This is one of the most painful and controversial issues facing the Church of Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a “pearl of great price.” The growth and peace the gospel promises can come at great cost and sacrifice. Jesus constantly challenged us to shed all that keeps us from experiencing God’s presence and from truly loving each other.
So how does the gospel of Jesus Christ apply to the issue of sexuality? Though we hold gender to be an aspect of our eternal nature, we have very little idea of what role sexuality might play in the eternities, if it plays any role at all. There was a fair amount of speculation on this topic early in our church’s history, but very little has been revealed. We would do well to question our assumptions on a subject about which we actually know so little.
We know much more, of course, about how we experience sexuality in mortality.
Virtually all of us have LGBT acquaintances or family members. It is clear, as the church itself seems to affirm, that for the majority of our LGBT brothers and sisters, sexual identity/attraction is not a choice. It is a fact of life.
However, sexual identity need not define us. It is an important, but not THE most important, feature of our identity. Both we and our LGBT sisters and brothers will be best served to keep in mind our core eternal identity: daughters and sons of Heavenly Parents.
Until relatively recently, homosexuality was driven by societal shame into the dark corners and margins of society, with predictable, often devastating, results. Times have obviously changed.
Our younger generations seem to have little problem accepting gay people and gay couples as friends and neighbors. The sex lives of their gay friends and neighbors are of little concern to them, just as their own sex lives are presumably of little concern to their gay friends. It is seen as simply one aspect of their lives; it does not define them as people.
Still, we as a church remain deeply conflicted on this issue. We want to embrace and include our LGBT brothers and sisters, but in many ways, these members feel that they’re expected to check an integral part of who they are at the church door.
We need to at least recognize that this is a lot to ask. Whether we want to admit it or not, sexuality is a big deal in all our lives. It emerges rather early in life as an important piece of our individual identities. Sexuality goes much deeper than mere preference, the color of our hair or eyes, or even the color of our skin. It is always operating, if not in the foreground, at least in the background of our awareness.
One often hears that since the standard of chastity applies to all, LGBT members are in the same boat as people who never marry. That may be true in one respect. But remember that marriage always remains a hoped-for possibility for single heterosexual members. Their desire for intimate union with a spouse, even if unfulfilled in life, is deemed a righteous and proper desire. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not, and is not seen as, a defect. Most of our LGBT brothers and sisters who remain active struggle to find equivalent earthly hope.
As we engage the material provided in response to this Big Question, and as we contemplate the reality faced by our LGBT brothers and sisters, we should ask ourselves the following questions. (Note: These are not rhetorical questions with right or wrong answers. They are real, honest, soul-searching questions that challenge us to engage the dilemma faced by many of our fellow members.)
- Do I imagine I could ever feel truly accepted or whole in a religious community that insisted that any expression of something so much a part of my nature is morally wrong? Could I grow up in such an environment without feeling somehow fundamentally defective?
- If a child or other loved one told me he or she is gay, am I prepared to tell them they must live out their life without a companion–a relationship they may urgently yearn for? How does God’s counsel that “It is not good for man to be alone” apply to them?
- Imagine the tables were turned. Would I, as a heterosexual, chose to affiliate with a religious community that required me to completely leave my sexuality behind–with likely no prospect of sharing my life with an intimate partner? Maybe the right answer is “Yes, the Kingdom of God is worth any price?” But have we each at least considered the sacrifice entailed in that requirement? As disciples of Jesus Christ, do we have sufficient empathy?
These are hard, soul-searching questions. They are good questions. They are questions that each of us in the Church should wrestle with as we mix counsel with conscience and covenant.
So the question of “What about our LGBT brothers and sisters?” is a Big Question.
We invited Tom Christofferson to host this conversation. Tom has seen this issue from both sides. His book That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family exemplifies the shift taking place in the conversation on this issue within the church. His perspective is truly unique, and his faith and presence are an inspiration to all who know him. Tom Christofferson has had his own unique journey. He is careful to note that he is not prescribing his path as a template for others to follow.
In this post written for our Big Questions project, Tom raises, in his gentle and faithful way, important questions with which we must wrestle individually and institutionally.
In addition to Tom’s wonderful post, here are some other great resources:
This delightful conversation with Ben Schilaty and Charlie Bird, two very well-known gay Latter-day Saints, is full of great insights and advice on how we can make our LGBT brothers and sisters part of our community.
In this remarkable conversation, Tom sits down with his former Stake President and Bishop in Connecticut how they supported him both while he was in a relationship with his long-term partner and as he contemplated returning to full activity in the church.
In this video conversation with Terryl Givens, Tom shares a very personal account of his journey and spiritual life.
And finally, Faith Matters’ Tim Chaves shares a story, a metaphor, and an entreaty for us all to live up to the promises we’ve made in our unique faith community.