Today, the LDS church has updated its Mormons and Gays website. Over at By Common Consent, Christian Harrison has done a far more in depth analysis of the site, so I will try to comment on aspects not mentioned by Christian.
Brought to you by the Letter S
If you try to go to the old website for MormonsAndGays, you will find you can’t (although you can go to an archive here). Instead, you’ll be redirected right on to the new site MormonAndGay.org. Note the lack of s’s — but also note the lds.org domain. Perhaps this was motivated by spoof websites like MormonsAndBlacks, efforts by disaffected Mormons which mimicked the style domain naming of MormonsAndGays while discussing the unflattering doctrines of past church history (at least before it was taken down.)
What’s the deal with this? What can the measly letter s do?
To me, this simple change in grammar immensely changes the meaning that I perceive from the phrase. To me, “Mormons and Gays” reads as if it’s talking about two separate groups — the Mormons and the gays — whereas Mormon and Gay reads as if it’s talking about two traits that one person could very well share.
But another shift is that the use of those nouns like “Mormons” and “gays” made the old site feel like it was for 3rd parties — it felt like the church’s objective, outward-facing site for issues relating to the Mormons and the gays.
In contrast, the new site feels like it’s about and for people who are Mormon and gay. It feels inward-facing — to people who are Mormon and gay, or for their family.
Contrasting site content
Analyzing grammar probably isn’t something normal people do, so I felt a little paranoid about my above impressions. Was I just reading too much into this or is there anything from the two sites that backs up a shift in perspective?
Unfortunately, I quickly ran into content that opposed my initial impression:
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.
So, it seems even the old site was inward-facing.
So much for that hypothesis.
However, this led me to think if there was anything about either site that had been written in such a way to give one impression while the site itself was working toward a different conclusion. And of course, I think that the very use of the word “gay” in these sorts of sites already speaks out to this.
Gay vs. Same Sex Attraction
We know of many talks given where church leaders have cautioned against granting legitimacy to the concept of “gay” as an identity. MormonsAndGays felt like the church was finally conceding this point, by finally recognizing that some of our brothers and sisters may be gay or lesbian, rather than just “struggling with same sex attraction.” That being said, earlier this year, Elder Bednar corrected an audience member for implying that there could be homosexual members of the church.
But both the old site and the new site made and make clear that this term is used not as a concession at all. The old site uses “same-sex attraction” very regularly (to the point where the title of the page is Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction). The new site is more explicit with this being the first of its frequently asked questions:
Why Use the Term “Same-Sex Attraction”? Why Not Just Say “Gay”?
Same-sex attraction (SSA) refers to emotional, physical, romantic, or sexual attraction to a person of the same gender. If you experience same-sex attraction, you may or may not choose to use a sexual orientation label to describe yourself. Either way, same-sex attraction is a technical term describing the experience without imposing a label. This website uses this term to be inclusive of people who are not comfortable using a label, not to deny the existence of a gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity.
Is it a step in the right direction?
As Christian Harrison wrote at By Common Consent, lots of folks aren’t going to be happy with this site (but such was true with the old site as well). This website doesn’t change on any established teachings (in case people were looking for a softening of the position), but at the same time, for anyone who really is struggling with same-sex attraction, this website doesn’t pretend to offer any concrete cures for SSA (although it does say, when advising people not to call themselves gay, that sexual desire “can be fluid and changeable” [although really, I think this distorts the research on sexual fluidity and implies more conscious choice than is actually the case]).
Christian comments that what the site does is that it
puts away childish things, and speaks as an adult—an adult that doesn’t see itself changing its mind any time soon, mind you… but one who values the people in its life and who’s making a solid effort at having the hard conversations.
Are we ready to have the hard conversations? I am not entirely sure. I am not entirely sure because I think, ultimately, it may be that members (even liberal/progressive ones) are as unwilling as the church is.
