Celibacy and the Single Mormon (a place at the table)

The message most LGBT people get from the church is:  Live chaste and celibate lives.  It is a burden like any other.  The obvious response to this is: It is not a burden like any other.  Heterosexual members of the church can always carry hope that they will find happiness in a marriage relationship.  LGBT are burdened for life (or until they reject this teaching).

I am not going to dwell on this point of the inherent inequality that this perpetuates.  I am going to argue for a change in church policy and church culture that will make celibacy less deplorable for LGBT people:  Start by making celibacy less deplorable for everybody.

The problem a lot of singles and LGBT people have with Mormonism is that it is very difficult to find an affirming place in Mormon communities.  The system of segregating singles has some utility for young singles, but it gradually turns into a tool of marginalization.  The constant message of Mormonism is that you can only assure your place with God by being in an eternal marriage.  Presently, full fellowship for single Mormons can not be attained on this earth either.  It is worse for single Mormons who have been divorced.

A friend of mine who was an extremely devout Mormon was in very high leadership roles in his ward and stake at an early age.  He had a particular love for the temple and was actually called as a temple worker in his thirties, a job normally reserved for our more senior members.  His life was turned upside down when his wife who suffered from a serious psychiatric disorder asked for divorce.  Overnight he went from stalwart Mormon to pariah.  He was released from his calling in the temple because of a policy against divorced people in that calling.  He was not given any more callings outside of ward organist.  He endured marginalization for several years, but it was especially hard because it was dumped onto him after enjoying full fellowship for so many years.  And he felt that no amount of righteousness could correct the problem.  He had a scarlet letter.

All single Mormons are restricted from many callings, especially those of leadership.  What is it about being single that makes a man incapable of serving as a bishop?  There are many single men who would make amazing bishops, and could even do so without compromising their own family, like so many bishops do.

In addition to callings that are restricted by policy, there are a lot of informal restrictions.  Single men especially are considered suspect, and are not often called to positions within the young men’s program.  There is a paranoia about their influence over the young people. There is a misplaced concern about pedophilia, even though every statistic shows that the vast majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by married family members.

Mormonism simply offers no routes for honor and full acceptance in their communities to its single and divorced members.  They are never seen as the leaders, or stalwart members.  They might be respected individually, but that is  always for their silent support, hard work and participation, and almost never for their leadership and influence.

We criticize the Catholic church for its celibate clergy, and there were certainly abuses, but it has to be recognized that for centuries it gave an honorable path to people who, for whatever reason, would not or could not marry.  The Mormon church has no such path.

Another big barrier to happiness for single people are the ingrained messages that start very young about masturbation.  Single people have no outlook on the horizon for sexual release.  And they are given such a strict message about masturbation and worthiness that it becomes pathologic for so many people.  Every Mormon male and many Mormon females fit into one of three categories as an adolescent: 1) those who masturbate and confess it, which often leads to frequent ecclesiastical interventions and worthiness questions, 2) those who masturbate and don’t confess it, which leads to cognitive dissonance and compartmentalizing which is psychologically damaging, 3) those who don’t masturbate, but meanwhile are constantly fighting strong urges, which also takes a psychological toll.  This trichotomy is damaging enough to adolescents, but when this situation persists into the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, it can become a fixation, and a big barrier to progress in life.  Eventually some of them learn that a certain amount of masturbation is the best way to have a healthy life as a celibate adult, but this message is rarely available to mormons.

LGBT Mormons who are trying to live a celibate life face all of these problems and even more.  They are restricted from even more callings than other single and divorced people.  Often their membership records are annotated to restrict them even more, once again based on misplaced paranoia.  Then to top it off they face even more marginalization if people are aware or suspect that they are homosexual.

Here are some of the ways that I wish the church would change regarding its treatment of it single, divorced, widowed and LGBT members:

1) Remove all restrictions to callings.  Use whatever talents single people bring to the community, especially their leadership abilities.

2)Invent programs that integrate single people into the community.  Follow the examples of extended families who do fully involve single people.  Follow the example of other religious traditions that more effectively integrate single people into their communities.

3)Acknowledge the faithful efforts of the church’s single members, and celebrate them in church meetings and church publications.  Recognize single people who make great contributions and use them as role models.

4)Create awareness among the bishops and members in general about engaging in masturbation in healthy and affirming ways, and remove masturbation as a limitation to temple, priesthood or calling worthiness (this subject alone requires much more discussion, but I strongly suggest Natasha Helfer Parkers Mental Health blog for some more in depth discussion about the issue and how to approach it as a mormon in a healthier way http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mormontherapist/)

5) Create a system of singles activities that doesn’t require segregating them for church participation.  Single members should be integrating in their communities along the entire continuum of their life cycles.  Once again, providing programs that can benefit from the vitality of young singles would be an important part of this.  All singles, including young and older singles, would enjoy participating in their ‘family’ wards if they were given chances to use their energy and talents to contribute in meaningful ways.

Whether or not I am a fan of celibacy, I recognize that there will always be single people in our communities, and many of them will be LGBT.  Why not give them full communion?  Why not make it an attractive option for the LGBT people who are being encouraged to make this choice?




12 comments for “Celibacy and the Single Mormon (a place at the table)

  1. EdwardJ
    January 31, 2013 at 8:14 am

    I am so glad you’ve opened up this field of discussion. LGBT Mormons, including myself, advocate for full inclusion in the church—with rhetoric of having the same standards for everyone—but I don’t much like the standard for straight people either.

