It’s Complex

“On one occasion Jesus came upon a group arguing vehemently with His disciples. When the Savior inquired as to the cause of this contention, the father of an afflicted child stepped forward, saying he had approached Jesus’s disciples for a blessing for his son, but they were not able to provide it.”

When I first heard these words by Elder Holland earlier this year during General Conference I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t immediately place the story and after starting off this conference firmly embittered in a ‘tolerance trap,’ I was not feeling very positive. Yet this story immediately gripped me and as ridiculous as it sounds, the Spirit whispered ‘He is talking to you.’

Here was a man who in his desperation for the circumstances of his child and family had gone to the apostles for assistance only to be met with contention and an inability to help him. The father then turns to the Savior, “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”

Elder Holland continues, “I can hardly read those words without weeping. The plural pronoun us is obviously used intentionally. This man is saying, in effect, ‘Our whole family is pleading. Our struggle never ceases. We are exhausted. Our son falls into the water. He falls into the fire. He is continually in danger, and we are continually afraid. We don’t know where else to turn. Can you help us? We will be grateful for anything–a partial blessing, a glimmer of hope, some small lifting of the burden carried by this boy’s mother every day of her life.’”

At this point I was fully engaged because this man, with his family and son, was me. My son is gay (He is certainly afflicted by much of society including many Church members). My wife weeps every day. We are pleading with local Church leaders for some measure of support. There is religious conflict on every level and so little understanding. There is harsh condemnation at every hand. He is in danger at high school where kids have been suspended for threatening him and harassing him. I don’t know where else to turn. Can you help us? I would be grateful for anything–a partial blessing, a glimmer of hope, some small lifting of the burden carried by this boy’s mother every day of her life.

There have been times in the past year and a half since my son came out to us that my faith has endured only by the most tenuous of threads. Days I would have rejoiced at just a glimmer of hope. To find a positive word, statement or article in relation to LGBT men and women in the Church was nearly impossible. Frequently the tone was openly condemning.  A local Church leader frequently repeated that he was ‘looking up the chain’ of Church leaders above him for answers, but nothing was forthcoming.

But a ‘glimmer of hope’ arrived late last year in the form of the Church’s new website www.mormonsandgays.org. From the beginning it reads:

“Few topics are as emotionally charged or require more sensitivity than same-sex attraction. This complex matter touches on the things we care about most: our basic humanity, our relationship to family, our identity and potential as children of God, how we treat each other and what it means to be disciples of Christ.”

Where the Church Stands:

“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 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.”

The first time I read these paragraphs, the first thing that jumped off the screen was the huge acknowledgement that people don’t choose to be gay.  While this has been widely known anecdotally and in the scientific community, this had not been acknowledged theologically. This simple admission is such a shift in policy and direction, that in my mind it completely resets the way in which the Church relates to gay members. With a doctrine founded on free agency, correctly addressing what is choice and what is not is pivotal.

But lost in my initial reading was something I think is even more significant. The Church is acknowledging that the answers to homosexuality are far more complex than any of the answers they have provided in the past. Twice homosexuality is referred to as complex. For those who are living this reality, this probably seems like an understatement. But for members on the outside with no experience with such matters and no personal relationships with someone who is gay it seems cut and dry. They have very simple, easy, primary level answers for your life. Here are many of the simplistic answers we have heard from members of the Church:

Just pray harder and it will go away. We personally had two LDS Social Services therapists and members of our local Church leadership tell us that by just increasing our faith and the sincerity of our prayers, our son’s homosexuality would go away. No amount of prayer can change God’s will for someone’s life?

Everyone is expected to live the same law of chastity. If by living the same law you mean comparing being chaste before marriage to never being able to express any sexual desire for the entirety of your life, then no. The law of Chastity has completely different implications for the lives of LGBT individuals. This law is definitely not equal in its application.

Living celibate is no different than single members who never marry. No. One is living with hope and the ability to express and receive love even if it never matures to a marriage. The other is the suppression of every sexual desire and being taught that such desires are wrong and of the devil.

Being gay is just another temptation in life like a disposition to alcohol, drugs or violence. This was actually taught at a stake youth event by our local Church leaders. This line of thinking begins with the assumption of deviancy in LGBT people. Another local Church leader counseled us that my 13 year old gay son should not share a room with his 7 year old brother, because heaven forbid what he might do to him. Being different does not make you inherently evil.

Being gay is only a condition of this life. You were not gay before and will be fixed in the afterlife. I am not sure if there is a more destructive theology. It teaches that you are fundamentally broken and cannot be fixed until the afterlife. Yet in all other respects, who we are and the character we develop and the intelligence we gain in this life all proceed with us to the next life. Except being gay. At best this is a flawed philosophy with no scriptural or moral basis.

