LDS Apostle D. Todd Christofferson on Disagreeing with the Church about Same-Sex Marriage

[UPDATE June 28, 2015 – See follow up post: LDS Apostle D. Todd Christofferson Did NOT Say that it is Okay for LDS Members to Support Same-Sex Marriage]

On Friday, March 13th, Elder  D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was interviewed by Daniel Woodruff of KUTV News regarding the passage of Utah’s Anti-discrimination and Religious Freedom Law, SB296, which the LDS Church supported.

In the last few days since then you’ve probably seen brief quotes or heard soundbites from the interview in the news or on social media.

KUTV has posted the full 16 minute interview on YouTube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XybDk3CEoHg

I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing the portions of the interview that I find most interesting and important. I think you’ll find the greater context and nuance of Elder Christofferson’s words helpful.

I also think that his response to the question about whether the family dynamics of his own experience of having a gay brother has influenced his approach and his advocacy on this issue as an apostle is very important and instructive. (Spoiler: he says “No.” He acts in unison with the highest councils of the church, as they seek revelation to do the will of God.)

Also pay attention to the additional question asked after the interview seemed to be over.


 

PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT

ELDER D. TODD CHRISTOFFERSON

MARCH 14, 2015

 

Daniel Woodruff:
“Members of the LDS Church have been watching this too, around the the country, and it brings up the question as they’re dealing with these issues, maybe within their families, they’re trying to understand how maybe religious freedom applies to them within the church. Obviously the church has its doctrine, but can members of the church, say, support gay marriage, or other things that are related to this bill, that the Church teaches against? Can they support that?”

Elder Christofferson:
“Well there is a diversity of opinion among church members in that regard. And you know that’s always been true, I guess, on many subjects over the years, over the decades, and we don’t have qualms about that. I mean people, we urge people to take part, for example, in the political process and we don’t tell them how to vote or who to vote for, but that they exercise their own good judgment and and make their decisions. Obviously that’s different than when somebody attacks the church you know, per se, or tries to hinder its work. But anybody pursuing their view of what ought to happen in the community– that’s what we hope to see frankly. And in a way you saw it here in the legislature. The vast majority of legislators in Utah are members the LDS Church, and you see a wide variety of opinions in them and among them as you do in our, at the federal level in the US and in other countries. So we, if we’re trying to get everybody to sing the same song and say exactly the same thing we’re failing miserably.”

[…]

Daniel Woodruff:
“I know that in one of the temple recommend interview questions it asks, “do you agree with elements that are against the church?” and I guess, I mean, could it be interpreted that if people supported gay marriage that would be agreeing with something that was against the church?”

Elder Christofferson:
“Well, it’s not do you agree with a person’s position or an organization’s position, it is are you supporting, are you supporting organizations that promote opposition, or positions in opposition to the church.”

Daniel Woodruff:
“So would supporting gay marriage threaten somebody’s membership in the church? If they went out, say, on Facebook or Twitter and actively advocated for it?”

Elder Christofferson:
“No. That’s not an organized, you know, effort to attack our effort or attack our functioning as a church, if you will.”

Daniel Woodruff:
“So members can hold those beliefs even though they’re different from what you teach at the pulpit?”

Elder Christofferson:
“Yes and we, you know, our approach in all of this, as Joseph Smith said, is persuasion. You can’t, He said you can’t use the priesthood and the authority of the church to dictate– you can’t compel, you can’t coerce– it has to be gentleness, persuasion, love unfeigned, as the words are in the scripture.”

[…]

Daniel Woodruff:
“We’ve reported on your situation, you have a brother who is gay, and you’ve talked about how that has impacted your family. Has that, personally for you, has that family dynamic impacted at all how you’ve approached this issue– how you’ve approached publicly advocating, as an apostle, for SB296?”

