Monday, April 20, 2009

Does anyone have any knowledge/experience regarding the treatment of homosexual behavior as opposed to any type of promiscuous sex by the church? Is gay sex considered more of a sin than straight sex outside of marriage? I know that it is more culturally taboo, but is it also more serious doctrinally? Almost all straight men will admit that they are tempted by other women, but almost never does a gay man admit openly that he is attracted to men. Our lessons in church, both as youth and as adults talk openly about the evils of committing sins of a heterosexual nature, but it seems far less often that our lessons talk about sins of a homosexual nature. Again, only taboo, or is there something else doctrinally that says we shouldn't talk in open groups about being gay? Has anyone experienced any pressure from church leaders to not talk openly about being gay or about wanting to have sex with the same gender? And is the subject appropriate for all ages?

19 comments:

playasinmar said...

You are so boned.

Alan said...

1. Is gay sex considered more of a sin than straight sex outside of marriage? - It seems to be treated that way. Prospective missionaries who have engaged in homosexual behavior are required to wait longer to enter the MTC than those who've heterosexual sex outside marriage. But scriptural denunciations of heterosexual adultery and misbehavior far outnumber the references to homosexuality, and I see no clear doctrinal basis for Church's different treatment of the two. If the Church believes, as Pres. Hinckley said, that there's "one standard of morality" for everyone, then the Church should treat sexual misbehavior consistently regardless of the genders involved.

That said, I can imagine an implicit doctrinal basis for the current approach if one assumes Doc. & Cov. 132:19 is the ultimate only roadmap for everyone, never to be changed or expanded. Mormons who believe that will see homosexuality as a threat to the plan of salvation. Their logic will be that if everyone should aspire to become like God and create innumerable spirit children, and assuming God does that in basically the same way we create human children (a popular notion but unfounded in scripture, we simply don't know how it's done), then homosexuality simply cannot be allowed as part of any eternal perspective, and homosexual behavior will be seen as more serious than heterosexual misbehavior because it contradicts God's plan for propagation of the species. Bluntly speaking, it requires that one accept the possibility of homosexuality in the celestial kingdom. And while the scriptures are silent on that, it is simply unthinkable for most Mormons given their current acculturation. I emphasize that all of this would only be the likely train of thought of any anti-gay Mormons who stopped to think through the logic of their prejudice; I don't say that I think it's correct or scripturally supportable. If gay sex is "more serious doctrinally," these extrapolations are probably why.

For the record, I think culture has largely overwhelmed doctrine in the Church on this issue. I have read extremely persuasive arguments from qualified Biblical scholars who conclude that all OT/NT "denunciations" of homosexuality have been misinterpreted to support a cultural prejudice, and on thorough review, they do not support Christian hostility to homosexuality. And the uniquely LDS Scriptures say nothing on the subject whatsoever. Bottom line for me: this issue presents a huge gaping hole in the Church's actual doctrinal knowledge. Current cultural and political trends worldwide mean that the Church is going to have to adapt somehow, as it's done before. The Church is on a collision course with this issue and whether by changing policies or announcing new revelation, something must change.

2 - Almost all straight men will admit that they are tempted by other women, but almost never does a gay man admit openly that he is attracted to men. Our lessons in church, both as youth and as adults talk openly about the evils of committing sins of a heterosexual nature, but it seems far less often that our lessons talk about sins of a homosexual nature. Again, only taboo, or is there something else doctrinally that says we shouldn't talk in open groups about being gay?

