“Effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind” doesn’t refer to homosexuality

This week, I’m teaching the Gospel Doctrine lesson on 1 Corinthians 1–6. While I was preparing my lesson, I came across 1 Corinthians 6:9, a popular scripture among Christians who oppose homosexuality (or more specifically, anything that isn’t heteronormative):

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

Specifically, those who use this scripture to justify their opposition to homosexuality, point out the mention of “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind.”

The problem with this interpretation is that it’s inaccurate.

What we translate as “effeminate” was in the Greek version malakoi. This word is more accurately translated as softness or moral weakness. Likewise, what we translate as “abusers of themselves with mankind” is arsenokoitai in the Greek, which more accurately describes something like shrine prostitution.

This is one of the problems with using modern cultural paradigms to understand ancient ones.

Two problems I have with the family proclamation

Despite the fact that The Family: A Proclamation to the World has never been canonized, many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints treat it like scripture.

Whether it is scripture is a topic for another day. What I want to discuss is a couple of things I find problematic in the proclamation.

My understanding, based on the rhetoric of mainstream Mormons is that this proclamation is a response to efforts to legalize marriage equality. If that premise is true, I don’t think that those who drafted the document completely thought through how the wording would affect Mormon past.

Consider this from the first sentence:

. . . marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God . . .

Does that mean marriage between a man and more than one woman is not ordained of God? What about marriage between more than one man and one woman?

Does that mean plural marriage is unordained of God? Does it mean the current practice of sealing a man to more than wife is unordained of God?

What about this sentence from the seventh paragraph?

Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.

Does that mean plural marriage is not essential to God’s plan?

If plural marriage is not ordained of God and is not essential to his plan, why did as a church practice it at all?

If plural marriage is ordained of God and is essential to his plan, then how does it fit into the wording of this proclamation?

Do Mormons really believe in prophet fallibility?

For family scripture study this past week, we’ve been reading in 1 Corinthians, and a few things Paul wrote prompted a discussion on the fallibility of prophets. I’ve been reflecting on this over the last few days, and I wanted to write my thoughts down to help me think through things.

For example, consider 1 Corinthians 11:4–9:

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.

Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

I think you would be hard pressed to find a Mormon who takes this counsel literally. I bet that a more common reaction would be, “Oh, that Paul.” I don’t think it’s difficult for Mormons to dismiss words of an ancient prophet that seem incongruous with our current society (secular and spiritual) paradigms.

What about more recent prophets?

Well take a look at this quote from Brigham Young:

“Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet that shines of an evening, called the moon? When we view its face we may see what is termed “the man in the moon,” and what some philosophers declare are the shadows of mountains. But these sayings are very vague, and amount to nothing; and when you inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the most ignorant of their fellows. So it is with regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain. It was made to give light to those who dwell upon it, and to other planets;” (Journal of Discourses. 13:31. P. 271)

Again, I think you’d have a hard time finding Mormons who take this literally. In fact, I’m confident most would do their best to dismiss it (as opinion, popular belief at the time, or some other rationalization).

Speaking of Brigham Young, what about the Adam God Theory that he taught, along with Heber C. Kimball, Franklin D. Richards, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff? I don’t think most members accept this teaching as doctrine.

Or how about this teaching of Joseph Fielding Smith:

“There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantage. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less. . . . There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits.” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, pp. 66–67)

This doctrine still has staying power, as I have come across a few members (by no means a majority) who still believe this. Despite its lingering nature, it’s been denied as a doctrine by the current church:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

It seems to me that, in theory, members of the LDS church support the idea of prophet fallibility. In fact, it seems many live it. At least when it comes to dead prophets.

I wonder, however, what would happen if someone suggested that a statement of Thomas S. Monson was problematic in some way.  I could be wrong, but I get the impression that most Mormons would view that as a sign of apostasy or at least ill speaking of the Lord’s anointed. Assuming this is true, then why is it okay for Mormons to claim fallibility in dead prophets but risk church discipline if they claim it in living prophets?

How each of us can fulfill the Law of Moses

During family scripture study this week, I came across Romans 13:8:

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

I found this verse intriguing for a couple of reasons.

First, I liked the idea of not owing anyone anything other than loving them. This is interesting to me because it shows that we actually owe others our love, and it also shows that material things don’t matter as much as love does.

The second reason is I like the idea of each of us fulfilling the Law of Moses through loving others. Consider Matt. 22:37–40:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Even Jesus got behind the idea of loving others supersedes all other commandments.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17), Jesus taught us that he came to fulfill the Law of Moses:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

The fact that all he did was motivated by love, it seems to bring a new meaning to trying to be like Jesus.

