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.

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