An accommodation

As reported on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made it official policy today to call for the state to restrict the right of individuals to deny employment, housing, etc. to gays. Unfortunately the statement is couched in terms of “protecting rights”, which this most assuredly is not. No one has a right to someone else’s property. The idea is an absurd contradiction. If you have the final say over a thing’s disposition then that thing is yours – your property. If someone else has the final say, then it is the property of that other person. We can speak of multiple persons each having an “interest” in property such as when two people each hold an equal 50% undivided joint interest in a property. But that is different than saying that any random unspecified person has a right to march into your residence or business and demand a bed or a job you would otherwise deny to him, and threaten to bring the power (armed force) of the state to bear against you if you refuse. That is the “right” being “protected” today. The right to initiate force against another to prevent him from using his property in a way you don’t agree with. It is the right to use violence to get your way. It is the right to be a beast, an animal, an uncivilized barbarian. That is the right that is being protected by all non-discrimination legislation.

Now of course I am personally opposed to irrationality, which to me includes any discrimination on the basis of irrelevant facts. I cannot see how a person’s sexual orientation would even come into the conversation over terms of lodging or employment. If it did, somehow, the innkeeper or employer who turned away an otherwise acceptable customer or employee on that basis alone is irrational and irrational means bad. But I would so much more want to live in a society where everyone respects the right of every other person to be free.

Free to live as they choose and to do what they choose with their own property. Free from violence, or the threat of violence, from another or others. When the violence is threatened by one person acting alone we call him a criminal. When it comes from a group of individuals we usually call them a criminal gang. But when it comes from a group (police) who were hired by another group (politicians) who persuaded another group (voters) to place lead filings next to their names on a piece of paper (voting) then we call that “The Law” and we bow down and worship it as thoroughly as the idolatrous image of any other false god ever fashioned.

The extent to which we allow others to do with their own lives and property what we would prefer they didn’t, without using violence or threatening violence against them for so doing, is the extent to which we are human beings and not animals. Violence is the way of the jungle where beasts have their way based on their power to violently impose their interests over that of the other beasts. It is how they eat, procreate and otherwise survive. But humans, when acting as humans, as sons and daughters of God, do no violence toward one another unless it is in response to the violence of others. They never initiate violence. And when they do retaliate, it is only reluctantly, taking care to do so only to that level required to quell the violence and redress the wrongs it brought about. This is what Jesus taught. It is a part of the higher law. But it is not because He taught it that it is right. It is because it right that He taught it. The right to be free from the initiation of violence is the only political ethic consistent with the fact that man relies on his own individual capacity to reason for his survival. The extent to which you are forced to comply with another’s judgment is the extent that he has deprived you of the capacity to survive and made a poor substitute for it – his judgment.

One can only judge based on what he knows and all that he knows is contained within his mind. Words are imperfect symbols which stand for the concepts we hold within our minds but are not those concepts themselves. Words must always fail to convey a portion of what we mean by them since the meaning we attribute to them is informed by all we have experienced and come to believe. To take an extreme example, what does “red” mean to someone who cannot see? A better example is to consider what concept the word “beauty” might conjure in the mind of an adult raised and educated with access to the finest art ever produced. Now consider what “beauty” would mean to a starving and impoverished child. It is impossible to learn enough about another through words or ancillary forms of communication to justify imposing our judgment over their own as their means of survival. And even if we could, we would be denying them the right to live their own life by living it for them. No amount of having their best interests at heart can justify denying them the opportunity to live a life of their own. The right of the individual to live his own life as he freely chooses, so long as he respects that same right of others, is the only appropriate political ethic for human beings.

So why would the Church announce this policy?

The Church’s official position on legal matters is not doctrine nor part of the gospel. It is not revelation nor necessarily inspired. It is not an exercise in ecumenical authority but administrative. That is why whenever it makes such comments, members are always “encouraged” (or such similar undemanding language) to comply with it.

I am sure that the Church’s official policy is to obey all the laws of all the jurisdictions where the Church is found, and to “encourage” all members to do the same. I think if the Church had been organized at the time of the American Revolution it’s policy would have been the same. But revolutionary leaders are rightly considered righteous men and heroes and were all baptised by proxy and said to have accepted the saving ordinances performed on their behalf.

I think the interests of the Church as an administrative body, a corporate legal entity, are not necessarily identical to the interests of any specific individual and that in all cases the individual must look to the scriptures and the Holy Ghost as the most important external guides to inform his own rational judgment. No one has properly discharged his moral agency by simply mimicking what someone else has done. Everyone’s circumstances are unique and that is why salvation is the result in the proper discharge of individual moral agency.

Personally, I remain opposed to investing the state with greater authority to interfere with the decisions of individuals as to who they employ, who they house, or whatever else they do and for whatever reason with respect to their own lives and property. I would divest it of such authority as it presently usurps by force.

So this isn’t an inspired decision?

I think this is not necessarily inspired, but may be, but the main point is that this statement is what it is and nothing more – the official position of the Church, based on the Church’s interests as perceived by those who have stated this position for it. I certainly don’t believe every statement, position, or policy taken by any man or group of men is infallible and as members of the Church we are not bound to accept anything for doctrine that has not been sustained in General Conference as such.

This is not a statement of principle or doctrine but a statement of policy. They are saying that the Church (the legal entity) is taking this position in light of all the present cultural, social, legal circumstances and how the Church’s interests may be best pursued in that context.

The Church is not in a position to ignore the law or the state. It must accommodate both. Historically, and this may be another instance of it, its greater interests require that it accommodate social-cultural norms.

In the 1800s it accommodated slavery with policies of not allowing slaves to join the Church without their master’s consent. During the period where racial segregation was culturally prominent it barred blacks from the Priesthood and the temple, although exceptions were made that proved that this was not consistent with eternal principles but only temporary policies. To accommodate sexist cultural norms women could not be baptised or endowed without their husband’s consent. It was worse in Paul’s day when women were forbidden to speak in church.

These are all temporary expedients designed to secure the Church’s position within the existing legal-cultural milieu. They were not declarations of moral principles. They were attempts to ensure that strong social forces did not distract from the real mission of the Church. The Church has always been spiritually revolutionary but rarely politically. Think of Christ’s time. Personally he lived as he knew best and accepted the consequences but he never counseled the Church as a whole to oppose the state authorities. He counseled Peter to put away his sword.

Consistent with eternal principles the Church readily accepts the emancipation of slaves, the equality of the races and sexes. But it was individuals, including individual Church members, and not the Church as a body, which brought about these changes.

Sure, I’d prefer not to see the Church take this stand, but if those whose calling it is to make these decisions know something I don’t that requires them to go to this length to accommodate the gay lobby to minimize them as a distraction from the Church’s mission, then I can accept it. But only for what it is and that is not a constraint on my own judgment.