Mostly cultural. The Church, like any earthly organization, will try to operate efficiently and maximize the use of its resources. Since the majority of Church members are heterosexual, the Church will spend most of its time hammering into them the dangers of heterosexual misbehavior. Add to that the almost universal prejudice against homosexuality in the United States until recently , the Church's pogrom against its members who "chose" such "deviance" that ended only within the last couple of decades, the still-strong homophobia in most of the Church, and the general reluctance of Church members over the age of 30 or so to talk about sex at all in a Church setting, and you get the de facto taboo that you've seen. There is nothing doctrinally that says we shouldn't talk in open groups about being gay. There IS something doctrinally that says we should treat each other in a charitable and Christlike manner, and forgive my cynicism, but I think that would be difficult for a lot of Church members to extend such treatment if they were ever confronted by a calm, rational, testimony-bearing, openly gay Latter-day Saint who believes there is a place for himself in The Kingdom. I hope I'm wrong but fear that's unlikely, in many cases.

3 - Has anyone experienced any pressure from church leaders to not talk openly about being gay or about wanting to have sex with the same gender? And is the subject appropriate for all ages?

I've never heard any such advice but that's probably because I've never heard much discussion of this issue at all in church. I wouldn't be surprised if some church leader(s) somewhere had issued such instructions though. And the topic is not appropriate for all ages, just as discussion of heterosexual sex isn't appropriate for some ages. The discussion would be appropriate for any child with enough maturity to hear and understand a full discussion of the basics of human sexuality, gay or straight should make no difference. Actual ages will therefore vary.

santorio said...

i agree with alan; the church is riding a cultural wave, not the leading wave, but it will end up in the same place.

i once asked a black member of my ward how he felt about the church's racist past. he was totally nonplussed: "well, what would you expect from white folk?"

well, moho's, what else would we expect from a bunch of straight men?

Scott said...

As far as I know (and I've studied this a lot there is no doctrinal support for the idea that (extramarital) gay sex is "more evil" than (extramarital) straight sex. In fact, statements to the contrary have been made, including the President Hinckley statement cited by Alan ("one standard of morality") as well as a statement by Elder Oaks in an interview with CBS as far back as 1986 (Elder Oaks was asked about the nature of the sin of homosexual behavior--whether gay sex was inherently sinful or whether it was the fact that it was sex outside of marriage that made it a sin. He responded "The fact that it is outside the bonds of marriage is what makes it a transgression.")

However, as Alan has also noted, the perception among members of the Church (and even among many of the leaders) is that gay sex is inherently "more" wrong than any sort of straight sex. Since there is no doctrinal support for this viewpoint, it seems reasonable to assume that it's based mostly on the "ick" factor (culturally-based) that most people experience when confronted with the idea of two men having sex.

Re: talking about homosexuality in church meetings, etc... I think Alan has it partially right--there are far fewer gay members than straight ones (and our leaders would like to believe that the percentages are even smaller than they really are) and so we teach to the majority.

But I also think that there has been (and still is, to some extent) a feeling among our leaders that talking about homosexuality will increase its prevalence. I don't have anything with me here at work, but I have copies of several talks and pamphlets from the '60s and '70s, and they refer to homosexuality as the "unmentionable" sin and speak of it as if it's something that shouldn't even be discussed lest we risk catching it ourselves.

Of course, the prevailing modern scientific view (and my personal feeling) is that orientation is a core characteristic and that talking about homosexuality will not "turn" someone gay any more than talking about melanin will turn someone's skin dark. It seems like the Church is slowly starting to come around to this understanding, but it's taking a while, and we still get things like God Loveth His Children, which encourages gay members to refrain from making their orientation obvious or discussing it with others.

Again--none of this is doctrinal. It may or may not be entirely culturally influenced--the attitudes of the members and leaders are probable influenced both by cultural views and by current interpretations of doctrine--but the policies themselves are not doctrine.

You ask if anyone has experienced pressure from church leaders to not talk openly about being gay, etc. (and this is the main reason I'm commenting, but I'm incredibly long-winded, so it's taken me this long to get to the point...)

I was outed to my bishop by an unknown individual, and he "invited" me into his office for an interview (an act that in and of itself speaks volumes on the general membership's attitudes towards homosexuality--I have never acted on my orientation and he should have had no reason to assume that I had, but that was the first question he asked me when I sat down.)

