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Family Values: A Response to the LDS Church’s Proclamation 28 February 2006

Posted by Todd in Biology, Ethics, Gender, Homosexuality, Mormonism/LDS Church, Sexuality.
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This is a response to the Proclamation on the Family, issued by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1995, which lays out a political and theological justification for the church’s anti-gay politics and anti-woman policies. Ten years later, the LDS church continues to perpetuate false ideas about gender, sexuality and family structures, and to support problematic research at Brigham Young University. In rebutting the church’s positions, this proposal takes an agnostic stance as described by Thomas Huxley in the late 19th century, which is literally that there is no knowledge without evidence; from that place of agnosticism, this response directly contradicts the church’s claims of divine plans for gender and family, and its claims of knowledge about pre- and post-life spiritual existence. This proposal rests instead on the current scientific evidence from evolutionary development, anthropology, history, sociology and medicine. My apologies for the seeming disorganization of my response; it rebuts the Proclamation’s arguments paragraph by paragraph, following the illogic of the original (for the Church’s document, you can do a quick google search of the Church’s web site). If you have a current or past affiliation with the LDS church and would like to add your name to the list of signatories at the bottom, send me your name and location.

We, the undersigned former members and New Order members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Christians, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists among us), solemnly propose that marriage between a man and a woman is a social construct and that the idea of “the family” changes over time and from culture to culture, depending on the needs and values of the people in question.

All human beings–male, female, intersexed and transsexual–are products of the same evolutionary processes. We propose that each already-born human life is valuable and should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of gender identity, as each human has an individual nature and the capacity to choose its own destiny within its context. Gender identity is a complicated interaction of genes, hormones, development, brain structure, social interaction, cultural values, and personal experience.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence of human souls existing either before birth or persisting after death; religious belief in such existences should not be used as a basis to make ethical or legal decisions here and now. Our individuality as we experience it arises out of our individual bodies and our individual experiences within particular social, cultural, and physical environments in the time and place that we live. This fact in no way changes our understanding of the value of each individual, already-born human being. Physical bodies are indeed a gift, providing pleasure and pain and embodied experience of the material and social universe during our lifetimes. Although people are free to believe that familial relationships continue beyond the grave, this should not be the basis for moral decisions about family relationships. This is a vitally important point, undergirding our conviction that we need to build meaningful relationships with people here and now. Religious rituals, including those of the Mormon temple, may provide feelings of connection and transcendence to some and may serve social purposes binding individuals and couples to various religious communities. But as unverifiable religious beliefs, they must have no formally binding power in a democracy.

The “Adam and Eve” story is a myth hobbled together by a series of Hebrew temple priests and scribes before and after Babylonian captivity. While there is a place for myth in creating meaningful lives, it is foolish to base our lives on a (roughly) 2500 year old myth originating from a completely different social context. It is equally foolish to use such myths as justification to command people to reproduce without concern for other human beings or the health of the planet’s other organisms. The pleasure and connection of sexual relationships need not be tied to reproduction; may be enjoyed among people of same, opposite, or indeterminate gender; and should be engaged in among consenting adults and in an ethical manner which accounts for the feelings and needs of all parties involved. Current laws regarding marriage are outdated and unfair and need to be brought into conjunction with the way people actually live in today’s world.

We declare that the means whereby humans reproduce is completely natural, biological, and links us with other sexually-dimorphic organisms. We affirm the sanctity of already-born human life and the importance of that sanctity as a communal value necessary to secure a meaningful human existence and a peaceful society.

