Review of Taylor G. Petrey, Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism (Chapel Hill, NC The University of North Carolina Press, 2020). 288 pages. $29.95 (paperback).
Abstract: Tabernacles of Clay examines the discourse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through a “queer theory” lens. This review examines its first two chapters’ use of sources regarding Church teachings about eternal biological sex and homosexual behavior. These chapters claim that the Church treated homosexual sin leniently and said little about such acts until the more “homophobic” 1950s. There are, in fact, many examples of homosexual behavior being condemned by Church leaders in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Tabernacles further claims that in the 1950s–1970s, some in the Church saw biological sex as “created and contingent” — rather than eternal and unchanging — thus permitting a view of theological “gender fluidity.” The authors used to support these claims have been misrepresented and important information omitted. Tabernacles also fails to properly contextualize the sources and language of the 1950–1970s, and it thereby misrepresents Church discourse on homosexual sin. A thorough review of the Church’s official documents from this period reveals an almost exclusive focus on homosexual behavior, not homosexual temptation or identity. Aspects of present-day Church teaching or policy which are said to be novel are shown to be otherwise. The above errors lead to mischaracterization of Spencer W. Kimball’s book, The Miracle of Forgiveness. Tabernacles has not adequately or fairly characterized its sources, rendering its conclusions suspect.
Taylor Petrey wants to “think creatively and theologically within Mormonism” since he believes “LDS theology faces serious credibility [Page 108]issues” at present. “Perhaps,” he writes, “LDS ritual and rhetoric may embrace … [sexual] variation, including homosexual relationships in … [temple] sealing.”1 He assures the reader that
the possibility of creating theological space within Mormonism for homosexual relationships rests not on the abandonment of any central doctrine of the Church, but rather on the revival of past concepts, the recovery of embedded theological resources, and the rearticulation of existing ideas in more expansive terms in order to rethink the possibilities of celestial relationships.2
This argument asserts that opposition to homosexual acts is not central to the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ and that any reluctance stems from an abandonment of past concepts of things that Latter-day Saints should recover from their religious heritage by rethink[ing].
It helps to know this because Tabernacles of Clay serves as a brief for such hopes. Tabernacles understands current Church teaching opposes its project in the strongest terms.
[S]cholars have treated Mormon views about gender and sexuality as a theory of essentialism — the belief that there are universal traits that make men and women fundamentally different from one another. This book will significantly challenge this paradigm, but it is easy to see why it has been so persuasive. In 1995, the church issued the brief authoritative statement “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” According to this document of Mormon orthodoxy, “gender is an essential characteristic of individual pre-mortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” (7)
Tabernacles bluntly states that “the supposed differences of sexes, genders, and races are historical and ideological, not natural and [Page 109]fixed” (10). The conflation is unfortunate — race is quite a different matter than biological sex, for example. Tabernacles’s fundamental ideology is made clear, and throughout the book it will be assumed, though not demonstrated, that sex and gender are not fixed or natural.
Tabernacles describes the primary interpretive tool used in its study thus:
Queer theory links the issue of gender and sexual difference to the issue of sexuality as related subjects of inquiry. Once a term of derision, scholars and activists have reclaimed “queer” as a mode of analysis and an identity that resists fixed categorization. While this approach traces its origins to feminist and gay and lesbian analysis — and holds its goals in affinity with those fields — queer theory takes as its subject something more fundamental, namely, the categories and distinctions between sexes, genders, sexualities, races, abilities, and so on. This paradigm challenges the idea of the natural and self-evident and instead seeks to historicize and question claims about essential and stable identities by looking at where those boundaries wear thin. This method is the starting point for the present study. The supposed differences of sexes, genders, and races are historical and ideological, not natural and fixed. Poststructuralist queer approaches are attuned to the failure of categories; the fluidity of bodies, sexualities, and identities; and the genealogies of what is often taken for granted. (10, emphasis added)
Tabernacles’s method thus virtually requires that such categories as sex and gender be fluid and socially constructed. The author tells of his surprise to discover this very tendency in Latter-day Saint thinking:
Over the course of my research I became interested in a genealogy of contemporary beliefs that gender is an essential feature of one’s identity. What I found surprised me at first. It turned out that while Latter-day Saints have often expressed the values of gender and sexual essentialism, I started to see that this was a rhetorical effort to cover over a different ontology of gender and sexuality. Rather than seeing these categories as essential and fixed, Latter-day Saint leaders often talked about them as malleable and fluid — and showed that heterosexual desire and heteronormative roles are especially vulnerable to change. I needed to tell that story. (ix)
[Page 110]The author may be surprised, but readers should not be. The material was viewed through the lens of queer theory, and it is predictable that one should thereby discover what queer theory assumes. This does not mean that Tabernacles is necessarily wrong, but it does mean that we would be well-served by skepticism if we think we have found so neatly what queer theory requires.
The subtext seems to be this: if The Church of Jesus Christ has only recently come to regard homosexual acts as sins on a par with adultery and fornication, it becomes much easier to see this stance as an aberration that ought to be corrected. If biological sex is only recently seen as reflecting something eternal, queer theory’s goals are that much closer. If the Church’s doctrines have ebbed and flowed, erred and backtracked, then what is one more course correction?
If, on the other hand, sexual essentialism and the sinfulness of homosexual acts have been consistently taught, then it is much harder to argue that the doctrine could or should change.3 Tabernacles states that “[w]hat is remarkable about the Mormon tolerance for change (and its limits) is how resistant Latter-day Saints can be to acknowledging that there is really any change at all” (213). Readers should not conclude that this review claims that there has been no change, but I will show (in excruciating detail) that much of what Tabernacles claims to be a change is not, and that areas that have changed have much more continuity with the past than the reader will learn from Tabernacles.
This review spends little time on theoretical, theological, or interpretive issues — though these issues are important. Instead, I focus primarily on questions regarding the sources and use of sources in Tabernacles’s first two chapters. These chapters include questions regarding sexual fluidity, premortal sex, postmortal sex, and homosexual sin. While I can only sample Tabernacles’s use of sources, that sampling reveals serious problems.
[Page 111]So serious are these problems that, on one level, it is astonishing that this work would be published by a university press. Granted, the book’s ideological agenda and subject matter is popular in some quarters,4 and such works have their place — if they are honest with themselves and their readers about what they are.5 But what Tabernacles offers is not good history.
Tabernacles of Clay is a good argument for the necessity of review by experts in both the theology and history of the Church of Jesus Christ when academic presses do “Mormon” studies. Experts in queer and gender theory might find it compelling; anyone familiar with the religious sources ought to know better. This review, then, addresses a proper reading of the sources.6
I propose to treat five themes in this review:
- Tabernacles’s claim (following D. Michael Quinn’s Same-Sex Dynamics7) that The Church of Jesus Christ treated homosexual sin leniently until the 1950s;
- Tabernacles’s claim that there is a virtual silence regarding homosexual sin in Church discourse until the 1950s;
- [Page 112]Tabernacles’s claim that in the 1950s–1970s, some in the Church saw biological sex as “created and contingent,” thus permitting a view of theological “gender fluidity” which encompassed the premortal and postmortal states;
- Tabernacles’s failure to properly contextualize the sources and language of the 1950s–1970s and the resulting misrepresentation of Church discourse on homosexual sin;
- Tabernacles’s misrepresentation of Spencer W. Kimball’s book, The Miracle of Forgiveness,8 as enabled by the errors of the above themes.
Leniency Toward Same-Sex Sins
Uncritical Use of D. Michael Quinn
Tabernacles refers to “[p]ioneers in this research like D. Michael Quinn” who have “charted a gloomy history from ‘relative tolerance’ of same-sex intimacy in an earlier era to the rise of homophobia in contemporary LDS thought” (9), demonstrating that “the church moved from ‘relative tolerance’ to ‘homophobia’ and strident opposition” (63). Tabernacles evinces an insufficient dose of healthy skepticism when it relies on Quinn’s Same-Sex Dynamics volume (227n33, 235n7n9n14, 237n50).
At no point does Tabernacles give any indication that Same-Sex Dynamics’s treatment has been challenged on numerous grounds by Latter-day Saint and nonmember scholars.9 Particularly on the issue of [Page 113]the Church’s supposed “relative tolerance” of same-sex acts, Same-Sex Dynamics has been decisively rebutted by its more thorough reviewers.10 Wrote one non-Latter-day Saint reviewer:
Quinn’s interpretation is on thin ice. He imputes a homosexual substrate to much behavior that participants regarded as innocent. He pushes his readings, sometimes[Page 114] through innuendo … sometimes through an annoying use of rhetorical questions. … He also presents controversial interpretations as undeniable or commonly accepted.11
Another reader who is not a Latter-day Saint wrote:
Quinn’s interpretation of certain material is on shaky ground. … There are places where Quinn’s reading of nineteenth- century notions adopted by the Mormons is driven by his desire to make the theory fit the case.12
Tabernacles does not engage these concerns, nor give the reader any hint that they exist. A sample of Same-Sex Dynamics’s errors in the pages cited include:13
- Portraying Brigham Young as indifferent to homosexual sin;14
- Ignoring evidence (which it cites in another context) demonstrating that a provisional penal code for the state of Deseret explicitly forbade male-male sodomy;15
- Claims that there were “no early Mormon leader[s] to quote against homosexuality or homoerotic behaviors.”16
Other problems on pages not referenced by Tabernacles which speak to the unreliability of Same-Sex Dynamics’s claims, are found in Appendix I. In sum, as one reviewer put it:
The volume is a highly personal work of great merit, but from a disciplined historical perspective, the study has problems. … On a number of … occasions, Quinn elevates to fact material that can at best be categorized as supposition, offers [Page 115]uncertain evidence, and draws conclusions that the evidence does not warrant. … As a disciplined and objective historical study of lesbians, gays, sexual issues, and Mormon culture, this volume has serious drawbacks.17
These problems speak precisely to the claims Same-Sex Dynamics is used to support in Tabernacles. It may be that Same-Sex Dynamics is right and its critics wrong — but Tabernacles must demonstrate it.
As Mitton and James noted, “While Latter-day Saints may resist Quinn’s sophistry, it seems that the academic and especially the homosexual worlds will be enthralled by his claims.”18 In Tabernacles’s case, they were right.
Same-Sex Encounters Common among Leaders?
Following in the footsteps of Same-Sex Dynamics,19 Tabernacles attempts to demonstrate the early twentieth-century Church’s leniency toward homosexual acts by writing:
These [same-sex] encounters were common enough that even high-ranking church leaders engaged in them. In 1946, the church’s presiding patriarch, Joseph F. Smith (d. 1964; not to be confused with the earlier church president of the same name), took a young male lover who had just returned from service in the navy. The young man’s father outed Smith to church authorities when he discovered the relationship. As a consequence, Smith was released from his church duties and moved in exile to Hawaii on the pretense of his back injuries — but was not excommunicated. In contrast, when church leaders discovered a sexual affair of apostle Richard R. Lyman (d. 1963) with his elderly mistress in this same period, they publicly announced his excommunication for violating “the Christian law of chastity.” (62–63)
Tabernacles begins by committing what historian David Hackett Fischer called the fallacy of the lonely fact. This fallacy, says Hacker, “deserves to receive special condemnation. It may be defined as a statistical generalization from a single case.”20 A single case — that [Page 116]of presiding patriarch Smith — proves nothing about how common anything was, nor does it prove that “high-ranking church leaders” (note the unsubstantiated plural) “engaged in them.”21 Tabernacles’s language would make one think that such acts by leaders were known to be frequent and widespread. But it presents no evidence of this. Fischer warned specifically:
As long as the majority of historians continue to conduct their “research” impressionistically and to cast their findings in a simple narrative, the fallacy of the lonely fact is likely to flourish. Whenever the reader sees a mighty generalization, followed by a minute example, and the telltale phrase “for instance,” or “for example,” he should be on his guard against this error.
But often the fallacy of the lonely fact occurs without warning. The only defense is research in depth, of the sort which readers are rarely equipped to carry out.22
Tabernacles asserts that the treatment of apostle Lyman and patriarch Smith provide a “contrast.” They do, but not as portrayed. The next couple of sections examine these cases with more attention to detail — the “research in depth” that Fischer recommends.
Richard R. Lyman
Thorough treatments of Lyman and Smith are available, and though Tabernacles cites the article on Lyman, it mentions none of the information that undercuts its thesis.23 Ordained an apostle in 1918, Lyman was assigned to help Anna Jacobsen, a convert to the Church [Page 117]who had been married in an unauthorized plural marriage.24 By the mid- 1920s, the apostle and the sister he had been assigned to counsel had become emotionally close. At this point, Jacobsen was only fifty-three — a year younger than Lyman — even though Tabernacles characterized her as Lyman’s “elderly mistress” (63).25 By 1938, the relationship had become sexual.26
When rumors of the relationship reached the Quorum of the Twelve, they took action. Lyman and Jacobsen were caught in flagrante by Harold B. Lee, Joseph Fielding Smith, and police. At his disciplinary hearing, Lyman confessed to the relationship, as both George Albert Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith reported in their journals.27 Elder George F. Richards’s diary noted that Lyman “confessed his guilt and stated that it had been carried on for ten years or more, and that he had similar associations with other women before he was made an Apostle.”28
Elder Spencer W. Kimball wrote that Lyman “minimized his act and seemed to feel that it should be overlooked but showed no repentance and expressed no sorrow for his sin. He tried to link his sin with polygamy but the evidence gave no corroboration to the story. … No tears from him but plenty from the rest of us.”29
Lyman’s lack of contrition is obvious from his later behavior:
Lyman’s secretary worried that the ex-apostle was not fully “aware of the gravity of what he had done”. … In fact, Lyman returned to work in the LDS Church Office Building the next week, asking that he be allowed to keep his office. … A few weeks later, on December 8, 1943, Lyman requested rebaptism … and was denied. … Initially Richard Lyman tried to rationalize his relationship with Jacobsen as a kind of proto- marriage and could not understand his colleagues’ [Page 118]harsh reaction … The response of Lyman’s quorum was perhaps driven as much by his obfuscation as by his actual adultery. Over the next several years, as Lyman worked to salvage his life, his resentment festered. He was convinced that his punishment did not fit his offense.30
Six years later, Lyman was still attempting to excuse himself. In a letter to an apostle, he wrote: “For reasons that seemed to me to justify it I agreed to regard that woman as my wife and she agreed to regard me as her husband. While no written note was made of this agreement at the time the date I feel sure was Nov[ember] 9, 1925. This relationship had gone on for 18 years in a most quiet way.”31
In May 1952, Lyman met with the Twelve. Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
He … abused the members of the Council, especially those who were present at the time he was excommunicated, feeling that they had treated him harshly. His entire time was spent in abuse of the brethren and an attempt to justify himself in his wrong-doing. I informed him that he was not ready to return [to] the Church and was sustained by my brethren. He admitted continued adultery relations since his excommunication. It is a sad case.32
Spencer W. Kimball’s journal further demonstrates Lyman’s prevarication, the inconsistencies in his testimony, and his ongoing defiance.
He excused his trouble on the grounds of plural marriage claiming that he and the woman had an arrangement (this she denied) for their eventual sealing for eternity. He admitted the sexual experiences but seemed to feel they were “not so bad” in view of the circumstances. … There was little or no evidence of repentance, but much of self-justification. …
This was a sad day. Had he been repentant, how glad I would have been to have voted for his baptism!!!! I was convin[c]ed that [Page 119]he had permitted self-justification to almost wholly crowd out repentance.33
In October 1952, Kimball met Lyman again at Joseph Fielding Smith’s instruction. Kimball reported:
Our discussion brought out the fact that since his excommunication … he admits to having gone to the home of [his mistress] on at least three occasions, the last time being about nine months ago. … On each of these occasions he admits to having had illicit relations with her. … He has had these further associations … without any knowledge of Sister Lyman or other members of his family.
He vigorously resists the characterizing of these associations as adultery and continues to press the fact that he and she have considered themselves as “almost” husband and wife. His attention was called to the fact that at the time of his excommunication both he and she denied that their association had been under the guise of plural marriage or in anticipation of it.34
Finally, in “1954, Lyman decided to swallow what remained of his pride, to acknowledge his transgression, and to explicitly seek the forgiveness of his wife and colleagues.” He was ultimately rebaptized that year.35
It gives me no pleasure to linger over this episode, but I felt that Tabernacles’s argument made it necessary.
Joseph F. Smith II
Tabernacles relies heavily on the work of Gary Bergera36 in dealing with the case of Joseph F. Smith II, grandson of Church President Joseph F. Smith and nephew to President Joseph Fielding Smith. He was ordained presiding patriarch on 8 October 1942; for clarity I refer to him as Joseph II herein.37 Despite Same-Sex Dynamics’s efforts to attribute [Page 120]homosexual acts to Joseph II in 1926, Bergera notes, “I have not been able to independently substantiate that any high-ranking LDS Church authority knew of, or suspected, such reports and/or activities regarding Joseph F. Smith [II] prior to 1946.”38
Byram Browning, a young sailor, told his father about some type of same-sex encounter with the married Joseph II in 1946. This led Browning’s father to report the matter to Church leaders.39
George Albert Smith met with Joseph II for more than two hours, and “the questions and implied accusations apparently caught Joseph [II] completely off-guard.”40 George Albert’s July 1946 journal reported, “Bad situation. Am heartsick.”41 Joseph Fielding Smith was aghast:
Matters of a most serious nature were presented by the Presidency which brought a shock to me and my breathren [sic], this was of a nature which I do not feel at liberty or capable of discussion. It is enough for me to say that what was presented was a shock to me of the greatest magnitude, and I think likewise to my brethren, or some of them.42
George Albert Smith would arrange a meeting with both Joseph II and his accused partner, describing it as “a pitiable case.”43 Some of Joseph II’s family later sought to discuss the matter with J. Reuben Clark Jr., a counselor in the First Presidency. Clark declined and referred them to George Albert Smith. When asked if this was because “You do not care to discuss it,” Clark replied, “It is not quite that, it is not my place to discuss it with you, that is placed with the President of the Church.”44
George Albert Smith continued in “attempts to uncover additional, possibly exculpatory, information,” but these “proved futile and soon ceased. … In 1947 Joseph F. Smith [and his family] relocated to Honolulu, Hawaii, where local LDS Church leaders were quietly directed not to extend any callings nor to issue a temple recommend to the former General Authority.”45
The lack of public excommunication “suggests that Joseph [II]’s behavior was probably not overtly sexual (meaning genital contact in some [Page 121]form),” argues Bergera. “However, if [there were] reported hugs, kisses, and possibly affectionate caresses, the presiding authorities may have felt that such behavior was inappropriate.”46 Bergera argues that other contemporary evidence demonstrates that homosexual fondling, for example, was not typically treated with the same severity as completed intercourse.47
Leniency Toward Smith vs. Lyman
Tabernacles assures readers that there is a contrast between Lyman and Smith. This is right, but not because one was guilty of a heterosexual sin and the other a homosexual one. Instead:
- Lyman admitted to unrepentant adultery with other women prior to his call to the Twelve. Joseph II admitted to nothing similar;
- In his role as apostle, Lyman had been assigned to work with a member in distress and had ultimately committed adultery with her. Joseph II’s situation involved no similar boundary violation (as it might be called today);
- Lyman admitted to multiple episodes of adultery and continued even after his excommunication. With Joseph II, there is no evidence of repeat offenses after discipline;
- Lyman would change his story repeatedly, contradicting both his and his mistress’s contemporary testimony. Joseph II did nothing like this;
- Lyman persisted in self-justification both before and after his excommunication. There is no evidence that Joseph II did so;
- Lyman’s crimes clearly involved repeated episodes of heterosexual intercourse. The evidence for completed intercourse in the case of Joseph II’s homosexual behavior is limited, and his indiscretion may have stopped short of what was perceived to be a more severe transgression.48
Given these differences, it is hardly surprising that Joseph II was treated with more “leniency” than Lyman. This proves nothing, however, about homosexual sin being regarded as less serious.
It is helpful to compare the reaction of Joseph Fielding Smith to both imbroglios. In the case of Lyman, Smith was shocked and sad; he called his assignment to investigate Lyman’s adultery “a very disagreeable [Page 122]task but one which seemed to be necessary.”49 The admission that such “charges … of a most serious nature” were true led to “sadness and heavy hearts.”50
Smith likewise termed Joseph II’s charges as “most serious,” but in contrast to Lyman’s case, the accusations against the Church patriarch caused “shock” because “this was of a nature which I do not feel at liberty or capable of discussion.”51
Clearly, Smith and his colleagues did not see homosexual activity as less serious than heterosexual sins. If anything, they were more shocked and appalled.
In my opinion, the “lighter” treatment given to Joseph II derives in part from the factors listed above. Church leaders also probably saw Joseph II’s behavior as more scandalous and shameful — for him, for his family, and for the Church. Joseph II’s contrition and his decision to avoid justifying himself to others inside and outside the Church made it possible to keep the matter private, whereas Lyman’s long- standing rebellion and persistent self-justification made his public excommunication necessary.
These papers were all available to Tabernacles. It even cites three words from one of them, but fails to evaluate their broader implications.
Evidence of Nineteenth-Century Attitudes
Connell O’Donovan describes the legal environment in nineteenth-century Utah as applied to the rape of a young boy by Frederick Jones in 1864:
The boy then told his father, who pressed charges against Jones. A week later Jones was in the Salt Lake City jail awaiting trial for sodomy. … [T]he justice determined that the “evidence was clear and conclusive against Jones,” went into recess to “examine the law on the subject,” but then discovered that Utah had no anti-sodomy law. When Jones appeared for sentencing, he was released. He set off on foot for Fort Douglas but reached only the corner of First South and State Street, where he was killed. Witnesses heard gunshots, saw the flash of pistol fire, and heard the sound of retreating footsteps, but no one reported to have actually witnessed the murder. …
[Page 123]Although the Jones suit actually dealt with violent pedophilia (an adult raping a pre-pubescent child), I include it because the judicial response shows that many Utahns saw only that the perpetrator and victim were male and focused solely on the issue of sodomy. …
Many Mormons felt little sorrow at the murder of Frederick Jones. Albert Carrington, editor of the Deseret News and future LDS apostle, editorialized that Jones’s murder “should prove a warning to all workers of abominations, for there is always the chance that some one [sic] will be impatient of the law’s delay in cases so outrageous and abominable.” As D. Michael Quinn has documented, even Brigham Young responded to the outcome of the Jones trial, writing in November 1864 that Utah lacked an anti-sodomy law at that time because “our legislators, never having contemplated the possibility of such a crime being committed in our borders[,] had made no provision for its punishment.”52
The same issue of the Deseret News regarded the act as “an outrage too gross for publication,” which undermines efforts to see contemporary attitudes as lenient.53
Early Proposed Legal Code
There is an earlier legal example that O’Donovan does not mention. Same-Sex Dynamics used it in one context but failed to address it when attempting to prove that early Latter-day Saints were relatively tolerant of homosexual acts. A suggested penal code was read to Brigham Young on 23 January 1850:
When the provisional State of Deseret enacted a penal code in early 1851, it had a clause to the effect that, “if any man or boy shall have, or attempt to have, any sexual intercourse with any of the male creation, on conviction thereof, they shall be deemed guilty of Sodomy, and be fined or imprisoned, or both, as the court may direct.”54
[Page 124]No lenience is in evidence.
Other Ecclesiastical Examples
Same-Sex Dynamics describes a December 1856 case in which a woman “was trying to seduce a young girl.” The accused confessed to heterosexual adultery, but “denied having any hand in trying to seduce [the girl] though the testimony seems plain against her.”55 This hardly seems congruent with leaders who view homosexuality leniently. If the evidence were compelling, why would the accused admit to adultery, but deny an attempted homosexual seduction if nineteenth-century Saints were lenient about same-sex acts?56
In 1882, Joseph F. Smith wrote to a stake president regarding three men guilty of homosexual conduct: “‘Get the names of all of them & cut them off from the church’ for ‘obscene, filthy & horrible practices’” Their acts were a “monstrous iniquity, for which Sodom & Gomorrah were burned with fire sent down from heaven.”57 This is not lenience.
Same-Sex Dynamics likewise reports that in 1886, a bishop was punished because three young men from outside his ward “testified that while each was alone in bed with [him] … the bishop had used the young [Page 125]man’s hand to masturbate himself” and taught them to do the same. The bishop admitted to one charge, and the local paper described “disgusting things” that were “an unmentionable crime.”58
Same-Sex Dynamics writes of the “shocked references in diaries and newspapers,” but does not explain how shock helps the claim that nineteenth century Saints were lenient in their views of homosexual acts.59 The same bishop was later “excommunicated … for what the anti-Mormon Tribune and some contemporary Mormons called ‘sodomy.’”60
Conclusion — Nineteenth-Century Evidence
The pages of Same-Sex Dynamics cited by Tabernacles include several other examples.61 An analysis of the errors in these further claims is found in Appendix II. These do not support Tabernacles’s contention that there was a lenient attitude in nineteenth-century Utah any more than the above examples do.
The citizens’ and law’s reaction to legal cases makes it implausible to claim that nineteenth century Saints or their leaders were unaware of or indifferent to homosexual sin. One must also ask how likely it is that awareness of or concern about such acts failed to persist personally and institutionally into the early twentieth-century Church.
An Early Twentieth-Century Gap?
Tabernacles’s account focuses on the twentieth century, and so does not consider most nineteenth-century statements in any detail. Appealing to Same-Sex Dynamics, Tabernacles claims, “The first half of the twentieth century provides mostly a profound silence of LDS discourse on the sins of sodomy, homosexuality, or other cognates” (55). Supposedly, “in the early twentieth century, there was virtually no public teaching on same- sex sexual relationships in the church” (55).62 “The birth of LDS attention to what was becoming known as ‘homosexuality’ belongs to the period after World War II,” i.e., after 1945 (55–56).
[Page 126]It is worthwhile to examine the nineteenth-century sources prior to considering those of the first half of the twentieth century. Without considering what, if anything, was said about homosexual behavior in the nineteenth century, one would be hard placed to determine whether the first decades of the twentieth century were virtually or profoundly silent. (As already shown, legal and ecclesiastical attitudes were decidedly not lenient in several cases.)
As Tabernacles notes, the term homosexual was not in broad usage until the 1950s and was first used in Latter-day Saint discourse by J. Rueben Clark Jr. in 1952 (63). Further, “the lack of ecclesiastical attention in sermons does not mean the possibility and practice of same- sex intercourse was unknown among the Saints” (55).
Same-Sex Dynamics argues that Joseph Smith saw Sodom and Gomorrah as guilty only of “rejecting the prophets,” not homosexual sin. Quinn insists that those who preached against sodomy later either “revised” or “made a complete reversal of” Joseph’s “nonsexual interpretation of Sodom’s destruction.”63
It is certainly true that Joseph said that “the cities of Sodom & Gomorrah were destroyed for rejecting the Prophets.”64 But in a transparent example of special pleading, Same-Sex Dynamics acts as if the cases are mutually exclusive — as if there could not be both sexual and nonsexual charges against Sodom and her sister city.65 These infamous cities did reject the prophets.
This does not rule out sexual sins. Even in Joseph’s lifetime, John Taylor would write in Times and Seasons and Millennial Star:
Another very eminent Evangelical church existed in great numbers, in Asia; there were several very notable cities that were eminently skilled in the doctrine of paying no attention to the messages that might be sent to them. I refer to the [Page 127]famous cities of Admah, Zeboim, Sodom, Gomorah, Zoar, &c. When the angels of God went they abused them.66
One could, it seems, both reject the messages and be guilty of attempted homosexual mistreatment of the messengers.67
Joseph did not repudiate the sexual aspect of their sin. In his theology, no group would be punished for their sins without prophetic warning.68 A rejection of divine messengers was thus a necessary capstone upon their sinfulness, not the sole sign of it. They would have had no need of prophetic warning had they no other sins.
[Page 128]The Joseph Smith Translation
Neither Same-Sex Dynamics nor Tabernacles cite the earliest evidence of Joseph’s view of homosexual acts — his revision of the King James Bible.69 If Joseph were inclined to soften the biblical stance on homosexual activity, his revision would have provided the ideal opportunity. Instead, the prohibition was strengthened, as reviewers critical of Same-Sex Dynamics have shown.70 The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) intensified the Sodom story in Genesis:
[KJV v. 9a] stand back and they were angry with him and they said again among themselves this one fellow man came in to sojourn among us and he will needs now make himself to be a judge now we will deal worse with thee him than with them. wherefore they said unto the man we will have the men and thy daughters also and we will do with them as seemeth us good now this was after the wickedness of Sodom. [KJV v. 8] And Lot went out at the door unto them and ssaid [sic] behold now I have two daughters which have not known [p. 46] man let me I pray you plead with my breatheren that I may not bring them out unto you and do ye shall not do unto them as is seemeth good in your eyes for God will not justify his servent, <in this thing> wherefore let me plead with my breatheren this once only that unto these men ye do nothing that they may have peace in my house for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof [KJV v. 9b] and they pressed upon the man, even and they were angry with Lot and came near to break the door but the men Angels of God which were holy men put forth their hand and pulled < Lot > into the house unto them and shut to the door.71
[Page 129]The JST eliminates the idea of Lot offering up his virgin daughters to appease a mob; it emphasizes, however, that the homosexual acts were “after the wickedness of Sodom.”
Likewise, Joseph’s revision of Romans 1 — which even unedited contains one of the apostle Paul’s strongest condemnations of homosexual activity — reads:
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God according to some in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
And some are inexcusable, who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:26–32).72
[Page 130]Instead of beginning with the JST, Tabernacles starts with evidence from late in Joseph Smith’s lifetime, noting that John C. Bennett was charged with soliciting sex from men (55). The Bennett material could be seen as an ad hominem attempt to undermine Bennett’s reputation. Joseph’s early revisions of the scriptures, however, cannot be seen in that light, and are thus even more convincing evidence of the Prophet’s view of homosexual behavior.
Identifying References to Homosexual Behavior
That Sodom and its sister city have long been synonymous with homosexual activity needs no demonstration.73 To completely identify references among the Saints — particularly during the period in which the term homosexual was not in general use — it is necessary to look for Sodom and related words, as Tabernacles, following Same-Sex Dynamics, indicates.