In the course of our discussion, the first time I referred to myself as "gay" he immediately jumped on my words and informed me that I am not gay, but that I am to refer to myself as "having SSA", etc. (I informed him that I would do no such thing).

When I felt prompted to come out to my ward in testimony meeting, I informed my bishop beforehand that I was planning to do so, so that he would not be caught by surprise, and although he stopped short of telling me that I couldn't do it, he strongly discouraged me from going through with it--he didn't want the news to get out.

A few weeks ago Sarah (who leads the music in Relief Society) wanted to sing "I'll Walk With You", a song from the Children's Song Book that was written by Carol Lynn Pearson. The song speaks of standing alongside and walking with those who are different--of seeing past the differences and loving as Christ does. She wanted to share Carol Lynn Pearson's description of the song from No More Goodbyes, which indicates that CLP thinks of her gay brothers and sisters when she sings the song, and the bishop was adamant that she not say anything that hinted at homosexuality.

So, just one leader, but yes, it happens.

(Another example might be Chedner, who was looking into going on a mission earlier this year but who refused to step back into a closet, and whose local leaders were uncomfortable with the idea of sending an openly gay man on a mission. Read a bit about it here, here, and here.)

Finally, re: appropriateness, I don't think it's inappropriate to talk about being gay with anyone--we talk about gay-related things around our kids (ages 12, 11, 8 and 3) all the time. Talk about wanting to have sex with the same gender would (as Alan said) only be appropriate in situations in which discussions of straight sex would be appropriate. But in my mind, any child who is old enough to understand sex is also old enough to understand that in some cases sexual attraction is directed at the same gender--there's no reason to teach straight sex at one age and save gay sex until the kid is "more mature".

Forester said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Forester said...

Alan, you bring up a good point - that of the existence of gay people in the celestial kingdom, or for that matter in spirit paradise. If this is not possible, then people must change. If you are totally faithful all of your life (not acting on gay feelings), but are gay, should you not be able to receive the same celestial glory as a straight person? Will an increase in knowledge during our progression in the afterlife facilitate a change from being gay to straight? Or maybe we will just be changed automatically when we die?

I still believe that change is possible, although, for me personally, I have learned not to expect it in this life. However, this doesn't mean that someone else may not be able to change in this life. Nothing is impossible. I think that we should still desire and hope for a change, just not expect it to happen.

I also believe that we shouldn't flaunt being gay, but we also shouldn't be ashamed of these feelings. In this sense, I don't think it's a good thing to announce to the world that we are gay. Coming out to people we know and are close to is one thing, but telling the whole world is another. I think being gay is something very personal and there are appropriate times and places to talk about it. I'm not an advocate for announcing our sexual orientation to everyone, but I also don't believe it should be something we have to hide. Your personal sexual orientation to me is a sacred topic and should only be discussed with a group of people spiritually prepared to talk about it - such as within a youth fireside. This isn't to say that the topic of same gender attraction shouldn't be discussed in a general way, it should, and needs to be talked about more. But your own sexual identity isn't appropriate to reveal to everyone, such as during sacrament meeting.

Scott said...

But your own sexual identity isn't appropriate to reveal to everyone, such as during sacrament meeting.I don't know if this was specifically addressed to me (since I did mention coming out in a testimony meeting in my previous comment), but I would like to share my own views on the appropriateness of sharing my own orientation (which, I'd like to emphasize, I don't think are any more valid than yours--I'm not saying you're wrong to feel the way you do, I'm just explaining why I feel the way I do).

My decision to "come out" to my ward in testimony meeting was not made lightly, and it was not driven by any desire to "flaunt" my homosexuality. I'll discuss motivation in a second, but the actual decision to do what I did was based on an unmistakable prompting that it was the right thing to do, and I was careful when following that prompting to craft my words so that they were appropriate to the spirit of the meeting and geared toward bearing testimony of God's love. You can read more about it (including an approximate transcript of what I said) if you want.

