LDS Rhetoric on Homosexuality
An Interview with Elder Dallin H.
Oaks on Homosexuality and AIDS
Elder Dallin H. Oaks
December 30, 1986
On 30 December 1986 CBS interviewed Elder Dallin H. Oaks regarding
the Church's position on homosexuality. They aired only a small portion
of the interview during the CBS Sunday Morning News. The following is
the complete text of the interview, obtained from CBS TV.
CBS: Elder Oaks, I need for you to tell me your name and your
title and just please spell it for the record.
ELDER OAKS: All right. I'm Dallin H. Oaks. My title is Elder.
I am a member of the Council of the Twelve of The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. That's the Council of the
Twelve Apostles, so I hold the office of an Apostle, but my
title is "Elder."
[SOME SORT OF TECHNICAL ADJUSTMENT]
CBS: Elder Oaks, what is the Church doctrine teaching on
ELDER OAKS: Are you asking me about homosexual inclinations
or homosexual practices?
CBS: Let's talk about both. Or either one.
EDLER OAKS: The Church's position based on scriptural commandments is that men and women should refrain from any sexual
relations outside the bonds of marriage. That is the same
doctrine for sexual relations between the sexes and among the
[MORE TECHNICAL ADJUSTMENT]
CBS: Specifically homosexuality. What is the Church teaching
ELDER OAKS: The Church's teaching is based on the scriptural
commands including the commandment in the Ten Commandments,
"Thou shalt not commit adultery." The Church's position is
that mean and women should refrain from any sexual relations
outside the bonds of marriage. That commandment applies to
sexual relations between the sexes and among the sexes.
CBS: But there's no homosexuality and there's no homosexual
marriage so we're just talking about the homosexual inclination and the homosexual act. What is the Church's position?
EDLER OAKS: The Church's position on any sexual relations
outside the bonds of marriage is that they are forbidden by
CBS: Specifically homosexuality, there's no homosexual marriage, what
is...we have understood from our reading and talking to people is that
it's considered a sin next to murder, adultery, fornication, homosexuality,
as grievous as murder.
ELDER OAKS: Sexual sins are considered grievous sins. But the sexual
sins that are considered too grievous sins are sexual relations outside
the bonds of marriage.
CBS: What about the nature of a man with a man or a woman
with a woman, regardless of marriage?
ELDER OAKS: That is a sexual sin, like adultery or fornication or any
other sexual relation outside the bonds of marriage.
CBS: What happens when you love your church dearly, yet you
have very strong homosexual feelings that you can't repress?
ELDER OAKS: I don't know.
CBS: Well, what would someone be counseled, someone in that
particular case, how would that person be counseled?
ELDER OAKS: I think a person would always be counseled to
refrain from transgression, whether it's stealing or murder
or assault or sexual transgression. I think if one loves the
Lord, one is concerned about His commandments. One of his
Commandments is "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
CBS: Is it the fact that it's outside the bounds of marriage
or is it that it's the same sex?
ELDER OAKS: The fact that it is outside the bonds of marriage
is what makes it a transgression.
CBS: So if it were homosexual marriage, would that be OK?
ELDER OAKS: The Church does not recognize homosexual
marriages. There is no Biblical or scripture warrant for
CBS: And homosexual behavior?
ELDER OAKS: I don't know what you mean by "homosexual
CBS: No homosexual acts, sex acts.
ELDER OAKS: Sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage
are condemned by the Lord and therefore by The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter day Saints.
CBS: Let's take a scenario. If a person is having a very hard
time repressing his homosexual feeling and...what would the
ELDER OAKS: No different from a person having a hard time
repressing their heterosexual desires. There's only one
standard in the gospel of Jesus Christ and that's abstinence
from sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage.
CBS: The Church has recommended in the past marriage as a
part of repentance, when you're engaging in homosexual...
ELDER OAKS: I don't know whether that has been recommended by
individual bishops or priesthood leaders counseling persons in
individual circumstances. I just don't know that. Marriage
is not usually thought of as an act of repentance.
CBS: As part of repentance from ...there have been several cases cited
of when a homosexual who wants to remain within the fold and is fighting
his feelings will go to a bishop or will go for counsel and what is
recommended is that you repress those feelings and get married and have
children and that will set you on a better path. Is that foreign to
you? Does that sound...
ELDER OAKS: I don't know whether that has been recommended or
not because the counseling sessions you refer to are very
confidential counseling sessions and when the bishop comes
out of that counseling session he doesn't report to anyone.
