I debated whether I should write about Latter-day Saints and same sex attraction. I certainly don’t have any expertise in the area. Certainly no one is clamouring to hear my opinion on the issue. And once I had written this post, I debated even publishing it. As a Canadian, it is in my nature to be polite and deferent, to avoid ruffling any feathers and focus on minding my own business. I strive to love and accept everyone, and as a disciple of Jesus Christ it pains me to think any tenets of my faith could cause someone distress, or be interpreted as an attack. I feel sick when people characterize our beliefs as hateful or bigoted, and even sicker when I can kind of see why they might think that, given their perspective. But in the interest of civil discourse and the pursuit mutual understanding (if not agreement), I hereby present my muddled thoughts and opinions on this most controversial issue.
I have been straight my whole life, and I don’t presume to speak on behalf of any other group of people, but I I am a Mormon, and from that point of view I think I might be able to clarify some areas where the water has become somewhat muddied. As the disclaimer makes clear in the footer of this website, and with this post in particular, it is important to reiterate that I do not speak on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I only barely speak on behalf of myself.
More often than not, I think, Mormons are swept up with a number of other churches and religious groups into one giant intolerant straw man ripe for the pillory. It’s much easier to broadly attack the views of “the religious right” rather than a specific religion, but the problem is that even on a seemingly binary issue like gay marriage, there is a lot of nuance in a given dogmatic tradition that differs, sometimes substantially, from others.
The bottom line for most people, however, is simply that the Church opposes gay marriage. That is a true statement, and for many people that will be the end of what they want to know. To them, the issue is not one of morality, but of civil rights, and in opposing the granting of equal marriage rights to homosexual couples, Mormons are hopeless bigots, end of story. Nothing I can say here is likely to convince anyone otherwise. I only hope that perhaps I will not make you any angrier at us than you already are for this position.
Personally, the issue of gay marriage was not on my radar whatsoever until the Proposition 8 controversy in California. As you know if you’re on this site, I am a Canadian Mormon, and our country has honoured gay unions for almost a decade. (We were the fourth country in the world to do so, and the first outside of Europe.) I simply wasn’t called upon for my opinion on the matter; the issue was moot. Frankly, I was caught off guard, as I suspect many Latter-day Saints were, when the Proposition 8 engine started gaining steam. Naturally, as someone who believes the Church to be true, I set about to discover what exactly the Church was out to accomplish, and why.
It took me some time to understand exactly what the Church was trying to communicate. Rather than try to paraphrase, here is a succinct (and official) Church statement on the issue:
The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
Many people assume, incorrectly, that Mormons are opposed to gay people in general, and that the opposition to gay marriage was just a manifestation of that institutional bias towards all homosexuals. (As near as I can figure, that is the position of certain other Churches.) Latter-day Saints do not equate opposing gay marriage to opposing gay people. That may be a semantic distinction for some, and others may argue that the two are not mutually exclusive; that opposing gay marriage is, by definition, opposing gay people. I can understand why someone might hold that point of view.
The Church knows it has a tricky communications and PR situation when it comes to Mormons and Gays, so it went ahead and built MormonsAndGays.org as a kind of clearinghouse for information and resources regarding the Church and homosexuality. (That website may be a better place to go than this dumb blog to learn about how the Church and Church members actually feel about these issues, including homosexual members of the Church, whose opinions might just be more relevant than my own on this issue.)
I think what the Church is now at pains to point out, and the Church at large is maybe struggling to reconcile itself with culturally, is that unlike many other religions, we absolutely do not believe homosexuals are bound for hell. Mormons sometimes get thrown into a group that includes churches whose views on homosexuals and homosexuality extend far beyond our own.
Homosexuals are as welcome to live and serve in our Church as anyone else, hold the priesthood, serve in leadership positions, etc. as long as they keep the law of chastity. That’s really all there is to it. Probably one of my favourite quotes on the subject came from the Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley:
People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves…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.
Mormons need to be better about welcoming, supporting, and accepting homosexual members and non-members alike. We can’t clutch our pearls and whisper when we hear that someone has feelings of same-sex attraction. We must choose our words carefully so that our position is not misunderstood. On that note, I cringe every time another news outlet reports on Orson Scott Card’s various invectives about homosexuals over the past decade or two. I wish when they point out that he is a Mormon, they would emphasize that not only does he not speak for the Church, his intolerant and homophobic remarks on the subject are, as far as I can tell, rather far from what the Church actually teaches, and certainly something from which I would personally wish to distance myself. Don’t judge all Mormons by one Mormon, people of Earth! (Or by these LDS clowns who refused to publish a book by a gay man who wished to be identified as such in his author’s bio. No wonder people get the wrong idea about the Church as a whole when there continues to be such intolerance and insensitivity among our rank and file. [More about this in another blog post.])
I think one of the Church’s main objections to gay marriage stemmed from the appropriation and redefinition of the word “marriage” itself. I’m not positive about this, but it’s possible the Church would have been more relaxed about an equivalent legal framework for gay couples that was called something else. (Then again, maybe not, but I do know a “defense” of the traditional definition of marriage was part of the motivation.) We’re nuts about family, in case you hadn’t noticed, and have very specific ideas about what the family unit represents, and the part it plays in God’s Plan of Salvation. Anything that threatens to redefine marriage as something other than between a man and a woman runs contrary to our view of the central purpose of our mortal existence, namely, procreation within the bonds of matrimony.
