There are two basic kinds of religious power structures.

1- A top-down or vertical structure.  There is one person designated as the head of the Church and speaks for God to the whole world.  Any changes to the structure or practice of the Church is announced from God via the head.  The Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints follow this model.  There is no point in lobbying this type of organization where the narrative of change is always via revelation.  You may have an effect on the individuals who may choose to leave or may be excommunicated because of their changed views but the institution itself only changes via revelation, not social pressures.

2- A lateral or horizontal structure.  Some organizations have a community they follow with leadership at the congregational level.  Others have larger groups they are a part of and certain doctrinal or policy questions will be put to a vote.  Many Protestant faiths follow this general model as well as the Jewish and Muslim faiths.  These religious organizations are more democratic that way.  There is no one individual who speaks on behalf of the entire faith to settle matters of doctrine.

Here are some examples of changes in vertical structure religions.  The change in doctrinal practice is announced as Revelation from God in much the same way God gave ongoing commandments and revelations to the Children of Israel.  It is the word of God, not a response to other pressure that may have been brought to bear by earthly forces.  Just in the last 120 years the Catholic faith has made changes on their teachings about fish on Fridays, whether the mass in only spoken in Latin, and whether unbaptized babies are welcomed to heaven (versus limbo).  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has announced changes related to Polygamy, certain priesthood offices, who can or cannot hold the priesthood, and the level of worthiness required to go on a full time mission for The Church.

Here are some examples of changes in horizontal structure religions.  Changes happen with some regularity and people will generally attend congregations they agree with.  Due to these changes in certain geographical areas some religious relationships are strained.  There is a worldwide fellowship of Episcopal Churches.  In recent years some American Episcopal and Presbyterian groups have voted to ordain openly gay bishops.  This has been controversial and in the Episcopal faith may lead to a schism with more conservative worldwide members.  Social pressures will work to change the practices of horizontally organized churches.

If you want to change the doctrinal stance or practices of a faith, you are better off working on horizontally organized groups (changes based on a vote) instead of vertically organized groups (changes based on revelation).  It seems simple enough, right?

This last week a self-proclaimed activist is calling for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to change their official doctrine on homosexuality.  The Salt Lake  Tribune published an opinion from Isaac Higham calling on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to change their doctrines on Gay and Lesbian issues because it is causing people to commit suicide and is “a message of intolerance, a message of hatred — both external and internal self-loathing — a message of torment and death”.

Here is the official statement from The Church on their website:

People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have inclinations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Nov. 1998, 71).

I don’t see the message of torment and death.  It is no different than The Church taking stands against polygamy, polyandry, polyamory, swinger lifestyles, adultery, pre-marital sex, gambling, drug addiction, alcohol and tobacco use, illegal drugs, pornography, child abuse, stealing, swearing, murder, or any number of behaviors prohibited by The Church.

Maybe Mr. Higham instead of attacking the doctrine could focus on reminding people of the LDS faith that they are supposed to be accepting of their friends, family, and neighbors who are gay or lesbian in their orientation.

Comments Welcome

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