Sunday, September 11

Elder Oaks speaks on politics, tolerance, morality, and prophesies the future at a CES Fireside. Wow.

CES firesides are usually pretty tame when it comes to doctrine. Don’t take girls out to the movies on a first date, don’t hang out at the expense of dating, choose a job and career and do your best. Sometimes the firesides focus on developing personal values and instilling a desire to be better. But tonight’s was different. Way different.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks is a retired lawyer who was considered as a US Supreme Court Justice, served as a member of the Utah Supreme Court, worked as president of BYU, and has done a bunch of other stuff in the field of law. Usually he’s chosen as the apostle to teach difficult doctrines clearly – to give the unpopular talks about pornography or other issues. But tonight, instead of toning his words to speak to an audience unfamiliar with his field’s nuances, he spoke in his own language… and in a talk that could have been completely written about homosexuality and the Church, prophesied that we would need to be fluent in the law, and our rights, to survive. I’m going to write in my own thoughts along with some of my notes on the talk.

The fireside began with his wife – Kristin Oaks – who shared insights that seemed really applicable to my life. She doesn’t live with same-sex attraction, but facing single life and the isolation and heartbreak that comes with it is similar in both cases. 

Among the powerful things that I heard in her talk (some she said; others are personal applications I wrote in my notes):

Worry less about marriage than becoming a follower of Christ. This one is huge – I used to be obsessed with the fact that I wasn’t married, even after I had “paid my dues” with a mission and everything else I thought I needed to do. In reality, marriage is just part of the equation. Much more important is following Christ – and then, when marriage is in the plan (in this life or the next), the Lord will make it happen.

We are surrounded by perils on every side; it’s not enough to just get out alive, we need to help others along the way. This one hit me hard, because, for most of my life, I was focused on myself and my own problems – I wanted to understand the issue of same-sex attraction, and the thought of helping others never even occurred to me. When it finally did, and I began writing here, like the story of the woman in Japan, I’ve had powerful urges to just disappear and go on with my own life… but, like her, I’ve also felt the need to do what I can to make a difference.

If you can’t bear the challenges of life today, with your trials, happily, then you won’t be able to bear it when greater blessings, greater trials, and greater responsibilities come. This one is a truth I learned only recently – in the last few years. I thought that, in order to be happy, I would need the Lord to either heal me or answer my prayers. In reality, the Gospel has the power to bring happiness no matter what is happening in my life… and if I haven’t learned to use that power today, I won’t know how to use it tomorrow. It takes a lot of effort, a lot more effort than I imagined when I was younger, for the gospel to actually work and bring happiness, at least in my case. But it’s definitely worth it.

All men and women, gay, straight, married, or single, should remain active in the Church. The plan of salvation is in force for everyone… and we did not fight a war in Heaven to be single or unhappy eternally. We did not sign up for only part of the plan; we signed up for all of it. And by staying active in the Church, we avail ourselves of all the blessings of the gospel. They will come. I totally agree.

Then Elder Oaks began speaking. He prefaced his talk with a short story of a survey done of adults 20 years ago. Most believed that moral behavior was universal – that right and wrong had black and white absolutes that applied to everyone equally without respect to religion or background – the way most of us see murder or violence today. Today, that same study given to college seniors had the opposite effect. 75% of them believed that right and wrong, good and evil, were relative… most college seniors believe that there are no absolutes. (And from my own experience, many, many people now believe that even sexual morality is relative. Tons of people who I’d normally think were sound and solid members of the Church think that the law of chastity shouldn’t apply to men or women with same-gender attraction. I know that people rationalize away laws for themselves… but when did this become such a huge problem that people leave the Church over it?)

His talk was on tolerance and truth, where tolerance is something different from what the world normally equates. Tolerance in the gospel is a virtue when it is tolerance of people, or of beliefs… but not of actions. Essentially, it’s a match to what the Savior taught – tolerate sinners, lift them, teach them, and give them as much time as they need to repent, but make it clear that you don’t approve of or tolerate sin. As He kindly and firmly said to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee… now go, and sin no more.” (Tolerance of people who don’t live the gospel is simply loving them and giving them the dignity and respect afforded to all of God’s children. At the same time, the gospel requires standing by the truth in all times and in all places – and making the distinction clear between right and wrong, okay and sin, as an institution.)