When the person he's talking to comes out of that session
they're free to talk to anyone and say anything without fear of
contradiction. So I don't know. I just don't know what has
been said in such sessions.
CBS: What happens when you commit that transgression?
ELDER OAKS: Which transgression?
CBS: Homosexual behavior.
ELDER OAKS: The same penalties and consequences are involved in any
kind of sexual transgression whether it is between a man and a woman
or between a woman and a woman or a man and a man. It is sexual relations
outside the bonds of marriage. It's a serious transgression. And what
happens in that circumstance depends on all of the circumstances and
what the Spirit dictates to the person who has the responsibility of
counseling and holding a Church court if he feels impressed to hold
a Church court. In other words, it's not possible to make a blanket
response to that. It may be counseling, it may be working with the person
over a period of time and pleading with them to give up their behavior,
whatever it may be. It may be necessary to have a Church court. If a
Church court is held there may be no discipline, a person may have the
fellowship of the Church withdrawn from him or they may be excommunicated
from the Church. Any one of those outcomes is a possibility in a circumstance
of sexual transgression of any kind.
CBS: But if a person wants to remain in the Church yet wants
to continue being a homosexual, those two are incompatible, are
ELDER OAKS: If a person wants to remain in the Church and
continue with sexual transgression, that's a little different
than the question you phrase. "Being a homosexual," I'm not
sure what that means. "Being an adulterer" does that mean a
person who is...
CBS: ...acting on homosexual inclinations.
ELDER OAKS: All right. Let's talk about that. If a person
desires to remain in the Church and continue in a pattern of
sexual transgression of any type, those two are inconsistent
in the long run.
CBS: So, you can have homosexual feelings if you don't act
on them, basically, and continue in the Church.
ELDER OAKS: Of course. And the same for heterosexual feelings.
Jesus taught that to look on a woman and lust after her is a
sin. And everyone is encouraged to control their feelings,
heterosexual or homosexual. That's part of the gospel of Jesus
Christ. People who act out those feelings, whether they're
homosexual or heterosexual, are in danger of Church discipline.
The Church discourages them, calls them to repentance, works
with them, counsels them and ultimately disciplines them if
CBS: There is a concern...it's been voiced by Carol Lynn
Pearson and others that the Church is encouraging people to
get married her husband was encouraged the same way and she
encouraged it, she was naive at the time that now with the
introduction of AIDS into our society that people will tend,
because they love their Church to leave double lives, not
being able to repress their homosexual feelings, acting on
them, still having a wife and family and potentially
endangering the family with AIDS. Has AIDS changed the
pictures at all?
ELDER OAKS: AIDS is a public health problem and The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter day Saints is as concerned about AIDS and the victims
of AIDS as any one that you can find. We do get a little bit of confusion
when we confuse a public health problem with a Church doctrine problem.
I suppose no one is free from that kind of confusion. But for public
health reasons, any person who is leading a double life, who is picking
up AIDS in sexual relations outside of marriage and bringing that disease
into the marriage, that person is an immoral person without consideration
for their fellowmen and that person needs to be counseled as a religious
matter and that person needs to be worked with as a public health matter.
And I hope that our members and our leaders are sensitive to that kind
of thing to protect people who would be victimized by that. The victim
of that circumstance is the innocent marriage partner and that's a deplorable
circumstance and one for which all of us would have great sadness. But
to get a person who's leading a double life and have them confront the
nature of that duplicity and forego those kinds of relation ships and
to confess their sins and to forsake their sins seems to me to be the
solution to that problem. The solution to the problem is surely not
to give counsel that would aggravate the public health problem and justify
the duplicity in the sexual transgression.
CBS: I think the concern is that...of course it's terrible but would
lead these people... would lead someone to lead a double life is the
fear of...is because the Church...how the Church looks down on homosexuality.
They don't want to admit they're homosexual; they don't want to leave
the Church. That there's a tacit almost encouragement to lead the double
ELDER OAKS: I'm afraid I don't see that as the problem of the Church,
which stands for truth and which teaches the standards of God and asks
His children to conform to those standards. We don't expect standards
to be changed because they are inconvenient or painful. We don't justify
thievery because a person is hungry or jealous. We ask people to control
impulses in order that we can live in a civilized society. God has asked
His children to control their impulses in order that they can keep His
commandments and realize their destiny.