When proper research is done there is, indeed, a large number of references. In addition to looking for Sodom and related words, the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum have long provided delicate authors with overt or oblique reference to homosexual conduct. [Page 131]This was something of a nineteenth-century commonplace74 and in 1884 [Page 132]John Taylor appealed to these cities’s proverbial corruption:
Was it at the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, when ten righteous persons could not be found to avert the wrath of an offended God, or in Pompeii or Herculaneum, who, in their turn, for their libidinous and unrighteous practices, as Sodom and Gomorrah, suffered the vengeance of eternal fire? No. Was it in the Saturnalia of the Bacchanals of ancient Greece and Rome? No. Those nations have been long overthrown. … Was it under the influence of Bacchus, or in the midnight revelings as exhibited in Rome under Nero. No.75
Thus, one ought to look for examples beneath Mt. Vesuvius too.
Furthermore, nineteenth-century Saints were not unaware of New Testament scriptures that condemned and forbade homosexual acts. These were sometimes characterized as the “crime against nature,” drawing on Romans 1.76
Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 were popular texts in early Latter-day Saint publications; they were often cited as evidence of the wickedness of the world in which the Saints lived. One cannot know to what degree the audience focused on the condemnation of homosexual acts, but at the very least these examples demonstrate that the frank New Testament language was frequently before their eyes. There are at least five such usages, not reproduced here because they tend to be repetitive.77
In addition, Church leaders’ teachings are often repeated through republication or citation — there are at least nine examples. These too are [Page 133]not reproduced here.78 It would be naïve to think that nineteenth-century leader-produced material didn’t influence subsequent twentieth-century leaders and the material they produced both for other readers and for the general membership.79
I will now review examples using Sodom, Gomorrah, Pompeii, and the “crime against nature” from nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint discourse.80 I have not, however, included every reference to “Sodom.” It is often mentioned in passing without discussing the sins of its people specifically (e.g., the Millennial Star contains at least 39 examples). Such cases do not add much to a history of the teaching targeted at homosexual sin. On the other hand, the frequent use of Sodom as a trope for peculiar and intolerable wickedness suggests that there was a great deal that often went without saying.
Given that same-sex acts are not always explicitly described, each example is categorized as either a Certain, Probable, or Possible reference to homosexual acts. A few cases (marked “Mention Only” herein) are included as examples of how often Sodom was referred to, if only in passing.81 Each categorization appears, in brackets, at the end of each example.
In 1835, the Church’s official periodical wrote:
We believe it justly deducible for the foregoing premises; that God warned the Antedeluvians, the Sodomites, and others, [Page 134]previously to their overthrow, and that their destruction came upon them in consequence of their great wickedness and disobedience.82 [Possible]
Six months later, Josiah’s reforms were celebrated: “He brake down the houses of the Sodomites; he put down the idolatrous priests, and the priests that burnt incense to Baal.”83 [Probable]
In 1844, John Taylor wrote in the Times and Seasons:
Certainly if any person ought to interfere in political matters, it should be those whose minds and judgments are influenced by correct principles — religious as well as political. Otherwise those persons professing religion would have to be governed by those who make no professions; be subject to their rule; have the law and word of God trampled under foot, and become as wicked as Sodom and as corrupt as Gomorrah, and be prepared for final destruction.84 [Possible]
In 1845, soon after Joseph’s death, the Times and Seasons wrote:
Sure enough “hell” is in the midst of the earth, and when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed they sunk down to hell, and the water covered up the unhallowed spot. Jude knew this when he wrote: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” …
No wonder we have earthquakes, hot springs and convulsions in the earth, if the damned spirits of six thousand years, ante deluvians, Sodomites, Egyptians, apostates of Israel, and mobbers [Page 135]of Babylon, which have gone down (into the pit) quickly, act like their fellow servants of this generation!85 [Certain]
Moving to the Utah period, in 1853 Parley P. Pratt emphasized Sodom’s “lawless abominations” and “strange and unnatural lusts” when he said:
The Sodomites, Canaanites, &c., received the reverse of this blessing. Instead of giving them a multiplicity of wives and children, He cut them off, root and branch, and blotted their name from under heaven, that there might be an end of a race so degenerate. Now this severity was a mercy. If we were like the people before the flood, full of violence and oppression; or if we, like the Sodomites or Canaanites, were full of all manner of lawless abominations, holding promiscuous intercourse with the other sex, and stooping to a level with the brute creation, and predisposing our children, by every means in our power, to be fully given to strange and unnatural lusts, appetites, and passions, would it not be a mercy to cut us off, root and branch, and thus put an end to our increase upon the earth? You will all say it would.86 [Certain]
Two years later, in his Key to the Science of Theology, Pratt would warn:
While to pervert our natures, and to prostitute ourselves and our strength to mere pleasures, or to unlawful communion of the sexes, is alike subversive of health, of pure, holy and lasting affection; of moral and social order; and of the laws of God and nature. …
The people before the flood, and also the Sodomites and Canaanites, had carried these corruptions and degeneracies so far that God, in mercy, destroyed them, and thus put an end to the procreation of races so degenerate and abominable.87 [Probable]
[Page 136]In 1857, Brigham Young said: “We can make the Territory of Utah one of greatest sinks of iniquity upon the face of the whole earth, and exceed the abominations of the ancient Sodomites, if we are so disposed.”88 [Probable]
In 1858, John Taylor would caution:
You read of Sodom and Gomorrah, and of the antediluvians, that every imagination of their hearts was only evil, and that continually. You read again of the abominations of Nineveh, of Babylon, of ancient Rome, and of the bestiality that was practised among them: they were sunk in an awful state of degradation and corruption. They still are under the influence of the god of this world, who rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience, and leads them captive at his will.89 [Probable]
It is clear that the nineteenth-century Saints were no strangers to the idea that the sins of fallen Rome involved more than adultery; it was associated with “bestiality,” “abominations,” “an awful state of degradation and corruption,” and “Sodom and Gomorrah.” It is likewise clear that Taylor understands this to refer to homosexual acts. In a later talk, he said:
[God] cut off the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in consequence of their corruptions, and by and by he will shake all the inhabitants of the earth … because of some of these corruptions that Brother Joseph F. Smith has briefly hinted at, namely, the perversion of the laws of nature between the sexes, and the damnable murders that exist among men.90 [Certain]
[Page 137]And, in 1882 he returned to the same theme:
We cannot hold communion with people who are corrupt, low and degraded. … We know the infamies which exist there, the licentiousness, the corruption, the social evil, adulteries, fornication, sodomy, child murder, and every kind of infamy. And they come here and want to teach our children these things. … We don’t want these practices insidiously introduced among us. We want to preserve our purity, our virtue, our honor, and our integrity.91 [Certain]
In 1879, Wilford Woodruff warned:
Darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people,” … and the devil is ruling over his own kingdom, and wickedness and abominations of every kind have increased … until the whole earth is filled with murders, whoredoms, blasphemies, and every crime in the black catalogue that was manifest in the antediluvian world, or Sodom and Gomorrah, until the whole earth groans under its abominations.92 [Probable]
In 1880, a Latter-day Saint wrote in his private diary: “I think this n[a]tion will beat the anti-deluvians [sic] or Sodomites for seduction, prostitution and whoredom.”93 [Probable]
In 1883, The Contributor wrote: “According to the laws of Moses, idolatry, violating the Sabbath day, homicide, adultery, incest, rapes, crimes against nature, blasphemy, witchcraft, and the striking and cursing father and mother were punished by death.”94 [Certain]
[Page 138]In 1886, two members of the First Presidency — John Taylor and George Q. Cannon — wrote:
The Gentile or Christian world today can no more commit sins, and be guilty of lying, stealing, blasphemy, whoredom or murder, or committing abominations, and escape the wrath of God, than could Sodom and Gomorrah, or the antediluvian world, or ancient Israel.95 [Probable]
Earlier I mentioned John Taylor’s 1884 reference to Pompeii.96 In 1873, future president of the Church Lorenzo Snow toured Italy and reported:
The next day we spent a few hours very agreeably in the celebrated Museum of Naples; which … constitutes a general depot of the two ancient cities, Pompeii and Herculanaeum. … The “Secret Cabinet,” which was formerly closed to all visitors, is now open to gentlemen, but is still closed to ladies and the Catholic clergy. Its contents exhibit, in a striking manner, the dissipated public taste: and the licentious and beastly practices of the inhabitants of those doomed cities, Pompeii and Herculanaeum, showing that they well merited the terrible judgment meted out to them so suddenly.97 [Possible]
A later nineteenth-century account in The Contributor echoed the same themes:
The frescoes or painted plaster from the walls, have in many instances been conveyed from Pompeii to the National Museum at Naples. … The high, well preserved coloring of the paintings is remarkable. The subjects suggest a very fast, immoral life, that doubtless made the judgment which decreed the destruction of Pompeii a just one. Many signs besides, remain to indicate how the Pompeians were a people given [Page 139]to luxury, indolence and sin. Their theatres, baths, places of assignation and rendezvous are coming to light.98 [Possible]
Misrepresentation of Nineteenth-Century Sources
Tabernacles does briefly cite a talk by George Q. Cannon from 1879 (portion by Tabernacles, 55 is here in boldface):
I consider our false tradition upon this subject one of the greatest evils at the present time that exists upon the earth. It has come down to us from the Greeks and Romans, than whom [sic] a more abominable lot of people never lived upon the earth. To read their books is enough to make a man with the least feeling of modesty blush and be ashamed of his race. Yet they are introduced into our literature. Whoever reads Horace, Sallust, and numbers of those authors, well knows how full of corruption they are, Not only crimes, but crimes against nature were justified by some of the best and most noted of Greek philosophers, and were practised by Sophocles, Socrates, and others; and yet this is the philosophy that has come down to us.99 [Certain]
Tabernacles also mentions Cannon’s 1897 address via a summary: “Cannon suggested that the cure for sodomy would be the destruction of all such practitioners in one generation, preventing its spread through contagion” (55).
Compare this summary with the actual text:
The abominations and secret wickedness that are practiced among the nations are intruding themselves among us. Unspeakable practices are creeping in. They are varied in character. If we spoke of them at all, we would have to disguise their abominable character. In our own nation, and in the nations of the earth, there is a condition of things that, if we knew of it, would appall us. [Oscar Wilde] was found to be guilty [Page 140]of a most abominable crime — a crime for which under the old law the penalty was death; a crime which was practiced by the nations of old and caused God to command their destruction and extirpation. … And is this common? If we may believe that which is told us, without going into researches ourselves, it and other kindred wickedness, is far too common. The same sin that caused the utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah! This and other abominable crimes are being practiced. How will these be stopped? Only by the destruction of those who practice them. Why, if a little nest of them were left that were guilty of these things, they would soon corrupt others, as some are being corrupted among us. In coming to these mountains we hoped to find a place where we could live secluded from the abominations of Babylon.100 [Certain]
It is important to be clear that what Tabernacles calls Cannon’s “contagion” comes via example and teaching, not (as might be assumed from “contagion”) from the unwitting spreading the problem to the unaware. Tabernacles claims that “Cannon presupposed all were at risk of sodomy” (55). But he does not say so.
Instead, he emphasizes that the guilty “perpetuate the knowledge” and seduce others into “these dreadful practices” by teaching “the filthy details and the exact forms and methods.”101 So, one must actively seek to spread such knowledge, and another one must actively learn it.
For Cannon, this is the same model that applies to all sin: the wicked may tempt susceptible others into sin, as his talk makes clear.
If am determined to listen to Satan and to be influenced by his spirit, [God] will suffer me, in the exercise of my agency, to do that. …
We talk of Satan being bound. Satan will be bound by the power of God; but he will be bound also by the determination of the people of God not to listen to him, not to be governed by him. The Lord will not bind him and take his power from the earth while there are men and women willing to be governed by him. …
We should, as a people, guard against these things. All sorts of evils are introducing themselves. We have men here with whom a woman can no more be trusted that she could be in the [Page 141]den of a wolf — and men of respectable appearance, and who act as though they might be gentleman. … This class of men prey upon the other sex, and have brought themselves to think that it is neither sinful nor wrong. … And these people come among us, and consort with us! Our young men, too, consort with them and some of them take lessons from them.102
The homosexual sinner is, for Cannon, just like the heterosexual one — both have weakness that can lead them to “take lessons” from a sinner and become sinners themselves. Others (like the true “respectable … gentleman”) will not be susceptible to the proffered “lessons.” To teach and learn are choices, and so “contagion” may not be the best metaphor.
Tabernacles tells readers that Cannon thought “destruction” the cure for sodomy. How did Cannon understand the matter?
We are looking forward … to the time when primitive conditions will be restored; when we shall have paradise on earth, when Eden will be restored to the earth, when Satan will be bound, when a reign of righteousness will be ushered in, when sin will be banished from the face of the earth, when what has been termed Millennial glory will be ushered in. …
But here in this secluded place wickedness intrudes itself, and is practiced in this land which we have dedicated to the Lord as a land of Zion! How can this be stopped? Not while those who have knowledge of these filthy crimes exist. The only way, according to all that I can understand as the word of God, is for the Lord to wipe them out, that there will be none left to perpetuate the knowledge of these dreadful practices among the children of men. …
When will these [evil] things end? When God visits the wicked with His judgments, as He will do. …
The knowledge of the wicked and their destruction will be preserved in our midst; but the abomination and the wickedness itself will be concealed from human knowledge, so that wickedness may be abolished in the earth, and the reign of righteousness ushered in.103
[Page 142]Tabernacles does not indicate that the “destruction” that Cannon recommends is simply God’s destruction of those who commit wicked acts in an eschatological cleansing of the earth at Jesus’s Second Coming.
Summarizing Nineteenth-Century Statements
Tabernacles returns to Same-Sex Dynamics as the authority for the claim that:
In subsequent [post-1940s] decades, church leaders adopted increasingly alarmist positions about the harms of same- sex intercourse and relationships. This was a change. Historian D. Michael Quinn traces a transition in LDS leaders’ attitudes toward homosexuality in these midcentury decades, arguing that during the 1950s the church moved from “relative tolerance” to “homophobia” and strident opposition. (63)
Tabernacles again uses Same-Sex Dynamics uncritically and with no acknowledgement of how dubious its claim of “relative tolerance” has been shown to be. It is difficult to read all these entries from the nineteenth century and conclude that there was any tolerance of homosexual acts. If anything, it is surprising how frequently early leaders mentioned an issue that was probably quite foreign to their ecclesiastical and personal experience.
Further, I have shown that those few statements that Tabernacles does cite are not adequately characterized. The many counterexamples make it difficult to accept that “the birth of LDS attention to … ‘homosexuality’ belongs to the period after World War II” (55), save in the trivial sense that it was called by different a name before then.
What, then, of Tabernacles’s treatment of the twentieth century?
Tabernacles argues that in 1897 George Q. Cannon was “among the last to speak publicly on this topic for decades” (55). As with “virtually,” and “mostly a profound silence,” “among the last” leaves considerable wiggle room.104 Such phrasing lets the book portray the sources as mostly empty, while avoiding the charge of omitting evidence if the reader knows of a counter-example or two.
It is this silence that is vital to Tabernacles’s theory. But this description does not accurately reflect all the evidence. To be sure, some of what follows is in written form, and thus technically not public [Page 143]speaking. But it is not fair to portray the twentieth century as mostly silent even if all the counter-examples were written for publication, not spoken. If nothing else, printed or spoken condemnation reveals the leaders’ attitudes, even if members never read or heard or understood.
Within five years of Cannon supposedly being “among the last to speak … for decades,” the official History of the Church would include B. H. Robert’s mention of the condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah:
The rest of the epistle [of Jude] he devotes to a description of their wickedness, comparing it with the conduct of Satan, and the vileness of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah [Certain, since Roberts refers to Jude’s rebuke of those “giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh” (Jude 1:7)].105
It was not just Church leaders who spoke in such terms. In 1926, the Millennial Star again linked Sodom with the fall and decadence of Rome: “A chaste person is pure in morals, manners, and conduct. … Nations and cities have fallen because of impurity and iniquity; consider the cases of Sodom and Gomorrah, Babylon, Rome, and others.”106 [Probable]
Spencer W. Kimball and Pompeii
At this point the pattern may be easier to see if I proceed in reverse order, before returning to the chronological approach. In 1954 Spencer W. Kimball stated:
Historians are still puzzled regarding the annihilation of the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. … Historians say the area has remained in “deathlike solitude and unmitigated and supreme desolation”. …
Some years ago we visited Rome [where] Christians [were] martyred in the arenas, while lecherous humans betrayed their sadistic depravity …
We saw the picture of Roman profligacy in excavated Pompeii, the Mediterranean resort, where the idle rich of Rome reveled in riotous living. The eruption of Vesuvius buried the city with its vomit of dust and stones and ashes.
[Page 144]We walked the streets of Pompeii where chariots had worn tracks in the stone. We saw the homes of the people, their bakeries, hospitals, and circuses. We saw their laundries, drugstores, and baths; their liquor houses and brothels. The latter were padlocked, too revolting to open to general public gaze, as the walls carried pictures in colors, still preserved, depicting the depth of their degradation …
And now in the year of our Lord 1945, there are among us those same vices which we have seen wreck empires, and we see them becoming flagrant in our own beloved nation.107 [Probable]
Kimball’s use of this imagery may include homosexual activities, as noted in the nineteenth-century examples regarding Pompeii.108
During a March 1944 mission trip Kimball
told congregations of [his] trip to Europe in 1937, when he … had stood a yard from the molten lava of Vesuvius and had toured the excavated ruins of Pompeii below, which had been buried in volcanic ash. He told of the stone roads, rutted by chariot wheels, the brothels, shown to men only, containing wall paintings portraying “all the vicious sins [Page 145]that have accumulated since Cain began his evil ways.” As in Sodom and Gomorrah, he emphasized, fire from above had extinguished the flames of human sin and uncontrolled appetite, which keep man from God’s kingdom.109 [Probable]
Here again a parallel is drawn between Sodom and Pompei.
Yet Kimball does not seem to be the only leader to have thought along these lines. Elder Ben E. Rich offered the same in an earlier 1912 conference. He reflected first on Rome’s persecution of the Christians, and then on the wickedness of Pompeii that was responsible for its destruction:
It was my privilege to visit Rome, and as I stood in the ruins of the Coliseum, I remembered the history of the faithful former-day Saints who, refusing to deny the faith, stood there in the arena. …
I went farther south [from Rome], and walked for hours through the streets of the City of Pompeii that, on account of wickedness, had been covered up by a terrible catastrophe, 79 years after Christ. But two-thirds of it is yet excavated … again I thought, here is another city that has suffered the wrath of God.110 [Possible]
Even earlier, in 1906, the Improvement Era used similar themes from a non-Church work:
Vesuvius, as quiet as the day was calm, was decked with its vines of green. No one thought of the hidden fires beneath it that would soon destroy the fair but wicked cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum at its base, as those from heaven destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.111 [Possible]
Here, as in Kimball’s 1944 account, Sodom and Gomorrah are explicitly tied to Pompeii and Herculaneum. Thus, even this one trope [Page 146]— the wickedness of Pompeii and its analogy with Sodom — is mentioned repeatedly throughout the first half of the twentieth century: in 1906, 1912, 1944, and 1945. And this mention echoes multiple nineteenth-century statements.112
A Gap in References?
If there is any period during which Tabernacles’s gap can be said to exist, it is between 1907 and 1925. But even here there are five mentions of Sodom, though most are less explicit about the city’s sins than previous examples.
1908 — Millennial Star
The inhabitants of the earth need to be taught — to repent of their sins and unbelief and turn to the Lord or they will perish as did the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. The condition of the world at the present time is most alarming; the newspapers are filled with reports of crimes committed … drunkenness and debauchery … thousands … go down to their graves every day steeped in sin and iniquity.113 [Possible]
1908 — Andrew Jenson
Of a little later period we read about some “cities on the plains” afterwards a part of the kingdom of Israel, in which the righteous were commanded to flee from the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and seek refuge in the mountains, because the Lord had decided to destroy the wicked cities of the plain [Mention only].114
[Page 147]1917 — George Albert Smith
On the plains of Mamre, when Abraham petitioned his Holy Visitor to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, he was told that even if ten righteous persons be found, a very small number, too, of the multitude, that the cities would be preserved. But only Lot and his wife and two daughters were sufficiently righteous to merit preservation. The angels told them to leave the city, and fire rained down from heaven and consumed the people, who had been warned repeatedly by the servant of God that destruction would overtake them if they failed to repent.115 [Mention only]
1920 — Melvin J. Ballard
I believe that great responsibility rests upon this generation, because light has come into the world, and men sin in the presence of light and knowledge, and thereby their condemnation exceeds the condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah.116 [Mention only]
1922 — George F. Richards
When we think of their [antediluvians’] physical destruction, their spiritual imprisonment, and their being consigned to the terrestrial kingdom, we are impressed with the seriousness of their mistake and the greatness of their disappointment. It is a terrible thing to reject the prophets and their message. All the dispensations since that time, should have profited by the unwise course and conduct of this people and the wisdom of the conduct of Noah and his family, who were true and faithful. The cities of Sodom and Gommorrah [sic] were burned by fire because of the wickedness of the people and because they rejected the messengers that had been sent them of the Lord. The same old story, and if we knew the further results, we would, perhaps, discover that they would be in the [Page 148]same class with those ante-diluvians who were destroyed by the flood.117 [Mention only]
The association of Rome, Greece, Babylon, and Sodom with homosexual sin was, by this time, well-established in Church discourse.118 An Improvement Era article of 1929 drew upon these associations.
Educational institutions are not immune from the withering effects of this new propaganda. It is not uncommon to hear expressions from educators in advocacy of doctrines which cannot be designated as other than evil. Such degeneration which manifests itself in the world often indeed parades as advanced thought. It parades as the new freedom in advocacy of indulgence in any form necessary in achieving what is called “self-expression.” Strip these practices of the adornment of modern knowledge and they are as Sodom or Babylon or Rome.119 [Probable]
Statements in 1930–1950
Still more examples can be provided to finish the first half of the supposedly silent twentieth century:
1931 — Improvement Era
Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by the Lord on account of their shocking wickedness.120 [Probable]
1934 — J. Rueben Clark Jr.
There is nothing to show whether Melchizedek had known either Abram or Bera [king of Sodom] before this time, but the close neighborhood of the Cities of the Plains, where Bera ruled, and the plain of Mamre, [Page 149]where Abram dwelt, and Salem, the home of Melchizedek, justifies the assumption that they were acquainted. Furthermore, having in mind the character of the men of Sodom — “wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” …
Abram had his mind fully matured, his course definitely determined. … Here Abram surrenders up all his own right to the booty from whatever source, and especially any taken from Bera because he does not wish to be placed under any obligation to Bera. The very terms of this self-effacement indicate the irritation, resentment, and disgust almost to loathing, which Abram felt for Bera: “I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich.” One can nearly hear an aside remark from Abram: “I have had nothing to do with you; I shall have nothing to do with you; you are without ability, you are impotent, you are unclean, a subject for God’s wrath.121 [Probable]
1940 — Sidney B. Sperry quoting Adolphe Lods
Speaking of the morals of the Canaanites, Professor Lods has said:
Israelite writers of every period agree that among the Canaanites, family ties were lightly regarded, the paternal authority was flouted, while in the matter of sexual morality, liberty was carried to the extent of licence. … The depravity of the Canaanites was notorious: witness the vices attributed to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, the reason alleged for their destruction by the fire of Jahweh (Gen. 13:13; 18:20-1; 19).122 [Certain]
1942 — Letter from the First Presidency
This letter was read in General Conference and focuses on heterosexual sin, though it also discusses both Sodom and Gomorrah and “sodomites”:
Upon the heels of the demon drink, tread the demons of unchastity — harlotry, fornication, adultery, while murder itself lurks not far behind. From Adam until now, God has commanded that His children be sexually clean. …
[Page 150]But some of us have forgotten what the Lord has said about these sins. Some of us have failed to teach our children the need for sexual purity … So, with too many, modesty has become a derided virtue, and the sex desire has been degraded to the level of hunger and thirst. From Sodom and Gomorrah until now, sex immorality, with its attendant evils of drink and corruption, has brought low the mightiest of nations, has destroyed powerful peoples, has reduced erring man almost to the level of the beasts in the field …
One of the ten basic principles of Christian society, and accepted by all worshipers of the true God, came to men at Sinai when God wrote with His own finger: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
By the laws of Moses, adulterers were stoned to death. (Deut. 22:24.) God said to Israel: “There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 23:17).123 [Certain]
1944 — Joseph Fielding Smith
There is no crime more degrading, more blighting to the soul, than the sin of unchastity. It is the enemy of society, destructive of the home and a menace to the welfare of the nation. It was because of this abhorred sin, more than to any other cause, that nations in the past decayed and fell. The people of today should take warning and profit by the experiences of the past, that we might escape like destruction. The Lord called down fire upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to hide their immoral shame. The Israelites were made instruments in the hand of the Lord to destroy the peoples of Palestine, when the “iniquity of the Amorite was full,” and, because of a similar reason, Nineveh, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Rome and other [Page 151]nations, fell; and like destruction awaits the present nations if they follow in the immoral practices of the peoples of old. …
We cannot justify ourselves in the committing of sin on the ground of having some inherent or bodily weakness that demands satisfaction. There are some people who are foolish enough to blame the Lord for their frailties and inability to keep his commandments.124 [Probable]
Considering the remarks that followed Elder Kimball’s 1945 talk on Pompeii, it is clear that matters do not change:
1946 — George Albert Smith
And when large numbers of his sons and daughters, who have been enriched with all the comforts and blessings of life, suddenly turn their backs upon that which is good and become wicked and immoral, it is only a question of time until such disasters follow as the great flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews among the races of the earth, the extermination of the white race in this land, the sons of Lehi who were destroyed by the Lamanites.125 [Mention only]
1948 — George Albert Smith (twice)
Nobody knows, when we pick up a paper today, what the headlines may read. So many lives destroyed here, so many there, some from accident, some from warfare, some from wickedness, and the greatest destruction of all that is going on in the world today is the result of immorality. There was a time, as we have been reminded, when, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah could not produce, in those two cities, ten individuals who were worthy to live. They had been so wicked that they were not fit to live any longer, and so they were consumed by fire.126 [Possible]
[Page 152]It seems to me that the world never could have been in any worse condition than it is now, even at the time of the flood, or at the time of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the time of the destruction of other places in the world, the destruction in this country at the time of the crucifixion of the Savior.127 [Mention only]
1949 — J. Reuben Clark Jr.
Later, in the days of the kingdoms, Asa, king of Judah and son of Abijam, “took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made.”128 [Certain]
Was there Institutional Silence on Homosexual Sin?
In sum, a more complete review of the evidence undermines any impression that the 1950s and 1960s broke a “silence” of attention to homosexual sin that needs to be explained or exploited. If there is a lacuna, it is during the period between 1907 and 1928, though even there the usage of Sodom imagery persists.
Biological Sex “Created and Contingent”
Premortal Male and Female — Fixed or Fluid?
The question of whether premortal beings are eternally male or female is a key example of Tabernacles’s tendency to find in the sources what its theory requires (whether it is there or not). Tabernacles’s presentation is probably most persuasive to those whose knowledge of Church theology and history is confined to what is found between its covers.
Tabernacles says, “Mormon leaders taught that human spirits were sexually dimorphic — whatever that might entail — but this cosmology of gender was far more complex in LDS theology” (40). This is a poor beginning. The scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ is clear on what sexually dimorphic spirits entail, as sources cited by Tabernacles declare repeatedly.129 The premortal Christ told a Book of Mormon prophet:
[Page 153]Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image. Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh. (Ether 3:15–16)
In Church theology and scripture, premortal human spirits are sexually dimorphic in precisely the same way that mortal humans are. “It is clear,” said Marion G. Romney, “that man’s physical body is patterned after his spiritual body.”130 There is no mystery, though Tabernacles implies otherwise.
This demonstrates a recurring problem — Tabernacles’s fluid terminology that often seems to equate rather than distinguish sex and gender.131 While “sexually dimorphic” presumably refers to biological sex or its analogue, in the next instant the book is speaking of the Church’s “cosmology of gender.”
[Page 154]Before a spirit existed as a spiritual son or daughter of Heavenly Parents, there was a prior stage of existence; an individual existed first as “intelligence.” The doctrine of intelligence as an eternal being pointed to some aspect of humanness that preceded spiritual birth, some aspect that was more fundamental to one’s identity than being gendered offspring of divinity (40).
There are, then, two options for the flavor of theology discussed by Tabernacles. That is, individuals who exist as “intelligences” prior to spirit birth may (a) be sexed in some way, which corresponds with the sex of the child of God given a spirit body; or (b) not be sexed, but only receive a sex at spirit birth.
When discussing primordial intelligence Tabernacles might with more justification add: sexed, “whatever that might entail.” For clarity, in what follows, I refer to the intelligences’s potential “sexual” differentiation as the proto-sex. For my purposes, proto-sex is some characteristic that distinguishes male from female intelligences and determines whether they receive male or female spirit bodies. It need not be physical, merely something in their “nature.”
However, there is a more serious issue that must be confronted: there were in fact two major views regarding the intelligences. Tabernacles acts as if its formulation of doctrine was the majority view, but it was not; it was only one of the available options.
Joseph Smith’s use of the term “intelligence” was seen in multiple ways:
- It was sometimes synonymous with “spirit,” (i.e., a spirit body generated by Heavenly Parents).132
- In other instances, it was the influence of God, his glory, and the Holy Spirit that extended through the universe.133
- Many thinkers saw it as a type of eternal, undifferentiated raw material from which spirit individuals were created.134
- [Page 155]For some it was the ultimate core of human personality, an eternal, necessarily existing ego that would be joined with spirit bodies at spirit birth.135
Intelligence Prior to Spirit Birth
Tabernacles’s account uses the last definition.136 It is important to understand, however, that this view was a relative novelty and potentially the minority one among leaders even in the 1950s–1970s.