During his talk, he mentioned three absolute truths.

1)      All are brothers and sisters under God, taught within their various religions to love and do good to one another. All of us need to learn to respect the God-given dignity that is in all men – to love and respect their spirits and their divine potential. (We should all love each other – love being the virtue wherein we are willing to do anything to help others come closer to Christ)
2)      Living with differences is what the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we must do. We are in the world, but not of the world… and that means that sometimes we have to assert ourselves. We need to challenge laws that malign our ability to practice religion, and contend to support religious freedom. (We should protect our own freedom to believe and worship God, but also be a part of the world and situate those laws in terms that communicate with others)
3)      Tolerance for others and their beliefs does not jeopardize our support for truth and right actions. We aren’t required to respect or tolerate wrong behavior. We deplore murder, violence, thievery, and everything else that God has ordained as sin.

When we are evaluating our own lives, we should not be tolerant of ourselves. We shouldn’t hide behind “tolerance” when we know that we know better. It’s the same when we teach our children – we should only teach the truth, and never let someone teach them false doctrine. In situations with others, we share truth according to the situation – you don’t call out a stranger on using profanity at home, but you do when it’s around you.

And then he spoke about being involved in the public square. When believers of Jesus Christ take their beliefs into the public square, they must be extremely selective. They shouldn’t legislate worship practices, even indirectly, but believers can and must seek laws that allow religious expression… and should also choose action-oriented laws that appeal to moral, ethical, and broad bases that are a part of society at large – not just unique to their own individual religion or dogma. When believers seek to promote their positions, their methods should be tolerant of the opinions of others... Love your neighbors, do good to those that despitefully use you, and don’t add to the chaos of turbulent and unsavory remarks... we need to frame our arguments in a way that adds to the discussion in a democratic society. Believers should not be deferred by the claim that they are “legislating morality”. Morality has always been and will always be a central part of legislation – whether based on the moral code of believers or the moral code of nonbelievers. Believers should always be sensitive to the views and needs of the minority.

Maybe it was just me, but I thought this talk had Proposition 8 written all over it. But that wasn’t all. At the end of the talk, he referred to the parable of the watchman on the tower, in the Doctrine and Covenants (the one where the Lord tells us that prophets foretell the future), and said, “As an apostle of the Lord, I am the watchman in the parable… and I have just spoken to you on a subject that was directed to me by the Spirit.” That’s about as clear as it gets to me… the political world is going to get rough. The Constitution is going to hang by a thread. We’re going to be in the minority (not a new thing for me). And we, I, whoever was listening tonight, is going to have to take the reins to support God and His plans when that time arrives.


  1. Wow. I love reading your insights on the fireside. They definitely gave me a new perspective about what was said tonight.

  2. thank you so much for sharing Elder Oaks and his wife's talks! i especially am grateful for the 'tolerance' point. i always have such a hard time wording it just right. i love reading your blog and you are such an inspiration to me. you have amazing strength and faith and Heavenly Father must be so proud of you.

  3. Awesome. Thanks for writing this up. We had thought to watch it, but then ended up forgetting as the day progressed. Not that I wouldn't have wanted to watch it, but this motivates me all the more.

    I also appreciated your own personal witness of principles that were taught. I love it when something that is taught in a context like this reinforces what the Spirit has taught me. That law of witnesses helps me know when I am on the right track with my life and my thoughts and desires.

  4. Thank you for sharing the talks with us. I live in the Philippines with my family and the opportunity to hear such a talk was not available. You make me anxious for General Conference. These are the last days and I enjoy reading your perspective.

  5. I loved this fireside. I was planning on reading it again because I'm not going to lie, Elder Oaks was a little bit harder for me to follow compared to his bubbly wife. Now I feel that after reading this I have a lot to think about and I am good for the night. Thanks :)

  6. That was a fantastic post. My wife and I just had a 20-minute discussion on what you wrote, and now I have to track down that CES fireside when BYUTv posts it online.