CBS: A family we spoke with who lost their son to AIDS tragic ally this
month. There were some parallels in the feelings of I guess Carol Lynn's
husband as she writes in her book and this son's feeling. They grew
up hating themselves for what they were. They tried desperately to stay
in the Church because they loved the Church. They also believed that
they were sinners and some how detestable because of what the Church
ELDER OAKS: Who is the "they" that you refer to?
CBS: Both these people. Carol Lynn's husband, it's written in
the book, and the son...these are two people, there's a parallel
here. The family feels that one of the reasons that he hated
himself so much was because of what the Church was teaching. He
could never really accept himself and he tried desperately to,
even to the end. And that that is an unfair burden to put on
someone. Could you respond to that?
ELDER OAKS: I thought I'd really responded to that. That...
the condition that you describe is a condition for which I have
great empathy. I've seen people suffering under a burden of
guilt and I've worked with people to try to help lift that
burden and help them in a process of repentance to get them
self in a position where they won't have that burden of guilt.
As a judge I've had the experience of putting my name on a
piece of paper that sent a person to the penitentiary and I
know how those problems are the sources of pain to people.
But society can't change its standards and its requirements
because some people find them very painful. I used the analogy
a moment ago of thievery or robbery or other anti social
conduct. Now we don't expect the legislature to rush into
session and repeal the law against robbery or burglary or
change the law of libel because someone has a burden or guilt
or has been pained by it.
CBS: Homosexuality is anti-social conduct?
ELDER OAKS: Now, what I'm...the analogy that I'm drawing is this: human
beings don't make the rules. God made the rules. He recorded commandments
in the scriptures and through his prophets. Those commandments, if they
are not adhered to, result in guilt. That guilt is painful to people.
There are two solutions to that guilt. One is to disbelieve in God or
hold a congress and pretend that you can change God's commandments.
The other is to discontinue that kind of conduct to the best of your
ability. And that is what is meant by repentance. And that's been the
message of the Jewish and Christian prophets in all ages: repent. Abandon
your sins; confess them forsake them. And become acceptable to God.
That was the message of Moses and Isaiah and of Peter and Paul and prophets
in our own day. And we're not in a position to change the commandments
in order to lift the burden of guilt.
CBS: I guess what they're voicing is that there seems to be
hypocritical that when the Church is supposed to...teaches
you to love and to accept and yet it's conditional...
ELDER OAKS: Well, that same tension is built into the
Christian religion. I think it's built into the Jewish faith
as well. God loves us. But He still commands us to do
certain things. And He tells us that penalties will follow
when we don't. Is that hypocritical? If it is, it's rooted
in the fact that there are standards. There are commandments.
CBS: And there's no...well, one of the things, well Carol Lynn's book,
what she's hoping for is an attitude change, not a doctrine change,
an attitude change. Do you see that... judging from [unintelligible]
obviously you've answered several times that you see it's very strict
down the line. Do you see a softening?
ELDER OAKS: I haven't...I haven't read Carol Lynn's book. And so I'm
not speaking in response to any individual circumstance. But it's my
own hope and I think I speak for the Church in this respect, that people
will be loving and understanding and that the tragedies of the victims
of these fearful diseases will weigh on the conscience and call upon
the Christian love of members of my Church and right thinking people
everywhere. And that the things that need to be done to deal with public
health problems will be done. And that people who have burdens of guilt,
people that have crosses to bear, and inclinations that they have a hard
time controlling, whether it's an inclination to steal or an anti social
behavior or inclination to sexual transgression of any type, that those
people will be seen for what they are, not people to be outcast but
people to be loved and helped back into the fold. And that is the responsibility
of a Christian, a member of my Church or any follower of Christ. But
that does not mean that we pretend to change God's law. We cannot do
[BREAK IN CONTINUITY]
CBS: What we have been hearing is that there is a fear that
the Church is teaching, not teaching but almost implying, that
these people are somehow pariahs and that the attitude is...
they fell that they are pariahs and there's this kind of
silence about homosexuality and these people hate themselves
and that this is an attitude brought forth by the Church.
ELDER OAKS: The commonest feeling in the world when one is doing what
one should not do, is a feeling that one is an outcast. That's a very
very common phenomenon. Let us distinguish between the condition of
homosexual tendencies or inclinations and sexual relations outside the
bonds of marriage or homosexual behavior, if you want to call it that,
or homosexual relations. A person that has tendencies in that direction
need not feel himself to be an outcast. I should think they would be
in no different position than a person with heterosexual tendencies.
