With the United States going through cultural change such as women’s rights, abortion, and LBTGQ issues, are we Mormons resistant to change in the public’s eye? It just always seems like we’re one step behind in these issues.
Before I answer your question, let me preface my remarks what should be a needless disclaimer:
I speak for myself.
This is true, even when I speak forcefully. Ask Gramps is not an official representative of the Restored Church, its doctrines, or its policies, no matter how much some readers may look to it as such. That doesn’t mean that what I write is wrong; obviously, I believe I’m right, or I wouldn’t say what I do. But whatever I say, please measure it by the yardstick of the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets and apostles. I will not hold back (much) in giving my views on this question. It is your duty to consider my words in light of prophetic teachings, and seek the Spirit to guide you in the paths of truth.
With age and experience comes some measure of wisdom, along with years of perspective by which we consider matters that come before us. As a grandpa with his fair share of experience, let me share my perspective with you.
Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin famously said (or didn’t, depending on whose history you believe),
“There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”
I see this phenomenon throughout politics, and I often wonder about how often it must affect us on a more personal level. How many parents have watched their own children leave the gospel path that they, the parents, have spent their lives trying to teach and live by? How many such parents have compromised on the principles of their household—regarding Church attendance, perhaps, or drug usage, or maybe even sexual activity—in the hope of not losing their wayward children forever? Too often, such well-intentioned compromises are disastrous. But in some few cases, some wise compromises may be helpful, even necessary, to lead and reclaim the erring sheep.
This is dangerously thin ice upon which we tread. If ever a parent needs the guidance of the Spirit in making such decisions, this would be such a case.
Is it possible that this same phenomenon, this same stark choice, might affect even the very kingdom of God? Many of us would like to believe that God’s kingdom never compromises on any principle, ever. But consider a bishop leading his ward. What if the congregation members refuse to follow his lead? What does the bishop do? Stick to his guns and let the consequences follow, or try to find some way of getting out in front of his flock and helping them? If the individuals in the ward simply will not follow the bishop’s exhortations to minister to one another, should the bishop leave them to their despair? Or does he instead change his approach, modify his expectations, and try to lead them by the hand?
What does the Lord do for us?
In most cases, the Lord has given us commandments and expects us either to follow them or to accept the consequences of disobedience. In some cases, it seems to me that the Lord takes mercy on us in our fallen foolishness. God literally cannot bless us in disobedience, but in some cases, he may modify certain expectations to allow us to eventually succeed despite our weakness.
This may even come about due to circumstances beyond our own disobedience. The commandment for plural marriage was removed about 60 years after it was first given, not because it had served its purpose, nor even (as I have so fondly supposed) because the people were incapable of living it correctly. According to the testimony of the prophet, the commandment for plural marriage was rescinded plainly and simply because the Church was going to be wiped out and effectively abolished from the earth if plural marriage continued. For some reason, God didn’t save his people from their persecutions, but instead withdrew his commandment for which they had sacrificed so much and instructed his prophet to tell the people to stop doing the very practice that they believed made them unique and holy to God. I cannot help but have a little sympathy for those who found this too much, to be required to abandon the practice they believed would exalt them after their lifetime of sacrifice living it. These spiritual ancestors forgot that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”
Just one generation ago, apostles and other Church leaders begged women to “come home”, to use their labors to build the home and fortify it against the evils of the world, and not to waste their efforts in the vain pursuits of money-making or career-building. But I haven’t heard any such thing in probably three decades. Is this because we no longer want women to stay home building the home? Did we decide that women maybe really are of more benefit out making money and building their career? Did God change his mind? Or shall we assume that the leadership of the time was just old-fashioned and out of touch, and that today’s apostles have finally synced up with the times?
Or is it more likely that the Church fought for the ideals that would best help the Saints and their families until the tide of decadent societal change became overwhelming and unwinnable in the near term (short of isolating ourselves from Babylon and giving up on the worldwide Church idea), and decided to turn its efforts to helping and supporting a generation that was growing up in a society created by those who had largely rejected that prophetic counsel?
That last possibility is what I believe. The principles have not changed. The doctrine underlying our practice cannot change. But the teachings are presented to each generation in a way that will be meaningful and helpful to those of that generation. We still prize above almost all things those women and men who put the well-being of their families above any other worldly concern. But for many people today, the situation looks different from what was faced by their parents and grandparents.
Don’t look for the Church ever—EVER—to approve of or sanction things such as elective abortion or homosexual “marriage”. Simply put, that will never happen. But now that homosexual “marriage” has been imposed by judicial fiat as the law of the land, expect the Church simply to not worry about it, but rather to teach its members that legal sanction for perverse relationships does not imply divine sanction. Elective abortion has been legal across the US since 1973, a nightmarish horror for which we most certainly will answer to God—but the Church has not decided that elective abortion is okay after all, just because it is widely and even casually used. It is not okay. It is the killing of a human being, an act like unto murder. That underlying doctrine will not change.
To answer your question directly: No, the Church is not “one step behind in these issues”. It looks to me like the Church is pulling at the cart rope with all its might to keep the horse from sliding further downhill, with the horse pulling so hard the other direction that the Church has to step further down to regain its footing and keep on pulling uphill. And as for “the public eye”, of course the Church is foolish in the public eye. It always has been and always will be. The mockers will mock, because that’s what they do. That is of no moment, and should be of no concern to any Saint.