As far as motive goes, I had two reasons for wanting to let my ward know about my sexual orientation:

First, it is statistically certain that there are other gay members in my ward, and there's a good chance that some of them are like I was for so many years--hating their attractions and hating themselves for having them. If, by publicly declaring that I am a temple-worthy gay Mormon, I can help these people to see and understand that God loves them the way they are, and that the fact that they are attracted to men instead of women does not make them evil or broken, I am glad to be out and public with my orientation.

Second, all of the straight members of my ward need to know that they know someone who is gay, and that that "someone" is someone who they like and respect. They need to understand that the fact that I am attracted to men does not change my worth as a human being or as a Child of God, because it is only by gaining this understanding that they will be able to let go of the misperceptions and prejudices that many of them harbor. You said it yourself--the issue needs to be discussed more. But it won't be until members know that the issue affects people who they know personally.

It is for these same two reasons that I personally believe that everyone who is in a position to do so should be public with their orientation. They shouldn't "flaunt" it, but they should carefully and prayerfully make it known, as prompted by the Spirit, so that understanding and tolerance and Christlike love can spread.

Forester said...

Scott, I didn't mean any harm by my comment. I overlooked your comment a bit. I understand your reasoning for coming out to your ward and I've thought about doing the same. I don't know that I would announce it during testimony meeting, but the way you worded your comments does make a difference. Although I accept being gay, I look forward to the day when I will no longer be hounded by its temptations that would destroy everything I have worked to obtain in this life and the next. I think we need to be careful about becoming too prideful about being gay and thinking that we know more or better than our leaders and the church. Although they may not have the experience of being gay or maybe even not knowing someone close who is gay, they are called of God, and although infallable as human beings, we still follow their guidance, even if it means reevaluating our positions (even with all we know as gay men).

I'm denfinately not one to preach, as is evidenced by my posts, but I think we walk a thin line that can be crossed in more ways than just by sexually acting on our inclinations. There are other aspects of being gay that are wrong. We shouldn't ever believe that, just because we have not committed any sexual sin, our membership in the church can not be challenged or even taken from us.

Wow, listen to me, I spent my last couple of posts challenging my own notions here, or at least trying to.

Scott said...

Forester, no harm done--I didn't take offense at all at your comment. I just wanted to clarify my position.

... and for further clarification...

In many ways I do feel like I know better than my leaders... I certainly think I know and understand what's right and what's appropriate with regards to homosexuality better than my bishop does. He's basing his approach on a 17-year-old publication that the Church distributed to local leaders (that hasn't officially been supplanted) and in several respects the advice that he has given has been contrary to what I have felt prompted to do or say. I don't fault him for that--he's doing the best he can with something he doesn't really understand--but I also choose not to follow his advice, and to instead seek and follow the Spirit. If this makes me prideful then so be it.

I'll take it further and say that in some respects I feel like I know better than our general leaders and/or "the Church". Perhaps this is bordering on apostasy, and I recognize that if I go too far with this position (i.e. if I start publicly teaching that out leaders are wrong, and that my viewpoints are right) I run a very real risk of forfeiting my membership in the Church. I don't intend to go that far. But I also don't think that it's necessarily wrong to believe as I do (as long as I'm not actively promoting my beliefs as "doctrine").

If a gay member of the Church living in the 70s had fervently believed that his orientation was not the result of frequent masturbation or of an absent father, and that it was in fact an inherent characteristic that could not be easily reversed through some combination of prayer, therapy, and perhaps marriage, would that member have been wrong to hold that position? All of those beliefs would have been contrary to what the Brethren were asserting at the time with regards to homosexuality, yet all of those beliefs would now be considered perfectly congruent with current Church positions.

Perhaps the Church will some day embrace some of the things that I currently believe, and perhaps it won't, but if my beliefs are earned through careful and prayerful study, I don't think that I am wrong in maintaining them, even if they fly in the face of current Church policy. Perhaps, again, this is evidence of a prideful attitude. But I'm not sure that I can change what I believe any more easily than I can change who I'm attracted to.

brandonm said...