They come under the injunction that Jesus had given to His followers,
that they should not look upon a woman to lust after her and I assume
that includes a man looking on a man to lust after him. Those tendencies
are supposed to be controlled. If a person has those tendencies they
may feel guilt, but that guilt should be a stimulus to work to control
those tendencies. The person that's working with those tendencies ought
not to feel him self to be a pariah. Now, quite a different thing is
sexual relations outside of marriage. A person engaging in that kind
of behavior should well feel guilt. They should well feel them selves
estranged from God, who has given commandments against that kind of
behavior. It's not surprising to me that they would feel estranged from
their Church. What surprises me is that they would feel that the Church
can revoke God's commandments. The Church is committed to carry out
those commandments. One of those commandments is to love people who
are in transgression, but not to deny the sin. The Savior said to the
woman taken in adultery, which is a pretty good precedent for us, he
was merciful and loving toward her, but He said, "Go thy way and sin
no more." He loved the sinner, He condemned the sin. I think the Church
does the same thing, imperfectly perhaps, but that's what we teach our
members: love the sinner, condemn the sin.
CBS: This also comes from, I guess, families who aren't the
sinners who are just watching the tortured sinner.
ELDER OAKS: I know families that have sons, sometimes daughters, in
the penitentiary. And that is a painful situation and we hope that our
members unite around those families and help them deal with that kind
of crisis instead of denying that it exists. I correspond with people
from time to time who are in the penitentiary, I met people in that
kind of situation. It does no good to deny the wrongfulness of the behavior,
at the time when you're showing compassion for the sinner. There is
a very strong tendency now, and I think the area we're discussing is
not free from it, to concentrate on compassion and mercy and to ignore
the root cause of the feelings of guilt. There's no point in doing that.
Transgression cannot be ignored. Its effects cannot be ignored. And
unless one had the power to revoke the law, which we don't have, it's
there and its effects can't be denied.
CBS: Just one more time I'd like to go over the marriage
thing again. That is not...the instruction to marry and
forget about your homosexual inclinations and to marry and
have children and that will right you along the path...that
ELDER OAKS: That is not a doctrinal position. The doctrinal position
of the Church is repent. Abandon your sin. Get back on the path of growth.
We have priesthood leaders, including bishops of wards, who are called
to use their best inspiration and their best judgment to work with people
in sexual transgression to help them repent and to get their behavior
on to the right path. If in the course of that someone gave the kind
of counsel that you mention, that's an application of a principle by
a local Church leader. That's not a doctrinal position. Whether it has
ever happened or not, I don't know.
CBS: A path of growth could be marriage.
ELDER OAKS: The path of growth is to forsake your sins and sin
no more and that could include marriage or it could not include
marriage. Marriage is not doctrinal therapy for homosexual
CBS: Peter? [That was excellent] I'm sorry. I kept putting
you through the same thing, over and over [...but you did it
right at the end. That's the phrase we've been looking for
for days. And nobody in the Church has come up with it. But
that was marvelous.]
PETER: One other thing I would suggest and that is, maybe
again looking for the way to express a thought. The homosexual, male or female, Mormon who wants to remain part of the Church. The fact is the family unit is so critical to the
whole concept of Mormonism. It is so; important, so central
to so many activities in the Church. If that homosexual says
to him or herself, all right I think I could live without
acting on my inclinations, but how do I remain a part of this
Church that I love without being able to participate in the
family because that I cannot do. In other words, what do you
do with that group of people?
ELDER OAKS: Well, that's not a unique...we're not on camera
now(?)...that's not a unique problem to homosexuals. One of
the largest demographic problems we have in the Church are
single women, divorced, never married, widowed. They've got
the same problem. It is difficult for them and we're doing
what we can to make singles feel more at home. But in the
eternities the family relationship is the thing that we're
most interested in. But we don't condemn the person who's
single now. We say, work for that destiny.
PETER: But since we have this whole body of people who previously [unintelligible]
because of various societal pressures, now all of a sudden these are
out of the closet, this is a whole other group to deal with who fit
in with the others. What is the future for them is really what I'm getting
to, in the Church? Victoria, if you can follow that and make a question
out of it, good luck.