I think people find it hard to believe that our issue doesn’t extend beyond gay marriage and the law of chastity. I think they assume there must be more to it; that Mormons must have other secret anti-gay agendas, or repressive anti-gay policies, or some level of hostility towards homosexuals themselves, but that’s simply not true.
Let’s be realistic. The Prop 8 vote was very close. Polls indicate the tide of public opinion is shifting, fast. I do not believe that it will be much longer before same sex marriage is legal virtually everywhere, at least in North America. I don’t think anyone can look at the political and cultural landscape in the United States, especially after the recent Supreme Court decision, and not concede that it is only a matter of time before homosexual couples are granted all the same rights as straight couples, including marriage. It is time instead to focus on the egregious human rights abuses being perpetrated on homosexuals by governments and regimes in Russia and elsewhere. Those homophobic anti-gay laws are utterly unconscionable, and I don’t believe anyone in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would disagree with that assessment.
Personally, of course, I support the Church and endorse its position on gay marriage, because I have a testimony that the Church is led by Jesus Christ, who likewise showed great love and mercy towards those who sinned, and welcomed all to come unto Him, while still condemning sin. As clichéd as it is to say this, I do know and love people with same-sex attraction, both inside and out of the Church. In other words, “some of my best friends are gay.” I’m not saying that to give my words any authority; just to indicate that my opinions aren’t coming from a position of absolute sheltered naïveté. I also know and love several people who have left the Church over this issue. In other words, “some of my best friends are apostates because of the Church’s position on gay marriage.”
Let’s break it down: all sex outside of marriage is prohibited. Those sons and daughters of God who were born with heterosexual urges must, under the law of chastity, control those urges. Those sons and daughters of God born with homosexual urges must likewise control those urges, as dicated by the law of chastity. The difference, of course, is that the heterosexuals may have an opportunity to have a divinely sanctioned sexual relationship after marriage. Two groups, each born with sexual urges they must control, except one will never have the opportunity to satisfy those urges. I get it: that doesn’t seem fair at all.
I have a close friend in the Church who gets infuriated if I ever begin to hint at comparing the plight of homosexuals with the plight of single women in the Church. I take her point, and besides, being neither homosexual nor female, I can hardly claim solid footing argument-wise. However, I am convinced that this promise made by Ezra Taft Benson in a talk delivered to single women applies equally to homosexual members of the Church:
But if those of you in this situation are worthy and endure faithfully, you can be assured of all blessings from a kind and loving Heavenly Father—and I emphasize all blessings. I assure you that if you have to wait even until the next life to be blessed with a choice companion, God will surely compensate you. Time is numbered only to man. God has your eternal perspective in mind.
A variation of that promise occurs in virtually all talks directed towards single women in the Church. And it makes perfect sense; God will set everything right in the next world. People who expect Him to do so now are likely to be disappointed.
I have a great deal of sympathy for people who struggle with same-sex attraction, especially those with testimonies of the restored gospel. I cannot possibly fathom the difficulty a gay person must have living in a world that wants to deny him or her the benefits afforded to others, because of feelings they did not choose to have. Feelings that feel totally natural and normal to them. I cannot fathom their pain at being told by their Church that their feelings cannot be acted upon the way heterosexual feelings can, through marriage; that the blessings of having a family are effectively denied them in this life. That instead, they would need to wait for those blessings and rewards which are promised to the faithful in the next life. (I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that many people with same-sex attraction find happiness in a heterosexual marriage within the Church and go on to raise families.) I sometimes try a thought exercise whereby I try to imagine that I am in some bizarro dimension where heterosexuality is the verboten orientation, and think how I would feel being told to suppress those urges. I don’t get very far.
The upshot is that there is a lot I don’t understand. A lot. I am speaking from the opposite of a position of authority, and I feel like I should just shut up already. I know that the position of the Church has upset a great number of people, and I feel like I probably didn’t clear up as much as I had hoped in this blog post. I probably just riled people up again. It’s hard to convey the love and acceptance of which president Hinckley spoke, when people, even those with a clear picture of our actual doctrine and position, interpret our position as hateful and bigoted.
The Church’s position on gay marriage, as I mentioned, is a position that I support as a faithful member of this Church, and as one who believes we have a true Prophet who leads by direct revelation from God. I think a lot of Latter-day Saints are still coming to terms with the Church’s position on gay marriage, and that is okay. That’s one of the great things about this Church. You are allowed (nay, encouraged) to gain a personal testimony of any given doctrine. It’s an ongoing process for many.
I will say that those who characterize the Church’s position as un-Christlike, because the Saviour “loved and accepted everyone” aren’t as familiar with the New Testament as they think they are. The Saviour did love and accept everyone, but his love did not extend to ignoring or condoning sinful behaviour. (The Lord was always quite consistent when it came to that.) In that regard, I feel like most Mormons strive to mirror the attitude of the Saviour towards his children, making a distinction between the person on the one hand and their behaviour on the other. It reminds me of the characterization of God that C.S. Lewis described brilliantly in The Problem of Pain:
What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like, “What does it matter so long as they are contented?” We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all”.
Whenever someone has a tough row to hoe, like drug addiction for example, or same-sex attraction, I am particularly grateful that our judge in the hereafter will be Jesus Christ; a perfect judge and a merciful one; the only Man who truly knows our sorrows, who will see into our hearts and take into account everything that has ever happened to us. The rest of us can (and should) take a break from judging. The Lord will take care of all the judging. This will free us up to concentrate on loving our neighbour as ourselves, and working out our own salvation.