Estimated reading time: 19 minutes
The purpose was to show how a person can be reconciled to being gay and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter referenced as the Church), often known as the Mormon Church. However, the more I investigated, both at a personal and professional level, this does not seem possible, excepting a few isolated cases, which I explore.
I’ve been a member of the Church for nearly 44 years. This gives me an awareness of the changing history of its approach to LGBTQ matters. This length of membership gives me an understanding of its doctrine, theology and culture. I recognise the potential for bias. Though, these days, I’m not so sure whether this bias is for or against the Church. Whilst researching this, I’ve discovered nothing new, that I was not aware of, regarding their approach to gay matters. Reflecting on personal experience, as well as that of others, bringing everything together has been more painful, hurtful and frustrating than expected. It somewhat took me by surprise, raising the question why had I not seen and connected the dots previously? It also brings the question, why I am still associated with the Church?
Before examining the possibility of those who are gay being reconciled with the Church, I feel it pertinent to outline the doctrine of the Church with its relevance to gay members. Without doing so, I feel much written here may not make much sense to anyone outside of the Church. Such may also add clarity to how a therapetuic approach may or may not be of value to gay members. In case anyone is wondering, my aim as a therapist is to explore where a client is – lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, nonbinary, straight – not to convince or persuade them to be any particular way. Conversion or reparative therapy is not to be undertaken in any form.
I see four key issues standing in the way of any reconciliation. First, obedience to Church authority. Second, the Church concept of heaven and the after life. Third, the view of what’s needed to qualify to get to the highest degree of heaven. Fourth, Church culture. Fifth, considered causes of people being gay.
Obedience to Authority
At the top is the prophet. From the Church website:
“Today, a prophet, acting under the direction of the Lord, leads the Church. This prophet is also the President of the Church. He holds all the authority necessary to direct the Lord’s work on earth (see D&C 107:65, 91).“
“If we keep the commandments of the Lord, we shall enjoy the presence of both the Father and the Son, and we shall receive the Father’s kingdom and shall be heirs of God—joint heirs with our elder Brother. O how wonderful, how great the blessings of the Lord to the Latter-day Saints and to all who are willing to go through the waters of baptism and abide by the law and keep the commandments of the Lord!” (Smith, “Keep the Commandments,” 3)”.
Herein lies one main issue. The prophet and other general Church leaders (seen as prophets, seers and revelators) are considered as speaking directly for God. Meaning, if you disagree with things taught by these men you are seen as disagreeing with God.
Strictly speaking The Church doesn’t have a concept of heaven and hell. Heaven is multi-tiered. The highest level, known as exaltation, is only for families. Heterosexual families. Men and women, who become Gods themselves, able to create and populate worlds with their own spirit children. Lorenzo Snow, the Church’s fifth President, coined a well-known Mormon couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”
Qualifying for Heaven
There are many requirements. In particular marriage – only between a woman and a man.
As said, in April 2019, by Russell M. Nelson, the current prophet/president:
“…the Savior Himself has made it abundantly clear that while His Resurrection assures that every person who ever lived will indeed be resurrected and live forever, much more is required if we want to have the high privilege of exaltation. Salvation is an individual matter, but exaltation is a family matter.” (my emphasis added).
“So, what is required for a family to be exalted forever? We qualify for that privilege by making covenants with God, keeping those covenants, and receiving essential ordinances.”
“This has been true since the beginning of time. Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah, Lehi and Sariah, and all other devoted disciples of Jesus Christ—since the world was created—have made the same covenants with God. They have received the same ordinances that we as members of the Lord’s restored Church today have made: those covenants that we receive at baptism and in the temple.”
In the latest online edition of the Church General Handbook, which leaders refer to for how to exercise their authority, regarding Same-Sex Marriage, it states:
“As a doctrinal principle, based on the scriptures, the Church affirms that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. The Church also affirms that God’s law defines marriage as the legal and lawful union between a man and a woman.” (my emphasis added).
With the above in mind is reconciliation with the Church, with all it requires and expects, possible for someone who is gay?
I see the answer as no and yes, very much dependent on each individual. Though, what is meant by reconciliation?
One kind of reconciliation, with themselves as being gay, rather than with the Church, is possible. This is my therapeutic experience and that of Church therapists who I have contact with.
From talking to gay friends, there are some who feel they are able to remain an active member of the Church, being content with celibacy. I must admit to not having considered this as a possibility. Years ago, I had my first introduction to Affirmation held in “Gay’s the Word bookshop”, in London. This was after opening hours. At the time I was serving as a bishop of my local congregation. I attended more as an ally, yet to be fully open about being genderqueer. Having connected via Facebook previously, this was the first time I met other gay members in person.