CBS: Well, you've understood the question, what is the future
for us if you have repressed your homosexual feelings and
you're going to remain in the Church and you're single in a
place where being part of a family and part of a family group
ELDER OAKS: In the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter
day Saints, the most important organization in the eternities, in all
the ages that follow this life, is the family. And that family consists
of a man and a woman, joined in eternal marriage, with their posterity.
That is the essential, core doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter day Saints, combined with the mission of the Savior helps us
repent of our sins and be cleansed and then the atonement, that's the
core doctrine of our Church. So that in the eternities, our future is
a family future. So what of the person who is single in this life, including
people who've never married, people who've been widowed, people who've
been divorced? For them, their fondest hope, as faithful Latter day
Saints is to have an eternal marriage. If that does not occur in this
life, we believe that it can occur in the next life and we make provision
for that in our doctrine and in our practices. And so, while the circumstance
of a single person is a painful circumstance, in terms of our doctrine,
I know that because I was raised by a widowed mother, 39 1/2 years a
widow and I've seen that. There is no Church or scriptural condemnation
of the state of singleness, but it's painful, it's difficult to endure.
But under our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, provision
will be made that every person who lives on the earth will have the
opportunity, if worthy and if desirous, of being in an eternal marriage.
That is a hope that's held out to single persons of each sex.
CBS: Is being a homosexual, the inclination again not acting
on it, just a kind of burden that these people have to carry?
I mean, is that how the Church sees it? Whether or not...
whether they get married or not. They may get married and
have children but never really feel the kind of love...
ELDER OAKS: Every person who is single who has a sex drive and
is not able to satisfy that outside the bonds of marriage with
out being in transgression is carrying a burden. That burden
is carried by homosexuals and it's carried by heterosexuals.
It's a lesser burden for a person who does not have such a
strong sex drive. But it's a burden in any event, and it's not
unique to the homosexual.
CBS: So really you're not making any distinctions here between
homosexual or heterosexual activity, the distinction is with or
ELDER OAKS: Exactly.
[Peter: one last thing I think we want to put to bed and that
is some people without adjectives have been quoted as saying
that the advent of AIDS in our society is God's punishment of
homosexuality and that one has been hung around some people in
the Church. Thought you might want to put that one to bed.]
ELDER OAKS: I don't know exactly how to...I can talk about
that but I don't know exactly how do deal with that decisively.
War is a consequence of selfish behavior. Is that God's
punishment or is it an inevitable consequence of a certain
kind of behavior? Whatever you want to; do with that.
CBS: I think more directly what's been quoted was AIDS is
somehow a confirmation that God believes what the Mormons
believe which is homosexuality is a sin.
ELDER OAKS: I haven't heard any of my associates in the
leadership of the Church say that so I don't know quite how
to react to that. Why don't you ask me a specific question
and I'll try to react...
CBS: All I really wanted is a response to that and...it was reported
ELDER OAKS: Phrase that again if you would and I'll see if I
can figure out the implication of that. I haven't heard this.
It's a little unfamiliar to me.
CBS: AIDS was a confirmation that God believes what the Mormons belief,
which is that homosexuality is a sin and it's a consequence of that.
ELDER OAKS: My observations of transgression and punishments lead me
to be skeptical of a theory that every transgression is followed with
a suitable punishment. Some people that seem to violate every kind of
moral law seem to get away with it in this life. And some people that
seem to be pretty small sinners, as sinners go, seem to have a terrible
misfortune befall them. So that I personally am quite skeptical of a
theory that one particular punishment is visited upon one particular
sin. I am not the least bit skeptical of the fact, which I see confirmed
all around me, that violations of God's laws lead to unhappiness and
pain and tragedies. I see that in war; I see that in the scarring of
little children by the incomprehensible cruelty of parents and people
that care for little children. And so I think there's a relationship
between sin and pain. But I don't think it's a direct and inevitable
relationship. Undoubtedly venereal disease and AIDS which is a sexually
transmitted disease and I guess a generation ago we would have called
it a venereal disease, is transmitted by sexual relations that are transgressions.
It's also transmitted by sexual relations that are not transgressions
and many people who are innocent are the victims of that disease, as
well as people who are guilty of transgression. And so I think we have
to wait upon the wisdom of God in order to make those kinds of judgments.
CBS: Peter? [now we need just a few cutaway shots] This is
interesting. Because this is new to me. You really made a
distinction, actually no distinction between the homosexual
and heterosexual act, the distinction being marriage. That's
the first time I'd heard this from anyone....
[END OF TAPE]