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Guest opinion: Oaks recycles chunks of 2018 talk, maintains that Satan is author of ‘gender confusion’

By Keith Burns - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Apr 6, 2022

If you think Dallin H. Oak’s Sunday afternoon General Conference talk sounded strangely familiar, you wouldn’t be crazy. He has delivered very similar versions of the speech in the past, especially his 2018 talk, “Truth and the Plan.”

After taking several years off from addressing LGBTQ+ issues at the conference pulpit, Oaks decided it was once more time to hammer in the church’s positions on marriage, sexuality and gender. In so doing, he employed several familiar tactics and recycled verbatim portions of his 2018 message cited above.

Among such tactics was the framing of same-sex marriage and transgender experiences as inspired by Satan. He declared:

“Satan’s most strenuous opposition is directed at whatever is most important to (God’s) plan. Consequently, he seeks to oppose progress toward exaltation by distorting marriage, discouraging childbearing or confusing gender.”

Invoking Satan as the author of “distorting marriage” and “confusing gender,” Oaks reinforced decadeslong LDS assertions that same-sex marriage and gender nonconformity are counterfeit, sinful and illegitimate. His use of Satan also serves as a powerful rhetorical method that adds credibility and force to his assertions, while stoking fear and opposition toward LGBTQ+ individuals and relationships. Perhaps most tragically, assigning Satan as an “influencer” of same-sex relationships and transgender experiences constitutes a personal attack on queer people who already face disproportionate levels of shame, depression and suicide pertaining to their identities.

I recently spoke with a gay member of the church who explained the deep pain and anguish that has come from being repeatedly told that his relationships, romance and love come from Satan. He said: “It is so easy to internalize these ideas and really feel like Satan is the reason you feel the way you do. It’s such a destructive way to see yourself and your identity.”

Oaks also discussed the importance of personal agency, stating that “salvation is granted in different kingdoms of glory. … The kingdom of glory we receive in the final judgment is determined by the laws we chose to abide in our Heavenly Father’s loving plan.” He expressed this sentiment a bit differently in 2018 when he said, “For those who do not desire or qualify for the highest degree of glory, God has provided other, though lesser, kingdoms of glory.” Asserting that same-sex relationships are incompatible with “God’s eternal plan,” Oaks explained that people who “choose not to obey God’s commandments” (i.e., people in same-sex relationships and people who have gender transitioned) are willingly “settling” for a lesser kingdom of glory. Nathan Kitchen, president of Utah Affirmation, must have understood the pain that many queer church members were feeling when, just hours after the speech, he posted these words: “As a beloved LGBTQ child of God, you were not created for a consolation prize heaven.”

Similarly, Oaks discussed his views on the 1995 semi-canonical document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Although you will find the proclamation hanging on the walls of many members’ homes, an increasing number of Latter-day Saints, particularly the younger generations, are developing positions that contradict its core assertions. Oaks defended the document in this way:

“Those who do not fully understand the Father’s loving plan for His children may consider this Family Proclamation no more than a changeable statement of policy. In contrast, we affirm that the Family Proclamation, founded on unchangeable doctrine, defines the kind of family relationships where the most important part of our eternal development can occur.”

Oaks not only took a jab at the many members who have genuine concerns regarding the proclamation’s positions on gender and homosexuality, he also affirmed its theological unchangeability. In doing so, he joins a host of other LDS authorities who have asserted the immutability of certain church positions, many of which have indeed changed.

For example, church leaders in the 1950s and ’60s often affirmed the doctrinal immutability of their priesthood and temple ban on people of African descent. One of the most ardent defenders of the ban, Bruce R. McConkie, stated in his book “Mormon Doctrine” that “Caste systems have their root and origin in the gospel itself, and when they operate according to the divine decree, the resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the approval of the Lord.” Similarly, with regard to interracial marriage, David O. McKay asserted that “negroes marry negroes, and that whites marry whites, and we cannot modify the statement.” Oak’s declaration that the church’s intolerance of same-sex marriage and gender nonconformity is “unchangeable” fits neatly within a broader historical pattern of leaders constructing an illusion of immutability around policies that actually shift over time.

As a Latter-day Saint who has seen notable improvements in the ways the church discusses and handles LGBTQ+ issues, I am deeply confused as to why Oaks continues to hammer in the church’s stance on gender and homosexuality. Who does he think he is reaching? Members as a whole are already more than clear on the content of such positions. Those who hold traditional views about gender and sexuality already agree with his assertions. And for members who support LGBTQ+ identities and relationships, his rhetoric comes across as anachronistic at best and bigoted at worst. Most importantly, for too many queer members of the church his words are daggers that inflict deep and sometimes irreparable wounds.

Regardless of intentions, repeated assertions that LGBTQ+ identities and relationships are inspired by Satan and oppositional to God’s eternal plan continues to degrade and ostracize queer people in and outside of the church. Surely such kinds of marginalizing rhetoric will find less and less space in a religion whose members are becoming increasingly affirming of LGBTQ+ individuals and communities.

Keith Burns is a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College who specializes in Mormonism and sexuality.


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