Regarding reconciliation, some felt they were. One person said he was happy to be celibate now during mortality. He considered being gay as being broken, that he would be fixed in the resurrection. While this shocked, saddened and astounded me, they seemed very content. Hearing someone feel this about themselves was hard for me.
Options – are there any?
Apart from the choice described above, reconciliation with being gay and a member of The Church seems not possible, are there any other options?
- Stay and deny or suppress being gay
- Leave The Church altogether
- Find a different congregation that accepts Christianity and being gay
The first two seem valid options, which I will explore below. The third seems possible, though unlikely to be embraced. This needs more study, but my adhoc experience is that people leaving the Church rarely find comfort in other churches, being more likely to reject Christianity, even God altogether.
Staying or Leaving?
As mentioned some who are gay do stay fully involved in the Church. The questions are under what circumstances, plus for how long. Time will vary with the individual. I’ve heard of and seen people, after coming out to themselves (plus family and others) stay for varying lengths of time – from weeks, months to several years. It seems eventually there becomes a severe disconnect between who they are or how they want to be and what the Church expects of them. If you look at a section of the website the Church has, specially aimed at LGBTQ members, it gives mixed messages. The page for individuals initially is supportive, making it seem that a person who is gay can stay. However, when you reach the section “Does the law of chastity apply to those who experience same-sex attraction?” the difficulties become apparent. The law of chastity is described as:
Abstinence from sexual relations outside of a marriage between a man and a woman according to God’s law. (my emphasis)
Fidelity within marriage.
This would work if all marriages were acceptable. Being that they are not, it imposes a life of celibacy and potential loneliness for those not marrying someone of the opposite sex/gender. It is often posited that the law of chastity is the same for all single people within the Church. I disagree. If you are a single heterosexual person, you can date, hold hands, kiss, cuddle, hug a person of the opposite sex and no one will raise an eyebrow. Do any of that with someone of the same sex or gender and many an eyebrow will be raised, with the added potential of Church discipline. This was made apparent, when recently BYU (a Church owned and run University) updated its “honour code” to remove a section on “homosexual behaviour”:
“On Feb. 12, officials posted the update to the honor code on BYU’s website. The update deleted a section titled “homosexual behavior,” which said in part, “Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the honor code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.””
This removal led to many gay students feeling they were now allowed to date, kiss, cuddle as straights students do. A couple of weeks later BYU clarified this was not the case.
Are there exceptions to the potential loneliness? Perhaps a few. If a person is asexual and/or aromantic, maybe the need for a romantic, intimate, sexual relationship is not as pressing. Conceivably such a person can live their life fully involved as an active member of the Church. This is something to be explored more, to gather data on, as to whether those who stay and are celibate are either asexual and/or aromantic.
Mixed Orientation Marriages (MOMs)
Another exception are Mixed Orientation Marriages (MOMs), where one spouse is gay, lesbian, or bisexual, the other straight. This used to be a recommended option by Church leaders, as a means of “curing homosexuality”. Thankfully, this is no longer recommended. Though, as Church culture often lags behind Church teachings there are still couples who enter into such marriages. Such often get publicised as being successful.
One such couple were Lolly and Josh Weed. Married in 2012. Divorced in 2018. Unfortunately they inadvertently became the poster couple for many, that MOMs worked. Whilst the Church itself did not overtly encourage this, Church culture overtook the situation. In a post, the couple opened with “(And the post in which we sincerely apologize to every member of the LGBTQIA community)”, as they explain why, though still friends, they were no longer able to stay together as a married couple, apologising for giving the impression that a MOM is an acceptable, workable relationship where one is a gay. Due to the publicity this received in Church circles it was saddening and frustrating for me, to see another recent MOM receive much publicity. Skyler and Amanda Sorensen say they are happy in their relationship. The question for me is will this last? Will it end like Josh and Lolly Weed, or continue throughout their lives? No one can know for sure. Are they reducing their chances of greater happiness?
It is disappointing for me, that Dr Ty Mansfield (well know in The Church LGBTQ+ community), a private practice therapist in Utah and adjunct professor at Brigham Young University, quoted in the above linked article, seems to be encouraging MOMs: “Mansfield – who is also attracted to men, but married to a woman – said that between 40 and 60 per cent of his clients were “navigating sexual or gender-identity questions”, and added: “Whatever path you choose, there are healthy ways and unhealthy ways to navigate that path.””
