I remember the odd conflict of being in my early teens and having experiences that began and nurtured my witness of Jesus Christ and of the Book of Mormon, while at the very same time feeling that I was what I thought God abhorred – gay.
That experience was certainly not unique to me. Many of my lesbian, gay and bisexual sisters and brothers have told me that they had similar feelings of this duality. As a church, we are getting better at acknowledging that the orientation to the world that LGB persons experience (a poor shorthand for which is “attractions“) is not chosen, while the actions we take in response to such deeply individual perceptions represent the eternal power of agency.
In short, Heavenly Parents know every aspect of who we are and their love is unqualified; nonetheless any choice we make has its attendant costs and gains.
In order to make sense of the choices ahead, we begin with elemental questions:
- Why am I gay (or lesbian or bisexual)? Did God make me this way?
- As a parent of an LGBTQ child, what does this mean for my eternal family?
- What is the basis of the church’s antipathy to homosexual conduct?
- Is there any point getting more deeply involved with the church if I already know I want to find a spouse of the same gender?
- What are the roles of personal revelation and of prophetic counsel as I make these choices?
Why am I gay?
The question “Does one choose to be gay, lesbian or bisexual?” has been the subject of years of research by scientists and psychologists. An emerging consensus seems to point toward genetic (DNA) and epigenetic (gene receptor activity during gestation) factors in a very high percentage of those with a same-sex identity.
In the current version of the church’s website mormonandgay.churchofjesuschrist.org, is the following statement:
The intensity of same-sex attraction is not a measure of your faithfulness. Many people pray for years and do all they can to be obedient in an effort to reduce same-sex attraction, yet find they are still attracted to the same sex. Same-sex attraction is experienced along a spectrum of intensity and is not the same for everyone. Some are attracted to both genders, and others are attracted exclusively to the same gender. For some, feelings of same-sex attraction, or at least the intensity of those feelings, may diminish over time. In any case, a change in attraction should not be expected or demanded as an outcome by parents or leaders.
Did God make me this way?
As earlier noted, what seems to be an emerging consensus among scientists studying genetics and epigenetics, is that homosexuality may simply be a relatively infrequent but normal biological reality of earthly existence. Our theology, that God organized rather than created matter, would suggest that if there is a pre-mortal manifestation of same-sex orientation, it would have been present in our intelligences and then continued in our spirits. In neither case would God have “made“ us gay, but also in neither case is being gay offensive to Him.
The theologian N. T. Wright has written,
Imagine a beautiful, finely made silver goblet. There it stands on a shelf, a thing of beauty to be admired. Now imagine that same goblet filled with the finest red wine. Now imagine that we are actually in a service of Holy Communion, and this fine wine is actually conveying to us the lifeblood of our blessed Lord Jesus himself. The silver goblet is still as beautiful as ever it was. But now it is filled with something which transforms it, which makes it a vessel of something beyond itself yet utterly appropriate to itself.
As I read those words, I think of my own life’s journey to understand and claim my most complete identify, as a beloved son of Heavenly Parents, as one whose life is shaped by belief in Christ and a desire to follow Him, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as a son, brother, uncle, and friend, and as a gay man. I think of that holistic identity, that understanding of all the things that make me me, as that prized silver goblet. I think of my always-expanding engagement with the gospel of Jesus Christ as the priceless wine that fills it. Unifying all of these elements “transforms … beyond itself yet utterly appropriate to itself.”
As a parent of an LGBTQ child, what does this mean for my eternal family?
The Lord has thus far revealed very little about the relationships of the individuals within the sealing chain of His family to one another. As President Henry B. Eyring, speaking in April 2019 General Conference, said:
My promise to you is one that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once made to me. I had said to him that because of choices some in our extended family had made, I doubted that we could be together in the world to come. He said, as well as I can remember, ‘You are worrying about the wrong problem. You just live worthy of the celestial kingdom, and the family arrangements will be more wonderful than you can imagine.’
He who judges perfectly takes into account not only our actions, but also our circumstances, the biology of our bodies and the chemistry of our consciousness, how we have learned to see the world and make decisions, as well as the desires of our hearts. We cannot know in the life of another what it means to “fight a good fight … [to] finish [the] course … [to] keep [the] faith.“
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:
In reality, the best way to help those we love—the best way to love them—is to continue to put the Savior first. If we cast ourselves adrift from the Lord out of sympathy for loved ones who are suffering or distressed, then we lose the means by which we might have helped them. If, however, we remain firmly rooted in faith in Christ, we are in a position both to receive and to offer divine help. If (or I should say when) the moment comes that a beloved family member wants desperately to turn to the only true and lasting source of help, he or she will know whom to trust as a guide and a companion.
