“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.”