Hi Forester.

I have come to your blog by way of a close friend who also blogs. The question you raised is a very important one; it is also central to the SSM debate that continues to rage--principally because many in the Church have embraced and fostered a special quality of sinfulness with regard to their perception of homosexuality.

While Alan and Scott have proposed very good answers, maybe I can add a thought.

Mainly, sex is sex, and sex outside marriage is disallowed by the Lord in any case. I, too, am unable to find a concrete, policy-based reason to show that gay sex is considered a more grave offense; therefore I must conclude IT IS NOT ANY DIFFERENT. (I don't think that pre-mission policies count; I can see how mission situations [two young men living together 24-7] make homosexuality a unique issue there.)

Socially and culturally, I really believe we must stop treating homosexuality any differently than sexuality itself. With all due respect to my brothers who struggle with SSA, I have to wonder if you too suffer when *you* view your sexual attractions as setting you apart and making you a special case.

My view is we are all sexual beings and we must make mature decisions about our sexual lives. Homo or hetero, we are all just sexual. We all struggle with the passions of our sexuality, and the consequences of those choices have the same ramifications for all of us, too.

Your own situation is hardly any different than that of a straight man who considered having an affair, and then rightly decided to go back to his wife and kids.

Good luck as you continue in the struggle that you have in common with *all men*.

Kengo Biddles said...

Forester -- from my personal experience, I think it's treated more harshly...but I think that it is in part due to the "Ew" factor for some of the local leadership who don't understand it.

Just my 2 cents.

Wyatt said...

I personally feel that it's important to be transparent and to seek out appropriate ways in which you can be honest to EVERYONE in your life. I know it's hard but there has to come a time when you are honest and when you can embrace who you are.

But of course, the Church doesn't want honesty, they just want status quo so even if they try and teach 'being true, chaste, benevolent...' they actually don't like the honest part. They teach you to lie about your sexual orientation to everyone so you can fit in with all the other homos in your elder's quorum.

I'm just being honest about my perception of being in the mormon church.

Ron Schow said...

Alan said:

"Their logic will be that if everyone should aspire to become like God and create innumerable spirit children, ..... then homosexuality simply cannot be allowed as part of any eternal perspective, and homosexual behavior will be seen as more serious than heterosexual misbehavior because it contradicts God's plan for propagation of the species. Bluntly speaking,it requires that one accept the possibility of homosexuality in the celestial kingdom.... it is simply unthinkable for most Mormons given their current acculturation."
**********
I am puzzled as to why no one seems to remember that ministering angels are part of the celestial kingdom. As I understand it they do not have eternal increase but live forever in celestial glory??

There is another thing that occurs to me as I read the passionate responses to your blog of last Friday, April 17. Does anyone remember that we belong to a Church where the members practiced polygamy for 40+ years?

I could tell you more than one story from my ancestors, but I have a great grandfather who was asked by Brigham Young to meet the new arrivals as some of the pioneers were sent to Brigham City. I have been to the graveyard where he is buried with most of his 6 wives. About every 5-10 years, he would find a younger woman than his other wives among the new arrivals and bring her home to join his family. He was a very generous man and could always seem to find a way to support a new and younger wife, who was arriving in the area and needing support. When he married my great-grandmother, his 5th wife, he was 46 and she was 27. When he married the 6th wife he was 56 and she was 29. He had 5 children with this last wife.

When he died at age 76 he had 21 children and was said to be a faithful member of the Church.

I think my grandfather and Joseph Smith provide quite a contrast to men of the current day who might choose to kiss someone besides their wife, whereupon they will definitely go straight to hell and break the hearts of all their children.

Scott said...

Ron makes some excellent points.

(Most members would consider "Ministering Angel" to be the consolation prize, but that's perhaps off the subject a bit).

