Either I’m a Facebook and blogaholic, or I can say this: the Mormon-related internet has been swept up once again with news relating to homosexuality. This time, it comes about over the launch of a new site: Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction (at the conveniently named http://www.mormonsandgays.org) . Many Mormon blogs have posted about this. Many Mormon Facebook groups have several topics about this. And opinions vary wildly about what it says and what it means.
What should you take away from this site? I don’t think I can tell you everything of importance about this site (as I mention, there are wildly varying opinions of what the site even means), but I will ambitiously attempt to tell you all you need to know about Mormons and Gays (but were too inundated with information to ask!)
The first thing I’m going to do is point out that this article’s title is slightly overreaching — this post is not going to tell you everything you need to know about Mormons and Gays as topics. It is only about the new website, whose URL is…well…”Mormons and Gays.” The site itself disavows early on that it is a comprehensive outlook, saying:
This official website does not offer a comprehensive explanation of everything related to same-sex attraction, but it does reflect the feelings of Church leaders as to how we should treat each other as part of the human family. The site offers a place where the people whose lives are impacted by attraction to the same sex can find inspiration to work through difficult challenges while remaining faithful to Church teachings.
As I mentioned, though, within just two days of the site launching, the Mormon blogging circles and Facebook groups have been inundated with articles providing different approaches to the subject. I cannot hope to catalog all articles in chronology (as Kent at Times & Seasons did for the Bott Gaffe earlier this year), but I will provide you a selection of the blog posts I’ve seen.
- On the conservative front, Kathryn Skaggs at A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman views the new site positively, “thrilled that the Church has taken on, so boldly, the topic of same-sex attraction and how we as members can better reach out to those who have been given this extraordinary challenge.“
- I suspect that (Gay) Mormon Guy will have additional thoughts, but his initial reaction is to call the site “epic”.
- I also expect someone at Millennial Star to post more on the subject, but for now, Geoff has posted a brief press release-sort of post.
- Jan at North Star’s community blog, Northern Lights, is comforted by the site:“First, I now know for sure that I am totally and without reservation accepted into the church regardless of my feelings. If I decide tomorrow to come out to the world (by the way, Jan is my pen name, not the real one), my place in the church is totally secured. I’m faithful, I’m true to my covenants, and that’s the only thing that matters.
“Second, even if I chose to live a traditional gay lifestyle – by engaging in a homosexual relationship – it is not that I would and should be thrown out of the window and treated as a non-person. Precisely the opposite is true. My Mormon parents and my Mormon congregation should accept me as their child and the child of God. I may be wayward in their eyes, but no wayward son or daughter deserves condemnation by any mortal, only love. Judgment is ultimately only the Lord’s.”
- Joshua Johanson writes similarly at the FAIRBlog:
Our gospel is a universal gospel. Christ calls all to come unto him, black and white, bond and free, and even gay and straight. He is full of grace, mercy and truth, and has the power to save us, not in our sins, but from our sins. The question of whether gay people can find joy in the church is not a theoretical question, to be debated through media and parlor conversations. It is a reality that manifests itself in the lives of members of the Church. May we remember the infinite grace of Christ and always have hope and charity for all of our brothers and sisters.
- Although as an excommnicated, married (to his husband), gay man with a testimony, John Gustav-Wrathall certainly fits in a different position than the above, John’s guest post at Doves and Serpents is similarly enthusiastic for this new site, because the news for him means “The Church has never said more clearly: We want you to associate. We want you to dialog. We want you to withhold judgment. We want you to welcome and to include. We want you to work harder to try to understand.“
- Andrew Markle’s guest post at Doves and Serpents provides counterpoint to Gustav-Wrathall’s optimism. He notes that “If the Church is truly seeking full inclusion of LGBT members, it will stop denigrating the community. It will stop embarrassing its faithful members through humiliation and disfellowshipping. It will stop asking if a potential candidate has been in a homosexual relationship prior to becoming a member. It will support LGBT members with every ounce of its being and it will stop requiring members to seek counseling for their same-sex attractions.”But…he also notes that, “In an effort to help change the Church, I will participate in dialogue, as I have for the past few months. I will help change the face of the Church and I will help mold it into what an “inclusive” church should look like.“
- Alan at Main Street Plaza is similarly skeptical of the church’s efforts. “I see no evidence of intended dialogue between Mormons and gays outside the Church (either non-Mormons, or gay Mormons living “unfaithfully”), which makes the URL misleading. In fact, for the Church to now incorporate the word “gay” into its lexicon, make a site whose URL title is “Mormons and Gays,” but then have the site be so one-sided… well, it seems less a movement toward dialogue between the two named parties, and more the Church experimenting with how to best bring together the forces of heterosexism and technology: “‘Gay’ is here to stay, so how can we shape it to mean what we want it to mean in the Church, and reach the most Mormons?”“
- Mitch Mayne reports at the Huffington Post:
“While this doesn’t represent changes to some of the more troubling doctrinal issues inside the Mormon faith when it comes to LGBT Mormons, it does mark cultural change — and that is step in the right direction, however small.
