A Difference of Opinion

Over the past few years, I have had dozens of conversations with friends and family members who are active members of the LDS Church on the subject of homosexuality.  Most active members feel misunderstood and maligned by the ‘world’ and the ‘liberal press’ and labeled haters.  My wife and I have encountered this sentiment first hand as the majority of the LGBT people we have met believe that Mormons hate gay people.  Beyond our anecdotal evidence is a recent Pew Research Study that revealed that Mormons are perceived as the second most unfriendly religion (worldwide) to LGBT individuals. (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a-survey-of-lgbt-americans/7/#feeling-unwelcome)

In our polarized political and social world, both the LGBT community and the Mormon community continue to speak past each other without genuine understanding.  Today I wanted to specifically help the Mormon community come to a place of better understanding.  Most Mormons I know try very hard to be kind and understanding.  They truly believe in attempting to be Christ-like to everyone.  Of course, the success of this effort varies widely from individual to individual, but on the whole they are very good people.pros-cons-outsourcing-425x225

A friend of mine recently lamented, “I wish we could learn to stop interpreting one person disagreeing with another person’s beliefs or lifestyle as being hateful.  That feeling isn’t one any human being should ever be made to feel.  Equally it hurts me when others are accused of being haters simply because they disagree with another person’s lifestyle or beliefs.  I have struggled to understand how one can interpret a difference of opinion as being hateful.”

This line of thinking is very common in the LDS Church.  The incredulity of being hated for standing up for your beliefs is substantial.  And because homosexuality is so far outside of their life experience, it is like talking in a foreign language.  Here are some key points I want my Mormon friends to ponder and consider.

1)      This isn’t a simple disagreement over a personal preference.  People do not choose to be gay.  Whether it is biological or environmental in origin, being gay (or SSA) is an unalterable fact of life.  This is beyond debate as it is the conclusion of every major medical and psychological association in the country.  It is also accepted by the Church: “Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.” (www.mormonsandgays.org)

2)      Your opinion takes everything precious away from me.  At a very fundamental level, our doctrine is devastating to LGBT youth and adults.  From a Mormon perspective, the only acceptable choices for someone who is gay are celibacy or a mixed orientation marriage (MOM).  This doctrine robs LGBT youth of hope.  It robs them of self-esteem and worth.  At best it tells you that you are broken and will be fixed in the next life.  It is a complete rejection of who you are now.  It tells you that unless you can change to a more worthy state (straight), you can never have the one thing that Mormons value most in life: family.

3)      There is no experiment you could devise that could duplicate the experience of being in the closet.  My son came out at age 13.  He was remarkably young.  He knew he was gay for probably less than two years before he came out.  In that time he suffered tremendously.  He was isolated and alone.  He felt hated by God and his family so much so that even suicide was an option.  As my wife said powerfully in the film ‘Families Are Forever’, “There is something not right with a 13 year old having to think that.”  For those of you who have suffered years and decades longer than my son, I can only imagine your pain and try to empathize.

4)      Sexual orientation is not cured through the Atonement. Many faithful LGBT Mormons pursue fixing and changing their orientation.  They become zealously obedience and faithful, many completing full-time missions with honor.  I personally know those who spend years and even decades dedicated to changing themselves, often to the point of self-hatred.  This dark path has also ended in suicide, extreme depression and drug abuse.  Best case scenarios result in an individual moving toward asexuality rather than completely reversing their orientation.

