One of the greatest gifts we’re given as humans are our critical thinking skills—which, when developed, can aid us in the necessary capacity to form judgments about the value of ideas that come into our lives, regardless of their source. As Mormons, we believe that eternal progression—the constant growth of not only our spirit but our intellect as well—is a cornerstone to our success not just in this sphere, but in the eternities.
But sometimes we opt for the easy road, and reject knowledge solely on the basis that it is not “Mormon approved.” True, it is always wise to go to sources we trust for information—but it is equally wise to understand that individuals and institutions here are limited in their understanding—our faith among them. And, when we fail to exercise our critical thinking skills and couple that with personal guidance from our Savior, we can miss opportunities to grow, learn, and help others—and sometimes this comes with a mighty price attached.
Such was the case of Carmen. Carmen is the mother of a gay LDS son, Austin, barely 15 years old. Austin hasn’t had an easy road. At the age of 10, he was diagnosed with cancer, and underwent multiple rounds of radiation treatment, surgery and chemotherapy that brutalized his young body. Mercifully, with a few years of treatment, Austin emerged cancer-free.
She reached out to me some months ago to ask for counsel on how to better understand and help her gay son, and without hesitation I suggested she read the LDS materials offered by the Family Acceptance Project. These materials, I explained, have been designated as a “Best Practice” resource for suicide prevention for LGBT people by the national Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention. And, they blend evidence-based research with the best parts of our Mormon faith–and clearly define behaviors for parents that keep our gay Mormon youth safe, in way that’s in harmony with the Gospel of our Savior.
She did so. A few weeks later when we talked, she thanked me, but hesitated—the materials, she said, weren’t “church approved,” and therefore she felt she couldn’t use them, and might be better off going the route of change-oriented therapy suggested to her by LDS Family Services.
“Carmen, I understand your hesitation,” I said. “And at the same time, would ask you this: When your son was diagnosed with cancer, did you march into your physician’s office and ask that he be treated with science from the 1950s? Or did you demand Austin’s doctors use the most modern, progressive technology and medicine to treat him? If the cancer returned, would you again ask for the most advanced science available?”
“Of course!” she responded.
“This is no different,” I replied. “Being gay is not a cancer—but the consequences for many LGBT Mormon youth are just as dire. Often our faith is a great guidepost on many issues, but ultimately it is up to us to seek out truth wherever we find it. We will not always have the security of knowing whether a certain concept is ‘Church approved,’ because good ideas don’t always emerge with little tags attached to them saying whether or not the Church has given them the stamp of approval—but that does not mean the ideas are not ones we should pursue.”
“We believe strongly that there is much that is ‘lovely, of good report and praiseworthy’ that is not yet the subject of detailed discussion in Church manuals or course of instruction. Such was the case of Austin’s cancer—and so it is with the fact that he’s your gay son.”
The outcome for Carmen and Austin was good—both in terms of his cancer and his likelihood to grow to be an emotionally healthy, well-adjusted gay Mormon man. But many aren’t as fortunate.
When we fail to recognize concepts that are of good report, we fail, I believe, in our duty as disciples of our Savior. After all, critical thinking skills are among His many gifts to us—to disregard our opportunity and responsibility and always choose the ‘safe path’ is, in essence, tossing that gift aside.
Those among us who won’t accept ideas, concepts, or experiences in life simply because they are not related to some well-known Church program will, I believe, live less meaningful and rich lives than our Savior intends.
And then, our gay children most certainly will.