“Baby steps matter. They add up.
“But as in almost all things our faith does to help LGBT Mormons, we fall short. This site really does more to help straight members than it does LGBT members, and really just brushes the surface — and does so in ways that aren’t particularly helpful. We didn’t include the remarkable research done by the Family Acceptance Project that demonstrates evidence-based ways Mormon families and communities can respond to LGBT individuals in a way that keeps them safe from significant health risks, including depression and suicide. I think that’s a significant miss here.”And it’s time for the Mormon community to stop simply talking about what our Savior would do, and roll up our sleeves and actually do it. In order for LGBT Mormons to truly begin to have a different experience inside our faith, we need to move beyond words — and begin to do things differently. “It’s my hope that local Mormon leaders will look at this website and begin to emulate what we’re doing here in the San Francisco Bay Area: opening the doors to everyone, without fear of judgment or excommunication.“
- And of course, there has even been a satire of Mormons and Gays called Mormons and Negroes.
Even now, I can think of several articles that I have read that I have not included in this literature review, so I am not trying to imply that this is a comprehensive list. I just wanted to provide a general feel of the pulse surrounding the news.
If we were to divide the responses into several groups for the sake of convenience, then we might say that among conservative, traditional members, there is great appreciation and optimism for the site. Among liberal and progressive members, even, there may be more guardedness to the support (these are seen as baby steps), but the basic idea is appreciated. One only sees more skepticism and criticism when one sees the disaffected and ex-Mormon responses.
But what about non-Mormons? While not a representative sample of the non-Mormon population (MetaFilter definitely tends to be more liberal/progressive), the MetaFilter discussion for Mormons and Gays is remarkably pessimistic about the efforts.
This leads to what I wanted to discuss: who was the church’s intended audience with the site?
Per the Mormon Newsroom news release announcing the site, the Church spokesman Michael Purdy had this to say about the site:
“Too often these types of big, important issues are dealt with in sound bites and often by individuals who do not have the complete picture of what the Church is doing. This website was produced over two years and puts the entire issue in context.
“The attention the Church received during the presidential election period highlighted areas of Church belief and practice that are poorly understood by the general public. We think additional context will help people better understand the Church’s position on a number of issues. Over the next few weeks we expect to be publishing more resource materials that will help address other topics.”
While the first paragraph raises that this work was a long-term undertaking, Purdy notes that this site is about responding to areas of Church belief and practice not well understood by the general public — as was particularly discovered from the presidential election period. (And we may see additional sites on additional topics — any guesses as to which topics will get sites?) It seems then that this site is (in part) about correcting misunderstandings from the non-Mormon public.
Indeed, much of the site’s message is about stating the church’s position. Right up top, for example, is a statement about 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 do 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 interesting thing is that for those who are in the Mormon know, these aren’t new statements. These aren’t changes. At best, there are clarifications, and certain ideas that were implied are made explicitly, but for a while, the LDS teaching has been that the attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. If there was any doubt on whether or not the attractions are chosen, then this site should resolve that uncertainty (those attractions aren’t), but there is no budging on the position of gay relationships.
Indeed, the site states that
There is no change in the Church’s position of what is morally right. But what is changing — and what needs to change — is to help Church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere.
This line suggests, however, that this site might be addressed — at least in part — to the membership.
Elder Quentin Cook’s message speaks to what the membership should get out of this message. While many lament the church’s lagging behind the culture on gay marriage (and others counter that perhaps the culture isn’t “ahead” but behind in an eternal perspective), Cook notes one area where members should lead:
“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.”
This alone is a positive and well-appreciated statement, but the fact that it needs to be explicitly stated (as well as the very different ideas about what “love”, “compassion,” and “outreach” entail) probably will speak to critical concerns about this initiative.
Some of those critical concerns are given breath as the site continues. For while the site says:
Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness. We must not judge anyone for the feelings they experience….Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex.
…which would seem to be a positive development…in between and shortly thereafter, it says:
Members of the Church who have same-sex attractions, but don’t act on them, can continue to enjoy full fellowship in the church, which includes holding the priesthood, carrying out callings, and attending the temple…Same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but yielding to it is. However, through repentance Jesus Christ will offer forgiveness.
…We believe that with an eternal perspective, a person’s attraction to the same sex can be addressed and borne as a mortal test. It should not be viewed as a permanent condition. An eternal perspective beyond the immediacy of this life’s challenges offers hope. Though some people, including those resisting same-sex attraction, may not have the opportunity to marry a person of the opposite sex in this life, a just God will provide them with ample opportunity to do so in the next. We can all live life in the full context of who we are, which is much broader than sexual attraction.