5)      Mixed Orientation Marriages (MOMs).  This is viewed as the gold standard of achievement for an LGBT individual raised in the Church.  While sexual orientation cannot be cured, some have been able to minimize their sexual attraction.  In a study of over 1,600 LGBT Mormons (the most extensive and current of its kind; http://ldshomosexuality.com/ ), 70-80% of those MOMs failed.  That’s an astronomical divorce rate.  Of those that succeeded, the gay spouses were far closer to a bi-sexual range than homosexual (as measured on the Kinsey scale).  Expecting and demanding this of all of our LGBT brothers and sisters is fraught with real danger.  There are straight spouses and innocent children involved.  President Hinckley specifically cautioned against MOMs as a cure or fix for homosexuality

6)      Celibacy.  Again, to end yet another prevalent assumption:  Celibacy is in no way comparable to being an older, straight single adult who never marries.  An LDS LGBT friend of mine said recently, “Single people pray every night to find someone to fall in love with.  Gay people trying to stay in the Church pray every night not to find someone to fall in love.” (Jamison Manwaring) Celibacy demands asexuality.  A straight single adult can date, hug, kiss, show affection for and pursue relationships.  A celibate LGBT youth or adult is shunned for showing any hint of affection for the same sex.  My Stake President was very specific to me regarding my son.  No activities that even encouraged same sex relationships are to be allowed or encouraged (Even holding hands).  Setting sex completely aside, we are forbidding someone from having what we find the greatest satisfaction in life.  Are we still just disagreeing?

7)      When have you ever expressed love to an LGBT person?  Our rhetoric is full of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’  I find it to be one of the most hypocritical and condemning statements that religious people make.  Because loving the sinner would require you at some point to have actually in some tangible way demonstrated love for the sinner.  We are condemned as haters by that same statement because there is no evidence of love.  I think back to Prop 8 in California.  There has been no outreach or effort of any kinds from the LDS community to the LGBT community in the past 6 years.  Just saying it doesn’t make it true.

8)      The stereotype of the “Gay Lifestyle” is an extreme born out of rejection.  The stereotype of the gay lifestyle is one of debauchery, lasciviousness, promiscuity, pornography and depravity.  The truth is that unlike the stereotype, every LGBT person I have met is remarkably….just like everybody else.  There is as much diversity among LGBT individuals as among straight people, but when you add in the devastation of being in the closet and the rejection of family and religion, you find a great backlash against those morals, principles and beliefs.  A backlash born of pain and suffering.  In the end, who is responsible for that pain and suffering?

9)      The true Gay Lifestyle.  I have met hundreds of LGBT people.  Most of them have Mormon roots and many still love the Church.  Many are doctors, lawyers, nurses, leaders, scout masters, store clerks as well as kids in high school.  They are as normal as you and me (even if some have a bit of flair and fabulous thrown in.)  They have normal life routines and very normal, loving relationships.

10)   Gay parents.  Again, I know hundreds of gay parents.  A few are in MOMs, many are amicably divorced yet still wonderful parents, and others are in same sex marriages.  I know a lesbian couple that I tremendously admire who have adopted 7 special needs young adult foster children.  We can hold to the ideal of one man and one woman all we want, but the truth is that two parents of any combination are more secure and stable than either one parent or no parents at all.

11)   Gay Marriage does not threaten traditional marriage.  The dangers to sexuality for heterosexual people are the same as those for gay people: debauchery, lasciviousness, promiscuity, pornography, depravity, etc….  These evils are alive and well in the heterosexual community.  In my children’s schools the majority of their friends are from broken homes.  But with contempt we point to the gay community as a threat?  Condemning homosexuality does nothing to improve or change the state of traditional marriage.  And because homosexuality is an inherit trait, there will be no more or less LGBT people in the future than there are now.  Our acceptance or condemnation does not influence how many LGBT people there are, but it would have a massive impact on their quality of life and life spans as they experience less rejection in their lives.

12)   I support Gay Marriage.  I don’t think I have ever written or declared this, but here it is.  The best way I can express this is by using the measure that Elder Oaks put forth in a General Conference talk entitled Good, Better, Best.  Here are my personal thoughts:

Current State of Affairs

First, let’s take a moment to evaluate where we are starting from.  Currently, most LGBT youth and adults leave the Church. I am sure this is not a surprise or a point of debate.  Unfortunately, many of their family members follow.  In this article, I have put up no contention with policy or doctrine, but simply look at the fruit of the current state of affairs.  Statistically, highly rejected LGBT youth are 8 times more likely to commit suicide, 3 times more likely to be homeless, 3 times more likely to abuse drugs and 3 times more likely to get sexually transmitted diseases (http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/publications.)

