By Lori Burkman (also published at RationalFaiths.com)
You know up top in that first paragraph when I said that I think that I’d be perceptive enough to call it like it is and see through the fog of social bigotry? Yeah, that wasn’t really true. Not for the majority of my life anyway. Given that this is 2014, I assume that the majority of our astute readership here at Rational Faiths know what I’m about to get at. I gotta be honest: I grew up rather homophobic. Like the boy in the picture to the right (though the scope and scale of the issues of our time differ greatly), I lived and believed as the majority of society did and was blind to the hurt that my beliefs caused others. For me personally, I was taught at church and seminary that being gay is a choice made by those who sought to purposefully pervert the ways of God. People who had taken heterosexual acts of intimacy to such depravity, the only way to keep the edge was to be with people of the same sex. They did this for attention, they did this because they were hurt or abused when they were younger and they wanted to hurt society to get back. Lucky for us, God created AIDS to eradicate these people. In the meantime of their destruction, these perverse people took nice words like “gay” which used to just mean happy, and tried to taint and twist it to represent themselves; thus tricking us into thinking they are not as abhorrent as they actually are. This is how that wily Lucifer works, right? Takes a rainbow and uses its beauty to distract from sin?
The sad part is: I’m only 31 years old. That means that within the last 25 years, I believed these things. I didn’t like them, but it is what it is, right? That’s the cost of piety.
I’m saddened to say that though much of humanity has progressed in their understanding and acceptance of homosexual people, the LDS church continues to use its massive weight to halt or prevent civil equality measures. The LDS church’s teachings about homosexuality have been softened and nuanced greatly, but the underlying message remains the same: God has no room for LGBT people. If a person is physically or mentally unable to be part of a heterosexual relationship, then the joy of intimate companionship and family are withheld from them completely. This is God’s plan as currently presented by church leaders. Unfortunately, this does not sound like a plan. This sounds like an unmerited disciplinary sentence.
Still though, I was able to get behind this. I’m a firm believer in the power of the atonement. It is boundless, after all. All LGBT people needed to do is repent! There isn’t a single thing in my life that it took me more than a year of hard repenty work to overcome. Go to church, give it to the Lord, be humble, partake of the sacrament, follow your leaders, and you can become clean and that sinful part of you is no more. So jump on board LGBT people! It’ll be hard at first, but SO worth it. The promise is right here in Matthew 11:
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
If you hand it to the Lord, he will make the burden light. Other scriptures teach us that through repentance, we can become clean and worthy again. I take this very seriously because I have felt it in my own life. If there is something you need to overcome, you absolutely can and the Lord will help you do it. Even big, hard things. My point of view on this application of the atonement while on earth all changed though when I started actually getting to know LGBT people in real life. To hear their stories; to feel their humanity and the reality of their situation. I heard or read story after story and the common theme they had among them was that this was something that the Lord does not take away. My friend Steve (50) writes:
“Sometimes it takes awhile to gain clarity on yourself, on who you are and on what you can and cannot change about yourself. When you’re young you look to your parents and church leaders to guide you, and the day comes when you realize that they have told you something about yourself that isn’t true. What they told me was that I had “same-sex attraction”. And what I realized is that there is no such thing. That would be like trying to say that my parent’s own marriage and family and life together could somehow fit into the word “attraction”. Sure, they were attracted to each other, but attraction doesn’t describe the spectrum of a full loving life together.”
“I practiced my faith for 38 years and I attended Evergreen (a church-sponsored sexual orientation reassignment program) for 12 years. During this time, five of the fifteen men in my group committed suicide. My time in Evergreen and my LDS faith brought clarity to me. I was told I would be cured of homosexuality and I was told that my core self was a sinful choice. But all those years taught me that all I wanted was what they had: A full loving life and family with the right person. And that person had to be male, because I had already been married to a woman for 16 years and I knew clearly that it wasn’t working and it never would. I wasn’t even opposite-sex attracted at all. Ultimately, I was staring suicide in the face. Either it was all going to end, or I was going to embrace the fact that this was not something about myself that anyone could remove; nor should they.”
“And so I went about finding my bliss and leaving any structure or person that impeded my happiness. And as it turned out, that meant I would leave my parents, my siblings, my Mormon friends (only a few out of a lifetime of friends stuck with me) and my faith. And all of the fear that I felt melted away, because those scary stories I was told turned out to be false, and it turned out that following my heart was the right thing to do. And I am now in my tenth year together with my husband and we have found our bliss, and so have our six kids that we raise together.”