Members, former members, and non-members have all of the lego building blocks to build essentially any conclusion they want from the site — hopeful or not. On the hopeful side, perhaps this is a sign that institutional changes are at least being prayed about. On the not-so-hopeful side, perhaps this is just the attempt to wrap the same things the church has promulgated in a public-facing package (and if this is the case, it seems that non-Mormons — or at least my nonrepresentative sample thereof — aren’t buying it. It’s not that they dislike the LDS policies and beliefs because they misunderstood them, so a site that explicitly states the core beliefs and policies is not going to help.) There is a sense that the church is trying to take its current position to its most compassionate ends — in other words, how charitable can Mormons be without accepting gay relationships?
To this end, even if someone will only be truly happy if the church were to accept gay relationships, they must concede that it would be more charitable for Mormons to continue supporting their gay children, brethren, friends rather than to cut off support or communication.
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Without commenting too much on what I think the church should do, I will raise another article that seems quite relevant to this discussion even though it was written shortly before this site came out: Nate Oman’s How Mormonism Changes, and Managing Liberal Expectations.
There have already been several responses and counterarguments to Nate’s post, but for this point, I will just point out that I think that certain parts of Nate’s analysis apply well to this discussion — namely, from a practical standpoint, even if we believe in prophetic power, we cannot interpret that prophetic power to mean that the prophet can make any change imaginable in an instant without there being repercussions to consider.
While I’m sure there are many people who wish the church would take a bolder stance or would make a more radical shift, I don’t think this is realistic to expect. When I read the many responses to the site, the thing I noticed was that while different people on different parts of the political or religious spectrum might have similar positive feelings about the site, there were vast differences about what they liked about the site and initiative.
Joshua Johanson’s comments that the Gospel is for everyone come after comments like these:
…Critics argue that our church is anti-gay, that our doctrine is damaging towards those with SSA, and that joy and happiness for people with SSA is mutually exclusive with participation in the restored Church. Recently, one group even took out a billboard claiming that gay people cannot be members of our church. This spirit of negativity is enough to make many members of the church wonder if the church is broad enough to welcome all to come unto Christ. Many may doubt if the doctrines and teachings of the church offer any benefit to our gay brothers and sisters. Some may even question Christ’s ability to bring all people to him.
So how do we gain this hope that Christ can save all mankind? How do we revive our testimonies that the gospel has the power to bring peace and joy through faith and repentance to even those who are currently in same-sex relationships? One of the most effective ways is through personal stories. The claims that gay people cannot join the Church and the doctrine cannot bring happiness quickly unravel as we listen to the stories of men and women with SSA who have found peace and joy through living the gospel of Jesus Christ, including those who were in same-sex relationships.
[Through browsing Mormons and Gays,] You will read stories of how the gospel has broken the chains of addiction and self-destructive behavior, and given people the strength to leave same-sex relationships.
This, of course, is going to be a considerably different takeaway than one that John Gustav-Wrathall takes:
For over seven years (since October 2005) I have been active in my LDS ward as an openly gay, excommunicated man who is in a (now 20+ years-long) relationship with my legally married husband Göran. My experience is that the Saints want to love me and want to understand me. They also want to stay true to their faith. Mormons love easily. And what this web site – and all the declarations contained within it – does is give unfettered permission to love. To enter into an unhindered relationship. In the wake of this new initiative, no Latter-day Saint can any longer claim to excuse themselves from the hard work of loving and trying to understand their lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender brothers or sisters for fear of giving the impression that they “condone the lifestyle.”
The Church has never said more clearly: We want you to associate. We want you to dialog. We want you to withhold judgment. We want you to welcome and to include. We want you to work harder to try to understand.
Many people will howl about the Church’s insistence on upholding the current policies and doctrines on same-sex relationships and marriage. But I assure you that it is this insistence on upholding that will actually more effectively enable the dialog we need to happen. Upholding the policy is the best possible way to encourage the fearful and the unsure to take the steps forward that need to be taken. It will reassure them, as it reassures me, that this is the Lord’s Church, and only the Lord is authorized to make changes.
John is not looking to gain “the strength to leave [his 20+ years long] same-sex relationship”. But he recognizes that his marriage cannot be appreciated — and even that potential revelation valuing it cannot come — before dialog, before members and leaders have time to wrestle. And perhaps there are some members who will only feel comfortable enough to dialog if they feel assured that the church’s position is solid and grounded.
Whatever the church’s plans or intentions, hopes or long-term goals, the fact is that they have to operate knowing that there are Joshua Johansons and John Gustav-Wrathalls in the midst. That constrains the speed at which they can pivot.
…All that being said, I think it would be interesting if at the bare minimum, there were changes to the Church Handbook of Instruction that said, for example:
1) Gay members in same-sex relationships (especially marriage) are not to be excommunicated or disfellowshipped. (Even if they also may not have a temple recommend.)
2) Members who shun/kick out/abandon gay children are unworthy for temple recommends, as their relationships with family members are not keeping with teachings of the church.
(Note: As I am available, I will watch this discussion like a hawk, and will call out comments I think are inappropriate. Keep it respectful — regardless of what your opinion is.)