The humanity of Jesus

This month’s First Presidency Message from President Uchtdorf highlights an experience from one of my favourite scriptures, Luke 22:43:

And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

Ever since I discovered this scripture while I was on my mission, there’s been something about this scripture that’s stuck out to me.

There is something comforting about the idea that the suffering Jesus went through in the Garden of Gethsemane was so intense, he needed an angel to visit him and give him more strength (or perhaps assure him that he already had the necessary strength).

Consider the previous verse:

Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

It seems that perhaps the angel’s arrival was an answer to Jesus’s cry to his father. The idea that Jesus saw his sacrifice as something unbearable is to me equally comforting as the angel’s visit itself.

These two verses remind me of two other scriptures.

Shortly after he began his ministry, Jesus was staying in Peter’s home with Peter and his family. After healing Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus quickly became well-known throughout Capernaum for his healing ability, and the entire city came to the home.

And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.

Mark 1:35 seems to indicate that perhaps Jesus was overwhelmed by the demand on his physical, mental, and emotional strength with having to heal all those people combined with his lack of experience.

The second scripture is John 11:35. Lazarus had died, and Jesus was on his way to see Mary and Martha, Lazarus’s sisters. Martha met him partway, then returned to tell Mary, who also came out to meet him. She collapsed at his feet, weeping. Those who were with her were also weeping.

Jesus wept.

Jesus doesn’t seem to be crying at the death of Lazarus. To me, it seems that he is crying out of compassion, mourning with those who mourn.

Something all these verses have in common, to me, is that they all seem to testify to Jesus’s humanity. What sticks out to me is how these scriptures illustrate how Jesus experienced mortality: overwhelming burdens, empathetic compassion, weakness, fear.

I think we have a tendency to lean heavily on the rhetoric that Jesus is perfect, that he is divine, that he is the ultimate example for us to follow. This makes Jesus less approachable.

Jesus’s humanity is what appeals to me. Because he experienced mortality, it assures me that when he judges me, he will do so from a position of understanding.

It also makes our emulating his example something attainable. After all, if he could live the life he did despite his mortality, perhaps it gives us hope that we might be able to get there one day, too.

Why I don’t think Jesus was perfect

In elders quorum this week, someone mentioned the idea that Jesus led a perfect life. It’s a common idea I have heard expressed often in the church.

I don’t agree with it.

At the end of Matthew 5, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

When we hear the word “perfect”, we normally interpret it to mean “without fault”. In the context Jesus used it, however, it likely means something else. In the original Greek version of Matthew 5:48, the word we translate as “perfect” was teleios.

This word means something less like having no defects or faults and more like complete in all its parts, full-grown, or mature. It is derived from the Greek telos, which means the end, completion, or product.

It seems, then, that Jesus isn’t instructing us to be spotless, without blemish, or defect free. It seems that he was telling us to be something else.

If he were telling us to be without fault, then why use only God as the one to whom we should look as the ideal? Why exclude himself? After all, Peter taught us in 1 Peter 2:22 that Jesus “did no sin”.

On that note, notice the Sermon at Bountiful (3 Ne. 12:48), where Jesus addressed the Nephite multitudes, and where he modified his counsel by including himself:

Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.

This seems to imply that even Jesus didn’t consider himself perfect when he started his ministry.

Something must have happened between the start of Jesus’s ministry and when he visited the Nephites to prompt him to include himself.

In D&C 93, we learn from John the Beloved that even though Jesus was full (or complete) of grace and truth, he did not start out that way. In fact, verse 13 says that he “continued from grace to grace until he received a fulness.”

Also, we learn in Luke 2:52 that between the ages of 12 and 30 (when he began his ministry), Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and man. This is inline with D&C 93, strengthening the idea that he improved himself in stages.

While certainly Jesus was sinless—as I stated above—that doesn’t mean he was perfect. Perfection is something else entirely, and I believe that the scriptures are clear in saying that while Jesus was free of blemish, he was not perfect.

How I define heaven might surprise you

When you hear the word “heaven?”, what comes to mind?

Do you envision heaven and hell as two different places—one for the righteous and one for the wicked—as the traditional Christian belief tends to be?

Perhaps you interpret “heaven” as it appears in the scriptures to mean the paradise in the Spirit World.

Or maybe you think “heaven” equates with Celestial Kingdom.

Here’s what I think, and let me know if you happen to believe this, too.

When I hear the word “heaven”, this is what comes to mind. To me, “heaven” refers to all the degrees of glory: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial.

The way I see it is that if the vast majority of people who have lived on this earth will inherit one of the degrees of glory, then it seems they will be better off than life here on earth.

Defining “heaven” as including all three degrees of glory also makes the concept of heaven more universal, and a universal heaven is something I can get behind.

How about you? How do you define “heaven”?