Elder Christofferson:
“No. The the real genesis of, of the movement, if you will, behind these issues has been a matter of counseling together as we do in the church. We operate by councils: there’s the Quorum of the Twelve, which is a council, the First Presidency, is a council, and at the ward, the local levels, and the stake levels, we rely heavily on counseling together to determine which way to go and to, as a way of facilitating revelation and inspiration and receiving guidance that way. So it’s not one person says, you know, because of this experience that I’ve had in my life this is how we need to do it. But it’s this sharing of past experience, sharing of knowledge and background, but it’s after everything else a search for revelation– a search to know what the Lord’s will is and that’s what we try to follow.”

[…]

Daniel Woodruff:
“What would you say to those members who wonder, is it possible: would the church ever, one day, accept monogamous same-sex marriage or move further beyond the position that you’re currently at?”

Elder Christofferson:
“I don’t think so, because that’s such a fundamental aspect of what we see as the purpose of life. You know, we talk about the plan of salvation as we call it, and take into account the pre-mortal existence, this current existence, and what comes hereafter– marriage between a man and a woman, the family that grows out of that– all of that is so fundamental to what has happened, what needs to happen here, what comes hereafter, that without it falls apart. So I don’t think we can take away the cornerstone without everything else coming down.”

Daniel Woodruff:
“Now, you say you don’t think ..is there.. are leaving any room at all for…”

Elder Christofferson:
“No.”

[…]

[Just as the interview seems over and Elder Christofferson begins to stand up, a different voice from somewhere behind the camera and without a mic, interrupts to ask his own additional question.]

Unidentified Man:
“This has been a divisive issue, in all of society, but I think also within the church– that people are still trying to sort out exactly how they think and feel and how to act and they don’t like feeling like they’re in opposition to the church but they may in their heart feel like marriage equality is something that they have a personal conviction of. What would be your message to those individuals within the church, that are trying desperately to stay within the church, but feel like that because they’re so at odds with what is publicly stated that they no longer feel like they might fit– your message to them? You know the church has done a lot with the I’m a Mormon campaign to emphasize the diversity of the backgrounds and perspectives within the church, but on this issue specifically I think people sometimes feel like it’s in or out.”

Elder Christofferson:
“Well it’s, it’s not an easy thing, and I believe we recognize that. Our hope is that over time, as we stay together and worship together and search for inspiration together, that ways open up for people of all persuasions to come to feel but they’re comfortable here. While they don’t know the eventual outcome and what’s going to happen in the near term– I should say what’s going to happen in the near term, they know the end result can be happiness– a state of happiness, a state of fulfillment, something that God desires for all– and we firmly believe no one is predestined to a second class status and… have a… no one who is is faithful to the commandments and the principles that we teach even though that may involve some very significant sacrifice in the short term (even all of mortal life, if you can call that short term) it’s all worth it in the end because nothing is denied anyone who is faithful. We don’t see all how that comes together, but we have the faith that it does because we have a God who created us all, loves us all, and is gonna give everyone who tries and who is loyal to him everything that he has to give.”

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5 Responses to LDS Apostle D. Todd Christofferson on Disagreeing with the Church about Same-Sex Marriage

  1. CobraDuck

    I was a little puzzled by Elder Christofferson’s off the cuff response to the question about the temple recommend question (“Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”) The interviewer asked: “So would supporting gay marriage threaten somebody’s membership in the church? If they went out, say, on Facebook or Twitter and actively advocated for it?” Elder Christofferson stated, ““No. That’s not an organized, you know, effort to attack our effort or attack our functioning as a church, if you will.” His arguably impromptu statement doesn’t seem to square at all with the language used in the TR question (e.g., “agree” with groups or individuals whose teachings or practices are contrary to or opposed to those accepted by the Church). Elder Christofferson seemed to come at it from the angle of affiliation or support (e.g., financial) for LGBTT groups, but breezed right over the plain meaning of “agree.” Granted, you kind of have to take with a grain of salt these kinds of informal interviews by even individual apostles, just as you would, e.g., recorded 19th century sermons given on the backs of wagons on the Wasatch front captured in the JOD. I’m glad the interviewer asked the follow-up question on the possibility of a future doctrinal shift on same-sex marriage, because Elder Christofferson’s first answer was squishy (“I don’t think so…”).