Grounding Sexual Ethics in Theology
Mormons will need to think about how sexual ethics is grounded in their theology, and how such theology may or may not limit future changes or even revelations. In comparing Mormonism to other Christian traditions, I have increasingly come to realize that the sexual ethics of, say, Catholicism, makes sense given its system based on natural law theology in which the ends of marriage are to unite and to procreate. (From here, it follows — whether the average Catholic aligns with that or not — that artificial contraception and all inherently non-procreative sex acts are against traditional sexual ethics. These things seem draconian from a secular perspective where we take it all for granted, but it just doesn’t seem very plausible to argue for these things from within that framework.)
Mormonism doesn’t necessarily follow the same logic (hence, contraception and non-procreative sex acts are OK…as long as they are between married straight couples), but this should not mean anything can go. The church seems set that this is a doctrine that will not change, and even if we can point to other unchangeable doctrines that did change, opposition to homosexual relationships gets to more fundamental teachings about the physicality of Heavenly Father and Mother.
Those who want the church to change positions have to seriously grapple with what it means to become more like God in a religion with a rigorously physical conception of deity. This exploration may end up not just being hard for LGB folks, but for plenty of others (what will we discover when we eventually dive further into the implications of Heavenly Mother?)
I agree that our theology makes a lot of these issues more problematic, not less. Bednar was arguing that, at the most fundamental level, each individual is a son or daughter of God. That designation as son or daughter dictates the roles an individual plays in the premortal, mortal, and postmortal spheres. Heterosexual unions are seen as a vital part of those roles, making the LGBT issues problematic. Because the relationships between female and male children of God are dictated by eternal roles, expectations for women in family and church also involves us depending on those “eternal roles.” We have zero information on HM, which means *all* our gender expectations for women are based on what we’ve observed in mortality. We’ve used cultural assumptions about gender (“this is how it’s always been done”) to shape how we view the eternities, and then we turn around and say that our knowledge of the eternities mandates what roles men and women should play in mortality.
What if God is just something that we don’t understand but that visited us in a form we could best comprehend. It’s possible that it’s part of our line-upon-line progress of understanding. All of our theological gender trappings go out the window. I don’t know…. I’m just saying it’s possible. Because our theology is so physically-bound we are going to have the hardest time dealing with these issues, I think.
I think you’re absolutely correct. I think the one interesting point is as you say: heterosexuality is assumed as an eternal gender role in the Proclamation on the Family. This isn’t as overtly stated anymore (and isn’t overt in the Fam Proc), but in the past, there were definitely talks in which non-heterosexual orientations were identified as being gender confusion. Interestingly enough, the FAQ to the new Mormon and Gay site explicitly addresses that the site doesn’t address transgender issues and additionally, the site recognizes that orientation is entirely different from gender identity.
I am wondering then if that will provide a way for something to change? At the very least, the church seems to have more problems dealing with the concept of transgender anyway, so that might get something rolling somewhere.
This is possible, but I think it runs against Mormon cultural ideas toward knowing more stuff and having less mystery. (Then again, even from the conversation on the traditional notion of God — even though that God is immaterial, people still pointed out that it definitely does matter that Jesus incarnated as a man and not a woman.)
“what will we discover when we eventually dive further into the implications of Heavenly Mother?” I imagine that greatly depends on just who is doing the diving. Given the current composition of divers, I would prefer ambiguity.
“the site recognizes that orientation is entirely different from gender identity” That’s a fairly big accomplishment. Most members I’ve met over age 70 don’t fully understand this, and quite a few younger than that don’t.
I do think the change to Mormon & Gay is significant. It immediately creates empathy whereas “Mormons & Gays” sounds like “Hatfields & McCoys.”
The change of names feels like they put a shiny veneer on the surface but LGBT people are clearly not welcome in the Church. One of the most disturbing things about the leaked videos was the leaders obsession and lack of understanding regarding this issue. Side note-I have no idea what Brother Bednar meant when he said there were no homosexuals in the Church and I doubt anyone else does either. It can be taken in so many ways.I will have to read the article at Common Consent.
