By Christopher Cooper
Mormonism is changing! But for many it is not changing fast enough.
There is no hiding the ugly past where Latter-day Saint homosexuals were treated in a very different manner than what they are today. The LDS church is right now pleasingly showing introspection and humane cultural change after the “black eye” it received following its ugly fight over Proposition 8. Surprisingly, some of the biggest swings thrown at the face of the church were from members within the faith back at the face of the institution.
After the fallout from Proposition 8, many LDS members were hurting, families were hurting, and therefore a part of the church was hurting. In order to help bandage some of the pain, Elder Marlin K. Jensen was sent to the epicenter of much of the pain – the Oakland California Stake, where he now famously apologized after learning first-hand of the pain experienced by members of the Church, from the Church.
Many regard Jensen’s landmark apology that day as the beginning of the domino effect that has started the movement of GLBT misunderstanding and prejudice to crumble. Since that time several groups of LDS members have become engaged in the polar opposite direction–that of supporting GLBT individuals and their rights, and welcoming them back into LDS fellowship with open arms.
During this climate of LDS introspection and change, there remains one key point of policy that stands as a remnant of the bigoted past that warrants urgent reconsideration by Church administrators. That is to do with the current policy of LDS record annotation of homosexual members, likened to the ‘pink triangle’ within the Mormon faith.
In a much sadder chapter in world history, the pink triangle (German: Rosa Winkel) was a mark used to publicly identify homosexual members within Nazi concentration camps. In a manner not too dissimilar, the current direction within LDS administration, according to the current LDS Handbook of Instructions (Administering the Church – 2010), is to permanently note down on membership records, or annotate, members who have at one point in their lived engaged in homosexual activity. That annotation can never be removed from the Church records of that individual except in the exceptional circumstance of a direct approval from the First Presidency of the Church. Most notable is the fact that the same is not required for members found guilty of repeated heterosexual offenses, clearly demonstrating the Church’s current position on the comparative gravity or threat posed by the two different types of sexual activity-homosexual activity being abhorrent and worthy of life-long monitoring, while repeated heterosexual activity seems dismissible. This distorted policy stands as a double-edge sword cutting at both the homosexuals and the feminists from within the faith with every swing.
The mark of annotation effectively guarantees that all new congregations, and their leaders (and therefore inevitably the general membership over time), will be informed of the legacy of a homosexual person’s current condition and/or past life, irrespective of past repentance or even “a mighty change of heart”.
The Church states that it specifically reserves such permanent annotations only on the records of members “whose conduct has threatened the well-being of other persons or of the Church,” and this is done in order to help the bishop “protect Church members and others from such individuals” (p. #70). Why then, the question begs, are repeated heterosexual offenses not regarded as equally threatening to the well-being of members, but homosexual ones are? Is one sexual orientation proven to be any less or more predatory? Is LDS administration not wanting to further embroil themselves with a current policy stance that may seem to be compromising past historical practices of revered leaders within the Church?
Annotation for homosexual activity may be more acceptable if there was the counter-balance of this same requirement for any person found guilty of repeated acts of heterosexual transgression. You see, without this, how can the Church be seen as anything other than homophobic in regarding homosexual activity to be a much greater sin and threat to its membership than transgressions of the heterosexual kind?
The offense of “repeated homosexual activities (by adults)” is placed alongside other listed atrocities in the LDS handbook including incest, sexual offense against or serious physical abuse of a child, plural marriage and predatory conduct” (p# 71). Again, notably, repeated heterosexual transgressions do not warrant parallel attention.
While the LDS church truly believes in and preaches repentance and forgiveness, even to the point described in the Doctrine and Covenants 58:42 - “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more,” current instruction on annotation makes the “remembering no more” part virtually impossible as “In all cases, an annotation on a membership record is removed only with First Presidency approval upon request of the stake president” (p. #70).