There were three key sources from which theologies of “intelligence” would be constructed:
- Abraham 3:21–23 — “I [God] came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen. Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits”;
- Doctrine and Covenants 93:29–30 — “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence”;
- Joseph Smith’s King Follett discourse — This 7 April 1844 funeral sermon was the most detailed exposition of Joseph’s mature theology. We have four separate accounts. It included such concepts as:  “If man had a [beginning] he must have an end. … God never had power to create the spir[i]t of man at at all.”137  “My ring is like the [existence] of man it has no beginning or end, if Cut into their would be a beginning & end, so with man if it had [Page 156]a beginning it will have an end, if I am right I might say God never had power to Create the spirit of man, God himself Could not create himself. Intelligence is Eternal & it is self exhisting.”138  “the … mind of man is as immortal as God himself.”139  “The mind of man — the intelligent part is coequal with God himself. … their spirit exists coequal with God. … Is it logic to say that as spirit is immortal and yet have a beginning because if a spirit have a beginning it will have an end.”140
As Blake Ostler summarized, “Joseph elaborated upon the concept of man’s premortal existence. … There can be little doubt that he intended the ‘real’ preexistence of man’s primal self. … Joseph enumerated activities of pre-existent man that require individual, self-conscious and autonomous entities.”141 Ostler thus holds that some version of the theological type described by Tabernacles best matches Joseph’s meaning. This seems likely, but it cannot be assumed that all saw it this way.142
Intelligence in the Century after Joseph’s Death
It was left to others to work out the implications of Joseph’s teachings. Surviving members — including Brigham Young, Orson and Parley P. Pratt, Charles W. Penrose, and Joseph Lee Robinson — interpreted [Page 157]“intelligence” as referring to a sort of impersonal raw material of “primal particles”143 that was organized into individual spirits at spirit birth.144
In this view, individuals had a moment of creation at which they were imbued with sexed human-form bodies at spirit birth, even though the material from which such individuals were formed was eternal and uncreated. As Ostler observed, “The view that man originated when spirit matter was organized into an individual through literal spiritual birth seems to have been the only view consistently elucidated from 1845–1905.”145
Intelligence as Eternal Individual
B. H. Roberts read Joseph’s teaching and scriptural texts differently.146 He believed:
The Nature of Intelligencies: There is in that complex thing we call man, an intelligent entity, uncreated, self existent, indestructible. … he is eternal as God is; co-existent, in fact, with God; of the same kind of substance or essence with deity, though confessedly inferior in degree of intelligence and power to God. He is called an “intelligence;” and this I believe is descriptive of him. That is, intelligence is the entity’s chief characteristic. If this be a true deduction, then the entity must be self-conscious, and “others-conscious,” that is, he must have the power to distinguish himself from other things — the “me” from the “not me.” He must have the power of deliberation, by [Page 158]which he sets over one thing against another; with power also to form a judgment that this or that is a better thing or state than this or that. Also there goes with this idea of intelligence a power of choosing one thing instead of another, one state rather than another. These powers are inseparably connected with any idea that may be formed of an intelligence.147
These intelligences would go on to receive spirit bodies, says Roberts, in “an act of generation rather than creation.”148 Here, at last, is the theology to which Tabernacles refers. A key point remains, however. Roberts portrayed such primordial, eternal, necessarily existent beings as having a sex: “He — for that entity is a person; because as we shall see, he is possessed of powers that go with personality only, hence that entity is ‘he,’ not ‘it,’ — he is eternal as God is.”149
As Roberts saw it, “person” was necessarily sexed, and sex was therefore among the “essential qualities”:
But of their form, or the manner of their subsistence nothing … has been revealed, and hence we are without means of knowing anything about the modes of their existence beyond the fact of it, and the essential qualities they possess, which already have been pointed out.150
Tabernacles has not acknowledged, then, that the theology it describes was an innovation whose originator described intelligences as sexed. This flies in the face of the claim that there was “some aspect that was more fundamental to one’s identity than being gendered off-spring of deity” (40). The primordial intelligence is more fundamental than a being having a spirit body from divine Parents; it does not follow that this made it non-sexed.
Significantly, Roberts’s materials were reviewed prior to publication by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, and “both of these quorums found nothing contrary to the revealed word of God therein, and no one objected to his publishing it. In the preface to the essay, Elder Roberts makes it clear that the ideas in it are his own and are not [Page 159]given as doctrines of the church.”151 The idea would also be republished in a 1908 Church manual authored by Roberts.152
Roberts’s theory was endorsed and used by one of the apostles, John A. Widtsoe, who in 1915 wrote “sex is an eternal principle. The equivalent of sex, dimly understood by man, has always existed and will continue forever.”153
It is of note that Widtsoe appeals to an ever-existing trait like proto-sex — “the equivalent of sex, dimly understood.” This must refer to the intelligences, because spirit bodies were clearly seen as having the same form as physical bodies.154 Widtsoe wrote further:
Sex, which is indispensable on this earth for the perpetuation of the human race, is an eternal quality which has its equivalent everywhere. It is indestructible. The relationship between men and women is eternal and must continue eternally. … Whatever is on this earth is simply a representation of spiritual conditions of deeper meaning than we can here fathom.155
In a book written in 1939, and used as the Church’s priesthood manual for 1940 and 1941,156 Widtsoe wrote further:
In the Church no adjustment can be made. The Priesthood always presides and must, for the sake of order. … Sex enters [Page 160]here and is indisputable. It is eternal, so why quarrel with it? A wiser power than any on earth understands why a spirit in the far off beginning was male or female.157
So, as of 1941, it was treated as a given in every priesthood quorum in the Church that sex was eternal, notwithstanding how it came about “in the far off beginning.” Widtsoe would also republish Roberts’s view in the Church’s official magazine in 1948.158
Tabernacles’s silence on Roberts and Widtsoe is unfortunate, because these two thinkers — the originator and second main exponent of the strand of theology to which it appeals — both explicitly regarded the intelligence as having a sex that was eternal.159
The Eternity of Sex — Misreading Talmage
Tabernacles notes that in 1914, Elder James E. Talmage of the Twelve wrote: “Children of God have comprised male and female from the beginning. Man is man and woman is woman, fundamentally, unchangeably, eternally” (42).160 Talmage’s article was titled “The Eternity of Sex.”
Talmage says much that Tabernacles does not cite. His article begins: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms as reasonable, scriptural, and true the doctrine of the eternity of sex among the children of God.” Talmage declares that this doctrine is both scriptural and settled. And he insists (as evidenced in the portion cited by Tabernacles) that sex is “eternal” — that is, fundamental, unchangeable.
Definitive as this might seem, Tabernacles goes on to claim that Talmage does not address the intelligence stage of human existence:
But Talmage’s essay left many things undefined that had opened up the space for his successors to approach sexual difference in the [Page 161]preexistence differently. For instance, he did not deal with the period of existence prior to a spiritual creation as intelligence (42).161
It should now be clear how the reader can be misled by the omission of Roberts’s and Widtsoe’s insistence that sex was both eternal and a characteristic of primal intelligences. It should be equally clear why it is important to know that there were two theological understandings of primal intelligence.
If, for example, Talmage did not accept Roberts’s and Widtsoe’s version, then he was omitting nothing — in that theology, intelligence is an undifferentiated material. The individual only appears after being created as a spirit son or daughter of God with a sex. The individual thus never exists, as an individual, without a sex.
If, on the other hand, Talmage agreed with Roberts/Widtsoe, then according to them, sex is likewise eternal. In either case, sex is not something grafted onto the individual after he or she has existed individually for some time (or eternally) without a sex.
What did Talmage believe? Prior to his call to the apostleship, Talmage wrote:
In the antemortal eternities we developed with individual differences and varied capacities. So far as we can peer into the past by the aid of revealed light we can see that there was always a gradation of intelligence, and consequently of ability, among spirits. … Individualism is an attribute of the soul, and as truly eternal as the soul itself.162
Talmage’s emphasis on eternal individualism certainly sounds like acceptance of the Roberts/Widtsoe model. But even here, one must be careful. Talmage also wrote:
There are four states, conditions, or stages in the advancement of the individual soul, specified in Sacred Writ. These are (1) the unembodied, (2) the embodied, (3) the disembodied, and (4) the resurrected state.
[Page 162]In other words, (1) every one of us lived in an antemortal existence as an individual spirit; (2) we are now in the advanced or mortal stage of progress. …
As to the certainty of the antemortal state, commonly spoken of as preexistence, the Scriptures are explicit. …
In the light of these Scriptures it is plainly true that the spirits of mankind were there begotten and born into what we call the preexistent or antemortal condition. …
We were severally brought into being, as spirits, in that preexistent condition, literally the children of the Supreme Being whom Jesus Christ worshiped and addressed as Father.
The primeval spirit birth is expressively described by Abraham to whom the facts were revealed, as a process of organization and the spirits so advanced are designated as intelligences: “Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones.” (Pearl of Great Price, p. 65.)
The human mind finds difficulty in apprehending the actuality of infinite or eternal process, either from the present onward to and beyond what we call in a relative sense perfection, on, on, without end; or backward through receding stages that had no beginning. But who will affirm that things beyond human comprehension cannot be?
In the antemortal eternities we developed with individual differences and varied capacities. So far as we can peer into the past by the aid of revealed light we see that there was always gradation of intelligence, and consequently of ability, among the spirits, precisely as such differences exist amongst us mortals.163
Talmage has humans “brought into being, as spirits” and does not divide his unembodied state into primal intelligence and spiritual embodiment. Instead, those organized by spirit embodiment “and … so advanced are designated as intelligences.” Likewise, “The spirit lived as an organized intelligence before it became the embodied child of human parents; and its pre-existent individualism will be of effect in its period of earth life.”164
[Page 163]Talmage even speaks of the “genesis of every soul” — but in the Roberts/Widtsoe model there was no such genesis:
The genesis of every soul lies back in the eternity past, beyond the horizon of our full comprehension, and what we call a beginning is as truly a consummation and an ending, just as mortal birth is at once the commencement of earth life and the termination of the stage of antemortal existence.165
Talmage titled another section, “Individualism is Eternal,” and wrote:
We are confronted by this profound fact: Individualism is an attribute of the soul, and as truly eternal as the soul itself.
(1) In the unembodied, preexistent or antemortal state, we were decidedly unequal in capacity and power.
(2) We know we are not equal here in the world of mortals.
(3) Assuredly we shall not be equal after death, either in the intermediate state of disembodiment or beyond the resurrection.166
Individualism is “as … eternal as the soul,” but for Talmage a soul has a “genesis” as well. Talmage also does not mention a pre-spirit-birth intelligence: he simply begins with the premortal spirit.
Talmage likewise seems to have refrained from using Roberts’s ideas elsewhere. In The Articles of Faith, his 1899 primer on LDS theology, he began his account with spirit children of God, not pre-spirit birth intelligences. This is to be expected, since it pre-dates Roberts’s novel approach. After quoting Abraham 3, he wrote:
This is one of the many scriptural proofs that the spirits of mankind existed prior to their earthly probation — a condition in which these intelligences lived and exercised their free agency before they assumed bodily tabernacles. Thus the natures, dispositions, and tendencies of men are known to the Father of their spirits, even before they are born into mortality. …
The spirits of mankind passed through a stage of existence prior to their earthly probation. This antemortal period is oftentimes spoken of as the stage of primeval childhood or first estate. That these spirits existed as organized intelligences [Page 164]and exercised their free agency during that primeval stage is clear from the declaration of the Lord to Abraham.167
Talmage again uses intelligences to mean spirit children of God (“organized intelligences”), not the eternal primal intelligence of Roberts/Widtsoe.
Talmage’s other writing after Roberts’s theory appeared did not change its approach. Talmage would often mention the premortal state, but always as children of God, organized intelligences.168 In a 1911 address, he had a perfect opportunity to discuss Roberts’s themes, but demurred:
We regard this life as but a link connecting the eternities that have gone with the eternities that are coming; for we believe in the literal pre-existence of our spirits. We hold that the spirits of men existed as individual intelligences before they came and took upon themselves individual bodies here upon the earth, and that these spirits shall live and progress even after the body has gone to decay.169
Note, again, the mention of spirits and “individual intelligences” — but these are once again spoken of as taking on physical bodies, not taking on spiritual ones. These are not primal intelligences.
Talmage placed great value on harmony with the Quorum of the Twelve and with the First Presidency.170 His relative reticence regarding [Page 165]the Roberts/Widtsoe view may reflect the concerns that his colleagues expressed that I examine shortly.171 Or he may, like some of them, have simply thought it too speculative.
In sum, Talmage’s silence is misused when Tabernacles appeals to it in order to explain why others thinkers in the 1950s–1970s purportedly felt the need to “fill in the blanks.” There is little evidence that Talmage embraced the minority view of Roberts/Widtsoe. But if he had, it is unlikely that he would have seen intelligence as unsexed. After all, neither Roberts nor Widtsoe believed that either.
Having tried to prove that there is no mention of the pre-spirit intelligence phase in Talmage, Tabernacles’s reading gets into further trouble when it says:
Furthermore, citing the creation accounts (“male and female created he them”), [Talmage] assigned to God the choice of who was male or female as a feature of a spiritual creation. How could one both assert that God created male and female at a specific moment in time and hold that sexual difference was eternal and unchanging? (42)
This is easily answered if the reader knows that there were two schools of thought regarding intelligences. Those — like Roberts and Widtsoe — who believed in an eternal individualized intelligence held that it was sexed, and always had been.
Those who believed that intelligence was a non-specific, undifferentiated material from which new individuals were created would have had no problem with Tabernacles’s supposed dilemma either. For them, the individual did not exist until the moment of spiritual creation at “a specific moment in time.” Thus, the spirit child was sexed from the moment its individual existence began (just as a mortal child’s genetic sex is determined at conception). Its sexual differences were thus eternal and unchanged for its entire existence.
Talmage’s writings, then, do not seem to align with the Roberts/ Widtsoe option — he likely avoided discussion of a primeval intelligence state because he did not accept that interpretation of “eternal intelligence.” He did not, as Tabernacles claims, leave space before “the [Page 166]eternity of sex,” to be filled with later speculation, because he did not see that space as existing for individuals.
Readers who conceive of the teachings of the time only through what Tabernacles tells them will be misled.
Examining Supposed Non-Essentialists
Having told the reader that Talmage provided space for a theological problem to be solved, Tabernacles then claims that some sought a solution to this putative problem:
The idea that the original being, the intelligence, was ungendered received some attention in Mormon thought in the postwar period. … By portraying gender as a created and contingent feature of human identity, some church teachers used the idea of the primal agency to think about the choice an intelligence made to become male or female. (40)
Tabernacles then summarizes its argument:
Rather than appealing to an absolute, essential, and eternal form of sexual difference, Mormon leaders in the postwar period actually saw the pre-mortal and post-mortal periods as extensions of the gender fluidity and malleability of the mortal phase of human existence. That is, Mormons in this era were more likely to see sexual difference as the result of intentionally chosen gendered practices than as an unalterable nature of human identity.172 (40)
As I have shown, at least some “leaders of the postwar period” (such as Widtsoe in 1948) did not see it this way at all, and it is not yet clear whether any did.
Tabernacles cites three “LDS thinkers” in support of its view that sex was “a created and contingent” feature given to “uncreated intelligences” [Page 167]rather than being part of “an unalterable nature of human identity”: (1) BYU professors Hyrum Andrus and (2) Rodney Turner; and (3) Elder William J. Critchlow Jr., an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve.
Note, first, that these are presumably the best examples (and, perhaps, the only examples) available — which is both telling and damning given how important this claim is to the entire project. If the only leader that one can find teaching this doctrine is an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve (a position roughly analogous to the role played by today’s First Quorum of the Seventy), the reader might reasonably wonder how representative such ideas are and whether they were “often talked about” (ix).
Given the importance of these claims for Tabernacles’s interpretive model, it is worth examining the evidence from the three thinkers labelled “non-essentialists.”
Case #1: Hyrum Andrus
Tabernacles uses Andrus, a BYU professor, as follows:
By portraying gender as a created and contingent feature of human identity, some church teachers used the idea of the primal agency to think about the choice an intelligence made to become male or female. In a 1967 book, BYU religious education professor Hyrum L. Andrus described the “two stages” of pre-mortal life and the transition from intelligence to spirit. Intelligences are without form: “Nowhere in scripture or in any authoritative source is the central primal life of man said to be ‘an intelligence’ that existed as a living entity in the form and stature of man.” That is, intelligences were a pre-anthropomorphic — and pre-gendered — state of existence (40–41).
Tabernacles’s interpretation is superficial and reads more into Andrus than is said. Andrus does not say that “Intelligences are without form” — he says they are not an “entity in the form and stature of man.”173 Thus, they are certainly “pre-anthropomorphic” (pre-human form) but that does not mean that they have no form at all. Nor does this mean that they do not have a proto-sex.
[Page 168]In the next paragraph, Andrus says that “Such life or intelligence, as stated above, is as eternal as the substance in which it is inherent.”174 The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that “there is no such thing as immaterial matter” (131:7). Matter or substance cannot be immaterial in the Church’s theology.175 Andrus emphasizes this by quoting Parley P. Pratt: “They are made of the element which we call spirit, which is as much an element of material existence as earth, air, electricity, or any other tangible substance recognized by man; but so subtle, so refined is its nature, that it is not tangible to our gross organs.”176 Matter has a form of some sort, but not necessarily a human form.
Andrus says nothing whatever about the intelligence being “pre-gendered,” notwithstanding Tabernacles’s misleading gloss. He does not address the existence of a proto-sex at all. Contrary to what Tabernacles seems to assume, there is no necessity for a proto-sex to have any physical manifestation. It only needs to reflect some tendency or character of the primal intelligence.177
Andrus, in short, cannot be enlisted to support Tabernacles’s theory. He does not say what Tabernacles claims — all he says is that primal intelligence does not have human form.
Andrus wrote frequently on this theme; he tended to repeat himself from work to work. He often resorted to the same citations [Page 169]and analyses.178 One should not overlook that in a later work he even argued explicitly that primal intelligences had a proto-sex:
There is an interaction, and interrelationship, if you will receive it, between those kinds of primal intelligences that had the nature of male and those kinds that had the nature of female, even at that point had an interrelationship. …
There were those primal intelligences, I suspect, that placed primary emphasis and attention on the substance of truth. That is executive and that is male in character. Then there were those who placed primary emphasis, they still had the truth, but they placed primary emphasis on the light, on the radiance [of truth] application. On the nurturing program. By nature they fall into female category.
There was a basis for inter-relationship in various ways, I think between male and female back there.179
These details are speculative, and one may well find them unconvincing. The key point is that when Andrus did specifically discuss the question, he saw the primordial intelligences as having a proto-sex, just like Widtsoe and Roberts before him.
Case #2: Rodney Turner
Of Turner, another BYU professor, Tabernacles writes:
By 1972, another BYU religious education professor, Rodney Turner, offered the idea that gender is not an eternal characteristic, nor did God arbitrarily assign spirits to one gender or the other. Invoking Mormon ideas of agency, Turner taught that God did not coerce anyone in the moment of [Page 170]creation to being male or female. Instead, he proposed that pre-mortal agency and proclivities influenced which spirits became males and females: “The principle of agency must have played a part in anything God did. … The arbitrary assignment of sex would have rendered him particularly vulnerable to criticism.” A human’s choice to be male or female was an ancient one that went back much further than mortal birth but was nevertheless a distinct moment of personal autonomy for a pre-mortal intelligence, not assigned by God (41).
Tabernacles subtly misrepresents Turner’s words. There are five problems here. The first problem is that Tabernacles says Turner claimed that “pre-mortal agency and proclivities influenced” sex identity.180 But this is not quite what Turner says. Instead, he says “it is very likely that one’s sex reflects one’s own innate predisposition or personal choice, so must the roles the sexes play stem from their own inherent proclivities.”181
Turner does not say that “agency and proclivities” make the decision. He writes instead of “predisposition or … choice,” in intelligences as a parallel to the “inherent proclivities” of embodied spirits. The mischaracterization turns on a tiny word with a large impact.
The inaccurate word and misleads the reader by making it appear that Turner is definitively arguing that personal choice (without the impact of anything like proto-sex) was a factor. But he does not; Turner is quite open to the view that “innate predisposition” or “inherent proclivities” — i.e., proto-sex — was the determining factor.182
The second problem is that Turner’s footnote from the previous page further contradicts Tabernacles’s reading, which leaves it unmentioned. The note is obviously meant to inform the discussion that follows. Turner says there:
The origin of the sexes has not been revealed. A nascent form of sexuality [i.e., proto-sex] may have characterized each primal intelligence. In its fullness, maleness or femaleness was acquired as a genetic endowment from mankind’s celestial parents. In asserting that sex is eternal, John A. Widtsoe [Page 171]wrote: “A wiser power than any on earth understands why a spirit in the far off beginning was male or female.”183
Turner’s view thus explicitly inclines to “a nascent form of sexuality.” Contrary to Tabernacles’s claim that Turner believed that “gender is not an eternal characteristic,” Turner expressly cites Widtsoe to support the claim that “sex is eternal.”184 (Remember, Widtsoe saw the primal intelligence as eternally sexed.)
Claudia Bushman described Turner as “widely revered as the conservative’s conservative”185 and Armand Mauss characterized his book as at “the fundamentalist extreme.”186 Turner cites Widtsoe repeatedly as an authority throughout his book.187 Tabernacles’s reading would have a conservative — some have said “fundamentalist” — BYU religion professor intentionally contradicting a cited apostle, which is implausible.
The third issue is that five years earlier Turner wrote of how “an unorganized intelligence” became a “spirit child of God” and then said that, “for all practical purposes, the moral nature of man had its beginning at his birth into the family of the Father.” This shows that at that point he did not regard primordial intelligence as necessarily being capable of meaningful choice. He continued: “an analysis … fails to support the assertion that man was morally good while in that [Page 172]unorganized and independent state of existence. Indeed, the issue of man’s moral nature is not even mentioned until after the ‘intelligences’ were made subject to divine law.”188 At that time, he clearly believed: “Intelligence … was devoid of agency or volition prior to spirit birth.”189 At the very least, Tabernacles needs to acknowledge how tentative his views on this point were.
Fourth, even if one grants that Turner now accepted the operation of “personal choice,” that is not sufficient for the thesis in Tabernacles. Of sexed spirit children of God who receive physical bodies, Turner wrote:
Still, all things being equal, the chief determinant of one’s interests, attitudes, beliefs and behavior is the spirit’s own proclivities.
These proclivities are expressed through the human will which is ordinarily capable of responding to all external stimuli in its own unique way. And it is only when the spirit is free to exercise its own will (mind) that its true character can be ascertained. This is why moral agency is so vital to the work of God.190
It is unlikely that Turner would see a spirit’s proclivities in a different light than those of primordial intelligences. In both cases, such choices are being made by eternally self-existent beings.191 (In fact, he uses “proclivities” as a parallel term for “predisposition or … choice.”[Page 173]Choices must spring from reasons, or they are not true choices — they are, then, merely arbitrary or random. Turner realizes that agency is vital in part because it reveals the nature of the being making the choice. Each responds “in its own unique way” to reveal “its true character.” Predisposition produces choice. Turner makes this point clear in the next sentence that is unmentioned by Tabernacles: “What men and women are should determine how they will act — not vice versa.”193
Turner does not insist on there being any choice, which undermines Tabernacles’s reading. But, as Turner sees it, if there was any choice involved, that choice would also reveal something innate about the primordial intelligence. God does not make the choice; the intelligence makes it, and so must make it on the basis of its own character or nature. No matter which way it is read, Tabernacles cannot escape proto-sex here.
The fifth and final problem is that it is deeply ironic for Tabernacles to enlist Turner to help prove that sex or gender is open and fluid, when Turner writes such lines as “The false prophet has been joined by the false prophetess. Strident female voices now proclaim the emancipation of woman from her womanhood. No longer is she to be bound by the restrictions of her traditional role in society,”194 and “The radical feminist movement is anti-woman. Those who succumb to its blandishments are not freed, but enslaved. … The sexual natures of man and woman encompass all of the emotions, powers and proclivities which serve both to unite and to distinguish the sexes.”195
Much could be said of such ideas, but these are not the words of someone who thinks human sexual nature is contingent or up for grabs. The necessities of its thesis lead Tabernacles to omit or distort historical evidence.
Case #3: William J. Critchlow Jr.
Tabernacles writes of Critchlow:
[Page 174]In a 1965 General Conference address, an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, William J. Critchlow Jr. (d. 1968), considered Turner’s theory that one’s gender identity was the result of a pre-mortal choice. (41)
It is not clear how Tabernacles knows that Critchlow is “consider[ing] Turner’s theory.” Indeed, this scenario is impossible — Turner’s theory was printed in 1972, seven years after Critchlow’s conference address. If anything, it is Roberts’s theory, but Tabernacles doesn’t inform the reader that Roberts’s or Widtsoe’s views exist at all.
Critchlow hypothesized that in the preexistence some chose “mother’s love” and others chose “priesthood authority,” [writing:]
Did women by their own first choice choose to be partners with God in his creative processes? Faced with an alternative — partnership or priesthood — did you, Sister, pass up priesthood? … Did women by their own free choice choose to be the family heart rather than the family head? … Now, Sister, faced with the alternative family head or family heart, did you turn down the head? Faced again with a choice between mother’s love or priesthood authority, did you pass up authority? … Now, which in this list of womanly virtues might possibly have influenced your choice — if and when, of course, you had a choice?
Critchlow proposed various considerations that “influenced you to be woman rather than man,” listing the roles and responsibilities of women for their husbands and children. He saw in the result a conscious choice to be male or female. (41)196
As with the previous two authors, an examination of the unmentioned details in Crichlow undermines Tabernacles’s reading:
Critchlow and Turner suggested that prior to the choice to be male or female, a pre-gendered spirit may have certain proclivities that might push someone in one direction or the other. But … gender was ultimately chosen, not assigned (42).
[Page 175]As in the case of Turner, proclivities imply proto-sex. Moreover, as with Turner, Critchlow regarded proclivities as important. In fact, the climax of Critchlow’s argument is a rhetorical question that Tabernacles does not mention. After all of the factors mentioned by Tabernacles, Critchlow asks:
Now seriously, Sister, were you given a choice — as of right now, or perhaps a choice sometime in the dim pre-mortal past — between homemaker or breadwinner, would you, or did you at some time, choose to be the homemaker, choosing motherhood over fatherhood?197
Critchlow can ask this “would you” question of his sister “as of right now.” And, he clearly anticipates an answer that must agree with him — she would, he is sure, not choose for things to change: “seriously, Sister.”
The same answer would come, he seems to think, right now. The question and its expected response presuppose a female nature that will ultimately win out. The choice in the present could be very real — but for Critchlow, the result is nonetheless inevitable, given her nature. To repeat — a choice that is not driven by one’s internal nature is no choice at all. It is, then, either a flip of the coin or shrug of the shoulders.
And if proclivities matter now, they likewise matter “in the dim pre- mortal past”; Critchlow anticipates the same answer then as now. As with Turner, for Critchlow, choice requires something that pushes the chooser one way or the other — implicitly, her actual sex now, or her proto-sex earlier. The tacit understanding is that her inherent nature has led her and would lead her again to one and the same answer — an answer not arbitrarily imposed by God or caprice or circumstance. In other words, the intelligence’s proto-sex determines the spirit’s sex. Otherwise, Critchlow’s rhetorical approach makes no sense if he thinks any woman could answer, “Yes, I would like to change to be a man right now!”
Critchlow’s talk was occasioned by a letter from a woman who demanded to know why she could not hold the priesthood and, “by [Critchlow’s] inference, Why am I a woman?”198 Tabernacles does not disclose how uncertain and tentative Critchlow was.199
[Page 176]Critchlow described his first reaction: “I wrote … ‘I don’t know.’” Thinking that this was “too brief and too curt” he wrote a second draft: “I don’t know. I’m not supposed to know.”
“I still didn’t have the heart to mail it,” he reported, and so wrote a letter that formed the basis of his talk. “It probably did not satisfy her questions,” he admitted, “but it did at least satisfy a principle called courtesy.”200 “I wish I knew,” he continued after discussing priesthood, “Why the man is I and the woman you. … Why? I wish I knew” (37–38). His speech is larded with “perhaps,” “if,” and “possibly.” “No mortal man,” he observes
is born with a memory of his heavenly home. God planned it that way purposely. … Surely God has denied his children here on earth some knowledge of things that were, and things that are, and things to be — purposely. And again, it does not embarrass me to say there are some things I do not know.201
Critchlow’s extreme tentativeness coupled with the assumptions which underlie his rhetorical questions cannot bear the burden which Tabernacles’s thesis imposes. Critchlow is speculating. But that speculation assumes an eternal, fixed nature — a proto-sex.
If Tabernacles had several better examples, Critchlow might be contorted into a sort of confirmatory coda. But this example is the best of a scant, bad lot, and it is underwhelming.
Tabernacles claims that this evidence is sufficient to show that “Mormons in this era were more likely to see sexual difference as the result of intentionally chosen gendered practices than as an unalterable nature of human identity” (40, emphasis added). However, three relatively obscure figures prove nothing about what the bulk of Church membership was “more likely” to believe at that time, especially when two of them say nothing like what Tabernacles claims.202
Other General Authorities
After all this material, Tabernacles finally says that “not all Mormon leaders and teachers agreed with Critchlow’s and Turner’s position” (42). This is true, but misleading — Tabernacles presents no evidence that any [Page 177]other leaders agreed with the position that it ascribes to them.203 Neither Turner nor Critchlow could be said to have a position at all — at most, they had a meditation or musing, while Andrus is irrelevant to the question.
Tabernacles says that Talmage’s article “would play an important role in these debates over the nature of sexual difference,” but has presented no evidence that there was any debate being had. Given what Tabernacles has cited, none of the three purported “non-essentialist” authors ever mentions the essentialists’s supposed competing point of view. None seem aware they are engaged in a debate on eternal sex at all — with Talmage, Roberts, Widtsoe, or anyone else. (And, as shown earlier, Turner cited Widtsoe approvingly.)
Tabernacles says that, “In Bruce R. McConkie’s 1958 Mormon Doctrine, intelligence is the state after spirit birth, not before” (42). This is true too, but still does not reveal the problem at the heart of its analysis — after Joseph Smith’s death, all leaders prior to 1905 held the same view. It is likely that most did so even into the 1950s–1970s.