Spouses of whatever gender have an ethical obligation to be completely honest with each other about their needs and desires and should commit with each other to meet those needs and desires to the best of their abilities. Spouses should revisit their commitment as often as necessary to make sure that each partner’s needs are being met and that they are happy with each other and their relationship. When children are born or adopted to parents of any gender, they have an ethical responsibility to provide, to the extent possible, an environment where that child can grow to explore their world, develop their own personalities, and learn about life in a safe and loving environment. Whether or not the child is raised with a religion is up to the parents, but care should be taken to allow children to choose their own spiritual path as they grow up. Children should be taught to think critically about the laws of the nation to which they are subject and obey them to the extent that they are not immoral or unjust. Parents should be held accountable to society for any criminal shirking of their responsibilities.

“The Nuclear Family” is a construction of late-capitalist, liberal democratic societies. Certain religions in American (among others) society have latched onto the idealized “nuclear family” as the basic unit of society. Historically, however, human beings have organized families in many different ways; indeed, families have had many different structures even in America’s short history. Marriage is not divine or god-given in any sense, but is a social convention that allows economic, social, and emotional relationships to be controlled by the society at large. We propose a social structure that allows people as much freedom and leeway as possible to form the kinds of marital relationships and families that work for them and their loved ones. We further propose that no national government should either penalize or reward any particular form, as long as the relationship adheres to the minimum standard of the democratic harm principle and that it be between adults who are capable of giving consent. Religious teachings may or may not lead to happiness in a marital relationship, but should never be used to judge the value of a given relationship; instead, a relationship should always be judged by its effect on the partners and, if any, their children. Successful spousal and parental relationships should be founded on compassion, tolerance, patience, forgiveness, openness, respect, and a willingness to work. There is no divine design of gender roles within familial relationships or in society at large. Spouses should work out between them who will have what responsibilities, duties, and privileges within the relationship; this division of labor within the relationship should be revisited as often as necessary to account for changing circumstances, desires, and needs of the partners. All parents are responsible to make sure that the material needs of the family are met and all parents are responsible for the nurturing of children. That spouses should treat each other as equal partners is obvious. Unfortunately in real life, difficult things happen, including death, disability, infidelity, or even simply a growing apart of partners who no longer can meet each others’ needs. Such situations should be handled with compassion and openness, to make the necessary transitions or changes possible, understanding that even in the best of circumstances, they will often be painful, heart-wrenching, and overwhelming, as any major change in relationships can be. Leaning on friends, chosen-families, and blood-families may help ease the transition.

When spouses have decided to be sexually exclusive to each other, they should honor that agreement until they mutually decide to change it; when one violates that agreement, they must understand the pain they cause and the possible outcomes of such a deception. Some couples may elect to not be sexually exclusive; in such relationships, spouses have an obligation to be sensitive to the wishes, needs, feelings and health of their partners. Physical abuse and sexual abuse between spouses or in parent-child relationships are not acceptable and perpetrators should be held accountable to the society at large by law. Spouses and parents must understand that failing to live up to emotional, financial, or material responsibilities may result in great disturbance in the lives of spouses and children alike. Ancient and modern “prophets” speak from their own cultural biases and should have no claim on our actual lives. Rather, individuals and groups should be free to find the answers that work for them, within the ethical bounds discussed above. And we proclaim that changing the shape of individual families to meet the needs of the members of those families is good for society, in creating happy, mature, and responsible adults and children. The continual change and adaptation of family structures is a simple fact of history and is neither good nor bad. It is simply a response to the world we live in here and now.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of governments everywhere to promote these measures designed to free people from unnecessary religious, traditional, or cultural baggage, and to relate to each other as fully human, responsible adults, in order to organize their personal lives and their most central relationships in the ways that best suit them, their children, and their communities, leaving individuals the freedom and space to do so.

Written by J. Todd Ormsbee, 28 December 2005, San Francisco, California.

