I Respond to Natasha Helfer Parker aka “The Mormon Therapist”
By Ken K. Gourdin
There are those within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who, especially following Elder Dallin H. Oaks’s address to the Church’s recently-concluded General Conference, are absolutely convinced that the Church and its leaders hate gays and lesbians. Bishops (pastors), Stake Presidents (in the Church of Jesus Christ, a stake is a group of congregations similar to a diocese), and other leaders of the Church have the often-unenviable task of ensuring (their love for all of God’s children notwithstanding) that false doctrine, sin, other such things, and the acceptance of these things do not creep into the Church. As part of carrying out that duty, in an effort to protect others, and to ensure the good name of the Church is maintained, occasionally, Bishops and Stake Presidents must take action against the membership status of members of the Church of Jesus Christ, such as excommunication or disfellowshipment. This, among other things, makes them what are sometimes referred to in the Church as Judges in Israel.
In today’s Exceedingly Politically Correct world, the notion of the very existence of such a thing as sin is tres passe. If there’s no sin, there are no sinners; if there are no sinners, there can be no judgment of their sin. As Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Brigham Young University Dan Peterson once put it, too many 21st-century moderns have lost their awe, reverence, and respect for the Divine, coming to think of God, instead, as everyone’s ever-loving, ever-supportive, nonjudgmental Pal. The text of The Family: A Proclamation to the World which was signed by all fifteen members of the governing First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ, which formed the basis of Elder Dallin H. Oaks’s address to the Church’s recently-concluded General Conference, “The Plan and The Proclamation,” can be found at the following address (this and all other links last accessed October 21, 2017): https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&old=true. Elder Oaks’s address can be found here: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/10/the-plan-and-the-proclamation?lang=eng.
One of those who passed judgment on Elder Oaks is Natasha Helfer Parker, who bills herself as “The Mormon Therapist.” In passing judgment on Elder Oaks, she appealed to an April 2012 General Conference address given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Church’s governing First Presidency. In that address, after listing various ways in which members of the Church of Jesus Christ and others may run afoul of the Christian ethic, President Uchtdorf pronounced the succinct, two-word admonition, “Stop it.” Pressing those words into a cause they were never intended to serve with respect to Elder Oaks’s continuing advocacy of traditional marriage and of the Church’s law of chastity (forbidding intimate physical relations outside of traditional marriage), as Church teaching is that (1) marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God; and (2) sex outside of marriage is wrong, Sister Parker told Elder Oaks, “Stop it.” I responded:
With all due respect to you and to your expertise, Sister Parker, you have ripped President Uctdorf’s admonition from its context in order to use it to further your own agenda. I’m quite confident that there’s no rift among the Brethren with respect to the inspiration underlying “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” nor does such a rift exist regarding the inspired teachings contained in that document. The rift, the discontinuity, you imagine exists between President Uchtdorf’s words from 2012 and Elder Oaks’s words of a couple of weeks ago is one that is solely of your own making (dare I say, of your own imagining).
Indeed, it would seem that you, yourself, have violated President Uchtdorf’s counsel with respect to Elder Oaks’s teachings about the Proclamation. Rather than ripping a mere two words out of President Uchtdorf’s fifteen-minute sermon and pressing them into service of a cause they were never intended to serve, perhaps it would be better if you were to reread President Uchtdorf’s entire sermon and were to ponder how it applies to your misapplication of it to Elder Oaks’s address. It can be found here: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-merciful-obtain-mercy?lang=eng. Indeed, with due respect, it would seem that you have violated President Uchtdorf’s teaching contained in the following excerpt when it comes to Elder Oaks’s address:
“When it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate. Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt.”
Under the principle of ejusdem generis, nonspecific language should be interpreted in light of any specific examples which surround it. Thus, if I say, “I’m interested in cows, horses, chickens, and other such things,” interpretation of the clause “other such things” could not reasonably be read to infer that I’m also interested in Buicks simply because the clause is nonspecific. Rather, a more reasonable interpretation is that I might also be interested in goats, because, as an animal … indeed, as an animal that, sometimes, might be found on a farm, just as the other animals I listed often are … a goat is of the same kind or class as the other things I listed, while a Buick is not.
Now let’s take a look at what President Uchtdorf actually was talking about before he uttered those two words you so mercilessly ripped from their context, the text surrounding the two word sermon. He said:
“This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
“It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.”
Since, with all due respect, the only one I see here who has passed unrighteous judgment is you, Sister Parker, actually, it is you who needs to take President Uchtdorf’s advice. Yes, judges in Israel (not to mention Apostles of the Lord, Jesus Christ) should judge righteously. Yes, they should condemn sin, but should not condemn sinners. Yes, they should promote love for all of God’s children. But none of those caveats, nor any others similar to them I could name, relieve the Lord’s servants from their responsibility, clearly, unflinchingly, and unapologetically, to proclaim truth.
