Monday, September 29, 2014

Homosexuality and the LDS Church: We Can Change without Compromising Our Theology

I believe there are multiple ways the Church could continue to alter its stance on homosexuality without having to alter its core theology in the slightest.

I'm glad that we are moving away from blaming people for their sexual orientation. I'm glad the Church's official position no longer is that homosexual attraction is 100% a choice and can be changed with therapy, marriage and/or more faith. Being told you just need to stop feeling something that is central to who you are and over which you truly have no control is brutal - and was based on past biological ignorance.  If we could take the latest official statements in "God Loveth His Chlidren" and state fully, openly and explicitly from the General Conference pulpit that sexual attraction isn't always a choice, and that it can't be therapied away, and that it isn't a "sin" to feel the attraction - that would be a huge step in the right direction. We are getting there now, but we aren't quite there yet.

If we could stop categorizing all homosexuals as enemies and attackers of the family, that would be a huge step in the right direction.  My gay friends are not my enemies - and not one of them is attacking me or my family in any way.  For anyone reading this, imagine you are a gay youth who is a faithful member of the Church and hear regularly from the local pulpit that you are an enemy.  It happens regularly, often from "leaders" of some kind, and it simply ought not be. 

If we could allow homosexuals to do everything heterosexuals can do without violating the Law of Chastity as it relates to them (date, hold hands, kiss, express affection, develop non-sexual intimacy, etc. without actually engaging in "sexual activity" of any kind) - that alone would be a huge step. A heterosexual couple who can't have sexual intercourse still can be married and sealed - and if a heterosexual couple chooses not to marry but to live together without crossing lines of conduct prohibition, they shouldn't be disciplined in any way. (I know that would be an exception, but it certainly is possible.) Allowing homosexuals to live together but remain celibate and still be fully "worthy" wouldn't require any change to our current theology whatsoever, especially if the restriction on temple marriage was maintained. Allowing them to attend the temple and be sealed to parents and siblings wouldn't require ANY change to our theology whatsoever.

While acknowledging how far we've come in many ways regarding this issue in the last decade or so, the latest official policy still has one glaring issue. As I mentioned above, even expressions of intimacy that are not sexual in any way still are discouraged. In a way the current stance says, "It's OK to feel attracted to those of the same sex - as long as you never do anything that makes it obvious you feel those attractions." Heterosexual members can do all sorts of things that really aren't "sexual" in nature, while homosexual members can't do those exact same things.

Try this as a thought experiment:

You are a heterosexual man - someone who is attracted to women. Imagine what it would be like if you had been told all your life that such an attraction was wrong - and, in some cases, by some people, that such an attraction was reprehensible, disgusting, repulsive or even evil - that the very attraction itself, the very thought of having sex with a woman, was a gross abomination - that your attraction was seen by God as an abomination). Imagine if you had been told that you could overcome that attraction if you only had more faith - that, in a very real way, your attraction was a sign of your lack of faith. Imagine if you were told that you needed to marry a man and have sex with him in order to get over your attraction to women. 
Now, imagine being told that all of that was wrong - that you weren't the vilest of sinners because of your attraction to others of the opposite sex. However, imagine being told that you still couldn't let anyone, ever, know about your attraction - that you couldn't hold hands with a woman, hug or kiss a woman, put your arm around a woman affectionately (no lust involved whatsoever), spend time alone with a woman in a way that someone else might think is inappropriate. Imagine being told that the expression of intimacy of any kind, in any way, had to be absent from your life - with a man, because you weren't attracted to men, or with a woman, because such things still are seen as abominable.

We've come a long way, as I said, but the second half of the thought experiment above is what we currently ask of homosexual members. We aren't talking exclusively about avoiding "fornication"; we're talking about asking someone to live a completely intimacy-free life - at least with someone to whom that person actually feels a physical attraction. Living without physical intimacy of any kind is one definition of Hell - and we condemn it in the case of Catholic priests and nuns (and even blame it for the sexual abuses of the past within those groups). That is not what we ask of heterosexual members, so I understand completely why some people simply can't stay LDS who face that future.

I admire greatly anyone who can stay actively involved in the Church while being gay, which means I admire some of my friends greatly, but I also admire greatly those who face intense pressure to conform and who suffer greatly for their decision not to do so. What I admire most is not the specific decision, but rather it is the fact that either decision brings great, terrible pain and suffering initially and, in many cases, over an extended period of time.

There is no complete and easy answer right now, but there is much we can do to ease pain and suffering without compromising our theology in any way. What I have detailed above is just a start - but we absolutely need to start.


Christy said...

Hmm. This is what I have discussed with my children because it is what I feel at this point in my knowledge and understanding: I believe that there are people who are born with same sex attraction, I believe God does not want us to practice homosexuality, that creating human life is the basis for sexual intimacy and that (thankfully) it is an appropriate way for spouses to demonstrate their love. What I KNOW is that God loves all of his children. And that is all I know. I cannot even begin to understand, let alone try to judge how to reconcile all of those beliefs.

Christy said...

I do hope that some day we will have a better understanding of what the Lord wants and expects of his children, and how we can help each other live up to those expectations in regards to this issue. But right now I am waiting on further light, knowledge, and guidance when and if I need it.

Firebyrd said...