Such permanent, life-long markers for being a homosexual (or even claiming to be a reformed homosexual who has since repented and now refrains), is little different from the intentions of the Pink Triangle. One possible difference that can be drawn is that the mark of the Pink Triangle ceased with their liberation, yet the “Mormon Mark” is one from which there is no liberation, except with the stated pardon only direct from the First Presidency of the Church, which is not readily obtainable.
As with all other identifying marks connected with those targeted in the Holocaust, The Pink Triangle was clearly designed to delineate and identify all those deemed undesirable by the leaders of the day, with similar sentiment therefore being adopted by the general society of the day. Are Mormons to expect their reforming or now-celibate homosexual members to ever feel anything other than undesirable once they learn of this enduring mark forever staining their permanent Church records and lives in the LDS faith?
Might the amendment or harmonizing of this policy, to be consistent between both homosexuals and heterosexuals, be one more encouraging welcome-mat inviting homosexuals to join, or remain within, LDS flocks? Wouldn’t such a policy move also encourage married Mormons, where one party is dealing with homosexual attraction, to more openly seek out the support they need in order to help preserve their family relationship and obtain forgiveness, if necessary, which can only be provided through channels that include LDS priesthood leaders?
The release of the current Church Handbook of Instructions in 2010 drew global media attention at the time with its updated and softened approach towards gay Mormons and thought. It eliminated the suggestion, mentioned in the previous 2006 edition, that same-sex relationships “distort loving relationships” and that gays should repent of their “homosexual thoughts or feelings.” It also promotes that celibate gay Mormons who are “worthy and qualified in every other way” should be allowed to have “callings,” or church assignments, and to participate fully in temple rituals.
We know that LDS Church leaders are grappling hard with this issue at this time, as are most other faith leaders. We also know that the LDS Church is not known to be a forerunner on societal changes. But while the Church may be slow to transform, some of its members certainly are not. Starting last year, straight Mormons have started marching everywhere in national pride parades proactively embracing the community their Church recently shunned.
The Church has already abandoned most of its connections with controversial reparative therapy methods of its past. Gay church members are no longer officially encouraged to pursue destructive straight marriages as a therapeutic step. Homosexual members no longer live under the threat of being excommunicated just for their orientation. Gay Brigham Young University students no longer have to tick the ‘straight box’ for fear of being expelled. In 2012, the church even created the website Mormonsandgays.org, to convey its desire for more humane treatment of LGBT members.
The Church has come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. While the Church is striding in the right direction, there remains fewer obstacles, yet obelisks along the Mormon path to salvation for gay members such as “pink triangle annotation”, are proving to be insurmountable for some.
LDS doctrine may always call on homosexuals to remain celibate, and the Mormon official position may remain staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage, but at least enough latitude is now being granted so that many gay Mormons now feel protected enough to step out of their proverbial closets, as are their straight supporters.
The Church is unlikely to ever be as strident as it was in earlier years regarding the position of homosexuals within the faith. The change phenomenon in the Mormon grassroots is now rampant, with LDS leaders realizing that the more they have tried to stamp out certain things, the more they have activated another side of Mormon culture – those who want equality.
Mormonism, if anything, is resilient! Mormonism is also transformational. Mormons have been able to step away several times from the prejudices of a troubled history, and from hurt. Mormons are also extremely self-conscious about public image, and when large groups of their membership are dissatisfied, vocal, and leaving, caring Mormon leaders do take note.
As Mormon history has shown, radical doctrinal changes in Mormon theology and practice is possible. Those changes have inevitably proven to be good for the Church overall, and each change has helped the Church expand and reach more people. Whether those changes have come by societal pressure or revelation from above, or both hand-in-hand, doesn’t really matter. What does matter is things are getting better for minority groups in the LDS Church, and that holds well for a faith fixed on taking their teachings “to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 16:6).
Christopher Cooper is a life-long member of the LDS Church from Australia. He has worked for more than a decade in LDS Public Affairs in the Pacific Area, and has been the Church correspondent for the Pacific Area for Church News and publications for more than a decade. He has also served as the Australian chapter president for Evergreen International – the Church’s support organization for members dealing with issues of same-sex attraction, helping establish the first international chapter of that organization in Australia.