What is the basis of the church’s antipathy to homosexual conduct?
The “big three“ scriptures taken as condemnation of homosexual acts are Leviticus 18:22 (“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”), Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination“) and Romans 1:26-27 (“And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly“). Additionally, accounts in Genesis of Sodom have been taken to mean that the sin of every man of Sodom, young and old, was homosexuality because they refused to have sex with Lot’s daughters rather than the two angels who had come to the city in the guise of men.
Restoration scriptures are silent on the topic of homosexuality. Church leaders began to speak of homosexuality in the early 1950’s, and in 1968 the Church Handbook included for the first time an indication that church courts might be convened to consider homosexuality, and in 1968 was amended to indicate that if the individual held a prominent church position then such a court was mandatory. Apostles began to teach that homosexuality was a chosen or learned behavior and not inborn, and could be cured. The Miracle of Forgiveness, authored by then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball in 1969, the same year that the Stonewall Riots in New York City brought a nascent gay rights movement to wider notice. The book included a chapter on the Sin Against Nature. An estimated 1.6 million copies of the book were distributed before going out of print in recent years.
The prevailing view among church leaders that homosexuality was a choice began to change in the early years of the current millennium, and messages to members began to separate attraction or identity from behavior The Family: A Proclamation to the World was officially presented in September 1993, by President Hinckley at the General Relief Society Meeting, and after that time the church actively opposed measures in the United States that would have provided for same-gender marriage. In conjunction with those initiatives, and especially around Proposition 8 in California in 2008, a number of statements were made by church leaders about sinfulness of homosexual conduct in or out of marriage, culminating with inclusion of a new policy around apostasy and ordinances for minor children of same-sex marriages in November 2015, which was removed earlier this year.
Is there any point getting more deeply involved with the church if I already know I want to find a spouse of the same gender?
The cornerstone of all that we believe is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.“
In my experience, holding that belief continued and was a powerful force after I was no longer a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while deepening and growing sweeter since I have returned. Attending Sacrament Meeting and other services for a number of years while I was not a member enriched my life, and I believe made me a better companion to my male partner.
While some feel that church is toxic for young LGB individuals, parents can play a significant role in ensuring what LGB young men and women are hearing at church reflects our love for the Savior and His love for us. They can proactively engage with leaders and teachers, and, if pain or offense is felt, help young people understand that in our lay ministry all have not had the same experiences: good, well-intended people can say things that reflect misunderstanding or lack of information. All of us hope that others listen compassionately when we speak, to try to see what is in our hearts even when our way of conveying a message or our knowledge is flawed. Parents can help young LGB individuals apply the same generosity of spirit in their interactions with teachers and leaders as they desire for themselves.
What are the roles of personal revelation and of prophetic counsel as I make life choices?
Some questions will be answered through revelation to prophets, seers and revelators, others through inspiration to parents, local leaders, family members and all those wishing to learn how to love as the Savior loves. With optimism and faith in Joseph Smith’s insight that “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God,“ we can approach these challenging questions.
There are profitable questions we may ask ourselves as individuals, as parents, as church members, about our own readiness to accept all the Lord may choose to reveal, as well as our own hearts and minds with regard to our brothers and sisters.
As we seek to gain personal insight and inspiration about our own conduct, the desires of our hearts and how we might best serve all other children of God, we can recognize that wrestling with thorny questions is not an idle exercise, a way to occupy our minds in our spare time.
As President Dallin H. Oaks has said,
First, we should recognize that the Lord will speak to us through the Spirit in His own time and in His own way. Many people do not understand this principle. They believe that when they are ready and when it suits their convenience, they can call upon the Lord and He will immediately respond, even in the precise way they have prescribed. Revelation does not come that way. Fundamental to any effort to receive revelation is a commitment to do all we can with our own efforts and judgment. This means we need to serve and to work.
Serving our brothers and sisters, particularly those we imagine to be the least like us, can be doubly effective, both in demonstrating our willingness to work for answers and in giving us access to perspectives that may be sharply different from our own.
We might also ask ourselves if it is helpful, when approaching the Lord for further knowledge, to begin with a certainty of what He will not reveal.