This is evident in McConkie’s reply to a letter two years after Turner’s book (the last published of Tabernacles’s three examples). His correspondent had been teaching the Roberts/Widtsoe perspective and read Mormon Doctrine’s differing view. He wrote, “I would hate to be found teaching false doctrine.”204
McConkie replied in a gracious two-page letter. “As far as I know,” he wrote, “there is no official pronouncement on the subject at hand.”205 “In my judgment,” he continued,
spirit element exists and it was organized into spirit beings, or in other words intelligence exists and it became the intelligences that were organized. In my judgment there was no agency prior to spirit birth and we did not exist as entities until that time. …
I don’t remember discussing this matter with any of the Brethren except that I know several of them have been present when President Joseph Fielding Smith expressed his views on [Page 178]the matter, and I assume that those present were in accord with President Smith’s expressions, at least I was.206
Nearly two decades earlier, McConkie had reviewed a Church manual for Spencer W. Kimball. McConkie reported to Kimball:
The material relative to man being eternal and becoming at some point in his progression a child of God, seems to be teaching the speculative view that there was a pre-existence to pre-existence. Would it not be better to teach that spirit element always existed and that man became a child of God when he was born in pre-existence as a spirit? It seems to me that the not uncommon teaching in the Church that spirits existed as entities or egos prior to their birth as spirit children is wholly speculative and probably totally false.207
This view seems to have predominated in the following years.208 In his 1974 letter, McConkie remembered:
I do know that this matter has arisen perhaps six or eight times in the years that I have been here209 and have been involved in reading and approving priesthood or auxiliary lessons. In each of these instances, the matter was ordered deleted from the lesson. In each case it was expressly stated that we have no knowledge of any existence earlier than our existence as the spirit children of God. The views in this field were described as pure speculation. President Joseph Fielding Smith personally, on more than one occasion directed this material not be published and said that he did not believe it, and of course, as you have indicated I do not believe it either.210
[Page 179]McConkie also reviewed the history of the alternative view, which he attributed to B. H. Roberts, and said, “This was pure fantasy and pure speculation. It caught on and has been bobbing to the top now and then ever since. … It is this doctrine that the brethren have described as pure speculation. In my judgment there is no revelation which sustains and supports it.”211 Despite these caveats, the topic was not “something about which I get very excited. … There isn’t anyone who hasn’t slipped and erred on some doctrinal point or another. All of us are in the learning process.”212
The view of the leading quorums is also likely reflected in remarks made by McConkie to a 1967 BYU class:
We are not going to say categorically that this is true or this is false. But I will suggest that some of the things that are said in the church are in the realm of speculation and can’t be definitely and categorically known as far as the revelations are concerned. …
[It] is not a bit uncommon in the church … for people, and you hear it everywhere and I don’t say it’s false, I just say it is in the realm of speculation, you find them going one step farther [to Roberts’s theory].213
Gordon B. Hinckley
Tabernacles attempts to reinforce its portrait of evolving, changing, competing views of sex or proto-sex by declaring:
The doctrine of a pre-mortal choice seemed to enjoy some currency in LDS teaching until it was officially rebutted in 1983. Apostle [second counselor in the First Presidency] Gordon B. Hinckley (d. 2008) reintroduced Talmage’s view. Hinckley taught, “I know of no doctrine which states that we made a choice when we came to earth as to whether we wished to be male or female. That choice was made by our Father in Heaven in his infinite wisdom” (43).214
It is quickly evident that Tabernacles has misread Hinckley. Just as with Andrus, if the question is about the existence of proto-sex, Hinckley says [Page 180]nothing at all. Instead, he is rebutting the idea that “we made a choice when we came to earth,” i.e., once we had spirit bodies and were about to enter mortality, not in the vast eons before spirit embodiment. Given Hinckley’s orthodox beliefs regarding the sexed nature of premortal spirits, he presumably saw God relying primarily on premortal sex to determine mortal sex.215
(And as I have shown, a robust alternative to the Roberts/Widtsoe model had long been available, even dominant. A statement by Hinckley would not have been novel or game-changing even if it said what Tabernacles claims.)
Tabernacles’s assumption that Hinckley was responding to Andrus, Turner, and Critchlow is unsupported, particularly when one considers how it misrepresents them.
Tabernacles goes on to argue that “If God chose the gender for any given individual, it was not an essential, uncreated element. The idea of a non-gendered ‘primal element’ common to all human beings rendered sexual difference a secondary, contingent feature of what it meant to be human” (43). Yet Hinckley is not talking about a non-sexed primal element; he is discussing our coming to earth in physical bodies as spirits who are already sexed. If, instead of the Roberts/Widtsoe model, Hinckley accepted the view that intelligence was undifferentiated material, then that sex had been with the individual from the moment of his or her creation, and Hinckley does not discuss why that divine decision was made.
In sum, Tabernacles provides no other evidence that the idea of premortal gender fluidity “seemed to enjoy some currency in LDS teaching” until 1983 besides the three authors listed, and those do not support the claims made.
Far from Hinckley “officially rebutt[ing]” the non-essentialists by “reintroduc[ing] Talmage’s view,” Talmage’s view was not his alone, nor did it need reintroducing. Nor could the Roberts/Widtsoe view be rebutted by Hinckley’s remarks, since he was speaking about something different (43).
As has been shown, Tabernacles attempts to assemble sources that demonstrate examples of what its thesis needs — ideas in flux that are eventually quashed. But the sources cited, especially when put in context using uncited clarifications, do not support the case.
A Summary of Premortal Male and Female
“Teachers and leaders,” Tabernacles avers, “advanced a theory of gender-choice in the preexistence to explain and justify the hierarchy between [Page 181]men and women” (41). Even if Tabernacles’s assertion was correct, where are the leaders (plural)?216 There is at most one leader — Critchlow — who is a decidedly minor one and who speaks in a very tentative manner.
Tabernacles has misread and miscited sources. It has ignored data from its sources that do not agree with its theory. It ignores sources which bear on the question. It makes unfounded, sweeping claims, even if one grants its reading of every bit of evidence cited.
Yet in honesty, that cannot be granted. Talmage does not help; Roberts and Widtsoe definitively see gender as eternal; Andrus and Hinckley say nothing that applies; Turner explicitly mentions “eternal sex” and a type of proto-sex in his footnote; and rather than argue for an indefinite premortal gender, Critchlow (like Turner) seems to intend his reader to see her gender deriving entirely from factors within her uncreated and unconstrained self that not even God controlled. If this is not essentialism, nothing is.
There was discussion among Church leaders about the nature of primal intelligence but, crucially, not about “the eternity of gender.”
Postmortal Biological Sex
After claiming that Church leaders and thinkers saw premortal gender as chosen or fluid, Tabernacles then moves to complete the picture by arguing that Joseph Fielding Smith believed in a postmortal “neuter” state for those who were not exalted. Tabernacles describes Smith’s reply when asked how God would prevent the “less righteous” in the terrestrial or telestial kingdoms from engaging in sexual relations:
Smith’s answer was important because it tackled the problem from the member’s assumption about gender. He started out by assuring the member that God had thought about this potential problem and had addressed it. Both males and females will indeed be judged and sent to the other kingdoms together. Smith explained, however, that “there will be differences in the bodies of the inhabitants of the several kingdoms.” As evidence, he cited nineteenth-century Mormon theologian Orson Pratt’s idea of “some physical peculiarity” that marked the bodies in the lower kingdoms from those in the celestial realm. (44)217
[Page 182]Tabernacles continues:
From this, Smith concluded that there will be a physical difference in the resurrected inhabitants outside of celestial glory that prevents them from both the “privileges” of reproduction and sexual intercourse. (44)
So far, so good — Joseph Smith did teach that only the exalted will enjoy eternal family relationships and eternal “increase” (the production of spirit children).218 This is the standard and uncontroversial view (D&C 131:1–4; 132:7–20, 30–32). Tabernacles veers into more dubious territory when it draws its own conclusions about what Joseph Fielding Smith’s answer meant:
What is the particular physical marker? Smith explained: “Is not the sectarian world justified in their doctrine generally regarding the kingdoms into which evidently the vast majority of mankind is likely to go.” Alluding to Galatians 3: 28 that there is “neither male nor female … in Christ,” Smith argued that other churches were largely correct in their rejection of a sexed afterlife. The idea that there would be some other sex, a neuter being that is neither man nor woman, as the norm for the vast majority of those in the afterlife made binary gender the exception for resurrected beings, not the rule. (44)
The questionable idea is that such beings will be “some other sex,” or “neuter,” in body. Tabernacles insists that Joseph Fielding Smith taught this elsewhere:
[Page 183]Smith had thought through this issue before and taught it consistently in his ministry. In his 1954 book, Doctrines of Salvation, he made a similar statement about sexual difference as a privilege in the afterlife. He argued that those who do not dwell in the highest kingdom will lose the power of procreation just as they lose their marriages and families. Their bodies will be marked and will function differently. He explained, “Some of the functions in the celestial body will not appear in the terrestrial body, neither in the telestial body, and the power of procreation will be removed. I take it that men and women will, in these kingdoms, be just what the so-called Christian world expects us all to be — neither man nor woman, merely immortal beings having received the resurrection.” (44)219
Tabernacles makes an interpretive leap when it concludes that “Since the functions of non-celestial bodies do not include reproduction and sexual intercourse, the form of these bodies will necessarily be different as well” (44–45). (Smith talks about an absence of function, not form.)
This might be a plausible reading if the quotations are considered in isolation. The reader unfamiliar with the documents could be persuaded. In both cases, however, the material that Tabernacles sees as evidence of neuter beings is from “the sectarian world”220 and “the so-called Christian world.”221 McConkie edited Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation, and so was well aware of what his father-in-law taught. He made the origin and meaning of Smith’s remarks clear and does not support Tabernacles’s reading at all. He told a BYU audience:
There are two kinds of beings in eternity: angels on the one hand, and gods on the other. And everybody [that is not exalted] is an angel — because they are unmarried. [Question: are these angels male and female?] Male and female — sure they are male and female but — a sectarian minister said to President [Joseph Fielding] Smith that he had heard about this [doctrine]; about God and the family unit continuing, and he said to President Smith: “There isn’t any sex in the next [Page 184]world,” he said, “Everybody is neuter — not men or women.” President Smith answered: “That is right — of course that is right — as far as you’re concerned.”
This is true, not literally, but figuratively. It’s true in the sense that there is no family unit. There is no involvement of sex. For all practical purposes they just are neither male nor female although they still are men and women. But the only place the family unit continues is up here [among the exalted].222
The most plausible reading of Smith is now clear. The attribution of “neuter” to the resurrected bodies is the sectarian minister’s, not Smith’s. The literal unsexed eternity is, in Smith’s view, from sectarians (and now Tabernacles), not him. McConkie is explicit both that males and females continue to exist, and that Smith’s provisional acceptance of the description “neuter” is figurative.223 Smith is simply teaching a standard doctrine of the Church — only the exalted continue in families or have eternal progeny. He is not making sex fluid or “binary gender the exception for resurrected beings, not the rule.”
It is utterly misguided to claim that “Many midcentury LDS leaders believed not only that being either male or female was a contingent feature of human identity but also that it was possible to be neither male nor female at all” (43, emphasis added). “Leaders” is another unsubstantiated plural. No other examples are provided and Smith alone is surely not “many,” even if he believed as Tabernacles claims.224 But the point is moot — Tabernacles has misread.
A second account from McConkie reinforces this reading:
Question: Was there male and female in the preexistence?
Answer: There would have been male and female spirits in the preexistence. There will be male and female spirits after [Page 185]this life. There will be male and female when they come up in the resurrection — in all the degrees [of glory] — but the only place it counts is in exaltation. The rest, in a sense, are imprisoned: their faculties are denied them.225
My reading is also far more congruent with Smith’s other writing and teaching. In Man, His Origin and Destiny, Smith wrote:
In the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms, there will be no marriage, hence no continuation of the lives, for they remain in these kingdoms separately and singly through all eternity. This the Lord calls “the deaths,” because there is no increase. The question frequently arises: “If men and women live singly in the terrestrial and the telestial kingdoms, then what will prevent them from living promiscuously?” The Lord has given us the answer to that question. They will be quickened by different kind of bodies. They shall receive back their natural body, but they will be terrestrial bodies and telestial bodies and their bodies will be suited to the conditions prevailing in those kingdoms.226
Smith does describe a “natural body” — natural bodies are sexed — “suited to the conditions,” and incapable of eternal increase. But he says nothing of neuter bodies. This is exactly what one would expect given what McConkie has said about the origin of the ideas to which Tabernacles appeals.
In teaching about the resurrection, Smith repeatedly appealed to scripture: “it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself” (Alma 41:2).227 “Every fundamental part of every body,” he wrote, “will be restored to its proper place again in the resurrection, no matter what may become of the body [Page 186]in death.”228 He also describes “men and women … assigned to the telestial and terrestrial kingdom.”229
Tabernacles’s claim that Smith believed that these bodies would be neuter is thus difficult to reconcile with both scripture and Smith’s personal insistence (even within the same book) that the body will be perfectly restored. This alone should make Tabernacles less confident. Were it more skeptical of its model, it might avoid missing the clear implications in the sources. McConkie’s additional information makes it obvious that Smith was not contradicting himself nor introducing a speculative new doctrine.
As with claims that leaders believed in a premortal state without sex, Tabernacle’s claim about the postmortal state turns out to be a historical mirage — it entices from afar, but vanishes as the documents are approached.
Given that Tabernacles is written from a queer studies perspective — making sex and gender central to its investigation — it is frustrating that “sex” and “gender” are used in ways that sometimes seem murky.230 Present-day scientists usually distinguish between the terms. By convention, sex is the biological state of being male or female. Gender is used to refer to one’s subjective experience of the world or the social roles that one adopts based on biological sex.231
The terminological fluidity is perhaps unsurprising, given the queer theory lens. As one such author put it:
The sex/gender distinction has been taken for granted both in the sciences and in many feminist approaches. Unlike mainstream scientific and (some) feminist approaches, queer [Page 187]feminist science studies does not assume that the sex/gender distinction is either analytically or materiality stable; nor does it presume that this distinction is adequate to critically mapping complicated dimensions of embodiment.232
Two other authors argued that queer theory intentionally blurs language at the expense of clarity:
Because the central feature of Queer Theory is that it resists categorization and distrusts language, it is generally difficult to work with. Queer Theory is not only resistant to definition in the usual sense, but also to functional definitions based on what it does. … As Annemarie Jagose, the author of Queer Theory: An Introduction, puts it, “It is not simply that queer has yet to solidify and take on a more consistent profile, but rather that its definitional indeterminacy, its elasticity, is one of its constituent characteristics.” The incoherence of Queer Theory is an intentional feature, not a bug.233
Tabernacles is, of course, entitled to use the tools of its chosen paradigm. The choice becomes more problematic when applied to history as it risks obscuring what historical figures understood or intended by a word. For clarity herein, I will use “sex” in the customary scientific manner to refer to biology and “gender” to refer to social role or subjective experience.
In the same way, Tabernacles is often unclear about what it or its sources intend by the term homosexuality. Do they mean what is called, today, a homosexual orientation — i.e., of being consistently and exclusively attracted to those of the same sex? Or do they mean those who engage in homosexual behavior? Or someone who adopts that identity? Or some blend of them all and more besides?
Drawing on the post-modern philosophy of Foucault, a key aspect of Tabernacles’s argument sees “‘the homosexual’ as a rhetorical construction, an imagined subject rather than a stable, clearly defined, ahistorical identity” (57). In the 1950s:
LDS leaders used the concept of “the homosexual” for the first time in this era and classified it as a type of gender failure. When I refer to “the homosexual” and “homosexuality” here, I refer to the cultural forms these terms produced, linking [Page 188]gender and sexuality as composite categories of identity. This new classification also entailed that “the homosexual” — a distinctive subjectivity and newly constructed character — was in need not only of ecclesiastical censure but also of pastoral care, blending the moral and psychological discourses together into a new therapeutic orthodoxy. (16, italics added)
Tabernacles thus argues:
As Michel Foucault pointed out, the term “sodomy” had generally described a set of acts, while the term “homosexual” was increasingly being used to describe a person’s identity. The implication of this historicizing perspective is not that people have not always engaged in same-sex sexual encounters and relationships across cultures but that the label “homosexual” is a distinctive concept of the modern West — a new way of thinking about people that produced, rather than reflected, a new identity. (57)
While this view of the homosexual is doubtless true of Foucault and many of the cultural avant-garde, the key question remains: was this truly the perspective of Church leaders in the 1950s and 1960s? When they said homosexual, did they intend “a new identity” instead of a new word describing an old behavior? Tabernacles indicates how it uses the word, but too often leaves unexamined how the sources use the word. Whatever the sources meant, it is unlikely that they intended the definition which Tabernacles uses here.
Tabernacles says that “It is worth noting at this point that in the 1950s and 1960s, church leaders regularly spoke of ‘homosexuality’ and ‘homosexuals’ without qualification. While they resisted the essentialism of these terms, they fully accepted the medical pathology behind them” (65–66).234
Having underlined the leaders’ lack of “essentialism,” Tabernacles then says:
[Page 189][To Latter-day Saint leaders] homosexuality was a perversion, an illness, and unnatural — but could also be healed. However, as the term “homosexual” was increasingly associated with a fixed identity and immutable nature, church leaders later became hesitant to adopt it. But in the 1950s and 1960s, the term still implied sexual malleability for church leaders. (65–66)
To be sure, a new word — homosexual — became available from the broader culture. But what exactly is “sexual malleability?” Desires that change? Acts that change? Gender roles that change? Orientation that changes? Terminological precision seems in order so the reader can know exactly what claim is being made.
Given the availability of a new term, did it change anything about how, say, sodomite was once understood in the Church, i.e., as someone who engaged in sinful homosexual acts? Did leaders calling someone a homosexual in 1952 intend something different than leaders calling someone a sodomite in 1890? Tabernacles provides evidence that at least sometimes they did not:
The first mention of the [term] came in 1952, when apostle235 J. Reuben Clark became the first senior authority of the church to use the words “homosexual” and “homosexuality” in a public speech. … Clark complained of this “softer name” for the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. We can thus date the invention of “the homosexual” in Mormon thought to 1952. (63)
Clark used the novel term homosexual but clearly did not see it as anything different from sodomite. He perceived, even at the beginning, that the change in name could communicate something new. He did not, however, want to be understood differently, emphasizing that “gross abominations must be called by their right names.”236
[Page 190]Tabernacles claims that Clark’s use of the term represented the start of “the invention of ‘the homosexual’” — but Clark’s skepticism is clear evidence that he was not inventing or adopting a new social construct, much less introducing something novel. He was concerned about “the crimes for which Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed,” just as earlier leaders had been.237 Foucault distinguishes between sodomy and homosexuality, but Clark declined to do so.238
Spencer W. Kimball likewise observed:
Sometimes a new generation gives old sins new names — often designations which remove any implication of sin — and as one reads the long scriptural list of transgressions he does not recognize them by their modern names. …
Sometimes a person, not discovering in the scriptures the modern name for the particular sin or perversion of which he is guilty, eases his conscience by trying to convince himself that, after all, it is not too bad because it is not specifically prohibited. … Other sins and perversions may not be named in the scriptures by their modern appellations, but a careful scrutiny of the scriptures will reveal [them].239
Change in the secular terminology over time is evident, but as Tabernacles says, this led to push-back from Church leaders. The terms came to imply something different, and leaders would disclaim the new meanings. Tabernacles cites material from Boyd K. Packer in 1978:
[Page 191]Packer’s speech marked the beginning of a new LDS discomfort with the language around homosexuality and its limitations. Packer began to believe that language itself could be constitutive of identity. At the outset, he explained, “To introduce [the subject] I must use a word. I will use it one time only. Please notice that I use it as an adjective, not as a noun. I reject it as a noun. I speak to those few, those very few, who may be subject to homosexual temptation. I repeat, I accept that word as an adjective to describe a temporary condition. I reject it as a noun naming a permanent one.” (89)240
It is absurd to claim that Packer “began to believe that language itself could be constitutive of identity.” Tabernacles’s post-modernism is utterly foreign to Packer’s thought and worldview. Packer rejects using homosexual as a noun precisely because in the intervening quarter century since Clark, its common meaning had increasingly shifted to emphasize identity rather than behavior. Neither Packer nor Clark accepted that language would be “constitutive of” — i.e., making, forming, establishing, determining an essential part of — identity. (That is, Packer did not “begin to” have a view that differed from Clark’s.) It was precisely this identity that Packer denied. If anything, he believed that such a label would be a lie.
Packer was concerned about homosexual temptation or sins (the adjective) but rejected efforts to see a person as “homosexual” in essence (the noun). This concern was not new — Clark saw homosexual as referring to the “crimes [of] Sodom and Gomorrah.” Packer did not steer clear because he believed such labeling was “constitutive of identity” — he simply knew that some were using the label in other ways, and he wished to be understood unmistakably.
Tabernacles sees early Latter-day Saint use of the unqualified term homosexual as embracing sexual malleability (66). As I shortly show in more detail, Church leaders had always been overwhelmingly concerned with homosexual actions. They consistently denied both that one was inherently and inexorably compelled to commit such acts and that either homosexual temptation or homosexual experience defined someone in essence. This conviction did not begin with Clark, nor end with Packer.
It is vital, then, to know what the historical sources meant, and how their intent may have differed from the interpretation of a twenty-first century [Page 192]reader for words such as homosexuality, homosexual, or even homosexual orientation. Tabernacles rarely engages in this type of analysis.241
Presentism and the Omission of Data
Tabernacles repeatedly fails to properly characterize its sources. This problem continues with Spencer W. Kimball’s 1965 talk, “Love versus Lust.” Tabernacles asserts that “pervert,” was Kimball’s “preferred term for gay men and women” (65).
Although it is not clear how the reader is to know that this is Kimball’s “preferred term,” it sounds terrible to modern ears. Surely a term such as “pervert” could easily be used as a slur. Kimball joins “pervert” to two neutral, technical terms: “adulterer” and “fornicator” (65).
In 1965, the same year in which Kimball spoke, a book of interviews with mental health professionals was published. One psychiatrist wrote of homosexuals: “Their problem is society, because if society would leave them alone there would be no problem. Many of these men do not want to change, and they do not need to change.” Yet, despite this favorable sentiment, the same author also said:
Homosexuality is a perversion. … Perversion is simply an interruption in which some part of the foreplay becomes the goal and copulation is avoided. Anything which interferes with the survival of the species, whether it be homosexual perversion or any other kind, society tends to fight. … The point is simply that. … [heterosexuals] do not block mankind’s survival as does the pervert and homosexual by swerving from the main goal.”242
Another friendly author from 1908 would write:
The various perversions of the sexual instinct … are [mostly] hereditary, and therefore inborn. … [including] inverted sexual feeling (homosexuality). …
The unfortunate people who suffer from these perversions are treated unjustly and, for the most part, far too harshly. Perverse instincts which injure no one when carried into practice … are ethically indifferent and harmless. …
[Page 193]If the pervert can only gratify his instinct by injuring other people, he must be regarded as a dangerous lunatic. …
Homosexual persons … are, on the other hand, comparatively harmless as long as they direct their attentions to adults, and provided there is no seduction or use of compulsion. … Our laws are still entirely at fault in these matters, and inflict punishment upon the basis of ancient theological dogmas.243
By the late 1960s, some were coming to see that “pervert is an unkind and loaded word,”244 but the reader cannot understand Kimball’s language without understanding that such terms had a long history of common and technical usage.245 By 1974, material published by Kimball’s administration would recognize the negative connotations despite the term’s technical origin, and urge other language be used.246
As Tabernacles notes, there is both an audio version of President Kimball’s original talk, and an edited print version. Tabernacles reports [Page 194]material transcribed from the original audio (238n63). Here is the spoken original, with the portion cited by Tabernacles shown in bold:
I want to mention one other thing which must be spoken here and that is not only fornication and adultery. There are many other sins. And we know they’re sins, we don’t have to be told, whenever we have to hide and whenever we have to bend our heads we know that they are sins. And I want to speak of the perversions for a moment. For they are growing. There are far more people that are known to be perverts these days, men and women (largely men). This is an abominable sin, and there is no scripture and there is nothing that can ever justify. It is forgivable, like adultery is forgivable. It is a sin of such gravity that excommunication is the penalty like it is for adultery.
But there is this hope. Repentance is always here and possible and a great and total and continuing repentance can cleanse one’s garments in the blood of the Lamb when there is a total, sustained and continuing repentance. I cannot imagine that this university would ever enroll a pervert, knowingly, an unrepentant one. I cannot imagine this university ever tolerating on its campus one day or one week any adulterer, or fornicator, or pervert — unrepentant, I underscore, unrepentant, because all these sins can be wiped out pretty well if there is repentance. But unrepentant sinners have no place on the campus of the Brigham Young University. If they are repentant, there is great tolerance and understanding and the Brethren always will err on the side of leniency, I know. God bless you young people.247
A footnote in Tabernacles indicates that “in some cases” the published version of Kimball’s talk included “a softer tone emphasizing the possibility of forgiveness” (238n63).248 But, this is the only audio section that mentions anything besides heterosexual sins. It is the sole mention of homosexual behavior, even obliquely. Tabernacles also does not tell readers that Kimball warns a couple guilty of heterosexual sin [Page 195]that any lust creates “thought habits [that] are perverted,” demonstrating that Kimball would apply the same wording to any sexual sin.249
Not only does Kimball mention forgiveness, but he assures any who repent of their actions that they will receive “tolerance” on BYU campus and a promise that the Brethren will “err on the side of leniency.” The printed version makes Kimball’s meaning clear:
And I feel certain that this University will never knowingly enroll an unrepentant person who follows these practices nor tolerate on its campus anyone with these tendencies who fails to repent and put his or her life in order.250
But all Tabernacles indicates is that “pervert” is Kimball’s “preferred term for gay men and women” (65).
Tabernacles’s term gay is, however, anachronistic. Gay can mean many things to a modern audience, but it usually includes the idea of “homosexual orientation.” The modern meaning may incline the reader to assume: (1) that Kimball accepted that an essential fixed homosexual orientation existed; and (2) that he used a slur to condemn and exclude anyone with that orientation. Neither assumption is true.
As used by Tabernacles, Kimball’s remarks may look like a bigoted banning of anyone with homosexual inclinations from campus. Instead, Kimball merely includes “perversions” in the same category as adultery and fornication, and promises tolerance, understanding, and leniency to all the repentant. The same standards apply at BYU in 2021.251
Behavior versus Orientation
What can we learn about Latter-day Saint leaders’ focus during this period? Was homosexuality a constructed identity for Church leaders (57), or a description of behavior?
The book’s conclusion emphasizes, “Though I am arguing that the concept of homosexuality and heterosexuality came to dominate the structure of Mormon teachings about gender and sexuality in the period since World War II … I also want to underscore the dramatic changes that these categories themselves have undergone” (216).
[Page 196]This is wise, though it would have been far more helpful — though harmful to many of its arguments — if Tabernacles had used this fact to inform its reading of the historical materials. The serious reader, unfortunately, must do that work herself.
Doing so requires consulting several documents.252
- Kimball’s “A Counselling Problem in the Church” (1964) focuses on behavior or actions at least eight times. Kimball emphasizes that, for those who repent, “thoughts are controlled and actions are above reproach.” “The difference between the reprobate and the worthy person,” he avers, “is generally that one yielded and the other resisted.”253
- Having already considered the audio version of Kimball’s “Love versus Lust” (1965) address, it is appropriate to examine the substantially expanded print version. Unsurprisingly, behavior is the focus at least 24 times. For example, Kimball states that “corrupted individuals have tried to reduce such behavior from criminal offense to personal privilege does not change the nature nor the seriousness of the practice.”254
- The pamphlet, New Horizons for Homosexuals (1966/1971), later retitled Letter to a Friend in 1978, was based on a personal letter written by Kimball in 1966. Behavior is likewise its theme in at least 28 instances. For example, “the prophets have denounced and condemned any of these unnatural and improper practices.”255
- Kimball’s book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, provides readers with a view from 1969. Its only mention of homosexual [Page 197]attraction is defining homosexual as “sexual desire for those of the same sex or sexual relations between individuals of the same sex.” All condemnation, however, focuses on the act, not the desire, with behavior mentioned at least 13 times. “Social acceptance does not change the status of an act, making wrong into right.”256
- The title of Hope for Transgressors, a 1970 guide for local leaders, tips its hand immediately by focusing on “transgressors” (i.e., those who have committed a sinful act). In at least 15 cases, it is abundantly clear that behavior is the concern, though it is emphasized that some have “tendencies” toward such acts, which are not condemned unless acted upon.257
- The 1973 Welfare Services Packet 1 likewise emphasized behavior, going so far as to say that “homosexuality is possible only with others,” thus making homosexuality without a partner a contradiction in terms.258 The packet is conscious of varied usage of the term homosexual or homosexuality, labeling only actions as “transgression”:
There are two parts of homosexual behavior: The physical-sexual behavior and the emotional attachment. …
There are many degrees of homosexuality but homosexuals usually fit one of three categories: (1) Those who are fully involved and steeped in the transgression of homosexuality and engage in forms of sexual intercourse and genital activity. (2) Those who think about homosexuality without being sexually involved, and (3) Those in varying stages between these extremes. … Church officers will want to consider the degree of homosexual involvement.259
This document overflows with at least 38 references to behavior: “Persons who have engaged in homosexual relations and who have not totally repented and forsaken these evil practices will [Page 198]not be admitted to study at or be employed by any Church university, college, school, or program.”260
- As I have shown, Boyd K. Packer’s 1978 BYU talk, “To the One,” began by insisting on homosexual as an adjective for a temptation, not a noun for a person.261 Like those who came before, he was preoccupied with behavior, mentioning it at least 15 times. Further, he reflected repeatedly on those who were tempted, and did not condemn them if they did not act sinfully.
- A 1981 manual for bishops and other leaders continued to see homosexuality as being a matter of behavior:
Bishops and stake presidents are expected to clearly inquire into sexual behavior when they are considering youth for missions. Rather than using the term homosexuality, they might refer to “sexual contact with women or men”262
The manual discusses the various uses of the term homosexuality:
Homosexuality is erotic physical contact or attractions between members of the same sex, including erotic same-sex fantasy. It may include thoughts or emotional attractions without outward sexual behavior, or it may include complete emotional, sexual, and genital involvement with a member of the same sex. Homosexual activities may range from childhood experimentation to adult obsession.263
As in the previous examples, the rest of the manual continues to emphasize behavior as the locus of change. “It is better,” counsels the manual, “to refer to their ‘homosexual behavior’ than to call them a ‘homosexual’.”264
[Page 199]Let’s consider the final case — a manual entitled Understanding and Changing Homosexual Orientation Problems (1981) for use by Church therapists — more closely. Tabernacles uses this work to claim that “the emphasis in the title on ‘changing homosexual orientation’ reflected the new goals of treatment” (92). “Despite the language of choice to describe these orientations,” it continues, “the psycho-developmental diagnosis was clear: ‘Homosexual orientation problems … are often a reflection of poor interpersonal relationships with parents, siblings, and peers’” (92).
This, at last, might appear to be something like the more modern idea of a “sexual orientation” which must be either repented of or changed. But if so, not much was said about it in the contemporaneous leaders’ manual.265 But in fact, this work intends something quite different by orientation.
