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Question: What is the scriptural basis for the restriction on homosexual sexual behavior in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Question: What is the scriptural basis for the restriction on homosexual sexual behavior in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Introduction to Question
In recent years, it has become an item of interest and controversy to know what scriptural grounds are for prohibiting homosexual sexual behavior in different Christian religions.
This article provides some resources for answering this question as well as other relevant scriptural texts from the Latter-day Saint canon for answering this question.
It demonstrates, despite lengthy and intelligent cases to the contrary, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands on solid scriptural grounds in their prohibition of homosexual sexual behavior and has effectively no theological workaround for incorporating neither homosexual sexual behavior nor same-sex unions/temple sealings into their theology.
Response to Question
Resources for Understanding the Biblical Perspective on Homosexuality
For understanding the biblical perspective on homosexuality, there are three great resources online that explain it.
- Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 379–406 online at https://www.heartlandchurch.org/d/The_Moral_Vision_of_the_New_Testament_excerpt.pdf. This gives an academic, exegetical perspective from the New Testament about homosexuality, concluding that whenever homosexual sexual behavior is discussed, it is unremittingly negative.
- Justin W. Starr, "Biblical Condemnations of Homosexual Conduct," FAIR Papers, November 2011, https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/starr-justin-BiblicalHomosexuality.pdf. This paper gives an academic, exegetical perspective from the entire Bible regarding homosexual sexual behavior. It concludes that the Bible is against all homosexual sexual behavior.
- Robert A. J. Gagnon, one of the foremost experts on homosexuality and the Bible, has a website where he has links to his many articles and video presentations defending the traditional view from scripture.
The best book resource defending the traditional interpretation of scripture regarding homosexual sexual behavior:
- Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001).
These resources thoroughly refute any notion that the Bible is either indifferent, silent, or in favor of homosexual sexual behavior.
Latter-day Saint Scripture and its Addenda to the Case Against Homosexual Sexual Behavior
Uniquely Latter-day Saint texts offer many important addenda to the conversation about proper sexuality.
- The Book of Moses, contained in the Pearl of Great Price in the Latter-day Saint scriptural canon, affirms that all men and women had a personal, real pre-existence prior to being created on the earth. Moses 3:5 teaches that all things created in the Garden of Eden, including men and women (represented as Adam and Eve), were created spiritually before they were created physically in the Garden. Moses 1:8 reinforces that this was a real pre-existence (existing as actual spirits sepearte in both time and space from God) rather than ideal pre-existence (existing in God's mind prior to physical creation). Moses sees "all the children of men which are and were created." The Book of Abraham, also contained in the Pearl of Great price and purporting to the the writings of the biblical patriarch Abraham, teaches that there is at least a portion of our spirit that was not created (Abraham 3:18). Thus, our embodiment as man and woman means something not just now, but has always meant something. If that is the case, then there is an objective way to structure and understand our sexed embodiment and the sexual relationships that we engage in with those bodies. That is where this next point elucidates further.
- The great Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that all things were created with a telos or purpose. By adhering to this telos or being used according to it, things, including people, flourish. Along similar lines, Jacob 2:21 teaches that all men and women were created with the end of keeping God’s commandments and glorifying him forever. Doctrine & Covenants 49:15–17 teaches that the Lord’s definition of marriage is such that it is between a man and a woman. In that scripture, men and women are commanded to be married and have sexual relations so that they can bear childrrn: to “multiply and replenish the earth". Scripture consistently associates keeping the commandments with flourishing and happiness. See, for example, Mosiah 2:41. This in and of itself should show that Latter-day Saint theology recognizes a gender binary of man and woman as well as the designedness and primacy of heterosexual marriages. People who claim that God made them with same-gender attraction and/or gender dysphoria and meant for them to act on their same-gender attraction are simply wrong. These scriptures also combine to testify that marriage, for Latter-day Saints, is not merely an instrumental good (something good because of the consequence it brings about) in that it brings about children that can contribute to society, but is an intrinsic good (something good by its nature) in that it is the consummation of who and what we are as men and women.
- Restoration scripture echoes Genesis in affirming that men and women should become “one flesh”—affirming the creative order discussed in Justin W. Starr’s paper above. These are therefore affirmations of the created order whereby only relations between men and women are ethically proper. These scriptures, combined with those before that describe are telos, testify that, in matters regarding how we determine what is ethically-proper sexual conduct, it doesn't matter that God created us, but to what end he created us. If he created us for a particular end that was good, then we can and should make decisions that adhere to that purpose. God created woman from the rib of a man and said that for this reason (the reason of being taken from the man) shall a man leave his father and mothers and cleave to his wife, becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:21–24). He commanded them to multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28). God then saw that his creation was "very good" (Genesis 1:31).
