Dallin H. Oaks has a particularly keen legal mind. A few years ago he addressed college students about our fragile religious freedoms. “The greatest infringements of religious freedom,” he declared, “occur when the exercise of religion collides with other powerful forces in society. Among the most threatening collisions in the U.S. today are, one, the rising strength of those who seek to silence religious voices in public debates; and, two, perceived conflicts between religious freedom and the appeal of newly alleged civil rights.” I am reminded of the federal government’s recent efforts to require a particular religious body to provide insurance coverage for birth control and abortions, which fly in the face of that religion’s stated moral principles.
On December 20, 2013, a federal judge in Salt Lake City issued an order legalizing same-sex marriage in Utah, striking down century-old state laws and a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage exclusively as between a man and a woman. During the interval between the district court ruling and the Supreme Court stay, numerous same-sex marriages were performed in Utah which prompted a statement by the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which has its world headquarters in the state.
“As we face this and other issues of our time,” said the letter that went out to all LDS Church leaders in the country, “we encourage all to bear in mind our Heavenly Father’s purposes in creating the earth and providing for our mortal birth and experience here as His children. ‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth’ (Genesis 1:27-28). ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh’” (Genesis 2:24).
The statement goes on to say that “Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and is central to His plan for His children and the well-being of society. Strong families, guided by a loving mother and father, serve as the fundamental institution for nurturing children, instilling faith, and transmitting to future generations the moral strength and values that are important to civilization and crucial to eternal salvation.”
“The extent and nature of religious devotion in this nation is changing,” said Elder Oaks. “The tide in public opinion in favor of religion is receding, and this probably portends public pressures for laws that will impinge on religious freedom.”
I think an example of this might be efforts toward a church losing its tax exempt status if it refuses to perform same sex weddings because it believes such a practice to be unbiblical.
The statement by LDS leaders says that, “Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep his commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society. His law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”
“… We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws and court rulings authorizing same-sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully… Just as those who promote same-sex marriage are entitled to civility, the same is true for those who oppose it. The Church insists on its leaders’ and members’ constitutionally protected right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality free from retaliation or retribution. The Church is entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members.
“…All visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there… The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree” (Excerpts from a letter from the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dated January 9, 2014).
Elder Oaks in his address to students said that we must not revile against those who revile against us. He said that “We must speak with love, always showing patience, understanding and compassion toward our adversaries. However,” he went on, “we must not be deterred or coerced into silence by intimidation and we must insist on our freedom to preach the doctrines of our faith” (Church News, Oct. 17, 2009).
Religious values and political realities are so interlinked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of Christianity in the public square without seriously jeopardizing our freedoms.