There are factors in man’s mortal environment which affect his agency, in some cases limiting his options or making certain options particularly appealing. [These include] birth defects and genetic traits [and] environmental influences. …
Negative influences in an individual’s mortal environment, however, do not cause his homosexual orientation.266
The reader is informed that various influences do not cause the orientation, but it is acknowledged that these “factors in man’s mortal environment” can “mak[e] certain options particularly appealing.” Despite a lack of scientific consensus, the twenty-first-century reader would see these factors as precisely the sort of things (e.g., putative genetic, intra-uterine, or early life events) that might cause someone to “be gay,” i.e. to have homosexual options be particularly appealing.267 But those influences are explicitly ruled out as causing the type of homosexual orientation being discussed. What then is this orientation?
At some point he must assume responsibility for his actions, regardless of predisposing factors. Free agency means that he is not totally the product of his physical makeup, environment, external stimuli, or past history. It means, rather, that in the moment of decision, he has the ability to determine his own [Page 200]course of action. He is not forced to choose sinful behavior against his will.268
Orientation is here tied tightly to actions: “the moment of decision,” “his own course of action,” sinful behavior,” “responsibility for his actions.” This orientation involves behavior, as is made clearer in the subsequent paragraphs:
Though a person is not born with a homosexual orientation[,] biological factors; social, family and environmental influences, habit; and continued sin can affect the alternatives available as he makes sexual choices. No one, however, can blame his sinful behavior totally on others … but must ultimately take responsibility for his behavior himself. Each new choice in a person’s life becomes an opportunity to move away from an unwanted orientation or behavior and toward a desirable orientation. … An individual is free to develop chastity, the controlled expression of sexual feelings.269
This paragraph does not dispute that various factors can affect “the alternatives available” for “sexual choices.” But it states that it is choice that determines orientation: orientation here is synonymous with behavior. One could, then, choose to forgo “an unwanted orientation or behavior” and instead choose “a desirable orientation.”
In a later chapter, Tabernacles claims that by 2012, “Church leaders … accepted that human agency may not be entirely at work in forming and transforming human desires” (176) — yet it appears from this work that the Church was accepting precisely that in 1981. Likewise, Tabernacles claims that in 1995, Elder Dallin H. Oaks’s idea that homosexual desires “have some connection to ‘nature’ represented a revision of earlier LDS teachings” (178–79). Yet I just showed that “biological factors” and “physical makeup” were listed as something that “can affect” sexual desires — in 1981.
Furthermore, the same concerns about labels persist and reinforce this reading:
A host of negative associations accompany the label “homosexual,” and when a client attaches that label to himself, he does himself a great injustice because many of the associations may not apply. In addition the label incorrectly implies something the person is rather than something he does. Discourage the client from using that inaccurate label. [Page 201]… Use an alternative term, such as homosexual orientation or homosexual behavior instead.270
Here, orientation is synonymous with behavior, and neither term describes a state of being but instead refers to acts. (For the manual, to say one has a homosexual orientation is both better and quite different than saying one is homosexual. This is not the meaning of sexual orientation in the twenty-first century.) Further on, the manual recommends that clients adopt the following stance:
“Though my thoughts and feelings may be different from many others of my own sex, I am a heterosexual with no special exemptions from living the law of chastity.” [In deciding this] [h]e then has increased power to forsake his homosexually-oriented thoughts and behavior and move to an exclusively heterosexual orientation.271
Again, there is no denial that the patient may be gay, i.e., have thoughts and feelings which strongly incline to same sex acts. But, one can choose to be heterosexually oriented by refusing to entertain or heed “homosexually-oriented thoughts” or engage in “homosexually-oriented … behavior.”
What then is the goal of this therapy? To make someone “non-gay”? Hardly:
The Lord views homosexual behavior as sin in the same degree as adultery and fornication. The overriding therapeutic goal, therefore, is to erase sinful homoerotic habits while building patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting which conform to the laws of chastity.272
Chastity is about chosen behavior. Habits are behaviors. One is “oriented” simply by the way one faces based upon the choices one makes.
And, what does success look like?
[Page 202]When an individual changes his homosexual orientation, it does not necessarily mean that old thoughts, feelings, and temptations never return. It does mean, however, that he has made sufficient progress in the areas of self-control and personal development to cease overt homosexual behavior and gradually develop normal heterosexual patterns. As with any sin or negative habit [i.e., behavior], he may need to work continually to maintain the new, positive behavior.273
By analogy, Peter might be strongly tempted to sleep with his neighbor’s wife. He did not choose this desire, nor the profound emotions associated therewith. Having such desires, however, does not grant him a different identity, nor place him under a different sexual ethic, even if his neighbor’s wife is the sole object of his desires. He is not “an adulterer,” simply because he has this strong desire — he is an adulterer if and only if he commits the sin of adultery.274 (That is, these Church documents argue that I am not a homosexual simply because I experience homosexual temptation. I am a homosexual if and only if I commit a homosexual act.)
Peter’s choice to exercise continence and control both his thoughts and actions are not an effort to change him from an “adulterous sexual identity” to a “faithful sexual identity.” It is instead a choice to either avoid or repent of sinful behavior. If one accepts the proposition that such “thoughts, feelings, and temptations” represent a sexual orientation in the present-day sense, then that type of sexual orientation is precisely what the document says may not change, though one seeks “heterosexual patterns” of behavior.275
It is always a question of behavior. Tabernacles should acknowledge this. It even cites an abridged version of the material provided for bishops, but fails to help the reader see how omnipresent and consistent this message was:
The booklet Homosexuality advised church leaders that “homosexual behavior is learned and can be overcome.” It continued, “To believe that immoral behavior is inborn or [Page 203]hereditary is to deny that men have agency to choose between sin and righteousness.” (92)
In Church materials, one does not have inborn behavior that one cannot control (as some professionals argued).276 An anonymous success story illustrates that success is in control of acts, not desires:
There have been disappointments and lapses along the way … but the evidence of nearly twelve months with no sinful sexual activity of any kind and the feeling of freedom … convinces me that the miracle I had so long prayed for has finally been granted. There are still times of particular stress or anxiety when I find myself aware of and attracted to other men, but I find such attractions ebbing in force and the intervals between them increasingly long. …
The Lord has given me strength sufficient, I know, to banish forever the possibility of my returning to homosexual activities. … If I do my part I know it will not happen.277
It is important to realize that the problems with terminology are magnified when Tabernacles does cite a source that mentions “homosexual behavior” — this too easily leads the reader to hear all the other mentions of homosexual or homosexuality in the modern way, when behavior is not specified in the quoted snippet. (Behavior is, of course, clearly intended, judging by the uncited surrounding text.)
Contemporary Meaning(s) of “Homosexual Orientation”
With the 1981 document’s meaning made clear, it is helpful to examine what contemporary non-Latter-day Saint authors understood by orientation. At this period in history, the terminology was in considerable flux among both researchers and gay rights activists.
Gay Rights Group in 1975–1977
In 1975, a California gay rights group urged legislators to use the term “homosexual orientation.” Their reasons are illuminating:
The Gay Activists Alliance [GAA] welcomes the growing number of gay rights bills that are being introduced. … However, in such legislation we have noted a tendency to [Page 204]substitute the phrase “affectional or sexual preference” for the phrase “sexual orientation” in reference to homosexuals. GAA feels that the interests and needs of gay people would be best served by retaining the phrase “sexual orientation.” … GAA finds the term “affectional or sexual preference” less desirable for the following reasons:
1. The term “affectional or sexual preference” is defined … as “having or manifesting an emotional or physical attachment to another consenting person or persons of either gender, or having a preference for such attachment.” This is vague and appears incomprehensible. … “Sexual orientation” (defined in some existing legislation as “choice of sexual partner according to gender”) is at least quickly comprehensible, and more clearly encompasses homosexual behavior.
2. It diverts attention from the real source of homosexual oppression — the fact that we engage in sexual acts that are forbidden and criminal in society. Neither homosexuality per se nor homosexual lifestyles are illegal in any state in the United States; it is certain kinds of acts that are illegal. …
4. It tends to obscure the reality … that human sexual behavior falls on a continuum between those who are exclusively heterosexual and those who are exclusively homosexual. …
This language both trivializes and obscures the struggle that gay liberationists are involved in: to argue and insure [sic] that sexual acts committed between consenting partners should not be punished.
6. It represents a concession to the prevailing heterosexual view that sex is good and justifiable only when it is complemented by “love.” Equal rights must be extended to homosexuals regardless of whether or not they are emotionally or physically attached to another person.278
In 1975–1977, then, a pro-gay group saw “homosexual orientation” and “sexual preference” as quite different things. The former was primarily concerned with behavior, not desire.
[Page 205]Homosexual Orientation as Behavior
In 1976, a nursing journal emphasized that homosexuals “have a different sexual orientation … [and] this [is] … a variant, rather than a deviant form of behavior.”279
In 1980, another author argued that sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s work demonstrated that “sexual orientation fluctuates, surely over a lifetime and, for some people, as often as the weather.” As evidence, he cited Kinsey’s claim that “Some males may be involved in both heterosexual and homosexual activities within the same period of time. … even in the same day. … Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual.”280
This author went on to argue that “homosexual orientation” is actually a cluster of traits including “physical sexual activity,” “interpersonal affection,” and target of “erotic fantasy.”281 Choice of label was more frequently based upon “physical sexual activity, either as behavior or desire.”282 Significantly, he concluded, “Sexual orientation is one of the few areas of human behavior in which biology is not destiny.”283 This is the furthest thing from today’s sexual orientation, which most see as innate and unchanging and separate from sexual acts, if any.
Homosexual Orientation as Desire
The above view was not universal, however. A year earlier, a different author wrote that Kinsey “argued that an individual’s sexual orientation should be defined primarily in terms of the type, extent, and frequency of his or her erotic fantasies,” while later work “suggests that people may initiate sexual behaviors, and thereby develop sexual orientations, in response to the contents of their fantasies.”284 Here, orientation is defined primarily by desire, though desire could also arise from behavior rather than vice versa.
[Page 206]Likewise, a 1985 account stated that “[s]exual orientation, defined as erotic attraction rather than sexual behavior, is established at an early age and largely immutable in adulthood.”285
Research Implications of Non-Standardized Terminology
This terminological variation caused significant problems for researchers. Three years after the Church’s 1981 guide for therapists was published, a key article bemoaned “the various ways in which sexual orientation was defined in the research literature and the apparent disparity among these definitions.”286 “Some authors were thinking of etiology,” it continued, “some of observable behavior, and others of enduring mental states. … While some included only behavior, others included only emotional closeness or fantasy. The linguistic and conceptual confusion is readily apparent.”287
It is this linguistic and conceptual confusion that can mislead when a modern reader examines Church documents from even a few decades ago. The article continues:
As a research concept, sexual orientation clearly has a perplexing array of meanings. … Sexual orientation was treated as if it were a palpable, unitary phenomenon although it was conceived in divergent and sometimes contradictory ways. … The idea of sexual identity [moreover] provides no more stable focus of investigation than the amorphous notion of sexual orientation.288
Attempts at Standardization — Klein’s Seven Variables
In 1985, Fritz Klein and colleagues echoed these concerns, warning that “research instruments investigating sexual orientation tended to be as limited as the theoretical positions they were based on. Researchers have failed operationally or conceptually to define sexual orientation, by not [Page 207]providing clear or consistent definitions.”289 They argued that “sexual orientation is multi-variate” and these “variables … differ over time.”290
To remedy this, Klein defined sexual orientation on the basis of seven factors and emphasized “the importance of viewing sexual orientation as a process which often changes over time.” Furthermore, the seven variables were independent — they were not merely “measuring the same dimension” under different names.291
It is useful to compare Klein’s seven variables292 to the Church’s 1981 Understanding and Changing Homosexual Orientation document, as shown in the table below. It is evident from the comparison that 1981 Church efforts to change homosexual orientation focused on six of the seven domains later identified by Klein in 1985. Not incidentally, these areas are all behaviors subject to choice. There was clear acknowledgement that the sole area not under the individual’s control — attraction — was not something for which he was at fault, and its resolution was not promised. He was even warned that it could well persist.
|Klein Variable||Understanding and Changing Homosexual Orientation Approach|
|1. Sexual attraction||“factors in man’s mortal environment” can “mak[e] certain options particularly appealing”; “when an individual changes his homosexual orientation, it does not necessarily mean that old thoughts, feelings, and temptations never return.”293|
|2. Sexual behavior||Extensive focus on actions (see the section of this essay entitled “Behavior versus Orientation”). “The Lord views homosexual behavior as sin in the same degree as adultery and fornication. The overriding therapeutic goal, therefore, is to erase sinful homoerotic habits.”294|
|[Page 208]3. Sexual fantasies||“Has increased power to forsake his homosexually-oriented thoughts and behavior”; “build … patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting which conform to the laws of chastity”; “Sometimes homosexually-oriented thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are so entrenched as to be automatic, requiring special help to bring them back into proper control”; “Stop masturbation, erotic fantasies, and the use of pornography”; “Homoerotic Fantasy Control … The importance of the client stopping homoerotic thoughts as soon as possible after they enter his mind cannot be overemphasized. This technique suggests ways to help the client gain this control.”295|
|4. Emotional preference||“Discuss the client’s ability to separate erotic feelings from social-emotional feelings. For example, there is a difference between wanting a close relationship with another male and wanting sex.”; “Increase social interaction,” “Give female interaction assignments.”296|
|5. Social preference||”Seems almost incapable of maintaining continuous close relationships with either sex”; “You may need to help the client strengthen his relationships with you and with others — family, friends, and strangers of both sexes”; “Eliminate contact with homosexual associates”; “Development [of] appropriate interpersonal relationship skills with both sexes.”297|
|6. Self-identification||“When a client attaches that label [homosexual] to himself, he does himself a great injustice because many of the associations may not apply. In addition the label incorrectly implies something the person is rather than something he does. Discourage the client from using that inaccurate label”; “This is why it is so important not to incorrectly label”; “Identifies himself as homosexual”; “Help the client … see why the labels of homosexual or gay may not apply to him.”298|
|7. Lifestyle||“May need to change his lifestyle”; “Usually must change his lifestyle”; “May be steeped in the homosexual culture and life-style”; “Those with severe symptoms may be deeply entrenched in a homosexual life-style.”299|
Homosexual Orientation, in Conclusion
When a term such as homosexual orientation can mislead so badly, and when Tabernacles fails to help the reader understand it despite both historical usage and the Church texts’ clarity, it is again evident why precision in historical terminology is vital.
[Page 209]Tabernacles says that “Poststructuralist queer approaches are attuned to … the genealogies of what is often taken for granted” (10). Better history would result if attention was paid to the genealogy of these ideas. Tabernacles’s approach relies on readers assuming that they know what words meant.
The consequences of Tabernacles’s failure to be clear about what words meant to historical figures are evident in its treatment of masturbation’s link with homosexuality. Of Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness, Tabernacles says:
The chapter on homosexuality began with a condemnation of masturbation. While not equivalent in seriousness, Kimball warned that masturbation “too often leads to grievous sin, even to that sin against nature, homosexuality.” (71)
This is a recurrent theme in Tabernacles:
Because of Kimball’s belief in the close connection between masturbation and homosexuality, LDS Social Services assessed that there was a need to offer some clarification. Masturbation … “is not homosexuality when practiced alone. When one person masturbates another, it is a homosexual act.” (79)
Yet Kimball did not believe that solo masturbation was a homosexual act either.300
Of a Church manual for families, Tabernacles says, “Kimball’s teaching that masturbation may lead to homosexuality was now included in the training for parents” (93).
This purported link between self-stimulation and homosexuality has often been ridiculed. O’Donovan refers to Kimball’s “absurd theory that masturbation leads to homosexuality.”301 And, such skepticism is justified if one reads homosexuality as homosexual orientation in the [Page 210]modern sense. Most people masturbate sometime, and few of these are gay.
Such an analysis assumes and relies on modern definitions, however. As I have shown, leaders’ use of the term homosexuality in this period — especially the homosexuality that they sought to discourage — was almost exclusively concerned with behavior.302
Seen in this light, Kimball’s claim becomes both more plausible and more understandable. It is important to remember that he had long experience counseling practicing homosexuals (19, 68–70).303 He would likely have learned that solo masturbation while entertaining homosexual fantasies would often precede acting on those fantasies with another person. From that perspective, Kimball’s claim is less controversial and may even be valid.
Kimball was not alone in these realizations. Clinicians with exposure to the homosexual demi-monde had long remarked that homosexual masturbatory practices tended to precede homosexual acts with others, though the former did not always lead to the latter.
At the turn of the twentieth century, early sexologist Havelock Ellis wrote of a correspondent “who went to a French school, [and] told me that all the older boys had younger accomplices in mutual masturbation. … At my school, manual masturbation was both solitary and mutual; and sometimes younger boys, who had not acquired the habit, were induced to manipulate bigger boys. … In after-life they showed no signs of inversion [i.e., homosexuality].”304
In Albert Moll’s Sexual Life of the Child (1912), he wrote:
It is an indisputable fact that many boys … readily take to sexual practices with others. Examples of this constantly occur in [same-sex] boarding schools … they begin sexual practices very early in life (mutual masturbation and intimate physical contact, especially contact involving the genital organs).305
[Page 211]In an effort to reassure the reader that co-education of boys and girls would not be unduly risky, Moll pointed out that “even if we believe that in isolated instances coeducation may lead to unfortunate results in the way of [hetero]sexual practice. … We have to think of the fact that by the separation of the sexes during childhood we may favor the development of homosexuality.”306
Moll and Havelock evidently did not think that masturbation inevitably lead to homosexual behavior, much less what is today called orientation. But, Moll would draw precisely the same conclusion as Kimball regarding behavior in the dry prose of academic German science:
The German Imperial Criminal Code … assert[s] that homosexual tendencies appearing in the child necessarily indicate the future development of permanent homosexuality. [Moll disagrees.] …
The chief danger associated with the appearance of sexual perversions lies in the fact that the child thus affected … endeavors again and ever again to revive these pleasurably-toned sensations … and … as soon as the genital organs are sufficiently mature, the boy or girl obtains sexual gratification by masturbating simultaneously with the imaginative contemplation of perverse ideas. Such perverse psychical onanism, accompanied or unaccompanied by physical masturbatory acts, is eminently adapted to favor the development of the perversion. Obviously, the actual performance of the corresponding perverse sexual act will be just as dangerous as its perversely associated masturbation. Thus, a boy who is homosexually inclined may masturbate while allowing his imagination to run riot upon homosexual ideas; or he may take to homosexual acts with one or more other male persons. Every sort of gratification that is associated with perverse images is dangerous; and no less dangerous is the spontaneous cultivation of such perverse sexual images.307
Moll saw a risk related to masturbation among the “homosexually inclined” — it would encourage unwanted behavior, but not create most [Page 212]inclination to that behavior.308 Kimball, with more brevity, would write “masturbation too often leads to grievous sin, even to … homosexuality. For, done in private, it evolves often into mutual masturbation — practiced with another person of the same sex — and thence into total homosexuality.”309
This was, in fact, precisely what a study of “non-patient” adult male homosexuals “drawn from the community” found in the same year that The Miracle of Forgiveness was published:
Of the homosexual men, all of them had practiced self-masturbation at some time during their lives. … Even during the peak of their sexual outlet by homosexual means between the ages of 20 and 29, almost all of the subjects (97%) were engaged in self-masturbation. …
Homosexual behavior. …
Cognitional Rehearsals — Those were reported in almost all of the men (99%). In 97% it was stated that cognitional rehearsals had already started before age 20. …
The majority of the subjects (86%) had already had homosexual contacts before the age of 15. …
Of the men that were engaged in homosexual activity before age 15, the large majority (93%) practiced mutual masturbation … [and] a minority (19%) practiced [homosexual] intercourse. …
Mutual masturbation was abandoned by the majority of the subjects after the age of 29. Even those who practiced it between the of 20 and 29, tended to engage in it only occasionally.310
[Page 213]For this population, Kimball was right — one started with fantasies (“cognitional rehearsals”) ultimately accompanied by masturbation, progressed to mutual masturbation, and eventually abandoned that for greater intimacies. One can quibble about whether masturbation “caused” these homosexual acts in a technical sense, but it is hard to see the behaviors as utterly unrelated. And behavior was what concerned Kimball.
In fact, he would have said that the person chose solo acts that simply made it easier to later choose other acts with someone else — one sin “leads to” another (71). He did not see the relationship as deterministic:311
Small indiscretions evolve into larger ones and finally into major transgressions which bring heavy penalties. … Warning signals and guidelines are given to reduce the danger of one’s being blindly enticed into forbidden paths. …
Those who yield to evil are usually those who have placed themselves in a vulnerable position.312
And, he saw other similar sins as preludes to heterosexual ones in the same way: “My beloved young folks, do not excuse petting and body intimacies. I am positive that if this illicit, illegal, improper, and lustful habit of ‘petting’ could be wiped out, that fornication would soon be gone from our world.”313
Without explaining all this, Tabernacles again sets the reader up for a presentist reaction. Even a present-day queer studies author understands what Tabernacles does not disclose:
Once the patient’s will-power or reason was compromised by masturbation [it was thought] … “reversion” to the primordial bestial type would be the result. … the slide from masturbation to homosexuality seems bizarre from a twenty-first century perspective. However, that is partly because current definitions of masturbation are very narrow compared to the definitions operative in the nineteenth century. We think of masturbation as self-stimulation only,” while the nineteenth century did not consider anything but [Page 214]intercourse to be a homosexual act, even if it involved same-sex genital play.314
Nineteenth-century thinkers also believed that
There were two categories of inverts [i.e., homosexuals]. First, there were those whose condition was a result of self-induced degeneracy through willful vice. … However, increasingly influenced by the personal disclosures of inverts themselves, many nineteenth century physicians began to believe there was a second group. … Maybe some people are born with the gonads and genitalia of one sex but the brain and neurological system of the other. …
But it might not be fair to punish [these] congenital inverts, many physicians and sexologists believed, because their actions were not truly voluntary. As James Kiernan put it, “There can be no legal responsibility where free determination of the will is impaired.” Congenital inverts were naturally weak of will … unable to resist the perverse urges that their degenerate condition aroused. Such individuals might undergo episodic periods of organically produced sexual furor during which they were entirely devoid of self-control.315
If these distinctions are understood, then Kimball’s argument makes further sense. Some believed that those with an in-born attraction for the same sex could not control their actions. Other homosexuals “learned” such behavior via a free-will choice to engage in masturbation, which, in some, could progress to group masturbation and ultimately to homosexuality (i.e., intercourse).
The nineteenth century theorists might not condemn those who were “innate” homosexuals who had not brought their habit upon themselves through masturbatory habits. But they did not believe this group could control themselves either — their compulsive activity would be almost a type of madness. (By analogy, today’s society would not condemn a schizophrenic for her hallucinations, though it might well institutionalize her against her will if she sought to harm others as a result of those hallucinations.)
[Page 215]Church doctrine, however, revolted at the idea that any normal person was unable to control their behavior, however they might be tempted.316 So Kimball focused on avoiding the acts that could strengthen temptation and lead to further unwanted behavior.
Like Kimball, neither Ellis nor Moll saw same-sex mutual masturbation as fully “homosexual,” per se but observed that it could (in some cases) precede homosexual intercourse. This is a different conceptual world than ours.
Even one of Tabernacles’s sources demonstrates that this perspective applies. Twentieth century men in Utah often reported masturbation (either alone or with same-sex others) prior to considering themselves “homosexual.”317 Even researchers “distinguish[ed] casual homosexual contact … from exclusive same-sex attraction.”318
Tabernacles’s failure to make it crystal-clear how Kimball used the term homosexuality — virtually always as an action that was under self-control, not an orientation or state of mind or act one was powerless to resist — thus leads to more confusion. A lack of contextualization regarding masturbation only muddies matters further.
It is vital to Tabernacles’s argument that the reader be convinced that Latter-day Saint leaders regarded “heterosexuality” as fragile, with everyone at risk of being tempted by homosexual acts at every moment and at any provocation:
- “My goal is to provide an explanation for Mormon accounts of the nature of gender, sexuality, and race that rely heavily on concepts of fluidity and malleability” (15);
- “The contagious effects of homosexuality could also corrupt the ‘normal’ person … the practice could be enticing to anyone” (66);
- “Homosexuality had a clear cause and could happen to anyone who was not exercising self-mastery” (70);
- Boyd K. Packer’s “rejection of sexual essentialism suggested homosexuality was a universal risk” (88);
- [Page 216]“Mormon leaders also sought for relativity, ambiguity, and especially malleability to explain the fragility of heterosexual desires” (103).
Tabernacles ignores the clear evidence that Latter-day Saint leaders saw things otherwise. Boyd K. Packer’s 1978 talk was tellingly entitled, “To the One.” Packer could hardly be clearer in rebutting Tabernacles’s account:
What I say in this presentation will be serious and solemn. I will not speak to everyone. I ask the indulgence of the “ninety and nine,” while I speak to “the one.” I ask you, the ninety and nine, to sit quietly if you will, reverently if you can, and to generously help create an atmosphere where we can reach that one who desperately needs the counsel that I will present. …
I speak to those few, those very few, who may be subject to homosexual temptations.319
Packer is clear that he views the temptation as uncommon and he is addressing those few who are vulnerable. He encourages others to listen, not so ‘you too don’t fall victim someday,’ but because “there may be a time in the years ahead when you can use something of what I say to help someone else, perhaps someone very close to you. … The principles … apply to any moral temptation, and you may likewise have been reinforced and forewarned.”320
As already demonstrated, Tabernacles also claims that George Q. Cannon’s 1897 talk321 shows that “Cannon presupposed all were at risk of sodomy” (55). As discussed, that grossly misrepresents Cannon.322 He believed that the susceptible could be taught or inducted into such behavior, just as they could with heterosexual sin — but nowhere does he say that everyone is vulnerable.
In 1964, Kimball saw homosexual behavior as something “which has been more in the background but which now is being written about … and is being brought out into the limelight.”323 In 1973, leaders would emphasize “these few young people,” who struggled.324
[Page 217]What, then, of repeated warnings that, if universally engaged in, homosexuality could “depopulate” a country or the whole world (116, 144)?
Tabernacles mistakes in this case a rhetorical figure for literalism. Kimball was often at pains to demonstrate that homosexual behavior is a sin.325 The New York Academy of Medicine described homosexuals as arguing for their “noble, preferable way of life, … the perfect answer to the problem of population explosion.”326
One strategy to demonstrate homosexual acts’ sinfulness was to point out that God’s plan required humans to come to earth, form eternal male- female families, and create bodies for others. Homosexual behavior was incapable of doing so even in principle, and thus was not an authorized use of procreative power.327 Kimball made this explicit in “Love Versus Lust”:
After creating man in His own image, male and female, God then performed the holy marriage ceremony for eternity for His Adam and Eve. And in this beginning, He established a pattern of sex life consistent with all reason and propriety. In that first marriage blessing, the Lord commanded these two beings, who were complementary to each other, to multiply by being fruitful and bringing children into the world. … This command did not give license to merely satisfy biological urges.328
The use of the reductio ad absurdum of an entire country being depopulated by universal homosexual behavior does not mean that leaders literally believed all were vulnerable to homosexual temptation, and therefore that gender fluidity ruled. Fischer warned against this type of historical analytical error, calling it “The fallacy of misplaced literalism”:
A form of context error, which consists in the misconstruction of a statement-in-evidence so that it carries a literal meaning when a symbolic or hyperbolic or figurative meaning was intended. …
[Page 218]Barzun and Graff comment, “Misplaced literalism … has many forms, and it is particularly insidious because the reporter must begin by being literal. He must ascertain with all possible precision what his original text tells him. … [But] if he remains baldly literal and contents himself with quoting extracts, he invariably ends by showing his human subject to have been a mass of contradictions. … Misplaced literalism makes a shambles of intellectual history.”329
Tabernacles’s claim does precisely this — making its subjects a “mass of contradictions” unless one accepts its claim that they believed in sexual malleability. Packer, too, rebuts Tabernacles’s reading, demonstrating the shambles of its intellectual history:
It becomes very important for them [those engaged in homosexual practices] to believe that everyone, to one degree or another, is “that way.” You hear them claiming that a large percentage of the population is involved, in one way or another, with this activity. Do not be deceived.330
But if this is so — if leaders did not believe that everyone was at risk given the right provocation — why the universal warnings against such sin? A medical analogy may help.
A recent medical guideline recommends that all males aged 65–80 be screened for an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).331 A “triple-A” can be catastrophic. This dilation and resultant weakening of the main artery carrying blood to the abdomen and legs can rupture, killing the patient. If found early, it can be repaired.
“Screening” means that every patient gets tested — they are being “warned” of AAA and its risks, just as leaders warned all against homosexual sin. If nothing is done, three patients out of a thousand will die of an AAA and four will have a rupture that does not kill.
If the patients are screened, only two will die of the AAA, and only two will have a non-fatal rupture. For all the work and expense of screening 1000 men, one life is saved, and two ruptures prevented. [Page 219]Because everyone is screened, does this mean that the physician believes that every male patient she sees is likely to develop this condition? Or that every patient even has the capacity to develop it? Or that if she fails to warn them, their abdominal aortas’ inherent fragility will manifest and they will be susceptible to rupture?
No. The idea is absurd. Fully 99.3% of the patients will neither die nor rupture, even if AAA is never mentioned. In a similar way, the ninety and nine of Packer’s talk would never have trouble, even if he said nothing.
All thousand people are screened and told that they are all potentially at risk, not because most of them have an AAA, and not because anyone can develop an AAA if they aren’t screened properly. No, they are screened simply because there is no way of telling which one person of the thousand is truly at risk unless all are checked.
Prophets’ warnings about homosexual sin are like that. Packer did not fear that heterosexuality was “fragile” or “unstable,” or that homosexuality was “contagious.” He only knew that some few would be susceptible to this sin, and he had no way of knowing beforehand who those few were.
In his view, then, in matters of sexual behavior, there are things that can be done to lower (or raise) the risk for the vulnerable, as when Packer warns “we can very foolishly cause things we are trying to prevent by talking too much about them.”332
It does not matter to the ninety and nine. But one life in a thousand is worth AAA screening. The rest can, as Packer said, “sit quietly.”
Tabernacles claims that after decades of promising “cures”333 for homosexuality, “Mormons invented new doctrines about sexuality to accommodate gay and lesbian identities in this period by delaying the ‘cure’ until the next life” (18). And, Tabernacles will later assert that twenty-first century leaders who taught that such desires would end either in this life or the next, were guilty of “a repudiation of so many of the promises of earlier church leaders” (185).