- Doctrine & Covenants 131:1–2 teaches that one must enter into the covenant of marriage in order to reach the Celestial Kingdom.
- Doctrine & Covenants 132:19–20 lays out more of Latter-day Saint theology of marriage. According to that section, men and women’s glory as gods consists in part in having “a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.” Thus, the capacity to have spiritual offspring is a necessary condition of becoming gods in Latter-day Saint theology. Doctrine & Covenants 132 teaches that only men and women joined together in marriage have this capacity. Verse 63 of the revelation teaches that men and women are sealed together in part to “bear the souls of men.” The revelation teaches that a binary sexual complementarity is required in order to achieve spiritual creation. This scripture alone naturally necessitates an ethic in which homosexual sexual behavior is discouraged or prohibited since engaging in it isn’t consonant with your divine identity and destiny. Sanctioned homosexual sexual behavior would confuse men and women both on earth and in heaven as to what their divine nature and destiny actually is. It would distort it.
- The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches that all men and women were born of Heavenly Parents in the pre-mortal life. Latter-day Saint theology affirms the existence of a Heavenly Mother by whom the spirits of all of humanity from Adam to the present day have been sired. It has been affirmed that the Proclamation came by way of divine inspiration and revelation many times.
- The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible adds commentary to and restores much of the text of the Bible that is relevant to discussions of the Biblical witness regarding homosexual sexual behavior. Readers can see this for themselves in Joseph Smith's revision of Genesis 19 and the Sodom narratives, Romans 1:26–32, and 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 6:18. In each of these cases Joseph Smith either agrees with or intensifies the biblical witness against homosexual sexual behavior.
Will Technological Reproduction Justify a Reversal of the Church's Position on Homosexual Behavior?
Some claim that, perhaps in the future, technological reproduction will be able to occur and thus will be able to provide us, without the sexual union of (hopefully married) man and woman, healthy human bodies (either fully formed or ones that may need human care for development from both heterosexual and homosexual couples) for the spirit children of our Heavenly Parents to inhabit. Thus, in that situation, the Church could potentially receive revelation to be inclusive of LGBT romantic, sexual, and/or marital relationships and homosexuality and other human sexual behaviors that are not procreative, marital-sexual relationships can be accepted.
Here is an objection to such an argument: Jacob 2:21 informs us that we were created unto the end of keeping God's commandments. Doctrine & Covenants 49:15–17 tells us that God has commanded us to be married as man and woman so as to have children and give bodies to the amount of spirit children God has created.
The acceptance of LGBT romantic, sexual, and/or marital relationships, even at this future moment in time where technological reproduction, would flatly contradict these two scriptures. There is no other way to interpret these scriptures that places LGBT romantic, sexual, and/or marital relationships within the "telos" of the human body. Such hypothetical future acceptance is thus unnecessary and not even possible.
One would have to deny that there is divine inspiration behind these scriptures; but how could one do that? They're so intuitively true––and especially given other Latter-day Saint theological commitments such as the pre-existence, God's existence, and the necessity of God to instruct us in morality––that for scripture to state them seems almost unnecessary. Additional commentary on appeal to prophetic fallibility to justify rejection of these two scriptures is found in footnote #2 of this article.
Personal Revelation Justifying the Practice of Homosexual Sexual Behavior
Some have claimed that they have received revelation that homosexual sexual behavior is correct and use this as justification for not keeping the scriptural commandment of abstaining from them. This revelation, given its incongruity with scripture and other prophetic revelation, must be a form of false revelation from false spirits.
Scriptural Concordance of Words Relevant to Considerations About Homosexuality
Fornication is defined as any sexual activity between people outside of marriage. If one defines marriage as between a man and a woman, then any sexual contact between homosexual partners is going to be considered fornication. Below is a concordance of the mentions of fornication and its derivatives in scripture.
- Ezekiel 16:26
- Ezekiel 16:29
- Isaiah 23:17
- 2 Chronicles 21:11
- Matthew 5:32
- Matthew 15:19
- Matthew 19:9
- Mark 7:21
- John 8:41
- Acts 15:20
- Acts 15:29
- Acts 21:25
- Romans 1:29
- 1 Corinthians 5:1
- 1 Corinthians 5:1
- 1 Corinthians 6:13
- 1 Corinthians 6:18
- 1 Corinthians 7:2
- 1 Corinthians 10:8
- 2 Corinthians 12:21
- Galatians 5:19
- Ephesians 5:3
- Colossians 3:5
- 1 Thessalonians 4:3
- Jude 1:7
- Revelation 2:14
- Revelation 2:20
- Revelation 2:21
- Revelation 9:21
- Revelation 14:8
- Revelation 19:2
- Jacob 3:12
- 3 Nephi 12:32
- Helaman 8:26
- Doctrine & Covenants 35:11
- Doctrine & Covenants 42:74
- Doctrine & Covenants 88:94
- Doctrine & Covenants 88:105
- Ezekiel 16:15
- 1 Corinthians 5:11
- Hebrews 12:16
- Doctrine & Covenants 42:77
- 1 Corinthians 5:9
- 1 Corinthians 5:10
- 1 Corinthians 6:9
- Doctrine & Covenants 42:76
Homosexuality as Part of the Definition of Other Words in Scripture Referring to Illicit Sexual Behavior
Homosexuality fits into the definition or the penumbras of the definitions of any other word in scripture referring to illicit sexual behavior. We have gathered an exhaustive concordance of those words at this link that readers should take a look at.