What further complicates the life of LGBT members in the Church is the culture of exclusion that has existed for decades (or longer). I received a letter in the past year from a member of our former ward which contained in part:

“You know as well as I do that we’ve been taught that homosexuality is not part of our Heavenly Father’s plan. You’ve been taught that your whole life. Don’t get your feathers ruffled, just yet let me finish. You come out and tell God and everyone that Jordan is gay and you hope that we can still love him the same as before. You know that there are people who won’t do that even if it was their own child, to expect that everyone is going to embrace your gay son is very well, unrealistic. You should expect that and know that because you have decided to go public with this, not everyone is going to agree.”

Indeed. There are members who won’t even accept their own children. We teach that homosexuality is not part of Heavenly Father’s plan. I am unrealistic and should have expected that members of the Church would reject us. Perhaps I should have pushed my son back in the closet and locked the door.

Such a member might find comfort on www.mormonsandgays.org where it states unequivocally, “There is no change in the Church’s position of what is morally right.” But what I would encourage that same member to do is finish the paragraph. “But what is changing–and what NEEDS TO CHANGE (emphasis added)–is <how> Church members respond…when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere.”

It reads ‘NEEDS TO CHANGE,’ not we hope it changes or we encourage members to change. Change is not required if we were doing it right now. Elder Cook contributes, “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.”

To those of you who may come across this article and are looking to increase your compassion toward LGBT individuals, let me ask you to start where the Church’s website starts; it’s more complex than you have ever imagined or considered. “This complex matter touches on the things we care about most:

Our basic humanity

Our relationship to family

Our identity and potential as children of God

 How we treat each other

 What it means to be disciples of Christ”

Now consider that each gay and lesbian individual is a unique and special son and daughter of God, and the simplicity of the answers in the past is not sufficient. Please understand that there is great pain here. Fortunately we have a loving, caring and understanding Savior and Redeemer who has the capacity and wisdom to love all of us.

The leaders of the Church have made a clear statement acknowledging the complexity and reality of LGBT individual’s lives. I personally don’t see a solution where any group of straight men or women can possibly come to the right answers for our LGBT brothers and sisters. But what I have seen in the past year is the Spirit of the Lord at work amongst the LGBT community. Some great and inspired LGBT leaders are coming to the forefront as the Church takes steps toward inclusion and LGBT individuals, many of whom have suffered immense pain and hopelessness, begin to take tentative steps back toward the Church.

Elder Holland concluded his talk, “A 14 year old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, ‘Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.’ I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for “only believing”….And I told him how very proud I was of him for the honesty of his quest…. Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.”

I can’t say that I know, but I believe that this is Christ’s Church in all its flawed and human ways. There are great truths that still need to be revealed, but I am comforted in a doctrine that can peaceably and sensitively approach the complexity and reality of our LGBT brothers and sisters. The hearts of the members of the Church NEED TO CHANGE, and maybe that needs to happen before those great truths can be revealed. In the meantime, I will simply take Christ at His word when he says, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

19 comments for “It’s Complex

  1. August 27, 2013 at 6:18 am

    Thank you so much for this beautiful and much-needed message!

  2. August 27, 2013 at 6:55 am

    http://www.mormonsandgays.org – Just a spoon full of sugar helps the homophobia go down.

  3. Jana
    August 27, 2013 at 9:43 am

    I pray for this change every single day. After 27 years of marriage, my husband came out and we divorced. The ward has shunned us both.
    He has been completely ostracized, which is extremely painful after his years and years of faithful Church service.
    As for me, I can’t stand the looks of pity and disgust come my way every Sunday. No one shakes my hand or sits by me in meetings.
    Please, let the change happen for all of us.

    • Daniel Parkinson
      August 27, 2013 at 11:00 am

      That is so terribly sad Jana. The pain impacts so many people, and as you (and this post) show, the damage goes way beyond the gay person but impacts their entire family. I wish you well and hope that you find a place of peace and a loving community.

      • Jana
        August 27, 2013 at 1:20 pm

        I have great empathy for the leper, which I never had or truly understood until this experience. I really hope my being there and speaking up will somehow make a difference for the next family. Thank you for your kind wishes – it means a lot.

    • Arman
      August 27, 2013 at 11:48 am

      I am sorry Jana for that, but I am surprised you’re girl and your husband is gay and why they are treating you bad, they don’t understand teaching about love one another!!!

      • Jana
        August 27, 2013 at 1:04 pm

        Maybe there is some emotional, social, and/or spiritual constipation happening – which does make it hard to feel and demonstrate genuine love towards one another. I do know how hard it is to be prim and proper, follow the pack, and be so Molly. All of that takes a tremendous effort to maintain.

  4. andrew h
    August 27, 2013 at 10:17 am

    “Another local Church leader counseled us that my 13 year old gay son should not share a room with his 7 year old brother, because heaven forbid what he might do to him.” – YOU are a better man than I am, I would have punched this leader in the face on the spot had that been said to me.