[Page 220]The Church’s 1970 Hope for Transgressors document says that homosexuals “can often be helped to a total cure by a kindly Church official who understands,”334 and Tabernacles repeats the “total cure” claim often (73, 88, 178, 215). It does not emphasize, however, the caveat that this “can often” happen — things that can often happen do not always happen. Even here there is a tacit acknowledgement that all does not always resolve.
Enough has been shown to understand how treacherous claims involving vocabulary may be. Nowhere is the language used of more importance or potentially more distorted by historical distance. Tabernacles seems to see the offers of a “cure” as reflecting the psychologists’ hope that what is currently referred to as orientation could be changed:
The internal dispute of the professional therapists foreshadowed coming shifts in church teachings that would manifest decades later — perhaps homosexuality could not be “cured” after all” (97).
Tabernacles thus urges the reader to see the early offers of a “cure” as inconsistent with today’s caution that the Church does not promise or require a change in orientation.
But as I have shown, until at least 1981 Church publications conceptualized homosexuality as a set of sinful behaviors that could and should be controlled. Thus, when Kimball or others spoke of a “cure,” were they promising a cure for inclinations, temptations, and so forth? Or were they promising a solution for sinful behavior? If I am right that they were concerned almost exclusively with behavior, one would expect to find the latter. And so it is.
“A Counselling Problem in the Church” (1964)
I have already demonstrated how, in 1981, even those who had left their “homosexual orientation” behind could still be tempted and have homosexual desires.335 What is found when looking at earlier times? In his earliest detailed discussion, Kimball emphasized mastering oneself:
In a few months, some have totally mastered themselves, while others linger on with less power and requiring more time to make the total comeback. We realize that the cure is no more permanent than the individual makes it so and is like the cure for alcoholism subject to continued vigilance. [Page 221]… The cure for this malady lies in self mastery which is the fundamental basis of the whole gospel program.336
Kimball explicitly compared homosexual sin to alcoholism — something with which one might always be tempted, and thus requiring “continued vigilance.” A changed “sexual orientation” in the modern sense would not require such caution.
Few people believed even then that alcoholism — the temptation from and desire for alcohol — could be conquered “once and for all.” But one could abstain.337 Kimball’s cure is thus one of behavior, not necessarily desire — for “the cure is no more permanent than the individual makes it.”
Tabernacles later claims that, in 1995, Dallin H. Oaks “shifted the goalposts for therapeutic success” by comparing homosexual desire to [Page 222]such things as “[g]ambling, addiction, and a ‘hot temper’ [which] may be inborn or acquired” (179), but Kimball was drawing precisely the same analogy to addiction more than three decades earlier. Inborn biological or early experiential factors were likewise mentioned back in 1981.338
Tabernacles asserts that, as of 2006, leaders’ “statements were now open to the possibility that some people might never be completely cured in this life” (185). But Kimball was open to that in 1964 if one understands “cure” to mean a life-long absence of temptation. (By contrast, he firmly believed the behavior could be cured for life.)
This was a persistent theme through the 1960s and 1970s. Tabernacles misleads the reader when it implies that accepting the possibility that temptation would persist was a twenty-first century change.
“Love versus Lust” (1965)
In his published address to BYU, Kimball promised no fast resolution: “Sometimes it takes as long or longer to climb back up the steep hill than it did to skid down it. And it is often much more difficult.”339 “It is possible that he may rationalize and excuse himself until the groove is so deep he cannot get out without great difficulty, but this he can do.”340
Kimball emphasized again that homosexual behavior was not “just another different but acceptable way of life. … But it can be corrected and overcome.”341 The sinner may “heal himself” with several provisos:
We realize that the cure is no more permanent than the individual makes it so, and is like the cure for alcoholism, subject to continued vigilance. To such men, we say, ‘Physician, heal thyself,’ and promise him if he will stay away from the haunts and the temptations and the former associates, he may heal himself, cleanse his mind, and return to his normal pursuits and a happy state. The cure for this malady lies in self-mastery, which is the fundamental basis of the whole gospel program.
As in 1964, Kimball here insisted that the repentant sinner could still be tempted, and on-going vigilance was needed. He elaborated: “If [Page 223]one has such desires and tendencies, he overcomes them the same as if he had the urge toward petting or fornication or adultery.”342
If one were to have a problem with petting, fornication, or adultery (all acts) one would not expect a change in “orientation.” One would not cease to have sexual attraction or sexual desire. Instead, one would control such desires and prevent their sinful expression. On-going temptation was a real possibility for the reformed homosexual sinner, as for all:
Temptations come to all people. The difference between the reprobate and the worthy person is generally that one yielded and the other resisted. It is true that one’s background may make the decision and accomplishment easier or more difficult, but if one is mentally alert, he can still control his future.343
I know that some may view my inclusion of the above information as repetitive to make a point, and therefore unnecessary to that point. My point, though, isn’t that Kimball viewed the entire matter differently than what is represented in Tabernacles, but that Tabernacles repeatedly ignores and mischaracterizes what is over and over and over again stated, in many contexts. That is a failing that must be understood by anyone considering the points supposedly made in Tabernacles.
New Horizons for Homosexuals (1966/1971)
Kimball held out no illusions that change from homosexual sin would be easy: “You should now make the superhuman effort to rid yourself of your master, the devil, Satan.”344 Kimball here repeatedly promised a “cure.” And how did he see that cure?
“Homosexuality and like practices are deep sins; they can be cured; they can be forgiven”;345
“homosexuality, like fornication, adultery, robbery, and other detestable sins is curable.”346
The focus on behavior remains, and the cure from homosexuality is the same as being cured of fornication, adultery, robbery, or any other sin. This does not mean that one is devoid of homosexual feelings, any [Page 224]more than one might become devoid of heterosexual attraction, or the desire for material possessions that might precipitate robbery. The cure is in ceasing sinful acts.
The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969)
Kimball returned again to his analogy with alcoholism:347
Thus when a man has made up his mind to change his life, there must be no turning back. Any reversal, even in a small degree, is greatly to his detriment. The reformed alcoholic who takes “just a little sip” again may have lost all the ground he has gained. The pervert who relaxes and returns to old companions or situations is in grave danger again. …
A healing process in the spirit and mind must come from within from self-will. Others may help to cauterize the wound, suture it, and provide a clean, proper environment for the healing, but the body, with the aid of the Spirit, must heal itself. Accordingly some totally conquer homosexuality in a few months, others linger on with less power and require more time to make the total comeback. The cure is as permanent as the individual makes it and, like the cure for alcoholism, is subject to continued vigilance. …
Soon the months have passed and their thoughts are under control and their actions are above reproach.348
Behavior is the focus, and there is no claim that temptation and desire will cease. One would have no need to control thoughts otherwise. Kimball remains consistent and clear, a point either not understood by Tabernacles or purposely glossed over. Either way, the treatment of Kimball is not fair to the readers of Tabernacles.
Welfare Services Packet 1 (1973)
In 1973, the theme remained the same: “As with the alcoholic or adulterer (or one participating in any other wrong behavior), the homosexual will have to avoid for the rest of his or her life the thoughts, circumstances, and temptations which lead to immoral behavior.”349
[Page 225]There is no promise of freedom from homosexual attraction. Mastery of thoughts and behaviors is necessary, which it would not be if one’s orientation was changed, and this wariness must persist for life.
“To the One” (1978)
Boyd K. Packer rejected the idea that homosexual behavior was “incurable.” “If someone is heavily involved in perversion,” he said, “it becomes very important to him to believe that it is incurable. Can you not see that those who preach that doctrine do so to justify themselves?”350
Packer focused on change. But what change? “It is not unchangeable. It is not locked in. One does not just have to yield to it and live with it.”351 The change he speaks of is not in the susceptibility to the temptation, but in not yielding to such desires.
Packer offered no false hope of a change in orientation, or an easy, miraculous fix for most:
Now, I hope I will not disappoint you too much if I say at once that I do not know of any quick spiritual cure-all. Setting aside miracles for the moment, in which I firmly believe, generally I do not know of some spiritual shock treatment that will sear the soul of an individual and instantly kill this kind of temptation — or any other kind, for that matter. No spiritual wonder drug that I know of will do it. The cure rests in following for a long period of time, and thereafter continually, some very basic, simple rules for moral and spiritual health. …
If I could announce to you some dramatic, even bizarre, cure for this condition, I am sure many would move without hesitation to accept it, but when we talk of little things, most, I fear, will receive it just as Naaman first received the message from the prophet Elisha. If I should tell you to do some great thing and you would be cured, would you not do it? How much better, then, for you to do the little things! …
[Page 226]Overcoming moral temptation is a very private battle, an internal battle. … Others can lend moral support and help establish an environment for your protection. But this is an individual battle.Establish a resolute conviction that you will resist for a lifetime, if necessary, any deviate thought or deviate action. Do not respond to those feelings; suppress them.352
Like Kimball, Packer clearly believed that those so tempted might have to “resist for a lifetime.” This is not an admonition to ‘pray away the gay.’ Instead, it promises strength to avoid acting on what may be a powerful temptation throughout one’s life. “Bad thoughts often have to be evicted a hundred times, or a thousand. But if they have to be evicted ten thousand times, never surrender to them.”353
You will have to grow away from your problem with undeviating — notice that word — undeviating determination. The longer you have been afflicted, or the more deeply you have been involved, the more difficult and the longer the cure. Any relapse is a setback. But if this should happen, refuse to be discouraged. Take your medicine, however bitter it tastes. …
You yourself can draw upon a power that will reinforce your will. If you have this temptation — fight it!354
Something that requires “undeviating determination” is not a change in orientation. Reinforcements to the will are not needed unless another powerful inclination is also on-going. Packer even compared those who undertook this course to patients who required major surgery, with permanent consequences and life-long limitations as a result:
The cut must be [deep, to the quick] to repair many physical disorders. And yet our hospitals are full to overflowing with patients. They count it quite worthwhile to submit to treatment, however painful. They struggle through long periods of recuperation and sometimes must be content with a limited life-style thereafter, in some cases in order just to live. Is it not reasonable that recuperation from this disorder might be somewhat comparable?355
[Page 227]Cautioning of “a limited life-style thereafter” is not an over-rosy promise of an altered sexual orientation. It is a frank warning that the “cure” for such behavior may well be life-long effort and abstinence.
Tabernacles claims of a twenty-first century talk of Packer’s356: “While Packer remained optimistic about the possibility of controlling same-sex desire, he now conceded, ‘That may be a struggle from which you will not be free in this life’” (183). Tabernacles’s insinuation that this stance was a change for Packer is false — he had been “conceding” the same thing since at least 1978.357
And, he kept on saying it. In 1990 he said:
Some have resisted temptation but never seem to be free from it. Do not yield! Cultivate the spiritual strength to resist — all of your life, if need be. …
You may wonder why God does not seem to hear your pleading prayers and erase these temptations. When you know the gospel plan, you will understand that the conditions of our mortal probation require that we be left to choose. That test is the purpose of life. While these addictions may have devoured, for a time, your sense of morality or quenched the spirit within you, it is never too late. You may not be able, simply by choice, to free yourself at once from unworthy feelings. You can choose to give up the immoral expression of them.358
In 1995, he reiterated: “How all can be repaired, we do not know. It may not all be accomplished in this life.”359 Either Tabernacles is ignorant of these sources, or it is misrepresenting them.
[Page 228]“Unselfishness” as Cure?
Tabernacles describes Packer’s 1978 diagnosis: “Invoking the unconscious, Packer believed that selfishness could be essentially invisible and only manifest itself in errant desires. Nevertheless, recognizing this spiritual infirmity was the key to a cure for homosexuality” (91).
Here, too, Tabernacles’s language risks distortion and confusion. It presents Packer as appealing to unconscious selfishness as an “invisible” cause of homosexual desire. But as has been shown, Packer’s concern is not with errant desire — it is with errant behavior.
He also does not appeal to “the unconscious” in a psychological sense (as Tabernacles frames it), nor claim it is “invisible.” True, Packer says, “the form of selfishness at the root of perversion is [not] a conscious one, at least not to begin with.”360 But he had already made it clear why selfishness has remained unrecognized, out of conscious awareness: “The cause of this disorder has remained hidden for so long because we have been looking for it in the wrong place. When the cause is discovered, it may be nothing so mysterious after all. It may be hidden because it is so obvious.”361 Tabernacles neglects to mention this explanation.
This is not a problem hidden in “the unconscious” — it is something that we are not initially conscious of because we have been looking in the wrong place. It is not invisible, just unseen.
By analogy, I might be completely unconscious of John standing behind me. But, John does not exist in “the unconscious,” and he is not The Invisible Man. I am simply unaware of him until I turn around and look in the right spot, where he has been all along — completely visible had I looked.
What is the nature of the selfishness to which Packer refers? This is central to his entire argument and perspective, but Tabernacles ignores it:
Individuals guilty of very selfish acts inevitably hurt those around them. No person ever made a conscious decision to make unnatural behavior his life-style without sending brutal, destructive, selfish signals to those who love him.
If you cannot understand perversion — and I admit that I cannot understand it — you can understand unselfishness and selfishness. And you can learn to cure perversion.362
[Page 229]For Packer, this selfishness is manifested in actions. Homosexuality is a sin of behavior, not orientation. So, what is the selfishness that must be recognized to be treated?
We can do many things that are very personal, but these need not be selfish. For instance, it need not be a selfish thing to study and improve your mind, to develop your talents, or to perfect the physical body. These can be very unselfish if the motive is ultimately to bless others. But there is something different about the power of procreation. There is something that has never been fully explained that makes it dangerous indeed to regard it as something given to us, for us.363
The selfishness, then, lies in regarding our sexuality as “something given to us, for us.” One could hardly find a better summary of the unexamined attitude which underlies queer theory and most modern sexual politics. This stance is, in those contexts, accepted as axiomatic and is rarely acknowledged or examined, much less debated. It is invisible to most, and they remain unconscious of it. Worldviews and presuppositions are like that.
This is why the selfishness Packer refers to can be unseen and unconscious (though not subconscious or in the unconscious) — most of us are in the habit of regarding our sexual powers as our own. If we consider them ours and for our benefit, then a host of conclusions follow:
- If the powers are to benefit me, then I have a right to use them
- If the powers are mine, if I enjoy what I do with them and do not believe I harm anyone, this cannot be morally wrong
- If the powers are mine, no one may tell me how to use them
- If the powers are mine, they and my desires about them form an integral part of my personal identity and way of being in the world
If, however, the powers are not ours — if they belong to God or another364 — then he and his servants may properly tell us how to express them. Our desires about them are then of little moral moment. (If [Page 230]I desire my neighbor’s sports car, this desire makes no moral difference as to whether I may drive it — it is not mine, so I may only use it with his permission, whatever my desires. This is especially true if he has delivered the car into my care with explicit instructions about how it may be used.)
Finally, desires about powers which are not even ours cannot define us in any absolute, essential sense.365
Once Packer’s actual argument is examined, it is clear why he does not promise a change of orientation. Such an idea is irrelevant to his carefully constructed argument. Tabernacles quotes the material immediately after Packer’s explanation, but ignores the heart of his message. As a result, readers cannot understand his full intent.
Homosexuality (1981 Leaders’ Manual)
In sum, by 1981, little in the Church’s attitude to curing homosexual behavior had changed. It was again emphasized that
These people often speak of long, difficult, uphill struggles which sometimes take years, and of the infinite patience of relatives, friends, and Church leaders. They do not say that the old thoughts never return. But they testify of growing strength as their thoughts and behaviors become righteous. Like all people, they must always be on guard against temptation.366
There was no promise that one’s desires or attractions would cease:
A person who has repented of homosexual problems must continue to maintain vigilance and self-control. Overcoming homosexual sin does not always mean that he will no longer have negative thoughts or temptations. It does mean, however, that he has developed sufficient spirituality and self-control to resist temptation and avoid incorrect behavior.367
Marriage as a Cure?
Tabernacles makes much of efforts to encourage heterosexual marriage as part of the “cure” (96). This is an important point, and harm was done by the approach taken by some. As Tabernacles notes, as early as [Page 231]1987, President Hinckley warned that “Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices” (96).368 It seems that some did not get the message, since reportedly at least a few “LDS bishops and counselors reportedly encouraged homosexual men to marry women well into the early decades of the twenty-first century” (96).
Even here, though, it is important to be clear about precisely what Kimball and others taught. Tabernacles says, “In the 1960s and 1970s, Spencer W. Kimball had taught that marriage was the ultimate goal of the repentance process and rehabilitation. Homosexuality could be completely overcome, and once a young man felt ready, then he should marry” (96).
Note that the young man needed to believe himself “ready,” though Tabernacles’s source for this idea is not clear — the concept is not mentioned in either of the footnoted works. In the first document cited, Kimball wrote: “let this individual repent of his perversion, force himself to return to normal pursuits and interests and actions and friendships with the opposite sex, and this normal pattern can become natural again.”369 It is important to note that he said it can develop this way; he did not say that it must or will or should in order for forgiveness and repentance to be complete.
The only other source cited by Tabernacles for this claim says:
If they will close the door to the intimate associations with their own sex and open it wide to that of the other sex, of course in total propriety, and then be patient and determined, gradually they can move their romantic interests where they belong. Marriage and normal life can follow.370
Here again, progress toward heterosexual “romantic interests” can occur and marriage can follow. There is no intimation that it must happen or that it necessarily will — patience is needed.371
[Page 232]The 1973 Welfare Services Packet 1 does not mention marriage, and only mentions reluctance to date as a sign of a youth possibly at risk of later homosexual behavior:
It is necessary to instruct and help these few young people [i.e., those with homosexual tendencies] in their responsibilities to prepare for marriage. Healthy group associations with members of the opposite sex that provide the necessary maturing experiences should be encouraged. Resistance may be a sign of the need for help. Priesthood leaders can counsel young people, through their parents, to lead an active, healthy social life.372
Advice to bishops in 1981 likewise does not push marriage:
The individual can more easily eliminate all overt homosexual behavior, friends, and places by replacing them with more appropriate friends and activities. …
Encourage the member to be in appropriate situations with members of the opposite sex, even if he has to force himself. If he is single, he might attend activities for singles with increasing frequency, and in other ways surround himself with good LDS people.
Encourage him (if single) to begin dating and gradually increase its frequency. …
[Page 233]Help him recognize and retain those social skills, attitudes, feelings, and characteristics that are appropriate and uniquely his. …
Encourage the development and use of his talents, interests, and skills to bless others.373
There is no mention of marriage. Even dating is “encouraged,” not required. The contemporaneous guide for therapists suggests using guided imagery of temple marriage, but cautions, “Be sensitive to the client’s feelings and use only images with which he is comfortable.”374 Clients might “list the physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and personality characteristics of a woman he would consider marrying. … Through discussion, you can help him correct errors in his perception and gradually envision in his mind what women are really like and how he might appropriately increase his interaction with them.”375 Again, might is the key word.
One should also remember that many of those with whom Kimball worked were married, with wives and children. It is understandable that he would expect them to honor their covenant duties and return to family life as part of any repentance.376
There can be no doubt that some were given poor or premature advice on this front (President Hinckley’s caution would not have been needed otherwise). But to understand exactly what the documents say, it is important to be careful with the details. Tabernacles is not.
Homosexuality Worthy of Death?
Tabernacles seems to go out of its way to paint the acts and statements of leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ in dark undertones. For example: “Kimball noted that homosexuality and bestiality both were deserving of the death penalty and that ‘regrettably,’ ‘the law is less severe now,’ as was the community’s attitude” (71).
This makes it sound as if Kimball believed it regrettable that there was no capital punishment for homosexual sin. But, when his words are read in [Page 234]their proper order, a quite different meaning emerges: “The law is less severe now, and so regrettably is the community’s attitude to these grave sins.”377
Rather than cite the sentence as it is written, Tabernacles quotes a single word, then another phrase, and does not even indicate that the phrase “community’s attitude” is Kimball’s, treating it almost as an afterthought.378 It also reverses the order of “regrettably” and “the law is less severe,” leaving the impression that what Kimball regrets is the absence of the death penalty, when it is the lax societal attitude that he decries. This is clear in the paragraph that follows:
But let us emphasize that right and wrong, righteousness and sin, are not dependent upon man’s interpretations, conventions and attitudes. Social acceptance does not change the status of an act, making wrong into right. If all the people in the world were to accept homosexuality, as it seems to have been accepted in Sodom and Gomorrah, the practice would still be deep, dark sin.379
It is hard to see this clumsy, convoluted approach to citation — when a single phrase could have been cited with more clarity — as accidental.380
Nor does Kimball say that homosexuality or bestiality were “deserving of the death penalty,” as Tabernacles claims. He says only, “All such deviations … are not merely unnatural but wrong in the sight of God. Like adultery, incest, and bestiality they carried the death penalty under the Mosaic law.”381 So, even Tabernacles’s decision to highlight homosexuality and bestiality is deceptive — Kimball includes [Page 235]adultery and incest as well. Again, all sexual sins are condemned; he is not singling out homosexual acts as worthy of death.
Kimball used the same type of argument when he referred to the death sentence in Israel for violating the Sabbath day: “Although Israel’s swift and severe punishment for infractions [of the Sabbath] is not exacted today, this does not lessen the seriousness of the offense to the Lord for violating his day.”382 Ought the reader believe that Kimball longed for the death sentence for Sunday shoppers? Hardly. He presents the old law’s severity simply to demonstrate that the Lord regards these acts as sins.
Kimball is not the only one falsely portrayed as longing for a return to the death penalty for homosexuals. Tabernacles likewise attributes this view to Bruce R. McConkie, while simultaneously and paradoxically trying to use McConkie as evidence that the Church said little publicly about homosexuality in the 1950s. To defend the latter point, Tabernacles writes:
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie’s encyclopedic 1958 Mormon Doctrine also offered little discussion of the topic. Both the entries on “homosexuality” and “sodomy” pointed to the more general entry on “sex immorality.” In that brief entry, same-sex sexual relationships remained a primarily legal concern — he lamented the lack of capital punishment for sexual crimes as evidence of society’s “apostasy” (63–64).
Tabernacles’s gloss makes it sound as if McConkie says nothing specifically about homosexual sins by referring to a “more general entry.” This is misleading, since that entry mentions homosexual sins specifically, and repeatedly, in a non-legal context:
Every degree and type of lewdness, lasciviousness, and licentiousness; of concupiscence, prostitution, and whoredoms; of sodomy, onanism, and homosexuality … of adultery, fornication, and uncleanness — all these things, as well as many others, are condemned by divine edict. … Fine distinctions between them are of no particular moment and are not necessary to observance of the divine laws involved. Counsel in the field of chastity is simply: Be Chaste!383
[Page 236]McConkie’s entry demonstrates that homosexuality and sodomy were regarded in precisely the same class as other sexual sins, including fornication and adultery. He groups them because “fine distinctions between them are of no particular moment” — further evidence against Tabernacles’s dubious claim that homosexual sins were considered less serious.384
McConkie apparently felt no need to justify the Church’s supposed sudden increase in severity toward such sins (as Same-Sex Dynamics’s and Tabernacles’s thesis regarding the nineteenth century’s supposed laxity would require). Nor does he resort to catastrophizing about uniquely terrible homosexual acts as Tabernacles’s characterization of the post-war years would lead one to expect.385
Tabernacles claims the entry is “brief,” though the cited one is three and a half columns and contains no mention of anything like “legal concerns.” The intended reference may instead be a one-column entry on “Capital Punishment” that it does not cite but which does include legal matters. That entry quotes the apostle Paul, saying that “those who commit certain sexual perversions ‘are worthy of death’ (Rom. 1:26–32).”386 McConkie comments:
Anciently the death penalty was invoked for adultery and for many other offenses against God and man (Lev. 20:10) [This verse reads: “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”] Modern governments do not take the life of the adulterer, and some of them have done away with the supreme penalty where murder is involved — all of which is further evidence of the direful apostasy that prevails among the peoples who call themselves Christians.387
[Page 237]Tabernacles cannot have it both ways. There is no specific mention of homosexuality at all in these lines or the scripture cited. Tabernacles claims McConkie believes that “the lack of capital punishment for sexual crimes,” evinced apostasy. This is, strictly speaking, true — for the sexual crime of adultery. As used, however, Tabernacles makes it appear as if McConkie shared Kimball’s purported nostalgia for the death penalty against homosexuality.
Instead, McConkie specifies the absence of the death penalty for adultery and murder — not homosexuality — as evidence of apostasy. If, on the other hand, Tabernacles concedes that McConkie sees homosexual behavior as included within “adultery,” and Paul’s “sexual perversions” then the point is proven — adultery and homosexuality were treated in essentially equivalent ways, and “same-sex sexual relationships” were therefore not being singled out (as Tabernacles makes it sound) for the death sentence.
Even this distorts McConkie’s point. A review of other entries makes it clear that he believed that the death penalty for anything but murder was not desired or anticipated, save when the apostasy had ended during the Millennial reign of Christ.388
Tabernacles’s treatment is substandard.389 It does not cite the page nor article that supports its claim. It misrepresents the contents of the article that it does cite, and even when the other material to which it alludes is located, one finds distortion. It also ignores additional entries which undermine its reading.
Spencer W. Kimball and The Miracle of Forgiveness
The misleading treatment of President Kimball demonstrated above recurs often. Tabernacles states:
by 1969 [Kimball] had published his pastoral magnum opus, The Miracle of Forgiveness. With all of its hopefulness about the possibility of repentance, Kimball represented same-sex [Page 238]relationships in the darkest terms — “revolting,” “detestable,” “ugly,” “repugnant,” and so on. While his earlier public statements had been harsh with a dose of pastoral empathy, Kimball’s rhetoric in this book was vitriolic (70–71).
Contextualization of Language
As argued earlier, one of the historian’s chief duties is contextualization. Tabernacles’s language and framing abrogate this duty and paint Kimball’s rhetoric regarding homosexual sin as uniquely severe and terrible.
This characterization could be true. But is it? To find out, the responsible historian would first set out to analyze Kimball’s other statements and rhetorical style. Tabernacles must demonstrate that such language is uniquely “vitriolic,” not merely assume it or leave the reader with that impression.
Examining Kimball’s rhetorical style, one finds that the language he applied to homosexual sin is not uniquely harsh at all — this is simply how he spoke about all sin.390 For example, sexual sin of any sort was described in one of his works as “the great demon of the day. Like an octopus, it fastens its tentacles upon one,” “leading … youths to these defilements.”391
In The Miracle of Forgiveness itself, fornication is termed “an act of defilement,”392 and the more minor acts of necking and petting “are pernicious and abominable.”393 Opposite sex sins against chastity are variably described as: “diabolical,” “aberrations,” “corruption,” “filth,” “filthy as hell’s cesspools,” “pernicious,” “disgraceful,” “reprehensible,” “heinous,” “awful,” and “horrible.”394 Homosexual sin gets no special severity.
Nor is such tough talk restricted to sexual sins. “Strapless evening gowns and body-revealing sweaters … are an abomination in the sight of the Lord”; men judging a young woman in a bathing suit is “Abominable!”395 [Page 239]Beauty contests are “a deplorable exploitation of young women.”396 Even “early dating” is called “a vicious, destructive, social pattern.”397
These examples have been about sexuality or modesty and the like. Perhaps Kimball reserved his ire for those types of sins? No, “cheating, the first little dishonest act” is termed an “abominable practice.”398 Traitors to “a friend, a church, a nation, or a cause” are likewise condemned: “What could be more despicable?”399 “Unless they repent,” those who engage in “criticism of [Church] authorities and leaders” will “shrivel in the destructive element they have themselves prepared, poison themselves with mixtures of their own concocting.”400 Those who make purchases on the Sabbath “are rebellious as the children of Israel, the dire consequences of whose transgressions against this and other commandments should be a permanent warning to us all.”401 “Murder … adultery … theft … [and] other[s]” are “heinous crimes.”402 A family “feud … [over] property … worth only a few thousand dollars” was “disgraceful.”403
Four Scare Words
In fact, of Tabernacles’s four vitriolic scare words referring to homosexual sin, two are used in The Miracle of Forgiveness to refer to other sins, and Kimball uses the others elsewhere.404 I will briefly share examples of each.
The first — revolting — is not used elsewhere in The Miracle of Forgiveness, but Kimball was willing to label a large number of sins revolting. Only four years earlier he included violence and vandalism among them:
These are turbulent times. The newspapers give front page to ever-increasing acts of violence, and magazines devote pages [Page 240]to the growing menace. Such stories are revolting in their worldliness and debauchery. …
Insubordination reigns. Students rebel against restraints and limitations, demanding so-called freedoms in sex and social life. Youth, seemingly unafraid of law-enforcement officers, public opinion, or punishment, run wild. There seems to be an ever-increasing upsurge of rebellion in adults and youth. Vandalism continues in open defiance of officers with ever-increasing acts of violence.405
For Kimball, the sacrifice of Isaac was “revolting,” the Book of Mormon’s Enos “revolted” at his sins; the Lord was likewise “revolted” by Israel’s “filthiness.”406 “Abortion … [is] one of the most revolting practices,”407 and Christ found the “world’s ills” “revolting.”408
As for the second word, detestable, The Miracle of Forgiveness regards immodesty of dress as a “detestable expression,” that “no one but a depraved person could approve of … or grant its acceptance.”409
Immodesty merits the use of Tabernacles’s third scare word: “this ugly displaying of one’s private body.”410 Pornography is decried for its “ugly, vicious, sexy magazines, books and pictures.”411 The sins of “pride, jealousy, peevishness, lack of understanding, and anger” likewise have an “ugliness,”412 as do “fornication … and abortions.”413 Child abuse is likewise “vicious and ugly.”414 Elsewhere, Kimball used ugly to refer to the sin of racial “intolerance.”415
The fourth word — repugnant — is the same used by Kimball at the US Bicentennial to describe the state of the nation:
[Page 241]We are, on the whole, an idolatrous people — a condition most repugnant to the Lord.
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel — ships, planes, missiles, fortifications — and depend on them for protection and deliverance.416
Just below Murder
Such rhetoric may seem over-wrought to the present-day reader — but the historian’s task is to help readers see beyond their immediate experience and expectations in order to truly understand. Tabernacles consistently fails to do so.
At times, the results seem deliberate. The reader is told that The Miracle of Forgiveness “[r]eferr[ed] to the ‘crime against nature’ and ’sin of the ages’” (71). As I have already shown, naming sodomy the “crime against nature” was hardly unique or new in Latter-day Saint (or non-Latter-day Saint) discourse.417 The phrase was included in Webster’s 1828 dictionary.418 Even one of the few nineteenth-century talks cited by Tabernacles used the term.419 Both nineteenth- and twentieth-century Church leaders (and non-Latter-day Saint writers such as Edward Gibbon) had long attributed such sin to fallen Greece and Rome.420 If Tabernacles were less wedded to its thesis of relative lenience giving way to harsh disapproval, it might not entice the reader into seeing innovative severity in this rhetoric where there is only continuity.