    At the very least, masturbation should be tabled for discussion and tacitly allowed, if not encouraged as a part of healthy sexuality. I endured a great deal of needless guilt as a teenager in category #1. There is no legitimate scriptural basis for forbidding masturbation.

    I know this idea seems radical, but I propose that we replace the rule forbidding fornication with the principle of using our sexuality in a loving way. Marriage is an imperfect indicator of loving intent: sex within marriage can be degrading and sex outside of marriage can be quite loving. I have it on good authority that we should teach people correct principles and allow them to govern themselves.

    • NLance
      January 31, 2013 at 10:33 am

      I agree the masturbation has been poorly displayed. Human beings are sexual creatures and everything is good in moderation to create a healthy sex and self image. Church stances on this has harmed so many people trying to deny their own natural desires. Great article btw.

  2. Diane Oviatt
    January 31, 2013 at 10:47 am

    My daughter is 27 and single (I know, horrifying! 😉 She recently returned to the Bay Area after living in SLC for 8 years, partly because she was tired of the sad, almost desparate vibe in her ward. Before she left she had several friends leave the church as they approached 30, because they could not stand the thought of becoming a “menace to society” as they were booted from their singles ward like some broken discarded toy.
    It is high time the powers that be in the church move into this century on this issue. It is a different world, kids are (thankfully) not marrying themselves off their freshman year at “the Y” in record numbers. The real world is marrying later, if at all, and from what I have observed, young adults are leaving the church more and more frequently as they become disillusioned with the lack of transparency, tolerance and inclusiveness . Of course, magnify these feelings x 1 million for people like my gay 23 year old son!! Something needs to change if the church wants to remain at all relevant in the lives of the next generation.

  3. Kimberly Brinkerhoff Baptista
    January 31, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Such an important topic, Daniel! Single people are persona non grata in many wards particularly and in Mormon culture generally, and that has to change. Your suggestions are brilliant and should be adopted church-wide.

  4. Dennis
    January 31, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Great Article, Thanks
    I also think of the example of my good friend who was married in the temple and stayed married for 10.5 years and her husband NEVER had sex with her. She has now told her church leaders that next time she is going for a test drive. I can’t say I blame her.

    I also think that if there was a way for gay people to have some hope of marriage in their future they would be able to practice celibacy until they met the right person.

    Thanks again.

    • EdwardJ
      January 31, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      A single female LDS friend in her late 30s told me she had a talk with God about her needs and felt very comfortable buying a vibrator thereafter. 🙂

      • Dennis
        January 31, 2013 at 4:28 pm

        HaHa, amazing what we can get through revelation. But buying the vibrator is not the sin. It’s using it that is the sin. Did she tell you she was using it? If so perhaps her bishop would have a problem with that.

    • Marie
      April 20, 2013 at 8:06 pm

      Maybe her husband wasn’t gay but asexual. 1% of the population are guessed to be asexual.

  5. E. Eli-Jah Spencer
    January 31, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Let’s keep this simple: Masturbate if you want to or need to. You can’t break chastity with yourself (even if some want you to believe it) and what a person does with himself behind closed doors is akin to the church controlling what couples (hetero) do. That is between you and the Lord only. I dare someone to try to take my Priesthood because I am single and completely sexed ( I have 3 children)

  6. JK
    February 1, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    I think it proper to be able to openly and frankly talk about any idea, topic, policy, whim or question that comes to our minds. I worry, however, that we often seek to counsel God.

    There is a hard balance to achieve here. I think revelation as well as practical decisions of change or policy very often come through personal or public questioning of current circumstances. On the other hand, surely God has declared that there are actions and inaction regarded as both sinful and righteous; in other words, He has given rules -which we may obey or disobey at our will. Is it right for us to resent rules He has given? Even if through thorough study and contemplation we come to the conclusion that the rules as the Church understands them are incorrect could it be possible that we have reached the wrong conclusion? Will God punish us for following rules as given through His Church even if they are incorrect or incomplete? Will God reward us for following rules for following rules as given through His Church even if they are incorrect or incomplete?

    I write this comment and these questions with sincerity and malice towards none. I hope to never undertake to counsel God; rather, I seek His counsel.

  7. Jefferson
    February 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Very interesting article, Daniel – thanks. I wonder how many of these issues are impossible to approach rationally because of doctrine – how can single members have a full part in the Church without a change of doctrine about the nature of temple marriage? Or how can the Church drop a hard stance on masturbation without a massive shift in doctrine about morality? I actually went to a professional counselor to help me quit masturbation . . . and the first thing he said was, “I’m going to say something a Bishop couldn’t ever say, but it’s important – it’s OK if you masturbate. It’s not bad.” He told me that because when we view something as BAD we sometimes do it just to rebel, or to vent, or whatever else. So taking away the stigma was a first step in quitting.

  8. Jacob
    August 17, 2013 at 12:02 am

    Masturbation is no longer viewed as a sin. First of all, there is not a single scriptural mention of it; odd if it were next to murder in gravity. Second, there is not a single First Presidency statement against it. Third, there is now no mention of it in the Stake President’s Priesthood manual. So, as my stake president told a gay buddy of mine in the Church: “Yes, you can masturbate and both receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, get your endowment, and regularly visit the Temple.” So let’s stop pharisaically beating down on ourselves, and let’s let us do what we do chastefully to maintain the higher virtue of sexual purity. The main area we LDS need to focus is not beating down on the youth for wanking. We adults at least can as much as we feel we need to, obviously not to porn or to extremes.

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