On Sexual Orientation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Youth Suicide in Utah

On Sexual Orientation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Youth Suicide in Utah September 20, 2022

 

A panorama of Kolob Canyon
Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park, between St. George and Cedar City, Utah
Photo by G. M. Hatfield, Wikimedia CC

 

But first, I’ve been really busy of late, and I haven’t called attention to the newest of our short Witness-related videos.  It went up, as they always do, at 7 PM on Saturday evening, Utah time.  And, as they always are, it’s free.  Here it is:

 

What Else Did the Witnesses See?”

While trying to dismiss claims that the witnesses interacted with the gold plates, critics often gloss over—or even completely ignore—the fact that many of the witnesses also interacted with other ancient objects. What were these objects?

This is the twenty-second in a series compiled from from the many interviews conducted during the course of the Witnesses film project. This series of mini-films is being released each Saturday at 7pm MDT. These additional resources are hosted by Camrey Bagley Fox, who played Emma Smith in Witnesses, as she introduces and visits with a variety of experts. These individuals answer questions or address accusations against the witnesses, also helping viewers understand the context of the times in which the witnesses lived. This week we feature Daniel C. Peterson, President of the Interpreter Foundation and Executive Producer of Witnesses. For more information, go to https://witnessesofthebookofmormon.org/ or watch the documentary movie Undaunted.

Short clips from this episode are also available on TikTok and Instagram.

Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel at https://youtube.interpreterfoundation.org/ and our other social media channels on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and TikTok.

 

***

 

During the flight on Monday afternoon from Salt Lake City to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California — I actually made it this time! — I had absolutely excellent views (though not in this order) of Utah Lake, Lake Mead, the towns of Nephi and Levan and St. George (which are all significant in the history of my extended family), and the Kolob Canyons area of Zion National Park (which was very interesting to see from the air).

 

I also read, among other things, an interesting sociological study: W. Justin Dyer, Michael A. Goodman, and David S. Wood, “Religion and Sexual Orientation as Predictors of Utah Youth Suicidality,” BYU Studies Quarterly 61/2 (2022); 51-103.  Here are some notes from my reading:

 

  • “[A]ccording to the Utah Department of Health, there was a 136.2 percent increase in suicides among Utah youth age 10-17 from 2011 to 2015, compared to an increase of 24 percent nationally.”  (51)
  • “It is important to view Utah’s suicide rates within the context of its region.  Utah sits in the middle of a band of states with higher suicide rates sometimes called the “suicide belt.”” These are typically said to be Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.  “These states all have higher rates of suicide than the nation and share characteristics that are related to greater suicide rates, including higher altitude, lower population density, and high gun ownership.  Utah sits in the middle of the suicide belt both geographically and in its suicide rate.  In 2019, four of the surrounding states had higher suicide rates, and the large increase in Utah suicide rates was average among the suicide belt states.” (51-52)
  • “Utah does, however, stand out in its religious profile with a 68.6 percent of its population being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Despite having an average suicide rate for its region, some have suggested Utah’s higher rates may be due to the Church of Jesus Christ’s conservative stance on sexuality.” (52)
  • Since Émile Durkheim raised the question of the relationship between religion and suicide in 1897, researchers have generally found that religious affiliation, religious behaviors, and religious beliefs seem to be protective against suicide, providing community connection, social networks, and a sense of direction and meaning.
  • Religion may also help to reduce suicidality through its tendency to strengthen family relationships, foster happier marriages and greater marital stability, and encourage better parenting.
  • Some have speculated that religiously-based disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, creating shame and alienation in LGBQ persons, puts those persons at increased risk for suicide.
  • However, research overall seems to suggest that religion is actually protective, on average, for LGBQ individuals and their mental health.
  • Several studies indicate that Latter-day Saint and/or specifically active Latter-day Saints are significantly lower — by significant and significantly, the authors are referring to statistical significance — in suicidal thoughts and in suicide attempts than are those of other religions included in the studies.
  • “In this study, we sought to determine whether, in Utah, rates of Latter-day Saints’ suicidal thoughts and attempts were significantly different from those individuals from other religions or no religion.”  (58)
  • “Latter-day Saints [are] lower than national rates in thoughts and attempts.”  (66)
  • “Those of all other religions (including nones — which means no specific religious affiliation) were significantly higher in considering suicide, attempting suicide, and depression than Latter-day Saints.”  (66)
  • “Latter-day Saints remained significantly lower than all other religious groups [as categorized in the study] in suicidality and depression.”  (66; compare 69, 72, 75, 76, 77)
  • “Study results suggest that LGBQ Latter-day Saints are not at higher suicidality risk than LGBQ  youth of other religions or those with no religious affiliation, and in fact were significantly lower in suicidality than several of these other groups.  Initial difference tests . . . suggest Latter-day Saints are, on average, lower in suicidality than most other religious groups.”  (76)
  • “This same pattern held for LGBQ individuals.  LGBQ Latter-day Saints were lower in their suicidality and/or depression than LGBQ individuals of any other religion or no religion.”  (77)
  • “Although some have suggested otherwise, results here give support to research suggesting that, in Utah, being a Latter-day Saint is protective against depression and suicidality even for LGBQ individuals.”  (81)
  • “Utah data match other state and national data suggesting significantly higher rates of suicide ideation and attempt among those youth who identify as LGBQ versus those who identify as heterosexual.”  (81)
  • “60.5% of LGBQ Utah teens who had no religion had, at some point in their lives, identified as Latter-day Saint.  Of that 60.5%, 42.4% had seriously considered suicide and 11.5% had attempted suicide.  It is worth noticing that these rates are lower than CDC [Centers for Disease Control] estimates for LGB individuals nationwide.”  (101-102)
  • “LGBQ Latter-day Saints (current and estimated former combined) remain . . . significantly lower in suicide ideation and suicide attempt than LGBQ individuals of no religion.”  (102)

 

Now, I can easily imagine at least a few of my most obsessive and disingenuous critics skimming through my notes above and reporting to their credulous fellows that I’m saying that the problem of youth suicides isn’t tragically important and/or that the lives of young homosexuals don’t matter.  That all is well in Zion, and that the only thing that matters to me is the reputation of the Church.  If so, they will be spreading a malicious lie.

 

But I do think that the study that I read today should be taken into account when accusations are leveled against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that its teachings kill young gay people, and that its leaders are callously indifferent to the suffering that they cause.

 

Posted from Newport Beach, California

 

 


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