    • Kyle
      August 27, 2013 at 11:43 am

      I dunno man, punching him in the face sounds like the same level of intolerance for the differences/weaknesses/whatever of others that he was showing toward the LGBT community.

  5. Brent J.
    August 27, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Thank you so much for this! Beautiful, compassionate, and heart-felt. Know that you have allies in the church standing with you, your family, and all our LGBT brothers and sisters, both inside the church and out.

  6. Alanna
    August 27, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Thank you so much for taking the time to organize your thoughts so beautifully. I’m just going to copy it and hand it to stupid people when called for! Hugs!

    • Kim
      August 27, 2013 at 2:21 pm

      I’ll help you Alanna!

  7. David T. Reid
    August 27, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    The answer may be complex for the church leadership because they still have doubt within their hearts. As they spiritually awaken more and more over time they will come to realize that their judgment was not in keeping with our Heavenly Father’s plan. I believe from the beginning of my existence in preexistence that the essence of whom I am is no different now as it was then with them. I believe my Heavenly Father has prepared a place for me in His House; where I no longer will have to fear walking down a street or be afraid to go to sleep at night.

    • Martin
      September 3, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      Acknowleging my gay feelings ended my marriage. I was not comforted by church members, neither was my ex-wife, nor our children. Our children are all completely inactive. I think my ex is semi active but I don’t know for sure. It wasn’t the fact that caused all this, I suppose we could find contributing factors, I don’t want to completely blame church members, but they didn’t help any of us. We all felt cast off. My ex and I both felt we had to leave the city where we had attended church for many years. If only each of us had one comforting loving member to put their arm on our shoulders and let us know they are there for us… it could have made all the difference in the world.

      • David T. Reid
        September 3, 2013 at 8:45 pm

        You are right Martin, it would had made a difference.

      • Jana
        September 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm

        Martin, your family’s story is my family’s story. But we haven’t moved just yet. And if you ever find that comforting, loving church member have them call me, too. I wish you and your family all the best.

  8. Jeannette Scott
    September 21, 2013 at 10:46 am

    I have never had to struggle with my sexual identity-I have always been hetrosexual and very happy to be a female.
    I don’t understand where the shunning & hate comes from-well I do it’s from Satan & from a Spirit of contention.
    As the hymn says” Who am I to judge another”.
    I believe in loving others no matter how they live their lives.
    I think it must be the seventh circle of hell to have a testimony of the Gospel & want to live a gospel centred life & to be homosexual/lesbian.
    I do know that we are more than our physical selves that we are Eternal beings that one day we will have perfected bodies and that all hurts will be healed.
    I don’t understand or have a perfect knowledge of the nature of Godhood,eternity,Celestial marriage et al.I do know that the Saviour died for all & that He expects us to love all.
    Do I believe that acting on these feelings are wrong-yes I do but I understand this Father’s plea & aching heart.We just want our children to be happy & living a fulfilling life with hopefully a happy marriage,children etc.To know that might not be possible for your children must be a heart-stabber.

  9. Stephen
    January 7, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    I am of the belief that anyone can overcome SSA if they desire to do so. No one is unarlterably, irrevocably SSA.Just because one didn’t seem to choose particular feelings, doesn’t mean they are ok to embrace and celebrate. Any desire that leads us away from God’s plan for us (OSA), is worthy of resistance and overcoming. It can be done, and has been done by multitudes of men and women who truly desired to do it. So, you really want to identify yourself by a principle and desire which, if you act on it (whatever that means-the Church doesn’t elaborate), will result in sin? Rather, how about struggle against it for as long as is needed to leave it behind? It can be done.

    • Thomas Montgomery
      January 7, 2014 at 2:48 pm

      Stephen, thanks for your comment. Many, many gay LDS members of the Church struggle for decades fighting against their own homosexuality. You casually suggest that since you believe it can be overcome and it’s against your theology (LDS), that all gay individuals should fight against it til their dying breath. So true, for many do. They are driven to kill themselves. Among conservative religions (Including Mormon), incidence of suicide of gay youth is 8 times more likely. Incidence of depression, drug use, and sexually transmitted diseases all jump exponentially. Evergreen, the leading LDS affiliated organization whom LDS Social Services has been referring gay individuals to for decades, has closed its doors. The primary reason is its focus on reorientation (reparative) therapy. These types of therapy, while working for a highly motivated minority, have caused untold damage to thousands. Exodus International, the largest champion of reparative therapy, also closed its doors last year. Why? Because it doesn’t work and like in medicine where you are taught first and foremost to ‘Do no harm’, what you are advocating harms people.

      I happen to be unalterably and irrevocably heterosexual. An attempt to force me to change my orientation would damage me. At a minimum, I hope you can come to the conclusion that this subject is far more complex than you have previously approached it.

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