The misrepresentation continues when Tabernacles claims “[Kimball] placed same-sex intimacy just below murder in the hierarchy of sins” (71). Tabernacles’s evidence is The Miracle of Forgiveness, pages 77–85 (71n95). This is misleading — these pages contain the entire chapter on homosexual acts, [Page 242]and Kimball says nothing therein about placing them “just below murder in the hierarchy of sins.” Tabernacles could lead the reader inexperienced in Latter-day Saint theology to think that such extreme condemnation of homosexual sin was both unprecedented and terribly severe.
But the inexperienced reader would be wrong. Kimball does place opposite-sex sin as next to murder in the preceding chapter. (In fact, the entire chapter is titled “The Sin Next to Murder.”421) And, in the chapter referenced by Tabernacles, Kimball does put homosexual sin in the same category as heterosexual ones:
Because of the seriousness of this sin it carries a heavy penalty for the unrepentant. The offender may realize that disfellowshipment or excommunication is the penalty for heavy petting, adultery, fornication and comparable sins if there is not adequate repentance, yet he often supposes that because his acts have not been committed with the opposite sex he is not in sin. Let it therefore be clearly stated that the seriousness of the sin of homosexuality is equal to or greater than that of fornication or adultery; and that the Lord’s Church will as readily take action to disfellowship or excommunicate the unrepentant practicing homosexual as it will the unrepentant fornicator or adulterer.422
“Equal to or greater” does place homosexual sin next to murder — but the context of the entire chapter would reveal that homosexual sin was being treated the same as all sexual sin. Clarity in this matter would destroy any implication that homosexual acts were being treated with unique and unprecedented harshness.
For those still with me at this point, the fact that homosexual sin was the equivalent of heterosexual sin should be unsurprising. More than a quarter century earlier, the First Presidency had said in an official statement:
From Sodom and Gomorrah until now, sex immorality, with its attendant evils of drink and corruption, has brought low the mightiest of nations. …
By the laws of Moses, adulterers were stoned to death. (Deut. 22:24.) God said to Israel: “There shall be no whore of the [Page 243]daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.” (Deut. 23:17)
The doctrine of this Church is that sexual sin — the illicit sexual relations of men and women — stands, in its enormity, next to murder.
The Lord has drawn no essential distinctions between fornication, adultery, and harlotry or prostitution. Each has fallen under His solemn and awful condemnation.423
Kimball’s placement of homosexual sin in the same category as other unchastity was not in the least a revolutionary development, nor was the language or rhetoric significantly different from before.
For example, Heber J. Grant could confidently claim that “thousands … who have been reared in this Church” had heard such teaching.424 Prominent general leaders and more obscure local leaders could all appeal to the idea and trust their audiences to understand. (Examples of Church authors’ placement of sexual sin next to murder are legion; many are collected in Appendix IV.)
Tabernacles also misleads by that which it omits to mention in its analysis. It concedes that there is much “hopefulness about the possibility of repentance” (70) in The Miracle of Forgiveness before it launches into a recital of Kimball’s supposed vitriol. Any hopeful passages remain unquoted. Moreover, though Tabernacles quotes The Miracle of Forgiveness’s conclusion to demonstrate that “Kimball’s account of sin was completely psychologized” (70), it fails to mention the spirit in which President Kimball ended his chapter on homosexuality:
Bishops and stake and mission presidents must be alert and watchful and treat with kindness but firmness all such offenders whose offenses come to their knowledge. In the careful and searching interviews the leaders give, these weaknesses are likely to be revealed. Many yielding to this ugly practice are basically good people who have become [Page 244]trapped in sin. They yield to a kind, helpful approach. Those who do not must be disciplined when all other treatments fail.
Remember, the Lord loves the homosexual person as he does all of his other children. When that person repents and corrects his life, the Lord will smile and receive him.425
If included, these words that urged “kindness” towards “basically good people … trapped in sin” would temper Tabernacles’s picture of Kimball as vitriolic and condemning homosexuals in “the darkest possible terms” (70–71). Sadly, Tabernacles has largely excised texts that might moderate its portrayal of Kimball’s stance or approach.
By way of contrast to the encouragement offered the homosexual sinner, Kimball’s previous chapter on heterosexual sin concludes only with a repetition of his earlier warnings:
It is well to remember that, awful, horrible and serious as adultery and other sexual sins are, the Lord has kindly provided forgiveness on condition of repentance commensurate with the sin. But where these sins are concerned, even more than with less grievous ones, prevention is so much better than cure. Being warned, let us keep well away from the first step — the romantic thought outside of our marriage relationship, the drink which dulls the judgment and releases the inhibitions, the boy-and-girl “talk” in the parked car after the dance, and so on.
Preventing sexual and other sins will put us ultimately in the blessed condition Alma described: [Alma 7:25]. …
With this as the long-term goal, and with the assurance of peace of mind in this life, all the best motivations are on the side of righteousness.426
All the confusion regarding The Miracle of Forgiveness detailed in the foregoing sections occurs in fewer than two pages of Tabernacles, demonstrating how much there is to unpack in the interests of accuracy.
A Psychologized Account of Sin?
Tabernacles argues that “Kimball’s account of sin was completely psychologized. Sin’s primary victim was the practitioner who was overwhelmed by guilt, anxiety, fear, and worry. For Kimball, sin was [Page 245]the cause of internal mental anguish and righteousness the solution for internal peace” (72).
This is yet another claim that is not put into its religious context. Tabernacles portrays Kimball as accepting scientific (or quasi-scientific, “pop”) psychology (1, 61, 66, 68, 74). I readily grant that Kimball saw those in the grips of sin as afflicted with guilt and all the rest, but this does not mean that psychology was the primary source of his view of sin. Nor does it mean he thought the suffering came only from within. For him, God stirred the conscience.
A close examination of his ministry and teachings makes it apparent that the most salient sources for Kimball’s conclusions are a close reading of the scriptures and personal experience through decades of ministering to individuals with serious problems of all kinds.
Inexplicably, Tabernacles ignores the Book of Mormon’s description of the consequences of sin. That foundational work of scripture (to which Kimball appealed often in his articulation of the fruits of sin427) is full of the same concepts that Tabernacles sees as evidence of “psychologization”: anxiety, guilt, fear, and internal mental anguish — all of which are relieved by repentance:
- To confront God unrepentant, said Jacob, is to “have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness” (2 Nephi 9:14);
- Sin, Jacob warned later, “will bring you to stand with shame and awful guilt before the bar of God” (Jacob 6:9);
- King Benjamin taught that “if … man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever” (Mosiah 2:38);
- Alma asked, “can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?” (Alma 5:18);
- [Page 246]He repeated that “we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt” (Alma 11:43);
- Repentant Lamanites reported that “he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son” (Alma 24:10);
- Alma says he “was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments … the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds” (Alma 36:12–15).
And, when Moroni believed he was concluding his father’s record, he ended on this theme:
Do ye suppose that ye shall dwell with him under a consciousness of your guilt? Do ye suppose that ye could be happy to dwell with that holy Being, when your souls are racked with a consciousness of guilt that ye have ever abused his laws?
Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell.
For behold, when ye shall be brought to see your nakedness before God, and also the glory of God, and the holiness of Jesus Christ, it will kindle a flame of unquenchable fire upon you (Mormon 9:3–5).
Perhaps by “psychologized,” Tabernacles means, instead, that the effects of sin occur almost completely in the mind or psyche. If so, Tabernacles ignores what Kimball said about the other effects of sin (and other reasons for avoiding sin) that have nothing to do with psychologization at all:
- [Page 247]Sexual relations outside of marriage objectify and instrumentalize another human being: “Sexual encounters outside of legalized marriage render the individual a thing to be used, a thing to be exploited, and make him or her exchangeable, exploitable, expendable and throw-awayable”;428
- Sexual sin privileges immediate gratification over self-control;429
- Some sins impair moral agency: “eventually take over control of the person and make him a slave”;430
- Sin consists of acts contrary to the divine purpose of human existence;431
- Sin leads to “broken homes, delinquent children, corrupt governments, and apostate groups”;432
- Sin blocks God’s purposes: “Since immortality and eternal life constitute the sole purpose of life, all other interests and activities are but incidental thereto. It thus becomes the overall responsibility of man to cooperate fully with the Eternal God”;433
- One purpose of life is “to be subject to all the weaknesses, temptations, frailties and limitations of mortality … to face the challenge to overcome self”;434
- Sin violates knowledge of reality as it really is and can keep sinners from knowing that reality;435
- Sins can lead us to mislead others or cause others to abandon the truth;436
- Sin blocks human potential from manifesting itself;437
- Sin keeps us from God’s presence;438
- Sin alienates humans from each other;439
- [Page 248]Sin prioritizes things and honors over God;440
- Righteousness leads to “continuing prosperity” instead of political and economic strife;441
- Sins affect others negatively: “break hearts, destroy reputations and wreck lives”;442
- Some sins (e.g., Word of Wisdom) support the evil and harmful actions of others;443
- Sin can cause physical accidents and loss of health.444
Tabernacles also claims that in Kimball’s account of repentance, “There was little by way of appeal to divine grace or supernatural transformation as the means for being cured” (72). This seems unlikely, as the title of the book asserts that forgiveness is the miracle sought.
There are many examples of Kimball insisting upon the absolute necessity and primacy of “divine grace” and “supernatural transformation.” He emphasized the two-pronged nature of salvation — the willingness to change, and the grace of Christ:
This makes clear the two facets, neither of which alone would bring the individual salvation the grace of Christ, particularly as represented by his atoning sacrifice, and individual effort. However good a person’s works, he could not be saved had Jesus not died for his and everyone else’s sins. And however powerful the saving grace of Christ, it brings exaltation to no man who does not comply with the works of the gospel.445
This, for Kimball, was “the miracle of miracles”:
There is a glorious miracle awaiting every soul who is prepared to change. Repentance and forgiveness make a brilliant day of the darkest night. When souls are reborn, when lives are changed then comes the great miracle to beautify and warm and lift. When spiritual death has threatened and now instead there is resuscitation, when life pushes out death when this happens it is the miracle of miracles. And such great miracles [Page 249]will never cease so long as there is one person who applies the redeeming power of the Savior and his own good works to bring about his rebirth.446
Kimball offered Alma the Younger as a model for repentance (and Alma was forgiven by divine grace prior to doing anything but pleading for forgiveness, with genuine intent to reform and repair the ills he had caused):
The great assurance came to [Alma the Younger] that his repentance had been accepted, and a great peace came to his soul:
For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.
And the Lord said unto me: marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters (Mosiah 27:24– 25).447
Kimball elsewhere promised:
In abandoning evil, transforming lives, changing personalities, molding characters or remolding them, we need the help of the Lord, and we may be assured of it if we do our part. The man who leans heavily upon his Lord becomes the master of self and can accomplish anything he sets out to do, whether it be to secure the brass plates, build a ship, overcome a habit, or conquer a deep-seated transgression.
He who has greater strength than Lucifer, he who is our fortress and our strength, can sustain us in times of great temptation. While the Lord will never forcibly take anyone out of sin or out of the arms of the tempters, he exerts his Spirit to induce the sinner to do it with divine assistance. And the man who yields to the sweet influence and pleadings of the Spirit and does all in his power to stay in a repentant attitude is guaranteed protection, power, freedom and joy.448
[Page 250]For Kimball, the Lord helps us abandon evil, transform our lives, and change our personality and character via “divine assistance.” He provides “guaranteed protection, power, freedom, and joy.” This is the “divine grace” and “supernatural transformation” that Tabernacles claims is mostly missing. Said Kimball: “I write to make the joyous affirmation that man can be literally transformed by his own repentance and by God’s gift of forgiveness.”449
Kimball wrote, “in the hope that those frustrated and in sin may wash ‘their robes in the blood of the Lamb,’ so that peace may settle down on them as the dews of heaven.” Repentance moved one “from spiritual death to eternal life”; none of these are the sentiments of psychology or self-help.450
There are other examples. Kimball quoted one bereaved couple as saying that “the Lord could put comfort into our torn hearts, we must get hatred and bitterness out of our hearts. Through fasting and prayer and determination we were able to eradicate these feelings. The Lord came to our assistance.”451 When two estranged members heard the scriptures read, “It was an appeal and an imploring and a threat and seemed to be coming direct from the Lord. … Shocked, the two men sat up, listened, pondered a minute, then began to yield. This scripture added to all the others read brought them to their knees.”452 Kimball promises, “The companionship of the Lord, light and knowledge, health and vigor, constant guidance by the Lord as an eternal, never-failing spring! What more could one desire?”453
His attitude was summarized when he cited Joseph F. Smith: “When we cannot make restitution for the wrong we have done, then we must apply for the grace and mercy of God to cleanse us from that iniquity.”454 There was no cheap grace without doing what one could. But all one could do was hardly the whole story. The premise of the entire volume is that divine forgiveness and healing is a God-given miracle!
It is astonishing that Tabernacles would ignore these and other examples. The book acts as if Kimball believed that change was an entirely human affair, devoid of God or Christ or grace.
In this review essay I have addressed mainly the first two chapters of Tabernacles, and not nearly everything in them, including its discussion of race. Little has been said about theoretical or broader interpretive issues; a separate essay of at least equal length would be required to do that.
It should go without saying that before a reader can assess arguments, logic, and interpretation, she must first have facts and sources. No fact or source interprets itself, but when facts and sources are ignored, misrepresented, or silenced, it becomes obvious. It is beyond question that Tabernacles has done so repeatedly and extensively. Even if one agrees with its arguments, the way in which it argues must be deplored.
At first glance, Tabernacles of Clay might seem, as in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, “an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance,” firmly braced by rigorous scholarship. Yet, as its foundational feet of clay collide with the stony sources, it is “all broken to pieces.”455 I have examined several key bricks in its edifice, and those bricks crumbled, leaving the book’s merits difficult to sift from the rubble.
Despite these problems, like Same-Sex Dynamics before it, Tabernacles of Clay will likely continue to be lauded, cited, and brandished as evidence for many years, notwithstanding its incontestable failure to handle the sources responsibly. Too many will want to believe its claims, and thus will have reason to ignore the rot at the root of its argument.
And that is a great pity.
Further Misleading Information
in Quinn’s Same-Sex Dynamics
Other problems in sections not referenced by Tabernacles, but which speak to the unreliability of Same-Sex Dynamics’s claims, include:
- Claiming that articles in the Children’s Friend from 1919 were intended to be the “coming out” of a Latter-day Saint gay man and two gay women;456
- Massive deception regarding the life of Latter-day Saint musician Evan Stephens, including a section that implies Stephens and his nephew attended a gay bathhouse in [Page 252]New York, even though the bathhouse had been closed for thirteen years prior to their visit;457
- Improper cropping of a photograph to produce a distorted impression, which caused sufficient scandal that “the University of Illinois Press was forced to withdraw a dust jacket depicting Stephens and one of his putative homosexual ‘boy chums’.”458 “This required the University of Illinois Press to reprint the dust jacket and ‘razor out’ the deceptive page from five thousand copies of the book before it was offered to the public”;459
- Presenting an example of Utah homosexual practice from the 1920s–1930s as “Mormon,” when the individual was also strongly opposed to the Church;460
- Portraying Joseph Smith’s remarks about the joys of the resurrection as talk of endorsing “same-sex bedmates” engaging in “loving-pillow talk” (Quinn would later claim that all he said was that Joseph “slept with,” “men all his life,”461 but his lack of candor is obvious to any who have read the relevant passages).462
Other Nineteenth-Century Examples
in Same-Sex Dynamics
Other of Same-Sex Dynamics’s misleading and distorted information on nineteenth century attitudes toward homosexual sin is cited by Tabernacles.
[Page 253]Distortion of John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff Eras
Because Same-Sex Dynamics apparently aims to dispel some of the evidence that the Saints strongly disapproved of same-sex acts, it states that
incidents of excommunication and imprisonment for same-sex acts from 1881 to 1887 occurred during the LDS presidency of John Taylor. Within days of his death, his counselors and the Mormon apostles expressed their dissent from the harsh response Taylor had required for all disapproved sexual conduct. On 12 August 1887, Lorenzo Snow told the other apostles that “Brigham Young was not so radical in his rulings on sexual crimes as John Taylor had been.” And Taylor’s first counselor George Q. Cannon added that “he had not been in full accord with the radical position taken by President Taylor regarding sexual crimes; and that he knew that President Taylor had changed very much in his feelings before the day of his death.”463
Same-Sex Dynamics seeks to tie this to treating same-sex acts with leniency, so says that “the apostles may have been thinking of the 1882 excommunication” of three teenagers involved in sodomy.464
This is the fallacy of the possible proof, which “consists in an attempt to demonstrate that a factual statement is true or false by establishing the possibility of its truth or falsity.” To be sure, Same-Sex Dynamics only asserts its possibility, but the point holds: “Valid empirical proof requires not merely the establishment of possibility, but an estimate of probability. Moreover, it demands a balanced estimate of probabilities pro and con.”465 The apostles may have been referring to same sex acts — anything is possible. But how likely is this reading?
Looking at Same-Sex Dynamics’s source in more detail, one finds that the entire discussion revolved around Albert Carrington, a former apostle excommunicated for repeated heterosexual adultery (I have bold-faced the material extracted for Same-Sex Dynamics):
After dinner the case of Albert Carrington was brought up. President Wilford Woodruff stated that he had received [Page 254]a number of letters from Carrington requesting baptism. He said he would feel much better to rebaptize him than to deny him this boon. …
[Moses Thatcher] asked if any of us had ever heard of a more horrible case of sexual crime than that developed in the trial of Albert Carrington? When he was in Europe preaching purity, he was practicing sin. Returning from Europe, he met with his brethren around the holy altar of prayer, kneeling with them and supplicating God for His blessings, being impure and cutting off his brethren from the spirit of the Lord, which they were otherwise entitled to. He had denied his sin repeatedly. At the time that President Taylor received a revelation, in October, 1882, calling on the Twelve and the people to repent of their sins, he had been accused of sexual crimes, and he denied them, and thanked God that He had preserved him from ever committing adultery. While holding the authority to seal men for all time and eternity, and exercising the same, he was debauching the wives of men that had thus been sealed. We had done our full duty when we cut him off the Church, so Brother Thatcher thought, according to the Doctrine & Covenants, and by our admitting him back into the Church, hundreds would be injured. …
Brother Joseph F. Smith felt that the light and knowledge which Albert Carrington possessed was such that he had committed the unpardonable sin, and was guilty of the shedding of innocent blood. …
Carrington’s is an exceptional case. If he had not been an Apostle, and received so much light and knowledge, then it would be different. …
Brother [Joseph F. Smith] felt that there was no comparison between him and a young man, filled with youthful passion, who had fallen in an unguarded moment, and then had sincerely and honestly repented. He felt that in such cases mercy should be extended.
Brother Smith was willing, as an individual, to consent to the baptism of Albert Carrington, as he had nothing against him personally; and if he had sincerely repented the Lord would forgive his sins; but he was not willing, as a member of our quorum to consent to his rebaptism. …
[Page 255]Lorenzo Snow stated, there had been times in his life, in years gone by, that he should have decided the same as Brothers Moses and Joseph F. Considering the position occupied by Albert Carrington, and the bad example that some felt would follow his rebaptism, years ago he would not have favored rebaptizing him. But there were many things that had come to his mind in later years that favored the exercise of mercy. He did not feel to exercise any mercy to Albert Carrington because he had been an Apostle. He stated that Brigham Young was not so radical in his rulings on sexual crimes as John Taylor had been. Stated that he knew President Taylor had changed considerably before the end of his administration. Brother Snow did not think that we could find anything in the Doctrine & Covenants or the Bible or any of the written word of god that would give us authority to prevent the rebaptism of any man who claimed that he had repent+6ed of his sins. He felt that Brother Joseph F was wrong in assuming the position that Albert Carrington had committed the unpardonable sin. …
F[rancis] M. Lyman stated that twelve or fifteen years ago that Albert Carrington was accused of sexual crimes. The accusation was brought up before Brigham Young, and he lied to him. Again in 1882, he lied to the quorum of the Twelve Apostles, at the time that the investigation was being had in compliance with the revelation received by President Taylor. At the washing of the feet in the Endowment House, he was unclean and unfit to have this ordinance administered to him. Yet he deceived his brethren, and pretended to be a pure man. …
[John W. Taylor said] he felt condemned in refusing rebaptism to Albert Carrington. There are many men that have fallen in an hour of temptation; but, in their hearts, have sincerely repented, but because of the strict rulings and the feeling that there is no hope for them they have gone on from bad to worse: while, if the hand of mercy had been extended, and there was some chance for their redemption, he felt that they would have struggled back from their fallen condition. …
On several occasions while preaching to the people, and declaring that there was no forgiveness for those who [Page 256]committed sexual crimes, he had become very radical in his remarks, and had afterward felt rebuked by the spirit.
George Q. Cannon stated that he had not been in full accord with the radical position taken by President Taylor regarding sexual crimes; and that he knew that President Taylor had changed very much in his feelings before the day of his death. He said he felt that it was wrong to make an indiscriminate condemnation of sexual crimes. …
President Wilford Woodruff stated that he could not agree with Brother Joseph F. that Albert Carrington had committed the unpardonable sin. Stated that he should not call a vote on the question, as our quorum was divided right in the middle. He felt that the Lord would not be pleased with a vote that was a divided one. Felt that we had better let this case drop. We all had a right to our views and our own feelings, and he was glad to have the brethren express their ideas freely and frankly, and he had no feelings because the brethren disagreed with him.466
Same-Sex Dynamics’s treatment of the evidence is without excuse. It is abundantly clear that the leaders were speaking of heterosexual sin — the debate revolved around whether Carrington could ever be forgiven by the Church for what he had done. The late John Taylor’s view was called “radical,” and his son John W. Taylor recounted his own “radical” speeches. The younger Taylor felt rebuked by God for having taught that no forgiveness for such sexual sin was possible.
Does this reconstruction match what John Taylor said during his life? Yes. As I will presently demonstrate, Taylor inclined at one point to the idea that endowed members of the Church guilty of sexual transgressions could not ever be rebaptized.
On 27 September 1883, Taylor met with the First Presidency and Twelve at the newly-reconstituted School of the Prophets. The leaders considered the question of whether the temple endowment ought to be [Page 257]given in separate parts over a period of time to prevent less-committed members from violating more serious covenants.467
Taylor then outlined the consequences, as he saw it, of sexual sin for endowed members:
If they should commit adultery or fornication as it may be called, what would be the result? The result would be that they would have to make an acknowledgement before the church and ask the forgiveness of the church, and if they were forgiven after making their confession, they would pass, say for the first time; but for the second offense they must be cast out. That is the way I look upon people who have not entered into this covenant. When they have entered into the marriage covenant and commit adultery it is said they shall be destroyed. Now, I would not like to place my children in that position [by giving them the endowment too early] under these circumstances. I would much rather they had a chance under the first arrangement of overcoming their weaknesses and have a standing in the church.
I now speak of the law of God being carried out and we are supposed to carry them out. I cannot feel in the least to have people who commit adultery continued members of this church — that is people who have entered into sacred covenants[.] If there is anyway for their redemption it is not made manifest to me. Further more [sic], the law says they shall be destroyed. I would not want to place responsibilities upon people until their minds and character was matured, to enable them to act wisely, prudently, and intelligently, and to magnify their calling.468
Daniel H. Wells interrupted to ask, “Is that what is meant by being destroyed in the flesh?” When Taylor responded, “I think it would be pretty near,” Wells replied, “Well, cutting off the Church don’t pay the penalty.”469
[Page 258]Taylor mentioned temple penalties as an illustration of the principle, emphasizing that such a penalty was not to be inflicted by any mortal: “Leave them in the hands of God, or in the hands of the devil.”470
At this point, George Q. Cannon interjected, evidently not entirely comfortable with the idea:
I have some views on this subject which I would like to give expression to at the proper time. It is a matter in which I am deeply interested. I think there is not that harmony of views among us — I do not mean among the Twelve, but among the Priesthood, that there should be, and probably this is because of our not understanding each other. Some times when it is convenient to Prest. Taylor I would [illegible] talked over. I find a division of views on prominent men in the Priesthood upon this subject.471
Taylor explained how he saw the difference in culpability for such sins:
I will mention another case which will serve to throw a little light upon both points that have been discussed. There was the case of a young woman who had committed adultery. When she went through the Endowment House she was about 16 or 17 years of age and did not comprehend the nature of the obligation into which she was entering, which is the position of a great many. Well, she committed adultery. The man who committed this act with her stood in another position. He was more aged and should have understood better, and to know what he was doing. That man cannot be forgiven. The other would be considered as a non-age. That is the way I have looked at that case. She had not arrived at the years of maturity; he had. In some of these cases there maybe perhaps a change in relation to these matters; but it is a thing … we should be very careful about. But I did not make that revelation. I cannot change it. I am not authorized to change it. The law says they shall be destroyed; I cannot say they shall not. Unless the Lord manifests something to me about things of that sort, I do not feel authorized to go contrary to the word of God on these subjects. They are very important. As it is said, in times of men’s ignorance God winked at it. Now, he calls [Page 259]upon all people everywhere to repent. I look upon it that we are called upon to carry out the law and will and word of God, and we have no right to change either.472
The next month, Taylor would return to a similar theme, as the minutes summarize:
Joseph [Smith] once said that in attending to the ordinances, as we have today, that if we violate our covenants we shall be delivered over to the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption. Prest. Taylor then spoke of the signs in the Endowments and asked what they meant — have thought that the ancient Japanese understood something in regard to these matters in the Hari Kari —
We do not interfere with the lives of men, those who violate their covenants, we leave them in the hands of God, and in many instances that you know he has visited signal judgments upon transgressors. In the cases of whoredom, harlots who engage in those matters do not live to exceed five years, so the statistics say. Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God — it requires the greatest care to properly control ourselves and those associated with us.473
Taylor again emphasized that it is God who will punish, not mortals. Note, as well, his mention of temple penalties and the non-negotiable need for endowed members to be “delivered over” to Satan for the remainder of their lives (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:26; see also 78:12, 82:21).
This reading of these documents aligns with the apostles’ later discussion about Carrington after Taylor’s death. Taylor had opined that endowed members guilty of sexual sins could not return to fellowship in this life. This idea had obvious implications for Carrington’s case, because if the principle applied to anyone, it surely applied to him.
Taylor had said he was open to revising his views if “the Lord manifests something to me about things of that sort,” and one sentence cited by Same-Sex Dynamics from the discussion about Carrington is George Q. Cannon’s report that Taylor had indeed changed his views prior to his death.
[Page 260]Same-Sex Dynamics’s reading also ignores Cannon’s 1879 talk474 that condemned homosexual sins in the strongest terms. Cannon would repeat this theme in 1897.475 It is implausible to sandwich Cannon’s insistence that Taylor’s severe stance had been moderated between two stern condemnations of his own, if the apostles are thinking of treating homosexual sin as less serious, as Same-Sex Dynamics claims.
As I have shown, Taylor’s son, John W., likewise witnessed that he had felt rebuked by God for preaching the same idea as his late father. Lorenzo Snow remembered Brigham Young being less “radical” than Taylor was inclined to be — not in downplaying homosexual sin, as Same-Sex Dynamics would have it, but in not regarding endowed sexual sinners as necessarily cast out of the Church forever.476
This reading accounts for all the data; Same-Sex Dynamics must elide and resort to special pleading.
Same-Sex Dynamics Ignores the Implications of Its Examples
Same-Sex Dynamics also claims that Taylor’s severity applied to “all disapproved sexual conduct,” but that is likewise false.477 The severity from Taylor was explicitly said to apply only to those who were endowed.
Same-Sex Dynamics and Tabernacles are quick to point out any apparent “leniency” in the treatment of homosexual acts. The former’s telegraphic mention of the Carrington discussion ignores Joseph F. Smith’s argument for severity toward the fallen apostle: “there was no comparison between him and a young man, filled with youthful passion, who had fallen in an unguarded moment, and then had sincerely and honestly repented. He felt that in such cases mercy should be extended.”478
Neither Same-Sex Dynamics or Tabernacles acknowledge that homosexual sin was treated with more mercy and patience if the culprit was young. Smith and Taylor agreed on this principle.479 By contrast, [Page 261]repeat offenders and mature adults were dealt with much more harshly.480 This is a leniency toward inexperience, youth, and those who had not yet made sacred covenants in the temple, not homosexual acts.
Same-Sex Dynamics Distorts the Lorenzo Snow Era
To shore up a weak case, Same-Sex Dynamics then refers to an unfootnoted case in which Lorenzo Snow “exonerated a polygamist accused of performing oral sex on his brothers, despite the testimony of multiple witnesses.” After a discussion of many other matters over five pages, Same-Sex Dynamics claims that it was the stake president who exonerated the accused, because he “decided that all charges … were lies and therefore reversed the previous decision of the bishop’s court. … Snow was present and approved the decision.”481
This is not evidence of Snow or the stake president’s approving of homosexual behavior, or treating it lightly. Instead, the evidence was assessed and found unconvincing.482 The stake president disciplined the accusers for leveling “such a monstrous charge.”483 Such punishment is not evidence that homosexual acts were approved; if anything, disciplining the source of a false accusation demonstrates the opposite.