I do want to clarify that I don't believe that kissing somebody besides my wife will send me "straight to hell and break the hearts of all [my] children". As Ron has pointed out, affection and even physical intimacy can be shared among multiple partners in a manner that is compatible with the Gospel.

The problem I had with the proposal in the earlier post (in which the question of a kiss was originally raised) was the secretive or deceptive nature of it. I'm certain that Ron's great-grandfather's first (and subsequent) wives were fully aware that their husband was going to be bringing home a new "sister-wife".

A modern wife might find it more difficult to accept a plurality of partners without question than the wives of a mid-nineteenth century polygamist did, but I don't think the importance of honesty and openness in a marriage has diminished at all in the last 150 years. If you need to meet the new arrivals and bring back a handsome young man to marry then do so, but don't try to do it without your first wife's knowledge.

That's all I was really trying to say. :)

Ron Schow said...

Scott

Yours was not the post that made me think that a kiss might send someone "straight" to hell. There were others.

And with reference to what my great-grandfather said to his other wives, I don't honestly know. I do know about another of my great-grandfathers. He also was a stalwart saint. He helped build the St George temple. When my grandmother, his first wife was about 30, he came to her and asked her permission to marry her sister, a 16 yr old. When my grandmother asked him to wait two years, he got permission from the mother of these two women, and secretly (for a time) brought the 16 year old to the far off settlement near St George where they lived.

So, Scott, I am not at all sure what kind of permission my other grandfather had when he met and married the newer, younger wives??

Ron Schow said...

As for the idea that "ministering angel" is a consolation prize, I happen to think celestial glory sounds pretty good. I don't feel any need to be in the top degree of glory. Within days we are expecting my 14th grandchild. I am not worried about having a posterity and I already have plenty of birthdays to keep track of.

So I wonder, why wouldn't a gay saint be happy being a ministering angel?

Max Power said...

"...why wouldn't a gay saint be happy being a ministering angel?"

Good question. The answer is: because we (I know I was, and I'm sure others around here were as well) were taught all our lives and had it ingrained in our heads that the worst possible hell would be to *almost* make it to the ultimate level of heaven. The most horrible agony would be to come in just slightly short of absolute eternal perfection, knowing that with just a tiny bit more effort you could have made it all the way.

It's a cultural, non-doctrinal teaching that I think a lot of us need to purge from our minds.

Ron Schow said...

Here is one advantage I can think of in the 2nd degree of celestial glory. If you met someone you really liked and wanted to hug or kiss them, you probably wouldn't need permission from anyone.

Big smile.

goodtobefree said...

I realize that this is a bit late and most have moved on to more recent posts, but I had to comment as I posed some of these exact questions to my Bishop not two weeks ago.
As far as I know and understand church policy to be homosexual sin is treated more gravely than heterosexual sin. While the church may be moving away from this view, it never the less still remains. Example: when a missionary is giving an interview for baptism the questions that he must ask the potential member are: have you ever murdered, participated in an abortion or in homosexual activity. If the answer is yes to any of these the person is referred to a higher authority. I assume this places homosexual activity on par with murder and abortion. It seems to fly in the face of the argument that the church is now making that sexual sin is sexual sin, when someone who has slept with 100 people of the opposite sex is passed off for baptism while those who may have had a single encounter with someone of the same sex is not. My other example is biblical. No where do we find in the bible a city that was destroyed because of heterosexual sin. However we are taught that homosexual sin is the reason (correct or not) that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.
As for the rest, I believe that the church is influenced more by culture than most would like to believe. Maybe as society moves the church will follow. I have never been asked explicitly not do discuss homosexuality, but certainly the implied message is that it is not something to be talked about, see "God Loveth His Children:" "It is not helpful to flaunt homosexual tendencies or make them the subject of unnecessary observation or discussion." What is unnecessary is open for debate but that is what the church has as a position.
Thanks for blogging.
Chris

Since July 15, 2007