“According to Mansfield, 80 per cent of those in “mixed-orientation marriages” said they were generally satisfied, a far greater proportion than those that were single and celibate (42 per cent) or single and not celibate (40 per cent).”
This is all very personal. For some a MOM may actually work. But at what cost to mental health, to the overall happiness of the couple?
Studies cited in the article indicate that being in a same-sex marriage or relationship, happiness is far greater than being in a MOM. So while it may be an option for some, I feel it is not appropriate to encourage such marriages. Doing so may encourage others into thinking similar relationships will work for them or members of their family. The consequence being, if things don’t work, it leaves in the wake, broken hearts, along with confused and hurt children. More so than if they had been raised in a same-sex marriage.
Being gay, wanting to enter into a relationship with another gay person openly, would be seen in conflict of Church teachings. In some congregations this wouldn’t really be an issue, with some congregations being fully accepting. It is the local leadership to be more concerned about. Some operate what might be termed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, letting things be. In another congregation the bishop may feel the need to follow policy to the letter, resulting in the excommunication of those in same-sex marriages/partnerships.
Is it easy to leave the Church? Like a lot of things related to gay matters and the Church, it’s complicated. If someone decides to leave, the question is how. Just stop attending, which seems the easiest. Though it leaves the possibility of other members trying to “reactivate” you, to encourage you back into Church activity. This may be not just annoying, but triggering, if you regularly have someone contacting you, their aim to bring you back. The alternative of removing your name from Church records, is a permanent solution. Doing so can take a lot.
As mentioned in Families Held Hostage:
“A strong and brave man who is willing to face an enemy’s bullets often melts and becomes compliant when faced with his mother’s tears when she says, “Son we all love you so much, please stay active in the Church, pay your tithing, and go to the temple often so that we can all be together in the celestial kingdom of God. It would break my heart if you were not there with the rest of our family.” This awesome power, a loving mother’s pleading and tears, are at the disposal of the Church!
A man or a woman who, … then decides to leave the Church must also be willing to give up his or her family.”
A person, for example, working with a therapist using the GRACE model, may come to reconcile that God is okay and accepting of them being Gay. Though, so long as the Church keeps teaching that being actively Gay is against “the covenant path”, there is a deep conflict that you cannot be with your family in the next life.
General Church leaders try to make it seem they are more accepting, by seeming to reduce the type of Church discipline, making it appear on a par with straight relationships, with quotes such as the following:
“While Church leaders still consider a same-gender marriage by a member to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline. Instead the “immoral conduct in heterosexual and homosexual relationship will be treated in the same way,””
The reality is somewhat different. Because the Church sees the only valid marriage as between a man and a woman, a gay couple, who get married, as mentioned, are dependant on the local leadership as to what will happen discipline wise. It comes down to what colloquially is known as “priesthood roulette”. Whilst the same handbook is given to all bishops, each will interpret it differently. An older leader is more likely to adhere to procedures that were applied in past years, whereas younger bishops are more likely to be more lenient in administration of discipline, in many cases just ignoring any knowledge they may have of a married gay couple in their congregation.
The GRACE model
This has been an appropriate, effective model for assisting reconciling a person of faith with being gay. Yet, within a fundamentalist faith I argue reconciliation with the GRACE model cannot work. I acknowledge that many members of the Church will not agree with the description of it being fundamentalist.
Consent and Agency
Part of the concern I have is around consent. There are a few gay people who join the Church. One such is Jacob R. His story was published in the August 2020 Ensign, a world-wide Church magazine. My concern here is this pushes people to be celibate. There is not space here to details my concerns, but I wrote a blog doing so. Such an article can, and no doubt will, be weaponised. It’ll be sent to families with gay children, telling them not to worry, their son or daughter just needs to be celibate and everything will be okay. Similarly it’ll, no doubt, be sent direct to a gay person, telling them they just need to be celibate!! All followed by “See this guy called ‘Jacob R’ in the Ensign did it!!“
Was Jacob exercising his consent? I feel that is debatable, as in his words:
“After I gained that testimony, I asked to be baptized. The missionaries asked me, “Are you willing to endure to the end and keep the commandments?”
I said yes, even though at the time I didn’t fully understand everything that question entailed.” (my emphasis)
Saying yes, though he “didn’t fully understand everything…entailed”. Something that frequently happens. Happened to me. Especially for children baptised aged eight. How can they really understand all that will be required throughout their life? There’s something about full consent missing in such decision making.
