Much has been said over the last few days about Elder Bednar’s recent comments regarding homosexual members of the Mormon church. I will not re-post the original footage here, but I would like to pass on some timely thoughts, shared by an anonymous friend, that I particularly appreciate. Whether or not you agree with every word, I hope you will appreciate as I do the thoughtfulness with which my friend addressed the issue.
It is certainly essential to identify irresponsible or harmful ideas. It is also important to develop the ability to process difficult moments, which will inevitably always be a part of life, in a way that enables us maintain inner peace. We must take the time to recognize the simultaneous humanity and divinity in all people, and to hold to what is good and let go of what is not. There is no “right” way of addressing these moments, and each of us with our own temperaments must respond as best we know how. This is one response.
Elder Bednar said recently that there are no homosexual members of the church. To LGBT members this statement can be hurtfully invalidating. As a gay member myself, I was disappointed when I heard this statement. However, when I thought more deeply about it, I realized that I agree with him, at least in the essence of the point he was trying to make. I think his choice of words was very insensitive and hurtful, as it diminishes and invalidates the very real experiences of millions of people. However, I do think that the point Elder Bednar was trying to make has merit.
In saying that there are no homosexual members of the church, I don’t believe Elder Bednar is saying that there are no members who have sex with others of the same gender. Obviously, Elder Bednar is very well aware that there are many who do and are still active members of the church, even if they are subject to discipline. Nor do I believe he was saying that the feelings and experiences of LGBT members are not real. In fact he acknowledges the very real challenges that LGBT members face.
However, what I believe Elder Bednar was really trying to do was reject a label that confines someone to a predefined set of behaviors. To him, the label of “homosexual” apparently implies that the individual does not have the power to choose anything other than to engage in homosexual behavior, and Elder Bednar is rejecting that notion. For the most part, I agree with that concept. For myself, I truly believe I have the power to choose how I will behave. I do not consider myself a victim. I am not forced or compelled to behave in a certain way because I am gay. I have the power to choose to abstain from homosexual behavior if I so desire. And I have chosen, for most of my life, to do just that.
However, there is a lot more to the homosexual experience than what Elder Bednar and other church leaders seem to acknowledge. By stating that homosexual behavior is merely a choice, on the same level as mundane choices such as whether to brush your teeth, ignores the unique challenges and complexities of being LGBT.
First of all, the assertion that homosexual desires are merely a disability, an adversity in life similar to what a paraplegic experiences, is flawed. A paraplegic’s desire to be able to walk is denied him probably for the rest of his life, but in the resurrection he is promised to be restored to what he truly desires. For the LGBT member, he is told that what he truly desires can never be permitted in this life or the next. Telling an LGBT person that their deepest desire has to be cured in the resurrection would be like telling a paraplegic that in the next life he will be cured of desiring to be able to walk. Telling LGBT people to stop having homosexual desires is like telling a paraplegic to stop desiring to walk. In addition, while a physical disability is a difficult trial in life for those affected, it is not a condition that is subject to church discipline. The church does not reject people simply because they cannot walk, or label them as apostates because they go to physical therapy and attempt to walk. However, this is very much how church leaders treat LGBT people who attempt to follow their heart.
What Elder Bednar apparently does not understand is how sexual orientation is just as core to one’s being for LGBT people as it is for straight people. Single straight members are taught to abstain from sexual activity until marriage, but single LGBT members are told they must abstain for life. It is true that there are some LGBT members who live single, celibate lives, and are very happy in the life they have chosen. But there are many others who are single and celibate and are anything but happy in their choice. There are some gay members who are happy in successful mixed-orientation marriages, but there are many more whose marriages have failed, and many who remain in unhappy, broken marriages.
Far more often than not, there are LGBT members who are suffering as they perpetually abstain and suppress their homosexual desires. Prolonged suppression, coupled with shame and the fear of being discovered, take a high toll in the happiness experienced by these individuals. For some, the sacrifices are well worth the benefits of living in compliance with church standards. However, there are far too many where such sacrifices bring out serious mental health challenges such as addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, and repeated suicide attempts. Far too many of those attempts are successful, and so many lives have been snuffed out because they felt trapped with no acceptable alternative.
While I agree with Elder Bednar that homosexual behavior is a choice, I can also empathize with those who have weighed the consequences of complying with church standards and who are choosing to pursue homosexual relationships. I admire those courageous LGBT members who have blazed their own path and found peace and fulfillment in their choice rather than face the depression and fear and death that for so many accompanies suppressing and hiding their homosexual desires.
If you have your own thoughts, even (especially) if you disagree, please share!
And heterosexual behavior is a choice too.
However, the church blesses people who identify as heterosexual with marriage recognition so members can behave according to their orientation. This is healthy.
The church curses people who identify as homosexual and withholds marriage recognition so members cannot behave according to their orientation. This is unhealthy.
What I see is a heterosexual man, sitting with his sexual partner at his side (for all we know he went back to his hotel room and behaved with her according to his orientation) telling gay people they don’t get what he has: blessed non-apostate sexual relations according to one’s orientation in a healthy relationship model called marriage.
Bednar is creating folklore and promoting ideas that will be disavowed in a future essay.
Thanks for the response, Nathan. I do hope that there will be a future essay where lots of things are disavowed.
How about an Official Declaration 3? 😆
Thanks for sharing this interpretation. I think there were two threads to Bendar’s explanation of no homosexuals in the church. One was the “no one is consigned to homosexual behavior” thread that your friend explained, but the other was “a person’s identity as a child of God trumps their identity as homosexual.”
The latter explanation is tantalizingly close to a beautiful reinterpretation of Mormon doctrine. If there are no homosexuals in the church because our identity as children of God trumps our identity as homosexual, then maybe there are no heterosexual members of the church either. Maybe there are no men or women or black people or white people. Maybe there are just children of God, and every other identity we claim is just a contingent reality of this life. And if that’s the case, then can we please oh please stop getting all worked up about male and female and gay and straight and who can do what and what can go where!? Of course I know this isn’t what Bednar meant, but I wish it was.
Instead we’re stuck with “there are no homosexuals in the church because really, deep down you’re all straight.” It’s the same old invalidating falsehood masquerading as dogma.
I like the idea of considering everyone God-children before all other labels. I’m willing to extract whatever part of Elder Bednar’s comments raises that idea and hold onto that part. His logic for what follows as a result of that idea I do not plan to hold onto.
I think Bednar ultimately mixed good intentions and, as you said Kent, “a beautiful reinterpretation of Mormon doctrine” with unfortunate misunderstandings and poor language choice. I think in his remarks about sexuality, this is what caused the biggest problem. The fact that the leaders have yet to truly investigate the issue, even just to understand why identity might not be the best frame, is what really sets people off.
We can say all day that it’s more important to identify as a child of God than a homosexual. But when he uses phrases like “there are no homosexuals in the church”, it shows a lack of empathy precisely because we know they haven’t taken our concerns seriously.
But of all the things that were most problematic were the discussions about gender. Again, the church has yet to clarify what they mean by gender and again, despite saying the homosexuality should be no foundation upon which one should base their actions, they say that gender IS a reason to change one’s actions. However, gender has been shown to be a social construction even longer than homosexuality. How can you call one of these identities as essential and one of them as constructed and inappropriate?
Erik, very interesting. For 10 years I read the proclamation on the family and saw “gender” as a synonym for biological sex. I am learning that both ideas are complex and not identical for many people. It strikes me as interesting now that the proclamation says “gender” instead of sex, and I wonder what kind of room that leaves for a more nuanced discussion as our collective understanding improves.