” I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” 1 Nephi 11:17
That is how I feel a lot of the time when discussing gospel principles. There is a lot that I know, but I do not know all things. There is a lot that I have experienced, but I have not experienced all things. There is a lot that I have a testimony of, but I do not have a testimony of all things. And so, those things that I do have a testimony of serve as a foundation and support for me when I encounter those things that I do not have a testimony of yet. And I firmly believe that one gains a testimony of things by dealing with them, thinking about them, studying them, praying about them.
I had such an experience in the last couple of days after General Conference. For those unaware, President Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke about morality and the standards of the Church. He specifically mentioned the Church’s positon on marriage, quoting The Family: A Proclamation to the World, “We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”
This is nothing new, that Proclamation was made in 1995, 15 years ago. It has been accepted as revelation by the Church, has been quoted from again and again in General Conference and in Sacrament Meetings and Sunday School lessons. But now, since there is a lot of publicity surrounding the issue of same-sex marriage, it seems like many want the Church to abandon the document and everything that it teaches. It was not written lightly, nor was it introduced to the Church as a Proclamation lightly. The Church does not abandon or change its doctrines or policies very easily, and certainly not in response to unpopularity in the world.
There has been a lot of talk and reaction to President Packer’s talk. A lot of gay rights groups are decrying it as hurtful, insensitive, and even dangerous given the recent suicides that have resulted from gay individuals being teased and harassed. They seem to focus on one particular sentence that President Packer said, some argue that “they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father.” People are saying and writing that this is wrong, that there are many who are ‘born that way’ and that telling them they are ‘wrong’ is damaging. I feel that these people are trying to find something to complain against the Church about. While that sentence may seem harsh towards those who do find themselves attracted to the same sex, it was not the only sentence that President Packer uttered. He went on to quote the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
That, for me, is the crux of the matter. There are standards of morality. There are absolute truths, which can be revealed by Prophets and Apostles. God does say, on occasion, “Thou shalt not …”, and he expects his children to obey. But “God is love“, and does all that he can to see that his children succeed. We also heard in General Conferene that commandments exist as a protection, like a fence that keeps cattle in and away from dangers. When one begins to understand the nature of God’s commandments, that they are not arbitrary or capricious, but are given by a loving Eternal Father, then one begins to see commandments less as restrictive and more as protective. But God does not expect blind obedience, he has always given his children the opportunity to pray and receive a witness through the Holy Ghost that his commandments and the words spoken by his Prophets and Apostles are true.
Elder Uchtdorf reminded us to get back to the basics, to focus on the simple things of the Gospel, such as prayer and scripture study and following the living Prophet. When we encounter a doctrine or teaching of the Church that we do not fully understand, we are invited to commune directly with our Father and receive his guidance and his spirit in our lives, under the stipulation that we are earnestly seeking, with real intent, and are striving to be worthy of his spirit.
I will admit that I was upset at the opposition to President Packer’s words. I have read a lot of people’s reactions to it, both positive and negative, and I have pondered long on the meaning. I believe in a loving Father whose commandments can be kept, who pours out his love and his Spirit on those who are seeking it. I also believe that we should be kind and charitable to all men, to all who are likewise children of God, regardless of their religious affiliation, sexual orientation,gender, race, class, color, education level, income, ability to speak German, etc. (Though we do know that all will have to learn German eventually, as it is the language of Heaven!) I struggled the last few days, trying to reconcile what I believe with what many claim to have heard in General Conference. I even listened to Elder Packer’s talk a couple more times, trying to see what exactly he said.
For me, it comes back to Nephi’s testimony, which has also become my own. “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” I know that God loves his children, even when they are disobedient. I know that the Church has no policy or doctrine against a person being homosexual, but continues to teach the true principle that sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage are not in accordance with the Plan of God. A homosexual engaging in sexual relations is breaking the law of chastity as much as an unwed heterosexual couple, or a married man with a woman who is not his wife. These are the standards. But God is love and is merciful and is forgiving of those who repent.
President Packer’s words should not be taken in isolatation. He was speaking about what the Church’s stand is, but you have to take his words in conjunction with all of the others as well. President Monson spoke about gratitute and charity and love. President Uchtdorf spoke about getting back to basics and the simple things, like prayer and scripture study. There were several talks on repentance and love, and the spirit and on priesthood and revelation and on commandments as a protections (Elder Arnold’s talk contained not only a great metaphor for commandments, but also the best line ever heard in General conference: “You stupid cow!” ). While I will not say that President Packer speaks only for himself and not for the Church (because as an Apostle who was sustained by the Church just the day before he spoke he has that right and responsibility), I will say that he is not the only one who speaks for the Church. When we look at all of the words spoken and listen to all of the feelings and promptings we felt while listening we will discover the will of the Lord. I believe that God loves his children and will speak to them if they ask him. I believe that we can know the will of the Lord, in our own lives, if we ask for it. The conjunction of personal lines of revelation and Priesthood lines of revelation (as spoken of by Elder Oaks) is what makes this possible. Neither is more important than the other, but both taken together will direct us in this life. That is my testimony, that is what I know.