Being consensual is not just saying yes. It must be an informed yes. All parties being fully aware of everything that they are agreeing to do. As much as it may be claimed, this is not the case when joining the Church. When children are baptised, at age eight, there is no way there will understand all that would eventually be expected of them. Plus, it is doubtful many at that age will be aware of their gender or sexuality. A few may. So if, at whatever age – child, youth or adult – someone begins to realise they are gay, a choice needs to be made. Deny part of themselves and stay, facing a continual struggle. Or leave the Church.
The Future – Changing Approaches?
Over the years Church doctrine, theology, approach and policy toward being gay has changed. Or perhaps developed. Many members will deny this. They may admit to a “policy” change but not a doctrine. For the individual person this has little difference to how it affects their life. The evolving of these teachings has come as science, psychology and society progressed in their approach to the gay community.
The changes have primarily been what caused a person to be gay, plus whether and how a gay person can be cured, to become straight. I quote Taylor G. Petrey, in his Tabernacles of Clay (p. 2). The University of North Carolina Press. Kindle Edition:
“Rather than holding to a monolithic “traditional” view, Mormonism has been beset by competing theories of sexual difference over the past several decades. … On the one hand, Mormon leaders have embraced the ideals of gender essentialism—the belief that there are fixed differences between male and female, which represent the natural and divine order of sexual difference. On the other hand, Mormon leaders have often taught that the differences between male and female are malleable and contingent, and so they must be guarded with strict social, ecclesiastical, and legal norms and sanctions.”
As an example of change over the years, in 1954, Apostle Mark E. Peterson said the following regarding black members of the Church. I acknowledge the next few paragraphs will likely be offensive, but feel are needed to make a point:
“Petersen complained that those who did not understand the LDS church’s religious teachings were unfairly accusing it of bigotry. He insisted that one should behave with respect, generosity, and kindness toward “the Negro,” including support for certain legal and social protections.” (my emphasis)
This was said at a time when the Priesthood and Temple blessing were denied to black members of the Church. In June 1978, this “doctrine”, “teaching” or “policy”, however you may refer to it, was changed so there was no longer any such restrictions. This was welcomed by many, if not most, members of the Church. There was however sufficient complaining, that the un-reversible was being reversed, that in August 1978 (12th paragraph) Apostle Bruce R. McConkie felt to make the following statement to try to calm things:
“There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. . . . They don’t matter any more. . . . It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.”
On the current home page for the Church’s LGBTQ+ website it says something very similar, to the words, quoted above, of Apostle Mark E. Peterson, in 1954:
“Kindness, Inclusion, and Respect for All of God’s Children” (my emphasis)
Similarly on the leadership page, Apostle Quentin L. Cook, says:
“But let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach to those. And 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. I feel very strongly about this, as you can tell. I think it’s a very important principle.”
Many members will say same-sex marriage will never be accepted. It was said that black members would never get the Priesthood or temple blessings. I hope that one day the Church will again, reverse the un-reversible, embracing same-sex marriage, allowing such marriages to be performed in their chapels, by their bishops.
Perhaps one day the Church will find the empathy that Meg-John Barker in quoting Gayle Rubin (1984), in their book, Rewriting the Rules (p. 102), speaks of regarding sexuality, to which I add gender:
“Most people find it difficult to grasp that whatever they like to do sexually will be thoroughly repulsive to someone else, and that whatever repels them sexually will be the most treasured delight of someone, somewhere… Most people mistake their sexual preferences for a universal system that will or should work for everyone.”
Over time society in general has become more accepting of people who are gay. A fundamentalist religion, such as the Church, in its approach to the gay community seems stuck in the 1950s, making it extremely difficult for a young person questioning their gender and sexuality to accept themselves, acknowledging their gender and sexuality as being different to most of the congregation and community they live amongst. Some may say they have a choice to leave, but that is never as easily done as said. It is as if their lives are held non-consensually hostage.
Some things maybe we can never really know. Yet, coming to know and accept ourselves can bring an inner calm and serenity that allows us to be more at peace with the unknown. Perhaps the Church will change. Perhaps it will not. Finding internal peace, in not knowing whether or not that change will happen, can save lives.
Whatever the Church may say that eternity will be, does it really matter? Isn’t eternity right now? Today, being part of tomorrow and yesterday. Isn’t it better to wonder and just be living, rather than be perplexed or in a sorrowful about the future? Being in the present moment, just living now.
Surely suffering for the sake of suffering is not correct, worthwhile or helpful.