With President Nelson now officially at the helm and President Oaks as his first counselor and successor, it will be interesting to see what course the Church charts on LGBT issues. This question has weighed heavily on the minds of our LGBT members the last few weeks. It also happened to be the very first question out of the gate at President Nelson’s inaugural press conference. In struggling to formulate an answer to that question, President Nelson fortunately started off on a positive note, acknowledging challenges with the commandments but also speaking of God’s love for all his children, stating: “there is a place for everyone who wishes, regardless of their challenges, to be with us in the Church.” [1]

This message of having a place in the Church was also shared by Elder Ballard in his recent BYU devotional talk (currently popping up in paid YouTube ads) and, as I pointed out in my last post, raises some critical follow-up questions, namely:

  • Do all LGB members really have a place in the Church, even if they have a same-sex partner (as Tom Christofferson did when he first returned)?
  • Do all trans members have a place in the Church, even if they transition? What about in priesthood and R.S. meetings?
  • Or will same-sex-partnered and surgically-transitioned members be treated as apostates, sought out for Church discipline and excommunicated per official Church policy?

The answers to these questions over the last few years have played out very inconsistently at the local level, with local leaders being left to make these decisions mostly on their own, and the outcomes varying based on the leader’s depth of understanding and personal beliefs on these issues. With the two leaders most vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage now officially in charge, we will see if they really mean all LGBT members have a place in the Church or only those who are willing to make the sacrifice these leaders firmly believe God requires of them (i.e., lifelong celibacy for LGB members and remaining in a state of gender dysphoria for trans members).

What is so tragic about the Church’s official position is that it puts our LGBT members in a “double bind” – a no-win situation. No matter what life choice they make – have a place in the Church but give up a core part of your humanity, or claim your humanity but give up your place in the Church – they lose.  To resolve the cruel double bind, the real question that needs to be addressed is: does claiming one’s humanity and giving up one’s place in the Church equate to giving up one’s place in heaven? Or stated another way, is being in a lawful, monogamous same-sex marriage, or surgically/medically transitioning one’s gender, truly a sin against God that will keep otherwise faithful, moral and upright LGBT people out of heaven?

There really should be no question or controversy over an LGBT person – no matter their circumstances – being welcomed into and accepted by their ward. Tom Christofferson’s local leaders and ward got that part right – that’s Christianity at its most basic level, not a very high bar (although the exclusion policy doesn’t pass that test). The higher bar, and admittedly a more difficult question for the Church, is whether such members have a place in Heaven, even the Celestial Kingdom – because this would likely require a major change in doctrine and policy. But it’s a question that can’t be ignored any longer. The stakes are just too high, the double bind is inhumane. I can’t say it any better than Josh Weed, a gay man who has lived it, as he shared in his brutally-honest but faith-affirming story yesterday:

“This is what the church’s current stance does to LGBTQIA people. It actually kills them. It fills them with self-loathing and internalized homophobia, and then provides little to no help when the psychosomatic symptoms set in… And the LGBTQIA person is left even further alone, now having been shamed by having it implied that their unhappiness and lack of health is their own fault because they aren’t being righteous enough. And so, they try harder. And they get sicker. And the cycle continues. It is a sick, pathological spiral. The church also deprives them – us – of attachment, and a natural, verified, studied reaction to attachment blockade is suicidality. I know this is true on a personal level.”

So how do we take the personal testimonies of faithful gay Mormons like Josh Weed against those of Presidents Nelson and Oaks, who affirm that being gay is not an identify but just a small and temporary aspect of mortal life, which if “acted on” will bring about misery and despair? Would these leaders who have invested so much personal capital for such a long time in defending the Church’s position ever be able to seriously question their firmly-held convictions? Will stories like those of Josh Weed and many, many others reach their ears, and more importantly, their hearts?  Will they believe our fellow LGBT members like Josh Weed who testify that, for most LGBT people, following the Church’s position is what leads to despair, hopelessness, loss of faith in God, bitterness and even suicide? Are those the fruits we would expect from a path ordained by God?

Like Presidents Nelson and Oaks, President Kimball was doctrinally conservative, could maybe even be considered a hardliner based on his views in The Miracle of Forgiveness. How is it that a man like that was able to overcome his own internal biases and presumptions, along with the teachings and declarations of generations of his predecessors and fellow authorities, and dare to question whether the temple/priesthood ban was God’s will? Was it because he came from humble circumstances and was able to be modest in his self-appraisal? Was it the great compassion that seemed to awaken in him when he took on the mantle of president of the church?

I personally believe Presidents Nelson and Oaks are men who have compassionate hearts, but whose compassion is tempered by what they believe to be the law of the Lord (the “love of the Lord/law of the Lord” balance they spoke of in the press conference). As to the question of whether our LGBT members have a place in Heaven even if they choose a path that violates the Church’s position, this is such a challenging question for the Church that I wonder if perhaps it can’t just be decided by dictate from Salt Lake City. Maybe the answer will have to come in the form of inspiration, revelation and a change of heart felt among the entire body of the membership, which will have the effect of moving Church doctrine and policy. [2] If so, what kind of responsibility does that put on the membership? What can we do as a church body to understand God’s will and to understand and have greater compassion for our LGBT members who are suffering as a result of the Church’s position, as so poignantly described by Josh Weed and others?

As a start, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to recall these words from Elder Uchtdorf:

“Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?” [3]

 

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[1] Although President Oaks was quick to jump in to emphasize the commandments as a balance to God’s love – “the love of the Lord and the law of the Lord.”

[2] This seems to be how the Church’s position on artificial birth control changed over time. It was considered a grave sin and soundly condemned by prophets from Joseph F. Smith to President Kimball, as well as opposed in an official statement of the First Presidency under David O. McKay.  See: https://professor.byuh.edu/martinsm/Rel235/Manual-235/BirthControl-MarriageManual.pdf

[3] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Acting on the Truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/worldwide-leadership-training/2012/01/acting-on-the-truths-of-the-gospel-of-jesus-christ?lang=eng