I have made many points as to why I take the stances I do in regards to the LDS positions around LGBTQ issues. But at some level it really boils down to the following: when a religion takes a normal part of someone’s life – in this case, who they fall in love with and consequently become attached to, committed to and sexual with – and declares it a sin (playing the God trump card); there are going to be dire consequences. Because now a person has to either reject or repress a natural part of themselves, or reject the religion: leading to a no-win situation and lose-lose for all involved. Let’s look at the options available:
- They will reject the religion’s position and leave (this has high costs for the person who usually faces some level of social and family rejection and for the community who lost one of its members – plus it usually takes a long time to get to this point and damage has already been done).
- They will reject the position but try to stay because there are other aspects of the religion still very much of value to them (still comes at a high cost because the person is in a position where they are continually marginalized and limited in how they are allowed to live their religion by those in authority).
- They will accept the position but feel badly because they are unable to keep their lives aligned to that position (high cost of guilt, shame, cognitive dissonance, feeling broken, failed attempts to ‘change,’ etc.)
- They will accept the position and take extreme measures to abide by it (high cost of forfeiting relational romance, sexuality and family life; increased rates of mental health issues, suicidal ideation, and overall unhappiness).
I know it is difficult for many within the Church to hear an LDS therapist take the position that homosexual behavior, in of itself, is not a sin and not completely dismiss me. I have advocated for a long time that LGBTQ individuals be held to the same standard as heterosexuals when it comes to the Law of Chastity. And for many this will mean I am taking a blasphemous position. But let’s please remember that we have a history of redefining sin; with several clear examples being interracial marriage/sexuality, polygamous marriage/sexuality, and what is considered appropriate marital behavior for heterosexual couples. Those sins have been redefined largely due to the social pressures and education/research of the time. Not because of God. But because of us. The essay written by the LDS Church on the policies around denying the priesthood to black males explicitly says our own biases got in the way. And now we “disavow” past racist teachings once considered doctrine. So it is completely feasible that we may not currently understand all that will change, shift and be revealed in the future in regards to LGBTQ issues. And when the positions we have taken as a church lead to so much heartache, rejection, unhappiness, mental illness, family & community turmoil, excommunication, and even high rates of suicide – you better believe I’m on the side of ‘we are making a mistake.’ I don’t have the luxury to wait around for authority figures to decide for me, while I’m in the trenches with capable hands to help those who are bleeding.
We have survived mistakes before and I expect we shall survive them again. The Gospel is not generally thwarted by the mistakes we make – other than the people who get left in the wake of our learning curves. I wish we did a better job of learning from mistakes, avoiding them and apologizing when we make them – but the Gospel will go forth nonetheless. And it doesn’t make me any less a member of this Church for me to take this position.
Some have said I seem more negative these days.* Maybe that is true. But my reactions are not happening in a vacuum. I am reacting to changes happening within my beloved community. I am reacting to the continual focus our leaders have decided to prioritize for the last 25 years, over many other issues I feel are much more harmful and relevant than whether or not two people fall in love and decide to have committed, marital sex.
I recommend listening to the following podcast: Responding to LDS Church Clarification on its Same-Gender Marriage and Children Policies done by Mormon Stories.
31 and a half minutes into Part 1, Daniel Parkinson – a gay psychiatrist who was raised in the LDS Church – gives a 10 minute review as to why we need to be highly concerned as to the messages our children and youth are receiving from our church about LGBTQ issues. He shares current statistics that are sobering. I am one of many mental health professionals within our community who are gravely concerned over what is happening. It’s not just the new policies that are the problem – they were just so flabbergastingly egregious that members on all sides of the spectrum have responded in dismay. It’s the messaging that has been there all along that’s the real problem.
“Why weren’t we up in arms two weeks ago” indeed.
For those who are interested, Part 2 offers explanations from a legal perspective of how and why the Church would choose to release these policies now. That’s an entirely different bundle to unravel so I’ll stay on the mental health side of things.
*Positives that have happened in our Church in the past 20 years towards the progress we need to continue to make:
- Church takes position that homosexuality is not a choice, but an innate orientation and not in of itself a sin (indirectly acknowledges that reparative/conversion therapies have not worked and members should not expect them to work).
- Church launches mormonsandgays.org where they emphasize love and acceptance towards LGBTQ members and lay out the above bullet point.
- Church leaders, for the most part, stop encouraging LGBTQ members to marry against their orientation.
- Church allows homosexual members who are “out” to participate fully as long as they are celibate or in mixed-orientation marriages (the “as long as” is not positive – but at least the Church is not mandating LGBTQ members to be closeted).
- Church does not discipline members for being a part of groups like Mormons Building Bridges, Mama Dragons or Affirmation.
- Church states that members can politically support same-sex marriage as long as they are not actively opposing the church (I believe I am stating that correctly since there has been some confusion of what this actually means).
- Apostles have stated that family members should not kick their youth/children out of their homes due to their sexual orientation (this should be said over the General Conference pulpit, which to my recollection has not but please correct me if I’m wrong).
- Church has supported anti-discriminatory legislation protecting some civil rights (even though they have done so in ways that also protect their religious freedom to discriminate).
- Elder Oaks states that there is still much we need to learn and understand in regards to transgender members.
- Church donated monies to the Utah Pride Center in response to a request made by the organization for funds.
- Some local ecclesiastical leaders in certain wards/stakes have made aggressive attempts to welcome LGBTQ members – going as far as allowing them to hold small callings and assuring that disciplinary councils will not be pursued (prior to the new policies making disciplinary councils mandatory and same-sex marriage an act of apostasy).
- General USA LDS membership continues to become more accepting of same-sex marriage according to national surveys.
Please feel free to list more positives I may have not remembered to list in the comments section.
Natasha Helfer Parker can be contacted at natashaparker.org.