We can stick to our guns and defend the Proclamation on the Family until we are blue in the face and it will not save one LGBT life.  Each political action we take further cements our reputation as the most unfriendly religion to the LGBT community.  We currently alienate and drive our LGBT brothers and sisters from our stakes.  At the same time, those who are rejected from among us are left to the mercies of the world and fall straight into all the stereotypes we sought to protect them from.  Are we perpetuating a cycle of unintended yet devastating consequences?

What would be Good

Can we withhold judgment long enough to just let them be among us?  Can we acknowledge that perhaps this subject is infinitely more complex than we ever considered?  Can we not assume that ‘different’ is the same as ‘depraved’?

But while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same.  Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin.  We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God.  This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold – that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other.  This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. (President Uchdorf)

For some reason, our Heavenly Father has LGBT children.  I refuse to believe that the status quo is acceptable.  Many remark that the “Gay Agenda” is seeking to change the doctrines of God to accept their lifestyle and want a ‘comfortable God’ that demands nothing of them.  Are you so sure of your positon that you are willing see a 13 year old boy commit suicide because of it?  I advocate for LGBT youth (especially LDS LGBT youth) because my ‘comfortable God’ finds that unacceptable.  There is something wrong.  This has been confirmed via the Holy Ghost to my soul.  If you want to not be hated, stop acting like a victim and acknowledge there needs to be change.

But what is changing – and what needs to change (emphasis added) – is to help Church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere. (www.mormonsandgays.org)

What would be Better

My wife and I were privileged to meet with Elder Christofferson recently last year.  He listened to our story and that of our gay son and the hardship we have encountered in the Church.  He was loving and compassionate.  He cried with us.  He didn’t attempt to give excuses or marginalize our experience.  His simple instruction to us was to “lead with compassion”.  I think this applies equally for those seeking a place for LGBT individuals in the Church as well as those that would label people in the Church as ‘haters’.

As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate.  Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach.  Let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender. (Elder Cook)

Leading requires action.  Nobody should be more loving or compassionate.  Being at the forefront requires a desire to reach out and make a difference.  Being at the forefront in today’s world means having the fortitude to endure the criticism that is sure to come from every side.  To not exclude or be disrespectful requires an elevation in the dialogue.  Instead of recounting our polarizing positions, perhaps we could actually just listen.  Listen with the intent to hear, not with the intent to respond or judge.

Lead with compassion. (Elder Christofferson)

What would be Best

What should the Church do with its righteous LGBT members?  Currently there is no distinction made in our doctrine/policies between:

1. A straight person who lives a life of debauchery, lasciviousness, promiscuity and depravity

2. A righteous LGBT person in a committed same sex marriage.

3. An LGBT person who lives a life of debauchery, lasciviousness, promiscuity and depravity

I don’t know how we can’t see the inequality in the application of morality.  Accepting gay marriage as an acceptable civil arrangement does not threaten temple marriages.  Such individuals should be allowed to be part of the body of Christ; our wards and our stakes.  We are poorer without them.  They should be able to partake of the Sacrament and worship with us.  They are as committed and moral as any straight people I know.  Many are spiritual giants waiting to be included in the Church and serve with us.

In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. 

Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience.  When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.

Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the “facts” really mean.  A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.

And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes.  There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings.  God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure.  But He works through us-His imperfect children-and imperfect people make mistakes. (Elder Uchdorf)

So, can we ask the question, “What should the Church do with its righteous LGBT members?”  Let us give hope to those who have little.  Let us show love to those who have been hated and despised.  Let us raise our dialogue to lift up the spiritually wounded and find a place in our congregations for our LGBT brothers and sisters.  And if we can’t achieve what is Best, can we at least raise our efforts to what is Good or even Better.

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