  2. CobraDuck

    Upon further reflection, I realize the interviewer asked if pro-same-sex marriage actions would “threaten somebody’s membership in the church?” I presumed, without thinking, that the interviewer was asking whether those actions (in the context of the temple recommend question) would bar the member from receiving or maintaining a temple recommend. Elder Christofferson’s answer that it won’t threaten their membership seems more appropriate to me now. However, part of me still wonders if Elder Christofferson quickly parsed out the interviewer’s question like I just did, or assumed (as I originally did) that we were talking about eligibility for temple recommends.

  3. Lamoni

    I don’t think that it is against the church teachings to support a law granting more liquor licenses to restaurants in my community. In other words, I think there is a distinction between agreeing with the church that we should not drink alcohol and believing that everyone should drink alcohol.

    If you are campaigning against the church’s policies and saying that they are wrong, I believe you would not pass that question in the temple recommend interview. If you are supporting the 11th Article of Faith “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” and voicing what you think is best for your community or country, then you can pass the temple recommend interview.

    Believing that people should be allowed to have civil same-sex marriages is different from believing that any church is in the wrong for not honoring and supporting same-sex unions. I happen to believe that it would have been better if same-sex unions were never called marriages, but we are beyond that point.

  4. Okay let’s break it down:

    You: Here is the full quote, “2News asked Christofferson if supporting gay marriage would threaten somebody’s membership in the church if they actively advocated for it, perhaps on social media.
    “That’s not an organized effort to attack our effort or attack our functioning as a church, if you will,” he said. (So if it was posted in an attempt to attack our effort of our beliefs, or attack our functioning as a church, then yes it might threaten somebody’s membership.)
    So can LDS members hold political beliefs even though they’re different from what church leaders teach from the pulpit?
    “Yes,” said Christofferson.” (He is talking about free agency here. Yes, of coarse they can! Everyone has a choice! Now read it again with that interpretation in mind, and it makes more sense..

  5. J. Max Wilson

    Even though this post is a few months old, in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26 that forced same-sex marriage on all 50 States the post has received a considerable number of views. Most of these visits are coming from Facebook conversations to which I do not have access, but I imagine that this post is being used in debates by LDS members reacting to the Supreme Court’s action.

    Most of the visitors will probably never see this comment.

    However, I think it is clear from the parts that I have transcribed that Elder Christofferson did NOT say that there is nothing wrong with members of the church supporting same-sex marriage. He said that expressing personal support for same-sex marriage in social media would not be cause for discipline (as long as it wasn’t part of an organized effort to undermine the church).

    At the same time, he was clear that the doctrine of the church will never change regarding the law of chastity and the sinfulness of homosexual actions and behaviors. And he implied that the church would try use persuasion to try to teach members that their support of same-sex marriage is contrary to God’s will.

    In other words, members who support same-sex marriage are in error. They are rejecting the doctrines of the church and the teachings of the prophets. But unless they make a concerted, organized effort to damage the church or undermine its teachings, the church will tolerate their erroneous views in the hope that over time they will be persuaded to repent.

    It is also important to recognize that the words of a single apostle in an extemporaneous interview carry less weight than official communications and policies established by the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles in unanimous agreement. So Elder Chistofferson’s words should be given requisite weight, but not treated as necessarily definitive.

    To understand better this principle of the relative weight of individual statements by apostles vs unanimous official positions check out :

    Watchmen on the Tower – On the Limits of Prophetic Fallibility

    Or listen to my podcast episodes here: Building a Strong Foundation for Testimony by Being a Critical Consumer of Information

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