[Page 262]Appendix III:
Behavior versus Orientation
“A Counselling Problem in the Church” (1964)
- “Now, this program is effective in all the fields of error. It is necessary for the adulterer to cleanse his life as well as the home breaker, the coveter, the fornicator, the one who does necking and petting, the pervert and the law breaker in all areas”;
- “requested to know of our work with regard to certain unholy practices. They asked about those deviates called ‘peeping toms’, exhibitionists, homosexuals, and perverts in other areas”;
- “When quite a number of men were being arrested for these ugly practices”;
- “We realize that the cure is no more permanent than the individual makes it so and is like the cure for alcoholism subject to continued vigilance. … if he will stay away from the haunts and the temptations, and the former associates, he may heal himself, cleanse his mind and return to his normal pursuits and a happy state of mind;
- “One man has committed every perversion the imagination could suggest”;
- “The continued contact seems to be helpful. To have the man return to report success in his efforts or even partial failure is helpful. … Many find that since they will be making reports, and additional strength comes from that realization and they control themselves and their thoughts a day at a time, a week at a time, and soon the months have passed and thoughts are controlled and actions are above reproach;
- “Disfellowshipment or excommunication is the penalty for heavy petting, adultery, fornication, perversion and comparable sins, if there is no repentance”;
- “It is possible that he may rationalize and excuse himself till the groove is so deep he cannot get out without great difficulty. But this he can do. Temptations come to all people. The difference between the reprobate and the [Page 263]worthy person is generally that one yielded and the other resisted.”484
“Love versus Lust” (1965)
- “When the unmarried yield to the lust which induces intimacies and indulgence, they have permitted the body to dominate and have placed the spirit in chains”;
- “Because of this widespread tolerance toward promiscuity, this world is in grave danger. … when toleration for sin increases, the outlook is bleak and Sodom and Gomorrah days are certain to return”;
- “Sexual encounters outside of legalized marriage render the individual a thing to be used, a thing to be exploited, and make him or her exchangeable, exploitable, expendable and throw-awayable”;
- “Every kind of sex exploit for the unmarried from the first lustful stirrings of passions relating to self or to others is a sin”;
- “Fornication and all other deviations are for today, for the hour, for the ‘now’”;
- “It is true of illicit sex, which, of course, includes all petting, fornication, adultery, homosexual acts, and all other perversions”;
- “And still these young people [committing sexual sin] talk of love. What a corruption of the most beautiful term! The word is prostituted also in the realm of homosexuality. Both are in the realm of taking, not giving; killing, not saving; destroying, not building”;
- “It would be wholly improper to so completely condemn sex sins without explaining to those who may already have yielded to these persuasions and temptations and have defiled themselves that there is eventual forgiveness, providing, of course, that there is commensurate repentance”;
- There are “the more serious sins of exhibitionism and the gross sin of homosexuality. We would avoid mentioning these unholy terms and these reprehensible practices were it not for the fact that we have a responsibility to the youth”;
- [Page 264]“This unholy transgression [homosexuality] is either rapidly growing or tolerance is giving it wider publicity. If one has such desires and tendencies, he overcomes them the same as if he had the urge toward petting or fornication or adultery”;
- The Lord condemns and forbids this practice [homosexuality] with a vigor equal to His condemnation of adultery and other such sex acts. And the Church will excommunicate as readily any unrepentant addict”;
- If one has such [homosexual] desires and tendencies, he overcomes them the same as if he had the urge toward petting or fornication or adultery”;
- “This sin, like fornication, is overcomable and forgivable, but again, only upon a deep and abiding repentance which means total abandonment and complete transformation of thought and act”;
- “Corrupted individuals have tried to reduce such behavior from criminal offense to personal privilege does not change the nature nor the seriousness of the practice”;
- “God-fearing men everywhere still denounce the practice”;
- “The depraved one who had homosexual or other vicious practices”;
- “Let it never be said that the Church has avoided condemning this obnoxious practice nor that it has winked at this abominable sin”;
- “This University will never knowingly enroll an unrepentant person who follows these practices nor tolerate on its campus anyone with these tendencies who fails to repent and put his or her life in order”;
- “I do not find in the Bible the modern terms ‘petting’ nor ‘homosexuality,’ yet I found numerous scriptures which forbade such acts under by [sic] whatever names they might be called”;
- “I could not find the term ‘homosexuality,’ but I did find numerous places where the Lord condemned such a practice”;
- “We have stated that even this ugly practice can be overcome and can be forgiven”;
- “The longer the habit has been fostered, the harder it is to break”;
- [Page 265][Some claim] “that such a life is just another different but acceptable way of life. … But it can be corrected and overcome”;
- “If the yielding person continues to give way numerous times.”485
New Horizons for Homosexuals (1966/1971)
This pamphlet (retitled Letter to a Friend in 1978) was based on a personal letter written in 1966. Behavior is likewise its theme:
- “These practices are somewhat like the use of drugs, alcoholism or other vicious habits which eventually take over control of the person and make him a slave”;
- “These sins are forgivable and can be overcome if there is adequate restraint and repentance”;
- “If one lives all of the commandments of the Lord, then he has the power to withstand the temptations of the devil. If he yields … he gets weaker”;
- “The gospel is summarized in the Articles of Faith, one of which says, ‘We believe that men will be punished for their own sins … ’ While environment and associations and training have an important part in persons’ lives, every normal person is responsible for his own sins and may not blame them totally on others”;
- “You are not permanently trapped in this unholy practice if you will exert yourself”;
- “One of Satan’s strongest weapons is to make the victim believe the practice incurable regardless of one’s effort”;
- “Satan tells his victims that it is a natural way of life”;
- “This is a base lie. All normal people have sex urges and if they control such urges, they grow strong and masterful”;
- “If they yield to their carnal desires and urges, they get weaker until their sins get beyond control”;
- “Homosexuality, like fornication, adultery, robbery, and other detestable sins is curable”;
- “There are people in this practice who are novices and have only attempted to satisfy curiosity”;
- “Some continue until, when the changing gets difficult, they admit their inability to cope with it and yield”;
- [Page 266]“If you are one who has yielded to the enticings of evil people … then it should begin to be evident to you that the farther you go, the deeper you get. Today is the day to make the change and reformation”
- “If you are one who has been deeply entrenched and who has given up the fight … and convinced himself that this perverted program is an honorable way of life”;
- [When] “you justify yourself … pretend it is not sin … and that you cannot overcome it — that is the sad day”;
- “The tragic moment has come” “when one … says ‘This is the way I wish to live; here I find my satisfactions; I commit no immorality”;
- “Pure logic also outlaws this practice … this ugly practice”;
- “Where would the world go if such a practice became general?”;
- “Is man created that he might gratify his urges, desires, passions and lusts, or, are such given as a part of his life to be controlled and used in proper ways”;
- “The prophets have denounced and condemned any of these unnatural and improper practices”;
- “Many men in this practice”;
- “Homosexuality … is now trying to impress the public to make this vicious sex life acceptable”;
- “The Lord and his true Church will never condone these sexual sins”;
- “Men and women were not created to satisfy their lusts. Only controlled passion under proper circumstances should be a part of one’s life”;
- “These unnatural practices are not of God”;
- “Homosexuality and like practices are deep sins; they can be cured; they can be forgiven”;486
The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969)
- “Homosexuality is an ugly sin, repugnant to those who find no temptation in it, as well as to many past offenders who are seeking a way out of its clutches”;
- “The revolting practice has persisted”;
- “Sin in sex practices tends to have a ‘snowballing’ effect”;
- [Page 267]“All such deviations from normal, proper heterosexual relationships are not merely unnatural but wrong in the sight of God. Like adultery, incest, and bestiality they carried the death penalty under the Mosaic law”;
- “Social acceptance does not change the status of an act, making wrong into right”;
- “That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself and willeth to abide in sin”;
- “If the abominable practice became universal it would depopulate the earth in a single generation”;
- “The offender may realize that dis-fellowshipment or excommunication is the penalty for heavy petting, adultery, fornication and comparable sins if there is not adequate repentance, yet he often supposes that because his acts have not been committed with the opposite sex he is not in sin”;
- “The sin of homosexuality is equal to or greater than that of fornication or adultery”;
- “The Lord’s Church will as readily take action to disfellowship or excommunicate the unrepentant practicing homosexual as it will the unrepentant fornicator or adulterer”;
- “There are those who are deeply entrenched in the habit and have no apparent desire to cleanse themselves and build toward a moral life”;
- “[Leaders] must be alert and watchful and treat with kindness but firmness all such offenders whose offenses come to their knowledge”;
- “Many yielding to this ugly practice are basically good people who have become trapped in sin.”487
Hope for Transgressors (1970)
- If “you have members who have homosexual tendencies or activities, it will be your privilege and responsibility to assist them back into total normalcy”;
- “This dread practice”;
- [Page 268]“Expressions of homosexuality and related perversions are varied and range from petting and love making to sodomy with its degradation”;
- “It is a despicable practice”;
- “In Old and New Testaments and modern scripture all may convince the deviate that the practice is serious transgression”;
- “When the individual is convinced that it is transgression to be involved with those of his own sex or with anyone outside of proper marriage … then perhaps he is ready”;
- “He should abandon all places, things, situations and people with whom this evil practice has been associated”;
- “Where partners in the practice continue to associate and intend to have only platonic relations, they often return to their sin and find it then infinitely more difficult to abandon”;
- “There must be positive action. Mere abandonment of the evil is only a first step”;
- “He will throw away his pornographic materials”;
- “Most people who have practiced this perversion in depth, have already ceased to pray”;
- “If he has been long involved in this practice, he will be tempted and enticed numerous times to return to his folly”;
- “It must be understood that the sin of homosexuality in its degraded aspects is as serious as adultery and fornication”;
- “Homosexuality CAN be forgiven. Like other serious sins, it can be forgiven by the Church and the Lord if the repentance is total, all-inclusive, and continuing”;
- “Abandonment of persons, places, things, situations which have been associated with the transgression is important.”488
Welfare Services Packet 1 (1973)
- “A homosexual relationship is … sin in the same degree as adultery and fornication”;
- “Failure to work … with one’s bishop … in cases involving homosexual behavior will require prompt Church court action”;
- [Page 269]“These instructions concern … members who seek to continue in both homosexual and Church activities”;
- “Work with homosexual members in a spirit of love and compassion by exposing the lies and deceptions surrounding homosexual behavior”;
- “The sin of homosexual behavior should be of grave concern”;
- [There are] “lies and deceptions surrounding homosexual behavior”;
- [The Church wishes to] “help … wayward members change their behavior”;
- “Homosexuality is a sin, is learned behavior (not inborn), and can be stopped;
- “It is important to differentiate between sexual misconduct and emotional or social problems. A person can change immoral habits through self-control. … He may have emotional or social problems that result from or contribute to this immoral behavior, but sexual sin cannot be excused due to social or emotional troubles”;
- “Homosexual behavior begins in various ways”;
- “In some cases, homosexual behavior begins in childhood”;
- “No transformation will occur until the person abandons those things that lead to and include homosexual sin”;
- “The first objective should be for the homosexual to change his behavior”;
- “To believe that immoral behavior is inborn or hereditary is to deny men have free agency to choose between sin and righteousness”;
- “Those who engage in homosexual behavior will have to submit to justice … so mercy can have effect”;
- “Man’s proper course of behavior is gauged by God’s highest wishes concerning him”;
- “Any behavior that prevents one from receiving these eternal blessings is evil”;
- “The homosexual is often skillful at rationalizing, as are many who wish to maintain improper behavior”;
- “Until the homosexual accepts the … truths about sexual conduct, he is in error and sin”;
- [Page 270]“Repentance involves changed or changing behavior. No amount of regret, sorrow, or emotion compensates for continuation of sin”;
- “Repentance must result in forsaking evil behavior”;
- “Bishops … are expected to clearly inquire into sexual behavior when considering youth for missions. Rather than just using the term homosexuality, they might refer to sexual contact with women or men’”;
- “Interviews throughout the member’s life will give him or her the opportunity to confess to homosexual behavior”;
- “Tragedies will be averted if this behavior is dealt with sooner”;
- “Applicants [for Church schools] are not approved if they are engaged in homosexual practices. Homosexuals should be dealt with as would fornicators and adulterers who apply to Church schools”;
- “Persons who have engaged in homosexual relations and who have not totally repented and forsaken these evil practices will not be admitted to study at or be employed by any Church university”;
- “Students or staff who engage in such behavior … will be dismissed”;
- “Procedures for dealing with missionaries who are found to be actively homosexual in the mission field are the same as for those who commit adultery or fornication”;
- “Those [Church officers and employees] whose thoughts are unhealthy but have not as yet given in to the temptation should be worked with closely as they repent but may, if wisdom and the Spirit dictate, be kept in their position so long as it does not intensify their temptation”;
- “The bishop … may need to make special confidential inquiries into suspected behavior” (14);
- “Makes it harder to stop their illicit behavior”;
- “Homosexuality is a powerful habit”;
- “Homosexuality. … is a learned habit that can be repented of and controlled by learning other ways of life”;
- “Change is seldom easy or rapid and requires … mature self-control from within”;
- [Page 271]“While it is an extremely difficult habit to change, homosexuality can be repented of as can any other deeply entrenched habit”;
- “The alcoholic or the adulterer has as much to overcome”;
- “As with the alcoholic or adulterer (or one participating in any other wrong behavior), the homosexual will have to avoid for the rest of his or her life the thoughts, circumstances, and temptations which lead to immoral behavior”;
- “There is no place in God’s Church for those who persist in vile behavior. There is a place for those who present themselves … for the purpose of penitent change.”489
“To the One” (1978)
- [Homosexual temptation] “is not desirable; it is unnatural; it is abnormal; it is an affliction. When practiced, it is immoral. It is a transgression”;
- “Even one who is spiritually immature ought intuitively to sense that such actions are wrong, very wrong”;
- “If a condition that draws both men and women into one of the ugliest and most debased of all physical performances is set and cannot overcome”;
- “If someone is heavily involved in perversion, it becomes very important to him to believe that it is incurable. Can you not see that those who preach that doctrine do so to justify themselves? Some who become tangled up in this disorder become predators”;
- “You hear them claiming that a large percentage of the population is involved … with this activity”;
- “If you are one of the few who are subject to this temptation, do not be misled into believing that you are a captive to it”;
- “Drawn almost innocently into unnatural behavior”;
- “Got off the track into some unnatural behavior”;
- “If [someone] tries to receive comfort, satisfaction, affection, or fulfillment from deviate physical interaction with someone of his own gender, it can become an addiction”;
- [Page 272]“No person ever made a conscious decision to make unnatural behavior his life-style without sending brutal, destructive, selfish signals to those who love him”;
- “Don’t come up with some rationalization that participation in an act of sexual deviation is a generous and an unselfish gesture”;
- “Don’t claim that it is an unselfish thing to relieve the craving of someone who is similarly affected”;
- “That is no justification for any immoral or selfish act of any kind”;
- “Do not try merely to discard a bad habit or a bad thought. Replace it”;
- “Then, if an evil habit or addiction tries to return, it will have to fight for attention. Sometimes it may win. Bad thoughts often have to be evicted a hundred times, or a thousand. But if they have to be evicted ten thousand times, never surrender to them. You are in charge of you. I repeat, it is very, very difficult to eliminate a bad habit just by trying to discard it. Replace it.”490
Homosexuality (1981 Leaders’ Manual)
- “The Causes of Homosexual Behavior. … Categories of Homosexual Behavior. … Preventing the Development of Homosexual Behavior” (Contents);
- “Homosexuality is of grave concern to the Church because … It … pervert[s] the proper use of procreative powers … It is as sinful as heterosexual adultery and fornication”;
- “Members of the Church who engage in homosexual behavior need … help. … They must accept responsibility for their sinful behavior and develop the determination to change their lives. Priesthood leaders should … help members involved in homosexual activities change their behavior and achieve forgiveness and joy in the Lord’s Kingdom”;
- “Others … are trapped by habits of sexual indulgence. Sexual misbehavior, however, is almost always a symptom of serious social or emotional problems”;
- [Page 273]“homosexuality is a sin in the same degree as adultery and fornication. Powerful forces are seeking to establish this sinful practice as an acceptable way of life”;
- “We must never … normalize immorality”;
- “The only acceptable sexual relationship occurs within the family between a husband and a wife”;
- “Professionals do not agree on the causes of homosexual behavior”;
- “Many persons involved in homosexual activities during recent years … [claim that they] are not responsible for their homosexual behavior because it is caused by conditions beyond their own control. … [and that] Homosexuality is a harmless alternative lifestyle. … Such rationalization is evident even among some members of the Church who indulge in and justify homosexual practices”;
- [There are] “eternal, unchanging truths about their sexual misconduct”;
- “Homosexual behavior is learned and can be overcome. To believe that immoral behavior is inborn or hereditary is to deny that men have the agency to choose between sin and righteousness”;
- “It is inconceivable that — as some involved in homosexual behavior claim — he would permit some of his children to be born with desires and inclinations which would require behavior contrary to the eternal plan”;
- “The person must repent of his homosexual behavior and control it by learning other ways of life that are healthy and righteous. Change is seldom easy or rapid, and it usually requires support from others”;
- “You can use the following … categories of homosexual behavior as a guide.
- “Category II: Situational homosexuality. Individuals in this category include those who experience occasional, temporary homosexual feelings or behaviors through curiosity, experimentation, pornographic stimulation, peer pressures, drug or alcohol abuse, or living in close proximity to a member of the same sex”;
- “Category III: Rebellious homosexuality. This category represents primarily an attitude and lifestyle. These individuals … have chosen to fully accept a homosexual [Page 274]lifestyle. They have little, if any, motivation to change their behavior and are openly active, even promiscuous in their homosexual behavior”;
- “When you consider involving non-LDS professionals‚ you should be careful to make sure they understand and support gospel principles relating to homosexual behavior”;
- “Your acceptance of the person does not mean you agree with his incorrect behavior”;
- “In many cases the person is guilty of homosexual thoughts or acts but is not deeply involved in the society of those steeped in homosexual activities. Be careful not to label people “homosexual” This both discourages them and tends to make them feel that they cannot solve their problems. It is better to refer to their ‘homosexual behavior’ than to call them a ‘homosexual’”;
- “It may be important to remind the individual that those with homosexual temptations are not the only members of the Church who are being asked to control and property channel their sexual desires. All members are expected to obey the Lord’s law of chastity”;
- “The person’s success in overcoming his homosexual behavior is directly related to how much he wants to change.”;
- “Those who are young or have had little actual homosexual involvement are able to overcome the problem much more easily than those who have been involved in such practices for many years”;
- “Those who feel inadequate … will find it difficult to overcome homosexual behavior until their social skills and behaviors are developed more fully”;
- “Does he understand that homosexual acts are sin in the same degree as fornication and adultery?”;
- “Masturbation is a sin, but is not homosexuality when practiced alone. When individuals of the same sex masturbate each other, it is a homosexual act. Self-masturbation is almost universal among those who engage in homosexual behavior, and is a very difficult habit for most to overcome. The fantasies that attend this behavior are often the most powerful aspects of the act”;
- [Page 275]“You should be sensitive to factors which may lead to homosexual behavior”;
- “Interviews for attendance at Church schools may also include questions about homosexual behavior. Applicants are not to be approved if they are involved in these practices. All with homosexual problems, including those who apply to Church schools, should be dealt with as would those who have committed fornication or adultery”;
- “Bishops and stake presidents, when prompted by the Spirit, should ask specific questions concerning homosexual behavior in interviews for temple recommends”;
- “Bishops and stake presidents are expected to clearly inquire into sexual behavior when they are considering youth for missions. Rather than using the term homosexuality, they might refer to “sexual contact with women or men”;
- “Persons who have engaged in homosexual activities and who have not totally repented and forsaken these evil practices will not be admitted to study at or be employed by any Church university, college, school, or program. Students or staff who engage in such behavior while involved with the Church Educational System will be dismissed”;
- “Procedures for dealing with missionaries who are involved in active homosexual practices in the mission field are the same as for those who commit adultery or fornication”;
- “A [Church] court may need to be convened in behalf of a member guilty of homosexual behavior”;
- “Since homosexual behavior is possible only with others, the individual should disclose his sexual partners as an essential part of repentance.”491
Sexual Sin as “Next to Murder”
Many sources express the Church’s view that sexual sin is next to murder in its seriousness. Examples from 1829–1950 include:
- Alma 39:3, 5 (1829): “Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go … after the harlot Isabel. … Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the [Page 276]Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?”;
- Parley P. Pratt (1855): “If we except murder, there is scarcely a more damning sin on the earth than the prostitution of female virtue or chastity at the shrine of pleasure, or brutal lust; or that promiscuous and lawless intercourse which chills and corrodes the heart, perverts and destroys the pure affections, cankers and destroys, as it were, the well-springs, the fountains, or issues of life;”492
- Contributor (1881): “Adultery in our code, is second only to murder;”493
- Hyrum Mack Smith (1906): “‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ Another soul destroying crime which is very rare among the Latter-day Saints. There is no other sin, save murder only, that will so soon destroy the spiritual and moral life of men — why, it is spiritual suicide to participate in any such deadly crime;”494
- Joseph F. Smith (1902): “The law of God as to violation of the marriage covenant is just as strict, and is on a parallel with law against murder;”495
- Joseph F. Smith (1903): “Above all things, sexual immorality is most heinous in the sight of God. It is on a par with murder itself;”496
- Improvement Era (1912): “Virtue shall flee from our shores, and in her place shall sit the ancient goddess of Lust, who shall rule until, ripened past the iniquity of Babylon, we shall become even as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah! … This sin is strongly antagonistic of righteousness, for of [Page 277]all the sins except murder, it is essentially the most direct enemy of spirituality. A man may lie or steal, or bear false witness, or covet, or break the Sabbath, and thereafter come quickly to repentance and spiritual regeneration; but men who commit the sin of adultery, put the seal of condemnation upon their spiritual part, as though by this act they had locked their senses from the light;”497
- Joseph F. Smith (1917): “We hold that sexual sin is second only to the shedding of innocent blood in the category of personal crimes; and that the adulterer shall have no part in the exaltation of the blessed;”498
- Melvin J. Ballard (1921): “we shall teach our sons and daughters that next to murder itself, is the crime of sexual impurity;”499
- Melvin J. Ballard (1926): “Next to the crime of murder itself is the crime of sexual impurity. The boy who would deliberately look upon a clean, chaste, and pure girl to rob her of her virtue is almost as guilty as though he contemplated sending a knife into her heart to destroy her;”500
- Heber J. Grant (1941): “We have been taught, thousands of us who have been reared in this Church from our childhood days, that second only to murder is the sin of losing our virtue;”501
- [Page 278]Joseph Fielding Smith (1944): “May I say a word to you parents? … Have we taught them that immorality, uncleanness of life, is a deadly sin, that the Lord has classed it as second only to the shedding of innocent blood?”;502
- Joseph Fielding Smith (1947): “This sin stands in the sight of God second only to murder (Alma 39:5) and denying the Holy Ghost. Those who are guilty and do not repent in a short time become fault-finders, criticizing their brethren, then the principles of the Gospel, and finally become bitter in their souls against the work and those who are engaged in it. The most bitter opponents of the Church and the Gospel many times have been proved to be immoral and leading unclean lives;”503
- Harold B. Lee (1950): “[God] has written high on the decalogue of crime and second only to murder the divine injunction, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’”504
There are more statements that could be cited, but this listing should be enough to demonstrate that Tabernacles is not accurate if it means to imply that seeing homosexual sin as next to murder is unusually harsh or punitive compared to heterosexual sin.
Further non-Latter-day Saint criticism is found in: Bryan C. Short, “Review of Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example,” Christian Century 114, no. 2 (15 January 1997): 56–58 and Peter Boag, “’Behind the Zion Curtain’ Homosexuals and Homosexuality in the Historic and Contemporary Mormon-Cultural Region: A Review Essay,” New Mexico Historical Review (1 July 1997): 259–66.
A more favorable take which still expresses significant doubts about some aspects is Robert S. Fogerty, “Homoromance in Utah,” The Times Literary Supplement 4890 (20 December 1996): 30; (these works are all referenced in Mitton and James, “A Response to D. Michael Quinn’s Homosexual Distortion of Latter-day Saint History,” 146n9, 146n10, 175n82).
Brief favorable reviews include: Anne M. Butler, “Reviewed Work: Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example,” The Journal of American History 84, no. 1 (June 1997): 239–40; Timothy Miller, “Review: Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 1, no. 1 (October 1997): 150; B. Carmon Hardy, “Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth Century Americans: A Mormon Example,” History: Review of New Books 2, no. 3 (Spring 1997): 111–12; H. Wayne Schow, “Same-Sex Dynamics,” Great Plains Quarterly (Spring 1998): 186–87; James Gallant, “Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth-Century Americans — A Mormon Example,” Utopian Studies (1998): 301; Leila J. Rupp, “Abstracts of Books,” Journal of Women’s History 10, no. 4 (Winter 1999): 232; Ken Faunce, “Book Review,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 40 (2 July 2011): 1053–54.
None of these favorable reviews engages at all with the substance of Same-Sex Dynamics’s claims — in some cases they seem to have been overwhelmed or impressed by the appearance of rigor and assumed that the bulky documentation proves what is claimed. Critical reviews have demonstrated such trust to be misplaced. Even a favorable review complains of “overdocumentation” (Stephen J. Stein, “Reviewed Work: Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example by D. Michael Quinn,” Church History 67, no. 2 [June 1998]: 420–22) and this tendency arguably allows Same-Sex Dynamics to bury the reader in references that few will check. The brief positive reviews are evidence that the tactic works.
Two years later, Quinn was “still stinging from the negative reaction his book received, not just from Mormons but from some liberal members of the press.” Quinn attributes such reactions to “homophobia,” saying he was “blindsided by people who … hated what my book had to say” (Robert L. Pela, “The Truth Will Out,” The Advocate 754 [3 March 1998]: 58).
As discussed below, in 1858 and 1882 Taylor would explicitly critique the sexual behavior of Sodom, including a reference to “sodomy.” In 1884 he compared Sodom to Pompeii and Herculaneum (both notorious to Taylor’s contemporaries, as we will see, for homosexual vice). His First Presidency likewise released a statement in 1886 condemning Sodom’s “abominations.” It thus seems likely that Taylor here, too, understood the charge against Sodom to include sexual sin, given that he was aware of this dimension and willing to mention it explicitly.
In the restored Church of Jesus Christ, these scriptures are also applicable, but the prohibition of homosexual acts is also rooted in modern revelation to living prophets and apostles, who have been united and univocal in their condemnation.
The key point, for our purposes, is not the proper exegesis of the Sodom and Gomorrah pericope, but how it was understood by Latter-day Saints and their contemporaries. The standard term sodomy for homosexual acts in both law (see the section entitled “Early Proposed Legal Code” for Utah example) and theology in the west is well-known, demonstrating that the common understanding of the cities’ sin included homosexual acts.
Despite differing with him regarding religion, Latter-day Saint authors resorted often to Gibbon in their accounts of early Christian history. For example, “Why Christianity Lives,” Contributor 10, no. 6 (April 1889): 218; B. H. Roberts, introduction to History of the Church, by Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1902) 1:ix, lxvi–lxvii, https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_EylEIEiOmZAC/page/n47/mode/2up; James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1909), chapters 5–8, endnotes; B. H. Roberts, Falling Apart (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1931), 67, 78; J. Reuben Clark Jr., On the Way to Eternal Life (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1949), appendix sections A–D. Tabernacles acknowledges the use of Gibbon “to explain civilizational strength and weakness through the lens of sexual restraint or permissiveness” (58) and cites Marion G. Romney’s use of Gibbon in 1969 (58–59n12), but does not discuss the Latter-day Saint use of it throughout the early twentieth century.
Non-Latter-day Saint works from throughout the nineteenth century that demonstrate a similar awareness include: William Jenks, editor, The Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible: Acts – Revelations (Brattleboro, VT: Brattleboro’ Typographic Company, 1838), 179 in discussing Romans 1:26: “This is well known to have been an abomination of the ancients, invented by the Lesbian women. In justification of the apostle’s censure, see the proof of these horrible crimes, heaped together. … Indeed the other vices … are known to be still practiced, even the worst of them. … Comp. the public obscenities of Pompeii, &c., of this very age, buried whole, and preserved for ages as if to convince us”;  The Universalist Quarterly and General Review, vol. 1 (Boston: A Tompkins, 1844), 267n12 discusses “the vices of adultery and sodomy” which can be seen in “the houses of prostitution in Herculaneum and Pompeii, and the revolting character of the architecture, furniture and paintings”;  James B. Walker, Living Questions of the Age (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1877), 200–201 says “The beastly vice of sodomy was prevalent in Rome. … The vile nature of their art has been illustrated by the excavations of Pompeii. … This is the pit from which the Gospel has rescued the human soul; and … this moral pollution, festering with sodomy, human blood, and all manner of impurity”;  D.L. Miller, Wanderings in Bible Lands (Mount Morris, IL: The Brethren’s Publishing Company, 1894), 97 describes how “in Pompeii … sodomy, and like vices, were among their sinful practices.”
Rodney Turner, Woman and the Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972): “The spirits entering mortality are physically mature men and women possessing distinctive attributes, capacities and proclivities” (20).
See also Andrus’s earlier and later work — Hyrum Andrus, Doctrinal Themes of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957): “intelligence or life is inseparably connected with spirit matter. … It was separate and apart from all other forms of intelligence; it had life within itself and was thus individual, regardless of what form or shape it may have had” (32). Hyrum Andrus, God, Man, and the Universe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1968): “Latter-day revelation clarifies that the organized spirit of man resembled in form and stature the physical tabernacle which the spirit occupies on earth. Indeed, the physical tabernacle that man receives in mortal birth conforms, in general, to the image of the organized spirit,” (181); “Eventually the central primal intelligence of man was organized … to form a spirit personage with a form and stature such as man now possesses” (191–92).
See also Coll-Webb Company, The Little Red Book: An Orthodox Interpretation of The Twelve Steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous Program (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1957), https://archive.org/details/littleredbookort00webs/page/n5/mode/2up: “By trial and error they designed a simple philosophy to arrest alcoholism. It embraced knowledge of many vital facts. Recovery is possible but a cure cannot be effected. The man or woman who has become an alcoholic cannot become a controlled drinker. They have developed a serious illness against which their lower physical and mental resistance is powerless. Control over alcohol is gone. Continued drinking now brings only physical illness and insane behavior. They are truly sick people (21). … Physical health can be restored but no cure will permit us to become controlled drinkers (28). … When complacency develops we are apt to forget the part that God has played in effecting our rehabilitation. We overlook the fact that our nervous systems are still those of alcoholics. We seem to forget that as alcoholics we are susceptible to moods and emotions that we formerly appeased with alcohol (116).
In the same way, The Miracle of Forgiveness says: “Some say that marriage has failed. And while the number of divorces causes us to fear and admit it partly to be true, the principle of marriage is right” (86). Elsewhere, Kimball expanded on the theme: “Marriage is not easy; it is not simple, as evidenced by the ever-mounting divorce rate. Exact figures astound us. … The divorce itself does not constitute the entire evil, but the very acceptance of divorce as a cure is also a serious sin of this generation. … These things worry us considerably because there are too many divorces and they are increasing. It has come to be a common thing to talk about divorce. The minute there is a little crisis or a little argument in the family, we talk about divorce, and we rush to see an attorney. This is not the way of the Lord. We should go back and adjust our problems and make our marriage compatible and sweet and blessed (Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976], 11–12, 30–31).