    I am glad you have "eyes to see" and "ears to hear." I loved seeing Elder Oaks' talk from that point of view. I know I've been feeling like something... how would I say this... important is near for like 10 years, and Elder Oaks says what he just said.

    I surely am looking internally tonight, trying to see if I have enough oil in my lamp to be called one of those who are ready. Thank you again for the post.

  7. Now I want to go online and get myself a copy of this talk so I can read it. This is the sort of thing I keep GMG on my Google Reader for. :)

  8. A good post, but one small comment: the White Horse Prophecy, from which the line about the Constitution hanging by a thread comes, is actually quite apocryphal and was never accepted as canonical by the church. I'd caution against citing it in an unqualified fashion ;)

  9. Interesting thoughts; I thought he was speaking much more broad than prop 8. Prop 8 is in their but it seemed to encounter more than just that. He gave a similar talk at BYU-I in 09’, about similar subject religious liberties, it’s definitely on his mind. I thought one of the powerful quotes was when he said something like "why am I talking to you young adults and not senior church officials about this topic because this will come sooner than you think." That was straight forward. Of course after the talk I was speculating what events are happeneing right now that are suppressing religious libereties. I also loved the quote about the watchmen, it was stern and then also, he has the gift of knowledge while others have the gift to believe from his knowledge. Good stuff.

  10. Anonymous:

    My blog is rife with lacks of citation... and in this case I think it's more of a feeling and a personal view than a prophecy. But I totally agree.

    Mormon Guy

  11. I'll first point out that I a firm supporter of religious freedom. I believe it is important for any believer to worship as they want to worship, independent of government influence. At the same time, Oaks is not correct on many of his assumptions about religious freedom, particularly when it comes to "

    "Believers should not be deferred by the claim that they are 'legislating morality'. Morality has always been and will always be a central part of legislation – whether based on the moral code of believers or the moral code of nonbelievers."

    So what then when someone believes in the morality of committed same-sex relationships and marriages? Whose morality should be legislated then? The LDS Church? The Episcopal Church? The Catholic Church? It isn't quite as simple as Oaks makes it sound. There are always conflicting morals; to me it isn't about seeking legislate your own morality but creating a free society full of opportunities for everyone to believe, worship, and live as their conscience dictates to them (so long as they don't prevent others from doing the same).

    "Believers should always be sensitive to the views and needs of the minority."

    REALLY? I'm sorry, but I have a really hard time with this statement because the LDS Church is not at all sensitive to the needs of minorities, namely gay couples. The Church, with it's campaigning in Prop 8 (and other legislation), has said some pretty nasty, horrible things about gay couples and their "lifestyles". Not a very sensitive approach if you ask me.

    I suspect that Oaks made similar comments as he did in his infamous BYU-I talk (the one that got him Keith Olberman's "Worst Person in the World" award; and the similar one at Chapman University ( earlier this year. Religious freedoms are far from being infringed upon. Take the Westboro Baptist Church as possibly the most extreme example of religion-induced hate. The Supreme Court continues to support their right to free speech, picketing, etc.

    For example, in the talk cited above, Oaks said "I see a serious threat to the freedom of religion in the current assertion of a 'civil right' of homosexuals to be free from religious preaching against their relationships." Gays and lesbians are not asking to be free from religious preaching against our relationships. We are asking for the government to treat all relationships as equal or to favor no relationship at all (i.e., to get out of the relationship business all together). He cites Canada as an example for his defense. REALLY? Canada is not the United States. Different laws and constitution. He also cites the United Methodist Church situation but leaves out important details. The UMC was asked, if it wanted tax exemptions status for a pavilion, had to let any tax payer use the pavilion; the UMC could not discriminate. It had nothing to do with religious belief. The UMC would still be able to maintain tax exempt status for other properties, just not the one where they denied tax payers access to the property simply because they were lesbians. In other words, no institution can receive tax cuts for saying it will make its land available for public use but deny certain people access to that property. The LDS Church typically does not receive tax cuts for its land and buildings.

  12. Ryan -

    Attacking Elder Oaks for things that I wrote in my notes, and prefaced as "my thoughts, along with some of my notes," especially when you didn't watch the fireside, probably isn't the most accurate way to get your point across. It also doesn't help when you sensationalize or add extreme emotion to your arguments. I understand where you are coming from, because I've been there... but it doesn't make me want to ask you questions or even listen, because of the way the message is shared.