I wanted to write a longer section on the recognition that orientation is different from gender identity, but it seems that the last time the church explicitly used the term “gender confusion” in conflation with homosexuality was at least a couple decades ago.
I agree that this seems to be a shiny veneer on the same things…but I really don’t think church leaders see a way to change (or reason to). If you check out my post on Bednar, hopefully that could provide some plausible explanation to what Bednar meant. Ultimately, I think that Bednar is trying to break apart being gay as an identity, So, same-sex attraction as something someone suffers with is OK…but equating that to an identity is discouraged (there was an online church survey a while back that asked for people’s orientation…and the options were “heterosexual” and “heterosexual but struggling with same sex attraction”)
One thing I *really* disliked about the personal stories was the implication there was some difficulty in the gay person’s life such as a bipolar, suicidal mother or sexual molestation by an adult. Both of these play into tired old stereotypes that homosexuality is caused by emotionally distant parents or molestation by someone of the same sex. In other cases, homosexuality was portrayed as some horrifying trial that had to be overcome–as if it were some sort of disease. You’d think that out of all the homosexual members of the LDS church, the website creators could have found some happy, normal ones to tell their stories.
I also disliked that the website doubles down on “doctrine will never change” message. In the first place, nobody knows whether gender will even apply in the afterlife. Mormon cosmology holds that there will only be “spirit births” in heaven, not live births. Jesus, himself, clearly says that marriage doesn’t apply in heaven: “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” (This was Jesus’s response to whether a man would be married to two women in heaven if he remarried after a spouse died.) Nobody knows whether gender means the same thing in heaven that it does here on Earth and we’ve already seen that the LDS church’s doctrines are fluid, so it’s entirely possible there *will* be a change regarding gay marriage. It seems crazy to me to force gay members to live a life of celibacy, especially, when they could find a spouse and raise a wonderful family in the same joyful union permitted to heterosexual members. At the very least, the POX needs to be walked back, since that’s an abomination in and of itself, IMHO.
“I think that Bednar is trying to break apart being gay as an identity, So, same-sex attraction as something someone suffers with is OK…but equating that to an identity is discouraged”
If I understand your comment correctly, then that’s subtle, but destructive language along the lines of “gay lifestyle” and “turning gay”. In other words, homosexuality isn’t an inherent quality of a human being, but some sort of disease to be cured, i.e. you “suffer from it”. I think the website is *trying* to sound more up to date (i.e. being gay is inherent), but I also see a lot of language that subtly reinforces the old stereotypical ideas–or at least confuses things in the reader’s mind.
“it seems that the last time the church explicitly used the term “gender confusion” in conflation with homosexuality was at least a couple decades ago.” Unfortunately, the last time I heard a ward member conflate that was about 3 weeks ago.
The website made the Front page of CNN’s website: http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/25/living/mormon-gay-website/index.html
Yeah, this website really isn’t for LGBTQ individuals. In fact, I’d advise LGBTQ members and investigators to steer clear of the site, as the way it portrays us is (at least I found it to be) rather offensive. It’s way off the mark in terms of *why* being LGB in the church is a struggle (hint, the struggle is the stigma involved, NOT being LGB). I guess this website is for people who either still think that we’re choosing to be LGB or feel that things are all well in Zion in terms of how we’re treated at church.
I’m with Andrew and Mike. It’s patently obvious that church leaders are behind the curve on this, not ahead of it. Yet another contradiction that shouldn’t exist since our belief in “continuing revelation” should put us two hundred years ahead not two hundred years behind. And I don’t think they help themselves by using an entirely different vocabulary regarding homosexuality/gender identity than the rest of the world. IMHO, they are still trying to employ a kind of rhetorical erasure, similar to when Bednar said there are no homosexual members of the church. The de-emphasizing of a key part of a person’s identity is NOT, I think, the way to go.
The LDS stance on homosexuality reminds me of the bully Nelson Muntz telling Milhouse “Stop hitting yourself.”