The Scarlet Letter “A”

IMG_0038The news of the past couple of days regarding children of same-sex partners reminds me of a lecture I heard years ago in a Church History class as a student at Brigham Young University back in 1993 or 1994, taught by a fairly prominent Mormon Church historian.

The lecture was about the Word of Wisdom, the Mormon law prohibiting the use of alcohol, tobacco and “hot drinks.” It was given as just that, a word of wisdom (you’d be wise to follow it) and not a commandment. In the early church, it was considered a “higher law”. One could choose to live the Word of Wisdom, and in some cases more prominent figures were called to live it. The same was true for polygamy and the Law of Consecration. No one was required, but some were called by Joseph Smith and, later, Brigham Young to live a higher calling by following one or more of those laws.

Some lived the Word of Wisdom, others did not. In 1933, when it came time to vote on repealing Prohibition, the President of the Church counseled that Utahns should vote in favor of keeping Prohibition. Utah was the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition. Shortly thereafter, the Word of Wisdom became a requirement to receive a temple recommend. In my professor’s words, more or less (it was over 20 years ago, but I distinctly remember the sentiment and tone of her voice), “He said, ‘Fine. Because you didn’t vote the way I told you to vote, you’ll have to follow the Word of Wisdom from now on if you want to go to the temple.’ And that’s how the Word of Wisdom became a commandment.”

My Mormon BYU-student mind was blown! The very idea that a “word of wisdom” became a commandment not through revelation from God but by what I could only see as spite astounded me.

I was reminded of this because I see direct parallels between this and the new policy about children with gay parents. Because the external fight to keep the law of the land on their side was unsuccessful, it is now focusing internally. In both cases, they tried to influence state and federal statutes to support their theology. In both cases, they lost. And now, in both cases, they doubled-down internally.

I can only guess that the leadership thinks they are doing this with the best intentions. They say they are doing it to protect the children and prevent discord in families with gay parents. However, labeling active homosexuals as “apostates” is a pretty dramatic thing in Mormon-dom. You might as well slap a scarlet letter “A” on them. “Apostate” is about as bad as it can get.

The children of gay parents (or as the new policy says, “a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship”, which to me is clearly different from a child being raised by a gay couple) are already excluded by association. The question among some now is, “At what point will my association and support of my gay son/daughter/brother/sister/uncle/aunt/friend exclude me?” “Will attending a gay friend’s wedding constitute support or advocacy of apostates?”


Despite what some consider the best of intentions, for others it has created fear–fear that their eternal salvation may be jeopardized by their association, love and support for their gay family members and friends. And worse, fear that they will be excluded and labeled “apostate” themselves. This is especially true for Mormon youth and young adults struggling to reconcile their gay feelings with their church’s teachings. I can tell you from personal experience that the internal struggle alone is enough to drive one to contemplate suicide. Possibly being labeled “apostate” only exacerbates the anxiety.

That, in my opinion, is an egregious abuse of power.


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