Signed by:
Corey J. Kilpack, 29 December 2005, San Francisco, California.
Shannon Weber, 29 December 2005, San Francisco, California.
Elizabeth Udall Thompson, 30 December 2005, Solihull, England.
Hellmut Lotz, 30 December 2005, College Park, Maryland.
Amy Snyder, 30 December 2005, Aberdeen, Maryland.
Todd Brauer, 2 January 2006, St. Louis, Missouri.
Miranda Webster, 2 January 2006, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Justin Rhodehouse, 5 January 2006, Farmington, Utah.
Travis Taysom, 24 February 2006, Holly, Michigan.
Erica Hatch, 25 February 2006, Stansbury Park, Utah.
Brandon Hatch, 25 February 2006, Stansbury Park, Utah.
Adam Hansen, 28 February 2006, Great Meadows, New Jersey.
Caroline Udall, 20 March 2006, Hood River, Oregon.
Chris Connelley, 11 April 2006, West Valley City, Utah.
Christy Putnam, 19 April 2006, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Jeremy Putnam, 19 April 2006, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Russell Martin, 31 January 2007, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Joel Layton, 9 February 2007, Director of Atheists of Utah.
Sean Tibbits, 15 June 2008, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Theresa Sumrall, 23 June 2008, Gainesville, Florida.
Rheana Rogers, 29 November 2008, Arvada, Colorado.

Comments

1. diana s. - 28 February 2006

Nice Maryland contingent!

2. Mayan Elephant - 29 July 2006

i just reread this todd. you are da best evah!

3. Allen Smithee - 28 December 2006

What ever makes you feel better about yourself. You sure spent a lot of time trying to justify your life style. good luck with it.

4. Todd - 29 December 2006

Too bad Allen Smithee didn’t have anything substantive to add. If you’re around, Allen, try posting a real comment and opening a dialogue. You’ll find it’s much more rewarding and useful intellectually and personally.

5. Phrog - 9 February 2007

Excellent work. I’d like my name added to the undersigned.
BTW
‘Alan Smithee’ is a common pseudonym for directors whose film was clearly taken away from her/him and recut heavily against her/his wishes in ways that completely altered the film.

6. Allen Smithee - 29 April 2007

If you dislike the idea of someone judging your views or values. Why spend the time to make sure a response if made to others views or values? Are you the judged or the Judges?

7. Paul Kelso - 5 June 2007

i just reread this todd. you are da best evah!

8. Paul Kelso - 5 June 2007

I love thiz blog

9. E.M. - 15 June 2008

That’s silly, the LDS church is not trying to say it is scientifically proven. It is just about faith, so if you don’t have faith (like me), you are not forced to believe these assumptions. But please to not compare lettuces and carrots.
Allen Smithee had an interesting advice, don’t spend your time trying to justifiy your lifestlye. Nobody asks to to do so, and your arguments will not be useful for people who believe in the LDS doctrine, so you should better not loose your time.

10. Todd O. - 16 June 2008

Clearly, reasoned argument are lost on those who refuse to use their rationality and rely solely on “feelings” (e.g., a burning in your bosom that you interpret as the Holy Ghost).

The only reason gays and lesbians (and divorcees, and single parents, and unmarried couples, etc.) have to “justify their lifestyle” is because they are under attack by people (and churches) who seek to control how they live their lives and to keep them from full citizenship in the public sphere. You don’t want people to justify their lifestyle to you? Stop supporting an organization that makes it necessary.

11. Garret Jackson - 21 June 2008

I think it’s pretty interesting and ironic that a person like yourself that believes “that each already-born human life is valuable and should be treated with dignity and respect” also has a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche proposed a “superhuman race” that was genetically more powerful and thus superior to all inferior races. A guy named Hitler was so impressed by those writings that he gave a copy of them to two other friends-Mussolini and Stalin. We all know how Hitler used the “superhuman race” to his advantage.

12. Todd - 22 June 2008

Garret, your comment about Nietzsche reveals your ignorance of the subject.

13. wry - 24 June 2008

Srsly. I’m LOLing at the Nietzche hack.

Still loving your proclmation. :-)

14. E.M. - 12 October 2008

Todd, I see what you mean. It is unfortunately true that big organizations such as churches or states may exert a pressure on marginal groups that do not match their principles.