- Taylor G. Petrey, “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 44, no. 4 (2011): 106–41; Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2020); Blaire Ostler, Queer Mormon Theology: An Introduction (Newburgh, IN: By Common Consent Press, 2021); Nathan Oman, "A Welding Link of Some Kind: Exploring a possible theology of same-sex marriage sealings," Thoughts from a Tamed Cynic, September 27, 2022, https://nateoman.substack.com/p/a-welding-link-of-some-kind; For lengthy and cogent rebuttals to and reviews of Petrey’s book Tabernacles of Clay, see Gregory L. Smith, “Feet of Clay: Queer Theory and the Church of Jesus Christ,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 43 (2021): 107–278; Michael A. Goodman and Daniel Frost, "Constancy Amid Change," BYU Studies Quarterly 61, no. 3 (2022): 191–217. For a solid and insightful rebuttal to Petrey’s article “Towards a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology”, see V.H. Cassler, “Plato's Son, Augustine's Heir: ‘A Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology’?” SquareTwo 5, no. 2 (Summer 2012). Dr. Cassler has another article on SquareTwo that provides a feminist argument in favor of traditional marriage that readers may be interested in. See V.H. Cassler, “'Some Things That Should Not Have Been Forgotten Were Lost': The Pro-Feminist, Pro-Democracy, Pro-Peace Case for State Privileging of Companionate Heterosexual Monogamous Marriage," SquareTwo 2, no. 1 (2009). For a solid review of and response to Blaire Ostler’s book, see Daniel Ortner, “The Queer Philosophies of Men Mingled with Scripture,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 51 (2022): 317–34. For a review of Oman's work, see Matthew Watkins, "'We Don’t Know, So We Might as Well': A Flimsy Philosophy for Same-Sex Sealings," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 54 (2022): 207–22. Much of the scriptures covered in this article will show that, even if Oman's thesis holds (which it doesn't. Sealings have always been understood in part as marital since Nauvoo), his arguments will still be rejecting key scriptural assertions and broaching more questions than answering.
- Some will wish to undermine this scripture by pointing to passages in the Book of Mormon that affirm that errors might exist in it such as the Title Page of the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 19:6; Mormon 8:12, 16-17; Mormon 9:31; Ether 12:23-25. Each of the authors is clear that the content that they have included in the Book of Mormon is sacred content. All of them couch their disclaimers in conditionals i.e. "if error exists, don't condemn it". The Book of Mormon authors were confident that the content, and especially the content that prophets were claiming was sacred teaching revealed from heaven, was of divine origin. The way that they recount secular history and their particular writing style may be weak and may contain errors, and some of the claimed divine content may indeed not come from God, but Book of Mormon authors are clear that they tried their absolute hardest every effort to include only those things they believed came from God as the Book of Mormon’s sacred teaching. We should, in their honor, try our hardest to recognize the content that they wrote, compiled, and bequeathed to us as divine, morally and scientifically correct teachings.