Steve’s life is a truth that cannot be denied, nor is it a rare story in the LGBT community. John Dehlin did the most in-depth to-date study of Mormons who are LGBT people. His research has been peer-reviewed and accepted to be published in medical health journals. This research entailed interviewing over 1600 Mormon or post-Mormon people who identify as LGBT and these were the results:
“A minimum of 66% of participants reported engaging in sexual orientation change efforts, usually through multiple methods, and across more than 10 years (on average). Religious change efforts such as personal righteousness (e.g., prayer, fasting, scripture study, improved relationship with Jesus Christ) and counseling with church leaders (e.g., bishops), along with individual methods (e.g., introspection, private study, mental suppression) were found to be far more prevalent, and significantly more damaging than therapist-led (e.g., psychotherapy, psychiatry) or group-led change efforts. Overall, 0% of those attempting change reported an elimination of same-sex attraction, and less than 4% reported any change in sexual orientation. Conversely, the majority of participants reported these efforts to be either ineffective or damaging.”
“Personal Righteousness was rated as the most “severely harmful” of all SOCE [Sexual Orientation Change Efforts] methods for our sample, particularly noteworthy given that it was also rated as the most commonly used SOCE method (76%) for the longest average duration (12 years for men, 8 for women).”1
So, not only was this not taken away in any instance… but those who try to cope with their homosexuality by bringing it to the Lord were those who were the most damaged by the process? Who felt the most rejected and despaired? How can this be? If it is something that people don’t choose to be, and also is not taken from them when they do their complete utmost to repent and leave it behind them entirely, my only hypothesis I could personally draw from this is that perhaps this is notsomething that Jesus finds as a sin in the first place. Perhaps this is just part of who you are and not something to try to change.
If reading stories about people’s crushing failure to overcome being gay after a lifetime of supplication isn’t hard enough to face, the toll that rigorous religious teachings about homosexuality is having on our LGBT youth is far sadder. The following study was done by Caitlyn Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project and San Francisco State University. Their research and conclusions were peer-reviewed and published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics:
“Higher rates of family rejection were significantly associated with poorer health outcomes. On the basis of odds ratios, lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.” 2
Utah has an estimated 5,000 homeless youths, about 40 percent of which identify as LGBT people. And of that 40 percent, 50 percent say they were raised in families who were members of the LDS church.3 It is seriously just so sad. Some are as young as 14 and 15 years old. Youth are rejected by their families and friends, are without a place to call their own, or are committing suicide, and those who live longer and choose to suppress their homosexuality tend to have debilitating depression. Yes, there must be exceptions to this rule, but they are far, far too rare.
In my discussions and research, a full internal peace only came to people after they accepted themselves for who they are. Furthermore, their chances for a successful life raise exponentially when they are accepted as peers and equals by their neighbors instead of “loving the sinner and hating the sin” and being refused an equal place in society. Just look at all that is gained in the quality of life of those who live in states and countries where same sex marriage is accepted and homosexuals are treated as another variation of normal1:
The red line that says “Lupus Erythematosus” signifies the happiness levels reported by those who have Lupus, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue resulting in inflammation, swelling, and damage to joints, skin, kidneys, blood, the heart, and lungs. It is known as one of the hardest incurable ailments to live with, and yet the quality of life for LGBT individuals in societies that do not treat them as equals is significantly lower than those who have Lupus.
But we can’t let them into society! They’ll ruin the whole thing, right? Study after study (from the 80s and 90s) show that homosexuals are horrible parents, have unstable relationships, and are ticking time bombs. But what we need to understand is that yes, those studies may have shown that—but what options were homosexual people given during those years to be successful? When all of society treats you like a scourge, your families reject you, and you have to hide your true self—of COURSE the outcome is always going to be poor. But the most recent studies done in societies that treat homosexuals as equals show that they are indeed equally prone to success (or failure) as heterosexuals. The American Psychological Association states:
“In summary, there is no evidence to suggest that lesbian women or gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of lesbian women or gay men is compromised relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth”.4
So where does this leave spirituality and religion? For those who have walked this hard path and who have not committed suicide, the most common answer made by those who remain religious is that it was only is only after they decided to embrace their truth that they felt closeness with the Lord again. They say that they felt spiritual approval and a new sense of purpose; a closeness to the Lord that they hadn’t felt in their whole life. And this is BECAUSE they understand now this is who the Lord intended the to be. Who am I to tell them that their experiences are wrong? Of course it’s easy to say “you’re such and such” from my place of security and endless options for happiness. Plus, I have a few scriptures to back it up! Even General Conference talks! It’s so easy to be “right” here and refuse to see people for who they really are and stop listening to the pleas for help. But one day I read this quote:
“Privilege is when you think that something’s not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally. If you’re part of a group that’s being catered to, you believe that’s the way it should be. It’s always been that way, why would that be a problem for anyone?” -David Gaider
I, like the many racists and oppressors of yore, have been led into a false sense of reality due to my privilege. I was trying to do what was right, when in reality I was lacking love and empathy. And who has more love and empathy than anyone? Jesus. When faced with the dichotomy between how I felt, the facts before me, and what was taught at church, I turned to Jesus himself. When I went to the scriptures to see what He said about homosexuality, there was nothing there to my great surprise. But perhaps that was edited out of the Bible? Yes! It must be in the Book of Mormon then? It is, after all, a book of scripture that was written just for our day. So I looked there… and… nope. Nothing, not even from Book of Mormon prophets. Jesus came to the Americas and never once mentioned homosexuality in his sermons. He’s never said a single thing about it as recorded by those nearest to Him during His time on this earth. I know that that doesn’t erase the few places in Leviticus, Exodus, or 1st Corinthians that mention it; but I think that history has shown us that prophets are indeed fallible and occasionally allow their own biases to enter their preachings. Honestly, the following were the most important and powerful scriptures for me as I made my choice:
1st John 4:8 God is love.
Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
I choose love! Perhaps homosexuality is somehow an abomination that the Lord sees fit to irrevocably give to some of his children to… what? Teach them humility? Yeesh, I don’t know. If that is indeed the case, I’m going to leave that up to Christ’s judgment and not my own. All I know is that abstaining from all other kinds of sin allows me to still enjoy all that this life has to offer: intimate companionship, marriage, a family, a good place in society, and the fullness of the spectrum of life. Men are that they might have joy, right? Forcing people to abstain from homosexuality is the only “sin” that also forces them to give up on the majority of what makes life great. Homosexual love isn’t murder, this isn’t rape or abuse. This is love! Consensual, beautiful, life-affirming LOVE! And those who seek marriage are seeking permanent union, monogomy, and commitment. I see nothing to object to here. For me, I choose to love those who are also loving. I choose to see people for the amazing souls that they are and treat them with dignity and let them share in all of the things that have brought my own life such joy.
For those of you who feel spiritual confirmations that homosexuality should be barred at all costs, then that is obviously your conviction to keep. Please realize, however, that raising a child in a home in which it is taught that homosexuality is a horrible sin increases the odds of a child attempting or committing suicide by 800% if the child is an LGBT youth. It also fosters an environment of bullying in schools. Please ponder the fact that the most damaging and hurtful modes of coping with LGBT issues are those that are based on seeking spiritual reprieve or internal change vs secular counseling.
Choose your own path for yourself, that is up to you—but do you truly feel this is such a deal breaker that you cannot leave room for those who feel differently? The 11th and 12th articles of faith and D&C 134:9 urge us to let others choose to live their lives as they see fit and not mingle religious influence with the law:
The 11th states: “”We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may”
The 12th article of faith states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law”
D&C 134:9 “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied”
I know that many say that it is unjust to accept and allow LGBTs equality in this life since there allegedly is no place for same sex marriages in the eternal scheme. But honestly, Mormonism is a religion that is based off of perpetuating revelation! Line upon line, precept upon precept. Just look at all of the doctrine that has changed: polygamy was the only way to reach the Celestial Kingdom, slavery was acceptable, black families could not be sealed together, interracial couples were considered a grievous sin… the world has gained more knowledge and further revelation on all of these things when its people were deemed ready to receive it. Who is to say that we know all there is to know about eternal procreation and the entirety of God’s plan for his children?
At this point in time, I know what I am choosing to do. I am choosing to do unto others as I would have done unto me. I’m choosing my side in the pages of history. I know that God is loving and thus I know he has a plan for ALL of us. I know I am supposed to love my fellowman and that God wants us to be authentically happy in this life. I know that if homosexuality is indeed a sin, that the atonement can cover it on the other side of the veil.
If opposing homosexuality on all levels is ultimately the right path in God’s eyes and I’m wrong, I risk having loved too deeply and trying too hard to be empathetic and I will be punished accordingly. If, however, equal rights for homosexuals is actually in line with Christ’s will and I didn’t help my fellowman—I risk causing pain, suicide, distancing people from God, and depriving other people of the things in life I love best. Which risks do you think are more severe? I believe that those who oppose homosexuality based off obedience to biblical laws are counted on the Lord’s side. I feel equally confident that those of us who are for LGBT equality and rights are also on the Lord’s side. I believe the Lord’s side is quite spacious when you make room for love.
1) “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, Identity Conflict, and Psychosocial Health Amongst Same-sex Attracted Mormons”, John P. Dehlin, 2014
2) “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults”. Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Caitlin Ryan, PhD, ACSW; David Heubner PhD, MPH; Rafael M. Diaz, PhD; Jorge Sanchez, BA. Pediatrics Vol. 123 No. 1 January 1, 2009 . pp. 346 -352
3) Standard-Examiner, Nancy Van Valkenburg, Oct 29 2013. http://www.standard.net/stories/2013/10/29/40-percent-homeless-utah-children-identified-lgbt
4) American Psychological Association, “Lesbian and Gay Parenting” is a joint publication of APA’s Committee on Lesbian,Gay, and Bisexual Concerns, Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, and Committee on Women in Psychology. http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/parenting.aspx