Where from here?
Individuals have not chosen their attractions, but they do choose how they will respond to all of the opportunities and challenges in their lives, including this one. Some will choose to date and marry someone of the same gender, and form families with two moms or two dads. Some will choose to date and marry someone of the opposite gender, and form families with a mom and a dad. Some will choose to remain celibate, and as such may have time and resources to bless the lives of many families. There are significant costs and benefits to the individual in any choice she or he makes, and choosing one option precludes choosing one of the others, at least for a period of time.
Individuals will make their choices guided by their sense of what will be best for their emotional, social and spiritual health, seeking confirmation of the Spirit.
How, then, should family members and other loved ones, and fellow Saints respond to these individual choices?
The answer, of course, is with love. A question I am often asked concerns a point at which acceptance becomes condoning another’s actions. My feeling is that we show the depth and sincerity of our beliefs through our own actions, how we live our lives every day, not in the pronouncements we make on how another person should live their life. Showing empathy and support for another is not a compromise of moral values.
As Elder Dale G. Renlund noted:
We may on occasion find ourselves in uncomfortable situations where we differ in doctrine with our acquaintances, friends, and family members. But the doctrine can never be used to justify treating others with anything less than respect and dignity. We can stand firm in our beliefs and have a loving relationship with those who hold differing opinions. It is never an either-or choice. We love and live our doctrine, and we love those who do not live it. We need not create false dichotomies. The late Elder Marvin J. Ashton shared this insight from an inspired leader: “The best and most clear indicator that we are progressing spiritually and coming unto Christ is the way we treat other people.
When as parents, leaders or friends we are entrusted by individuals who feel their best course is to pursue a same-sex relationship, I hope we will encourage them to look at their decision not as “either a relationship/or the church”, but rather as a time to ponder what is “good, better and best”. Even when one feels he or she cannot obey all commandments, they can focus on aligning lives and conduct with eternal principles in every way available in the circumstances. For example, committing to a standard of chastity that includes abstinence before marriage and fidelity afterward while pursuing or creating a same-sex relationship is a far, far better choice than abandoning all the practices that generations have proven create an atmosphere of trust, confidence, health and strength in a home. Participation in church services and activities needn’t be an “either/or” choice: we want all of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, wherever they may be in their lives, to join us in chapels, in service projects, in all the ways we endeavor to be a force for good in the world. Our love for LGB brothers and sisters is not contingent on their choices. We are all imperfectly seeking to become like Jesus. All of us can choose each day to do the best that our circumstances allow to follow Him, to learn to love what He loves and to love as He loves.
Speaking at Brigham Young University, two months after the revelation on extending temple and priesthood blessing given to President Kimball in August 1978, Elder Bruce R. McConkie made reference to 2 Nephi 26:33, where the Lord indicates that all – black and white, bond and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile and heathen – are alike unto Him, all are invited to come and partake of His goodness, saying:
These words have now taken on a new meaning. We have caught a new vision of their true significance. This also applies to a great number of other passages in the revelations. Since the Lord gave this revelation on the priesthood, our understanding of many passages has expanded. Many of us never imagined or supposed that they had the extensive and broad meaning that they do have.
We might ask ourselves if we have expanded our understanding to see the broad meaning the Lord attaches to his invitation, in this case to His LGBTQ daughters and sons?
How do we, as individuals who desire to be disciples of Jesus Christ, ensure the Lord’s invitation is available to all of His children? By ensuring that our homes and our chapels are places of peace and welcome for all. The verses in 3 Nephi 18 are instructive:
And behold, ye shall meet together oft; and ye shall not forbid any man from coming unto you when ye shall meet together, but suffer them that they may come unto you and forbid them not;
But ye shall pray for them, and shall not cast them out; and if it so be that they come unto you oft ye shall pray for them unto the Father, in my name.
Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.
And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation.”
We hope that all who enter our homes or chapels do so with a loving desire to learn and grow – I am reminded of President Monson’s observation:
Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of [ourselves or of] each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing [his or her] best to deal with the challenges which come [their] way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.
We have the opportunity, as ward and family members and friends of lesbian, gay and bisexual/same-sex attracted individuals, to create an environment within our homes and chapels that will similarly allow them to be transformed into their best selves, as they face and embrace the opportunities and challenges of their lives, along whatever path they feel to choose, through our love and support, our arms folded in prayer and our hands outstretched in empathy and compassion.