- Doctrine & Covenants 49:15–17; Moses 3:21–24; Abraham 5:14–18
- It should be noted that Joseph Smith never appears to have taught in his public sermons that human spirits were birthed by Heavenly Parents in the pre-mortal existence. Indeed, he seems to have taught in his public sermons that spirits were never created. See Kenneth W. Godfrey, “The History of Intelligence in Latter-day Saint Thought,” in The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God, ed. H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 213–36; Blake Ostler, “The Idea of Pre-Existence in the Development of Mormon Thought,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15, no. 1 (Spring 1982): 59–78. Although that is true, it is also the case that his revelations teach that men and women can create spirit children and that our spirits were at one point created. The Book of Moses teaches this doctrine of spirits having a moment when they were created and the majority of Latter-day Saint scriptural exegetes have recognized this or at least been open to it. See Moses 3:5 and especially in connection to Moses 1:8 where Moses sees "all the children of men which are and were created." All scripture assumes real pre-existence instead of ideal pre-existence and virtually all Latter-day Saint exegetes with the exception of perhaps one have recognized this. See Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Christ and the Creation,” in Studies in Scripture: Volume Two, The Pearl of Great Price, ed. Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson (Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985), 88; Milton R. Hunter, Pearl of Great Price Commentary (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1951), 80–86; Richard D. Draper, S. Kent Brown, and Michael D. Rhodes, The Pearl of Great Price: A Verse by Verse Commentary (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2005), 222; H. Donl Peterson, The Pearl of Great Price: A History and Commentary (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1987), 129–30; Shon D. Hopkin, “Premortal Existence,” in Pearl of Great Price Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2017), 240–41; Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1973), 99–136; Aaron P. Schade and Matthew L. Bowen, The Book of Moses: From the Ancient of Days to the Latter Days (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2021), 153–54n30; Book of Mormon Central and Jeffrey R. Bradshaw, “Book of Moses Essays: #54 Moses Sees the Garden of Eden (Moses 3) Spiritual Creation (Moses 3:5-7),” The Interpreter Foundation, May 8, 2021, https://interpreterfoundation.org/book-of-moses-essays-054/; Terryl L. Givens, “The Book of Moses as a Pre–Augustinian Text: A New Look at the Pelagian Crisis,” in Tracing Ancient Threads in the Book of Moses: Inspired Origins, Temple Contexts, and Literary Qualities, ed. Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, David R. Seely, John W. Welch and Scott Gordon, 2 vols. (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation; Springville, UT: Book of Mormon Central; Redding, CA: FAIR; Tooele, UT: Eborn Books, 2021), 1:293–314. Of the five commentaries on the Doctrine and Covenants that were reviewed and that commented on v. 63 of this revelation specifically, two appear to explicitly accept that spirit birth is a reality. Exactly how is not specified. See Roy W. Doxey, Doctrine and Covenants Speaks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1970), 422; Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Doctrine and Covenants, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978), 1:664. Two seem to be at the very least open to that possibility. See Robert L. Millet, "A New and Everlasting Covenant (D&C 132)," in Studies in Scripture: Volume One, The Doctrine and Covenants, ed. Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1989), 524–25. See also Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000), 63. One appears to believe that reference to the eternal worlds and bearing the souls of men refers to mortal life and the bearing of life on earth similar to how Doctrine & Covenants 49:15-17 speaks about marriage. See Richard O. Cowan, Doctrine & Covenants: Our Modern Scripture (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1978), 133. McConkie's and Ostler's commentary may have meant to fit more into this understanding of the verse. The dominant understanding seems to be that spirit birth is a reality. All commentators agree that sexual relations are only proper between a married man and woman. Indeed, there still seems to be little purpose for God creating us as man and woman if it did not have a vital purpose to our earthly and eternal flourishing. Lastly, Brian Hales discusses evidence that Joseph Smith taught spirit birth to his followers more in private when introducing eternal and plural marriage. He also relates this evidence to Doctrine & Covenants 132 and concludes that it and JS's private teachings substantiate the doctrine of spirit birth. See Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy: Volume 3, Theology (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 113–125. Thus at worst Joseph Smith considered spirit birth a possibility and didn't consider it carefully enough when presenting his King Follet Discourse that the so-called "progressives" on this issue quote and rely on in order to construct theologies that permit same-gender sexual relations.
- David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings About Heavenly Mother,” BYU Studies Quarterly 50, no. 1 (2011): 70–97.
- Smith, "Feet of Clay," 129.
- Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004), 501.
- This is especially true when considering the biblical outlook on scripture. In the words of Lyn M. Bechtel in Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible: "In Hebrew Scripture sex has two primary functions: the production of progeny which lead to salvation, and the creation of the strong ties or oneness which are essential for holding the household and community together. Sex is the physical bonding together of what appears physically different in order to produce life, suggesting that the uniting of opposites is both creative and essential to the divine life process. In Gen.1 God creates by separating what is different into a physical (a child) and psychological unity...There is also casual sex or sex that does not create marital or family bonding and obligation (e.g., Deut. 22:28-29) or that violates existing marital or family bonding and obligation (e.g., vv. 23-24). This kind of sex is considered foolish and shameful, an "inadequacy" or "failure" to live up to internalized, societal goals and ideals because it violates the purpose of sex and therefore does not participate in the divine life process...Sexual intercourse in ancient Israel is intended to be an activity that builds the community first and therein fills the needs of the individual." See Lyn M. Bechtel, “Sex,” in Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 1192–93. Thus scripture's outlook on proper sexual behavior refers to men and women becoming "one flesh" both physically and psychologically so that they can benefit the community. This naturally rules out homosexual sexual behavior as ethical.