by Jodie Palmer
The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints recently published an article entitled, My Experience Living the Law of Chastity with Same-Sex Attraction.
This Ensign article doesn’t come without an amount of controversy. Many in my gay Mormon community feel this article does not fully represent the gay Mormon experience, does not acknowledge the human impact of celibacy, and will be weaponized, as other stories have been, to create only one narrative for how a gay person can legitimately live.
I agree with these criticisms. I also want to highlight three significant elements of this article that represent important progress in the Church’s published framework of same-sex sexual orientation for the general membership.
These three points are significant, because they are contributions to helping the general membership of the church begin to see anew. Seeing differently is the genesis of change. The change I wish to see is greater space and safety within our congregations for our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.
1. This Article Backs Up the Teaching That Being Gay is Not a Choice
The Church no longer holds the position that experiencing same-sex attraction is a choice, as reflected in the Church’s official website on “Same-Sex Attraction.”
“Let us be clear: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that ‘the experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including [those with same-sex attraction]’” (“The Lord Needs You Now!” Ensign, Sept. 2015, 29).
However, if my experience within my own local faith community reflects opinions of the larger membership of the church, many members still believe being gay is a choice.
The last two articles the church has published (Ensign: July, August 2020) from gay contributors have used the word “experience” in context to the authors being gay. Both contributors described their reality as concrete and unchanging— “I am gay,” while in the same breath describing the reality of their faith.
Though the Church has acknowledged this reality in their “same-sex attraction” website, it is relatively obscure. Very few members know of its existence. Therefore, very few members are exposed to this new teaching.
For the Church to continue to highlight individuals whose stories describe the reality of being gay and a member is significant, because it now demands that this reality can exist within our congregations. We can have members that are gay. They are not gay by choice. They also can believe in Jesus Christ and have a testimony of his gospel. These are not paradoxical or contrary. They are a reality.
This is a crucial shift to make if we are to begin changing the general narrative of our membership that continues to communicate to our gay youth that being gay is incompatible with faith in Christ.
2. This Article Backs Up That It is Okay to Say the Word Gay
So often when I have conversations with members about same-sex sexual orientation I recognize how difficult and uncomfortable it is for the word “gay” to come out of their mouth. In fact, it is rare for a member of the church to say it, unless they use it derogatively, as in the “gay agenda,” or “the gays.”
I recently had a conversation where a friend said, “I don’t have any problem with those people.” Unfortunately, that communicates to me, as a gay person, that there is definitely an unspoken problem.
I can think of all sorts of reasons why it is difficult for members to say the word “gay” without shame or discomfort. No doubt the words “same-sex attraction” rules the day in Church publications, but to see “gay” appearing more frequently and in context to stories that reflect ownership of the word is significant and important.
Until there can be space in our mouths for the word “gay” we won’t see space in our pews for gay people.
3. This Article Gives Me an Opportunity to Invite You to Consider Something New
This article offers me, as a gay member of the Church, a beautiful opportunity to invite you to see something anew.
I invite you to consider how the Law of Chastity is different than celibacy, and the importance of this understanding.
I describe the difference between The Law of Chastity and celibacy in an article I recently wrote on BYU’s honor code change and clarification. (Head over there now and give it a read.). I’ll quote just a bit of it here.
“In pursuing an eternal partner we are all required to abide by the law of chastity, which is sexual abstinence before marriage and faithfulness to our partner afterward.
“Though the Law of Chastity does have nuances in how we engage in dating, it is a supportive guide in the process of pair bonding that gives space for expressions of attraction and love that hopefully lead to the full expression of connection and intimacy within the bonds of marriage.
“Celibacy, on the other hand, is a choice to remain single and chaste for an entire lifetime, regardless of whether a worthy partner comes into your life.
“For gay members of the church, celibacy goes even further to preclude an individual from engaging in the physical display of affection with another person of the same sex (beyond those culturally appropriate to friendship). No kissing. No handholding. No physical closeness.”
This difference is important for the general membership of the Church to understand, because it then opens us to consider the unique implications of celibacy for gay members, and the additional responsibility we have as the Body of Christ to engage our baptismal covenants in their support.
There are many ways we can better engage our baptismal covenants in support of our gay brothers and sisters. Here are three.
- Consider any discomfort you may feel by the thought of a gay-identifying member of the church sitting in the pews of your sacrament meeting or Sunday school. What is at the bottom of your discomfort? Where might that discomfort be in conflict with any new teachings the Church has on same-sex sexual orientation?
- Consider any conflict you may feel about a person identifying both as gay and as a member of the Church. What is at the bottom of your conflict? Where might that conflict be misaligned with any new teachings the Church has on same-sex sexual orientation?
- How much have you considered what it is like to be both gay and a member of the Church? Do you experience any resistance to deepening your understanding of your gay brothers and sisters? What is at the bottom of your resistance to deepening your understanding of their experience?
There are many repositories for the stories of your LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. I will list some of these resources below. The first resources will reflect narratives that you will likely be more comfortable with if you are just beginning your journey of deepening your understanding of your LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. As the list goes on you will experience a wider variety of stories that may be more uncomfortable to hear. All of these stories are important and reflect the legitimate experiences of children of God.
Our ministering invitation from the Savior is to deepen our understanding of others so that we can deepen our genuine actions of love. Take this opportunity to begin deepening your understanding of your LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. I know you will come to find that LGBTQ+ people bless your life in ways you couldn’t have imagined before you began to see a little differently.
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