who should know better. I would suggest there is little that can be done in the courtroom of popular opinion or within the courthouse to alter wrong-headed thinking on this topic. The moral agency to make errors in judgment is also part of the plan of salvation. The latter-day reality has come when homosexuality is as rampant and acceptable as it was in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, and one can only speculate on how wicked the world must become before it is ultimately cleansed by fire.

The old morality is still the new morality and it is chiseled in stone. It has never changed. The requirements for happiness here and hereafter will never change. But don't be one of those who is beguiled by the siren call of immorality disguised as acceptance and tolerance at the expense of your own moral convictions. You hold fast to what you know is true, even if you lose badly in the court of public opinion.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Elder Dallin H. Oaks framed this debate very well in his last General Conference sermon, entitled "No Other Gods":

"There are many political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and contrary to the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and childbearing. These pressures have already authorized same-gender marriages in various states and nations. Other pressures would confuse gender or homogenize those differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God’s great plan of happiness.

"Our understanding of God’s plan and His doctrine gives us an eternal perspective that does not allow us to condone such behaviors or to find justification in the laws that permit them. And, unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has identified as unchangeable.

"Our twelfth article of faith states our belief in being subject to civil authority and “in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” But man’s laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral. Commitment to our highest priority — to love and serve God — requires that we look to His law for our standard of behavior. For example, we remain under divine command not to commit adultery or fornication even when those acts are no longer crimes under the laws of the states or countries where we reside. Similarly, laws legalizing so-called “same-sex marriage” do not change God’s law of marriage or His commandments and our standards concerning it. We remain under covenant to love God and keep His commandments and to refrain from serving other gods and priorities — even those becoming popular in our particular time and place." (emphasis mine).

If you are living the moral law of chastity, I would predict you will never have the peace you seek in hoping the world will someday turn to righteousness because you believe the way you do in your heart of hearts. As in the days of Noah, the wicked will cling steadfastly to their wickedness and will be in denial until the floods of anger flow freely and they seek, too late, to be admitted into the sanctuary of the ark. In that day the flood took them into the spirit world where they could finally be in a place to learn the truths of the gospel.

In the latter days, when we live upon the earth, the unquenchable fire of destruction will also overtake the world, and the cleansing will be just as widespread, "equal rights" and "equal protection under the law" handed down by the suborned courts notwithstanding.

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