In reply, apparently, to me (although nothing he wrote, really, responds to anything I wrote), another poster wrote, “I guess Elder Bednar’s statement on February 23, 2016 that, ‘there are no homosexual members of the church’ is an expression of ‘a heart full of love for God and his children’?” (I’m not sure where he’s getting the material in the second set of single quotation marks from, since I never wrote it. Perhaps he’s purporting to quote Elder Bednar further.) Despite the fact that, apparently, he was merely venting his spleen, and I was as good of a target for that as anyone, I replied:
. . . I’m not defined by my sexuality, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or in any other facet of my life (including as a potential spouse, as important as physical intimacy might be to that relationship). If, you are, or if anyone else is, that’s your business (or theirs).
I happen to have a disability, but I’m no more defined by that one characteristic than I am by any other single characteristic I happen to possess. I don’t believe anyone else ought to be (or can be) defined by any single characteristic they happen to possess, either. Even as a gay man in the Church of Jesus Christ, Tom Christofferson refuses to be defined by that single characteristic (no matter how much the world might insist that he should be): See here, last accessed November 4, 2017: https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865688689/Gay-brother-of-Mormon-apostle-shares-his-spiritual-journey.html. Courtney and Rachelle refuse to be defined by that single characteristic. See here: http://www.ldsliving.com/Watch-A-Lesbian-Couple-Shares-Why-They-Divorced-to-Join-the-Church-in-Powerful-Video/s/86166/.
Whatever else I am or am not, I am, first and foremost, a Son of God. So is Tom Christofferson. So are you. and I’m grateful God loves us enough to tell us, through His servants, what we need to hear and not necessarily always what we want to hear. “Ken, the truth is that, in fact, you are your sexuality. You are your weaknesses, and you are your sins, and you are whatever ungodly inclinations you might happen to possess” … those things sound suspiciously much less like God’s Truth than like Satan’s lies.
You can believe what you wish. You can believe, as Sister Parker and many others who have contributed to this thread apparently do, that Elder Oaks, in standing firmly and unapologetically for truth, exhibits a calloused disregard for some of God’s children. I disagree. If that’s the message you’ve gotten from Elder Oaks’s address about the Divine Inspiration underlying “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” then, with all due respect, you’re doing it wrong.
Later, I responded to another poster who (essentially, if not in so many words) dismissed the opinions of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles because of their age, a lack of racial disparity in the Quorum, alleged excessive similarity in background and outlook, and so on. I wrote:
As a counterpoint to your “The-Twelve-are-simply-a-bunch-of-out-of-touch-old-white-Utah-guys” shtick, I’ll offer this, from the inimitable, incomparable Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s address to the 176th Semiannual General Conference, “Prophets in the Land Again” [(October 2006), see here, last accessed November 7, 2017: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/10/prophets-in-the-land-again?lang=eng.]
“As the least of those who have been sustained by you to witness the guidance of this Church firsthand, I say with all the fervor of my soul that never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth. I bear personal witness of how thoroughly good they are, of how hard they work, and how humbly they live. It is no trivial matter for this Church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it. It is true light shining in a dark world, and it shines from these proceedings.”
While I did not include this excerpt in my response, I could have included an excerpt from Elder Russell M. Nelson’s address to the 184th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ (October 2014), “Sustaining the Prophets.” See here, last accessed November 7, 2017: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/10/sustaining-the-prophets?lang=eng.
My dear brothers and sisters, if the Restoration [of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith, his successors, and their associates] did anything, it shattered the age-old myth that God had stopped talking to His children. Nothing could be further from the truth. A prophet has stood at the head of God’s Church in all dispensations, from Adam to the present day. Prophets testify of Jesus Christ—of His divinity and of His earthly mission and ministry. We honor the Prophet Joseph Smith as the prophet of this last dispensation. And we honor each man who has succeeded him as President of the Church. . . .
The calling of 15 men to the holy apostleship provides great protection for us as members of the Church. Why? Because decisions of these leaders must be unanimous. Can you imagine how the Spirit needs to move upon 15 men to bring about unanimity? These 15 men have varied educational and professional backgrounds, with differing opinions about many things. Trust me! These 15 men—prophets, seers, and revelators—know what the will of the Lord is when unanimity is reached! They are committed to see that the Lord’s will truly will be done. The Lord’s Prayer provides the pattern for each of these 15 men when they pray: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Update, November 22, 2017: Considering Elder Oaks’s Recent Conference Address in Light of Other Things He Has Said and Written About the Topic – I responded still further to “The Mormon Therapist’s” criticism of Elder Oaks when I ran across a blog post at FAIRMormon.org, an LDS apologetics (defense of the faith) site. I wrote:
Before rushing to judgment about whether Elder Oaks’s recent General Conference address about “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is intended to hurt, to marginalize, and so on, gays and lesbians in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, perhaps one should pause consider that address in light of other things Elder Oaks has written and said on the topic of homosexuality vis-a-vis the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ and the place of gays and lesbians in the Church. See, for example, here (last accessed November 22, 2017):