    Part of the conversation is learning to realize that people actually have thought out their positions, and, in most cases, are honestly doing what they feel to be right - the common dignity that Elder Oaks spoke about last night.

    Honestly, I usually don't post comments like yours, because I don't find them compelling or persuasive. But I also believe that you're being honest and sincere, and maybe this reply will help you and me better communicate. Broadly saying that a man who has presented before the Supreme Court is wrong about his views on legislation, without backing up that claim with anything but your own personal opinion, isn't engendering ethos in my mind. And the all-caps exclamations and generous use of sensational adjectives and adverbs can probably go - I know teenagers who communicate that way, but no colleagues. And I don't think you're a teenager. Claiming that you speak for anyone but yourself, especially "gays and lesbians," doesn't make me want to believe you - especially since I've met and gotten emails from people who oppose what you say... and since I don't agree.

    When I write, I try to use "I" statements - to share my thoughts, my feelings, my passions... and I don't project my beliefs onto others. Does anyone in the world believe the same thing I do? I don't know. Maybe. But I definitely don't speak on their behalf, and I can't comment on their lives.

  13. I am admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States and am somewhat familiar with Mr. Oaks' career.

    He did clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren right after graduating law school but that is a paid staff position working for the court, it involves no representation of clients or presenting "dozens of cases" before the court.

    He has been a law school professor, dean, university president, Utah Supreme Court justice, and church leader. I have read numerous bio's for him and none has ever mentioned that he ever appeared as counsel for an appellant before the US Supreme Court.

    You may want to double-check your facts.

  14. Wasn't that just a wonderful fireside?! I couldn't even blink as I listened to Elder Oaks speak. You just knew where his message came from. I have always loved how eloquent and direct he has always been... and that quality only grows as the need for it grows also. He even emphasized over and over again who he was addressing and why he needed us to understand that message.

    I loved reading your personal insight from it. And your response to Ryan (it calms my nerves to see people like responding to comments like those--I don't know how to do it. At least not properly).

  15. Jonathan -

    Thanks for the fact check... I must have mixed him up with Rex E Lee - another major law icon in LDS history. Lawyers are all sort of the same in my mind. I'll change the bio part.

  16. Ryan makes some valid points, but unfortunately you spend more time attacking him than addressing the substance of his remarks. To restate some of Ryan's important points:

    1. Who's morality should guide legislation? Even among Christian churches, there is a significant diversity of viewpoints on topics such as the death penality, immigration and same-sex marriage. Latter-day Saints are often too convinced of the correctness of their morality to sincerely consider a plurality of views.

    2. How can the LDS Church claim that its members should respect minorities, when it has more than once in history positioned itself as an obstacle for minorities (blacks and gays are the two most prominent groups)?

    3. Can Elder Oaks provide significant evidence - more than speculation, more than minor isolated instances - where religious rights are being curtailed today? I've encountered this argument several times, but it seems more like a whine from the religious right perhaps because they are finally failing to convince people of some of their more extreme moral and political positions. Here is the strategy it appears of Elder Oaks: turn the argument upon its head and make religious believers appear to be the victims instead of homosexuals seeking for equality. It is clever, but I am not really sure it will win that many hearts and minds in America: whining from the plush pulpits of one of the richest and most politically powerful religious organizations in the US isn't convincing.

  17. Thanks for publishing my comment. I was surprised you published it but I wasn't surprised by your response. You made a lot of assumptions about me that aren't true -- I'll ignore those assumptions so discussion can continue to take place. If you would like me to use a professional language and tone rather than a casual (as is typical in online discussions), I am certainly capable.

    There were many things I appreciated about Oaks talk (e.g., be nice, live peacefully with your neighbors, etc). But I also have disagreements about how he portrays gay people and the culture that ensues as a result of sweeping generalizations like the ones he makes. I am fairly well read on the counter arguments to things Oaks has said. I've given those references before but you never publish them so there's no sense in referencing them again. (I am, after all, a product of your shaping).