I don't know, Ray. I think the analogy breaks down because of the expectation of lifelong celibacy. For someone who doesn't expect to marry, I would encourage them not to engage in physical acts of affection with people that they're attracted to, regardless of their sexual orientation. I know my husband and I certainly struggled a great deal while we were engaged and our physical expressions of affection were pretty tame by most standards. I'll also note that while most of us live our usual lives without worrying about it much/at all, at church, it definitely is strongly discouraged for people of the opposite sex to be spending time alone together outside of interviews and the like.

While I don't think anyone should be bereft of physical touch, I think anyone being expected to remain celibate long-term should avoid things you mention like holding hands and dating with those they're romantically interested in. I'd say the same thing about, say, a straight person whose spouse is lost to the ravages of dementia. I think it's a bad idea to encourage feelings that you're not going to be able to act upon, regardless of the sex and orientation of the people in question. There could perhaps be room for a bit more leeway for things like hugs from friends that aren't of the romantic persuasion, but honestly, I don't see the double standard here that you're implying exists (and I'm saying that as someone who supports marriage equality because I don't think we should be pushing our religious beliefs on those who believe otherwise). Basically, how I see it is that the expectation is that if there is no chance that expressions of intimacy are going to lead to a marriage in the relatively near future, you shouldn't be doing it (which would be why we discourage much of what you're talking about in teenagers of any sex and orientation).

That being said, I absolutely agree we need to step away completely from the harmful and antagonistic language that assaults our brothers and sisters that are already hurting and struggling so much. I totally understand why most gays leave the church and I can't say I wouldn't do the same if I were in the same circumstances. Because of the eternal nature of the physical sexes and their role in the afterlife, I just don't see how there will ever be an equivalent to the lifting of the priesthood ban, but I hope that we might someday be able to make room for marriages for time only. Given that we're no longer pushing for people to marry the opposite sex as a "cure," I just don't see what harm that would cause as spousal sealings wouldn't be taking place either way. Unless that happens though, I think the expectations are consistent, even though the circumstances that put heterosexuals into it are much less common.

Anonymous said...

I fail to see how you are not advocating a change in "our theology." Homosexual acts, because they are choices (unlike orientation) are inherently sinful and contrary to God's plan. It is a change in theology to suggest that what was sin is in now OK - especially because it is not PC to suggest otherwise. I do not want to add to the burden of those who have a homosexual orientation -- but I fail to see how it is materially different than the burden placed on a heterosexual sister who has little or no prospect of marriage. I know, the mere logical possibility of having intimate relations is different; but I do not see a real pragmatic difference.

I do not believe that celibacy is too much for God to ask. Perhaps in a culture where God cannot ask anything of us that is hard, or that we do not want or like, it is unthinkable to suggest that someone's sexual appetite not be satisfied. But anyone who places such a straight-jacket (no pun intended) on what God can ask of us worships something much less than the God who can demand our entire heart, might, mind and strength and even our very lives if necessary -- really they worship a God made in the image of their making and preferences. Such a PC "god" would hardly be anything like the God revealed in holy writ.

Papa D said...

"Homosexual acts, because they are choices (unlike orientation) are inherently sinful and contrary to God's plan. It is a change in theology to suggest that what was sin is in now OK - especially because it is not PC to suggest otherwise."

Anonymous, where in my post does it say I am advocating changing the definition of the Law of Chastity in any way? Seriously, it's not there. Also, PC has NOTHING to do with this post.

Papa D said...

Firebyrd, I understand the view of people who want to deny all actions of affections - but it absolutely is a double standard. It's not just about that, though; it's about including gay and lesbian members in numerous ways that don't compromise our theology in any way.

Anonymous said...

This post reminded me of how many member define homosexuality. I have heard multiple times from different directions that someone may experience SSA, but they are not homosexual unless they engage in the physical action. Members that use that definition will have a serious hang-up grasping the point of your post.

Have you ever addressed the use of these definitions? I hear some get the most worked up because they don't realize what others are really saying.

Papa D said...

Anonymous2, yes, that's an issue that needs to be addressed - and I address it by seeing that view as a way for people who aren't gay to split hairs. I get what they are saying, but none of my gay or lesbian friends would say it. **More directly, we NEVER say that about heterosexual people - that they are "opposite-sex attracted" if they are celibate but heterosexual if they are sexually active.**

It's one more example of the double stansards we employ.

ji said...

As I see it, we're comfortable with balanced heterosexual public displays of affection among the unmarried because we are hopeful that they are progressing towards marriage, and marriage between man and woman is the pattern.

Note: Comfort levels differ among cultures and among individuals within the same culture, but friendliness towards marriage exists in all cultures.

We're uncomfortable with similar homosexual public displays of affection because they certainly are not progressing according to the pattern.

There is no unfair double standard in this.

Papa D said...

ji, I agree completely with what you describe being the primary reason for the double standard, but the "we're comfortable" and "we're uncomfortable" aspect highlights the fact that, to me, it absolutely is a double standard. None of the things I listed in the post are violations of the Law of Chastity, but our varying comfort levels make many of us see them as wrong for some people.

People can argue that it's okay to have such a double standard, using, for example, the rationale that you did in your comment - and I respect that, since I respect differing views. To say it isn't a double standard, however, is inaccurate - and I think it's really important to recognize and acknowledge that.

ji said...

Sure -- my qualifier is important -- no unfair double standard.