But there is a difference between defending one’s right (which is indeed justifying one’s lifestyle), and criticizing other’s lifestyle (like those implied by the LDS Church’s Proclamation). You are still on your own right criticizing, I just think it is not very relevant since attacking faith has never proved successful…

15. Rheana - 29 November 2008

Add me to your list of signers, ToddO. This doctrine was the stake in the heart of my affiliation with the LDS Church. We live in a better world because there are people such as you who aren’t afraid to speak up.

Rheana Rogers, Arvada, CO

16. Shaun Campbell - 22 July 2011

What a bunch of hypocritical bull crap the Proclamation ends up being. As Mormons, we decry ourselves persecuted for our own strange marriage customs and deviant sexual practices. Yet we deny our gay, lesbian, transgendered, and biological hermaphrodites their civil liberties to marry whomever their hard-wired sexual orientations dictate. Evil is when you INTEND to harm someone. And the LDS Church clearly intends to harm the GLBT community by denying them Constitutionally guaranteed civil rights. That’s evil. Pure and simple.

17. Shaun Campbell - 22 July 2011

Oops! I thought THIS was a copy of the LDS Church’s Proclamation on the Family–which is bull crap. Sign me in to this responsive Proclamation whole-heartedly.

Shaun Campbell
Honolulu, Hawai’i

18. ben - 31 July 2011

Why did it take 10 years for you to reply to the mormon proc? 17 responses just will not take this weak opinion anywhere.
Best

19. Michele Burstein - 19 October 2011

What a wonderful example of the old axiom – A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It is very clear you understand nothing about faith or the doctrines found in the four standard volumes of scripture used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Have you read the Book of Mormon cover to cover, with a sincere heart, really wanting to know the truth of its contents? Don’t you think it odd that a volume of translated scripture could be put together by an unschooled farm boy in his early 20s – and not a word of it can be disproved to this day – if it was not inspired by God? The happily married gay mothers and fathers within the Church prove that sexuality can and should be controlled and directed for good – as a bond and a joy between two people, not two individuals who have to pursue an identity based on sex. Why has society decayed so fast into a sordid pit of fast-approaching chaos? Simple – because individuals like you undermine the very basis of civilization – the family unit.

20. Todd - 19 October 2011

Dear Michele, I’m so sorry to read your response as it reminds me of the difficult binds that Mormonism places on its members to prevent them from thinking independently about their lives and values. I was born and raised in the church, graduated from seminary, served a full-time mission honorably, taught at the MTC for 4 years, and graduated from BYU. I am now a researcher in the sociology of religion. I appreciate the sincerity of your testimony, yet cannot feel but saddened that you were unable to actually engage with the arguments I make in my response to the Church’s homophobic, sexist, and patriarchal document, which they use as quasi-”revelation” to justify their oppressive actions in the public sphere. I wish you the best, and hope that at some point you’ll be able to question what you’ve been taught and ask some serious historical questions (e.g., about how Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdry plagiarized the Book of Mormon from Cowdry’s minister) and about the church’s unethical anti-gay politics that violate its own policies regarding church members’ political independence (e.g., Proposition 8 here in California). My sincerest best wishes to you as you continue down the spiritual path that best suits you.

Todd

21. top mistakes - 9 December 2011

Your site is really interesting to me and your subject matter is very relevant. I was browsing around and came across something you might find interesting. I was guilty of 3 of them with my sites. “99% of site owners are doing these five mistakes”. http://tinyurl.com/cwa3tj7 You will be suprised how easy they are to fix.

22. Todd, A mission? - 6 January 2012

Todd,
From what I understand you were very devout at one point, to the extent of a mission (and therefore temple passage?). What caused the switch? How do you reflect on your time spent as a mormon? Converts to different ways fascinate me, and it seems like you are fairly committed to exactly the opposite of what you were doing before.


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