    When it comes right down to it, this is a topic I feel passionately about. I comment on your blog because, as a gay member of the LDS Church, you greatly influence how straight members of the LDS Church respond to these types of LDS talks and to gay people generally. I've been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh statements from Mormons who use your blog to back up those statements. Your blog about Packer's infamous talk swept Facebook; horrible things were said. Like Oaks, I believe there are some things that should not be tolerated.

  18. Also, Walker's conclusions and decision on Prop 8 have the same authority, actually more authority, than Oaks. Walker came to completely different conclusions than Oaks on that issue. I side with Walker because his arguments are far more compelling and grounded in logic.

  19. There have been cases in both Illinois and Vermont where businesses refused to host a wedding/reception for same sex couples (citing their religious beliefs, mind you) and were actually sued by the refused pair.

    Now to me, that is trying to force people to give up their religious beliefs if they wish to run a motel/B&B/Inn, is it not? If you morally believe something is wrong, and someone tries to force you to consent to that action, isn't that impinging upon your rights?

    The thing that gets me in both of those cases is this: there are dozens of hotels within driving distance of most major metropolitan areas, or the couples could have chosen to hold it in another geographical location to facilitate things when they were initially refused by these business owners. They did not have to sue people, they could have made a statement by taking their business elsewhere (and been vocal about their frustrations to family and friends) as is the common form of recourse when you are displeased by the service or lack thereof provided by someone/something.

    I believe I've also heard of several cases in California where similar instances occurred (with a wedding photographer or some such). I'll see if I can't track down those articles as well.

    These are just my thoughts; I welcome any and all discussion.

  20. CJ - thank you for treating me and the comments I made with respect and dignity. It's refreshing.

  21. I thought I should tell you about this conference in SLC for church leaders and the gay and lesbian population that is LDS. It's free.

  22. "If you can’t bear the challenges of life today, with your trials, happily, then you won’t be able to bear it when greater blessings, greater trials, and greater responsibilities come."
    Wow. I so needed to read this tonight. My burdens, which are very different from yours, have felt so heavy lately, and I finally saw my way through to what I need to do now, as the Spirit prompted me through your words.
    Thank you so, so much for sharing what you did in this post. You are one of the bravest people I know, and I am rooting for you!

  23. Two days ago I submitted a comment in response to the one above from "ifwecouldonlysee". I provided additional facts regarding that person's stories about two lawsuits involving same-sex couples. These were not arguments or attacks on the LDS church, they were simply additional facts about those cases. It appears you have chosen not to post my comment. If this is true, I would be very interested to know why. I believe my comment was well-written, well-meaning in nature (intended to provide additional factual information and asking good faith questions, not intended to attack), did not contradict Mormon teachings as far as I know, and certainly was relevant. I do not understand why it would not meet your criteria. Thank you for your time.

  24. Mormon Guy, thank you for treating Ryan and everyone else with respect and dignity. As he said, it's refreshing. I always appreciate your thoughtfulness and fairness.

    And don't worry; those of us who are being fair can tell the difference between attacks and helpful thoughts.

  25. i am not sure who Elder Oaks is but sounds like a very important man to many!

  26. I'm really sad I missed it.... Is it published anywhere like on Does anyone know?

  27. Jonathan:

    I haven't posted any comments lately. My life is busy. If someone needs help, I always try to make time to answer questions. Otherwise, the key word in the comment policy is "eventually."

    After reading your comment, I was also a bit loathe to post it because your use of hyperbole seems a bit condescending... but I've already posted every comment on this thread. So we'll see what happens. Here's your comment, in italics, with my response in bold.


    Both the Illinois and Vermont cases allege violations of state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by businesses open to the public. These laws were passed by state legislatures who represent the people of these two states. As such, they must be presumed to reflect the will of the people.

    You assert that the gay couples who've sued the B&B or hotel are trying to "force people to give up their religious beliefs if they wish to run a motel/B&B/Inn." This is untrue. These laws apply to all businesses in these states and prohibit discrimination on all kinds of bases, including race, gender, etc. They have nothing to do with gay marriage per se, and they pre-date the groundswell of support for marriage equality nationwide. The plaintiffs in both these cases are likely to win, because the businesses clearly violated state law. If you don't like this result and belief it infringes on religious freedom, then your argument is not with gay marriage, but with the ability of a state legislature to pass laws outlawing discrimination generally. Are you sure you want to go there? That horse left the barn decades ago.

    I think that from context it's apparent that ifwecouldonlysee was speaking of the personal nature of suing a business, not the law itself. If I am aware of a business and its predispositions towards or against something, I usually simply take my business elsewhere, and vocally encourage my family and friends to follow suit. As outlined, ifwecouldonlysee does the same. 

    In this case there were laws outlawing discrimination against people with different sexual orientation, however I don't see that discrimination happening. I see discrimination against an action, not against an inborn trait.

    If the hotelier had said, "Because you are attracted to members of the same gender, we will deny you entrance," I would agree - such an act is definitely discrimination against a condition over which the victim has little or no control. But he didn't say that. And denying the right to use his facilities as indirect endorsement of gay marriage is totally different. You can be inclined to alcohol by blood and birth and I'll welcome you in my home. You had no control over such an inclination, just like every other protected class - race, skin color, disability, gender, age... But if you try to bring alcohol in the door, you are not welcome.

    I think that all of us are ecstatic to see men and women who live with same-sex attraction treated equally in society - to realize that the bullying or discrimination that might happen is being changed. Congress has the need to ensure that all citizens are afforded the peace and security that comes from being in control of their lives. But we don't agree that discrimination on actions - like gay marriage - is wrong. And I do not believe that the hoteliers in this case were in the wrong - like I said, they weren't discriminating against an inborn condition held by two people, but against a choice that those people made, with which they did not morally agree.

  28. Continued....

    Your same argument was used 50 years ago to defend the exclusion of African-Americans from "whites only" hotels, restaurants, hospitals, etc., and segregation was vigorously defended from the Bible as God's will. Even by Mormon prophets and apostles, one of whom said that God's "eternal law" for interracial marriage was "death on the spot." But surely you wouldn't defend such racism now, would you?

    I don't really think this part of the comment is relevant to the topic at hand, but Jonathan does, so I'm still including it. Considering that there were numerous black members of the Church in the early 1800's, and they held positions of personal esteem as recounted in historical records and journals, including those of prophets, it's apparent that the racism you mention wasn't part of commonly held or scriptural LDS doctrine. 

    Also the quotation you took from the journal of discourses - a compilation of people's memories of Brigham Young - lacks context. President Young wasn't even talking about interracial marriage... since interracial marriage was impossible at the time the quote was given - way longer than 50 years ago.

    A much better explanation of the quote, and context for understanding it, can be found at 

     President Young on Fidelity and Chastity

     As outlined in the above mention, President Young was speaking about the duty of priesthood men to keep their covenants. He was also speaking in reference to the practice of raping black women - which was not held as a crime or sin in some jurisdictions, which differed severely from the punishment given for raping white women. In teaching the importance of keeping covenants, he proclaimed that God would take away His Spirit - immediate spiritual death - from any chosen (holding the priesthood) man who raped a woman, regardless of skin color. He then went on to condemn humanity for their treatment of black brothers and sisters as inferior. And the prophets today teach the same thing. If I rape a woman, of my own race or any color, I suffer immediate spiritual "death on the spot," and that - spiritual death for rape - will definitely be an eternal and lasting law.

    The stories I know of prophets and race aren't of racism. They're of the Prophet Joseph sleeping on the floor so that black men, women, and children can sleep on his bed. Giving his finest horse to a man so that he can sell it and buy his son's freedom. Bringing black saints into their homes and their lives, working along side them, walking with them on the plains, fighting alongside them in battles in the Mexican-American war.

    And the good Saints I know don't discriminate against those with same-sex attraction. They do discriminate, and feel passionately, as we all do, regarding the conscious actions that others take.

  29. SparklePink: The talk is available at the following link: Elder Oaks CES Fireside Sep 2011

    Mrs. pancakes: Dallin H Oaks is an apostle of the Church, beyond his service on the Utah Supreme Court and work in law. As an apostle, he has the authority to expound and explain doctrine for the welfare of humanity as a whole, and is an authored representative of Christ.


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